OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Chapter Three

—Hill Land—

Not Set In Stone

Lud, skinny but stalwart, watched his eldest son, Gilbreth, as they trudged over flat grassland.

Though small for his age, Gilbreth’s heavy frame gave him a robust appearance. His little brother, Ham, bumped into him and fell backward, sprawling flat on the green expanse. Gilbreth stared at his brother and smiled. He plucked the little boy out of the grass, easily swung him onto his hip, and continued his march. “Ham, look where you’re going. This is the third time you have run into me.”

As his little brother’s dark eyes filled with tears, Gilbreth’s voice softened. “I can’t be picking you up all the time. We have to travel far today.” By the last word, Gilbreth’s tone had lifted to a gentle croon.

Lud stifled a laugh. He dared not look at his wife.

Dinah clasped a hand over her mouth while a grin peeked out from her eyes. She carried her baby, Deli, in a sling wrapped over her shoulder.

Lud wrapped his arm around his son. “You’ll make a good father someday.”

Gilbreth rolled his eyes. “More than that, I hope! The new boys will think I am a nursemaid.” He met his father’s gaze. “Please, keep Ham and Deli away from me when we arrive.”

Lud grinned. “You think I’d be so cruel? When the others see what a good-natured boy you are, the whole community will speak of it. They’ll say, ‘Gilbreth is a boy to be trusted!’” Lud pointed from Ham to Deli. “Besides” —he cringed in mock fear— “what would they do to me if I kept you away?”

Gilbreth pursed his lips, set Ham on his feet, and readjusted the bag slung over his back. “You can at least tell me why we’re leaving. Did we do something wrong?”

Lud glanced at his wife, the dull thud of reality dragged his soaring spirit back to earth.

With an understanding nod, Dinah strode ahead. A sack strapped across her back bounced with each step. Deli swayed on her hip, and she gripped Ham’s small hand.

Lud cleared his throat and clasped his staff tighter. “My father thinks I’m soft in the head because I’m so friendly with everyone. I told him that we want to see the world, but that’s not the whole reason we’re leaving.” He peered into the distance. “My people won’t last much longer. They’ve refused visitors, and they view every new idea with suspicion. They cloud their minds with doubt and fear. Even their blood grows weak because they allow no new members to replenish the spring. They’re dying.” Lud sucked in a deep breath and hurried his pace.

Gilbreth frowned, gazing at his feet as he kept pace with his father.

“That’s why your mother and I decided to leave—so we could join with a different clan. They’re kind, like to travel, and they’re willing to learn about the world. Despite her upbringing, your mother has an adventurous heart. Look at her. Does she seem in the least bit afraid?” A warm burst of joy spread over Lud as he stared at the woman marching before him. “With each step, she soars—an eagle on an updraft—like an old friend I once knew.”

Gilbreth bit his lip. “But will I never see my grandparents or the rest of my family again?”

Lud glanced away and picked up his pace. “I can’t say. The future is not set in stone.”

Gilbreth glanced from his mother to his siblings, grief entering his eyes.

Lud pressed his son’s shoulder gently. “It is hard, but we must grow into a new life or die in stagnant waters. I’d not have you endure such a fate.” Hurrying forward, Lud caught up to Dinah and grinned in her direction.

Dinah smiled back.

As Gilbreth ran ahead, Lud watched him. “You’ll enjoy meeting Eoban. He came to visit just as your mother and I made our decision. I never saw a man so well pleased.”

When Ham tripped and squalled, Lud scooped the little boy into a comforting embrace.

With a harrumph, Gilbreth lifted his arms like a bird with wings slicing through the air. His bag bounced across his back.

Lud murmured under his breath, “Nothing is set in stone.”

 

A new chapter of OldEarth Ishtar Encounter coming every Tuesday and Thursday.

Enjoy,

Ann

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

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OldEarth Ishtar Encounter Chapter Two

—Grassland— Begin Again

Jonas, in a simple gray dress with her black hair flowing over her shoulders, cupped her hands around her mouth and called. “Onia! Where are you?” Anxiety fluttered in her chest.

No answer.

Curious villagers weaving baskets, stirring bubbling cooking pots, tending to lines of dried fish, and other daily tasks swung glances her way.

After circling around her large thatched dwelling, she heaved an exasperated sigh and brushed strands of hair out of her sweaty face. Strolling through the dusty village of rounded huts and storage sheds, she continued the hunt for her youngest son.

Several heads lifted. Smiles crinkled in the corners of eyes, and lips curved in response to her plaintive quest.

A short, plump woman straightened before her loom and rubbed the small of her back. “If you find your son, maybe, you could find mine also? Send him home if you do.”

One grandmother called out in cheerful teasing. “Lose that youngest one again?”

Jonas controlled an urge to roll her eyes and merely shrugged.

The old woman pointed south. “When Eoban returns, he’s like the rain after a long drought—they flock to see what he’s brought and hear the news. I’ve seen many pass by this morning.”

Turning her head aside, Jonas caught her loose hair and braided it into a tight bun. She wrapped it with a dark woolen tie she pulled from her belt, squared her shoulders, and trudged on.

As the sun beat down, sweat trickled down her back. Her irritation building to the breaking point, she scowled. When she reached the edge of the village, a cacophony of voices met her ears, deepening her scowl. What on earth—?

Numerous boys and young men bustled around the framework of a new dwelling. Each youth appeared busy with a task. Two stacked mud bricks by an unfinished wall, three thatched a low roof, one braced a stout door, while two others dragged a wooden bench to the shaded side of the house.

Jonas stared, and her mouth fell open. As her gaze wandered, she found Onia, high on a rafter, patting thatch firmly into place. Her lips pursed, and she glanced about. Where is—

Eoban’s voice rose above the tumult.

