Of course, if you haven't yet read the Lords of Kobol trilogy, stop reading this and download it now!
Thursday, October 30, 2014
"Lords of Kobol - Book Five" ... the First Five Chapters
I've reached the (planned) halfway point in writing and I decided to celebrate by posting the first five chapters of Book Five: Of Gods and Titans. Click the JUMP to read on.
Of course, if you haven't yet read the Lords of Kobol trilogy, stop reading this and download it now!
Of course, if you haven't yet read the Lords of Kobol trilogy, stop reading this and download it now!
162 Years Before the Fall
The noise was deafening.
He had only been awake for a few hours, yet he still couldn't shut out the noise. He finally regained his vision but the sounds were painful and distracting.
"Claude?" he said. He wasn't sure if he actually spoke, so he said it again, louder, "Claude?!"
He heard footsteps. Over the din in his mind, he heard the man running. The door opened. Like with each sound that was made, now that Caesar looked, he saw every detail of every move Claude made.
"Yes, my lord?" He started to speak before the door was even open fully. He stepped two paces into the room. His hands were clasped above his belt. The finely attired young man's fingers were twitching. Rubbing over each other. Caesar heard his skin scrape. A raw, rough noise that echoed in the room and shook the static that racked his ears.
"Must you do that?" Caesar asked.
"I'm sorry, lord." Claude's eyes darted around. He didn't seem to know where to look.
Damn it, Caesar thought. He could hear the wet click of the boy's eyeballs as they moved in their sockets.
"Never mind," Caesar said. He tried again to close his ears. The sound lessened a bit. "When will the doctor return?"
The attendant lowered his head. "Another hour or so, lord. He said he would at dawn."
Caesar believed he sighed first and then said, "Bring him now."
"Of course, my lord." Claude bowed and began to back through the door. He closed it slowly and carefully, but the snapping of the mechanism and the slamming of wood upon wood reverberated in his leader's mind.
Caesar tried again to shut his senses. The noise dwindled. The sights slowed. Finally, after hours of pain, he had achieved some measure of peace. He didn't want to think about anything. He simply wanted to enjoy the moment.
Step, step, step …
His senses returned and a cacophony of chatter, clanking and footfalls broke through his concentration. He looked and saw natural light had returned. It was almost dawn. He had rested for more than an hour.
"My lord," Claude said as he entered the room, "Doctors Aelianus and Donovan."
A man and woman, dressed in their typical neck-to-toe blue smocks, walked into the room gingerly. Two guards entered as well. They swept to either side of the door and their rifles thunked against the plastic armor by their shoulder when they saluted.
The doctors circled Caesar and looked at him slowly. The guards stood at attention … but they were distracted. Like Claude earlier, they didn't seem to be able to concentrate. Their eyes noisily moved around the room. They couldn't focus on any one thing for longer than a few moments.
Caesar tired of their shifting and he ordered, "Leave us."
One guard looked to the other and spoke, "Lord, are you certain?"
They snapped to attention, their armor clinking again, and saluted with their fists above their hearts. They turned, opened the door and left. Caesar heard them stop just outside.
"Imperator," Donovan began, quietly, "how are you feeling?"
"The noise is unbearable. I hear everything. Footsteps floors away, a guard cracking his knuckles in another room, your quickened heartbeat, Doctor Aelianus."
"I am sorry," she whispered.
"Don't apologize," Caesar said. "Fix it."
Donovan spoke, "We will do all we can." He pulled a small device from his smock and held it against the leader's side. "Your sight?"
"It is equally sensitive yet I am able to control it more easily."
"Good." Donovan walked a bit more. "Your sense of smell?"
Caesar had to think. What was the last thing he smelled? The incense being burned in his room … but that was days ago. "I don't believe it's working."
"We'll look at it."
Aelianus held her hands behind her back, "How are you feeling?"
The leader felt a rush of anger. "Have I not been speaking to that?"
