The Great Wall

Jian never liked heights, but as the head workman in charge of this section of the Great Wall, he ignored his personal inclinations. Duty ruled his will. He managed seventy slaves in turn. What they did with their wills was of little consequence—as long as they obeyed him, and he lived to see another day.

His gaze roved across the incoming bank of clouds. The wind sent his thin, dark clothes rippling like a banner on a high tower. He sniffed. The scent of rain permeated the air. Biting his lip, he marched along the outer edge of the western bank. A solid wall of earth rose in a sharp incline. Amazing what desperate men could do when enough pressure was applied.

His stomach rumbled as his gaze flickered back to the sky. The sun, obliterated by thick clouds, still offered enough light to see clearly. A fierce gust blasted across the valley nearly tottering the men on the top edge. As the strongest struggled for balance, an old man staggered and fell to his knees.

With a commanding frown, Jian marched over and stared the slave back onto his feet. The old man’s shaking limbs refused the order.

“What’s wrong with you, old one?”

A young man, thin to the point of emaciation with a mop of black hair, stepped forward, swiping a rag from his head and bowing from the waist. “He’s ill. He needs rest or the wind will carry him off.”

Jian rubbed his chin as his gaze swept from the watching assembly to the rising cloud. “A storm is coming. It’ll stop work—for a week maybe.”

The young man nodded. “When we start again, you will have all your workers. Or one less—maybe.”

A glinting smile acknowledged the clear logic. With a quick thrust, he jerked his hand in the air and barked his order. “Clear out before the storm.”

With haste and relieved chattering, the men gathered baskets and tools and began a straggled march to back to camp. The old man, assisted by the young man, began to limp down the incline.

Jian halted the assistant. “What is your name, audacious one?”

The young man froze; his gaze fixed on the ground. “Hung.”

The glint reincarnated into a challenge. “The name means courageous—are you?”

Hung slid a glance to the old man and released his grip. Another man stepped forward and took Hung’s place, helping the ancient along. The two hobbled away.

Jian’s searing gaze narrowed on Hung.

His head bowed, Hung remained calm, like a pond on a still night.

“Speak!”

Hung lifted his face a fraction. “My mother always said—it is not the name that makes the man but the man that makes the name.”

“Slaves are like insects—they live but a brief season.”

Raindrops splattered on Hung’s face, the driving wind hurling its fury against him.

“Insects have no names. And no will of their own.”

Jian crossed his muscled arm over his chest, ignoring the swirling tempest growing in his midst. “Slaves live to obey their masters.”

Hung’s shoulders hunched lower, his head dropped like a battering ram against the wind. His words, driven by the wind, raced like a message from one elemental force to another. “Who do masters obey?”

With a lifted hand, Jian took one enraged step. And slipped. The conquering wind carried him down the mud-slick incline.

