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Written by DTYarbrough
9 Science Fiction Short Stories
Copyright 2010 All rights reserved
CONTENTS The Legacy ….................................... 1 Final Destination …............................ 20 The Golden Valleys of Venus …......... 29 Reflections on a Dark Night …....….. 32 Technical Difficulty …...................... 36 Gone with the Gods …...................... 49 Dream Lover …................................... 69 The Day the Sun Stopped Shining … 74 The Astronaut …................................ 88
Adam was in his 15th winter. He had never seen another human except his mother. Now she was ill and bedridden. She would tell him stories of the way it used to be, although her memories were sometimes blurred and conflicting, even more so as of late. He had been searching for food today. The winter stock was running out and spring was still around the corner. Food was hard to find this time of year, and Adam was thankful that his mother did not require food. Adam had misjudged his growing appetite when he had gathered the food early last fall. Some of the food had spoiled and had to be thrown away. Each year he was learning more and more about food gathering, but still had much to learn. In the earlier years, his mother had helped and taught him much of what he had learned. He was pretty much on his own now. Adam would have to search farther from home this year than he had ever wandered before. He had found some new plants but would have to ask his mother if they were safe to eat. He still remembered the year he had tried to eat something new without asking first. He didn't want to go through that again. Adam marked the trail well as he went along so that he could find his way back. He had gotten lost before, and it was not a pleasant feeling. After gathering enough food for another week, Adam turned around to head home. He saw a mound of fresh dirt and decided to take a closer look. Tiny black creatures were moving all over the mound. It was fascinating. Adam had never seen anything like it. They were moving around all by themselves. There was no wind or water pushing them along. They seemed to have legs, three on each side of their segmented bodies. Could that be a head with eyes? This was truly amazing. He would have to bring one home to show Mother. .............................. "Mother, look what I found," said Adam. "Have you ever seen anything so amazing?" "It's an ant," said his mother. "Oh, Adam. This is wonderful news." "What do you mean?" asked Adam. "There were other survivors. You're going to be okay," she said. "Of course I'm okay, Mother," said Adam. "How are you feeling today?" "I'm a little tired right now, but we'll talk later," she said. "I have wonderful news to tell you." "I found some new food," said Adam. "I'll look at it later, Dear," she said. "I need to rest for a while. You don't know how
happy you've made me." Adam decided to rest himself. He went to his room and lay down on his bed and was asleep in no time. .................................. Adam awoke to find his mother standing over him. "Mother, you're up," said Adam. "Are you feeling better?" "A little," she said. "I don't have to conserve my energy anymore. Come into the living room. We have much to talk about." "Tell me about the ant," said Adam. "What sort of plant is it?" "It's not a plant. It's an animal," she said. "But what's more important is where it came from." "Where did it come from?" asked Adam. "The same place you did," she said. "You see, Adam, I'm not really your mother." "What do you mean, you're not really my mother?" asked Adam. "Eons ago, when their world was ending, some of your forefathers had the wisdom to try and preserve as much of Earth's lifeforms as possible. They placed me and other synthetic lifeforms in bunkers much like this one. We were provided with the seeds of life so that we could begin again when the radiation levels subsided. The plants were first, then the animals, and then the humans," she said. "Synthetic life forms?" asked Adam. "You're not human?" "As close as possible, but not really human," she said. "I have human like emotions. I love you very much, but I'm not your mother." "Why am I the only human? Why didn't you make more?" Adam asked. "Where are the other animals?" "It must have taken longer than expected for the radiation levels to subside, or the bunkers didn't protect us as well as expected. Anyway, when it came time for me to create the animals, I discovered that all the eggs were damaged by radiation. Yours was the only human egg to survive," she said. "I created you then, ahead of schedule." "So, when I found the ants, you realized that some others had survived," said Adam. "Yes. Somewhere nearby, another synthetic must have survived," she said. "My time is over now. Your time is just beginning. Go out and claim you legacy, a brave new world." "But I have to take care of you," said Adam. "I can't just go off and leave you here to
die." "There's nothing you can do," she said. "Go out and make me proud. I wish I could have taught you more, but I was damaged long before you were born. You may find others like me or others of your kind that have so much more to teach you." "I can't leave you. I love you too much," said Adam. "You are my mother. The only mother I'll ever know." She didn't answer. She just lay there lifeless. She had used her last bit of energy explaining the situation to Adam and had fulfilled her duty. ...................................... Adam gathered up what he thought he would need to begin his journey and set out at first light. Heading back to where he had seen the ants, he would continue down the mountain to the lowlands. The weather would be warmer and food more plentiful, at least he hoped. Always watchful for even the tiniest signs of animal life, he walked and thought about what he had learned in the last few days. Was he the only human or had other synthetics done as his mother had done? He still thought of her as his mother. No one could have been a better mother to him. She had given her life for him. The fact that he had only seen one type of animal told him that at least one other synthetic had survived and very few of the animal eggs had. If a human egg had survived, the synthetic probably would have done as his mother did. But how do you go about finding another human or synthetic. The bunkers were buried deep under ground and undetectable except for the tunnel entrance. Adam thought about the forest around his bunker. What sort of signs had he left behind in his fifteen seasons? Would the signs of life be more plentiful near the bunkers? As Adam had hoped, the temperature was warmer by a few degrees, but he knew it would still be very cold at night. He needed a place to stay. As the late afternoon sun shown low in the sky, Adam's search had turned toward shelter. He began gathering dried brush to build a refuge against the night wind. He had learned long ago about fire and there was plenty of dried wood around. The few blankets he had would serve him well. All he needed now was a bite to eat. He pulled a potato out of his backpack and peeled it with his pocketknife. He then gathered up some dried leaves to make a soft bed. Adam lay on his back and stared up into the night sky. The half moon shown brightly above as thin wispy clouds drifted by. At least it probably wouldn't rain tonight. Adam felt a feeling of loneliness he had not known before. He had always had his mother. What more did a boy need? But now she was gone. He was really on his own now. Soon he was asleep. Adam awoke to the sun shining in his eyes. He had been dreaming about his younger days when he and his mother used to go swimming in the stream near the bunker. He would need a bath today. He dreaded the cold water, but it had to be done.
His mother had always insisted on frequent baths. There would be no more warm baths for a while. There must be a stream or river nearby. ...................................... It was spring now. The flowers were in bloom and the weather pleasant, except for the rains. Adam had not seen another sign of life in the six weeks he had been searching. He had searched from one end of the valley to the other. Today he would head over the mountains in search of another valley. Not the mountain he had come from, but the one on the other side. He had decided to continue in the same direction rather than staying in one small area. Who knows how far apart these bunkers were. Some legacy, alone in this great big world. Just how big was this world? He didn't know. He would keep going until he reached the end. As he climbed the mountain, the smell of the pine and cedar brought back old childhood memories, carefree memories of a young boy with no worries. What would he do if he found another boy like himself? What would they have to talk about? Would he be welcome in the other's territory? What would he have done if another boy had wandered into his territory? Between boys and mothers, he would much prefer to find another mother. Maybe he would just look for a good place to settle down in this next valley and stop this useless searching. Why had his mother felt that it was so important anyway? ................................. As he looked down upon the next valley, he could see that something was different. There were square patches of greens and golds in shapes like squares and rectangles. Water flowed in streams that formed straight lines, unlike the streams he remembered that meandered aimlessly through other valleys. Something was definitely different about this valley. A closer investigation was in order. As he entered the valley, he could see that the patches were made by fields containing only a few types of plants in uniformly spaced rows. Then he saw the other. It did not look like a boy. It looked like a younger version of his mother. Was it a synthetic? It was doing something in the field. It was pulling weeds out from between the other plants. Surely it knows you can't eat those. He should warn it that they are not safe to eat. "Don't eat those," he yelled. It looked up from its work and seemed startled. "Who are you? Why are you yelling at me?" "I'm Adam. I thought you were going to eat one of those weeds," he said. "I'm Eve. Thanks for the warning but I already knew better," she said. "Are you a synthetic?" asked Adam as he got nearer.
"I'm a girl. What's a synthetic?" she asked. "An artificial human," said Adam. "Oh, like my mother," Eve replied. "No, I'm human. I was beginning to believe I was the only one. You don't know what a girl is?" "Is your mother around?" asked Adam. "No. It's just me," said Eve. "She died last fall." "Mine too," said Adam. "Aren't you lonely?" "Yes, but I have my books and videos," said Eve. "What are books and videos?" asked Adam. "Boy, are you in for a treat," Eve replied. "I'll show you when my work is done." "Can I help?" asked Adam. "What are you doing?" "Working in my garden," said Eve. "Come on. I'll show you how it's done." Adam was destined to hear those words many times. "So, what is a girl? You said you weren't a synthetic, so what are you," asked Adam. "Sort of like a boy, but I will grow up to be a real mother," said Eve. "My mom said she wasn't my real mother. What's the difference?" asked Adam. "You'll have to look at the videos. They're mostly educational, but I have a few of what they used to call movies," said Eve. "You'll really enjoy them." "Movies?" asked Adam. "Moving pictures," said Eve. "You'll see." "So, what do boys become when they grow up?" asked Adam. "Planet killers," said Eve. "Well, maybe not all. You may grow up to be a husband and father." "More words that I don't understand," said Adam. "The videos will explain. It's not important now," said Eve. "Enjoy being a boy while you can. Hey, that's not the way I showed you." "But it easier this way," said Adam. "What's the difference?"
"The plants won't get enough water. Things are done for a reason," said Eve. "We don't question, we just do it." "How did you learn to work in the garden?" asked Adam. "Mother taught me, and I also have books that teach you how it's done," said Eve. "I can't wait to see all these wonderful things," said Adam. "Are we almost done here?" "It's Monday. We work in the gardens until the sun is directly overhead," said Eve. "After we eat, we have to work on the irrigation systems until dark." "Monday?" asked Adam. "Hey, do I look like a teacher?" asked Eve. "Too many questions. Tell me something about you." "Well, this is my 15th spring. I'm 5'5" and weigh 105 pounds," said Adam. "I can see that, silly," said Eve. "Tell me about your life. What are your special interests. Do you play any sports? What kind of music do you like?" "I'm a pretty good food gatherer," said Adam. "I don't know about sports and music." "We do a little of that," said Eve. "Maybe you can teach me a thing or two. There doesn't seem to be a lot of books on the subject." "I'd be glad to teach you," said Adam. "But I'm still not an expert like my mother was." "I wonder why you didn't have books and videos," said Eve. "They were probably damaged in the fire," said Adam. "My mother was damaged too but she survived, thank God." "God. What's god?" asked Eve. "My mother taught me all about him," said Adam. "That's something else I can teach you." "I don't know," said Eve. "If it's not in the books and videos, I'm not sure I would believe it." "Are you calling my mother a liar?" asked Adam. "Maybe she was simply mistaken," said Eve. "You said she was damaged."
"She may have forgotten some things," said Adam, "but what she remembered was always the truth." "We'll discuss it. Don't get so upset," said Eve. "It's not important. Well, time to eat. Let's go up to the house." "Do you have enough food? I brought my own," said Adam. "Oh, there's plenty now," said Eve, "but if you plan on staying, we may have to do some food gathering until we can plant a larger garden." "We'll see how things go," said Adam. "I had planned on seeing the world before winter sets in." "I see," said Eve. "Well, you may change your mind about that. It's a pretty big world out there. I hope you like my cooking?" "Cooking?" asked Adam. "I know, watch the videos." "Well, actually my mom taught me to cook," said Eve. "I'll show you how it's done." "Have you ever seen any animals?" asked Adam. "In the books and videos," said Eve. "There aren't any real ones." "But I saw some," said Adam. "Mother called them ants." "Mother said we would have seen some by now if they survived," said Eve. "You can show me in one of the books tonight. That would be wonderful if the animals survived." "How much do you know about animals?" asked Adam. "Just what I saw in the movies," said Eve. "My favorite movie is The Little Mermaid." "Have a seat while I cook something. Those are books on the table," said Eve. "What are these weird symbols all over?" asked Adam. "Those are words," said Eve. "There's a video that teaches you how to understand them. It's called reading. For now, just look at the pictures." "But I don't know what most of these pictures are," said Adam. "I'd rather watch you cook." "Okay. Come on over here and I'll show you how it's done," said Eve. ..................................... Adam and Eve spent the rest of the day working on the irrigation system. As the sun
set, they headed back to the house. "What are our chores for tomorrow?" asked Adam. "Tomorrow's Tuesday. That's a school day. We'll start teaching you to read," said Eve. "I hope you're not too old to learn." "Could we watch your favorite video tonight?" asked Adam. "Sure," said Eve. "I'd love that. I think you will really enjoy it. Right after we eat." "Are you going to cook again. That was so much better than sun dried, and faster," said Adam. "You wash the dishes," said Eve. "Before or after we eat?" asked Adam. "After," said Eve. "I'll help you this time, but it's the boy's job if there's one around." "Okay," said Adam. "You'll have to teach me about what boys' jobs are." "Don't worry," said Eve. "I'll make that my number one priority." "Do we have a day off where we can explore and try new things?" said Adam. "Sure, Sunday is a day of rest," said Eve. "Maybe we could look for God and animals and stuff like that." "Do you know how to swim?" asked Adam. "I've never tried, but it looks easy in the movie," said Eve. ..................................... Eve could hardly enjoy the movie, having to answer all of Adam's questions. He was amazed to hear the colorful animals talk. Of course, any sound at all would have amazed him. "That was very interesting and educational," said Adam. "Movies are supposed to be fun," said Eve. "Mom said not to take them too seriously." "You mean it's not the truth," asked Adam. "Not always," said Eve. "It's hard to tell." "It time for bed. I sleep on the right side," said Eve. "I hope that's all right with you." "I'm kind of all over when I sleep," said Adam. "I hope that's not a problem." ...................................
As Sunday rolled around, Adam awoke and got up off the couch and called to Eve. "Wake up, sleepy head. It's Sunday," said Adam. Adam couldn't wait to try out some of the things he had learned from the videos. They were going into the next valley to see if there were any signs of animals. He was going to teach Eve how to swim, but he feared she would be a little disappointed that she couldn't breathe under water. "We don't have all day." "Of course we do. It's Sunday," said Eve. "But we're going exploring," said Adam. "Remember?" "Okay, I'm coming. Is breakfast ready?" asked Eve. "You expected me to cook?" asked Adam. "Well, it is Sunday," said Eve. …........................... As they looked down into the next valley, it was much like other valleys Adam had seen while searching for food. There was, however, a waterfall and a crystal clear pool, just perfect for swimming. Flowers were blooming and as Eve reached down to pick one, a bee buzzed around her head. “Did you hear that?” said Eve. “Hear what?” asked Adam. “Look, over there by that purple flower. What is that?” asked Eve. “Some sort of flying animal. Maybe a bird, but I thought they would be larger,” said Adam. “I should have studied animals more, but I didn't think it was important,” said Eve. “We'll have to look it up in my books when we get home.” “That's a good sign,” said Adam. “Maybe more animals have survived. But I don't see any signs that humans have been here, and I'm a very good tracker. I've had lots of practice following my own trails.” “Let's go swimming. Maybe we'll find a mermaid in the pool,” said Eve. “The water is still going to be cold,” said Adam, “and remember to hold your breath underwater.” “I can open my eyes, right?” said Eve. “I want to see everything.” “There's not that much to see,” said Adam. “Not at all like in the movies. Don't go in over your head until you learn how to float.” Eve was swimming like a fish in no time. “Let's see what's on the bottom,” said Eve.
“I don't know,” said Adam. “It's cold down there and pretty dark. You probably can't see anything anyway.” “What's that?” whispered Eve. “Is that Bambi and her mom?” “It is!” said Adam as the startled doe and fawn disappeared into the brush. “You frightened them?” said Eve. “Do you want to follow them?” “Sure. But there's no hurry,” said Adam. “ If they left tracks, we can follow later. If they didn't, we'd never find them anyway. Did you see how fast they moved?” “I'm tired of swimming. Let's get our clothes on and follow them,” said Eve. ................................ “Look at this, Eve,” said Adam after they had been following the tracks for some time. “Something else is following them. See those tracks. What do you suppose made those?” “Whatever it is, it's probably curious, just like us,” said Eve. “Probably,” said Adam. “Is that an entrance tunnel to a house?” “I think it is,” said Eve. “Let's take a closer look.” The door was unlocked. Of course, they never locked their doors either. There was no reason. As they entered, the room was dark. The light switch didn't function. “Anyone here?” asked Eve but there was no answer. The air was dank and musty. “I'll go outside and make a fire and light a torch,” said Adam. “You'd better come with me.” “Okay,” said Eve. “I have a feeling no one lives here anymore.” As they reentered the bunker, the room was spotless. The synthetic was lying face up on the sofa, motionless, silent. “I think it's dead,” said Adam. “It's cold and stiff.” Everything else in the room looked untouched. “Look, the main switch is off,” said Eve. “I'll turn it on.” As she did the lights came on and the air conditioning began blowing fresh air. “You won't need the torch.” Adam went out to dispose of the torch and returned. “Everything is still packed in these boxes. Seeds, books, videos, cooking utensils, first aid, scientific apparatus ...” said Eve. “What are scientific apparatuses?” asked Adam.
“I don't know. That's what it says on the box,” said Eve. “Let's take a look at the books and videos to see if there are any that we don't already have,” said Adam. “Go ahead,” said Eve. “I'm going to look at the seeds, and we can always use a first aid kit.” “I don't remember this one,” said Adam. “Toss it in this box,” said Eve. “I'm going to see if there is any food in the fridge.” “If we ever meet another synthetic that's still alive, we can tell it about the scientific apparatus. It would know what to do with it,” said Adam. “Empty,” said Eve as she opened the fridge. “Not a scrap.” “We'd better start heading back home,” said Adam. “Tomorrow's Monday.” “Okay, well, it's been a very interesting day,” said Eve. “Can't hardly wait until next Sunday.” They talked about their discoveries as they walked home. Eve mentioned that they had not seen God so Adam began to tell her what his mother had taught him. “You're making that up,” said Eve. “They had the very same names that we do?” “What's so strange about that. They were just like us. Why would they have different names?” asked Adam. “In a world with lots of people, you need different names to distinguish them apart,” said Eve. “But there were only the two of them,” said Adam. “I give up,” said Eve. “Continue your story.” ….............................. They had returned home from their exploring and just finished eating. Adam pulled the movie he had found out of the box and tried to read the name on the disc. “What does this say?” he asked Eve. “Let me see,” said Eve as he looked at the beautiful young girl in the picture. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” "What's a vampire?” asked Adam. "We'll soon find out,” Eve said as she placed it into the video player.
Adam could see that Eve was very uneasy as she watched the video. Adam put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her nearer. She laid her head on his chest and seemed to relax. Eve could hear his heart beating faster but assumed it was the video. Eve would jump from time to time as the excitement mounted. "That was disgusting,” she said as the story ended. “I hope I can sleep tonight.” "You don't suppose this story was the truth, do you?” asked Adam. “It sure looked realistic.” "I don't want to think about it,” said Eve. “Good night, Adam. Thanks for comforting me while we were watching the movie. I'd surely hate to watch that movie all by myself.” "Good night, Eve,” said Adam. “Pleasant dreams.” .............................. "Wake up, Eve,” said Adam. “You're having a bad dream.” “It seemed so real. I could hear his thoughts,” said Eve. "Whose thoughts?” asked Adam. "The vampire. He was outside our house. He followed us home from the other valley. Those were his tracks following Bambi,” said Eve. "You're never going to watch that video again,” said Adam. "But it was real. It couldn't have been just a dream,” said Eve. “I know all about him. He's their leader. There are thousands of them, sleeping, waiting for him to awaken them.” "But that's impossible. They would have died along with everything else when the world ended,” said Adam. “They were already dead. They've just been sleeping,” said Eve. “There are others like us. He's killed dozens of them.” "Try to go back to sleep,” said Adam. “We've got a lot of work tomorrow.” "Hold me,” said Eve. “At least till I get back to sleep.” "Sure, Eve,” said Adam. “Everything's going to be fine.” .............................. “It couldn't have been following Bambi during the daylight. You're probably right. It
was just a nightmare,” said Eve as she worked in the garden. Adam had thought about that too, but remembered that the tracks did not look as fresh as the ones they had been following. They could have been made the night before. “Do you want to talk about the dream?” asked Adam. "No, I was just being silly,” said Eve. "Okay. I thought it might help,” said Adam. "He didn't seem to feel my thoughts,” she said. “But he sensed that we were near.” "Why do you suppose he wouldn't have come into the house,” said Adam. "Maybe because he wasn't invited or it could have been the wreath of garlic above the door,” said Eve. “I did a little reading last night.” "I've been meaning to ask you about that,” said Adam. “Did you put it there?” "Mom hung that up there Christmas before last,” said Eve. “She said it was a decoration.” "What's Christmas,” asked Adam. "You've probably never even had a birthday party, have you?” asked Eve. "I don't think so,” said Adam. “You said there were others like us. How can you be sure?” "I saw their frightened faces and heard their screams in his mind,” said Eve. "Could they have been from before the earth died?” asked Adam. "Maybe. I can't be sure,” said Eve. “Listen to me, trying to analyze a nightmare.” As Adam reached to pull the weed, he saw a footprint. It was partially washed away and was possibly one of theirs, although it seemed more like the one in the woods. “I could carve come wooden stakes and you could read a little more, if it would make you feel better,” said Adam. “And it wouldn't hurt to learn some self-defense, just in case we meet some dangerous animals.” "What makes you think that some animals might be dangerous?” asked Eve. "You have several self-defense videos. Why else would someone need to know selfdefense?” asked Adam. "I've never even looked at those videos,” said Eve. “We should really learn more about animals, since we're beginning to see a few of them.”