She got nervous and nearly took a step back. "Yes, but, I mean, how do you feel? Your emotions, the ease of your thoughts …"
Caesar understood. "Of course. Apologies, doctor." She nodded. "The haze I felt for so long has been lifted. There is no obstacle between the desire for a memory and its recall."
"Emotionally," he began, "I am, obviously, still sensitive. I feel prone to anger. That has not been my way."
"Of course not, lord," Donovan said.
Caesar's attention turned toward him. Anger flashed again. Sarcasm? He told himself to relax. "I do feel anxious, though."
"You feel energetic?"
"Yes," Caesar said. "For the first time in years."
Aelianus said, "That is very good."
"Let us discuss my mobility."
Donovan glanced at his colleague and then he looked at his device again, "We have gone over that before, imperator. It may be some time."
Caesar shut down his senses to contain his surging emotions. "I cannot wait months and years for you to pray on bended knee for miracles that may never arrive."
"I understand …"
"I feel trapped in this room already," Caesar continued. "I've only been conscious for six hours yet I feel caged."
"Understandable," Aelianus said.
"Then help me."
Donovan inhaled deeply and slowly. "What you ask is possible, but difficult. We don't have the means …"
"Find the means."
Donovan lowered his hands and stepped back. "The finest minds in Tiberia are working on this, lord."
"Insufficient!" The doctors cowered at the Caesar's volume. "Narrow-minded fools such as you have failed me before. Not now!" They flinched and winced at the sharp sound. "I will scour Larsa for the solution, if I must."
The doctors bowed before the large, gray and black box. Slowly, they approached again and took readings on the unit. Lights flashed as Caesar thought. Judging by their rapidity, he was thinking quite a bit.
162 Years Before the Fall
Karin Baraz sat in the lobby. Her legs were crossed and her wrist dangled over the edge of her briefcase. Her long finger flicked at the clasp every ten seconds. She was precise about that. She counted it in her head.
A man walked past and she watched him go. She didn't recognize him. She didn't lose count, though. Baraz flicked the clasp again, right on time.
"Lunch is still on schedule, yes?" her assistant asked. "Minister Osporion's secretary just messaged me."
Karin didn't lose count. She nodded.
Mione kept speaking. "I'll let him know." She tapped on her wristband a few times and it beeped. "There's a storm in Helicon so our flight has been pushed back by an hour."
"It's a private plane."
Mione tilted her head back and forth. "Aeroport restrictions in effect."
A young man peered around a corner and said, "Karin Baraz?" She stood quickly and he continued, "The prime minister will see you now."
"Thank you." Baraz walked away from her seat and Mione hissed through her teeth. When Karin looked back, the assistant was pointing to the briefcase. She said, "Keep it."
The young man led her down a hallway. Offices on either side bustled with beeps and discussion. When they approached the large wooden door, Baraz pulled down on the front of her jacket to straighten it out and briefly patted the sides of her tightly bound black hair.
The assistant knocked twice, waited a moment and then opened the door. He immediately stepped to the side and announced, "Minister. Karin Baraz of BBM."
Behind the desk, a somewhat lanky man stood. He was gray but his skin didn't seem to betray an age. Karin knew from public records that Will Saeros was nearly sixty.
"My dear Miss Baraz. A pleasure to meet you at last." He shook her hand vigorously and nodded toward the door. The younger man left and pulled it shut behind him.
"A pleasure to meet you as well, sir." Karin smiled. It was a smile she practiced. Enough to seem genuinely pleased but not enough to appear overly eager.
"Please, sit." Karin took a step back and sat in one of the two leather chairs before the large desk. Saeros didn't return to his place behind the desk. He sat in the other chair. "I was sorry to hear about your father."
Baraz lowered her head for a moment and nodded slowly. She lifted her right hand and cupped her left bicep for three seconds before returning it to her lap. "He was a good man."
Saeros leaned over and said, "And you are a young woman." Her eyebrow lifted and he continued. "Thrust into a big chair so soon."
