We Fall Into Chaos
Cerulean stepped into the lab and exhaled a long cleansing breath. “Before we go into the details, tell me one thing—where is Justine?”
Derik’s worried gaze flickered around the room. “We were hoping Taug would tell us—” He flexed his long, muscular fingers. “—by force if necessary.” Derik marched up to Cerulean. “Have you heard anything?”
Cerulean’s gaze swerved from Derik to Faye. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
Appearing to float, Faye swayed closer. Her large, almond-shaped eyes peered up at Cerulean. “Many times I’ve wished I could introduce myself, but secrecy has always been my best defense.”
Cerulean offered a gentleman’s nod. “Many the times I wished I could be of service. But your race is very secretive and singularly inventive. I doubted my ability.”
Faye’s gaze glanced off Derik. “I wish to come out of the shadows.”
Stroking his cheek, Cerulean appraised Faye before his eyes strayed to the wall screen. “We need to discuss this further. But right now, Taug must be stopped.”
Derik pushed in front of Faye. “Why? What’s he done?”
“Clare and Bala confronted Taug yesterday and met Justine here. She’s fine… at least physically. She said she was going to return to Crestar with Taug.”
In a near shriek, Derik pulled his hair. “What?”
Peering at the wall, Cerulean marched across the room. He tapped the console and the screen flickered.
Faye faded into the background.
A white square appeared on the screen and then a blurry, shifting body shuffled closer. Gradually, an enlarged, perplexed Cresta face came into focus. “Taug? Is that you? I thought you were on a transport—”
Edging closer, Cerulean stationed himself in front of the screen. “No, sir, Taug isn’t here. I’m Cerulean, a Luxonian on official business. Do you know where Taug has gone?”
The Cresta’s jaw hardened and his eyes narrowed. “This my private address! I don’t know what official business a Luxonian might have with Taug, but he has been ordered home. We have unfinished business he must attend to.”
Cerulean pressed on. “So Taug is on a transport? Alone?”
“Until I understand the circumstance of your inquiry better, I’m not at liberty—”
Derik squeezed between Cerulean and the screen. “Is Justine Santana with him? Did he take her?”
A long, flabby tentacle jabbed at the screen. “Excuse me? Who is this?”
Derik folded his arms high across his chest. “I’m Justine’s fiancé, and I demand that you tell me where she is immediately, or I’ll file charges with the Inter-Alien Alliance Committee. Cerulean—” Derik jerked his thumb backward. “—is a founding mem—”
The looming face broke into an impressive smile. “Oh, you’re that Cerulean! I didn’t recognize you. My name is Mitholie. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
Cerulean dragged his wide-eyed glare off Derik and swung it at Mitholie. “Yes, sir. Sterling has mentioned you.” His face tightened. “I’m very concerned about the android Justine, who was recently in Taug’s company. She might be traveling with him to Crestar.”
Mitholie’s wide smile brightened. “If so, we would welcome her with pleasure.”
“I’m certain of that.” Cerulean cleared his throat. “But you can see how distressed her fiancé is.” He dashed a quick glance at Derik.
Derik stood staring up at the screen, his hands wringing an invisible neck. “I want her home at once! You hear me?”
Mitholie edged away from the screen, his disgusted gaze focused on Derik’s hands.
Placing a firm grip on Derik’s shoulder, Cerulean shifted him to the side. “I apologize, Mitholie, but we have our own troubles, and Justine needs to return as soon as possible.”
Mitholie smirked like an understanding patriarch. “Certainly, if she arrives with Taug, I’ll relay your message. But honestly, you’re mistaken. Taug is traveling alone. If you look at the transport manifest, I’m sure that you’ll find that no Justine Santana will arrive on Crestar.” He waved the small end of one tentacle benignly. “I will inform Taug of your concern. He’ll be gratified to know his friends have inquired about him.” Mitholie offered a brief nod to Cerulean before peering narrowly at Derik as if memorizing his features. “Fiancé, eh?” Offering a lopsided smile, Mitholie continued, “My congratulations.” The screen blinked to black.
Cerulean’s head dropped to his chest and his shoulders sagged. Then he swung on Derik in fury. “What the—? You’re supposed to be dead. You want to make absolutely certain the job gets done?”
Derik’s broad shoulders matched Cerulean’s muscle for muscle. They glared into each other’s eyes.
Faye held up her elfin hands and stepped between them. “Please. There is enough anger in the universe. We share a common purpose; let’s not forget that.”
Derik’s face flushed with rage as he peered down at the small figure. “Or what?”
Faye’s eyes brimmed. “We fall into chaos.”
Max sat upright on the bench in Bala’s brightly lit kitchen and stared at the steaming bowl in front of him. He struggled to process the tumultuous energy bopping all around him. He knew full well that it was considered rude to stare, even at little humans, but it took every particle of his self-control to keep from glaring at his riotous surroundings.
Bala laughed and slapped Max on the shoulder. Leaning in, he sniffed the casserole as if appraising the danger. He shook his head. “Nothing to be afraid of. Go on. Kendra’s got away with rice, beans, and green things. If she didn’t, I’d be dead by now.”
Max swiveled his head, right and then left, allowing himself the luxury of a good long stare. The baby was strapped into a high chair, pounding a miniature utensil on a tray and drooling copiously amid Kendra’s alternate cooing and humming sounds. Another child sat backward, her long hair partially draped over her bowl. She clapped to a rhythm Max could not even faintly discern. A little boy clung to Kendra’s legs, chattering in an alien language as his mother flittered around the large kitchen. With the grace of a seasoned acrobat, she slid a towering bread plate somewhat near the center of the table. An older boy sipped his meal in quiet contemplation, while another scanned his datapad, drumming his fingers on the tabletop.
