Chapter Ten

Calderon

Calderon

 

 “What are we doing out here?” Lyna asked me.  She was clearly unhappy.

I didn’t answer her.  I would have been happy to share with her.  The unfortunate truth was, in the near term, I had no idea what we were doing or where we were going.

“When will we get a lens to get out of here?” I countered her question with another one.

“It could be in a few hours.  The gravity flux has been building toward a lens formation over the last twenty hours, but where it will take us isn’t clear at the moment.  It is more than likely that it will be back toward the center of the galaxy, not further out.”

We were in close orbit over a gas giant several parsecs from the white dwarf star that presided over this system.  It was a cold and barren place.  The ancient white dwarf was burning out, its supply of hydrogen almost exhausted.  It was so far from human space, it had never been named.

I sat in the command chair and stared at the three-dimensional star map being displayed on the console in the center of the bridge.  The lower left third revealed the swirling blue-green methane atmosphere of the planet we were orbiting.  Since the filters were on that blanked out everything further than fifty light years distant there were only a sprinkling of stars out ahead of us.  We were far out on a spiral arm, very close to the imposing dark of intergalactic space.

“The farther out we go, the lenses will diminish.  We could get stuck,” Lyna told me rhetorically.

I was fully aware of the danger.  The gravity lenses that allowed us to transition between star systems were plentiful near the center of the galaxy but became sparse and weak the further from the central cluster one traveled.

“I still want to look at this one,” I told her.  I focused on a pinprick of light at the edge of the display and highlighted it with a mental command.  We had been trying to get closer to the G class star for a month with no luck.

“We are working on it,” Lyna answered cryptically.  The “we” she referred to was the ship’s computer and the various personalities contained within the fabric of the ship’s systems.

The ship was beyond ancient, it had existed for millennia.

It was my inheritance and all that I possessed in this continuum.  Other than the droids and embedded personalities of the ship I was alone.  On a ship the size of a small moon, I was the only living entity.

“Coffee would be good,” I told Lyna.  It was more to give her something to do and deflect her questioning.  I knew she would get up and go to a replicator herself for the coffee.  She liked doing things for me.

I watched her flow up out of the chair next to me and walk to the cabin adjacent to the bridge where the closest replicator was located.  She was dressed in a white one-piece dress that was cut just above her knees.  Her long black hair cascaded around her shoulders and flowed to her waist.  She seemed to move like a cat but managed to be magnificently feminine at the same time.  She was movie star beautiful, but it was lost on me.

Lyna had raised me so she was more like an older sister than an object of desire.  I could not remember when she was not just “there.”

“We are concerned,” a voice came from the chair Lyna had vacated.  Seconds later a holographic image appeared in the seat as real as if there was a physical person sitting there.  It was an old man, white-haired and dressed in a jerkin.  There was a large cross hanging from a gold chain prominent on his breast.

“Hello grandpa,” I greeted him.  His name had been Arthur when he was alive.  He had been King of England in the misty past.  Millennia of existing in the electronic netherworld of the ship’s computer had not done much to improve his demeanor.

“This is a fool’s errand, Boy!” Arthur said grumpily.  “Calderon is a myth and a legend.  It does not exist.”

“So was King Arthur, but there you sit.”

“Hmmf.” The old man grunted in reply.  He had no rejoinder.  We had this argument regularly and I knew the old man’s statement was perfunctory.  Eventually, he would get around to what was really on his mind.

“My Nana thought it was real.” I offered up proof that I had kept close to my chest.  We were getting close and I would not be denied.

“I’m afraid your grandmother was a dreamer and a romantic.  There is no way she could have known better than all the scientists and astronomers in the Empire.”

“She said Calderon was a sacred place and the truth of its existence could only be discerned spiritually.”

This argument silenced my ancient ancestor.  Since his being had been transferred to the ship’s computer he no longer could experience emotion.  Spiritual things were totally outside his current frame of reference and he knew it.

“We are worried about your sanity,” Arthur told me after a long silence.

“So, you and your cohorts think that my wanting to find a place where there is no war, no crime and everyone lives in perfect harmony, is insane.”

Here it was.  The entities that made up the ship’s intelligence had laid their cards on the table.

“With your species, there is always war.”

“Hello Ichod,” I said.  The “your species” remark meant I wasn’t talking to my ancestor any longer.  The prime intelligence of the ship’s personality had come to the fore.

An albino giant appeared behind the chair where Arthur was seated.  Ichod had been an Anastazi, a member of the race that had built the ship we were on.  Before he had been assimilated into the ship’s computer, he had been her captain.

“There is evil in the cosmos behind us.  In that continuum, evil is either confronted or succumbed to.  That is why there has always been war.  If Calderon exists, there is no evil so there is no reason for war,” I explained.

“That is what we thought when we created Camelot, but it didn’t work.”

“We’ve been over this a hundred times; Camelot was an island of perfection in an ocean of evil and sin.  It could never work.”

“We are concerned about you,” Lyna said as she placed the steaming cup of coffee on the wide arm of the command chair next to my left elbow.  “You’re almost fifty years old, half of your life is gone, and you have done nothing toward creating an heir.  Without an heir, there will be no one to take your place.”