Responses pelted her mind. Responses to those responses followed. When she spoke, she had decided to go with a more amiable answer but not one without teeth. "I fit the chair well."
The prime minister grinned and said, "Obviously your board agrees. They like you." She nodded. "I have no reason to disagree."
One side of Karin's mouth turned upward. "Good."
Saeros laughed and said. "Well. Tell me what brings you to Tritaea."
She knew that he knew. It was part of the dance. One that her father told her about many times. "Matters of healthcare and well being." He nodded and she continued. "In recent years, we've noted that the Ministry of Health is taking far longer than usual to approve our requests for trial reviews. We have made substantial investments in …"
"The delays are for safety reasons," Saeros interrupted. "We have to insure that the proper trials were conducted and that the reviews are both unbiased and thorough."
"The procedures I'm speaking of are not ones of vanity. These are medications and devices and techniques that can save many thousands of lives."
"At a great profit to Baraz Bio Medical." Karin's eyes steadied on Saeros' face. He no longer seemed genial. "With each medication you release, your bottom lines increase …"
"And do you know when the last new medication by BBM was approved?" The PM seemed surprised at having been interrupted. "Two years ago. It had been in development for eleven years and was cleared by reviews and trials three years before approval."
"And how much money has BBM reaped with it?"
Baraz tilted her head to one side and said, "I was not aware that corporations had been outlawed." Saeros chuckled. "Or that profits were made illegal."
"They are not, my dear." He straightened his collar and said, "History is full of examples of companies that … take advantage. Our job is to slow everything down. We need to make sure what you're offering is safe and worthy of the marketplace."
"Regarding the latter," she began, "isn't that for the marketplace to decide?"
"You may know medicine," Saeros said, softly, "you may even know business, but you don't know government and you don't know history."
Baraz straightened her jacket again. "I know enough."
"I know," Karin hesitated for the slightest moment, "that on the desk of the health minister, there lies the means for the rejuvenation of bone marrow."
Baraz studied the man's face but he didn't reveal any emotion. He took in a deep breath and looked toward the floor. He breathed quietly and Karin replayed her words in her head. She thought of other answers and other questions. She decided on this one, however. She had to play it out.
"How long has it been ready for use?"
The PM was still. Then, he nodded slowly. He cleared his throat and nodded again. Saeros looked at Baraz but there was something new in his gaze. Respect.
"Very shrewd," he said.
She didn't respond.
"I appreciate the effort but our procedures will remain in place."
"While Huban and Nandia surpass us on so many fronts? Not just medicine, but astronomy and …"
"We are finished." Saeros stood and returned to his desk. Karin was slow to stand, but when she did, she looked up and saw his outstretched hand. "I will be interested to see what you do in the future."
Baraz shook his hand and left. The assistant from before guided her down the hallway and into the waiting area where Mione still sat.
Karin nodded toward the exit and the woman followed. They rode in the lift silently and emerged in the lobby shortly thereafter. Mione tapped on her wristband as they walked. The pair dodged the crowds and emerged on the street moments later.
A long, luxury car pulled up by the sidewalk and Mione opened the door for her boss. Baraz got in and then Mione sat on the long seat beside her.
"Still going to lunch?"
Karin was quiet. She looked up and saw the assistant trying not to be nervous. She saw the driver looking back at them. "Yes. Let's go." The driver nodded and the car quietly moved into traffic.
Baraz turned to the right and watched the Forum recede. She took in a deep breath and said, "My great-grandfather was a doctor in Ordoga."
Mione glanced up and then back at her wrist. She had heard this before.
"He came to Attica for freedom and prosperity. They didn't recognize his license to practice medicine so he started over again. Then he started BBM. My grandfather took over the business, and then my father …"
Mione interrupted, "Didn't go well?"
Karin's nostrils flared as she inhaled. "I ended up … 'dancing dirty.'"
