Homestead Parts 1 and 2

The first three chapters are free on Kindle Vella.

For the rest of the complete, available chapters check out…

https://www.amazon.com/Homestead/dp/B094PVCT26/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=a.+K.+Frailey&qid=1626266332&s=falkor&sr=1-1

Home is where the heart is. But when the world fell apart, an alien race invaded, and my husband and children were in different locations, my heart dug deep into the home stead. If I couldn’t get to them, I’d hold fast, so they had home to return to…

Part 1

No Place I’d Rather Be

I clasped a hot cup of coffee in my hands, stepped onto the back porch as the rising sun peeked between the flowering trees, and breathed deep. As if wishing me a good morning, sparrows, robins, blue jays, and a couple of cardinals fluttered about in springtime joy. I had a whole weekend to myself, and I planned to enjoy every peaceful minute of it.

Home.

There was no place else I’d rather be.

That has remained true, despite everything. Maybe because of everything. Perhaps some part of me knew what was coming, and I needed to savor every drop of beauty, glory, and strength to live beyond my small, about-to-combust, world.

Dana had left for her new job in St. Louis the previous Sunday afternoon. It was a great opportunity for her. And she knew it. I knew it too. Somewhere deep inside.

“Mom, please don’t dribble your despondency all over my clean car.”

Her dad, Liam—aka my beloved—grinned like the besotted fool he was.

The kid got her sarcasm from me, so I could hardly complain. Though I did scrunch my eyes, stomp my feet, and pantomime a child having a conniption fit.

Dana laughed. A loud bark that set our hounds into howls.

Her car, stuffed with two kitchen chairs, bedding, the last of her clothing, enough comfort food to get her through the first week, and a miraculous medal and prayerbook she didn’t know about tucked into the glove compartment, announced her readiness to fly from the proverbial nest.

She came around the front fender and wrapped me in a big hug. Dana was never small. Even as a baby, she came into the world larger than life, thrashing and screaming, her black hair wild, making her look bigger and badder than she really was.

I hugged her back with every ounce of my fifty-year-old strength.

When her car turned at the end of the lane, I stopped waving and wiped tears from my eyes. Liam held my hand all the way up the front steps.

Juan, my broad shouldered, eighteen-year-old, sunshine child, brought into my life by two miracles—his birthmother’s big heart and my husband’s absolute trust—bounded down the back porch steps on Thursday afternoon with the abandon of a guy ready for an early weekend.

I reminded him of dinner. “I’ve got a roast chicken and an apple cobbler nearly ready.”

An apologetic shrug. “I’m heading out—gonna go camping with a few friends.”

“It’s April!” I thought that explained everything well enough.

Not according to Juan’s logic. “Hey, ma, I’ve worked hard. The guys and I want to get away for a bit, think things over before our next big move.”

I scratched my head. “By move, you mean summer work, right?”

He chuckled.

Crossing my arms, I shot one over the bow. “You ask dad?”

“He said go have a good time.” Juan squinted in his playful way. “I think he’d like to get out his corporate meeting and come with us instead.”

If I was perfectly honest, I’d rather Liam head to the wilds of Alaska than the L. A. madness that was his corporate headquarters. But mine was not to reason why…

It was only after Juan had roared his car down the road that it dawned on me. He took no clothes, no bedding, no tent. Camping? My eye.

I sighed as I headed back to the house and faced the roasted chicken that I knew my husband wouldn’t eat.

By Friday morning, Liam was a mess. He hated traveling. He loathed meetings. He despised corporations. How he managed to rise so high in the tech field is one of the mysteries of life. I forgave him for the third time for picking my beautiful dinner to pieces, knocking the Easter Lilly off the shelf, and nearly shutting the car door on my hand in his haste to get to the airport on time.

“If they try to drag me to one of their get-togethers, I’ll tell them I have a fever and—”

“Say you’re sick, and you’ll have the entire place hyperventilating. Just say you have work to do. They’ll respect that.”

“They’ll laugh and try to set me up with drinks and dates.”

I glared out of the corner of my eye.

He kept his eyes on the road.

“You ever consider starting your own multi-million-dollar business and work from home?”

He laughed.

Such a bark, I could almost hear the dogs howl though they were miles away back on the homestead. “I know where Dana gets it.”

“What?”

“That laugh. It sounds like a bark.”

For the first time in three days, Liam smiled. “It’s not a bark. It’s a hoot.”

“You’re a hoot.” I smiled back, kissed him at the visitor parking lot, and kept it plastered on all the way along highway seventy till I reached home.

Saturday morning, I rose early, poured myself a cup of hot coffee, traipsed onto my bedroom porch and breathed deep without an inkling that the world as I knew it was about to end.

