Of Gods and Men

China @1041 AD

Bi Shang scooped a handful of sticky clay and set it on a wooden sideboard. Using sharpened sticks, he pulled off sections, and with sure and steady hands, shaped each piece into thin edged characters. Bending low, his eyebrows furrowed over the intense work, but a lilting hum escaped his lips.

A thin, young man draped in flowing pantaloons and a loose, grey tunic shuffled into the bright room, keeping close to the wall. His large eyes followed the older man with wide-eyed curiosity. “What’re you doing?”

Undisturbed, Bi Shang arranged each character on an iron baking tray. When the tray was full, he straightened and rubbed his back with one hand. With the other, he beckoned. “Come, Jian.”

Jian stepped forward, tilting his head to see better.

“I’m preserving human intelligence.”

Jian’s eyes narrowed. “My intelligence?”

With a chuckle, Bi Shang snatched a piece of wood from a basket and laid it carefully on a pile of glowing embers in a bake oven embedded in the wall. “Hmm. Yours and your children’s as well.”

Snorting, Jian waved the thought away. “You’re teasing.”

As the flickering flames grew, Bi Shang lifted a rack from the floor and placed it inside the oven. He grabbed a bowl of water and sprinkled the flames, taming them into smoky heat.

The boy’s eyes widened again. “But why—?”

“Because, this is delicate work, and I don’t want my characters to go up in flames.” Satisfied, Bi Shang carefully laid the tray on the rack over the radiant heat. With a contented sigh, he bent low and pointed. “See those shapes?”

Jian nodded.

“They represent the thoughts of men across the world.” His eyes twinkled. “And when we put many thoughts together—we shape both men and world.”

An angry pout formed on Jian’s lips. “You only tell me such stories because I’m small for my age.”

With a gentle hand, Bi Shang squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “On the contrary. I’m sharing great power with you. When my characters bake hard and strong, I’ll set them out for the world to read and ponder. Thoughts grow upon thoughts, and our people will know what wise men of the world believed.”

Stretching forth a tentative finger, Jian touched the clay and rubbed it between his fingers.

Tapping the boy’s arm, Bi Shang grinned. “Someday, if you watch and learn, you’ll know the thoughts of many and share your thoughts with the universe—wisdom to last beyond human sight.”

“Forever?” Jian squinted as if trying to see the edge of unlimited eons. “My thoughts are like the wind.” His gaze fell to the dusty floor. “And can sometimes be evil.”

Bi Shang stroked his face. “You are more honest than most.” Returning to his work, he turned his back to the boy. “Evil thoughts can teach us, too.” He glanced over his shoulder. “For none are barred from their embrace.” He sighed. “Though the wind sometimes uproots the old, it also carries in invigorating air.”

Jian shook his head, a worried frown etched across his forehead. “Such a power is for the gods and their anointed.”

Bi Shang nodded as he lifted his sharp sticks and began to shape a new character. He bent over his work in silent intensity.

Jian shuffled toward the door.

After placing new characters on a fresh tray, Bi Shang lifted his finger. “Before you leave, look at these.” He beckoned Jian forward.

Returning, Jian bent over the iron tray. A new light entered his eyes.”What do they mean?”

“Free—Spirit.” Bi Shang fixed his gaze on the boy. “We choose what we believe.”

