N.U.I.T. First Three Chapters
Here's the beginning of this interstellar saga set several millennia in the future and also deep in the genetic past…

 

 

The NUIT Chronicles

Book One: Man and Fishman

 

Part I: Man

 

She walks through the stars

Past Saturn and Mars

Who knows how she feels

With the moon on her heel…

—   Donovan,

Lady of the Stars

 

Chapter One:

Forbidden Love

 

Planet Gaia-1064:

Denny Sealmarsh crouched in the cover of trees as he awaited the arrival of his secret lover. Either Fiona was late, or he had arrived early for the liaison—probably both equally true. Only his brain operated at present not on reason, rather on instinct.

His world revolved implacably into twilight. The solar disk settled behind forested green hills. Firesquids hissed through the dusk on translucent wing-membranes, and scooped insects from the balmy evening air.

His heart beat rather too rapidly.

He tried to speed up the plodding pace of his wait by observing the creatures.

Firesquids had eyesight far keener than any human. They were highly intelligent, social animals and communicated via bio-luminous colors that flashed across their skin. When startled they expelled clouds of dark, acrid gas and their luminous skin went dark to cover their escape. Such a disturbance could easily alert any human being who knew as much about the creatures’ behavior.

Denny kept extremely still.

Now in his late teens, he had outgrown the childish games of deliberately scaring off the firesquids. A fair-haired youth of gentle and curious nature, he had always enjoyed solitude. Frequently while growing up he had trekked alone through the wild reserve around Sandoz Keep. At present, Denny remained carefully alert to every sound and nuance of the receding dusk among the hills—the interwoven songs of the night things that simmered through the lush vegetation.

Yet solitude was the farthest thing from his mind tonight.

At the center of everything for him was the image of young Fiona Oshay. Has she been delayed in leaving the Keep? Or for some reason prevented? Or is it only the anticipation?Could it be no more than the accelerated rate of my heartbeat, and my racing blood that makes the wait seem so agonizingly long?

In an attempt to calm his fearful mind, he turned his eyes upward.

Upon the deepening violet and blackness overhead, more and more glittering diamond points of light appeared. The sun’s last glow rimmed the western ridges with fading saffron and rose and subsided to dull orange like a dying ember.

Anxiously Denny thought of his mother Hathann Sealmarsh and his two fathers, Scuttar and Damial. She would be awfully disappointed in me if she had any idea of this illicit rendezvous!He loved his mother fiercely and also loved both of his fathers. However the ongoing and subtle tensions between Scuttar and Damial left him feeling stranded between their differing brands of affection. They devote so much of their energy to competing in subservient adoration for my mother’s attention! Half the time I’m really just a weapon in their battles…

His adoring mother’s disapproval was what Denny feared most. After all, she isthe matriarch of the Keep—she’s the Law embodied!

His brow knitted slightly. He watched the spectacle of a bigger swarm of firesquids that gathered over the river in a rising gyre of flickering and flashing colors. More darted in from all around to join the growing funnel through inky shadows on the mild breeze.

A sudden ripple of shrubbery along the river shore stabbed him with dread until he recognized the gleaming carapaces of a pair of cultivation drones.

His thoughts quickly revolved back to the lovely image of Fiona Oshay.Where are you, light of my soul? What’s taking you so long?

The fear that their secret had been discovered gripped his chest, tightened his balls and iced his bowels. To calm himself, he breathed deeply into his diaphragm and closed his eyes for a few moments. If we are discovered, Fiona will be held more responsible because she is the female—yet it’s truly my fault! I’m the one who persuaded her and started this affair…

Well concealed within the forest’s edge, he hugged his knees and watched the two drones move slowly along the shoreline beneath blazing starlight. With elegance and deliberation worthy of immense mantises, the mechs glided forward and paused by turns. They efficiently sensed conditions and collected samples of the vegetation that matured with the season. Likewise they scanned for various needs such as irrigation, optimal insectivary, or the rebalance of the chemistry of the soil. Now and then they emitted clouds or sprays of adjustment to the soil and vegetation biochemistry.

He saw the pair of drones freeze in synchrony, to process and transmit, then they gracefully stalked onward in virtual silence.

A growing hum arose, first faintly like a gnat whining somewhere behind his head, until the sound peaked in pitch and he recognized it for sure. His heart surged! The whine subsided to a low purr out of sight nearby and then abruptly stopped.

Her levicycle has touched down!

Denny sprang to his feet and the swarm of firesquids over the river must have seen the sudden motion, for they scattered like an explosion of multi-colored stars that winked out even as they dispersed. That abrupt exit left a drifting nebula of black, stinking gas that unraveled more gradually on the breeze.

Moments later, Denny’s dangerous secret strolled into the open from behind a low rise on his left. She unwound a long scarf from her neck while she walked toward him. She was, in fact, slightly younger than him, yet Fiona seemed so much more than the girl-child he had grown up with.

She’s a new creature, not a girl, rather a dazzling young woman!

Wide gray eyes sparkled softly upon him with humor and intelligence. The black hair, she kept cropped in a shag around the impish oval of her pale face. With velvet trousers tucked into tall cycle boots, the loose white tunic sashed at her waist, she dressed much the same way as Denny.

He called out quietly, yet urgently, “What did you tell them?”

“Nothing,” Fiona paused and glanced back at the starlit rise behind her. She returned to him with the same knowing smile. “Did I scare off the firesquids and cause that stink?” she said, waving a delicate white hand before her small, straight nose.

Not only her beauty and her slender figure stirred his arousal; her customary calm and confidence in her own purpose mingled with the illicit thrill of meeting her secretly. Fiona understands me better than anyone,he imagined.

“They’ll know,” he said, “we’re both gone at the same time.”

“They know almost everything anyway.”

“I certainly hopenot!”

Fiona shrugged, and her smile shifted slightly to ironic bemusement. “I mean, they can surely guess the truth. So long as we don’t provide them with evidence, nobody will interfere. Out of sight—you know—out of mind.”

“It’s not that simple.” He blinked rapidly, and scratched at the downy fleece of the first beard on his cheeks.

Warm, steady gray eyes fixed upon him, Fiona slowly climbed the slope toward Denny. He savored their somehow smooth, yet electric coming together after so much planning and unbearable impatience.

He opened his arms to welcome her. “If they find out,” he said weakly, “well, I don’t know for sure what would happen. My mother would have to take it seriously.”

