Once-Other Chapters 1-4

 

Into a world named Once-Other that in many ways reflect Earth we partake of its beauty, its conflicts, and there to discover powers all individuals of all countries have. Many in power would see to it we never realize our power. But. Upon the pages of Once-Other is described a weapon that no ruling government can ever suppress nor confiscate.

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ONCE-OTHER

By Lawrence M. Nysschens

 

CHAPTER 1
Of Human Rights

24th July 4008 EB*

We the People of Here-Born, adopt the full and original Constitution and Bill of Rights of those United States of America, a Republic. We thank them for the document they left behind—we consider it a treasure.

With the benefit of history, other technology, and our own requirements, we have added new ideas and clarified all we can as best we can. This we have done in defense against those amongst Mankind who insist upon enslaving their fellows.

We the People of Here-Born condemn all forms of slavery whether physical, mental, financial or spiritual. We hope all of Mankind understands these are inalienable Rights, are God-given and may only be removed by God—and by God alone.

Live by Neatness alone fellow citizens.

*See Glossary (Not available here: EB = Earth Born)

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CHAPTER 2
Of The Planet, Here-Born

She was once a mistress of the Sun, the beauty of a galaxy.

With each day’s awakening, she would wink at Brother Sun but his countenance never altered. Nevertheless, she held her smile day long as the delicate mists of her lakes, oceans and seas surrendered to him.

When day too faded, she exhaled and her breath whispered along grassy plains over mountains and through forests. Wildlife bleated their pleasure while feasting upon its scent of bush-figs and honey.

Year-round rainbows of flowers circled her north to south and east to west. Their radiance shone warmer than sunlight, their beauty surpassed by her perfume alone.

The Sun named her his Great Desire.

But she never matched his passion leaving his desire unquenched. And the Sun being a wanton one, became demanding, overbearing…threatening. Nevertheless, she held her ground.

But daily, as she slipped from his grasp his anger rose. Enraged and driven by frustration he roused the molten rock from deep within her and thrust it out across her delicate landscape.

Time stood watch as the lava solidified.

Later, tiny winged pods escaped through cracks and floated upwards to darken the sky. Rain soon came and heavy with water they burst. Their seed scattered far and wide to settle on shores, mountains and seas, and there they multiplied.

But the Sun never content became dissatisfied even with the seed he had given her and set to pondering on it.

And so, after time played another hand new seed arrived—seed from beyond the Sun. They too fell like rain but rain like no other. Leaping hills of orange and red and black erupted and her oceans and lakes vanished leaving bitter salt in their wake.

She fought the violence with sighs and clouds of perfume.

But the attack multiplied ripping her open as unto death.

In desperation, she gathered her flowers, trees and all living things and buried them deep within her. There she solidified her outer beauty fearing Brother Sun’s anger would rain down far crueler.

Those parts of her unable to solidify turned into a black and sticky liquid that gave forth an odor with no ties to her delicate perfume.

And she was all but done.

In a final act, she inhaled the clouds that surrounded her, those mists that once were her lakes, seas, and oceans. With this done so too was her beauty for not a whisper of it remained.

Across her now stark face, dark brown scars hardened rendering homage to a Sun’s wantonness.

And new winds blew.

Winds carrying sand, the thick smell of dust, burning radiation and deadly carbon dioxide destined to choke all future life.

The Sun smug in the heavens claimed this act as his own vengeance. With his glare now firm upon her, he set to burning and baking her until she could no longer support life.

Soon all who knew her pronounced her dead. Thus, she remained barren, burnt and lifeless. After eons had passed, strangers came to her. Strangers seeking freedom and bringing hope. Some say she sighed as their first boot set imprint upon sand.

It was in the year of 3776 EB.

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CHAPTER 3
Of Once-Other By Once-Other

3rd October 4296 EB

288 years have passed since 4008 EB when our First War of Independence was won.

My name is Once-Other. Before though, I had an other name which I now keep secret. I changed from the original one when I replaced my arms and head with pre-owned body parts.

Now, my reason for swapping out body parts was to ensure no one could identify me as a Here-Born Campaigner, by appearance alone. We Campaigners operate on the frontlines of this our war of self-defense that EB has yet to declare. It follows we are vulnerable and open to capture or assassination.

We refer to this as our Second War of Independence.

It flared alive when Earth-Born recently invaded Here-Born a second time, but in a covert and underhanded fashion. We’ve offered Earth-Born several warnings and appeals to end both their invasion and continued attrition upon our Rights.

