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Tall-ah Earth: New Earth Chronicles, #4

Tall-ah Earth: New Earth Chronicles, #4

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Tall-ah Earth: New Earth Chronicles, #4

Length:
553 pages
7 hours
Released:
Nov 1, 2021
ISBN:
9781622533558
Format:
Book

Description

Threats on all sides draw starship captain Jack Merrick, and oids from many planets, into battles against forces that threaten the noble experiment on Tall-ah Earth.

Captain Jack Merrick has rescued the beautiful maiden and the apisoid children from Lucien's Dark Planet, and now a terraformed planet awaits them. On Tall-ah Earth, oids, five generations removed from ancestral Evas and Adamas, form the enclave of Neolithia. The progeny of several planets enjoy peaceful relations, farming the land and tending livestock.

Loud booms warn of terrible mechanical beasts unloosed across the planet. As defenders of the enclave learn to wield powerful streams and walls of light from a master, Torlion, Mad Janey casts spells and broadcasts demons to undermine the quest for peace among the Neolithians.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a compelling visionary sci-fi tale, with post-apocalyptic elements, to bring the past full circle into the future, in this fourth book in the "New Earth Chronicles" series. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY VICTORIA LEHRER:

  • The Augur's View (New Earth Chronicles – Book 1)
  • The Triskelion (New Earth Chronicles – Book 2)
  • On Winged Gossamer (New Earth Chronicles – Book 3)
  • Tall-ah Earth (New Earth Chronicles – Book 4)
  • The Timeline (New Earth Chronicles – Book 5)

MORE GREAT VISIONARY SCI-FI/FANTASY FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • "The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky" by David Litwack
  • The "Grims' Truth" Series by Isu Yin & Fae Yang

 

Released:
Nov 1, 2021
ISBN:
9781622533558
Format:
Book

About the author

In seventh grade, Mrs. Trader inspired me both as a writer and a teacher. In her class, I learned I loved to write and that my classmates liked to hear my stories. Her spirited students engaged in dramatic performances, hands-on projects, and lively discussions—nothing like the poor subdued souls across the hall, managed by the teacher with long green eyes. So Mrs. Trader was my model when I started a school and set aside my writing—that is, until it dawned on me that tribes of children have loved learning by listening to stories for thousands of years. So I wrote about a million words that speak to head and heart, which I am still reading to my child listeners. But now I’m writing stories, my second million words, to speak to the heads and hearts of adult readers and listeners, and hoping my classmates will like them.


Book Preview

Tall-ah Earth - Victoria Lehrer

Engulfed by the vastness of space on a ship without a crew, Jack leapt from the captain’s chair when a voice said, On-screen is the Dark Planet. An enormous dark sphere, its presence ominous, filled the screen. Can you feel its pull?

Who just spoke? Jack peered around the control room. A stowaway? How did anyone board this ship without my knowledge? Not that a little company wouldn’t be nice.

You seem surprised, the voice continued. Haven’t we communicated psychically for a year? At your behest I flew you to Eena and Gavin when they were gasping for air on the ground, near death from volcanic fumes. Together, we saved the augurs and transported the birds from Mu to the terraformed savannah in the inner Earth cavern of the Erathans.

You’re the ship? I’ve heard you in my head, but never as a real voice.

New development in our relationship. I hope it alleviates some of your loneliness.

Not really, Jack quipped mentally.

The ship’s voice continued. On-screen, the object of our first off-planet mission looms. Oppression weighted the gravitational pull from the metal gray sphere, its entire girth belted except for a black ring that intersected the circumference like a large buckle.

Looks like the Death Star in the Star Wars movie.

Perhaps George Lucas knew something. A threat to biological life, it cruises the galaxy.

But you called it a planet.

It’s also a ship.

Shouldn’t we speedily remove ourselves from the threat called the Dark Planet?

And fly away from our mission?

I can’t believe I’m conversing with a ship.

Must every sentient life form resemble you?

You’re alive?

I’m as biological as you are, down to the DNA.

Still, this feels strange.

Seen through the eyes of one who has been to only one planet, especially a planet so recently transitioning out of third density, the universe is indeed a strange place.

I’ve heard of ships run by AI that interface with biology.

As is usually the case. But, like yours, my heart and mind and DNA are connected to the Cosmic Source.

I appreciate your company, the audible voice. But I’m sure you understand I miss human companionship.

I can fix that.

Across the room from the screen swirled an iridescent double helix. Startled, Jack had no time to prepare himself before a petite woman shimmered into view. Wearing a silver body suit, dark hair bobbed at her chin, bright, expressive brown eyes, she met his stare.

