**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 fought her petty apprehensions. Grand designs and her destiny were before her, but she considered the betrayal of her heritage. Maybe it was an illusion, something borne of her conscience, but it felt true.
A human father and mother who possessed a special characteristic, a gene that made her special passed it on to her. She shared a connection through her heritage, maybe she was not totally but she was human enough to wrestle with the guilt of the species’ potential extinction. Whatever she did, she could not prevent it any other way but the reset the world.
Across the room Alix stood patiently awaiting her decision, sensing it was already the right time. She needed to be as settled in her decision and as focused on the tasks ahead as he already was, otherwise what they needed to do would never be properly executed.
Then there was an interruption, unexpected but hardly a surprise. They were both aware of the intentions of others. Had she not foreseen the possibility? Certainly he had. So, they expected him.
As she looked up, she saw his smiling face emerge from the shadows, a presence but he was not physically there. “You know this is not the time or the place,” she said.
“How is it not right? Is it not a brother’s place to be with his sister in her time of grave choices?”
“We grew up apart, always strangers.”
“True, but even so, look at what we have in common. We both know the truth, don’t we?”
“You think you know,” Cristina said.
“Oh, I know. Perhaps in the sum of all knowledge I’m yet lacking.” Paul laughed. “But I know the truth. Look, it has even set me free!”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m here because I’m concerned. You must realize you’re venturing along an unwise and highly speculative course.”
“Is it you who has determined that or is it some other’s espoused wisdom?”
“I had a visitor come to my cell,” Paul confessed. “He came unannounced but before he left he taught me how I could be in the cell and yet also be liberated.”
“Through the orb,” Alix said.
“Yes,” Paul glanced toward him, mentally registering the need to observe him more closely as he obviously underestimated him.
Cristina stepped back but did not retreat from her resolve. “So you are doing the bidding of the couriers? Who was he? Let’s see, did he still have an orb? That would make it Hummingbird or Sparrow. Both of them came to me and we spoke at length and they taught me things about the orb. So, whichever it was, it isn’t like he’s unaware of my potential or my destiny. I don’t understand why he didn’t choose to communicate his concerns more directly.”
“They have always been a mystery,” Paul said. “Maybe he felt you might listen to your brother. What concerns the couriers is the course you’re pursuing. That’s what separates you from me and the others.”
“The course I’m on is why any of us exist, Paul. Can’t you see that? I know what I’m doing. I’ve thought this through. It may not be the only way, but it’s the best of all possible alternatives.”
“What makes you think you can perceive all possible alternatives?”
Cristina shrugged. “I guess it’s mainly instinct. If there are other alternatives they’re variants along the same course and of minor significance. They would register barely at all in the overall event stream.”
“Damn, hon. You’re beginning to sound like me,” Alix said but chuckled.
“I’m surprised you find anything about this is amusing,” Paul responded instead.
“Look, I get how serious this is,” Alix said. “You think we’re going to die. If that’s the case, then take it as gallows humor. I mean, if you’re right and I’m going to die anyway, maybe I should die laughing. Just to lighten my load of karma for the next go ‘round.”
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t combine our skills,” Paul said to both of them. “We might have been formidable in anything that, as a group, we determined to do.”
“It isn’t too late for you to join us,” Cristina offered.
“Join you? I’ve come here to talk sense into you. What you and your boyfriend intend to do will end the world as we know it. It’s beyond suicide. It is mass murder. None of us will ever be born!”
“That’s not entirely true,” Staash interrupted them from a silence that led the others to ignore him.
“And so the beast speaks,” Paul said.
“The same might be said of you,” Staash retorted. “It is an ability that would be far in excess of what any resurrected Sakum’mal could render.”
“Even if such a resurrection were possible,” Cristina added.
“Look, I was stupid to fall for that rouse. I’ve had a lot of time to think things through. Even the leadership of The Resurrection never believed they could restore the lives of the sand-morphs.”
“The Sakum’malien,” Staash corrected.
Paul glared at him. “Look, I’m sorry for what happen to your kind. I’ve fought to and killed bring the truth to light. I wish I was there and could’ve fixed it, but I was born too late.”