Part 2

Even the Birds Stopped Singing

After dressing in jean shorts and a tunic top, I enjoyed coffee and a robust breakfast of eggs and toast. Fortified, I ran downstairs and tossed in a load of laundry. Then I scurried back upstairs and wondered why I was in such a hurry.  With a reminder to take it easy, I grabbed another cup of coffee and meandered to the roll-top desk in my studio. Like a lady of leisure, I scrolled through my emails and social media.

When the internet flickered off and on around ten o’clock, I didn’t think anything of it. We live in farm country, so wild critters sometimes make a bad life decision and interfere with the lines, or storms miles away can interrupt service. I glanced outside. No storm. A perfect sunny May first. I shivered for the critter that may have suffered an untimely death.

When my phone chimed from the kitchen counter an hour later, I had just kneaded the last bit of dough for my weekly bread making and lined up the greased bread pans. My fingers, covered in sticky goo, weren’t suited for a technological device at the moment. So, I used my elbow and managed to make the connection.

My sister, Sarah huffed her words. Must’ve been running, I figured.

“Hey, Kiddo, did your power go off this morning?”

I slapped on the tap water and rinsed my fingers, talking over my shoulder. “Just for a sec.” I scowled at the trickle dribbling over my hands. The water pressure was down. Deep inward sigh. Water pressure meant a lot to me. How was I going to take my bed-time shower?

“But it’s back on, right?”

The proverbial light bulb clicked on. Power outage and loss of water pressure. Oh, yeah. Made sense. I peered at the ceiling. The light wasn’t on. I glanced to the counter. Nor was the coffee maker. But, silly me, they shouldn’t be. It was bright and sunny and I’d cleaned the coffee maker after my second cup. I glanced at the stove. The clock showed the time, but only dimly.

“Hmm…it came back on but—” I ran and flipped the light switch with my wet hand.

My sister broke through. “Hey, I’ve got another call. It’s Bill. Poor guy had to work over the weekend. Better go.”

I listened to the click as she hung up, but my eyes stayed fixed to the ceiling. Brown light. Not the bright glare I was used to.

A sound in the distance caught my ear. Horns? Who on earth would be blowing their horn out here? We lived on a dead-end lane and there wasn’t any traffic even during planting season.

“Oh, God!” It was an accident. I was sure of it.

But just as suddenly, it stopped. All noise stopped. Even the birds stopped singing. Complete silence.

If you’ve ever been suddenly thrust into the pitch black, you know how disorientating that can be. Well, the same was true when all sound stopped. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath. The moment after a collective gasp.

And then, all hell broke loose.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/window-cosmos-window-pane-5624014/

What About Me?

From OldEarth Georgios Encounter…

Noman smoothed down his tunic as he paced before the wooden table laid with the evening meal of wine, boiled fish, nuts, olives, bread, honey, cheese, dates, and pomegranates.

Abbas was coming to see him.

He played the words over in his head. Abbas was coming… to see him… To see him

The laughter of boys crashed against his ears. He stopped before the window of the Hospitia and peered at the bucolic scene.

Three boys chased each other across hard packed earth. Their clothes tattered, their feet bare, and their eyes bright.

A shout split the air, and the children scattered.

A gesturing heavyset man, flushed and furious, jerked forward. “Didn’t ya hear me! Get back to work, you fools, or I’ll cut your useless legs from under your bodies.”

An old man, dressed in a long white tunic with a fine robe draped over, stepped close upon the angry man’s heels. He raised his hand as he passed.

All bombastic bravado fled. The heavy man bowed low, scraping the ground in a servile fashion.

Unimpressed, the old man stopped and peered at the window.

Noman caught his breath.