Jian nodded, his bright eyes fastened on the figures. “Of gods and men.”

~~~

Sterling, a Luxonian disguised in the rough garb of a Chinese peasant, slapped a mosquito on his arm and frowned at the sight of blood. “Damn insects. Stupid humans! I’m so bored I could—”

“Sir?” Teal, a younger Luxonian dressed in a matching style, stepped out from behind a bush. He nodded toward a tree. “If you need to use—uh—want a little privacy—”

“I’d rather disintegrate.”

Smothering a smile as he rubbed a hand across his face, Teal nodded respectfully. “I doubt that’ll be necessary.” He started toward a sloping hill crowned with a copse of woods. “Though you did have five cups of tea.”

Laboring alongside his companion, Sterling blew air between his lips. “I keep thinking these new world voyages will stimulate me—invigorate my lagging spirit. But instead, everything is so blasted uncomfortable—it’s either hot and humid or dry and cold.” He tugged at his collar. “These ridiculous clothes scratch unmercifully, and the insect life—”

Teal huffed as he neared the crest. “But you enjoyed the tea and cakes—don’t deny it. And, you must admit, watching humans’ first foray into printing was rather fascinating.” With eager steps, he entered the woods.

Sterling tripped and grabbed a branch for balance. “I hate hiding in dark corners. And I’d hardly call a grown man attempting to convince a pathetic child that his clay characters imply a universal achievement—fascinating.” He snapped the twig off the tree and pounded further into the dense woods. “Really, I wonder if becoming a judge is worth all the risk.”

Yelping, Teal stopped and leaned against a tree. He dug a stone out of his sandal. “You have to understand the various life forms in your jurisdiction. How else will you make fair assessments?”

Sterling shuffled from one foot to another, his frown deepening. “I understand that. I just don’t like all the needless hardship. Why couldn’t I have been offered a position on Helm? Shapeshifters have much better sensibilities.” He swallowed and his face flushed. “I can’t stand it.”

Teal glanced around. “We’re safe here. Go ahead—return to Luxonian form.”

“No time!” Sterling rushed behind a tree.

Teal snatched a nut from a tree and studied it thoughtfully, ignoring Sterling’s long, shuddering sigh.

Wandering like a man lost in a dream, Sterling circled toward Teal. “I never imagined such relief—”

Teal pushed away from the trunk. “If you’re ready, we should make our report. Do a good job, and you’ll make a Supreme Judge someday.” He grinned. “As guardian, I’ll always be here to help.”

Sterling threw up his hands in renewed anguish. “But I haven’t got anything to report! It’s all so inconsequential.”

A brooding frown spread across Teal’s face. “Open your mind.” Teal strode closer and looked Sterling in the eyes. “Think about what you’ve seen—all of humanity’s challenges. They suffer from their corporeal bodies and their primitive living conditions—yet they manage to invent new ways to express themselves and preserve knowledge. They work hard, practice discipline and patience, endure pain and, yes, enjoy relief. And, from the look on the young man’s face, they also know ecstatic joy.” He waved his hands as if to encompass the entire planet. “I’d say that was consequential.”

Sterling peered up at the bright sky filtered between the leafy branches. “Perhaps you’re right.” He grinned as he leveled his gaze at Teal. “Supreme Judge, eh?” He glanced around, his smile fading. “Only if I survive.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

To See Another Day

Summer’s glory not,

Battles ever fought.

Garden seeds and springing weeds,

Speak of endless deeds.

Joy-filled fun,

Wearies under the blistering sun.

Insects buzz and bite,

Never a moment’s respite.

Yet dew-sparkled webs amid the grassy green,

Offer light-hearted beauty, joy in being.

Birds greet the sun, soak in glorious rays,

Encouraging buzzing bees—at the brink of day.

Dark gloom forgot,

As season’s blooms brought,

Vibrant color taught,

Old hearts in beauty caught.

Summer’s glory be,

The moon’s radiance see.

Fruits and fauns, yellow daffodils,

Invigorated limbs and nurtured wills.

Seasons pass through many a trial,

Growing life through every heart-filled mile.

Journey each we may,

Hope to see another day.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

We Could Cry

From Melchior—The Gift of Kings

Frozen to the core, Melchior sat slouch-shouldered at the table; tendrils of steam from his venison stew rose before him. He took a tentative sip and burned his tongue.

Gideon hurried into the hall, his arms swinging at his side, a smile radiating from his face. “Father! Good news!”

Melchior pursed his lips.

Settling next to his father on the bench, Gideon peered from the old man to the stew and grinned. Lifting the bowl, he blew away the steam. After a few hearty puffs, he placed the bowl before his father with a flourish. “You’re right. God takes care of everything!”

“Not always.”

Gideon shook his head. “Well, this time. Wilfred told the Prince about the church, and guess what? You can’t imagine.”

“Probably not.”

“The prince offered to support the building. He even gave me gold to show his sincerity.” Gideon drew out a bag and poured heavy coins onto the table. “Prince Omar believes that the church must be free to serve God without a king’s influence. He’s going to persuade his father to visit, too.”

Melchior swallowed as he envisioned an entourage of foreign kings arriving at his humble abode. “Father Caedmon named you rightly. You’re a warrior meant to spread the word of God, but with a pen, not a sword.” Melchior’s frown returned. “What about studying in Rome?”

Gideon’s eyes glowed. “Perhaps I don’t need to go. With good scholars, we can teach here. Men might come from all over the world to see what we have preserved, what we have remembered…for the glory of God.”

Melchior sighed as images of ruins, mud-caked roads, and ignorant men rose in his mind.

Gideon grasped his father’s cold, feeble hand. “You see. It’s a miracle! And through the help of a foreign king!”

Melchior’s blank stare through red-rimmed eyes proclaimed what he did not see.

“Your father named you Melchior after a foreign king who served God through a gift of gold. This time it will be a king’s son, but a king’s power nonetheless, who serves God through a gift of gold.” Gideon clapped his hands together. “What a wonderful sense of humor God has!”

Melchior sat motionlessly. His stew was quite cool by now. He swallowed and remembered his father’s gentle face as he peered up at him, sitting on the old man’s knee as a boy.

 “Never give up, Melchior, for God is never outdone in generosity. His strength reaches to men—through men. God never abandons His own.”

Pushing his stew to the side, Melchior stared at his happy son. The tears that slipped down his cheeks warmed his face.