Never raising his eyes, Hung plowed through the soaking rain, following the course he had traveled every day for years.

~~~

Rosella tapped her stylus against her lips. The Bhuaci classroom, empty now, except for a cooing pair of turtledoves that perched on the windowsill, echoed the faint sound of chattering children just released from a long day of Alien-Life Studies.

Rosella closed her eyes and laid the stylus on her datapad.

“Stealing a little peace and quiet?” The most handsome Bhuaci this side of the Divide sauntered into the room, twirled the teacher’s chair ninety degrees and leaned in, his gaze not ten centimeters from Rosella’s blinking eyes.

“Not stealing.” She leaned just out of reach. “Just thinking.” Her gaze roved over the male in front of her. “What do you want, Lutein? Here to say goodbye before you head off-world on another intriguing adventure?”

Lutein’s bright eyes dimmed as he slammed a fisted hand against his chest. “I’m staggered! Just stab me in the heart why don’t you?”

Rosella’s eyes widened in mock confusion. “I—stab your heart? I’d much rather cut it out—if I could find it. At least then, it might feed the wildlife and serve some noble purpose.”

Dropping his head to his chest, Lutein’s shoulders drooped in melancholy grief. “I just returned from an intriguing adventure. One I was going to share with you.” His gaze peeked up. “But now—”

With a weary shake of her head, Rosella nodded to the edge of the desk. “Be quick. I have to come up with a scintillating lesson tomorrow, or my students will revolt and feed me to the doves.” She flicked a finger at the cooing specimens of purity and innocence.

Perching on the desk, Lutein rubbed his jaw. “Your mind has taken a dark turn since I left. Now let me see if I can brighten your spirits. Later, I’ll feed you something besides my heart.” He grinned. “Maybe.”

Rosella’s face remained impassive, her hands clasped.

“You see, I observed the newest find—the ones Song calls humans. I toured a beautiful green land where the inhabitants build an enormous wall—to keep invaders out.”

Rosella’s chin jutted forward. “There are many walls, Lutein. Everyone has one.”

“Ay! That’s just what I discovered. You see; I saw another wall, but this one was inside a man, a wall that poverty and injustice could not climb over or break down.”

Rosella’s leaned closer, her eyes widening. “You saw—”

“A wall built—of a man’s will. A wall like none other.”

Rosella stood and stepped near, peering deep into Lutein’s eyes. “Are you the same Bhuaci that left me crying on the beach?”

Lutein stood and bowed his head; his hands hung limply at his side. “I am—and I am not.”

Rosella turned away, covering her face with her hands. “That’s no answer.”

Lutein lifted his head. “You’re right not to trust me. But—” He strode over to the wall map and pointed to a distant star cluster. “I’ve learned that a man who holds his head too high is likely to fall off his feet.”

A sneer curled around Rosella’s lips. “Your head has ever been held high, Lutein. It is one of your greatest charms. And most deceiving lies.”

“So, I have learned.” Grasping Rosella’s hand, he led her back to her chair. “The man with the unbreakable wall kept on his feet by bowing his head.”

“Can you learn to bow your head, Lutein?”

Peering at the star cluster, Lutein’s gaze roamed over a vast distance. “The man with the unbreakable will loved an old man—” He swiveled around and stared at the schoolteacher. “If the will obeys the heart—it holds true—even when it is bowed.”

A smile—like the morning sun—broke over Rosella’s face.

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

Outlast the Ages

Ancient Egypt

Atet stood by the small open grave, staring upon the face of her son. Ma’nakhtuf’s body lay crushed and broken, though his face remained unscathed by the falling stone. Only the frozen grimace of final anguish told the full tale. A sculptor by trade, but a dutiful son by heart, he had the gift of beauty in both body and soul.

Turning away, Atet faced the setting sun. The Pyramid’s glory shown more distinctly as the golden rays of the gods caressed its edges. For this, her son had lived, and for this, he had died.

The slender figure of her sister, Khumit, wrapped in a long dress, swayed across the cooling evening sands and approached with hands outstretched. No words needed, they embraced, and Khumit clung with devotion born of mutual suffering.

Pulling back, Khumit plumbed the depths of Atet’s despairing eyes. “They will come and set him to rest. His spirit—”

Atet jerked away; her eyes barren of dreams, her soul dead to hope. “The gods live on; the pharaohs live on; the glorious and the wealthy live on, but my son is dead to this world and to the next.”

With a swift wave, Khumit encompassed the mighty structure. “His work lives in the pyramid, the home of the gods. All who served faithfully will outlast the ages.”

A procession of men, women, and children wound serpentine fashion across the sands toward the gravesite. Clouds of incense floated before them, rising like an evening oblation.

Khumit gripped her sister’s arm and drew her back to the graveside. “It is time to say goodbye; allow your son to find a new abode.”

Atet stared at the grimaced face of her dead child, and like the incense floating aloft, she offered a prayer. What I see with my eyes destroys all joy, but what I hope with my heart offers my only strength. May you live on, my son, and take your beauty with you.”

~~~

Commander Rumson of Crestar, Reporting on the Third Planet—District 48.788.

There have been few significant changes since my last report, though I have seen Luxonian activity in the area. I also passed an Ingoti trader in close proximity. We’re not the only ones keeping an eye on this planet.

One point of interest—a new pyramid structure is now set in a vast desert. I came in for a better view and have attached the measurements and significant data. This is a surprising achievement considering their lack of tools. Circling above, I could detect no discernable purpose for the structure. Interested, I ventured closer for a more intimate view and discovered a funeral procession in progress. As I observed superstitious traditions typical of this species and of no particular value to us, I ended my tour.

My current analysis for the Crestonian Science Department—as a race obsessed with structures, humans make exceptional use of tools. Devotion to their dead, though motivational to some, remains useless to us. Perhaps, given time, they will join passion with purpose and develop something we can value. Until then, I recommend we maintain regular observation but take no further action. After all, their pyramids may last longer than they do.

 

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 

Intercept Course

From Chapter One

OldEarth ARAM Encounter

Mud seeped between Aram’s toes. He shivered despite the sweat trickling down his spine. A shower of drops splattered across his face as he beat back the forest’s dangling vines and springy saplings. Exhaustion sapped his last bits of energy. With the back of his mud-smeared hand, he wiped his face.

Visions of a warm fire and venison haunches sizzling on spits caused his heart to momentarily fail. His weary limbs demanded rest, but he only shook his head. Not yet—but soon.

