**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Cristina reached over and brushed the back of her hand across Staash’s. He turned his head immediately toward her. “We will be arriving soon,” she projected to him telepathically.
She reached across the aisle to where Alix sat. He reached out to greet her gesture. Then he smiled as he asked, “Did you sleep?”
“Yeah, I slept for a while,” she said. “And you?”
“I hate sleeping in railcars,” Alix said. “That’s why Pete and I always played poker on our trips.”
“I thought you liked gambling.”
“Well, I do but Pete and I both know how to cheat, counting cards so…”
“And all this time I thought you were just incredibly lucky.” Cristina smiled. “Here you and Pete were rigging the games between the two of you and taking Keith and Tim’s money.”
“We let them win sometimes.”
“To egg them on.”
“That’s how it’s done,” Alix smiled. “We’re almost there.”
“I know. It will be good to be home.”
“Absolutely!” Alix confirmed, expressing excitement in his pronouncement.
“Staash and I finished the song last night,” she said. “Actually, I finished writing it. Staash knew the song all along, of course. It is in his nature, after all.”
“I just hope the bass lines are something I can play.”
“Actually, despite how complicated it sounds when Staash renders it, there is nothing beyond any of us as musicians. We just need to think a little outside of where we are comfortable.”
“What are you going to call the song?”
“‘The Message’, Cristina said. “That is what it is.”
Alix nodded. “Maybe something edgier, I mean we are going to record it and probably perform it during our shows, right?”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. What do you think we could call it.”
“Call it. ‘Shared Truth’ because we are sharing the truth with them.”
“Maybe,” Cristina said. “Why not call it ‘Our Truth’
“I like it.”
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
“Maybe, just a little.”
“Emma fed all of us well. Spoiled us, really.”
“I have never eaten so much,” Alix said.
Cristina chuckled. “Emma’s amazing. She even determined something that did not disgust Staash and he ate it.”
“That was some trick.”
“He tells me that he does not need to eat often,” Cristina said. “I don’t understand his internal chemistry. Maybe I never will. He eats gravel and grout and certain types of sand. He says he likes certain metals, not in their refined forms.”
Alix nodded. “You know the old expression that you are what you eat?”
“In his case he eats what he is.”
Cristina turned as she was still laughing to share with Staash what Alix had said. He responded with a nod, expressing no shared amusement. To him, Alix merely stated a fact.
The railcar slowed as it was arriving at the outer airlock for New Milan, pausing briefly to be cleaned and cleared before admission into the controlled environment of the second city in the world, both in age and size. When the sanitation efforts were over, the railcar progressed to the station, stopping at the docking platform. Cristina and Alix responded to the impending arrival, Staash waited, expecting Cristina to prompt him. He did not want to draw any undo attention. He was already dressed for maximum concealment and understood the need to remain inconspicuous. Despite that every eye on the railcar had focused on him at least ten times.
As they exited the railcar, Pete, Tim and Keith were there waiting for them, each of them shaking Alix’s hand and giving him a friendly embrace before doing the same for Cristina – Keith giving her a friendly peck on her cheek. Cristina immediately turned toward Staash, “Keith, Tim and Pete, this is Staash.”
“Good to meet you,” Keith offered his hand. Then, so did Pete and Tim, each of them offering a hand, which Staash shook with his but left each of them to wonder why he was wearing a mitten, and one with a very rough texture.
“Staash has been helping me write a song,” Cristina said. “You guys are going to love it.”
“Really?” Keith said.
“It’s nothing like we have ever done before,” she said.
“I’ll look forward to playing it then,” Pete said as he winked at Alix. “Alix and I can work out the rhythm and the back beat. We’ll master it and everyone else can just follow it from there”
“I have the utmost confidence in all of you,” Cristina said.
Pete patted Alix on the back then corralled his shoulders, giving him a warm, friendly hug. To his mind his best friend had succeeded where everyone one else was too timid.
Keith and Tim had already started toward the baggage claim. Keith pulled the cart he had rented behind him while Tim posted at the carousel and waited until the luggage from the railcar was made available, and then he looked for either Alix or Cristina to identify their bags for him to yank from the conveyor so he could hand the bags to Keith.
When they had collected everything they had brought, Keith piloted the cart toward the exit and then out into the garage where he had docked his coach.
