Blog, Books, Editing, Environment, Fantasy, Future, music, novel, Rock Music, Science Fiction, Space, Technology, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Writing

The Resurrection: Chapter 27 – The Bridge

**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.**

The reason for the linkage was unclear, but with certainty she could sense it. Cristina wrestled with the concept in her waking mind, hunted with the images lingering from her dreams. Nonsensical visions from the distant past, well before she had been a thought in her mother’s mind and before her mother or grandmother was born. Past voices telling stories of others worlds, of destinies and obligations, strange but compelling, each of them was telling her the same undeniable truth about connections and relationships. Her life had a meaning that transcended the brief spans of an individual’s mortal plight.

In her dream there were beautiful green eyes, just like hers, staring back at her from a mirror. Though the face resembled her, it was exotic in a way hers was not. Observing her transforming into a half human hybrid with features of wolves and cats, this was the bridge and how it formed in her ancestral past.

Upon the brink of a void deep and dark she stood until suddenly, with spiraling light that spread across a spectrum it exploded. So broad the range and vast the scale her mind retreated barely able to conceive of the colors at the fringe of perception. More refined, the twisting, climbing ladder wrapped around with the rungs breaking in the middle, unlocked to allow for other pieces of the light to be included within its framework.

In the background the harmonic beauty of the Sakum’malien language swept past her, capturing her imagination as her voice layered upon it in persisting nuance. With a voracious hunger a solitary alabaster orb floated consuming everything around it until it became all that was left, and its surface changed colors on its whim. Only the black blankness of the void surrounded it, the beginning as well as the culmination of all journeys compressed into the single stone the orb had become.

Unwitting allies, unbounded in time, the Couriers went into the past carrying the alteration as a disease to infect every human. Slow and methodical, the Sakum’malien patience prevailed spreading the necessary pestilence that bore curious hope in its wake as part of the balance. A time would come for the bridge’s arrival. She would communicate the horrible fate of colonists and provide a remedy that would alter the divine countenance of forever.

Finally, she understood a role, appreciating the subtlety of the Sakum’malien revenge. Contained in her personal truth, the threads of continuity extended through and wrapped around the greater context. It was something she possessed, portions of it shared with others, but its heart resided within her and no one else. How could she embody both what was and what would become? Who would understand her if she could not comprehend the new role as the bridge? Alone, providing the remedy, she was held all potential, nullifying the need for the disease as well as the mutation that made her and others like her special. Her vision contained a billion trillion destinies to awaken via a song she could not but sing. She was the heart and soul of the universe, the physical and spiritual linked to the infinite dreams of innocent children and the harmless fantasies of old men and women lamenting the loss of better times.

Cristina stretched as she sat up in the bed. Alix rolled away from her, clutching at a pillow, pulling it toward his chest as a surrogate for his unconscious affections. He settled anew and resumed his sleep with a substitute lover held fast in his arms.

Quietly, she rose, taking pains not to disturb him. Her lover needed rest. He had not slept well on the railcar ride from Star City. Still recovering and adjusting to the time zones, he never did sleep well while traveling. Afterward, he always remained in bed for a day or two. Usually so did she, but this time was different. This time there were guests, not just the other members of the band who crashed on the floor and couch in her apartment.

As she stepped lightly across the threshold, carefully she closed the bedroom door behind her. Taking a few moments to purge her bladder in the bathroom before rejoining Staash at the table. From the living room she could hear the snores of her friends and fellow musicians. It was still dark, before dawn perhaps. Her sense of time was distorted. People were probably never intended to travel faster than they cold walk or ride on the back of a beast of burden. Then again, what might the gods have expected of the most clever of all the apes? Would they have not foreseen the curiosity leading them to explore and colonize other worlds?

It appeared as if the Sakum’mal had not moved since she left him last night. They were up late. The learning process was mentally intense and exhausting, though apparently it had taken less than a half hour. The song containing the warning was composed and well rehearsed. She had only to teach it to her band. With their instruments and vocals sung in harmony they would fill in for the multiple layers voice she physically lacked.

Staash rested in his own way. She did not know how long it would take for him to recover. Since their intimate connection there was deep understanding of his nature. He could go for many days without downtime. So, she figured whenever he finally rested, as he was at the moment, it would be for an extended period.

To her immediate surprise he looked up at her and even acknowledged her through telepathy as was natural for him and his kind. Now, the gift of her telepathy made sense. How could she had been born otherwise than she gifted in the way she was? Responding with a smile she observed his face brighten. He loved her in his way, after his own fashion. It was nothing that could be physically consummated, of course. Last night their minds merged in mutual admiration without reservation or embarrassment. They were lovers of one another’s creativity, sharing a bond well beyond what either of them knew with their separate species. Silently she spoke to him in Sakum’malien, even though her thoughts felt flat and not quite as interesting as it seemed in her imagination.

“You’ve learned my language well,” he projected.

“You’ve been an immeasurable help to me.”

“It’s all purposeful, for us both.”

“And beyond either of us,” she responded. “I am the human half of the bridge you complete you built.”

“I’ve always wanted to know you.” Staash peered into her eyes, meeting her mind halfway. “The uneasiness I felt when I first came here is gone.”

Cristina nodded. As well as he did, she knew what had been done and what was left unfulfilled. After a few moments Staash’s eyes engaged hers and in moments she was off again, on another adventure of mutual discovery, immersed in thoughts she could only have if the Sakum’malien language was her foundation.

The irony of the plague was the cruelest sort of revenge for human stupidity. The first human encounter with alien life ended tragically in the ignorance of not expecting the truth. The violence had not gone unnoticed. All mankind now suffered for the acts of the first few humans who explored Pravda. Now, facing extinction as one possible culmination, a plot was carried out over centuries, but in the balance one bridge could provide an equitable remedy.

The Sakum’malien represented a prevalent form of life in the cosmos. In human ethnocentricity carbon was believed to be the key to life in the universe. Yet it was the exception. One had only to observe humans and the other forms of life that once populated the Earth to understand how frail carbon-based life could be. Sickly and prone to spreading disease humans were easy prey for the Sakum’malien to attack, enlisting the help of humanoids to deliver their revenge. They could afford to be patient in meting out their vengeance over centuries. Merely seeking the unbounded to fold time and deliver their curse upon all of mankind, an insidious genetic plague was visited upon the unsuspecting and spread through the act of procreation.

Staash interrupted her thoughts. He spoke, not through his mind but with his raspy voice. “I’m thirsty.”

Cristina took the empty pitcher from the table and his glass and took them into the kitchen. From the freezer she scooped ice into the pitcher then poured water into it from the faucet. After a few moments she returned to the dinette table and delivered to Staash the pitcher and a fresh glass both filled with cold water.

He consumed the contents of the glass almost immediately and then meeting her eyes he projected happiness as he poured another glass and consumed it as well.

“You can drink water anytime you know. There’s a faucet in the kitchen, same as the place we were before,” she said.

Staash nodded. “I have been content to sit here close to the source in case of an emergency that has not yet come.”

Cristina sat back, staring at him. “You speak fluently.”

“As do you and now in my language as well. It happens with enough practical experience, I suppose. Also the manner of our merging helped. You learned Sakum’malien, I learned English, Italian, Spanish, German and French.”

Cristina smiled. “My languages.”

“They are similar despite their differences,” he said.

Staash stood up from the table and focused on her eyes but only for a moment. He focused on the world viewer screen where Alix and Pete had engaged in a battle royale sort of marathon well into the previous night.

Activated with a thought, the main screen illuminated full on, Staash pointed his hand and the device scrolled through the channels to an unassigned frequency that appeared as random black and while pixels representing the static. Yet, he allowed it to linger. As she stared at the graphical display of white noise, it suddenly appeared, in full focus with sharp clarity and well-defined resolution. She understood it and even wondered why it had never occurred to her before. Everything being part of the same Continuum, it seemed simple. Then as her mind reached to possess it, the image returned to the random pattern of noise.

“Yes,” Staash said as he switched the display off. “Now you understand how everything is connected through the electromagnetic spectrum.”

“The reason has a source we must remove,” she protested.

“Your role is not incongruous with your original plan. You always knew what to do not how to do it.”

“How can it be?”

“You warn the colonies of Sakum’malien about the airlocks.”

“They were ours not yours.”

He nodded.

“Why ?”

“It is a mystery, but should it matter?”

“I suppose they needed the airlock to seal in air we could breathe without respirators or filters as we explored the caverns.”

“How do we fix it?” Staash asked.

“I’m not sure it can be.”

“There must be a way. The plaque is removed never to be visited upon humans, if we solve the riddle.”

“The couriers will never be dispatched into the past to deliver the disease…” Then she sober realization came as she posed the one question he had avoided asking. “What about the attributes?”

Staash sighed but his lack of response answered in silence. Despite her attempts to probe he guarded his thoughts. When he finally spoke his tone as conciliatory. His mood was philosophical. “The world will change regardless of what you or anyone else does.”

“Will I be here after? It’s not irrational trepidation. It’s instinctual. I want to survive.”

“Then you’ll find the means to survive,” Staash said. “The attributes exist within all humans. They have been there since the beginning. My kind enhanced the inherent abilities in a few. Over many generations the gifts became distinct for not one or two of a thousand but millions. Then, enough apparent randomness brought attributes together.”

“In the Twenty-Four.” Cristina stood beside the Sakum’mal, her arm wrapped around his waist. “Come with me.” They walked toward the balcony. “Maybe you can explain something.”

There they paused to stare out through the sliding door of her balcony. Beyond the dome the skies in the east were bright with dawn. Behind her apartment building was a grassy courtyard. In the midst there was a circular bench set around a large table. There were two girls and two boys sitting, coloring-in line-drawn picture with markers. One looked up at the sunrise, the others averted their overly sensitive eyes. Cristina wore a smile in empathy with what she could sense from the girl.

“She’s like me,” Cristina pointed. “I noticed her before we went on tour, and again afterwards. She’s the age I was when I began to feel self-conscious about my differences.”

“You see but you miss the point of your visions. Who are her playmates?”

“I don’t understand.”

“They are the same age, exactly.”

“Siblings.”

Staash glowed.

“Quadruplets?”

“Why would your physical nature be as it is?” Staash asked.

“It never occurred to me.”

Then he pointed to a balcony in the building across the way, one that was an exact mirror image of Cristina’s apartment building and where they stood. “The mother of four.”

“She has the attributes.”

“It is intended that those like you replace humans and repopulate the world rapidly.”

Cristina looked into his eyes. “Four offspring? The next generation will be called The Ninety-Six.” Cristina smiled.

Staash reached out patting her stomach. “Already it begins.”

She leaned against him for support, not questioning how he knew what she had not dared to admit to herself. “I felt the possibility, of course.”

“Alix should know.”

She nodded.

“The little girl sings.”

“She’s a lot like me.”

“Another bridge.”

“In case I fail?”

“You won’t.” Staash turned away from the door and Cristina followed. She drew a deep breath. Almost overwhelming pressure upon her, why was it that she had to be the bridge? Why was it that only she was the bridge for this generation. Was her set of gifts that rare?

The very means by which the Sakum’malien revenge was meted out would not only ended many innocent lives, but also it produced the very attributes that made her different enough to give mankind its only hope. To remove the curse would end the need for her and those like her to ever be. Her mother might never be born, nor the little girl and her siblings in the courtyard. There would be no plague sent back in the past to infect all of mankind.

“I have not previously felt this mood in you,” Staash said. “It’s melancholy and not at all becoming. You’re too beautiful inside and out to have such dread darkness in your thoughts.”

“It’s how I feel. I’ve written a song that contains a message to communicate danger to your kind. Saving you will kill me. Ultimately I bring an end the world I know to become part of the random noise you showed me on the world viewer screen.”

“Within the noise there was a hidden pattern you saw. That is the hope.”

“Where I’ll be, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Staash’s face turned dark as he fully grasped her unique dilemma. “Instantaneous transformation, somewhere else in the cosmos we will be. Only the path we’re on ends.”

Having awakened, Alix visited the bathroom, then arrived at the table ready to boast of his eventual victory in last night’s marathon video game match with Pete. But instead he fought back tears of sympathy for having overheard enough of the conversation. What a burden Cristina bore.

He did not know how they could continue pursuing the course they had begun. In a way it seemed to have come from an accident, except there can be no accidents. Everything led to the present moment. It would not matter to any of them what could have been. Once the choice was made, everything else would adjust to accommodate change – even if it meant that in convergence some lives became oblivion.

He wanted to hold her except he felt the separation was necessary. If he embraced her at that moment he would never let her go. He needed for her to always be with him but, antithetical to his purpose, her life was to change the rules. It could be as he desired most to hold her close to him. If he refused to assist her in this oddly noble sort of suicide, would it matter to anyone else but him?

