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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.”

 

Authors Life, Blog, Uncategorized, Writing

Going to California

be5f02cf88aeafc1d98e957190fe210cLike Sandra, one of the main characters in my Thuperman Series, as a kid I always dreamed of going to California. After all, it was the cool place to be, where movies and movie stars were made, as well as most TV shows that I watched. It was a fantasy world with mountains and an ocean, famous cities and Disneyland. My dad often talked about picking up stakes and moving out west. Of course, California was one possible destination…but that didn’t happen.

I grew up on a farm near a small Midwestern town in west central Ohio. Vacations, if we were able to take them, meant driving to eastern Kentucky to spend a few days visiting relatives. Dad was always worried sick about whether the livestock was fed, and other daily chores were done in his absence. Calling the farmhand who he’d left in charge did little to settle him mind. So, our time away from the home was always brief.

As I grew my view of the world continued to expand. When I was ten-years old I saw Lake Erie for the first time. When I was twelve I flew in an airplane for the first time, from Columbus to Detroit and then on to Toronto on a group tour of the factories where some of the farm equipment my father used was manufactured.

My first time seeing an ocean can when I was in college. I flew to Florida to visit my sister who, at the time, was serving in the Air Force. That was the Gulf of Mexico, technically not the ocean but close enough for someone who’d never seen a body of water larger than a lake.

My first opportunity to fulfill my California dream came in the mid 1980’s while I was served in the Air Force. I spent a year attending a language school in Monterrey. While there I did some traveling and exploring, checking out San Francisco, Los Angeles and a few other places. Of course, some of those experiences would lend settings for my future writing. For example, there are a couple of scenes in the third book of the Thuperman Series (to be published in 2019 or 2020) that take place in the Monterrey area.

A friend and I spent The 4th of July weekend camped out in his cousin’s living room, within walking distance of Newport Beach. As you might suspect, that area also became the setting for a book, a sci-fi detective story set in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach, cities in that vicinity. Besides providing a supplementary storyline for the Wolfcat Series (Book 1 due out this Fall 2018), it provides a backstory for the Fried Windows Series and shares characters from the Thuperman Series.

It’s odd how sometimes things that happen in a writer’s life connect with fictional stories. Beyond providing settings for books, curiously I’ve unwittingly connected with some people from those places in my more recent past. A good example is the real-life muse who inspired Wolfcats. She used to live in Costa Mesa.

Back in January, my son moved to Irvine, the next town over from Newport Beach. His wife, though originally from Florida, has lived there for some time. Since they are having a baby in a couple of months, they have asked Grandpa to help them take care of the baby. So, sometime in December I’ll be relocating there to live once more, for a while at least, at the edge of the world.

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

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 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 20 – Anticipation

**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 and Alix returned to the coffee shop, spoke some words with Emma in passing but then started to go upstairs to the apartment. As Alix went on Cristina paused at the bottom of the stairs, “Is Arnie okay? I didn’t see him this morning either. Did he go out?”

“He’s cleaning up the house. Our son and his wife are bringing a couple of friends from Andromeda for a visit. They should be here in the morning.”

“Really. You must be excited.”

“It’s been a long time since they were here. Actually it was when we moved into the new house.”

“Well you can give him the stuffed bear.”

“Staash,” Emma smiled.

“Perhaps we should call the bear ‘little Staash’ so as not to confused with my friend.”

“His name is Staash?”

“Isn’t it ironic?”

“Yes, it is.” Emma agreed. “Maybe you’re right about renaming the bear. The bear will embarrass Neville in front of Mary but she’ll think it’s cute.”

“Do you get along well with her?”

“Mary, oh yes. Maybe it is because we live so far apart that I don’t interfere with her household. But I’ve never had any problem getting along with her. I believe truly Neville found the right woman.”

“You’ll have to introduce us when they get here.”

“Of course. Maybe you, Alix and your friend can come to dinner at our house.”

“I don’t know. We may be leaving soon for New Milan.”

“All the more reason for you to have a good dinner as a send off. That’s a very long trip, and so soon after your friend has arrived.”

Cristina smiled. “I’ll talk to Alix about it. Staash may not want to come.”

“Well, you send him down here,” she picked up a spoon. “I’ll persuade him for you.”

“I’ll bet you could,” Cristina said with a laugh, then continued on, calling down after. “I’ll let you know.”

She opened the door. Staash stood-up. “I have been pleasuring myself to be seeing you again so soon,” he said.

“He’s been practicing,” Alix said, with a chuckle. “He still needs a lot of work – especially on nuance of meanings, euphemism and slang. But hell, I have heard people who are supposed to be fluent do a lot worse.”

“I think it’s an amazing achievement.”

“I thank you,” Staash said.

“You’re welcome.”

Staash nodded. “Your language fits tightly, too much,” he gave his opinion. “I don’t know how to express. It limits minds.”

“I think I understand that,” Alix said. “Sometimes I feel things I can’t find the words for.”

“Yes, I think that is the same I am saying,” Staash said.

“Emma invited us to dinner,” Cristina said to Alix.

“You said no, of course.”

“I said I’d get back to her.”

“What about Staash?”

“He could stay here. I don’t know. It just seemed like such a friendly thing. I told her we were going to New Milan very soon.”

“Yeah, well there is really no reason to stay here anymore.”

Cristina walked over to the shelves upon which Neville’s bear rested. “She said her son and his wife are coming along with some friends from Andromeda. It might be fun having dinner with them.”

“Well, Staash handled being alone here very well.”

“Staash have fun, watch world viewer, learning much to say very easy.”