In response they began to hunt down Here-Born Campaigners for no reason other than our extermination. They ought to pay attention to the last of our warnings for we have been kind enough to provide them with many such.

Now, the subject of pre-owned body parts has forever been trying upon the logic of EB tourists. Most are deeply offended at the sight of pre-owneds on display and for sale. But for us switching out arms or other appendages has become an everyday occurrence.

Despite EB’s having trouble with this segment of our lives; pre-owneds were originally created by their own EB scientists. This occurred way back when our ancestors first emigrated from Earth-Born to Here-Born.

On board ship during the trip to Here-Born, EB engineers secretly conducted experiments in the regrowth of human limbs. Unfortunately, upon arrival every ship crashed. Chemical concoctions still brewing leaked into the atmosphere and from there into sand and finally from sand into other sand.

Our ancestors dearly wished to hang the EB scientists and genetic engineers on discovery of the tests and their nefarious purpose—to make all people more equal. Then again and at that time, our Founders did not realize that said concoctions would wrought a physical change upon us as none before in all of human history.

Instead, it was the experiments on the regrowth of human limbs the crashes revealed that our ancestors so despised, one-two-three and altogether. Furthermore, there were no handy trees about, and those ancestors soon discovered nothing much grew on Here-Born, whatsoever.

After the crash landings and with footprints barely impressed upon sand, a child was born. With the child comforted in her mother’s arms, our Founders gazed about this barren world and named it Here-Born in honor of the newborn. We have since come to refer to Earth and its population as Earth-Born or EB for short.

Now. If ever you accuse us of being Earth-Born, it is a low down insult! This is due to Neatness—a code of conduct important to us. So! Beware if you tend to verbally abuse others for the Here-Born group called Desert Drivers will become a trifle physical when so insulted. Please keep this advice in mind when traveling here from abroad.

As for Once-Other here and alive this very morning; I stare into the mirror as I do every day and examine my clothes.

I am a flashy dresser with a taste for single colors from head to toe. In being as well somewhat otherwise in mind and humor, I do mix-n-match on occasion just to watch faces twitch in surprise and the surprised express disbelief.

Such like quirky humor has caused people I know to insist I’m descended of the ancient Vikings. I instead, reckon they speak to the dark red of my new hair, the width of my new chest and the Nordic cut of my new cheekbones. My lack of height they wave aside as reward enough for generations of cross-cultural matrimony.

Now these same friends are quite confident my soft voice matured as wine long encased in a barrel of soured marriage. I figure they take advantage of unfortunate circumstances altogether—and enough said of that.

At this time, as our Second War of Independence takes shape, danger dogs me every hour of each day due, as mentioned, to my being a Here-Born Campaigner. The threat of imminent arrest and imprisonment by EB’s authorities hangs continuously over me causing me to do something new.

That Authorities from Earth-Born now search for us Here-Born campaigners, I am recording all the events of my part in this our Campaign, starting today. Events I hope I will live through.

This morning, duty again calls me to rejoin the search for a missing campaigner. But first, I stare out at the desertscape and consider Here-Born.

Her face is scarred by one-third a sea of rock and awash in two-thirds an ocean of sand—and nothing else. Despite these traits, our ancestors chose Here-Born for themselves and all future generations.

In their final analysis, it came down to her apparent lack of commercial value, distance from Earth-Born and so terrible a climate only fools and those seeking refuge from oppression would live with her.

These we are—and are said to be.

To our ancestor’s surprise, they discovered gold and oil in large quantities though some decades later. The engineers present mused on how often it transpires that he, who flees something, often becomes the inevitable recipient of what he fears.

I hear no one laughed.

With gold and oil, we are cautious and this despite the haste demanded by those trendy business dynamos of Earth-Born. And so we have waited until recent times to export and mine. However, in our opening of oil and gold to commerce, we have invited an EB sponsored tragedy to undertake another junket amongst us.

We fight again as we did back in 4008 when we first won independence from EB. Nevertheless, this our Second War of Independence unfolds like none before and with good cause as well.

You see, Here-Born Government, technology, as well as religious and personal Rights, has evolved out here thereby creating a new and legal self-defense. We have given them fair warning as mentioned, but they persist in violating our Rights and ignore all warnings.

I am, as well, sad to say that illegal arrests by EB authorities continue. However, we of Here-Born being expectant of justice and honor in Man have gathered news of each wrongful arrest and records of the perpetrators are encrypted and stored.

They should pay attention to those warnings for on Here-Born following illegal orders or illegal laws or illegal regulations cannot be defended except under one circumstance—you were threatened with immediate death should you disobey.

