A Fresh Thought

“For all the difficulty of philosophy seems to consist in this—from the phenomenas of motions to investigate the forces of Nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other phenomena…” ~Issac Newton

Robert sat hunched over a wooden table shoved against the wall of a dimly lit pub. He stared a cream-colored pamphlet and tugged his fingers through his hair, pulling a couple strands from his head.

Flames from a stone hearth sent a flickering glow across the smoky, half-filled room as voices murmured in a multitude of evening conversations.

A woman in a stained, serviceable dress strolled over and perched her hand on her hip, a damp rag gripped tight in her fist. “You’ll go blind, staring like that.” She tapped the page with one dismissive finger. “Not worth it, I say.” She hitched a thumb behind her. “Look at Henry. He’s got the right idea. Barkeepers make money hand over fist and sleep in comfortable beds.”

Henry, a thin, wiry man, polished a heavy mug and set it on the counter beside a stack of empty plates.

Robert lifted his blanched face and stared through red-rimmed eyes. “You don’t understand, Isabel. This is the greatest revelation to humanity since…I don’t know. Maybe since God created the world.”

A chuckle from across the room turned heads. A tall, hefty man rose from a barstool and sauntered near. “There’s them that can meddle in such things, and those who’d best keep their eyes on their work.”

Isabel nodded. “You tell ‘em, William. He won’t listen to me.”

William laid a meaty hand on Robert’s shoulder. “You pa’s looking for you, surely.”

Robert glanced from Isabel to William, the line of his mouth hardening. “Pa sent me to school to learn—he don’t want me to stop, just because times are tough.”

Grunting, William hitched his thumbs in his belt and straightened, throwing his head back like a man about to tell a tall tale. “Times are more than tough. Plague, fire, wars, and famine are constant companions. A man’s life is bitter and short.” He bent down and stared earnestly into Robert’s eyes. “Your pa is a dreamer but getting older by the day.” William whistled through a gap of a missing tooth. “I did my time aboard a ship, nearly died more often than I cared to count. But grace, hard work, and sticking to my business saved me.” He glanced aside, a wince of pain shooting across his face. “And those I cared about.”

Robert scowled. “And how were you treated for your service, William? Never honestly paid, were you? Was it right that so many good men died needlessly?”

Like a clap of thunder, William smacked the table, turning every head in the pub, his gaze hard and his eyes glowing. He spat his words. “That little book going to make the world more just? Going to give a man his rightful due?”

Her grip tightening, water dripped from Isabel’s rag, her gaze darted from William to Robert.

Robert shoved back his chair and rose. “If you mean, will knowledge pay a decent wage, no, probably not. But will it allow a man to feel like a man—to think like a man?” Robert closed the pamphlet and tucked it in his coat pocket. “Then, yes. Knowledge will give a man his due.”

William scratched his neck and shook his head, wrinkles crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “Never thought to say that the son of Giles Churchwarden was a fool, but if you spend all your days trying to understand the likes of that book, you’ve earned the title, make no mistake.”

From the back of the room, Henry lifted a mug and laughed. “We’ll come to the same end, Willie boy. Don’t begrudge the man his grand ideas. Twas a foolish God who thought of us, remember.” He beckoned Robert to the bar. “If you ever understand even a bit of it, share the likes with those of us who enjoy a fresh thought.”

