Darn! No sex in this one at all! Just a bunch of people talking!
“Someone came through the wormhole in Lisa’s Grotto?” Alicia asked, her eyes wide with surprise. “Who was it? Anyone we know?”
“No,” Jake replied. “Some pregnant girl from Canada and her boyfriend. The girl claimed she met Beth once, evidently. And Beth initiated her.”
“Beth was a long time ago, Jake,” Frank said. “You mean she’s a long-lifer? Like us?”
“Yep! Both her and her boyfriend,” Jake replied.
“What’s her boyfriend like?” Tanya asked, grinning mischievously. “He must be pretty virile if he got the girl pregnant.”
“Oh, one of those ‘South’un Gentile-men, with all the fake manners that go along with it,” Jake smirked. “An awful-sir in the Cane-federate ahmy. Not too bad with a sword, though.”
“You fought him?” Alicia asked, still looking very interested. “With a sword?”
“Well,” Jake said, “He was upset that we bombed his mother and demanded satisfaction.”
“Sounds like a typical southern gentleman to me,” Frank grinned. “When do we meet him?”
“Well, he’s being brought before Elaine this afternoon for disturbing the peace,” Jake told them. “If you want, we can all go watch. I have to be there as a witness, anyway.”
“So what about the girl?” Tanya wanted to know. “You said she was pregnant?”
“Yeah,” Jake admitted. “Doc Frank checked her out this morning. She's okay. And she’s legit. By that I mean she has vampire blood in her, and it’s not Lisa’s or her mom’s. She's staying with me and… Annalisa – for a day or two, anyway.”
“You still have a hard time saying her name,” Tanya noticed, placing her hand on Jake’s arm.
“Yeah, well,” Jake said. “I… just…” He sighed, then sat down. “I feel like I’m really letting Lisa’s mom… Béla. There. I feel like I’m betraying her, somehow. As much as I loved her – I still love her. But Annalisa fits so much better. And it hurts me to think that… Béla wasn’t… she really wasn’t ‘The One’, you know? Not like Annalisa is.”
“Jake,” Frank said quietly. “You weren’t really happy with Béla. Face it, man. You brooded all the time – you were absolutely no fun to be around, and you were consumed with really dumb-ass ideas about how to make your relationship with her better. Now that Annalisa’s with you, you are actually a little bit more likable.”
“Really?” Tanya quipped cheerfully. “You mean you two might finally become friends after all these years?”
“Ha, ha,” Frank said to his wife. “Let’s just wait and see on that one, okay?”
Lisa and Annalisa escorted Jonathan up the white concrete steps into the Goddess’ temple. Jonathan kept staring at everything and everyone with pure amazement. The ‘horizon’ completely fascinated him and he almost fell several times just trying to follow the land around with his eyes.
“Come on, let’s get you inside,” Annalisa laughed. “You’ll find it’s easier to walk upright when there’s a room around you.”
“Is this some sort of pagan religious rite?” Jonathan asked, suddenly nervous. “Do you have sacrifices here? What’s the penalty for disturbing the peace?”
“Don’t be silly!” Lisa laughed. “If we were going to cook you, I’d’ve done it yesterday. And there are no set penalties except for murder.”
“You murder everyone who breaks the law?” Jonathan cried out, suddenly freezing in his footsteps.
Both girls sighed. “This isn’t the Confederacy.” Lisa informed him, starting to sound impatient. “We’re civilized and peaceful and we don’t kill each other. Now, come on. We’ll be late.”
Jonathan was still reluctant. Annalisa smiled at him and took his arm. “Your friend Danielle is already inside and waiting for you. Everything will be all right.”
Anxious to see a friendly face, even that of another captive, namely Dani, Jonathan let himself be led through the heavy, whitewashed doors and into the Justice Room.
“Jonathan!” Dani whispered loudly and happily at him. The echoes of her voice bounced off the solid white walls and made her whisper sound embarrassingly loud. The two girls escorting him let Jonathan go over to greet her.
“Are they treating you all right?” he asked anxiously as he pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly for an instant before remembering her baby.
“I’m fine,” Dani grinned up at him. “I saw a doctor this morning. He’s a real doctor from Earth! He showed me a sonogram and everything. This place may be a small farming community, but the medicine here is really hi-tech! And when he found out that you’re what he calls a ‘long-lifer’ like me, he wants to meet you and do some blood tests to find out what branch of the family you belong to.”
“Branch? Family?” Jonathan grinned. “What are you talking about?”
