Homestead Parts 1 and 2

The first three chapters are free on Kindle Vella.

For the rest of the complete, available chapters check out…

https://www.amazon.com/Homestead/dp/B094PVCT26/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=a.+K.+Frailey&qid=1626266332&s=falkor&sr=1-1

Home is where the heart is. But when the world fell apart, an alien race invaded, and my husband and children were in different locations, my heart dug deep into the home stead. If I couldn’t get to them, I’d hold fast, so they had home to return to…

Part 1

No Place I’d Rather Be

I clasped a hot cup of coffee in my hands, stepped onto the back porch as the rising sun peeked between the flowering trees, and breathed deep. As if wishing me a good morning, sparrows, robins, blue jays, and a couple of cardinals fluttered about in springtime joy. I had a whole weekend to myself, and I planned to enjoy every peaceful minute of it.

Home.

There was no place else I’d rather be.

That has remained true, despite everything. Maybe because of everything. Perhaps some part of me knew what was coming, and I needed to savor every drop of beauty, glory, and strength to live beyond my small, about-to-combust, world.

Dana had left for her new job in St. Louis the previous Sunday afternoon. It was a great opportunity for her. And she knew it. I knew it too. Somewhere deep inside.

“Mom, please don’t dribble your despondency all over my clean car.”

Her dad, Liam—aka my beloved—grinned like the besotted fool he was.

The kid got her sarcasm from me, so I could hardly complain. Though I did scrunch my eyes, stomp my feet, and pantomime a child having a conniption fit.

Dana laughed. A loud bark that set our hounds into howls.

Her car, stuffed with two kitchen chairs, bedding, the last of her clothing, enough comfort food to get her through the first week, and a miraculous medal and prayerbook she didn’t know about tucked into the glove compartment, announced her readiness to fly from the proverbial nest.

She came around the front fender and wrapped me in a big hug. Dana was never small. Even as a baby, she came into the world larger than life, thrashing and screaming, her black hair wild, making her look bigger and badder than she really was.

I hugged her back with every ounce of my fifty-year-old strength.

When her car turned at the end of the lane, I stopped waving and wiped tears from my eyes. Liam held my hand all the way up the front steps.

Juan, my broad shouldered, eighteen-year-old, sunshine child, brought into my life by two miracles—his birthmother’s big heart and my husband’s absolute trust—bounded down the back porch steps on Thursday afternoon with the abandon of a guy ready for an early weekend.

I reminded him of dinner. “I’ve got a roast chicken and an apple cobbler nearly ready.”

An apologetic shrug. “I’m heading out—gonna go camping with a few friends.”

“It’s April!” I thought that explained everything well enough.

Not according to Juan’s logic. “Hey, ma, I’ve worked hard. The guys and I want to get away for a bit, think things over before our next big move.”

I scratched my head. “By move, you mean summer work, right?”

He chuckled.

Crossing my arms, I shot one over the bow. “You ask dad?”

“He said go have a good time.” Juan squinted in his playful way. “I think he’d like to get out his corporate meeting and come with us instead.”

If I was perfectly honest, I’d rather Liam head to the wilds of Alaska than the L. A. madness that was his corporate headquarters. But mine was not to reason why…

It was only after Juan had roared his car down the road that it dawned on me. He took no clothes, no bedding, no tent. Camping? My eye.

I sighed as I headed back to the house and faced the roasted chicken that I knew my husband wouldn’t eat.

By Friday morning, Liam was a mess. He hated traveling. He loathed meetings. He despised corporations. How he managed to rise so high in the tech field is one of the mysteries of life. I forgave him for the third time for picking my beautiful dinner to pieces, knocking the Easter Lilly off the shelf, and nearly shutting the car door on my hand in his haste to get to the airport on time.

“If they try to drag me to one of their get-togethers, I’ll tell them I have a fever and—”

“Say you’re sick, and you’ll have the entire place hyperventilating. Just say you have work to do. They’ll respect that.”

“They’ll laugh and try to set me up with drinks and dates.”

I glared out of the corner of my eye.

He kept his eyes on the road.

“You ever consider starting your own multi-million-dollar business and work from home?”

He laughed.

Such a bark, I could almost hear the dogs howl though they were miles away back on the homestead. “I know where Dana gets it.”

“What?”

“That laugh. It sounds like a bark.”

For the first time in three days, Liam smiled. “It’s not a bark. It’s a hoot.”

“You’re a hoot.” I smiled back, kissed him at the visitor parking lot, and kept it plastered on all the way along highway seventy till I reached home.

Saturday morning, I rose early, poured myself a cup of hot coffee, traipsed onto my bedroom porch and breathed deep without an inkling that the world as I knew it was about to end.

Part 2

Even the Birds Stopped Singing

After dressing in jean shorts and a tunic top, I enjoyed coffee and a robust breakfast of eggs and toast. Fortified, I ran downstairs and tossed in a load of laundry. Then I scurried back upstairs and wondered why I was in such a hurry.  With a reminder to take it easy, I grabbed another cup of coffee and meandered to the roll-top desk in my studio. Like a lady of leisure, I scrolled through my emails and social media.

When the internet flickered off and on around ten o’clock, I didn’t think anything of it. We live in farm country, so wild critters sometimes make a bad life decision and interfere with the lines, or storms miles away can interrupt service. I glanced outside. No storm. A perfect sunny May first. I shivered for the critter that may have suffered an untimely death.

When my phone chimed from the kitchen counter an hour later, I had just kneaded the last bit of dough for my weekly bread making and lined up the greased bread pans. My fingers, covered in sticky goo, weren’t suited for a technological device at the moment. So, I used my elbow and managed to make the connection.

My sister, Sarah huffed her words. Must’ve been running, I figured.

“Hey, Kiddo, did your power go off this morning?”

I slapped on the tap water and rinsed my fingers, talking over my shoulder. “Just for a sec.” I scowled at the trickle dribbling over my hands. The water pressure was down. Deep inward sigh. Water pressure meant a lot to me. How was I going to take my bed-time shower?

“But it’s back on, right?”

The proverbial light bulb clicked on. Power outage and loss of water pressure. Oh, yeah. Made sense. I peered at the ceiling. The light wasn’t on. I glanced to the counter. Nor was the coffee maker. But, silly me, they shouldn’t be. It was bright and sunny and I’d cleaned the coffee maker after my second cup. I glanced at the stove. The clock showed the time, but only dimly.

“Hmm…it came back on but—” I ran and flipped the light switch with my wet hand.

My sister broke through. “Hey, I’ve got another call. It’s Bill. Poor guy had to work over the weekend. Better go.”

I listened to the click as she hung up, but my eyes stayed fixed to the ceiling. Brown light. Not the bright glare I was used to.

A sound in the distance caught my ear. Horns? Who on earth would be blowing their horn out here? We lived on a dead-end lane and there wasn’t any traffic even during planting season.

“Oh, God!” It was an accident. I was sure of it.

But just as suddenly, it stopped. All noise stopped. Even the birds stopped singing. Complete silence.

If you’ve ever been suddenly thrust into the pitch black, you know how disorientating that can be. Well, the same was true when all sound stopped. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath. The moment after a collective gasp.

And then, all hell broke loose.

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/window-cosmos-window-pane-5624014/

A Pinnacle

Icy cold drink on a blistering hot day,

Cracking open a story,

to mystery glory,

Twists and turns on the way.

Chattered conversation in hearing range,

Familiar family, comfortable exchange.

Band-aids for when the peeler strays

Crunchy salad with soft bread,

Ordinary days,

Punctuated with holidays.

A gaze held with meaning; you know.

Relationships despite skirmishes manage to grow.

Babies, eagles, and kittens,

Platypus ridiculous, even minnows and jellyfish,

Make no moment worthless.

