**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 waited at the bar. She occasionally glanced toward the door, not wanting to be too obvious but Manny, the bartender, had already caught her. “Your boyfriend?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she admitted.
“Well, if he doesn’t realize what a lucky man he is, then maybe I should tell him.”
“Don’t you dare,” Julie threatened.
Manny laughed. “Not that I don’t appreciate seeing you again or your business, but why are you meeting him here?”
“It’s neutral turf, sort of anyway.”
“When you hang out in a bar, not that you have in recent memory but when you have this is it, this is your bar. So, it’s hardly neutral turf.”
“Well, he just didn’t feel comfortable back at the old place. We are going to see his mother.”
“You have to get her approval for the relationship?”
“No, he thought she was dead. I thought my mother was dead, too. I recently met her and discovered that she knows Chase’s mother and that she’s also alive and well.”
“That would make an interesting if somewhat incredibly inane plot for a sitcom on the entertainment channel,” Manny said.
Julie sipped from her mixed drink.
“So, before you were telling me that all this time that you never came in here, you were living with him and then you had a falling out.”
“Yeah,” Julie confessed. “I know it’s kind of stupid. I mean, we’ve been together long enough to be married but, for whatever reason, it just never happened. I was devoted to him and he was to me. That was never the issue. Well, honestly I was jealous of his relationship with Cristina, but I also understand it because she’s gorgeous.”
“How could anyone distract his eyes from you?” Manny asked.
“Well, if you saw her, you’d see what I mean.”
“I think you discount your attributes far too readily,” he said.
Manny’s choice of words startled her, even if he meant nothing the way she might have taken it. “Well, I wanted to protect him and I did something that he still does not understand. That’s really what came between us. I can accept if he’s in love with Cristina, but she’s spoken for and he’s been a gentleman with her all along.”
Manny refreshed her drink. “What I said earlier about the sit-com. Scratch that. This sounds more like a soap opera.”
“Thanks for the drink, not the commentary,” Julie said.
“Is this Cristina even interested in Chase?”
“I think she was but she’s not interested any longer, because she had a boyfriend, now. She didn’t before, now she does.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Manny asked.
“You can ask him when he gets here.”
“You accept none of the blame?”
“I’m sure some of it’s my fault. Maybe I should have told him how afraid I was when he was hurt, how much I didn’t want to ever see him in that much pain again. But we had guests staying with us. It wasn’t easy for me to find a place where we could talk.”
“Maybe he felt insulted.”
“You know the macho thing,” Manny said.
“Chase isn’t like that.”
“Julie, honey, every man is like that. You hurt his pride. He wants to be the one protecting you even if you don’t need his protection and are perfectly capable of doing everything on your own.”
“After our apartment was broken into, I felt violated and frightened to be alone.”
“You told me about that, the last time you were here.”
“Well, he was there for me, then. I soon discovered it was the same people who threatened him and that the only way to ensure that it did not happen to us again was to cooperate with them. But then, when he found out what I did to protect him and get them to no longer threaten us, he said I betrayed our friends and him.”
“I’m missing a lot of details, I’m sure, but I’ll say this: despite good intentions, events progress as they will,” Manny said.
“I never intended to betray anyone.”
“Yet you did.”
Julie lowered her eyes. “The authorities were following Chase and watching Alix and Cristina. They arrested Alix and Cristina before Chase could take them to the railcar station, but they somehow escaped.”
“Where are they now?”
“No one knows,” Julie said. “No one has seen them or heard from them since. I believe they escaped, but it is very strange that there’s been no word from them.”
“They would not risk contacting you, perhaps.”
“I hope they got away. I never intended for them to have problems.”
“Chase blames you.”
“Of course, he does.”
Manny nodded. “But at least you are still talking to him.”
“Yeah, maybe that’s a hopeful sign. But it’s not the same. Maybe it can never be the same as it was, but I want it to be like it was. It was beautiful, even magical. We connected on so many levels.”
“Except for the one thing that became a wedge to separate you,” Manny said.
“Yeah, except for that, we’d still be together,” Julie said as she again glanced toward the door as it opened. The light from the outside framed a silhouette in the doorway then as the door closed she waved to Chase. He acknowledged her as he saw her sitting on a stool at the bar.
As he arrived at the bar, Julie reintroduced him, “You remember Manny.”
Manny offered his hand, “Good see you again,” he said.
“Likewise,” Chase responded. “Thanks for keeping her company.”
Julie took another sip of her drink. “Do you want anything?”
“No, I’m good,” Chase said.
“You’re ready to go?”
Chase cleared his throat. “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I’m nervous. How weird is that?”
“You have not been with her since you were an infant,” Julie said. “It was the same way for me.”
Chase held out his hand, offering her assistance in stepping down from her barstool. “Let’s do it,” he said as she joined him.
“I’ll see you later, Manny,” she said.
“You take care of her,” Manny directed to Chase.
