Short Story: Fiery Furnace

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

I’d never seen a dead body before, and the sight of him lying there must’ve sent me into shock. I stared, mute, unable to believe it was really a human being before me, hogtied to a pole, warning us—of something. I looked at my counselor, Mr. Jansen, the one in charge of us “Witnesses for Christ.” I didn’t feel like a witness. I felt like a bloody idiot staring at some murdered kid like he was the newest exhibit in the science museum back home.

It had been my mom’s great idea to expand my horizons. “Get out and see the world. Find out what is real. Discover your potential.” She’s got a million of ‘em. Brilliant ideas to transform me from an ordinary, blemished teen dressed in cheap clothes into the hero of the week. After all, we’re fed the Hero’s Vision from infancy – Be all you can be. No one can stop you. No limits to your horizons. And all that crap. Apparently, this kid met his limit. At gunpoint by the look of it.

Mr. Jansen glanced at the soldier with the biggest gun—the one who was supposed to be on our side. He was a big guy. Even his muscles had muscles. But his eyes gleamed like dead stones. He didn’t turn and explain. He didn’t offer us a pep talk. He just spoke in his guttural way so that even Mr. Jansen could understand. “Not. One. Word.”

Mr. Jansen obeyed. Pale and shaking, he directed the four of us from Team Gabriel to step aside and head back to our tents. I was glad to obey. I hardly wanted to ruffle any feathers here in the wilds of wherever the blank I was. Heck, I hadn’t learned anyone’s name because I could hardly pronounce a word of their language. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for this real-ness.

Three more days…two more days…one more day. Like a mantra, I counted the allotted time before we could return to my version of reality. Yet, I knew deep inside that somehow my reality had changed. It now included a dead kid hogtied to a pole. I left my tent during recreation time and hunted up our guard. It wasn’t hard. He stood a foot taller than everyone else.

“Mr. uh….” I shuffled from foot-to-foot.

“Kohl.” He peered down at me like I was one of those scurvy dogs they like to kick around. Or poison.

“Yeah, well, I was just wondering, if you could, sort of, explain what happened to that kid—you know the one that—”

“Clermont.”

I could feel my eyes widen. “Excuse—?”

“His name was Clermont.”

In all my wild imaginings I never expected a Clermont. A Dead Clermont. What an ordinary, nerdy sort of name. “Really? He was a soldier—or something?”

“Brother of one.” Mr. Kohl hefted his gunbelt studded with bullets a little higher across his shoulder and started shuffling down the dirt path they optimistically call Main Street. He never looked at me, but I felt the invitation, so I shuffled alongside.

“But why—?”

“We live differently than you. We’ve got our own rules. It all goes back to—”

“But he’s—he was—just a kid. How can your rules apply to him? I mean, he didn’t do anything bad, did he?”

“No. Not at all. He was a good kid. But his family belongs to a certain sect—”

“You kill families for their beliefs? Their allegiances?”

When Mr. Kohl peered at me, I swallowed, afraid of the fiery furnace of his gaze.

“For survival. We live by our beliefs. And we die by them, too.” He spat into the dust. “I doubt you’d understand.”

My clenched hands trembled at my side. “Not fair! I’m here because I’m a witness for—”

Mr. Kohl’s snort turned a few heads, but he strolled on, his shoulders squared in cocky self-assurance. “You? You witness nothing. I’ve watched you—and your kind—wander into our world, lost sheep looking for purpose—or excitement—to fill your boring days. You’re more dead than Clermont.”

I nearly pulled out my hair as I tugged at my short, bleached locks. “How can you be so unfeeling—so cruel? Some poor kid dies because of your vicious lifestyle—one you could change—and yet you dare attack me, someone who only wants to bring a bit of light and hope into your—”

Mr. Kohl moved faster than I would have imagined. He gripped me by the throat and slammed me against a stonewall. My eyes searched frantically for a rescuer, someone who’d see this outrage and help. Where was my counselor, now? Probably watching from a distant doorway.

“Listen, child. You know nothing! This is our world. It’s brutal. I didn’t make it so, but I know it well. I don’t lie and pretend it’s something else. We can’t hide here. Death happens—all the time. I live by my conscience. So did Clermont. But we must bow to a greater authority. That cruelty you see here, it lies in you as well. How do you think we feel—you coming and preaching to us when you do not know our truth?”