In the early days when the band played exclusively in local clubs, Keith’s coach came in handy. It was a converted commercial delivery vehicle with plenty of room in the back. In the cargo area he had added seats that folded up and away to allow more room for the band’s equipment. For the moment it served as the perfect vehicle for the remaining three members of Duae Lunae to pick up the bassist, the lead vocalist and their odd-looking, large and extremely quiet friend.
When they pulled out of the docking garage it was rather dark for the time of day. Rain cascaded down the sides of the dome above them. It had been stormy for about the past week, Keith explained.
“At times it has been quite a light show,” Pete added, just as some lightning lit up the sky beyond the dome. Inside the dome the evening lights had illuminated even though it was late morning.
“One of the local channels on world viewer did a special report on what it will be like for us in the future without domes,” Tim said. “We’ll have to carry these things to prevent the rain from getting us wet. I forget what they called them.”
“Or dress in waterproof clothing,” Cristina allowed.
“Yeah, I guess we could do that,” Tim said.
“Well, it will be a while before the domes are dismantled,” Keith said. “So, I’m not going to worry about a little rain.”
“So the studio is reserved?” Cristina asked.
“All taken care of,” Keith said. “While you and Alix were off having fun, some of us were busy back here getting everything set for our next recording effort.”
“By the way, it was not all fun,” Alix said.
“No?” Keith pursued with a glance toward Cristina.
“There were many times that I was very glad Alix was along,” she said. “Lots of strange things happening.”
“So, what’s your friend’s story?” Keith asked.
“We met Staash on one of our adventures,” Cristina said.
“He’s one seriously big dude,” Tim said, glancing back into the cargo area where Staash’s mass was occupying two jump seats.
“He is a Sakum’mal,” Alix said, receiving a glare from Cristina, but as Alix shrugged, she finally nodded.
“I’ve never heard of that nationality,” Keith said.
“Have you heard of sand-morphs?” Cristina asked.
“I can’t say I have,” Keith responded.
“Sand-morphs were here, on this planet before we came. They lived deep in the caverns. When humans sterilized the world to prepare it for terraforming they killed every sand-morph,” Pete said.
“Except Staash,” Keith allowed.
“No, we brought Staash back from the past.”
“How’d you manage that?” Keith laughed.
“I have the attributes. I can shift in time and space – do some other things.”
Keith overrode the auto controls and pulled the coach over to the curb. He swiveled in his seat and stared first at Alix, then Cristina.
“It’s true,” she corroborated. “I have the attributes too.”
“Sheesh!” Keith said shaking his head. “I never saw that coming.”
“Staash represents organic, silicon-based life,” Alix explained. “Supposedly, through some grievous oversight the early terraform engineers did not detect them. They said there was no life here.”
“Now, we have proof to the contrary,” Cristina said.
“The Colonial Authority has lied to us?” Pete asked feigning incredulity. “Say it ain’t so!” Then he turned to take a good look at Staash. Beneath the hood he wore, Staash’s eyes seemed to glow, creating an eerie effect, giving Pete shivers.
“Is he safe?” Keith asked.
“Despite his size, he is really very gentle,” Alix said.
Keith piloted the coach back out onto the street and returned its navigation system to full automatic as they continued on toward Cristina’s apartment.
“You must be tired,” Keith said. “It’s a long trip.”
“Yeah, it was,” Alix said.
“Actually, I feel okay,” Cristina said. “I mean, I could sleep some more, but I took several naps on the way.”
“I hate trying to sleep in railcars,” Keith said.
“Me too,” Pete said. “But I could have done it except that I liked beating you and Tim at poker so much.”
“Hey now!” Tim cautioned.
“You are the worst poker player I have ever met,” Pete said.
Cristina laughed. “He has other redeeming qualities.”
Tim stuck out his tongue at Pete, but then laughed.
When they pulled up at the curb in front of the apartment building, both Alix and Cristina exited the coach. Keith popped the hatch in back and they collected their things. Alix assisted Staash in stepping down from the coach.
“You guys are welcome to come in,” Cristina called back. “I mean, we haven’t spent any time together since the end of the tour. I’m sure we all have some stories to tell.”
Keith smiled, and then looked at Pete and Tim, receiving shrugs in response to his silent query. “Yeah, maybe we can come in for a bit. Just throw us out when you are tired of us.”