"We forgot to check to see what kind of bird we saw on that flower,” said Adam. “We make lots of plans, but something seems to always get in the way.” "That's just the way life is, I guess.” said Eve. “Like when Buffy kissed that boy. I've been planning to kiss you to see what that's like but something always seems to get in the way.” "Well, no more putting off till tomorrow what you can do today,” said Adam as he kissed her softly on the cheek. "You call that a kiss?” said Eve. “Come here and I'll show you how it's done.” “That wasn't a bird we saw,” said Eve. “It was an insect like those ants you told me about. It's called a bee.” “I was thinking that next Sunday we could go a couple of valleys farther away. We can spend the night in that empty house or bunker we found,” said Adam. “We can't afford to get caught out after dark until we're sure your vampire was only a dream.” "But we'll miss working in the garden if we stay overnight,” said Eve. “You know how important the garden is.” "So we'll start on Saturday,” said Adam. “We've got plenty of firewood, food, and water, so we can miss one gathering day.” "I didn't have any dreams last night,” said Eve. “At least, not that I can remember.” "The next time you do, give me all the details before you forget,” said Adam. “The more details, the easier it will be to prove or disprove that it's just a dream.” "The next time I sense that he's near, you could just go outside and say hello,” laughed Eve. "Mother told me never to speak to strangers,” replied Adam. “Does he have a name?” "His name is Vincent. I didn't get a last name,” said Eve. “He's 28 years old in appearance, but much much older. He was ancient even before the old world ended.” "Did you see his face?” asked Adam. "He hasn't even seen his face since he became a vampire. They can't see their reflections,” replied Eve. "That's weird,” said Adam. “Why do you suppose ...” "You should read that book about vampires that I was reading,” said Eve. "I tried, but there are too many big words. Maybe I'll be able to read it in a month or
two,” said Adam. “We could watch that movie again.” "There are more movies on that disc. Twenty episodes, it says here,” said Eve. “It would be educational, I suppose.” Eve sat down on the couch beside Adam. As the movie started, she got closer. As much as Adam was interested in learning about vampires, this was the real reason he wanted to watch the movie. Being close to Eve brought back feelings he had for his mother, only different somehow. As she lay her head on his shoulder, the feelings intensified. It was hard to concentrate on the movie. Like the first episode, there were lots of vampire slayings, more kissing, and more insight into the world of vampires. While Buffy made it look easy, Adam realized that she could easily kick his butt too. He would never have the strength and agility that she displayed. How would a normal human do against a vampire? Probably not very well. They seemed to have abnormal speed and strength and a savagery that he could never muster. He would have to rely on cleverness, but he didn't feel all that clever. “Let's watch one of those self-defense videos,” said Adam. “Okay,” said Eve. “I'll practice with you, but it's really a boy's job to do the protecting.” "Boys seem to have a lot of responsibilities,” said Adam. “I wonder why my mother never mentioned them.” "Moms like to protect their children from the real world,” said Eve. “But it's time to grow up, Adam. Have you finished the laundry yet?” ............................. “I'm ready to try some of the moves they showed on that video,” said Adam. "Okay, but remember that you can't hit a girl,” said Eve. "I'm not buying that one,” said Adam. “Protect yourself.” "Give me your best shot,” said Eve. “I'll try not to hurt you.” They faced each other in their defensive stances, each waiting for the other to perform an aggressive move. After a few minutes of dancing around each other, Eve said, ”One of us is going to have to learn some aggressive moves.” "Maybe next week,” said Adam. “Let's learn how to dance.” …............................ Adam heard a scream coming from Eve's room. As he entered, she was sitting up in the bed. “I had another dream,” said Eve. “Vincent was outside, near our door. He
knows we're in here, and we're the only ones he's been able to find in several months. He's tired of animal blood, which is not much easier to find.” “Did you get a sense of where he sleeps during the day?” asked Adam. "No. He's trying to think of a way to get us outside at night,” said Eve, “or to set a trap or snare to capture and hold us until dark.” "We'll have to look very closely for tracks tomorrow,” said Adam. “What happened to the last humans he found?” "I'm not sure,” said Eve. “I only sensed that he has not run across any other humans for at least a few months now.” …........................... The next morning Adam went out to look for tracks. When Eve awoke and Adam wasn't around, she went out to look for him. “Adam!” yelled Eve, “Where are you?” “I'm over here,” said Adam. “Get me down from here.” Eve saw Adam hanging by one leg about five feet above the ground. “Are you all right?” she asked. "I'm fine. Just get me down,” said Adam. “Watch your step. There may be other traps.” "What were you doing?” asked Eve. "Looking for tracks,” said Adam as he pointed at the ground below his head. “I found one.” "Looks like he wanted you to find that one,” said Eve as she untied the rope and lowered Adam to the ground. “Well, at least we're sure it wasn't a dream,” said Adam. “I'm going to make a crossbow like the one Buffy used in that last episode.” “Do you think you will be able to hit anything?” asked Eve. “With enough practice,” said Adam. “But you saw how that vampire caught Buffy's arrow in his bare hands,” said Eve. “It's going to take more than just accuracy.” “We may have to adjust our work schedule until we have defeated this one,” said Adam. “We don't need to be roaming around even during the day with traps everywhere.”
“We have to use his weakness against him,” said Eve. “Yes, but which one?” said Adam. .......................... As they worked in the garden the next day, they were ever watchful for traps. “This is really slowing us down, having to watch every move we make,” said Eve. “I know, but it's better to be safe than sorry,” said Adam. After lunch, while inspecting the irrigation system, they discovered that the water flow was being restricted. “We'll have to go upstream to find the cause of the problem,” said Eve. “It probably just some leaves and dead branches.” “It's getting close to dark,” said Adam. “This won't take long,” said Eve. “This happens quite often.” A few moments later and they were both hanging upside down, swinging about five feet above the ground. “I can't believe I fell for another one of these traps,” said Adam. “See if we can swing far enough to grab each other.” “I'll try,” said Eve, “but I'm all ready getting dizzy.” They swung back and forth and tried to grab each other's hands. At first they were out of sync so that as Adam was swinging toward Eve, she was swinging away from him. Finally they were able to grab hands. “Now what?” said Eve as she struggled to hang on. “I think I'm going to pass out.” “This is no good. I had hoped I could reach your rope,” said Adam. “I can see that's not possible now.” Eve passed out and loosened her grip. Adam couldn't hold on any longer and released his grip as he felt himself getting dizzier. …......................... Adam awakened to find himself seated in a chair at the kitchen table. When he tried to move, he felt the ropes holding him. He looked at his arm and saw a needle with a tube attached and hanging from his arm. On the flow below was a one quart glass jar slowing filling with his blood. Across the table he could see Eve in the same situation. “Eve, wake up,” said Adam. Eve opened her eyes slowly and saw Adam. “Are you okay?” she asked. “I had another dream. He's in our house. He's draining our blood, Adam.” Eve screamed as she saw Vincent approaching. Vincent removed the needle from her arm and then picked up the jar which was almost full. Turning it up, he took a large swallow. “Ah,” he said. “That's much better. Let me introduce myself.”
“We know who you are,” said Eve. “You're Vincent and you're an evil monster.” “How did you get past the garlic?” asked Adam. “What would you do if you smelled something disgusting?” asked Vincent. “Hold my breath,” said Adam. “But you weren't invited in. How did you get past the door?” “I was holding your hand when I entered,” said Vincent. “Actually I was carrying you.” “Why are you going to kill us?” asked Eve. “What did we do to you?” “I'm not going to kill you,” said Vincent. “In fact, you're the only hope my people have for survival. We're going to help each other.” “But you're drinking all of our blood?” said Eve. “You won't miss this much blood. In a few days you'll be able to give that much again,” said Vincent. “But don't worry. I won't be collecting that much from you, just enough to stay alert and active.” “What are you going to do for us?” said Adam. “Teach you how to create animal and human life,” said Vincent. “All of the Watchers are dead now, so we'll have to figure out how to do their jobs for them.” “Watchers?” asked Eve. “You mean our mothers?” “Yes,” he replied. “Just think of me as your Uncle Vincent.” “But everything we've seen and read about vampires tells me not to trust you,” said Eve. “I've read your thoughts. I know you've killed humans before.” “We never trusted each other before,” said Vincent. “It was the only way to protect ourselves from mass hysteria. I realize now that none of us will survive if we can't trust each other.” “Why do you need our blood?” asked Adam. “You've survived this long without it.” “I've been sleeping most of that time,” said Vincent. “I can survive on animal blood, but it doesn't give me super human abilities like human blood does. I almost become an animal myself if I don't have human blood.” “What if the other humans don't want to share their blood,” said Eve. “I”m not even sure I like the idea.”
“In the future, you humans will have blood banks,” said Vincent, “where you will store blood for human emergencies. The blood can only be stored for so long before it is ineffective for human use. It would still be fine for our use. All we're asking is that you give it to us instead of throwing it away.” “Can we be sure that vampires will not kill humans?” asked Adam. “I can't guarantee that,” said Vincent. “But they will answer to me if they do.” “What makes you think you can figure out how to do what our mothers were supposed to do?” asked Eve. “What other choice do we have,” said Vincent. “Besides, I've learned a thing or two in my years, and there have been many of them.” “Can you show us how to make clothes?” said Adam. “I'm getting too big for my britches.” “I know of all sorts of things you haven't even thought of yet,” said Vincent. “Let me get that needle. Your jar is full.” “Untie us,” said Eve. “Are we going to be friends?” asked Vincent. “Like you said, we need you as much as you need us,” said Eve. “All right then,” said Vincent as he untied them both. “Would you get rid of that garlic?”
Michael had seen better times. As he walked the lonely streets toward his destination, he thought about those times. Times before the accident that had taken his wife and daughter. The accident that had almost taken him. Modern medicine had done miracles to save his life, if you could still call it a life. His addiction to the pain pills and later, gambling, had ruined what was once a successful life on Wall Street. The addictions had made his life bearable, but now he could afford neither. He was nearing his final destination, the 12th Street Bridge, or more accurately, the icy waters below it. Michael would be thirty in two weeks, and the thought of another birthday without his family was more than he could bear. As he neared the railing on the bridge, he wondered how many others had taken this way out. There had been a time when this would have been unthinkable. He was not an overly religious man but realized he would never see heaven if he went through with this. Would he see hell? Could it be any worse than his last few weeks since the money ran out? Michael climbed upon the railing and jumped. Molly heard a splash. Had someone else had more nerves than she did? She had been on the railing for some time now, trying to gather the nerve to jump. How had she come to this? She had known he was married. She never really believed he would leave his wife. Now she was pregnant and alone in a city she could not call home. She had nowhere to call home since her parents had turned her away. She had not listened to their warning and now she was paying for that. But not for much longer. Molly released her grip on the railing and fell into the dark night. Michael looked around. He was standing inside a glass cylinder. As he looked around, the only other object in the room was another glass cylinder, but that one was empty. Michael looked for a door to the cylinder but there was none. He pounded on the glass but it did no good. Where was he? How did he get here? Then he realized he didn't even know who he was or where he had come from. Did he have a past? Had he just been born or created? How did he know that he should have had a past? He was alive. He was breathing, and he could feel his heart beat. He knew where his heart was and what that heartbeat meant. He knew he was a man, and he knew he wanted out. He glanced around the room once more and noticed that the other cylinder was no longer empty. Inside it was a woman, late twenties, and attractively dressed. She was looking at him with a bewildered look on her face. Suddenly his cylinder began to recede into the floor. As he stepped down from the slightly raised platform, he could see the girl banging frantically on her cylinder. "Give it a minute. I think it will let you out if you'll just be patient," he said.
She calmed down and looked at him. "Who am I? What have you done to me?" she asked. "I haven't done anything. I've never seen you before," he said. "Whatever is going on, it looks like we are in it together. Can you remember anything before you got here?" "No, I can't remember a thing," she said as her cylinder disappeared into the floor. "I'm pretty sure I have never been here before." "Where is here?" he asked. "We need to get out of this room. Maybe one of us will recognize something if we can just get out of here." "What if we're here for our own protection?" she asked. "I don't feel like I've been mistreated. I'm not hungry or thirsty. Maybe we should wait until someone returns." "Aren't you curious?" he asked. "Don't you want to find out what's going on?" "Yes, but I'm also cautious," she said. "What if there are high levels of radiation? Maybe there was a nuclear war or something." "The cylinders have freed us. I think it must be safe to leave now," he said. "I'll go first and come back for you if it's safe." "No, don't leave me alone. I'll go with you but promise to be careful," she said. "We should have names," he said. "Can you remember yours?" "No, but I'm sure I had one," she said. "What's yours?" "I can't remember," he said. "What do you want to call me?" "Rick, I'll call you Rick if that's okay," she said. "You look like a Rick to me." "And you look like a Lisa to me," Rick said. "Glad to meet you, Lisa." "How long do you think we've been here?" asked Lisa. "You only arrived a few minutes ago," said Rick. "I don't think I was here much longer." "There are three doors over there," said Lisa. "Which one shall we try?" "I don't see how it makes much difference," said Rick. "Let's try the first one." "It's locked," said Lisa. "But there's no place for a key. I'll try the next one." "I'll try the third one," said Rick.
"This one is locked too," said Lisa. "This one is open," said Rick. "Let's go." The door opened into a tropical rainforest surrounded on all sides by snow capped mountains. Waterfalls could be heard in the distance. Animal and bird sounds echoed throughout the valley. Rick found a machete in the path ahead. The vegetation was thick and impassable without the machete. Rick began cutting his way through the brush. Trees towered above, spaced somewhat widely apart. "What was that sound?" asked Lisa. "It sounded like a lion or tiger." "That can't be good," said Rick. "That tree looks like it will be easy to climb. Let's get to safety and get an overview of the valley. We can't see ten feet ahead down here on the ground." "That was easy. I hope that tiger doesn't know just how easy it is," said Lisa as she leaned against a bough of the tree. A Bengal tiger circled the tree several times and continued on its way. "Hold still, Lisa," said Rick as he swung the machete just above her head. Lisa looked up to see a headless snake hanging limp from the limb above. "I hate snakes," she said. "Let's get down." "How do you feel about tigers," asked Rick as he watched the tiger devour the snake head. "What's next, giant spiders?" said Lisa. "Don't be silly," said Rick as he looked higher up into the tree and saw the web. "You're not being silly. Did you see it?" "See what?" asked Lisa. "Oh, no. I'm getting down. That tiger better get out of my way." "Wait, Lisa. The tiger," said Rick. "Where is the tiger? It was just here." "I'm getting down," said Lisa. "Are you coming?" "Right behind you," said Rick as he saw the huge spider. "Hurry!" "Head back to the building," said Rick as they reached the ground. "The tiger!" said Lisa after running a few steps. "If there had to be animals, why couldn't it have been bunny rabbits?" Rick watched as a bunny rabbit crossed the path up ahead and the tiger followed.
"Don't think of anything dangerous and for Pete's sake don't say it out loud," said Rick. "Like quicksand," said Lisa as they began to sink slowly. "I can't help it." Rick watched as a crocodile inched closer. "I swear I wasn't thinking of alligators," said Lisa as two alligators began fighting with the crocodile. "We need a rope," said Rick. "Here's one," said Lisa. Rick tossed one end of the rope over an overhanging tree limb and pulled himself out of the quicksand. He then tossed the rope to Lisa and pulled her out. "Run for the building," Rick said. Lisa began to run and smacked square into a building. She opened the door and ran inside. Rick followed, closing the door behind him. "We need some light," said Lisa as Rick flipped the light switch. "This is the same building. But it was over there." "At least we're safe. If we only had something to eat," said Rick as a chicken came running across the floor. "Something ready to eat. With dessert, drinks, and everything." A banquet table appeared with all sorts of foods and desserts. "Let's eat," said Rick. "Wine or champagne?" The tiger appeared in the corner of the room. A cage soon appeared around the tiger. "I'm sorry," said Lisa. "Was the cage your idea?" "I'm getting the hang of this," said Rick. "If you have to think of something dangerous, think of it as being outside." "I'll try," said Lisa. "I'll have a glass of champagne if you don't mind." "Who's doing the dishes?" laughed Rick as an automatic dishwasher appeared. "This is all very nice, but we've both seen how dangerous it can be." A king-size bed appeared in the corner of the room. Another king-size bed appeared in the opposite corner. "We should sleep together in case one of us has a nightmare," said Rick. "We can protect each other." "Who's going to protect me from you?" laughed Lisa. "This is serious, Lisa," said Rick. "I know," said Lisa. "I never have nightmares. At least I don't think I do?" "Lisa! Alligators under the bed?" said Rick as he saw an alligator tail sticking out from under one of the beds. "You've got to be kidding me."
A wire mesh surrounded the bed from floor to ceiling. "It's hard," cried Lisa. "I'm trying." "Don't cry," said Rick as her held her hand and looked her in the eyes. "I know you're trying. It is hard, but we're going to get through this." "Give me a little more champagne," she pleaded. "Aren't you drinking?" "Maybe just a little," said Rick as she turned up the bottle and chug-a-lugged till it was almost empty. "That's much better. Should I open another one?" "I'm fine. But if you want some more . . ." she said taking the last sip from the bottle. "I was thinking about a Bloody Mary," said Rick. "Vodka," said Lisa. "Could you mix me a screwdriver?" "That one looks pretty big. Are you sure you want another?" asked Rick. "Oh," said Lisa. "Now that's service. But we'd better eat more. I hate to waste all of this food." "If we eat all of this, we won't be able to fit through those doors," laughed Rick. "Do I need to watch my waistline?" asked Lisa. "You don't need to worry, I'll watch it for you," Rick smiled. "You're just a dirty old man," said Lisa. "I'm barely twenty-nine," said Rick. "You have to be almost twenty-one." "That's so sweet. I'm twenty-seven next month," said Lisa. "How do I know that?" "It makes my head hurt just thinking about it," said Rick. "Well, neither of us have rings on. Just a couple of singles out for a good time," said Lisa. "But this isn't your typical disco bar," said Rick. "That's what we need. Music!" said Lisa as a jukebox appeared with a bowl of quarters on a small table next to it. "Do you dance?" "If I can still stand," said Rick. "Pick a song. A slow song." "There's lots of quarters here," Lisa said. "We can dance all night."
................................... Rick awakened with a splitting headache. He couldn't remember going to bed, but here he was, lying next to a beautiful young woman. He wished he could remember how he got here. Suddenly he remembered. Her name was Lisa, or at least that was what he called her. They had danced a couple of dances before the alcohol took full effect. She had passed out first and he had put her to bed. He hoped he didn't hurt her when he dropped her. Maybe he should wake her and see how she's feeling. Then he saw the tiger in the cage in the corner of the room. Well, at least they hadn't had any nightmares. "Where am I? What's wrong with my head? A hangover. But I don't remember ... now I do," Lisa thought. "Good morning, Lisa. Do you feel as bad as I do?" he asked. "Where are my clothes? How did I get into bed?" she asked. "Rick, you didn't?" "Obviously I didn't if neither of us can remember it?" said Rick. "Besides, do I seem like the type that would take advantage of you?" "No, I'm sorry. You've been a perfect gentleman, I guess," said Lisa. "Where are my clothes?" "I'm going to try those doors while you get dressed," said Rick. "We've got a bathroom with a shower. I seem to remember a cold shower last night, so there should be plenty of hot water." "I'm afraid to go outside. I wish things didn't appear every time we think of them," said Lisa. "Do you realize what you just said?" asked Rick. "I wish I had taken off all of your clothes." "Rick!" said Lisa as she stood there still wearing her panties and bra. "What are you saying?" "Just testing. We've lost it?" Rick said. "I guess under the circumstances, that's a good thing." "Oh, Rick. I'm sorry," said Lisa. "Sometimes I don't stop to think before I speak?" “It's okay. I don't think we had that power before we came here. We'll get by without it," said Rick. "It was really dangerous anyway." "Look," said Rick. "This door opens." "But there's a solid wall behind the door," said Lisa.
"What are you talking about," said Rick. "I can see the ocean and that sailboat. I've dreamed about a sailboat just like that." "All I see is a wall," said Lisa. "Let me try this other door." "Now I see a wall," said Rick. "What do you see?" "My dream house, with the porch and picket fence," said Lisa. "Well, we both know where the other door leads," said Rick. "I guess we've both got our dream. I wish we could have shared them." "Let's check it out and meet back here in two days," said Lisa. "I won't be really happy till I know that you are happy in your world." ......................................... "It was perfect, Rick. Just the way I had imagined it," said Lisa. "The weather was just wonderful. There were fruit trees everywhere and the refrigerator seemed to never run out of food. “ "I went sailing yesterday," said Rick. "Perfect winds for sailing and the fishing was fantastic. I'm really glad to see that you're happy in your world." "Then I guess we're all set," said Lisa. "Do you want to meet back here in a month or so?" "Sure. Well, have a good life," said Rick. "Oh, Rick. I don't want to go back without you. It's an empty, lonely place," said Lisa. "I feel the same way, Lisa," said Rick. "But we can't spend the rest of our life in here." "Who's afraid of a jungle," said Lisa. "We'll be together. That's what counts." "Then let's go," said Rick. "Where did I leave that machete?" As Jack closed the door behind them, the building disappeared, then the jungle. Looking around, Rick saw the house, the porch, and the picket fence. "Look, Lisa. It's your dream world," said Rick. "It is now," said Lisa. "You're here." "Show me around," said Rick. "Let's see this dream house of yours." .....................................
"And this is the kitchen. You can see the backyard while you wash dishes," said Lisa. Rick looked into the backyard and beyond. He could see the ocean and a sailboat. His sailboat. "I think we're going to love it here," said Rick. ................................... "Michael, wait for Molly," said Lisa as she and Rick sat on the porch and watched the kids chasing stuffed animals across the lawn. "How much longer before they imagine something dangerous and get hurt?" "They will have to wish for the ability to go away. We don't have the power to do that, remember," said Rick. "We'll explain it to them when they are a little older." "Now what did he wish for?" said Lisa. "What is that?" "What have you got there, Mikey?" asked Rick. "I don't know. I found it over there in the bushes," said Michael. "What's that sound?" said Lisa. "Can you hear that whirring sound?" They both saw the shadow moving across the lawn toward the kids. They jumped to their feet and started running. That's when they saw the saucer hovering above Michael and Molly before landing a few yards away. The kids just stood there and stared as a door opened and a small gray man stepped out. "Hello. We mean you no harm. You have just found something that belongs to us," said the little gray man. "You can have it back, but first, I would like a few answers?" said Rick. "We'll try to answer your questions, but I must ask you to step back. It must be destroyed immediately," he said. "Come on, kids. Back to the porch. Let's race," said Lisa. Rick backed away slowly as the little man pulled out what looked like a laser pistol and fired it at the object completely vaporizing it. "Could we offer you something to drink?" asked Lisa. "No, thank you. We're in sort of a hurry. Let me tell you a story and then you can ask your questions," he said. "Many years ago, one of our space ships landed on the planet and one of the crewmen lost his replicator. When we returned to search for it, everyone in the search party found one, but no one found the one that was lost. They were duplicates. The original was malfunctioning and running continuously. Our every thought was being replicated. We had to leave quickly before we were all killed."
"What a coincidence that we should magically come to this world and find it for you," said Rick with a touch of sarcasm. "It wasn't a coincidence. We needed someone to search that didn't know what they were looking for, in case the replicator could read their thoughts. We chose you two because you wouldn't be missed and wouldn't alter any time lines." "Are we the only ones here?" asked Rick. "Oh, no. There are many others. They may need your help, now that they can no longer just wish for what they need," he said. "Here's a map showing their locations, assuming they are still alive and haven't moved. Here's a properly functioning replicator. It's yours to keep. It has a limit to how many times it can be used, so use it sparingly. Just press the green button while thinking of the object you wish to duplicate. Press the Red button while thinking of items you wish to block, sort of like parental control. We hope you will be happy here. We can't send you back to your world. Goodbye and live well." "Lisa, get the kids ready. We're going to visit our neighbors," said Rick. "Neighbors?" asked Lisa. "How many?" "Lots," said Rick. "Lots and lots."
THE GOLDEN VALLEYS OF VENUS
As Captain Slade drifted along in the life raft, he could see the wolfen creatures following on the shore. The flow of the river was slow but steady as it meandered through the golden valley. Venus had not been the hospitable place they had expected. The probes had been accurate as far as temperatures, atmosphere and plant life, but animal life had not been detected. This was doubly curious since the animals seemed to outnumber the plant life. Because of that, many were meat eaters, if they were made of meat. Let's just say that they ate each other and found newcomers like Slade and his crew especially appetizing. The crew of eight men and eight women had left earth over a year ago. Their flight here had been uneventful and the landing superb. The smaller animals they discovered had been only a small problem. Stings from flying insects were extremely painful but bearable. It wasn't until they entered the wooded areas that they encountered the wolfen. Captain Slade had seen at least two of the crew ripped to shreds by a pack of these creatures. The crew had scattered more and more with each new encounter. Now, for all he knew, he was the sole survivor. The communicators were extremely limited in range because of the ionized atmosphere. He had not heard from anyone in two days. He was attempting to make it back to the ship. If he could turn on the emergency beacon, it would let the others, if there still were others, know to return to the ship. He would need at least one or two others if he expected to get the ship off the ground. Slade and the others in the crew had been genetically engineered from birth for this mission. They had lived in special habitats and played and trained together. They were like brothers and sisters and would be sorely missed if he had to return to Earth without them. He had no real desire to return to Earth. He and the others had only seen one human, Professor Iverson, and he was all business. They had not actually met him. His face appeared often on their monitors as he tried to answer their many questions as they were growing up. Slade was hungry and thirsty. He had attempted to drink the water from the river, but it was unable to quench his thirst. His canteen was empty now, having taken the last swallow over two hours ago. He hadn't had any food all day. Slade began to hear the sound of singing. A song so alluring that he would have gone to it if he had any control over the raft. The words were without meaning in the normal sense, but he felt such melancholy that he found it hard to hold back the tears. The voice was pure and sweet, with a haunting touch that touched his very soul. He had to be hallucinating, that was it. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw a small rock island up ahead, directly in the middle of the river. As the raft drifted silently toward the rock, the song became louder and more beckoning. He dove into the river and swam toward the island. As he looked up he saw a head appear above the rock. He could make out little of the facial details but it definitely had red hair, its full length hidden by the rock. As the head disappeared, he heard a splash. He continued toward the rock to find no one there. He pulled himself upon the rock and collapsed into a long sleep. In his dream he saw her face, more
beautiful than any woman he had ever seen. She was singing to him, a song of joy and revelry. He was in love. He had never been in love before so he didn't know it, but he could not imagine life without her. When he awoke, the raft was no longer within view, but a pack of wolfen were still on the shore. He felt rested but no less hungry and thirsty. He dove beneath the water and searched for the red haired siren. As he began to rise back to the surface, he felt a pull on his leg. She was smiling up at him as she pulled him back down. He was almost out of breath but could not put up a fight as he descended toward the depths. When he could hold his breath no longer, he inhaled a mouthful of water. He felt better. He was breathing. He smiled back at the beautiful red haired siren. “Everything will be okay,” she said or rather thought. Either way, Slade got the message. “What's your name?” he wondered. “Isabel,” she thought. “What are you called?” “Captain Slade,” he thought. “I sense that is a title, not a name,” she thought. “Don't you have a first name?” “It's Richard,” he thought. “Where are you taking me?” “To meet my parents,” she said. “I think you will like them.” …............................ “Richard, this is my mother and father. Mother, Father, I'd like you to meet Richard,” Isabel thought. “Nice to meet you, Richard. I've never seen Isabel so happy. When is the happy day?” asked her Father. “Happy day?” thought Richard. “What do you mean?” “You do realize that she wants to marry you,” her father thought. “I can feel how much you love her.” “Are you sure?” thought Richard. “We only just met.” “She just lost a husband,” thought her father. “It hits some much harder than others. The thought of being alone is just too much for them. She'll make an excellent wife.” “Of course I'll marry her,” thought Richard. “I'm just a little surprised.” “Okay then,” thought her father. “Let's set a date. How about the day after tomorrow.”
