**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.**
They slept soundly after wearing one another out satisfying their hungers for one another’s undivided attentions in multiple sessions. With the realization that it was light outside, Alix leapt up in a panic, leaning to the window, parting the blinds to confirm what he feared, it was already broad daylight. He grabbed his chronometer from the dressing table where he had left it and confirmed, “Cristina it is 8 AM!”
“Damn!” she said as immediately she sat up.
“I thought I set the alarm, I’m sorry,” Alix said.
“It’s fine. Everything’s fine. We just get dressed and get back to the alley that’s all.”
Alix wanted to shower longer, even considered that if nothing went right this could be his last chance to shower for a while but there was not enough time. Cristina also showered quickly. Afterwards she and ran wet hands through her hair in an attempt to straighten out the tangled mess it had become in the throes of passion. She wished he shad more time to get ready. She then brushed her teeth and afterwards tried running a comb across her head, fighting as it snagged on snarls. She muddled through regardless of the damage she knew she was doing to her hair.
When they were both dressed and packed up, they each took their backpacks and descended in the elevator to the lobby, depositing their security key in the box on the front counter.
They headed out onto the street, crossing over and entering the northern end of the alley. They could see the building from there. Everything seemed to be quiet, even eerily so.
“Perhaps our panic was for nothing,” Cristina said.
Alix shrugged. “Breakfast?”
“Sure,” Cristina said, grinning broadly. “I worked up an appetite between last night and all the hustle this morning.”
When they entered the coffee shop it seemed very crowded. After placing their order for two breakfast platters and two black coffees, they waited. Turning to see if there was place for them to sit close to the window, every table in the place appeared to be filled. They waited for their meals to be served up on plates and then placed onto a tray, hoping by then a window table would be freed up, but there was no such luck.
“I’m sorry it’s so busy today. Not that I’m complaining. This is great for me, but it’s unusual,” the owner of the coffee shop said. “It’s been a while since this place was packed like this, especially first thing in the morning.”
“I wonder what’s going on?”
“They’re all agents,” the owner said. “That’s what one of them told me. Something important is going on around here, I guess. There’s this small table back here, behind the counter. You’re welcome to use it.”
Cristina looked to Alix as he responded with a shrug. “Sure, that would be great,” she said. Alix deposited their backpacks behind the counter as they took the folding chairs the owner hastily delivered to them. Alix opened them and they both sat to sip their coffee while waiting for breakfast to be served.
“They must be planning to make their move today,” she whispered to Alix. He nodded in response.
When the owner carried their plates on a tray, Alix removed and placed them on the table. “If there is anything else you need, just ask. I really appreciate your patience this all this confusion this morning.”
“You’ve been very courteous,’ Cristina said. “Thank you.”
He returned the empty tray to the kitchen and returned to re-freshen their coffees – on the house. After, the owner carried the pot out into the front room to serve his other guests.
“He’s a nice man,” Cristina decided.
Alix nodded as he already had shoveled a bite of eggs into his mouth and continued to chew. After he swallowed, he leaned over to kissed her cheek, then whispered, “What are our plans?”
“I’m not sure,” she responded chewing on a strip of lean bacon. She leaned forward as she reached for the salt, “If everyone in here’s an agent,” she whispered, “I’m not sure what we can do.”
They were very quiet, not wanting to draw any undo attention to themselves as they were at least partially concealed behind the counter. There were at least forty agents in the coffee shop. Based on their recent experiences and observations, this was a month’s worth of business for the place. Of course, the shop was understaffed for the unanticipated demand. Regardless of the reality, the agents boisterous, demanding and often abusive to the owners, saying that they needed to have more help. What was the point? It was a singular event that flooded the place with hungry people first thing in the morning. It was not as if they were regulars who would be offended and never return. They were unlikely to return anyway.
When Alix and Cristina were finished they bused their own table, delivering the plates and cups to the owner’s wife who thanked them, then apologized profusely for how busy it was and how little attention they were afforded.
“We understand,” Cristina said. “They’re assholes,” she added in a whisper that caused the wife to chuckle.