“Are you hungry, Staash?” Cristina asked.

“What it is that you gave me delicious. What is it you eat, strange looks.” Staash looked at first Cristina and then Alix.

“We eat three times a day, usually. The time after sleeping is called breakfast. Eating round now would be called lunch. Then around sunset, or maybe later we eat dinner.”

“Food same each time or different?”

“Different,” Alix explained.

Staash looked at Cristina, inviting telepathy in order that he could better understand. After a few moments, he turned away. “You eat other living things?”

“Things that were living, yes,” Alix said. “We draw energy from food. Plants capture the energy of the sun in sugars and starches. Animals eat the plants to provide them energy for growth of their muscles and we eat both plants and animals and in that way obtain the energy of the sun that is stored in their tissues.”

Staash stared at them while attempting to remain nonplussed. What little he understood disgusted him. “Humans kill to eat. Very nature, humans are barbaric.”

They heard footsteps ascending the stairs.

“Emma,” Cristina warned.

“Staash, come with me,” Alix led him into one of the other rooms and then bade him to wait and closed the door as he returned to the living room just as Cristina was letting Emma inside.

“I don’t want to intrude, but I forgot to remind you about the lunch I made for everyone. I hope you didn’t eat while you were out.”

“No actually we didn’t,” Alix said.

She handed the tray to Cristina. “I wanted to get Little Staash, to kind of make it a surprise when Neville gets home. I think I’ll leave it on the guest bed.”

“That would be a very good place.” Cristina laughing. “Thank you for making lunch, Emma. That’s very sweet of you.”

“Honey, I love cooking. If I didn’t, I would have been miserable all of my life. Arnie makes very, very good coffee, even the best you can get anywhere, but he’s a so-so cook.”

“You’re a good team, then,” Alix suggested.

Emma nodded, “That we are. Anyway, you can bring the tray and dishes down when as come, just leave them in the sink. I made some stew for Arnie’s dinner. What’s left is in the pot inside the refrigerator. It should be more than enough for three. I’m closing down early for the day to go home and help Arnie with the house. When you’re finished you can just leave everything in the sink. I’ll tend to them in the morning.”

“Alix and I can clean up afterwards. It is the least we can do after you fixed us lunch and dinner.”

“I had to make something to take home for Arnie, anyway.”

“Even so, we’ll clean up.”

“That would be nice of you,” Emma said. “I’d better get home. Arnie is good at the major things like vacuuming, mopping and dusting, but he misses the details.”

“Most men do,” Cristina generalized causing Alix to scowl but then he laughed.

“I’ll see you in the morning then. Bring you friend down for some coffee and breakfast. Arnie will be picking up Neville, Mary and their friends at the station. I’m sure they’ll stop by on their way to the house.”

“Staash isn’t very sociable.”

“Well, then at least bring some breakfast up to him afterwards. Regardless of your friend, you can meet my son and his wife. I know nothing about their friends other than Neville said he knows their mothers.”

“Maybe they were coming this way for other reasons,” Alix said.

“Maybe so. He says they’re nice young people. So I’m sure we’ll like them.”

“You’re nervous,” Cristina said knowing full well that she was.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Yes, it is. You and Arnie are cleaning up the house…”

“The coffee shop as well,” Emma confessed.

“I think you are worrying for nothing. Everything will be fine.”

Emma nodded. “Well, Arnie is waiting for me, I’m sure. You take care.”

“You too,” Cristina responded for both her and Alix.

Staash understood enough of the conversation to know when it was safe for him to emerge. He returned to the place he had been occupying on the couch. Then Staash turned as Alix joined him and began programming the remote to check on entertainment channels. “Staash embarrasses you with others?”

“It isn’t that,” Cristina said as she joined them, setting the tray of sandwiches on the coffee table. “Humans are not very good at accepting differences. I’m afraid most humans would think you’re a monster. They might even try to kill you if we didn’t stop them. We need to choose the right time to introduce you to everyone, and explain who you are and what you represent.”

Staash seemed to understand that. He was not happy with his situation. He wanted to go back to his kind except he knew the ultimate ending and he was willing to allow Cristina the chance to fix that.

In the evening, after Cristina and Alix had dinner together alone downstairs and cleaned up after themselves, Alix called dibs on the shower. He knew that if he had to wait for Cristina it would be a very long time and he was tired. Besides he was eager to show Staash some more interesting things about world viewer such as all the educational resources as well as the variety of entertainment options including games.

While Cristina was taking her shower, Alix happened upon a video recorded of Duae Lunae’s performance at one of the major venues in Star City during their most recent tour. He activated a laser pointer in the remote and indicated, “That’s me. And there, that’s Cristina.”

Staash sat back and seemed to radiate a sort of glow that Alix was beginning to understand was a Sakum’mal’s version of a smile. “Cristina has voice wonderful.”

“Yes, it is,” Alix agreed.

“This is what you like to do?”

“We love it,” Alix said. “There’s nothing like it. There were seven thousand people there just to hear us play our music and watch us perform. They even sang along with some of our songs. There’s a feeling you get from that – you just never forget it. It’s something you want to experience over and over again.”

Staash turned his eyes toward Alix. “You and Cristina famous humans.”

Alix laughed, “I don’t know about me, maybe she is. No one remembers my name as a rule. Everyone knows Cristina. She’s the star.”

“You love her.”

“Ever since I met her I’ve loved her. It’s just been a recent thing that she seemed to notice me. We haven’t been a couple for very long, so we’re still working out the details and the rules.”

“She always loved you?”