“I don't have any plans,” thought Richard. “That's good for me.” …............................. Over the next four years, Richard was happier then he could have ever imagined. He fell more in love with the passing of each day. He could see that Isabel was pregnant. When he asked if it was a boy or girl, she just looked at him strangely and shrugged. “Will I be able to help when the baby comes?” thought Richard. “It's the husband's job to feed the babies for the first week after they are born,” Isabel thought. “That's all?” thought Richard. “That doesn't sound too hard. How long before it's due?” “Six more months. We have plenty of time before things get serious,” thought Isabel. “Do you have to take it easy, now that you're pregnant?” thought Richard. “Not really. In fact, exercise would be good for me,” she thought. …...................... As the day finally arrived, Richard was in the delivery room with Isabel. “You can't stay in here,” she thought. “You should be in the waiting room.” “I just wanted to ask you what I'm supposed to feed the babies?” thought Richard. “You have to feed them yourself,” she thought. “I understand that,” he thought. “But what do I feed them?” “No, you don't understand,” she thought. “You have to feed them yourself. Now go to the waiting room.” “She's not thinking too clearly, I guess,” Richard thought as he went to the waiting room.” As Richard swam in circles, waiting for word from the doctors, he saw thousands of tiny blond haired babies swimming into the room through one of the vents. As they started nibbling on his fingers and toes, he finally realized what Isabel had meant. As the water began to turn a scarlet red, so did the hair of the babies. Richard couldn't help but love each and every one of them. They looked so much like their mother.
REFLECTIONS ON A DARK NIGHT
Jared had just settled down with a good book, his pipe, and a glass of his finest scotch. The glowing embers in the fireplace popped and crackled. Retirement suited Jared just fine. He had moved to be country for the isolation. He would finally finish that novel he had started right after college. The daily grind to make his fortune had used up all of his time. There had been many women, after his fortune was made, but Jared knew they were mainly after his fortune. He was a handsome man, but he lacked confidence when it came to women. The huge mansion had turned out to be more than he could handle alone so he had hired a live-in maid. She was a plain looking woman with her own ideas of what her chores should include. It had been one argument after another. He had let her go that morning and called the agency to send out a replacement. As the doorbell rang he was anxious to see what the agency had sent this time. As he opened the door, a beautiful young woman stood before him. “The agency sent me,” she said. “I'm your new live-in maid.” “Do you have a name?” asked Jared. “Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Matilda, but my friends call me Tillie,” she said. “Let me help you with your bags,” said Jared. “Are these antiques?” “They belonged to my grandma,” she said. “Let me show you to your room,” said Jared. “Will you be needing anything today, Sir?” Tillie asked. “No, it's late. You can start in the morning,” said Jared. “Unless you'd like to grab a good book and join me by the fire.” “That sounds very inviting,” she said. “Maybe after I put my things away?” Jared went back to the study and returned to his reading, happy that she was at least nice to look at. He would discover soon enough how good a maid she would be. He read for a while then reached for his scotch. The ice had melted and watered it down. “Let me freshen that for you,” said Tillie as she entered the room in a terrycloth robe cut a few inches above the knees. She placed a glass of ice on the table and began to pour. “Say when.” “When,” said Jared as the glass was about half full. “How did you find the liquor cabinet key?” “It was a pretty obvious hiding place,” she said. “Should I put this away?”
“No, leave it out,” said Jared. “Help yourself if you would like a drink. You are off duty.” “I'll just finish the one you started,” she said. “If you don't mind. It's a shame to let it go to waste.” She set the bottle down and sat down in the other recliner with her book. “What time would you like breakfast tomorrow?” she asked. “You'll find a menu and schedule for the week's meals in the kitchen,” he replied. “Very organized, Sir,” she said. “Although, I'm not sure I would like to know what I'll be eating three days from now.” “It is a bit lame, isn't it?” Jared replied. “Feel free to mix it up a bit, but you must stick to the time schedule.” He would never have agreed to this when the old maid was here. Of course, she would never have been as nice at phrasing her objections. “I'll surprise you, Sir,” she said. “I just bet you will,” he thought. She looked strikingly beautiful with the light of the fire reflecting off her raven black hair. “Did you say something, Sir?” she asked. “I couldn't help but notice that you were looking this way.” “Was I?” he asked. “No. I was just thinking how nice it is to have company while I'm reading.” “This is very nice, Sir,” she said. “In most homes we are not allowed to socialize with the master of the house.” “Call me Jared, please,” he said. “May I call you Matilda?” “Of course, Sir,” she said. “I mean Jared, Sir.” “Don't worry, you'll get comfortable when you know me better,” he said. “That will have to wait till tomorrow,” she replied. “I'm going to retire for the night.” ........................................ Matilda was an excellent cook. The meals were always warm and on time. The rooms were spotless and she did windows. She was always smiling and attractively dressed. Many a night she would sit up and read with Jared. Their conversations covered many subjects, and she always seemed to agree with his point of view, many times before he had expressed it. “I swear that woman can read my mind,” he thought. “The most amazing thing is that she hasn't slapped my face yet.”
Jared was developing romantic thoughts about Matilda. He was going to ask her to marry him. He was sure she wasn't after his money. She had never even mentioned a raise. She seemed content just doing her job and spending her spare time with Jared. She had not left the house since she began the job and they had had only one visitor, the day after she had arrived. It seems the agency had sent another maid, not realizing that the job was filled. That night, after they had eaten and returned to the study for reading and conversation, Jared popped the question. “It makes me so happy that you want to marry me, but I'm afraid I can never marry you,” she said. “You'll learn to love me over time,” he said. “Marry me now and make me the happiest man alive.” “I told you I can't marry you,” she replied. “I can't marry anyone.” “But why?” he asked. “Are you already married?” “I can't have children,” she said. “You deserve to have children with the woman you marry.” “I don't want children. I want you,” Jared pleaded. “You've had me since hello,” she said as she kissed him softly. “Let's retire early. Your room or mine?” In Jared's eyes she was the most perfect woman that ever lived. His love grew deeper as the days went by. Then one day he noticed her reflection in the mirror that hung in the study. It was the reflection of an old hag, stoop shouldered and wrinkled. “She put a spell on me,” he thought as he remembered all of those romantic moments. Jared knew what he had to do. He would do it tonight while she slept. As they lay in bed embracing each other, Jared could only think of that image he had seen in the mirror. When she fell asleep he got up and dressed. He went out to the workshed and got the garden shears. After it was done, he got a garbage bag and began picking up the pieces and stuffing them in the bag. He dumped the bag into the dumpster and returned to the house. The blood stains on the carpet would have to be removed. “A maid's job is never done,” he thought. Jared got a bucket of soapy water and began to scrub the carpet. The stains refused to go. “Damn stains,” he cursed. “Why do things have to be so difficult?” He needed desperately to hide the evidence. He could replace the carpet. That would take days. He wasn't in the mood to go out and buy a new one. He didn't want to see anyone just now. “What are you doing, Jared?” she asked. “My god, Matilda. You scared me half to death,” Jared said. “Don't sneak up on me
like that.” “What are you doing with the garden shears?” she asked. “What happened to the mirror?” “I was going to move it to another room. When I cut the wire that held it to the wall, it slipped and broke into a million pieces,” he said. “I cut myself trying to pick up the pieces. Damn stains. They won't come out.” “I'll take care of that tomorrow. Come on back to bed,” she said. “Last one up the stairs is an old maid,” he said.
Billy awoke with the sunshine in his eyes. Had he forgotten to set the alarm again? Mom would have woken him up if that was all it was. This was a school day. Why did she let him sleep in? Billy grabbed his cell phone, but it had a blank screen. The batteries must be low again. He had charged it recently, he was sure of that. He flipped the light switch in the bathroom but nothing happened. That was it. The power was off and all the alarm clocks had failed. Billy opened the shades and let in a little more light. He got dressed and headed downstairs to find his mom and dad on the sofa. “Why aren't you at work, Dad?” he asked. “Did you oversleep too?” “The car won't start. Dead battery, I guess,” he said. “Does your phone work?” “No, and I'm pretty sure it was charged,” Billy replied. “Where's breakfast?” “The stove doesn't work,“ Mom said. “No electricity. Let's take my car and grab something at McDougals.” “I'm going to be late for school,” Billy said. “I'll need a note.” “We'll drop you off after we eat,” Mom said. “Buckle up. What's going on? It won't start.” “Try the radio,” said Billy. “It doesn't work either,” Dad said. “This is getting weirder by the moment.” “The headlights work. It's not the battery,” said Mom. “I'm going next door to see if Donna has gone to school yet,” said Billy. “I'll see if they are having the same kind of problems.” Donna had moved in more than a year ago, but they hardly knew each other. He had talked to her a few times at school recently because they were in a play together. It wasn't that she wasn't attractive, Billy just had other things on his mind. She had never shown a real interest in him, and he had all the friends he needed on the internet. “Check back with us before you go anywhere else?” said Dad. “I'm going to fire up the grill and try to fix something for breakfast. Hurry back if you want something to eat.” …......................... “Billy, what are you doing here?” asked Donna. “Does your phone work?” “No. Have you guys lost power too?” asked Billy. “And the cars won't start,” said Donna. “Even our cell phones are dead.”
“Same here,” said Billy. “I was thinking about riding my bike to school.” “Dad's making breakfast,” said Donna. “Want to join us?” “My dad's making something. After we eat, can I give you a ride to school?” asked Billy. “Sure, I guess so,” said Donna. “Maybe somebody there will have some answers.” …......................... “They've got the same problems that we do,” said Billy. “Nothing works. Is this my plate?” “Sure Honey,” said Mom. “Milk or juice. Better drink the milk before it spoils.” “Donna and I are going to ride my bike to school. I still need that note,” said Billy. “What are you going to do, Dad?” “Wait for the power to come back on and call the auto club,” said Dad. “Here's your note,” said Mom. “See you after school.” “See you guys later,” said Billy. “Gotta run.” …......................... “Ready to go, Donna?” asked Billy. “Hop on.” As they headed for school, only a few cars were on the road. As they arrived at the school the school sign said that school had been canceled for the day. They were told to check the school web site for further information. “Should we head home?” asked Billy. “Let's go to the library. Maybe their computers will be working,” said Donna, “We need to check the web for some indication as to what the heck is going on.” “Good idea,” said Billy. “Let's go.” As they got closer to town, it became obvious from all the broken windows that none of the businesses were open. They saw many people running down the streets carrying food and other items they had obviously stolen. “Have you been to the library?” Billy asked a kid as he ran past pushing a shopping cart. “Is it open?” “Nothing's open,” he yelled back as he continued running. “We'd better go home,” said Donna. “I'm frightened.”
“Okay,” said Billy. “Hang on. We'll be home in no time.” “Watch out for that car,” said Donna as a 1956 Chevy sped by. “Why do you suppose they were able to start their car?” “Am I mistaken, or have all the cars we've seen been antiques?” said Billy. “Those old cars didn't have computers. I think something has happened to the computers. That would explain the problem with cell phones.” “But what happened to the computers?” asked Donna. “I'll bet Jimmy Johnson will have some theories. He knows all about computers,” said Billy. “He lives clear on the other side of the tracks,” said Donna. “I want to go home.” “Okay, I'm just saying,” said Billy. “He'll figure this out. We'll see him at school tomorrow, I'll bet.” “I'm not so sure,” said Donna. “I have a bad feeling about this.” “I'll see you later,” said Billy. “I'm going to see if my parents have found out anything.” “Okay, Billy,” said Donna. “Thanks for getting me home safely.” …............................ “Billy, you're home. Did school let out early?” asked Mom. “School's canceled until further notice,” said Billy. “We were going to the library, but there were people stealing food and running wild in the streets. Have you guys heard anything?” “Not a thing,” she said. “The power's still off. I talked to Mrs. Ford a few minutes ago. They're coming over in a little while. Donna will probably come with them.” “Do they have any idea about what's going on?” asked Billy. “Donna's dad has some sort of technical job, doesn't he?” “I didn't talk to him, but Mrs. Ford didn't indicate that they had any clues,” said Mom. “That's probably them now,” said Mom as she heard a knock at the door. “Billy, would you get the door?” “Come on in,” said Billy. “Hi, Donna.” “Hi, Billy,” said Donna.
“Just follow me. They're in the living room,” said Billy. “Mom. Dad. We've got company.” “Hello, Dave,” said Billy's dad. “Make yourself comfortable.” “Hello, Bill,” said Dave. “Good to see you again.” “Hi, Betty,” said Billy's mom. “Hi, Doris,” said Betty. “What do you guys think about what's going on?” “It really strange,” said Doris. “That's all I know.” “I was talking to our other neighbor, and he said that he woke up about 3:00 A.M. and noticed a light outside. There was an aurora just like the Aurora Borealis right here in Springdale. The air was so statically charged that he felt like he had an afro. He showed me a polaroid picture,” said Dave. “I think we were hit by a solar flare.” “Could that explain the problems we're having?” asked Bill. “Not your normal flare,” said Dave, “but one large enough to cause an aurora this far south, maybe. It's unprecedented.” “How long will it take to get the power back on?” asked Doris. “That's a very good question. It looks like practically all ICs have been damaged,” said Dave. “The way everything is so automated, you can't do anything without computers anymore.” “Icees ?” asked Doris. “Integrated circuits, computer chips, you know,” said Dave. “The question is how serious and widespread is the problem.” “Maybe it just a local isolated incident,” said Bill. “I'm afraid not. In fact, we're the lucky ones,” said Dave. “We were on the dark side when it happened. Who knows what effects the radiation had on those who were fully exposed. Fortunately it won't linger in the atmosphere, so we don't have to worry about fallout.” “What if there are more flares?” asked Bill. “That's not likely. This was one in a million,” said Dave. “We're going to fire up the old mustang and drive out to my parents' farm. Donna tells me people are already rioting. You're welcome to come along. There's strength in numbers.” “Who's going to watch over our homes?” asked Doris.
“If it comes to that, I'd rather not be here,” said Bill. “I think we should go with them.” “If you think so. Do we have time to pack?” asked Doris. “Sure, but we'd better hurry,” said Dave. “Once the panic starts, it will escalate quickly. Take whatever you need, food, clothing, medicine, etc. We've got a trailer.” “I'll get some containers for gas and start emptying the tanks on the other vehicles,” said Bill. “There won't be any service stations open. How far is it to the farm?” “A hundred and eighty miles,” said Dave. “I've got enough gas to get there, but who knows how much we'll need later.” “It's not east of here is it?” asked Bill. “Three hours east would make it borderline daylight when it was 3:00 A.M. here. “No, it's almost due west,” said Dave. “It was probably the least affected.” “That's good. Maybe their TV or radios still work,” said Bill. “Does your father have a generator?” “I believe so,” said Dave. “Are we all ready. Anybody got to go to the bathroom before we leave?” It was a nice day as Billy and Donna rode along in the trailer. The mustang was too small to seat them all comfortably. The cool summer breeze felt good on Billy's face. The road was almost completely devoid of traffic. Donna was standing up in the front of the trailer, holding on to the railing. The wind was blowing through her hair. Billy was lying down, looking up at her from behind. Her tan line was barely visible below her shorts. Where were his internet friends now? “Donna, are you on Mynet?” asked Billy. “What? I can't hear you,” said Donna. Billy got up and stood beside her. “Are you on Mynet?” he asked. “Yeah. Are you?” she replied. “What???” asked Billy. “Let's sit down,” said Donna loudly as she pointed to the back of the trailer. “Yes, I'm on Mynet. Are you?” she repeated. “What's your name?” asked Billy.
“That's sort of personal, don't you think?” said Donna. “My name is Scooter,” said Billy. “No, that's you?” Donna laughed. “What's so funny?” asked Billy. “Nothing, it's just that we talk all the time,” said Donna. “I'm Buttercup.” “You're one of my best friends,” said Billy. “I've been tempted to ask you to meet for months.” “I'd never do that,” said Donna. “You never know what sort of creeps are on the net.” “What was that look you gave me when you said that?” asked Billy. “Just kidding. You're not all that creepy,” said Donna. …...................................... “I haven't seen any police or national guard,” said Bill. “Looks like no one had a plan for such an emergency.” “Even if they were supposed to meet somewhere, the lack of communication and transportation will delay them,” said Dave. “They'll probably show up tomorrow after there's nothing left in the stores worth stealing.” “What about the hospitals?” asked Doris. “No computers, not enough doctors or nurses, no life support systems, no ambulances.” “People with pacemakers and other computerized implants are also in danger, if they're not already dead,” said Dave. “And backup systems. The more sophisticated they are, the less likely they worked.” “Devices in underground bunkers must have survived,” said Bill. “Probably, but their above ground connections would be broken,” said Dave. “The satellites were probably the first to go.” “My god,” said Betty. “What about all the airplanes that were in flight, or the ships lost at sea? This is terrible.” “Can't we talk about something else?” said Doris. “You're frightening me.” …............................... “I hope your grandpa has the internet,” said Billy.
“I'm not sure. He's sort of old fashioned. He still plows the fields with a mule,” said Donna. “Grandma spins her own yarn.” “You're kidding,” said Billy. “Do they go to town in a covered wagon?” “No, he has an old pickup truck,” said Doris. “They do have satellite TV.” “Well, at least we'll have MTV,” said Billy. “Hey, aren't those geese flying in the wrong direction?” “We're almost there,” said Donna as they turned onto a gravel road. “Hey, you missed a bump,” yelled Billy as the trailer bounced and jerked. “Hang on, Donna.” Billy put his arm around Donna and held her hand softly. She squeezed his hand with each new bump. “Slow down, Dad!” she yelled. The mustang slowed to a crawl. “Sorry, kids,” Dave yelled back. “I forgot the trailer doesn't have shocks.” …....................... “Grandpa!” yelled Donna as she ran into his outreached arms. “I missed you.” “I missed you too, Little Bit,” said Grandpa. “Don't call me Little Bit. I'm almost fourteen,” said Donna. “Where's grandma?” “Around back in the garden, I suspect,” said Grandpa. “She'll be so surprised.” “Come on, Billy,” said Donna. “I want you to meet my grandma.” …....................... “Hey, Son,” said Grandpa. “What brings you out this way? I don't believe I've met your friends.” “Dad, this is Bill and Doris,” said Dave. “They're our good friends and neighbors.” “Pleased to meet you both, and welcome to my humble home,” said Grandpa. “Dad? Have you noticed anything strange today?” asked Dave. “No. Like what?” asked Grandpa. “The power's off, but that's not all that strange.” “Have you heard from Sissy lately?” asked Dave. “Got a letter from your sister just last week. Shame you never learned to write,” said Grandpa.
“I've been pretty busy, Dad. How's she doing?” asked Dave. “Just fine. The kids are growing like weeds. She sent me some pictures,” said Grandpa. “I wouldn't have recognized Donna if I'd met her on the street. How long has it been?” “We're here now, Dad,” said Dave. “Are we going to enjoy it or are you going to keep fussing at me?” “It's really good to see you, Son,” said Grandpa. “Come on up to the house, folks, and make yourselves at home.” “Do you have a battery operated radio?” Dave asked his dad. “That's what we should have brought, batteries!” “I've got more batteries than you can shake a stick at,” said Grandpa, “and a radio to boot, inside the fallout shelter.” “I forgot all about that. You built that back in the sixties, didn't you?” asked Dave. “We rode out a lot of tornadoes down there,” said Grandpa, “but no bombs yet.” “Can we check out that radio?” asked Dave. “Do you think it still works?” “Worked fine during the last storm,” said Grandpa. “Are you wanting to listen to some golden oldies?” “I'm sorry, Dad,” said Dave. “We should fill you in on what we think has happened.” …........................... “That's awful,” said Grandpa. “I told you all that newfangled stuff would lead to no good.” “It didn't cause the problem,” said Dave. “Where are those batteries? These seem to be dead.” “Over here in this box,” said Grandpa. “When did you buy these?” asked Dave. “This one expired in 1965.” “I bought them when I stocked the shelter, back in 59,” said Grandpa. “Most of them are corroded,” said Dave. “We'll be lucky to find enough good ones to run this radio.” “Think positive,” said Grandpa. “These don't look too bad. I've got an analog meter. You can test them.”
“It seems to be working, but all I'm getting is static,” said Dave. “We'll try again later.” “I could fire up the generator and see if the TV works,” said Grandpa, “or the computer.” “You have a computer?” asked Dave. “I don't believe it.” “Your mom likes to do her shopping online,” said Grandpa. “She's turning into quite a modern woman. Personally, I don't see the point. They've got all I need at the general store.” “Mom! We were just talking about you,” said Dave as Grandma entered the shelter. “Give me a hug,” said Grandma. “Just look at you. Has Betty been feeding you?” “I'm on a diet, Mom. High cholesterol,” said Dave. “I'll put some meat on your bones,” she said. “How are you, darling?” “I'm fine Mom. How are you?” Dave replied. “Can't complain,” she said. “Since when?” asked Grandpa. “About my health, you old coot,” said Grandma. “Son, you know your friends are always welcome, but I was wondering why they didn't want to be with their family.” “Their parents and most of the other family members were in Europe on a trip when this all happened,” said Dave. “There's no way to get in touch with them.” “Oh, that's too bad,” said Grandma. “I hope they're okay.” “Me too,” said Dave. “What's that noise?” “Someone's coming up the road,” said Grandpa. “Now who could that be?” …........................... “Sissy, you made it. How is everyone?” asked Dave. “We're just fine, Junior,” said Sissy. “How's your bunch?” “We're fine,” said Dave. “It's really nice to see you again. You haven't changed a bit.” “You have,” she laughed. “You need glasses.”
“Dad, I'm going to show Billy around the farm,” said Donna. “Does Cindy and Cathy want to come?” “Maybe later. They haven't seen their Grandpa and Grandma for ages,” said Sissy. “Okay, see you guys later,” said Donna. “Three girls,” Billy said. “I'm outnumbered.” “You like the odds,” said Donna. “I saw the way you were looking at them.” “Do I detect a bit of jealousy, Buttercup?” asked Billy. “Not a bit, Scooter,” said Donna. “Cathy's too young and Cindy's too old.” “They looked just fine to me,” Billy thought, “but neither one held a candle to Donna.” “Let's climb up to the hayloft,” said Donna. “You can see for miles from up there.” “Wow, that's quite a view,” said Billy, “and the countryside looks nice too.” Billy began climbing to the top of a stack of bales. “What will you give me to jump?” he said looking at the pile of loose straw below.” “A Yankee dime,” she said. “What's that?” he asked. “Jump and you'll find out,” she said. “Chicken?” Billy leaped off the bales and landed in the pile of straw. Donna jumped onto the pile and kissed Billy. “That's a Yankee dime,” she said. “Wow, I believe you have some change coming,” he said as he kissed her back. “Kids! Come on back to the house. Wash your hands, we're getting ready to eat,” yelled Grandma. “I really like you,” said Billy. “You're not so bad,” said Donna. “We'd better hurry up. Are you hungry?” “I could eat a horse,” said Billy. “That reminds me. You haven't seen the livestock yet,” said Donna. …........................