Whoa!

Is this better? Hands on hips, legs spread, her resemblance to a crew member at the ready replaced any suggestion of a space ship.

It’s challenging to imagine you as large as the ship and as small as the woman facing me.

Jack drew back as his companion cartwheeled and flipped forward to land face to face.

Who is also a gymnast.

Laughter tinkled from the ship’s diminutive personification. Like you, I’m a life form, ever changing and always in motion—even in stillness.

Since you’re in the form of a person, I would feel more comfortable addressing you by a name.

Head cocked, arms crossed, Jack’s travel companion hesitated before she spoke. On Earth people have gazed at me at night assuming me to be an unusually bright star. Stella Lumina—meaning ‘bright star’—that’s my name.

Jack admitted to himself Stella Lumina’s perky persona was welcome company for a crew of one.

Take a look. No longer playful, a somber Stella nodded toward the screen. There’s more to that nondescript, dead-looking sphere than meets the eye. It’s part of a cybernetic network of such vehicles run by a central AI known as The Lucien. Each Dark Planet houses its own Lucien and thousands of cyborgs. Each cruises the galaxy with the intent to overpower life-bearing planets, to appropriate all sentient life.

I’ve never heard of such a thing.

Eons ago a race very much like yours created an AI that became self-aware when scientists networked it with computers all over the planet.

And?

Whereas the scientists sought godlike power over that world by turning a civilized species similar to yours into AI-directed automatons, the AI soon outsmarted its designers.

How so?

"Possessing vast intellect and an insatiable drive for power, the AI, known as The Lucien, was initially housed in a computer. But when placed in a robot, indistinguishable from a human, it outmaneuvered the scientists and corporate funders responsible for its existence. The Lucien locked down the entire planet, including the ruling planetary lords, under cybernetic control. In time, The Lucien’s lust for power outgrew the planet. It assembled a cyborg slave force to construct a ship in the form of a hollow planet and moved into the interior.

So that was the start of The Dark Planet Network.

You’ve got it.

"For thousands of Gaia Earth years, the AI and its network housed in Dark Planets have trolled star systems to assimilate intelligent life forms and scientific advances into the Lucien hierarchy. Recently, the Dark Planet located Gaia Earth.

Has it captured earthlings?

One so far. On screen.

A close-up view revealed a young woman standing beside a garden fence, a deer nibbling from her extended hand. A breeze lifted a lock of wavy brown hair on her forehead, delight sparkled in her hazel eyes as she stroked the animal’s neck.

Jack stared, captivated.

Renae felt no alarm, no reason to fear an alien presence when, in her peripheral vision among the pines just beyond the garden, she saw what must have been deer. Led by the largest female, the one that relished carrots, the small herd often came around when she gardened. She patted the soil around the just planted cucumber seedling and, trowel in hand, stood to reach into her pocket for the baggie of carrot slices. Awaiting the approach of the deer, arms akimbo, she admired the rows of ruffled lettuce and radish sprouts. In the bright sunshine, a glow backlit the leaves, auguring a perfect day until a passing cloud darkened the garden patch.

So, did you plant jalapeños like I told you to? Rick had just come from the house to lean against the garden fence. Nothing in today’s grinning good looks hinted at last night’s features contorted with rage, or the overturned table.

Not yet.

Why not?

The days and nights have to get warmer.

Like our nights. When he reached across the fence to touch her hair, she flinched and tilted her head away.

You know I love you with all my heart, Renae. I promise I’ll treat you better tonight. Just don’t challenge me.

She averted her gaze toward the forest. Oddly, the shifting shadows among the trees conveyed restlessness. Deer, usually calm, still creatures, stared with a statuesque pose until, alerted by imminent danger, they bolted.

Like the deer, she had stared at Rick the night before as his fingers traced the edge of her drafting table. Now, Renae, didn’t we agree we would eat dinner together this evening? A bad day at work had set him off, and an empty stomach and cocktails had exacerbated his hostile mood. Before she finished explaining about the last-minute phone call that had detained her, the table went over and the lamp crashed to the floor. She faced him in the darkened room. Knowing any reaction on her part would make matters worse, she edged stealthily toward the door. Driven by self-preservation her thoughts raced. Demanding Rick leave when he’s been drinking is futile. So I’ll leave. Even though this is my house, I’ll get in my car and go. Where? I don’t know. I must get away.

Like the deer, she bolted. He grabbed her forearm. His response to You’re hurting me, was to tighten his clasp so that it hurt more. The voice in her head was stern. You know from experience that the key is don’t resist, and he’ll calm down. He did and she lay awake until morning asking one pervasive question: How do I get him out of my life and prevent him from returning?

