A Hostile World

Teal led the young Luxonian, Sienna, to the far side of the lake and perched on the edge of a boulder.

A creak tripped over an embankment and illuminated a rainbow in a shower spray.

Enchanted, Teal turned from one glory to another and grinned. “So, you want to become a healer?”

Dressed in a rough brown tunic with a thin shawl thrown over her shoulders, Sienna navigated the swirling creek bed and perched on another rock, dipping her toes in the rushing water. “Yes.” Her arched brows bespoke a serious nature, while her soft tone beguiled unwary hearts. “Luxonians serve in many capacities—I’m drawn to the healing arts. My father and grandmother were healers in their own time.”

Slipping out of his sandals, Teal splashed in the water, his grin tightening as the cold rippled over his body. “Why Earth? These people have nothing like our physiology or skills. What do you hope to—?”

A falcon flew overhead and landed in a tree. It turned its head, peering at them through one piercing eye.

Sienna’s gaze swept the area. A lizard sat sunning itself on a rock a few feet away. Snatching the reptile by the tail, she flung it into the tall grass.

The hawk squawked and flapped its wings.

Glancing up, Sienna blushed. “Innocent creatures shouldn’t suffer just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

A pigeon fluttered into the air. In an instant, the falcon soared in hot pursuit.

Teal winced as the falcon plucked its dinner from the sky. He glanced at Sienna.

Unperturbed, Sienna bent over and splashed water on her arms. “Though humans are not very advanced, they do have a keen eye for detail and an amazing depth of insight. In your reports, you mentioned purges, herb drinks, and poultices, which humans use to heal their sick and wounded.”

Teal nodded. “True. Both the Lake Clan and the Grassland Clan have healers.” He squinted. “I don’t know about the River Clan. Neb appears bent on hurting more than healing.”

“It’s in a war that the greatest cures are found—when they are most needed.”

“That hardly justifies war.”

With a nod, Sienna tiptoed to distant perch. “Yet you have set the Supreme Council on the brink of war with both the Cresta and the Ingoti.”

Jerking to his feet, Teal’s face flushed. “Why are you really here?”

Leaning back on a rock and lacing her fingers together, Sienna shook her head. “Isn’t it obvious? I want to learn. I’ve read every one of your reports. Fifth years are allowed access to planet documents—when it bears on our studies.”

Like the falcon, Teal turned his head and stared out of one bright eye. “And what—exactly—are you studying here? Certainly, Luxonians don’t need human poultices and herb drinks.”

Leaving the stream, Sienna wandered to the grassy bank and plucked a wildflower. She held it before her like a shield. “Some Luxonians look to a brighter, broader future, where we will interact with other beings more freely.”

Teal plodded out of the water, water dripping down his legs. He glanced at the perimeter. “There’s plenty of interaction between the Supreme Council and other—”

“That’s my point!” Sienna flung her flower to the ground. “The Supreme Council shrouds us in darkness. We know little beyond what we read in the guardian reports. They insist that they shield us from a hostile world—but do they?”

A murmur of voices rose in the distance. Teal sucked in a breath; alarm bells rang in his mind. “Neb’s closer than I thought. We need to move on.” He glanced around.

Scurrying across the distance, Sienna arrived at Teal’s side. “Would they hurt us?”

Peering into Sienna’s bright eyes, Teal scowled. “Neb would attempt to kill me—certainly. What he’d do with you—I don’t dare think about.”

“I’d flash away.”

“He’d remember you. You’d become the stuff of legends—and nightmares.” Taking her arm, he pointed to a high embankment. “We’ll hide over there. Lizard?”

“I’d rather be a rock.”

“Not a good choice.”

Sienna squinted, confused.

“If you need to move, it’ll look odd.”

Glancing to the sky, she pointed. “A falcon then.”

“Fine. Just remember, the Supreme Council does shield us from a hostile world, even when we’d rather they didn’t.”

“And the Cresta and Ingoti?”

The murmurs grow closer. Teal frowned, lifting his hand like a man taking an oath. “I’ll fight that war myself.”

Sienna gripped his arm. “And I’ll heal you—if need be.” She blinked away.

A gorgeous Peregrine Falcon swooped overhead.

Teal stared—fascinated—and then blinked away just as Neb and his men pounded into view.

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

We All Have Our Burdens

—OldEarth ARAM Encounter—

Teal rubbed his chin and surveyed the landscape.