Alix tried hard to appear happy, as if he had not been eavesdropping and did not know what troubled the love of his life. But as he approached her he could not contain his emotions or the sadness of realization. She bore his offspring. How could any choice be worse than what she already faced? He diverted toward the kitchen and turned on the faucet and cupped his hand to splash cold water onto his face in an effort to conceal the trails of his tears.

She turned toward him. Her eyes met his. There could be no secrets, not between them. “What am I going to do?” she asked him.

“You’re going to do the right thing because you don’t have it in you to do otherwise,” Alix said.

“What if we cease to be?”

Alix shrugged. “I prefer to the believe somewhere we will still be together.”

“So we go on with our plans.”

“We have no other choice. We have to take Staash back home before he drinks up all the water in the world.” He looked up at the Sakum’malien who was glowing in apparent appreciation of the humor intended in the remark.

“We have a song to learn and rehearse. We need to record it. It’s our legacy.”

“Then what?”

“We come back and finish recording the new album and begin a world tour.”

“Do we?”

“Of course, we do. Those are our plans. We have to have plans, right?”

“What if this world does not exist, Alix? What if humans never colonized Pravda? What if we’re never born? Once we have changed the past, it can’t possibly be as it is now. Everything will be different.”

“One thing at a time. We do what’s right. Okay? Everything takes care of itself as long as we do what we know in our hearts is the right thing. Anyway, why wouldn’t it be like it is now except the Sakum’malien will be around, maybe not living in complete harmony with us but drinking their share of the water, for sure.”

“There are oceans for us to consume,” Staash suggested.

“See, a little salty for my taste, but there’s plenty for all.”

“I’ll never be born.”

“Someone like you will, though. The world I’m in must have a Cristina, okay?” he kissed her forehead. “It wouldn’t work otherwise.”

She forced a smile.

“Our world’s necessary so that the past can be changed. Have you considered that? We can come back to it and everything will be here but adjusted for the changes. That’s probably how it works.”

“Probably?”

“I’m new to all this too, hon.”

Staash was quiet as he contemplated the possibilities and even tried to understand paradoxes even though the concepts were a strain for him to consider in his language. The words did not natively exist so he had to use the English that he acquired to conceptualize what Alix and Cristina were discussing. There were thoughts that he could render only in his language, simple mathematical proofs that exposed the absurdity of what was perplexing Cristina and needlessly troubling her. Finally he found the will to express his conclusion. “There are no paradoxes.”

“What?” Alix challenged.

“Nature is balanced to zero-sum. Everything adjusts. To live is to always live. All life shares continuity in natural harmony.”

“How’s that possible?” Cristina asked. “Without the reason for the altered gene–”

“Your concerns are for the vessel that contains your spirit. Your body is a shell that changes but your spirit is the same.” He laid his heavy, rough-textured hand on her shoulder. “You think this is you, but ‘I’ is now. It is less real than the image you saw in the noise on the world viewer screen.”

Cristina looked at Alix, seeking confirmation but all she received as a shrug.

“Your brother believes he can bring a Sakum’mal back to life. He might reanimate the body but once the essence has departed, it does not come back. Why would it want to? For the body death is the absence of desire to live. That is derived from the spirit,” he explained. “The missing part is what the container needs to transcend being an inanimate amalgam of chemicals to become self-sustaining life.”

“But if all the surrounding conditions change.”

“Why would that concern you as long as you’re alive?”

“I want to have choice.”

“To be alive is to have choices,” Staash said.

“What if Alix and I are not together?”

“How could you not be together?”

“But the attributes–”

“Affect the body and how it can respond for the spirit inside. They do not define you. They shape the container that accesses the energy around you.”

Cristina stared at the alien. Alix wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “So, we will not cease to exist. See, the problem is solved.”

“What if we come back and we’re not together?”

“A better question to ask is what if you and I did not waste ten years pretending to be just friends?” Alix asked her.

“The world is what you perceive,” Staash said. “One change everything adjusts.

“The process begins tomorrow,” Alix said.

“In the studio,” Cristina confirmed with a nod. “We record the message, our truth.”

Staash’s face glowed ever so slightly as he considered the change of Cristina’s mood and appraised the resolve he found.

She did not fully believe that she had nothing to fear, but she didn’t need to. She turned and to kiss Alix before they parted, Alix returning to the bedroom to get dressed while Cristina headed toward the bathroom to enjoy a shower. In the interim, Staash consumed the remainder of the pitcher of water, dutifully pouring it out one glassful at a time and then he reverted to a restful state of near meditative bliss.

Pete, Tim and Keith woke about the same time. They raided the fridge finding something to eat, consumed it and rinsed off the dishes before announcing they were leaving. “We’ll meet at the studio,” Cristina promised.”

“In a couple of hours,” Alix added.

When Cristina emerged from the shower she wrapped a towel around her, and another around her hair. She engaged Alix as he was lying on the bed reading. “It’ll feel odd being back in the studio,” she said aloud.

“After all we have been through lately, it should feel like a vacation,” Alix said without looking up. “I’m looking forward to making music again.”

“I just wish that was all we had ahead of us.”

“I hear you, hon,” Alix said, finally looking away from the text.

“What is it you are reading?”

“Pete told me I’d enjoy it. It’s funny at times but, maybe I need to be in a different frame of mind.”

“I understand that.”

“It will be fine. I promise. I’ll be there. We will do it together. We’ll make it happen the way it needs to be.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

“Staash will be there, too.”

“And once we get back there, we have just five days to spread the word,” she said.

“We go back to a point immediately after we left. I worked out some of that on the computer yesterday before Pete came.”

“My concern is how we get to every one of their colonies in only five days.”

“I suppose we could go back earlier,” he said.

“We have to deliver Staash to where he belongs. If we go back earlier there will be two of him.”

Alix smiled. “Yeah, one of him is quite sufficient, I think.”

“I’m glad you think this is funny,” Cristina said.

“I guess I was trying to lighten the mood. I used to be good at making you laugh.”

“I’m sorry I’m not in the mood,” she turned away from him, continuing to dress.

“This really has you on edge,” Alix said as he got up from the bed and came up from behind her and began to gently massage her shoulders and neck.

“That feels good.”

“You just need to relax. It’s going to be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“It will be fine because it has to be.” Alix kissed her on the nape of her neck. “I love you,” he whispered as he came up to her ear lobe, kissing a special place just under it. She turned around and into his open arms that he immediately closed tightly around her, holding onto her to share a kiss that lingered for several moments before breathlessly she pulled away and out of his grasp.

“I have been the focal point for so long that maybe I should be used to this,” Cristina said.

“You’re the star,” Alix said.

“The reluctant one,” she said with a forced smile.

“I’ll be with you, right behind you like always.”

“I know,” she said. “Sometimes I think I was able to perform all those concerts because you and the other guys were there with me. It was never only me performing. That was always the difference. I know there would be someone to catch me if I fall.”

“I’ll always catch you.” Alix promised.

“For whatever reason there are parts of this only I can do. But I also need you to deliver Staash and me to the time and place where we will begin delivering the message. I have no idea how we’re ever going to pull this off.”

“We have accomplished some pretty amazing things already,” Alix said. “It has always been because of your inspiration.”

“Add this our growing collection, then. Hopefully we’ll remember it.”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 26 – Judgment

**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.**
Paul sat alone staring out the window, just as he did every morning. He watched the city come to life. He observed the mid-morning bustle and afternoon hustle. Then he settled in for the evening and watched as the city collectively grew bored with tediousness of another day and retired to be lulled asleep with the sounds and images of world viewer, carried into a stupor after imbibing sufficient intoxicants, or some combination of the two.

When the city slept so did he. Between his sessions sitting at the window he did other things but mostly he sat at his desk and read.

He thought it was cruel telling him about the reunion and then preventing him from attending. To his understanding all but four of The Twenty-Four were there, invited to meet their mothers. He heard Cristina, Alix and Pete were going into the studio to record and could not attend. There was no doubt where he was. If anyone of the others had not heard by the reunion, he was certain Chase would tell them the main details.

When Neville and Chase visited, they talked a lot about the past and the similarities between each of The Twenty-Four. Every one of them was rebellious as a youth as juvenile records attested – everyone except for Cristina. For some reason she was unique. He thought at the time Neville was trying to make him feel better. But Paul took it a different way. As bad as his life had become, Cristina’s had been just the opposite.

Neville was the source of his knowledge about Alix and Cristina. He confirmed they went home to New Milan, taking the living sand-morph with them. He said he was sending them invitations but he was not expected their attendance.

Generally Paul liked Neville. He seemed a decent enough sort of guy even if he was an administrator and usually Paul had no use for the administrators. On Paul’s behalf Neville spoke to the magistrate. Otherwise the Colonial Authority’s desire for execution would have prevailed. Had it not been for Neville, Paul would already be dead. He did not like being alone but he certainly did not want to die. As long as he was alive he had some lingering hope that in the future something might change.

He held out some hope for Cristina’s idea of exposing the cover-up. Perhaps the embarrassment would benefit him in a reduced or commuted sentence. During his hearing before the magistrate what seemed to be of overriding concern was that he killed so many agents. Even though he was tortured and was unarmed while the agents were discharging their weapons at him, it did not mattered in the judgment. Agents died, many of them. As a result, Paul needed to be punished.

What haunted him most as he lingered in the silence of every day was his stupidity. He should have listened to his aunt and uncle instead of hanging out with the troublemakers in Haven. He might have never met members of The Resurrection. They sacrificed him in order to misdirect the Colonial Authority’s resources. He became the focus while elements of The Resurrection executed their own agendas. He was the patsy become scapegoat but, unlike the others, he accepted the blame for the chaos he fomented as well as what others refused to own.

Paul had been a true believer. They convinced him it was possible to bring a sand-morph back from the dead. He came to realize it was never the true goal of The Resurrection. From their inception they subverted authority. They used everyone, including him. He was young enough to be willing. He became notorious enough to become the focus of attention. It was merely part of the set up, that he would take the fall. They wanted the Colonial Authority to think Paul was more important than he was. The Security Agency believed he was their leader. There was no leader. There never was.

He deserved worse than the magistrate’s summary judgment: life in solitary confinement. The maximum-security facility in Star City became his permanent home. Offered a better lot if he would identify the others, he refused. The Security Agency still wanted to know what Paul knew. Mainly he was fearful of their retribution. The Resurrection infiltrated the Security Agency. Their people were everywhere, but personally unknown to him. He would not risk their retribution. Maintaining his silence allowed him to live. The Resurrection would be content with the status quo. Besides, they could use the story of his mistreatment to recruit other willing goats for the atonement ahead.

Looking away from the window, he lowered his eyes before closing them. Whenever he closed his eyes, she was always there. Cristina had bright green eyes and a winning smile. Her pretty face beamed as she laughed at something silly that Alix must have said to her. Was it his imagination that he saw her? It could not be just that simple to dismiss. She was real, his sister. He barely knew her yet he felt as if he knew everything there was to know.

Her singing voice was wonderful. The guards sometimes played music, occasionally he heard recordings of her band played over the public address system during the day. Whenever a Duae Lunae song played he would stretch out on his bed, close his eyes and listen in utter amazement at how phenomenally talented his sister was. What was wrong with him? Could he have done something similar with his life and his talents?

As far away from home as Star City, Cristina’s band was becoming famous. The guards knew Cristina was his sister and so he felt that they played her songs more often, just for him.

There were no complaints with any of the guards. They treated him with respect and dignity. Even though he was prohibited from any entertainment other than reading, the guards frequently shared any news with him they thought might be of interest.

Each day, at some point after breakfast, he was taken outside to exercise in a small segregated section of the yard. He was not allowed to approach the fence or talk to anyone through it. Talk to the guard attending him was also prohibited. But they could talk to him and he could listen as he stretched and performed calisthenics.

Afterwards, he returned to his cell and usually he sat down to read until lunch was served. In the afternoon he worked for a few hours in one of the manual labor centers. He could not talk to anyone and he was in his own work cubicle. When he was returned to his cell he would read some more until his dinner tray came.

In the evening a guard came to escort him to a shower where he washed his body for a few minutes before drying off and putting on his sleeping clothes and being issued clean clothes to put on in the next morning when he woke – always too early for his tastes.

Long since his dreams were only regular source of divertive escape. When he dreamed the texture of the illusion seemed more vivid and fantastic than it had before. Maybe his confinement liberated his imagination and refined the detail of his nocturnal delusions. It mattered little to him that his dreams were incredibly life-like. He could not wait to sleep just so he had the chance to return to visit the world his imagination conjured and invited him to rejoin.