She halted just in front of him. “They won’t find out.”

“Still, they’re not stupid.”

“They’re also not cruel…”

“We just have to be extremely careful.”

She studied his handsome young face. “I know that over three thousand years ago, on Gaia-1, this would not have been considered wrong. One girl and one fellow. Perfectly normal, even wonderful!”

“I know,” he said. “Only look where the whole thing about men and women, and marriage and monogamy and monotheism led? They ended up almost destroying the Motherworld, and women were like slaves, and children like property. That male dominant, sexist attitude also ended up treating Nature like no more than an economic resource… ”

“I know the history we’re told, only I know you and me, none of those terrible things are involved—there’s nothing wrong with this.” She could see in his eyes that he totally agreed. Fiona took two steps forward, pressed against him and slipped her arms around his waist. Her chin came to rest on his shoulder. He inhaled the clean mint and musk fragrances that he adored, felt her softer warmth against his lean, angular body. He embraced her with a certain wonder and mindful care, and folded his arms tighter as if that could actually make her part of him.

“This is all that matters,” she sighed.

“I’m fortunate there’s someone as strange as me at Sandoz.”

“We’re both fortunate.” She turned her face up to his and he bent to kiss her in that new way to which he had not yet grown at all accustomed. He felt charged and strong in her arms, yet in some unknown way terrified as if he might lose himself entirely by a total surrender to her. He had never felt anything like it and he wanted this, as he had never hungered for anything in his life.

“You’re right, of course,” he said. “I’m not so scared, not really, or maybe not as I should be. Supposedly we live in a supportive Universe, right?”

She returned his kiss at once, partly to silence him. She thrust her tongue onto his teeth and between them in a manner that startled him a bit. Then she drew back slightly, and frowned. “This makes no sense… I mean, why is it so terribly forbidden for me to be with you alone, without another man involved?” What these young people violated so secretly was the social convention of troilism—the belief that three individual should be present whenever opposite-sex lovemaking occurred—two males and one female.

Denny said, “It’s just what everyone seems to believe is right. Only I’m not sure everyone actually believes it. Obviously it istrue that same sex attraction is easier and more natural. This requires a lot more effort—to learn about the opposite sex.”

“You really are worried, Denny.”

“Theoretically one of us could get sent to a hive-center for sexual rehab.”

“Tuh!”She made a little scoffing sound. “Theory is just theory.”

He watched her as she untied his sash, and realized that she shared his excitement as he could see that her fingers trembled. “At least, Fiona, you and I can be honest with each other.”

She swept his tunic up and off over his head. “I hope so.”

“I’m afraid I’m just not a trisexual,” he said, “however abnormal that makes me. All I want is you.”

She laughed. “Trisexuality is fine, only it ought to be an option, not a pressure to conform to expectations.”

He grinned as she forced him down onto his back in the sweet balsam clover. She climbed onto him, and covered his mouth entirely with hers. Her tastes invaded his throat and lungs while her tongue darted deeper into his mouth. Through her tunic he felt how hard her nipples grew. She untied his trousers and hauled them off from his legs.

Her hand moved between his legs and nothing else existed for him.

A low-flying aerial drone cruised quietly through the treetops across the river, laser sensors fanned and scanned from its dim dragonfly shape. However its mundane hum blended with the young lovers’ exertions as Fiona kicked off her boots, and hauled off the rest of her garments.

A naked nymphet, she bent over him, to offer the silken ivory sheen of her skin, a perfect vision of female loveliness just before his face. He pushed upward, mouth open and closed his eyes. She gasped at the intensity. She jockeyed closer, and sought alignment between their bodies, as she recognized the diamond drop that appeared at the single eye of his exposed arousal.

He said, “I’m supposed to take more time to prepare you for this…”

“No need, Denny, I’ve been thinking about you all day. I’m already moist. And you’replenty ready.”

While he explored manually, she arched her back, mouth open, and her sighs grew deeper and longer. “You’ve got the sweetest touch, Denny, as if you can read my mind, so gentle and so… oooohhhhhhh…!”

Despite his total absorption in their impending union, some part of him noticed that the firesquids had resumed their swarming above the river, and formed a swirling pillar of flashing colors of light at what seemed the perfect moment.

The swarm also broadcast a collective hiss in a shrill fluting warble.

Fiona tossed out a nervous giggle, as if leaves suddenly rustled on a tree. “Our teachers always tell us that afterplay must not be neglected, so let’s plan to linger there.”

“Yes, yes! Only now, please,” he yelped. “Please—!”

Her fingers moved, found and made the connection; he held her waist with both hands as she began to sink slowly and then hovered. Her slight weight balanced and rocked gently upon him, as a wave-captured fern nods beside the turbulent froth of a waterfall. Nothing else existed except this blissful conjoining.

“Oh, Fiona, ohhh,”Denny’s voice quavered. Her name bubbled over from his lips again and again. He felt utterly inept, a total amateur, yet also exalted by her evident enthusiasm and generous appreciation. As if the awareness of the two young adults actually overlapped, for a measureless interval both felt something like: We’re in a space of total infinite sweetness, absolute completeness: eternal perfect Oneness with All Things!Audibly they gave out only sighs and strings of hysterical giggles until the ecstasy swiftly, suddenly peaked higher for him and grew irreversible.

Her eyes remained closed; she had entered a kind of profound inward trance.

“Sorry,” Denny whimpered, then his entire frame surged and almost threw her off. “I’m already… here comes!” His babble lapsed to mindless hoots of release. She grew utterly still, yet poised upon him. Eventually he lay motionless and senseless beneath her, as the heaving of his chest slowed its pace.

At last he stirred again. “I’ll do better next time,” he said. “I promise.”

She sank forward and lay gently upon him, and kissed his brow. “Good enough this time. Relax, lover.” Unhurried, she rolled off from on top of him.

Naked they stretched out upon their spread tunics, his golden headband of manhood tossed onto their rumpled trousers, in the form of a figure eight. Arms folded behind his blond head, Denny gazed up at the beating hearts of thousands of stars and galaxies upon the vault of night. Fiona curled along his side, a graceful leg thrown casually over him. Her eyes gleamed as she watched him indecipherably. Her spidery white fingers tickled at his navel and traced the line of fine golden hairs along his lower belly.

“It has to be like this,” he said.

Fiona lifted her dark shag from his shoulder. “Huh?” When he made no response, she smiled and her hand glided up his midline to the smooth planes of his chest. Her fingers rested there to play with a tiny nipple. “I believe” she whispered, “quite possibly I like afterplay better than foreplay, anyway!”

