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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.”

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.

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The Resurrection: Chapter 6 – Location

**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 rolled over and in the process, inadvertently slapped Alix. Startled he sat up quickly, then realized what must have happened and smiled as he saw that Cristina was still sleeping, resting comfortably in a real bed.

It was almost morning anyway. Maybe they really should get up for an early start on preventing events already set into motion. Yet they did not know enough details to even begin to know where to find Paul.

That was important to Cristina. She wanted to find him. He was the only family she had left in the world. She had never known her aunt and uncle, the people who raised Paul. But then, that logic didn’t make sense to Alix even though he said nothing. Until a few weeks ago Cristina did not even know she had a brother.

Alix fell back into the pillow and even though he was awake he was still groggy and considered trying to take another short nap while waiting for Cristina to rouse. He turned on his side and watched her sleeping, listening to her breathe. He confirmed for the millionth time in the past week how very pretty she was regardless of the time of day or whether she was wearing any makeup. He could not imagine her ever seeming ugly to anyone. There was nothing about her he did not like. Everything he found stimulating and fascinating. She was his personal goddess and he worshipped her, but he would never possess her. Others adored her, even worshipping her for her multiple talents as she performed before thousands and thousands of people. But it was different for him.

Maybe he worshipped her for a bit longer than anyone else. He was there in the beginning, the first day she sang for the band at the audition for Keith and Tim. He had been helping Pete tune his drums for their practice. Only his bass could achieve fundamental tones low enough for Pete to attempt tuning his drums directly to another instrument in the band. For everything else, Alix used an oscilloscope and a tone generator.

Alix saw her walk into the studio – if the place they were renting at the time merited the classification ‘studio’. It was Keith’s terminology. Tim warned Alix and Pete they were auditioning a singer for the band. So, they were not surprised when she showed up. Alix was surprised how amazingly pretty and vibrant she was. She brightened the whole room just being there.

She seemed tentative and quiet at first. Keith, the consummate schmooze, was talking and joking with her, trying to set her at ease. But when she began singing in accompaniment to Keith and Tim playing a song on their acoustic guitars, both Pete and Alix immediately stopped to listen. Her voice was like a mythical siren’s. They could not do anything else but listen. When she finished Pete and then Alix clapped. Tim and then Keith joined in.

“I guess I got the job, then?” Cristina ventured.

Keith laughed. “If you can stay a bit longer, I think Alix and Pete are just about tuned up by now and ready to go. Maybe we can jam for a bit.”

They jammed for over an hour on some riffs that Tim had written but had never really finished into a song. It was a jazz-blues sort of thing that lent itself to improvisation. Cristina accompanied the jam, playing an acoustic guitar. She was talented beyond anyone’s expectations. She also claimed ability with a keyboard, an instrument that the band had not yet utilized, mostly because only Alix could play the piano and even then it was not like he could do it all that well.

Alix recalled when Keith handed her a sheet of lyrics. They played the first song, instrumental only so that she could follow through reading the lyrics and timing the transitions. Then they played it again with her singing.

It was as if she owned the song, as if she had always sung it, maybe even written it. She had a presence and authority that commanded attention as she belted out the lyrics. It was at the end when Alix knew for certain she was then and ever after their lead singer.

In the ten years since, she lost nothing except her initial shyness.

He remained motionless, not wanting to disturb her sleep. He knew she needed her rest. She had been through a lot. Everything he had been through, so had she, but at least he got more sleep while traveling in the railcar.

When the first glints of sunlight hinted at the edges of the heavy drapes that were drawn over the windows, Cristina opened her eyes. “What time it is?”

“Around 6 in the morning,” Alix said. “It’s getting light out.”

She sat up. “We shouldn’t have slept this long.”

“You were tired.”

“We need to find Paul. I mean, we really have to find him.”

“Yeah, I get that. But then if you really want to go back three hours…”

Cristina laughed. “You remembered what you did.”

“Yeah, I can do it again.”

She fell back into her pillow. “Really I could stay right here forever.”

“As long as you’re with me, I’m happy to be right where I am,” Alix said.

“You’ve got it bad, don’t you? “

“If there’s a cure, I’m not interested.”

She drew a deep breath. “How do we find him, Alix?”

“You’re his sister, his twin. There must be some connection between the two of you. I mean that girl on the train, Clare, she was a stranger but you knew she had the attributes and you could talk to her, mentally.”

“I wonder how it worked out for her, with her boyfriend.”

“You said they were breaking up.”

“Yeah, well she thought he was cheating on her.”

“And if he wasn’t?”

“She has the attributes. If she thinks it then she has good reason to think it. It’s like having a sinking feeling that something wrong is imminent.”

“Like what I’ve been feeling since I awakened.”

She snuggled in closer then kissed him.

“I wish I knew what was going to happen,” he said.

“If we can go back couple of days, I suppose we can go forward a day or two.”

Alix smiled. “I’m not sure how it would work, though, skipping over the events that because we jumped back, we have not really even lived the experience. Would it be like we were never here to do anything? I don’t know what that would mean.”

“Then we come back and fix what was wrong or do whatever was necessary but missing.”

Alix laughed, “So, you have it all figured out?”

“Not all of it but maybe at least some of it,” Cristina said.

“I know what I did that was different, how we ended up a couple of days earlier. I just don’t know whether I could get back to where I was if I went into the future by a day more, or even if we lived on to arrive at the point where the future becomes our present.  Would it be the same as what I witnessed. There are always a variety of conditions and a number of variables to consider. Any one potential change, even seemingly insignificant could alter everything else.”

“You’ve thought a lot about this.”

“Yeah, I have,” Alix confirmed.

“Still, we have to do something.”

Alix nodded. “I’m just not sure what we’re supposed to do.”

“Who decides what’s supposed to happen?” Cristina asked.

“I think there’s a conditional destiny of sorts.”

“A what?”

“I can’t describe it any other way. It is like this. What if we do this then this, this, and that? If we do that instead of this, then what does it change?”

“I follow your thinking,” Cristina allowed.

“The courses are potentials, but they’re predetermined based on the choices we make in the immediate moment.”

“If I get up from bed now as opposed to ten minutes from now, it changes everything.”

“Well, some things may result in greater change than others, but yeah, I think that’s the gist of it,” Alix said.

Immediately, Cristina sat up in bed. “I need to find Paul. I feel like something very permanent is about to happen, something no one can ever fix or even if it could be remedied it would take an amazing act of intervention.”

“We’ll both get dressed,” Alix said as he tossed back the covers and then stepped out of bed onto the cool stone floor.

However it was possible that Dom knew, while they showered and dressed he prepared breakfast for them. When they emerged from their room, Dom was awaiting  that the top of the stairs and escorted them to where breakfast was served.

“Is Raven sleeping?” Cristina asked.

“He’s been in his study working on something all night. He told me that before you leave to inform him so he could give you something.”

“Give me something?”

“The way he phrased it I assumed it was something for both of you.”

