Alive and Willful

—Newearth—

Like all Ingots, Lang’s body from the neck down was encased in techno-armor, but her form-fitting suit outlined the fantasies of multiple beings

She peered at the photo and had to ask—“Was I ever young?”

Riko, a slim Uanyi, could not say. He sat behind his desk with three saucepans lines up along the edge, a large datapad front and center, a holograph pad on the left, and a half-eaten slice of carrot cake on the right. Two baskets of colorful plants hung in front of a large window that now only reflected the outside security light.

Lang laid the photo on Riko’s desk and stared pointedly at the pots. “You keep your kitchen utensils close at hand, eh?”

With a shrug, Riko stood and strolled over to a small cooler unit. “I’m ordering new. Wendell tries, but the kid is hard on kitchenware.”

“I thought he just worked the tables.”

“He only has to look at a pot and it falls to the ground, dents, cracks to pieces…I don’t know. It’s like the kid has a magnetic storm following him everywhere he goes.”

Lang shrugged. “He was a reject that his mama saved. Few Ingots get through infancy—”

Riko hauled two cold drinks out of the cooler, snapped them open, and handed one to Lang.

Lang eyed the bright blue drink and grinned. “Thanks. I was feeling a little parched.”

“How about you?” Riko snapped up the photo. “This is old. Somebody treasured it. Most people only have digital memories.” One eyebrow rose. “Especially Ingots.”

Lang took a long swallow and leaned on the back of a dark brown office couch. “I was a reject too. You’d be surprised how many of us there are. In my case, I was borderline, and because I had a pretty face, they let me through. Never knew my mama or daddy DNA. That’s why Wendell is so different. His mama should never have known. She must’ve been from one of those back-to-nature groups. They practically stripped themselves naked, then tried to raise their young the old way.”

“But someone took this—” Riko waved the photo and took a swig from the bottle.

“Wasn’t any family relation—”

A knock on the door turned their attention.

Another quick drink and Riko strode over and swung open his office door.

Wendell stood in the hall between the café kitchen and the office, sheepish but smiling. “I fixed the sink. And everything is all cleaned up.”

Riko nodded. “Good.” He jogged to his desk and swiped one of the pots from the line. “Give your ma this. I decided to go with another set, so she can use it. No point in throwing it out.”

Wendell accepted the pot, cuddling it in both arms, a grateful servant of a kind benefactor.

Riko shuffled his feet, awkward kindness hindering his usual impatience. “You can go home now. See you in the morning.”

Reciting from memory, Wendell raised his eyes to the ceiling and pointed emphatically, his voice imitating Riko’s command tone. “Bright and early!”

The two grinned at each other.

The depth of the shared moment almost broke Lang’s heart. As Riko closed the door, still grinning, Lang lifted the photo again. “So tell me again—how’d you get this?”

“It was on my desk this morning.” He took a final swig, wiped his lips, and met Lang’s stare. “Either someone is having a little fun with us, or we’d better keep our eyes open.”

Lang drained the last of the blue liquid. “Maybe both.” She shrugged. “But as a reporter, I’d sure like to know who—” With a staggering step, Lang fell onto the couch. “Oh, God!”

Riko ran to her side, his eyes wide, frightened. “What?”

“There was a man…he looked like a man. But now…I wonder.” She dropped her head in her hands, her gaze roving to Riko’s face. “Do you believe in the supernatural?”

Riko choked. He yanked open the recycle depository and tossed in the two empty bottles. “I believe there’s more to the universe than we see or understand if that’s what you mean.”

A tumble of emotions swirled through Lang’s system. “I mean an intentional being—beings. Alive and willful.”

“Like Omega?”

“Could be…but more.” Lang rose; logic overthrowing confusion. “Like the fact that you and I met, that Faye and Taug are buddies, that Cerulean even exists…the million and one oddities, proving that more than mere chance defines out fate.”

Riko dropped onto the couch wearily. “You asked if you’d ever been young…well, I grew up in a war zone, my ma was killed trying to protect a way of life that no longer existed, and I certainly never felt young.” He met Lang’s eyes. “Never.”

Lang plunked down next to Riko, their shoulders touching. “Me neither. I was plucked out of the Ingot world by some unknown hand and trained as a reporter before my synapses were set. My body has always been my biggest asset, but collected nerves saved my life. Yet, I’ve always felt sad.”

In uncharacteristic generosity and intimacy, Riko clasped Lang’s hand. “Me too.”

For a moment, Lang felt young again.

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
~William Shakespeare

Books by A. K. Frailey

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Newearth Justine Awakens—Chapter Twenty-Seven Part I

We’re All One of Us

Bright noonday sun rays shone through the Vandi Interventionist Station windows. A few guards sat at their desks and others stood in small clustered conversations. A barked order broke the low hum—but only for a moment.

Cerulean led Justine forward, barely touching her arm. The rest of the group trailed close behind, bleary-eyed and silent.

A short, thickset human dressed in an official Interventionist uniform with the nametag “Bradshaw” stepped in front of the desk and intercepted Cerulean. He wagged a finger at Justine. “This her?”

The Interventionist snapped his fingers at two other officers standing to the side. “Here’s the Cresta killer. Take her in and make sure everything is done right! I don’t want some Luxonian diplomat chewing my ear off about Inter-Alien Rights.”

The two officers gripped Justine’s arms. One jiggled a pair of manacles in her face. “Try anything funny, and we put these on you, see?”

Justine stared straight ahead.

Bradshaw shrugged at Cerulean. “Thanks. We would’ve had a mess on our hands—her coming from Newearth and killing a high profile Cresta and all.” His gaze swept over her form. “Dang, if she isn’t the prettiest android I ever saw.” He clucked his tongue. “Too bad. Termination for sure.”

As the officers led her from the room, Justine glanced over her shoulder and met Cerulean’s gaze.

Cerulean watched until her perfect form turned a corner.

Bradshaw peered around Cerulean and considered the rest of the forlorn group. “They with you?”

Cerulean peered over his shoulder.

Derik leaned forward, seething.

Max firmly gripped Derik’s shoulder with one hand and steadied the “baggage” over his shoulder with the other.

With disheveled hair and dark circles under her eyes, Clare stared at the floor.

Leaning against the wall, Bala rubbed his gloomy face with his hands. 

Faye stood to the side, elfin and childlike, shivering.

Cerulean sighed. “Yeah. They’re mine.”

Cerulean led the group down the hall and lifted his hands. “I know everyone is upset, but we still have jobs to do.” He surveyed the group. “Listen, I did the only thing I could! She would’ve been hunted for the rest of her days. This way she has a chance to get a fair hearing and possibly be found not guilty this time.”

Bala shook his head. “She murdered Mitholie in front of a lot of witnesses. It’s like she wanted to be found guilty.”

Derik shoved Bala from behind. “There was a good reason! Trust me. I know her better than any of you. She—”

Max poked Derik in the shoulder. “I’ve about had it with you. The fact is, I’ve known her longer than anyone here and—” He shrugged Taug’s slumbering form onto Cerulean’s shoulder. “Here, you carry him awhile. What’d you give him, anyway?”

Cerulean shrugged. “It wasn’t me. Justine must have put him out with something. A right cross is my guess.”

With a quick shake, Max turned on Derik and leaned in. “We need to settle this. Any suggestions?”

Derik sneered. “If you’re man enough. I know just the place.” He turned and started away. “Follow me.” He glanced over his shoulder and called, “And if she isn’t freed, Cerulean, I’m coming for you next!”

Cerulean sighed and ran his hand through his ruffled hair.

Bala sauntered up and shook his head. “And then there were—” He pointed at each of them with his index finger and hesitated. “—does Taug count?”

Cerulean turned toward Faye. “Do you think—?”

Faye nodded. “Certainly. I have a place not far from here. If you would bring him along, I’ll see that he’s taken care of.”

Bala glanced at Clare. “Thank God! I was afraid I’d have to explain him to the kids.” He shivered. “They’ve been through enough. Besides, Kendra would kill me.”

Clare stepped up and placed a hand on Cerulean’s shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault. You did the right thing. I would’ve had to do it if you didn’t.”

Cerulean nodded. “Doesn’t make it any easier.”

As Clare and Bala turned away, Cerulean called after them. “There is something you can do. Follow up on a lead at the Amens community. A man there has been having strange symptoms. They thought maybe he was a half-breed, but I don’t think so. Contact a guy named Able. Tell him you’re a friend of mine, and see what you can find out.”

Clare sighed. “Sure. Discover the truth. That’s my job, isn’t it?”