“So you must be more experienced than I imagined!” The way her fingertips pinched and plucked at one side of his chest, then the other, and back again, seemed to actually make his heart expand in his chest, as if it might grow too big fit within his ribs. Is this what love actually feels like?Maybe it isa physical sensation, as much as anything else!

A pale pink glow from the east heralded the rising of the first moon. They lay peacefully aware of one another’s vulnerably raw and amazingly beautiful humanity, as they absorbed their shared warmth and humid breath.

“Denny, my darling one, does it bother you that there is no other male person here to share this with us? Please tell me honestly.”

They both knew precisely the nature of their transgression. On Gaia-1064, as on many worlds dominated by cultural conditioning of the AIA Sisterhood, love affairs and marriages were strongly tabooed in narrow male/female dyads. To establish an intimate relationship with only one person of the opposite sex was considered dangerously selfish, immoral, and socially disruptive.

Male dyads and triads were considered expedient and even encouraged, along with the social networking of regularly scheduled Male Masturbation Circles to help keep adult men happier, more balanced and sane.

According to AIA beliefs, no female should engage in erotic intimacy with a male without the safety valve of involving another male. A focus on exclusive paternity was strongly frowned upon. Men were discouraged from considering themselves the progenitor of any particular child, and were not allowed to give orders to women. Socially sanctioned triadic couplings of a woman with two men, whether committed or omnigamous as part of a larger group in erotic connection, were always to be mediated by the female involved. A male in a triad with two females was discouraged for historical reasons not entirely agreed upon, even within AIA circles.

Fiona repeated, “Does it bother you, Denny?”

“Not at all.”

“I mean… do you believe it’s wrong?”

With a shrug of broad, bare shoulders: “I don’t care.”

“That reassures me.”

“Fiona, I wasn’t sure you’d come. I’m so grateful you did.”

“Human needs are human needs.”

“You’re not worried about those bizarre reports of big predators in the forests?”

“I’ve never been afraid in Nature.”

“Good for you! It’s just that apparently it’s true: these things have killed several people, and more and more people are missing in various parts of the world. There are these stories about thunderbirds, and sea-serpents—”

She teased him without mercy, “Maybe it’s me you’re really afraid of, Denny!”

“Actually, look here, I’m ready again.”

She smiled on sight of the undeniable and rather dramatic evidence, and then her expression grew more reserved and pensive. “So,” she said, “one day we’ll both be mated into proper triads—me with two men, and you with a polarized pair like everyone else—and we’ll forget about this.”

He giggled, as her hair brushed his ticklish stomach, a silken frond, black as the night. Squirming, he grabbed her head in both hands. “I’ll never forget this,” he insisted gallantly. His sighs grew urgent as she nuzzled and nipped at him.

She lifted her head and grinned. “Let’s do it all over again,” she said, “just to be sure.”


 

 

 

Chapter Two:

The Cavern of the Starmaker

 

Planet Johnson:

The Sphinx of Night, which guarded access to the chamber from which she had descended to the cavern, had asked a peculiar question this time. She knew that it hardly mattered what she answered, for that monstrous thing actually smelled, looked, and listened to discern her motivation, rather than analyzing her answer.

“Who are you?” it had asked.

She answered—perhaps too hastily—“I am the One.”

It bestowed a massive nod and said, “Pass.” In reality she despised that smelly and bizarre chimera, and always dreaded that she must nurse from it to enter.

Now behind the old woman’s heavy eyelids, deep beneath the planet’s surface, blinding radiance fluxed and flowered aggressively in hyper-cubical lattices. Rainbow colors flickered along trans-temporal gridlines. Overwhelming visions threatened to scatter her atomic stardust to random waves of energy. Damn! I failed to remain in the Clear Light of the First Bardohave to deal with energy flux, the retinal circus

Now, far below the planet’s silicate crust, she felt forced to squelch the familiar frustration and the instinct to flee. She utilized a concerted twist of her iron will. She knew that a Higher Intelligence was now prepared to provide her with feedback. Or at least it was about to offer some kind of inspired information on important questions, though she knew from experience the data might be more confusing than illuminating.

And yet…

I AM nobody,the Starmaker chimed in her head. You are the doorway of my thoughts, opening from nothing into nowhere.What passes through that portal, AM I.

The old woman responded carefully and quietly, her own presence subsumed, in fact nearly dissolved in the Presence of Limitless Light. “The Owacha of the Inner Council are reluctant to admit, even to themselves, the terrible mistake we made… in failing to terminate the biosphere of Gaia-1064 sooner. Still, I myself am not sure which is more unthinkably terrible: to contemplate actually doing this, or to consider the consequences of notdoing it. Impossible to say which is worse. It’s something like a malignant tumor that could metastasize. Spread and engulf many worlds. And yet… it’s infinitely more complex than that analogy.”

She felt utterly transparent, on the verge of nonexistence. Dissolved in the near-death of the cavern, to speak aloud and hear her own voice was her only means to maintain some measure of control over her thinking. That formation of linear language served as a survival mechanism at present and bridged the hemispheres. Within her brain the tiny pineal gland sizzled like a mass of carbon under excruciating pressure on the verge of crystallization into a diamond pinpoint.

She had isolated herself for a solo weekend retreat in subterranean chambers far below the surface of the planet Johnson, the fourth world of the star Ganesh. The underground facility lay deep beneath an ancient, yet potentially active volcanic caldera on the Continent of Blenmoorish in Johnson’s Eastern Hemisphere. All of this lay below the famous temple called the House of Mercy atop one particular summit along the rim of the vast caldera.

This cavern housed mechanisms that inserted her body within a protective capsule to descend a drilled shaft through the solid crust and upper mantle of the planetary body and thus penetrate into the asthenosphere. Thermal energy and radiation from the planetary core transported by a mantle plume surrounded her capsule. This proximity communicated the atomic matrix of her body’s matter with radioactive decay of isotopes at the fiery core still active since the planet’s accretion from the star.

The Starmaker spoke again: My native web, which you call hyperspace, holds all things manifest in a perfect balance of tension and integrity. This has been called “tensegrity.” In truth it is a great mystery inherent to what you call the fabric of space and time. Rather than verbal, the communication actually emerged in her awareness as fractal imagery that blossomed on all levels of scale, which her brain struggled to simplify and reduce to an abstract linguistic sequence. The being continued: Do not make the mistake of thinking there are any mistakes. Patterns are patterned because they reproduce themselves in similar kind as they evolve at every iteration of scale, micro and macrocosmic. To discern the Design, ask the Designer.