Abbas had come. To see him.

~~~

Noman poured wine into an ornate cup and passed it across the table. The food sat untouched. Neither needed to eat but that had never stopped them before. He spread his hands wide, a genial host. “Please, enjoy.”

Abbas, ever the master of kindness, broke off a piece of fish, slipped it between his lips and chewed with a hum of pleasure. “Very nice.”

Pride fought gratitude in the playground of Noman’s mind. He smirked. “I picked it out myself. Best fish this side of the Divide, they say.”

Abbas choked and grabbed the goblet for a quick swallow. He wiped his lips with his sleeve, and leaned against the hard-baked wall, his penetrating gaze searching. “You know about The Evidence?”

Noman wasn’t going to play. “Evidence?” He smirked. “An attempt to make humans appear worthier than they are. A trick, really, to see how we’ll react.”

Abbas stroked his chin. “Is that all, you think?”

“I know so!” Frustration needled Noman like a thousand biting insects. “I told you. They are a mere plaything. A toy. He just wants to see how we’ll respond. If we throw ourselves at his mercy and beg for forgiveness—”

“We need forgiveness?”

“Of course not. But if we were fools, we might think so. Lesser beings are always ready to beg. It’s what they do. Humiliate themselves before greatness.”

Abbas sighed. “You’d certainly never do that.” He rose from the bench and strode to the window.

A little boy sat on the ground, playing with round stones. A sparrow landed and hopped nearby. The boy watched, then raised his hand, a stone poised. The bird pecked at the ground, unconcerned.

Noman stepped over and propped his arm against the wall, his gaze fixed on the opposite side of the room. “We know our true place in the universe.”

The boys’ gaze softened as he watched the bird, his brows knit together. Slowly, he lowered his arm and dropped the stone. With his other hand, he dug into a pocket.

Abbas sighed. “Do we?” He glanced aside. “Really?”

“Our power informs us.” Noman threw his arms wide. “I could remake this entire village into a treasure of pleasure—if I wanted.”

Abbas’ gaze returned to the scene.

The boy held out his hand, palm up. Breadcrumbs offered.

The wary sparrow hopped close and stopped. With a cock of the head, it eyed him.

Smiling, the boy tipped his hand and scattered the crumbs within easy reach. Eagerly, the bird snapped up the morsels.

“Steward.”

Noman cocked his head and stared Abbas. “Excuse me?”

 “I keep hearing the word in my mind—like a verse, a song.”

“Ah! Song—the Bauchi witch. She’s always playing mind games.”

Brooding irritation flooded Abbas’ eyes. “No, not that Song. A song. Music. Harmony and melody. Beauty in sound.”

Noman shrugged. “I’ve never understood the concept.” He peered out the window.

The boy grinned as the bird pecked the crumbs.

Annoyed, Noman shouted, “Go on, boy! You’ve no business here.”

Abbas sighed. He started for the door.

Jolted, Noman gripped his arm. “Where are going?”

“You may be right. Song may be exactly who I’m thinking of.”

“But what about me—about my mission?”

Abbas peered at Noman’s fingers gripping his tunic. “I say that you’ve underestimated The Event. There’s more to humanity than meets the eye.” He jerked free. “I take my leave of you now. But I suggest that you don’t do anything—you’ll regret.”

Cold seeped through Noman. Regret? Not possible. Chilling that Abbas could even suggest the word. He bowed and peered at the door.

Abbas had come. Now, it was time for him to go.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/food-platter-cheese-honey-snack-3466878/

OldEarth Georgios Encounter

Prologue

Noman surveyed the white walls, considered the silence of the empty tomb, and knew that hell existed. He wiggled his sand-encrusted toes and straightened, his long, loose tunic rippling with the movement. Sweat dripped down his back as blazing sunlight glared from an unrepentant blue sky.

Where was Abbas now?

With a smothered curse, he shifted his gaze away from the gapping hole. There was no point in torturing himself with what might have been. If only Abbas had listened. If only someone had cared enough to believe him. But it was too late. He was on Earth, the challenge had been made, and he could not unmake it. He could only prove them wrong.

Abbas’ face appeared before his eyes. A man he could have loved and served heart and soul. Instead, he had another mission. Even love had its limit.

A squeal turned his attention. A woman stood frozen on the rocky path, her eyes wide with fear.

A scorpion poised in her path, ready for attack.

Bumbling woman! Humans had an ever-ready supply of idiocy. He stepped forward. Stopped. Why should he? What was this archaic inclination to assist lesser beings? The very image of Abbas. Noman stayed in the shadows.

A young man jogged forward and froze. He glanced from the scorpion to the woman.

Her voice shaking, the woman covered her mouth with her trembling hand. “I was bitten once, nearly killed me.”

The youth leapt aside, grabbed a stone and whisked it at the pest.

The venomous creature scuttled away.

Clutching her chest, the woman swayed, closing her eyes.

The young man held her upright, gripping her elbow in his hand. “You’re safe. It’s gone.”

She opened her eyes, gratitude in every feature. “Thank you. My name is Anna. I’m going home—I was too scared to think.”

“I’m Georgios. Now worries. Will you be able to—?”

She clasped her hands with a formal bow in humility and gratitude.

After a parting smile, Georgios sped off.

With a glance ascending like a prayer, the young woman paced forward, a serene expression replacing her former anxiety.

Noman stepped forward and shook his head.

The scorpion was still nearby. Its mission to paralyze and eat its prey had not changed. Mutant kindness meant nothing. One day, she would not be so lucky.

He peered along the path Georgios had taken. The perfect object lesson. Georgios would prove his point to Abbas. Kind-hearted fools—the best argument for humanity’s humiliation.