“I don’t know if she loved me at all and so I certainly wouldn’t know how long she’s loved me. I don’t know if that ever matters because it’s now that matters. It makes me happy to be with her and forget about anyone else.”

Cristina emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her. “What’s that you’re watching?”

“They are broadcasting a recording of one of our concerts here.”

“Really,” Cristina smiled. “So Staash, you see what I do – what we do. Now you understand performing.”

“Your voice wonderful.”

“Thank you, Staash.”

“Staash teach you my language. You will without accent because singing, instruments rest sounds make.”

Alix frowned with incomprehension until he remembered what Cristina said, the Sakum’malien language was more like music.

Staash wanted to hear more of Duae Lunae’s music so Alix showed him how to access network links to their promotional site and he pressed in a generic access key that the band had been given to have full access to the site’s resources. Alix set it up so that Staash could listen to all the songs the band had ever recorded. The sand-morph seemed thrilled as Alix showed him where there were other videos. It was obvious he intended to watch everything and listen to every song.

“We have a new fan,” Alix said as he wrapped his arm around Cristina’s shoulders.

“Staash, we’re going to sleep. You can watch the world viewer all you want and rest out here again or if you want to try out a bed, in one of the other rooms. Do you understand?”

“What is different humans sleep Staash rest?”

Cristina projected to him and after a few moments Staash nodded. “Yes, Staash understand,” he vocalized. “Staash sleep too. Wonder, though. Different ways.”

She said good night to Staash and left the living room, joining Alix in the bedroom, closing the door behind her. She was mentally, emotionally and physically spent. Despite the desire she saw in Alix’s eyes, she had nothing to give. She kissed him then lay down beside him. They cuddled for a while as they talked, discussing the immediate past and their plans for the imminent future. Eventually they fell asleep wrapped in one another’s embrace.

In the morning, Alix was first to awaken. He gently slid his arms out from around her and carefully sat up in bed and quietly stepped out onto the floor. He turned and softly kissed her on the forehead before gingerly negotiating the way out of the room without disturbing her sleep.

He closed the door to the bedroom behind him, taking pains to do it without making any noise. When he looked out into the living room, Staash was there. He didn’t know whether the Sakum’mal ‘slept’ at all. He appeared to be exactly where he had last seen him and he was still in the process of learning everything about Duae Lunae. Alix never realized how much material the group had on the site or that it could possibly take all night to watch and listen to the media material of their recording sessions and live performances. As he considered that the group had been together for thirteen years, ten with Cristina, it seemed more plausible. They had recorded a lot and performed a lot. There was perhaps more than a week’s worth of videos here and there. For recordings there were several hours of those alone.

“I’m in love with Cristina’s voice,” Staash said with a startling level of fluency.”

“You can stand in line behind every other person in the world.”

Staash glowed. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For speaking of me as your peer.”

“I notice you’re more comfortable speaking now.”

“I have been learning. I make mistakes, still, I think. Learning words easy, grammar hard.”

“It’s the same for us. Someone long ago decided to make a proper way to say everything and enforcing those rules has been a battle ever since. As far as I’m concerned you sound nearly fluent now.”

“Thank you. It is very important to me to be understood clearly. I realize what a gift you and Cristina have provided to me. I have a chance to save lives of my kind. I don’t fully understand all the logistics but I appreciate the efforts you have made and the gift of one chance.”

“The more I’ve considered it, what would have been perfect is if you could have convinced your contemporaries to protect themselves and survive the sterilization,” Alix said as he stood up and walked over to the front window.

“I thought you did not consider that an option,” Staash said. “You did not know what you would be returning to. You think maybe you no longer be here.”

“What we returned to has not improved, so maybe changing it isn’t a bad thing” Alix said. “I’m not as confident as Cristina seems to be that parading you around will accomplish much. It would be an easy thing for the Colonial Authority to circulate a lie discrediting us as the purveyors of a hoax.”

“Then I came here for no reason at all.”

“I wouldn’t say that. You’ve learned about us, about humans and learned about our language and something about our culture and how we live. I think all of that is important. And we’ve learned a lot about you, foremost how intelligent you and your kind are. It’s no small achievement learning our language so quickly.”

“Sharing Cristina thoughts help me much.” Staash’s eyes followed Alix as he paced the floor, and then the Sakum’mal explained his take on the events in the cavern in the past. “They did not listen. You know that. I was fairly recent arrival, outcast from home world. Out of favor with powerful, I say in poems things misunderstood. They branded me maverick – if understand use of word correctly. They exile me. I think you have picked poor representative my kind.”

“I think we picked the only one of your kind who might listen to us,” Cristina startled both of them as she came up from behind.

“I’m sorry we wake you,” Staash said.

“Did you even sleep?” she asked.

“I rested. It is my way, not exactly sleep but serves purpose for metabolism.”

“It will be light out soon,” Alix said as he peered out through the drapes at the sky beyond the dome.

“We need to leave for New Milan,” Cristina said.

“I thought you wanted to attend the dinner Emma invited us to.”

“I don’t know if it’s wise. Somehow I keep thinking we’re living on borrowed time, until the authorities figure out we stepped back a few days in time and that’s how we arrived here without detection.”

“If they detected us they disbelieved it was an error in their sensors,” Alix said. “We have new ID’s and new payment wand accounts. They haven’t been able to track us as Cristina and Alix, else they would have found us by now.”