This seemed so close to nonsensical, or at least abstrusely metaphysical that the old woman pursued pedantry. “With deep regret,” Marana said, “the Council has voted that it is necessary to terminate Gaia-1064 at this late date.” She grimaced at the horrific, unthinkable notion, however necessary it may have seemed to her female council. “The rogue mutation may have actually arisen centuries in the past, from the RNA templates during terraforming of that planet. Gaia-1064 currently has a sparse, carefully maintained human population of only 1.5 billion.

“There is also the scale of the dangerous human activity focused there, something unseen since our species left its Mother World. Millions of males are involved in a covert recruiting project of a military nature. They call this ‘Brotherhood Camps,’ but the men are being trained in predatory skills. The perpetrators apparently train them according to ancient military brainwashing techniques called basic training. And that’s starting to be seen on many worlds. There may be a morphic resonance of the process that originates from 1064, helping it to spread to other world, other star-systems. Seems like there is also some unknown connection with the genetic anomalies.”

She knew that to the Starmaker the working of her mind must seem as obvious as the lazy drift of fish in an aquarium would seem to her gaze; she also felt acutely aware that she was scarcely a newborn infant of an extremely primitive species to this stellar being. Something like a jellyfish might seem in relation to herself, as a human being.

“Fortunately,” she added, “the population of 1064 remains largely unaware of the true scope of our problem. Hopefully they will never know. I just wish I knew which would cause less suffering: to do it or not to do it. I really cannot predict. It’s just so complex.”

Consider well what it is you thirst for. Reject this cup and you reject your own intent. All that you consider separate from you is actually you.

“Are you telling me that we should not destroy this malignant biosphere?”

You choose.

“Someday I hope to learn more about temporal flux. All that has stayed our hand so far is our incomplete understanding of how the apparent past and apparent futures interfere to create the mystery of the actual present. This thing we call the Eternal Now is in truth all that exists. The greater our accumulated knowledge as an interstellar species, the more powerful and swiftly the dark matter and energy of our ignorance increases! Only through our limited access to your native hyperspace can we glimpse the whole weave—and then only momentarily… only in fragmented form.”

It had told her: All that you consider separate from you is actually you—the standard approach to universal Oneness. “You tell me that it is all woven of a single thread! What does this really mean? That the future we create by our choice may determine this present moment in retrospect, yet only as it interacts with the past? It still confuses me… makes my head hurt!”

You try too hard for control. You trust your instincts too little. You have scarcely sprouted into being yet even as you look upon the radiant face that gives you existence you know it not. It regards you through your own eyes, from your own face.

“I ask your help in order to understand.”

You struggle to imagine full flowering when the leaves of your mind have only begun to unfold. Remember—any manifest thing that you consume and digest makes its home within you. You become its means of rebirth.

The old woman kept her silence for what seemed like eternity.

As always, communication with the stellar entity—whose physical expression was the yellow dwarf star Ganesh—proved infuriatingly subtle or vague and challenging. To her conscious mind, it seemed to speak rather obvious metaphysical poetry: Sufi paradoxes, evasive riddles and koans. What it actually told her remained in the mysterious ocean of her unconscious mind.

Marana much preferred blunt straight talk.

“I am aware,” she said at last, unable to suppress a gruff sigh of impatience, “that this is not something worthy of your concern. A trivial matter, actually, relevant merely to human beings.”

Nothing concerns me, the Starmaker responded without hesitation,and nothing is unimportant. Such distinctions are dualistic functions of your limited awareness. Still, omniscience is not for you, or you would no longer beyou.

“Thank you,” she said dutifully, aware that she had in no way deceived the stellar entity. “I will do my best always to remember that.”

She realized that at most she might have managed to divert that school of shiny fish—her thoughts—in a single evasive direction for just a heartbeat. Yet if it read her mind also in what humans considered to be the future and the past, then her cause was hopeless! With that confused thought, she instinctively withdrew from the trance.

Firestorms of synaptic turbulence consumed her mental sphere as neural fusion released her like a spent lover. She trembled violently with shattering imprint vulnerability while the invasive backwash of brain chemicals and hormones flooded her nervous system.

A sizeless black fist gripped her.

Gone.

*   *   *

She coalesced gradually into the familiar boundaries of her form.

Meanwhile automated survival mechanisms had withdrawn her body from the magnetic wave storms and swirling particle chaos of the cavern. Without the life-support of those faithful and ingenious devices she would have perished instantly upon her insertion into the asthenosphere below the planet’s solid crust.

She granted herself time to begin sorting out exactly who and where she was, while trillions of nanomechs teemed through her system repairing massive molecular damage throughout her cells.

Yes.

Human/stellar communion sometimes proved a necessary part of her duties as the High Owara of the AIA Sisterhood. Women of the Order had infiltrated virtually all human cultures since the diaspora from Gaia-1. They had effectively conditioned the civilized galaxy with a kind of cultural treaty between the sexes that produced an overall peace for more than two millennia. No organized warfare had occurred on any major scale, though that might be about to change…

Yet how long her sanity could survive these stellar contacts, she had no idea.

Owara Marana was her title and name within the AIA. She had long served as Supreme Matriarch of the Order, perhaps for too long. However she did not feel a suitable successor was prepared to take over for her in the position. She considered all of the AIA’s subject worlds and their countless inhabitants, in a literal sense to be her charge and her children. She believed that she sincerely loved all living things of all worlds. Only this had to be impersonal, unconditional love. Otherwise, she could not possibly make such a difficult decision as this one without her judgment being clouded and confused by emotion.

What the inner council of the Owacha intended regarding Gaia-1064 might possibly be wrong. Yet in hyperspace, the native realm of the Starmaker, right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark, male and female, future and past—none of these dualities had any relevance.

Now, in retrospect, her dutiful consultation with the entity seemed pointless.

The Owacha had already voted. For Marana to override their decision with a veto and fearfully abort the termination would only stir internal conflict. It would erode the women’s confidence in their own authority. The last thing she wished was to cause such disunity. Still, she was not totally convinced of the rightness of that decision.

By the same stroke, though it would technically be their decision and not mine, I would never forgive myself for allowing it to happen! Never.