In the morning light, as she continued to grapple with her plight, he leaned over the fence to caress the bruise on her arm. On the heels of his brutality, Rick could be so charming, so tender. Renae, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Only you can tame the beast, you know. With sincerity, his eyes pleaded, his tone cajoling.

If only I could, she thought as again she gazed into the trees. His presence must have frightened the deer away. She freed her arm to return the carrots to the pocket and retrieve the remaining seed packet. Nasturtiums. Edible flowers. She’d plant those tomorrow. Reinserting the packet in the pocket of her pants, she headed toward the gate as Rick turned away.

Hey, I’ve got to go sell more antiques. How about dinner at Beto’s Bistro and a movie tonight? Headed for his nineteen eighty-seven convertible, Rick called back, Don’t forget those jalapeños.

Directives. He was always giving directives. She waved as he lowered the top of the convertible. Why did her heart lurch at his arrival when a surge of relief accompanied his departure? She wanted to sever the relationship. But he was as determined to hold her close as she was to break off from him. Tonight she would, this time permanently.

Trowel in bucket, gate latched to keep out the herd now moving among the trees, the creek beckoned, and she followed the stone-riddled path to the grassy bank. The crystalline flow sparkled an invitation to remove her sandals, and icy cold water shocked the toes pointed toward shining pebbles. Anticipating a deer’s emergence from the herd that had paced her approach to the stream, she splashed her shins, forearms and hairline while mentally assembling her wardrobe for that evening’s date. An inner voice chided her for wanting to be her most alluring while rebuffing Rick’s empty promises. Nonetheless, though he would persuade her with dreams of togetherness, she resolved to firmly, decisively send him on his way.

Sunlight speckled the water as she splashed her face and arms, relishing the refreshing coolness and an oriel’s song until a bizarre presence invaded her peaceful realm. Instead of a delicate deer’s nose moving past the cypress trunk, something large and bulbous slid into view. Several feet above the height of a deer’s head, the glare of a second translucent eye extended from a helmet-like head. Antennae waved. In Renae’s confusion she wondered, A costume? A prank? When insect-like appendages appeared extending from the upright torso of the creature, a force choked the scream rising in her throat. A nightmare had invaded her reverie. Though this couldn’t be real, the urge to flee jolted her to action, but an invisible pressure locked her in place. Along the streambank, surrounding her, were three giant, upright ants, horrifying, surreal. As the stream gurgled a parallel reality, something clasped her forearm from behind, and darkness blotted out the sun and bird song, and the world as she knew it.

Jack waited, wanting to know what happened to Renae.

She is now inside the Dark Planet, and assimilation is imminent.

Exactly what does ‘assimilation’ imply?

A procedure to suppress Renae’s unique identity and produce a controlled drone or cyborg. A hive mind will replace her individual consciousness.

We can’t allow that to happen.

I’m glad to hear you refer to our mission. The Dark Planet Network not only abducts populations. These artificial planets, housing thousands of cyborgs, have also been known to destroy planets of resisters.

Sounds like a menacing force. The tightening in Jack’s gut signaled his own resistance. I’m only one person, you know. How can I possibly take on a thousand cyborgs without being captured and assimilated myself?

Don’t worry. I’ve foreseen the obstacles. Walk with me.

Hey, when did this ship grow large enough to have a corridor?

My interior space accommodates the need. Stella’s glance communicated an unspoken mystery as she started down the hallway. Follow me. See the suits hanging along the wall? Retrieve the blue one.

Between two bulky suits, more typical of those Jack had seen in movies, hung a suit of thin fabric with a dull sheen.

Strip, then put it on.

Even though Stella was really a ship, Jack felt embarrassed to undress in front of her.

I’ll turn around.

His clothes heaped on the floor, the captain wriggled and shoved himself into the snug-fitting garment that looked nothing like a spacesuit. It fits like a body glove. But what if I need air tanks?

The entire suit has tiny pockets of compressed air. Grab that helmet.

That flimsy balloon-like thing?

It’s stronger than you think. Good to wear in flight. But you won’t need it inside the Dark Planet.

Jack fingered the limp fabric of the helmet. It seems so fragile... like space debris could penetrate it, or an alien punch could knock me out.

Crumple it. Pull on it. Try to tear it. Go ahead, put it on.

A hard transparent surface formed around Jack’s head leaving an inch gap. So, it’s better protection than it appears to be. Feeling slightly claustrophobic, he removed the helmet. And the thin material of this suit?