All others are prosecuted and, in particular, those writing, contributing to, proposing, lobbying for or voting for illegal laws or regulations and those giving illegal orders.

So I say to them, “Beware!”

And so too must we beware.

I personally suspect something heads our way, something worse. But I know not what. Into this uncertainty, I march another day, another week, another year, and longer if needed.

We of Here-Born will not suffer a surrender nor compromise until Freedom lives again.

For us, there is no life without Freedom.

For us, it is impossible to hold onto Freedom without continued vigilance to the coming forth of a new Slave Master—one often surrounded by the obvious minions and cowering curs. Be wary of them for they crawl into view slow enough to go unnoticed…at first.

For myself, I am not sure I will survive.

I can but hope.

Nevertheless, at present all is quiet on all fronts.

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CHAPTER 4
Of The First Casualty Of War

I crouch low atop a high dune scanning westwards across a wild and desolate desertscape. A momentary hush as the wind drops. I shift sideways, wriggle deeper into sand and inspect distant dunes as deep concerns gnaw at me.

I search for a Here-Born campaigner, Jiplee Williams, who has gone missing these last several days. We have combed the desert to no avail. For me, it is too trying this, looking for a friend while expecting the worst. Sand whispers as it slithers once again. I glance up and about then focus hard.

But no matter how much I concentrate, there is nothing to see other than naked desert. There is nothing. No one. No signs of life. Naught but sun and heat and sand.

Overhead the sky is harshly blue. In the distance, dust-devils tap-dance along the edge of a dune. Beneath their dancing feet, sand breaks free and cascades downwards, a beached wave slipping back to sea.

Gusts of wind blow sand in my face, into my eyes. Sand forever moves, tumbling and dancing to the tune of Mother Wind and her children as daily they flit and dance across sand.

From out a clear blue sky, our Sun’s glare lessens not at all. A sun who is both merciless and unforgiving, and who smiles without care at Man’s attempts to survive. And assuming one wishes to remain alive beneath Brother Sun courage and endurance, swiftness of mind and reactions superior to any of Earth-Born, are essential requirements.

The moan of wind picks up then subsides and behind me hot metal ticks in evidence of a cooling engine.

I briefly inspect my screaming red SandRider named Hellbent; a breakdown being Death’s kissing cousin. She is almost as tall as a monster truck but built more like an ATV—an All-Terrain Vehicle. Its motorcycle styled saddle lies level at my shoulder. A fairing keeps sand and headwinds at bay, mostly.

I run a finger along the red paint and streaks of pin striping so dark-blue as to appear black. A quick check of her waist high tires—and all are good. A push on the handlebars without power-assistance assures me there is no play in the steering-head.

I kneel and glance about her V4 engine snuggled beneath the seat. This one is designed more for torque than horsepower—no oil leaks are evident. I grin my confidence in her, pat a wheel, shade eyes aflame from lack of sleep and wind-borne dust and once again search the desert. There is nothing but emptiness as far into the distance as I can see.

I check one final time and jolt physically at a sudden flash of color. I close my eyes and mumble a prayer for I had almost missed spotting Jiplee but for a bright red scarf tied around her neck. She lies high upon an opposing dune, frail, unmoving, half buried.

Perhaps I will not be too late.

I leap to Hellbent’s saddle, start her, blip the throttle and she roars in defiance of sand and sun. I drop the clutch and charge down leeward. She slips-n-slides, convulses into a tank-slapper and almost tips. I catch her and angle down the steep face fighting the handlebars.

After a quick charge across the slack, we race up the opposing incline and crest the edge with all four wheels flying. They hit, bounce twice and we slide to a halt. My eyes remain glued to where Jiplee lies despite spewing sand seeking ingress beneath my helmet. Desert silence is intruded upon as my boots pound across sand.

I stop up, bend to a knee, take a moment to calm and check. Sadly, she has no pulse. I drop her hand flinching at her skin so dead upon mine. Regretful, I pick it up, dust it off, place it down with care and check for the cause of death but find none.

I sit silent, breathing fast.

A faint trace of flowers-n-honey mingled with the thick odor of sand surrounds her. I lean closer, but no signs of violence are evident. Perhaps a little hope. But no, the breath of life is gone. I lean back and examine her further.

She is dressed in khaki fatigues and brown boots. Her delicate blouse is of all colors, pink. Blonde bangs peak from beneath a pastel green cap. Typically Jiplee.

Her eyes are closed as though asleep but upon her lips lingers the strangest of smiles. I turn from it but on considering Neatness, I wipe the desert from her face and sit looking at, but not actually seeing her. Several moments on her lips once again hail my attention—they seem alive.

