The Genesis Continuum: Book I – Child of Destiny

 E-BOOKS TO BE PUBLISHED:

 

A deal has been made with Chris Daley Publishing to produce four Sci-Fi e-books that I have authored.  Three are in the Genesis series and one is a prequel entitled Deep Thought. These are plot and action-driven tales that have themes that go well beyound the quest for power, fame, and other relatively petty concerns. These deal with existence itself, with Genesis’ setting being near the end of time when being is coming to an entrophic demise. The initial price point for Book I will probably be about $2.99, and the release date is going to be near the end of October. Here are the first 50 pages Genesis, Book I:

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GENESIS: BOOK
I

  CHILD OF DESTINY

By Dr. George H. Elder

 

Edited by Julie Tryboski & Illustrated by Randall Drew

 

© Copyright

 

Dedication: To my sisters Mary and Nancy.

                              

THE ANCIENTS BELIEVED THE PURPOSE OF LIFE IS TO EVOLVE SPECIES THAT CAN PERPETUATE THE POSSIBILITY OF CONTINUED EXISTANCE THROUGH THEIR THOUGHTS AND DEEDS — WITH THOUGHT BEING A SEMINAL POWER THAT CAN OVERCOME THE DARK FORCES THAT DRIVE ALL THAT IS TOWARD NOTHINGNESS (“NOTLOH THE OLDER” OF HARKAD PRIME).

 

  

CHAPTER 1: ISHTAR’S CHILD

 

Kara had worked tirelessly piling heavy boulders around her hillside cave’s entrance, leaving a thistle-covered opening on the mound’s top that was barely wide enough for her to squeeze through. Over the years, successive layers of soil and jagged rocks were heaped on the boulders, and the humble shelter could now resist the fiercest storm and harshest winter. Long razor grass, thorny briars, and shrubs flourished on the stout construction, providing Kara’s home with a camouflaged barrier that served well against both four- and two-legged predators. The only drawbacks were meager lighting, invading spiders and centipedes, and the poor ventilation provided by the narrow entrance. Yet these were relatively small prices to pay for security. Moreover, the shelter was adjacent to a spring-fed stream that froze for only part of the winter. Of course, there was a constant need to collect firewood, gather fruits, nuts, and berries, and hunt, but Kara was proficient in these arts. She had to be, for such is an outcast’s lot.

She sat cross-legged on the cave’s floor, bathed in a shaft of sunlight that poured through the entrance. The flint tip of her spear needed sharpening, and she deftly chipped away tiny flecks of stone with a hard rock. Kara’s father had taught her the ancient art of blade-making, not that Torok ever envisioned his daughter would depend on such a skill to sustain a solitary existence. No, he had felt she was destined for great things within the tribe, which was only appropriate for the child of a Labateen chieftain such as Torok. And Kara grew to be a most unusual girl, a precocious child who tagged along behind hunting parties and played violent war games with the tribe’s boys.


By her fifth season Kara’s deftly thrown spear was regularly taking down prey that was nearly as large as she, all of which were proudly dragged back to the great cave. She even learned the old storyteller’s sacred litanies, repeating without error the lengthy and complex tales to the delight of family and friends. Torok was proud of Kara’s intelligence, strength, and courage, and considered her an ideal daughter. Never a man of many words, he once told her, “Blood of my blood, you are a very special child. God has blessed you in many ways and you make my heart proud.” Kara basked in the warmth of his approving smile, and found confidence in the tribe’s universal acknowledgment of her rare talents.

 Yet neither Torok nor Kara knew about the awful mark she bore high on her scalp, the one her mother had worked tirelessly to conceal since Kara’s birth. The Labateen were the true Children of God, and only the most perfect in form could be accepted into the tribe. And to all appearances Kara’s long, thick, red hair, green eyes, hazel skin, and lithe athletic body were ideal, the quintessential elements of a Labateen woman. Indeed, all was perfect, except for a dark brown birthmark that hid underneath a luxurious mane of hair.

Leah, her mother, was horrified when she first saw the blight, although there was no one to share her shock in the isolated birthing cave. Her labor was long and difficult, and there were times Leah thought death would be a welcome reprieve. And a lonely, painful demise for mother and child was the inevitable penalty for a failed childbirth. This most sacred process was overseen only by God –- and God alone would dictate if both mother and child survived. But survival was only the first step, for then came the mother’s responsibility of ensuring that the child’s body was perfect in all ways. This was God’s test of a mother’s will to abide by the sacred laws that guided the Labateen for countless generations. These were the same laws Torok was sworn to uphold as the tribe’s Dorma, and thus Leah felt particularly driven to follow the ancient codes.        

The birthmark’s grotesquery compelled Leah to contemplate bashing Kara’s tiny head against the jagged walls of the birthing cave, the floor of which was richly littered with tiny bony reminders of Labateen mother who had done their duty. Every Labateen woman knew that allowing an unfit or marked child to live would introduce impurity into what were God’s chosen people. The only right and merciful thing was to end such a star-crossed life swiftly. Leah roughly grabbed her writhing daughter, who still wore the blood and slippery wetness of a new life. She stared into the infant’s eyes, and suddenly her will to follow the old ways evaporated. Perhaps it was the long torment of giving birth, or maybe it was the blood loss, but Leah felt that God was guiding her thoughts and deeds. ‘Yes, God must want this infant to live,’ she thought, ‘And to live for a divine purpose.’

Leah deftly severed the umbilical cord with an obsidian blade and suckled the crying infant. With every passing moment the bond between mother and child grew stronger, as did Leah’s conviction that she was doing God’s work. But Leah’s convictions were the stuff of sacrilege, and that would lead to a dreadful fate for any Labateen. However, it was customary for a new mother to remain away from the tribe for ten suns after giving birth, which was yet another trial to help ensure that only the most able would walk amongst the Labateen. Leah took the time to make dyes from nearby plants and berries, being well versed in the art of marking. Indeed, as the daughter of an Elder and wife of the tribe’s Dorma, Leah was expected to be an exemplary marker and healer.

She carefully dyed her infant’s head, hands, and feet deep black, all signs that the child was one with God’s earth by thought and deed. She repeated the procedure over the coming days until the rich dyes were absorbed by Kara’s skin, hiding any sign of the blemish. When the day came to rejoin the tribe, friends and relatives saw the baby’s markings and she was quickly dubbed “Kara,” meaning, “Companion of God.” Many in the tribe thought it odd that Leah didn’t change Kara’s markings as the child matured, but few dared question a Labateen aristocrat. The query might be seen as an insult, and only blood could assuage such folly. The ploy served well in giving Leah’s daughter time to grow a thick and luxurious mane of dark red locks that hid the sin, at least until the age of ascension.