The sun shone in brilliant splendor as five vultures circled overhead. The brassy sky, free of clouds, stretched from one side of the horizon to the other. Weathered grasses drooped like weary soldiers no longer able to stay erect.

Standing several feet away from Sterling, Teal motioned ahead. “You can’t see them, but there’s an artisan clan that way.” He turned and flicked a finger in the opposite direction. “And a lake clan this way.” He pulled his lip. “And Neb and his warriors are on the move.”

Sterling swayed on his feet.

Clicking his tongue, Teal strode over and gripped Sterling’s arm. “You all right, sir?”

Sterling smoothed his rough brown tunic. “Adjustment fever. I’ll be fine.” He pursed his lips. “There’s a reason I never wanted to be a guardian. Too much bloody traveling.”

Teal flung his hands on his hips, his own tunic grey and patched. “You travel all over the region—Ingot Magisterium Assemblies, Sectine Ultra Command Accords, Cresta Science Reveals. You even attend Bhuaci music festivals.”

Sterling plucked a grass stem and studied it. “In each case, I’m treated with high regard and fed extremely well.” His gaze rose and followed the vultures. “I suspect they’ll feast more to their liking this day than I shall.”

Clenching his jaw, Teal swiveled on his heel and started to pound away. “First, we’ll visit Aram, then take a glance at Onias, and finally—if we’re lucky—we’ll observe Neb.”

Sterling groaned. “Then will you show me the mineral deposits?”

Stumbling over a tuft of grass, Teal caught himself and cleared his throat. “That’ll be our last stop—before returning home.”

~~~

Aram strolled through the village, appraising the new homes and the layout of the village. He gestured to a youth.

The young man trotted near.

“Tell your father to spread out a little more; there’s plenty of room. We’re not hemmed in anymore—are we?”

“No.” The boy gazed at the landscape. “We have the whole world before us.”

Aram chuckled and patted the youth on the arm. “Well, not the whole world, but enough.” His gaze locked on a man. “I need to attend to business—remind everyone to keep the space between structures wide, so that even on a dark night a drunken man can find his way home.”

Grinning, the youth ambled off.

Aram sucked in a deep breath and marched across the village.

~~~

Teal hid in the shadow of a large spreading tree and rested his hand on Sterling’s arm. His voice dropped to a whisper. “You see how he cares for his people.” He frowned. “But he seems agitated. Something must’ve happened while I was away.”

“By the Divide, these are primitives. Of course, something happened. Weren’t they outrunning a vicious mammal last time you were here?”

Teal gestured to the lake shimmering against the bright sky. “Yet, they’ve outsmarted evil fate and found a new home. Impressive, don’t you think?”

A cluster of children scrambled into camp, followed by a large man with a huge grin. The children ran into their mothers’ arms, and laughter broke out all over the camp.

Sterling blinked. “Wonder what that’s all about.”

Teal chuckled. “Children like to play, and fathers like to tease.” His chest tightened. “Something we rarely experience.” Turning abruptly, he pointed toward the sun. “Let’s go.”