I reach out and a fragment of lingering memory leaps into my hand and divulges she had not anticipated the violent attack she had suffered.

Her life and her memories are gone to me now.

I sigh and gentle her hair, her cap falls free. And with my hand upon her forehead her life essence detaches and bids her human shell farewell. I sense her rise, a silver-n-gold shadow across the corner of an eye. She drifts higher seeking clouds; a forlorn endeavor for there are none and never will be.

She had often dreamed of them, though.

She and her family were and still are of a different religion to mine. Therefore, I understand she’s headed for life anew and will once again live amongst us, as is believed by members of her religion—the Church of the First Faith. But harsh duty calls and despite having no wish to, I yet examine what remains of her.

In tilting her chin, the better to see her face, I discover bruises beneath her red scarf, black and terribly cruel they are. Images of powerful hands choking her return with an insatiable urge for death and reach for me.

I shrink back. My throat constricts and tightens as her final struggle strikes chords better never heard. When they fade, I bow my head and close my eyes in respect of her life, her sacrifice.

I do not know how long I sat in silence thinking about how to find the owner of those virtual hands. With no answer to be found, I glance upwards as the sun touches its zenith, the Half-Day-Moon rises and midday is upon us.

Something still nags at me, though. Something is wrong or out of place upon which I cannot place a finger. Eyes closed I send perception tendrils into the past looking, searching.

I discover dunes spread off into an endless distance. Many tower one-hundred-n-forty or more floors high. I examine them in passing. Their ever-changing tops sculpted by Mother Wind present my senses with tabletops, ribbed-tops, hump-tops, spinal-twist-tops, shark-fin tops and even octopus-topped dunes.

I accelerate their time backward then forwards and locked together they shift from one place to another, higher today, lower tomorrow. They remain bare sand and devoid of human interaction. Suddenly something touches my shoulder.

I return, and with eyes opened examine it. Sister Storms had awakened and now lifts delicate sand grains leaving small depressions in her wake. I brush her touch from my shoulder as she subsides. Mourner’s Wind whispers an invitation to Sister Storms and they meld, becoming one.

A cold shiver zigzags down my spine. I check for danger and find but a single dust-devil dancing in the wind. Having found no solution to current circumstances, I place the call over my Nomadi, push Jiplee’s bangs aside and ask of her one final question.

“Why no call for help, Jiplee?”

Here where she lies at the edge of a tabletop dune any-n-all direct mind-to-mind communications would hit home at several command posts. Still, with not a whisper had she reached out, neither had she called on her Nomadi. I can but wait and muse on how she had fallen to the enemy, but instead, my mind runs wild.

How can this be? It is not possible that she lies here as she does. Yet she does. If she was killed without evidence of how and without a single call for help…then so can I. Moreover, so can any of Here-Born.

Had Jiplee somehow lost all her skills?

Has our evolution been all for naught?

Has the enemy gained technological advantages that obliterate our evolution from speech to mind-to-mind communication during which we maintained the skills of speaking aloud as a useful tool?

No! That is impossible!

Yet I sit next to evidence of such.

And yes! Those born of EB consider speech and hearing vital, but we hold access to minds a fundamental necessity. We understand those of EB have not evolved to such. But out here and upon this barren sand-n-rock covered planet mind-to-mind communication has become a natural part of life. And although this skill developed over generations of desert life, its history still boils with confusion.

Southerners insist all is due to religion giving us spiritual skills earlier assigned to the mind. Easterners have determined that windblown sand getting into our mouths awoke evolution. Western and Northerners have no opinion either way yet will argue endless hours on the subject.

Along with it, mind-to-mind brought to life a second skill.

Why had Jiplee not used it?

Alternatively, had she lost it? If not lost, then what had defeated it with such apparent ease? And to so final a result? It is an active defense, an incredible advantage. Why had she not obtained or read, as some say, the killer’s thoughts and been prepared?

I reach out to her lifeless form but with her essence departed there come no answers. I take her hand and search all my education that we of Here-Born have named one’s Foundation. I seek in vain for I find no answers there either.

Head bowed I whisper, “I don’t know anymore. Do you Jiplee?” Forlorn, I squeeze her hand harder hoping she will respond. She does not. I cover her and sit gazing out across the desert.

The wind drops and quiet ensues giving birth to greater concern. This campaign of ours has today become a full-blown war, and upon this high tabletop dune we have surrendered first blood. How terrible that a self-defense as non-violent as ours has invited death to savage amongst us.