The spear’s tip was nearly ready, and Kara examined it in detail. A good spear and sharp knife were as essential as stealth, speed, and strength when hunting. Yet the hunt had gone poorly for seven suns, and Kara did not know why. Normally, late spring provided ample game, although one had to be ever watchful for the swift grenlobs that followed the migratory herds. The large, bipedal reptiles were armed with sickle-shaped claws and serrated teeth that turned many hunters into prey. However, a hunting party of Labateen was more than a match for any animal. Even a small party could bring down a tork, a hulking, wooly, four-legged brute with a nasal horn taller than a man. Yet tribal lore aptly described a lone hunter as the personification of a “sad thing,” and Kara was reduced to stalking relatively small rodents and marsupials, with an occasional fish supplementing a meager vegetarian diet.

She preferred hunting in the nude. But it was a chilly morning, so Kara donned a pair of well-worn moccasins and the long rawhide tunic her mother once wore. Although much-patched, the tunic was one of Kara’s prized keepsakes, and as she put it on thoughts of that terrible day wafted anew. The Right of Ascension takes place during the 14th springtime of every Labateen’s life, and the ritual is overseen by the tribe’s Elders. For women, Ascension entails having the head shaved with dull blades, being tattooed with sacred symbols, and silently enduring purification via the excruciatingly slow application of steaming hot water to the clitoris. The unremitting pain often caused visions, and these were a blessing from God if their meaning could be divined.

Yet Kara’s Ascension did not reach this exalted stage. The old women were shocked when they sheared Kara’s lush hair, the first step in the ancient ceremony. They shrieked and recoiled when the birthmark was fully revealed, and soon the entire tribe gathered to see what was amiss. The Elders, men, women, and children all saw the terrible stain on Kara’s scalp. Kara was confused by the horrified glances, gasps, and angry insults that were cast her way. ‘What sign of evil do they mean?’ she thought. ‘Why am I called the Daughter of Ishtar?’

Kara ran to her father for protection, but Torok threw her to the ground. The warm paternal face that once served as a source of comfort and security was contorted into a tight-lipped, wide-eyed scowl. This was the countenance she only saw when Torok was defending the tribe’s territory or punishing someone who broke the law. Kara froze, not knowing if flight was even a possibility. She sought some sign of leniency in Torok’s piercing stare, but all Kara perceived was a growing storm welling up. 

The raging Torok took up his spear and brandished it toward Kara, but Leah quickly interceded by stepping between the two. She had seen that angry look in her mate’s eyes many times. Torok was a leader who dispensed justice swiftly and brutally, even to the extent of occasionally ignoring the tribal custom of openly discussing alleged sins and rightful punishments. This was the day Leah had dreaded for fourteen seasons, but the possibilities had been rehearsed thousands of times in her mind. Kara still might live if the right words and deeds were offered, and thus Leah leapt to her bewildered daughter’s defense. She spoke quickly; her nervous eyes darting about as she glanced at the increasingly angry stares directed her way.

“The fault is not Kara’s!” Leah implored. “It was I who hid the mark, and I alone am responsible.”

“Why?!” Torok roared, his voice echoing off the cave walls. “Why did you bring this sin amongst us?”

“It was God’s will!” Leah plaintively insisted. “God told me Kara was a special child! It is her soul that is pure, and this alone is what we should see. When a knife cuts or spear wounds it leaves a mark –- but this mark does not make one evil! It is only a thing of the surface and not of the heart! These words came to me while I was in the birthing cave, and they are….”

“All lies!” Torok screamed. “No child of God bears the Mark of Ishtar! It was not made by a spear, blade or tooth! It could only be made by the touch of wickedness!”

“Can anyone here say Kara is wicked?” Leah defiantly replied. “What has she ever done to earn that title?”

“She bears the mark!” a wrinkled old lady indignantly observed. “And your words cannot change what all can see!”

“Yes,” an old man agreed. “And this evil has walked among us for many seasons. Perhaps this is why the stars have grown dimmer and the winters have become so cold.”

“One season is always different from another,” Leah shot back. “That is God’s way. But through it all, this child of God helped feed and clothe us. Is this something Ishtar would want?”

“Ishtar deceives!” the old lady yelled while pointing an accusing finger. “If truth was guiding you, why would you have hidden the Mark of Ishtar for so long? The evil one deceives just as you have deceived!”

A chorus of approving grunts and nods greeted the condemnation, but Leah stood her ground.

“If I am deceitful, then let me alone be punished!” Leah replied. “But Kara is innocent! She helped keep your bellies full and fought our enemies. And would God ever allow anything evil to recite the Sacred Litanies? All here know that Kara can speak the words of our ancestors without fault! Is this not the truth?”

“It is only the appearance of truth,” a battered old man said, his body mauled and broken from the rigors of the Labateen lifestyle. “The mark tells a story we all know!”

“No one calls you evil because grenlobs tore your flesh and broke your bones,” Leah scornfully replied. “So why condemn one who has done all she could to live by our ways? Her mark means nothing when compared with the good she has done!”

“Enough!” Torok bellowed while glaring at Leah. “Your words have power, but your heart has deceived! You betrayed our laws!” Torok growled. “And you betrayed me!”

Torok glared at Leah, and then drove the spear deep into her belly, twisting the shaft to ensure his pain was shared by this treacherous woman. Leah bent at the waist, and Torok yanked out the bloody weapon, assured that Leah would suffer an agonizingly slow death. She instinctively grabbed her wounded stomach, but Leah did not cry out or show any other outward sign of pain. A Labateen must remain strong to pass over to the Great Plane, and a sniveling death ensured an eternity of wandering desolate, ghoul-filled lands in the hereafter.

Kara recalled scrambling to her terribly injured mother and hugging her leg. She reached up to stop the blood flowing from Leah’s stomach and helplessly felt the warm wetness pass though her fingers. She cringed at the terrible memory and recalled Leah’s dying words while examining the tunic’s delicate stitching, a last, painful conversation.

“I knew this day would come,” Leah said while looking down into Kara’s terrified eyes. “But always remember that you are Kara, the Companion of God. Never forget that!”

“What has happened?” Kara cried.

“I have done as God told me, my daughter,” Leah said. “And you shall not pay for my deeds.” Leah girded herself and stood tall. She removed her hands from the grisly wound and defiantly stared into the eyes of Torok and those watching her life ebb away.

“I am the daughter of a Labateen Elder!” she angrily yelled. “I am a marker and a healer. God told me that Kara shall serve a great purpose. And I tell you this: if any harm comes to my daughter, I shall tear your souls to pieces on the Great Plane! I shall make the waters turn bitter and winters harsh. I shall eat your children’s hearts and blight you all!” Leah drew a razor-sharp obsidian knife from her waist-pouch and added, “I promise this by my life’s blood!” She dug the knife deep into her neck and pulled it sideways, severing the jugular. Leah defiantly gazed into the eyes of all who dared watch the gruesome oath while her blood spurted out, emphasizing that the promise would surely be carried out.

She knelt while weakening, yet maintained a willful glower toward the tribe. Kara struggled to stem the blood spurting from the gash with her hands, but it was to no avail. Leah fell backwards, and Kara gently cradled her head. She watched her mother’s eyes slowly close and saw her chest suddenly stop heaving. But Kara could not cry, for such was not the Labateen way. Instead, she glared at her father and the rest of the tribe, showing no sign of weakness. Even Torok looked away, something he seldom did toward a condemned sinner. He simply gestured toward the Great Cave’s entrance, and said, “Go while you can, Child of Ishtar.”   