Cerulean hefted Taug’s body over his shoulder and traipsed after Faye’s child-like form. He sighed. “All our jobs, really.”

~~~

After two long showers, Clare ventured into the role of Newearth Human Services detective again. As she tromped along a wooded path, a prickly branch caught her coat, halting her in mid-step. She threw up her hands in frustration. “Oh, help! It’s got me. Bala! Come quick.”

Bala rushed down the wooded trail, huffing, with a strained expression. “If you hadn’t decided to run ahead, you wouldn’t be in this mess!” He stopped and surveyed Clare’s puffy coat sleeve entangled in thorns. He stroked his chin, meditatively. “Well, it looks like the vegetation has taken a liking to you. Either you can slip under it, or I can rip your arm off.”

Clare closed her eyes and counted under her breath.

With delicate fingers and smothered yelps, Bala struggled to disengage the vine. “You might have to leave your coat as a peace offering—”

A laugh made them both turn.

A tall, thin man ambled up the path. He waved Bala off with a grin. “I figured you’d get lost, not caught in the Rubus plant, commonly known as a blackberry vine.” His fingers dexterously disentangled the fabric without a single tear.

Clare’s eyes widened.

Bala stood back and folded his arms, humbled.

The stranger thrust out a work-roughened hand. “The name’s Able. Cerulean sent word you’d be coming.” He patted Bala on the back with a hearty thud. “The first time I got caught in such a vine, I was about four. I’d slipped away for a private need. I ended up in need, all right. Couldn’t sit for a week.”

Bala’s mouth wobbled and his eyes twinkled while Clare’s eyes stretched from amazement to horror.

Able returned down the path he had just come up. “Follow me. The wife has tea and fixings ready for you. I can hardly believe you just got back from Crestar. The whole community wants to hear about it, but I told ‘em that you’re coming to help Jim, not be interrogated.” He tromped along the path with Clare and Bala on his heels. “They’ll leave you alone for a bit… but then it’s every man for himself, if you know what I mean.”

The cabin dominated the top of the hill. Rough-hewn log walls, exposed beams, and the sheer size and sturdy nature of the structure made it appear like an ancient fortress of Oldearth. In the main room, herbs hung from the rafters, while braided rugs lay strewn over the wood floors. A large stove with an attached black pipe thrust through the vaulted ceiling took up an entire corner. A neat stack of split logs lay nestled in a wood box.

Able handed Clare a cup of steaming tea, while his wife handed Bala a plate of fluffy scones. The four were seated around a table that could comfortably seat sixteen.

Bala leaned over his tea and sniffed in glorious appreciation.

Clare sampled a scone and hummed. “Hmm, hmm, I haven’t tasted anything this good since Kendra decided to enter her pies in the Culinary Arts Contest.”

Able smiled at his wife, seated across from him. “We do our best.” As a figure huddled in the doorway, Able sighed and folded his hands. “But our best isn’t always good enough.” He faced the figure across the room, raising his voice as he spoke. “Come on in, Jim! Don’t be shy.”

An emaciated figure with sinewy limbs hesitated and then darted across the floor, finding refuge behind Able. His eyes had narrowed to mere slits and his ears were reduced to dimple holes with crusted edges, while sores and thin scabs covered his mottled skin. He quivered in obvious agitation.

Able reached back and gently led the figure into full view.

Bala’s mouth fell open.

Clare inhaled a shocked breath.

Able passed his hand along the disfigured man’s arm, tapping gently. Jim relaxed enough so that Able could press him onto the bench beside him.

When Jim had calmed, leaning like a frightened child into Able’s side, Able faced Clare and Bala. “The changes were slow at first, but then suddenly they quickened. Every day, we noticed more deterioration of his body. He can’t see, except in the brightest light, but that causes excruciating pain. He can barely hear, though his skin is sensitive enough so that I can calm him with a gentle touch.”

Jim rocked, humming under his breath.

Tears filled Clare’s eyes. “He looks so lost and afraid.”

“He is. By God, that’s exactly what he is.”

Bala clutched his warm cup. “So why did you send for us? The poor man needs a doctor.”

Able’s jaw clenched. “A crime’s been committed! Can’t you see?”

Shifting off the bench, Clare stepped carefully to Jim and knelt at his side, her gaze scanning his body. “You think he’s a crossbreed?”

Able shook his head with a shrug. “Don’t know. But he was a perfectly healthy man once. He told me that these changes came on like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky.”

Lifting his datapad, Bala began to tap across the screen. “Derik’s the only crossbreed we know of. Even Taug and Mitholie didn’t seem to think there were any others—still alive, anyway.”

Clare passed her hand over Jim’s head. He shrank back in fright. “Oh, sorry!” She turned to Able. “Could you ask him if he was a part of any test group…had any medical issues before this happened?”

Able tapped Jim and then spoke slow and loud. “Have you had any medical tests, Jim?”

The rocking increased.

Able gripped Jim’s arm, held him firm, and spoke directly into an ear hole. “They want to help. Did you ever have any medical tests?”

Bala rose and slid his datapad toward Able. “Looks as if Jim isn’t the only one with these symptoms.” He nodded toward the shivering man. “Ask him if he was partial to mega-vitamin drinks. Says here that there’s an experimental drug on the market to increase vitality and stamina, except it had the opposite effect on some humans.”

With a shudder, Jim shook not only his head but his whole body.

Able leaned over Jim’s rocking body and asked Bala’s question. This time Jim froze then he nodded.

Clare patted Jim’s thin shoulder and stepped to Bala’s side. “Let me see that.” She scanned the info and sniffed. “Uanyi, I guarantee it.”

Bala retrieved his datapad. “It would fit with the pattern.” He pulled his nose. “I wonder how much Governor Right made on the deal.”

“How about the Bhuac, Faye? You think she knew?”

Bala shrugged.

A low moan from Jim pulled Able to his feet. He gestured to his wife who led the forlorn figure out of the room. Smacking his fist into his hand, Able muttered. “I’m a peace-loving man, but this boils my blood.”

Rising, Clare proceeded to the door. She stopped and faced Able. “We’ll follow up on this mega-vitamin info and any other leads that might explain what’s happened to Jim. I’ll be happy to send the idiots who did this to Bothmal for the rest of their lives.”

Able rubbed his hands together. “Bothmal is too good for some villains.”

“Too true.” Clare pulled her coat tight. “Oh, and thanks for rescuing me from the attacking Rubus vine.” Her eyes glanced over the room one last time. “You certainly have a beautiful home. I can see why Cerulean likes his neighbors so much.”

Able blushed. “It’s us that are the lucky ones.” He nudged a little closer. “He hasn’t been home for a while. Everything okay?”

With a long, drawn out sigh, Clare gripped the door handle. “You’re not the only one upset lately. If Cerulean had blood, it’d sure be boiling by now.”

~~~

Faye propped up Taug’s limp body with a large pillow. A flutter of his eyelids alerted her to his imminent recovery. She scooted across the room, opposite her round couch, so that she could observe him from a safe distance.

Turning to her game table, she languidly shuffled the figures around on the board. The small, dark figure with large ears and round eyes stood safely ensconced in the back row. She tapped him on the head and placed a huge, fanged creature defensively in front of him.

A low moan made her turn from the engrossing activity. “Are you awake, then?”

Taug raised a tentacle and rubbed his head, adjusting his breather helm in the process. “How long have I been out?”

Faye considered his greenish tint, sunken eyes, and rasping breath. She glided forward and felt his head with her slender hand. “Long enough to become dehydrated.” She clapped her hands.

Gabriel appeared like magic across the threshold.

Faye pointed to the distressed Cresta. “He’s not feeling well, dehydrated, I suspect. Do we have anything?”

Gabriel’s icy smile broke wide enough to allow a soft murmur. “I’ll check.”

Faye turned back to Taug. “Don’t try to get up. You need to rest. When Justine wants to knock someone unconscious, she does a thorough job.”

Taug groaned. “I remember being lifted up and jostled down the corridor. She was saving me…I thought.”

“Oh, she saved you, most certainly.” Faye’s gaze darted away. “Mitholie took her rage instead.”

Taug squeezed his eyes shut. “Mitholie—”

Returning to the game board, Faye moved another figure to the back row and finished his sentence. “—is dead. She obliterated him and the wall-screen behind him. A very useful friend but a dangerous enemy.”

Silence filled the room as Taug covered his face with a shriveled tentacle. Faye moved another figure to the back of the board. When Gabriel presented Taug with a bag of murky liquid, he opened his eyes and smiled weakly.

With a stiff bow, Gabriel murmured. “It’s the best I could obtain on such short notice.”

Without further ado, Taug punctured the seal and poured the liquid into his breather helm. A deep sniff brought forth another groan, but this time, one of relief. He peered up at Gabriel through tearful eyes. “It’s very good. Thank you.”

Faye watched Taug with cynical amusement. “I won’t bother to ask why you betrayed her. I know too much about protecting my own to be even slightly curious.” Her gaze returned to the board once again.

With a less icy smile, Gabriel nodded and left.

Taug’s eyes followed her. “Governor Right sent you?”

An off-key, tinkling laugh bounced around the room. “Heavens, no! I tell her what to do. She has no power over me.”

Taug patted the mountainous pillows and then surveyed the room. With a raised brow, he shifted off the bed, wobbled, steadied himself, and then toddled over to the game table. A gleam entered his eyes. “I used to have something like this as a hatchling.”

Faye fingered one of the pieces. “Yours were sea creatures, no doubt.”

Taug lifted a tentacle and darted a question. “May I?”

Faye tipped her head graciously.

Swirling his quivering tentacle across the board, he stopped at the fanged creature. He held it up for inspection. “We use figures of all the known races. But never Crestas.”

Faye blinked. “Why not? Don’t you like to be a part of the game?”

Taug sobered as he placed the creature behind the round-eyed figure. “Only as the masters and movers. We don’t like to be played.” He stepped back from the table and folded his tentacles, appraising Faye carefully. “You’re a Bhuac, obviously. Who do you work for? Ingots? Uanyi?”

Faye sighed and drifted toward the large window overlooking the bustling city. “I work for no one and everyone.” She turned and faced Taug, a scowl marring her symmetrical beauty. “Don’t you realize that you were a fool to trust your own kind?”

Taug shrugged. “It comes as no surprise. Crestas never trust anyone, especially our own kind.”

Pained, Faye closed her eyes. “Foolish and terrible.” She pointed back at the crowd below. “So why do you bother to live?”

Taug ambled closer and shared the view. “Survival is an inherent quality in us all.”

She darted a glance at him. “My family was killed in the Telathot incursion, and my planet has been decimated more times than I can count. I became strong, so they could remain weak. But—”

Taug was watching her closely, holding his breath.

“It’s killing me.”

Taug shifted aside. “You are much like Justine, then. Like Derik even. Perhaps even a bit like—”

“You?” She strayed back to the board, surveying the multitude of figures. Suddenly, she slashed the board with the back of her hand, sending the pieces flying across the room, rolling into corners and under the bed.

Gabriel practically flew into the room, alarm written across his face. Darting to Faye’s frozen side, he laid a hand on her shoulder.

She didn’t move, not even to glance at his hand.

Taug stood back; his tentacles hung limp at his sides.

Finally, Gabriel nudged Faye toward the bed. “You need rest and—” He glanced at Taug. “—he needs to leave. You can do no more for now.” He helped Faye perch on the edge. “The android’s trial is set for next week. The Inter-Alien Alliance has decided that it must be dealt with swiftly in the face of a rash of violence sweeping across the planet.”

Taug jerked out of his stupor and lumbered forward. “What’s happened?”

Gabriel darted a questioning look to Faye.

Faye waved his secrecy away. “Taug’s one of us. We’re all one of us. Except, of course, for those who aren’t.”

With a frown, Gabriel sent Taug a questioning look, but then he cleared his throat. “Apparently, Human Resources has discovered that Uanyi have been using humans in a secret drug testing scheme. Fifty-one deaths have been attributed to a health drink they sold as a cover in their experimental study.” He strode to a circular, wall-sized screen and tapped the console.