“That’s intriguing,” Alix said. “I didn’t think he liked me much. Maybe his opinion of me has changed by the company I keep.”

Cristina smiled at Alix.

When they had completed their breakfasts, and exited out into the hall, Dom escorted them to the Master’s study. He knocked at the door and Raven granted permission for entry.

“Good morning,” Cristina said to him.

Raven smiled in response, “Were the accommodations suitable?”

“They were beyond excellent,” Alix answered for them both.

“Very good, then,” Raven stood and offered each of them a velvet pouch with cinch string. When they opened their pouches they discovered new payment wands. “Dom has reprogrammed your ID chips with new identities that are meticulously perfect as well as tied to the wands. Dom handles all of those things for me. When the ID files are accessed there will be a full history, including minor infractions, violations, and juvenile records of some mischief. There are school records and even some college records. Dom has created new lives for you. If you remain here he can even arrange for accommodations in an apartment building that I own. I’m a member of an investment consortium that is not directly linkable to me. A vacant apartment there is the address referenced on your ID’s. There are sufficient funds attached to the payment wands for you to linger in the city for several days then return home if and when you so desire and think it is safe. Dom is pretty good at estimating what would be required. He also monitors the accounts so if they run low he can replenish them from a blind account that’s not attached to mine in any way, shape or form.”

“What is this?” Alix asked as he pulled out a thin gold chain bearing an odd looking stone that glowed ever so slightly as it dangled from the chain as he held it.

“Talismans or if you prefer amulets; some would call them good luck charms, others might have divergent opinions.”

“It’s very pretty,” Cristina said as she extracted her own from the pouch. “What sort of gem stone is this? I’m not familiar with it.”

“The source stone is unique. There was originally only one and it was shattered into many pieces, of which these are but a small portion. It is said that these stones are a piece of the Foundation Stone, which is all that was left when the previous iteration of the universe concluded. These became the basis for the present creation. It is a legend and as is true of all legends there is enough fact in it so it cannot be summarily dismissed. I have studied the stones. They produce strange variations in the harmonic forces of the universe immediately around them. It is a fact that they can enhance the native abilities of those who bear them whenever there is a need to access the power inherent in the universe to channel through them.”

“And you are giving them to us as lucky charms?”

Raven smiled, “I’m giving them to you because they may help you and even protect you. The attributes the two of you possess are remarkable, yet they are abilities latent in everyone who is human. Despite the seeming magic in what you can do, there is really nothing magical in any of your demonstrated abilities. These stones are magical in that they can access the flow of the energy underlying and defining the very universe.”

“Thank you,” Cristina said, then rose up on her toes and kissed Raven. “Thank you, Andy,” she reiterated with a more personal touch.

Raven smiled at her, then accepted Alix’s handshake. “Goodbye and good luck,” he said to them both.

“Raven,” Cristina turned back as she paused at the door. “Did you ever find her?”

Raven seemed perplexed by the question. “There have been many hers who I have obviously found in life.”

“The real Marie?”

Raven stepped back but smiled as if savoring the image of her that his mind conjured. “Then you have read more than I suspected.”

“I have read a good bit but I have never finished it.”

“Tell me, what do you think?”

“I’ve always wanted to believe that you found her.”

“If that is what you believe then who am I to disappoint you?”

“How does it end in the book?”

“What’s the difference if you never read it to the conclusion? As the reader, a book can end anyway that you want it to, right? If the writing doesn’t compel you to the real conclusion, it ends wherever you leave off.”

“I would like to know how the real story ended.”

Raven laughed. “Authors must conclude works of fiction in ways that in the real world might never be possible.”

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“No, I’m not,” Raven said. “You may read it and whether you like the ending or not it is the conclusion. You may decide to linger in the hope that your guess is correct.”

“What happened to her?”

“As she was mortal having nothing artificially extending her life, her demise was much the same as anyone else’s,” he said.

Cristina nodded. “You were with her when she died.”

“You think you’ve tricked me into telling you the end but you’ve not. I’ve only said what is normal for anyone.”

Cristina tilted her head to one side, but then kissed Raven on the cheek again. Then, she turned to exit into the hallway and joined Alix there. Dom saw them to the front door where he handed them backpacks he had prepared with several days of clothing and some non-perishable food. Then, even Dom offered his goodbyes and good luck wishes.

As they descended the hill toward the coach stop, they saw the coach turning in the cul-de-sac at the end of ‘the hills’ route. It would reach the stop at just about the same time as they would. They would not have to wait at all.

They boarded the coach, temporarily stowing their backpacks beneath the bench seat. The coach was vacant except for them, and even unto the exit for ‘the crosstown’, no one else boarded. When they arrived at their exit they gathered up their backpacks and got off. Presently another coach stopped to pick them up just across the street from where they were let off.

Once they were settled again with their backpacks stowed under the bench sea, Cristina sighed, muttering something about not really knowing where to begin to look for Paul. Alix’s response was a nod, but nothing more.

She suspected Paul would return to the vicinity of stations, so perhaps that was a good enough place to start her search for him. She remained immersed in thought and Alix did not disturb her with idle prattle in lieu of purposeful points of conversation.

For his own part he was considering all the practicalities of how to possibly alter the course of events. It was difficult as he did not know what was going to happen. He assumed if they did nothing it would be worse than if they did something to delay what was increasingly beginning to seem inevitable.

Events would begin to progress from that afternoon regardless of what they did. They had taken flight from the authorities. If they were ever going to erase that from reality, they would need to go back to Andromeda, perhaps even back before Cristina made the railcar reservations.

“Sometimes I wish I’d never met Paul,” Cristina said quite abruptly, completely derailing Alix’s thoughts. “But I guess I had no choice in the matter. We’re connected. We’re related. So, everything about us shares some ultimate commonality of purpose.”

“I’m not sure I believe that,” Alix said. “Your objectives are completely different from his.”

“Maybe I’ve come here to persuade him. I’m sure he has come here to persuade me. And yet the authorities are trying very hard to keep us apart. Why? That’s really what I need to know. What’s wrong with a brother and sister meeting and talking, even having a disagreement. If we still go our separate ways and maintain respect for one another, who’s business is it what we do or say to one another?”

“Obviously, we need more information,” Alix said.

“We need more time.”

“Time I can give you,” Alix said as he opened his palm and the orb appeared there. Its presence caused both of the gift talismans they both received from Raven to glow brighter. “Isn’t that interesting?” Alix observed.

Cristina produced her orb as well, with a similar result. Then, rolling her hand over, her orb went back into the semi-oblivion just beyond the veils of reality where she kept it. The glow of their talismans diminished slightly.

“Very interesting,” Alix commented in supplement to his previous observation.

“When we were in the apartment back in New Milan, we brought our orbs together.”

Alix nodded, “And that is when we saw a sand-morph.”

“It was alive,” Cristina said.

“It felt like we were in the past as observers.”

“The creature seemed to respond to us.”

“We assumed that.”

“But lately I have wondered whether it was the past at all.”

“There are no sand-morphs. There have not been living sand-morphs for generations.”