With a quick shake, Jonas marched around to the back of the dwelling. She blocked the sun from her eyes.

His broad muscular shoulders barely covered by a sleeveless tunic, one hairy arm akimbo, and the other waving like a leaf in the wind, Eoban’s bushy beard moved in time with his words. His face crinkled in a grin. “Keep working, boys. That roof won’t thatch itself. Watch yourself there, son. Lay those bricks carefully. They’re worth all the time and energy it took to make them.”

Jonas’s hand dropped to her side as tension seeped from her body.

“No, be careful there, Malib! If you don’t do it just right, you’ll end up like a man I knew in Asher.” Eoban scratched his beard and propped one hand on a post. “He built his house so quickly; he thought he was a god, and everyone spoke of the marvel. Until the rains came and woke him from a sound sleep.”

Eoban turned his voice high and squeaky. “‘Never mind, I’ll fix it tomorrow.’” His voice returned to its usual rumble. “Then a cold wind blew and his walls cracked.” High and squeaky again. “‘I’ll take care of that in the morning.’”

Eoban spat on the ground. “Finally, the ground shifted, and the fool was just about to close his eyes—when the house fell in.”

The boys chuckled, all eyes fastened on Eoban.

Jonas’s irritation vanished with a laugh. She strolled over to Eoban. “You’re a wise teacher, my friend.” She swept her hand in the direction of the new dwelling. “Have you decided to move? Or do you build with someone else in mind?”

With a teasing sneer, Eoban waved her questions away. “No and no.”

Jonas poked his arm in mock severity, her tension rising again. “Don’t make me angry, Eoban. Tell me, why is every boy, including my son, helping you make a new house?”

Eoban stared at the sky, shrugged, and clasped Jonas’s arm. He led her aside, out of earshot of the bustling workers.

A gentle wind rippled the grass, and the smell of ripening wheat filled the air. A hawk soared across the sky and screeched as it dove toward a grove of trees in the distance.

“All right, I’ll tell you, but I wanted it to be a surprise.” Straightening, Eoban met Jonas’s gaze and puffed out his chest. “Lud and his family are moving here. They’ll be my neighbors.”

Her skin tingling pleasantly, Jonas inhaled. “Lud? And his family? That’s wonderful!” She squeezed Eoban’s massive hand. “I am so glad!”

Eoban grinned, his eyes beaming with joy.

With a quick pat, Jonas dropped his hand and stared over the horizon. “I only hope—”

Images flashed into her mind: Ishtar struggling with Haruz, and then her bloody body sprawled on the ground. Jonas swallowed and wrapped her arms around her middle. “After that awful night, I was afraid he’d never return. You know he only came for Pele. He couldn’t reconcile himself to her death.”

Eoban’s gaze floated west, across the river toward Ishtar’s village. “I wonder where he is now?”

She shivered. “She’s dead, and he’s gone. That’s all we need to know. I’m still frightened by the memory of that night. I’ll never forget it.”

Eoban ran his hand through his thick, disheveled hair. “It still baffles me too. But then, I never pretended to understand such things.”

“I had hoped that Lud would help Ishtar, but he left as quickly as he came.”

Eoban snorted and glanced into the sky. “No one could’ve helped Ishtar. Lud was right to return home.” He shifted his gaze to Earth and squeezed Jonas’s shoulder. “Lud’s a smart man—even though he is too skinny.” A smile twitched his lips.

Rolling her shoulders to release the tension yet again, Jonas faced Eoban. “So why does he want to move here, so near you, of all people?”

Eoban rubbed his nose like an abashed child and glanced about. “He never fit in back home. He’s seen too much, been too many places. He likes to welcome strangers and travel. His people don’t understand. They’re so suspicious. Even when I visited, they glared at me—like I was a monster from the deep. Can you imagine!”

A villager strolled by and waved.

Jonas waved back, glancing at Eoban. “Well, you’ve been known to intimidate even—”

Eoban raised an eyebrow and turned back to the half-finished structure. “We’re lucky that Lud married well. Dinah is a sensible, hardworking girl. They have three children all ready. Lud wants to enjoy the world as a gift, not a threat.”

Jonas chimed in, “A gift from God.”

With a noncommittal shrug, Eoban lifted a load of thatch and balanced it over his shoulder. “They’ll be good neighbors. Obed agrees. He says Lud is a unifying force since he’s been the slave of one clan, the rescuer of another, and a friend to all.”

Dropping the thatch against the west wall, Eoban lowered his voice. “I’ll stay closer to home now anyway. There’s more to life than trading and riches.” His eyebrows danced as his head tilted toward the assembly. “Someone has to train up the youth. Good warriors are good workers first.”

A cool wind swept through, and relief spread over Jonas, relaxing every muscle in her body. Affecting nonchalance, she suppressed an exuberant smile and merely nodded.

A shout and a sharp yelp turned every head.

Eoban jogged forward as a crowd gathered under a hole in the roof.

Jonas skirted around with one trembling hand clasped over her mouth and the other over her pounding heart.

Onia lay on the ground, peering through a mask of straw and mud. He attempted a brave grin. “Just slipped through a little hole.”

Eoban cleared his throat as he glanced from the broken roof to the boy. “Tell me, Onia, do you remember what I told you about laying thatch?”

Onia blinked, his mouth dropping open.

Eoban waved a finger, his voice rising. “What happens to the foolish builder?”

Onia’s eyes screwed up as he recited from memory. “Without a strong frame, the builder builds in vain.”

“Yes, that’s right.” Eoban swiped straw from the boy’s hair and pulled him to his feet. “Now go make bricks.”

Onia glanced at his mother and shrugged helplessly.