A recurring dream about a goddess came often – one of his favorites. As stunning to the senses as anyone imaginable, she was so beautiful he immediately decided that she could not possibly be real. Walking hand-in-hand along a beach, the tides sweeping the salty water across their feet submerging them briefly up to their ankles before sweeping back out into the bay, undermining the sand from beneath them. Always her face he saw and it burned deep into his memory. When he was awake he remembered everything about her, her eyes and especially her smile.

She had dimples in her cheeks that were obvious whenever he said something in the course of the dream that amused her. Probably he loved her dimples more than any other feature. It was hard enough for him to make such a determination because, after all, she was a goddess. Everything about her embodied perfection – certainly, the things he liked about her were abundant. Still, he thought about her dimples most of the time when he was awake and recalling the recurring dream.

As they continued to walk in the dream he heard something approaching from behind them. It was an odd-looking vehicle that rumbled and pinged as it progressed across the sand, gripping at the looseness that slid away beneath it and flared behind as rooster tails shot up in evidence of its passing.

He looked into her eyes while basking in the radiance of her smile.

“It has been a while,” he said to her.

“How long was it this time?”

“Even a second apart from you is too painful to endure.”

“I suppose I could get used to all this adoration,” she said but then she immediately laughed.

“What if I told you I’m not really here?”

“Who is ever where they’re supposed to be?” she countered. “We’re together in this moment. There’s only this, whatever is right now.”

Inexplicably, Paul felt the release of his bonds. Really, no prison could contain him. He could always be somewhere else, even places never before seen and he did not have to sleep in order to engage and experience such fantastic adventures.

Leaning into her personal space, bringing his lips close to hers, brushing across her cheek and then kissing her exactly on the tip of her nose, causing her to giggle.

Then after a few moments she became refocused. “Where else are you?”

“Does that matter?”

“It does to me.”

“It would only matter if you need to know the links and the connections to get there,” he said.

In response she chuckled. “You’re one of the strangest men I have ever met,” she said, as she kissed him on the cheek. “It’s getting dark. Maybe we should head back.”

He sighed. “It’s always the same.”

“The same?”

“I can never get past this part,” he said and he forced his mind to reawaken even if it was to the same painful truth that was his persistent imprisonment.

Just another dream, a mental kind of masturbation without any particular intent or physical gratification, misdirected stimulation served only to fuel his desire to be free again. Paul sat up in the bed. His heart ached for her. He wanted to find her. She was perfect for him, but she was not there. She could never be there. Incarcerated, forever or as long as he lived and, as he understood it, the average expected lifespan for someone like him with the enhanced package of the attributes was around 225 years.

Outside of his dreams there would be little hope for him to ever find Clare. Even if he was certain she were real, he had lost any possible access to her through the stupidity of chasing less unlikely dream than pursuing his private goddess – the embodiment of perfect for him.

Almost dawn, Paul decided to assume his position at the window, just as he always did whenever first he awakened. Following routine, he did not have to think about his present situation. It freed his mind for other diversions. Yet he observed every slight deviation from whatever happened the previous morning. He refused to give up on the idea that, in time, there would be an opportunity. A single chance of a lifetime was all he needed to escape. Every dreamer awakens. The living nightmare would eventually conclusion. The opportunity would come to wake up from his life.

The guard came as he always did, delivering his breakfast, which he gratefully consumed. He was very hungry, as hungry as he had ever been. It seemed as if the salt air he breathed within the dream increased his appetite, except that seemed silly even as he considered it.

Quietly consuming his eggs, ham, buttered toast and juice – everything synthetic, as good s a prisoner might expect. What was not artificial in his present circumstance? When he finished he returned the tray to the slot in the door from whence it came. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed and picked up the electronic tablet that contained the book he was reading. He found the place where he had left off and went back a few paragraphs and re-read it to jog his memory as to what was going on with the characters and reacquaint him with the plot.

It was a good story. Lyle, one of the good guards he trusted recommended it to him. Lyle told him the news of the day. He was one of the several Duae Lunae fans who played the music on the institution’s public address system just so Paul could hear his sister’s voice.

The day melded into the sameness of any other day as it became a part of a larger routine. Overwhelming him with boredom as he returned to sit at the window as he always did, looking out at the world that, like his life, moment by moment was passing him by.

Unexpectedly, the door to his cell opened. He turned to see what was going on, a little apprehensive as he remembered the torture sessions at the detention facility always began with an unexpected intrusion. The man who stood in the doorway of his cell he did not recognize. Considering he might be a medical or dental technician, Paul might have relaxed – except he had recently endured a complete physical examination that included every orifice.

Unwarned of any visitors, it was unlikely it was official or scheduled in advance. He studied the face of the man, apparently middle-aged and reaffirmed that he had never met him before. There was potential in that as long as the man was unbiased.

Paul stood up. As he walked toward the stranger who had been admitted into his confined, private universe, he stretched out a hand in greeting. “I’m Paul.”

“It’s good to meet you Paul,” the stranger accepted his hand but did not reveal his name in return.

“What’s your business with me?”

“I’m into speculation, probabilities and such. Actually, it has been the passion of my life since I was very young.”

“And that has what to do with me?”

“Actually, it has a great deal to do with you, both directly and indirectly. Do you mind if I sit down?”

“It is the only reason that I can think of for why they gave me a couple of chairs – just on the off chance that anyone would ever come to visit and might actually want to take a load off his or her feet. Sometimes I use the other one of course, like I was just now, sitting beside the window,” Paul said as he went back to the window to retrieve it and bring it to the table where he settled across from the man.

“I can already see that we have a lot in common,” the man said, and then he spent what seemed an uncomfortably inordinate amount of time staring at Paul before he continued. “As I understand it you can kill people with only the power of your mind.”

“Let’s say I can find weaknesses and vulnerabilities to exploit. Almost everyone has them. But yeah, if they turned off the electromagnetic dampers in this place, even if I could find nothing medically wrong with you, I could constrict your throat. At least I could render you unconscious – certainly, disabled for a period of time.”

“Well, if I were to have a choice in my ultimate demise I would opt for something far more dramatic than that.”

“Are you up for a massive coronary?”

“Yes, that would be more dramatic but painful and not in a particularly unique way.”

“A unique way to die would present quite a challenge.”

“I’ll assume I’m safe until you’ve finally arrived at one.”

“You’re safe because the electronics in this facility have just as well as neutered me. The attributes I possess are nearly useless here.” Paul forced a smile but then after the brief amusement passed the one lingering question remained. “Excuse me, but you never did get around to answering my initial question.”

“What is it you need to know?”

“Obviously you didn’t come here to shoot the shit. What is it that brings you here?”

“I’m a private contractor, Mr. Scalero. In the past, I have written artificial intelligence subroutines for very sophisticated control programs. I’ve told the Colonial Authority that I’m an expert in branch prediction decision matrices and can program the Colonial Authority’s computers to better track fugitives. Your recent life is rife with very curious, unanticipated decisions that fascinate them. Nevertheless your behavior was well within the range of the potential variables for rational decisions. Of course, they do not realize this. However, it gave me the opportunity to get past security and meet you.”

“And now we’ve returned once more to the initial question, what’s your business with me?”

“Your decisions were not expected. That’s the essential point for selling my research. In your case the decisions you made meant major, even life and death consequences for many agents. The Colonial Authority wishes to prevent needless danger to their agents and would be very grateful for your cooperation.”

“I’m alive because I promised to be a good boy. I guess that means I will help you in any way I’m able. However, I surmise that the reasons you told them were phony.”

The visitor positioned a tablet where he could jot down notes and then focused intently on Paul. “Look, most of what I said is true. I need to understand the processes behind the decisions you made in order to predict what you might do in the future.”

“In the future, I’ll do the same thing I’m doing now unless I’m relocated or set free.”

“The future is never completely predictable regardless of the conditions in the present,” the visitor said.

“I’ll not debate the point, but from where I view it, I’m not anticipating significant change anytime soon.”

The visitor cleared his throat and then looked directly into Paul’s eyes as he began. “Tell me about the conditions that prevailed before, during and after your escape from the detention facility.”

“I was subject to interrogation. At first it was polite, even cordial and respectful. But the more I refused to cooperate, the more ugly the interrogation became. The more painful parts of my experience came after refusing to provide the information about other members of The Resurrection. Then, after several hours of questioning and psychological torment, the physical torment began.”

“You were physically accosted.”

“That’s way too polite a term for what happened. I had my pubic hairs singed off or plucked out one by one with pliers. Hanks of hair were ripped from my scalp. I was whipped repeatedly with flexible tubing until I was so numb I could only feel the dead pressure of the contact. I was punched with bare fists, slapped, backhanded, picked-up and dropped on my head with force. I was tied-up and flailed until my back was raw and bloody. They administered electric shock to me, through my nipples and genitals. Is that sufficient for you to comprehend or do you need anything more graphic? I assure you I can give you details that will give you bad dreams for the rest of your life.”

“I get the picture.”

“Well you should have been there except that maybe I would have mistaken you for another of the multitude of self-righteous, sadistic sons-of-bitches that predominated throughout that facility. Those agents who died made wrong decisions and were punished. I’m certain I was not the only one who they tortured to within an inch of life in order to extract information. I killed no one who didn’t try to harm or kill me, something which, for whatever reason, was inadmissible in defense at my hearing.”

“Perhaps you were railroaded. Immediately, after the incident a lot of the dead agents’ wives and children were featured in news reports on world viewer crying out for justice against the man who murdered their husbands and fathers. It was a well-orchestrated effort against which you could never have possibly prevailed. Even if it had been revealed how brutally you were tormented, I doubt it would have mattered. Perhaps the same sort of rage that borders on insanity drove you momentarily. Any one of us might have felt the same under the conditions, but in the present world, there is little empathy. There’s certainly no sympathy for someone who kills another or in your case multiple others. That may not be the only reason you’re where you are now, but I’m certain it figured prominently in the decision of the magistrate.”

“Who are you?” Paul finally asked as he focused on the man’s face, considering it in the growing light of the day that shone true through the one and only window of his cell. There was silence for the moment as he waited for a response to his question. Still, all along he was mentally enumerating the imperfections of the disguise. “You’re old, older than you appear.”

“You can sense that how?”

“By my eyesight alone but I dare say you are barely even what you have determined to appear to be.”

The visitor laughed as he relaxed a bit. “There’s an irony about this sort of confinement, Mr. Scalero. They cannot fully monitor you. Ordinary means of surveillance are useless beneath the highly dampened electromagnetic fields that surround you. Since your last escape, you now wear a collar that serves as a failsafe in controlling you. For the moment they are right in their assessments. You do not threaten them.”

“But you’re telling me we’re safe to talk?”

“We’re hardly safe -merely safer than might otherwise be the case within one of the Security Agency’s facilities. If they knew my true purpose here, I’m unafraid they would retaliate. My concern is entirely for your well being. You’re more important than you realize.”

“I feel spent and discarded.”

“In their myopia the Colonial Authority has no further use for you. If they were enlightened they might understand you hold one key to the viability of the future they once sought and still envision. Under normal circumstances, I would be reluctant to tell you except that they’ll never be able to extract any of this conversation from the background noise that they are generating ancillary to the effort to subdue your abilities.”

“I see.”

“I think it’s good for you to know there’s always balance involved. Whatever they do to control you creates an opportunity to defeat their efforts. I offer that just for your future reference and ultimate consideration.”

“You really do want to help me, then.”

“Of course I do.”

“It’s just not easy.”

“There’re some obstacles.” The visitor confirmed. “I assure you, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.”

“Who are you?” Paul asked again.

The visitor stood up and in the palm of his hand he produced a single alabaster orb that as he withdrew his hand from supporting it, it still floated between them. “I’m seeking one to bear this burden, yet I have not found him or her. Until then, I assist as best I can in the efforts of others to deliver their burdens while preventing the world from destroying any who are its last hope for survival.”

“I’m afraid I already have one of those orbs. So, alas I’m not the one you seek.”

“Ah but that is where you err. The orb is your ticket?”

“My ticket to what?”

“Why is it that none of you have ever once realized the fullest capabilities of these orbs?” The visitor asked rhetorically even as he moved closer to the door of the cell. “Did they take it from you when you were imprisoned?”

Paul stretched out his hand and his orb immediately appeared. “See,” Paul said. “But little good it does me here.”

“Is that a fact or just what you choose to believe? That’s the only real question where the attributes are concerned. This is the truth. Believe it or not, it is what it is. Despite everything you have done, you are not the largest threat to the stability and order of their world.”

“Cristina is?”

“She desires to alter the past. Once the past is changed it will be irreversible for any event stream that follows. There may be no one born with the attributes. She will have created an inalterable sequence of events that terminates those of us who are alive in this context.”

“Why would she seek to end our lives?”