“Well,” Dani replied animatedly. “He must not have had very many patients this morning because we talked a couple of hours, at least! There is a branch that some lady named Béla initiated – a guy named Frank and his wife, Tanya. The doctor is Frank’s son. He has a sister named Alicia, and she had several kids, as well.
“Anyway, Béla had a daughter. And she initiated a bunch of people too. So that’s two branches of the family. And I, all by myself, was initiated by someone else! So I have – WE’LL have – our very own branch of the family! I have a family! A big one - can you believe it? I’m so happy!”
Jonathan wasn’t listening any more. His mind had stopped in the middle of her excited chatter when she said that name…
“My mother’s name was Alicia,” Jonathan said, his words cutting in and immediately silencing Dani. “I don’t suppose he said anything about his sister ever being in Nashville...”
“No,” Dani replied, not sure of what do say, now. “He didn’t. He only mentioned that he has a sister.”
“ ‘Has’? Not ‘had’?” Jonathan asked, then he smiled at Dani, a little sadly. “Lucky guy.”
“THE GOLDEN GODDESS AND THE GREAT BARD, GEOFFREY,” a voice announced behind them.
Everyone turned toward the front of the room. That gorgeous blond goddess from yesterday was entering the room, followed by a young man in an oversized blue robe with a hawk nose which reminded Jonathan of a drawing of Ichabod Crane from a storybook he’d had as a child.
Everyone sat down. A man who had been standing next to the far wall taking notes stepped forward. He was the one who had announced the arrival of the presiding Lord and Lady. Looking around the room and checking his clipboard, he turned and approached the justices.
“We should hear this case first, Bard, as the interested parties regarding the newcomer have not yet arrived.”
Jonathan wondered idly what interested parties there could be, then remembered that fellow Jake, whom he’d fought. Looking around, he noticed that Jake wasn’t here, so he was probably who that bailiff-looking fellow meant, and that would make himself, of course, the ‘newcomer’.
The case called forward requested a dismissal of the charges as the litigants had already arrived at an agreeable decision regarding their quarrel. Once the justices heard their solution, they agreed and dismissed the case. They had all mumbled privately in the front of the room, and Jonathan was a little annoyed that he couldn’t really hear what was going on. It would have been nice to have some advance notice as to how ‘justice’ worked in this strange place.
Dani was sitting next to him and Annalisa was sitting on his other side. When Annalisa suddenly rose and began moving toward the isle, Jonathan looked up to see where she was going. That fellow Jake had just entered the room and Annalisa was quietly greeting him at the door.
Behind Jake came a couple Jonathan didn’t recognize. For a single instant, his heart leaped when he saw the woman’s blond hair. It took a second or two of staring to realize it wasn’t his mother. But the resemblance was spooky.
“We can sit over here, Mom,” a female voice said from the other entrance.
Curious, Jonathan turned around and looked to see who had spoken so casually (and in his opinion, so overly loud in this hallowed hall). A very pretty brunette was sitting down and smiling at her blond companion – obviously her mother, from what she’d just said.
Their eyes met and time stopped.
‘Jonathan?’ he heard his mother’s voice echo in his head.
Then tears were rushing down the blond woman’s face.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Jackie asked, suddenly frightened that her mother was having some kind of attack. “Dad! Something’s wrong with Mom!”
Jake turned away from Annalisa and began to cross the room quickly, looking worried.
“Mother?” Jonathan asked as he rose to his feet. “Oh God! It’s really you!”
Then he was trying to get to the end of row of chairs, but he couldn’t see and kept tripping. Alicia was weeping openly as she embraced him. They both nearly fell, overwhelmed by the sudden emotions filling them both.
“I have another brother?” Jackie asked no one in particular.
“I thought you were dead that bomb went off over Nashville and everyone was dead and I came to the mountain like you said and nobody was there and somehow we got here…”
Elaine looked and Jeff, her pretense of boredom failing to hide the sparkle of joy in her eyes. “What do you think? Case dismissed?”
“Obviously,” Jeff agreed, grinning widely. “I shall inform the cook that we need to kill the fatted calf. The prodigal son has come home.”
Elaine looked at Jeff with some confusion, but Jeff merely grinned at her and turned away.
‘Look it up!’ she heard Jeff laugh into her mind. ‘You’ll enjoy the original text far better than I could tell it.’
‘But you’re a bard! No one could tell a tale better than you…’
Unannounced and ignored by everyone, The Golden Goddess and the Great Bard left the Justice Room.
