**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 reason for the linkage was unclear, but with certainty she could sense it. Cristina wrestled with the concept in her waking mind, hunted with the images lingering from her dreams. Nonsensical visions from the distant past, well before she had been a thought in her mother’s mind and before her mother or grandmother was born. Past voices telling stories of others worlds, of destinies and obligations, strange but compelling, each of them was telling her the same undeniable truth about connections and relationships. Her life had a meaning that transcended the brief spans of an individual’s mortal plight.
In her dream there were beautiful green eyes, just like hers, staring back at her from a mirror. Though the face resembled her, it was exotic in a way hers was not. Observing her transforming into a half human hybrid with features of wolves and cats, this was the bridge and how it formed in her ancestral past.
Upon the brink of a void deep and dark she stood until suddenly, with spiraling light that spread across a spectrum it exploded. So broad the range and vast the scale her mind retreated barely able to conceive of the colors at the fringe of perception. More refined, the twisting, climbing ladder wrapped around with the rungs breaking in the middle, unlocked to allow for other pieces of the light to be included within its framework.
In the background the harmonic beauty of the Sakum’malien language swept past her, capturing her imagination as her voice layered upon it in persisting nuance. With a voracious hunger a solitary alabaster orb floated consuming everything around it until it became all that was left, and its surface changed colors on its whim. Only the black blankness of the void surrounded it, the beginning as well as the culmination of all journeys compressed into the single stone the orb had become.
Unwitting allies, unbounded in time, the Couriers went into the past carrying the alteration as a disease to infect every human. Slow and methodical, the Sakum’malien patience prevailed spreading the necessary pestilence that bore curious hope in its wake as part of the balance. A time would come for the bridge’s arrival. She would communicate the horrible fate of colonists and provide a remedy that would alter the divine countenance of forever.
Finally, she understood a role, appreciating the subtlety of the Sakum’malien revenge. Contained in her personal truth, the threads of continuity extended through and wrapped around the greater context. It was something she possessed, portions of it shared with others, but its heart resided within her and no one else. How could she embody both what was and what would become? Who would understand her if she could not comprehend the new role as the bridge? Alone, providing the remedy, she was held all potential, nullifying the need for the disease as well as the mutation that made her and others like her special. Her vision contained a billion trillion destinies to awaken via a song she could not but sing. She was the heart and soul of the universe, the physical and spiritual linked to the infinite dreams of innocent children and the harmless fantasies of old men and women lamenting the loss of better times.
Cristina stretched as she sat up in the bed. Alix rolled away from her, clutching at a pillow, pulling it toward his chest as a surrogate for his unconscious affections. He settled anew and resumed his sleep with a substitute lover held fast in his arms.
Quietly, she rose, taking pains not to disturb him. Her lover needed rest. He had not slept well on the railcar ride from Star City. Still recovering and adjusting to the time zones, he never did sleep well while traveling. Afterward, he always remained in bed for a day or two. Usually so did she, but this time was different. This time there were guests, not just the other members of the band who crashed on the floor and couch in her apartment.
As she stepped lightly across the threshold, carefully she closed the bedroom door behind her. Taking a few moments to purge her bladder in the bathroom before rejoining Staash at the table. From the living room she could hear the snores of her friends and fellow musicians. It was still dark, before dawn perhaps. Her sense of time was distorted. People were probably never intended to travel faster than they cold walk or ride on the back of a beast of burden. Then again, what might the gods have expected of the most clever of all the apes? Would they have not foreseen the curiosity leading them to explore and colonize other worlds?
It appeared as if the Sakum’mal had not moved since she left him last night. They were up late. The learning process was mentally intense and exhausting, though apparently it had taken less than a half hour. The song containing the warning was composed and well rehearsed. She had only to teach it to her band. With their instruments and vocals sung in harmony they would fill in for the multiple layers voice she physically lacked.
Staash rested in his own way. She did not know how long it would take for him to recover. Since their intimate connection there was deep understanding of his nature. He could go for many days without downtime. So, she figured whenever he finally rested, as he was at the moment, it would be for an extended period.