“But we can change that,” Alix said. “That’s the entire point, Paul.”
“No the real point is it’s too late. We can’t change it now. It’s suicide. I’m sure your friend here impresses you as being worthy of life. Then let him stay here with us…”
“How wrong is that notion? He doesn’t belong here, not in this world. He would eventually die here and in very short order. The Sakum’malien are social creatures. To be alone, to be cut off from the others of his kind is a death sentence, Paul,” Cristina explained.
“You of all people should understand that,” Alix added.
“What you intend to do will change so many things that the world around us will be extremely altered. It will never include us because there’ll never be a reason for us to even exist.”
“Humans seem to have an odd understanding of this thing you call time,” Staash said.
“I think we understand our limitations quite well,” Paul said.
“If you understand then, why don’t you know there are no paradoxes? Whatever someone would do in the past requires continued presence as the catalyst of change. The world must adjust around the agent of change.”
“A new event stream emerging,” Alix said. “Raven said that, Paul.”
“Beyond the change it’s all speculative. Maybe the catalyst will exist in a changed context but everything else will be different.”
“Still the catalyst must always endure.”
“It would be an extreme leap of faith for me or anyone else to simply jaunt back into time alter something with major ramifications and expect to return to the same life he or she left,” Paul said.
“The world adjusts, Paul. That’s what we are trying to explain,” Cristina argued.
“It isn’t a leap of faith at all,” Staash said. “It does depend on a higher understanding of mathematics than humans presently possess. Cristina and Alix understand what I have shown to them so far. What they are doing isn’t suicide for them. And it’s not murder. They intend to prevent murder.”
“You’re welcome to join us,” Cristina said, reiterating her offer as she gathered up her belongings and the necessary materials for delivery of their message. Alix did the same and both drew in closer to Staash. Paul stepped back as if he were even physically present.
Cristina and Alix reached out to grasp Staash’s sand-covered mitten-like hands. With their other hands they grasped one another’s relatively softer human hands.
“You must not proceed!” Paul attempted to forbid them.
“You cannot stop us,” Cristina responded. “You’re not physically here.”
“I can still project my will!” Paul threatened.
“If you can do that, you can be here in body as well as mind,” Cristina said.
“It’s the orb.” Alix explained. “You established a conduit to be here. Through it you can draw energy back to you.”
Even as Paul stared at his sister his image gradually became more and more solid. “Why would you tell me this?” He looked at his hands and stomped his feet. “Why give me the means of stopping you?”
“Because we know you’ll join us.” Cristina explained. “You said it yourself. We can be formidable.”
Paul started toward them. A ring of flames encircled Paul a few feet from his, knees leaping up to around his waist, preventing him from stepping closer.
“What you intend to do is too dangerous!” Paul protested. “You’re risking your lives and the lives of everyone in the world.”
“We intend to warn the Sakum’malien in their own language so they have a chance to save themselves. That’s all.” Alix explained. “We spent the past few days learning and recording a song that meticulously produces the correct tones to be understood.”
“It was a complicated song to write. It was an effort to learn and execute it for recording, but we were up to the task.” Cristina disengaged her hands and shrugged the straps of her backpack from her shoulders. She knelt down and opened the flap of her backpack and produced the music player. “Would you like to hear it?”
Paul stared at his sister even as Alix engaged the playback.
The song was mesmerizing. Intricately woven overlays of instrumentation danced around highly structured patterns of counter-rhythm. It was an achievement well beyond anything anyone had ever imagined let alone heard.
Tearing away at his defenses heart, exposing every carefully hidden weakness he knew he needed to protect. Entranced unto the ending of the song, Paul cried.
“That’s their language,” Cristina explained. “Imagine millions of them conversing, Paul.
“It’s beautiful,” he conceded.
“This is only the superficial, what we can hear.” Cristina explained. “How can we allow such beauty to remain lost in our past, apart from us, from our experience?”
Staash glowed, sensing what Cristina already knew. They were altering Paul’s thinking.
“It’s perfect,” Paul suggested.
“It has few flaws,” Staash said. “Those will be perceived as you might detect an accent from one who has learned a second language. It does not affect the meaning. It lends credibility to the source.”