The blank whiteness blinked to a riot scene with red and orange fires burning out of control in the Uanyi business district while crowds of weapon-wielding humans screamed at the citizens defending their wares.

Gabriel folded his arms across his chest. “As long as they fight each other, they won’t fight us.”

Taug shook his head. “Not necessarily. Chaos begets chaos.” He padded over to Faye’s stiff form. “You appear ill. You need to rest.” He plumped up the pillows and bunched them around Faye.

Gabriel’s eyes followed him closely.

As she leaned back, Faye looked Taug in the eye. “Why did you bring Justine to Crestar? Surely you knew it was a trap.”

Taug’s shoulder’s drooped. “Only for her. I hoped, in time, to convince Mitholie of her worth and to return to Newearth to continue my studies with Derik. They both have a lot to offer the scientific community.”

As Gabriel hesitated over the threshold, Faye’s sad expression turned introspective. “You’re unique. I never would have guessed such a thing possible—in a Cresta.”

Taug stroked his chin. “May I ask you a question as well?” To her assenting silence, he bent down, retrieved one of the figures, and placed it on the game table. “Why did you inform Governor Right about the other android? You must’ve known she would inform Mitholie.”

“I directed her too. I wanted to see if—” Her voice cracked, but she held up her hand and recovered herself. “—if an android would rescue another of its kind. I needed to know how much he would risk.”

“For self-preservation?”

“By sacrificing self.” She dropped off her bed and scooted to a corner. Retrieving the figure with large ears and round eyes, she placed him on the game board—facing the fanged creature. She glanced from Gabriel, still hovering on the threshold to Taug standing firmly before her. “We all have our trials to face.”

“I have always considered it as treason against the great republic of human nature, to make any man’s virtues the means of deceiving him.” ~Samuel Johnson

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Newearth Justine Awakens—Chapter Twenty-Six

An Honest Fool

Taug had used not a smidgen of hyperbole when he described Mitholie’s suite. It was the finest set of rooms available on Crestar. A full wall tank undulated with colored lights at one end while creeping vines and swaying foliage draped every centimeter of surface area not designated for sitting, walking, or working. Lab equipment held their proper station against one wall, spilling into a neighboring wing, while an ample food station and accompanying attendant waited for orders against another wall. Comfortable chairs, a widescreen, and plenty of room for guests completed the luxurious setting.

Taug stood with his tentacles clasped in an attitude of contemplation, his gaze lowered until Mitholie should deem to speak.

Mitholie deemed. “The android’s not quite what I was expecting, but she’ll do.” He strolled to the food station, motioned, and waited while the attendant splashed a dark liquid into a tall glass and handed it over with a proud bow. Mitholie swirled it playfully. There was not a hint of an offer. “With her technology, I’ll live forever.”

Taug peered up but remained expressionless.

Mitholie tossed a glance at Taug. “I suppose you know how to turn the damn thing off?”

Taug swallowed. “It is not easily done.”

“I could blast a hole through its middle or its synthetic brain. Would that help?”

Taug lifted one tentacle beseechingly. “If you damage her—”

Mitholie inhaled a long slurp and grinned over the glass. “I have a backup. Governor Right sent a message. Apparently, there’s another one, and it’s coming here. To affect a rescue, no doubt.”

The yellowish tinge drained from Taug’s features. “Alone?”

“Who knows? Who cares?” Mitholie surveyed Taug’s swaying tentacles. “You’re not frightened of an android? They’re just tools, like any other.”

“Even tools can be dangerous. Especially when they have a will of their own.”

Mitholie chuckled. “So you are completely useless to me, eh? You didn’t take care of the little matter of the crossbreed, and you can’t manage an android. Your father‘s reckless experiment is free, tromping around Newearth like an angry ox. You know, he yelled at me? Actually threatened me.” Mitholie’s face darkened perceptibly.

Taug closed his eyes. “He’s one of our own. At least partially. I could’ve learned a great deal from him.”

“Dark waters!” Mitholie slammed his drink on the counter. “We don’t need him. Androids are stronger and more durable. If the creators could make one, there’s no reason why we can’t. As long as they don’t find out.”

Taug exhaled. “What do you want from me?”

A slow grin played across Mitholie’s face. “Nothing.”

Taug’s eyes widened in alarm.

The door at the far end of the room slid open.

Justine sauntered in, an appraising gaze roving over the two Crestas. “You look like you need to say your prayers, Taug. How does it feel to be expendable? Derik never liked it either…maybe you’re more like him than you realized.”

Taug’s gaze shifted to Mitholie.

Directing the attendant to leave, Mitholie refilled his glass and sauntered to his desk. “I have been informed that a friend of yours is rushing here to see you, Justine. Does the name Max Wheeler mean anything?”

Justine froze. Her gaze shifted from Mitholie to Taug. Her eyes narrowed. “I almost felt sorry for you. Almost.”

Mitholie reached behind the counter and withdrew a Dustbuster. “Don’t bother.” He tossed the weapon to Justine.

Justine caught it and sneered at Mitholie. “You think I need a weapon?”

The corners of Mitholie’s wide lips rose in a flabby grin.

Taug lifted a tentacle. “Before you act on impulse, know this, Justine. I never wanted to hurt Derik. I only wanted to study him. As for this Max Wheeler, I’ve never heard of him.”

Justine circled Taug like a predator eyeing her next meal. “And me? What was I?”

Mitholie wagged a tentacle at Justine. “A useful tool! Now get on with it. I’m not Taug; I don’t like to prolong the inevitable.”

Justine laughed, her eyes sparkling with ironic pleasure. “The inevitable? There is no inevitable.” She swiveled around faster than Mitholie could react, her fingers flying across his console. The widescreen flickered, and she grinned at a screen full of expectant Cresta faces.

“Your brain trust awaits your next move, Mitholie. I informed them that you had a surprise. As a scientist, you surely want every experiment made transparent so others can verify the results. Or perhaps you’d rather create a spectacle?”

Mitholie darted forward.

Grabbing Mitholie by the neck, she splayed his body against the screen. “You use beings for your own purpose. You say it is for the glory of science, for the good of Crestonians, but it all ends up as a matter of entertainment in the end. You don’t need to live longer, Mitholie, you need to live wiser.”

Mitholie’s tentacles flailed as the android lifted him off the ground. His eyes bulged to enormous size as he squeaked. “Kill her!”

Taug remained motionless. Excited murmuring filled the room as the assembly on the screen jabbered their options. Three Crestar guards burst through the door, their weapons ready. Their eyes shifted from Taug to Mitholie to Justine.

In a blur, Taug wrapped his tentacles around their legs and swiped them off their feet. He snatched their weapons out of their grasps.

Justine aimed the Dustbuster and blasted through Mitholie to the screen behind him. With unexpected agility, she tossed Taug over her shoulder and fled.

~~~

Derik slouched against the transport wall and tapped on his datapad. Max sat at the controls and fixed his attention on the dozen monitors arrayed at the front of the craft. Cerulean stood with his arms folded, across from Bala and Clare who sat crumpled in their bucket seats.

Clare groaned. “How long is this going to take? I’m not used to space travel, and I’m not even sure I can handle Crestar gravity. They do have gravity, don’t they?”

Bala huffed. “Really, Clare, don’t be so ignorant! They have an artificial environment that nearly matches ours. How did you ever make it through the academy?”

“I studied about Crestonian environment the night before and—”

Bala covered his ears. “Don’t tell me another word. To think I always held you in such high esteem.”

Clare’s gaze rolled over Derik. “What’re you doing?”

Derik shrugged. “Research. It helps to know the planet you’re invading.”

Bala nudged Clare. “Bet you wish you’d have thought of that.”

Clare shouldered Bala off his chair.

Heaving himself to his feet, Bala sauntered over to Derik. He stretched and tried to look over his shoulder. Suddenly, he shrieked. “Eek! What’s that?”

Cerulean turned sharply while Clare jumped to her feet.

Derik froze. His fingers paused above his datapad. “What?”

Clare inched up. “Is that a… SPIDER?” She raised her hand.

Cerulean jumped forward and grabbed her arm. “Don’t!”

Derik swiveled around and, with a graceful motion, slipped the spider off his shoulder and into his pocket.

Bala’s eyes bulged. “You keep a spider—as—a—pet?”

Clare spoke through clenched teeth. “Bringing unauthorized life forms to another planet is strictly forbidden! All insects die in exit sterilization anyway.”

“Shut up!” Max swiveled in his chair and faced them. “Justine’s in trouble!”

Derik pounded forward, slamming his leg against one of the monitors. “Oh… Ah!” he limped ahead. “What happened?”

“No poetry this time.” Max tapped the console.

Justine’s face appeared on an overhead screen. She huffed heavily and seemed to be carrying a sack over her shoulder. She looked up and frowned. “I’m dropping this off at Bothmal transport baggage department. Land there and pick it up. Then return to Newearth. Don’t look for me.” The screen blinked to black.

“Bothmal!” Max shook his head and tapped the console with alarming speed.

Clare staggered to the console. “What’re you doing?”

Max stared ahead as Crestar came into focus on the main viewer.

“Going faster.”

~~~

“Okay, everyone, this is where tiptoe practice in kindergarten really pays off.” Bala hunched his shoulders and followed Clare, who followed Cerulean, who followed Max. Derik took up the rear, his Dustbuster at the ready.

Clare glared over her shoulder.

Bala shrugged.

Max whispered. “I see a guard. I think I know him.” Max straightened and motioned for the others to stay back. He sauntered forward and tapped his datapad. “Hello, Thurston. Captain Kimberling sent word that he’d be docking here, and I thought I’d be ready. Any news?”

Bala tapped Clare’s shoulder as they huddled closer to Cerulean and whispered. “He can lie? I thought that was against android code or—”

Cerulean squeezed Bala’s shoulder and glared.

Abashed, Bala swiped a finger over his lips and squeezed them tight.

The guard grinned. “Finally mastered contractions, eh, Max? Good for you.” He shrugged. “Nothing new here.” He scrolled through his datapad and frowned. “You must’ve got your info wrong. Kimberling isn’t due for another month. You mean some other captain?”

