**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.***
Cristina rolled over and in the process, inadvertently slapped Alix. Startled he sat up quickly, then realized what must have happened and smiled as he saw that Cristina was still sleeping, resting comfortably in a real bed.
It was almost morning anyway. Maybe they really should get up for an early start on preventing events already set into motion. Yet they did not know enough details to even begin to know where to find Paul.
That was important to Cristina. She wanted to find him. He was the only family she had left in the world. She had never known her aunt and uncle, the people who raised Paul. But then, that logic didn’t make sense to Alix even though he said nothing. Until a few weeks ago Cristina did not even know she had a brother.
Alix fell back into the pillow and even though he was awake he was still groggy and considered trying to take another short nap while waiting for Cristina to rouse. He turned on his side and watched her sleeping, listening to her breathe. He confirmed for the millionth time in the past week how very pretty she was regardless of the time of day or whether she was wearing any makeup. He could not imagine her ever seeming ugly to anyone. There was nothing about her he did not like. Everything he found stimulating and fascinating. She was his personal goddess and he worshipped her, but he would never possess her. Others adored her, even worshipping her for her multiple talents as she performed before thousands and thousands of people. But it was different for him.
Maybe he worshipped her for a bit longer than anyone else. He was there in the beginning, the first day she sang for the band at the audition for Keith and Tim. He had been helping Pete tune his drums for their practice. Only his bass could achieve fundamental tones low enough for Pete to attempt tuning his drums directly to another instrument in the band. For everything else, Alix used an oscilloscope and a tone generator.
Alix saw her walk into the studio – if the place they were renting at the time merited the classification ‘studio’. It was Keith’s terminology. Tim warned Alix and Pete they were auditioning a singer for the band. So, they were not surprised when she showed up. Alix was surprised how amazingly pretty and vibrant she was. She brightened the whole room just being there.
She seemed tentative and quiet at first. Keith, the consummate schmooze, was talking and joking with her, trying to set her at ease. But when she began singing in accompaniment to Keith and Tim playing a song on their acoustic guitars, both Pete and Alix immediately stopped to listen. Her voice was like a mythical siren’s. They could not do anything else but listen. When she finished Pete and then Alix clapped. Tim and then Keith joined in.
“I guess I got the job, then?” Cristina ventured.
Keith laughed. “If you can stay a bit longer, I think Alix and Pete are just about tuned up by now and ready to go. Maybe we can jam for a bit.”
They jammed for over an hour on some riffs that Tim had written but had never really finished into a song. It was a jazz-blues sort of thing that lent itself to improvisation. Cristina accompanied the jam, playing an acoustic guitar. She was talented beyond anyone’s expectations. She also claimed ability with a keyboard, an instrument that the band had not yet utilized, mostly because only Alix could play the piano and even then it was not like he could do it all that well.
Alix recalled when Keith handed her a sheet of lyrics. They played the first song, instrumental only so that she could follow through reading the lyrics and timing the transitions. Then they played it again with her singing.
It was as if she owned the song, as if she had always sung it, maybe even written it. She had a presence and authority that commanded attention as she belted out the lyrics. It was at the end when Alix knew for certain she was then and ever after their lead singer.
In the ten years since, she lost nothing except her initial shyness.
He remained motionless, not wanting to disturb her sleep. He knew she needed her rest. She had been through a lot. Everything he had been through, so had she, but at least he got more sleep while traveling in the railcar.
When the first glints of sunlight hinted at the edges of the heavy drapes that were drawn over the windows, Cristina opened her eyes. “What time it is?”
“Around 6 in the morning,” Alix said. “It’s getting light out.”
She sat up. “We shouldn’t have slept this long.”
“You were tired.”
“We need to find Paul. I mean, we really have to find him.”
“Yeah, I get that. But then if you really want to go back three hours…”
Cristina laughed. “You remembered what you did.”
“Yeah, I can do it again.”
She fell back into her pillow. “Really I could stay right here forever.”
“As long as you’re with me, I’m happy to be right where I am,” Alix said.
“You’ve got it bad, don’t you? “
“If there’s a cure, I’m not interested.”