To her immediate surprise he looked up at her and even acknowledged her through telepathy as was natural for him and his kind. Now, the gift of her telepathy made sense. How could she had been born otherwise than she gifted in the way she was? Responding with a smile she observed his face brighten. He loved her in his way, after his own fashion. It was nothing that could be physically consummated, of course. Last night their minds merged in mutual admiration without reservation or embarrassment. They were lovers of one another’s creativity, sharing a bond well beyond what either of them knew with their separate species. Silently she spoke to him in Sakum’malien, even though her thoughts felt flat and not quite as interesting as it seemed in her imagination.
“You’ve learned my language well,” he projected.
“You’ve been an immeasurable help to me.”
“It’s all purposeful, for us both.”
“And beyond either of us,” she responded. “I am the human half of the bridge you complete you built.”
“I’ve always wanted to know you.” Staash peered into her eyes, meeting her mind halfway. “The uneasiness I felt when I first came here is gone.”
Cristina nodded. As well as he did, she knew what had been done and what was left unfulfilled. After a few moments Staash’s eyes engaged hers and in moments she was off again, on another adventure of mutual discovery, immersed in thoughts she could only have if the Sakum’malien language was her foundation.
The irony of the plague was the cruelest sort of revenge for human stupidity. The first human encounter with alien life ended tragically in the ignorance of not expecting the truth. The violence had not gone unnoticed. All mankind now suffered for the acts of the first few humans who explored Pravda. Now, facing extinction as one possible culmination, a plot was carried out over centuries, but in the balance one bridge could provide an equitable remedy.
The Sakum’malien represented a prevalent form of life in the cosmos. In human ethnocentricity carbon was believed to be the key to life in the universe. Yet it was the exception. One had only to observe humans and the other forms of life that once populated the Earth to understand how frail carbon-based life could be. Sickly and prone to spreading disease humans were easy prey for the Sakum’malien to attack, enlisting the help of humanoids to deliver their revenge. They could afford to be patient in meting out their vengeance over centuries. Merely seeking the unbounded to fold time and deliver their curse upon all of mankind, an insidious genetic plague was visited upon the unsuspecting and spread through the act of procreation.
Staash interrupted her thoughts. He spoke, not through his mind but with his raspy voice. “I’m thirsty.”
Cristina took the empty pitcher from the table and his glass and took them into the kitchen. From the freezer she scooped ice into the pitcher then poured water into it from the faucet. After a few moments she returned to the dinette table and delivered to Staash the pitcher and a fresh glass both filled with cold water.
He consumed the contents of the glass almost immediately and then meeting her eyes he projected happiness as he poured another glass and consumed it as well.
“You can drink water anytime you know. There’s a faucet in the kitchen, same as the place we were before,” she said.
Staash nodded. “I have been content to sit here close to the source in case of an emergency that has not yet come.”
Cristina sat back, staring at him. “You speak fluently.”
“As do you and now in my language as well. It happens with enough practical experience, I suppose. Also the manner of our merging helped. You learned Sakum’malien, I learned English, Italian, Spanish, German and French.”
Cristina smiled. “My languages.”
“They are similar despite their differences,” he said.
Staash stood up from the table and focused on her eyes but only for a moment. He focused on the world viewer screen where Alix and Pete had engaged in a battle royale sort of marathon well into the previous night.
Activated with a thought, the main screen illuminated full on, Staash pointed his hand and the device scrolled through the channels to an unassigned frequency that appeared as random black and while pixels representing the static. Yet, he allowed it to linger. As she stared at the graphical display of white noise, it suddenly appeared, in full focus with sharp clarity and well-defined resolution. She understood it and even wondered why it had never occurred to her before. Everything being part of the same Continuum, it seemed simple. Then as her mind reached to possess it, the image returned to the random pattern of noise.
“Yes,” Staash said as he switched the display off. “Now you understand how everything is connected through the electromagnetic spectrum.”
“The reason has a source we must remove,” she protested.