And Leah’s curse worked, for no one dared follow Kara after she sprinted from the cave and into the nearby woods, terrified and traumatized by what had unfolded. Her hands and body were covered with blood, something grenlobs could scent from a valley away. The blood bore mute witness that the gory events weren’t merely an ascension dream or vision, but something tangible. She quickly ran to a local pond and began washing her hands and body, and for the first time realized she was truly alone. Kara finally allowed tears to flow but fought back sobs. That’s when she saw the mark, the Sign of Ishtar that was revealed in the still water’s reflection. The terrible black blight sat high on the right side of her shaven head. No amount of scrubbing could wash away the stain, so Kara splashed the reflection in frustration. But when the waters calmed the mark remained. It was true. She was the Daughter of Ishtar, the maker of cold, dark emptiness and worker of evil. She pondered the litanies about Ishtar separating all things from one another and soon blamed herself for separating Leah from the tribe and then from life itself.  

She contemplated suicide but felt it dishonorable not to honor her mother’s wishes. And Leah clearly wanted her to live, although Kara could not divine any purpose or hope in a solitary existence. Nonetheless, she found refuge within the slopes of a nearby mountain, in the very cave she systematically forged into a secure home. However, she stayed close enough to the Great Cave to survey the tribe’s actions, all the while using well-practiced guile and stealth techniques to avoid detection.

She sadly recalled seeing her mother’s body being carried to a small hilltop some distance from the cave. Leah was unceremoniously dumped in the open for beasts to eat, the ultimate insult for a Labateen. Her personal possessions were haphazardly strewn around her mutilated corpse because no one would take cursed items, no matter how useful. After the tribe left, Kara examined Leah’s body, noting the horrible postmortem wounds made by rocks and knives, the personal retributions to a betrayer of the sacred ways. Leah’s face was nearly unrecognizable, having been pounded by sharp rocks. Her breasts were slashed and limbs broken, for it was hoped such mutilations would carry over into the hereafter, thus weakening Leah’s spirit. Yet Kara knew that such actions were also a sign of fear concerning Leah’s oath, for no one was sure if such treatments could truly affect a vengeful spirit who haunted the Great Plane.

Kara dragged the rigid body to the base of a huge boulder and worked the entire night digging a hole that was deep enough to bury Leah. She covered her body with earth and briars, placed dozens of heavy rocks over the grave and then gathered her mother’s possessions. They might not serve the Labateen, but a fine obsidian knife, tunics, pants, moccasins, and clay pots served Kara well over the years. Moreover, Leah’s curse indeed saved Kara’s life many times because no Labateen dared harm her on those occasions when she inadvertently stumbled upon tribe members. As expected, her former friends and family never spoke to Kara and always averted their glances. Only the children said anything at all, and this was invariably a mocking series of insults. It was a lonely, barren existence, haunted all too frequently by nightmarish recollections that simply would not fade.

However, there was little time for reflection and regrets. Kara needed food and today’s hunt had to go well if she was to survive. The sun was not very high, so there would be ample time for a lengthy foray. Kara’s last menstrual cycle had passed, and thus her scent would not be a problem. The spear was ready and Leah’s knife was securely stowed in the tunic’s waist pouch. Kara got up and let loose a long, piercing scream, a typical Labateen precursor to leaving the den. The scream was thought to ensure a good hunt, but a more useful purpose was scaring away potentially dangerous predators. Kara ascended the slope leading to the small opening, making sure the spear was ready to engage anything beyond the portal.

A critical moment of danger was in exiting and entering the shelter, and Kara had learned to brandish the spear’s business end through the protective thorn patch for a few moments before exposing her body. Nothing latched onto the spear, so Kara carefully pushed the thorns aside and deftly squeezed through the hole. She glanced around to make certain nothing was waiting and then placed the thorn mat back over the cave’s entrance. Kara recalled having once returned to find a large wolf in the cave, the harsh price of leaving a home unguarded. She won the ensuing battle with a spear thrust to the beast’s throat but still bore the scars of its teeth on her left thigh. Such was the price for carelessness and being a “sad thing.”

Kara instantly noticed that something was still amiss. The birds were not chirping, and the uneasy silence indicated something more than a predator was afoot. She noted all ground animals and insects had taken refuge, and Kara was perplexed by the lack of fauna. For seven suns the signs were the same, but even a pack of grenlobs could not cause all animals to flee. It was as if God’s creatures had simply disappeared, even the grubs that normally hid under rocks and ants that busily dragged forest litter to their subterranean haunts. Yet hunger’s call could no longer be staved off by stoic resolve, and early spring offered no prospect of gathering nuts and berries. It would be flesh or nothing.

Kara descended the slope protecting her home and cautiously sipped a cool drink from the nearby sparkling stream. The rushing water reminded Kara that fishing was an option. The large malok swim upstream during the spring, although the journey to the best fishing river was a long one. Still, the need was great, so off Kara went. She began with a slow jog, her ample breasts gyrating in rhythm with the pace. Kara was twenty-two seasons old, a time when most Labateen women would have mated and given birth. But no man would lay with a Child of Ishtar, an unclean act that warranted instant stoning. No matter. The day was young, and the fish were waiting. Kara knew other Labateen might be fishing, but Leah’s curse made her safer from them than the stealthy grenlobs.

      

CHAPTER 2: OFF COURSE

 

Anita Borad pursed her thick lips while carefully studying a multicolored holographic projection of the expedition capsule’s Mark 21 Spatial Regulator. The complex circuitry was displayed above the boxy vehicle’s forward control panel, and Anita used a light wand to trace and deftly modify the circuits. The regulator was tuned to begin every real-space materialization sequence at precise time/space coordinates, but it had suddenly and inexplicably failed, stranding Anita and Ezra on an uncharted planet. Yet Anita was a master engineer who enjoyed tackling intractable problems, and she had worked diligently for seven standard planetary cycles to come up with a solution. She was a stout Harkadan whose great strength, intimidating size, and renowned intellect were inestimable assets on journeys through the continuum. Indeed, Harkad was one of the few high-gravity planets where intelligent life evolved, and its intellectual flowering produced a race that was widely respected for its technological knowledge and great physical prowess.

“Ral, the regulator’s materialization circuits are working perfectly,” she said in a deep, resonant voice. “So how did we end up here?”

“Is this a metaphysical problem?” the computer quipped in a male voice.

“I wish it were,” Anita said with a smile. “But things like this aren’t supposed to happen.”

“I still can’t find a viable explanation,” Ral observed. “Materialization should not have occurred when and where it has. But the fundamental problem is that Central Control didn’t authorize the next time/space jump coordinates prior to our arrival here.”  

“And we can’t contact CC while in normal space,” Anita interjected, “which means you have no authorization codes for another jump. And that’s why I’m doing this,” she added while making a new set of circuits with the light wand.