Jonas sighed as she watched her youngest son amble off to his next duty, knowing full well that by the time he got home, he would be too tired to be of any use to her.

She gripped Eoban’s arm. “You may have him until noon, but then I need him back. I have work for him as well. And feel free to tell your workers a little story about boys who help their mothers being the best of sons.”

Jonas and Eoban locked eyes in a struggle for dominance. Eoban broke first, and they both grinned.

Jonas turned toward home and peered over her shoulder. “You might want to check this house before Lud moves in, or he’ll be in for a few surprises.”

Eoban folded his arms high across his chest and surveyed his confused crew. He called after Jonas. “They do great work—you’ll see!” He nodded to the boys and lifted his hands like a warrior readying his men for battle.

Jonas walked backward, watching and grinning.

A fresh smile broke over Eoban’s face. “Back to work, everyone. Did I ever tell you about the Sun Keepers? No? Well, there’s a lesson in perseverance, let me tell you! You see, long ago…”

Jonas turned and strolled toward home, her arms swinging at her side.

—Lake Land—

Barak clasped his hands around one knee as he sat on a bench leaning against the back wall of his dwelling. His work-worn, patched tunic and leggings rippled around his thick, muscled body. He tipped his head up.

Brilliant stars twinkled overhead in miraculous glory.

Inside a nearby dwelling, a child murmured plaintively, and a woman crooned a baby to sleep.

Barak sighed as his gaze wandered the heavenly sphere. He whispered. “Aram, where are you now?”

Stretching out, he sprawled on the bench, one leg hanging over the side. “There’s so much I don’t know.” His brows furrowed. “I’m not alone.” He waved a finger at the sky. “Your God follows me everywhere, but He won’t speak to me!”

Clasping his hands over his face, he groaned. “If your God spoke to Eymard and comforted you, why won’t He do the same for me?” Barak ran his fingers through his hair. “By the cat’s paw, can’t He choose someone else? Eoban would make a great leader. He’s forever telling me what to do.”

A soft wind with a spicy, resin scent stirred his hair, sending a chill over his body. Sitting up, he snapped a broken twig off the bench. “Eymard, can you hear me? I can’t lead all these people! If Ishtar can return to evil ways, who can I trust?”

Slumping in exhaustion, Barak lay back down, pillowing his head with his arm and closing his eyes.

In a dreamy haze, Aram appeared before him, standing with a lean, sober-eyed, black-haired man, who looked somewhat familiar yet unknown. The stranger reached out with his palm up.

Fear warring with excitement, Barak lifted his arm. He clasped the man’s hand, and lightning raced through his body.

Jerking awake, Barak bolted upright and opened his eyes.

A pinkish hue on the horizon signaled the start of another day.

—Grassland—

Obed stepped away from his rolled-up bed, pulled an embroidered tunic over his broad shoulders, and let it fall gently over his white leggings. With care, he slipped his feet into a pair of new sandals.

Jonas stood near the doorway, her arms folded. “And about Tobia—”

Rounding on his wife, Obed glared, hot fury flushing his face. He slapped the wall post. “Why are you bringing this up again? It’s the best thing for the boy, and well you know it. He’s too retired and shy. He’s a man now, but he doesn’t seem to know it.”

Jonas clenched her jaw, her lips in a tight line.

“He spends all his time carving figures and dreaming. I can’t find him when there’s work to be done, and when I ask why he’s not at the field, he shrugs. He doesn’t seem to know that we need to work…to build homes…to trade and acquire the items that we can’t make for ourselves.”

Jonas glared, her eyes narrowing as she gripped her waist.

Obed swiveled away and pounded to the other end of the room. He waved and knocked a bowl of fruit askew, spilling a cluster of grapes. Ignoring the mess, Obed refocused his gaze on Jonas. “He’s consumed with carving, and even when he makes something decent, he’s reluctant to trade it for anything useful. He needs to grow up!” Obed folded his arms over his chest in a precise manner, his heart pounding against his ribs.

Readjusting the bowl and settling the grapes in place, Jonas, stiff as a board, choked out her words. “He is doing something important—his carvings speak to the part of us that makes us more than beasts.” She closed her eyes and swallowed. “Onias believed in the value of art. Tobia is following in his father’s footsteps.”

Obed’s jaw clenched. “Since I’m not his blood father, I can’t see his worth—is that what you mean?”

Her anger flashing, Jonas plunged forward. “I never said that! You’ve been a wonderful father, but Tobia is different from you. Even from me. Is that wrong?”

A knot forming in his stomach, Obed shook his head. “You and I hold this village together. What’ll become of our people if Tobia dreams his life away—even in the noble pursuit of becoming more than” —he gritted his teeth— “a beast?”

Jonas lifted her hands as if in a truce. “Stop! Please.” She sucked in a shuddering breath. “You’re right. Traveling and trading will probably do Tobia good. I just don’t think that Vitus is the right man to lead our son into manhood. He’ll never confide in Vitus, and Vitus will never understand him.”

Sensing victory, Obed’s heart leaped. “My point exactly! Tobia has been coddled for too long. He needs a man’s influence. A man who will not coddle him. Vitus knows a lot of people along his trade routes, and that’ll force Tobia out of his shell. He won’t stand by and let him stare aimlessly with those sad eyes, carving useless pieces of wood.”

Jonas wrung her hands and meandered to the open window, staring ahead. “Vitus is not the man you think.”

Swallowing his doubts, Obed hesitated a moment. But as irritation welled, he leaned against the wall and struck again. “Vitus will do more good than you or I. We’ve almost ruined the boy.” He slapped his hands together, lacing his fingers in a stranglehold. “Boy! Why, he’s a man in size and strength, but we speak of him as a child!” Pushing off the wall, Obed started for the door. “No, my mind is made up. Tobia is leaving with Vitus in the morning.” Looking back, Obed felt his stomach crunch. Standing stiff and unyielding, Jonas blinked back tears. With a shake of his head, Obed charged through the doorway and sped through the village.