And worse! She had long been a friend.

I sigh, glance at her but am unable to restrain the memories that rush at me. Nor less the duty I must undertake. To those her child and husband, I must carry the news of her death. I smile sadly as their images spring forth.

She had given to our world a boy and a girl. Both are as blonde as she is but tall and lean like Reggie, their father. It pains me that their names escape recall at a time such as this. Her son, ever quiet and shy, owns a personality the opposite of his younger sister, Little Miss Boisterous.

The first time I visited at their farm her daughter walked up to where I sat in the shade of an awning took my hand and said, “Walk with me…I like you.”

I smiled, entranced a child so young had asked and with such confidence. I can still feel her hand in mine and hear the joy in her voice telling of something she has never seen, butterflies. But today I’m torn that I must bring them sad news yet relieved they receive it from a friend. I only wish….

The roar of several SandRiders shatters the silence. I have been lost in thought of times long gone and danger is about.

I lie flat breathing hard. Dust rises to tickle the inside of my nose. I wipe at it thankful there is no trace of CO2. I keep absolutely still as a posse of SandRiders dance closer through the heat-haze. They storm down a distant dune dragging a sand-cloud behind. They vanish from view leaving puffs of dust to drift aimlessly and upon the wind, the snarl of engines lingers.

This could be rescue in response to my call.

This could be death. I wait, barely breathing, my hand itching for the handgun I had left at home.

Like a stampeding herd of Roanark Braer, they leap the edge of the dune I wait upon. I squint through the dust and heat-haze as various colored SandRiders fight for my attention. As times dictate, desert camouflage dominates. Up close, all are strangers except for one—Madsen Somalo, my campaign senior. This then is rescue.

I stand up and wave, my eyes lingering on Madsen.

He’s seated straight-backed in the saddle of a matte-black SandRider. Despite that, his height towers obvious and so too the magnificent roundness of his belly. Sand swirls as they pull up. Set in a chubby but hard face his cold black eyes check me over as he strides across.

His large boots crunch in sand. He halts as a soldier casually coming to attention, inspects Jiplee turns to me and says, “You round-n-about sure?”

I fight a drugged-like helplessness at this unexpected accusation of incompetence. Why he suddenly thinks I am unable to tell the difference between the presence and absence of life, I cannot fathom. My internal voice whispers something a long time coming—telling of his adeptness at disguising insults as questions and thus filling them with hidden intent.

“What exactly do you really mean?” I ask him. He jolts involuntarily, remains silent, glares hard. Ignoring his glare, I look him over with a critical eye.

Sweat drips down cheeks that appear impervious to the sun. His sand-colored overalls though are no different from what I wear. He shuffles in sand and faces me square on but his eyes dart, never meeting mine.

His voice both cold and burning he says, “Have you lost sight of your last three tourists? Not exactly what we’re round-n-about looking for. The jury is out on you Once-Other. I think you ain’t making it. As a campaigner, my seniors have nothing but questions about you. We’ve a new EB tourist assigned to you. Failure ain’t an option. Get it right an’ all! An’ you be careful of what you do or….”

I turn my back on him and gaze off into the desert. Hot air circles seeking every drop of moisture a body dare expose. The few beads of sweat lingering on my forehead—surrender up.

I wipe my brow as streams of memories rush at me. All are of Madsen’s words backhand included. “What changed?” I ask and his mind snaps closed killing his retort. So he has to hide the answer. Hmm.

I glance at his rescue team who all seem suddenly and unduly interested in a distant horizon. He grabs my arm. “Nothing! It’s round-n-about you! You gone an’ betrayed us an’ all?” he barks.

“Seems a question born of fear,” I say. “I’m ignoring the insult.”

“Be that heavy on your shoulders,” he says.

“And yours on yours,” I snap back at him.

He shrugs, glances around and commands, “You-n-all take her home.”

He looks about and turns back to me. “Last time I was at Sand Lake Flats museum I paid Maggie in cash for a soda. She carefully checked my payment…as though I had shortchanged her! Glad you’re not that way inclined. There’s something wrong with people like that.”

And he walks off.

And that is not the Maggie of my acquaintance. Stranger.

Four of the rescuers lift Jiplee’s stretcher, their boots crunch-n-shuffle in sand. Canvas squeaks on the painted steel framework of a SandRider as they lock the stretcher in place. Some cough, others pant and complain. A final check and they all mount and nod to me. I nod in return. Starter motors whine and V8’s and V4’s snarl alive. They pop wheelies, save for the one with Jiplee on board, and speed off as engines roar and wheels spray sand.

