Thursday, November 21, 2013

Friday Fiction for November 22, 2013

I have the joy of hosting Friday Fiction this week, made especially nice as this Friday is my birthday. Please enter your link in the Linky Widget following this introduction!

NaNoWriMo 2013 is entering its final week, and “Draconian Responses” is over 58,000 words now, with more still to write. One of the things I’ve enjoyed in writing the stories in this series, is seeing creation through the eyes of the natives of another world. When I wrote the first story, I imagined what it might be like if some of the things in our creation account had happened differently, and how the story might be told elsewhere. On Epsilon Eridanus, or Qi’le as they call it, their account holds that God created the woman first, and then the man, and that it was the man who fell first. Therefore, the man was made subordinate to the woman, resulting in a Matriarchal culture, and a Matriarchal image of God. In this chapter, I visited a bit of their culture and tradtions, while bringing in some hints of events still to come in the story. I hope you enjoy, and for my readers here in the United States, I hope you have a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Draconian Responses
By Rick Higginson
NaNoWriMo, 2013

Chapter 18

            G’Se watched out the side windows of the transport as it sped along over the trees. An obvious line revealed where the stream ran through the forest, though in this location, the channel was narrow enough that the trees closed enough over it that the water could not be seen. In several places, the path from T’Cha heading towards the Temple City would be near the stream as well, though that was just as much obscured by the dense foliage.
            A new robe rested on her lap, folded neatly and awaiting presentation to H’Na. She smiled as she thought about it. H’Na’s grandmother would have stood in and made the presentation, and it would have preserved the symbolism of the ceremony just fine. The presentation from mother to daughter signified the lineage of the priestess, daughter through mother, all the way back to the women of Ch’Ma, the first priestesses of Qi’le.
            A narrow, rocky canyon passed beneath them, bringing to G’Se’s memory a journey long ago by klur to the Temple, after a detour to T’Cha. The canyon had made some of the women on the journey nervous, with the open sky above. She had felt strange without the trees, but she hadn’t recalled feeling afraid. She had been a young woman, not yet ordained, but with the Terran devices proving the sky was nothing to fear, she had grown up with a slightly different mindset than previous generations. God created the forests for us, but She also created the plains, and the deserts, and the oceans, and the stars.
            In the very early years of their dealings with the Terrans, it had still been considered odd that any Qi’le would want to go to the stars, let alone a priestess. The priestess B’Tra had gone, of course, but that had been at the direction of the High Priestess, for the purpose of being an ambassador. While it still was not common that Qi’le went to the stars, it wasn’t as unusual or seen as indicative of some kind of mental lapse.
            Their own star shone down on them, providing life and warmth, and sustaining the trees that, in turn, sustained life on Qi’le. She had seen that star from Alsafi, and she had seen it from Earth, and from those places, it shrank to insignificance amongst all the other stars. Some stars stood out in the night sky. Theirs did not. For that matter, the Terran star did not, either.
            What was it, Most Blessed Mother of All, that made these two stars the place where You put Your children? She suspected the Terran scientists would offer long, detailed explanations of the type of star, and the distance between the star and the planet, and so many other things that she did not fully understand, but she went back to what she had always been taught. The Most Blessed Mother of All formed the world, and blessed it, and called forth the trees from the ground, and gave them the power to sustain life. Then She created the creatures for the trees to sustain, and in turn, ordained that the creatures would return to the trees eventually, and give back the nourishment they had taken from the trees. Then She formed the woman, and She touched the woman’s cheek, and the woman lived.
            The Terrans had more complicated explanations for how the worlds had formed and how life had begun, and most excluded the idea of God having been the One responsible. They may have their ideas. I see God in all that She has made.
            “We have arrived in T’Cha, honored priestess,” Peri said. He settled the transport to the ground near the old vessel the first Terrans had arrived in, and sent notification to Temple City Terminal Control of their safe arrival. “You have been so quiet this journey, honored priestess. Have I offended you in some way?”
            “No, Peri. I have just been thinking. I do not believe you would willingly offend me, and I prefer to not take offense to things that are done without intent to offend.”
            He lifted their two bags from the back of the transport, and slung them over his shoulders. “The priestess Se’Ana insists we stay with her, while Emily also has offered us rooms in the inn.”
            “Where would you prefer to stay?”
            “I believe it is better to stay with my grandmother, both because I would not risk offending her, and because I believe Emily will be around to welcome me for much longer than my grandmother. I dread the day I return from a journey, to learn she has experienced the final dream.”
            They walked the worn pathway through the village, receiving and returning frequent greetings from other residents they passed. Peri finally turned towards one door, where he called a greeting. The door opened, and they were invited inside.
            The older man took the bags from Peri. “Welcome home, Peri. I trust your journey went well?”
            “I cannot say for certain, Grandfather. I am told that, following our answers to the Council, the Archipelago entered a state of active war against Alsafi.”
            “War?” Peri’s grandfather switched to English. “There hasn’t been war since the old political systems nearly destroyed Earth.”
            “Alsafi used Empties in an attempt to attack Earth and Earthrise, Grandfather. The High Priestess told us we had saved lives with our warning, but none of us knew the extent. The Colonial Council isolated some of the Empties in a simulator, and gave them the messages from Alsafi.”
            G’Se noted the look of distress on Peri’s face, and placed a gentle touch on his arm.
            “Grandfather, one of the Empties took control of a Voidship in orbit around the Moon, and activated the Plateau Drive to send it crashing into Earth. The Council said if it had been a real Voidship instead of the simulator, the death toll could have been in the millions.”
            The old man nodded. “I would say that I hope both sides know what they’re doing, but it’s obvious that whoever on Alsafi instigated the attack, doesn’t realize the potential consequences.”
            The priestess Se’Ana stepped out of a side room. “If people considered the consequences of their actions before they performed them, many of our actions would never be performed.” She drew Peri into an embrace. “You have done well, child. Pray for all those affected by this, but do not accept the lie that you are in any way responsible. God used you to save many innocent lives, and for that, honor has come to the families of T’Cha, B’qa, and K’Za.” She turned to G’Se. “Honored priestess, enter our home in peace. It is a joy to see you again, G’Se.”
            “Honored priestess, be’tra for your welcome. I am delighted to see you again, Se’Ana. The priestess S’Bu sends her greetings, and bade me to convey her affection to you.”
            “I would that I could go and receive her affection in person.”
            “ Would it not be possible, honored priestess, for you to make the journey?”
            “I have sometimes thought about it, but I fear I am too old to travel the stars again.”
            G’Se cut her eyes towards the younger man. “Peri?”
            He met her eyes and smiled, before turning to Se’Ana. “Even if you were truly ready for the final dream, grandmother, SusAn would sustain you for the journey. Did you not tell me the story many times, of the crew member from Pisces that was attacked and seriously wounded by an animal, and was kept in SusAn until she was returned to Earthrise?”
            The old woman patted his arm. “I would think you were trying to get me away from T’Cha.”
            “You could go if you wished, Grandmother. You said when I was last here, that you were considering passing on the duties of priestess elder to another. If you and Grandfather wish to visit Earth again, I will gladly take you there.”
            “We will speak of this later. Come and sit, and we can discuss pleasant things for a little while. Honored priestess, I will send for the Headmistress of the school, so that we may plan the ordination of your daughter. Your mother offered to stand in for you when the other priestesses in her class were ordained, but she would not receive her robe from any but you, even if you were to be delayed for many years.”
            “Be’tra, honored priestess. I purchased her first robe while we were at the Temple City, so I will be ready to proceed whenever it is convenient for you and the council of priestesses here in T’Cha.”
            Peri’s grandfather remained by the door as the two women settled into their seats. “I will go and inform the Headmistress that the priestess G’Se has arrived, and is ready to speak with her at her pleasure.”
            Se’Ana smiled at the man. “Be’tra, my beloved. Peri, go with your grandfather, please, so that the priestess G’Se and I may discuss some priestess business privately.”
            Peri stood up, looking a bit confused. “Of course, grandmother.”
            When the two men had left, Se’Ana turned to her. “The High Priestess conveyed your request, honored priestess, and I have asked some friends to assist in the effort. I cannot promise, though, that we will find her. My impression is, that she does not wish to be found.”
            “Why is that, honored priestess?”
            “I cannot say for certain, G’Se, though I have my guesses. God, however, has been chastising me lately for slipping into gossip far too often, and I am making the effort to heed Her correction. If I share my guesses, even if they are correct, then I will be gossiping about someone who is not here to speak for herself.”
            “I understand, Se’Ana.”
            “I must ask, child, if you are sure of this path?”
            “I have been sure of very little since the day my husband died, Se’Ana, but of this, I am sure. It seems strange to think of such, but when the High Priestess suggested a path of service for me, it felt as if God was telling me that it was the right thing to do.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Friday Fiction for November 15, 2013

