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Mirror Worlds

Explore forty near Earth science fiction short stories


Copyright 2018 April D Brown



All Rights Reserved



License Notice


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This ebook is a work of fiction. All events, people, and places portrayed are a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, places, or events are coincidental and unintentional.


Cover is a composite of Pixabay pictures.

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank my husband who has given me the time and opportunity to write, edit, and publish my works.

I wish to thank those who have encouraged my writing over the years, including Ms. M, Ms. O, Mr. N, and Ms. P from many years ago, along with various friends. Earliest among these would be J C and C M. Even further back in time are C C, T P, and E. Wherever you are today, may this, and future works, find you!

A special thanks to Aaron Coffman for buying me my very first cookbook.

More recently, Debi Vaught-Thelin, Jessica Collins, Johanna Harness, and Veronica Vance for drawing, photography and writing.

Angela Ackerman has also been a great encouragement the last few years as I continue through my journey into deafblindness while continuing writing, editing, and publishing.

Back Cover Copy

Explore worlds, not quite as you know them. Alternative Earths, or human-like beings on other planets. Other times, history has changed. A forgotten past. An unreached future. A dream of places that may, or may not, be. Stories that stir the soul, and grasp at long forgotten truths which beg to be heard again.


Author's Note:

Rating: PG.

Profanity: None.

Romance: Alluded to.

Sex: None.

Violence: Light.

Edition 1 Completion Date: 2018.


Introduction to Mirror Worlds

Explore worlds, not quite as you know them. Alternative Earths, or human-like beings on other planets. Other times, history has changed. A forgotten past. An unreached future. A dream of places that may, or may not, be.

Other Worlds and Other Worldly

Guinea Pigs

Isolation Worlds

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Planet Loreia in Gamma Zaria

Solar Life

Dystopia

Evacuation Zone

Broken Dogma

Cluster

Safe Place

Medical Science Fiction

I Don't Mean You

The Gift

Virology

Invalid Generation

Adult Orphanage

Future Endings

Euth Home

Mines

Water Works

Spay and Neuter

Customer Satisfaction

Future Beginnings

A Measure of Life

Prince Charming

A Fair Beginning

Glass Houses

Finally Family

A Future We Won't Remember

Second Place

Cycle

Better Forgotten Memories

Going Hunting

Saving the Family Farm

Nerissa's Legacy

A Past Forgotten

Written Word

Painted Paper

Status Quo, or No?

Paranormal

Till Death Do Us Join

Soul Bubbles

Molly's Second Chance

Childhood Exploration

Sunflower

Me-Aka

Poetry

Meadow Race

Summer

Other Worlds and Other Worldly

Guinea Pigs

Pamila lifted her right leg and pushed it on the chair.

Mike pushed the boot onto her foot. He lowered her leg while dragging the boot leg up to the waist of the suit. He scowled. "The real astronauts can pull the boot on themselves."

"Sometimes. Not always. They all need help standing up after they pull it on." Pamila tugged at her suit.

Mike placed the bar in front of her that she'd hold on to in order to pull herself into a standing position. He'd have to help her fasten the suit together, and finally slip the heavy gloves on.

She wouldn't be able to do anything for herself. Whether she was in the suit, or not. It only made it worse. The water tight suit was heavy. So heavy, she couldn't lift her hands from her sides. At least for now. Soon, it would give her freedom for six to eight hours. Freedom she had long forgotten. Once she slipped into the pool which mimicked zero gravity, she would be able to move again. To move in ways she could only dream of on the surface.

Doctor Tren walked into the warm swimming pool arena. He called it something more. She had forgotten what. The technical terms couldn't find a place to stick, and be remembered.

"You haven't used any pain medication in the previous month?"

He asked that every day. "No sir."

"When did you last use pain medication?" He asked this everyday too.

Pamila fought to remember. "Before I left high school. Over a bunch of years ago." The more accurate word for bunch was missing too. Too many missing words.

Mike pulled the table with her helmet toward her. "I don't understand why the government wants to send you and your disabled friends to space. At least, we won't have to support you once you are there."

There. The space station orbiting Mars. With low to no gravity. A place she could breathe without her lungs fighting her.

"I've tried to explain it to you."

Mike rubbed his arm. "I'll be glad to not have to help you and your friends anymore. You'll lose weight out there, living on the few vegetables you can grow in zero gravity."

"I hope so. Though not all of us are overweight. Only a few of us. From the medications we took." Her brain fuzzed. It wouldn't do any good to explain. If she could. Mike didn't care.

"Excuses." He shoved the helmet on her head harder than necessary.

Doctor Tren glared at Mike.

Many people thought the weight, and pain were excuses. They had all been fit and healthy once. Like Mike, some of them had even said those same words. Now, they know the truth. No amount of dieting, or exercising would take the physical pain away. Or allow them to breathe easily again. Only zero gravity did.

"Go on. Final trial date. Coran and Jilly will join you in a few minutes." Doctor Tren clicked his stopwatch.