~~~

A silent, invisible being sat at the far end of the table, entranced. Omega itched to take on human form, but he knew the rules. Mother had explained observations techniques very carefully, and Abbas had outlined the horrors of alien exposure in vivid detail. If he wanted a world of his own someday, he must study hard and not take risks.

Appearing as nothing more than a flicker of wind, Omega rose from the table, circled around the old man, and bent low to examine the tears. Awesome things—tears. Fearing spontaneous combustion from sheer exuberance, Omega returned to his own world.

~~~

Bright flames flickered over huge logs set into a fireplace large enough to roast a full-grown ox. Lush tapestries and rich oil paintings adorned the lofty walls while heavy wooden trestle tables lined the perimeter.

Appearing as an elderly human in a long robe, wearing a red skull cap, Abbas reclined on an ornate couch with enough pillows to satisfy a Greek god. Studying a painting—the Mona Lisa—propped on a stand at his side, he tapped his fingers against his lips, a minor scowl etched across his brow.

Omega strode into the great hall, bent and kissed his father on the forehead, and tilted his head at the Mona Lisa. “Figure her out yet?”

Abbas rose and waved a languid hand. “She’s not half as interesting as the men who find her fascinating.” Abbas pointed to the painting. “Do you know that Leonardo—the artist—painted her to represent the ideal of happiness?”

A grin played on Omega’s lips. “He’s quite wrong. I believe I’ve discovered ideal happiness—in tears.”

In a fluid motion, Abbas rose and strode to a side table filled with golden goblets and a carafe of pink liquid. “Been to Earth again—have we?” He poured healthy dashes into goblets and handed one to his son. “You realize that we have to find our own medium of happiness—each and every day. It’s not something one discovers once and for all.” He took a smooth sip, eyeing his son over the rim.

In one gulp, Omega downed his drink and tossed the goblet into the fire.

His father frowned.

Flopping onto the couch, Omega crossed his legs and leaned back. He closed his eyes. “I watched a young man turn his father from agony to ecstasy with mere words. He spoke of God as if he knew Him personally, and he drew hope from despair. The old man’s tears redeemed him.” Jumping to his feet, Omega crossed the room and poured himself another drink. “I find that fascinating—even though I hardly understood a word he said.” He gulped down the second drink as quickly as the first, but before he could throw the goblet, his father snatched it from his hand.

“You’re a child, Omega, fascinated by new experiences.” He placed the goblet back on the table. “Even though we have power—we must not waste it. You are too hasty. You—”

“But that’s why they fascinate me! They are creatures of passion and intellect, yet as far below us as their amphibians are below them. But still, they make such music, such poetry—” He swung around and pointed at the Mona Lisa. “Such glorious art! It resonates within me.”

Abbas lifted the painting off the stand and placed it securely between two masterpieces on the wall. His frown deepened.

“Ay, father! Do you think that perhaps they’re right? Maybe they were created by the same God—and that’s why—”

“Don’t forget yourself! You were sent to study—not to emulate—aliens. We worship no gods—or beings—beyond ourselves. That’s how we became so powerful. We’re the best the universe has to offer.”

Turning to the fire and running his fingers through the flames, Omega chuckled. “Yes, father. That’s why we copy their paintings, eat their food, sit at their tables, live in their castles, and wear their skins. We study them—” His smile faded. “And wish we could cry.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

My Kind of Madness

Over time, I’ve become convinced that madness must run in the family. How else can I explain my insane desire to “live simply” which, by necessity, involves all sorts of discomforts from merely annoying insects to knockdown drag-out encounters with the wild side of creation? Whoever said nature was innocent, never met nature up-close and personal.

My husband and I both grew up in cities. He in Los Angeles, I in Milwaukee. We both traveled and knew “something of the world” before we met and married. Thankfully, we both came to the conclusion that we wanted to raise our kids in the country. Images of blissful encounters with nature and the soul-steadying reality of hard work encouraged us to forge ahead with what would become a lot more intense experience than we could have ever realized.

But that was good. Otherwise, we would’ve never done it. God isn’t stupid when He doesn’t color in all the details. Oh, no.

Luckily, John was very strong and loved nature. He was soon dubbed “Our Amish Paul Bunyan” by the homeschooling dads. Good thing because I was rather busy having babies. Eight babies. Yes. One at a time.

