Bright, deceiving sunshine shone down on the after-holiday crowd as they endured their first day back to work. Some wore their new gifts of bright hats, thick coats, and padded footwear to protect themselves from the harsh, winter elements. Color and style did little to assist the beings as they plowed against a freezing wind. Survival loomed as the greatest good while ascetics followed a distant second. Holiday happiness had, by necessity, been replaced by grit and determination.
Governor Right stood before her ornate office cabinet and poured amber liquid into a shot glass. She tossed the drink down her throat. After an initial grimace, her face relaxed. With a sigh, she carried the bottle and the glass over to her desk and settled onto her padded chair. She poured herself another.
“This could go on all day.” Mitholie stood just inside the governor’s office doorway. The door slid shut behind him with a slight hiss.
Governor Right shot to her feet, her eyes narrowing. “Who let you in here? Who are you?”
“May I have a taste? It’s not often that I have an opportunity to enjoy Newearth cuisine.”
“Go to Bothmal! You’re one of Taug’s little minions, is that it? Listen, Cresta, I have—”
“Tut, tut. At least, I think that’s the way you humans express polite displeasure. I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re shockingly ignorant. I’m no one’s minion. I’m a leading scientist on Crestar. Some would say, the—”
A gasp knocked the governor back onto her chair. “Mitholie? By the Divide, what brings you here?” Her hand trembled as she pulled open a drawer and withdrew a second glass.
Mitholie’s bulbous eyes glittered. “I’m so glad you asked.”
Governor Right watched in fascinated disgust as Mitholie first sniffed her expensive brandy and then poured it into his breathing helm. Her mouth hung ajar like a broken hangar door.
Blinking his reaction under control, Mitholie grinned crookedly. “I had no idea you had such delicious liquids available. Taug’s been keeping more than a few secrets.”
Taug’s name jolted Governor Right, her gaze hardening. “Have you seen him lately? I’d love to arrest him on a variety of charges, but he’s difficult to pin down, and I don’t want to offend—”
Mitholie waved her concerns away. “Humans can’t help being offensive. It’s in your nature. But don’t worry, I’ve learned to control my sensibilities.”
The governor plowed ahead. “He does have one last piece of business to dispose of. Apparently, he’s been stupid enough to awaken an android war criminal and planned to use it as an executioner—when need be. Or should I say, if need be. I get the feeling that honest Taug hasn’t been exactly straightforward with us.”
“Your scintillating insight is as I expected.” Mitholie blew bubbles through his breather helm before continuing. “No Cresta is ever straightforward with anyone, least of all another Cresta.”
“So you knew about his plans to create more half-breeds?”
“I knew the temptation would be irresistible.”
Governor Right rose and strode to the furthest corner where the shadow had resided on its last visit. She searched the corners of the room. “Do you also know that other forces are at work here? Non-Cresta forces?”
Mitholie shuffled to a padded chair across from the governor’s desk and snuffed another long draught from his spiked breather helm. “You mean the Ingoti drug runners? They’re—”
“No. Not Ingoti. I mean another race. One I can’t name.”
“Can’t or won’t? Please, don’t be shy. We’re friends—enjoying liquids together.”
“Priceless!” Clenching her hands together, the governor began to pace. “I’m not sure how much to say. I’ve had the office scanned numerous times, but one never knows who might be listening.” She stepped closer, dropping her voice. “My guest has arrived at odd intervals and proven to be surprisingly resourceful. And dangerous.”
Mitholie regarded Jane Right with a cold stare. “To what purpose?”
The governor looked away, her gaze unfocused and her words hesitant. “I’m not certain. But I know that it has an interest in Ingoti investments.”
“Well, that’s always good for a few extra units. Not terribly dangerous, except to the test race. Human, this time, eh?”
The governor nodded.
Mitholie stroked his chin, his eyes half-lidded. “I don’t think that needs to disturb us. My mission is to keep the good name of Crestar intact. Taug had a simple job to do, but he failed.”
The governor resumed her stroll around the office. “So, you didn’t expect him to experiment on the side?”
“I dearly hoped he would. Every bit of scientific knowledge is worth a million units. You don’t have that saying?” A sad shake of the head appeared to denote further proof of pitiful, human ignorance. “In any case, I assumed he’d experiment first. But I expected him to be quicker and subtler. And now you tell me he has an android war machine at his disposal? Dark waters. This becomes cloudy, indeed.”
“If it makes you any happier, I have the half-breed in one of my private holding cells. I ordered Taug to destroy the android.”
“If he didn’t obey me, what makes you think he’ll obey you?”
With a nonchalant wave, Governor Right played her hand. “I own his laboratory.”
Mitholie squirmed in glee. “You couldn’t pinch a Cresta in a more tender spot! I take back what I said earlier; you are scintillating.” Mitholie heaved himself out of the chair and shuffled to the door. “I think we can do better, though. Have your mysterious friend kill the half-breed in the interest of race relations and put the android on trial for its life. Everyone loves a spectacle. Offer a dramatic show, and you’ll become the hero of the season.” Mitholie chuckled as he ambled through the door. “You could sell tickets.”
