Intercept Course

From Chapter One

OldEarth ARAM Encounter

Mud seeped between Aram’s toes. He shivered despite the sweat trickling down his spine. A shower of drops splattered across his face as he beat back the forest’s dangling vines and springy saplings. Exhaustion sapped his last bits of energy. With the back of his mud-smeared hand, he wiped his face.

Visions of a warm fire and venison haunches sizzling on spits caused his heart to momentarily fail. His weary limbs demanded rest, but he only shook his head. Not yet—but soon.

His people staggered in stupefaction. Their flight seemed never ending, their search futile. Danger lurked in every dark motion of the forest.

As his muscular body plodded through the root-gnarled muck of the late rainy season, a new light grew in his mind. He could still see the tawny-colored fur and glittering eyes of the beast as it snatched its first struggling, screaming victim. When he had heard the throaty growls and the moon’s glow had cast uneven shadows on the beast, he had frozen with horror in the face of the cat’s great size.

It had struck in twilight when light danced with utter blackness. His wife, Namah, hunch-backed and morose, had been directing the meal preparations. Her orders rang out shrill and abundant—as usual. The other women had obeyed with their typical, sullen compliance.

He had glanced at Namah as the mighty feline landed on its victim, and though her wide-eyed terror had matched his, she had thrown a rock at the retreating creature. Despite her crooked spine, she showed a strength of mind—not unlike that of the cat.

Even when he had thrown his spear and others joined in action with cries of fear and anguish, he knew it was too late. The night was too dark and the cat too mammoth to hunt in the gloomy forest.

Aram had known the youth well and agony had gripped his heart, but his mind would not respond to his grief—only to fear. If he gave his clan time to rest, their anguish might turn to madness. If he kept moving, they might outrun both beast and terror.

But they were past exhaustion now. The lands of their forefathers lay far behind them. They had entered lands unknown to his memory. They had always gained life from familiar trees, made suitable shelters, and found peace beneath their branches. The ancient woods gnarled together in a forest of immeasurable depth. But their frantic travels had led them into a foreign land.

~~~

—Ingoti are large beings originating from the planet Ingilium and range from six to seven feet tall. They are heavy due to their extensive weight and girth but are very fast and extremely powerful. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms.

—On Board an Ingoti Trading Vessel

Zuri, an Ingoti trader renowned for his clever deals, braced for impact, but there was little he could do to protect his co-pilot. Gem crouched, covering his head with his arms and hoped that the restraints would hold. The small trading vessel carved a deep furrow into the lush dirt and plowed into an Earthen hillside.

Blinking awake, Zuri considered his biomechanical techno-armor, and seeing it intact, he sighed in relief. Hobbling to the main console, he reviewed the status of the ship. Various systems blinked offline status, but life support held firm. Glancing back at the cargo hold, he ticked off the needed parts in his mind and stepped forward.

Gem lay sprawled across the floor, unconscious.

Crouching by his side, Zuri made a quick diagnostic review of Gem’s bio-suit and life signs. With a chuckle, he lightly slapped Gem’s ruddy cheek. “Get up, lazy fool. We’re already behind schedule, and Cresta’s are not known for their patience.”

Rising on his elbow with a groan, Gem shook his head like a confused Ingoti bullock. “I thought I was done for. What happened?”

Zuri stood and rubbed his back. “That replacement Orbital Maintenance you bought blew and sent us spiraling right into the atmosphere. Should’ve guessed. It was too cheap to be an honest deal.”

“Blast! I’ll pay them back for this; don’t worry.” Gem rose and started toward the console. “How long before we’re ready to set off again?”

His gaze rising to the ceiling, Zuri crossed his arms. “It’ll only take a few hours with both of us working on it. But, I’ve heard about this planet—how about we take a little tour?”

Gem scowled. “I’ve heard about humans, too. Primitive and—”

“I didn’t say anything about humans. By the Divide, if I wanted to go to the zoo, I’d visit the one on Helm.” He stroked his chin. “No, how about scouting around a little? There might be resources we could use. The Ingilum would pay dearly….”

A crooked smile crawled across Gem’s face.

~~~

While struggling through dense woodland, Gem wiped his sweaty brow. “How does anyone survive here? It’s not fit for habitation!”

Zuri shrugged. “Not where I would have chosen to land—”

A low growl stopped them both in their tracks.

Slowly, they turned. Zuri raised his Dustbuster and aimed as a tawny, four-legged beast drew near.

Gem swallowed. “That thing’s enormous!” Turning at the sound of human voices. He grinned. “Ah, it’s tracking them.” He pointed to a clearing where a large group of humans had settled down for rest.

Crouching low, Zuri peered between the branches until he could see the throng.