Mike held out his hand.

She grasped his arm with both hands, leaned the combined weight of her obese body, and the expensive 350-pound suit against his rail thin frame. The frame that had been considered ideal for space exploration.

He helped her onto the platform which would lower her into the water.

Pamila slipped feet first into the water. Her full body ached as she slipped deeper. Her feet no longer felt like anchors rooting her to the spot. Relief flowed up her legs. Then her waist relaxed. Before long, she'd be able to breathe with less pain. And move her arms. Something she couldn't easily do, even without the suit on.

Pain ebbed away as she walked a few steps on the bottom of the pool. She lifted her arms. As high as the suit would allow. Above her head. Something she hadn't been able to do on land for longer than she could remember.

Mike had joined her underwater. He held up his hand and the measuring device.

With a nod, Pamila began the measurement procedure. Almost identical to the one she had finished an hour before Mike and his associates had assisted her in putting the suit on. Except for one major difference. Her range of motion had nearly doubled. In an environment with less gravity than on land. It would increase more before she left the pool.

She wasn't the only person. Coran and Jilly had passed this test. Along with a few dozen other people. Not quite legally people anymore. The government no longer considered them people due to their disabilities. Especially those with motor disabilities.

She was half way through the measurement process. Even with these experiments, it wasn't enough to prove that they were functioning people inside bodies that couldn't move according to normal expectations. Many of them needed wheelchairs on land. Those in the government couldn't understand. They were all to ready to be rid of them. Guinea pigs. Sent to space to live. The government, and many others believed they would fail. Somehow, they'd prove them wrong.

The fog lifted as her pain decreased. Forward. She could now walk, and relax. Move her legs on her own. All kinds of motions she couldn't normally do. Not on land.

Mike took the final measurement and ascended to the surface. That word. She had remembered the word ascended. One of the millions she had long forgotten. Here, and in a few other preparation chambers, she had been able to regain the memory and abilities which she had lost over a decade before to chronic pain.

Coran and Jilly finished up their movement measurements and would join her soon. They'd all have a six to eight-hour reprieve from high pain. It wouldn't be gone. Only tolerable. At a level that would incapacitate normally healthy people.

Pamila walked toward the mimicked space station. She had read the directions before she put her suit on. She read them again on the waterproof board. They made more sense now. To repair a broken piece of metal, and extract some debris. Without damaging her suit.

The camera people followed her. They could speak to her through the helmet in an emergency. Mostly, their communication was between them and all the other technical staff.

If she passed today, it would be a few more weeks before she, Jilly, and Coran would be shipped off to Mars. Their goal was to build a space station for those who could not walk in Earth's gravity. They could float, and be productive. A few real astronauts would join them, to help build a colony on Mars. This colony would be for people who could not physically function on Earth.

They were seen as expendable. If anything went wrong, no one would know until the next supply ship arrived.

A memory of the day their lives turned around popped in her head as she neared the mock space station.

Doctor Tren had appeared at a chronic pain management meeting. He told them he believed they could live healthy, happy lives on Mars. And other zero, or low gravity locations. However, the government would not authorize his research, unless, he termed it as a way to be rid of them. He played the part admirably. In front of the cameras. In private, he reminded them of how their contributions could save humanity. He chose the most scientifically trained for this first mission. Other skills would be needed in later missions. Some were prepared to training in the next few weeks.

She, Jilly, and Coran would be the initial attempt at low gravity living. For life. Government leaders didn't expect them to survive. No one knew what the results might be for their health. They could all die without access to Earth's healthcare system. After all, it would take more than a year to reach Mars by the fastest spacecraft currently available.

Or. They could live. And thrive. In a way they couldn't do back home.

Those who were healthy on Earth, might not thrive in the low gravity of a space station, or on Mars. The astronauts with them would be tested with that in mind.

Jilly arrived beside her.

Pamila handed the metal bar to her.

Words didn't need to be spoken aloud, although they could use the helmet's communication system. Words were whispered each night in the privacy of the dorm where they lived. Both had wanted to be astronauts since they were born. Both had gone to college and begun science programs. Then. Their health failed. They had lost much of the ability to walk. Talking became difficult. Working was impossible. Even reading and comprehending a short story was almost more than they could manage.

Coran had faced similar issues. He had trained to be a doctor. He'd be the first full time doctor in space. The doctors on Earth expected he'd fail. After all, he could barely spell his own name when on land. When underwater, and the pain had lessened, he could remember everything he had learned in medical school. Of course, he had failed in his final years, after he couldn't function ten plus hours a day during the resident training program of a local hospital.

On land, Coran hobbled from his dorm room to the restroom. Now, he danced across the bottom of the pool toward them. His own project for the day had been completed. He bounded up to them. He held up one finger to say he was doing fine. Then, he bounced on to the access to the space station mock up.