“It is a matter of time,” Cristina said, and then she laughed at the ironic relevance of the expression. “We have certainly manipulated it. Staash would not be here if that were not the case.”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 19 – Penetration

**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 fixing something for Cristina and Alix to eat, Slahl’yukim told them what his kind ate, though he insisted he was not hungry. It was just as well as Dom didn’t know where he would obtain different types of gravel at that time of night

Dom handled everything else he could. Slahl’yukim’s ID implant and payment wand, were linked a fictitious database to populate fields establishing a history that would not be suspected if it were brought up in a cursory check of credentials. For the sake of human identity, the sand-morph was named Stanislaus ‘Staash’ Stanokowski’. It seemed to fit the massive stature of the beast, giving him a good, solid Polish name that happened to be something Cristina suggested in reference to the stuffed animal she and Alix found when they were cleaning the apartment above the coffee shop.

Raven gave Cristina detailed views and directions for where the authorities were keeping Paul. He arranged for Dom to issue them temporary visitation privileges under their assumed identities.

She was determined to find her brother and if possible liberate him but that was no longer her overriding priority. Her immediate focus was on Slahl’yukim, who Alix was already calling ‘Staash’. If for no other reason than it was easier to say and remember. The Sakum’mal seemed to like his new name.

Once everything was completed, Cristina hugged Raven and thanked him yet again for helping. But then as she started to pull away he resisted, “You know that now I’m fascinated by this adventure. That’s the only reason I’m moderately participating.”

“We’ll see if what turns out is as entertaining as you anticipate.”

“Yes, we will,” Raven said. “You cannot imagine the variables you’ve thrown into possible courses of the immediate future. Now, I have a lot of new niches in potential reality to explore.”

As Cristina headed toward the others, she turned back and faced Raven. “You know I wanted to use all this time to write some songs for the band’s next recording session.”

“You have a wealth of experience to draw from. The writing may even come easier once you find the time.”

She smiled. “Regardless of how this turns out, thank you. When I first met you I never realized we would ever become friends.”

“Usually couriers never see their charges after the delivery of the orb.”

“Well, you have always been here for me and I appreciate it.”

“It’s never been convenient, but it’s always been interesting,” Raven told her as he embraced her yet again. Then he looked down. “It will be a very long time before we can ever meet again.”

“You know this?”

“It’s a cruel certainty of my perception.”

“How long?”

“Long enough for it to matter to either of us,” he said.

Cristina looked to Alix and Dom, then back to Raven. “So, this is farewell, not goodbye.”

“Yes,” Raven said. “If you need to cling to that hope.”

“I do.”

“You are a charmer. You could go anywhere and be exactly who and what you are. And yet, you are sincere, always the same person you’ve ever been. You have the gift, Cristina. You’re the focal point. Of all those with the attributes, you have the balance and grace to make all of it work. It’s instinctive perhaps but it’s there. Paul should have learned from you.”

“Well, that was hard for us to do living on opposite sides of the continent.”

“It was a wasted effort, breaking him out…”

“No, not really. The local resistance is still at large. That’s the positive that comes from what you did. Paul was instrumental in their escape. But he became the authorities total focus.”

Outside the air was not quite as dry as it had been in Raven’s study. Even so Dom had packed a large quantity of water for Staash, just in case.

The trio descended the hill toward the Starport stop and waited for a few minutes. When the coach arrived Staash was a little wary of boarding the coach at first but then he received non-verbal reassurances from Cristina that it was very safe and he boarded just ahead of Alix. As was the usual case the coach was virtually empty. But by the time they reached ‘the crosstown’ stop they picked up a few more passengers.

‘The crosstown’ coach was half-full. It had much to do with the time of night. The heavy influx of people toward the downtown area was over for the night, probably until morning. With the pickups and drop-offs the number of passengers never exceeded half-capacity.

Staash peered out from beneath the hood of his trench coat, appraising the variety of people and their appearances, beginning to appreciate the diversity of human appearance. It troubled him as much as it intrigued him. He was not sure Cristina’s plan would work. He was putting his faith in her. Really, his life was under her control.

Why was he doing this? Was it for the sake of the adventure? Who would he ever tell about this experience? Everyone he knew was already dead and had been for a period that Cristina termed eighty years, something just slightly less than an average human’s lifetime – as he understood it. It was significant in a way. What human was yet alive that might have made the decisions. Anyone who was still alive would have been a relatively young human – an infant they were called – and therefore would not have had such authority at the time anyway.

Raven seemed very different compared to Cristina and Alix. Some of it was attributable to age. From that already Staash learned humans grow tired and feeble with age, much the same as the Sakum’malien. Raven defied that. He was far older than what Cristina had indicated was normal. Staash could tell. He had tried to rectify his lack of knowledge, but Raven resisted his mental probes. What he knew was he was more like the servant called Dom than Cristina or Alix – they were not really human either, but at least they were the result of a natural process of reproduction.

As Staash sat quietly mulling over everything that happened he tried to piece together the words fitting properly to flow as his vocalized thought. He had been listening to Cristina and Alix. He listened to Raven and even Dom back at the estate. There was a rhythm and meter to the language, which he recognized from his knowledge of how poetry worked. It was not the meter Sakum’malien preferred, but some poetry had been composed utilizing the exact same meter and rhythm as the language Cristina was teaching him.

The spoken Sakum’malien language employed a natural meter consistent with the underlying harmony of its delivery. Yet the language was seldom uttered except for infrequent mass oration or, more frequently, mass entertainment. Interpersonal communication was always telepathic. It fact it was considered at least rude but, often, an unforgivable insult to speak directly to one Sakum’mal. It was tantamount to presuming the lack of intelligence to communicate in the normal, preferred way.