During those years, we learned to raise laying hens for eggs, meat birds for our winter chicken supply, maintain a humongous garden, and raise bees and gather the honey. Each spring, John collected sap from the maple trees and made maple syrup. That was fun. Kids around a huge cauldron over an open fire in the backyard stirring…and stirring…and stirring. And then pancakes. Life was good.

We got a cow and learned to milk it. Or rather my eldest daughter did. I hid with the chickens. But I did learn to make cheese. Sort of. Okay, my homemade bread was eatable, though.

We are the kind of people who drive other people nuts. We don’t use air conditioning—unless you have a heart condition or are with social services. We actually like to recycle. All the kids work. Or else. Pretty much everyone collapses on Sunday. No need for a “Though shalt rest” commandment. God knows what He’s doing.

When John was diagnosed with Leukemia, our youngest was only seven months. There was no way I could do everything. So I didn’t. I simply did what I could. The kids did what they could. John did what he could—till he couldn’t do anything. But those joint efforts—raising the chickens, milking the cow, making cheese (sort of), gardening—they did a lot to keep the rhythm of our lives going even when our hearts were skipping beats.

John died in December 2013, and since then, the kids and I have struggled to maintain the core of our little natural world. I can’t really call it a farm. We have loosey-goosy hens that lay eggs in the doghouse, meat birds that die without asking, and bees we watch but do not follow, a middle-sized garden, fruit trees, nut trees, and more dogs and cats than I care to count. Don’t ask about the possums and assorted critters that like to visit. We do chat on occasion. I tell them to go home. They ignore me.

When things get tough and I’m ready to give up on one more thing, I remember why John and I started this foolishness in the first place. There is something sublime about working hard and living according to your conscience. Nature isn’t always easy, but in the fruits, vegetables, nuts, critters, weather, and the land itself, we see daily facets of God’s abundant imagination.

We learn balance and integrity while working with God’s created world. Jesus spoke in nature parables all the time. We are stewards. If we’re not ever vigilant, weeds will destroy our garden.

There’s nothing quite like the blessings of hard physical labor, homemade bread and strawberry jam. It isn’t the amount of land worked, the number of chickens raised, the variety of critters encountered. It’s the interaction. The noticing…the caring…the faithfulness needed to keep everyone alive. We are known by our fruit.

It’s my kind of madness.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Vision

From OldEarth Georgios Encounter

Coming 2018…

Isle of Patmos Circa 100 AD

Georgios stood by Lysander, staring glassy-eyed and mute at the grizzly scene. How could this have happened?

Bleeding and exhausted, Rueben lay on the hard ground and peered at the man lying prostrate beside him, a man he knew he should hate. “You had a son, Armond, but death is not the end.”

Armand’s eyes fluttered as the blazing sun beat on him. “Fathers don’t kill their sons…there is no name for me.” He glanced around wildly, blindly. “Georgios…I would’ve made you mine.” Armand’s head slumped to the side, his eyes unseeing.

Georgios fell to his knees and clutched Rueben’s arm.

Rueben shuddered each labored breath, his gaze flowed over Georgios like an evening tide over the shore.

His vision blurring, Georgio pressed a ragged cloth against Rueben’s seeping wound. “No, Rueben, you shall not die! Armand deserves death but you must live. That God you believe in—He’ll help us or He’s worth nothing at all!”

Rueben sucked air into his lungs and forced his eyes open. “I’m not dead yet…but I won’t live much longer. Our days are not like pieces of gold, Georgios. We can’t horde them.”

Tears trickled down Georgios’ face. “You’re supposed to help me. I need you.”

Rueben choked on an abrupt laugh. “There is not a man on earth that I wouldn’t help…if I could.” His gaze wandered to the lifeless body. “May he rest in peace.”

Lysander stepped to Georgios’ side and peered at Rueben. He snorted. “Rest in peace? He killed that woman over there, he tried to kill you, and he tried to kill me! Who knows how many others he murdered or would have murdered if given the chance? He even killed his own son! You cannot pray for him. May his soul burn in Hades!”

Rueben’s gaze lifted to the bright sky. “But he did not make me hate him.”

Georgios turned, his eyes searched the immediate vicinity. “There’s a house around here somewhere. We’ll get help and save you, Rueben.”

“I’ll go.” Lysander turned and sprinted away.

Georgios clutched Rueben in his arms, pressing a cloth against the open wound. He closed his mind to the bodies off to the side. Like a mother rocking her child, Georgios hummed a tune his mother used to sing at bedtime.

Rueben closed his eyes.

A lump swelled in Georgios’ throat and choked off all sound, but a thought rose clear and strong.  I’ll never leave you again.