 For in treasuring each,

The soul does reach,

A pinnacle,

To wave life’s flag of joy.

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/photos/cliff-adventure-above-hiking-1822484/

Smashed to Pieces

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

Tarragon, sitting on a wide bench before the ship’s hatch door, bent low and tugged a new boot onto his three toed foot. He grunted with the exertion, but as it finally wiggled into place, he grinned with satisfaction. “There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” He lifted his foot and eyed it carefully. “A little snug, but I can—”

A sudden blur rushing past his face followed by a thud shook him to the core. He yelped, “Sheesha!” Then he looked down at the body lying at his feet. A scantily clad woman. He frowned. “I know you.”

Groaning, the woman rubbed her face and opened her eyes. Amid exclamations of pain and irritation, she struggled to sit up. “You wouldn’t be interested in helping me to my feet, Cresta?”

As if to wake himself out of a dream, Tarragon shivered and thrust out a tentacle. “Mauve?” He peered at the ceiling. No hole. He glanced around. The bay door remained closed. “How did you get here? Any why didn’t you use the door, like everyone else?”

Climbing to her feet, Mauve’s eyes widened as her gaze traveled along her nearly bare body. Only a lightweight, shimmering tunic covered her body from shoulders to calves. “That blinking Mystery—What happened to my clothes!”

Tarragon recognized that he was not being asked a question so he declined any attempt to answer. Instead, he lifted his second boot and shook it in her direction. “Since you are here, I’d appreciate your help.”

Mauve slapped her forehead. “I fall into your ship, literally, and all you can think about is your boots?”

With a shrug Tarragon made his priorities clear. “The sooner I get this on, the sooner I can help you solve your mystery.”

Mauve swept her hand over herself and instantly appeared in a long red dress with wide sleeves, purple slippers, and a black belt. Her hair, arranged on the top of her head in a series of ornate braids, glistened in the garish light. She glared down at him, marring the perfect symmetry of her face. “I found him already. Who do you think did this?”

With a disgusted harumph, Tarragon tugged on the second boot. It slid into place, and he stood, testing his balance. Once secure, he pointed to the door. “Shall we? These beings not only have power, but a sense of humor as well.”

The bay door opened, sending light rays into the ship.

Mauve scowled. “If you think this was funny, I can find ways to tickle your insides.”

Alarmed, Tarragon stepped outside and lifted all four tentacles in an attitude of surrender. “I see where you might be annoyed, but still, you must admit, it was clever. He could’ve killed you. Instead, he merely humbled you.”

Mauve scampered down the incline and pounded across the wet sand to the mouth of the cave. She stared at the ripples of an incoming current. “He’ll have to try a lot harder than that!”

Tarragon plodded up beside her, his tentacles wrapped behind his back.

“They acted like a father and son. The boy is a fool. The father only plays one. I’d like to know a whole lot more. They could be useful.”

The sunlight sparkled over the water, glorious to Tarragon’s eyes. “I doubt you can bargain with them.”

With a thoughtful look, Mauve replaced her dainty slippers with tall boots and plodded forward. “I’ll kidnap the son. That’ll show oh-so-powerful-one who he’s playing with. The fool probably thinks that I’m as weak as a human, stupid as an Ingot, or as single-minded as a Cresta. He has a lot to learn.” She slogged toward the shoreline. “Hurry up if you want to watch me take the Mystery Being down a peg or two.”

Slapping a tentacle across his face, amazement shivered over Tarragon. He watched her scrabble up the beach and stomp in the direction of the Widow’s castle. Of course, I can always offer my services to the winner. Perhaps there could be an exchange—once I save his son…

~~~

Sterling stood beside Nova in a shadowed corner of the Widow’s great hall and watched the spectacle, entranced by the crowd’s childlike joy yet disgusted by their easy manipulation.

Abbas stood before the great fireplace and juggled three plates before a breathless crowd. To their amazement, he added a fourth plate. He grinned at Cerulean who, in common peasant garb, stood beside the high table. “Toss me that golden vessel!”

Hesitant, Cerulean glanced away from the Mistress’ gorgeous place setting and grasped a clay mug instead.

Scowling, Nova shoved past him, plucked the golden goblet off the table, and tossed it into the whirling mix.

Without missing a beat, Abbas caught it and juggled all four objects faster than ever.

The watching throng roared approval.

Sterling stepped behind Cerulean and gripped his shoulder. He spoke in an undertone. “Now toss in the mug.”

Cerulean threw in a perfect arc, and the mug whirled beautifully before smacking into the goblet, breaking the spinning cycle. The plates and mugs fell to the floor, smashing into uncountable splinters. The goblet rolled to the wall and stopped.

Abbas locked eyes on Sterling who grinned in return.

A disgruntled woman aired her disappointment, “Good plates ruined. For what, I ask?”

Quickly pulling a colored scarf from his sleeve, Abbas then ceremoniously flung it over the mess. He grabbed a tray off the table, scraped the mess on, held it aloft, and chanted, “Heza, hiza, meza, miza! Be renewed!”

He snapped the scarf away, and all four plates and the clay mug all appeared in perfect shape on the tray.”

Loud exclamations met his astonishing feat.

Smiling, Abbas placed the tray on the table. “The hand is quicker than the eye. You didn’t see what you thought you saw!”

He then bowed backward out the front door into the cool evening air.

Sterling followed with Cerulean and Nova trailing along behind.

Once well away from the well-lit hall and stepping into the long shadow of the curtain wall, Abbas turned and waved his followers along. He snuck inside the doorway of a flanking tower and climbed the steep steps at a faster rate than his apparent age suggested possible.

Anxiety tightening his chest, Sterling’s skin chilled in the evening air. How human. He lifted his hand, halting Cerulean and Nova in their tracks. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Nova challenged, “But what if you’re not?”

“Then Cerulean is in charge. Now be a good changeling and obey a direct order from your superior.”

Her hands clenched, Nova stomped forward.

Cerulean gripped her arm, shaking his head.

Relieved, Sterling raced up the steps after the only person who had ever made him feel afraid.

~~~

Omega meandered along the edge of the cliff well aware that the Luxonian woman trailed twenty feet behind him. He had a lot on his mind. His father seemed easily annoyed of late, and that puzzled him. His father adored him. As did his mother. He was a perfect son. How could he not be? Yet, this evening, his father had told him to “go away” for a bit. What did “go away” even mean?

“Hey, you! Boy! Wait a moment. I need to talk to you.”

A strange sensation filled Omega. The sun had set and an evening glow still shown over the water’s edge, yet darkness filled him. He turned around and faced the nasally high voice.

Mauve trotted forward, heaving gulps of air. “Stay put a moment. I had to lose that stupid Cresta to have a private word with you.”

Omega peered over her shoulder. There, in the far distance, the Cresta plodded along, stumbling like a newly-hatched bird. “What’s he done that you should leave him behind?”

Mauve stopped before him, a fierce scowl marring her otherwise pretty face. “He’s nothing. Don’t bother about him.” She repositioned her face and attempted an ingratiating smile. “I’ve got a proposition for you—if you’d just allow me—”

“You’re the one who plays with the men?”

Mauve snorted, a grin replacing her smile. “I play with them as likes to play.” She shrugged. “Makes life meaningful—to experience everything while I’m here.” She sauntered closer, her hips swaying invitingly.

Omega stepped to the very edge of the cliff.

Her eyes glinted as she slid her hand along his chest.

Repulsed, Omega said the first thing that came to mind. “Father says you’re a leech.”

Her face contorting, Mauve lifted her hand. “I was going to be nice but—”

Suddenly Mauve’s body recomposed from flesh into clay, her face frozen in rage.

Heaving a long sigh, Omega appraised the life-like sculpture and patted the stiff cheek. Then nudged the composition over the cliff.

