From OldEarth Ishtar Encounter
Sterling lifted a trailing purple vine from a deep pot and carried it past Teal to an ornamental box hanging outside his open apartment window. “By the Divide. You don’t honestly believe that I’d want to go to that barren wasteland you described in your reports?”
He shoved loose soil aside and nestled the plant roots in a wide hole. “Why, I’d rather be eaten alive by Crestonian dissection maggots.”
He patted the dirt around the plant stem and laid the vine runners across the box so they dangled artistically. “At least they do their work quickly and leave you in peace when they’re done.” Holding his hands out like a sterile surgeon ready to perform surgery, Sterling marched across his living room and slapped a wall panel with his elbow.
A glossy white sink and accompanying faucet emerged from the wall. He waved his dirty hands under the faucet.
Teal tapped his fingers together and pursed his lips.
Sterling swung his gaze from Teal to his hands and whined. “You could help, you know.”
Marching across the room, Teal slapped the wall console.
High-pressure water rushed from the faucet and nearly cut Sterling’s hands from his wrists. “Aw! Damn it, Teal. You want me to go to that hideous planet, but you nearly maim me first.” He eyed the wall console. “Your Ingot friend said he fixed it.”
Teal snatched and an oval blue-green piece of fruit from a bowl on the coffee table and chomped a big bite. He talked around a chew. “Ingots like high-pressure water.”
Sterling ripped a towel from the sink rack. “Ingots like high-pressure everything.” He jutted his jaw at Teal and patted his hands dry. “You’ve been around him too much. “I’m beginning to notice a resemblance.” He waved his hand in a circular fashion before his face. “Especially around the eyes. You glare like he does.”
Teal chewed and swallowed. “I’m not glaring. I just made a simple request.”
Sterling returned to the window box and peered at the transplant.
The vine lay limp, wilting before his eyes. How very depressing.
Teal stepped up behind and eyed the pathetic foliage. “I think you need to water it.”
Sterling glanced at the high-pressure sink and bit his lip.
A chime sounded. Teal and Sterling turned to face the door.
Exhaling a long exasperated breath, Sterling shrugged. “Come in.” He glanced at the vine. “I’m not doing anything. Worthwhile.”
With an eye roll, Teal swept a tall glass off the liquor cabinet, adjusted the water pressure, and filled the container.
The door slid open and Ark ambled. He waved a tentacle. “You called?”
Teal watered the vine, waited, and then faced Ark.
Ark eyed the glass. “Having liquids are we?”
Sterling’s gaze swiveled from Ark to Teal. “You invited him here?” He marched over to the liquor cabinet and pulled down three glasses. “Let me guess. The Ingot is on his way.”
Ark eyed Sterling’s actions with obvious interest and sidled closer. “Actually, he’s still on Earth.” Twining two tentacles over his middle like an abashed student before his learned master, Ark glanced at Teal. “He’s keeping an eye on Ishtar. Taking copious notes.”
Teal chuckled. “And taking a few samples, if I know him.”
Sterling lifted the full glasses and strolled across to Ark. “Here. You can have two since the Ingot isn’t coming.”
Teal stepped closer and extended his hand. “You aren’t having one, sir?”
Sterling swiped the last glass off the counter and poured a full measure of golden liquid. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m having three before the day is out.” He nodded to the counter. “You need to stay alert. There’s a pot of swill over there that’s got enough stimulants to keep a dying rhinoceros on his feet.” He glanced at Ark. “Or do they have claws?”
Ark poured the drink into his breathing helm and slurped noisily. “Not my area of expertise.” He glanced at Teal.
Sterling harrumphed and tossed his entire drink down his throat in one swallow. Stay calm. Right. “So, Teal, why did you come today and invite your nice friend?”
Teal strode to the window and peered at the now bright and swaying purple vine. He grinned and turned abruptly. “Someone is trying to kill me.”
Sterling shook his head and headed for the cabinet again. “I can think of many reasons why…but not who.” He stopped and turned, swinging his empty glass in the air. “I hope you don’t suspect me?”
Ark’s golden eyes rounded. “Or me.”
Teal rubbed his neck. “Neither of you.” He glanced out the window. “I might be mistaken. Someone might be trying to kill Zuri. But someone is definitely—”
Ark choked. “And I left him alone on the planet.” He huffed sending bubbles through his breather helm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“He’s not alone. Sienna is watching him. From a discrete distance.”
Sterling slapped his glass on the counter. “Of all the—” He felt his composure cracking. “Do you mean to tell me that you have someone watching Zuri, who is watching Ishtar?” He laughed. “Getting rather redundant, aren’t we?”
Teal stepped forward and waved Sterling and Ark closer. “I want to return to Earth undetected and find out who’s trying to kill me—or him.”
Ark shook his head and tapped Teal on the shoulder. “Don’t bother. I already know.”
Sterling froze. In surprise, he realized that his fingers actually felt numb. “Know what? That someone is trying to kill Teal? Or that a plot is afoot?” Distractions always help. He returned to his pot, pulled it off the shelf, hefted it to the wall disposal unit and dumped it down a shoot. He clapped his hands, free of every blasted particle of dirt. “Personally, I think Teal needs a vacation. He’s getting paranoid.”
Ark glanced from Teal to Sterling and perched all four tentacles onto his thick waist. “How’d you know we’re focusing our attention on Ishtar?”
Freezing, Sterling felt his chest tighten. I can’t actually have a heart attack. It’s impossible. This body is a facsimile made up of the same—Uh oh. He glanced at Teal.
Teal stared him into the ground. If that were possible.