“How do we know that?” Cristina said.

“They were all killed when the world was sterilized.”

“What if some of them survived?”

“Where would they be? The world has been explored and colonized for years and years. Someone would have found them by now.”

“They would have had to be deep in caverns to have survived the effects of sterilization.”

Alix nodded. “According to Chase, Paul was in a cavern when he met him.”

“You don’t think Paul actually found where they are.”

“It’s possible but unlikely.”

“I doubt it, too,” Cristina said. “He would not be so adamant about The Resurrection’s goals if he’d found any of the sand-morphs who were still alive.”

“If any were alive you would think, after all this time, someone would have made contact with them.”

“Or them with us,” she said.

They reached their stop before they noticed and although they scrambled to get up in time to exit, the coach was already pulling away from the curb. They sat back down, clutching their belongings in their laps and waited to arrive at the next stop, where they finally exited.

They turned back to the north and began to walk toward the stop they missed when suddenly they observed a group of young men who seemed to be in a hurry crossing the street at the next corner. Cristina shivered as if she had taken a chill, prompting Alix to inquire, “What’s wrong?”

“All of them.”

“What?”

“All of them have the attributes.”

“They’re part of The Resurrection.”

She nodded. “Affiliated. We have to follow them. Maybe they know where Paul is.”

They broke into a run to reach the corner before the group disappeared down another street. They were just in time to see the last few men in the group entering an alley. They hurried along the street, finally reaching the alley where the men were congregated. A group of them advanced behind a building while one remained out in the alley proper.

Cristina and Alix slipped their arms out of the straps of their backpacks and set them down as they hid in the shadows, nestled in doorways that were recessed into the walls of adjacent buildings. There they waited, watching what was happening, wondering what was going on. Suddenly, Cristina gasped, then immediately suppressed it. “Paul,” she whispered as he had seemingly appeared from nowhere.

Across the way Alix nodded. He saw him too.

The man who remained in the alley halted him. The two of them were conversing, somewhat animated at first but then just as the balance of the group of men returned to the alley to surround them, the man who stopped Paul delivered some sort of a verbal chastisement to his obvious subordinates. Some of it was audible but only a word here and there. Even so both Alix and Cristina got the gist of it.

After a few moments Paul was blindfolded and physically escorted past Cristina and Alix as the two of them withdrew further into the recesses of the doorways while Paul and the others emerged out into the street.

They followed them for a time, as they meandered through the streets, perhaps trying to confuse Paul, then a few blocks from where they found Paul, the apparent leader, Paul and a couple of escorts disappeared into an archway that concealed a stairway that led directly from the street to a floor that was above a small novelty store that was not yet open for the day’s business hours.

Cristina and Alix sat in an alley across the street and observed for a time until the apparent leader came back down the stairway and exited through the archway onto the street. He turned to the east and went on his way. After a few minutes the other two escorts departed, exiting heading west.

“Do we follow them or the leader?”

“Paul is still in that building,” Cristina said as she shed her backpack and propped it against the wall of the building to support the small of her back. “We’ll wait here.”

As Paul removed his backpack as well he asked, “Do you think Paul is in any kind of trouble, I mean more so than already?”

“I don’t know. I sort of feel he’s safe, at least for the moment.”

Alix squatted down where he was and then finally sat back on the ground with his back supported by his backpack as he leaned back against the wall for support.

Cristina was happy to know where Paul was and content to allow events to progress as they would for a while at least. Alix glanced at his chronometer. It was getting fairly late for the morning. Soon the businesses would be open and the bustle of the day would replace the present prevailing tranquility.

As the shop on the first floor of the building that they had been watching opened for business they observed as people came and went. In midmorning she saw someone entering the building, ascending the stairs and then came back down a few minutes later. Suddenly, Cristina stood up, snatching up her backpack by its straps. “Let’s go,” she said.

“I thought we were just going to watch.”

“We are. I just want to see where Paul is – inside.”

Cristina exited the alley and started across the street before Alix could even grab his backpack and try to catch up. She passed beneath the arch and bounded up the stairs, taking two at a time as Alix had finally caught up but was still a step or two in her wake.

They opened the door and entered into a vacant, nearly open floor, the only walls other than the outer walls were a series of partitions constructed from the front wall of the building back to halfway into the floor then formed a sharp corner to adjoin with a sidewall of the building.

Cristina led the way as they explored the entire floor, finding nothing even though she kept telling Alix that she knew Paul was nearby. She even paused for several moments and faced a wall, reaching out and almost touching the wall. “I’m confused,” she said to Alix.”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “He’s very close but we’ve looked everywhere.”

Alix went inside the room and checked, looking at everything from ceiling to floor. When he emerged he shrugged, “Unless there is some concealed room on this floor, I have no explanation.”

“We go back where we were and watch. I’m certain he’s here.”

They descended the stairs and headed toward the alley across the street where they had previously been. In the building next to the alley was a small coffee shop. Alix offered to buy Cristina a cup of coffee and she accepted. They sat together sipping coffee at a table beside the front window as Cristina maintained her vigil.

The gentleman who apparently owned the shop came out to their table and personally thanked them for coming in. They promised him that they would return and he thanked them.

When they had finished their coffee they returned to the alley and again deposited their backpacks onto the pavement in exactly the right way to afford them some lower back support while leaning back against the wall of the building that housed the coffee shop.

Around noon, someone approached bearing a relatively flat rectangular box, which he carried between his hands. He passed beneath the arch and ascended the stairs. In a few minutes he returned down the stairs carrying the box vertically under his arm as if it were empty, or at least he no longer cared about the contents.

She considered it for a few minutes, and then looked at the chronometer on Paul’s wrist. “Is it noon?”

“Yeah, close enough for argument’s sake. Why, are you hungry?”

“Well, yeah, but that’s not why I asked. It’s funny. Someone just went upstairs in the building across the street and appeared to deliver something.”

“Where? There’s no one there.”

“Exactly my point. Not only that but he was carrying it flat, like it was a tray, then when he returned he had the box tucked under his arm.”

“Lunch?”

“That’s my thought.”

Alix shrugged. “Okay, if Paul’s there he’s somewhere we can’t access, for whatever reason.”

“Behind a false wall,” Cristina suggested.

“A concealed room,” Alix said. “If we had a measuring meter we could confirm it.”

“We could get one.”

“I suppose we could.”

“Well one of us needs to stay here and watch the building.”

“I’ll get the measuring meter. There has to be somewhere near here that sells hardware.”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 2 – Questioning

**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.***

Chase shook his head in disgusted disbelief then turned away feeling betrayed. Although Julie did nothing directed at him, she sold out his friends. He refused to look at her as she beseeched him to understand her motivation. “I did it for your sake!” she claimed.

“How could you do something like that to our guests?”

“Since they arrived everything in our lives changed. Don’t you see that?”

“You’re still jealous of her, despite everything I’ve told you.”

“What have you told me? You love us both. But you love me more? What does that mean, Chase?”