“I never get tired being with you guys. You’re my family.”
Keith, Tim and Pete exited the coach. They followed Cristina, Alix and Staash into the lobby while Keith directed his coach to vacant dock on the ground large enough to accommodate. When he finished, he joined the others and they all rode the elevator up to Cristina’s floor.
The apartment struck her as being much smaller than she remembered. Certainly, it was smaller than Julie’s place and she already knew it was considerably smaller that the apartment above the coffee shop. Still, it felt like home and it was good to return after a long time away. Really, even the period after the tour seemed like dream between extended absences.
Keith and Tim took places at either end of the couch as Pete picked up the remote and activated world viewer. After directing Staash where to sit, Alix and Cristina tended to their luggage, setting it aside to unpack later.
“You guys thirsty?”
“Staash is always thirsty,” Alix said.
“I know that. He went through all the canteens Emma.”
“Staash no want to die.”
Cristina nodded. “Anyone else?”
“Some tea would be good, if it is no trouble,” Pete said.
“I can make some tea. It is going to be instant though.”
“That’s fine,” Keith said. “Don’t trouble yourself too much.”
When the tea was made, Alix helped Cristina deliver it to the members of the band. Then she returned to the kitchen and poured out a glass of ice-cold water for Staash who consumed it all in a manner of seconds. “Do you need more?” she asked.
“If no trouble.”
She returned to the kitchen and brought an entire pitcher of cold water with her. She refilled his glass then set the rest on the table where Staash was seated. “This really is uncomfortable for you, isn’t it?”
“Humans like dry. Staash understands.”
“I can change the humidity in here but only slightly. Maybe that will help though,” she went to the wall mounted control for the heating and cooling system and reprogrammed the humidity to be higher and the temperature to be lower. “There,” she said as she returned to the dinette. “We’ll see how that does.”
“But you will not be comfortable.”
“I can adapt,” she said.
“Thank you,” Staash said.
“No problem. You’re my guest. I need to make sure you are as comfortable as possible.”
“Easier sending Staash home, I think.”
Alix turned to look at them, and then got up from his chair in the living room and joined Cristina and Staash. “It is only a little while longer. Cristina needs you right now, Staash. We have to record the message.”
“I need you to go over everything I need to know how to create the message,” Cristina said. “It needs to be like you’re doing it, not me.”
“Staash make easy,” he reached out and with his scoop-like hand he gently caressed her face.
She trembled ever so slightly at the contact. Her eyes met his and for an instant everything else about her seemed to fall away into oblivion.
“You not resist Staash.”
Cristina stared into his obsidian eyes. Whether her sensation was falling toward it, or floating near it, a void filled her view. Then, she saw her mother and father, each of them holding an infant, knowing full well she was seeing the past when she and her brother we newly born. Then she saw Paul, running away from someone, ducking in behind a dumpster then jumping out, surprising his pursuers. They fired weapons at him but he merely raised his hand and the projectiles their weapons launched toward him flew in multiple errant directions. Afterwards their weapons became too hot for them to hold. They dropped them and each of the weapons melted into discrete puddles of molten metal as the remaining explosive shells popped, spraying ball of liquid metal through the air.
They stepped back, cowering in his presence as he walked past them and escaped. She knew him, sensed what he was sensing, and even heard the thoughts that were going through his mind. She had to back away, otherwise she would lose herself.
“I can’t,” she projected to the Sakum’malien.
“You must trust Staash.”
She closed her eyes and turned away, shivering as she felt Alix’s strong arms wrapping around her.
“What are you doing to her?” Alix asked accusingly.
“Staash help see truth. To know Sakum’malien, first know her truth.”
“It’s okay, Alix. It really is okay. I asked him. Just I was not expecting this sort of answer.”
Keith and Tim had been dueling one another in a video game while Pete watched, prepared to take on the eventual winner. On the preview monitors were the events of the day from all over the world, including a report from Star City that suddenly drew Alix’s attentions. He snatched up the remote and paused the game in progress, to Keith and Tim’s immediate protest. He brought up the report onto the main screen and restarted it from the beginning.
“Sources in Star City report an incident at the Colonial Authority’s maximum security facility. Several prisoners temporarily escaped but were immediately recaptured. The public was never in danger. The escape was blamed on a momentary fluctuation in the power to the facility.”