“I tried the radio again. All I'm getting is static,” said Dave. “The computer still works but there's no internet, email, or any outside communication. At least that means all ICs were not damaged, at least not those in fallout shelters.” “Got any computer games?” asked Billy. “Just what came with it,” said Grandma. “You can check it out later. Did you kids wash your hands?” “Yes, Grandma,” said Donna. “Where am I sitting?” “Over there at that smaller table,” said Grandma. “Fill your plates before you sit down, kids.” “Cathy, Cindy, this is my good friend Billy,” said Donna. “Billy, these are my cousins.” “Hi, Billy,” they said in unison. “Why was the computer in the fallout shelter?” asked Bill. “The old coot said that I couldn't bring a computer into this house,” said Grandma. “Besides, after 40 years of filling these rooms with knickknacks and heirlooms or what you would call junk, there wasn't room in the house anyway.” “Everybody hold hands. I'll say the blessing,” said Grandpa. As they held hands and lowered their heads, Grandpa said the blessing. As he spoke, Cindy and Cathy both squeezed Billy's hands. Was this how they did it, he wondered as he squeezed back. “Dig in,” said Grandma. “Don't be shy. There's plenty.” After they had eaten, the adults gathered around the TV as Dave tried to turn it on. “Maybe it's the remote, try the switch on the TV,” said Grandpa. “It's no use,” said Dave. “Let's try the one from the shelter. Help me bring it in and hook it up to the satellite dish, Son,” said Grandpa. …............................. As Billy returned from the bathroom, he passed Cindy in the hallway. “Did she just wink at me?” he wondered. Then he passed Cathy. “I know she winked at me. This is going to be a problem,” he thought. “You look worried,” said Donna. “What's the problem?” “Nothing. Did the TV work?” asked Billy.
“No, but they're getting ready to try the other TV,” said Donna. …........................ “It's on. I can bring up the TV's menu, but not the satellite receiver's menu. I think the receiver is damaged. Got any rabbit ears?” asked Dave. “I'll see if I can find them. The old woman never throws anything away, but I haven't seen them in years,” said Grandpa. “Why don't you check the radio again?” …......................... “I thought I had something on the short wave band but it wasn't clear and it kept coming and going. Then I lost it,” said Dave. “I'll try again later. I'm pretty sure it was something.” “Well, that's good news, isn't it?” said Betty. “Maybe if you climb up to the hayloft, you can get better reception,” said Billy. “Why don't I go check it out?” “Can I go, too?” asked Cindy. “Me, too,” said Cathy. “Let's all go,” said Donna. “If it's okay with our parents.” “Ask your dad,” said Sissy. “Go ahead kids,” said Tom. …......................... “What's martial law?” Billy asked his dad. “Why do you ask?” said Bill. “Maybe you guys should listen. They keep repeating the same message,” said Billy. “Something about martial law and imminent domain.” The president had declared Martial Law and put the military in control. They had seized all operational forms of transportation and any functional high tech devices in an attempt to get industry back on its feet. Farmers were encouraged to plant extra crops to help feed the hungry. Money was useless and no one was being compensated for their services. Volunteers were desperately needed in hospitals and nursing homes. Schools were being reopened and attendance by both teachers and students was mandatory. School lunches were provided as well as bicycles. Anyone caught hoarding would be punished.
“We've got to go to school,” said Billy. “But my school is 180 miles away.” “There's a school ten miles up the highway,” said Grandpa. “Once you get a bike, it won't be so bad. Why, when I was a kid ...” “Dad, we've all heard that story,” said Dave. “Are we staying, Dad?” asked Billy. “Please.” “You're all welcome to stay and help with the farming,” said Grandpa. “We can build some cabins.” Everyone agreed that they had nothing to go back to. They could do more good on the farm or in the local hospitals, at least until the world was back on its feet.
GONE WITH THE GODS
“Swim faster, Reyna,” yelled Luke. “We're almost there.” “I'm too tired,” said Reyna. “I'm not going to make it.” “Hang on to my hair,” said Luke. “It's catching up.” Rena grabbed a handful of Luke's shoulder length hair with both hands and continued kicking with all her might. Luke swam for the cave opening. As he reached the opening, the current momentarily pushed them back. Reyna screamed as a lobster's pincher barely missed her leg. In a moment they were inside the cave. The lobster was much to large to enter. “That was too close,” said Reyna. “Why did you stop?” “I didn't. It was the current,” said Luke. “We've both been in this cave dozens of times and there's never been a current,” said Reyna. “And there's never been a lobster this far from the vent,” said Luke. “I hate first times, don't you?” “Not when it's pleasant,” said Reyna. “What do you suppose caused the current?” “Probably the water temperature. I told you it was getting warmer than last year,” said Luke. “That probably explains the lobster being this far from the vent.” “It won't be long until our homes will be in danger, and we'll have to move farther away from the vents,” said Reyna. “We could stand and fight. I'm not afraid of a crustacean,” said Luke. “You couldn't prove it by me after what just happened,” said Reyna. “But I was unarmed. I didn't expect to meet one way out here,” said Luke. “If I'd had my spear gun it would have been a different story.” The current flowed in one direction and then the other. “What is that smell?” asked Reyna. “I don't know, but it smells delicious,” said Luke. “Want to check it out?” “We might as well. That lobster isn't going anywhere for a while unless someone else is unlucky enough to draw his attention,” said Reyna. “Let's go,” said Luke. “That smell is making me hungry.”
“Didn't you tell me that you had checked out this entire cave before?” asked Reyna. “Yes, but obviously something has changed,” said Luke. “Feel how warm the water is.” “You know we'll be late for school again,” she said. “My parents will be furious.” “It's not our fault this time,” said Luke. “Besides, my dad is mad at the school. He heard that they had been teaching that we came from sea monkeys.” “Well, you have to admit that our science teacher does bear a striking resemblance,” laughed Reyna.” “I know,” snickered Luke. “It's uncanny, right down to the tip of his tail. Shortest tail I've ever seen on a grownup.” “I heard he got it chopped off by a crustacean,” said Reyna. “That's what he wants you to believe,” said Luke. “I think his dad was a sea monkey. You've seen his beady eyes.” “What's that light up ahead?” she asked. “The dead end. But it's usually not this lit up. A thick layer of ice blocks the surface,” he replied. Neither Luke nor Reyna had ever been beyond the ice. No one really knew what lie beyond. As they slowly drifted upward, a feeling of apprehension overcame them. Just then a school of creel swam past, and they both gave chase. The school swam in unison darting back and forth and up and down. Suddenly the school darted for the surface and Luke followed at full speed. As he broke the surface, he could see a large bright object far above him and what seemed like thousands of tiny bright objects floating many many fathoms above. As he submerged again he swam to meet Reyna. “It's incredible. There's luminescence in heaven,” he said. “You saw heaven?” she asked. “Did you see the gods?” “No, but it's big, really big,” he said. “Come on, let's get a better look.” “I'm afraid. Besides, it's getting late. The lobster is surely gone by now,” she said. “But we're so close,” said Luke. “The coral will bloom any day now and school will be out,” she said. “We'll have plenty of time to explore heaven.” “Okay, but don't tell a soul,” said Luke. “We want to be the first.”
“It might be dangerous,” said Reyna. “Maybe we should have adults along for protection.” “They'll just take all the credit,” argued Luke. “This is our discovery. Besides, where's the fun in being protected?” “It will be quite an adventure,” said Reyna. “You're right. It's our secret.” …................................ As Luke entered the school lunchroom one of the larger boys said, “Hey look, it's Lobster Luke. What does Luke do when he sees a lobster? Trick question. He does nothing. He just hides.” “I was unarmed. You couldn't have done any better,” said Luke. “A lobster, that far from the lava vent, would be so slow and docile that my little sister could swim circles around it,” the bully laughed. “Well, not this one. The waters are getting warmer. I've been warning everyone,” said Luke. “Get smart with me and you'll really be in hot water,” said the bully as he went on about his business and ignored Luke. …............................... “Hi, Reyna,” said Luke. “Mind if I join you?” “Have a seat,” she said. “How's your day going?” “One of these days that bully is going to push me too far,” said Luke. “Just ignore him. Everybody else does,” said Reyna. “He's not worth the trouble.” “I was thinking about heaven. I was only there for a few seconds, but I think it was full of air.” “You mean that stuff that gets trapped in pockets under the ice,” said Reyna. “Yeah, the stuff we exhale,” said Luke. “But that's not breathable,” said Reyna. “How will we be able to explore?” “Maybe that air is different. I don't know,” said Luke. “We can at least stick our heads out of the water and look around.” “They're predicting the coral bloom will occur in six days,” said Reyna.
“Last year they were off by a full week,” said Luke. “Well, everyone says that currentology isn't an exact science,” said Reyna. “I'm not even sure they should call it a science,” said Luke. “I predict the warmer water will cause a bloom to occur tonight or tomorrow night at the latest.” “Well, if you're right, then we can start our adventure even sooner,” said Reyna. “Can I swim you home after school?” asked Luke. “Sure, I'll meet you after last period,” she said as she returned to her classes. …............................. The following morning his mother woke him up early. “Get up and see the bloom before it's all over,” she said. “This only happens once a year, you know.” It never ceased to amaze him. Each year, on a single night, every coral polyp releases its sacs, some containing eggs while other contain sperm. There are virtually billions of them. This year it meant even more to Luke. It meant that his adventure would start today. “I've got to start getting ready. This year's expos may take at least a week,” said Luke. “I'm sure I'll find a great job.” “Good luck, Son,” said his mom. “See you when it's over. Bring me back some souvenirs.” “Sure, Mom,” said Luke. “Well, I've got to pack.” …............................. “I was hoping you could spend a few days with us before you head off to the expos. We hardly see you when school is in session,” said Reyna's mom. “A couple of days and all of the best jobs will be gone, Mom,” said Reyna. “We'll spend time when I get back. I'll try to find a job that doesn't start for a few days.” …............................. “Where is she,” Luke wondered. “Surely she knows that I wanted to start today.” Luke swam back and forth just inside the cave. “There she is. It's about time,” he thought. “Sorry I'm late. I had to hide while some fishermen were checking their nets,” said Reyna. “I didn't want anyone to tell my mom that they saw me near the cave.” “It's okay. I just got here myself,” lied Luke. “Are you ready?”
“Ready as I'll ever be,” she said. “Do you think we'll see any Gods?” “Your guess is as good as mine,” said Luke. “I like your hair. Did you get it cut?” “Thank you, Luke. I did take a little off the ends,” said Reyna. “Nice of you to notice. Your hair looks nice too.” Preparing to spend the next few days and nights together, they both began to notice things about each other for the first time. The tunnel was brighter than usual and the blue-green light reflecting off of her scales accentuated the soft curves of her body. Her golden hair flowing down her back was more beautiful than ever. Her dark blue eyes were the color of the sea at midday. He had never seen her looking so beautiful. “It's too bright,” she said. “I can't go any farther.” “Close your eyes,” he said. “That's better, but now I won't be able to see anything,” said Reyna. “No silly, just close your inner eyelids,” said Luke. “Is that better?” “Yes. That's much better,” she said. “The Day god must be up there now. Maybe we should wait until the Night goddess arrives. She's much nicer, I've heard.” “But I can't wait to see what's up there. Do you realize we'll be the first to go to heaven and come back to tell about it?” said Luke. “Has anyone ever tried before?” asked Reyna. “Sure. Many expeditions were sent to the surface, but no one ever returned,” replied Luke. “Some say they are living with the gods while others say they were eaten by beasts. They have actually found skeletons of these beasts on the sea floor.” “What if there are beasts up there?” asked Reyna. “Beasts in heaven? That's silly,” said Luke. “What if that isn't heaven?” asked Reyna. “All of our answers are just a short swim away,” said Luke. “Let's go find out.” “I'm right behind you,” said Reyna. “Be careful.” Luke and Reyna slowly drifted upwards toward the surface. As they poked their heads above water, the warmth of the air on their faces was slightly uncomfortable. “My God!” said Reyna. “What? Where?” asked Luke.
“Does my hair look like that?” laughed Reyna. “Like what?” asked Luke. “Droopy,” replied Reyna as she looked directly at Luke's hair. “I must look dreadful.” “Well, you do look different,” said Luke. “Don't scare me like that. I thought you had seen a god.” “Let's climb up there and see what we can see,” said Luke as he swam toward the shore. Luke and Reyna crawled out of the water and sat on the ground. “Where are all of those tiny lights that you said were floating overhead,” said Reyna. “I only see that one large one. It hurts my eyes to look directly at it.” “I'm sure I saw them. Maybe they swam away,” said Luke. “What do you suppose those white fluffy things are way up there?” “How should I know?” replied Reyna. “I've never seen anything like that before. Maybe it's more of this stuff we're sitting on.” “It's cool, like ice, but it's soft,” said Luke as he picked up a handful of snow. “Look, it melts like ice.” “Everything is covered with this stuff. Do you think all of heaven is covered in soft ice?” asked Reyna. “We're going to have to move around if we want to see more. Try this,” said Luke as he got up on his hands and feet, his butt hiked up and his tail pointing straight up into the air. “We can move around like this.” “You look ridiculous. I'm not doing that,” said Reyna as she stood upright. “Why not walk like we do back home when we're carrying something heavy.” “But that is so slow,” said Luke, “and tiring.” “We don't have to carry anything heavy to keep our feet on the ground. It's so much easier to move through air than water. Look at me,” said Reyna as she began to walk, faster and faster. Suddenly she slipped and fell into the snow. “Be careful,” said Luke. “You don't fall in slow motion here. Are you okay?” “I only hurt my pride,” said Reyna. “Get up. Let's take a walk. Let's follow this water as it flows along. We don't want to get too far from water.” “Should we swim or walk?” asked Luke. “It seems to be going downhill,” said Reyna. “I hope walking uphill won't be too
difficult when we head back.” “We have to get back for the last day of the expo, so we had better get going,” said Luke. “I wonder if there is any food in that water.” “We should find out. We don't want to get too hungry,” said Reyna. “I just realized that we're breathing. Our scales are absorbing oxygen right out of the air. I feel stronger than ever,” said Luke. “Let's see if there is anything to eat in these waters,” said Reyna as she dove in. She emerged almost immediately with a fish in her mouth and one in each hand. “I guess that answers that question,” said Luke. “Are you going to eat all of that?” “Get your own, lazy,” said Reyna. “I'm not your wife.” “Not yet,” said Luke. “Did you say something?” asked Reyna. “No,” said Luke as he dove in. “Are you ready to go?” asked Reyna. “Just let me get a drink,” said Luke. “This is really strange, having to go out of your way to get a drink. Okay, let's go.” After walking a short distance, the slope of the mountain changed drastically. As they approached a ledge, a section of ice broke away and began sliding down the mountain. To make things worse, they were on the section that broke away. “Stop us, Luke!” yelled Reyna. “We're going too fast.” “Stop us? How?” said Luke. “Well, I don't know,” said Reyna. “Just stop us.” “We'll stop when we get to the bottom,” said Luke. “But I don't see a bottom,” said Reyna. “How will we ever get back up?” “One thing at a time,” said Luke. “Just hang on. I think we're slowing down some.” “Yeah, now we're only going one million frakes per zumor,” said Reyna. The slope was beginning to level off and objects began to appear in the distance, green and looking very much like some of the coral back home. As they got closer, the objects got larger. “We're going to hit one of those,”said Reyna.
“I hope it isn't as hard as coral,” said Luke. “Hang on to me. We may be in trouble.” The chunk of ice hit the small sapling and cut it off level with the ground without even slowing down. “There's water up ahead. We've got to jump when we get close enough,” said Luke. “Jump!” As the chunk of ice sailed through the air, just above the water, they both jumped. Hitting the surface of the water, they skipped and rolled like a flat stone before finally coming to a stop and settling to the bottom of the stream. “I think I strained every muscle in my body,” said Luke. “Are you okay?” “Everything works,” said Reyna. “Unfortunately, everything hurts. I'm not sure I can walk or swim.” “We'll just have to rest and drift along with the current until we feel better,” said Luke. “Just go with the flow,” said Reyna. “I wish I knew where we were going.” “I'm not even sure where we've been,” said Luke. “How will we ever find our way back?” “Just follow the water upstream,” said Reyna. “But this isn't the same water. There's no salt in this water,” said Luke. “Well, we'll just have to find salt water and follow it home,” said Reyna. “Now that that's solved, we need to make a significant discovery,” said Luke. “We can't go home late without something to show for it. Our parents will ground us until we are adults.” “We need a safe place to sleep,” said Reyna. “I'm tired.” “It's too dangerous to sleep in a moving current,” said Luke. “Do you think you could climb out onto the ground?” “I'll try,” said Reyna. They both swam slowly to the shore and climbed out onto the dry grassy ground. “What is this?” asked Reyna as she moved her hand through the grass. “It's sort of like sea grass. Let's call it air grass,” said Luke. “It kind of tickles when you lie down in it.” “Have I told you how funny you sound?” said Reyna. “Your voice is higher, like a girl.”
“Yours is higher too. You sound like an wiki singer,” said Luke. “Sing something.” “I'm too tired. I'm going to sleep,” said Reyna. “We'll have to sleep on our bellies. That thing up there is way too bright.” “There no shade nearby,” said Luke as he rolled over. “I guess you're right. Even with my outer eyelids closed, it's too bright to sleep. Goodnight, Reyna. Pleasant dreams.” .................................... When they awoke, the sun was almost setting. “How do you feel?” asked Luke, still lying on his stomach. With his head still on the ground, he looked into her beautiful eyes. “My muscles don't ache, but my back feels like I'm standing too close to the vent,” said Reyna. “Mine too,” said Luke as he began to get up. “Ouch! That stings!” “Ouch,” said Reyna. “Look at your back. It's not light brown, it's bronze.” “Your back isn't bluish green,” said Luke. “It's a combination of violet and orange. It's really quite stunning.” “But it stings when I move or touch it,” said Reyna. “Are we going to die?” “I don't think so,” said Luke. “But I think we must have angered the Day God.” “I told you we should wait until the Night Goddess arrived,” said Reyna. “You never listen to me.” “But you're a girl. What do you know about gods and goddesses?” asked Luke. “Apparently more than you,” said Reyna. “If you want to be my friend, you're going to treat me like an equal.” “You'll calm down when you're feeling better,” said Luke. “No, I won't calm down,” said Reyna. “Stop treating me like a girl.” A gust of wind blew through her hair, lifting it off her shoulders. “Your hair looks incredible,” said Luke. “Don't change the subject,” said Reyna. “Yours looks nice too. Let me feel of it. It's not wet. It feels really soft.” “Can you walk? We need to get going,” said Luke. “Are you hungry?”
“I don't believe there is any food in these waters,” said Reyna. “I think you're right,” said Luke. “We need to find our water.” “We were standing to the right when the ice gave way. Since we didn't cross it, it has to be to our left,” said Reyna. “That's very logical thinking, Reyna,” said Luke. “I'm amazed.” “Get used to it,” said Reyna. ….......................... As they headed east, the easiest path also led them downhill. The sun was gone now and the moon had not yet risen. “You can open your inner eyelids now,” said Luke. “That's better,” said Reyna. “There are those tiny lights you told me about.” Luke looked up into the night sky and was amazed at the beauty. “Reminds you of home, doesn't it?” he said. “Will we ever see home again?” said Reyna. “I even miss my brothers.” “We'll be fine, Reyna,” he replied. “I don't understand why we haven't seen the gods or any of our dead ancestors.” “Maybe they all live in the lowlands,” said Reyna. “You could search ninety-five percent of the sea and never find a nymphid.” “But you would meet other creatures. Why aren't there any here?” asked Luke. “You didn't really think that those other creatures go to heaven when they die?” asked Reyna. “It sure seems like a waste of space,” said Luke. “This is no time for a theological discussion. Just enjoy the view,” said Reyna. “We should do all of our traveling at night. This is much more pleasant.” “Look, there's the large bright object that I told you about,” said Luke as he pointed up at the moon. “But you said it was round,” said Reyna. “This must be a side view,” said Luke. “If it turns around, you'll see what I was talking about.” “How far away would you say it is?” asked Reyna.
“I'd have to know how big it actually is before I could even guess,” said Luke. “I'd bet it's over a hundred fathoms.” “Wow,” said Reyna. “That far? But it's so clear and bright.” “So far, all we've discovered are questions,” said Luke. “We need to find some answers.” “These coral thingies are getting bigger,” said Reyna. “Look, they're shedding.” “These were burned by the Day God, just like we were,” said Luke as he examined a leaf. “If we don't want to end up like this, we'll have to find some shade tomorrow before we go to sleep.” “I'm getting really hungry,” said Reyna. “We need to hurry up and find the water.” “I'm thirsty too,” said Luke. “I should have gotten a drink of that salt free water.” “It tasted awful, but I'm not thirsty,” said Reyna. “It can't be much farther to the salt water. I think I can smell it.” “Me too. Doesn't that smell wonderful?” said Luke. “I think it's this way.” “Luke, where are you?” said Reyna. “Down here, in the water,” yelled Luke. “Watch that first step.” “How did you get way down there?” asked Reyna. “I fell, but you can jump,” said Luke. “Come on it, the water's fine.” “Jump? You've got to be kidding,” said Reyna. “That's too far.” “Sorry, sometimes I forget that you're just a girl,” said Luke. “Look out belooooow!” yelled Reyna as she jumped. “Let's eat,” said Luke as he dove under the water. …............................... “We'll have to stay in this water until we find a place to climb out,” said Reyna. “It will take us to the lowlands.” “The current is pretty swift. It shouldn't take long,” said Luke. “Let's go.” “It looks like it ends up ahead,” said Reyna. “I guess we'll have to get out there.”
“Why isn't the current slowing down,” asked Luke. “There's something fishy here.” “Whoa! We're falling!” yelled Reyna as she and Luke went over the waterfall. “Turn around!” yelled Luke just before they hit the waters below. “Turn around?” laughed Reyna. “You didn't panic, did you?” “Well, aah, what I said was, I mean, what I meant was, we should land feet first,” said Luke. “So, you weren't suggesting that we swim back up?” asked Reyna. “That's silly,” said Luke. “Now where are we?” “Still heading for the lowlands. Should we get out and walk?” asked Reyna. “We need the practice,” said Luke. “Let's walk.” The vegetation was smaller and sparsely scattered. Away from the shore of the stream, the grass was tall and thick, making it hard to see very far. In places, they had to walk in the shallow water near the edges. A couple of tangled logs came floating by. “Let's hitch a ride,” said Luke. He and Reyna swam out to the logs and climbed aboard. “Now this is what I call luxury travel. Just sit back and relax.” …........................... After a few minutes, Reyna climbed back into the water, still hanging onto the logs. “Are you tired of riding?” asked Luke. “Turn around. I'm have to urinate,” said Reyna. “Oh, I did that back when we made that sudden descent,” said Luke. “I'll just bet you did,” laughed Reyna as she climbed back onto the log. “Look. One of those tiny lights took off and left a trail of luminescence,” said Luke. “Too late, it's gone now.” They both lay down on their backs and looked up into the night sky. “It hasn't turned yet,” said Reyna. “What? Oh, you mean the big one,” said Luke as he looked at the moon. “Well, I know what I saw.” “I believe you,” said Reyna as another meteor passed overhead. “There goes another one. Wow, that was really fast!”