Smothering a suffering sigh, Sterling nodded. They blinked away.

~~~

Teal rubbed his hands together like a man well pleased with a hard day’s work. “We’ve seen Onias assisting in the harvest and Neb marching across the plains—now let’s head west.”

In a hilly region, they stood on the edge of a crater and peered down.

Teal gestured into the pit. “Cresta investigators said it looks natural, but the telltale signs are obvious. Ingots have been mining and, fortunately, they didn’t find what they wanted.”

Sterling shrugged. “They covered it up, so humans won’t be the wiser. What are you worried about? A little foreign mining won’t hurt anyone.”

Teal clumped back down the crumbling dirt. “No?” He plodded to a sheltered spot between two large boulders.

Sterling joined him, standing shoulder to shoulder, staring at a small black mound. “What are we staring at?”

Without breaking his gaze, Teal remained fixed on the mound. “A grave. There are five human beings buried here. A hunting party that strayed too far and paid for it with their lives.”

With a weary harrumph, Sterling flapped his arms against his body like a guilty child about to explain away his misdeed. “It could happen anywhere—to anyone. Humans kill each other all the time.” He faced Teal. “You saw Neb. We both know what he’s planning—”

Pounding his fist into his hand, Teal’s colors blazed. “It’s their fight—they’re humans. It’s not right that a race with superior advantages comes in and steals—”

“You’ve become such a blasted moralist. What’s wrong with a little innocent skimming off the planet?” His gaze flittered over the mound. “I’ll admit—the deaths are unfortunate.”

“They had families—their people will suffer because Ingoti incursions rape the land, and Crestas experiment on their people.”

Sterling clapped his hands together. “You’re hysterical. And, frankly, vulgarity disgusts me.”

Teal shimmered. “Vulgarity? But murder is acceptable.” Gripping Sterling’s arm, Teal glowed like a furnace. “What’re the Cresta offering you?”

Shaking Teal’s hand away, Sterling stomped to an open space. “You’ve just crossed a serious boundary! I’m a judge—and your superior. Just because I was your favorite teacher, don’t assume you can take liberties.” Scowling, he shook a finger at Teal. “I’d hate to accuse you of treason before the council.”

Teal’s colors simmered as his human form solidified. His voice dropped to a stiff, formal tone. “Judge Sterling, I must inform you that Cresta incursions will likely alter the balance of power in this region.”

With a snort, Sterling waved at the mound. “How?”

“The Cresta will use any race they deem fit to further their scientific ends. If they find this planet resourceful, they might influence the inhabitants to protect their interests against the Ingots—and everyone else. Nothing works so well as using the natives to fight your battles.”

“They’d have to manage a whole planet! Cresta aren’t that stupid.”

“They wouldn’t see it that way. They’d simply see an easy profit and an expendable life form.”

Rubbing his hands together, Sterling trod back to the mound and stared at the gravesite. “As I ponder the ramifications, I believe that the Supreme Judges need to consider this situation more carefully.”

Teal’s head dropped to his chest, and he exhaled slowly.

As the pink horizon signaled the end of the day, Sterling sniffed the air. “Someone’s built a fire.”

“Probably making dinner.”

“Yes. Well, I suspect I’ll be dining with the Cresta Ingal in the near future.” Grimacing, he appeared to swallow back a bad taste. “I hate their before-dinner delicacies. But their vegetable dishes are quite good.”

Raking his fingers through his hair to control his temper, Teal forced a placid expression. “You know what’s in them?”

Sterling waved off the thought. “It’s best not to ask.” Placing a hand on Teal’s shoulder, he sighed. “We all have our burdens.”

Teal tipped his head at the obvious.

Looking askance, Sterling waved goodbye and flickered out of sight.

Teal’s gaze returned to the shallow grave.

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

They Are Not Pets

 

—OldEarth–

 Teal stomped his foot. “Bloody hell!”

In a wooded glade, Teal paced in front of a body sprawled on the ground before him. Four more bodies lay in a shallow grave. Freshly turned earth formed a mound behind him. After slipping a datapad out of a deep pocket, he tapped the panel. Sucking in a deep breath, he ran his fingers through his hair.

“For the official Luxonian record, Teal reporting from Earth, subject—Alien Abuse. Recently discovered five human bodies in a shallow grave on continent four, central basin. Cause of death unknown, but the lesions on their faces and bodies suggest Cresta experimentation.”

—Planet Lux—

Sterling grinned. In a gloriously bright room filled with glowing foliage and comfortable furniture, he poured a mug of thick, honey-sweetened brew and laid it on an ebony table before Teal. The table contrasted sharply with his white flowing robe, but Sterling always enjoyed contrasts. He grinned at Teal’s petulant expression. “Please, be kind. I ordered this especially for you.”

With a wave of acquiescence, Teal lifted the mug and sipped. He licked his lips and leaned back in his chair. “It’s better than I expected.”

Sterling’s eyes glittered. “I read your reports. Even the recipes.”

Shoving the mug to the side, Teal, dressed in a brown tunic, loose pants, and sandals, leaned forward and clasped his hands on the tabletop. “Did you read about the Cresta incursions?”

Sterling poured a second cup, took a tentative sip, and shivered. “Ugh!” he set the cup on a side counter.

Teal scraped his throat clear. “Sir?”

Clapping his hands, Sterling turned to the arched doorway.

A young woman, about twenty in human years, approached with a tray piled high with assorted sweets.

Sterling’s gaze shifted from the woman to Teal. “Sienna has a great future in Earth studies. She’s practiced maintaining their form for extended periods and even eats their food.

Teal frowned at the tray of neat confections. “These look like Bhuaci—”

Sterling waved the woman away. “You don’t expect me to sacrifice my health? I note your recipes. I don’t actually try them.” He scowled at the mug. “Except occasionally.”

After Sienna’s figure sashayed out of the room, Teal rose and strode to the open window. He gazed over the bustling cityscape filled with glowing beings in a variety of shapes and forms. “You should spend time on Earth—then you’d understand.”

Strolling over to the window, Sterling rested his hand on Teal’s shoulder. “We’ve known each other for a long time—you were my best student. Have you ever seen me accept any level of discomfort willingly?”

Teal’s gaze remained fixed on the bustling throng below. “You’re a judge now—you have new responsibilities.”