Robert met the barkeeper’s gaze. “I’ll tend my pa’s farm during the day, but we’ll exchange a thought or two in the evening, Henry.” Darting a glance from William to Isabel, Robert crossed the threshold and stepped into the starry night. He sighed. “Life’s less bitter that way.”

~~~

A gigantic hall lit with hundreds of candles shone in reflected glory. Each piece of polished furniture gleamed and colorful tapestries hung from high ceilings, covering the stone walls. Two large trestle tables dominated the central space while a dais occupied the far end. Huge logs from full-grown trees blazed in the fireplaces at opposite ends of the room.

Shopkeepers, smiths, farmers, cow herders, carpenters, cobblers, fishermen, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, serving women and serving men, bustled about, some eating, some chatting, some working, some resting from a long day’s work.

Dressed like a fine lord in a short white tunic and a flowing burgundy robe, a young, handsome-looking man sauntered beside his father and gazed around the room. “You must admit, it was a pleasant experience. There’s nothing like seeing them in their native environment to help us understand how to best care for them.”

His grey-haired father climbed the three steps to the jewel-encrusted throne and plunked down in apparent exhaustion. “I think you missed the man’s point, Omega.”

Omega chuckled and threw himself down on the smaller throne to the right of his father. “Which man?” He lifted his hand. “You mean Robert?” He tapped his fingers together steeple-style. “It’s true, I should give these beings more to think about. But—” He grinned. “They seem so content.”

“You save them from certain death, and they’re grateful. They play your game and live like this because they need you.” The old man stared at his son. “But remember what the barkeep said.”

Omega frowned. “He wanted a fresh thought now and again. That shouldn’t be too hard.” He laid his hand over his father’s. “You’re always coming up with fresh ideas, Abbas.”

The old man pursed his lips. “Robert remembered who created them.” Abbas beckoned to the serving man. “A stout ale for me and milk for my son.”

Omega scowled and opened his mouth, but Abbas interrupted.

“They may think that God is a fool for creating them free.” Abbas rubbed his temple. “But by far, more’s the fool who tries to keep them captive.”

Omega lifted his arms as if embracing the entire hall full of people. “They would’ve died on Earth. This may be a mirage—but it’s a good mirage. At least they’re alive.”

“Lies—even good lies—never satisfy for long. Remember Newton? There was a man who could not be satisfied with mere appearance.”

The serving man placed a golden tankard into Omega’s waiting hand.

Abbas drank deep and wiped his foamy lips with the back of his hand. “Best be careful, son. The turning of the human mind is no less startling than the turning of a planet. And a whole lot less predictable.”

 

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

Soul Mates

Her hair falling to the side of her face and her long denim skirt plastered against her sweaty legs, Zoe hefted a large trash can in her arm and dumped an array of plastics into the “Plastics Only” barrel. She wiped a smear of peanut butter off her plaid shirt and stepped aside, narrowly missing the grey wall.

Another woman, dressed in designer jeans and a white blouse, stepped in and tipped a small can. Plastics of various shapes and sizes cascaded into the barrel.

And one shoe.

Zoe lifted her index finger. “Oh, uh…I think you…uh…just lost a shoe.”

The woman peered down at her well-matched feet. Two neon-pink tennis shoes stared back.

Tiptoeing over the barrel, Zoe peered in. She pointed to a black heel poking out of the containers, looking distinctly out of place.

The other woman inched closer as if she thought Zoe might make a weird attempt to dump her to into the barrel. Glancing over the edge, she frowned. “Oh, my! That’s my best dress shoe. How’d that get in there?”

Zoe bit her lip.

The woman lunged and almost fell in.

Clutching the woman’s arm with one hand, Zoe knocked the containers out of the way with the other. She snatched the miserable shoe from its indignity and held it high with a smile. “Got it!”

Accepting the wayward foot apparel, the woman laughed. Her gaze rolled up and down Zoe with practiced care. “My name’s Lilith.” She considered her shoe. “I should pay you something.”

Zoe snorted. “For one shoe? Hardly. I don’t get paid till I retrieve a complete pair.”

Lilith picked up her can and started for the open parking lot. She glanced aside at Zoe, who lugged the large trash can in her arms. “You Amish or something?”

Her eyes wide, Zoe looked around as if Lilith was talking to someone else. She realized her mistake and blushed. “Oh, no. Just—” She giggled. “Well, I once went three whole days without a washing machine.” She opened her car door and wedged the can in the back seat. “That’s as far from reality as I ever want to go.” She folded her arms and leaned against her battered Chevy Cruise.

Lilith dropped her can in the hatchback of her silver Honda Accord, turned, and met Zoe’s gaze.

“I’m what you might call green—I guess.” She shifted and dug her keys out of a deep pocket. “I try to live wisely.”

Lilith twirled her keychain. “I’m liberal too. Got a color-coded chart of all my causes at home.”

Zoe tripped as she circled around her car. “Really? I conservative, but I’ve got a chart too, except most of my causes have names…David, Stephen, Ellen…”

“Your causes are your kids? How many do you have?”

“Five.”

“Oh, God. That’s not particularly green…or wise in my book.”

Zoe shrugged. “Perhaps. But it’s liberal in the best sense of the word.” She opened her car door and propped her arm on the edge. “Funny, but I bet it’s more the labels we use than who we are that separate us.”

Lilith’s eyes narrowed. “You really think so?”

Zoe laughed. “Two women who keep color-coded charts could possibly be soul mates.” She ducked into her car, started the engine, and rolled down the window. She called over. “Oh, and I have the exact match to your shoe. Except—mine is midnight-blue.”

 

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

The Play’s the Thing

@1666 London, England

“It was an excellent play—best I ever saw.” Being taller than average, Samuel peered over the evening throng on a dim, misty street corner and waved to a coachman. “Never before did I did see the King’s House so full.”

His companion, Mr. Creed, smiled as he stood close, his hands clasped before him. “Becky Marshall has outdone herself. The Cardinall will meet grand success, certainly.”

Samuel glanced aside, his good mood expanding his heart. “Come and have supper with me. There’s bound to be some meat pasties left, and you can spend the night.”

With a cringe of regret, Creed ducked his head. “Not this time. I’ve got a meeting in the morning.” Watching the coach draw near, he stepped back. “But I’ll ride till your house.”

Oblivious to the danger, Samual stood on the curb and as the coach jolted to a halt, mud splashed on Samuel’s best grey suit. His eyes widened in fury. “Oh, bloody hell. I’m presenting before the committee tomorrow.”

Creed only shrugged in helpless innocence and the two men climbed aboard. A memory from a comedic part of the play lightened Samuel’s mood. With a mild chuckle, he wiped the worst of the mud from his pant legs. “Jane can see to it in the morning.” He stretched out and sighed. “I shouldn’t have wasted another whole evening, but—”

Creed patted an enormous yawn. “We work hard and get little recompense for our efforts, so  a little fun won’t do us any harm.” He waved a teasing finger. “As that Shakespeare fellow said, ‘The play’s the thing.’”

His eyebrows rising, Samuel shrugged. “Oh, him. I like his work well enough, but so much depends on the presentation.” The coach bolted over a series of bumps jerking Samuel further down his seat. “You can have the best lines in the world, but if they’re read by a fool, foolish they will be.”

Creed nodded. “Or the opposite. Take the king. When he speaks nonsense, everyone oohs and ahhs as if pearls of wisdom drop from his lips.”

The coach jerked to a stop as another coach crossed its path.

Samuel closed his eyes, folding his hands behind his head. “The simple truth is—Plays make life worth living.”

Mr. Creed chuckled. “To escape reality?”

His eyes flicked open, Samuel stared at Creed. “To make sense of reality. In a play, we dare to tell a truth that’d normally get a man killed.”

Stifling another yawn, Creed rested his head on his hand. “Playwrights must pray that kings are blind as well as foolish.”

“A safe bet, if you ask me.” Samuel scratched his chin, eyeing Creed carefully. “There’s another play tomorrow. Want to go?”

Mr. Creed slapped his cheeks through another enormous yawn. “What’s playing?’

“Does it matter?”

The coach creaked to a halt in front of a stately house, and Mr. Creed stepped out, followed by Samuel, who tossed a coin to the driver.

Samuel carefully stepped around the puddles and strode up the cobblestone walk.

Mr. Creed called after him. “Till tomorrow then.”

Samuel chuckled as he opened his door, never looking back. “The play’s the thing.”