“Your role is not incongruous with your original plan. You always knew what to do not how to do it.”
“How can it be?”
“You warn the colonies of Sakum’malien about the airlocks.”
“They were ours not yours.”
“It is a mystery, but should it matter?”
“I suppose they needed the airlock to seal in air we could breathe without respirators or filters as we explored the caverns.”
“How do we fix it?” Staash asked.
“I’m not sure it can be.”
“There must be a way. The plaque is removed never to be visited upon humans, if we solve the riddle.”
“The couriers will never be dispatched into the past to deliver the disease…” Then she sober realization came as she posed the one question he had avoided asking. “What about the attributes?”
Staash sighed but his lack of response answered in silence. Despite her attempts to probe he guarded his thoughts. When he finally spoke his tone as conciliatory. His mood was philosophical. “The world will change regardless of what you or anyone else does.”
“Will I be here after? It’s not irrational trepidation. It’s instinctual. I want to survive.”
“Then you’ll find the means to survive,” Staash said. “The attributes exist within all humans. They have been there since the beginning. My kind enhanced the inherent abilities in a few. Over many generations the gifts became distinct for not one or two of a thousand but millions. Then, enough apparent randomness brought attributes together.”
“In the Twenty-Four.” Cristina stood beside the Sakum’mal, her arm wrapped around his waist. “Come with me.” They walked toward the balcony. “Maybe you can explain something.”
There they paused to stare out through the sliding door of her balcony. Beyond the dome the skies in the east were bright with dawn. Behind her apartment building was a grassy courtyard. In the midst there was a circular bench set around a large table. There were two girls and two boys sitting, coloring-in line-drawn picture with markers. One looked up at the sunrise, the others averted their overly sensitive eyes. Cristina wore a smile in empathy with what she could sense from the girl.
“She’s like me,” Cristina pointed. “I noticed her before we went on tour, and again afterwards. She’s the age I was when I began to feel self-conscious about my differences.”
“You see but you miss the point of your visions. Who are her playmates?”
“I don’t understand.”
“They are the same age, exactly.”
“Why would your physical nature be as it is?” Staash asked.
“It never occurred to me.”
Then he pointed to a balcony in the building across the way, one that was an exact mirror image of Cristina’s apartment building and where they stood. “The mother of four.”
“She has the attributes.”
“It is intended that those like you replace humans and repopulate the world rapidly.”
Cristina looked into his eyes. “Four offspring? The next generation will be called The Ninety-Six.” Cristina smiled.
Staash reached out patting her stomach. “Already it begins.”
She leaned against him for support, not questioning how he knew what she had not dared to admit to herself. “I felt the possibility, of course.”
“Alix should know.”
“The little girl sings.”
“She’s a lot like me.”
“In case I fail?”
“You won’t.” Staash turned away from the door and Cristina followed. She drew a deep breath. Almost overwhelming pressure upon her, why was it that she had to be the bridge? Why was it that only she was the bridge for this generation. Was her set of gifts that rare?
The very means by which the Sakum’malien revenge was meted out would not only ended many innocent lives, but also it produced the very attributes that made her different enough to give mankind its only hope. To remove the curse would end the need for her and those like her to ever be. Her mother might never be born, nor the little girl and her siblings in the courtyard. There would be no plague sent back in the past to infect all of mankind.
“I have not previously felt this mood in you,” Staash said. “It’s melancholy and not at all becoming. You’re too beautiful inside and out to have such dread darkness in your thoughts.”
“It’s how I feel. I’ve written a song that contains a message to communicate danger to your kind. Saving you will kill me. Ultimately I bring an end the world I know to become part of the random noise you showed me on the world viewer screen.”
“Within the noise there was a hidden pattern you saw. That is the hope.”
“Where I’ll be, there’s nowhere to hide.”
Staash’s face turned dark as he fully grasped her unique dilemma. “Instantaneous transformation, somewhere else in the cosmos we will be. Only the path we’re on ends.”
