Jazzmarie

The grin on Jazzmarie’s face startled Max. As an android with human tendencies, or, as Cerulean like to say—Android Extraordinaire—Max considered himself something of an expert on pretty much everything. But from the moment that Jazzmarie first stepped her dainty foot on the deck of the Merrimack, he felt bewildered. Worse—completely disarmed. He glanced over as she tapped the communications console. She was still grinning. Max veered his eyes away. Quickly.

Jazzmarie looked up and stared, her grin still wavering like a mirage in the desert. “By the Divide, what are you so scared of?”

Though Max’s skin was entirely synthetic and he could never actually jump out of it, suddenly the Oldearth expression made horrific sense to him. Clamping his jaws into what he hoped were impressive bulges, he turned sharply. “I am not scared of anything.” His gaze skimmed directly over Jazzmarie’s head.

Stepping over, Jazzmarie propped herself on her tiptoes and raised her head to eye level, intercepting his gaze. “So why do you look pale enough to rival a Greek Goddess?”

Flummoxed, Max’s eyes searched for an escape. His gaze grazed her lips. “For your information, Miss Marie—”

“Nope.”

Max tilted his head; his mouth froze in the O position.

“My name is Jazzmarie. One word. My parents liked how the sounds flowed together.” Her fingers caressed the edge of the console as she emitted a plaintive sigh. “I wouldn’t have minded something from my native Oldearth heritage like Arjun or Sachin, but—” the grin was swallowed whole by a determined pout, “—Mom liked Jazz and Dad liked Marie, so….”

With a blank stare, Max reverted to the facts at hand. “I’m not scared—just naturally pale. I am an android embedded with an embryonic human brain that has developed—actually overwhelmed—parts of me.”

Raising one eyebrow, Jazzmarie twirled toward the medical database console and tapped the surface. “Which parts?”

Max practiced an eye roll like the one he had seen Cerulean preform to devastating effect. Unfortunately, it took three tries to achieve a complete rotation. Max gripped the railing for support.

Jazzmarie waved with a couple dainty fingers. “Just joking. I know all about you. Don’t think I would sign aboard a mission without knowing the crew intimately—do you?” With a startling jerk, she stretched and yawned. “By golly, I’ve already put in a full day. What say we get something to eat? This little rocket ship has got a sweet canteen according to the specs.”

Max squared his shoulders and lifted his head. If he was right, this formidable woman had just asked him for a date. Flinging a gallant elbow aside, he nodded his assent.