“So, you’re not so much concerned about me, you’re worried about having a living breathing entity to sit in this seat.”

“For over thirty years, the majority of your life, you have been pursuing this quixotic quest.  It’s not natural,” Arthur said ignoring my argument.  “You need to find a lady, have some children.  It’s the natural order of things.”

“Perhaps, but my destiny is on Calderon.”

“But don’t you see…” Arthur started, but I cut him off.

“I have Command Authority and I’m telling you, we are going to Calderon!”

Both entities looked at me for a long moment before they both dissolved leaving Lyna and me alone.  I sampled the coffee.  It was good.

“A lens is opening, we are getting data on the system now,” Lyna smiled.  She knew this would make me happy and my happiness was all she cared about.  “It’s a binary system and has a liquid water world orbiting a yellow G class star in the Cinderella zone.  It has possibilities.”

“Do you think it could be Calderon?” I asked excitedly.  For the first time in many years, I was actually experiencing anticipatory excitement.

“It’s not on any of our charts,” she replied.  “As far as the Empire’s records go, it does not exist.”

“That is one requirement,” I said rhetorically.  “When can we go?”

“Within the hour,” she answered and walked across the cabin to the command console.  The long range view disappeared to be replaced by the appearance of a double star system.  The display was focused on a single planet with three moons.  It was a blue water world with a single continent.   Lyna made some adjustments to the panorama by moving her fingers over an inverted cone in the middle of the console in front of her.

The display changed to show magnetic fields and gravity waves.  The planet must have had a mighty iron core because the magnetic field around it was intense.  The three moons locked it into a stable orbit around the yellow sun.

“Well, there won’t be any seasons,” I remarked.  “When we land let’s set down about midway between one of the poles and the equator.  The jungles at the equator must be nasty places.”

“Transition in three minutes,” Lyna said.  I sat up in my chair and pushed myself back into the soft cushions.  There wasn’t any danger of flying out of it, but the weird sensation I experienced when we transitioned through a gravity lens was unpleasant in the extreme.  I didn’t want to get sick.  Any motion on my part during the few seconds spent between the different locations in the continuum always brought on extreme nausea.

The view over the console shifted, showing us much closer to the planet.  It was a real-time display.

“Let’s get a shuttle and take a closer look,” I said, hardly able to contain my excitement.  I knew Lyna would want to send an unmanned shuttle or two to do surveys before I went down and was surprised when she did not argue with me.

“I’ll meet you on the shuttle deck,” she said.  “I’m going to change; you might want to consider getting dressed.”

I glanced down and realized I was dressed only in a light bathrobe.  Since I was alone on the ship, lately I had been letting myself slip and not bother getting dressed in the morning.  As I thought about it, I brushed my fingers across my face and felt the stubble.  I hadn’t shaved in two or three days.

I had a suite of room’s three decks down with a library, living room, and bedroom but it was a long walk and I was in a hurry.  I stepped across the bridge to my office and watch cabin.  The head was a third the size of the one in my suite, but it was sufficient for my needs this morning.  I stepped into the shower.

“Depilatory,” I said and watched as a bubble of white foam appeared on the wall in front of me.  I scooped it off and slathered my face with it.  “Warm shower,” I instructed the computer and was rewarded by gentle streams of water from all around the edges, bottom, and top of the shower.  There were no apparent shower heads, the water just came out of the tile-like surface of the shower itself.

I squeezed my eyes shut against the first green spray of soap which was followed immediately by a stronger surge of clear water.  Sometimes I would stand for several minutes enjoying the relaxing, pulsing water but today I was in a hurry.

“Nuff,” I mumbled against the deluge and it shut off immediately followed by a tornado of warm air that buffeted the hair around on my head and stripping the water from my body.  When I stepped out, I was dry and my hair was fluffed perfectly around my ears.

I stopped in front of a full-length mirror and examined my body.  I may be approaching middle age, but I didn’t look a day over twenty.  My hair was still coal black and I had the physique of an Olympic runner.  My upper torso was covered by a skin-tight coppery vest, woven centuries ago by Atlantin fairies.  The vest was connected to the spirit world and maintained my body at an optimum level.

“Anastazi Knight,” I said, and the real-time reflection disappeared to be replaced with an image of me dressed in a kilt, boots, and shiny armor breastplate.  It didn’t feel right if this was indeed Calderon.

“Jumpsuit,” I muttered.  The image changed to a one-piece black suit with a matching leather belt and Wellington boots.  “Better – Navy blue with white boots and belt.”  As the colors changed, I decided I liked the look.

I walked over to the replicator and opened the door.  When I slipped into the jumpsuit, I discovered it was still warm from being made.

Lyna was dressed in a matching uniform when I walked onto the shuttle deck.  I had to admit, it looked better on her.

“That is better,” Lyna said.  “You realize you haven’t been out of that robe for over a week.”

“You know, I had lost track.  Next time chide me a bit.  I shouldn’t let the discipline slip to that extent.”

“Hmm,” she muttered as if she was going to say something else, but evidently thought better of it because she lapsed into silence as we walked together up the ramp into the shuttle.

“I hope you’re not disappointed.  This seems to be a primitive place.  There was no radio or electromagnetic emanations detected from the planet at all,” Lyna said as we sat down in two of the three seats in front of a blank console.  “If there are people here they are still pre-electricity.”

