**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Julie had never before considered that the truth might be as fluid as the Colonial Authority conceived it. They could bend and conform to whatever channel necessary to convey it, It would fill whatever the shape of the lie and become the basis for fabrication. How could they keep the knowledge from her all this time? How could her father have known and yet never told her?
Where did the dedication to a cause and the resolve of conviction originate? She was seriously pissed that for all her life she believed her mother was deceased. Now she knew that, all along, the pretext for her youth and even many of the conditions of her present life were a carefully orchestrated lie.
Confident that the real reason for the sudden disclosure was political expedience, she wanted the real reasons, not the official story. Superficially the Colonial Authority claimed to be addressing all the mistakes of the past. In fact their hand was forced.
Cristina’s brother was at least complicit in the conditions that had led to their sudden change of direction, if not heart. In an odd way his was an honorable act of subversion, defying the authorities that spread fear and deception. She had cooperated with them not because she supported the concealment of the truth but because she did not want to see Chase get hurt. His pride blinded him too much to accept that she might have made the right choice. Even if she was not right, perhaps hers was the better choice of alternatives.
Julie sensed that time was running out for the Colonial Authority. Regardless of the pretense, their displays of power and exercise of force, they were scared. She was not sure what frightened them, but she figured it had to do with Paul and Cristina. Since talking to her mother, Julie felt it could involve all of The Twenty-Four who were borne of The Twelve.
The Colonial Authority was in an odd predicament, one that Julie was certain they did not desire and certainly did not appreciate. They were losing control, having to find ways of enlisting the aid of the very people they attempted to control, subjugate and suppress. The Colonial Authority could do nothing else short of going public and telling at least some of the truth to the general public. The human race was facing grave times, the extinction of the entire species. The hope of all mankind on Pravda rested in solving the related riddles of The Twelve and The Twenty-Four.
Why were the mothers of the dozen sets of twins still alive?
What was the ultimate, combined potential of The Twenty-Four?
The secret for the survival of the species rested in the modifications of the DNA that everyone with the attributes shared. But even beyond mere survival, The Twenty-Four seemed to be able to tap into the energy of the universe at will.
There were thirty-six people whose lives had become the ultimate mystery of the age. Despite the thousands of others who possessed the attributes, there was a distinct danger inherent in their mating with humans lacking the attributes. It was something The Colonial Authority did not confirm, but it was common knowledge amongst those with the attributes. Only the males with the attributes did not die as a result of mating with females who lacked the attributes. In every other case, with the exception of The Twelve, a mother who had the attributes would die in the process of giving birth. But only The Twelve gave birth to twins, always a boy and a girl.
There were lies, lies and more lies told so often in the past that she wondered how and when they would come to answer for the deception. At this point, if they told the truth, would anyone believe them? The lie grew more attractive and credible in the retelling. Foremost the terrible truth that in the very beginning, when Pravda was terraformed, the authorities inadvertently killed intelligent life and spent nearly all the time since covering the evidence and suppressing the information, opposing those who knew the truth from ever getting access to the information channels to disseminate the truth to the mainstream population.
Julie reached her apartment building and docked her coach. She rode the elevator up to her floor and exited, walking past two strangers she as they boarded the elevator. She did not have a good feeling about them. Her first instinct was that they were agents. It caused her some concern about entering her apartment. She thought about calling Chase, but then she immediately suppressed the thought. She was on her own. She could handle this. She called the emergency number Yates gave her. He did not answer but she left an urgent message. She waited in the hallway for a few minutes, not wanting to risk entering her apartment. Then Yates called back.
“As I was getting home, there were two strange men in the hallway getting onto the elevator as I was getting off. It’s probably nothing, but I had an eerie feeling about them. Maybe they were agents. Are there any agents assigned to bug my place?”
“Julie you’re under surveillance already. You know that. To my knowledge, there’s been nothing additional set up.”
“Could you come over? I mean, I’m really not comfortable with this.”