Watching the door slide shut, the governor slid her palm-sized Dustbuster back into her pocket.
Derik sat bolt upright. The darkness blanketed everything. Even with his heightened Cresta sensitivities, he could not peer through the black gloom. Someone was in his cell with him. He could sense it.
Shivering, he wrapped himself in the thin blanket offered by Governor Right’s officers. He had chuckled at the irony of being locked up by secret police when he had been living in the open every day of his life. The chuckle had worn off hours ago.
“You’re finally awake. I was getting bored.”
Derik shot to his feet.
A muscular arm reached out and stopped him before he made it to the door. “Say one word, and you’ll suffer a fatal heart attack.”
With an audible swallow, Derik muttered. “My heart is strong.”
“Not when it’s crushed.”
“What do you want?”
“To understand you.”
Derik’s chuckle returned and quickly morphed into insane laughter. Clutching the wall, he leaned at a crazy angle. “Everyone wants to understand me—I can’t even understand my- self. What? You’re a friend of Taug’s?”
“I’ve never been so insulted!” The shadow retreated to a far corner and folded the arms of its robe. “Actually, you and I are not dissimilar. I too have suffered from, shall we say, identity confusion.”
Derik sighed. “My sympathies. But unless you are being hunted like—”
“My people have been hunted longer than you can imagine. Our perfection makes us a target for every conquering race. As your unique qualities make you a prized possession.”
“So you’re not Cresta or Ingoti…or even Uanyi.” Derik let loose with a low whistle. “You’re Bhuac?”
The intake of breath brought the first real smile to Derik’s face. “I wish I could see you, though I suppose it wouldn’t matter as you can take any form. I’d never see you again—would I?”
The shadow drifted nearer. “I didn’t expect this level of perception. No one else has ever guessed.”
“Must be the human-Cresta combination. A sensitive heart, an analytical mind—quick reflexes.” Derik’s hand snapped forward and caught the figure by the throat. “Why are you here? No one needs my sympathy.”
“I could become a Kalama tiger and devour you.”
“I’d break your neck before your first bite.” As Derik applied pressure, the figure shrank. He shoved it against the wall and snapped his fingers in the air. “Make some light would you?”
A blue glow flared and a dainty Bhuac figure appeared before Derik, resembling a fairy child enveloped in soft radiance. “My name is Faye.”
Derik fell back against the wall. “I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but life’s been a bit challenging of late, and I don’t feel like lying.”
Faye stepped forward. “I’m here to ask a favor.”
Derik flapped his arms as if to embrace his environment. “You do realize that I’m in prison—about to be murdered?”
“I won’t let that happen. But I need you to make me a promise.”
“Oh, sure. I’m in the mood for granting favors. How about I give you the sun and the moon? Anything else?”
Faye swayed over to the hard bed and perched on the edge. “My family was destroyed in the Telathot incursion. Before she was taken prisoner, I promised my mother I would save my people. I’ve lived a lie for generations of your kind and served through deceit and despair, using every race at my disposal to keep the Bhuaci safe from any further desolation.”
Derik slid down the wall and sat on the floor. “I’m impressed. In fact, I’m ashamed. I shouldn’t have—”
Faye rose and paced in front of Derik, like a general reviewing her troops. “As a half-breed, you have special advantages. And your friend, the android, also has certain gifts. I want you to promise to assist me in protecting my race.”
Rubbing his hands through his hair, Derik sighed. “If I wasn’t locked in a cage, I’d be willing, but as you can see, my options are limited. Justine is probably—” He doubled over, agonized shivers wracking his body. “What will they do to her?”
“I don’t know, but even if she is destroyed, there must be others like her. Do you know—?”
Derik covered his face with his fists. “I don’t care. I only care about her.” He lowered his hands and glared through haunted eyes. “Have you ever been in love?”
A twisted smile disfigured Faye’s petite face. “I have suffered so, without the benefits.”
Derik’s head fell back against the wall; his shoulders slumped in defeat. “I don’t get it. You’re shapeshifters. You should be able to conquer the universe. Take the form of demons and destroy all who oppose you.”
Faye swayed closer, her gaze boring into his. “To conquer as you suggest, we’d have to destroy ourselves first.”
“Innocence, a beggar’s inheritance, isn’t it?”
“I have often thought so…but in observing you and your friends, I have discovered new strength.”
Derik’s sneer was palpable through the blue glow. “Enlighten me.”
“Right makes might.”
A harsh buzzing warned of a visitor. The room fell into darkness and a soft whoosh blew across Derik’s face, alerting him to Faye’s transformation. What she had become, he would never know. Despite the heavy tread of boots, a harsh, white light that made him blink, and a harsher voice that grated on his ear, he stood transfixed by the soft touch of a wing in flight.
“I don’t believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in collective responsibility.” ~Audrey Hepburn
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Science Fiction Novels
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend
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