She spoke aloud, “Of course, I would override if I knew it was absolutely necessary.” At any rate, to all observers the cataclysm will appear to be nothing more than a terrible, unprecedented and mysterious natural disaster.

Certainly I could never forgive myself for not preventing such a slaughter! Perhaps my sole recourse is another journey into the asthenosphere and even deeper into the hyperspace where “Ganesh” swims so effortlessly…

This time I’d need to go deeper still within the Sub-Atomic Nuclear Events, to the innermost realm of those S.A.N.E. to the Nonlocal Subquantal Singularity where Universal Oneness is a literal, terrifying, unavoidable, inconceivable, ineffable reality.

Have I really got any other course?

No.


 

 

 

Chapter Three:

The Arthro-Tiger

 

Planet Gaia-1064:

Fiona turned her back to the large plaz window that showed the peaceful nightscape around Sandoz Keep.

She regarded her fathers absorbed in their game of hyper-chess. Both tall, muscular brown-haired men, they took pride in their strong, healthy bodies, and wore nothing more than small kilts in the warmth of the domestic pod. Roban was clean-shaven but for a dramatic mustache; Zilla wore a full dark beard, as if to distinguish them, for they strongly resembled each other. Best friends since early boyhood, her fathers worked as ecorangers under the command of the matriarch Hathann.

Roban and Zilla had joined in a committed parental triad with her mother Artime when both were less than twenty years of age. Since Artime’s sudden death in a levicycle accident when Fiona was nine, her fathers continued to raise her as a male dyad, though they sometimes shared themselves with other lovers according to trisexual ideals.

Fiona felt extremely fond and proud of her kind and affectionate fathers. Active and attractive youthful men, they almost seemed like older brothers to her. She never really pondered which of them might be her biological progenitor—it did not matter.

For the first time since she began staring out at the dark treetops and hills, thinking privately of Denny, she noticed the soft and insipid music that played in the pod. She did not actively dislike the innocuous background melodies.

Yet, as she observed the simple contentment of her fathers hunched over their gaming matrix this evening, something in her rebelled. Maybe it’s so tedious,precisely because the domicile is smart and always monitors our brainwaves and pheromones so closely that it’s all-too-perfectly designed and adjusted to be totally soothing!

Suddenly she resented that insidious control mechanism that failed to prevent her silent inner longing for Denny andfor adventure. This doubtless stemmed from the experiential root of her secret questions about the tribe’s trisexual mandate.

 Her recent experiences of the illicit pairing with Denny caused her to question the strong cultural conditioning against such dualistic liaisons. All her life she had accepted this assumption that two men must always attend to a woman in both the erotic and in the partnership sense, in order to keep in check the inherent aggression and possessiveness of human males.

Human males were known to actually be another species that lived in close symbiosis with human females. Plus human males were understood to have an inherent predatory nature, while human females naturally tended to order their lives as prey animals do. And yet this belief seemed totally contradicted by the gentle, kindly and sensitive nature of the young man who had just lately become her only lover!

Her fathers were decent, considerate, and playful men, with no serious aggression about them. Maybe I better just watch them play this game for a little while… then I’ll politely excuse myself and retire to my personal pod where I can select my own music and study whatever I want!

“All my credit for your thoughts, princess,”said bearded Zilla. He had not even looked up from the shimmering images of the game between him and mustachioed Roban, who added, “You seem awfully remote and brooding, baby girl!”

This actually surprised her that they had noticed. “I do?”

Both men turned handsome grins in her direction. “Totally,” Zilla said, and Roban confirmed it with a vehement nod.

“I feel like a gazelle in the headlights with both of you staring at me this way!”

“Hey, hey,” Roban said. “You know we love you madly.”

“Of course I do. So, I have a blunt and shocking question for you guys.”

“Fire away, sweetheart,” Zilla sat up and arched his spine backwards. He raised his elbows and made fists, and then levered them in and out from his shoulders. Roban lifted a chalice of eugoberry liqueur of a kind he himself brewed, took a sip and handed it to his husband. Zilla wiped his whiskers, set the chalice down and leaned forward to kiss Roban on the lips before both turned their full attention again to their troubled daughter.

“So, guys, why is it terribly wrong to love one person more than all the others?”

Roban fingered his mustache lightly; a little glyph of puzzlement formed mid-brow. “Is it, dear?”

“I mean… that’s what we’re always told. Plus traditionally it’s said to be anti-social, even disruptive of social harmony.”

Zilla gave a hearty chuckle. “You can’t believe everything you hear!”

Roban added, “Not even from us.” His husband looked back at the game field. This round, both men knew Zilla was probably winning, much to the annoyance of Roban, who considered himself a hyper-chess wizard.

“Where is this really coming from?” Zilla said and turned to regard her more directly.

“I’m simply wondering why we are compelled to mate with two people in triads, or more than that. A female always with at least two males? Why are we never allowed to simply couple with one person of the opposite sex, though we are actually encouraged to engage in erotic play with those of our own sex? If it’s supposed to be because women are superior and men can actually be sort of dangerous… despite what I’ve seen in the histories… I don’t think I really believe it’s necessarily so.”

Zilla chuckled. “Good for you, princess! Think for yourself, and question authority. That’s the only good attitude, though it can get you in trouble with the authorities!”

“How can you joke about my serious questions?” Fiona said. She pouted and whistled for the gastropod chair, which scurried to her feet and as she laid a caressing hand upon its soft, sensitive skin. The chair inflated itself upwards into a sort of three-legged, plump leathery mushroom, and then it began to purr contentedly.

Fiona hopped up and perched upon it, folded her arms at her chest, and turned her face back toward the window. The chair grunted in contentment, like all its kind, it was a subservient somewhat masochistic creature, as happy as it was purposeful.

“Don’t be upset, honey,” Roban smiled at her sweetly, then returned to the game where Zilla had again grown fixated upon the pulsing, shifting lights of the display field. Roban straightened his spine and then slowly raised and extended a hand into the simulated hyperspace of the game.

Zilla grimaced as his husband’s slow, relentless gesture inspired dramatic changes in the display. Its spectral colors became black-and-white waves that traveled upon lines and grew barbed, then gridlocked as a crystalline structure with spheres of both polarities inserted to create a sort of 4-D Go game. The interstices emitted puffs of smoke, alternating orange and purple. Then the entire field froze up in a golden glory of infinite perspectives.

