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Copyright 2013 Arturo F. Campo

Published by Arturo F. Campo at Shakespir

2nd Edition

 

 

 

Shakespir 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 enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Prologue – World Unprepared

Prelude – Love One Another

Episode One

Amo Obib

Planet Earth

The Dream

The Ape Project

Faith Versus Logic

The Dilemma

God’s Side

EPISODE TWO

King Arth

The Hearing and Judgement

Argument Over Justice

Timely and Fruitful

The Crisis

Armies at War

The Greatest Battle

Power Struggle

The Fight for the Rians

EPISODE THREE

Theory of Relativity

The Hybrids

The Excursions

Caught in the Act

Last Farewell

EPISODE FOUR

Meeting Lulu

The Sale of Cleopatra’s Coin

Sleeper in the Midst

The Russian Alpha Project

JP and his Father

Marriage Proposal

The Laser Gun

Third World War

The Final Decision.

 

Dedication

Acknowledgements

 

About Arturo F. Campo

Connect with Arturo F. Campo

INTRODUCTION

Man, seeks peace and creates institutions to uphold it. Yet the very institution he creates lends itself to destroy the very essence of its existence. He has entrusted his quest for peace through a system that does not preclude megalomaniacs from rising to power. History attests to the havoc wrought by few to the lives of thousands. With man’s technology now, millions are at risk.

 

In resolution to human conflicts, man used the word ‘PEACE’ so flagrantly that its meaning has evolved to acquire value onto itself. It has become a commodity man can buy, sell, trade or usurp. It has become conditional. . . “Peace be with you or else . . .” Yet true peace cannot be conditional. Man has arrogated its real meaning that when he calls for ‘World Peace,’ he means ‘World Order.’ The dove is a hawk.

Today, the price for peace is pitiful—-indifference to human misfortunes. History bears testament to the brutalities by which man achieves and upholds peace. Under its name, wars were, are, and will be waged. People unwittingly rally to their leaders’ cause for a war that brings them to a carnage by a conviction few understands; a handful question; and the majority swept by a tide of indifference. Thus, the killing fields are drenched in the blood of thousands of soldiers mixed with the miseries of millions of incidental casualties to war—-the innocent men, women, and children—-people drawn to the debauchery not by choice but by circumstance. Regrettably, man accepts these tragedies as normal. The atrocities, justified! The depravity, reasoned out! Rational, yet irrational. Justifiable inhumanity, lamentable it may be, is man’s price for peace.

It is strange, for if you changed the word PEACE to POWER or GREED and worst still to MEGALOMANIACAL AMBITION and reread the last paragraph, it will not change its message. How can words with distinct meanings, share the same thought? It is a paradox. For this, man is ever suspicious; intent is always an issue. Distrust breeds and fear takes control. Man, the intelligent being, is the most insecure creature on planet Earth.

The solution to human problems stems not from the failure to see but in choosing to be blind to what we see. World problems are complex, yet the solution is simple and stares us in our face--- Love One Another. Its absence is man’s greatest tragedy.

 

PRELUDE

Love God and One Another

(Naska is Imar)

 

 

A solar system, over half a billion light years from our sun and 2.3 million years ago, was doomed. On the fourth of seven planets called Ria lived a singular race of peaceful people—-the Rians.

 

The Rian’s way of life revolved around their belief in one God and in His greatest law: ‘Naska is Imar’ a constricted phrase to mean ‘Love God and One Another’. The phrase, despite its literal meaning, expresses different things under different circumstances: to thank, to greet or bid farewell, to console or condole, to congratulate, or merely to remind each other of its importance to their life.

 

In their society, there are farmers, industrial workers, clerks, and managerial classes. Work distinctions with no social meaning. There are no literal words for war, vengeance, deceit, or treachery. With one race, government, religion, and complete harmonious coexistence, theirs is a dream society – a utopia.

Highly advanced in science and technology, the Rians did not foresee the freak in nature. Their sun was young by astral standard and believed it to shine for millions of years. It was not so. Without warning, it blew its surface hurling a massive molten mass twenty times larger than their planet that headed directly for it. They have 167 days to flee their planet and their solar system.

 

 

 

EPISODE ONE

 

 

WORLD UNPREPARED

 

Late January, 1997, Bering Strait, Alaska.

 

Parked at the predeparture bay of a huge pyramid-shape spaceship was a lone sixty-foot wide saucer-shaped airship. It was the only one left of the thirty-four they started with. The light that streamed out of its opened doorway faintly illuminated the area nearby. Elsewhere, a humongous empty space hidden in darkness.

Two humanlike figures, Amo Obib and his wife, Ningning, were seated on a wooden bench by the airship’s ramp side. They were waiting for their five children to bid their last farewell. Sadness had weakened their spirit and a deep sense of loneliness prevailed. They were very much in the own thoughts. Thoughts of hopelessness, of fears, and of trepidation for what the future would hold for their children once the left the spaceship.

 

Ningning’s tears had reddened her eyes and welted her eyelids. She held on to her husband’s, Amo Obib, left arm and melancholy leaned her head on his shoulder holding back herself from crying. She could only wish things went differently. “I fear . . .,” she choked, “I fear we are sending our children to a world that is not prepared for them.”

Amo Obib felt her hands clasped his arm, her head on his shoulder. He shared her sadness, her concerns, the mixed feelings of anxieties and helplessness. In a sigh, sadly answered, “I wish we had a choice.” He paused and in an uncertain tone of voice continued, “In all the years I observed Humans, I never understood them. Power, greed, and mistrust are things that shape their destiny. Never in history have they thought of themselves as one, earthlings. Countries, races, tribes, families, and even within their own family, they compete against each other. I do not understand,” he paused again as he struggled to make sense of it.

“It’s sad,” he continued, “for it is within the human’s power to make this planet a wonderful place to live. If they only knew the value in loving and helping each other, they could make their world a paradise. It perplexes me,” he sighed again, his head bowed slightly, eyes stared blankly at the floor. In recollection added, “Nengut was right . . . our culture and upbringing will never allow us to comprehend humans explicitly and neither will they of us.”

Ningning was taken aback, surprised. She slowly lifted her head from his shoulder to see his face. There was no expression, solemn, deep in thoughts. Never had she heard him talk of human frailties. He was always optimistic of what humans could do and achieve for themselves and for others. She wondered herself: ‘So many things are in their favor yet ignore their blessings and take a course that may destroy the wonderful things they have—-their family, their friends, and even their only world. They seem not to care, indifferent to what has happened around them and their future.’

 

Amo Obib’s chest heaved. Fresh air filled his lungs then expelled words curved out of deeply hidden torments. “Our deaths will mark the end of the Rian civilization in this universe,” he said sadly. Then a question heavy in his mind came and he asked Ningning, “Did I fail the many who pinned their hopes on me?”

Ningning looked at her husband’s face again. She felt his anguish, the frustrations, his unanswered questions, the doubts that haunted him through the years. She held back her tears from falling for her husband’s sake. She knew how heavy his burdens were yet spoke not a word of it through all the years of trials until now. She replied putting as much feelings placed in her words, “You were always at your best at the worst of times. I do not say this to please you, my husband, but as a Rian you are an exceptional leader, a worthy amo. As your wife, I am so proud of you,” and, uncontrollably, a tear came out from each eye, crept down her cheeks, fell, and soaked on her skirt.

 

  • * *

 

The dialogue was between two aliens. The only survivors of the thirty-six passengers of a gigantic pyramid-shaped spaceship forced to land on our planet Earth 2.3 million years ago. It lies hidden within a cavern of a barren basalt island amidst the many within a shoal between Siberia and Alaska – the Bering Straits. Though they came from a distant planet called Ria, 579 million light years from planet Earth, they could walk among earthlings and would merely turn heads much like seeing the Bushmen of Kalahari, short and lean. But unlike the Bushmen, they were bald-headed with almond shaped eyes, brow-less, lighter in complexion, small ears, and slit-like lips on their mouth.

Amo Obib was no ordinary Rian citizen. He was the ‘Amo’, the Supreme Head for both Rian Church and State—-his power absolute. His attire was no different from the rest: off-white in color, Nero-type collar, long sleeves, and a pocket-less pants. It was the gold-chained triangular medallion, with an eye deeply engraved, that distinguished him from the rest. It represented his supreme authority over all Rian citizens.

 

Ningning said on seeing a group appear at the fringed of the lighted area, “Here they come,” then composed herself as she and Amo Obib stood.

Five young women, humans in all respect in their early twenty’s, walked towards them. Everyone had long straight hairs parted off-center that fell over their shoulders. They wore plain white dress, collared, and long sleeves. Two have Caucasian features; two with Asians; and a Negress. Ningning expected each to have a suitcase in their hand but had none and wondered. She remained calm and held her husband’s left hand – her face bore a welcome smile.

Of the five women, Lulu, a Caucasian, had beautiful blue almond-shaped eyes and a sweet looking face. A natural born leader, a trait she inherited from her father and the rest of her, sweet, much like her mother. She stood in front of her sisters. Apprehensive in manner said, “My Father, we humbly request your permission to stay here with Mama and you till the end.”

Ningning, on seeing Amo Obib, looked away pressed for words, intervened, “Please, do not make it harder for us,” then hid her face on Amo’s chest and whimpered.

Heavy hearted, close to tears, Amo Obib addressed their children, “You will never realize how hard it is for your Mama and I see you all go until you become parents.” He paused; looked at Lulu and saw her posture in submission. He concluded, “Our time together has ended.”

Ningning looked at her children. She managed a broken smile amidst tears. Lapped with sadness, her voice quivered, “We love you all so dearly.”

Amo Obib heard Ningning sob and saw their children whimper at their place. He stayed silent, consolation he had none. Eyes moistened, he waited for them to gain their composure then reminded their children, “Never forget you are Rians by heart though you are biologically human. Never forget your mission—-help humankind without ever revealing your real nature. Work hard to make this beautiful planet a wonderful world to live in. Be a good wife, a mother, and an exceptional citizen of this planet.”

One of the five women broke in desperation, “What if I found a way to save you?” as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. “What if . . .”

“Say no more,” Amo Obib interrupted. “Again, I stress . . . do nothing to save your mother and I. Do not take any risk that may reveal your true nature. You are a by-product of genetic engineering. If this be known, your children and their children will suffer the consequences. Freak is a harsh word some humans might use. Think no longer of us. Take strength that God loves and be with you, as your Mama and I, always.” He turned to Ningning and asked nicely, “Do you have anything to add, Ningning?”

Flooded with mixed emotions, Ningning’s lips quivered, a tear fell but no words came out of her mouth.

Amo Obib sadly looked at Ningning then to their children, said, “Please get your suitcase.”

 

In sadness, Amo Obib and Ningning watched their children go back to get their suitcase. They watched them walked away beyond their sight in the shadow of darkness then sat again on the wooden bench.

Ningning held on to Amo Obib’s arm and sadly leaned her head on his shoulder.

Amo Obib gently stroked her hands on his arm and, as he did, a question flashed in his mind, ‘Where did all these begin?’ then drifted back in time, 2.3 million years ago, and half-a-billion light years away from Earth.

 

Force Landing

 

A solitary pyramid-shaped spaceship zoomed through deep space. It did not have door bays, portholes nor any signs of structural seams leaving but a perfectly smooth metallic gray colored surface that mirrored the millions of galaxies around. It had skirted many galaxies, and in some through its maze of billions of stars. Straight ahead, the last galaxy within a galaxy cluster loomed. At its course, it would pass thru its spiral arm, through a solar system, and from there, head to another abyss of black space.

Not apparent, the pyramid ship was composed of two modules seamlessly attached together. The top portion of the ship was the mother ship. It housed the Command Center, all the laboratories, and the power generator that drove the entire vessel. Directly under, was the gigantic Colonizing Module it ferried.

 

The Colonizing Module was but a gargantuan storehouse. The entire top level had half-a-million honeycomb of hexagonal hibernating capsules. A little over half were filled with Rians in deep-sleep, oblivious to time. The balance was eerily empty. The levels underneath, and there were over a thousand, resembled a warehouse of things needed to start a technologically advanced colony on a habitable planet within their galaxy or, if they had to, in another galaxy. A number of these levels were filled with knockdown shells of houses and factories, office and house furnishings, several levels full of light and heavy industrial machineries, and equipment. The succeeding levels were huge storage spaces of assembled trucks, buses, cars, aircrafts, and boats of different sizes.

Noticeable to all levels were the utilization of spaces between odd-shape cargoes and even within the cargo themselves – all crammed with packed items, some squeezed in small crevices. Conspicuous were the wear and tear marks on the things they brought – mostly used, and hurriedly packaged and stored. To the end of bringing as much as they could, it was excellently done.

 

In partially filled compartments, where stocking activities must have occurred, lifeless bodies of aliens littered the floor. Passageways showed signs of a calamity striking suddenly and all over. Wreck vehicles, mostly transports of various kinds, remained motionless and, others, smashed up against walls, embedded to crates, or to each other. At most exit and entrance bays, and there were thousands all over the Colonizing Module, a number of vehicles were pinned and cut in two underneath shut bay doors. Fire extinguishers lay about near smoke marked walls, ceilings, and sites of wreckage. Some still clutched by someone on the floor. The sights of death and chaotic scenes created a picture of a hurried endeavor to fully load the ship that abruptly and catastrophically ended.

Oddly, for a ship of this immense size and its complement of over 250,000 passengers, there were no sleeping quarters, no mess halls or kitchens anywhere! Such may reveal itself if the cargoes were removed but not at its present state.

 

Within the Mother Ship, the stocked scene was repeated but no dead Alien anywhere. Except for one room, the Command Center, all other rooms were packed full of crates and boxes that spilled over all the hallways. The elevators were not spared – it had but a small space for one occupant, if at all.

The Command Center was circular in shape and the only room devoid of cargoes. It was dimly lighted by the soft glow from thirty-six hibernating capsules that stood upright and half-embedded on the side walls. The room’s flight information screen occupied the front and the back wall, a closed door.

An arch flight control console with three swivel seats fronted a large main screen followed by a slightly raised Flight Commander’s chair. Behind the Commander’s chair was a podium that elevated an arched armchair for two for the Amo and his wife. Rows of seats occupied the gallery at the rear.

Within the hibernating capsules, a milky white cloud circulated. Every now and then, a silhouette of the alien, frozen in time, was revealed. Everyone wore identical skin-tight and silk-white uniforms that outlined their lean statured body – the women had raffled collar and at the ends of each sleeve while the men merely had a slit on them. One had a triangular granite medallion that hanged on his neck with an eye heavily engraved.

 

A soft hum from the ship’s propulsion unit permeated the room. On the flight information screen, in Alien writing, were the flight summaries. One in bold letters read in translation, ‘All systems: NORMAL’.

 

Suddenly, the ship’s siren broke the silence and the ceiling lighted up. Simultaneously, the milky cloud within the hibernating capsules got sucked to its side. The main screen redrew itself, adding detailed flight status data. Flashing on the screen’s top, in red, was the bold warning: “IMMEDIATE DECISION REQUIRED”. Seconds later, the aliens within the capsules began to breathe.

 

The piercing sound of wailing siren jarred Nerus, the Ship Commander and Expedition Head, to consciousness. He had experienced these things in simulations but it was now for real. He felt his heart pound—-eager to act but helpless as the acclimation cycle must take its course. A minute later, the sound of the siren abruptly stopped and, simultaneously, all the capsule doors slid sideways. Primed for action, everyone rushed out of their capsule. Three of the ship’s flight engineers dashed for their work station at the front of the room and, in urgency, did a system check; Amo Obib lead Ningning by her hand and walked briskly for the arched chair; and thirty, Ria’s youngest and brightest in the field of medicine and biological sciences, ran towards the gallery at the rear. Tense bodies and anxious faces prevailed.

Commander Nerus left his capsule with eyes in search for a red warning light on the main screen. There was no red flashing light! Clueless to the danger heightened his concerns. He raced towards the command chair, the only place he could execute ship functions, and, the moment he sat, commanded, “Goopersh, shut off propulsion!”

“Propulsion off,” Goopersh, the ship’s master computer, responded in a lifeless monotone.

Commander Nerus was lost and confused. Goopersh message should have pointed directly the problem but did not and all operating system status indicated ‘NORMAL’ His eyes strained through the list of ship status in the order of importance on the main screen. His breath held momentarily to a non-critical line that read: Flight Mode: MANUAL. ‘It should read, ‘AUTOMATIC’, he thought. Questions of its implications flashed rapidly through his mind. He knew the speed limit maxed at the speed of light yet the speed indicator read, ‘BEYOND RANGE.’Beyond range?’ he questioned himself. He shifted focus to the fuel and found temporary relief – it showed one-fifth full. He deduced a possible abnormality in the new propulsion units powered by an untested fuel. The new fuel was theoretically plausible for space exploration that covered distances between galaxies and compact. It harbored tremendous energy, capable of destroying their solar system and was never put into use until they knew their planet was doomed.

His attention was diverted to the Flight Engineers successive verbal reports. It confirmed his hunch and quickly questioned, “Goopersh, there is nothing wrong with the ship. What triggered the alarm?”

“I did,” Goopersh replied laconically.

Commander Nerus’s body lurched on Goopersh’s laconic reply. Confused to what Goopersh meant, he snapped in urgency, “Your recommendation?”

“Eject the Colonizing Module and land on the only habitable planet along the flight path.”

Attention focused on the hundreds of thousands Rians in hibernation within the Colonizing Module, the commander asked, “What will happen to the Colonizing Module?”

“It will disintegrate,” Goopersh replied devoid of emotion.

In desperation, he asked, “It is imperative we increase the survivability for all. Do I have an option?”

“One. Success probability, nil.”

“How?”

“Release Colonizing Module at galactic orbital speed. Lighten the Mother Ship before engaging the propulsion unit for landing. Window to implement: twelve seconds.”

Without hesitation, commanded, “Goopersh, activate the Colonizing Module’s distress signal. Implement the option, now!”

“Implementing,” Goopersh reacted. “Please be seated firmly.” And simultaneously, the safety harness enveloped each like a cocoon securely to their seat.

 

The pyramid ship rotated 180-degrees from its axis then the propulsion unit went on-line with a pulsating hum that crescendo to a deafening roar as the ship wobbled violently. The Rian’s body strained as each got tossed side to side at random within the harness that secured each tightly to their seat. In Commander Nerus’ mind, he cheered, ‘Slow down, slow down!’—-their lives depended on the ship’s structural integrity to overcome the stress exerted to rapidly decelerate the ship’s speed down to sub-light level. At its worst, the intense wobbling stopped; their harness slid to the seat’s side; then silence followed by a loud thud together with a sharp jolt.

The tense atmosphere in the room was replaced by relief then awe as they viewed their ship on the main screen detached itself from the colonizing module it ferried then floated sideways. Huge by itself, the Mother Ship was very small compared to the humongous Colonizing Module. On clearing it, the propulsion unit restarted and, instantly, the module disappeared from view on the screen as the spaceship rapidly decelerated. The ship hummed as it aligned itself to its destination then silence triggered a sense of gloom within the room. The Rians knew the Colonizing Module housed everything they needed to build a colony, more so, the thought of knowing hundreds of thousands of their shipmates in hibernation were within its walls.

 

Goopersh announced, “Colonizing Module in galactic orbit. Cruising on ship’s inertia. Travel time to target planet: 1,272 years. Danger, over,” and the warning light on the screen went blank.

With heightened concern, Commander Nerus asked, “How long will the batteries powering the hibernating capsules last?”

“Hibernating capsules on both this ship and Colonizing Module will last approximately two point three million years.”

“How many are in the Colonizing Module?”

“Last report: 254,351.”

The words and number caught his attention. The module could accommodate half a million Rians in hibernation and the term ‘Last report’ bothered him. “Download ship status for review,” he commanded then convened a Flight Staff meeting at the adjoining room.

 

The Predicament

 

Rians, in small groups, chatted in low voice within the Command Center. Wary of their uncertain fate, an uneasy hush followed the moment Commander Nerus and his staff returned to the room. The Rians along the Commander’s direct path to the amo moved aside.

The commander addressed the amo with reverend, “My Amo, I will brief you on our situation.”

“Good,” Amo Obib reacted eagerly.

Commander Nerus led the amo to the room he came from. It was small, claustrophobic—-the rectangular table with four chairs on its sides occupied most of the floor space; its walls were bare. It represented the ship’s design criteria—-maximum use of space.

Commander Nerus courteously led the amo to sit close to the door for ease of access. The adjacent chair he sat on was but an inch from the wall. Aware of their problem and with no solid solution, he said with concern, “My Amo, when Goopersh said our chance of landing safely was nil, it computed the things to dispose from the ship prior to landing. Saving time on the twelve seconds left us the safe margin to land but not much more.”

“Not much more?” Amo Obib responded with surprise then apprehension. It was open knowledge that the fuel the ship carried was sufficient for their purpose—-enough to explore thousands of planets in dozens of galaxies and still provide power to the new colony’s need for a thousand years. To run out of it seemed unbelievable.

“Unfortunately, we were launched on manual mode at maximum power that we depleted our fuel just cruising thru the vastness of outer space and slowing down the ship.”

Worriedly, the amo asked, “Where do we stand?”

“Once on the planet and at minimal use of the ship’s remaining fuel, two-years maximum and we living within the confines of the ship—-the radiation that streams out of the planet’s core is high, high enough to confine us to the ship.”

Amo Obib, a biochemist and genetic engineer before he became an amo, knew its adverse effects on their health. He pondered not on the danger it posed on them but on the viability of colonizing the planet. “Can we go to another planet?”

“The planet is the only one we can land on with living conditions close to ours. Missing it will mean either the ship or the hibernating capsules running out of power before we can come near another galaxy.”

“You said two years maximum?”

“Yes. My Amo, all of the ship’s operating systems and its structural integrity are dependent on the energy converter. If we turn on the converter just to power basic systems, we have no more than two years of fuel. At depletion, the ship will explode. Fortunately, Goopersh left out the ship’s redundant systems. If we disposed the redundant systems, we have twenty-three years’ worth of fuel utilizing all of the ships facilities. We can add more if we strip the ship of its non-essential elements and dispose of supplies we can live without or make once on the planet. It’s worth the inconvenience and risk,” the commander stressed.

Amo Obib was uneasy. His face, a worried look, as he considered the commander’s proposal. Shortly after, he said, “As you aptly put it, we will throw anything we can live without. We will take the risk on the removal of all redundant systems and discuss what we will do with the added time once on the planet.” He curiously asked, “Are there intelligent beings on the planet?”

“There are no unnatural features on the planet’s surface to indicate intelligent form of life. If it is at its infancy, we can shut off the energy converter and hibernate for 2.3 million years. Hopefully, by then, intelligent beings would have evolved,” the commander answered.

Amo Obib understood its implications and replied, “I pray it will be so. Your decision on the matter is my decision. I give you leave to preside the meeting to inform every one of our predicament and plan.”

 

Strip the Ship

 

At the command center, Commander Nerus stood before the seated amo and his wife. He asked the three flight engineers, seated behind the podium, to sit on the floor in front of the gallery for visibility. When the engineers sat, the sight of the thirty-five other living souls in the entire ship overwhelmed him. It made him realize the enormity, the gravity of his responsibility to those before him and to those stranded in outer space. He started their first meeting with a short prayer then explained their predicament using as much layman’s terms to an assembly that consisted of Rians whose expertise lay mostly on the biological fields—-the expertise needed to evaluate a planet for habitability had things went as planned. He concluded his report, “. . . We can land safely on the planet but for a price. We have to strip the ship of non-essentials down to our personal belongings. We will hold on to our biological and medical equipment and supplies, essential testers and meters, and all exploratory airships. I am open to questions.”

 

Eager hands rose from the gallery. The commander pointed to one who asked, “Why did Goopersh not override the system before warning us?”

Commander Nerus answered, “Our master computer, Goopersh, is programmed never to override manual settings. It can warn should it sense imminent danger to our safety and that was what it did.”

Analytical, a flight engineer seated on the floor asked, “The ship was launched on manual mode during the unmanned flight. Do you know why?”

Commander Nerus knew the answer required explanation to the non-technically oriented passengers and explained, “On Automated Mode, Goopersh was programmed to find and explore a habitable planet within our galaxy first then nearby galaxies, if needed. It would evaluate the planet for habitability. Once found, Goopersh would wake everyone here to conduct in-depth analysis to ascertain our adaptability to the new living environment. Once ascertained, colonizing the planet begins. As it was, we left our planet, our solar system, our galaxy and crossed thousands more, and forced to leave the Colonizing Module in deep space with over two-hundred-fifty thousand of our brothers and sisters in hibernation to orbit this galaxy indefinitely. We will only know why if we reviewed events prior to liftoff and will do so after all your questions are answered.”

 

The session continued then, eager as well to know why they were launched on ‘manual mode’, Commander Nerus commanded, “Goopersh, display the external audiovisual record ten minutes prior to ship launch.”

Goopersh responded, “No record in memory bank.”

The response was unexpected. He considered the possibilities then asked, “Was the ship prematurely launched during power switchover?”

“Affirmative.”

Commander Nerus understood its implications and explained, “During power switchover, that is, from external to internal power source, the entire ship’s systems and its computer programs are checked one by one in sequence as it is powered up by an external computer. During the process, our internal computer, that is Goopersh, is on ‘Standby Mode’ and unable to receive communications. Bypassing the switchover process, for any reason, will launch the ship in manual mode. Something catastrophic must have happened as the ship was prematurely launched. Goopersh, show video at startup.”

 

Goopersh refreshed the screen.

 

Thick black smoke, jutting flames, and flying debris were all they could see from all camera locations within the enormous assembly building. Between deafening explosions were the sounds of sirens. The ship rose amid smoke and flames then smashed through the building’s roof. On clearing it, the cameras showed a fiery inferno had engulfed the launch site and the panorama of conflagration beyond. Pockets of fire peppered the immediate scenery, and the city, at the distance, in infernal flames. As the spaceship accelerated away from their planet, the devastation became clear and frightening. Thousands of meteor impact craters and bright flashes of explosions pockmarked their planet Ria. As the cameras scanned sideways, a gargantuan cluster of molten mass spewed by their sun 159 days earlier, headed directly at their planet. Then, in a fraction of a second, the planet disappeared from the screen as the spaceship sped exponentially to a course away from their planet; of its sun; their solar system; and their galaxy.

 

Amo Obib sensed the gloom in the room and his own. He saw tears from Ningning’s eyes and from the rest. He held back his own tears as from the scenes of devastations, fresh thoughts of loved ones left behind, overcame the excitement of their adventure. He offered a prayer to their dear departed; their safety and those in the Colonizing Module then asked Commander Nerus, “Can we view our new home?”

Commander Nerus ordered in response, “Goopersh, magnify target planet,”

 

On the main screen, a spiral galaxy (the Milky Way Galaxy) loomed directly ahead. A whirlpool of billions of stars bond together tightly at its core then narrowed as it spread outward as spiral arms that shown brightly against the backdrop of black space. It was sight to behold, hard to put in words. Goopersh zoomed progressively on a particular spot near the fringe of one of the galaxy’s spiral arms. From a haze of white clouds, it became specks of hundreds of thousands individual lights; then thousands of stars; then a lone star; a solar system; and, finally, a blue planet laced with white clouds and a white polar cap filled the screen. The whole of North America, the Artic Pole, and the northern part of South America were discernible. The Americas, as it looked over two million years ago!

They marveled at their new home that was differently beautiful compared to the planet they once lived and could never return. Commander Nerus explained its features and after said, “We will focus now on the things that needs doing—-strip the ship.”

 

  • * *

 

They spared nothing from the list of disposables from Goopersh’s printouts. They jettisoned all redundant systems; almost all of the ship’s cargo; most of their equipment and supplies; non-structural columns and beams down to their personal belongings. Except for designated areas, they removed the ship’s furnishing, partitioning walls, stairs, floorings, leaving but catwalks and ladders, if any. It was not an arduous task to remove the rigid structures as it could be configured to revert back to its original state, liquid, they called ‘Magic Liquid.’ This liquid was expelled out of the ship but kept some for future use as it could be programmed to become physical objects—-furnishings, machines of intricate design, and sophisticated electronic devices without Rian intervention. But it had limitations—-it must be attached to the ship’s structure and consumes energy to retain its form but not when it was in its liquid state. The entire ship was mostly made of this versatile substance that, if the power source was interrupted for a second, the whole ship would literally melt like butter and explode. It was the thousands of crates and boxes the ship had that took time to move out of the ship though weightlessness in outer space helped.

At the disposable list’s end, the trolleys, less its batteries, their tools were all in the disposal bay. For themselves, they had only what they wore without shoes as it was heavy when its functions were turned off.

Stripping the ship was daunting but was accomplished at the brink of their collapsing from exhaustion and hunger. The ship was exclusively meant to ferry the Colonizing Module that it had no kitchen nor did it store any food. The only sustenance they had came from the snack boxes packed within the thirty-four airships parked at its cargo hold. There was enough there to last them a week and rationed it.

When disposing was done and it was time to go in hibernation, Amo Obib and Ningning assisted individuals to their hibernating capsule bidding each, “Naska is Imar.”

On Ningning’s turn, Amo Obib guided her in her capsule as she moved backward.

On intuition, Ningning said, “Do not stay longer than you should my husband,” ending it with a quint smile.

Amo Obib was taken aback. He did not tell her his plan to stay behind. He did not respond, instead kissed her forehead and smiled back. “I am fortunate to have you as my wife,” he said beaming at her.

“Not as fortunate as I am,” she coyly replied with a smile, her eyes on his. “Naska is Imar,” she bade.

“Naska is Imar,” he returned as he stepped back. Mesmerized by her smile, he looked at her through the transparent hibernator’s door as it slid closed. He noticed her eyelids flattered on an induced sleep state. When her eyes finally closed, she still wore the sweet smile on her face.

 

Inevitable Conclusion

 

Except for the lined hibernating capsules on the side walls and the command chair, the Command Center was bare. With no ship command to execute, Amo Obib sat on the cold floor by a wall and leaned on it. As he organized his thoughts, Goopersh cautioned, “My instruction includes turning off the ventilation and lighting systems. Please enter the hibernating capsule.”

“Goopersh, turn off both. Advise me when the breathable air in the room becomes low.”

“I will warn,” then the ceiling light turned off and the air from the ventilation ducts ceased to flow. Only the soft glow from the hibernators dimly lit the room.

As their spiritual leader and head of their community, their lives and those in the Colonizing Module, their civilization’s future was in his hands and weighed heavily in his mind. He never had the chance to be alone and needed time to assess their situation—-to know equally, if not better, as his decision was final, it must be right the first time. “Goopersh, please display planet data . . .,” then engaged Goopersh in a dialogue on the planet’s atmospheric and geological makeup. He was meticulous in his questions—-he must not make a wrong decision. Too much was at stake.

Exhausting the subjects, he leaned his head on his hands with his elbows resting on bent knees and focused on things he might have missed.

 

Amo Obib

 

Amo Obib, whose layman’s name was Obib Opmak, was a child prodigy. His interest in biology as a boy led him to pursue Biochemistry and Genetic Engineering graduating with highest honors. With restrictive church laws on genetic research, he could not broaden his knowledge in the field. Young and restless, he crusaded for the liberalization of educational policies on Genetic Engineering and on the revocation of the space exploration ban as he did not appreciate the Rian State Policy of isolation from the universe around them. For fear of detection from malevolent intelligent beings beyond their solar system, they ringed their planet with satellites that rendered it physically and electronically invisible. He vehemently contended: theoretical understanding of the physical world was insufficient. He fervently believed the exploration of the universe for the good of other civilizations a worthy Rian endeavor. He sent countless request letters to the Council of Elders for an audience. They acknowledged receipts of the letters, nothing else.

He rallied the university students, especially those in the scientific field. Most concurred to his proposals but ignored his plan for a mass petition. Oddly, Rians relied on the church to decide on issues that affected their community. They believed: state laws and policies must be set forth to benefit the whole, a determination left to the Council of Elders to research, discuss, ruminate, and recommend for the amo’s approval. They have no reasons to complain. Rian was a society of free and happy people solely from the guidance of their church who looked upon their well-being with unquestionable devotion. However, Obib was no average Rian. He was a young scientist eager to explore and venture into the unknown. With laws that set limits to his quest for knowledge, he felt his mind choked and imprisoned.

A year later, the Elders offered him a job as the first Administrator of Rian Student Affairs. This puzzled him. He knew his unorthodox approach to initiate change displeased the Elders. Handing out leaflets and holding public meetings to question state policies were unheard of. Yet the Elders never talked him out nor restrained him from his activities. Permits to hold public meetings came easier than normal. It puzzled him more when he was offered a sensitive position, Student Affairs Administrator, that brought him closer to the people he was swaying to his views. He accepted the offer. It was a step forward even if it was a ploy, for whatever reason, to divert or redirect his attention.

As Administrator, he saw the problem related to the students’ wellbeing. Rians understood their physical sciences so well that there were little things for the young minds to exploit. The advent of the Atomic Converter, three decades earlier, made it worse. The Atomic Converter epitomized Rian’s mastery over atomic science. It was a humongous machine that broke an atom into its subatomic components and created another of their design. The atomic converters opened new scientific frontiers and more promises to their technology but it had drawbacks . . . it oversimplified it. It rendered more technologies and job skills obsolete than it created. Much like the Age of Automation spawned by the computer era, six hundred years earlier, reenacted again. But his time, its impact was felt a hundred-fold. As a result, the creative mind stagnated and Rian youth got the brunt of it. Obib addressed the problem through projects involving university students to solve theoretical problems and scenarios, and a panel of experts to judge its viability. It kept the young minds occupied but that was how far it went, theoretical.

He never gave up his campaign for liberalized educational policies on Genetic Engineering and space exploration completely. It was a smoldering fire within. He knew the Elders abhorred the idea that allowed young people to exploit banned scientific subjects even if it were purely theoretical. Nevertheless, the Elders never pointed out their dissatisfaction and supported his projects without question. He wondered what the Elders’ reasons were but since his activities were unopposed and unrestricted, he did not care. He had one consolation, eventually, the Elders must listen.

“Breathable air at 60%,” warned Goopersh.

 

The warning got Amo Obib’s attention. With head leaning on his seated position on the floor, he saw the triangular medallion dangle from his neck. It was the symbol of his supreme authority as the amo, head of their church and state. He held it with reverence; felt its weight; its coldness; and realized he was not dreaming. ‘Was I destined for this?’ the question flashed in his mind and brought him back in time when Ria’s Governor, the highest state position appointed by the amo, died. The State was open for applicants to the vacant post. Anyone with ambition could apply as there was neither restriction nor limitation.

To be Ria’s Governor was far from Obib’s mind. He loved his job and leaving it was out of the question. But the Elders had denied him audience on the merits of his crusades for so long he felt desperate. Applying for the Governor’s position gave him a chance to air his views directly to the amo—-a personal audition was part of the selecting process. He would withdraw his application after was his plan.

 

He remembered the interview day vividly when, as a layman, he headed for the walled city of the church for his scheduled audience with Ria’s amo, then, Amo Tasiyo. He recalled the unguarded gate to the city; of feeling proud and fortunate—-the church rarely gave the privilege for layman to enter the church’s city. It was Amo Tasiyo’s poor health that his last interview was to take place at his cottage rather than at the large hall by the wall, the wall that separated the church’s city from the outside world. Upon entering the city of the church, he noticed the sharp contrast in lifestyle. He knew life within the city followed the old ways but being there still shocked him. It seemed the walls that separated the city to metropolitan Atlantis, a time barrier. Crossing brought one back to the Bronze Age.

He walked on cobbled streets and sidewalks lined with fern trees and flowered plants. Small perpendicular alleys led to small quaint cottages with brick walls and straw roofs. Men in tunic and women in robe smiled and greeted as he passed. At the street’s end, was the sacred well—-a well built by the hands of their first amo at God’s command. Touching its surrounding stone-wall brought old memories of wanting priesthood. A sense of inner peace and an uncomplicated way of life overwhelmed him.

Beyond the sacred well was the amo’s cottage. Except for the arrangement of the flowering plants and fern trees, the cottage was no different from the rest, in width and depth, but was the only one with a second floor. Being Ria’s Absolute Ruler, he expected something grander but equally modest.

Finding himself early, he sat on a bench under a fern tree facing a small well-tended flowered garden. As he settled, he started to appreciate the beautiful flowers around and the serenity of the place. His inner drive to assert oneself slowly faded. He marveled at the electronic ceiling overhead, it covered the entire metropolis, an area spanning hundreds of square miles, and the simulated weather within. The clime was always right—-the breeze, cool and pleasant. With their advancement in technology, it was only a matter of time when they can simulate their sun and clouds – a perfect climate to replace their often-muggy weather and overcast sky. Minutes later, the cottage door opened and an old woman in plain white robe beckoned him to come. The woman introduced herself as Medi, Amo Tasiyo’s wife, though he knew. They allowed amos to have a wife that the Elders chose but barred them from having children.

‘Medi looked different in plain white robe against the formal attire she dons at rare public occasions with her husband’, Obib thought. They held them at the only thing that protruded out of the city’s surrounding high-stone-wall—-a wide ceremonial balcony faced Atlantis as the Amo and his wife never left their city. It was part of their vow.

Obib knew church clergies lived Spartan lives and took notice of the room that was austerely furnished. They crossed a small but immaculately clean living room. The dining table and kitchen were but a few steps away. They went up a narrow wooden stair to the bedroom. After two light knocks, she opened the door and they entered.

 

The room was small. Two wooden cots were on opposite sides of the room. A small table stood by its side. On the plastered adobe wall, directly above each cot, was a triangular shaped granite pendant with an eye delicately curved within, the symbol of their one God. Adjacent to the door was the closet and, fronting it, a narrow veranda that overlooked a picturesque country scene of well-arranged straw roofed cottages against a wide-open valley dotted by fern trees, flowered plants, and a beautiful lake yonder.

Amo Tasiyo, in plain white robe, stood out of his chair wobbling from the weight of his aged and frail body. His arms stretched in an embracing gesture.

Obib quickly moved to embrace and support as well.

“Naska is Imar,” Amo Tasiyo said in an old man’s coarse and quivering voice as they hugged and rubbed each other’s back as they did.

Obib greeted back, “Naska is Imar.” As they embraced, he felt Amo Tasiyo’s arm bones pressed against his back. At 193 years of age, the amo had outlived a generation and was going for his second. However, Obib had reservations. He sensed the very old amo’s life journey neared its end. From the side, he saw Medi wiped tears from her eyes as she smiled at him. ‘Why the tears?’ he asked himself.

“Let me have a good look at you,” Amo Tasiyo said as they parted embrace. He looked at him from head to foot and even asked him to turn. He looked at him as a father would a son he had not seen for years. “Walk me to the veranda chair, my son,” he instructed as he placed his right hand on Obib’s shoulder for support.

In a soft elderly voice, Medi cautioned, “You are not supposed to do that. This has been a long day for you.” Her concern was both audible and visible.

“It’s only fifteen feet and a little exercise will not hurt,” he argued nicely, determined to have his way. “Join us,” he added as he walked slowly with Obib’s help, “But first, get help to have someone bring us something to drink. I know you . . . you will get it yourself. You’re not as young as you think yourself to be.”

“I can manage,” she argued as she looked at him. “Don’t think of me, think of yourself.” Medi went her way without arguing over Amo Tasiyo’s walking nor did the amo argue over her fetching the drinks. Time had tempered both to know how far each can go.

 

With Obib’s help, Amo Tasiyo sat on the veranda’s patio armchair. From his vantage, he could see the vegetable and flowered garden of an adjacent cottage a stone throw way. With his hand, he weakly gestured Obib to sit. “I understand you tried to join the church community,” he said casually, smiling.

“Yes,” Obib replied then took the nearby wooden stool, placed it near and in front of amo Tasiyo’s chair, and sat. Accustomed to cushioned chairs, the seat was hard on his rear. He adjusted a little for comfort as he glanced at the amo’s chair. It was made no different from his and wondered how the amo managed to be comfortable sitting on them. “I failed the interview,” he sounded disappointed. “I was too attached to the material world to be prepared to serve God, they reasoned.” He paused. “There are so many things I wish to understand,” and like an echo of an afterthought, he repeated, “so many things.” Obib paused again as he organized his thoughts then said, “In time, maybe.”

Amo Tasiyo remained silent as he observed him in a smiling way.

Obib continued, “Deep within, I still seek the peace and simple life within the Walls. A longing I thought I had forgotten until today. It is so peaceful . . . so uncomplicated.”

Serving God is no way near simple nor uncomplicated yet easy if you are at peace with yourself.” Amo Tasiyo looked straight at Obib’s eyes as though he was looking in him. “Do you love Ria?” he asked.

The question was unexpected. Obib found it simple, philosophical, yet complex to answer. He pondered for a moment. “I love God,” he answered.

Amo Obib smiled. “I understand,” he said as he grinned with his eyes fixed on Obib’s. He leaned forward and placed both hands over Obib’s hands that rested on Obib’s lap and asked, “Are you still considering joining the church community?”

Obib was astonished the amo knew he applied as a clergy and had no ready answer to his question. Since the amo showed no signs of rushing, he seriously examined himself. “The thought has not left me completely. Maybe, someday, when I find myself and be worthy to join.”

Finding oneself does not come easy. You force it on yourself as you ask hard questions of yourself. Would you give up everything to serve God?”

“I will,” Obib answered without hesitation. His heart throbbed.

Amo Tasiyo took a moment to observe Obib’s reaction. He moved his hands from Obib’s hands to Obib’s shoulders and said somewhat in a whisper, “If I ask you to join the church and serve Him for the rest of your life, will you?”

“I will,” Obib instinctively replied eagerly.

Pleased with the answer, Amo Tasiyo smiled then slowly leaned back as he took full advantage of the chair’s back support taking deep breathes as he did.

Obib looked at amo with a hope he would invite. It was not a hard decision to make as he considered it often and more seriously as time passed. He eagerly waited for a reply.

Amo Tasiyo placed his hands back on his lap and looked at his neighbor’s backyard. “Isn’t it wonderful to watch the plants grow and see its flower bloom? I hear you have a beautiful garden,” he asked as he gazed at the lovely flowered backyards of his neighbors.

 

Their conversation continued but no invitation to join the church came to Obib’s dismay. Neither opened the official purpose of the visit. Nor did Obib hinted to discuss the liberalization of genetic research policies he so wanted changed and zealously pursued for years. No sooner, Medi returned. She brought their drinks and set them on the small circular side table. Obib motioned to help but Medi waved him off. After serving, she got a stool and positioned it close to Amo Tasiyo’s armchair; sat; then held lovingly the amo’s left hand.

 

Medi enjoyed listening to Obib and Amo Tasiyo’s light conversation and stayed silent most of the time. Her joy was maybe not for herself but for Amo Tasiyo who was vibrant and visibly interested on what Obib had to say, but also, for his hearty laughter she rarely heard or saw.

 

Obib was with them for more than an hour. The conversation revolved on his childhood, family, school years, and interests. Obib did most of the talking as he responded to Amo Tasiyo’s short questions that somehow required a lengthy answer. He thought it good as the amo was weaker than the facade he wanted to show.

 

Amo Tasiyo’s special interest in Obib started when he heard of an exceptionally bright young boy. Surrounded by adults most of his life, he was strangely drawn to him. He kept track of Obib’s progress as though Obib was his beloved son but not as secretly as he thought. Medi knew what he did in secret as behind the room’s closet was an album. In it, were newspaper clippings on Obib from age five; the letters he sent to the Elders; and a copy of all the leaflets and pamphlets he distributed.

 

Obib could have opened the official purpose of the visit and his crusade but argued against it. He felt at peace. The subjects were light and pleasant. With Medi seated beside amo and her hand on his, to discuss sensitive issues in such place and time was farfetched.

“It is getting late,” Amo Tasiyo said. “Do you have anything to ask?” he asked, looking intently at Obib’s eyes.

“No, My Amo,” Obib, with honesty, replied.

The amo was amused as he grinned at him. “Are you very, very sure?” He stressed each word beaming as he did.

“I am,” Obib confidently replied.

“Then my son,” he said with a grin, “Naska is Imar,” and their meeting ended.

 

Obib concluded the Elders intentionally made Amo Tasiyo unaware of his crusade. The amo was much too old to strain over sensitive and controversial issues. He finally laid the question that baffled him for years to rest . . . the Elders were protecting Amo Tasiyo. He was wrong! When Obib started his public campaign for liberal educational policies on Genetic Engineering six years earlier, the Elders recommended to amo to act and bring back Obib to the ways of a true Rian. On that request, amo asked a rhetorical question, “What is a true Rian? . . . I understand your apprehensions. We are not accustomed to his ways. He is young and has a lot to learn and us of him. I see him as a seed never seen before. I do not know how it will grow or the fruit it will bear. Let time nurture him. Let frustrations temper him to strength. We will wait patiently and see the fruit that God has given us. Surely, his talent comes from God and must have a purpose.” He then commanded, “We will not interfere nor impose restrictions. We will secretly and indirectly help so he will be closer to the people he wishes to represent but keep me informed.”

It was Amo Tasiyo’s idea to create the Student Affairs Administrator position and for Obib to head it. He instructed the Elders to keep this a secret and never give Obib an Elder Council’s audience.

 

Months later, Obib reapplied for priesthood and was accepted.

 

Goopersh interrupted again, “Breathable air level low. Please enter hibernating capsule.”

Amo Obib heeded and entered his capsule. As he pressed the ‘hibernate button’ prayed, ‘Dear God, please help us and help me,’ then fell into deep, deep sleep.

 

PLANET EARTH

The Year 2.3 million BC – Earth time

The pyramid spaceship had flown on its inertia for over a thousand and two-hundred years when it hit the fringe of Earth’s atmosphere. At precise intervals and directions, Goopersh launched survey satellites at geo-synchronized orbits that covered the entire planet. Awakened from hibernation, the Rians boarded the cargo-cramped airships, left the ship, and trailed behind merely to reduce the load on the ship and save on the little fuel it had.

The pyramid ship’s base faced the direction of its motion tailed behind by thirty-four airships. It orbited Earth one-hundred-sixty-two times using Earth’s atmosphere as brake. After thousands of years of silence, the ship’s propulsion engine came on. The ship glided through the air with a soft pulsating hum. Minutes later, it landed a few miles from a large lake (known today as Lake Victoria) at the heart of the African Continent, three hours before sunrise, 2.3 million BC—-Earthman’s time.

 

Planet Earth

 

Earth, 2.3 million years ago, was no different from what it is today except there were no intelligent beings. It was a vibrant greenhouse of forest and jungles laced with pristine rivers and lakes. With some variations, the animals—-the elephants, the giraffes, the hyenas, lions looked much the same or similar with some larger and others smaller than what they are today.

As programmed, satellites launched from the pyramid ship, surveyed the planet and sent streams of electronic data into Goopersh’s central processing unit where it was processed, catalogued, stored, and the sending unit turned off. Minutes later, thirty-two airships rejoined the ship. Two remained outside on separate missions—-get initial biological samples and, more importantly, food.

 

***

 

The pyramid ship, stripped of its structural elements within, had exposed wires, cables, and pipes that dangled between long stretch of structural spans in every direction. They crisscrossed and looped around the few remaining columns and beams within its humongous cavern. With no elevators, stairs, and the majority of the floors missing, the trek to other levels was perilous that, in some areas, a misstep would hurl someone hundreds of feet down to their death.

Precariously, the Rians moved in single file through narrow planks along the hallways and down through emergency ladders. Once in the room adjacent to the decontamination chamber, they sat on the floor and waited for their food in silence. Their stay in the hibernating capsule did nothing to soothe their exhaustion and hunger; it merely postponed it for over a thousand years.

Their stomachs grumbled and they laughed at each other as it did. Most sat on the floor as there was nothing to sit on. To their great relief, the airships came back sooner than expected. “Food is going through decontamination,” announced a returning member.

Someone seated on the floor, with wide-eyed enthusiasm asked, “How was it outside?”

Just as enthusiastic, a returning member replied, “We were on the dark side all the time. From what we saw from our floodlights, there are more trees than ferns. The diversity of animals will astound you. We even saw animals perched on a tree branch and fly with feathered wings!”

“No insects?” someone exclaimed as the Rians were vegetarian, fruit, and insect eaters.

“Lots of them. The area . . .” he continued with gusto, describing to an eager crowd whose ears were focused on every word he said. On seeing fruits leave the decontamination chamber, he concluded, “God has surely given us a paradise.”

 

In line, they snatched the fruits as it left the chamber. Hurriedly eaten, its juice trickled from their mouth onto their arms and hands, and soiled the only clothing they had. Some squirted to others bringing laughter, as Rian, by nature, were cheerful beings. There was no question in everyone’s mind that the fruits on the planet were far tastier than the best in Ria. The variety astounded them. Soon, platters of roasted grasshoppers, termites, green vegetables, and fruits were on the counter.

 

They later viewed the world around at the center of a holographic screen as though perched atop a five-hundred feet tower with an unobstructed three-hundred-sixty-degree view. They marveled at the sight. Two miles north, a mist-veiled waterfall dropped five hundred feet down. Not far, springs gushing from the cliff wall cascaded down the forest floor to a river not far away. To the south and east, a lush jungle, and to the west, some distance away, a savannah with herds of grazing animals that stretched all the way to the horizon. They zoomed in on as many animals they saw and later awed again as the satellites relayed scenes of the blue planet from space. They watched for a time, transfixed to the beauty of their new home but soon their excitement gave way to the clamor of their body as one-by-one dozed at their place on the floor.

Amo Obib paid no attention to the outside scenes projected on the holographic screen. His mind was too preoccupied to appreciate anything as he mulled over their problems. When Ningning fell asleep on his shoulder, he lightly kissed her head and laid her gently on the floor. He proceeded to a vacant room further down the hallway.

 

In an empty room, Amo Obib felt weary. There were many questions that needed answer and asked what was foremost in his mind—-the presence of some form of intelligent beings in the planet. He instructed Goopersh to project satellite images of the planet’s surface in search for artificial features. Features only an intelligent being could make. Like an eagle’s eye searching for a prey from the sky, he got Goopersh to zoom in and out on the continents. He searched for roads – a sign of an emerging civilization. Soon, he found himself looking for small settlements; a group of huts or patches of garden – anything to indicate some form of intelligent being to spark some hope. Finding none, he shifted his focus and said, “Goopersh, display the residual radioactivity readings emanating from the core of this planet.”

Goopersh displayed the radioactive values superimposed over the map that covered the entire planet divided by gridlines. Amo Obib studied the numbers. He found it varied a little around the world. What was disheartening being the minimum level was way over what their body can tolerate. He knew its implications: a brief exposure would ultimately lead to cancer; ten hours outside without a protective suit would kill them. Living entirely in the ship with less than a generation of lifetime ruled out raising generations of children. The planet was no place for them to colonize, not a place they could call home, he concluded.

He quickly shifted his attention to the possibility that an animal may evolve to an intelligence being, intelligent enough to help them as they had over two-million years to hibernate. He instructed, “Goopersh, search and display the most likely candidates from animals on this planet that will evolve to intelligent beings. Estimate time as well.”

As Goopersh performed its instructions, he reviewed Earth’s atmospheric data on another wall that Goopersh transformed to a screen. Except for ozone concentration, the planet’s atmosphere fitted them perfectly. However, the ozone layer was thinner than what Ria had in their home planet. Exposure to noonday sun on bare skin would result to instant sunburn but considered it a nuisance than a problem.

 

Goopersh displayed on the screen a chimpanzee sized ape and announced, “Ready.”

 

Amo Obib took time to analyze the ape displayed in three dimensions then in its skeletal form. He was keen to observe the head structure, its body, the hands and legs, and its posture then read the forecast written: ‘MINIMUM ESTIMATED TIME TO EVOLVE TO INTELLIGENT BEINGS: 6 MILLION YEARS.’

The conclusion disheartened him. He fervently hoped the conclusion maybe flowed as he instructed, “Goopersh, display your conditions and assumptions.”

He scrutinized Goopersh’s assumptions for inconsistencies but found none. He then engaged Goopersh on a what-if scenario by changing the evolutionary variables. Later, he concluded that the evolution to intelligent being within their time constrain was unlikely. ‘Surely, God did not get us this far for nothing,’ Amo Obib thought then said aloud, “Accelerated evolution!” that snapped him out of hopelessness then to himself, ‘Time is on our side. We have over two million years to hibernate!’ He looked at the ape and asked himself, ‘Will this ape save my civilization?’ then lingered on the ethical issues on genetic engineering and again asked, ‘Can I act like a god and decide how this creature should become?’

Amo Obib was motionless with eyes closed as he deliberated to himself. As he pondered, he saw in his mind’s eye, him being rushed to Amo Tasiyo’s cottage at the city of the church back in planet Ria, for his ordination as the succeeding head of their church and state, the Amo, and to his marriage to an Elders’ chosen wife, Ningning. He recalled panting from running as he got to Amo Tasiyo’s room and found the amo in bed, Ningning stood next to Medi, and some Elders at the veranda. He saw himself by Ningning’s side where Medi waved him to go then knelt before Amo Tasiyo who sat on his bed with Medi’s help. He remembered clearly the abbreviated marriage ceremony; the strain on Amo Tasiyo as he took the triangular medallion from his neck, the symbol of his Supreme Authority, and with reverence placed it on Obib’s neck then asked him to stand.

With Medi’s aid, Tasiyo knelt before the new amo, Amo Obib; bowed in veneration; and said, “My loyalty to God, to you, My Amo.”

The rest did the same.

 

Now the new amo, Amo Obib helped Tasiyo sit on his bed then knelt on one knee before him.

Tasiyo was visibly weak and briefly caught his breath. “My son . . .” he said in a strained low voice and gasping for air. “My Amo,” he corrected then leaned forward and held with reverend the medallion that dangled on Amo Obib’s neck, “The fate of our church and the Rian civilization is in your hands. . . Decide for its good and with God in your heart, you will never make a mistake. . . Remember above all, God . . . and all Rians are behind you. . . If ever . . . the time comes when you must decide the fate of your brothers and sisters . . . remember . . . what I told you now.”

“I will,” Amo Obib replied.

“Can I ask you a question?” Tasiyo politely asked.

Amo Obib answered, eager to accommodate, “Please.”

“Would you have stopped pursuing . . . the issues on genetic experimentation . . . had I requested you to stop?” Tasiyo asked gasping.

Amo Obib was surprised the Tasiyo knew. He answered honestly, “Without hesitation.”

Tasiyo smiled and with his hand resting on Amo Obib’s shoulder, tapped lightly and softly said, “Now, you have to decide on the issue yourself.”

“Why me?” Amo Obib asked spontaneously. The question lingered in his mind since informed of succeeding Amo Tasiyo. There were many others more qualified to succeed the amo and it bothered him.

Tasiyo smiled and said softly, “I did not pick you.”

Baffled and shocked, Amo Obib reacted, “I do not understand.”

Tasiyo replied, “God often work in strange ways,” Tasiyo paused to catch a breath. “At the moment, I was to announce my choice . . . I had another person in mind . . . but your name came out loud and clear when I spoke . . . Have no doubt, . . . He, not I, . . . chose you to lead His flock.”

Amo Obib stayed silent as he watched Tasiyo take deep breaths and with Tasiyo’s hand weakly waved at Medi to come by his side.

Medi moved quickly and helped her husband stand with Amo Obib’s help. After, Amo Obib moved back to Ningning’s side who stood fronting Tasiyo and Medi.

Tasiyo stood alone and erect with Medi by his side. In a healthy voice, said, “It is time for you to go, My Amo.” The air of dignity was apparent as the two proudly stood together with Medi’s right arm now wrapped around Tasiyo’s left arm. If Tasiyo mustered whatever strength he had to make a last dignified impression, it was perfect!

“Naska is Imar,” they all said to each other.

 

  • * *

 

Amo Obib snapped back to the present. He realized there were more to think from what Tasiyo had said in the flashback and decided to sleep over it together with the other things he had in mind. “Goopersh, please turn off the screen and goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Goopersh replied.

 

Leave the Planet

 

When Amo Obib left the room, he noticed the hallway’s end was faintly illuminated. Curious, he walked towards it and soon notice the light came from a room. As he came close, he heard voices, distinctly between Commander Nerus and Goopersh.

At the doorway, Amo Obib saw Commander Nerus at the middle of the room with his back towards him. The commander had instructed Goopersh to convert the room’s walls to computer screens that the walls were full of colored symbols connected by a maze of colored lines that were dynamic—-lines moved around, symbols shifted locations, and colors changed seeming to give life to the wall. Without realizing, he walked in with eyes fixed on the screens around.

“Naska is Imar, My Amo,” said Commander Nerus to Amo Obib who was clearly engrossed by the colorful display and quickly added, “I did not mean to startle you.”

Startled, Amo Obib replied, “Naska is Imar Commander. I am so sorry. I did not mean to interrupt.” He was naturally courteous as the commander was much older than him.

“Not at all. Came from the viewing room?” the commander casually asked.

“No, I came from another room doing much like what you . . .” he hesitated as he looked bewildered at the screens around, “well, doing something different. What are all these?” he asked, puzzled as he looked at the colorful screens with amazement.

“You are looking at the process, workflow, material flow, critical path, timeline, resource requirement, and a bunch more being processed altogether. Simply stated, it is the what, where, when, and how to refuel the ship.”

Amo Obib walked closer to the screen. “And this near the bottom . . . paper and printing machine?” he asked.

The commander answered, “All these can’t be done without paper and a printing machine. We have to produce the blueprints, instruction manuals, schedules, and a lot of other things.”

“Amazing! Is it done?”

“Goopersh is working on it in detail that’s why the symbols, lines, and colors are constantly changing. It is calculating the best way to accomplish our goal within twenty-six years. There are trillions of possible combinations to arrive at an answer. It may take a few more minutes to . . .”

“Exercise done,” Goopersh laconically announced.

Commander Nerus walked to the wall and looked at numbers then said, “By the fourth year we must have a workforce of 575,318 with an aggregate population of over three million. This is our ticket out of the planet.” He looked at Amo Obib and stressed, “We have to build the atom converter, refuel the ship, and leave the planet, My Amo.”

“I guess you know how grave our situation is,” the amo sighed. “You have an idea where we will get all these people to help us?” he asked curiously.

“2.3 million years in hibernation is a long time. By then, intelligent beings would have evolved to help us build the atom converter.”

“That was what I was working on at the other room. Based on Goopersh’s conclusion, we will most likely wake seeing very much the same creatures we see today. It is important we conduct a genetic map on one particular ape.”

Aware of how strict the church was on genetic manipulation, Commander Nerus hesitated then asked with a bit of discomfort, “Are you considering . . . Genetic Engineering?”

Amo Obib replied with unease, “There are ethical issues involved. I pray it will not come to that. Nevertheless, I want the data available should it come to it.”

“I understand,” the commander responded. He knew the importance of information and data being readily available when time-sensitive and critical decisions were to be made.

Amo Obib surmised the commander to have spent as much time mulling on their problem and not show signs of feeling mentally drained as he was, he asked, “You are in as much pressure as I am. I admire the way you are taking things.”

“I have been a project manager all my adult life. Pressure goes with the job and, after a while, you get to learn to live with it. Getting sick will not change anything.”

“I’m glad you said that,” Amo Obib reacted. The advice was timely and he needed it.

Unsure of how to behave in front of the amo, Commander Nerus asked, “My Amo . . . am I being rude or presumptuous to speak to you in this very casual manner? Am I to bow or kiss your hand? Are there protocols or mode of conduct that I must adhere to, you being the amo and . . .”

“Don’t worry,” he said, patting Commander Nerus’ shoulder as they walked slowly out of the room. “Come to think of it, I don’t even know how to behave as an amo. I’ve been an amo for . . .”

Commander Nerus interjected, “We traveled through time but it would be a little less than a week if we were in Ria.”

“That long? Less than a week?”

“Less than a week,” he assured.

“Seems like ages. Things happened all at once and in a rush.”

“I know what you mean. I had soap in my ears when I got to the ship.”

“Know why we were all rushed to the ship?” Amo Obib asked.

“A forward space sensor that monitored the advancing plasma heading our planet was understating its mass. By the time they found out, the plasma had broken through the last defensive shield. We almost did not make it . . . Can I ask you a personal question?”

Eager to accommodate, replied, “Please, go ahead.”

“Don’t get me wrong but you seem so young to be an amo.” Commander Nerus was much older than the thirty-five other Rians in the ship. They, to include the amo, were young adults and nearly half his age. He was the exception solely in his irreplaceable qualification to head the expedition. His academic excellence, broad technical knowledge coupled with proven experience in project management made him the best and only choice. His current designation as Flight Commander and Expedition Head were to change as the pre-appointed first Governor of their future colony.

Amo Obib, baffled himself, looked at the commander. “That question had haunted me since told to succeed Amo Tasiyo. Much as I wanted to object, I was compelled to accept. In the church, you do not question, you simply comply. All I knew was they needed a young amo for the voyage. But being with the church for hardly five years . . . it was beyond me to even be considered.”

“I am certain Amo Tasiyo had good reasons.”

Commander Nerus’ statement caught Amo Obib’s attention. He related it to what Amo Tasiyo said to him on how the choice was made. He replied, “I still need to figure that out,” then paused. Sounding serious, he replied, “Come to think of it, I believe you are to kiss the amo’s butt each time you meet him.”

“Holy shit,” Commander Nerus cried and muffled the sound of his laughter with his hands over his mouth as they were near the room where the rest slept.

Amo Obib controlled his hearty laugh as well then apologetically said in a low voice, “I shouldn’t have said that . . . I wish I knew you back in Ria. For that matter, I wish I knew everyone here. Isn’t it strange, we are literally strangers to each other!” Being at the doorway of their sleeping room, Amo Obib whispered, “They are all asleep. We will talk more tomorrow and finalize the plan. Naska is Imar.”

 

Predicament

 

The pyramid ship, park amidst thick vegetation by the side of a hill, was exactly the same size and shape as the largest pyramid in Giza, Egypt. Its base, a square, measured 760 feet on all four sides, and its height, 482 feet. The first seventy-five feet of the ship’s perimeter walls were configured transparent that allowed outside light to filter through and made the structures above seem to hover in place above the ground. The rest of ship’s outer walls up to its apex became solar panels that converted the sun’s ray into electricity and stored in batteries. Except for the long and leafless heap of bamboo poles, lumber, and mounds of earth at one corner of the ship’s ground level, the huge partition-less floor was completely bare. One can see the outside from all four corners of the ship from anywhere one stood. Amo Obib, who helped work on the biological samples at the laboratory, stopped early for the general meeting at the ground floor. Closer to the top of the ship, he went through the elevator shaft which had no elevator but hand and foot holds that stuck out of its inner walls. He strained as he climbed down pausing several times to give his arms and legs rest, and the sole of his bare feet a brief relief from aches as he traversed the almost two hundred feet vertical distance. From there, he walked through catwalks and a couple ladders before he reached the ground floor.

At the ground level, he noticed everyone had their foot wrapped with green leaves. The floor was cold and so were his aching feet. He took large leaves neatly piled nearby and wrapped each foot with several layers of it as well. He felt the soothing relief and comfort of their ingenious shoes as he walked.

 

Some distance away, by a bamboo pile, Amo Obib saw Ningning waved at him. He waved back as he walked directly towards her. He knew she and four others were in-charge of making basic household things. This was no small task, as they had nothing to start with. They had no extra clothing, no shoes, chairs, furnishings, and tableware—-the basic needs to start life in a new world. Worse still, no tools to work with!

 

They greeted each other then held hands as Ningning showed him around. Showing signs of affection in public is part of Rian culture and the Amo was not exempted.

Ningning, referring to the pile of bamboo poles, said with enthusiasm, “We are fortunate this large reed (bamboo) grows abundantly in the area. In such a short time, we piped the spring water some seventy yards north of us. We made cups and other useful things with it using stone knives,” showing the stone knife she held.

 

Briefed on what her team did and plan on doing, Amo Obib left them to their chores and proceeded to where a group of three worked on an enclosure. After the greetings, the team leader said, “This is our temporary sanitary facilities. Almost done . . . just placing the finishing touches.”

Amo Obib inspected the toilet and bathroom facilities with interest. Its walls were made of overlapped banana leaves supported by bamboo stakes tied together with stripped vines. Free-flowing water was piped in using the bamboo as well. He noticed the efforts made to make it presentable. He said, “Great job! Indeed, a structure fit for your amo to use.” His comment brought laughter and as they laughed, Amo Obib, in a friendly gesture, tapped their shoulders then proceeded to the earth mound farther on.

 

By an earth mound, neat lines of moist clay bricks were dried alongside Rians who made them. After they greeted each other, Commander Nerus said to Amo Obib, “We’re making bricks to build stoves and smelting furnaces, among other things,” then explained what Goopersh had scheduled on doing as he toured him. He also explained the limitations of using the ‘magic liquid’ they saved to create machineries and electronic devices, and would use it sparingly to conserve energy. For this purpose, he assigned the three ship engineers to create computer programs to equip a small lumber mill and foundry shops with machineries using the versatile ‘magic liquid’ soon after their general meeting.

Briefed, Amo Obib had time to spare and joined the Commander Nerus’s group. He felt downhearted as he molded bricks with his hands. They stripped the ship so well that there was nothing they could use as simple substitute for basic tools. With their technology, they had to do everything primitively by hand, fashioning work tools out of stones, sticks, and animal bones!

 

The Problem

 

Everyone gathered on a vacant space for their scheduled meeting. They formed a circle, held hands, and bowed their heads as Amo Obib led the prayer. After, he gave the floor to Commander Nerus. With nothing to sit on, the amo, like the rest, sat on the floor fronting the commander.

Commander Nerus explained their situation to an anxious crowd. A few minutes later, concluded, “. . . Our goal is no longer to colonize this planet but to leave it; link with the Colonizing Module; and find another planet to colonize. Taking into consideration what we have and don’t have, we are in a desperate situation but not hopeless. We have God and time on our side. We have thirty-four multi-purpose airships and the best technology stored in our computer. If we plan wisely and with God’s help, within twenty-six years we can fulfill our goal.”

There was an uneasy silence that followed. Commander Nerus looked at their confused faces and realized the majority of his audience did not grasp completely what he had said. Being in the biological and medical science, they were not technically oriented. Orientation to the new technology used on the spaceship was not part of their crash-training program while at Ria. He continued, “Let me explain how the ship operates and the fuel it uses as it will likely answer most of your questions. Except for the hibernating capsules and Goopersh, everything else draws power from the fuel produced by the atomic converter. Even the airships fuel cells rely on this energy source to recharge. Since we need to refuel the ship, we have no other option but to build the machine that produces it, the Atomic Converter. With that said, let me answer your questions,” then pointed to one raised hand of the many.

At his place on the floor, one asked, “Building the Atomic Converter requires tremendous physical resources. How can we possibly attain our goal with only thirty-six of us and no more than twenty-six years to accomplish?” The question was a real concern and brought nods from the rest. The Rians took some time to construct the first atomic converter at their home planet in spite of their resources. The atomic converter was a doughnut-shape structure twenty-four miles in diameter. Its cross-section was one-hundred-fifteen feet. The cylinder’s inner core was super-cooled, and wound by super-conductive heavy-gauge wires encased in super-electromagnets and built eighty meters underground. It required sophisticated equipment to monitor and control, and used power enough to light up a large city. “Not without outside help,” the commander answered.

“Where will we find help?” someone asked with concern.

“An intelligent creature may evolve from the seemingly mindless creatures we see around. We have over two million years in our favor.”

Spontaneously another aired, “There are over two-hundred-fifty-thousand Rians stranded in space relying on us to save them. What assurance will we have that intelligent beings will evolve in this planet within our timeframe.”

Amo Obib heard the question and realized the subject had shifted to issues related to church doctrines. “Commander Nerus,” he interrupted as he stood then addressed the group, “We will discuss the issue further when we have more information. I will assign a team to study the prospects of intelligent beings evolving from the apes out there and how long. Should the team conclude the time is not enough, they are to consider the feasibility of being a catalyst to the development of intelligent beings on this planet.”

Someone conscientiously asked, “Can we intervene with nature . . . Natural Law and break church law?”

“The situation warrants the church to consider its stand on the issue. As head of your church I will consider very carefully any step towards that direction.”

 

The meeting continued discussing day-to-day problems then concluded with plans, assignments, and, as always, a prayer.

 

 

The Dream

 

Two weeks have passed. Amo Obib was alone on an open space that was designated as their future conference room on the pyramid ship’s second floor. He was waiting for Karmar and Norm for their scheduled meeting due just minutes away. He stood near a rectangular table with a bench on each of its longer sides and a stool on its narrow ends. They were all made of wood and held together with striped vines. Eerily, the table’s top was the tallest object that stood on the huge partition-less level. With the second floor’s outer walls configured transparent, one had a 360-degree view of the outside.

 

Amo Obib’s one hand held the other behind him as he stood close to a transparent wall looking outside. He seemed preoccupied at the valley’s beautiful panorama but his mind was somewhere else—-the prospects of genetic alteration. As a layman, the issue’s solution seemed simple as he advocated for the liberalization on genetic experimentation soon after graduating from Genetic Engineering. As head of their church, he was lost and in the dark. The theological dogma `The end does not justify the means rang in his mind during the day, and echoed in the night. Their church allowed improvement on plant and animal stock through cross-breeding and genetic alteration used purely to repair genetic abnormalities. Forbidden were genetic modifications to create a new breed or experiment on it. As he pondered on the issue, he saw the thin ethical line the church drew that differentiated the godly from the godless act. ‘Do they have the right to intervene with the natural laws? Should it come to it, will the end—-save their civilization, justify the means—-break church law? Words against lives?’ he asked himself and wearily wondered. As he deliberated, he recalled Amo Tasiyo smiled when he said, ‘Now, you have to decide on the issue yourself.’ It puzzled him then more so now. ‘Was he telling me something? Was it a premonition? Why did he smile, seemed amused?’ the questions lingered in his mind.

Karmar and Norm’s footsteps made Amo Obib turn and welcome them. Karmar was a genetic engineer and biochemist while Norm, a biologist and biochemist as well. He noticed the rigors of their two-week mission on their faces. He also noticed both wore suede gowns which Ningning’s group made. He liked the oversized pockets. Better still, he loved their moccasin shoes. Regardless of how he tried, the twined fiber sandals he wore scrapped his feet’s skin and made walking uncomfortable. He, however, did not complain.

After a short formality, they sat around the table then Amo Obib said, “Let me hear your reports.”

 

With no paper, Norm had her report committed to memory. She started, “Evolution is a process forced upon species to adapt to environmental changes or go instinct. It is not a constant slow process of change but come as spurts during major global climate change or environmental upheavals that . . .” he continued. At the presentation’s end, she concluded, “If there are creatures in this planet going through an irreversible evolutionary process toward rational intelligence, we should be seeing a creature with very primitive intelligence using simple tools with their hands. In our search, we found none. The probability of a creature on this planet evolving naturally to an intelligent being within 2.3 million years is none. Intervention is necessary,” she concluded with unease.

Amo Obib showed no signs of being surprised though he prayed hard he would hear it differently. “Is the ape our only candidate for genetic modification?” he asked in a professional tone of voice.

“Yes, My Amo,” Norm answered formally. “We confirmed Goopersh’s findings. However, the study showed this ape is endemic to the region and may be heading for extinction.”

“Then we will save it!” Amo Obib’s remarked somehow elated him. It was a consolation to an inevitable decision.

“On biological and genetic makeup, Karmar will present his report,” Norm ended.

 

Karmar stood and instructed Goopersh to project specific slides on the screen.

 

Flashed on the holographic screen projected in the air fronting them were magnified cell of Rian’s alongside apes. It showed its structure with same parts labeled and linked by a line to each other. Karmar had a pointing stick on hand and began his presentation, “Since I can generalize my conclusion through one creature to represent creatures of this planet, I will concentrate on the ape. If you compare the Rian cell with apes, you will find that they have identical structures and equally amazing is their biochemical makeup . . .” Karmar continued.

Amo Obib, a biochemist himself, was visibly interested. His attention was focused on every word Karmar said. He closely went through the cell’s compositions on the screen as Karmar made his report. Together, they went over the minute variances and concurred were insignificant. Anxiously, he asked Karmar, “Do you have the ape’s genetic blueprint?”

“Yes, My Amo. Goopersh has the data.”

Amo Obib instructed, “Goopersh, make side-by-side comparison of the genetic codes—-Apes versus Rian’s.” He moved closer to the screen where Goopersh displayed the genetic sequence of the codes. He intently scrutinized the genetic sequence—-the biological blueprint to life. He was extremely relieved the genetic codes were no different from theirs. The order of the codes and its sequence determined what a living thing will physically become. If the composition and structure of the ape’s genetic makeup were different from theirs, he knew they would not have the time to study and understand its mechanics completely. There were millions of these genetic codes to identify, map, and catalogue. It worried him.

He examined the genetic sequence carefully as he instructed Goopersh to scroll and stop to a long sequence of genetic codes. Often, he used his pointing finger to search for a particular four-letter sequence on Rian genetic sequence on the screen then moved across to the ape’s. There seemed no end to the columns as amo instructed Goopersh to scroll, skip, and jump going through the same motions of finger tracing and instructions many times. Soon Karmar and Norm thought the amo had forgotten them. After a while Amo Obib said, “I have seen enough to draw a definitive conclusion. The basic biological structure and composition of life in Ria and on this planet are identical. If you consider the vast distance between these two planets, we can say there is one Creator to life.”

“Truly one God,” Norm praised.

Amo Obib faced Norm and Karmar and instructed, “We will concentrate all efforts to study and understand the ape. We will not assume anything. We will reaffirm our knowledge on how life works by studying the Ape in the minutest detail. Karmar, you will play a major role in the evolution of an intelligent Ape. You will recommend which genes and how to manipulate that her ascendants, in time, will become intelligent. As head of the church, I will set this strict guideline: we will not act as demigods. I emphasize ‘not’ and create an intelligent being of our design. Rather, we will act as catalyst to a natural evolution such that the ape will naturally evolve to an intelligent being. When the time comes to modify her genes, we must be able to forecast, to a great degree of certainty, what we expect to happen. Under no circumstance are we to undertake actions and hope for the best. We are God’s custodian to His creature. As such, we will do it with utmost respect and with full awareness of our actions. May our almighty God help us and pray our trials not be hard. I, your Amo, head of your church, have spoken.”

The decree came spontaneously that Amo Obib's felt it divinely inspired but not with certainty, in his mind--- ‘Am I acting as a demigod?’

 

THE APE PROJECT

 

The Assignments

 

Norm, Karmar and three others were assigned to the Ape Project, map the ape’s genome. Two, Nengut, a sociologist, and Femed, her assistant, were to conduct behavioral studies on the apes, among other things. Twenty-eight worked directly under Commander Nerus’s supervision, and Amo Obib and Ningning relegated themselves to cooking, laundry, housekeeping, stockroom custodians, and being parents to thirty-four adults.

 

The Behavioral Study

 

The day was hot and humid to observe ape behavior at the fringe of the savannah and the jungle. The one-way window that wrapped the rim of the saucer-shaped airship allowed all around viewing was perfect for Nengut and Femed’s purpose. Having been at the same spot many times and stayed for days at a time, the apes became accustomed to the airship’s presence that they used it as shade or its top as an observation deck. From what was observed, Nengut and Femed found the ape family oriented with the females having strong maternal instinct. Most importantly, their diets consisted of fruits, nuts and insects, and had no predatory inclinations.

At the same time of day, both noticed the group of apes they studied numbered less and the few that remained scampered beyond their sight. Femed, on seeing the alpha male emerged from the jungle then settled down under the shade of the airship, changed viewing location. Something in the alpha’s hand caught her attention and called Nengut.

Nengut, who was observing two young apes playing and a nursing mother, went over and leaned on the console like Femed, to get a clearer view of the alpha male. Unable to figure what stuck out of the Alpha’s hand, Femed asked Nengut, “Can you tell what’s in his hand?”

Nengut gave it a look then answered, “It’s a leg of some crawling creature less some fingers . . . a large lizard.” ‘Herbivores shy away from dead animals but this one is holding it . . . why?’ she asked herself but soon had the answer—-the alpha male stuffed the leg in its mouth and leisurely chewed.

The alpha male’s attention was distracted by loud commotions behind the trees. It rushed to a group of adult male apes who came out of the thickets ganging on a mangled iguana, fighting for a piece of its flesh.

Nengut and Femed watched the battle for possession as it became frenzy and moved to the area near the nursing mother. An adult ape caught sight of the cradled infant and focused on grabbing the hapless one. The mother fended off each attempt as it screamed hysterically and threatened to bite. In the wild hysteria, other adult males joined the melee. One managed to sneak behind; pulled the baby from the mother’s arm by its leg and ran off with it. In distress, the baby screamed. The bewildered mother gave chase and so did the rest of the adult male apes.

Soon the alpha male joined the brawl and asserted its dominance. It yanked the baby from two others with a firm grip of the baby’s leg and arm. Violently pulled, it ripped the baby apart. Its blood splattered as the alpha male held on to his share; made few threatening moves and growls; then went under a tree and ate his prize undisturbed. The rest battled for some possession somewhere beyond Nengut and Femed’s sight.

Nengut’s vision of a docile troop vanished. Cannibalism made it worse. Revolted by the scenes, she nonetheless concentrated on seeing as much of the interaction during the melee—-the facial expression; the wild gestures; the reactions and responses of those that participated, those that watched, and the aftermath. After a while, the apes once again milled around as they would on an ordinary day. The orgy, an hour earlier, forgotten and the nursing mother gone.

“Let us check the other troops” Nengut said, visibly shaken by the ordeal.

 

The airship skimmed the treetops as it followed the contours of a seasonal river. There, they saw other ape troops gang up on iguanas for the kill or fighting over those already dead. Farther down, they saw troops patrol the iguana’s migration route.

Troubled, Nengut said, “I have seen enough.”

Femed noticed how disquiet Nengut was, inquisitively asked, “What is the problem with apes eating the lizard?”

“It was not so much the hunting and eating of the lizards that bothers me but the apes developing a predatory instinct,” Nengut answered in an objective manner. “You must understand that instinct strongly drives behavior. It does not disappear during development of intelligence. It goes with it putting pressure on the resulting behavior. Our problem is the resulting behavior. As an example: the fruit eaters, by instinct, are docile and clannish. Given intelligence, the resulting behaviors are sociable, nonviolent, and family oriented. I will ask you this: What will be the resulting behavior of a meat-eater, a carnivore with predatory instinct and given intelligence?”

Like a student, Femed answered, “Domineering, territorial, violent, and . . . aggressive.”

“That worries me. The apes will develop a predatory instinct. You see, behavior depends on tendencies and tendencies are driven by the subconscious – instinct. If you went to the field and swung a club at a lion, the lion’s tendency would instinctively be to tear you to pieces. Do the same to a monkey and it will run. In relation to reasoning and if given intelligence, the lion will conclude that you are a danger and a threat, and will rationalize the action, to kill. The monkey on the other hand will conclude the same but instead justify an escape, to run.”

Femed looked bewildered. Not understanding Nengut’s point, asked, “Isn’t that a reaction rather than a rationalized response?”

