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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.”

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The Resurrection: Chapter 18 – Unexpected Resurrection

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

It would not be an easy thing to conceal a Sakum’malien. Slahl’yukim was large by human standards. Not so much that he was tall as he was broad and as his body, to a large degree, consisted of silicon so his body had greater mass for its relative volume.

Bringing him back with them proved to be the simplest part of the task of integrating him into a future world that was the domain of humans. The three of them interlocked hands and for Alix it was really not more difficult than bringing Cristina along on his previous shifts.

They arrived almost exactly where he and Cristina had left, within a few centimeters actually. Dom’s calculations have been that precise. Alix was as duly impressed as he had been when they arrived in the past fairly close to a cave entrance where sand-morphs dwelled. Alix suspected Dom had his own agenda that was apart from Raven’s plans or anyone else’s for that matter. He could not quite peg Dom, except to say the android was not exactly what he seemed.

Cristina looked up at the estates’ bell rope. Alix didn’t need telepathy to tell what she was thinking. He reached up to tug on the rope. “He’ll be pissed because we probably just left.”

“Dom’s cordial, always. Anyway these are his coordinates,” Alix said. “We’re here on his schedule.”

He sensed Cristina was going to seek Raven’s advice if not help. Alix did not want to endure another session with Raven and really could not believe that Cristina did either. What they did was completely and utterly against what Raven believed was important. Why would he help them?

Yet there she was on the front porch, Slahl’yukim standing between her and Alix, looking around at the world, seeing it in the darkness. He started to disengage from their hands to go explore. Cristina must have communicated with him telepathically.

Did they do the right thing? Alix wondered. Slahl’yukim was lost and alone. He was bonding with Cristina, something that bothered Alix even if he refused to call it jealousy as the sand-morph had accused. Alix understood that he and Cristina were the alien’s only friends and only link to anything. Of course he would bond with her, become attached to her and she would tolerate him. Still it was disturbing.

When Alix had agreed to this adventure it was a very different situation. The story was very different as well. Now he understood that the Sakum’malien were not different from the humans. Both were invaders of the same world, competitors for the very same space. Humans won that contest. What was wrong and very different from the official story was that it now seemed apparent to Alix that the first humans had to know the Sakum’malien were there. The over-pressurizing of the caverns was defeated, something that was never reported.

Now it seemed it was even more of a conspiracy than anyone imagined. No wonder there was so much energy and effort expended to conceal the darkness of the human hearts who initiated the terraforming of Pravda. The pristine beauty promised was a distant dream. Perhaps all along, it was an unachievable lie. There would ever be the taint of the evil the first humans perpetrated against an alien race. The first alien race encountered as a direct result of their explorations humans exterminated.

Was colonizing Pravda that important to mankind’s survival? Was it worth the effort in light of the declining fertility rates and the inevitable extinction of mankind? Would mankind survive on the world they stole so violently as to terminate an entire race that was here before any human? What difference did it make that they were not indigenous? They were essentially transforming the world to suit their life form just as the humans were intending to do for the purposes of mankind.

Alix tugged n the bell rope again. Slahl’yukim kept looking around, touching surfaces and analyzing everything – like a kid, exploring.

Alix could appreciate the Sakum’malien was overwhelmed with the wonders of what he was seeing  – all of it very strange. He was intimidated, even frightened. There was so much around him that he did not understand. A couple of humans led him into a world dominated by humans, a world in which he was one of a kind. Knowing what humans did to his kind, he was one brave fellow.

The door opened and Dom tilted his head to one side.

“We’re back.”

Dom nodded. “You are late.”

“Well, we have been waiting here for a while,” Alix said.

“Welcome back,” he said even as he looked at the Sakum’malien. “As much as he does not wish to be disturbed, the Master must be alerted as to what you and Alix have accomplished.” Then he opened the door and bade them to remain in the foyer. Alix hurried toward the threshold as Dom held the front door open for him. “I trust the coordinates were sufficient.”

“They were impeccable,” Alix said. “As well you know.”

Dom even appeared to be resisting the urge to smile as he turned away and escorted Cristina to seek out Raven and his approval for audience.

Alix remained behind with Slahl’yukim. He did not enjoy his recent secondary importance to Cristina, but there was not much he could do. He understood the overall objective. He was not sure how they were going to pull it off but he knew he had to help Cristina.

Cristina was able to communicate directly with the sand-morph without any words. Perhaps she had explained Raven as best she could and the estate he lived in, as well as the conditions of the outside world. All along Slahl’yukim was rapidly acquiring the nuances of human language from her.

A few moments after Cristina had followed Dom down the hall toward Raven’s study, Slahl’yukim turned toward Alix and startled him. “Thank your understanding. Cristina special.”

“Yes, she is.”

“Learn quickly speak, not good yet,” he said. “Cristina teacher good.”

Alix looked into his eyes. “You understand what’s happening now?”

“Know happened. Understanding different. Some humans accept tragedy. Some not. You and Cristina want correct wrong. Slahl’yukim want change past.”

“We understand that. But changing the past changes our world, too. Perhaps we would not be together. Maybe we would not even be alive.”

Slahl’yukim forced the odd gesture of a nod he learned from Cristina. Alix assumed he intended it to mean the same thing it did for humans.

“There’s been a cover-up all along. I think most humans would not want what was done to have ever happened. But they were held in ignorance,” Alix said.

“She explain,” he said. “Want me speak tragedy my kind. Efforts impact short desire.”

“Cristina’s brother is imprisoned for his views and his desire to resurrect your kind from oblivion.”

“She explain much. I understand some. Do not understand dead to life. Maybe works humans. Not understand how.”

“We cannot bring our own kind back from the dead, But Paul, Cristina’s brother, and their organization believe it’s possible because your life form does not deteriorate after death as rapidly as ours and many of your kind were meticulously preserved in sealed coffins when they were discovered.”

“Know kill us, preserve us, why?”

“Not everyone knew. Someone discovered bodies and named you sand-morphs, because you were mostly sand by appearance and on the sensors that they used to probe for life forms. Yet you kind of had bodies.”

“How many preserve?”

“I don’t know. Paul would have better knowledge of that. I would guess thousands. But it could be more or less.”

“Intend parade embarrass authorities.”

“We don’t want this to become a circus. We want this to be meaningful and have a lasting impact.”

“Thank,” Slahl’yukim said. “Go back when?”

“When there’s been significant change and an interest in your form of life.”

“If not happen, then still go back?”

“I could take you back to die among your friends. I can take you back to before we met even, so maybe you would never know. I’m not sure how would work, but maybe it could happen. You would not know that five days later you and all of those around you would be dead.”

“Stay here one my kind.”

“Did you have a mate?”

“No one. Shun Slahl’yukim. Outcast, exile, heretic, poet, evil thoughts.”

“You should try writing music here, then. It sounds like you might fit in,” Alix laughed.

“You popular?”

“Me, not hardly. I was always shy. I mean, I perform on stage and all that, but I’m not the focus. Cristina’s the star.”

“She should.”

Alix laughed. “She’s amazing, by the way.”

“Suspect,” Slahl’yukim said. “Lucky human she loves.”

Alix smiled. “I must have a charmed life even if, lately, it has not seemed that way.”

“Intelligence, exotic. Touch mind not resist. Captive attention.”

“She has that gift and can do that to men on many levels.”

Slahl’yukim glowed, “Man that way least. Slahl’yukim too.”

Dom emerged from Raven’s study and waved toward Alix for them to advance. When Slahl’yukim and Alix passed through the door Dom closed it behind him, remaining outside.

“So this is what you’ve done,” Raven said to Alix. “You’ve circumvented the whole issue of resurrecting a demon from the past by just going there and capturing one.”

“Not capture,” Slahl’yukim said. “Come with.”

“He speaks?” Raven laughed, and then turned to accuse Cristina. “You taught him some words in English but not Italian?”

“You don’t speak Italian very well. I am sure he can render things as different languages like humans do. To him all human languages that I know would seem to be as one.”

“So this was the plan all along. Get the reclusive Raven involved in current world affairs.”

“No condemn Cristina. Intentions pure. Me no otherwise here .”

“The purity of her intentions is never in question,” Raven responded. “It’s the wisdom of her judgment that baffles me.”

Raven came forward and studied the alien for a few moments, but then he turned to Cristina and said, “If this is not handled right the Colonial Authority will discredit everything and put both you and Alix in prison. Likely as not, they would execute this alien. Worst case they would study him to excess and then execute him later on.”

“No kill me,” Slahl’yukim said.

Raven focused on the sand-morph’s apparent eyes for a moment. Afterwards he stepped back. “Cristina tells me you are a poet?”

“Yes.”

“I’m a writer but I suck at writing poetry,” Raven said. “I revere poets. I write non-fiction and histories, stories that are long enough to fill a book. I’m sure you are struggling to relate to something comparable in your experience.”

“Comparable. More successful. Poets rare find success.”

“Then the artistic community between our kinds does not differ all that much.

“Make world and characters pretend real.”

“You are able to create pictures in minds with words alone.”

“Poet emotion, moments capture.”

“Poets have a gift with words. Writers have a knack or maybe a talent if they are lucky,” Raven said.

Slahl’yukim glanced to Cristina while non-verbally communicating that he was uncomfortable in the radiant heat of the immediate environment. He claimed that it was too hot and far too dry, something that she found ironic considering his nature until she considered that they both shared the same, common essential component of life. For Slahl’yukim, to be absent of water was to revert to sand. For humans it was to revert to dust.

“That can be adjusted,” Cristina promised.

Raven seemed to have picked up on the non-verbal communication and poured out a glass of water for each of his guests. “It’s mostly cold. Dom brought it recently. I’m not sure whether your kind prefers water cold, warm or even hot,” Raven said.

“As offered,” Slahl’yukim said. “Any way.”

“I must say that Cristina has performed a miracle in such a short time teaching you many words of English.”

“He was a most willing pupil,” Cristina responded.

“Most non-native speakers consider English a difficult language to acquire. Many native speakers fail to acquire it fully,” Raven said.

“My language she gifted. Do no less learn hers.”

Raven smiled. “She has empathic and telepathic abilities.”

“No know terms.”

“She can feel what you feel and think what you think.”

Slahl’yukim smiled broadly. “Like me.” Then he glanced at her. She stood there being impatient and unappreciative of Raven’s comments.

Raven stared into his eyes then immediately rebuffed the alien’s fifth attempt to probe his mind. “Some humans will be weak or not even be aware of your attempts. Others of us will never permit it.”

“Understood,” Slahl’yukim said.

“The real reason any of us are here now is that we need to have a plan,” Cristina said.

“How are we going to break the news to the world?” Alix asked.

“More relevantly how do you break the news without having the Colonial Authority quash the effort?” Raven posed.

“This is a significant event. It is newsworthy and relevant,” Cristina stated.

“But no one wants to hear about it unless it is pitched to them in a personally relevant way,” Alix said.

“You understand the problem,” Raven said.

“I get it,” Alix said. “I really do. Most people don’t care about anything that’s going on around them as long as it doesn’t directly impose on their immediate plans of their overall life.”