“Well, we are about to see, aren’t we?” I said brightly, masking my disappointment.  This was becoming disconcertingly familiar.  It looked as if we were facing another failure.  “Are there any signs of habitation?”

“From orbit there was nothing large enough to register on our visual sweep.”

One end of the hangar went transparent as a doorway opened to space.  The shuttle drifted up a few inches above the deck and floated out of the door.  Lyna made a few adjustments to align our speed to match the rotational speed of the planet below and the ship zipped away leaving us hanging above the green continent below as if we were in a high altitude balloon.

As we descended toward the single continent below and entered the atmosphere, the black of space was replaced by a pleasant blue glow.  Since we were matched already to the planets rotational speed, there was no re-entry trauma.  We simply floated down on the antigrav field as if our balloon had lost a bit of its lift.

The shuttle was a transparent bubble.  The glass-like material that made up its outer skin was so transparent that it disappeared in the atmosphere giving the illusion of us drifting to the surface on two seats, an opaque deck and a granite table in front us that made up the console.

“Put a little tint in it,” I told Lyna.  She immediately moved her fingers over the inverted cone on the console giving our bubble a bit of definition against the outside atmosphere.

“That is better, I was getting vertigo.”

“Are there any cities?” I asked Lyna.  We had descended to less than a mile of altitude and were zipping along over a grassy prairie.  Small herds of buffalo grazing between miles of lonely grass were accompanied in some spots by antelope and elk.  The single mountain range that ran pole to pole up the center of the continent appeared blue behind us, capped with snow-white peaks.

“There are a few scattered along the coast, we are headed to the largest one now.”

The prairie ended abruptly as we crossed over a forest that stretched horizon to horizon north and south.  Even from our altitude, it was apparently primarily hardwoods.  The leaves were a solid black-green and hid the ground completely.  It gave all indications of being at least a double if not a triple canopy forest.

A large river appeared in our line of flight and Lyna adjusted our direction to follow it.  The forest seemed to shy away from the river.  On either side stretching out from three hundred yards to a half mile in some spots, meadows appeared along its banks.  It was as if something in the river water was inhibiting the growth of the trees.

“There are life signs,” Lyna exclaimed as she slowed the shuttle’s progress and bled off altitude at a sickening rate.  She leveled off just above the highest treetops and circled around what appeared to be a campsite in a ten-acre clearing.

The three tents that made up the complex were made of a gossamer white material that reminded me of spider webs.  One was large, perhaps the size of a small house, the other two were less than a third that size and were offset to either side facing the central shelter.  There was no sign of a fire or other baggage.  It was as if someone was planning to camp here, had set up the tents and then left the site to bring in the rest of their gear.

“Shall we stop?” Lyna asked.

“It looks abandoned.”

“No, there are emanations from the life force detector.  There have been a lot of activities here over a long period of time.  The echoes and shadows of life are almost off the chart.”

“There are folks in the tents?”

“We detect no one present at the moment; just echoes.”

“No, let’s go on to the city.”  I saw no point in examining empty tents.  I was anxious to meet some inhabitants of this idyllic place.

Lyna brought us up to an altitude that gave us a panoramic view of the ground and regained a flight path following the river.  Within a few heartbeats, the horizon of green faded to blue as the sea came into view.  The river widened and slowed as we neared its estuary.  The forest thinned out as the flood plain appeared, miles wide beneath us.  The river split from one broad stream to a dozen meandering rivulets interspersed with islands and marshland.

Then out of the mist, the city appeared.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen or imagined.  The crystal towers that sprang up out of canals and creeks seemed to float in the air.  The crystal structures were four and five stories high, multicolored as if some exotic glass blower had built a fantasy village for one of his children.

In the center of the city was a large park.  Lyna brought the shuttle around and settled us gently in the middle of the park.  When she lowered the ramp music filled our shared space.  I had never heard anything so beautiful.  It stirred so many emotions simultaneously I felt dizzy.  I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time.

We walked down the ramp to the broad-leafed grass below where it covered the park like a manicured green carpet.  It was as soft underfoot as if each broad leaf was a feather, but we left no footprints as we walked away from our conveyance.

Around the periphery of the park, the glasslike towers glistened in the morning light but there were no glaring reflections from the large yellow sun directly overhead or the intense white star that had just risen on the eastern skyline.  It was as if the crystal structures absorbed most of the light and reflected off a soft remainder.

The park was easily a quarter of a mile across, roughly square.  I estimated it to be a couple hundred acres in area.  The wide canal that cut through its center was bridged in a dozen places with arches of the same crystal that had been used to build the city.  The long slender boats being polled along the canal each seated a single pair of occupants bringing Venice to mind.

The dozen or so massive trees that were scattered evenly across the park reminded me of cypress or banyan trees since they grew out from multiple trunks creating shady grottos beneath each canopy the size of a large house.

We had joined as many as a hundred folks in the park.  They totally ignored us as if we were an everyday occurrence or we had a cloaking device activated and were invisible.

