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.”

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/space-universe-space-travel-755811/

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

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 like 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 more 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.”

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

We Could Cry

From Melchior—The Gift of Kings

Frozen to the core, Melchior sat slouch-shouldered at the table; tendrils of steam from his venison stew rose before him. He took a tentative sip and burned his tongue.

Gideon hurried into the hall, his arms swinging at his side, a smile radiating from his face. “Father! Good news!”

Melchior pursed his lips.

Settling next to his father on the bench, Gideon peered from the old man to the stew and grinned. Lifting the bowl, he blew away the steam. After a few hearty puffs, he placed the bowl before his father with a flourish. “You’re right. God takes care of everything!”

“Not always.”

Gideon shook his head. “Well, this time. Wilfred told the Prince about the church, and guess what? You can’t imagine.”

“Probably not.”

“The prince offered to support the building. He even gave me gold to show his sincerity.” Gideon drew out a bag and poured heavy coins onto the table. “Prince Omar believes that the church must be free to serve God without a king’s influence. He’s going to persuade his father to visit, too.”

Melchior swallowed as he envisioned an entourage of foreign kings arriving at his humble abode. “Father Caedmon named you rightly. You’re a warrior meant to spread the word of God, but with a pen, not a sword.” Melchior’s frown returned. “What about studying in Rome?”

Gideon’s eyes glowed. “Perhaps I don’t need to go. With good scholars, we can teach here. Men might come from all over the world to see what we have preserved, what we have remembered…for the glory of God.”

Melchior sighed as images of ruins, mud-caked roads, and ignorant men rose in his mind.

Gideon grasped his father’s cold, feeble hand. “You see. It’s a miracle! And through the help of a foreign king!”

Melchior’s blank stare through red-rimmed eyes proclaimed what he did not see.

“Your father named you Melchior after a foreign king who served God through a gift of gold. This time it will be a king’s son, but a king’s power nonetheless, who serves God through a gift of gold.” Gideon clapped his hands together. “What a wonderful sense of humor God has!”

Melchior sat motionlessly. His stew was quite cool by now. He swallowed and remembered his father’s gentle face as he peered up at him, sitting on the old man’s knee as a boy.

 “Never give up, Melchior, for God is never outdone in generosity. His strength reaches to men—through men. God never abandons His own.”

Pushing his stew to the side, Melchior stared at his happy son. The tears that slipped down his cheeks warmed his face.

~~~

A silent, invisible being sat at the far end of the table, entranced. Omega itched to take on human form, but he knew the rules. Mother had explained observations techniques very carefully, and Abbas had outlined the horrors of alien exposure in vivid detail. If he wanted a world of his own someday, he must study hard and not take risks.

Appearing as nothing more than a flicker of wind, Omega rose from the table, circled around the old man, and bent low to examine the tears. Awesome things—tears. Fearing spontaneous combustion from sheer exuberance, Omega returned to his own world.

~~~

Bright flames flickered over huge logs set into a fireplace large enough to roast a full-grown ox. Lush tapestries and rich oil paintings adorned the lofty walls while heavy wooden trestle tables lined the perimeter.

Appearing as an elderly human in a long robe, wearing a red skull cap, Abbas reclined on an ornate couch with enough pillows to satisfy a Greek god. Studying a painting—the Mona Lisa—propped on a stand at his side, he tapped his fingers against his lips, a minor scowl etched across his brow.

Omega strode into the great hall, bent and kissed his father on the forehead, and tilted his head at the Mona Lisa. “Figure her out yet?”

Abbas rose and waved a languid hand. “She’s not half as interesting as the men who find her fascinating.” Abbas pointed to the painting. “Do you know that Leonardo—the artist—painted her to represent the ideal of happiness?”

A grin played on Omega’s lips. “He’s quite wrong. I believe I’ve discovered ideal happiness—in tears.”

In a fluid motion, Abbas rose and strode to a side table filled with golden goblets and a carafe of pink liquid. “Been to Earth again—have we?” He poured healthy dashes into goblets and handed one to his son. “You realize that we have to find our own medium of happiness—each and every day. It’s not something one discovers once and for all.” He took a smooth sip, eyeing his son over the rim.

In one gulp, Omega downed his drink and tossed the goblet into the fire.

His father frowned.

Flopping onto the couch, Omega crossed his legs and leaned back. He closed his eyes. “I watched a young man turn his father from agony to ecstasy with mere words. He spoke of God as if he knew Him personally, and he drew hope from despair. The old man’s tears redeemed him.” Jumping to his feet, Omega crossed the room and poured himself another drink. “I find that fascinating—even though I hardly understood a word he said.” He gulped down the second drink as quickly as the first, but before he could throw the goblet, his father snatched it from his hand.