She drew a deep breath. “How do we find him, Alix?”
“You’re his sister, his twin. There must be some connection between the two of you. I mean that girl on the train, Clare, she was a stranger but you knew she had the attributes and you could talk to her, mentally.”
“I wonder how it worked out for her, with her boyfriend.”
“You said they were breaking up.”
“Yeah, well she thought he was cheating on her.”
“And if he wasn’t?”
“She has the attributes. If she thinks it then she has good reason to think it. It’s like having a sinking feeling that something wrong is imminent.”
“Like what I’ve been feeling since I awakened.”
She snuggled in closer then kissed him.
“I wish I knew what was going to happen,” he said.
“If we can go back couple of days, I suppose we can go forward a day or two.”
Alix smiled. “I’m not sure how it would work, though, skipping over the events that because we jumped back, we have not really even lived the experience. Would it be like we were never here to do anything? I don’t know what that would mean.”
“Then we come back and fix what was wrong or do whatever was necessary but missing.”
Alix laughed, “So, you have it all figured out?”
“Not all of it but maybe at least some of it,” Cristina said.
“I know what I did that was different, how we ended up a couple of days earlier. I just don’t know whether I could get back to where I was if I went into the future by a day more, or even if we lived on to arrive at the point where the future becomes our present. Would it be the same as what I witnessed. There are always a variety of conditions and a number of variables to consider. Any one potential change, even seemingly insignificant could alter everything else.”
“You’ve thought a lot about this.”
“Yeah, I have,” Alix confirmed.
“Still, we have to do something.”
Alix nodded. “I’m just not sure what we’re supposed to do.”
“Who decides what’s supposed to happen?” Cristina asked.
“I think there’s a conditional destiny of sorts.”
“I can’t describe it any other way. It is like this. What if we do this then this, this, and that? If we do that instead of this, then what does it change?”
“I follow your thinking,” Cristina allowed.
“The courses are potentials, but they’re predetermined based on the choices we make in the immediate moment.”
“If I get up from bed now as opposed to ten minutes from now, it changes everything.”
“Well, some things may result in greater change than others, but yeah, I think that’s the gist of it,” Alix said.
Immediately, Cristina sat up in bed. “I need to find Paul. I feel like something very permanent is about to happen, something no one can ever fix or even if it could be remedied it would take an amazing act of intervention.”
“We’ll both get dressed,” Alix said as he tossed back the covers and then stepped out of bed onto the cool stone floor.
However it was possible that Dom knew, while they showered and dressed he prepared breakfast for them. When they emerged from their room, Dom was awaiting that the top of the stairs and escorted them to where breakfast was served.
“Is Raven sleeping?” Cristina asked.
“He’s been in his study working on something all night. He told me that before you leave to inform him so he could give you something.”
“Give me something?”
“The way he phrased it I assumed it was something for both of you.”
“That’s intriguing,” Alix said. “I didn’t think he liked me much. Maybe his opinion of me has changed by the company I keep.”
Cristina smiled at Alix.
When they had completed their breakfasts, and exited out into the hall, Dom escorted them to the Master’s study. He knocked at the door and Raven granted permission for entry.
“Good morning,” Cristina said to him.
Raven smiled in response, “Were the accommodations suitable?”
“They were beyond excellent,” Alix answered for them both.
“Very good, then,” Raven stood and offered each of them a velvet pouch with cinch string. When they opened their pouches they discovered new payment wands. “Dom has reprogrammed your ID chips with new identities that are meticulously perfect as well as tied to the wands. Dom handles all of those things for me. When the ID files are accessed there will be a full history, including minor infractions, violations, and juvenile records of some mischief. There are school records and even some college records. Dom has created new lives for you. If you remain here he can even arrange for accommodations in an apartment building that I own. I’m a member of an investment consortium that is not directly linkable to me. A vacant apartment there is the address referenced on your ID’s. There are sufficient funds attached to the payment wands for you to linger in the city for several days then return home if and when you so desire and think it is safe. Dom is pretty good at estimating what would be required. He also monitors the accounts so if they run low he can replenish them from a blind account that’s not attached to mine in any way, shape or form.”