“I believe you really do understand people,” Raven said.

“We need to focus on the entertainment value, the shock value, the potential to gather an audience and then we pitch for the mass support.”

Cristina smiled with pride as Alix demonstrated his level of enlightenment about managing the mass media.

“It will be a challenge. He’s newsworthy. Maybe he’s relevant. Most people are never going to relate to him or the story, though.”

“That’s why we transform the news into an event,” Cristina said.

“Well, despite the difficulty of your adventure and your best intentions, what you have done is create a circus sideshow: The Last Living Sand-morph. I’m sure he does not want to endure that moniker for the rest of his life.”

“All I wanted to do was show the world that the Colonial Authority has lied to us,” Cristina said.

“And that’s the reason your brother killed many, many agents?” Raven asked. “That’s the real issue you’re up against.”

“It was the Colonial Authority’s intransigence and lack of integrity in adherence to the regulations for creating a habitable world and the cover up that ensued.”

“That’s why Paul killed agents?”

“That’s where it began,” Cristina said.

“It’s far too complicated. The reason has to be pithy for the masses to understand it.”

“It was kill of be killed.”

“That’s cliché, but more along the lines of what you need.”

“I just know the truth. Paul killed to prevent further brutality in his interrogation and those of others. The agents routinely torture prisoners to obtain information,” Cristina said.

“I know that. He knows it. You know it. Alix knows. Hell, everyone who had ever been interrogated knows. The problem is how do you prove it and how do you get the message out to the masses?” Raven asked. “The Colonial Authority has no interest in giving you a forum for your message.”

“Look, I want to save Paul but at this point I do not know whether that is even possible. He has reached the bedrock of the pit he has dug for himself. And yet he continues to dig,” Raven said.

“Do you know where they will keep him once he is recaptured?”

“That inevitability already occurred, sometime yesterday.”

“No, you’re confused. We broke him out earlier today.”

“No that was two days ago.”

“What?”

“Dom must have given us coordinates so we could catch back up with when we should have been here…”

Raven shook his head. “You should pay more attention if you’re going to be traveling in time and space. It’s a big universe out there. It’s easy to get lost. I should know.”

“We have to free him again,” Cristina said.

“There won’t be another chance, I’m afraid.”

“We have to save his life.”

“When he escaped from their central detention center,” Raven said. “Considering the other related news about systems shutting down and remaining disabled for sometime, I suspected you and Alix. When he was recaptured I would suspect he’d be taken to their maximum-security facility. It is on the southeastern side of town very close to the dome maintenance track.”

Cristina glanced toward Alix.

“The walls of that prison have all sorts of electromagnetic scramblers to defeat any sort of surveillance device,” Raven said. “I believe you will find that it thwarts your abilities as well and in a way far more overwhelming than at the detention facility.”

Slahl’yukim reached for the pitcher of water and poured himself another glass. After he consumed it he complained. “Here killing me.”

“You prefer the cool dampness of a cavern,” Raven said.

“You no would?” Slahl’yukim responded.

Raven stared at Cristina. “He’s your charge now. You have to take care of him. Our world is as alien to him as his nature is to us. It’s increasingly more obvious by the moment that he cannot remain here.”

“But you have not told me how to break the news.”

“Am I the repository of all relevant knowledge in the world? I don’t think so. You have done something without my knowledge and certainly it is something I would have never approved. Everything before was up to you and now this must be the same way. I do not want to be involved.”

“You don’t understand,” Cristina said.

“I assure you I do. I fully understand why you did what you did and I appreciate the enormity of this accomplishment. But everything needs to be planned and the timing must be perfect to ever have the effect you intend. For that, you’ll need patience. You need to dig down deep inside and find wherever you have hidden yours.”

“We can’t exactly walk around with him and not expect to have some questions.”

“I suppose not,” Raven said. “I used to be a lot heavier when I was younger. I’m sure I have a hooded trench coat in my closet that will fit him.”

“That would be perfect.”

“The only issue you will have is his ID and payment wand. Dom can do something for him. The problem is that even if Dom implants a microchip the scan also checks for pulse. It is something that dates back to terrorist infiltration during the clone uprising. Dead clones were routinely used to obviate security measures. There are ways of defeating the check. For example, I have traveled with Dom who obviously does not have a human pulse. When his ID was scanned we were able to clear security simply because I was holding on to his wrist. The device picked up my pulse rate and accepted it as the primary.”

“Makes you feel really safe, doesn’t it?” Alix commented.

“Despite the failing, the bureaucracy still insists it is necessary to check for pulse. It is a perfect example of how some security measures are thought through completely but others are not,” Raven said. “Regardless of that, anything anyone ever comes up with can be defeated provided there’s enough time, energy and resourcefulness.”

“So we can travel with Slahl’yukim,” Cristina said. “Even outside of the city.”

“What’s wrong with breaking the news here?” Raven asked.

“I would rather be in New Milan or Andromeda,” Cristina said.

“I thought the whole point of doing this was to free Paul.”

Slahl’yukim reached for the pitcher of water again and poured himself another glass with the last available water in the pitcher.

“Freeing Paul is part of the point. Maybe it was the major point at first but things have changed. We know things that we did not know before.”

“Like the Sakum’malien are not indigenous,” Raven said.

“Exactly,” she said.

“Still, they were here first,” Alix said.

“‘Finders keepers’ expire sometime after childhood ends,” Raven said. “Besides, the Colonial Authority is not going to respond well to the presence of a living sand-morph.”

“They won’t like the exposure of the truth about the origins of our existence on Pravda,” Cristina said.

“That’s a given,” Raven said. “But the news is not anything that the mainstream public would suspect. The authorities have kept very tight controls on the information and imprisoned anyone credible with the desire to divulge the secret.”

“It is not going to be easy for them to discount the preponderance of evidence,” Alix said.

“But you need to present the evidence before they arrest you and Cristina.”

“I have not done anything like this before,” Alix said.

“The world as we know it is about to change,” Cristina said. “The truth could bring down the Colonial Authority.”

“Which should not be the goal at all,” Raven said.

“Why not?”

“What do you replace their authority with?” Raven asked. “There’s no alternative to fill the power vacuum. Despite the negative aspects of their governing, they represent order and stability. Without them there would be anarchy and chaos. Even their tyranny is preferable to the alternative of a world without an organized government and structure.”

“Maybe it will only be embarrassment that they suffer,” Alix said.

“Until then we have to duck under the scanner net and remain out of sight as much as possible,” she said.

“Yes,” Raven said. “That’s the immediate challenge.”

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The Resurrection: Chapter 17 – Travel Time

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

It came up unexpectedly during dinner. Even so Julie suspected it was part of Neville’s agenda all along. She did not like the idea at all, but it seemed convenient, considering her uncle’s funeral, for both of them to go to Star City.

She took bereavement time from work and added on a couple of personal days for travel. They owed her for the days she had worked without pay when she was technically still on vacation. Her supervisor was not happy, but he had agreed to giving her a long weekend  –  just as long as she was back at work by the following Wednesday.

Julie settled in next to Chase for the railcar ride to Star City. Neville and his wife Mary were in the seats directly ahead of them. She sat back having opted for a window seat knowing Chase needed the extra legroom for the aisle. It had been years since she’d traveled to Star City anywhere. In a way she was looking forward to have the time off from work, but she did not know what the future was going to bring, except for the basics. Chase was going to meet with Paul. Neville arranged it. There was a funeral service to attend on Sunday morning and Chase committed to escort her.

Neville was exuberantly confident about the prospects for Chase’s meeting with Paul.  He pleaded his case first to Chase. Then, along with Chase, the two pitched  the plan to Julie. Neville sincerely wanted to help. He did not want to lose anyone, certainly not one of The Twenty-Four. He said Paul was talented beyond his gifts. Absolutely convinced that if Chase could persuade Paul to cooperate, the authorities would spare his life.

The Colonial Authority would never permit Paul’s freedom ever again. It was too great a risk. To them, Paul was far too dangerous. Life in confinement was better than losing Paul’s unique genetics to the future borne of The Twenty-Four

It was a long shot that Paul would listen. Chase was not optimistic. Still, he understood Paul a little better than anyone else, with the possible exception of Cristina. He allowed there might be a psychic connection between the twins that would trump anything anyone else might offer.

Chase tried to analyze what sort of relationship he had with Paul and decided that he had a very long conversation once and only once. Afterwards he felt a certain rapport developing between them but, Paul seemed greatly disappointed that Chase did not immediately join and support The Resurrection’s cause. Never since had the two of them spoken. Even so, Neville believed that was enough to persuade Paul, to turn him away from the self-destructive course he had been pursuing? The chances were thin.

His only other link to Paul was through Cristina, a friend he adored, but he lost all contact with her and Alix. No one knew where they were.

Within the next few days Paul would stand in arraignment for multiple charges including over a hundred counts of assault and battery on officers of the Security Agency of the Colonial Authority along with conspiracy, subversion, sedition and multiple dozens of counts of murder. The prosecution was still finalizing the charges. The only reason Paul was officially classified a detainee and not a defendant was the amount of official paperwork to make the proceedings appear fair, documenting the legality of his status throughout his detainment so that his treatment was deemed completely legal beyond reproach.

It would not take long for the charges to be prosecuted. There would be a minimum of publicity and no fanfare except for a sweeping announcement that a high priority target in the war against the subversive group known as The Resurrection was convicted of his crimes and would be summarily executed within days of his trail. Under the current conditions there were no appeals on convictions of sedition or terrorism, of which Paul was accused.

There would be no bargains, no secret deals made in the last moments – not unless Paul cooperated to break up The Resurrection. In the interest of security, the Colonial Authority did not want any details to become public. They wanted to send a clear message to the other members of The Resurrection that what they determined to be justice would be swiftly delivered. Paul was about to be sacrificed and he appeared to be the willing scapegoat, betrayed by his own friends. Even Chase and Julie contributed to the Colonial Authority’s mounting evidence.

Julie reclined in her seat. It was going to be a very long ride. She closed her eyes and lingered on the edge of slumber for several moments before passing willingly into sleep. Thankfully it was a dreamless but restful interlude after which she roused to observe the desert landscape passing by outside the railcar window. When Chase noticed she was awake he told her they had about four hours left before their arrival.

Had she slept that long?

Julie brought her seat to its full upright position. Mary, Neville’s wife turned around and said something to her that she did not quite catch over the background hum of the railcar. Maybe it was irrelevant, probably some socially lubricating fluff. She heard what Mary asked afterward, though, “Are you thirsty?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Julie said.

“These railcars are uncomfortable for being the most convenient means of travel,” Mary commented as she passed back a canteen from which Julie drew a cup of water, then, she offered it back to Mary with her gratitude.

“I have another. Why don’t you just hang onto that one?”

“Thank you,” Julie reiterated.

“Why don’t you boys sit together so Julie and I can talk?” Mary suggested.

Chase looked at Julie and received a noncommittal shrug as he unfastened his safety belt and gave up his seat to Mary. Neville scooted over to the window seat so that Chase could have the aisle.