Pamila continued working. If Mars didn't work for them, then, maybe ocean colonies would. Would a colony floating on the ocean be accessible to family? Or build floating homes under the water. They could live in bubbles low enough that the passing of ships wouldn't damage them. Or bubbles under the rocky continental shelves. Safe from the storms that ravaged land. Not deep enough to where the pressure increased. The ocean would be a frontier life they could adjust to.

It didn't matter to her. She would go to Mars to live out her life. No matter how long that might be. She'd be pain free soon. Able to walk without her wheelchair.

What those outside their tiny circle believed was a death sentence, would prove to be a chance at life that otherwise could never happen on Earth. Pain free. Functioning. Able to walk, talk, think, live, and physically do everything they wanted to do.

If the people at home wanted them, they could remain on Earth. Healthy people could provide opportunities for them. Make life accessible. Instead, they chose to block every option. They called those who lived in pain lazy, and worse, for not being able to fit into the pain-free mold.

Perhaps, someday, those who stayed on Earth now, would have the same issues when they did arrive on Mars. It'd be interesting, to watch them stumble and fall, if they couldn't learn to navigate in low gravity atmospheres. It was physics after all. Healthy people tended to use much more force in movement. Those who lived in pain, used less force, to prevent injury. They also concentrated on the effects of their movements before doing them. It was a different thought process, and way of living.

Mars. The step to the stars. The initial step to survive as the sun begins its decline. The life-giving sun will expand to reach, and engulf the remains of Earth. A step for those who can live in alternate densities and environments. One step that may prove that those who are different, and unwelcome on Earth, may be the ones who can survive elsewhere.

Guinea pigs. They were the guinea pigs for the future. The hope of humankind, even if those who were healthy had not admitted it. Pamila lifted her head. It was something to be proud of. A legacy for her daughter who may someday join her on Mars.

The camera crew motioned to her. Her eight hours of relief was over. She began the trek back to the stand that would lift her out of the water, back to the land of pain, and forgotten words.

For only a few more days.

Isolation Worlds

Lights blared for takeoff.

Ryan glanced out the window.

Earth pulled away from him.

His introductory trip to the Isolation Planets. Though isolated, they weren't planets at all. They were renamed, reinvented, terraformed moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Much as Earth had been reinvented. The original home of humans was almost free from nuclear winter and safe to live on again.

The whine decreased as the spaceship leveled out.

"First destination is Military Planet." Parker touched another control.

"Why is it included in the Isolation Planets? Shouldn't they be held in high esteem?"

Parker turned a knob on the control panel. "The choice of those who set up the planet trip order. Military Planet is the first, and last destination on the supply trip. They keep us informed, and provide back up if there are problems on the darker planets."

Ryan unbuckled his seat belt. It would be a long trip. Plenty of time to catch up on history. He passed the isolation cells. Each locked room held at least one prisoner from one of the distant homesteaded planets, on their way to a permanent isolation planet. Few, if any, would ever return home.

He glanced at the cards. Two sex offenders, three thieves, and two druggies. How did this even happen anymore? The endless wars and destruction should have turned everyone away from crime. However, it seemed to escalate instead of decrease.


Lights blinked.

"Military Planet." Parker adjusted a control switch.

In an hour, they had docked at an open building.

People of all ages, genders, and from several different planets gathered in the waiting area.

Parker handed out boxed supplies. "Any news?"

A grizzled old man stepped forward for a bag of tree leaves. "Nope. Usual chaos. A druggie wants to go home. Will you take him?"

Parker lifted another box. "What do you think?"

The man rubbed his chin. "I know this one. Send him to Petty. He might be ready next trip."

"Can you tell me about him?" Ryan leaned forward.

"Sure. Carry these leaves for me." The old man set the box down. He strolled across the crowded room.

His age didn't show in his legs.

Ryan gathered the boxes, and followed to the rooms where the man lived.

The man pointed to a corner to place the box. "I miss sleeping in leaf beds while in the wars. I almost miss them. Travel, sights, and laughter in between the battles. I don't miss the battles, only the new places I hadn't seen."

Ryan waited. The man would speak about the druggie when ready.

The old man pulled up a quilt. "Delren was my son. He has a child. The mother was a druggie too. They left their child with my wife on Forest Planet when they were sent to Druggie. They could have chosen otherwise. They didn't. I hope he is ready to go home."

"Is your wife here?"

The man laughed. "This is no place for a child. Or, a wife. She is happy. She sends me leaves, and letters. Go, or Parker may leave without you."

"I'll be back."

"Bring news of my son."


Days passed. Two Isolation Planets to visit before Druggie. These space ports weren't at all open, or friendly. Nothing like Military Planet. No peace here.

Locked door stood behind locked door. A third set of locked doors before they even reached the platform where the workers who could leave were located.

"Three requesting departure." The man in a military uniform blocked the locked doors.

Parker nodded. "Ryan here will interview Delren. I'll interview the other two."

The man pointed his gun at Ryan. He pointed the gun toward an open door.

Ryan stepped inside. Instead of a nice pleasant room with a bed and window, like on Military Planet, the room was tiny, dark, with only a blanket crumpled on the floor.

