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Excerpt for The Delphine: A Last Ark novel by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Delphine


A Last Ark novel



Ross C Miller


Skye Run


Any resemblances to any specific person or place are purely coincidental and unintentional.


All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2018 Skye Run


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without expressed permission in writing from the publisher.


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Primary cover image from Dreamstime.com

Cover Design by RC Miller

Cover Construction by RC Miller


First Edition


All rights reserved.

ISBN: 0692187162

ISBN-13: 978-0692187166 (Skye Run)


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Contents


Prologue


The First Delphine: Wakanda – Part 1 – The Awakening


Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


The First Delphine: Wakanda – Part 2 – The Expansion of Perception


Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


The First Delphine: Wakanda – Part 3 – The Finding


Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


The First Delphine: Wakanda – Part 4 – The Mantle


Chapters 1 2 3 4


The Second Delphine: Dakota – Part 1 – What to Be


Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6


The Second Delphine: Dakota – Part 2 – Where to Look


Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6


Epilogue – The 46th Delphine: Tacomah


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Thank you, and yet again, to

Stacy Shofner-Williams

for convincing me that I should write!


Thanks to my editor, Carolyn Hawks!


And Thank You to God.

Always.

For everything.

…not the greatest gift of which is a talent for writing.


Prologue


I’ve started talking to myself.

Talking to herself in this context wasn’t quite the same as when she came to help herself out and carried on a short but very necessary conversation. Usually those discussions had to do with not doing the thing that she was about to, because of the problems she was about to create. …which … if she had to intervene to prevent an intervention, the problem she was going to cause was far worse than the one she was trying to solve. Those conversations had gotten less confusing only after they had taken place. …well after. …usually at just about the time she’d learned enough to decide to go back and have those talks with herself.

Of course… If the change never happened, as it wouldn’t if she went back and told herself not to make it, then the conversation couldn’t take place. …because it never happened.

…except that it did.

…and it did.

And she always remembered both ways. …happening and not. …and she always remembered being on both sides of that conversation. …even though she’d been on the side telling herself not to make the change, and never had been on the side where she was told not to.

If you think that’s confusing … try being on this side of it.

Wakanda stood there. …between. She was neither here, nor there. …which wasn’t a personal comment, but it was. …one which she found amusing more times than not. …at least, when she wasn’t desperately searching to find the solution to the problem she was facing, at any given particular moment.

But, more to the point … she wasn’t there.

Not all the way there, anyway.

She was currently engaged in an event, investigating a situation in which she’d become involved. Or, again, more accurately … the situation had engaged her. It was there. It happened. She had no choice but to do something about it. Or, more accurately, undo the situation. …make it unhappen. And this situation … had led her here.

She’d already made one change, unhappening a different event with this freighter, but that intervention seemed to create this situation. While her interventions always had a cumulative disparity effect…

which I try to severely limit.

…they didn’t normally create a chain of sequential events that needed dealing with.

It was confusing. But that’s what her task was all about.

not creating confusion. No. Although, sometimes, I can’t really tell one from the other.

She made sense out of all the confusion, and then made simple changes to make things happen slightly differently. …normally.

Hopefully.

It wasn’t the big changes she was after. She tried to stay away from those.

I did that once.

It didn’t go quite the way she was expecting.

That’s putting it mildly. Actually … it turned out far worse than just a complete disaster.

That was one of the times that she’d gone back and talked to herself, so she wouldn’t interfere in that particular situation. …which was the only way she could make things happen as they had before she’d made her change.

That one had been an extremely hard lesson.

The only reason she still existed at all, after making that change was because she was forced to stay between. She couldn’t be there, anywhere, unless it was before her intervention, until she corrected that mistake.

And, believe me. When I say mistake, it’s about as understated as saying a star is hot. …or, stuff is heavier in a black hole. …or, space is kinda empty; there’s not much of anything between stars, and even those don’t take up a whole lot of room, comparatively.

Had she been able to limit the adverse effects of that intervention to just herself not being born, and being stuck between forever, then she would have let it stand.

But she couldn’t.

…so, she didn’t.

That’s not quite the way the universe works. I can’t play God. I’m not God. I don’t even look like God. God already existed long before I came along. Things happen for a reason.

Some things happen for a reason.

But some things happen just because they happen.

Funny thing, that.

Free will.

Freedom of choice. …and the myriad of escalating consequences of making those choices.

The choices that we make almost never affect only ourselves. Sometimes, they affect far more people than we could ever think possible. Sometimes, those consequences are quite widespread and extremely harsh, whether we intended them to be, or not.

A kingdom was lost for want of a nail.

Or, put in more currently poignant terms…

if current actually has a valid meaning, anymore.

Human presence in the galaxy was lost for want of an ambitious and charismatic, albeit misguided…

if not entirely deranged.

…leader.

In not interfering with history, the war continued, in one form or another … in one star-system and the next … and the next.

War.

The technical definition of war is, “A state of armed conflict between two different civilizations, nations, states, or groups within a state.” By that definition, it isn’t even, really, a war. Wars have at least two sides fighting against each other, not just one side compulsively murdering the other.

Rationally, it couldn’t be called genocide either, because it wasn’t one species or race wiping out another. …although that did happen in a few instances, but that was coincidental. Collateral damage. The war was about one … brand … for lack of a better word … of humans … one philosophy … actively and aggressively, trying to destroy all of those who disagreed with them. More than a few species of varying degrees of evolvement, along with their entire solar systems, had been destroyed in the process, intentionally and without regard, simply for the purpose of depriving a resting place for the humans being hunted. But, at the same time as all that destruction, thousands of other star systems would be inhabited by humans. Tens of trillions of humans would die. But … tens of trillions of humans would also survive.