“It’s been a while since we have been to Star City,” Mary began once Julie was situated. “Neville’s mother and father still live there, but we haven’t been there for quite some time. We have invited them to Andromeda on many occasions but they do not want to close their coffee shop even for a few days. I understand it’s their life, but…well, it’s always a discussion. Arnie, Neville’s father, made some lucrative investments years ago, when the city was first developing. He met a financier who arranged his portfolio, so that honestly he and Emma, Neville’s mother, don’t have to work. They keep the place going because they enjoy it and they serve their friends everyday. They’re good people and generous to a fault. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”

“They sound like nice people.”

As Neville settled in the seat behind he was mostly quiet and spent most of his time staring out the window. Honestly, he had not said much for the entire trip. He was reserved in putting too much hope into things. It required a lot of Chase and relied on whatever relationship he had with Paul. Still, Chase had talked to Paul and had even been offered a role in The Resurrection. That was what Neville was counting on. That could be the difference.

“The last time we were in Star City it was to celebrate Neville’s parents moving out into a nicer home. The built their first place when Neville was starting high school. Before that they lived in the upstairs apartment above their coffee shop,” Mary explained. “Neville’s sisters were there for the housewarming. It was good seeing them and their families. They were at out wedding and we went to their weddings. Because of the distance and Neville’s work, it’s hard to get together. It was really a very nice reunion of sorts, around the holidays. I really like Neville’s family. It’s harder getting my family together. My dad had four boys and two girls. I’m the baby.”

Julie smiled.

“I think the last time all of us were together was Dad’s funeral. That’s been five years ago.”

“They’re not from Andromeda, I take it?”

“Of no, I met Neville at college. I’m originally from Haven. So, I’m kind of isolated from my family same as Neville is from his. But his work is important for all of us, researching the fertility rates.”

It occurred to Julie that Mary was not privy to everything Neville did.

“Sometimes I wonder if its worth it, being so isolated,” Mary said. “But it’s like Neville says, we’re frontier people. What about you, Julie? Is your family from Andromeda?”

“Borne and raised,” she said. “My parents – well my dad is dead, but my Mom’s still alive, which is–”

“Her mother works at the Institute,” Neville interrupted.

“So that’s how you know each other,” Mary said. “I guess I figured Neville knew Chase. They seemed to hit it off so well the other night.”

“Chase’s mother works at the Institute as well,” Neville said.

“Oh, how nice!”

“I have family in Star City,” Julie revealed. “Mostly people I haven’t seen since I was a kid. “Dad didn’t like traveling. I don’t either. I don’t like having to make scheduling arrangements all that much either.”

“Neither do I,” Mary revealed. “I love going out to eat at restaurants, but usually the places I knew well. Neville has a peculiar taste for things. He can’t seem to eat the synthetic foods.”

“I don’t like them either,” Julie admitted. “I can eat them, but I’d rather have organically grown food. Chase is the same way.”

“That’s Neville too.”

“I get that from my folks,” he said. “Their coffee shop serves breakfast – only real eggs and meat – everything organically grown.”

“Every once in a while I may try something different, some place I have never been,” Mary continued. But usually I don’t.”

“That’s what I like about Andromeda. There are a variety of places to go out for dinner and entertainment afterwards,” Julie said. “Chase travels a lot, especially when he is on tour. He sends me pictures so I kind of know where he has been and what he has seen. When he’s away we talk almost every night on the phone, depending on the time zones and when the show was scheduled. But now his company is thinking of expanding and giving him a promotion, so he would not have to travel as much.”

“That would be great,” Mary said.

“Yeah, I miss him a lot when he is away.”

Chase had tried not to pay attention but they were talking about him so it became nearly impossible for him to ignore. Still, he did not care to participate or comment. There was still more than three and a half hours left on the trip. Despite the amount of traveling he had previously done he never got used to it, especially the long periods of nothing much to do other than sleep, read or talk to someone else. For the moment, Neville had been talking more with Mary and Julie.

Chase had finished reading the book he brought along and he had already taken as long a nap as he was going to need. So, he was wide-awake.

Finally, Neville broke the silence, offering Chase a stick of jerky.

“Thanks,” Chase said as he accepted.

“I always bring snacks when I travel. Mary brings the water.”

“As much as I travel I should be better at coping with it. But I’m never very comfortable in these railcar seats,” Chase said. “The last tour I did, toward the end we had a chartered railcar. At least we could stretch out and sleep.”

“The administrators in the Colonial Authority who could change the types of accommodations on the railcars never travel by railcar. That is part of the problem,” Neville explained.

“The railcars are hardly ever full. There’s enough room to put in some beds. The railcars are connected to the network for tracking. They could broadcast world viewer channels over the same connections.”

“When the domes are down and the control of the world passes to the cities and their associated provincial administrations, or even private investment interests, perhaps some things will change,” Neville said. “Right now, The Colonial Authority has no interest in promoting travel between the cities. I think they would be just as happy if everyone stayed put.”

“Things won’t change much if we allow the same people to run the new governments,” Chase said.

Neville nodded. “You’re correct there. But initially people will seek the stability of the past over the uncertainty of the future. It will be easier at first to rename the bureaucracy that has already been in control and allow it to continue.”

Chase leaned back in his seat, taking a bite of jerky and chewing it before pronouncing, “Humans are very predictable and generally gullible.”

“In many ways we are but not in all ways. Groups are always more predictable in their behaviors than individuals.”

“Is that the logic behind the handling of The Twelve?”

Neville smiled, clearing his throat. “I’m not allowed to discuss all the details, of course. I don’t think it was planned. There was no grand conspiracy or anything. It evolved into what it is. We needed the Institute and most of the budget has been tracking the offspring. We needed a place, comfortable residence for the studies. At first we fully expected it to be very temporary. They planned to convert the living space to other functions once the study of The Twelve was concluded. My role was temporary until about fifteen years ago. That was when the Colonial Authority made the Institute a part of its ongoing programs funding budget. It was fortuitous that all of The Twelve get along so well, but in many ways they think alike.”

“The children are very different.”

“Yes and no,” Neville said, seeming to be debating whether to discuss The Twenty-Four. “I dare say there are enough similarities to get along very well.” He leaned over and whispered to Chase about the security provisions and that Mary did not know most of what Chase and Julie knew.

Chase nodded that he understood.

Quietly, being as discreet as possible, Neville continued. “Even in the instances where the children have met one another, there appears to be an immediate bond that transcends anything that might seem to be a difference. As radical as one might be, for example, it is not so distinct they others do not understand the motivation.”

Chase nodded.

“It’s more about fair treatment, I think,” Chase said.

“That’s up to us, now,” Neville whispered, patting Chase on the knee. “Getting a fir hearing. There’s an old saying. I’m not sure whom it comes from but my dad used to say it. ‘I may not be as good as I think, but I’m not as bad as you say.’“

“There is always the other side of any story,” Chase said.

“Unfortunately, where some are concerned, the story may never be permitted.”

“They monitor everything. There must be documentation.”

“If that exists, it’s all highly classified, well above my clearance.”

“What do you mean ‘if that exists’?” Chase asked.

“Not everything is archived,” Neville revealed.

“To conceal the methods used.”

“Perhaps,” Neville allowed.

“What other reason could there be?”

“The nature of the subject might weigh heavily in the decision. The risk recording a discussion of highly sensitive information, for example.”

“There should be nothing to hide,” Chase countered.

“In an ideal world maybe that could be true. But in the real world those who administer and control will always have secrets they would never want to become common knowledge. Naturally they have a low tolerance for undermining of their authority.”

“It’s quasi-government.”

“Of course it is. They ensure the security, structure and services. They enforce regulations and laws, settle disputes and punish those who act against social order and stability. A serious threat is anything with the potential to escalate beyond control and, in the extreme, into open confrontation.”

“They create their own enemies whether real or imagined.”

“They are real enough,” Neville said. “They will never admit blame for anything because it undermines their authority.”

“They don’t need to,” Chase said. “There is no accountability except to themselves through their own structure.”

“Structure? What structure?” Neville asked.

“There has to be structure to the organization.”

Neville stared at the younger man. “They’re a large group of loosely affiliated entities that serve administrative functions to facilitate everything imaginable. They are not a monolithic,” Neville said. “Perhaps that’s where all the confusion begins. The parts created independently to better administer the processes and address specific needs. Over time, they were forced into more and more of the quasi-governmental functions. There was never a singularity of purpose, other than perhaps preservation of the bureaucracy they were forced to create. The truth is that each agency and administration is distinct and autonomous. There is no one in charge or any single overriding authority to which anyone answers. There is no accountability outside of the hierarchy within any separate administration or agency.”

“Yet there is communication between the various administrations and agencies,” Chase said.

“Of course there is but within some constraints for accessing information up to a certain clearance level for the shared databases and records of other elements. The information is never openly offered unless it is of a specific and obvious nature that is of interest to another administration or agency. Then it must be approved through the appropriate channels, which could care less for expediting the information needs of any other administration or agency. Once then something becomes a priority for an administration to the calls go out to other administrators. Then it becomes a matter of sharing amongst friends with whom there is a social as well as a business relationship.”

Chase glanced away, feeling the uncomfortable sensation of eyes watching him. He could not discern who was watching or even the direction he should look to catch them. It was an odd sensation even though he had it before, a long time ago, long before he ever met Julie, back when he was a kid – a troublemaker.

“Is something wrong?” Neville asked.

“No, not really, just something I haven’t felt for a long time,” he unfastened his safety belt and stood-up, ostensibly stretching but also taking a good look at the other passengers. Many were sleeping. Some were reading. A few were having quiet conversations. Then he spotted him – someone he hadn’t seen for a long while. Chase was staring directly at him. He did not flinch or look away. It had to be him. There was no one else who could withstand Chase’s stare. “Pick?”

“I thought it was you, Chaser!”

Chase felt the heat of Julie’s glare from behind, but even so he turned to explain. “An old friend.”

“Friend?”

“Yeah, we were from grade school through high school. Pick’s cool. He’d not one of the bad guys, just a troublemaker.”

Pick had ventured over to where Chase stood. They shook hands. “I heard some crazy crap about you being all successful and everything.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.”

“The seat beside me is vacant, take a load off. We can play catch up.”

Chase obliged and looked ahead finally meeting Julie’s concerned eyes. He smiled and winked.

“Your lady?”

“Yeah.”

“Nice, very nice. It figures you’d hook up with some seriously sweet thing like her.”

“She’s amazing. What about you? What was her name, Tamila?”

“Damn, man, you have quite a memory. I haven’t thought about that bitch in years! She dumped me and took off with some guy who promised her the world. He told her he would make her famous. Since I ain’t never heard of her since, we all know that was a lie.”

“So, what takes you to Star City?”

“Other than the smart ass answer?”

“The railcar, yeah – I got that.”

“I’m startin’ over, you know? Getting away from the streets and the people who think they know me but don’t. I have a prospect in Star City working for an ad agency.”

“That’s how I got my start, in Andromeda, though.”

“No kidding. Well, maybe this is the time of the Pick.”

“I hope so, man.”