“Partly both,” Nengut answered then continued, “With warning, the lion will expedite the solution through force and justify it. It will not wait to negotiate, it is an action creature. On the other hand, the monkey will negotiate and reason for as long as it takes. It is a passive creature. It can justify its action, to run, just as well as the lion, to kill. It is a paradox, for both are right.”

“What will be the resulting behavior of combining both?”

“You mean an omnivore?”

“Yes,” Femed answered and mentally added the word to her vocabulary.

“I will formulate a hypothesis,” she paused for a moment. “When stimuli require both instinct and intellect to respond, the behavior that will prevail is the carnivore’s aggressive behavior as it offers a faster result, therefore, the predatory instinct. This means, our intelligent omnivore will have stronger tendencies to resolve problems using force physically or psychologically rather than reason. It depends on the individual and which instinct has relatively stronger tendencies responding to a given environmental stimuli.”

Femed thought briefly. “Wouldn’t reason prevail?”

“Reasoning merely justifies an action or a plan. But the type of action or plan is dictated by tendencies or compulsions which are influenced by the subconscious drives, the instincts.” Nengut made a general conclusion.

“Could you please run by that statement again?” Femed requested as she tried to grasp a complex hypothesis.

Nengut obliged and said slowly and deliberately, “Reasoning justifies an action or a plan but the type of action or plan is dictated by tendencies or compulsions which are influenced by the subconscious, the instinct.”

Nengut saw and understood Femed’s worried look as she mouthed the words. She, herself, took some time to comprehend it. Working on her doctorate’s degree thesis as a student, she aimed a laser gun at a predatory animal about to pounce on a helpless prey. Though she could not bring herself to shoot just to prove a point, she nonetheless imagined its death. It was not easy. The satisfaction for the kill or its justification was not there. She spent days negating the herbivore’s instinctive influence on her. When she finally did, she got a glimpse of the power and satisfaction of thinking like a lion. It shocked and frightened her. It was just outside Rian’s nature to fathom easily or explicitly, she concluded.

“Are you saying we may have to deal with an irrational intelligent being? It seems contradictory?”

Femed’s question got Nengut to wonder. She was not sure what the clear answer was and glanced the question, “More of a compulsive intelligent being. This I can say, Rians are by instinct akin to herbivores. As such, we could not react or reason out as a carnivore or, for that matter, an omnivore would. It departs from our nature, our tendencies. Unfortunately, the ape is the only one we can perform the genetic modification on.”

“Since we have no recourse, what do you suggest?”

Nengut gave it a thought then said, “We must never give reasons or be misconstrued to think that we mean them harm. In so doing we will not excite the aggressive or predatory behavior. Let us stay quiet on this issue until we have studied the intelligent beings that will evolve from the apes.”

Femed concurred.

 

 

FAITH VERSUS LOGIC

Secret to life

 

Half a year later.

 

It was late in the evening. Amo Obib was at the workshop wiping his hands with a towel to call it a day when he heard running footsteps. He turned and saw Karmar and Norm, obviously excited, run towards him.

Visibly elated and short of breath, Karmar said as he gasped, “My Amo . . . our problems are solved!” he exclaimed with excitement.

Norm, just as excited, followed up, “We have found the solution! My Amo, we discovered the secret to how living things are formed.”

Amo Obib noticed how thrilled they were. He would be if he was in their place. With enthusiasm asked, “Have you validated it?”

“Yes,” Karmar replied with fervor. “We created a replica of a yeast, a one-celled organism, and even watched it replicate.”

“How were you able to identify the genetic functions and relationships?” Amo Obib asked and intensely listened as Karmar explained the mechanics. He asked questions a young zealous genetic scientist wondered on, the many how’s and why’s. He was exuberant. Someone had finally gotten answers to the many questions that fired up his imagination since childhood. They have solved the riddle to life!

Karmar, on saturating the subject, shifted to its applications and was very excited enumerating the countless possibilities.

To this, Amo Obib was silent. He listened to the two talk on seemingly limitless possibilities: end to aging; regeneration of body parts and organs; of creating special functional creatures. As he listened, it dawned on him that he was the amo, head of their church, the custodian of its teachings, and began to hear the dialogue not as a fellow scientist but as an amo, head of their church. He was troubled. He realized they had unraveled the mystery that veiled life; the knowledge and the technology to create a being at their laboratory. God’s domain had been broken! ‘Can they act as gods and breathe life at their whim?’ the question flashed thru his mind. He was unsure of how he felt; unsure of its repercussions. It was not so much what they discovered that troubled him, it was what they could do—-THE POWER! In the midst of Norm and Karmar’s euphoria, he interjected, “Have you also stumbled on the mechanics to create a soul?” in a nice but deliberate tone.

Norm and Karmar looked at each other and became silent. Their euphoria vanished as quickly as it came.

Amo Obib continued, “I am so happy and pleased with your accomplishment but let us focus on solving our problem. Karmar, I want you to give a proposal to best achieve our goal. The decree I gave on the matter stands . . . limit yourself to the least amount of modification and only as a catalyst. Naska is Imar,” he said and the two left quietly and emotionally numbed.

 

THE DILEMMA

A week later, the Genetic Coding project was done. Except for Norm and Karmar who were working on the draft of their proposal to Amo Obib, the rest of the team members were assigned to help Commander Nerus.

 

Norm and Karmar did not take long to deliberate and reach a conclusion to what they would do. The amo’s guideline was so explicit, it left them little leeway—-a catalyst with the least modification—-tweak the genetic codes that controlled the ape’s biological equilibrium to force the ape to stand and free its hands; increase the size of the vocal cavity to allow vocalization; and nothing else. The process required artificially inseminating a laboratory modified and fertilized egg cell to female apes. Succeeding generations will carry the dominant gene to the next generation without intervention. If the succeeding generation copulated with non-mutated partner, the dominant gene will dominate. The problem Karmar saw and Norm understood was the dominant gene would stay dominant for a maximum of five generations. From there, natural evolution will take its course. If the mutated apes cannot adapt to their environment, they would either become extinct or revert back to their original trait. If the mutated apes survived, Karmar estimated, it would take over two million years before an intelligent creature capable of helping them would evolve. ‘The was no guarantee of success there and no second chance. Unless God intervened, they may be doomed,’ he thought, and it disturbed and troubled him.

 

A couple of days later, Norm, with a folder, walked to Karmar’s cubicle and handed over her portion of the work. “I will miss this place,” she said with a sigh. Their office and sleeping quarters were adjacent to the laboratory, a level below the Command Center. It was closer to the top of the ship that their provisions were pulleyed up in baskets some three-hundred feet from the ground floor for expediency. “It seemed only yesterday yet nearly six months have passed.”

“Will you join the surgical group?” Karmar passingly asked.

“Yes. Training starts tomorrow.” Norm replied and noticed Karmar was uneasy, not his usual self. “You look worried.” she commented.

“I don’t think we are doing the right thing,” Karmar bluntly protested.

Norm was surprised. It never occurred to her that anyone could question a directive from the amo. It just was not done. “But that’s our only option,” she answered with apprehension.

“It’s being passive,” he declared forcefully. “We, rather than nature, should control our destiny.”

“But that would radically change the ape’s genetic makeup,” she argued then continued, “I wondered why Amo Obib got upset over our talking of perpetual life through genetic engineering until I recollected some church laws that prohibited us from altering bodies of some sort.” Norm said in reflection but unsure of her statement or her understanding being accurate.

“That’s it, Church Law!” Karmar exclaimed. “But do you know who made those laws?”

Norm did not react. Theological dogmas never concerned her and got lost to what Karmar was driving at.

“The Church!” Karmar exclaimed answering his own question. “There is nothing in the sacred book about genetics. God did not say nor write those laws. Did He?” He asked a debatable question to Norm who knew little of it.

“I am . . .”

Karmar interrupted, “If the Amos can create church laws, they can also modify them. Remember the fasting and veil rules? The church liberalized on them. There were other things the church changed. He need not argue the issue with the Council of Elders. He is alone and can do whatever he wants!”

Bothered by Karmar’s conclusion, Norm replied hesitantly, “I do recollect the changes but I am not knowledgeable on how the church goes about making doctrines. For myself, I stick to ‘loving and helping one another.’ A priest told me that was not ideal but would suffice. I leave it at that.”

“You do agree the radical approach will solve our problem?” Karmar argued.

Reluctant, Norm hesitantly answered, “Yeeees.”

“I don’t think the amo, being new to his role, realize the implications of his guideline and aware of his power as an amo. I‘m sure an alternative that clearly show the solution will get him to reconsider. He can then repeal or modify the church’s laws on genetic modification,” he said with conviction.

Norm, uncomfortable with the issue, said, “I will be perfectly honest with you. I know little of church laws to discuss it. Shouldn’t it be better to talk to amo about it?”

“It’s better he read it first. That will give him time to consider the better option.”

Norm felt relieved the discussion ended. “Want me to stay and help?”

“Nice of you to ask. I have everything. Don’t say anything about this to anyone.”

“Not a word,” assured Norm.

 

Karmar’s Dilemma

 

After two days, late in the evening when others were asleep, Norm waited for Karmar at the kitchen on the ground floor. He gave her a copy of his proposal for comments with a reminder to keep the subject to herself the night before. The added proposal was a radical alteration of the ape’s genetic makeup. The resulting creature would be an ape that stood upright with a Rian brain. To address the issue of time, the modified gene would induce an accelerated growth to bring, physically, a fetus to a young adult within three months. Karmar titled it Proposal One. He named the other proposal, being merely a catalyst, Proposal Two.

Norm’s anxiety heightened when she saw Karmar come down the stairwell. She prepared two cups of fruit juice for them just to calm herself. “Naska is Imar. Made you a fruit juice,” she said to Karmar when he got close. She placed the fruit juices on a small table and sat.

Karmar greeted back, sat, and started drinking his juice.

Norm, apprehensive, watched Karmar drink. She knew he would ask her questions on a subject she knew little of and hated to discuss.

As Karmar placed his cup on the table said, “I’m really glad you took time to review the added proposal.”

“Think nothing of it but you shouldn’t be so secretive about this,” Norm replied then sipped her juice.

“I just want it to be between us for now. What do you think?” he asked then drunk what was left in his cup and placed it on the table.

“It’s good.”

Missing the point, Karmar asked a more specific question, “Should I give it?”

It took some courage for Norm to finally asked, “If Amo Obib took the catalyst, Proposal Two, would you question his wish?” It was the only thing that concerned her.

“Of course, not,” Karmar blared. “I just want him to consider a better alternative.”

“If that’s your intention, I’d give it. Let the amo decide. It will be different if you insisted,” she argued.

“But I am! Am I not?”

“He explicitly said, ‘act as a catalyst’ which is Proposal Two. Proposal One calls for radical genetic alteration,” Norm reasoned then after sipping her juice continued, “The thing is, Proposal One will work. There are thousands of apes out there whose genes we can radically change and have an intelligent workforce ready in months. Give it,” she said without caring if it was right or wrong.

 

They left the two proposals on Amo Obib’s desk before they retired for the evening.

 

ORDAINED IN HEAVEN

 

 

Amo Obib saw the two proposals on his desk and read them. He was in dilemma. As a layman, Proposal One, the radical approached, strongly appealed to him. It was the shortest and surest solution to their problem. But he could not reconcile its theological implications—-breaking God’s law. He decided to go on a retreat and used the Command Center. It was appropriate for his purpose—-it was isolated.

In the absence of the hibernating capsules on the side walls and the gallery seats that used to be at the rear, the only thing in the room was the Command Chair. With no ship command to execute, he sat on the floor and leaned on its wall. He reread the two proposals and, after, had Goopersh turn off the light.

 

In total darkness, the battle in his mind commenced: logic against faith; assurance versus hope, prayers opposed to action. Logic told him to take the radical approach, Proposal One. It assured their civilization’s survival. It was the straight-forward solution to their problem and it tortured him to argue against it. But he was head of their church, God’s representative to the material world. He must not think as a mortal but as a god! Many times, he begged for God’s help, for Him to speak. He listened but heard only his breathing in the dark silent room. At some moments, he thought himself going crazy. The theological dogma, ‘The end does not justify the means professes that you cannot do evil to accomplish something good. This dogma kept on resounding in his mind and could not stop himself from hearing it. The longer he deliberated, the louder it got until near the end of the second day, when it became so unbearable, he threw the proposals and cried out to the darkness, “My God, should I place more value to faith and hope when the lives of thousands rest on it? Do I have the power to decide the risk they must take or whether they should live or die? Must I take the hard way to please you? Does my conscience belong to me or to you? Speak to me . . . please speak to me,” then passed out.

 

The Dream

 

In a lightless room and asleep on the floor, Amo Obib dreamed of lying on grass under a large fern tree in a meadow. He felt the breeze fan his face; saw colorful insects fly about; smelled the mixture of sweet fragrances of flowers in the air when out of nowhere Amo Tasiyo appeared in his dream. He saw Amo Tasiyo hold a folder; kneel by his side; place the folder alongside on the ground; and whisper to his ear:

 

My son, the fate of our church and the Rian civilization is in your hands. Decide for its good, and with God forever in your heart, you will never make a mistake. Remember above all, God and all of Ria are behind you. If the time comes when you must decide the fate of your brothers and sisters, remember what I just told you.”

 

He woke soon after and found himself alone in the dark. Desperate for an answer, he groped immediately the floor around. There was no folder! Like an insane man, he wildly swept the floor with his hands in the dark crawling about madly until he touched one; clasped it to his chest; and said, “God, I pray this is the right folder. For when I leave this room, I will implement whatever proposal is in it. I pray you will leave some sign to prove it was you who placed it in my hand.” He stepped out of the room with the folder clasped to his chest and firmly believed the dream was God’s way to communicate. It took time for his eyes to get accustomed to the lighted hallway. When it did, and against his wish, he saw Proposal Two, act as a catalyst!

 

It was late in the evening when Amo Obib left the Command Center and went a level down. He was weary, his mind in turmoil. He walked in Karmar’s office cubicle and placed the folder squarely on the desk. With heavy heart, he took the desk pen and boldly wrote on Proposal Two’s cover—-‘IMPLEMENT’, and signed it. He then proceeded to their bedroom using the elevator shaft and the ladders as he did before.

 

Ningning was asleep. Except for her head, her entire body was under a white blanket when Amo Obib entered their room. She woke in spite of his best effort to be quiet. They greeted each other in whispers.

“Have you eaten?” Ningning asked in a low voice as she stood and straightened her nightgown.

“No,” he answered through a parch voice.

“Let’s go to the kitchen. There’s food ready for you that only needs warming.”

Tired, drained, he nodded.

“You have been in retreat for almost two days,” Ningning said as she led him by his arm.

“That long?” Amo Obib looked genuinely surprised.

She echoed, “That long,” and continued, “The training of the twenty to perform the minor surgery was easy and done. The scheduled . . .,” she updated him on their progress during his absence but unsure if the amo listened. When they got to the kitchen, she seated him by the small worktable then lit the gas range nearby. He glanced at him. He looked tired, wasted, in another world.

 

Amo Obib momentarily shook himself out of his quandary and watched her warm his food; stir the brew with a ladle; and thought how fortunate he was for the Elders to have chosen her as his wife. She was always there when he needed her and he felt guilty for being impolite—-he paid no attention to what she said on their way down. He could not shake out what was in his mind. There was still time to change his decision and replace the folder!

Ningning glanced at the amo—-he was in his own thoughts. In a hoped to take his mind away from what he was thinking, at least for the moment, she said as she stirred the soup, “I always wondered how this gas cooking range works each time I lighted it but never occurred to ask.”

The question got amo’s attention. “Methane gas, a gas byproduct of fermented animal dung.”

“Animal dung?” she exclaimed, “I hope you wouldn’t mind having your food cooked and warmed by some shit.” To her relief, Amo Obib laughed and they started to make funny conversation on the subject.

Amo Obib moved his chair to face Ningning as she prepared his food. Curious, he asked, “When did you join the church?”

“Four years ago. And you?”

“I came in a year earlier. Do you know that we met before I joined the church?” Amo Obib casually said.

Ningning was surprised he remembered. “Mia introduced us at a symposium held at Lanang State University,” she said cheerfully as she stirred the soup.

After a momentary reflection, Amo Obib said, “I don’t remember Mia but remember being dragged out from our conversation. When I came back, you were gone.”

“I was there and even saw you pass obviously looking for someone.”

Somewhat disappointed, he asked, “Why didn’t you call my attention?”

“How was I supposed to know you were looking for me?” she teased, “Why me? There were prettier women there just waiting to catch the most eligible bachelor around.”

Stunned by her remark, Amo Obib reacted, “I know nothing of being the most eligible bachelor,” stressing the words with a grin. “I enjoyed our conversation . . . your company. Honestly, I was captivated by your charm. Visiting you crossed my mind but never got your address, and all I had was your first name, Ningning. Lovely name by the way. I was distracted at that moment by someone that I miss hearing your last name.”

Ningning’s eyes sparkled as she grinned to herself with a glint in her eyes. Flattered, she continued, “It’s Aguir,” then teased but serious, “You’re just being nice since you had no choice in our marriage. But I will tell you a secret . . . I had a crush on you even before we met.” After a quick thought added, “You did not search hard. I was there all the time and, honestly, eagerly waiting for you,” she said with dismay.

Not knowing how to explain his misgiving replied, “The important thing is we are together now. I did found you attractive, intelligent, and pleasant to be with.”

“You did!” Ningning exclaimed, her face blushed. She was thrilled and had forgotten what her objective was.

Amo Obib looked at her, and with a wide smile on his face, he said, “I did.”

Ningning smiled back as wide as his then brought the warmed food and placed it on the table. She gave Amo Obib a spoon made from seashell with a bamboo handle. She took a stemmed flower from a bamboo vase by the sink and laid it beside his plate as he ate. “I’m glad you told me. I was beginning to think our relationship would be platonic.” She took a wooden stool, placed it at the adjacent corner of the table, and sat. As would any woman wanting assurance asked, “If I really made an impression on you, what did we talk on?” Not recalling the topic, immediately followed, “What was the color of my dress?”

“The topic of the conversation was theology. The color of your dress, light blue, and you wore a brooch of a colorful butterfly,” Amo Obib answered in rapid succession.

She gave it a thought. She recalled the dress and brooch but not the topic but believed him this time. She stood and lightly kissed the top of his head then gently massaged his shoulder muscles. “It is strange how fate brought us together,” she said.

“That is so true . . . All these things happening to me . . . It’s as though I am drawn to follow a course. For what purpose, I wonder,” he said then his mind went back to the unresolved issue. ‘There is time to change my decision,’ he said to himself and began thinking on it again.

Ningning sensed Amo Obib’s mood changed. He was quiet, deafeningly quiet. “Do you want to talk on something else?” she asked, hoping she could help as she continued to massage his tense shoulder muscles.

He hesitated then said, “You strike me as someone who knows God . . . of how one should act or think before Him. Women are said to be closer to Him than men,” Amo Obib paused as he tried to figure how to phrase a question without involving her to the issue.

From the sound of Amo Obib’s voice, Ningning sensed he was troubled. “Have you made a decision on what we should do?” she went straight to the point.

Amo Obib was taken aback by her bluntness. “Indirectly,” he confessed. “The approved proposal is on Karmar’s desk yet I am not sure if it is right one. I have never been like this before. I was always sure of myself especially on making decisions. But this is very different.”

“How so?” Ningning asked as she continued to massage his shoulder muscles.

Amo Obib talked on faith in general. Ningning listened intently as he explained the issues between faith and logic without relating it to the signed proposal. He was unaware Ningning related what he said to what Karmar revealed to her the day before on the two proposals submitted. Being perceptive, she worried. She knew Amo Obib was more inclined to be logical, objective, and realistic in his manner of thinking. She strongly felt Proposal One, to radically alter the genes, was wrong but could not reason why.

When Amo Obib felt, he had said enough on the subject, asked, “Will you entrust your life to me?” He turned his head and looked at her praying to find an indirect answer to what troubled him.

Ningning stopped massaging. She gave the question a serious thought. She then sat, held his hand, and looked him in the eyes. “To you as a person, I will not,” she said in a serious but caring tone of voice. “My life belongs to God and only to God. I believe in Him and will give my life to protect my faith and others’ faith in Him. As the Amo, you are His instrument. I leave my life in your hands to prove my faith in Him through you,” she paused then continued in a sweet soft voice, “My husband, when you must act as an amo, as you have to, you are no longer yourself as you see yourself. At that moment, the Obib who dreamed of Rians exploring the universe to help other civilizations; the gifted biochemist and genetic engineer, that Obib no longer exist. As amo, you are with God and through you, God speaks. As I prove my faith in Him through you, as amo, prove your faith in Him through me. Remember what God said when the first amo, Amo Lam-a, wavered in his faith? He said,

From Ningning’s reply, everything started to make sense and the mist of uncertainty in his mind dissipated. He did not realize his role in the world that had changed so quickly and completely for him to adapt. He began to relax and at peace with himself. He held and gently squeezed her hand on his hand and said, “Our fate must have been ordained in heaven. I praise the Lord for that.”

 

GOD’S SIDE

 

Assurance to Whom?

 

There was one minor modification Karmar added to the proposal that Amo Obib approved. For identification purposes, the whites on the modified ape’s eyes were made pronounced to visually distinguish the modified apes from the other apes at its early stage.

 

Late in the evening, a day before the implementation of Proposal Two, Karmar stood under the shadow of darkness beyond Amo Obib’s view as the amo swept the aisles of the machine shop. Karmar had not slept well since Amo Obib made the decision. He watched and waited for the amo to finish his day’s chores and admired him from the distance. ‘There he is, he said to himself, ‘our leader in the most crucial time of their civilization doing his last nightly chore, cleaning floors. The amo, with Ningning, woke the earliest and slept the latest. Everyone worked hard but none harder than the two. Acting as parents to thirty-four grownup children—-making sure they are fine and as comfortable as they can be. Everyone tried their best to make things easier for them but so many things needed doing and, somehow, the two always found them. In spite of that, they are the driving forces behind their endurance, the pillars that supported their hope, the power behind their little civilization.’

 

Amo Obib heard footsteps as he washed his hands. He turned and before Karmar could greet, greeted, “Naska is Imar, Karmar. Isn’t it late for you to be walking around?” he asked cheerfully.

Focused on what he intended to say, Karmar ignored the question, “Naska is Imar. My Amo,” he responded then spoke in an uncomfortable manner, “I would like to speak to you, if you don’t mind.”

“Please,” Amo Obib said formally as Karmar was so serious. He hastily wiped his hands with a towel then led Karmar near a lumber pile where they found something to sit on.

Karmar started as they sat on a lumber facing each other, “You and Ningning are working too hard.”

Amo Obib could tell that Karmar was troubled but not by the work Ningning and he did but of what they will do tomorrow. “You did not come here to see me about that, did you?” the amo asked nicely with a grin.

“No, but everyone is clamoring for someone to talk to you and Ningning on the matter. It might as well be me.”

“I really appreciate everyone’s concern. I am fine. However, you talk to Ningning. You might have better luck,” he said then continued, “So, what is really bothering you,” he asked in a fatherly way.

“Is it possible My Amo . . . that you did not fully consider Proposal One?” Karmar said with unease.

“I wondered when you’d come to that.”

“It is not only I, Norm thinks Proposal One is better. It solves all our problems. I will not be disobedient, My Amo, but I am troubled.”

Amo Obib did not respond but waited for Karmar to pour out what troubled him.

Karmar took a deep breath and as though reading an imaginary script said, “As Project Head, I feel it’s my duty to speak. I recommend we take Proposal One. We can do a number of . . .” Karmar continued to defend Proposal One injecting variations to make it attractive. At its end said in a very concerned voice, “My Amo, there is no assurance of success and will most likely fail on the proposal we will carry out tomorrow.”

“Assurance to whom?” Amo Obib asked in a priestly manner.

“My Amo, over two-hundred-fifty thousand are relying on us to save them,” he said in a pleading tone. “You surely must have undermined the risk associated on the proposal you approved and the advantages of the other.”

Amo Obib was unsure if Karmar purposely evaded his question or just missed it completely. He repeated, “Assurance to whom? However, do not answer the question but think of it instead. Karmar . . ., I did consider very seriously Proposal One. If it be of any consolation, it is one of the best proposal papers I have read. You did an exceptionally good job.” Amo Obib knew Norm’s conclusion was based on the wrong premise---that he did not consider it well or at all. Telling him now that he did, Norm must think for himself -- why?

“Amo-o-o,” Ningning called out in search from a distance.

“Over here,” Amo Obib cried out as he and Karmar stood and walked to meet her.

When they got near each other, Karmar said, “Naska is Imar, Ningning.”

“Naska is Imar, Karmar,” she responded. Looking at them with a smile, she added, in her natural sweet way, “Should I go ahead and leave you two to men’s talk?”

“Oh, no,” Amo Obib replied. “In fact, Karmar has something to say on your working too hard. Go ahead, Karmar. Tell her,” he eagerly prodded.

Karmar looked at Amo Obib somehow saying without words that they should discuss the issue further. However, the situation had changed. He looked at Ningning and talked to her on the work she did as they leisurely walked toward their sleeping quarters at the second floor.

Amo Obib observed Karmar as Karmar talked to Ningning. He knew how Karmar felt. He saw Karmar as himself years ago, as a layman. Recalled handing leaflets and made speeches on space exploration for the good of other civilizations and on the genetic research restrictions to what he perceived were blind, deaf, and coward audience. Of the frustrations and disappointments, he went through during those years. He could not give Karmar the answer directly though he wished he could. He knew providing the answer and appreciating it were two different things. Karmar must find it for himself, in himself. His part was merely to plant a seed in Karmar’s mind and pray it will grow to answer his own questions and doubts.

He listened as Karmar tried hard to convince Ningning to work less. He realized his Ningning was not only sweet but stubborn and equally determined and convincing as to why she should not change her work habits. When they got to Amo Obib and Ningning’s sleeping quarter, Amo Obib told Ningning he would walk Karmar to his room.

 

Ningning and Karmar bade each other good night.

 

Amo Obib and Karmar walked slower than normal. Amo Obib started, “The proposal I approved assures us success. Karmar . . . we must always see things through God’s eyes. That is why Ria was a paradise. There are other things more important than life and one life or a million lives makes no difference. Whatever the outcome, we will succeed. Do you know why?”

Karmar stayed silent as he tried to understand what amo meant. Grappling on a statement he could not comprehend, he honestly confessed, “No, My Amo.”

Because we are on God’s side,” he purposely paused then continued, “If we succeeded on Proposal One and Rian civilization flourished, we failed, more so the people we helped. And, if we failed on Proposal Two when all of us here die and the Rian civilization ends, we succeeded.” Amo Obib paused again hoping his words would sink in Karmar’s mind then repeated, “Because we are on God’s side,” stressing more the words this time as he looked at him. He saw in Karmar’s face that Karmar had something he must say. With no signs of rushing, he waited for his response.

“I am so glad we talked,” Karmar finally spoke and sounded relieved. “I now see things from where I . . . or we should stand. We must always be on God’s side. How myopic of me. Will you forgive me?”

Amo Obib tapped Karmar’s shoulder. “There is nothing to forgive. You followed your conscience and there is nothing wrong with that. Naska is Imar, Karmar,” and watched him enter his room.

As Amo Obib walked back to his room, he saw Karmar grinning in his mind as they bade each other goodnight. Humbly, he said, ‘Dear God, thank you so much for your help.’

 

  • * *

 

Everything went as planned. They impregnated female apes with modified fertilized egg cell; observed them for a day; then let loose with their respective troop. After two months, they secured the ship, hibernated, and left their fate in God’s hands.

 

EVOLUTION TO MODERN MAN

 

A million years later, in the year 1.3 million BC, as scheduled, Femed and Nengut were awaken from hibernation to monitor the evolutionary progress of their genetically modified apes. They left the ship on an airship and flew to the region where they left them eons ago. There, they found four distinct species of apes that stood and walked, the homo erectus. Of the four, only one was distinctly different, the hominids, forerunner to homo sapiens, the modern man. They distinguished themselves from the other three for their hairless face and a noticeable white color that surrounds the iris of their eyes.

Nengut and Femed found the hominids were no different from the apes they came from apart from their ability to stand and use their hands. Their brain size was slightly larger but still acted much like apes. They, however, were a noisy group that used a myriad of sound to express themselves. What was remarkable was, they called each other by name, as Grig, Yaw, Eek, and other simple name sounds. They wandered in groups in the region and when threatened, they would band together and howl, growl in unison as they wildly swung a handheld pole or throw rocks to any threat. Most often, it worked. Otherwise they would scamper speedily for the nearest tree and howl and growl from there. With their free hands, these primitive creatures used sticks or stones as simple tool. They seemed unable to figure out the other things they can do with them. However, with a club to swing and the ability to throw, other apes and some predatory animals were frightened of them.

The hominid’s diet and population worried them. The hominids had evolved to become omnivores and predators. Hunting wild life was a daily routine and ate raw what they caught. They numbered less than what they predicted. The changes were not much, thus, it was too early to draw any conclusion to how these mindless creatures would eventually become. They hibernated again to wake every hundred thousand years thereafter and would adjust it once some form of intelligence was observed.

 

********

 

There was nothing exceptional observed in their succeeding expeditions until the year 50,000 BC. The Ice Age was at its peak. The polar caps had expanded and left a narrow band of greenery north and south of Earth’s equator. Constricted to this narrow space of snowless land, the existence of herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores was hard and harsh. Survival of the fittest became the norm. It was in this epoch that hominids evolved to homo sapiens at its early stage and had become hunter-gatherers. Much to Nengut’s distaste, they were savage and brutal creatures but realized the harshness of their existence forced them to adapt to their environment or die out. With other predators, far larger, faster, and more agile, these semi-minded creatures could only survive their world through their only edge, their wits. They were far more cunning in hunting, and unified and organized when threatened. Though primitive, they irreversibly headed towards higher intelligence and close to their time constrain.

 

********

 

In the year 25,000 BC, homo sapiens had become proficient hunter-gatherers and communicated with words accompanied by hand gestures. They were territorial creatures whose boundary was but ten day’s walk away from their camp. They guarded their territory against other homo sapiens groups with only one strategy -- superiority in numbers. Against other homo sapiens, evenly numbered encounters merely resulted to visual and auditory threats. That was often sufficient to keep their distance and avoid conflict. It was only in their superior numbers that they attack and viciously.

They guarded their women and children with utmost zeal. The community’s perpetuity depended on them. Thus, the children became the community’s prized possession and the women considered deities, the giver of life. Their fertility adored to a point of being worshiped. For this reason and strangely, there was an unwritten rule honored by all homo sapiens groups in violent encounters: only adult men fought and the women and children were never harmed and were the victor’s prize.

However, there was a limit to the law of numbers. They live in small communities of fifty's. This puzzled Nengut until she observed a large community of eighty-five split up to two. It was a matter of logistics -- they were over populated. As hunter-gatherers, the hominid’s food supply depended on what their territory could provide. A group of fifty was what the natural environment could support within the territory they could protect. Thereby, young male and females were forced to leave and start a new community elsewhere. It was not easy. There were many territories to cross to get to the fringe of unoccupied land and start their own community there. They have yet to learn farming and animal domestication. Nevertheless, there were clear signs that they were heading in that direction. However, there was still a question of time.

 

********

 

In the year 20,000 BC, Nengut noted the primitive ancestors to man organized themselves. They grew crops and domesticate animals. Rather than expel their kin, they kept them and learned to expand their territory by invading their neighbors. The age of conquest began. Conquered lands expanded the territory of ethnic groups of similar physical features. In time, each ethnic group populated and controlled whole regions demarcated only by natural barriers between them.

 

********

 

In 15,000 BC, the Ice Age was at its end. Much to the team’s relief, they found the homo sapiens have dispersed to all the continents. Nengut was astonished but not surprised that four dominant races came out from one species of Homo Sapiens. Since all four races were irreversibly headed towards higher intelligence, Nengut and Femed were ecstatically happy. This time, they were optimistic.

 

As planned, they conducted a behavioral experiment to validate Nengut’s Lion-Monkey hypothesis.

 

On the first experiment, they used a remotely activated Rian-like dummy the size of a monkey that held a stick. The dummy swung the stick at curious monkeys at striking distance. The monkeys reacted as predicted—-did not raise their arms in defense but ducked then ran and never came back. When the same were done to cavemen using a life-size Rian dummy that held a stick, the cavemen defensively raised their arms and retaliated by clubbing the dummy until certain it was dead or retreated then later came back with more cavemen that ganged up on it.

On their last field trip, one of the cavemen groups studied placed gifts on the dummy’s feet while a young girl in vibrant-colored attire, knelt before the dummy with her forehead touching the ground. She was adorned with shell jewelries on her neck, arms, wrist, and ankles. Her hair, sprawled on the ground, was beautifully covered with flowers, some small, and a few proportionately larger. Men and women around danced to the rhythm of their chant as they stumped the ground; whirled around; hands flailed in the air; heads bobbed up and down. For a while they danced to an increasing tempo of the beat till it became a wild unsynchronized fast motion of bodies and arms. Then a distinctly dressed man with a colorful ritual club bashed the girl’s head. Everyone stopped dancing and bowed their heads to the ground. Nengut could not explain the act, at least logically, to relate the barbarity as an offering to something abstract, God.

 

Completing their mission, they woke everyone for the pre-arranged general meeting.

 

Everyone was present at their conference room seated on wooden benches that formed a half circle. Nengut, standing at the front, announced the success of their Ape Project. She reported that crude but intelligent beings have populated most of the continents. She also reported her concerns over the degree of predatory instinct the humans had. An open discussion ensued. She listened. Everyone seemed to have part of the answer but together had no agreeable conclusion on the type of people they will have to deal with. If there was something vitally important they did not consider in their discussion, even by Nengut, it was greed! Rians knew little to associate it with intelligent beings. To Rians, greed was an irrational behavior and unlikely to be present in rational creatures.

At the meeting’s conclusion, the assembly agreed and the amo concurred—-under no circumstance were they to provoke the humans that may incite aggressive behavior. They were like monkeys: therefore, the situation might not rise. They also agreed that they would start negotiation when the humans became intelligent enough to learn and not when they have the technology to pose any threat to them.

After the meeting, Nengut pondered as she walked, ‘Is it possible? If reason directly clashed with instinct, would it result to an irrational behavior?’ As Nengut deliberated, Amo Obib, with Ningning, called her attention from a distance.

 

They walked toward each other.

 

“Nengut,” Amo Obib said, obviously perplexed, “If you don’t mind, Ningning and I were discussing responses resulting from . . .”

The three discussed the subject lengthily and left each other wondering—-is it possible: an irrational intelligent being?

 

Everyone hibernated again but this time Nengut and Femed were to wake five-thousand years later.

 

 

The year, 10,537 BC (Earth time)

 

It was mid spring, five thousand years later. Nengut and Femed found what they prayed and hoped. Well-populated civilizations were in northeast of Africa, East Asia and along the west coast of Central and South America (as they are known today). As planned, they woke Commander Nerus and his team to locate the Atomic Converter’s construction site while Nengut and Femed and twenty others were to look for people they would entice and relocate to help Commander Nerus build the infrastructures needed towards the building of the atomic converter.

After a week’s excursions, Commander Nerus’ team found the construction site. It was within King Arth’s kingdom in a region now known as Giza in Egypt. On Nengut’s part, she knew where to find the people they needed. The two teams met and concurred—-it was time to initiate the Atomic Converter Project and woke everyone.

EPISODE TWO

The construction of the Atomic Converter had two major independent phases: Preparation Phase: accumulation of raw material; and Construction Phase: building the infrastructures and support facilities that would ultimately lead to the construction of the Atomic Converter. Unable to operate both simultaneously, the Rians initiated the Preparation Phase first and elected Central and the eastern part South America as sources for agricultural products and preprocessed industrial material. In their plan and timetable, this phase must be simple and easy to manage that in less than a year, trained humans would operate and manage the operations themselves and the Rians to provide only support.

 

The Central and South America Projects

 

Enticing the natives of the Americas came far easier than they anticipated. The native’s shaman predicted the arrival of their gods coming in a fiery object from the sky for generations. The descending bright airship came close to their shaman’s prediction. Nengut, assigned to make the first human contact, was astounded beyond belief to what had unfolded. Instead of fear and the natives running away when they came, they were pleased, happy, and excited! Men ran hurriedly to their fields and gathered fruits while the women gathered flowers. By the time the airship landed, fruits and flowers had encircled where the airship would land. When its door opened, the entire villagers, men, women, children and even mothers with babies in their arms, were singing and dancing. They stumped their feet to the rhythm of a lively song; waved their hands in the air with some holding flowers and others, fruits. They were overjoyed as their shaman foretold the gods will shower them with gifts; make the gardens green; their animal healthy and big; heal their sick. All that became true as time passed.

Native runners spread the word from one village to another that when the Rians came to visit other populated areas, large and small, houses in the villages were adorned with fruits and flowers. The landing area filled with it. They received them with open arms. Though the natives of the Americas thought the Rians were gods, the Rians insisted that they were no gods but children of God. The natives misconstrued the statement to mean that the Rians were deities. The Rians never realized the abstract misinterpretation. It was a blessing—-what the Rians requested of the natives were taken as the will of the gods and were pleased and eager to serve.

 

With the use of their multi-function airships and the native’s help, they built housing communities; cleared and prepared vast track of lands for industrial and agricultural use; and food storage facilities. They built irrigation systems for their crops; dug and blasted mountainsides for its mineral deposits; and constructed rough roads that linked work communities to each other from Central to the eastside of South America. Simultaneously, they taught agricultural techniques and showed methods in raising domesticated farm animals for food and as beasts of burden. They introduced the farming of corn, potato, other vegetables, and created a simple pictorial stone calendar (the Mayan Calendar) to time planting, harvest, deliveries, and pickups.

The Southeast and Central America projects worked so well that in seven months, with the training and systems the Rians provided, the communities expanded and worked independently to produce the raw and preprocessed material they needed. With abundant material reserves and future supply assured, they decided it was time to negotiate with King Arth.

KING ARTH

Giza Plateau, Egypt

 

In the year 10,535 BC, Giza in Egypt had a subtropical climate. A savannah dotted with sparse trees over vast fertile grasslands. The eastern fringe of the Sahara Desert was three hundred miles west of Nile River, and King Arth’s citadel, at the top of a plateau, was three miles from the present-day Sphinx. But then, the Sphinx was but a large outcropped rock in a relatively flat region and no Great Pyramids existed then.

Amo Obib, by virtue of his religious vow of isolation from worldly activities, and Commander Nerus’s time and expertise to oversee their humongous project could not be spared, Nengut, being a sociologist, was appointed Ambassadress to act as a liaison between the Rians and humans.

 

Bright Object in the sky

 

Within the airship, Nengut with her two assistants, Femed and Felyap, were in their skin-tie radiation protective suits that covered their lean framed body from head to foot. Its silvery-gray color was broken only by two over-sized almond-shaped dark glasses that protected their eyes from glare among its other multiple functions. Their head’s crown was slightly larger from the miniature electronics installed within. Their nose, ears, chin, and mouth were but impressions over their suit. After looking over her two assistant, Nengut remarked, “Don’t we look intimidating in our protective suit?”

Femed and Felyap looked at each other with great interest.

After careful examination, Femed answered, “I agree.”

“What do you think Felyap,” Nengut asked.

“We definitely look unnatural. Intimidating and scary too, much like a ghost with big dark eyes. I don’t think it’s wise to wear them.”

“Let’s take them off and just not leave the airship,” Nengut decided and they pressed a button on the side of their suit and the entire protective suit shrunk to a walnut size package leaving them in their white uniform and leather suede shoes.

 

An hour before sunset, the airship headed for King Arth’s citadel. Under the its belly, varied ripe fruits adorned with flowers, their gift, were levitated and engulfed in a transparent light-blue colored hazy below the airship. High above the king’s palace, they turned on the airship’s protective shield that got it to glow brightly.

 

On the ground, people looked up to a slow descending bright ball of light against the clear blue sky. It hovered when it was three-hundred feet directly above the palace courtyard. By then, the citadel’s inhabitants were on open grounds and rooftops to witness the unusual sighting. Few stared out of curiosity but the majority saw it as the child of their sun, a manifestation that lend credence to their High Priest Shadeh’s preaching that the sun was their god, Ra.

 

Within the king’s palace, a palace guard in panic approached the king who sparred with someone at the palace gym. The king, in loin cloth and headband over his short-curled hair, was an epitome of a tall well-built athlete. He had a manly bearded face, piercing brown eyes with heavy eyebrow, a well-toned body, and firm muscled arms and legs. The guard bowed waist deep and as he caught his breath said, “Your Highness . . . there is a bright object hovering above the courtyard.”

The king held on to his sword and looked at the guard. “What bright object?” he asked questioningly in a kingly manner.

Before the guard could answer, the High Priest Shadeh, a slim long-bearded tall man with narrow face and deep set dark eyes was in his white temple robe. He came running as he excitedly shouted, “Your Highness, Your Highness, the son of the Sun God, Ra, is here!” In his excitement, he forgot his usual flowery exultations of the king.

The king looked at Shadeh and asked with sarcasm, “Is your news good or bad?” He did not believe in gods and thought the priests were fools fooling fools. However, it gave him an aura to his throne and some control over his people that he tolerated their presence and staged dramas within the kingdom.

“The stars sent a message last night and . . .”

“How come you’re telling me this only now?” King Arth roared.

“Ah . . .” Shadeh stuttered. Improvisation was a talent that earned him the High Priest post but this time, he had no immediate answer. Deep within, he thought the bright object was after him. He had fabricated so many lies to think he angered the gods. Shadeh finally said, “The message said that I was to approach you only when the Son of Ra showed himself in the sky.”

“And?” King Arth roared again.

“To prepare you for his coming,” Shadeh replied then, pointing to the chambermaids, he said in rapid succession, “You, you, and you prepare the king for his presence to the Son of Ra. Get his best rove, his crown, his scepter, his . . .” he rumbled instructions to distract the king’s attention.

The chambermaids were dumbfounded. The king had dozens of everything Shadeh had asked and froze at their place.

King Arth observed Shadeh amusingly. ‘It is not a bad day to test his arm’s strength and see if he can still cut a neck with his sword in one swing,’ he thought. Lately, as king, he left the messy stuff to others. “Forget the scepter,” he addressed the chambermaids in a commanding tone. “Get my sheath and the tunic,” referring to a plain and old leather sword sheath and the tunic on top of a chair. He loved the sheath. It was light and so was the sword he had on hand.

Not in an offending tone, Shadeh contested “Your Highness!”

“Alright, find me a presentable tunic.” the king commanded the chambermaids.

Cautiously, Shadeh suggested in a low, submissive voice, “A robe would be more appropriate, Your Highness.”

“I said tunic,” the king stressed, waving the chambermaids off.

 

The chambermaids bowed then ran.

 

“And you,” King Arth said as he looked at Shadeh, “Make prayers for something good to . . . to . . . What’s his name?”

Shadeh answered meekly, “Ra, Your Highness.”

“Yes, Ra. Make lots of prayers on anything. And, thank the guard who came before you. He may have saved your life.” Interrupting his workout was something he did not like and mused at the thought of cutting Shadeh’s head and dry it under Ra’s rays.

Bewildered, Shadeh reacted, “Almighty?”

“Go!” King Arth commanded.

Shadeh bowed then ran hurriedly out the room.

 

King Arth

 

King Arth was a warrior whose skill in combat a few dare challenge. A tribal leader who fought and earned himself a kingdom. In the early years, his ruthless reputation preceded him and his army. ‘Capitulate or die,’ was the message sent. True to his warning, those who lifted a finger died a horrible death. Soon, cities and villages bowed rather than fight, and became known as ‘Lion of the Nile’. As they feared, they also revered him as just and liberal to those who aligned themselves to him.

As king, he had mellowed. He was tired. Tired of the stench of blood; of the long marches; of the fighting. He had left this to his aspiring generals and there were many. Lately, he wanted to be closer to his people but the thought of maintaining the aura and stature of being a king a barrier that prevented that. He became isolated and spent more time fortifying and building his city and be with his son, Prince Otil, his only child from his first and only wife.

 

The Invitation

 

The bright object was a stone-throw above the cobbled courtyard when the king emerged from his palace. His first reaction was to go on defensive mode but noticed his soldier’s weapon were on the ground. Shadeh had spread the word to drop their weapon lest the son of Ra be offended. Furious, he lashed orders for the soldiers to arm themselves and stand ready. The king did not believe in gods and if it were really gods, he would rather die with his sword in his hand.

Nengut, Felyap, and Femed watched on the airship’s monitor the confusion below as military officers ordered forcefully soldiers to arm themselves and man their station. A few fled in fright, and those who stayed, shook in fear at their post with their weapon in their hand, and their head slightly bowed to avoid the sight of the ship. They feared their boldness of having a weapon in hand in the presence of the gods would blind them and even cause an agonizing death.

At the palace’s courtyard, the king’s special guards surrounded him with swords drawn by their side. Though Shadeh would have wished the king wore a king’s robe, the king’s attire befitted a king. He wore a white tunic whose hems were embroidered in gold. His gold gilded waist belt held a dagger and a sword with delicately curved ivory handles in bejeweled sheaths. Most of all, he wore a narrow band crown made of gold he hated to wear.

On one side of the courtyard, Shadeh, in his most elegant temple robe with his white garbed priests prostrated themselves on the ground at the front of the temple. As the glowing craft descended to land, Shadeh shouted at the top of his voice, “Drop your weapons and bow your heads!”

In contradiction, army officers commanded, “Be on guard.” In the confusion, an archer at the parapet accidentally launched his arrow. It flew straight toward the airship. When it got to the fringe of the airship’s glow, it burned in an instant. Instinctively, he placed another arrow to his bow and aimed again.

 

King Arth paid no attention to Shadeh’s caution and stood amidst his men with eyes focused on the descending ball of light. Unfazed, he looked directly at the bright white light that strangely did not hurt his eyes. Behind the glow, he saw a silhouette of a saucer shaped airship forty feet across with arranged fruits and flowers that floated beneath it bathed in a light-blue haze. He commanded the guards before him to kneel just to see the airship in its entirety as it descended.

 

Slowly, the airship laid the fruits ten feet away from the king’s front guards and landed on its tripod ten feet behind. The glow vanished as a ramp from its underbelly extended to the ground. Its door slid sideways making a sharp air rushing sound. The doorway was wide, a third of the airship’s width.

Nengut, motionless at the doorway, had her arms raised to form a letter ‘V’. She brought her hands to her chest over her heart then stretched it out palms up towards the fruits then placed both hands, with arms crossing each other to her chest.

The king was surprised to see what seemed like a lean-bald kid in white snagged-fit outfit and in leather moccasin shoes making sign language.

 

Nengut repeated her gestures.

 

The King, in a king’s composure, made his way through his knelt soldiers to the pile of nicely arranged fruits surrounded by flowers. He picked a grape among the fruits and popped it in his mouth. He chewed as he unbuckled his belt that held the sheathed sword and dagger, and walked around the pile of fruits towards Nengut. He stopped at the ramp’s edge and held up his gift with outstretched arms.

Smiling, Nengut waved at the king to come closer.

The king heeded and walked up the ramp far enough to hand over his gift with outstretched arms as he quickly scanned the airship’s insides from where he stood. He saw the lights on the ship’s console but failed to see Femed and Felyap, who separately hid on both sides of the door inside the ship. They were poised to snatch Nengut and close the door at a hint of danger.

“Greetings and thank you so much for your gift King Arth,” Nengut said as she accepted and held on to the king’s gift. “I am Nengut, the Rian Ambassadress. My leader, Amo Obib, extends his invitation for dinner tomorrow. He will be most honored if you accept.”

“And the purpose?”

“Seek your help.”

Nengut’s request amused the king. Grinning, he replied in a casual manner, “I prefer the meeting be to know each other first and talk on other matters after.”

“You are so right,” she responded hiding her uneasiness through her feminine smile. “It will be so arranged . . .Will you come?”

“I will.”

“We will pick you here before sunset tomorrow. Will that be fine?”

“Before sunset is fine.”

Nengut grinned. “Before sunset it will be,” she said, then moved one-step back and watched King Arth walk clear off the ramp.

 

She waved goodbye, and the king waved back.

 

On Nengut’s slight finger signal, Femed pushed a button and the airship’s door closed.

Goddess in Fear

 

King Arth watched the airship lift and hover way above the citadel and, to his amazement, it was out of sight over the horizon at the blink of the eyes. When he turned, his three generals, Suba, Mismar, and Odi were walking towards him. The three were his childhood friends. They were instrumental to his becoming a king and trusted them with his life. He met them half way. “Let’s go inside,” he said, without missing a stride.

Walking alongside, Suba, the cavalry commander, asked, “What do the gods want?”

“They want our help,” the king snapped.

“Gods wanting help from us?” Suba exclaimed in disbelief. “Shouldn’t it be the other way?”

The king heard Suba; looked at him; and wondered.

“What kind?” Mismar, the king’s right hand man, followed up. He was the most analytical of the three generals, and was his war strategist and political adviser.

“It happened so fast it didn’t occur to me to ask. I will have a chance tomorrow. She invited me to meet their leader for dinner.”

“You mean sun god, Ra?” Odi, a heavy-built man in-charge of the foot soldiers and archers, asked. He believe in gods but despised Shadef for being arrogant when the king was not around.

The king reflected. “No god or gods were mentioned.”

“I will go with you,” Suba suggested.

“It is better I go alone. I will have a better chance of knowing what we’re up against.”

Mismar, the cautious and shortest of the four, said, “Don’t be too trusting. We don’t know anything of these . . . they should leave hostages to ensure your safe return.”

Odi interjected, “Having hostages will not mean much. Saw what happened to the arrow? That can easily happen to us.”

“Odi is right,” Suba said then asked the king, “How do they look?”

The king looked at Suba questioningly. “How do they look?” he echoed

“I bowed my head when the thing opened its door,” Suba replied with discomfort.

King Arth turned to Odi. “And you?”

“I did not look,” Odi snapped uncomfortably.

The king looked at Mismar and could tell he did not look either. “I will deal with Shadeh later,” the king irritatingly said. “Next time, don’t listen to anyone but me. None of you saw anything to help.”

“How do they look?” Suba repeated with outmost curiosity.

“There was only one and she looked much like the Kalahari bushman, short but baldheaded and much paler. She was always smiling yet I saw fear on her face.”

“What made you say that?” Mismar asked.

“I’ve seen fear from people’s face many times. She feared me.”

“What’s your plan?” Odi continued.

“I will think of something but definitely the sissies should stay home and keep the house clean,” the king joked.

The rest joked at each other and together they laughed.

KNOWING EACH OTHER

 

The return of the god’s chariot the following day spread like wildfire throughout the city. Hours before sunset the following day, the city’s inhabitants were on rooftops and every conceivable open space with a clear vantage to the palace atop a plateau. Viewing prime spaces were jam-packed with people who jealously protected the small area where they stood. Shoving and some fist fight became common.

The palace guards, in their formal military attire, were in formation at the courtyard. Metal ornaments on their uniform, sword and knife handles, and spearhead shined from the setting sun’s light. King Arth was at the palace steps in full military gear. His thick hide chest armor embossed with a lion was over his gold trimmed tunic. The sword and dagger hung from his waist belt; his metal headgear polished and held under his left arm. The regalia was for a reason. The king had deduced the Aliens were no gods nor did they represent one. They had the technology to make themselves rulers of the world and wondered why they requested help rather than demand the service. That was what he would have done. Regardless of who or what they were up to, he must know who he would be dealing with and devised a simple scheme to learn as much as he could before he met their leader.

 

Before sunset, the airship appeared from the horizon flying at high speed, and abruptly stopped five-hundred feet directly above the palace courtyard, then slowly descended. With the airship’s shield turned off, the metallic-gray flying saucer was clearly visible. When it landed, King Arth approached the craft before its door opened. Within, Nengut, Femed, and Felyap were straightening their uniform, failed to notice the king walked towards the airship and up its ramp. The king’s sudden appearance at the doorway startled the three. Visibly shaken and frightened, Felyap and Femed moved close to Nengut’s side.

Nengut noticed the king was armed. Masking much of her fear through a smile, she said nicely, “You need no armaments to where we are going.”

“I do not go anywhere unarmed,” the king replied with authority. “You must leave behind hostages to guarantee my safe return.”

“You have nothing to fear. We are peaceful people. No harm will come to you,” Nengut said nicely.

“I do not know you or your people,” the king answered and observed their minutest reaction with his eyes shifting focus on the three faces before him.

Stymied, Nengut conferred with Femed and Felyap in whispers then she faced the king. “We came unprepared. Will leaving my assistants be adequate?” she said with unease.

“I am worth at least a hundred,” the king said sounding proud.

Nengut reacted, “But there are only thirty-six of us altogether.”

The king noted Nengut’s reaction and reply. He sensed she was flabbergasted and her companions wide-eyed in fear. ‘To go further may cancel the meeting and he did not want that’, he thought then said, “Since I gave no advance notice, I will forgo the requirement. To show good faith, I will leave my weaponries behind.” Unceremoniously, he threw his headgear outside; unbuckled his belt with the sheathed sword and dagger, and threw them as well. He did the same to his leather chest armor leaving him in his white gold-hemmed tunic and the thin-rimmed gold crown on his head.

 

Shadef was behind a palace pillar. His head leaned slightly just enough to see the king’s back facing three short beings he concluded were Ra’s children.

 

Nengut introduced Femed and Felyap then ushered the king inside. She led him to a wooden armed chair specially built for his wider butt that faced the airship’s screen. But the king preferred to stand.

As the king stood, he noticed the wooden chairs inside seemed out of place within the ship and the other three armed seats were too narrow for his rear. It was only then that he realized how small the Rians were. All three stood below his shoulder level.

King Arth, nearly six feet tall, barely had a foot of clearance to the ship’s ceiling. He looked around nonchalantly knowing he was dealing with short-frightened people. On his part, he would have sent his best general. ‘Why send shy and inexperienced envoys?’ the thought crossed his mind.

Accustomed to the jounce of a moving chariot, the king held on to the console’s edge with one hand. On seeing the receding citadel on the screen, he was amazed but pretended to be unimpressed and continued to observe Felyap’s activities over the console.

Felyap explained, in simple terms, what she did. Since King Arth seemed attentive, she continued to explain. During this time, the king’s mind was somewhere else. He fantasized on the things he could do with such a ship to even look at the fast passing scenes below on the ship’s wide screen that fronted him. He was thinking of the kingdoms he could easily conquer. Two lay across the Nile River, King Adazil and King Silrab’s domains. They were the only threat to his kingdom. However, when two equally powerful kings meet, they do the logical thing—-form non-aggression alliance and build bigger armies to maintain the balance of power or fall. It was that simple.

“Have you talked to King Adazil or King Silrab?” King Arth asked Nengut with concern.

Nengut expected the king to be wary of the two kings. She knew real peace never existed between kingdoms, only lulls between minor conflicts. “No, we want to talk to you first.”

The king was relieved. He had the first advantage and thought, ‘I must prevent the Rians from negotiating with either king, if I could help it.’ He knew from experience the kind of god people worshipped gave some indication to the type of people he would deal with, so he casually asked, “My people think you are a goddess. Are you?”

Nengut had preconditioned herself to the probable questions the king might ask and replied, “I am no goddess or any of the people you will meet gods,” Nengut answered in her smiling way.

“Do you believe in gods?”

“We believe in one almighty God.”

“Only one God? Isn’t that taxing for one God to manage everything?”

Nengut femininely laughed. “Only one God,” she assured. “He is almighty and manages the land, seas, and everything.”

“Aaaah . . .” King Arth exclaimed as he schemed. “I personally do not believe in gods. Does this God of yours kill people?”

Nengut did not anticipate such a question to be asked, and reacted immediately, “Never! Our God is an all-loving God. Our God helps people, not harm them.” She then realized what King Arth was up to. She was dealing with a lion and decided to think like one and added, “There are other ways of doing it.” The facade made her uneasy.

King Arth noticed the change in her voice and manner. She had revealed something inherent to the people he would deal with. He was certain they were timid creatures from a distant land and hoped the rest were just as naive as her, and he relaxed.

 

“We are here,” said Felyap as the airship pierced through the pyramid ship west wall partly embedded on the hillside amid a lush jungle where it landed over two million years ago.

 

Only Technology

 

The Rians, in their identical white snugged-fit uniform and dark-colored leather moccasin shoes, were at the landing bay excited to welcome their first guest, their hope. They were anxious—-travelled so far, worked so hard, and prayed with fervor that the man they would soon meet would be willing help them.

Amo Obib and Ningning, with lei on hand, approached the king as Nengut led him down the airship’s ramp. At the ramp’s end, the king bowed low to allow both to put their lei over his head—-Ningning was four feet five inches tall and Amo Obib an inch taller. Nengut introduced the king to Amo Obib and Ningning. In turn, Amo Obib introduced the rest of the Rians who stood in a line by the airship.

 

The king noticed everyone was no taller than the amo and wore identical white outfits but found it odd to match it with an off-colored leather moccasin shoes. It did not blend well with their uniform. Surprised to notice too, that the only thing that distinguished the amo from the rest was the triangular medallion he wore.

The king, with wonders expressed on his face, was visibly engrossed as he looked around. To which Amo Obib said, “I know you have many questions. All will be answered in time. Are you curious of our one God?” the amo asked.

The question took King Arth off guard. ‘It would be embarrassing if they knew what was in his mind’, he thought. “You read minds?” with apprehension, he asked.

“I must apologize. We did not mean to eavesdrop on your conversation. I assure you, there was no bad intention. All of us here watched you and Nengut converse over the monitor.”

“Monitor?” King Arth questioningly said.

“I owe you an explanation. Let us go to a room and I will show you what I mean.” He led him to a small office cubicle. It was clean and austerely furnished—-all made of varnished wood. The desk had some stocked papers neatly piled on one side; a pen lay squarely at its center; an armed chair behind it; a stool fronted the desk; a triangular frame with an eye embedded (their equivalent to a Christian’s cross) hung on one wall; and nothing else. He asked the king to sit on the stool as the armed chair was too narrow for his butt, then said, “Goopersh, replay the video record of King Arth with Nengut from the beginning.”

Keenly observant, King Arth was looking around at the room’s wooden furnishings and was stunned when the wall fronting him lit showing him going up the airship’s ramp. Speechless and wide-eyed, he saw himself enter the craft; ask leading questions to Nengut as they flew over. It was obvious he was scheming from his gestures and facial expressions.

Amo Obib noticed the king was stupefied. “I assure you it’s not magic.”

“How can you do this without magical powers?” the king was bewildered.

“There is no magic. In time, we will teach your people to build a machine that records events as what you have witnessed. I know you can read and write. It is like General Mismar writing words on papyrus. You can repeat it by reading what he wrote. What you saw were written images and sounds repeated.”

“How were you able to know my general’s name . . . know I can read and write?” the king asked obviously baffled.

“Without your knowing, we studied your people and your language. It is a long process which I will explain in the near future.” Amo Obib answered but sensed it was not the question the king had in mind though it was the question asked and emphasized, “We, Rians, are no gods nor possess any supernatural powers. Think of us as people from a distant place, as mortal beings. We are much like you . . . we thirst if we do not drink, starve if we do not eat, and die like everyone.”

“And the only difference between us is your tools?” King Arth concluded with interest.

“You are so right. What you saw are only tools that we call machines, gadgets or devices, and they are not magical instruments. We want you and everyone else to know that. And that we come in peace as friends and mean no harm to anyone.”

“Will you teach us how to build the flying chariot that flew me here?” the king eagerly asked.

“Yes, and more but . . .”

“I will pay anything . . .” King Arth reacted. Since he started the sentence, added, “Anything that will be fair to both, of course.”

Amo Obib noticed the break in spontaneity and smiled, “If you help us, in the end it will be far more than fair and beneficial to you, your people, and people of this world.”

“In that case, I do not see why we cannot come to an agreement,” he said in relief and regained his posture. “What exactly is it that you want?”

“We will talk after dinner. It is better to negotiate with a full stomach and when both know each other. Isn’t that so?” he asked, as he looked up straight at King Arth’s eyes.

King Arth grinned as he looked down at Amo Obib. “I like people who speak out what they have in mind. It leaves out the guessing and saves time.”

“Indeed, and time is precious. I understand you are a man of your word and pick your words carefully. We, Rians, are people that stick to our word. Can we agree on one thing before anything else?”

“That is?”

“Can I take your word, as I swear before my one God, that you can take mine?”

King Arth sensed Amo Obib’s sincerity and responded, “I swear by my . . .” he stopped. He had no god to swear by. He looked at Amo Obib then said, “I swear by my beloved wife’s memory that I, King Arth, ruler of West Nile, swear to honor my word.”

Both men shook hands as they smiled at each other to everyone’s delight.

 

The Rians

 

As they walked through the hallway towards the dining room, Ningning explained to King Arth what the rooms were. With all their technologies, the king found it strange to see the office cubicle’s walls and its furnishings were mostly made of wood and bamboo. However, he reserved his questions.

When they got to the dining room, Ningning led the king to his seat, and excused herself after he sat.

 

King Arth sat alone at the dining area with a full view of the Rians behind the kitchen counter busy doing something. Overwhelmed by curiosity, he looked around. The dining room had varnished wooden dining tables arranged to form a circle with a space to pass in between tables. Each table had a low-lying colorful bouquet that gave the room a lively atmosphere but no food on them. A long wooden service counter separated the kitchen from the dining room. Behind the counter were worktables, a cooking area, wash counters, and a number of lined wood storage cabinets that formed the kitchen’s back wall. He noticed his table was almost a foot higher than the rest. He leaned down to see what was under and saw his table’s legs propped by wooden blocks and so were the two chairs by his sides where Amo Obib and Ningning would sit.

 

The Rians brought their own food in wooden food trays to their table but the king was surprised to notice Amo Obib, Ningning, and two other prepare his table bringing food on vessels that captured the king’s imagination. Seemingly simple and ordinary objects found along the shorelines and riverbank transformed to objects of beauty to become his plate, saucer, soup bowl, drinking vessels, and eating utensils. The Rian’s were consummate artisans, he thought. Then, he noted that the elegant tableware was only for him. The rest had their food in partitioned wooden food trays and eating utensil made of shell and bamboo.

The king felt uneasy by himself doing nothing. When Amo Obib placed a bowl of fruits on his table, he leaned and whispered to Amo Obib, “I am not familiar with your custom. Should I be doing something?”

“Oh no. You are our guest,” Amo Obib replied.

“As their leader, shouldn’t they be serving you as well?”

“My people are just as curious to your reaction as I am. If you forgive me, I have to tell them what you asked so you can see us as we are. “Your attention please,” Amo Obib addressed the group who stopped at the midst of what they were doing. “King Arth asked me why I, your leader, shouldn’t be served.”

It brought a polite laughter from the Rians.

King Arth forced a half smile. He did not understand why they were laughing and looked at Amo Obib, puzzled.

Amo Obib said to King Arth, “Point to anyone to give you the answer.”

Amused at the request, King Arth looked around as he tried to find the face that fit a name he remembers and said, “You, Indit,” as he pointed to someone on his left side.

“I am here,” Indit answered standing eight feet from King Arth’s right side.

King Arth turned to look at her, visibly confused. “I have your names in my head but you all look almost the same that I don’t know who to pin them to,” he said.

The Rians heartily laughed but the harder laughter came from the king.

When the laughter abated, Indit said, “Since you called my name, I will answer. There is no difference between Amo Obib, who is our leader, and I.”

King Arth did not understand. He turned to Amo Obib puzzled and wanting an explanation.

Amo Obib explained, “You see King Arth, in the world we come from, there are no social strata. Kings and servants stand on equal footing. We believe in helping and respecting each other, and when you do, it matters not who you are.”

“It is a strange culture,” King Arth confessed. “What should I do if I were to behave as you Rians would?”

There was a short silence and Thel, in-charge of cooking, broke it. “I know what you can do. Bring the roasted deer specially cooked for you. It’s heavy.”

The king went to the kitchen with Thel; took the roasted deer from the clay oven; and, with Thel’s help, placed it on top of a wooden platter covered by a large banana leaf. He brought it to his table as Thel brought the sauce. The roasted deer was small for everyone to feast on but the Rians were vegetarians and insect eaters so the roasted deer was only for him and more than sufficient to fill his appetite.

Seated on the king’s left, he noticed Ningning’s food was on a partitioned food tray similar to the rest of the Rians. He glanced at Amo’s at his right side and saw it was no different. He did not ask why, he knew the reason—-it was in their culture.

 

King Arth visibly enjoyed the food prepared especially for him and the pleasant atmosphere that prevailed. Except for the short prayer of thanks for the food, his presence, and the safety of those stranded in space, there were no further formalities, no protocols. Everyone talked freely. They were at ease and acted as themselves. There was a sense of openness in their character, and an air of being totally free. He found pretenses not present as they interacted with him and with each other. He liked the camaraderie and saw the difference when people treated each other as equal—-the wholesome atmosphere it created. Sadly, he realized such culture would not fit in his world. Protocols are necessary and pretense, important. Power and stature have to be displayed; signs of weakness should never be shown. ‘How wonderfully different the Rians are,’ he thought. He enjoyed the cooked deer immensely and commissioned Thel, in jest, to be his royal cook but got her to promise to teach his cooks her secrets.

 

After dinner, everyone helped clear the table. King Arth did his part. Amo Obib did not stop him as the king was having fun and mingling freely with the rest. On seeing Ningning doing the dishes, the king was again taken aback. ‘Is this for real or just an act,’ he seriously asked himself.

 

The Curious Questions

 

After clearing and cleaning the dining room and kitchen, with King Arth doing his part, he, with Amo Obib and Nengut, proceeded for the conference room where the amo told their story and predicament. It took longer than Amo Obib anticipated as he had to illustrate and explain some things for the king to understand. At the narrative’s end, the king asked, “You said that if you get exposed to the sun for too long you will get burned? Is the Sun God more powerful than you?” bothered as he associated the sun to be Ra, the mightiest of gods as the High Priest, Shadeh, had preached.

“The sun is no god,” Amo Obib said and explained, “It is much like a big ball of fire . . . It brings light and warmth like the bonfire in the desert in a cold night except the sun is immensely enormous and nothing else. Rian body cannot tolerate your sun’s direct sunlight most especially when it is directly overhead on a cloudless day. Have you tried placing a cockroach under the noon sun?”

“Cockroach? Noon sun? No,” King Arth was perplexed.

“Cockroaches live always in darkness and will never expose itself to the sun. If it did, it will die.”

“Is that why Nengut came when the sun was close to set?”

“Exactly. A cloudless noonday in Ria is similar in brightness and warmth as your sun is three-fingers before sunset. Thus, like the cockroach, Rian bodies are not conditioned to this planet’s intense sunlight.”

“I see. How about this thing that comes from the ground that I cannot see?”

“Radioactivity. The answer is complex but the analogy is the same.”

“And this prevents you from leaving the shelter of your ship unless properly clothed or standing on a metal floor?”

“Yes,” answered Amo Obib who, from King Arth’s questions, was relieved to know the only difference in intelligence between humans and Rians was Rian technology.

“How can I help you?”

“Let us go to the other room so I can explain better the help we need.”

 

Model City and the People to Build It

 

Amo Obib, joined by Commander Nerus, led the king to a room with a miniaturized model of a well-planned metropolis on a large display table. It depicted high-rise residential areas, commercial buildings, industrial zones, roads, rail tracks, auditoriums, athletic fields, amusement centers, parks, and anything a modern city would have. Though the terrain looked familiar, it did not make sense until the king recognized his palace on top of a plateau and the fortress that surrounded it. He pointed to it, “Is that my palace and around my fortress?” He looked disturbed as it occupied a very small portion of the entire layout.

“Yes. It will remain intact as a historical heritage,” Commander Nerus answered.

The king pointed to a pyramid-shaped block said, “And that is where your ship will be?”

“Yes, roughly over three thousand steps from your citadel,” replied Commander Nerus.

The king pointed to the circular cylinder that nearly surrounded the entire model, “The huge circle that surrounds the area, I gather, is the tom converter?”

“Atomic converter,” Commander Nerus corrected and then added, “But it will be built under the ground.”

King Arth looked at the metropolis in its entirety as he walked around the large table with his left arm across his chest, the right-hand fingers fiddling his beard with Amo Obib walking alongside. The king realized the enormity of the project. “It took us over sixty full moons to build a small part of my palace and it’s not finished. This will take many, many seasons. I do not have that many people who can work on this.”

“What would you suggest?” Amo Obib asked fully aware of the bad blood between adjacent kingdoms for which there were only three in the region—-King Arth’s, King Silrab’s, and King Adazil’s. The Rian’s plan was to get additional help from people outside the region but Amo Obib wanted King Arth to suggest that.

King Arth said, “We cannot seek help from King Silrab nor King Adazil. Their people and mine have battled for ages. Too many family members have died. The ones alive have too much hate to bring some form of peaceful solution to the problem.” The king paused then paced the room with his arms folded across his chest. He looked at Amo Obib and gambled, “One of the conditions for my helping is for you to help me rid of King Silrab’s and Adazil’s. That way, we can control all the kingdoms and use their people as slaves to work on the project.”

Amo Obib replied with resolute, “We have the machine to destroy this world. With the push of a button, we can vaporize King Silrab or King Adazil’s kingdom in a blink of an eye but we will never use this power for that purpose. I will not allow the use of our technology to harm a single person nor will I allow slaves to work on this project. That is firm and final.”

“I have slaves working for me. What do you have to say to that?”

“What you do outside the project will be your concern. We will not interfere. I only wish and pray you would stop and learn to love and respect the people around you.”

King Arth noted Amo Obib’s statement. He was inclined to believe Amo Obib was a benevolent leader and so were his people. They will not pose a problem to him but he had to come up with an alternative before they include King Silrab or King Adazil or both in the negotiation. That, he must avoid. He did not know Nengut advised Amo Obib that too. “There is a solution,” King Arth said taking a chair and sat.

Amo Obib took the chair that faced the king; sat; and said, “We are interested in hearing,”

“I know there are civilizations far beyond the seas and mountain ranges. If you bring them over, then we can plan on how we could best manage them. However, I must think about it before I give my commitment.” His concern was obvious in his face.

“Please do,” Amo Obib replied with relief. The king gave the answer he wanted to hear. Nengut had briefed him on the issues and concerns the king may have and continued, “But as you are thinking of it, please remember, this is your kingdom and you are the king. We, Rians, are merely your temporary guests and are under your rule and so will the people we bring in. As long as no harm comes to anyone, I see no problem with any proposal you will suggest.”

King Arth looked at Amo Obib and said, “You have addressed my primary concern. Knowing how valuable fuel and time is to you, I will have something ready tomorrow. It is late and wish to think of a suitable arrangement. Since I am amenable to your moving the ship near the citadel, you can fly it there so you will not waste any more fuel than necessary.”

Amo Obib took King Arth’s advice and asked the king to watch the monitor to view the ship lift off the ground and head for its new berth.

 

It was close midnight and the moon was full and bright to see the ship, through time, almost half encrusted by the forest on the hillside. In the still night, the ship softly hummed then lifted slowly. Animals screamed in fright, filling the cool night air with myriad of frightened sounds as they scampered for safety in panic. Ripped out of its moor, the noises from uprooted roots, breaking branches, and toppling trees that had embraced the ship for millenniums resounded miles around as the ship slowly rose in the air. Over the forest canopy, a huge chunk of land with trees and undergrowth clung on the ship’s west face. The ship hummed a little louder, accompanied by a light blue glow, and the clinging vegetation was instantly repelled. It fell a hundred feet below making loud crashing sounds that echoed through the darkness. The ship headed for its new berth. Without lights, it floated silently and landed on an uninhabited grazing land three miles from the citadel. A few minutes later, a lone airship left the ship and headed for the king’s palace.

 

CIRCUMSTANCES AND OPPORTUNITIES

The palace night guards stood at their palace post leisurely. Scattered groups of soldiers sat around bonfires waiting for the king’s arrival at the courtyard. Sentries atop perimeter walls looked outward at the starry sky waiting for a glimpse of the airship. Laughter heard every now and then; here and there mixed with the cool night air. Hidden by the night, emitting not a sound, the airship’s nearby presence surprised a sentry as he stared at a ghostly shape that blocked the star lights behind it. It was barely a hundred yards away. He shouted aloud, “The chariot is back.” Hastily, the guards ran to their post and straightened their uniforms then stood erect. The airship landed seconds after and they watched their king walked down the airship’s ramp. The commander in duty was there to meet him and together watched the airship close its door and fly up then away.

 

As King Arth walked towards the palace, he instructed the commander, “I want to see at least thirty cockroaches caged and unhurt by noon tomorrow. I want an enclosure made . . .” he continued his instructions and at its end, added, “Send a courier to tell the prince to be here before sunset. Do you think he can make it?” the king asked. He sent the prince to tour the neighboring garrisons a week earlier.

“If he rides hard, he might,” the Commander replied.

“Send word to the prince to come and have fresh horses waiting for him along the way. Spread the word that the people have nothing to fear from the flying chariots or from the metal mountain at the distance. They are our friends.”

“It shall be done your Highness,” then in a whisper said, “Shadeh is behind a pillar spying.”

The king grinned. He was in a good mood to think of anything else. He whispered back, “I will take care of Shadeh,” and in normal voice said, “Good night.”

 

Shadeh’s plan

 

Behind a palace pillar, Shadeh strained to hear the conversation between the king and night guard commander. He heard the king’s instructions on the cockroaches but not what was whispered. Shadeh, as a small boy, played and tortured cockroaches by tying its leg and left it under the sun. He would watch the little creatures scamper to avoid the sunlight; squirm from its stinging ray; and later die. It dawned on him that it was an example to show Ra’s power over mortals. At his god’s whim, it could do it to humans. As High Priest of the sun God, Ra, the king must reckon with him if he gets the god’s favor first. Shadeh knew the king was furious when he instructed the soldiers to drop their weapons. For that, his life may be in grave danger. He must get the god’s favor or he will have to flee the kingdom. He schemed as he headed for his temple.

 

Tall, huge stone pillars surrounded the temple. Flames from torches around flailed from the breeze passing through its inner sanctum. Curtains danced with the wind. Shadeh, at its altar, knelt before a stone statue of Ra, a large disk held aloft by the falcon’s wings, and prayed, “Why did your children not look or speak to me, your loyal servant, Ra the mightiest of gods? I, your humble servant who faithfully served you for years, prostrated myself . . .” Shadeh prayed and chanted for hours. Each time he said, “Talk to me god of all gods, Ra the mightiest of all,” he paused and intently listened. And, each time he heard only the fluttering sound of curtains flapped by the wind. Hours passed when his eyes caught the falcon’s shadow cast by the torch light against the wall. It swayed side-to-side. In his mind’s eye, the shadow began to dance as it held the disk aloft. Shadeh was hallucinating! Exulted, he shouted, “Thank you Almighty Ra, Lord of all Gods!” and left the temple running.

Shadeh concluded it was Ra’s sign and interpreted it to mean that the only reason the gods spoke to King Arth was that the king stood bravely before Ra’s envoys as the falcons did as it held up the disk. The king was bold and fearless before the gods while he shivered in fear on the ground. He must ask for atonement for his cowardly act and show Ra he is equally, if not bolder, than the king. He must let the mightiest of gods know that it was he, Shadeh, the High Priest, who served Ra and looked after his people and temples. After which he will report the king’s mockery of the highest of gods and of his loyal servants. Shadeh had swallowed enough insults and indignities, and this was his chance to straighten things, but his presentation must be good and spent the evening planning.

 

The King’s Proposition

 

The following day, the king woke early and found his three generals help themselves to breakfast at his dining table. “Good, you are all here,” he said as he sat on his chair then filled his plate. “Our visitors need our help,” he said and started eating.

Suba, unsure if the Rians were gods responded, “The gods seeking our help? They are gods! Why . . .”

“They’re no gods,” the king interrupted then stuffed food in his mouth. “They are just like you and me except they have tools they call machines and gadgets which will make you wonder.”

“Who are these people then, why are they here, and where did they come from?” Suba questioned, bringing nods from the other curious two.

The king narrated the Rian’s predicament then concluded, “There are only thirty-six of them here and thousands more lie sleeping among the stars waiting to be saved. They have to refuel their ship else they will all die. They have 26 summers to do it. That is why they need our help.”

“Only thirty-six here?” Mismar asked to ascertain.

“Yes, thirty-six,” King Arth affirmed.

Astonished, Suba asked, “How could thirty-six fly the big shiny mountain?”

“You’ve seen the bigger chariot then?” the king questioned.

Odi answered, “Everyone by now has. It’s parked at the grassland. We even saw twenty-one smaller chariots leave before sunrise.”

“There are more inside,” the king added. “I have agreed to let them bring people beyond the mountain and seas to help build this Atom Converter in our domain.”

“How many,” Suba asked curiously.

“Four-hundred-fifty thousand workers plus their families in a span of seven full moons,” the king said in passing.

“Four-hundred-fifty thousand?!” Mismar exclaimed in disbelief.

The king continued, “But King Silrab and Adazil’s people will not be part of this venture.”

“How will we house and feed all those people?” Suba inquired with concern.

“The Rians will take care of that and we will profit from it. Our problem is how to control the people they bring. Start giving suggestions,” the king instructed.

Suba started, “They should not be allowed to have weapons and we must have freedom to police and insure that this is strictly complied with.”

“They must be restricted in movement,” Odi added and the four continued the deliberation.

 

They were on the same subject for most of the day except for a break when the sun was directly overhead on that cloudless day. King Arth and the generals went to the courtyard where he had the covered cage of cockroaches brought. It was on top of a table. He took the cage’s cover exposing the cockroaches to direct sunlight. They watched, with outmost curiosity, how the cockroaches tried to escape the sting of the sun’s rays; how it struggled to escape the enclosure lined with slippery leaves; saw them turn over with legs squirming in the air then die in agony. He explained the reason behind the experiment; explained the radiation coming out of the ground that would make the Rians sick and later die; and why they were confined to their ships or be specially clothed if ever they left it.

 

Go Along

 

Two hours before sunset, the king had a well-planned proposal. Before he concluded their meeting, Suba said, “All these plans are good only if we can trust the Rians. What if they decide to use the four-hundred-fifty thousand against us?”

“They don’t need those people to conquer us,” the king stressed. “It still bewilders me that they do not use their machines to get what they want. Strangely, I feel I can trust them.”

“Nevertheless, we should have a separate plan if things do not go as expected,” Mismar suggested.

“Yes,” Odi followed up. “There are only thirty-six of them. Why don’t we just take over and let them be our slaves and use their machines?”

“It’s not that easy,” Mismar commented. “I think these people will rather die than be slaves, that is, if they are as what our king says they are.”

Suba interjected, “Even if the king is wrong, their machines are worth nothing if it does not have the fuel it needs and no one knows how to run it. It is like having a thirsty camel in the middle of the desert with nothing to drink and no one knows how to ride it. It is useless. The ship must be fueled and we capable of handling all their machines. Otherwise, it will not be of any value to us.”

Odi joined the discussions, “We will play along until the time comes, then . . .”

The king listened intently to the deliberations then interrupted, “I want the three of you to plan for contingencies. For now, we have no choice but to go along. I have to prepare for their arrival. You continue,” and left them.