For that reason Staash fought the first inclination to think humans were natively rude and inconsiderate. Raven mentioned privacy as if it were more important than communication. It was antithetical as a concept for a Sakum’mal. Among his kind, nothing was more important than communication. It fostered understanding without which there would be no peace. As much as the humans pretended to be seeking peace, Staash decided it was their need for privacy that prevented it.

Staash consumed water from one of the several flasks Dom provided for him. It refreshed him, restoring the necessary moisture to his palate. Humans seemed to prefer a much drier, less humid environment than the Sakum’malien. He projected the comment mentally to Cristina whose answer was particularly odd. She claimed that humans adapt to a variety of environments, but perhaps, they preferred warm and relatively dry. Staash was trying to understand humans and their world but he kept coming upon gaps, mysteries that, even after Cristina tried to explain them, still left him wanting.

He stared out the window of the coach at the city as it passed by outside the coach. He wondered at the technologies involved and why humans preferred to be above ground. Surely they were very, very different from the Sakum’malien.

He was immersed in thought when Cristina nudged him, indicating that they had reached a point where they needed to exit the coach. As they stood the coach stopped. The three of them descended from the coach and out onto the curb. She turned to Staash and through telepathy explained that they were going to be taking him to a safe place where he could stay and be more comfortable. It wasn’t far, only a few blocks.

Once she had set out for the coffee shop Cristina paused, turned back to encourage Staash. She could tell that he was overwhelmed and did not understand the necessity of anything they were doing, especially why they were eventually going to seek freedom for her brother. She attempted to explain but the concepts she attempted to covey were alien to Staash. “How do you deal with criminals?” she finally projected to him.

“‘Criminals’ means what?” Staash asked aloud.

“Surely there are those of your kind who break laws or do things deemed harmful to others and society.”

“Thalimuv,” Staash rendered as best he could in utterance.

Cristina frowned, “I think that concept is more like ‘an outcast’. Someone who was exiled.”

“No more belong anywhere. Alone always.”

“We restrict freedom,” Alix said. “For some that is much worse than exile.”

“Different ways,” Staash said.

Cristina looked at Staash. “My brother is inside a prison.”

“At least we think that he is,” Alix said. “We could be wrong. That’s why we want to check it out first thing tomorrow.”

“Staash go with?”

“It will be best for you to wait for us.”

“Wait?”

“We have an apartment at out disposal,” Cristina explained, projecting what she needed to so that Staash understood her better. “We’ll stay there tonight. Tomorrow Alix and I will go and you will stay in the apartment.”

“Staash good. Me wait Cristina and Alix.”

Alix entered the coffee shop first, then Cristina and Staash. The coffee shop was closed, of course. Alix located the lights and clicked them on until the others ascended the stairs and entered the apartment. Then Alix returned to lock the front door and turned off the lights as he went upstairs.

Once he was in the apartment, he saw that Cristina was already demonstrating world viewer for Staash. From the sand-morph’s responses he seemed impressed. Cristina explained through telepathy that he was watching programming from their city as well as other cities on the planet.

“Cristina city where?”

“New Milan,” she pointed to one of the preview monitors. “Here, this is an entertainment channel from my home city, our home city. Alix is from New Milan, too. Where we found you is close to where Haven which is there.”

Staash nodded. “Staash home.”

“Yeah, in a warped way, you are,” Alix confirmed from behind.

“Sit down,” Cristina said to Staash. He complied and as Alix handed the remote to him, he was duly impressed with how rapidly he learned how to use the device. He suspected Staash considered the technology archaic and the remote device a mere toy.

Cristina was beginning to appreciate the complexities of Sakum’malien culture from what she already assimilated from Staash.

“If you watch world viewer, you can learn how to speak,” Cristina said. “Listen and learn.”

Staash looked at her, “You leaving?”

“In the morning, we have to find my brother. We are going to rest now.”

“Staash help. Free Paul.”

“Okay,” Cristina said. “You like your new name?”

“Staash like,” he said. “Simple name, uncomplicated.”

“Staash, Alix and I are going to sleep. You can rest as well. Or you may watch the world viewer. When we wake in the morning. I’ll find something for you to eat. There is water. Let me show you.” She led the way into the kitchen and demonstrated. “The glasses are right here.” she obtained one. This one can be yours. If you get thirsty, you drink. Okay?”

Staash nodded.

“We are going to shower and go to bed.”

“Staash watch. Learn much.”

Periodically, throughout the night, Staash drank water. He watched world viewer, sampling channels. Everything interested him at first. He rested on the couch. Though he did not require sleep as a human would, he did experience a cycle similar to a dream state. During this the images in his mind were of his home world, where he spent his early years, the place he truly wanted to be.

In the early morning, when the Sakum’mal roused, immediately he consumed several glasses of water. Resuming his scanning of the channels on world viewer, he found one of the entertainment offerings of particular interest, a theatrical production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Although he did not understand it, it fascinated him.

When Cristina woke she went to the bathroom for necessary relief, then came into the living room to check on Staash. “You like this?”

“This interests,” he replied. “Older language is?”

“Yes, it is an archaic form or the language you are learning.”

He nodded.

“I’m impressed.”

“Human poetry.”

“Yes, it is, although it is performed as a play, it is beautifully written poetry.”

“Staash likes.” He smiled after his fashion. “All humans like?”

“Some, not all.”

“Human Sakum’malien difference little. Staash like. Staash strange.”

“Being different is not a bad thing, Staash. I’ve been different for all my life. If you embrace the difference and use it do distinction others appreciate uniqueness – sometimes.”

Staash nodded. “Cristina smart.”

“I don’t know about that. I’m different, though.” She smiled.