Jazzmarie took his arm; her grin led the way.

~~~

The canteen’s décor left much to be desired by most human standards. Gray walls surrounding three, pale blue tables with seats enough for twelve, and the barest culinary choices set a Spartan tone. Max ordered his favorite yogurt-plus and a coffee, while Jazzmarie selected a grilled tomato & cheese sandwich and a hot cocoa.

Jazzmarie slipped onto one swivel chair, sliding her tray on the table, and huffed in disgust. “Good thing I have a vivid imagination or this wasteland would get me down.” She snapped her fingers in Max’s direction. “Wait—great idea flooding my brain!”

Horror rippled across Max’s face as he spluttered his coffee.

Without ceremony, Jazzmarie mopped up the spray. “I have a set of Oldearth visuals that I can plaster over the walls. It’ll look so cool—”

Max attempted a semblance of dignity. “Our preferred temperature range is—”

“Just an ancient expression, Maximan. Now, look—” she sipped hot cocoa from her mug, “I’ve researched everything about this Cosmos we’re chasing, but I bet you know more. You’ve traveled all the highways and byways—right? I want to see this mission from your perspective.”

Holding a spoon brimful of a yogurt-granola mix approximately seventeen centimeters from his open mouth, Max waited.

Jazzmarie frowned. “What?”

Resuming his trajectory, Max slurped, chewed, and swallowed. He titled his head in consideration of the woman across the table. “I do not think it is within the realm of possibility that you seen anything from my perspective. It isn’t physically—”

Jazzmarie waved his words away like dust. “So? You think we can stop this monster?”

Placing his spoon beside his bowl, Max crossed his legs and leaned back. He attempted a studious expression. “I must take issue with the term ‘monster.’ Technically, Cosmos is a massive, simple-celled, space creature that feeds off planetary matter. While a monster is—”

“Someone’s nightmare, I know.” Jazzmarie’s gaze traveled around the perimeter of the room. “She’s got that painted all over her.” Jazzmarie’s gaze returned to Max. She let it rove over him a moment as a slow smile tugged at her lips. “I like your style, Maximan. No jumping to conclusions or hasty appraisals.” She took a huge bite out of her sandwich and chewed, her grin back in full force.

Max gulped his coffee heedless of the burn scorching his throat.

After Jazzmarie had polished off her sandwich and pushed aside her empty cup, she snatched a glance at her data-pad. “Jumping Jackdogs, Roux and the new gal will be here any moment.” She pointed to the pink, gelatinous mass in front of him. “You better finish that up in a hurry, or you might look unprofessional on your first day.”

Grabbing the edge of the dish, Max lifted it to his lips and slurped the contents in one last, desperate effort.

The door slid open revealing the Luxonian commanding officer, Roux, and his  Bhuaci assistant, Yelsa Prater, standing side-by-side. Roux stepped in, and Yelsa followed.

Jazzmarie shot to her feet saluting smartly.

Roux walked forward, a little frown embedded in his forehead. “No ceremony with me, Doctor.” He glanced at Max.

Max stood and thrust out a stiff hand. A pink circle highlighted his lips.

Roux’s hand rose to his face with an automatic swiping motion. Regaining his composure, he shook Max’s hand, sparing a hesitant glance at the doctor. “Max, you and the doctor have gotten acquainted, I see.” After a sizable swallow, he faced the doctor head on. “Are you comfortably settled in?”

With the most serious expression Max had seen all day, Jazzmarie nodded and clipped her words with deadly precision. “Certainly. Thank you for asking.” Her gaze fixed on Yelsa. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Roux waved in Yelsa’s direction. “Yelsa Prater, tactical expert, the renowned Doctor Jazzmarie.”

Yelsa swung out a confident hand. “It is an honor. I have been looking forward to meeting you.”

Roux’s gaze swept over Max who stood back watching with raised eyebrows, the pink circle still in place. As a sweat broke over his brow, Roux gripped Max’s arm. “I need to see you a moment.” With an authoritative tug, he jerked Max to the other side of the room, swiped a napkin from a dispenser, and waved it in the direction of Max’s mouth.

In bug-eyed comprehension, Max wiped his lips. “Sorry, Sir. I was distracted—”

Roux shook his head and glanced back at the two women. “Never mind.” His gaze stayed fixed on the doctor. After a moment, he turned and faced Max. “I’m just glad that Doctor Jazzmarie didn’t see your…little indiscretion.”

Max shrugged. “She practically choreographed—” He blinked. “Why do you say that?”

With another tug, Roux yanked Max to a side counter and turned his back on the women. “You’re not from around here, so you wouldn’t know her reputation. Just don’t make that woman mad; that’s all I ask. She is Newearth’s medical leader in alien biology and has more reconstruction surgeries under her belt than any being this side of the Divide, but her temper is as renowned as she is—devilish—they say.”

Tilting his body slightly, Max veered his gaze around Roux and over the renowned, and now quite composed, Doctor Jazzmarie. Taking a deep breath, he nodded and swiveled back to Roux. “She certainly has a dangerous grin.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Addicted to Me

“You have no idea what it’s like—the whole world’s addicted to me.”

Dr. Jim Burns merely raised one eyebrow as his index finger tapped the electronic notepad resting on his knee. “Tell me, Sophia, what are you addicted to?”

Sophia catapulted off the leather couch and paced across the luxuriously appointed office.

Cushioned chairs in dark plaid, a wide couch, a teak coffee table with matching shelves accompanied by a large cherry desk set the room’s dignified tone.

Sliding one finger down a framed family photo, Sophia smiled coyly. “Me? I’m not addicted to anything—unless you want to count my morning cup of coffee—dark Columbian with a hint of cinnamon. It’s all I ask before I go on each morning and face the multitudes.”

The doctor’s gaze followed Sophia’s stroll around the perimeter. His foot jiggled slightly. “Yes, multitudes. I believe that’s where we left off last time. You felt you were being—”

Sophia snatched up a polished stone with the word “PEACE” engraved on its shiny surface. “They won’t leave me alone. It’s killing me!” Facing her therapist, her eyes gleamed with frantic fury. “Yesterday, this little ol’ thing came toddling after me, waving her handbag, yoohooing to wake the dead, and she swore upon her dearly departed mother’s grave that she watches me every single day. G-O-D! I’m the reason they get up in the morning.”

Jim closed his eyes and inhaled a long, slow breath. After a brief moment, he tapped the space bar and unclenched his jaw. “You’re making several unfounded assumptions—”