The intervention she’d made to prevent the war caused civilization to crumble. On their own little insignificant home world, humans nearly became extinct. They never left that one tiny and ruined planet.

God was forgotten. …at least by the things that used to be called human.

Stop a war of galactic proportions … or kill an entire civilization. A rock and a hard place. To be, or not to be.

That one decision, to make that intervention or not, was only one of the many moral quandaries that Wakanda had to deal with.

A man walked away from her in the direction she was facing. He’d walked right through her. He couldn’t see, hear, or feel her. He wasn’t aware that she was there.

Not being there was a good thing.

She was naked, for starters. Along with making her … immune … again, for lack of a better word … to any conditions currently in effect wherever there was, staying between made it so that she couldn’t be seen. If she had been all the way there, she would certainly have been an item of attention. The odds of that attention being at any particular point between hostile and violent … were even.

If I go anywhere or anywhen by jumping there, I can’t take anything with me. At all. Period. Nothing. Certainly not another person. No weapons. Not even clothes. Just little ol’ me.

That was the one limiting factor of what she could do. If she could have taken something, a lot of things might have happened differently.

But that limitation … as slight as it seems, but as great as it is in reality … tends to keep me humble.

The navigator, Kidder, handed the Captain … Cain … the schedule.

It’s coming.

She hurried to the Captain’s chair and stood behind him.

The decision was about to be made.

This was the single specific decision that allowed the conditions that ended with Cain’s ship, the Morning Star, to crash on Bethel. Here was where she could change it, so the crash wouldn’t happen.

She leaned into his head, aligning her brain with his, and entered the here slightly more than what she had been.

Let’s go straight to Valhalla with the Regian eel-sharks, instead of going to Termina. I can go back to Termina after that, and then pick up the normal rounds. She placed that thought into the Cain’s mind.

He wouldn’t hear her voice. It would be more like his own. …just a feeling. …an urge. …as if it was his own idea. If her prep-nudges in the last hour had taken hold, he would make the decision she wanted him to. If not, she’d have to go back, push a little harder, and try putting this thought in his head a micro-second earlier.

“Take us to Valhalla. They can even come in and look at the hold if they want. We just won’t have what they’re going to be wanting a whole lot of.”

There was a very short pause as Kidder ran the numbers.

“Strat has ‘em,” Kidder announced, hitting the button to close the shutters over the viewports.

“Course set,” Strat said. “Worm-drive engaging, now.”

There was no question about the order. No one even remotely mentioned Eden, which should have been their next stop. That would have been just the ticket for a long walk out of a short airlock. Cain was the Captain. Period. There was no discussion.

Wakanda went fully between and waited for a few minutes.

All it needed was this little bit of time in this direction. …in any direction, other than going to Termina at this exact moment. Cain could even change his mind, now, and go as he’d originally planned, if he wanted to. It wouldn’t matter. Only that little bit of a delay with the worm-drive active was required.

He’d miss Bethel by a wide enough margin, now.

He wouldn’t know it. He’d never be aware of it. But she’d just prevented the destruction of him, his ship, and its crew.

again.

Because Bethel was what it was, a worm-drive couldn’t function going anywhere within three light-hours near its energy field. A ship would automatically drop out of a worm-tube, and then they’d be close enough to see Bethel’s anomalous existence. At that point, without fail, the ships’ captains always chose to investigate the anomaly. Upon entering the energy field, all their electronics would shut down, and they would crash on the planet.

When the Morning Star crashed, this time, very little remained as evidence. …except for a very large hole in Bethel’s African zone, and a very large disruption of the life in that zone due to the radiation caused by the weapons that were built into the large freighter.

But, now… No crash. No hole. No deaths. No disruption.

All is well!

Because of the movement of everything in the galaxy, in all likelihood, the Morning Star would never have Bethel directly in its path again. Even though the Milky Way galaxy was rather large, there was a surprising amount of traffic around Bethel. …mostly, because humans had settled in only a relatively tiny portion of the galaxy.

And Bethel was meant to be found. …by humans. Not all humans, though. …not even most.

Cain was one of the ones who weren’t supposed to find Bethel. His ship was destroyed. If he’d been meant to be there … he wouldn’t have died.

twice.

To date, there were only two ships that weren’t smashed into little tiny pieces when they crashed on Bethel. The Originist Arkship Timothy had skipped like a stone across the northern ocean. The entire crew lived through the ordeal, as they’d been locked into the escape pods. …none of which would eject. The Timothy’s Ark survived, as well. The Unity Gunship, that was eventually named the Sanctuary, had been grated like cheese when it slid across the barrens. A remnant of less than five percent of that crew lived. That Gunship had chased the Timothy into Bethel’s sphere. Its captain had been killed by the Gunship’s Science Officer after the crash. …to stop the war.

They survived because they were the ones chosen. They were the ones meant to be there.

And, at the risk of sounding full of myself… I would be a large portion of the reason those original colonists were chosen. …me and my descendants. …because of what we can do.

She brought up her math and changed a few of the variables.

…and she was standing in the little room that was her launch platform. The rack that held her clothes stood in front of her.

She waited for a few seconds, between, watching the tunic sleeve fall and come to a complete rest. She’d dropped the sleeve when she left. This simple few seconds, watching an entirely mundane action helped her keep the continuity of her timeline straight. …despite all the loops. That one small thing … just the motion of the sleeve falling … helped to ground her in the present reality. …a reality that she had little choice but to force to be elusive.

not that I would choose otherwise.