He let me go and patted me on the arm as if to make amends. “It’s not your fault. You were born into your world. I was born into mine. We both have to make do with what we got.”

I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. “But I do believe in something. I came here because—” I hesitated, grappling for words. “I believe that there is more to life than cruelty and death.”

The shadow of a smile glistened from Mr. Kohl’s deep black eyes. “So do I. That’s why I offer my services, year after year, and I let your kind preach. Even though you don’t understand. Your Mr. Jansen and those like him, at least they try. Against all odds, they offer a better vision. It probably won’t happen. But, it’s something. It’s all the hope we got.”

~~~

By the time I returned home, sitting on the overstuffed couch in our air-conditioned house, I had pretty much gotten over my fright—and my rage. I could barely remember Clermont’s bruised face. It would fade in time. But Mr. Kohl’s eyes—they would stay with me forever.

When mom came in, all cheerful and happy in her shorts and bright T-top, I felt Mr. Kohl’s fingers around my throat.

She plopped an assortment of summer wildflowers into a vase on the table. “So, how was it? Did you have a good time and learn about the wide world?”

Her smile was so genuine; I felt tears flood my eyes. I wanted to explain, but she raised her hand. “Oh, before I forget, we’ve got a luncheon on Thursday, and I want you to bring your music books. It’d be great if you played a little something.”

I choked and covered my face with my hands. “Mom….”

Before I could prepare myself, she threw herself down on the couch next to me. Her arm wrapped around my shoulders, and her voice cracked. “Was it awful, then?”

I pulled away and stared at her much like I must’ve stared at Dead Clermont. “You know?”

Tears glimmered in her eyes. “I’ve known and tried to live with knowing all my life.”

I bolted to my feet. “Why on God’s green Earth did you send me then? The whole thing was hopeless, a total disaster!”

It was almost as if she and Mr. Kohl were related. Her eyes burned, and I was back in that fiery furnace. “You were born into this world, but that hardly excuses you from knowing their world. I could never have explained. You had to see for yourself.”

She was right. No one could’ve explained. And even when you get up close and personal, you still don’t really understand. But now—in an aching sort of way—it’s your world too.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Native Elements

Cyril swore under his breath as he stared at the mounting black clouds sweeping across the mountain range. The pine trees swayed with warning sighs as the wind whistled through their branches. Crows whirled towards earth, out-flying the looming threat.

“Stupid weatherman never said anything about a storm.” Cyril didn’t realize he had spoken aloud until Jeanette curled her arm through his and clucked her disapproval.

“Weatherwoman, Cyrus. Or person. Not man for God’s sake. Besides, no one is perfect.”

Cyril didn’t doubt that for a moment. He had never really intended to invite Jeanette to his private sanctuary—but in an unguarded moment he had pontificated, “Kids today are out of their native element,” and Jeanette, being his superior by two grade levels and French proficiency, had laughed. Smirked really.

She had sat across from him in the teacher’s lounge, sipped her black coffee, nibbled her wheat crackers, and shook her curly-haired head. “Native element? What, pray tell, is a kid’s native element, Sorrel?”

Cyril squeezed his eyes shut against the memory. His face flushed, as it always did when she mutilated his name. When she first practiced her ruinous arts at a teacher’s convention— “Oh, good, here’s Floral, so we’re well represented—” he had dared to object.

“The name is Cyril—not Sorrel, not Floral—see if you can remember that.”

The flock of attending teachers froze in the face of his unflinching correction, but Jeannette merely grinned like a Cheshire cat. “Oh, Creel, don’t get all flaky and fall to pieces.”

His only retort had been a mute glare while his co-workers simply chuckled and wandered toward other entertainment. He had been bested. Clearly.

For two years, he waged a stoic campaign to keep his name unaltered, but Jeanette found myriad atrocious variations to spring on him—passing in the hall, at meetings, and even as she waved goodbye in the parking lot. In the teacher’s lounge, she would rattle on about her latest date, fashionable clothes, a got-to-go-see movie, progressive teaching, antiquated traditions, and whatever else fueled her current passion while he doodled swaying pine trees on a memo pad and retreated into icy politeness.

Occasionally, he’d vary his day by hunting up extra resources for a struggling student, but most six graders hated math and made little attempt to hide their distaste for the subject in particular—or for him in general. Even when he lugged in architects’ drawings, carpentry notes, checkbooks, and myriad other real-world examples of math’s viability, he would still be slapped down with the oft opined sentiment, “We’re never going to use this stuff—it’s a waste of time.”

He might as well be forcing broccoli down innocent kids’ throats. At least, Jeannette never made him feel like the enemy—a fool—but never an enemy. Perhaps that was why he accepted her question as a challenge and invited her to come to the mountains with him and experience the native elements herself.