Alix turned to Cristina. “It is bullshit. It always is”
“Of course it is,” she said quietly.
She shrugged, but then vocalized. “He is trying to come here but he can’t.”
Alix restored the game for Keith and Tim and then sat down at the table. “You’re sure.”
Cristina nodded, then turning toward Staash she vocalized something that sounded like music.
Staash responded with a smile. “Now learned talk.”
“Now we can begin collaboration,” she said.
“Anytime, pretty lady,” Staash projected to her mind.
She adjusted her chair for comfort and then stared once more into his eyes. Where she had been frightened before now she was resolved to endure whatever was to come.
Alix interrupted but only briefly to kiss her lightly on her forehead before returning to the living room. For what she needed to do she had to be alone with Staash.
The video game between Keith and Tim continued, Pete still waiting for the winner until Alix challenged him for the rights to take on the eventual winner of Keith and Tim. “Just like old times,” Pete said.
“Yes and no,” Alix responded but as he was not challenged he did not bother to explain his underlying meaning.
As Cristina sat at the table, staring at Staash, she saw the spiraling energy of thought, emanating from Staash’s core, intersecting with the flow of the energy of the universe. Her essence intersecting with the very same flow and it made perfect sense to her. It was intended to be.
A symphony of sounds constituting a single conversation as Staash’s mind approached hers. A smile physically expressed on her lips but otherwise she was connected to her body by a single thread of continuity. Staash could lead her away, taking her anywhere and she would still ever be able to return to her origin. It was security for her. The realization meant freedom to explore wherever he led her.
Staash showed her how every Sakum’mal learns language. From the moment of birth to the first moments of awareness of being, he demonstrated how the patterns form, how the mind is molded around the multilayered thoughts and expressions that form the Sakum’malien language. Curious nuances of expression, which at times bent the rules of grammar, were permitted for dramatic effect. She understood. Showing her places he remembered from his home world, wondrous sights, sounds and smells he associated with everything about his personal experience in his world of origin – a strange, dark world in the outer range of the terrestrial sphere of a massive red star.
As Staash withdrew from her mind, his mission of education completed for the moment, again she became aware of her immediate surroundings. She felt Alix’s presence. Within reach of his mind, she touched his soul. He was glancing her way, watching her, concerned but not worried as he waited for the end of the video game between Keith and Tim so he and Pete could go head to head.
She probed for anyone else but there were only the members of her band who mattered.
“How long?” she asked in a raspy voice as she opened her eyes and looked upon Alix’s smiling face.
“Not that long,” Alix said. “Maybe it took twenty minutes or a little more.”
“It’s almost sun set. It’s hard to tell. It’s raining again,” Alix explained as he sat down beside her at the table, still glancing over his shoulder for the eventual result of the video game.
“Has it been raining all afternoon?”
“Yeah, it’s been wet all day outside the dome. I didn’t know what was going on at first – watching and waiting here beside you, but I could tell you were breathing. So I didn’t worry.”
She touched the back of his hand with hers. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
She looked across the table at Staash. Maybe only she knew that he was exhausted and resting. She smiled. “He showed me just about everything.”
“You know how the language works now?”
“I know how to write it and how to read it. I know how to sing it but I lack the multiple voices and the overall vocal range. I think instruments can fill in the tonal gaps.”
“Then we have to do that.”
“Alix, I’m not really sure how much of what I say to him he gathers. By far he has the most intelligent mind I’ve ever encountered. He suffers from a huge inferiority complex. He doesn’t believe his poetry has merit or value. His own kind ostracized him and exiled him to a colony because of his poetry.”
“Where he died,” Alix said. “Along with everyone else.”
“That’s what we must change.”
“For his sake,” Alix said as he looked across the table as where Staash was sitting, resting after his own fashion.
“We have to do it for our sake. The plague visited upon us was their revenge.”
“Shifting like you do in space and time is child’s play for them.”
“You mean he can do it?”
“If he wanted to. To his kind it is pointless. They are very patient,” Cristina said. “They sought revenge for what we did to their colony. They did not realize all of humanity is not alike. And so, their method of revenge does not affect those of us with the attributes. So, in a way the means of their revenge actually brought of differences together and we’re the result.”