“All this time I thought it was just me,” she said aloud. “But today they belong to us,” she added, punctuating it with a wink.
Cristina smiled, even chuckling. Both the owner and his wife were good people. They certainly did not deserve the confusion. From her experience at waiting table when she was in college, Cristina knew that being busy in a restaurant was a good thing even though it was hectic.
Alix gathered up their backpacks and carried both of them as Cristina followed him through the front room to the door which was already half empty, leaving a mess for the owners to deal with. “They’ll we washing dishes all day,” Alix commented.
“It’s a happy mess,” Cristina responded.
Out on the sidewalk, she halted, turning to Alix, kissing his cheek to whisper, “It is going down this morning.”
Alix nodded. He was thinking the same thing.
His attention drawn to movement, Alix pointed to the archway and Cristina gasped. The leader of the local cell had been inside, visiting Paul. Why so late? Did they expect something? Were they planning on moving him? Didn’t they realize there were agents all over the place?
“Why would he do that?” she barely uttered the question before she noticed the leader had picked up a tail. Agents rushed furiously to gain better-concealed positions to observe him and where he was headed.
After a while several agents congregated outside of the building across the street from where Alix and Cristina stood, apparently going over their plans and then, once everything was confirmed they quickly ascended the stairs. Other agents emerged from the alleys with prisoners in custody, taking them to a waiting vehicle where guards relieved them of their charges.
“We need to get out of here,” Alix whispered.
Several agents came up from behind them. As the two of them braced for confrontation, the group ran past them and up the street, one of the agents lagging behind advised them to get off the streets for their own safety. They returned to the coffee shop and sat down at a table near the window that had recently become vacated but was not yet cleared.
“What is going on out there?” the owner asked as he saw them return and brought them two cups and poured fresh coffee for them.
“I’m not sure,” Alix said.
Cristina reached for her payment wand but the owner waved her off.
“It’s on the house.”
“Thank you,” she said. “But two free cups, that’s a little much.”
“We’ll help you clear the tables, at least.”
He laughed. “If you’ll do that for free cups of coffee, you’re more than welcome.”
“Look,” Alix called for her attention. Two agents were dragging Paul between them descending from the stairs out onto the sidewalk but they took him to a separate vehicle and once he was inside the coach hurried away.
Cristina lowered her eyes. Alix reached out and touched the backs of her hands and she looked up, tears welled in her eyes. “We should have been there.”
“We couldn’t have done anything,” Alix said.
“You know the man?” the coffee shop’s owner asked.
“He’s my brother,” Cristina revealed, no longer caring about her secret.
“Wow,” the owner said. “That’s rough.”
“Yes, it is,” Alix spoke for her as she turned away, shaking her head and sobbing uncontrollably.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” the owner said. “You don’t need to help with the tabled. I’ve not had this much work to occupy me for a long time. It’s kind of nice. For a change.”
“Don’t turn us in,” Cristina requested.
“After the way those assholes treated me and my wife, there’s not a chance I’d ever volunteer a damned thing to any of them. I’ll not lie to them though,” he said. “I’m too old to survive the beatings.”
“Arnie!” his wife came out from the kitchen to protest. “You’re scaring these poor young people to death.”
“Look there’s an old apartment upstairs. It’s furnished. We used to rent it out but it got to be too much trouble. It may be a little dirty but… well when Emma and I were younger that was where we lived.”
“We bought this building right after we moved here,” Emma explained. “The Star City Planning Commission promised us this would be a very busy location because of the railcar station. What they didn’t tell us was that they were leasing space in the station for vendors.”
“We survived,” Arnie said. “It’s because we make a good cup of coffee and good food for breakfasts and lunches. Once people stop here they come back and bring their friends. We’re not like the rush-rush places in the stations.”
“Your food is very good and the coffee is always excellent,” Alix said.
“It’s fresh, that’s half of the secret,” Arnie revealed. “Anyway, Emma and I have noticed you in the alley outside as we come to the shop.”
“We know you probably don’t have a lot of money, so…,” Emma paused.