Only when the muscled P. E. teacher, Mr. James, squeezed his shoulder and intoned the words, “Best of luck, ol’ pal,” did Cyril realize that staring down a pack of hyenas would have been a wiser option.

Their afternoon started more optimistically than he anticipated. Jeanette had met him in the parking lot decked out in cowboy boots, jeans, and a leather jacket.

He refrained from shaking his head and merely jiggled his keys. “Mind if I drive?”

Jeannette shrugged in utter nonchalance. “Might as well. You know where we’re going—I suppose.” Her grin widened wickedly as she added “Series.”

He sped up the winding road and, after arriving, started down the simplest and shortest trail. She bounced along at his side pointing out every squirrel and bird in hyper-exultation. When they returned to the parking lot, she deflated. “Is that it? I mean—that’s all you got, Virile?”

Cyril’s squinted at the lowering sun and considered his revenge—trail number five, meant for experienced hikers with a loud, splashing stream, a long, steep incline, two narrow passes, and one precipitous drop. His eyes narrowed as he returned to the forest.

They floundered across the bubbly stream and scrambled up the first incline when a warning rumbled across the sky. Distant trees swayed as a murmur rustled through the foliage. Cyril considered the low sun and a slight twinge shivered down his spine.

Jeannette scanned the waving branches with a frown. “How far have we come?”

“About half way.”

A brilliant flash of light made them blink as black clouds bundled together overhead.

That’s when he spouted his politically incorrect fury on the weatherperson. He could feel her arm squirming around his; searching for something he was loath to offer.

“Half-way? Seriously, Cereus, what were you thinking—”

He felt the familiar, hot flush rise to the roots of his hair. Cyril shook Jeanette’s arm away and snapped around like a wounded panther. “C-Y-R-I-L! My name is CYRIL!”

Jeannette blinked as the sky blustered overhead.

Cyril wrung his hands in a pantomime of strangling something—or someone—and bellowed. “Now shut up and quit acting like the stuck-up, little snob you always are and let me think of the quickest way out of here.” He looked up and down the paths and then pointed ahead. “Let’s go on.”

Doing a fair imitation of a rock wall, Jeanette folded her arms and glared.

Cyril stomped away with a wave of his hand. “Fine. Be a smart-ass. See if that gets you over the stream again. Not that I’d go back that way. But enjoy the incline and don’t slide off the edge of anything. There are about thirty minutes of light left—you might make it to a cave or something before night sets in.”

He was nearly a quarter of a mile down the path in the pelting rain when he heard her splashing steps. She charged into him, grabbed his shirt and yanked, sending them both careening into the mud. With her limp hair streaming across her face, she rounded a slug on his shoulder.

“You stupid pig! You mean, heartless idiot! Why I spent the last two years being nice to you is more than I can figure. But I never expected this! This—”

Cyril’s eyes widened as he staggered to his feet and watched her slip and slide. “You’ve been nice? When was that? I must’ve missed it. I could have sworn you spent the last two years tormenting me with your cruel, twisted, little name-calling.”

Lightning flared, and thunder crashed over their heads as Jeanette clenched her fists, facing him, bedraggled. “Always so high and mighty, aren’t you? Always getting your pants in a twist when I try to add a little fun into your life. Can’t climb down from your superior loft in the high and mighty world of algebra and advanced math. You think I couldn’t teach math? I could. I just chose to do something a little more creative, something that means something TO ME!”

A deafening crack of thunder sent them pelting down the path. Cyril slipped and threw his arms out for balance. The downpour increased, but Jeannette raced on. Cyril snatched her sleeve and pulled her to a jog. “You’ll fall, stupid. There’s a drop coming.”

Jeannette yanked away and raced ahead even faster. She shrieked as she started sliding down a steep incline.

Cyril grabbed her arm and pulled back, sprawling them both onto the muddy path.

Jeannette’s face twisted; she slapped his hand. “I’m not stupid!”

Cyril climbed to his knees, crawled under the shelter of a tree and let his head fall against the trunk, leaning back with heaving breaths. “Neither am I. Though every time you speak French, smirking as if I am too dense to understand, or when you mutilate my name—”

Jeannette rose shakily to her feet, slapped mud from her jeans, squared her shoulders, and started forward. She stepped into a dangling vine and yelped as a thorn scratched her cheek. She turned on Cyril, her voice low and menacing. “If you’re trying to get revenge—mission accomplished.”

Cyril rose and blinked at her silhouette in the dim light. He glanced at his muddy watch, sighed, and grabbed her hand. “Mission aborted. I’m an idiot, and we need to get out of here—now.”

Jeannette pulled away. “Don’t touch me!”

“You want to wander aimlessly in the dark under tons of swaying trees? Let’s make a truce and get out alive, okay?” Cyril stretched out his hand.

Jeannette turned and charged up the path.

