Our Own Way

From ScienceNews.org

“Earth’s climatic future is uncertain, but the world needs to prepare for change…climate scientists also use these simulations to envision a range of different possible futures, particularly in response to climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. These Choose Your Own Adventure–type scenarios aim to predict what’s to come…”

I am quite convinced of three points here—that the Earth’s climate is changing, that humans are stewards of the Earth, and that we are terrible at predicting anything.

The fact that the climate is changing seems rather obvious in light of the fact that once upon a time we were in an ice age and now we’re not. That we, as human beings with hot ideas and a penchant for making our lives simpler, easier, and more comfortable without realizing the cost, have altered the planet isn’t on the far side of believable. But I shake in my boots when we embrace “this is what the future looks like” scenarios. Not because they couldn’t possibly happen, but because, in a strange way, through our imagining them, we make them the very least likely thing to happen.

That’s where fiction comes in. The power of fiction is not that it simply tells an entertaining story, but good fiction tells the truth through an imaginary lie. Shadows outlining reality. Not how it actually is or is going to be, but shadowing the spirits of heroes and monsters stalking us through the highways and byways of human history.

I’m not suggesting that scientists can’t wring their hands with the best of us, worrying about our great-great-grandkids’ futures, but rather that we should take a cautionary peek inside ourselves as much as stare at threatening simulations.

As a teacher, I well remember the grand conferences where we’d gather in scholarly-bulk and the latest-greatest and most advanced reading programs would be laid before our wondering eyes. After a hearty lunch, we’d head back to our rooms and try to apply our newfound knowledge so that we could enflesh that glorious hope and teach our twenty-some kids to read. The next day, I’d have a kid whose mother threw a shoe at him on the way out the door, another child with an upset stomach, and one dad bellowing about the sports program. I’d scratch my head and pray I could manage to keep the class from breaking into hives, much less teach them to read.

In my Kindle Vella series, Homestead, I envision a rural homemaker trying to manage in a world where technology has crashed, and her husband doesn’t make it home. The key for her, teachers everywhere, and those humans who actually care about the Earth is that in order to achieve a noble end, we have to do a lot of little things right. And they have to be done at home. Up close and personal. Self-discipline married to selflessness.

Kids aren’t so keen to read when mom and dad are having emotional meltdowns. Improvements in the US, China, India, or any other country, aren’t going to happen simply because computer simulations show future generations wearing gas masks embedded in their skin.

The value of a good story, the ones that really stop human beings in their tracks, are the ones where we see ourselves reflected in the cause as well as the effect. It’s not because people are terrible, evil beings that we suffer climate change or any other danger. It’s because we like to travel far and fast, use air conditioners and refrigerators, eat lots of meat, and have our own way more than we care about long-term effects on others. Yes, we can make laws demanding lower emissions and whatnot, but as long as there are black-market buyers, there will be black-market sellers, and so it goes.

Whether we believe in a hot-house Earth, crashing technology, out of control bots, scammers extraordinaire, or whatever nightmare we can simulate, like Rosie, we must accept in our day-to-day lives, we are the homemakers or the home breakers—be it on the ground floor or in the middle of a solar system.

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

Kindle Vella Homestead

https://amzn.to/3B79Qqz

Science News https://www.sciencenews.org/article/climate-change-projections-2500

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/children-future-america-usa-2883627/

Speck in the Universe

Pete, flushed and sweaty from running across the playground, huffed as he caught up with his friend. “Mom said that they’re spreading space junk all over the atmosphere, and aliens’ll get really mad. Maybe annihilate us all cause of it.”

Bert crossed his arms and shifted onto one leg, bracing himself on the chain-link fence. “Aw, that’s stupid. Those NASA folks are experts. They know what they’re doing. Sides, we’re alone in the universe.” He pointed at the blue sky. “Not even plants up there. Just lots of rocks flying about in gi-norous empty space.”

His hand perched on his hips, Pete’s cheeks darkened. “That’s what you say. But I’m positive that aliens exist. I read a whole book on alien abductions. Really cool.”

Bert lowered his gaze and narrowed his eyes. “You’d be okay with getting dissected and studied, and then put back together and sent home to have weird dreams for the rest of your life?”

Pete shrugged. “I’d go to an analyst. Mom’s analyst tells her what her dreams mean and where she’s really from—”

“Please. I’d die if I had to tell anyone my dreams.”

Bert scrunched his eyebrows together and kicked a stone. “Still, I’d rather take a chance on being dissected than believe we’re alone.”

Sticking the edge of his tennis shoe into the fifth row of links, Pete hefted himself up and climbed to the top. He swung a leg over and perched on the bar. “What’s so bad about being alone? Even if there were aliens, we’d just be a speck to them.” He peered down. “You saw what Mr. James showed us…solar systems, galaxies, universes…it went on and on. We’re lost in it all—invisible.”