"Oh." Mione stopped what she was doing. She used to hear about "the dance" from Karin's father. "You brought up his wife?"
"It didn't work?"
Baraz looked out the window as they passed a statue of Cronus, complete with sickle and lightning bolt, juxtaposed against the front of a Median church. Once in the intersection, tall office buildings and monuments stretched toward the crest of a hill.
She decided not to answer.
162 Years Before the Fall
Mar Ahljaela stood in line behind dozens of others. He wiped his nose and pretended to not be bothered by the smell. It was sharp. Almost metallic. Once the initial blast of old perspiration subsided, the underlying filth odor crept in. It may not have been as bad as an open sewer, but it was still bad. Like a stagnant drainage pond that's home to migratory birds, Mar decided a few years back. He passed one on his way home then and was immediately surprised by the similarity. After a week of sleeping at the factory, everyone stunk.
It was the last day of his work cycle, though. He had two days off now. He would get paid and then walk the twenty kilometers out of Gargamus to his little village. It would be late when he arrived. His wife might be the only one awake then. He smiled at the thought. He wanted to spend time with her.
"Name?" the man behind the desk asked.
This man had seen him once a week for nearly ten years. Still, he asked for his name. "Ahljaela. Mar Dohl Ahljaela." The man scanned the paper, drew his finger under the name and then reached under the desk. When he handed over the small bindle of money, Mar said, "Thank you."
He walked from the office and into the courtyard of Siler River Plastics where hundreds of other workers on Mar's cycle had gathered. Some were smoking, others were talking. Ahljaela walked past them all toward the street. He stopped at a bush, though, and bent down. He unfolded the currency and began to count it. Twenty-two denars. Five years ago, he had been promised a raise. It never showed up, of course. He separated the bills into three groups. He stuffed one into his pocket and then stepped out of his worn shoes. He pushed bills toward the toes in both, put his feet back in and started walking.
As soon as his foot hit the sidewalk, he sighed and turned right. It was a straight road, but it was long. Barely a block away, he heard the engine of an old bus rumble to life and pull away from the factory's courtyard. He watched it pass and waved to the people on board he knew. He used to take the bus out of the city. It saved him five hours of walking but it cost a whole denar for the trip.
His head whipped to the right and he saw his co-worker, Rand. "Hello."
"Walking again, I see."
He only nodded.
"I'm going to stop for a lunch. Did you want to join me?"
Ahljaela inhaled and shook his head. "No, sorry."
"I understand." Rand looked across the street to a restaurant. "Oh, I almost forgot. Did you hear about Thun?"
Mar stopped walking and squinted in the sunlight. "I saw him today on the line. He left yesterday, right?"
"He did," Rand stepped closer and continued, "but he got robbed on his way home. Took everything he just got paid."
"Damn." Mar knew what that was like. "He didn't hide his money?"
Rand shrugged. "I don't know. He didn't talk too much about it."
"I'm sure." He took another step and asked, "So he just went back to work? Didn't go home?"
"They let him change cycles like that?"
Rand laughed. "I guess so. So many robberies lately … Bo said that it was the least the company could do since they wouldn't give him his pay again."
Rand stepped onto the street and waved behind him, "See you."
Ahljaela walked. He passed by restaurants and bars. There were magistrate buildings, a police station, a recruitment center. A fountain marked the edge of the city and he left the path for a moment to dowse his head in the spray. The day was sunny with no breeze. With more than seventeen kilometers to go, he needed the respite. He dipped his old plastic bottle into the water, closed it and returned to the path. If he lingered too long, the police might chase him away again.
The sidewalk turned to dirt and the asphalt of the highway lost its painted stripes. Trucks veered from one side to another. Cars whipped past him at more than one hundred kilometers an hour. On the main straightaway, he left the path and waded through the tall grass. For nearly an hour he walked like that, swatting away large flies and flicking beetles from his canvas trousers. Better this than the alternative.