“Okay,” Yates said. “Look, I have a meeting in a few. It will last an hour. I can be there in an hour and a half, two hours tops. If it’s going to take longer I’ll call you. Until then, go somewhere public where you feel safe.”
“I’ll call you when I reach your place. Then you can come meet me and we will go in and check out your apartment together if you like. I’ll even bring a couple of uniformed officers with me.”
“I really appreciate it,” Julie said.
“Hey, you did us a huge favor and who knows, maybe this started the end of all the secrecy.”
“We can hope,” Julie said.
“I gotta get to the meeting. I’ll call you as soon as it’s over.”
Julie disconnected the call and called for the elevator car, hoping she was just being hypersensitive because of everything she had been through recently. Then, she did not want to be alone in her apartment anyway. She was not used to that.
When the elevator doors opened, she stepped inside and pressed the button for the lobby. When the doors opened again suddenly her heart leapt into her throat for a few moments, as two different strange men approached her but then passed her by as they hurried to board the awaiting elevator. Nerves on end, paranoid, she tried to calm down. Taking deep breaths and slowly releasing them, she tried passing everything off as her overactive imagination, reacting to the recent stress in her relationship with Chase. It was the direct result of the serious case of nerves she had ever since some men, most likely agents, broke into her apartment.
Julie went to a nearby club and sat down at the bar. Years ago, before she met Chase, she stopped by the club on her way home from work and usually spent a few hours sipping mixed drinks and unwinding from the stress of the workday. She used to know everyone in the club, actually. When she walked in she recognized no one except for the bartender. At least he was still there.
She stepped up and slid across the bar stool as she sat down. “You have a drink for a stranger, Manny.”
“Damn girl!” Manny smiled broadly as he recognized her. “I haven’t seen you in…well since you met that guy, what’s his name…”
“Yeah, that’s it. Damn, babe, you’re looking good, better than ever! How do you do that?”
“I’m not aware of it. I assure you.”
“So you come back to say hello or are there some other matters.”
“There are always some other matters.”
“Yeah, tell me about it! I should be a psychiatrist, except I have a bar not a couch.”
“Mostly, I’m just killing time. I’m meeting a friend at my apartment later on.”
“I see, so what will it be? This first one is on me. The rest you can buy. I have a mortgage, you know.”
“Give me a mudslide.”
“Yeah, that was your drink, back in the day,” he said as he started mixing the drink and then upon delivering it to her, he looked into her eyes, “You and this guy Chase, you still together?”
“Yes and no.”
“Those are opposites, hon. From experience when they are together they don’t always play well.”
“Well we sort of broke up, but we’re still talking.”
“I guess that gives hope even if it is usually false. You were together a long time.”
“Yeah, we were. I think we’ll get back together,” Julie said, then modified, “Anyway, I really hope so.”
“The man who’d let you get away is not worth having anyway,” Manny said. “Damn that rhymed!”
“You should be a poet, Manny.”
“A poetic psychiatric bartender. I could be one of kind.”
“You already are,” Julie said.
“Hon, if I weren’t happily married, I would have been playing for you myself.”
“You’re too much man for me to handle.”
Manny laughed. “Yeah, you always liked playing up on my name, Manny, more than just a Man, right?” He chuckled. “See, I remember everything.” After his amusement had subsided he looked at her directly, serious in his intentions. “You could have any man you desire, babe. Never sell yourself short.”
“Thanks Manny,” she said and then sipped her drink before looking up and around the bar, “Just like old times.”
“It gets busy at night. You usually left before it got busy. Only times you stayed late were when you were here with your boyfriend.”
“Yeah, well, I have to leave early tonight too, once my friend gets to my apartment.”
“Nothing’s wrong, is it?”
“Just some concerns,” Julie said. “There was a break-in at my apartment a few days ago. I’m skittish, you know. When I got off the elevator on my floor there were two strangers getting on the elevator. More than likely, it’s nothing but with everything that’s been going on.”
“You want to play it safe.”