 

BENEVOLENT CREATURES

 

The Spoiled Prince Otil

 

The black Arabian horse Prince Otil rode was wet with sweat and muddied by the dust that accumulated on its skin. The prince was no different in his dusty cape and tunic. His face, arms, and legs were covered with dump dust that encrusted on its folds. He was not manly looking as the king nor was he fair looking at all. His face was narrow with a beak-like nose and protruding front teeth. But he had deep set brown eye and eyebrows that look much like his mother. Unlike his father’s short curly hair, his was wavy and tied as a ponytail behind his head. On horseback, he stopped hard at the palace courtyard and headed directly for his father’s chamber.

 

The king said happily, “Good you made it, my son. Go freshen up and I will meet you at the courtyard.” He was dressed up and ready.

“I just rode in. I need rest,” the prince shrugged throwing his dusty cape to the nearest chambermaid whose head instinctively leaned sideways to avoid the dust and sand that came out of it.

“You don’t have time. This is an important event and I don’t want it marred by your absence or your being late. It is important you meet these Rians. Did you see the metal mountain?”

“I did,” the prince answered coldly. “They are mortals. They can wait.”

“Who told you?”

With arrogance snapped, “I have sources.”

Irritated by the remark, the king looked at his son then said, “I will wait for you at the courtyard before the sun touches the horizon. As I said, this is an important event and I want you there.”

The prince reacted, “You taught me never to show eagerness and let anyone wait until we are ready even if we are. Let them wait, whoever they are. I will be ready after the sun had set,” the prince protested and started to leave the room.

“Otil,” the king said in a subdued voice. “They will not wait. It is I who will wait.”

Prince Otil stopped, turned, and looked at his father. “I am tired. Set a time for me tomorrow,” then walked towards the door.

The king thundered, “Otil.” His hands clenched tightly into a fist. “I am no longer telling you. I am commanding,” he roared. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

Prince Otil continued to walk.

The king realized he had spoiled the prince. He pampered him as he grew to a point that he tolerated his insolence. Now, he saw how bad it had gotten. “Otil,” he shouted loudly. His face flashed red.

“Yes, Your Highness,” the prince shabbily replied without looking. “I will be there,” and closed the door behind him.

 

Prince Otil

 

Prince Otil was the king’s only son with his only wife who died a few months after the child’s birth. An assassin’s arrow missed Arth, a tribal leader then, and hit his wife instead. As she lay dying on his arms, she made him swear to make their son a king. He vowed before she died and mourned her loss by going on a killing rampage.

King Arth did not know who wanted him dead. There was a power struggle among the tribes and kingdoms. Anyone could have ordered it. But that did not distract him from his goal. He killed anyone he remotely suspected. When he found out, it was too late. King Silrab’s father ordered him killed. However, the father died of some ailment and King Arth cursed the gods for depriving him of the kill and swore never to believe in any god.

The prince, as a child, was always with him during his marches to build an empire. The king considered the little one his lucky charm. At a tender age of eight, he had given the prince power to judge and order people killed, and had him watch them die too. He taught him everything he knew—-how to be ruthless, unforgiving, and never to bow to anyone but him. He told him never to show fear and always fight with anger in the heart. He personally trained him to use the sword, spear, bow and arrow, and often demanded too much of the little boy. It had its rewards. Prince Otil, at age eighteen, was an exceptionally skilled warrior. It had a price too—-the Prince Otil was spoiled, heartless, ambitious, and growing independent of him, qualities the king would not hesitate to have someone killed but Otil was his son and he was proud!

 

Incident at the Courtyard

 

King Arth and Prince Otil stood at the courtyard; lined honor guards were at their post. Their eyes fixed at the descending airship to notice Shadeh emerged from the temple and ran towards the king. His hands held up his elegant robe to keep its hem from touching the ground and timed his gait to be beside the king when the airship’s door opened.

Shadeh’s sudden appearance by the king’s side surprised King Arth and caught him off guard. Before the king could utter a word, the airship’s ramp extended and its door opened. Nengut stood alone at the doorway.

Shadeh moved quickly in front of the king and prince; bowed deep; then proudly announced aloud to Nengut, “I am Shadeh, High Priest of your Father’s temple. I brought you presents, Child of Ra, the Sun God, the mightiest of gods.” He then turned toward the temple and with his right hand waved at a priest at its door.

Nengut saw a priest at the temple entrance acknowledged the signal; opened the large main temple door; and waved the people inside to come out.

Priests rushed out of the temple with a bloodied body of a man with outstretched arms bound to a pole and held up by two at both ends. The man’s head dangled as blood dripped from his mouth; his bound legs flailed as it bounced on the cobblestones of the courtyard. Behind was the tortured man’s family—-his wife, son, and daughter, age six and eight respectively. Their necks linked together by a rope. Three priests prodded the mother and her two children to run as they poked hard their back with a baton. On reaching a spot ten feet from the ramp’s edge, the entourage prostrated themselves leaving the tortured man lying on the ground and his family standing beside. His wife’s arms were bruised; her lips and cheeks swollen; clothes stained with spluttered blood; and with both hands, clasped two wide-eyed frightened children in shock, by her side.

The barbaric display petrified Nengut. She froze, speechless with both hands over her lips; her eyes stared in disbelief and revulsion.

The king, saw Nengut distraught, pulled a sword from a nearby soldier’s sheath and raised it to swing at Shadeh’s nape.

Shadeh head was looking proudly at his gift, unaware of the king’s intent.

“No!” shouted Nengut to the king.

Shadeh heard Nengut shout and instinctively turned his head and saw the king’s sword frozen in midair. Terrified, he raised his arms to protect his head. Visibly frightened, reasoned in haste, “He is the man who defiled the gods. He launched the arrow at their chariot yesterday!”

Nengut ran toward the tortured man. “How can you do this atrocity to this man and his family?” she said as she knelt and took the man’s pulse from his neck, “He is alive. Please help him,” she pleaded as she tried to untie the tightly knotted rope that dug deep into the man’s swollen, dirty, and bloodied arm.

King Arth hurriedly moved toward Nengut and pulled her up by her arm as he commanded, “Guards, untie the man and gather all the temple priests and their family.”

Nengut, hysterical, struggled to free herself from the king’s hold. Unable to escape, she turned and pleaded in tears to the king, “Help him please. We must bring him to the ship.”

“It will be done,” King Arth hastily replied, “but you are putting yourself in danger. The thing under the ground will harm you,” he reminded.

Nengut had forgotten the danger. On seeing two guards helping the unconscious man, she ran back to the airship and stood by its doorway simultaneously ordering in urgency, “Goopersh, tell Ningning and Doctor Kitsa to meet us at the landing bay. Tell them I am bringing over a badly injured man and three others.” She watched the soldiers cut the ropes that tied the man to the wooden pole and the woman to her children.

Goopersh responded, “I will comply.”

“Cut all the priests’ heads,” King Arth roared.

“Please, no,” Nengut beseeched, “or you will be as heartless as the priests.”

The king motioned his guards to stop with his left arm. Beheading the priests in front of her was now unthinkable. He realized an opportunity to observe Rians react to the situation. ‘This will definitely give me a good idea as to who these Rians are’, he thought. “The displeasure was done towards you as well. What do you want us do?”

“Let Amo Obib decide. Please have your men bring the man and his family in the airship. We may be able to save his life if we hurry. Please,” she begged.

The king ordered a soldier to rush the unconscious man inside the airship and instructed the man’s family to follow.

 

A soldier, with his arms, carried the unconscious man to the ship as his family tailed. He laid him on the floor and then stood to wait for farther orders.

 

Inside the ship, the woman stayed close to her husband on the floor with her children huddled by her side. The king and the prince stood by one side.

Nengut knelt and felt the man’s pulse again then said, “We have to hurry. This man may not have much time.” With a hypodermic gun, she sedated the man. “That will calm him and slow down his internal bleeding,” she explained.

King Arth instructed the waiting soldier, “Gather the priests and their families at the courtyard. Make sure no harm comes to them.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the soldier snapped bowing waist deep and left.

Nengut went to the craft’s control panel and punched keys. She radioed the incident to Amo Obib hurriedly then attended to the tortured man as airship flew on automatic mode.

Prince Otil watched the entire event coldly. Curious, he observed what Nengut did a few feet away. The man’s wife was on her knees by her husband’s side. Tears flowed from her cheek as she gently wiped the blood and dirt off his face with the edge of her soiled robe. Her children crouched by her side trembling uncontrollably in fear.

 

The airship flew back to the pyramid ship; pierced through ship’s west-wall, and landed on its tripod. When its door opened, Ningning, a surgeon before she joined the church, and Doctor Kitsa with a nurse rushed in. The doctor attended to the man while Ningning and the nurse to the wife and two children.

The doctor scanned the man with a small handheld device. He said, “His arm and legs bones are broken . . . and some of his ribs. He is bleeding internally.” He took a small device from his pocket and aimed it at the unconscious man. A light blue haze bathed the man’s body and levitated him two feet off the floor. Like a wheel-less carriage, he guided the floating body out of the airship and rushed for the surgical room.

The man’s wife clasped her frightened children by her side when Ningning beckoned them to follow her. In fright, they did not budge. It was only on the king’s loud command that they obeyed.

Soon after, Nengut, with the king and prince flew back to the palace courtyard to get Shadef and his priest.

 

Directly over the palace courtyard, the airship hovered thirty feet above a tightly herded group of over fifty surrounded by soldiers. Nengut was disturbed to see women and children among the priests on the screen. One held a baby in her arms. She asked the king, “Why are you herding Shadeh and the priests with their families as well?”

The question staggered the king. It was a normal thing to do! He explained, “An offense made by any member of a family towards their king must be paid for by him and his immediate family.”

Nengut did not understand the logic. She stayed silent and with her pointing finger, encircled the group on the console’s monitor then touched a couple of screen icons.

On the ground, soldiers watched in disbelief as a beam of light from the airship’s underbelly engulfed and levitated the temple priests and their family. The airship headed back to the pyramid ship.

 

The Hearing and Judgment

 

The airship de-levitated Shadeh and his terrified group on the floor corralled by a light-blue barrier. It then floated sideways and landed nearby.

Amo Obib smiled at the group to ease their fright. Nengut did not tell him much except where the airship would land; her suit stained by someone else’s blood; and that he must pass judgment on the temple priests and their family. ‘How could all these people collectively commit a crime as he saw family groups huddled together with their children?’ he wondered and worried.

When the airship door opened, Nengut rushed to Amo Obib’s outstretched arms and cried on his shoulder. The blood on her hands smeared on his white outfit. He gently stroked her back as he repeated, ‘Naska is Imar, Naska is Imar,’ while she wept. After composing herself, she narrated what had happened.

 

The scene touched King Arth. Nengut’s compassion for a stranger and the unrehearsed reaction of Amo Obib impressed him. ‘Truly, the Rians are peaceful and caring people,’ he concluded with no reservations this time.

 

The prince, unperturbed, merely looked about. He saw nothing around the lighted area where they were. The machine shop, kitchen, and dining room, at the far end, were hardly visible. Tired from his long journey and with nothing to sit on, he stood with his arms folded over his chest. Irritated, he arrogantly thought, ‘Chairs should have been provided first even only for my father and myself.’

 

King Arth listened as Nengut narrated the incident to Amo Obib. He observed the two carefully. At one instant, he glanced at his son. For the first time, he realized how cold and indifferent the prince was to what had unfolded in his presences. He realized it was not the prince’s fault, but his. He had brainwashed him since childhood to be indifferent and never show sympathy. To act as a future king ought to, always, even before gods. But that was long ago when his heart was filled with bitterness and hatred; long ago when his beloved wife’s death was fresh in his mind; long ago when the only things he understood were acts of vengeance and ruthlessness, order and control brought by the sword’s swift justice and nothing else.

Amo Obib, after affirming with King Arth his option to pass judgment, faced the herded people who sat on the floor. He called Shadeh to stand in front of his followers. “What have you to say Shadeh?” he asked calmly and loud enough for all to hear.

Shadeh hailed loudly, “Children of the Sun God, Ra, the almi . . .”

“Shadeh,” Amo Obib abruptly interrupted. “I am not nor any of my people gods. Why did you torture the man and his family?”

Confused by the statement, Shadeh replied, “The man defiled your chariot by launching his arrow at it. The torture was a sacrifice and his family an offering to you thinking that you are the children of Ra, the Almighty. My intention was good, my act, noble.”

“Shadeh, regardless of who your gods are, hurting your brothers and sisters, is neither good nor noble. You must remember that.”

Bewildered Shadeh asked, “How then must I please my gods if no offerings are given?”

“Do good to your brothers and sisters. Regardless of the injustices they do to you, love them; forgive them; then offer your pains and sufferings to God. That sacrifice, God will take with open arms. And when you die, He will take you to His kingdom. Do you understand what I just said, Shadeh?”

“Yes, I understand,” Shadeh answered meekly.

“Then tell me, in your own words, what I have just said. My judgment will depend on your answer.”

Shadeh began to perspire. He must use all his wits as his life may depend on his answer. He wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead with his hand, and in anxiety said, “Love everyone even if they hurt you. The Gods will take it as a sacrifice and will be pleased.”

Amo smiled and nodded to Shadeh’s relief. Then said, “Say something against the sacrificial act you did to the man and his family.”

Shadeh started thinking again. “Sacrifices are done from within oneself. The torture was a cowardly act that will serve only to displease the gods,” he answered.

“Does everyone understand and concur?” Amo Obib asked aloud to Shadeh’s entourage.

The answer, ‘Yes,’ resounded.

“Never forget to love one another, help each other, and show compassion to those in need and in hardship. That is the best sacrifice and offering you can give to your gods. Since King Arth had given me the privilege to pass judgment on you, I then set all of you free. Love one another. Help one another. Do no harm to anyone anymore. Goopersh, deactivate the barrier.”

 

Instantly, the light-blue barrier disappeared.

 

Shadeh and his people could not believe the verdict as they looked at each other is utter disbelief. What they did meant a gruesome death to themselves and their family. One of Shadeh’s priests stood and rushed forward and kissed Amo Obib’s feet. Amo Obib got the priest to stand with his hands as he said, “Do not do that, my brother. It is enough that you understand and feel sorry. Just remember to love everyone and do good for them always.”

“I swear,” the young priest said as he stood. “I will help people whenever I can to amend for the injustice I did on my part.” He took Amo Obib’s hands and quickly kissed them then hastily rejoined his family.

 

King Arth could not believe Amo Obib’s judgment. He was not satisfied. The amo should have ordered Shadeh’s execution, even swiftly. That, he would accept. However, this was far from what he thought might happen. He had an image to protect. “The displeasure to my guest had been resolved. The displeasure to me is still to be judged,” he said.

Amo Obib looked up at the king and said, “King Arth, in fairness, you gave your word. Are you to break it?”

“I never break my word,” King Arth retorted as he looked down at Amo Obib. “They offended me as well. As their king, I must pass judgment too.”

Amo Obib gave the king’s statement a quick thought then said, “I understand your position. You were separately offended. As their king, I will not deprive you of the privilege that is rightfully yours. However, before you do, remember I have passed judgment on them to live and be free. If you have them punished or worse still, killed, what was the use of my judgment then?” Amo Obib asked, looking straight at the king’s eyes.

The king looked at Amo Obib. An expressionless face looked back at him. Amo Obib was far wiser than he thought. There was an uneasy silence as the king rubbed his hands then fiddled his beard with his fingers. He was thinking and very serious.

Prince Otil was worried the king might give in. The king’s decisions were always swift. The silence was unusual and disturbing. The temple priests had displeased him as well and there was only one judgment—-torture then beheading. He tagged his father’s tunic then said aloud, “Cut their heads, my father. You cannot lose face in front of these worthless people. You are the king.”

The prince’s interruption broke the king’s thoughts and was infuriated. His son’s audacity to advise him at his age and at that particular moment enraged him. He vented his frustration by instinctively whacking hard the prince’s hand that held his tunic in full view of everyone.

Enraged, the prince looked vilely at his father then the priests and their family. He walked away and stood on a spot where his father could see him and sense his inner fury. His stance was of defiance—-legs apart; arms crossed over his chest; his face, tense; and his eyes stared revoltingly in anger at his father.

King Arth paid no attention to the prince’s stance and continued to think. He had always outguessed everyone and now he was on the spot. If he beheaded only Shadeh, his word to the Rians will have little or no meaning. Moreover, if no harsh punishment was imposed, it meant weakness and would lose face to his people, most especially his son.

In the uneasy silence and tense moment, Prince Otil shouted in anger, “You are the king of West Nile. There is only one thing a king can do. Cut their heads. Otherwise, you are no king.” His voice resounded from the walls of the huge cavern of the ship.

King Arth looked at the prince and saw him stand with his hands on his hip; his feet partly spread. He had taught him well. Maybe, too well but he must know who is king, and, turning to Shadeh and his followers, said, “I have made my decision. From this day forth, you are to leave my kingdom and never return. On the day I see your face again, you will surely die.” His voice quivered on every word. His fist clenched tightly. He was ready to judge Shadeh’s death and let the rest go free. The king would have gambled the consequences if only the prince had not intervened.

 

The prince, on hearing the king’s judgment, ran outside.

 

The king stood still as he watched his son ran. Within, he wanted to run after his beloved son and explain. He cannot—-he is the king.

 

Amo Obib, though pleased with the king’s verdict, felt the hurt and agony in the king’s heart, more so, to see his son run away. He said to the flabbergasted group, “Your king has spoken. On the day he sees you again, I will look the other way. When that time comes, I pray he will find good reasons to spare your life.” He realized the situation was fragile and must get the priest and their family out of the kingdom. He turned to Nengut and said, “Nengut, please take them back to get their personal belongings and bring them to wherever they choose to go.” He then turned to the king, “Will that be alright with you?” he asked looking at the face of a broken man.

In a hollow lifeless low voice, the king replied, “That will be alright.” In the king’s mind was his son.

 

Nengut knew what Amo Obib meant and wanted. She ran to the airship and took off with Shadeh and his people.

 

On the grassland, outside, walking towards the citadel at the distance, the prince was furious, heart filled with hate and anger. He felt stripped of his honor, insulted in front of their subjects, shamed by his father. On hearing a soft humming sound, he turned to look. It was the airship. It passed overhead with the priests and their family levitated under its belly. He had time to right the wrong his father had done, he thought. He will kill all of them himself. He ran as fast as he could but it was three miles and when he got there, the airship had just left. Exhausted, the prince mustered strength to vent his anger. He wrecked the temple. He destroyed everything he saw with whatever he could hold or throw. At the end, he set the temple on fire and stayed outside to watch it burn as he vowed, “They will all pay for their insolence and the dishonor they have done me.” The prince and those loyal to him left the citadel that evening for the southmost city of the king’s domain called Tugbok.

 

Argument Over Justice

 

The king, with no appetite for dinner, requested they discuss the arrangements first. Amo Obib did not object and they walked toward the conference room at the further end.

Disturbed, the king said, “You should have at least beheaded Shadeh.”

“What good will that do?” Amo Obib calmly asked.

Irritated by the reply, he strongly answered, “Justice to the family he tortured. Isn’t that obvious?”

Amo Obib remained silent. He remembered Nengut's Lion-Monkey analogy. She was right--- both saw the same thing yet each saw it differently. “I have never thought of it the way you see it,” he confessed. “Rians look at justice in a different way. You base your justice on equality. If someone cuts a man's arm regardless of reason, justice was served by cutting the offender's arm. A balance was maintained, both men will have an arm missing.”

“Is there any other?” the king sarcastically asked in annoyance.

“The justice of reason,” Amo Obib responded calmly.

“Are you telling me justice can be served in two ways for the same offense?” the king blared.

“Only one,” Amo Obib replied calmly again.

King Arth pondered on Amo Obib’s answer but did not understand. He was troubled. He needed an answer, an explanation, and pursued, “Death for death.”

“Forgiveness for death,” Amo Obib answered.

“Hate for hate.”

“Love for hate.”

“If someone beats me with a stick, I will take the stick from him and beat him to death,” the king said as he appreciated the mental exercise and added, “What will you do?”

Amo Obib thought for a moment then answered, “I will reason out.”

“And, if he does not listen?”

“He still has the stick to beat me,” the amo said seriously.

The king looked at Amo Obib. He sensed the amo was not joking. He grappled to understand the wisdom to what seemed foolish and illogical way to think and react. In dilemma, continued, “There is no equality in love for hate.”

“You are right.”

“How can there be justice then? Your justice makes no sense. It’s imbalanced and weak,” the king scuffed then smirked.

“It is imbalance, if you equate justice as a balance between love and hate. Love outweighs hate a thousand-fold. True justice must serve the good interest of the people and not a few. It does not look at the crime and make judgment but the goodness the judgment brings about to all. Killing begets hate and hate begets hate. Isn’t that true?”

“Yes,” the king answered and started thinking of a real example. “King Silrab’s grandfather killed my father and his son caused my wife’s death. He and his family must pay for their death otherwise there will be no justice.”

“How was justice served if in the end everyone killed everyone?”

“Are you saying to leave my loved ones’ death unpaid?” King Arth asked, annoyed for failing to understand the point.

“It may save your life, your son’s life, and his children, and his children’s children. Otherwise, when will it stop? Justice is best served when the injustice is stopped.”

The king mentally struggled to see things at a different perspective. He was uneasy with what he grasped and uncomfortable with the little he understood. “Justice was never served on my wife’s death,” he pursued.

“Justice is abstract. It cannot relate to tangible things though tangible things, at times, solves it. I will answer your question by asking you this: Would you rather your death be remembered as one that spawned peace and happiness or the one that spawned death and despair to so many innocent people?”

The king hesitated then admitted, “To have spawned peace and happiness.”

“Then justice was best served by forgiving the men who killed your father and your wife, and make peace with them. Their death . . . your father and wife, would serve a better and higher purpose. And like you, your father and your wife would have wanted it that way if they knew what was at stake.”

King Arth was disturbed, “What if one of the men I exiled came back? How should I serve justice?”

“Disobedience to a judgment when done willfully will be served by the penalty determined at the time of judgment. In this case, your judgment was death.”

“You’ll kill him then if you were in my shoes?” The king asked hoping to corner Amo Obib and have an upper hand on a serious argument. Winning the discussion meant so much to him, to his pride.

“I would not impose such a penalty in the first place. However, if you empower me to judge in your behalf, I will listen to his reasons and reserve my decision based on that. But death will never be an option.”

“Then you will go against my judgment,” the king said, hoping to resolve the argument in his favor.

“No. I will right it to do you justice,” Amo Obib said bluntly.

The king was dumbfounded. In limbo said, “But justice must elicit fear to maintain peace. Fear is what maintains order, and justice must perpetuate fear. Fear begets obedience to the law!” the king contended with conviction.

“Justice through fear offers no solution and the peace it brings is an illusion. And fear begets not obedience but disorder and rebellion.”

“My kingdom is safe because they fear my justice,” the king scuffed. This time he was certain Amo Obib was wrong and elated to think that he had won the argument and boldly added, “Take fear out, and my enemies will be at my palace gate to topple me.”

“Replace fear with love and compassion, and they will come to raise and proclaim you their king.”

The king was flabbergasted. His elation quickly replaced by another disturbing question, “Are you telling me to replace fear with love?”

“Yes. That is the only thing that will offer you real peace that will last for generations.”

King Arth pondered for a moment. “Disturbingly, I understand your justice and see its wisdom but it will not work in this world. Fear is the key to peace,” he said, somehow saddened by his conclusion.

“Fear will only serve to destroy your world. Love is the key,” Amo Obib stressed and noticed the king walked slower as they neared the conference room and adjusted to the king’s pace. He knew the king was thinking and might want to talk more but enough was said to draw a good conclusion. “Love one another, that is where true peace lie,” he ended.

King Arth looked at Amo Obib but said nothing as the words ‘Love one another’ resounded in his mind. Much as he wanted the love and respect from the people he ruled, he only found an invisible and seemingly impregnable wall that separated him from them. He had become alone and lonely purely from the wall of fear he had imprisoned himself. This was not what he dreamed when he envisioned his kingdom as a young man daydreaming. It was more of what he felt during his dinner with the Rians . . . a lively community of free people. ‘Are love, compassion, righteous judgment, and equality for all what my realm lacks? Is that what I was unconsciously searching after I acquired my kingdom?’ the questions flashed through his mind. “We have covered a lot in our short talk,” the king said sounding rueful. “It is strange for I see your point but not as clearly as I want. You are brave to tell me I was wrong in my judgments and contradicted me on my beliefs. You may have gambled your life by being too frank and downright blunt.”

“You would be a fool if you have me killed when the contradiction happens to be for your own good,” Amo Obib replied innocently and puzzled at what the king really meant.

King Arth did not answer. He had men killed for lesser reasons and surely for referring the word ‘fool’ to him. He ended the discussion saying, “I placed cockroaches under the noon sun. They did die.”

 

The Arrangement

 

King Arth changed his mind and had dinner with the Rians before the meeting. This time, he insisted that he be treated not as a king or a guest but like a Rian and with them got his food from the kitchen counter; placed them on his food tray; and brought it to the table like everyone else.

 

The king enjoyed the food and savored every bit of it, more so, the lively and informal interaction that ensued. They laughed and joked at each other over their first-time experience with the king and the king with them. Of the funny incidents played seriously the day before but funny to recall and reenact. The king played his part and brought boisterous laughter as well. He felt so glad he opted to be like them, of being himself. He never felt this happy and gratified for what he decided on and what resulted out of it. At one moment, between laughing lulls, he observed how happy the Rians were and recalled the last time he felt this good and remembered one memorable event in the past, long ago. He recalled the great fun he had with his best friends, Mismar, Suba, and Odi. They were young teenagers on a supposedly one day adventure that lasted for five days in the wild. They were care-free young men with no hierarchical distinction from each other. The great fun that came out of it—-swam in the river, hunted small games for food, and the told stories and jokes that continued all day and even lulled them to sleep late in the night. Though he was their acknowledged leader of his friends, he never exercised that prerogative. He acted as an arbiter; he went with the decision of the group; he acted for their good. He was a leader!

At one point, he asked himself, ‘What is the difference? Why are Rians so happy?’ and came to this conclusion: They were all free, equal, and united for a common good. After dinner, he extended his dinner invitation to everyone at his palace. However, the Rians had to decline. They only have four radiation protective suits and Amo Obib and Ningning’s vow confined them to the ship.

After cleaning the dining room and kitchen, everyone went to the conference room. The king, Amo Obib, Commander Nerus, Nengut, and Ningning sat around a round table with a three-inch-high pyramid crystal at the middle. The rest of the Rians were on one side seated.

Amo Obib who noticed the king staring at the crystal said, “That is a recorder among other things. It will store everything we do and speak. In so doing, history, both yours and mine, will have this momentous event recorded. Shall we start?”

“Please do,” the king replied.

“Goopersh, record the event.”

“Recording,” Goopersh, responded.

 

  • * *

 

The negotiation went smoothly. Amo Obib agreed on most of the king’s proposals and the ones rejected were so minor, the king accepted without an argument. They agreed that the people the Rians brought in from outside the kingdom, referred to as Migrants, were the king’s guests, and be under his rule. All major activities required the king’s approval. Any organized meetings by the Rians or the Migrants or both must have at least one Egyptian representative present. The king’s representatives, together with the Rians, will be responsible for the administration of the entire project. If an Egyptian cannot occupy the top management position by virtue of qualification, an Egyptian must occupy the assistant’s position. Made explicitly clear, anything produced by the Rians through the project will exclusive be the property of the Rians and must remain with the project regardless of circumstance.

The Rians and the Migrants cannot own land or trade outside of the Migrant community. They would have self-rule and given protection and freedom as any Egyptian. Migrants cannot have in their possessions any form of weapon nor can they enlist in the army; forced to participate in any form of war the king chose to or forced to engage in.

In commerce, the Migrants were free to engage in commerce provided the raw material to produce the goods came from Egyptians.

Representatives from all groups will enact Civil and Criminal Laws and become the law for everyone upon the king’s approval. A jury system will render verdicts but the Rians will decide the penalty for a Migrant, if found guilty. The king reserves the right to override judgment on Egyptians. Amo Obib was unsuccessful in banning death penalty to convicted Egyptian.

They agreed that the Rians would not interfere in the kingdom’s affairs and vice versa. Made explicitly clear, the Rians would not participate, provide aid nor allow the use of anything brought about by the project to any form of warfare.

The king agreed on a standard of measurement, monetary system, rentals, and form of taxes. Paper money, made by the Rians, will be used as payment within the kingdom but, when demanded, paid in gold or precious stone.

With these basic tenets, Amo Obib and the king shook hands and hugged on it to everyone’s delight.

NO OTHER CHOICE

 

 

Early the following day, as he expected, the king found the generals having breakfast at his dining table. “Stop eating.” the king said, “the Rians are expecting us for breakfast.”

“How did the negotiation go?” Suba asked, setting aside his half-eaten food as the rest did.

“Better than expected,” the king answered, delighted by his accomplishment. “Silrab and Adazil will be out of it. We will be dealing exclusively with the Rians and have full control.”

Mismar asked, “Do you know the prince burned the temple?” He watched the prince burn the temple. Being spoiled and out of his control, he did not stop him. He also knew the king did not react well to people who interfered in his relationship with his son. He tried it once and will never do it again.

“Someone reported last night,” the king uncomfortably answered. The prince with his special guards had left when he got back. He was surprised his son had more followers than he thought. What worried him, it was nearly twice larger than his figure. If the prince learned well from him, he would leave spies but for what ultimate purpose he dared not speculate. Sons kill their parents for the right to rule, thus, the prince was no longer a man to ignore but watched!

Mismar said, “The prince told me to tell you he was going to Tugbok and stay there. Did the incident have to do with the Rians?”

“Not with the Rians but with me. I spared Shadeh’s life and the rest.” The king fervently believed that forgiveness and leniency were signs of weakness. Thus, his verdicts were often harsh and disproportionate to the offense.

Being on the subject, Mismar took the advantage of the opportunity to advise the king, “I see no problem sparing Shadeh’s life. If you ask my opinion, I’d say we start acting as rulers and not conquerors.”

Mismar’s comment bewildered the king. Changing ways in dealing with conquered people never crossed his mind. He became curious and pursued, “What do you think Odi?”

“I agree with Mismar. It’s high time we treat them as subjects of the kingdom.”

Turning to Suba, the king asked, “And you?”

“I think we have killed everyone who stood against us. Showing leniency is not bad at all.”

The king gave it a quick thought then said, “In a different way that was what Amo Obib said. You see no problem in setting Shadeh free?” the king bewilderedly asked them.

Mismar answered the king, “As king, you can do what you want and think best for your people.”

“Think best . . .” the king paused and gave it a thought then continued, “We will talk more on the subject later. Meanwhile, I want you to start thinking on how we will make our kingdom the best kingdom in the land. Let’s go and see the Rians. They will be undertaking a population census today and will provide free breakfast and lunch.”

 

No Guards

 

The king, with his generals and escorts, headed for the pyramid ship. Along the way, he noticed the streets outside his fortress walls deserted. Only dogs, chickens, and cats went about their way on the streets. On some, he saw through windows, tables with food hardly touched or eaten. The military commanders literally followed his order to have the city’s inhabitance gathered at the west side of the ship before sunrise for the Rian census. That was what they did—-forced people out of their homes. This made him reflect on what his generals and Amo Obib have said to him.

 

They followed a path of trampled grass threaded on by thousands of footsteps, animal hooves, and carriage wheels through the grassland. Their tracks trailed the contour of a relatively flat open field that led to the pyramid ship parked at the distance. When they got there, a large crowd had gathered at the west side shaded by the ship’s shadow from the early morning sun.

The pyramid ship stood 482 feet high and 755 feet wide on all four sides. Its smooth metallic-silver surface reflected the sky but not its glare that one could look at the mirrored sun, to their amazement, without squinting at all. Everyone looked at the ship with awe and wonder. Most thought it as god’s house. Though nothing stopped them from touching the ship, the people stayed behind an imaginary line, some 30 feet away. A group gathered tighter as they watched and followed their king and the three generals ride by.

King Arth wondered how they could go inside as they got closer. The Rian’s instruction was very clear—-walk through the west side of the ship. ‘Where is the entrance?’ he thought. When he got to within ten feet to the wall, the wall fronting him opened to a normal size doorway. To his amazement, it widened when his generals stood by his side. He stepped back and the doorway in front of him became a wall. He asked his generals to move back one at a time and noticed the openings turned back to a wall. They spread ten feet apart and walk in together. Sure enough, four openings appeared and another surprise greeted them as they looked back. They could see the crowd as though the wall was not there! Mismar tried to touch the wall but each time he did, the wall widened. All four, had fun going in and out trying to figure how it worked until Amo Obib, Ningning, and Nengut came to welcome them.

After the greeting and introductions, Nengut said, “That’s a one-way vision wall,” as she saw the men playing with the wall minutes earlier. “You can never touch it unless configured to be rigid,” she explained.

“Only your technology and not magic?” the king candidly asked.

“You are so right,” Nengut replied with her usual feminine smile.

“I noticed no one is on guard. Do you know that anyone can enter your ship without your knowing?” the king asked inquisitively.

Puzzled by the question, Nengut innocently replied, “Yes. They are free to come in and out as they wish.”

The king was taken aback by the simplicity of her answer. “That is not wise. It needs to be secured.”

“Secured? From whom?” Ningning reacted naively.

Struck by her innocence, the king replied, “From someone with bad intentions.”

“Bad intentions?” Ningning retorted, puzzled.

Nengut joined, “I think I understand King Arth’s point. He is concerned with our belongings. The word they use is . . . thievery.”

“Oh, thievery,” Ningning reacted. “Please forgive my innocence. Where we come from there are no thieves, no army, no guards, and no policemen.”

“What may be safe for you in your world may not be safe here,” the king admonished then turned to Amo Obib, “Thievery is not the problem. I was referring to your personal safety.”

“You mean someone might do us harm?” the amo was surprised to what the king was inferring.

Nengut interjected, “We are a peaceful people. We will not harm or provoke anyone.”

King Arth as well as the generals noted the Rian’s naïveté as they looked at each other, perplexed. The king said, “If you have something of value that is enough to provoke. We have to place guards to secure you. You have so many things of value.”

“Placing guards will mean we distrust anyone. There is no reason to do that,” Ningning said without hesitation.

“Do you agree with that Amo Obib?” Odi joined the discussion.

“I do,” Amo Obib answered.

Confounded, Mismar asked, “Are you saying you will trust everyone and sacrifice your safety? That is not wise. You are putting your people’s lives in danger and you may even pay with your life.”

“Then we will die,” Ningning, answered with conviction.

The king was taken at her quick response. He looked at Amo Obib for his reaction.

“My wife is right,” Amo Obib said looking at the king then the generals. “We have to show trust and leave our safety in God’s hands.”

The king argued, “You must realize that you are no longer in your world. I will have guards placed for your security.”

Amo Obib replied, “We are extremely grateful for your concern but I will not allow anyone to guard the ship nor any of us. I will have to be firm on that.”

“You have many powerful secrets. Men with greed will try to get them. They will come in the night and take you away. They will force you to cooperate. They will make you their slaves or else die. Do you want that to happen?” the king asked.

As the three Rians quietly thought over the question, the king and the generals could not help notice their childlike innocence. They were pondering over something the simplest of humans have an instinctive answer. They somehow pitied them. They all looked helpless, so vulnerable.

Amo Obib soon realized what the king was insinuating. Nengut had addressed the group on the subject generally. A more specific situation made him consider the king’s warning and said, “We will not protect ourselves when threatened but slaves we will never be. We are willing to accept torture and even death for a good cause.”

Ningning moved closer to Amo Obib and looked at the king showing her support and concurrence to Rian ideals and values.

The king said, “You people are too idealistic. You will not survive in this world.”

“Then we may well perish,” Amo Obib, responded sadly and in resignation. “Our ideals and values leave us Rians with little option on the matter.”

King Arth realized Rian’s conviction to their values. There was no sense in arguing. “You must never show any inherent signs of weakness,” he advised with sincerity. “For your own good, project some sort of power even if you will not use it. Pretenses are often good deterrents.

Amo Obib replied, “Pretense is something we Rians know nothing about and thus we cannot take your advice. We will be open to anyone. We will not hide our weakness. We will sacrifice our safety to prove our good intentions. Humans have nothing to fear from us. You can take us now at our most vulnerable time.”

Suba asked, “How do we know you will not use your machines on us?”

“We have nothing that will harm anyone. You can trust us. Should you wish to take us now, no one will lift a finger to oppose you,” the amo answered, wary of what may happen.

Ningning and Nengut stood closer to Amo Obib as a group that supported each other. Fear and uncertainty griped the three.

The king and the generals looked at each other obviously confounded.

“But why?” the king asked Amo Obib, with genuine concern.

True peace thrives in trust. We come in peace and will trust anyone to prove our intention.” Amo Obib answered.

“Trust no one,” the king snapped.

“Not even you?” Ningning asked the king.

The king uneasily hesitated.

Mismar noticed the king’s predicament, and repeated, “Trust no one.”

“How will peace come about among humans then?” Nengut directed the question to Mismar.

Mismar had no answer.

“It will not,” the king snapped gaining his bearing.

“Not unless you start trusting each other without reservations,” Nengut added.

King Arth replied, “That will not happen. It is not inherent in humans as it is to you Rians to trust each other completely. We humans must always reserve some doubts. History has proven it wise and a prudent route.”

There was a short pause from everyone and Amo Obib took advantage of it, “Peace has a price men must pay and that is trust. For as long as men distrust each other, there will be no peace. Think of it. We come in peace. To that end, do you see any other choice for us but trust?”

The king and the generals had no answer. Each was baffled knowing the truth in what Amo Obib said. Inwardly, each felt strange. They knew Amo Obib was right but they were right too. Where was the answer?

“So be it. There will be no guards,” King Arth politely concluded. Changing the subject, he addressed his generals, “Here, you serve yourself and help clean too. But the food will be well worth it.” At his placed, he looked and saw Thel at the kitchen with an apron on her. Pointing, he said, “That’s Thel. She’s the best cook in the world.”

“I am so pleased to hear you like Thel’s cooking,” Ningning commented then chatted casually as she led them to the kitchen.

 

When they got to the kitchen, the king asked, “Do you have anything for us, Thel?”

“I have something special for you and your companions. It’s a pie we call bibingka,” as she took the pie out of the oven and teased them with its aroma. The king and the generals got their share then mingled with the Rians. As the king expected, the generals savored well the pie and came back repeatedly for more servings.

“Where is the prince?” Ningning casually asked the king.

“I sent him to Tugbok. It’s a city at the southern border of my realm,” the king answered in a passing manner then chatted socially with everyone.

 

Ruling a Kingdom

 

After breakfast, the king and Amo Obib went to visit the man Shadeh tortured. Along the way, the king was keenly observant, most especially when they passed through the Rian’s pharmacy. Shelves of labelled glass jars lined its walls. Jars with herbs, tree roots, barks, some emerged in fluid; of colored powdered earth neatly arranged. Somewhat familiar on the counter below, were the mortar and pestle, and the empty glass tubes on wooden stands. The rest of the things on it looked unfamiliar and strange.

The king and Amo Obib entered the adjacent door-less room and found the tortured man asleep on a bamboo bed. Above and on the side, a familiar coconut fruit hang with a small tube that ran from it to the man’s arm, their intravenous feeding. Seated by the bedside were his wife and two children in white, loose garment.

The children, on seeing the king, sought shelter by their mother’s side as she stood with obvious discomfort. Fear showed in the children’s little face as they held on tightly to their mother’s gown and stared at the floor as their mother did. The mother bowed waist deep and made a muffled groan of pain as she did. Her discomfort was noticeable as she erected herself with Amo Obib’s help.

The king’s eyes paid close attention to the mother and her children. She was visibly ill at ease in his presence, and the children frightened. He became uncomfortable as Amo Obib noticed it too. ‘Is this how my subjects see me as their king, in fear?’ he asked himself. “Do not be frightened,” he said in a calming way to the mother.

The mother did not react. She heard so many stories from her husband of what the king ordered done to families to be frightened.

A gap in spontaneity made Amo Obib interject, “She is still in shock,” then turned to the children; knelt; and said, “Have you eaten?” he asked as he beamed at the little ones.

The children looked at Amo Obib and nodded.

Amo Obib asked in a pleasant manner, “You like a red apple then?”

The children nodded eagerly then glanced at their king; looked at the floor; and slowly moved behind their mother as though the king was a beast ready to snatch and devour them.

Amo Obib saw what the children did. He stood and to the mother asked, “And, you?”

“No, thank you,” as she started to bow.

Amo Obib held her shoulder to stopped her from bowing and said, “You need not bow,”

“You are their leader. How will I act and address you with respect?” she asked. Uncomfortable, she glanced at the amo then stared at the floor again.

“My name is Obib and calling me Obib is fine. And you are?” he said in a calming way.

“I am Teema,” she said without looking at him as she pulled her children to her side. “This is my daughter Dinky and my son Natoy. My husband’s name is Dodot.” Though uneasy, she got the courage to look at him and smile. “You are so kind to have helped us,” she said, then looked down again.

Amo Obib noticed her uneasiness, unsure of how to act. He asked, “Do you know that I chose to free the men that harmed you and your family?” He was poised to observe her answer.

“The woman named Ningning explained. I do not understand but you are wiser than I and for that, I accept your judgment and harbor no malice to the people that did it to us,” she answered, her head still angled down.

“I am so pleased to hear that,” the amo reacted.

“You are a very, very kind man,” Teema added and glanced at him again.

Amo Obib gently patted Teema’s left arm to put her at ease.

Teema felt the gentle tap on her arm and this time she comfortably looked at him in the eyes and beamed at him.

Amo Obib was elated by her response and beamed back then excused himself to get the apples.

 

Teema’s reaction and reply baffled the king. ‘Here is a woman who herself and her family were tortured and yet forgave the stranger who freed them?’ he thought. It defied his logic, his understanding, but saw a better result and wondered why. “How is your husband?” he asked Teema in a concerned manner.

Teema answered as she glanced but dared not look in his eyes, “The doctor said he will be fine but had given him something to make him sleep, your Highness.”

“How long has Dodot served me?” he asked nicely.

Still avoiding his eyes, Teema answered, “He first fought with you against the Bagobos and was in-charge of the archers then. He has been with you ever since, your Highness.”

King Arth recalled the battle. It was against the fierce and feared Bagobos and was a decisive military engagement that marked the zenith of his military campaign. The archer’s brigade with him then were those he was most proud and indebted to. They were outnumbered, and he was surrounded and protected by his archers. If it were not for the archer’s loyalty, who bravely stood their ground in the midst of the enemy’s major onslaught, they would have easily lost. “Dodot is an exceptional soldier. I now realize I have neglected my people, more so, the ones who fought and struggled to make me king. Teema, I am ashamed to admit that I do not remember or even heard his name. This will have to change. When he gets well, I want you and your family to see me.”

The king’s admittance of shame and sincerity touched Teema. It got her to forget she was talking to their king and looked at him with a smile and said nicely, “I will, Your Highness.”

There was something in the way Teema looked and smiled, and the manner by which she replied that touched the king. In that fleeting moment, he felt gratified and overwhelmed by a wonderful feeling brought by his simple humility and care. This is something the sword cannot bring about, he thought. ‘Is this the power Amo Obib was referring?’ Before he could say something, Amo Obib came back with three large red apples and gave them to the children. Soon after giving, they left.

 

Timely and Fruitful

 

As the Amo and the king headed back for the ground floor, the king said, “I thought of what we discussed yesterday . . . about love and fear. It makes sense to me now. Their reaction to you and to me made me realize the difference between instilling fear and what love and caring can bring about. I believed the woman when she said she would harbor no malice to the people that tortured them but do not understand why. How strange. Your sense of justice and values seem to work. I like it.”

Amo Obib thought it wise to stay silent.

“I want to be close to my people,” the king admitted, “But, there is a wall that stands between me and my subjects. Is it because I am their king that this be so?”

Amo Obib gave it a brief thought. “It is because you act always as their king.”

“But I am always their king!”

Be a king when you represent them but an ordinary man when with them.”

“An ordinary man when with them,” the king echoed. “I have not done that for a long time . . . be an ordinary man, I mean.”

“I think, too long,” Amo Obib replied.

The king looked at Amo Obib and grinned. He now accepted Amo Obib’s straightforward answers. On seeing a soldier among the crowd, he called the soldier’s attention.

The soldier ran to him and bowed waist deep then stood erect and said, “Your Highness?”

“What is your name?” the king asked.

“My friends call me Dindo, Your Highness.”

The king freshly recalled how Teema bowed with discomfort before him and, in a pleasant way said, “Well, Dindo, effective today, the king, any member of the royal family, and any high-ranking officer will be afforded respect by simply nodding their head. Bowing waist deep is no longer mandatory. I want you to spread this decree to my people.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Dindo answered, bowing waist deep instinctively.

“Did you understand the decree, Dindo?” he asked candidly, beaming at Dindo.

“Yes, Your Highness but I . . .”

“You need not explain. I understand.” He purposely placed his hand over Dindo’s shoulder in a friendly gesture to prove something to himself, “Do you prefer this decree than the old one especially when your back hurts?” the king joked as he smiled then observed Dindo’s reaction.

“Yes, Your Highness, most especially when your back hurts,” he elatedly replied, smiling in a laughing way. “I will go and tell everyone of the change.”

“Then go before they start bowing when I meet them,” he said as he tapped Dindo’s shoulder.

“Yes, Your Highness.” Dindo beamed and, in a deliberate motion, stood erect, nodded his head slightly then left running.

It was then that King Arth realized the difference in response in how he normally communicated with his soldiers, his people, and the warm feeling conveyed by physically expressing it. He turned to Amo Obib delighted for he knew Amo Obib noticed what transpired. “You know . . .” the king started unsure how to phrase his words, “. . . when we were with Teema’s family . . . there was a moment there that I wished she referred to you as her king and I, the kind man.”

“It will please you to know that in time you will be both.”

With vigor, the king said, “Your arrival is timely. Our relationship will be fruitful.”

To that, Amo Obib smiled.

 

The Orientation and Population Census

 

Amo Obib toured the king and went as far as show him the fuel tanks that needed filling through a glass window. The king wanted to go inside but the radioactive level within was extremely high to cause instantaneous death on exposure. On the king’s succeeding questions, Amo Obib explained how the propulsion worked. Though the king tried hard to understand, it was just beyond him to comprehend.

When they got back to the ground level, the population census was well on its way.

 

The Rians were well organized. One group took individual data and photos, then gave them their personal ID card with their picture. Another group made a quick medical exam. Once fifty were processed, a Rian conducted an orientation.

 

The Rians who did the orientation did whatever possible to make the people comfortable and at ease with them. They told them who they were; where they came; and the help they needed. They made it explicitly clear that they were no gods nor did they possess any supernatural powers. They had them touch their arms which most did. They answered all their questions then gave a tour.

The Rians took special attention to the children, not by intent but by their nature. They would hold, cajole, and joke that the young ones, with little inhibitions, responded by flocking around them. The sight took the fear out from the older ones that soon the people accepted the Rians for what they were, not gods but merely kind people from a world among the stars that needed their help.

After the orientation, they were given freedom to roam freely and unwatched.

 

Atlantis – The New Kingdom

 

At lunchtime, King Arth and Amo Obib walked to the dining area on the ground floor of the ship where people were eating. A number instinctively stood and bowed. The king gestured them to sit and continue eating. As they neared the food-serving counter, the king noticed the servants he sent to help Thel, hastily prepare his table. This disrupted the activity behind the counter and kitchen, and left Thel and other Rians by themselves serving the many in line for their meal. He addressed his servants, “Do not attend to me. Go back and help the Rians attend to my people.” However, by then, the dining table was set.

The king’s table was lavishly prepared with food to feed twenty comfortably seated. Instead of going to his table, the king got families from the food line to dine at his table. On seeing an old woman, he personally escorted her and her family. He told the old woman to sit on his chair that was distinctly elegant from the rest.

Standing by the king’s chair, the old woman was reluctant and said, “I cannot sit there. It is for you, the king.”

The king gave it a thought. “Today, you are Queen of the Kingdom and I, your servant. Please do it for me and enjoy your meal,” sounding as a man who needed her help.

Disturbed by the request, the old woman asked, “And you?”

“I will fall in line like the rest of my people. I have been absent for a long, long time.”

The old woman stared at him then boldly asked, “Can I hug you as though you are my son?”

The king looked at her and as he grinned said proudly, “I will take it as though you are my mother.”

They hugged each other and the people around applauded as they shouted, “Long live our king!”

 

The king joined the food line and got his meal prepared in small paper bags like the rest. The Rians had prepared for this occasion in advance and have more than enough to feed the population. The king ate at the public area. Amo Obib left him alone knowing the king had much to do.

 

The king, visibly overjoyed by the people’s response, took full advantage of the opportunity. He walked around and mingled to as many of his subjects as he could—-not as a king but as an ordinary man. In his mind, he wished the prince was with him to see the difference between a kingdom ruled by might and the one ruled by heart.

 

Atlantis

 

Later that day, the king searched for Amo Obib and found him cleaning dishes with Ningning. He said to him, “I think I have found what I have long been seeking for a long time. I do not know how to repay you for what you have given me.”

“Just help us,” Amo Obib said.

“I will do whatever is in my power. In your honor, I will rename my kingdom and this city from this day forth, Ria.”

“You are so kind. Can we call it Atlantis? In Rian language, it means ‘God’s land’.”

“Atlantis, it will be.”

 

The Programs

 

In education, people, classified by age and intelligence, were led using holographic human-like guides to classrooms where holographic instructors asked the group to focus their attention to an audio-visual teaching screen. Slow at first that progressively got faster and later became high-speed learning tool. They never realized they were in a trance and being taught the Rian language, reading, and basic mathematics. The result would only surprise them later when they realize they could read, do basic math, and speak the Rian language in a course of half-an-hour. Later and through gradual steps, people with higher degree of comprehension took high-speed courses in advanced fields.

Unable to control his curiosity, the king asked amo, “I know you will say it is not magic but how could you teach people a language without teaching them?”

“It is very complex process but have you ever wondered how a spider can build a web; a bird fly; a fish to swim without being told how?”

“Yes, I once wondered how spiders could build webs of similar design without any means of communication.”

“We Rians, call it preconditioned static knowledge. Your knowledge, be it language or skills, are etched in your brain and that is how you learn, remember, and recall. We know how it is etched in the brain and where it is located. We merely copy it to that location.”

“So, if you copy an etched face and name in my brain to another person, this person will see the face as though he had met the person before and remember the name without meeting the person?”

“Yes, but this static memory is fragile and limited to skills. Unless used in the immediate future, it will be forgotten. Once used it will be part of his recollection. That is why the spider knows how to build a web. It is etched in its brain and used.”

“If I understand you right, you took your etched language knowledge in your brain and pasted to others?”

“Exactly.”

“Now I can sleep soundly.”

The amo laughed.

 

The king went through the educational process but not the invited prince who refused to come and participate. The king, on his request, took administrative and management courses.

 

On recruitment, Femed and her team synchronized their activities to Commander Nerus’ skill requirements and construction schedule. They needed twelve thousand workers initially and focused recruitment to what is now China and India. At first, the Rians did the recruitment then trained groups did it for them. In a relatively short time, they enticed and relocated whole towns and villages to Atlantis. Nengut became the liaison between the Rians and King Arth, and in-charge of civic and cultural functions.

Months later, thousands of workers were at Commander Nerus’s disposal. Using holographic-trained site construction managers, supervisors, and with a unified Rian language, Atlantis burst from the ground as weed seeds spread over fertile land. It grew so fast the scenery from the palace tower changed daily. The king, who was proud of what he saw, could hardly believe the transformation before him—-urban development to a once barren land sprouted complete with roads, electricity, drainage systems, railroad tracks, parks, housing units, and everything city dwellers would need.

They built, within the confines of the pyramid ship’s huge cavern, the Rian’s administrative and engineering buildings to house offices they needed to manage the projects. It also housed higher learning schools as the initial holographic learning had its limitation—-it could only implant principles in the mind. Its enhancement required applications of the principles thru classrooms and laboratory trainings using specialized holographic instructors as well.

 

The Rians were terribly busy. With everything they needed to manage all projects confined within the ship, they hardly ventured out and most never did. With thousands of projects going simultaneously to monitor, control, and coordinate, they had no time to spare for themselves. Undermanned, they worked eighteen hours shifts each day, ate their meals at their desk, and relied completely on King Arth to resolve whatever problems existed outside of the project.

The king supported the Rians, understanding well the enormity of their task. Though he wanted to see Amo Obib more often than he wanted, he avoided it. He knew that if Amo Obib spent an hour with him, the Amo would have only five hours for himself and to sleep for that day. On the few occasions that they met, he enjoyed the philosophical issues they engaged in and relished on what he learned and parted wishing there were more times for it.

A year after, factories dotted the designated industrial zones. King Arth inaugurated the first steam driven train. A few months, the first steam powered electric generating unit went on limited operation to provide the industrial complex electricity. From then on, progress grew exponentially.

Though the Rians were open to their technology, they purposely hid something—-making explosives. They, instead, used the airships’ powerful laser to blast obstacles at the expense of their limited fuel.

Before the end of the second year, the king abolished slavery, death penalty, and left the law in the hands of capable people regardless of origin to conduct the judiciary duties. However, the police force and the army remained exclusively Egyptians.

On that same year, the king granted the Migrants the same rights as Egyptians in commerce and trade. He also granted them the right to buy or rent lands. The business minded took full advantage of it and directly competed with the Egyptians in the huge Migrants market that now numbered over a million. The competition got the prices on basic goods and commodities down much to his liking. However, the Egyptian who became rich and powerful by virtue of monopoly, deplored the king’s decrees.

The Migrants, opposed to where they came from, were extremely grateful and fortunate for being part of Atlantis. They were freed from bondage, social neglect, and of the injustices and abuses from merely being underprivileged in the localities hence they came. Their life had changed far from better—-it was extraordinarily good, rich in quality beyond what they dreamed. Foremost was the respect they got as human beings! Mindful of their blessings from the Rians, they were always at their best to whatever was assigned to them to do. They worked on ten-hour shifts, four days a week with days off staggered such that the projects were never disrupted.

 

The king visited the Migrant’s community regularly as he promised. He made sure the Egyptians, the police force, and army never mistreated them. He participated in major community programs with Nengut and, on some occasions, with another Rian. The Migrants understood and sympathized with their benefactors. With all their benefits and treatment, they were extremely loyal to the Rians.

The king knew social discriminations existed. The Egyptians, with their unique physical features and special privileges during the early years, retained most of the top managerial functions. In time, they became a social class. The term, ‘The Privilege’ was referred to them. However, there were no social distinctions among the Migrants. They mingled freely among themselves despite their physical and racial differences. Although the king created a law on discrimination, he could not stop the subtle occurrence as Egyptians continued to make fun of the Migrants in their local language. He tried to bridge the social gap by being close to the Migrants but was misconstrued by the Egyptian elites as being bias.

If there was anything that marred the project, it was Nengut’s death a little after the second year. She became progressively ill of bone cancer that finally disabled her on the last three months of her life. Never was the goodwill she built expressed so profoundly as on the day of her death. People—-men, women, and even children, cried openly as they walked past her hibernating capsule where she was laid to rest. Shorthanded, the Rians had no one to replace Nengut’s civic duties. However, the people (Egyptians and Migrants) assigned to her, understood what Nengut envisioned, and through the civic organizations she created, her projects continued with King Arth’s unwavering support. The king, who worked closely with Nengut before she died, enacted the Trade and Commerce Laws soon after her death. The laws regulated the mechanics to conduct business with Atlantians. The laws, in essence, stated: no one can conduct business or enter into trade with Atlantians unless licensed by the Atlantis Government; that the goods traded used no slaves to produce; minimum wage laws were enforced; and human rights respected. Noncompliance to the law meant imprisonment for Egyptians, exile for Migrants, and, outside the realm, disbarment from any form of trade with any person or an entity within King Arth’s kingdom.

The enforcement of the Trade and Commerce Laws was the fulfillment of Nengut’s dream and the answer to Amo Obib’s prayer. It was the Rian’s tool to instill discipline, control, endeavors at respecting human rights, institute fair labor practices, and equitable wages. Most of all, the abolition of slavery over the entire region.

The kings outside King Arth’s domain thought the trade and commerce laws as an infringement on their sovereign rights but had no options but to comply. King Arth’s licensers and inspectors stringently enforced compliance to the Atlantian trade laws and free to perform their duties within the realms of the other kingdoms. Since the enacted laws served to protect the people regardless of kingdom, the people rallied behind the Atlantian laws that it was hard to circumvent. They complained on the slightest violation and later formed labor unions to protect the workers’ interest which King Arth fully and openly supported. King Adazil, who amassed his wealth through forced labor and slavery, deplored the laws. He circumvented it by imposing higher taxes and intimidation through seizure of land. King Silrab saw the good in the laws complied but in the process alienated him from other members of the royal family and the wealthy whose incomes came from the use of slaves.

In compliance to the Trade and Commerce Laws, the king declared Tugbok as the port of entry for goods coming from King Adazil and north of King Silrab’s Kingdom. Though it was more logical to have the trading center nearer Atlantis, the king chose Tugbok to help his son. The ungrateful prince thought it an act his father must do, logical or not.

Altogether, the Atomic Converter Project progressed smoothly to everyone’s satisfaction—-the king, the Egyptians, Migrants, and the Rians.

 

THE CRISIS

Atlantis became a magnet for human settlement as its population burgeoned from forty thousand to over four million in four years. The king, with Amo’s knowledge, took measures to restrict human influx to his city as outsiders came from across the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, and southern Africa as they are known today. They diverted migrations to adjacent provinces and kingdoms that could use the manpower. By this time, the city’s reliance on Rians to augment food supplies ended. The entrepreneurs took the function and more became rich. And, as the city of Atlantis grew, the neighboring towns and cities prospered, so did the adjacent kingdoms which took full advantage of the growing trade.

Prince Otil, who had the autonomy to rule south of King Arth’s kingdom, stayed in Tugbok. He never set foot on Metropolitan Atlantis since he left the city four years ago.

Tugbok, the Seat of Prince Otil’s Power

 

Tugbok thrived by supplying Atlantis mainly agricultural and farm products. When it officially became the port of entry for goods from King Adazil and north of King Silrab’s kingdoms, Tugbok became the second fastest growing and richest city next to Atlantis. As Tugbok prospered, so did Kings Adazil and Silrab’s kingdoms. Though Tugbok’s wealth substantially came from the commerce brought by the adjacent kingdoms, the prince deplored the thought of the realm doing business with whom he considered enemies. He was not so concerned with King Adazil but making King Silrab, whose father killed his mother, profit from their trade, was something he loathed but grumbled secretly.

King Arth allowed the prince to maintain an army but limited it to three-fourths the combined size of King Adazil’s and Silrab’s armies. The limitation not only curtailed the prince’s power, it also served as a deterrent for the kings of the east from invading his kingdom. Though Prince Otil had the freedom to expand the realm, he forbade him to go east of river Nile—-King Arth had a non-aggression pact with both kings east of Nile River. Though King Arth’s kingdom greatly expanded to the west but the prince could not take credit as all came forward and freely pledged allegiance to King Arth. His kingdom grew four times larger than King Silrab and King Adazil’s combined, without a drop of blood spilled and attributed it to love’s power.

With Prince Otil’s army, King Arth placed less time in maintaining his army’s fitness. He concentrated on creating a government patterned after the Rian system to make Atlantis a model city for the other kingdoms to follow. In doing so, he hoped, in time, to encourage the other kingdoms to forget war and live in peace and harmony. But King Silrab and King Adazil were worried over Prince Otil’s growing army, more so, when King Arth openly declared the Prince Otil his rightful successor opposed to the abolition of the Monarchial System in favor of a parliamentary form of government he earlier suggested. In fear of what the prince could do, the two secretly agreed to strengthen and unite their armies while military superiority was still in their favor.

Both kings knew the Rians were peaceful people and their religion forbade them from participating in any form of warfare but unsure if the Rians would provide war aid to King Arth should their project be jeopardized. Since it was critical to prove this, the kings secretly financed a mercenary group to attack a remote outpost, Mintal, and see how the Rians would react. It was King Adazil who made the arrangement. An attack on Mintal would not be associated to any of them as Mintal was at the south-west-most side of the King Arth’s kingdom and had no strategic value to either kings. King Arth must address the problem as it was in his area of responsibility. Nevertheless, a contingent plan was agreed on for their armies’ immediate mobilization should King Arth uncover their connivance and retaliate.

Three months later, the mercenaries attacked Mintal and decisively won. King Arth sent an army to recapture using traditional weapons of war: swords, spears, catapults, and bows and arrows. To this incident, the Rians did nothing—-not even allow the use of the trains to transport soldiers and their supplies to the location. The trains had prescheduled activities tied to the Rian projects which King Arth respected! Thus, the soldiers sent to regain Mintal travelled conventionally, by foot, horses, camels, carts, and wagons!

Prince Otil, through unsubstantiated reports, guessed that King Adazil was behind the Mintal attack. It actually did not matter. With a well-trained and ready army, he was eager to go into battle with any of the kings east of Nile River but not together. Without consulting or informing his father, he mobilized his army to do battle with King Adazil. So certain of his victory, he daydreamed over the thought of boasting his accomplishment to his father.

The prince knew King Adazil had fortified all river crossings to his kingdom. His battle plan was to bypass these fortifications and attack where the king was most vulnerable, from the rear through the Bucana Gorge passage. However, the gorge was at the northern fringe of King Silrab’s domain and a fortification guarded its entrance. Nevertheless, he was unconcerned. Once his army crossed the river, King Silrab had no choice but grant safe passage. King Silrab had only 19,000 soldiers spread over his kingdom, from what he was informed, against his concentrated 30,000. He sent General Irag to inform King Silrab of his plan with leave to hint on the prince’s option to attack King Silrab’s kingdom instead, if the king refused.

Though the prince information was right on the 19,000 soldiers King Silrab had, he was unaware of recent developments—-unaware that the 19,000 soldiers were concentrated and not far from the fortified garrison at the gorge’s entrance!

 

General Irag and King Silrab

 

King Silrab, informed of Prince Otil’s military buildup at the river crossing, was with his generals at the war room planning a military strategy on a minute’s notice to attack Prince Otil’s army should his army cross the river, Nile. “It would seem that Prince Otil is mobilizing his entire army without King Arth’s knowledge,” a general commented.

King Silrab, a cautious man, gave the general a look. To this, the general continued to explain, “Prince Otil’s mobilization is not meant to attack us otherwise King Arth should have mobilized his army but has not. The prince is not a military tactician but definitely not a fool to attack at one focal point whose terrain is overwhelmingly to his disadvantage. The area’s topography will more than offset the prince’s numerical superiority should we attack. The move . . .” he stopped as a soldier entered the room and spoke to the king.

The king, on hearing the message, asked the generals, “Who knows of Prince Otil’s general named Irag?”

“I met him once,” a general commented. “He is Prince Otil’s best friend and a high-ranking officer in his army. Much like the prince, he is arrogant. All muscle and no brain,” he added.

“The muscle head is here with a message from the prince. Let me hear him before we conclude our plan,” he said, then left the room with a couple of his generals.

 

King Silrab sat on his throne flanked by two generals. He signaled the guard at the door to let General Irag enter the throne room.

General Irag held a sealed letter and was arrogant as he casually walked looking around leisurely at the thrones’ hall furnishings. The robust general on the king’s right, irritated by general’s discourteous act, leaned and said to the king, “Do you want me to cut his head?”

“Let me hear him first,” the king answered in a low voice without turning his head.

General Irag was about to step up to the king’s podium when the same general stood between his king and General Irag with his hand on his sword. His eyes stared in challenge at General Irag.

General Irag stopped on his track. He sensed the tension and was intimidated by a larger man before him holding the sword’s handle still in its scabbard. He said as he looked at the general, “I bring a letter from my prince, Prince Otil, to your king,” in a courteous manner.

“I will give it to my king if you don’t mind,” the general said sternly and got the letter from General Irag’s hand and passed it on to his king.

King Silrab, agitated, remained calm, more so when the letter requested safe passage through Bucana Gorge, a gorge that lead to the rear of King Adazil’s kingdom. He said to himself, ‘I must not antagonize the prince’s plan.’ “The prince is rather vague in his letter,” he said passingly. “Is he asking permission to use Bucana Gorge or merely informing me of what he intends on doing?”

“The Princes’ army is crossing the Nile as we speak, thus, merely to inform,” General Irag said with authority and acted commandingly. “You are in no danger as long as you grant the prince’s simple request . . . lest he diverts his attention and head here instead,” the General Irag advised with a malicious grin.

“I no longer have an appetite for war,” the king said, acting his way through. “Why is the prince waging war against King Adazil?” he asked casually.

“King Adazil instigated the attack on Mintal and must pay,” the general said with authority.

“Mintal?” King Silrab feigned ignorance. “Where is that?”

“West of Atlantis,” he snapped discourteously.

“Is King Arth aware of what is going on?” the king asked as he schemed.

“No, and the prince told me to tell you to keep King Arth blind and out of it . . . the prince wants to surprise his father of his coming victory.”

“I prefer having the prince as my neighbor rather than King Adazil. Please tell the prince, I will keep his plans a secret and grant him safe passage to the gorge,” sounding congenial. “However, his army must stay within the confines of the dried river bed lest it be misconstrued as preparing for battle against my kingdom.”

Familiar with the terrain, he replied, “I understand and will relay your condition to my prince.”

“I will send twenty of my soldiers with you as escorts to ensure the prince army’s safe passage through my domain and will inform the garrison commander at gorge’s entrance to allow safe entry to the gorge for the prince’s army to use. Please tell the prince I wish him success and look forward to a fruitful relationship between his kingdom and mine.”

Pleased with King Silrab’s blessing and message, General Irag left in good spirit with the news he will bring to his prince.

 

King Silrab’s War Plan

 

Soon after General Irag left the room, King Silrab, fuming mad, went back to the War Room. By coincidence, King Adazil’s most trusted general, General Sidro, was his guest and was called to the War Room.

King Silrab, General Sidro, and the king’s generals stood around a table with a large map of the region’s topography. The king briefed General Sidro as he illustrated Prince Otil’s plan and concluded, “Prince Otil’s army is crossing the Nile and will attack your king’s kingdom from the rear through Bucana Gorge. With thirty-thousand men, it will take them a day and a half to cross the Nile River and another two days to reach the gorge’s entrance.”

Distressed, General Sidro commented with grave concern, “Prince Otil’s plan will work if you allowed his army to use the gorge. My king’s armies are concentrated at the Nile River crossings. Redeploying the army will take time and too late to do anything unless you give my king time to mobilize.”

“King Adazil remobilizing his army is not necessary. You and I will make the gorge the prince’s army’s graveyard.”

The general was utterly surprised at the king’s statement. “I came here with only twenty-five military escorts.”

“That is more than sufficient,” the king replied.

Clueless and eager to know, General Sidro said, “Please explain.”

“Are you familiar of the terrain at Bucana Gorge?”

“Very familiar. It was the route I took to get here.”

 

King Silrab explained his battle plan and concluded, “When the front-end of Prince Otil’s army nears the gorge’s end at your side,” pointing the gorge’s exit on the map, “most, if not all, of his army will be inside the gorge. If you . . .” he continued, then, with a glint in his eyes, a grin, looked at the general and asked, “What do you think?”

“What if the prince does not take the bait?” General Sidro asked for contingencies.

“The prince’s numerical advantage will not mean much if he uses the dry river bed, the only route they can take to the gorge. There are very few places where the Princes’ army can climb out of it. The terrain there is very much in my favor. My nineteen-thousand-army is not far and will immediately mobilize it. Either ways, victory is mine but my army will have minimal casualty and material losses if the prince uses the gorge. Understand what I mean?”

“I understand you completely. Atlantis is ours!” General Sidro hailed. “I will leave immediately and assure you no soul will exit the gorge at King Adazil’s end. I will send a courier to inform King Adazil of what we jointly intend to do. My king will not miss this excellent opportunity. We will meet each other at valley below Bansalan passage and march to Atlantis together as one army.”

 

ARMIES AT WAR

 

Carnage at the Gorge

 

The sun had just set. Prince Otil’s thirty-thousand-army had crossed the Nile River and camped within the wide and dry river bed on King Silrab’s domain. On one side of the dry river bed was an imposing vertical sandstone wall, hundreds of feet high that followed the dry river’s contour. The other side was a natural barrier of eroded earth wall some twenty feet high scraped by the river’s seasonal flow. A mile and a half away was Bucana Gorge’s entrance.

 

In the absence of their commanding generals, five army officers headed for the prince’s imposing tent to seek detailed orders for the following day’s march. Worried on a possible entrapment within the gorge, they needed an order to send the cavalry first before the foot soldiers to secure the way through the gorge.

Loud music and boisterous laughter from the drunken men and women came from within the prince’s tent. It was easy to surmise the sexual and drinking orgy going on inside that started when women were brought in earlier. The special guards at the tent’s entrance held back the officers’ entry but reluctantly allowed one to enter. It did not take long for that one officer to be thrown out of the tent and shove to the ground by the guards that escorted him inside. The guards mocked and laughed at him. “You should be thankful the prince did not cut your head,” said the guard as he booted him to the ground and laughed after.

Humiliated, the officer dusted off the dirt from his uniform as he stood then walked back to his group.

“What happened?” a waiting officer asked in disbelief to what he saw.

“Fuck those drunken idiots,” the booted officer said in disgust as they walked away. “I nearly lost my head for a good cause!” he said in subdued anger.

“What will we do?” someone asked.

“Obviously, nothing and march in the gorge on first light,” the officer replied.

“What about the cavalry going in first . . . our insurance,” another asked with trepidation.

“Will you give the order?” the officer asked.

“Not me,” came the instantaneous reply. The prince, not long ago, had beheaded a fellow officer for giving an order in the absence of the prince. The prince admitted the officer did the right thing but cut his head just the same. The prince will never tolerate his prerogative superseded. It was an example he showed to everyone.

The booted officer asked again, louder this time, “Will anybody here give the order?”

There was silence.

 

The Slaughter

 

It was way pass noon the following day when the prince came out of his tent in loin cloth. Seven of the army’s generals followed, clad in their undergarment as their king, and some generals held their aching head. They bathe in the autumn sun as they stretched out their limbs and, at times, covered their nose from the occasional dust stirred by supply wagon as it passed a stone throw from them. “Where is my cavalry?” the prince asked one of the special guard on duty.

Pointing, the guard replied, “Over there my prince. A thousand of them.”

The prince looked and saw saddled horses tied to brushes and the cavalrymen loitering around. “Where are the rest?”

“Seven thousand spearheaded the march. They are deep in the gorge together with the foot soldiers,” the guard reported.

“Have someone prepare our breakfast.”

“It’s pass noon my prince. Would you prefer lunch prepared?”

“So be it. I like to bathe,” the prince laconically said.

“I will have it ready, my prince,” the guard replied.

 

An hour later, the prince and his generals, dressed in military uniform, saddled their horse fully armed. Together with the thousand cavalrymen, they rode towards the gorge’s entrance half a mile away by the side of the supply wagons that moved on. At that same time, the prince’s seven-thousand strong cavalry was a quarter mile away from the gorge’s exit. The few scouts sent ahead were ambushed and killed.

At the gorge’s exit and at the top of the ridge, a lookout signaled with both arms waving two colored flags upon the sight of Prince’s Otil marching army within the gorge whose widest part was but seventy feet and flanked by vertical sandstone walls no less than a hundred feet tall. General Isidro, who eagerly waited for the signal, saw the waving flags from a distance. With over five thousand oxen and horses herded near the gorge’s exit, he ordered his men and local villagers, to get the herded animals to stampede. Spooked and driven by fire, the animals panicked and dashed to the only escape it had, through the gorge. In minutes, a mass of hysterical oxen and horses galloped wildly headed head-on at Prince Otil’s army within the gorge.

The seven-thousand cavalrymen that spearheaded Prince Otil’s army had no inkling of the looming danger ahead until their horses became restless. Soon, they heard rumblings that progressively got louder. For a moment, they wondered what the sound was until someone shouted, “Stampede!” By then, the cavalry horses had gone wild, unseating most of its riders. The same horses stampeded and crushed unseated cavalrymen in its wake as it galloped in a wild sprint away from where the sound came. The horrid scene of panic, mass confusion, and screams of men unseated from their horse and trampled on the ground, rippled backward toward the foot soldiers behind—-over twenty-thousand marching men. But their ordeal has yet to end as the unstoppable mass of General Sidros’s stampeding herd was fast approaching in full charge. The animals’ hooves stumped the earth violently, over a ton of force from each of its four legs! Its sound rumbled and magnified by the gorge’s high walls like a close series of thunder from a thunder storm at its worse.

At the same moment, General Sidro ordered the stampede at the gorge’s exit, the prince on horseback along with a thousand of the prince’s cavalry guards, were waiting their turn to enter the gorge’s entrance. The prince, oblivious to the danger, saw an arrow shot at the top of the ridge. Dark smoke trailed it as it flew skyward. Before the arrow peaked on its way up, archers within the garrison lined the top of the twenty-foot high garrison walls. In seconds, thousands of arrows rained down on the prince’s cavalrymen. Simultaneously, three-thousands of King Silrab’s infantrymen barged out of the garrison; charged; secured the gorge’s entrance and simultaneously piled, in a rush, the captured supply wagons, one on top of another, at the gorge’s entrance and set it on fire. The huge bonfire blocked the only exit Prince Otil’s army had and sealed their fate inside the gorge.

Prince Otil’s confident posture on his horseback changed when he realized the entrapment he got his army in. Wide-eyed and griped in fear was made worst when he saw King Silrab’s cavalry charged towards them. Beyond the arrows range and at the spar of the moment, he ordered his remaining cavalry to retreat. Some hundred followed him. The rest of his thousand cavalrymen fell from raining arrows and those that survive it were later slaughtered by the foot soldiers that came immediately soon after.

 

The carnage within the gorge was dreadful. The strong stench of blood was heavy in the air. The gorge’s walls splattered with blood alongside bloody handprints and finger clawing traces. Loud and weak sounds of moans and cries for help came from heaps of crippled and crushed bodies on the gorge’s floor reddened in blood. Soon after, General Sidro and King Silrab’s foot soldiers went in at both ends of the gorge. They finished off the dying with spears and swords and shot arrows to those who hid in small crevice within the gorge’s wall or clung to it only to meet their death later from the hands of blood crazed opposing soldiers bent on killing all of them.

 

Prince Otil and his special cavalry guards were chased by King Silrab’s cavalrymen. Outnumbered, he ordered a courier to ride out and seek his father’s help as he diverted the chasing cavalry’s attention, the only heroic deed he did.

The courier was cunning. The moment he got his mission order, he stripped himself of his uniform and sword leaving him in his tunic and a hidden dagger. He headed south rather than west, away from Metropolitan Atlantis and deeper in enemy territory. Who would suspect a rider riding away from his homeland without a weapon on him was his plan. He rode in full gallop between towns and villages within enemy territory without an incident and stole horses along the way to replace his exhausted one. He repeated it almost the entire night. Before sunrise he stole a boat moored by the river bank and crossed the Nile River. Safe within King Arth’s territory, he commandeered a horse and headed to intersect a railroad track. He got there in time. A freight steam-driven train was in sight headed for Metropolitan Atlantis.

 

The freight train operator, on seeing a man standing and waving at the middle of the rail tracks, pulled the brakes and stopped the train. He helped the courier who hardly had the strength to climb up the train operator’s cabin. The courier hastily gulped water and took large bites off the bread given, then lay on the cabin’s floor. When the train operator asked him, what had happened, he merely replied, “I have an urgent message for our king,” and fell asleep from exhaustion.

 

The freight train stopped at the heart of the metropolis before noon. The courier saved over three days had he taken the direct route to the metropolis on horseback and, most likely, would not have made it. He commandeered a horse; rode through Atlantis’ busy streets witnessing military mobilization in chaos. Egyptian men line up to get their body armor and weapons from the armory. Horses, oxen, wagons, and anything an army needed clogged the city streets heading for rendezvous points. When he got to the palace and in the absence of the king, he saw General Odi busy coordinating the mobilization with his men. He hurriedly approached the general. “General Odi, sir, I bring an urgent message for the king from the prince. Where can I find him?” he asked after curtly nodding his head.

“Follow me. I’m going to see him.”

As both men briskly walked, the courier curiously asked, “Are we mobilizing to give aid to the prince?”

General Odi was amused by the question and grinned. “Why should the prince need aid? He has a larger and better army than the king.” General Odi replied. “King Adazil’s army crossed the Nile River. That’s an act of aggression that will be dealt with swiftly,” he forcefully added with an air of confidence.

The courier, being an officer of the prince’s cavalry, realized the general was unaware of the military campaign launched by the prince against King Silrab. It dawned on him that King Arth was not prepared to do battle on two fronts. “This will be a bad day for the king,” he sighed.

“Why?” General Odi reacted in surprise as they walked.

“King Silrab attacked and trapped the prince’s army at Bucana Gorge. I was sent here to seek help from the king.”

“The prince against Silrab at Bucana Gorge?” the general reacted aloud in shock.

Uneasily the courier answered, “Yes sir!”

General Odi realized the gravity of the new situation. “This is something the king must hear immediately,” he said and jogged with the courier as they headed for the adjacent building to the War Room without a word exchanged.

 

King Arth, with General Mismar and Suba, stood near a large table with a map that depicted all three kingdoms in the region. Colored wooden icons representing military units were laid out. Black icons, representing King Adazil’s army, were packed together in disarray above the word ‘Bansalan Pass’. North of it, was Prince Otil’s army icons colored red neatly arranged in battle formation. Similarly, King Arth’s army, in blue icons, was south of the Bansalan Pass. His army formed a wide-opened ‘U’ that completely blocked the way out of the pass. The layout meant one thing—-the battle plan was agreed on and only waited execution!

The atmosphere in the room had no sense of urgency though the general mobilization outside was chaotic. As seasoned military men, they knew it was normal and would settle down hours after and were engaged in casual conversation. The atmosphere abruptly changed when General Odi barged in the room with the courier. They walked hurriedly towards the king and got the courier to stand in front of him. The Courier was tongue-tied that the king commanded forcefully, “Speak.”

“I bring bad news, Your Highness. Prince Otil ordered me to seek for your help as his army is trapped,” said the courier.

General Mismar reacted, “The prince engaged in battle this early. Trapped?!” He looked at the king for an answer.

“I’m as surprise as you,” the king responded without signs of distress. He then addressed the courier, “Is that all?”

“Yes, Your Highness. The message was passed on to me while we were being chased on horseback.”

General Odi saw the king was concerned but unalarmed by the message. He prodded the courier, “Tell him with whom and where.”

The courier replied, “With King Silrab at Bucana Gorge, Your Highness.”

“With King Silrab . . . Bucana Gorge?!” the king roared in incredulity.

General Suba, alarmed, exclaimed, “Our plans were based on confronting King Adazil with prince’s army participating.”

“That changes the scenario completely,” General Mismar interjected. He was the king’s military strategist and had high regard for his talent. “Silrab is no fool when it comes to war strategies. I’d rather fight Adazil with a thousand less men than Silrab with a thousand more. He is cunning! The prince’s act was premature and not planned at all.”