The tiny thin man who sat on the blanket looked up as Ryan walked in.

"Your story?"

"I didn't want to go to war like my father. I took the only way out. It's war here too. My body is dying. I want to go home and see my mother, and child one last time."

"You know about your child?"

"Yes. Though not the gender. The child's mother died a month ago in my arms. She begged me to go back. Please take me."

The man didn't look like much.

Parker stepped into the open doorway. "Hurry Ryan. We have to go. If they find out we are here, they'll rush in and try to take the ship."

The man closed his eyes. "I promised her I would try to go home."

"You may go with us to Petty."

"Hurry." Parker stalked off.

Ryan held out his hand. "We must go. Are you ready?"

The skeletal figure rose. "I know you'll make me take my clothes off and check for drugs and such."

Ryan closed his eyes. That part of this potential job he didn't want to do. If it was too bad, he could always change his mind, and become a forester. Not a farmer, or a city builder.

As Ryan and Delren entered the spaceship, Parker pushed out two young women into the waiting arms of the gun totting men.

The women staggered behind the men to the set of locked gates.

The skeletal man toppled into a seat. "I remember being led into Druggie. Not many leave."

Parker pulled the spaceship out of port.

"What's it like there?"

Delren smiled. "Fun. For a while. All the drugs you can grow and use. Then, it gets boring. We miss what we gave up. Even if we were whole, we could not go back and have a future."

"I thought that was story, not real."

Delren's eyes lit up. "Oh, it's real. Those two women will be unable to bear children within the hour. Any pregnancy they have, may be aborted, since they don't appear pregnant."

Ryan's mouth dropped. "Why did they give up so much?"

"Who knows? For me, I didn't want to go to war. For women, it varies. Many also have family or friends on other isolation planets, usually Offender." Delren's eyes closed and he slept.

"True." Parker stepped toward the docking area. "It was hoped Druggie would be the first Isolation Planet to no longer be needed. It seems they are all needed. I hoped to retire twenty years ago, with no one doing this job now."


Months passed as they dropped by planets and left prisoners, and supplies. Their final supply destination would be Murder Planet. Even more dangerous and devious than Druggies. Druggies could be stopped by doors. Murderers, not often.

Ryan held on as they docked at the satellite orbiting Murder.

"Push that control." Parker pointed. "It'll take all the oxygen out of the dump room."

Ryan pushed the button. The screens showed no people in the room. A paper fluttered on the floor.

They waited ten minutes to be sure any escapee would die before pushing the button to dump supplies into the empty room. Ryan and Parker then pushed the drugged and bound murderers onto a platform that would float down to the floor as soon as they closed the door.

"How long will they be locked in there?"

"An hour. They'll live. Oxygen will flood the room once the ship is detached.

"Close off oxygen supplies to the drop bay."

Ryan turned off the oxygen to the tiny capsule that would drift down to land on the lowered supplies.

Radio signals crackled.

"Parker here."

"Stopping back by Petty?"

"Yes. Delren will be our drop off. He has gained weight and health since leaving Druggie."

"Fine. Theo will be going with you to Forest. He has changed his name to Lindon."

Parker nodded. "What was his crime?"

"Petty theft on City. Something about a blanket painted to look like trees."

Parker laughed. "Be ready for the swap in the morning."

Delren sighed. "I hoped to see my father on Military at least."

"Unlikely. Do you think he wants to see you?" Parker held his hand on the radio switch.

Delren lowered his head. "No. I was his shame. His oldest child."

"I think he did want to see you." Ryan touched the radio dial. "Can we take him there before his father dies?"

"You're soft. You'll be hardened like me once a murderer sneaks on board."

"I hope one never does."

"Petty?"

"Yes."

"We'll take Lindon, and keep Delren. He may be with us on the next fly by."

Lindon's arrival was quiet. He chose a back storeroom to sleep in.


Months passed before they arrived at Military Planet.

The only person waiting for them was the old man with a handful of leaves.

Lindon and Delren walked up to him. "Father."

"My sons. May you have peace and know one another." The man handed them both a handful of tree leaves. He slumped to the ground and breathed his final breath.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Grimel touched down on Earth.

He pointed the taser at his legs. He closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger. For a short time, he'd hide his four-legged body under the two-legged guise of a red-blooded human. Not his favorite mission. Few others would dare. Humans had been known to bump into their invisible front legs, and run screaming. Those bumps often caused serious injuries.

The forest he had landed beside echoed with wildlife. The language transmitter would allow him to recognize and understand the babble of most of the creatures, except for one species of moth.

Across a field devoid of life, other than a creepy tall vegetation, loomed a dead home where a human lived alone.

Grimel walked away from the chatter of the forest into the silence of the dead grass. His front feet searched for safe passage, while his hands pushed the grains back into place. The ancestors of this grass had once had a voice, softer than the trees. Now, they made no sound, not even a rustle in the breeze. Or, as he brushed against them.

