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 (In production)

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 phenomenas 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. “You 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 (In production)

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 (In production)

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 (In production)

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 (In production)

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

We Could Cry

From Melchior—The Gift of Kings

Frozen to the core, Melchior sat slouch-shouldered at the table; tendrils of steam from his venison stew rose before him. He took a tentative sip and burned his tongue.

Gideon hurried into the hall, his arms swinging at his side, a smile radiating from his face. “Father! Good news!”

Melchior pursed his lips.

Settling next to his father on the bench, Gideon peered from the old man to the stew and grinned. Lifting the bowl, he blew away the steam. After a few hearty puffs, he placed the bowl before his father with a flourish. “You’re right. God takes care of everything!”

“Not always.”

Gideon shook his head. “Well, this time. Wilfred told the Prince about the church, and guess what? You can’t imagine.”

“Probably not.”

“The prince offered to support the building. He even gave me gold to show his sincerity.” Gideon drew out a bag and poured heavy coins onto the table. “Prince Omar believes that the church must be free to serve God without a king’s influence. He’s going to persuade his father to visit, too.”

Melchior swallowed as he envisioned an entourage of foreign kings arriving at his humble abode. “Father Caedmon named you rightly. You’re a warrior meant to spread the word of God, but with a pen, not a sword.” Melchior’s frown returned. “What about studying in Rome?”

Gideon’s eyes glowed. “Perhaps I don’t need to go. With good scholars, we can teach here. Men might come from all over the world to see what we have preserved, what we have remembered…for the glory of God.”

Melchior sighed as images of ruins, mud-caked roads, and ignorant men rose in his mind.

Gideon grasped his father’s cold, feeble hand. “You see. It’s a miracle! And through the help of a foreign king!”

Melchior’s blank stare through red-rimmed eyes proclaimed what he did not see.

“Your father named you Melchior after a foreign king who served God through a gift of gold. This time it will be a king’s son, but a king’s power nonetheless, who serves God through a gift of gold.” Gideon clapped his hands together. “What a wonderful sense of humor God has!”

Melchior sat motionlessly. His stew was quite cool by now. He swallowed and remembered his father’s gentle face as he peered up at him, sitting on the old man’s knee as a boy.

 “Never give up, Melchior, for God is never outdone in generosity. His strength reaches to men—through men. God never abandons His own.”

Pushing his stew to the side, Melchior stared at his happy son. The tears that slipped down his cheeks warmed his face.

~~~

A silent, invisible being sat at the far end of the table, entranced. Omega itched to take on human form, but he knew the rules. Mother had explained observations techniques very carefully, and Abbas had outlined the horrors of alien exposure in vivid detail. If he wanted a world of his own someday, he must study hard and not take risks.

Appearing as nothing more than a flicker of wind, Omega rose from the table, circled around the old man, and bent low to examine the tears. Awesome things—tears. Fearing spontaneous combustion from sheer exuberance, Omega returned to his own world.

~~~

Bright flames flickered over huge logs set into a fireplace large enough to roast a full-grown ox. Lush tapestries and rich oil paintings adorned the lofty walls while heavy wooden trestle tables lined the perimeter.

Appearing as an elderly human in a long robe, wearing a red skull cap, Abbas reclined on an ornate couch with enough pillows to satisfy a Greek god. Studying a painting—the Mona Lisa—propped on a stand at his side, he tapped his fingers against his lips, a minor scowl etched across his brow.

Omega strode into the great hall, bent and kissed his father on the forehead, and tilted his head at the Mona Lisa. “Figure her out yet?”

Abbas rose and waved a languid hand. “She’s not half as interesting as the men who find her fascinating.” Abbas pointed to the painting. “Do you know that Leonardo—the artist—painted her to represent the ideal of happiness?”

A grin played on Omega’s lips. “He’s quite wrong. I believe I’ve discovered ideal happiness—in tears.”

In a fluid motion, Abbas rose and strode to a side table filled with golden goblets and a carafe of pink liquid. “Been to Earth again—have we?” He poured healthy dashes into goblets and handed one to his son. “You realize that we have to find our own medium of happiness—each and every day. It’s not something one discovers once and for all.” He took a smooth sip, eyeing his son over the rim.