—Wilderness—

Ishtar halted and stared ahead at a barren landscape. His long, unkempt hair blew around his dirt-smeared face. A rough beard sprouted along his jawline, accenting the hollows of his cheeks.

The sun rose into a hazy sky. Clouds swirled through the red glow of an angry firmament that bespoke of troubles in the heavens. A sharp breeze blew, and a line of pine trees behind him groaned in warning.

His toes bled onto the hard rocky ground. Ishtar peered at his torn skin and clothes—a ragged loincloth and a sleeveless tunic—hung loosely about him as if they might sail into the wild wind. Long strands of hair obscured his vision, but his ears thrilled to the howling wind through the heavy pine boughs. His lean body, sunken to near emaciation, bowed to the tempest. Neither fear nor pain accosted him.

He waited. But death did not come. Pain did not come. Sorrow did not fill his heart. He felt nothing. He cared for nothing. He wondered if he had, in fact, become nothing. Was he a man or had mere shadow engulfed his very being?

Without thought, he strode on.

The sun crawled overhead as he paced out his measured steps. Slipping on an incline, he instinctively grabbed hold of a rock embedded in the dirt to steady his balance. He climbed for time uncounted and, without interest, crossed a flat expanse.

Finally, the fog-ridden landscape cleared. To his utter amazement, he peered across an enormous desert. After an entranced moment, he glanced down at his torn feet and realized with the first tremor of fear that he stood with his toes pointing over a vast and mighty cliff edge. If he took one more step, he would fall to a bone-crushing death.

In the distance, mountains dwarfed the hills he had already ascended. Purples, blues, and pinks vied with one another to create a rainbow landscape over the barren land.

He gasped, sucking in the breathtaking beauty. Tears coursed down his cheeks. Grimacing in pain, he curled his toes around the rocky ledge. Birds, swirling in the heights, crisscrossed one another in innocent delight, dancing for him alone.

Ishtar raised his hand to his face and brushed his hair behind his ear. He stared at the glorious sky, never looking down at the depths that beckoned.

A vision of Pele, her gentle eyes set in her perfectly oval face, wisps of hair swirling as if in the evening breeze, swayed before him. But unlike the birds, she gazed upon his troubled face. A faint message traveled through the harsh wind. “You live, Ishtar. Begin again.”

Ishtar’s heart pummeled his chest. Begin again? He was an exile, an outcast—no longer a man. Twice cursed. Was redemption possible after such a fall?

The birds faded like specks of dust into the horizon as his vision paled into vaporous clouds. He stared into the suddenly clear blue sky and wiped away fresh tears.

He took one step back.

 

Enjoy a new chapter from OldEarth Ishtar Encounter each Tuesday and Wednesday.

Blessings,

Ann

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
― Bill Keane

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OldEarth Ishtar Encounter Chapter One

—Planet Lux—
Test a Theory

Ark, his fleshy white potbellied body encased in a somber gray bio-suit and brown boots, stood aside from the main crowd in the domed Luxonian chamber. He blew bubbles through his breather helm, wrapped his four tentacles behind his back, and tried to ignore the bright light streaming in from above. Planet Lux has altogether too bright a sun. They ought to shield us from the blasted thing. He squinted and averted his eyes.

The Luxonian meeting hall, punctuated with purple-veined marble columns and glorious fountains shaped like creatures from every planet in the district, was filled to capacity with representatives from four races: Crestonian, Bhuaci, Luxonian, and Ingoti.

He studied a Luxonian Lightbird sculpture, as it appeared to fly into the air, spraying clear water from its beak. With a shrug, he shifted to the more fascinating Crestonian Sandfish, spouting green liquid from its razor-toothed jaws. A shiver rolled down his spine.

Dragging his gaze away, Ark nonchalantly shifted his stance and waited for his superior to approach. It would never do to appear hasty.

Ungle, a Crestonian with bright red cilia swaying on top of his plump head and dressed in a spring-green bio-suit and matching boots, meandered the circuit of the room with two tentacles wrapped behind his back in a contemplative manner. A third tentacle held a long-stemmed glass filled to the brim with blue gelatinous goo. With his last tentacle, he shook appendages—or mechanical armatures—as the occasion required, with various Luxonian and alien representatives. His perpetual smile never wavered.

Ark slumped and caught the eye of a young Luxonian who stared directly at him. Ark patted his breathing helm as if stifling a yawn.

The Luxonian’s gaze delved deeper, his obvious curiosity breaking to the surface.

Annoyance broke Ark’s placid mood. He discharged a narrow-eyed glare at the Luxonian, who soon turned away. Idiot.

“So you finally made it.”

Ark’s head jerked so hard as he twisted around to face his superior that he felt a crackling in the bone holding his spine erect. Blast. I’ll have a muscle spasm from that. He clasped Ungle’s tentacle from which dangled a gaudy bracelet. Ark blinked and swallowed. Better not expect me to kiss that thing—like some weird Bhuaci sign of obeisance.

“Not for kissing, just admiring.”

Ark swallowed convulsively. Uh-oh.

Ungle laughed, nearly spraying liquid over the top of his breathing helm. “I can’t read your mind—but really—Ark, you’ve become practically translucent. Been among humans too long in my opinion.”

A Luxonian waiter in humanoid form, as befits the theme of the meeting, and dressed in an embroidered gold tunic and lavender leggings, glided in close. With a bow, he offered a tray of pink, blue, and green drinks.

Ark glanced at Ungle.