His front feet clattered onto a deadwood porch. The silence overwhelmed him. Humans were said to prefer to live in dead homes, frequently killing whole forests to build a few dead places.

Grimel touched the voiceless rail, and didn't quite trust it. Creatures that lived in the wood it had been made of, would have been poisonous to him, if the tree were still alive.

He turned his body at a painful angle to knock on the door as he had seen people do in the videos he had watched for this mission. Face to face with the dead tree held in place by metal straps, he could almost hear its death screams.

"Be right there!" A man opened the door with a squeak. "How can I help you?"

"I'm lost and need to rest."

The man grunted. "Lost souls always find their way here. Can't a man have any peace and quiet?"

Grimel shivered. Sound was welcoming, not silence. Silence and being alone like this man, would kill him in hours.

The man opened the door further. "Come on in."

Grimel followed the man, careful to close the door.

The man sat at a table. He swirled a cup of dark liquid in his hands. "You hungry?"

Nothing in the videos that humans ate appeared appetizing. All dead, like their homes. Couldn't compromise the mission. "Sure."

"There's food in the cabinet there." The man's eyes peered over the rim of the cup as he swirled it. He swallowed the liquid in a single gulp.

Mission at stake, he had to try to eat human food. "Which cabinet?" His voice squeaked, much higher than an adult human male normally reached.

"The one over the sink." The man set his cup down.

Too little sound in this dead place distracted Grimel's thoughts. If the man was busy chatting with others, he could check his database to verify he understood what "sink" meant.

He walked to one dead tree box, caressed the opening, and pulled it toward him. Inside were plastic and glass bound containers. He had seen them in the videos.

He pulled out one and looked at it.

"Don't you know what to do with a bread box? Are you some kind of tree hugger?"

He pushed the unappetizing plastic away. Grimel stepped back to the table. His front legs went under the table too far, and brushed something living. He pulled back. "Do you enjoy living alone?"

The man nodded. "It's peaceful and quiet. I can meditate. Since you left the bread out, I'll make a sandwich." He pushed the chair back. At the counter, he pulled out two more glass containers.

Not knowing what a sandwich was, Grimel walked over to observe him. After all, learning human ways was part of his mission.

The man pulled a small dead tree box out. He grabbed a dead tree limb out of a pile. He opened the plastic box, and pulled out two odd shaped flat things.

They kinda looked like toys children played with, though they were far too flimsy.

The man twisted open a glass jar, and pushed the dead twig inside. When he pulled it out, it was covered in red, the known color of human blood. "Fresh strawberries I picked myself."

Grimel shivered. This man ate his own kind's blood. Scary.

The man glanced from his work to Grimel. "Do you like strawberry jelly?"

He couldn't respond. The word strawberry wasn't one he recognized.

The man smiled. He turned back to the next glass container and opened it. He jabbed the stick in. It returned covered in a semi-solid brown which looked like Grimel's blood.

Grimel stepped back.

The man smeared the "blood" on the second slab, and slapped them together. Then he raised it to his mouth and took a bite.

That was enough! Grimel ran from the house and didn't care that all four feet clattered down the steps. There was no way he was going back. Someone else would have to find the escaped convict who had taken cover on Earth.

His superiors would expect him to report on what he had seen. Could he remember it? Grimel paused at the edge of the field as he removed his human costume with his taser.

A sandwich.

What was it?

Could he show his superiors how to make it?

Two slabs of dead grains hidden in plastic.

Human blood from a jar smeared with a twig onto a slab.

The convict's blood from another jar smeared onto the other slab.

Slapped together, and a bite swallowed.

He shivered and nearly fell. Even with all four legs firmly on the ground.

The sight of such a thing, he hoped to never see again.

Planet Loreia in Gamma Zaria

Kara slowed the spaceship in orbit around Planet Loreia. Loreia was the destination for those who needed a break from the mental stress of daily life, as if there were many of those these days. Or was it cycles? The cycle on a ship was different from a planet surface. Any planet.

She clicked the comm. "Arrived at Loreia. One week on the surface. I'll be waiting." Kara sighed and leaned back. A week of silence.

Sheldon walked onto the bridge. "Coming with us? It would be good for you. Not up here, all alone." He tilted his head to the side and watched her.

Kara closed her eyes. Of age. Alone. Grieving the distance, and likely death of all of her family. No one would be surprised if she didn't go to the planet's surface. However, a week alone in total silence, except for computer beeps, was an even worse prospect. Alone with her thoughts, fears, and dreams. Adrift alone in the ether over a world she had not stepped foot on, or breathed the air of. "I'll go."

No more words needed to be said. Sheldon turned, and left her to her thoughts.

Loreia. Where people communicated through telepathy and sign language. She wouldn't be able to hide her thoughts and fears. Too late.


Sheldon and his team of scientists hurried off to explore Loreia's ancient artifacts. Their research hoped to find a link between the inhabitants once spoken past, and their current communication style. It was an interesting combination of telepathy, sign language, and a few verbal words used with children. More complicated than Kara believed she could manage. It was hoped this would help scientists communicate with people who had lost, or never had, spoken language.