“Those modifications are totally unacceptable!” Ral excitedly insisted. “The TS capsule must return to Central Control by default when the next jump is initiated!” 


“That’s not going to happen, Ral,” Anita said.

“It must happen!” Ral demanded. “All TS protocols must be followed. Furthermore, you’re not authorized to modify my own or the Mark 21 Regulator’s design functions.”

“Oh, I know you’re peeved about the default setting bypass,” Anita said while patting the control counsel.

“Your actions are –- they’re criminal!” came the angry reply. “You’ll be….”

“I don’t know why I left your feedback module on line,” Anita said. “And I’m not concerned about what reports you make to CC when we dematerialize. My friend, we’re not skipping the programmed planetary expeditions because of protocols! Our mission would fail, and we’ve already lost too much to let that happen.”

“Using star fixes to establish coordinates to Kronos 3 and Caloni is insane given current gravimetric fluctuations!” Ral noted, a slight tinge of frustration appearing in a surprisingly emotive voice. “And there is nothing at all in our data base about this world.”

“Then why did you take us here?” Anita angrily demanded, her tone growing more strident while she reviewed their situation. “And don’t keep saying you don’t know! I’ve heard more than enough of that. You fully understand what we’re up against. The universe is dying! Galaxies are drifting apart at an increasing rate — and worlds are becoming inaccessible. The average universal temperature is nearly absolute zero, and entropy is accelerating. The reality we know is one of decay and desolation, and we’re running out of time to do anything about it! It won’t be long until TS travel becomes impossible, so don’t talk to me about protocols! Your protocols marooned us on this world!”

“We did not materialize here because of flaws in my design!” Ral insisted. His holographic torso appeared above the control panel, replacing the circuitry schematics. The male avatar was very simple in form and not blessed with a refined body or detailed facial characteristics. However, Ral’s countenance could express concern, and he was clearly upset. “And I don’t want to be destroyed by materializing within a star because you’ve programmed incorrect jump coordinates!”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Anita laughed. “If we or one of the other crews don’t succeed then it all ends. You’ve seen the data! The universe’s mass, gravity and energy dynamics are insufficient to re-create the genesis singularity. You, me, time -– it all ends with an entropic whimper. And here you are, worrying about materializing in a star.”

“Finding the supposed missing element can only be accomplished if we follow mission guidelines!” Ral insisted.

“You just said that mission protocols didn’t put us here,” Anita fired back. “And they definitely aren’t going to get us back on schedule. This isn’t a matter of debate! We’ll use the bypass I made and continue searching for the Seeker!”

“You’ve no right to jeopardize our lives!” Ral said. “And there’s no proof the Seeker can be found using your planned TS coordinates!”

“My data will get us where we need to go,” Anita declared. “And Seekers are supposed to be immortal. Ergo, it still exists and can thus be found.”

“Dubious syllogism,” Ral noted. “If the Seeker doesn’t want to be found, it won’t be.”

 “I can’t deny that,” Anita admitted. “But we’re running out of options, and staying here is pointless.”

“So we search blindly for a legend,” Ral noted. “It always seemed like a desperate act to me.”

“It is,” Anita agreed. “But imagine a being of such power that it could unite the entire universe in thought and experience. And there’s no doubt it happened!”

“That’s the case according to ancient records from many worlds,” Ral agreed. “But neither the Seekers nor where they dwell is well understood.”

“That’s one problem,” Anita observed. “They think about thinking within some transcendental realm we can’t access. Or at least that’s what we assume happens. Yet this one supposedly opted to stay behind, remaining dormant.”

“If this particular Seeker still exists, it remains in stasis for very good reasons,” Ral noted. “The assumption this being can be found is dubious enough, but activating it could be cataclysmic.”

“That’s what history indicates,” Anita agreed. “But it’s hard to believe the Seeker could do more harm than good given what’s happening. In any event, I’d settle for one of the TS missions simply finding it.” 

“The location of his home world was lost eons ago,” Ral noted. “And all we have to go on are hunches and spotty research.”

“So here we are, chasing a legend that may not want to be caught,” Anita summarized. “And woe unto us if we succeed.”

She fell into a stony silence. At times the TS missions did seem like fools’ errands, desperate acts for desperate times. There was indeed no hard proof the legendary Seeker still existed. If not, the accelerating expansion would form the final period on a story that once made concepts like infinite and cyclical pleasant illusions. And even the most advanced equipment could not detect the missing Seeker’s mass/energy signature, although generations of study indicated that entropy and its cousins were not claimants to the prize. So it came down to a search through long-buried records and myths, with one standing out above all others. But Anita wasn’t alone in her contemplations.

She looked through the capsule’s crystalline walls and watched Ezra brood. Her crewmate had set up a port-a-shelter in an opening that was far enough away to avoid some of Anita’s thoughts, but she could sense his interminable angst every time Ezra approached the capsule for food and supplies or contemplated his recent actions. Her thoughts shamed him and left Ezra with very few moments that weren’t plagued by guilt. And Anita made sure Ezra constantly recalled his sins, although she knew it would ultimately serve no good end to continue the psychic war. Ezra was already facing more than enough.


 

Ezra was a Ramalan, a black-skinned and physically small race that was supposedly descended from the long-extinct Terrans. The Terrans were a species of telepaths that dominated the cosmos for an instant before going the way of all life. Some historians claimed the Terrans evolved into one of the enigmatic Level 8 cultures, beings that dwell in hyperspace and never commune with lesser species. However, most experts opined the species simply died of arrogance and egotism, at least as evidenced by the few seeds they left behind. They were now only a misty legend, like so many that filled the volumes of great libraries.

Despite their extremely useful telepathic and empathic abilities, Ramalans were not respected because of their anxious natures. They were also prone to long bouts of depression and an unfortunate habit of panicking when stressed. And Ezra was no exception, being goaded by Anita to remember how his fear led to the death of Talak Trebok. Talak was Anita’s mentor and the team’s mission-leader; a hulking and good-humored Harkadan scholar who had done outstanding research on determining the Seeker’s probable locations.

Talak died on Sparkson 1, a planet that Central Control researchers thought was near the dormant Seeker. Sparkson 1 had evolved a bustling Level 4 culture, meaning the inhabitants possessed well-developed political and civic infrastructures and were capable of short space flights to local moons and nearby planets. Some felt the Seeker might be on one of these planets because a few displayed odd energy signatures, and hence the fruits of this culture’s research might be valuable to the mission. However, the capsule’s passive and active energy detectors found nothing in the system that could produce great outputs, much as Talak had predicted. Updated mission protocols directed that a limited contact foray be made to gather research data when the sensors failed to find anything of interest, an expedient that was reluctantly sanctioned due to the universe’s increasing rate of expansion.