Bert propped his hand over his eyes, blocking the sun. “You’d better get down. They upped the suspension time.”

Pete laughed. “Suspension? Who cares? I’d just listen to music and watch stuff. Better than listening to teachers yammer on about things I’ll have to fact check later. Like it matters.”

Bert leaned on the fence, his face tired and drawn. He wiped his sweaty brow. “I guess that’s why I like aliens. Maybe they’d care. Maybe they’d think we do matter—even though we’re just a tiny speck in the universe.”

A man called from across the yard. “Hey! Off that fence, boy, or I’ll have you running laps after school.”

Pete scrambled down and frowned, his gaze darting from the cement to the angry teacher. “Geesh. You’d think he owned it!”

Bert squinted at the man who turned and strode away. “Kinda does. He’s in charge of the yard—he’ll get blamed if we damage school property.”

A shrill bell rang, sending a flurry of students to the door.

Pete slumped across the yard. “Who cares?”

Bert followed along beside his friend, watching the teachers line up, waiting for their students. “I think they do.”

~~~

Zuri, dressed in a battered mechanical exoskeleton, hefted a large cylindrical object over his shoulder and nodded to the Cresta before him. “Thanks, Uv. I heard they don’t make these parts anymore.”

Uv bowed with his four tentacles wrapped daintily behind his thick middle. His stained bio-suit bulged at the seams with every move. “Think nothing of it. I always like to serve my faithful customers with special care.”

Zuri started toward the ship’s open bay door. He stopped and turned around. “Just one little question.”

Uv’s bulbous blue eyes blinked in innocence. “Yes?”

“Just outta curiosity—where’d you find it?” He shifted the tube further back on his square shoulder. “I looked everywhere.”

Uv’s thick lips wobbled in a perky grin. “Well, normally, I don’t give away my secrets—but you’re one of a kind, Zuri. I don’t mind being clear water with you.” He glanced aside.

Two Crestas consulted a console to the right and spoke in low murmurs.

Twitching Zuri’s arm, Uv motioned him closer to the bay door. They stopped at a large color-coated map of their sector. Uv tapped a section on the left. “You can’t see it, but there’s a speck here that’s quite valuable. A tiny system in what they call the Milky Way.” He shuddered. “Don’t ask me what they were thinking. Disgusting name.”

Zuri frowned and leaned in. “You mean Earth? I’ve been there. Barbaric. Full of wild animals and wilder people.”

Uv’s eyes widened. “When were you there?”

“Centuries ago.” Zuri patted his chest. “I’ve had almost all new parts put in since then.”

Uv pursed his lips. “Looks like you might need a few new ones soon.” He shook himself. “Well, anyway, they’ve gotten past the crust…put primitive vessels into space…and dropped parts along the way.”

Zuri tilted his head, his gaze swerving to the object on his shoulder, his eyebrows arching. “This comes from—”

“We had to make alterations to make the blasted thing useful. But, as far as raw parts are concerned, Earth is a fertile field.” His lips puffed into a smile. “Crestas make the most of every situation.”

Zuri thrust out his own chest. “Ingots are famous for resourcefulness.” He turned and strutted toward the door. “I’ll have to make a return visit to that planet.” He waved and chuckled. “Never know what a little speck might offer.”

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

ne1jacoverv6front

http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Found guilty of war crimes, Justine Santana, a Human-Android hybrid is shut down. Taug, an alien from Crestar, must eliminate his father’s mistake—a crossbreed named Derik. When Taug awakens Justine and charges her with the assignment to kill Derik, he never suspects that she might discover the meaning of love and her intrinsic humanity. Her freedom hangs in the balance. Is she a woman—or a weapon?

“Enjoyed the read. Characters were actually fun to learn about” ~Walter

“The Newearth world is wonderfully descriptive and the story is compelling.” ~Ellen

“Science fiction at its best! Creative, thought-provoking, and visual.” ~Lindens

“…delightfully, yet seriously, points to the great value in simply being human.” ~Kaye

Impossible Beings

For a read-aloud of this story, check out https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Impossible-Beings-esf863

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 a 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 a 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 eyes, determined chin, squared shoulders, barrel chest, and muscular legs screamed classic male beauty.

Crimson tilted 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.”

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

For other science fiction short stories—Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella

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

Good Fortune

Amazon Link: Newearth Justine Awakens

Clare sailed across the street, scrolling through her datapad.

Her smile faded. Mrs. Lane Hoggsworth had been found dead in her home late last night, Day 73, Year 53 Newearth reckoning. Clare’s brows furrowed in irritation. If the woman had been more important, Human Services would have pulled in a high-profile investigator, but as it stood, she was only important to her family, and they didn’t have much money or influence. After all, the deplorably dark saying, “It’s only a human,” held sway in a world where humans were the minority and considered, by some, to rate only slightly above their wildlife counterparts—like snakes and eagles.

She checked the time and her scowl deepened. If Bala showed up late for his first big assignment, there’d be trouble. She wasn’t going to blow this case, not for him and his sil- ly-fool addiction to hearth and home. Not that she minded his family-ties mindset. Everyone had a right to an obsession. She planned to build a safe house in the wilderness someday. She had even saved up for flying lessons. But with each new case, she realized there was no escaping Newearth reality. Not even on an island.

Clare rounded the corner and ducked into The Breakfast Nook, nearly colliding with Bala’s skinny frame. “You’re late!”

“Am not!” Bala held up his datapad and smirked. “Thirty seconds to go.” He tapped his finger on his wrist screen, his copper-colored face breaking into a wide smile. “Good thing I have a timer, or I might’ve been. You should have seen Kendra jump when the alarm went off. I set it so loud the whole street could hear it.”

Clare shook her head and waved him through the door. “It amazes me that you manage to keep your head attached. Some folks don’t take kindly to loud noises. How about if—”

A seven-foot Ingot hostess with thick bio-armor and leathery skin ushered them to a booth in the back.

“—A Bhuac took offence? You know how irritable they get with high-pitched sounds. One could have slipped over and picked off half of your family.”