Max scrolled through his datapad with a grimace. “Huh? I don’t know how this happened. I got a message saying to pick up a package. I thought it was from Captain Kimberling. I just assumed—”

The guard smacked him conspiratorially on the arm. “Don’t worry about it. We all make mistakes.” He tapped his thigh. “But hey, there is a package here. I don’t know if it’s for you, just says—” He darted away and came back with a data-chip. “An honest fool?” He shrugged and handed it to Max. “I’m not sure if that’s the name of the package or the receiver. Everyone likes to be funny these days. Bothmal! If I had a unit for every idiot—”

Max peered over the guard’s shoulder. “Yes, that’s for me. Though the last time I came, it was anything but funny.” He sighed. “Mind if I take it?”

“Long as you sign for it. I’m not losing my job over a dumb joke.”

Max waved Cerulean and Derik forward. “I have assistants who are working on my transport.” His voice took on an authoritative tone. “Come on! Hurry it up. I haven’t got all day. Take the package.”

The guard beckoned with a wagging finger.

Cerulean, Clare, and Bala trudged after the guard with let’s- get-this-over-with expressions.

Clare nudged her partner. “What do you think’s in the package?”

Bala sighed. “As long as it isn’t Taug.”

~~~

Faye ambled along the corridor ceiling. It was never fun being an arachnid, but it was rather interesting. Everything looked different from the upside-down perspective. She scurried toward a crowd of excited Crestas doing their utmost to hold an enraged android at bay.

A cargo door was at Justine’s back, and her hand flew over the console. Her eyes glowed with triumph. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness….” Her fingers hovered.

Faye slid down a drop line, morphed into a hulking Cresta, and spoke in a guttural voice from behind the crowd. “…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”

Justine’s gaze fixed on the looming figure.

Faye passed through the crowd as if crossing the Divide and laid a tentacle on Justine’s shoulder. “I have the authority to take this prisoner to her just destination.”

A new voice made the entire crowd turn their heads once again. “But I’m afraid you don’t.” Cerulean marched forward and stared at Justine through forlorn eyes. He slid Faye’s Cresta tentacle off Justine’s shoulder and sighed. “As a representative of the Inter-Alien Alliance Committee, I’m taking Justine Santana into custody, where she will await a trial at the convenience of the court.” He returned Faye’s bitter gaze. “Nice try, though.” Stepping forward, he led Justine by the arm.

Max, Derik, Clare, and Bala rushed forward in a straggling huddle. Seeing Cerulean and Justine, they bounded to a heaving halt.

Max grinned. “You found her!”

Derik heaved a sigh. “Thank God.”

Clare and Bala grinned.

Justine sighed. “You got the package?”

Derik’s chin rose and Max’s chest swelled as they nodded in unison.

Justine straightened her shoulders and offered her wrists, a prisoner ready for her manacles. “Well, here’s your fool.”

“Human nature will find itself only when it fully realizes that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer I

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer II

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/spaceship-science-fiction-forward-3628969/

Profitable Aspects of Writing —Little Cash Involved

The most profitable aspect of writing has little to do with money. When I began my writing journey, I believed I might make enough profit to buy…to repair…to solve… To fill in some blank in my life. Yet, during the ten years I’ve been writing and publishing novels, non-fiction inspirational reflections, poems, and short stories, I’ve discovered the real blanks that writing filled. Very little cash involved.

The first blank would have to be Humility. Gosh, but it was a shock to discover that my initial efforts weren’t as good as I thought. That my skills weren’t up to par. That while some readers forgave my bumbling efforts and wrote nice reviews, others tossed hand grenade truths that nearly shattered my calm disposition. I had to accept a whole new level of humility or throw away my pen.

Learning New Skills hustled for second position, ramming against every wish list I ever made. I just wanted to WRITE. Not being a total fool, I planned to leave editing, proofreading, design, and publishing to the experts.

Well, that sounded good in theory.

Unfortunately, the logic of my newfound humility meant that I didn’t have the cash flow to ensure my deepest desires. In order to get out of the humility hole, I had to learn a lot about editing—which is a far cry from proofreading, let me tell you, Buddy! Apparently, it matters if my reader gets so bewildered in the storyline that they don’t know what year it is or what planet they’re on. And that irritating English Grammar thing. I’ve had to tackle spelling like the monster it is and get a good hold. And figure out what’s going on with “ing” words.

Grammarly should be up for Literary Guardian Angel of the Year Award. Just saying…

I also had to wrangle design elements and learn the tricks and tribulations of publishing online. I did pay experts. Those poor souls not only helped me to shape better books, but they taught me much-needed skills so I can now fly solo—on occasion.

My third blank waylaid me in a dark alley and turned out to be a great friend. Once I stopped screaming at it.

Freedom.

Being my own editor, designer, and publisher offered me the freedom to see my work in a whole new light. Bearing responsibility and taking the consequences for my actions brought illumination to the dark corners of the writing/publishing universe.

It wasn’t merely the fact that I didn’t have a publisher breathing down my neck telling me how to get the job done or pointing to a set of guidelines, but I gained the reality of “ownership.” Did I make mistakes? Like a fish in water. Tons and kabillions of them. It’s incredibly fun to play with metaphors and spell things wrong on purpose. A snide revenge thing? Maybe. But I also paid the price for my mistakes—thus I dropped all interest in making the same mistake twice.

Part of human genius is our ability to move the camera into the corners. To switch off the lights and read by the light of the moon. To get down to hamster level and discover what’s been hiding under the refrigerator for the last three months.

I can do things differently. Not only can I, but I’d better. I develop as I grow. The world alters. Convolutions and revolutions transform me as they transform cultures and Wal-Mart isles. So the ability to not only learn humility and new skills but to hone my freedom in the service of a greater good—to tell an honest story or reflect on my latest homeschool mishap—means that I have filled in a lot of blanks.

The biggest blank is where my life would’ve been without writing. Not enough money in the world to fill that blank.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction Novel

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

HeartBeats—Spiritual Being, Human Journey  https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd0z

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Sci-Fi Short Stories https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/notes-write-fountain-pen-filler-3819574/

Newearth Justine Awakens—Chapter Twenty-Five

Taug Will Feel My Blade

Cerulean paced in front of Governor Right while Max stood sentry at the door. Bala and Clare stood like mismatched statues on either side of her well-appointed desk.

Cerulean wagged his head like a disappointed father. “I’m surprised you’ve been so sloppy, governor. It wasn’t easy to discover your connection to the Uanyi Utopia Empire—their drug-running schemes have been a bane to Luxonian interests for eons—but it was possible. You left quite a trail.”

Governor Right squared her shoulders and sniffed back a twisted smile. “You think you know something? Fine, go to the Inter-Alien Committee and file charges. Bring your evidence. They will nod their various bulbous heads and intone how grateful they are… and they will do nothing. Because they have no power. They are totally incapable of changing anything!”

Swinging around her desk and brushing past Clare, the governor marched to the door, opened it, and flung out a dismissive hand. “Leave before you find out who has the real power here.” She flicked a glance at Bala. “You were in prison.”

Bala rubbed his forehead. “I was, but I didn’t like it much. You have a lot to learn about hospitality.”

“Ha!” She shook her head as she tapped on her datapad. “You have a lot to learn about prison. Bothmal has enough cells for you all.”

Max unfolded his arms, strode into Governor Right’s personal space and, grasping her by the shoulders, lifted her off the ground. “You have a lot to learn about androids.”

Cerulean shuffled forward and tapped Max on the shoulder. “Remember what I said?”

Max dropped the governor unceremoniously.

Clare tapped her datapad. “Thanks, Max, but we only have a few minutes.” She grinned at him. “Faye and Derik can only keep everyone busy for a limited time.”

Cerulean took the governor’s arm and strolled with her to an intimate corner. “What is Taug’s plan? Why does he want Justine?”

The governor’s eyes strayed toward Max and then returned to Cerulean. She shrugged. “Taug’s nothing. It’s Mitholie who wants her. He’s got plans of his own. The Divide knows what. I’m not his confidant. Ask—” She froze and her eyes widened. Her gaze scoured the room.

Cerulean lowered his voice. “Ask who?”

Governor Right shook herself. “No one. Nothing. Just leave. I don’t have anything to give you. Taug’s gone with the android and that’s the end of them. Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned.” Her brows knit. “What happened to the mixed breed? I had him in prison too….” She flicked a glance at Bala.

“Someone freed him.”

“Treacherous Cresta! Damn—”

Max stepped forward.

Cerulean held up his hand, forestalling any dramatic moves on the android’s part.

The governor shuddered, recomposing herself. “Be interested in a trade? I could ask Mitholie if he’d take that one instead.” She nodded to Max. “He doesn’t seem too bright, but I don’t think Mitholie’s looking for intelligence.”

Cerulean’s eyebrows rose. “No? He’s a bigger fool than I thought.” He glanced around at the various faces, each trying to appear to not be soaking up every word. He refocused on the governor. “How much are the Uanyis paying you to cover for them?”

Governor Right stiffened. “If you had a modicum of intelligence yourself, you’d leave now and drop this whole matter. Some enemies can’t be destroyed.”

Cerulean sighed and straightened. “Some enemies are not meant to be destroyed—only endured—so as to outlive them.”

With a smirk, Governor Right chuckled. “You don’t have enough lifetimes.”

Cerulean strode toward the door. “We have a decision to make, Governor, and you have an appointment to keep.”

The four friends ambled over the threshold. Bala turned with a courtly nod.

Governor Right furrowed her brow as she darted to her datapad and scrolled through. She bit her lip and leaned against her desk. The door opened with a hiss and a looming shadow entered.

Governor Right reached for her desk drawer but Faye, under a swirling black robe and four times her usual size, seized the governor’s hand and gripped it like a vice. “You don’t have time for that. You have a mission to accomplish.”

Governor Right was in no position to argue, but she tried anyway. “Do I?”

The shadow tightened its grip. “You will contact Mitholie and let him know that an android, Max Wheeler, is on his way to rescue Justine.”

With her teeth clenched, the governor nodded. “Certainly. I enjoy keeping Mitholie happy.”

Faye dropped the hand and floated back to a dark corner.

Governor Right darted to the wall screen and tapped the console. As the screen flickered, she glanced back to the dim outline. “Good to know we’ll be working for the same purpose. Androids should be kept under our control.”

Faye held her peace as the governor reported the news to Mitholie who accepted it with unperturbed grace. When the screen blinked to black, the governor sidled to her cabinet. Lifting an ornate container, she poured a drink and then another and held it out to the shadowy corner. “Let’s drink to our continued—”

The governor stepped forward, her eyes scanning the darkness. Nothing.

Silence.

She lifted the glass in a salute and then proceeded to gulp the amber liquid. Returning to the cabinet, she swallowed the second and slammed the glass on the counter. “No loss. I saw your eyes this time—Bhuac.”