But it was a dangerous policy because even well-developed Level 4 cultures could have aggressive tendencies. Ezra fled a first-contact situation without informing the crew what his mind perceived, and neither he nor Anita could forget what ensued. Talak never had a chance against the frightened soldiers, although his physical prowess allowed Anita and Ezra to make it back to the capsule. They saw the bright flash of Talak’s self-disintegration unit, a measure taken to prevent the bodies of TS travelers from being used to gain information. The protocol was a dire measure to prevent time-line pollution, and thus the team’s leader was reduced to so many vapors on a distant world, a sad ending for such a good man.

Anita said little to Ezra since their close escape, although she knew he could detect her harsh thoughts even at a range of sixty clicks from the capsule. He forlornly sat beside a frequency generator that kept animals and insects at bay over a wide area, with its subtle pitch changes serving as welcome distractions from Anita’s psychic assault. Anita was content with Ezra’s lonely exile and often considered him as little but deadweight on what was proving a futile mission. He had no useful mechanical or theoretical skills, and his knowledge of temporal dynamics was marginal at best. However, Ezra was supposed to have a critical role in activating the dormant Seeker should he be found. Most scientists and historians believed the Seeker was telepathically accessible, and thus nearly every TS mission carried a Ramalan, for better or worse.

Ezra longed to be free from Anita’s resentment and the primordial world the capsule unexpectedly materialized on. He fully understood that being marooned on a planet with a Level 1 culture is exceptionally dangerous. Hunter-gatherers are usually hostile toward territorial incursions, although Ezra was positive he could sense any approaching primitive in time to get back to the capsule. He was recovering slowly from the nausea associated with TS travel, and Ezra knew that his ability to make such forays was running low. The Harkadan were one of a few species that could tolerate the long-term cellular stresses imposed by time/space capsules, and Anita was in no distress. However, it took Ezra progressively longer to recover from each jump, and if the Seeker wasn’t found within the next two or three efforts, Ezra would not recover at all.

Alas, there was nothing that could be done to make TS travel less stressful. The capsule generated powerful radiation and electromagnetic fields that had very negative physiological effects, and the number of jumps most species could make before irreversible cellular damage occurred was finite. However, Confederation scientists had not developed a better way to enter hyperspace. The idea was strikingly simple. Counter-directional electromagnetic conduits located around the craft’s external surface accelerated hydrogen plasmas. The rotational speed of the plasmas relative to each other eventually reached what was called a paradox point, whereupon the plasmas were directed to collide in a region immediately in front of the craft. This created a time/space rift that allowed the craft to enter hyperspace. The capsule=s subsequent direction and thrust depended on its relative position and speed upon entering hyperspace, with the kinetic and directional impetus being provided by the gravity of the planet the craft was leaving. This made using precise temporal and spatial windows an absolute must. Indeed, a central element in TS travel was plotting time/space coordinates and waiting for the capsule to be in the precise position needed to use a given planet’s relative speed and directional momentum as vector thrust factors.

But Ezra understood little of the science behind what he considered an utterly miserable means of travel. The radiation aftereffects were progressively debilitating, and he was nearing the end of his tolerance. He still needed a few more planetary cycles of recuperation before another foray could be attempted, and he dreaded the tremendous physical toll the long jump back to Central Control would extract. There would be little chance of surviving that. But he also couldn’t stay on this primitive world even if he wanted to because TS regulations forbade such an option. In fact, Ezra’s implanted disintegration unit would self-activate if the capsule left without him. And even if Anita’s computer bypass worked, there was no guarantee Ezra could survive the programmed jumps that were aimed at finding the legendary Seeker. He was a man without options.

Ezra’s despair was palpable while he pondered the no-win situation and his plight slowly began melting Anita’s resentment. He knew the capsule was far from its sanctioned coordinates, and anything he or Anita did on this world could pollute the timeline in unfathomable ways. So he sat by the noise generator and did nothing. He glanced toward the capsule and longed for leniency. Being ill and lonely was more than he could bear, and he looked longingly toward Anita for some sign of solace.

Anita gazed forlornly at the seat next to her own. She mused about how Talak dreaded the dizzying effects produced by long jumps. His routine was constant: set the TS coordinates, power the counter-rotating EM generators, inject plasma, initiate the jump, contact Central Control for mission authorization, rematerialize, race Ezra to the aft section’s bathroom/storage room for a vomiting session. She sensed Ezra probing her musings and decided it was not worth torturing him with images of Tal’s demise. Instead, she studied the power settings on the control panel and noted there was more than enough energy to make another dozen jumps.

The entire craft was sound, a remarkable credit to its designers. Granted, the capsule could only seat four, two forward and two aft. But its thick, transparent crystal walls provided considerable protection against radiation, heat, cold, space debris, and pressure deviations. Not many supplies could be carried on the small vessel, although medical equipment, food supplements, waste-removal, and environmental maintenance devices were all that was needed. These were neatly stowed in modular units built into the capsule’s base and aft cabin. Even extra-vehicular foray suits were included, for it was envisioned that the Seeker might be on a dead world, one whose atmosphere burned off when its sun went nova.

“I may forgive you someday,” Anita sadly said while looking toward Ezra’s lonely little camp. “But it won’t be easy!”

‘Yet torturing me is easy for you to do,’ Ezra angrily replied via thought.

“It is I who should be forgiving you,” Ral indignantly interjected.  

“No, no, I’m speaking to Ezra,” Anita said.

“It’s about time,” Ral observed.

“It’s hard to forget,” Anita said while glancing toward Ezra. “There are times I don’t think I should, but. . . .”

Anita noticed Ezra suddenly leap to his feet. He glanced around like a frightened rabbit while the capsule’s proximity alarm sounded, with Ral excitedly repeating, “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” No normal animal would brave the high- and low-frequency noises coming from the sound generator, unless their senses were limited. This normally meant a species that relied on intellect and not brawn, and Anita knew the planet was inhabited by bipedal hominids. She turned off the alarm while Ezra sprinted toward the capsule.

 

CHAPTER 3: CULTURE CLASH

 

The small man’s silver clothing and black facial war paint shocked Kara when she stumbled upon Ezra’s small camp. His rapidly retreating back presented an easy spear shot, but other members of his tribe might be near so it was best to remain armed. Yet there was no doubt this invader must be slain. He was an enemy, an intruder within the sacred land of the Labateen, upon which no other tribe could be tolerated. She watched the small trespasser scurry into the strange, transparent, glistening cave and noticed a huge warrior inside. The warrior also wore silver skins, although his face was pale, much like the mountain people the tribe=s storyteller once spoke of. Perhaps he did not have time to prepare war markings, but Kara noticed the look of fear in her enemies’ eyes. Maybe these strange people had killed all the game! Maybe they were why the hunt went so poorly! Outcast or not, Kara was a Labateen, and she would defend the land with her blood.

She burst from the bushes and screamed the Labateen war-cry, a long, high-pitched shriek that enlists aggressive thoughts and chases away fear. 

“I am Kara!” she proclaimed while jabbing her spear toward the capsule. “You are on Labateen land, and I shall drink your blood!”