~~~

As they sat dripping and muddy in the school parking lot, a sickle moon peeked through the vestiges of drifting clouds. Cyril hadn’t looked at her during the whole, miserable drive back to the city. She had stared straight ahead, silent as a tomb. When he parked, he expected her to bolt, but she just sat there.

Finally, he broke the ice with the most inane comment he ever made. “Well, at least it’s Friday.”

She stared at him a long moment, shifted in her seat, and faced him. “Native elements? You want the kids to experience the wonders of—”

Cyril let his head drop back against the headrest, though he would have welcomed a brick wall. He took a long cleansing breath. “I wasn’t expecting a storm of biblical proportions. I just wanted—”

Jeanette lifted her hand. “No, I get it. I just wish you’d have told me, not tried to kill me.” Her gaze dropped to the floor. “I was just joking. It was all in fun.”

The lump in his throat surprised Cyril. It was hard to swallow away. “Not so fun for me.”

They sat in silence, the school building a rectangular shadow looming in the background.

Cyril rubbed his dirty fingers together. “The woods—the natural world—it’s like God made it just for me. Thousands have been there before, but for a little while, it’s all mine. No forcing dreaded math problems on squirming kids—”

Jeannette sighed and wiped a stray strand of hair from her eyes. “Most kids think French is stupid. After all, who needs a teacher when there’s Google translator?”

Cyril folded his hands and shrugged. “Google would have me ordering snails for breakfast.”

The barest hint of Jeannette’s smile glimmered between the neon light posts and the black night. “To be totally honest, variables scare me. Letters smacked up against numbers, it seems wrong, somehow.”

Cyril never knew exactly what came over him, but he reached across the seat and lifted Jeanette’s hand, lacing her fingers with his. “Actually, they can do amazing things together.”

Jeanette tilted her head, the moonlight highlighting a teasing smile. “Like thunderstorms in native elements—Cyril?”

Cyril grinned.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Life of Gorth – Fate of a Weapon Maker: Short Story

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Planet – Ingilium

Moglum’s Land Base Rental

Renter: Gorth – practicing war games on the back lot…

“I will not die! At least not today! So take that! And that! And that!”

Bam! Fizzzt!

“Gorth! Hold on would you? You’re turning my back lot into a crater. I know you’re a lean, mean, fighting machine—but please—I need some space that isn’t constantly being bombarded with shrapnel. My poor nerves—”

“What a landlord! Where’s your Ingilum spirit, Moglum? Your mama should’ve packed you off on one of those slave transports.”

“Nice. Real nice, Gorth. Now shut up and listen. Someone from the Imperium just sent a message—”

“From the imperium? For me?”

“Yeah, and if you’re being transferred, you better fix this mess before you leave!”

~~~

Imperium Central Office for Inter-planetary Security

Hologram message coming through…

“Citizen Iz, secretary for the Imperium, can I help you?”

“Oh, hi, it’s me… I mean… this is citizen Gorth. You sent a message…”

“Gorth! Yes, thank you for checking in so quickly. Good news. We’ve been watching your progress and decided that this is the time to support your… unique skills.”

“Um. What does that mean exactly?”

“Listen, Gorth, there’s a new threat. We’ve received secret information that the Cresta are planning an invasion… and they won’t be coming alone.”

“Annihilate! Really? This is big. How can I help? I mean with the weapons’ ban and all…”

“The ban has been lifted. Your research may continue where you left off. In fact, the Imperium is prepared to assist you by any means necessary.”

Silence.

“Gorth?”

“Oh, yeah… I just had to get back on my feet…I sorta fell over. Honestly, I never expected this. You know, weapons are my passion. I live to evaporate. It’s what I dream about. After the ban I had to be content with just blowing—”

“We understand. That’s why you have been chosen. You’re gifted and if it hadn’t been for inter-planetary pressure, we’d never have agreed to that infernal… Never mind. The fact is, you are now reinstated. Fully. Get back to work, Gorth.”