“Thanks, Chaser. How about you? You on business or pleasure?”

“Her uncle died. And there’s some business, sort of.”

“Nothing you can discuss.”

“Not really. A guy I know who’s the brother of a close friend of mine is in a lot of trouble. I’m going to see if I can help him out.”

“Same as it always was,” Pick said and then smiled. “Always saving somebody.”

“Yeah. I missed my calling. I should have been a super hero.”

Pick laughed. “You and me both, dude. But that’s cool. It’s about the people in life, you know. Nothing else is important.”

“You know, we’re going to be staffing a new office soon in Andromeda. If things in Star City fall through, come look me up. It’ll be entry level but you’re smart and hard working. You can get there.”

“I appreciate that.”

“She’s giving me the evil eye.”

“I know it well,” Pick said. “What’s her name?”

“Julie.”

“I always liked that name.”

“Yeah, me too. I’d better get back to her. It was great seeing you.”

“Same here, Chaser.”

“I’m serious about the job thing.”

He nodded. “If this doesn’t pan out, I’ll look you up.”

Chase shook his hand and then both of them stood up and embraced as brothers of the same old neighborhood. “You take care.”

“You too, bro.”

Chase migrated back up the aisle, while Julie stared at him. After he sat down he felt compelled to answer her silent inquiry. “His name is Richard, we called him Pick. He’s from my old neighborhood. Sometimes it was him and me against the world, but we usually won.”

Julie nodded.

In his absence, Neville had returned to staring out the window and being silent. Chase glanced at his chronometer. The trip had a little less than two and a half hours left. He reclined in his seat and closed his eyes. Even if he did not sleep he could focus his thoughts and concentrate. He was not certain what he could do, only he needed to be there for Paul whenever the demand necessitated.

Maybe something unexpected would happen. It would not be like an accident or a coincidence because such things just do not exist. It would be the result of a series of events some catalyst triggered. A stream would ensue and it would arrive at the exact time and place largely without the knowledge or expectations of anyone involved. The mystery would prevail in consideration of the apparent accident and it would never be appreciated for what it was, the logical extension of causality inherent in the design.

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The Resurrection: Chapter 16 – Slahl’yukim

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

The local sun was setting, illuminating the bottoms of the clouds heavily laden with poisonous gases that gave each of them a green tint. Higher aloft there were a few clouds that seem to glow red, hinting the presence of other gases. Without the breathing filters contained in their masks, both Cristina and Alix knew that they would have already been gasping, choking, retching and subject to a miserable death.

At least the wind was relatively calm. Pre-terraform Pravda was known to have intense sandstorms that lasted several months. But since the earliest seeding of the clouds the weather had developed a more benign attitude at times, more prone to precipitation of droplets of water laced with a chemical cocktail of acids and dissolved poisons.

As quiet as it was, they still felt their skin tingling. Without a doubt the poisonous gasses were being absorbed into their skin. They could not remain for long where they were. It was going to have to be a very brief visit. They were halfway up a ridge in the foothills of very tall mountains heading for a cavern’s entrance.

“This is near Haven,” Cristina voiced her recognition through the muffling of the heavy filters.

“The cave’s right there,” Alix said as he led the way. “I’ve read about this place.”

“Do you think we’ll find sand-morphs?”

“It’s worth a try,” he said over his shoulder. “This is supposed to be where the bodies were found. Otherwise, we’re going to go back with nothing.”

“Next time we need to wear engineer uniforms.”

“If there is to be a next time,” Alix said.

“We have come this far,” Cristina said. “I’m thinking positive. This is going to work.” She hurried toward the cave’s opening. Alix sped up to keep her pace and they arrived at the entrance at about the same moment.

When they entered the narrow opening in the wall of a cliff, it was as if they were stepping into a strong gale as the wind from within the cave rushed out and past them. Even as they descended past the opening they still felt a strong breeze, the cool wind emerging from deep within the cavern. The air passing over and around them neutralized the poisons that still clung to their skin and clothing. No longer did their skin sting from the contaminants.

Cristina paused. Slowly, despite Alix’s protest, she removed the mask from her face, blinking to allow her eyes to adjust to the atmosphere and the dimness of the cave. She kept the mask close to her face until she ventured a shallow breath, then a deeper one as she was certain the air was safe to breathe. “It’s fresh air,” she announced. Then after taking several deep breaths she motioned for him to remove his mask. “It’s very clean air, oxygen rich.”

After a few breaths, Alix began looking around. “This is over-pressured from inside. It’s forcing the poisonous air to remain outside. For someone…”

“The Sand-morphs.”

“They are the only ‘someones’ on the planet,” Alix said.

“That we know of.”

“Yes, that we know of,” Alix confirmed. “They use the cave opening much like we use the airlocks on the accesses into the domes.”

“So, even the sand-morphs do not like the poisonous air.”

“It seems odd,” Alix said. “If they were indigenous life, would they not have evolved to live outside? They prefer being in the caves maybe because they can control the air here. Maybe Dom is right about them being colonists.”

“Or they are cave dwellers. They are silicon-based life. Still, it seems a little strange.”

“More than a little,” Alix said as he took the lead for their gradual descent into the cavern, being careful and alert to any sounds while looking for any movement or signs of life.

“They know we are here,” Cristina said.

“You can sense them?”

“Yes,” she said. “I understand some of their thoughts but they are coming in very unorthodox patterns.”

“Do they know you can understand their thoughts?”

She paused, and then soberly she announced, “They do not like us.”

“What?”

“They don’t want us here.”

“Then we have our answer,” he said. “We should leave.”

“No,” she said. “Wait.”

Alix halted.

“They feel threatened. They don’t understand us. We’re alien. They’ve seen some others of our kind. They are afraid of us.”

Alix sat down on a relatively flat rock outcropping. “Then we wait.”

“For what?”

“For them to come to us. That’s what you do when animals are afraid of you.”

“They’re not animals.”

“They would be from our perspective – or actually they’re more like a pile of sand.”

“I don’t think they’ll come to us. They won’t consider meeting us relevant enough. There’ll be no reason to meet us if we pose no immediate threat so they’ll just ignore us until we go away.”

“But we won’t go away and in five days they will be exterminated.”

Cristina sat down next to Alix. “That is just it, they are curious about us but not in any way we would normally understand. They want nothing at all to do with life forms like us. They want to be left alone in this world.”

“It is their world, then?” Alix asked.

“They claim it, same as we do,” Cristina said. “They really are in the process of turning this world into one suitable for them. The caverns are like our domes.”

Alix’s eyes widened. “They’re colonists, like Dom said, then?”

Cristina nodded.

“It changes everything!”

“What does it change, really?”

“Obviously, they were here making this their world. Then e came along.”

“They were here first. They purposely hid from us. They avoided detection just like they’re doing now. Because of that they died,” Cristina said. “They’ll not be inclined to work with us or even share the planet. They do not desire the same environment that we want.”

“Then we wasted our efforts coming here.”

“No, not at all,” she said. “Now, we know more of the truth.”

“You’re ready to return to the present?”

“Not quite. They need to be warned. Maybe if they are warned…”

Alix was staring at the entrance and wondering. “How did the sterilization reach into these caverns if the caverns are over-pressurized?”

Cristina tilted her head to one side.

“Yeah, see we have attempted to solve one mystery and discovered another.”

“You don’t think the survey teams knew about the sand-morphs and somehow disabled the over-pressuring of the caverns,” Cristina posed.

“Look at the investments that were made to even make a full survey of this world. The near Earth colonies were growing overcrowded and until that point only one terrestrial candidate world outside of the Earth solar system was viable. A lot of hope had been invested in Pravda well in advance of any survey teams. Afterwards a fortune was invested just to get the world ready for the first colonists.” Alix stood up and paced back and forth as he continued his thoughts in silence. Even so his thoughts were apparent to Cristina even without her probing. He was disgusted. It was obvious what happened – or rather, would happen in a few days. Perhaps it was too late to alter any of that but now he knew.

The world needed to know the truth about Pravda.

“What do we do now?” Cristina asked when she sensed a lull in his thoughts.

“You know where they are.”

“Roughly.”

“Then we find them.”

“There are many of them.”

“How many?”

“There are more minds that I can count; thousands, maybe more.”

“You can find them and communicate with them.”

“Maybe they’ll understand me. I don’t know how that works.”

“You understand them.”

“Yes, to a fairly high degree. Some of their concepts are bizarre, so much so that I do not understand at all but I know what they are thinking in most cases.”

“That’s good enough for me. We can always go back home if it gets to be threatening or you sense imminent danger. Just stay close and hold on to my hand.”

“I don’t know what we will confront,” she warned as she took his hand and he assisted her back onto the floor of the cave.

Together they continued to descend into first one large chamber and then one even larger.

“They’re here,” she announced, prompting Alix to pause, then he turned around quickly, sensing some movement and observing a few shifting shadows.

“Find one who’s mind you can access and focus on it. Try to communicate. Tell it we intend no harm and have actually come to prevent any harm to them.”

Cristina stood off to one side, her eyes closed tightly and her face illuminated only by the faint glow that the talisman around her neck emitted. She probed here and there as she searched for an unsuspecting mind that would allow her access, not knowing whether a sand-morph would be capable of understanding whatever thoughts she projected. It was their only hope of success.

Finally, she found one mind, a particularly robust individual and somewhat unique from what she was able to discern. In fact, he was singularly dynamic and ambitious. To the chagrin of others around him, he stepped out from the shadows of concealment and bravely stood directly in front of her.

She had no experience or knowledge about the structures of the body, only suspected that since there appeared to a head that the part of it facing her must be a face. She attempted communication.

“Slahl’yukim,” she uttered.

“What was that?’ Alix asked.

“It’s the sand-morph’s name.”

“It’s personal name of the name of the species.”

“It is a personal name. Actually, he’s something like a poet.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he’s a little different from the others and a lot more open-minded.”

“He can understand you?”

“Only a little bit,” then she chuckled. “He’s trying to do the same thing with me that I’m doing with him. Some of the images he’s receiving don’t make sense,” she said then she turned back and smiled.

There was a gradual change in Slahl’yukim’s appearance. His face – or what she assumed was his face – seemed to brighten. Then, a veritable tidal wave of information submerged her mind, saturating it to overloading with everything and anything about him. He was famous among his kind but was regarded as a maverick. Exiled from their home world because he challenged the authority of their leadership, he was gathering a loyal following who supported his antithetical views.

As her mind was flooded she felt a comparable drain. Slahl’yukim was at least capable to some extent of telepathy and was probing her mind. It felt strange but she resisted her initial response to block his access. After a few moments, Slahl’yukim closed what she realized were his eyes, and then when he opened them what she decided was actually his face radiated warmth. “Cris-ti-na,” he struggled to utter. It sounded gravelly at first but then he repeated it several times as if practicing it, each time the delivery was smoother.

“Slahl’yukim,” Cristina said directing her hand toward him but then indicated with her other hand, “Alix.”

“Al-ix,” the sand-morph repeated.

Cristina indicated both herself and made a gesture to Alix, “Human,” she said.