The visitor shrugged. “Maybe she doesn’t realize the full impact of what she is doing. Since the very first of us who was able to slip through a veil or cross a fold in time, we have always been mindful that changing anything may produce undesired outcomes. Perhaps neither Cristina nor Alix who is assisting her realizes anything about the significance of events streams or the consequences of what they intend to do. That’s why I’m here. You can reach her. You have a bond with her that no other has.”

Paul looked into to palm and studied the orb. He rolled his hand over and allowed the orb to follow the contours to the back of his hand. Then he stared at it and the orb rose away from his outstretched hand that he quickly withdrew from supporting it in the physical universe.

“Good, very good. You understand at least that.”

“It’s not where it appears to be.”

“In this universe what is?” the visitor asked. “The orb can be your connection to everyone else who possesses one.”

“That was never explained to me.”

“Why should something so obvious ever need to be explained? If any of you had merely done as you were instructed then he or she would have all the secrets of the universe in hand.”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 25 – Destination

**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 reached over and brushed the back of her hand across Staash’s. He turned his head immediately toward her. “We will be arriving soon,” she projected to him telepathically.

He nodded.

She reached across the aisle to where Alix sat. He reached out to greet her gesture. Then he smiled as he asked, “Did you sleep?”

“Yeah, I slept for a while,” she said. “And you?”

“I hate sleeping in railcars,” Alix said. “That’s why Pete and I always played poker on our trips.”

“I thought you liked gambling.”

“Well, I do but Pete and I both know how to cheat, counting cards so…”

“And all this time I thought you were just incredibly lucky.” Cristina smiled. “Here you and Pete were rigging the games between the two of you and taking Keith and Tim’s money.”

“We let them win sometimes.”

“To egg them on.”

“That’s how it’s done,” Alix smiled. “We’re almost there.”

“I know. It will be good to be home.”

“Absolutely!” Alix confirmed, expressing excitement in his pronouncement.

“Staash and I finished the song last night,” she said. “Actually, I finished writing it. Staash knew the song all along, of course. It is in his nature, after all.”

“I just hope the bass lines are something I can play.”

“Actually, despite how complicated it sounds when Staash renders it, there is nothing beyond any of us as musicians. We just need to think a little outside of where we are comfortable.”

“What are you going to call the song?”

“‘The Message’, Cristina said. “That is what it is.”

Alix nodded. “Maybe something edgier, I mean we are going to record it and probably perform it during our shows, right?”

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. What do you think we could call it.”

“Call it. ‘Shared Truth’ because we are sharing the truth with them.”

“Maybe,” Cristina said. “Why not call it ‘Our Truth’

“I like it.”

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Maybe, just a little.”

“Emma fed all of us well. Spoiled us, really.”

“I have never eaten so much,” Alix said.

Cristina chuckled. “Emma’s amazing. She even determined something that did not disgust Staash and he ate it.”

“That was some trick.”

“He tells me that he does not need to eat often,” Cristina said. “I don’t understand his internal chemistry. Maybe I never will. He eats gravel and grout and certain types of sand. He says he likes certain metals, not in their refined forms.”

Alix nodded. “You know the old expression that you are what you eat?”

“Yes.”

“In his case he eats what he is.”

Cristina turned as she was still laughing to share with Staash what Alix had said. He responded with a nod, expressing no shared amusement. To him, Alix merely stated a fact.

The railcar slowed as it was arriving at the outer airlock for New Milan, pausing briefly to be cleaned and cleared before admission into the controlled environment of the second city in the world, both in age and size. When the sanitation efforts were over, the railcar progressed to the station, stopping at the docking platform. Cristina and Alix responded to the impending arrival, Staash waited, expecting Cristina to prompt him. He did not want to draw any undo attention. He was already dressed for maximum concealment and understood the need to remain inconspicuous. Despite that every eye on the railcar had focused on him at least ten times.

As they exited the railcar, Pete, Tim and Keith were there waiting for them, each of them shaking Alix’s hand and giving him a friendly embrace before doing the same for Cristina – Keith giving her a friendly peck on her cheek. Cristina immediately turned toward Staash, “Keith, Tim and Pete, this is Staash.”

“Good to meet you,” Keith offered his hand. Then, so did Pete and Tim, each of them offering a hand, which Staash shook with his but left each of them to wonder why he was wearing a mitten, and one with a very rough texture.

“Staash has been helping me write a song,” Cristina said. “You guys are going to love it.”

“Really?” Keith said.

“It’s nothing like we have ever done before,” she said.

“I’ll look forward to playing it then,” Pete said as he winked at Alix. “Alix and I can work out the rhythm and the back beat. We’ll master it and everyone else can just follow it from there”

“I have the utmost confidence in all of you,” Cristina said.

Pete patted Alix on the back then corralled his shoulders, giving him a warm, friendly hug. To his mind his best friend had succeeded where everyone one else was too timid.

Keith and Tim had already started toward the baggage claim. Keith pulled the cart he had rented behind him while Tim posted at the carousel and waited until the luggage from the railcar was made available, and then he looked for either Alix or Cristina to identify their bags for him to yank from the conveyor so he could hand the bags to Keith.

When they had collected everything they had brought, Keith piloted the cart toward the exit and then out into the garage where he had docked his coach.

In the early days when the band played exclusively in local clubs, Keith’s coach came in handy. It was a converted commercial delivery vehicle with plenty of room in the back. In the cargo area he had added seats that folded up and away to allow more room for the band’s equipment. For the moment it served as the perfect vehicle for the remaining three members of Duae Lunae to pick up the bassist, the lead vocalist and their odd-looking, large and extremely quiet friend.

When they pulled out of the docking garage it was rather dark for the time of day. Rain cascaded down the sides of the dome above them. It had been stormy for about the past week, Keith explained.

“At times it has been quite a light show,” Pete added, just as some lightning lit up the sky beyond the dome. Inside the dome the evening lights had illuminated even though it was late morning.

“One of the local channels on world viewer did a special report on what it will be like for us in the future without domes,” Tim said. “We’ll have to carry these things to prevent the rain from getting us wet. I forget what they called them.”

“Or dress in waterproof clothing,” Cristina allowed.

“Yeah, I guess we could do that,” Tim said.

“Well, it will be a while before the domes are dismantled,” Keith said. “So, I’m not going to worry about a little rain.”

“So the studio is reserved?” Cristina asked.

“All taken care of,” Keith said. “While you and Alix were off having fun, some of us were busy back here getting everything set for our next recording effort.”

“By the way, it was not all fun,” Alix said.

“No?” Keith pursued with a glance toward Cristina.

“There were many times that I was very glad Alix was along,” she said. “Lots of strange things happening.”

“So, what’s your friend’s story?” Keith asked.

“We met Staash on one of our adventures,” Cristina said.

“He’s one seriously big dude,” Tim said, glancing back into the cargo area where Staash’s mass was occupying two jump seats.

“He is a Sakum’mal,” Alix said, receiving a glare from Cristina, but as Alix shrugged, she finally nodded.

“I’ve never heard of that nationality,” Keith said.

“Have you heard of sand-morphs?” Cristina asked.

“I can’t say I have,” Keith responded.

“Sand-morphs were here, on this planet before we came. They lived deep in the caverns. When humans sterilized the world to prepare it for terraforming they killed every sand-morph,” Pete said.

“Except Staash,” Keith allowed.

“No, we brought Staash back from the past.”

“How’d you manage that?” Keith laughed.

“I have the attributes. I can shift in time and space – do some other things.”

Keith overrode the auto controls and pulled the coach over to the curb. He swiveled in his seat and stared first at Alix, then Cristina.

“It’s true,” she corroborated. “I have the attributes too.”

“Sheesh!” Keith said shaking his head. “I never saw that coming.”

“Staash represents organic, silicon-based life,” Alix explained. “Supposedly, through some grievous oversight the early terraform engineers did not detect them. They said there was no life here.”

“Now, we have proof to the contrary,” Cristina said.

“The Colonial Authority has lied to us?” Pete asked feigning incredulity. “Say it ain’t so!” Then he turned to take a good look at Staash. Beneath the hood he wore, Staash’s eyes seemed to glow, creating an eerie effect, giving Pete shivers.

“Is he safe?” Keith asked.

“Despite his size, he is really very gentle,” Alix said.

Keith piloted the coach back out onto the street and returned its navigation system to full automatic as they continued on toward Cristina’s apartment.

“You must be tired,” Keith said. “It’s a long trip.”

“Yeah, it was,” Alix said.

“Actually, I feel okay,” Cristina said. “I mean, I could sleep some more, but I took several naps on the way.”

“I hate trying to sleep in railcars,” Keith said.

“Me too,” Pete said. “But I could have done it except that I liked beating you and Tim at poker so much.”

“Hey now!” Tim cautioned.

“You are the worst poker player I have ever met,” Pete said.

Cristina laughed. “He has other redeeming qualities.”

Tim stuck out his tongue at Pete, but then laughed.

When they pulled up at the curb in front of the apartment building, both Alix and Cristina exited the coach. Keith popped the hatch in back and they collected their things. Alix assisted Staash in stepping down from the coach.

“You guys are welcome to come in,” Cristina called back. “I mean, we haven’t spent any time together since the end of the tour. I’m sure we all have some stories to tell.”

Keith smiled, and then looked at Pete and Tim, receiving shrugs in response to his silent query. “Yeah, maybe we can come in for a bit. Just throw us out when you are tired of us.”

“I never get tired being with you guys. You’re my family.”

Keith, Tim and Pete exited the coach. They followed Cristina, Alix and Staash into the lobby while Keith directed his coach to vacant dock on the ground large enough to accommodate. When he finished, he joined the others and they all rode the elevator up to Cristina’s floor.

The apartment struck her as being much smaller than she remembered. Certainly, it was smaller than Julie’s place and she already knew it was considerably smaller that the apartment above the coffee shop. Still, it felt like home and it was good to return after a long time away. Really, even the period after the tour seemed like dream between extended absences.

Keith and Tim took places at either end of the couch as Pete picked up the remote and activated world viewer. After directing Staash where to sit, Alix and Cristina tended to their luggage, setting it aside to unpack later.

“You guys thirsty?”

“Staash is always thirsty,” Alix said.

“I know that. He went through all the canteens Emma.”

“Staash no want to die.”

Cristina nodded. “Anyone else?”

“Some tea would be good, if it is no trouble,” Pete said.

“I can make some tea. It is going to be instant though.”

“That’s fine,” Keith said. “Don’t trouble yourself too much.”

When the tea was made, Alix helped Cristina deliver it to the members of the band. Then she returned to the kitchen and poured out a glass of ice-cold water for Staash who consumed it all in a manner of seconds. “Do you need more?” she asked.

“If no trouble.”

She returned to the kitchen and brought an entire pitcher of cold water with her. She refilled his glass then set the rest on the table where Staash was seated. “This really is uncomfortable for you, isn’t it?”

“Humans like dry. Staash understands.”

“I can change the humidity in here but only slightly. Maybe that will help though,” she went to the wall mounted control for the heating and cooling system and reprogrammed the humidity to be higher and the temperature to be lower. “There,” she said as she returned to the dinette. “We’ll see how that does.”

“But you will not be comfortable.”

“I can adapt,” she said.

“Thank you,” Staash said.

“No problem. You’re my guest. I need to make sure you are as comfortable as possible.”

“Easier sending Staash home, I think.”

Alix turned to look at them, and then got up from his chair in the living room and joined Cristina and Staash. “It is only a little while longer. Cristina needs you right now, Staash. We have to record the message.”

“Staash understands.”

“I need you to go over everything I need to know how to create the message,” Cristina said. “It needs to be like you’re doing it, not me.”

“Staash make easy,” he reached out and with his scoop-like hand he gently caressed her face.

She trembled ever so slightly at the contact. Her eyes met his and for an instant everything else about her seemed to fall away into oblivion.

“You not resist Staash.”

Cristina stared into his obsidian eyes. Whether her sensation was falling toward it, or floating near it, a void filled her view. Then, she saw her mother and father, each of them holding an infant, knowing full well she was seeing the past when she and her brother we newly born. Then she saw Paul, running away from someone, ducking in behind a dumpster then jumping out, surprising his pursuers. They fired weapons at him but he merely raised his hand and the projectiles their weapons launched toward him flew in multiple errant directions. Afterwards their weapons became too hot for them to hold. They dropped them and each of the weapons melted into discrete puddles of molten metal as the remaining explosive shells popped, spraying ball of liquid metal through the air.

They stepped back, cowering in his presence as he walked past them and escaped. She knew him, sensed what he was sensing, and even heard the thoughts that were going through his mind. She had to back away, otherwise she would lose herself.

“I can’t,” she projected to the Sakum’malien.