~~~

Teal gripped his son’s shoulder and led him across the muddy street. Dressed as common English laborers, they watched Mr. Creed amble down the road, his steps fading into the London night.

Cerulean peered into his father’s face. “I didn’t understand the play they watched. The audience laughed at things that weren’t even funny.”

Teal patted Cerulean’s shoulder and nudged him down the road beyond Samuel’s neat, white house. “Humor does not translate well from one culture to another.” He shrugged. “But from the description, that play was meant as a tragedy.”

“Why in the universe would anyone want to reenact a tragedy?”

“Humans have peculiar tastes.” Teal tugged Cerulean into shadow as another coach rattled by. “Personally, I think it’s how they process their existence.” He glanced down at the young Luxonian. “Did you hear what they were saying in the coach?”

“I never hear well as an insect.” Cerulean grinned. “But I changed into a mouse as soon as I was under the seat, and then I could hear very well indeed.”

“You’re learning.” Teal patted Cerulean’s back.

A woman’s scream torn through the London street.

Cerulean jumped forward.

Teal gripped his arm. “Don’t get involved.”

The woman screamed again. Men’s voices jeered in drunken laughter.

Cerulean tugged, trying to pull free. “But someone’s getting hurt.”

Teal shook his head and lifted his hand, his index finger pointing to the moonlit sky. “We’re guardians of our world—not theirs.” He pulled Cerulean closer and peered into his eyes. “Trust me; there’s nothing we can do. We’d only make matters worse if we got involved.”