“You are welcome to stay upstairs for as long as you need to,” Arnie completed the offer.
“We couldn’t impose,” Alix said. “I mean you don’t even know us.”
“We talked about it before. You weren’t in the alley this morning or we would have made the offer then.”
“It’s very generous,” Cristina said.
“Then it’s settled,” Arnie said. “Emma will show you the way and where to find everything you need to clean the place up a bit.”
“I really appreciate this,” Cristina said. “But we aren’t looking for charity.”
“Look,” Arnie said. “We know what it is like being young and having limited resources. Even if it’s for a few days or a couple of months, you are welcome to stay upstairs. In return you can keep the place clean for us and maybe help out in the restaurant when it’s busy. How’s that?”
“We both are,” Alix said.
“Then you’ll stay?”
“For a while,” Cristina said.
“Just until we know what is going on,” Alix clarified as both he and Cristina followed Emma to the back stairwell that led up to the apartment.
Emma chuckled, “You know Arnie carried me up these steps the first time we set foot in this building. Are you married?’
“Not yet,” Cristina said.
“Well, times are a lot different now. I understand that. The music is crazy compared to what Arnie and I used to dance to when we were young. Whenever we had a good day and could afford to go out at night, we used to dance.” She reached for a switch by the door and turned on the lights of the apartment.
All the furniture was covered to protect it from dust. And so, until the covers were removed, it was difficult to get a feel for what the apartment really looked like. Emma opened a compartment in the wall and snatched up the remote control that was stored there. She summoned a robotic vacuum and other such automated cleaning devices from their storage cubicles.
“This was going to be our home and our livelihood,” Emma said. “It’s been a good place. We haven’t wanted for much over the years but it was nothing like the big dreams we had at the time. Arnie was going to have coffee shops all over the city, in every city, even: gourmet coffee and good, organically produced food – none of that quick synthetic stuff people are forced to eat all the time at the fast food places.”
“It’s a little more expansive, but the quality is always there. We have our regulars – our friends. We take care of them whenever they come and over the years they have certainly taken care of us. How could we go wrong?”
“You could still do it?”
“Honey,” she reached for a lithograph of the family, “We had three children and we raised them to be good, decent, hard-working, honest people. This one.” She pointed, “She’s our baby, Sally. She is the operations manager for a bank downtown. Candace in the middle is an instructor at the University here in Star City. She’s working on her doctorate. Neville, our eldest is a chief research administrator for the Colonial Authority in Andromeda, assigned to some secret project he can’t even discuss. They’re all married. Neville had two children, a boy and a girl. Candace had a boy. Sally hasn’t decided whether she wants to have children.”
“It seems that they have all done very well,” Cristina said.
“Yes, I couldn’t have asked for better children and I’m very proud of them. It makes what Arnie and I did in life seem all the more worthwhile. I wouldn’t trade any of my kids for all the wealth in the world.”
“Or three hundred coffee shops as busy as this one was this morning.”
“We’ll get everything cleaned up downstairs then start on this,” Cristina offered.”
“You have your work cut out for you up here,” Arnie said. “I’ve got the downstairs.”
Alix picked up the remote for the cleaning appliances and programmed them to begin tending to the floors while he started carefully removing the covers so as to not stir up the dust too much.
“We’d better get back started on our mess,” Emma said. “If you need anything just ask.”
“We will,” Cristina agreed. “And again, thank you so much. This is more than we could have ever expected.”
“And very generous,” Alix added, and then continued to orchestrate the cleaning of the apartment as Cristina took up a cloth and some polish and began working on the surfaces of the furniture.
It took the remainder of the morning but when they were finished the apartment was clean and ready for habitation. They unpacked their clean clothes and removed the sealed plastic bag that contained their soiled clothes. There was a laundry next to the pantry. Cristina tested the integrity of the hoses before applying water pressure to the washer from the taps in the wall. She sorted the clothes as best she could and found some powdered laundry soap that, although it was caked together from humidity and years of sitting in one place on a shelf, it still would serve their purposes.