This was her job. …her task. It was what she was born to do. It was what the last two-thousand-plus years of human history had led to. And she was only the first to do this job. …the first of a long line.

Welcome back, Kada. You left only a second ago. We have thirty-three possible sites charted. There is nothing unusual to report. All is calm. Can I get you anything?”

That told her everything she needed to know.

Thirty-three. It was thirty-four when I left. All I can do is uncrash them. What they do after that, is not mine to control.

“Thanks, Ai. I think a shower, a bowl of gumbo, a lager, and some sleep would be good. Possibly, not in that exact order. But, that’s the basic plan for now.”

She took her clothes and put them on, happy to be wearing something again. Her launch platform really wasn’t anything other than just a small room with the clothes rack and a large data screen. It was another small thing that helped to keep things straight.

The sole purpose of the rack was just for the falling sleeve. Every time she moved from here and now to somewhere and/ or somewhen else, she held the sleeve of her tunic up before she jumped. It would fall when she left. When she came back, she always came back to just after she dropped it. She could watch it complete its fall. It helped. It helped to keep her sane, and not be too caught up in whatever and whenever she’d just left. …or second-guessing the possible consequences of the intervention she’d just made.

It was very easy to want to be … not here. That had happened once, too. Not so coincidentally, it was right after she fixed the big mistake she’d made.

“When I left, there was a verified large crash site, here. Lots of damage.” Wakanda pointed to the map on the screen, near the middle lower-third of the African zone. Then she left the small room.

There has been no wreckage in that area. The African zone is entirely intact. It seems you were successful.”

Ai didn’t question the difference between the facts that it knew to be correct and those as she stated them. The facts in Ai’s reality were sound. To Ai, it would be as if she’d just left and come back. What she set up when she made her intervention would be the conditions that Ai, here and now, would have had available, since its past, where it concerned the event she’d just come from, had happened differently. …or something didn’t happen at all, in this case.

As capable as Ai was … the self-aware and self-programming, artificial intelligence, alive now for well over three thousand years … he had nothing in his vast accumulation of data to enable him to relate to a changed past, which inevitably changed his present in some fashion. They both accepted that fact.

In reality, Ai wasn’t any worse off than she was. …except that she always remembered the events, both before her intervention and after.

which isn’t necessarily a good thing. I remember what happened before … like the wreck of the Morning Star, and the devastation it caused … and I remember making the intervention. And, I remember it not ever having crashed, too. …and I’m not even going to begin to go into when I have to reverse an intervention. That’s … far deeper into my weeds than you’ll ever want to go.

Both of their timelines were linear. Hers in relation to his, however, did an awful lot of looping.

After recovering from her first drastic change…

read that as mistake.

…she’d come back to the now to talk with Ai every time to see if she might have made another. They’d come up with a list and means to keep track of all the things she’d need to know when she returned. Occasionally … not often … she’d have to go back to reverse the change she’d just made and find the better time and change to make.

And that always takes far longer than making the first intervention, to begin with.

She’d have to enter into her journals the event she’d been on for the last sixty years … her subjective time, not real-time … following the Morning Star back and forth through time, looking for the right moment to intervene.

It’s not as easy as you’d think. Make the change too early, and that doesn’t necessarily change what happened with any permanency. It could happen anyway. Change it too late, and the event bulldozes through to its conclusion. Sometimes, the best place and person to make the intervention with aren’t even on the ship that crashed. And the only way you find the right place is by making a lot of mistakes and correcting them.


*****



The First Delphine:

Wakanda


Part 1


The Awakening


Chapter 1


The neural inhibitor was distracting. …kinda.

Esperanza wasn’t sure that was a good thing, though. It wasn’t exactly distracting entirely the way it should have been.

It either needs to be more so, or less. I’d settle for less, though. …as long as it keeps doing what it’s doing for my lower half.

While the inhibitor could target single or multiple nerve groups, or even target all of them and then exclude some, the contacts on her forehead crossed her eyes when she had enough time to try to look at them. The contacts at the back of her head were just really uncomfortable when she put her head onto the pillow and put any weight on them. When she put her head back … she really needed to put it back.

You’d think they’d be able to do something about that. It is a neural inhibitor, after all.

The thin roots from the power-plants, which allowed the device to function at all, tended to get in the way, as well. If there wasn’t enough slack, then the inhibitor threatened to become unseated.

And that is definitely not a good thing.

Too much slack, and they got caught on things.

And I’m not exactly in a position to be able to worry about those other things.

Every new mother was given the same option. And, from what Esperanza understood, she was just like almost all the rest when she chose to start off natural. Some were able to give birth without it.

I have to give them an awful lot of credit, too. …’cause I don’t see how they possibly can.

Many couldn’t.

Esperanza quickly discovered that she was in the latter group.

The simple fact that she was the People’s Guide didn’t mean that she had the conscious control over the specific nerves, or the strength, bravery, or even the will, to give birth without the inhibitor.

They’d said her little girl was the normal average size.

regardless of what it felt like before I gave in.

Conversely, they couldn’t explain why everything indicated that there was a second child … except for actually being able to find any evidence of one. She looked and felt like she was carrying two. The doctors said there was enough room for a twin, but they just couldn’t see it. The one they could see was always to one side or another, as if something else was there, keeping the first baby from taking up the entire space.