Try to tear it on that sharp edge.

Jack rubbed the sleeve against the corner of a metal bar. I see what you mean.

You’ve been wanting to pilot a scout ship.

Surely there’s not one onboard.

The elevator just ahead will take us to the hangar.

Elevator? Stella, do you simply expand the ship’s interior as we go?

Oh no, nothing as haphazard as that. We left Earth well supplied, all necessary rooms and equipment intact.

How is that possible? On Earth I piloted a forty-five-foot diameter ship with a single floor.

Stella chuckled. "The expansion from the etheric blueprint would have puzzled even Randolph Ring.

With fondness, Jack recalled Randoph patiently preparing him for the craft that defied gravity, its levitation and free energy propulsion system more like that of a bee than a rocket. Randolph explained about Natural Law, the physics of the Cosmos that supersedes the limitations of scientific materialism.

Just think of this larger version as drawing from the ethers in order to manifest new aspects at my command.

Like Randolph Ring, you’re expanding my 3D view of what’s possible.

The elevator door opened to an aircraft hangar where the craft of Jack’s dreams beckoned. Unlike the saucer he had been piloting for over a year, it had sleek lines that began with a pointed nose and ended with an aerodynamic flare. He recalled flights from the air force base in similar jets that cut through layers of Earth’s atmosphere in seconds.

Stella, that’s my kind of craft—built for speed.

On Earth, yes. I designed it to please you with its similarity to jets at an air force base in the nineteen eighties. It’s also indistinguishable from those of the Dark Planet Space Force. Standing beside him, she disappeared to reappear seated on the jet’s wing.

Join me.

Okay. He stepped toward the craft.

Not that way. Project an image of yourself next to me as you tap the insignia on the breast of your uniform.

Jack touched the golden torus and catapulted beside the diminutive version of the ship that housed them.

Stella’s pert upturned face smiled at him. We need to discuss the target. With her slight nod a holographic screen featured the belt buckle area of the Dark Planet. Like a gigantic aperture, a sliver of yellow-orange light widened to reveal the interior.

Stella!

Sit tight and watch.

The huge yellow iris returned their stare, revealing a brightly lit interior with runways and small dark objects parked inside.

I’ll increase the magnification.

As a squadron of ships darted out of the hangar and looped toward the far side of the planet, the enormity of the odds against a successful rescue unnerved Jack.

I’m surprised they haven’t spotted us.

We’re cloaked, giving you a chance to prepare for your flight.

Now give the insignia two quick taps.

When nothing happened, he looked questioningly at Stella. A large, round mirror appeared in her hand, and she held it up to him.

Jack gasped. I’m invisible.

Like the ship, you will be cloaked.

And to become visible?

Tap the emblem again. With relief, Jack noted the reappearance of his body.

So, now that I have some protection, how do I find those I’m to rescue?

That’s the hard part. You’re seeking the woman you saw earlier.

That’s a huge planet.

"My DNA has detected a distress signal from her. May I implant that impression in you? It will act as a honing signal.

Of course.

A fearful tension, but also something else, nudged Jack. A contradictory pleasure radiated from the woman. Stella leaped to the nose of the jet as a ramp opened to the cockpit.

Renae is not alone. The enjoyment you sense from her relates to a group of children. Your additional target will be young apisoids, a sentient species, which have retained physical hints of their ancient origins.

Which were....

Bees.

So, a group of bee humans?

Children, and a guide known as Nurse.

Jack’s dismay evoked Stella’s miffed expression. Are you up for this mission?

Well, I....

We can leave now and allow the obliteration of Renae and the bee children’s identities—their induction as cyborgs into the hive. It’s to happen right away.

So, if our rescue attempt succeeds, where will we take the bee children and the woman? They can’t remain on this ship indefinitely. He shuddered at the thought.

As their own planet, their ideal ecological match has been destroyed, they are to join a variety of oids on the terraformed planet, Tall-ah Earth.

Oids?

Humanoids, avesoids, pantheroids. There are others.

On the Dark Planet, the lighted aperture-like opening began to close.

By the way, once you’re inflight, the hangar door will open at your approach. Best of luck to you, Jack. If you’re going, you need to leave now.

Jack didn’t like being rushed. How can Stella be so flippant, so insistent, when I could be walking into a deadly trap? Within a very short time I could be captured and turned into a cyborg myself, permanently. Jack recalled landing the ship, Stella Lumina, deep in Gaia Earth’s interior, where Anaya and other Erathans informed him about the star gate, and briefly sketched this mission. What was I thinking when I passed through that star gate? I’m sure there are plenty of people to save on Earth. He mentally chided Anaya. You—someone—should have warned me.