The king reacted, “The young are impulsive and inclined to use muscle than brain,” then asked, “How many of prince’s army were trapped?”

“Twenty-nine-thousand of the thirty, Your Highness,” the courier snapped.

The king was stumped. He asked as he stared at the courier with unease, “You seem so sure of your numbers, why?”

“It was the supply wagons that were going in the gorge. The supply wagons always stay at the rear of a marching army, Your Highness.”

The king understood and believed the courier’s number, twenty-nine thousand. “How many soldiers did the prince have when you left?”

“When I rode out, he had less than a hundred cavalrymen.”

What the courier said was something the king did not want to hear. He needed his son’s army badly in the campaign against King Adazil. He was deep in thought as the reality and criticality of the situation sunk.

General Mismar said to King Arth with a sense of trepidation, “I need to ask a question to the courier.”

The king nodded.

General Mismar had the courier to face him and said in a very deliberate manner, “I want you to think very carefully before you answer . . . Did you notice anything strange while you were with the prince . . . anything?” he stressed.

King Arth looked at Mismar with an inkling of what the general was up to, but hoped it was not what he thought. He then turned to the courier eager to hear his answer.

The courier replied, “We must have angered the gods.”

“What made you say that?” the king asked, looking intently at the courier.

“We all heard a continuous sound of rumblings coming from the direction of the gorge while I was with the prince.”

“Loud rumblings?” Mismar stressed the words.

“More like rumbling thunders. I was some distance away from the gorge and, still, I heard it.”

Mismar looked at the king. “Remember the ‘what-if’ war simulation we played with the Bucana Gorge considered years ago?”

“I do . . . stampede,” King Arth replied with dismay. He remained silent as he considered the outcome of a well-executed stampede with Prince Otil’s army within the gorge then said to the courier, who looked haggard and tired, “There is food next room. Help yourself and rest after.”

When the courier left, King Arth turned and viewed the map on the table. The generals positioned themselves around it with General Mismar on the king’s right side where he always stood when with the king.

The king unceremoniously swept the prince’s army icons to the side of the table with his right arm. “I need two army icons,” he said without referring to anyone then leaned on the table with both hands and stayed motionless as he looked down at the map.

Mismar, anticipated what the king may need, had army icons in his hand and handed the green icon to the king and held on to others.

The king got and placed the green army icon right at the entrance of Bucana Gorge within King Silrab’s territory on the map. “That will represent Silrab’s army,” he explained then got the red icon and said, “This will be the prince’s army,” and held on to it for a moment then placed the icon on its side next to King Silrab’s standing army icon, “Consider the prince’s army annihilated . . . gone,” he stressed in a low voice.

The generals understood what the king meant—-they were present during the stampede simulation they did many years ago. They stayed silent then General Suba wondered aloud, “Why would Adazil dare attack us on a guess that King Silrab could annihilate the prince’s army? Too high a price to gamble.”

“He did not guess,” Mismar snapped, “He was certain! With the prince’s army out of the way, nothing can stop King Adazil from going through Bansalan Pass and attack Atlantis from the north.”

“Now it makes sense,” General Suba thought aloud. “Silrab has to move his army and attack from the south!” he concluded.

Mismar reacted, “He has to, to insure victory!”

The king heard General Suba and Mismar. Without a word said, he took King Silrab’s army icon and laid it across the Nile within his kingdom.

Mismar said to the king, “I surmise the Toril incident triggered this war. You should have talked to the prince when I informed you of his plans to wage war against any of the kings months ago.”

“I should have and now paying for it. Where do we stand?” he asked Mismar without taking his eyes off the map.

Mismar stared at the map. The icons on it seemed like chess pieces in his mind. With both hands, he repositioned King Arth’s army icons and lumped them together over the word Metropolitan Atlantis. He took King Adazil’s fort icon; place it north of the metropolis and said, “King Adazil’s army will come from the north thru Bansalan Mountain Pass. Their presence there will prevent reinforcement from the north-west region. He has over twenty-thousand men.” He took King Silrab’s fort icon and placed it south of the metropolis and said, “King Silrab’s army will come from the south and poised to cut reinforcements from the southwest. He has nineteen thousand. The two armies will converge at Matina Crossing late afternoon on the third day and will march and be here three days after. Altogether, we have a little over fourteen-thousand against thirty-nine-thousand. We cannot defend an unfortified metropolis nor can we meet any of their army head on. We have a better chance if we take our army and retreat southwest and meet up with the three thousand men we sent to Toril. Then we . . .”

“Then recruit, train an army, and retake Atlantis?” King Arth asked sarcastically.

“Yes!”

“They’d be invincible by then.”.

“Invincible?” Odi echoed.

“They would have access to resources to modernize their army. We have no chance of winning against a modern army in addition to their superiority in numbers.”

“The Rians will stop them!” Odi interjected.

“With words?” the king snapped. “They will never get the Rian technology – that I am certain. But who will stop them from using the massive amount of materials stocked at the Rian warehouses and convert them for warfare? Our army’s sword is no match against swords made of Rian steel. It will cut our sword in half easily!”

Bluntly, Mismar said, “We need time to prepare and defend Atlantis. Time, we do not have. Our situation is hopeless unless the Rians comes to our aid. There is no way around it. The Rians must give us time to prepare and defend Atlantis else we have no chance of winning. We need the migrant’s help.”

Suba joined, “Even if we get the Migrants, we have less than seven days to train them. The worst part is, we don’t have the weapons to train them with. The weapons our soldiers have are the only weapons we have. We have none to spare. You must also consider that Metropolitan Atlantis has no perimeter defenses. Attack can come anywhere from over forty miles of perimeter. That by itself is nightmare of a problem. The metropolis is just not prepared to go into war.”

The king briefly paused then said in a sense of urgency, “We need the Rian and Migrant’s help. Signal the Rians to tell Amo Obib I am coming over for an urgent meeting. Mismar, present me a war plan without interrupting the Rian project,” he instructed and hurriedly walked out of the room; the building; took the nearest saddled horse at the courtyard; and rode off in full gallop.

 

Need for Migrant’s help

 

The king, on horseback, took the city’s main boulevard that headed straight towards the pyramid ship from the king’s palace. Amo Obib, informed of the king’s arrival, wasted no time. He ordered Goopersh to send an airship to pick up the king. The airship intercepted the king a mile away from the citadel and brought him to the pyramid ship. The king wasted no time either. He explained the situation as they stood next to the parked airship. On the king’s request for Rian assistance, Amo Obib bluntly replied, “We Rians cannot, in conscience, participate or provide aide for warfare. We can only offer you protection by placing a barrier around Atlantis.”

King Arth was not surprised to Amo Obib naivetés on military matters. “They will ravage the kingdom outside barrier until I come out.”

“How about your army?”

“Not only are we outnumbered, my men are unfit for battle and materially unprepared. The situation is critical.”

The amo gave the situation a thought then asked Goopersh, “Goopersh, how much time do we have to maintain a barrier around the whole of Metropolitan Atlantis?” he asked.

Goopersh replied in its metallic voice, “Ninety-seven days.”

Amo Obib said to the king, “Do as much as you can to save Atlantis within ninety-seven days from falling into the enemy’s hands.”

King Arth was taken aback. “Are you aware of what that will mean?” he asked.

“It will be the end of the Rian civilization. Ending my civilization is not my intention. It is a hard decision to make but my civilization is doomed without you. I have seen you change for the better for your people. You are a good king. The people in this region will have a better life if you remain their king.”

“Amo Obib, my intention is to save both your civilization and mine; prevent a war even at the cost of my life. If you are amenable, can you allow Femed to speak in my behalf to the leaders of the Migrants my need for their help as I attend to my army?”

“I must deny your request. I or any Rian cannot, in conscience, ask people to participate in war or on anything that might lead them to harm.”

“I give you my word, the Migrants will not participate in any war.”

Baffled, he asked, “Why will you need the Migrant’s support then?”

“There are so many variables and is pressed for time to explain. There will be no war and no Migrant will be harmed. You have my word,” the king stressed.

Amo Obib looked into the king’s eyes for a moment then decided, “On your word, I will tell Femed to speak in your behalf. However, I have to tell her to emphasize that the Migrants are not required but free to make the choice.”

“That is all I ask. I have to go. Thank you so much for everything. Naska is Imar,” the king said then hugged the amo. With moist eyes, he immediately turned and boarded the airship.

The amo noticed the manner of how the king expressed himself before he left. He strongly felt the king’s farewell was his last.

 

The Migrants

 

Femed had an emergency meeting with the leaders of the Migrant community. She explained King Arth’s predicament and the Migrant’s freedom to aid the king or not. She forcefully stressed that in the event they decide to aid the king, no individual must be forced to abide by it and risk their life. Soon after the meeting, word rapidly spread throughout the Migrant community.

 

King Arth’s Plan

 

Back at the palace, King Arth entered the war room and headed directly to the war table where his generals were. He leaned on the table with both hands and studied the layout Mismar prepared. He stared at his entire army icons lumped together southwest of the metropolis without saying a word.

On the king’s silence, Mismar went straight to the point, “Without Rian intervention, we have no way of winning.”

“I was hoping you’d come up with something different,” the king said then instructed, “Odi, Suba, take five thousand men each. You are to hold back King Adazil’s army for as long as you can then retreat to Atlantis. Mismar, take four thousand and fortify Atlantis.”

“That is the entire army. And you?” Mismar asked with concern.

“I’ll take a small contingent and intercept King Silrab’s army at Matina Crossing. I will make a deal with him. He knows he cannot trust Adazil. It will only be a matter of time when Adazil turns his attention on his kingdom. In exchange for marching together against King Adazil and help the Rians after, I will cede my throne to him. Your life will be much better under Silrab than with Adazil.”

Odi said, “That maybe a long shot if you consider the long-standing animosity between your family and his. All your invitations to King Silrab to come to Atlantis or your going to visit him were denied. I don’t think that is a wise choice. He hates you.”

King Arth turned to Odi and replied, “That may be my only shot. Should you see black smoke coming from my location, see Amo Obib and take his offer to protect Atlantis by placing a barrier around the metropolis. You have ninety-seven days to plan and save Atlantis.”

Mismar reacted, “That will mean the Rians’ death.”

The king answered, “Amo Obib is aware of that. You have ninety-seven days,” he repeated.

Mismar said, “In that case, we take the entire army and retreat south and meet up with our 3,000 men at Toril then rally the people outside of Metropolitan Atlantis to join our forces. Let the Rians put up the barrier to prevent the enemy from using Rian resources for no more than three months. We destroy all the food sources outside the metropolis and starve them first before we engage both Adazil and Silrab’s army. That is a winning proposition. You will end up being the King of the entire region.”

“Mismar is right and you don’t have to make a deal with Silrab!” Suba added.

King Arth asked the three, “Do you know what that will mean to the Rians if I did nothing?”

Mismar replied coldly, “It will mean the Rians’ death but it is now a question of survival—-their lives or ours.”

“I agree,” Odi followed.

Suba said, “I also agree. Let . . .”

“Say no more,” King Arth stopped Suba. He knew Mismar’s plan will work but he also knew it meant a victory at Rian’s expense. “Implement that strategy should I fail.”

Mismar stressed, “Why gamble your life. We have a winning plan.”

King Arth replied, “I don’t think I can live with my conscience knowing the Rians will die for us without my trying to save everyone . . . us and them. The Rians have done so much for us. They deserve a chance to life as we do. I must try to save everyone and I have but one option—-make a deal with King Silrab,” he paused then continued, “You are all good soldiers and friends. We have fought many battles together. As your king, I want you to follow my wish,” he calmly said as he looked at each of them.

 

They hugged, as they always do before battle.

 

THE GREATEST BATTLE

It was a cloudy day but not the one that would bring rain. King Arth’s armies marched out of Atlantis in three directions shaded by the clouds that made the arduous march pleasant but not their trepidations over what will happen to them in the battle to come. King Arth, with a hundred soldiers, headed to intercept King Silrab’s army. General Odi and Suba went separate ways to flank King Adazil’s army on both sides at Basalan. An hour later, General Odi changed course to intercept King Arth. He, in conscience, could not see his king go without his protection should King Sirab not agree on their king’s proposal. He was not surprised to see General Suba with his soldiers waiting at a junction. Later, they united at the metropolis with General Mismar who grumbled why it took the two a long time to turn back.

“Do you know our act constitutes mutiny,” Mismar said.

“There’s no law against disobeying an unreasonable command,” Odi remarked.

Suba interjected, “The better way of looking at our situation is to figure out what Arth will do when he sees us.”

“He’ll cut our heads for sure,” Mismar seriously said then boisterously laughed.

The other two heartily laughed with him.

 

The generals rode ahead of their combined armies and caught up with King Arth later that same day. Mismar said to his king as they were on horseback, “Your Highness, we have a mutiny. We cannot stop the soldiers from going with you.”

“Fools!” the king disappointedly said aloud, “All of you have a better chance with the Rians. Tell your men to go back while there is time.”

“I don’t think you can stop them. I tried. We all tried. The soldiers said that this is the best time to be with their king. It just so happened, we agree. I say we fight our way thru King Silrab’s army if he disagrees with you; head south; and regroup while the Rians protect Atlantis. We will . . .”

A soldier on horseback, alerted, “Your Highness, a lone rider is heading this way.”

The king turned and noticed it was a Migrant on horseback who stopped hard almost at their midst.

The Migrant, still on his horse, excitedly requested, “Your highness, stand on a wagon and look towards the west.”

The king was surprised at the strange request from a Migrant who held a spading fork; a home-made wooden club tied to his saddle; and kitchen knife on his waist belt.

The king, excited, climbed a supply cart and looked west with his hands shading his squinted eyes from the blazed of the setting sun. Through the glare, he saw something at the horizon. He struggled to make sense of the unusual dark feature at the distant hugging the horizon. As he strained to make sense of what he saw, he realized the dark feature at the distance were the Migrants. They filled the width of the horizon.

The Migrant proudly announced, “Over two million . . . they all came for you, Your Highness.”

 

The king rode his horse and headed to meet the Migrants. As he got closer, he noticed they were waving their wooden clubs, hayforks, sharpened poles held over their head as they chanted, “Long live our king.”

In the midst of the cheering mass, the king dismounted and walked among them. Tears flowed freely from his eyes as he hugged as many as he could. Soon two men raised him in the air on their shoulders as the people chanted ever louder, “Long live our king.” As they did, the king looked at the multitude and remembered what Amo Obib said nearly five years ago, ‘Replace fear with love and compassion and they will come to raise and proclaim you their king.’

It was the crowning moment of the king’s life. Never was he so moved by the support he got for the little things he did for the Migrants. He said to himself, ‘Truly, no greater power in the world can rise above what love and compassion to your brothers and sisters can do.’

 

That evening, King Arth, his Generals, and five representatives from the Migrant army, headed by Chanlai, planned their war strategy.

 

The Plan Executed

 

Late in the morning, the third day, King Adazil’s army had reached the highest ridge at the Bansalan Pass that overlooked the vast valley within King Arth’s domain. On high grounds and three miles away, the king saw King Arth’s army in its entirety spread over the sprawling grassland below. With disbelief, he could discern rows of columns of soldiers, he estimated to be a thousand each and half-a-mile wide, in a battle formation. Behind the columns were blocks of a thousand men. There were so many, he did not bother to estimate. The sight was far from the 14,000 soldiers he expected. He threw away his dreams of grandeur and ordered his army to turn back, leaving King Silrab to do battle with King Arth’s army by himself.

King Arth, on seeing King Adazil’s army retreat, smiled. He redeployed his army and the Migrants to face King Silrab’s approaching army that was nearing the mountain’s bend.

 

King Silrab, being on low ground, could not see what King Adazil saw at the ridge of Basalan Pass. When his army made the turn towards a low-lying valley, he saw, at the distance, to his great surprise, King Adazil’s army marching back, retreating. Before him, was King Arth’s army of 14,000 in battle formation. He was not, in any way, concerned. He knew King Arth had neglected his army’s fitness and was not prepared to go into battle against his 19,000 well-armed and trained army. With confidence, he ordered his army to go in battle formation and face head-on King Arth’s army. He laughed at the thought of how dumb King Arth to have the audacity to even prepare his army for battle, and how he overrated him through all the years. This will be an easy victory, he thought on seeing his army in battle formation, waiting for his command to attack. His perception instantly changed on seeing a waving flag signal from General Odi. On that signal, the Migrants came out running from behind the hills and filled the vast valley before him into a sea of warriors. Spread out, they encircled King Silrab’s army on three sides, over two million strong! He was not prepared for what he saw and, now, realized why King Adazil turned back and he, had fallen into a trap.

King Arth, in full battle gear, with his three generals, rode halfway between his army and that of King Silrab’s. The armies were but a flung arrow’s distance apart. The king signaled his generals to wave their banners.

On the sight of the generals waving banners, the Migrants and the king’s soldiers waved whatever they held over their heads as they repeatedly hailed in unison, “Long live King Arth!” The wide valley floor reverberated to the sound of his hailing army shouting at the top of their voice. Rocks fell off the surrounding ridges from the horrendous sound they made. The valley fronting King Silrab glittered from the objects King Arth’s army held and waved over their head. The frontline soldiers visibly waved their shields and spears; the second line, their shields and swords; and the third line, bows and arrows. The Migrants behind were some distant from King Silrab’s men to discern that polished metal – frying pans, cups, plates, spoons, and anything that shined tied to a stick or pole were being waved. Together the entire valley dazzled brightly under the sun that the opposing army shielded their eyes from the glare.

Moments later, the king raised his hand. The generals threw their flags on the ground and drew their sword. There was an unnatural sound heard in the air as King Arth’s army prepare themselves for battle, then, an eerie silence followed.

King Arth shouted at the top of his voice: “I come before you in peace,” he paused as he waited for his words’ echo to subside. “Drop your armaments and move back,” he paused again. “You have my word as king . . . no harm or retribution will befall you . . . Fight . . . and it will be your last. . . On that . . . I also give my word.”

To King Arth’s warning, sounds of armaments dropped by King Silrab’s soldiers reverberated. Sounds that crescendo to an eerie cacophony of clangs, clings, thuds, and sounds of thousands of footsteps from men moving back and treading on weapons of war that littered the ground. King Silrab could merely watch his men and dreams desert him. It was far from his illusions of conquest a moment ago. Much farther from what he thought might be. Soon, he was alone in an open space; saddled on his horse; resigned to his fate.

 

“King Silrab,” King Arth called out, “we will have to settle the bad blood between your family and mine today.” He dismounted his horse; drew his sword; and walked towards King Silrab. His generals dismounted and walked ten feet behind with swords drawn by their side.

 

King Silrab dismounted then drew his sword disquietly. He knew he was no match to King Arth’s skill in a duel. Only his dignity and pride got him to stand his ground and face King Arth.

When they came to within ten feet, King Arth stopped and said to his generals, “Should I die, I want you to set King Silrab free and let him rule his kingdom. Do you understand and swear?”

The generals, taken aback by the king’s command, remained silent. It was only when the king shouted ‘swear’ angrily that they swore.

King Silrab reacted, “How noble of you to offer me my life and kingdom in exchange for your life. In return I pledge this, should I win, I will never raise an arm against your kingdom and all family debts are paid.” He knew a surprise attack was his only chance of winning and suddenly swung his sword at King Arth’s head.

King Arth effortlessly parried the first strike. He could have easily killed King Silrab, there and then, had he struck back but did not. He continued to be on the defensive as King Silrab wildly swung and thrashed his sword at him.

Odi noticed the lost opportunities to strike the fatal blow at King Silrab, commented, “Why doesn’t he kill him?”

Mismar, on hearing Odi’s question, replied, “I don’t think he wants him dead.”

King Arth continued merely to parry King Silrab’s attack until the chance came and made a move that got King Silrab’s sword to fall on the ground.

King Silrab froze with King Arth’s sword at his throat. He shut his eyelids tight in anticipation for his gruesome death. “Please make it swift,” he requested.

In a normal voice, King Arth said, “Open your eyes, King Silrab.”

King Silrab did and to his amazement saw King Arth held out his sword with its handle towards him. He took the sword and held it by his side.

King Arth said in low voice, “I seek peace. Kill me now if you think it will heal the bad blood between your family and mine, and you will still have your kingdom, as I have sworn.” He then extended both arms and added, “Else, take my arms as token of our desires to have our kingdoms live in peace.”

King Silrab reflected. There were many reasons to swing the mortal blow and settle old family debts. King Arth had put two of his brothers and many of his kin to death. He raised the sword poised to strike.

King Arth did not waver from his stance—-his arms still extended. His eyes on his.

Still poised to strike, King Silrab said, “Even if I personally killed your son?”

“Even so,” the king choked on his word. “Neither you nor I can do anything to change that now,” he sadly said and briefly looked away, his hands partly lowered. He faced him and raised his arms again. With firmer voice, he said, “It is in the past. There are new and brighter days before us and our people. My offer stands.”

King Silrab hesitated, smiled then forcefully flung the sword away. They held each other’s arms then hugged each other. To this, both armies cheered aloud, “Long live, King Arth!”

 

Kill Him for Me and My Mother

 

After King Arth and Silrab parted, King Arth sadly said, “Can I have my son’s body?”

“He is alive. But . . .”

“I understand.”

“No retributions?”

“You have my word,” King Arth replied.

King Silrab turned and shouted, “Set Prince Otil free.”

 

Prince Otil emerged amidst King Silrab’s soldiers. In loincloth, his skin badly torn from lashings; dirt and blood caked around his wounds that were all over his entire body; fury pasted on his face. He picked a sword on the ground and ran towards King Silrab.

King Arth said to his generals, “Protect King Silrab . . . even if you have to kill my son,” then walked to meet his son.

The generals moved in front of King Silrab with swords drawn to protect the King Silrab.

 

The King Arth, with arms extended sideways, blocked his son’s path towards King Silrab as he repeatedly pleaded, “It’s all over, it’s all over.”

The prince tried thrice to go around his father’s extended arms. Unable to succeed, he stood in front of his father and spoke in heightened determination and in anger, “I must kill him,” he shouted.

King Arth slowly lowered his arms and said, “You must not . . . It will not solve anything.”

“Then I will kill you,” Prince Otil furiously shouted staring vilely at his father. His eyes glared at him in fury.

“You have to,” the king said as he stood and looked at his son in the eyes.

“You put more value to his life than my honor? You are willing to die and protect a pig whose family killed your father and wife . . . my mother! What kind of king . . . or man are you?” Prince Otil screamed with disgust; saliva splattered out of his mouth as he spoke; eyes stared furiously at his father.

King Arth stayed silent. He was calm and showed no fear before his son still holding the sword, his fate at his son’s whims.

The prince continued, “If you love me, my mother, and your father, kill him for us!” he shouted in wrath.

The king implored, “It is because I love all that I must not. Please understand. It is for everyone’s best.”

“I will kill you myself,” Prince Otil said as he raised his sword and started slashing the wind around his father unable to get himself to strike the king.

The king stood still as the sword swung an inch away. The generals could do nothing but watch in alarm.

Finally, Prince Otil threw the sword, dropped on the ground on his knees, and, in frustration, cried.

King Arth knelt by his side. He wanted to hug him but his torn flesh was all over his body. He said, “My son, forget the past and look forward to a new and better tomorrow. Forgive and forget as I have done. Please do it for me. I love you.”

His son replied in despair as he cried, “Twice you dishonored me. How can you do that and say you love me?”

The king answered, “I pray in time you will understand. Just remember I do love you with all my heart,” then helped him stand, holding carefully the prince’s hand. “We will get the Rian doctor to bring you back to health. They will mend your wound so no scars will show. You will see . . . everything will be better than before.”

On hearing a humming sound, the king looked up and saw an airship overhead.

 

The king and his son were flown back to Atlantis.

Loss of a kingdom

 

A month after, a small group of protesters, vehemently against the abuses of King Adazil’s monarchy, marched through the main city street towards King Adazil’s fortified palace. Their call for solidarity against the maltreatments and oppressions of their king and his cohorts drew spontaneous support along the way that, in a relatively short time, it had become a huge crowd of angry people who strongly felt wrongly ruled. Informed of the marcher’s cause, the commander of the military garrison ahead ordered his soldiers to join, protect, and head the assembly. Without hesitation, the soldiers at the garrison were on the street, in full battle gear, eager to welcome the protesters and march ahead of them. Word rapidly spread that most of the city’s population joined them. When they got to King Adazil’s fortified palace, all its gates were wide open and the palace soldiers were at its perimeter walls waving delightedly to welcome the protester’s arrival. King Adazil and those loyal to him barricaded themselves within the palace’s inner walls. They surrendered peacefully the following day after King Adazil flung himself off the palace tower.

Two weeks after, representative to once King Adazil kingdom came to see King Arth. They brought King Adazil’s decapitated heads of King Adazil and his generals separately wrapped in linen. With it were over a hundred sacks full heads of people associated with the king’s atrocities and oppressions. They handed King Arth a letter of declaration with hundreds of signatures from representatives of different sectors in their community. It declared King Arth their king.

King Arth looked at the heap of decapitated heads on the floor with dismay. He wanted to admonish but instead warned that no blood be spilled henceforth. He instructed them to elect a Governor and a governing body to rule an autonomous province under his kingship and forbade the formation of an army. Thereafter, the king banned Prince Otil from forming an army. He gave lifetime pension to old soldiers and the young retrained as policemen that carried no weapon except for the few that guarded his palace and the armory.

With no prodding from King Arth, King Silrab followed King Arth’s examples and the two kingdoms flourished in peace in the years that followed. Prince Otil recovered completely from his injuries. With the Rian’s medical expertise, he showed no scars from the lashings he received from the hands of King Silrab’s men. For a while, he isolated himself in Tugbok. Unarmed and monitored, he was of no threat to anyone. Five months later, he visited Atlantis, on his own accord, to which the king was ecstatically happy and thereafter, visited Atlantis regularly.

 

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Giza’s landscape dramatically changed from the day Amo Obib negotiated with King Arth to what it had become twenty-three years later. With a population of over six million, the city had expanded. It had transformed the vast grassland into a beautiful and well-planned metropolis identical to the city’s model shown to the king decades ago. The pyramid ship, which once stood alone in the wide-open grassland, was now at the heart of Atlantian government buildings and adjacent to the largest park and grandstand in Atlantis. Surrounding, in turn, were the residential areas, then the commercial, followed by the industrial zones.

High-rise residential complexes dotted the residential areas like island communities spaced by beautiful parks between each other. Each had gyms, small and large auditoriums, a shopping center, and, outside, swimming pools, playing courts, spacious children playgrounds, and an army of maintenance workers, deeply dedicated to their work.

The Rians could have easily skipped this high level of comfort to the people of Atlantis and cut the project completion time by a fifth, but did not. They balanced their need to the time they had to make Atlantis a beautiful place to work and live in. The people knew and appreciated what the Rian’s had done and reciprocated by being at their very best.

With Atlantis’ four huge cold fusion electric generators and the Rians’ obsession to distribute electric power for its convenience to the populace, no house was without electricity. Electric transmission wires snaked out of Atlantis physically linking it to every dwelling in King Arth and King Silrab’s kingdoms, and the Autonomous Region, once ruled by King Adazil, and further on. Arth’s kingdom by this time had stretched westward to the fringe of the Sahara Desert, three-hundred miles to the west.

Using Atlantis as a model, and with King Arth’s assistance and support, King Silrab’s kingdom and the Autonomous Region were as modern and progressive as Atlantis. Together, they agreed to name the entire region, both east and west of Nile River, Atlantis and the inhabitants proudly declared themselves as one, Atlantians. Amo Obib’s prayers, Nengut’s dream, the Rian’s hope, became a reality.

 

There were no cars, buses, or aerial crafts for public transportation within or outside Atlantis. Instead, Atlantis had a well-designed, electrically operated public commuting and rail transport systems. The transport system crisscrossed the whole of Atlantis and brought anyone within walking distance to any place within the metropolis. The system was gradually expanded that by the fifteenth year, all the major towns and cities in all kingdoms in the region had identical systems in place. This transportation system was so elaborate that no known inhabited area in the region was more than three miles away from the railway and all led back to Metropolitan Atlantis.

The police force, still manned exclusively by Egyptians, performed their duties unarmed and never had a problem. The citizens were law abiding and their authority was never questioned nor did the police force abused it. If there was a policy the Egyptian police force strictly enforced, it was the ban on any form of armaments, which now included the Egyptians themselves. Though the Egyptians protested the random search, the Migrants thought nothing of it. It was part of their staying agreement with the Rians. No right-minded Migrant would dare violate any of the settlement laws as it meant deportation back to his or her native homeland. No one wanted to go back.

In spite of technological advancement, swords, bows and arrows, and spears, were still the army’s main weapons. Since the king disarmed the military decades ago, the weapons stayed in a guarded armory.

At this time, the work on the Atomic Converter had reached its peak. The underground doughnut-shaped structure of the huge atomic converter machine neared its completion and so were its support facilities. Most of the projects were within the atomic converter’s inner structure—-laying out miles upon miles of super-conductive wires and installed super-magnet casings. Simultaneously, they assembled and tested the machine’s sophisticated electronics.

 

The Rians operated and absorbed a substantial portion of the industrial outputs that propelled the region’s economy. Unless the region absorbed the displaced workers from the project’s scheduled shutdowns, economic chaos would ensue. To help alleviate the problem, the Rians handed more consumer technologies to the private sector and sold the excess capacities of their manufacturing plants. Since the private sectors were slow to react and layoff schedules were uncomfortably near, Femed brought her concern to the king’s Ministry of Commerce who also was the Chairperson of Economic Development Board. The Minister assured her the government had addressed the issues and there was nothing to worry about.

Months later, the first groups of laid-off workers were easily absorbed by private sector. However, succeeding scheduled layoffs would result to progressive unemployment problems. With work on the Atomic Converted winding down to specialized fields, larger layoffs loomed ahead. The government was not ready. To this, the Minister of Commerce and his staff had an emergency meeting with King Arth.

At the palace conference room the minister and his staff briefed the king on the unemployment problem. King Arth lost his temper and shouted, “I thought this problem was resolved a long time ago!”

Nervous, the overweight Minister replied, “Your Highness, the private sector is hardly responding to the incentives given to create new industries to absorb the layoffs. They seem not to see the opportunities. I do not understand. As far as government projects are concerned, we are undertaking so many we do not need. Adding another might arouse Rian suspicion.”

“I don’t want the Rians to suspect anything!” the king fumed in anger. “We have a little over a year to keep this problem from them. They have enough problems on their own and I don’t want them bothered by ours. Does everyone understand?”

The words ‘Yes Your Highness’ resounded. They have not seen their king’s temper flare since the Rians came. The ones they remembered almost three decades ago, heads literally rolled on the ground.

“How many people are we talking about?” the king thundered.

The Minister answered meekly, “We estimate around two-hundred-thousand in the next ten months.”

“Two-hundred-thousand!” the king echoed and fumed again. “You better give me a solution or I will lift the ban on public executions to all of you!”

“Your Highness,” the Minister said in haste, “I propose we use the laid-off workers to build monuments until such time when we have a solution to the problem.”

The Minister was lucky. The king wanted to have monuments built in his honor and that of the Rians. “Good idea. You can relax. I have no intention of beheading anyone . . . at least not now,” he added seriously, though he meant merely to frighten.

“Oh, thank you, Your Highness,” the Minister reacted, wiping the perspiration from his face with his handkerchief.

“That is really a good idea. With two-hundred thousand workforces working, it must be big. But what kind?” he asked as he wondered aloud.

“A smaller version of the pyramid ship made with quarried stones. It will last forever.” he said and nervously waited for the king’s reaction, perspiring as he held his breath.

“I like that . . . last forever,” the king mused at last to the Minister’s relief. The king visualized the monument in his mind as he took full advantage of the cushioned chair’s backrest and fiddled with his beard then said, “The Rians will not suspect. We will build it in Rian’s honor and suggest Nengut be entombed at its heart as a memorial. But don’t expect me to finance this forever or you will have to pay for it from your salaries,” the king said jokingly.

The Minister half-heartedly laughed as he again wiped the perspiration off his forehead and neck this time. “That will solve our problem.”

“Meanwhile,” the king said, “I want you to work on the outcropping rock at the plain. I want that sculptured to a reclining Lion. Lest the Rians hear of it, I do not want the laid off workers complaining about the kind of work they end up. The Rians told me that in their planet, people do not fuss over the type of work they do. So, make sure the ‘Privileged’ do not fuss either,” the king said referring to the white-collared Egyptian workers employed by the Rians and scheduled to be laid-off. “Mr. Minister,” he stressed, “I do not want the Rians to hear, more so, be bothered by our problems. Should they ask, we have no problem. Does everyone understand?” He said out loud.

“Yes, Your Highness,” the Minister replied breathing normally this time.

“Dodot, Dingky,” the king called out.

Dodot and Dingky rushed to their king and together said, “Your Highness.”

“Dodot, since you screen and schedule the people that see the Rians. Make sure the Rians will not hear about any of our problems regardless of kind.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Dingky,” the king continued, “make sure the press releases paint a rosy picture always.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Dingky, the king’s Press Secretary, replied.

“Gentlemen, as I have said, we have a little over a year to solve this problem. If worse comes, we will resolve it after the Rians leave but not before. They have done so much for us. That is the least we can do,” the king concluded and ended the meeting.

 

The Giza Monuments

 

Two days later, the king proudly presented the model of his plan to Amo Obib. The model was expertly made and brought on a special cart. In scale, it showed how it would be laid-out a mile away from the king’s Lion Monument (currently the Sphinx at Giza). Three pyramid monuments would be lined up as the three stars on the belt of Orion, the Constellation in the night sky. It signified the direction in the cosmos to where the Rians’ home planet was located. The sizes of the pyramids varied to the brightness of each of the three stars on Orion’s Belt. The largest of the pyramid was a fourth the size the Rian’s spaceship. A chamber deep within was to serve as King Arth’s tomb. The second largest was where Nengut would be laid to rest and the smallest, Prince Otil’s tomb. Buildings around the pyramids would house museums, cultural centers, and theaters. The space in between would be made into public parks with man-made lakes and wooded areas to accent the place.

Amo Obib liked the presentation and said, “We will help you build it. We have excess capacity. We can use four of the airships for this purpose and will share the cost.”

“I refuse your offer,” the king replied. He had a good idea of how fast they could build the monuments with full use of the airships. Had he known, he would have made the model gigantic. “It will be made purely by the sweat of humans to show how grateful we are.”

“We are just as grateful. A joint venture to express our gratitude to each other then, wouldn’t that be fair?”

The king hid his concern and replied, “Okay. Since it’s joint, I will sit with my designers and come up with a grander plan but similar in format.”

“I will leave the design and details to you,” Amo Obib replied.

 

The Pyramid Monuments

 

Early morning the following day, the king with his architects and construction engineers were at the palace’s conference room. Dozens of clean blackboards, chalks in bowls, large stack of paper supplies were on one side of the room and pens with its ink cartridges lay atop engineering drawing tables on another. Dozens of excited draftsmen waited at the adjoining room for instructions. The thought of being part of a coveted group to leave their mark on the planet that will last forever was enough to anticipate, with overwhelming eagerness, the work that lay ahead. They were full of enthusiasm.

In loose white tunic and in slippers, the king was well prepared for the long tedious planning ahead. Seated at the end of a large rectangular conference table, he started the meeting decisively, “Gentlemen, I want something designed and built within fourteen months, with more or less than 200,000 workers and four airships at your disposal. I want it such that I can justify the workforce to the Rians.” Thereafter, he actively participated in the planning.

 

As the day dragged on, numerous models were thrown; the blackboards cleaned many times; and used drawing papers had littered the floor. As they planned, always, the use of the four airships was a problem—-they could easily build a dozen larger monuments using them.

Midafternoon that same day and after numerous models considered, the king had a feasible proposal. It was not just a large construction project but the end results would be an engineering marvel to awe people for generation to come. The largest of the three pyramid monuments proposed would equal the size of the Rians’ spaceship and the two others proportionate to it as originally conceptualized. Added were large monumental museums and cultural centers to surround it. The three huge pyramids will be built using purely quarried stones as it will last forever, the rest of the projects were to be made primarily of structural steel wrapped in cement. Humans would do the quarrying, etching, and polishing of the stones slabs as their share in the joint venture and will use the airships only for transport. They chose the large park adjacent to the parked pyramid spaceship as the construction site. The project would absorb all the laid-off workers and have full control over its duration. If they fell short on their schedule, they would use more the airships.

 

King Arth presented his plan to Amo Obib the day after. Though Amo Obib thought it grandiose, he agreed with one additional feature—-they would leave a directional beacon at the heart of the largest monument.

Next day, surveyors were at the site staking construction markers at the park.

POWER STRUGGLE

A year in advance, the Rians announced the atomic converter’s inauguration day but withheld their departure date. They issued an open invitation to weeklong celebration hosted exclusively by the Rians that included free food and accommodations for the festivity’s duration to anyone who would come to Atlantis. The invitation extended to the workers and their family in South and Central Americas as they intended to transport them over.

Six months later, the Migrants’ Chamber of Commerce, an association of Migrants businessmen, had a secret emergency meeting. San Ki, President of the Chamber, presided. After issues that concerned the Migrant’s welfare were discussed, he addressed the crowd, “It is imperative we start planning our future. I see no future for us, Migrants, in this kingdom once the Rians leave or if King Arth dies prematurely . . . whichever comes first. Threats to take advantage of government incentive in new businesses aimed at absorbing laid-off workers from the Rian projects are signs of impending problems. We cannot present our concerns to the Rians. They will not be here to protect us. Neither can we go to King Arth who is so blinded by his righteous cause to see what is going on around him. Nor are we safe if Prince Otil took over his father’s throne. The prince, through reliable sources, said that Migrants would make good slaves.

“We have to take matters into our own hands before it becomes late. If we are to become someone’s subjects, we would prefer him or her to come from the Migrant community. At least we control our destiny. Does everyone agree?”

The hall resounded with an overwhelming ‘Yes’.

“Changlai, a general in an army in the old land, will present his plan for your approval,” Ki concluded, and gave the podium to Changlai.

Changlai, very Chinese looking with a pony tailed hair, stood at the podium and went straight to the point, “Whoever controls Rian technology controls the world. It is vitally important we control it. Our success lies in two things—-timing and complete surprise.

“Our informant said that Prince Otil will not allow the Rians to leave and will take control right after the ship is fueled. We will do it just before when they least expect it. We will need five-hundred well-armed men and another two-thousand . . .”

As Changlai explained his plan, a Migrant standing at the rear asked another, “How come Changlai knows about this and not the king?”

“Because the king wishes to be blind and deaf. Brave as he is, he is scared to hear the truth about his son,” responded the other.

“Do you know two of his three closest friends are dead?”

“Who?”

“Generals Suba and Odi. Only Mismar is alive. General Odi mysteriously disappeared in a hunting trip while General Suba had a questionable freak accident. I even heard Prince Otil had something to do with the derailment of the train that killed King Silrab and his family. The new king is a good friend of Prince Otil. It is all too much of a coincidence for the king not to have noticed and acted on.”

“But why?”

“Blinded by love for his son and fulfillment of a vow he made to his dying wife they say.”

“Doesn’t anyone tell him this?”

“No one will dare. The king will blindly protect the prince. Besides, the prince has many spies planted everywhere.”

“King Arth is a good king. I like him.”

“I like him but that will not save us.”

“He still has a lot of followers.”

“The wrong ones like us,” he mocked. “He needs the army.”

A Migrant seated in front turned and addressed them, “Shut up, you two.”

 

Changlai concluded to a hushed crowd, “It is important that the Rians do not suspect. We continue what we are doing until the ship is ready for refueling then we strike!”

 

  • * *

 

A week before the inauguration, the Migrants Chamber of Commerce held an urgent secret meeting. The warehouse used was small to accommodate the over a hundred packed within. The stifling heat made everyone sweat and got the tense situation worse. Arguments and discussions sparked among members in small tight clusters as they waited for Changlai’s arrival. Unable to contain his frustration, one stood on top of a desk and shouted, “Listen everyone. The Rians promised to help us build our own city in a place of our choice. With that offer, I do not see any reason why we should go on with our plan to take control of the Rians and their technology.”

“Yes, I agree,” said another in the crowd aloud. “There is no sense fighting if we will have our own city.”

“Where is Changlai?” someone asked impatiently.

“He will come,” Ki answered.

“The information we paid was too expensive,” someone complained.

“Yes,” agreed another and added, “We also paid dearly for the swords. How do we know Changlai is not pocketing our money?”

Ki replied, “Changlai is an honest man. You can trust him,” and on seeing Changlai enter the room, said with relief, “Here he comes. Changlai,” he called out as he waved at him to come directly to where he stood.

Changlai weaved through men in the packed room, and on reaching Ki, said, “I’m sorry for being late.”

“Glad you’re here,” Ki said with great relief. “The members are having second thoughts. Many feel we are doing the wrong thing.”

Changlai became furious, his face reddened. “Let me address the members,” he said to Ki.

Ki replied, eagerly, “Please.”

Changlai found a crate and stood on it then bluntly addressed the crowd in an angry voice, “I have no time as you businessmen do things at your leisure,” he taunted aloud. “If there is a difference between you and me, I deal with lives, not money, and have no time for idle chatters. If you decide not to push through, I will not argue,” he said strongly. “But before you make that decision, consider very carefully . . . this is our only chance. Once this opportunity is gone and you are wrong, think of what our life will be under the prince. Remember, the Rians’ promise is worth nothing if Prince Otil gets to them first. For your information, the reason for my being late was I had to see an informer to confirm the information I got from another informant. Hear me well,” he stressed forcefully, “Prince Otil will take over his father’s kingdom right after the palace dinner during the inaugural ceremony. Once in power, we, the leaders in the Migrants community, will be under his rule. I think you have a fairly good idea what kind of life that will be. I say we go as planned.”

 

Ki and Changlai went to another room and left the members to argue the pros and cons among themselves. At the end of a heated discussion, they decided to go on as Changlai planned.

INAUGURATION DAY

After twenty-five years and eight months and with four months to spare, the Atomic Converter was fully operational. The three pyramid monuments constructed needed but the inscription within its hallways and chambers for its completion. King Arth’s lion monument, an imposing sight, was done. At the quarry site, two massive and polished granite obelisks, a hundred-fifty-foot-tall and fifty feet wide at its four-sided base, bore Amo Obib and King Arth’s messages deeply inscribed, awaited transport. It would be brought and placed at its site as part of the grand ceremony on the day the Rians leave Earth.

The Rians officially announced the postponement of their departure date to help build the city they promised the Migrants, a sparsely populated island in the Mediterranean (known today as the island of Crete).

 

  • * *

 

The Rians did not dream so many would accept the open invitation. Atlantis burgeoned in population within a week. Cities, towns, villages, and hamlets hundreds of miles beyond the realm and those in the Americas became ghost towns almost overnight. Nearly three million workers and their families from South and Central America were ferried by the airships to Atlantis and stayed in tent cities. Far beyond their expectation, people, on their own, travelled great distances just to witness the inaugural events that the Rians ran out of places to accommodate them. In spite of the multitude that came, there was never a problem—-the Atlantians, through the years, adapted the Rian philosophy of helping each other that no dwelling within the whole of Atlantis was without guests. The Atlantians took it upon themselves to act as host to strangers that came for the event. With a unified language among those who participated in the Rian project, vocal communication was not a problem.

 

Everyone was having a great time. There were many things to do and see—-circuses, cultural programs, games, races, and everything conceivable to keep the people of all ages occupied and entertained. With the sky turned to gigantic screens above the parks, people lay on the park grounds with wireless headphones over their ears and viewed documentaries projected overhead.

 

On the eve of Inauguration Day, the stadium ground nearest the pyramid ship was packed to capacity. At the area nearest the stage, families occupied the bleachers way before sunrise and those that stayed much earlier got the seats closest to the cordoned area reserved for the special guests that fronted the stage.

The palace the dining hall was opulently adorned. Twelve impressive chandeliers lined its ceiling highlighting the gold and silver trimmings on the pillars, the statues, the paintings frames, and the beautiful murals on the walls around.

King Arth, in his elegant king’s robe, was in good spirit. Delighted as he went from one table to another entertaining his guests. His mood was jubilant as he chatted with the Rians (except Amo Obib and Ningning who remained in the ship due to their vow) having early dinner. Soon after dinning, Commander Nerus announced, “Please excuse us for duty calls. We will see you at the stadium in an hour,” and the Rians left the hall. The king’s guest stayed behind to enjoy their meal and the occasion.

 

The grounds, on and around the large stage and the path that led to the Pyramid ship, was covered by lead sheets that allowed the Rians to walk freely. It protected the Rians from the radiation that radiated from Earth’s core. They were in the snag-fit with uniform and still in their leathered moccasin shoes.

When the Rians got to the stage, Indit, in-charge of the programs, was shocked to see thousands of small cut white papers littered on and around the two-level stage. To her relief, she saw Changlai supervise the cleaning crew. She walked over to Changlai and asked “Changlai, where did all these small cut papers come from?”

Changlai replied, “On the last program, they decided to use, at the last minute, cut papers to dramatize snow falling. Apparently, they cut the papers smaller; dumped more at the blowers; and to make matters worse, a strong breeze scattered it around. I am deeply sorry for all this. Do not worry. More men are coming to help clear the mess.”

“Thank you so much, Changlai. I could always depend on you,” she said and went her way.

Changlai looked sad and felt guilty as he watched her leave. He personally liked Indit and loved and respected the Rians but had to betray them. He had no choice, it had to be done.

 

Indit walked a short distance away and found Natoy on guard by the gate that led to the only route to the ship. King Arth insisted and Amo Obib reluctantly agreed to limit entry to the ship only during the duration of the inauguration and had it fenced. He reasoned that with thousands of offices and hallways inside, visitors could easily get lost.

When Indit got near Natoy, asked, “Why are you here and where is your family?”

“I was instructed to guard the gate and lock it once the main program starts. As for my family, they’re somewhere out there most likely watching some side programs. We will see each other later,” he sounded edgy.

“Is something bothering you, Natoy?”

He was uneasy when he responded, “It must be the crowd. I’ve never seen so many in one place.”

“Come to think of it, it really can make you jittery. They’re having a wonderful time though with all the activities going on. Do not worry. Everything will be fine. I have to leave you. We only have less than an hour-long intermission, and we still have so many things to attend to. Naska is Imar,” and took the fenced route to ship to get something and went back the same way to join with the other Rians near the stage.

 

 

The Cost of a Mistake

 

Miyas, a Rian, and three others were manning the fuel transfer controls at the back of the wide and deep lower stage. A replica of a large switch, a symbolic switch King Arth would flip to mark the end to the twenty-six-year project and start the fueling process to the ship, was at the center of the upper stage. On the right side of the lower stage, except for Amo Obib and Ningning who would view the event from the pyramid ship’s monitor, was where the remaining Rians would sit. The elegant chairs at the center were for King Arth and Commander Nerus, who represented Amo Obib. Left of it was for dignitaries. Floodlights lighted the pyramid spaceship and was the stage’s backdrop. The ship itself lighted up in different color patterns and was an awesome display to watch.

“Initiate the fuel line purging,” Miyas called out to two Rians operating the purging controls. The two set switches and dials at their respective console.

Miyas went over to Caloy who operated a large wheel on the raised platform at the upper stage. The wheel controlled the miniscule amount of anti-matter that would purge the fuel line of contaminants before actual fuel transfer could take place. “Caloy,” he said, “you are the only one that controls the amount of anti-matter that goes into the fuel line. Make sure the needle stays dead center in the green area of the dial.”

“If it went beyond, will it blow up the planet?” Caloy candidly asked.

“Nothing of that kind. We will be handling a miniscule amount of anti-matter during line purge. And, there will be no explosion but an implosion. You see, anti-matter is highly attracted to metal and has enough pull to leap to it five miles away. On contact, it will destroy its atomic structure and generate heat so intense that it will incinerate organic matter miles around in a second. Can you imagine what will happen to this civilization knowing that metal acts as a conductor for anti-matter?”

Caloy gave it a serious thought and in shock replied, “The entire region is wired to Atlantis by electrical, communication, transport lines, and rail tracks! Large buildings are built with structural steel and wooden structures have metal nails. It will incinerate the whole area! Atlantis and the regions around will vanish from the face of this planet and leave no trace. How come I know of its destructive power only now?”

“Prevent needless anxiety,” Miyas answered. “We have full control over the process and instituted measures to prevent that to ever happen. The information is passed on ‘need to know’ basis. That is why I am telling you now and your sole role is to turn the wheel counterclockwise to shut-off if anything goes amiss. For safeguards, we have five minutes to react before the dial reaches the red area, a minute for it to reach its limits, and ten seconds more when the final warning siren is activated, and all that needs doing is turn the wheel counter-clockwise to ‘shutoff’ position. I will be watching the gauge at a distance too and can shut it off from my console as another safeguard and that is the reason why the dial is extra-large. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“When the line purge is done, we will wait for King Arth to formally flip the big switch to start actual fueling. It will take a little over eleven hours to fill the fuel tanks. Purging will take exactly forty-five minutes. By then, the king, his guest will be here and seated. Are you set?”

“Yes,” Caloy answered.

Miyas went back to his control console and noticed the Migrants cleaning both the upper and lower stages, and the grounds around. He thought nothing of it. He turned on switches on his console then signaled Caloy to begin the purge process.

 

Caloy flipped a switch then slowly turned clockwise the wheel as he watched the gauge’s dial move to dead center of the green area and let go of the wheel. Underground and for the first time, the massive Atomic Converter hummed. The purging process had begun.

 

Summer is here

 

King Arth was entertaining his guests at the palace dining hall. He was in his best mood and was euphoric—-he had accomplished his dreams: being respected not only as a king but as a man; of having a beautiful city he was so proud of; and, most of all, the burden in fulfilling a promise to Amo Obib that meant so much to him.

Commander Astig, officer-in-charge of security at the stadium, was in his formal soldier’s uniform. His headgear held under his left arm on his side. He entered the dining hall and spotted his king chatting with guests at a distance. With a smile pasted on his lips, he walked casually towards the king weaving through dining tables lavishly filled with food and with guests seated around, some with their children. He stopped a step away from the seated king who was having a lively chat with someone. Unaware of his presence, he casually smiled to guests who looked in his direction. On the first opportunity, he made his presence known to the king. The king acknowledged his presence; stood; and took a step next to the commander. The king’s right ear slightly turned towards the commander’s lips who spoke in a low voice. The king’s happy mood changed abruptly but hid his concern outwardly. He excused himself diplomatically from the guests he was with, smiling as he did, and then followed the commander. Along the way, he got his personal aide, Dodot, and, together, they headed for the adjacent building.

 

It was a holiday; the building was unoccupied. A posted soldier opened the main door wide enough for them to pass and closed it behind them. The sounds of footsteps reverberated as they walked on the marbled floor of a wide hallway. Ahead, the building’s well-lighted atrium. When they got there, the king saw two tied men kneeling on the marbled floor guarded by soldiers. Close-by were swords piled on top of a spread blanket. Commander Astig explained, “There are fifty swords there, Your Highness. They were accidentally found bundled on that same blanket not far from the stage. More maybe hidden and my men are searching discreetly. Only a few trusted men know of this.”

“Good,” the king commended.

“We traced the swords back to the palace armory. On investigation, we found these in place of real swords.” Commander Astig showed a wooden replica of sword handles glued together. “It made them look as though real swords were in the upper shelves.”

King Arth examined the wooden handles then asked, “How many?”

“I estimate over four-thousand, the exact number will come soon.”

“And these men?” the king asked looking at the tied captives.

“The one right is the Armory Supervisor. In line with our investigation, we went to the supervisor’s house and found him struggling with the assassin, the man next to him, and came to his rescue. For that reason, the supervisor is very eager to talk. Your Highness, General Mismar is behind this.”

The shock on the king’s face was obvious. Mismar was the last person he would suspect. Finding it hard to believe asked, “How sure are you?”

“Certain, Your Highness. General Mismar dealt directly with the Armory Supervisor and the assassin happens to be the general’s personal aide and he talked too. Your Highness . . .” he hesitated and seemed uncomfortable to continue.

The king noticed the hesitation. He said, “If it has something to do with the prince, tell me now.”

“The assassin led us to a secret tunnel in a room not far from dining hall. We sealed the tunnel in that room as a precaution. The assassin said the other end of the tunnel led to . . .” he hesitated again as he looked at the King.

“Led where?” the King snapped impatiently.

“To your son’s . . . Prince Obib’s courtyard,” he answered. He paused then continued on the king’s silence, “For the past few days, staggered numbers of people entered the prince’s compound and only a handful left. Your Highness, I sense a tension in the air amongst the soldiers.”

The king pondered on what was reported. He glanced at the armory supervisor and recalled Mismar telling him in confidence that he suspected the prince had plans to overthrow him once the ship is fueled. To which, the king planned to discreetly arrest his son and hide him right after the ceremonies that evening. He did not want the inauguration marred by a scandal or Amo Obib to know. With the supervisor out of the way, regardless of who wins, Mismar will find himself on the winning side. He stared at the swords on the floor as he pieced bits of information together then realized Mismar’s information may be a decoy. He could not risk misjudging, and decisively said to Commander Astig, “Arm the men at the stadium; reinforce the security at the stage, and around the ship immediately. Get the Stadium Commander to secure and bring all the Rians inside the pyramid ship and have them close all entries. Do the same to all entries to the Atomic Converter underground. Do it now and fast.”

“The Rians wants no military presence,” the commander reminded.

“They do not know what is good for them. Go,” he ordered.

“Yes, Highness,” he said, and left hurriedly.

The king called Dodot and said, “Find General Sarif at the banquet hall and tell him, ‘Summer is here.’ He knows what to do. Then, after, summon Mismar and the prince here. Be very discrete as I want no one, especially the prince, to suspect.”

“I know what to do, Your Highness,” Dodot replied and hastily left.

 

The Big Snake

 

Mismar, in his formal robe, was escorted by Dodot and two soldiers. When they got to the building’s atrium, the soldiers held Mismar’s arms and Dodot bound his hands tightly at the wrist. Mismar was not surprised and offered no resistance.

“Why, Mismar?” the king said then, lost for words, walked away.

Mismar motioned forward but was held back by a soldier. The king saw what Mismar did and signaled the soldier to let him go.

Mismar, with hands tied in front of him, rushed to the king’s side. “Why?” Mismar retorted in a low angry voice. “You did nothing when you knew well the prince was plotting to overthrow you. And when he does, where will my family be. I have six adoring children and a wife. I will do anything . . . anything,” he stressed, “to protect my family . . . even betray you. All those loyal to you are in grave danger because you did nothing to protect them. It is I who should be asking you, why?”

“Why?” the king repeated despairingly in a low voice only Mismar could hear, “Many times the question rang in my head, ‘Why not cut the snake’s head while it is easy to hold’ and every time I’d say, ‘Trust him, love him, show him what love and care can do and he will see things differently tomorrow’. I was buying time. When did you turn to his side?”

Mismar replied, “Remember the day I warned you of the snake growing in your midst? You got mad knowing I was referring it to your son. The worst part is you did nothing to my warning . . . nothing!”

“We can still work this out,” the king said in a low voice as he held his arms and looked him in the eyes. The king was desperate. Mismar was the only left of his three good friends. He did not want to lose him, more so, to render judgement for his betrayal as he realized Mismar had valid reasons to betray him. “We fought so many battles we thought we’d lose and ended up winning. I’d forget this ever happened. I will not abandon you.”

“Things are different now, my dearest friend,” Mismar said in a sad, subdued voice. “The snake has grown too big . . . It is too late.”

The king knew how good Mismar was on his intuitions and relied on his foresight and advise before he made major decisions. “Is it that bad?”

Before Mismar could answer, footsteps echoed from the hallway.

“You are still a dear friend. Forgive me for I have to do this,” King Arth whispered then struck Mismar’s face violently knocking him down on the ground; kicked him several times; then dragged him towards his soldiers showing revulsion and disgust.

The prince accompanied by fifty armed men saw how the king kicked General Mismar and saw his aide tied and kneeling a few feet away. He nonchalantly looked at Mismar with hands bound and lips freshly bleeding being held up by two soldiers. He noticed the blood on the king’s knuckles as the king wiped it off with his handkerchief. He coldly and arrogantly said, “I can tell you have unearthed my plans to which your loyal commander, Astig, is now dead,”

The king ignored the prince’s remarks but noticed the air of confidence only noticeable of someone in full control of the situation. Now he understood what Mismar meant . . . ‘a big snake.’ “Do you have to resort to insurrection when I assured you of being the heir to my throne,” King Arth asked.

To which the prince replied passingly, “My ambition does not include waiting.”

“Your ambition?” the king said in rhetoric. “Your ambition has blinded you. All these years I hoped and prayed that you would see things differently. See what was accomplished ruling with love and respect for our people. It is not late. You can . . .”

“Ah, love and respect,” the prince repeated mockingly. “Love has nothing to do with it . . . power,” the prince roared.

“Power has consumed you. There is something far greater than power . . . love, my son is the ultimate power, and I know that to be true. I have seen the wonders it brought. Our kingdom has grown a hundred folds without a drop of blood spilled. Never have we experienced peaceful coexistence with everyone. All these brought about by love and care for . . .”

Prince Otil interrupted his father and sarcastically said, “You talk of love as though it can stop a sword swung to cut your neck . . . a sword can. You talk of love as though you can get respect from robbers stealing your robe and sandals . . . a sword can.”

“You must understand the power of love,” King Arth replied desperately. “It is not something that will change things instantly but in time will change everything for the better.”

“The sword is power. You yourself taught me that.”

“I said that long ago and was wrong. If I proclaimed you king in return for the safety of the Rians . . . compassion and kindness to the people associated to me, will you take it?”

“Compassion and kindness?” the prince scuffed. “I feel nothing by being compassionate. Nothing from being kind but I feel like a man, a king, a god when I see people beg for mercy for their life. Power is everything.”

“You are so wrong. Power is not everything. Listen before it destroys you, for in the end, you will surely loss. I was like you once, obsessed and consumed at getting to the top. The struggle and the battles fought had me too occupied to see the miseries I brought to people as I ruthlessly pursued my goal. When I finally got to the pinnacle of power, at the very top, and looked around, my son, hear me and hear me well . . . when I got there, I found nothing but a desert . . . a vast empty and lonely place devoid of life. Standing there, I asked myself, ‘Is this all I get? Is this my reward for all the pain, suffering, and death I brought?

“The Rians came at the right moment in my life. They showed me the other way to the top. I tried it and when I got there and looked around, I found myself in paradise surrounded by happy people. Take my kingdom for what it’s worth, my son. I give it to you with all my heart and if my presence makes you insecure, I will exile myself, never to return. But you must give your word to help the Rians leave this planet.”

Infuriated, Prince Otil reacted, “I despise the Rians for what they have done to you! You were once a real and mighty king I was so proud of. A man! Now you talk to me like . . . like a woman ruling a kingdom you so proudly speak. The Rians have turned you to a weakling who convince and ask people. A king does not convince, he commands! A king does not ask, he takes!” he shouted. Lowering his voice, he said, “Being a titular king to a federated form of government is not my idea of ruling. Besides, your kingdom is too small. I want to rule the world and the power to do it is within my grasp.

“I would have considered your offer if you had a kingdom to give. However, you have none. The kingdom stands by the might of its army. Something you taught me and something you forgot. See what love and care brought you,” the prince then addressed the soldier behind the king and said with authority, “Soldiers who stand with me, stand behind me now.”

King Arth watched as his men passed and stood behind the prince’s men then more followed, leaving him, Dodot, and eight of the fifteen soldiers after.

Mismar walked to the prince with bound hands extended and with a grin on his face.

The prince grinned back then took a sword from a soldier’s sheath and said, “Mismar is your most trusted friend. For you, my father, I will give what is due him.” The prince swung his sword at Mismar’s neck and severed his head. Mismar’s head rolled on the floor, its eyes remained open while its decapitated body went through spasms on the floor. The prince moved to the side to avoid the squirting blood from its neck. He was amused at the horrible sight as the bound hands and its legs thrashed about from a headless body. He laughed, entertained at the gruesome spectacle. His men laughed with him.

When Mismar’s headless body remained still, the king, resigned to how evil his son had become, asked aloud. “And how do you intend to control the other head of states and provinces?”

“Some have pledged allegiance to me and the rest will just have to die tonight,” the prince answered casually then aloud, “King of kings, Ruler of the World and with the Rian’s technology, Lord of the Universe,” the prince arrogantly bragged with his hands flailing in the air. “You have been ruling an imaginary kingdom for years, my father. Think of what ‘wealth and power’ did to your kingdom of ‘love and care’.” He paused then said in a different tone, “For your life, pretend that you are still king. I do not want the Rians to suspect and the refueling disrupted . . . if that can be avoided.”

“You are a misguided man,” the king said in resignation. “I pity you. My life will not be enough to pay for the countless lives you will take as king to fulfill your worthless dreams of grandeur. I’d rather die than give in.”

“That is something I hope to avoid, but that can be arranged,” the prince coldly replied.

The king said forcefully, “We have a tribal law which states: If the son wishes to take over his father’s rule, he must fight for it in combat.”

“I make the laws. Your life is not worth fighting. Think of what will happen to those loyal to you. There are still a lot of them and their life is dependent on yours. You die . . . they die.”

“I see no bargain there,” the king responded. “My living or dying will not alter their fate . . . I always thought of you as stupid and a coward!” mocking aloud, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Coward!” retorted the prince. “I always wondered who the better swordsman was. Give my father a sword and no one intervene. To the victor, the spoils go. To the death.”

“To the death,” King Arth echoed taking off his robe over his tunic, his thin rimmed crown, and took the sword Dodot offered.

 

The two men slashed at each other as the soldiers watched a contest to the death. The king and prince had equal skill that the duel was a match to watch. Soldiers, heightened by the skillful display of swordsmanship by both, cheered their champion expertly parry swings and stabs. But the prince had the edge as the duel dragged on—-his youth. Soon the toll of the years showed on the king’s skill and the confident prince started to play and boisterously humiliating him as they fought.

The king paid no attention to the prince’s mockery but concentrated on parrying his strikes. He knew his only chance of winning now was to get his son to talk himself out of breath. He did not make it obvious but struck back timing it at the middle of the prince’s sentences.

A minute later, the king said as they paused to rest, “You are much better than I thought,”

The prince replied as he took deep breathes. “You taught me well, my father.”

“Too well for your own good,” the king answered.

“It is time to take my turn to the throne. Your death is coming.” The prince suddenly launched at his father with his sword. The king parried the strike and they continued to duel with the prince giving it all he could for the kill this time around.

The king taught his son well but not all. At the right moment, he made his move and got the prince to drop his sword. As he held his sword in air for the final blow, the king hesitated. He saw his wife’s frightened face over his son’s face. Then he saw the prince go for his dagger but his sword froze in the air. In that fleeting moment, the prince stabbed his father. The slim, sharp knife pierced the king’s chest and its tip stuck out of the king’s back, red in blood.

The king dropped his sword from his raised arm then held on to his son. As he slipped and with his last breath, he said, “I love you, my son,” then limply fell to the floor dead with eyes wide open; mouth with blood that crept out of it and slid down his right cheek then dripped on the floor.

Unceremoniously, the prince took the thin-rimmed crown held by a soldier and, with both hands, he crowned himself. He then turned to his men and, referring to his father’s remaining loyal soldiers, made his first king’s command, “Kill them.”

Fight for the Rians

 

The new king, King Otil, was unaware that at the time he was summoned to see the king, General Sarif was at the dining hall and was told, ‘Summer is here’. The general excused himself from the people he was with and hurriedly left the hall. He went directly to a room, a short distance away, where a number of his special military officers were instructed to remain in hiding. On entering the room, he said aloud, “Men, we have secretly planned for months to an event we hope will not happen. It has come and you have your instruction. Go!” He turned to someone by his side and said, “Light the rooms and hurry.”

 

At the stadium grounds, one high-rise public building of the many around the park was clearly visible. Three of its windows at the fifth floor were lighted. The majority of people at the grounds did not notice it and to those who did, thought it insignificant. However, to the men wearing day-to-day robe that hid their soldier’s uniform and fully armed, it was significant. Instructed not to ran, they hurriedly walked to their assigned location to secure it without arousing suspicion from the crowd. Their instructions were to secure all facilities associated to the refueling of the Rian ship.

The Stadium Commander saw the three lighted rooms and acted immediately. He instructions was to secure all the Rians; bring them to their ship; and have them seal all ship entries. Unlike Commander Sarif whose men were instructed to hide their identity as soldiers, the Stadium Commander’s order was to visibly show military presence in force. His men, in soldier’s uniform, were fully armed, and remained hidden in five separate buildings nearest to the stadium. They numbered five-thousands altogether and emerged out of the buildings in haste to secure their assigned orders.

 

At the stadium grounds, people milled around waiting for the final program to start. Except for Amo Obib and Ningning, the rest of the Rians were somewhere near or on the stage. Miya’s crew was at their post. Changlai and the men he supervised were still cleaning the area on and around the stage. To the left of the lower stage, a Migrant ran to Changlai. “Armed soldiers are coming from both east and west,” he said in a hurry.

Changlai acted on the information and hurriedly went up to the upper stage. He saw soldiers with swords drawn running towards the stage. He jumped back to the lower stage; stumped the floor three times; and at the top of his voice shouted, “Taypa lasi.” Four hundred armed Migrants stormed out from under the stage. Those cleaning the area got their swords from its hiding. Elsewhere, women in their robe distributed swords to those who, minutes earlier, were just strolling leisurely the stadium grounds.

 

The commotion got Caloy to leave the wheel and walk to the edge of the upper stage. When he realized what had happened, he rushed back to shut off the purging process. He had his hands on the wheel when a Migrant forcefully shoved him and got the wheel to turn the other direction. He was knocked unconscious after falling down the upper stage.

Miyas was far from his console. On seeing Caloy fall from the upper stage, headed for the wheel as it was nearer than his console, but Migrants held him back as they swarmed the stage. He ran towards his console to shut off the purging but was shoved and force down from the stage to where the rest of the Rians were.

On the stadium grounds, people panicked and the pandemonium broke. A fierce battle ensued between the Migrants on the left side of the stage. They were now protecting their captive Rians from being saved by King Arth’s soldiers.

 

Indit, among a number of Rians, were at the right side of the stage. She immediately reacted on hearing Changlai’s shout loudly. She called out and waved at others Rians to follow her. They all ran towards their escape route but found the gate locked. Natoy stood motionless at the other side with his back towards them.

“Natoy, Natoy, open the gate. Natoy please,” Indit pleaded. Soon, there were over fifteen of them crowded and pleading at the gate.

Natoy did not move. Seconds later a group of Migrants came and started to herd the Rians back to the stage.

Indit managed to slip from the herded group and ran back to the gate. “Natoy, please open the gate,” she shouted as she ran towards the gate.

A Migrant running behind Indit pushed her to the ground. When Indit tried to again, he kicked her and she fell to the ground and groaned in pain.

Natoy heard the painful moan Indit made. He turned and saw a Migrant kick her once more. To this Natoy opened the gate and hit the Migrant with his fist; took the Migrant’s sword; and hacked him. He poised to protect Indit on the ground as five armed Migrants came back. He fought and, after killing two, was stabbed from behind and fell on the ground beside Indit.

Indit, in pain; face bruised; and nose bleeding, knelt beside Natoy and cradled his head with her arms. She asked, “Why, Natoy? Why?”

Natoy replied weakly, “The Migrants have my family. Forgive me.”

Pulled away, Indit shouted, “Naska is Imar, Natoy. We love you.”

In the ship, Amo Obib and Ningning viewed the outside activities through the main monitor. On seeing the commotion on and around the stage and the king’s soldiers battling their way towards the herded Rians near the stage, Ningning cried out, “Goopersh, do something.”

“Shutting all access to the ship.” To Goopersh, that was its only option.

“Can we levitate them from here?” she asked Amo Obib frantically.

“They have to be directly under the ship. If we get the ship to fly up abruptly, the vacuum created directly under will suck and dragged them high up then later fall to their death. We are stuck here. We will negotiate once things settle. The Migrants will not harm them.”

 

Miyas and the other Rians were herded on the ground near the west side of the stage by the Migrants. He stood on a chair and saw the dial’s needle edge toward the red area’s limit. He went down from the chair and, in a desperate attempt, pleaded to their captors to turn the wheel back. In the confusion, no one paid attention. By this time, the king’s soldiers have broken through the heavy fighting at the stage and were inching their way toward the captive Rians.

Miyas stood again on a chair and saw the dial’s needle beyond the edge of the red area. He shouted to his fellow Rians, “We have to call Amo Obib’s attention to leave. The atom converter will soon implode.”

To Miya’s prodding, the Rians waved their hands in the air and shouted at the top of their voice, “Leave, it will implode! Leave, it will implode!” Then the ten-seconds warning siren sounded.

 

Amo Obib and Ningning helplessly watched the commotion on the screen. When they noticed the herded Rians waving and shouting, Amo Obib had the sound intensifier focused on their voices and heard their warning as the ten-seconds siren warning came on. Instinctively he ordered, “Goopersh, disconnect fuel line and fly six miles up now!”

The ship hummed for a second as the purge line disengaged from the ship then it flew abruptly straight up. The vacuum created beneath the ship sucked everything around the ship. It lifted the Rians, the people nearby and the whole stage in the air to fall back to earth at random as the spaceship rapidly ascended six miles above then abruptly stopped and hovered there.

A split second later, a large bolt of lightning arched from the ground on one side of the Atomic Converter ring to the other twenty-four miles away. Thousands of blinding arches of light shot outward in every direction from the Atomic Converter’s rim creating successions of thunderous sounds. As the lightning struck structures, it instantly split into thousands of jagged bright yellow lines and wreaked havoc to its atomic structure then imploded in a blinding flash.

Simultaneous to Metropolitan Atlantis’ obliteration, railroad tracks, electrical and phone lines became conduits of destruction and death as the dreadful scene replicated itself spreading outward from the metropolis towards the Autonomous Region, King Silrab’s domain, and far beyond. Innocent looking metal objects as wood nails, jewelry, coins, and the likes within five miles from the lines became targets as lightning arched to it and leapfrogged to similar things within five miles from them. Animals and trees beyond five miles and up to the horizon vaporized on the open fields from the intense heat it generated. Farther on, the forest became instant inferno.

Within a minute, the devastations to the metropolis, the neighboring areas—-the cities, towns, villages, and hamlets were total and complete. Only whirlpools of white powdery dust wafted by the wind remained in its place.

As the devastation raged below, Amo Obib and Ningning huddled together. Neither had the courage to view the destructive force unleashed below as the Rians, the people, the buildings, the most advanced civilization on the planet turned to white dust. The two consoled themselves out of their shock, grief, and sorrow through prayers.

A couple of minutes later, they looked at the screen. The sprawling Metropolitan Atlantis and the surrounding cities gone—-erased from the surface and so were the lives of the many innocent whose only fault was being there. Everything vanished leaving no trace of their existence but a shallow grayish-white crater with eerie white tentacles that spread hundreds of miles outward from the metropolis that in time too would disappear. Only the nearby Lion Monument and the three stone pyramids that dominated the plain remained. They stand as testaments for future generations, who would never know nor find out, the great tragedy that had befallen the place. Of the civilization lost. Of the death to many innocent people brought by the greed of a few who hungered for wealth and power.

What an irony, the science and technology that could have brought wonders to their planet, gone. As for the people who wanted power, control, and grandiose megalomaniac dreams, what have they achieved? Nothing and, strangely, everything. Devastated, Amo Obib ordered Goopersh to head for the pyramid spaceship’s safe haven to the far northeast.

 

As the ship flew towards its new location, the scenes of devastation below became horribly apparent. The destructive force obliterated all organic material and, as consequent, converted the area between the fringes of the Sahara Desert, three-hundred miles away and Atlantis to an instant wasteland that now form part of the present-day Sahara Desert.

Farther on were deserted villages and hamlets. People had traveled the distance to witness the festivities never to return. So were people who lived and participated in the Rian project at the Americas as they transported most, if not all, to Atlantis to participate in the most spectacular event of their lives, their last. The most advanced civilization on Earth and almost all of the people who knew of its existence and its traces were gone!

When the spaceship was over the Atlantic Ocean and at its deepest part, Amo Obib ordered, “Goopersh, eject contents in the cargo hold.” To that command, Goopersh expelled all the buildings within the ship leaving the area back to what it was when they landed over two million years ago—-a humongous empty space.

Goopersh flew the ship to a predetermined location between Siberia and Alaska in an area now called Bering Strait and in a shoal where hundreds of small basalt islands dotted the surface of the sea. The site was ideal for hiding the spaceship. The shoals were shallow; the sea current, treacherous; the weather that changed from calm to gale force winds within an hour; and the islands barren. With many sharp outcropped basalt rocks that littered its surface and most jutted out of the waves only at low tides, none would dared navigate its waters nor bothered to explore the desolate and foreboding basalt rock islands. There, the spaceship went underwater to surface a twentieth of its height inside the hollow cavern of a basalt island in the midst of the shoal. The island, no bigger than two football fields, towered fifty feet above the sea. After Goopersh maneuvered the ship within the island’s cavern, it announced, “The ship is secured.”

Amo Obib asked, “Goopersh, how much fuel do we have left?”

“Three years at conservative fuel usage.”

“And the batteries on the hibernating capsule?”

“10,194 years”

“How many airships left?”

“One.”

“Goopersh, activate the distress signal and wake us ten-thousand years from now.”

“The distress signal is activated. I will wake you ten-thousand years from now,” Goopersh acknowledged.

“Ningning,” Amo Obib said sadly, “we have no other recourse but to wait for civilization in this planet to develop the technology themselves and help us directly. I pray they will have it when we wake. Come, let us go to the hibernating room,” then led her with his arm over her shoulder.

Ningning, said between sobs, “In my heart, My Amo, I feel God did not abandon us.”

Amo Obib replied, “He never did. He never will.”

 

EPISODE THREE

Last Chance

 

Ten thousand years passed, the year was 1853 A.D. Young in technology, steam driven trains traversed railroad tracks crisscrossing vast lands connecting cities and countries. Steam and sail ships set course and voyaged the open oceans and seas. Heavy smoke belched out of many huge foundry chimneys all day and night to feed the unsuitable demand for processed metal. It was the Age of Industrial Revolution at its early stage.

 

Waken from hibernation, Amo Obib left his capsule and immediately looked at Ningning within her opened capsule. She was motionless; eyes closed; cheeks still wet with tears though ten thousand years have passed. The memory of Atlantis’ utter devastation was fresh in their minds as though the gap in time in between sleep and wake never happened. It seemed they never slept at all. It was not a pleasant memory, sad to recall, heart drenching to remember. He saw a tear swelled from the slits of her closed eyes then dripped out of them. He knew how she felt. He felt it himself—-the deep sense of sadness; of feeling abandoned; alone and helpless. “Are you all right, Ningning?” he asked with concern.

Ningning heard Amo Obib’s concerned voice. In a sigh, she took a deep breath then opened her eyes, “I am,” beaming as best she could. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands then held her husband’s extended hands as she left her capsule. She felt his warm hands—-it was of small comfort for her sadness and sorrow but glad it was there for her. She said to herself, ‘It is best I control my emotions for his sake and mine. The tragedy had happened and nothing could be done to change it. Be positive.’ She then took another deep breath then asked, “What should we do now?”

Amo Obib noticed the renewed vigor from her voice and manner. He was pleased. He acted as though nothing heartrending had happened. “We have to access the state of their technology and plan from there.” He led her to their arched chair at the middle of the command room and sat alongside each other. Arms touching were a simple relief and reassuring in some ways. He noticed the three unmanned flight engineer consoles fronting them. There was no sense to have them there, just an abstraction, and worse still, a reminder. He ordered, “Goopersh, removed all three consoles.”

“Removing the three flight consoles,” Goopersh responded and the consoles, made of magic liquid, melted to the floor and disappeared, but the armed wooden chairs remained at its place.

Ningning eyes stared at the three empty chairs. It was symbolic of her lost friends. Friends she saw and worked with every day for almost three decades. Their faces flash through her thoughts—-faces that smiled, laughed, faces that struggled like her. She tried hard to stop herself from crying but, still, a tear swelled from her eyes.

Amo Obib saw the tears on her eyelids. “Pour it out Ningning,” he said nicely. “It will do you a lot of good . . . and take your time.”

Ningning’s calm posture melted. She whimpered as she watched him take the wooden chairs and bring them to the hallway outside. When he came back, she sobbed on his shoulder until the last tear fell. She stayed motionless for a moment then sat erect and said, “I’m fine now,” in a controlled voice. With back of her hands, she wiped her cheeks daintily then used the sleeves of her outfit to dry them.

Amo Obib wasted no time to change the melancholy atmosphere. He ordered, “Goopersh, launch a satellite and project the planet from space.”

 

A golf-sized orb shot out of the ship into outer space directly above and a few seconds later Goopersh reported. “Satellite launched, projecting planet image on screen.”

Planet Earth was on the screen. Most of its surfaces were on the dark side and a fraction of its edge glowed. The bright crescent band obscured their view to which Amo Obib instructed, “Move satellite to view the planet’s dark side in its entirety.”

The screen blurred for a second as the satellite moved abruptly to another location then projected the whole dark side of Earth on the screen. Earth’s circular fringe glowed with the sun directly behind it and was visible against the black background of outer space. Amo Obib’s hopeful anticipation turned to disappointment. He fervently hoped seeing patches of well lighted areas on its surface—-visible lights to mark major cities and towns; lighted shorelines to discern its shores; lights to indicate advance civilization. He saw no lights anywhere to illuminate his spirit. He felt disheartened but not reflected it outwardly. But Ningning saw something Amo Obib missed as she strained to see what was on the screen and said, “There is a faint light, brightest at fourth quadrant.”

Amo Obib, eager to prove himself wrong, reacted immediately, “Goopersh, zoom on the brightest of the lights, fourth quadrant,” he instructed.

With eyes focused intently in anxiety, both viewed the planet’s fourth quadrant magnified progressively to a particular spot. The faint lighted area brightened then became a cluster of lights; then crisscrossing lines of lined lights. Goopersh stopped zooming over London’s downtown district. Lighted gas street lamps were spaced evenly on its streets; horse drawn carriages with felt lamps flight its roads; and people walked about with lanterns. The sight was no consolation to Amo Obib. He knew Ria took over three-hundred years from gas lamps to become technologically advance—-they only had a little over a hundred years before the ship runs out of fuel and self-destruct. He held back his pessimism but realized Ningning was just as analytical as him when he heard her asked, “Goopersh, how long did Ria progressed from street gas lamps to nuclear generated lighting system?”

Goopersh answered, “Over three-hundred-fifty years.”

Ningning glanced at Amo Obib. She saw a gloom had set in on him. Sounding optimistic said, “The people in this planet are a lot smarter than us. They will achieve that in much less time,” she said positively, smiling at her husband.

Ningning’s statement sparked Amo Obib back to life. There was some truth to what she said. Earthlings were very creative creatures. He beamed at her. He need no longer worry on her state of mind. She was back to her normal self and inwardly thank God. He said, “It’s too early to do research on their state of technology and draw a conclusion at this point in time. Let us hibernate again and wake fifty years from now.”