In one gulp, Omega downed his drink and tossed the goblet into the fire.

His father frowned.

Flopping onto the couch, Omega crossed his legs and leaned back. He closed his eyes. “I watched a young man turn his father from agony to ecstasy with mere words. He spoke of God as if he knew Him personally, and he drew hope from despair. The old man’s tears redeemed him.” Jumping to his feet, Omega crossed the room and poured himself another drink. “I find that fascinating—even though I hardly understood a word he said.” He gulped down the second drink as quickly as the first, but before he could throw the goblet, his father snatched it from his hand.

“You’re a child, Omega, fascinated by new experiences.” He placed the goblet back on the table. “Even though we have power—we must not waste it. You are too hasty. You—”

“But that’s why they fascinate me! They are creatures of passion and intellect, yet as far below us as their amphibians are below them. But still, they make such music, such poetry—” He swung around and pointed at the Mona Lisa. “Such glorious art! It resonates within me.”

Abbas lifted the painting off the stand and placed it securely between two masterpieces on the wall. His frown deepened.

“Ay, father! Do you think that perhaps they’re right? Maybe they were created by the same God—and that’s why—”

“Don’t forget yourself! You were sent to study—not to emulate—aliens. We worship no gods—or beings—beyond ourselves. That’s how we became so powerful. We’re the best the universe has to offer.”

Turning to the fire and running his fingers through the flames, Omega chuckled. “Yes, father. That’s why we copy their paintings, eat their food, sit at their tables, live in their castles, and wear their skins. We study them—” His smile faded. “And wish we could cry.”

 

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 (In production)

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 

Impossible Beings

Rome 450 AD

As Lidia plopped her hands into a heavy clay bowl of flour, a dusty spray plumed into the air, casting a million specks into the sunlight slanting across the room from a high rectangular window.

Her daughter, Marcia, stared up enchanted. Her lips parted in a soft smile, while her eyes danced in rhythm to the twirling, sparking mini-universe spreading wide throughout the kitchen. Her voice dropped to a reverent whisper. “Papa says the world goes on forever—is that true?”

After thoroughly dusting a ball of dough, Lidia pressed it flat on the kneading trough. She grunted, her eyes on her work, but her gaze turned inward. “Your father says a great many things—some he oughtn’t.” She flipped the dough over and shrugged. Her focus cleared, and she spared a glance at the little girl. “You know how he is.”

Laying an open palm on the table, Marcia waited in hopeful expectation.

With a snort, Lidia ripped off a hunk and dropped it into the child’s hands. “Don’t knead it too much, remember. The soldiers return today—by the gods’ mercy—and he’ll enjoy a nice soft bread for a change.”

Marcia eased her fingers onto the pliant dough and allowed her hands to undulate like deep-sea fronds waving in a gentle current. A studious frown etched across her brow. “Will he stay long this time?”

Placing the shaped dough onto a baking tray, Lidia wiped the excess flour from the edges. “These are ruinous time for soldiers and high born alike. Rome has lost her footing, and the gods are not pleased. Invaders break in the front door while useless slaves run out the back.”

“But Papa says that Rome is invincible. We dare the impossible”

Lidia shoved a smaller tray in front of her daughter and watched her lay the dough straight. A flicker of a smile swept across her face and just as quickly vanished. She retreated to a large oven set in the back wall and slid the two trays on a shelf. Clapping the dust from her hands, she jutted her chin in the direction of a pail of water. “Wash up and go outside now. Keep an eye out for Papa.”

Marcia dunked her hands in the cold water and scrubbed away the shreds of sticky dough. After rinsing twice, she patted her hands dry and held them up for her mother’s inspection. “We are invincible—aren’t we?”

Bending with her hands on her thighs, Lidia fixed her daughter in the eye. “Truth is, no one born of woman is invincible. Only the gods be invincible—and even they suffer loss and death.” She straightened and washed her hands, splashing drops on the dusty floor. “We dare the impossible—true—while we may.” She nodded to the threshold leading to a garden path. “But don’t worry your father with such notions. He’s suffered on every side, and I won’t have him lose his faith as well.”