Hunching her shoulders in tune to her eye roll, Sophia strode over to a marble counter and poured herself a cup of coffee. “This isn’t decaf? You wouldn’t dare—”

Rising, Dr. Burns cleared his throat. “Don’t be rude, Sophia. I always offer the best—as well you know.”

Sophia scooped three healthy spoonfuls of granulated, brown sugar into her cup and stirred meditatively. She peered over her cup at her doctor. “I pay you enough.”

Placing his notepad on his desk, Dr. Burns glanced at his watch. “How was the show this morning? Sherrill said you’ve been calmer and—”

“Sh—Sherrill?”

The sound of her high-pitched, hysterical laughter forced Jim to rub his temple.

“Like that woman knows anything about what I have to deal with. She’s as high strung as a bat outta hell. She better not be—”

“Her son has Leukemia, right?”

Sophia’s dismissive wave tossed that concern aside. “It’s the curable kind, and she’d got the money. Don’t give me other people’s high-drama.”

A firm tap on the door froze them in mid-motion. Dr. Burns regained his composure with deep intoned, “Come in” and stepped to the door.

The door opened and a man in his late twenties, slim, and clean-shaven poked his head forward. “Mr. Marshall has arrived a little early, but you said you wanted to know….”

The doctor nodded. “Thank you, Carl. I’ll be right there.” He turned to Sophia. “We’ll have to wrap this up early today. I have a pressing—”

“Pressing? More pressing than me? I appear before millions every damn day, and you have more pressing matters?”

Carl backed out and closed the door.

“Mr. Marshall happens to be my brother-in-law. My sister has been very ill, and they need my help. I’ll be out of the office for several weeks—”

The rage in Sophia’s eyes stabbed through Dr. Burn’s calm demeanor. “You spring this on me now? You know perfectly well that I have pressing matters of my own. I never let them get in the way of my meetings with you. I make you a priority because so many people are counting on me.

Dr. Burns laced his fingers together as his jaw clenched. “I’m sorry this is causing you so much trouble, but I had to choose. I chose my sister.”

“Like hell! I pay you to help me, not wallow in your own family escapades.” Sophia grabbed her tiny, red purse and stalked across the room. “Don’t worry, I’m used to people letting me down.”

After Dr. Burns stepped aside and watched Sophia stalk out of his office, he unclenched his hands and set free a long, cleansing breath.

A tall, heavy-set man in jeans and a blue, knit sweater shuffled forward. “Sorry about that, Jim, I can tell she’s put out. If Jean weren’t so—”

Jim shrugged his shoulders as he reached under the desk and pulled out a small traveling bag. “Forget it. Ms. Grant thinks that the universe revolves around her—the truth is a bit of a shock.”

“She always looks so happy and self-assured in public. I’d never have guessed.”

Jim stared at his brother-in-law as he passed him in the doorway. “Really? It’s always been clear as day to me.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Yelsa’s Choice

Yelsa loved sunshine. The rays of light pouring down on her elven face and perfectly petite form immersed her soul in ecstasy. She lay back on the shore, her sandaled feet falling to the side, her dark brown shorts contrasting with the tan grains of sand, while her white blouse rippled like the waves in a gentle breeze. She gazed up at a wispy cloud sweeping across the blue expanse. Birds twittered in the tree line behind her, animating a smile on her lips. “The Creator be praised—”

Her sensitive ears perked at the sound of footsteps plowing across the sand. She waited for a shadow to intercept the sun.

“Yelsa?” The voice, though deep and commanding, hinted at a need.

Raising herself on one arm, Yelsa turned and faced the being before her—a Luxonian in human form: dark skinned, muscular, black eyes, wearing casual long pants, a dark blue t-shirt, and sporting a black headscarf. Her left eyebrow arched.

“Yes? May I be of assistance, Luxonian?”

The stranger grinned as he pulled his headscarf away. “No fooling a Bhuac, is there?” Kneeing on the sand, he gazed across the waves and inhaled a cleansing breath. “Beautiful. Hard to find serenity on Newearth, but you’ve got something good here.” Facing her, he thrust out a work-roughened hand. “Roux, a friend of Cerulean. Faye gave me your name.”

Yelsa sat up, shook his hand, and nodded. “Faye is revered among my people.”

“Apparently she thinks a lot of you—bragged non-stop about your tracking and tactical abilities—”

Yelsa’s cheeks flushed as she stood, her eyes dancing over the waves as if to find a path across. “Faye likes to exaggerate our merits—part of our culture—to always appear better than we are.”

Roux heaved himself to his feet and brushed the sand from his pants. “I haven’t met a race yet who wants to appear any less than the best.” His sudden grin disappeared as he turned toward the woods and gestured an invitation forward.

After picking up a yellow bag, Yelsa wrapped its long embroidered strap over her shoulder and padded across the shifting sand.

Glancing in her direction, Roux’s gaze swept over her. “You’ve heard about Cosmos?”

Yelsa sighed. “Faye sent word through Bhuaci channels. I doubt there’s anyone on Newearth who’s ignorant of our impending doom.”

Roux rubbed his hands across his face. “From the way most are reacting, you’d never guess. Business as usual.”

“Rumor has it that Cerulean is leading a mission to find the mysterious Omega—so he can deal with her. Of course, the Inter-Alien Alliance and Newearth authorities assure us that they have everything well in hand.”

The sand gave way to black earth and short grass as they entered a copse of woods. Leaning against a large, spreading oak, Roux shrugged. “The IAA has no interest in panic, so they’ll assure us of anything and everything. But the truth is….  Well, Cerulean’s mission is only a part of the plan. No one, not even the Supreme Council, knows exactly where Omega lives, so the whole venture is a gamble.” His gaze lingered over Yelsa as she shook the sand out her sandals, propping one hand on the tree.

Comfortable again, she crossed her arms and waited.

Roux pressed forward and strolled deeper into the park-like woods. “We’re sending a ship out in search of Cosmos herself.”

“To determine her exact location?” Yelsa strode along, her gaze sweeping her environment.

“To intercept and—” he hesitated and glanced her direction, “—to engage if necessary.”

Furrows formed between Yelsa’s blue eyes; her gaze fell to the ground as she stepped evenly at his side. “You have the IAA’s authority—?”

Roux slapped his leg. “They’re lending me a ship….” He stopped and faced her, his gaze searching hers. “Listen, I worked with Cerulean on the original Inter-Alien-Alliance, and it was no picnic, trust me. Nearly got ourselves killed. Trying to get everyone to agree is about as dangerous as waiting for Cosmos to devour us.”

“So you’re taking the law—”