“You could delay further, fix the mistakes,” Paul suggested.
“We would risk further interference from the couriers or others who do not understand the importance of what we are doing,” Cristina pointed out.
“It is a singular achievement for someone not Sakum’malien. The message will be immediately understood. It’s source will gain attention through novelty,” Staash said.
“We the warning will be heeded.” Cristina turned toward her brother. “You could bless our efforts and remain here or join us on our grand adventure.”
“I’m not convinced you’re right.”
“How ironic it is! Once your objective was to correct the sins of the past but now you voice opposition,” Alix said.
“I never considered it imminent danger to resurrect a sand-morph.”
“Sakum’mal,” Staash corrected.
“Look, Paul. The moment we leave here, the world changes. We are going into the past and what we intend will create a different event stream.”
“Even if we are only partially successful this world will change.” Cristina stared at her brother. “If you come with us at least you participate in the change. Isn’t it better to know what happened?”
“We’ve never been siblings, not really. It’s the cruelest of ironies we shared the same womb and each of us believed our mother died, but we never knew one another. I have met her at least but I was already an adult and very set in my ways and opinions.”
“I’ve never met her,” Cristina said.
“I hate the Colonial Authority with a passion. They are the bane of my life, of all of our lives,” Paul said.
“Then join our effort and help us. We can change the world.” Cristina reiterated her offer.
“Alix is over-taxed now,” Paul said.
“I can do anything necessary,” Alix assured Paul. “I would rather not leave you behind. I do not know what will happen to you or the others we’ve always known. All I know is that after this adventure is over I’ll be with Cristina. That’s all that matters to me.”
“I have dreams,” Paul revealed. “I have been in the presence of a goddess.”
“So your destiny is beyond this,” Cristina said. “You already know that.”
“I would do anything to be with her,” Paul said with a sigh. “I want to live but I’m not sure the life I have is living at all. I’m here and now only because of the orb.”
“The attributes brought you here,” Cristina explained. “All of us are here because this is our destiny.”
“There’s still interference,” Paul replied. “As I am now, I’m uncertain whether I would register as an entity in your efforts. There’s still the anchoring I feel back in my cell.”
“You are here and if I can touch you,” Alix said. “That makes you real enough.”
Paul shrugged. “I’m nearly here, but a ghost.”
“Then the ghost needs to concentrate more,” Cristina chided.
“What do I have to lose except a prison cell,” he said, finally expressing his choice. Moving toward the others, he closed his eyes, concentrating, pulling his essence with him, by force of his will. Brightly, his image glowed brightly. When the glow diminished he had completely arrived. Reaching out he locked his hands in the circle between Cristina and Alix.
Alix closed his eyes to focus, making slight adjustments to compensate for the delay. Surrounding them with the outward expression of his inner light, he directed them while he negotiated the fold.
Confident in his mental calculations of a few elapsed minutes beyond where Cristina, Staash and he departed. To the amazement of all except for Alix’s they arrived almost exactly in the same physical place as before, eight years in the past.
The Sakum’malien seemed partially disoriented as they maintained some distance. Most stepped back, yet continuing against their surprise to surround them. After all there was now an additional human presence in the group standing very near Slahl’yukim. Alix and Cristina had obviously changed apparel and now Staash was wearing human clothes.
Alix assisted Cristina in removing her backpack, opening it, they extracted the portable player from it. Immediately, she pressed play. Even if the sounds echoed throughout the cavern, she could see the Sakum’malien response. Listening, some of them glowing in their comprehension of the message Duae Lunae recorded ‘phonetically’ in the Sakum’malien language.
In initial response as the message became clear, there was general concern amongst them. A few of them came forward and spoke directly to Staash, but through telepathy which only Cristina could perceive even if out of the multiple queries she caught only a fraction of what was frantically conveyed in a few brief instants. Staash responded to them but then he turned and explained. “They want to know how the humans attack us?”
“None,” Alix explained. “We’ve never figured exactly how it was done. The records are sealed. The terraforming required sterilization first. We just know it had to have happened.”