Ungle poured blue goo into his breathing helm, slurped, and shivered. “Not bad. But I’d recommend the green. Not authentic green, you understand, but less of a kick than the blue.”

Ark swiped a blue drink off the tray and poured it daintily into his breathing helm. Like a connoisseur savoring an ancient wine, Ark sipped his liquid while his gaze wandered the room.

Ungle waved the servant away.

Ark turned to his superior. “You were the first to recommend Earth observation. Have you changed your mind?”

“Not at all. I think humanity will have a great deal to offer—in time. But I also realize there are many complications that must be considered—”

A bell tinkled.

“Bothmal those bells!” Ungle tapped Ark on the shoulder. “Meet me in my chambers after the meeting.”

“You aren’t staying for the Balatin Reenactment Festival?”

Ungle gurgled. “I’m a Crestonian. Science, not pleasure, dictates my schedule.”

Ark took the hint.

~~~

Ark settled in a plump chair and hated the hiss of his bio-suit as it wedged between the stiff arms. Dark waters, I’ll never get up without help.

The Crestonian chambers included a mini-pool built into the back wall, cushy, white furniture, and a simple cleansing and dressing closet.

Ark glanced over as Ungle tapped a console, lighting up a holopad.

“Pay attention now. I’ve done careful research, and I think I have just the solution we need.”

Ark grunted as he tried to wiggle out of the chair. “What…is…the…problem?” Popping like a cork, he sprang to his feet.

Ungle straightened, and a hologram of the Luxonian guardian stationed on Earth—Teal—appeared before them. His slim, well-balanced figure, straight light brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and firm jaw emphasized his determined personality.

Ark shrugged and clumped forward, his embarrassment forgotten. “Teal?” His gaze swiveled to Ungle.

“As I mentioned earlier, science dictates the direction of my life. I believe that humanity has a great deal to offer Crestonian studies. Not the least of which is their obsession with good and evil.”

Ark wrapped his tentacles behind his back, arched his neck forward, and meandered in close. “Surely, we understand the concept as well as anyone. Why—?”

“We don’t experience the polar opposites as humans do. It makes quite a difference. Consider—” Ungle tapped the console. Teal dissolved, and Chai appeared beautifully dressed in crimson robes embroidered in gold. “A dangerous—by all human standards—evil force controls this man. It’s a force I’ve rarely encountered before. Yet, this human believes he’ll benefit from the experience.”

Ark’s tentacles wiggled nervously behind his back. “What does he have to do with Teal?”

“This being—calls himself Chai—will cross paths with the one you call Ishtar. It doesn’t take serious extrapolation of data to figure this out. Their paths must intersect.”

“So—”

“Teal will be watching. He’ll care what happens. He might even attempt to interfere.”

“That goes against all his training.”

Ungle shrugged. “Given proper motivation, we all go against our training. Don’t be obtuse, Ark.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to see the natural exchange between Chai and Ishtar. I want to witness a soul damned to—”

“Hell?”

“Yes, I believe that is the term.”

“You want me to keep an eye on Teal—is that it?” Chuckling, Ungle tapped the console. “Not primarily. I want you to keep your eye on her.”

The holographic image of Chai dissolved, and Sienna, a Luxonian beauty with reddish hair, golden eyes, and a slim figure appeared in all her radiant glory on the holopad.

“Sienna? She cares for Teal, but—”

“She’s a Luxonian with a healer’s soul. She wants to help so badly; she could do a great deal of harm in the process.” Ungle tapped the screen and Chai, Teal, and Sienna appeared together on the holopad facing away from one another. “They’re each convinced that they know what’s best for humanity. I’m convinced that they have no idea what’s in store for them.”

“And you want me to observe and collect data?”

“I want to test a theory—about good and evil.”

Ark waited.

Ungle smirked. “You’ll see.”

A new OldEarth Ishtar Encounter chapter coming each Tuesday and Thursday. 

Enjoy,

Ann

“He shook my dozing soul and threw the cold water of reality in my face, so that life and God and heaven and hell broke into my world with glory and horror.” (on CS Lewis) ~John Piper

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OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Prologue

—Temple City—

Worthy of Renowned

Chai’s fingers stuck together as he clutched a bloodstained knife at his side. His unruly black hair, muscled build, wide stance, and flashing black eyes proclaimed his dominance. He swept a long flowing cape over his shoulders and watched an enormous shadow slither forward. His heart pounded. The deed had been done.

The body of a young man was lowered into the pit.

For a horrifying moment, Chai stiffened as he beheld a vision: His mother’s face as she lowered him onto his soft bed, cradling his body and crooning in her sweet voice.

Chai froze. The knife slipped from his fingers and clattered on the stone floor.

A circle of robed figures turned toward him.

He raised his head, searching wildly for direction.

The stone carving of his god—a man’s head with the body of a great cat and the wings of an eagle—stood in the center of the cold room staring sightlessly through blood-red eyes.

Chai exhaled a long breath. Squaring his shoulders, he forced himself to look into the pit one final time. A dead body. No personality, no family, no loving mother—no grief.

The shadow followed the body into the black depths.

A servant tiptoed near and retrieved the knife.

Chai grunted, and the knife was slapped into his hand.

He held it aloft, his crimson sleeves flowing in rippled folds down his arms. His heart thudded against his chest. The dazzling fire flared in front of the stone god and burnished the blade a deep bronze.

A new vision framed itself in his mind. He sat on a high seat above every mortal man. Every being on Earth shrunk from him in terror. His will reigned supreme. He could feel a smile creep across his face, but the burning in his heart seared all joy.

As he stared at the stone figure, his vision widened. A wall of impenetrable mountains opposed him. Suddenly, he flew aloft and with a bird’s-eye view, vast rolling hills and open grasslands slid away under him. Clans huddled against the foothills and nestled between the shoulders of the great mountains. Chai caught his breath. A great throng—people from all over the mountainsides, hills, and valleys—gathered. Finally, a conquest worthy of his skill!

He dragged his gaze from the vision and stared at reality. In utter silence, the pit consumed his offering. He lifted his gaze to the blood-red eyes. “I will bring more…and become worthy of renown.”

With a guttural command and a sharp gesture, he ended the ceremony. His quick, sharp steps echoed through the dim temple hall. When he reached the open doorway, he halted on the threshold. Peering into the black night, a sensation so riotous it could not be controlled rose up inside him and demanded release.

He burst into laughter.

 

A new Chapter from my historical fiction/ science fiction novel OldEarth Ishtar Encounter each Tuesday and Thursday. 

Blessings,

Ann

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~Mark 19:26

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

Not Natural

Excerpt from OldEarth NEB Encounter—coming this summer 2018.

Earth @3000 BC

Only flickering flames of a campfire held back the blanket of black night.  An owl hooted in the distance as the crowd huddled close.

Neb’s gaze rolled from the stiff figure of his grandson to the shuffling clansmen before him. “Listen to me, my people. I am Neb, your leader of long years and the father of Serug and the grandfather of Neb, son of Serug. I declare that all gifts bestowed on me shall be given to my grandson and that when it is his time to serve, you will follow him faithfully. I have seen a new land. You will depart from these woodlands and live on the edge of a mighty river. Your greatness cannot be measured. Your hands will reach out, and you will take for yourselves the power to rule all others.”

His gaze returned to his grandson. “I bestow the mighty bear spirit on my grandson, young Neb. And you will worship the god of horns, which Athaliah has made known to you. If you obey—you shall prosper. If you do not, a curse will fall upon you and future generations down to—”

A crash broke through Neb’s cavernous tones. Crackling, a great tree limb broke free and began its weighty decent from the upper regions. It fell through lower boughs crashing and tumbling. A message from the black sky landed in front of the startled crowd.

Neb stood glowering in silence.

Serug stared wide-eyed—nothing of this nature had ever happened before. Always, nature assisted his father. Though he had to admit, the flying locusts of old had dismayed them both. He brushed that thought away as he stood frozen—his mouth hanging open.

Young Neb had no such qualms. The youth strode up to the massive limb and tugged it while the crowd watched, mesmerized. As the smaller Neb hauled the branch to the fire, everyone at once understood. They reached out and began tugging it, thrusting it into the flickering flames. The ancient limb caught quickly, and the fire grew in fierce exuberance.

Old Neb smiled. He had forgotten what it was he was going to say, but it didn’t matter now. The incident only made his point that much clearer.

In a gesture not unlike the one he had used to the People of Seth on the night of their defeat, he motioned for his people to commence the meal. There were no more ceremonies. The future was set. Neb could leave the Earth, and his spirit would live on in the grandson who bore his name. He would never die.

Serug watched his clan set to the feast. His father had undoubtedly prophesied correctly, and he would lead his people to a Great River. But how long before his son felt the need to rule? Old Neb had thrust his father aside when he felt the urge. As he stood staring into the flames, Serug wondered just how much like his grandfather his son would be.