Men, women, and children crowded around a central figure, a tall muscled man with long, black hair.

Peering back at Gem, Zuri shook his head. “They’re practically naked—without any techno-armor at all. Amazing they’ve survived! They must be brighter than they look.” After stepping back, he sent low-power beam searing through the foliage near the huge, stalking cat, frightening the beast into the thick woods.

Gem scowled. “What’d you do that for? Let the whole planet know we’re here, why don’t you.”

Zuri pointed the Dustbuster at Gem. “Is there anything left of you—on the inside—I mean? We were once naked and helpless too. If the Cresta’s hadn’t taught us—”

“They used us in their studies. They weren’t being generous.”

“But we learned from them! That’s what counts.”

Gem stared at the Dustbuster in Zuri’s hand. “So, what’s your point?”

Shoving the weapon into his armor holster, Zuri shrugged. “I’m just giving them a chance to live and learn.” He stalked back toward the ship. “It’s time we left. I’ve got enough data to make up for the time we’ve lost.” He grinned as he swiped a branch out of his way. “The Cresta can pay us for both the cargo and the information.”

Gem marched behind. “And the Ingilum Supreme Command? What’ll they say?”

Zuri turned and, clasping Gem’s shoulder, he lifted his eyes to the sky. “Contrary to my expectations, I foresee a day when humans and their primitive world will be quite useful. We’re on an intercept course. In any case—information always pays.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

A Beggar’s Choice

Chelsea faced the little hellions on the garage roof; her arms perched akimbo on her hips. “You get down here right this minute, or I’ll call your mama and daddy, and we’ll just see what they have to say about all your goings on!”

David and Susie grinned and climbed higher on the steep roof.