Paul cleared his throat as he looked around. “Uh, excuse me. Having lived in this cavern for some time, I can tell you something about the sand-morphs… er Sakum’malien and their technology. I also know about the air lock. From it we deduced how the sterilization was accomplished.”
“You know how they got past the airlock?” Alix asked.
“Yeah, actually I do or at least I have a lot of clues that point in one direction. The devices we found suffered from the same problem we discovered with the air handler systems at the cave entrance. Everything was fused as if it was burned out instantaneously. The air handlers drew power from a single crystalline energy cell. Under normal circumstances it should have operated for decades. Once we replaces the control boards, we got it up and running again on the same power source.”
“Your point?” Alix said.
“There was a sudden release of tremendous energy outside the cave and a electromagnetic pulse overloaded every electronic device, including the controls of the air handlers – and the alien devices deeper in the caverns – some of them, the ones closer to the surface, but not the ones deeper. You see, there are considerable deposits of lead in this caverns.”
“Lead,” Alix said. “Lead would insulate against EMP.”
“What is EMP?” Cristina asked.
“Electro-Magnetic Pulse,” Alix said. “It means the means of sterilization was nuclear.”
“Yes and because of the lack of residual radiation following the blast, we can assume the devices were neutron bombs. That would actually make sense since the objects was eliminating anything organic, particularly anything micro-biotic. Then the terraform agents poisoned the Sakum’malien.”
“So, the air handlers weren’t destroyed on purpose?” Cristina asked.
“The humans might have not really intended it at all.”
“Well, they weren’t shielded,” Paul said. “But why would they if they were sterilizing the planet to begin terraforming?”
Staash nodded with his understanding, then turned and through telepathy communicated the consensus on what happened to the Sakum’malien who were standing near to them. Immediately one of them projected something that Cristina captured about half of, yet she responded.
“I’m no longer as certain as I once was that the humans even knew you were here,” she said to a few of them that she could reach through telepathy. “Humans are so ethnocentric that they may have believed that your form of life was not possible and therefore just never even bothered to look for it. When Alix and I were here previously we understood the necessity of over-pressurizing the caverns and realized the delivery of the elements for sterilization would be blocked from the caverns if the systems were in tact. It appears that we did not include the means of delivery into our assumptions.”
A Sakum’mal who were standing nearest to Staash approached Cristina, and then projected. “We do not understand this neutron delivery device.”
“I’m not sure I’m qualified to explain,” Cristina responded. “We have five days to figure it out and get the message out to the world. But if you don’t know what a neutron device is I’m not sure what you can do…”
Staash uttered something very complicated and specific aloud to all. Cristina only caught three of the sixteen overlaid tones that formed the words he expressed and as they were not key words she was at a nearly complete loss as to what was exchanged. Then he turned toward her. “They want to know what sorts of things might protect them.”
“Lead,” Paul interrupted. “There’s lots of it in the rocks, deeper in the caverns. Everyone going as low into the caverns as possible will help. Taking all the electronic devices deep as well.”
“Well placed lead shielding, not naturally occurring lead but refined lead fashioned into heavy plates and used to shield the air handlers. That would prevent the terraforming agents from entering the caverns. But we don’t have lead plates.”
“Deeper in the caverns, we found chambers stacked with lead ingots and evidence of a refining process,” Paul said.
“What is lead?” Staash asked.
“You must know lead,” Paul said. “It’s a fairly common metal, especially in this cavern. There’s actually a lot of lead on this planet.”
Cristina probed what she knew of the Sakum’malien language for anything remotely close to the description of lead. Then after several minutes Cristina finally uttered a word. “Octumiethalum’salieithum.”
Sakum’malien in close proximity stepped back. What she said startled them.
“That is an element so rare on our home world it is valuable beyond estimation. Until our coming to this world we call Ham’uelin we never found as much as was here.”
“Maybe I have it wrong,” Cristina allowed. “It seemed like the proper description, though. There was a lot of lead on Earth. In fact there was so much that people tried to transform lead into gold as they are very close in the elemental state and share many properties.”
“Gold?” Staash asked.
