Innocence

Sunrays slanted across the budding woods as Sean dragged a dead sapling along a well-worn trail. He yanked it over a makeshift wooden bridge crossing over a spring-swollen stream. Grunting, he lifted the thick end over his shoulder and hefted it on a mountainous brush pile by a tumbledown old barn.

“What ‘cha doing? Building a pyre to the gods of ol’?”

Sean turned, his blue eyes glinting in the bright light. “More like penance for my sins.” He pulled off a torn work glove and rubbed his face where a two-day-old beard highlighted the edge of his chin. He offered a quick, half-hearted smile. “What’re you doing here, Clive? I thought you were helping out at the McAllen place.”

Clive shrugged and started ahead as Sean turned back across the bridge. “Ah, they got the plumbers and electricians in today. I went to help at the Buran building, but Joe said they have enough guys—told me to take the rest of the day and catch up on my rest.”

With a snort, Sean yanked on his glove. “So kind of him. Always thinking of the other guy.”

Clive stepped off the edge of the bridge and gazed in wonder at the matriarchal old maple cut into manageable lengths. “What’s this? Sarcasm from Mr. Congeniality himself?”

Without a backward glance, Sean pulled a branch free and tugged it to the bridge.

“So, this what you’ve been up to the last few days?” Clive grasped another branch and followed his friend. He cleared his throat. “I heard about Ginger.”

For a brief moment, Sean halted in the middle of the bridge, but then he yanked the branch free of a snag and tromped off to the brush pile, his back straight and his feet unwavering.

Clive hurried after him. “I’m the one who warned you about her, remember? Always said she had a roving eye”

Grunting, Sean shoved the branch high on the pile. “When it was roving over me, I didn’t mind so much.” He stood back and let Clive heave his branch on the pile. “I should’ve seen it coming. Stupid of me to be so blind.”

Clive’s branch rolled to the ground and both men hefted it back on top. Clive turned and stared his friend in the eye. “You’re a trusting sort of guy. Wasn’t your fault.” He eyed the huge pile and then let his gaze roam the wooded landscape. “You’ve got enough here to keep your woodstove stocked for a century.” He lifted his chin. “You don’t really blame yourself—do you?”

Tromping down the path, Sean intercepted a hound that jumped and wiggled for attention. Bending down, Sean scratched behind the dog’s ears. “Joseph asked me why his mom moved out.” He straightened and glanced back at his friend, his blue eyes appearing grey and clouded.

“I hope you told him the truth—she’s a manipulative shrew without an ounce of human kindness—”

Storm clouds entered Sean’s eyes as he stomped back to his friend, the dog following with its tail lowered. “Seriously? You’d have me tell my seven-year-old boy that his mother is anything less than—”

“He’ll find out some day. Besides, you gotta hate her for what she’s done.”

Exhaling a long breath, Sean pulled off his gloves and ran his fingers through his unkempt, brown hair. “She’s hardly my favorite person at the moment, but I don’t hate her, and more importantly, I don’t hate my son. What’da think it’d do to him to learn the truth—if I ever knew the truth.” His gaze stabbed the air before him. “I can’t trust my own judgment anymore.”

A ringtone blared from Clive’s pocket. Clive dug deep and pulled out his phone, his gaze flickering between his friend and the number scrolling across the screen. He sighed, punched the keypad, and lifted the phone to his ear. “Yeah?”

Sean returned to the dead maple, pulled two more branches forward and stacked them on the pile.

Clive trotted up to his friend. “Hey, Joe said they’re ready to finish up at the McAllen place this week—he wants you to come along—needs all the help he can get to finish on time.” Clive glanced at his phone. “Can I tell him you’re coming?”

Sean peered up at the sky and rubbed his face. He nodded. “Yeah. I have to live.” He shrugged. “I can do my penance anywhere.”

A quizzical expression wandered over Clive’s face as he returned to his phone. After a moment, he caught up with Sean returning to his grey house on the hill. “You’re kidding about the penance, right? I mean, we both know it was her fault.”