“You’re a child, Omega, fascinated by new experiences.” He placed the goblet back on the table. “Even though we have power—we must not waste it. You are too hasty. You—”

“But that’s why they fascinate me! They are creatures of passion and intellect, yet as far below us as their amphibians are below them. But still, they make such music, such poetry—” He swung around and pointed at the Mona Lisa. “Such glorious art! It resonates within me.”

Abbas lifted the painting off the stand and placed it securely between two masterpieces on the wall. His frown deepened.

“Ay, father! Do you think that perhaps they’re right? Maybe they were created by the same God—and that’s why—”

“Don’t forget yourself! You were sent to study—not to emulate—aliens. We worship no gods—or beings—beyond ourselves. That’s how we became so powerful. We’re the best the universe has to offer.”

Turning to the fire and running his fingers through the flames, Omega chuckled. “Yes, father. That’s why we copy their paintings, eat their food, sit at their tables, live in their castles, and wear their skins. We study them—” His smile faded. “And wish we could cry.”

 

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 

Impossible Beings

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, 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.”

~~~

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

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

They Might Be Right

Alessandro gulped as he watched an agonized man pass with a cross hefted on his shoulder. He tugged at his slave collar and waited patiently for the procession to pass. Golgotha was close enough that he could see the crosses already erected and two men hanging in desperate misery. Alessandro closed his eyes and prayed they would die quickly.

Someone jostled his arm, and he glanced up. A woman had run from the crowd and wiped the condemned man’s face with her veil. She sobbed as she worked. Alessandro gasped. He has seen this man, this condemned criminal, before.

Jesus.

The memory hit him like a boulder to the chest. He could smell the incense and hear the wailing of the poor widow as she took her son’s body to his burial place. Then this same man stepped forward. A few gentle words—and a miracle. The son was alive again. Grief was reborn into perfect joy. Alessandro had relived that moment every day since it had happened.

Now Alessandro watched, stunned, as the crowd followed the procession up the hill. He turned away—he had an errand to run for his master. As he stepped into the narrow, winding street, he looked back and choked. A slave from his youth, taken on a warm, spring day from his home and his family—this was his life.

When Jesus rose on the cross, he stared upon death, his eyes dry.

~~~

Months later, just when Alessandro finally thought he had put the haunting memory from his mind, he stepped into his master’s quarters and froze.

As a Roman citizen of high standing, Felix rarely lost his composure. Today, he stood hunched over his table sobbing like a child. After a moment, the elderly statesman dabbed at his eyes and glanced about.

Alessandro stood in the doorway in perfect obedience. To his confusion, his master smiled and waved him forward.

“Come—don’t be afraid.”

With firm steps, Alessandro crossed the room, his eyes fixed on his master’s face.

Felix sat on the edge of the table, his hands clasped before him. “It is not often that I lose control—but I just received a shock.”

Alessandro’s collar itched, but he dared not lift a finger.

Felix leaned in and peered into the youth’s eyes. “You see, I heard a man preaching in the street today—a Galilean named Peter. He told a marvelous tale—about a man named Jesus of Nazareth rising from the dead. Peter even healed a cripple in Jesus’ name.” His gaze wandered to the window. “Many have come to believe.”

Alessandro’s mouth had gone dry as sand.

“I saw Jesus of Nazareth once. Heard all about his miracles. I believed he was—from God.”

Alessandro’s eyes widened.

“But business pressed, and I did nothing about it. I put him out of my mind.” Felix crossed to the window and gazed over the distant hills. “I did not crucify him.” Tears started in the old Roman’s eyes. “I ignored him.” Clenching his hands together, Felix stepped over to Alessandro, pleading. “God’s son, they say—walked among us—and I—did nothing.”

Alessandro swallowed. “Even God would not condemn a man for attending to his own business.” His hands trembled at his side.

Felix’s wan smile chased his grief away. He patted the youth on the arm. “You were a worthy investment—I knew that when I first saw you as a boy.” Felix returned to the window. “No, I do not feel condemned. I feel—lost.”

Shaking his head and squaring his shoulders, Felix returned to business. “I have a message you must take.” He pinched a small parchment off his table and handed it to his slave.

After bowing, Allesandro turned to leave.

Felix called out. “One more question—I know you can’t answer—but I feel it must be asked.”

Alessandro paused, suddenly afraid.

“Will God—ever come again?”