A pair of individuals was walking in our direction holding hands.  I recognized them finally.  They were fairies.  Not even three feet tall with pointed ears and disproportionally large heads it became evident the mythical tales from the Middle Ages had some substance in reality.  The male had a small goatee of orange blonde hair and wore a suit of silken green.  The elfish female wore a gown of gossamer blue that brushed the grass as she walked.  She was strikingly beautiful in a pixie child-like way.

The pair came up to us and stopped as if we had appeared in their path unexpectedly.  The male examined me intently and then regarded Lyna for some time.  He looked at his mate then spoke.  In fact, he didn’t actually speak, he sang.  It was the strangest thing, the words were in a language utterly unknown to me, but beneath the music and seemingly in spite of the unfamiliar words a message was unmistakable.

“You’re a man, and your companion is a machine, but we don’t know you.”  As the male’s message came drifting out of his haunting song, his mate laughed as if embarrassed and looked away.

“We’ve called an elder,” the little fairy concluded his song, took the hand of his tiny companion and walked away as if we were an inconvenience well dealt with.  The other fairies in the park continued to ignore us.  It was disconcerting.

I watched the two fairies as they skipped along holding hands and singing back and forth to each other seemingly lost in each other’s company.  Suddenly they stopped and the male turned back and looked in my direction.  He pointed toward the canal where one of the canal boats had pulled up and was disembarking a passenger.  Across the fifty yards distance, it was evident the term elder had not been simply a title.  The shrunken, white-bearded elf that slowly made his way in our direction looked like a little brown raisin.

“Let’s go to meet him,” I told Lyna.  “I’m afraid he might not make it all the way here.”

When the elder saw we were coming to him, he stopped and leaned on the staff he had been using to assist his forward progress.  He looked at the staff, hummed a little stanza and the staff morphed into a three-legged stool, upon which he then sat down.

“That was a neat trick,” I whispered to Lyna, who didn’t respond immediately.  When she did it seemed to be a non-sequitur.

“This must be the homeworld of the Atlantins,” she murmured.  Before I could inquire further, we arrived in front of the Elder of Fairies.

“You cannot stay here!” the Elder informed us.  The background music had turned martial and dark.  “You carry the curse, and you will not be allowed to stay, you must go back to where you came from, immediately,” he sang as if he were apologizing or announcing the discovery of terminal cancer to a patient with whom he had a close relationship.  “Please don’t come any closer,” he continued.  “Being this close to the curse is painful for me.”

Lyna and I took three steps back leaving about twenty feet space between us.

“Thank you, that is better,” he sang with some relief.  He regarded us for a long silent moment.  I had so many questions but didn’t know where to begin.  When the old man started to sing again, it was evident he knew my state of mind, somehow.

“The entire galaxy is under the curse, save for this single world.  The creator put a shield around it when the daystar fell from heaven.  The men who inhabited this world never disobeyed, and to this day live as he meant for men to live in this continuum.  Satan cannot come here, and beings that are under the curse are not allowed either.  It’s a mystery how you were allowed to even find our world, let alone come ashore.  The council is divided on what it means.”

I knew the little man was trying to enlighten us, but there was so much to the fabric of his story, unknown to me beneath the dialog, that his explanation raised more questions than it answered.

“Where I come from, society is breaking down.  The old order is falling and there is war everywhere.  I was looking for a place of sanctuary where there was no war,” I told him right up front.  It seemed a bit rude, dumping my cards out on the table before even perfunctory introductions had been made, but he was trying to run me off before I had even truly arrived.

The old man looked at me for a long moment with deep sympathy.  He seemed to be a reluctant messenger, more sad than angry.  He then closed his eyes and tilted his head to one side as if listening to voices we could not hear.  This went on for some time.  When he opened his eyes, he looked at me with a sense of relief as if a burden had been lifted from him.

“You must talk to one of the men.  The council has decided this is out of our realm of responsibility.  We can neither help nor hinder you.  You must talk to a man.”

“Where will I find one of these men?”

“Men live in the forest,” the elder sang and stood up.  His chair immediately reformed itself to a staff and he turned and shuffled back toward the waiting boat.

“No doubt the campsite we passed on our way in,” Lyna observed.

“This was not what I was expecting,” I told Lyna.  I was feeling really bummed out.  I had found paradise and was being rejected.

“Let’s go find some men,” Lyna suggested.  “They may be more inclined in your direction.”

“What was it you said about someone’s homeworld?” I asked Lyna after we had reboarded the shuttle and were zipping along above the river retracing our original route.

“Many centuries ago there was a world called Atlantis.  It was populated by a race identical to the elves we just met.  They were the Atlantins.”

“You speak of them in the past tense…”

“Their world was destroyed in a battle with a consummate evil.  They have become extinct.”

“You knew these Atlantins?”

Lyna didn’t answer me immediately, which was strange.  Since her mental computations were enhanced by a direct connection to the ship’s computer and the other entities that existed within the fabric of the ship, typically she was answering any query from me before I finished speaking.  This hesitation could only mean there was a disagreement between the personalities that made up the ship’s intelligence.  After two long breaths of unusual silence, she replied.

“Yes, we knew the Atlantins.  We knew them well.  In fact, one of their elders was captain at one time and had Command Authority.”

“This is the first time I heard anything about it!” I exclaimed; feeling left out of a family secret.  “Why didn’t you tell me about these folks?”