Sean toed an empty dog dish by the back door. “Funny thing about penance, it doesn’t have to be for anyone in particular. Just has to be sincere.”

Clive stood rooted to the ground, his eyes wide. “But you’re an innocent man, Sean.”

Sean snorted and opened the back door. “Not anymore.” He pointed to his truck in the driveway. “I’ll be at work in the morning. Right now I got to feed the dog and take care of the last shred of innocence in my life.”

Clive blinked and glanced at a boy’s face in an upper window, peering at his dad. Clive nodded and turned away.

Sean peeled off his gloves, opened the back door, and stepped inside.

~~~

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

Coming in 2018…

OldEarth ARAM Encounter (In production)

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/photo/abendstimmung-ball-shaped-clouds-dawn-220429/

Alternate Universe

Jim Smith’s office loomed in darkness except for a single lamp highlighting a cluttered desk.

A tall man with a black pony tail leaned back on a rolling chair and rubbed his eyes. “Dang, it’s been a long day.”

Staccato heels clicked across the floor. “Muttering to yourself again, Jimmy-boy?” A grinning brunette with round, jovial eyes tapped the edge of Jim’s computer screen. “Time you gave it a rest. Kenny and I are going to grab dinner at the Seashell. Wanna come?”

Leaning on one arm and looking like he might slide to the floor in a puddle of spent energy, Jim eyed his compatriot in exotic studies. “No rest for the wicked, Christy. You ought to know that by now.”

Christy leaned in her smile widening in a challenge. “Even the devil gets time off for good behavior.” Swiping a stray lock of hair from her eyes, she straightened and shrugged. “We’ll hang out for a bit. Come when you can.”

Sliding his fingers down the side of his face, Jim shook his head as he watched Christy’s silhouette pass through the doorway. “Gorgeous but never makes the least effort to be logical. The devil—hah!” His gaze flickered to the screen. Under a subheading “Alternate Universe Citations,” thirty resources lined the page in perfect APA order.

With the sublime effort of a god-finger reaching toward Adam, Jim tapped the off switch and the screen blinked to black. “Time to feed the cat.” He struggled to his feet, staggered, and then, like a ship when the wind dies down, righted his mainmast and headed for the door.

At home, Jim found the cat alive though far from happy. He scoured the shelves and discovered what the cat already knew—the cupboard was bare. “Dang it!”

The cat couldn’t have agreed more.

“Guess it’s out into the wilds once again.” Jim peered down at the feline. “It won’t take me long. They have eatables in the shop on the corner.” He glanced at his watch. “If they’re still open.” He rattled through the doorway, clumped down his apartment steps, and plowed his way through the crowded street.

The cat watched from the window.

Inside the market, Jim snatched up a bag of kitty food, a quart of milk, a box of granola, and a sausage pizza. He pondered a can of root beer.

A man, loaded with foodstuffs, stepped next to him. “Excuse me.” The man pulled open the glass door and plucked a root beer off the shelf.

Jim glanced over and nearly dropped his groceries.

They peered at each other, both sets of eyes widening in confusion.

Jim’s arms began to shake. Mirror, mirror…. He peered at the items in the man’s arms. Kitty food, a pizza—pepperoni not sausage—a quart of milk and a pack of granola bars. His gaze traveled to the other man’s round, frozen eyes. He swallowed and stuttered a single word. “H—Hello.”

The stranger cleared his throat. “You seem awfully familiar.”

Like a pricked balloon, they burst out laughing. Jim piled his parcels onto one arm and thrust out a hand. “Name’s Jim. Always wanted to meet my alternate universe persona.”

The other man balanced his goods on his left arm and grasped Jim’s hand with a warm smile. “James.” He shook his head. “Never seen anything like this. “He nodded to the checkout counter. “I’m just staying the night at the One-Stop next door. Traveling through. Me and Millie—my cat. We’re visiting friends in Milwaukee.”