As waves crashed ashore, the clay figure whirled downward, then smashed to pieces on the wet rocks below.

Omega leaned over the edge. He clapped dust off his hands and turned away.

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/photos/cliffs-ocean-waves-sea-water-5547648/

OldEarth Georgios Encounter

Prologue

Noman surveyed the white walls, considered the silence of the empty tomb, and knew that hell existed. He wiggled his sand-encrusted toes and straightened, his long, loose tunic rippling with the movement. Sweat dripped down his back as blazing sunlight glared from an unrepentant blue sky.

Where was Abbas now?

With a smothered curse, he shifted his gaze away from the gapping hole. There was no point in torturing himself with what might have been. If only Abbas had listened. If only someone had cared enough to believe him. But it was too late. He was on Earth, the challenge had been made, and he could not unmake it. He could only prove them wrong.

Abbas’ face appeared before his eyes. A man he could have loved and served heart and soul. Instead, he had another mission. Even love had its limit.

A squeal turned his attention. A woman stood frozen on the rocky path, her eyes wide with fear.

A scorpion poised in her path, ready for attack.

Bumbling woman! Humans had an ever-ready supply of idiocy. He stepped forward. Stopped. Why should he? What was this archaic inclination to assist lesser beings? The very image of Abbas. Noman stayed in the shadows.

A young man jogged forward and froze. He glanced from the scorpion to the woman.

Her voice shaking, the woman covered her mouth with her trembling hand. “I was bitten once, nearly killed me.”

The youth leapt aside, grabbed a stone and whisked it at the pest.

The venomous creature scuttled away.

Clutching her chest, the woman swayed, closing her eyes.

The young man held her upright, gripping her elbow in his hand. “You’re safe. It’s gone.”

She opened her eyes, gratitude in every feature. “Thank you. My name is Anna. I’m going home—I was too scared to think.”

“I’m Georgios. Now worries. Will you be able to—?”

She clasped her hands with a formal bow in humility and gratitude.

After a parting smile, Georgios sped off.

With a glance ascending like a prayer, the young woman paced forward, a serene expression replacing her former anxiety.

Noman stepped forward and shook his head.

The scorpion was still nearby. Its mission to paralyze and eat its prey had not changed. Mutant kindness meant nothing. One day, she would not be so lucky.

He peered along the path Georgios had taken. The perfect object lesson. Georgios would prove his point to Abbas. Kind-hearted fools—the best argument for humanity’s humiliation.

~~~

Ark stared at the vial clasped in his mate’s tentacles. She was grinning. He had no such intention. Still, it was an honor, though an unexpected and unwelcome one.

“Are you absolutely sure?”

Meta shook the clear tube. “As sure as a triple check can be.”

Immersed in his studies in the laboratory, Meta should’ve had the sense to wait until they were in the pool to share this news. But what can one expect from a female? They’re always so blasted unpredictable. “Watch where you put your tentacles” and “Don’t turn your eyes from a female in the lab” were two oft repeated truisms bandied about the private male laboratories. The females had their own scientific centers, ones Ark avoided with due care.

He adjusted his nostril tube and rubbed the cilia on the top of his head. What he wouldn’t give to speak with Teal at this moment.

“You will own it, won’t you?” Meta was clearly in no mood for obfuscations.  

“I’ll run my own tests, if you don’t mind. But in end, if as I suspect is true and the pod is mine, then, of course, I will own it.”

Meta exhaled, bubbles forming around her breathing tube, and her smile widening. “Good. Once I give birth next cycle, it’s all yours!”

A crash splintered the silence.

Ark peered at the floor where his latest experiment had spilled in a gelatinous goo across the floor. One brief, well, three brief pleasant encounters, and he’d be paying for uncountable cycles. Perhaps for the rest of his natural life!

Meta shrugged her numerous shoulders and waved all six tentacles. “Make sure you clean that up carefully. You don’t want to get sick. New father and all.” With a giggle, she waddled through the open doorway.

A throb building behind his eyes, Ark lusted for a tall glass of green and a trip to Lux. Yes, he’d stop by and see Teal. Compare fatherhood stories. After all, it was Teal who made interacting with the opposite sex so appealing. Had it all been a lie?

Before he officially met his offspring, he must find out.

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/landscape-cave-moon-twilight-night-5563684/

Mostly, I Live Life

Rebah stared—turning her head as far back as it would go—at the crow perched on an old wooden post in front of rows of golden corn stalks, as she drove no less than sixty on the rural Illinois road.

She should’ve stopped. By the time she made up her mind and looked in the rearview mirror, the proud plumage was flying high across the cornfield into the bean field.

Where’re you going?

It couldn’t hear her and wouldn’t care to answer if it did. Rebah only wanted to stare at it long enough to imbibe the magical power it held—the mystical passion embodied in a carefree moment.

She glanced at her handbag leaning forlornly on the passenger seat, the strap folded across the open pocket that held the keys to her current existence—her cell phone and her to-do list.

Jed, she repeated. Jed. Not Jeb or Jacob. It’s Jed. She tried to picture the man her husband told her owned the shop.

“Tall, lanky, elderly guy with gray hair.”

 Gee, thanks, Honey. Got it now.

 Rebah stretched her mind back. Had Brad ever used figurative language? Did he ever describe a person as more than a combination of physical attributes? It was one of the things she’d loved about him—his honest, clear thinking. Never sarcastic like her dad or manipulative like her sister. Just a straightforward kind of man.

Three plump blackbirds stood at odd angles to each other on the road ahead. Apparently, they weren’t in a hurry, but she was. As her car zoomed up to the twenty-yard mark, they flapped into the blue September sky, majestic and unperturbed. “We’re heading on anyway, Lady. Don’t think for a second that you altered our plans.”

She wanted to laugh. Giggle. A smirk would do. But she had to find Jed’s countryside shop and buy a part for the mower. It was an old mower and needed an old part, preferably one that worked. It was all Greek to her. Mowers belonged in the same category as electricity and nuclear fusion.

A right on Acorn Road, two streets down, and on the left, 119 E. Acorn Rd. a workshop appeared as if by magic. A wooden structure built back and to the left of a cottage that belonged in a land of “far away and long ago.” Charming hardly covered it.

The rock driveway lined with late-season flowers curved around the back of the shop. She parked, rolled down the window, and imbibed.

The porch cozied over two garden beds run riot with daisies, asters, chrysanthemums, and coneflowers. Cornstalks tied to the railings decorated the steps as a scarecrow stood watch, both his smile and his pitchfork ready for service. Hanging plants perked up the mellow season with dashes of red and green, while ceramic squirrels scampered down the steps, leading to a maple tree just breaking into full autumn glory.

Rebah climbed out of her car and exhaled. “Good God in heaven!”

“Yeah, I’d say that’s about right.”

The man’s deep voice followed by a light chuckle turned Rebah’s gaze.

Coming from the dim interior of the shop, ambled a man exactly as her husband described. Except her husband had failed to mention the bulbous nose, oversized ears, long grey beard, and the sweetest eyes she had ever delved.

“What can I do for you?”

Rebah wondered if she was in love. She wanted to live in this little house, sit on a bench, watch this gentle giant work in his shop, and absorb the conviviality that emanated from the air in this enchanted spot on Acorn Road.

She spluttered, “Oh, yes, actually, my-uh, husband sent me over to get a part. George. My husband. He needs something you have.”

She wasn’t sure if that last part was a question or a statement of fact, but she prayed Jed was a mind reader since she could no longer rely on the power of speech.

“George? Oh, yes!” Jed grinned impishly as befitted the gnome-spirit he represented. “I have the part right here in my shop. I was just cleaning it a bit. They get a mite dusty sitting on the shelf, don’t you know.”

A howl of laughter fought earnestly with a sob of despair. By all the saints, Rebah knew about dust! Dust bunnies and spider webs had beaten her into submission long ago. Who on earth cleaned an engine part? A pitiful squeak was the best she could manage as the battle ended in a draw.

“Well, come on in and have a cup of something while you wait. I like a little spiced cider as the evening draws close. Perks a fellow up after a long day.” He ambled back into the shop, turning a switch on the wall just inside the doorway.

Yellow lamplight flooded the room, conjuring images of children’s fairytale books. Cherry stained shelves lined the walls, filled with an impossible variety of projects. Small engine parts, kitchen essentials—toasters and mixers, a variety of wall clocks, one small organ, two violins, and, of course, an assortment of broken toys stood, sat, or leaned in repose for their appointment with Jed’s dexterous fingers.

Rebah tried to shake herself into conscious reality. “So, you’re a fixer? A repair guy?” Oh heck, that seemed as inadequate as calling a CIA agent a sleuth.

After pouring a fresh cup of cider into a mug from a dark brown jug and setting it within easy reach, Jed ran a cloth lovingly over the metal part that—in Rebah’s opinion—hardly deserved the attention.

She sipped the cider, warmth tingling all over. Her eyes strayed to the mower part. She frowned. It was just metal, after all. It would go in a machine, get dirty again, and no one would care in the least.

“I fix those things that I can. Mostly, I live life.”

A lump formed in Rebah’s throat. She blinked.

Two crows and three blackbirds hopped up to the open doorway, their bright eyes keeping a careful watch on Rebah.

Jed laughed. He laid the metal part on his workbench, scooped an old can into a plump bag hanging on the wall, then carried the full container of seeds to the doorway. He scattered supper to the hungry throng and watched them in serene joy.

Rebah watched his every move as absorbed as it was the finale of her favorite primetime drama. “God, I want what you’ve got.”

It felt like cold water in the face when Rebah realized that she had said the words out loud.

“Eh?” Jed returned to his machine part. He wrapped it in a clean cloth and laid it at the bottom of a paper bag. He folded the bag neatly and handed it to Rebah.

She slurped the rest of her drink, letting the warm tingly feeling bring a smile to her face, covering her confusion. Perhaps he hadn’t heard. “How much do I owe you?”

“Ten ought to cover it. It’s a recycled part and didn’t need much mending.”

She ran to her car, dropped the bag on the back seat, shuffled through her purse, found two fives, scurried back, and met Jed in front of his porch steps. She handed him the money. A longing nearly broke her heart. “I wish my place looked like this. More, I wish I felt like…this…place.”

To Rebah’s astonishment, Jed smiled.

“Yeah. That’s how I was when I first came here. I’d been in the army for more years than I can remember, fought people I didn’t want to fight, lost family to drugs and alcohol, though my youngest sister died of cancer last year. But you know, the old woman who owned this place said that it just needed tender care. If I’d give it that and do every task with gentle love, I’d be repaid in full.” Jed tapped the railing. “By golly, she wasn’t off the mark.”

Tears filled Rebah’s eyes. “You don’t mean that my place could look like this?”

“No. This place belongs here on Acorn Road. But the beauty I wake up to every day? Why, that belongs everywhere that’ll allow it in.”