His people staggered in stupefaction. Their flight seemed never ending, their search futile. Danger lurked in every dark motion of the forest.

As his muscular body plodded through the root-gnarled muck of the late rainy season, a new light grew in his mind. He could still see the tawny-colored fur and glittering eyes of the beast as it snatched its first struggling, screaming victim. When he had heard the throaty growls and the moon’s glow had cast uneven shadows on the beast, he had frozen with horror in the face of the cat’s great size.

It had struck in twilight when light danced with utter blackness. His wife, Namah, hunch-backed and morose, had been directing the meal preparations. Her orders rang out shrill and abundant—as usual. The other women had obeyed with their typical, sullen compliance.

He had glanced at Namah as the mighty feline landed on its victim, and though her wide-eyed terror had matched his, she had thrown a rock at the retreating creature. Despite her crooked spine, she showed a strength of mind—not unlike that of the cat.

Even when he had thrown his spear and others joined in action with cries of fear and anguish, he knew it was too late. The night was too dark and the cat too mammoth to hunt in the gloomy forest.

Aram had known the youth well and agony had gripped his heart, but his mind would not respond to his grief—only to fear. If he gave his clan time to rest, their anguish might turn to madness. If he kept moving, they might outrun both beast and terror.

But they were past exhaustion now. The lands of their forefathers lay far behind them. They had entered lands unknown to his memory. They had always gained life from familiar trees, made suitable shelters, and found peace beneath their branches. The ancient woods gnarled together in a forest of immeasurable depth. But their frantic travels had led them into a foreign land.

~~~

—Ingoti are large beings originating from the planet Ingilium and range from six to seven feet tall. They are heavy due to their extensive weight and girth but are very fast and extremely powerful. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms.

—On Board an Ingoti Trading Vessel

Zuri, an Ingoti trader renowned for his clever deals, braced for impact, but there was little he could do to protect his co-pilot. Gem crouched, covering his head with his arms and hoped that the restraints would hold. The small trading vessel carved a deep furrow into the lush dirt and plowed into an Earthen hillside.

Blinking awake, Zuri considered his biomechanical techno-armor, and seeing it intact, he sighed in relief. Hobbling to the main console, he reviewed the status of the ship. Various systems blinked offline status, but life support held firm. Glancing back at the cargo hold, he ticked off the needed parts in his mind and stepped forward.

Gem lay sprawled across the floor, unconscious.

Crouching by his side, Zuri made a quick diagnostic review of Gem’s bio-suit and life signs. With a chuckle, he lightly slapped Gem’s ruddy cheek. “Get up, lazy fool. We’re already behind schedule, and Cresta’s are not known for their patience.”

Rising on his elbow with a groan, Gem shook his head like a confused Ingoti bullock. “I thought I was done for. What happened?”

Zuri stood and rubbed his back. “That replacement Orbital Maintenance you bought blew and sent us spiraling right into the atmosphere. Should’ve guessed. It was too cheap to be an honest deal.”

“Blast! I’ll pay them back for this; don’t worry.” Gem rose and started toward the console. “How long before we’re ready to set off again?”

His gaze rising to the ceiling, Zuri crossed his arms. “It’ll only take a few hours with both of us working on it. But, I’ve heard about this planet—how about we take a little tour?”

Gem scowled. “I’ve heard about humans, too. Primitive and—”

“I didn’t say anything about humans. By the Divide, if I wanted to go to the zoo, I’d visit the one on Helm.” He stroked his chin. “No, how about scouting around a little? There might be resources we could use. The Ingilum would pay dearly….”

A crooked smile crawled across Gem’s face.

~~~

While struggling through dense woodland, Gem wiped his sweaty brow. “How does anyone survive here? It’s not fit for habitation!”

Zuri shrugged. “Not where I would have chosen to land—”

A low growl stopped them both in their tracks.

Slowly, they turned. Zuri raised his Dustbuster and aimed as a tawny, four-legged beast drew near.

Gem swallowed. “That thing’s enormous!” Turning at the sound of human voices. He grinned. “Ah, it’s tracking them.” He pointed to a clearing where a large group of humans had settled down for rest.

Crouching low, Zuri peered between the branches until he could see the throng.

Men, women, and children crowded around a central figure, a tall muscled man with long, black hair.

Peering back at Gem, Zuri shook his head. “They’re practically naked—without any techno-armor at all. Amazing they’ve survived! They must be brighter than they look.” After stepping back, he sent low-power beam searing through the foliage near the huge, stalking cat, frightening the beast into the thick woods.