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Vonnie over on her blog, My Back Door. Vonnie writes wonderfully imaginative stories for the young and the young-at-heart. Be sure to check out her writings, especially if you have young children or grandchildren to entertain.

My 2013 NaNoWriMo story, “Draconian Responses,” is now over 52,000 words, with several more chapters of events needing to happen to bring the story to its conclusion. One of the themes of the story is that a dictator has secured the position of “Adon” on Alsafi, a colonized planet in the Sigma Draconis system, by orchestrating civil unrest and controlling the Empties. He also smuggled Empties off Alsafi, and sent them to the Terran Archipelago capitol in the Lunar city Earthrise, to secure employment in potentially vital positions.

The Colonial Council responded to the dictator’s actions by dispatching the Aggressor Voidship Chesty Puller to Sigma Draconis, and in this scene, the commander of the Chesty Puller speaks with two captured members of the Alsafi Ruling Council.

Chapter 28
From “Draconian Responses”

            The woman sat in a chair, secured into it by a strap locked behind her. One other chair was in the room, and Ignatius entered and sat in it. She looked up at him with an expression that seemed to mix regret and relief. “Commander Crane,” she said.
            “I see that I don’t need to introduce myself, then.” He scrolled through the file on his datab. “I see you are Emilia Hendricks, and you have been on the Ruling Council for about fifteen standard years. That would put you having served the previous Adon as well as the current one.”
            “That is correct.”
            “Did you support the current Adon’s rise to power?”
            “But you remained on the Council after his assumption of the position.”
            “Did you support his methods or his programs?”
            “If you did not support his rise to power, or his methods and programs, then why did you stay on the Council?”
            “Commander Crane, have you found any former Council members?”
            “I haven’t looked.”
            “Don’t bother. You won’t find any. When Leonard first presented himself as the new Adon, several members of the Council opposed him. He had one killed on the spot, and those who chose to stand with the old Adon were taken to join him. Do you know what they did to the former Adon, Commander?”
            “Our files indicate he was executed.”
            “He was, and so were all the Council members who chose to oppose Leonard. He didn’t stop there, Commander. He didn’t just execute the Council members. He executed their families. Beretti was the most vocal in that meeting. He had Beretti strapped into a chair, and brought out both his mother, and his three year old daughter. They were stripped naked, bound hand and feet, and both were placed on the gallows with the nooses around their necks. As if that wasn’t enough, Leonard had two twenty five kilogram weights tied to two ropes, through pulleys attached to the ceiling above Beretti’s chair, and under the weights were the triggers that would release the trapdoors under the gallows. Beretti had to hold the ropes, knowing if he let either slip, a family member would die. He had to watch them standing there for hours, until his hands could no longer grip the ropes, and then he got to watch them die. The next day, they brought out his son and his father and repeated the process. The third day, it was his wife and his oldest daughter, only they forced him to watch a gang of men abuse them first, and then they put them on the gallows.”
            “How do you know this?”
            Tears were running down her face. “Because we had to watch it as well, Commander. Leonard told us that he would have no mercy on anyone who stood against him, and he promised us that our families would suffer miserable deaths as well, if we should ever think of betraying him.”
            “How many Council members did he subject to such torture?”
            “Over half of the former Council chose to side with the former Adon, and the torments were different for each one, but each was forced to endure some painful process in the vain hope of prolonging the lives of the people they loved. I have children, Commander. Leonard reminded me of that fact often, and that his Empties were employed as my children’s caretakers. He’d already demonstrated that all he needed to do was speak the word, and the Empties would do his bidding, no matter how heinous. What would you do, Commander, if there was always the implied threat, that all he needed to do was make one transmission, and your child’s nanny would torture them to death?”
            “My job is not to determine your guilt or innocence. My job is to try and determine which council members may have been complicit in the attack against Earth and Luna, and leave the rest to the Colonial Council.” He handed her a handkerchief. “What do you know about those actions, Ms. Hendricks?”
            “We knew nothing of it until your transmission, Commander. The most we knew was that Leonard implied that he had taken measures to sever Alsafi’s ties with the Archipelago. None of us from the previous Council roster approved of the idea of Alsafi Independence. The only Council members that truly agreed with it, were the puppet members he installed to replace those he had executed. The rest of us also suspected the new Council Members were there to keep an eye and ear on us, should any of us start talking sedition.”
            “Did any of you?”
            “I suspect several of us would have, if we had thought we might get away with it, but Leonard seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere. The Empties were his agents, and we’ve figured out that he had Empties programmed that no one – not even themselves – knew were Empties.”
            “Tell me what you know about the Empties.”