~~~

Song grieved. Her inner being shuddered at the sight before her, yet she dared to exhale the consummate loss and inhale a prayer of hope. If a young human could peer into the mystery of Providence, could not she, a being of vastly greater years and experience, trust in that which is unseen?

In her form as a native spider, she crawled around a boulder and made her way down the winding path. In a sheltered spot, she shape-shifted into a peasant girl. Plucking a wayside flower, she strolled down the hillside to the shore and waited. Her ship would not arrive until darkness enveloped the land.

Rueben’s words, “He did not make me hate him.” rang in her ears. Her entire planet had suffered from the loss of a sister planet, and now she and most of her people were exiled to the outer universe, searching for new hope among ancient worlds. Was she defeated?

Rocking on her haunches, Song twirled the fading flower in her fingers.

~~~

The eastern hemisphere lay in blackness as thick clouds covered the sliver of a moon. Before Song’s eyes, the sea bubbled and foamed in sudden action as a rounded, black form emerged from the surface just offshore. Her ship lifted dripping and glimmering in her sight. She smiled and rose.

A long mechanical arm arched from the ship and lay flat before her feet like a slave, offering obeisance before its mistress.

Song stepped forward, her bare feet tingling at the sensation of warm water and cold metal. When the door opened, a shaft of light nearly blinded her, but she continued her ascent into the interior of the ship.

Within seconds, the door closed, the arm folded, and the ship sank into the depths of the sea, only to emerge leagues away in the center of an ocean no human had yet explored.

Song slipped onto a lounge chair and folded her legs under her. A tall elven-looking male with green eyes and black, curly hair sauntered forward with a crystal glass in his hand. With a stiff bow, he passed it to Song, his grim gaze appearing to penetrate her human form.

“Everything went well?”

After sipping the honey-colored liquid, Song motioned to the seat before her. “Please, no formalities, Romtov. I’m too exhausted to play Queen today.”

Perching on the edge of a lush divan, Romtov clasped his hands in his lap. “I’d help you…if I could.”

Swinging her legs over the edge of the chair, Song righted herself and hunched forward. She laid the glass aside. “I no longer despair.”

Romtov peered intently into her eyes and waited.

She rose and stepped over to the oblong observation window. Earth’s western hemisphere glowed in the light of the sun’s rays. “There is beauty in simplicity, yet it has taken the complexity of space travel, invasion, and encountering new worlds to remind me that hope lies—not in the conquering of evil—but in the admittance of grace.”

“You’ve had a vision. I see it in your eyes.”

Song turned and a smile warmed her face. “Yes, but it will be a long time to fruition.” She tapped the window. “One day, this planet will become home to our people…home to many peoples. Humanity has no idea that we exist, but like a couple that knew nothing of each other while in the cradle but yet grew to intertwine so close as to become one—so the human race will embrace the larger universe. We shall become one. Beyond hate and despair lies hope for us all.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

They Might Be Right

Alessandro gulped as he watched an agonized man pass with a cross hefted on his shoulder. He tugged at his slave collar and waited patiently for the procession to pass. Golgotha was close enough that he could see the crosses already erected and two men hanging in desperate misery. Alessandro closed his eyes and prayed they would die quickly.

Someone jostled his arm, and he glanced up. A woman had run from the crowd and wiped the condemned man’s face with her veil. She sobbed as she worked. Alessandro gasped. He has seen this man, this condemned criminal, before.

Jesus.

The memory hit him like a boulder to the chest. He could smell the incense and hear the wailing of the poor widow as she took her son’s body to his burial place. Then this same man stepped forward. A few gentle words—and a miracle. The son was alive again. Grief was reborn into perfect joy. Alessandro had relived that moment every day since it had happened.

Now Alessandro watched, stunned, as the crowd followed the procession up the hill. He turned away—he had an errand to run for his master. As he stepped into the narrow, winding street, he looked back and choked. A slave from his youth, taken on a warm, spring day from his home and his family—this was his life.

When Jesus rose on the cross, he stared upon death, his eyes dry.