Bala grimaced. “You’re always exaggerating! It so happens that we do have a shape-shifter down the way, but we’ve been on very good terms ever since I saved one of their pod-thingys from submersion. How it got in the gutter—don’t even ask— but I was in the right place at the right time and, you know, as secretive as they can be, they really do have a deep capacity for gratitude.”

“Oh, please!” Clare looked up at the impatient hostess. “Coffee, strong as you can make it while still keeping it liquid, a honey-grain bar, large energizer salad, and fruit of the day.”

The hostess turned her full black-eyed glare upon Bala who was perusing the menu as if he hadn’t memorized it long ago. “Coffee, cream, toast and…some bacon and eggs.”

The hostess lunged. She gripped Bala’s heavy plaid shirt and hauled his whole body into the air, leaving Clare stunned into gasping silence.

With arms flailing helplessly, Bala had just enough air to beg. “Just a joke! Really. Kidding. I didn’t mean anything…seriously. Let me down. Please?”

The hostess dropped him and shook her datapad in his face. Her techno-organic armor glistened a reddish-purple as her breathing helm hissed. “You want to order, then order. No sick jokes. Eggs and bacon! What next? You think it’s funny to talk like that, but there are some who wouldn’t mind eating you!”

Bala rubbed his neck and sniffed in a long cleansing breath. “You’re right, it was stupid of me. Really…quite insensitive. I’d just been reading some Oldearth novels, you know. Fiction? Stories? Anyway, they made everything sound so delicious— Sorry! I didn’t mean that. I just—”

Clare’s glare could have melted a polar cap. “Would you order before you get us both killed?”

“Coffee, chocolate pudding, and a raisin-nut bar, extra-large.”

The hostess pounded away, huffing.

“You are such an idiot sometimes, you know that? What was I thinking when I hired you?”

Bala’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Oh, you were thanking God above that I’m going to save you from the hideous fate of trying to solve all of humanity’s problems single-handedly. It is funny how we don’t recognize our good fortune when it’s staring right at us.” Bala’s grin practically engulfed his face.

Slapping her hand on the table, Clare leaned in and hissed, “Good fortune? It was pity, pure and simple. I couldn’t let that lovely wife of yours and your brood of—how many is it now—six? Six helpless humanoids suffer from the sad fate of having you as the head of provisions.”

Bala turned his less-than-symmetrical face aside to display his profile. “At least I’m as handsome as a Greek god, you’ve gotta give me that.”

The hostess returned and slammed down two mugs of steaming coffee, slopping a little on Bala’s hand.

Bala slipped his hand into his lap with a stifled “Ooo-ahh,” looking every which way but at the hostess.

Clare nodded her appreciation and waited till the hostess stomped off.

“As I was saying, we have a job to do. Mrs. Hoggsworth didn’t blow a hole through herself. Her husband is nearly suicidal and her son wants revenge. Neither of them has much money, but the son has connections to the Michigan territories. I’ve got my eye on a little spot over there. If we can work out a deal, I might be able to find a place for my island getaway, and you might get a little stretch in the woodlands on the northern coast. It’d be away from the usual madness, and you could raise your clan in relative safety.” Clare clapped her hand on her forehead. “So long as you don’t go around ordering bacon and eggs.”

Bala leaned in, returning her earlier hiss. “Listen, there are those of us who believe that meat and eggs are not off the menu. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of animal flesh, so long as it isn’t from one of the sentient beings.”

“Tell that to one of the Race Relation Councilors, and you’ll find yourself in treatment, boy-o.”

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

For One Purpose

Amazon Link Newearth Justine Awakens

Slowly, deliberately, a light scalpel moved over cold flesh. “Tell me, do you fear death?” Mitholie, a brilliant Cresta renowned throughout the interplanetary scientific community, fixed his companion with a hard gaze as they stood in the bright-lit Crestar laboratory.

Taug, an up-and-coming apprentice, let a tentacle drift through the warm salt water of his bio-suit. His large, golden, watery eyes gazed coolly at the specimen lying suspended in the examination tube. “No. Why should I fear a void?” His eyes slowly rose to meet the elder’s scrutiny.

“Well—” Sensitive tentacles curled about the delicate equipment as Mitholie’s green eyes returned to the subject of their examination. “—your sociological profile says you…dislike death.” The light scalpel cut deeper, revealing bone. Mitholie’s mouth orifice lit up with a pleased smile.

Taug moved his bio-suit slightly nearer, bending over the examination tube. His eyes, lit by the dim, icy-blue lighting, flickered over the specimen. “I don’t fear death. I see it as a waste.”

“A waste?”

“Yes. I calculate waste on how hard it is to retrieve lost data.” Taug sucked in water letting it drift slowly over his gills. “A brain sack once destroyed is gone, forever beyond our reach.”

Mitholie scanned each of the specimen’s organs carefully, individually. “But what if I no longer need that mind?”

“It’s hard to tell when and how something might be useful, or even worse, necessary.”

“You have an…intriguing mind.” Mitholie turned a lump of flesh in his tentacles.

Taug watched intently. “Beyond that, there is practical reality. I’m neither a trained soldier nor an assassin.” He gestured with waving tentacles, “Like you, science is my passion.”

“Your father’s pet project has been identified—alive.” Mitholie’s eyes remained fixed on his work, ignoring Taug.

Taug slowly exhaled water. “I would say that was impossible, but I know the High Tribunal must be certain or else you wouldn’t have told me.” His mouth orifice remained in a fixed smile. “Is this a favor? Am I being offered a chance to commit suicide before the messy business of torture, trial, and execution?”

Mitholie spasmed, his long body wiggling with glee, “No such dramatics, no.” His tentacles released the delicate equipment; he looked Taug in the eye. “The High Tribunal simply wishes you to…purge your father’s unfortunate experiment. That done, I’m sure this messy business can be consigned to the dark waters.”

Taug’s tentacles curled thoughtfully. “Forgotten?”

“And forgiven.”

“I’ll need its location.”

With a flick of a tentacle to his bio-suit, Mitholie effected a transaction. “I’m transferring the data now. By the way, hiring another Cresta to kill it is…unadvised. The High Tribunal wishes the waves of the ‘humons’ to be kept tranquil, at least for now. Besides, you have contacts? Yes?”

Taug’s eyes moved swiftly, scanning the long streams of data crossing before his eyes. “Yes….”

Mitholie laid down his knife and stepped back. “Very good. I’ll go with you to the harbor dock.”

Taug stepped aside. “Thank you.”

Together they moved down the sterile, rounded, white hallway, deep in secretive conversation. Plugging their bio-suits into the wall jacks, they shed them, and came out on the other side of the wall free, gliding through dark water.

The human specimen floated in the examination tube, alone…