Jim dumped his foodstuff on the counter and faced James. “I live up the block. I wasn’t kidding about an alternate universe—that’s my thesis. I’m a student at Chicago University.”

James lined his foodstuffs in neat order behind Jim’s. “Very cool. My dad’s big into theoretical science too—time travel, extraterrestrial life—all that.”

The two men paid their dues and started for the door with matching sacks hanging at their sides.

Jim opened the door and nodded to the left. “Well, I go this way.”

James grinned. “Hey, how about you stop by the motel a minute, and I’ll get a picture of us together. My friends won’t believe that I have a lookalike.”

Jim shrugged. “My cat’s about ready to kill me—but sure. I’ll take one too. My mom will freak. She thinks I’m crazy—this’ll at least bring some credence to my theory.”

As soon as the two entered the dark room, James snapped on a light and dropped his groceries on a table. He pointed to another. “Just put your stuff there—” He fished his phone out of a pocket as his gaze roamed over the matching foodstuffs. “Did you notice? We got almost the exact same things?”

Jim nodded. He bent down and patted a gorgeous white Persian cat. “Well, at least we have different tastes in cats. Mine is a calico.” He straightened and peered at James. “So, what do you do for a living?”

James adjusted the camera feature on his phone. “I’m studying to become a Jesuit priest.” He peered over the camera and grinned. “Thought my dad would kill me—alternate universe here I come.”

With his hands clasped, Jim sniffed back sudden irritation. “What do you mean by that?”

Focusing on Jim, James waved with two fingers to the left. “Take a step—there. Perfect.” He tapped the phone and scanned through images. “Take a look at my dad. He’s a big man—important in his own way—never to be taken lightly.” He turned the phone around so the image faced Jim.

Jim took three steps forward and froze. As if his hand moved by a separate power, it found his shirt pocket, lifted a phone forward, and within seconds, his eyes scanned through multiple images. “Dad hates to have his picture taken—now I know why.” He turned the phone around.

James staggered and fell on the edge of the bed. “Oh, Lord.”

Jim plopped down next to James and rubbed his face. “God had little to do with this.”

Slapping his leg, James stood. He stalked across the room. “So, that explains everything. All the business trips. Gone for months at a time!”

The cat twirled around James’ leg.

With shaking fury, James’ peeled open a can of cat food, pounded to the bathroom, and slapped the container on the floor. “Here, now quit being a pest.”

Jim’s gaze strolled from the cat to James. “It isn’t the cat’s fault.” He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “I should’ve guessed. I always thought his secretiveness had to do with his science—never occurred to me he was leading a double life.” His fingers curled into clenched fists. “Poor mom.”

His eyes closed in pain; James leaned against the wall. “What’s your mom’s name?”

Jim’s gaze flickered over his phone. He found another picture, stood, and held it out. “Saundra.”

James opened his eyes and nodded. “She’s beautiful.” He held up his phone, found an image, and passed it over. “Maria.”

Jim stared at the photo. “Gorgeous.” He slapped his face as he handed the phone back. “Dad always has had a strange sense of morality.” He shuddered a long exhaling breath. “Odd sense of humor too.”

James shook his head as if chastising the floor. “True. I just never thought it extended this far.” He nudged his half-brother. “Guess the joke’s on us.”

Jim stood to his full height and pulled a card out of his wallet. “Call me when you get home, and we’ll arrange a little joke on Dad.” He gathered his groceries into his arms and stepped to the door.

