Like an artery, Main Street pumped life into the small town and the surrounding farms. A red, brick building sat at a jaunty angle on the southwest corner of the four-way stop. Raised letters spelled out its inception: Mirage-Reborn Savings and Loan—Year One. The double, front doors swung inward on well-oiled hinges into an interior meant to inspire confidence. A steel, reinforced vault behind the main counter gleamed in assurance, practically winking at you from the glinting rays of light spilling through tall, rectangular windows.
Directly across the street on the south side, a forest-green, wooden, two-story structure boasted fancy lettering: Nelson’s Grocery—Your One-Stop-Shop. Nelson’s stocked everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to floral prints for your next dressmaking project. Though old man Nelson insisted that his daughter, Grace, stock more variety, it was already almost more than she could manage. Two other Main Street stores filled in the culinary gaps—Bud’s Butcher and a Fresh-from-the-Farm Dairy & Bakery outlet.
A filling station and a post office occupied the other two street corners, while the Sheriff’s Office halfway down the block, ensured the current population that not only was your money safe—you were too. Or you would be soon, once Abbas introduced their new sheriff at the Town Hall meeting.
Abbas, in his ancient wisdom, had cultivated changes in Mirage slowly. It had only been in the last year that he began referring to their world as Mirage-Reborn. Clearly, the population realized that something was afoot when he replaced their medieval styled hovels with sturdier, comfier, ranch-style houses. Like a proud papa, he took each citizen—and their assembled relatives—to their new abode and showed them a thousand Oldearth years worth of improvements in an hour. It was an accomplishment worthy of a god. The changes were accepted as divine ordinances—and darn nice ones too.
The Town Hall crowd jostled each other in friendly intimacy; after all, these people had lived together through enormous life changes. They gathered in expectation, chatting about the weather, crops, and the usual challenges of life, studiously avoiding any emphasis on the fact that their world had morphed from an Oldearth medieval village into a mid-twentieth century, American town. Would wonders never cease?
Omega had transported each of them—or their parents—to Mirage decades ago in response to a particular need. After the demise of Oldearth, Luxonians had been humanity’s only hope, but occasionally, humans did not conform well to life on planet Lux. The adventurous ones struck out on their own and settled on outposts. Sometimes successfully. Sometimes disastrously. When Omega learned of a human in extreme need, he would swoop in, and, like a hero of old, save the innocent—and not so innocent—from certain destruction. Each new arrival’s adjustment to medieval Oldearth society put everyone on equal footing.
After Omega’s mother died, he, too, disappeared, so Abbas took up the mantle and played the combined roles of demi-god and sheriff-in-residence. Most inhabitants accepted these changes with a shrug of laconic indifference. There was nothing written in stone saying you couldn’t jump a millennium or two every now and again.
Since his wife had died and Omega had left, Abbas busied himself with the town. He liked to appear suddenly, surprising the marketing crowd or lend a hand at a barn raising. He never appeared out of humor or out of breath, and he was welcomed everywhere he went.
As the crowd gathered in happy chatter, Abbas suddenly appeared in the front of the hall with two men, one on either side. On his left, a blond, slim man with striking blue eyes squared his shoulders and crossed his arms as he appeared to appraise the crowd in a critical, sweeping glance. A thicker and heavier, dark headed man on the right merely stood with his muscled arms at his side, gazing ahead like a crime suspect in a lineup.
Abbas raised his arms, and the room fell silent. “My friends, I bring you two new citizens of Mirage-Reborn. I know you will welcome them as I have welcomed you in times past.” He waved to his left. “Mr. Jeremy Quinn has served many, faithful years as a Bothmal guard, but now he has agreed to serve as our Sheriff and Director of Criminal Justice.”
Murmurs from the crowd stirred the air at the word Bothmal.
“Did he say Bothmal? As in the Inter-alien-prison?”
“Hellhole, I was told. No good can ever come of that place.”
Quinn’s eyes scoured the assembly, stopping at dissatisfied frowns and hovering over fear-filled eyes.
Abbas waved the murmurs away, nodded to his right, and his tight smile softened. “And here, I have brought you a treasure in Lucius Pollex, a man of renowned physical strength and the best blacksmith this side of the Divide. In him, you will discover both a hard worker and a faithful friend.”
Relief warred with anxiety in the crowd’s eyes as they shifted from Quinn to Pollex and back to Quinn.
“I have arranged a simple repast, so join me with our new friends at the cafe, and let’s get to know each other better.”
Abbas opened his arms as if in benediction, and the crowd parted with respectful nods and clasped hands. Like a wave washing over the shore, the entire population turned and followed their leader through the door.
Only Vera Webb, a petite, black-haired woman with high cheekbones, piercing black eyes, and ridges along her neck stood to the side and saw the exchange between the newcomers.
Lucius Pollex merely nodded with a hint of a warning in his eyes, but Quinn poured the malice of eons into his gaze as he glared at the blacksmith.