~~~

Ark stared at the vial clasped in his mate’s tentacles. She was grinning. He had no such intention. Still, it was an honor, though an unexpected and unwelcome one.

“Are you absolutely sure?”

Meta shook the clear tube. “As sure as a triple check can be.”

Immersed in his studies in the laboratory, Meta should’ve had the sense to wait until they were in the pool to share this news. But what can one expect from a female? They’re always so blasted unpredictable. “Watch where you put your tentacles” and “Don’t turn your eyes from a female in the lab” were two oft repeated truisms bandied about the private male laboratories. The females had their own scientific centers, ones Ark avoided with due care.

He adjusted his nostril tube and rubbed the cilia on the top of his head. What he wouldn’t give to speak with Teal at this moment.

“You will own it, won’t you?” Meta was clearly in no mood for obfuscations.  

“I’ll run my own tests, if you don’t mind. But in end, if as I suspect is true and the pod is mine, then, of course, I will own it.”

Meta exhaled, bubbles forming around her breathing tube, and her smile widening. “Good. Once I give birth next cycle, it’s all yours!”

A crash splintered the silence.

Ark peered at the floor where his latest experiment had spilled in a gelatinous goo across the floor. One brief, well, three brief pleasant encounters, and he’d be paying for uncountable cycles. Perhaps for the rest of his natural life!

Meta shrugged her numerous shoulders and waved all six tentacles. “Make sure you clean that up carefully. You don’t want to get sick. New father and all.” With a giggle, she waddled through the open doorway.

A throb building behind his eyes, Ark lusted for a tall glass of green and a trip to Lux. Yes, he’d stop by and see Teal. Compare fatherhood stories. After all, it was Teal who made interacting with the opposite sex so appealing. Had it all been a lie?

Before he officially met his offspring, he must find out.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/landscape-cave-moon-twilight-night-5563684/

Justify Your Evil

From OldEarth ARAM Encounter…

—Planet Lux—

Teal stood holding a drink in one hand, tapping his leg with the other, and a frown building between his eyes.

The brilliantly lit hall filled with trailing green vines, glowing flowers, and an astonishing array of birds, barely scored his conscious mind. He had seen a million such rooms before. The company was different though. Luxonians in their human forms, Ingots, encased in their mechanical exoskeletons, and Crestas, lumbering along in their terrestrial bio-suits mingled in forced diplomacy.

Zuri, back straight, chest out, circulated amid an Ingoti throng across the room, which hummed with the uneasy murmurings of three races attempting to mingle in an uneasy alliance.

Putting his drink aside, Teal’s gaze shifted to his superior, Judge Sterling, who looked like he had been chewing glass for breakfast.

Sterling, dressed immaculately in a long, flowing robe and cotton pants, stood square-shouldered as he faced off a leading scientist of Crestar. Sterling’s eyes lowered to half-mast.

Boredom or loathing? So hard to tell from this distance.

A hand gripped his shoulder. Teal stiffened as he glanced at the mechanical glove. How did Zuri manage to sneak around him like that?

“Teal, correct?”

Clenching his jaw, Teal peered at the Ingoti trader. “You should know my name by now—you’ve complained about me often enough to the Ingilum—and the Supreme Council.”

Zuri’s form-fitting techno-armor, a brilliant red for the conference, nearly outshone his wide, practiced smile. “In truth, I’m surprised they let you come. After all, this is where we make agreements to respect each other and—”

“Like you respect the human race?”

Taking two steps into Teal’s personal space, Zuri waved a mechanical hand that could snap a neck. “Do you see any humans here? And why would that be? Possibly because they’re not evolved to the point where they can represent themselves at our level?”

Teal glanced ahead as Sterling wandered in his direction. Teal’s frown melted as he lifted his hand in salute.

Zuri backed off.

Sterling offered a slight bow. “Well, what have we here? The most infamous Ingoti trader this side of the Divide?”

Teal’s gaze bounced like a ball from Sterling to Zuri.

Flexing his impressive biomechanical exoskeleton, Zuri’s chest expanded alarmingly. “Don’t get jealous, Judge Sterling. Ingoti trade benefits Ingots, Luxonians, and Crestas—anyone willing to pay a fair price.”

Sterling tucked a stray lock of his luminous white hair into perfect place. “Pity, humans keep getting in your way. Teal has reported that humans seem to disappear when they have the unfortunate luck to wander too close to one of your mining operations.”

Zuri’s hands clenched. “I’ve taken plenty of native-sensitive precautions. I introduced three kinds of protective repellants and made bloody well sure that they appeared to be right out of one of their superstitious belief systems. I did my research!”