“It means you need to trust me.”

“You would have gone with her if you were up to it.”

Chase remained silent. He could not deny he might have because he felt that level of commitment for his friends.

“I know the truth,” she said, swiveling away in her chair.

“I’m not going to deny what I would have done. I’m only telling you I would have been faithful to you and to them regardless of the situation. That’s what friends do, Julie, especially when they need help. I don’t think you even begin to comprehend what’s going on around us. There’s a revolution starting around us.”

“That doesn’t involve us.”

“Maybe it should.”

“All I know is you’re in love with her.”

“Don’t be silly. How I feel about her is different than what I feel for you.”

“How’s it different?”

“There’s nothing physical between Cristina and me. Maybe we kiss on the cheek and hug. That’s it. I’ve never slept with her and I don’t contemplate ever doing that. And even if I did Alix would prevent it.”

Julie continued looking away for few moments while she allowed the silence to endure. Then she turned. “She excites you in a way that I’ve never seen in your eyes. When we’re making love I can sense her image in your mind. Yet you claim your relationship with her was always business, or perhaps a little more friendly – but always platonic.”

“I’ve never cheated on you, not even once. I never will. If you see her image in my mind when we make love then you also see the truth that surrounds a man’s fantasies.”

“I know you’ve thought about it.”

“I admit that completely. Yes, I’ve thought about it but thinking and doing are two very different things.”

“How’s it different if the feeling was in your heart?”

“Because I know it would hurt you and I cannot endure that,” he said.

“That’s weak,” she countered.

“I’m sorry you feel that way. But it’s the truth. I’m also sorry your jealousy compelled you to betray her friendship.”

“It was her common sense,” Yates said as he re-entered the room. “And her intelligence. That’s what drove her to protect you against your own stupidity.”

“Of course you’d be listening in on our private conversation,” Chase said.

“For you there’ll be no more privacy. You lost credibility and trust the moment you agreed to meet with Paul,” Yates explained. “Now, I’m afraid that everything has escalated a great deal. Previously, all we wanted was information. We intended to arrest Paul peacefully. Now, he’s made that impossible.”

“What happened?” Julie asked.

“Yesterday morning in Star City, agents of the Colonial Authority captured hundreds of operatives belonging to the local cell believed to be affiliated with The Resurrection. In a related action – and based on information received as part of the surveillance and eventual capture of the operatives including Tam, their leader – another action was taken late in the morning resulting in the arrest of the fugitive Paul Scalero, wanted for the murder of a relay station administrator. Paul was taken to the central processing facility for the Colonial Authority’s Security Agency. He and the leaders of the local cell were interrogated. Paul was interrogated through multiple sessions for most of the day and as I understand it well into the night. The interrogations resumed this morning.”

“So then, why are we still here? Haven’t we told you everything we know?” Julie asked.

“We’re merely seeking any information you might have about anything, regardless of how trivial it might seem.”

“You still haven’t answered any of my queries about Cristina’s whereabouts.” Chase prompted.

“Well, at present she and her boyfriend are the mystery. I really have nothing to tell you. I have been waiting for something, anything to come back from the field, but it seemed they disappeared into thin air,” Yates said.

“They’ve not found her body,” Chase said.

“No body, no trace. The amour piercing round used against the vehicle they were standing near was powerful enough to have vaporized both of them but we have been over the site with tweezers and microscopes looking for anything, blood, hair, clothing.  There was nothing there to indicate they were there at the moment of the explosion.”

“At least there’s hope she’s still alive, no thanks to you. Your people broke into our apartment. I was going to drop her and Alix off at the station, but your agents barged in and seized. Your agents dragged me from the apartment. They put me into a coach and as we were pulling away I saw them bringing Alix and Cristina outside, held at gunpoint.

“They were brought here but they escaped. We know they had reservations for Star City but they never used them.”

“She would have been arrested if she had.”

“Of course.”

“What has she done wrong?” Julie asked.

“She has been in contact with her brother, Paul.”

“And that makes her a wanted criminal?” Chase asked. “Is it guilt by association that prompts arrest, now? Isn’t that a violation of our rights? He’s her brother!”

“Apparently Paul was headed here to meet with her. So, I’m not so certain that she is quite as innocent as you believe,” Yates said. “You say that you never met him before he made contact with you in Haven.”

“I knew of him,” Chase said. “I saw him talking to Cristina when I had headed out to the beach to find Cristina. She always loved to watch the sunrise, especially over water and Haven was certainly the place for that. So when I awakened that morning and she was not in her room, I knew where to find her.”

“It was nothing unusual, then?”

“Not really.”

“Did she tell you what she and Paul talked about?”

“She seemed to think he was just a guy that was sort of smitten with her looks, trying to put the hit on her – you know. She gets that all the time and doesn’t think much about it. Certainly, she didn’t take it seriously.”

“He told her his name?”

“Yes, and she apparently told him hers.”

“Is it possible they discussed more than that.”

“It’s possible,” Chase said. “I’d doubt it, though. She didn’t know that he was her brother at the time and according to what Paul said about her later on to me he didn’t know she was his sister either until maybe around the time that he called her on the phone.”

“It was just an innocent coincidental meeting.”

“Where we who have the attributes are concerned there are never coincidences, just happenings that at the moment we may not understand,” Chase explained.

“I can understand that. I even believe that. I have to in my line of work.”

“Then you know.”

“Julie,” Yates addressed. “You became close friends with her. You even went shopping together. Did she say anything that might indicate she was working with Paul?”

“No, it was only that she was worried about him, as her brother. She was having experiences using the orb for training that troubled her. She mentioned those.”

“Give me examples.”

“She was seeing events in the past, her mother and father, Paul and her when they were babies. She has also had dreams.”

“Were any of these dreams related to beasts called sand-morphs?”

“What about them?” Chase asked, taking more interest.

“It’s come up before in other instances with The Resurrection.”

“Do they exist, the sand-morphs?”

“I don’t know. Apparently there’s something in the past that we were called sand-morphs. Legends grew from what children speculate about. That’s the extent of what I can say.”

“Cristina had a vision of one, alive in the past, like it was a visit. Alix saw it too. They were both using their orbs at the same time and said that as they brought their orbs closer together they could see into the past.”

Yates sat back. “You told me the orbs come from couriers. Is that right?”

“Yes,” Julie said.

“Do they know where they originate?”

“They say they received them from the Architects, not the colonial ones but the ones who designed the Universe,” Julie revealed.

“So, let me get this straight. You’re telling me intelligent, perhaps even god-like, beings gave these orbs to the couriers to give to you for training in enhancing your abilities.”

“Yes,” Julie confirmed.

“Do you realize how crazy that sounds?”

“Of course, I do,” she said. “But it is the truth.”

“Do either of you know how many people have these orbs?”

“The couriers indicate that there is one for every one of us, but that when our training is completed we are to pass the orbs on to someone else, perhaps our progeny.”

“So there are not an infinite number of these orbs?”

