**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.**
It came up unexpectedly during dinner. Even so Julie suspected it was part of Neville’s agenda all along. She did not like the idea at all, but it seemed convenient, considering her uncle’s funeral, for both of them to go to Star City.
She took bereavement time from work and added on a couple of personal days for travel. They owed her for the days she had worked without pay when she was technically still on vacation. Her supervisor was not happy, but he had agreed to giving her a long weekend – just as long as she was back at work by the following Wednesday.
Julie settled in next to Chase for the railcar ride to Star City. Neville and his wife Mary were in the seats directly ahead of them. She sat back having opted for a window seat knowing Chase needed the extra legroom for the aisle. It had been years since she’d traveled to Star City anywhere. In a way she was looking forward to have the time off from work, but she did not know what the future was going to bring, except for the basics. Chase was going to meet with Paul. Neville arranged it. There was a funeral service to attend on Sunday morning and Chase committed to escort her.
Neville was exuberantly confident about the prospects for Chase’s meeting with Paul. He pleaded his case first to Chase. Then, along with Chase, the two pitched the plan to Julie. Neville sincerely wanted to help. He did not want to lose anyone, certainly not one of The Twenty-Four. He said Paul was talented beyond his gifts. Absolutely convinced that if Chase could persuade Paul to cooperate, the authorities would spare his life.
The Colonial Authority would never permit Paul’s freedom ever again. It was too great a risk. To them, Paul was far too dangerous. Life in confinement was better than losing Paul’s unique genetics to the future borne of The Twenty-Four
It was a long shot that Paul would listen. Chase was not optimistic. Still, he understood Paul a little better than anyone else, with the possible exception of Cristina. He allowed there might be a psychic connection between the twins that would trump anything anyone else might offer.
Chase tried to analyze what sort of relationship he had with Paul and decided that he had a very long conversation once and only once. Afterwards he felt a certain rapport developing between them but, Paul seemed greatly disappointed that Chase did not immediately join and support The Resurrection’s cause. Never since had the two of them spoken. Even so, Neville believed that was enough to persuade Paul, to turn him away from the self-destructive course he had been pursuing? The chances were thin.
His only other link to Paul was through Cristina, a friend he adored, but he lost all contact with her and Alix. No one knew where they were.
Within the next few days Paul would stand in arraignment for multiple charges including over a hundred counts of assault and battery on officers of the Security Agency of the Colonial Authority along with conspiracy, subversion, sedition and multiple dozens of counts of murder. The prosecution was still finalizing the charges. The only reason Paul was officially classified a detainee and not a defendant was the amount of official paperwork to make the proceedings appear fair, documenting the legality of his status throughout his detainment so that his treatment was deemed completely legal beyond reproach.
It would not take long for the charges to be prosecuted. There would be a minimum of publicity and no fanfare except for a sweeping announcement that a high priority target in the war against the subversive group known as The Resurrection was convicted of his crimes and would be summarily executed within days of his trail. Under the current conditions there were no appeals on convictions of sedition or terrorism, of which Paul was accused.
There would be no bargains, no secret deals made in the last moments – not unless Paul cooperated to break up The Resurrection. In the interest of security, the Colonial Authority did not want any details to become public. They wanted to send a clear message to the other members of The Resurrection that what they determined to be justice would be swiftly delivered. Paul was about to be sacrificed and he appeared to be the willing scapegoat, betrayed by his own friends. Even Chase and Julie contributed to the Colonial Authority’s mounting evidence.
Julie reclined in her seat. It was going to be a very long ride. She closed her eyes and lingered on the edge of slumber for several moments before passing willingly into sleep. Thankfully it was a dreamless but restful interlude after which she roused to observe the desert landscape passing by outside the railcar window. When Chase noticed she was awake he told her they had about four hours left before their arrival.
Had she slept that long?
Julie brought her seat to its full upright position. Mary, Neville’s wife turned around and said something to her that she did not quite catch over the background hum of the railcar. Maybe it was irrelevant, probably some socially lubricating fluff. She heard what Mary asked afterward, though, “Are you thirsty?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Julie said.
“These railcars are uncomfortable for being the most convenient means of travel,” Mary commented as she passed back a canteen from which Julie drew a cup of water, then, she offered it back to Mary with her gratitude.
“I have another. Why don’t you just hang onto that one?”
“Thank you,” Julie reiterated.
“Why don’t you boys sit together so Julie and I can talk?” Mary suggested.