~~~

Months later, just when Alessandro finally thought he had put the haunting memory from his mind, he stepped into his master’s quarters and froze.

As a Roman citizen of high standing, Felix rarely lost his composure. Today, he stood hunched over his table sobbing like a child. After a moment, the elderly statesman dabbed at his eyes and glanced about.

Alessandro stood in the doorway in perfect obedience. To his confusion, his master smiled and waved him forward.

“Come—don’t be afraid.”

With firm steps, Alessandro crossed the room, his eyes fixed on his master’s face.

Felix sat on the edge of the table, his hands clasped before him. “It is not often that I lose control—but I just received a shock.”

Alessandro’s collar itched, but he dared not lift a finger.

Felix leaned in and peered into the youth’s eyes. “You see, I heard a man preaching in the street today—a Galilean named Peter. He told a marvelous tale—about a man named Jesus of Nazareth rising from the dead. Peter even healed a cripple in Jesus’ name.” His gaze wandered to the window. “Many have come to believe.”

Alessandro’s mouth had gone dry as sand.

“I saw Jesus of Nazareth once. Heard all about his miracles. I believed he was—from God.”

Alessandro’s eyes widened.

“But business pressed, and I did nothing about it. I put him out of my mind.” Felix crossed to the window and gazed over the distant hills. “I did not crucify him.” Tears started in the old Roman’s eyes. “I ignored him.” Clenching his hands together, Felix stepped over to Alessandro, pleading. “God’s son, they say—walked among us—and I—did nothing.”

Alessandro swallowed. “Even God would not condemn a man for attending to his own business.” His hands trembled at his side.

Felix’s wan smile chased his grief away. He patted the youth on the arm. “You were a worthy investment—I knew that when I first saw you as a boy.” Felix returned to the window. “No, I do not feel condemned. I feel—lost.”

Shaking his head and squaring his shoulders, Felix returned to business. “I have a message you must take.” He pinched a small parchment off his table and handed it to his slave.

After bowing, Allesandro turned to leave.

Felix called out. “One more question—I know you can’t answer—but I feel it must be asked.”

Alessandro paused, suddenly afraid.

“Will God—ever come again?”