“We’re not taking anything!” Roux threw back his head, closing his eyes. Inhaling a deep breath, he held up a hand. “I’m explaining this badly. Cerulean should’ve stopped here first. He’s more eloquent.”

Yelsa’s chuckle brought a relieved sigh from Roux’s middle.

She arched her brows. “You’ll do fine. Just tell me the facts.”

“Facts? Okay, the fact is that we are sending out another ship—the Merrimack—to locate Cosmos, and we need you on board.”

“And if we find her, what will you do? Form a treaty—?”

Roux rolled his eyes. “A treaty like—say—Please don’t eat us, or we’ll be forced to cause you digestive problems?”

Yelsa stared deep into the woods. Finally, her gaze refocused, and she locked onto Roux. “Cosmos devoured our sister planet. My sister lived there….”

Roux closed his eyes; his hand pressed together. After a moment, he blew air between his lips and glanced at Yelsa. “You understand why we need you.”

Yelsa took the lead and marched along the winding path, slapping stray vines out of her way. After hiking a steep hill, she stopped at the edge of a vast viewing platform overlooking Newearth’s largest transport docking bay. “Once you direct me to the Merrimack’s shuttle, I’ll know exactly what to do.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Skeletons

In a cherry picker bucket twenty feet from the ground, Charles Gilmore, heavyset with a small bald spot, wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his arm. He squinted at the intricate arrangement of wires.

Saunders, tall, lean, and dressed in jeans and a blue shirt, stood on the other side of the bucket. He concentrated on the connections before him.

Charles twisted a wire into place and glanced at Saunders. “At least it isn’t raining, eh?”

Saunders nodded; his attention focused on the wires. “I just want to tie this—”

Charles gasped. A spark caught the corner of his eyes, and he scowled. “Hey, you sure everything’s dead?”

Saunders froze. “I turned off the main—”

“Stop, look here. It’s sparking! How the—?”

Saunders lifted his hands away and glanced around. “They all go to that main terminal, see, right there. I turned it off securely, or we’d be toast already.”

Pressing a lever, Charles lowered the bucket to the ground. “Something caused that spark. I sure as hell didn’t imagine it.” He labored over the uneven ground toward the main box and surveyed the vacant field. He grunted. “There was a house here once.”

Saunders’ eyes roved right and left. “How can you tell?”

Charles pointed to his feet. “Look down.” He kicked through the thin grass, exposing a segment of a cement cover. “It’s an old well covering. Probably buried when the house was taken down. They must’ve had a line here.”

“And it’s not cut off? Don’t be crazy. Besides, the main—”

“Look at that old house over there. It’s a distance, but it’s fed by a different system. Perhaps this one is too. Come on.” Charles started to pace away.

Saunders trotted alongside as they crossed the tussocks of grass.

Charles glanced at his watch. “Dang.”

Saunders’ eyebrow rose. “What?”

“I told Jill I’d be home early. Won’t happen now. And she’s already miffed.”

Saunders marched evenly at Charles’ side, staring at the ground. “Wives. Glad I don’t have to mess with one.”

“It’s not all bad, but she’s all bent out of shape lately—it’s stupid really.” He frowned. “Well, sort of. You see, her mom’s getting old, and she forgets when things happened— talks like twenty years ago was yesterday.”

“Pretty common.”

“Yeah, but unfortunately, she let it slip to our oldest daughter that Jill gave up her first baby—it was a long time ago. Her mom never wanted her to give it up, and now she’s asking questions, demanding to see it. So Jill had to explain—”

“Skeletons creeping out of the closet, eh?”

Charles scratched his jaw as he appraised the farmhouse and a lanky dog ambling in their direction. “Yeah, but Jill is letting the past have too much power over her—”

A wiry, old man shuffled toward them, waving. “Anything I can do for you folks?” He called to his dog, and the hound changed course and scuttled under the porch.

Charles explained their work with the electric company.

The old man nodded and hunched his shoulders. “Fine, go ahead. We don’t use much electricity during the day, anyhow.”

After cutting the power to the old farmhouse, the two men once again rose in the bucket. Saunders peered at the sky and chuckled. “You think you’ve got skeletons. Everyone has something to hide.” He halted the bucket at wire level.

Charles leaned back and tucked his fingers into his belt. “It shouldn’t make any difference. Jill’s a great mom; her past is ancient history. Just like I’m not the guy I was twenty years ago—no one should care if I did a few stupid things back then.”

“Oh, but people do care. Your sins follow you—” Saunders gave a wire an angry twist and faced Charles. “Even if they aren’t even sins at all.”

Charles shrugged. “I don’t let things bother me. Jill is just overreacting. Chrissie will understand that she gave up the baby for a good reason. It’s not like it matters anymore—”

“Give me that cutter, will you?”

Charles passed the tool over. “I never judge people. I couldn’t care less if you had a dozen affairs and a couple kids on the side.”

Saunders turned and pointed at Charles with the cutter. “How about if I was a killer? Would you still feel the same?”

Charles froze. “Huh?” A smile crept over his face. “You’re joking, but really—”

“No seriously. It was manslaughter—ran a red light and killed a woman and her little boy. I hardly did any time—a little over a year and probation. Total accident.”

Charles’ gaze dropped. “Sorry, I had no idea. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I—”

Saunders shook his head. “I’ve made you uncomfortable, I get it. But just remember, your wife is right. Our past haunts us”

Charles pursed his lips, focused his gaze on the box, and nodded to the wire assembly. “You finished?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, let’s get the cover on and go home.” Charles screwed everything in place and lowered the bucket. He unhooked his belt and tossed his tools into the truck.

Saunders did the same and slipped into the passenger side of the vehicle. He glanced at Charles. “So what time do want to meet up on Saturday?”

Charles started the truck and glanced at Saunders quizzically.

“Remember—our fishing trip?”

Pulling into the right lane, Charles’ eyes darted from side-to-side. “Oh, yeah, forgot. But, hey, I think Jill’s got something planned…hate to make her any more upset.”

Saunders let his head fall back against the headrest, his gaze staring through the truck roof.

Charles glanced over. “Maybe some other time. You understand?”

Saunders exhaled and nodded slowly. “Sure do.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Xavier Pax’s Illusion

Luxonians— light beings that can transform into any form they wish usually matching their host’s physiology.

Spaceship: Summons docked at Newearth bay.

