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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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.”

 

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They Might Be Right

Alessandro gulped as he watched an agonized man pass with a cross hefted on his shoulder. He tugged at his slave collar and waited patiently for the procession to pass. Golgotha was close enough that he could see the crosses already erected and two men hanging in desperate misery. Alessandro closed his eyes and prayed they would die quickly.

Someone jostled his arm, and he glanced up. A woman had run from the crowd and wiped the condemned man’s face with her veil. She sobbed as she worked. Alessandro gasped. He has seen this man, this condemned criminal, before.

Jesus.

The memory hit him like a boulder to the chest. He could smell the incense and hear the wailing of the poor widow as she took her son’s body to his burial place. Then this same man stepped forward. A few gentle words—and a miracle. The son was alive again. Grief was reborn into perfect joy. Alessandro had relived that moment every day since it had happened.

Now Alessandro watched, stunned, as the crowd followed the procession up the hill. He turned away—he had an errand to run for his master. As he stepped into the narrow, winding street, he looked back and choked. A slave from his youth, taken on a warm, spring day from his home and his family—this was his life.

When Jesus rose on the cross, he stared upon death, his eyes dry.

~~~

Months later, just when Alessandro finally thought he had put the haunting memory from his mind, he stepped into his master’s quarters and froze.

As a Roman citizen of high standing, Felix rarely lost his composure. Today, he stood hunched over his table sobbing like a child. After a moment, the elderly statesman dabbed at his eyes and glanced about.

Alessandro stood in the doorway in perfect obedience. To his confusion, his master smiled and waved him forward.

“Come—don’t be afraid.”

With firm steps, Alessandro crossed the room, his eyes fixed on his master’s face.

Felix sat on the edge of the table, his hands clasped before him. “It is not often that I lose control—but I just received a shock.”

Alessandro’s collar itched, but he dared not lift a finger.

Felix leaned in and peered into the youth’s eyes. “You see, I heard a man preaching in the street today—a Galilean named Peter. He told a marvelous tale—about a man named Jesus of Nazareth rising from the dead. Peter even healed a cripple in Jesus’ name.” His gaze wandered to the window. “Many have come to believe.”

Alessandro’s mouth had gone dry as sand.

“I saw Jesus of Nazareth once. Heard all about his miracles. I believed he was—from God.”

Alessandro’s eyes widened.

“But business pressed, and I did nothing about it. I put him out of my mind.” Felix crossed to the window and gazed over the distant hills. “I did not crucify him.” Tears started in the old Roman’s eyes. “I ignored him.” Clenching his hands together, Felix stepped over to Alessandro, pleading. “God’s son, they say—walked among us—and I—did nothing.”

Alessandro swallowed. “Even God would not condemn a man for attending to his own business.” His hands trembled at his side.

Felix’s wan smile chased his grief away. He patted the youth on the arm. “You were a worthy investment—I knew that when I first saw you as a boy.” Felix returned to the window. “No, I do not feel condemned. I feel—lost.”

Shaking his head and squaring his shoulders, Felix returned to business. “I have a message you must take.” He pinched a small parchment off his table and handed it to his slave.

After bowing, Allesandro turned to leave.

Felix called out. “One more question—I know you can’t answer—but I feel it must be asked.”

Alessandro paused, suddenly afraid.

“Will God—ever come again?”

Walking along the narrow street, Alessandro knew—that question would ring in his ears to the end of his days.

~~~

A sunbeam slanted across a quiet hillside where a gentle slope led to a grassy expanse, a world of Hyssop, Daffodils, Lupine, Iris and buzzing insects.

In a blink of light, two figures appeared. One grandfather figure with grey hair and a slight stoop nodded, beaming at a young man with golden brown hair, brilliant blue eyes, and the physique of a young Adonis. They were both dressed in the simple garments of common shepherds.

“Very good, Cerulean! You maintained your shape perfectly! It’s not every Luxonian who can travel as an alien species and keep their proper form. You look every inch the human boy—a little too perfect maybe—but we can adjust that. Remember, humans become either enamored or jealous at the sight of physical perfection.”

The youth nodded even while his gaze traveled the parameter of their setting. “We’re safe here?”

“Of course. I’ve had eons of experience at this sort of thing. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Cerulean clasped his hands together and waited.

A few scattered sheep crested one of the far hills. Cerulean’s eyes widened.

The old man hefted a shepherd’s staff and nudged the boy along. “Now remember, just act natural—like you have your own business to attend to and no one will bother you.”

A shepherd appeared at the top of a distant hill. He peered at them and waved.

Cerulean glanced at his father. “Teal? I believe that man is trying to get our attention.”

“Just keep walking—he’ll ignore us if we go away.”

Cerulean padded across the grassy pastureland, his gaze wandering back to the man on the hill.

Teal prodded the boy in the shoulders. “Don’t look. Never engage in eye contact unless you want to meet someone—which you never will. You’re just here to observe, take careful note of everything significant, and inform the Supreme Council of your findings when you return to Lux.”

Cerulean snuck another glance, but, as his father had predicted, the man had returned to the care of his sheep. He sighed. “We could have gone anywhere on the planet; why—?”

Teal yelped and gripped his son’s shoulder. “Stop a moment. I’ve got something caught between my toes. Panting, he cleared his foot of a trailing weed and then pointed to the blue sky. “Do you remember the story I told you and your mother about the miracle healer, heralded by the magnificent star at his birth? It was noted by every intelligent species this side of the Divide.”

Rubbing his forehead, Cerulean frowned. “As I remember, the man was murdered—by his own people.”

“True, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The people in these lands believed that he rose again and lived on in a new form.” Teal’s gaze scanned the cloudless sky. “I’ve been waiting for him to return.”

“You think he will?”

Teal sighed. “Three generations have passed. I have little hope left. But they say that he lives in the hearts of believers. I have even heard that he comes as food for—”

“Food?” Cerulean’s eyebrows rose.

“Not in human form—but as bread.” Teal shrugged. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Despite your official reports, humans sound rather barbaric.”

Teal chuckled. “Beware, humans grow on you. They’re surprising—they have unexpected strength, and they believe in miracles.”

Cerulean glanced at the crest of the hill where the shepherd reappeared with a young boy at his side. “I wonder what they believe.”

“You will be a guardian soon enough, and experience is the greatest teacher. Just remember—” He nudged his son forward.

Cerulean plodded along, his gaze focused on the crest of another hill. “What?”

“They might be right.”

 

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

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