~~~

For more of this novel check out Newearth Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

Survival of the Fittest

Ling believed in wood-folk with her whole soul. The magic of a mid-winter snowstorm over sleeping fields opened a doorway into a world of scheming squirrels and spirit-filled pine trees. A cawing raven warned the tree-stump mouse family of a stalking calico cat while swaying trees forecasted an impending storm.

Though Ling could hear the voices plain enough, their actual words eluded her. The sound of their murmuring sent a warm thrill through her chilled body as she trudged across the newly fallen snow with a bulging backpack slung over her shoulder.

Skipping up the frozen steps to her snug house at the end of the block, she huffed a white plume of smoke into the air. Before turning the door handle with her mittened hands, she turned and bowed goodnight to her wood-folk-friends. No doubt they wished her well through the silent evening glow, and she, in turn, would not forget them.

After tugging off her wet boots and dropping her pack in a heap, she tiptoed down the dark hall toward her father’s study. His bent figure leaned over a hardwood desk with a computer screen outlining the edges of his head. Swallowing back her anxiety, Ling timidly tapped on the doorframe.

A shuffle and a snort precluded his slow turn. Black eyes in a pale face peered at the doorway.

Ling dropped her gaze.

“So, you made it home on time today.”

Ling nodded but stayed in place. “Yes, Papa.”

He granted permission to enter with a slight beckoning gesture. “Come in.” His gaze darted back to the screen. “There’s not much more I can do here today.”

Ling scuttled forward and placed her small hand on the arm of his chair. Her eyes flickered to the screen. A gorgeous painting of a woodland scene snatched her breath away. Her fingers rose as if to touch the gently swaying tendrils of an enormous weeping willow.

Her father wrapped a loose arm around her waist and drew her closer, his gaze joining hers. “It’s for a mid-western university. They want to demonstrate their inclusiveness by commissioning art from every culture in the world.”