Manny nodded. “So, this friend of yours is he someone you trust?”
“Yeah, I guess I do. He was a friend of my father.”
“A good man, then,” Manny said.
“Yeah, I really think he is. I never met him until a couple of weeks ago.”
“How could he be a friend of your father and you never met him?” Manny asked.
Julie sat up, wondering why that never crossed to her mind. Still, Yates knew a lot about her father. Why would she doubt that, unless it was a ploy? Obviously, all of them, her father, mother, her and a brother who she never met were all under continuous surveillance. Of course Yates would know everything about her father. She really wanted to cling to Yate’s story, hoping it was the truth. Her mother did not know him, either – was it her mother, really? Was she going to doubt everything now? Maybe it was a natural response for having been gullible for so long, and severely burned. Yate’s knew her father but not her mother until today. That was possible, of course. Anyway, if it was not the truth, it was another good story – all part of the fluid truth of The Colonial Authority.
She took a couple more sips of her drink and started feeling the effects of the intoxicant. It had been a while since she had been out drinking alone. She had always had a low tolerance for alcohol and for that reason Manny always cut her off before she reached a state of embarrassing herself. She trusted him in the past. One night he took her to her apartment because it was nearby and he needed help walking. Manny already knew she lived within walking distance. His knowing where she lived did not bother her.
Always a perfect gentleman, true to his word, he put her to bed with her clothes still on. All he did was help her remove were her shoes. Then he set a trashcan beside the bed, pointing it out to her for just in case she felt sick. Before he left she pulled him down closer to her and she had kissed him on the cheek. He responded, kissing her on the forehead. Treating her as he would a friend or a friend’s daughter perhaps – maybe even his own daughter – Manny was a good guy she could trust.
After consuming half of her fourth mixed drink, the third one she paid for, Manny could tell that she was already pushing her limit. He went over to her and asked her if her friend had called her yet?
She checked for messages on her cell ID display and then the time. “He should have called by now. Maybe the meeting he was going into when I talked to him is running late.”
“Yeah maybe,” Manny said trying not to sound incredulous.
“It’ll be a few more minutes.”
“The alcohol is getting to you, hon. That’s all I wanted to point out.”
Julie nodded to Manny, “You always look out for me.”
“It’s what I do,” he said.
“Thank you,” Julie said. “Maybe I need to clear my head.”
Manny poured a glass of carbonated water from the tap then slid it toward her. “This will work wonders.”
She took a couple of sips then took a couple of gulps, burping ever so slightly but remembering to cover her mouth with the back of her hand.
A few minutes later her implanted phone rang. She answered. Yates said he was outside her apartment building.
“I am across the street at the club in the middle of the block. I’ll be right there,” she said, and then taking her payment wand in hand she asked Manny to receive a tip. He responded and she rewarded him for his efforts.
After glancing at the display he looked and grinned. “I knew I missed you, I guess I’d forgotten why.”
Julie flashed a smile, “I’ll see you around Manny.”
“I’ll be here, hon. Just no more being a stranger, okay?”
“I’ll stop by more often, I promise.”
Julie stepped outside. Knowing she was intoxicated she paid extra attention to what she was doing and where she was going as she crossed the street to the lot her apartment complex occupied. Yates was waiting for her just outside of the main entrance. Together they entered the building and they walked across the lobby to the elevator. When the car arrived they boarded and rode up to her floor.
At her door she pressed the access codes for her place and the door opened. Yates went in first, walking the apartment, scoping it for any signs of anything that was not normal, spending fifteen minutes of giving Julie the benefit of the doubt before pronouncing to her that he found nothing.”
“I’m so sorry to cause all this aggravation.”
“You were worried. Under the circumstances, I understand. It’s always better to opt for safety.”
Julie gave Yates a hug and a peck on the cheek. “When’s your birthday?”
“In a few months, why?”
“I want to get you a gift.”
“I really couldn’t accept.”
“I’m going to get you something anyway. So a couple of months; is that two months or three?”