            “Imagine a world, Commander, where you learn that, all around you, were thousands upon thousands of people who, with a command, would turn into sociopaths that could be turned against anyone that Leonard chose?”
            “Could he still issue that command?”
            “Do you have him under guard? Is he dead?”
            “Not yet.”
            “With the communications network down, it would be a lot slower for him to unleash them, but all he needs to do is find one or two, give them the appropriate command to go and repeat the command to others, and let it domino out from there.”
            “Where are your children, Ms. Hendricks?”
            “We have an estate outside of Eldorado.”
            He held his datab over to her. “Pinpoint it on the map.”
            She placed a spot on the display, and gave him a look. “Are you going to hold my children hostage against me as well, Commander?”
            “No, Madam Council Member, I am going to send some of my troops to get them away from the Empties, before your ‘Benevolent Adon,’ as he liked to call himself, has a chance to get a message to anyone.” He stood up.
            “How bad was it? The attack on Earth and Luna, I mean? Just how many deaths did Leonard cause in the name of Alsafi?”
            “To be honest, none.”
            “But the attacks? The files?”
            “We were fortunate. The Eridani Rover that escaped Alsafi with the Priestess, had been given information by the Priestess’ husband, and dispatched a drone to the Eridani Ambassador. She brought the information to the Colonial Council, and the Council managed to identify and quarantine the Empties. The images you saw of the Empties operating the consoles were real, but the consoles were in a simulator. All the results were from the simulator. That does not change the fact that your ‘Adon’ ordered the attack, knowing full well what he programmed those Empties to do, would result in possibly millions of deaths.”
            She released a breath. “Don’t let him live, Commander. So long as Leonard is alive, he’s a danger.”
            “My orders are, if at all possible, to return him to Earthrise alive. The Council will decide what to do with him, but the Colonial Charter does not contain a provision for the death penalty, regardless of how much he might deserve it.”
            “I never thought I would say this about any person, but it really will be better if one of your soldiers has to kill him.”
            “I’m not disagreeing, but my function is not to be the judge and executioner.” He opened the door. “One of my people will be in shortly to escort you to a berth. I’m afraid, for the time being, you will have to remain confined, but we will make every effort to be sure you are comfortable. I will send word to you just as soon as I know something about your children.”
            “Thank you, Commander. I don’t know if your soldiers know this, but just before they broke into the Council Chambers, Leonard had given the order to kill all of us. I won’t mind being confined up here. At least, I’m alive.”
            He transmitted the directive for the rescue to the Command Center, trusting Ivan on the Console to route it to the squad best positioned to carry out the mission, and went to the next room. This man had a defiant expression on his face.
            “You have no right,” the man said.
            “You are Cassius Applegate, one of the newest members of the Ruling Council. I assume that means you were hand-picked by the current ‘Adon’ to fill one of the vacancies he created in the Ruling Council.”
            “I don’t have to answer any of your questions. You have invaded a sovereign world, and violated Alsafi space.”
            “No, you don’t have to answer any of my questions. The System has verified your identity, and the files we have from Alsafi confirm the date of your appointment to the Ruling Council. Since you appear to have been complicit with the attack against Earth and Luna, my orders are to secure you in SusAn for transport back to Earthrise, where you can argue your case before the Colonial Council.”
            He sneered. “The Colonial Council is dead. Their chambers were destroyed in the attack. You should know, since you played the files on our media enough times.”
            Ignatius stood up and smiled at the man. “Well, then, maybe we’ll just plan on waking you from SusAn where the Council Chambers once stood, and let you decide whether to remain in your chamber until your air finally runs out, or open your chamber and experience the explosive decompression your attack subjected others to.”
            “The Colonial Charter forbids such actions.”
            “If there is no Colonial Council, then who is going to hold me to the Colonial Charter?” He opened the door and gestured for the soldier waiting outside. “Take him to the secure SusAn compartment, and put him under.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Friday Fiction for November 8, 2013

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by fellow NaNoWriMo participant and talented storyteller, Sara, on her Fiction Fusion blog. Be sure to drop in, read a little, and say ‘hi.’

My NaNoWriMo novel for this year, “Draconian Responses,” crossed the 25K word count threshold tonight. I missed posting an excerpt last week, as I was furiously typing away for the first night of NaNo. I’ve been furiously typing away tonight, too, but decided I can stand another late night, and post an excerpt.

I wrestled with this scene, knowing that it’s not going to sit well with many readers, and for different reasons. Yet, it seemed far too important to shy away from it. One of the plots in the story is that, in the wake of the events on Alsafi from the story, “Empty Threats,” Peri, the pilot of the Rover Vessel “Stardreamer,” and the priestess G’Se are summoned to appear before the Colonial Council, in the Lunar city Earthrise. Following the questioning by the Council, they travel to Earth where they stay as guests of the Qi’le (Eridani) Embassy. This scene takes place their first night at the Embassy.