Gem scowled. “What’d you do that for? Let the whole planet know we’re here, why don’t you.”

Zuri pointed the Dustbuster at Gem. “Is there anything left of you—on the inside—I mean? We were once naked and helpless too. If the Cresta’s hadn’t taught us—”

“They used us in their studies. They weren’t being generous.”

“But we learned from them! That’s what counts.”

Gem stared at the Dustbuster in Zuri’s hand. “So, what’s your point?”

Shoving the weapon into his armor holster, Zuri shrugged. “I’m just giving them a chance to live and learn.” He stalked back toward the ship. “It’s time we left. I’ve got enough data to make up for the time we’ve lost.” He grinned as he swiped a branch out of his way. “The Cresta can pay us for both the cargo and the information.”

Gem marched behind. “And the Ingilum Supreme Command? What’ll they say?”

Zuri turned and, clasping Gem’s shoulder, he lifted his eyes to the sky. “Contrary to my expectations, I foresee a day when humans and their primitive world will be quite useful. We’re on an intercept course. In any case—information always pays.”

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

Now—I See

Planet Earth

A longhaired, square-shouldered man with a thin scar under his eye, wearing a short leather tunic and fibrous sandals, paced toward a rough cave entrance at the top of a steep rise. Gripping a carved walking stick in his hand, he pounded it against the rocky ground with each step.

A barefoot, slender woman with a pile of black hair coiled atop her head, wearing a thick, woolen tunic traipsed along behind. Tripping on a sharp stone, she yelped and reached out.

The man spun about and grabbed her hand. “Itali!” With a snort of caution, he nodded to her feet. “Careful. It gets rougher.”

Itali cupped his hand in hers and let him pull her closer, directing her to a smoother path. “Etum?”

Pulling her along the rise, he studied their path. “What?”

“Am I the first?”

Halting in mid-stride, Etum stopped and turned. Caressing her soft cheek, he grinned. “No one but you.”

Smiling from ear-to-ear, Itali dropped his hand and raced up the last steps to the cave entrance. With a rosy blush, she charged in.

A dark shadow falling across his face, Etum trotted after her and entered the cave.

The darkness beat the light of day to the edge of the cave entrance. A musty smell and a pile of leaves alerted Itali to the cold fireplace. Squatting, she stacked dry leaves with a practiced hand and laid twigs with strategic skill.

Etum knelt to her right and worked the flint, raising sparks, which soon kindled an infant fire. As the flames grew stronger, he trotted deeper into the cave and bundled broken branches into his arms. Laying three pieces in tripod fashion over the fire, he sniffed in satisfaction.

Itali caught his gaze and grinned in daring merriment. “Now?”

With a nod, he stood and clasped her hand. They turned and stepped to the right, facing a smooth wall. The flickering firelight illuminated a painting depicting a man with a spear before a large, horned animal. Itali gasped, sending a grin bounding across Etum’s features. Etum clasped his hands behind his back, his chest thrust forward and his chin rose. “You like it?”

In rapture, Itali clutched his arm and squeezed. “It’s beautiful. The best yet.”

Holding her close, Etum pointed to the place directly behind the painted man. “I’ll add you in if you’d like.”

Tilting her head, she scowled. “But how will anyone know it is you—or me?”

“I’ll tell them.”

“But when you’re not here. In the time to come?”

Etum considered the painting through brooding eyes.

Lifting a soft finger, Itali traced the scar on his face. Suddenly, she spun around, grabbed a stick from the fire, and knocked the flame dead, leaving only a sharp, smoldering tip. She handed it to him.

Etum frowned. “With this?”

“Draw—so all will know the master’s sign.” She pointed to a blank space near the man.

Leaning in concentration, Etum pressed the blackened stick against the cave wall, drew a face and seared it with a double wedge on the left side.

Itali took the stick and gestured to her hair. “When you draw me, add this, so all will know it is me.” She turned the stick so the wedge formed a peak at the top.