Having awakened, Alix visited the bathroom, then arrived at the table ready to boast of his eventual victory in last night’s marathon video game match with Pete. But instead he fought back tears of sympathy for having overheard enough of the conversation. What a burden Cristina bore.
He did not know how they could continue pursuing the course they had begun. In a way it seemed to have come from an accident, except there can be no accidents. Everything led to the present moment. It would not matter to any of them what could have been. Once the choice was made, everything else would adjust to accommodate change – even if it meant that in convergence some lives became oblivion.
He wanted to hold her except he felt the separation was necessary. If he embraced her at that moment he would never let her go. He needed for her to always be with him but, antithetical to his purpose, her life was to change the rules. It could be as he desired most to hold her close to him. If he refused to assist her in this oddly noble sort of suicide, would it matter to anyone else but him?
Alix tried hard to appear happy, as if he had not been eavesdropping and did not know what troubled the love of his life. But as he approached her he could not contain his emotions or the sadness of realization. She bore his offspring. How could any choice be worse than what she already faced? He diverted toward the kitchen and turned on the faucet and cupped his hand to splash cold water onto his face in an effort to conceal the trails of his tears.
She turned toward him. Her eyes met his. There could be no secrets, not between them. “What am I going to do?” she asked him.
“You’re going to do the right thing because you don’t have it in you to do otherwise,” Alix said.
“What if we cease to be?”
Alix shrugged. “I prefer to the believe somewhere we will still be together.”
“So we go on with our plans.”
“We have no other choice. We have to take Staash back home before he drinks up all the water in the world.” He looked up at the Sakum’malien who was glowing in apparent appreciation of the humor intended in the remark.
“We have a song to learn and rehearse. We need to record it. It’s our legacy.”
“We come back and finish recording the new album and begin a world tour.”
“Of course, we do. Those are our plans. We have to have plans, right?”
“What if this world does not exist, Alix? What if humans never colonized Pravda? What if we’re never born? Once we have changed the past, it can’t possibly be as it is now. Everything will be different.”
“One thing at a time. We do what’s right. Okay? Everything takes care of itself as long as we do what we know in our hearts is the right thing. Anyway, why wouldn’t it be like it is now except the Sakum’malien will be around, maybe not living in complete harmony with us but drinking their share of the water, for sure.”
“There are oceans for us to consume,” Staash suggested.
“See, a little salty for my taste, but there’s plenty for all.”
“I’ll never be born.”
“Someone like you will, though. The world I’m in must have a Cristina, okay?” he kissed her forehead. “It wouldn’t work otherwise.”
She forced a smile.
“Our world’s necessary so that the past can be changed. Have you considered that? We can come back to it and everything will be here but adjusted for the changes. That’s probably how it works.”
“I’m new to all this too, hon.”
Staash was quiet as he contemplated the possibilities and even tried to understand paradoxes even though the concepts were a strain for him to consider in his language. The words did not natively exist so he had to use the English that he acquired to conceptualize what Alix and Cristina were discussing. There were thoughts that he could render only in his language, simple mathematical proofs that exposed the absurdity of what was perplexing Cristina and needlessly troubling her. Finally he found the will to express his conclusion. “There are no paradoxes.”
“What?” Alix challenged.
“Nature is balanced to zero-sum. Everything adjusts. To live is to always live. All life shares continuity in natural harmony.”
“How’s that possible?” Cristina asked. “Without the reason for the altered gene–”
“Your concerns are for the vessel that contains your spirit. Your body is a shell that changes but your spirit is the same.” He laid his heavy, rough-textured hand on her shoulder. “You think this is you, but ‘I’ is now. It is less real than the image you saw in the noise on the world viewer screen.”
Cristina looked at Alix, seeking confirmation but all she received as a shrug.
“Your brother believes he can bring a Sakum’mal back to life. He might reanimate the body but once the essence has departed, it does not come back. Why would it want to? For the body death is the absence of desire to live. That is derived from the spirit,” he explained. “The missing part is what the container needs to transcend being an inanimate amalgam of chemicals to become self-sustaining life.”
“But if all the surrounding conditions change.”