~~~

*Ingoti, from the planet Ingilium are large beings, ranging from six to seven feet tall. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms, leading some to believe that they are in-fact cyborgs and that the “armor” is built directly into their bodies. 

Ledgerut tugged on Kinrus’ arm, a glowering gleam in his eyes. The two Ingoti scouts slipped away from the primitive scene and made their way back to their hidden vessel.

“Blast that idiotic Gerrog. If he hadn’t played up the whole ‘They’re a threat to planetary security’ thing, we’d never have missed the Collective Symposium. I was looking forward to reconnecting with some old friends.”

Kinrus shrugged good-naturedly. “I’ve got to admit, I can’t see what the Magisterium was worried about. Babes—that’s what these beings are. Babes in the wild.”

The two tromped through the dense woodland in silence until they came to a cliff edge. Tapping a metal plate on the back of his hand, Ledgerut signaled their ship. Soon, a small spacecraft rose from the depths and hovered in space before them.

Kinrus frowned. “Bring it in a little closer. I’m not jumping that distance.”

Ledgerut tapped the plate again and watched the shuttle door slide open about three meters from land. He straightened his shoulders and glanced at his companion. “You’re worse than a Cresta hatchling—so timid!” He stepped to the edge of the cliff and settled into a leaping position. “You know the rules—no footprints leading to the spacecraft—ever.”

“You could bring it in a little closer—higher—and I’ll jump up.”

A tromping, crunching sound thrashed through the foliage and froze the two in their tracks. A tusked wild hog broke through the underbrush, snorting in fury.

With a graceful bound, Ledgerut leaped the distance and landed just inside the doorway. He extended his hand. “Hurry up or you’ll—”

The wild boar charged.

Kinrus skittered forward and tripped.

Before Ledgerut could reach his companion, the bore had ripped into Kinrus’ exposed neck and clamped on, snarling and snorting.

Whipping a Dustbuster from his arm pocket, Ledgerut jumped down and ended the brief struggle.

Kinrus’ arms flailed as Ledgerut shot a stabilizer into his arm and wrapped a thin strip of auto-healing fiber around his neck.

With calm, systemic motions, Ledgerut drew the ship closer and heaved his mate on board. When they were both settled in comfortable seats, Kinrus’ half closed eyes rolled over to his companion.

“Maybe I was a little hasty.”

Ledgerut scanned the directional console on the chair. “How’s that?”

“Perhaps they aren’t such babes after all.”