Marcia’s gaze wandered back to the sunlit kitchen. The sparking universe had disappeared into shadows. She blinked and set her jaw. The entire Roman world might crumble—but a miniature universe floated in hidden mystery all around her—if only she dared the impossible.

~~~

Planet Helm—Bhuaci Capitol

 *Bhuaci are a gelatinous race that can mold themselves into the likeness of a variety of races, both sentient and not. Bhuaci are often called the perfect race as they often mold themselves to the physical ideal of any race they encounter.

Sitting at a large ornate desk with a highly decorated border, Crimson dipped her quill in ink, wrote a long scrawling line, and grinned at the result.

A cherubic boy with a dimple in each cheek, golden curls, and twirling a blooming forsythia branch stopped before the red-hued, lanky Bhuaci beauty and grinned. “What ‘cha doing?”

Crimson peered from her parchment to the childish form in front of her and snarled. “Get away from me you—absurdity.”

The cherub’s eyes gleamed in anything-but-innocent delight. He swept his dainty fingers down his fulsome figure. “Don’t you like it? You’re always telling me to get a new look. Well, cherubs happen to be all the rage these days.”

Crimson let her pen fall from her fingers as her eyes widened in disgust. Her snarl morphed into a snort. “You always traipse after the newest fashion—never really live in any form—just change to keep up with the crowd.” Retrieving her pen, she punctuated the air. “You’d take an insect shape on a dare—and get stepped on before the day was out.”

The Cherub’s eyes glimmered and narrowed as his body grew, adding weight, muscle, color, and masculinity. Now towering above the Bhuaci female as a gleaming warrior wearing a sleeveless tunic—every fiber of his perfect form, from his deep-set blue, determined chin, squared shoulders, barrel chest, and muscular legs screamed classic male beauty.

Crimson titled her head and considered the specimen before her. She sniffed. “You might have hit on something this time, Kane.” Her mouth twitched. “Let’s see how long it lasts.”

Kane sauntered to the high desk and leaned over Crimson’s shoulder. “You never answered my question.”

With a plaintive sigh, Crimson picked up her pen and dipped it in the inkpot. “I’m trying to work—if you don’t mind.”

“With a feather?”

“It’s a quill, idiot.” Crimson pointed to a sign over the door. “Record’s office—remember? I transcribe ships’ logs. Today I have to transcribe Longjur’s hasty notes and send them—”

A blush crept over Kane’s face. “Longjur? He’s been observing Earth—right?”

“Yep, and by the Divide, he has a lot to say! Mostly it’s as boring as watching a cactus grow in the dry season. But this part—”

Kane’s gaze scanned the nearly empty page. “Where?”

Crimson frowned. “Well, I was just getting to it when you interrupted. I have it here.” She tapped a panel embedded in the desk. “But I’m making a formal copy for the Kestrel Committee. I thought ink on parchment would do nicely to reflect the culture and add a bit of authenticity and charm. They’ll look it over before making recommendations—”

Kane shook his head. “Forget all that! What did he say? Is he going back?”

Crimson slapped her cheek and rolled her eyes. “He went on and on about silly details—Emperors and warriors and their never-ending battles, women and men sweating in the hot sun and toiling for their food, and the most ignorant ceremonies I’ve ever heard of! But, there was one point of interest…” She checked her notes, running her finger along the lines. “About a little girl, sunlight, and a hidden—”

Kane groaned, his shoulders sagging. “I want to go there—someday.” He shrugged. “It’s why I take on so many forms—for practice. I’d love to explore that system. Humanoids seem so—impossible.” He peered down at Crimson and their eyes met. “You know what I mean?”

Crimson tapped the panel, a lopsided smile wavering on her lips. “Don’t despair. You must have read Longjur’s mind. He said that exact thing—and I quote: ‘They are impossible beings, yet they bring their faith to fruition.’”

Kane leaned in and stared deep into Crimson’s eyes. “So, you think I might go—”

Crimson chuckled and returned to her work. “You’d fit right in.”

~~~

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 (In production)

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

Photo https://www.pexels.com/search/fantasy%20specks%20in%20air/