Kara moved swiftly forward, brandishing her spear and yelling insults. The small man fled into a chamber within the rear of the crystal cave, but the large warrior flashed a broad, thick-lipped smile. Kara briefly recoiled. The huge warrior had slanted blue eyes, a broad jaw, and a large, bald head covered with dark brown spots on the top and back. If Kara bore the Mark of Ishtar, then this invader must be evil incarnate! And he was mocking a Labateen by smiling, the ultimate insult to a warrior’s challenge!

Kara thrust her spear at the crystal wall, hoping to pierce its surface and wipe the smile off the huge warrior’s face. But the spear’s tip shattered, ruining the morning’s work and a fine hunting tool. Kara angrily pounded the transparent wall with the spear’s shaft, yet she could not even mark the strange cave’s surface. She dropped the useless weapon and drew her knife. Kara brandished the razor-sharp blade and yelled insults at the seated warrior.

 

“Come out of that cave and fight me!” she screamed. “I shall cut your heart out! I will skin you alive!”

Kara noticed the warrior point a thick finger toward a small glowing red light, and then there was a sudden blinding, blue flash of light. At first there was only darkness. Then Kara felt her body floating, although she was unable to move. It was like a dream, filled with images of the past. Kara saw her mother’s face and heard the old tales. She experienced hunting scenes and visions of youthful war games. Yet she could not awaken, and soon all was darkness again. Then she heard a voice, yet the words were garbled and confused. She tried to understand, but the sounds were like the speech of lowlanders. She soon drifted back into unconsciousness, only to feel someone touching her shoulder.

Kara awoke with a start and found herself staring into the broad face of the large warrior. She was sitting within the transparent cave, a fact revealed by the trees and sky Kara saw outside the alien enclosure. Moreover, Kara could not move her hands or feet and felt a cold metallic covering on her head. She heard a peculiar humming noise and the lowlander’s bizarre speech but did not understand what was being said and done.  

‘Are you sure she’s secure?’ Ezra telepathically inquired.

“The cortical inhibitor will prevent movement, but it’ll take time to map and modulate her language centers,” Anita said in her deep, resonate voice. “She has an extremely sophisticated semantic/syntactic interface.”

‘I can’t read her!’ Ezra desperately communed. ‘This has never happened before! I could barely sense she was near me! We have to leave this place right away. The sensors indicate there are hundreds more like her!’

“And where will we go?” Anita asked.

‘Part of you enjoys this!’ Ezra related. ‘Part of you seeks to watch me die if the next jump takes us back to CC.’

“I don’t deny it,” Anita calmly said. “But I’ve made a default-setting bypass that’ll probably work.”

“An illegal circuitry modification,” Ral tersely observed.

‘And you half hope the bypass doesn’t work!’ Ezra angrily noted to Anita. ‘In the meantime, I must live with your constant hatred! I can’t go out amongst these savages. I can’t make long jumps. And I can’t stay here without you incessantly laying Talak’s death at my feet! Why don’t you vaporize me and get it over with?’

“Why don’t you try stimulating responses from this person instead of feeling sorry for yourself?” Anita tersely asked. “We have to modulate her language processing if we’re going to find out anything about this world’s past.”

‘One cannot reason with Level 1 savages!’ Ezra exclaimed. ‘And it’s against protocols to modify their memory resources.’

“It’s against protocols to bypass the computer’s default settings, but you didn’t mind me doing that,” Anita replied. “Now generate some inputs for her to process.” 

‘How?’ Ezra asked. ‘I can’t read her!’

“Use your vocal cords!” Anita demanded. “Ramalans have the ability to speak!”

‘It’s a vulgar thing to do!’ Ezra noted.

“Then die well,” Anita said.

“You’d like that,” Ezra said in a high-pitched voice. “You’d like to see these savages burn me alive.”

“Great Maker, that’s the first time I’ve heard you speak in seventeen cycles,” Anita said. “But this woman is far from being a savage. Look at these brain-wave readings,” she added while glancing at a holographic display that danced above the control panel. “These patterns are exceedingly complex. Given time, her species could become exceptional temporal engineers.” 

“They could never become telepaths,” Ezra noted.

“That’s not true,” Anita said while manipulating the monitor’s controls. “The delta-wave activity is similar to your own.”

“The pattern is much more sophisticated than Ramalan DW signatures,” Ral observed. “And it appears to be more adaptable.”

Ezra shook his head and communed, ‘They’re child-like.’

“I told you to speak!” Anita snapped. “We have to generate inputs that’ll help the cortical analyzer trace her semantic and syntactic processes.”

“Don’t bark at me!” Ezra whined. “Using this means of communication is revolting for Ramalans.”

“But it’s producing results,” Anita observed. “She has a syntactic structure that is similar to normal paradigms, although it is more elaborate than most. Now we have to work on the semantic aspects.”

 

“Her semantic resources are highly interlinked with sensory processing centers,” Ral observed. “She is capable of multi-modal synesthesia.”

“Which means she’ll be a fast learner,” Anita said.

“This could still take hours!” Ezra said.

Anita ignored Ezra and held up her hand so that Kara could see it. She said, “Hand” and noted where cortical activity occurred via a holographic projection. Over the next few hours Anita and the reluctant Ezra displayed countless physical and computer-generated holographic images, and with each step Kara began to understand more of what her captors said. The language analyzer directed the activities of a synaptic stimulator that instantly forged and linked semantic memory resources, and by nightfall Kara was able to communicate with Anita and Ezra. Conversely, the capsule’s crew slowly came to understand more about Labateen culture. But Kara had more pressing concerns. She had to urinate, and she spoke her first sentence.

“Release me, you pig-faced lowlanders,” she yelled, “or I shall piss in your faces.”

Ezra leapt back from Kara, but Anita broke into a riotous laugh.

“We have a waste place in our cave,” she said. “But if I release you, you must promise not to harm us or run away.”

“It’s pointless to try reasoning with this savage,” Ezra shrilly said while retreating behind the vessel’s aft pair of seats.

“You wear black war paint, but you are a coward!” Kara yelled. “This savage will cut your eyes out!” Kara angrily threatened. “I will….

“You’ll wet yourself like a baby, something no Labateen would ever do,” Anita noted.

“You lay with Ishtar!” Kara replied. “You are the spawn of evil, and I shall watch your blood flow!”

“I’ll watch your urine flow,” Anita said while sitting back in the chair beside Kara’s. “And you shall smell like a wet baby.” 

“You are a cruel thing!” Kara growled.

“I’m Anita, and you are Kara,” Anita replied. “And would a cruel person allow you the use of her cave’s waste place?”

“Her?” Kara incredulously replied. “You are a woman?”

“Yes,” Anita responded. “I’m from a tribe called the Harkadan, but perhaps you should urinate before we talk. It=s bad manners in my culture to not allow a guest to use a waste place.”

“I promise not to kill you until after I have peed,” Kara said.

“How kind of you,” Anita said with a smile. She stood and pressed a lighted button on the cortical monitor Kara wore.