Sterling’s hand fell to the side. “You’re a guardian. You can describe all the news in your reports. Lovely reports by the way. Though I must say, you could go into a little more detail about the planet itself.” He shrugged. “I have to find out about Earth mineral deposits from the Ingots.” One eyebrow rose. “You know how that makes me feel?”

Teal turned and frowned, his gaze fixed on his superior. “And do you learn about human physiology from Cresta dissection reports?”

Sterling spread his hands wide. “Naturally.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Teal’s body glowed in rising heat. “You don’t care about alien life forms at all?”

Sterling slapped the window frame. “Why should I care? We study them to protect ourselves—they’re not pets.” He glared at Teal, his own body glowing at the edges. “Do you care about Ingots? The Crestas?” He wagged a finger. “How about the Bhuacs?”

Flaming through a long intense stare, Teal’s gaze zeroed in on Sterling.

Sterling closed his eyes and leaned against the window frame. A breeze blew in, ruffling his white hair. His glow faded. “You do.”

After pacing across the room, Teal’s heat receded to normal. He stopped in front of Sterling. “I always have. And you’re right—they’re not pets.” He turned sharply and marched toward the doorway.

Sterling opened his eyes and lifted one hand. “Alright! I’ll go with you—I’ll visit the planet.” He exhaled a long breath. “But none of that horrible brew!”

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

Justify Your Evil

From OldEarth ARAM Encounter…

—Planet Lux—

Teal stood holding a drink in one hand, tapping his leg with the other, and a frown building between his eyes.

The brilliantly lit hall filled with trailing green vines, glowing flowers, and an astonishing array of birds, barely scored his conscious mind. He had seen a million such rooms before. The company was different though. Luxonians in their human forms, Ingots, encased in their mechanical exoskeletons, and Crestas, lumbering along in their terrestrial bio-suits mingled in forced diplomacy.

Zuri, back straight, chest out, circulated amid an Ingoti throng across the room, which hummed with the uneasy murmurings of three races attempting to mingle in an uneasy alliance.

Putting his drink aside, Teal’s gaze shifted to his superior, Judge Sterling, who looked like he had been chewing glass for breakfast.

Sterling, dressed immaculately in a long, flowing robe and cotton pants, stood square-shouldered as he faced off a leading scientist of Crestar. Sterling’s eyes lowered to half-mast.

Boredom or loathing? So hard to tell from this distance.

A hand gripped his shoulder. Teal stiffened as he glanced at the mechanical glove. How did Zuri manage to sneak around him like that?

“Teal, correct?”

Clenching his jaw, Teal peered at the Ingoti trader. “You should know my name by now—you’ve complained about me often enough to the Ingilum—and the Supreme Council.”

Zuri’s form-fitting techno-armor, a brilliant red for the conference, nearly outshone his wide, practiced smile. “In truth, I’m surprised they let you come. After all, this is where we make agreements to respect each other and—”

“Like you respect the human race?”

Taking two steps into Teal’s personal space, Zuri waved a mechanical hand that could snap a neck. “Do you see any humans here? And why would that be? Possibly because they’re not evolved to the point where they can represent themselves at our level?”

Teal glanced ahead as Sterling wandered in his direction. Teal’s frown melted as he lifted his hand in salute.

Zuri backed off.

Sterling offered a slight bow. “Well, what have we here? The most infamous Ingoti trader this side of the Divide?”

Teal’s gaze bounced like a ball from Sterling to Zuri.

Flexing his impressive biomechanical exoskeleton, Zuri’s chest expanded alarmingly. “Don’t get jealous, Judge Sterling. Ingoti trade benefits Ingots, Luxonians, and Crestas—anyone willing to pay a fair price.”

Sterling tucked a stray lock of his luminous white hair into perfect place. “Pity, humans keep getting in your way. Teal has reported that humans seem to disappear when they have the unfortunate luck to wander too close to one of your mining operations.”

Zuri’s hands clenched. “I’ve taken plenty of native-sensitive precautions. I introduced three kinds of protective repellants and made bloody well sure that they appeared to be right out of one of their superstitious belief systems. I did my research!”

A bell toned.

The two Luxonians glanced at the Ingoti representative beckoning them to their next meeting.

Zuri kept his glare plastered on Sterling.

Teal glowered. “Like it or not, we need stronger non-interference regulations for undeveloped planets. You’re already exploiting their natural resources, and humanity will suffer from your greed.”

The tone repeated—louder.

Judge Sterling tugged Teal toward the conference door. “We’ll handle this issue in the proper setting.”

Zuri smacked his metallic fists together. “You think humans don’t exploit each other? What about that creature called Neb? And his son—Ishtar? Don’t tell me that their noble hearts will win out over generations of greed. I’m just doing to humans what they’ll do to each other given time.”

Teal pulled away from Sterling’s grasp and stared deep into Zuri’s narrowed eyes. “You don’t know who Ishtar might become or what’ll happen to Neb. Don’t justify your evil by insisting everyone is evil. It’s too simplistic—even for an Ingot.”

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

A Tie That Can’t Be Broken

Cerulean, a Luxonian dressed in casual twentieth-century blue jeans, a loose t-shirt, and slip-on shoes (he hated laces), rolled a shopping cart along the grocery aisle, following a woman and her young daughter.

The woman, distracted and hesitant, returned repeatedly to the child. “What’s next, Anne?”

Holding a limp notepaper covered in careful script, Anne ran her finger along a middle line and bit her lip. She peered at her mom. “Mayonnaise and garlic salt.”

The older woman started forward, peered at three varieties of mayonnaise, and froze. The child stepped around her, considered the labels and plucked the middle choice off the shelf. “It’s what we always get.”

The woman nodded.

After dropping a box of granola bars and a can of olives into his cart, Cerulean followed, fascinated by the mother and daughter before him. Only when a middle-aged man stared pointedly at his nearly empty cart, did he grab a few more items and toss them in with the others.

The child’s preternatural competence struck Cerulean like a blow to the chest. His mother died when he was young, not an uncommon experience for Luxonians. But his memories included a woman of great sensitivity and quiet competence. Nothing like this fragile, hesitant woman pacing behind her strong-willed child.

When they left the store, Cerulean half expected the child to slip into the driver’s seat, but no, the older woman took the wheel, and ever-so-slowly drove away. Placing his paid-for groceries next to a homeless man he has noticed earlier, Cerulean stepped into a sheltered corner and disappeared.