A bell toned.

The two Luxonians glanced at the Ingoti representative beckoning them to their next meeting.

Zuri kept his glare plastered on Sterling.

Teal glowered. “Like it or not, we need stronger non-interference regulations for undeveloped planets. You’re already exploiting their natural resources, and humanity will suffer from your greed.”

The tone repeated—louder.

Judge Sterling tugged Teal toward the conference door. “We’ll handle this issue in the proper setting.”

Zuri smacked his metallic fists together. “You think humans don’t exploit each other? What about that creature called Neb? And his son—Ishtar? Don’t tell me that their noble hearts will win out over generations of greed. I’m just doing to humans what they’ll do to each other given time.”

Teal pulled away from Sterling’s grasp and stared deep into Zuri’s narrowed eyes. “You don’t know who Ishtar might become or what’ll happen to Neb. Don’t justify your evil by insisting everyone is evil. It’s too simplistic—even for an Ingot.”

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo  https://pixabay.com/illustrations/space-universe-space-travel-755811/

A Tie That Can’t Be Broken

Cerulean, a Luxonian dressed in casual twentieth-century blue jeans, a loose t-shirt, and slip-on shoes (he hated laces), rolled a shopping cart along the grocery aisle, following a woman and her young daughter.

The woman, distracted and hesitant, returned repeatedly to the child. “What’s next, Anne?”

Holding a limp notepaper covered in careful script, Anne ran her finger along a middle line and bit her lip. She peered at her mom. “Mayonnaise and garlic salt.”

The older woman started forward, peered at three varieties of mayonnaise, and froze. The child stepped around her, considered the labels and plucked the middle choice off the shelf. “It’s what we always get.”

The woman nodded.

After dropping a box of granola bars and a can of olives into his cart, Cerulean followed, fascinated by the mother and daughter before him. Only when a middle-aged man stared pointedly at his nearly empty cart, did he grab a few more items and toss them in with the others.

The child’s preternatural competence struck Cerulean like a blow to the chest. His mother died when he was young, not an uncommon experience for Luxonians. But his memories included a woman of great sensitivity and quiet competence. Nothing like this fragile, hesitant woman pacing behind her strong-willed child.