As the fire grew, so the gleam in Etum’s eyes brightened. “Now—I see.”

~~~

Planet Lux

Teal, a Luxonian light being in the form of a tall, angular, middle-aged man with thinning blond hair strode through his bedroom doorway and laughed at his wife. “You’re in bed already?” Plunking down on the edge of a curved couch, he clasped his hands together and sighed.

Violet, shimmering in her Luxonian light form as a lavender Bhuaci beauty with striking almond-shaped eyes beckoned with one finger. “You look terrible. Why didn’t you come home earlier? You know how exhausted you get with them.”

With a shrug, Teal shook his head. “I couldn’t leave. You’ll never believe what my artistic couple has discovered.”

Smoothing back the silky sheets, Violet rose and prowled to Teal’s side. Sliding herself under his arm, she snuggled in close. “You’re right; I’ll never guess. So tell me.”

Teal leaned back, pulling her tight against his chest. “Writing. They caught onto the idea. A signature today—tomorrow—who knows?” He ran his fingers through her sumptuous hair, smoothing it under his chin. “You smell delicious.”

Violet arched one raven eyebrow and tapped a scar along his chin. “Well, at least you’ve healed up. Those blasted barbarian—”

Kissing her palm, Teal chuckled. “It was an accident. They meant no harm. I approached too quickly and scared them.” Lying back again, his gaze rose toward the round ceiling window studded with brilliant stars and the glow of three moons. He sucked in a deep, cleansing breath. “They have remarkable qualities. No telling what they’ll learn—in a few thousand years.” His gaze met Violet’s. “I’m recommending to the Supreme Council that we continue our observations. I believe that this species has great potential; someday they may even be in a position to help us.”

Violet lowered herself onto Teal, purring as she slid snugly into place. “That’s why I love you so much. You always see the best in others—even humans.”

 

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

Common Destiny

Luxonians—light beings from planet Lux that can transform into any form they wish, usually matching their host’s physiology.

Crestonians—amphibious beings from the planet Crestar. They have no bones and wear a mechanical exoskeleton when out of the water. They have long, soft bodies and tentacles, while their eyes are large and watery. A large “brain sack” is tucked in a spiral shell on their head.

*Ingoti —androids from the planet Ingilium are large beings—up to seven feet tall with extensive weight and girth but still fast and powerful. They are never seen outside of their techno-organic armor and breather helms

 Bhuaci— shapeshifters from the planet Helm are gelatinous beings and often called the “perfect race” as they mold themselves into the physical ideal of any race they encounter. They have suffered massive persecution, and their sister planet was destroyed by the planet-eater Cosmos.

 ~~~

Cerulean, in his human form, wore casual clothes and stared at the magnificent painting before him—his gaze absorbing the hues of the landscape and the textures of the OldEarth farmhouse like a dying man inhaling his last, wholesome breath. Though the airy space surrounding him framed a myriad of OldEarth masterpieces in pristine clarity, a weary, echoing silence hung in the air.

Supreme Judge Sterling, a tall, ascetic-looking Luxonian arrayed in long, formal robes with flowing sleeves, strolled across the art gallery and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cerulean—kindred spirits with vastly different points of view.

Before either acknowledged the other, slapping footsteps drew near, rhythmically pacing the distance across the highly polished floor.

A Crestonian, Taug, in high, thick boots eyed the two Luxonians. He stopped two meters away. His bulbous eyes followed the zigzagging path of a horsefly, which suddenly alighted on a bench and morphed into a lithe, almond-eyed, young woman. The Crestonian exchanged grins with the Bhuachi female—Faye.

Sterling lifted his arm in salute. “Welcome, Taug, Faye! We’re glad you were able to come. We are still expecting Riko—”

A Uanyi in a crisp, white shirt, tight, blue slacks and wearing an OldEarth ball cap clumped into the room, his gaze swung right and left in long, sweeping arcs. As he met Cerulean’s gaze, he slowed and tilted his head in inquiry.

Refusing any delay, Sterling ushered them into a right corridor where the light dimmed to a faint glow. Landscape paintings of ancient OldEarth monuments arrayed the walls in somber reminiscence.

The passage flowed into a smaller, mustard-yellow room simply furnished with a circular table, chairs, and a counter armed with assorted drinks. With a snap of his fingers, Sterling illuminated a brilliant hologram of Newearth turning in space. Docked at one of the three modest satellite stations off Newearth, a small, red ship glowed in readiness.

After clearing his throat, Sterling’s deep timbered voice broke the expectant silence. “My friends, may I introduce—The Summons. She awaits her crew—ready for her glorious mission—to chase a riddle and ensure our salvation.”

Taug’s bulbous eyes flickered from Sterling to Cerulean, one tentacle rose. “Translation?”

Darting a glance at Sterling, Cerulean stepped forward. “I’m leading a small crew to the Divide to find Omega in the hopes that he will help us to defeat Cosmos before she arrives.”

Faye’s naturally pale face, blanched to sheer whiteness. “You go to your death. No one goes to the Divide.”

Taug flicked a tentacle airily. “Well, some go in, but none come out.”

Sterling strolled around the hovering hologram and pointed to a black mass. “It’s true; the Divide is a vast mystery leading unwary ships to their demise, but in our own desperation, Luxonians investigated further than any other beings, and we have found it is possible to get very close, jumping from safe space to another, like jumping from stone to stone across an ocean.”