“It’s not over,” Zilla said, “until it’s over.”

Roban guffawed. “It might as wellbe!”

“Sorry to bother you guys,” Fiona said without returning. “Can’t expect you would really be able to listen to my whining while you’re playing that… just feeling sorry for myself anyway, I suppose. I’ll get over it.”

“Wait, baby, hold on,” Roban said; Zilla declared, “Unfair!”

He raised both hands, palms open at the side of the game field and slowly brought them together, so that the field collapsed from sight.

Both of her fathers turned to regard her backside. “Please,” Zilla said; Roban added, “Will you face us while we speak of something important?”

“This might be easier if I don’t look at your faces,” she said.

Roban accepted this. “Very well.”

“I’ve been… imagining something. Now I’m wondering… do you fellows, that is, have you fellows shared with Denny at the Male Masturbation Circles?”

“Is that what this is about, sweet heart?” Zilla said. “Because, yes, of course he’s often been at the Male Masturbation Circles in this neck of the woods ever since his manhood rites. We’d feel concerned about him if he wasn’t there sometimes, at least.”

Roban said, “We know you’ve been close friends with him, ever since you were both very small. He’s been like a brother to you. So maybe that gives you peculiar feelings inside? To imagine that we…”

“We really do consider Denny a fine boy,” Zilla said, “or rather, he’s a man now. And we love him dearly just as you do. At the MMC we’ve only—”

“Spare me the details! Still, you have,of course. And yes, maybe I’m a bit twisted. Only it does make me slightly uneasy to realize that.”

Roban exchanged a significant glance with Zilla and both returned to face her. “What’s happened, honey?”

“Nothing yet, or, uh…”

Zilla said, “I can’t recall ever seeing you blush before, Fiona dear heart! It becomes you, really. Only no matter what you’re thinking, if it’s anything to do with just being a natural human, it’s not worth stressing yourself about it.”

“I suppose that’s what I’m doing: stressing about nothing. Only, I do sort of wonder if I’m normal in another way, you know. I’m not really all that attracted to girls my own age. I mean, I can see in an artistic sense that female bodies are beautiful, sure. Only I don’t get aroused looking at them like I can when a really handsome boy takes his shirt off and dances like crazy to the drumming at a festival.”

“Well, you havelived something of a sheltered life here, compared with girls that grow up in a hive-center. Sometimes you probably feel starved for more variety socially. You see the same few hundred faces among the closest Keeps most of the time, I suppose.”

“Oh, I’m extremely grateful for you two,” she said. “Believe me. It’s really got nothing to do with you. You’re the best fathers a girl could have.”

“Are you sure it’s not something we did?” Zilla said.

Roban said, “Sometimes we probably don’t give you enough attention.”

“We’re still working things out between the two of us,” Zilla winked at his husband and they both leaned back, stretched their arms and stood up from the gastropod couch that had conformed in a U shape so they could face one another seated at its ends.

The couch gave a low sigh of release, and edged back from them slightly.

Roban and Zilla faced her.

Fiona’s gray eyes grew huge in her face.

“People learned many centuries in the past,” Zilla said; Roban continued, “Historically humanity learned how dangerous it is to mandate that men and women must partner in monogamous married pairs. This horrible byproduct of agriculture and organized warfare was in practice a form of slavery. It ended up oppressing everyone and everything—women, children, men, plants and animals, and the entire Mother World.”

Zilla smiled, and distant visions seemed to fill his inner sight. “Only the genesis of Ring City that allowed billions of people to migrate from Gaia-1 into orbital space and inherit the stars was able to save that Mother World from destruction by Hir children. Sounds like a myth. Only it really happened.”

Roban nodded. “Population pressures always get released—somehow!”

“So we’re told,” Fiona said. “I mean, about the migration and the pressures.”

“We’re not probing for information, only do feel free to tell us anything you wish, princess.”

“Thank you, my dear, dear dads! I will, if it feels necessary.”

“Maybe you really oughtto invite a girlfriend to sleepover with you,” Roban said, and he bestowed a warm-hearted wink.

“Only problem is, I don’t have a girlfriend,” Fiona smirked. She crinkled her nose, and tried to make light of the discussion that still quivered on the air. “Really you’re right about getting enough sleep though, guys. Seems like I’m still growing.”

“Heaven forbid!” Roban laughed.

Zilla brought his hands together at his heart and his eyes sparkled. “Princess, we do love you madly.”

*   *   *

Planet Johnson:

Owara Marana touched a ruby glow on the ebon desktop before her. The visual field collapsed and left a dull glow that faded rapidly. The old woman gave a deep sigh as she folded her bony hands on the cold, hard surface. One middle finger bore a ring of spidery silver filigree set with a large, deep violet-hued amethyst.

She listened to herself as she exhaled another deep, dissatisfied breath, in which she detected an unhealthy buzz of her sinus cavities. I’m slipping, and just when I need all my strength, clarity and mental sharpness! I may very well need to enter the House of Mercy again… I really haven’t gotten enough clarity this time.

She gazed raptly at the glinting chunk of purple fire on her hand.

I’ve yet to fully recover from this latest access of communion with the stellar entity of Ganesh; and now it seems I may need to face it again soon.

Possibly it was too late to halt Project 1064 of the Owacha’s Inner Council anyway. Yet, as she had expected, the being of the star provided no definite reassurance one way or another. I simply want to know the consequences of both: action and non-action!

She knew that the stellar entity could see outside of linear time and provide her with definitive answers. Still, as always it has reasons of its own for its poetic evasions.Yet only in the House of Mercy can I hope to learn which is the less destructive path…

Still, I’m merely the thumb to the hand of the Inner Council, though they outnumber me 12-to-1, not 4-to-1! They hardly need me to form a fist.

The flight from Blenmoorish to Astra Mater had seemed to take forever, and she might be forced to return west again all too soon. She heaved an even deeper sigh, smiled ruefully and spoke aloud to herself, “Oh my, this is all rather confusing, even to me!”

A soft cricket chirp signaled her visitor’s arrival.

For a few deep breaths she remained still as a breathing statue. As her heart hammered too quickly, she employed her mental Zentantrick dial to slow it down. When ready, she reached to brush a fingertip across a glowing emerald dot on the far right side of her desk.

The door directly before her parted silently to reveal Owarini Mary Castle. She wore a pale sky blue single-suit with white trim. The rich auburn brown hair was pulled back behind her ears in a rather severe and immensely fluffy tail. This emphasized slightly prominent ears that framed the ivory delicacy of her features. Striking violet eyes had been heavily outlined with kohl.