Ledgerut grunted. “So they deal with fierce animals. So what? No species survive without a few natural trials.”

Kinrus groaned as he turned his head to stare straight at Ledgerut, his eyes red and haunted. “But they’re not natural. That creature’s eyes glowed with evil—like the human.”

“You mean the old man—the one called Neb?”

“No, the child—the one who’ll take his place.”

Ledgerut’s hand hovered over the panel. He shivered.

Kinrus nodded. “Yeah. Me too.”

 

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 https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Edge of Life

Excerpt from Ishtar’s Redemption—Trial by Fire

Oldearth @3000 BC

The sun rose hazily into the sky. Clouds swirled with the red glow of an angry firmament that bespoke of troubles in the heavens. A sharp breeze with sudden, intermittent fierce gusts, tussled the pine trees as they groaned in warning. The ground, hard as a rock, made Ishtar’s toes bleed.

He looked down at his torn skin and clothes with neither fear nor pain. His clothes rippled as mere rags of their former selves. Their tattered remnants hung loosely about him as if they, too, might sail off into the wild wind. His long hair blew over his face, obscuring his vision. The howling wind through the heavy pine boughs sent a thrill through his body. It had been long since he had eaten anything sustaining, though he would stop at intervals to sip at a stream before he passed over.

In shock, he had moved like a man in a dream. The wild beasts howled in the dark, starless nights, and he simply walked or sat as one awaiting the comforting embrace of death. Yet death did not come. Even pain did not come. Sorrow did not fill his heart as he thought it would. He felt nothing, and he cared for nothing. He wondered if he had, in fact, become nothing. Was he still a man or had his shadow engulfed his very being?

Time seemed to slow as he paced out his measured steps. He slipped on an incline and instinctively grabbed hold of a branch to steady his balance. He climbed for time uncounted. Finally, the fog-ridden landscape cleared, and to his utter amazement, he looked out at an enormous expanse which lay before him. After a few entranced moments, he peered at his torn feet and realized with the first sensation of fear that he was standing with his toes pointing over a mighty cliff. If he were to take one more step, he would be over the edge and fall to his death. He blinked and stared hard at the view that presented itself to him.

There were mountains in the distance, which dwarfed the hills he had already ascended. Purples, blues, and pinks vied with one another to create a rainbow landscape. It was breathtakingly beautiful. In all his travels, he had never seen anything so magnificent.

Suddenly, he became aware of tears coursing down his cheeks. His legs hurt, and his feet bled more freely. He curled his toes around the rocky ledge.

Looking up, he could see where the sky and the mountains met. Birds swirled about in the heights. They tipped like leaves that swirl in a storm, yet they seemed to be enjoying their flight as they crisscrossed one another in innocent delight.

Ishtar gently brushed the hair from his eyes. He stared up, turning his gaze from the depths that beckoned to him. The birds danced for him alone, and he wondered for an uncounted time if his life had any meaning. Suddenly, and with incredible clarity, he could see a vision of his lost servant, Pele, swaying before him as if she were able to soar like the birds but had stopped momentarily to gaze upon his troubled figure. She did not speak, but he sensed she had said something. A faint message carried through the rough voices of the harsh wind.

“You live, Ishtar. Begin again.”

Ishtar’s eyes widened at the message as well as at the messenger. Begin again? How could he live again among decent men? He was an exile, an outcast forever. He was no longer a man. He was twice cursed. How many lives could a single man enjoy? Was redemption possible after such a fall?

The birds faded into the horizon even as his vision of Pele paled into nothingness. Yet his memory replayed her words in all their fullness. He stared at the now blue and white sky. His hand rose to his face; he wiped away fresh tears and took one step backward.

~~~

Bhuaci transmission from Oldearth to planet Helm

Dear Cadenza,

I’m sorry.

What else can I say? You know my life and fortune as well as any Bhuaci this side of the Divide, but you must believe me when I tell you—I have changed. Being exiled on this primitive planet has taught me to value our world like nothing else ever could. Humans are warlike and ferocious, but they have subtle sensibilities, ones never guessed by the Regent of Song, or she would never have sent me here. Little did she know what a favor she bestowed upon my poor, pathetic, meaningless life.

For uncounted solar cycles, I have followed the trials of a youth named Ishtar. His father—a monster beyond my powers of description—could not destroy his soul. The boy—a man now—has grown into a being endowed with true spirit. He almost took his life, as I had wished to take my own so many times. But he stepped back from doom. As I hope I shall, too, someday.

Here is a song—to remember me. My body grows faint, and I will never return to Helm. But I do not fear the future—for I see now—there has always been a life of meaning just beyond my sight. Joy may be mine in the morning.

Cliff-edge—knife-edge,

I stand upon a shore—facing sunset’s door.

Never the same as yesterday,

Straining for tomorrow.

Living on a promise,

Someone else must borrow.

I never paid my way,

Or earned my daily wage.

Life’s bounty freely offered,

Freely turned away.

Useless, pointless, heartless

Barren, broken land.

But

Death turned my hand,

Set me firmly on the sand.

To ponder whose life I live,

And what I’m prepared to give.

Now exiled in a world of strife,

I found my way at last.

Live a chosen life,

Step beyond my past.

Cliff-edge—Knife-edge

I stand upon a shore

Forgive me—love,

For loving, I will be.

Facing sunset forever,

Living by the sea.

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 Minehttp://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Intercept Course

From Chapter One

OldEarth ARAM Encounter

Mud seeped between Aram’s toes. He shivered despite the sweat trickling down his spine. A shower of drops splattered across his face as he beat back the forest’s dangling vines and springy saplings. Exhaustion sapped his last bits of energy. With the back of his mud-smeared hand, he wiped his face.

Visions of a warm fire and venison haunches sizzling on spits caused his heart to momentarily fail. His weary limbs demanded rest, but he only shook his head. Not yet—but soon.

His people staggered in stupefaction. Their flight seemed never ending, their search futile. Danger lurked in every dark motion of the forest.

As his muscular body plodded through the root-gnarled muck of the late rainy season, a new light grew in his mind. He could still see the tawny-colored fur and glittering eyes of the beast as it snatched its first struggling, screaming victim. When he had heard the throaty growls and the moon’s glow had cast uneven shadows on the beast, he had frozen with horror in the face of the cat’s great size.

It had struck in twilight when light danced with utter blackness. His wife, Namah, hunch-backed and morose, had been directing the meal preparations. Her orders rang out shrill and abundant—as usual. The other women had obeyed with their typical, sullen compliance.

He had glanced at Namah as the mighty feline landed on its victim, and though her wide-eyed terror had matched his, she had thrown a rock at the retreating creature. Despite her crooked spine, she showed a strength of mind—not unlike that of the cat.

Even when he had thrown his spear and others joined in action with cries of fear and anguish, he knew it was too late. The night was too dark and the cat too mammoth to hunt in the gloomy forest.

Aram had known the youth well and agony had gripped his heart, but his mind would not respond to his grief—only to fear. If he gave his clan time to rest, their anguish might turn to madness. If he kept moving, they might outrun both beast and terror.

But they were past exhaustion now. The lands of their forefathers lay far behind them. They had entered lands unknown to his memory. They had always gained life from familiar trees, made suitable shelters, and found peace beneath their branches. The ancient woods gnarled together in a forest of immeasurable depth. But their frantic travels had led them into a foreign land.