 

The Year, 1903

 

After fifty years, Amo Obib and Ningning, eager and excited, walked out of their hibernation capsule towards the arched chair. Amo Obib said, “Goopersh, project satellite image of the planet on its dark side.”

From a blank screen, planet Earth’s dark side was projected. To their relief, major cities were clearly illuminated. The east coast of the United States was clearly outlined. Amo Obib said to Ningning, “We have to sneak in their libraries to evaluate the state of their technology.”

Ningning surprisingly asked, “You mean go in and not ask permission?”

Amo Obib smiled at her. “Not until we know who we will be dealing with. Then, we decide if we are to make our existence known.” He addressed Goopersh, “Goopersh, our intention is to go in major book repository buildings to research on this planet’s state of technology without their knowing. Send out rovers to identify five major libraries and provide us layout plans of the floor where the books are located. Observe as well their nighttime security.”

“Will concentrate on public and university libraries,” Goopersh affirmed.

“Good.”

“Sending rovers,” Goopersh replied. Simultaneously, five beetle size rovers, oval in shape, flew out of the ship in five different directions. Nano technology allowed each to have ten mosquito-size, highly sophisticated surveillance craft. The minute crafts entered closed book repository buildings through keyholes, crack on walls, vents, and, when necessary, bored a small hole on its wall and scanned its rooms. An hour later Goopersh announced, “I am ready to project images and layouts.”

The first on its list was the Library of Congress in United Stated followed by the Library of Technology in Paris, France then Cambridge Library in England, and two major libraries in Germany.

Amo Obib and Ningning spent time to study the library layouts and planned their move. They had themselves tele-transported to these libraries in the evenings and read on human’s state of technology with miniscule surveillance crafts flying about to warn them of intruders. After a week and on the eve of going to hibernation, Amo Obib decided to prepare Ningning for things he thought may come. The opportunity came when they were having a snack at the kitchen. Amo Obib said, in melancholy, “I don’t think humans will have the technology to help us by the time we run out of fuel. The fundamentals to atomic physics are still a mystery. It may take some time before they will understand the inner compositions and workings of an atom. I just want you to know,” reconciled to their fate.

Ningning asked nonchalantly, “Do you think you can plant a seed we know and not know what its fruit will be?”

The philosophical question surprised Amo Obib. It was so far from the subject he opened and was not like her to miss a point. “Like an apple seed?” he asked, perplexed.

“Yes. Except we pray it will bear something else, like watermelon,” she responded casually.

Amo Obib gave her statement a thought. It contradicted itself. Why should he pray for an apple seed to bear something else? Watermelons? He glanced at her—-she was not looking at him. He had seen the stance before and prepared himself for a lively discussion. “What do you have in mind this time, Ningning?”

Ningning faced him and said in a serious but enthusiastic manner, “You said we are forbidden to interfere with human thoughts. Humans must search and find the answer themselves.” She paused then asked, “Can we not act as a catalyst again as we did to the ape’s eons ago?”

Amo Obib grinned as he eyed her suspiciously. He understood where she was leading him to and set the stage to an unavoidable discussion. “We must never tell humans what to think or do. Humans must think freely and decide their own destiny.”

“If a man is searching for an answer and found the solution but for some reasons set it aside, would it be wrong to redirect his attention hoping he would reconsider and act on it?”

“As long as you do not tell him.”

Ningning pulled her chair closer and excitedly said, “If it is possible to get him to reconsider something vitally important indirectly, that is, without telling him, and does, then he was not coerced; he exercised free will; and, most of all, he had a choice. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

Amo Obib was stumped by her logic, “And how do you propose to redirect his attention without telling him?” he ask whimsically.

“He found something he shelved a long time ago on his desk and would wonder how it got there!” Ningning snapped.

The quick-responding Amo Obib had no reply.

In his silence, she knew she had driven her point. “You like fruit juice?” she casually asked with an air of confidence.

“No, thank you,” Amo Obib replied. Inwardly, he searched for flaws in her logic and arguments. A moment later said grinning, “Ah, but the problem is, you must find the man that fits that example. Unable to read minds, how do you propose to do that?” smiling with confidence. He was certain he had cornered her now.

“If I find you the man, will you consider my plan?” she asked right after with poise.

Amo Obib eyed her with anxiety. She was unfazed by his obstacle. He must think of his answer carefully as he knew she was up to entrap him in tempting fate. “Only if he fits exactly the criteria,” he answered with trepidation.

“I have a copy of the man’s research papers. His name is Albert Einstein, a brilliant theoretical physicist way ahead of his time . . . a genius,” she said as she took the copy of a research paper she hid behind the counter. “Here, take a look,” handing him a thin stack of stapled papers.

On her confident reply, Amo Obib knew he had stepped into her trap. She is shrewder than he thought. Disquietingly, he took the copy and leafed through pages of assumptions and equations. He focused briefly on one then said, “Based on the man’s equations, he . . .,” he turned then realized he was alone in the kitchen.

Amo Obib studied Einstein’s research paper. After half an hour, he concluded that Ningning was right. Einstein was indeed trying to prove that time was relative, the fourth dimension. The hypothesis seemed ridiculous—-time is not absolute but relative to speed! The faster you go the slower the time. Einstein must ride against conventional views; stay and pursue his approach in resolving scientific problems through sound and valid mathematical assumptions and equations. He had the answer that would pave the way in understanding the mechanics of an atom. If he could get the scientific community to accept his unorthodox method and its conclusions, then they may have a chance. A little nudge may indeed help.

He stood and to his surprise found Ningning was sitting behind him drinking fruit juice at the adjacent table and a filled glass of juice waited for him. He moved to the table and sat without saying anything. He sipped his juice pretending as if nothing significant had happened.

“When will we go?” Ningning snapped.

The laconic question choked him as he drank and got some of the juice to spill on his pants. He looked at her as he wiped his mouth and brushed off what was spilled on his pants. “How did you find him first?”

“By accident! I was going over the notes of an Atomic Physicist Professor at the University of Zurich when I came across a research paper on a shelf that had gathered dust. It turned out to be a synopsis of a hypothesis given to the professor for comment but, apparently, the professor set it aside. The rest, detective work.”

 

Eight hours later, at three in the morning, Ningning and Amo Obib tele-transported themselves to Einstein’s bedroom while Einstein was asleep and placed a copy of his research paper on his bedside table then left. When they got back to the ship, they entered their respective hibernating capsule and slept.

THEORY OF RELATIVITY

 

Fifteen Years Later.

 

In November of 1918, Ningning woke alone from hibernation and left the ship. She headed straight to and sneaked in the Berlin National Library in the middle of the night. She leafed through scientific journals. After an hour, she found the journal she prayed to find. She made a copy of the book it referred to and the journal as well. She went back to the ship and pasted the folded journal with the article facing Amo Obib on his capsule’s transparent door; placed the book on the floor; then manually set the hibernating capsule to wake mode and left.

 

A minute later, Amo Obib’s eyes opened with a hazy view of the pasted page on the transparent door in front of him. As it became clear, the boldly written formula on the page caught his attention:

 

E = mc^2^

 

It dawned on him that it was the Energy Formula expressed in Earthling form. He read, within the pasted page, the book’s title: ‘The Theory of Relativity’. Unable to control his emotion, he shouted with great relief within the capsule, “Einstein did it!” The critical concept towards understanding quantum physics using valid assumptions without physical proof was now a concept accepted by the scientific community. However, his demeanor changed just as instantly when he noticed the time. Ningning had awakened him seventy-five years ahead of schedule and was upset. He, however, did not command her to stay in hibernation for the duration but assumed she would. He picked the book on the floor after he left the capsule and slowly walked as he skimmed its pages. He stopped, every now and then, that by the time he got to the kitchen, the bowl of hot soup was on the table and Ningning seated motionless on one side. Her poise and facial expression was that of submission—-ready to accept the harshest punishment for her crime. Amo Obib, who a moment earlier, was determined to reprimand, nearly laughed but held back and said seriously, “But never again.”

Ningning, on hearing, stood and like an excited kid that escaped harsh punishment, went to him with a wide grin. She gave him a big kiss on the cheek then led him to his seat at the table. She then said, “I told you it will work. The man is a genius. But my husband, since we are awake . . .”

“Plant more seeds,” Amo Obib snapped.

“Exactly!” she hailed.

“Ningning,” he said in a deliberate tone of voice, “we have planted a good seed. Let it grow at its own pace with God’s blessing. There is enough in Einstein’s publications to excite the minds in the scientific community to work in understanding the atom’s mechanics. Let us leave things in God’s hands.”

 

They hibernated.

THE HYBRIDS

 

The Year, 1995.

 

Awaken from the hibernation, Amo Obib and Ningning sneaked in major libraries, research institutions, and military top-secret archives to read on human progress. It was Ningning’s responsibility to research on human history while Amo Obib on current technology. On her mission, Ningning came across the article on the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She was nauseated with grief and guilt after she read it. She felt the pain Amo Obib would go through, if he knew but had to. She handed him a copy of the article when they got back to the ship.

Amo Obib, after reading, stayed silent, his eyes moistened. He said to himself, ‘With all the good that could come from understanding the power of the atom to the people of this world, the first thing they did was build an atomic bomb. My God, what have I done in my ignorance?’ He hid his anguish and inner pain for Ningning’s sake. But Ningning read through Amo Obib’s pretenses. Neither spoke on the subject. They pretended it never happened and carried their guilt in silence as they continued their research.

 

  • * *

 

A week later, Amo Obib and Ningning had come to realize humans might not attain the technology level they needed before their fuel runs out. They had over two years left. Though humans could build the Atomic Converter for them if they provided the technology but the temptation was not there. The cold war between Superpowers, USSR, and US, had escalated that the governments focused their resources on creating weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems that can bring a war to an abbreviated conclusion, not in years or months but days! The Superpowers and their Allies seemed unperturbed at the prospect that World War III may destroy their only world. And, if it did and everyone died, no one would be surprised. How pathetic. For this, Amo Obib and Ningning concluded that handing over their atomic technology for the good it would do for humankind was no longer an option, for in that same technology, humans would have in their hands the capacity to destroy themselves and their planet. They wanted no part of that.

Wary of their fate, Amo Obib said, “Ningning, I would like to go on retreat. Will you be fine?”

“You need not worry. Naska is Imar.”

 

The Retreat

 

Amo Obib went up to the Command Center the second time since they landed on Earth eons ago. When Goopersh turned on the light, he saw Karmar’s Proposal One on the floor. It had lain there for over two million years. He recalled the torment he went through deciding on the issue then. It was not a pleasant experience. He felt weak; frightened to undergo the same mental struggle again, but had to. He sat on the floor; reread Proposal One; and after, placed the folder alongside; then had Goopersh turn off the light.

 

Over two days have passed. Ningning was worried. The thought of him being weak and unable to come down got her to bring food and water up. She stayed and slept by the doorway as she dared not open the door.

Half a day later, with Proposal One in hand, Amo Obib found Ningning asleep on the floor blocking the doorway. Except for her face, she was well under a white thick blanket. Alongside were jugs of preserved food, water, and eating utensils. He sat on the floor by her side and gently stroked her exposed cheek. It was as cold as the air around them. He felt some relief just to see and feel her. She was his only consolation now.

On the third stroke, Ningning’s eyes opened. “My husband, Naska is Imar,” Ningning said as she hastily sat by his side and held him tight with both arms, trembling. “I have never been so worried and frightened. Please try not to leave me alone again, if you can help it. Please,” she said then started to cry.

“How thoughtless of me.” He cradled her with one hand and the other gently stroked her head on his shoulder. “Never again,” he said. “Are you all right?” he weakly asked through his parched throat.

“Are you?” she asked back as she wiped her tears.

“Yes, but I am thirsty.”

 

Amo Obib was so weak Ningning had to nurse him back to health. On the second day, Ningning knew he had recuperated yet feigned weakness and stayed in bed hardly saying a word. She sensed he was still in retreat and struggling with himself. She went along finding excuses to leave him to his thoughts. A day after, Ningning found Amo Obib seated on her cot. She hastily sat beside him and asked pleasantly, “You need anything, Amo?”

“Ningning,” Amo Obib said in a low voice staring blankly at the floor.

Ningning knelt on the floor to see his face. It was sad. She held his clasped hands between her hands and waited for him to speak.

“Ningning,” Amo Obib repeated his eyes now on hers, “we have so much good to offer humans in our science and technology. All of it gone if we are to die. I have not found the answer but have made up my mind. You will have no part in this decision and I absolve you of any responsibility. But you will have to help me.”

“What do you mean my husband?” she worriedly asked her eyes on his.

Amo Obib continued in melancholy, “I cannot, in conscience, leave the humans to solve human problems when we have the solution. I cannot, in conscience, die peacefully knowing the good our technology can do is buried with us. It is sad for humans are not ready to get all at once . . . maybe fifty or a hundred years from now if they learn from their follies and live through it.

“There are many good humans that are carried by the tide of the misguided powerful few. I pray the good ones will band together and stop their leaders usurp their power for personal fulfillments or whims at their expense. We have to part with our technology as need arises. Since we are not in a position to determine what it is and when, I have decided to undertake the last project. I want you to help me do something out of pure obedience, without question. Do you understand?”

“I do. What do you want me do?” Ningning asked in reply.

“I love you, Ningning. Those are the words humans use,” he said sitting beside her on the floor then gently coddled her. “I am not sure if what I will do goes against God’s wish. I pray it will not. I speak to you now as head not of our church but of our community and command you to help me study ways to bring to life a human body with a Rian mind. Human bodied Rians that will live human lives and be part of their society—-work hard for the good of humanity. They can marry humans and rear families but all their children will have Rian minds. They have but one goal: part off our science and technology when they see it fit to improve the world as they live and work as humans. I need your help. Will you help?”

 

Ningning consented.

 

The new Rians

 

For need of a laboratory, Amo Obib and Ningning moved to the room Karmar’s team occupied when they worked on the ape’s genome project. The laboratory was adjacent to the room. They modified Proposal One to meet a new goal: five human females with Rian minds to go thru gestation and leave the womb as young teenage girls in a month and a year after to become young adults. Since Amo Obib would not undertake anything on a chance result, they reviewed everything and spent two months studying how to accomplish their goal. As they did, they abducted humans while asleep and studied their bodies; got tissue samples; and took sperms and female egg cells for genetic analysis. The abducted humans were fortunate. They were people afflicted by some incurable disease and too poor to get medical attention. In exchange, they cured them of their ailment never to know the blessing they had from the Rian’s hands. To the ranchers, who found dead cattle on their ranch whose uterus were surgically removed and blood drained, they spread powder on their haystacks and fields. It inoculated their livestock from diseases that ravaged the area and made them healthier and heavier.

They used the cow’s reproductive organ to create a biological womb to carry the human fertilized egg through its gestation period. They made support machines out of parts taken from hospital and industrial trash bins and, on few occasions, from family owned stores leaving money they got from ocean shipwrecks on top of their cash register. After another month, five functional cow wombs submerged in biological fluids were ready.

 

Their Children

 

On the day they were to splice the five human eggs and sperm cells with Rian genes taken from Amo Obib and Ningning, Amo Obib found the Rian Sacred Book on his bed where Ningning had left it. A dried stemmed rose stuck out from its pages. Amo Obib took the book and opened it. An underlined passage read: God spoke to Amo Lam-a (the first Amo), ‘Believe in Me and I take you to paradise. And, from your seed a new world will come.’ Amo Obib wondered, ‘Does the passage refer to the Rian civilization that started from Amo Lam-a or does it refer to him and Ningning’s seed as God’s instruments to fulfill the prophecy of a new world—-a new civilization being a hybrid human and Rian?’ He was not sure and did not dare speculate. He knelt and prayed, “My dearest God, I hope I am fulfilling your wish. If not, I, alone, must bear the consequence.”

An hour later, they implanted the altered fertilized egg cells in their respective womb machines.

 

Their Children

 

Ningning and Amo Obib worked on shifts maintaining a 24-hour vigil on their biomechanical machines. After a month, they became proud parents to five healthy girls in their early teens. Coming from different human donors, in looks, they reared an Asian Islander, a slit-eyed girl, an African Negro, and two Caucasians. Since Amo Obib incorporated Norm’s accelerated growth to the gene, the girls will rapidly grow to young women in their early twenties in a year.

 

In the months that followed, the girls grew within the confines of the ship. Energetic, they wore down their proud and loving parents who attended to their needs and education. Of the girls, Lulu, a Caucasian, was special. She stood apart from her four other sisters that neither Amo Obib nor Ningning could describe but merely noticed. She had the adventurous nature of her father, the determination of her strong-willed mother, and a natural born leader.

To augment the girls’ training and familiarize them to human ways, they watched on TV good, wholesome family movies with strong moral messages and selectively showed the dirtier part of human existence. Months later, Amo Obib and Ningning decided it was time to augment their education, mingle with humans.

 

The Excursions

 

It was Halloween day when they scheduled the teenage looking girls to experience the world they eventually would live in—-the right time to divert people’s attention as Amo Obib and Ningning must chaperone the girls in their radiation protective suits. The two were in the girl’s room with Lulu and her four sisters anxiously waited at the corridor outside, knowing nothing of Lulu’s surprise. “Close your eyes and promise not to peek,” Lulu said to the two as she dressed them up over their protective suit.

With her parent’s eyes closed, Lulu assisted each to their buggy jumpsuit with high collar that got just above their chin. “Don’t peek,” she reminded as she put on their hairpiece and facial makeup. She took a final look then held back her laughter’s sound by covering her mouth. Even then, the muffled laughter was heard by the two dressed-up couple.

Ningning with her eyes still closed, asked, “What are you laughing at?” Amo Obib played along.

“No peeking,” Lulu reminded again. “Open your eyes and walk out of the room on the music’s third bar, okay?” and watched them nod then joined her sisters at the corridor.

 

On Lulu’s queue, the girls started sounding the tune to the King’s March. Immediately after the first note, hilarious laughter came from within the room. They passed the sixth bar of the music and still the two were in the room laughing.

“Come out,” cried one eager girl.

The two came out stoic. The girls burst into laughter as soon as they saw them. Amo Obib and Ningning were colorful together in their high-collared cape and crazy-colored buggy suits. Their make-up and the colored wig differentiated the two. Amo Obib’s colorful wig had weird things sticking out while Ningning’s had wavy-oversized purple hair that stuck out. Their faces mottled with colored circular patches. Puckered bright red lip was pasted over their lips as though wanting a kiss.

When Amo Obib gave Ningning a surprise kiss on her lips, everyone almost died laughing more so when Ningning chased him for more.

When things settled, Amo Obib said, “Lulu, this is the best costume I have ever worn. But it’s too good. It will call too much attention to your Mom and me and that we do not want.”

“I know,” Lulu sighed. “But you two look hilariously wonderful.”

 

The girls help take out the crazy stuff and left the red colored cape over their radiation protective suit making them look as kids in caped Martian costume with large almond shaped dark glasses over their eyes. Amo Obib made a final check at the girls. They appeared like any other teenager at their age. “Whose younger brother am I?” he asked.

“Mine,” Lulu said.

“And, Mama Ningning?” Amo Obib continued to review their alibis and excuses, their address, why they were together, and other similar questions that may arise.

 

Los Angeles

 

It was 7:00 a.m. A beetle-size electronic rover sent hovered above an alley sending video images of the area below.

Amo Obib, holding a pyramid crystal with both hands, instructed, “Hold on to me or you’ll be left behind.” Ningning wrapped her arms around Amo Obib’s waist. The rest huddled together and held on to anyone who held on to Amo Obib. He looked at the monitor and had it zoom on an alley below. Certain no one would see them materialize on the ground, he commanded, “Goopersh, transport.” They disappeared in a flash then reappeared on the ground at the alley that led to the famous street of Los Angeles—-Hollywood Boulevard.

 

Everyone was apprehensive as they emerged out of the alley as a group—-five teenage girls, averaged five-feet-two-inches in height in a typical teenage outfit, that accompanied two kids clad in caped Martian outfit. But as they walked the street, nobody seemed to neither mind nor pay particular attention to the kids in their costume. It was Halloween Day, who would suspect? Soon they felt at ease walking alongside humans, some wearing creepy Halloween costume.

With money taken from sunken ships, the group did what any tourist normally do—-went sightseeing on tour buses and took a lot of pictures. Often, they asked strangers to take pictures of them. When the tour bus dropped them off at Chinese Grumman Theater, they looked at the foot and palm prints on the sidewalk pavement of popular movie stars the theater was famous for. Amo Obib asked common questions, as, what movie they starred in as part of their human orientation.

As they toured, a man lightly tapped Ningning’s head. Alarmed, she went to Amo Obib’s side and looked at the man thru her dark glasses with trepidation.

“Your mask seems lifelike,” the amazed man said as he followed her. “Where did you buy them?” he asked.

“My sister made them for us,” Amo Obib answered for Ningning sounding like a youngster.

The stranger talked to one of Lulu’s sisters, “I supply props for the cinema studios. I’d like very much to know how you made the outfit,” he asked eagerly.

“I love to but I just don’t have time . . . we’re on a tour,” she answered.

The man persisted.

Lulu observed her sisters plead to the man to leave them alone. Since the man was insistent and on seeing two patrolling police officers at the sidewalk, said to the man, “It’s a long process, and we have to go. Come,” she said and the group followed her.

Walking alongside Lulu, the man excitedly said, “You got something there that will interest a lot of people I know. Are you interested in making money?”

“Please, we really have to go,” Lulu replied and led the group to two police officers at the corner holding on to their patrol bike, “Officer, can you help us,” she addressed one.

“What seems to be the problem?” the first Police Officer asked pleasantly.

“This gentleman means us no harm, but can you detain him until we get lost in the crowd?”

The second police officer turned to the man and sized him up.

“Look, Officer,” the man said before the officer could say something. “I’m offering a legitimate business proposition. They got something the cinema can use and maybe make stars of the two alien clad kids. I want to make a proposition . . .”

Lulu interrupted, “Can you detain him just for a few minutes?”

“Like to press charges?” the officer asked.

“Oh, no. He really means us no harm.”

“Okay,” the officer responded.

They hurriedly left but the man tried to follow. “Hold on, Buddy,” the second Police Officer said as he restrained the man by the arm. “Can I see an ID?” he asked somewhat irritated.

“Look, Officer, I’m in the cinema industry and . . .”

“I don’t care if you’re a Superstar. Can I see an ID please?” the second Police Officer commanded.

The man pulled his wallet as he watched the group disappear in the crowd.

 

In a tour bus, a woman turned her head as she followed a passing site and accidentally saw Ningning, seated on an adjacent seat, insert a potato chip through her masked and ate it. “How did you do that?” she asked in amazement looking at her.

Ningning, taken aback, looked at the woman without answering. Amo Obib, whose attention was somewhere else, missed the question. Lulu, directly behind the seated woman and clueless, asked the woman inquiringly, “She’s my little sister. What did she do?”

The woman turned and said to Lulu, “I saw her insert a potato chip through her mask.”

Lulu reacted casually, “She likes to play tricks on other people. She just made it look as though she got it through her mask when the potato chip is actually still in her hand. “Show her again,” she said to Ningning.

Ningning got the clue and demonstrated: She took a potato chip out of the bag and pushed the chip seemingly in her mouth over the masked. She then showed the woman the chip on her hand and said in a rhyme, “I trick her, I trick her.”

“Silly girl,” the woman said to Ningning as she laughed then waved her off with a grin.

 

They took time to go in appliance and hardware stores to familiarize themselves to common household gadgets and work tools. They rode buses and taxis; went to malls; and did other things to orient the girls to the world they would live in. Although people, at times, stared at their costumed companions, they paid no attention to them. If asked, they would answer: ‘They are midget actors dressed for an alien movie shooting or a play.’

As time passed, they did more excursions and visited many countries. First, as teenage girls that escorted costumed kids and, in the later months, as women that accompanied two midgets to a studio or shooting location.

Months later, the five were physically grown women. Their training shifted to basic household activities: cooking, carpentry, appliance and electrical repairs, and gardening. Later, they got abandoned cars and disassembled them, then reassembled them again. The fun part was driving what they repaired within the confines of the spacious vacant floor space within the ship. The driving area had lined roads with intersections and pedestrian lanes. As one drove, the four other sisters acted as signal lights holding on to red, green, and yellow colored placards. They even practiced parallel parking.

On the last few weeks, they learned secretarial skills, office administration, and all were adept in the use of common office computers. On their last week, each went alone to the city assigned to them. Lulu was to start her Earth life at Los Angeles, California. Her four sisters to Moscow, Russia; Shanghai, China; Davao City, Philippines; and Cape Town, South Africa.

 

Caught in the Act

 

On the night before their children’s departure, Ningning could not sleep and left Amo Obib asleep in their room. She walked towards their daughter’s barrack type bedroom and entered stealthily. They were fast asleep. With motherly adoration, she looked at the face of each of her children asleep as tears trickled down her cheeks. When she got to Lulu’s bed, she saw an outline of a body on its side covered by a blanket all the way to the top of the head. As she got closer, she found the head was but a dark folded cloth. She lifted the blanket and found two pillows underneath. She tiptoed hurriedly out of the room.

She located Lulu over the ship’s tracking system and proceeded to the shop. As she neared the room, the floor crackled as she walked. She noticed salt sparsely spread on the floor. She knew the crackling sounds made were loud enough to alert someone inside. In the room, she saw Lulu seated looking attentively at the computer’s screen. “Isn’t it late for you to be studying?” Ningning asked as she approached her. She noticed an accounting balance sheet was on the computer’s screen.

Lulu turned and, sounding surprised, said, “Oh. Hi Mama . . . I am studying financial statements.”

“Are you really studying accounting?” Ningning asked nicely in an investigative tone.

Lulu hesitated then confessed, “No. I’m not.” Her head lowered in guilt.

“What are you studying then?”

“The design of the atomic converter to update . . .”

Ningning hugged Lulu from behind and cuddled her. “Please leave everything the way it should,” she said in despair.

“It is not too late,” Lulu responded with enthusiasm as she grabbed a stool and got Ningning to sit. “National Atomic Research Laboratory produces . . .”

Ningning interrupted, “NARLAB, as it is commonly known, is a US government owned high-energy physics research center in the Mojave Desert, California. It produced 1.8 trillion electro-volts of particle energy in 1987. They started construction on the Superconducting Super Collider, spring of 1992. Projected completion, late 1999 with a collision output of twenty-five trillion electro-volts. That’s four-thousand trillion electro-volts short of what we need.”

Ningning’s knowledge surprised Lulu. “I know but I came up with a design to increase its capacity. I plan to leak it to their scientist then . . .”

“Lulu,” Ningning interrupted again and sternly said, “how long have you been doing this?”

In guilt, she said, “Almost every night for nearly half a year.”

“My dearest Lulu, your Papa’s heart will be broken if he knew what you have been doing and what you intend to do.”

“Please do not tell Papa,” Lulu pleaded, her eyes in tears.

“Promise me you will not go against your Papa and my wish.”

“Can I give my answer tomorrow, before we leave?” Lulu asked, her head slightly bowed, her voice hardly audible as wiped off the tears from her eyes.

“Please do not disappoint me and your father,” Ningning answered then stood holding out her hands for Lulu to take. “Come, I’ll take you to bed.”

“I love you and Papa,” Lulu said, hugging Ningning as she cried again.

“Your father and I know that. We love you dearly, too,” Ningning answered as she rubbed Lulu’s back then led her out of the room.

 

Last farewell

 

Seated on a wooden bench by the airship’s ramp, Amo Obib and Ningning waited for their children. Earlier, the amo denied their children’s request to stay with them till the ship runs out of fuel and, consequently, die with them. Ningning, on seeing them come with a small suitcase on hand this time, said, “They are coming.”

Amo Obib, whose mind was recollecting the past, was jerked back to the present. Startled, he reacted, “What?”

“They are coming,” Ningning repeated and they stood.

 

With everything said of their departure earlier, Amo Obib and Ningning hugged and bade one-by-one their children, ‘Naska is Imar’ before each climbed the ramp and enter the airship. Lulu was the last. Amo Obib said, “Lulu, your mother confided what she found out last night. I want you to promise you won’t do anything foolish that may jeopardize your life and even your sisters,” he stressed forcefully.

“But, Papa, I . . .”

“Lulu,” Amo Obib said forcedly, “Promise!”

“I love you very much,” she answered and, in a rush, hugged him and did the same to Ningning.

Ningning reminded sternly Lulu as they parted embrace, “Lulu, you did not answer your father.”

“I cannot promise something I may not be able to keep though I give you my word I will try very, very hard and . . .” she broke in tears, took a step towards the airship, stopped. and turned. “I love you, Papa. I love you, Mama,” looking at each of them. “Naska is Imar,” she said.

Ningning moved quickly and caught her before she could turn. She got her to kneel then embraced and cuddled her. As she did, she whispered, “Try very, very hard, but if you must, though I pray hard that you won’t, be very, very careful.” She then moved back and in a normal voice said, “It will make your Papa and me very happy . . . Please promise,” she pleaded.

“I promise,” Lulu replied loud enough for her father to hear that made him grin at her. “Naska is Imar,” she repeated, with eyes wet; hands waving goodbye; moving backwards up the ramp.

“Naska is Imar,” Amo Obib and Ningning said together as they waved back at their children tightly packed with waving hands behind the airship’s closing door.

 

Amo Obib and Ningning watched the airship lift and pierce through the ship’s west-wall as it flew out of the ship.

Ningning said, “Can we sit and stay here for a moment?” sounding exhausted.

“Are you alright, Ningning?” Amo Obib asked looking at her with concern.

“I’m fine. I just feel so drained.”

“I understand. Take as much time,” he replied and they sat, each to their own thoughts.

 

Moments later, Ningning wrapped her arms around Amo Obib’s left arm; leaned her head on his shoulder; and whimpered again.

 

They stayed at the bench for a few minutes and later headed for the hibernating room. Ningning held on to amo’s arm as they walked slowly without a word uttered. When they got near the transporter room, Ningning suddenly let go her hold, and hurriedly went inside the room leaving Amo Obib standing at the hallway. She checked a drawer’s contents then returned to Amo Obib and held his arm again. “I hope Lulu will not do anything foolish,” saying it with her composure gained and held his arm again.

Amo Obib replied as they walked, “Even if she did, she could not prove herself to be an Alien as much as I can convince you that I am human.”

“She took one pyramid crystal,” Ningning said passingly.

Amo Obib stopped walking and got Ningning to face him. He firmly looked at her. “When did you know?” he asked somewhat irritated.

Ningning knew him well. She took his arm and led him again and said nicely, “That does not really matter. We cannot change anything now . . . As a father, the first thing you should learn is to trust your children. It is your fault anyway,” she concluded.

“And, how could that be?” Amo Obib said, baffled and protesting.

“You gave her one of your best quality—-being stubborn.”

“Stubborn?” he protested aloud.

“Would I have convinced you to stop handing those crazy leaflets and speeches on liberalizing educational policies and left it to the Council of Elders to decide?” she asked.

“I doubt it.”

“She’s like you. It’s your fault . . . so don’t blame her.”

It’s useless to argue, he thought then asked, “What should we do?”

“Pray,” she snapped.

Amo Obib strangely looked at her and said, “You know, Ningning, you are beginning to worry me. You have a weird way of getting people to see and do things differently. Remember the night . . .

EPISODE FOUR

 

Los Angeles California, 1997.

 

It was not a ‘Sunny Los Angeles’ that early autumn day. The sky remained overcast for days as the storm’s eye lingered two hundred miles west that brought intermittent rain to the otherwise dry metropolis. With the 4 P.M. rush hour, two and a half hours away and a Friday, traffic would get worse.

Twenty miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, Camfer Incorporated was one of the small companies among a number of industrial giants within Chatsworth’s industrial zone. The company ventured on high-speed printers and robotics. The brainchild of Greg Camber who, with a classmate, John Paul (JP) Fernandez, formed the company soon after they graduated from the University of Southern California’s MBA program.

Camfer Incorporated did well on their first five years but, like many upstart companies in the 80’s, struggled to survive the global economic downtrend. Metropolitan Los Angeles economy had taken the brunt of the US recession and seemed to linger down the economic scale. The company’s survival hinged on infiltrating the lucrative robotics market that both JP and Greg worked on since the company’s inception.

 

JP’s office was a mess. The only space in his office showing deliberate organization was the top of his steel filing cabinet. It had the coffee maker, creamer, sugar jar, and a number of coffee mugs. He thought it a fire hazard and made certain its top was clear of anything combustible. Elsewhere, stocks of reference material, technical magazines, and computer printouts were on the floor, desks, and every conceivable nook. The bookshelves on one side of the wall were overfilled that one would wonder why the wall had not given way. Yet he knew where things were in what he described as ‘organized chaos.’

JP worked on a computer program that served as Gilda’s brain, an odd-looking robot on wheels. He labored two months, going home late and coming in early including weekends, to meet a demonstration deadline due four hours away. He deplored the idea of his partner, Greg, a mechanical engineer and responsible for marketing, making client commitments without consulting him first but understood why—-there were many companies ganging up on the little business left and Greg was under pressure to deliver or step aside against stiff competition in the computer printer market. Gilda, which Greg mechanically designed, was in prototype stage and had been ready for two weeks. The pressure was on JP to get Gilda’s program up and running.

Midafternoon, Greg, furious, barged in JP’s office and slammed five opened letters over JP’s hands working on the computer keyboard. Three letters fell on the floor and two tethered over JP’s hands.

JP did not react. He knew its contents and merely flicked his right hand and got the letters to fall on the floor. “Say what you have to say, Greg,” he said coldly, his eyes stayed glued to the computer’s screen.

Controlling his temper, Greg said, “Someone told me Rosenthal Global Industries was giving our company special preference. Bad info, I thought and laughed it off. For your information, Rosenthal Global Industries is the largest conglomerate in the world! They’re in on almost every high-tech industry . . . warplanes, tanks, missiles, and even ship building, and constructions. Just doing business with them will boost a company’s image. For some crazy reason, they mailed the letters to you and you never gave them to me. You didn’t even open some!”

“Who in Rosenthal?” JP asked irritatingly as he pretended to work.

“Some top procurement guy in corporate headquarters,” Greg said still holding down his temper and voice. “That’s beside the point. Do you know what’s in those letters?”

“You opened them. So, what’s in it?” JP asked coldly without looking at Greg.

“Request for product information, price quote, and an invitation to bid. Hear that! Request for quotes and bids. Rosenthal doesn’t just send invitation or inquiries, unless they are interested in the product,” Greg said keeping his voice subdued.

JP turned his swivel chair and faced Greg, cold, determined. “I don’t want any part of Rosenthal Global Industries nor any of its subsidiaries. Companies in the armament business are the scums of the earth. They earn money through people’s blood. I want no part of that,” he angrily said.

“You don’t want them!” Greg replied sarcastically. “We need them. I’m your partner. If you forgot, I own half of the company and that entitles me to half the say.”

“Did you give me half of my say when you committed the project deadline to James Horsch?”

Letting off steam, Greg paced the floor then said. “What’s wrong with you, JP? You in a crusade to save humankind? Are you one of those peace freaks advocating throwing flowers when they’re being shot at? Wake up man. You’re in a dream world.”

“As long as I’m around, we don’t do any business with those S.O.B.‘s. If you want to do business with them, you’re free to buy me out at a bargain.”

“I’m in-charge of marketing. That’s for me to decide,” retorted Greg. “I never argued on how you run production. That’s your responsibility and I respect you for that. But you must respect my responsibility too. I worry day and night figuring how to bring orders in and you sit on it. We need Rosenthal’s or any business badly. God damn, JP . . .”

“I quit,” JP burst. He stood and started jamming papers into his attaché. “You can have the company.”

“We’ll dissolve the partnership!” Greg reacted and left the room slamming the door behind.

 

Greg and JP’s relation was not bad and burst of temper had never happened before. They were always calm and deliberate in deciding company matters. They were friends but not buddy. Greg was an extrovert and JP an introvert. As such, their relation stayed mainly in the company and rare social occasions.

A minute later, Greg came back. He stood in front of JP’s desk and calmly said to JP as he looked at him, “When I got you into this business, I promised you we’d rise or sink together. I’m not apt to break that promise. We’ll find other ways to float,” he said, extending his hand across JP’s desk. “We don’t do business with Rosenthal’s or any of its S. O. B.‘s and that’s a company policy. We don’t need their business to survive.”

JP shook Greg’s hand knowing well Greg was playing on his conscience but Greg was right. They needed any business they could get and getting business from Rosenthal Global Industries would put them in good market standing and, maybe, keep them above their debt.

Shifting the subject, Greg said, “I’m all set for the test.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to test the prototype with James Horsch present?” JP asked.

“So many things can go wrong. Worse comes to worst we’ll find an excuse to move the demo to a later date,” Greg said in a motion of leaving.

“Greg . . . you’re right and I apologize. You’ll get all the letters,” and with hesitation added, “Can we forget the incident?”

“What incident?” Greg quipped. “I’ll see you at the cage, partner.”

JP beamed. “Give me a couple of minutes.”

 

Gilda

 

JP went in the R&D test cage with a computer desk on hand. He popped it in the computer’s disk drive and worked the computer’s keyboard. Greg, in his white shirt with long-sleeves twice folded, made final checks on their robot named Gilda. Sonny Dominguez, their Mexican machinist, helped Greg. The three formed the company's entire Research and Development (R&D) ---Greg designed the robot's mechanics; Sonny did the fabrication; and JP handled the electronics and computer program. Together, they built Gilda.

Gilda had two camera-lensed eyes on its head; a stubby neck on top of a barrel shaped body; and moved on tracked wheels. Its mechanical links and motors were visible within its body and the metal rods and pulleys from shoulder to tip of fingers were exposed. Altogether, it was a mechanical skeleton with its circuit board visible as its backpack. Greg and JP were not concerned with its awkward look—-it was a prototype and did not bother to make it presentable, at least not at that point in time.

“I’m ready,” JP said aloud to Greg at the far end of a narrow test area within the R&D. A heavy gauge chicken wire fence separated it from the rest of the floor. Outside the fenced area were the company’s eager employees crowded tightly at its perimeter, curious and excited to see what Greg and JP had worked on since the company’s inception.

Greg gave a ‘thumbs up’ to JP then stepped a few feet away from Gilda.

“Me, ready too,” Sonny, who stood next to Greg, said in a heavy Mexican accent. With his moustache, he looked much like Pancho Villa if he wore a Mexican sombrero. He was a cheerful guy and everyone loved having him around with his extra-ordinary sense of humor.

JP returned Greg’s thumbs-up gesture then swung his arm to the production employees packed tightly outside the R&D area.

 

“Gilda! Gilda! Gilda! . . .” the employees chanted.

 

JP pressed the ‘Enter’ button on the keyboard.

 

Gilda did the first programmed routine placing half-a-dozen odd shaped blocks back into its corresponding slot and accomplished the task perfectly. It went to another table and viewed a picture of an assembled jigsaw puzzle with twelve separate distinct pieces then moved sideways to reconstruct the puzzle. It solved the puzzle at a speed that amazed everyone and the crowd started cheering louder. Gilda then went to the adjacent table and examined a cube made of irregular blocks, then moved to the side where ten dismantled pieces of the cube lay. It picked each piece, examined it, and then assembled the cube noticeably slower this time. With a dustpan, Gilda swept the excess blocks and dropped them in a trashcan.

 

Everyone laughed and cheered again.

 

The last test was crucial. Gilda was to fabricate and assemble components using a blueprint as a guide. Everything went well though the response time was slow and Gilda’s movement was jerky and, at times, hesitant. A few minutes in the test, the bolt held by the left mechanical hand slipped as it handed it over to right hand. Instead of the bolt, the right hand got hold of the left hand’s palm and yanked out the arm from its shoulder. Electronic wires shorted and mechanical links trailed the disabled arm. The main circuit board on Gilda’s backpack began to smoke.

JP instinctively pressed the abort key as Greg rushed and pulled Gilda’s electrical cord from the socket. He got a nearby fire extinguisher and frantically sprayed at the flame coming out of Gilda’s left shoulder and back. Sonny, with his left hand shielding his eyes from the fire extinguisher’s spray, retrieved the circuit board at Gilda’s back.

“Damn!” JP said aloud to the surprise of everyone. He was always cool and levelheaded, and these failures were common in R&D work. He walked towards Greg who stood by the crippled robot, and asked, “How bad?”

Greg leaned forward and checked Gilda’s mangled shoulder then the arm. “Two – three days,” he said disappointedly as he rubbed the back of his neck.

Overhearing, Sonny interjected, “I come tomorrow. No overtime pay. Get Gilda running Monday morning, if Greg need me.”

Greg grinned at Sonny. “Thanks Sonny. Let me check it first.”

JP asked Greg, “Think you can stall the demo for Monday?”

“That may not be a problem but I have to work on it now. That means you have to see James Horsch for me. I think we got something even with that lousy slip. Is it a minor program change?” Greg glanced at JP questioningly.

“It seems minor but it’s not,” JP responded, looking at Greg.

“How long?”

“A week at best. Two, most likely.”

“We’ll run it on the same program. You move Horsch’s demonstration for late Monday afternoon,” Greg decided. “We’ll just cross our fingers and hope Gilda won’t drop anything this time.”

Sonny interjected, “I put extra rubber pads on fingertips. No slippage.”

“Bueno idea, Sonny,” Greg said in his few Spanish words then turned to JP. “I have to find which motor needs changing then buy them before the electronic store closes for the weekend. You just have to take care of Horsch. Besides, you and him have a lot of talking on the program side. Meeting is two hours away, at four-thirty. Can you manage?”

“Have to,” he said uncomfortably. “I need a head start on the traffic. It’s bad going downtown on rush hours, and don’t like being late and give another excuse.”

“See you tomorrow?”

“You bet,” JP said and walked hurriedly to his office.

 

Beth Greer, the company’s administrative officer, accountant, and secretary among other things, was at her desk putting her personal belongings in a box when JP walked by. She was fat and constantly perspired. If she had her way, she would turn the air-conditioner close to freezing. Sounding exasperated, Beth said, “Miss Katherine Davis of Rosenthal Global Industries called again.”

“What did you tell her?”

“As always . . . you’re out and leave a message. She left the same message to return her call. Why don’t you just tell her to drop dead?” she said, sounding pissed.

JP ignored her remark. “Did you give Greg the unopened letters in my to-do box?”

“I accidentally opened one today and, seeing it pertained to sales, gave it to Greg. I also gave him the others you had from them. Did I do anything wrong?” she asked.

“No. Just curious,” JP answered passingly, and proceeded to his office.

 

JP stocked some documents in his old leather briefcase. He then changed his collared T-shirt to a white long-sleeved shirt he kept in his office for this kind of emergency and tacked it in his navy-blue slacks. As usual, he had a hard time getting his green-stripe-over-gray tie straight then donned his rusty brown sport suit. He was somewhat unsure of what was wrong with his attire aside from his brown canvas suede shoes. He thought people did not look that far. He left his office with a briefcase.

 

Beth checked JP out as he stood by her desk. “Boy, are you dressed to kill.”

JP grinned; got a plastic ball pen on top of her desk; and placed it in his pocket.

“You’re meeting James Horsch?” she asked.

JP answered shabbily “Yeah.”

“I guess I won’t see you, so I might as well say my goodbye.” Beth sensed the company was getting into trouble and thought it better to apply elsewhere before she gets laid-off.

“Goodbye?” JP sounded surprised.

“I gave you two-week’s notice. I hope you got someone to replace me. Boy, you do need one.”

“She’s coming on Monday,” JP lied and hoped she reminded him. ‘That is Beth, no initiative’ he thought. “Wish you the best.” He gave her a hug and a pat on the back then went for the door.

“Don’t forget to call me when everything’s normal,” Beth cried out.

JP turned and smiled. He knew they needed a secretary and office administrator but, somehow, was glad Beth resigned. Her lack of initiative, or maybe, her incapability to solve small and simple administrative problems were getting to both Greg and JP nerves as it continued to pile up. It was just a matter of time that she would get fired.

 

The Downtown Drive

 

JP’s halfway drive from San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles was not bad if you consider it drizzled. It changed when he got to the top of the Santa Monica hills that overlooked the downhill freeway that led to downtown Los Angeles. It was jammed. Lined cars outlined a long freight train. With an hour and a half to spare on normal traffic, JP was unconcerned and spent the time listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony over the car’s CD player. At the symphony’s fourth movement, he sang along with the choral singers giving his best as his car inched forward in the traffic.

At the symphony’s end, JP glanced at the car’s digital clock. It was 3:45 p.m. The hotel was a little over a mile to the south as the crow flies. Directly ahead was the newly constructed Rosenthal Global Industries high-rise building. It dwarfed other buildings in height and width at the heart of downtown area. It housed the headquarters of all the companies and subsidiaries under Rosenthal Global Industries. He tried to avoid seeing it until the building dominated his view from the freeway. Agitated, he voiced out, “Of all places, why build it here!” as he slammed the steering wheel with his hand. He took the freeway’s off-ramp knowing the side streets may be worse but took it nevertheless. Soon he followed detour signs that got him farther to where he was going. Pressed for time, he avoided the jammed main thoroughfare and took the side streets.

He got to within a block of the hotel on a one-way street that went on the opposite direction. The traffic had not moved for almost two minutes and his appointment was fifteen minutes away. He swung the car around jumping the curve and used the sidewalk; drove in a parking garage he just passed; and parked his car.

It drizzled when JP walked out of the basement garage and cursed himself for forgetting his raincoat or at least it was the raincoat this time. ‘He must not be late’, he thought. Greg said James Horsch, the President of A & C Marketing International located in East Berlin, was a hard man to impress and was particular about punctuality. This made him nervous and got him to jog his way to the hotel.

 

At the hotel’s front desk, JP dusted off the water droplets from his suit. “James Horsch, please. He is expecting me,” he said to the receptionist.

The receptionist took a manila envelope from under the counter. “John Paul Fernandez?” she read the name on the envelope ending JP’s name with a pleasant tone coupled by a professional smile.

“Yes. That’s me.”

“Mr. Horsch personally gave me instruction to hand this to you,” she said as she handed the manila envelope across the counter.

Meanwhile, a man auspiciously dressed as a tourist with a camera, was across the lobby. With its zoom lens, he focused on a lobby object of the same distance to the reception counter. When focused, he swung it and took successive pictures of JP receiving the envelope and another three as he left the counter getting a good profile of JP’s face and the envelope he held. The man then fiddled with his camera like a tourist.

 

JP pulled a letter written on hotel stationary within the manila envelope. It read:

 

Dear John Paul,

 

I must cancel our appointment on a minute’s notice. I tried reaching you and Greg but both of you were out of the building. Your secretary said you were on your way here. I will advise you of a new meeting schedule sometime next month. Please accept my deepest apology for the inconvenience.

 

James Horsch

 

JP was relieved. He called their office at the hotel lobby and spoke to Greg who just came in from the hardware store, “Greg, Horsch canceled the appointment . . . I will make a special program to handle greased marbles so we can test and solve both problems . . . See you tomorrow? . . . Good, Monday . . . I surely need the rest.”

 

Meeting Lulu

 

‘It’s a bad time to drive home with the afternoon rush hour traffic at its peak,’ JP said to himself. Since the rain had stopped, he decided to kill time and headed leisurely to a familiar area a few blocks further on where he used to hunt for old coins. Coin collection was a hobby he started as early as he could remember until college when he forgot about it.

 

Four blocks away, Lulu stood outside the Los Angeles Bus Terminal at the street’s curb. A panhandler approached her and asked, “Can you spare food money?”

Without hesitation, Lulu took her wallet out of her shoulder bag. Naively, she gave the panhandler a clear view of her wallet’s content as she searched for a dollar bill.

The panhandler eyed Lulu’s money greedily as she leafed through a stock of hundred and fifty-dollar bills then scanned the one-way street. Suddenly, he grabbed the wallet and ran crossing the street narrowly missing passing cars.

Lulu was petrified. Without screaming for help, she watched the snatcher disappear among the pedestrians across the street. All of her money was in the wallet. Desperate, she checked for a rare coin stashed away in her bag to ascertain it was there. All her other sisters had one tacked secretly in their bag in case of emergency. Now she had to use it. She asked someone for directions to the nearest coin store or pawnshop. Two were not familiar with the area but the third accommodated her. “The coin store district is three blocks down on this street and some pawnshops are along the way,” the man said pointing the direction. “Most closes at five,” he added.

Lulu thanked the man and on seeing the corner clock read 4:50 p.m., hurriedly headed for the shops. Penniless in a city full of stranger’s faces, a look of concern was on her face. She walked briskly to a couple of pawnshops but, by then, found their doors closed. To her relief, across the street was a coin store still open and headed straight for it.

 

JP was at the coin district when it started to rain. He took shelter under the nearest storefront canopy and thought himself lucky—-the canopy was a coin store. He entered the store. It was narrow but deep. An aisle separated one long glass display counter on one side and, parallel to it, a long glass wall with coins displayed in it. A woman customer stood with her suitcase between her and the counter halfway in the store. She was looking towards the further end to notice JP enter.

JP noticed her back heaving as she caught her breath. Small beads of raindrops were on her white long sleeves dress and partly ruffled black hair. Blocking his way, JP said politely, “Excuse me.”

Startled, Lulu turned and on realizing she partly blocked the aisle said, “I’m so sorry,” as she moved to the side of her suitcase and smiled at him.

JP saw the worried look as she glanced at him and the smile after. The transformation got his attention. She had beautiful blue eyes. Her sweet smile went well with her face flanked by dark straight hair that touched both her shoulders. JP stayed still. He was hypnotized.

Lulu, puzzled at the motionless man fronting her, looked to ascertain there was room for him to pass.

Lulu’s motion brought JP back to his senses. “I’m sorry,” he said and quickly passed and headed for the further end of the store.

 

At the deeper end, JP caught a glimpse of a burly man wearing a Hawaiian shirt in a cramped office behind a beaded curtain. The man was thumbing hurriedly through pages of a coin catalogues. Paying no mind to what he saw, he viewed the displayed coins under the glass counter but soon got distracted on hearing successions of thuds. He instinctively turned to the sound’s direction and saw the man sliding an oversize book on a narrow desk causing catalogues to fall on the floor. Curious, he observed the man hastily flipped through book pages; stopped; looked at the coin he held then used a loupe on it. The man was very excited judging from his hasty motions. Shortly after, the man straightened himself; left the room; and walked towards the woman, this time, in a casual manner.

JP thought nothing of it and continued to view the displayed coins but could not help distinctly overhearing the conversation between the burly man and the woman as the room was a much like an enclosed sound chamber.

“$500,” the man said, in a matter a fact tone, to Lulu.

“It’s a rare coin. Surely, you must have made a mistake. Please give it a second look.”

The man obliged and, with Lulu on her side of the counter, moved to a levered circular-fluorescent lamp with a magnifying glass at its center. He turned on the lamp and examined the coin.

Barely two feet from the lamp and overwhelmed with curiosity, JP’s eyes looked sideways to see the gold coin held under the light slightly turning his head. It was roughly the size of a dime and part of it encrusted by a cut coral whose size was large enough to hold with two fingers.

The man said coldly to Lulu, “Okay, a thousand,” and leaned against the wall nonchalantly, his arms crossed each other over his protruding belly; his posture unsympathetic to her worried and concerned look.

Lulu extended her hand with a cutout page, “Here’s a page from a coin catalogue issued nine years ago, showing the same coin in silver priced at $1,700. The one in your hand is gold.”

The man insensibly left Lulu’s hand holding the catalogue page in the air. “Look lady, I’m not in charity but in trading business and have expenses to think of. Ok, $1,700. If you don’t like my offer, you can take it elsewhere.”

“You’re the only store open . . . Sir, my purse got snatched with all my money in it . . . I’m looking for a job . . . no place to stay . . . the coin is worth far more than that,” she pleaded.

The man looked at Lulu coldly. One could easily sense how desperate she was and the man took advantage of the situation. “$1,700 is final,” he said, and extended his hand to return the coin.

JP heard clearly the conversation, felt the woman’s desperation, and pitied her. Without giving it a thought, reacted, “If he’s not interested, I might. Can I see the coin?” he referred the question to her.

Lulu looked at JP then took the coin from the man’s hand and handed it to him together with the catalogue page.

JP sensed her worry, her helplessness. It radiated out of her face. He got the coin and the torn catalogue page. He held the coin where the coral had encrusted and examined it under the circular lamp’s light. The coral’s color was immaculate white and could smell the coral’s faint scent. He concluded it was curved out of a larger coral recently, A woman’s head was embossed on one side of a gold coin in mint condition. Its chin and part of the nose were encrusted in coral. Turning the coin over, he saw the coral had covered half of the ruler’s seal. He knew of the coins minted in Alexandria, Egypt, during the Pleny family’s two-hundred-year reign. Each ruler had their face embossed on a coin during their rule. Of the five rulers, four were kings and the last, a queen, Cleopatra. Being gold, the coin may well be a proof mint given only to the reigning ruler. If the coin was authentic, it would be worth more. How much more, that he did not know. He compared the coin against the picture on the catalogue and offered, “$3,000 for it?”

Lulu was speechless.

“Who the hell are you,” the man blared in a threatening tone then said, “I’ll give $3,500.”

The man’s sudden reaction was a dead giveaway. Certain the coin was worth more, he said, “$4,500.”

“$5,000,” the man countered.

“$6,000.”

“Why you. . .” he glared at JP.

The man was about to move. “Make an offer,” Lulu said catching the man’s attention.

The man froze on his track. “Six-five,” he countered.

“$8,000.” JP countered. He was good in poker, his only vise, and was the man to beat during his college days.

The man’s face turned red. He turned to JP. “Why you . . .”

Lulu saw the anger on the man’s face. She turned to JP and said, “It’s yours for $8,000.”

“I’ll give you $9,000,” the man reacted.

“The bidding is over,” she concluded.

“His offer is $9,000,” JP said.

“I heard him. It is yours for $8,000,” saying it with a smile.

“I wasn’t prepared for this and the banks are close. I can take out $2,000 from a teller machine a few blocks from here and write a check for the balance. Would that be fine?”

“I’m giving you $9,000 . . . cash,” the man blared and smirked at JP. “This guy is a scam artist. He’d runoff with your coin the moment you leave the store.”

Lulu understood the man’s insinuation and looked at JP in the eyes for a moment then turned to the man and said, “I am selling the coin to this gentleman.”

“Get the fuck out of my store!” the man roared in anger as he pointed towards the door.

JP got Lulu’s suitcase and together left the store.

 

“Lady, 10,000, cash,” the man shouted from across the street.

Lulu ignored him and continued walking with JP.

JP said, “The man’s offer is $10,000 and I can’t go farther than eight . . . two thousand more and cash.”

“There comes a point when money losses its worth. I can get by with $8,000. Do you normally buy coins at those prices?”

“The most I’ve spent on an old coin was twenty dollars and a long time ago.”

“Why did you bid then?”

“Honestly, my intention was merely to raise the buying price.”

“You are very lucky. The coin is worth much more. Sell it.”

“I’d be happier if we sold it and get my eight thousand back.”

“The first arrangement is . . .”

“Please,” JP pleaded.

Lulu gave it a quick thought then said, “Only if you accept ten percent of the gross over the eight grand,” she said.

Smiling, JP pocketed the coin then extended his hand. “I’m John Paul Fernandez. My friends call me JP.”

“Luningning Spence,” she replied smiling and shaking his hand. “I thank God we met.”

“I surely am glad we did,” he smiled back feeling what he said.

 

JP withdrew the money from a teller machine and handed it to Lulu together with the check he made. In turn, Lulu wrote JP’s name and telephone on a small notebook she got from her bag.

“Mind having dinner with me?” JP asked.

“I really should go,” Lulu answered.

“I know you’re in a rush but you won’t go far in this traffic. Please. Besides, we still have to talk on selling the coin.”

“You sell it.”

“Trust me with it?”

Baffled, Lulu replied, “I trusted you at the store, why shouldn’t I trust you now?”

“You got me there . . . Still we have to talk like . . . where to sell.”

“Auction would be best.”

“I think I know someone who could help but that would take time.”

“I’m in no hurry. I really have to go,” she sounded nicely.

“Noticed the traffic hasn’t moved since we got here? Please. The restaurant is not far then I’ll drive you to wherever you want to go.”

Lulu looked at the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Though reluctant, she saw JP’s pleading through his grin. She coyly smiled and said, “Ok.”

JP was so relieved and strangely happy. He never thought he could be that audacious and convincing to women as he had never done it before. He got her luggage and led the way. When they got to the entrance of a fancy restaurant, Lulu requested they go to one they passed earlier. JP obliged and found himself in a small self-serve Chinese restaurant. They served themselves then sat on a circular table big enough for their two partitioned Styrofoam plates and cups.

Before she ate, Lulu said, “I must apologize for being selfish.”

“Selfish?” JP questioned.

“You may have preferred the other place. With so many people starving, I don’t feel comfortable eating at expensive restaurants. I’d rather give the difference to the needy. I’m terribly sorry,” she was sincerely apologetic.

“Don’t be. If it be of any conciliation, I hardly eat in that type of restaurant but for a different reason. You are right though on the ‘many hungry’ but it wouldn’t make that much of a difference . . . just too many of them out there.”

“It does seem that way if you think of the many but not to the lucky one that gets it. Little things do make a big difference,” Lulu said in a passing way then started to eat.

She’s beautiful, JP thought as he watched her fork the broccoli on her plate then thought not of what she said but more on how she said it—-spontaneous and casual. He became fascinated.

Lulu daintily wiped her lips, “It’s hard to think of others and think of yourself as well. It pains me not to give a dollar to a needy when I need the dollar too.”

“I know what you mean . . . I can’t help but think of your name, Luningning, right?”

“Right. But call me Lulu. It’s shorter.”

“Ok. Does the name Luningning mean anything?”

“Comes from an archaic language to mean twinkling star.”

“You most definitely are,” JP reacted. Taken aback by his reaction, he continued, “Where are you from?”

“Alaska.”

“Your parents live there?” JP asked casually before he took a bite off his egg roll.

“They’re both gone,” Lulu answered in melancholy as the last scenes with them flashed thru her mind. Her eyes began to moist.

“I’m sorry to hear that. My parents are too.”

Lulu felt her guilt and held back her tears from falling.

JP noticed her teary eyes and handed over a napkin. He regretted opening the subject and shifted the topic, “I overheard you were looking for a job and a place to stay. What exactly are you looking for?” he asked.

Lulu took the napkin and dubbed her eyes as she said, “Secretarial, administrative work. I’m computer literate and good at spreadsheets and word processor,” forcing some enthusiasm into it.

“Can you speak German?” Beth got her job mainly for her ability to speak the language in addition to the low starting salary she asked. It would be ideal if he hired someone who knew the language. Camfer’s major clients were in Germany.

Lulu spoke a sentence that JP did not understand but sounded German to him. She ended by translating that she can speak and write well in German.

“German by heritage?”

“No. My father was a career military man and was stationed in Germany, among other countries, until he retired and we moved to Alaska,” she explained with no hint of the sadness she felt a moment earlier.

“Would $4,000 a month to start interest you?”

“Naska is Imar. I hope you’re not going out of your way just to help me.”

“Naska is Imar?” JP echoed with a questioning look.

Lulu realized her mistake and said, “I’m sorry. I meant, thank you.”

JP thought not much of it, and continued, “The company does need someone with your qualification. Being computer literate and the ability to speak German are definite pluses. Speaking of a place to live, my Aunt is looking for someone to share her house with. It’s three miles from the company. Stay here while I make a call.” JP stood and went to the nearby pay phone.

 

Lulu watched JP talk over the phone. She smiled at him when he looked at her and wondered how he knew she was looking for a job and a place to live.

 

They left the restaurant soon after JP used the phone. The rain had stopped and they walked headed for the parking garage. She was a good conversationalist that JP did not notice how long it took them to walk to the garage and how pleasant their conversation was.

 

As JP drove, he asked, “You said your wallet got snatched?”

She was puzzled and asked, “Did I tell you that?”

“I must confess I eavesdropped at the store. That’s the reason why I knew you were looking for a place to live and a job in addition to your money being snatched.”

“Glad you did. My wallet got had all my money in it.”

“Sorry to hear that. Don’t let the city’s name Los Angeles, the City of Angels, mislead you. Be on the lookout for those people. It is sad for it seems to get worse as the years passed, and I am partly at fault.”

Lulu was puzzled and asked, “How so?”

“Being complacent on my social obligations.’‘

Lulu grinned on hearing his answer. “Thinking of it is a step forward.”

Her reply intrigued JP. “Are you related to Mother Theresa?”

“Mother Theresa?” then remembered the Indian missionary who helped the poor. She daintily laughed. “What made you say that?”

The two continued their pleasant conversation and found they shared the same views on the indifference of people towards each other and the sad state of the world socially. They, however, departed on how each treated the problem . . . JP ignored it while Lulu was doing her small share to help.

 

Place to Stay

 

Some distance from his aunt’s house, JP gave Lulu advices on how to best get along with ‘Auntie Juaning’ as JP called her. “She can be a very good friend, extremely loyal but a bad enemy,” he stressed. “I must warn you she has a crude way of speaking her mind but she’s nice and fun to be with once you get to know her strange sense of humor and crude manner of speaking.”

“You need not worry,” Lulu assured. “I get along well with people.”

 

JP parked his car in front of his Aunt’s two-story, three-bedroom house at Chatsworth’s residential area. Juanita Jones or Juaning, a Filipina, had the looks of a Pacific Islander. Her hair and eyes were black, her skin tan, and was a bit on the chubby side. Her hair had curlers; wore a colorful printed duster; and stood at the lighted foyer with her arms crossed over her chest. Her poise revealed her displeased disposition—-he did not give her a chance to say ‘No’ over the telephone but confident he could talk her out of it or at least let Lulu stay long enough for her to find a place to stay.

Juaning was a childless widow of an American soldier who died during the Vietnam War. She used to be a nurse working in a hospital in New Jersey. She left the job to become her frail sister’s live-in private nurse and companion. The sister, a retired surgical nurse, was then two months pregnant with JP at that time. After her sister’s death eight years later, she became JP’s guardian and, together, moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a private nurse. When JP started to work, he got his own apartment. Since then, she lived alone.

Months earlier, she mentioned to JP, in passing, of wanting a room rented to have company in her house. Extremely old fashion, she specified a Filipina with strong traditional values. Knowing JP was bringing a Caucasian, she was in a bad mood and determined to politely get rid of her.

 

As Lulu and JP approached Juaning, and before JP could speak, Lulu said in fluent and unaccented Tagalog (the National Language of the Philippines), “Magandang gabi po. Sana hindi ko kayo naabala.” (She greeted and apologized for whatever inconvenience she may have cost her. An approach most Filipinas, reared in the old Philippine tradition, would customarily take).

Juaning was surprised to hear her dialect spoken so well and politely by someone with blue eyes. Stunned, she forgot her plan. She stuttered, “Aaaaaba, hindi naman.” (Ahhhhh, not at all.)

After the introduction, Juaning led both in the house. “Nakakain ka na ba, Lulu?” (Have you eaten, Lulu?) she asked—-a common Filipino practice to ask a stranger when invited to enter their home to offer food.

Opo,” Lulu replied ‘Yes’.

“Kung gayon kailangan natin nang pangpatamis,” Juaning concluded pastries were appropriate.

Juaning glared at JP who remained standing. He did not understand a single word said. In Filipino tradition, her conversation to a guest was a cue for JP to serve them as a family member and the extension of the host. Remembering JP did not understand the dialect, she said, “JP! Don’t just stand there. Serve us something. There are pastries in the fridge, go, go,” she commanded forcefully, her looks, irritated.

JP, worried over his Aunt’s tone of voice and look, rushed to the kitchen and soon came back with drinks in both hands and pastries using his arm as a tray. ‘I must be around to control the situation in Lulu’s favor,’ he thought.

“Napkins,” snapped Juaning on seeing what he brought.

JP laid the stuff on the center table with Juaning’s help and again rushed then came back in seconds with the napkins; grabbed a chair; and seated himself.

Juaning said, “Look at him. He’s lost.”

Lulu femininely smiled. Juaning told her JP does not understand her native language, Tagalog. She said in English, “As I was saying, my father was assigned in a US Naval Base in the Philippines. We stayed there for three years. We . . .”

Juaning interrupted and spoke to her in Tagalog, “Speak Tagalog and leave him looking stupid. I’ve told him so many times to learn the language.”

“I feel sorry for him,” Lulu answered in Tagalog as she beamed at Juaning without glancing at JP.

“Leave that fool alone,” and they both laughed.

 

JP did not understand a word of what they said but since they were laughing, he went to the kitchen and got pastry and soft drink for himself.

 

JP just listened to the two engaged in woman-talk in a language he did not understand and cursed himself for not learning. He watched Lulu most of the time and was captivated by her charm, her lady-like mannerisms, her humor.

When Lulu mentioned to Juaning that she had spent fourteen hours traveling on a bus from Canada, Juaning said to JP, “You! Go home. It is late. This girl needs rest.”

“It’s barely nine and a Friday,” protested JP. “I still need to explain her job . . . give her directions.”

“You paying overtime?” she asked sarcastically, true to her crude way of communicating.

“No, but . . .”

“No overtime! Go home!” she told JP and to Lulu said, “During my time, no one visits a woman and stays after six in the evening. Look at what is happening to the world today,” she complained. “Come around and visit us. You’re not doing that as much as you should,” she admonished JP then turned to Lulu, “Do you have plans for tomorrow?”

“Shop for clothes. Is it far from here?”

“You don’t need to worry,” JP said. “I’ll bring the money tomorrow and drive you around.”

“Are you forgetting me?” Juaning retorted.

“I’ll drive you both tomorrow,” JP corrected as he grinned at his Aunt.

“I really don’t want to inconvenience any of you,” Lulu insisted.

Juaning answered, “No inconvenience at all,” then addressed JP commandingly, “Be at the bank before nine then come here right after.”

JP agreed and left, happy it turned out well and easy after all.

 

Both Single

 

JP drove down the narrow driveway at the rear of Juaning’s house. It paralleled a rectangular greenhouse that occupied a fourth of a spacious backyard. A wide canopied-swing hung from a large oak tree’s branch that shaded most of the remaining open space.

Peering through a back window, Juaning said to Lulu, “JP is here.” They were at the family room that had a TV fronting a living room set; a dining table for six; and a service counter that separated the kitchen. It was spacious in spite of the clatter of furnishings that did not match one another altogether. It was Juaning’s vain attempt to have a beautifully designed interior.

Juaning opened the kitchen door and stood by it. “You’re in time,” she said as JP approached the two-step stairs to the back porch.

“Good morning, Auntie and you too, Lulu,” JP said and kissed Juaning on her right cheek as he normally does.

“What’s that?” Juaning said, as she sniffed him like a bloodhound.

“Hi, Lulu,” JP greeted then turned to his Aunt. “What’s what?” He feared something like this would happen.

“That smell.”

“Men’s lotion.”

Juaning said in surprise, “I didn’t know you use them?”

“You just didn’t notice it before,” JP replied then immediately turned to Lulu, “I got your money,” handing over a bulging envelope.

With the envelope, Lulu momentarily thought of what to do with it.

JP noticed Lulu’s immediate reaction and said, “We can go to the bank as well.”

Lulu smiled and placed the envelope in her canvas shoulder bag.

“Now we can go shopping,” said Juaning, delightedly.

Lulu reminded them again, “You really do not have to go out of your way.”

“None of that,” Juaning snapped then addressed JP, “I’m glad you brought her. It’s like a dream come true, except she’s white. But it really does not matter now that I got to know her,” she beamed at Lulu adoringly. “She accompanied me to church, helped clean the yard, and even gave me sensible tips in raising my orchids.”

Juaning turned to Lulu as they walked to JP’s car and said, “Which reminds me, are you married?”

“Never been,” Lulu daintily replied.

“Good!” Juaning exclaimed. “JP is a virgin. He’ll make you a good husband.”

“Auntie!” JP protested in exasperation as he looked up to the sky, seeking God’s redemption.

“You’re single, aren’t you?” Juaning snapped.

“Yes, but . . .”

“So, what’s wrong with being a virgin? Being a virgin makes it dignified. Open the door,” she commanded as she stood beside the car’s front-passenger door.

JP did and Juaning turned to Lulu and said commercially said, “He’s a gentleman, too.”

JP closed the car door for Juaning then said to Lulu, “My Aunt has this . . .”

“You explained it last night,” Lulu butted.

“She’s a character. But her manner of communication is, at times . . .”

Juaning rolled down the car window and irritatingly asked, “Are we going?”

“We are,” JP answered and hastily opened the rear door for Lulu.

 

The Thrift Shop

 

“Where to ladies?” JP asked as he started the car’s engine.

“Northridge Mall,” answered Juaning.

“I do my shopping at thrift shops,” Lulu said.

“Thrift shops?” Juaning questioned. She had never heard of it.

JP explained, “That’s where you get the most value for your money.”

“You know where it’s at, JP?” Juaning asked.

“There’s a thrift shop at the corner of Roscoe and Winnetka Boulevard. The bank is along the way,” JP replied.

 

They went to the bank then to the thrift store.

 

JP parked his car at the thrift shop’s rear parking lot and entered the store through the back entrance. They passed through a narrow aisle flanked by display tables. Lulu went straight to the women’s dress racks further on as Juaning and JP scouted leisurely the place. Juaning looked surprised to see a lot of used assorted things organized in category—-used house furniture, old paintings, used household gadgets, used toys, used tools, and, most of all, used clothing hanged on rows of racks. Juaning wondered aloud as she looked about, amazed. “Where did all these used clothes and things come from?” she asked, looking around, wide-eyed.

“Donations,” JP replied.

Noting the things in the store were all used items, Juaning curiously asked, “From people still alive?” being very superstitious.

“Mostly dead,” JP now made fun of his gullible Aunt. “We have to pass by the church before we bring the goods home. That breaks the path from the spirit world to your house.”

Juaning heard JP but her eyes caught a familiar looking blouse among others on the rack fronting her. She inspected it thoroughly. “$2.25 for this?” she exclaimed in disbelief. “I paid over twenty dollars for exactly the same thing.” Her eyes widened as she saw rows of fully stocked racks. Immersed in a woman’s world, she systematically went over each item on the rack fronting her.

“I hope we won’t wait for you,” JP said to his Aunt who in a snap was in a shopping frenzy.

“You won’t. I’ll be ready when she is,” she replied, not missing a second to what she was doing.

 

Juaning was in a world only women understand and JP found himself alone.

 

For the first few minutes, JP watched Lulu from a distance, wishing he’d be by her side. He watched her go over dresses on the rack and measured it to her body. She was so unaffected as she searched for things she needed. There was something very special about her. She seemed to have the knack to bring the good in people. Juaning was wary of strangers and very meticulous when it came to choosing friends. To win her overnight was a miracle, JP thought. He was charmed.

 

Half an hour later, JP, holding on to some items, got startled when he felt someone touch both ends of his shoulders from behind.

“Don’t move,” Lulu said.

JP complied but looked over his shoulder and saw Lulu measure a sweater then a shirt on his back.

“It fits and looks perfect on you. I’ll give it once it’s washed and ironed, my token of appreciation,” Lulu said smiling at him.

Touched by her gesture, JP said, “It’s not necessary but thank you.”

“You have done a lot for me. This is my way of thanking you in return. I’m ready if you are.”

“I am,” JP replied with a few house items and office accessories in his arms. “I’m not sure if Aunt Juaning is,” he said, looking toward Juaning’s direction deep in the store.

“I don’t mind waiting. I’ll pay what I got and stay near the cashier’s counter.”

 

JP approached Juaning. “Lulu is done.”

“Give me a few seconds.”

 

Ten minutes later, Juaning came with a cart full of assorted items and methodically placed a glass flower vase, a brass deco-art bookstand, a garden trowel, a number of skirts and blouses to mention some, at the cashier’s counter. When the sales clerk rang it up, it came to $32.75.

“$32.75! This is heaven! Just imagine all the gifts I gave that I could have saved on. Look at this $0.25 glass center piece,” Juaning said holding it up proudly. “After cleaning, no one will suspect it’s used. And, look at this. It’s . . .” she stopped then turned to Lulu and in a confidential manner advised, “Lulu, we should come here often but don’t tell people about this place, the fewer who knows, the better for us.”

Lulu looked puzzled, ‘Not tell people of this bargain store?’ she questioned herself not knowing the logic to it. ‘She should tell people of this store and wondered, naively, why not!’

 

From the thrift store, the trio had lunch. Again, JP watched them talk in the dialect, Tagalog. He did not mind. It gave him an excuse to watch Lulu across the table—-watch her interact with Juaning; watch her smile; laugh; and even how she held her fork and ate. After a few minutes, the women giggled together and looked at him then, to his dismay; their conversation reverted to English and had to partake.

 

When the bill came, the three fought over it. They were no match against Juaning—-she took her plate and threatened to drop it on the floor if the waitress got someone else’s money!

As they waited for the change, JP addressed Juaning, “I’ll help Lulu find a used car. Care to come?”

“She definitely needs one if she wishes to live in LA,” Juaning commented. “You two can do that after we pass by the church. We need to have our goods exorcized,” she added in a serious tone.

Lulu was puzzled again by what Juaning meant and looked at JP.

“She’s superstitious. Don’t mind her,” JP said.

Juaning looked at JP and smirked, “You won’t say that once a ghost visits you.”

 

At the church, Lulu went straight to the altar’s kneeling rail and prayed. JP was with Juaning by the Holy Water dispenser. He failed to convince her that he merely joked about the spirits following the goods. Uncomfortably, he looked around holding up each bag waist high as Juaning dabbed Holy Water to each item mumbling some religious phrase. “JP, you will be twenty-nine,” Juaning said as they waited for Lulu. “You should start thinking of settling down. It’s no fun playing with your growing children when you’re arthritic and senile. What do you think of her?”

“I think she’s wonderful. Maybe a bit frugal,” JP commented.

“Prudent is the word,” she stressed.

 

The Car

 

A Mexican woman walked alongside JP and Lulu to a parked car with a ‘FOR SALE’ sign taped on the inside of the windshield. The old two-door sedan looked as though it had been there for ages. Its pearl-blue color was shaded by a thin layer of street dust. Its looks, however, did not thwart Lulu. It seemed it was the kind of car she looking for and began to check it like a pro.

“I keep car oiled. Engine good; little scratches; vintage car; only 385,000 miles. Body good too, no accident,” the Mexican woman said in her telegraphic sales talk as she wiped the murky windshield with her hand, leaving behind a whirly streak on its surface; opened the driver’s door; and took out the ‘FOR SALE’ sign, and gave Lulu the car key.

Lulu got in the car and turned the ignition. It started on first try, to JP’s surprise, though it belched smoke and spattered until the engine warmed. She drove it on the long driveway behind the apartment complex and purposely had the car lurch forward and stopped several times then drove the length of the long driveway. On reaching the far end, the car went in reverse at an uncomfortable speed that got JP and the Mexican woman to step aside as it skidded to a stop near them. Lulu left the car engine running and lifted the hood. She listened intensely to the engine’s sound as she pulled repeatedly the throttle. She took the dipstick and checked the oil’s viscosity with her fingers. The woman did change the fluids, she thought. “The shock absorbers are still good,” Lulu commented to the Mexican woman.

“Replaced last year. I lower price,” the woman said.

 

JP saw no beauty in the car. It was dirty and the seats soiled as though children had used it as a playhouse. Its tires were unevenly worn. He thought it was a road hazard but the stereo system really sounded good, more so, the bass. He advised privately, “Lulu, you’re better off buying a more expensive one. In the end, it will be cheaper and less inconvenient. I will cosign.”

“I agree. You shouldn’t do it if you know nothing about engines,” she answered then negotiated for the price.

 

The amount agreed on was worth the car, JP thought, a hundred dollars. He shook his head as the deal got consummated but later beamed—-he had an excuse to drive her to and from work whenever it conked out on her.

 

JP and Lulu drove separate ways. JP had car tools at his condominium and went home to get them while Lulu drove to a car-parts store. They were to meet at Juaning’s house an hour later.

 

A Consummate Mechanic

 

It was a pleasant day to work outside. The sun was behind the white clouds and the leaves of the trees rustled lightly from the breezed. JP car just parked at the driveway; Juaning was seated at the swing under the oak tree stitching the clothes she bought from the thrift shop yesterday; and Lulu was under the jacked-up car parked beneath the shade of the same oak tree. A heap of car parts: carburetor, belts, distributors, alternator carbon brush, hub bearings, brake pads, rotor, spark plugs, and a car repair manual were on the ground. More things were inside the car when he peered.

JP saw Lulu, in shorts and underneath the car from head to waist. He looked at her legs. They were perfectly shaped, somewhat pale as though hardly exposed to the sun. “I’ll do that for you,” he offered as he placed his toolbox, alligator jack, and car stands on the ground. He was in shorts as well with large pockets on its sides. His dark-blue T-shirt was a shade lighter than the dark-blue color of his shorts that had a matching quilted belt. He wore a checkered dark-blue canvas sneaker and his hair was perfectly parted. Overall, with his T-shirt tacked in his shorts, he looked like a model on his way to shooting location.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Lulu said, squirming out from under the car. Her pony tail tied like a ball; her face and hair had under-the-car dirt; her right cheek, an oil smudge; her arms and shirt had flakes of car rust. She took particular attention to JP’s attire and said, “You’re not dressed for the job ahead.”

“Don’t mind the attire. I came here to work. It’s all dark. Stains won’t show.”

“Come closer,” she said as she got the wire cutter from the tool box and cut the price tag from his shorts. “Nordstrom,” she read what was on the tag. “You really look good in the outfit. Don’t mind getting it dirty?” she asked.

“No,” JP replied. “What do you want me do?” he asked eager to help and escape the attire subject too.

“Raise the entire car and remove all four wheels. We will replace the brake pads, repack the hub bearings, and replace all the worn-out belts. Have you done this before?” she asked, dusting off as much of the dirt on her.

“No, the most I did was add water and oil,” JP said, somewhat embarrassed.

She looked at JP’s tools. Most were in its plastic wrapper. “I see . . . Don’t worry. I will walk you through. It is really simple.”

Lulu took the repair manual and leafed through its pages. She did it in a way that JP thought she merely skimmed but she read all the pages she leafed through!

 

JP worked on his assignment and called Lulu, every now and then, for her help though the manual was with him. He glanced at her every so often and awed at what she did by herself. An expert as she dismantled; cleaned the many small parts within a carburetor; and reassembled them. She worked on the alternator, the starter, and other things he did not know what or where it came from. Later, she instructed him to pump the brake pedal as she bled the brake system. Finally, she had him start the car. It spattered at first then changed to a purring sound as she adjusted the air and gas mixture.

 

All the work on the car engine, the drive train, and electrical took less than three hours.

 

JP suggested, “Go in and clean up while I vacuum the car.”

“OK. Back in fifteen minutes,” Lulu replied.

“Want me to put the seat covers?”

“If you don’t mind.”

“Consider that done.”

“Done?” Juaning, overhearing, questioned in a surprised tone as she walked towards the car.

“Yes,” Lulu answered delightedly as she walked pass Juaning. “JP was a great help,” she said as she continued to walk towards the house.

Juaning looked at the car, displeased. Thought it was ugly being so dirty. “I thought it would take weeks,” she said to JP.

“One thing sure, she knows what she’s doing.”

“Where did she learn all that . . . being a woman?”