~~~

When Rebah drove up to her short straight driveway, her husband, George stood on their overgrown lawn, grinning.

She grinned back. “I’ve got the part, and I’ll get dinner on in a minute, Love.”

When a crow flapped overhead, she knew whom she’d invite to dinner next.

 

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/crow-bird-animal-plumage-beak-3604685/

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter

Science Fiction Chapter

LegitimateConcerns2

 

—Planet Lux—

Legitimate Concerns

Sterling lifted a trailing purple vine from a deep pot and carried it beyond Teal to an ornamental box hanging outside his open apartment window. “By the Divide. You don’t honestly believe that I’d want to go to that barren wasteland you describe in your reports?”

Shoving loose soil aside, Sterling nestled the plant roots in a wide hole. “Why, I’d rather be eaten alive by Crestonian dissection maggots.”

He patted the dirt around the plant stem and laid the vine runners across the box so they dangled artistically. “At least they do their work quickly and leave you in peace when they’re done.” Holding his hands out like a surgeon ready to perform surgery, Sterling marched across his living room and slapped a wall panel with his elbow.

A glossy white sink and accompanying faucet emerged from the wall. He waved his dirty hands under the faucet.

Nothing happened.

Sterling glanced at Teal.

Teal tapped his fingers together and pursed his lips. Sterling swung his gaze from Teal to his hands and whined. “You could help, you know.”

Marching across the room, Teal slapped the wall console. Hard.

High-pressure water rushed from the faucet and nearly cut Sterling’s hands from his wrists.

“Aw! Damn it, Teal. You want me to go to that hideous planet, but you nearly maim me first.” Sterling eyed the wall console. “Your Ingot friend said he fixed it.”

Teal snatched a blue-green oval fruit from a bowl on an end table and chomped. He talked around a chew. “Ingots like high-pressure water.”

Sterling ripped a towel from the sink rack. “Ingots like high-pressuring everything.” He jutted his jaw at Teal and patted his hands dry. “You’ve been around Zuri too much. I’m beginning to notice a resemblance.” He waved his hand in a circular fashion before his face. “Especially around the eyes. You’re glaring like he does.”

Teal finished chewing and swallowed. “I’m not glaring. I just made a simple request.”

Sterling returned to the window box and peered at the transplant.

The vine lay limp, wilting before his eyes. How very depressing.

Teal stepped up and eyed the pathetic foliage. “I think you need to water it.”

Sterling glanced at the high-pressure sink and bit his lip. A chime sounded.

Teal and Sterling turned to the door.

Exhaling a long exasperated breath, Sterling shrugged.

“Come in.” He glanced at the vine. “I’m not doing anything…worthwhile.”

With an eye roll, Teal swept a tall, square glass off the liquor cabinet, adjusted the water pressure, and filled the container.

The door slid open and Ark ambled in. He waved a tentacle. “You called?”

Teal watered the vine, waited, and then faced Ark.

Ark eyed the glass, his brows rising, a smile quivering on his thick lips. “Having liquids, are we?”

Sterling’s gaze swiveled from Ark to Teal. “You invited him here?” He marched to the liquor cabinet and pulled down three glasses. “Let me guess. The Ingot is on his way.”

Ark eyed Sterling’s actions with obvious interest and sidled closer. “Actually, he’s still on Earth.” Twining two tentacles over his middle like an abashed student before his learned master, Ark glanced at Teal. “He’s keeping an eye on Ishtar. And taking copious notes, I hope.”

Teal chuckled. “And taking a few ore samples, if I know him.”

Sterling lifted two full glasses and strolled across the porcelain tile flooring to Ark. “Here, you can have these since the Ingot isn’t coming.”

Teal stepped closer and extended his hand. “You aren’t having one, sir?”

Sterling swiped the last glass off the counter and poured himself a full measure of golden liquid. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m having three before the day is out. You need to stay alert. There’s a pot of swill over there” —he nodded toward a vessel on the counter— “that’s got enough stimulants to keep a dying rhinoceros on his feet.” He glanced at Ark. “They do have feet—don’t they?”

Ark poured both drinks into his breathing helm and slurped noisily. “Not my area of expertise.” He glanced at Teal who placed the water glass in the sink, pointedly ignoring the swill.

Sterling harrumphed and tossed back his drink in one swallow. He closed his eyes. Picture the sea. Calm waves rolling on the shore. He held the moment and then, opening his eyes, he peered ahead. “So, Teal, why did you come today and invite your nice friend?”

Teal strode to the window and peered at the now bright and swaying purple vine. He grinned. When he faced Sterling, his smile vanished. “Someone is trying to kill me.”