“It didn’t seem germane,” she stated as if to cut off the discussion, but then after a slight hesitation went on.  “It is embarrassing and Ichod does not like to remember…  Any data with references to the Atlantins is sequestered away in a seldom accessed file.”

“Why would it be embarrassing?”

“The Anastazi destroyed Atlantis.”

“Hmmm, I see.”  In fact, I didn’t see anything at all but I needed to think about something for a bit.  That an entity residing in the ship’s computer could experience embarrassment was a new piece of data that would take some getting used to.

“It was an accident; Ichod was battling an enemy that was much stronger than we were and we were locked in an existential struggle for survival.  Had the enemy prevailed your race would have been destroyed,” Lyna remembered sadly.  “Atlantis was collateral damage, so to speak.”

“When we get back to the ship, I want to hear the entire episode from the beginning,” I told Lyna.

“Of course, we can do that…” she said, happy to put off what was obviously an unpleasant chore.  “There is the campsite; and oh, there are lifeforms there now.”  Lyna was scanning the instrumentation on the console visible to her, but not to me.  I could make the mental connection with some effort, but the data was presented in Anastazi machine language and without a filter would have been gibberish to me in any case.

As we circled down and landed about fifty yards from the campsite, there had been no visible changes.  If there were entities present, they had to be inside the tents.  Lyna dropped the ramp and immediately the fresh forest air filled the cabin.  The sound of bird calls and tree frogs filled the air with a background layer of comfortable sound.  Evidently, our arrival had not startled anyone or anything to silence.  It was nice not to be considered a threat.

As we walked toward the tents, first one and then the other of the small tent’s flaps fluttered and two identical pairs of fairies emerged.  These elves were dressed in simple white robes almost like togas but with less superfluous cloth.  They were holding hands and music accompanied them as the exited their gossamer domiciles even though their lips were not moving.  It was as if there was a constant choral background accompanying them wherever they went.

Both pairs of fairies stopped and regarded us as we walked toward them.  As we approached the twenty-foot separation, the music trailed off into silence.  We stopped and I signaled Lyna to take a couple of steps back.  The music resumed, faintly, just at the level where I could barely acknowledge its presence.

“You’re the visitors,” the nearest of the males sang acapella.  “The man is away gathering dinner, he will return shortly.  The council said we were to welcome you and provide you with refreshment.  Would you please join us?”  At the end of his little song he actually forced a smile revealing a mouth full of tiny pointed teeth.  All four of the elves turned and started back toward the common area between the tents twittering among themselves.

As we arrived, I saw a trunk-sized boulder in the center of the courtyard formed by the three spider silk dwellings.  It looked like a trunk-sized, football-shaped emerald with one pointed end buried in the ground a third of the way to the center.  Around this centerpiece were other crystal rocks of different colors with reds and blacks predominate.

We hesitated at the periphery of what appeared to be the limit of the courtyard, unsure about how to proceed.  The fairies separated.  One pair went into one of the small tents the other went to the circle of stones and started singing a duet.  As they did the stones around the center crystal dissolved and reformed themselves into nine chairs arranged around a white crystal table.  Each of the chairs was a different size and color.

At the head of the table, the largest chair was blood red.  On either side of the position of honor was a slightly smaller chair to what would be the head man’s right and one a bit smaller yet to his left.  Two by two in either side adjacent were four high chairs, evidently for our diminutive hosts.  Beside the large chair at the foot of the table stood a slightly larger highchair.

It looked like Lyna and I were going to be sitting next to the master.  I had guessed correctly.  The spokesman, or choral leader as it were, indicated that we were to sit across from each other at the head of the table.  When I grasped my chair to slide it out, I was startled by its weight.  It had none.  It was color and substance but practically weightless.  I wondered if it would hold my weight, but when I sat down. it felt as solid as the boulder it had been formed from.

This was a strange place.

As Lyna and I got settled the two fairies that had disappeared into a tent emerged carrying a wicker basket between them.  It was filled with what appeared to be melons.  They lifted the basket up and slid it onto the table with some difficulty since the table’s top was only a couple inches lower than the tops of their heads.

Twittering and singing to each other the two couples clambered up onto their chairs and went to work on the contents of the basket.  The melon-like fruit was deep purple in color with yellow streaks on their sides.  Each globe had a smaller protuberance growing from one end as if it had been trying to produce a similar fruit but had been harvested before it could become fully formed.

The elder male whipped a transparent crystal-bladed knife from beneath his robe and with a quick slice cut the smaller growth from the largest fruit in the basket.  He carefully slid it across to me.  I noticed that the bottom of the strange melon was flat allowing it to sit naturally on the table.  When I glanced down, I observed it was filled with a blue sparkling liquid.

When everyone had a container in front of them the elder of the quartet lifted his little mug-like fruit and sang, “Welcome to our world, we are sorry you cannot stay.”  He seemed sincerely apologetic.

Lyna picked up her container and swallowed a sample.  I watched her carefully.  She was doing a chemical test and sampling for organisms that might be harmful to me.  After a couple of seconds, she smiled and nodded.  It was potable.