He saw it two years ago. Crisus was his name. He was half a kilometer ahead of Mar. They didn't know each other that well so they didn't bother to walk together. On this straightaway, a truck moved from its lane and drove into the dirt walking path right in front of Mar. The truck never left the path until it hit Crisus. He was far away but Ahljaela saw the man's body flung into the air. The truck stopped for just a moment but then drove off. Mar ran and ran but when he reached his co-worker, it was already too late. He stood and walked into the road, waving and screaming for someone to stop. Three trucks and five cars swerved and honked around him. Finally, one man stopped and placed a call to the police on his wristband. He drove away, leaving Mar to wait with the body for an hour before anyone arrived.
This was the spot.
He paused and looked into the grass. Nothing remained, of course. He could see the blood in his mind still. The man's face was swollen and streams of it left both eyes, his ears, his mouth, his nose. His clothes were torn. One shoe was still on the walking path. There was the smell of feces.
He swatted a large dragonfly and moved on. The road began to crest and the curves returned. He stepped back to the path and breathed a little easier as he walked. He played his usual games. Counting certain colored vehicles. Spotting shapes in the clouds. Thinking about what he would do with his time off.
Mar came to the large tree that marked the halfway point. He left the path and crossed toward it, stepping over fallen branches and high weeds. He patted the trunk and walked around to the rear, sliding a little down the embankment toward the creek. He dipped a hand in the water, sniffed it and sipped. Ahljaela reached into his small pack and removed a cloth napkin. Inside were three wheatballs. Like hardened oatmeal, Mar took scoops of the food from his breakfast this morning, balled them up and squeezed them to express any water. He hid them in his pack in his room. Even though he shared space with twelve people, he knew no one would look in his things on the last day of the cycle. Still, if he had been caught, he would be fired.
He pounded the wheatball with his fist and it cracked into three pieces. He scooped water from the creek, popped a piece in his mouth and then chased it with the water. He let it sit for a moment to loosen the paste up. He swallowed and closed his eyes. Mar reached behind him and removed the now-empty plastic bottle and filled it again in the creek. He put another shard of the wheatball in his mouth and sipped from the bottle as he climbed the hill and sat against the base of the tree. He rested for only ten minutes. Sipping and eating. Then he walked again.
The sun set and he saw the hills in the last orange light of the day. The green expanse of fields receded to gray but he kept walking straight. A few minutes later, lights popped on in the homes ahead. He smelled the field of cabbage to his right. The thick scent of chlorophyll and damp soil. It must have rained here earlier. On the left side of the road, the fumarella plants smelled the same. There was a slight spice to it, though, carried across the street on the breeze of the now-infrequent passing vehicles.
The moon was barely half full. Its light wasn't much, but it helped keep him on the dirt path. His white and beige clothes kept him visible to that occasional car. He passed three houses and their fields. Then the fourth. The fifth was his.
Mar's hand touched the wood of the fence and gate and he sighed again. He pushed it open and closed it quickly, latching it. He walked down the small slope between the sections of wheat and up the hill toward the house. The only light on was the porch lamp, so he knew he was too late to see his sons. He set the pack on the step, knocked on the wood and walked to his right. He passed a goat and shuffled through the thick green grass before it tumbled down toward the stream. He groaned and let his pack drop. Then he slipped out of his shirt and pants. As he kicked his shoes off, he heard his wife coming.
"Hello," Laphé said.
"Hello." Now nude, he turned toward her and kissed her on the mouth.
She pulled her head back quickly and said, "Yes. Please, get in the water." He laughed and put his foot in. He gasped and she tossed the bar of soap to him. It was waist deep and he crouched down to wash a week's worth of filth from him.
"How is everyone?"
"The boys are good," she said. Laphé sat on the hillside and kept speaking, "Father is the same."
"The indoor pump broke again."
"Again?" Mar splashed water onto his head and shivered. "Is it fixed now?"
"Yes. I traded with Stam over the hill. She wanted a barrel of milk to do it."