~~~

“I’m going.” Max stood even straighter and squared his shoulders.

“No, I’m going.” Cerulean blew air between his lips and grimaced.

Clare waved them both off. “No, I have more official authority than either of you.”

Bala wiggled one finger in the air. “How about we all go? Could be fun. A quick trip to Crestar on some broken-down transport. Stopping a murderous android. International spectacle. We might even make Universal News.”

The four sat tightly packed in a booth at the Breakfast Nook. Despite its name, patrons swarmed through at all hours. Riko had waved to the group when they entered. He sauntered over when Cerulean nodded in his direction.

Appearing as meek as possible, Cerulean peered up at the formidable Uanyi. “I know it’s late, but do you mind? I’m afraid we might be—”

Riko shrugged. “Say no more. My hostess is smitten—” He tipped his head to the side indicating Sal hovering in the background. “—with your friend here.” His gaze swept over Max in puzzlement. “Besides—” He placed a meaty hand on Bala’s shoulder. “I enjoy assisting those in dire need.”

Bala blushed.

Clare pursed her lips and drummed her fingers on the table. “Hey, I always leave good tips. And to be quite honest, I bring in a lot of business.”

Riko sniffed. “I won’t say what kind of business.” He turned and gestured to the hostess.

She bounded forward like a happy elephant.

Passing her, Riko snapped his fingers. “Give ‘em whatever they want, but the Luxonian pays for all.”

All eyes shifted away from Cerulean.

Sal’s beaming grin zeroed in on Max. “What can I get you?” Her husky tone spoke volumes.

Max started to rise, but both Clare and Bala pushed him back onto his seat.

Clare matched the Ingot’s beaming expression. “He’d love some of your coffee mocha. In fact, we all would.”

When the Ingot remained stiff and staring, Max lifted his eyes enough to graze her face, offered a tremulous smile, and nodded.

Satisfied, Sal bounded away.

Rubbing his forehead, Cerulean hunched over the red tabletop. “We’ve got to make a decision quickly. Max, you got the message, what did Justine actually say?”

Four Uanyi patrons settled into the booth next to them. They made a point of flexing their arms as they positioned themselves so that they could watch the small group in their deliberation.

Bala tensed. “I think I might know one of those chaps—”

Clare hissed, elbowing Bala into silence. “Not now! Go on, Max, what did Justine say?”

Max peered at his folded hands. “Many years ago, we worked closely together. This is the first time since—you know—that Justine’s reached out to me.” He paused and sighed. “On our last mission together, we got into an argument. It was stupid; we had different ideas on how to handle our identity. Justine always leaned toward a romantic view—”

Clare scoffed. “Justine romantic? I’d never have thought that.”

The front door clanged and flew open. Derik tromped in, huffing and sweaty. His gaze did a quick rotation of the room and, spying the group, he pounded over. “Sorry it took so long. You wouldn’t believe what that little Bhuac can do—”

Clare gripped Derik’s sleeve and pulled. “Shush, you idiot!” She glanced at the neighboring booth of open-mouthed Uanyis. “Grab a chair and—” She speared him with a glare. “—don’t talk so loud!” The room fell silent at her last word. She plastered a grin across her reddening face.

The hostess appeared at Derik’s back with a loaded tray. She scowled at Derik. “Suppose you want one too.”

Derik blinked at her.

Clare stood and passed the mugs with alacrity. “No, he doesn’t touch the stuff. But Max really appreciates your efficiency.”

The hostess beamed and practically skipped away.

Bala glanced at his datapad. “Before my next birthday, which happens to be arriving with alarming speed, could we decide our next step?”

Max swiveled toward Bala. “Your birthday?”

“No!” Cerulean clenched his hands together as if in desperate prayer. “Focus, Max. What did Justine say?”

Max grabbed Bala’s datapad and tapped it systematically for a moment. “Here, I downloaded it.” He shoved the screen toward the center of the table.

“‘…lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down. And saved a great cause that heroic day.’ Taug will feel my blade!”

Silence.

Cerulean laid his chin on his clasped hands. “I thought we were past this stage.”

Max rose. “Up until a short time ago, I thought Justine was lying inert in a morgue. I’ve fought alone for seventy years and if I can fight at her side once again, I will.” His gaze swept the assembly. “I don’t care what the rest of you do. But I’ve got a transport waiting.”

Derik swung out and gripped Max by the arm. Rising slowly, his voice lowered to a growl. “I’m her fiancé.”

Clare jumped to her feet with a puzzled expression. “Can androids even get married?”

Bala sighed. “Clare, let’s just keep Justine alive before plumbing the depths of her capabilities, okay?”

Cerulean slipped out of the booth and lifted his hands in surrender. “Bala’s right, and we’re running out of time.”

The Uanyis were staring wide-eyed at the group while Riko barely restrained Sal.

Cerulean turned to Max and swept his hand toward the door. “Lead the way.”

“You shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.” ~Wystan Hugh Auden

A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer I

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer II

Photohttps://pixabay.com/photos/face-eyes-portrait-human-child-2413959/

Newearth Justine Awakens—Chapter Twenty-Four

Our Only Limitation

Misty air draped everything in a heavy fog. Taug grunted as he stripped off each section of his bio-suit in the white-walled, laboratory-style cleansing room. Water dripped down the tiled walls. Turning to Justine, he lifted one booted foot and wagged it at her.

“Would you be so kind? These things are worse than Tatarian leeches.”

Justine unfolded her arms from across her chest and bent low. She grabbed the boot heel and jerked, nearly toppling Taug.

“Careful! I don’t want my toes to come off with the boot. They don’t grow back as quickly as the tentacles.”

Wiggling the boot effectively, it squelched off the swollen three-toed foot. Justine wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?”

Taug sighed as he lifted his other boot in her direction. “You don’t want to know. The price we pay to travel to foreign parts.” After Taug was completely free of every article of clothing and well wrapped in a large towel, he tromped over to a shower stall, tossed the towel over the door, and turned the spray on full blast. Shouting over the noisy spray, he waved a tentacle. “Get me that robe hanging to the left. Oh, my! This feels good!”

Justine rolled her eyes. “I’m your servant now?” She threw the swirly green-and-blue garment onto a nearby hook. “I thought you were a water creature. Where’s your ocean?”

Taug scrubbed and giggled. “We’re a bit too advanced to stay in the water all the time. Just for sport and refreshment.” He turned off the shower, snatched up the robe, and, patting his body in the joy of cleanliness and freedom, he stepped back into the room. “You have no idea how good this feels.”

Justine tilted her head at him as if analyzing an insect.

Plodding down a white, rounded hallway, Taug lifted a tentacle and flicked off their itinerary. “First, I’ll have to dress properly, then we’ll attend the banquet, and finally, I’ll arrange matters with Mitholie in his private suite. He enjoys luxury like nothing you’ve ever seen. You’ll—”

“I’ll see for myself. What do I wear?”

Taug stopped and appraised her with a frown. “What you’re wearing will do.”

He started forward again. Humming.

Justine laid a hand on his shoulder. Without the boots, he was much shorter. She peered into his eyes. “I’ve been wearing this for a week.”

Taug shook his head. “No one will know… or care.” Justine squeezed his shoulder. “I know. I care.”

Taug blinked. “I suppose you’ll want your own room? And a shower and new clothes?”

“Your point?