“I always will.”
When they reached the outside where Chase had temporarily parked, Julie turned toward him, “Will you?”
“Will I what?”
“Always take care of me?”
“I’ve tried to ever since I first met you,” Chase said as he opened the door of the coach and helped her to climb inside, then he climbed in and settled at the control console.
“I was trying to take care of you. Someone hurt the man I love. They also violated the privacy of where we lived. I wanted answers and received an offer.”
“Look,” Chase said as he merged with the light traffic on the street. “I get it. I really do, why you did what you did and how it all made some kind of sense to you. It’s just that now two of our friends are missing because of it.”
“Don’t you think I am concerned about them, too?”
“If Alix feels for Cristina half of what I feel for you, she’s well protected,” Chase confessed. “But it concerns me that it seems like they’ve disappeared from the world.”
“Yates is looking for anything on them.”
“What good does that do?”
“The Colonial Authority has many parts and branches that do not always communicate well with one another and sometimes act in completely opposite, disharmonious ways,” Julie explained.
“It could be that Cristina and Alix were captured but no one was informed.”
“Or the information was withheld from normal channels.”
“I suppose that makes some sense,” Chase said. “Judging from the reports out of Star City, Paul has been busy making an even more notorious reputation for himself.”
“Do you think any of that is true?” Julie asked in reference to world viewer reports from earlier that morning that obviously they both saw.
“I’m sure it’s true, at least to the extent they reported and their perception of what went on. I’m equally certain Paul would be able to justify what happened, as hard as that might be to fathom at this point.”
“How do you justify all those deaths?” Julie asked.
“That’s sort of my point. Paul would never kill someone capriciously. There would be a very good reason. It would be in direct retaliation. The fact some are alive indicates restraint. Surely, he could have killed everyone. If they threatened Paul in the same way they threatened me–”
“Some of the agents do things like that.”
“Apparently there are a lot of them who work that way. There are just a lot fewer of them in Star City now.”
“Okay,” Julie leaned forward. “At the next intersection take a right and at the second signal, take a left. Then to the end of that street there’s a secure compound. We have to be signed in.”
“They’re expecting us.”
“Yeah, I called Neville yesterday. He said he’d arrange for everything.”
Chase turned right just as she directed then when they reached the second light he turned left. He then programmed the coach to cruise on automatic, adjusting their speed to the timing of the signals. It was still very early in the afternoon on a traditional non-working day for many people. There was not a lot of traffic in the city, not even downtown.
They were heading out toward the northern edge of Andromeda, the parts of the city that were constructed on a slight natural ridge that because of relative elevation commanded a bleak view of the desolation of the Big Continent’s interior. He looked out across the vastness of the desert to the north and west and wondered how it was ever going to look like the Colonial Authority envisioned. It would take decades just to get the irrigation systems in place let alone the processes of amending the sand to transform it into a fertile loamy soil sufficiently enriched with organic nutrients to support a variety of plants.
When they arrived at the front gate, Chase halted and opened the coach door. The gate guard stepped around and peered inside.
“I’m Chase and this is Julie.”
“Neville is expecting us,” Julie said.
“Thank you, please wait,” he said as he entered the information into his pad and then waited for authorization. He looked up and nodded toward Chase even as the gate was already sliding open. Chase closed the door and navigated the coach into the containment area where there was no sort of docking other than landing a vehicle on a partitioned spot marked on the pavement.
When Chase opened the door, Julie was immediately up and exited the coach. Chase had a few things to do that were particular to parking a vehicle on a flat surface rather than in a stack dock array. After he finished, he exited and secured the vehicle. Then, taking Julie by the hand, he allowed her to lead him in the direction they needed to go.
They reached the reception desk. The lady tending it looked up and studied first Chase then Julie. “Are you expected?”
“I have an appointment with Neville,” Julie said. “I’m Julie and this is Chase.”
The attendant checked her list and then looked up. “Take these temporary security badges. Then if you would like to stand by those two doors, I’ll clear you to enter. Neville will meet you inside.”
Neville approached them from down the hallway, greeting immediately, offering his hand to Chase as the distance between them rapidly closed. “It’s my pleasure to finally meet you,” he said.
The phrasing struck Chase as being a little odd, but he shrugged it off even as Neville proceeded to welcome Julie back.
“Your mother is waiting in the social area,” Neville explained to Chase. Then, turning back to Julie, he continued, “Your mother’s still in her room. She said to meet in the social area in a few minutes. They just had their hair done this morning.”
They paused at a central security station that monitored every room in the building. They signed in as the guard checked their badges and scanned their ID implants before clearing them to pass.
The social area was immediately past the security station. As Julie and Chase entered, Chase’s mother, Rosemary stood and with open arms greeting her son. “You’re so tall!”
“Like my father,” Chase said.