~~~

Xavier Pax never liked to lie, but some illusions made life easier. Wearing a dark green, form-fitting bodysuit with tall brown boots, his bulky figure appeared almost trim. He tapped his short, blunt fingers on the ship’s console and considered the slim, brown-eyed Luxonian before him. Cerulean was renowned throughout the region for honesty and integrity, a reputation many races found highly suspect. Still, Cerulean’s plea appeared sincere, and objective evidence proved the truth of his words.

Pax folded his thick, muscular arms across his chest and lifted his chin. “So, you want me to pilot my ship with your chosen crew across the universe to—where—exactly?”

Wearing baggy pants and an over-sized sweater, Cerulean strolled around the bridge, one hand sliding over the rail. “Omega may be powerful, but he isn’t immaterial. He lives someplace.” Cerulean stopped with a sigh and leaned against the captain’s chair a couple of meters in front of Pax. “My sources suggest a location—” He pointed to the controls embedded in the chair. “May I?”

Pax nodded.

Cerulean tapped the console, and the starry universe on the bridge-screen suddenly refocused.

Pax’s eyebrows rose. “That’s quite a distance and very little is known about that sector. You really want to go there?”

Cerulean gripped the rail. “It’s our best guess and as things stand, we had better do something fast. Cosmos is coming this way, and she’s bringing her appetite.”

Pax stepped forward and peered at the screen. “Which planet—?”

Cerulean started forward but stumbled.

Pax caught him under the arm. “You’re not well.”

Snorting back a laugh, Cerulean’s gaze bounced off Pax’s worried frown. “That’d be an understatement. And another reason to hurry.” He jabbed a finger at a star cluster on the right. “Here, the second planet from this sun. It’s presently known as Mirage—a world that Omega created for his amusement.”

Pax titled his head. “Created? A world?”

With an indulgent smile, Cerulean spread his hands wide. “Where’ve you been? All Newearth has been chattering about the mysterious Omega and his appearance—and disappearance—during Justine Santana’s trial.”