“Two and a half, or thereabouts.”
“You wouldn’t want to make this easy and give me the exact date.”
Yates laughed. “I’ll call you a week before, how’s that.”
Julie smiled. “Why the secrecy?”
“We’re not supposed to divulge too much information about ourselves.”
“Well, I’m not going to tell.”
“Neither am I,” Yates said. “Goodnight, Julie. Lock your door and set the perimeter alarm, okay. I’ll have a couple of guys in the area to respond if there’s a call from you. Okay?”
“I really appreciate this,” she said.
Yates shrugged. “I think I was supposed to do laundry tonight or maybe I had dish duty. Regardless of which, there’s something I’m late for at home.”
Julie smiled. “Thank your wife for me.”
“Oh no, hell no!” he protested. “If she ever saw you she would get all kinds of warped ideas about what I’ve been doing coming over here after work.”
“You have always been a perfect gentleman.”
“And I always will be. I love my wife and family. It’s just, well – you know, a pretty young girl like you and middle aged old fart like me. People talk; wives get ideas.”
“Goodnight Yates,” Julie said as she closed the door behind him and turned to tending to her apartment. She needed to vacuum, clean the dishes and do laundry but somehow none of that impressed her as being in any way urgent. She wanted another drink, but decided that was not a good idea. There was nothing in the apartment, anyway.
Sitting down, really considering how she felt for maybe for the first time in months, she decided she was angry. Maybe it was the liquor speaking to her, but it had given her odd clarity of understanding. Never in her life had she felt as angry or as openly betrayed.
She helped the Colonial Authority, even sold out her friends in order to protect Chase. As a result she lost the love of her life and a good bit of her self-respect as well. How could anything about that be right?
Julie turned on the world viewer display, bringing up the local news channel to the main screen and then went to the kitchen to fix something to eat. As she prepared a simple salad which was all she really wanted to invest the time to make, she watched a news report from Star City where they were reporting that an unspecified notorious fugitive had been captured and transported under heavily armed security and isolated in a maximum security cell that was considered impossible for anyone to escape, even the fugitive who was the elusive mass murderer of dozens of agents.
The other news stories did not interest her as much and so she turned to an entertainment channel and listened to some music. For an Andromeda channel to play a New Milan band was significant. But then it was all over the local entertainment news that Duae Lunae had become the first band from outside of Andromeda to ever have both a chart topping single and Mod card simultaneously.
As Julie sat on her couch enjoying the music, reveling in the fact that she knew two of the band members personally. She suspected Chase was gloating over his role in the overall triumph. The tour was fundamental in establishing the band’s performance credibility, a part of the chain of events that was culminating now. If the band got another Mod card out soon, then went back on tour to promote it, they could maximize the brief attention spans of their audience and maybe capitalize on the demand for their music and anything in terms of promotional ‘swag’ that bore the band’s name, like tee-shirts, posters, scarves, headbands, wristbands, and temporary tattoos. She tapped her earlobe then started to command speed dial for Chase’s cell number but then paused. What was the point, really?
She tapped her earlobe, and then suddenly it rang. She tapped her earlobe again and saw the caller ID information displayed in her palm’s holographic projection. They had the same thought at the same time. However, she was glad it went down as he called her, not the other way around. She had delayed. That was important to her. It made her feel a little bit better.
“You saw it?” she asked Chase.
“Yeah, it’s fantastic news. It’s just that no one has heard from Cristina or Alix…so, well I would love to let them know but I have no idea where they are or how to get in touch with them. Neither of them have their cells active.”
“You don’t think the Colonial Authority has them.”
“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” she said. “Yates doesn’t know anything about them. I think he would know.”
“He could be playing dumb. He could be playing coy with you, seeking more information.”
Julie paused, counting to ten wanting not to offend Chase, but she thought he was completely out of line. Besides she had news. Chase really needed to hear it. It was just that she really did not know how to launch what she needed to deliver, other than just dropping bombshell as it was. “Chase, I met my mother today.”