“Look, that one is moving! It's almost like you could reach out and catch it,” said Luke as he reached out and caught the lightning bug. He opened his hand and luminescence was smeared all over it. He licked his palm and said, “That's tastes pretty good.” “My god, Luke,” said Reyna. “Our first encounter with a creature in heaven and you ate it.” “It was an accident,” said Luke. “Let's catch some more.” “You leave them alone,” said Reyna. “Do you want to anger the Night Goddess?” “But I think it's food,” said Luke. “Food for the gods, maybe,” said Reyna. “Stop eating anything that will fit into your mouth. It could be poison.” “Yes, Mother,” said Luke. “I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound so bossy,” said Reyna. “I just don't want you to die and leave me all alone.” “No, you're right as usual,” said Luke. “I'm being selfish. I have to think of your safety too.” “If we weren't all alone, would you care what happened to me?” asked Luke. “Of course I would. I love all nymphids,” said Reyna. “I see,” said Luke. “Now what's the matter?” asked Reyna. “Well, you really know how to make someone feel special,” said Luke. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I love you the most,” said Reyna. “I love you the most too,” said Luke. “Will you marry me?” “I thought you would never ask,” said Reyna. “Of course I will.” “Will you marry me now?” asked Luke. “We could do it here.” “Right here on this dead vegetation?” said Reyna. “I don't know.” “Oh, come on, Reyna,” said Luke. “We love each other.” “Okay,” said Reyna. As she kissed him on the mouth.
“Now that we're married, our parents can't ground us,” said Luke. “We don't have to hurry home.” “That's a load off my mind,” said Reyna. “We should have kissed sooner.” “I didn't know you loved me,” said Luke. “I've loved you for years.” “And you never told me. You silly boy,” said Reyna. “I'm a man now,” said Luke. “What's for supper, Wife?” “Let's get one thing straight. I love you, but I won't be your slave,” said Reyna. “Hey, I like the idea of being equal,” said Luke. “You've already proven that you're as smart as I am.” “That's the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” said Reyna as tears fell from her eyes. “You're leaking,” said Luke. “Your eyes are leaking. Are you okay?” “I'm the happiest girl alive,” said Reyna. “I'm going to make you so happy. Be back in a minute with supper.” Luke was already happy. Reyna had always been his dream girl. Now she was his wife, his partner, his friend. “Will this be enough fish?” asked Reyna as she climbed back onto the log. “Sure, but what will you eat?” said Luke. “I'm only kidding. This is great. Let's eat.” “We need to start looking for a place to sleep today,” said Luke, “Somewhere shady.” “We can go ashore any time,” said Reyna, “or do you want to sleep in the water.” “What do you think?” said Luke. “You decide.” “I don't know. I'm not used to making decisions,” said Reyna. “That never stopped you from arguing with mine,” said Luke. “Give it a try.” “Let's go ashore and look for a cave,” said Reyna. “We'll stay close to the water, just in case we can't find a good place to sleep.” “Wonderful idea,” said Luke. “And so logical.” “I do have my moments,” said Reyna.
…................................ As they walked along, the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon. “Look at that strange rock structure,” said Luke. “It doesn't look natural. None of the other structures even come close. Let's get a closer look.” Volcanic ash and dust had coated an existing structure with a four inch thick layer of hardened mud. Luke picked up a stone and tapped it against the structure. “It sounds hollow,” said Luke. “I wonder if we can get inside.” He tapped harder with the stone. It seemed pretty solid. “Stand back,” said Luke as he flung the stone with all of his might. It opened a hole large enough for Luke and Reyna to squeeze through. “Let's check it out. We should be able to sleep in there.” They crawled inside. It was indeed hollow and dark. Pitch dark. “I can't see a thing, said Reyna. “Perfect place for sleeping.” Several hours later, they awoke to find the cave lit up by sunlight streaming through the opening. The inside had been remarkably preserved by the airtight seal. Wood lined the walls and floors. The furniture was in its original places. The ceiling was still intact overhead. “I believe this was the home of a god,” said Luke. “He must have been at least six times as tall as we are. Look at the size of the chairs.” “We always suspected that the gods are larger than life, but six times? They are huge,” said Reyna. “I wonder where this god went.” “Do you think he sealed it up because he was planning to come back?” asked Luke. “There's no way to know how long he's been gone,” said Reyna. “But I think it was sealed by a volcanic explosion. We've seen similar things back home.” “Let's look around. I'm not sleepy now,” said Luke. “What is this stuff on the walls and floor.” “I think it's the same material that we rode on in the water,” said Reyna. “I'm surprised you were able to throw the stone through this.” “I didn't,” said Luke. “I threw it through this unmeltable ice.” “Let me see,” said Reyna as she picked up a piece of broken glass from the floor. “This would have allowed the light to come in during the day,” said Luke. “How did they sleep?” “What if they slept at night?” said Reyna. “We do when we're back home.”
“Of course. The light wouldn't hurt the gods,” said Luke. “But where did they sleep,” said Reyna. “There are only places to sit in here.” “Who says that the gods have to sleep?” said Luke. “Maybe there are other rooms,” said Reyna. “Is that a doorway?” “It's partially open. Let's go inside,” said Luke. “Help me push the door open so some light will enter the room.” “That must be a bed. Look how large it is,” said Reyna. “What's that against the wall on those shelves?” “They have writings on them, like our engravings back home.” said Luke. “But I can't read it. Help me carry one of these into the light.” “Look, there are images,” said Reyna. “But images of what? Have you ever seen anything like this?” “No,” said Luke as he examined the picture in the encyclopedia. “But this one looks a lot like the landscape we've seen.” “Are those homes?” asked Reyna. “That must be a god and a goddess.” “I guess,” said Luke. “But there are more questions than answers here. We've got to meet some real live gods.” “The light's fading. We'd better be on our way,” said Reyna. …............................. “Let's make another floater,” said Luke. “We can use some of this dead vegetation and make one just like the one we rode on yesterday.” “That does seem to be the easiest way to travel,” said Reyna. “We do want to stay near the salt water.” “Okay then,” said Luke. “Let's get started.” …................................ “We've made really good time tonight,” said Luke, “but the current is moving pretty slowly now. Maybe we should walk or swim for a while.” “Let's walk,” said Reyna. “We'll need to find another shelter before the Day God returns.” “We can use smell to tell if we wander too far from the water,” said Luke.
As they walked along, the smell of flowers filled the air. “I can't smell the water,” said Reyna. “But we aren't even out of sight of the water,” said Luke. “Well, so much for that idea. We'll have to keep it in sight.” “There are some of the structures we saw in those colorful etchings,” said Reyna. “But they look damaged. Many have already collapsed and most of the others don't look safe.” “Let's take a closer look,” said Luke. “There may be some good places to sleep.” “What's that sound?” said Reyna. “It sounded like buzzzzz,” “There. Is that one of those things I ate?” asked Luke. “I never got a good look at it,” said Reyna. “See if you can catch it.” Luke chased the bee for a few minutes and finally caught it. “I can't tell. I didn't get a good look at the other one either. I know how to find out,” said Luke as he put it in his mouth. “Luke, stop!” said Reyna. “Ouch, it's a stinger,” said Luke as the bee stung his tongue and flew away. “Let me see,” said Reyna. “There's a bump on your tongue and it's getting bigger. It was probably poisonous. I told you so.” “I don't feel dizzy or numb or different in any way,” said Luke, “except sore. It still stings really badly.” “I can't understand you,” said Reyna. “You're mumbling.” Luke tried to answer but couldn't manage to make a sound. “We've got to find the gods,” said Reyna. “Can you walk?” Luke nodded. They began walking hurriedly and were soon jogging, then running. After several minutes they stopped to rest. The sun was starting to peak above the horizon. They saw a shiny object at the base of the hill. Reyna pointed and Luke nodded as they headed in that direction. The object was located near a group of older structures, much larger than the structures they had examined. It looked brand new. It was unlike the other structures. It was supported above the ground by three legs. It was shaped like a closed oyster. Luke half expected to see it open at any time. As they got nearer, lights began to blink on and off, and they could hear a screeching sound that changed in intensity as the lights changed their brightness. A cylindrical tube descended from the bottom of the structure. When it reached the ground, a door opened and several beings ran toward them carrying something like spear guns.
Frightened by the sound, the flashing lights, and the strange creatures, Luke and Reyna turned and began to run. ….......................... Luke awakened as two creatures entered the room. The bright lights made it difficult for him to see them well. They were taller than he, maybe twice as tall. They were definitely not the gods. Maybe they were from another sea. Many nymphids believed there were other intelligent lifeforms in other seas. The two creatures began talking, and Luke could understand much of what they were saying. He understood every word but not within the context which they were sometimes used. “How did they know his language?” he wondered. Unable to speak, he motioned to the creatures. “I think it wants us to feed it,” said one of the creatures. “It's a shame it can't talk. What do you think they will do with it?” asked the other. “They'll test its intelligence. If it can't talk though, I doubt that it will pass. In that case, the doctors will dissect it and the chef will probably make a stew,” said the first. “What if it passes the tests?” asked the other. “Then we will have to leave this planet. We can't do mining on a planet with intelligent life,” said the first. “It's the universal law.” As they began to leave, Luke ran after them. Suddenly his forward motion was stopped as he reached the end of the chain. “He tried to attack us,” said the creature. “I hope they deep fry him.” Luke tugged at the chains, but they were well secured. He began pacing the floor, wondering if Reyna had escaped. If she was here, they would have realized by now that nymphids could talk. He was glad that she had escaped, even if it did leave him all alone. He could pass their tests, he was sure of it. The door opened and Reyna walked in chained to another creature. The creature removed the chain from his arm and attached it to a steel pipe. He then turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. “Luke! Are you okay?” asked Reyna. Luke attempted to answer but could barely whisper. Reyna came closer and listened closely. “I'll be okay. Did you talk to them?” he whispered. “I tried, but I couldn't understand a word they were saying,” said Reyna. “I don't believe they could understand me, either.” Luke tried to ask another question but was unable to speak again. “I almost made it to the water,” she said. “I'm almost glad they caught me. I missed
you already.” Luke nodded. Luke pointed to the wall next to the door. “You want me to go?” she asked. Luke mouthed the word 'no', then pointed again. “You want me to go over there by the door?” she asked as she walked toward the door. Luke made a turning motion with his hand. Reyna reached for the doorknob, but it would not turn. Luke shook his head no. Reyna looked around and saw a knob on the wall and pointed to it. Luke nodded. As she turned the knob, the light began to brighten. She turned it the other way and the light dimmed. “You want us to get some rest, don't you?” she asked. Luke nodded, then lay down on the floor. Reyna laid down beside him. …............................... The next morning, they were awakened by several creatures, including one of the creatures Luke had seen before. Luke motioned for Reyna to remain silent. “The DNA results show that they are closely related to the sea monkeys we found in the Yellowstone Sea,” said the doctor. “That was the site of the explosion that destroyed the human race. How could they evolve that quickly?” asked the commander. “It doesn't matter. They haven't evolved far enough. They're not even worth testing,” said the doctor. “They can't even speak.” “I claim this planet in the name of the Nymphids. You shouldn't be here, have you forgotten the universal law?” said Luke. “Okay, who's got their translator turned on,” said the commander. “Ah, that would be me,” said the crewman. “I'll turn it off.” “No. Leave it on. Let's hear what else it has to say,” said the commander. “My name is Luke and this is my wife Reyna,” said Luke. “Hello, gentlemen,” said Reyna. “I'm Commander Zymyz. Pleased to meet you. I hope you will forgive our intrusion. We thought this was a barren planet,” said the commander. “You're not the first to make that mistake. Let's just hope you're the first to leave in peace,” said Reyna. “Our patience is growing thin.”
“We're leaving. Can we drop you somewhere?” the commander asked. “Well, since we're already here, I guess you could drop us off at the Yellowstone Sea,” said Luke. …................................ “We still have time to make the expo,” said Luke. “Who wants a job. We're explorers. We'll get a scientific grant,” said Reyna. “We may even be able to figure out how this translator works.” “I'll bet it can translate those etchings,” said Luke. “We may be able to read all about these extinct humans.” “Were they gods?” asked Reyna. “Gods don't go extinct,” said Luke. “We'll find them someday.” “Won't that be a grand day,” said Reyna.
THE DREAM LOVER
Martin awakened and shut off the alarm clock. “Wow, what a dream!” he thought. “What was her name? I'm forgetting already. Damn!” Martin showered and got ready for work. He could still remember that face. She was beauty itself and he was in love, in love with a dream. As he drank his coffee and ate his cold cereal, he tried to remember some of the details of the dream. It was always like this. Only the face remained and an overwhelming love that made the waking world almost unbearable since she wasn't here. If only he could remember more about the dreams. As he drove to the office, his thoughts were elsewhere as the drunk driver struck him. …................................ “There's no indication that there is any brain damage, other than the fact that he's in a coma,” said Doctor Fine. “It just doesn't make any sense. It's as though he doesn't want to wake up.” “Have you tried all of the standard treatments?” asked Dr. Wilson. “At least twice,” said the doctor. “That's why we called you in. This one really needs your help, Ann.” “I'll set up the instruments right away,” Ann said. “We'll monitor him today and start the procedure tomorrow.” …............................ “I don't even know your name,” said Martin as he sat up in bed. “Deidra. My name is Deidra. Don't leave me, Martin,” said the beautiful woman lying beside him. “I'm not leaving, I'm just stretching my legs,” said Martin. “What are we going to do today?” “Anything you want, darling,” she said. “Let's go skiing,” said Martin. “Do you know how?” “If you do?” she said. “But it's early. Come on back to bed.” …............................ “Wherever he is, he's happy,” said Dr. Fine. “This may be a tough one.” “I'll bring him back,” Ann said. “That's what I do. Help me with these cables.”
“Have you ever had trouble regaining consciousness?” asked Dr. Fine. “Not yet,” said Ann. “But just in case, use this hypo to revive me.” “How will we know if there is a problem?” asked Dr. Fine. “You'll be monitoring my vitals,” she said. “You'll know when there is a problem.” …................................ As Martin and Deidra skied down the slope, Martin was lagging behind to admire Deidra's form. She was an excellent skier, as was Martin. Suddenly something struck Martin from behind, sending him tumbling and sprawling face first into the snow. As he attempted to get up, it was apparent that something was on top of him. “I'm terribly sorry,” said Ann. “I guess I should have stayed on the learner's slope. Are you injured?” “What are you doing here?” asked Martin. “I thought I was ready for the main run,” said Ann. “No. I mean what are you doing in my dream?” asked Martin. “Your dream?” asked Ann. “Well, of all the self-centered, egotistical, ….” “Who are you?” asked Martin. “Do I know you?” “I'm Ann,” she said. “Pleased to meet you, Martin.” “I didn't mention my name,” said Martin. “You must be part of my dream.” “If you say so, Martin,” she said as she took a side trail into the forest and soon disappeared from sight. ….............................. “What took you so long?” asked Deidra. “I was worried that you had broken a leg or something. Why didn't you dream me back up there with you?” “Some strange woman knocked me down,” said Martin. “Why are you dreaming about another woman?” she asked. “Don't I make you happy?” “I wasn't. I don't think I was. She just came out of nowhere,” said Martin. “I've had enough skiing. Let's go back to the lodge and relax in the spa.” …..............................
After changing into their bathing suits, they had just settled down in the spa when Martin heard a splash in the adjacent swimming pool. He glanced over his shoulder but saw no one, only the ripples beneath the diving board. He stood up and saw a body at the bottom of the pool. Quickly he ran to the pool and dived in. Pulling the female body from the water, he began mouth to mouth in an effort to revive her. She began to cough and Martin sat back and for the first time got a good look at her face. It was Ann, from the ski slope. “Oh dear,” she said. “I've done it again. I've interrupted your vacation. I'm so sorry. You saved my life. How can I ever repay you?” “That won't be necessary,” said Deidra. “Martin, don't we need to get ready for dinner?” “Let me buy you dinner,” said Ann. “It's the least I can do. Just charge it to room 202.” “That's awfully generous,” said Martin, “but it isn't necessary. Thanks anyway and try to be careful.” “Did you see that?” asked Deidra. “She managed to kiss you and give you her room number right in front of me. Does she think I'm an idiot?” “You're making a big deal out of nothing,” said Martin. “I'm not sure I like you when you're jealous.” Now that she brought it up, it had almost seemed as though she was kissing him back. “Stop dreaming about her,” said Deidra, “if you don't want to see me jealous.” “But I tell you, I wasn't,” said Martin. “Let's get ready for dinner.” …......................... The next morning, Martin was heading for the ice machine when he noticed the room number 202. Wasn't that her room number? He continued to the ice machine and began to fill his bucket. “Psst” he heard someone say. He looked around but no one was there. “Psst, back here. Behind the ice machine,” the voice said. As Martin walked around to the back of the ice machine, he saw her, wearing only her panties. “What in the hell is going on?” he asked. “I locked myself out of my room. I was getting the newspaper and the door closed behind me,” she said. “Could I borrow your shirt. I need to go to the lobby and get another key.” “I guess so,” said Martin as he handed her his shirt. “Are you always such a klutz?” “Not always,” she smiled. “This is so embarrassing. Shall I return your shirt to your room when I'm through with it?”
“Just keep it,” said Martin as she headed for the lobby, the shirt barely covering her panties. “Nice legs,” he thought to himself as he headed back to his room. “Why didn't you wear a shirt?” asked Deidre as Martin reentered the room. “I thought I saw you put one on.” “That ice machine was almost out of ice again,” said Martin. “I'm going to fix me a drink. Want anything?” “Where's your blue shirt?” asked Deidre. “I can't find it anywhere?” “I left it outside on the door to be cleaned,” said Martin. “It should be ready in a couple of hours.” “Let's go down for breakfast,” said Deidre. “Are you hungry?” “Just let me grab a shirt,” said Martin. …............................ As they were enjoying their breakfast, Martin heard a voice behind him. “Thanks again for the shirt,” said Ann. “You were such a gentleman.” “Martin!” said Deidre as she stormed out of the restaurant. “Did I say something wrong?” said Ann as she sat down at the table. “You told her about our little encounter, didn't you?” “What are you doing?” asked Martin. “What if she comes back?” “Oh, she didn't look like she was coming back,” said Ann. “I thought we'd get to know each other better, if we're going to keep meeting like this.” “Do you get a kick out of ruining men's lives?” asked Martin. “You said I was just a dream,” said Ann. “If you keep dreaming about me then you must find me attractive or at least interesting.” “Of course I find you attractive, who wouldn't,” said Martin. “And I can't help but be attracted to you,” said Ann. “After all, it's your dream.” “Let's go get my shirt,” said Martin. ….......................... When Martin awoke the next morning in her bed, he looked around and Ann was nowhere to be found. “Ann,” he called but there was no answer. He went to his room
and showered and dressed. “Have you seen the young lady from room 202 this morning?” he asked the desk clerk. “We have no one registered to that room,” the clerk informed him. “What about the lady that I arrived with?” asked Martin. “I called her a cab last night, around dinner,” said the clerk. Martin wandered around aimlessly, looking for Ann. “I need to wake up,” he thought. “Wake up, Martin,” said Ann as Martin opened his eyes. “Where am I?” asked Martin. “Why are you wearing a doctor's smock?” “You've been in a coma,” she said. “Welcome back.” “But you were in my dream,” said Martin. “That was part of the treatment,” she said. “You're going to be fine now.” “But I think I'm in love with you,” said Martin. “I thought you felt the same.” “Sorry, but I don't date patients,” she said. After a short pause she continued. “But ask me again tomorrow after you're discharged.”
THE DAY THE SUN STOPPED SHINING
Jacob could see it was getting darker by the minute. With the oxygen levels dropping, the luminous algae on the walls of the tunnel were growing dimmer. The darkness didn't bother Jacob but what it indicated, a drop in oxygen, was a major concern. He hurried through the tunnel. Click..click..click. Jacob used his echo location ability to avoid obstacles in the tunnel. A crowd had gathered up ahead. Jacob joined the crowd and listened to the speaker. "In a few minutes we will enter the agrisphere. The sun is directly overhead at this time of day. Normally only the visually blind can enter during the day. Since the dome is completely covered in several inches of sand, the level of light is equivalent to that of a full moon. It may take your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the brightness. The temperature will be about 100 degrees, about the same as the temperature outside a couple of hours after sunset. The carbon dioxide levels are up and the oxygen levels are down, very close to the levels outside. Tomorrow night, all of you that can perform successfully under these conditions, will go outside and remove the sand from the dome and polish the glass surface. You will not be using echo location. I want all of you to depend on your vision. You know what they say, use it or lose it," said the instructor. "As you enter the agrisphere you will be entering an area of vast open fields. This will be very disorienting at first. Avoid the animals. They have been bred for size and can be very dangerous. Most are herbivores and harmless unless frightened. Especially avoid the chickens as they may mistake you for a big juicy worm. Remember that the animals are accustomed to much brighter light and they will not see you as well as you see them. Use this to your advantage in an emergency. I can't tell you how important it is that we accomplish this job tomorrow night. It could be weeks before the conditions are this perfect again. A few more days of reduced sunlight inside the agrisphere and our food supply is at risk, not to mention the oxygen levels in the air we breathe," the instructor added. Jacob had never seen temperatures this high or oxygen levels this low. He wasn't sure how well he would perform but when he heard they were looking for sighted volunteers to go outside, he just couldn't pass it up. Most of the founders of the colony were blinded before they moved underground. Others became blind working above ground constructing the domes that filter the sunlight and allow us to grow crops and raise animals. It had happened almost overnight as the sun ballooned to five times its normal size. Sighted individuals are still the minority but rapidly growing in number. All children are born with the potential for sight, but they never developed it until recently. The fluorescent algae began growing on our tunnel walls about twenty years ago. Although 95% of the tunnels are pitch black, children come to the lighted tunnels as frequently as possible. All colonists are taught to use echo location in order to function in the darkness. Even the sighted have to learn in order to function in the dark areas. Jacob is somewhat of a renegade. He is pushing the elders to create some sort of lighting throughout the colony. Jacob has many followers but none with any political power.
Some are working on research to increase the growth rate of the algae while others are looking for a chemical alternative that can create light. A success at either could earn a small fortune for the colony in trade with other colonies. Jacob's main concern is what it could do for the children and what they could do for future advancements. The elders are unwilling to turn any energy towards creating light. They are afraid of disturbing the delicate balance between population and the food and water supply which relies heavily upon what little energy there is. Jacob had convinced most of the elders on the trade commission that the potential for trade would be enormous, but they are far from a majority. The algae was already traded and that is one of the reasons it is spreading so slowly. Trade with other colonies began from the very start of underground life. At first they had to travel above ground to visit other colonies. Later, tunnels were dug, all at the same elevation relative to earth's center, so that they would intersect if they crossed paths. Today every colony on earth is reachable through tunnels. However not that many ever travel more than one colony away in any direction. Many colonies were wiped out during the great flood of 9221, when one of the colonies dug into an underwater grotto. That brought ocean water into the tunnel and it spread quickly worldwide. Only those colonies that had most of their living quarters above the level of the tunnels survived. Fortunately the tunnels soon collapsed near the source of the water and the levels subsided in a few days. Today the ocean levels are far below the tunnels so this will never again be a problem. Jacob worked in a desalination plant that removed salt from seawater to produce fresh water with salt as a bi-product. This, along with food processing and agriculture were the only businesses that hired large numbers of workers and Jacob felt lucky to have such a technical job. Tunnel digging was probably the next best job. Jacob had fallen in love with another worker at the plant. Her name was Tasha, and she was from Sigma colony. Jacob hoped they would marry soon, but things didn't look all that good. A strict population quota had to be maintained. Our colony was +1 on their quota. This means that the next marriage will require the colony member to move to the other colony. Jacob did not wish to move. His mission to improve conditions here was far too important to him. Besides, Sigma colony was also +1 on their quota. This would change if someone died, but no one would wish for that to happen. The colony was very close knit and everyone would mourn the loss of a member. Jacob would not see Tasha again until he had finished tomorrow's job of cleaning the dome. He had gotten leave of absence from work in order to volunteer. After about four hours of hiking and callisthenics, Jacob was exhausted but he had finished the tests. He would be going outside. He would need a good night's rest tonight, and it was another long walk home after leaving the agrisphere. Tomorrow he would have to report around noon for further training. As Jacob walked home he thought about Tasha. Both he and Tasha had put their name on their respective waiting lists to be married. When a person's name came up they had one day to take advantage of the opportunity. If they passed it up for any
reason, they would be moved to the end of the list. This could mean months and months of waiting. Jacob was thinking of telling Tasha that he would be willing to move if that was the only way when the opportunity arose. He was beginning to wonder if he would ever be able to overcome the opposition of the elders. He would probably stand just as good a chance in another colony. He could turn over the fight to his friend Adam. The next day Jacob was listening to another instructor. "When you are walking toward the dome, try to pick out an object in the distance directly beyond the dome. That way if you get lost, you can line the dome up with that object and go in the opposite direction to find your way back here. I know this is new to all of you so it is critical that you understand. Examine the instruction sheet and come forward if you have any questions." Jacob examined the instructions. There were drawings and writing in braille. Jacob quickly understood what the instructor had been talking about. "There is always the danger of a sudden sandstorm. We will have members stationed one mile away in all directions in protective shelters. If they detect one they will set off an alarm and everyone is to return here as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to use echo location even if you are blinded by the sandstorm. There will be no objects close enough to locate and the storm will limit your range even more. Protect your eyes at all cost." "If you get caught in a storm you can only pray that it is a short mild storm. These are becoming less and less likely, so you might want to make your peace with God. Good luck and God bless you all." Jacob followed the group toward the dome. Some of them had done this before and knew the way. Jacob could see the dome, and beyond it was the skeletal remains of what had been a high rise building centuries ago. Jacob glanced around and didn't see any other objects that could be confused with this one. When they arrived at the dome the group leaders began giving each individual specific instructions. About one hour into the work Jacob had paused for a moment to take a deep breath. He glanced toward the horizon and saw someone approaching. That was not the direction back to the entrance. Maybe it was one of the forward observers, but why would he have left his station. Jacob walked over and met the stranger. "Have you seen a girl come this way?" he asked Jacob. "No. You're the first I've seen that wasn't part of our group," Jacob replied. "My daughter Tasha is missing. She must have strayed from our group when the sandstorm hit. Fortunately we only got the corner of the storm and it was over in a minute or so, but there was no sign of her when the storm lifted," he said. "Are you from Sigma colony? Does Tasha work at the desalination plant nearby?" Jacob asked.