I sampled the liquid.  It was lemony sweet with a bit of tang as if it were carbonated.  I was reminded of champagne.  As I swallowed it, warmth suffused my body almost instantly.  It evidently was strongly alcoholic or contained a chemical that mimicked its effect on the human body.

The tiny little melons the fairies had tapped could not have held much more than a single ounce of liquid, but after sipping a bit each of them became quite agitated.  They were laughing and singing to each other in sheer joy.  It was gratifying to watch.

Then one of the ladies looked up from the table to the edge of the forest and started waving her hands excitedly.  “Nicky is coming, she is back!” she sang happily.

As I looked in the direction the fairy lady indicated, the first thing I saw was the massive head of a Bengal tiger emerging from the gloom of the trees.  A spike of fear ran unbidden down my spine.

The animal took a couple steps in our direction and it became evident, he had a passenger.  Sitting comfortably on his shoulders, two slender legs tucked into the tiger’s neck was a beautiful young girl, perhaps ten or eleven years old.  She was carrying a magnificent bouquet of fresh cut flowers.  She had woven the stem of one into her long blonde hair to secure a white blossom just over her left ear.

Other than the flower she was wearing nothing.

The tiger strolled unconcernedly in our direction until he saw me.  He stopped immediately and curled his lips back over his teeth.  The accompanying growl seemed to come from deep inside his stomach.  It sent chills of fear up my spine.  He definitely did not care for me.

One of the female fairies slid down from her stool, dashed into the large tent and came back out immediately carrying a filmy white robe.  She dashed over to the tiger that had not moved one step since he saw me.  She chatted with the young lady for a bit, handed her the robe and stepped back.

The girl traded the flowers for the garment, pulled it around her and whispered into the tiger’s ear.  The animal ceased growling, dipped his chin to the ground and the girl slipped over his head to stand and finish securing the robe.  She then put one hand on the shoulder of the fairy and both started toward the table where we were waiting.

The tiger sat on its haunches never taking his eyes off me.  I determined not to make any fast moves.

“This is Janique Carin,” the fairy sang as she brought the young lady to the table.  “These are the visitors from another world.”  She introduced us to the girl who stopped a few paces away and studied us for a few moments.  When she spoke, it was in a slightly accented galactic standard.

“What is your name?” She asked Lyna, ignoring me.

“I’m called Lyna,” she answered smiling.  “My…” she seemed to hesitate for a moment on how to refer to me, and then continued, “…friend, is Walter Sinclair, you may call him Walt.”

“You’re small for a man, are you not fully grown?” the young lady asked innocently.

“Where I come from, I’m a bit larger than most men.  I am fully grown,” I said trying not to feel diminished.  I am just under two meters in height and weigh 150 kilos.

“Hmmm,” she said, seemingly unconvinced.  “You are beautiful,” she said to Lyna.  “Why do you not have a spirit?”

“I’m an android.”

“Oh, I see.  Did the man make you?”

Before Lyna could answer there was a commotion at the edge of the forest that attracted everyone’s attention.  Even the tiger looked in that direction.  Two horses emerged from the shadows carrying two gods.  At least they looked like gods; they were so startlingly beautiful it was difficult not to stare.

The horses themselves were a third larger than any I had ever known existed.  The naked man and woman astride each of the magnificent beasts were over two meters in height, slender and perfectly formed as if Michelangelo had carved David and his mate.

Each horse had baskets tossed over their rumps behind each rider.  The baskets were full of various fruits, nuts, and berries.  The riders seemed to be comfortably seated without saddle or stirrup.

When the tiger saw the man come into the clearing, he relaxed for the first time since he caught sight of me and lay down.  The Alpha male of the group had evidently arrived, relieving him of any responsibility for the girl’s welfare.

The eldest of the fairies slid down from his stool and hastened over to where the two horses had stopped.  He sang an involved dialog looking up at the man who studied me intently.  When the chorus ended, the man nodded, threw his leg up over the horses head and slid to the ground.  He then walked around his animal and assisted his mate to the ground.  They went immediately into the tent and reappeared moments later dressed in the same robes the fairies and little girl were now wearing.

Ignoring us for the moment the pair went immediately to the horses and secured the baskets.  They carried the baskets to the table and sat them down at the opposite end from where Lyna and I were sitting.  I slid my chair back and stood up.  Lyna mimicked my action.

“You cannot stay here, you shouldn’t have come,” the man said in perfect galactic standard, finally acknowledging my presence.

“I’ve come in peace with no ulterior motives, I seek nothing but sanctuary.”

The woman was standing beside her man.  She took his hand, stroked his arm and whispered something to him that I was unable to hear.  He looked down at her with an adoring gaze.  His demeanor softened somewhat.

“I apologize for my rudeness.  The presence of the curse unnerved me for a moment.  I am Galileal, this is my wife Gabriela; you are?”

“I am Walter Sinclair, this is Lyna,” I told him uncertain about the formalities of this world accompanying the exchange of names.  I didn’t know if these folks shook hands, bowed or what.  I did nothing but remained standing.

“We cannot give you sanctuary.  You may not stay here, but we can share some food and hospitality before you leave,” Galileal said reluctantly looking at his wife who nodded and smiled.  Evidently, we had an advocate at court.