“Humans more different, like Cristina better.”

She grappled with what he was attempting to convey, then having received a telepathic impression of his desired meaning, she grinned, “Thank you Staash. That is sweet. But I think if everyone was like me, the world would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?”

“For Cristina, not others.”

She reached out and touched the rough surface of his head. “I have to get ready. We’re going to see if we can find Paul. You’ll be here by yourself.”

Staash nodded. “Watch, listen, learn.”

“You’re doing very well.”

By then Alix had finished taking care of part of his morning ritual. He was in the surveying the refrigerator for the makings of breakfast, something different than what they’d had before. Cristina joined him, kissing his cheek as she came up from behind.

“How’s our friend?”

“Learning a lot, actually.”

“From watching Shakespeare?” Having searched the cupboards as well, he assembled the ingredients for making pancakes.

“Actually, maybe that is the best way to begin to understand humans, at least our artistic side. That’s our best side, for certain.”

“He’s beyond most humans, then,” Alix said as he obtained a mixing bowl, a whisk and a large mixing spoon. “I remember suffering through Hamlet in school.”

“I had a very good teacher in high school. We studied the period of Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture. I think that’s the only way to bring it to life for someone.”

“Staash seems to be doing fine.”

“He knows it is poetry.”

Alix laughed. “That’s a good start. Okay, I’m taking care of breakfast for us. He’s going to be the challenge.”

“I have some ideas. I may need your help, though.”

“You go ahead and do what you need to do to get ready, I’ll do this and then we can eat. I’ll take my turn getting ready when you’re all done.”

She kissed him. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, hon.”

By the time Cristina was partially ready for their outing, breakfast was served. When they were finished, Cristina opened the door to the attic and after a few minutes of exploring, she returned to ask for Alix’s assistance. “There is a bag of tile grout in there. I guess it’s putting tile on the bathroom walls. I don’t know how much Staash eats, but that is pretty-much exactly what he considers food.”

“Really?”

She nodded.

“I guess that would wake sense.”

“If you can bring it in and set it on the table. I’ll see if he needs anything else?”

After several minutes of a mental conversation, during which both Staash and Cristina nodded several times, Staash sat at the table. Using a ladle, she filled a bowl with grout and provided a serving spoon to the sand-morph. At first he looked at it. Mentally she provided him with instruction for the use of a spoon. He gurgled, which she had learned as a laugh. Then he leaned over the bowl and licked a rough-surfaced tongue into the contents. Then he looked up and nodded.

“Is it good?”

“Excellent.”

While Staash continued to eat, both Alix and Cristina finished getting ready. By then, they hard the tell-tale noises from the coffee shop indicating Arnie and Emma had arrived to begin their day.

“How are we going to break the news to them about Staash?” Alix asked.

“I’ll tell them we have a guest and he’s resting. That should cover us for the morning, anyway.”

“They’re going to want to meet him.”

“I want them to. They’ll be our first trial.”

“Are you serious?”

“The world needs to meet him sometime, right.”

Alix shrugged.

“It’ll be fine. You’ll see. Who wouldn’t love him. He even sort of resembles the stuff animal.”

“Maybe in a way. They’re almost the same color, anyway.”

Cristina explained to Staash once again what their plans were for the morning. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. Until then stay here and don’t go anywhere else. I’ll tell the people downstairs that you just arrived from Haven and you’re resting. They are very nice people. They won’t disturb you.”

“Staash watch.” He gestured toward the screen. “Hamlet next. I learn.”

“Yes, that is the best thing for you to do.”

Once Alix and Cristina were comfortable that Staash was safe and understood what was going on, they set out together, pausing briefly for Cristina to explain the cover story for Staash to Emma and Arnie. She told her that Staash had traveled all night and all day and needed some rest. Emma understood and even promised to be very careful of the noise in the kitchen with the pots and pans. Cristina said that Staash intended to sleep on the couch while having world viewer in the background as noise so that would cover the noise. Anyway the breakfast rush was about to begin and already the coffee shop had a few customers.

“Why will you be back?”

“Hopefully by noon.”

“I’ll make something for everyone to eat. I’m sure your guest will be hungry.”

“He just ate. I think he’ll sleep all morning, maybe into the afternoon.”

“I’ll make some sandwiches, and a fruit salad,” Emma said. “I’ll keep everything down here for your return.”

Cristina smiled. “You’re really too good to us.”

“You take care of what you have to do, honey. I’ll have something waiting for you when you return.”

It was a little more than a block to the Starport stop where they could board ‘the crosstown’ coach. From there, riding east to the far side southern part of the city, according to Raven, the place they were seeking was a quick walk directly south toward the edge of the dome.

Alix and Cristina rounded the corner of a building, the last one on the street before the intersection with the city’s ‘loop’, a thoroughfare wrapping around the entire city at the furthest extent of any commercial buildings. It was also the end of any private residences as only Colonial Authority complexes and public transportation buildings like the railcar stations could be constructed near the security track that was just inside the edge of the dome’s foundation.

The support columns for the dome itself were anchored deep into the ground within the security track and, for that reason alone, it was an area heavily defended against any potential sabotage or terrorist acts aimed at damaging the dome. Even if it had been decades since there was any suspected conspiracy against the basic structures or utilities of any city in the world the Colonial Authority continued stating the potential as a real concern. It was the justification for Security Agency’s existence as well as its expansion over the past few years.