~~~

Cerulean marched into Judge Sterling’s quarters, handed his tasty Earth offering to his superior, stepped back, and waited.

Sterling, in his usual grey leggings and a long tunic, grinned and daintily peeled the orange foil away from a sticky granola bar. He eyed it, sniffed it, and then delicately bit off a tiny corner. He chewed, his gaze rising to the bright skylight. “Hmmm. Not bad. Certainly not as disgusting as some of the things your father brought home.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Cerulean maintained a steady gaze. “He told me that you had a particular taste for OldEarth brews.

Waving a finger, Sterling cracked a grin. “Teal had a rare knack for highlighting my weak spots.” He laid the remainder of the chewy bar on his desk and circled around to an open window with a large garden box attached to the edge.

A luxurious purple vine spread thick along the border and up the walls. Delicate pink flowers dotted the vine clusters creating an enchanting, almost luminescent contrast.

“You know, your father gave me this plant many seasons ago. I nearly killed it—accidentally of course. But he saved it. Like he saved so many.”

Cerulean shrugged. “Yet you never liked him.”

Teal twirled around, the edges of his eyes glowing a fiery red. “I loved your father as few ever could. Even your mother, bless her departed spirit, never really understood him.”

Strolling to the plant, Cerulean gently ran his fingers along the main stem, his gaze focused, his heart aching. “What did you understand?”

“Teal was a savior-type. Couldn’t help himself. He had to save everyone. Even beings that didn’t deserve his…devotion.”

“And that was wrong?”

Sterling pursed his lips. “Not wrong exactly—just made my job rather difficult.” He stepped closer to Cerulean and clasped his arm. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a savior alive?”

Cerulean locked eyes with Sterling. “Since he’s dead now, I can only assume it was an impossible task.”

Sterling closed his eyes and swayed back to his desk, landing on a plush chair. With a groan, he propped his head on one hand and stared at Cerulean, who still stood by the plant. “Don’t blame me, Cerulean. You know perfectly well I tried to talk him out of going…but—” His sigh rose high and strangled. “You know your father.”

Cerulean dropped his gaze, his shoulders dropping, his spirit caving. “Yes. He was  certainly determined.”