“What is this?” Alix asked as he pulled out a thin gold chain bearing an odd looking stone that glowed ever so slightly as it dangled from the chain as he held it.
“Talismans or if you prefer amulets; some would call them good luck charms, others might have divergent opinions.”
“It’s very pretty,” Cristina said as she extracted her own from the pouch. “What sort of gem stone is this? I’m not familiar with it.”
“The source stone is unique. There was originally only one and it was shattered into many pieces, of which these are but a small portion. It is said that these stones are a piece of the Foundation Stone, which is all that was left when the previous iteration of the universe concluded. These became the basis for the present creation. It is a legend and as is true of all legends there is enough fact in it so it cannot be summarily dismissed. I have studied the stones. They produce strange variations in the harmonic forces of the universe immediately around them. It is a fact that they can enhance the native abilities of those who bear them whenever there is a need to access the power inherent in the universe to channel through them.”
“And you are giving them to us as lucky charms?”
Raven smiled, “I’m giving them to you because they may help you and even protect you. The attributes the two of you possess are remarkable, yet they are abilities latent in everyone who is human. Despite the seeming magic in what you can do, there is really nothing magical in any of your demonstrated abilities. These stones are magical in that they can access the flow of the energy underlying and defining the very universe.”
“Thank you,” Cristina said, then rose up on her toes and kissed Raven. “Thank you, Andy,” she reiterated with a more personal touch.
Raven smiled at her, then accepted Alix’s handshake. “Goodbye and good luck,” he said to them both.
“Raven,” Cristina turned back as she paused at the door. “Did you ever find her?”
Raven seemed perplexed by the question. “There have been many hers who I have obviously found in life.”
“The real Marie?”
Raven stepped back but smiled as if savoring the image of her that his mind conjured. “Then you have read more than I suspected.”
“I have read a good bit but I have never finished it.”
“Tell me, what do you think?”
“I’ve always wanted to believe that you found her.”
“If that is what you believe then who am I to disappoint you?”
“How does it end in the book?”
“What’s the difference if you never read it to the conclusion? As the reader, a book can end anyway that you want it to, right? If the writing doesn’t compel you to the real conclusion, it ends wherever you leave off.”
“I would like to know how the real story ended.”
Raven laughed. “Authors must conclude works of fiction in ways that in the real world might never be possible.”
“You’re not going to tell me.”
“No, I’m not,” Raven said. “You may read it and whether you like the ending or not it is the conclusion. You may decide to linger in the hope that your guess is correct.”
“What happened to her?”
“As she was mortal having nothing artificially extending her life, her demise was much the same as anyone else’s,” he said.
Cristina nodded. “You were with her when she died.”
“You think you’ve tricked me into telling you the end but you’ve not. I’ve only said what is normal for anyone.”
Cristina tilted her head to one side, but then kissed Raven on the cheek again. Then, she turned to exit into the hallway and joined Alix there. Dom saw them to the front door where he handed them backpacks he had prepared with several days of clothing and some non-perishable food. Then, even Dom offered his goodbyes and good luck wishes.
As they descended the hill toward the coach stop, they saw the coach turning in the cul-de-sac at the end of ‘the hills’ route. It would reach the stop at just about the same time as they would. They would not have to wait at all.
They boarded the coach, temporarily stowing their backpacks beneath the bench seat. The coach was vacant except for them, and even unto the exit for ‘the crosstown’, no one else boarded. When they arrived at their exit they gathered up their backpacks and got off. Presently another coach stopped to pick them up just across the street from where they were let off.
Once they were settled again with their backpacks stowed under the bench sea, Cristina sighed, muttering something about not really knowing where to begin to look for Paul. Alix’s response was a nod, but nothing more.
She suspected Paul would return to the vicinity of stations, so perhaps that was a good enough place to start her search for him. She remained immersed in thought and Alix did not disturb her with idle prattle in lieu of purposeful points of conversation.
For his own part he was considering all the practicalities of how to possibly alter the course of events. It was difficult as he did not know what was going to happen. He assumed if they did nothing it would be worse than if they did something to delay what was increasingly beginning to seem inevitable.