Ling blinked, the spell broken. “Inclusiveness?”

The old man shrugged. “Art can be a unifying force.” He tilted his head. “Of course, it can be enslaved by a propaganda machine just as easily.” Ling’s puzzled frown brought a tired smile to her father’s face. “You are too young for such things. Enjoy your freedom while you may.”

Placing her hand on his silky sleeve, Ling pressed his arm in excitement. “I saw a red fox sneaking across the field. He’s been threatening the other animals, wants to rule the west woodland. Do you think the—?”

A shrill call cut through the air. “Ling? Come here, child, and bring your school bag.”

Her whole body drooping under a sudden weight, Ling stepped back toward the door. She gazed at her father. “You should draw a fox peeking out from behind the tree.”

The old man’s eyes shifted from the picture to his daughter, surprise on his brow but pleasure in his eyes. “Why?”

She trudged across the threshold, her eyes darting toward the kitchen. “Because—there’s always a fox around somewhere.”

~~~

After hours of study, Ling’s eyes burned with exhaustion. Her blurry vision made it difficult to make out the text before her. Her mother filled the kettle for tomorrow’s tea and set it in its designated place on the stove. The immaculate room stood in readiness for the next day to meet the demands of a peak performance.

In her weary haze, Ling wondered if a kitchen could revolt—demand a rest from the never-ending grind of routine preparations. Pots and pans, stovetops, counters, scraping, cleaning, bubbling, oil, smoke, dishes, and grime, wiping—endlessly wiping—it all away, only to start over the next morning before the sun even hinted at the day.

“What has gotten into you, child? You’ve been sitting there for an hour, and nothing is done. You know your exams are next month. You want to be ready.”

Ling nodded.

Her mother placed a damp hand on her shoulder. “You won’t succeed unless you work hard and try—”

“Mama?”

Her mother stared down, their gazes locking.

An implicit allowance offered Ling courage. “We’re supposed to make a family tree and describe our cultural heritage in class next week.”

A stiff jerk and the mother’s gaze shifted to the wall. “That won’t be hard. I have our whole lineage written down, and your father can tell you what each person did for a living.”

Ling shook her head, dissatisfaction pressing on her shoulders like a lead weight. “I’d rather take one of Papa’s pictures to show. That would—”

Her mother turned and swiped the clean counter with a vicious smack. “Pictures are only illusions. Don’t be ridiculous. Our family has survived a great deal—more than most—and we did it by facing facts and working hard.”

“But Papa’s pictures—”

“Your father makes pictures because he is paid to do so. He is an illustrator. He works at his job—as you will too before long.”

Her mother’s unflinching gaze squeezed Ling’s heart.

“It’s survival of the fittest, just like all the books say. And you, Ling, must survive.”

Ling’s gaze dropped to the floor. A small brown knothole in the wainscoting caught her eye. In sudden wakefulness, she thought she saw a small mouse dart out an inquiring face, blinking a question at her. It seemed to ask, “Why?” But Ling had no answer.

~~~

Two dozen years later, Ling pushed her father’s frail form engulfed in a wheelchair through the wide doors out into spring sunshine. A trailing line of elderly people sat like potted plants on the edge of the retirement property. Small blooms added texture to the scene. She found a quiet corner and pressed the brake lever with her foot. Her father, asleep again, would rest in the mild sunshine for an hour or so, until the nurses collected their charges and set them all in a straight row at the long table for a noon dinner.

A passing nurse stopped and patted Ling’s shoulder. “I heard about your mama. So sorry. But your papa is beyond worry now. Just be glad he’s so content.”

Ling nodded and choked back a rising sob. She let her gaze fall on the surrounding scenery. No one could fault the clean and professional atmosphere. Suddenly, her eyes fell on the swaying branches of a weeping willow in a neighboring yard.

She felt a hand on her arm. Looking over, she met her papa’s gaze. “I painted in the fox, but I forgot something.”

With wide-eyes, Ling marveled at her father’s sudden lucidity. “What? What could you have forgotten, Papa?”