Slahl’yukim stared at her, then as he realized what she had meant his face brightened again. “Sakum’mal,” he used one of his limbs to point to his torso then he turned and made a more sweeping gesture, “Sakum’malien.”

Cristina smiled excitedly, then nodded. “He’s teaching me some basics of their language,” she said over her shoulder to Alix.

“I see that.”

“Cris-ti-na pret-ty hu-man, yes?”

“Yes, she is pretty,” Alix answered.

Slahl’yukim looked at Alix as if angered for his apparent interruption but then softened and finally made a gurgling sound, which Cristina sensed was a laugh of sorts. The sakum’mal fell silent. He seemed to be searching, probing and testing then his face brightened just before he uttered. “A-lix jeal-ous Slahl’yukim.”

Cristina laughed. “Wow, he’s very bright! He’s learning our language from what he received of my thoughts.”

“Slahl’yukim,” Cristina addressed him. “Humans are a danger to Sakum’malien. Five more times of sunrise, Sakum’malien will die. Humans do not know the Sakum’malien are hiding.”

Slahl’yukim stepped back understanding some but not all of what Cristina had tried to convey. She reinforced her message with images of her world, the future world from which she and Alix had come.

Then she added, “Sakum’malien colony becomes human colony.”

She could see the growing concern as it swept over his face. He turned and made several quick utterances to the others. Some of them emerged from the shadows, prompting Alix to step closer to Cristina.

“Fear not Slahl’yukim. Fear not Sakum’malien. Future coming here, me know. You help us wanting.”

Cristina focused all of her mind toward communicating to Slahl’yukim but still there was resistance and gaps in bridging the understanding. He was getting some of it but never really all she wanted him to know.

“Human kill us,” Slahl’yukim said.

“Yes, in five days.”

“Now kill us.”

“No.”

“Already kill us,” he rephrased.

“See,” Alix said. “It’s just like I thought.”

Cristina lowered her head, “I’m sorry,” she said, but then when she lifted her head to look at Slahl’yukim, a tear dripped down her cheek. “Humans who are here now are evil, bad people, not normal.”

Slahl’yukim turned away but then as if he had finally fathomed what she said. When he turned back, “Sakum’malien, human same. Some good; some bad. Some smart; some stupid.”

“You’re learning my language rapidly.”

Slahl’yukim nodded. “My language easy for you, for Alix. I teach. Already know much, I think.”

“I’d like that.”

“Me too,” Alix agreed.

He reached out to her with one of his appendages and at the end of it was something that resembled a hand. She placed her hand in his and he led her deeper into the cavern. Other Sakum’malien surrounded Alix even as he was following them and after a few moments all of them who were hiding emerged. It was a positive development. Cristina had broken through. She communicated with them. He didn’t know whether it would matter only that it could. There was a chance; there was hope.

Slahl’yukim led Cristina to a chamber where only she and he entered. Alix remained outside, as did the remainder of the Sakum’malien.

Cristina paid attention both to what Slahl’yukim uttered and what he projected mentally. In this way he provided her reference and structure upon which the language was based. After a few moments she understood its format. “It really is like music,” she said. Then she amended, “It’s exactly like music. It’s a language that is mostly music, except it adds in colors to the sounds.” She turned to Alix who was waiting patiently just outside of the chamber’s threshold. “Alix, it’s complicated music, like if we did a concern with our instruments and the lasers lightshow. That’s what it’s like talking to them, mentally. It’s beautiful imagery. A good portion of it is like our music. It is tonal with nuance added with harmonics overlaying the fundamental expressions. Wow, I wish you could hear it and see it like I can,” she said as she listened to Slahl’yukim reading a passage of the recorded Sakum’malien’s history that was etched into the smooth wall.

Cristina began to imitate what Slahl’yukim was reciting, but she carried the harmony beneath her utterances just as was intended, causing the Sakum’mal to pause in his reading but even more significant all of the Sakum’malien around Alix lowered closer to the floor of the cavern, as if they were bowing.

“Words sacred,” Slahl’yukim said almost as a warning for her not to utter them even in imitation and never to attempt singing them.

“It’s a song,” she countered, then turned to Alix, “I can see the structure. It is not like the way we write music, but it’s still music.”

“Maybe you should not further piss-off your instructor,” Alix suggested from the threshold.

“Slahl’yukim, I apologize. I understand the way your language is written. It’s like human music to a very large degree. I can sing it.”

Slahl’yukim did not understand everything she said but enough that he responded. “Others not ready. Words sacred,” he searched his memory of what he had acquired from Cristina’s thoughts. “This prophecy is ancient language – not used more… anymore. Symbols same meaning little changed,” then he indicated with a sweeping gesture, “All ancient things mysteries.”

“How long have your been in this world.”

“Sakum’malien here many generation. I come this generation, serve exile. Language different, custom changed. I adapt,” he said showing a good deal more comfort with Cristina’s language.

“Your home, does not help anyone here?”

Slahl’yukim gurgled with humor. “First Sakum’malien here sent die. Prisoners, misfits, malcontents. Adapt, time pass, organs changed. Outside can breathe sometimes – short while. Air inside, clean – prefer. Me, breathe outside, no good. Sick, make me. No adapt, much soon.”

“You come back with us,” Cristina said and projected. “You show humans.”

He paused, perhaps his expression was even a frown for a Sakum’malien. “Go you with where?”

“The future.”

“Human future not Sakum’malien. Pointless go there.”

“Sakum’malien are all dead in future. Humans do not know the truth about Sakum’malien.”

Slahl’yukim nodded slowly, having adopted some of Cristina’s characteristics and body language. “How me, others you save with you go future?”

“Sakum’malien can be resurrected. The bodies of thousands were preserved.”

Again Slahl’yukim appeared overwhelmed. “Prevent Sakum’malien die, here. Easier. Better.”

“We can do both then,” Cristina said.

“Pointless,” Slahl’yukim reiterated.

“How’s it pointless?” Cristina countered. “You come and help us in the future.”

“You help now. Past change. Future different.”

“Cristina, I don’t know if it’s wise to consider what he’s suggesting,” Alix said. “I mean, it could alter our future. We might cease to exist.”

“Or return to a better world,” she countered.

Slahl’yukim turned and stepped past Cristina. He said something to the Sakum’malien nearest to the threshold of the chamber. There was an apparently heated discussion for a few moments. Then he turned and walked back toward Cristina, “They know important reason come. Gratitude warning us. Say all fine. Poisons not inside caverns. What do humans, not matter.”

“Slahl’yukim, I assure you there are no living Sakum’malien on this planet in my time.”

“None aware you.”

“They could hide for a time but I seriously doubt there’s anywhere. After many generations of human exploration and habitation, everything has been explored.”

Slahl’yukim fell silent appraising what he could of what Cristina had told him. Then he focused on her eyes. “No Sakum’malien in future.”

“None living.”

He returned to the threshold and uttered far and loud for all to hear. Cristina understood enough of it to hear the plea in his voice. He was telling them the truth as he understood it, that she and Alix had come from the future to warn everyone of their impending doom because humans in the future understood it was wrong to exterminate them even if it was mostly unintended.

“Trust no humans,” Slahl’yukim said to Alix as he passed by. Alix did not know how to take it, but felt it was uttered in disgust. As he returned to Cristina he commented, “They much stupid. No listen. Dumb no survive.”

“If you stay you will die,” Cristina told him. “In five days.”

He nodded in response. “Sakum’malien place here, me too.”

“They can be resurrected. Some bodies preserved. My brother believes they can be brought back to life.”

“Bro-ther,” Slahl’yukim emulated, and then sought meaning from his recollection of having acquired Cristina’s thoughts. “Paul,” he pronounced, having found the name along with images in her memories that he acquired.

“Yes, Paul. You can help Paul. He wants to help you.”

Slahl’yukim seemed to radiate warmth. “Go time come. Take me, go.”

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The Resurrection: Chapter 15 – Revelation

**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.**

Julie stared at him, her mind working in its usual quick way, leaping ahead four or five steps in logical conversation as she asked, “You think Neville is actually on our side?”

Chase adjusted to the seemingly abrupt change of subject but he also realized that everything was interconnected and that Julie appreciated that as much as he did. “I think he’s honest and really wants to help. It hurts nothing to get to know him better, meet his wife and have dinner with them.”

“When does he want to do this?”

“Soon, maybe on the weekend. He needs to discuss it with his wife.”

“So, it was something you two came up with on the fly?”

“Yeah, I guess it was. It started with him saying that he wanted to save Paul in whatever way that he can. He doesn’t see the need to execute him, which is where the process appears to be heading rapidly. The Colonial Authority does not want that either, but Paul’s killed people.”

“If Paul is anything like the rest of us, he has his own personal set of rules that he obeys.”

“Exactly and if he killed that many agents they must have given him more than enough cause.”

“Tell Neville okay to the invitation. I’ll have to check my schedule if it is before next weekend.”

“I think he was hinting about Friday.”

“I think I could do that,” Julie said. “My supervisor is out of town from Wednesday on and his boss always leaves early on Friday.”

“Which means you might really get off of work on time.”

“Yeah,” Julie said. “Sometimes I hate being on salary.”

Chase laughed, “Me too,” he said as he had reached the curb in front of Julie’s apartment. “But then, the bonus check comes in along with the stock options and, all of a sudden, those seventy-hour work weeks seem to have been compensated.”

“Do you want to come up?”

“Uh, well…yeah,” Chase said, as he opened the passenger door and Julie stepped out of the coach. Then Chase exited and using the remote docked his coach in the visitor’s rack. Returning the remote to his pocket, he followed Julie into the familiar lobby of the place that, until recently, was also his residence.

They rode the elevator up to her floor and entered her apartment where she immediately went to the bathroom while Chase sat down in the living room and checked out what was going on via the world viewer array of screens.

As Julie emerged from the bathroom the phone chimed and Chase reached for the remote and clicked answer.

“Julie, Yates here,” the image of the speaker dominated the main screen.”

“What’s up?”

“Oh, hi there Chase.”

“Hello,” Chase responded feeling it was pretentious of Yates to feign that he was surprised. “Julie and I have been together for most of the day, as you well know.”

“Well, yes. But I knew you were having some issues and had separated for a bit. I’m pleasantly surprised to see you.”

“I can leave if you want to tell Julie something in complete confidence.”

“No, I’m fine with you knowing everything, as long as Julie doesn’t mind.”

“I don’t even know what it is you’re going to say so how would I know whether to mind at all?”

“It is about your uncle, Carl,” Yates said to her.

“What about him?”

“He passed away earlier today, in Star City,” Yates said.

Julie sat on the couch, silently adjusting to the new reality as she drew a deep breath. She had not been that close to her uncle until after her father died. He was her next of kin. He transferred to Andromeda to live for a few years just so she would not have to be dislocated from her school and all of her friends. At the time she did not realize what a sacrifice that was, but now she did. She respected him after the fact even if she grave him more problems than he deserved while he was her legal guardian.