“She said you got to learn a lot of basic repairs if you live in a remote farm. I don’t call what she did near basic at all.”

“JP, you are going twenty-nine and . . .”

“I know,” he interrupted. “Time to get married. You said that earlier.”

“I think I will like her but don’t fall in love yet. I’ll tell you when. I want to make certain she’s the right girl for you, understand?”

JP grinned as he looked at her. He knew he must take the essence and not the word used to understand her. “I have to cleanup. Which room should I use?”

“The guess room,” she replied.

 

With JP giving directions, Lulu brought the car to a tire shop and had all four tires replaced and the wheels aligned. She then had the car washed, waxed, and polished. When it was done, she sat on the driver’s seat and that was when the excitement began. “Put on your seat belt,” she advised JP as she strapped herself to her seat and started the car. She revs the engine a few times as she waited for JP to buckle up.

 

The car sped off in a drag race fashion leaving rubber marks on the cemented pavement and rubber smoke behind. JP pulled his seatbelt tighter as she drove professionally through the main streets, weaving through the traffic over the speed limit. She made a sharp right turn to a quiet neighborhood and left skid marks on the road coupled with the sounds of screeching tires. Everything passed by so fast when all of a sudden, the car came to a screeching halt at the front of Juaning’s house. JP was pushed hard forward and was glad the seatbelt held him back.

“We’re here,” Lulu said happily, satisfied with how the car handled.

JP, who stepped on an imaginary brake the whole time she drove, said, “Boy, am I glad it was a short drive home!” he said in relief.

Lulu realized what had happened and said, “I’m so sorry, JP. I did not mean to scare you but I never knew the fun of driving on real streets being used to dirt roads,” she reasoned. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I did not want to distract your attention. That surely was a ride. You should be careful. You could have gotten a ticket or, worse, ran over someone.”

Lulu realized her mistakes. “You are right. How thoughtless of me. That will not happen again,” she said with resolute in her voice. “How do you like the car?” she asked with a pleasant voice this time.

“Cleaned, waxed, and polished; with seat covers; after the road test; and for a hundred-dollars, I think you got a great deal.”

“I’ll work on the valves and rocker arms next time. They need slight tweaking.”

 

JP had dinner with them and stayed until 8:30 p.m. He left stunned by an extraordinary woman.

 

*********

 

The following day, Sunday, JP was on his way to pick something up from his Aunt’s house--- that was his excuse. Never was he so conscious of the way he dressed or how his hair was combed. He had never experienced this before -- anxious yet scared. Not so much of Lulu but of the side remarks his aunt might make. He was prepared! He had scripted answers should Juaning comment on his attire, hair, and other things on him.

 

JP found Aunt Juaning and Lulu seated at the kitchen table.

“I told you he’ll be here,” remarked Juaning as JP entered. “How come you’re late?”

JP had no ready answer and was dumbstruck.

Lulu sensed JP was in an awkward spot and butted, “I’ll get another plate,” as she prepared to stand.

“Stay where you are,” Juaning said. “He came here for you. He doesn’t come here to visit me.” She stood to attend to his lunch.

JP was not prepared for that either. “Auntie, that’s not true. I was here . . .”

“Almost four months ago.”

“But I spoke to you over the phone and explained.”

“Since then, he never called. Work, work, work much like his . . .” she paused in mid-sentence as though she could not utter the word.

JP and Lulu notice her hesitation.

“Like a mule,” she continued. “Work is the only thing he has in mind,” Juaning protested. “You must never forget your personal obligations. Regardless of how busy you are, you must squeeze time for it.”

JP went to his Aunt and kissed her. “I’m really sorry. I will be here every weekend.”

“You should have someone to remind you. Lulu will . . .”

“I promise this time,” JP immediately interrupted.

“Every Sunday at lunch or dinner time,” Juaning dictated forcefully for a firm commitment.

“I will call before. Most likely dinner.”

“But you’ll be coming here for Lulu and not me,” Juaning quipped as she brought over the food and winked at Lulu.

Lulu beamed at Juaning, too naive to understand what the wink meant.

“I give up,” JP said in sheer anguish. “Since I’m here, where do you want to go?” he asked, addressing the question more to Lulu.

“Where did you plan on taking us?” Juaning immediately answered.

“Universal Studios?” he replied, looking at Lulu.

“How thoughtful of you JP, but really you . . .”

“None of that,” retorted Juaning. “I haven’t been there for a long time. In fact, the last time I was there was with JP . . .”

 

The trio had a wonderful day at the amusement park, more so, Juaning who chaperoned the two.

 

FIGHT OVER LUNCH

 

It was a workday, Monday. JP was in his car at the company’s parking lot earlier than normal. He normally went to work donned in things that were comfortable—-T-shirts, drub denims, and sneakers as if it was his uniform. If his shirt and pants matched, it was an accident. Not this time. He wore a pressed checkered blue shirt nicely tacked in his navy-blue pants and wore a shined black leather shoes. His hair was a bit shiny but well groomed.

JP’s heart throbbed on seeing Lulu’s car turn toward the company’s communal parking lot. He twisted the rear-view mirror and checked his hair and practiced his smile again. He left his car when Lulu’s car neared. “Good morning, Lulu,” he greeted casually as Lulu left her car. The crest on both ends of his lips were deep and welcoming. His best version of his smile was on his face.

“Good morning, JP,” Lulu greeted back, smiling. She watched JP hurriedly get office stuff from his car’s trunk as she stayed by her car’s side knowing JP would pass near her to get to the building. As she waited, an old compact car parked adjacent to JP’s car.

“Buenas dias, muchachas,” JP greeted cheerfully as the driver and her passengers came out of an old model sedan.

“Buenas dias, Big Daddy,” Sylvia Garcia, the Assembly Supervisor, greeted back as she stepped out of her car. She was a Mexican, born and lived in Los Angeles all her life. Her three car-pool passengers, all women, greeted the same way as they alighted with their lunch box on hand. They ganged up on JP. They were so focused on his attire to notice Lulu standing by her car. “Boy, Big Daddy is really dressed up. Going to a funeral?” she asked, taking time to check him out. “Raise your pant’s leg, Big Daddy,” she said.

“Why?” JP questioned.

“Just raise it,” Sylvia insisted.

JP looked at Lulu across the car’s top with a half-hearted smile and thought it better to play along. He lifted the left leg of his pants. “What’s so special?”

“Even his socks match,” Marijack, the company’s receptionist, declared in a surprised tone.

Sylvs, an electronics assembler, walked around JP. “You think it’s him? This guy is too neat and polish.”

“His nails are cut and clean,” Alice, an assembly worker commented.

“Stop clowning,” JP said as he walked towards Lulu standing by her car. “I’d like you to meet Lulu. She’s . . .”

“It’s Big Daddy’s girlfriend,” cried Alice excitedly.

“She’s not my girlfriend . . . I mean she’s a girlfriend . . . I mean she’s . . .”

“Give him time girls,” Sylvia commanded. She had a nice way of controlling the people in her electronic assembly area. All her car passengers were her subordinates and related to her in some way. She was among the first employees hired and later became the lead person to a group of twenty-two circuit board assemblers, mostly women of Mexican descent.

“Thanks, Sylvia,” JP said. He turned to Lulu. “I hate to do this, but I have to introduce these . . . women,” stressing ‘women’ as he glanced at them. “Sylvia, meet Luningning Spence, Lulu for short. She’s replacing Beth.”

“I’m glad,” Sylvia said showing relief. She really did not like Beth. “Kidding aside, I’m Sylvia Garcia and these are your co-employees: mother and daughter Alice and Marijack Pamintuan, and another Sylvia, Sylvia Lorenzana. Call her Sylvs so we won’t get us mixed up.”

As Sylvia introduced Lulu to the rest, JP realized his plan of giving Lulu a personal tour of the company was but a dream. With the women around, he resigned himself. “Bring Lulu in and introduce her to the rest,” he said to Sylvia then turned to Lulu, “Lulu, don’t believe what they say about me.”

“I’ll try,” Lulu quipped as JP walked ahead of them.

 

“He’s a nice guy, our boss,” Sylvia started the conversation walking towards a one-story brick building with front glass door sandwiched between two wide-dark glass windows.

“I did notice that,” Lulu replied.

Sylvs joined, “We are a little family in this company.”

Alice added, “We joke a lot, so don’t be sensitive or you won’t last long.”

“I won’t. Working in a family atmosphere and with wonderful friendly people like you, was always my dream. I’m certain I’ll enjoy working here,” Lulu said as she smiled and looked at each of them.

There was something in how she said and looked at them that everyone noticed—-a unique charm. They responded positively and assured her the company was a fun place to work.

 

The group brought Lulu to the company’s break room. It was a regular break room with vending machines, microwave ovens, and three long rectangular tables. Everyone stocked their lunch boxes on the break room shelves. Lulu took hers from her bag. It was a chocolate tin box.

Sylvia noticed Lulu’s lunch box. “We better put your name on it before someone would think it’s for everyone,” she said, and pulled out her marking pen and wrote Lulu’s name on the top of the box; placed it on the shelf; and led Lulu to sit at the table to where the others were seated. Sylvia started, “We don’t have to walk around to introduce you to the rest. Most will pass here. Known JP long?”

“We met by accident last Friday evening.”

“He helped you,” Alice joined.

“How did you know?” Lulu looked at Alice.

“He’s that type of a guy. I know of no one in production he had not helped one way or another. He’ll go out of his way if he knew you need something. A nice guy.”

“I noticed that,” Lulu replied in retrospect.

Marijack, inquisitive by nature, asked, “How did the two of you meet, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Not at all. My wallet got snatched and . . .” Lulu told her story between interruptions as Alice introduced her to employees that came in the room at random.

 

At exactly 8 a.m., JP walked in the breakroom. “Can I have her now?” JP said smiling to Sylvia’s group at the table. “Giving her a company tour.”

“You finish your story later,” Sylvia said to Lulu as the group prepared to stand.

JP heard Sylvia. “What story?” he curiously asked.

“How she met a pervert last Friday,” Sylvia answered. “Remember, lunch with me.”

“Oh, no. She’s having lunch with me,” JP asserted, then found himself in a spot. He turned to Lulu. “It’s a practice to treat a new employee to lunch on their first day,” he hurriedly explained then gave Sylvia the look.

Sylvia was not intimidated. “I don’t recall having a free lunch on my first day.” She looked at Lulu and asked, “You single?”

“I am.”

“That answers everything. I was married with two kids when he hired me,” Sylvia replied and saw JP blushed. “Okay. We’ll have lunch another time. Talk to you later, Lulu,” then winked at JP and left.

Lulu said to JP, “You don’t have to treat me to lunch. I brought my lunch and would love to share it with you. I have enough for both of us.”

JP ignored Lulu’s offer. “There’s this little restaurant a few blocks from here. The food is great and not flashy.”

Lulu smiled as she nodded then they walked towards the production area with him.

 

JP introduced Lulu to the employees along the way and explained what they did. When they got to the R&D cage, he showed Gilda, the robot, with a whole right arm and shoulder missing and explained what had happened.

 

Lulu scrutinized the lamed robot with great interest.

 

Sonny was at the far end working on the arm. “Sonny,” JP called out. “Come and meet Lulu.”

“A ya yay, que bonita,” (Wow. What a pretty woman.) Sonny said as he approached them in his normal jolly way.

“Muchas gracias, Senior,” (Thank you so much, Sir.) Lulu answered in perfectly accented Spanish with a smile.

“Habla usted Espaniol?” Sonny asked if she could speak Spanish in a surprising tone.

“Si.” ‘Yes’ she replied.

“Mi llamo, Sonny Dominguez . . .” he introduced himself then conversed with Lulu in Spanish.

JP was again amazed as he stood and listened to the two speak in Spanish. Soon, Sonny led Lulu to his machine shop. Lulu looked back at JP not knowing if she should follow.

“Don’t worry, it’s part of your orientation,” JP said and tailed the two.

JP did not understand what the two were talking about but guessed Sonny was explaining how the mechanical arm worked. He saw Lulu point something within the mechanism as they talked. Soon, Sonny took a long screwdriver and traced things then handed the screwdriver to Lulu. Lulu pointed things within the mechanical arm’s casing and explained something. From this, JP knew he would hear another extraordinary thing and just stood, watched, and listened to them talk in a serious manner without understanding a word of it.

A minute later, Sonny looked at JP and said, “You hire Miss Lulu for me?”

“She’s replacing Beth,” JP replied.

“Caramba! She good,” Sonny said in broken English. “Leave here, ten minutes. She show something very, very, very interesting.”

“Okay. When you’re through, bring her to Greg’s office.”

Sonny looked at JP from head to feet and seriously said, “Gracias, Gringo. You good. Not worth killing.”

  • * *

 

JP saw Greg open his office door and called out, “Greg.”

Greg stood by the doorway. He was good looking, tall and always well-suited. A bachelor at a stage where the word ‘marriage’ brought shivers. A few times, Greg got JP to come with him to his parties and realized JP was out of place in his fast-paced world. A wholesome family gathering was for JP. That was where he was most comfortable and fun to have around. Greg once said to JP, ‘It’s a pity, I don’t have a sister to pair you with.’

In contrast, Greg always sported a business suit at work that looked perfect on him. Unlike JP, he was meticulous with his office’s appearance. How Greg maintained a neat and orderly room was something JP always wondered.

Greg held the door open as he eyed his partner somewhat amused. “You going to a party?”

The question surprised JP then remembered his unusual attire. “No.”

“I bet there’s something special. People like you normally dress up for weddings or funerals,” Greg quipped as they walked in his office.

“Nothing special and definitely not a funeral. I got a replacement for Beth,” JP said as they sat. “She speaks German and God knows how many others. Very intelligent . . . simple and old fashioned. Not your type.”

“You mean, your type,” Greg replied with a grin. “I bet I’ll be meeting Mary Poppins.”

“She’s really an extraordinary person. Not for you . . . a nice girl,” JP hinted though unaware as Greg had ways with women.

“The word ‘nice’ is definitely not for me. I’m inclined to gorgeous. If you need any help, you know where to find me, Partner.”

“I may take you up on that,” JP reacted.

“Going to business, I want you to look at something.” Greg took a manila envelope from his briefcase. “All our problems will be solved if we get this,” Greg said as he handed it to JP.

JP pulled the documents within the envelop and went over its pages. It was an invitation to bid for a military contract. “The requirement is similar to Horsch, but more stringent,” he commented.

“Full automation is the name of the game, a thinking robot. We can use Gilda. Hit two birds with one stone except this one is perched higher.”

“Gilda can do everything but speed. The only way we can go for the speed is for you to simplify the mechanical design. If you come up with it, I can create the program. The ball is on your lap otherwise, we can kiss this project goodbye.”

“I was afraid you’d say something like that. The military must lower their expectation, else, no one in the industry will take the challenge. Let’s concentrate on what we can do. You said mechanical simplification of ten percent won’t mean much programming wise?”

“Too small a leap. At least twenty-five. Remember, the program is dependent on the number of independent mechanical links. Simplifying the mechanism . . .” JP continued their discussion.

 

Twenty minutes later, Sonny, with Gilda’s arm and shoulder assembly, and a rolled blueprint, barged into the office. So excited, he forgot to knock. “Greg, check this out,” he said as he walked directly to the engineering table on one corner of the room, forgetting Lulu was with him. Lulu remained at the doorway.

Greg said to JP, “We’ll brainstorm on the project later,” then headed for the engineering table without seeing Lulu at the doorway.

JP ushered Lulu in and got her to sit on a sofa within Greg’s room. Since Greg was busy with Sonny, he briefed Lulu on her job.

 

Sonny said to Greg as soon as Greg was near, “I think we got something.” The robotic arm was on the table alongside a rolled-out blueprint. He explained a new design concept.

Greg leaned on the table and intensely listened as Sonny explained what was uncovered.

JP glanced at Greg and Sonny across the room. He noticed Sonny was extremely excited as his pointing finger raced all over the blueprints explaining something to Greg. He said to Lulu, “You cease to amaze me. It’s obvious you explained something that got Sonny so charged up.”

“I just gave him an idea. I don’t understand why he got so electrified about it.” Lulu was eager to help and told Sonny how to simplify the mechanism. She realized what was simple to her was not for humans. Now she was stuck and waited for an opportunity to get out of it.

“You look concern. Relax,” JP said as he noticed her discomfort looking at the other two.

“I’m worried Mr. Camber might find me unqualified,” Lulu reasoned, fretful of the attention she might get from what she suggested to Sonny. She made a mistake and resolved never to give suggestions without giving it a second thought.

“Don’t be, and call him Greg. Only the formalities are missing. As far as the job is concerned, you will be responsible for . . .”

 

Give a Raise

 

Minutes later, Greg went over to JP and Lulu.

JP introduced Lulu.

Greg said to Lulu, “Sonny tells me you can’t read blueprints.”

“Know nothing about it,” Lulu replied as Greg walked her over to the engineering drawing table where the spread blueprint laid.

When they got to the table, Greg said to Lulu, “It’s really very simple.” He got a pencil and started to point on the blueprint spread out on top of it. “This is the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, and these are their linkages. These are the gears, and here, the pulleys. You showed Sonny an innovative approach to a mechanical link design but Sonny must have missed how you linked the shoulder straight down to the tip of the fingers to perform a synchronized motion. Can you show it to me?” Greg said as he gave her the pencil.

Lulu, with the pencil, nervously traced things on the mechanical arm then on the blueprint. ‘I must get myself out of this spot,’ she thought as she explained.

Sonny followed closely her explanation to Greg. He knew it made sense when she pointed it on Gilda’s arm at the shop but got lost when she traced it on the blueprint to Greg.

Greg studied Lulu’s idea then concluded, “It won’t work. The links will get in each other’s way right there,” pointing it on the blueprint.

Lulu was relieved.

Sonny looked at the mangled arm then the blueprint. “Wrong,” Sonny butted. “That not how ‘Wonder Woman’ explain me. She misread print. Look, this here, this take out and replace with synchronous gear, and . . .” he stopped and took the arm and started recalling how she pointed it out at the shop. “Yes, ‘Wonder Woman’ make mistake here,” pointing it out at the blueprint. “Forget one vital link.” With a pencil, Sonny drew the missing link on the blueprint and marked off others then said to Greg, “Now what you think?”

Greg studied it again and intensely. A couple of minutes later, he said, “JP, give ‘Wonder Woman’ a raise. We will revolutionize the industry. Did you hire her for me?”

“No, for me,” Sonny asserted.

“I found her. She’s mine,” JP responded possessively then felt odd, he was fighting for their privacy since she came to work!

Lulu acted innocently, “I don’t understand what the excitement is all about.”

Greg explained, “Engineers have been pouring over a simplified robotic shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers configuration for years. It’s a puzzle, like a Rubic’s cube. Everyone was trying to find the right combination to a complex sequence of motions and you simplified it to Sonny.”

“How does it affect my program?” JP asked.

Greg gave it a thought, “If it works, and I think it will, you may have 30% less motors, 60% less drive shafts, and pulley all replaced by synchronous gears.”

“You’re kidding!” JP said in amazement.

“There is a good reason to celebrate, I’m treating everyone to lunch,” Greg said.

Sonny quipped, “Does ‘everyone’ include me?”

“Most specially you,” Greg assured Sonny candidly.

“Good,” Sonny responded. “I give my lunch box to Sylvia and let her choke on my wife’s cooking,”

“I give up,” JP said. “Lulu, you will be our guest.”

ON TO GILDA

 

Greg, JP, and Sonny were terribly busy in the two months that passed. JP, who had never brought a lunch box to work, brought his daily. But having lunch with Lulu, even with minimal privacy, was impossible. People at work milled around her and he ended eating with others at the lunchroom that became a routine. The rest of the time, he worked alone through the night on Gilda.

Lulu adapted well to her new environment. She was an epitome of an exceptionally good worker. Greg and JP thought they overworked Beth, who constantly and openly bickered about it. Yet, Lulu handled all of Beth’s work and did it better in less time. She automated most of the paper work using basic office computer programs and redone Beth’s office filing systems much to Greg and JP’s liking. She became an authority on employee benefits that all questions pertaining to it ended with her rather than Greg or JP doing the research. Though JP and Greg knew she was doing much more work than Beth, they noticed she was not overworked at all! She had time for herself and did other things. She just knew what to do and did it efficiently!

One day, Greg said to JP, “Do something Partner before someone beats you to Lulu.”

“That’s why I’m doing as much as I can to get Gilda out of the way. You think Lulu is the type of girl for me?”

“You two were made for each other.”

“She’s not your type, right?” JP said uncomfortably.

Greg looked at JP and grinned. “JP, you’re my best friend,” he said, assuring. “If ever I did anything, it will be to help you. So, don’t worry. I’m on your side. Think everyone in the company is.”

“Glad you said that. Can’t do anything about it now with . . .”

“I understand. Just do what you have been doing.”

“Which is?”

“Bring your lunch box,” he joked then grinned.

 

The Company Problem

 

“Be with you in a second,” JP said when Greg entered his office. He was keying program instructions on the computer.

“Take your time,” Greg replied as he lifted a stock of computer printouts from the only chair he could use. He placed them on the floor and sat on the chair.

“What’s up?” JP said as he turned his swivel chair to face Greg.

“Where are we on New Gilda’s program?”

“Haven’t touched it.”

“That’s where our future lies.”

“I know but Horsch project is up next week and you incorporated new designs to old Gilda that requires additional programs.”

“Didn’t know it would take that long.”

“Greg, Gilda can drop anything anywhere along the act. Got any idea how many places can go wrong? Got to plug all.”

“My fault. We focus on New Gilda.”

“Dropped Horsch’s project?”

“I see your point. No,” Greg said and thought about it for a moment. “Let me make a call,” he finally said and left the office hurriedly. He came back and announced, “Good news. We’re hitting two birds with one stone,” then took a seat.

“How did you do it?” JP curiously asked.

“Told Horsch we came up with a better design that would make the old one obsolete.”

“Identical specs?”

“Identical.”

“Wouldn’t the Government have exclusive rights to our work if we get the project?”

“On the day they put a cent on it, they will. Else, it’s an open market. Winning the bid per se is not what we are after. It’s the prestige of being the leader in the robotics industry. That’s the ticket to our success.”

“Sonny told me we have to farm out the mechanical parts fabrication.”

“That’s the reason I came to see you. We don’t have the capability to make Gilda’s mechanism in-house. Most of Gilda’s linkages are geared ball joints not hinges. We need special machines, special alloys, custom-built multiple electronic sensors to get it done. We need money plowed in the company.”

“How much are we looking at?”

“Half a million, minimum. The market is wide open to simplified automation. Billions are at stake.”

“I’m willing to gamble.”

“It’s no gamble. It’s ours with what we got, thanks to Lulu. I still wonder how she came up with the idea.”

“A lucky guess?” JP commented.

“Guessing the outcome of a tossed coin once is luck; twice in a row is very lucky; six consecutive times is something else. Anyway, back to what I came here . . . we need money to get Gilda done. We’ve maxed out our bank limit, so we have two options: put up the money or, I hate to say it, get investors in.”

“I somehow expected this to happen so I had all my property assessed. I can come up with four-hundred-thousand, mortgaging everything.”

“Scraping the barrel, I can handle fifty grand. You will be the majority holder of the company.”

“I see it as half.”

“Check your math.”

“Greg, I owe you a lot. You got me in the business knowing little of it. We had a great time when times were good. ‘Sink or swim together’ is our motto or have you forgotten.”

“And if we fail?”

“Then both of us will be penniless. You’d do the same thing if it turned the other way around.”

“How would you know?”

“Remember the day you proposed to share our success with our employees through bonuses? The thing that stuck in my head was what you said on my suggestion—-saving for a rainy day. You said, ‘And miss out on the opportunity to make our employees happy, no way. If a problem does come around, that will be another problem.’ I never forgot you said that.”

“No regrets on not saving then?”

“Half of that decision was mine. I’d do it again”, JP answered.

“Knowing where we stand and how much we got, let us plan our future.”

“I’ll leave everything to you. This is a family corporation and you’re the brother I never had.”

“You think I deserve that?” Greg asked as he looked at JP.

“You do. So, let’s hug on it, Brother.” JP stood, walked around his desk, and hugged Greg as he patted his back.

Greg hesitated then patted back. “You’re a good guy, JP. Wish the world had more of you,” he said as they parted.

“Well, there are two of us now.”

“Trust everything to me?”

“No other way.”

“The economy is still bad. We got to operate lean ‘til we get Gilda going then our financial woes will be over.”

“Got you, Brother.”

 

The Sale of Cleopatra’s Coin

 

Late Saturday afternoon, six months after, JP was working on Gilda’s program at home. Taking a breather, he walked to his mailbox at the main entry of the condominium and got his mail. He sorted out the junks and ended with an envelope from a reputable auction house and opened it. His eyes widened and missed a breath on seeing a check for $416,554.42 in Lulu’s name. It was the proceeds to the sale of the coin. In his excitement, he forgot his work, drove excitedly to Juaning’s house but found no one home. On a hunch, he proceeded to the church and got there just in time to see them leave the church’s main entry after the late Saturday afternoon mass.

JP ran to meet them. “Da-da-da,” in a musical tone he heralded as he handed the check to Lulu and kissed Juaning on her cheek as he normally greeted her.

Lulu gave the check a quick look but was not surprised at the amount. “This came at the right time. How did you make the arrangements?” she eagerly asked JP.

“A very good old family friend did,” JP answered then addressed Juaning, “Remember our neighbor, Ted Greer?”

“Oh yes, a dear and sweet old man. He was our neighbor in New Jersey. He started JP on his coin collection as a small boy. He must be over eighty by now. Why?”

“He sold Lulu’s old coin for over $400,000!”

“Lulu got four-hundred-thousand! Oh, I’m so happy for you,” Juaning said to Lulu, thrilled, jumping, and clapping her hands with joy. Then, she realized something. Her facial expression suddenly changed from excitement to alarm and said, “Now, she will get herself her own house. I wished you’d stay with me,” she pleaded, almost crying. “Stay with me Lulu rent free . . . even food . . . I’ll even pay you. Just stay with me.”

JP noticed Juaning’s mood, tone of voice, and how she spoke had changed drastically. She sounded serious and desperate. It dawned on him how alone and lonely she was before Lulu came. How he neglected her. More so, when he recalled what Lulu said, ‘It’s the little good thing you do that makes the difference’.

“I’ll never do that,” Lulu said to Juaning. “You’re my Mom and the thought of leaving you is out of the question. I hope you don’t mind my calling you Mom. I really love to be your daughter.”

“Oh, really, Lulu . . . really?” Juaning’s eyes sparkled with joy. She turned to JP excitedly, “I have a daughter at last,” she cheered then turned to Lulu and said, “You won’t leave me then . . . really?”

Lulu embraced her fondly with one arm. “Not for anything in this world. I have other plans for the money.” She turned her head and saw Father Leonard walking away. “Father,” she called out.

Fr. Leonard walked towards them but stopped when a parishioner approached him. With his hand, he gestured, he would be with her.

Lulu turned to JP and said, “I’ll give Mr. Greer 10% as commission. As we agreed on, you’ll get 10% plus eight thousand and the compounded interest on it . . .”

“I’ll be happy if you just gave me back my eight grand,” JP interrupted.

“What are you talking about?” Juaning curiously asked.

Lulu replied, “JP invested eight grand on the coin. I’ll give you, Mom, $30,000 and Mr. Greer 10% commission.”

“And JP’s share?” Juaning asked.

“$51,244.11”

“You computed all that in your head?” Juaning said with a surprised question.

Lulu evaded the question and glad Fr. Leonard, an old, gray haired priest, approached them and said, “Good afternoon, Father.”

“Good afternoon,” Fr. Leonard greeted back. “How’s everyone?” Lulu and Juaning were his regular daily parishioners.

After the short pleasantries, Lulu shifted the subject. “Father, since I heard of your charitable project for the underprivileged, I always dreamed of giving something. I have a check which I will endorse to your project after deducting my Mom’s share . . .”

“I did not know Juaning is your mother?” Fr. Leonard said unexpectedly.

Juaning proudly replied, “She’s my daughter.”

“I’m sorry for the interruption,” Fr. Leonard apologized to Lulu. “Please continue.”

Lulu smiled then, rounding the numbers, continued, “As I said, your charity gets after deducting $30,000 for my Mom; 10% on seller’s commission; JP’s 10% profit share plus interest on his investment; and the balance of $38,000 for me,” then handed the check over to Fr. Leonard.

Fr. Leonard took the check and stared at it. He was lost. Large sums were given out and was unsure what his charity will get after. “Of this, the charity gets . . .?”

“$300,000,” Lulu replied.

“This is a miracle,” Father Leonard exclaimed. “You just don’t know how I prayed for this. This will go a long way. I see no problem in transferring the amounts.” Wide-eyed, he looked at the check again.

“Oh, Father,” Juaning said, “my nephew, JP, wishes to donate his share.” She turned to JP and said, “How generous of you, JP,” giving him a sarcastic smile not seen by the rest.

Extremely ecstatic, Fr. Leonard immediately turned to JP, “Thank you for your generosity, my son. And how much would that be?”

“Over $50,000. My daughter has the exact figure,” Juaning answered beaming with pride.

“Oh, thank you so very much, my son,” Fr. Leonard said, and got JP’s hand and shook it.

Shocked and speechless, JP managed to smile as Fr. Leonard shook his hand that felt merely dangled from his arm.

Happily, Lulu said, “How generous of you, JP. Your reward will come from heaven,” and left with Father Leonard.

When Lulu and Fr. Leonard was out of hearing distance, Juaning teased, “Yes, JP, your reward will come from heaven,” Juaning followed up and kissed him on the cheek.

“A Judas’ kiss,” said JP. “Why did you give my money? $8,000 of that came from my pocket!”

“I remember you saying you’ll be happy if you got back your $8,000. I will give you $8,000 from my check. That should make you happy.”

“How can you?” JP protested. “I will tell Father you are donating your share too.”

“Don’t you dare, don’t you dare. You stay with me,” she said, holding his arm tight and poised to restrain any movement.

“Why did you give my share then?”

In a rhythm and like a little girl teasing, Juaning improvised a song, “’A miser . . . a penny saver . . . a scrooge,’ and those other nasty words you described that sweet girl. Good for you! You deserve it.”

“I remember using only one word—-frugal,” he defended.

“That means the same thing,” she snapped. All of sudden she had a worried look. “You think she really meant that I was going to be her Mom? Really, JP? To be her Mom and live with me?” and anxiously waited for JP’s answer.

“I’m certain she does.”

“Don’t waste time, JP. Marry her before she enters the monastery and become a nun.”

“Don’t worry. I’m waiting for the right time.”

“You told me that five years ago. How is she at work?”

“I have never met anyone establish rapport with so many in such a short time. Everyone in the office thinks she’s an angel. Greg, who considers most women as walking bimbos, thinks highly of her. Coming from Greg, that’s a great compliment.”

“JP,” Juaning said in a serious tone and deliberate voice, “Marry her before she becomes a saint.”

FARMING OUT PROGRAMMING

 

Months have passed. Lulu, with Sylvia’s group, were having lunch at the company’s lunchroom. During their casual conversation, Alice asked a question most employees were hesitant to ask, “More layoffs coming, Lulu?”

“Not that I know. I am praying we will rehire them soon,” Lulu answered.

“That’s unlikely,” Sylvia said.

“JP slept at his office again last night,” Marijack interjected.

“How would you know?” Sylvs asked.

“The janitor told me. That’s the seventh time since we laid-off people two months ago.”

“Poor JP,” Alice said, “he’s taking it hard. Sonny said he’s doing the work of two programmers and doubts meeting Gilda’s deadline.”

“He is working too hard,” Lulu said worriedly.

Marijack noticed Lulu’s look of concern asked, “You like him, don’t you, Lulu?”

Getting hold of herself, Lulu said, apprehensively, “I am worried he might get sick.”

“That was not the answer to my question but partly answers it. Do you like him?” Marijack repeated.

Lulu hesitated.

“Do you love JP?” Sylvia intervened. “Don’t be shy. You are a part of our family.”

“How can you tell if like is love?” Lulu innocently asked.

“Are there no boys where you came from?” Marijack asked and added, “That’s a surprise. They said Alaskan men are now marrying female polar bears for lack of women.”

Everyone laughed except Lulu. She apparently did not get the humor.

Sylvia said addressing her girls, “Stop clowning. We are talking serious matters here. Well, Lulu . . . are there men out there?”

There was a moment of silence as they waited for Lulu’s reply with anticipation.

“Guess I wasn’t paying attention. We were isolated where we lived. But it wouldn’t matter if the other person doesn’t like you.”

“Use the word love,” Sylvs butted.

Marijack commented, “You are so naïve on that matter as if you came from another planet . . . like an Alien.”

Lulu reacted with surprise, “An Alien? A Martian?”

“Can’t you see the signs?” Marijack asked.

“Signs? . . . Aren’t they supposed to give flowers?” Lulu innocently replied.

“She’s a Martian,” Sylvia concluded. “You’ve seen too many old, really old, movies. Forget the flowers. The bottom line is he loves you. Give the man a break. He’s been working his ass off since they got a new mechanical design for Gilda and he’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for all of us. It’s the wrong time for him to think of love. He’s got big, really big problems everywhere; the layoffs; the programs; the company . . .”

“Sacrificing himself for us,” Lulu added sadly and this time took her handkerchief and wiped her moist eyes.

“Don’t cry, Lulu. No man is worth crying over,” Sylvs said but got stern looks from the rest.

Alice immediately defended, “JP is an exception. He is worth every tear.”

Sylvia, like the rest, noticed how innocent Lulu was. She went around the table, and sat on the chair beside her and got Lulu too look at her, “Don’t you worry our little-big girl,” she said in a motherly fashion, “Everything will work out fine. We have a plan.”

“Plan? What plan?” Lulu said as she composed herself.

“We don’t know yet but we’ll think of something. You just stay cool and everything will work out.”

Marijack, who had a clear view of the hallway from where she sat, said, “He’s coming.”

Sylvia immediately reacted and said aloud, “Plan A, boys and girls.”

Except for Lulu, who was baffled, everyone grabbed their unfinished food and stuff and left the lunch room in a rush. So, did the people at the other table—-they understood what Sylvia meant.

JP sidestepped at the doorway as the women hurriedly left the room smiling girlishly at him as they passed. The two men in the room gave him a thumb’s up as they left. Sylvia, the last, winked. Puzzled, JP asked Lulu as he entered the room, “Why the rush?” he asked questioningly.

“Plan A?” Lulu replied naively.

“Plan A?” he repeated in a question.

“That’s what Sylvia said and they rushed out.”

“Oh yes. Plan A,” JP answered hiding his laughter through a grin.

“Where’s your lunch box?”

“Forgot. Sonny is buying sandwich for me.”

“You can have my extra chicken sandwich.”

“A tempting offer I can’t refuse.”

As Lulu took the sandwich out of her lunch box, she asked, “How’s the programming going?”

“Smoothly,” he answered as he got the sandwich.

Lulu looked at him. She could tell he had not been sleeping well. His eyes were surrounded by a dark shade. “You being honest?”

“A little problem.”

“Are you being honest?” she repeated.

“Can’t you get by with a white lie?”

“Still, it’s lying.”

“A little lie paved with good intentions.”

Lulu noted what he said. “I’ll accept that. So?”

“Confidentially?”

“Won’t breathe a word.”

“Talked with Greg this morning. We agreed to lay off another four in anticipation of hiring one programmer to help. Three from Sylvia and one from Sonny.”

“That’s the third time in three months.”

“Unavoidable if the company is to survive. We need a programmer badly.”

“Is there a way I can help?”

“Wish you could. We’re talking big time programming. Programmers experienced in robotic programs are hard to find and expensive.”

“I thought it was a simple modification on Gilda’s program?”

“I realized I’m forcing a round peg in a square hole.”

“Why?”

“Gilda is a new mechanism . . .” JP explained.

Though Lulu looked attentive, she was not paying attention. She was searching for a believable plan to solve JP’s problem without implicating herself and cost nothing.

 

Meanwhile, at the parking lot, Sonny drove in and left his car, holding JP’s lunch in a paper bag. Surprised to see the women having lunch at the parking lot, he inquired, “What’s up, Muchachas?”

“Plan A. They’re at the lunchroom, so don’t disturb,” Alice replied.

“Caramba! Now I have to call the lawyer.”

“Lawyer?” Marijack was puzzled.

Sonny answered, “Stop him from giving the divorce papers to my wife,” and went in leaving Marijack and the rest laughing.

 

Sonny went in the breakroom, placed the lunch bag on the table, turned, and left long enough to hear JP say ‘Thanks, Sonny.’

Dumbfounded by Sonny’s act, Lulu commented, “People are acting weird lately.”

JP merely smiled. “As I was saying, if there are two links, that would mean four possible combinations to consider. The new Gilda has six links from shoulder to the tip of its finger. That’s six to the sixth power. A possible combination of . . .”

“46,656,” Lulu snapped instinctively.

“Solve that in your head?”

“Saw the number in a puzzle by coincidence.”

JP eyed her suspiciously then continued, “Well, it’s a long and tedious job sorting out the best combinations, too long for one man.”

“I think I know of a man who may be able to help. He used to work for a Japanese robotic firm as a programmer while he was in Japan.”

“That’s the kind of man I need. How can I reach him?”

“It’s not that easy. He has isolated himself from the world.”

“How can I contact him then?”

“Through me.”

JP looked at her.

Lulu reacted, “Two years ago, he suffered a nervous breakdown for the second time. A breakdown caused by pressure to meet a deadline. He said, Japanese are rather unforgiving if you missed your target.”

“I can understand his situation. It’s not uncommon for people working in this field to border sane and insanity in a short period working under time pressure. Having Japanese bosses magnifies it ten-folds.”

“Glad you understand,” Lulu said with relief. “After the breakdown, he became recluse and bought himself a lodge two miles from where my parents and I live in Alaska. In remote areas, you can say we are neighbors. As far as I know, we’re his only friends there. We often bring food, groceries, and vice versa, and became my father’s hunting buddy. Somewhere along the way, he made it clear to us his situation and wants minimal human contact outside from us. To give you an idea how good he is, his kitchen is automated. A long table with multiple mechanical arms does his cooking, making coffee to washing dishes.”

“So, that’s how you came up with Gilda’s mechanical design.”

“You can say that.”

As though kept in the dark for a time and see a glint of light, he asked with anticipation, “You think he’ll be interested?”

“I’ll call him.”

“I’ll talk to him.”

“JP, please understand . . . I am breaking a sacred trust. I’m having a hard time knowing this but will do it for you. Your only contact with him is through me. To safeguard his identity, I’d go out of my way to use a payphone. Nothing personal.”

“Okay. Nothing personal, got you.”

“Do you have the requirements for him to consider?”

“All I need is a willing programmer. I have everything.”

She noticed how JP reacted and said, “That desperate?”

“Greg and I are doing everything to save the company.”

“I hope you don’t mind me intruding but you’re working too hard. Got to think of your health lest you end up like my anonymous friend.”

“I’ve been thinking about that . . . a breakdown . . . but I strongly feel I am at the major crossroad in my life . . .” he paused. “A lot depends on this project. Many people’s lives are anchored on it . . . yours and mine too. This project will make or break me, Lulu,” he confessed. “I feel it’s my last chance to making it . . . got to give it my best . . . give that extra push squeezed in the next four months. Just four months and it will be over. Make or break. Obviously, I can’t make it without help. I desperately need another programmer for two . . . three months, tops.”

“I understand but you got to have a breather somewhere lest you suffocate. Juaning has been concerned about you lately . . . coming over for dinner won’t hurt.”

“That extra push is pinning me to my computer chair. Can you explain it to her?”

“I’ll give it my best but you know her.”

“Just give it your best.” Then prodding himself, he said, “It’s not only Auntie Juaning I was thinking of visiting but also you.”

“The sign,” Lulu said without her knowing and smiled to herself.

“Sign? What sign?” JP asked.

“I was thinking of something else,” she hesitated in search for an excuse then, a quick thinker, continued, “Signing in for night school. I’m alone most of the time with Juaning working most of the evenings.”

“That’s not a bad idea. Education is always good. On what?”

“Computer programming.”

“You won’t have a problem there. You’re a brilliant woman, Lulu . . . bright, smart, and pleasantly naïve in some things.”

“I’ve heard that ‘naïve’ word said many times, but I’m learning. Lunchtime is over. Can I have the programming requirements in downloadable form to email to my anonymous friend?”

“It’s in my office. It may take over two hour for him to assess. If you have to, wait for his reply.”

“Ok.”

 

1:15 P.M.

 

Lulu left work and drove directly to Glendale County Library. The library building was modern in design. No curves, all bold straight horizontal and vertical lines accented its surrounding walls artistically. Well placed elm trees on manicured lawn; shrubs, here and there; the greenery all around the building made the library look warm and inviting.

Inside the library, Lulu stood before four long and tall bookshelves filled with books on computer programming. At first, she took a book from the shelf on basic programming and leafed through its pages from where she stood. A few minutes later, she got a dozen in Advance Computer Programming; carried them over to an empty table; turn on the desk lamp; and started to study.

 

The Sleeper

 

The Northridge Mall’s forth level parking lot was nearly vacant being a weekday and two-thirty in the afternoon. Greg, dressed as a rapper, had a baseball cap, wore a large rimmed dark glass, a loose black denim jacket with its collar raised, dark hand gloves, and buggy pants, parked his car alongside a Mercedes Benz with tinted windows. The Benz’s engine was running and no other vehicle was parked nearby. Greg got out of his car; briskly scanned the vicinity then entered the passenger side of the Benz.

Horsch, an oversized six-foot man, was in an unbuttoned business suit. His fat belly bulged and stretched his white long sleeve shirt with its buttons close to popping. He was not in a good mood. He said forcefully, “This better be good!” as he looked at Greg through his gold rimmed dark glasses.

“Got to help out,” Greg said. “I need a large order for printers.”

“This project should be self-financed and you’re supposed to see to it that it does.”

“Can’t do much with the economy where it’s at. Without printer orders, eight years for nothing. That’s the reason for this meeting.”

“You have to find another solution.”

In frustration Greg replied, “Then you might as well drop everything and bring me back to Russia.”

“That’s not a wise choice,” Horsch stared and coldly said. “We got a lot invested on you and a death sentence awaits you over there . . . if you forgot,” he reminded.

Greg was caught and convicted for smuggling a hundred-fifty kilo of cocaine and accessory to the death of a drug agent in Moscow. The conviction carried a death sentence. In hindsight, he believed he was framed. He had the profile they needed to act as a sleeper. Reminded repeatedly for failure’s penalty repulsed him. Inside, he felt like beating Horsch. He disliked him from the start but knew he had him by the neck. “That’s not what I meant. Camfer has a month to make good a loan or the bank will close us. You have to help get this project back on its feet.”

“Does JP know the company’s financial woes?”

“He knows we have a problem, not how deep.”

Horsch rhythmically tapped the bottom part of the steering wheel with his fingers. It was but an inch away from his fat belly. After a short paused, he asked, “Any break?”

“Not since JP agreed on doing business with Rosenthal Industry, no,” Greg said as he reported the letter incident and calls from George Rosenthal’s Executive Secretary he uncovered from Beth on the day she resigned. As a sleeper, he was to provide information only and not ask questions. All he knew of his mission was to befriend JP and always wondered why. Horsch always pressured Greg for ideas to get the relationship going after Greg and JP graduated from graduate school and was commended for getting JP as his business partner. It was only the letter incident that gave him a hint to what his mission was. He gambled, “I need information aside from knowing JP is Rosenthal’s son . . . the sole heir to Rosenthal Global Industries.” Greg was guessing but he had to play the game.

Horsch looked at Greg, “How would you know?” He was laconic.

“You wouldn’t have gotten me if I wasn’t smart.”

Horsch coldly looked at Greg. He sized things up then said, “Your source?”

“Indirectly, the calls from Rosenthal’s executive secretary.” He knew his calculated guess was right. Horsch may be holding on to his neck but he has him by the balls, he thought.

Horsch tapped the steering wheel with his fingers again as he reconsidered the situation.

Greg said, taking advantage of the situation, “I need JP’s history to be effective.”

There was a moment of silence then Horsch finally said, “Mother, a Filipina who once worked as a surgical nurse. She committed suicide when JP was seven years old. Legally there was no document to prove George Rosenthal was married to JP’s mother. Years earlier, we searched for ways to get spies within the US defense industry. George Rosenthal was a fast-rising figure in the US armament program and his companies were good targets to infiltrate. Since Rosenthal is a diehard American and despises Soviet ideology, we looked for kinks on his armor, something we can use on him. Following his money trail, we found a substantial sum went to support a Remedios Fernandez, JP’s mother. Two months in surveillance, we uncovered a former co-employee at the hospital, a clerk at the birth registry section, was blackmailing the mother. She paid him to thrash the original birth certificate George Rosenthal signed as father to read: father ‘unknown’ and used her family name Fernandez as JP’s last name. The guy held on to the original birth certificate and used it to blackmail her. He was terminated.”

“Rosenthal had him killed?”

“That would have been ideal. He knows nothing of the blackmail.”

“JP’s mother then?”

“By me. He was jeopardizing my plans,” Horsch coldly said.

“And the birth certificate?”

“I have it.”

There was a pause then Greg said, “Can we use the certificate to get a hold on Rosenthal?”

“Blackmail Rosenthal?”

“Yes.”

“Our profilers are certain Rosenthal will openly declare JP as his legitimate son, dead end.”

“How about JP’s aunt, Juanita Jones?”

“Except for being Remedios’ younger sister, nothing on her. Katherine Davis, Rosenthal’s executive secretary, knows. She was the bridge between JP’s mother and Rosenthal but that stopped when the mother died. Rosenthal is still trying to contact JP, right?”

“Right.”

“That’s our break. Something will ultimately happen. You stick with JP. He’s our only link.”

Greg saw his opportunity, “For the more reason you have to support this project. Rosenthal Global Industries has a Robotic Division with a temporary Division Head. Rosenthal does not leave a division headless unless . . .”

“Unless Rosenthal is using the division to lure JP in. JP hates his father . . . that is a given and you exploit that.”

“Can’t.”

“Why?”

“JP must open the subject and most likely won’t. If I open it, even discreetly, that will break my cover.”

“Never break your cover,” Horsch said forcefully. “Let him open the subject. Just play the game and you’d end up becoming one of Rosenthal Global Industries top executive. Stick to the plan.”

“Okay.”

“How many are we looking at . . . printers?”

Greg gave it a serious thought then said, “Two years’ worth of printers . . . 150,000 units altogether plus an approved bank credit line of five million to solve all company debt problems and finance Gilda.” The ordered printers and the credit line were way over what they needed. Greg was now bribing him.

“Gilda…you mean the robot.”

“Yeah.”

“Where are we on it?”

“No change from last report,” Greg lied. Gilda’s new mechanical design came two days after he reported. He did not know why or where it would lead but knew he could use it in his favor in the future. “We are using scraps to run her and need something better to get a shot at the military robotic contract. I justified this project.”

“I know,” Horsch admitted. “I like the idea of letting the US government finance Russian projects in the robotic field. Anything else?”

“None.”

“That’s a lot of printers to justify.”

“Kremlin can use more,” Greg snapped, feeling he was now in control.

Horsch eyed Greg intensely. “Five million is too high. Lower it.”

“Billions are at stake and I want to focus on the mission not solve financial problems. Like you, I want nothing to jeopardize the project. Nothing! That’s the deal,”

Horsch started to tap the wheel again, a bit longer this time. He looked at Greg then said, “You will hear from me soon.”

“I forgot to mention, have a million in my Swiss account.”

“Don’t press your luck, Greg.”

“I am. What do you plan on doing?

Horsch pulled a 9mm hand gun with a silencer from the left side of his seat and pointed it at Greg’s face.

Greg was not intimidated. “You’re being foolish.”

Horsch stared at him for a moment. “Okay, wise guy. I’ll work something out,” as he holstered back the gun.

“I expect to see a million in my Swiss account next week.” He opened the car door and left.

 

At the far end of the parking lot, an FBI agent activated his hidden speakerphone. “Contact heading for exit. Pearl-blue Toyota Camry wagon. Got no clear picture of his face,” he reported.

 

Greg expertly drove and left the car he stole on the next parking level; rush to the stairwell and raced two levels down as he threw his outer garments on the steps. He reentered the mall well-dressed in a business suit, and unnoticed.

 

The Good News

 

The clock on the library wall read 4 p.m. and the table Lulu used had a good stock of books on it. The library part-time worker who returned books to its shelf worked hard that afternoon. However, she smiled on seeing a ten-dollar bill with a note of thanks at the bottom of the piled books.

 

Lulu went directly to JP’s office from the library. She knocked then went in.

Before Lulu could speak, JP said, “Make my day, Lulu . . . tell me he’ll take the offer . . . please,” he implored.

Lulu did not answer but smiled.

“Is that a ‘Yes’?” he looked at her eagerly.

Lulu, beaming, nodded.

“Yes!” JP stressed loudly raising both hands in the air as though he won the State Lottery. “Got something for you to make you happy in return . . . hire everyone back. We will be hiring more once Greg and I sit on it.”

With hands on her cheeks, Lulu exclaimed, “Really?!” Tears fell from her eyes.

JP handed a tissue box and asked her to sit. He pulled his swivel chair and sat across. “You alright, Lulu?”

“It’s tears of joy,” she explained. She gained her composure as she dubbed her eyes with a tissue and said, “What happened?”

“Greg got a big order. We can set aside all our financial problems and focus on Gilda. How much is your anonymous friend asking?”

“Nothing,” she hastily replied.

“Nothing?” JP responded unbelievingly and eyed her questioningly.

A mistake, Lulu thought, then thinking fast said, “Nothing for now. I told him of the company’s financial woes and he said payment deferred till the company is financially able.”

JP can’t believe what he heard, “Is this for real? A stranger doing this for a company he does not even know?”

“Not for the company but for me, for my family, for everything my father, mother, and I did for him. He said he is thankful it came as he was running out of programming ideas to keep him busy and that the project came as though I did him a big favor . . . He liked your programming approach and thinks you’re brilliant. He is willing to collaborate if you will accept these working arrangements,” she said as she handed him a paper.

JP went over the proposal and, reading halfway, commented, “He dictated this to you?”

“Yes.”

“He’s an expert,” he added as he continued to read.

Lulu watched JP read and was apprehensive her alibi being unbelievable.

“How much is he asking?” he said as he left the paper on his desk and placed a paperweight over it and looked at Lulu.

“He said premium and you know what that means. He will just have to trust you to keep your side of the bargain. Will I vouch for you, JP?”

“You can bet your life. I will make it worthwhile; first option to buy company stocks if we go public, and assured employment here if ever he needs a job. We surely need a person of his caliber. He has to reveal his identity . . . how will he get paid?”

“He said to give it to a charity of my choice.”

“A very generous man. Okay. You can tell him the work arrangement is acceptable and thank him for the payment manner. I find no problem working on trust basis. Tell him, I understand his situation and I want to be his friend.”

Relieved, Lulu replied, “I will.”

Uneasy and having a hard time to express himself, JP said, “He’s helping me will not change how busy I will be. It merely lightens the load. Much as I’d like to visit you . . . and Auntie Juaning, I . . .”

“You need not explain. I understand and pray Juaning would.” Shifting the subject, she said, “Northridge Technical Institute is accepting enrollment for nighttime short-term courses on programming. Any suggestion?”

“Pascal and Visual Basic.”

 

THE HURT

 

Everything went smoothly in the months that followed. The company rehired the laid-off workers and added more; the bank loans were restructured; Gilda’s intricate metal components were farmed out for fabrication; Sonny got his dream machines, the latest milling and lathe machines; JP was just as busy but went home to sleep; and no one suspected Lulu was working on Gilda’s computer program at a rented apartment when she should have been in night school.

Greg realized he had gotten too cocky with Horsch. Horsch was no fool and gave him what was needed to finance the Gilda project, slashed the printer orders enough to keep the company afloat, and transferred only two hundred thousand Euros to Greg’s Swiss account.

 

Three months have passed. It was a Sunday.

 

JP never kept his promise to visit Auntie Juaning on weekends. He was so focused on his computer programs to stop, more so, on weekend’s when he was at his best, at home and uninterrupted. He once set the alarm clock at eleven in the morning on a Sunday with a plan to have lunch with Auntie Juaning and Lulu. It rang; he shut it off; and continued working, relying on Lulu to explain to Juaning. It was different now. Lulu’s ‘Anonymous Friend’, had completed his part of the program and the company donated $120,000 to Fr. Leonard’s charity program. JP never suspected that Lulu was the ‘Anonymous Friend.’ Together, they have gone through the hardest part of the computer program and JP was now merely putting the finishing touches. He had ample time to finish the computer program’s deadline. Since it was quarter-to-twelve in the morning, he rushed to his car and drove knowing he would catch Lulu and Juaning having lunch.

 

It was five minutes past noon when JP parked his car at the far end of Juaning’s driveway to avoid notice. He intended to surprise them. He sneaked stealthily to the back door and peered through the window. As he predicted, the two were seated at the kitchen table about to take their lunch. He walked in his normal fashion. “Hi everyone.”

“What a surprise,” Lulu responded with delight and stood to prepare another plate.

JP headed for Juaning and kissed her on the cheek.

Juaning did not react and unceremoniously wiped her cheek where JP kissed. “Sit down, JP,” Juaning said coldly. “It’s time we talk.”

Lulu noticed Juaning’s demeanor changed. They were having a cheerful conversation until JP came. She hurriedly placed the hot soup on JP’s plate and said, “I forgot something upstairs. Be back in a second.”

“No,” Juaning said sternly as matriarch of the house. “You are part of this family. Sit down,” she commanded.

 

Lulu uncomfortably went back to her chair.

 

JP obediently sat. Never had he seen his Aunt so mad.

 

“You promised Sunday, lunch or dinner. Just an hour, once a week and you never kept it,” Juaning said as calmly as she could.

“I was so busy with . . .”

“Forget your explanation. Lulu did that for you as best as she could,” Juaning interrupted in subdued anger. There was a pause. “You cannot explain away neglect or take others for granted. I know you love me, JP,” she said, softening her tone. “I know you do not mean to hurt. That, I know. But you are. You must understand neglect tears peoples’ heart and taking that for granted starves it to death . . . It is a slow torture until one cannot stand it anymore.”

JP saw tears flowing from Juaning’s eyes. He had never seen her cry before even at his mother’s deathbed and funeral, and she was terribly close to her. He watched her stand, walk to the kitchen sink, take a paper towel and wipe her eyes and cheeks.

JP felt the hurt he caused Juaning. Felt his neglect. He went by her side and with one hand over her shoulder said, “I am so sorry to have hurt you. There’s something in me that drives me to work. I become so involved in those moments that the world around me seems not to exist. I love you, Auntie. I promise this time I . . .”

“Make no promises,” Juaning interrupted calmly and loud enough for only JP to hear, “Just come.” After a brief reflection, she said, “Now I understand how both your parents felt. Part of your mother is in me while part of your father is in you. Start caring for people, JP. Put them above anything else in this world.” She held JP’s hand on her shoulder then patted it. “I’m fine now. Let’s have lunch before it gets cold.”

 

The two went back to the table and joined Lulu.

 

“You finished the program you’re working on?” Juaning asked in a controlled normal voice as she sat.

“I’m putting the final touches . . . nothing complicated. I’d have everything wrapped up easy in three days. Eight days ahead of deadline,” JP answered as he sat and continued, “Why don’t we all go see a movie after lunch, on me?” JP suggested. “You like that, Auntie?” he asked her.

“I’ll just sleep. You and Lulu can go. Notice anything different?” Juaning anxiously asked, going over the hurt she felt earlier.

Seated, JP looked around and noted the changes made. “I did notice the change when I came in. The room is completely different. Just amazing!”

“A lot of things are different in this house . . . including myself,” Juaning said cheerfully. “When was the last time you were here?”

JP started to think and was not sure. “I bet Lulu remembers,” he said looking at her.

“Three months, two weeks, five days, and almost eleven hours,” Lulu snapped.

 

After lunch, they showed JP the remodeled house. He was astounded! Its simplicity made it elegant. New furniture, well-placed potted plants, framed pictures on newly painted walls made the room lively and spacious. As they went from room to room, it reminded him of the pictures he had seen in Architectural Digest. “You must have spent a fortune on your interior decorator and threw out and bought a lot of things.”

“We did it, Lulu, and me,” Juaning proudly said with glimmer in her eyes. “Lulu did all the designing. Most of the furnishing came from thrift shops and yard sales. We did most of the refurbishing. But don’t tell anyone where we got the things.”

“You really like it, JP?” Lulu humbly asked.

“I’m simply amazed. The rooms are all so different. It’s just great! You think you can do my townhouse?”

“Not unless you pay for our services,” Juaning interjected.

JP asked candidly, “And, how much would that be?”

“$8,000 plus your labor.”

“That’s how much you owe me.”

“Consider that the advance.”

Lulu looked at Juaning intimidatingly.

“Okay, you don’t have to pay. But Lulu, that’s not the way to conduct business.”

Lulu smiled. “When can we work on your townhouse?” he asked JP.

“Looking forward to it right after the project is done. I like it to look similar to this . . . simple and spacious,” he said as he looked around. “You really did all of these?” he said, astounded.

Lulu showed JP her calloused hands.

“We did it,” Juaning said and showed her blisters as well.

“Aren’t you concerned about your hands?” JP asked both.

Lulu questioned, “Being tough and blistered? Should I worry about it?”

“You shouldn’t,” Juaning answered then turned to JP. “Lulu has a higher standard than just being vain. If a man does not see that, the man is a fool.”

“Are you a fool, JP?” Lulu asked.

“Not anymore.”

“I hope you learned a lesson,” Juaning said in admonition. “Don’t mess around with my Lulu. She knows more than you think. Now, I want you to see the greenhouse.”

There were good reasons for Juaning to be proud of her greenhouse. It was a paradise of flowering orchids. Healthy plants with big vibrantly colored flowers and healthy dark green leaves all around. “Aren’t the flowers beautiful?” Juaning asked JP beaming with pride.

“It sure is. What was here were sick and closed to dying plants and now . . . Lulu again?” JP commented.

Juaning answered happily, “Yes, with homemade fertilizers and insecticides.”

They walked him around the greenhouse and later Juaning said, “You two can go and have fun . . . see a movie. I’ll stay here and tend to my beautiful plants.”

“Like to see a movie, Lulu?” JP asked.

“I’d like that very much.”

 

The Truth

 

Juaning waved goodbye at the two as JP’s car drove off from the backyard driveway. She sat on the swing under the oak tree and recalled the incident with JP. JP, on many occasions, did not see nor call her for months, and they lived but a few miles from each other. Three times in the past, he forgot her birthday and came around days later sincerely remorseful and overcompensated her with gifts. She was certain JP loved her as his aunt. ‘How could someone manage to really love another and not show it?’ she asked herself and was baffled. The question was not new to her. She asked the same question many times and long ago of another man, JP’s father, the industrial tycoon, George Rosenthal. She remembered her sister sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring; rushed for the mailbox when the mailman delivered mails; stayed at the patio late in the evening waiting for her husband. Those were the only memories she remembered every time she thought of her—-memories of her waiting until she killed herself. She knew the reason why they kept their marriage a secret. It was her sister’s wish. In spite of the strict secrecy she imposed, JP’s mother fantasized on a normal family life to a point that she became sick. She lived a life as though tomorrow would be different. She waited and waited for a dream to come true but it never did until it became unbearable.

Juaning hated George Rosenthal for the torment he gave her sister even though she knew he never neglected her completely. He gave her everything except his presence—-a large house with a lavish garden, servants, chauffeur, and all the money she needed. Once, she spoke to him over the phone and hinted that her sister liked chocolate bars and sure enough, cartons of expensive chocolate bars came from around the world on regular basis but he never brought them himself. Now she saw it in her nephew, JP. She knew how he was once he got started on something—-completely emerged in another world. Remembered when she got him his first computer and the months that followed. Saw him sit all day and almost all of the nights with his fingers pounding the keyboard ceaselessly weeks on end. Forgetting to eat; to bathe; to shave; and even the time and the day. She realized JP was no different from his father nor her different from her sister. Yet she knew JP loved her. Is it possible JP’s father loved my sister too? she wondered.

From nowhere, she recalled a conversation with Lulu during one of their early morning walks—-on the right thing to do when someone does something bad to another. She remembered clearly her words . . . ‘Regardless of how despicable what others do to you, it is the good things you do to them that matters.’ With that thought, Juaning was determined to talk to JP about his father the next time they meet . . . about the things he should know, the truth.

 

More to Gain and Nothing to Lose

 

JP brought Lulu to a theater inside the mall and got her to pick the movie from the five movies shown. She chose a spy thriller based on a true story of a family caught in a espionage web during the Second World War that ended tragically. After the movie and while leaving the theater, JP said, “I noticed you closed your eyes to some scenes and wept too.”

“I can’t get myself to watch violence, deceit. Indifference to other people’s life are things humans do that I can’t seem to fathom. To think that the story was based on a real-life drama perplexes me more,” Lulu said, distraught.

From Lulu’s voice, JP could tell how deeply affected she was. Yet the movie’s story was not even a close representation of the harsher realities going on around the world. She viewed world tragedies at a different perspective . . . an outsider . . . like an Alien observing humans. ‘How strange,’ he thought, but agreed with her—-the world was going mad. “What kind of movies would you prefer?” JP curiously asked.

“Family movies; stories of people helping each other; movies with emphasis on good moral character and values.”

“You will hardly see those movies. No market.”

“You mean people are no longer interested?”

“That may be the reason. You should have picked . . .” he paused and walked backward to view the theater’s billboard. “I can see you had no choice,” he said, as the others were sex, violence, crime, and drugs.

“Are you in a hurry?” she asked.

“No.”

“Can we sit somewhere where we can watch people?”

“I know a good spot for that.”

“Take my hand, JP, and lead.”

JP noticed the sweet innocent smile as she extended her hand. Unused to hold a woman’s hand, he held lightly at first as his heart throbbed then firmer after a dozen steps; feeling the comfort of what clasped hands brings to two people; the assurance it conveys of being there for the other; the oneness it expresses to each other. They walked together leisurely with no words exchanged, happy at just the thought of being together. Lulu controlled JP’s arm and swung it slightly timing it to their steps. She was intrigued as she observed strangers’ faces walking by and JP intrigued by her.

JP knew the perfect spot to watch people. It was at the heart of the mall. They were lucky—-a couple vacated the bench facing the main walkway.

 

They sat.

 

“I like watching people,” Lulu started, “Wonder who they are and how they live their life, their relationships with one another. Have you done that before?”

“No,” JP answered.

“See the couple with the man wearing a blue shirt?” as she looked towards the couple’s direction. “They may be in their late twenties or early thirties.”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me something about them.”

JP gave a serious thought to what he saw. “Married . . . maybe . . . teenage children wandering somewhere. They are just walking,” he answered.

Together yet alone,” she said sadly. “They’ve settled down so to speak. What a pity, to waste time to express their affection for one another. There are so many interesting things to do to make life together wonderful and they allow those precious moments go by. Constant assurance of love for the other is something one must never overlook. People seem not to understand or forget its value or importance. Fallen out of love they say but did they really try to keep their bond strong by constantly reassuring love for each other? I wonder.”

JP was taken by what Lulu said and focused on the couple’s faces as they passed. He saw expressionless faces devoid of life. Couples just walking hoping time would pass or maybe be somewhere or with someone else.

Lulu hurriedly said, “See the well-dressed woman leaving the jewelry store holding a kid and another fronting us with two kids looking at the displayed moving toys.” She was looking in their direction.

JP saw the two women and focused first on the well-dressed woman who held a small boy’s wrist wearing a small boy’s suit and polished black shoes. Being pulled, the boy walked sideways behind the woman with eyes awed at the same displayed toys the two other kids were looking at—-a propelled plane on a string tied to the ceiling whirling around in the air; a moving train on rails complete with miniature people, stations, mountains, tunnels, and bridges; a walking robot; and a few more. She had gold and precious stones that glittered from her ears, neck, scarf, wrists, belt buckle, and fingers. Her colorful silk dress flattered as she walked; her poise, elegant and glamourous. Altogether, it projected an aura of a dignified rich person with influence and power. He noticed her give a distance between her and the worn-out dressed women with the two kids—-the taller of the two, a girl, who wore an oversized adult man’s jacket. The bejeweled woman seemed displease by their presence as she looked nonchalantly at the woman with kids while her own still walked sideways; still looking at the displayed toys noticeably being dragged. “She’s well-to-do considering her dress and jewelries. Very conscious of how she presents herself in public and surely not paying any attention to the kid . . . most likely her son.” He turned his head and focus on the other woman. “As for the woman with a little girl and a boy . . . they know their mother couldn’t afford the toys . . . they’re just looking. It’s a close-knit family from their interactions. The kids contented at just dreaming and the mother maybe wishing to buy the toys for them. They are having fun in spite of it. I wish I could just go there and give her the money.”

“You feel it too?” she asked and with a sigh said, “Well, that’s life on this planet.”

“You see things as though you are a visitor from another world . . . an Alien from another planet.”

“A Martian?” Lulu exclaimed with surprise.

“Yes.”

Lulu considered her answer. “I guess I see things much like an outsider . . . an Alien from another world. It provides you a better perspective. From where I stand, I somehow feel people in this planet prefer to ignore things that should concern them. Scared of reality lest they get involved.”

“Care to expound?” JP was being candid but serious and eager to see her view.

“The well-dressed woman with the kid dressed not just to please herself but to impress others of her stature. It elevated her from others of lesser means. She noticed the woman with two kids and simply disregarded what she saw or considered them unpleasant . . . not part of her world. She came out of the expensive jewelry store and surmise the value of her jewelries could easily provide years of basic comfort to the poor woman’s family. ‘It’s not her business,’ so they say. But it is her business as she is part of her world . . . everyone’s world. Sometimes the truth is hard and scary to face but must be or suffer its consequence.”

Strangely, her statement made JP to reflect on something related. There were things he knew he should think of and avoided the things that made him recall. Was it because he was scared or . . .?

“Notice how many couples are holding hands?” Lulu asked.

The question distracted JP’s thoughts. “I don’t recall seeing couples holding hands,” he answered.

“This is a perfect time,” she hurriedly said. “Notice the couples walking this way?”

“Two, no, three.”

“Observe all of them as they walk pass us then close your eyes.”

JP complied. He took all efforts to observe their facial expressions; their gait; and disposition then closed his eyes. “What now?”

Lulu waited for a moment then said, “Imagine everyone holding hands.”

JP visualized what he had seen then pictured two couples holding hands and the other having their arms around each other. “Big difference,” he concluded as he opened his eyes.

If only the world placed more value in loving one another and express it as often as they should, then this world will be very different.”

JP looked around and twice closed his eyes and saw them in his mind’s eye holding hands. “It really makes a big difference,” he concluded then came up with an idea, “I will walk with the crowd and you tell me who you see. Okay?”

“Walk all the way to the end then come back. Take your time and do it the way you normally do,” she instructed.

“I will.”

 

JP stood and walked away but seconds later looked back and saw Lulu take something from her pocket; folded it; as she walked the opposite direction but thought nothing of it. As he walked and, in hindsight, thought his suggestion was a bad idea but now stuck with it. He walked as he normally did thinking it be best she saw him for who he really is. When he got back, he noticed a couple had occupied their bench.

“JP,” Lulu called out from a distance, behind.

JP turned and walked towards her. “Where did you come from?”

“I was walking and watching you from the floor above.”

“You’re a sneaky creature. Well, what did you see?” JP asked candidly but apprehensive.

She purposely evaded the question and said, “I’ll treat you to ice cream,” and took JP’s hand and led him to an ice parlor not far away.

 

They ordered, then took a small table that had a view of the mall’s walkway.

 

“This is another good spot to watch people, too,” Lulu started the conversation.

“And your observation, Miss Freud?” JP asked with a tint of trepidation.

Lulu looked at him. “JP . . . I saw a man just walking.”

“That’s who I am I guess. Nothing much to talk about.”

“I saw a man going through the motions of life not knowing how to live it. You are not who you really are, JP. At least, from what I saw. But I know you are a caring man. A wonderful person to be with. Something must be holding you back. Is there?”

JP did not understand at first but as he pondered, it made sense. He realized he was just going through the motion of being alive and not living. Yet, people around him tried to take him out of a prison cell he made for himself. His Aunt tried, Greg tried, the people at work, and even Lulu. He seemed to find himself in a shell not making the effort to break out. He once wondered why he was unlike most people who can walk away from a computer. Was it his way to escape reality, the world?

Lulu asked again, with concern in her voice, “Is there something holding you back, JP?”

With a look of unease on his face, he asked, “Did Auntie Juaning talk to you about me?”

“No.” The question puzzled her. “Should she?” she asked.

“If you should know, it might as well come from me,” he said as though compelled to reveal a secret. “I told you that my parents are dead. My mother is . . . I hope my father is too or just leave me alone.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Since I was seven, when my mother passed away.”

“Is Rosenthal, your father?”

“How did you know?”

“Not until now. I found it odd for you not to accept or return his calls. He is reaching out, JP.”

“I wish he’d leave me alone. Why did he not call himself?”

Lulu thought briefly then said, “For most likely the same reason you could not return his calls.”

“You do not know the story. If . . .”

“I need not know,” she interrupted then held his hand across the table. “Someone is reaching out is all I need to know.”

“I don’t want to talk to him,” JP said, controlling his emotion.

“But he wants to talk to you.”

“I shouldn’t have opened the subject.”

“Face your problem, JP. Face it before it destroys you and affects the lives of the people who care for you. You will lose nothing if you do. Listen to him, think it over, and then decide. You have everything to gain and only your senseless pride, and, worse still, yourself to lose. I think it’s time for us to go home. Can we?”

JP, with so much in his mind, nodded.

 

As they walked out of the mall, the woman with the two children approached them. “Happy see you,” the woman said in heavy Mexican accent. “Mi son, no see dinero . . . no money on floor. Money . . . not ours. Me know you say . . . money not yours.”

With a wide smile, Lulu pointed up with her pointing finger and said, “Cielo . . . heaven.”

“Ah, si heaven,” as she pointed up too. “Yes, heaven. Muchas gracias (many thanks).”

Lulu kissed the little girl wearing a new jacket and the boy who held a box with car printed on its side and they parted ways beading each other, ‘Via con Dios (Go with God).’

 

“What was that all about?” JP asked.

“When you started walking to the far end of the mall, I saw the woman unknowingly dropped something. It turned out to be folded money and gave it to her.”

“And she said it wasn’t hers?”

“Yes,” Lulu replied. “And I told her it wasn’t mine and left her at that.”

“But the boy told the truth. There was no money on the floor,” JP said in an interrogating manner.

Lulu looked at him for a second then pointed upward as she beamed girlishly.

“Ah, yes. It fell from Heaven,” he said grinning.

 

The small incident completely erased the gloom after they left the ice cream parlor.

 

JP parked the car at the front of Juaning house and walked Lulu to the front door.

Lulu said, “I really had a wonderful time.”

“In spite of how it ended at the parlor?”

“In spite of it. I hope you had a wonderful time yourself.”

“I really did . . . and learned a lot of things. I hope you are not disappointed.”

“Disappointed? Not at all. Just thought you’d be better off if you were alone.”

“You are right. I have a lot of thinking to do. About myself, what Auntie Juaning said . . . and what you said.”

“I’m glad.”

Sounding concerned, he said, “I hope you will not breathe a word as to who my father is.”

“You need not ask but since you did, you have my word. Good night, JP, and thank you for a very wonderful day. Naska is Imar.”

“Naska is Imar? I heard you say that before. Arabic?”

“No. It’s an archaic language. Its meaning depends on the circumstance when said. For now, it means, ‘God loves you.’”

“Oh, Naska is Imar.”

With no malice, she kissed him on the cheek and went in.

SLEEPER IN THE MIDST

 

“Can I have the Sunday newspaper, please?” JP said to Marijack who sorted weekend mails behind the reception desk.

“Sonny can’t make it to work today,” she said as she got the newspaper from the pile and held on to it. “Remember Sonny’s only child?”

“Little Rosita. Adorable kid . . .”

“She’s gravely ill. They brought her to the hospital last Saturday. The doctors said it’s a rare intestinal virus with no known cure. She may not see the week end.”

“Where did she get it?” he asked as he looked at Marijack, disturbed.

“Most likely from a rural town in Jamaica where she vacationed with her Mom.”

“I remember Sonny mentioned a vacation but that’s nearly a month ago!”

“The doctor said the virus has a long incubation period. Is Lulu a pharmacist or something?” she inquisitively asked.

“Not that I know. What made you asked?”

“When Mom told her of Rosita’s illness, she went with us to visit her. Anyway, she spent more time with Rosita’s pathologist that ended with me driving her to herbal stores, a pharmacy, and helped brew a tonic. I pray it works.”

“I hope it does.” He wanted to pursue the subject but something was bothering him. “Can I have the newspaper?” his hand extended.

Marijack, behind the reception counter, got and held on to the newspaper. She said, “She’s one in a zillion. Make a good wife. An Angel, isn’t she?”

“She sure is. Can I now have the newspaper?” JP said smiling, a hand still extended.

Marijack still held the newspaper, and said, “The man who gets her will be very lucky. What do you think?”

“I somehow guessed where this conversation would lead.”

“You know what Sonny would probably advise you?”

“What would Sonny advise?” JP asked entertained and grinning.

“Rape her, the first chance you get.”

JP laughed. “Knowing Sonny, he probably would. Can I now have the newspaper?”

Marijack handed the newspaper but did not let go. “I always dreamed of being a flower girl.”

JP smiled and finally got the newspaper. He took a few steps towards his office and stopped. He normally read the front-page headlines first but, this time, he leafed directly to the International Section on something he saw on TV news that showed Germany’s Interpol raiding AFC International, a company in East Berlin. The Russians used the firm as front to conduct industrial espionage all over the world. What aroused JP’s curiosity was one of the men herded and identified, as the spy ring’s leader, was someone he knew, Samuel Lutz. He and Greg had a business meeting with Samuel Lutz over lunch in the early months of the company. If he remembered right, they shipped printers to the firm around that time. Holding on to the newspaper, he went to Lulu’s office.

 

Lulu’s office, like Greg’s, was extremely organized. Everything was where it should be. After pleasantries, JP said, “I pray your brew for Rosita works.”

“It will,” Lulu, seated behind her desk, confidently replied. “I won’t be surprised where you got the information, no secrets from Marijack.”

JP smiled but noticed how confident she was on the tonic doing its job. Somehow, he felt relieved. “You cease to amaze me. Where did you learn how to make it?”

Rosita’s ailment was entering the last stage when the virus would migrate to her liver. At that point, Rosita’s life would be sealed. Lulu knew she had to act fast and took a risk with a hope she could fend off inquiries that might reveal her extraordinary abilities. “Firsthand experience,” she answered casually.

“As a pathologist . . . pharmacist . . . or both?”

“Being inquisitive by nature,” she reasoned. A reason she thought of before she decided to risk treating Rosita. “Rosita is lucky I witnessed Ata natives living deep in the Philippines jungle make it out of a tree root and leaves to remedy many kinds of stomach problems. At that time, I was so curious as to how it worked, as it did wonders for my upset stomach, that I researched on it. That’s how.”

“You seem so sure it will work and, strangely, I believe you.”

She did not anticipate the remark. She did convey it with confidence. She knew what ailed her—-she read the pathologist and biochemist reports to include magnified pictures of the isolated virus. With the information, she activated a minute computer embedded in her left hand’s palm. Squeezing it gained access to Ria’s Bank of Knowledge. “I strongly believe in the power of positive thinking,” she said. “I have to be positive in everything I do. How else can you do it?”

“Guess you’re right. It will work, it will work,” JP repeated.

“That’s it. Deep inside and between us, I pray it will work as it did wonders for the native who used it. What brings you to my office this early in the morning?” she shifted the subject.

“Need you to find something in the computer.”

Lulu turned her swivel chair and faced the computer by the side of her desk. “What do you want?” she asked, her hand on the computer keyboard, her posture ready to punch keys.

JP laid and flipped the newspaper pages on a space on Lulu’s desk until he got to the international section. As he did, Lulu caught a glimpse of the headline on the Science and Technology section a page before and became apprehensive but carried on.

“Can you open the client list file? The name is Samuel Lutz. L-u-t-z,” JP spelled out.

Lulu navigated through layers of computer screens; keyed in the name; and pressed ‘Enter’. “None listed,” she said, perplexed.

“Try the company name AFC International, Inc.”

Lulu keyed the company name then said, “That’s strange.”

“Why?”

“I could swear it was there before and so with the name Samuel Lutz. Let me check something.” She keyed in more keys and saw more screens. She viewed the computer entry list and said, “Someone updated the file early this morning. 4:34 a.m. to be exact. This someone knew what he was doing. He even changed the backups but forgot the log file.”

Lulu was not the type who forgets things, JP thought. Greg was the only person who knew how to work computers outside from Lulu and himself. He went to the filing cabinet behind Lulu’s desk and began to search the old shipping invoices leaving the newspaper on top of Lulu’s desk.

Lulu turned the newspaper a page back; read the headline then gasped softly, “Oh, no!” her hands covered her mouth then hurriedly left the room.

JP heard a muffled sound and caught a glimpse of Lulu leave the room. He recalled seeing her flip a page and went over to see what she read. The headline on Science and Technology section read: ‘Congress Cuts Funding to NARLAB’s Superconducting Super Magnetic Collider Project.’ He scanned other article headings on the page and found nothing to upset anyone. He thought nothing of it and went back to the filling cabinet and meticulously went through archived shipping receipts. He found no file on AFC during the early month of the company’s operation to his surprise but noticed a small remnant of a torn-out page where it should have been. ‘Does Greg know George Rosenthal is his father?’ the question crossed his mind. He returned the file and said to himself, ‘If Greg is using me, I will use him. With business being where it’s at, it is not the time to confront. Besides, Greg could not get anything from or through him. There are no ties between him and his father.’ He decided not to pursue the issue and just pretend, ‘business as usual’ and left.

 

Have to Act

 

Lulu was crying inside the Lady’s room. The Superconducting, Super-Magnetic Collider Project was the last hope of her parents and the thousands stranded in space. She had managed to forget her plan to save them and force herself to abide by her parent’s wishes. However, she realized it now meant sure death to them if the completion was delayed. She can no longer pretend. She had to try.

Lulu read from the newspaper that they cut the project’s funding for no immediate economic value. With twenty-two billion dollars earmarked for the project and the public’s perception of it built to satisfy the curiosity of a few in the scientific community plus the poor state of the economy, the pressure to save money was there. The Nuclear Scientific Convention would start on Friday of that week at the Los Angeles Convention Center. NARLAB Director, Charles Cutler, also the Nuclear Science Adviser to the President, was to address a scientific symposium on that same day in the morning and decided to implement the plan she conceived while she was at the pyramid hip.

 

Lulu’s plan was to leak the technology to produce solid hydrogen—-a safe and clean means of generating power. A pound of it would literally fly a 747 Boeing aircraft eleven times around the world and would cost twenty times less to produce a barrel of aviation fuel as the raw material to produce it was water! However, it needed a catalyst to bind hydrogen atoms together and, for that, they needed the super-collider. The same machine, when modified, would produce their ship’s fuel! Handing the technology to produce solid hydrogen would easily justify funds for the super-collider project. But it was a double-bladed sword—-solid hydrogen could be used to make a compact atomic bomb with no radioactive consequence! The same pound could wipe out New York City and its suburbs from the map.