My grandmother had told me about angels.  I was now looking at one.  It was evident where the little girl had come by her silky blonde hair.  Gabriela’s hair stretched to below her waist in bountiful curls, her complexion was like smoothest cream and her green eyes were like two cut emeralds shining out beneath perfect golden eyebrows.

Galileal took his seat at the head of the table and watched his wife as she selected various fruits, nuts and vegetables from the baskets.  She sat portions in front of each of the guests and in front of her empty chair.  When she was finished, she sat next to her husband who took her hand and looked up into the sky.  He sang a song of thanksgiving in an incomprehensible language before releasing his wife’s hand and indicating to the guests that it was time to eat.

I watched Gabriela and followed her lead.  Galileal did not immediately start to eat.  He continued to drink out of a larger melon that contained the blue liquid the fairies had introduced us to earlier.

Gabriela had started with a squash-like plant which separated readily along the long edge of its football-shaped body.  Beneath the orange skin was a yellow flesh that tasted like bread.  I followed her lead as she sampled some dark burgundy plum size fruits with a nectarine taste and feel.  There were nuts as well and by the time we were finished, I was stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Seeing we were all finished, Galileal stood.  Lyna and I joined him as the fairies and little girl all scooted down from their high chairs.  I was at a loss what to do next, but the fairies all joined hands and began to sing at the table which dissolved into five high-backed benches surrounding the crystal in the center of the clearing.

Both suns were in the process of dipping below the horizon.  Unnoticed by me the crystal had begun to take on a blue-green glow as the light from the suns had diminished.  Now with the benches arranged around it, there was a certain “round-the-campfire” ambiance introduced into the tableau.

Lyna and I moved to one of the benches and Galileal handed us each a freshly tapped drink-fruit.  I discovered it was just as good on a full stomach as an empty one.

“You wish to ask me something?” Galileal looked at me as if reading my mind.  I had a hundred questions but did not want to appear rude.  He had opened the door.

“Are we the only outsiders you have met?”  I guessed from the attitude of the fairies and some of the inferences Galileal had made at dinner.

“Yes, no one else has ever come here since the curse fell on creation.”

“Then how is it, you speak Galactic standard?”

“The Creator told us you were coming and gave us your tongue.”

“Then the Creator informed you we could not stay?”

Galileal did not answer immediately.  He looked over at Gabriela and their eyes locked for a long moment.  When the silence was broken, it was the lady who replied.

“He did not say specifically in your case, that you could not stay.”

“But you carry the curse, and the stench of the evil is all around you,” Galileal stated flatly.  “You cannot stay.”

“How long can I remain?  Evidently, I don’t have to leave immediately.  I’m still here.”

Again Galileal and his wife exchanged looks seeming to communicate without words, and then she spoke softly again.

“It would be best if you leave before the sun rises again.  You may stay and talk for a while.”

I tried not to stare.  She was so breathtakingly beautiful I wanted to just sit and look at her.  Her snow white complexion was complemented by naturally red lips and a pink flush at the peaks of her high cheekbones.  The profusion of silky blonde hair framed those magnificent green eyes perfectly.  When she looked at me, I seemed to be the most important person in her world.

I was truly smitten.

I decided to pursue a question that had been nagging at me since I watched the couple returning with food gathered from the forest.  It was as much to get my mind off of those magnificent breasts that were peeking through the sheer fabric of her robe.

“Since you get all of your food from the forest, are there any fruits or vegetables that you are forbidden to eat?”

Again the couple looked at each other as if discussing this idea without words.  Galileal replied.

“Nothing is forbidden us.  Certain plants are primarily harvested for the animals, they are not very tasty, so we don’t eat them, but they are not forbidden.  Why would you ask such a thing?”

“Is there anything forbidden you in this world?”

This question stirred up even the fairies.  They started a singing dialog between themselves and the two adult humans.  When the chatter died down, Galileal replied.

“There is a structure,” he hesitated to try to find the exact word to describe it, “a temple perhaps,” he said to nods and twitters of agreement from the fairies.  “We are not allowed to enter this… this holy place.”

“Why not?”

This simple question stirred up another round of singing twittering discussion among the six participants, even the little girl got involved.  After a while, Galileal raised his hand and the chatter died down.

“ ‘Why’ is a word in your language we have difficulty understanding.  Things are, or are not, this concept of a causal phenomenon is difficult for us to grasp.”

“Have you no curiosity?”

This question seemed to stump the entire group.  They fell into silence and looked at me strangely.  After a long silence, Gabriela replied.

“Anything we wish to know, the Creator tells us.  All we have to do is ask.  Your word ‘curiosity’ has a connotation of a desire to know something that is hidden.  Nothing is hidden from us, so – no, I would say we have little curiosity.”

“Well, what do you do to fill your time?  It would seem that gathering food and eating take little effort or time, what else do you do?”

Galileal gave me a look like an adult that has just been asked “Where do babies come from?” by a very young child.

“We study, and we create beauty.  We love and cherish one another.  We talk to the Creator and explore his many wonderful attributes.”

“Tell me about creating beauty…”

“I’ll demonstrate,” Galileal said with a patronizing tone.  He then looked to the forest and raised his right hand making a circular motion in the air.  Soon a flutter of wings could be heard as dozens of songbirds flew in from the forest and landed on limbs of the nearest trees.  Galileal raised both arms and extended his forefingers.  After a moment, he dropped both hands simultaneously and the world was filled with music.