His eyes drooped in weariness, though a feeble finger shook in emphasis. “I forgot to paint a little girl—to admire the tree and keep an eye on the fox.”

~~~

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

Skeletons

In a cherry picker bucket twenty feet from the ground, Charles Gilmore, heavyset with a small bald spot, wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his arm. He squinted at the intricate arrangement of wires.

Saunders, tall, lean, and dressed in jeans and a blue shirt, stood on the other side of the bucket. He concentrated on the connections before him.

Charles twisted a wire into place and glanced at Saunders. “At least it isn’t raining, eh?”

Saunders nodded; his attention focused on the wires. “I just want to tie this—”

Charles gasped. A spark caught the corner of his eyes, and he scowled. “Hey, you sure everything’s dead?”

Saunders froze. “I turned off the main—”

“Stop, look here. It’s sparking! How the—?”

Saunders lifted his hands away and glanced around. “They all go to that main terminal, see, right there. I turned it off securely, or we’d be toast already.”

Pressing a lever, Charles lowered the bucket to the ground. “Something caused that spark. I sure as hell didn’t imagine it.” He labored over the uneven ground toward the main box and surveyed the vacant field. He grunted. “There was a house here once.”

Saunders’ eyes roved right and left. “How can you tell?”

Charles pointed to his feet. “Look down.” He kicked through the thin grass, exposing a segment of a cement cover. “It’s an old well covering. Probably buried when the house was taken down. They must’ve had a line here.”

“And it’s not cut off? Don’t be crazy. Besides, the main—”

“Look at that old house over there. It’s a distance, but it’s fed by a different system. Perhaps this one is too. Come on.” Charles started to pace away.

Saunders trotted alongside as they crossed the tussocks of grass.

Charles glanced at his watch. “Dang.”

Saunders’ eyebrow rose. “What?”

“I told Jill I’d be home early. Won’t happen now. And she’s already miffed.”

Saunders marched evenly at Charles’ side, staring at the ground. “Wives. Glad I don’t have to mess with one.”

“It’s not all bad, but she’s all bent out of shape lately—it’s stupid really.” He frowned. “Well, sort of. You see, her mom’s getting old, and she forgets when things happened— talks like twenty years ago was yesterday.”

“Pretty common.”

“Yeah, but unfortunately, she let it slip to our oldest daughter that Jill gave up her first baby—it was a long time ago. Her mom never wanted her to give it up, and now she’s asking questions, demanding to see it. So Jill had to explain—”

“Skeletons creeping out of the closet, eh?”

Charles scratched his jaw as he appraised the farmhouse and a lanky dog ambling in their direction. “Yeah, but Jill is letting the past have too much power over her—”

A wiry, old man shuffled toward them, waving. “Anything I can do for you folks?” He called to his dog, and the hound changed course and scuttled under the porch.

Charles explained their work with the electric company.

The old man nodded and hunched his shoulders. “Fine, go ahead. We don’t use much electricity during the day, anyhow.”

After cutting the power to the old farmhouse, the two men once again rose in the bucket. Saunders peered at the sky and chuckled. “You think you’ve got skeletons. Everyone has something to hide.” He halted the bucket at wire level.

Charles leaned back and tucked his fingers into his belt. “It shouldn’t make any difference. Jill’s a great mom; her past is ancient history. Just like I’m not the guy I was twenty years ago—no one should care if I did a few stupid things back then.”

“Oh, but people do care. Your sins follow you—” Saunders gave a wire an angry twist and faced Charles. “Even if they aren’t even sins at all.”

Charles shrugged. “I don’t let things bother me. Jill is just overreacting. Chrissie will understand that she gave up the baby for a good reason. It’s not like it matters anymore—”

“Give me that cutter, will you?”

Charles passed the tool over. “I never judge people. I couldn’t care less if you had a dozen affairs and a couple kids on the side.”

Saunders turned and pointed at Charles with the cutter. “How about if I was a killer? Would you still feel the same?”

Charles froze. “Huh?” A smile crept over his face. “You’re joking, but really—”

“No seriously. It was manslaughter—ran a red light and killed a woman and her little boy. I hardly did any time—a little over a year and probation. Total accident.”

Charles’ gaze dropped. “Sorry, I had no idea. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I—”

Saunders shook his head. “I’ve made you uncomfortable, I get it. But just remember, your wife is right. Our past haunts us”

Charles pursed his lips, focused his gaze on the box, and nodded to the wire assembly. “You finished?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, let’s get the cover on and go home.” Charles screwed everything in place and lowered the bucket. He unhooked his belt and tossed his tools into the truck.

Saunders did the same and slipped into the passenger side of the vehicle. He glanced at Charles. “So what time do want to meet up on Saturday?”

Charles started the truck and glanced at Saunders quizzically.

“Remember—our fishing trip?”

Pulling into the right lane, Charles’ eyes darted from side-to-side. “Oh, yeah, forgot. But, hey, I think Jill’s got something planned…hate to make her any more upset.”

Saunders let his head fall back against the headrest, his gaze staring through the truck roof.

Charles glanced over. “Maybe some other time. You understand?”

Saunders exhaled and nodded slowly. “Sure 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

Soul’s Birth in Morning Soil