“You must trust Staash.”

She closed her eyes and turned away, shivering as she felt Alix’s strong arms wrapping around her.

“What are you doing to her?” Alix asked accusingly.

“Staash help see truth. To know Sakum’malien, first know her truth.”

“It’s okay, Alix. It really is okay. I asked him. Just I was not expecting this sort of answer.”

Keith and Tim had been dueling one another in a video game while Pete watched, prepared to take on the eventual winner. On the preview monitors were the events of the day from all over the world, including a report from Star City that suddenly drew Alix’s attentions. He snatched up the remote and paused the game in progress, to Keith and Tim’s immediate protest. He brought up the report onto the main screen and restarted it from the beginning.

“Sources in Star City report an incident at the Colonial Authority’s maximum security facility. Several prisoners temporarily escaped but were immediately recaptured. The public was never in danger. The escape was blamed on a momentary fluctuation in the power to the facility.”

Alix turned to Cristina. “It is bullshit. It always is”

“Of course it is,” she said quietly.

“Paul escaped.”

She shrugged, but then vocalized. “He is trying to come here but he can’t.”

Alix restored the game for Keith and Tim and then sat down at the table. “You’re sure.”

Cristina nodded, then turning toward Staash she vocalized something that sounded like music.

Staash responded with a smile. “Now learned talk.”

“Now we can begin collaboration,” she said.

“Anytime, pretty lady,” Staash projected to her mind.

She adjusted her chair for comfort and then stared once more into his eyes. Where she had been frightened before now she was resolved to endure whatever was to come.

Alix interrupted but only briefly to kiss her lightly on her forehead before returning to the living room. For what she needed to do she had to be alone with Staash.

The video game between Keith and Tim continued, Pete still waiting for the winner until Alix challenged him for the rights to take on the eventual winner of Keith and Tim. “Just like old times,” Pete said.

“Yes and no,” Alix responded but as he was not challenged he did not bother to explain his underlying meaning.

As Cristina sat at the table, staring at Staash, she saw the spiraling energy of thought, emanating from Staash’s core, intersecting with the flow of the energy of the universe. Her essence intersecting with the very same flow and it made perfect sense to her. It was intended to be.

A symphony of sounds constituting a single conversation as Staash’s mind approached hers. A smile physically expressed on her lips but otherwise she was connected to her body by a single thread of continuity. Staash could lead her away, taking her anywhere and she would still ever be able to return to her origin. It was security for her. The realization meant freedom to explore wherever he led her.

Staash showed her how every Sakum’mal learns language. From the moment of birth to the first moments of awareness of being, he demonstrated how the patterns form, how the mind is molded around the multilayered thoughts and expressions that form the Sakum’malien language. Curious nuances of expression, which at times bent the rules of grammar, were permitted for dramatic effect. She understood. Showing her places he remembered from his home world, wondrous sights, sounds and smells he associated with everything about his personal experience in his world of origin – a strange, dark world in the outer range of the terrestrial sphere of a massive red star.

As Staash withdrew from her mind, his mission of education completed for the moment, again she became aware of her immediate surroundings. She felt Alix’s presence. Within reach of his mind, she touched his soul. He was glancing her way, watching her, concerned but not worried as he waited for the end of the video game between Keith and Tim so he and Pete could go head to head.

She probed for anyone else but there were only the members of her band who mattered.

“How long?” she asked in a raspy voice as she opened her eyes and looked upon Alix’s smiling face.

“Not that long,” Alix said. “Maybe it took twenty minutes or a little more.”

She nodded.

“It’s almost sun set. It’s hard to tell. It’s raining again,” Alix explained as he sat down beside her at the table, still glancing over his shoulder for the eventual result of the video game.

“Has it been raining all afternoon?”

“Yeah, it’s been wet all day outside the dome. I didn’t know what was going on at first – watching and waiting here beside you, but I could tell you were breathing. So I didn’t worry.”

She touched the back of his hand with hers. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

She looked across the table at Staash. Maybe only she knew that he was exhausted and resting. She smiled. “He showed me just about everything.”

“You know how the language works now?”

“I know how to write it and how to read it. I know how to sing it but I lack the multiple voices and the overall vocal range. I think instruments can fill in the tonal gaps.”

“Then we have to do that.”

“Alix, I’m not really sure how much of what I say to him he gathers. By far he has the most intelligent mind I’ve ever encountered. He suffers from a huge inferiority complex. He doesn’t believe his poetry has merit or value. His own kind ostracized him and exiled him to a colony because of his poetry.”

“Where he died,” Alix said. “Along with everyone else.”

“That’s what we must change.”

“For his sake,” Alix said as he looked across the table as where Staash was sitting, resting after his own fashion.

“We have to do it for our sake. The plague visited upon us was their revenge.”

“What?”

“Shifting like you do in space and time is child’s play for them.”

“You mean he can do it?”

“If he wanted to. To his kind it is pointless. They are very patient,” Cristina said. “They sought revenge for what we did to their colony. They did not realize all of humanity is not alike. And so, their method of revenge does not affect those of us with the attributes. So, in a way the means of their revenge actually brought of differences together and we’re the result.”

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The Resurrection: Chapter 24 – Something for All

**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.**

After lunch, Arnie and Alix went in the supply coach to buy more grout, some crushed limestone and pea gravel for Staash. The variety delighted the Sakum’mal. Hw washed it down with a gallon and a half of water. Still, Cristina was gravely concerned for the sand-morph’s health. The relatively dry environment of humans was extremely bad for him.

Alix picked up a humidifier while they were out and positioned it near to Staash. He said it helped but Alix doubted it was enough humanity. Staash loved the dampness found in musty caves, something no human dwelling could imitate for long without producing mildew that was harmful for humans. It made him wonder how the two species could really ever share the world, which was Cristina’s overall goal.

Arnie went back to the house to fetch everyone to share the dinner Emma had spent most of the afternoon preparing, a roast with assorted vegetables and fruit and garden salad. Afterward, Everyone else bused their tables, while Arnie and Alix swept the floors. Chase and Neville mopped them. All four of them wiped down the tables and made everything in the front room nice and clean for Emma and Arnie in the morning.

The ladies rinsed the pots, pans, dishes cups, saucers, bowls, glasses and flatware before loading it into the dishwasher to be sterilized to the city code. Emma added detergent, programmed the timer and activated the machine. While the dishes were washing, they cleaned, swept and mopped the kitchen, wiped down the counters and, in the end, helped the men carry out the trash to load it into the matter reactor to be converted into energy and stored in the batteries to supplement the energy needs of the building.

When the dishes were finished, everyone put them away. Then both Emma and Arnie thanked everyone or their kind, considerate help.  After saying goodbye to Cristina and Alix, Arnie took everyone but Emma home in the supply coach. Emma stayed after for a few minutes to get the place ready for the next day’s business before she took her private coach home for the night.

Alix ensured everything was locked up while Cristina joined Staash upstairs. When he had shut off all the lights downstairs, Alix joined them. The Sakum’mal was sitting on the end of the couch, staring blankly off into space while Cristina was taking a shower. The world viewer was switched off, so he did not even have that to focus on. It seemed very strange. It did not seem normal even for what little they understood about one another.

“Are you okay?” Alix asked him.

“What difference?”

“What do you mean?”

“Here or not, what difference?” Staash attempted to clarify.

“We care about you,” Alix said. “Otherwise we would have never brought you here.”

“Caring made separate my kind. Now, last Sakum’mal survivor. All colonies dead. Staash not belong here. Nice and polite friends, Staash perform. They thank me. Nice, but Staash different. Never be human. Not want different. Alix never Sakum’mal. Not wait either.”

“You’re here to foster better understanding.”

“What point? Sakum’malien dead. All dead.”

Cristina emerged form the shower with a towel wrapped around her. Having overheard the last part of the conversation she was emotionally touch, wiping a tear away with the back of her hand.

Alix looked at Cristina who seemed to have nothing immediately ready to say. Then he spoke. “I can fix some of that, you know.”

“Staash appreciate effort.”

“Then what’s the issue?” Alix asked.

Staash stared at Alix for several moments then, Alix not Staash looked away.

“Okay, I get it,” Alix broke the silence. “There has to be a better answer, a greater solution that allows everyone who died eighty years ago to live and produce offspring. Even you could have some children and grandchildren by now.”

“Produce children not necessity for Staash,” he said. “Other Sakum’malien vital to peace and existence. Sakum’malien social more than humans. Hermit concept only human. Barely understand. Exile worse than death, friends and family forever away.”

“They did that to you and yet you want to go back?”

Staash lowered his eyes. “You are friend but not Sakum’mal. Cristina speaks language. but not Sakum’mal.”

“We love and respect you,” Cristina said. “I admire your gift of poetry.”

“Sakum’malien no think Staash poetry special.”

“Be that as it may, it was amazing to me,” she said.

“You liked it that much?”

Cristina responded with a smile.

“Arnie did too. Emma, Neville and Mary were very impressed. Chase and Julie cried, too – same as me. Everyone was entertained,” Cristina said.

“Staash thanks all. Feel appreciation. Not what Staash really need.”

“Did the Sakum’malien ever appreciate your poetry?” Alix asked.

“My kind, have hope. Always hope.”

Alix nodded. “I can take you back there, anywhere, anytime you want, even before you ever met us. Between Cristina and me, I think we can make it so you’ll never remember any of this or even know in five days you and everyone else will die.”

“Staash prefer know. Told others. Not believe. Staash outsider, different…”

“You would die, too,” Alix said. “Same as it was before Cristina and I came and met you.”

Staash slowly nodded his head. He knew that sobering assessment was correct. He hung his head and after a time he began to sob after his fashion, feeling sorry for himself and his plight.

Alix looked to Cristina for some brave words of encouragement but she was as tapped out as he. Staash’s situation touched them both in a way they could never think of subjecting him to his original fate.

Suddenly Staash looked up, appearing inspired. “Cristina come warn everyone. Make message credible now.”

Cristina looked toward Alix and shrugged. Certainly it was a thought that had occurred to them before and they attempted it, but maybe Staash knew something they did not about communicating to the masses of his kind. If such a thing were possible it made a good deal of sense. Of course, Cristina would be the logical one. She understood and spoke some of Staash’s language. But she would need Alix to go there and return.

There was the lingering question that haunted them before, what sort of world would they return to if the Sakum’malien survived the sterilization of the planet?

“We need to think this through,” Cristina said in response to Staash’s cold, seemingly emotionless stare.

“What point parading Staash?” the Sakum’mal asked. “Only one here now, ever! No other come. Resurrection dead ones pointless.”

“If we return him and help him prove to the others…” Alix began.

“They wouldn’t listen before. What if they won’t listen at all, ever?”

“They have to,” Alix said.

Cristina went into the kitchen and poured a glass of cold water from the pitcher in the refrigerator. “I need to learn Sakum’malien,” Cristina said before sipping from the glass. After downing the entire glass she continued, “I need to be fluent in it to deliver a message.”

Staash stood, coming toward her, his eyes pierced her soul as he said, “We start right now, then.”

Cristina pursed her lips. “I do not learn as quickly as you do.”

“Begin now, finish sooner,” Staash replied eagerly.

“Unlike you I cannot speak with multiple, simultaneous voices. As you already appreciate, your language is more like what we call music. But each of you is like a small choir. Do you understand?”

“Much Sakum’malien pretty only, meaning little. Leaders speak, nice sound, empty.”

Alix laughed. “Politicians are the same, regardless of the species.”

Cristina smiled. “So I don’t have to sound exactly like you.”

“Close enough good.”

“Even so there is another element that I cannot even begin to express. In order to even attempt to speak it I would have to have several instruments covering the tones I cannot reach with my vocal range alone.”

“We need the band, then,” Alix said.

“I thought about that before. I cannot begin to fathom how to reproduce it though, something that is so natural to Staash that he ignores like we use articles in speech to make the metering flow properly in the cadence of our speech.”

“He usually ignores them in his English.”

“He knows they serve not purpose to the meaning and our metering is as alien to him as our words – more so actually. Sakum’malien has a different rhythm.”

“I would have to make several trips and frankly taking you there was enough but bringing you and Staash back wore me out.”

“I know,” Cristina sympathized.

“It’s maybe possible to take everyone there, but all our equipment? Besides that, how would we power everything?”

“It would be unfathomably complicated,” Cristina agreed.

“We could record our band performing the instrumentals and vocals,” Alix suggested, and then responded in kind to the smile that brightened Cristina’s face. “Use overdubs on the vocals so that all you need to do is sing the last part as the lead.”

“Okay, then nothing really changes all that much. We go to New Milan, just as we planned. Except, instead of parading Staash around for a media circus–”

“That the Colonial Authority would probably discredit anyway,” Alix interjected.