It started with a high pitched whistle at the extreme end of audible sound to my ears.  I wondered how much I was missing.  As the other birds joined in the order and rhythm of the music became evident.

Then the fairies began an accompaniment.   It was as if an entire orchestra had just arrived on the scene.  It went on for a long time.  It was mesmerizing and touched me at a level I didn’t even know existed.

About halfway through the piece, the crystal in the center of our little group started to change color in step with the music, the colors rose and fell like an Aurora Borealis.  At first, the display was contained within the crystal, but it grew and expanded until it was filling the entire space between the seats.  Toward the end, the light show came into the seated area and wrapped itself around each of the audience.  It was a mesmerizing display.

When the music came to a crashing crescendo, it was followed by an absolute hush.  Even the normal sounds of the forest ceased for a long moment in tribute to the beautiful concert.

Lyna was studying me intently.  “Was that beautiful?  You seemed transported to a different place.”  As human as she appeared, Lyna had no aesthetic sense but she was aware of her lack.

“It was more than beautiful,” I whispered, afraid to interrupt the reverent silence.  “It was magic.”

I turned and looked up at Galileal fighting the urge to get down on my knees and worship him.  “You wrote that?”  I asked in awe.

“I created the music, Gabriela created the light show.  It is an old piece.  We built it when we were courting, so a lot of pre-marital emotion is present.  That explains the roughness of the texture.

Yeah right, Galileal, rough as the breast-feather of a dove… I thought to myself.

“We also study the Creator’s handiwork.  Like this…”  Galileal opened both of his hands and extended his arms in the direction of the central crystal.  Immediately above the crystal, a hologram-like projection appeared.  The display was of a number of interlinked spheres of various sizes, they danced and whirled around each other with fields of force shown in different colors and intensities.

Beneath the bobbing and whirling spheres a formula appeared, it was long and complex filling an area the size of a garage door.  Certain values of the formula were changing in real time in tune with the movement and energy dissipation of the dancing spheres.

“This is the interior of an iron atom in the core of a star under tremendous heat and pressure.   The formula describes how the structure of the atom is affected by the changes in its environment.”

“You wrote this?” I asked rhetorically.

“No, our daughter did this when she was being introduced to mathematics.”

“That little girl!”

“That little girl is sixty years old, by your method of measuring time.”

If I had not already been sitting it would have knocked me off my feet.

“Well, then how old are you?” I blurted rudely.  I was so taken aback it just popped out.  Galileal didn’t seem offended.

“I am three hundred twelve of your years, Gabriela is two hundred ninety.”

“How long will you live?”

“There is no death here, we will never die.”

“You mean…”

“You need to understand, we live here in this continuum for around four hundred years.  When our time here is finished, we pass to the next world and go to be with the Creator.  I think your mythology calls that place ‘Heaven.’”

“Is that why I cannot stay here, I’m going to die. and that somehow pollutes the place?”

This set off another storm of controversy as the fairies all joined the discussion in a frenzy of excited music.  When the hubbub settled down, Gabriela looked at me sadly as if reluctant to say what needed to be said.

“I’m afraid you have the cause and effect reversed.  You’re going to die because of the curse, you have lived a life of disobedience, and the price is death.  You were a warrior.  You killed your fellow beings.  You have been selfish and uncaring for your entire life.  You have never loved anyone or anything other than yourself.  You are a twisted caricature of a man.  I am sorry, that is why you cannot stay here.”

“He isn’t that bad,” Lyna whispered slipping a protective arm around my stooped shoulders.  “He loved his grandmother, and he loved the Navy.”

“No, he had a superficial affection for his grandmother and he worshiped the Navy,” Galileal disagreed softly, reluctantly.  “The Creator told us about Walter Sinclair.  We know who he is, and what he is.  The closest he has come to loving anything is you, and you’re a machine.”

“Waltie, let’s go, we are finished here,” Lyna whispered to me.  I was shocked, she hadn’t used that endearment since I was a toddler.  She slipped her arm down under my left armpit and lifted me easily to my feet.  I followed meekly, automatically; I had been doing what she told me since I could remember.

As we walked to the Shuttle’s ramp, the fairies started singing a sad farewell song.  When we reached the bottom of the ramp, the little girl called out to us.

“Wait, wait,” she cried.  She came running toward us with the bouquet of flowers she had gathered.  When she came within reach, she handed the flowers to Lyna and lifted her hand up to me.  I knelt down to her level and she crushed me in a flower-scented hug.  She held me for a long moment.  When she stepped back, there were tears in her eyes.

“I’m sorry you can’t stay,” she said.  “I know you could love if you stayed here.”  With this, she turned and walked back to her family with her head bowed as if she had just said goodbye to a beloved grandparent.

As the shuttle floated up, the flowers filled the cabin with a sweet perfume.  The little girl had joined the fairies and they were all waving goodbye.  Gabriela had joined her husband who had one arm around her and they were holding hands, looking sadly up in our direction.

By the time we reached the ship, the flowers were shriveled, black and dead.

***

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