Sterling jumped to his feet, rubbing his hands like a man ready to change the topic if not the world. “So, tell me. Have you chosen a human to focus on?”

Pulling a datapad from a pocket, Cerulean strode to the desk, tapped the surface, and then laid it on the desk.

The picture of a young girl standing next to a slump-shouldered, grey-haired woman peered up.

Cerulean pointed. “Her name is Anne Smith. She’s only seven, but—” His gaze wandered across the room, over the vine, and out the window. “I don’t know. She seems to have an unusual strength of character. I’d like to see what life has in store for her and how she handles it.”

Sterling lifted the datapad and stared at the figures for a long moment. Then he glanced at Cerulean and handed it back. “Don’t get emotionally attached.”

“Being that she’s a human child and I’m a Luxonian adult, I hardly think that’ll be an issue.”

Sterling nodded through a snort. His eyes grew wide as he lifted the melted chewy bar and strands of caramel and chocolate dribbled across his desk. He swallowed and shook his head. “When are you going?”

“Tomorrow. I thought I’d visit my parents’ tombstones before I go.”

Sterling tossed the remainder of the bar into a wall depository, snatched a cloth off a shelf, and wiped his hands. “Odd practice. They’ve departed to the other side, yet you insist on raising a memorial. Why?”

“Parents and children—it’s a tie that can’t be broken.”

Sterling strode over to the purple plant, tugged a young vine free, roots and all, and placed it into Cerulean’s open palm. “Plant it between them.” He glanced up, and though he smiled, his eyes glinted in grief. “Remember to water it.”

Cerulean nodded and started for the door. Then he stopped and glanced back. “Though my father crossed a line—he cared too much—he didn’t care alone. Did he?”

Sterling swallowed and dropped his gaze.

Cerulean stepped over the threshold, and the door swished shut.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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

The Play’s the Thing

@1666 London, England

“It was an excellent play—best I ever saw.” Being taller than average, Samuel peered over the evening throng on a dim, misty street corner and waved to a coachman. “Never before did I did see the King’s House so full.”

His companion, Mr. Creed, smiled as he stood close, his hands clasped before him. “Becky Marshall has outdone herself. The Cardinall will meet grand success, certainly.”

Samuel glanced aside, his good mood expanding his heart. “Come and have supper with me. There’s bound to be some meat pasties left, and you can spend the night.”

With a cringe of regret, Creed ducked his head. “Not this time. I’ve got a meeting in the morning.” Watching the coach draw near, he stepped back. “But I’ll ride till your house.”

Oblivious to the danger, Samual stood on the curb and as the coach jolted to a halt, mud splashed on Samuel’s best grey suit. His eyes widened in fury. “Oh, bloody hell. I’m presenting before the committee tomorrow.”

Creed only shrugged in helpless innocence and the two men climbed aboard. A memory from a comedic part of the play lightened Samuel’s mood. With a mild chuckle, he wiped the worst of the mud from his pant legs. “Jane can see to it in the morning.” He stretched out and sighed. “I shouldn’t have wasted another whole evening, but—”

Creed patted an enormous yawn. “We work hard and get little recompense for our efforts, so  a little fun won’t do us any harm.” He waved a teasing finger. “As that Shakespeare fellow said, ‘The play’s the thing.’”

His eyebrows rising, Samuel shrugged. “Oh, him. I like his work well enough, but so much depends on the presentation.” The coach bolted over a series of bumps jerking Samuel further down his seat. “You can have the best lines in the world, but if they’re read by a fool, foolish they will be.”

Creed nodded. “Or the opposite. Take the king. When he speaks nonsense, everyone oohs and ahhs as if pearls of wisdom drop from his lips.”

The coach jerked to a stop as another coach crossed its path.

Samuel closed his eyes, folding his hands behind his head. “The simple truth is—Plays make life worth living.”

Mr. Creed chuckled. “To escape reality?”

His eyes flicked open, Samuel stared at Creed. “To make sense of reality. In a play, we dare to tell a truth that’d normally get a man killed.”

Stifling another yawn, Creed rested his head on his hand. “Playwrights must pray that kings are blind as well as foolish.”

“A safe bet, if you ask me.” Samuel scratched his chin, eyeing Creed carefully. “There’s another play tomorrow. Want to go?”

Mr. Creed slapped his cheeks through another enormous yawn. “What’s playing?’

“Does it matter?”

The coach creaked to a halt in front of a stately house, and Mr. Creed stepped out, followed by Samuel, who tossed a coin to the driver.