“Yes, well Staash can help me write the music to approximate the voices that I need to communicate the warning to the Sakum’malien. When the band has recorded it we take the recording and a portable player with us when we return to Staash’s home.”

“It’s a great plan,” Alix approved.

“If we succeed,” Cristina began, but then paused for a long, thoughtful time.

“Does that change our lives?” Alix asked the question she could not immediately answer and did not want to contemplate.

After several lingering moments she finally responded. “The real question is when we come back will the world be different?” She finally found the nerve to express her greatest personal reservation. “ If what we do is important enough, what happens to us doesn’t matter.”

Alix looked into her eyes, “If I’m with you nothing will change. What is shared now between us, that’s inviolate.”

“Are you sure?’

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Alix said. “We’re connected by our souls. How can it be different than it is. Just the situation changes, you know?”

“I don’t want to lose you,” Cristina said.

“I would die before I let you get away,” he said to her. “As for everything else, who knows? I suppose it’ll depend on how many of the Sakum’malien listen and survive the sterilization.”

Staash did not understand every word that Alix and Cristina were exchanging but just enough. “You take me back, now?” Staash requested asked.

“Not yet,” Cristina said. “Alix can take you back anytime and it can be just like you never left if that’s what you prefer. So that’s not an issue.”

“Others see Staash away. Then return. Otherwise no one believes.”

Cristina nodded, conceding the point.

“You and I have a song to write, a message to the Sakum’malien warning them of the impending disaster. Then we will teach the music to our band so we can record the music, making it sound as close as possible to what your language sounds like.”

Staash understood but also held out some reservation because there were parts of the language that could not be reproduced in any way by a human, as they exceeded the spectrum that a human could perceive. They would have to address that if it turned out to be necessary. It was a common enough element of their language but sometimes the same or very similar messages could be delivered without the use of the higher forms.

Regardless of the challenges ahead, Staash was eager to begin. He immediately went to the table and sat down, waving Cristina over toward him. “Learn everything Sakum’malien,” he said.

“I want to but what I need right now is to learn a message to give to those you left behind.”

Staash nodded. “Human speak but speak not with words alone. Body talks as well.”

“Of course. Most of what we say to one another is through observation of gestures and what we even call body language.”

“Sakum’malien and human not so different,” Staash revealed, then focusing on her eyes he linked to her telepathically. “In mass communication, the physical element is added. Mathematics is part of this, positioning and angles of bodies speak volumes to the masses that observe, even to the point that the message is very different than what others that do not perceive the fullness of the expression can never know.”

Cristina stared at him even as her mind raced with the possibilities of what he had just revealed. She tried to fathom how it was possible, but then, Staash turned toward her and uttered a simple phrase in his language, a phrase that involved the entire spectrum of expression for him. Suddenly she understood how the language fit together into one complete form of expression. It was compact and ingenuously simple. Her real challenge was figuring out how to record a message of the same clarity and delivering it with the same impact.

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 23 – Showtime

**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.**

Each of them sat at tables arranged in a semicircle creating a makeshift stage. Everyone enjoyed the breakfast Emma prepared while waiting for Staash’s promised performance.

Amazed and speechless, the humans sat in awe of the Sakum’mal as he recited an epic poem in his native language that recounted the history of his kind, though the meaning of the poem was lost on the listeners – except for Cristina and Alix.

Alix held Cristina’s hand. Both of them were moved to tears as Alix received some of the poem’s meaning from his connection with her. No one could tear his or her eyes from Staash as his voice lilted and flowed, as if her were singing in five distinct harmonious voices. He spoke of the legends and lore he was taught when he was very young. Then, when he finished, Cristina prompted for him to recite one of his poems.

The intense beauty of his native language captivated the listeners’ souls even if none of them except for Cristina understood anything he was saying. To her it was a revelation, spawning an epiphany about the construction of complicated musical progressions that blended fundamental tones and harmonics beginning and ending at the same time but within were allowed to evolve counter-rhythmically along many tangents. Even as she listened to the multiple layers of beautiful expression, ideas came for how to employ what she was learning, how to invent and create something new, something never before attempted – something she was certain Duae Lunae could perform.

Abruptly, to the mutual disappointment of all, Staash’s presentation ended. He turned to look toward Cristina who was still sitting at the nearest table beside him with her eyes closed, not wanting to permit any distraction that might prevent her capturing every part of the intricate tapestry of the alien’s multiple voices. Alix released her hand and stood. Then stepping forward he clapped his hands, prompting everyone else to do the same.

Staash frowned with his incomprehension of the need for clapping hands.

“It’s called applause,” Alix said as he approached. “You have seen it in the response of the crowd in the videos you watched.”

“Ah,” Staash said. “Wondered why? At times clapping matched the rhythm of the music but at other times it seemed to progress on its own unaccompanied until music began anew. Staash believed it was part of music, the crowd made own part of music.”

“What an interesting perspective!” Chase exclaimed. “Yes, the live performance of music is always different than a studio recording. There is always a level of excitement that is missing from something recorded live.”

“The audience shows their connection with the music and at the end, the random clapping and cheering expresses their gratitude for the performance. That is why I am clapping, now.” Alix repeated his clapping, as did everyone else. “As a performer you are expected to bow, like this,” he demonstrated. Staash immediately complied even as everyone else in the coffee shop stood, continuing to applaud.

“That was wonderful,” Emma said. “When you speak it is like a choir of voices singing in harmonic perfection.”

“I’m grateful for privilege sharing and receive appreciation,” Staash replied.

“It was quite good,” Neville confirmed. “I do not begin to fathom the meaning but the way it sounded was intensely beautiful.”

“Thank you so much,” Staash said, still rigidly adhering to what he understood was proper.

Cristina opened her eyes, her broad smile likewise revealing how much she appreciated what she had heard. She stood to embrace Staash as best she could as his bulk provided a huge challenge for her to wrap her arm around. “I loved it so much my words fail to begin expressing my emotions,” she said low enough so that only he could hear. “I understood it.”

“Staash is glad. Relieved you liked it.”

Immediately Neville, Mary, Chase and Julie surrounded them, patting Staash on the back which he had learned from observation of world viewer was a physically expressed compliment that was even possibly beyond a handshake but not as good as a hand shake along with a pat on the back. Then he received handshakes from Emma and Arnie who also took time to express their verbal emotional commentary on the experience his recitation evoked.

When everyone else stepped away and returned the tables in the coffee shop to the usual places and, having finished the breakfasts Emma prepared, they bused their tables. Aix took care of Cristina’s plates and cups, leaving her behind. She stared into Staash’s eyes so intensely that it made him wonder what was going on inside her mind. Still, she blocked his access.

“I want to write music like your poetry,” Cristina finally said.

“Staash teach you,” he offered.

“Really?”

“It not hard. Foundation of language you have. Rest is fun.”

“I understand its utilization of fundamental and harmonic tones. The breakdown for me seems to come from understanding how the message is conveyed. Your language has words but they are of lesser importance than the conveyance of the underlying tone of the message.”

“From limited time here, I observe utter dependence on words in your languages. Misunderstanding between people it causes,” Staash said.

“I think you’re right,” Cristina said. “Music transcends language, even for us. Music is a language humans have in common despite culture or their different words. Music may differ culturally but still it’s always music.”

“For Sakum’malien no distinction. Language and music is same. There is more, also – mathematics, you call it. All is integrated language universal. You understand?”

Cristina returned her chair to the table where she sat for Staash’s recitation. “I have a lot of questions about how your language works, but unfortunately, I don’t know where to begin to ask.”

“Other way, better way. Same with Sakum’malien – always better direct link. Uttered language for mass communication and entertainment, nothing more.”

Cristina smiled. “I need a lot of help, I’m afraid.”

Staash laughed after his own gurgling fashion. “Here Staash outsider – alone, odd entity. Product of race existing elsewhere but this world colony dead.”

“Surely your world knows by now others know the colony here is gone. It was eighty years ago.”

Staash nodded his understanding of the time interval.

“How would they react?”

“Despair. Beyond. Not sure what they do.”

“Would they retaliate?”

“Depends how received news. Might see pathetic misunderstanding. Sakum’malien nature not violent. They grieve loss. Every life cherished. Some want punish guilty, warding off  adventurous expansions to our territories.”

“What if it was possible for those who were preserved to be resurrected?”

“Staash puzzled over resurrection you discussed. All were lost. Some bodies well-preserved,” Staash said. “Sakum’malien are dead. Nothing changes dead. Living again, would be infant if spirit comes present. Infant knows nothing, not Sakum’malien ways.”

“You’re sure?”

“Dead is dead,” Staash said. “Body contains spirit only. Unless human know ways returning spirit once departed.”

“Paul, my brother believes it’s possible.”

Staash shook his head. “Humans and their technologies no secret humans know restoring life to dead. Better to go back. Warn colony enclaves disaster coming,” Staash suggested. “Maybe, message persuasive enough, coming from voice not mine, someone learn ways like you wanting understanding Sakum’malien life and language.”

Cristina smiled. “That was what I’d hoped you did for your colony.”

“Listening they would be still live now,” Staash said. “Nothing change, but Staash here. Doubt they live undetected all eighty years.”

“So, Arnie needs to open the front door,” Alix interrupted. “Chase and Julie are going with Neville and Mary to crash at Arnie and Emma’s house. Maybe we take this upstairs.”

“Yeah you’re right,” Cristina said, taking Alix’s hand they followed Staash back upstairs. “Staash and I have been having a very interesting conversation. He thinks the objectives of The Resurrection will ultimately fail. Even if they are able to bring a Sakum’mal back from the dead, he or she will have no memories.”

Alix nodded, as she closed the door of their apartment behind them. “I’ve been thinking about the plans they had, what I know of them, anyway. I’m beginning to understand why Paul was trying to recruit Chase and you. His ultimate goal was to find all The Twenty-Four.”

“Why?”

“In almost every way that I can tell, each of us we are the same, just we have slight differences in our abilities. It goes well beyond the mere distinction of gender that makes us unique in that way. You have empathetic and telepathic abilities. I can slip through space and time and even cause things to ignite from a distance.”

“Chase has telekinesis. Julie can become invisible.”

“Really?”

Cristina nodded. “I’m not sure what other talents they have.”

“We discover our differences through experience and practice. The orbs seem to enhance that. What would it be like if the abilities of every one of us, each of The Twenty-Four could work in concert and harmony in order to achieve a common goal? I think that was what Paul wanted to do.”

Cristina tilted her head to one side.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? We cannot accomplish what we must ultimately do alone or even in pairs. But how formidable could we be as a group? All of our talents brought to bear simultaneously, who is there to resist us? What is there that we couldn’t do? We could change the world to suit us.”

“Bring life to the dead?” Cristina chided. “I think not.”

“It was a recruiting tool, nothing more. I doubt anyone believed it was possible but they could enlist the aid of those who had remorse and sympathy for the tragic loss of Sakum’malien life, once they showed them the evidence.”

“Still, if it was the goal to bring The Twenty-Four together, what is our combined potential?” she asked.

“The question is how do we find all the others?”

“Neville has an idea.” Cristina said. “I don’t fully trust him, though.”

“Because he works for the Colonial Authority?”

“That has a lot to do with it,” she said.

“He isn’t like the assholes we have dealt with. He listens and he thinks beyond the regulations.”

“So there’s purpose in our meeting him now.”

“There’s purpose in everything we’ve done,” Alix said. “Was there ever a doubt?”

Cristina laughed. “Now you finally believe in your destiny.”

“Our destiny, you mean. I’ve been skeptical at times, but I’ve been willing to allow for the possibility there was some pattern or plan we were fulfilling. Now, I understand. It’s very hard to discount what’s obvious.”

Staash had been sitting, quietly listening. But then in the momentary lull between Alix and Cristina he interjected, “What happens to Staash?”

“We’re going to New Milan,” Cristina said. “We know more people there. We have better contacts. Chase might be better connected in Andromeda and it’s a lot closer but I want to be in New Milan, with our band, our friends. Chase has contacts there as well. So, it’s not like he cannot help us even from Andromeda.”

“We need to use those contacts to get the local media on our side. We need to lead them out to the cavern that we visited, where we found you, Staash,” Alix said.

“Except the Colonial Authority controls them. They won’t buck the system. They could lose their contacts and sources of information. Worse they could end up in prison.”

“With us.”

“We need to expose the harsh truth to one and all – get the masses behind us, seeking reform and openness.”

“Seeking the ouster of the powers that exist now and hold dominion over us won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“To get the media to work with us we have to be sneaky – as sneaky as the Colonial Authority.”

“Don’t you think the media would benefit being free of control and authority,” Cristina countered. “Access to knowledge and information should be free to everyone.”