Chase looked at Julie and received a noncommittal shrug as he unfastened his safety belt and gave up his seat to Mary. Neville scooted over to the window seat so that Chase could have the aisle.
“It’s been a while since we have been to Star City,” Mary began once Julie was situated. “Neville’s mother and father still live there, but we haven’t been there for quite some time. We have invited them to Andromeda on many occasions but they do not want to close their coffee shop even for a few days. I understand it’s their life, but…well, it’s always a discussion. Arnie, Neville’s father, made some lucrative investments years ago, when the city was first developing. He met a financier who arranged his portfolio, so that honestly he and Emma, Neville’s mother, don’t have to work. They keep the place going because they enjoy it and they serve their friends everyday. They’re good people and generous to a fault. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”
“They sound like nice people.”
As Neville settled in the seat behind he was mostly quiet and spent most of his time staring out the window. Honestly, he had not said much for the entire trip. He was reserved in putting too much hope into things. It required a lot of Chase and relied on whatever relationship he had with Paul. Still, Chase had talked to Paul and had even been offered a role in The Resurrection. That was what Neville was counting on. That could be the difference.
“The last time we were in Star City it was to celebrate Neville’s parents moving out into a nicer home. The built their first place when Neville was starting high school. Before that they lived in the upstairs apartment above their coffee shop,” Mary explained. “Neville’s sisters were there for the housewarming. It was good seeing them and their families. They were at out wedding and we went to their weddings. Because of the distance and Neville’s work, it’s hard to get together. It was really a very nice reunion of sorts, around the holidays. I really like Neville’s family. It’s harder getting my family together. My dad had four boys and two girls. I’m the baby.”
“I think the last time all of us were together was Dad’s funeral. That’s been five years ago.”
“They’re not from Andromeda, I take it?”
“Of no, I met Neville at college. I’m originally from Haven. So, I’m kind of isolated from my family same as Neville is from his. But his work is important for all of us, researching the fertility rates.”
It occurred to Julie that Mary was not privy to everything Neville did.
“Sometimes I wonder if its worth it, being so isolated,” Mary said. “But it’s like Neville says, we’re frontier people. What about you, Julie? Is your family from Andromeda?”
“Borne and raised,” she said. “My parents – well my dad is dead, but my Mom’s still alive, which is–”
“Her mother works at the Institute,” Neville interrupted.
“So that’s how you know each other,” Mary said. “I guess I figured Neville knew Chase. They seemed to hit it off so well the other night.”
“Chase’s mother works at the Institute as well,” Neville said.
“Oh, how nice!”
“I have family in Star City,” Julie revealed. “Mostly people I haven’t seen since I was a kid. “Dad didn’t like traveling. I don’t either. I don’t like having to make scheduling arrangements all that much either.”
“Neither do I,” Mary revealed. “I love going out to eat at restaurants, but usually the places I knew well. Neville has a peculiar taste for things. He can’t seem to eat the synthetic foods.”
“I don’t like them either,” Julie admitted. “I can eat them, but I’d rather have organically grown food. Chase is the same way.”
“That’s Neville too.”
“I get that from my folks,” he said. “Their coffee shop serves breakfast – only real eggs and meat – everything organically grown.”
“Every once in a while I may try something different, some place I have never been,” Mary continued. But usually I don’t.”
“That’s what I like about Andromeda. There are a variety of places to go out for dinner and entertainment afterwards,” Julie said. “Chase travels a lot, especially when he is on tour. He sends me pictures so I kind of know where he has been and what he has seen. When he’s away we talk almost every night on the phone, depending on the time zones and when the show was scheduled. But now his company is thinking of expanding and giving him a promotion, so he would not have to travel as much.”
“That would be great,” Mary said.
“Yeah, I miss him a lot when he is away.”
Chase had tried not to pay attention but they were talking about him so it became nearly impossible for him to ignore. Still, he did not care to participate or comment. There was still more than three and a half hours left on the trip. Despite the amount of traveling he had previously done he never got used to it, especially the long periods of nothing much to do other than sleep, read or talk to someone else. For the moment, Neville had been talking more with Mary and Julie.
Chase had finished reading the book he brought along and he had already taken as long a nap as he was going to need. So, he was wide-awake.
Finally, Neville broke the silence, offering Chase a stick of jerky.
“Thanks,” Chase said as he accepted.
“I always bring snacks when I travel. Mary brings the water.”