It wasn’t that there was a void. …a nothing. They could have seen something like that. It looked like something was there. Whatever it was just wouldn’t register on any of the equipment to be able to identify it. There wasn’t any kind of other foreign growth. There wasn’t even a second heartbeat they could detect.

Winona, the name they’d chosen to give the little girl they could see, was giving up room, but why? And to what?

Winona. It meant first born. It was a name from a very old language.

Winona. That was the name she and Michael had decided on.

Ever since Jill Somers, the daughter of Jeanne and Matthew, had her own daughter, it was custom that the first-born’s last name would be Somers. …the same as the entire line of Guides, including Esperanza. The entire line had been female.

Her insides cramped, bending her forward on the bed.

It was a really strange feeling.

It felt like everything below her lungs was being grabbed and pulled toward her knees. But there wasn’t any pain.

Well … there was. Lots of it. Then I took the inhibitor. So, there isn’t now. Now, it just feels really strange.

Her water had broken ten minutes ago. The midwife said the baby should be here any time now.

Even though it wasn’t painful to her mind, her body was still getting the full effects. She was practically worn out. The contractions were lasting almost a minute. It was extremely hard to breathe during that time, much less breathe to the pattern that the midwife told her to. …or even think about trying.

“Here we go!” The midwife announced. “She’s definitely wanting out, and it looks like she’s not going to wait any longer!”

Michael held Esperanza’s hand tightly. There had never been anyone else for either of them. Just the two of them. And this was their first child.

I think I’m more calm than he is! On the other hand, I have the inhibitor, too. …although, I don’t think it would really help much if he had it.

Her insides felt like a water buffalo was slowly vacating the area. Things were starting to have room again. …like her lungs. …and her intestines. In just a little while, her bladder would be overjoyed.

“Here we are. Come on, little one. Come on.”

There was a flurry of movement down at the other end of the table, between her knees.

The baby squeaked.

The nurse laid the little wrapped bundle in her mother’s arms.

She was so tiny, puffy, pink, and wrinkled. Her little hands and feet jerked, like the nerves were still trying to connect.

Michael had never seen anything so beautiful in his life.

The baby started to cry.

“It’s okay, little one. You’re okay. We’re here,” he cooed to his new daughter, lightly rubbing the back of one finger down her cheek.

Esperanza tilted her, so he could see the little girl’s face better.

A tear dropped from Michael’s eye. Just one.

Esperanza didn’t know which she wanted to look at more. Her new daughter, or her husband.

“Winona,” Michael said as the little girl cried. “It’s okay. We’re here. You’re here, now. It’s okay.” He spoke to her softly, as he gently rubbed her cheek.

Esperanza’s insides cramped again. The rest of the water buffalo had apparently decided to follow the first half. She handed Winona to Michael quickly.

“And now we know,” the midwife said from Esperanza’s other end.

There was another flurry of motion.

And another wrapped baby was put into Esperanza’s arms. The nurse who gave her the second baby was grinning widely.

“Twins. Another girl. And I still have no idea why we couldn’t tell she was there. I’d have to check, but I think these are the first twins ever to be born on Bethel. That wouldn’t explain all the equipment malfunctioning, though. We can hear her heartbeat clearly, now. She seems to be perfectly normal.” Looking from the first to the second, she added, “Except for knowing the order in which we gave them to you, I wouldn’t be able to tell between them.”

They had talked with Ai about the internal observation block. He had no idea and no relating data with which to speculate. Although it didn’t explain not being able to hear the heartbeat, his only guess was the ambient energy that made all data interpretation difficult was somehow interfering. His guess didn’t explain why they could see one, but not the other, though.

Ai was at a loss. It was possible, when Ai had the next physical exam data, he might have better information to base some sort of conclusion on. …or, not.

Ai was just as puzzled as everyone else. While his tone was never overly emotional, when you spoke to him, you could tell he wasn’t thrilled about not being able to know something. …particularly something that concerned the Somers family. He hadn’t said as much, but there were more than just a few things he wanted to know about the Somers, but he had no way of finding out.

Esperanza’s insides were completely her own again. The former tenants were receiving well more than the attention due them. …which was fine. That would likely continue for a long time. She almost felt like all her insides were going to have to get moved piece by piece to put it all back in the right places.

“Can I take the inhibitor off now?”

They were still busy down there. …doing … whatever.

“I wouldn’t suggest it, just yet,” the midwife said, distractedly. “This whole process isn’t exactly gentle. The size of the twins made it even more so. You’re probably going to have a couple strained muscles that you didn’t know about, at the very least. And most of your insides are starting to migrate back to their original locations. …more or less. …which isn’t going to be real fun for a while. You may have had the inhibitor on, but you’re still going to want to spend a few days in bed. As far as giving birth goes, this wasn’t a real tough one, but it was far from the easiest that I’ve seen. How about we keep you and the girls here today, and you can take the inhibitor off when the three of you go home tomorrow. Deal?”

“I suppose.” Esperanza wasn’t exactly thrilled. “Is there anything we can do about the pillow?”

“We’ll do one better. We’ll let you have a mockgrav bed. We needed the regular gravity to help with this part, but your insides will definitely enjoy its absence while they’re dancing their way back home. You’ve never used one before, but you’ll probably find it a real treat. They’re wonderfully comfortable, I’m told. We just have to finish up down here, first. The nurses will take care of the girls. There’s a couple things that need to be seen to.”

They handed the twins to the nurses.

“What should I be doing?” Michael asked.