For a read-aloud of this poem, check out https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Souls-Birth-in-Morning-Soil-esf84o

Soul’s birth in morning soil,

Spring sprouts from ancient toil.

First steps—firm hold to fingertip,

Grace flows from humble village to ocean ships.

Learning, spinning—webs of life,

Heavenly rays over world-weary strife.

Burdens heavy lay,

Under heat of summer day.

Teacher, prophet, counselor—grief overcome,

Waning light, shortened day—whispers a weakened sun.

Age lines, gray hair, gathering fate,

Autumn harvest—profits wait.

Family tree beyond the page,

Humble grains on winter days.

Souls rebirth in Heaven’s glory,

Sings of God’s unending story.

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

hopesembrace2ndedamazoncover-2

https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/autumn-birds-the-sun-east-1984939/

Trust Me

A read-aloud of this story https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Trust-Me-esf847

TrustMe

Eric peered through hooded, yellow eyes. His lithe, perfectly toned body stood at attention with his hands clasped serenely behind his back. He studied his boss, Simms, with absolute composure. Nothing could surprise him—he was a master of self-control and trusted no one.

Simms, a human with more replacement parts than he liked to admit, could not hide his boxy shape, though he tried. His hair, though not his own, appeared thick and black, while his olive skin tone complimented the wine-colored shirt and trousers he wore. A gold pendant hung at his neck while his bejeweled fingers flashed with color.

He sat leaning back on a well-padded chair, his feet propped up on a wide window ledge. He licked a large, chocolate-chip ice cream cone wrapped in a freeze-sleeve, which kept it nice and cold, preventing drips. Simms did not like drips. He slurped a large swipe of ice cream and then darted a glance at Eric, gesturing with his free hand. “Just say yes and make us both happy.”

Eric licked his lips. “You haven’t told me your plans.”

Simms slammed down his feet, swerving his ice cream cone dangerously close to his desk. “What? I have to tell you everything? Who do you think I am—a beggar-boy? A Bhuac maybe?” He drew in a long breath and regained his accustomed position, swinging his feet back up on the sill. “No. You just say yes. Then I tell you my plans.” He chomped down on the top of the cone and slurped his words. “Don’t you trust me?”

“I already killed once for you; I think that merits some—”

“Aw, hell. You killed nobody. A nothing. What I’m talking about now is real business. My business. I have plans. Big plans.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You want in or not?”

Eric straightened his already straight shoulders. “Yes.”

A wide smile broke over Simms’ face. He swung his feet back onto the floor and tossed his ice cream cone into the trash. “Good! Okay, let’s get down to business. I’m gonna build the biggest interstellar docking bay this side of the Divide. I’m gonna—”

Eric shook his head. “Newearth already has one of the largest docking bays this side of Bothmal. You really think that—”

“Shut up, imbecile. I have already thought this through. I’ve Ingots, Uanyi, and even a couple dozen Crestas ready to follow my lead. I just need someone I can trust.” He peered up at Eric’s impassive face. “You know, killing that crossbreed was my idea. Right wasn’t going to do it, but I showed her the logic of the situation, and besides, I wanted to see you in action.”

“I take it, I performed to your satisfaction.”

“Aw, don’t talk like that, like some cheap robot off a passing trader.” He clasped his hands, lacing his fingers together. “You’ve got to be perfectly straight with me. I need someone who’ll be my eyes and ears, listen, but never talk, except to me. You get the idea? I’m gonna make Newearth the greatest trading center in the universe. And that’ll make some high-profile personalities jealous. They’ll try to stop me or cut in and try to replace me. And I won’t stand for it!”

He waved to his wall of medals, attesting to his award-winning skill at Zinzinera, a tough, body-wrenching, head-cracking Ingoti game that many players never live to see through to the end.

“I’ve got the skills to make this happen. It’ll be good for Newearth, good for every trader who wants to increase business, good for you, and good for me.” He frowned. “There’s only one person who might give me serious trouble.”

Eric’s eyebrows rose. “Who might that be?”

Simms heaved himself out of his chair and strode over to his wall of trophies, studying them. “A Luxonian by the name of Cerulean. He’s been around a long time, since before the beginning—of Newearth, I mean. He’s got a reputation as a nice guy. But he isn’t. Trust me. He’s as dangerous as they come.” He swung around and faced Eric. “I want him outta my way.”

Eric folded his arms high across his chest. “Luxonians are hard to kill.”

“I didn’t say kill. I said I want him out of my way, traveling to foreign parts, or back on Lux—whatever. But wherever he is, I want you to keep your eyes on him. I want his reputation tarnished. I want everyone to see him for what he really is.”

“And what—exactly—is he?”

Simms shrugged. “He thinks he’s a guardian, a protector, like some Knight of OldEarth. But it’s all a lie. There are no heroes these days—they don’t exist.” Simms padded up to Eric and peered into his eyes. “Look into Cerulean’s soul and see what you find. Then report to me. We’ll find a way of destroying him—from the inside out.”

Eric unfolded his arms and nodded. “Simple enough.”

Simms shook his head. “Not simple. Necessary. How else will I get everyone to trust me?”

A. K. Frailey, author of 13 books, teacher of 35 years, and homeschooling mother of 8—making the most of life’s journey. 