The prospect of its used for war was strong. The cold war between USSR and USA had reached a point that a thermonuclear war between them was a possibility. Though the leaders of both countries knew that whosoever made the first nuclear strike would win the war they also knew that there would be no real winner in the end, the aftermath—-the global radioactive fallout and the greenhouse effect deterred war and maintained the fragile peace between Superpowers. If it were not for the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)’ scenario, Third World War may have started long ago. However, a clean bomb may trigger it. A massive preempted strike would assure a winner and that was what Amo Obib feared. He did not want to gamble lest the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incidents repeated itself.

Lulu thought of the consequence: ‘Who was she to predict war? It can go the other way, spawn peace,’ she argued to herself. She was resolved and said to herself, ‘Forgive me, Papa. I must try. Dear God, please help me.’ That evening, Lulu came home with an assortment of computer hardware and assembled a computer in her room. Juaning, who helped bring the lighter stuff, was delighted to see it work. Lulu gave a brief demonstration and explained the importance of being computer literate.

“Those things are beyond me.” Juaning confessed not understanding what Lulu explained nor did she care. “I’ll leave you with it. It’s time for my bed.”

“Good night, Mom,” she said, and gave her a goodnight kiss on her cheek.

 

Soon after Juaning left, Lulu took the pyramid crystal from her suitcase and set it by the PC’s keyboard side. “Goopersh,” she said.

The crystal slightly glowed, “Awaiting command,” responded Goopersh.

“Scan my PC for hardware upgrades and reconfigure the computer’s operating system to allow it to import my files.”

Lulu’s PC glowed and its hard drive light flickered.

A few seconds later Goopersh said, “Your PC’s operating system is reconfigured. Parts and schematic diagrams for PC upgrade are downloaded.”

“Goopersh, how much power do you have left?”

“12.2 years in hibernation state; eighteen minutes if the ship is operated at minimum.”

“Download my file this time tomorrow. Good night, Goopersh.”

 

The Russian Alpha Project

 

An hour before Lulu communicated with Goopersh and within a highly secured military research compound in Moscow, Dr. Andros Petrosky, head of the Communication Research and his assistant Peter Nasburg worked on a low-priority but top-secret Alpha Wave Project. The project was to research on a wireless communication outside of radio wave for military purpose. Short of funds, the laboratory resembled a second-hand electronic shop with electronic equipment that were mostly outdated and some out of order. Most of their electronic spare parts on the shelf came from cannibalized electronic equipment.

Two months earlier, as Dr. Petrosky and Peter tested their Alpha Wave Receiver, they stumbled on a weak alpha wave signal that emanated from outer space. They focused on amplifying the signal and two weeks ago, it came out clear and distinct. It repeated, at five second interval, a short message, ‘Naska is Imar’. After a week of scanning different frequencies, they discovered another signal that came from a different direction. What puzzled and intrigued them was both signals transmitted the same message, ‘Naska is Imar.’ In as much as both signals where received at one spot, their laboratory, they needed to bring their alpha wave receiver to a distant location to triangulate the signal’s precise locations. For that, they needed a plane.

To requisition a plane through normal channels was out of the question, Dr. Petrosky thought. The processing time will take months and most likely be denied. He decided to circumvent the system and called by phone General Igor Kievsky, a high-ranking KGB officer in-charge of all military research programs. He knew the general had both the political and military influence to help him and was very ambitious.

 

Over the telephone, Dr. Petrosky briefed General Kievsky on the Alpha Wave’s breakthrough without mentioning the intercepted signals. The general, realizing its military potential, was excited. A wireless communication system exclusively theirs; impervious to radio jamming; atmospheric interference; and it eliminated the use of decoders in high-level communication in pre-and-wartime events. That was something the military establishments wanted. Briefed, the general approved Dr. Petrosky’s request but asked out of curiosity, “Why will you need a plane?”

“In the course of our research, we intercepted communication signals. I think it’s a . . .”

“Damn . . .” the general burst. “The Americans are ahead again.”

“That is what we aim to find out,” Dr. Petrosky wisely replied. He knew he said nothing to involve the Americans. He played along knowing he had a better chance to get what he wanted if the Americans were involved in the equation.

Giving it a thought, the general continued, “Nevertheless, it will not matter. If they have it and not know we do, we can eavesdrop on them. As for the plane, I’ll get someone to call you. Just tell them what you need and how soon. Keep this a secret and communicate only with me.”

“Only to you,” Dr. Petrosky acknowledged and hung up the telephone.

 

An hour later, Peter barged in Dr. Petrosky’s office, extremely excited. “Come, I want you to listen to a taped conversation. I got the recorder to record midway.”

“Over the alpha wave?” Dr. Petrosky exclaimed with surprise as he followed Peter back to the lab in a rush.

“Yes. We are not alone in this technology and, most likely, behind,” Peter said.

When they got to the room, Peter got the tape recorder to play:

 

. . . downloaded. . . Goopersh, how much power do you have left? . . . 12.2 years in hibernation state; eighteen minutes if the ship is operated at minimum . . . Download my file this time tomorrow. Good night, Goopersh.’

 

Both understood English more so, Dr. Petrosky who asked, “What was said before that?”

“She, from the sound of the voice, said something about downloading a file on her PC.”

“What kind?”

“The word sounded like ‘magic diagram’.”

“Schematic diagram?”

“That sounds like it. The transmission is not military. The ‘goodnight’ was a giveaway.”

“From the sound of its metallic voice, it seems Goopersh is a thinking computer,” Dr. Petrosky deduced.

“I agree. That technology is way out of our time. Only Aliens can have this kind of technology!”

“I think we have a woman talking to Goopersh, a thinking computer, in an Alien ship, and have but 12.2 years if they hibernated and eighteen minutes if the ship is operated at minimum. The Aliens are running out of fuel and time!” Dr. Petrosky concluded.

“And the woman is trying to help,” Peter added.

“Where did this signal come from?”

Peter copied the signal coordinates displayed on the computer screen then placed a dot of the coordinates on the world map framed on the wall. With a marking pen and a long metal ruler, he drew a line connecting Moscow to the dot then extended it to the map’s edge. The line crossed

Russia, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and the States of California, USA. Looking closely at where the line crossed California, he said, “My best guess is Los Angeles, California.”

“What time was the transmission?” Dr. Petrosky asked.

“I ran to you soon after the signal was terminated.”

Dr. Petrosky looked at his wristwatch. “Transmission will be around 11:43 a.m. tomorrow. That will give us time to triangulate the signal’s location. Let’s hope the woman transmits, otherwise, we won’t get a fix on her location.”

“Should we call General Kievsky?”

“I’ll do that after we get the signal location. Meanwhile, hook up a recorder to run continuously. We will . . .”

A secretary called out from the door, “Sorry to interrupt. Dr. Petrosky, you have an urgent call from Air Force Commander Lieyech on line 3.”

“Thank you,” he said and picked up the phone.

TUESDAY

 

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Langley, Virginia

Director Douglas Green, head of the Industrial Espionage Section of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), walked faster than normal for his office within CIA building at Langley, Virginia. At five feet four inches tall, he may not look the part but was well respected in the bureau, cool and decisive. Before he reached his office, FBI Special Agent Mark Triska approached him. “I was instructed to see you, Sir,” Mark said as he adjusted to Green’s gait. He used to work directly under Director Green until he applied and got hired as Special Agent for the FBI. It was the required international travels, that often lasted for months, getting in conflict with his family life, that prompted him to change job.

“Yeah, Mark. Follow me,” Green laconically said without losing his stride. “How is work with the federal bureau?”

“No different except it’s domestic.”

“I understand. International assignments may look appealing but not to a family man.”

 

A stock of folders was on one side of the Director Green’s over-sized desk in his office. He flipped through folders then handed Dr. Samuel Dawson’s dossier to Mark. “This is a CIA-FBI joint venture. I got your boss’ OK to help me as I am shorthanded on this top-secret mission and your familiarity with CIA operation comes in handy.

“The Soviets are low on funds to finance their research and development programs. They are relying on spies to get the technology they need through industrial espionage. We intend to put an end to this and publicly shame the Soviet Republic. I am assigning you to Dr. Dawson with FBI Agent Edward Lindley as your counterpart stationed at Los Angeles. We have enough evidence to put Dawson in prison but we want to get his contacts. Dr. Dawson is part of the NARLAB core group, a nuclear research facility. He has access to all classified information on all nuclear research programs. NARLAB Internal Security had suspected him for some time and we are working with them. We literally allowed him to make copies of less sensitive confidential files. He will be bringing it together with his other papers to the Nuclear Physics Convention held in Los Angeles tomorrow. I’m counting on you to keep an eye on Dawson and make certain you bring back the NARLAB files after you arrest him.”

“When do we close in?”

“Friday evening 11 p.m., Los Angeles time. Got me?”

“Yes, sir. This coming Friday, exactly 11 p.m., Los Angeles time,” Mark repeated.

“Don’t break your cover until that time as fourteen other teams in the country plus seven from Interpol in Europe and two in Asia are involved. This will be the biggest espionage round-up in the history. One clean sweep should send a clear message to the Soviets. Unfortunately, something went amiss and must do the round-up a month ahead of schedule. That’s the reason I borrowed you. I’m shorthanded.”

“You’re referring to the Berlin bust.”

“Right . . . Damn!” Director Green said in frustration. “Seven years of work may be in jeopardy because of one minor incident. I need you to . . .”

 

Los Angeles, California, 9:40 p.m.

 

Lulu had assembled a computer with three computer motherboards modified and wired in tandem. She turned her computer on and waited for Goopersh’s transmission. At the expected time, the pyramid crystal glowed and the computer’s hard drives indicator light flickered rapidly. A minute later, the light blue glow disappeared and the transmission ended.

On her computer monitor, she reviewed the design she made to upgrade NARLAB’s Superconducting Super-Magnetic Collider’s capacity. She printed the manual from her printer and downloaded the schematic diagrams on a flash drive for it to be printed at a print shop the following day.

 

Over the Pacific Ocean

 

At the same time Goopersh was downloading data to Lulu’s computer, over the Pacific Ocean, 216 miles northeast of Japan and over international waters, a lone Soviet military cargo plane was in the air. With Dr. Petrosky and Peter were two computer language experts and a team of commandos who brought with them parachute bags and rubber dinghies just in case they were needed.

As expected, the transmission came at 11:42 a.m. Moscow time. The computer programmers intently studied the first 15 seconds of transmission—-a continuous combination of squeak and thrill sounds. “Not binary for sure but definitely programmed,” said the lead programmer.

“Can you interpret it?” Dr. Petrosky asked.

“Not much to go on . . . no.”

Peter, on a computer terminal, called Dr. Petrosky’s attention, “I have the location coordinates,” he said.

“That will be all,” Dr. Petrosky said to the programmer then addressed Peter, “Get Goopersh’s location first.”

“Our global satellite is focusing on the coordinates now.”

Intently, the two watched the satellite zoom its camera to an area that showed nothing but the ocean.

“Must be submerged. A submarine?” Dr. Petrosky commented.

Peter stayed silent as he got the satellite to go on full magnification. “The resolution won’t be good but we’d know if there is anything on the surface of the ocean. Seeing something on the screen said, “It’s a small island! Two to three times the size of a football field. It’s a basalt island.”

“Can we peer through?”

“We don’t have the capability.”

“Tell the pilot to head for the island.”

“I already did.”

“Good.”

 

The plane headed north for Goopersh’s location. Since Lulu merely received the transmission, they could not triangulate her location but was certain it came from the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The second signal triangulated came from Cairo, Egypt, at the center of Khufu’s pyramid at Giza Plateau, and the third in outer space within our Milky Way Galaxy.

As the cargo plane neared Goopersh’s location at Bering Strait, US military jet interceptors were in the vicinity and within US territorial airspace.

Near the area where the signal came, a number of small basalt islands jutted the ocean floor. Peter isolated the basalt island from the many. To his dismay, it was a mile within US Territory! With the US planes in the vicinity, they could not drop the commando unit without arousing suspicion. The plane flew parallel to the US-USSR border for twenty minutes then veered left and headed back to Moscow. The US jet fighters continued their regular air patrol soon after.

 

After Dr. Petrosky reported to General Kievsky, the general ordered an Alpha Wave receiver be installed in Siberia and manned twenty-four hours. It was vitally important they get a fix on the woman or anyone transmitting on alpha wave, General Kievsky stressed.

WEDNESDAY

 

Lulu came early, as she normally did, and was surprised to see Sonny leaning on his old Dodge Colt sedan at the parking lot. It was unlike Sonny to come to work that early in the morning, 7 a.m. He normally came at the last minute, if not late, at eight. Sonny approached Lulu as she left her car. They greeted each other and spoke in Spanish.

Sonny said, “I had no chance to thank you. Many visitors were in Rosita’s room.”

“But you did. So, don’t worry.” Nevertheless, Lulu sensed that was not the reason why Sonny waited for her. She recalled soon after Rosita drank her potion, her severe stomach cramps dissipated and fell asleep in minutes—-something Rosita never had since her ailment struck two days earlier. What Lulu concocted was a combination of analgesic for the pain, a sleeping ingredient, and a chemical extracted from a particular tree root that was lethal to the intestinal virus but not to its host. That specific chemical was something the medical field has yet to discover for this very rare viral infection. Thus, the doctors rendered Rosita’s ailment as incurable. What made her apprehensive was, much later, after Rosita slept, Sonny’s elderly aunt came to seek help for problems in swallowing. The aunt hinted that it was a spell casted on her. Lulu politely told her she could not do anything to help. There and then, realized she had placed herself in a predicament she did not foresee.

She later learned that Sonny and his wife came from a rural area in Jamaica where faith healing, voodoo rituals, and witchcraft were prevalent. He fervently believed Rosita’s ailment was a spell casted on him and his family, Rosita, the first to suffer. Behind her apprehension, Lulu asked, “How is she?”

“The Pathologist says no virus. And the doctors said it is a miracle that she’s alive. You broke the spell on Rosita. I fear someone may have casted the same spell on my wife and me . . . Please help.”

“Sonny, please believe me, I know nothing on breaking spells. I’d do it if I can.” Looking at Sonny’s reaction, she realized Sonny did not grasp what she said. She realized no explanation could change Sonny’s belief. He understood these things by how he grew up to understand them in rural Jamaica. In exasperation, she said, “Remember your promise?”

“I remember. Not tell anyone you heal Rosita.”

“Then, I’d like you to stick to that promise. Sonny, again, I am not a faith healer, though I did pray hard by Rosita’s side. But that was a prayer to God to help her. You see, Sonny, if word spreads that I can heal people or cast out spells, I will never have a normal life. People, strangers will knock at my door seeking help. The sad part is, I cannot help them. I’m no faith healer but someone who witnessed natives from the Philippines heal children with stomach problems similar to Rosita’s. Do you want to spoil my life, Sonny?”

“Oh, no. I will never do that.”

“Then, please stick to your promise. However, do believe that it was a miracle for it was an answer to our prayers. Surely, God was there to save her. Do you understand, Sonny?

“I understand.”

“When will the hospital release her?”

“This afternoon. Leave early today to get her.”

They parted with Lulu praying Sonny would stick to his promise and see her as just a person who was but eager to help.

THURSDAY

 

The day finally came to test Gilda with its new mechanism and program. Greg, JP, Sonny, and Lulu were inside the R&D cage, anxious and excited for Gilda’s trials based on military specifications. Except for Gilda’s head, it was different from the old Gilda—-no hinges but ball joints; no exposed pulleys and linkages but hidden gears within joints; no tractor wheels but legs! Everything went flawlessly. The simplified mechanism and new computer program did the specified tasks seamlessly twenty-one times faster compared to the Old Gilda.

“Caramba! We did it!” shouted Sonny as the rest of the company employees clapped and cheered loudly outside the caged area.

Holding a stopwatch, Greg said to JP, “It's 8% short of the military speed requirement,” and added, “The ball is in your hands, JP.”

“Ball?” JP reacted, surprisingly.

“It’s the program that’s holding down the speed.”

“Not the program, it’s the computer chip’s speed.”

“Can we buy a faster chip?”

“We have the fastest in the market.”

Sonny said to Lulu, “You give idea again.

Lulu merely grinned at Sonny.

Greg asked JP, “Can you tweak the program to get more juice out of it?”

“I doubt it. It’s optimized.”

Greg took a deep breath. “Seven days to go,” he said. “Let’s cross our fingers no other company comes close to our speed.” Turning to Lulu, “You want something from Berlin?”

“I didn’t know you were leaving,” JP interrupted in surprise.

“I didn’t until an hour ago. Another possible big client, Partner,” replied Greg then turned to Lulu, waiting for her reply.

Lulu answered with a smile, “Stories of you having a nice time.”

Greg beamed at her then addressed JP, “Can we talk before I leave?”

“Sure,” JP replied and they left.

 

Seated behind his desk, Greg said to JP, sitting across, “Don’t forget to see our patent lawyer before the week ends. You need to do a sales presentation tomorrow at 9 a.m. . . .” Greg continued then ended it with, “Got everything, Partner?” He was unusually serious in his manner.

“I think so. You sound as though you’re not coming back leaving me with all the information.”

“Just in case I get held up in Berlin. Hey, Buddy, don’t worry. I really think you . . . we have a good chance in getting the military contract. Focus on it.”

JP noticed Greg was somewhat edgy, he asked, “Is everything fine?”

“Everything’s fine. It’s my flight schedule. Got to leave before the plane leaves me,” he said, then stood.

JP stood and met Greg halfway. “Wish you all the luck, Brother.” Somehow feeling it would be the last time he would see Greg,

Greg looked at JP then said, “Wishing you all the luck too, Pal.” then they hugged and patted each other’s back. Greg got his two small bags on the floor and left.

 

At 3 p.m. Lulu went to see JP and said, “Can I leave early and not come in tomorrow?”

“Sure. Anything I can help you with?”

“No. Need to do some errands this afternoon and meeting downtown a very old friend on vacation tomorrow.”

“I’m heading downtown tomorrow for a 9 a.m. meeting.”

“Can I hitch a ride?” she asked.

“Pick you at eight?”

“I’ll be waiting.”

 

Lulu left work and headed for a graphic print shop then spent the rest of the day reviewing the schematic diagrams and manual printed.

JP AND HIS FATHER

 

At eight in the morning the following day, JP, in a business suit, drove to pick up Lulu. She was punctual as always and saw her leave the front porch the moment she saw his car coming. He swooned at the sight of her walking fast that got her ponytail to swing side-to-side from her stride. Her sweet smiling face seemed to glow when it got under the early morning sun from the shade. He could only swoon and could only wish to freeze the moment or slow down time as he watched her come closer in her two-piece dress and a package wedged in her right arm. ‘What a sight to behold to greet the day,’ JP thought. “You need not run,” he told her as she entered the car.

“Was I running?” she asked looking at him with her beautiful blue eyes as she sat.

As JP drove off, answered, “You weren’t walking for sure. Seems you are in a hurry . . . and thinking of it, you seem always in a hurry.”

“I am? I honestly never noticed. Guess I just hate to waste moments to idle time. So many things to see; so many, many things to do; so many things to thank God for.”

“Amen to that,” JP replied, feeling it as she did. “But could you imagine if everyone were like you, everyone would be in a rush all the time.”

Lulu heartily laughed. “Wouldn’t that be a sight!”

Their conversation was light, pleasant, and full of funny interjections. They were enjoying the drive, there being together. As they got closer to where JP would drop her off, he said, “Do you know the last time we were this alone was on the day I met you.”

“I know,” she said in sigh. “I wish we had more time together. I am really so happy.”

JP wanted to pursue the subject but they were at the hotel unloading area. “We’ll have more of this day soon after I set Gilda aside.”

“Look forward to it JP,” she said beaming shyly. “Here I am. See you tomorrow.”

 

JP drove to the Rosenthal building where the client had his office. It was a few blocks away.

 

“The units will be delivered as scheduled,” were JP’s parting words to their new client. JP closed a deal for 250 units of their latest high-speed printer. ‘Not bad for a beginner,’ he thought.

JP left the elevator at the ground level and saw the lobby that led to the Rosenthal Global Industries corporate offices. It occupied the last eight levels of the tallest downtown buildings. ‘I’m here. I might as well see him and get it over with,’ he said to himself uncomfortably. He walked over to the Rosenthal Global Industries reception booth manned by three uniformed security men. They were busy assisting visitors and the one fronting him was on the phone.

JP took the time to appreciate the huge mural that occupied the entire west wall as he waited. The Rosenthal Global Industries’ name and logo protruded from a black granite wall and shined in gold. The mural depicted warplanes, tanks, missiles, communication satellites, space rockets, research laboratories, and other industry symbols the Rosenthal Global Industries were engaged in. Rosenthal’s companies were so diversified it operated on all major countries in the world. On the left side of the mural were the company names of its subsidiaries—-big and popular corporate names by themselves. Embedded on another wall was a large clock with gold hands and Roman numeral numbers. Underneath, in bold letters, was the golden inscription: ‘TIME IS GOLD.’

Most thought George Rosenthal tightly controlled all the companies. It must be an exaggeration, JP thought. There were too many companies for one man to oversee. But to the Rosenthal Global Industries’ top executives, it was a daily reality. Nevertheless, JP thought his father’s achievements were awesome.

 

“What can I do for you, Sir?” the security man asked as he hung up the phone.

“I’d like to see George Rosenthal?” JP replied.

“Have an appointment?”

“No.”

The man took the desk phone and dialed, “Your name and purpose, please.”

“John Paul Fernandez . . . personal.”

“Hi Liz, Marvin at security desk. There’s a John Paul Fernandez here who wishes to see Mr. Rosenthal . . . John Paul Fernandez . . . Yes.” The man held the phone and waited. “John Paul Fernandez,” the man said again. “Yes, he is here at the lobby.” The man noticed JP being uneasy. He covered the telephone’s mouthpiece, “Mr. Rosenthal has an army of secretaries,” he explained.

“Forget it. I will make an appointment next time.”

The man gestured JP to hold with his free hand and said over the phone, “Yes Ma’am,” then hung up. “Miss Katherine Davis, George Rosenthal’s Personal Secretary, is coming down. You must be a big man for her to do that and without an appointment,” he commented as he handed a pen and turned the logbook for JP to fill.

JP filled the logbook but when he got to the ‘reason’ column, he hesitated. He returned the pen to the man and said, “I’ll just come back some other time.”

“Sir,” the man said, “You might get me in trouble.”

“Why?” JP asked curiously.

“Miss Davis said she’s coming down. Hate to disappoint her. It won’t take long, Sir, please,” the man somehow pleaded.

JP wished he had not come. He was not even sure if he wanted to see his father but he definitely did not want to see Miss Davis.

The man handed over a visitor’s pass. “What should I write for ‘reason’ sir?” he asked, ready to complete the logbook entry.

“Business,” JP replied briskly as he clipped the pass on his suite’s pocket; went over to the lobby sofa nearby; sat; and waited.

 

JP recalled the first and last time he saw Miss Davis. It was almost twenty years ago. He was nine years old, almost two years after his mother’s death. She came to the house with documents and he let her in. But before she could talk, Juaning entered the living room and things turned nasty. He remembered Juaning grabbing the papers from Miss Davis’ hand and tore them to pieces then started calling Miss Davis names. All that time, Miss Davis sobbed as Juaning hounded her out the door and all the way to the sidewalk to a waiting limousine.

JP had not recalled the incident until now and remembered what Auntie Juaning said when Miss Davis left: ‘That is the bitch your father slept with that got your mother to kill herself.’

 

“JP,” Miss Davis said cordially with her hand extended.

JP was startled. He stood and shook Miss Davis’ hand instinctively. She was well-dressed in a woman’s business suit and carried herself well. For a woman in her mid-fifties, she was good looking in both face and body.

“How are you, John Paul?” she asked congenially with a warm smile.

“I’m fine,” he snapped.

Miss Davis felt the coldness in JP’s voice. She became formal, “Your father will be so glad to see you. Please follow me.” she said politely.

JP did not answer but followed her to a special elevator.

“Had you told us you would come, he would have prepared for it,” Miss Davis said hoping a normal conversation would ensue.

JP wanted to answer but could not. He just walked alongside her towards a special elevator. Out of nowhere or, was it because of Miss Davis’ voice, JP recalled talking to her over the phone before his mother’s death but not after. She would normally talk to him first and remembered a pleasant conversation before she transferred the call to his father. JP thought it odd to remember it so clearly now.

They entered the special elevator and Miss Davis pressed the floor button. JP noticed there were only eight buttons to press. Being the tallest building in the State of California, he was impressed.

 

JP stayed silent. So, did Miss Davis.

 

As they neared the top floor, Miss Davis said, “Do you mind pressing the stop button?” She sounded different.

JP pushed the button and the elevator gently stopped. He saw Miss Davis fumbling for something in her suit’s pocket. “Are you all right?” he asked, genuinely concerned.

She sniffed and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand daintily, “I am terribly sorry. Do you have a handkerchief I can borrow?” she asked politely.

JP hastily took his handkerchief and handed it to her.

“JP,” Miss Davis said as she dubbed her eyes carefully with the handkerchief, “I don’t know if you still remember the incident the first and last time you saw me.”

“I do,” he replied in normal voice.

“Please believe me, none of what your Aunt said were true. I don’t know where your Aunt got the idea but there was never a relationship between your father and me. That is the truth.”

JP did not react.

“I will be frank knowing what you heard and what your Aunt may have said of me. I loved your father even before your mother’s death. I would have done anything for him . . . even be his mistress. Being his personal secretary, I often went with him on business trips and stayed in the same hotel. On some occasions, we had breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. Yet, in all those times, he was a gentleman . . . like a father. Our relationship always stayed on a cordial and professional basis to this day.

“People around him think he’s cold and ruthless. I cannot blame them. Your father is an extreme example of a workaholic. All business, but once you get to know him, as I have, he is a gentle and caring man.

“I am the only person outside your family who knows that Mr. Rosenthal is your father. In the few occasions that we talked about your mother, he spoke highly of her. So proud of the sacrifices she went through for him. After her death, I never heard him utter your mother’s name again. He changed. Outside from business, he became isolated. Alone, yet always surrounded by people,” she paused as she dubbed the tears from her eyes with the handkerchief again then continued, “You will find this strange, but your father remained devoted to your mother even to this day. But you have to understand him to understand what I have just said.

“Your father, JP, is a very lonely man. He needs you badly,” she paused and took a deep breath, “For what’s it worth, he loves you. You can push the button,” she said and returned JP’s handkerchief then straightened herself.

 

JP pressed the elevator’s button.

 

JP did not know what to say nor think. There were many questions going through his mind. If he took the sketchy picture Juaning painted of Miss Davis, Miss Davis just told a big lie and good at it, too.

 

At the topmost floor, Miss Davis led JP all the way to George Rosenthal’s office. “Mr. Rosenthal will be with you shortly. Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable,” she was cordially professional. She walked away and closed the door behind her.

Behind Miss Davis’s cool pretense, JP could tell she was hurting inside.

 

JP found himself alone seated on a leathered sofa in a living room setting within Rosenthal’s spacious office. He somehow found it hard to believe that a mere office could be so opulent. In addition to the large and impressive executive marble table, the room had a modern living room set, impressive paintings on the walls, a bar, a large rectangular conference table, widescreen TV sets strategically located, and a glass-covered and spacious patio with an awesome outside view of west Los Angeles all the way to the ocean ten miles away. Rosenthal believed an executive’s office must project an aura of power to the one seated behind the desk. As such, he had a scaled-down replica of the mural at lobby that stood twelve feet high. Fronting it, Rosenthal’s oversized Italian granite desk with the same kind of color as the mural behind. His leathered chair was heavily padded. The mural, the granite desk, leathered chair, and spaciousness of the room altogether created a distinctive impression of the awesome power of the man seated on the chair—-a throne to impress high-profile guests.

Before JP could make himself comfortable, he felt the urge to use the toilet. This normally happens when he gets tensed and he was very tense. He remembered seeing the men’s restroom at the hallway. He decided to use it. On his way through the reception room and seeing the secretary looking at him said as he passed, “I’ll just use the restroom.”

“There’s one in . . .” the secretary stopped as JP walked pass her and out of the room. Before he entered the Men’s Room, he got a glimpse of the secretary’s head peering out of the office door.

 

JP was in the toilet cubicle when the toilet’s door swung open and sounds of footsteps reverberated within. “You’re lucky the Old Man has mellowed. He would have beaten the shit out of you,” the first man said.

“Hey look, I know nothing about chemicals and fertilizers. He knows that. I don’t know why he is heading in that direction. The business is in military hardware where my expertise lies,” the person replied.

“Stop whining. You’re being paid big bucks doing what you’re doing,” another said.

The first man said, “Two years in a row the competition beat us when we could have beaten them hands down.”

“I don’t think the Old Man’s heart is where it used to be. If you noticed, we are heading for non-defense related business and losing money,” the second man commented.

“If I were you, I’d start reading on homes and gardens instead of war planes and missiles,” the third man advised.

“I hope he assigns me to work on the Robotics Division. At least that is technical. It has no division head . . . better than gardens,” the second man complained.

“In all my years with the company, I have never witnessed his meetings interrupted. The Old Man doesn’t go for that. Noticed he turned pale when Katie spoke to him,” the first man commented.

“I did. I wonder what Katie said,” the second replied.

“Stop wondering,” the third man interjected. “We got ourselves a temporary reprieve. I’d advise we start reorganizing our reports now that we know where the Old Man is heading.”

“He’s right. But before that, why don’t we have an early lunch while we can still eat,” the second man said as they left the room together.

JP heard everything said. He headed back to Rosenthal’s office where a receptionist led him to Rosenthal’s office.

 

Rosenthal, standing near the door, cordially said to JP, “John Paul, I’m so glad to see you,” as he received him. His arms were wide open but since JP extended his hand, they shook hands. “How are you?” he asked, his tone of voice changed but still cordial.

“I’m fine, thank you,” JP politely replied. He knew his father was a big man but he was bigger than he thought and an epitome of a successful entrepreneur in the manner he dressed, talked, and walked.

Rosenthal led JP to his desk then decided they take the sofa somewhat unsure of what to do.

There was an uneasy silence after they sat. Rosenthal started, “It is hard to act casual when there are things bothering you. I will be straight-forward, John Paul. I offer no explanations or excuses. I have none to give. I will tell you my life . . . where I came from . . . of your mother and me knowing well it will not erase my guilt. My only hope is your contempt would not be as much if you knew what had happened and maybe, why. What do you know about me?” he asked squarely.

“Nothing . . . nothing outside of abandoning the family and getting my mother kill herself,” JP was blunt, cold. He felt leaving but remembered Lulu’s advice. “I do not think you can make me understand,” he added emotionless.

“I will try and appreciate your giving me the opportunity,” Rosenthal said then stayed silent for a moment. He continued sadly, “I never knew who my parents were and lived from one foster home to another with foster parents who did not care; people who thought of me as a necessary nuisance that as a young boy, I wondered what Christmas was all about or what love is or how to respond . . . Strangely, I feel no different now.

“It hurts to realize how I grew up as a kid especially at the last foster home. Of the abuses, I went through; of having to learn to take beatings by clenching my teeth until the gums bled, for if I made a sound, it made things worst. I still have the scars. One day, my foster father came home drunk and, as usual, beat me for no apparent reason. I waited for him to sleep then clobbered him with a baseball bat until I thought he was dead. That ended up in my spending my teenage life in a correctional institution for minors, as I was barely thirteen of age. Life there was not pleasant either, but I had food, a bed, and a blanket. At that time, that was the only thing that mattered.

“Being among the youngest in the compound, I had to fight to earn respect and be left alone. Months later, I realized prison was no place for me. I made a resolution to make something out of my life—-be somebody. I spent my remaining time educating myself to almost anything I thought worth learning and became a bookworm.

“I left the correctional institution when I turned nineteen with an overwhelming thirst to succeed. Everything went well for three years working as an assembler then a production supervisor and, finally, a sales manager which I aimed for. One day I saw a man smacked a boy hard and something in me snapped. I beat the man almost to death. For unknown reason, I took his wallet with intentions of giving the money to the boy and got caught-red handed by a cop. I ended up in prison for assault and robbery.

“After serving three years, on good behavior, I left prison with only $1,280 in my pocket. Not much for a man with big dreams. I held menial jobs while looking for work on something I knew I was good at, production and sales and that is hard to get if you are a convicted felon. I worked two jobs until I got sick. It was at that time that I got to know your mother,” he paused then continued, “Your mother . . .” he stopped. He moved both of his hands together that all finger ends touched. He briefly stared at them as he reflected.

JP glanced at his father. He sensed he was looking back to a painful past and struggled to find words to express what he buried deep in his mind.

“Your mother,” Rosenthal repeated, “was the sweetest and most caring woman I know. All I have started from her.” He said it slowly with reverence then stayed silent again. “We got to know each other because of our job. I was a part-time dishwasher and janitor for a hospital in New Jersey where she worked as a surgical nurse. On few occasions, we chatted during our breaks. It was always a pleasant chat and laugh most often.

“One very cold evening, way past two in the morning, we left the hospital at the same time by coincidence. Not knowing where to go, as I had no place to stay, I walked her home. It was a good four long blocks from the hospital, and the subway a block farther where I intended to spend the evening. When we got near her apartment, I started to shiver. I remembered her taking her small coat and wrapping me with it. Soon she shivered herself. The next thing I remembered, I was in her apartment. She had nursed me for a day.

“When I got well, knowing I did not have a place to stay, she offered to share her apartment until I got something going. It later ended with my sharing the rent, utilities, and food bills.

“It’s hard to find a decent job being a convicted felon. While at it, I worked two, sometimes three, menial jobs. We hardly saw each other with the odd working hours that we had. On the occasions that we did, we were happy just being together.

“After, maybe, six months, we decided to go on a day vacation from our work and escape everything. We headed for the beach. There I told her of my dream of going into business in a market that had good potential, supporting Uncle Sam in its war programs.

“Your mother entrusted me with her savings. Money saved to buy a house with a small garden. She loaned it to me with no conditions so I can make my dream a reality.” He paused and in a hollow voice repeated, “My dreams.”

“I moved to Chicago where the opportunities were. She remained in New Jersey working alone to support my business ventures and me. She’d scrounge and even got a bank loan so I could wear presentable business suits and go to flashy restaurants and do business.

“For nearly two years she sacrificed for me but by then I got myself a good deal and from there the business spiraled. A year after, I got her to move to a bigger apartment then bought her a modest house with a yard for her garden.

“In those two years, I did not see her though I communicated on all special occasions by phone or by a postcard. It was on the third year and on a Christmas day that I paid her a visit. I had never seen her so happy . . . I can still picture her in my mind as though it was only yesterday. That one-day visit ended with my staying with her for a whole week. It was a wonderful week and I was glad to see her so happy. I opened the subject of getting married and bring her to Chicago. She discouraged and argued against it, at least not while the business was growing, as she dreaded the social necessities of mixing in the social circle I was in—-conscious of her accent when engaged in a conversation which to me was better than most; of being plain looking when I saw her as pretty; and small when she stood beside me which I thought was cute; and of being in my way. All she ever wanted was to be a housewife; prepare my food; iron my clothes; look after the children; and take care of me when I’m sick.

“Work had piled during my week of absence. When I left, I promised her that I’d come back and make it up to her when things settled down. However, I procrastinated. There was so much to do. I was so engrossed in building an empire and business opportunities and deals came one after another that after a while, I had forgotten my promise until your Auntie Juaning called and told me she was at the hospital to give birth. I did not even know she was pregnant. I was with her when you were born but had to leave shortly after. I regret to say that that was the last time I saw your Mom.

“In spite of my absence, I made sure she had everything she wanted. As business grew and larger contracts came in, I bought her a large house in New Jersey. I gave her a personal bank account, and paid for a governess, your Auntie Juaning, to be with her and you. I thought those were enough, and left it at that.”

JP gave him the benefit of the doubt and listened to his side of the story even though the last part, the house, the bank accounts, and the governess, were all big lies. The only truth in what he said was his mother started him in his business. However, Rosenthal’s last words ‘. . . left it at that,’ got him furious. Unable to control himself he shouted before Rosenthal could utter a word. “Left it at that?! Left it at that?!” JP shouted the words in anger. “As a little boy, I wondered why an extra plate was always on the dinner table. I wondered why Auntie Juaning would announce dinner an hour ahead. Do you know why?” JP bellowed.

Rosenthal did not answer and continued to stare blankly at the floor. He started to sweat though the room was comfortably cool.

“My mother waited for you . . . you heartless bastard!” JP shouted with contempt. “Auntie Juaning announced dinner an hour ahead so when it came time to eat my Mom could say, ‘We waited for an hour. He is busy and tied up with his business again. He will be here tomorrow.’ Every day we did that and heard the same thing.” JP said angrily. After a brief pause, in a controlled and subdued voice, he said, “And what about me? What can you say to that?”

Rosenthal knew he had neglected JP and had nothing to say to comfort him. He never had a father and did not know how to be one. He tried to remain in touch by phone after his wife’s death but Juaning said JP would not talk and even go on tantrums when his name was mentioned. He believed Juaning and left it to her to rear JP. However, Juaning’s excuse was not the reason he stopped calling, it was fear. Afraid of being reminded . . . of remembering her—-her sufferings, her loneliness. He was at the thick of building his dreamed business empire that he buried his remorse by working harder and forget everything else. He leaned and placed his hand on JP’s knees.

With thoughts that lingered on his father’s lies, JP violently brushed off his hands. Providing for his mother; of his buying her the houses; the governess. Juaning told him his mother was a wealthy woman before they met and started him on his business. She had no reason to lie but he had and so did Miss Davis. Then he recollected the day his mother laid at her deathbed. He said, sadly in a low voice, “You did not even come to see her at the hospital as the doctors tried to save her life. She called for you many times. Your name was the last word she spoke,” JP paused. In a somber voice, “You did not even come for her burial. Try to explain that as well,” he said without looking at his father.

Melancholically, Rosenthal said, “I tried to be there. I was in Europe when I received the cablegram. When the plane landed at New York, I learned she had already died. I just sat at the airport. I was fully responsible for her death. In my guilt, I could not face her even in death. Instead of going, I went back to Europe.” He looked at JP—-JP’s head was angled down; his upper body leaned forward with elbows on his thighs; hands clasped together. Rosenthal searched for words—-anything to make it easier for JP to understand and accept him. The best he thought would happen was to have a civil and cold relationship. That was all he hoped and he would have been contented. However, even that was no longer achievable as he saw JP motionless at his seat, his face, cold and expressionless. He never accepted defeat but accepted this very important one. He stood and slowly walked toward his desk and stopped midway. He stayed silent as the rage and mixed emotion within began to brew. He had succeeded to set aside his conscience as he focused all his attention and energies in building an industrial empire. He had managed to incase his remorse, sorrow, and guilt in a box, locked and hidden deep in his mind. Now, he must recall memories of her; of her suffering and loneliness; of his neglect. He had succeeded for so long to hold on to the fragile box of his guilty conscience. He did not open the box, it simply burst and made him shout, “You heartless fool!” He began throwing things on his desk but made sure JP would not get hurt. He went around half of the room destroying everything he saw as he repeatedly shouted in anger to himself repeatedly, “You heartless fool!”

 

The sounds of crushing objects in Rosenthal’s room got the secretary to peer cautiously from the doorway.

Rosenthal, on seeing the secretary, shouted, “Get out!”

The secretary quickly glanced toward JP seated at the other side of the room then immediately closed the door.

Rosenthal went to his marble desk. Heavy as it was, he managed to turn it over with a loud groan. He moved back, ran, and hurled himself against the window. The window did not give way and he bounced back and landed hard on the floor.

JP ran to his father’s side on the floor. His face was turning blue and fighting the pain in his chest. He showed signs of having a heart attack. JP immediately loosened Rosenthal’s tie and unbuttoned his shirt’s collar. As he did, he saw his father in agony yet held up his shaking hand and gently stroked his cheek; forced a smile amidst his sweat and pains; and passed out.

JP ran out the room and saw Miss Davis with the secretary and a security man nearby. “Get a doctor! He is having a heart attack,” he said in urgent. On seeing Miss Davis grabbed the phone, he rushed back to his father’s side and applied CPR. No sooner, Miss Davis rushed in; knelt on the floor and held Rosenthal’s left hand. As she wept, she murmured, “Please, God, don’t let him die. Please, God, don’t let him die.”

Minutes later, the paramedics came and took over. Miss Davis stayed by Rosenthal’s side holding on to his hand and went with them as they wheeled him to the elevator. As she glanced back, she saw JP standing outside when the elevator’s door closed.

 

The Confession

 

JP drove directly to Juaning’s house and got there a little past noon. He did not know how to take it. Where is the truth? His father seemed to be telling the truth but it did not make sense to what he knew. It had to be a lie. He was confused. He hated him and yet, now, he loves him too.

Juaning opened the front door. She saw JP pale and brought him to the living room.

“My father is in the hospital,” JP said blankly as he sat on the sofa.

“Is it serious?” Juaning worriedly asked as she sat beside and angled herself to face JP.

“He was unconscious when the paramedics took him.”

“Why you are here? You should be by his side.”

JP was surprised. She hated him as much as he did, if not more. He expected her to say something nasty like ‘good for him’ or worst. He replied on Juaning’s reaction, “I don’t know what to believe . . . what to do. I’m confused.”

Juaning held JP’s right hand. “JP, look at me,” she said.

JP angled himself and saw her in tears.

“I have a confession to make,” she said and took time to wipe her tears. “Last Sunday, when I was mad at you, I realized something I did not understand before. Something very important . . . JP, in fairness to your father, after your mother’s death, he tried and wanted to be a father to you but I did not allow that to happen. I wanted him to suffer as your mother did. I told him lies about how you felt and poisoned your mind about your father. The only truth I told you was he hardly visited or called your mother. The rest lies . . . a fabrication of a foolish and selfish woman.” She paused as she recollected her guilt, “After your mother died, you yearned for your father and eager to speak to him over the phone as you did several times before when your mother was alive. When your father called after her death, I told him you would not talk to him. I said the same thing every time he did.”

“Why didn’t he come to see me?” JP asked eager for an answer.

“He did a couple of weeks after but I prepared you for it. You were so young and gullible. I told you how bad he was; how he caused your mother’s death; and how to behave if he came to see you . . . even the words to say. On the day that he did, you scorned him, locked yourself in the room, and went on a tantrum. The carload of toys he brought I left on the street for anyone to pick. Since then, he would call and ask how you were and if you needed anything but I knew what to say. Months later he stopped calling. Thereafter, I burned all letter addressed to you that came from him and marked other letters with ‘Return to Sender’.”

“And about my mother being wealthy?”

“Your mother, JP, was not wealthy as I told you. She was a working surgical nurse. Your father gave her everything she had, the house, the tours, your schooling, the money, everything.”

“Miss Davis being my father’s mistress?”

“I was merely guessing and knew later it was not true.”

“But why did you hold on to the truth all this time?” he asked in frustration.

“I hated your father. If only he visited or called more often, your mother would still be alive today. I wanted him to pay for her suffering and death. But there is another reason . . . I always wanted to have a child and you treated me as though you were my own.” She paused then said, “I feared that if I did, I would lose you. I am very sorry JP for that is the truth. I wish to ask for his forgiveness and yours too. Can we go to the hospital?”

“We should,” JP replied, hurriedly.

“Give me a minute to prepare. Meanwhile, leave Lulu a note. Tell her . . . tell her a cousin had invited us to stay with them for the evening.”

 

Juaning was in her white private nurse’s uniform and held on to an overnight bag.

JP got her bag. “Plan on staying over?” he asked.

“He’ll be in the hospital for at least two days judging from what you said. I have to stay and care for him until he gets well for all this is my fault.”

THE RECONCILIATION

 

The Intensive Care Unit waiting room was comfortably cool. Small groups stayed close together seated on lined plastic chairs speaking softly, some sniffing, some whimpering, some just sat. Miss Davis was alone with vacant seats beside her. She had a tissue box on her lap. Her hair slightly disheveled; her makeup smeared around her eyes and her eyes reddened by tears. She was much to herself to notice JP and Juaning enter the room nor was she distracted when Juaning sat by her side.

“How is he?” Juaning said in a soft tone of concern.

Miss Davis, taken aback by her presence, collected herself. “He is in guarded condition,” she replied politely.

Juaning held back from crying and took time to speak. “I pray to God, He will make him well. Please, God,” and tears rolled on her cheeks.

Miss Davis gave her a tissue.

“Miss Davis,” Juaning said as she took the tissue and wiped her eyes and cheeks, “I will take this time to apologize. Since we last saw each other, I have never been at peace with myself. I told JP the whole truth.”

Miss Davis looked at her and then JP who smiled to acknowledge. She said to Juaning in a low voice, “It was so long ago that I have already forgotten. Please call me Katie.”

“Oh, thank you, Katie,” Juaning replied with solace. “I pray he will pull through. He has so much to live for,” and they stayed silent.

 

A minute later a doctor came. “Are you related to Mr. Rosenthal?” he said, referring the question to Katie.

Katie did not answer but instead looked at JP.

“I am his son,” JP said. “How is he?” he asked.

“He had a mild stroke and not responding as well to medication. I do not say this to offend anyone but I have seen this happen a couple of times. Is there someone that mean a lot to him?” the doctor asked in a serious tone and sense of urgency.

“What do you mean?” JP asked.

“I will be direct as we may not have time. I do not think he is fighting to live. I believe he is fighting hard to die,” the doctor said bluntly as he looked at everyone.

Juaning and Katie looked at JP.

“Can I see him?” JP replied.

“Follow me,” the doctor said as he led him to the Intensive Care room. “He is slightly sedated but he should hear you. Say something to lift his spirits.”

 

The lights were subdued in the ICU room. An oxygen tube was in Rosenthal’s nose and a spiral cord connected to the heart monitor led underneath his thick hospital blanket. The right side of his forehead and cheek were slightly swollen. His eyes closed and still.

JP rushed to his father’s side; held his left hand with both hands; and said, “Dad . . . Dad.”

Rosenthal’s eyelids slowly opened halfway. On seeing JP, he managed a slight smile and weakly gripped JP’s hand on his then closed his eyes and his hold loosened.

JP was apprehensive. He looked at the doctor who was looking at the heartbeat monitor overhead. JP gently rubbed the back of his father’s hand as he kept on repeating, “I love you Dad.”

The doctor on seeing what JP did, instructed, “That’s good. Keep rubbing, keep assuring.”

“Dad, everything will be fine. I love you Dad,” JP repeated then gripped in fear as Rosenthal did not respond. He seemed to be in a comma much like his mother before she died.

The doctor watched the heartbeat monitor. JP watched the doctor and every now and then looked at the monitor. Time seemed to linger, the seconds like minutes as he anxiously waited for the doctor to say something . . . anything as he kept on rubbing his hand and saying, “I love you, Dad.”

Finally, the doctor turned and whispered to JP, “He is asleep. All he needed was you.” He tapped his shoulder and left the room.

THE FBI INCIDENT

 

On that same day, after JP dropped Lulu downtown, Lulu walked to the Los Angeles Convention Center a block away. She held on to a package addressed to Director Charles Cutler thinking it would be a simple thing to personally handover and briefly talk to the Director. The perception vanished when she got to the convention hall’s main entry. Unruly war, ecological, and nuclear test protesters picketed the main entrance calling attention to their cause. It was a fractious crowd that chanted and waved placards held by overzealous individuals. Some looked and acted crazy. The police officers had their hands full controlling them from breaking through the cordoned area.

Lulu managed to find her way into the Convention Hall through the side entrance and up the balcony. At the far end, a small group of protesters disrupted the session. They shouted slogans and obscenities at the speaker, Charles Cutler, NARLAB director. Soon the security men were all around them. After a brief scuffle, the protesters were hauled out.

Director Cutler was the first speaker to address the scientific minded audience. He spoke on the delay to the completion of the Super Conducting Super Collider Project and the new NARLAB agenda. Before the end of his presentation, Lulu hurriedly left the balcony to catch the director back stage but found the hallway cordoned. She went to the NARLAB booth at the lobby and a woman, sympathetic to her plight, told her the director had already left but stayed in a hotel near the airport. She advised her to take the hotel’s shuttle bus from the international airport as the best way to escape the heavy security and crowd of protesters there. Lulu took the woman’s advice.

 

The Hotel Incident

 

It was 11:05 A.M. The hotel’s airport shuttle bus Lulu rode from the airport drove slowly thru a crowd of unruly, placard-bearing protesters that blocked the hotel’s main gate. Protected by crowd-control policemen, the shuttle bus traversed from the street to the hotel’s compound and parked at the hotel’s main entry. Security was tight. Lulu noticed the security men asked for plane ticket stub to include a search to gain hotel entry. She stayed at the midst of the group she rode with. Tensed, she walked pass a security man the moment he was not looking and headed straight for the front desk. She placed the package on the counter the moment she got there. Her heart throbbed when the receptionist’s face turned pale; moved back; and left the counter in a rush. Soon plain-clothed FBI agents surrounded her, two held her arms securely from both sides. “We’re Federal Agents,” Agent Edward Lindley said flashing his badge discreetly. “Please leave your package on the counter and come with us.”

Lulu acted calmly and complied. She was glad they simulated this kind of scenario at the ship. “Did I do anything wrong?” she asked with composure as she walked wedged between a suited woman and Agent Lindley holding her arms.

“It will be explained to you at the manager’s office,” FBI Agent Lindley answered.

She glanced back and saw a bomb squad at the counter. One held a sniffing dog. ‘Act calm,’ she kept telling herself.

 

Inside the manager’s office, FBI Agent Lindley introduced himself and asked, “Do you have any identification with you?”

“Yes, it’s in my bag. Am I being arrested?” she asked casually.

“No, but we would like permission to search both your package and your bag.”

“You have my permission,” Lulu replied and handed her shoulder bag to the woman agent beside her.

The woman meticulously searched the bag’s content then handed Lulu’s Driver’s License to Agent Lindley.

“Luningning Spence?” Lindley said looking at the driver’s license then stared at her face.

“That is my name.”

“Is this your current address?”

“Yes.”

“Is there someone there to confirm your identity?”

“Yes, Juanita Jones. She is my landlady.”

“I’m glad you’re cooperating. Can we have your home and work phone numbers?”

The woman agent wrote the telephone numbers Lulu gave then left them.

Agent Lindley explained, “Three hours ago, we received an anonymous call saying someone with a bomb in a package will come by. That may be a crank-call but we cannot lower our guard since you took precautions to evade the security at the front. It made you look very suspicious. May I know why?” he politely asked.

“I want to personally hand over the documents in the package to Director Charles Cutler. When I noticed, entry was allowed only to plane ticket holder, which I don’t have, I purposely eluded the security men. I’m sorry and regret, I did that.”

 

A man came in and handed over an unwrapped package to Agent Lindley and said, “It’s clean.”

“Can I see what is inside the package?” Agent Lindley asked Lulu nicely.

“Please do.”

Agent Lindley went through the package’s content—-a manual and folded blueprints. He browsed through the pages of the manual. It was obviously of scientific nature with mathematical equations on a number of pages. “You in the science field?” he asked.

“I’m a theoretical physicist student. I have a theory which I hope the director would review and give an opinion on.”

The woman agent came back and returned Lulu’s bag and to Agent Lindley said, “She checks out.”

“Can I go now before I miss the director?” Lulu said.

The woman agent replied, “I’m afraid you’ve missed him. He left the hotel a few minutes ago.”

“Is there anyone here I can hand over my package for the director?”

“Anyone with a badge with NARLAB written on it comes from National Atomic Research Laboratory. I hope that will help,” the woman agent answered.

Agent Lindley said, “I’d like to apologize for the inconvenience.”

“No harm done. Can I leave now?” she said coughing after.

“You may,” he said giving her back the manual and blueprints. “I purposely took the wrapper off lest someone grabs you again. Take something for your cough,” he advised.

Lulu smiled; took the manual; wedged the blueprints in the middle; and left the wrapper behind.

“Thank you,” Lulu replied.

 

Dr. Samuel Dawson

 

There were a number of people who milled at the hotel’s lobby. Lulu crisscrossed the floor searching for the NARLAB badge on any of them. Finding none, she headed for the coffee shop. It was full. She did not see Dr. Samuel Dawson’s badge as she walked pass him from behind but saw it on her way back. She stood by the vacant seat fronting him. “Can I take this seat?” she asked politely.

“Be my guest. I’m about to leave,” Dr. Dawson replied.

“Please, I want to ask a favor from you,” Lulu said as she placed the manual on the table and sat. “Do you know Director Cutler?”

“We are colleagues,” he answered in a manly manner.

“Can you do me a favor and give him this research material?”

“Is he expecting this?” Dr. Dawson asked coughing right after and motioned to get cough candy from his coat pocket. His cough was infectious that Lulu cough herself. “Care for one?” he offered, extending his hand with the cough candy to Lulu.

“Thank you,” she said, accepting the candy and held on to it. “My throat is just as itchy. It must be the weather,”

Dr. Dawson unwrapped his candy and placed it in his mouth.

Lulu said, “To answer your question, no. He does not know me. It’s important he gets it.” Ever trusting and naive, added, “There’s a letter wedged right after the front cover. It will explain everything.”

“Why not mail it?”

“It is very important that he personally gets it and very soon.”

“Okay. I have to leave. You said the letter would explain everything. Yes?” as Dr. Dawson prepared to leave.

“Yes,” Lulu answered.

“Okay. I am Samuel Dawson and you are?” he asked as he took the manual with the blueprint wedged between its pages.

“Rebecca Smith. Thank you for being so accommodating,” Lulu said and they left the coffee shop in separate ways.

 

An FBI agent watched Dawson at a distance and took photos of Lulu and Dawson inside the coffee shop. On seeing them stand, he immediately activated a radio on his coat. “Craig, a Caucasian woman, black hair; blue eyes; in white blouse; navy blue skirt with a black shoulder bag is heading for the lobby. Follow her.”

“Copy,” Craig, stationed at the side entrance, acknowledged then hastily walked to the lobby. He saw Lulu and tailed her.

 

Lulu took a shuttle for the airport and from there took a bus home.

 

  • * *

 

Dr. Samuel Dawson was in a half-filled hotel elevator on his way to his room on the eleventh floor. Out of curiosity, he took his glasses; slipped out the letter from an unsealed envelope addressed to Director Cutler. It read:

 

Dear Director Cutler,

 

Enclosed are the formulas and process to produce solid hydrogen molecules. I know you are aware of its benefits to humankind–-a cheap, clean, and an unlimited source of energy to power any engine. I give the technology through you for the people of the world.

The technology I give will justify the cost to build the Super Conducting Super Collider.

For reasons, I will keep my identity a secret and will call under the name Rebecca Smith two days from now. That will give you ample time to validate the equation’s accuracy.

Until then.

 

Truly yours,

Rebecca

 

He read the short introduction of a half-inch thick document clipped together by a metal fastener. He scanned and snipped information within its pages with great interest. He gave a quick look at the supporting mathematical equations and was astounded. Deeply engrossed, he missed his floor twice and got out of the elevator on its way down again and hastily went to his room.

He placed the documents on the room’s table and cleared it of his things. Hastily, he grabbed a chair; sat; and started to leaf through the document’s pages. He paused every now and then and studied the supporting mathematical equations. He even did a few separate calculations with a pocket size scientific calculator he got from his attaché. An hour later, his pager beeped. He took the pager from his breast pocket and noted the telephone number displayed. He pondered for a few a moment. There was no reason to deal with the Russians and put himself in danger with what he had. He smashed the pager and with Lulu’s torn letter flushed them in the toilet. He made certain nothing was left of the pieces he threw so he watched everything get sucked-in into the toilet bowl. He flushed the toiled again for assurance then went back to the table and, with a pen, started to validate the equations by solving them himself.

At exactly 11 p.m., responding to a knock, Dr. Dawson stood and opened the door. FBI Agent Mark Triska’s men barged in. He introduced himself, then read Dr. Dawson’s rights while another agent cuffed him. He was led away as other agents searched the room.

 

  • * *

 

It was pass midnight when Director Green came in the room next to the interrogation booth within the Los Angeles FBI Building along Wilshire Boulevard. He was tired and had hardly slept the last three days. He briefly watched Dr. Dawson being interrogated by Agent Mark Triska through the one-way mirror.

Informed of Director Green’s presence, Mark emerged out of the interrogation room and reported to Director Green. He said, “Dawson won’t talk.”

“Got anything on the woman?” Green asked.

“He said she was a prostitute making a proposition.”

“And the manual he got from her?”

“He says it’s his, but he’s lying. He couldn’t tell what was written on the later pages.”

“What’s on the manual?”

“He would not elaborate further than it’s his personal work and very confidential.”

“Get the photos of the woman circulated.”

“We know who she is and is now under surveillance.”

“Good. I’m bringing Dr. Dawson to Washington tomorrow and get NARLAB Director Cutler to look at the documents. Follow through with your leads,” Director Green instructed and left.

NEVER THOUGHT I COULD

It was seven in the morning the following day when Rosenthal woke. He found JP slouched on his bed asleep. JP’s head and part of his upper body were on top of the bed while his left hand over Rosenthal’s right arm. Rosenthal resisted moving lest it woke JP. He looked at his facial features. JP had his eyebrows, nose, but her mother’s lips, he thought.

Rosenthal had no religion and did not recall ever praying but this time, he did, and fervently. He prayed for things to change for the better between JP and him, and vowed to devote part of his time to serve God if God would grant only one wish—-have JP forgive and treat him as a father.

 

“Are you all right, Sir?” JP said with concern soon after he woke.

“What happened?”

“You had a stroke.”

“Oh yes,” he paused then said, “I honestly don’t know how to make it up to you, John Paul.” He went straight to the point.

“There is nothing to make up for, Sir. Juaning confessed and explained everything,” JP said as he smiled.

“Juaning did?” he was utterly surprised. He knew she scorned him.

“Yes”

“No questions?” he asked, looking into JP’s eyes.

“No questions,” JP answered with a wide beam and tapped his father’s arm.

“Can we leave the past where it belongs and look forward?”

“Yes. It’s the future that’s important.”

Rosenthal was so pleased on hearing JP’s words and remembered his vow and said to himself as though he was talking directly to God, ‘I will honor my vow. I will devote time to serve You through Your children but pray You guide me as I am new at this,’ then said, “John Paul, I want you to head my Robotics Division, and later, the business. I am too old for it.”

“Sir, if . . .”

“I somehow recall your calling me, ‘Dad’. Was I dreaming?”

JP grinned, “Not a dream. Said it many times last night,” he assured. “Dad, if it’s all right with you . . . I’d like to make something out of my business and prove something to myself before I consider your offer.”

“I understand. How’s your business?”

“We’re floating but there’s this contract we’re trying to get. If we get it, the company will have a very good chance of making it. I think the opportunity is just around the corner and I’d like to know if I can make it without . . .”

“Your getting help from me,” Rosenthal interjected. “I would not do that even if I could. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“And the printer sales we got from your subsidiaries?” JP asked as it bothered him.

“I have no intention of robbing you of your glory or failure. Business is business. Moreover, you will learn more from failures than if you were to easily succeed. As for the printers, you never got any special privilege. However, I did, discretely, ask procurement to evaluate your products and to include your company in future biddings if, and only if,” he stressed, “it passes company criteria. Buy-decisions are based on merits. I’d fire anyone who violates it. You won that sale fairly. I have the product evaluation reports. You can see them, if you wish.” He paused then asked, “May I know what this contract is?”

“It’s a military contract for a high-speed mobile robot.”

“Oh, yes. That is what my Robotic Division is working on. Got the speed?”

“92% of it,” JP said somewhat uneasy.

“Knowing what my Robotic Division had accomplished, that is indeed very, very impressive. The military takes a long time to award contracts. How are you doing financially?” Rosenthal asked in a businesslike manner.

“Breakeven at best.”

“That’s not exactly bad considering where the economy is at. If a company offered you twenty million over your current assets plus 10% outright shares, and hired you and your partner to manage operations, would you take it?” Rosenthal offered in a businesslike manner.

“I guess we would. That’s very generous.”

“Then, if you were someone else, I would have bought your company. In return, my company gets billions. That is how I got this company so big. I knew what the military needed and who had it. However, those who had it never realized what they had and I took advantage of that.

“Once your claim is proven, my competitors will come and try to buy you out or get you in with them. They will make an offer, much greater than the deal I offered. Can you hold out for at least a year?”

“If the printer market doesn’t pick up, I don’t think we can for that long,” JP answered. “We’re running out of capital and heavy in debt. We’ve channeled our money to get the military contract.”

“No money? You are worth over $600 million in stocks.”

“That much?” JP said, in disbelief.

“I see you don’t even know. All the time I thought you just did not want any part of the money out of spite. The stocks . . .”

Before Rosenthal could explain, a knock then the door opened. Juaning, in a white private nurse’s uniform, entered the room with a basket of fruits and flowers. “You look better, George,” Juaning said, smiling as she placed the fruit basket and flowers on a small table by the side of Rosenthal’s bed then went by the bedside opposite JP. “I did not sleep all night praying for you.”

“You stayed all night?”

“Yes. JP, Katie, and me,” Juaning said.

Surprised, he asked, “Katherine Davis?”

“Yes, she went home to freshen up and will be back. Have you and JP talked?”

“Including business,” he said as he beamed at JP.

“You two are the same,” Juaning said. “You think of nothing but work.” She turned to JP and instructed, “JP, you’re hungry. Go have your breakfast. That will give me time to talk to your father in private.”

“Okay,” JP said and left the room.

 

When JP left the room, Juaning said, “George, I have done you great injustice. I . . .”

Rosenthal interrupted, “JP explained. It’s in the past. Let’s forget it.”

“I have to speak it out, please,” Juaning begged.

“Only if it will make you feel better.”

“It will. I have to confess . . .” and at the end said, “Will you forgive me?”

“I am just as guilty as you. Let’s start anew, okay?”

“Okay,” Juaning answered smiling.

Curiously, he asked, “Tell me, does JP have a girlfriend?” For the past two years, he yearned of having grandchildren, and daydreamed playing with them lately.

“He never had but I know he’s madly in love with someone staying with me and working at his company. A very, very sweet and a wonderful woman. I know you will like her. Luningning Spence is her name, Lulu for short and . . .” Juaning gave Rosenthal a good idea who Lulu was.

“Does she know I am John Paul’s father?” Rosenthal asked inquisitively. He was a suspicious person by nature and the industrial rat race he lived in showed him repeatedly what people would do for money, more so, if they knew he was the sole heir to a five trillion-dollar industrial empire. Moreover, if the Russians knew his relationship with JP, he would be a good target to infiltrate his organization directly or indirectly. Lulu was too good to be true. She could easily be a Russian spy, a sleeper. He planned to have her investigated as a precaution.

“I’m certain she knows nothing,” she answered. “I have pills for you to take,” as she got and held on to them with a glass of water in her other hand.

“Don’t like them,” Rosenthal smirked together with a hand gesture.

“George, I told the Doctor I’m your certified nurse and assured him that you will take all your medications. Don’t worry, you can afford me,” she added jokingly as she smiled. She handed his pills and the water, and made sure he swallowed them.

“You have not changed,” Rosenthal said after swallowing the pills.

“I have changed a lot and for the better. Thanks to Lulu.”

“You think so highly of this woman.”

“Seldom will you find a person so thoughtful, caring, and loving. I know you’ll be so proud to have her as a daughter-in-law.”

“But you said JP has no girlfriend.”

“That will soon change. Lulu loves him. But, I hate to say this George, JP is very much like you . . . he knows nothing when it comes to women.”

Rosenthal looked at her and grinned. “Can I meet her?” he asked.

“The doctor will release you tomorrow early afternoon. You go home; rest; then have dinner with us the following day, Monday. You think you can make it with all your engagements?”

“Business will just have to wait this time. I will be there,” he firmly said.

“Good. Dinner then on Monday at seven,” she said. On hearing knocks, she went to the door and opened it. Standing at the door was Katie with flowers and fruits in a basket as well. Juaning got what Katie brought and set them on the table as she said to George, “Katie left hardly an hour ago, rather fast. I think her loyalty and devotion deserves more than a raise George.” She and Katie had a very long woman-to-woman talk last night.

Katie blushed and could tell Juaning was scheming. Foregoing Juaning’s remark, she said, “How are you feeling, Sir?”

Juaning interrupted before Rosenthal could answer, “For all the years Katie had served you, George, I think she’s entitled to call you by your first name.”

“Come to think of it, I never heard you call me by my first name,” Rosenthal said.

Katie smiled. “Well, how are you, Sir?”

Juaning interrupted again, “It’s George, in case you forgot,” as she beamed at her.

Katie coyly looked at Juaning then Rosenthal, “Well, how are you . . . George?” Katie said then blushed again.

“I never felt so good and feel so cared. Thank you for staying over last night.”

“It’s really nothing. I hope you’re not going to work on Monday.”

“Why?” Rosenthal looked at Katie.

“You may not have an office.”

“How badly did I wreck it?”

“On a scale of ten, I’d say two.”

“I did not know you had a sense of humor?” he commented with surprise.

Juaning quipped, “That just proves you weren’t paying attention.”

 

JP entered the room and joined the conversation. With Juaning’s prodding, she got Katie to talk on Rosenthal’s eccentricities. Rosenthal laughed and often ending it with ‘I did that?’ He liked hearing what others thought and the names they called him but told Katie not to mention names lest he fired them. At one point, Katie said, “I have never seen you laugh this way.”

To which Rosenthal replied, “I never thought I could.”

 

  • * *

 

That evening, Lulu came in the house with a regular size suitcase she bought from the thrift shop earlier. The FBI incident bothered her. She knew she handled herself well while detained, but intuition told her to be wary. She could not afford further investigations. She must not jeopardize her plan—-so many lives were at stake. Against her wishes, she decided to leave Los Angeles; find a new life elsewhere under another identity; and get in touch with Director Cutler. She was about to go to her room when she noticed the answering machine’s light flickered. She placed the luggage on the floor and pressed the machine’s ‘Play’ button:

The recorder sounded, “Lulu, JP and I are still with relatives. I’ll be home this evening. Don’t wait for me. Oh, don’t leave food too. Bye,” Juaning said over the recorder.

After hearing the message, Lulu went upstairs with her suitcase and packed her things. She was all dressed up and ready to go as she wrote a letter for Juaning and JP when she heard Juaning call out her name and she went down to meet her.

Juaning said happily, “Lulu, so many wonderful things have happened. I thank God for it. I hope you have no plans for Monday evening.”

“Why?”

“You have to help me prepare dinner as I invited someone very special to come over. Someone I want you to meet. It will really make me and JP very happy to have you meet our guest.”

“Is this the cousin?”

“You can say we are related. I am so sleepy. I hardly slept a wink last night with all the stories.”

“Mom, can I speak to you?”

“Is it important?” Juaning asked as she yawned. “I am so tired and still have to wake early tomorrow as I’m on duty,” then yawned longer this time.

Lulu noticed her puffy eye bags and haggard look, “It can wait,” she said.

“I have never been this sleepy. It must be my age,” Juaning complained as she walked to her bedroom dragging her shoulder bag and coat on the floor. “Don’t forget Monday. It’s very special.”

 

Lulu went to her room and continued on her letter then remembered how enthusiastic Juaning was about the guest for dinner on Monday and the help she needed. Giving it a thought, she decided to take a risk and disappear from Juaning and JP’s life for good after Monday’s dinner.

MARRIAGE PROPOSAL

 

Juaning, JP, and the doctor were in Rosenthal’s room. Rosenthal was in his pressed white long-sleeves shirt and navy blue pants whose crests were perfectly ironed. The gold belt buckle and black moccasin shoes shined. His shirt neatly tucked in his pants without signs of ruffles. He was ‘top executive’ looking even without his tie and coat. He was ready to leave the hospital.

The Doctor, in his white hospital gown, admonished Rosenthal, “Remember, no strenuous activities, and avoid excitements.”

“None of that. I have so much to live for,” Rosenthal replied, as he grinned at Juaning and JP.

“I can see,” the Doctor remarked as he smiled at the two. “I recommend you slow down your pace and let the pills remind you to take it easy. There is more to life than just work. There are so much to enjoy if you know where to look and it’s so easy to find but you have to take the time to look.”

“I will. Thank you for everything,” Rosenthal said, shaking the Doctor’s hand.

 

At the hospital’s main entry, Rosenthal stood out of his wheelchair on his own, nicely waving off JP and Juaning’s gesture to help. As they walked Rosenthal to his waiting limousine, Rosenthal said, “Juaning my offer stands. I want you to be my live-in nurse and Generaldoma of my home. You make sure I take the pills and stay healthy. You name your salary and benefits plus aides to assist you and it’s yours.”

“The offer is tempting but you know me, George. I am a nagger, a pest, and I’d boss you around in no time” she tactfully replied.

“That is the reason I offered you the job. It’s time someone bosses me around and you’re built for it.”

“Let me think about it over the weekend. Okay?”

“Remember, I never take ‘No’ for an answer.”

Juaning smiled. “Don’t forget dinner at seven tomorrow,” she said, as they stood near a waiting limousine.

“I won’t miss that for anything in the world,” he replied. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yes, at seven,” JP reminded, “I hope you wouldn’t work tomorrow.”

“I won’t work as hard, that I can promise.” He got his chauffer to get a cellular phone from the limousine then gave it to JP, “There are a lot of people who wants to eavesdrop on my conversation. It’s a regular cell phone until you dial my number. Well, goodbye,” then entered his limo with the chauffeur closing the door behind him.

 

The Marriage Proposal

 

As JP was driving, Juaning said in a serious manner, “JP, tonight is the time to propose to Lulu. Her invitation for a special dinner for us at the house this evening came at the right time. It will be the prelude to your proposal. Then I’ll announce your marriage during Monday’s dinner.”

“Marriage?” JP exclaimed. “I’m not even sure she likes me.”

“She loves you. I know. I am a woman.”

JP grinned then said, “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t say anything. Too many words will dampen the excitement. Stay quite as though you are thinking deeply and walk her to a quiet and dimly lighted area. Then slowly turn her to face you as you gently hold her arms with both hands. Look at her in the eyes with a half-smile. Blink your eyes twice, then slowly move forward and kiss her very gently on the lips then slowly move back.”

“Is that how Uncle Jones got you?”

“No. I got him drunk. He wasn’t even sure he proposed. And if you’re curious, he did not. However, that’s outside of our topic. Just do what I said,” she instructed.

“After the kiss, then what?” JP eagerly asked.

“From there, your heart will dictate what to do and say. Just relax.”

“You sound so sure of this.”

“She’s in the bag. On Monday’s dinner, we will introduce her to your Dad and surprise him of your coming marriage. I know he will be very happy. An instant family. After that, we will plan for babies. At least five . . .” Juaning continued.

 

Lulu had set the formal dining table with a stemmed rose over JP and Juaning’s plate. When Juaning and JP arrived, she ushered them to their seat and told them to stay seated, as she would serve the food and do everything by herself. She had to insist to Juaning. They were her guests, she insisted.

JP and Juaning noticed the beautifully decorated dishes Lulu brought to the table. The trimmings plus the aroma made it more appetizing. As they ate, the two could not help but comment on how delicious the dishes were, to Lulu’s delight. After dessert Juaning said, “Never have I been so elegantly pampered, everything perfect. Today is special. You two help me bring the plates and dishes to the kitchen then I’ll do the rest.”

“I will help,” Lulu offered.

“None of that. You have done enough for the day. JP,” calling JP’s attention. “You and Lulu walk outside for fresh air.” She peered through the window over the wash counter and continued, “The weather is perfect: quarter-moon, clouds, and slightly cold and windy.” She then moved behind Lulu and hand signaled JP to go into action.

“You like that, Lulu?” JP said, a bit nervous.

“Let’s help bring the food and dishes to the kitchen first,” Lulu answered and unsuspecting to what the two had planned on doing.

Juaning and JP were doubly fast to clear, clean the table, and bring the leftovers to the refrigerator. Lulu could not explain why the rush but it was infectious and rushed herself. When done, Juaning said, in her usual commanding tone as she turned on the sink faucet, “Now, you two go.”

 

Juaning turned off the backyard lights when Lulu and JP got to the back porch.

“The bulbs blew,” JP commented nervously.

“They don’t go altogether at the same time,” Lulu innocently answered. “You alright, JP?”

“I am. What made you ask?”

“You’re unusually quiet.”

JP was recalling the steps Juaning told him and mustering courage as well. He took Lulu’s hand and swayed it lightly as they walked towards the swing under the oak tree then noticed he had a problem. He could not turn her if she sat and decided to do it before. When they neared the swing, JP took a deep breath; stopped; and turned Lulu towards him. He looked at her straight in the eyes. She was beautiful, he thought, and held her gently by her arms. He moved closer to her but it was not the act they scripted, he was carried by the moment.

An innocent surprise was on Lulu’s face as he got her closer. She did not know what to think of it. There was a glow of innocence in her face.

 

Their eyes met and a sense of stillness engulfed them.

 

JP felt his heart pounding. Looking at her, he blinked his eyes twice then moved slowly forward for the kiss.

Lulu froze. Confused to what was happening.

JP tilted his head slightly and bent down a little. He hesitated for a moment then gently kissed her lips.

In all this time, Lulu did not know what to think, what to do. She had no inkling their walk would come to that. But when she felt JP’s tender kiss, her body eased; her eyes instinctively closed; and without realizing, tilted her head slightly as their lips pressed gently.

JP moved back soon after the kiss and looked at her. She was even beautiful with her eyes closed and kissed her again as gently as the first. His arms embraced her gently. This time, Lulu embraced back and felt the tenderness of his kiss, his embrace, and the moment. As they were in each other arms, JP said, “I learned to love you on the very night we met. I love you, Lulu, more than words can say.”.

On realizing what it led to, “Oh, JP, why do you have to tell me this now,” she said with her head resting on his shoulder, her arms around him, tears swelled from her eyes. “I wished this had not happened.”

“Why?” JP asked as he moved back. She was in tears. He made her sit on the swing and he sat alongside angling himself to see her face. “I love you, Lulu. If you have a problem, let it be our problem and together, we will solve it. I will not leave you regardless. Tell me.”

“I wish I could but I can’t,” she said as she sobbed.

“I love you, Lulu.”

“Say no more,” she said controlling herself. “I wish I could tell you. I wish I could explain. JP, I have to leave.”

“Leave? But why? Is it because I proposed?”

“I made the decision before that. It breaks my heart but I have to.”

“Have to? I do not understand.”

“Even if I explained, you will not understand and most likely not believe.”

“Try me first.”

Lulu thought for a moment. “I have to leave, JP. That is all I can say.”

“Is there . . . is there someone else?” JP asked and braced for the answer.

Lulu considered her answers and thought of her parents. “Yes.”

JP’s world crashed. He wanted to pursue; to insist; reason out to keep her but instead said, “If it does not work out, will you promise to call me? I can wait.”

“Oh, JP,” Lulu cried. She took his hand and placed it on her cheek, “Do not waste your life on a beautiful passing moment. Think of me as a wonderful dream, as I will of you. A dream I will always cherish and remember. But, like all dreams, it has an end. There are other women who can offer as much love as I, if not more. Do not let that opportunity pass waiting for someone you will never see again.”

“When do you plan to leave?” JP sadly asked.

“After dinner, tomorrow. You have been so good to me, JP, and it hurts me to leave,” and she cried on his shoulder again.

“Just remember, if you ever need help, I will be there for you.”

Lulu moved back and said, “I will give you something but you must promise not to ask questions. I want you to claim it as yours.”

“I don’t understand . . .”

“Just promise me you will ask no questions.”

Reluctantly JP said, “I promise.”

“Swear on it, it’s that important,” she demanded.

“I swear.”

“Come, I will show you a computer in my room. It will run much faster than the computer you run Gilda with. It has a built-in operation manual . . .” she continued as they hurriedly walked to the house, to her room.

 

Juaning saw the two go up the stairs; heard the door open and closed. Having old traditional values, she went up the stairs to get JP. ‘He should control himself. He should wait until after marriage,’ she thought. Halfway up the stairs, she stopped. ‘Maybe I’m too old fashion,’ she said to herself. ‘The important thing is they will get married. People these days are taking the ‘Fly Now and Pay Later Plan’ to extremes. Where is this world heading to?’ she protested inwardly. ‘Knowing Lulu, she will not go for premarital sex. She would kick his groins for sure. But still they have to get married, as her privacy has been exposed,’ she concluded and went to her room and before she slept said, “At least five babies.”

 

Lulu’s computer awed JP on what it was capable of doing. Many questions sprung in his mind but held asking as Lulu reminded him a couple of times of his promise, what he swore on. Soon the conversation became formal and very technical.

An hour and a half later, JP loaded Lulu’s computer in his car. Normally, he would be in a hurry to try it out and forget the world but neither the enthusiasm nor the impulse were there—-replaced with thoughts of her leaving. He was about to say something but Lulu must have read his mind and quickly placed a finger over his lips. He took it as a cue and said, “Goodnight.”

A SPY

FBI Agents

 

Rosenthal went to work a bit later than usual and in good spirit. He spent his evening analyzing himself—-his personality, his work habits, and, most especially, his conduct with his employees. Breaking habits is hard but the hardship merely strengthened Rosenthal’s resolve and appetite to win. In that area, he has yet to fail!

He walked through the office hallway, as always, with a security guard who carried his brief case walking a couple of steps behind. Normally, he would walk through the corridor as though everyone were invisible. Most employees preferred it for if he called their attention it meant having to work hard and under pressure. This time, he casually chatted with some employees; and greeted others by their name to their surprise and amazement.

 

FBI Special Agent Mark Triska and another dark suited agent, Paul Warren, were in Rosenthal’s reception room. They stood when Rosenthal entered the room. They introduced themselves then Agent Triska mentioned the confidentiality of their visit.

Rosenthal led the agents to his office. Inside, he immediately noticed the room’s new furnishing: the center table, the large painting on the wall, the lampshades, the large TV set, and some other things that were brand new. It made him grin.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” Rosenthal said as they sat on the living room set within his office. ‘Another cat and mouse game,’ he thought and surmised it had to do with industrial espionage that broke the headline news. He was no stranger to it and knew he was on the list of FBI suspects. Rosenthal Global Industries had a clandestine department devoted to gather and acquire information called ‘Public Relations’. It operated no different from CIA or FBI and the chief officer and some of his staff came from their institution. Rosenthal firmly believed in information power and had no scruples getting what he wanted, short of murder. It was part of the business game as far as he was concerned.

Special Agent Paul Warren started, “Is any of your companies doing research on hydrogen molecules?”

“What’s so special about it?” Rosenthal asked with his burly tone of voice.

“It can be used as high explosive for warheads.”

“That, I know,” replied Rosenthal. “What’s so special about it?” he asked again.

“Is any of your company working on it?”

“I don’t like interrogative questions unless forced to answer. Am I forced to answer?”

“No, Sir,” Agent Warren replied.

“Then go to the point, Special Agent Warren. What exactly do you want?”

“We have gotten hold of highly classified documents on the production of solid hydrogen and wondered if it came from one of your companies?”