“Considering you look like you’re in almost as tough shape as your wife, I’d suggest a nap. But that’s not likely going to happen, is it.”

“No. You’re probably right. And you’re probably right.” Michael chuckled. “There’s a lot of folk who are going to want details. By the way, when should Mom, here, be able to go back to work? She’s not going to stay immobile any longer than she has to. I don’t have to tell you that she’s going to want to dive straight back into her robes and feathers. God knows … she’s not going allow us to force her to rest.”

Esperanza punched him lightly on his upper arm.

“Well. I’d say when she can move, she’ll be ready. For little bits at a time, anyway.” To Esperanza, the midwife said, “You know, there’s not a soul on this planet … what little of it we’ve spread to … who doesn’t know you’re in here, right now. While you’re far from a micro-manager, we really can wait long enough for you to get rested up. You know that your mother has been filling in for you while you’ve been … temporarily incapacitated. She may have hung up her robes, so you could take over, but she didn’t burn them. And she certainly didn’t forget what being our Guide is all about.”

Their Guide. The People’s Guide.

That had been the job of the oldest female in her line since Jill Somers decided to make sure, personally, that the People were never allowed to forget the blessings they received when they crashed here. …or exactly where those blessing came from. The planet was named Bethel for a very good reason.

Bethel. The House of God.

It certainly seemed that way to everyone who lived here.

But, twins! And one of them we couldn’t even tell was there, until she came out!

“Do you have a name for the younger, by the way?”

Esperanza looked at Michael. “We hadn’t really given a whole lot of thought to anything past Winona. We were more worried about what was in there and why a second baby couldn’t be seen. If there wasn’t a second baby…”

“No doubt,” the midwife agreed. “But you have time. No rush. Probably ought not to call her just Hey You, though. I tried that with one of mine. Didn’t turn out too good.”

They laughed. Everyone knew that he, the midwife, had only one, and that one was fully planning on following in his father’s footsteps. In fact, his son was one of the attending nurses. He’d been at his father’s side throughout Esperanza’s entire pregnancy, trying to help solve the mystery of the missing … whatever it was … that ended up being another girl.

Doctors on Bethel weren’t required as a full-time position, for the most part, except for emergencies. Doctors normally had more to do in the zones being started and settled or expanded, while people were acclimating to the flora and fauna in the zone. There were always a number of things happening that wanted some sort of immediate medical attention. The zones had plenty of their own midwives, as well. …which made experienced midwives in demand, even in just Liberty Township.

“Wakanda,” Michael said gently. “How about Wakanda?”

“This one is Winona. We made sure to keep track.”

The nurses handed the wrapped twins back to their parents and began to clean up. They’d put a pink ribbon around Winona’s wrist.

In the attempts to keep some of the old languages alive, most people knew half a dozen of them. Some languages were much better suited for certain things than others. Bethellians had also chosen to keep some of the gentler old ways alive, as well. While they weren’t lacking in technology, even given the alternate source of power, they chose to merge the Native American Sioux lifestyle with what they had developed over the course of time on Bethel.

“Wakanda. Yes.” Esperanza agreed. She immediately understood the significance. “Of course.”

Wakanda had originally meant inner magical power. Its current literal translation was the presence of God’s Hand. Winona would be trained to take over being the People’s Guide when Esperanza decided to retire. But, Wakanda … considering her beginnings … Wakanda was surely destined for far larger things, if not necessarily greater.

Very little ever happens, particularly here, without a purpose. Even the crews of the Timothy and the Sanctuary had discovered that.

Esperanza wondered, Training Winona will be routine. That’s already been established ever since Gramma Jill. But …just how do you prepare someone, much less train them, for those far larger things when there’s no way of knowing what those larger might possibly be? …or even imagine just how large those things are going to get.


*****


Chapter 2


The twins ran into the house, their bare feet slapping against the floor all the way into the main room.

Kada had her hands cupped against each other, as if she had something in them that she didn’t want to let loose.

“Mommy! Mommy! Lookut Wakanda got!”

Esperanza bent down to see better.

“What do you have, Kada-honey?”

“She’s got…” Noni started.

“Bugs!” Kada finished.

“You have bugs?!” Esperanza said with enthusiasm.

Most of the Earth-insects on Bethel stayed in the areas of the zones where they were let loose. Both Noni and Kada always called those by their specific type. The only insects that they ever just called bugs, because no one had decided it was important enough to give any specific name to their species, were the indigenous ones that came up and cleared the biowaste. You never saw bugs unless they were working.

No one had decided to study the bugs closely, yet. …which would likely require interrupting them while they were tearing down carcasses, or whatever else. The speed at which they could remove a twenty-ton carnivore carcass meant that a bite from one of them would probably be quite painful, as a substantial portion of whatever they bit would be theirs to keep. And if pulling even one away from what they were doing diverted the entire hoard … well … No one had decided to study the indigenous Bethel insects closely, yet.

But if they actually had one…

If anyone actually managed to get one, it would be one of my girls. They probably didn’t. But, still…

Esperanza’s first though was that it couldn’t be a bug. But her second was that … it was the twins. Her twins. …which changed the odds substantially. Even still… She didn’t know what they were up to this time, but they were always up to something. Children were always children. …normally. But, these two… These two had a sense of humor that was far beyond children. Any children.

Far more often than not, the adults in the immediate family were the ones who ended up on the short end of whatever the twins’ joke was at that particular moment. Mom and Dad were almost always the targets. …the grandparents never were, though. Esperanza wasn’t quite sure how she felt about that little quirk. …but she certainly had not the slightest problem with sharing.