James followed and tapped his card into Jim’s shirt pocket. “I’ve always believed in a supernatural, not an alternative universe. But in this case, I’ll bet by the time we’re through, Dad will believe in both.”

Jim stepped over the threshold. “When our moms find out—likely—he’ll be heading for one—or the other.”

 

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

Coming in 2018…

OldEarth ARAM Encounter (In production)

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

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 Athe 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

Coming in 2018…

OldEarth ARAM Encounter (In production)

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

Eldars: My Father’s Vision

laboratoryanimal-1554745__180“The ancients among us have always been called the Eldar, son, though considering how strangely some Crestonians behave, Peculiar might be a more appropriate title. Here, give me that dissecting knife. The thin one on the left. Yes, thank you.”

My stomach always lurched at the first incision. Sometimes I wondered if I was really a full-blooded Cresta. I gripped the edge of the steel table with one tentacle, passed the knife to my father with another, and wiped my face with a third.

“One has to pass fifth-century mark to be assigned to the Eldar circle, but since advancements in health and fitness have increased our lifespan, nearly every Cresta has a good chance of becoming Elder, at least for a time— Dark waters! I don’t think he died naturally. Look at that green gelatinous mass.”

“What does it mean, Taugron?”

“It means that we have a traitor among us. Don’t look so surprised. Crestas are devoted to science—not to each other.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Dig deeper of course. Now, about your question. The Eldar believe that Cresta is one of the strongest races in existence.”

“But you don’t?”

“Pull that flap of skin back, please. And open a sample case. I’m going to do a little more research into this poison. It looks like it grew from a seed. I wonder if was served on land or in water…”

“Would it make any difference?”

“Of course. Think! Our senses are nearly perfect in water. Normally we’d pick up an anomaly in a matter of seconds. But on land, we’re much more vulnerable. Also, most aliens we associate with are terrestrials….”

“But you said a traitor. A non-Cresta can’t be a traitor.”

“There are many kinds of traitors. Even a well-intentioned Cresta can become a traitor. It all depends on how things turn out… Ah, I see I have confused you. You see, I do not hold with all the beliefs of our Eldars, and some would label me a traitor if given the chance.”

“Why? What do you believe?”

“See? The pod is still attached and it has a smooth, blue coating, much like the Winnieria seed found in shallow waters. It’s completely harmless so no one would care if they swallowed one or a dozen. But this…this is the work of—”

“A monster.”

“No, on the contrary, a very clever mind. Take a look at the face. This dead Cresta is nothing but a shell of his former self, but once upon a time, he was a great servant of our race. But he was vulnerable. We all are. If we had new blood, fresh ideas, and adaptive physiology, we could survive even the most nefarious schemes.”

“Is that your plan? Your good intention?”

“Yes, though nothing really grand. I’d simply like to crossbreed our kind with another race and prove it can be done successfully. I’d start with a human; they may be fragile, but they have certain adaptabilities that intrigue me. Eventually, we’ll be able to blend our mental acumen with Ingoti strength, Uanyi creativity, and Bhuac adaptability. We would become—”

“Invincible.”

“Near enough. Even he-I-won’t-name would be impressed. In fact…never mind. You’re too young. Someday perhaps. But in the meantime, take this cadaver to the incinerator. Now that I have the key to his death, we can get on with our work.”

“Will I become an Eldar, father?”

“Perhaps. If you live long enough. But remember, son, it isn’t about living a long life…it’s about advancing. If you don’t advance…you might as well be dead.”