The lack of response was telling. Then after nearly a half minute of silence he sought clarification. “You did say your mother?”
“Your mother is still alive too. My mother knows her. Actually they’re good friends.”
Again there was silence for several seconds. “Okay, where were you when you saw her?” Chase finally challenged.
“In a research facility here in town. I think they will let us visit them now.”
“Really, me and not just you?”
“I was the first, maybe. I don’t know.”
“Because you sold out to the Colonial Authority.”
“Maybe it was because I chose to at least have an open mind and listen. The Colonial Authority is not the monolithic nemesis you think it is.”
“The parts I have been dealing with…”
“Some of the divisions are not as strident, harsh and abrasive as others. I think some of them are actually working for the people.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion. No body’s beat the shit out of you yet.”
“Chase, I’m not a huge fan of the Colonial Authority, not after learning that they have kept my mother in seclusion and lied to me about her for all my life until today. I’m okay with Yates. He’s not lied to me – as far as I know. I met a guy today named Neville. He seemed to be okay.”
“You have bought into their scheme and they are rewarding you. How can you be certain that your supposed mother was not an actress, a charlatan who they paid to perform for your benefit?”
“I thought about that, Chase, quite a lot, actually. It felt like it was she on a lot of levels – every level actually. If you met your mother don’t you think that you would know her? You have the attributes. You have the ability to know things like that in the same way I do.”
Chase peered at her through the imbedded camera in his wrist. In the background she could see some of his new apartment. “Well, even for the experience of spending a few minutes with my mother, I would not sell out to them.”
“You know that each of us has a sibling. They refer to us as The Twenty-Four. They have monitored us all along the way.”
“I don’t doubt the close surveillance. At times they have even seemed to know what I would do before I did it.”
“Maybe you missed what I said. You have a sibling, Chase.”
“I heard. Do I have a sister or a brother? I have never met him or her and likely as not the Colonial Authority will keep us apart just like they are doing to Cristina and Paul.”
“You have a sister, Chase.”
She observed as Chase sat back, switching from holograph to world viewer’s camera. He was not yet comfortable with the new apartment that required a somewhat odd arrangement of the furniture. He looked for the camera before actually peering into it. It was a classic response to the unfamiliarity with a new configuration of a world viewer. She saw it every time one of her friends had moved to a new place.
“I think they will let you meet her.”
“If I cooperate and obey.”
“It’s not like that, Chase.”
“Enlighten me, then. How is it?”
Julie fought back a tear. “I had to do what I felt was right and if you don’t understand why, it was necessary to save your life. I love you that much and I respect you. I want your respect, too. I still need you in my life.”
“I need time, hon. I just need some time, okay? I love you and I respect you. It’s just I need to work some things out and maybe being apart for a while will do that for us. Don’t worry. There’s no one else. There can be no one else but you.”
A tear trailed down her cheek as she looked into the camera on her wrist and she smiled.
“I really mean that,” Chase said. “I guess what we need to do is start over. Forget the past and just start over. Do you want to do that?”
Julie sat thoughtfully considering the options then she nodded.
“I never wanted to lose you,” Chase said. “If I ever did I would be lost. If you honestly thought you were protecting me, well maybe I should have shown my gratitude instead of anger. Maybe I should have listened to you a little more closely. I guess sometimes you’re right, even if I’m not entirely wrong.”
“I love you, Chase,” she said looking directly into the camera so that he could see her eyes clearly.
“I love you, too, Julie,” Chase looked up into the camera, giving her the same point of view.
“I need to go to bed,” Julie responded.
“Yeah, me too,” Chase responded. “I miss you a lot.”
“You can call me tomorrow. Maybe you can even ask me for a date.”
“That might be fun, go out dancing, and club hopping.”
“Like the old days.”
“I’ll do that,” Chase said. “Tomorrow, I’ll call you at work. We can make plans then.”
“Great,” she said.
“Goodnight,” she said as she tapped her earlobe, disconnecting from the call.