Pax crossed his arms. “The Cresta murderer?” He grinned.  “Personally, I wouldn’t mind being killed by something that gorgeous.”

The lift door slid open, and Justine stepped forward, her gaze flickering from Cerulean to Pax and back to Cerulean. “Am I interrupting?”

Pax stepped back with a low whistle.

Cerulean beckoned Justine forward and gestured toward the screen. “Just the woman I need. Show our good captain the coordinates for Mirage.”

Justine pursed her lips. “Please?”

Cerulean rolled his eyes. “Please.” He cleared his throat and glanced at Pax. “She’s just become a mother, so she thinks she needs to correct everyone’s gramm—”

“Manners.” Justine’s fingers flew across the console as she zoomed the screen closer to a specific star and magnified, focusing on an orbiting green planet. Slapping her hands as if to dust off the dirty work, she turned and eyed Cerulean. “Now that I am looking after my daughter’s well being, I’ve come to recognize the deficiencies of her environment.”

Cerulean placed his hands on his hips, his voice rising in indignation. “Meaning?”

“You’re the model of perfection, Cerulean, but a please and thank you every now and then won’t kill you.”

Pax stepped forward with a conciliatory wave. “Please, if you would, I’d like to be introduced.”

leaning against the railing, Cerulean gestured toward Justine. “Justine Santana—innocent human-android with visions of perfect manners—Xavier Pax—renowned ship’s captain who’d like to know where the—”

Justine wiggled a warning finger. She strolled across the bridge, her gaze sweeping over every instrument panel on the bridge. “Well, equipped and state of the art. I’m impressed.” She bestowed her full attention and a warm smile on Pax. “We’re chasing a riddle in hopes of finding a mirage.”

A light shone in Pax’s eyes accompanied by a meandering, mischievous grin. He flashed a glance at Cerulean. “If you had started with that, I would have accepted immediately.”

Cerulean nodded. His gaze strayed from Pax to Justine. “So glad. Now, if we can get Clare to cooperate, we’ll be on our way.” Cerulean started to the lift.

With a frown, Justine leaned on the railing like a woman who had no intention of moving another step. “What’s your hurry? Bala and Max are already aboard the Merrimack and have signed on two good—”

With a shudder, Cerulean turned translucent, nearly disappearing from sight. He wavered and fell full length upon the deck.

In a flash, Justine bent over him, checking his vital signs.

Pax leaned forward, frowning. “I knew he was ill.” He sighed and stepped back. “I guess you better take him in for healing before we begin chasing your mirages.”

Cerulean opened his eyes and struggled to his feet.

Justine gripped his arm and helped him stand. Her gaze flashed to Pax. “On the contrary, we’re leaving Newearth within two minutes of Clare’s arrival. She’s the last of our crew, and I told her to hurry.” She swiveled toward the lift. “Where’s Cerulean’s cabin?”

Pax swallowed, marched to a console, and scrolled through room assignments. “Second level, suite five—but wait—I hardly know you—or him—or what’s expected of me. How can I trust you?”

Justine’s steely gaze speared Pax’s wide eyes. “Same way I’m going to trust you—human who’s not humane—by sheer necessity.” Justine propelled Cerulean’s limp form to the lift and turned, firmly grasping Cerulean’s shoulder. “You think you have trust issues now, wait till you meet Clare.” She tapped the door panel. “Second level.”

After the door slid shut, Pax fell into the Captain’s chair and rubbed his temple. He snorted. “Chasing a riddle to find a mirage? Ha. I should feel right at home.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Critical Power

Nina perched her chin on her hands as she lay on the living room floor and stared at the television. Talk show hosts bantered playfully and then introduced their guest.

Jacob, medium built boy with big brown eyes and a sharp chin ambled in and flopped onto the couch. “What cha watching?”

“Nothing.”

The two sat and stared at the television as the discussion between the host and the guest grew heated.

Nina peered back at her brother. “What’s intolerance?”

Jacob shrugged one shoulder. “When you don’t like someone for a stupid reason.”

Nina returned her gaze to the television.

A short, heavyset woman, Belle Truman, strode into the living room with a mixing spoon in her hand. “Nina? I thought I told you to wash up for supper. We have to hurry.”

“Cool off, mom. You’re being tyrannical.”

Belle’s gaze hardened, and her scowl swung to Jacob.

Jacob’s eyes widened as he lifted his hands in self-defense. “Wasn’t me. Must be something she picked up at school.”

Belle strode over and stared down at her daughter. “Get up and do as I say, or you’ll find out what tyrannical really means.”

Slowly, Nina climbed to her feet, her cheeks turning pink. “What’s wrong?”

Her mother shook the spoon at her. “Don’t go around using words you don’t understand, hear me?” Belle turned and stalked out of the room.