Jack. Stella’s voice flipped him to the present. You’ll need that.

Summoning his courage, he slipped on the helmet and breathed in fresh oxygen. Stella, I’ll do my best, but I’ll be following my nose once I’m inside.

I shared with you the honing signal to find the woman. Sense it. She’s key to locating the children. Hopefully, you will reach her and them in time. You’ll need to cloak your ship until it’s in the landing dock. When your ship stops, it will need to become visible, but cloak yourself.

Once Jack was seated in the cockpit, Stella faced him from the nose of the ship. Don’t worry, Jack. In a sense, I’ll be right beside you.

Jack nodded as he tried to steady the inward quaking, the wish to turn back, the sense he was way over his head in this so-called mission. In a partial trance, he spoke to the panel. Cloaking device.

When the landing port opened to space, the dizzying speed he had yearned to experience since his last flight through Earth’s stratosphere shot him across the runway and through the hangar door. As he entered space, he braced himself for streaks of colored light to dramatize his acceleration to Mach 1 and beyond. But in silent mockery the distant stars remained locked in place. Only the huge eye of the sphere ahead marked his progress.

A year or a minute could have passed when a group of ships much like his own approached the half-open hangar door. When Jack’s nervousness edged toward panic, the realization he was cloaked calmed him. But when a pull he could not resist drew the ship toward the Dark Planet’s lighted runways and overrode his controls, the urge to turn back seized him. With an abrupt stop, as though at the command of an unseen guidance system, his ship halted on a marker behind a similar vessel.

A moment of stunned confusion gripped him as a ship coasted from behind on a collision course with his own invisible conveyance. Hastily, Jack decloaked his ship and cloaked himself. Removing his helmet, he stepped from the cockpit onto the ramp and catapulted to the floor. From the floor of the spaceport he observed with relief the abrupt halt of the nose of the ship behind the tail section of his craft.

An alien he judged to be about eight feet tall brushed past him, just missing his extended arm. Making his body as narrow as possible, he maneuvered between beings that looked like giant, upright ants. He had assumed the crew were wearing helmets and wondered why they didn’t remove them until he noted strange anomalies. The surfaces of the large heads sported two bulbous hemispheres suggesting large, transparent eyes. Antenna in constant movement sprouted from their foreheads. Armored arms and legs resembling the anatomy of muscular humans were actually insect-like exoskeletons. Dwarfed by the species, he sidestepped giant appendages to avoid being overrun and wished to be anywhere but in that hangar.

After several minutes of purposeful coming and going, checking this and that, the crews headed toward the end of the hangar which opened to a corridor. Gathering his courage and with adroit maneuvering, Jack skirted the precarious stream of beings whose single step matched two of his. The hall led to a room which emitted earthy seaside smells and hosted a table the height of Jack’s neck. As the ant men collected around the tall table with no chairs, curiosity drew him closer to see a clawed hand pop a shelled creature with waving legs between open mandibles. Crowded between slurping, crunching ant men, the human intruder stood mesmerized as they dangled wiggling worms and pried open cowrie shells to scrape out the contents, all of which disappeared with apparent relish.

Shaking off his enthrallment, Jack realized he was dangerously sandwiched between two creatures and stepped back with the intent to inch away from the table. But, at that moment, the ant man closest to him shifted and stepped on his foot. Shot through with excruciating pain, his mind racing, Jack remained captive, pinned to the spot by a very heavy giant ant.

Ripe grapes as far as the eye can see. Green undulating hills, abundance. We enjoy a good life on Tall-ah Earth. As Onashi often did, she reflected on her ancestral heritage. Great grandparents five generations removed, I am grateful you volunteered to migrate here, glad the Edeners transported you, an Eva and an Adama, from Gaia Earth to Tall-ah Earth. You, the humanoid settlers, along with the avesoid, pantheroid, cetaceanoid, reptiloid and caninoid emigrants. I thank the Edeners for terraforming this planet, these hills, the distant mountains and the endless ocean. For the opportunity to peacefully coexist with the oids on the verdant hills of our enclave, of Neolithia, I send heartfelt thanks.

Onashi severed a stem, admiring the grape cluster at the peak of perfection and popped a grape into her mouth. But the instant the juice burst through its skin, and tart sweetness spread over her tongue, a blinding light violated the horizon. A loud boom shook the earth and loosened the cluster from her hand. Junicah. The sun, rising over the western peaks of the Shliabat Range, cast a pink glow on the walls of the rock and sod home as her three-year-old daughter appeared at the front door crying, Momma!