Walking along the narrow street, Alessandro knew—that question would ring in his ears to the end of his days.

~~~

A sunbeam slanted across a quiet hillside where a gentle slope led to a grassy expanse, a world of Hyssop, Daffodils, Lupine, Iris, and buzzing insects.

In a blink of light, two figures appeared. One grandfather figure with grey hair and a slight stoop nodded, beaming at a young man with golden-brown hair, brilliant blue eyes, and the physique of a young Adonis. They were both dressed in the simple garments of common shepherds.

“Very good, Cerulean! You maintained your shape perfectly! It’s not every Luxonian who can travel as an alien species and keep their proper form. You look every inch the human boy—a little too perfect maybe—but we can adjust that. Remember, humans become either enamored or jealous at the sight of physical perfection.”

The youth nodded even while his gaze traveled the parameter of their setting. “We’re safe here?”

“Of course. I’ve had eons of experience at this sort of thing. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Cerulean clasped his hands together and waited.

A few scattered sheep crested one of the far hills. Cerulean’s eyes widened.

The old man hefted a shepherd’s staff and nudged the boy along. “Now remember, just act natural—like you have your own business to attend to and no one will bother you.”

A shepherd appeared at the top of a distant hill. He peered at them and waved.

Cerulean glanced at his father. “Teal? I believe that man is trying to get our attention.”

“Just keep walking—he’ll ignore us if we go away.”

Cerulean padded across the grassy pastureland, his gaze wandering back to the man on the hill.

Teal prodded the boy in the shoulders. “Don’t look. Never engage in eye contact unless you want to meet someone—which you never will. You’re just here to observe, take careful note of everything significant, and inform the Supreme Council of your findings when you return to Lux.”

Cerulean snuck another glance, but, as his father had predicted, the man had returned to the care of his sheep. He sighed. “We could have gone anywhere on the planet; why—?”

Teal yelped and gripped his son’s shoulder. “Stop a moment. I’ve got something caught between my toes. Panting, he cleared his foot of a trailing weed and then pointed to the blue sky. “Do you remember the story I told you and your mother about the miracle healer, heralded by the magnificent star at his birth? It was noted by every intelligent species this side of the Divide.”

Rubbing his forehead, Cerulean frowned. “As I remember, the man was murdered—by his own people.”

“True, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The people in these lands believed that he rose again and lived on in a new form.” Teal’s gaze scanned the cloudless sky. “I’ve been waiting for him to return.”

“You think he will?”

Teal sighed. “Three generations have passed. I have little hope left. But they say that he lives in the hearts of believers. I have even heard that he comes as food for—”

“Food?” Cerulean’s eyebrows rose.

“Not in human form—but as bread.” Teal shrugged. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Despite your official reports, humans sound rather barbaric.”

Teal chuckled. “Beware, humans grow on you. They’re surprising—they have unexpected strength, and they believe in miracles.”

Cerulean glanced at the crest of the hill where the shepherd reappeared with a young boy at his side. “I wonder what they believe.”

“You will be a guardian soon enough, and experience is the greatest teacher. Just remember—” He nudged his son forward.

Cerulean plodded along, his gaze focused on the crest of another hill. “What?”

“They might be right.”

 

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

Live

Planet Earth

Daud leaned upon his shepherd’s staff and tipped back his head. A brilliant star lit the night sky in a thousand points of light. Heart pounding exuberance flushed his face as he stared at this new, unfathomable mystery. His brother, Hikmat, teased him unmercifully whenever he stuttered his thoughts aloud. So, he rarely spoke at all. Fortunately, his young son admired the night sky as much as he did, and they could sit in companionable silence for hours, watching the stars come out one by one, listening to the soft tinkles of bells and the bleating of sheep grazing upon the hillside.

When his brother and son trudged up the hill, his smile died and reformed into a frown. Their expressions and rapid footsteps bespoke the need for haste and—

Daud jogged forward and intercepted them. “What’s wrong?”

His son flew into his arms and hugged him around the waist, squeezing him in a fit of joy—or terror—Daud could not say. He grasped the child’s arm and stared through the star-filled light into his son’s eyes. “What’s happened?”

“Oh, Father, the most wonderful thing—angles appeared—from the sky. They gave us news.” His son swung an outstretched hand from the star to a cave in a distant hillside and began to tug his father’s arm. “Come—see!”

“See?” Daud glanced up at Hikmat who had stopped before him, staring at the same cave. “See what?”

With slow reluctance, Hikmat pulled his gaze away and appeared to see his brother for the first time. “Daud, you won’t believe me—but the sky was filled with beings, singing and joyous. They announced—the Savior—the Christ is born.”

Daud jerked back, his skin prickling. This was not his brother—there was no hint of Hikmat’s teasing tone or his haughty expression.

“Come, Father. Let us see the babe!” The child ran ahead like a colt that can’t be tethered.

Daud started after him and then glanced back; his voice rose high and strained. “Babe? What babe?”

In the bright night, the undulating movements of many forms froze his voice. A strangled gasp issued from a deep well of terror. Shepherds and folk from leagues around followed the nimble trails leading to that same simple cave, moving as one—at the command of a force Daud could not name.

Like a man rousing from a trance, Hikmat started trotting forward and waved his brother along with a shout. “Come—see!”