Silence returns. The wind picks up moaning a dirge.

I wet a finger and hold it up for upon these sands wind is a predator. So know well that Mother Wind has many children each of which rises daily from its own cradle. We shall meet them all.

My finger instantly dried, and the wind whispering at my left ear, I wait until the stretcher-carrier with Jiplee on board drops from view over the edge of the dune. Taking a deep breath, I set off home to much-needed rest and replenishment.

However, I am heavy with dread.

There has always been a warmth aglow deep within me. But when I’d first touched Jiplee’s lifeless body, it dimmed. And so faded my future, our campaign and my hopes of victory. But that I instantly realize, is in part surrender. And any bit of such I cannot, will not embrace.

A deep breath in, a virtual hand fans the flame of purpose and my warm light glows once again. I glance about the tabletop on which I stand. It is now a part of me. Part sorrow at the loss of a friend, part understanding of Madsen’s hidden intentions.

“Who am I?” I whisper but find no answer.

I know where I’m headed as a Here-Born campaigner with certainty. But what of myself? Am I lost? What am I to become? What purpose drives me? What is my goal beyond a commitment to this our Campaign?

Perhaps this war itself will see me clear to understanding.

Three days on, I attend Jiplee’s funeral under gentle lights within the adobe structure of the First Faith Church.

Inside cooler air brings relief from the baking sand outside. Floors and pews are of faux wood, which appear all too real. Overhead large fans stir air confined by walls almost free of windows. Only two stain-glass windows high up on each of the steepled front and rear walls allow sunlight in. Their stained-glass filtered light mixes rainbows which shine across the exposed rafters creating a melting pot of color.

On a table in front of the dais stands a blue urn half covered by a simple black cloth. A Priest, dressed in a long flowing red frock, waits with arms crossed and face pointed to the sky as though seeking divine inspiration.

Madsen shuffles in next to me grunting-n-wheezing as per usual. I ask him if he found what had led to her death.

“She was foolish, ill-prepared, unaware an’ made a mistake an’ all,” he says in a hushed, breathless voice.

“No, Madsen!” I whisper upon recovery. “We must be honorable one to another. Is this Neatness?”

“You tease my patience, Once-Other. Ask no more of her incompetence! Attend to duty if you are able.”

I stare at the floor my teeth grinding and glancing across note his indifference to my shattered demeanor. I’m quite confident all those present can hear my teeth grind together as I hold anger at bay. I remain staring unfocused a long time thinking on Madsen and his ongoing insults and barbs.

About to send a hard-worded query, I instead remain silent as the Priest concludes. The church doors swing wide flooding the walls and pews with sunlight. They come alive and glow as though washed and cleansed by a new measure of life.

I step outside in the wake of Jiplee’s family. Her husband places the urn atop a Farewell Stone. Her children move to either side of him. We gather in a farewell circle around them.

Their memories unfurl and flow over us revealing Jiplee alive, vibrant, intelligent and attractive though more handsome and motherly than stunning. Reggie’s shoulders straighten, their memories retract and he communicates.

“Understand these ideas my family, my friends, my enemy.

“We seek no revenge against those who attacked us yet failed to declare war on us. Nor do we seek conquest. We seek but a fair measure of freedom and our full measure of Rights. We desire to live in peace as do most fair people.

“Now please! Let there be no heavy-handed intrusion from our own government let alone from a foreign Earth-Born one.”

“Is this too much to ask?” we mourners chorus.

And Reggie says, “Today you’ve taken from me something that can never be replaced. You’ve stolen a mother’s life from her children and theirs from her.

“But even now Jiplee harbors no hatred for you despite that I do!

“We believe she lives, but we know not where. To my hate, she will lend a loving hand. Which hand will ease my pain and eventually replace it with that which we seek—our Freedom! Our Rights!”

“Amen,” we mourners conclude.

The Priest hands him a Fragger.

He fires at the urn. It bubbles, becomes vapor and ten finger wide sheets of rainbows fire in all directions. A flash of bright white light and contents and urn vanish.

Reggie drops the Fragger from lifeless fingers, nods, takes his daughter and son’s hands, bows to us and turning, sets off into the desert to say a final and private farewell.

But he pauses, looks back to us and says, “I thank you Once-Other. We three appreciate the time you took. The children could not have received such news from someone better qualified. Thank you.”

I nod in return, sadly pleased

Madsen strides to his SandRider, mounts and heads off. I wave, but he holds his attention dead ahead. Can I trust him? No. He is a friend who appears long-gone with no cause other than to become my senior and who lost himself in the process.