When they left the store, Cerulean half expected the child to slip into the driver’s seat, but no, the older woman took the wheel, and ever-so-slowly drove away. Placing his paid-for groceries next to a homeless man he has noticed earlier, Cerulean stepped into a sheltered corner and disappeared.

~~~

Cerulean marched into Judge Sterling’s quarters, handed his tasty Earth offering to his superior, stepped back, and waited.

Sterling, in his usual grey leggings and a long tunic, grinned and daintily peeled the orange foil away from a sticky granola bar. He eyed it, sniffed it, and then delicately bit off a tiny corner. He chewed, his gaze rising to the bright skylight. “Hmmm. Not bad. Certainly not as disgusting as some of the things your father brought home.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Cerulean maintained a steady gaze. “He told me that you had a particular taste for OldEarth brews.

Waving a finger, Sterling cracked a grin. “Teal had a rare knack for highlighting my weak spots.” He laid the remainder of the chewy bar on his desk and circled around to an open window with a large garden box attached to the edge.

A luxurious purple vine spread thick along the border and up the walls. Delicate pink flowers dotted the vine clusters creating an enchanting, almost luminescent contrast.

“You know, your father gave me this plant many seasons ago. I nearly killed it—accidentally of course. But he saved it. Like he saved so many.”

Cerulean shrugged. “Yet you never liked him.”

Teal twirled around, the edges of his eyes glowing a fiery red. “I loved your father as few ever could. Even your mother, bless her departed spirit, never really understood him.”

Strolling to the plant, Cerulean gently ran his fingers along the main stem, his gaze focused, his heart aching. “What did you understand?”

“Teal was a savior-type. Couldn’t help himself. He had to save everyone. Even beings that didn’t deserve his…devotion.”

“And that was wrong?”

Sterling pursed his lips. “Not wrong exactly—just made my job rather difficult.” He stepped closer to Cerulean and clasped his arm. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a savior alive?”

Cerulean locked eyes with Sterling. “Since he’s dead now, I can only assume it was an impossible task.”

Sterling closed his eyes and swayed back to his desk, landing on a plush chair. With a groan, he propped his head on one hand and stared at Cerulean, who still stood by the plant. “Don’t blame me, Cerulean. You know perfectly well I tried to talk him out of going…but—” His sigh rose high and strangled. “You know your father.”

Cerulean dropped his gaze, his shoulders dropping, his spirit caving. “Yes. He was  certainly determined.”

Sterling jumped to his feet, rubbing his hands like a man ready to change the topic if not the world. “So, tell me. Have you chosen a human to focus on?”

Pulling a datapad from a pocket, Cerulean strode to the desk, tapped the surface, and then laid it on the desk.

The picture of a young girl standing next to a slump-shouldered, grey-haired woman peered up.

Cerulean pointed. “Her name is Anne Smith. She’s only seven, but—” His gaze wandered across the room, over the vine, and out the window. “I don’t know. She seems to have an unusual strength of character. I’d like to see what life has in store for her and how she handles it.”

Sterling lifted the datapad and stared at the figures for a long moment. Then he glanced at Cerulean and handed it back. “Don’t get emotionally attached.”

“Being that she’s a human child and I’m a Luxonian adult, I hardly think that’ll be an issue.”

Sterling nodded through a snort. His eyes grew wide as he lifted the melted chewy bar and strands of caramel and chocolate dribbled across his desk. He swallowed and shook his head. “When are you going?”

“Tomorrow. I thought I’d visit my parents’ tombstones before I go.”

Sterling tossed the remainder of the bar into a wall depository, snatched a cloth off a shelf, and wiped his hands. “Odd practice. They’ve departed to the other side, yet you insist on raising a memorial. Why?”

“Parents and children—it’s a tie that can’t be broken.”

Sterling strode over to the purple plant, tugged a young vine free, roots and all, and placed it into Cerulean’s open palm. “Plant it between them.” He glanced up, and though he smiled, his eyes glinted in grief. “Remember to water it.”

Cerulean nodded and started for the door. Then he stopped and glanced back. “Though my father crossed a line—he cared too much—he didn’t care alone. Did he?”

Sterling swallowed and dropped his gaze.

Cerulean stepped over the threshold, and the door swished shut.

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

Speck in the Universe

Pete, flushed and sweaty from running across the playground, huffed as he caught up with his friend. “Mom said that they’re spreading space junk all over the atmosphere, and aliens’ll get really mad. Maybe annihilate us all cause of it.”

Bert crossed his arms and shifted onto one leg, bracing himself on the chain-link fence. “Aw, that’s stupid. Those NASA folks are experts. They know what they’re doing. Sides, we’re alone in the universe.” He pointed at the blue sky. “Not even plants up there. Just lots of rocks flying about in gi-norous empty space.”

His hand perched on his hips, Pete’s cheeks darkened. “That’s what you say. But I’m positive that aliens exist. I read a whole book on alien abductions. Really cool.”

Bert lowered his gaze and narrowed his eyes. “You’d be okay with getting dissected and studied, and then put back together and sent home to have weird dreams for the rest of your life?”

Pete shrugged. “I’d go to an analyst. Mom’s analyst tells her what her dreams mean and where she’s really from—”

“Please. I’d die if I had to tell anyone my dreams.”

Bert scrunched his eyebrows together and kicked a stone. “Still, I’d rather take a chance on being dissected than believe we’re alone.”

Sticking the edge of his tennis shoe into the fifth row of links, Pete hefted himself up and climbed to the top. He swung a leg over and perched on the bar. “What’s so bad about being alone? Even if there were aliens, we’d just be a speck to them.” He peered down. “You saw what Mr. James showed us…solar systems, galaxies, universes…it went on and on. We’re lost in it all—invisible.”

Bert propped his hand over his eyes, blocking the sun. “You’d better get down. They upped the suspension time.”

Pete laughed. “Suspension? Who cares? I’d just listen to music and watch stuff. Better than listening to teachers yammer on about things I’ll have to fact check later. Like it matters.”

Bert leaned on the fence, his face tired and drawn. He wiped his sweaty brow. “I guess that’s why I like aliens. Maybe they’d care. Maybe they’d think we do matter—even though we’re just a tiny speck in the universe.”

A man called from across the yard. “Hey! Off that fence, boy, or I’ll have you running laps after school.”

Pete scrambled down and frowned, his gaze darting from the cement to the angry teacher. “Geesh. You’d think he owned it!”

Bert squinted at the man who turned and strode away. “Kinda does. He’s in charge of the yard—he’ll get blamed if we damage school property.”

A shrill bell rang, sending a flurry of students to the door.

Pete slumped across the yard. “Who cares?”

Bert followed along beside his friend, watching the teachers line up, waiting for their students. “I think they do.”

~~~

Zuri, dressed in a battered mechanical exoskeleton, hefted a large cylindrical object over his shoulder and nodded to the Cresta before him. “Thanks, Uv. I heard they don’t make these parts anymore.”