~~~

Planet Ingilium

Bergen stepped away from a compact space shuttle, blinked in the bright glare of the Ingoti sun, and winced at the geometrically perfect city. He rubbed his exposed neck, leaving an irritated red mark. Even when his girlfriend, Yangon, embraced him, his expression refused to soften.

Yangon wrapped her flexible, armored arm around his and tugged him along the broad city walkway. “Long trip?”

Bergen nodded as he tromped along at her side.

Waving to a tall Ingoti beauty crossing the intersection congested with pedestrians, air scooters, and low-level fliers, Yangon sneered and hugged Bergen’s arm tighter. “Lee’s been asking about you—bragging wretch. Just because she’s traveled to distant galaxies. Like that’s so special.” Yangon glanced at Bergen.

Bergen’s fixed gaze had not wavered a millimeter, though he tugged at his chest armor as if a new appliance irritated him.

“You must be worn down. I’ve got a nutritious meal planned and then—” Rubbing her hand on his arm, she purred. “Well, trust me, the second course will be even better than the first.”

~~~

A stack of metal plates, cups, and cutlery rotated through a wash cycle, as Yangon pulled Bergen to a wide, luxurious couch.

He flopped down with a groan.

She pounced. First, she climbed onto his lap and nibbled his exposed neck. Then she reached—

Bergen stood up and dropped her unceremoniously to the ground. A perplexed frown etched across his forehead. “You ever wonder why we bother? We don’t need to eat meals like that. And as for—” He rubbed his neck where she had kissed him and shrugged. “We don’t need that either.”

Yangon’s flushed face tightened. “You never complained about my cooking before—or my—”

“I’m not complaining—just wondering. Why are we—trapped?” He clawed at his chest armor.

Yangon stifled a gasp and stumbled to the kitchenette, leaning heavily against the counter. “You’ve found someone else.” With a shudder, she dropped her gaze.

“What? No! I mean, not exactly.”

Yangon’s head jerked up. She glared at Bergen. “Not exactly? Who—?”

Pulling off his mechanical gloves and unplugging the wrist connectors, Bergen retreated to the couch and perched on the edge. He tapped his emaciated, pale fingers together and peered at the Ingot before him.

Disgust played on Yangon’s lips as she stared at his raw hands.

“May I tell you a story?”

Yangon grimaced and slid onto a stool, flexing her mechanical hands over the smooth metal surface. “Whatever.”

Bergen stood and paced the white-walled, rectangular room. “Humans are very primitive. I went there to take notes and write an assessment—the usual.”

Yangon tapped the datapad embedded in her right arm, scowling.

“But something happened.” Halting in mid-step, Bergen’s gaze retreated into a memory. “I saw a baby born.”

Yangon’s lip curled as she rubbed a spot off her breastplate. “Disgusting creatures—giving birth to live young. It’s one reason we’re so much—”

Bergen blinked. “The baby spoke to me—somehow. His nakedness—his frailty—his sheer honesty—” He staggered.

Her eyes grew into rounded, horrified orbs. “You exposed yourself?”

With a wave, Bergen thrust the accusation away. “No. I stayed on the ship. I sent a bot and hid it on one of the animals. But I saw everything. The mother, the father, the birth. The baby’s eyes opened, and—for an instant—he looked at me.” Bergen swallowed. “He spoke.”

“By the Divide, what could an alien infant possibly say?”

Live.” Bergen flopped down on the couch. “I want to live—feel hunger, thirst—desire—love.” He leaned back and clasped his hand over his eyes.

Yangon rose and glared at the Ingot in front of her. “You’ve caught some off-world disease, and now you’re out of sync.” Her lips pursed in disdain. “You’d better see a specialist.” Sudden alarm spread over her face. She ran to an alcove and slapped a wall panel. “You better not have given me anything—” She rubbed herself all over as an intense light radiated across her body and a disinfectant spray enveloped her.

Bergen shook his head as he climbed to his feet. “I’m not sick. Or out of sync. I’ve just realized—I’m hardly alive.” He started for the door.

Keeping her distance, Yangon stared after him. “Where’re you going?”

Passing the window, he pointed to the black, star-filled sky. “I’m going back.”

Yangon snorted. “You can’t live like a primitive, Ingot. Technology is wired into your very being.”

Bergen shrugged. “The Crestas are experimenting on our nursery rejects—maybe they can help me.”

Yangon’s lip rose in a snarl. “They’ll more likely kill you.”

“Long as I care—I’ll live.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Outlast the Ages

Ancient Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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