—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
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)
OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)
OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00