~~~

—Ingoti are large beings originating from the planet Ingilium and range from six to seven feet tall. They are heavy due to their extensive weight and girth but are very fast and extremely powerful. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms.

—On Board an Ingoti Trading Vessel

Zuri, an Ingoti trader renowned for his clever deals, braced for impact, but there was little he could do to protect his co-pilot. Gem crouched, covering his head with his arms and hoped that the restraints would hold. The small trading vessel carved a deep furrow into the lush dirt and plowed into an Earthen hillside.

Blinking awake, Zuri considered his biomechanical techno-armor, and seeing it intact, he sighed in relief. Hobbling to the main console, he reviewed the status of the ship. Various systems blinked offline status, but life support held firm. Glancing back at the cargo hold, he ticked off the needed parts in his mind and stepped forward.

Gem lay sprawled across the floor, unconscious.

Crouching by his side, Zuri made a quick diagnostic review of Gem’s bio-suit and life signs. With a chuckle, he lightly slapped Gem’s ruddy cheek. “Get up, lazy fool. We’re already behind schedule, and Cresta’s are not known for their patience.”

Rising on his elbow with a groan, Gem shook his head like a confused Ingoti bullock. “I thought I was done for. What happened?”

Zuri stood and rubbed his back. “That replacement Orbital Maintenance you bought blew and sent us spiraling right into the atmosphere. Should’ve guessed. It was too cheap to be an honest deal.”

“Blast! I’ll pay them back for this; don’t worry.” Gem rose and started toward the console. “How long before we’re ready to set off again?”

His gaze rising to the ceiling, Zuri crossed his arms. “It’ll only take a few hours with both of us working on it. But, I’ve heard about this planet—how about we take a little tour?”

Gem scowled. “I’ve heard about humans, too. Primitive and—”

“I didn’t say anything about humans. By the Divide, if I wanted to go to the zoo, I’d visit the one on Helm.” He stroked his chin. “No, how about scouting around a little? There might be resources we could use. The Ingilum would pay dearly….”

A crooked smile crawled across Gem’s face.

~~~

While struggling through dense woodland, Gem wiped his sweaty brow. “How does anyone survive here? It’s not fit for habitation!”

Zuri shrugged. “Not where I would have chosen to land—”

A low growl stopped them both in their tracks.

Slowly, they turned. Zuri raised his Dustbuster and aimed as a tawny, four-legged beast drew near.

Gem swallowed. “That thing’s enormous!” Turning at the sound of human voices. He grinned. “Ah, it’s tracking them.” He pointed to a clearing where a large group of humans had settled down for rest.

Crouching low, Zuri peered between the branches until he could see the throng.

Men, women, and children crowded around a central figure, a tall muscled man with long, black hair.

Peering back at Gem, Zuri shook his head. “They’re practically naked—without any techno-armor at all. Amazing they’ve survived! They must be brighter than they look.” After stepping back, he sent low-power beam searing through the foliage near the huge, stalking cat, frightening the beast into the thick woods.

Gem scowled. “What’d you do that for? Let the whole planet know we’re here, why don’t you.”

Zuri pointed the Dustbuster at Gem. “Is there anything left of you—on the inside—I mean? We were once naked and helpless too. If the Cresta’s hadn’t taught us—”

“They used us in their studies. They weren’t being generous.”

“But we learned from them! That’s what counts.”

Gem stared at the Dustbuster in Zuri’s hand. “So, what’s your point?”

Shoving the weapon into his armor holster, Zuri shrugged. “I’m just giving them a chance to live and learn.” He stalked back toward the ship. “It’s time we left. I’ve got enough data to make up for the time we’ve lost.” He grinned as he swiped a branch out of his way. “The Cresta can pay us for both the cargo and the information.”

Gem marched behind. “And the Ingilum Supreme Command? What’ll they say?”

Zuri turned and, clasping Gem’s shoulder, he lifted his eyes to the sky. “Contrary to my expectations, I foresee a day when humans and their primitive world will be quite useful. We’re on an intercept course. In any case—information always pays.”

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 https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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