“As much as I travel I should be better at coping with it. But I’m never very comfortable in these railcar seats,” Chase said. “The last tour I did, toward the end we had a chartered railcar. At least we could stretch out and sleep.”
“The administrators in the Colonial Authority who could change the types of accommodations on the railcars never travel by railcar. That is part of the problem,” Neville explained.
“The railcars are hardly ever full. There’s enough room to put in some beds. The railcars are connected to the network for tracking. They could broadcast world viewer channels over the same connections.”
“When the domes are down and the control of the world passes to the cities and their associated provincial administrations, or even private investment interests, perhaps some things will change,” Neville said. “Right now, The Colonial Authority has no interest in promoting travel between the cities. I think they would be just as happy if everyone stayed put.”
“Things won’t change much if we allow the same people to run the new governments,” Chase said.
Neville nodded. “You’re correct there. But initially people will seek the stability of the past over the uncertainty of the future. It will be easier at first to rename the bureaucracy that has already been in control and allow it to continue.”
Chase leaned back in his seat, taking a bite of jerky and chewing it before pronouncing, “Humans are very predictable and generally gullible.”
“In many ways we are but not in all ways. Groups are always more predictable in their behaviors than individuals.”
“Is that the logic behind the handling of The Twelve?”
Neville smiled, clearing his throat. “I’m not allowed to discuss all the details, of course. I don’t think it was planned. There was no grand conspiracy or anything. It evolved into what it is. We needed the Institute and most of the budget has been tracking the offspring. We needed a place, comfortable residence for the studies. At first we fully expected it to be very temporary. They planned to convert the living space to other functions once the study of The Twelve was concluded. My role was temporary until about fifteen years ago. That was when the Colonial Authority made the Institute a part of its ongoing programs funding budget. It was fortuitous that all of The Twelve get along so well, but in many ways they think alike.”
“The children are very different.”
“Yes and no,” Neville said, seeming to be debating whether to discuss The Twenty-Four. “I dare say there are enough similarities to get along very well.” He leaned over and whispered to Chase about the security provisions and that Mary did not know most of what Chase and Julie knew.
Chase nodded that he understood.
Quietly, being as discreet as possible, Neville continued. “Even in the instances where the children have met one another, there appears to be an immediate bond that transcends anything that might seem to be a difference. As radical as one might be, for example, it is not so distinct they others do not understand the motivation.”
“It’s more about fair treatment, I think,” Chase said.
“That’s up to us, now,” Neville whispered, patting Chase on the knee. “Getting a fir hearing. There’s an old saying. I’m not sure whom it comes from but my dad used to say it. ‘I may not be as good as I think, but I’m not as bad as you say.’“
“There is always the other side of any story,” Chase said.
“Unfortunately, where some are concerned, the story may never be permitted.”
“They monitor everything. There must be documentation.”
“If that exists, it’s all highly classified, well above my clearance.”
“What do you mean ‘if that exists’?” Chase asked.
“Not everything is archived,” Neville revealed.
“To conceal the methods used.”
“Perhaps,” Neville allowed.
“What other reason could there be?”
“The nature of the subject might weigh heavily in the decision. The risk recording a discussion of highly sensitive information, for example.”
“There should be nothing to hide,” Chase countered.
“In an ideal world maybe that could be true. But in the real world those who administer and control will always have secrets they would never want to become common knowledge. Naturally they have a low tolerance for undermining of their authority.”
“Of course it is. They ensure the security, structure and services. They enforce regulations and laws, settle disputes and punish those who act against social order and stability. A serious threat is anything with the potential to escalate beyond control and, in the extreme, into open confrontation.”
“They create their own enemies whether real or imagined.”
“They are real enough,” Neville said. “They will never admit blame for anything because it undermines their authority.”
“They don’t need to,” Chase said. “There is no accountability except to themselves through their own structure.”
“Structure? What structure?” Neville asked.
“There has to be structure to the organization.”
Neville stared at the younger man. “They’re a large group of loosely affiliated entities that serve administrative functions to facilitate everything imaginable. They are not a monolithic,” Neville said. “Perhaps that’s where all the confusion begins. The parts created independently to better administer the processes and address specific needs. Over time, they were forced into more and more of the quasi-governmental functions. There was never a singularity of purpose, other than perhaps preservation of the bureaucracy they were forced to create. The truth is that each agency and administration is distinct and autonomous. There is no one in charge or any single overriding authority to which anyone answers. There is no accountability outside of the hierarchy within any separate administration or agency.”
“Yet there is communication between the various administrations and agencies,” Chase said.