Sterling shook his head and marched directly to the cabinet. “I can think of many reasons why…but not who.” He turned around swinging his empty glass in the air. “I hope you don’t suspect me?”

Ark’s golden eyes rounded on Teal. “Or me.”

Teal rubbed the back of his neck. “Neither of you.” He glanced out the window and sighed. “I might be mistaken. Someone might be trying to kill Zuri. But someone is definitely—”

Ark choked. “I left him alone on the planet!” He huffed sending bubbles through his breather helm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“He’s not alone. Sienna is watching him. From a discreet distance.”

Sterling slapped his glass on the counter, his composure cracking. His imaginary rolling waves rose to pounding surf. “Do you mean to tell me that you have Sienna watching Zuri who is watching Ishtar?” He laughed. “Getting rather redundant, aren’t we?”

Teal stepped forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. “I want the three of us to return to Earth, undetected, and find out who’s trying to kill me—or him.”

Ark tapped Teal on the shoulder and imitated his whisper. “Don’t bother. I already know.”

Sterling froze. His body actually felt numb. “Know what? That someone is trying to kill Teal? Or that a plot’s afoot?” Distractions always help. He returned to his empty pot, yanked it off the shelf, hefted it to the wall disposal unit, and dumped it down a shoot. He clapped his hands free of every blasted particle of dirt. “Personally, I think Teal needs a vacation. He’s getting paranoid.”

Ark glanced from Teal to Sterling and wrapped all four tentacles around his thick waist. “How did you know we’re focusing on Ishtar?”

Freezing, Sterling felt his chest tighten. I can’t actually have a heart attack. It’s impossible. This body is a facsimile— He glanced at Teal.

Teal stared him into the ground.

If that were possible.

“Oh, bloody Bothmal!” After pacing across the room to an arrangement of plush chairs and a couch, Sterling plunked down on the sofa and stretched out. “Mind if I collapse? It’s been a long cycle.”

Teal sauntered over and perched on the arm of a chair opposite his superior.

Ark plodded to a slightly wider chair and squished into place. He stared at Sterling. “Ungle?”

Teal frowned. “Who’s Ungle?”

Ark waved the question away. “Shhh! Wait your turn.”

Rubbing his brow, Sterling realized that he felt completely drained. Maybe I’m not suited to this line of work. “Can’t I just say that Teal put it in his reports?”

Ark snorted.

With a grim expression, Teal slipped onto the chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “Start talking.”

As if ready for his analyst session, Sterling lay back, crossed his feet, and placed his hands on his stomach. I could be buried in a tomb in this position. “Yes, Ungle came to see me. He thinks he knows who has turned out the lights on Earth.”

Bright sunlight filtered through the window and the purple vine swayed in a soft breeze. A spicy scent wafted through the air.

Teal’s voice seemed to echo across a vast distance. “From Earth’s vantage point, our world has vanished into darkness.”

Sterling tapped his fingers together and relaxed, seeping like a puddle into the ground. “Yes. This mystery race has surprising abilities. They engineer new life forms, terraform entire planets, and much more.” He shrugged. “While we Luxonians and our sometime-allies have our own unique abilities, these beings can do everything we can— but better—with more flare.”

Ark harrumphed.

“Truth is…they’re extraordinary. But they aren’t particularly social. They need a lot of elbowroom. We’ve only discovered a few pockets of their kind. The ones your people irritated” —he swiveled a glance at Ark— “must’ve been rather high strung. Very private. Hence their desire to keep Earth in the dark.”

“What does this have to do with—?”

Ark speared Teal with a frown and nodded to Sterling. “Go on.”

“Ungle believes that their race is obsessed with the nature of good and evil. So, he wants to learn everything they do…and more. Apparently, your studies caught his attention. He wants to know more about Ishtar and someone called Chai.”

Teal jerked to his feet and paced across the room. “Chai is dangerous. He’s mad.”

Ark’s head swiveled from Sterling to Teal. “Evil like Ishtar?”

Freezing, Teal glared at Ark. “Ishtar isn’t evil. He’s just—”

Sterling lifted his head. “How about his father, Neb? You called him evil.”

“I can’t debate that now. I want to know why Ungle wants to kill me. Or Zuri. We’re the ones investigating—”

Sterling sighed, swung his legs off the couch, and sat up. “He isn’t trying to kill you! Why do you keep insisting on making things more dramatic than they really are?”

Ark shrugged. “Ungle specifically stated that he wants your work to continue—” His pink cheeks blanched as he sat bolt upright. “Uh-oh.”

Sterling jumped to his feet.

Teal pelted across the room and gripped Ark’s shoulder.

“What?”

“Ungle doesn’t want you to become distracted by anything…or anyone.”

“Zuri is annoying, but he’s not a distraction. He’s—”

Sterling closed his eyes. His throat felt very dry. “Not Zuri. Sienna. He wants her to leave the planet—quietly.” He swallowed. “I tried every argument I could think of.”

Teal’s gaze fixed on Sterling. “Then?”

“I tried to arrange a little accident. So, she’d go home.”

“A little accident? I was nearly crushed by a boulder, my food was poisoned, and that wasn’t a natural lightning strike.”

“She’s Luxonian. She would’ve survived.” He scowled at Teal. “It wasn’t your dinner by the way—it was hers.”

Teal leapt at Sterling, grabbing him by the neck.

Ark sprang forward. Slapping Teal’s hands off Sterling’s neck with three tentacles, Ark wiped sweat from his face with another. “I’ll need a swim after this.”

Glaring, Teal jerked away and spat his words. “How could you? Sienna is completely innocent. I thought we trusted each other.” He squared his shoulders. “I’ll know better from now on.”

Ark shoved them further away from each other and glanced from Sterling to Teal. “You don’t understand. Ungle has a very persuasive nature. He can make a person’s life remarkably challenging. He’s quite capable of creating an interstellar incident and making it appear that a certain judge” —his eyebrows wigged in Sterling’s direction— “is long overdue for a spell at Bothmal.”

Teal wiped his hand across his mouth. “Seems to me that Ungle wouldn’t be far behind.”

Ark laughed. “Perhaps. But our Crestonian leadership has legitimate concerns. This mystery race will dictate the Universe’s parameters…if we let them.” His eyes widened as his voice rose. “It’s one thing for Earth to face a hidden universe. What would happen to Lux if someone put your planet in the dark?”

Sterling collapsed on the couch. “Oh, God. I really will have a heart attack.”

Teal shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “Not possible. Though, I rather wish…”

Sterling peered at Teal. “All right! I should’ve told you. Ungle’s talk of good and evil…a life of heaven or hell. I didn’t know what to do. Frightening Sienna seemed like child’s play. An easy way to keep an ally happy.”

“Easy way to lose a friend.”

Sterling groaned. “I’ll have to go to Earth now—won’t I?”

“Someone has to keep an eye on you.”

Ark swung his tentacles in various directions, clearly facing an impossible reality. “How will I ever keep you all in line?”

Sterling sank into the chair. “Give me a moment.”

Teal glanced at Ark. “At least Zuri and Sienna are safe.”

Sterling closed his eyes.

Ark poked him in the back. “What?”

“Ungle warned me that if I failed, he’d take care of the matter himself.”

Teal groaned.

With a long huff, bubbles swarmed through Ark’s breather helm.

Sterling stood and pressed Teal’s shoulder, meeting his gaze. “Sienna is safe. Really.” His eyes wandered to the purple vine; it appeared to be waving goodbye.

Oh hell.“

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/photos/cosmos-planet-earth-planet-stars-1903435/

 

Survival of the Fittest

Ling believed in wood-folk with her whole soul. The magic of a mid-winter snowstorm over sleeping fields opened a doorway into a world of scheming squirrels and spirit-filled pine trees. A cawing raven warned the tree-stump mouse family of a stalking calico cat while swaying trees forecasted an impending storm.