Draconian Responses
By Rick Higginson
NaNoWriMo, 2013

Chapter 9

            G’Se lay on the bed in the dark room, staring towards the ceiling. She began quiet prayers, each of which burned out before she could finish them, and thought about what S’Bu had said. Where is my heart? Not in S’Po, and not even at the tree where I hold memorial for Solomon. It is not in teaching the children, nor standing each morning with the other priestesses for the prayers.
            Peri was in an adjacent room, and she had heard him return there perhaps half a standard hour before. She took a deep breath, and turned her head towards the door. The lights in the corridor outside had been extinguished, and the Embassy was quiet.
            She threw the bed linens back, and sat up on the edge of the bed. She stayed there for a moment, and then stood to walk to the door. With her hand on the knob, she hesitated briefly, and then stepped into the corridor. A few steps down, and she placed her hand on another door knob, hesitating again. Closing her eyes, she turned the knob, and entered the room quickly. She shut the door behind her, and leaned against it momentarily.
            “Hello?” Peri said. “Is someone there?
            She crossed the floor to the bed, and slid beneath the linens next to him.
            He shifted back quickly in surprise. “Who is there?
            She sang quietly. “It is G’Se.”
            “Honored priestess, this is not proper. You should not be here.”
            “It is not proper, if I take you in the manner that a woman takes a husband. I am not here to do that. Please let me stay, Peri.”
            “I am confused, honored priestess.”
            “Would you call me G’Se for tonight, Peri?”
            “I do not understand, honored priestess.”
            She slid closer to him, and reached an arm across his chest. “Since the day we left Alsafi, I have been nothing but a priestess. Would you speak with me tonight as a friend?”
            “I have been your friend since that day we first met in Su’bui, G’Se, but I still do not understand what you are doing in this bed with me.”
            She sighed at the sound of her name. “I miss this, Peri. I miss being held in the night as a friend. I miss being treated by someone as a friend first, and a priestess second. I miss the feel of falling asleep next to someone who cares about me, and waking up in their arms the next morning. Please do not send me away tonight, Peri.”
            “What if we are found out?”
            “I do not care. I will not take you tonight, and if anyone should believe that I did, it is to their shame that they will not believe me. Will you let me stay, Peri?”
            He slipped his arm behind her, and she rested her head on his shoulder. “Be’tra, Peri.” She savored the warmth of his body, and listened to the sound of his breathing for a few minutes before speaking again.  “I was angry at you when we left S’Po and T’Cha.”
            “I apologize, G’Se, if I did something that angered you.”
            “It is I that should apologize to you. I was angry, because you were taking me away from S’Po and Qi’le, and I thought it was so much easier on you, since traveling between worlds is your life.”
            “That is true, G’Se.”
            “I said as much to the High Priestess. She told me of your offering for the completion of the vow to Solomon, Peri. She told me what it could have cost you, and what you said to her when she asked if you would request the price of your vow to be returned to you.”
            He drew a slow breath, and remained quiet.
            “I did not know that your actions could have cost you this life, Peri. I did not know that, when pressed by the High Priestess, you still made the choice to put my welfare and the welfare of Peqa and H’na before your life. When you stood before the Council and took the responsibility for what we had done, I saw again that you were willing to risk the life you love for me.”
            “That should not seem strange to you, G’Se. There are many that would give of themselves in the service of a priestess.”
            “There are many that would take for themselves, as well, the benefits of association with a priestess. When many thought my time of mourning for Solomon should be complete, they began to suggest other men to take his place as my husband. I never felt they were offering to me someone who would take their place beside me as friend, but rather, they sought the prestige of marrying their son to a priestess who had been honored by the High Priestess.”
            “I am the grandson of the priestess Se’Ana, and the great-grandson of the priestess Y’La, both of whom were honored multiple times by more than one High Priestess. Even before we were honored by the High Priestess, there were those who also sought the prestige of joining their daughter to my family. I never wished to be a prize. I wished only to travel to the stars.”
            “Do you fear that is why I am here tonight, Peri?”
            He was quiet for a moment, and then reached his other hand across to her face. With a tentative touch, he placed the tips of his middle and ring fingers against her cheek. “The day we were honored by the High Priestess, when you met me at the Terminal and we went to the Temple, I thought about Solomon. I thought as we walked side by side, speaking as friends, that I was experiencing a small sample of his life, and for a few moments, I envied what he had shared with you. When we stopped in T’Cha before this journey, and Peqa walked out from her ordination, wearing the robes of a priestess, I felt as proud as if she were my daughter, and wondered if Solomon could see her through my eyes. At that moment, I wanted that life, but I cannot have both it and this life. I will not be as my father, and leave my family to grow without me while I travel the stars.”
            “You were the first man to call Peqa ‘honored priestess,’ Peri. Solomon always said he hoped he would be the one to have that distinction for both Peqa and H’Na. If her father could not be there for that, I am at least glad it was you.”
            “I suppose it was a fair exchange. I had wished my mother had come when we were honored by the High Priestess, but it was your mother who blessed me afterwards and stood in the place of my mother.”
            She reached her hand up and reciprocated the touch on the cheek, fighting the urge to use the middle and index finger. She allowed the two fingertips to linger on his skin, and felt a warm flush go through her skin as she struggled with the temptation to place all her fingers on his cheek. I told him I would not take him as a woman takes a husband, but it has been so long. How easy it is to slip from wanting only the warmth of a friend, to wanting the touch of a husband again. With a feeling of disappointment, she returned her hand to rest across his chest.
            His free arm went across her shoulder, and he clasped his hands together behind her. She settled into the embrace, determined to remain satisfied with being held as a friend. “Peri, could we stay here one more day? Priestess S’Bu mentioned a trail through the forest to a lake nearby. I feel the need to find the peace of the trees around me, before the journey home.”
            “I think the priestess and her husband could be persuaded to tolerate us for one more night, G’Se, though if she learns that you came to my room in the night, she might post guards to preserve proprieties.”
            She gave a gentle laugh. “She might force me to marry you, since she considers you as her own family.”
            “My grandmother would be angry, if I returned as a husband, and my wife did not present herself first according to the customs.”
            “The way my mother speaks of you, I believe she would consider that she had already given approval of you.”
            “If you take another husband, G’Se, you should take one that will be a proper husband for a priestess.”
            “Will you ever consent to be a husband, Peri? Or will the stars always be your comfort?”
            “As I said, G’Se, I am a Rover, and I will not be an absent husband. A woman of Qi’le needs a husband that will fulfill all that is required of him, including being there to care for the home and children.” He gave an amused grunt. “If I ever have any B’sela dreams, I will board Stardreamer and leave for the other side of the Archipelago as swiftly as I can.”
            “You would refuse even a B’sela for this life? Yet, you were willing to sacrifice this life for me, Peri.” She rose up a bit, and turned her face towards his. “What if the B’sela were with me? Would you still refuse, even though you have already been willing to give up this life for me?”
            “After three daughters, G’Se, I do not think you still retain the trait required for a B’sela.”
            “I am teasing you, Peri. You have twice shown that you were willing to accept the consequences for helping us. I could not ask you to give up that which you willingly risked for us.”
            “And what have you risked tonight, G’Se? You say that this is not improper, but could this not cost you the robes?”
            “I wonder, sometimes, if it would be better if I just found another trade to practice.”
            “You were born to be a priestess, and I was born to be a Rover.”
            “I do not know what would have happened to us, if you had not become a Rover and come to Alsafi when you did.”
            “I wish I could have brought Solomon with us as well, G’Se. I would have liked to have known more about him.”
            “I have spent many nights wishing he had come with us as well, but I do not believe anything would have saved his life that day, Peri. I believe now that his final purpose in life was to prophesy to the people of Alsafi. The Most Honored Mother of All does not allow judgment without first sending warning, and She did so through Solomon.”
            “Do you believe there will be judgment, then?”
            “Yes, Peri. It was in the words the Council did not say, and it is already in motion. I cannot say how I know this, other than to think that God revealed this, and I pray that I am wrong.”
            “And you think you should not be a priestess? If you think that God is revealing things to you, G’Se, then perhaps She is doing so to remind you of your calling.”
            “Perhaps, Peri, but for tonight, I still wish to just be a friend.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Friday Fiction for October 25, 2013

            Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sara, over at her imaginative blog, Fiction Fusion. Don’t miss her story this week, or the other wonderful submissions.