Her Aunt Lydia divorced Carl a year and a half before he came live with Julie in Andromeda. Lydia had taken nearly everything Carl had, but he had not really protested it. In fact, he saw coming to Andromeda as a chance at a new life. He remained in Andromeda for a year and a half after Julie graduated and started attending college. Then, he was offered something in Star City and he went to take advantage of it. There had been a meeting with him, a lunch at her college. They said goodbye. It felt awkward to Julie, really. It was like Carl was trying to be her father for that one brief moment but he did not quite know how.

“I knew it would be hard for you,” Yates said, his words breaking the silence of her reflection.

“Thank you for the information,” Julie said. “He was a good man.”

“No problem,” Yates said. “I’ll send you the information to your global network account.”

“Thank you,” she said in response.

“There’s it’s sent,” Yates said. “I have another call coming in. Take care.”

The call disconnected.

“You were close?” Chased asked.

“For the last five years of my adolescence he was my surrogate father.”

“We should go to his funeral, then.”

Julie looked away. “There are some other issues, some of them feelings I don’t enjoy revisiting.”

“You didn’t like him?”

“I loved him in my own way,” Julie admitted, the wiped a tear from her eye. “He was an amazing man. There was a time I was being picked-on at school. You know, when you don’t want to be in physical education class because you have to take showers with everyone else.”

“I remember the trauma well.”

“It wasn’t so bad when I was little, but by the time I was in high school and my boobs began growing – all four of them…”

“Yeah four nipples and four balls are a little more discreet.”

She nodded.

“Anyway, he took me out to dinner. We dressed up and he made me feel important, like the differences I had were a good thing. He was the first man other than my father who understood what it felt like.”

“He had the attributes too?”

“Maybe he had them inside, you know?” She paused for several moments, and then drew a deep breath. “There was one night, not too long after that. He’d been out celebrating some contract his company won. He was drunk when he got home. He came into the living room of our apartment and sat down beside me and we watched something together on the entertainment channel. He had his arm around my shoulders the entire time and, for whatever reason, it made me feel secure. Then after the program ended he got up and said he needed to go to bed. But it was like I didn’t want him to leave me lone. I stayed up and watched another show before bed. Then, as I was getting up, I thought of all the pain and suffering Carl endured. He told me about Lydia and how he still loved her. He never cheated on her but she did on him. And somehow he forgave her even though she put him through it with the divorce. I wanted to help him. I wanted him to feel like he was loved. I went into his room and…,” her voice cracked. “I entered his dream. He called my Lydia. I was okay with it because it was his fantasy and yet it was weird. Then after he passed out again I went to my room. In the morning he did not remember anything, other than he had a dream.”

“But it was real for you.”

She nodded.

“That was your first time?”

“Yep. The first time for both the sex and using a gift I knew I had. I know it’s pretty sick, but I was fourteen at the time. Confused and my hormones were on overtime.”

“I understand.”

“At the time it felt right and I thought I was helping him – and maybe it helped me a little too. He lost his brother, my father. Despite his wanting to leave his past anyway he had come to Andromeda to take care of me. I wanted to know what life was about. And I found out.”

“Did he never know?”

“I missed my period that month and the next month. I went to the clinic. I was so embarrassed. They had me there on the examining table, my feet up in the stirrups. It was the first time I had ever been to that kind of doctor. I was terrified and I felt violated, especially when they began to tell me that I possessed the attributes – like I didn’t already know how different I was. They made it sound like I was defective. They ran all sorts of tests and concluded that I was pregnant.”

“Wow!”

“I told them I couldn’t be – knowing how and when it happened, but I meant it couldn’t be allowed, you know? They showed me the proof and had me sign some forms. With women who have the attributes, there’s no required notification or consent with a minor getting an abortion.”

“Because women usually die after giving birth.”

“Yeah. The Colonial Authority never publicizes that, but the procedure isn’t free. I paid them, charged to my uncle’s payment wand account that as a minor I was linked to. I was so frightened and alone in my decision and I was too embarrassed to seek anyone’s advice. I felt horrible for days after that. I had nightmares. I kept thinking about what the child might have been. Then the receipt for the services came from the doctor and my uncle confronted me with it. I told him everything. I could tell it bothered him deeply and he even got up and walked away from me at one point, but then he returned and he opened his arms and held me close, telling me he was sorry and that nothing like that would never happen again.”

Chase looked into her eyes. “Did he live up to that?”

“Chase,” she said then cleared her throat. “Three days after that he tried to kill himself but failed. I was in the hospital with him for 36 hours. He almost succeeded. I took naps in a chair beside his bed. When he came around he was angry with me that I did not let him die. He didn’t want to live with the shame that we made love even if he thought at the time it was a dream and I was Lydia. I told him that it had been my choice not his and that in his drunken state I took advantage of him. I raped him, really. It was all my fault and I respected him as my uncle and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.”

“I guess you need to attend his funeral,” Chase said.

“Yeah, I need to be there,” Julie said. “I would like for you to be there with me.”

Chase nodded. “I can make it happen,” he said.

“I would appreciate it,” Julie said as she leaned over and kissed him. “It seems we both have some darkness in our pasts.”

“We would not be human otherwise.”

“Are we human?”

“We’re human enough,” Chase said.

Julie leaned into him where they sat together on the couch. She kissed him and he responded in kind. Before long, and definitely before the end of the show that was on world viewer that they had been ignoring, Chase scooped her up into his arms and carried her to bed. He did everything he could to make her forget, for a while. They spent the night together.

Blog, Books, Editing, life, novel, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

Being a Writer in the Modern World

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There is something about a bookstore. Maybe it’s the special smell of relatively fresh ink on paper, or just the atmosphere of being surrounded by the worlds of imagination captured between the covers and shelved in row after row, divided by category. A library gives me a similar sensation. I love visiting libraries, too, but usually it is for research. In a bookstore I’m looking for a story and characters to love.

Some of my best memories as a father were reading to my children when they were little with bright eyes and minds filled only with potential. Everything was new to them. Anything was possible. And in a way that is distinctly childlike, they didn’t care whether they had already heard a story. They wanted to experience it again, perhaps something would change. Occasionally, I provided the change and almost immediately one or the other of them would point that out.

I loved taking my children to the bookstore to spend an hour or three perusing the shelves. As they grew older, of course they went off in separate directions in search of something different. It was an exciting place for them and for me.

The Barnes & Noble in Melbourne, Florida was where we usually went, even if we weren’t intending to buy anything – just to look around. Usually, each of us bought something, though. There was a Books-A-Million closer to where we lived, and we frequently stopped there as well, but the B&N always had a different atmosphere. My kids preferred it, and so did I, not to mention that they served coffee.

cup of coffee in distance with red rose
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At the time I had just published my first novel, One Over X. It was listed for sale on B&N’s website as well as Borders and the then upstart Amazon. Like most authors, I would have loved to see the book on the shelves in my store. What’s more, my kids would have loved seeing Daddy’s book added as part of that fantastic world of real, tangible, printed books. But alas, my publisher was a small press out of Connecticut. Even though everything about my first book had been done in a meticulously correct way according to acceptable standards, including have the press run completed at a one of the offset presses the Big-Name publishers use, the fact that I was not with one of the Big Five seemed the impenetrable barrier to getting my novel stocked in the bookstore chains. However, I was successful in getting the book into my local library, and a several others.

When I talked to the local store’s manager, she gave me the conditions for stocking my book, which, as a business person with years of retail experience, seemed summarily ridiculous. I needed to accept all returned, damaged and shop-worn books. It would be stocked briefly, on consignment and contingent only on my direct support with a book signing or a reading. If it sold well, they might reorder. Despite it not being a good deal from my perspective, it was a deal. I did my part and promoted the book with personal events.

As scary as it might seem at first, signings and readings are a lot of fun. I sold a few books and made some friends.  Still, the conditions up front were ludicrous and slanted way in favor of the store. Clearly, they weren’t going to lose any money, and for all the lip service they were giving me about supporting a local author, they had no interest in me making money. Yes, it was discouraging.

Of course, the goal with an author’s first book isn’t about making money, though that would be nice. First books tend to be about gaining an audience of readers who will, hopefully, want to buy an author’s next book and so on.

I had better luck with a couple of small shops. They displayed my book but, again, it was a consignment deal. Even though the book was available through Ingram, a major book distributor with channels worldwide, the store preferred calling me when they needed more inventory. I personally delivered the books. As I kept some inventory at home it wasn’t a huge problem. Still, being the distributor and delivery guy as well as the author limited my efforts to the immediate geographic vicinity.

Interviews on local media and reviews in local papers proved next to impossible. The first question asked was: which publisher are you with? And when it was someone they’d never heard of…We only accept submissions for review from major publishers.

My initial publishing experiences never dissuaded me from writing more books. After all, a writer does not choose whether to write but, instead, what to write. I was convinced that if I continued to write stories that eventually I’d grow a following, one reader at a time. And write I did. All the while I worked a full-time job to support a wife and three children, one of whom was already in high school.

After publishing my second book and having similar experiences with bookstores, I decided to self-publish my next. After all, I was doing everything anyway, I may as well handle the production as well and make more money on each book sold. There was a lot going on my life, though, and the company for which I was working was struggling. Eventually, they would go out of business. They paid me severance but I was unemployed for a little while. Money doesn’t last long. I found a summer job selling cars that lingered into the autumn. All the while I continued looking for something more suited to my background. Every evening I worked on a manuscript that eventually became two books. Around Christmas I landed another job that would see me along for the next few years.

In the background I witnessed the sad, slow decline of large bookstores chains. Amazon was growing its presence in publishing, while making the process of self-publishing easier than ever. B&N, et. al., claimed to support eBooks with their own version of a reader, but they still refused to deal with indie and small press authors whenever it came to stocking books in store. The funny thing is that most books published in the eBook format come from indie authors. Anyway, they treated indies as if our books were inferior, as if they carried the same stigma as vanity-press products of the past. They refused to adapt to the paradigm shift, turning down many good writers in the process.

What sours authors on queries to big publishers is the lunacy of the process. It is designed to dissuade unsolicited submissions. Rarely do the Big Five have open submissions. When any of them do, you can imagine what it’s like when the flood gates are opened. Odds are your manuscript upon which you have worked for perhaps a year or two will be lost in the shuffle.

The usual case for an author to gain approval for even submitting a manuscript is to go through a literary agent that the publisher recognizes. So, along the way I queried several literary agents in my genres. I learned that finding an agent is almost as hard as connecting with a publisher. Even when a manuscript is solicited, it may not be approved. And so, an aspiring author may expect to be out some money and wait forever only to be told his or her book baby is ugly.

Still, I continued to write, because that is what a writer does. By now, my family and friends figured I was insane— you know, the adage about continuing to do the same thing expecting different results? I wrote for at least three and sometimes as many as six hours a day. At times I missed doing things with the family because I was writing or taking a nap after staying up all night to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wee hours, a perfect time to compose.