"All at once?"
Laphé laughed. "No. Of course not. She's gotten about a quarter of it so far." She paused. "I hope that was the right thing."
Mar shook his head in the near darkness. He looked to his wife and saw her silhouetted against the orange-yellow porchlight. "Your decisions don't need my approval. You run this house now." She nodded and he left the stream. He took the towel from her and said, "The walk home was uneventful."
She leaned over toward his clothes and reached into the shoes and pockets, pulling together the bills. She held them up to the light and squinted to see the color of the Caesar's faces. "Twenty-two."
"Yes." Mar pulled on his pants and said, "Any unexpected expenses this week?"
He playfully smacked his head. "Of course. He wanted that toy plane? That's just one denar." She nodded and hugged him. "Still leaves two for the jar."
Laphé smiled and kissed her husband. "Siler River's the best thing that's ever happened to us."
162 Years Before the Fall
"Your attention, please," an unseen announcer said over the image of the emperor's seal, a stylized metallic eagle whose wings encircled a mask painted blood red over a purple fluttering flag. "Lord Imperator, Princeps Senatus, Caesar Maxentius the Ninth."
The seal dissolved and the elderly visage of the Caesar appeared. He was seated behind his desk in the palace and the sun shone through the window behind him, illuminating his thin, silver hair. He was wearing his usual dark gray military tunic with the gold and jeweled necklace that draped under his plum-colored epaulets and over his shoulders.
"Greetings, Tiberia," he said. With a slight grin, he continued, "I speak to you today regarding a great opportunity, not only for the citizens of our great nation, but for all of Larsa." He looked down at his papers and lifted them somewhat while lowering his face. "As you well know, science has afforded us many luxuries and improved all our lives. I have spoken to our science consul and our health consul and I know there are still a great many things we can accomplish."
"Remarkable," Dr. Ryall Donovan said. He was staring intently at the monitor hanging in the hallway. The Caesar's face was still partially obscured and he kept speaking.
"I have established a program to begin research into a life extension project. For this, we will need the help of the greatest minds the world has to offer. Whether by medication or cloning, robotics or gene manipulation, I know an answer is out there. The person who divines the proper path will secure for themselves, not only a vaunted place in Tiberia, but an equally important place in history. The lives of many millions will be bettered, and none more than yours, brilliant scientist or gifted doctor."
He lowered the paper and looked toward the camera, grinned again and said, "Certainly there are governments that may not agree with me and my aims, but I assure you … this is for more than Tiberia's sake." He looked down again, the paper covering the lower half of his face.
"The details you require can be found through the science and health consulates. If you are prevented from this research by your government's antiquated rules and regulations, you will be welcomed to Tiberia. If you would seek entrance to our nation, simply contact the nearest Tiberian embassy and it may be arranged."
He dropped the paper to the desk and lifted his head. The Caesar straightened and put his right hand on the surface. "Today begins a new era. Good fortune to us all." He balled up his pale, arthritic fist and pressed it against his left breast. "Long live the Empire."
The image dissolved back to the fluttering flag and then the news anchors began to speak. Donovan reached over and turned it off before walking away.
"He's expecting me," he said to the guards outside the chamber.
"Yes, sir." They stepped aside and the double doors opened. Donovan entered two paces and bowed, waiting for Caesar's welcome.
The doctor raised his head and slowly advanced. He hadn't been given the usual formal invitation but he proceeded. "Very convincing, imperator."
"I believe so, as well." The sound came from all over the room, but Donovan kept his attention focused on the large cube in the center. Lights flickered along its surface and Caesar spoke again, "I spent a few days recording bits and pieces of video last year. I provided the new audio just yesterday."
Donovan nodded. Caesar said nothing. The doctor lightly cleared his throat and said, "What manner of response do you anticipate?"
"I have scoured the Matrix for businesses, institutes and individuals who have made strides in this direction. I have identified three dozen who have great potential."