Lisa and Mac walked in as Elaine and Jeff were leaving.
“What! We missed it?” Lisa griped.
Elaine laughed. “No, they’re all still in there. Why don’t you go in and invite everyone to the manor? We have to get food started to feed everybody!”
Lisa couldn’t help but laugh – Elaine’s joy was truly infectious.
Even Mac could feel the laughter, joy and relief radiating from the Justice Room. He hugged Lisa tightly and kissed her. Lisa pulled her feet up behind her and let him whirl her around for a second or two, completely enamoured with the way he liked to squash her against him.
“Party time!” he laughed into her ear before setting her down so she could follow the Golden Goddess’ wishes.
“Well, Annalisa wanted to learn how to handle a sword,” Jake was saying. “She’d been hanging around Mac and Lisa and found out how they like to spend their spare time.”
“So we all teleported up to Lisa’s Grotto,” Annalisa added, “and the rest is ‘recorded in history’, as the Praetor would say.”
Several people listening, laughed.
“Why is it called Lisa’s Grotto?” Dani asked, happy that this cheerful if somewhat unruly lot was accepting her.
“Well,” Alicia, her (mother-in-law? Oh my God…) said, “When we named it, we thought that Lisa had died when the Confederacy attacked us. And it was supposed to be a memorial park dedicated to her. But then we found out…”
“That WAS her I felt in my mind!” Dani gasped, suddenly understanding. “She looks different, now, but it IS her, isn’t it? Beth, I mean?”
“Yes,” Macario replied. “She was once Beth.”
“But you told me she died,” Dani said, upset that she’d been lied to.
“She did die,” Jake told her, once again. “And you, from what Doctor Frank has been telling us, are the only recipient of her blood.”
“Physically, you are all of her that remains alive,” Mac said. “But her soul was reborn. She became Béla’s daughter.”
“Are you saying that you people reincarnate?” Dani asked, incredulous. “And that you know who you were or who you’re going to be? That’s completely unbelievable!”
‘Our ‘psychic’ powers are far beyond your ken, Earth Girl,’ Dani heard in her head. ‘You humans know next to nothing, yet you persist in pretending to be omnipotent! Death is not the end-all that your kind would have everyone believe!’
Dani finally figured out it was Lisa who was yelling in her mind. The two of them stared at each other for a moment.
‘I searched for you for half a century,’ Dani thought at her, wondering if her thoughts could actually be heard by another. ‘Were you hiding from me?’
‘It’s a smaller world that you think, Earth Girl,’ Lisa’s thoughts returned, less angry, now. ‘We used a major security organization to keep our secrets safe.’
‘But I was an industrial spy! I was the best there was, and I searched the records of every major industry on the planet and found nothing about any of you!’
‘You missed one,’ a new voice said into her head.
Dani jerked her head around to find the woman who’d added her mental voice to the conversation.
“I’m Tabatha,” the youthful redhead said as their eyes met.
She held out her hand. Dani held out her hand as well and Tabatha stopped, staring down at Dani’s wrist.
“A red fox?” Tabatha murmured, then looked into Dani’s eyes again. “Dani Dham. You’re still alive. It figures you’d be a long-lifer.”
“You know me?” Dani asked, surprised at the respect the Tabatha woman was radiating.
“I’m Tabatha Hedron,” she said, introducing herself again. “We’ve met once or twice. At least, we’ve drawn sights on each other…”
“Tomlin,” Dani sighed, recognizing the name. “Of course. You would know. It was your secret I was trying to find.”
“And you came close,” Tabatha grinned. “If you had explained your actions instead of shooting at us, you might have saved yourself a great deal of trouble. But, you’re here now. Welcome to the family.”
“Thanks, I think,” Dani replied, still numb from all the new information flooding through her mind. “I would show you the scar, but it’s long since healed.”
“Oh! Tabatha grinned. “I did get you, then! God, you were fast. I thought I’d missed. We never found you.”
“You didn’t find me because I was lying in the storm drain under your building, bleeding my guts out,” Dani informed her. “It was two days before I could even walk out of there!”
“Are we going to have another battle?” Jake asked, joining his daughter-in-law and the new girl.
“This is my father-in-law, Jake Pestova,” Tabatha said, introducing Jake.
“We met yes…” Dani stopped, staring at Jake as her mouth dropped open. “That’s what I missed! You’re Jake Hedron’s father! Fuck! That’s the connection! I was so fucking close! Damn, damn, damn! I almost had it!”