Samuel carefully stepped around the puddles and strode up the cobblestone walk.

Mr. Creed called after him. “Till tomorrow then.”

Samuel chuckled as he opened his door, never looking back. “The play’s the thing.”

~~~

Teal gripped his son’s shoulder and led him across the muddy street. Dressed as common English laborers, they watched Mr. Creed amble down the road, his steps fading into the London night.

Cerulean peered into his father’s face. “I didn’t understand the play they watched. The audience laughed at things that weren’t even funny.”

Teal patted Cerulean’s shoulder and nudged him down the road beyond Samuel’s neat, white house. “Humor does not translate well from one culture to another.” He shrugged. “But from the description, that play was meant as a tragedy.”

“Why in the universe would anyone want to reenact a tragedy?”

“Humans have peculiar tastes.” Teal tugged Cerulean into shadow as another coach rattled by. “Personally, I think it’s how they process their existence.” He glanced down at the young Luxonian. “Did you hear what they were saying in the coach?”

“I never hear well as an insect.” Cerulean grinned. “But I changed into a mouse as soon as I was under the seat, and then I could hear very well indeed.”

“You’re learning.” Teal patted Cerulean’s back.

A woman’s scream torn through the London street.

Cerulean jumped forward.

Teal gripped his arm. “Don’t get involved.”

The woman screamed again. Men’s voices jeered in drunken laughter.

Cerulean tugged, trying to pull free. “But someone’s getting hurt.”

Teal shook his head and lifted his hand, his index finger pointing to the moonlit sky. “We’re guardians of our world—not theirs.” He pulled Cerulean closer and peered into his eyes. “Trust me; there’s nothing we can do. We’d only make matters worse if we got involved.”

Cerulean jerked free, heaving deep breaths, his eyes wide and alarmed.

Distant murmurs turned to chuckles and fell into silence.

Teal beckoned to his son. “It’s time we went home.”

Cerulean‘s shoulders drooped in defeat. “But what was the point of coming tonight? We didn’t learn anything.”

“On the contrary. I have a brilliant idea for a new presentation to give the Supreme Council.” Teal chuckled.

Leaping over a puddle, Cerulean drew closer. “What’ll it be called?”

Teal took Cerulean’s hand. “Guess.”

Staring up at his father, the starlight twinkling in his eyes, Cerulean grinned. “The play’s the thing.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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

Of Gods and Men

China @1041 AD

Bi Shang scooped a handful of sticky clay and set it on a wooden sideboard. Using sharpened sticks, he pulled off sections, and with sure and steady hands, shaped each piece into thin edged characters. Bending low, his eyebrows furrowed over the intense work, but a lilting hum escaped his lips.

A thin, young man draped in flowing pantaloons and a loose, grey tunic shuffled into the bright room, keeping close to the wall. His large eyes followed the older man with wide-eyed curiosity. “What’re you doing?”

Undisturbed, Bi Shang arranged each character on an iron baking tray. When the tray was full, he straightened and rubbed his back with one hand. With the other, he beckoned. “Come, Jian.”

Jian stepped forward, tilting his head to see better.

“I’m preserving human intelligence.”

Jian’s eyes narrowed. “My intelligence?”

With a chuckle, Bi Shang snatched a piece of wood from a basket and laid it carefully on a pile of glowing embers in a bake oven embedded in the wall. “Hmm. Yours and your children’s as well.”

Snorting, Jian waved the thought away. “You’re teasing.”

As the flickering flames grew, Bi Shang lifted a rack from the floor and placed it inside the oven. He grabbed a bowl of water and sprinkled the flames, taming them into smoky heat.

The boy’s eyes widened again. “But why—?”

“Because, this is delicate work, and I don’t want my characters to go up in flames.” Satisfied, Bi Shang carefully laid the tray on the rack over the radiant heat. With a contented sigh, he bent low and pointed. “See those shapes?”

Jian nodded.

“They represent the thoughts of men across the world.” His eyes twinkled. “And when we put many thoughts together—we shape both men and world.”

An angry pout formed on Jian’s lips. “You only tell me such stories because I’m small for my age.”

With a gentle hand, Bi Shang squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “On the contrary. I’m sharing great power with you. When my characters bake hard and strong, I’ll set them out for the world to read and ponder. Thoughts grow upon thoughts, and our people will know what wise men of the world believed.”

Stretching forth a tentative finger, Jian touched the clay and rubbed it between his fingers.

Tapping the boy’s arm, Bi Shang grinned. “Someday, if you watch and learn, you’ll know the thoughts of many and share your thoughts with the universe—wisdom to last beyond human sight.”

“Forever?” Jian squinted as if trying to see the edge of unlimited eons. “My thoughts are like the wind.” His gaze fell to the dusty floor. “And can sometimes be evil.”

Bi Shang stroked his face. “You are more honest than most.” Returning to his work, he turned his back to the boy. “Evil thoughts can teach us, too.” He glanced over his shoulder. “For none are barred from their embrace.” He sighed. “Though the wind sometimes uproots the old, it also carries in invigorating air.”

Jian shook his head, a worried frown etched across his forehead. “Such a power is for the gods and their anointed.”

Bi Shang nodded as he lifted his sharp sticks and began to shape a new character. He bent over his work in silent intensity.

Jian shuffled toward the door.

After placing new characters on a fresh tray, Bi Shang lifted his finger. “Before you leave, look at these.” He beckoned Jian forward.

Returning, Jian bent over the iron tray. A new light entered his eyes.”What do they mean?”

“Free—Spirit.” Bi Shang fixed his gaze on the boy. “We choose what we believe.”

Jian nodded, his bright eyes fastened on the figures. “Of gods and men.”