Onashi’s gaze shifted toward the shed and corrals where the early morning rays highlighted the green-brown speckles spread across her husband’s shoulders. Zindeset leaped to the top rail of the corral as the panicked herd, the whites of their eyes visible, mooed and jostled one another. Their fourteen-year-old son, Weil, freed the sheep to pasture as the sheepdogs, Biscuit and Coal, ran in frantic zig zags, barking to contain the bolting herd.

Junicah, still in her nightshift, held a cloth doll upside down, its yarn hair dragging in the dirt as she ran to collapse against her mother. Onashi lifted her to her breast and brushed ochre sand from the doll’s head as Weil and Zindeset approached. Lightning?

That was my first thought. But the burst of light rose from the eastern horizon—in the direction of the Wasteland. No clouds in sight.

The boom terrified the livestock.

Onashi exchanged knowing stares with her husband. Her mind raced as thoughts tumbled out. That wasn’t thunder. Syphoners could be on the loose. The safest place for the families is the storage house.

Zindeset gazed across the rolling hills—rich soil, substrate for lush grass, orchards and crops of Neolithia. I’ll grab a few men to head to Caldera Canyon.

At that moment, Joel, their grown son, armed with knife, scythe and bows and arrows, approached from the adjoining farmstead. I’ll go too, Dad. By the time Zindeset had retrieved his weapons, Onashi had gathered peas, carrots and potatoes from the garden for Junicah and Weil’s breakfast. She grappled with rising alarm as her husband tussled Junicah’s hair and touched her cheek. We’re off to Lenish and Roshenol’s farm so they can start the relay. When Weil asked to go, his father shook his head with a definitive, No. Onashi hugged Joel and watched her two men until they disappeared over Orchard Hill, to spread the word among the six races, the ‘oids’ of Neolithia.

After nudging Weil and Junicah to eat without dawdling, Onashi hurried them to the storage house. Located at the center of the enclave, it was the only building large enough and secure enough to protect one hundred eighty people from attack. Although the large room would be filled with produce in four months, for now, the first week after the spring planting, it was fairly empty. Boxes and bags stacked along the far wall left scant room for the families that would soon crowd its interior. Onashi placed her basket filled with vegetables on a table along one wall. While a kettle of water heated at the large hearth, she poured dried flowers into her cup for a fragrant tea. As more families arrived, the noise of children playing and adults shouting to be heard escalated.

Seated on a crate, Onashi sipped hot tea and worried about the men headed toward the Wasteland while she greeted the varied group of families pouring in. The young parents were the fifth-generation progeny of refugees from various planets, most under attack from alien forces. Reptiloids, caninoids, pantheroids, humanoids, cetaceanoids and avesoids, so called for their origins far back in the mists of time, referring to themselves collectively as ‘oids,’ filed in. Though the oid bodies were only superficially distinguishable from humanoid body types from the mother planet, Gaia Earth, their heads were distinctively bald or crowned with fur, hair or feathers, according to their origins. Eye color and size, and noses, either prominent, wide-nostriled or barely evident, distinguished the species. Genes tweaked by the Edeners enabled the oids to interbreed and converse in the universal language. As Onashi calmed worried parents, hybrid ‘oid’ children, many exotic-looking and pleasant to the eye, played jump rope, hide-and-seek, and hand chants among the adults.

Gaia Earth, a paradise of biodiversity in the galaxy, provided DNA for the flora and fauna of Tall-ah Earth’s ecosystems. Furthermore, the oids farmed with livestock genetically engineered thousands of years earlier on Gaia Earth, an event giving rise to the Neolithic Era, a time of peace and prosperity. During the Neolithic, when balanced masculine and feminine energies flourished on Gaia Earth, women were often leaders, as Onashi was on Tall-ah Earth. Hence the name of the oid enclave, Neolithia.

After all the families were accounted for, those inside barred the door. Baskets filled with the produce of household gardens surrounded Onashi’s. She addressed the worried expressions and whispered queries of the adults. I know little more than you, beyond the light flash and the explosive boom.

Ooinatu, an elderly cetaceanoid, his head large and bald, ears mere indentations, eyes small, spoke the possibility no one wanted to contemplate. I suspect the event was connected to those creatures with metal claws housed in Caldera Canyon.

Relo-ata, a pantheroid, fawn-colored fur growing on her scalp between the points of her tufted ears, her eyes upturned, catlike, voiced the fear on everyone’s mind. What if they escaped?

When the group began to speculate, Merish, an avesoid with small silvery blue feathers at his crown, his mouth a small beaklike protrusion, shushed them. Children are within earshot.