“I don’t know how many there are, just at some point, whenever someone is identified as having the attributes to a strong enough level, a courier meets with him or her and an orb is provided along with the initial instructions.”

“Are there ever mistakes in identifying those who have the attributes?”

“I suppose it’s possible, but I don’t know of any examples. I’d think it’s highly unlikely. Once those of us who have the attributes are given orbs we seem to have enhanced senses. I think it would be very difficult for someone without the attributes to be mistaken.”

“How many couriers are there?”

“I don’t know that either. It seems that each of them has one orb to give and so I would suspect there are as many as there are people with the attributes. Maybe thousands.”

“How do you find them?”

“They find us,” Julie said. “Once we have an orb people with the attributes seem to be attracted to us. If we meet someone who has the attributes, we contact the couriers.”

“So there is a way of contacting them.”

“That depends on the courier. Some are reclusive, some are more sociable,” Chase said.

“None of them think very highly of humans,” Julie said.

“Are they not humans?”

“They were or maybe still are but they’re different. They have extended lives by comparison. There could be other differences, I suppose, but that’s the only thing I know.”

“Maybe they’re the origin of the attributes,” Yates suggested.

“It’s possible,” Chase said.

“I don’t think it’s likely,” Julie said. “The attributes are a potential that all humans have. In us the abilities are unlocked at conception and for whatever reason cause us to develop in slightly different ways than average humans. There’s a slight modification in our genetic code that wakes up latent but inherent abilities.”

“You consider yourselves to be human.”

“We are human,” Julie confirmed.

“Is that your feeling too, Chase?”

“I accept my humanity, my heritage and culture. Otherwise, there are some subtle differences.”

“Yes, you know; you understand,” Yates said.

“I think we both do. You just need to ask the question properly.”

“So are you are you not human?” Yates asked.

“Despite appearances and similarities, we are a fundamentally a new species,” Chase confirmed. We’re probably a different from humans as Cro-Magnon was from Neanderthal.

“I see,” Yates said. “So, your friend Julie here is wrong.”

“Julie’s not wrong. It is only that your question did not lead to the answer you seek.”

“We can have children with humans,” Julie said.

“Even in the way you express it you are separating yourselves. For you it’s already become a world for ‘us’ and  ‘them’,” Yates pointed out.

“We may as well be an alien variant – humanoids,” Julie allowed.

“If there even is such a thing,” Yates countered.

“There is alien life. It’s made contact with humans many times, but for whatever reason it’s remained a secret or generally disregarded.”

“You believe you’re the result of those past encounters?”

“There’s a common thread,” Chase said. “That’s all I know. No one told me that, I feel it.”

Julie nodded, indicating she felt it too.

“Why the secrecy?” Yates asked.

“I think the aliens resemble us and maybe shared some of our experiences in the process of our evolution.”

“And if they don’t?” Yates asked.

Julie shrugged as a response.

“You manifest apparently amazing gifts. These are things that training with the orb enhances?” Yates asked.

“Yes,” Julie confirmed. “The abilities are not the same in all of us for whatever reason. Yet I think each of us have the full package. It’s just that we have our strengths and weaknesses.”

“I believe the orbs assist us in identifying and developing whatever interests us most,” Chase said. “We become what we are individually inclined to be.”

Yates’ communicator beeped. He looked at its display. “If you will excuse me,” he said as he stood and exited the room.

“You’re giving away too much information,” Chase accused.

“Don’t you think they know anyway? Yates is just seeking confirmation of what he has already observed or confirmed in other ways. They watch everything we do. It’s like he says, we have no privacy, Chase. Not anymore, thanks to Paul.”

“So how are you such close friends with Yates?” Chase asked her directly.

“He was a friend of my father. He offered to help me stay out of trouble. He knew a lot about us, Chase. He even convinced me that Paul is wrong. What The resurrection seeks to do is very dangerous. You have even said so yourself.”

“But that doesn’t mean you sell all of us out.”

“I haven’t,” Julie said. “I don’t want you attacked again. I don’t want our apartment broken into. I want to go back to having a normal life, living the way we were living.”

“That isn’t possible anymore. You can’t go back once the innocence is lost.”

“Well, I haven’t given up”

When Yates returned his face was a little red. Then he sat down in the chair. “I’m afraid the situation in Star City has grown more serious.”

“Cristina?” Chase asked.

“Your friends Cristina and Alix haven’t been found. The authorities ordered agents to board the railcar at the relay station and join the agents that were already staged onboard. But when they arrived in Star City, Cristina and Alix never boarded the railcar.”

“Then they’re still here, in Andromeda.”

“We’re looking for them, in both cities. People don’t just vanish – not without turning up somewhere else, anyway. We’ll find them. That is not the real issue of the moment. Your friend Paul has escaped, taking all of those who were in custody with him. There have been a lot of casualties, apparently all of them on our side.”

Chase sat back, even attempting to suppress a smile but failing.

“It amuses you that many good agents died and others are barely hanging on to life?”

“No, of course not. It’s the tragic aspect of it to be sure. What amuses me is how one rather insignificant looking guy could do such a thing to well-trained and heavily armed professionals? Don’t they have any idea or even the least bit of cautious respect for what sort of individual they are dealing with?”

“They had him heavily sedated to control him.”

“And our bodies build up tolerance to drugs and toxins! I don’t mind telling you because it doesn’t matter if you know what you’re up against! We have natural immunity to harmful organic substances and diseases. You cannot expect something will control any one of us forever – not even from one day to the next.”

“Then tell me how to control you?” Yates asked boldly.

“Brute force and belligerent threats obviously work for a while but apparently proved to be lethal for the authorities in Star City. Whoever was interrogating Paul – whoever pointed a gun at him is responsible for all those deaths. In Paul’s mind that’s how the game must be played because the Colonial Authority has refused to listen. Instead they proceed with the elaborate lie.”

“What lie?”

“They proliferate the cover-up because they fear the truth might become common knowledge. The fact is we killed whatever was living here and seized the planet from them. We didn’t even do what humans on Earth did under archaic doctrines like Manifest Destiny. We did not round up the indigenous life and put them into camps, or force them to labor for us as our slaves. As inhumane as those things of the past were, they were far better than what happened here. We exterminated competing life to make way for our colonial interests. That’s what Paul and the others you label as subversives are fighting to make known. They want the truth to be widely circulated and I agree with him to that extent. The rest of what they advocate is at least a little crazy. They want to bring one of the creatures back to life.”

Yates leaned back in his chair. “How do they propose to do that? It has been a very, very long time.”

“I doubt it is even possible,” Chase said. “But Paul is confident they can do it. He says it’s because their life form is based on silicon, not carbon. That’s why our sensors didn’t detect the life form. We weren’t looking for the right chemicals.”

“Even so, it has been so long that–”

“He said they have well-preserved specimens.”

“Where would they get hold of specimens?” Yates wondered aloud.

“I can’t say?”

“Can’t or won’t,” Yates posed.

Chase looked Yates in the eyes, “They have specimens, plural. That’s what he told me. Does it matter where they came from?”