Though Ling could hear the voices plain enough, their actual words eluded her. The sound of their murmuring sent a warm thrill through her chilled body as she trudged across the newly fallen snow with a bulging backpack slung over her shoulder.

Skipping up the frozen steps to her snug house at the end of the block, she huffed a white plume of smoke into the air. Before turning the door handle with her mittened hands, she turned and bowed goodnight to her wood-folk-friends. No doubt they wished her well through the silent evening glow, and she, in turn, would not forget them.

After tugging off her wet boots and dropping her pack in a heap, she tiptoed down the dark hall toward her father’s study. His bent figure leaned over a hardwood desk with a computer screen outlining the edges of his head. Swallowing back her anxiety, Ling timidly tapped on the doorframe.

A shuffle and a snort precluded his slow turn. Black eyes in a pale face peered at the doorway.

Ling dropped her gaze.

“So, you made it home on time today.”

Ling nodded but stayed in place. “Yes, Papa.”

He granted permission to enter with a slight beckoning gesture. “Come in.” His gaze darted back to the screen. “There’s not much more I can do here today.”

Ling scuttled forward and placed her small hand on the arm of his chair. Her eyes flickered to the screen. A gorgeous painting of a woodland scene snatched her breath away. Her fingers rose as if to touch the gently swaying tendrils of an enormous weeping willow.

Her father wrapped a loose arm around her waist and drew her closer, his gaze joining hers. “It’s for a mid-western university. They want to demonstrate their inclusiveness by commissioning art from every culture in the world.”

Ling blinked, the spell broken. “Inclusiveness?”

The old man shrugged. “Art can be a unifying force.” He tilted his head. “Of course, it can be enslaved by a propaganda machine just as easily.” Ling’s puzzled frown brought a tired smile to her father’s face. “You are too young for such things. Enjoy your freedom while you may.”

Placing her hand on his silky sleeve, Ling pressed his arm in excitement. “I saw a red fox sneaking across the field. He’s been threatening the other animals, wants to rule the west woodland. Do you think the—?”

A shrill call cut through the air. “Ling? Come here, child, and bring your school bag.”

Her whole body drooping under a sudden weight, Ling stepped back toward the door. She gazed at her father. “You should draw a fox peeking out from behind the tree.”

The old man’s eyes shifted from the picture to his daughter, surprise on his brow but pleasure in his eyes. “Why?”

She trudged across the threshold, her eyes darting toward the kitchen. “Because—there’s always a fox around somewhere.”

~~~

After hours of study, Ling’s eyes burned with exhaustion. Her blurry vision made it difficult to make out the text before her. Her mother filled the kettle for tomorrow’s tea and set it in its designated place on the stove. The immaculate room stood in readiness for the next day to meet the demands of a peak performance.

In her weary haze, Ling wondered if a kitchen could revolt—demand a rest from the never-ending grind of routine preparations. Pots and pans, stovetops, counters, scraping, cleaning, bubbling, oil, smoke, dishes, and grime, wiping—endlessly wiping—it all away, only to start over the next morning before the sun even hinted at the day.

“What has gotten into you, child? You’ve been sitting there for an hour, and nothing is done. You know your exams are next month. You want to be ready.”

Ling nodded.

Her mother placed a damp hand on her shoulder. “You won’t succeed unless you work hard and try—”

“Mama?”

Her mother stared down, their gazes locking.

An implicit allowance offered Ling courage. “We’re supposed to make a family tree and describe our cultural heritage in class next week.”

A stiff jerk and the mother’s gaze shifted to the wall. “That won’t be hard. I have our whole lineage written down, and your father can tell you what each person did for a living.”

Ling shook her head, dissatisfaction pressing on her shoulders like a lead weight. “I’d rather take one of Papa’s pictures to show. That would—”

Her mother turned and swiped the clean counter with a vicious smack. “Pictures are only illusions. Don’t be ridiculous. Our family has survived a great deal—more than most—and we did it by facing facts and working hard.”

“But Papa’s pictures—”

“Your father makes pictures because he is paid to do so. He is an illustrator. He works at his job—as you will too before long.”

Her mother’s unflinching gaze squeezed Ling’s heart.

“It’s survival of the fittest, just like all the books say. And you, Ling, must survive.”

Ling’s gaze dropped to the floor. A small brown knothole in the wainscoting caught her eye. In sudden wakefulness, she thought she saw a small mouse dart out an inquiring face, blinking a question at her. It seemed to ask, “Why?” But Ling had no answer.

~~~

Two dozen years later, Ling pushed her father’s frail form engulfed in a wheelchair through the wide doors out into spring sunshine. A trailing line of elderly people sat like potted plants on the edge of the retirement property. Small blooms added texture to the scene. She found a quiet corner and pressed the brake lever with her foot. Her father, asleep again, would rest in the mild sunshine for an hour or so, until the nurses collected their charges and set them all in a straight row at the long table for a noon dinner.

A passing nurse stopped and patted Ling’s shoulder. “I heard about your mama. So sorry. But your papa is beyond worry now. Just be glad he’s so content.”

Ling nodded and choked back a rising sob. She let her gaze fall on the surrounding scenery. No one could fault the clean and professional atmosphere. Suddenly, her eyes fell on the swaying branches of a weeping willow in a neighboring yard.

She felt a hand on her arm. Looking over, she met her papa’s gaze. “I painted in the fox, but I forgot something.”

With wide-eyes, Ling marveled at her father’s sudden lucidity. “What? What could you have forgotten, Papa?”

His eyes drooped in weariness, though a feeble finger shook in emphasis. “I forgot to paint a little girl—to admire the tree and keep an eye on the fox.”

~~~

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

Riko’s Uncle Clem

*Uanyi are smaller, slim creatures, standing about four to five feet tall. They are insectine with soft, rubbery exoskeletons as well as internal bones. Uanyi most prominent features are their enormous eyes, some almost a foot in diameter, which is endearing to some, but nightmare fuel to others. Their bright colorations are also striking as are their long necks. Uanyi do not breathe the same air mixture as humans, and so they wear breathing masks that cover their mouths. Many humans find their crab-like mandibles rather frightening. Although they speak with synthesized voices, they have a terrific grasp of various languages.

 *Ingoti are large, ranging from six to seven feet tall. They are heavy due to their extensive weight and girth but are fast and extremely powerful. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms, leading some to believe that they are in fact cyborgs and that the “armor” is built directly into their bodies. They are scientists at heart, but their moral reasoning tends to be very black and white, almost child-like.

Riko stared at the larger-than-life screen and felt his Uanyi physique tremble beneath his immaculate white shirt and pressed, dark blue pants. He swallowed and tried not to blink too rapidly.

Uncle Clem beamed a radiant grin across the universe, his excitement apparent in his waving hands and nearly epileptic shaking. “It’ll be like ol’ times, Riko! You and me—against all opposing forces. We can—”

Riko raised a thick-fingered hand. “Uncle Clem, stop! Listen. It’s not like that here. I own an establishment, a nice place. Beings come from all over Newearth just to enjoy my varied cuisine and OldEarth-style comforts. There are no opposing forces.”

With a shake of his head, Uncle Clem dispelled that foolish naiveté. “If you think that just because things are calm at the moment means it’ll always be so, then you’re not thinking like a Uanyi. We know our history. Worlds change. Cultures change. Clashes are inevitable.”

A clattering of dishes falling into the auto-wash forced Riko to glance away and yell at the new waiter. “Hey, careful there! Dents ruin reputations. You’re not paid to kill my business.”

Apologetic murmurs and a softer rattling allowed Riko to return to his uncle. “Listen, you’re welcome to come and stay as long as you like. I just don’t want you to think that you need to fix anything. Nothing is broken. Life is good here.”

Uncle Clem nodded, his shoulders straighter and his eyes darker. “You do know about Cosmos, the planet-eater, right?”

Riko swallowed, his hands clasped behind his back. “I’ve heard rumors—but they’re only rumors. I’ve got friends, and they’re looking into things. The Interalien Alliance is working with the Luxonian Supreme Council, and even the Ingoti Magisterium is—”

A weary hand stopped Riko’s assurances. “And the humans? What about the Newearth Governor? She’s gonna to let alien races decide Newearth’s fate?”

A huge Ingot strode forward in her bulky techno-organic armor and hissed through her breathing helm in Riko’s ear.

Riko scrunched his shoulders reflexively. He listened and then glanced back at the screen. “Listen, I got to get back to work. One of my customers just drank himself under the table, and no one wants to admit that he’s got a problem. A regular…you know.” Riko heaved his shoulders and shook off his concerns. “I’m glad you’re coming, Uncle Clem, really. Just don’t expect too much. We live a pretty boring existence here—and I don’t want to change that. You understand?”

Uncle Clem held up his laced, tented fingers in Uanyi I-promise-or-hope-to-die fashion. “Trust me. I want what you want. I’m just coming to see you and bask in your success.”

Riko nodded. “Stupendous. See you in the next moon cycle then.”

The screen blinked to black, and Riko stood silent.

The Ingot returned and tapped him on the shoulder.

Riko looked up, his huge bulbous eyes fixed on his hostess. “Yeah? What now?”

The ingot shrugged sheepishly. “Taking a bit of risk—aren’t you?”

Riko glared and poked the Ingot in the chest. “What’s the risk? He’ll come, and everything’ll be fine.”

“Maybe. Or he’ll come and find nothing but space debris.” The Ingot paced away. “Course, he could get in the way and become space debris.”

Riko froze.