            My plans for this year’s NaNoWriMo is a story titled, “Draconian Responses.” This will be a follow-on story to 2009’s NaNo story, “Empty Threats.” In preparation, I’ve been going over that story, refreshing the characters and situations in my mind as I plan on the events that will follow what happened. One of the things that happens in that story, is that the Empty in charge of caring for the Rover Hall decides to run away from her position, and goes to Epsilon Eridanus (“Qi’le”) with the main character. Because she was never programmed for life outside the Rover Hall, she has a difficult time adjusting, even though she is secured employ helping to care for an Inn. This changes when she experiences the Qi’le phenomenon called “B’sela,” which is the joining of two minds, believed by the people of Qi’le as God specifically bringing two people together in marriage. In the original draft, the Empty (who by then has decided to call herself Emily) has been presented to Musi for the B’sela, and he has consented. I skipped ahead to their Affirmation in the Temple, but began to think this week that it would be interesting to explore how Emily’s former life as an Empty might come into play in their early relationship. The result is this new chapter.

            Next week, I hope to have the first excerpt from “Draconian Responses.”

Chapter 26
Empty Memories

            The couple walked slowly along the edge of the forest, around the perimeter of the meadow surrounding Pisces. Emily held to Musi’s hand, trying to assimilate all the memories she could from his mind. Every aspect of his life was a new concept to her, and a painful reminder of all that had been denied to her because she was an Empty.
            One of the older students from the priestess school followed perhaps a dozen or so meters behind them, providing a sufficient chaperone that all proprieties were maintained. The girl’s presence was subtle, and not sufficient to inhibit free conversation, though for most of the walk so far, they had both been silent.
            Musi plucked a leaf from a low hanging branch and crushed it between his fingers. A pleasant scent wafted through the air, and he rubbed the fragrant greenery across his forehead and his neck. “I know your former home was at another star, but will your mother be offended if you do not present me to her for approval before our Affirmation?”
            A panicked feeling ran through her, and she released his hand. She stood still and closed her eyes, struggling with whether to release the memories, or suppress them.
            He sought her hand again, and took it gently. “I can sense you in my mind, exploring all that I am, as a child eagerly explores the forest for the first time, yet, you have a door to your mind that you have not opened to me yet. The priestess Se’Ana warned me of this, Emily, and I still accepted the B’sela. There cannot be anything in your mind that could break the bond we now share.”
            She opened her eyes and blinked away the tears before meeting his gaze. “I don’t have a mother to present you to for approval.” With the B’sela, she could understand his Qi’le speech and even respond a little in kind already, but English was still easier for her.
            “She has passed through the final dream, then?”
            “Did she abandon you as a child?”
            “No, Musi. You don’t understand. I never had a mother.”
            He gave her a puzzled look. “No, I do not understand this. You are here, therefore, you must have had a mother at some time.”
            She shook her head. “No. No mother, and no father, either.”
            “What you are saying is not possible.”
            Her hand slipped from his again, and she lowered her face. With a soft sob, she reached both hands up and placed them on either side of his face, with all fingers touching his skin.
            “Emily, this is not proper - ”
            Before he could finish the correction, she allowed the memories to flood through.
            Her eyes opened for the first time in a sterile room. She sat up in a container, flanked on all sides by similar containers. Some were empty, and some contained other sleeping people, all younger than her. A woman walked over and consulted a device in her hand, before handing her a simple garment. She had never seen such a thing before, but somehow, knew what she was supposed to do with it. She stood up, and draped herself in the plain cloth.
            “This way,” the woman said, and even though she had never heard speech before, she understood what she was expected to do and followed.
            She was led to a doorway. “Open Empty Holding,” the woman said, and the door opened. “Go inside, and commence conditioning routine one.”
            There were others in the room, dressed just as she was, and machines that she suddenly knew what to do with. On one, she would walk for a certain interval every day. On another, she would lift a bar in a prescribed pattern. Each machine had a different function, and each day, she would follow the others in the room through the routine.
            She had no way of knowing or caring how long she spent in this room. Each day was the same as before – awaken, eat, exercise, take care of personal hygiene, eat again, and then sleep. She never spoke with any of the other residents in the room, and none ever spoke to her.
            The next distinct memory was of another woman coming to her in the room. “You have been requisitioned,” the woman said. “Come with me.”
            She was taken to another room. “Open Empty Programming,” the woman said, and the door opened. They entered, and the woman pointed to a cylindrical bed. “Remove your clothing, and lie down there.”
            She did, and the bed glowed blue, and she fell asleep. When she awoke, she was handed a different kind of clothing, and taken to a different room. A man waited there, and he looked her over before nodding.
            When he had walked around her several times, he stopped in front of her. “What would you like to do?” he asked.
            “I would like to take care of the Rover Hall,” she replied.
            “How will you do that?”
            “I will clean the hall, see to it that the facilities are maintained, the linens changed between occupants and at regular intervals besides, and arrange for whatever needs or desires the Rovers express, in keeping with local laws and their ability to pay.”
            The man led her outside to a transport, and took her to the Rover Hall in Eldorado. He did not even go inside with her – she already knew everything she needed to know about the building and the operation.
            Emily wept softly against Musi’s shoulder, aware through the B’sela that tears ran down his cheeks as well.
            “You have no memories of a childhood?”
            She shook her head without lifting it. “My childhood was spent asleep in a chamber. I was created, grown, and maintained by a machine until I was an adult, and ready to be requisitioned.”
            “They called you ‘Empties,’” he whispered. His voice sounded flat in the Terran tongue.
            She nodded. “My mind was filled only enough to perform the tasks I was requisitioned for, until that moment you touched me.”
            “How can they do such a thing?”
            “I don’t know. I was never programmed to understand the technology.”
            He reverted to Qi’le. “They will answer to God someday for what they have done. I am just a man, and may not understand the Scriptures very well, but this must be one of the worst forms of blasphemy.”
            “I was nothing, Musi. I was property. When the day came that I was no longer useful for my requisition, I would have been disposed of like trash.”
            He brought his hands up and placed the ring and middle fingers of both hands on her cheeks. “They may have thought of you as nothing, but they did not see you as I see you. You are the B’sela I have prayed for my whole life. You are the gift that God has led to me from across the stars, and the completion of who I am.” His melody changed to the formal dialect used for the liturgy. “Truly God has joined us as one mind. We shall be one heart, and when we have been affirmed, we shall be one body.”
            She listened to his words and to his mind, and leaned back to look at his face. “I was supposed to say that last phrase to you when you gave your touch consenting to the B’sela.”
            He smiled at her. “God had a different way for you to say it.”
            “I don’t know what kind of wife I’ll be.”
            “I do not know what kind of husband I will be, but we will learn together, and if the Most Blessed Mother of All grants that I place children at your breasts, we will learn together how to give them full memories.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Fiction for October 18, 2013

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Vonnie over on her “My Back Door” blog. Be sure to visit and enjoy her fun turkey story this week, as well as the other submissions for FF.