“It might indicate where they are.”

“Yes, I suppose it might,” Chase said. “If I knew.”

“Chase has tried to answer your questions,” Julie said.

“I know he has,” Yates said. “I appreciate the cooperation.”

“It just seemed like you were implying that he knew something and was withholding it.”

“Oh, I’m sure he knows more than he’s saying. It’s my job to detect that and pursue it, and then, I reassemble all of it and complete the puzzle. But for now, I suppose you can go back home.”

“It is a more comfortable prison than a jail cell,” Chase said.

 

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Colonial Authority: Chapter 31 – The End Times

**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.**

On the cot, his back against the wall, Paul sat as Tam left him alone and sealed the room. How ironic was it that to avoid incarceration Paul needed to exist in a prison-like cell? He sat for a time staring at the opposite wall that seemed close enough that he might reach out and at arm’s length touch it.

After a while, he stretched out on the cot and took a nap. That had been all that he sought from Raven, mere hospitality, but that was denied him. What purpose had it served to allow him to roam the streets of a strange city all night when all he wanted was to avoid detection?

Briefly, Paul sat up to pull the cord and turn off the light. It was as dark as it had been deep in the caverns whenever the artificial light was off. Because he was used to it, the darkness felt friendly and comfortable. Since he was very young he always associated darkness with security. All his other senses seemed greatly and immediately enhanced in the dark. He knew his sight deceived him, confused him, and prevented him from knowing the truth beyond the illusion of the world around him.

In the darkness of the caverns he learned from the orb. It had taught him how to control certain portions of the illusion of the world around him. As a result it seemed as if he did not have to fear anything anymore. Nothing was beyond his ability. He could overcome anything. In his recent experience perhaps he was too ambitious and his conclusions were premature.

He wondered about the sensation of proximity that he had felt, as if Cristina had been nearby back in the alley as he was escorted out. He felt the proximity again, except that this time it was even closer, as if she was almost within his reach, maybe on the other side of the wall. He needed to see Cristina. He needed to talk to her and explain to her what he was doing. If Chase hadn’t already polluted her mind with his doubts and speculations about the dangers that he had felt were inherent in achieving The Resurrection’s goals. Paul felt urgency. It was as if it was now that he needed to act else it would be too late to convince her to join him, act in concert and in harmony.

He knew there was linkage between them. It was far more intimate than the vague sensation sometimes he received whenever someone with the attributes was around. Paul believed there was potential none of them realized. They might act almost as one. They shared the same parents. They were twins. Despite growing up apart and being different genders, they were a lot alike. Had she not attracted his attention immediately, the first time he saw her? There was a thread of continuity between the two of them, connecting them to everyone else possessing the attributes. He believed it was possible through the attributes to connect everyone together as one.

When Paul realized he slept for a while, it bothered him. He was tired. He had every right to sleep. He could smell the recently baked and sliced bread, ham and cheese of a freshly prepared sandwich. He slept so soundly that someone left lunch for him without waking him. That bothered him. In a way he felt violated. It was dangerous that he was not disturbed at the opening of the wall that concealed his hiding place.

He sat up on the cot. It was noon, or maybe fairly late in the morning. It was hard to tell, as there was no light from the outside world. He groped the air and found the string for the light and pulled. Light flickered before becoming steady, forcing him to close his sensitive eyes until they adjusted to the sudden fluorescent brilliance. When he could open his eyes again he reached for the breakfast tray. He sat it in his lap as he ate.

He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. Even though the food was only mildly warm, it went down fast and easy. He tried to remember when it was he had last eaten. There were dried meat sticks and energy bars that he had consumed at the last climate station. He had eaten a bit there before resting. Since then, mostly he had been too preoccupied.

When he finished eating he set the tray back near where it had been left for him to find. He couldn’t wait for dinner. He was still hungry but the sandwich helped.

He used the toilet that was closeted at the end of his tiny confinement. When he returned to his desk he pulled out the chair and sat. There was a small chronometer on the desk. He had about five hours before he figured he could expect dinner. He opened the drawer and taking out the infotab he plugged in the memory module and perused the index of books stored on Mods kept in the cube. There were fiction and non-fiction, books that he had read before but some books that he had only heard of. Many were generally unavailable if not outright banned.

He accessed one of the infamous books and began to read about the development of technology in the mid to late Twentieth Century. Certainly, it played a key role in producing the devices to transform the way people lived in what was generally called ‘the end times’ of Earth. Despite the invaluable contributions of technology to modern mankind, the Earth origins of some things were not discussed much in the Colonies. Many devices were banned outright or their usage was taxed heavily and restricted further with licensing fees, effectively preventing them from mass use.

Ostensibly the reasoning was to prevent the same kinds of environmental disasters that killed the Earth. Pristine, terraformed worlds like Pravda needed protection. For example, every vehicle used on Pravda used a certified power source with a neutral environmental impact. Internal combustion engines were banned, as were jet engines, and gas turbines. Synthetic lubricants were used instead of petroleum-derived products. Since the end of commercial development of Earth resources, organic hydrocarbons were prohibitively expensive.

The power generated on Pravda came from very different sources than were used on Earth. With the exception of the cities closest to the ocean, wind and sun generated roughly seventy percent of the power used in the cities. Where the cities could use the tidal forces to capture energy, there was often a surplus of power that was exported along the power transmission lines that ran beneath the railcar tracks connecting the cities. At times, cities like Haven and New Milan could run completely on the power generated from the wave energy baffles installed in the nearby oceans.

In the period of extended draught in the desert, Andromeda, Star City and Delhi generated a surplus of power from vast arrays of photovoltaic generation. The same panels continued to produce power from the light of the two moons although it varied according the phases of the moons. On nights of Double-Full, nighttime generation could account for as much as twenty percent of the total power generated over a twenty-four hour period.

The remainder of the power used in the cities came from various other processes that included differential thermal exchange and proximate quark reaction that combined to produce roughly ten to fifteen percent of the power used in a city. Each city had its own power grid but connected to every other city through the commonly supported supply of power to the railcar system that connected them.

As Paul read the book, the author made a very good case that the pioneering corporations of the late Twentieth Century were profit driven to the exclusion of developing technologies that threatened established industries. Their focus became the cutting edge of technologies that would not adversely affect the status quo of market equilibrium. Such corporations were blamed for triggering the events leading to the demise of the Earth’s ecosystem, ignoring technologies that might have extended the viability of Earth as a home for mankind.

It was also the point of view The Colonial Authority held adamantly. They were unwilling to give the innovations their due. The development and production of the atralnav, the translation device for navigating through sub-space, the organic computer and DOMLIBs that evolved from it were all necessary precedents to colonization. Without certain technologies colonization would not have been as easy and certainly more distant worlds like Pravda could have never been reached in time to make a difference in mankind’s overall survival.