Cerulean jerked free, heaving deep breaths, his eyes wide and alarmed.

Distant murmurs turned to chuckles and fell into silence.

Teal beckoned to his son. “It’s time we went home.”

Cerulean‘s shoulders drooped in defeat. “But what was the point of coming tonight? We didn’t learn anything.”

“On the contrary. I have a brilliant idea for a new presentation to give the Supreme Council.” Teal chuckled.

Leaping over a puddle, Cerulean drew closer. “What’ll it be called?”

Teal took Cerulean’s hand. “Guess.”

Staring up at his father, the starlight twinkling in his eyes, Cerulean grinned. “The play’s the thing.”

 

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

Like a Ballerina

Lydia didn’t know why she had to wait, but since waiting was such a big part of life, she tried to amuse herself by watching the other people in the room.

A young woman tugged at her t-shirt, her foot jiggling as it hung crossed over her leg. The woman’s elbow perched on the arm of the chair, and her eyes scrolled over the bent magazine page, but Lydia doubted she was really reading. The woman’s gaze kept wandering to the door.

A man in a neat suit sat ramrod straight with a briefcase perched obediently next to his chair. He checked his watch and harrumphed noisily. Pulling out his iPhone, he scrolled with quick, thumb jerking motions bearing stark testimony to his mood.

Lydia frowned, biting her lip. Her gaze darted to the door her mom had gone through—it seemed so long ago. Her stomach rumbled.

The receptionist called the young woman.

She leaped to her feet like a ballerina, though her face looked more like an acrobat walking a tightrope. Tossing the magazine, the page still folded backward, on the table, she slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and sucked in a deep breath. She strode forward.

A scene from a movie where the main character faced a firing squad flashed before Lydia’s mind. She blinked.

The door opened, allowing the young woman in and an older woman to escape. Her eyes red-rimmed, and her gaze wandered the room like a sailor lost at sea. The new woman meandered to the suited man and tapped his shoulder.

He glanced up, still holding the iPhone at eye level. “What’d they say?”

The woman shook her head and glanced around. “Not here.” Gripping her black purse like a life preserver, she headed to the door. “We have to talk.”

The iPhone disappeared into a hidden pocket, and he gripped his briefcase almost as hard as she gripped her purse.

Lydia watched them traipse out the door. She felt a knot tug her insides. The image of a dog being kicked to the road sent a shudder through her body. She glanced around. No dog. She frowned.

The door opened, and her mom slipped through. She clutched no purse, and her gaze remained clear. Searching the room, she found Lydia and smiled.

Lydia’s stomach relaxed, and she smiled back. She straightened up.

Her mom reached out and helped pull her to her feet. Her orthopedic shoes clumped as she stepped forward.

“You were a good girl?”

Lydia nodded. She squeezed her mom’s hand. “Why’re we here?”

Her mom peered down and then glanced aside. The empty room could tell no tales. “I just had to make sure.” She pressed her hand over her protruding tummy.

“You’ve got the baby still?”

“The baby’s okay.” Her mom started toward the door.

Lydia swallowed. “Not like me?”

Her mom stopped in mid-step. Turning, she bent and peered into Lydia’s eyes. “No one is like you, Lydia.” She ran a hand over her soft hair. “You’re perfection.”

Lydia grinned. The knot was gone. The image of her dad’s open arms brought tears to her eyes. “Is Dad home?”

“Waiting for us.”

Lydia limped to the door—but her soul soared like a ballerina.

 

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

That’s What Turns Heads

OldEarth 1492 Hispaniola

“Lord love you, young ‘un. You’ve got a lot to learn.”

The sailor’s brawny muscles gleamed in the bright sunshine as he hoisted a coiled rope over his shoulder and headed to the group arranging gear on shore.

The boy squinted, staring at the glinting, sandy shore and the violent green vegetation before him. After months on ship, the dazzling spectacle stole his breath. “But we’re safe here, Diego? I mean—”

Diego called to the sweating men ahead. “Pedro wants to know if he’s safe now.”

Glancing back, the gathered sailors laughed, smiles creasing their weather-worn faces. One man waved. “We’re never safe—until we settle in our grave, Niño. You outta know that.”

A dark-haired native holding an armload of goods stepped from the foliage. The sailors backed up, glancing aside at each other.

Pedro raced forward and joined the sailors. “What does he want?”