“Why would that concern you as long as you’re alive?”
“I want to have choice.”
“To be alive is to have choices,” Staash said.
“What if Alix and I are not together?”
“How could you not be together?”
“But the attributes–”
“Affect the body and how it can respond for the spirit inside. They do not define you. They shape the container that accesses the energy around you.”
Cristina stared at the alien. Alix wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “So, we will not cease to exist. See, the problem is solved.”
“What if we come back and we’re not together?”
“A better question to ask is what if you and I did not waste ten years pretending to be just friends?” Alix asked her.
“The world is what you perceive,” Staash said. “One change everything adjusts.
“The process begins tomorrow,” Alix said.
“In the studio,” Cristina confirmed with a nod. “We record the message, our truth.”
Staash’s face glowed ever so slightly as he considered the change of Cristina’s mood and appraised the resolve he found.
She did not fully believe that she had nothing to fear, but she didn’t need to. She turned and to kiss Alix before they parted, Alix returning to the bedroom to get dressed while Cristina headed toward the bathroom to enjoy a shower. In the interim, Staash consumed the remainder of the pitcher of water, dutifully pouring it out one glassful at a time and then he reverted to a restful state of near meditative bliss.
Pete, Tim and Keith woke about the same time. They raided the fridge finding something to eat, consumed it and rinsed off the dishes before announcing they were leaving. “We’ll meet at the studio,” Cristina promised.”
“In a couple of hours,” Alix added.
When Cristina emerged from the shower she wrapped a towel around her, and another around her hair. She engaged Alix as he was lying on the bed reading. “It’ll feel odd being back in the studio,” she said aloud.
“After all we have been through lately, it should feel like a vacation,” Alix said without looking up. “I’m looking forward to making music again.”
“I just wish that was all we had ahead of us.”
“I hear you, hon,” Alix said, finally looking away from the text.
“What is it you are reading?”
“Pete told me I’d enjoy it. It’s funny at times but, maybe I need to be in a different frame of mind.”
“I understand that.”
“It will be fine. I promise. I’ll be there. We will do it together. We’ll make it happen the way it needs to be.”
“I wish I had your confidence.”
“Staash will be there, too.”
“And once we get back there, we have just five days to spread the word,” she said.
“We go back to a point immediately after we left. I worked out some of that on the computer yesterday before Pete came.”
“My concern is how we get to every one of their colonies in only five days.”
“I suppose we could go back earlier,” he said.
“We have to deliver Staash to where he belongs. If we go back earlier there will be two of him.”
Alix smiled. “Yeah, one of him is quite sufficient, I think.”
“I’m glad you think this is funny,” Cristina said.
“I guess I was trying to lighten the mood. I used to be good at making you laugh.”
“I’m sorry I’m not in the mood,” she turned away from him, continuing to dress.
“This really has you on edge,” Alix said as he got up from the bed and came up from behind her and began to gently massage her shoulders and neck.
“That feels good.”
“You just need to relax. It’s going to be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“It will be fine because it has to be.” Alix kissed her on the nape of her neck. “I love you,” he whispered as he came up to her ear lobe, kissing a special place just under it. She turned around and into his open arms that he immediately closed tightly around her, holding onto her to share a kiss that lingered for several moments before breathlessly she pulled away and out of his grasp.
“I have been the focal point for so long that maybe I should be used to this,” Cristina said.
“You’re the star,” Alix said.
“The reluctant one,” she said with a forced smile.
“I’ll be with you, right behind you like always.”
“I know,” she said. “Sometimes I think I was able to perform all those concerts because you and the other guys were there with me. It was never only me performing. That was always the difference. I know there would be someone to catch me if I fall.”
“I’ll always catch you.” Alix promised.
“For whatever reason there are parts of this only I can do. But I also need you to deliver Staash and me to the time and place where we will begin delivering the message. I have no idea how we’re ever going to pull this off.”
“We have accomplished some pretty amazing things already,” Alix said. “It has always been because of your inspiration.”
“Add this our growing collection, then. Hopefully we’ll remember it.”