“Oh, bloody Bothmal!” Pacing across the room to an arrangement of plush chairs and a couch, Sterling plunked down and stretched out. “Mine if I collapse? It’s been a long cycle.”
Teal sauntered over and perched on the edge of a chair.
Ark plodded to a slightly wider chair and squished into place. He glanced at Sterling. “Ungle?”
Teal tented his fingers before his face. “Who’s Ungle?”
Ark wiggled a tentacle in the air. “Shhh! Wait your turn.”
Sterling rubbed his brow, he felt drained. “Can’t I just lie and say that Teal put it in his reports?”
Ark and Teal glanced at each other and shook their heads.
Teal slipped back onto the chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “Start talking.”
Sterling lay stretched out as if ready for his analyst session, crossed his feet, and placing his hands on his stomach. I could be buried in a tomb like this. “Yes, Ungle came to see me. He thinks he knows who has turned out the lights on Earth—you know what I mean.”
Teal glanced at the bright sunlight filtering through the window. The purple vine swayed in a soft breeze. “That from Earth’s vantage point, our world has vanished into darkness.”
Sterling tapped his fingers steeple style. “Yes. They’re a super race. They can create new life forms, terra-form entire planets, and much more.” He shrugged. “While Luxonians, Crestas, Uanyi, Bhuaci, and Ingots each have our own unique abilities, this race can do all we do, but better…with more flare. They’re extraordinary. But they aren’t particularly social. They need a lot of elbow room, so to speak. We’ve only discovered a few of their kind. The ones the Crestas irritated must have been a bit high strung. Very private. Hence their desire to keep entire worlds in the dark.”
“What does this have to do with—?”
Ark frowned at Teal. He tapped Sterling on the shoulder. “Go on.”
“Ungle believes that their race is obsessed with the nature of good and evil. So, he wants to learn as much as they do…and more. Apparently, your studies on Earth caught his attention. He wants to know more about Ishtar and someone called Chai.”
Teal jerked to his feet. “Chai is dangerous. He’s mad.”
Ark’s head swiveled from Sterling to Teal. “Perhaps evil like Ishtar?”
Teal stomped across the room. “Ishtar isn’t evil…he’s just—”
Sterling lifted his head. “How about his father, Neb. You called him evil.”
Teal stopped. “But why kill me? Or Zuri? We’re the ones investigating—”
Sterling sighed and swung his feet off the couch. “They aren’t trying to kill you! Why do you keep insisting on making things more dramatic than they are?”
Ark shrugged. “Ungle specifically stated that he wants you to continue your work so that—” Ark’s pink cheeks blanched. “Oh, no.”
Sterling jumped to his feet.
Teal pelted across the room and gripped Ark by a tentacle. “What?”
Ungle doesn’t want you to become distracted…by anything…or anyone.”
Teal shrugged. “Zuri is annoying, but not really a distraction. Usually, he’s—”
Sterling closed his eyes. “Not Zuri. Sienna. That gorgeous Luxonian. He wanted me to make her leave the planet—quietly.” He swallowed. “I tried every argument I could think of.”
Teal’s gaze fixed on Sterling. “Then?”
“I tried to arrange a little accident. So she’d go home.”
“A little accident? I was nearly crushed by a boulder, my food was poisoned, and I don’t believe that was a natural lightning strike.”
“She’s a Luxonian. She would’ve survived.” He scowled at Teal. “It wasn’t your dinner—it was hers by the way.”
Teal sprang at Sterling and wrapped his fingers around his neck.
Ark’s tentacles peeled Teal’s fingers away. Slapping Teal’s hands away with one tentacle, Ark wiped sweat from his face with another. “I’ll need a swim after this.”
Teal glared at Sterling. “How could you? Sienna is innocent. I’m a Luxonian guardian, and I thought we—” He spat his words. “I’ll know better from now on.”
Ark waddled between them, shoving them further away from each other. He turned from Sterling to Teal. “You don’t understand Ungle’s persuasive nature. He can make life on Lux much more challenging—if he wants. He can create an interstellar incident and make it look like Sterling’s long overdue for a spell at Bothmal.”
Teal wiped his hand across his mouth. “Seems to me that he knows quite enough about evil already.”
Ark laughed. “Very observant. But Ungle has legitimate concerns. The mystery race will dictate the entire Universe’s parameters…if we let them.” His eyes widened. “It’s one thing for Earth to face a hidden universe. What would happen to Lux if someone put the entire planet in the dark?”
Sterling collapsed on the couch. “Oh, God. I really am having a heart attack.”
Teal shook his head. “Not possible. In your case, I wish it was, though.”
Sterling peered at Teal. “You’re right. I should’ve told you. I was wrong. But Ungle…all his talk of good and evil…I didn’t know what to do. Frightening Sienna into leaving seemed like child’s play. An easy way to keep an ally happy.”
“Easy way to lose a friend.”
Sterling groaned. “I’ll have to go to that stupid planet now—won’t I?”
“Someone has to keep an eye on you.”
Ark swung his tentacles in all directions. “I don’t know if I have enough to keep everyone in line.”
Sterling sank into the chair. “Give me a moment. I’m not feeling well.”
Teal glanced at Ark. “At least Zuri and Sienna are safe.”
Sterling closed his eyes.
Ark poked him in the back. “What?”
“Ungle warned me that if I failed—he’d take care of the matter himself.”
Ark slapped Sterling on the side of the head.
Sterling stood and placed his hand on Teal’s shoulder. “I know you have feelings for her. I’d spontaneously combust if it’d make you feel better.” His gaze wandered to his vine.
It appeared to wave its purple fronds at him.
Novels by A. K. Frailey
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)
OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00