~~~

Three moon cycles later…

Back at Moglum’s Land Base Rental

Moglum’s Living Space

Moglum and Gorth sit hunched on a steel bench as they lean over a long table strewn with various weapon and weapon parts.

Gorth holds up a small, smooth, and rounded handheld devise, his chest puffs with pride. “I’m calling it the Evaporator.”

Moglum frowns. “Nah… Come on Gorth; don’t be stupid. That name’s already been taken. It blew the entire watching audience into smithereens. Don’t you remember? It was on every hologram from here to the Cresta Divide.”

“Musta repressed it. Hmmm… I’m not so good at naming things. Any ideas?”

“How about the Destroyer? The Atomizer? The Dustbuster?”

“Hey, I like that. The Dustbuster! I’ll call it the Dustbuster I. I mean, I’ve done about a kazillion of these things but nobody needs to know that.”

“Go down in history as the greatest weapon maker of all time… Brilliant. Oh, and when you get paid… You are getting paid for this right?”

“Sure. The imperium said they’d give me what I deserve.”

“Well, then, you’ll be in a position to rebuild the back lot. I was thinking of turning it into something like that resort on the South Sea. You know, the one with all the foliage and females…”

“Yeah. Yeah… I’ll get to it. But first I got to present this to the Imperium. See what they think.”

“You’ll be a hero. No doubt about it. I always said you’d make the Ingot name great again.”