Since Friday Fiction was on something of a hiatus last November, I missed posting chapters of my NaNoWriMo novel while it was in process. As I mentioned before, I took the short story, “Reef, Her Madness,” and used that as the basic outline for a novel-length retelling of the same events, and then some. What this allowed me to do was expand the story to include scenes that were brushed over in the short story, and to add additional POVs. One of the pivotal scenes in the original story was the night swim along the reef, with dive lights rented from the resort Dive Center. In the rewrite, I decided it would be fun to see the Dive Center through the female main character’s perspective, and to use the scene to set up subsequent scenes in the book.

By the way – many dive shops do offer something very similar to the Explore Scuba course mentioned in this chapter, offering it for very inexpensive or even free. Often, it is done in the dive shop’s training pool, but in some locations, it is actually done in the ocean. If you have ever been curious about scuba, look up your local scuba shops with training facilities, and inquire about a Discover Scuba or similar course (I fictionalized the name for the story).

Chapter 14
From Chasing The Sharks

            Theresa entered the resort Dive Center, and wondered how she’d managed to have never been in one before. She could not remember a time when she hadn’t loved the water, and scuba would be a natural extension of that love.
            Large color prints of reef life decorated the walls, and a big screen monitor played an ongoing slide show and video montage of the area’s diving. It was all just so beautiful and enticing, and she imagined what it would be like to be one of the people in the video, gliding over the seabed.
            She took a mask from its hook on a wall display, and held it over her face. The skirt was much softer and conformed so much better to her shape than the inexpensive mask she’d bought from a department store. If she wasn’t already stretching her budget just being on this trip, she would have considered buying it. Turning her attention to the display of snorkels, she ran a quick currency conversion in her head, and realized the cheapest snorkel they had, cost more than her entire set of fins, mask, and snorkel.
            A young woman came from a back room. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t hear you come in. How may I help you?”
            Theresa pulled the mask from her face, and quickly replaced it on the display.
            “Are you looking for a new mask?” the employee asked. “The one you just had on is one of our best sellers. It’s very comfortable, and offers excellent peripheral vision.”
            “It is nice,” Theresa agreed. “But it’s not in my budget right now. I just came in to rent a couple of dive lights.”
            “Ah, very good,” she said, pulling out the rental form. “Are you going out on our dive boat tonight?”
            Theresa shook her head. “No, I’m not a scuba diver. A friend and I are going to do a little night snorkeling in the lagoon.”
            “I see. Are you experienced snorkelers?”
            “Yes, and I assure you, we’re both quite comfortable in the water.”
            The employee walked to a closet, and removed a pair of large, yellow plastic lights from a shelf. She brought them back to the counter, and switched each on to check their functionality. “These are a bit bulky, but we have found them to be quite reliable and to have excellent battery life. We do require a credit card deposit on them, or else charge the rental back to your bungalow, so that your card on file with the resort provides the deposit. How would you like to proceed?”
            “My friend should have already made arrangements to have them billed to his bungalow. He’s in number twenty-three.”
            She checked her computer. “Yes, it’s here – bungalow twenty-three, Mr. Timothy Billings.” She pulled back the rental form. “I won’t need this. Mr. Billings completed it online, so you should be all set.” Smiling, she handed the lights to Theresa. “If you and Mr. Billings are comfortable snorkeling, have you ever considered trying scuba? Many divers started out snorkeling, and it’s an easy transition for them to learn scuba.”
            “I hadn’t really thought about it before, but looking at your videos, it just looks so incredibly wonderful and peaceful.”
            “It is,” she said. “When I am underwater, it seems that all the other cares of the world just disappear.” She pulled a brochure from a display at the side of the counter. “If you would like to try it during your visit, we offer an Explore Scuba course. We give you a brief classroom introduction to scuba, and then a basic instruction on the use of the scuba gear in the shallow water just off the beach here. Once you have the hang of it, the instructor will take you on a short guided tour underwater, and you can decide if you like the experience enough to pursue certification. The cost is minimal, and includes the rental of all the gear you will need. All you have to bring is your bathing suits.”
            Theresa looked over the brochure. “It does sound nice, but I’ll need to think about it.”
            “Of course. Talk it over with your friend, and if you decide to do it, just call us here at the Dive Center, and we’ll schedule the time at your convenience.”
            “I will, thank you.” She lifted the lights just a bit. “I’ll have these back tomorrow.”
            “Thank you,” the employee said. “Enjoy your stay at Caruso Lagoon.”
            Theresa retreated from the shop before the temptations within could get any more persuasive. The Explore course sounded good, and the cost did seem reasonable, but she needed to check what she’d spent so far and make sure her limited vacation budget could handle it.
            The most amusing thought, though, was that Timothy would show up without a bathing suit. The only thing he was required to bring, and if they did the course, he wouldn’t bring it. She smiled, and then laughed when she realized that she had spent the last two days swimming with someone who had been skinny-dipping the whole time. Oh, if I tell Daddy about this, he may never let me out of his sight again.
            Even Jenny’s silent treatment that morning couldn’t dampen her mood.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Friday Fiction for October 11, 2013

Welcome to Friday Fiction, which I have the privilege of hosting this week. Look for the Linky tool after this intro.

I had to miss last week, as I was on an out-of-town trip to a location that was completely disconnected from phone, internet, and pretty much any other form of electronic communication, but I’m back this week, and with a new story.

I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2013, and at this time, I’m planning a story to follow on with my 2009 NaNoWriMo story, “Empty Threats.” I’ve thought a lot about what might happen after the closing events of that story, and I find the story potential strong. Towards the end of the first story, the main characters must deal with a growing uprising on the colony world of Alsafi, where lab-grown humans are available as “made to order” servants, programmed at the time of their requisition for whatever tasks the buyer requests. In essence, these are treated as biological robots, and not as true humans. The Empties play a part in the first story, and the technology will have a strong influence in the second. This scene will not appear in this year’s NaNoWriMo book, but it does establish certain parameters that will play into the story.

Previous appearances of this concept on this blog were in the stories, “TheRequisition,” “Exiled With a Fool,” and in the excerpts from “Empty Threats” in November 2009.