Paranoia prevailed with the upper echelons of the Colonial Authority’s organizational structure. In the early days of Pravda, an attack on any of the dome supports might have ruptured a seal allowing massive amounts of di-hydrogen sulfide or even worse poisons into the city’s air supply. Although the risks breathing the air outside the dome was not as great anymore, security was still enforced with at least the same vigor. For most citizens, it was part of their reality and security concerns were well incorporated into their daily routine.

In the history of Pravda there had been few direct attacks on any of the cities’ dome structures, utilities or basic services. However, the same could not be said of other colonies. The Colonial Authority credited their preparation and expectations from the earliest days of the colonization of Pravda for the level of security and the maintenance of peace and order. Constant vigilance was cited as the reason the safety of all citizens.

As Alix crossed the loop directly behind Cristina, he studied the sprawling complex of the maximum-security compound for the local regiment of the Colonial Authority Peace Enforcement Division, an instrument of the Security Agency. It was an imposing edifice, a high fence circles – obviously electrified and crowned with spirals of razor-sharp, super-concertina wire. Between the outer and inner fences was a gap wide enough for security vehicles to patrol. The compounds secondary fence, though not electrified was crowed with the same razor wire as that used around the perimeter.

Within the double fence of the compound was the two-story building. On the roof at each corner of the rectangle and in the middle of each of the longer sides, were towers staffed with heavily armed guards. As Alix and Cristina observed, two guards with robotic ‘guard dogs’ passed one another at the apparent gates. Moments later other guards passed each other as well. This formidable fortress, somehow, they expected to enter.

Cristina appeared to be unfazed and undaunted. She confidently approached the outer security checkpoint and smiled as her eyes met those of the guard.

“State your business,” the guard challenged.

“I’m here to meet with a prisoner who may have information that is vital to my research.”

“Well that narrows it down a lot,” the guard said with some sarcasm. “Who’s he?” He asked as he indicated Alix.

“He’s my assistant,” Cristina said.

The guard presented an electronic pad for them to sign in and then he scanned their ID chips and the clearance came back positive.

He handed each of them a badge that clipped on to their garments. “Wear these temporary badges everywhere you go inside. There are some areas that are restricted beyond temporary badge access. You will need an administrator to escort you if you have to go there. Is that understood?”

“It’s normal procedure,” Cristina said.

“Most people with your level of clearance are used to it,” the guard said. Once Cristina and Alix had clipped on the badges, they were clicked through the small gate and descended a ramp into a tunnel that passed beneath the gap between the two fences. When they reached the far end, at the inner gate another guard checked their ID scan and their temporary badges, then once he was confident that everything was appropriate he clicked the lock and allowed them into the inner compound.

Cristina turned back to the guard, “I have never been here before. Is the administration office where it normally is?”

“I’m afraid this facility is the older design,” the guard said. “I have never seen the other facilities so I’m not sure what you are accustomed to. Go inside to the first door and the administration office is the third door to the right. I can call ahead if you are meeting someone in particular.”

“They’re expecting us,” Alix said.

“Good.” The guard smiled, allowing them to pass.

Cristina seemed perturbed at Alix. “What?” he turned to ask.

“I had him explaining everything,” Cristina whispered.

“You would not be here if someone did not know you were coming. Your asking about the layout inside was nearly suspect. Every one of these facilities is nearly identical. We lucked out that this one is a bit different.”

“How do you know that?”

Alix smiled, “I have friends who were not saints as kids and when they became adults they were incarcerated in facilities exactly like this.”

Cristina reached for the door handle but the door opened as someone was exiting the building. He gave a cursory scan to Alix and then to Cristina, not their temporary badges but he immediately held the door open for them. “Sometimes it’s a pain getting inside with the temporary badges,” he offered almost as an apology.

“We appreciate your help,” Alix said.

“No problem,” he said as he went on his way.

Once inside the outermost door, Alix grabbed Cristina’s shoulders from behind and turned her around, “You have not told me our plans.”

“I’ve been doing this on the fly.”

“Great!” he said with sarcasm.

“Do you have a better solution?”

“Look, at least I’ve been inside of one of these hellholes. Maybe I should take the lead.”

“Be my guest.”

“Come on,” he said as he removed his temporary badge and waved it across a scanner to open the inner security door. He pushed it open and held it for her to pass by. Then he escorted her into the administration office.

The desk attendant looked up at them as they entered. There was no enthusiasm and very little life expressed in her actions or her voice as she asked, “Can I help you?”

“You may,” Alix said, couching a correction of her grammar in his response, not that he expected her to pick up on it and subsequently put it to use. “We have questions that we need to ask one of your prisoners.”

“Inmate or detainee?” she asked.

“Detainee,” Alix said.

“Name?”

“Paul,” Cristina interjected. “ Scalero. Paul Scalero.”

She typed in the necessary information to locate the detainee then printed out a pass. “He is in Block 08, Section 092 on the second floor, cell number 467. This is a permit. Give this to the block guard and he will escort you to the cell.”

“Thank you,” Alix said.

“Don’t mention it,” the attendant said, flashing a smile as if she were flirting with him. Alix ignored the overture. Cristina did not.

Alix took the permit in hand and turned toward Cristina who was smiling even as she wrapped her arm around his. “You did that very well,” she said as they exited the office and went back into the hall.

“I paid attention every time I visited my friends.”

“Well, maybe you should lead on, then,” she said as they started down the hallway toward the central security checkpoint. Alix held up the pass there and was directed to an elevator for the second floor. When they arrived on the second floor they found the guard post for Block 08 and again presented the permit. They were clicked through to a staging area where another guard scanned them for weapons or contraband and then, along with a female guard for Cristina they frisked them. Finally they were passed through to Section 092, which was a special security area requiring them to be scanned again for anything sharp including plastic articles with sharp edges. Checked through, they were given an escort to cell number 467.”