~~~

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

Good Deed

Richard Tyler knew his own mind. After dashing from his job at the gym to his mom’s house, he breezed through the kitchen door with all the confidence of an Academy Award winner.

His mom’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought you were having lunch with Kimberly.”

Despite the August heat, Richard shivered. “She decided she needs to ‘reevaluate her priorities.’” He shrugged off his discomfort. “Guess that includes lunch.”

His mom’s gaze swiveled from her baloney and cheese sandwich set neatly on a plate with a modest mound of chips on the side—to Richard. She slid the plate across the table. “Here. Sit and eat before your class.” She crossed to the stove and stirred a pot of tomato soup.

Richard plunked down in the chair, grabbed the sandwich, and chewed with a faraway look in his eyes.

After pouring the soup into a ceramic mug, his mom slid into a chair across from Richard. “You know, she’s only nineteen, in journalism, and you’re a bit older, wanting to be an actor—”

Richard stiffened; a frown burrowed across his forehead. “What? Like I’m not really an actor, and she’s looking for honest work?”

Mom stirred her soup as she stared into its swirling, red depths. “You might try to see things from her point of view. I mean, she’s—”

Richard shot to his feet scattering breadcrumb across the table. “Totally selfish and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Journalism? Ha! Not an ounce of life experience, and she thinks she’ll wake up the world’s conscience. Yeah, right.”

Mom stared at the cup, searching for wisdom. She responded with a shrug.

With a fretful glance at his watch, Richard started for the door. “I gotta go. We ‘re having a guest director today—said to be brilliant. Might make a good connection.”

The screen door slammed as it closed behind him. Mom wiped up the crumbs.

~~~

As Richard leaned back in his theater chair, he had to stifle a yawn. The room was stuffy, and the new director had been introducing himself for almost an hour. Suddenly, he felt a jolt charge through his body.

“Hey, you, kid with the big chin and blue eyes.”

Richard sprang to his feet.

The director waved him onto the stage. “Come here. I want to demonstrate a point.”

Without hesitation, Richard sprang forward and landed lightly before the rotund, thin-lipped director. “Okay. Listen carefully. You’ve just climbed out of a car wreck, people milling about—horror everywhere. You got a broken rib or something.” He pointed to the stage. “Show me.”

Dropping to his knees, Richard writhed in pain, moaning. He scrambled forward on one arm, the other clutching his middle. His eyes squeezed shut, he rocked and—”

“Stop! Enough. You’ve made my point.”

Panting from his exertion, Richard climbed to his feet, his eyes darting over the other students who studied him with uncertain expectation, waiting to be told whether he deserved approval or scorn.

The director flung a disenchanted arm in Richard’s direction. “I see the same thing all the time—day after bloody day. Actors who forget they aren’t alone. People! It’s not all about you. Remember your audience! They pay for the tickets.”

As Richard stepped into the strong afternoon light, he blinked in near blindness after the hours in the theater’s semi-darkness. He felt lightheaded and needed a drink. Starting across the street toward a fast-food stand, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hey, Richard, wait up.”

With a groan, Richard turned and faced his girlfriend. “Hey, Kimberly.”

Kimberly shifted a stack of books onto her left arm. “Sorry about this morning. I was…I needed some air. Got some bad news.” She glanced up and intercepted Richard’s glazed stare. “My dad’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, stage four. Not much time left.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m going to focus on him awhile.” She nodded to her shoes to see if they agreed.

Richard’s gaze fell on the top of her bowed head. “Dang waste.” He clenched his jaw as his mind went completely blank.

Kimberly shook her head. “At least, we have a chance to say goodbye.” She leaned forward and kissed Richard’s cheek. “Good luck—in everything.” Her books stacked in her arms, she turned and trotted across the street.

~~~

Later that evening, Richard jogged around the campus track listening to music through his earbuds. Nausea and malaise seeped throughout his body and soul, burying him deep in gloom. Running as fast as he could, he scowled at the realization that the sensation grew in proportion to his desperation.

Skidding to a halt, he sucked in deep lung-fulls of air. Words, images, impressions kept intruding even as he stared across the dimming horizon. He imagined himself driving along the coast, the windows down and the music loud, accompanied by a gorgeous sunset dispelling the evils of the day. He trotted across the street from his parked car and halted.

A teen, plump with rumpled hair and sagging shoulders, was standing between his beautiful, red car and a battered, old truck. A ragged scratch scarred his car’s shiny exterior. Richard closed his eyes, lifted his head back, and smothered a scream. Finally, he squared his shoulders and marched forward.

The kid glanced over and caught sight of Richard. He wavered between evasion and a complete meltdown.

Taking long strides, Richard’s gaze flashed from the truck to his damaged car.

The kid, now nearly in tears, lifted his hands. “Sorry, mister. It’s all my fault. I’m new at parallel parking—always been a nightmare in driver’s ed.” He scanned Richard’s car wistfully and shoved his glasses further up his nose. “My mom’s got insurance, and I’ll pay with my own money too. So stupid. I should’ve gone to the lot up the street.”

Though the light was failing, Richard’s vision cleared. He swallowed back a rising ache and blinked in hesitation. “Listen, it’s no big deal. I got a friend who works in a body shop, and he owes me. He’ll fix this up in a couple minutes, and it’ll be as good as new. Don’t worry about it.”

The eye-popping relief on the kid’s face tightened Richard’s throat to a searing ache. He sniffed, regaining a semblance of cool composure—the best acting he’d done all year.

~~~

It was nearly midnight when Richard slipped into his mom’s dark kitchen. He plunked down on a chair and laid his head on his arms. A warm hand clasped his shoulder. He didn’t need to look up.

“You okay?”

Richard shook his head and groaned. He sat back and stared through the darkness at his mom’s rumpled figure in her long, shapeless bathrobe. “The director made me look like a fool, Kimberly showed me I was a fool, and some kid I don’t even know gave me a shot at redemption.”

His mom chuckled and sat down, her hand sliding over his. “You know, one good deed deserves another.”

Richard pressed his other hand on top of hers and grinned with the first joy he had felt all day. “It does.”