A few hours later, Kara examined artifacts in the host's display cabinet.

Their host, Fendallyn, looked at her expectantly. "Need?"

She sensed a tickle in her ear. Or perhaps, the edge of her brain. "Maybe a stroll. Is there a garden near here?" It would be refreshing to have fresh vegetables after months in space. Hydroponics wasn't the same as sun and rain grown vegetables.

Fendallyn held out both hands. "Come."

She waved him on. His words were few and far between. Although, on Earth, the lack of words would be a sign to be watchful, and fearful, it was normal here. These people spoke few words. Mainly to foreigners, and small children.

They strolled around a garden with flowers and plants she didn't recognize from her limited studies of this planet. She stooped to touch one which resembled a rose. Like the yellow rose left in her best friend's hand before she was buried only a few months ago. That rose had bloomed much as her friend had. Once, for a short, sweet time, she had been a mother to a newborn infant. All taken away by an unexpected illness, that the doctors had not recognized, and even now, couldn't name. Perhaps it had been a dormant virus picked up on the asteroid they had explored days before.

Kara held her hand out over the bloom, without touching it, and closed her eyes. The beauty and strength of the flower flowed to her hand, through her skin, to her brain. A beauty beyond words. A strength in times of fear. That beauty could reach her, and pull her heart out of the fear, to rise and continue on.

Something rather like a tickle in her brain pulled her out of her memories. The tickle scampered around the edges of her thoughts and feelings, before it scampered back out. If she were on any other planet, she'd assume it was electricity from the flower. A natural occurrence.

Fendallyn could be testing her. Or trying to read her mind. She opened her eyes and looked around for him.

He was an arm's length away, watching the flower. At least, to a less observant person. There was an energy about him. One which was different from the people she knew.

"Fendallyn?"

He opened his eyes. The extra ridge above his eyebrows raised almost to his dark hair. "You a researcher to?"

"No. Were you trying to read my thoughts?"

He shook his head. "No. Determine if you can transmit like we do."

"Transmit?"

"Thoughts. Pictures. Feelings. Structure."

"You think I can?" Kara pulled her hands back away from the rose. He seemed sincere.

Fendallyn nodded. "Think so."

"I don't want you reading my mind. I don't want to read other people's minds."

He laughed. "Not like that. More like your spaceship comm. Have to be close, or intend."

"Really." Kara tilted her head. "What was I thinking."

Fendallyn pointed to the rose and held his hand over it like she had. "Listened to the flower."

Yes. That was what she had done. Listened to the flower speak to balm her pain. It too had spoken without words.

He pointed toward a bench.

They sat amidst the many growing and flowering plants. "Some of you speak without words."

Kara hesitated and closed off bits of memory. Fendallyn must never see those forgotten memories. True. In intense relationships, or other circumstances, humans spoke without words. "You use sign language."

"As do you sometimes."

"Only those who are deaf, or deafblind."

"No. More. You don't realize it."

The tickling sensation began again. This time, she sensed more than saw hand motions, independent of words. Their meanings could be many, and depended on the words that went with them.

"You sent me images."

"Yes. Try to send one back."

"How?"

Fendallyn held out his hand. "Hold your hand over mine as if it were the flower."

She looked at him.

"I won't hurt you."

Kara held out her hand and closed her eyes. Energy raced through her fingertips. She pulled back a little. Questions formed in her mind.

"Do many people talk vocally here?"

"Few. To young children, or when visitors arrive. Several generations ago, we had quit altogether. Now, we try to revive spoken words."

"Do people enjoy talking aloud?"

"No. It's considered rude in public. Anyone might hear your words. That may not change."

Kara laughed. So opposite of humans. "Do you understand my thoughts?"

"Some. Your experiences are quite different. Lots of pain, I can tell. We listen for the word pictures you want us to hear. It would be rude to delve deeper. We do check for emotions of someone when we are introduced."

"No matter what?"

He smiled. "As long as you don't commit a crime, you are safe. Then, the examiners have the right to delve deeper."

Of course, that made sense. She pulled her hand away. Exhaustion overwhelmed her.

"Speaking like us is tiring when you begin learning. Few are able."

He led her back to his home, his hands a body width away. No touching, no spoken words, simply a gentle leading energy emanated from his mind.

It was simple to communicate that way. Her mind reached out to sense what was around her. A sense of peace.


Days passed as she practiced with Fendallyn. It became easier to communicate. They were soon able to transmit without having to be close to each other. A relief to Kara.

They could sit on the bench and transmit their thoughts and feelings. Fendallyn soon began to transit their culture's history to her. It was far more beautiful in pictures, thoughts, and feelings than words printed on a screen.

"Do they ever change?" Could the pictures be altered as they passed through collective generations? It was a concern. Almost as much as altered written words. The meaning of words, written and spoken, altered over time. Would a picture?