~~~

Sterling, a Luxonian disguised in the rough garb of a Chinese peasant, slapped a mosquito on his arm and frowned at the sight of blood. “Damn insects. Stupid humans! I’m so bored I could—”

“Sir?” Teal, a younger Luxonian dressed in a matching style, stepped out from behind a bush. He nodded toward a tree. “If you need to use—uh—want a little privacy—”

“I’d rather disintegrate.”

Smothering a smile as he rubbed a hand across his face, Teal nodded respectfully. “I doubt that’ll be necessary.” He started toward a sloping hill crowned with a copse of woods. “Though you did have five cups of tea.”

Laboring alongside his companion, Sterling blew air between his lips. “I keep thinking these new world voyages will stimulate me—invigorate my lagging spirit. But instead, everything is so blasted uncomfortable—it’s either hot and humid or dry and cold.” He tugged at his collar. “These ridiculous clothes scratch unmercifully, and the insect life—”

Teal huffed as he neared the crest. “But you enjoyed the tea and cakes—don’t deny it. And, you must admit, watching humans’ first foray into printing was rather fascinating.” With eager steps, he entered the woods.

Sterling tripped and grabbed a branch for balance. “I hate hiding in dark corners. And I’d hardly call a grown man attempting to convince a pathetic child that his clay characters imply a universal achievement—fascinating.” He snapped the twig off the tree and pounded further into the dense woods. “Really, I wonder if becoming a judge is worth all the risk.”

Yelping, Teal stopped and leaned against a tree. He dug a stone out of his sandal. “You have to understand the various life forms in your jurisdiction. How else will you make fair assessments?”

Sterling shuffled from one foot to another, his frown deepening. “I understand that. I just don’t like all the needless hardship. Why couldn’t I have been offered a position on Helm? Shapeshifters have much better sensibilities.” He swallowed and his face flushed. “I can’t stand it.”

Teal glanced around. “We’re safe here. Go ahead—return to Luxonian form.”

“No time!” Sterling rushed behind a tree.

Teal snatched a nut from a tree and studied it thoughtfully, ignoring Sterling’s long, shuddering sigh.

Wandering like a man lost in a dream, Sterling circled toward Teal. “I never imagined such relief—”

Teal pushed away from the trunk. “If you’re ready, we should make our report. Do a good job, and you’ll make a Supreme Judge someday.” He grinned. “As guardian, I’ll always be here to help.”

Sterling threw up his hands in renewed anguish. “But I haven’t got anything to report! It’s all so inconsequential.”

A brooding frown spread across Teal’s face. “Open your mind.” Teal strode closer and looked Sterling in the eyes. “Think about what you’ve seen—all of humanity’s challenges. They suffer from their corporeal bodies and their primitive living conditions—yet they manage to invent new ways to express themselves and preserve knowledge. They work hard, practice discipline and patience, endure pain and, yes, enjoy relief. And, from the look on the young man’s face, they also know ecstatic joy.” He waved his hands as if to encompass the entire planet. “I’d say that was consequential.”

Sterling peered up at the bright sky filtered between the leafy branches. “Perhaps you’re right.” He grinned as he leveled his gaze at Teal. “Supreme Judge, eh?” He glanced around, his smile fading. “Only if I survive.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter 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