There comes a time when it should be clear that the world has shifted, or perhaps moved on without giving proper notice. It also happens with businesses and I firmly believe that around the time I quit my last job in management the end began to accelerate for large box bookstores. Though I was determined to make it as an author, I knew that utilizing more time at self-promotion, brand-building and writing was what needed to happen. I never had the time while working 60 hours a week in management, always away from my home computer. And yes, when I quit my last job to devote full-time attention to writing, my family considered this proof positive that I had lost my mind.

It was a perfect time for a change. My kids were grown and moved away. I was divorced. I’d already begun to reduce my expenses. I didn’t have any money saved, but that was all right. I was going to walk a tightrope without a safety net. No, it didn’t work out all that well. I crashed and wound up couch-surfing with relatives, which was not as fun as it sounds. But eventually things turned for the better. I found a small publisher with goals and a vision of community that I share.

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As I approach bookstores anew with fresh product, I wish I could say that they have adapted to the changing times.  They still believe in the old system where five or so major publishers decide what everyone should be reading. The same barriers I confronted almost 20 years ago are still there. Meanwhile, some small bookstores have begun welcoming new authors as a means of survival. It still requires a good sales pitch, but at least they are willing to order through a distributor.

Over the past couple of decades as a writer, I’ve learned a lot about the publishing business and I’ve helped other people promote their work. It’s kind of funny, because as the influence of the big publishers over the marketplace wanes, the industry is reverting to the way things were done in the 19th Century. Back then, authors found ways to gain attention, publishing short works in newspapers and magazines. Those who had the funds published their own work, by and large, at least until they garnered a significant following and were able to contract a publisher to do the hard parts (editing, layouts and such) for them. A couple of hundred years ago, authors sold their books directly to the public and made their own deals with bookstores. The only difference today is that with the evolution of publishing technology a lot of the hard parts can be accomplished electronically with much greater ease.

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

The Resurrection: Chapter 14 – The Way

**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 settled into the couch in the living room of their temporary residence above the coffee shop. She was tired and her feet ached. Deciding not to use the public transit system to return was not the best idea, but after Paul’s escape, things had become a little dicey in that section of town. She was glad they had not waited around.

Hoofing it wasn’t the best way to get back to the shop, but it was all they had at the time. Cristina was in heels and despite what they believed was the near proximity of the coffee shop, it was actually two and a half kilometers from the detention center. Alix generously consented to carrying her piggyback for at least half the way.

Once inside the apartment, she took off her shoes, careful not to break the blisters. Alix picked the remote and turned on world viewer to the local news channel. “You can… rest here,” He said breathlessly while sitting on the edge of the couch not wanting to drip too much of his sweat on it. “In the interest…of my smell…not offended you, myself…or anyone else, I’ll…shower first.” The physical exertions of the past couple of hours wore his out.

“Thank you for carrying me,” Cristina said. “You go ahead. I’ll watch the news.”

He smiled. “You should have…brought some…walking shoes…to wear after.”

“Yeah, well next time…”

“Let’s hope…there’s not going…to be next time.” On the world viewer screen, the local media was reporting a possible disturbance at the Security Agency detention center, but there were no details. “So, we made…the news, sort of.”

“Let’s hope it stays ‘sort of’ and they don’t put the pieces together and come after us.” Cristina looked at Alix and smiled. “You were phenomenal.”

“It was more luck…and timing…than anything else, except for…your skills…at distracting…a lot of people.”

“Go shower. I need one too. But you need it worse.” Cristina kissed him on the cheek.

“That’s all…I get for carrying you…” he complained, half seriously as he stood up.

“That was for Paul. You gave him a chance. There’s more to come,” she turned to stretch out her legs on the couch where Alix had been sitting, then stretched her arms.

Alix shrugged. “It still…doesn’t resolve…anything…for Paul.”

She leaned arching her back over the couch arm, then scooted down a bit, sinking into the overstuffed cushions. It was a comfortable couch for relaxing as she watched the unfolding news evolve on the main screen of world viewer. “I’ll thank you for the rest little later,” she promised with a wink. “Speaking of rest. That’s all I want to do right now.”

Alix left her on the couch to shed his clothes and take a shower – making the water as hot as he could stand it. Rivaling one of her twenty-minute sessions, he let the hot water cascade down his neck, shoulders and back, hitting the places, other than his legs that hurt him most. When he finished he dried off, put on some fresh clothes and rejoined Cristina in the living room, half expecting her to be asleep. She was rolled over onto her side, watching the coverage. “So what’s happening, now?” he asked.

“They’re reporting many agents are dead, many more are wounded and now all the prisoners who were inside the detention facility are at large.”

“Including Paul, though.”

“They haven’t mentioned him directly but I’m sure he’ll be a priority for them to recapture.”

“So, what did we accomplish?”

“We still need to fix the cause, but we always knew that,” she said as she sat up.

Alix sat on the end of the coach and leaned back. “I guess I need to figure out where I’m going in space as well as time, then.”

“Where are we going, you mean,” Cristina corrected.

“You cannot go,” Alix said adamantly.

“I have to.”

“No you don’t. It’s too dangerous.”

“How do you expect to communicate with them?”

“I don’t need to. I grab one and bring it back. There’s no communication necessary.”

“What if it doesn’t want to come with you?’

“I doubt it will. It will be an abduction. Add kidnapping an alien to our growing list of crimes. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll ever go to court over that one, though.”

She chuckled.

“At least I made you laugh.”

“You have to. It’s either that or cry, right?”

Alix shrugged.

“Alix, I really have to go with you. You need to accept that.”

“I can’t risk that. I don’t want to lose you.”

“‘So you’re risking your own life instead, without me. What kind of sense does that make?”

“Perfect sense for me.”

“Look, it’s necessary. We’re in this together. Besides, I have obviously traveled with you in the past.”

“Yeah well, that was different.”

“How was it different?”

“You were in immediate danger.”

“We are all in danger, Alix. Don’t you see it? The Colonial Authority is stealing what’s left of our privacy. Our lives are not as important as their purposes for them. They see everything in terms of what’s best for humanity, for everyone not what’s just for the individual.”

“That debate has been going on for a long time, hon.”

“It’ll only get worse. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m a prisoner because I’m different, because don’t agree with what the government is doing or what they want – or what the majority thinks is right. The majority isn’t always right because it’s too easy to mislead people. They’re going to put all of us in jail, sooner or later. When the official real prisons are full, they’ll turn our homes and apartments into our cells, calling it for protective custody, for our safety – for the common good.”

“That still doesn’t tell me anything about why you think it is necessary to go back into the past with me.”

“It has everything to do with it. The whole reason we have to go in the first place is bringing a sand-morph here to expose how this insidious lie began, Alix. The Colonial Authority had great visions for Pravda. After the lies and the cover-up…well, it only gets worse from here. Once we expose what’s going on…”

“What makes you think anyone will listen? They’re happy being numb. They have world viewer to keep them pacified,” he made a sweeping gesture with his arm toward the far wall of the room where the screen array hung. “Nothing much will change just from bringing back a sand-morph. They’ll twist and distort that too, making it somehow favorable to them. They have the power, Cristina. That’s all they want and all they need. They’ll do anything to preserve their power, even if they have to kill us in the process.”

“It depends on how we pitch what we do. You turn their own game against them.”

“I’m listening.”

“The use people like us, Alix. While we make music because it’s what we love doing, they pervert it into something crass and commercial. And we go along because it helps us survive while we make more music.”

“That’s how it works, if you’re one of the lucky ones. We’ve only been doing this for thirteen years, ten for you. We’ve struggled a lot. But it’s the system. Without Chase and the tour, where would we be?  We’d still be playing clubs in New Milan, maybe going to Haven in the summer. Chase changed all that for us.”

“I know, and he can help us change this too. He’s good with selling and marketing. That’s all we need.”

“And they ban our songs.”

“Which only makes our fans want them more and everyone else more curious. It’s how you spin it, Alix. That’s what works for the Colonial Authority, we can do it too.”

“I don’t think this requires a good marketing campaign, hon. It’s way beyond that.”

“Well, it won’t hurt. Anyway, more directly, we don’t know what we’re dealing with in the past. We only know what we say and what we’ve heard. I know I can communicate with the sand-morphs. Paul and everyone else in The Resurrection seem convinced that the sand-morphs were peace-loving.”

“They could be mankind’s worst nightmare.”

“Exactly, you don’t know.”

“Neither do you,” Alix reminded her.

“But I know I can understand them,” she said.

“The dreams,” he said in response.

Cristina nodded. “I’ll make this work. You just need to get me there, where there are living sand-morphs. That’s your part of it.”

“You and I will have to wear breathing filters, the really heavy-duty ones that no one has needed for decades,” Alix said as he leaned forward.

“Understood,” she said. “We might have them somewhere around here.”

Alix nodded. “So when do we do this?”

“Why not now?”

“Don’t you want to take a shower or something first?”

“Yeah, I can do that first.”

“We can rest.”

“Why do you want to put it off?”

“We have time, Cristina. That’s the thing about time travel, you can always go back further.”

She smiled. “I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right. Besides, I really have to spend some time figuring all of this out, okay? There are logistical matters, calculations in multiple dimensions and all that–”

“So you need a day or what?”

Alix shrugged. “I can use that antiquated computer we found in the closet, if it still works. Maybe that’ll help. At least it’ll give me a calculator function. Hopefully there is a programming function, if not I’ll have to write a script to do it and connect this online.” He stood up and walked across the room to the closet. “Maybe two or three days at the most, provided this thing works, more time if it doesn’t. Once I’m there, it won’t take long. I’ll already know where we are here and now.”

“That’s too long to wait for this, Alix.”

“Well I don’t have a faster computer.”

“How about Dom?” Cristina suggested.

“Dom, you mean at Raven’s place?”

“Yeah, Dom. He’s a living computer, perhaps even more advanced than anything else we know about.”

Alix smiled. “Well, yeah maybe that’s a course we could pursue.”

“Sure it is,” Cristina said.

“You want to return to Raven’s estate, then?”

“I think we have to,” Cristina said. “He’ll have the breathing filters, for certain.”

“After you shower?”

“I want to get this done before anything happens to either of us. Okay? We’re maybe the only ones who can pull this off. We’re the only hope for many people.”

“The majority, the one you said that can be wrong, they do not realize what we are doing for them.”

“They probably never will. Even if Paul has escaped, it’s just like you said. They’ll eventually recapture him,” she said. “We’re really his only hope. Doing this is the only way to stop The Resurrection’s plans and expose The Colonial Authority’s cover-up.”

With that she stood up from the couch and went into the bathroom to remove the makeup from her face, take a shower, get dressed and return to a more or less normal appearance. It took about a half hour, but when Cristina emerged from her bedroom she was the lady Alix had grown accustomed to seeing off stage and, more so, learned to love these past several days that they had been together.

It turned out to be some kind of weird vacation. If nothing else, he believed it would make him appreciate recording music in a studio, even if he had never completely enjoyed the experience in the past. He had always hated the repetition part of it. He lived for the creative process, whenever the spark occurred. He could not get used to laying down the same bass lines for fifteen to twenty takes before the producer was good with just one of the tracks.

Her transformation fully completed, dressed in some different, less provocative clothing, she applied band aids to her blisters on her feet and put on comfortable walking shoes. Alix waited patiently for her to finally be ready. When she was finished she stood and he kissed her.