“Ah… Just following my passion.”

~~~

Universal News Today:

It has been verified that the missing inventor of the Dustbuster I, Gorth, has finally been tracked to the back lot of Moglum’s Land Base Rental. Apparently, his newest weapon had been used against him and then stolen.

The Imperium requests that any information concerning Gorth’s demise be sent directly to their Central Security Office.

On the inter-planetary front, it appears that Crestas are once again up to no good…

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

I Never Had a Son

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

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

Must all such dreams die? Surely not…

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

“Cerulean?”

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

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

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

“Yes, Supreme. Judge. Sterling.”

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

“Sir?”

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

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

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

“You never appeared interested.”

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

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

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

“But I wouldn’t.”

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

“You mean the reporter—Lang?”

“You know her?”

“She’s notorious.”

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

“What lies has she been telling you now?”

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

“With enemies like her, who needs friends?”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“So— What’s the next step?”

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

“An impossible challenge.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It will be.”

“See? You’ve convinced me already.”

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

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

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

“True. Hmmm…”

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

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

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

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

“Supreme. Luxonian Council.”

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

“I see.”

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

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

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

“Of course.”

“Cerulean?”

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

“I never had a son.”

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

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

“Sir?”

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

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

The Human Question – Short Story

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Photo: https://pixabay.com/en/hand-magnifying-glass-earth-globe-1248053/

Planet: Lux

Capital City: Qui

Assembly Hall: A stadium-sized room with a glass ceiling and a smooth stone floor, with multi-colored floras growing up the walls.

*Luxonian: Light beings from the planet Lux who send Guardians out to observe alien cultures in order to protect their interests in the region.

*Cresta: A techno-organic race from the planet Crestar with long, soft bodies, tentacles, and large, watery eyes. They speak in a synthesized voice, and their large “brain sack” lays hidden behind a spiral shell. They wear breathing helms when not on their own water-based planet.

*Ingot: A cyborg race that wears bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms built directly into their bodies, from the planet Ingilium.

***

A tall, white-clad figure emanating a silver glow sweeps before an assembly of various inter-planetary beings. He perches on a floating dais and rises through the air to the center of the room. His sharp, clear voice rings across the hall.

“Good day, fellow Supreme Judges, Minor Judges, Guardians, Civilians, and Off-Worlders. As designated spokesperson for our Luxonian Coalition of Supreme Judges, I would like to introduce myself—in case there is anyone here who might not know of me—”

The assembly breaks into an assortment of chuckles. One Cresta actually snorts water over the top of his breather helm.

“My name is Sterling, and I’ve made enough off-world trips to understand the plight of an Exo who hasn’t had a chance to catch up on the latest ‘who’s who’ in the planetary system. You have my sympathies.”

More chuckles. A kindly Cresta attempts to reassemble the snorting Cresta’s damaged breathing helm.

An Ingot shushes them with a hiss.

“As you know, we are assembled here today to discuss ‘The Human Question.’ We have been watching humanity’s activities for millenniums; in fact, Luxonians have led the way in new observation techniques through our Guardian Program. As humanity faces possible extinction, it is important that we decide our role in their future.”

The Crestas in the assembly nod agreeably while the Ingots maintain stoic neutrality.

“The question before us is this: Is humanity worth the risk? At this point, they do not play any significant role in universal events. They have never taken part in any inter-planetary wars or treaties since they are unable to perceive their larger universal society. So, why save them?

“If you have an opinion, I would be glad to hear it. I will be available during the post-conference gathering for conversation and discussion. Please, feel free to partake of the viands provided and make yourselves comfortable. Debate the issue, consider it from all angles, and I will be at your service if you have any questions or thoughts on the subject.

Thank you.”

Judge Sterling lowers himself to the ground floor and steps off the dais. He smiles and waves as he enters the mingling throng.

Bureaucrats! As if I cared what they think. Still… one must maintain one’s position in the larger arena. As long as they think I give a—

“Judge Sterling?”

Sterling whips around to face a hunch-shouldered Cresta dressed in a cumbersome mechanical exoskeleton.

“Yes, how can I help you…?”

“Taugron, from the planet Crestar. I’m a scientist—”

I have to smile, but I hold back the sarcasm. “Aren’t you all?”

“Well, yes, rather. But I fear we miss the bigger picture when we only take the scientific angle.”

A Cresta rebel? How…unique! I might find this little fellow useful…. “Please explain; I’m fascinated by your position.”

“Ah, well, I must admit… I hardly ever get this far in a conversation. Most of my compatriots swim away at this point. But, I know you’re busy, so I’ll just say this: why can’t we learn from humanity so that we can better utilize their strengths?”

“That’s been the point all along.”

“Yes, of course, but we, I mean most races, tend to look at humans as a sort of field to harvest. Couldn’t we view them as possible allies—”

“Their obvious inferiority makes that unlikely.”

“Not if we interbred—”

My colors just dimmed, perceptibly. I’m feeling ill. If it wouldn’t be impolite to scorch this dwarfish Cresta into charcoal, without staining the floor, of course, I’d be glad to…

Taugron shuffles his three-toed boots and wraps his tentacles behind his back. “I’m sorry. I see I’ve offended you.”

Cresta sludge... “Not at all. But I am being called. Please, excuse me.”

Ah, here’s my old friend and ally… What’s her name again?

A six-foot Ingot female dressed in bright red, techno-organic armor sidles forward.

“Sterling! Lang… You remember me. From Universal Reports…”

“Ah, yes, of course. My favorite Ingot this side of the Oskilth Zone. How are you? Keeping everyone confused, are we?”

“Lies and more lies… You know my by-line.”

I would love this gorgeous cheat if she weren’t such a bulky cyborg. “How can I help you, dear?”

“I want to shed some light on this human issue-thing.”

“I’m waiting with bated breath.” Oh, why did I say that…she’s clumping into my light space.

“Humans are nothing. Let ‘em die—naturally—of course. It won’t take long. The Crestas would love to see it done a little quicker, but we’re not going to get involved. What matters is—that planet of theirs. It’s ripe for harvest. When the playing field is more level, remember your friends, all right?”

“Why should Lux have any say in the matter?”

“Don’t play the fool with me. I travel everywhere and see everything. I know Luxonian interests. Humans aren’t the only ones facing extinction.”

Ugly troll. Where did she— “I must say; you have an interesting assessment of the situation. I will keep it in mind.”

“Do that. And don’t forget my name—Lang.”

“You’ll be uppermost in my thoughts. Excuse me, I see a Guardian I must speak with….”

Uppermost in my nightmares, more likely. “Cerulean! Stop. I’ll speak with you.”

Cerulean, dressed in his usual human style with jeans and a collared shirt, turns from the assembly and focuses his sky-blue gaze on his superior.

“Yes, sir?”

“Next time you return to Earth, I’ll arrange a formal visit. We can discuss your position…”

“Certainly, sir.”

“You don’t look particularly happy.”

“Happiness has nothing to do with it.”

“What’s wrong then?”

“It’s just the way you discussed matters here, sir.”

“Why? I have done everything according to protocol. I assembled all the leading citizens of relevant planetary systems. They are the ones who will be most affected by humanity’s fate. Have I left someone out?”

“Yes, I’m afraid you have.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Humanity.”

“Their opinion hardly matters.”

“I disagree. In fact, their fate might mean the world to us.”

“Why is that?”

“Because it will likely to be tied to ours.”

“You will be returning to Earth soon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Remember where your first loyalty lies. Good-bye, Cerulean.”

I shouldn’t be so surprised. Ask a stupid question… Get stupid answers.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

A. K. Frailey Short Story Schedule

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2016 Short Story Schedule

Summertimebackyard

For those who have been following my short stories with interest, here is my schedule for the rest of 2016.

Each story offers a glimpse into the Last of Her Kind or the Newearth Universe

July 30th

Rain from a Cloudless Sky

August 13th

Mirror Image

August 27th

The Human Question

September 10th

 Horizon Line

September 24th

Enemy Self

Trees at Lake with Sun

October 8th

Dedication

October 22nd

Invasion

November 5th

Footprint

November 19th

Too Old to Notice, Too Young to Care

December 3rd

My Fathers’ Vision

December 17th

The Life of Gorth

Fate of a Weapon Maker

December 31st

High Ideals

Lugg the Mighty and the Oskilth Civil War

FlowerInSunset

 

How Did It Come To This? – Short Story

ButterflyHow could I be so stupid?

No. I won’t think that way. It was’t stupid. It was right and just. A person has to keep their dignity come what may…. Right?

How long have I been here? I remember the pounding rain, the huge drops crashing against the windshield. One moment I was powering down Highway 70; Mozart was blaring; I was going to meet Ginny…. Why? Can’t remember. It seemed important at the time.

Who’s that? Oh, the nurse. Icy. Ms. Professional. Wonder if she’s got a man. Pity the fool. Passion? Naw, no heart there. Never seen such an efficient machine wrapped in flesh and blood. Except for that one time—Never mind.

Forget it.

Who followed Icy in? Katy? God! If only I could open my damn eyes…move…twitch. Anything!