Uv bowed with his four tentacles wrapped daintily behind his thick middle. His stained bio-suit bulged at the seams with every move. “Think nothing of it. I always like to serve my faithful customers with special care.”

Zuri started toward the ship’s open bay door. He stopped and turned around. “Just one little question.”

Uv’s bulbous blue eyes blinked in innocence. “Yes?”

“Just outta curiosity—where’d you find it?” He shifted the tube further back on his square shoulder. “I looked everywhere.”

Uv’s thick lips wobbled in a perky grin. “Well, normally, I don’t give away my secrets—but you’re one of a kind, Zuri. I don’t mind being like clear water with you.” He glanced aside.

Two Crestas consulted a console to the right and spoke in low murmurs.

Twitching Zuri’s arm, Uv motioned him closer to the bay door. They stopped at a large color-coated map of their sector. Uv tapped a section on the left. “You can’t see it, but there’s a speck here that’s quite valuable. A tiny system in what they call the Milky Way.” He shuddered. “Don’t ask me what they were thinking. Disgusting name.”

Zuri frowned and leaned in. “You mean Earth? I’ve been there. Barbaric. Full of wild animals and wilder people.”

Uv’s eyes widened. “When were you there?”

“Centuries ago.” Zuri patted his chest. “I’ve had almost all new parts put in since then.”

Uv pursed his lips. “Looks like you might need a few more soon.” He shook himself. “Well, anyway, they’ve gotten past the crust…put primitive vessels into space…and dropped parts along the way.”

Zuri tilted his head, his gaze swerving to the object on his shoulder, his eyebrows arching. “This comes from—”

“We had to make alterations to make the blasted thing useful. But, as far as raw parts are concerned, Earth is a fertile field.” His lips puffed into a smile. “Crestas make the most of every situation.”

Zuri thrust out his own chest. “Ingots are famous for resourcefulness.” He turned and strutted toward the door. “I’ll have to make a return visit to that planet.” He waved and chuckled. “Never know what a little speck might offer.”

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

 

A Fresh Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omega scowled and opened his mouth, but Abbas interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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

The Play’s the Thing

@1666 London, England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Creed chuckled. “To escape reality?”

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

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

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

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

“Does it matter?”

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A woman’s scream torn through the London street.

Cerulean jumped forward.

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

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

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

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

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

Distant murmurs turned to chuckles and fell into silence.

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

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

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

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

Teal took Cerulean’s hand. “Guess.”

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

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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

That’s What Turns Heads

OldEarth 1492 Hispaniola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trade most likely.”

Diego peered back.

No one else moved.

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

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

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

Pedro gasped.

Diego muttered. “Not an auspicious beginning.”

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

“It was yesterday.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Science Fiction & Historical Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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

Of Gods and Men

China @1041 AD

Bi Shang scooped a handful of sticky clay and set it on a wooden sideboard. Using sharpened sticks, he pulled off sections, and with sure and steady hands, shaped each piece into thin edged characters. Bending low, his eyebrows furrowed over the intense work, but a lilting hum escaped his lips.

A thin, young man draped in flowing pantaloons and a loose, grey tunic shuffled into the bright room, keeping close to the wall. His large eyes followed the older man with wide-eyed curiosity. “What’re you doing?”

Undisturbed, Bi Shang arranged each character on an iron baking tray. When the tray was full, he straightened and rubbed his back with one hand. With the other, he beckoned. “Come, Jian.”

Jian stepped forward, tilting his head to see better.

“I’m preserving human intelligence.”

Jian’s eyes narrowed. “My intelligence?”

With a chuckle, Bi Shang snatched a piece of wood from a basket and laid it carefully on a pile of glowing embers in a bake oven embedded in the wall. “Hmm. Yours and your children’s as well.”

Snorting, Jian waved the thought away. “You’re teasing.”

As the flickering flames grew, Bi Shang lifted a rack from the floor and placed it inside the oven. He grabbed a bowl of water and sprinkled the flames, taming them into smoky heat.

The boy’s eyes widened again. “But why—?”

“Because, this is delicate work, and I don’t want my characters to go up in flames.” Satisfied, Bi Shang carefully laid the tray on the rack over the radiant heat. With a contented sigh, he bent low and pointed. “See those shapes?”

Jian nodded.

“They represent the thoughts of men across the world.” His eyes twinkled. “And when we put many thoughts together—we shape both men and world.”

An angry pout formed on Jian’s lips. “You only tell me such stories because I’m small for my age.”

With a gentle hand, Bi Shang squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “On the contrary. I’m sharing great power with you. When my characters bake hard and strong, I’ll set them out for the world to read and ponder. Thoughts grow upon thoughts, and our people will know what wise men of the world believed.”