For more of this book, check out Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

For other books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/A.-K.-Frailey/e/B006WQTQCE

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/climate-change-course-space-2388401/

 

 

From Machine to Man

 

FromMachineMan

“Sir? You need to wake up now, sir.” The white, uniformed human shook Max’s shoulder. He focused and tried to make sense of what he was seeing. A woman stood over him and peered intently into his face. Max turned away. He did not feel well. Not well at all. And wasn’t that rather odd?

He closed his eyes and tried to remember. What happened? Ah, yes, Ingot thugs, mercenaries who preyed upon unwary merchants burst aboard ship and caught him just as he was transferring his data to another guard. An unlucky moment. Surely, it had been planned. But who could have known? Abanaber? He was new and seemed eager enough, but then, he disappeared once the fighting started.

Max sighed. He remembered facing the lead Ingot, a thin, sharp little being. He didn’t want to have to kill him, so he raised one hand and offered—nothing. He looked down and his leg was gone. No pain. No horror. Just falling, sliding to the floor, and the Ingot standing over him, chuckling.

He blinked open his eyes.

The nurse was still there, still peering. Her brown eyes were crinkled at the edges. She was pretty, neat with short, stylishly cut hair, over fifty, and worried. Very worried.

“Sir? I need you to sit up so I can make a proper assessment. Can you do that?”

Keeping his face as neutral as possible, Max raised his upper body, expecting to list to the right since one leg was gone. But he didn’t. He scowled at the end of the bed and the outlined forms of two legs lay there in front of him. He carefully lifted the sheet that covered his lower half. Yep. Two legs. He peered up at the nurse, one eyebrow raised.

She beamed. “Yes, we managed to save it. You were nearly dead when they brought you in. Honestly, I never saw—but never mind. You pulled through, that’s all that matters, right? Now, I just need to take your vitals. You can lean back against these pillows—”

She pummeled a couple of pillows into submission and then, with a gentle shove; she pushed him back, still beaming. “There now. Feel better?”

Max opened his mouth but closed it promptly. What could he say? Did he feel better? He did not feel well. But was that better than how he had felt? How had he felt? Blinking, he realized that his head ached. He touched his head and tapped around. It did not feel like his head. It was bumpy and hard with no hair. His eyes widened as his gaze darted to the nurse’s face.

She stared at an instrument panel; worry crinkles around her eyes again. “Yes, your—skull—was damaged, but we were able to replace the missing part.” She glanced at him and patted his arm, a confident smile replacing the worry. “And your brain is completely intact.”

Max shook his head. “I thought my leg was blown off. I had no idea—”

The nurse tapped a console and raised her finger for momentary silence.

Max waited.

She tapped the last time and turned to face him, offering her complete attention. “No, your leg was damaged, but it was your head that received the worst of the blast. You can thank Captain Kimberling that he got you here in time, or we may not have been able to save you. Your friend, Mr. Abanaber, has asked about you every day—for weeks.”

Max bolted straight up. “Weeks? How long have I been unconscious?”

The nurse glanced at the console. “Exactly three Lunar cycles. I honestly didn’t expect you to do anything this different this morning. I’m so glad you woke up. Doctor Mangham will be here momentarily.” The nurse adjusted a tray near the table with studious concentration. “She wrote up a review about you for a prominent scientific journal. You’re the first android she ever worked on. And such an—”

Max shook his head. “But my leg was blown off. The Captain was taken and Abanaber was nowhere to be found—”

The nurse titled her head and smiled indulgently. “You were just dreaming. A nightmare, I’m sure. After all, it was a serious explosion. Stupid accident. Someone didn’t pack their materials properly, and then you came too close with your magnetic—”

Max almost rose from the bed, but a sharp pain forced him to freeze. Holding his head in his hands, he moaned. “I can’t dream. I’m an android; I—”

The nurse chuckled. “Well, maybe you were an android once. Not anymore. At least not completely. I saw the scans. The doctors were amazed. They wanted to do further studies, but of course, they needed your consent. It was Kelly who saved your life, really. She was the assistant on the scene. When the emergency team realized you were an android, they were going to turn you off in order to make the necessary repairs, but Kelly insisted that they check your brain functions first.”

The nurse leaned in and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Your android brain is overgrown with the human neurons they placed in you at creation. If they had turned you off, they would’ve never have been able to turn you on again.” She straightened up and adjusted the sheet. “You’re a lucky man, Max Wheeler. Most humans add mechanical parts and turn into machines. You, on the other hand, have changed from a machine into a man. A miracle, if I may say so.”

She turned to leave. “The doctor will be in shortly. Get some rest. You’ve awoken into a whole new life.”

Max watched her leave and lay back on his pillows. He blinked and felt an odd ache behind his eyes. Apparently being human involved some level of pain and discomfort. But then—he considered the possibilities—human?

He smiled as a tear traced its journey down his cheek.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/brain-connections-futuristic-6226032/