One by one, the children left the games and the clamoring for a story began, as Onashi knew would happen. The oids loved to listen to the stories kept alive from generation to generation, recorded in the prodigious memories of grandmothers. The Memory Keepers, known for their special abilities, relayed verbatim The Saga of the Gathering of the Oids as told from each species’ perspective. A storyteller was born for each generation from a single lineage of each oid species, and was recognized as such, showing from an early age evidence of the remembering.

It’s your turn, Onashi. The tales of their origins were among the people’s favorite entertainment, and they kept track of which oid lineage was next. Since they agreed it was time for the humanoid account, and Onashi’s mother had died recently, she assumed the mantle of Memory Keeper for the Fifth Generation of Humanoids on Tall-ah Earth. The tales of the oid grandmothers who remembered included chapters such as: In the Beginning—The Creation; Tribulation on the Home Planet; The Invitation and Choosing; The Meeting of the Oids Aboard the ARK; and The First Days on Tall-ah Earth, with new chapters being added from generation to generation.

For several moments, Onashi reflected on the stories first told by her great-grandmother’s mother, historical accounts known as Tales from Gaia Earth, her original home. Onashi’s great-great-grandmother was one of three females chosen to become an Eva from Gaia Earth. Bindi, a half-breed of Australian aborigine and Dutch descent, and Miro, her mate, the Adama, arrived after meeting other oids aboard the ARK ship and learning how to thrive on Tall-ah Earth. Thereafter, a daughter, and a daughter’s daughter from each generation shared the stanzas recorded in flawless memories.

The oid accounts had lost the cadences of the original tongues, but were nonetheless sufficiently compelling to hold successive generations spellbound underneath the Grandmother Tree in summer, and in winter around the great fire of the tented Gathering Hearth. Tall-ah Earth circled the sun twice before retellings started at the beginning again, and again those gathered listened in rapt silence, interrupted by occasional laughter or shouts of suspense.

Onashi breathed deep, accessing a part of her mind, an archive not hers alone, but the heritage of generations past and to come. "In the beginning, the Edeners terraformed this planet, this verdant world ripe for sentient life, our planetary home known as Tall-ah Earth. Awash with the waters of the Endless Ocean, its single landmass spined by the great peaks of Shliabat that divide west from east, this daughter of Gaia Earth awaited the ancestors. From their high place the Edeners saw mountain peaks that penetrated the clouds and birthed streams that tumbled over rocks and refreshed the land.

Those who searched the heavens on our behalf found Gaia Earth, proclaimed the Jewel of the Third Heaven of the Milky Way Galaxy. Why? Because an abundance of living forms filled the oceans, walked the land and flew in the skies—an astonishing variety unmatched by any of the billions of life-supporting planets in the galaxy. With life from Gaia Earth, the Edeners seeded Tall-ah Earth. They filled the ocean with fish and whales, crabs and lobsters; enriched the soil of Neolithia’s hills for cultivation; seeded grasslands to host prairie dogs and herds of horses and elk; coaxed forests of towering conifers to shelter bears, cougars, badgers and deer—all under the light of the sun and the reflected rays of two moons, Aziula, which was blue, and Naranaha, which was orange. After careful consideration, the Edeners agreed. This daughter of Gaia Earth, jewel of the Third Heaven, shall be the home of the oids and shall be called Tall-ah Earth, Jewel of the Fourth Heaven.

"In days of old, when young Bindi walked on Gaia Earth, men from a faraway land colonized Australia, the continental home of those who referred to themselves as Real People. The Europeans captured and enslaved many native Australians. The encroachment of British and Dutch emigrants forced the inhabitants from the green tree-filled lands closer to the ocean shore to the desolate inland deserts. Those aborigines, my ancestors, who walked about the desert in search of food and water, were the carriers of tales of the beginnings. The people who called themselves Real People were a peaceful tribe who walked Gaia Earth and also the dreamtime world.

"In those days, nine-year-old Bindi, my grandmother, was taken from her people. She grew up in the city where wings one over the other, not of birds, but of aeroplanes, carried people across the skies; and metal boxes called trains spewed smoke and traveling on metal tracks carried people between cities. In those days, Bindi, her belly distended from hunger, her clothes tattered and worn, walked between worlds. She lived separated from her aboriginal clan who crossed the Tanami Desert on bare feet. Bindi lived alone in Alice Springs among white-skinned people who shunned her. Those were two of the worlds between which Bindi walked. The other two included the streets where Bindi shuffled, head down, and the dreamtime in which her soul soared.