Walking along the narrow street, Alessandro knew—that question would ring in his ears to the end of his days.

~~~

A sunbeam slanted across a quiet hillside where a gentle slope led to a grassy expanse, a world of Hyssop, Daffodils, Lupine, Iris and buzzing insects.

In a blink of light, two figures appeared. One grandfather figure with grey hair and a slight stoop nodded, beaming at a young man with golden brown hair, brilliant blue eyes, and the physique of a young Adonis. They were both dressed in the simple garments of common shepherds.

“Very good, Cerulean! You maintained your shape perfectly! It’s not every Luxonian who can travel as an alien species and keep their proper form. You look every inch the human boy—a little too perfect maybe—but we can adjust that. Remember, humans become either enamored or jealous at the sight of physical perfection.”

The youth nodded even while his gaze traveled the parameter of their setting. “We’re safe here?”

“Of course. I’ve had eons of experience at this sort of thing. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Cerulean clasped his hands together and waited.

A few scattered sheep crested one of the far hills. Cerulean’s eyes widened.

The old man hefted a shepherd’s staff and nudged the boy along. “Now remember, just act natural—like you have your own business to attend to and no one will bother you.”

A shepherd appeared at the top of a distant hill. He peered at them and waved.

Cerulean glanced at his father. “Teal? I believe that man is trying to get our attention.”

“Just keep walking—he’ll ignore us if we go away.”

Cerulean padded across the grassy pastureland, his gaze wandering back to the man on the hill.

Teal prodded the boy in the shoulders. “Don’t look. Never engage in eye contact unless you want to meet someone—which you never will. You’re just here to observe, take careful note of everything significant, and inform the Supreme Council of your findings when you return to Lux.”

Cerulean snuck another glance, but, as his father had predicted, the man had returned to the care of his sheep. He sighed. “We could have gone anywhere on the planet; why—?”

Teal yelped and gripped his son’s shoulder. “Stop a moment. I’ve got something caught between my toes. Panting, he cleared his foot of a trailing weed and then pointed to the blue sky. “Do you remember the story I told you and your mother about the miracle healer, heralded by the magnificent star at his birth? It was noted by every intelligent species this side of the Divide.”

Rubbing his forehead, Cerulean frowned. “As I remember, the man was murdered—by his own people.”

“True, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The people in these lands believed that he rose again and lived on in a new form.” Teal’s gaze scanned the cloudless sky. “I’ve been waiting for him to return.”

“You think he will?”

Teal sighed. “Three generations have passed. I have little hope left. But they say that he lives in the hearts of believers. I have even heard that he comes as food for—”

“Food?” Cerulean’s eyebrows rose.

“Not in human form—but as bread.” Teal shrugged. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Despite your official reports, humans sound rather barbaric.”

Teal chuckled. “Beware, humans grow on you. They’re surprising—they have unexpected strength, and they believe in miracles.”

Cerulean glanced at the crest of the hill where the shepherd reappeared with a young boy at his side. “I wonder what they believe.”

“You will be a guardian soon enough, and experience is the greatest teacher. Just remember—” He nudged his son forward.

Cerulean plodded along, his gaze focused on the crest of another hill. “What?”

“They might be right.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Live

Planet Earth

Daud leaned upon his shepherd’s staff and tipped back his head. A brilliant star lit the night sky in a thousand points of light. Heart pounding exuberance flushed his face as he stared at this new, unfathomable mystery. His brother, Hikmat, teased him unmercifully whenever he stuttered his thoughts aloud. So, he rarely spoke at all. Fortunately, his young son admired the night sky as much as he did, and they could sit in companionable silence for hours, watching the stars come out one by one, listening to the soft tinkles of bells and the bleating of sheep grazing upon the hillside.

When his brother and son trudged up the hill, his smile died and reformed into a frown. Their expressions and rapid footsteps bespoke the need for haste and—

Daud jogged forward and intercepted them. “What’s wrong?”

His son flew into his arms and hugged him around the waist, squeezing him in a fit of joy—or terror—Daud could not say. He grasped the child’s arm and stared through the star-filled light into his son’s eyes. “What’s happened?”

“Oh, Father, the most wonderful thing—angles appeared—from the sky. They gave us news.” His son swung an outstretched hand from the star to a cave in a distant hillside and began to tug his father’s arm. “Come—see!”

“See?” Daud glanced up at Hikmat who had stopped before him, staring at the same cave. “See what?”

With slow reluctance, Hikmat pulled his gaze away and appeared to see his brother for the first time. “Daud, you won’t believe me—but the sky was filled with beings, singing and joyous. They announced—the Savior—the Christ is born.”

Daud jerked back, his skin prickling. This was not his brother—there was no hint of Hikmat’s teasing tone or his haughty expression.

“Come, Father. Let us see the babe!” The child ran ahead like a colt that can’t be tethered.

Daud started after him and then glanced back; his voice rose high and strained. “Babe? What babe?”

In the bright night, the undulating movements of many forms froze his voice. A strangled gasp issued from a deep well of terror. Shepherds and folk from leagues around followed the nimble trails leading to that same simple cave, moving as one—at the command of a force Daud could not name.

Like a man rousing from a trance, Hikmat started trotting forward and waved his brother along with a shout. “Come—see!”

~~~

Planet Ingilium

Bergen stepped away from a compact space shuttle, blinked in the bright glare of the Ingoti sun, and winced at the geometrically perfect city. He rubbed his exposed neck, leaving an irritated red mark. Even when his girlfriend, Yangon, embraced him, his expression refused to soften.