“You are sounding like Paul.”

“Maybe Paul has some of it just about right,” Cristina said. “There cannot be any change until the Colonial Authority is discredited and forced to accept the change – or overthrown.”

“What do you suggest in its place?”

“A free government, totally responsive to the people.”

“There has never been such a thing, never anything responsive to all people,” Alix said. “I’m not sure it would work, anyway. Human history had been about compromises. Forcing an entrenched government to turn over power has only come from revolution and usually violent wars.”

“We know it won’t be easy,” Cristina said.

“Hardly anything worth doing is easy,” Alix said. “My dad used to tell me that. It always pissed me off because he used it whenever I was about to give up on something because it was hard. But he was right.”

“We can’t let anyone parade Staash around,” Cristina said. “The real media circus will begin if we do that. It won’t be easy for Staash.”

“Staash tired learning about humans. Want go home, back life to normal,” he said.

Cristina nodded, and then she stood again and walked over to Staash and embraced him, almost able to touch her fingertips around his massiveness. “You have diminished,” she said as she stepped back.

“Sakum’malien live together, all things good. All share in life – alone only bad. Humans be alone can survive. Me, alone – die here, soon.”

Cristina lowered her head, “That’s what we must work on,” she said. “Nothing else supersedes that in importance.”

“Staash grateful, pretty lady.”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 22 -Old and New Friends

**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.**

Arnie made up a serving tray of cups for one and all and a pot of freshly made coffee. “I’ll bring everything we need,” Arnie continued his thought. “We can all sit and talk.”

“You and Mom have to take care of business,” Neville said as he glanced at his chronometer.

“It’s a couple of hours before opening, Arnie said. “We have plenty of time.”

“So it is, I thought it was later.”

“You’re living on Andromeda time, dear,” Mary said.

“I must be.” He smiled, then sipped form the freshly poured cup.

“If anyone shows up early, the coffee’s on the house,” Arnie said and filled everyone’s cups. “This morning, we’re celebrating having our family an friends together.”

Once everyone was taken care of Arnie settled beside Neville and Chase at the two tables his son has hastily scooted together while the ladies arranged their chairs around.

“This is excellent coffee, by the way,” Chase complemented.

“It’s a blend only Dad does,” Neville explained. “Four different types of beans, a secret mixture, roasted on site and ground fresh daily.”

“Well, it is simply the best I’ve ever had,” Chase said.

“Yes, it is,” Julie concurred.

“I was going to drive you to the house and let everybody sleep while I came back here to help Emma with the morning rush.”

“If it can be called a rush. I’m still worn out from the other morning when we were actually busy.”

“Anyway, it appears plans have changed. The caffeine will keep everybody going for a while.”

“I wish I had the recipe. I’d have a cup every morning,” Julie said. “You should patent it.”

“Dad’s been refusing offers to sell it for years.”

“I want it done right, not produced in mass. So, if you want my special coffee, you have to come to Star City and enjoy it here. Everything is in the preparation and the care for how it’s delivered.”

“Every performance depends on the rehearsal,” Chase said, relating Arnie’s insight to show business. “Which reminds me. Have you heard the news?” he directed to Cristina and Alix?”

“Which news? There’s been a lot going on lately,” Alix responded.

“Congratulations are in order. Your single and the Mod Card its from are both number one in Andromeda.”

“You’re kidding me,” Alix stared at him, then looked excitedly toward Cristina.

“It’s also number one in Haven and has been number one in New Milan for ten weeks, now – twenty five weeks in the top five. Maybe the fever has spread to Star City too, I’ll have to check.”

“That’s incredible news,” Cristina said.

“I’m receiving messages about tons of offers coming in from local promoters for some larger venues in every city. Global Star wants to put something together right away, but I’m thinking something more elaborate.”

“We were going into the studio first,” Cristina said. “The guys have written some new material. It would freshen the play list for the shows and promote new material.”

“That would be great. We can work with that, as long as you can knock out the new material quickly.”

“That’s something Alix and I need to talk about, not bore everyone else with. And I have some ideas we need to discuss Chase – in private.”

“Sure, we can do that.”

Julie looked askance at Chase.

“So, little lady, you’re famous,” Arnie asked. “Emma was saying you would be sooner or later.”

“She’s getting there,” Chase said. “Alix too. Being number one in both New Milan and Andromeda is so huge I can’t really explain it to anyone outside of the business. It will launch things elsewhere, maybe worldwide. I’d be surprised if our rivals on Little Continent aren’t ready to make some bids.”

“We’d stay with you, of course,” Cristina said.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence. But you go with who takes care of you the best. I want you to succeed but if Global Star isn’t the best—”

“But it has been,” Alix said.

“You’ll have to give us your autographs before you leave to go back home. We might never have the chance again,” Emma said as she leaned over the front counter.

“It’s happened so fast – I mean, lately it is,” Cristina said.

“The band has been playing since we were in high school,” Alix explained. “Pete and I were in college together but we still played in the band. Keith and Tim have been playing together since they were old enough to walk, just about. They approached Pete and me when they wanted to form a band.”

“Then they auditioned me after I got out of college.”

“Cristina studied music and theater,” Chase said. “She sings on stage but she also plays piano and guitar.”

“Well, all this couldn’t happen to nicer people,” Emma said.

Cristina beamed. “It all falls into place with what we want to do,” Cristina directed to Alix. “Our idea involves telling the world about what we’ve learned about the sand-morphs.”

“Sand-morphs. What have you learned?” Neville probed.

“First of all, they’re peaceful. They’re language is like music, very complicated music in a way with sounds and colors.”

“Paul told you this?” Chase asked. “I mean, you found him and talked to him?”

“We talked to him,” Alix said. “But not all that much about them. Cristina learned almost everything one her own.”

“You can learn a lot in a few moments,” she clarified. “It’s intense when you make a telepathic connection.”

“Talking to them on their level would be almost like attending a concert,” Alix said.

“Exactly,” Cristina said.

“It’s a pity they aren’t around anymore,” Neville said. “They could entertain us.”

“They’re civilization is very advanced. Maybe we’d entertain them. I don’t know. We might bore them, actually.”

“We’ll never know. The point is moot.”

“Oh, but it’s not, far from it,” Cristina said. “We can still learn a lot.”

“Taking trips to the past will do us little good,” Neville said.

“But we don’t need to go back, not right away. We can ask one directly.”

“Ask one?” Neville asked.

“We brought one back with us,” Alix said.

“You did what?” Chase asked.

“That’s a lot of what we need to talk about, my idea involves Staash.”

“Staash?” Neville asked. “I had a stuffed animal–”

“They know,” Emma said.

“I’m sorry we spoiled the surprise,” Cristina apologized to her.

“They found him when they were cleaning upstairs,” Emma explained. “He’s all dusted off and waiting for you at the house.”

“Really, where was he all this time?” Neville asked.

“Hidden, under a loose floorboard in one of the closets,” Alix said. “Subject to a cover-up in his own way.”

“Well, at least that mystery is solved. I’ll bet I know whose room it was in, too, just not which one of them did the deed,” Neville said.

“I hope we didn’t start a family feud,” Cristina said.

“Nothing major, anyway,” Arnie laughed. “Just a normal sibling knock-down drag-out. We’ll sell tickets. Emma can pop some corn.”

“Arnie!” Emma scolded her husband.

“So where’s this Staash, the other one?” Neville asked.

“He’s upstairs, watching world viewer and learning.”

Neville fell silent for a few moments. “Right now, upstairs, there is an alien?”

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with him learning about humanity from world viewer,” Chase said.

“He learns very fast,” Cristina said. “They’re telepathic, by their nature.”

“That how you communicated?” Neville asked.

“He speaks now.”

“Actually very well,” Alix said.

“I used telepathy at first,” Cristina continued. “After a while we could speak to one another. To my chagrin he learned English far quicker than I’ve acquired his language.”

“I’m sure all this will be of some interest to the Colonial Authority,” Arnie said.

“That’s what we need to manage. We want everyone to know about them,” Cristina said. “The truth. People need to know what happened eighty years ago.”

Neville fell silent again, considering the ramifications of what Cristina proposed and how it would impact the world.

“Alix and I went back to a moment a five days before the initiation of terraforming this world.”

“How many sand-morphs did you see?” Neville asked.

“Thousands,” Alix said.

“In a community?”

“They were reluctant to be observed at first but, yes, we saw several of them and some of their technology,” Cristina said.

“There were maybe fifty of them at first but, as we descended deeper into their caverns, there were thousands,” Alix amplified.

“They call themselves Sakum’malien, or at least that’s the closest rendering within our means of pronunciation,” Cristina said.

Neville leaned back in his chair. Mary kept looking between her husband, Cristina and Alix, knowing enough about the subject of discussion to understand the gravity of what was being said.

“So, this sand-morph…” Chase ventured to reenter the discussion, but paused.

“Staash,” Alix interrupted. “He actually liked the name.”

“Staash, then. He’s really upstairs right now?” Chase asked. “Kicked-back watching world viewer?”

“You think we’re lying to you?” Alix asked.

“No, it just hard to get my head around it, I guess,” Chase said. “It seems so unreal, so completely unfathomable. He’s here from eighty years ago.”

“What’s unfathomable, that he’s proof of alien life or he’s from the past?” Alix asked.

“I guess, I have to see the beast to believe it,” Neville said.

“He’s not a beast. He’s highly intelligent and articulate. Amongst his kind he’s a poet,” Cristina countered.

“Really?” Chase expressed surprise. “Besides their language being music, they have art in their culture?”

“Their culture is very rich, in fact. Language for them is a much better medium for communication than anything humans have ever invented.”

“And he speaks English, now?” Neville sought confirmation.

“As do we all and he finds it confining for what he needs to express,” Alix countered.

“Mostly from watching world viewer,” Cristina said. “He learned the vocabulary and the foundations of grammar from whatever he gleaned through our telepathic connection. He learned nuances of conversation from observation whether it was from us or the world viewer.”

“He is a pro with the remote control including the link functions for accessing information,” Alix added.

“He knows more about us than we do about him,” Neville suggested, his voice hinting it concerned him.

“I think once you meet him most of your reservations will be allayed,” Cristina said.

“Would you like to?” Alix asked, standing up.

“Uh, well uh…yeah sure. I mean, I guess so,” Neville said.

“Is it safe?” Mary asked.

“He’s very civil, even docile,” Alix said. “I’ve learned he has a sense of humor and irony.”

“We would have never brought him back unless we felt it was safe,” Cristina said.

“At least you demonstrated that good sense,” Neville said.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Alix countered.

“You can’t possibly think it was a rational decision to retrieve a beast from the past. Because you appear to have that ability doesn’t mean it was ever intended–”

“Look,” Alix interrupted. “The Sakum’malien were here before us. That’s the undeniable truth the Colonial Authority has suppressed for all these years, vehemently and often violently. People have rotted in prison and died because they don’t want that truth to get out.”

“I know; I know,” Neville said. “They were indigenous life and our researchers missed them in their preliminary investigations and inadvertently terminated through the terraforming process.”

“So we’ve been told,” Cristina said. “The truth is something entirely different.”

“Then, please enlighten us,” Neville said with a hint of patronizing sarcasm.

“First of all the Sakum’malien are not indigenous at all. They were in the process of preparing this world for their own colonization efforts,” Alix said. “Despite their physical ability to filter poisons out of the air, they could not long endure the toxic levels in the air that existed even at the time of our early visitations.”

“They reduced the levels of the toxins to what we encountered, over a period of several centuries,” Cristina revealed something she’d learned directly but had not yet shared with Alix.

“They were here that long?” Neville inquired.

“Our spans are relatively brief in comparison,” Cristina said. “Not only would those we exterminated yet be alive, even those who were young adults like Staash would still be considered young.”

“They dwelled in deep caverns and used over-pressurization to form airlocks in order to prevent the contamination within the atmosphere from fouling the clean air inside,” Alix explained. “So you, see, there’s no way the sterilizations treatments that were released into the atmosphere and saturated the oceans could have ever violated the caverns in which the Sakum’malien lived.”

“You know this for a fact?” Neville asked.

“We were there,” Alix said. “I can take you there if you would like to see it for yourself?”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 21 – Another Convergence

**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.**

The railcar paused at the first airlock, signaling its arrival at the outer entry to the dome at Star City. When the outer hull of the railcar was cleaned and purged of contaminants, it was permitted through the second airlock and on into the first station where many of the passengers disembarked.

Julie and Chase began gathering up their belongings and stowing away anything they took out of their carry-on luggage on their way. Neville and Mary already completed their preparations and were eagerly waiting to get off the railcar at the next station, on the other side of the city.