Do those higher up trust me?

Wait and see I advise self.

And it suddenly strikes me…from the instant Madsen insulted Jiplee to the conclusion of the farewell sermon I’d not received a single word spoken by the Priest.

I shade my eyes and glare at Madsen’s dust-trail.

Damn!

Just then, the Priest’s closing words return as though he were once again communicating them. “Our religion, the Church of the First Faith, honors all religions everywhere. For quite naturally, all those who have a religion…for each theirs is the first religion, the first faith.

“Amen.”

And I sigh a measure of peace and so does Mother Wind.

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ADDITIONAL PARTIAL CHAPTERS

 

CHAPTER 29

Of Sandmasters and One-Two-Three

 

“Yes!” Madsen says. “All’s good for the party this weekend. I can’t wait to celebrate one damn fine new SandRider, one-two-three an’ all.”

I search for the intruder amongst a group of shoppers weighed down with bright green plastic bags. None registers as intrusive. We configure a deeper communications pipe. Madsen sends me a stream of urgent information and a terrible sadness descends upon me.

“No questioning this Once-Other,” he says.

I swallow a hard, dry lump.

“Franciscoa decided this? I ask.

“Yes…his alone an’ all.”

“Right,” I whisper laboring under the weight of what we dare not communicate.

“Comes to many an’ all Once-Other,” Madsen says.

“Yes…still…,” I reply barely able to muster any words.

“Live by Neatness alone,” he says and the old comradeship from our youth flickers alive for but a moment. He drops the connection, winds the throttle open and races away.

Once again, danger has increased but this time my old friend and companion Franciscoa has willingly stepped directly into enemy fire. I look up from the sudden sadness and my eyes find Madsen retreating toward the horizon. Hope wishes that Franciscoa comes through his chosen path alive.

Through all my troubled youth, prison time, loss of my parents he was always there despite the poison that makes his life a Hell that I have but the faintest symptoms of by comparison. “Come back alive dear friend,” I broadcast wide and far but receive no acknowledgement from him.

With a tired sigh, I once again embrace my campaign duties and examine circumstances for clarity and possible clues to Peter.

It’s clear to me that this skirmish with Peter is unlike any previous one-on-one tour. Still, I’m reluctant to admit it may be more than a tour with a strange and peculiar EB. Keeping a hold of that allows for my deepest wish live on. I want Peter interested in our Rights and Constitution no matter how dim a hope that may be.

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CHAPTER 30

Of Peter’s Manifestations And Once-Other’s Condition

 

Peter shifts his weight in the saddle as I navigate around an old warren. I smile at having recently come a cropper due to one and turn my attention southeast to where Mourner’s Wind originates. This morning she slumbers leaving the air thick with heat.

Upon the vast desert, nothing stirs other than Hellbent II and its dust plume. We climb up the face of North Guard dune. At its peak, a tabletop unfolds to the horizon. I smiled contentedly at how Hellbent II navigates sand on six wheels with ease.

Ahead of us lie many hours of droning across sand headed north. Invitations to nod off will be constant.

Later we charge down old riverbeds, eons dry.

Our companions are consistent, heat, sand and salt. The latter preferring a diet of eyes, lips and lungs. But licking one’s lips leads to bleeding. Then pressing them together, without any preservatives present, glues them closed.

Nevertheless, when salts attacks one often longs for wind despite knowing it will compound one’s misery. I wipe mine carefully and glance at the sky. It’s clear as always.

Again I check the southeast, still nothing visible there.

That we are headed dead North requires I remain fully alert to any storms headed our way. But to stay awake during the long drive I set about feeding Peter’s Foundation a diet of new ideas mixed with Here-Born descriptions. All the while, I am hoping they will serve as an antidote to his rigid attitude.

Fragile hope indeed.

After an hour of racing through heat, sand, and more heat, I get the distinct impression he’s not listening. He remains silent and disinterested. I cover the many wonders of Here-Born anyway. Four more hours out and with not a single comment from him, I lock wheels and slide to a halt saying, “So Criers are dangerous, ordinary and outright frightening. Right?”

“Whatever,” he snaps back.

“We’ve no whatever out here. Be careful Peter.”

“Yeah! Whatever.”

He dismounts stiff in leg-n-back, brushes his suit off, checks our location over and glances to the horizon. Desertscape unfolds in all directions. Maybe he notes sand out here is a little orange in color—perhaps not. He looks a question at me.