~~~

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

Jazzmarie

The grin on Jazzmarie’s face startled Max. As an android with human tendencies, or, as Cerulean likes to say—Android Extraordinaire—Max considered himself something of an expert on pretty much everything. But from the moment that Jazzmarie first stepped her dainty foot on the deck of the Merrimack, he felt bewildered. Worse—completely disarmed. He glanced over as she tapped the communications console. She was still grinning. Max veered his eyes away. Quickly.

Jazzmarie looked up and stared, her grin still wavering like a mirage in the desert. “By the Divide, what are you so scared of?”

Though Max’s skin was entirely synthetic and he could never actually jump out of it, suddenly the Oldearth expression made horrific sense to him. Clamping his jaw into what he hoped was an impressive bulge, he turned sharply. “I am not scared of anything.” His gaze skimmed directly over Jazzmarie’s head.

Stepping over, Jazzmarie propped herself on her tiptoes and raised her head to eye level, intercepting his gaze. “So why do you look pale enough to rival a Greek Goddess?”

Flummoxed, Max’s eyes searched for an escape. His gaze grazed her lips. “For your information, Miss Marie—”

“Nope.”

Max tilted his head; his mouth froze in the O position.

“My name is Jazzmarie. One word. My parents liked how the sounds flowed together.” Her fingers caressed the edge of the console as she emitted a plaintive sigh. “I wouldn’t have minded something from my native Oldearth heritage like Arjun or Sachin, but—” the grin was swallowed whole by a determined pout, “—Mom liked Jazz and Dad liked Marie, so….”

With a blank stare, Max reverted to the facts at hand. “I’m not scared—just naturally pale. I am an android embedded with an embryonic human brain that has developed—actually overwhelmed—parts of me.”

Raising one eyebrow, Jazzmarie twirled toward the medical database console and tapped the surface. “Which parts?”

Max practiced an eye roll like the one he had seen Cerulean preform to devastating effect. Unfortunately, it took three tries to achieve a complete rotation. Max gripped the railing for support.

Jazzmarie waved with a couple dainty fingers. “Just joking. I know all about you. Don’t think I would sign aboard a mission without knowing the crew intimately—do you?” With a startling jerk, she stretched and yawned. “By golly, I’ve already put in a full day. What say we get something to eat? This little rocket ship has got a sweet canteen according to the specs.”

Max squared his shoulders and lifted his head. If he was right, this formidable woman had just asked him for a date. Flinging a gallant elbow aside, he nodded his assent.

Jazzmarie took his arm; her grin led the way.

~~~

The canteen’s décor left much to be desired by most human standards. Gray walls surrounding three, pale blue tables with seats enough for twelve, and the barest culinary choices set a Spartan tone. Max ordered his favorite yogurt-plus and a coffee, while Jazzmarie selected a grilled tomato & cheese sandwich and hot cocoa.

Jazzmarie slipped onto one swivel chair, sliding her tray on the table, and huffed in disgust. “Good thing I have a vivid imagination or this wasteland would get me down.” She snapped her fingers in Max’s direction. “Wait—great idea flooding my brain!”

Horror rippled across Max’s face as he spluttered his coffee.

Without ceremony, Jazzmarie mopped up the spray. “I have a set of OldEarth visuals that I can plaster over the walls. It’ll look so cool—”

Max attempted a semblance of dignity. “Our preferred temperature range is—”

“Just an ancient expression, Maximan. Now, look—” she sipped hot cocoa from her mug, “I’ve researched everything about this Cosmos we’re chasing, but I bet you know more. You’ve traveled all the highways and byways—right? I want to see this mission from your perspective.”

Holding a spoon brimful of a yogurt-granola mix approximately seventeen centimeters from his open mouth, Max waited.

Jazzmarie frowned. “What?”

Resuming his trajectory, Max slurped, chewed, and swallowed. He titled his head in consideration of the woman across the table. “I do not think it is within the realm of possibility that you seen anything from my perspective. It isn’t physically—”

Jazzmarie waved his words away like dust. “So? You think we can stop this monster?”

Placing his spoon beside his bowl, Max crossed his legs and leaned back. He attempted a studious expression. “I must take issue with the term ‘monster.’ Technically, Cosmos is a massive, simple-celled, space creature that feeds off planetary matter. While a monster is—”

“Someone’s nightmare, I know.” Jazzmarie’s gaze traveled around the perimeter of the room. “She’s got that painted all over her.” Jazzmarie’s gaze returned to Max. She let it rove over him a moment as a slow smile tugged at her lips. “I like your style, Maximan. No jumping to conclusions or hasty appraisals.” She took a huge bite out of her sandwich and chewed, her grin back in full force.

Max gulped his coffee heedless of the burn scorching his throat.

After Jazzmarie had polished off her sandwich and pushed aside her empty cup, she snatched a glance at her data-pad. “Jumping Jackdogs, Roux and the new gal will be here at any moment.” She pointed to the pink, gelatinous mass in front of him. “You better finish that up in a hurry, or you might look unprofessional on your first day.”

Grabbing the edge of the dish, Max lifted it to his lips and slurped the contents in one last, desperate effort.

The door slid open revealing the Luxonian commanding officer, Roux, and his  Bhuaci assistant, Yelsa Prater, standing side-by-side. Roux stepped in, and Yelsa followed.

Jazzmarie shot to her feet saluting smartly.

Roux walked forward, a little frown embedded in his forehead. “No ceremony with me, Doctor.” He glanced at Max.

Max stood and thrust out a stiff hand. A pink circle highlighted his lips.

Roux’s hand rose to his face with an automatic swiping motion. Regaining his composure, he shook Max’s hand, sparing a hesitant glance at the doctor. “Max, you and the doctor have gotten acquainted, I see.” After a sizable swallow, he faced the doctor head-on. “Are you comfortably settled in?”

With the most serious expression Max had seen all day, Jazzmarie nodded and clipped her words with deadly precision. “Certainly. Thank you for asking.” Her gaze fixed on Yelsa. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Roux waved in Yelsa’s direction. “Yelsa Prater, tactical expert, the renowned Doctor Jazzmarie.”

Yelsa swung out a confident hand. “It is an honor. I have been looking forward to meeting you.”

Roux’s gaze swept over Max who stood back watching with raised eyebrows, the pink circle still in place. As sweat broke over his brow, Roux gripped Max’s arm. “I need to see you for a moment.” With an authoritative tug, he jerked Max to the other side of the room, swiped a napkin from a dispenser, and waved it in the direction of Max’s mouth.

In bug-eyed comprehension, Max wiped his lips. “Sorry, Sir. I was distracted—”

Roux shook his head and glanced back at the two women. “Never mind.” His gaze stayed fixed on the doctor. After a moment, he turned and faced Max. “I’m just glad that Doctor Jazzmarie didn’t see your…little indiscretion.”

Max shrugged. “She practically choreographed—” He blinked. “Why do you say that?”

With another tug, Roux yanked Max to a side counter and turned his back on the women. “You’re not from around here, so you wouldn’t know her reputation. Just don’t make that woman mad; that’s all I ask. She is Newearth’s medical leader in alien biology and has more reconstruction surgeries under her belt than any being this side of the Divide, but her temper is as renowned as she is—devilish—they say.”

Tilting his body slightly, Max veered his gaze around Roux and over the renowned, and now quite composed, Doctor Jazzmarie. Taking a deep breath, he nodded and swiveled back to Roux. “She certainly has a dangerous grin.”

~~~

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