Max faced Bala, plastering a benign expression on his face. “Are they always this noisy?”
Lounging against the table, Bala surveyed the miniature throng. “Not at all. Sometimes they get into a ruckus and then you hear some real noise, brother.” Bala covered his ears to emphasize his meaning.
Max didn’t have to feign astonishment. “Why in the universe did you have so many? Wouldn’t two offspring continue your species just as effectively?”
Bala scratched his head. “Well, now, I hadn’t thought of them quite like that…”
He smiled as Kendra plopped down on her chair, one arm encircling the now sedate three-year-old. She spooned a mouthful of stew into the little one’s mouth, grabbed a broken piece of bread, chomped, and chewed as she grinned back at Bala.
“Kendra, Max would like to know why we had so many.” With a sweep of his hand, he clarified his point.
Kendra’s nearly frantic chewing slowed to glacial speed as one eyebrow rose. She swallowed, squared her shoulders, and smiled bravely. “Well, you see, it’s our pleasure. We enjoy bringing new life into the world and training them to become wonderful citizens of Newearth.”
Bala stared at Kendra, his eyes rounding into orbs. “The truth? You told him the truth!”
Kendra shrugged and she grabbed another slice of bread, handing a significant chunk to the baby. “I think he can handle it. Besides—” Her gaze rolled around the kitchen. “—it’s what I drill into their heads every day of their lives. Made for a purpose. We all are.”
The room froze as Max jumped to his feet. His perpetually mild expression had drained of all animation and color.
Bala tossed a quick glance at Kendra as he rose and placed his hand on Max’s shoulder. “You all right? We’re just kidding around—sort of.” Running his fingers through his hair, Bala nudged Max toward the door. “Let’s head over to Cerulean’s place. He might have news by now.”
With robotic steps, Max marched through the kitchen doorway.
Bala stopped on the threshold and faced his perplexed family. He shrugged. “So, androids have issues. Who knew?”
Max stomped up Cerulean’s porch steps as a bedraggled, panting Bala took up the rear. “Hey, slow down, would you! I just barely sent word that we’re coming, and you’re ready to break down his door.”
Max promptly smashed in Cerulean’s front door and, standing amid the wreckage, scanned the large, open kitchen-living room.
Cerulean burst into the room, waving a Dustbuster. “What?” He glared first at Max and then at Bala. Lowering the Dustbuster, he shook his head in disbelief. “Max, why did you break down my door? I just got it fixed.”
Max swallowed and spluttered. “I—I got a message from Justine. She’s going to murder Taug.”
Standing in his employer’s personal recreation room at the Vandi Country Club, Eric handed a club to a waiting hand and snapped to attention. His shoulder-length blond hair, tied in a smooth ponytail that hung down his back, matched his bright yellow eyes, which he had altered as soon as he had enough money for the procedure. Altering eye color to unnatural hues had come into fashion only recently, but he was never one to lag behind a new trend. His stylish bodysuit and slip-on footwear fit his trim form like surgical gloves. His eyes roved over his employer, Simms, with a covetous longing.
Simms, a human with more replacement parts than he liked to admit, could not hide his boxy shape, though he tried. His hair—not his own—appeared thick and black. The mustard-colored shirt and trousers he wore complemented his olive skin tone. A gold pendant hung at his neck, and ornate rings bejeweled his fingers. Simms cleared his throat and swung the club over his head in a couple of practice moves. He frowned and handed the club back with a polite sniff. “Not this one. Give me the thirty-four.”
Eric searched through the club bag and found the one mentioned. He pulled it forth, mesmerized by its polished gleam. Simms had the best set of clubs on the planet and a wall of prizes to attest to his award-winning skill at Zinzinera. Though the Ingoti game had been adapted to Newearth sensibilities—the losers did not have their heads knocked together, and they counted score with points rather than injuries—everyone still took the game seriously and none more so than Simms himself. Eric had noticed that Simms took everything seriously—especially himself.
Eric observed his employer closely. There was more to this man than met the eye. He clasped his manicured fingers behind his back.
“Take this.” Simms held out the club with a firm hand.
Eric reached and—Simms grabbed his hand and twisted it behind his back painfully. “I know what you’re thinking.”
Eric strained to keep his composure. “That would be?”
“You want what I have.”
Eric considered his options and chose unprecedented honesty.
“Is that so wrong?”
Surprisingly, Simms grunted and released his grip, shoving Eric forward. “Not at all. In fact, I was kinda counting on it.”
Eric rubbed his wrist and raised an eyebrow.
Simms grimaced. “I have a job for you. Real simple. Knock a certain mixed-breed’s head in or blow him to bits—whatever’s easier. Take what’s on his body and ransack his place. He managed to escape from certain death once; don’t let it happen again.”
Remaining unmoved, Eric considered his options again. “Why should I?”
“Because I said so. Because an important somebody wants it so. And because you don’t get to be like me unless you have powerful friends.”
“I’m not a killer.”
“Sure you are.”
“Someone might find out. Human Services will—”
Simms blew air between his lips, swinging his club. “Look, he’s a mistake. Mistakes aren’t human.” He tapped his club against Eric’s head. “Like idiots who don’t know a good opportunity when it comes along. No one will care.”
New options danced before Eric’s yellow eyes.
“…in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.”
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