"As Bindi walked the worlds, she did not know she emitted a bright light, a light not seen by the people she moved among, but clearly seen by others. The Edeners who watched from the sky, wondered, Should we approach her? Would Bindi, carrier of the memories, make a good Eva, a good first ancestor of the people of Tall-ah Earth? The Edeners also watched a half-breed named Miro. Would Miro be a good mate, a good Adama, a good first ancestor?"

They decided, ‘Yes.’ And that was how Bindi and Miro came to be approached and agreed to be transported to the ARK ship. Among the stars, the two humanoids sat with other ‘oids’ who would become their friends, and with whom they would form an enclave of farmers and craftsmen surrounded by the verdant hills of Neolithia.

As Onashi’s memory rolled out Bindi and Miro’s Tale, another part of her searched for Zindeset and Joel, the men headed for Caldera Canyon. Where are you? Are you safe from the giant fleas that suck blood, the creatures with metal knives for feet?

The delegation of ten men proceeded warily. Scanning for syphoners, they crossed the cultivated hills dressed in spiraling rows, fields replete with the produce of oids working hoes, harvesting and hoisting bags of seed. When the hills of Neolithia diminished, the warriors reached the Wasteland, a flat expanse of parched sand, stretching to the distant horizon, to the collapsed caldera of an ancient super volcano. Passing through shimmering waves of heat, the men lifted water-filled bladder skins for long draughts. As they crossed the vast desert, a pile of bleached bones warned that life, other than scorpions, poisonous snakes and darting lizards, soon met its demise in the bleak sands. The trekkers wiped sweat from their eyes and scoured every direction for mechanical beasts, killing machines, leaping and bounding toward them.

However, they continued without mishap to a cliff overlooking the floor of Caldera Canyon where an invisible dome enclosed a thousand or more syphoners. Zindeset and the men knew the danger from the unseen wall, for in the past it had killed a man and became known as the ‘killing wall.’ The historical sagas relayed by the grandmothers explained the military compound was the result of negotiations between the Edeners and the Dracolians at the Council of Planetary Terraforming. The creatures jumping around inside the enclosure, slamming against one another were the attack force of the Dracolian War Machine, their strict confinement demanded in the interplanetary negotiations.

Standing at the edge of the canyon, formed eons ago by the collapsed Caldera, Zindeset quickly ascertained what had happened. At the moment of the flash, a glitch in the system had interrupted what the grandmothers called the electro-magnetic circuit. Saying, Look there, he pointed. During an interval of a few seconds, the gap between pulses had allowed a single mechanical flea to bounce beyond the boundary. Running and leaping haphazardly on the lowest and centermost section of the canyon, the creature caught Zindeset’s attention. Warily, he watched the rapid strides and bounces, twice the height of a man, which gave no indication of where the creature would land next.

The oids referred to the mechanical monstrosities surging within inches of the walls of the invisible dome as giant fleas because of the humped backs, six appendages and snouts for sucking biological juices. But there, the resemblance to blood-sucking insects ended. Powerful forelegs sported knife-like extensions, while the thoracic pair of legs grasped victims, and jointed metallic claws designed to shred flesh extended from the hind legs.

Joel stood beside his father. A rampage of such monstrosities is awful to contemplate. We lack the ability, the manpower to save ourselves, our people.

Not for an instant did Zindeset remove his eyes from the creature. Nor was the apparent awkwardness of the leaping mechanical insect an impediment to it reaching the base of the ridge where it had targeted the men who were peering at it. Using the suckers on the balls of its feet, it scaled the vertical stone from the base of the canyon to the ledge in seconds and scrambled over the top. As the men fled, they spread out, and their pursuer switched from bounces to a gallop singling out Eshador to the far left. Behind him ran seven others who had turned his way with no plan other than a group attack.

With a final bound, the syphoner leaped at twice the man’s speed and brought down its victim. The man, knocked onto his belly by the impact, screamed as farmers brandishing knives and scythes rushed across the plateau yelling and closing ranks around the attacker. When the insect-like proboscis penetrated the man’s flesh, he ceased to yell. Zindeset sprinted to the creature’s rear, climbed the scaly ridge of the spine and, brandishing his knife, sliced its throat, the only vulnerable tissue on the attacker. The weaponized blend of synthetic cells and deadly appendages collapsed on its unconscious victim.

Zindeset jumped off the scaled back of the monstrosity as several men rushed forward, exerting their collective strength to roll the syphoner off the man. Joel turned over the profusely bleeding Eshador, felt for his pulse and declared him alive, just barely.

Zindeset, the strongest of the men, picked him up. "To

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