“If it did, I would know. Binding hydrogen atoms is no small project. You think it came from us?” Rosenthal questioned again. He was cold, calculating, and extremely shrewd.

“That’s what we aim to find. Are you saying none of your companies are working on it?” asking as though Agent Warren had privilege information.

“Absolutely certain,” retorted Rosenthal. He knew the game. “What made you suspect it came from one of my research facilities or my being interested in acquiring it?”

Agent Triska, so far, merely observed how Rosenthal responded to Agent Warren’s questions. He knew what Agent Warren was up to—-isolate Rosenthal from the list of suspects who stood to profit from what Dr. Dawson had.

“We’re not,” Agent Triska interjected knowing Agent Warren was a seasoned agent but an amateur against Rosenthal who was interrogating him instead. Agent Triska opened his briefcase; got a set of pictures; and handed them to Rosenthal. “Have you seen the woman in the photographs?” his hand extended.

Rosenthal wore his owl-rimmed glasses and got the pictures. He examined the set of pictures, pictures of Lulu with Dr. Dawson at the hotel coffee shop with Dr. Dawson’s face purposely blotted out. “No,” he said and handed back the photos.

Agent Triska did not take the pictures but instead glanced at Agent Warren.

“Could you look at it again?” Agent Warren requested.

Rosenthal dropped the pictures on the table. “Not necessary. One of the qualities I’m proud to have is remembering faces and names. To prove my point,” he looked at Agent Triska and said, “You need not introduce yourself again as we were introduced before. Director Doug Green introduced us four years ago, on the Hawkeye Project. That was the first and last time we met. Is that right, Agent Triska?”

Agent Triska was impressed. “Yes, Sir,” he answered formally, then asked, “Have you heard of the name Luningning or Lulu Spence?”

“Yes. I heard it mentioned yesterday. Why?”

“The woman in the picture is Miss Spence. The picture shows her handing classified documents to a suspected industrial spy and her getting something in return.”

“KGB?” Rosenthal asked to give him time to assess the situation. ‘Were there reasons for JP to accept him as his father? Was he merely getting back at him?’ the questions flashed in his mind.

“We are uncertain,” Agent Triska answered though he knew Dr. Dawson worked for KGB but reserved the possibility of Dr. Dawson working for Rosenthal too, a double agent. “How are you related to John Paul Fernandez?”

Rosenthal glanced at Agent Triska. “He is my son,” he snapped.

Agent Triska did not react. “And, Juanita Jones?”

“She is my deceased wife’s younger sister.”

“Does your son have any dealings with you?”

“No. John Paul and I, for reasons, never communicated until last Friday.”

Agent Warren asked this time, “Is that why you heard the name Lulu Spence only yesterday and have yet to meet her?”

“Yes. I understand she works for my son’s company as Office Administrator and Secretary.”

“What is the relationship of your son to Lulu?”

“Ask him,” Rosenthal irritatingly reacted.

Agent Triska responded, “Sir, I am not sure if you’re aware of the consequence if the government and the public knew that the heir to the biggest defense industry in the country, in the world, is consorting knowingly or unknowingly with a known Russian spy. We are here to avert a scandal.”

“Is my son linked in some ways?” Rosenthal prepared to observe their reaction and reply.

“Your son is clean,” Agent Triska answered. “That, however, does not mean the Russians will not use him indirectly through Miss Spence.”

“I understand. What do you intend to do?” Rosenthal asked Agent Triska.

“Neutralize! That would solve everyone’s problem. Miss Spence, after thorough investigation, has no history; her ID, falsified. The Russians will never acknowledge her existence. And once they know, and we will leak the info, that her cover as a sleeper is known to us, they will have no scruples to rid of her. That is standard operating procedure to them.”

“On my part, you want me not to fuss over her disappearance,” Rosenthal bluntly asked, as he wanted to ascertain their position.

“It will be to everyone’s interest, most especially yours.”

“I don’t think I could be of any help to you. If you have no other question, good day gentlemen.”

 

The Spy

 

Rosenthal paced the floor after the agents left. He recalled the conversation with Juaning, of how wonderful and nice a woman Lulu was. What if the FBI was wrong? What if this woman was in a predicament or forced to work as a spy? There were so many ‘ifs’. He took his secured cellular phone and pounced JP’s cell number.

 

JP took the ringing cellular phone out of his pocket. Saw it was his Dad calling. “Hi, Dad,” JP answered cheerfully.

Blunt, Rosenthal asked, “John Paul, how well do you know Lulu?”

JP answered wary of his father’s tone and question. “‘Over a year,” he answered.

“She is a Russian spy,” Rosenthal went straight to the point.

“I don’t believe that,” JP protested.

“If I can prove it, will you stop your involvement with her?”

“Prove it first.”

“Observe her reaction. Tell her she’s in danger and she must leave the country immediately.”

“Some nut must be feeding you garbage,” he strongly argued. “She can’t be a spy. Not her.”

“The nuts happen to be FBI and CIA agents. They just left my office. They showed me pictures of her handing classified documents to a confirmed Russian spy. I . . . we cannot have ourselves involved. Too much is at stake when she’s only using you. And, even if she’s not a spy, her life is still in danger. She must leave the country. I can help you there.”

“Dad . . .”

”John Paul,” he butted, “understand, I am trying to help, otherwise, I would have kept my mouth shut.”

There was a moment of silence then JP said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“I’m sorry John Paul,” Rosenthal said then hung up.

 

It was too much of a coincidence that Lulu was in a rush to leave Los Angeles and be secretive about it,’ JP thought. He decided to take his father’s advice and called Lulu to his office over the office phone. He then went to the window and slightly moved the curtain with his finger. He was about to peer outside when he heard the knock and the door opened. “Lulu, please take a seat,” he formally said.

Lulu noticed JP’s unusual composure. “Anything wrong?” she asked as she sat.

JP sat on the chair across her. He was sure Lulu would have a logical answer. “Your life is in danger.”

Lulu turned pale. She associated JP’s warning to FBI finding out her false identity but wondered why her life would be in danger. Nevertheless, she must leave. “Thank you for warning me. I’m so very sorry for the trouble I caused you. Please tell Mom how deeply sorry I am for leaving. Tell her I love her. Love her as though she is really my mother.”

JP’s heart sank. His father was right. “Can I help?” he asked in dismay.

“I doubt you can. I wish to God I don’t have to leave,” she said with tears about to fall. “I just have to start another life somewhere.”

“I doubt if you can without help.”

“Why?” as she wiped her tears.

“You are under FBI surveillance. I’ll help you.”

“You have done enough for me and I don’t want you involve. I’ll just have to think of something.”

“Not enough. Allow me this much—-give you a head start. Stay here,” he said and left the room in haste.

 

A minute later, Sonny, Sylvia, Alice, Sylvs, and Marijack entered the room with JP. After closing the door, JP said in a sense of urgency, “Lulu needs our help desperately and fast. No questions for now but will explain everything after. Lulu has to leave Los Angeles. Will you help her?”

The five spontaneously agreed and together planned her escape.

 

Minutes later, Lulu, wearing dark glasses, left the company building thru the front door with Alice. As they walked to Alice’s car parked at the communal parking lot, Lulu pretended to search for something in her shoulder bag. “I forgot my keys. Meet you at the front,” she said to Alice.

“Okay,” Alice replied then walked to get her car at the parking lot while Lulu went back to the building.

When Lulu entered JP’s office, Marijack was alone and in her undergarments. Lulu hurriedly undressed and they switched clothing.

Marijack said as she hurriedly put on Lulu’s clothing, “Thank you for everything you did for me and my mother, Lulu. Write us, okay?”

“I will try,” then handed Marijack her car key and said, “Please give it to Miguel. I know he needs a car.”

Dressed up in Lulu’s clothes and wearing her dark glasses, Lulu checked Marijack. “My dress fit you perfectly,” Lulu said. “Thank you so much for helping. Tell your mom too, okay? Via con Dios.”

“I will. Via con Dios, Lulu.” They tightly hugged each other then parted.

 

Marijack left through the building’s front door in Lulu’s dress and dark glasses, entered Alice’s car parked in front and they left.

 

A few minutes after Alice and Marijack left, Sonny answered his cellular phone, “Ok,” he said. He turned off his cellular phone and to JP and Lulu, said, “Marijack said they’re being followed and Alice said to thank you for the day off to visit her mother in San Diego.”

 

Sylvia and Sylvs, made sure the back alley was clear before Sonny, in the company van, drove JP and Lulu to a car rental office a few blocks away. Sonny rented a car under his name then said to Lulu, “Muchas gracias for what you do for my little girl. If you need husband, you find me, and we bury my wife together,” he quipped to cheer Lulu then said, “Via con Dios, mi amiga.”

Lulu beamed at Sonny then kissed him on the cheek. With reddened eyes, said, “Via con Dios, mi amigo.” (Go with God, my friend)

 

Reveal the Secret

 

“I have to go home,” Lulu said as JP made a right turn from the car rental lot to a street headed away from her home.

“I’m driving you across the Canadian border and plan something there.”

“Please drive me home first. I need to get something. Something vitally important,” Lulu said extremely worried.

“FBI will be there.”

“I have to risk it. It is very important I get my suitcase. There is something in it on which the lives of many depend on.”

JP was puzzled but too preoccupied to inquire, “OK.” He made a U-turn and drove towards Juaning’s house. He knew he could enter the house through the neighbor’s hedges that leaned on Juaning’s utility room. He did it before when Auntie Juaning locked herself out.

“I know you are a spy,” JP said.

“A spy? . . . Why are you helping me then?”

“Because I love you.”

Lulu looked at JP. “I love you too, JP. More than I can say.”

“Is that part of your training?” JP asked coldly.

Lulu was hurt, about to cry, and sadly said, “I am not a spy if that is what you mean,” and a tear fell.

“What are you then?”

Lulu thought for a moment. “Regardless of outcome, I want you to know, I love you.”

“What about the other person?”

“I was referring to my parents.”

The answer made JP more determined. He took the service alley and parked the car on the neighbor’s back driveway with Lulu crouched under the dashboard. He went inside Juaning’s house through the neighbor’s hedges and through the utility room without a problem then got Lulu’s suitcase and went back the same way he came in.

 

As JP drove said, “I love you, Lulu, and do not care if you are a spy . . . or even an Alien,”

Lulu looked at JP and realized it was a figure of speech and did not answer.

JP said, “I may be able to help if you tell me something I can work on. Why is the FBI after you?”

“Because I am doing something to get to see the President.”

“Of this country? President Smith?” JP was stumped.

“Now you know why you can’t help.”

“If I can get you to speak to the President, will you trust me with the why?”

“How could you?”

“Not me, my father.”

“You think he can?”

“He is highly connected and influential. Can you trust me enough to tell me your problem?”

Lulu knew getting Director Cutler to arrange a meeting with the President may take time, time her parents may not have. “It’s a long story.”

“I know a spot in the Santa Monica Hills where we can have privacy.”

 

JP drove to secluded spot in a public land at Santa Monica Hills using Topanga Canyon Road. He parked the car under a tree by the side of a dirt road miles away from the nearest populated area.

“What I will tell you is the truth. You just have to trust me,” Lulu said. She then narrated the plight of the Rians: why they were forced to leave their home planet, Ria; how the Rians got to Earth; the reason why they performed genetic engineering to the apes; the Atom Converter project; Atlantis annihilation; and why her father decided to create the hybrid humans—-her existence and four other sisters.

At Lulu’s narration end, JP was dumbfounded.

“I am human in all respect,” Lulu said, “and not crazy as you may think. I only wished the crystal had more energy to prove it to you. I have to reserve what’s left. I hope you understand.”

JP took his cellular phone and dialed his father’s number. “Dad, . . . I need your help . . . It is a long story . . . She’s with me . . . We are at the Santa Monica Hills at a secluded spot.”

“Press number nine and the pound key on your cellphone. It will act as directional beacon.”

JP followed his Dad’s instructions.

 

Twenty minutes later, Rosenthal’s corporate helicopter landed with Rosenthal onboard and picked up Lulu and JP. The three stayed quiet amidst the drowning sound of the helicopter’s turbine engine that headed for the Rosenthal Research Center at Malibu Hills, ten miles to the northwest. Rosenthal knew they would be safe there. It was well guarded.

 

Rosenthal was a cautious and calculating man. He was risking everything to help a woman he suspected was using his son. However, if he did nothing, he might lose JP and that, he would not gamble. Desperate, he took actions without a plan, something he had never done.

THE LASER GUN

 

Two modern buildings, the Administrative and Research, of Rosenthal Research Center stood side by side straddled on the hillside facing the Pacific Ocean. An enclosed bridge connected the building forming a letter ‘H’. A magnificent landmark that was hard to miss driving thru Malibu via the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles, California. Located at the top of the tallest hill for miles around, it commanded a scenic view of oceanside houses that stretched all the way down Santa Monica, miles away. However, the east view was different, a public land—-an uninhabited stretch of land with monotonous scenery of brush covered rolling hills with sparse thickets and chaparrals. Deep narrow canyons and valleys separated the hills for as far as one could see.

The corporate helicopter landed on the Administrative Building’s heliport. David Simpson, Chief Executive of the Center, was alone to receive Rosenthal and his guests. He had an exceptional acumen for project management. He worked for Rosenthal when the company was small and supplied the US Armed Forces with eating and kitchen utensils then. He was the man Rosenthal relied on to get things done and had great respect for David’s ability to manage his pet projects. David believed in Rosenthal’s visions in the early years and wisely stuck with him. He learned, early in his career, to work around Rosenthal’s temper, which only a handful of executives did. Though Rosenthal was a hard man to work with, he amply rewarded those who did. In spite of their long association, David’s relationship with Rosenthal stayed always on a professional level. He understood that that was the only thing Rosenthal understood.

At the heliport, Rosenthal introduced JP, as his son, and Lulu to David.

“I did not know you . . .” David reacted then stopped and continued, “Nice meeting you, Lulu, and you, too, JP,” shaking both their hands.

After a brief talk with Rosenthal, David brought them to his office and left them there then he passed on part of Rosenthal’s instructions to his personal secretary, “Rosenthal is not to be disturbed nor is he around if anyone inquires,” David stressed.

 

Rosenthal, JP, and Lulu made themselves comfortable at the living room set within David Simpson’s large and lavish office. The room reflected Rosenthal’s philosophy to impress and awe, projecting an image of power.

Rosenthal sat on the sofa and waited for JP to start the conversation. Harboring a spy known to the FBI and CIA made Rosenthal edgy but not outwardly.

“Lulu is not a Russian spy,” JP started.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Rosenthal replied politely. He normally studied people across the negotiating table and glanced at Lulu who gave him a halfhearted grin.

JP continued, “What I will tell you will sound science fiction.” He paused unsure how to relate Lulu’s predicament.

“JP, can I explain it to your father?” Lulu suggested.

JP nodded.

“Sir,” she started formally, “2.3 million years ago, Aliens found themselves in a situation that they had to leave their planet in a hurry. But things did not come out as planned . . .” Lulu continued.

 

Rosenthal, very objective by nature, attentively listened to Lulu’s narrative. Though he was skeptical when it came to UFO’s and alien beings, he remained open-minded and always reserved his conclusion. As he listened, he keenly observed Lulu’s composure as she narrated. By all indications, he found her sincere, and normal in all respect. At Lulu’s narrative end, he found her story hard to believe, more so, to prove. He asked Lulu, “What then is your intention?”

“I wish to speak to the President of the United States and seek his help,” Lulu answered.

Taken aback by her request, he bluntly replied, “Getting the President to see you purely on your story will not get us through the White House gate. You look too human to be believable. Please, do not take that to mean I do not believe you. If you can prove your story to me, then I see no reason why I cannot prove it to the President. I do not think you have a choice on the matter. You have to take a gamble. Prove it first.” He was very serious in his manner of speaking.

Lulu considered Rosenthal’s point. “I understand,” she said and took the pyramid crystal from her suitcase. “I will entrust this crystal to you,” as she handed it over.

Rosenthal got the pyramid crystal and examined it. He had seen something similar in a novelty shop though it was unusually light for its size and highly refractive.

“Sir,” Lulu said to Rosenthal, “in your hand is a communicating device that will link you to the ship’s computer. It is a thinking computer and will allow you to access all of Rian’s technology. Through that, you can ask the computer to download a design of things that are currently beyond present-day technology. I, however, have only this one very, very important request . . . please use as little time with it, enough for you to believe. The crystal is my only link to the ship and with my parents. If I lose that option, it will doom them and those orbiting the galaxy.”

Rosenthal was skeptical but for his son’s sake, played along. “I understand. You have my word,” he said. He always kept his word and the business community knew and respected him for that.

“You may need a large computer to download the information,” Lulu added.

“We have one at the basement of the Research Building. How do I get this to work?”

“Place the crystal near the keyboard of the computer. The access word is Goopersh. From there, you can verbally specify the technical specifications you want built.”

“Password?”

“No password. Again, please use as little time as possible.”

“You have my assurance,” and he left them.

 

A Wish

 

Rosenthal with David went to a conference room adjacent to David’s office. They sat at the corner of large rectangular mahogany table. David was apprehensive. He had no idea of what was going on as he watched Rosenthal, deep in thought, toy a pyramid crystal in his hands.

“David,” Rosenthal finally said. “If you had one wish on a technological breakthrough that will surely get the President’s attention, what would that be?”

David gave it a quick thought, “A portable laser gun. That is what the military wants and what the President needs to bring the balance of power completely in his favor. We have a contract to develop one.”

“How far are we?”

“Very, very far. I’d say the technology is at least 30 years away and most likely more.”

“What are we aiming for?”

“Military tank mountable for a start, self-adjusting, capable of blasting through a 15-inch armor plate . . .”

“Where are we now?” Rosenthal interrupted.

“We need a crane to move it; three hours, if lucky, to adjust; a power source big enough to light a large town; and the target must remain stationary at all times. I’d say that’s far from what the military had in mind,” David said candidly.

Rosenthal got the humor but did not react. After a brief silence, he asked, “Where are the Russians on this technology?”

“From what I’ve gathered, they gave up on it and are hoping to acquire the technology through cheaper means, espionage. On our side, unless we come up with something to justify military research funding, the government may cut or eliminate the project completely. We’re talking hundreds of millions down the drain.”

“David, call the computer room and tell them we will use it. Have them replace all computer disks with blanks and the computer ready for immediate use.”

David knew Rosenthal was aware of its implications—-total work disruption within the research facility. Without citing the consequences, he made the arrangement over the phone.

 

  • * *

 

Heavily secured by armed security men, electronic surveillance, and sound/heat/weight sensitive sensors secured the access to the research center’s super computer room. Their computer was the largest and fastest computer in the world. Sid Lahora, the man in-charge, was waiting by the computer room’s steel door.

“Everything set?” Rosenthal forcefully asked Sid the moment he and David entered the room.

“Yes, Sir,” Sid snapped like a soldier.

Rosenthal walked to the lone console at the middle of a large room whose walls were lined with computer drives that were visible behind its transparent doors. He instructed, “Sid, wait outside should we need you.” He watched David escort Sid out of the room and waited for the thick security door to close. He placed the pyramid crystal beside the keyboard and sat on the console’s padded swivel chair. He hesitated as he deplored the thought of being made a fool. In a low voice, as though his throat was dry, he said, “Goopersh.”

“Awaiting instructions,” Goopersh instantly replied.

To Rosenthal’s relief, the voice came from the crystal that glowed lightly. He quickly straightened himself and said, “Design a portable laser gun with these specifications: Maximum weight, fifty pounds or lighter to include the power source. Maximum dimensions: ten feet long or shorter; and a foot wide or smaller. Range, 16 miles or better. It must have the capability to penetrate, in an instant, a 15-inch armor plate . . . or thicker. Material to use must be presently available or easily built with current technology. Is that possible?”

“Yes. Suggest variable power and automatic range finder.”

Rosenthal was amazed. “That would even be better, and include an operating and technical manual.”

“Request access to your computer.”

“Given and terminate communication immediately after,”

“Downloading design per specification in binary form. Operating and technical manual included.”

 

The crystal glowed and a light-blue light beam linked it to the computer keyboard that got it to glow too. Lines of computer instructions scrolled thru the monitor so fast it was unreadable. Simultaneously, activity indicators blinked rapidly at random on the computer drives panels that lined the surrounding walls.

Rosenthal stood and walked to David and they conversed.

 

In less than a minute, the printers started working and a minute after, Goopersh reported, “Transmission complete. Terminating communication.”

 

Rosenthal got the pyramid crystal and with David went to the adjoining room where the printers were located. Rosenthal went to the graphic printer and watched the printing of the schematic diagrams while David was at the text printer next to it.

David took what was printed. The first few pages were the parts list and assembly procedure followed. He was astonished and relieved to see the parts list in familiar standard company inventory report. He skimmed through the familiar form and said, “We have most of the parts and for the ones we don’t . . .” he speedily searched for the reference page then looked at the material and procedures to make the component. He studied it carefully and exclaimed, “I just cannot believe this.”

“How long to build?” Rosenthal said, forgoing David’s excitement.

David clipped his excitement and became formal. He took the finished schematic diagrams from the printer; spread it on a table; and studied it. “Overnight with three men working.”

“Get them started,” Rosenthal said commandingly.

The digital clock on the wall read 5:24:26 P.M. “I hope Bill Garner is around,” he said as he punched numbers on a speakerphone.

“Bill Garner speaking,” his voice came through the speakerphone.

“Bill, David here. I need Techs on a high priority, top secret project that needs working immediately.”

“How many?”

“Three.”

“We got two that don’t have top security clearance. The rest, gone for the day.”

Rosenthal intervened, “Bill, Rosenthal,” sounding as he normally does. “Forget the clearance and get yourself and the two working on it. David will bring the blueprints over,” then pressed the phone’s button that ended the conversation. He got the pyramid crystal while David bundled the documentations and rolled the schematic diagrams and blue prints.

Rosenthal said, “David, I want this assembled, tested, and ready for demonstration before 7 a.m. tomorrow,” he stressed.

“It will,” David formally replied.

As they left the Computer Room, David got Sid’s attention, “Sid, please replace all the computer disks to include the backups then bring the system back online. I’ll have Security take the disks to the vault,” he said.

“I’ll attend to it,” Sid replied.

“Thanks,” and watched him go back to the computer room.

The word ‘thanks’ and how David communicated got Rosenthal’s attention. It got him to think—-‘David gets things done under pressure yet do it without stressing the people that do it for him?’ He remembered his resolution and said in a different manner, “David, for reasons, my son, Lulu, and I must stay for the evening and be kept a secret. Can you arrange that?”

David noticed Rosenthal was unusually polite but unsure if it was deliberate. “That will not be a problem. You can use the executive lounge.”

“This project is very important,” Rosenthal stressed but not in a commanding manner. “Can you stay this evening and make certain everything gets done? It’s that important,” he requested politely.

This time David knew Rosenthal was deliberately being polite. “I planned on doing that. You think you can get the President tomorrow on short notice?”

“I still have to figure that.”

“Want to be present during the preliminary test?” David asked.

“Yes, regardless of time.”

“I’ll call you when it’s set,” David said then headed for the other corridor but before he took his second step, he heard Rosenthal call, and he turned.

“David . . . thanks.”

David, caught off-guard, got tongue-tied. He smiled then continued walking down the corridor appreciative of what Rosenthal just said.

 

Getting the President

 

As Rosenthal headed for David’s office, he was thinking of a way to get President Smith to come to the Center. He knew the President was attending a well-publicized conference sponsored by the Governor of the State of California the following day at the state capitol in Sacramento. Though Rosenthal personally knew the president and could call directly, he thought it wiser to get men with direct contact to the president to do the convincing. By the time he got to David’s office, he had a plan.

 

David’s Secretary stood behind her desk when Rosenthal entered David’s reception room. Before she could utter a word, Rosenthal said, “I’m glad you’re around. Pat Shaw, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Sir. David requested me to stay in case you need anything.” She had been with David for seven years and was a bit nervous as Rosenthal was directly addressing her in person.

“Pat, I need you to arrange something then you can go home,” he said nicely. “I urgently need to speak to the Secretary of Defense, Allan Newman, National Security Advisor, Edward Short, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Perkins,” saying it slowly for Pat to write the names down and waited for her to finish. “Got that?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Arrange a teleconference with as many of them, as soon as possible. Cite matters of great importance pertaining to national and international securities. Stress its urgency. You think you can handle that?” Rosenthal asked politely.

“Sure can,” replied Pat pleasantly with a smile.

Rosenthal returned a smile and said, “If you need me, I’ll be in David’s room.”

 

Pat watched him enter David’s office. She was somewhat surprised how pleasant Rosenthal was and, more so, calling her by her first name. It gave her reasons to think that the stories she heard of his being bossy, rude, and very demanding were exaggerated.

 

Rosenthal did not wait long to talk to the three men over the speakerphone. Without mentioning Aliens but mere importance and urgency, he convinced them to come to Center at a minute’s notice. He thought himself lucky, he got all three! He then asked Pat to arrange corporate jets to fly them to Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles where a corporate helicopter would ferry all three to the Center by 7 a.m. the following day.

 

  • * *

 

“Lulu, I believe you,” Rosenthal said as he walked in the executive’s lounge. “The Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are coming. The President’s coming later is an excellent possibility.”

With joy, Lulu rushed to Rosenthal and was about to hug him but stopped and shyly backed off. “Naska is Imar, I mean thank you so very much,” she said.

Rosenthal noticed her intention and asked, “You will be part of my family, right?”

She turned and glanced at JP then look down meekly and said, “If he still wants me.”

JP had the widest smile on his face and stretched out his arms as he walked towards her.

Lulu coyly walked to meet JP and they hugged with joy.

The proud Rosenthal watched happily. When they parted, Rosenthal, with open arms, said to Lulu, “Don’t I deserve a hug?”

Lulu kissed Rosenthal on the cheek then hugged him tightly. “Naska is Imar, Naska is Imar,” she said instinctively.

JP asked, “May I know what you asked, Dad?” He was somehow certain it would be some sort of weapon.

Telling him now might spoil the evening ahead,’ Rosenthal thought. “You will know tomorrow. Trust me for now.”

 

It was a relief to both Rosenthal and JP to have Lulu with them as she led the conversation and the three had a wonderful and pleasant evening together.

 

Meeting with the USSR Premier

 

Across the globe, vert early in the morning, Russian Premier Vladimir Krusov was in his black silk night robe with matching silk slippers. Tightly worn, the robe outlined his firm broad chest and toned belly. His hair was cut short; his Arian face had telltale signs of just waking. He ushered General Kievsky from the receiving to his private room. It was the only in this room where he would discuss sensitive matters. Built specially for him to secure his conversations from any form of eavesdrop.

Premier Krusov had a strong grip over the Soviet political and military establishments. He rose to power through clandestine arrangements and intrigues he orchestrated. As Premier, he was obsessed by the thought of being ousted by the same means and consequently became paranoid of the information that came through regular channels. Through a network of confidential informants and personal spies, he found ways of knowing things indirectly. It gave him a way to know how accurate the reports were or, worse still, if they reported at all. Both political and military camps knew the premier’s extensive network of personal spies existed. He was not secretive and discreetly talked of its presence with key Russian government and military officials just to intimidate them. This gave him an intangible power and control, and used it to his best advantage. General Kievsky was part of this network of spies.

“Have a seat, Comrade Igor,” the Premier said as they entered the room. Secret meetings were common and waking up early in the morning did not bother him. “The information must be pretty urgent, Comrade,” the Premier candidly said.

“It is, Premier,” General Kievsky replied formally. The meeting was special to him. Breaking his cover was a move that could put him within the Premier’s coveted inner circle or out of it, for good.

“Do we have time for coffee or vodka?” the Premier jokingly asked to relax the tense general as well as himself. The Premier had just gotten an advice from his doctor to stay calm. His blood pressure was high lately, and he took the doctor’s advice seriously.

“Coffee will be fine,” General Kievsky replied, easing a little.

The Premier made a short call and ordered decaffeinated coffee for two then said, “This has something to do with General Malkinovitch,” the Premier made a guess as he walked to the armchair next to the general and sat, taking full use of the chair armrest.

“No. Have you heard of the Alpha Wave Project?” General Kievsky wasted no time.

“Yes, but do fill me in,” the Premier said calmly though he knew he had not. It merely heightened his paranoia over the Military keeping secrets from him. The project was of low priority, something he normally would not be informed of.

“Alpha Wave is a top secret military research project on finding wireless communications outside conventional radio waves. It is important to note that military early warning, radar detection, electronic guidance, and communication systems are solely dependent on radio wave,” he emphasized. “If we jammed all radio wave frequencies, which we have the technology, and maintain the integrity of our communication via our Alpha Wave, the US and its Allies will neither have the ability to be warned nor launch any defensive or retaliatory actions against any aerial and land based attack. In this scenario, our warplanes could enter any country’s airspace undetected and have full control of their sky. A radio wave blackout for six hours will put Soviet warplanes directly over all Allied military targets without their knowing. The war would be over before it could even begin.”

The Premier, who was a high-ranking military officer in the KGB before becoming a Premier, explicitly understood its military implications. He also knew the importance of having that kind of technology first regardless of cost. The thought of having the arrogant US and its puppet NATO allies bow to Soviet’s might was his obsession. However, his ire focused on the US. He had a personal score to settle. Deeply etched in his mind was the chagrin of removing the missiles from Cuba, decades before. It was his idea, as a young military adviser then, to have the missiles there, and suffered the consequences for getting them out.

The prospect of having a Third World War from the Cuban crisis was something the Premier was willing to risk and strongly advised the Premier then, Premier Khrushchev, not to heed President Kennedy’s threats. Though that was almost four decades ago, his country’s tarnished military image had never recovered and was determined to wipe it clean, including his own.

With NATO supporting US foreign policies, US President Smith ignored Premier Krusov. The Premier had little international backing to dictate anything consequential over international matters. In the US diplomatic circle, they dubbed Premier Krusov as “Lame Duck.” A name President Smith inadvertently used that somehow got to the Premier’s ears. In return, the Premier referred to the US President as “The Pig” and made sure it unofficially got to the US President’s ears. This unofficial name calling merely heightened the tension between the two superpower leaders making the volatile climate between countries worse. However, they appeared congenial and diplomatic to each other in public but the personal animosity between them remained.

Taking a backseat in the international arena to the USA, the Premier concentrated on technological breakthroughs to turn the balance of military power to the Soviet Union’s side. General Igor Kievsky was among the men he relied on to get this done.

“Do we have the Alpha Wave technology?” the Premier asked excitedly.

“We have, in its early stage. However, we may not have monopoly on it if we do not act soon,” the general stressed.

“The Pig has it then?” the Premier blared, irritated by the thought.

The Premier’s semantics amused the general. He took it to mean the Americans though the Premier had President Smith in mind. It got him to smile then said, “Not as we speak. That is why I need your immediate authorization to secure a shoal at the Bering Strait.”

“Bering Strait? Shoal?”

“Bering Strait is a sea lane between Alaska and Siberia. The shoal is a shallow area within the strait and dotted with small, uninhabitable basalt islands of no significant economic or military value. The area itself is a natural barrier to marine activities.”

The Premier was puzzled. “Why secure it then?”

“It would be better if I explained everything . . . What I will tell will sound strange but I can prove its veracity. Briefly, there are Aliens on Earth negotiating with the Americans for help. In exchange, they provided them laser technology for warfare to start.”

“Aliens!” the Premier scoffed. He had no stand on UFO’s (Unidentified Flying Object) but was more inclined not to believe in its existence.

General Kievsky was not surprised at Premier’s skeptical look and continued, “A month ago, we had a breakthrough on the Alpha Wave Project. We discovered a new form of wireless communication but on sweeping its frequencies, we came across bands that transmitted a clear voice message, ‘Naska is Imar,’” repeated every five seconds. On earth, one came directly at the heart of King Khufu’s pyramid at Giza, Egypt. The second, from a small barren basalt island at the Bering Strait. The third source, comes from an object orbiting our Milky Way galaxy. The last, we suspect, comes somewhere in the Los Angeles, California, area.

“We have reasons to believe the signals coming from Giza and outer space are mere directional beacons but the one at the Bering Strait acts not only as a beacon but the Alien’s communication center.”

“Are you certain of this?” the Premier said as he sat back slowly with his left hand under his chin. He scrutinized the general for hints of instability. He was unsure how he should take the general’s information.

“I have proof,” the general answered confidently. “It is for this reason that I came to see you. Less than an hour ago, we intercepted the fifth. It came from the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. To be exact, it came from within the Rosenthal Research Center at Malibu in the state of California. From that transmission, a computer that responds to the name Goopersh at the Bering Strait downloaded the design of a laser gun. The downloaded transmission was of binary form, a computer language. We can decode it, thus, we have the technology as well. I have a tape-recorded conversation between the Alien’s talking computer and someone within the research facility.” He got a hand size tape recorder from his coat pocket and played it.

 

‘Goopersh . . . Awaiting instructions . . . Design a portable laser gun with these specifications: Maximum weight . . .” the taped conversation continued until the dialogue ended. General Kievsky pressed the tape recorder’s pause button, “We have to amplify this part as it was said some distance from the microphone,” then pressed the play button.

 

What is that? . . . It’s an Alien communicating device . . . What do they want? . . . They want to talk to the President and negotiate for help in exchange for their technology . . . Why don’t they just fly over to the White House? . . . Their ship is without fuel and they want me to arrange a meeting with the President . . . Then we’ll bring the President to them! . . . It’s not that simple. The aliens are scared of us as humans—-they don’t trust us. Without fuel, they are defenseless. You can literally walk in their ship and take them and their technology. There are only two of them in the ship. For that reason, their location is a secret . . . What if the Aliens don’t get the help? . . . The ship will self-destruct. Thousands more stranded and in orbit in our galaxy and dependent on them will die as well . . . You believe all this? . . . Have you seen anything like what you just witnessed? . . . How did we link our computer to theirs? . . . Through the pyramid crystal and the access word is Goopersh and that is all there is to it . . . Why not download everything while we’re linked . . . I gave my word . . . Transmission complete. Terminating communication . . . Let’s see what’s being printed.”

 

General Kievsky pressed the stop button again. “We are certain the man doing most of the talking is George Rosenthal, the US armament tycoon. We have good reasons to believe the other man is David Simpson, Head of the Rosenthal’s Research Center.”

“Why not download the alien’s technology to our computer?” the Premier asked.

“Unfortunately, we can only receive signals. Transmitting capability still needs working. With proper funding and support, we will have that capability, in a month. Two at most,” the general added.

“You will get everything you need. I want his project given highest priority. We must have the alien technology at all cost before the Pig does.”

“That is why I came to see you. The basalt island happens to be a mile within the U.S. territory.”

“The Pig must not have the alien technology,” the Premier raised his voice. “It’s either we have the technology or no one will. What do you suggest?”

“Blow up Rosenthal Research Center and set it up so the whole world will blame it to terrorist. We have the design on the laser gun and the Alpha Wave technology within two months. Can you see what this will mean militarily?”

The Premier glanced at the general and gave his last sentence a thought. “Blow them up and make sure anyone who knows about this is terminated, understand?”

“Understand. No one but us.”

“Good. How soon can we do this?”

“Operation Czarina was designed especially for this situation. It needs but a target in the Metropolitan Los Angeles. With your authorization, well within ten hours. As for the Aliens on the island, we can get our commandos to sneak in under the cover of our Pacific Fleet performing a naval exercise near the vicinity but in international waters. The fleet is within eight hours cruising time to the Strait.

“Our commandos will abduct the Aliens and download their computer files to ours. If anything goes wrong at any time, even without the Aliens, we will blow up the island and claim it as an accident during a naval targeting exercise. The US military will swallow the excuse. As far as they know, the island has no economic or military strategic value.”

“And . . . for the people involved in Operation Czarina?”

“The helicopter used will self-destruct on landing. Apart from us, the people involved in the mission will all be in the helicopter.”

“I see you have planned everything. I will call for an emergency meeting. Meanwhile, get Czarina going. I will place our armed forces on General Alert as insurance.” The Premier took the phone on the side table and made a call.

CALL THE PRESIDENT

5:10 a.m. – Rosenthal Research Center

The test room within the Research Building had, among others, a firing range. Rosenthal, with David, stood beside a heavy metal table, curiously eying the prototype laser gun on it. It was not much to look at with its electronic components on circuit boards exposed alongside a wire-wound barrel held by a vise and aimed at a target fifty meters away.

“I want no slip-ups.” Rosenthal said sternly to Bill after he examined what they did.

“Built to specs and triple checked,” Bill said knowing Rosenthal had a short fuse on seeing things fail needlessly.

“Okay. What is the target?”

“It’s a meter square, fifteen-inch thick armor plate,” Bill answered pointing to a hardly visible target at the far end of the firing range.

David, who studied the laser’s operating manual during the night, worked the laser dials on a makeshift stand. “Setting at its lowest capacity,” he said.

“Plug it.”

“It runs on a 12-volt car battery,” Bill replied.

Rosenthal, astonished, noted Bill’s response. “Okay, connect the terminals and fire.”

Bill was skeptical. He thought the entire thing was a bunch of short-circuited wires bound to explode in his face. He cautiously extended his arm as far as he could and pressed the fire button. After pressing, he thought it failed as he expected a load noise from the gun, a noise similar to Star War battle scenes. He was flabbergasted when he saw the smoldering target at the distance.

The three hurriedly walked to the target and was awed. The armor plate had a nine-inch-wide hole. The metal simply evaporated!

Bill inspected the wall four feet beyond the target and commented, “The wall is slightly warm but unscathed.”

Rosenthal turned to David. “If miniaturized, what would be its size?”

“No bigger or heavier than a fifty-caliber machine gun,” David answered. “Lesser capacity will weigh less than a forty-five-caliber handgun powered by a triple ‘A’ battery. This is worth zillions in rearmament revenue and we are in a position to negotiate the price.”

Rosenthal did not react. He paced the floor with his arms across his chest. Being near the phone when it rang, he answered, “Rosenthal,” he snapped.

“Good morning, Sir. This is Chief of Security, Larry Ilagan. Your guest will arrive at 6:40, about an hour and a half from now,” Ilagan answered over the phone.

“Secure the route from the heliport to the test room and from the test to the conference room. I don’t want my guest seen by anyone.”

“Sir, there are employees . . .”

“Larry,” Rosenthal interrupted in a stern voice. “No one sees my guests.”

“Yes, Sir. No is to see your guest,” Larry replied. He had done this before but not at this short notice.

“Maintain the status until you hear from me.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Then I want you to . . .” he continued to give instructions.

 

The Demonstration

 

Secretary Newman, General Perkins, and Advisor Short were met by Rosenthal and David at the building’s heliport and brought them directly to the test room. Rosenthal, assisted by David, did the demonstration but this time, the laser was set at three percent of its power. On firing, the target including the metal table’s top, instantly disintegrated with an audible popping sound.

Rosenthal advertised, “Set at wide beam, it will evaporate an aircraft carrier in an instant using a fourth of its power setting. We can surgically blast a lone tank parked among other vehicles on the moon,”

“How long will it take to rearm the entire arm forces?” General Perkins eagerly asked Rosenthal.

Rosenthal answered, “In matter of months but there is more to it than that. We will talk on it at David’s office. You have to excuse me as I have some matters to attend and will meet you there.”

 

Getting the US President

 

“Everything worked out?” JP asked excitedly as Rosenthal entered the executive lounge.

“Better than I expected. It was a laser gun design that I requested. I know that’s the last thing you want to hear but trust me one more time,” he said to JP then turned to Lulu, “Lulu, I will go out of my way to do something for you. I don’t want to be placed in a compromising position. Are there little matters that I should know?” he asked as he looked at Lulu’s eyes.

“I told you everything,” Lulu replied.

Rosenthal believed her. “Lulu, I agree with your father. Your identity must remain a secret. For that reason, if you don’t mind, it will be a privilege and an honor to negotiate in your father’s behalf. Your role here is merely an Earthling helping the aliens.”

“I do need help, Naska is Imar. I don’t know how to thank you,” she hugged him this time with tears of relief coming from her eyes.

“Marrying my son is good enough,” Rosenthal said as he waved JP to come and they all hugged together. “We will be one family from now on. Let’s go.”

 

At the Incinerator Room

 

From David’s office, Rosenthal led everyone to the incinerator room.

A dozen mainframe disk canisters, the laser gun, blueprint, manual, and a trash bag full of items collected from the test and assembly rooms were on top of a table near the incinerator. Larry Ilagan and four of his uniformed security men stood on one side of the room.

“Larry,” Rosenthal said, “do we have everything here?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Throw them in the incinerator,” he instructed then walked to the incinerator’s console.

Rosenthal’s guest, to include David, were baffled and looked at each other. Rosenthal was incinerating everything but they remained silent, dumfounded.

Rosenthal watched Larry’s men load the incinerator and lock its door. Without fanfare, he pressed the incinerator’s start button. Instantly, flames within the incinerator engulfed everything in a whirlpool of fire.

Rosenthal looked at JP, who had his best smile ready and Lulu overwhelmed with joy. The rest were flabbergasted.

Rosenthal said, “Gentlemen, let us go to the conference room and I will explain everything.”

 

Call to the US President

 

At the conference room, Rosenthal addressed his guest, “The technology behind the demonstration is not ours but to Aliens stranded on our planet. They desperately need our help.”

“Aliens? You must be joking,” Secretary Newman reacted candid and skeptical.

“I am not a joking man,” Rosenthal said seriously. “Take my word, there are aliens on our planet,” Rosenthal said formally.

Secretary Newman turned serious and said diplomatically, “We would like to meet them,”

“Before I answer Mr. Secretary, let me explain their situation. The aliens are . . .” Rosenthal explained briefly and at the end said, “In exchange for the loan of NARLAB’s atomic super-collider, they will hand over all their nonmilitary sciences and technologies to be shared by all nations. Military technology is another matter. The laser gun was merely a demonstration of their technology to impress you. The pyramid crystal on the table is the alien’s communication device. We can communicate with the alien leader, named Amo Obib, provided we have the President with us. You have two hours to decide.”

“And, after two hours?” the Chief of Staff General Perkins asked.

“The aliens will offer the same deal to the Russians but doubt the Russian will do what I did on the laser gun,” Rosenthal said deliberately. “The President’s plane is currently airborne and heading for Sacramento. We have time to divert its route to land at Edwards Military Airbase at Mojave Desert, California on pretense of having minor mechanical problem. By helicopter the airbase is but 15 minutes away from here. In secrecy’s interest, we merely delay Air Force One’s arrival at Sacrament by an hour or two. Should we call the President?”

Defense Secretary Newman glanced at Rosenthal then conferred with General Perkins and Advisor Short in private. A minute later, Secretary Newman called the President and together with General Perkins, and Advisor Short discussed the critical situation and the urgency for the president to confer with Amo Obib. President Smith conceded to his three top advisers and, a minute later, the president’s plane changed course and headed for Edward Military Airbase.

 

Moscow

 

At the same time, General Kievsky was on the phone talking to the Premier, “. . . By stroke of luck, one of our informants works at Rosenthal Research Center. It’s far better than we thought . . . Commandos are now heading for the island . . . Yes. Czarina is in operation . . . Yes, Sir, to include the informant,” then hung up the phone.

 

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

At the Administrative Building’s heliport, Rosenthal and his three guests welcomed President Smith. From there, they proceeded to the conference room where JP and Lulu waited. Rosenthal introduced them then ushered his guests to their seat.

President Smith, General Perkins, Advisor Short, and Secretary Newman were on one side of a rectangular conference table with Rosenthal, JP, and Lulu at the other side with their backs at a thick curtained window. Rosenthal laid the pyramid crystal on the table between him and the President then narrated the Rian’s predicament.

Close to the briefing’s end, General Perkins’ aide came in the conference room and whispered something to General Perkins and after, the general excused himself and left the room hurriedly with the Aide. Shortly after, he came back leaving three of the President’s security men posted outside the room by its door to await further instructions.

Rosenthal purposely paused as General Perkins went back to his chair. He noted the general was uneasy.

After the briefing, President Smith said, “I do not see any problem in helping the Aliens. They can have immediate use of NARLAB’s facilities and any assistance they may need from us. I am ready to confer.”

“Mr. President,” General Perkins interrupted as he stood and walked to the President’s side and whispered to his ears.

The President stood and asked Secretary Newman and Advisor Short to walk with them to the corner of the spacious room where they conferred in low voices.

General Perkins said tensely. “The Russians are on global red alert. Their Pacific Fleet is at the Bering Strait near our territorial waters. Our planes reported spotting Russian commandoes on an uninhabited basalt island within our territory. Russian military communication has skyrocketed during the last hour and satellite pictures revealed Russian IBMs out of their bunkers. There is something ominous going on and I don’t like it. I have advised heads of the Arm Forces to stay on alert status and wait for further instructions. Mr. President, I strongly advise we go on ‘Red Alert’.”

“I do not have a clear picture,” the confused President asked, “Where is Bering Strait . . . this island?”

“Do you have a world map around?” General Perkins referred the question to Rosenthal.

“We do,” Rosenthal replied and pressed a nearby button.

A world map slowly slid down from the ceiling adjacent to the wall where the President and the general stood. It filled the whole wall and was too large to point something near its top. General Perkins, on seeing a laser pointer, got it. He checked the coordinates from his notes and aimed the pointing device to a spot at the Bering Strait.

When the pointer’s light remained pointed on a spot over the Bering Strait where the ship was hidden, Lulu, already tensed, reacted in distress, “What have I done!” she gasped and with her hands over her face and sobbed.

On hearing Lulu sob, General Perkins, who grasped the situation as gravely critical, asked in an urgent manner, “What is the significance of that spot, Miss Spence?”

Lulu did not answer, instead continued to whimper.

Rosenthal noticed Lulu was distraught. “It may be good if you explain the situation.”

General Perkins looked at Rosenthal then said, “The Russians have violated US territorial rights by landing men on a barren basalt island at the Bering Strait within US territory. The Russian Pacific Fleet is in the vicinity but in International Waters. The Russian Armed Forces and their allies are in full military alert. Why are you so concerned, Miss Spence?”

“That is where the Alien ship is,” she answered then turned to JP. “JP, I must go back.” She leaned on the table to get the crystal.

General Perkins instinctively moved and got the crystal before Lulu could. “In the interest of national security, the three of you will be guests of the US Government,” he said then called in the Secret Servicemen and instructed them to take Rosenthal, JP, and Lulu to the hallway and gave the pyramid crystal to one of the Secret Serviceman for safekeeping.

After they left the room, General Perkins turned to the President, “Mr. President, knowing what is at stake, we cannot allow the Russians to have the Aliens.”

“Get me Premier Krusov on the line,” the President said to his Aide and to General Perkins, “We go on ‘Full Alert.’”

 

Prepare For War

 

Premier Krusov was attending to visitors when his secretary came and whispered to the Premier’s ear, “The President of the United States is on the phone. He said it’s urgent.”

“I’m indisposed. Tell him to call much later,” then continued to chat with his guests.

The secretary smiled and left but a minute after came back. “He said it is vitally important. He told me to mention Bering Strait.”

The words caught the Premier’s attention and excused himself. He signaled his aide to follow and they walked to his private room.

 

The Premier took time to make himself comfortable in his heavily padded swivel chair before he picked up the phone. “Mr. President, good evening or is it morning . . . I know nothing of what you are saying . . . We have a harmless naval exercise in international waters in that vicinity and that is all I know . . . Landing assault in US territory? There is nothing there to land on . . . I do not like your tone of voice . . . Let me talk to my generals to clarify matters . . . If you fire at them, you will have to accept the consequences . . . Are you threatening the Soviet Republic? . . . Let me get more information on the matter then I will call you,” he hung up not knowing President Smith was calling from the Rosenthal Research Center.

“Get me General Kievsky on the line,” he said to his aide.

The Premier briefly waited then picked the ringing phone, “Igor, the Pig knows about the island. Blow it up . . . Okay. Try to get the Aliens then blow up the island. What about the Czarina Operation . . . Good.” He hung up then to his aide, said, “Call and get everybody to the War Room immediately.”

 

Battle for Rosenthal Research Center

 

A mile from Rosenthal Research Center, two US Apache helicopters guarded the airspace in the area to secure the President. One patrolled the southeastern sector to Rosenthal Research Center while the other the northeastern. “A blimp appeared on my screen,” reported the Radar Man guarding the northeast sector. “There it is again. Bogey heading for my area. Eleven miles northeast of us.”

“It’s not on my screen,” replied the pilot at the southeastern sector. “Must be hugging the ground to avoid detection. Assume it’s hostile as the area was deemed a no-fly zone.”

“Roger . . . Arming,” said the ordinance man while the pilot maneuvered their chopper to intercept.

“Backing you up and heading for your sector . . . bogey on my screen. It’s nine miles east of you.”

“Not on my screen. Where is it heading?”

“Must be flying through the canyons. Can’t tell.”

“Damn this terrain! We are sitting ducks here. See anything?” the northeast pilot asked.

“No.”

“Got no option. I’m blind where I’m at. Going low and blocking the canyon east of me.”

Seconds passed then, “Bandit two-mile northeast of you,” said the southeast pilot over his radio.

“Shit! It’s on my screen and behind us!” then the cockpit alarm sounded. “Bandit launched a missile!” The pilot flew his helicopter steeply upward in the narrow canyon as it dropped flares. The missile hit the helicopter’s rotating rear blades and exploded then crashed on the side of the canyon; fell on the ground; and exploded again.

“Intercepting bandit,” radioed the remaining Apache pilot as he raced his chopper to go between Rosenthal Research Center and the last reported location of the hostile helicopter. His ordinance man focused on his radar screen tensely waiting for a blimp to appear.

Suddenly, a blimp flashed on the radar screen then the ordinance man said, “Got visual and locking on bandit.” A split-second after, their alarm sounded. “Bandit launched two missiles! One is heading for the Administrative Building and the other for the Research. Firing my missiles.”

“Protect the Administrative Building. I repeat, protect the Administrative Building,” came the frantic order from Military Airborne Command Center.

“Roger,” the pilot responded and steered his helicopter to go between the incoming hostile missile and the Administrative Building. He urgently searched for a low flying missile as he steered the chopper to within ten meters away from the building. On seeing its smoke trail, he screamed, “Low – 2 o’clock.”

“Got visual,” the ordinance man answered as he instinctively aimed the ship’s Gatling gun and fired at the missile heading directly at them. Bullets burst from the Gatling gun formed a swarm of lead concentrated on hitting a small and fast approaching target. It was too close when it hit the missile that the massive explosion caused the helicopter to reel backwards hitting the Administrative Building and violently exploded on impact. Simultaneously, the other hostile missile hit the Research Building. The massive explosion caused the Research Building to buckle then topple to the ground and became an instant inferno. Seconds after, the missiles the Apache helicopter fired found its target and the hostile helicopter burst in two successive explosions.

 

Rosenthal, Lulu, and JP were at the hallway outside the conference room guarded by the president’s secret service men when explosions occurred. The first explosion rocked everyone but the second that followed immediately after, threw them on the floor. The far end of the hallway had a large gaping hole filled with smoke. In spite the immediate confusion that followed the blasts, Lulu never left her eyes off the pyramid crystal held by a Secret Serviceman. She rushed and grabbed it.

JP saw Lulu struggle for the crystal’s possession and joined. The robust Secret Serviceman easily threw them on the floor. Rosenthal, on seeing, grabbed the man from behind. In the scuffle, the pyramid crystal fell on the floor.

Lulu speedily crawled and got the pyramid crystal.

“Take Lulu and run,” Rosenthal shouted to JP as he struggled to pin the secret serviceman on the floor.

Lulu said hurriedly, “Goopersh, transport me back to the ship,” but before she could finish the sentence, JP had his hand on her arm. In a bright flash, both disappeared from the hallway.

 

At the Pyramid Ship

 

JP and Lulu materialized within the transport bay of the ship in the last position they were at.

JP briskly pulled Lulu up as though they were still in the hallway but was surprised to find himself in a different surrounding. “Where are we?” JP, confused, asked as he looked around.

“We’re in the spaceship. Follow me,” she said and led him out of the room. “You should have stayed behind. The crystal has no energy left to transport you back,” she said worriedly.

“This is where I want to be. Where . . .”

“Lulu,” cried Ningning at the hallway. Amo Obib was close behind her.

Lulu said, “Forgive me for bringing this on you. There are Russian commandoes on the island.”

“We know,” Amo Obib replied. “You must leave the ship. Goopersh, charge the crystal.”

The crystal glowed on Lulu’s hand. “The crystal is fully charged,” Goopersh replied.

“Leave before I order the ship’s destruction,” Amo Obib said in urgent.

“You and Mom?” asked Lulu hastily.

“We have to stay.” Amo Obib answered then turned to JP. “Young man, please take care of our daughter,” he said in haste having no time to know more of the man Lulu brought with her.

“I will,” JP, snapped.

“Naska is Imar,” Amo Obib and Ningning said almost simultaneously to both.

At that same instant, a Soviet commando pushed the detonator plunger. A massive explosion rocked the island. The blast gouged a hole on the basalt wall wide enough for a truck to enter. With the spaceship’s protective shields off, the explosion caused rock splinters to penetrate the ship’s wall. It activated the ship’s defensive system instantaneously. The ship hummed and glowed within the cavern.

 

The sound of the blast resounded in the hallway and instantly a distinctly different computer voice announced, “Trigor overriding Goopersh. Shields set at 100%. Retaliating on targets within 10 miles. You have thirty seconds to abort attack.”

Amo Obib had no time to inquire why Goopersh was overridden or who Trigor was. He instinctively commanded. “Trigor, abort attack.”

“You must be seated at the command chair to abort the attack,” Trigor replied in its distinct metallic tone of voice.

“Lulu, you must leave the ship! Take the young man with you,” Amo Obib shouted in a haste as he dashed for the Command Center. Ningning ran behind him.

“Naska is Imar,” Lulu shouted as she held JP’s arm. She knew Goopersh was deactivated and said, “Trigor, transport us to my room in Los Angeles.”

“No one can leave the ship while the shields are up,” Trigor responded.

Lulu pulled JP and together ran for the Command Center.

 

Before Amo Obib got to the command chair to abort attack, Trigor announced, “Going on automatic defense mode. Commencing attack.” The pyramid ship fired its laser guns at all targets within the ten-mile radius. Simultaneously three warships and six warplanes within the ten-mile range simultaneously exploded as the pyramid ship burst out of the basalt island and flew straight up at high speed, creating a waterspout that trailed the spaceship upward through the cloud.

THIRD WORLD WAR

A minute before the Russian commandoes blasted a hole on the island’s wall, the flagship of the Soviet Pacific Fleet was fourteen nautical miles from the island, beyond Trigor’s firing range. Commodore Masliv, Commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet, was seated on his chair at the bridge and had a panoramic view of his fleet at sea. He was talking to Premier Krusov over the phone and was jittery—-the Strait left little maneuvering room for his fleet should events turn for the worse.

Premier Krusov was at the War Room in Kremlin. Prior to calling Commodore Masliv, he was busy ascertaining Soviet arm forces’ readiness to go into full-scale war at a second’s notice. The tense atmosphere in the war room brought back old memories—-memories of being among the top military advisers looking over the war table during the Cuban crisis. However, this time, he was in-command and inwardly relished in his power. He felt invigorated and gratified as he issued directives and commands.

 

“Commandoes are on the island and . . .” Commodore Masliv reported to the Premier over the phone then abruptly stopped. In horror, he saw three warships and a couple of warplanes exploded simultaneously from his viewing vantage. “Something has happened. Please hold,” he urgently said to the Premier as he rushed to the bridge window, holding on to the phone. From where he stood, he saw huge black smoke from where two battle ships and a cruiser floated seconds before. From the sky, smoke trailed the falling remnants of six planes.

“Premier, the fleet is under attack,” Commodore Masliv frantically said over the phone.

“What?” the Premier burst. His blood pressure rose.

“The Americans have fired and destroyed three of our warships and a number or our warplanes in international waters unprovoked. The remaining ships are sitting ducks in this narrow strait. There are more US planes heading here. A US attack submarine is in the vicinity. Are we to retaliate?” Unknown to him was, the four of the six planes destroyed were US warplanes, the first to reach the island’s vicinity.

“Retaliate. We did not start this, they did. Retaliate!” the Premier screamed and hung up. “General Petraish, launch all our missiles against all US and Allied targets and mobilize all our forces,” he ordered and added, “Comrades, we are at war!” he said as though delighted and relieved by his decision.

“Yes, Sir,” the general replied and immediately went into action.

 

Their Fuel

 

“Where is the ship getting all this energy?” Amo Obib asked in disbelief. “Trigor, where is Goopersh?”

“Goopersh is deactivated. I, Trigor, control all ship functions when the ship is under attack.”

“Where are you getting your fuel?” asked Amo Obib.

“I am independently powered.”

“Transfer your fuel to Goopersh?”

“I am not programmed to do that. Returning control to Goopersh once the threat is no longer present.”

“Goopersh has no fuel to run the ship. If you do not transfer control of your fuel to Goopersh, the ship will implode.”

“I am not program to share my fuel,” Trigor replied.

“Show time of control transfer to Goopersh on the screen,” Amo Obib ordered and glanced at the digital clock displayed. They have twelve minutes left! He stayed motionless on the command chair pondering on a solution.

 

At Rosenthal Research Center

 

The little that was left of the Research Building was in flames. The Administrative Building had its east side gouged and on fire. The blast blew a large section from the second level through the eighth floor, twenty-nine office rooms wide. The conference room at the northern wing of the building was in shambles. With half of its side wall gone, the skylight lit the room.

The heavy conference table, on its side, saved the President and General Perkins who were thrown behind it during the explosion.

A few feet away, Secretary Newman was on the floor with Advisor Short partly on top of him. He pushed Advisor Short’s body aside and saw half of the face blown off. Unhurt, he ran out in panic.

 

The President and General Perkins, joined by his aide and several Special Service Men vacated the building through the fire-escape stairwell. Before they reached the ground level and on the stairway, the phone within the briefcase, chained to the President’s Aide, rang.

The Aide swiftly got the phone out of the case and handed it to the President.

“This is the President . . . repeat . . . Let me confer with General Perkins, General Perkins,” he called in urgent, holding on to the phone.

General Perkins rushed next to the President.

“The Russian launched missiles against us and all our NATO Allies,” the President said. “Hundreds are in the air. A large number are heading for our country. Missiles launched from Russian Atlantic nuclear submarines will hit east coast’s targets within six minutes. More are coming as we speak. There are missiles heading for west-coast targets. Estimated time of impact – fourteen minutes. What are our options general?”

“I don’t think we have any but to retaliate. The attack here was to take you out of the picture and create initial confusion . . . a clear sign of a preempted war. We need you to give the orders, Mr. President.”

“We retaliate. Goddamn! Retaliate!” he shouted.

 

Inside the Pyramid Ship

 

Confused to what was happening, JP asked, “What is going on, Lulu?”

“If Trigor, another computer, transfers control to Goopersh, the ship will implode as Goopersh has no fuel to run the ship. We have less than five minutes to act!”

“Who is Trigor?”

“Trigor must be a defense-programmed computer running independent of Goopersh” Lulu answered. “The attack on the ship activated it as we are on defense mode. My father is puzzled. We all are. This ship, in theory, has no fuel to even fly out of the island. Apparently, Trigor has a separate fuel source and won’t share it with Goopersh!”

“Does the ship have two separate fuel sources?” JP said it fast.

“Two working in tandem.”

JP looked at Amo Obib and said, “Sir, I am a computer programmer. I may be able to help.”

“Please,” Amo Obib replied in desperation.

“Can you think of a reason why a separate computer program must handle the defensive system?” JP hastily asked.

Amo Obib gave it a thought.

“Father,” Lulu interjected, “you told me Goopersh is incapable of attacking.”

“Yes,” Amo Obib replied. “Goopersh will automatically neutralize and shutoff controls to any ship armament it detects when activated.”

“Therefore, in order for the defensive system to retaliate, Goopersh must be deactivated?’”

“I guess it did just that,” Amo Obib quickly responded.

“Lulu tells me there are two fuel tanks,” JP asked.

“Yes. Tank 1 and 2.”

“Then both are empty?”

“It must be as Goopersh monitors both tanks”

“Trigor must have an exclusive use on one of them. Can I communicate with Trigor?”

“Sit here and start the sentence with Trigor.”

JP sat on the command chair Amo Obib vacated and immediately said, “Trigor, what is your fuel status?”

“Fuel status, full,” Trigor replied.

Amo Obib, Ningning, and Lulu could hardly believe what they heard and looked at each other in disbelief.

Amo Obib hastily said, “One of the two tanks must be full and under Trigor’s exclusive control,”

“Trigor, which fuel tanks are you hooked up to?” JP asked in a deliberate tone.

“Hooked up to fuel Tank 2.”

“Trigor, is there a link valve between Tank 1 and 2?” he asked without missing time.

“There is a link valve that connects both tanks.”

Amo Obib looked at the transfer time status then said, “Young man, if you must do something, do it now. We don’t have time.”

JP was too preoccupied to answer or maybe even hear. ‘What would he do if he were the programmer?’ he asked himself then said, “Trigor is the link valve between tanks open?”

“Link valve is open.”

“Trigor, close the link valve.”

“Link valve is now closed,” Trigor replied laconically.

Surprised, Amo Obib said, “The fuel indicator reads the fuel tanks as half full. Young man, you did it!”

“Not yet,” JP replied and continued, “Trigor, can I view the sensor that monitors the link valve status?”

“Please view the screen.”

In the fuel compartment, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) flew from its dock to the link-valve control panel and zoomed on it. On the screen, it showed the control panel door wide open and electronic circuits within exposed. Lulu, who was intently looking at the screen, noticed something unusual. A small looped wire dangled within the control panel and called everyone’s notice, “There is a trip wire shorting two connections at the top right of the screen.”

JP focused on it and with signs of relief said, “Trigor, remove the tripwire.”

The ROV’s mechanical arm removed the wire.

Amo Obib looked at the valve status which read ‘CLOSE’ a second before, now read ‘OPEN’.

JP took a deep breath and his posture relaxed while the rest were visibly tense. He smiled at Amo Obib and Ningning and said, “It’s done.” JP went to Lulu’s side and said, “I love you.”

“I love you,” Lulu replied and hugged him. She then bade her parents, “Papa, Mama, Naska is Imar,” not knowing what JP did.

“Control transfer to Goopersh in six seconds,” announced Trigor.

“I pray it works,” Amo Obib said as he held Ningning by his side.

“It will,” JP confidently replied.

 

No one felt the control transfer when the timer read ‘zero’ to everyone’s delight. Simultaneously Goopersh announced, “Goopersh activated and in control.”

 

Amo Obib wasted no time to sit on the Command Chair JP vacated. “Goopersh, report fuel status.”

“Fuel tank half full. Detecting multiple nuclear detonations on planet Earth,” Goopersh reported as it displayed planet Earth on the screen.

Amo Obib, though shocked reacted decisively, “Goopersh, go back to Earth and neutralize all nuclear warheads you detect anywhere now!”

“Neutralizing all nuclear warheads,” Goopersh acknowledged and from the pyramid ship’s apex, beads of light shot out for targets on Earth in rapid succession.

“What is happening?” Ningning reacted on seeing multiple nuclear detonations on the planet.

“World War III has begun,” Amo Obib answered in dismay. “Our ship’s laser gun is firing on nuclear warheads that has yet to detonate and converts its core to harmless material,” he explained. “There must be thousands of them,” he added in astonishment and horror.

The entire East Coast of the United States was on ship’s screen. It was on the dark side of the planet. Small bright light-orange dots that got larger each second marked the hundreds of nuclear blasts on the east coast. When the ship flew over Europe and still on Earth’s dark side, the scene repeated itself. Hundreds of nuclear detonations were concentrated on USSR and its satellite states. The same scenes of destructions appeared to United State allies in Europe and elsewhere.

The four stared at the holocaust before them in silent horror.

What has humankind proven and accomplished?’ flashed through Amo Obib’s mind as he walked towards Ningning and held her by his side.

THE NEW WORLDS

 

Rosenthal Research Center Grounds

President Smith was being led away from the burning building to a safer ground when he saw George Rosenthal in handcuffs behind them. He accosted his security agent who held Rosenthal’s arm, “What is the meaning of this?”

“Sir, he helped the woman escape.”

“That’s the least of our problems. Release him,” he said commandingly. “We need him more as a freeman than a prisoner. We are in a state of war,” the President said to Rosenthal.

Taken aback, Rosenthal reacted, “The Soviets declared war on us?!”

“They already launched their missiles!”

Before Rosenthal could say another word, a secret service man approached and said to the President, “Mr. President, we have to secure you.”

“Very well,” he answered then turned to Rosenthal. “I have to leave. I advise you to stay away from military targets.”

“Why?”

“Russian missiles are heading for west coast targets. Expect them within fifteen minutes. Good luck.”

“Thanks for the warning,” as he shook the President’s hand and responded, “Good luck to you too, Mr. President.”

 

David, on a golf cart, parked by Rosenthal’s side. Without fanfare, Rosenthal stepped in and said, “Russian missiles are in the air and will reach west coast military targets in less than fifteen minutes. We are not far Point Magu Military Naval and Airbase so I think it’s better we see our life’s end from the vantage of the hilltop ahead, if you know what I mean.”

David understood what Rosenthal meant. Taking shelter made no sense. They were but a few miles away from two sure military targets, Point Magu Naval Base, the closest. He drove and parked the golf cart at the hill’s top and walked away with his cellular phone in hand and left Rosenthal standing by the cart who was trying to get in touch with JP over his cellular phone.

JP’s cellphone rang on the floor at the Administrative building. After several tries, Rosenthal stared at the phone then punched keys; waited; then said, “Katie . . . I’d like you to know that there are only two people in this world that means a lot to me. It is you and JP . . . Katie just listen as we don’t have time. Many times in the past, I wanted to tell you that I . . . I love you, Katie . . . Thank you so much for your years of devotion,” he hung up.

Rosenthal dialed JP’s electronic mailbox then said, “John Paul, this is your Dad. Forgive me for all the time we lost. I love you, son. I never thought I could say those words and feel it. It is only now that I realize how wonderful it is to say them to people that means a lot to me. I only wished I had said it more often.

“John Paul, I want you to take over the company. Shutdown all companies related to war armaments. Divert the funds and asset to ventures that will help humanity. It’s too late for me to do it. You do it for me. I want . . .”

“Mr. Rosenthal,” David called out as he pointed toward the sky. “Missiles are coming,” saying it casually.

Rosenthal scanned the area of the sky where David pointed. He discerned faint white lines etched high up in the clear blue sky. He was certain one missile carried twenty-four warheads and each headed for its programmed target. They were clearly visible with its white streak against the blue sky as it plummeted earthward. Two headed in their vicinity. “John Paul, I love you. Bye son,” Rosenthal concluded his message then he looked at the panorama around somewhat leisurely.

As the white streaks in the sky became bolder, David knew they barely had a minute left. He went by Rosenthal’s side and said, “Mr. Rosenthal, it was a pleasure working for you,” then noticed Rosenthal was not looking up but rather scanning the horizon.

“Likewise, and call me George,” Rosenthal replied as he continued to view the scene on a clear day from the vantage of the hill. “You know, David, it’s really a pity that it is only now that I see this beautiful panorama. I have been on this hill at least twice and never saw this awesome scenery. How blind . . . David, at the last minute of my life, with all the power and wealth I amassed, I come to realize I have accomplished nothing. With all my wealth, I come to Him poor in spirit with a worthless story of a life of a vain man. What a waste. What a fool.” He turned to David and added, “David, if given another chance, I want you to help me build another empire. One that will help people of the world. We will divert all our resources to find ways to clean our planet of pollutants in the air, land, and waters; develop clean, cheap fuel and efficient engines to power industries and transportations; better fertilizers to increase agricultural yields; better insecticides to control pest, do pharmaceutical research to combat diseases; and find ways to make nonproductive resources of this planet productive.” He looked up and saw one projectile heading near them. “We don’t have time. Lead the prayer,” he hastily said.

David prayed aloud, “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” and Rosenthal echoed. As they prayed, they watched a missile head within three miles east of them. It did not explode in the air as they expected but continued earthward and disappeared. They followed another projectile and, to their surprise, it disappeared behind a distant hill without exploding.

“Russian hardware,” Rosenthal retorted. “There’s another one and it’s heading for Edward’s Air Force Base.” Realizing it was over twenty miles to the northeast, he pulled David to the ground and hurriedly said, “Close your eyes. This time we are far from the target. We may live to tell a story.”

Flat on the ground, Rosenthal turned on his cell phone and listened. He heard no static discharge that follows a nuclear blast and joyously said, “David, none of the missiles exploded. Come, we have a lot to do to build a better world. So, help me God, that will be the first and last thing I will do.”

 

Trickery, a Virtue

 

Goopersh reported, “All nuclear warheads are neutralized. 1,353 nuclear detonations detected and concentrated on Eastern United States and Europe, and USSR.”

Amo Obib sat on the command chair. “Goopersh, start decontaminating Earth’s atmosphere of radioactive contamination,” he ordered.

Goopersh responded, “Initiating decontamination procedures.”

 

Amo Obib turned to JP and curiously asked, “What was the function of the trip wire?”

“Answer this first, what would Goopersh do if the fuel link valve sensor indicated ‘closed’”

“Goopersh would open it.”

“As I suspected. Tank 2 was full all the time but the fuel status must read EMPTY for Trigor to have exclusive use of Tank 2. For Goopersh to think it’s empty, the link valve must read OPEN when in reality it was close. That was the primary purpose of the trip wire.”

Lulu joined, “So they installed a tripwire, making Goopersh think it is open when it was closed all the time. Goopersh was monitoring only Tank 1!”

“I think I understand,” Amo Obib interjected. “If Trigor transferred control over to Goopersh with the tripwire in place, Goopersh would instantly sense the link valve to be close and would open it then we would be in trouble.”

“But why did they do that?” Ningning asked.

“I think I know,” Amo Obib answered. “During the switchover procedure, they must have caught the conflict between Goopersh’s programmed responses to Trigor’s retaliatory actions when they simulated an attack to the ship. In that scenario, Goopersh, programmed to never to use the ship’s armament, will shut it down the instant the armaments are activated. Short of time to reprogram, the quickest solution was to close the link valve and short the monitoring circuits such that ‘OPEN’ on Tank 2 really meant ‘CLOSE’. Unfortunately, they had no time to relay the message to us as Goopersh was offline during the switchover.”

Ningning responded lamentably, “All the time we had the fuel but had no way of knowing.”

“How did you come to a solution so easily, young man?” Amo Obib asked.

“Trickery is a virtue humans are good at,” answered JP.

“We should learn that,” Ningning reacted.

“You are better off without it,” JP responded beaming.

Giving it a thought, Ningning replied, “You are right, young man.”

Amo Obib understandably smiled.

Ningning asked Amo Obib, “Do we have enough fuel to hook up with the colonizing module?”

“Enough to get them and explore a hundred of galaxies.”

“Sir,” JP started uneasily. “Will you take Lulu and her sisters with you?”

“Much as Ningning and I would like that, Lulu and her sisters are Humans and fit more with your society than with mine.

Elated, JP held Lulu’s hand and said, “Sir, I would like to take then this opportunity to ask for your daughter’s hand.”

Amo Obib grinned at Lulu, said, “She’s old enough to make that decision. If she wishes to marry you, I have no objection,” and then turned to Ningning.

Ningning beamed at JP and hugged Lulu. She said, “However, Amo Obib and I must know your name first.”

 

Lulu introduced JP.

 

Amo Obib said, “It is our custom to have the parents around in a nuptial ceremony. Are your parents alive?”

“My father is and my Aunt Juaning is like a mother to me. Can they be transported here for the occasion?”

“That will not be a problem.”

 

Half an hour later, one of the many mosquito-size surveillance craft sent to search for Rosenthal found him at his downtown office. It sent live a video image of Rosenthal kissing Katie at the hallway with people around applauding.

“Should we take both of them?” Amo Obib asked.

“Please,” JP replied.

 

They did and got Juaning, and Lulu’s four sisters who were fortunate to be no way near a nuclear blast.

THE FINAL DECISION

 

The reunion was concluded with Amo Obib officiating a simple marriage ceremony for Rosenthal and Katie; JP and Lulu. At the ceremony’s end, they realized there were many reasons to celebrate but had no food in the ship.

“Can we buy groceries?” Juaning curiously asked.

“Can we, Papa?” Lulu asked.

Ningning, who stood beside Amo Obib intervened, “Of course we can,” then looked at Amo Obib, “Right, Amo?”

“Right,” Amo Obib responded, grinning.

“I’ll pay the tab,” Rosenthal offered.

“Use credit card?” Juaning asked.

“I don’t carry cash.”

Juaning exclaimed, “Use plastic and adulterate the occasion? I got real money and will take care of it. Right, George?”

“Right,” Rosenthal replied smiling.

“Who will go?” asked Ningning.

“All the women,” Juaning responded quickly. “We were made for that. We leave the old ones behind.”

“Then JP comes with us,” joined Lulu. “We need someone to carry the heavy stuff. Right, JP?”

Before JP could answer, Lulu’s sisters altogether shouted, “Right!”

Everyone laughed and soon after the women and JP prepared to leave the ship.

 

Less Damage

 

Amo Obib and Rosenthal walked the women and JP to the transporter room. They watched them de-materialize. Amo Obib commented right after, “That’s where our future is heading.”

“Right,” replied Rosenthal.

Both men heartily laugh.

 

Rosenthal asked, as they walked, “With the fuel, what are your plans?”

“Oddly, I have yet to think of it. I never thought it would end this way. It wouldn’t be as easy just to leave.”

“I would surmise you are contemplating on helping us Humans.”

“Clean the atmosphere; help rebuild North America and Europe . . .”

“That will take time,” Rosenthal interjected. “You can’t be at all those places at the same time.”

“How true. However, we can help those we can easily reach out to. It will take two days to get and bring back the colonizing module. With over 250,000 Rians and our technology, it will take less time to help the wounded; the sick; and rebuild what was destroyed. That will give Earthlings a good start.”

“When will helping stop?”

“I do not understand,” Amo Obib replied as he looked at Rosenthal, bewildered.

“Rebuild North America, rebuild Europe, famine in Africa; the epidemics in Asia. The list has no end,” Rosenthal stressed.

Amo Obib stayed quiet for a few seconds. “I see your point,” he reacted. “I had the same dilemma when I felt it better to build a city for the Migrants. Then, what about the people at the other continents, in Central and South America? Of the places where the Migrants came? It does seem there is no end.” Unable to find an answer asked, “What would you suggest?”

Rosenthal weighed what he would say as he looked at Amo Obib then decided to go about it his normal way, “Leave,” he stressed. “Leave us to our own problems.”

“Just leave?” Amo Obib retorted quizzically.

“You’ll do less damage and us humans more good.”

Amo Obib was taken aback. He expected him to be elated, grateful, appreciative, and thankful. The help was freely given! The word, ‘less damage,’ rang in his head. He looked at Rosenthal questioningly not grasping what he was trying to convey, the logic; the wisdom. He must understand knowing his decision would affect two worlds. He pursued the subject, “I still do not understand human ways. You are more in a position to comprehend the consequences of my action by being Human.”

Rosenthal grinned. “Lulu explained well your culture, your ways that I understand your dilemma. Your culture has conditioned you to help. You cannot depart from your nature. You can’t help but help.”

“Helping each other should be a way of life. What is wrong with being helpful? Forgive me, I do not understand.”

“Helping, by itself, is noble. It is when you must decide when it’s better not to help that a line is drawn. Leave us Humans to struggle and be proud of what we will accomplish for ourselves when the need arises and in spite of all the problems. Leave us to learn from our mistakes and triumph over it. That’s the best help you can give.”

Amo Obib gave it a serious thought then said, “I see your point. We must let humans fend and solve their own problems as we Rians must fend and solve ours. Thank you.” He paused for a moment then with a sign of relief said, “We will stay long enough to clean and repair Earth’s atmosphere then reunite with the colonizing module then search for a new planet we will call our home.”

“Will you bring Lulu, her sisters, and JP with you?”

“JP asked the same question of me. I wish we could be with them but my children are as human as you are. Lulu has JP. I worry for my four other daughters. They are so innocent of Human ways. I wish . . .”

“You need not worry. I will adopt and care for them as though they are my own.”

“Naska is Imar. I mean, thank you so very, very much. Ningning will be so happy to know that,” he said with delight then added, “I will leave behind all of Ria’s science and technology and will need someone to administer its distribution as some may not be wise to divulge at this point in time. Do you know of anyone who may be able to help?”

Rosenthal, with a wide grin, replied, “I think I do.”

 

NASKA IS IMAR

I spent years to write this novel, my first, for you. I would be so grateful if you can spend a minute to write a review. Assess it for its story as I am not a professional nor a literary writer but merely a storyteller. Naska is Imar.

 

To write a review: Ctrl + Click the link below then scroll down to the end of the webpage. You will find it at the bottom and on the left side of the page. Thank you for your time.

 

http://Shakespir.com/books/view/532564

 

About the Author

I was born December 14, 1943 in Davao City, Philippines. In education, I took Bachelor of Arts major in mathematics, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Masters in Business Administration. I migrated to the United States November of 1976 and work there until 1997. My last employer was Mileage Plus, Inc., a subsidiary of United Airlines, as a Senior Systems Analyst. I retired on that same year and returned to my native land, Davao City, Philippines and had lived there to this day. I have a son, John Paul (JP) Campo who resides in Los Angeles, California.

 

On and off, from March of 1981 till December 31, 2016, I struggled to finish this novel, titled Help. With no formal writing training, I literally told a story (tell) opposed to the literary standard of ‘show.’ The story’s pace is very fast as there are a lot of scenes to cover. I can only hope that the quality of the story as written, and the philosophical and moral issues it addresses and subtly embedded in the story itself, will not be impaired.

 

 

Other books by this author

I have another book but still in my head. My writing it depends largely on how this novel, Help, is received. Stories of a couple, extremely wealthy by themselves but keep it a secret even between them and to the people they have to live with. Couples who sought a happy and meaningful existence for themselves and for the children. A life opposed to opulent living they and their children could have easily be part of. Of how each fought hard the temptation to reveal and use their wealth when life got tough. Of the problems, each had, to raise two boys (one became an addict) and a girl, and teach them something of better value when money, material things, and social life style were issues. How each, very discreetly, poured millions to improve the quality of life in their small community without others knowing for their children and the community’s sake. The book will be titled, “The Other Life”—-a contrast between opulent living versus simple life—-which is better for you and your children?

Connect with Arturo Campo

 

At 74 years of age, as of December 14, 2016, learning is not easy but familiar with HOTMAIL.

Write me directly through my email address: [email protected]

 

DEDICATION

 

To the loving memory of my father

Anastacio Malaya Campo

 

My mother

Remedios Ponce de Leon Fernandez

 

My wife

Luningning Aguirre

 

———————

 

With much love

John Paul Campo and Melody Tibong

Acknowledgements

You will never know just how far your help got me going.

 

Many thanks:

 

Nena Gutana

Caridad Marasigan

Norma Ezpeleta

Antonio Bacalso

Glen Cear

Melchor Espiritu

and most specially Marijack Pamintuan and Stephen Brandon. Both inspired me to finish this novel.

 


Help 2nd Edition