~~~

“Taug?”

“I’m here.”

“Are you all right? You look upset.”

“No, nothing of the sort. You may go now. The incinerator will do the rest.”

“If you’re sure…. Taug, your father will be missed. He was a noble Eldar with fine vision—even in the darkest water.”

“Thank you.”

“Perhaps you will carry on his vision?”

“Perhaps. Go ahead now. I need to send a message…”

Attention: Ingal Department of Internal-Security. Private.

The remains are clean and disposed of. There is no sign of the traitor’s work left on Crestar and the lab has been dismantled.

 I am, as always, ever at your service.

 Taug, son of Taugron

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Coming in 2018…

OldEarth ARAM Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

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

I Never Had a Son

Planet Lux, courtyard, dominated by a two-story fountain and decorated with generous fauna wafting in a gentle breeze as cloud sprays reflect every color in the spectrum. Cerulean stands before the fountain, silent and alone.

I miss Viridian. Or rather, I miss what I hoped we’d have together—my son, following in my footsteps or perhaps forging a new path together.

Must all such dreams die? Surely not…

Anne had a second chance with her daughter, and Peter has grown closer to his son. Not all families are doomed to a hideous fate. But me? My father has been long gone, and I’ll never have another son.

“Cerulean?”

“Yes, Judge Sterling. What can I do for you, sir?”

Surprise…. He’s in his human form, with his matching white suit and beard…looking as dashing as any aging Luxonian with delusions of—

“Supreme Judge. Formality, I know, but we must keep up appearances.”

“Yes, Supreme Judge. Sterling.”

“Odd. When you say it— Never mind. I’ve come to inform you that a council has been appointed to discuss the Human Question…again.”

“Sir?”

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed your efforts on their behalf.”

“I believe I told you my concerns up front.”

“Yes, and I was listening. You look doubtful.”

“You never appeared interested.”

“Humanity has proven useful. I’m not ignorant of their worth. I simply needed to understand how involved the Cresta was going to be.”

“Now that Ingots, the Uanyi, and Bhuacs have staked their claims—is it involved enough?”

“Stop scowling, Cerulean. If you’d appear like a proper Luxonian, I’d feel more comfortable.”

“But I wouldn’t.”

“So I’ve noticed. In any case, I have a friend…shall we say a benign enemy who—”

“You mean the reporter—Lang?”

“You know her?”

“She’s notorious.”

“Yes, well, we have an understanding. She lies to me… I lie to her… And we understand each other perfectly.”

“What lies has she been telling you now?”

“She was kind enough to inform me that Crestas have outlawed all crossbreed experimentation, that the Ingots have no interest in Newearth, that the Uanyi plan on relocating on the dark side of the Divide, and that the Bhuacs are quite happy being decimated.”

“With enemies like her, who needs friends?”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“So— What’s the next step?”

“We must regain our position on Newearth, but that means we need an alliance everyone can agree with.”

“An impossible challenge.”

“It’s your challenge, Cerulean. Come up with a plan, think of a way to present it to the Supreme Council so that they see how it benefits Luxonian society, in fact, make it seem like their idea. Then return to Newearth and make it happen.”

I can feel sweat trickling down my back. What I wouldn’t do for an ice-cold—anything. “I can’t do this alone.”

“You won’t. Roux will accompany you to Newearth. You’ll make friends—”

Uh, oh, that one-of-a-kind, tormented stare….

“You always do. Find allies; convince them that it is in their best interest if we all work together.

“It will be.”

“See? You’ve convinced me already.”

Odd. I never noticed that his smile has a certain charm. “When is the council meeting?”

“Tomorrow, early. Come ready for battle. Act like it’s the end of life as we know it—”

“I’ve already used that argument. It only works once.”

“True.”

By the Divide, he’s pacing the walkway, stroking his beard like a human patriarch of old.

“Lang advised me that since Newearth is so poor in natural resources, there isn’t a merchant within a million light years who’d be interested in it.”

“Merchants? They’re as dangerous as politicians.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Merchants are thieves and liars, but they have honest souls. They know perfectly well that war shrinks the profit margin. The Luxonian Council—”

“Supreme Luxonian Council.”

“Yes, of course, they want happy merchants because happy merchants protect our assets.”

“I see.”

Strange that I never noticed this side of Sterling before. How could I have missed it?

“Thank you, sir. I was nearly out of options.”

“I know. I do have eyes…never mind. I must attend to other Supreme Judge business.”

“Of course.”

“Cerulean?”

Deep breath. He’s staring again. “Yes?”

“I never had a son.”

Forget ice-cold; my mouth just went as dry as the dark side of the Divide. “If you had, he’d probably have been just like you.”

Exactly. But you—you’re nothing like me.

“Sir?”

“I never wanted a son, Cerulean…. See you in the council chamber.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

Coming in 2018…

OldEarth ARAM Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

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