“Gunfight at dawn?” Macario asked, joining the group. “You guys are radiating a lot. Can you tone it down a little?”
“What are you talking about?” Dani wanted to know.
“Your emotions,” Tabatha informed her. “You need to control them a bit better. Many people here are mentally very sensitive, and can pick up your thoughts.”
They’re reading my mind?” Dani asked, suddenly distressed at the idea of complete lack of privacy. “Make them stop!”
“No one is ‘reading’ your mind,” Jake told her. “You’re broadcasting at a very high volume. If you want any personal privacy, you need to learn to control yourself better.”
Dani looked around from face to face at the number of people who’d gathered around her in just the last couple of minutes.
“I’m glad I’m not claustrophobic, guys,” she said, grinning nervously. “ ’Cause it’s really getting crowded around here… Am I really… broadcasting… my emotions?”
A general agreement met her from just about everyone, along with a lot of friendly forgiveness.
“Okay, then,” Dani replied, deciding her options. “Everybody just leave me alone for awhile, and I’ll just sit here and be quiet.”
With that, she found a dining chair and sat down. Everyone suddenly seemed to be towering over her. But after a few seconds, people began moving away, giving her room to breath.
Tabatha sat down beside her. “So – the famous ‘Red Fox’ in the flesh.”
“That was a long, long time ago,” Dani replied quietly, hoping Tabatha would leave it alone. “I was a different person then.”
“What changed?” Tabatha wanted to know. “You just vanished after our little confrontation.”
“A blaster in the belly will do that to a girl,” Dani said. “But even in a digitized society like we lived in, it’s easy to disappear. In Canada, people accept you at face value. We… Well, They… I mean, view us, the ‘lower forty-eight’, as a rather frantic, self-involved lot, prone to frequent adolescent fits and tantrums. But individually, they’ll treat you like a regular person until you actually demonstrate that you’re one of the fucked up ones. I just kept going north until somebody didn’t ask me for an I.D., and there, I stayed.”
“You gave up.”
“I decided to try the ‘American Dream’. It wasn’t available in the drugged, self-destructive culture the U.S. had become, but you could still find it in Quebec.” Dani told her. “Believe it or not, even after that wound you gave me, I had three children and was a wonderful wife and mother.”
“Sounds delightful,” Tabatha smiled at her. “I’ve had a couple, myself.”
Dani smiled at her old protagonist. “Delightful, yes. It lasted sixteen years. Then the grain store where my husband worked was robbed and he was shot. He died a week later. He never woke up.”
“I’m sorry,” Tabatha replied, speaking softly.
Dani sighed. “It was getting to be time I moved on, anyway – people were beginning to comment about how young I looked for forty.
“Anyway, I forsook my children – left them with his mother. Then I hunted down the animals that did it. It was a hop gang that had been terrorizing people throughout the district. They were mostly minority members using that old, lame excuse of racial persecution to justify their joy of butchering innocent people.
“One by one, I captured and killed them. On the average, it took each one of them a week to die after they ‘disappeared’. I would leave the remains of the last one at the ‘capture site’ of the next one. I showed those drugged out animals was real terror was, each and every fucking one of them. It took nearly two years to wipe them out – one or two every month.
“The last four, I took at one time. They were so terrified they wouldn’t leave each other’s sight. I killed the three that were trying to protect the forth one, then took her captive. She was their ‘spirit guide’ – totally evil bitch – used drugs to control her gang. She said she was a Nameepoo, or something. The last one. It took her ten days to die.
“By then, of course, there was another gang terrorizing everyone, but I didn’t care. I just left. I walked all the way to Montreal. Civilization was pretty much done for anyway. I joined a volunteer group building underground housing and storage units for the next eight years. Don’t let anyone tell you physical labor isn’t good for the soul. It’s the only occupation where you can actually see what you accomplish.”
Tabatha smiled at hearing that last part. Dani looked around. It was dark and the hall was deserted.
“Where’d everyone go?” she asked. “Why didn’t I notice how late it is?”
“I shielded us and sneaked us forward in time a few hours,” Tabatha replied. “I thought you might appreciate the privacy. Evidently, I was right.”
Dani sighed, feeling an odd relief. “You know, I’ve never told anyone any of this, before. I suppose this is the part now when you stand me against the wall and blindfold me.”
“No,” Tabatha replied. “I’m not in security anymore. I lost my job about six months ago. Now, I’m a supply clerk’s wife. And I’m learning needlepoint.”