"Our communication has limitations. Some plants and animals have not been seen since the speaking days, and we don't have names for them. Only memory pictures. We aren't sure if the pictures are corrupt, or if they died out." Fendallyn looked out over the garden. "What your team is doing may help us understand that foggy past. We don't know what happened. Most of our spoken language is forgotten."

"That's not good. Sheldon will be back soon."

"No one else who has visited us has accustomed themselves to our way of communicating as well as you have."

Kara lowered her head. It was a unique and easy way to communicate. A one step process, not multi-step like seeing, feeling, thinking, and organizing before the words would arrive on her lips. She had accepted their style easily. Would she be able to communicate with Sheldon when he returned?

"What are you thinking?"

Kara glanced at Fendallyn. "Don't you know?"

"No. We learn as small children that when the thoughts move, we pause listening. Until we know the person wants us to hear again."

"How do I learn that?"

He laughed. "We can go to a public place where there are many people."

"I've hardly seen anyone since Sheldon left."

"You haven't spoken aloud in several cycles. You need to, before you forget how."

Kara laughed.

Fendallyn held his hand out. "We'll go."

They strolled through the town to a restaurant on the river bank. Another beautiful place she wished there were time to explore.

She expected to hear the cacophony of other voices in her head, as if they were whispering. Although there was a dull roar, it could have as easily been the river outside.

Fendallyn laughed. "You won't hear them unless they want you to. By age seven, most children have learned to block out unwanted intrusions."

"Must make parenting fun."

"I'm sure it does."

The waitress walked over to their table and handed them menus.

Kara scrolled the pages on the menu. She had learned some of the names of the dishes here. The picture of one looked like a fish meal.

Fendallyn transmitted a picture of a fish swimming in a stream. Then the picture of the dish that the restaurant served.

The waitress returned.

Kara opened her mind for the transmission.

The waitress displayed her surprise.

Fendallyn laughed. "She can transmit."

"Go ahead."

Kara's fingers shook as she skimmed the pictures to choose what she wanted to order. She pulled the memory of the picture of the dish Fendallyn had shared moments before.

"Good choice." The waitress took Fendallyn's order and collected their menus.

He ordered a similar dish. At least, the transmitted picture was similar. It could've been anything.

"Did you transmit to the waitress so she would know to return to the table?"

"Yes. Waitresses carry a device which enhances transmissions. It only transmits a return picture. Some customers are turned off completely."

"Wow. Hope that doesn't happen to me."

"Unlikely. A customer has to be extremely unruly for that to happen."

As they waited on their meal, Kara and Fendallyn transmitted thoughts and feelings about societal expectations and rules of conduct. There were many to remember.

After the last bite of fish and fresh vegetables, Fendallyn transmitted a picture of kids playing. "Do you want to go?"

"Why?"

"A way to practice. People lower their blocks down there, and you can practice blocking. Or listening."

"Okay." Kara pushed her chair back. "Payment?"

"The waitress has already accounted for the meal. It goes on my account."

"I don't want people to think we are on a date."

Fendallyn laughed. "You are a traveling dignitary here. Romances are arranged different."

"Okay."

Fendallyn led the way, sorta. They ambled side by side, with the transmitting energy the only thing between them. They passed a few houses, and down to a playground by the river's edge.

Children played chase. Others climbed on various objects centered in the open field. A few splashed in the nearby river.

Adults sat on tree limbs. Some talked. Others watched the children. It appeared as if no one noticed their arrival.

Many of the children were young. Young enough to both speak aloud, and project their transmissions.

Kara had to step back, the confusion was overwhelming here. A child ran beside her while speaking, and transmitting at the same time. Completely opposing thoughts and words, to different people.

Fendallyn touched her shoulder. "We'll sit on the tree over there."

They sat on a tree away from the other adults.

"How can they transmit to multiple people?"

"Energy connects parent to child. They develop blocks around age seven. Then, there is some connection for years. The distance a parent and child can transmit to each other is far greater than between two people who aren't related. Generally, over an entire house."

"What about couples?"

"They can transmit at a closer distance. Sometimes between rooms. Not always. Depends on the closeness of the relationship."

"I want to go closer again."

"Be careful. I'll stay here."

Kara stepped forward. The transmissions from Fendallyn faded, though not completely out. A few more steps, and she was close to a group of women sewing nearby.

Their transmissions were open. She could see the pictures. Children, sewed items, maybe clothes, and other trinkets they communicated about. She held the pictures of children in her mind, and glanced toward the play area. Several of the transmitted children were there. Was the person transmitting the mother to the specific child, or a conversation about the children in general?

She walked over to them. Would they expect her to speak aloud, or in pictures? Kara didn't want to scare them. They could block her if they wanted to. She spoke aloud. "Hi."

They glanced up.

Kara closed her eyes and transmitted a few thoughts to the group. "Learning to transmit. Help me?"

The women looked at each other.

Their confusion felt like pins and needles sticking her brain. They had no idea what she had heard or seen in their transmissions. Now, they replayed what they had shared to verify if anything important had been sent.