She and Michael always had to be on their guard.

That being said … Esperanza wasn’t sure whether curiosity or self-preservation should take precedence. She definitely wanted to know if they had a bug, but she also knew that she’d be better off sending them to Michael if they didn’t.

But she couldn’t tell, and she wasn’t given the chance to decide.

“Yes, Mommy! She’s got…” Noni started.

“A nillion of them!” Kada finished.

They did that so often, finishing each other’s sentences perfectly. It was almost like their minds were attached, somehow.

“A nillion?” Esperanza asked, as if it was a huge number.

Where did she come up with a nillion?

“Yes, Mommy!” Kada started.

“A nillion!” Noni finished.

Okay. …I’ll bite. …I am SO going to regret this.

“Are you sure you don’t mean a million?”

“Yes, Mommy…” Kada started.

“We’re sure.” Noni finished.

“You know how many a million is, right?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“It’s a one with how many zeros after it?”

Kada quickly shifted her hands so she could use one of them. She held up her right hand with three fingers showing. The other was cupped against her stomach. Noni held her left hand up, beside Kada’s with three more fingers showing.

“So how many zeros are in a nillion?”

“Just one, Mommy.” Kada had that one all by herself.

“Just one, huh. And what’s in front of it?”

“Nothing, Mommy,” Noni started.

“It’s a nillion,” Kada finished blankly. She took the cupped hand away from her stomach and held that hand up, her thumb and forefinger in a circle.

They skipped off laughing, headed back outside.

Michael laughed from the doorway, from where he’d been listening to the discussion.

“I am so absolutely glad I didn’t have a mouthful of tea. It would have come out my nose, for sure.”

He came around and stood next to his wife, watching the twins through the window as they sat together in the grass.

“How is it,” Esperanza started exasperatedly, “that they always manage to get me? They’re children!”

“Well… The good news is that they might be children, but they’re geniuses, too. The other good news is that they get me just as often as they do you. When you’re working, they have no one else to torment. So, I’m it.”

“Good news. Great. So, what’s the bad news?” Esperanza looked at her husband, thinking that, after she’d said it … she really didn’t want to know.

“They’re only four years old.”

Esperanza’s shoulders dropped, and she closed her eyes.

Michael wrapped his arms around his wife.

“We’re in trouble, aren’t we,” she said, sounding defeated. Her head dropped heavily to his shoulder.

“Yep,” was all Michael said.


*****


“She’s Wakanda, Mom. I’m Winona.”

“Nice try. You’re Kada. She’s Noni. And it doesn’t matter which place you’re sitting at.”

“Mom!”

Michael decided to chime in. …since the twins weren’t on top with this one. Normally, he just stayed quietly off to the side, and let his wife take the brunt of the girls’ jokes.

It’s more a matter of survival instincts than cowardice. The girls are never malicious, but they’re jokes can be brutal. …in a fun way. …but I don’t need to make myself any more of a target than I already am.

“Someday, you’ll figure it out. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

“And some of us, you can’t fool any of the time,” Esperanza added.

“Your mother and I … wouldn’t necessarily be two of the last, but on this one … you’re not going to win.”

“Like you do almost all the rest of the time,” Esperanza added.

“You’re not playing fair.”

“Wait,” Esperanza interrupted, raising an eyebrow. “So … we’re supposed to pretend to be fooled…?”

“Well…” Kada started.

“No.” Noni finish.

“You’re really…” Kada started.

“…supposed to be fooled.” Noni finished, without even a pause between them.

“Now, that, on the other hand, makes it hard to remember there are two of you, and not just one,” Michael stated.

“…whichever one of the two of you that you both are at the moment,” Esperanza qualified. She crossed her eyes at her daughters and waggled her head sideways, while leaning forward slightly.

The girls on the other side of the table giggled.

They were nine years old.

And far too overly serious, normally, for being so young. …even if they do like to play pranks like this on us most of the time. It’s when they’re working, like at school … or doing anything anywhere else that’s other than amusing themselves … that they’re too serious.

The twins seemed to know, instinctively, that they would have tasks when they grew up. And they seemed to understand that those tasks would be important ones. Although, while Noni already knew what hers would be, Kada’s task was a little more nebulous. Even given that disparity on the course of their futures, there was complete understanding between the twins on that particular situation, and they were inseparable. They each shared in the other’s joys and sorrows, both.

Kada received all the same education and training that Noni did. Sometime from now, those would diverge, though. Unless Noni was somehow rendered incapable … which was impossible, to date, short of death on Bethel … eventually, she would become the People’s Guide.

Kada, however… Kada would have the option to choose a career for herself. The People’s Guide having more than one child wasn’t unusual. Kada was already showing a keen interest in, and an acute aptitude for, Ark Project management. …not so much with what the Ark put out and when, as it was with overseeing and working with what was already out and trying to take hold in the zones.

The zones were sections of Bethel’s southern life belt that were being converted to areas equivalent to the different continents of the Earth. That conversion was being accomplished through the contents of the Timothy’s gene and seed bank. The Ark. Bethel, oddly enough … or not so oddly, depending on how you wanted to view it … was accepting everything brought out from the Ark. That acceptance was odd if you only looked at Bethel as a normal planet. …which … it wasn’t. …not by a long shot.

Bethel was an extreme anomaly of a world.