Taug peeled her fingers from his shoulder. “That’s what I keep asking myself.”

~~~

The air was heavy with water vapor as wispy ivies swung from the rafters like algae swaying in the deep sea. The murky green underworld of Crestar swirled behind a massive see-through wall. Various aquatic creatures swam about in placid acceptance of their environment. Pliant green tables and squishy white chairs dotted the floor, while Crestonian youth hustled between persons of importance offering drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

Taug sauntered into the room, positively transformed by his neat, new attire: a well-fitting white, sleeveless shirt and leggings with a long, flowing robe.

Justine trailed after him, unchanged.

A mingling, chattering crowd turned as one and stared past Taug to the android behind him.

A satisfied grin gleamed through Taug’s eyes. Justine may attract stares, but he would demand respect. He plodded forward, scanning the intimate group until he zeroed in on Mitholie.

Mitholie wore a heavy, dark green tunic of shimmering brightness. The thin cilia on top of his head were daubed with blue gel, and his face bore the fancy red stripes of his rank and position. Stepping forward, he stretched out his tentacles in a welcoming gesture. “So glad the prodigal son has made it home at last.”

Taug bowed out of respect and to hide his smirk. “I’m honored you know the reference. Newearth Studies was never one of your favorites.”

Mitholie surveyed Taug only a moment before his gaze shifted to Justine. “Ah, the redoubtable android, Justine Santana. It is delicious to finally meet you.”

Justine tilted her head, frowning. “It’s delicious to meet you as well.”

Titters broke out among the assembly. Tentacles rose to cover uncouth giggles.

Taug winced, but Mitholie reached out and cupped Justine’s hand in a wide tentacle. “Let me introduce you to my brain trust. These are my most intimate associates. They will be working closely with Taug to make your stay on Crestar sheer ecstasy.”

Justine stared at Mitholie’s tentacle as he led her toward a tall Cresta with a high forehead and huge green eyes. She leaned toward Taug and whispered. “Hyperbole doesn’t have the same—”

Taug shook his head in a sharp motion while staring straight ahead.

Mitholie dropped Justine’s hand and offered an introductory wave to the large Cresta. “Meet Zendrox. He specializes in biomechanical advancements. In fact, he was the one to adapt our bio-suits to Newearth terrain. He once worked with the renowned Donadello, who searched the furthest reaches of the universe to discover—” An undertone humming warned him off the topic. He flicked his gaze around the wide-eyed crowd. “—a cure for our weakness on land.”

A chime induced Mitholie to bow benevolently. “Time for the festivities. Let’s get comfortable.” He waddled to a wide table and plopped down on a soft, white couch. The others arranged themselves as close as possible without blocking Mitholie’s view of the runway arranged at the front of the room.

Justine stood to the side, her arms folded. Taug patted the cushion beside himself. With a sigh, she clumped over and sat on the soft material that oozed up around her.

Green and yellow lights swirled around the room as troops of scantily clad beings filed in. There were Bhuacs, Ingots, Uanyi, and three human children. They began to perform various acrobatic games, displaying their species’ best attributes.

Justine’s eyes widened and her breathing quickened. She shot a glance around the room. Every Cresta perspired with pleasure. She recognized Taug’s automatic grin, set in place to cover his thoughts.

Mitholie actually drooled.

Calls and grunts of dissatisfaction urged the players to perform more daring acts of entertainment. One Cresta stood and gestured in such a manner that, even though Justine could not understand the exact expression, she knew the vulgar meaning.

The players halted, confused, sweating and heaving desperate breaths. One of the human children wiped his eyes. His shoulders hunched, despair animating his trembling limbs, as if he knew something was coming and dreaded the moment.

Justine’s eyes narrowed.

Mitholie stood and barked a command.

Taug struggled to his feet and raised a tentacle. He glanced at Justine and then offered an extravagant bow to Mitholie. “The journey was long, and I know Justine would like to prepare herself for tomorrow’s events. We should eat and retire before—”

Mitholie glowered. “You’ve grown insensitive to pleasures of your own kind, Taug. But—” He sighed. “—it’s true, our opportunity is a narrow one.” He dismissed the players and waved the waiters forward. “Bring the food.” Dashing a glance at Justine, he grinned wickedly. “I know you don’t need to eat as we do, but you might enjoy a sustaining meal. We don’t partake of our own kind—but that is our only limitation.”

“…the crux of evil in this world…They consider no cost to anyone but themselves.” ~Erika Johansen

A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer I

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer II

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/spit-roast-grill-turn-juicy-crust-1713752/

Hope for the Human Race

Herman perched his glasses on his nose, stared at the bottle of bathroom cleaner with the foamy suds on the label, and swerved his gaze to his beloved dog—the one giving him the mopey What-did-I-Do-To-Deserve-This? look—and realized his mistake.

It wasn’t the first time.

The week before, he had brushed his teeth with Icy-Hot, and the week before that he had poured half a bottle of liquid detergent down the drain thinking he was unclogging the sink. The fact that the dishes had smelled “springtime fresh” hadn’t helped in the least. The sink remained clogged until the plumber sent his snake coil five miles through underground terrain.

Each morning, when the news informed him that a new plague or disasters unlimited loomed, he figured that this was as good a time as any to make out a will. Dying was all too easy. It was living that made each day a challenge.

And so, when he met Chuck, he tried not to act surprised. Chuck looked perfect. He acted perfect. Up until the moment he froze in place. That wasn’t so perfect. Not the way he did it. Stock still. His hand caught in mid-air, holding the test tube just so. His eyes staring, blank, but as wide and as blue as ever.

After the last major world alteration—pandemic, economic crisis, collective emotional meltdown—whatever you want to call it, The University had decided that “State of the Art Androids” would assist human teachers in their laboratory work. No matter if the world was going to hell-in-a-hand-basket, students still needed the opportunity to practice medical procedures, carry out chemical experiments, and do a thousand things that simply could not be managed from home.

Reasonable? Of course.

Considering his record of late, Herman wasn’t surprised when his Department Head informed him that a new assistant, Chuck, would aide him as he maneuvered the entire scientific student body through the semester. To stiffen his spine, Herman reminded himself that his dog had recovered nicely and water ran through his sink lickity-split these days, with a refreshing scent to boot.

He spent the entire weekend before Chuck’s arrival assuring himself that an assistant meant more free time to do his own research. A positive step in the right direction. An honor! And NO risk.

When autumn rolled around and the school doors finally creaked open, Chuck calculated formulas, measured chemicals, laid out lab materials, and never broke anything. Never got mixed up. Never forgot which student he was dealing with or which experiment they were doing. Though his pronunciation did need a little work. Good thing scientists rarely giggle.

But last Wednesday, Chuck had a few internal issues, not gastric of course, just something a little off. He bumped Herman twice as they crossed paths in the lab, and he actually scowled at Lacy, the brightest student in the whole school, who had the unfortunate luck to break her arm. Chuck didn’t slow down for bumbling humans and didn’t smile at imperfections.

Lacy’s attempt at humor as she held up her sling-shod arm collided with Chuck’s long cold stare.

Herman glanced at Lacy; tears filled her eyes.

He had suspected for months that her heart had been beating a little faster whenever Chuck was in the room…but this kind of workplace awkwardness he had never imagined. Made soaping the dog with the wrong kind of suds seem almost funny.

What to do? It wasn’t like he could call Herman out for his icy demeanor, his lack of empathy, his calculated perfection.

But on Friday, Chuck stalled. Positively and undeniably froze in place.

Herman called the proper authorities. Nodded sympathetically when the Head of the Department broke down sobbing. Chuck had been a prototype. “A first, damn it! But not the last!” The Head Man had lifted his chin and thrown a determined glare directly at Lacy. As if her human indelicacy had pushed Chuck’s tightly wound synaptic system over the proverbial bridge.

After two men with a squeaky dolly wheeled Chuck away, Herman shrugged and considered the lab. Test tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners, metal trays, and laptops—various tools of the trade—and one lonely shrub decorated the sterile white room.

A crash and Herman knew in his heart-of-hearts that there was one less test tube.

He blinked at Lacy’s horrified face. A tear slid down her face.

He padded softly to her side and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

She leaned in and sighed. “I can’t help it. I make mistakes.”

For the first time in months, Herman felt hope for the human race.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction Novel

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

HeartBeats—Spiritual Being, Human Journey  https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd0z

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Sci-Fi Short Stories https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

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Newearth Justine Awakens—Chapter Twenty-Three

We Fall Into Chaos

Cerulean stepped into the lab and exhaled a long cleansing breath. “Before we go into the details, tell me one thing—where is Justine?”

Derik’s worried gaze flickered around the room. “We were hoping Taug would tell us—” He flexed his long, muscular fingers. “—by force if necessary.” Derik marched up to Cerulean. “Have you heard anything?”

Cerulean’s gaze swerved from Derik to Faye. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

Appearing to float, Faye swayed closer. Her large, almond-shaped eyes peered up at Cerulean. “Many times I’ve wished I could introduce myself, but secrecy has always been my best defense.”

Cerulean offered a gentleman’s nod. “Many the times I wished I could be of service. But your race is very secretive and singularly inventive. I doubted my ability.”

Faye’s gaze glanced off Derik. “I wish to come out of the shadows.”

Stroking his cheek, Cerulean appraised Faye before his eyes strayed to the wall screen. “We need to discuss this further. But right now, Taug must be stopped.”

Derik pushed in front of Faye. “Why? What’s he done?”

“Clare and Bala confronted Taug yesterday and met Justine here. She’s fine… at least physically. She said she was going to return to Crestar with Taug.”

In a near shriek, Derik pulled his hair. “What?”

Peering at the wall, Cerulean marched across the room. He tapped the console and the screen flickered.

Faye faded into the background.

A white square appeared on the screen and then a blurry, shifting body shuffled closer. Gradually, an enlarged, perplexed Cresta face came into focus. “Taug? Is that you? I thought you were on a transport—”

Edging closer, Cerulean stationed himself in front of the screen. “No, sir, Taug isn’t here. I’m Cerulean, a Luxonian on official business. Do you know where Taug has gone?”

The Cresta’s jaw hardened and his eyes narrowed. “This my private address! I don’t know what official business a Luxonian might have with Taug, but he has been ordered home. We have unfinished business he must attend to.”

Cerulean pressed on. “So Taug is on a transport? Alone?”

“Until I understand the circumstance of your inquiry better, I’m not at liberty—”

Derik squeezed between Cerulean and the screen. “Is Justine Santana with him? Did he take her?”

A long, flabby tentacle jabbed at the screen. “Excuse me? Who is this?”

Derik folded his arms high across his chest. “I’m Justine’s fiancé, and I demand that you tell me where she is immediately, or I’ll file charges with the Inter-Alien Alliance Committee. Cerulean—” Derik jerked his thumb backward. “—is a founding mem—”

The looming face broke into an impressive smile. “Oh, you’re that Cerulean! I didn’t recognize you. My name is Mitholie. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

Cerulean dragged his wide-eyed glare off Derik and swung it at Mitholie. “Yes, sir. Sterling has mentioned you.” His face tightened. “I’m very concerned about the android Justine, who was recently in Taug’s company. She might be traveling with him to Crestar.”

Mitholie’s wide smile brightened. “If so, we would welcome her with pleasure.”

“I’m certain of that.” Cerulean cleared his throat. “But you can see how distressed her fiancé is.” He dashed a quick glance at Derik.

Derik stood staring up at the screen, his hands wringing an invisible neck. “I want her home at once! You hear me?”

Mitholie edged away from the screen, his disgusted gaze focused on Derik’s hands.

Placing a firm grip on Derik’s shoulder, Cerulean shifted him to the side. “I apologize, Mitholie, but we have our own troubles, and Justine needs to return as soon as possible.”

Mitholie smirked like an understanding patriarch. “Certainly, if she arrives with Taug, I’ll relay your message. But honestly, you’re mistaken. Taug is traveling alone. If you look at the transport manifest, I’m sure that you’ll find that no Justine Santana will arrive on Crestar.” He waved the small end of one tentacle benignly. “I will inform Taug of your concern. He’ll be gratified to know his friends have inquired about him.” Mitholie offered a brief nod to Cerulean before peering narrowly at Derik as if memorizing his features. “Fiancé, eh?” Offering a lopsided smile, Mitholie continued, “My congratulations.” The screen blinked to black.

Cerulean’s head dropped to his chest and his shoulders sagged. Then he swung on Derik in fury. “What the—? You’re supposed to be dead. You want to make absolutely certain the job gets done?”

Derik’s broad shoulders matched Cerulean’s muscle for muscle. They glared into each other’s eyes.

Faye held up her elfin hands and stepped between them. “Please. There is enough anger in the universe. We share a common purpose; let’s not forget that.”

Derik’s face flushed with rage as he peered down at the small figure. “Or what?”

Faye’s eyes brimmed. “We fall into chaos.”