"Why Yes ... to both questions. How did you know?" he asked. "I'm Jacob. Has Tasha spoken of me?" Jacob asked. "She speaks of you often. I've been looking forward to meeting you," he said. "Can you take me to where you last saw her?" Jacob asked. "I think so. But is there enough time?" he asked "It's at least a two hour walk from here." "There has to be enough time. We can't leave her out here. You rest here while I get a couple of water bags." A few minutes later they were walking in the direction the man had come from. "What were you doing outside?" Jacob asked. "We volunteered to help clean the dome. The conditions were perfect tonight and a recent sandstorm had piled up a lot of sand on it," he said. As they neared the point where Tasha was last seen, Jacob stopped about 100 yards short and suggested they make a large circle around that point, each going in opposite directions. "Look for any signs of her. Signal me if you find anything, otherwise meet me 100 yards on the other side of where you saw her last," Jacob said. "What sort of sign?" he asked. "I don't know. I've never done this before. But you'll probably recognize it if you see it," Jacob said. As Jacob walked in a half circle toward the meeting place he stepped on something. It was a shoe almost completely buried in the sand. It looked almost new. It couldn't have been there long. He signaled the old man. The old man was looking in his direction but didn't respond. Jacob called out and the old man started walking towards him. As he waited, Jacob examined the ground around where he had found the shoe. There were depressions in the sand. What could have caused these, Jacob wondered. The depressions were somewhat evenly spaced and led off in a westerly direction. Jacob looked at the shoe and then pressed it down softly into the sand. It left an impression. An impression identical to half of the depressions he had just seen. And the other depression, what would have made that? Jacob tried to visualize what would make such an imprint. A foot, a shoeless foot. "Is this one of Tasha's shoes," he asked the old man as he came near. "Let me see," said the old man. "See? You can't see. How did you get them to let your come out here with the others?" Jacob asked.
"I had you fooled for a while didn't I?" the old man said. "Now let me feel of the shoe. Yes ... this is hers. Do you see her?" "No. But I believe I know which way she headed. Follow me," Jacob said. Jacob began following the tracks. They seem to be heading for the mountains in the distance. The old man followed closely behind. The day was more than half over. Jacob didn't know what he would do if he found Tasha. He would not be able to find his way back home before sunrise, but he couldn't just turn around now. The mountains were getting closer. Suddenly Jacob saw another set of tracks. Was the person making these tracks following Tasha or was Tasha following them or were they walking together? Jacob could only wonder. He felt a new sense of urgency but the old man needed to rest. Jacob removed the cork from one of the water bags and offered the old man a drink. "I think we're getting closer," he said to the old man. As they entered the mountainous terrain the tracks were harder to detect. Jacob lost the trail many times and had to back track. Sunrise was getting nearer and Jacob was tiring. Finally the tracks led them to a cave entrance. "It's a tunnel, but it doesn't look man made," he told the old man. "I've heard of these. They were formed by running water back when it used to rain. Water actually fell from the sky," the old man said. "That hardly seems possible, Old Man. Do you believe all the old stories you hear?" Jacob asked. "Let's go in. The tracks lead this way." The tracks soon stopped or at least they were no longer visible on the solid floor of the cave. Tunnels led off in many directions and Jacob would have to make a choice. He decided to take the one to his left closest to the entrance. If it turned out to be a dead end he would try each one in order from left to right. At least they were safe from the blinding light of the sun, but they would need to get much deeper to be safe from the heat. After a while Jacob noticed the tunnel getting brighter instead of darker. Was this another path to the outside? Jacob decided to investigate a little farther. As he rounded a bend in the tunnel he saw a blinding light ahead. Jacob tore a strip from his shirt and fashioned a blindfold. He walked closer to the light. It was a sphere about eight inches in diameter and brighter than anything Jacob had ever seen or imagined. There were several of these orbs encircling a large chamber. In the chamber were mysterious objects so strange that Jacob couldn't even imagine their purpose. "What do you make of all of this, old man?" Jacob asked. "Do any of these items seem familiar?" "I can't be sure. I've heard stories of life above ground. I've tried to imagine the strange objects described in the stories, but it's hard. Some of these could be things I've heard of, but I can't be sure," the old man replied. They continued deeper into the tunnels. More orbs led the way. There were many dark tunnels leading off from the well lit tunnel, but Jacob decided to stay on the
lighted path. Jacob heard voices up ahead. He motioned for the old man to be silent. They carefully crept forward. There was another large chamber ahead. Jacob saw Tasha talking to another young girl. Jacob could not hold back his excitement. "Tasha!" he yelled as he ran into the chamber. "Are you okay?" Jacob opened his eyes. His head ached. He felt a large bump on the back of his head. "Sorry, we had to hurt you. You should learn how to make an entrance," the man said. "Tasha has told us about you. We know you meant no harm. My name is Simon. Glad to meet you, Jacob." "Where is Tasha. Is she okay?" Jacob asked. "I'm here, Jacob," said Tasha. "Tasha. You're not wearing a blindfold. Doesn't the light hurt your eyes?" Jacob asked. "Not any more. My eyes have adjusted to it. They explained it to me. Our eyes have the ability to restrict the light that enters. Their eyes can do this almost instantly, but since we never developed this feature fully, it takes much longer for our eyes to adjust. You'll be fine in about an hour," she said. "You should see all the wondrous things I've seen here. They're a lot like us, only they never moved to the man made tunnels." "Where do they get their food and water? How do they survive?" Jacob asked. "They can tell you all you want to know. Now you should get some rest. You must be exhausted," Tasha said. "We'll talk more later." Jacob was exhausted. He dreamed about what these wonders would mean to his people. He wondered why they had never been contacted by these people. They must have seen the domes. Will they share these wonders? Will they let them leave now that they know about all of this? Jacob had so many questions, and many more he hadn't even thought of yet. Tomorrow he would get some answers. For now he could only dream. …............................... “How's your father?” asked Jacob as he awoke and saw Tasha sitting nearby. “I'm not sure,” she said. “We were separated in a sandstorm.” “But he was with me in the tunnel,” said Jacob. “You haven't seen him since I got here?” “No. Maybe he ran when they attacked you,” said Tasha. “I hope he didn't leave the cave,” said Jacob. “He couldn't have made it back home before the sun came up.”
“We could have someone go look for him,” said Tasha. “I don't trust them yet. If we're not allowed to leave, your father can get word back to our friends,” said Jacob. “How have they been treating you?” “There were a lot of questions at first,” said Tasha, “but they've been real friendly ever since.” “How much did you tell them,” asked Jacob. “I answered all of their questions,” said Tasha. “I was frightened.” “I'm sure everything will be all right,” said Jacob. “Let's go and find Simon. I have a few questions for him.” …............................. “We're looking for Simon,” Tasha said to one of the men. “Would you tell him that Jacob is ready to speak to him?” “Of course,” he said. “Follow me.” As they walked down the corridor, Jacob could see into classroom after classroom. The children were eagerly participating in their classroom activities, seeming to enjoy themselves. The classes didn't seem to be separated according to age. Perhaps there was no criteria other than classroom size that made the separation necessary. “Wait here. I'll let him know you're here,” he said. ….......................... “Okay, he'll see you now,” he said. “Go right on in.” “Jacob, how are you?” asked Simon. “I hope your headache has eased. Sorry we had to hit you so hard.” “Is that how you greet all of your visitors?” asked Jacob. “We don't get visitors, only intruders,” said Simon. “You're the first visitors we've ever had.” “Why haven't we met before?” asked Jacob. “How long have you been here in this cave?” “We've been here since the sun expanded,” said Simon. “I'm afraid that fear has kept us isolated from the outside world.” “How do you feed your people?” asked Jacob. “Where do you grow your crops and
raise livestock?” “We don't. We've created a chemical alternative to food,” said Simon. “It contains all the vitamins and nutrients that we need.” “What about your source of power?” asked Jacob. “Is it solar?” “Nuclear,” said Simon. “We have unlimited power, but few ways of using it. We've only been able to retrieve a few items from the cities, and most of them are defective or just worn out.” “You do have lighting. That must be wonderful,” said Jacob. “I guess we take it for granted,” said Simon. “We've never been without it.” “Why don't you go into the cities and retrieve more items?” asked Jacob. “The giant rats. They come out at night and that's the only time we can go there. They have infrared vision. They can see us long before we know they are around,” said Simon. “There are solar cycles where it is safe to go outside at night. It happens about once every two months,” said Jacob. “I expect that's the only time that the rats come out. If we could find a way to survive during the hottest part of the cycle, we would probably be safe from the rats.” “Now that's what I'd hope you could bring us, new ideas,” said Simon. “Just how do we do this?” “It's just an idea at this point. Answers will come later after we give it some thought,” said Jacob. “Can your scientists help?” “Scientists?” asked Simon. “We don't have any scientists.” “But your schools? What do you teach your students?” asked Jacob. “The arts of course. Music, painting, poetry, acting, and dance,” said Simon. “What else do you need?” “What about construction, engineering, and self-defense among other things,” said Jacob. “We've never needed any of that,” said Simon. “Not since the original adults all died off from the plague.” “Are there more of these nuclear power sources in the city?” asked Jacob. “I'm certain of it, but we only need the one. It gives us all the power we need,” said Simon.
“With that sort of power, our communities could support so many more people,” said Jacob. “Your people could join ours.” “We're perfectly happy with our lives here,” said Simon. “If your people can do something about the rats, we can fend for ourselves.” “It's settled then. During the next cycle, Tasha and I will be going home,” said Jacob. “It's a shame that the old tunnels had to be sealed because of the great flood,” said Simon. “They would have led you home.” “But the flood only lasted a few weeks. You've never reopened them,” said Jacob. “There was no reason to. That was when our ancestors went into the city to try to find another source of supplies. They found the nuclear power source and we soon became self-sufficient,” said Simon. “Can we remove the seal? We would really like to go home now,” said Jacob. “Maybe you can figure out how to get it open,” said Jacob. “We don't really understand how these things work.” “Why not keep it open?” asked Jacob. “I'm sure we would be interested in trade with your people. Maybe we could teach you guys something about the culinary arts.” “That sounds very interesting,” said Simon. “I'll bring it to a vote.” “Okay, well let's get those tunnels open,” said Jacob. …................................. Jacob and Tasha returned home and told everyone what they had discovered. Jacob got the elders to approve a plan for him to lead a group of adventurers to enter the city in search of power sources. One representative from each of the surrounding communities was to take part. A critical part of the plan involved their transportation. One of the giant animals was to be used for this purpose. Jacob's people had long ago trained their animals to accept a saddle and rider. Using blinders, the animal would run in complete darkness, trusting completely in the rider. Others would have to be trained as well as their riders. Over the next two months, Jacob coordinated the training and filled the others in on what Simon had told him about the rats and the city in general. Finally the day came. The weather would be suitable the next two nights. A well shaded place would have to be found in the city to allow them to spend the day there. The sewers would be ideal, but that was where the rats spent the day. One hour after sunset, Jacob and the others mounted their steeds. There would be a new moon tonight. The riders would have to use echo location to avoid obstacles
during the trip to the city. Mostly there was only sand and dunes, but a random boulder here and there could be a serious problem at full speed. The animals were also muzzled to prevent them from making noises that might attract the rats. As they neared the city, they slowed down to a fast walk. After a few more minutes, Jacob signaled for everyone to dismount. As they continued on foot, each of them led his animal by the reins. “Up ahead,” said Jacob. “The rats have spotted us. They're circling our position. Stand by. Wait for my signal,” said Jacob. Rats by the hundreds were circling and closing in. Squeals filled the night air. “Now!” Jacob shouted. Everyone removed the muzzles and blinders from their animals and released the reins. The big cats went into action. …............................... The rats scattered and ran for their lives. After a few minutes Jacob blew the whistle to recall the cats. “All accounted for,” said Jacob. “Let's begin our search. Limit the search to concrete structures. Any others will be far too dangerous and prone to collapse. Don't enter any area where your animal can't protect you. The same senses we've adapted for echo location will make us aware of any electrical activity. We will regroup here one hour before sunrise. During your search, be on the lookout for storm drains large enough for us to enter.” …............................. As the others went their own way, Jacob began his search. Unlike many of the others, Jacob could read the written word, not just braille. He looked around for a hospital. He knew that hospitals would have an emergency backup system and would require large amounts of energy for extended durations. Hopefully the others would find power sources today, so that they could all concentrate on searching libraries and lighting stores tomorrow. Once the books were studied, then they would have a better idea of what else might be worth taking on their next trip to the city. Jacob came to a hospital. He could almost feel the power right there in the street. As he entered the hospital, emergency lighting turned on. Circuit breakers tripped and sparks flew as other equipment tried to activate. Jacob would have to visually look for the power source. The power running through the wires was overloading his senses so that they would be useless in finding the main source. If he turned off the lights, the main power source would still disrupt his echo location abilities and he would be blind in the dark. He wondered if the others were having this sort of problem. “Now where would I put a backup power source?” he thought to himself. “Probably on the top or bottom floors, away from people.” This being a tall building, he decided to search the bottom floor first. He entered a stairwell and began his descent. The cat could not follow. He had tied the cat securely and was about to break his only rule. “If the cat can't follow, neither can the rats,” he thought. As he reached the next floor he saw that the stairs continued downward. “If this isn't the bottom floor, I wonder how many more before I reach the bottom?” He looked over the railing and could see that the stairs descended at least another
three or four floors. “I wonder what's on this floor?” he thought. He pushed the door open, making a loud creaking noise. He could see at least a half dozen rats running toward him. He pulled with all his might on the door. A giant rat got its head in the door just as he closed it on its neck. The rat squealed and clawed at the outside of the door. Jacob kicked at the rat and it pulled back its head just long enough for him to close the door. As far as he could tell there was a parking lot on that floor, obviously with a passageway to the outside. He continued down the stairs until he reached the bottom floor. The sign above the door read 'POWER' . This was it. He opened the door and entered. He soon located a black box with a blinking red light and an ON/OFF switch. He flipped the switch and the lights and all other electrical devices turned off. He disconnected the four heavy duty wires and lifted the box. It was quite heavy for a box of its size, probably weighing fifty or sixty pounds. Using echo location, he made his way back to the stairwell. Resting briefly, he stumbled back to the big cat. Using a gurney, he pushed the power source toward the exit. Back on the street, he started back toward the rendezvous point. As he passed a library, he decided to go in and look around. There were still several hours before they were scheduled to regroup. As he wandered around in the dark, he could sense the thousands of books around him. “This is useless. I can't read in the dark,” he thought. Grabbing a single book from each shelf, he filled the gurney. “We'll sort them later and decide which ones to bring home,” he thought. As the others began to arrive back at the rendezvous point, it was clear that not all had been so lucky. At least half were returning empty handed except for a few light bulbs and fixtures. “I found a storm drain,” said the representative from Beta colony. “Lead the way. Let's get undercover as quickly as possible. It's getting hot fast,” said Jacob. As they entered the storm tunnel, the eastern sky was lighting up. They would have to go deep into the tunnel before they could stop and rest. “What do the rats eat when we're not around?” asked the representative from Delta colony. “I'm not sure, smaller animals I guess,” said Jacob. “What about water?” the rep asked. “Don't they need water?” “I would think so,” said Jacob. “But we can't worry about that now. We have to find a safe place to rest. Maybe we will find some answers on our next trip. Our people are depending on us to return quickly with these power sources.” After another hour, the temperature was becoming more comfortable. “This looks like a good location. Let's make camp and get some rest,” said Jacob. “Place the cats where they will give us the most protection.” Jacob wondered what Tasha was doing about now. It had been far too dangerous to bring her along. But after this trip, they would be together for a lifetime. Many things
would change, all for the better, and quotas would be the first. ….......................... “Sir. Wake up. One of the cats is missing,” said the representative from Gamma Colony. “Which one?” asked Jacob. “Mine, Sir,” he said. “I had it tied securely.” “To what?” asked Jacob. “Our water supply,” he said. “It's missing too.” “Can you determine which way it headed?” asked Jacob. “We've got to find it. We'll never make it home without that water.” “It looks like it headed deeper into the tunnels,” he said. “Shall I wake the others?” “Wake one of them to stand guard. Let the others sleep. You and I will take my cat and go searching for yours,” said Jacob. “Tell the one you awaken to take turns with the others keeping watch. If we're not back by nightfall, have them follow us. How long did we sleep?” “A couple of hours, Sir,” he said. “We should have posted a guard.” “What's your name?” asked Jacob. “My friends call me Abe,” he said. “Well, Abe, if you come up with any other bright ideas, before the fact, you be sure and let me know,” said Jacob. “Sorry, Sir,” said Abe. “I guess I was stating the obvious.” “There's no time to waste. We need to get going. I'll get my cat.” said Jacob. “I'll awaken a sentry,” said Abe. …............................. As they began their trek farther into the tunnel, Jacob used his echo location to follow the main tunnel, ignoring the smaller side tunnels that were too small for a big cat. Then he noticed a side tunnel which was strangely different. It did not have the smooth man made surfaces or the uniform size of the other tunnels. It was however large enough that the big cat could have come this way. A short distance into the tunnel, he saw an empty water bag lying on the floor. “It looks like this is the way we need to go,” said Jacob. “We'd better leave this water bag in case the others have to
follow us.” “Do you think we may find water?” asked Abe. “Even if we do, have you ever tried to drink water before it's been processed and the salt removed?” asked Jacob. “How do the rats survive on salt water?” asked Abe. “Good question,” said Jacob. “Unfortunately, I don't have the answer.” “How far are we going to follow the cat?” asked Abe. “We might make it home if we start at nightfall and don't waste any more time searching the city.” “We wouldn't last one hour and neither would the cats without water,” said Jacob. “Down here, we might have five or six hours, maybe more if it continues to get cooler.” “Just looking at all the possibilities,” said Abe. “I'm not questioning your decisions.” “We'll follow this trail until we find the cat or lose the trail,” said Jacob. “Or die of thirst,” said Abe. “Just looking at all the possibilities.” “Sounds like your glass is half empty,” said Jacob. “I wish,” said Abe. “Sorry, Sir, I”ll try to be more optimistic.” “It's getting a lot steeper. Watch your footing,” said Jacob. “And it's getting cooler. I'll bet it's below 90 degrees.” “What's that sound?” asked Abe. “It sounds like water dripping from a leaky pipe.” “The trail is getting slippery. Feel the walls,” said Jacob. “They're damp.” “And the ceiling,” said Abe as he broke off a piece of dirt, “But look at this. It's dry where I removed the dirt. It's not seeping through from above.” “I've seen this at the water distillery where I work,” said Jacob. “We never have figured out how the water gets on the outside of the pipes.” “Is it cool like it is here?” asked Abe. “Maybe temperature has something to do with it.” “Yes. We evaporate the water and then cool the vapor to cause it to condense into droplets again, leaving the salt behind,” said Jacob. “But we never thought of condensing droplets right out of dry air,” said Jacob. “I guess the air isn't as dry as we thought.” “It tastes like processed water,” said Jacob as a drop fell on his tongue. “Look, there
are cat tracks on the floor of the tunnel.” “Tracks?” asked Abe. “It's a long story,” said Jacob. “Follow me.” As they followed the tracks, the trail was covered in puddles of water. Small rivulets of water flowed beside the trail, eroding it over the years. “Look, there she is,” said Abe. “We've found her.” The cat was standing in knee deep water, drinking to her heart's content. Most of the water bags were still intact. “Let's refill the bags and start back,” said Jacob. “I can smell vegetation,” said Abe. “I think I saw some small animals scampering across the trail up ahead.” “We don't have time to explore now,” said Jacob. “Maybe on some future trip. Fill the bags.” “Yes sir,” said Abe. “Just wait till I tell the guys back home.” “Grab the leash!” yelled Jacob as the big cat began to run away. “I've got her,” replied Abe as the cat dragged him through the water. “I can't hold on.” “We'll have to follow. It still has most of the water bags,” said Jacob. “Looks like we'll be doing some more exploring after all.” “I'm sorry, Sir. I tried to hold on,” said Abe. “It wasn't your fault. Those cats can be pretty determined when they smell prey,” said Jacob. “Let's load the other water bags and get started. We don't have a lot of time before we have to head back.” “There seems to be some light up ahead,” said Abe. “Sunlight or luminescence?” asked Jacob. “Can't tell yet,” said Abe. “But it's not getting any warmer. It's probably luminescence.” “Maybe it's algae, like the ones in our tunnels,” said Jacob. “The tunnels are getting larger,” said Abe. “I've never seen tunnels this big. And the algae on the walls is giving off a golden glow. It almost looks like sunlight.” “But without the heat,” said Jacob. “Look, you can see the water vapor in the air. It's
creating a mist.” “Are those trees in the distance?” asked Abe as he looked deeper into the enormous cavern. “It looks like trees,” said Jacob. “Where's the cat?” “I don't see her,” said Abe. “Do you still have the whistle?” “We're far enough away that it shouldn't attract the other cats,” said Jacob. “I'll give it a try.” In a moment the big cat appeared. “Grab the reins. Put on the blinders,” said Jacob. “We've got to head back.” “But I think there's food here. We could stay until the next solar cycle. Think of all we could discover,” said Abe. “Our friends and families would think we were dead,” said Jacob. “We can't put them through that. We'll be back.” “You're right. I get so excited sometimes,” said Abe. “Who could blame you. This is going to change all of our lives,” said Jacob. “Do I have my first volunteer for the next expedition?” “Just try to keep me away,” said Abe.