Bethel’s total surface area was about fourteen times the entire size of old Earth. If Bethel’s overall density had been comparable to Earth’s, such as with Earth’s liquid metal core, Bethel’s gravitational force would have been crushing. But, to the original settlers, while the gravitational pull was noticeably stronger than ship-normal, it wasn’t overwhelming. Earth’s gravitational pull had been measured at thirty-two feet per sec, per sec. The lack of magnetic poles suggested that Bethel didn’t have a liquid-metal core. That, and a surface gravitational pull of only forty-three feet per sec, per sec, highly suggested that Bethel might even be hollow.

Its surface was solid, for the most part, with a nearly circular ocean at the top and another at the bottom of the planet, both being almost exactly the same size … equivalent to about the entire surface area of old Earth, each. Top and bottom were arbitrary terms because there was no sun and, therefore, nothing to revolve around. The stars couldn’t be seen because of the energy shimmering in the air. So, no axial tilt or rotation could be discerned. Because of the lack of a sun, there were no seasons. Since the center of the oceans were as good a place as any, and easier to locate, those centers were designated as the planet’s poles.

Bethel’s two life zones were approximately equivalent to five times the entire surface area of old Earth, each. The barrens, well more than a thousand miles wide, split the two life zones into equal sections, all three of those non-ocean sections circled the world completely. …as did the rains.

A band of clouds ran from ocean to ocean, circling the planet, perpendicular to, and broken only at, the barrens. The rains would start abruptly. You could see the cloud line approaching, well before it arrived. The rains also stopped just as abruptly, three hours later. The thirty-hour interval between the rains was constant, which meant that the movement of the cloud band was constant, as well. Since the band completely circled the planet every sixty-six hours, half that … the time from the end of one rain to the end of the next … was a better day delineator than anything else.

The lack of a light source from a nearby star should have left Bethel a dark and frozen rock. But, it wasn’t. The air was a constant seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Light came from everywhere and nowhere. It was just there. Everywhere. There were no shadows anywhere. It took far less than one migration cycle, after the original settlers had crashed, before everyone stopped noticing the shimmering. It was just there. Like the air.

The down side of that particular condition was that there was no night. No seasons. No regional climactic changes. …not that lacking those bothered the people in any way. Their ancestors had lived on starships well before the crash. But, that very lack should have made growing the Earth-plants impossible, since those were well adapted to having day, night, and seasons.

The migration cycle happened every five hundred Bethel-days. So, that span was declared the Bethel year. Since Liberty Township was the first permanent human settlement, that longitude was considered the date line. The start of the next year was when the migration passed Liberty. A year was divided into ten months. A month was divided into ten weeks. Each week had five days. The two weeks of the migration cycle were the last and first weeks of the year.

Three days before the first wave of migration, the ground would get hard, even in the settlements.

When the herbivores migrated, they ate the entire fiddlehead forest right down to the ground. New herbivores were born on the move. After giving birth, the adults died. No corpses were ever found that hadn’t appeared to have given birth. After the herbivore wave had passed, the landscape was barren except for all the carcasses left by the migration.

No bacteria on existed on Bethel to cause the carcasses to rot. …which would seem to be a two-edged sword. The carcasses don’t go away. …but they don’t stink, either.

Three days after the herbivores, a wave of carnivores goes through. They eat the herbivore carcasses, leaving nothing left of the those. As with the first wave, the carnivores are born on the move. After they give birth, they die. The New Year delineator, as a pinpoint, is an hour and a half after the beginning of the carnivore wave. After that wave has gone by, the landscape is covered by only the carcasses of the carnivores.

While the grown fiddlehead trees couldn’t be eaten by humans, the sprouts could. The herbivore carcasses couldn’t be eaten, but the carnivores could. There were, however, far more carnivores left behind than the humans could ever dispose of. But, after those lay for three days, insects come up out of the ground and devour the carnivore carcasses. When they’re finished, the insects go back into the ground.

Three days after the insects have cleared the landscape, leaving it completely bare again, the ground softens, and the fiddleheads begin to grow.

Throughout the entire cycle, none of the Bethel fauna intrudes on any of the areas claimed by the humans. Each wave takes three hours to pass. Each wave is packed tightly with their single species, and they move far slower than the rains.

While the people had plenty of water, because of the rain, for the entire ten days of the migration cycle, the fiddleheads wouldn’t grow. Earth-origin flora and fauna were still plentiful, however, which was much of the human diet.

More than anything else, the frequency of the migration had to do with the speed at which the animals walked. Just as with the clouds and rain, there were four lines of each of the two species. If the lines were connected, they would circle the planet. All three of them, the rains, the herbivores, and the carnivores, all went in the same direction.

It took a thousand days for the lines of animals to circle Bethel completely. …which meant that the migration was moving at just under three miles per hour, at the barrens. …which made the migration line just under nine miles thick. Closer to the ocean, the migration line was thinner and moved more slowly. Even still, it was impossible to observe any single animal long enough to know how long it actually lived, or how fast it grew. If it took nine miles of the herbivores to clear all the fiddleheads to the ground, at its widest and fastest point, then it seemed that they couldn’t be doing much more than eating at a rate that would be a normal easy pace for a human.

Considering the herbivores and carnivores … nobody had given them any other name yet … had no output to their digestive tract, everything they ate was converted to growth. The carcasses weighed somewhere around twenty tons. They would take a while to reach maturity, considering how little they must actually eat during the course of any given day. That also seemed to suggest, that their lifetimes should be definable to the minute, since everything else about them seemed to be consistently constant.