When she had put a load of clothes into the washing machine and started the process, she returned to the living room where Alix was sitting on the couch and making the final adjustments to the vacuum’s course as well as the wax buffer for the tile floors.
“It looks nice,” Cristina said.
“This is an excellent apartment,” he responded.
“I know. It is so big, compared to where I live,” she said.
“Maybe we should relocate to Star City,” Alix said, but then laughed because he knew Cristina would never move away from New Milan.
“We need to lay low here for a while,” she said, completely ignoring what he had proposed, knowing that he had said it in jest.
“What do you have planned?’
“I don’t know yet. I was expecting something to happen this morning but from the looks of it the agents rounded up just about everyone.”
Cristina nodded. “I don’t know what we can do, if anything is possible at all. They will take all of them to their headquarters.”
“Wherever that is,” Alix commented.
“We can find it,” she said. “I’m just not certain what we could do to help him. It may be beyond us.”
“We gave it a good try.”
“To succeed at trying is accepting failure,” Cristina said.
“Hunter said that, I take it?”
Cristina nodded, “Yes, I read it when I was in college. It’s pithy, easy to understand and remember.
“And true, unfortunately.” Alix stood up, directing the vacuum and the wax buffer to return to their storage cubicles. He went to the kitchen and found glasses in the cupboard. He rinsed out a glass and poured some water, which he consumed in gulps. “The water here is very good.”
“It comes from an aquifer,” Cristina explained, same as Andromeda. New Milan and Haven reclaim water from the ocean. It never tastes the same. It starts off bland and no matter how much they amend it with minerals, it isn’t the same as natural spring water. I got spoiled when I was in college. The water in Emerald City was excellent.”
“Well I am finding a lot to like about Star City even if our reason for being here has sort of fallen apart before our eyes.”
“I keep wondering if we had come a little earlier…”
“What could we have done, trip someone? Maybe we could have delayed the inevitable by a few minutes and in the process got ourselves arrested. From the way the agents were set up, I don’t think anyone could have saved Paul. We saw it beginning yesterday, the people posted on the rooftops. They put all their muscle here and made it work.”
“Rendering us useless or at least helpless. In this instance it’s much the same thing.”
Alix walked over to the window, looking across the street to the building that had been the object of their vigil for a few days. “Great view. We should have been here all along.”
Cristina came up from behind and wrapped her arms around Alix’s waist.
“I mean, I can see where they opened the wall, even,” then he turned to face her. “I was right, exactly where I knew the room had to be, not that it matters anymore.”
“What are we going to do now, Alix?”
“Go home before we get killed.”
“We have to do something more than that. They have my brother.”
“You know, don’t take this the wrong way but, maybe he deserves it.”
“How does he deserve this?”
“Cristina, he’s a big boy. He has made his decisions and this is the consequence. Does he deserve it? No one deserves being roughed up or maybe even worse once they have him back at their headquarters. But it has to be on him to extricate himself from this misery. It’s something he knew he was getting into.”
Cristina turned away from the window and sat down on the couch. “I had a dream,” she said. “I saw Paul being beaten and tortured. He was drugged. I could tell.”
“And what does that have to do with us?”
“I saw waves, apparently invisible waves crashing against him as he was being beaten. It was interfering with his abilities. That has to be the way the authorities can control him.”
Alix lowered his eyes and then finally held his head in his hands. “They are using white and pink noise modulated on ultrasonic waves to dampen his natural connections to the fundamental and harmonic tones of the natural electromagnetic spectrum.”
“Do you mind rephrasing that in some language other than Alix-ese?”
“The way we connect and control the world around us through our enhanced senses is that we can access the background energy inherent in everything.”
“I know. I feel that too.”
“They use ultra-high frequency modulators to send noise in an attempt to scramble the energy before anyone who is sensitive to it could access it.”
“You know how to defeat it, then?”
Alix shrugged. “It has to be electronic, perhaps a computer controls it. I have not done much with computers since I dropped out of tech college, but…”
“But you know how. You were gifted at programming.”