Paul read the book with interest as it advanced several theories for the rapid decline and demise of Earth’s environment in the later Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries. It cited the increase in the number of mesospheric clouds during the summers toward the end of the Twentieth and the early part of the Twenty-First Century. A little understood phenomenon at the time, they were a warning signal that the upper atmospheric conditions were changing rapidly. The usual culprits were hydrocarbon emissions from vehicles and factories that were dumping chemicals that polluted the atmosphere, waterways and oceans, killing aquatic life and slowly decreasing the plankton from which a great percentage of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere originated. The defoliation of rain forests not only due to harvesting of the trees but also the effects of acid rains resulting from sulfur emissions and the reduction of grasslands were also cited as reasons for the reduced oxygen in the atmosphere.

Around five in the afternoon he set the book aside. The wall opened and his dinner arrived. He did not say anything except ‘thank you’ to the man who delivered the food. He received a reply of ‘you’re welcome’ as the man removed the tray from lunch. Immediately he turned and without delay the wall closed and once more Paul was sealed away in his room.

He consumed his meal as slowly as he could, trying to make it last longer, but he was also eager to get back to reading about the last decades of Earth. He had just begun a section that dealt with the climatic changes and the increased seismic activity along major fault lines.

When he finished eating and returned the tray to just inside the room where the wall opened, he returned to the desk and continued reading. It was a long time until breakfast in the morning. Based on what Tam promised him, sometime soon he would be able to shower and change clothes. He was looking forward to ridding his body of the pungent sweat smell from all of his exertions.

Paul read about natural disasters with unprecedented death tolls. There were needless wars fought over scarce resources and coveted land. Zealots terrorized the innocent.

There were incurable viruses. The attempts to prolong the lives of those infected were believed to have been the origin of the attributes. There were many with contrary opinions, but it was fact that a super strain of the virus wiped out a third of Earth’s population over a ten-year span. The only people who did not seem affected by the more robust version of the virus were those who had the previous strain and were under treatment with the previous strain of the virus under control.

A cure for the super strain was never discovered.

He read with great compassion for those who had perished because they would not allow their bodies to be infected in order for the associated treatment to build up their immunity to the much more severe strain. There was such fear of the initial virus and such a social stigma attached to it that people died needlessly who could have been readily immunized had they listened to the advice of medical authorities.

Paul began reading a new chapter, focused on wars that began in several places around the world as sovereign nations refused to negotiate away their vital resources. The more powerful nations seized the resources, attacking the weaker nations, invading while professing they had come to liberate the people of the weaker nations from the tyrannical regimes that controlled them – and refused to negotiate away rights to sovereign resources.

As one after another nation was immorally attacked and seized, the risks of the strongest militaries of the world coming into conflict increased. Long held alliances dragged the powerful into positions of defending their friends from attack. In an ever escalating, intrepid game of strategy, the most powerful nations attempted to negotiate between themselves in a last ditch effort to prevent the unleashing of their arsenals of mass destruction.

There were more seismic events that produced even wider devastation, releasing more and more poisonous gas into the atmosphere. It would eventually render the Earth uninhabitable, but for the moment it only exacerbated the catastrophic conditions. Under a truce executed out of mutual interest, the remaining governments on Earth worked deals with the near Earth colonies to accept their refugees.

As more and more people evacuated the Earth, the fragile balance of resources in the colonies was strained as well, resulting directly in the establishment of more distant exploration and research for colonial expansion.

Paul could understand why the book was not popular with the Colonial Authority and had been restricted or even banned. It did not portray mankind in a favorable light. The official view taught in school was human destiny led people to colonize other worlds. It was intended to extend humanity’s wisdom, insight and creativity into the future. Paul already understood as did many others who bore the attributes that humans were certainly not the ever-adapting, ever-evolving, intelligent beings that were destined to rule a remote portion of the Galaxy.

It was very late in the evening by the time that someone came to take him to a shower. Paul had finished reading the book. He had more than enough reading for one day, but the knowledge satisfied him, connecting with pieces of information that he had obtained through other sources. When he returned from his shower and dressed in clean clothing for bed, he stretched out to rest for a while. Because of his overall exhaustion as well as his abject boredom, he fell asleep within moments of his head hitting the pillow.

 

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Luck of An Only Elgon (Well, I Am Part Irish)

Later this week we will be running a special promotion for FRIED WINDOWS for $2.99 in eBook. It is already discount priced on Pandamoon Publishing’s Facebook Store at $9.99 ($3 off). https://www.facebook.com/pandamoonpublishing My publisher and I are doing the promotion on Saturday 3/17/18, St. Patrick’s Day, along with a giveaway for a signed copy. To enter follow me on Twitter @ElgonWilliams or follow me at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001K8TYXU

Why that date? Funny you should ask:

FINAL Final Fried Windows Front Cover Only

 

That happens to be the 6th anniversary of the date I started writing the story. And yes, Fried Windows was the title from that first day. It comes from misreading a headline on a news feed. I read “Fired” and “Fried” (I really should wear my glasses when reading) and immediately wondered how to serve “fried windows”. Why? In a light white sauce, of course.

From the outset, the story was a quirky tale that fit the title well, but I originally envisioned it as a short story only. I posted the first draft on Fanstory, an internet-based writing community, to receive feedback, which was completely positive. Most reviewers wanted to read more about the weird characters.

So, I began writing a series of short stories, 16 of them in all, about the characters. And, except for shared elements, the stories were not linked. Neither did I consider the work a novel in progress, nor envisioned creating a novel.

A year later, I took the original story (about 8,000 words), edited it, sent it to a friend in Ontario for a good second edit. Yes, I know other writers there besides Pandamoon Publishing’s Alisse Lee Goldenberg and An Tran. And then, after receiving the edited copy, I submitted it to a magazine. I expected the mag to buy the story and just knew they were going to be asking for more installments. I was so confident that I was planning where to spend the money.

As I waited for a response from the magazine, I decided to edit the other stories in the collection, just to be ready for the magazine’s inevitable demand. As I did, I noticed some threads of a story arc. But it was only when the magazine rejected my submission that I considered the collection of short stories a viable draft novel.

Naturally, as a writer, I was accustomed to rejection. The response is always the same, revise and resubmit. But in this instance, I just needed some connecting pieces, which I wrote, and created a draft manuscript.

After a few more revisions, I considered self-publishing. I was almost ready to press the submit key with Amazon when I noticed a tweet from Pandamoon about accepting submissions. Since I had a MS ready to go, I submitted it. And the rest you know.

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Colonial Authority: Chapter 30 – Concealment

**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 last time Paul slept for more than an hour or two was a few days ago. He recalled it. He was in the chamber beneath a climate observation station. Had he known then what he knew now, he might still be there, waiting for a better time to execute his ambitious plan of gaining the direct support of his sister.

It was obvious that Jodi betrayed him. He trusted her. Only she knew everything. How could he have been so wrong?

There was no other explanation. The authorities had been waiting for him. All he wanted to do was to reach Cristina and talk to her. He was certain he could recruit her. He’d start by seeking her understanding if not her help. She would support the cause. He was certain of it. Her participation was essential. In retrospect that the first time he met her he knew that, before he knew she was his sister. She exuded the graceful evidence of her greatness for anyone that was experienced in the attributes or cared to see the underlying truth in the world around them.