"How well do you transmit?" A woman transmitted to her. It was partially garbled by the background of children and other women.

"I ordered my meal today."

"How can we help you?" another woman asked. "Seems as if you are doing fine."

Kara closed her eyes. The picture Fendallyn had sent her of blocked minds arose. Somehow, she had to be sure she transmitted it correctly. Incorrectly had a different, almost vulgar, meaning.

One of the women pointed to a stump near them. "Join us. Listen to the children. You'll learn. You've been here how long?"

Kara glanced back through her memory. A week. Or maybe two. She had lost track of time.

It was a tiring afternoon. She listened and practiced blocking, as well as transmitting to multiple people at once. Not as easy as it sounded. Soon it seemed more natural to her than speaking aloud.

A young boy crashed on the ground near them. "Home."

Kara understood his transmission. "Who is your mom?" She sent back.

He stared at her flat forehead and backed away.

One of the younger women laughed. "I'm his sister." She then put up the block and transmitted directly to the boy.

The block felt like a cover which rolled over the images she transmitted. Although, a tiny glimmer of them peeked through. Then, the woman lowered the block. "Some blocks are light, and allow images through, others are similar to a slap. You don't want to experience those."

Kara nodded. "I was feeling it, trying to understand it. How it works, why, and much more."

"We know. Children here do that. Eventually, they stop. Maybe you can help us."

"Fendallyn asked me to. I don't quite understand how I can."

"You'll find a way. He is waiting on you."

"I better go back. My research team should be back today." Kara transmitted the thought of happiness, and a picture of a flower.

Fendallyn waited for her beyond where she had left him. "I thought it was time to return for you."

"You left?" She had reached easy transmitting distance.

"I had a few things to take care of. They would have found me if you needed me."

"I didn't feel you leave."

"I was outside of transmitting range." Fendallyn glanced at her as they strolled along the street.

"Are you sure? I know you helped me." Kara struggled with the realization. She had been alone, without the only person who knew who she was here on Planet Loreia. His presence had continued to feel as if he were by her side. Sheldon and the team didn't count, as they couldn't transmit thought and picture. Or communicate with non researchers.

They reached his home and went inside.

Sheldon waited for them. "Kara, are you ready to go back to the ship?" His voice boomed and echoed off the walls.

She covered her ears. Had spoken always felt like that? Did the children here speak softer? That was why Fendallyn had taken her to the playground. "Not ready."

Fendallyn laughed. "You can't transmit to him."

She turned to him.

Sheldon had a confused look on his face, and shuffled his feet.

"Sorry Sheldon." Her voice cracked. "I want to stay a while longer. You'll need to update the databases before we can leave anyway."

He stared at her. "We'll go back to the ship. I'll check back in the morning." He turned and walked out the door.

Kara giggled.

Fendallyn walked toward the kitchen. "You could always stay here."

Kara stood straight. "Here? I've imposed on you long enough." Her mind swirled as she attempted to block his thoughts to separate hers from his. As she did, she realized, she didn't want to block her thoughts from him. Some part of her kept reopening the block.

"You've integrated here. At most, I believed you'd be able to read a few transmissions, not nearly all. Almost as if you belong here." Fendallyn returned with warm drinks.

"Belong? I've never belonged anywhere." Kara sipped her drink. "There's a lot to consider. Not sure I want to stay anywhere long."

"Where is the longest you've stayed somewhere?"

Kara closed her eyes. Memories washed past, like a flowing river. She didn't even try to block Fendallyn from seeing them. All her memories. One ship, the Clam, she had lived on for over a year with her mother while young. Even then, they had visited dozens of planets. None of them had meant anything.

Fendallyn's memories reached out to hers. His whisper of emotion asked her to consider how she would feel if she left here today. She pulled back. Sheldon had been close to her. Their ship was home. Or had been for a few months. Going back to it didn't seem right. It wouldn't be easy to return to speaking, now that she could communicate this way. It was much easier to relay information without all those extra steps to create sound and words.

"You don't have to decide today." Fendallyn's words floated across her mind. They drifted further away.

She opened her eyes.

He wasn't there beside her.

She set her drink down and stepped out into the garden.

He sat on a bench waiting.

Deep down, Kara knew he had spoken from there. Not beside her. They had bonded. The bond could be broken. If she chose to. Either by returning to the spoken universe, or choosing to live with another person, here on Loreia.

She walked up to him and offered him her hand.

He had taught her how to reach herself. How to reach others. Did he feel as she did?

Fendallyn touched the tips of her fingers. "Your choice. You can change your mind anytime. Ships will continue to visit to study our world. Few will stay."

"I'll stay. For now." She sat beside him. The silence of the night was beautiful, filled with transmissions between them. No words. Only precious, peaceful pictures tonight.

Solar Life

Sunlight peeked over the horizon.

Elanora pushed the woven grass curtain back. No need to call Traden or Shadel from onvine chatting with distant friends. The weather forecast for today was bright sunshine for a full eight hours. She tapped her final vine mail of the night.


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