Empty Promises
By Rick Higginson

            Eldorado was in turmoil, and the Ruling Council Chambers sealed against the threat of the mobs outside. He approached a small side door, which was opened for him by a security agent inside.
            The guard crossed his wrists, palms facing out, beneath his chin. “Esteemed sir, the Council is waiting inside.”
            He nodded to the man, and strode down the corridor towards the secured meeting room. The fortified door swung open for him just as he reached it, and another guard inside repeated the greeting and the gesture. Without a word, he went to the chair at the head of the table, and took a seat.
            The Council Member at the far end of the table stood up. “Who are you, and how did you get in here? We were expecting the Adon.”
            He studied the man for a few moments, and then leaned forward to rest folded hands on the table. “Sit down, Beretti.”
            The man returned a shocked look. “I beg your pardon. I am a member of the Ruling Council, and I do not take orders from the likes of you.”
            “No, Beretti. You take your orders from your Corporate Benefactors and the Colonial Council. That will no longer be the case. I am the new Adon, and you will take orders from the likes of me.”
            Another Council Member spoke up. “Preposterous! If something has happened to the Adon, then the new Adon is chosen by this Council.”
            “That may have been how it was once done, Grenwald, but by appointment of the Revolutionary Council, I am the new Adon. Your choice now is to pledge your loyalty to me and work with the Revolutionary Council for the smooth transition of power, or to find yourselves arrested as enemies of Alsafi.”
            Beretti looked like he was ready to have an aneurism. “This is against the Archipelago Charter. When the Colonial Council hears of this-”
            “I have severed our bonds to the Archipelago. Alsafi is now an independent, autonomous world, free of the imposition of the Colonial Council and their oppressive Charter.”
            “You can’t do that!”
            “I already have, and as I have already said, your choice is to side with me, or to join the deposed Adon as an enemy of Alsafi. Might I suggest that any of you that wishes to remain loyal to the old Adon, stand up now. Any of you ready to accept the new ruling order, take a seat.”
            Better than half of the Council stood up, most with angry expressions. Those that remained seated appeared confused and uncertain.
            “Thank you for clarifying your positions. Those of you standing should step back against the wall, and wait to be taken into custody.”
            Beretti laughed at him. “It’s you who should wait to be taken into custody. We have the majority opinion of the Ruling Council standing up, and the Alsafi Security Forces obey the Ruling Council.” He looked at the guard by the door. “You there – arrest this usurper.”
            The guard came and stood next to him. “Esteemed sir?”
            He waved his hand in resignation. “Show Beretti to the wall.”
            “Yes, Esteemed Sir.” The guard moved swiftly to the other end of the table, and seized Beretti by the arms. The man gave a cry of outrage and protest, before he was flung face-first into the wall. Beretti collapsed to the floor, with blood streaming from his nose.
            “Now, does anyone else need any help finding the wall?”
            Grenwald folded his arms. “You have one guard in the room. We have our assistants. You can’t overpower us all.”
            He smiled. “Your assistants, yes. I should remind you that each one of your assistants is an Empty, programmed before they were delivered to you.”
            “And your point - ?”
            “I promise you that you do not want to rely on them for your safety.”
            “But I should rely on you to be truthful?” Grenwald pointed a finger at him. “I’d say you were behind this entire uprising. You were the one breaking into the media servers and encouraging sedition.”
            He stood and bowed. “Guilty as charged, but your realization is too late to do you any good.” He looked to the young man that stood behind Grenwald. “You may act on Administrative Resolution Fifteen.”
            “You can’t give my assistant orders-”
            Before Grenwald finished speaking, his assistant delivered a kick to the side of his knee, dropping him to the floor. As Grenwald tried to get back up, the young man took hold of his head in both hands and gave a sudden twist, and then let the Council Member’s body slump to the floor.
            With expressions of shock and fear, the remaining standing Council Members hurried to the wall.
            “The Alsafi Security Forces obey me now. Your Empties will obey me. The population of Alsafi will soon hail me as their liberator, so if any of you sitting here are harboring any thoughts of subversive actions, forget them now. Have I made myself understood?”
            The voices were weak, but there was a chorus of, “Yes, Esteemed Sir” from the Council Members that had remained seated.
            “Good. Assistants, take your former masters to join the former Adon. The guards outside will direct you where to go. Two of you others, help Grenwald’s assistant to remove him from these chambers.” He waited until they were all gone, and then looked around at the remaining faces. “Now, before we get down to the business of a smooth transition of power, are there any questions?”
            A woman to his left raised her hand slightly. “Where is the former Adon?”
            He smiled. “I will indulge that as the one and only question I will allow about him.” He spun his chair to face the large display mounted on the wall. “System, display feed from Provisional Corrections circuit six.”
            The display illuminated to show a long gallows, where two bodies dangled from ropes.

            “Welcome to the new order of Alsafi. I promise you that dissent will not be tolerated.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friday Fiction for September 27, 2013

Friday Fiction is hosted this week over on Karlene A. Jacobsen’s blog. If you came here first, make sure you get over there to find the Linky widget and the other submissions for your weekend reading pleasure.

Starting sometime in the next week or two, “Marta’s Pod” will get the professional editing in preparation for publication. When I first wrote “Cardan’s Pod,” I finished that story, but the characters just wouldn’t leave me alone. I immediately launched into writing the sequel, which not only became “Marta’s Pod,” but also ended up as the longest single story I’ve written to date. At one time, I considered trying to divide it into two stories, but there were so many things happening concurrently in that time span of the tale, that any attempt to make it into two books would inevitably result in spoilers. One book would reveal key outcomes of the other. I elected to leave it as one book, though I have pared it down by around 15000 – 20000 words from its peak length.

This week, I thought it would be fun to post a “teaser,” with the opening events of the book. This is about five years after the closing events of “Cardan’s Pod.”