Riko plodded forward, staring at the black mass. “Fool’s errand.” His wide-eyed gaze lifted and surveyed the assembly with a slight shrug. “Of course, since death is imminent anyway—”

Cerulean clapped his hands in impatience. “We have no choice. I have no choice, and I’m leading a willing crew. No one is forced to come. But while I search out Omega, there will be another ship—”

Sterling snapped his fingers again and another spacecraft—smaller, more angular, and metallic gray—floated at docking bay two, next to the Summons. “The Merrimack—a marvel of modern engineering—is ready to search out our common enemy and monitor her every movement.

Riko’s glare zeroed in on the small craft. “With all our abilities, one of our races should have destroyed Cosmos generations ago. Why is it left to Newearth to defeat her now?”

Touring around the hologram, Cerulean’s fingers slid along the table edge. He stopped in front of Riko and stared down. “Because no one dared. She is a planet-eating terror, and she always strikes the weakest planets. Like a virus, she smells discord and pounces when the inhabitants are obsessed with turmoil.” He sighed and moved past Riko, circling around, his gaze flowing over Newearth, absorbing her marble-like beauty.

“Newearth has been ripe for a disaster since her inception, but we have been gaining strength of late. We’re at a crossroads, whether to sink into a morass of divided beings or grow into a stronger world, ready to embrace a universe of possibilities. Cosmos knows this. She has waited for this ripening and now turns her appetite toward us.”

“We’re doomed?” Faye’s child-like eyes brimmed with tears.

Placing a firm hand on Cerulean’s shoulder, Sterling surveyed the assembly. “Not—if you save yourselves.”

Cerulean opened his arms. “This is Newearth’s hour of Common Destiny. What shall it be? An ancient death, devoured by an unfeeling beast or rising to new life?”

Taug nodded to the floor, then raised his bulbous eyes and grinned. “I’d like to stay alive. Where would you have me serve?”

Cerulean’s gaze flickered over Faye.

Grabbing Taug’s tentacle, she stepped up to Cerulean. “We’ll serve together.”

Four pairs of eyes swiveled toward Riko.

Riko pursed his lips and rubbed his jaw. “Yeah, yeah. You’ll need a communication center on Newearth, and my café serves up the wildest gossip possible—this side of the Divide—right along with our quality food.”

Sterling grinned. “Common Destiny prevails.”

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

Riko’s Uncle Clem

*Uanyi are smaller, slim creatures, standing about four to five feet tall. They are insectine with soft, rubbery exoskeletons as well as internal bones. Uanyi most prominent features are their enormous eyes, some almost a foot in diameter, which is endearing to some, but nightmare fuel to others. Their bright colorations are also striking as are their long necks. Uanyi do not breath the same air mixture as humans, and so they wear breathing masks that cover their mouths. Many humans find their crab-like mandibles rather frightening. Although they speak with synthesized voices, they have a terrific grasp of various languages.

 *Ingoti are large, ranging from six to seven feet tall. They are heavy due to their extensive weight and girth but are fast and extremely powerful. 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. They are scientists at heart, but their moral reasoning tends to be very black and white, almost child-like.

Riko stared at the larger-than-life screen and felt his Uanyi physique tremble beneath his immaculate white shirt and pressed, dark blue pants. He swallowed and tried not to blink too rapidly.

Uncle Clem beamed a radiant grin across the universe, his excitement apparent in his waving hands and nearly epileptic shaking. “It’ll be like ol’ times, Riko! You and me—against all opposing forces. We can—”

Riko raised a thick-fingered hand. “Uncle Clem, stop! Listen. It’s not like that here. I own an establishment, a nice place. Beings come from all over Newearth just to enjoy my varied cuisine and OldEarth-style comforts. There are no opposing forces.”

With a shake of his head, Uncle Clem dispelled that foolish naiveté. “If you think that just because things are calm at the moment means it’ll always be so, then you’re not thinking like a Uanyi. We know our history. Worlds change. Cultures change. Clashes are inevitable.”

A clattering of dishes falling into the auto-wash forced Riko to glance away and yell at the new waiter. “Hey, careful there! Dents ruin reputations. You’re not paid to kill my business.”

Apologetic murmurs and a softer rattling allowed Riko to return to his uncle. “Listen, you’re welcome to come and stay as long as you like. I just don’t want you to think that you need to fix anything. Nothing is broken. Life is good here.”

Uncle Clem nodded, his shoulders straighter and his eyes darker. “You do know about Cosmos, the planet-eater, right?”