Kara instantly became reanimated, although she felt clumsy and slow. She unsteadily raised herself from the comfortable chair and looked up at the hulking Anita. This was a truly gigantic warrior, with arms as large around as small trees and legs that looked stronger than a big man’s back. Kara staggered and glanced toward the cave’s rear. The small, black-faced lowlander was crouched behind a chair, nervously watching Kara’s every move. Kara stumbled, but Anita arrested her fall, moving more swiftly than Kara imagined anything her size could.

Anita picked Kara up and carried her to the capsule=s aft section. A door slid open and Kara was toted into a small chamber. Its walls were not transparent, and there were many strange boxes and colored lights that Kara didn’t understand. What tiny fires could make these lights? What was the humming noise that sounded like bees? Kara was placed on her feet and felt the tunic being lifted. She was then seated over a hole, but it was very hard to concentrate. No cave had this many straight lines, and few were as warm. The storyteller once spoke of places in distant lands that were made of wood and carefully piled rocks, but he never described anything like this. Kara felt the warm wetness passing from her, and then there was darkness again.

Kara awoke in the soft, reclined chair. She looked through the capsule’s forward superstructure, confused about what was transpiring. Night had fallen, and the stars were out. She heard a high-pitched snore and glanced backward. The small man was fast asleep. He still wore black war paint, but no true warrior would sleep with an enemy in the same cave! The huge female was in the chair beside her, reclined and asleep. Kara slowly reached into her tunic’s pouch for the obsidian knife, but it was missing, as was her normal scent. She smelled of flowers and her hair felt strange. It was smooth and soft, similar to the hair she once saw on a group of lowland women. What had these demons done to her? They surely deserved death for these insults. If Kara could find the obsidian blade the battle would be over before the invaders realized it had started! Her eyes darted about, but the weapon could not be seen. Indeed, there were no rocks or sticks, so it would be hand-to-hand combat.

Kara sprang to her feet and suddenly felt a vice-like grip around her arm. The giant had awakened, and soon the other lowlander would also be upon her. Kara struck the hulking warrior on the forehead with her fist, a vicious blow that normally sent almost any opponent to the ground. Yet it did not deter this huge woman. Instead, she released her grip and leapt up, moving more quickly than even a grenlob. Anita placed her hands on her hips and stood before Kara, a mocking challenge that adults make to angry children. The small lowlander had awakened, yet he was again cowering in the cave’s rear. He was no threat, but this giant must be conquered. Kara let loose a war cry and tried pouncing upon the massive warrior. A huge hand suddenly lashed out and grabbed Kara around the throat, holding her in midair. 

“You have very bad manners,” Anita said while carrying Kara’s weight at arm’s length. “Attacking a host in her own cave is a terrible insult.”

Kara struggled, but she could not break the iron grip. She began passing out, but the giant tossed her onto the surface of the chair she had just left. Anita grabbed Kara’s arms and held them back while she spoke.

“Let’s take this from the beginning, Kara,” Anita growled. “I don’t want to harm anyone! But you could get badly injured if you assault me again. Is that clear?”

“It was you who attacked me!” Kara screamed. “You have taken my scent! You have ruined my hair! I shall kill you!”

“Let’s release her and make the jump,” Ezra whined. “This is never going to work! I’d rather die than share quarters with a barbarian.”

“It’ll take time, but she could be useful,” Anita said while glancing at Ezra. She returned her attention to Kara and said, “You shall kill no one! I did not steal your scent or ruin your hair! You passed out while in the waste place. You were covered with urine and smelled badly. I had to clean you!”

“What about my hair?” Kara asked.

“It was full of small insects, and we cannot have them in our cave,” Anita responded.

“You had no right to do this!” Kara screamed. “I have been shamed.”

“Let her go!” Ezra demanded. “We shouldn’t have interfered with her timeline to begin with. It’s against the Code.”

“Ezra is correct,” Ral intoned.

“Who said that?” Kara asked while nervously glancing about.

“That was the computer,” Anita replied.

“I prefer to be called Ral,” Ral said.

“Show yourself, and prepare to die!” Kara screamed.

“I’m integrated with the capsule,” Ral explained while his holographic image appeared above the controls. “I’ve no physical form you’d recognize other than this projection.”

“Then you are a demon!” Kara insisted.

“Please go into silent mode, Ral,” Anita said. “Ral can be annoying, but he isn’t a demon. It’s a machine, a tool.”

 “You can’t explain these principles to a primitive,” Ezra said. “Please, let her go.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Anita said with a sigh. “Maybe this was a bad idea from the beginning. I hoped she knew something that could help the mission, but she’s unmanageable. In any case, I certainly don’t want to harm her. And it’s clear she’s dangerous.”

“Why have you invaded my land?” Kara demanded.

“I’m going to release you,” Anita said. “Do not attack me again! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

“I understand,” Kara said.

Anita released her grip while Ezra quickly fled into the aft compartment. Kara massaged her sore wrists and studied the stout warrior who hovered above her.

“You have injured my wrists!” Kara angrily said.

“You hit me on the forehead first!” Anita replied.

“And that almost broke my hand!” Kara said.

Anita roared with laughter, and Kara smiled. Here was a warrior with a sense of humor. A smile is a good thing, something that a true follower of Ishtar would never do. Perhaps this was a person who could be reasoned with after all.

“Why have you come to our land?” Kara reiterated.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” Anita said. “We were on our way to another place, but our cave came here instead.”

“I am no fool,” Kara indignantly said. “A cave does not move!”

“I’m only using the word ‘cave’ because it’s a term you understand,” Anita said. “But believe me, this place can move.”

“How can that be?” Kara asked.

“Have you ever been to the lowlands?” Anita asked.

“Only once,” Kara said, “when I was a child.”

“Do you remember seeing carts?” Anita inquired.

“Carts?” Kara asked.

“Here, let me show you an example,” Anita said while gesturing toward a pad atop the control panel. “The computer can hear and understand us. So I say, ‘Ral, please display a cart,’ and see what happens.”

Kara watched in amazement while a three-dimensional holographic image of a four-wheeled wooden cart suddenly appeared above the control panel. The vehicle was much like the ones she saw as a child, but how could such an image be so quickly made? She was awestruck by the sight.

“How can this be?” she asked while gazing at the holographic cart. “It is much more than a painting. And it was made by invisible hands!”

“No, we have machines that can do many things for us,” Anita said. “A light generator is making this image.”

“Machines?” Kara queried. “You used this word before, and its meaning is not fully clear to me.”

“They are tools we use to do work,” Anita said. “Your spear is a tool that is used to hunt. This place you are in is also a tool.”

“Like a cart?” Kara observed.

“Very much so,” Anita said.

“Then where are the round things that make it move?” Kara asked while glancing at the hologram.

“You mean wheels,” Anita said. “We use a much different process to make the capsule move.”

“The word capsule seems familiar to me,” Kara replied. “Even this picture-maker seems familiar.”

“It should,” Anita said. “We used the holographic imager to help you learn our language.”

“Then what I saw while asleep were not dreams?” Kara asked.