The railcar was about half empty after the first stop. A few new passengers boarded and the railcar delayed for the time interval it took for the conveyers beneath the station’s docking platform off load some the luggage designated for the first station. Then conveyor belt reversed direction to load luggage belonging to the newest passengers who were continuing beyond the other Star City station to other cities.

It was an amazingly smooth operation, really and was largely automated with only minimal human monitoring of the process. Every once in a while something would go awry and an attendant would immediately leap into action to correct the malfunction.

Once loaded, the railcar cabin was sealed and it continued on briefly to the other side of the city and the next station where the remaining passengers destined for Star City exited before the railcar boarded any new passengers. When the railcar again came to a complete stop, Neville and Mary were among the first of the passengers queued the exit door. They exited out onto the docking platform as the others who were still aboard the railcar waited. Once inside the station, Neville and Mary waited for Julie and Chase who were separated from them by several passengers in the line. Chase was saying goodbye to Pick, reiterating arrangements to stay in touch, exchanging business cards.

Chase rejoined Julie and they hurried to baggage claim where Chase stood beside Neville to wait alongside the carousel for their checked baggage. The ladies retrieved a luggage cart from a nearby rack and waited a few meters behind the men.

“Neville…Mary!” a voice familiar to them called out.

“Dad,” Neville turned to respond with a broad smile on his face as he embraced the older gentleman who looked older than he ever seemed on the periodic phone video feeds.

They were just completing their hugs when Chase reached for first Neville’s bag and then Julie’s. A few moments later he retrieved his and then Mary’s.

“Chase, this is my father Arnie.”

“The pleasure is mine,” Chase said. “And this is Julie,” he introduced as she approached with Mary to shake hands. Mary hugged her father-in-law.

“I brought the supply coach,” Arnie said. “It is not as comfortable but there’s a lot more room for everyone and the luggage,” Arnie said.

“That’ll be fine, Dad,” Neville said.

“I figured the pretty ladies could sit up front with me. You boys can ride rough in the back on the jump seats with the luggage.”

“Just like the old days,” Neville said, and then made a comment about when he was a little boy going to get supplies for the shop with his father. He would never ride up front in the delivery coach because he preferred resting in the back amongst the bags of coffee beans, sugar, flour, and such, some of them as big of usually much heavier than he was at the time.

Arnie pitched in to help Chase and Neville heft the luggage onto the cart Mary wheeled toward them. Everything loaded Arnie led the way to the van he’d left parked at the curb in a delivery zone. As his vehicle bore a commercial vendor’s decal it was never questioned.

Once everyone and everything they brought with them were loaded into the coach, Arnie used the automatic pilot to direct the coach to return to the alley behind the coffee shop. “I thought we’d stop by so you can see Emma before heading on out the house.”

“How is she?” Mary asked.

“She’s the same as always. She complains once in a while but at our age I suppose complaints are expected if not allowed.”

“The last time we talked, she said she had some stiffness in her elbow,” Mary responded.

“Oh yeah, well I made her go to the clinic about it and they gave her something to rub on it and some sort of injection and after a few hours it was better.”

“That’s good.”

“You know Emma, though. Half the effort was getting her out of the shop to go there. We closed early one afternoon. It wasn’t like we missed much business, but still, she felt guilty. She was angry at me for insisting she go and then gong with her to boot.”

“She sounds like quite a character,” Julie said.

“Well, she can be,” Arnie said. “I don’t know what to do with her sometimes but I am certain I could never have made it to this point in my life without her.” He chuckled to himself. “I’ll bet she would say the same thing about me.”

It wasn’t that far to the coffee shop. By the time that the coach turned off the street and they arrived in the alley behind, the sun was already high enough in the sky that it shone through the dome illuminating even the darkest corners, chasing away the lingering vestiges of a shadowy, moonlit night. Arnie triggered the releases on the doors and everyone disembarked. Emma met Mary at the back door, hugging her warmly. Then with Mary’s introduction, Emma hugged Julie as well.

Chase offered his hand to Emma and she shook it and smiled before focusing her attentions on her only son. They held one another in a shared embrace for several moments, Neville lifting her from her feet. “I’ve missed you, Mom.”

“You don’t have to be such a stranger, you know.”

“Well, I am pretty busy at work.”

“And it’s such a long trip,” Arnie offered as an excuse for his boy.

“Well, there’s that too,” Neville said.

“Why waste the words now that you’re here. Come on inside. Arnie made fresh coffee before he left and I made breakfast for everyone.”

“Great,” Neville said.

“Yes, that sounds wonderful,” Julie said as she reached back and grabbed Chase’s hand and led him inside. While Mary and Neville continued catching up on everything with Emma and Arnie, Chase and Julie continued through the kitchen and out into the front dining area where they sat at a table. Arnie poured two cups of coffee and carried them out on a tray to Chase and Julie.

“There are a couple of people I’d like you to meet,” Emma said to Neville and Mary as they lingered back in the kitchen. “They should be awake by now.”

“They are very nice young people using our old place upstairs – temporarily,” Arnie explained as he returned to the kitchen to gather up a tray of steamed sweet rolls. “They are from out of town and seemed to be having it a little rough.”

“And you just took them in,” Neville said incredulously as shook his head.

“Well, I always do what I feel is right and treat people how I would want to be treated.”

“You know my concern.”

“I’m not as cynical as you are, I guess. I assume people are good people until it’s proven otherwise.”

“Well from my experience there are few people you can trust.”

“And that’s a very sad commentary on our world and times,” Arnie said.

“Well, it is as much my fault,” Emma said. “I couldn’t help it. I know they’re really good people.”

“Where are they from?”

“From New Milan.”

“What are they doing all the way up here?” Neville asked.

“They have been looking for the girl’s brother.”

“I see.”

“Don’t be negative,” Mary chided Neville.

“I’m not being negative. I’m just trying to watch out for the safety and best interests of my parents.”

“And your parents have a lot of experience looking out for themselves,” Mary said, coming to Emma’s defense. “They also did a pretty good job raising you and your sisters.”

“I’m not about to change ‘who’ I am and ‘what’ I believe is right. The world can continue going to hell, I’m going to take care of my part of it, though,” Arnie said.

“Regardless of your concerns, they’re heading back to New Milan in a few days, along with their friend,” Emma said.

“Well, maybe they are all right, then,” Neville finally relented. “It’s just I worry about you guys and your good nature. People take advantage of you.”

“What if they have? It’s on their conscience. Emma and I are fine.”

“You should not pass judgment on people without ever having met them,” Emma said and she started up the steps at the back of the kitchen. “There’s no reason for us to change the way we are. But you are still young enough to learn and adapt.”

The burn of Mary’s glare at Neville caused him to turn away but he received no better from his father’s stare on the other side.

“Okay, okay, I get it. Believe in people until they earn mistrust.”

“I wondered if you even remembered that,” Arnie said.

“Dad, I live by it. I just have always been over protective of you, every since I was a teenager.”

Arnie chuckled. “Yeah, I remember your attempts to protect me.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard this story,” Mary said.

“And you should never hear it,” Neville said.

“There are some secrets made to be kept between a father and his son,” Arnie vocalized his support for his son’s privacy.

“I see how it is. You two gang up on me whenever I’m close to learning something potentially embarrassing.”

“I assure you it’s not embarrassing,” Arnie said.

“Then why can’t I know the secret?”

“Because it’s a secret,” Neville said.

“You and your secrets!” Mary complained.

Just then, Emma returned from upstairs and announced that her other guests would be down shortly. “They said they were awake but I really think I woke them up.”

“They were probably tired,” Arnie said.

“They were out for a good while yesterday. I feel bad for them,” Emma said. “They seemed so disappointed when they came home late yesterday afternoon.”

Suddenly Alix peered from the stairs around the edge of the ceiling as he descended the stairs. When he had reached the kitchen floor Emma offered an introduction, “This is my son Neville and his wife Mary.”

“It is good to meet you,” Alix said as he extended his hand to first Mary and then Neville.

“The pleasure is mine,” Neville said.

“Ours,” Mary amended.

Emma offered. “Where’s Cristina?”

“She’s coming. She’s still doing the make-up thing.”

Cristina appeared feet first descended the stairs as first Alix then everyone else turned in her direction. “This is Cristina,” Alix introduced as she had arrived downstairs.

“This is Mary, my wife and I’m Neville.”

“So, we finally meet,” Cristina said directly to him, then turned to Mary, “Both of you. Emma has spoken of you.”

“Good things I hope.”

“Of course it was good,” Emma offered in protest.

“Emma tells us you are from New Milan,” Neville said.

“That we are,” Alix said. “Do you know New Milan?”

“I’ve been there,” Mary said. “Neville has been there a few times for meetings.”

“Really,” Alix smiled. “You’re from Andromeda, right?”

“Yeah,” Mary said. “You know Andromeda?”

“A little,” Alix said. “We performed there a few times in the last year.”

“Performed? Are you actors?”

“Musicians.”

“That would have been my second guess,” Mary said.

“We were on a world tour.”

“Are you on tour here?”

“Not really,” Cristina said. “We were on vacation, spending some time with some friends in Andromeda before going back to the studio for recording. I came here looking for my brother.”

“We are getting ready to go back home,” Alix said. “Arnie and Emma asked us to stay and meet you. We’ll be leaving in a couple of days.”

“You know,” Mary said, “We’ve completely forgotten about Julie and Chase,” she said to Neville.

“Where are they?” he asked even as Cristina looked to Alix.

“Out in the front,” Arnie said, sitting at a table. “I poured them some coffee.”

“It can’t be the same Chase and Julie,” Cristina said mainly to Alix.

“You know them?” Emma asked as she overheard.

“Well, it could be someone different.” Alix allowed.

“Which seems unlikely,” Cristina added, and then shouted, “Chase, is that you?”

Both Chase and Julie responded, coming into the kitchen, Julie embracing Cristina as Alix shook Chase’s hand the pulled in closer to embrace. “We thought you were missing.”

“Well, we have to talk about that,” Alix replied to Chase.

“So you know each other already?” Neville asked probably just a couple of seconds before Arnie was going to.

“Chase managed our world tour. We met Julie when we visited them in Andromeda several days ago.”

Arnie leaned back against the counter. “Let me get this straight. My son and daughter-in-law know people who are friends of people I met here a few days ago who spent the night the alley beside my building.”

“Small world,” Emma said in summary.

“To say the very least,” Neville said.

“It is quite a coincidence.”

“Except there are no coincidences,” Julie said.

“None at all,” Cristina confirmed.

“I assume Cristina and Alix have the attributes, then,” Neville said.

“Of course,” Chase said.

“It seems as if The Twenty-Four are being drawn together, a pair at a time then into mutual associations.”

“Because we’re supposed to,” Julie said.

“I presume from that statement you know of other pairings?” Alix probed.

“A few,” Neville said. “You mothers have told me of them. They have access to information resources on their children.”

“Our mothers?” Alix asked.

“They’re alive,” Chase said. “Julie and I met our mothers.”

Both Alix and Cristina were suddenly silent.

“Sometimes it’s almost like some evil genie is controlling all of us like marionettes,” Neville offered.

“What determines whether the genie is evil?” Cristina asked.

“Perception?” Alix suggested.

“Everything is about perception,” Arnie said. “That’s been that way from my experience.”

“What is there that exists if no one’s around to perceive it?” Chase asked.

“Such was the divine dilemma,” Neville proposed. “Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it. Was there ever a sunrise on this planet before we arrived to be the first to witness it? The very origin of this planet was regarded as crazy, unscientific speculation no one could possibly corroborate until a remote probe was arrived and through it we perceived a younger version of Earth, uninhabited.”

“Except for the uninhabited part, that is true,” Cristina said.

“Well, now that we’re all here, of course Pravda is inhabited.”

“It was inhabited for a long time before we arrived,” Cristina insisted. “Sand-morphs exist.”

“Yes, yes, that childhood fantasy,” Neville responded. “They find piles of sand in a cave and speculate there was life here before we came.”

“So we’re told,” Chase said.

“No one’s seen one,” Neville said, then sipped from his coffee.

“Except for the people who found the piles of sand when they were still in tact,” Chase said.

“And us,” Alix added.

“You have seen one?” Neville asked with a chuckle.

“They perceived one back in time, through a portal their orbs created,” Chase said.

“Things have evolved a good bit since that, Chase,” Cristina said.

“Has it now? How?” he asked.

“Something I learned to do, called folding time. We went back and found one.”

“Your met one, in the flesh – so to speak?”

“Actually, we met several but communicated most directly with the one,” Cristina said. “His name was Slahl’yukim, the real name, anyway.”

“That’s a mouthful of a name,” Neville said.

“That’s why we shortened it a bit,” Alix said.

“Come sit down out front, all of you,” Arnie suggested, motioning for everyone to come along.