Roger still couldn't believe he had volunteered for this mission. He had been safe and secure in that little gray cell. No one bothered him. Besides being bigger than most, he was a lifer. He had nothing to lose. But the thought of someday being a free man again was too tempting to pass up. He had a few scores to settle with the bastards that had deserted him and let him take the rap. If and when he completed this mission, he would be free again. They just forgot to tell him the mission would last 200 years. As he sat up in the cot that now served as his bed, table, couch, exercise bench and whatever else he needed it to be, his senses told him the engines were running at peak efficiency today. Maybe this would be an easy day. There hadn't been many easy days over the last year. If it wasn't one thing breaking down, it was two. He had lost track of the date. Hell, he didn't even know what year it was. What did he care, he wasn't going anywhere, not for a long time. It was never boring. It always seemed to be life or death. If he couldn't keep this bucket of bolts flying, he'd never get back to earth. He felt great today. Of course he felt great every day. The electroneural connections that allowed his brain to interface with the electromechanical monstrosity they called a body, allowed his brain functions to be monitored. His brain was then fed all the nutrients needed to keep it in tiptop condition. It would not age during this mission. If anything it would improve. This body was built to last 250 years. Oh, it would last much longer than that, but the nutrient supply would be depleted and his brain would die. He had looked forward to the day when he would return to earth and receive a human body. Some poor sap with a brain tumor or other inoperable brain condition would be put to sleep and Roger would be back in business again. He wasn't a bad person by nature. Circumstances had led to bad choices and bad company. Bad company that he had dreamed of seeing again. That was before he hacked his way into the computer system and learned the true nature of the mission. He was beginning to wonder if they would be able to place him back into a body. That was probably another lie, or maybe they expected medical science to advance that much over 200 years. Either way, he had decided he wasn't going back. He had not fit in with society when he left, and he certainly wouldn't fit into one that was 200 years more advanced. He would live out his life on some distant planet. It didn't matter what it was like. At least it wouldn't be life and death every minute of every day. As the ship began to spin slowly, Roger picked up his tools and headed for the stabilizers. “Damn gyros,” he thought as he pull out his spanner. With a slight turn of the spanner, the ship's spin slowed to a stop, then began to spin the other way. Another slight adjustment in the opposite direction and the spin slowed to a stop. As he started to walk away, the spin began again. Turning around, Roger gave the subpanel a swift kick. The gyros stabilized and the spin stopped. How much longer would he be able to hold this rust bucket together? How can they expect it to make the trip home when it will be lucky to make it there, wherever there is.
Maybe it was his fault. He never was very mechanically minded. “Now what?” he thought as the engine seemed to be reducing thrust. As he headed for the main control panel, he cursed under his breath. He saw a new light on the panel. “Auto Landing Initiated” it was labeled. Roger opened the view port for the first time in how many years? Roger couldn't remember. A planet filled the view screen. “Aren't we coming in a little fast?” he thought. Suddenly the braking thrusters fired, throwing Roger forward into the bulkhead. “Thanks for the warning!” he yelled to the computer. The computer ignored him, or at least didn't respond. With all his strength, he stood up and made his way to his cot. At least it was bolted down, and the straps had held him during takeoff. Had they given him landing procedures 100 years ago? He couldn't remember. He tried to think of something else, but the sounds of the engines and breaking thrusters told him more than he wanted to know. Finally the thrusters eased off a bit, and the ship settled on the surface of the planet like a feather. At last he would get out of this 100 year old prison. As he reached the escape hatch he soon realized that it would only open from the outside. Looking out the small view port, he could see the explorer rover taking soil and air samples as it slowly rolled toward the horizon. “Computer, I need a cutting torch to do some repairs,” he shouted. “All repairs are halted until we are in flight. Relax and get some rest,” said the computer. “But the damage is on the outside of the ship,” said Roger. “Open the hatch so I can get a closer look.” “Sorry. I am unable to comply,” said the computer. “Damn useless piece of antique ...” “Don't make me angry, Roger. You won't like me when I'm angry,” said the computer. “Those idiot programmers. I'll kill every one of them if I have to go back to Earth,” thought Roger as he sat down on his cot. “I've got to think this through.” In a moment he was sound asleep and dreaming of Nora. She was the scientist that designed the cerebral interface that had made this all possible. They had spoken often prior to takeoff and continued their communications several years into the trip. That was until all communication was lost. He dreamed about her often. He had become quite fond of her during that time when they could communicate. He had had many dreams since that time. His favorite one involved meeting her on this planet. In that dream they had fallen in love and she had developed a plan for them to be together. She would convince the company that his ship was lost and that they needed to send out another ship. She would volunteer for the mission. After liftoff, she would communicate ship to ship with him until they reached their destination. They would live out their remaining 100 years together. Such a nice dream, but that was all it was. There was no ship to ship communication, only monotonous silence. He missed her
voice. Even in his dreams, the voice had changed over the years. “Wake up, Roger,” said a voice in his ears. “What is it, computer?” he questioned. “Roger, it's me, Nora,” said the slightly mechanized voice. “Wake up darling.” “If I hear one more word out of you, I'll pull the plug,” said Roger. “Shut up and let me sleep.” Roger felt a gentle touch on his forehead. He opened his eyes and saw Nora. “You look a little different in this dream,” said Roger. “I like your hair that way.” “It's not a dream, Roger,” said Nora. “It's really me and we've got to get moving.” “Sure, whatever you say,” said Roger. “Where are we going?“ “To my ship,” said Nora. “I want you to meet a friend of mine.” “Any friend of yours ...” said Roger as he followed her out the escape hatch. “I wasn't sure you would make it,” said Nora. “All those lonely years with no one to talk to. How did you remain sane?” “Maybe I didn't,” said Roger. “My dreams are getting weirder by the minute.” “Roger. Don't you remember?” said Nora. “After we fell in love, we planned to meet here on this planet.” “That was just another dream,” said Roger. “I never heard from you again after that dream.” “What happened to your radio? Did you switch frequencies like I told you?” asked Nora. “Two Twenty-Seven point Five mhz,” said Roger. “I don't understand. I told you to switch to Twenty-Seven point Five mhz. Why couldn't we communicate?” asked Nora. “No,” said Roger. “Repeat that frequency.” “Twenty-Seven point Five mhz, said Nora. “Oh no, you didn't.” “It wasn't a dream?” asked Roger. “You're really here? But that's not possible. Where's your robot body?” “Not bad, huh,” she said. “We advanced a lot after you left.”
“I think I still remember what a human looks like and you look human,” said Roger. “That was the whole idea. I've been communicating with the folks back home. Everyone is getting new bodies and there's no need to leave earth anymore. The mission's been scrapped,” said Nora. “I never intended to go back anyway,” said Roger. “How long have you been here?” “About a year,” said Nora. “We need to hurry. It's almost time.” “Time for what?” asked Roger. “The meteor shower,” said Nora as she pointed toward the sky. “Look!” Roger looked up and saw a couple of meteors streaking across the sky. For the first time he noticed the landscape, barren and pitted with potholes, most of them about the size of a basketball. “Run!” said Nora as she ran like a soldier negotiating an obstacle course. “Faster!” Roger had never ran in this body. He wasn't sure he could, but he was going to give it his best shot. As he gained speed he was amazed at his agility. “Don't wait for me,” he shouted as a meteorite landed only yards away. Then he saw what Nora was running toward. A large crater lay directly ahead. Nora jumped into the crater and huddled beneath an overhanging ledge. Roger joined her. “You come here often?” he asked. Nora loved his sense of humor. It was what first attracted her to him. “I only come here to pick up guys,” she said. “What's your sign?” “Keep off the grass,” he replied. “Your place or mine?” “Not so fast, sailor,” she said. “I haven't decided if you're the one.” “How long does this light show last?” he asked. “Just a few minutes,” she replied. “Then you can walk me home.” “You said earlier that you wanted me to meet your friend,” said Roger. “You're not alone here?” “Sim. He made the trip with me from earth,” said Nora. “I couldn't have made it without him.” “You spent 100 years aboard that little ship with a man?” asked Roger. “What's he like?”
“Looks a lot like you,” said Nora. “What you used to look like, that is.” “What else?” asked Roger. “He a hell of a chess player, but he doesn't have your sense of humor,” she replied. Roger remembered playing chess with her during those first years of his journey. A feeling of jealousy came over him. This tin man had a heart and it was breaking. “Can't wait to meet him,” said Roger. “It's over. We can go now,” she said. “Does this happen often?” he asked. “Same time every day. You can set your watch by it, if you had one,” she said. “Every 24 hours?” he asked. “Every 76 hours,” she replied. “You're not in Kansas anymore.” “I thought we were going to your ship,” said Roger as they entered a cave. “What's left of it,” she said, pointing to the instruments and other miscellaneous items scattered about. “Sim, come on over here and meet Roger.” Sim dropped what he was doing and walked over to Roger and shook his hand. “Very pleased to me you, Sir. Nora has told me all about you.” Roger couldn't believe his eyes. This man didn't just look like him, it could have been his twin. Now he knew why Nora was so fond of him. “How you doing?” said Roger. “I do very well,” Sim replied. “Will you be staying long?” “Sim! Roger is our guest. You never ask a guest how long he's staying,” said Nora. “I brought you a new body,” she said to Roger. “I know how much you hate that one.” “Great, where is it?” asked Roger. “Turn around Sim and give him a good look,” she said. “You're looking at it.” “But what about Sim,” asked Roger. “We'll put him in your old body,” said Nora, “if we decide to keep him around.” “I'm sure you'll make the right decision,” said Sim. “You always do.”
“He's sort of a kiss ass,” said Nora. “But he's probably worth keeping around.” “But I thought he was your friend,” said Roger. “What's going on?” “In order to get you a body, I had to convince them that we needed two people on this trip,” said Nora. “When no one would volunteer to go, I installed a simulator into your body and programmed it to pass as a human.” “Why did no one volunteer?” asked Roger. “It might have been something I said,” said Nora. “What did you say?” he asked. “That the trip would take 200 years and they were idiots to believe they would ever make it back alive,” said Nora. “Ready to make the transfer?” “Sure, I guess,” said Roger. “You don't waste any time.” “Lie down and shut up,” said Nora. “I've been dreaming of this moment for 100 years.” …................................ “Is it warm in here or is it just me?” asked Roger. “Your new body has all the sensory ability of a human body,” said Nora. “You'll get used to it.” “All?” asked Roger. “All,” said Nora as she kissed him and climbed into the bed. “I've missed you so much.” “Wow, this is the best dream ever,” said Roger. “Don't ever let me wake up.” “It could be a nightmare if the whole planet is like this,” she replied. “Tomorrow we're heading north. Maybe we can get out of the path of the meteors.” “You haven't explored any since you got here?” asked Roger. “I've been waiting for you,” she said. “The instruments allowed me to track you for the last month. For a while there, I was beginning to believe that you had been destroyed.” “Do you have any idea what we may find out there?” asked Roger. “Anything will be an improvement,” she replied. “I've already sent Sim ahead. He'll find a safe place for us to sit out the next meteor storm and leave a marker beacon. In your old titanium body, he might just stand a chance if he's caught in one of the
storms. We won't be that lucky.” “These bodies are really something,” said Roger. “Tell me more about them.” “Well, in order for two of us to make the trip from earth, they used an ultralight but super strong material. We would have normal human abilities in Earth's gravity, but the gravity here is only 1/3 of that on Earth. Theoretically, with a little help, we could even fly,” she said. “I know a little about aerodynamics. Why would we need help?” he asked. “The air is thinner here,” she said. “But we don't get tired. We can run at full speed for as long as we want, and you got some idea of what full speed is when we were dodging those meteors.” “We could easily make several hundred miles in a day,” said Roger. “How far do you think we will have to go to get clear of the meteors?” “With the instruments located on the planet's surface, it's hard to make that determination,” she said. “But I don't believe the storm covers the entire surface. It may take several days.” “When do we leave?” asked Roger. “At sunrise. Try to get some sleep,” she said. “But you said we never get tired,” he replied. “Why do we need sleep?” “Our bodies don't need the rest, our minds do,” she answered. “Pleasant dreams.” …........................... Roger awakened from the best night's sleep in years. Trying not to wake Nora, he got up and walked outside the cave. The cool night air felt wonderful and the starlit sky brought back childhood memories of camping trips. The three moons reminded him just how far he was from those days, both in distance and in time. “Isn't it beautiful?” asked Nora. “There are two others.” “Others?” he asked. “Moons,” she said. “You never seem to see them all at once.” “Have you named them yet?” he asked. “The small one is Nomad. It seems to do the most wandering. The other two are the twins, Romulus and Remus. They always seem to be together,” she said. “Aren't moons usually named after women?” asked Roger.
“I guess you can tell what I think of when I look at the moon,” said Nora. “You're entitled to name them anything you want,” said Roger. “How long before sunrise?” “Another twenty-eight hours,” she said. “Do you want to go for a walk?” “Sure. I've often dreamed of walking in the moonlight with you,” said Roger. “All we need now is the sound of the surf.” “Watch your step. Some of these potholes can be deep,” she said. “Give me your hand.” As they walked along hand and hand, they talked about the days when they first fell in love. They had been millions of miles apart yet touching each other's heart. “You look especially lovely in the moonlight, just like the pictures you faxed me,” said Roger. “Those were pictures of my sister. This body is modeled after her. My real body was rather plain looking. I hope you don't mind,” she said. “I didn't fall in love with your pictures,” said Roger. “We'd better head back,” said Nora. “I've never been any farther at night. I don't know the trail.” “I'm not sleepy,” said Roger. “What are we going to do to pass the time?” “Oh, we'll think of something. Afterwords we can play some chess,” said Nora. “Eventually you'll be able to sleep longer.” “I haven't played in years,” said Roger. “Take it easy on me.” “Oh no,” she said. “I remember how you never showed me any mercy.” “That was when we first met,” said Roger. “I let you … I mean … You won a few games.” …............................ “We'd better try to get some more sleep before sunrise,” said Nora. “You don't want to break the tie?” asked Roger. “Consider yourself lucky to be tied,” said Nora. “The next time I won't be so easy on you.” “Well, the next time I'll actually try to win,” said Roger.
….......................... “It looks like the marker beacon is due north, about 300 miles away. We'd better get started. I've already loaded our backpacks with some items I didn't want to leave behind,” said Nora. “It's not very heavy. Did you get everything?” asked Roger. “You forgetting about the 1/3 gravity here,” said Nora. “The packs are full. I'll follow you. You'll need to get accustomed to your new body before you can run at full speed. It shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes.” “What our schedule look like?” asked Roger. “We have eighteen hours to reach the beacon. At full speed it will take less than fifteen unless the terrain slows us down,” said Nora. “Let's go,” said Roger as he began jogging north. In a few minutes he was up to a slow run. Within ten minutes it was all Nora could do to keep up. An hour later Roger slowed to a stop. “I'm getting dizzy, dodging all the potholes,” he said. “We need to rest for a minute.” “I didn't think about the mental strain,” said Nora. “We'll have to slow down a bit. I'm getting a little dizzy myself.” “Why don't you set the pace,” said Roger. “I'll try to keep up.” …................................ “We cut it pretty close,” said Nora as she entered the tunnel that Sim had dug for them. Picking up the beacon, she deactivated it and placed it in her backpack. “Let's get some rest before the shower begins. We might squeeze in a ten minute nap.” Roger was awakened by the sound of meteorites striking the earth several feet above them. The rice size rocks made quite an impact. Roger held his hands over his ears to dampen the sound. The smell of burnt gunpowder wafted through the air. Nora sat up and held her ears. In a few minutes it was over. “Did the nap help?” she asked. “I'm much better now. Shall we get started?” said Roger. “Just let me locate the next beacon,” said Nora. “There it is. About 100 miles north northwest of here. Sim must have run into an obstacle and had to go west. He'll be waiting for our arrival before beginning the next leg of the journey.” “Does he need sleep or rest?” asked Roger. “No, but I didn't want him to get too far ahead in case we run into problems,” said Nora.
…............................. After another four hours of running, they stopped at the top of a ridge. “Is that water? It looks like a large sea,” said Roger. “That must be the obstacle that diverted Sim. It's going to take some time to go around that.” “It looks to be about an hour away at full speed. Are you up to it?” asked Nora. “Don't choke on my dust,” said Roger as he began running as fast as he could. After a moment he looked back to see Nora lying face down on the ground. Quickly returning to her side, he knelt beside her. “Are you all right?” Nora jumped to her feet and ran as fast as she could. “See you later, Sucker,” she yelled. Roger jumped to his feet and followed. ….......................... “The beacon's about a mile up the beach,” said Nora. “Let's walk. There's the sound of the surf you wanted to hear.” “The sun will be going down soon and we'll have the moonlight too,” said Roger. “This is perfect.” “If it wasn't for those potholes that the surf hasn't washed away yet,” said Nora. “We're still in the danger zone.” “We'd better find that beacon before it gets really dark,” said Roger. “We've got all night to enjoy the surf.” “It's just up ahead,” said Nora. “Somewhere near that large rock formation.” As they walked between the surf and the formation, it towered above them. The high tide had hollowed out a cave in the rock. They followed the sand into the cave, its entrance about 100 yards from the water. “Welcome, Nora,” said Sim. How was your trip?” “It was fine,” said Nora. “Excellent quarters for spending the night. Nice job, Sim.” “Shall I continue on ahead?” asked Sim. “In a minute. We need to discuss our situation,” said Nora. “We barely made it to the tunnel before the meteor shower began. You need to allow for rough terrain when you judge the distance to the next beacon.” “Is that all?” asked Sim. “If you make it outside the danger zone, set up a beacon and wait for us,” said Nora. “Otherwise proceed as originally planned.”
“I'll be awaiting your arrival?” said Sim. “Don't get lost.” “Sim, are you developing a sense of humor after all these years,” asked Nora. “I've had a lot of me time lately,” said Sim. “It's nice to just sit around and think.” “We'll see you tomorrow about this time,” said Nora. “Don't you get lost.” “I can't get lost. I don't know where I'm going,” said Sim as he exited the cave. ….............................. “Wake up, Nora. Something's wrong. I can't hear the surf,” said Roger. “Why is it so dark? I can't see the cave entrance,” said Nora. “The high tide. It's covered the entrance. We've got to get out of here. Grab your backpack.” “What's the rush,” asked Roger. “Can we drown?” “No, but the salt water is not good for our bodies. The salt will cause corrosion, especially if you've had any cuts or scrapes that haven't healed,” said Nora. “Which way to the entrance,” asked Roger. “Downhill,” said Nora. “Remember when we came in.” “Give me your hand,” said Roger. …............................... “Without these backpacks, we never would have been able to dive deep enough to find the entrance,” said Nora as she walked onto the beach. “It's not salt water,” said Roger as he licked his lips. “That's fresh water.” “Where are we going to sleep?” asked Nora. “Sleeping in the open is probably not wise.” “What are you afraid of, the bogey man?” asked Roger. Suddenly there was a clap of thunder followed shortly by several bolts of lightning. “Let's follow Sim's tracks until we find another place,” said Nora as the downpour began. “His tracks are under several feet of water,” said Roger. “But we know which way he went. We'll just stay close to the water unless you think he's already placed the next beacon.”
“Oh no! The tracker. It's probably waterlogged,” said Nora as she reached for her backpack.” “Well, don't get it out in the rain,” said Roger. “Let's go.” “Wait, we can't see where the potholes are. It's not safe. We could break an ankle,” said Nora. “We could go back into the cave,” said Roger. “That would ruin the tracker for sure.” “We'll just have to sit it out here until the rain subsides,” said Nora. “Ever do any body surfing?” asked Roger. “Those waves look perfect.” “Well, we're already wet,” said Nora. “We'll have to put these backpacks where they won't wash away.” “How about between these three stones,” said Roger. “There, that should hold them. Let's go.” “Wow, I float like a log,” said Nora. “These ultralight bodies are perfect for this.” “I just thought of something,” said Roger. “What if there are sharks or something even worse in these waters.” “Let 'em catch their own wave,” said Nora. “This one's mine.” As Nora rode the wave she glanced to either side of her and saw a pair of creatures resembling otters glancing back at her. They too were enjoying the art of body surfing. As they neared the shore the otters dove in unison, allowing the wave to pass over them. A moment later the wave broke, sending Nora crashing into the sandy bottom. Humbled and humiliated, Nora stood up just in time to see Roger on the next wave. “Should I warn him?” she thought. “Nah, the otters will warn him.” Nora laughed as Roger stood up, mud and sand in his hair. “Wipeout!” laughed Nora. “Hey, it's stopped raining. We'd better get going.” They followed the shoreline for the next several hours. Running in the wet sand was slow but no slower than dodging potholes and a lot less stressful. “Isn't that Sim up ahead?” asked Roger. “We must be about to leave the danger zone,” said Nora. “At least shelter won't be our primary worry from here on out, but I hope he found a place for us to sleep.” “What's new, Sim?” said Roger as they drew nearer. “The danger zone ends just over that dune. I think I've discovered lifeforms,” he
said. “Animal or vegetable?” asked Nora jokingly, still thinking of the look on Roger's face and the mud in his hair. “Mineral, I believe,” said Sim. “You two need to get some rest. You obviously didn't spend the night in the cave, and it's still hours before sunrise.” “But what about these lifeforms?” asked Nora. “It would be safer for me to show you in daylight,” said Sim. “Follow me to your bedroom.” Sim led them to another tunnel he had excavated to create a sleeping chamber for them. “This will do just fine, Sim. Thank you,” said Nora. “Did you enjoy the rain?” “I can take it or leave it,” said Sim. “It was interesting at first but soon became a nuisance.” “See you at daybreak,” said Roger. “Don't let us oversleep.” “Pleasant dreams, Sir,” said Sim. “Sleep tight, Nora.” …......................... As they topped the dune, there they were. The lifeforms that Sim had mentioned. As far as the eye could see, there were crystalline structures resembling cacti. The slight breeze created the sound of a million wind chimes. “How lovely,” said Nora. “But what makes you think they're alive?” “Let me demonstrate,” said Sim. “Stand back please.” Sim approached one of the cacti, and it began vibrating like a tuning fork; its pitch increasing as he got closer. A crystalline globe hung from one of the arms, covered entirely in what looked like crystal thorns. As he reached for the globe, it exploded, sending shards in all directions. Sim's metallic body was unharmed, but Roger and Nora got the general idea of what it could do to them. “I'm not sure if this is a defense mechanism or a means of reproduction, spreading seeds, so to speak,” said Sim. “In either case, it would be wise to give them a wide berth.” “The tide is starting to recede,” said Roger. “We can still follow the shoreline.” “Okay. Sim, we're going to walk for a while,” said Nora. “Why don't you run on ahead and do some scouting.” “I'd be happy to oblige,” said Sim. “What if I encounter other lifeforms?”
“Don't interact with them unless absolutely necessary,” said Nora. As Roger and Nora walked the shoreline, they looked at the waves farther from shore. The surfers were at it again, frolicking in the waves but never coming near the shore. They resembled otters, both in their appearance and in their actions. “Well, at least we know there's animal life here,” said Roger. “That's a good sign.” “As long as we're not too low on the food chain,” said Nora. “Well, they seem friendly enough, always smiling and playing,” said Roger. “They don't seem to be worried about predators. They weren't afraid of us.” “I guess that is a good sign,” said Nora. “Let's speed it up a bit,” said Roger. “I can't wait to see what we find next.” “Set the pace,” said Nora. “I'm right behind you.” …..…........................ “No, not more potholes,” said Roger as he looked at the beach in the distance. As they got nearer, it was obvious that these were much larger than basketball size depressions. Were the meteorites getting bigger? What time of day would these strike? “Should we turn back?” asked Roger. “This could be really dangerous.” “Let's get a closer look. Sim didn't turn back, so it's probably okay,” said Nora. As they got closer, they could see that the potholes weren't very deep compared to their size. “I think these are footprints,” said Nora. “Look how flat they are.” “What's worse, bigger meteorites or a creature that leaves five foot wide footprints?” asked Roger. “I'll bet we can outrun a creature that weighs as much as this one does,” said Nora. “And I'll bet he can't sneak up on you.” “I don't know. Elephants can run pretty fast,” said Roger. “Don't forget about the reduced gravity.” “Well, the tracks are going our way,” said Nora. “We may have the answers sooner than we wish.” “What's that lying in the sand up ahead?” asked Roger. “Come on.” “I think it's Sim,” said Nora as she rushed past Roger.
“Sim! What are you doing?” asked Nora as Sim lay there looking up at her, his ear to the sand.” “Listening,” said Sim. “I'm trying to tell if they are coming or going.” “They?” asked Nora. “The creatures that left these tracks,” said Sim. “The trail leads that way.” Nora looked toward the forest of crystalline cacti. A path as wide as a two lane highway was cleared right through the forest. The crystals were crushed to a fine powder. “Get up, Sim,” said Nora. “I thought you had been trampled.” “Shall we follow the trail or stick to the beach?” asked Sim. “A straight trail would be nice for a change,” said Nora. “The coastline meanders so much, it's hard to make good time. The trail does head mostly northward.” “Why doesn't anyone ask me?” said Roger. “What would you like to do, Sir?” asked Sim. “Whatever Nora decides,” said Roger. “Wise decision, Sir,” said Sim. “You have remarkable judgment.” “He really is a kiss ass,” thought Roger. “I think I like him.” …............................ “Is that a dust cloud over that hill?” asked Roger. “I think I can hear drums.” “I believe those are footsteps, Sir,” said Sim. “The erratic sound tells me there is more than one.” “Sim, run to the top of the hill and check it out,” said Nora. “See how many there are and which way they are headed.” “Yes ma'am,” said Sim as he ran off in the direction of the hill. “Well, I hope you didn't make the wrong decision,” said Roger. “The beach was quite safe.” “Where's your sense of adventure?” asked Nora. “Are you scared?” “I was just hoping to do some more surfing,” said Roger. “And growing older would have been nice.” “Hey, don't wimp out on me,” said Nora. “I'm only brave because you're here now.”