~~~

“How is she today?”

“Same. Sorry…. Nothing new.”

“Damn. I was hoping.”

Silence.

“My sister, Sammy, is coming in today.”

“Oh? Where is she from? Don’t believe I’ve met her.”

“No. She just got word.  Been deep in some Filipino village. Teaching kids or something.”

“Noble.”

“Guess. Doesn’t earn a pension, though.”

“Poor thing.”

“Indeed.”

~~~

Poor? Samantha will never bee poor. Not so long as I’m alive. Alive? Oh hell.

They’ll have the life insurance anyway. She’ll have to grow up sometime….

~~~

“Mom? Mom!  God, it’s worse than I thought..”

Sobbing.

“Shhh, stop now. Crying won’t help. We’ve got to deal with this.”

Oh, Katy, sorry. I didn’t get word…. Then it took so long—”

“Forget it. Nothing you could do anyway. It’s pretty much over.”

“Over? What do you mean?”

The doc says we can keep her on life support for months, years maybe, but her Last Will and Testament says she want’s to be set free.”

“Oh, God.”

“Get ahold of yourself, Sammy. Mom doesn’t want to exist as a corpse, costing—”

“She’s not a corpse!”

“Sure, Honey. Sort of. Think about it, okay? It’s a tough decision. But she’d be the first to insist—”

“No! She’d want to live. She can hang on. Maybe she’ll wake up.”

“Stop dreaming. You’re making this up in your head. This is Mom we’re talking about. Remember when I got pregnant? No quibbles there. She made the hard call without a backward glance.”

“It’s not the same. That was a blob of tissue. We’re talking about Mom.”

“Look at her.  She’s just a bigger blob, now. Face it, Honey.”

“We can’t decide who’s  human and who’s a blob!”

“Grow up, Kid.”

~~~

A blob. Am I a blob now? How did it come to this?

At least they’ll have the insurance money. They don’t need me…. Not anymore.

Oh, God.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Ringshttp://amzn.to/2lWBd00