Cristina again probed her own vocabulary of Sakum’malien words before finding a likely match. “Utumiethalum’salieithum.”
Staash glowed as was his way of smiling.
“Gold is rare on Earth,” Cristina felt compelled to explain.
“Would gold prevent the disabling of these harmful things that the humans will do to us?” Staash asked.
“I don’t know,” Cristina uttered, mostly for Staash’s benefit.
“It’s a Nobel metal and therefore it would provide shielding against EMP,” Alix confirmed. “Not that it helps us any more than the lead we don’t have.”
Staash’s eyes widened as he glowed even more brightly. There was a good deal of telepathic activity amongst the Sakum’malien. Then the one of them who was closest to Cristina addressed her verbally in Sakum’malien, “We have much gold – too much gold. It’s useful. We construct all manner of things with it. It is common on this world, same as on our home world. We have been mining and refining both here. The gold we use for our construction purposes. The lead we export to our home world.”
Paul stared at Alix. “But we found no evidence of gold here.”
“This is rich lead mine,” he said. “Gold is nearby. We need mine and refine first to build places to live inside mine.”
“But we never found…officially, anyway,” Paul stepped back, shaking his head.
“Now it makes sense,” Alix said. “The answer for all the covering up. It was about the gold.”
“And protecting the colonial market of exchange from flooding it with all the gold,” Paul explained. “At least they learned that much from human history.”
“I don’t understand,” Alix said.
“In the colonial times on Earth, the Spanish stripped the gold form the Americas but in the process their economy experienced rampant inflation, to the point that gold wasn’t worth as much as it was before. Somewhere the Colonial Authority has a stockpile of all the gold they stripped from the Sakum’malien mines. They melted it down into ingots and have been shipping it back to shipped it back to Mars or Luna to finance the colonial expansion here.” Paul said. “That’s why there was such an interest in terraforming the place and settling the atmosphere. The colonization efforts were an afterthought, perhaps. It was part of the cover-up. Maybe it was even a way of getting enough people here to work in mines to extract more gold.”
“But all that is in the future.”
“Yes, so now—“
“All that gold is still here and when combined with the lead,” Alix said. “They have the means of survival.”
“You need to surround the air handlers that over-pressurize the caverns with lead or gold – whatever’s available. The electronics must be completely shielded.”
Staash gurgled with amusement. “We could bury the devices in gold.”
Paul shook his head. “All these years that was the reason. They were covering the tracks of their greed.”
“They stole from the Sakum’malien,” Cristina said. “They probably believed that’s why they were here, mining the gold.”
“We have five days,” Staash said telepathically to Cristina but then vocalized for everyone else.
“Or less,” Alix said.
“The message must be spread far and wide so that every enclave is prepared,” Staash communicated with his kind.
“That is already underway,” a Sakum’mal said to Staash, and then he extended the left one of his scoop-like hands toward Cristina, then telepathically expressed his gratitude to her, adding, “I have gathered from probing your thoughts that this is a customary gesture of friendship.”
“It is usually the right side one,” Cristina projected back.
Quickly the Sakum’malien switched hands, “My apologies.”
“It is easy to make such a mistake. You knew no better,” she replied as she shook his hand. “I’m Cristina. And you are called…?”
Cristina repeated the name in her mind then uttered it aloud as best she could.
“So, that’s the solution?” Staash asked. “Shield the air handlers?”
“If there is enough lead and gold,” Alix said. “I would suspect that you need to provide sanctuaries where everyone is shielded as well deep into the caverns just to prevent any possible exposure to the radiation.”
“I thought it was a rhetorical question,” Paul said. “I am sorry, Staash. I really am. But, yes Alix is quite right. Against a neutron explosion most of you would been cooked from the inside, the water in your bodies evaporated until you were a pile of sand, or perhaps turned to something glass-like.”
“We must communicate this to all the enclaves. Some may not be able to do what is necessary.”
“Then they must go to where they can be safe, Staash. There is no other answer.”
“How many colonial enclaves are there?” Paul asked.
“Five,” Staash replied. “There are seven additional outposts having very few inhabitants, mostly researchers – prospectors, you would call them.”