Riko swallowed, his hands clasped behind his back. “I’ve heard rumors—but they’re only rumors. I’ve got friends, and they’re looking into things. The Interalien Alliance is working with the Luxonian Supreme Council, and even the Ingoti Magisterium is—”

A weary hand stopped Riko’s assurances. “And the humans? What about the Newearth Governor? She’s gonna to let alien races decide Newearth’s fate?”

A huge Ingot strode forward in her bulky techno-organic armor and hissed through her breathing helm in Riko’s ear.

Riko scrunched his shoulders reflexively. He listened and then glanced back at the screen. “Listen, I got to get back to work. One of my customers just drank himself under the table, and no one wants to admit that he’s got a problem. A regular…you know.” Riko heaved his shoulders and shook off his concerns. “I’m glad you’re coming, Uncle Clem, really. Just don’t expect too much. We live a pretty boring existence here—and I don’t want to change that. You understand?”

Uncle Clem held up his laced, tented fingers in Uanyi I-promise-or-hope-to-die fashion. “Trust me. I want what you want. I’m just coming to see you and bask in your success.”

Riko nodded. “Stupendous. See you in the next moon cycle then.”

The screen blinked to black, and Riko stood silent.

The Ingot returned and tapped him on the shoulder.

Riko looked up, his huge bulbous eyes fixed on his hostess. “Yeah? What now?”

The ingot shrugged sheepishly. “Taking a bit of risk—aren’t you?”

Riko glared and poked the Ingot in the chest. “What’s the risk? He’ll come, and everything’ll be fine.”

“Maybe. Or he’ll come and find nothing but space debris.” The Ingot paced away. “Course, he could get in the way and become space debris.”

Riko froze.

~~~

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

Jazzmarie

The grin on Jazzmarie’s face startled Max. As an android with human tendencies, or, as Cerulean like to say—Android Extraordinaire—Max considered himself something of an expert on pretty much everything. But from the moment that Jazzmarie first stepped her dainty foot on the deck of the Merrimack, he felt bewildered. Worse—completely disarmed. He glanced over as she tapped the communications console. She was still grinning. Max veered his eyes away. Quickly.

Jazzmarie looked up and stared, her grin still wavering like a mirage in the desert. “By the Divide, what are you so scared of?”

Though Max’s skin was entirely synthetic and he could never actually jump out of it, suddenly the Oldearth expression made horrific sense to him. Clamping his jaws into what he hoped were impressive bulges, he turned sharply. “I am not scared of anything.” His gaze skimmed directly over Jazzmarie’s head.

Stepping over, Jazzmarie propped herself on her tiptoes and raised her head to eye level, intercepting his gaze. “So why do you look pale enough to rival a Greek Goddess?”

Flummoxed, Max’s eyes searched for an escape. His gaze grazed her lips. “For your information, Miss Marie—”

“Nope.”

Max tilted his head; his mouth froze in the O position.

“My name is Jazzmarie. One word. My parents liked how the sounds flowed together.” Her fingers caressed the edge of the console as she emitted a plaintive sigh. “I wouldn’t have minded something from my native Oldearth heritage like Arjun or Sachin, but—” the grin was swallowed whole by a determined pout, “—Mom liked Jazz and Dad liked Marie, so….”

With a blank stare, Max reverted to the facts at hand. “I’m not scared—just naturally pale. I am an android embedded with an embryonic human brain that has developed—actually overwhelmed—parts of me.”

Raising one eyebrow, Jazzmarie twirled toward the medical database console and tapped the surface. “Which parts?”

Max practiced an eye roll like the one he had seen Cerulean preform to devastating effect. Unfortunately, it took three tries to achieve a complete rotation. Max gripped the railing for support.

Jazzmarie waved with a couple dainty fingers. “Just joking. I know all about you. Don’t think I would sign aboard a mission without knowing the crew intimately—do you?” With a startling jerk, she stretched and yawned. “By golly, I’ve already put in a full day. What say we get something to eat? This little rocket ship has got a sweet canteen according to the specs.”

Max squared his shoulders and lifted his head. If he was right, this formidable woman had just asked him for a date. Flinging a gallant elbow aside, he nodded his assent.

Jazzmarie took his arm; her grin led the way.

~~~

The canteen’s décor left much to be desired by most human standards. Gray walls surrounding three, pale blue tables with seats enough for twelve, and the barest culinary choices set a Spartan tone. Max ordered his favorite yogurt-plus and a coffee, while Jazzmarie selected a grilled tomato & cheese sandwich and a hot cocoa.