“You like me this way?” She asked.

“I like you everyway, but this one is more like the real you.”

“The real me depends on my mood at the moment,” she said with a laugh. “Let’s go.”

“You’re not tired?”

“I took a nap, a short one while you were showering. I still tired, but this is important.”

“We skipped lunch and it’s almost dinner time,” he stated.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of time. Are you hungry?”

“Not especially. I’ll be fine. I was more worried about you.”

“When we’re on tour I sometimes get busy and forget to eat. I have even missed eating for a while day.”

“I know,” Alix said. “We all watched out for you.”

Cristina laughed. “That’s why you ordered a pizza seemingly as a random thought…”

“Of course.”

She shook her head. “What would I ever do without you guys?”

“What would we ever do without you? That was our concern.”

They descended the stairs and said hello to Emma and Arnie as they passed through the kitchen.

“Going out again so soon?” Emma asked.

“We have to go see a friend.”

“Let ‘em be,” Arnie said. “Don’t start treating them like they are our children. You see where that got us. They hardly even see us anymore except for holidays. Only Neville has an excuse. The girls live in this very city!”

“They’re busy too,” Emma defended them.

“They’re too busy to visit any old fuddy-duddies.”

Emma smiled, but decided to refrain from further comment, directing her attention to Alix and Cristina. “You haven’t eaten lunch, though.”

“We’ll eat a big dinner,” Alix said. “We’re going to a friend’s house.”

“I’ll make something for you and leave it upstairs. How’s that?”

“That’d be wonderful,” Cristina said. “But I’m not sure we’ll be back tonight. We may be away for a little while.”

“It wouldn’t be any trouble. It would give me something to do today. It’s been slow what with all the trouble down around the detention facility.”

“It’s okay. We’ll be fine.”

“Isn’t it awful about what’s going on. They say a lot of agents are dead.”

“I hope your brother is okay,” Arnie said.

“Me too,” Cristina admitted.

“We were listening to the news before we came down.”

“It’s awful. Some of those men probably ate in our very shop the other morning.”

“Maybe so,” Cristina said.

“I feel like we may have cursed them,” Arnie said.

“Well, I’ve always believed that people make their own misfortune by the way they choose to live and how they treat others,” Cristina said. “As tragic as it may seem to others, sometimes when people die maybe they deserved it.”

“See, she agrees with me,” Emma said, punctuating it with a wink and a smile projected in Cristina’s direction.

Arnie offered an old fashioned manual key to Alix as he was the one standing nearest to him. It was the type that the outer door lock of the coffee shop still required. “You’ll need it to get inside. It’s one the kids used to use. If you come back after we lock up and go home. Just lock the door back from the inside before you head upstairs for the night.”

Alix looked at the key. He had not seen one since he was a kid but recognized it. “Okay,” he said. “We may be back tonight.”

“If not we’ll lock up anyway,” Emma said.

“Regardless of what happen, at least this way you have the option of coming and going as you please,” Arnie said.

“We really appreciate all of this. You’ve been too good to us,” Cristina said.

“When you get to be our age, honey, you can tell a lot about the quality of people just by talking to them. We knew you needed our help,” Emma explained.

“Well, don’t think we are ungrateful. We will return the favor.”

“We expect nothing,” Arnie said. “We’re happy we can help.”

“Cristina, we probably need to go,” Alix prompted.

She nodded in response.

“We’ll see you later or tomorrow,” Cristina said.

“We’ll be here. This is our life,” Emma said.

Alix and Cristina walked the few blocks to ‘the crosstown’ coach stop, waiting there for only a couple of minutes before a coach arrived to provide them a lift. As Alix and Cristina settled in beside one another in the bench seat they looked around the fairly crowded coach.

“I’ll watch for our stop this time,” Alix said.

Cristina nodded, and then leaned into him and kissed his cheek.

Alix glanced down at his hands. There was a hangnail on his right index finger that was bothering him so he gnawed at it until he clipped it loose with his teeth. Then he checked his other nails just to be sure.

“You chew your nails?”

“Not usually,” Alix responded.

“I hadn’t noticed you doing it before.”

“It bothers you?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“I don’t always carry nail clippers.”

“I do.”

“Maybe most women do.”

“I wouldn’t generalize,” Cristina said.

Alix leaned back, folding his arms across his chest in the classic, insecure, defensive position.

“I’ve made you self-conscious.”

“Of course.”

“That was never my intention.”

“Do you watch my every action and scrutinize it?”

“Of course not,” Cristina said, and then she chuckled, “No one could endure such a challenge.”

Alix looked up at the display and map. “Five more exits,” he said.

“You can be so amazingly focused at times,” Cristina said.

“It’s a gift, I guess,” Alix said. “One of several.”

“Are you worried?”

“About what we are doing or that maybe it’s never been done?”

“I guess a little of both.”

Alix shrugged. “We have to do it so I’m just sort of accepting that we have to make it work, I guess.”

“What if you can’t do it?”

“I hope I fail immediately because halfway through would be upsetting.”

Cristina looked at him, receiving a smile from him it response.

“Look, it will be what it is. Whether this is possible or not, there’s absolutely nothing either of us can do anything about. We can only do what we can do.”

Cristina kissed him on the cheek again, but then lingered close to him. “We have to do it for Paul and everyone else.”

“We are working on that,” Alix said. “If we can we will.”

“I feel so helpless.”

“It’s because you are relying on me instead of yourself and I’m not exuding confidence.”

“I know I can count on you whenever you commit to me to do anything but you’re right. The uncertainty has been the source of my recent apprehension and frustration.”

“I can only do what I can do,” Alix said. “I think I can make it work. I’ll not lie to you. This will be extreme as challenges go. That’s why we need exact coordinates.”

“Which Dom can provide.”

“I hope he will.”

“He has to,” Cristina said. “He’ll do it as a favor for me.”

Alix chuckled.

“What’s so funny?”

“An android is smitten by your beauty and stunning physical presence.”

“I don’t think that’s what it is.”

“Then tell me what it is,” Alix said.

“I don’t know what it is,” she said.

“Next stop is ours, by the way.”

She nodded and began her preparations for the impending exit.

When they had exited the coach, it was as they had expected, the coach for ‘the hills’ route was already approaching the stop, minimizing their wait, just as it always had. They boarded into a relatively empty coach. In fact there were only two other people aboard and they exited at the third exit leaving Alix and Cristina alone.

At the seventh exit they stepped off the coach and the headed up the hill toward Raven’s estate. When they arrived on the front porch, Cristina reached up and tugged on the rope to ring the bell. They waited for several moments – beyond a minute and then, finally the door opened. Dom might have seemed glad to see them except his face did not so readily belie any emotion.

“We need your help,” Cristina prefaced.

“You’re seeking my help or the Master’s?”

“Your help, Dom,” Alix said.

“I’m flattered you think I might be of some service.”

“It’s something we feel you’d be particularly good at,” Cristina said.

“We need to go back in time, physically – both of us. About 80 years.” Alix said. “That requires us to know spatial coordinates as well as temporal aspects.”

“Of course,” Dom said seeming to indicate expertise without further elaborating, and then opened the door wider. “Please come in. Just do not disturb the Master. We will go to my working room.”

They followed the DOMLIB down the corridor to the back of the main floor of the estate. There was a small room by human standards, but perhaps perfectly accommodating for Dom, including an array of display screens that were tied into the house’s main computer system as well as the resources of the Colonial Authority.

“Please be seated,” Dom gestured to the four chairs at the worktable, he sat in one, while Cristina and Alix settled into two of the others.

“We’ll be leaving as soon as we know where we’re going and what we’re doing.”

“How is it you know where you want to go?” Dom asked.

“We were practicing with our orbs and brought them close together. We first saw our star system as if we were approaching it from space and then we were in a dark cavern and there we saw a sand-morph. Since there are none in the present world, it had to be in the past, before the world was sterilized.”

“That seems a logical deduction,” Dom said, then added. “Of course, it depends on whether your premise is valid.”

“You mean there may be sand-morphs that survived?”

“It would think it’s almost axiomatic,” Dom said. “Just not in this world.”

Alix’s mind raced as he tried to grasp what Dom so casually revealed as a potential. “There could be other sand-morphs on other planets.”

“Your assumption was they’re indigenous. This planet was far too young to have evolved their live form at the time of terraforming. It is one of the reasons for the oversight.”

“They were colonists like us,” Cristina said.

“That is  the most likely conclusion from all the evidence of which I am aware,” Dom said.

“Wow!” Alix expressed the only word he found in his vocabulary to encompass the sum total of how much Dom has just expanded his range of thought.

“I do not have sufficient resources or information to make a definitive determination,” Dom said. “The Master and I’ve discussed it previously. He also tends to agree with the likelihood. It is possible and therefore should be considered in any sort of analysis.”

When Alix emerged from the depths of thought, he looked first to Cristina and then to Dom. “I don’t even know the exact date of the initiation of the sterilization process,” Alix said. “I only know it was in the 2120’s”

“September 9, 2124,” Dom said.

“Then a point in time before that would be good, let’s say September 4, 2124.”

Dom seemed to be completely occupied for several moments. At the conclusion he looked at Alix. “I have the coordinates plotted.” From Dom’s eyes a holographic projection of the immediate star system issued. Overlaid upon it Dom cast the temporal coordinates as well as the spatial coordinates. “I have archived them and printed a copy to your portagraph.

Alix hastily accessed the device he wore on his wrist and usually only used as a chronometer. “Got it.”

“Is that what we needed?” Cristina asked.

“Yeah, well I suppose we should know where to return.”

Dom removed the overlay and pinpointed the present and sent that information to Alix’s device as well. When Alix finished studying the information. Dom closed is eyes and, immediately, the projection terminated. “You will need full mask filters for your journey. There is a pair of operable ones in the front closet in the foyer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other things to attend to for the Master.”

Cristina stood along with the DOMLIB and pressed her hand to Dom’s chest halting him. Then she kissed him on the cheek.

Dom seemed startled but appeared to smile ever so slightly.

“So, now we have everything we need?” Cristina followed Alix and Dom to the front entry. There, Alix opened the closet and found the masks they would need.

“They coordinates are for the cavern where the sand-morph’s were discovered,” Dom explained as he opened the front door to allow them outside.”

“And the return coordinates are here?” Cristina asked. She stepped out onto the front porch to join Alix.

“On this front porch, yes,” Dom replied.

“Thank you, again.”

“You’re welcome,” Dom said as he closed Raven’s front door behind them.

“I know where we are and where we’re going. I just hope there’s a sand-morph nearby.”

“There has to be.”

“It is a huge world.”

“Well, let’s hope for the best. At least we know where to look for them,” she said as donned the mask. Once it was properly fitted she checked as Alix did the same. In each of their hands they allowed their orbs to appear and they brought them closer together. In the balance they created a window into another world, a previous era and set of circumstances. Alix grasped her free hand and in the next instant there was a brief but brilliant eruption of white light. They stepped through and were where they were a moments before.