Nina stood by her brother.

He put his arm around her shoulder. “Don’t take it hard, she’s just tense because they’re going to fire the principal at the meeting today.”

Nina stared up at Jacob and chewed her lip. “Why? What’s he done?”

Jacob started for the door. “Everyone says he’s too strict and old-fashioned. He’s kicked more kids out of school this semester than any principal in history. One kid painted a Hitler mustache on his picture in the hall.”

Nina squinted. “What’s wrong with mustaches?”

~~~

Principal Steven Croix was printed in bold, black letters on the gold doorplate. Behind the door, Steven sat staring down at a single sheet of paper. A knock forced his gaze upward. “Yes? Come in.”

Blithe Comfrey stepped in, her shoulder length, black hair, and straight bangs framed her petite face. “They’re all assembled. You’re coming now?” Her small eyes creased at the corners and matched her forced smile. “Don’t want to keep ‘em waiting.”

Steven lifted the paper and gave it a little shake. “You knew about this?”

Blithe stepped the rest of the way into the room. “Well, it was pretty obvious. You toss out their kids—they’re going to react.”

“So they toss me out, is that it?”

Blithe stiffened.

“You know perfectly well that I had more than enough justification for every single expulsion. I never wanted to do it. I took no pleasure—”

Blithe tapped her watch. “They’re waiting.”

~~~

As Belle seated herself in the back row, she patted Nina’s shoulder. “You go and have a good time with the other kids at the gym, okay? I’ll be along shortly.”

Nina wiped her bangs out of her eyes. “You going to help fire Mr. Croix?”

Belle’s eyes widened. She glanced quickly around. “Don’t talk like that, honey. It’s not nice.”

Nina shrugged. “Jacob says that everyone is an expert, but no one knows anything.”

Leaning in, Belle whispered in Nina’s ear. Nina trotted away.

Later that night, as Belle tucked Nina into bed, she ran a gentle finger over her little girl’s lips.

Nina yawned and snuggled under her blanket. “Are we going to get a new principal?”

Belle shook her head. “Nope.”

Nina squeezed one eye shut as if to focus her gaze on her mom. “Why not? I thought everyone said he was tyrannical?”

Belle stifled her laughter with one hand. “You say the oddest things, kiddo.” Her smile faded. “When it came down to it, the parents had not a shred of evidence that Principal Stevens had done anything wrong. There were really only two expulsions, and they were both justified.”

“Jacob says that everyone’s a critic but not many people really care. He says that if you care, you see things through instead of tossing people out.”

Standing up, Belle clasped her hands in front of her, a soft smile glowing in her eyes. “You know, I need to find out who’s been teaching that boy all these radical ideas.”

Nina slipped her hands under her head and closed her eyes. “You, Mom.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Same Spirit

Mrs. Eula Claymore pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and peered at the dessert tray. Is that a lemon bar or pineapple upside-down cake? Her gaze swiveled around the large hall lined with long, white tables. Some of the elderly customers lingered over their meatloaf or breaded chicken, but she preferred to accomplish her meal—like ticking a duty off her list—and then enjoy her dessert with coffee. She returned to the tray and blinked rapidly, hoping to discern her choices better.

“Can’t decide, dear?” Mrs. Caroline Ramsey smiled graciously down on the old woman as she laid a steaming cup of coffee to her right.

Making a quick grab, Eula ended the struggle. “No, thank you, Mrs. Ramsey. Just weighing my options.” Her laugh sounded hollow. Weighing. Ha! Yes, have to weigh everything these days. The battle of the bulge was relentless.

Caroline’s paper-thin physique and tight smile swayed closer. “Oh, please, call me Carol, everyone does, and it sounds so much more romantic.” She raised her eyebrows archly.

Eula suppressed a snort, tapped her sticky fingers together and considered her baptismal name—Eulamay. With a quick thrust, she jammed the sweet treat into her mouth—and regretted it instantly. Her mouth pursed into the fiercest pucker she had ever endured. Lord in Heaven, where did they get these lemons? The devil’s kitchen? She peered up, her eyes filled with stinging tears. She must have water, or she’d expire on the spot. Unfortunately, Carol had hurried off to another table to intercede in a senior squabble before something got spilled.

“Mind if I sit here?” A large, buxom woman pointed to the seat across from her.

Eula nodded, attempting to stretch her lemon pucker into a smile.

The woman laughed as she pulled out a chair and laid her black handbag on the table. “Oh, you had a lemon bar, too, I see.”

With multiple swallows, Eula tried to eek out a sound akin to human speech.

The woman turned and scurried away.

Eula watched the blurry figure bundle off and wondered if she would have done better to stay at home like her friend Lola. Of course, Lola’s great-grandkids had visited her over on the weekend, so naturally, she would be prostrate for a week or so…. Eula’s thoughts were interrupted as a cool glass was slipped into her hand.