“Trade most likely.”

Diego peered back.

No one else moved.

After swiping a sword from a neat stack, Diego stepped forward and intercepted the native. He held out the sword in an offering.

A bronze-skinned child scuttled forward and laid a cloth on the ground. Grinning, the native laid a bundle of skeins, a woven cage of brightly colored parrots, and a bundle of darts tied together before the sailors. Four more native men stepped forward and stood on each side of the offering.

The elder of the group reached for the sword, unwittingly gripping the blade. He winced as it cut deep and blood seeped down his hand.

Pedro gasped.

Diego muttered. “Not an auspicious beginning.”

Another sailor shrugged. “Not for them, anyway.”

~~~

Ark, wearing a long, white apron over his green bio-suit, rubbed his eyes and stepped away from the three-meter magnifier. An open dissection tube extended from the west wall. “By the Divide, I’ll never get through this data-stream.”

A ding sounded, and Ark’s head swiveled, his gaze landing on the door. “Come in.”

A Crestonian with bright red cilia, obviously artificially colored, and a deep purple bio-suit ambled in and offered a lopsided grin. “Nearly done?” He lifted one tentacle and dropped a bundle of data-strips onto a standing tray. “You know what they say—no rest for the weary.”

Ark’s tentacles curled, his bulbous brown eyes narrowing. “Not with you around.” He bowed in mock respect. “Thank you, Ungle. Share my joy with those who—”

Ungle waved a tentacle. “Oh, don’t sound so bitter.” He stumped over to a wall cupboard and slid the door aside. After lifting a green canister, he popped the top and sniffed. “Is this fresh?”

“It was yesterday.”

With a shrug, Ungle poured a significant dollop into his breather helm and hummed. “Not bad.” Replacing the canister, he turned to Ark and peered at the magnifier. “You can’t blame them. After all, your suggestion turned stomachs as well as heads.”

Ark slapped a wall console and the magnifier dimmed. “I didn’t suggest anything. I just noted that human interaction with foreigners would do them greater good in the long run than isolation. They’ll kill each other for a time, but after that, they’ll interbreed and—”

“Tut-tut! That’s where you started turning stomachs.”

“I wasn’t saying we should interbreed with aliens—that was Irbid’s weird editorial. You know how he likes to liven up the news. He’ll theorize any ol’ thing to get a reaction.”

“You have to admit, he’s usually right. At least in the core point.”

“And I’m right too. Interaction with aliens has been good for us. Think of everything I learned from the Luxonians.”

Ungle lifted a tentacle. “Please. You’re missing the point you related in the last debriefing cycle.” The ridges above his eyes rose precariously. “Remember? The native took the sword and cut his hand?”

“He didn’t know any better. He’ll learn.”

After pointing to the data-strips, Uncle waved as he headed for the door. “To grab the sword from the hilt—and swing it properly. Yes, I know. That’s what turns heads—and drops them to the ground.”

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

Science Fiction & Historical 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

Take Over the World

“Artificial intelligence will soon take over the world—you do realize that don’t you?”

Sasha popped a red M & M into her mouth and crunched. Her gaze swept across the campus with a practiced eye. “I think it already has.”

Barb shook her head as she appraised the harassed throng heading to various classes. “I’m not talking about people glued to their iPhones. I mean that my grandmother just texted me that a storm’s coming, and she wants me to email the grocer about delivering extra supplies this afternoon.”

Sasha shrugged as she pounded across the grassy courtyard to the library. “What’s so bad about that? Technology makes our lives easier.”

“Exactly my point!” Barb checked her phone, scrolled through three messages, and muttered. “Professor Gilmore is sick—she said to study chapter nine, and we’d meet next week.”

“Lucky you. My professors are health freaks. They know whether it’s coffee or tea that’ll kill us this week—or is it cheese?”

“You’re making my point. We know too much. We have too much power. We can’t handle so much information—”

The electronic door swung open, and Sasha set off the entry alarm. “Dang it!”

The deputy security officer strolled over, a wide grin lighting up his blue eyes. “Carrying concealed weapons again—are we?”

Sasha dug into her pocket. “My grandpa gives my little brother all his old camping knives. Which the little idiot promptly uses to carve his initials into everything—so naturally—”

“You take it away and carry it into the library.” His grin widened. “An option.”

Sasha and Barb exchanged eye rolls.

Sasha pulled the offending pocketknife from her pocket and dropped it into the man’s hand. “Keep it, Jared. Carve your initials into something and feel smug.”

Jared stepped aside, flicked open the knife, and peered at a miniature toolkit with a sharp blade, a screwdriver, bottle opener, and file. “Cool—must be worth a fortune.”

Sasha frowned. “Hardly. My grandpa has dozens of these. All the rage when he was a kid.”

Barb nudged Sasha, glancing at Jared. “He’s a virtual-reality kind of guy—hardly ever sees anything real these days.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “An honest blade must come as a bit of a shock.” Waving her arm in a mock karate move, she went in for a slice to the arm.

Instinct kicked in and Jared lashed out, jabbing with the open knife.

Barb reeled back gripping her stomach, blood seeping between her fingers. “Oh, God. I didn’t mean it.” She stared at Sasha as she crumpled. “He didn’t mean it.”