I ponder his hidden mind once again but find no resolutions nor solutions. I attempt accessing it and still nothing. I sigh in exasperation, squat down, scan the desert and find what I’m looking for. “Now. Something like we did outside the Mall.”

“Not that BS again,” he says.

“A little different this time.”

He jerks back-n-forth as though attacking and fleeing in the same instant. An animal rage flashes across his face. He licks at a fleck of foam on his lip and crouches like EB apes do—arms hung loose, head swaying.

I back away and turn sideways to what appears to be an attacking stance. “Peter?”

“Once-Other?” he says.

“You alright?” I ask.

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CHAPTER 31

Of Water Criers, What Is and what Is Not Dangerous

 

I shake my head and Peter withdraws from reaching to steady me.

“You okay?” he asks.

I nod yes and motion for him to follow. “Stay on mine,” I say, pointing at my footprints. “I don’t want you stepping on a Crier burrow and getting bitten or worse…stung.”

I gentle down prone and leopard crawl towards a cluster of Crier burrows. I pause, come carefully to my hands and knees, lean forward and hold still a few feet short of a burrow.

The Crier stirs awake and lifts its pouch a little. I hold my breath waiting for it to relax again. The Crier vibrates its pouch-cover cooling itself. After a few moments it stops and snuggles down.

Old pain revisits and an ancient meat grinder assaults my head. I take several slow breaths and pain slips back into yesterday. I nod for Peter to follow. He goes to his hands-n-knees and crawls closer.

The Crier senses Peter’s movements, stirs uneasily and starts standing up. I wave frantically. Peter halts. We hold still for several minutes.

Eventually, the Crier relaxes, wriggles lower and sand pours onto its back hiding it completely. The sting-claw cover peeks out momentarily then disappears beneath the covering of sand.

Heart beat faster, I edge forward one hand and knee at a time. Behind me, Peter steps into the hand and knee indents I had made. Sweat drips down his face. He wipes some away and turns his cooling lower.

“Hot out here,” he whispers.

I nod at the obvious.

He raises an eyebrow in query.

I nod towards the burrow and in a low whisper say, “Note Peter. No, there—the faint hump right at the tail end.”

“Oh? Yeah. Explain.”

“In a minute. The hump lines up towards the center.”

“Yeah. Okay. Get on with this so-called tour.”

“Follow an imaginary line down the center of the back to the folds of skin just visible. Right there is where the stun-point is. Only practice in finding it helps if attacked. We have real live ones to learn on. And they’re not tame in any way.”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

“But! The sting itself is not particularly dangerous.” And I smile within.

“What? After all you’ve told…how enough of their poison can get you dead. You’re trying my patience, Once-Other!”

I’m pleased some data I’d passed on found a home. “Well no. You see—a sting-claw is a sting-claw and nothing more. Now back of it is a poison sack, which in itself is not dangerous either. Wait-wait. In the sack is a potent poison which as you probably guessed isn’t dangerous either.”

“What is?” he asks in a cold, hard whisper.

“Excessive amounts of poison inside your body doing damage…though…being stung is itself damn painful altogether.”

His eyes of woe-n-stop reject my humor. “I’ll definitely be reporting you for endangering happiness with cruel intent…a violation of assured Happiness.”

“If you must report—you must report. Now—pay attention if you don’t want to get stung. We’re about to do the difficult part. As I mentioned earlier—Criers stand around four of your feet high just under a sand pace. Top of its head down to sand.”

“Yeah, I got that. All-damn-together!”

“Okay.”

He calms some. I smile at him. He glares at me. I nod ahead. We crawl a little closer, stop-up and examine the patch.

“To repeat. Folds of skin and fur protect its neck. The sting-claw is on the tip of the pouch-cover covered by a fold of skin…here. We say pouch-cover…but it’s more a trunk lid decorated with long dark hair and hinged behind the neck. Opens like an auto’s trunk.”

“How come this one is not coming at us?” Peter asks.

“Nothing much hunts them…they fear no enemies except Arzerns. They’ll retreat from built-up areas solely to escape the noise. Interesting item about Criers and Arzerns—communication is by a form of mind-to-mind.”

“Yeah. Tiny mind to tiny mind,” he says.

“We can hear them snarl and Arzerns scream but we can’t pick up when they communicate an attack or a strategy amongst themselves.”

“Genetics Once-Other. Eons of programmed behavior.”

“Not from our view,” I say.

“The blind leading fools to imaginary points-of-view,” he says sneeringly.

I wave it aside and say, “Look here!”

He pushes closer inspects what I’m pointing at, backs away and says, “Yeah. What?”

END OF PREVIEW!

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