The escort pressed a sequence of number then pressed his thumb into a scanner and the multiple locks of the door opened one after another. Automatically it swung back on its hinges to allow both Alix and Cristina to enter. “When you are ready to leave just say ‘we are ready to leave’. We monitor all conversations, of course.”

Cristina nodded. Alix vocalized his understanding with, “Fine.”

When the door was closed behind them Paul still sat precisely where he had before, staring at the wall, seemingly obviously to having another visitor.

Knowing to take care of what she said, she approached. She sensed he was heavily sedated, virtually unaware of their presences. Due to the electronic fields broadcast into the cell she needed to gain Paul’s attention, see his eyes, and have physical contact to have any hope of communicating telepathically with him. Thus far he was unaware of her. She sat across the table from him, taking his hand in hers, she projected a thought. Paul turned his dreary, drugged eyes toward her, fighting to perceive her through the mental haze. But at least he smiled, signaling he knew she was there.

“Are they beating you?” she projected her question into his mind.

After a few seconds she shook his head. “Beating, no.”

“I wish I could say it is good to see you,” she said aloud. “But not like this.”

“Under these circumstances I would prefer to be left alone.”

“We have retrieved a Sakum’malien,” Cristina projected. “That is what the sand-morphs call themselves.”

Paul showed no emotion, not even the mildest surprise.

“I thought it might change things, coming here,” she expressed verbally.

“You are well?”

“I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do,” Cristina responded.

“I don’t want to know what you plan to do. They will extract it from me eventually.” Paul said telepathically.

“I thought you should, though.”

Paul turned away. “Now you come here too. It is really very cruel.” Then added telepathically. “They sent mother here to try to convince me to cooperate with them.”

“Our mother?”

“She is alive; you didn’t know?”

“It’s good to see you, all the same,” he verbalized. “You look like her, you know.”

Cristina stared at him. “Are you certain it was her?”

“I was skeptical at first.” Then verbally, “Not that it really matters anymore.” He met his sister’s eyes. “I believe it was her. We embraced I felt the connection.”

“It always matters,” She spoke. Then silently continued. “Maybe they know how to fabricate something to compensate even for that emotional connection.”

“I guess I can still choose to believe what I want,” he said. “It was really her.”

Cristina nodded. “Why the suspicion of lies? Why conceal her from us for all this time?”

“You tell me.” He turned away. “Obviously, you know more about what’s going on than I do. You have at least some granted access.”

“Is that what you believe?”

“How else could you get the necessary permissions to be here?”

Cristina looked at Alix, “He is the one who made it possible.”

Paul grabbed her hand again. “To retrieve one of the sand-morphs?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose I should be considerate and express some sort of gratitude.”

“I expect nothing,” Alix said.

“Then you will never be disappointed,” Paul said. “Well, at least now there is some kind of proof.”

“It changes everything.”

“It changes nothing,” Paul reacted. The he responded, “My arraignment is next week. I’m to be charged with multiple assaults, batteries, and murders – oh and also sedition, treason and a possible terrorism charge thrown in for good measure, to justify things they did to me before. Perhaps they’ll throw in some unsolved mysteries. Pinning anything on me should be easy.’

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m destined to be the fall guy, the fundamental and necessary scapegoat. As prisoners go, I’m the pick of the litter. Whoever prosecutes me will earn bonus points for every charge successfully brought to conviction.” He paused to project. “Of course nothing will ever be offered in evidence about the torture that prompted my extreme response. No one will ever enter as evidence that I could have killed everyone but did not. I demonstrated amazing restraint, really.”

“Of course, they won’t allow that.”

“Only those who fired a weapon at me were attacked. Some died. I never wanted to kill anyone, but some people don’t deserve to live.”

“That’s not your judgment to make.”

“They invited the evil, it consumed them and eventually claimed them,” Paul said.  “Those who directly participated in my torture were killed. I even spared harming one agent because he was sympathetic to me after he understood what had been done to me. He was instrumental in my escape and so I did not harm him. I refuse to identify him or state the level of assistance he provided. It would be tantamount to ratting him out to the authorities – the only saint amongst all the legions of demons. He was the only one who seemed to have a real, beating heart inside of his chest. The rest were cruel and evil. That was how I dealt with the mass number of deaths.”

“Killing is never justified.”

“The world is a better place without the ones who died.”

“I want to help you but you are giving me very little to play with,” Cristina said.

“You expect a miracle? Maybe that’s why they sent mother here. She was supposed to persuade me into compromising, working a deal so they could spare my miserable life to exist in a cell like this one death comes borne of my nature and releases me from their prison. I have been at odds with my nature for longer than I have the Colonial Authority – all my life, in fact. This is nothing new and certainly there is a case for it being anticipated all along. I will never escape this hellhole or the solitary confinement that has been interrupted by mother’s visit and your coming here. Otherwise my only company had been the barber.”

“The barber?” Alix asked.

“It is what they call the new chief interrogator, the replacement for the one who – let’s say he – passed on. He takes his orders from someone higher up the food chain than anyone in this city. I have to say, he’s good, damned good. He works with a sharp razor,” Paul said as he pulled up his sleeves and pants legs to show the scars, some of them so very fresh that blood was still seeping into the bandages. “He has had me to the point of considering telling everything just to be able to die, just to have him drag his razor across my throat, severing my jugular. But I refuse to let him or anyone associated with them win. If they kill me, so be it. I will never betray anyone even though someone, at least one of my friends has obviously betrayed me.”