~~~

Max sat upright on the bench in Bala’s brightly lit kitchen and stared at the steaming bowl in front of him. He struggled to process the tumultuous energy bopping all around him. He knew full well that it was considered rude to stare, even at little humans, but it took every particle of his self-control to keep from glaring at his riotous surroundings.

Bala laughed and slapped Max on the shoulder. Leaning in, he sniffed the casserole as if appraising the danger. He shook his head. “Nothing to be afraid of. Go on. Kendra’s got away with rice, beans, and green things. If she didn’t, I’d be dead by now.”

Max swiveled his head, right and then left, allowing himself the luxury of a good long stare. The baby was strapped into a high chair, pounding a miniature utensil on a tray and drooling copiously amid Kendra’s alternate cooing and humming sounds. Another child sat backward, her long hair partially draped over her bowl. She clapped to a rhythm Max could not even faintly discern. A little boy clung to Kendra’s legs, chattering in an alien language as his mother flittered around the large kitchen. With the grace of a seasoned acrobat, she slid a towering bread plate somewhat near the center of the table. An older boy sipped his meal in quiet contemplation, while another scanned his datapad, drumming his fingers on the tabletop.

Max faced Bala, plastering a benign expression on his face. “Are they always this noisy?”

Lounging against the table, Bala surveyed the miniature throng. “Not at all. Sometimes they get into a ruckus and then you hear some real noise, brother.” Bala covered his ears to emphasize his meaning.

Max didn’t have to feign astonishment. “Why in the universe did you have so many? Wouldn’t two offspring continue your species just as effectively?”

Bala scratched his head. “Well, now, I hadn’t thought of them quite like that…”

He smiled as Kendra plopped down on her chair, one arm encircling the now sedate three-year-old. She spooned a mouthful of stew into the little one’s mouth, grabbed a broken piece of bread, chomped, and chewed as she grinned back at Bala.

“Kendra, Max would like to know why we had so many.” With a sweep of his hand, he clarified his point.

Kendra’s nearly frantic chewing slowed to glacial speed as one eyebrow rose. She swallowed, squared her shoulders, and smiled bravely. “Well, you see, it’s our pleasure. We enjoy bringing new life into the world and training them to become wonderful citizens of Newearth.”

Bala stared at Kendra, his eyes rounding into orbs. “The truth? You told him the truth!”

Kendra shrugged and she grabbed another slice of bread, handing a significant chunk to the baby. “I think he can handle it. Besides—” Her gaze rolled around the kitchen. “—it’s what I drill into their heads every day of their lives. Made for a purpose. We all are.”

The room froze as Max jumped to his feet. His perpetually mild expression had drained of all animation and color.

Bala tossed a quick glance at Kendra as he rose and placed his hand on Max’s shoulder. “You all right? We’re just kidding around—sort of.” Running his fingers through his hair, Bala nudged Max toward the door. “Let’s head over to Cerulean’s place. He might have news by now.”

With robotic steps, Max marched through the kitchen doorway.

Bala stopped on the threshold and faced his perplexed family. He shrugged. “So, androids have issues. Who knew?”

Max stomped up Cerulean’s porch steps as a bedraggled, panting Bala took up the rear. “Hey, slow down, would you! I just barely sent word that we’re coming, and you’re ready to break down his door.”

Max promptly smashed in Cerulean’s front door and, standing amid the wreckage, scanned the large, open kitchen-living room.

Cerulean burst into the room, waving a Dustbuster. “What?” He glared first at Max and then at Bala. Lowering the Dustbuster, he shook his head in disbelief. “Max, why did you break down my door? I just got it fixed.”

Max swallowed and spluttered. “I—I got a message from Justine. She’s going to murder Taug.”

~~~

Standing in his employer’s personal recreation room at the Vandi Country Club, Eric handed a club to a waiting hand and snapped to attention. His shoulder-length blond hair, tied in a smooth ponytail that hung down his back, matched his bright yellow eyes, which he had altered as soon as he had enough money for the procedure. Altering eye color to unnatural hues had come into fashion only recently, but he was never one to lag behind a new trend. His stylish bodysuit and slip-on footwear fit his trim form like surgical gloves. His eyes roved over his employer, Simms, with a covetous longing.

Simms, a human with more replacement parts than he liked to admit, could not hide his boxy shape, though he tried. His hair—not his own—appeared thick and black. The mustard-colored shirt and trousers he wore complemented his olive skin tone. A gold pendant hung at his neck, and ornate rings bejeweled his fingers. Simms cleared his throat and swung the club over his head in a couple of practice moves. He frowned and handed the club back with a polite sniff. “Not this one. Give me the thirty-four.”

Eric searched through the club bag and found the one mentioned. He pulled it forth, mesmerized by its polished gleam. Simms had the best set of clubs on the planet and a wall of prizes to attest to his award-winning skill at Zinzinera. Though the Ingoti game had been adapted to Newearth sensibilities—the losers did not have their heads knocked together, and they counted score with points rather than injuries—everyone still took the game seriously and none more so than Simms himself. Eric had noticed that Simms took everything seriously—especially himself.

Eric observed his employer closely. There was more to this man than met the eye. He clasped his manicured fingers behind his back.

“Take this.” Simms held out the club with a firm hand.

Eric reached and—Simms grabbed his hand and twisted it behind his back painfully. “I know what you’re thinking.”

Eric strained to keep his composure. “That would be?”

“You want what I have.”

Eric considered his options and chose unprecedented honesty.

“Is that so wrong?”

Surprisingly, Simms grunted and released his grip, shoving Eric forward. “Not at all. In fact, I was kinda counting on it.”

Eric rubbed his wrist and raised an eyebrow.

Simms grimaced. “I have a job for you. Real simple. Knock a certain mixed-breed’s head in or blow him to bits—whatever’s easier. Take what’s on his body and ransack his place. He managed to escape from certain death once; don’t let it happen again.”

Remaining unmoved, Eric considered his options again. “Why should I?”

“Because I said so. Because an important somebody wants it so. And because you don’t get to be like me unless you have powerful friends.”

“I’m not a killer.”

“Sure you are.”

“Someone might find out. Human Services will—”

Simms blew air between his lips, swinging his club. “Look, he’s a mistake. Mistakes aren’t human.” He tapped his club against Eric’s head. “Like idiots who don’t know a good opportunity when it comes along. No one will care.”

New options danced before Eric’s yellow eyes.

“…in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson

A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer I

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer II

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/fantasy-light-mood-sky-beautiful-2861107/

Newearth Justine Awakens—Chapter Twenty-Two

A Worthy Goal

The evening’s winter wind had settled to a mild breeze as Derik jogged hunch-shouldered at Faye’s side. Slugging his chilled hands deep into his coat pockets, he frowned at the memory of Faye’s unblushing impersonation of a guard, allowing her to affect his release. Though he towered above her slight form, her prancing step kept him lumbering along at a quicker pace than was comfortable for his Cresta-booted feet. Tripping over a clump of ice, he nearly sprawled onto the sidewalk.

Faye reached out and steadied him. “Don’t slip. I can’t change out in the open, so I wouldn’t be much help if you got hurt.”

Derik pulled his hands out of his pocket to maintain his balance and nodded. He darted a quick look at the little Bhuac. “You’re amazing. I still don’t understand how your race can be at risk. You just sprung me from the clutches of Governor Right! You could use the same tactics everywhere and no one could touch you.”

Faye glanced up at Derik’s large brown eyes. “Have you never yearned to be free—to be yourself? Freed from the secret bonds necessary to keep you safe?”

Derik shrugged. “Beyond my boots, I don’t have many protective bonds. In fact, if you hadn’t saved me from my last fall, even these boots wouldn’t have saved me.”

A curious half-smile played around Faye’s lips.

Derik grabbed her arm and pulled her under the shelter of a weeping willow. The long tendrils swept around them like a lacy curtain as busy pedestrians hurried by. “What? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Faye’s almond-shaped eyes danced at Derik. “There is a great deal I’m not telling you. But to keep you happy and in the interest of building trust, I will share this particular incident.”

Derik wiggled his fingers like a child waiting for a ball to come his way.

“When I learned of your existence, I was quite interested to learn more about you, which meant I had to learn more about Taug. So, on occasion, I would investigate his laboratory. Not long ago, I became so perplexed by one of his experiments that I did not notice his return—until it was almost too late.”

Faye blushed a bright pink and covered her cheeks with her petite hands. “This is very embarrassing.”

Derik’s grin widened.

“I reacted on instinct. I don’t know why, exactly, but I changed into a small dog, one of those yapping little quadrupeds that like to chew and snarl at everything.”

Derik shook his head and snapped a weathered twig off the tree. “Wouldn’t have been my first choice.”

“Certainly. If I had been prepared or thinking clearly…but I was so concerned by what I saw that I lost all reasoning.”

“What did Taug do when he saw a mutt in his immaculate laboratory? Oh, I wish I had been there!”

Faye blushed harder. “He did what any irate scientist would do. He tried to shush me away. But I was annoyed and—” She dropped her gaze.

“You’ve come this far. Tell me everything.”

“I attacked his boots. I nearly shredded them before I ran away.”

Derik let out a yelp that turned heads. One passerby stopped and peered between the swaying branches. “You okay in there, little Miss?”

Derik cupped his hands over his laughter.

Faye smiled brightly at the concerned face and nodded like a six-year-old. “I’m fine. My dad’s having one of his spells. Just give him a minute. He’ll come out of it.”

The stranger grunted, dropped the trailing vine, and turned away.

In a formal manner, Derik took Faye by the arm. “All right, daughter, you and I have a mission to accomplish. Let’s go find Taug and free Justine. If he gives us any trouble, you can turn into a poodle and shred his bio-suit.

~~~

The cold, sterile laboratory appeared ashen in the dim light, echoing only dead silence as if it knew it had been abandoned and could not bear the truth.

Faye entered first, one thin-fingered hand lifted in front, probing for danger. Not a whisper or a swirl of movement responded to their approach.