“How do you know that about me?”
Cristina smiled. “I kind of checked you out while you were sleeping.”
“It was an innocent intrusion,” she said. “Don’t be mad.”
Alix smiled. “It’s a mess inside my head.”
“I sweep a lot of things under other things.”
“We all do that,” Cristina said with a laugh. “I know about people, Alix. How they think, what’s important to them. That’s why I know I can help Paul.”
“You’re bound and determined to save him, no matter the danger, regardless of the risk to yourself.”
“Alix, Paul is my brother!”
“And we’re amateurs at what we’re trying to do.”
“I think we know how to do things they don’t expect.”
Alix leaned over and kissed her. “I deposit a little time bomb for them in their computer system. It hides there and goes on schedule, later on, when we’re long gone. It shuts down whatever they’re doing with the jamming signals. That’s the quick and easy way to do it. As much fun as all this hide and seek has been, I fully understand we are up against the pros, now. And we are already in hot water with them –whether they realize it here and now, we’re in this all the way,” Alix said. “If this is what you’re committed to, I’m behind you. I love you too much to leave you alone in this, but I have to tell you I think this is totally nuts.”
“We are still behind where we were.”
“Not that it matters all that much at the moment, but yeah.”
“I think it matters a lot.”
“Alix, have we changed anything?”
“How would I know?”
“Exactly,” Cristina said. “We don’t know. If you took us ahead in synchronization with where we should be–”
“What is the point?”
“I am just trying to rationalize the potentials of the utility of folding time. Is there any limitation to what you can do? I mean, can you go back further into the past than just a few days?”
“From what Raven said it would take a lot of planning. I would assume I know how to do it, though. But obviously, it’s conjecture at this point because, thus far, we have only jumped back a few days. The farther away from the present you go the trickier it is to hit the right place.”
Cristina was silent for a few moments.
“I can tell you’re thinking,” Alix said, finally breaking the silence. “I’m not sure I want to know what you’re planning.”
“You can bring anyone with you across the fold.”
“Apparently. You want me to do something for Paul.”
“No, no. I think I have a better idea,” Cristina said. “If you can go back as far as the origins of our terraforming Pravda…”
“Oh my…no, Cristina.” Alix shook his head. “I know what you are thinking and you know as well as I do it’s dangerous as hell. You know why – even without me telling you. What if they aren’t peace-loving creatures?”
“What if they aren’t? Neither are we,” Cristina said. “We may claim to be but we really aren’t.”
“I think most people would prefer peace to war. In principle, anyway.”
“But how often has that happened?” she asked. “Even in this world we have strife and conflict. Supposedly we are at peace. There are not any governments yet, only the rudiments of forming Provincial Authorities for each city.”
“Yes and we introduce a real, live alien into this mish-mosh of our own multi-ethnic, multi-cultural intolerance and you have the formula for disaster.”
“But don’t you see? It will eliminate the teeth from the aims of The Resurrection,” she argued. “Especially if the sand-morph is friendly and cooperates. It may even be able to tell us what we need to know to bring back the others of its kind. Either way, the Colonial Authority will have nothing to counter. They will have to confess, admit to everything that has been concealed. They will not be able to hold anyone prisoner.”
“You’re being a bit naive. They’ll kill the sand-morph before anyone knows about it.”
“Then we just have to make it so public that they cannot do that,” Cristina said. “A special concert, a benefit held in Andromeda, Duae Lunae introduces the latest discovery. It’ll be a free show. So, it will get a lot of attention and draw a huge crowd. They will think we have a band we have discovered in Andromeda. Then we prep the audience with some history, something brief, entertaining but comprehensible and then, we reveal a sand-morph in the flesh!”
Alix leaned back into the soft cushion of the couch that he was sharing with Cristina. He knew full well that Cristina was committed to this crazy plan that she had concocted. It might be modified in some ways to make more sense, but she had already decided this was the way to save Paul and everyone else. This was her solution. If Alix loved her, and he truly did, he had to make this happen for her. Whatever it took, regardless of the danger, he had to do this.