With a long shuddering sigh, Chelsea decided that there wasn’t enough money in the Fredrick’s bank account to pay her to babysit these twin wretches. Dusting her hands clean of the matter, she marched inside and picked up her plastic, pink purse—the one her daddy had given her before he left for his overseas assignment. The one he’d never returned from. She sighed again and perched on the couch waiting for the Fredrick’s return.

~~~

Ten years later, Chelsea landed a job at Mid-State University Library. She wasn’t a full-fledged librarian, but that hardly mattered since she spent most of her days sorting and cataloging files on the computer. She had her own cubicle—that was something. Since her scraggly brown hair always wafted over one eye, she habitually tilted her head as she worked. The crick in her neck had ceased to annoy her.

A tall, slender man in his early fifties leaned over the cubicle. “Hey, kiddo, I noticed that the coffee pot’s empty.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the lounge.

Blinking away a grimace, Chelsea nodded and scurried to the coffeemaker tucked into a gray corner. When the filter split and the wet grounds cascaded across the counter and onto the floor, she merely closed her eyes for a brief second and counted to three. Kneeling on the tiled floor, she started the laborious process of compiling the icky mess into a neat circle.

An elongated shadow slanted over the black spray.

Chelsea peered up, her hair falling like a theater curtain to one side.

A plump, young woman grinned and waved a handful of paper towels. “Personally, I think the company that makes these thin filters should be sued—and then drawn and quartered.” With lightning speed, she swiped up the mess, tossed the remains into the waste bin, and clapped her hands clean.

Chelsea stood and faced the energetic, little wonder-woman. She almost put out her hand, but as black grounds still stuck to her palms, she merely clasped them together and attempted a brave smile. “Thanks. Do you—?”

“My name’s Sue—just part-time—work-study to help pay the atrocious tuition—you know.”

“Ah.” Yes, Chelsea knew. Her student loans sucked any hint of joy out of her financial life since graduation. She unleashed a grimace. “I’ll take my debts to the grave.”

“Ha!” The young woman apparently enjoyed shared desperation. She stuck out her hand, unconcerned about coffee grounds or germs exchanging pleasantries. “Nice to meet you—?”

“Chelsea.” She slipped a new filter into place and poured a small mountain of grounds into the appropriate basket.

“Ooh, nice. I knew a Chelsea once.”

A shadow glided passed the doorway.

Sue’s eyes rolled. “The old geezer, he’s a fright, isn’t he? Told me to hurry you up. No mercy—”

As the coffee began to percolate, Chelsea shrugged. “Mr. Howe says I make coffee better than he does.”

“Oh, brother!” Suddenly, Sue’s eyes widened. “Hey, I think I might know you. Did you ever babysit an unruly set of twins—for the Frederick family?”

Chelsea’s throat constricted. She swallowed convulsively.

Pouncing, Sue reached over and gripped Chelsea’s arm in a vice grip. “Oh-my-gosh! This is amazing. I’ve always wanted to meet you again—”

A pronounced throat clearing turned the two women like marionettes.

“Ahem.” Mr. Howe stood in the doorway and tapped his watch, his eyebrows raised, lips pursed tight.

Chelsea started forward but Sue’s grip tightened. “After work, okay?”

At closing time, Chelsea slid into a worn brown jacket, shoved her purse strap over her shoulder, stacked files under her arm, and slipped along the bookcases until she was near the front door. She made a quick dash and—froze.

“Hi! I’ve been waiting for you.” Sue’s brows puckered. “What? You take work home?”

With a grunt, Chelsea bundled herself through the door into the blustery night.

Keeping a determined pace, Sue marched along at her side. “You know, I never forgot what you did. It meant a lot to me.”

Hunching her shoulders, Chelsea ducked her head against the chilly wind and the first splattering raindrops. “I quit.”

“Huh?”

Chelsea stopped on the corner and looked both ways, though the street was deserted. “I quit babysitting. I can’t see—”

“But it was the way you quit!” Sue gripped Chelsea’s arm again. “Look, there’s the Corner Café. Let’s stop. I’ll buy.”

Smothering a groan, Chelsea let herself be dragged across the street into the tiny shop. They slipped into the first booth and wiped the wet from their clothes.

A tiny man wearing a bright smile slipped over. “What can I getcha’?”

“Two hot cocoas with plenty of marshmallows and the biggest cinnamon buns you got.” Sue grinned as she leaned back into the puffy red booth.

Chelsea’s mouth tightened into a firm line.

“So, you want to hear my story?”

Chelsea shook her head and laced her fingers together like a doctor about to give bad news. “Look. I think we’ve got some kind of memory discrepancy here. According to my data banks, I only babysat for you and your brother a couple of times and then I quit. No pleasant memories. No story.”

Like a released catapult, Sue flung her body forward, her hands slapping the table. “That’s why I gotta tell you what happened. I figured you never knew.”

Chelsea pulled her stack of files closer and played with the corner edge. “Okay. I’m listening.”

“The day you quit changed my life. You told mom that babysitting us wasn’t worth all the gold in Fort Knox. I had to look that reference up later. But at the time, I just figured we’d riled you pretty good, which was always our intention.”

The host returned and gracefully slid two hot mugs of steaming cocoa in front of the women. Mountains of marshmallows did indeed bob up and down on a foamy chocolate sea. The cinnamon buns looked like they could float a couple of aircraft carriers.

Chelsea’s eye rounded. “Good glory.”

After taking a deep sip and licking her lips, Sue nudged the bun plate across the table. “Business first. Anyway, I’d never seen my mom turn that shade of red before.”

“I remember. She called me a beggar.”

“Yes! But you remember what you said back?”

Chelsea shoved her cocoa aside.

Sue leaned forward, her long, blond hair splaying across the table. “You said, maybe beggars don’t have pleasant choices, but they still have choices.”

Leaning back and letting her eyes roam over the mottled ceiling, Chelsea exhaled. “So?”

Sue’s eyes brimmed with tears. “So—a few years later, my brother got killed drinking and driving. My parents blamed each other—and they split. I thought my life was over. But your voice came back to me, like some kind of movie voice-over, and I could hear you saying—even beggars have choices.”

Reaching out, Sue beckoned for Chelsea’s hand. “Some people said that David’s death was just an accident. But it wasn’t. He made a choice. And so did my parents. But after a while, I realized I had choices too. Even though I felt like a beggar with a ruined family, I could still decide how to live my life.”

Chelsea shoved her files aside and took Sue’s hands in her own.

~~~

The sky had cleared by the time Chelsea arrived at work early the next morning. In one hand, she held a Corner Café mug of steaming coffee, and with a light tap, she dropped her files on Mr. Howe’s desk. In a moment, she settled down to work, humming to herself.

Mr. Howe’s shadow fell over her. He shook an empty coffee pot in the air.

Brushing her hair from her face, Chelsea glanced from the pot to Mr. Howe’s face.

“Hey, kiddo. I think you forgot something.”

With a winning smile spreading from ear-to-ear, Chelsea lifted her mug of hot coffee in salute. “Not this time. My memory’s working just fine.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Now—I See

Planet Earth

A longhaired, square-shouldered man with a thin scar under his eye, wearing a short leather tunic and fibrous sandals, paced toward a rough cave entrance at the top of a steep rise. Gripping a carved walking stick in his hand, he pounded it against the rocky ground with each step.

A barefoot, slender woman with a pile of black hair coiled atop her head, wearing a thick, woolen tunic traipsed along behind. Tripping on a sharp stone, she yelped and reached out.

The man spun about and grabbed her hand. “Itali!” With a snort of caution, he nodded to her feet. “Careful. It gets rougher.”