“Oh, God!” Dani laughed. “What a comedown!”
“Oh, I still stay in condition at Lisa’s little playground she has up by Northern Depot,” Tabatha grinned. “You’ll like Lisa. She's…
“We’ve met,” Dani interrupted. “She's the one who does that ‘fire’ bit.”
“Yep, that’s her!” Tabatha admitted. “She's an old flame.”
They both laughed at that.
“I believe that,” Dani replied, grinning. “So how did you lose your joBéla Murder? Divorce?”
“War,” Tabatha told her. “We were forced to abandon our mountain city and flee Earth in that spaceship they found you in. But since there was no need for security on the ship, or here at this station, I actually had nothing to do. And still don’t.”
“No security at all?” Dani asked. “That’s probably why we managed to live for over two months on your ship and not be discovered.”
“The Praetor knew you were there,” Tabatha told her. “It just didn’t think it necessary to inform anyone of your presence. I think it was studying you.”
“The Praetor?” Dani asked. “What’s that?”
“Well, among other things, it’s the mind of the ship you were in,” Tabatha explained, knowing full well that what she said was no explanation. “It recorded your presence on the ship as part of our history. If anyone had checked for recent events, they would have discovered your arrival here.”
“Does everything that happens here get electronically recorded?” Dani asked. “That’s one hell of a security system.”
“The Praetor is why we don’t need security here,” Tabatha explained. “In addition, pretty much everyone in New Eden is honest. There are no hardened criminals here.”
“So, Supply Clerk’s Wife, how did you get the job of interviewing me?” Dani wanted to know.
Tabatha smiled at the question. “I was in charge of the ship’s security prior to its completion. I was curious about how you had arrived.”
“You could have asked the Praetor,” Dani smiled, smug at catching the Head of Tomlin’s Internal Security in a logic lapse.
“I did,” Tabatha replied. “I learned a lot more from talking to you though. I wish you had come in when you had the opportunity. You would have been a valuable ally.”
“There you are!” a relieved voice called from the entranceway. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Jonathan closed the door behind him and walked toward the two girls.
“Well, I was surprised how much I enjoyed talking to you,” Dani told her old antagonist as she stood up. “I hope we can get together another time.”
“We’ll see each other again,” Tabatha assured her, rising from her chair. “There are always social functions and picnics. I think you’ll like it here.”
“I suppose the Praetor recorded everything I said,” Dana surmised.
“Probably, would you like me to ask it?” Tabatha asked.
“I don’t… No, I really wouldn’t,” Dani said, frowning. “Can the data be classified under a code word or something?”
“I assume you don’t want the Praetor giving out your personal, private thoughts?” Tabatha replied. “Let’s ask it.”
‘Praetor,’ Tabatha called out in her mind. Dani’s eyes widened, not believing she could hear Tabatha’s thoughts.
‘Do you have a question?’ the Praetor said into both their minds.
“Can it hear me?” Dani asked, feeling stunned and very vulnerable.
‘I hear you, Danielle. What is it you wish?’
“This thing is like the Genie in the Bottle, right?” Dani couldn’t help but giggle as the awesomeness of it all.
“Um… Could you like, uh… yeah. Can you keep what I told to, uh, Tabatha a secret?” Dani stammered, not having a clue about how to talk to a machine that could get into your head.
‘Your request will be considered,’ the Praetor replied. It is not uncommon for people to wish embarrassing events be kept private. Realize, however, that secrets are the bane of a psychic society. Their acceptance of you among them will depend on how much of yourself you are willing to share.’
“I see,” Dani said, not understanding any of that. “Well, I’m asking anyway. Can you keep my secrets?”
‘Data about your life will be available on a restricted basis until further notice.’
“Is that good?” Dani asked, looking at Tabatha.
“Yes,” Tabatha replied. “Your secrets will be safe so long as you are not brought before a justice for any infractions in whatever district you and your lifemate settle in.”
“Lifemate, huh?” Dani grinned, looking up at Jonathan as he put his arms around her.
“Come on! Elaine wants to talk to us about what district we would like to settle in,” Jonathan said as he hugged her.
“Who’s Elaine again?” Dani asked as she was led away by an arm. “You mean that Queen person, right? You’re on a first name basis with their ruler? Oh my G…”
The door shut behind them. Tabatha looked around at the empty hall.
‘Damn! I missed the party!’ she thought to herself. ‘Oh, well, no matter – I’ll just time walk back to when I left…’