Paul skulked from shadowy corner to concealed alcove for the entire night, cautiously moving as he progressed through the alleys of the city. Hiding in the nighttime was a relatively easy task requiring only the common sense of staying out of the areas illuminated by streetlights. He felt safe enough at times to even entertain the idea of taking a nap, but he resisted. He was in far too great a danger.

By the approach of the first light of dawn cowered in the back of an alley, trying to hide, looking for a place where he felt safe enough to close his eyes for a little while. He was constantly fighting the urge to sleep. He was exhausted.

Nearly decided he had found a secluded place until there was movement in periphery to his chosen safe haven. He sensed them. In the next moment, they were everywhere, surrounding him. How had he ever allowed himself to get cornered again?

Advancing on his position, one here and one there, hope of escape was impossible. He refused to surrender, though. He would never yield to the authorities. He’d rather die than allow them to pick his brain for whatever information he did not know he had. He had to get behind them. As they drew in, his vulnerability revealed, like a death shroud blanketing him, he felt their smothering proximity, but they did not understand. He could pass through them in less than a thought, parting the veils to emerge where none expected. It was his only real chance. All he had to do was be patient and draw them away. He hoped the trick gave him enough of a head start.

It was time, he decided. There was every indication of potential success. All he had to do was focus and concentrate. Then, suddenly as he transitioned, still huddled down as he was before but now behind a dumpster, he opened his eyes and started to plot his escape even as the others were still closing in on his previous location. He stood up and ran around a corner, slamming face first into a tall man’s chest. Panicked, stepping back, a little addled he rapidly regained his purpose and threw a shoulder into the man, pushing him to one side before the man reached for his collar and grasped it, yanking him back. “We’re on your side, Paul,” he said.

At little dazed, Paul looked up into the man’s smiling face and asked, “Who are you?”

“Tam’s the name.”

“Tam?” Paul inquired.

“Whippoorwill was my Courier,” Tam said as he opened the palm of his hand and revealed a small orb, seeming to have come from thin air. In response Paul did the same. “See, we’re on the same team.”

Paul sought a glimpse of his eyes for their purpose and clarity of the truth, and then offered his hand. “I wish I could say I am glad to see you, but this should not have involved you.”

Tam smiled. “Things happen, especially when you’re betrayed.”

“The others?”

“My team,” he said then made a sound like a bird to recall them. When they were somewhat congregated in the alley around them, Tam introduced them. “As you can see he evaded you. Your attentions were too close and meticulously focused on the immediate moment. It’s easy for someone with Paul’s skills to evade you.”

“I don’t know how,” one of the team leaders responded to Tam.

“Well, I do. As I’ve told you repeatedly, always expect the impossible. If I had not been back here to meet him, you would still be pursuing a phantom.”

“Does all of your team possess the attributes?”

“The vast majority does. Some were pretenders, infiltrators. They were eliminated. Those that remain that do not possess the attributes are sympathetic to our cause.”

“You trust all of them?”

“With my life,” Tam said. “You must do the same.”

“I do not want to know where your operation is based.”

Tam smiled. “That’s good. I wasn’t going to take you there anyway.”

“You’re a man after my own heart,” Paul said.

“I expected you’d understand the precautions.”

“I need to get to Andromeda,” Paul said. “My sister’s there and she is essential to the overall plan.”

“It’s problematic to get you out of this city anytime soon,” Tam explained. “You’re notorious and wanted. The authorities are completely focused on finding you, even going door to door in their searches. They’re risking the complaints for violation of privacy, even those of exempted privilege. The Colonial Authority believes the conspiracy includes some of the wealthy and powerful.”

“I see.”

“You need to lay low and move only when we tell you to move. You must allow your scent fade and your trail to be swept away. That’s the only way we can help you. As for your sister, well maybe you need to wait a little longer for that meeting.”

“It can’t wait. She will return to New Milan and I probably won’t have a chance to see her again until she is on tour next year.”

“On tour?”

“She’s in a rock band.”

“Really, isn’t that an odd profile for one of us?”

“Tam, maybe all along we have been looking too narrowly for others of our kind. The more creative of us have entered into the arts.”

“Obviously, your sister has.”

“Maybe the rest of us, all the ones we’ve sought. There are three in Cristina’s band alone.”

Tam smiled as he considered it. “We are outside of the mainstream. I suppose it is possible.” He turned to his team leaders, “Prepare him. It’s growing far too light. We need to get off the streets.”

Paul stood by patiently as one of the team members blindfolded him. Two other team members grasped his arm and hurried him along. For a brief instant, Paul shared an odd flash of vision that he sensed was from Cristina, as if she was closer than he believed, nearly beside him, but as Tam’s team hurried him along the vision faded.

Twisting and turning in their course they negotiated a maze of streets and alleys. Paul understood the necessity of the circuitous path. Then after twenty minutes or so they deposited him in a room and told him to sit on a chair. Paul complied and in silence he waited for several minutes.

“Stand up,” Tam bade him as he entered the room. Turn around and pick up your chair.

When Paul had done as requested, the hands of two men guided him toward a much smaller room. He could sense from the change in ambiance that it was very close quarters. Then, when he was told to stop he was allowed to remove his blindfold. It was cramped quarters indeed, with an overhead light, a cot with a pillow and a blanket, a small desk with reading lamp and a chair. There was enough room for only him.

Tam stood at the opening, an entrance concealed behind a moving wall. “We will bring meals three times a day,” Tam began detailing the circumstances and instructions. “There’s a restroom through the far end of the wall. It isn’t much but it works. At night you’ll be escorted out and taken to a place where you can shower and change clothes. Otherwise you will remain here. There is an infotab in the desk drawer. It’s also capable of presenting books to be read. There are several books stored on Mods that are contained in a cube. Perhaps you have not read some of them.”

“I’m grateful for your assistance.”

“It’s unfortunate that this is necessary,” Tam said.

“How’d you know where to find me?”

“I’m afraid that must remain my secret for now.”

“What if I need to contact you, or let someone know of an emergency?”

“There will be no contact,” Tam said. “I’ll risk only one person at a time to assist you, someone different each time there is contact. Once this room it sealed you are locked inside. I will tell you only this, the place you’re in isn’t our base, not even close. What we do for you we do at a considerable drain to our resources, but it was requested.”

“Who requested it?”

“Again, that’s not something that I’m allowed to reveal. Once I leave here, I take all the others with me and, no one else is here. The only access is from the outside and only my team and I know how to open the room. By its nature the room cannot be opened from the inside.”

“I could punch through walls.”

“If you can punch through double layers of steel mesh with a solid steel plate between, then have at it.”

Paul nodded, thinking that the precautions were a little extreme, but if the authorities were only just a step behind he had no options. He knew he could sit it out. He also realized there was nowhere else that he knew to go that might not make his situation worse.