“Here, that ought to help. I thought I’d drink the whole Mississippi dry getting that taste outta my mouth.” The large woman plunked down in the metal frame chair.

Trying desperately not to slurp, Eula drained the contents in unspeakable relief. She wiped her eyes with her embroidered handkerchief and regarded her savior as best as she was able. “Thank you. I was wondering if I’d be left to die.” She waved a languid hand. “Not that it wouldn’t be rather appropriate, dying in a community hall, but somehow it wasn’t what I had in mind when I came this morning.”

The woman’s hearty laughter brought a smile to Eula’s face, as well as turned several heads. “No problem. We older ladies have to stick together, don’t we? So few of us left.” She stretched out a hand and leaned forward. “My name’s Mary Burns from Dartmouth County—off the blacktop at the end of Vet’s Road.

Eula peered up and appraised the woman before. Large, wispy gray hair, an honest, though blurry face, the usual stretch pants and loose flowered blouse—in short—a possible friend. Eula smiled and pressed the offered hand. “I’m Mrs. Eula Claymore from—”

Mary waved excitedly. “Oh, I know all about you. I’ve lived around here nearly ten years, but my husband, Melvin, passed away last year. Lola Kinsman was so kind. From the church—you know. She thinks the world of you, she does. That’s why I came by. She phoned and said she couldn’t make it, but she wanted me to introduce myself.”

Nodding, Eula wrapped a stray lock of hair back into her neat bun. “Her great-grandkids visited Saturday. I suspect she’ll be laid up awhile.” Nodding, she turned and appraised the crowd. “But I’m glad to meet you. I’ve been coming for years, but I never seem to— Anyway, Lola’s always been with me.”

Mary sighed. “To be honest, I’m rather out of place. I used to cook for Melvin and the boys, and there were usually hands and helpers about. Our trestle table would be full to bursting, and I managed it every day, seven days a week, but now, after a little slip and a hip replacement, my sons’ wives have decided it’s too much for me.” She peered around the room. “I don’t particularly take to being served.”

Eula smacked her lips. “Especially not lemon bars that could suck the life out of you.”

The two women hunched forward and failed to suppress their giggles.

Regaining her composer, Eula leaned back. “It’s cataract surgery for me. Can hardly see my hand before my face.” She gestured to the small crowd. “I served most of these people when I ran the school lunchroom. And I managed the parent group and the sewing circle. Never stopped for a moment, except—”

A racket at the end of the hall pulled their attention forward. One of the men stood stiffly, staggered, jerked, and then fell into a crumpled heap. Eula gasped. Mary rose like a puppet on strings.

Carol rushed across the hall, wended her way through the startled crowd, and took charge. At least three people had their cell phones in hand and were dialing.

After the emergency team had carried off the unfortunate gentleman, Carol circled around and spoke with each table. The crowd shuffled away in turn. When Carol made it to their table, Eula shook her head. “Will ol’ Bertie be all right?”

Carol shook her head and wiped a red-rimmed eye. “They said he was dead before he hit the floor.” She peered at them and forced a smile. “I guess we all have to go sometime.”

Eula wrung her hands together. “Bertie was such a fun boy and a hardworking man—but he never wanted to linger.”

Mary sighed. “None of us do.”

Carol stared down at them. “Don’t talk like that. You’re not lingering. You’re living.” Pulling out a chair, she plunked down and put her head into her hands. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took this on. I thought it’d be fun: serving the ladies and gents in the community, making money on the side, getting out of my empty nest.”

Mary tilted her head at an appreciative angle. “But—”

Carol ran her fingers through her short, brown hair. “But, I can’t keep pace. This is the third customer I’ve lost in two months. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. It’s just…I get to know people, and then I lose them. It feels—useless.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “Help me out here.”

Eula leaned over and patted Carol’s hand. “It’s not useless. You’re right. We are living—and dying. Hard for young people to understand, but we’re as new to old age, as they are are to adulthood, and you are to middle age. Same spirit, greater experience perhaps, but encased in bodies that break down and wither.”

Mary wrapped her fingers over her purse and clutched it to her chest. “I know that the gentleman’s death is tragic, but I can’t go back; I must go forward. Knowing that I can join you, ladies, a couple times a week—well, it’ll make the journey less lonely.” She patted Carol’s shoulder. “Don’t fret. None of knows how to keep pace. That isn’t the point, is it?”

After Mary had lumbered away, Carol stood and helped Eula to her feet. She took her friend’s arm and led her to the door. “Will you be able to make it home, all right, Eula?”

Eula pressed Carol’s warm hand and focused her blurry gaze on the woman in front of her. “Yes, I can make it home. See you on Friday—Carol.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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