Events would begin to progress from that afternoon regardless of what they did. They had taken flight from the authorities. If they were ever going to erase that from reality, they would need to go back to Andromeda, perhaps even back before Cristina made the railcar reservations.
“Sometimes I wish I’d never met Paul,” Cristina said quite abruptly, completely derailing Alix’s thoughts. “But I guess I had no choice in the matter. We’re connected. We’re related. So, everything about us shares some ultimate commonality of purpose.”
“I’m not sure I believe that,” Alix said. “Your objectives are completely different from his.”
“Maybe I’ve come here to persuade him. I’m sure he has come here to persuade me. And yet the authorities are trying very hard to keep us apart. Why? That’s really what I need to know. What’s wrong with a brother and sister meeting and talking, even having a disagreement. If we still go our separate ways and maintain respect for one another, who’s business is it what we do or say to one another?”
“Obviously, we need more information,” Alix said.
“We need more time.”
“Time I can give you,” Alix said as he opened his palm and the orb appeared there. Its presence caused both of the gift talismans they both received from Raven to glow brighter. “Isn’t that interesting?” Alix observed.
Cristina produced her orb as well, with a similar result. Then, rolling her hand over, her orb went back into the semi-oblivion just beyond the veils of reality where she kept it. The glow of their talismans diminished slightly.
“Very interesting,” Alix commented in supplement to his previous observation.
“When we were in the apartment back in New Milan, we brought our orbs together.”
Alix nodded, “And that is when we saw a sand-morph.”
“It was alive,” Cristina said.
“It felt like we were in the past as observers.”
“The creature seemed to respond to us.”
“We assumed that.”
“But lately I have wondered whether it was the past at all.”
“There are no sand-morphs. There have not been living sand-morphs for generations.”
“How do we know that?” Cristina said.
“They were all killed when the world was sterilized.”
“What if some of them survived?”
“Where would they be? The world has been explored and colonized for years and years. Someone would have found them by now.”
“They would have had to be deep in caverns to have survived the effects of sterilization.”
Alix nodded. “According to Chase, Paul was in a cavern when he met him.”
“You don’t think Paul actually found where they are.”
“It’s possible but unlikely.”
“I doubt it, too,” Cristina said. “He would not be so adamant about The Resurrection’s goals if he’d found any of the sand-morphs who were still alive.”
“If any were alive you would think, after all this time, someone would have made contact with them.”
“Or them with us,” she said.
They reached their stop before they noticed and although they scrambled to get up in time to exit, the coach was already pulling away from the curb. They sat back down, clutching their belongings in their laps and waited to arrive at the next stop, where they finally exited.
They turned back to the north and began to walk toward the stop they missed when suddenly they observed a group of young men who seemed to be in a hurry crossing the street at the next corner. Cristina shivered as if she had taken a chill, prompting Alix to inquire, “What’s wrong?”
“All of them.”
“All of them have the attributes.”
“They’re part of The Resurrection.”
She nodded. “Affiliated. We have to follow them. Maybe they know where Paul is.”
They broke into a run to reach the corner before the group disappeared down another street. They were just in time to see the last few men in the group entering an alley. They hurried along the street, finally reaching the alley where the men were congregated. A group of them advanced behind a building while one remained out in the alley proper.
Cristina and Alix slipped their arms out of the straps of their backpacks and set them down as they hid in the shadows, nestled in doorways that were recessed into the walls of adjacent buildings. There they waited, watching what was happening, wondering what was going on. Suddenly, Cristina gasped, then immediately suppressed it. “Paul,” she whispered as he had seemingly appeared from nowhere.
Across the way Alix nodded. He saw him too.
The man who remained in the alley halted him. The two of them were conversing, somewhat animated at first but then just as the balance of the group of men returned to the alley to surround them, the man who stopped Paul delivered some sort of a verbal chastisement to his obvious subordinates. Some of it was audible but only a word here and there. Even so both Alix and Cristina got the gist of it.
After a few moments Paul was blindfolded and physically escorted past Cristina and Alix as the two of them withdrew further into the recesses of the doorways while Paul and the others emerged out into the street.