Itali cupped his hand in hers and let him pull her closer, directing her to a smoother path. “Etum?”

Pulling her along the rise, he studied their path. “What?”

“Am I the first?”

Halting in mid-stride, Etum stopped and turned. Caressing her soft cheek, he grinned. “No one but you.”

Smiling from ear-to-ear, Itali dropped his hand and raced up the last steps to the cave entrance. With a rosy blush, she charged in.

A dark shadow falling across his face, Etum trotted after her and entered the cave.

The darkness beat the light of day to the edge of the cave entrance. A musty smell and a pile of leaves alerted Itali to the cold fireplace. Squatting, she stacked dry leaves with a practiced hand and laid twigs with strategic skill.

Etum knelt to her right and worked the flint, raising sparks, which soon kindled an infant fire. As the flames grew stronger, he trotted deeper into the cave and bundled broken branches into his arms. Laying three pieces in tripod fashion over the fire, he sniffed in satisfaction.

Itali caught his gaze and grinned in daring merriment. “Now?”

With a nod, he stood and clasped her hand. They turned and stepped to the right, facing a smooth wall. The flickering firelight illuminated a painting depicting a man with a spear before a large, horned animal. Itali gasped, sending a grin bounding across Etum’s features. Etum clasped his hands behind his back, his chest thrust forward and his chin rose. “You like it?”

In rapture, Itali clutched his arm and squeezed. “It’s beautiful. The best yet.”

Holding her close, Etum pointed to the place directly behind the painted man. “I’ll add you in if you’d like.”

Tilting her head, she scowled. “But how will anyone know it is you—or me?”

“I’ll tell them.”

“But when you’re not here. In the time to come?”

Etum considered the painting through brooding eyes.

Lifting a soft finger, Itali traced the scar on his face. Suddenly, she spun around, grabbed a stick from the fire, and knocked the flame dead, leaving only a sharp, smoldering tip. She handed it to him.

Etum frowned. “With this?”

“Draw—so all will know the master’s sign.” She pointed to a blank space near the man.

Leaning in concentration, Etum pressed the blackened stick against the cave wall, drew a face and seared it with a double wedge on the left side.

Itali took the stick and gestured to her hair. “When you draw me, add this, so all will know it is me.” She turned the stick so the wedge formed a peak at the top.

As the fire grew, so the gleam in Etum’s eyes brightened. “Now—I see.”

~~~

Planet Lux

Teal, a Luxonian light being in the form of a tall, angular, middle-aged man with thinning blond hair strode through his bedroom doorway and laughed at his wife. “You’re in bed already?” Plunking down on the edge of a curved couch, he clasped his hands together and sighed.

Violet, shimmering in her Luxonian light form as a lavender Bhuaci beauty with striking almond-shaped eyes beckoned with one finger. “You look terrible. Why didn’t you come home earlier? You know how exhausted you get with them.”

With a shrug, Teal shook his head. “I couldn’t leave. You’ll never believe what my artistic couple has discovered.”

Smoothing back the silky sheets, Violet rose and prowled to Teal’s side. Sliding herself under his arm, she snuggled in close. “You’re right; I’ll never guess. So tell me.”

Teal leaned back, pulling her tight against his chest. “Writing. They caught onto the idea. A signature today—tomorrow—who knows?” He ran his fingers through her sumptuous hair, smoothing it under his chin. “You smell delicious.”

Violet arched one raven eyebrow and tapped a scar along his chin. “Well, at least you’ve healed up. Those blasted barbarian—”

Kissing her palm, Teal chuckled. “It was an accident. They meant no harm. I approached too quickly and scared them.” Lying back again, his gaze rose toward the round ceiling window studded with brilliant stars and the glow of three moons. He sucked in a deep, cleansing breath. “They have remarkable qualities. No telling what they’ll learn—in a few thousand years.” His gaze met Violet’s. “I’m recommending to the Supreme Council that we continue our observations. I believe that this species has great potential; someday they may even be in a position to help us.”

Violet lowered herself onto Teal, purring as she slid snugly into place. “That’s why I love you so much. You always see the best in others—even humans.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Winter Irony

Barren branches against a pregnant sky,

Rustling leaves only sigh.

 

Soft flakes fall upon a hard ground,

In multitudes—without a sound.

 

Frozen blanket of icy snow,

Warm the burrows of those below.

 

Chilled bones hinder the will,

Yet glories roam the landscape still.

 

Ponder beauty from above,

As echoes mirror ancient love.

 

Unwelcoming winter may be,

Bringing joy, our eyes to see.

 

Ironic season of buried dreams,

Awakens our souls to hope unseen.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00