Yangon wrapped her flexible, armored arm around his and tugged him along the broad city walkway. “Long trip?”

Bergen nodded as he tromped along at her side.

Waving to a tall Ingoti beauty crossing the intersection congested with pedestrians, air scooters, and low-level fliers, Yangon sneered and hugged Bergen’s arm tighter. “Lee’s been asking about you—bragging wretch. Just because she’s traveled to distant galaxies. Like that’s so special.” Yangon glanced at Bergen.

Bergen’s fixed gaze had not wavered a millimeter, though he tugged at his chest armor as if a new appliance irritated him.

“You must be worn down. I’ve got a nutritious meal planned and then—” Rubbing her hand on his arm, she purred. “Well, trust me, the second course will be even better than the first.”

~~~

A stack of metal plates, cups, and cutlery rotated through a wash cycle, as Yangon pulled Bergen to a wide, luxurious couch.

He flopped down with a groan.

She pounced. First, she climbed onto his lap and nibbled his exposed neck. Then she reached—

Bergen stood up and dropped her unceremoniously to the ground. A perplexed frown etched across his forehead. “You ever wonder why we bother? We don’t need to eat meals like that. And as for—” He rubbed his neck where she had kissed him and shrugged. “We don’t need that either.”

Yangon’s flushed face tightened. “You never complained about my cooking before—or my—”

“I’m not complaining—just wondering. Why are we—trapped?” He clawed at his chest armor.

Yangon stifled a gasp and stumbled to the kitchenette, leaning heavily against the counter. “You’ve found someone else.” With a shudder, she dropped her gaze.

“What? No! I mean, not exactly.”

Yangon’s head jerked up. She glared at Bergen. “Not exactly? Who—?”

Pulling off his mechanical gloves and unplugging the wrist connectors, Bergen retreated to the couch and perched on the edge. He tapped his emaciated, pale fingers together and peered at the Ingot before him.

Disgust played on Yangon’s lips as she stared at his raw hands.

“May I tell you a story?”

Yangon grimaced and slid onto a stool, flexing her mechanical hands over the smooth metal surface. “Whatever.”

Bergen stood and paced the white-walled, rectangular room. “Humans are very primitive. I went there to take notes and write an assessment—the usual.”

Yangon tapped the datapad embedded in her right arm, scowling.

“But something happened.” Halting in mid-step, Bergen’s gaze retreated into a memory. “I saw a baby born.”

Yangon’s lip curled as she rubbed a spot off her breastplate. “Disgusting creatures—giving birth to live young. It’s one reason we’re so much—”

Bergen blinked. “The baby spoke to me—somehow. His nakedness—his frailty—his sheer honesty—” He staggered.

Her eyes grew into rounded, horrified orbs. “You exposed yourself?”

With a wave, Bergen thrust the accusation away. “No. I stayed on the ship. I sent a bot and hid it on one of the animals. But I saw everything. The mother, the father, the birth. The baby’s eyes opened, and—for an instant—he looked at me.” Bergen swallowed. “He spoke.”

“By the Divide, what could an alien infant possibly say?”

Live.” Bergen flopped down on the couch. “I want to live—feel hunger, thirst—desire—love.” He leaned back and clasped his hand over his eyes.

Yangon rose and glared at the Ingot in front of her. “You’ve caught some off-world disease, and now you’re out of sync.” Her lips pursed in disdain. “You’d better see a specialist.” Sudden alarm spread over her face. She ran to an alcove and slapped a wall panel. “You better not have given me anything—” She rubbed herself all over as an intense light radiated across her body and a disinfectant spray enveloped her.

Bergen shook his head as he climbed to his feet. “I’m not sick. Or out of sync. I’ve just realized—I’m hardly alive.” He started for the door.

Keeping her distance, Yangon stared after him. “Where’re you going?”

Passing the window, he pointed to the black, star-filled sky. “I’m going back.”

Yangon snorted. “You can’t live like a primitive, Ingot. Technology is wired into your very being.”

Bergen shrugged. “The Crestas are experimenting on our nursery rejects—maybe they can help me.”

Yangon’s lip rose in a snarl. “They’ll more likely kill you.”

“Long as I care—I’ll live.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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