 “Come in, Mary.”

“Am I disturbing you, Owa?”

“I only answer my door when I’m willing to be disturbed,” the old woman’s broad face observed her from beneath heavy, implacable eyelids though the wrinkles deepened with sincere appreciation for the lovely younger woman.

“I’ll wait outside if you—”

“I’ve been thinking of you, Mary. Often.”

“I can’t imagine why! Though I suppose I’m honored.”

 “You know, dear girl, our mental spheres have always overlapped significantly, especially since the end of your Neophyte Nymph stage, when I sponsored your Re-emergence. If you don’t mind, let us speak informally and personally. As sisters, rather than as Owara and Owarini.”

“If it’s what you wish.”

“Come closer.”

Mary glided towards the huge gleaming black desk where Marana sat with hands folded before her. Tiny lines of tension beside the younger woman’s mouth, along with pheromone molecules that no ordinary human could have detected, informed the crone of much that was going on within her protégée.

And she, trained so well by Marana and imprinted to accept the Owara’s threefold nature as a Triple Goddess, sensed the profound gravity within her mentor’s crafted composure. Mary remained only subliminally aware that she had been summoned here today; consciously she felt it had been her own idea. Marana had re-imprinted her well, and now intended to allow Mary’s subconscious responses to provide feedback upon her own conscious thoughts.

“Sit down,” Marana gestured at a gastropod chair, which detected the motion of her hand, and lit up from luminous red to orange as it inflated with a slight gasp to invite her upon its shapely softness.

“Thank you, Owa.”

“Refreshment?”

“Of course.”

At Marana’s nod, the desk opened between them and a pot of freshly brewed green tea appeared with two small, thick porcelain bowls. She lifted the cozy and poured a steaming bowl, pushed it carefully toward where Mary had taken a seat, upright and yet relaxed on the contented chair.

One of Marana’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “Something is bothering you, dear.”

“No idea what… something feels out of balance. Yes, I know it has to do with Project 1064, as you suspect. Nothing ethical, though we can never be 100% certain. Only I sometimes wish, to be honest, that I was not part of the Owacha.”

“I could not trust the Inner Council without your participation, Mary.”

The younger woman’s eyebrows lifted slightly. Her gaze dropped and she stared with a soft-focus upon the heated cup that she held lightly in both hands. Fragrant molecules of the essence of tealeaves swirled through her sinuses, and as they fitted into olfactory receptor sites, something ancestral awoke in her brain. “It’s… nothing I can put a finger on,” she smiled slightly. “Not even a mental fingertip.”

“Do you doubt the rightness of that unanimous vote?”

After a long silence, Mary raised the steaming cup in hands that trembled almost imperceptibly, yet the Owara’s Zentantrick mindful sight observed clearly. Mary’s concealing an extremely important secret—something that she senses!

How deliciously unexpected and possibly useful

“Sometimes I grow weary of our intense focus here,” Mary said. “I mean, the games within games, the fractal strategies and tactical-analysis. Sometimes I’d prefer to be some wild animal, simply being inmy environment, withmy environment, asmy environment.”

“Something istroubling you.”

“I had a dream… I saw someone die. It was as if SHe was the soul of an entire planet. A Gaian image, of course. Nothing rational about it, yet it seemed incredibly real and horrific… a kind of mythic intensity I’ve never felt from any fictional story image.”

A brief pause, and Marana took up the cup she had poured for herself, though as yet neither woman had tasted the delicate brew.

“SHe? You intend the dual gender pronoun? As in Hir?”

“It, rather, of course. Yet SHe appeared as a human female. Extremely young and attractive, gorgeous and intelligent, SHe seemed. Utterly full of life and promise. Hir death was not for any reason I could see… rather it seemed an accident. Sudden, violent, and with no clear meaning at all. It simply happened. Then SHe was irreversibly dead.”

“Great Goddess, Mary! We know that in reality nothing is meaningless. Everything is pregnant with significance, in perfect synchronicity. Everything speaks, because everything is composed of information. There are no accidents, except in the limited framework of Newtonian over-simplification, which our species can still be prey to. Cause and effect are child’s play. Not wrong, simply limited.”

“That’s our belief… apparently for many good reasons.”

“Do you feel that your dream related to the 1064 Project in any way?”

“In every way, actually. Certainly.”

Marana gave a low, almost involuntary gasp. “Very well, my dear. I’m still not sure about the 1064 Project myself. This is the most difficult decision I’ve ever faced. We must study the undercurrents of these men in Elysia, for it’s definitely got plenty to do with them. Soon I willdecide.”

“Suddenly,” Mary said, “I feel—”

Marana knew that if Mary said more, the issue would become confused with emotion, so she interrupted the younger woman. “Go now. Rest, rejuvenate, recharge, my dear. Come again tomorrow at the same time. I have an assignment. Nothing to concern you unduly, for it has nothing directly to do with the matter of 1064.”

“The Hawk Brotherhood embassy arrives soon.”

“Precisely.”

*   *   *

Planet Gaia-1064:

Barely visible rolling plains of agriculture stretched away into the distance beneath an arching sky dusted with brilliant stars. Here and there the wending course of rivers divulged their gleaming path, and cast up sparkles that reflected the rosy light of the two pink crescent Moons. Red, white, and green readout lights of cultivation drones threaded through the closer fields of crops.

In the far distance, Denny could see the nearest hive center that lifted from beyond the horizon, its shadowy height softened by atmosphere, like a perfected mountain. It climbed some 5 kilometers well into the stratosphere of Gaia-1064, a titanic obelisk studded with the cold light of thousands of lit windows that showed like a kind of diamond dust applied in geometrical grids.

In reality, what he saw was only the “stem” of an immense goblet-shape. The upper “bowl” showed only as a hazed obscurity where no stars, either natural or artificial could be seen, a broad oval of true void. It still kindled awe. Hard to imagine, that almost a million people live in Vlek Hive, and nearly half of those are underground, in the root-space! I could never live there among those thousands, like some kind of insect…

Somewhere east of Vlek lay the Signal Ocean that he had only visited once.

Six times during the last twin lunar cycles, since their first forbidden lovemaking, Denny had met Fiona by night in the forests and fields. Each time they selected a different set of random coordinates. They always took care to depart from and return to Sandoz Keep separately; he still felt nervous. I knowwe can’t get away with this much longer, even if we’re not observed, our parallel absences will eventually be noticed.