“Of course there is but within some constraints for accessing information up to a certain clearance level for the shared databases and records of other elements. The information is never openly offered unless it is of a specific and obvious nature that is of interest to another administration or agency. Then it must be approved through the appropriate channels, which could care less for expediting the information needs of any other administration or agency. Once then something becomes a priority for an administration to the calls go out to other administrators. Then it becomes a matter of sharing amongst friends with whom there is a social as well as a business relationship.”
Chase glanced away, feeling the uncomfortable sensation of eyes watching him. He could not discern who was watching or even the direction he should look to catch them. It was an odd sensation even though he had it before, a long time ago, long before he ever met Julie, back when he was a kid – a troublemaker.
“Is something wrong?” Neville asked.
“No, not really, just something I haven’t felt for a long time,” he unfastened his safety belt and stood-up, ostensibly stretching but also taking a good look at the other passengers. Many were sleeping. Some were reading. A few were having quiet conversations. Then he spotted him – someone he hadn’t seen for a long while. Chase was staring directly at him. He did not flinch or look away. It had to be him. There was no one else who could withstand Chase’s stare. “Pick?”
“I thought it was you, Chaser!”
Chase felt the heat of Julie’s glare from behind, but even so he turned to explain. “An old friend.”
“Yeah, we were from grade school through high school. Pick’s cool. He’d not one of the bad guys, just a troublemaker.”
Pick had ventured over to where Chase stood. They shook hands. “I heard some crazy crap about you being all successful and everything.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.”
“The seat beside me is vacant, take a load off. We can play catch up.”
Chase obliged and looked ahead finally meeting Julie’s concerned eyes. He smiled and winked.
“Nice, very nice. It figures you’d hook up with some seriously sweet thing like her.”
“She’s amazing. What about you? What was her name, Tamila?”
“Damn, man, you have quite a memory. I haven’t thought about that bitch in years! She dumped me and took off with some guy who promised her the world. He told her he would make her famous. Since I ain’t never heard of her since, we all know that was a lie.”
“So, what takes you to Star City?”
“Other than the smart ass answer?”
“The railcar, yeah – I got that.”
“I’m startin’ over, you know? Getting away from the streets and the people who think they know me but don’t. I have a prospect in Star City working for an ad agency.”
“That’s how I got my start, in Andromeda, though.”
“No kidding. Well, maybe this is the time of the Pick.”
“I hope so, man.”
“Thanks, Chaser. How about you? You on business or pleasure?”
“Her uncle died. And there’s some business, sort of.”
“Nothing you can discuss.”
“Not really. A guy I know who’s the brother of a close friend of mine is in a lot of trouble. I’m going to see if I can help him out.”
“Same as it always was,” Pick said and then smiled. “Always saving somebody.”
“Yeah. I missed my calling. I should have been a super hero.”
Pick laughed. “You and me both, dude. But that’s cool. It’s about the people in life, you know. Nothing else is important.”
“You know, we’re going to be staffing a new office soon in Andromeda. If things in Star City fall through, come look me up. It’ll be entry level but you’re smart and hard working. You can get there.”
“I appreciate that.”
“She’s giving me the evil eye.”
“I know it well,” Pick said. “What’s her name?”
“I always liked that name.”
“Yeah, me too. I’d better get back to her. It was great seeing you.”
“Same here, Chaser.”
“I’m serious about the job thing.”
He nodded. “If this doesn’t pan out, I’ll look you up.”
Chase shook his hand and then both of them stood up and embraced as brothers of the same old neighborhood. “You take care.”
“You too, bro.”
Chase migrated back up the aisle, while Julie stared at him. After he sat down he felt compelled to answer her silent inquiry. “His name is Richard, we called him Pick. He’s from my old neighborhood. Sometimes it was him and me against the world, but we usually won.”
In his absence, Neville had returned to staring out the window and being silent. Chase glanced at his chronometer. The trip had a little less than two and a half hours left. He reclined in his seat and closed his eyes. Even if he did not sleep he could focus his thoughts and concentrate. He was not certain what he could do, only he needed to be there for Paul whenever the demand necessitated.
Maybe something unexpected would happen. It would not be like an accident or a coincidence because such things just do not exist. It would be the result of a series of events some catalyst triggered. A stream would ensue and it would arrive at the exact time and place largely without the knowledge or expectations of anyone involved. The mystery would prevail in consideration of the apparent accident and it would never be appreciated for what it was, the logical extension of causality inherent in the design.