Marta’s Pod
Trouble is the common denominator of living. It is the great equalizer.
~ Soren Kierkegaard

          Gerald Lawton removed the mail from the box, and sorted through the stack. The junk mail was gathered together beneath the important pieces, which included several bills and statements from insurance companies. An envelope from a County Recorder was held separate from the other mail, as he stepped back through the open front door.
          He glanced momentarily at his son. Mark Lawton sat in a wheelchair, silently watching a television talk show. The young man’s expression revealed nothing of his thoughts on the program. Mark had the same reaction regardless of what was on the screen. “You want me to change the channel?” Gerald asked.
          Mark shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I doubt there’s anything better on, anyway.”
          He shook his head. “Up to you,” he said. “You could do something else besides watching junk.”
          “Sure, Dad. Maybe I’ll go for a run. Oh wait - I can’t. I don’t have any stinkin’ legs.”
          I know, son, Gerald thought. You remind me every chance you get, it seems. What happened to the smiling, upbeat kid we raised? Did they have to amputate your sense of humor after the accident, too?
          Entering the kitchen, he dropped the junk mail in the recycle bin without slowing his step, and took the bills to the sorter by the refrigerator. Once his hands were free, he used his pocket knife to slice open the end of the remaining envelope, and removed the document inside. He unfolded it, and looked it over as he reached for his mug of coffee. “Linda?” His hand stopped shy of the cup handle.
          “Is that Mark’s Birth Certificate?”
          He shook his head. “It’s not his.” He handed the document to his wife. “They sent us one for some gal named Marta Lawton. You’d think they would have checked the parents’ names and seen that they didn’t match.”
          “Gerald?” She handed the certificate back to him. “They do match. We’re listed as Marta Lawton’s parents.”
          “What? How?” He read over the form. “This lists Anthony Marcel as the delivering physician, too, but this one is dated six years after Mark was born. I know we used to have a copy of Mark’s birth certificate, and everything was correct. Where did this one come from?”
          “I don’t know.” She turned her head in the direction of the living room. “I would certainly remember if I’d ever had any other children besides Mark.”
          He slapped the certificate onto the dining table. “I’ll have to call them today, and get them to send the right certificate. They’d better not charge me for the correct copy.”


          A week. That was all it had taken for what should have been dismissed as a stupid clerical error to turn into a family crisis. I got a thirty-four year old son acting like his life is over, and now I have to deal with Linda wondering if I’ve cheated on her, because some suspicious friend of hers suggested maybe I’d fathered a child with another woman, and tried to hide it by using her name. I don’t need this stress. Retirement was supposed to be relaxing.
          Gerald read over the listing of Private Investigators on the computer, and selected one that specialized in searching for people. This is going to be expensive, I know it, but it’s gotta be cheaper than a divorce, which is where we’re headed if we don’t figure out who used our names and why.

Chapter 1

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own.
~ Aristotle

Linda and Gerald sat on the couch, facing the Private Investigator over the coffee table. A gap large enough for another person remained between them, which would not have been as likely before the suspicions and doubts caused by the wrong certificate.
The investigator looked over the notes in his hand. “The County Recorder’s Office had no explanation for how you received the wrong birth certificate in the first place.” He flipped to another sheet. “Errors of this nature are not supposed to happen. They verified that it is genuine, though they expressed confusion. About eight years ago, they changed formats, and while Mark’s certificate is the old style, Marta Lawton’s is the new. Considering it lists her birth date as almost twenty years before the new form was even considered, let alone adopted, it suggests this certificate was issued well after her birth.” He dropped the papers on the coffee table. “I explored several options on this, not the least of which is that both of your identities were ‘appropriated’ by someone for whatever reason. The easiest way to have verified that would have been to talk to Dr. Marcel and determine if he recalled the parents of Marta Lawton and what they looked like. Unfortunately, Dr. Marcel was killed in a lab accident almost ten years ago. However, his former associates all attested to his remarkable memory for names and faces. If he had strangers claiming to be you, they say he would have known immediately, especially considering how much time you say you spent with him. I would say this also tends to rule out that another woman was posing as you, Mrs. Lawton, since Dr. Marcel would have spotted that as well. He might have accepted that Gerald had divorced and remarried, but he would have questioned the coincidence of both wives having the exact same first and middle names. It’s not impossible, but the likelihood is very slim. I found it odd as well that, according to one person I spoke with, Dr. Marcel was no longer practicing obstetrics when Marta Lawton was supposedly born; he was working strictly research at the time.”
He sat back and folded his hands together. “I thought maybe Marta Lawton had been a non-entity, created for the purpose of defrauding the government or something. It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone to falsify birth records to try and gain some kind of funding for either their personal or departmental usage. However, no records existed of any such claims made on her behalf. In fact, I could find no childhood records of Marta Lawton at all. I considered that Marta Lawton was a new identity created for someone for purposes of hiding, explaining the lack of any records of her youth. That’s still a possibility, but in cases like that they usually take the name of someone who died in infancy, instead of creating a whole new personage. After all, if you’d had a daughter named Marta who’d died as a baby you wouldn’t be suspicious to find her birth certificate, would you? Now, finding her marriage license after you’d thought her dead? That would raise eyebrows. You’ll find a copy of that particular document in the stack I just gave you.”
He gave them a moment to look it over. “The pastor who married them would not tell me anything about her either, claiming confidentiality issues. Whoever she is, she apparently exists and is now married to Joshua Cardan, a rather wealthy if somewhat reclusive man. He gets out in public, but he doesn’t play the typical social scene much. I can find plenty of information about him, including a rather juicy story of his first wife trying to kill him for his money, and loads of pictures and records of his life. Marta Lawton Cardan, however, is a phantom. Their marriage license was issued without her present; no newspaper carried any mention of the wedding, even though Cardan would certainly merit scrutiny from at least the local gossip columnists. Marta Lawton Cardan does not have a driver’s license, though she does have a Social Security number. Even talking with some of Cardan’s associates, none of them have ever seen Mrs. Cardan, though they report that Mr. Cardan speaks lovingly of her and seems happier than he’s ever been.”
“What do we do now?” Gerald leaned back and crossed his arms.
“Every avenue I tried in contacting Marta Cardan was closed to me. I tried to find out where they live, but wasn’t able to get any clear answer. Joshua Cardan owns a number of properties, but he sold his house soon after the murder attempt. I tried contacting him, but he refused to take any of my calls. Very shortly thereafter, I was contacted by an FBI agent who advised me very strongly to drop my investigation. I might have narrowed down where he lives with a bit more time, but frankly I’m not going to call the FBI’s bluff on this. If the government’s involved, my hands are tied and I can’t even really give you advice; however, the number for Joshua Cardan’s office is in my report in your hands. Maybe if you get this wild idea to call and tell him you’re his wife’s parents, he might talk to you.”
“But we can’t be his wife’s parents.” Linda looked from the investigator, to Gerald, and then back. Say something, Gerald. Give me something reassuring.
The investigator gave them a smile. “My curtailed investigation was inconclusive, so maybe he doesn’t know whether you really are or aren’t. If he knows you’re just two people whose names got tagged onto his wife’s birth certificate, he may talk to you in order to figure out how to get you to drop this inquiry. Or, he might just talk to you because he thinks you are his in-laws. The worst that happens is you don’t get anywhere, in which case you’re in the same boat you’re in right now. But, of course, I can’t tell you to try anything like that.”