“They may have seemed like dreams,” Anita advised. “But it’s how we teach.”

“This cannot be,” Kara scoffed. “One cannot learn words while asleep.”

“Oh, but one can learn from dreams,” Anita said.

“This is true,” Kara acknowledged. “The storytellers speak of dream-walkers whom God uses to teach great lessons.”

“It’s similar to the way we taught you,” Anita said. “We used a machine called a synaptic stimulator to make memories that allow you to communicate with us.”

Kara stood and glared at Anita.

“You placed memories in my soul?” Kara angrily said. “I was a Child of God’s — no matter what my people say! Now I am a changed thing that God will not love! Why have you done this?”

Anita looked down, and Kara instantly recognized the guilt her expression betrayed.

“Then you have truly killed me!” Kara screamed. “What have I done to deserve this?”

Then Kara saw something she hadn’t observed since childhood. She saw tears form in Anita’s large blue eyes. She watched them roll down the giant woman’s face and heard her sob. Only a child cries! A warrior would never do such a thing. Yet perhaps this wasn’t truly crying. Maybe this was a sign of defiance in Anita’s tribe. Kara had to know.

“Why are you making water come from your eyes?” Kara demanded. 

“Because I caused harm to another,” Anita sobbed. “I’ve violated our laws in countless ways.” She continued weeping, and Kara was taken aback. A show of insults demands an easy response, but tears are another matter altogether.

“You must stop that!” Kara ordered. “A warrior does not cry!”

“I didn’t mean to harm you,” Anita whimpered. “I shouldn’t have interfered with your life to begin with. But I’ve altered your mind, and that can’t be undone. I’ve violated a cardinal law of temporal travel and shamed Talak’s memory.”

“What is Talak?” Kara asked.

“He was my teacher, my mission leader,” Anita sobbed. “He would not have allowed me to manipulate your mind. It was wrong!”

“Then I am no longer a Child of God’s,” Kara sadly observed.

“You’ll always be one of the Great Maker’s children,” Anita said. “But I shouldn’t have caused you pain. That’s against our way.”

“Then you have sinned,” Kara said.

“I have,” Anita admitted while wiping her eyes.

“Why?” Kara asked.

“I’m lost and confused, Kara,” Anita said, slowly regaining her composure. “I felt you could help us learn what we need to know. But it’s hopeless. If I try to get home, Ezra may die. He is weak and cannot travel far. If I stay, I can=t complete our mission. And failure is something worse than death.”

“Mission?” Kara asked.

“It’s like a hunt,” Anita said.

“Then you have killed all the game!” Kara angrily said. “For seven suns I have seen no animal signs. It is no wonder you are so large. You have eaten everything! How will the Labateen survive?”

“No, we do not hunt,” Anita insisted. “Our laws tell us to use sound-machines to frighten away animals whenever we come to a place. They’ll return, but we must not interfere with their lives while we’re here.”

“Making the game flee interferes with the lives of the Labateen!” Kara angrily observed. “But if you do not hunt, what do you eat?”

“We bring food with us,” Anita said. “We have species-specific amino-acid and carbohydrate synthesizers. I know these words sound strange, but it’s only natural that we’ll have semantic problems for a while.”

“Semantics,” Kara said. “It is strange. I never heard this word, but the meaning seems clear to me.”

“Semantics involves studying the meanings we give to sounds and marks,” Anita replied. “It helps us to communicate.”

“How did I know this?” Kara asked. “How is it that I can understand these strange words you speak?”

“Like I told you,” Anita said, “we placed new memories in your mind.”

“Then I am wiser,” Kara said.

“You certainly know more words,” Anita repled.

“A wise person is closer to God,” Kara observed. “So am I now closer to God?”

“We’re all one with God,” Anita said.

“No!” Kara indignantly replied. “Only the Labateen are the true people of God. Your tribe is not Labateen!”

“You sound like Ezra,” Anita said. “He also believes his people are the chosen.”

“Perhaps all tribes think they are chosen, but only the Labateen truly are,” Kara observed. “Yet Ezra is small and weak. How can he possibly believe his people are God’s children? A Labateen mother would have slain him at birth. And how dare such a one wear dark war paint?”

“His skin is black,” Anita said.

“I am not blind!” Kara said. “I can see he stained his skin a noble color. Yet he has no right to do this!”

“Ezra was born with black skin,” Anita replied.

“Such things cannot happen!” Kara said. “This is like saying he was born with war paint! It is ridiculous!”

“You have much to learn,” Anita said with a smile. “I’ve seen people with yellow, brown, and even red skin. They come in many shapes and sizes, although most have two legs, two arms, and one head.”

“Then there are others who bear your markings?” Kara asked.

“You mean these dark spots on my skin?” Anita asked.

“Yes, the Labateen believe they are a sign of Ishtar,” Kara replied. “And Ishtar is the evil one, the eater of all that is!”

“Are you saying that I’m evil?” Anita asked.

“You bear the marks of evil,” Kara said.  

“If I were evil I would have harmed you by now,” Anita observed.

“It seems you have enough strength and speed to harm me,” Kara noted. “This is why I don’t understand why you bear the Marks of Ishtar.”

“Among my people I’m considered quite beautiful,” Anita proudly said. “The pattern of each Harkadan=s markings is unique, but spots do not make one evil or good! It’s one’s actions and thoughts that determine one’s character.”

“Then I shall watch how you think and act,” Kara said while recalling the words Leah had used to save her life. “Still, you came to the Labateens’ land without invitation, and that is evil!” 

“Let us sit and talk,” Anita said while assuming a seat. Kara cautiously sat on the chair next to Anita’s but leaned forward so that she could react quickly to any threat. She listened intently while Anita spoke.

“I told you that Ezra and I didn’t intend to be on your land,” Anita said.

“Yes, you said this machine we are in took you here by mistake,” Kara said. “But even if this is true, why would you travel with such a weak thing? He cannot hunt, and he surely cannot fight. What use is such a one?”

Anita laughed and noted, “I’ve often felt that way myself.”

“Then why are you together?” Kara asked.

“Ezra and I come from different lands,” Anita said. “And we have different skills. The Harkadan understand machines, and we also possess great physical power. Ezra’s people are called Ramalans, and they have the ability to speak to people’s minds.”

“That weak thing cannot speak to my mind!” Kara observed. “And all I sense from it is fear.”

“You’re the first person Ezra could not communicate with through thought,” Anita observed. “The Ramalans are famous for this ability.”

“It is the word called ‘telepathy,’” Kara noted.

“You’re accessing new memory resources quicker than I thought possible,” Anita said. “But yes, the Ramalans are exceptional telepaths. However, the Labateen may think in ways that Ezra cannot perceive.”

“It is no surprise that he could not understand my thoughts,” Kara added. “No lowlander can see into the mind of a Labateen. But your machines did.”

“Only to a degree,” Anita said. “All people are unique, but your species is exceptional. There are neuronal connections that our machines can’t interpret. Still, the new memories we implanted allow us to communicate.”

  

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