Derik marched stiff and hunch-shouldered behind, ready for anything. Not ready for nothing. “I wish I had a Dustbuster.”

Faye halted and looked back at him. “Why? No one’s here.”

“One never knows when Taug’ll show up. Remember the incident with the boots? Besides, I’d dearly love to blast his equipment to smithereens. It would serve him right. Double-crossing me!”

Faye circled the empty room, tapping and touching various instruments. “He never lied to you, Derik. He told you that he might have to kill you. It wasn’t exactly his choice.”

Derik tromped over to the pool wall, splayed his fingers across the glass, and stared into the murky depths. “You sound like you sympathize with him…your enemy.”

Faye lifted the top off the dissection tube and shuddered. “I sympathize with all trapped beings. I know how it feels.”

Derik slapped his forehead. “You’re—”

The sound of someone clearing his throat made Faye and Derik freeze. Slowly the two turned in unison, like ballet dancers thawing from a deep frost.

Cerulean stepped over the threshold and folded his arms across his chest. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this.”

~~~

Taug groaned as he leaned against the hard, uncompromising transport chair, his tentacles limp at his side. He squeezed his eyes against the discomfort of the harness that kept him from sliding off the seat, while his ample middle bulged unceremoniously at droopy angles.

He choked out a ragged whisper. “I deplore space travel.”

Justine, sitting ramrod straight with her feet firmly set on the smooth floor, crossed her arms languidly over her unharnessed lap. “It could be worse. You could be traveling in the baggage compartment.”

A mere flicker of a glance indicated Taug’s awareness of Justine’s dry sense of humor.

Four other travelers sat strapped in their own ample seats. Two humans, well equipped with state-of-the-art headsets, tapped their datapads while their eyes scanned invisible screens. Two Crestas, younger and more robust than Taug, strained against their harnesses and leaned over to whisper to each other.

A loud buzz announced their entry into space and freed the occupants from their unnatural positions. The humans unbuckled and left without even glancing at the other passengers. The Crestas grunted with relief as they rose and passed into the passage. They studied a map highlighting the ship’s points of interest, including the dining section.

Tapping her thigh, Justine rose and ambled across the small space.

Fumbling with his straps, Taug’s grunts sharpened to disgust.

Unmoved, Justine faced him. “So tell me more about your planet…your people. What is the plan?”

Taug jerked fiercely at his strap, which nearly choked him. He gasped. “Get this damn thing off me, or you’ll be arriving with a dead body.”

Justine frowned but stepped forward. “Is that how you see yourself? I thought you considered yourself a scientist of the highest order, nothing less than a brilliant mind—”

“Hurry! I can’t breathe!”

Justine jerked the strap so that it loosened the clasp and pulled it free from Taug’s body. She stared down at the threadbare material. “Primitive. I wonder why they haven’t come up with something better.”

Taug staggered to his feet and wiggled his tentacles to reanimate his circulation. “The captain knows that the few travelers between Crestar and Newearth are either desperate or preoccupied. Humans don’t go to Crestar unless they are ordered there on business, and Cresta scientists would rather keep our monetary resources for our work. No incentive for comfortable seating.”

“But you like padded chairs and easy comforts.”

“I’m high enough in the food chain to be used to such things. But I like to appear before my superiors as an earnest scientist who happily endures simple hardships without complaint.” He flicked a grimaced smile at Justine. “You won’t give away my little secret, now, will you?”

Justine tilted her head and gestured toward the dining section. “We all have our secrets. How about you teach me the fundamentals of Crestonian cuisine? After all, I intend to be at the top of your food chain, and I’d hate to eat anyone out of order.”

As they settled into their dining booth, Taug waved a tentacle and alerted the host on duty.

A Cresta youth ambled over, looking eager to please, his golden eyes large and watery. “We’re honored to have you onboard, Taug. I’ve been told to offer you the best we have—” He bent down and whispered in an awestruck tone. “—no matter the cost.” His fleshy eyebrows wiggled to underscore the momentous news.

Taug glanced at Justine and then offered a rewarding smile to the young, obviously aspiring Cresta. “I’d like to introduce my protégé to our finest selection. How about we start with—”

As Taug gabbed on about Cresta food options, Justine scanned the dining room. The two other Crestas were bent over sloppy bowls of sticky goo, though they hardly seemed to be eating. She watched as they made every pretense of conversing and enjoying a good meal. She smirked. Apparently, Taug’s own kind didn’t trust him either.

The host practically skipped away.

Justine eyed Taug as he leaned back in the padded booth. Burns, rips, and more than one dent in the furnishings attested to the lack of luxury. But it would hold together for their quick trip. “Happy now?”

Taug closed his eyes and sighed. “Until landing, I’m free and I’ve ordered the finest meal available this side of the Divide. I always like to look on the sunny side.”

“Sunnyside? A rather human sentiment for a Cresta, isn’t it? You like to dive into deep water and surround yourselves with murky gloom.” As Taug did not respond, Justine laced her fingers together, propped her elbows on the table, and leaned in. “Tell me your plans so I know what to expect. I’m not particularly confident that we’ll meet a happy reception.”

Taug opened his eyes and let a lazy gaze rove over Justine. “Why are you worried? I politely informed Mitholie that I was bringing home a prize worth uncountable units.” Taug grinned. “Trust me, he’s waiting with bated breath.”

Justine pursed her lips in the direction of the two other Crestas. “So why did he send guards?”

Taug’s gaze rolled across the room. He shrugged. “I’m always watched. It’s part of the Cresta Code. Watch your back and watch everyone else too.”

“You’re not a very trusting race, are you?”

“Should we be? We value science, and we value advancement. We do not suffer fools.”

“So what am I? Besides a prize, I mean.” Justine’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not going to be experimented on?”

The host appeared with a large tray, which he set to the side. With skillful motions, he set the table with bowls, utensils, and drinks. Using padded mitts, he placed a steaming bowl in the center. “Watch yourselves now, it’s as hot as it looks, but the cook says it’s the best batch he’s made in eons.” With a sharp bow, the youth smiled, his eyes desperate for approval.

Taug accommodated the juvenile with a smile and a nod.

“I’ll check on the main course and be back shortly.” A quick turn sent the young Cresta on his way.

Taug delicately ladled soup into Justine’s bowl and handed it over. “Ah, I wish I were trying Samong for the first time with you. It’s a true delicacy.” He leaned in and whispered. “One of the ingredients is only found on a reclusive mountaintop. Though researchers have tried for years to duplicate it, they can’t get the subtle flavor that makes it so unique.”

Justine took a tentative sip. She shrugged. “It tastes a lot like the tomato soup that Cerulean makes.”

Taug sniffed the wafting aroma and grunted. “Cerulean! Don’t ruin my appetite.” He sipped from his spoon and hummed. “It is a good batch.”

Justine laid her spoon aside and folded her arms. “I have serious questions, none of which you are answering.”

Taug slurped another long draught, his shoulders relaxing. “I told you, Derik will be safe until your return. I offered Governor Right a deal she couldn’t resist.”

Justine’s eyes narrowed. “Such as?”

“She holds on to Derik, unharmed, until your return, and I’ll pass our android findings onto her—to do with as she wishes.”

“You’d do that? Give Newearth and that self-serving liar android—”

Taug lifted a tentacle. “You forget yourself. Remember, you’re serving your own interests as well. We all are.” He took another happy sip. “Besides, it’ll take her eons to decode it.” He leaned back and patted his stomach. “All you need to do is let a few select scientists study you—nothing invasive—and you’ll be free to return to Newearth under a new identity, collect Derik, and go wherever you wish.”

“You won’t need Derik—ever? You’re giving up your crossbreed studies completely?”

Taug grinned. “What do I need with a crossbreed when I have a much better alternative? An android with Cresta DNA will be a far more worthy goal. We’ll become like gods.”

Justine shoved her bowl away. “They will be, anyway…”

“Unless we learn to know ourselves, we run the danger of destroying ourselves.”
~Ja A. Jahannes

A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer I

Last of Her Kind & Newearth Justine Awakens Book Trailer II

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/tomato-soup-soup-gazpacho-2288056/

Ordinary Week, Extraordinary World

Our sunflowers bloomed this week. As did the Rose of Sharon that has grown to a mammoth size and—with the help of the cherry tree—hides the electric pole from our gaze, putting beauty before utility. Literally.

A week of appointments, goodbyes, hellos, arrangements for a future that nobody can count on, and the usual daily-dos, made this an ordinary week in an extraordinary world.

There are so many clashes of opinions on and offline that any discussion often leads to an uneasy truce to agree to disagree. No one thinks exactly like me? Shocking, I know. Others take a different slant on current events? Unsettling in a world where actions matter.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote magnificently about her childhood in her Little House books, and she also wrote a breathtakingly honest column about her life as a farmwife. Her wisdom is clearly won through hard years of challenges but also through the quiet voice of her mother, Caroline, who once commented—“Least said, soonest mended.”

That quote has been a touchstone of reality of late. Much like the garden soil, the swaying of the sunflowers as they turn toward the sun throughout the day, and the presence of a higher reality that pulls me from the frantic concerns of the modern world to a life of acceptance and love—no matter what.

I just finished reading Jimmy Stewart—A Biography by Marc Elliot. Stewart experienced up-close-and-personal, powerful realities—much like Laura Ingalls Wilder but from a Hollywood perspective.

In his case, the line from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life encapsulated his existence, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

In both their lives, it wasn’t so much that they had friends—but they were friends—with all of humanity. They crossed boundaries as the world broke through ceilings of knowledge, skills, and human understanding.

Sunflowers do not bloom only for the appreciative eye. The sun does not warm only the ready seed. Gentle breezes blow on young and old, frail, and strong alike. Storms do much the same.

When the time is right and the day cools a bit, I’ll water the garden. I’m enjoying the breeze and the blossoms at this moment, knowing full well that they won’t last. But without judging the perfection of blooms, the timing of breezes, the power of storms, I’ll find peace in whatever is good and beautiful.

I suspect that Caroline, Laura, and Jimmy would agree.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Historical Fiction Novel

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

HeartBeats—Spiritual Being, Human Journey  https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd0z

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Sci-Fi Short Stories https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunflower-sunset-nature-summer-5370278/