Nova stood in her bedroom before a full-length mirror dressed only in leggings and a short slip and stared at her perfect body. Unlike her Bhuaci mother, she didn’t have the power to shapeshift. But she had been born with the preferred elfin face and figure of most Bhuaci girls.  

She glanced aside at her round, white bed piled with Ingoti armor. Her father, Zuri, had renounced most of the technological advancements his race had adopted. But that would hardly stop her.

She tried on the chest guard first. Lightweight, it didn’t hinder her movements, though it added bulk to her lithe figure. She smiled. Black was definitely her color. She slipped the armbands up over her elbows, first the right and then the left. Snug, but with the thick red bands, they definitely added a touch of class to her cuteness. She hated cuteness.

Next, she tugged on the boots. Heavier than her normal slippers, they forced her to plan her steps more carefully. With the added height and bulk, she nearly appeared intimidating.

A tap on the door knocked the smile off her face.

Mom or dad? Probably mom.

She sighed. There was no way she could take it all off in time.

And why should I?

“Open!” She placed her hands on her hips and faced her future.

In the open doorway, Kelesta stared at her daughter, her eyes rounded with horror. “What are you doing?”

Nova groaned. Her mom wasn’t stupid, but she could sure ask the dumbest questions. “I’m discovering my heritage.”

Like a sleepwalker, Kelesta glided into the room, her hands lifted. “Your father renounced the technology that invaded his body.”

Swinging her arms high, Nova exulted in testing her limits. “I haven’t attached anything. Yet. It’s just armor after all. Though I wouldn’t mind a few synaptic connections. That way I’d have at least a few advantages.”

Kelesta caressed Nova’s face, her eyes grieving. “Haven’t we always taken good care of you? There’s no need for Ingoti protection.”

Nova pulled away and stomped to the door. “I’m not like you, Mother. I can’t shapeshift whenever I feel like it, turning into a clawed beast or hiding in a hole.”

Kelesta stood in the middle of the room, her gaze falling to the floor. “You have no idea. Really. How unprotected we are.”

As if she smelled an intoxicating scent, Nova turned on the threshold and faced her mother. “How do you mean?”

“You’re so young. I wanted to wait to tell you…but…” Her gaze rolled over the mechanical hardware attached to her daughter. She stepped forward and held out her hand. “Let’s take a walk. By the oceanside, I can face old memories.

~~~

Still wearing her body armor, though without the boots Nova paced over the white sand keeping step with her mother.

The green-orange sun crested the waves, sending a sparkling glow over the water. Seabirds sailed overhead, calling to each other.

Her armbands pinched, but she ignored that. She’d get a helmet next. One that came with implants so she could have direct access. Her heart pounded with the thought—There’s no stopping me. She stepped into the water and splashed the waves with her feet.

Kelesta sighed and faced the ocean as foaming crests ran over her toes and receded again. “Everything has a price. The Bhuaci learned this truth eons ago. No one knows exactly how we became shape-shifters, but everyone realizes that our abilities came at a cost.”

Perplexed, Nova wrinkled her nose. Something tickled her feet. She looked down at a school of fish darting about. Funny. They aren’t scared of me.

Kelesta’s voice took on a schooled tone, controlled and disciplined. “In the beginning, we were aimless, mere beasts, not unlike these fish. We lived as flightless birds for a long time and then, through some kind of gift or curse, we learned to use our wings. And not just our wings but our whole bodies in relationship to our minds. We discovered the connection between physical matter and thought. All too soon, we learned to manipulate our bodies’ matter and imitate any shape we wanted.”

Annoyed, Nova splashed her mother. “I know all this. But why you think it could ever be a curse is beyond me. If I could alter my shape, I’d become a bird right now and fly into the sky. Or become one of these fish and swim deep into the ocean.” She jumped up and down, splashing everything within reach.

Allowing the drops to fall where they may, Kelesta peered up. “You’d fly into the sky and then what? You’d still be yourself. Your mood and attitude, your hurt and hate, would follow you just as much as your friendships and love.”

With a snort, Nova rushed deeper into the water, running against the oncoming waves. “I could protect myself from every danger, enjoy every sensation, experience life from a thousand perspectives.” She dove into the murky green depths ignoring her mother’s call.

“Nova, no!”

Swimming against the current, Nova stared at the swirling bubbles and dancing seaweed. A huge blue-green fish with gold sparkles running down its back caught her eye. Thrilled, she paddled with her arms and legs to give chase.

The fish darted down, deeper into the gloom.

Nova knew that she must stay close to the surface and that her armor weighed her down, but desire flushed all reason aside. I’ve got time. Besides, mom’s still close. She arched her shoulders and dove deeper.

Suddenly, the flashy fish turned and peered at her through glowing eyes. It grew larger until it was twice her size. Opening its mouth, rows of razor-sharp teeth snapped the water.

Panic clutched Nova. She raised herself vertically and tried to paddle upward, but tiny darting fish nipped at her feet and legs. Pain shot through her as terror took over. “Noooo!” Using every bit of her strength, she shot upward.

When her head broke the surface, she looked around. “Mom?”

No one. She was alone.

Wet and disheveled, Nova stumbled across the shore toward her home in the woods. Once in her room, she peeled off her wet armor and soaked underclothes. She wrapped herself in a warm robe and climbed into bed. Tossing and turning through the night, she brooded over her mother’s betrayal.