Jazzmarie slipped onto one swivel chair, sliding her tray on the table, and huffed in disgust. “Good thing I have a vivid imagination or this wasteland would get me down.” She snapped her fingers in Max’s direction. “Wait—great idea flooding my brain!”

Horror rippled across Max’s face as he spluttered his coffee.

Without ceremony, Jazzmarie mopped up the spray. “I have a set of OldEarth visuals that I can plaster over the walls. It’ll look so cool—”

Max attempted a semblance of dignity. “Our preferred temperature range is—”

“Just an ancient expression, Maximan. Now, look—” she sipped hot cocoa from her mug, “I’ve researched everything about this Cosmos we’re chasing, but I bet you know more. You’ve traveled all the highways and byways—right? I want to see this mission from your perspective.”

Holding a spoon brimful of a yogurt-granola mix approximately seventeen centimeters from his open mouth, Max waited.

Jazzmarie frowned. “What?”

Resuming his trajectory, Max slurped, chewed, and swallowed. He titled his head in consideration of the woman across the table. “I do not think it is within the realm of possibility that you seen anything from my perspective. It isn’t physically—”

Jazzmarie waved his words away like dust. “So? You think we can stop this monster?”

Placing his spoon beside his bowl, Max crossed his legs and leaned back. He attempted a studious expression. “I must take issue with the term ‘monster.’ Technically, Cosmos is a massive, simple-celled, space creature that feeds off planetary matter. While a monster is—”

“Someone’s nightmare, I know.” Jazzmarie’s gaze traveled around the perimeter of the room. “She’s got that painted all over her.” Jazzmarie’s gaze returned to Max. She let it rove over him a moment as a slow smile tugged at her lips. “I like your style, Maximan. No jumping to conclusions or hasty appraisals.” She took a huge bite out of her sandwich and chewed, her grin back in full force.

Max gulped his coffee heedless of the burn scorching his throat.

After Jazzmarie had polished off her sandwich and pushed aside her empty cup, she snatched a glance at her data-pad. “Jumping Jackdogs, Roux and the new gal will be here any moment.” She pointed to the pink, gelatinous mass in front of him. “You better finish that up in a hurry, or you might look unprofessional on your first day.”

Grabbing the edge of the dish, Max lifted it to his lips and slurped the contents in one last, desperate effort.

The door slid open revealing the Luxonian commanding officer, Roux, and his  Bhuaci assistant, Yelsa Prater, standing side-by-side. Roux stepped in, and Yelsa followed.

Jazzmarie shot to her feet saluting smartly.

Roux walked forward, a little frown embedded in his forehead. “No ceremony with me, Doctor.” He glanced at Max.

Max stood and thrust out a stiff hand. A pink circle highlighted his lips.

Roux’s hand rose to his face with an automatic swiping motion. Regaining his composure, he shook Max’s hand, sparing a hesitant glance at the doctor. “Max, you and the doctor have gotten acquainted, I see.” After a sizable swallow, he faced the doctor head on. “Are you comfortably settled in?”

With the most serious expression Max had seen all day, Jazzmarie nodded and clipped her words with deadly precision. “Certainly. Thank you for asking.” Her gaze fixed on Yelsa. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Roux waved in Yelsa’s direction. “Yelsa Prater, tactical expert, the renowned Doctor Jazzmarie.”

Yelsa swung out a confident hand. “It is an honor. I have been looking forward to meeting you.”

Roux’s gaze swept over Max who stood back watching with raised eyebrows, the pink circle still in place. As a sweat broke over his brow, Roux gripped Max’s arm. “I need to see you a moment.” With an authoritative tug, he jerked Max to the other side of the room, swiped a napkin from a dispenser, and waved it in the direction of Max’s mouth.

In bug-eyed comprehension, Max wiped his lips. “Sorry, Sir. I was distracted—”

Roux shook his head and glanced back at the two women. “Never mind.” His gaze stayed fixed on the doctor. After a moment, he turned and faced Max. “I’m just glad that Doctor Jazzmarie didn’t see your…little indiscretion.”

Max shrugged. “She practically choreographed—” He blinked. “Why do you say that?”

With another tug, Roux yanked Max to a side counter and turned his back on the women. “You’re not from around here, so you wouldn’t know her reputation. Just don’t make that woman mad; that’s all I ask. She is Newearth’s medical leader in alien biology and has more reconstruction surgeries under her belt than any being this side of the Divide, but her temper is as renowned as she is—devilish—they say.”

Tilting his body slightly, Max veered his gaze around Roux and over the renowned, and now quite composed, Doctor Jazzmarie. Taking a deep breath, he nodded and swiveled back to Roux. “She certainly has a dangerous grin.”

~~~

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