Then again, with the increasing attacks upon humans by mysterious predators, this may not be a good idea any longer for that reason alone!

He had actually seen the footage of the thunderbird that snatched a human baby from a terrace of Vlek! That’s never been known to happen before… though I know they’re more than three times the size of a condor… thunderbirds have always avoided humans! We only see them when they’re migrating. Plus they are supposed to be scavengers and carrion-eaters.

Until now…

This night had actually grown chilly with the changing season. From the exposed hilltop bare of all but a few small fig trees laden with ripe fruit, he squatted under one of the trees and watched a drone the size of a pony, a graceful metallic spider that prowled through shrubbery not far below him. In it’s precise progress, it paused perfectly still much of the time, and selected its steps with great care when it did move, quite slowly.

Almost as if it’s stalking something… almost.

He felt grateful he could not see the lights of the Keep from here and that Vlek towered into the night sky at a safe distance.

At last he heard the rising hum of the levicyle. Within seconds Fiona streaked toward him like a moth zooming over the nightscape. With both hands she clutched the horn of the airborne saddle that she straddled. Like most forms of transport, the levicycle had symbolic eyes painted on the front end.

Her trajectory veered from the darkness where he stood up, as it prepared to park itself beside his levicycle. Hers skimmed only a few meters above the surface, slowed and halted, and then sank gradually until her boots touched turf; its sound ceased. She dismounted with a lively leap and swept the leather helmet from her dark hair, which she fluffed with the fingers of both hands. She grinned and her eyes gleamed upon him.

“Hello, gorgeous!” he called softly.

She stamped her feet in place. “Sorry I’m late.”

“It always takes forever,” he chuckled. “I got to watch the Moons rise, though I wished you were here to share the show.”

As she strode in his direction, she saw the shine of his rounded eyes. The soft beard looked so handsome on him, and he seemed far more mature than the boy she had always known. “Sorry, my love.”

“Oh please, just come here.”

She smiled. “Are you afraid, Denny? You’re trembling.”

“I always tremble until you get here.” She allowed him to enfold her in his arms, laid her head against his chest, and relaxed into the expectant amorous glow as his fingers tenderly combed the soft shag of her hair.

“We’re okay,” she said. “Only I haven’t been able to totally hide this from my fathers. R and Z know that I’ve got some kind of secret going on that involves you.”

“What?”

She stretched up on her toes and nibbled his ear. “They don’t matter.”

“Of course they do! Just not as much as youmatter, Fiona.”

“What about all those mysterious predator attacks?”

He shrugged. “If we die, we die together.”

“It’s a deal, lover boy!” Fiona grabbed him forcefully and tilted him over so that they fell together rather awkwardly into the shadows under the fig trees. She untied her sash and tossed it aside. His hands came up under her tunic, to find the tender miracles of her breasts. Her mouth possessively clamped over his mouth.

Denny stiffened beneath her, only not in the way she had come to expect. “Wait,” he said, “do you hear something?”

“Only your—”

“Seriously. Sorry,” he said, and pushed himself upright, which halfway dislodged her. “It’s almost silent, only not quite! A little crunch…”

“Come on, lover boy, it’s nothing—”

“Something is—” Then she heard it also, a faint crunch, as if a hard boot or foot met rock, with low a click alongside it; the stealthy sound of something that moved with great deliberation, even intent. It came, went silent, and came again.

Stalking.

“Now I amscared,” Fiona hissed, on her knees, as Denny stepped forward beside her. They both scanned the blue-gray shades of starlit night. Then a most peculiar sight greeted them: it stood the size of a terrestrial horse—though longer—and had eight legs, the forelegs raised like a mantid. Though it was not easy to see if it was actually fur, some kind of even texture covered the leg segments, head, thorax and abdomen, and the length that curled up behind it like a huge scorpion’s tail.

Denny whispered, “What in the Name of Gaia can that thing be?”

“It’s coming,” Fiona said. “We need to go. Quickly!”

The thing walked slowly and relentlessly up the slope toward them.

Several things happened so quickly that Denny could not easily sort them out even much later, though at the time they seemed to happen in a kind of syrupy slow-motion. Fiona sprang upright so forcefully that he fell back, though he had instinctively braced his feet wide apart. He crashed onto his back, already struggling to rise and he saw her running, not directly away from the strange thing, but off at an angle.

Toward the levicycles?No, quite the opposite…

The thing marched closer. Then it froze in place. It seemed like an enormous crustacean, or some kind of giant arthropod.

The front pair of legs reached forward, mantis-like, and flexed huge pincers.

Huge compound eyes gleamed at each end of the hammerhead.

It stepped forward.

The alien turret of a hammerhead swiveled on a telescoping neck.

Due to its size it had no need to run, though it moved with swift precision.

“Feeeeonaaaaah!!!”Denny screamed and his voice broke as he sprang forward.

Still racing away, she looked back at him. He felt helpless faced with this monstrosity. We have no kind of weapon!

Fiona laughed hysterically. “This can’t be happening,” she shouted, “it’s too—”

The arthro-tiger—as the monstrous creature would later be identified—reared upright. The tail, Denny saw clearly all of a sudden, was not composed of vertebrae, but of smaller versions of the parent body, linked in sequence and growing larger at the end like a lifted club. He understood suddenly that when matured enough, the creature at the end would drop off and in that sense be hatched from the parent’s body.

Then to his amazement, as if his realization had triggered the event, the arthro-tiger lashed its tail in slow motion, then dropped the end to deposit the largest and most mature caudal clone at the tip, onto the ground.

The arthro-tiger cub crouched low for an instant on all eight legs, reared up on six, the forelegs raised as claws. Then the newly detached young one about the size of a spaniel dog scampered off into the forest.

Now the parent pranced after Fiona, who had been silenced as she turned further and saw the living nightmare that approached from directly behind her, much closer than Denny.

Her face assumed a look, not so much of terror as wonder and amazement. The arthro-tiger lifted higher on its rear legs. Sharp forelegs extended above her and the pincers gaped wide. The hammerhead swiveled to regard Denny directly for a suspended moment.

Its maw opened vertically as mandibles parted, and the head switched back in Fiona’s direction.

Though it seemed hopeless, he sprinted forward.

 

(CONTINUED…)

© Bruce P. Grether 2010-2017 / All Rights Reserved