Stretching forth a tentative finger, Jian touched the clay and rubbed it between his fingers.

Tapping the boy’s arm, Bi Shang grinned. “Someday, if you watch and learn, you’ll know the thoughts of many and share your thoughts with the universe—wisdom to last beyond human sight.”

“Forever?” Jian squinted as if trying to see the edge of unlimited eons. “My thoughts are like the wind.” His gaze fell to the dusty floor. “And can sometimes be evil.”

Bi Shang stroked his face. “You are more honest than most.” Returning to his work, he turned his back to the boy. “Evil thoughts can teach us, too.” He glanced over his shoulder. “For none are barred from their embrace.” He sighed. “Though the wind sometimes uproots the old, it also carries in invigorating air.”

Jian shook his head, a worried frown etched across his forehead. “Such a power is for the gods and their anointed.”

Bi Shang nodded as he lifted his sharp sticks and began to shape a new character. He bent over his work in silent intensity.

Jian shuffled toward the door.

After placing new characters on a fresh tray, Bi Shang lifted his finger. “Before you leave, look at these.” He beckoned Jian forward.

Returning, Jian bent over the iron tray. A new light entered his eyes.”What do they mean?”

“Free—Spirit.” Bi Shang fixed his gaze on the boy. “We choose what we believe.”

Jian nodded, his bright eyes fastened on the figures. “Of gods and men.”

~~~

Sterling, a Luxonian disguised in the rough garb of a Chinese peasant, slapped a mosquito on his arm and frowned at the sight of blood. “Damn insects. Stupid humans! I’m so bored I could—”

“Sir?” Teal, a younger Luxonian dressed in a matching style, stepped out from behind a bush. He nodded toward a tree. “If you need to use—uh—want a little privacy—”

“I’d rather disintegrate.”

Smothering a smile as he rubbed a hand across his face, Teal nodded respectfully. “I doubt that’ll be necessary.” He started toward a sloping hill crowned with a copse of woods. “Though you did have five cups of tea.”

Laboring alongside his companion, Sterling blew air between his lips. “I keep thinking these new world voyages will stimulate me—invigorate my lagging spirit. But instead, everything is so blasted uncomfortable—it’s either hot and humid or dry and cold.” He tugged at his collar. “These ridiculous clothes scratch unmercifully, and the insect life—”

Teal huffed as he neared the crest. “But you enjoyed the tea and cakes—don’t deny it. And, you must admit, watching humans’ first foray into printing was rather fascinating.” With eager steps, he entered the woods.

Sterling tripped and grabbed a branch for balance. “I hate hiding in dark corners. And I’d hardly call a grown man attempting to convince a pathetic child that his clay characters imply a universal achievement—fascinating.” He snapped the twig off the tree and pounded further into the dense woods. “Really, I wonder if becoming a judge is worth all the risk.”

Yelping, Teal stopped and leaned against a tree. He dug a stone out of his sandal. “You have to understand the various life forms in your jurisdiction. How else will you make fair assessments?”

Sterling shuffled from one foot to another, his frown deepening. “I understand that. I just don’t like all the needless hardship. Why couldn’t I have been offered a position on Helm? Shapeshifters have much better sensibilities.” He swallowed and his face flushed. “I can’t stand it.”

Teal glanced around. “We’re safe here. Go ahead—return to Luxonian form.”

“No time!” Sterling rushed behind a tree.

Teal snatched a nut from a tree and studied it thoughtfully, ignoring Sterling’s long, shuddering sigh.

Wandering like a man lost in a dream, Sterling circled toward Teal. “I never imagined such relief—”

Teal pushed away from the trunk. “If you’re ready, we should make our report. Do a good job, and you’ll make a Supreme Judge someday.” He grinned. “As guardian, I’ll always be here to help.”

Sterling threw up his hands in renewed anguish. “But I haven’t got anything to report! It’s all so inconsequential.”

A brooding frown spread across Teal’s face. “Open your mind.” Teal strode closer and looked Sterling in the eyes. “Think about what you’ve seen—all of humanity’s challenges. They suffer from their corporeal bodies and their primitive living conditions—yet they manage to invent new ways to express themselves and preserve knowledge. They work hard, practice discipline and patience, endure pain and, yes, enjoy relief. And, from the look on the young man’s face, they also know ecstatic joy.” He waved his hands as if to encompass the entire planet. “I’d say that was consequential.”

Sterling peered up at the bright sky filtered between the leafy branches. “Perhaps you’re right.” He grinned as he leveled his gaze at Teal. “Supreme Judge, eh?” He glanced around, his smile fading. “Only if I survive.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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