~~~

Three days later, Nova sat beside the window in the kitchen decorated with herb plants and primitive art and ate her grain cereal with cream and berries absorbed in plans for escape from her traitorous family.

Zuri paced in, a frown dominating his face. “Where’s your mother?”

“I have no idea.”

His scowl deepening, Zuri dragged a chair from beside the hearth and placed it next to his daughter. He clasped his hands and leaned forward. “I know something is going on between you and your mother. Though she won’t say anything, I know you both well enough to guess.”

Her appetite disappearing, Nova shoved her bowl onto the windowsill and crossed her arms. “Know everything about me, do you?”

“I know that armor excites you. Adventure beckons. And you’re tired of being treated like a child.”

Her interest snared, Nova tilted her head. A silent acquiescence.

“I was just like you.”

Nova rolled her eyes.

“And I have the perfect answer.”

A huff of air to hint that she only had so much patience.

“You’ll come with me to Earth. We’re being sent back—Teal and his son Cerulean are coming. No reason you shouldn’t attend.”

Excitement raced through Nova. “I can come and work? I’m not just a student observer?”

A grin broke over Zuri’s face. “You’ll take notes and help to present our findings to the council when it’s time.”

Rubbing her hands together, happiness flooded Nova.” Finally! I can do something worthwhile.” She glanced at her father. “Does mom know?”

The light dimmed in Zuri’s eyes. “Yes. She’s not happy about it, but she accepts my reasoning.”

Perplexed, Nova jumped to a new thought. “Can I wear my armor?”

“As much as you like.”

Her appetite renewed, Nova grabbed her half-eaten breakfast and stood. “I’m going to get a list of things I’ll need.”

Zuri nodded, his gaze distant.

Nova started for the door and then stopped. “What reasoning?”

Zuri glanced up. “We can do our best to protect you from the world. But only you can protect you from yourself.”

After laying her bowl in the sink, Nova stepped outside. She moved toward the rising sun as she crossed the courtyard to her room, a new thought plaguing her steps. Who betrayed who?

~~~~

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“The integration of supernatural and faith-based topics into science fiction causes OldEarth Melchior to resemble less Star Trek’s Prime Directive and more C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy.”  ~Reedsy/Discovery Review

“With its combination of genre and its swath of characters in both plots, OldEarth Melchior features many of the best aspects of both historical and science fiction.” ~Reedsy/Discovery Review

“the unique maneuvering of standalone plot within a series plot makes OldEarth Melchior accessible to new readers as well as old.” ~Reedsy/Discovery Review

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“A. K. Frailey is a master world builder” ~Kellman

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“Enjoyed the second book of the trilogy even more than the first and can’t wait for the next adventures…” Ellen

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“A classic good vs evil scenario. Well written. Fast-paced and adventure-filled. Readers both young and old will enjoy.” ~My Book Addiction 

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“Fraley introduces historical figures and events in a way that is totally credible, while at the same time entertaining.” ~Charles

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