She nodded, still staring at him, as if trying to commit to memory every detail of his face. “You’re a bit taller I believe. You’re handsome, just like he was, though,” she said. Then looking at Julie she smiled. “You’ve taken good care of him.”
Julie shrugged, “Despite his resistance.”
Rosemary laughed. “Well, it comes naturally. His father was stubborn, too. Come sit down, both of you.”
Chase was still skeptical. He wanted to believe, but he doubted. How could he be certain that the woman in front of him was, in fact, the woman she claimed to be?
“Well, I for one am glad that the Colonial Authority has decided to allow us to visit from time to time. I have always dreamed of talking to my son. And now, meeting you–”
“It has not been easy. It wasn’t easy for Dad.”
“I know. It was hard for him to live the lie, telling you I was dead. But it was what everyone had to say. All of us, The Twelve as they call is, we expected to die in childbirth. Our doctors prepared us for it and we signed waivers and all sorts of documents that we understood that carrying our twins full term would create a medical condition that would be almost immediately terminal. So, we were all prepared for it and accepted it as necessary so our children could live. Then, when we were still alive afterwards, no one knew why. The Colonial Authority thought the answer might contain the secret they were seeking, and through studying us they might be able to reverse the declining fertility rates. It was a noble cause and like all noble causes there’s always a price to pay. None of us knew how long we would live. The said it was an anomaly – a fluke. We were certain it would end eventually. I don’t think anyone thought we would ever live this long, certainly not long enough to see our children fully grown and even to the point of choosing their mates.”
Neville stood in the doorway behind them. “It’s almost as interesting watching the interactions of The Twenty-Four offspring as it is studying the similarities of The Twelve. As I was telling Julie when she was here before, it seems The Twenty-Four are drawn to one another. So far, with one exception, there have mainly been pairings from amongst the Twenty-Four. We aren’t certain the trend will continue, but it’s an interesting phenomenon we think could be related to your unique genetics as a group as much as the common backgrounds and circumstances.”
Julie’s mother finally arrived. As she entered the social area, she opened her arms and shared a warm embrace with Julie before offering her hand to Chase.
“It is good to meet you,” Chase said in response as he stood up until Sylvia paused to kiss Rosemary on the cheek and then she joined them as they sat around a table.
“I’ve really wanted to meet you,” Sylvia said. “Your mother and I are very close friends. The Twelve have become a sorority of sorts. We hear things about you through our sources here, so as you might suspect, we talk a lot about our children and what they’re doing.”
“It comes as a shock,” Chase said. “For all my life, all our lives, we were lied to.”
Sylvia lowered her eyes. “I do not believe any deception is ever right, but in this instance, I believe it may have been necessary. It never started out to be the lie it has become.”
“I explained some of that,” Rosemary said.
“The Colonial Authority didn’t know what to do with us at first. We were kept in isolation wards at the hospitals where we had been admitted for childbirth. At first they didn’t expect us to live but the more tests they ran the more they came to the realization that we were healthy and probably stood a pretty good chance of living our normal life spans. They had to study us because we were the only ones who had given birth to children with the attributes but did not die. It took a year and a half to get this facility ready and then, they brought each of us here for observation. By then the lies were firmly established.”
“Our dads knew,” Julie said.
“They didn’t like it any more than we did, but they understood the necessity,” Rosemary said.
“Those were different times,” Sylvia added. “No one outside of the researchers began to understand the attributes. Certainly, none of us who carried the genetic distinction understood why we were usual or began to appreciate our potential value. We felt out of place and shunned contact with others. It’s a miracle any of us even married. I’ve heard some of our generation has committed suicide. Others never stepped out from their reclusive natures, leading celibate lives. Maybe they’re still alive somewhere. The Colonial Authority does not know where everyone is. They’ve only been able to track those who had children and most of them died. They don’t know if there would have been more than twelve of us who survived giving birth had everyone found suitable mates.”
Neville had arranged for a pitcher of iced tea to be served along with some snack cakes. This was part of the trial and, of course, it was being observed. Julie’s previous meeting was recorded and reviewed as stage one of a preliminary process for the Colonial Authority to evaluate to costs and the benefits of allowing contact between The Twelve and The Twenty-Four. It was imperative that if the process were to continue this meeting went well.
The Colonial Authority suspected Chase’s loyalties. After all, he intended to chauffeur Cristina and Alix to the railcar station the afternoon they disappeared and became fugitives. The meeting between Paul and his mother did not produce the intended results, although, by then events may have progressed too far for Paul to ever be salvaged to perform any role benefiting the Colonial Authority.
Unless this meeting went well, Neville expected the change of policy would be restricted to only those who knew. He also understood some others of The Twenty-Four would learn from others and he expected a procedure and process for them to petition for visitation. Regardless of the Colonial Authority’s changes of procedures and rules, this was not complete reversal or a breakdown in the security controlling of the living environment for The Twelve. It was merely a more humane loosening of the prison-like environment to allow for visitation between mothers their children.