They followed them for a time, as they meandered through the streets, perhaps trying to confuse Paul, then a few blocks from where they found Paul, the apparent leader, Paul and a couple of escorts disappeared into an archway that concealed a stairway that led directly from the street to a floor that was above a small novelty store that was not yet open for the day’s business hours.
Cristina and Alix sat in an alley across the street and observed for a time until the apparent leader came back down the stairway and exited through the archway onto the street. He turned to the east and went on his way. After a few minutes the other two escorts departed, exiting heading west.
“Do we follow them or the leader?”
“Paul is still in that building,” Cristina said as she shed her backpack and propped it against the wall of the building to support the small of her back. “We’ll wait here.”
As Paul removed his backpack as well he asked, “Do you think Paul is in any kind of trouble, I mean more so than already?”
“I don’t know. I sort of feel he’s safe, at least for the moment.”
Alix squatted down where he was and then finally sat back on the ground with his back supported by his backpack as he leaned back against the wall for support.
Cristina was happy to know where Paul was and content to allow events to progress as they would for a while at least. Alix glanced at his chronometer. It was getting fairly late for the morning. Soon the businesses would be open and the bustle of the day would replace the present prevailing tranquility.
As the shop on the first floor of the building that they had been watching opened for business they observed as people came and went. In midmorning she saw someone entering the building, ascending the stairs and then came back down a few minutes later. Suddenly, Cristina stood up, snatching up her backpack by its straps. “Let’s go,” she said.
“I thought we were just going to watch.”
“We are. I just want to see where Paul is – inside.”
Cristina exited the alley and started across the street before Alix could even grab his backpack and try to catch up. She passed beneath the arch and bounded up the stairs, taking two at a time as Alix had finally caught up but was still a step or two in her wake.
They opened the door and entered into a vacant, nearly open floor, the only walls other than the outer walls were a series of partitions constructed from the front wall of the building back to halfway into the floor then formed a sharp corner to adjoin with a sidewall of the building.
Cristina led the way as they explored the entire floor, finding nothing even though she kept telling Alix that she knew Paul was nearby. She even paused for several moments and faced a wall, reaching out and almost touching the wall. “I’m confused,” she said to Alix.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “He’s very close but we’ve looked everywhere.”
Alix went inside the room and checked, looking at everything from ceiling to floor. When he emerged he shrugged, “Unless there is some concealed room on this floor, I have no explanation.”
“We go back where we were and watch. I’m certain he’s here.”
They descended the stairs and headed toward the alley across the street where they had previously been. In the building next to the alley was a small coffee shop. Alix offered to buy Cristina a cup of coffee and she accepted. They sat together sipping coffee at a table beside the front window as Cristina maintained her vigil.
The gentleman who apparently owned the shop came out to their table and personally thanked them for coming in. They promised him that they would return and he thanked them.
When they had finished their coffee they returned to the alley and again deposited their backpacks onto the pavement in exactly the right way to afford them some lower back support while leaning back against the wall of the building that housed the coffee shop.
Around noon, someone approached bearing a relatively flat rectangular box, which he carried between his hands. He passed beneath the arch and ascended the stairs. In a few minutes he returned down the stairs carrying the box vertically under his arm as if it were empty, or at least he no longer cared about the contents.
She considered it for a few minutes, and then looked at the chronometer on Paul’s wrist. “Is it noon?”
“Yeah, close enough for argument’s sake. Why, are you hungry?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s not why I asked. It’s funny. Someone just went upstairs in the building across the street and appeared to deliver something.”
“Where? There’s no one there.”
“Exactly my point. Not only that but he was carrying it flat, like it was a tray, then when he returned he had the box tucked under his arm.”
“That’s my thought.”
Alix shrugged. “Okay, if Paul’s there he’s somewhere we can’t access, for whatever reason.”
“Behind a false wall,” Cristina suggested.
“A concealed room,” Alix said. “If we had a measuring meter we could confirm it.”
“We could get one.”
“I suppose we could.”
“Well one of us needs to stay here and watch the building.”
“I’ll get the measuring meter. There has to be somewhere near here that sells hardware.”