“All of the colonies are like this one?” Paul asked.
“Yes, all of them were explored by humans and they installed the air handlers at the entrances for their own use. Humans did not explore the outposts.”
“The others can be warned now?” Cristina asked.
“It is underway. There is a link, open for emergencies,” Dtuot’manuh responded.
“This would constitute an emergency.”
“The others are preparing the link. We need to bring the message to everyone, everywhere so they will know. It must be broadcast through the links,” Staash said as he turned to Cristina and helped her by lifting the burden of her backpack from her and then he began walking on a path that descended deeper into the cavern. Cristina, Alix and Paul followed him to a place that was obviously where the Sakum’malien lived where every structure was constructed of gold.
Staash progressed with the backpack, taking it several layers even further down into one of the smaller caverns that extended deep beneath the mountain. There the cavern’s ceiling formed a natural near-hemispherical dome covered in smooth polished gold. Others were there, working feverishly to establish contact with the other enclaves and the few outposts.
Staash set down the backpack and then withdrew the music player from it. When the others were finished with their testing of their links, Staash spent several moments trying to get Cristina’s player to interface with the Sakum’malien equipment before finally Alix and Paul assisted him, creating a way to present and broadcast it.
Once the message was played it took only a few minutes before the local colony was inundated with requests for confirmation of the intelligence sources. Every colony confirmed having encountered the alien life forms probing the surface and their building the air handlers into the cave entrances, which most Sakum’malien felt were beneficial in maintaining the interior atmosphere. They said they ignored the humans as harmless and never saw them again.
“Apparently there was more than enough guilt on each side to be shared for the calamity between the humans and the Sakum’malien,” Staash commented.
When the confirmations were transmitted and acknowledged, Staash and several of the others in the link center turned toward the three humans. Telepathically they expressed their heartfelt gratitude to Cristina and asked her to please convey it to the others. The warning at least gave the Sakum’malien a chance to survive.
Then even as she was ready to turn toward Alix and Paul another projected, “You three are very brave and very resourceful. If other humans are like you, perhaps our kind can deal with them in a mutually beneficial way. Our primary interest in this world is its lead resources. Since you indicate that lead is not as revered amongst your people we might be able to share our abundant gold in trade.”
“Not to mention our different technologies,” a third added. “We have been colonizing worlds for many of our generations Perhaps we can share some of our knowledge about transforming worlds to suit certain needs.”
When there was a significant pause. Cristina turned toward Alix and Paul and told them what the Sakum’malien said.
“It’s done,” Paul said, lowering his head as if resigned to accept whatever came of the changes they created.
“We go home now,” Alix slapped him on the back.
“Where is home? If what they do from here on works, our future no longer exists.”
Cristina snatched up her backpack. “We could stay here.”
“What?” Paul asked.
“If we stayed here, we create our own future alongside them.”
Paul laughed. “You’re not serious.”
“We can welcome the next humans who arrive.”
Alix shook his head. “I’m ready to go home, to whatever there is eighty years from now. That’s where all of us belong.”
“Wait,” Staash said. “You need this.”
Cristina turned back to look at the music player, but then laughed, “What would it be like in the future from which we come if our latest recording was an oldie from eighty years before, something the Sakum’malien give to them.”
“Or discover on the floor of a cavern?”
Alix laughed, “It would be something.”
“What kind of paradox would that create?”
“There are no paradoxes,” Cristina said. “I believe that.”
Staash opened his arms in such an invitingly human way that caused Cristina to smile with tears rolled down her cheeks. She fell into his embrace, her arms unable to span his bulk as he had returned to his former mass, content to be among his kind and apparent more accepted.
“I will miss you,” she said.
“I will always remember you, pretty lady. And see you whenever.”
When she turned Alix embraced and kissed her long and enduringly. When he released her, he stepped back still holding her hand as he offered his other hand to Paul. Paul accepted and offered Cristina his other hand.
“We’re finished here. It’s time to go,” Alix said.
Staash glowed brightly. “Thank you, again, my friends. All of you.”
In the very next moment Alix focused upon a time and a place in the future from whence they had come. In an instant they were no longer in the cavern or in the past.