The doctor licked his lips and said, "Imperator, what if cooperation is required?"
"Myself, for example." He folded his hands behind his back and continued, "I am well versed in neurology and developed the memory transfer techniques. But I know nothing of cloning or robotics. My computer skills are … excellent, if I may be immodest …"
"You may," Caesar interrupted.
"But that is not my primary field. For you to become mobile, minituarization of that technology will be required. This is not something that I am able to do presently. I know few in Tiberia who can."
"And you believe multiple people, working in concert, will be necessary."
Donovan titled his head down. "I do, lord."
Caesar paused and then said, "Perhaps. I will monitor all responses to my message and determine what course of action will be required."
"I may be in error," the doctor said. "Someone may develop an answer on their own." His clasped hands rubbed within each other and he spoke again, "However, I do not believe an organic solution will be found. Our understanding of genetics has not progressed far enough to allow for a true clone of your former self. Or even the implantation of your mind upon another's."
"Given your apprehension," Caesar said, "are you now rescinding your role as leader of the program?"
Donovan nearly scoffed. A flush of fear raced through him as he stopped himself and he quickly spoke, stammering, "Absolutely not, imperator. I was merely providing counsel."
Donovan stared at the cube a while longer and watched the indicators. They weren't illuminating rapidly as they so often did when the leader was in deep thought. He wondered if he should return to the door.
"Doctor," Caesar said, "I expect you to evaluate each possibility on its own merits. However a solution presents itself, I want you to put aside your prejudices."
"Of course, lord. The thought had not entered my mind." It truly hadn't.
Caesar paused and then said, softly, "And each possibility must be fully tested and vetted."
The emperor's famous paranoia persisted even in his present form. Donovan quickly remembered conversations tinged with fear and anger. A frail, old man pointing a crooked finger in the doctor's face, warning of severe retribution should his mind be pulled from his body and dispatched into the ether. Killed in the most sophisticated and technologically advanced manner possible.
That thought had entered his mind.
162 Years Before the Fall
With whispered instructions, The One set these beings upon the first world it had found.
They were without form and looking upon on the plains of western Isinnia from a high peak. They were flooded with input. Sound, sight, scent … they reeled and basked all at once. Finally, one planted their feet on the rockface and gripped the branch of a tree.
"This … is different." It took the form of a man and spoke hesitatingly. He opened and closed his mouth, testing his jaw, and turned his head to look toward the lights of a nearby city. "There is something fragile about this life."
The other collapsed on the slope and turned toward the companion. It was like unto a woman and she gasped for air. "I do not understand."
"Slow." He reached for her and she brushed him away. She stood and wobbled when she became erect.
"Fragile, yes," she said. She looked at her hands and said, "Not like the others."
He took in a deep breath through his nose, pursed his lips and expelled it. "But the tree …"
"Yes," she said. "I can see it."
The One visited countless universes, searching for the results of sentient life. Decisions upon decisions, branching through eons … The One harvested these "trees," in a way, and was sustained by them. When guidance for their growth was needed, it set these tenders upon those worlds that the plant born of free will may become stronger and longer lasting.
He released the branch and his body became like a wisp. Visible yet not present. He smiled and looked to his companion, "I understand the allure of this one."
She did not respond. She was staring at the civilization below and narrowing her eyes. "I see shadows."
"Of the past? I see them also."
"No. Of the future." She shook her head and continued, "They are … thin. I can't focus on them."
He squinted and then said, "Yes. A limitation of this realm?"
She accepted that as true and said, "The will of these beings is even more important now. Their decisions may make the future more visible to us."
He turned his head from side to side, as though he were trying to make out some distant, wavering image. "I see a great fire, as well."
"The end of the tree," she whispered.
He paused and then said, "What is your plan?"
She looked at him and said, "The One's plan, as always. To insure the survival of life so the tree may grow."
He nodded and allowed his body to drift down the mountainside toward the city. She did the same as he said, "It will be done."That's it. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook, etc.