“You're right, together there's nothing we can't do,” said Roger. “Besides, I can run faster than you.” “Oh, yeah,” said Nora. “I let you win.” “Here comes Sim,” said Roger. “He doesn't seem to be in a hurry.” “What's the story, Sim?” asked Roger. “Well Sir, there's ten of them and they're heading this way,” said Sim. “Should we make a run for it?” asked Roger. “I don't think so, Sir,” said Sim. “Besides, I think you'll want to see this.” “Well, let's go,” said Roger. “You ready, Nora?” “Ready as I'll ever be,” said Nora. “Ten of them, huh?” “It's okay,” said Sim. As they topped the hill, the closest of the creatures froze in its tracks. The others continued. It was amazing. They moved like a slinky toy, stretching and compressing their tubular bodies. In their compressed form, they were about five feet tall and five feet in diameter. They would begin by extending the upper part of their body to a total length of about fifteen feet, with the majority of the thick wrinkly skin still at the base of the body for counterbalance. They would bend forward in an arch until the top of their bodies contacted the ground. At that point, they shifted the skin equally to both ends of the body. An opening in the skin revealed a mouth and two eyes in the center of the arch. In a moment, the majority of the skin was shifted to the front of the body and the rear was lifted. Once vertical, the body was drawn back to its compressed condition and the process started over. During one cycle their eyes were looking upward and in the next cycle they looked downward. The frozen one was in the form of an arch. Its eyes were at the bottom of the arch, one of which stared at the strangers. “They're blind when they're in motion,” said Sim. “I think this one is afraid to move while we're around.” As the others got closer, they also halted their motion. As Roger reached out to touch one of them, its mouth opened, showing many rows of razor sharp teeth. The body began to shiver. As he pulled back his hand, the shivering stopped and the mouth slowly closed. “I don't think it wants to be petted,” said Nora. “Leave them alone. We should go now.” The creatures waited until the strangers were well away from them and then began their journey anew, their march to the sea. Later that day, as the sun was setting, there was still no end in sight to the
crystalline forest. “We'll have to keep moving,” said Nora as the evening breeze picked up. “We can't sleep here. The chimes are almost deafening.” After several hours, the trail began to climb and the cacti were more sparsely spaced. “We're almost out,” said Nora. “Just a little farther.” “That breeze is getting cooler by the minute,” said Roger. “We'd better find some shelter soon.” “Shall I scout ahead?” asked Sim. “Let me check the scanner to see if it's working,” said Nora as she reached into her backpack. ”Turn on one of the beacons.” “It still works,” said Nora. “Find a shelter and wait for us there.” “I'll try to do so quickly,” said Sim as he ran off into the darkness. …............................. “I'm sorry Nora. I thought I would be done before you arrived,” said Sim. “I couldn't find a natural shelter so I dug one. I sensed that the temperature was getting dangerously cold for your bodies. The digging was harder than I anticipated.” “This is just fine, Sim,” said Nora. “We're not moving in, we're just spending the night.” “You did an excellent job,” said Roger. “Let's try to get some sleep.” “Sim. You can explore if you wish but don't go too far,” said Nora. “We'll see you in the morning.” “Want to share our blankets?” Roger asked Nora. “I thought you'd never ask,” said Nora as she moved closer to Roger. …............................. “If we're going to continue heading north, we'll have to go through a mountain pass. You'll need to wear those blankets and keep constantly moving, but we can do it before nightfall,” said Sim. “What's the alternative?” asked Nora. “Go around the mountain,” said Sim. “Probably a week or more of travel.” “Let's head for the pass,” said Nora. “Sounds good to me,” said Roger as he cut a slit in the blanket to make a poncho.
“Let's go.” .................................... “I wish we had some snowshoes. This is slow going,” said Roger. “Just keep moving,” said Nora, the snowflakes hanging from her eyelashes. “I can barely see where we're going.” “Just follow Sim,” said Roger. “I'll follow you.” “Sim! Where are you?” yelled Nora. “I'm here, Nora. Don't worry. I won't let anything happen to either of you,” said Sim. Nora took a step toward Sim and disappeared from sight. A second later the ice gave way below Roger and he was falling too. “Nora! Roger! Where are you?” yelled Sim. “Down here!” yelled Nora. “Don't get too close to the edge.” “Are you injured?” yelled Sim. “We're fine, but we'll never be able to climb back out of here,” said Nora. “You'll have to go on ahead. Find a way to get us out and come back for us. I think we'll be okay. We're out of the wind, and we have room to move around.” “I'll be back as soon as possible,” said Sim. “Don't go to sleep.” “Be careful, Sim,” said Nora. “We're depending on you.” “Get up and move around,” said Nora. “You've got to stay warm.” “Let's dig a tunnel,” said Roger. “I often thought about digging a tunnel when I was in prison. If we slant it upwards, we might make it to the surface.” “Well, it will give us something to do,” said Nora. “And it should keep us warm and awake. Shall we take turns?” “No. We can work side by side,” said Roger. “That way we both stay busy.” “What do I dig with?” asked Nora. “I don't carry a knife.” “This snow is so loosely packed, we can use our hands,” said Roger. “It must be the low gravity again.” “What if the roof caves in?” said Nora. “Would you rather stand around and shiver while we wait for Sim?” asked Roger.
“Let's dig,” said Nora. …............................... As they dug side by side, they soon forgot about the cold. “We should be getting near the surface,” said Roger. “We've dug about 500 feet and that should have raised us 50 feet closer to the top. That should have been more than enough.” “You're assuming that the surface elevation hasn't changed,” said Nora. “ I couldn't see very far before we fell in, but I think we were going uphill.” “You're absolutely right,” said Roger. “There's no way to know how much farther we'll have to dig. We'll just dig until we find the surface.” “Shouldn't we go back where we started and dig in the other direction?” said Nora. “We could go for miles in this direction and never get any closer to the surface.” “That does make sense,” said Roger as he began to walk in that direction. “Whoa!” Nora watched for a minute as Roger went sliding down the tunnel, gaining speed as he went. “Hey! Wait for me,” she yelled as she dove after him and began sliding down the tunnel on her stomach. When she reached the bottom, Roger had just stood up and she tackled him like a tackling dummy. “Let's do that again!” “Get off of me,” said Roger. “I'm seeing stars.” “Is it night already?” said Nora as she looked up at the star filled sky. “Brrr. It's cold.” “We'd better start on that tunnel,” said Roger. “It's cold enough to freeze the balls off of a pool table.” “I can dig it. You can dig it. We can dig it … So let's dig it … Can you dig it, baby?” sang Nora. “Grazing in the grass is a gas, baby can you dig it?” “Or maybe I'll just dance to the golden oldies,” said Roger. “Don't make me have to tackle you again,” said Nora. ….................................. “Where have you two been?” yelled Sim. “I had almost given up on you when I heard an awful commotion.” “Hey! I was singing down here,” said Nora. “And I was filled with awe at you vocal acuity,” said Sim. “Like I said, it was awe filled.”
“You said awful,” replied Nora. “Don't trip over your tongue, Sim,” said Roger. “We don't want you to fall in.” “Hang on to these vines, and I pull you up,” said Sim. “But it's cold up there, and it's just going to get colder as the night goes on,” said Roger. “It's almost daybreak. What have you guys been doing?” asked Sim. “Killing time,” said Roger. “Just killing time.” “So you found some normal vegetation,” said Nora as she stood there beside Sim, watching him pull Roger out of the hole. “I don't know if I'd call it normal,” said Sim as the vine began wrapping its way around Nora's leg. “Keep it away from your neck.” “Thank you, Sim,” said Roger. “What's she doing?” “I think she's trying to break up with a clinging vine,” said Sim. “Put those vines on me in case we need them again. Are you guys ready to go?” “At least it's not snowing,” said Nora. “It's too cold to snow,” said Roger. “Let's get moving.” …............................ Around midday they reached the bottom of the snowline. “We're going to need a nap,” said Nora. “I don't think I can take another step.” “Shall I dig a tunnel?” asked Sim. “That shouldn't be necessary,” said Roger. “It's warm enough and there's hardly any wind. Just stay close and keep your eyes open.” “A couple of hours should be enough,” said Nora. …................................ “Did you run across any more lifeforms?” asked Nora as they continued their trek down the mountain. “No. But I never left this plateau,” said Sim. “But there's nothing but rocks as far as the eye can see,” said Roger. “Where did
you find the vines?” “You'll see. We're almost there,” said Sim. “We'll follow this river the rest of the way.” “Is that the sound of a waterfall?” asked Nora. “Yes, it is,” said Sim. “That's where I found the vines.” “Wow!” said Nora as she stopped at the edge of the plateau. “That must be a thousand feet down. Look at all the vegetation down there, Roger.” “The vines have climbed the rock wall all the way to the top,” said Sim. “We'll use them to climb down.” “What if they start climbing us?” said Roger. “We could get entangled, strangled, and dangled before we get ten feet.” “They don't seem to cling while they are already attached to something else,” said Sim. “I believe it will be safe.” “You first,” said Roger as he watched Sim begin to climb down the face of the cliff. “Let's go,” said Nora as she climbed over the edge. Roger began his descent. With a vine in each hand, he struggled to get his footing. He stared at the vines on the wall, inches from his face. One of the vines moved across his shoulder and halfway around his neck. Finally getting his footing, he began his descent. “What's your hurry?” asked Nora. “Aren't we racing?” asked Roger. “I thought we were racing.” “You want to race?” asked Nora as she sped up her descent. “I'll give you a race.” About a hundred feet from the bottom, they were neck and neck when Roger suddenly sped up his descent even more. “That was some amazing climbing, Roger,” said Nora when she reached the bottom. “I saw something staring back at me in the side of the cliff,” said Roger. “Ugliest thing I ever saw.” “I'll bet,” snickered Nora. “What so funny?” asked Roger. “I could have broken my neck.” “Those flat rocks, when they're covered with moisture, act like mirrors,” laughed Nora. “You were scared by your own reflection. As understandable as that might be, it's still funny.” “Ha ha,” said Roger. “Where's Sim?”
“About halfway down,” said Nora. “I guess nothing scared him.” “Let's look around,” said Roger. “Look at that rainbow.” Mist from the waterfall filled the air. One hundred feet wide, the waterfall towered a thousand feet above them. A lush green grass covered the ground. “I just want to lay down in the grass and take another nap,” said Nora. “Sounds good to me,” said Roger as he knelt on the ground. “It's not as soft as I expected.” Nora reached down to feel of the grass, but when her hand got near it, each and every blade of grass retracted into the soil. “Did you see that?” she said as she pulled back her hand and the blades reappeared. “Darn it. I was looking forward to a soft bed.” “Now that is weird,” said Roger. “You don't suppose the trees will do that?” “Why don't you check it out?” asked Nora. Roger walked over to what resembled an elm tree. Roger reached for a low hanging branch. The tree twisted its trunk, moving the branch out of reach, while moving another branch closer. Roger made a quick leap for the closer branch and held on. The tree twisted about 180 degrees and then quickly twisted in the opposite direction, sending Roger flying through the air. Landing on his backside, Roger looked like a bull rider that had just been thrown. “Ride em, cowboy!” laughed Nora. “Whoopie ki yi yay,” said Roger. “We have several hours of sunlight left,” said Sim. “Shall we continue?” “There's no rush now,” said Nora. “But I guess we might as well move on, if Roger can still walk.” “Have you injured yourself, Sir,” asked Sim. “Only my pride,” said Roger as he dusted himself off. “Let's move out.” “Are we still heading north?” asked Sim. “Anything but south,” said Nora. “I'm not climbing back up those vines.” “Maybe we should follow the river,” said Roger. “The forest looks pretty thick. You could get lost pretty easily in there.” “And get hurt even easier,” snickered Nora. “The river's fine. Lead the way, Sim.”
…............................... As they followed the river, it got wider and shallower. The brush was thick right up to the water's edge, so they had decided to wade in the shallow water rather than walk through the brush. “That bush is moving,” said Roger. “The wind?” asked Nora. “No. I mean it's really moving,” said Roger. “I believe it's running.” “Run forest. Run!” yelled Nora jokingly. The bush seemed to turn toward them then stumbled and tripped. “I've got to get a closer look at this,” said Roger as he raced for the shore. Nora followed closely behind. “Look out behind you!” yelled Nora. Roger turned just in time to see a dog-like creature coming at him, snarling as it leaped at Roger's chest. Grasping its throat with both hands, Roger flung it halfway across the river. Landing on its feet, it continued running, its tail between its legs. Suddenly a furry two-legged creature came running out of the brush and hugged Roger's leg. A few twigs still entangled in its long blondish hair, it was shaking with fright. “It was using the bush as camouflage,” said Roger. “It was trying to hide from that animal.” “I think you've made a friend,” said Nora. “He looks like a small hairy version of you.” “He's shaking,” said Roger. “I think he's frightened that the animal will come back.” “Well, tell him he can come with us,” said Nora. “Somehow, I don't think he speaks English,” said Roger. “Well, explain it to him, Roger,” said Nora. “He's your friend.” Roger gently stroked the creature's head until it stopped shaking. Roger extended his hand and the creature grasped one of his fingers. As Roger walked back toward the river, the creature walked beside him. When they reached the water's edge, the creature let go of Roger's finger. Jumping up and down, the creature held out both arms. “He wants you to carry him,” said Nora. “I think he's afraid of the water.” “Great,” said Roger as he picked it up and placed in on his shoulders. “A hitchhiker.
A hitchhiker that needs a bath.” “Do you think he lives around here?” asked Nora. “He did come from the direction we're heading,” said Roger. “Maybe when he senses that he's close to home, he'll let us know.” “I hope so,” said Nora. “We don't even know what to feed him. It's been so long since I've eaten, I don't even miss the taste of food anymore.” “Can we eat in these bodies?” asked Roger. “You can chew it up and taste it, but you can't swallow,” said Nora. “It hardly seems worth the trouble. Besides, I didn't bring a toothbrush.” “The river is beginning to narrow and deepen,” said Roger. “It looks like it goes through that canyon up ahead. We'd better get to shore.” After Roger had gotten back on dry ground, he walked over to a small clearing. He removed the creature from his shoulders and placed him on the ground. The creature ran over to a nearby tree and disappeared behind it. Roger could hear it making some grunting noises and it soon reappeared, tugging on something that was still behind the tree. A moment later, it appeared, an eight foot version which was obviously the creature's mother. The little one made a few more grunts and the large one walked up to Roger and embraced him with a bear hug. She soon released him and stepped back holding her nose. “You stink, Roger,” said Nora. “Did you forget your deodorant?” “If I wasn't such a gentleman, I'd be holding my nose right now,” said Roger. “I can't believe she thinks that I stink. It's like the pot calling the kettle black.” “Where did they go?” asked Nora. “They left while you two were discussing etiquette, toiletries, and cooking utensils,” said Sim. “I think they lost interest.” “Well, they weren't much for conversation anyway,” said Roger. “The forest has thinned out. We can head north again,” said Nora. “We need to look for shelter soon. I'd even like to turn in early if possible.” “What are we waiting for?” said Roger. “That sounds good to me. Let's go.” …............................. “Is that a cave entrance?” asked Roger. “I think it's an animal's den,” said Sim. “Shall I check it out and see if it's empty?”
“Good idea, Sim,” said Nora. “Yell if you run into a problem.” “So we can run the other way,” added Roger. “He's only joking, Sim,” said Nora. “Roger's got your back.” “Oh, I get it Sir,” said Sim. “You were only pretending to be frightened, like when that creature gave you a hug.” “You know me,” said Roger. “Always kidding around.” A few minutes after Sim entered the den, they heard yelping noises coming from within. Sim soon returned. “There are some pups in there,” said Sim. “Looks like one of those dog-like creatures from earlier today has made a home in there. It's probably a good idea to get away from here before it's attracted by the noise.” “I could handle one or two of them but there could be an entire pack,” said Roger. “They'll probably try to track us by our scent.” “Maybe we can use some of this dirt near the entrance to cover our scent,” said Nora. “Whoa, this would cover any scent.” “You too, Sim,” said Roger. “You may not smell human, but you don't smell like a dog either. Spread it all over you.” “Okay, let's get as far away from here as we can,” said Nora. …................................ “What was that?” asked Roger. “I think we're being followed.” “I thought I saw a couple of eyes a few minutes ago,” said Nora. “They've been following us for a while.” Roger was walking and looking around at the same time and walked directly into a tree limb. “Ouch,” said Roger as he reached for the tree limb to break it off. “Hey. It didn't move to avoid me. But it looks like the same kind of tree that bucked me off earlier. What's going on?” Several growls and then a loud howl shattered the silence. Roger looked around to see three of the creatures running at him. “Climb a tree,” he yelled as he jumped for a sturdier limb. Forgetting about the gravity, he overdid the jump and hit his head on the limb. Unconscious, he lay on his back on the ground. The animals stopped and circled him slowly, sniffing the air. One of them bit his clothing and began shaking his head side to side in an attempt to rip it. “Over here!” yelled Sim as he slowly walked toward the creatures.
“Over here!” yelled Nora from her perch in a nearby tree. “Try to draw them away, Sim.” The animals forgot about Roger and turned their attention to Sim. There were seven of them now and they closed in slowly, circling and sniffing. Sim began to run in the opposite direction from Roger and leaped over a couple of animals. Running at a medium pace, he drew the animals away. He took care not to outrun them too much to keep the chase interesting. Sim was not afraid of the animals. There was little they could do to harm him, and he needed to hold their attention until Roger was safe. “Wake up, Roger,” said Nora as she heard a growl behind her. “Wake up!” Nora found a dead tree limb lying on the ground and picked it up. Swinging it wildly, she held the creature at bay. “What happened?” said Roger as he opened his eyes and sat up. The creature began to back off and soon followed the pack. “I guess he didn't like the odds,” said Nora. “How many fingers am I holding up?” “Six,” said Roger. “Six?” asked Nora. “Yeah. Two on each hand,” said Roger. “Oh, but I'm guessing there's only one hand.” “You've probably got a concussion. Can you climb?” asked Nora. “What if the tree throws me?” asked Roger. “It didn't throw me,” said Nora. “I think it was your scent that the first tree didn't like. Look, the grass isn't hiding from you any more.” “Where are the dogs?” asked Roger. “Sim drew them away because you were injured,” said Nora. “We've got to get you up into that tree before they come back. Let me give you a boost.” Nora easily lifted him off the ground. Roger grabbed a limb and pulled himself up. “Move over,” said Nora. “This tree's big enough for both of us.” “Take my hand and I'll pull you up,” said Roger as he reached for her. “Sim!” yelled Nora. “We're safe.” “Make a note for the next time we encounter the dogs,” said Sim as he quickly arrived back at the tree. “We can easily outrun them.” “Obviously we can out jump them too,” said Roger. “I wonder just how high I can jump.”
“Too high,” laughed Nora, “from the look of those scratches on your forehead.” “So, are we sleeping in the tree tonight?” asked Roger. “I think it's best,” said Nora. “When you fall out, try not to land on your head.” “I resemble … I mean … I resent that remark,” said Roger. “I'm only joking Roger, to keep from crying. I thought I'd lost you,” said Nora as she kissed him softly. “Sorry to interrupt, but shall I scout around?” asked Sim. “Sure, if you want to,” said Nora. “But be careful. There are animals out there and the sun's going down.” “Now where were we?” asked Roger. “Up a tree,” said Nora. “Get some sleep.” …...................... “Wake up,” said Sim. “I think I've found a settlement.” “What sort of settlement?” asked Nora. “It looks like one of ours,” said Sim, “but it seems to have been abandoned for quite some time.” “How far is it?” asked Nora. “A couple of hours north of here,” said Sim. “I came back as soon as I spotted it.” “Then it was still dark when you saw it,” said Roger. “Maybe they were asleep. Let's go check it out.” As they neared the settlement, Nora stop to examine something. “This is where the ship landed and took off again,” she said. “At least some of them are left.” “How could they have beaten us both hear?” asked Roger. “The same way I beat you here, even though I left five years later than you,” said Nora. “I had a faster ship.” “But why would they leave?” asked Roger. “Well, let's see,” replied Nora. “Dogs that want to eat you, vine's that want to choke you and other vegetation that tries to avoid you. And who knows what else they may
have found. Maybe they left some record.” “From the size of the settlement, it looks like a full colonization, not just a explorer probe,” said Roger. “I hope they left some equipment behind.” “Look at the buildings. They're all covered with vines,” said Nora. “I think this was a general store. Let's check it out. Sim, remove the vines around the door and dispose of them over there.” “I thought you said that Earth had abandoned our missions,” said Roger. “That's what they told me ten years into the flight here,” said Nora. “Finding their records is the only way we will ever know what happened.” “The door is clear. Are you ready to go inside?” asked Roger. “Let's wait for Sim,” said Nora. “Fools rush in, you know.” “Sim, make sure it's safe for us to enter,” said Roger. “Yell if you need help.” “If you run the other way, watch out for those vines.” said Sim. “Thanks for the heads up, Sim.” said Roger. “You take care.” …............................. “What's taking so long,” asked Roger. “Do you think he's alright?” “He hasn't yelled,” said Nora. “Just be patient. He probably just being thorough.” They heard a generator start up and the sound of an air conditioner. Lights began turning on throughout the building. “Looks like they left in a hurry,” said Nora. “You may enter now,” said Sim. “It seems to be safe.” “A chair. A real chair,” said Roger. “I haven't sat in a real chair in 100 years.” “Well, have a seat,” said Nora. “Take a load off.” Roger removed his backpack and sat down. “It's a rocker.” said Roger. “I've died and gone to heaven.” “Well, before you sprout wings, get off your butt and help me look around for some records,” said Nora. “We need to find out what scared them off before we find out the hard way.” As Roger and Nora searched through the room for a diary or any other form of record, Roger glanced over at the rocker. Sim was rocking back and forth, seemingly enjoying himself. “Sim!” said Roger. “We could use a little help.”
“Oh, leave him alone, Roger,” said Nora. “He deserves a rest.” “Never mind, Sim,” said Roger. “Just don't break it.” “Here, in the cash register. It's a diary of some sort,” said Nora. “Now if we can just find the key.” “Key! Hell, give me that,” said Roger as he pulled out his pocket knife. “There you go. Read me a story.” Nora read silently for several minutes. “It says here that the Captain became their leader. After about a year, when everything was organized and running smoothly, they decided it was time for the transfer back into their original bodies.” “They brought their bodies with them?” “Cryogenics, Roger,” said Nora. “What good is a colony of beings that can't reproduce. Anyway, the Captain decided to go first and something went terribly wrong.” “What happened?” asked Roger. “It says here that he acted strangely, not at all like himself. Soon thereafter several colonists were found murdered. Their plan was that one night while the Captain was sleeping, the entire colony would board the ship and abandoned him here.” she said. “Looks like they succeeded, but where is the Captain?” asked Roger. “How would I know. Whoever wrote this is long gone and the Captain is still here.” she replied. “We'd better stay alert until we find him.” “He not in here if he's still alive. Those vines have been on the door for a while,” said Roger. “I'm going upstairs. There may be a bed up there,” said Nora. “Imagine, a real bed. Where are you going, Roger? See if you can find a weapon in case the Captain is armed.” Roger dug through the drawers under the sales counter. Suddenly he heard Nora scream. Grabbing a butcher knife out of the drawer, he started for the stairs. “It's okay,” said Nora. “I found the Captain, or what's left of him.” Roger entered the room and saw the Captains skeleton lying on the bed, a dead vine around his neck. “He's on your side,” said Roger. “Very funny, Roger,” said Nora. “But my bed's over there.”