~~~

Sasha watched Jared’s mother, Ms. Franklin, pacing in front of him in the hospital waiting room, her eyes glued to an iPhone.

Jared sat with his hands clasped, his head bowed, staring at the grey-tiled floor.

Sasha perched on the edge of a chair. “She’ll be fine. The doctor said it wasn’t deep and won’t even need a lot of stitches. It was an accident. Accidents happen.”

Jared lifted his head a fraction. “When’s her dad coming?”

“He’s on the east coast. Said that since she’s going to be okay, he’ll get the doctor’s official report and talk to her in the morning.”

“Doesn’t he even care?”

“He talked with her on the phone. She told him not to come.” Sasha shrugged. “I think she’s embarrassed. If he had to fly out here, across all those time zones and everything, he’d be sure to make it into a bigger deal than it is.”

“And her mom?”

“Who knows? One of those absentee moms.” Jerking to her feet, Sasha bypassed Jared’s mother and headed for the candy machine. “You want something?”

Jared shook his head. With a long, exhaled breath, he strolled over to his mom. “You don’t have to stay. It’ll be okay.”

Ms. Franklin peered into her son’s eyes, brushed a stray lock of hair from his face, and nodded. With a professional twitch, she straightened her skirt and flung her purse strap over her shoulder. She glanced from Sasha to Jared. “You need anything—just text me—all right?”

They nodded in unison.

Standing before the machine, Sasha tapped the key code and a bag of peanuts dropped with a thud. She snatched, ripped it open, and passed the bag to Jared. “Have a few; the protein will do you good.”

With a strangled cry, Jared staggered back to his chair. “God, do you hear yourself?”

Sasha swallowed and followed him. She peered at his bowed head. “What?”

“Protein. Text. Flights. Time zones. Absentee moms.” He covered his head with his hands. “I’ve played so many games where I slice up the bad guys—I can beat every opponent out there—long as he’s two inches high and made of pixels.” Jared sucked in a shuddering breath. “I don’t think I’m made for this world.”

Sasha slumped down on the chair. “Listen, you’ve had a bad day.”

Jared glared at her.

“Okay, a really bad day. But that hardly means that you’re doomed.”

“If I am, there’re a lot of guys just like me. Girls too.”

“Funny, but Barb and I were talking about this earlier. She said that artificial intelligence will take over the world.”

Jared shook his head.

A nurse stepped forward leading a wobbly Barb. “You the family?”

Jared glanced aside at Sasha.

Barb offered a weak wave. “Yeah, kinda like. Sasha’s my roommate.”

Sasha stepped forward. “Jared will drive us back to the dorm. Professor Kim said he’d have a pizza waiting when we got there.”

The nurse looked Barb in the eye. “You’ll follow the directions? The script has been sent in already.”

Barb nodded. “I’ll be good. Promise.”

The nurse smiled and retreated.

Jared stepped forward and took Barb’s arm. “I’m really am sorry about this.”

“You said that a million times on the way over. I get it. Nothing to forgive. It was my fault for starting it in the first place.”

Once they stepped into the cool evening air, Barb looked up at the millions of twinkling stars. “Guess I was kind of hard on Artificial Intelligence today. I’m paid back royally for my prejudice.”

Sasha shook her head. “How’s that?”

“It was modern medicine that fixed me up and modern miracle drugs that’ll keep me from dying from a stupid infection. Numbed my pain too.”

Jared patted her hand. “No, you had a good point—just got it a backward.”

Barb and Sasha stared at him.

“It isn’t artificial intelligence that’ll take over the world—it’s a lack of common sense that’ll lose it.”

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

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