That was, largely, all that was known about the migrations. Because they were always on the move, the only way any of it could be studied was with the shuttle. Since any kind of scanners could only work at a very short range, the studies made from the shuttle were by sight, only. The only other way to study a migration line was to be standing right in the middle of it as it went by.

Bethellians knew that the planet had been specifically engineered. And they knew that it had been engineered specifically for the crew of the Timothy and the survivors of the Sanctuary and their descendants. They knew it had been engineered specifically to accommodate the Ark. And they knew that God was that specific engineer, and that he had been directly and actively involved with bringing them here and keeping them safe.

But they also knew that God did appear to have a limit on what he would tolerate, as far as stupidity went. Free will didn’t mean that someone could choose to stand in the middle of the fiddleheads during a migration, and God would keep them untouched. It was possible. From all the things humanity had witnessed and been through, it was easily possible, if that’s what God chose. But, no one really wanted to push their luck quite that far.

So, the studying of Bethel’s only three species of fauna was done from a safe distance, and/ or after that wave had gone by. And the studiers were quite happy to leave it just that way. The insects could be studied a little more closely, but, again, no one wanted to disturb what they were doing. …not to mention that it was hard to watch them tear down a carcass. Because there were so many of the insects involved, the surface of the piles looked almost fluid as it sank back into the ground over the course of only three hours.

And that was the entire ecological cycle of Bethel. Short. Simple.

The only indigenous flora … the bamboo-like plants that the humans called fiddleheads, due to the sprouts … grew copiously. They were a continuous mass, interrupted only by the migration. They never changed form or function, other than just growing and feeding the herbivores. …unless the humans used them for something else.

The Earth-plants from the Ark seemed to keep all their own original cycles, modified to a Bethel year, regardless of where they had latitudinally been on the Earth. Sugar Maples lost their leaves around the middle of the tenth month and grew them back starting the middle of the third. Maple sap could be collected and made into maple syrup during the first half of the third month. …all with a complete lack of winter. In exactly the same climate, camelthorn trees grew in the African zone.

The North America inland zone was complete. From Ai’s records, the space it took up, as best he could tell, was about the same size as Earth’s North America continent. Considering that a large area of what used to be Canada was mostly uninhabited, everything had plenty of room. So far, the zone had cooperated with being contained to the size it already had reached. The flora and fauna had rooted quickly and thrived. It had been slowly expanding on its own, eastward, and on a spiral path south.

The African zone, well to the east of North America, was more than started, but not yet near able to sustain itself effectively. It needed more lakes and canals to be excavated. The construction happened as a zone moved outward and needed another water source to keep the Earth-fauna from leaving that area.

The Eurasian zone was only just beginning on the side opposite of North America from Africa. Eurasia had started expanding westward along the barrens, keeping to the basic shape and length as the other zones.

More than two-thirds of the People worked on the Ark Project in some fashion and to some degree. Kada was one of those. Her standing among the People could have helped her advance in certain areas. But, those weren’t the areas she was gravitating toward. Even though the twins’ educations and training had been the same up until recently, Kada was already taking on additional subjects. …and she was passing them easily and quickly.

Strangely enough, the course path she had chosen … had extremely little to do with the Ark Project.

Having discovered that numbers and calculations came easy, she decided to challenge herself. She’d already gone through Algebra and Geometry in just the last few months. Given descriptions of the more advanced math classes, she was expressing an interest in Trigonometry and Abstract Algebra. She wanted to take Mathematical Physics. Even though she’d likely never use it, she’d also wanted to take Interstellar Ballistics. Ai had it in his files, because it was something starships used. But, she thought she should probably wait until she got through all the Calculus courses before trying the hard stuff.

The hard stuff, she called it. Ai doesn’t have any record of anyone who’s ever gone through the math courses that quickly. The Unity people were genetically modified to be, among other things, more receptive to acquiring knowledge in addition to what they already had implanted. But Ai said they were programmed at a steady, controlled pace, and they were never allowed to deviate from that pace.


*****


“I don’t know how you can do all that math and science.”

Winona knew that she would be the People Guide, taking over for her mother when Esperanza decided to retire. As such, Winona was excelling at her Theology, Philosophy, Management, and Sociology courses. Wakanda had the freedom to choose her path. …unless Winona was somehow killed.

While accidents sometimes did happen, they were usually limited to certain jobs. …like working with predator strains from the Ark. There was a wide variety of those spread throughout the three zones. Some of them were relentless. You really had to know what you were doing if you worked with the Ark Project. Being the People’s Guide, though … carried a decidedly lower risk factor.

“Well,” Kada admitted. “To tell you the truth … I just kinda pretend I’m you. Then everything gets easier. It’s kinda like we’re two parts of the same brain. You’re really good at all kinds of stuff that I have to plod through. Like people. You’re wonderful at talking with people. Me and people… not so much. I don’t fit in anywhere. …and everybody knows it. Including me.”

“Yes, you do, sister-mine!”

“No. See… It’s hard to talk with anyone except for Ai and Dad about a lot of things. …and not even Dad about a bunch of those. And it’s easy to talk to you and Mom about other things. But, when it’s all said and done … what is there that I can actually use all the math for? Mathematical Physics is fun … in a weird kinda way … but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to using any of it in the foreseeable future.”

“I don’t know. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it can’t. It only means that it hasn’t.”

“Well… I feel good just walking through the fiddleheads by myself. I was looking at stuff to do when we’re done with school. Dad says that sometimes some of the animals should have a little help with their population cycles. Sometimes part of the chain gets a little thin. It’s the predators overhunting that usually cause that. Some of them will. I think I want to work there.”


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