Full Chapters: Chapter 1 - Irema-Dome ComplexChapter 2 - ARAIDIA-Shielded City of the Planet ShatazarChapter 3 - Train HomeChapter 4 - ARAIDIA Level Two Hangar Deck Chapter 5 - Yutva and Leptis
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Chapter 1: IREMA - Dome Complex
"My baby-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!" screamed a woman below.
The high shrill traveled up to where Delah stood above in the middle of the walkway of the Dome Complex. The sound felt like it punctured her eardrums. She had fallen behind her classmates while on a class field trip, and covered her ears.
That scream shocked Delah into action. She uncovered her ears the second the high shrill stopped and leaned over the railing to gaze down about twenty feet. The desperate woman gestured the security robot to come help. How was Delah supposed to do to help the poor woman from up here?
"How does she look?" A mechanical security robot took short, quick steps toward the woman that gasped for air and wrung her hands.
"She's, she's only two, brown hair. Please, please, I don't know where she's gone."
Delah felt her stomach flip as she looked up, spotting the child at the other end of the walkway near the maintenance bridge railing. She held her breath as the child wobbled closer to one of the maintenance drones laser-welding a broken rail. Delah's mom had told her to stick close with her class and not stray away. The mall was no place for a nine-year old, like her, to be left behind, much less a two-year old.
A claustrophobic sensation came over Delah while darkness fell over the mall. It was a blackout. She couldn't catch her breath and the hairs on her arms stood on end. The baby, the baby!
She shook away the suffocating sensation and focused as her eyes adjusted to the dark. She made out the shadowed figures that included maintenance robots, railing, and the curious baby. She sprinted toward the baby. The dome glass above darkened bringing back that claustrophobic feeling. She pressed on. The lamp fixtures flashed off, the music died, and the humming of the air vents ceased. There was no stopping her now.
The toddler had climbed the first rail and now clung to it, crying.
People froze as not to bump into each other. Not enough light filtered through the dome for them. Nervous shouts and protests came from the crowd below. In the darkened mall, Delah now saw everything clearly.
Catching up to the child, Delah reached for the baby's fingers. Curly soft brown hair framed the frightened child's face.
She wasn't fast enough.
The child's grip loosened and slipped. Delah dove between the railings and caught the back of the child's top. The baby dangerously hung from the tip of Delah's fingers. She wasn't so far from danger, hanging from the railing by her waist. She pulled up the child to her and gently came back through the railings. Her arms cradled the baby girl while she rocked her. The child nearly half Delah's size kept squirming and cried for her mommy, making Delah feel uncomfortable. She tried to comfort the child. "Hey, you'll see your mommy soon. Don't be afraid of the dark."
A security robot on wheels, operating on auxiliary, drove to her to take the child.
"Security 2nd level reporting the child is found," it said. Delah embraced the child close to stop her stomach from fluttering. After a few seconds, she released the child into the robot's arms. At least these machines worked when nothing else in the dome could. When it bowed its head to her, it was more of a jerk. "Thank you for your assistance." She welcomed the sight to see the robot gently whirling away on its wheels and carry the child to the first level.
Delah let out a sigh of relief and opened up her permission slip while waiting for the power to turn back on. This was the reason she was excited about the field trip. To see her cousin ordained in the priesthood. After looking at her permission slip for the umpteenth time since receiving it at home, she glanced again at the script."Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire."
She mouthed the words as she read them and pressed her forefinger on the icon located in the middle of her permission slip. Elder's fuzzy holographic image extended over the digital text on the plasti-tablet. The image repeated: Elder placed a holy sash over a young student.
Satisfied, she pinched the bottom right hand corner of the clear plasti-permission slip and watched it roll up.
Delah leaned over the railing. She was so mesmerized by the stilled crowd below, that the sound of quick pattering footsteps didn't even register until she felt a hard shove into her back and nearly flipped over to a fifty-foot drop. Gravity almost won her; she grabbed the railing and watched her permission slip bounce downward, barely missing a pedestrian, and finally settle below.
Hanging there head first, she gripped the slippery rail. It should have scared her, hanging like that, nearly teetering to her death. But she was glad this didn't happen to the baby and there was no way she was going to fall. Equilibrating herself, she tightened her hold, squeezed her abdomen, and straightened her legs. Her whole body was perpendicular to the floor. Bending her arms with a great push off the railing, she flipped in the air and bounced back onto her feet. Perfect landing.
Who would do a thing like that? Why? They had almost killed her. She hadn't made anyone angry; neither was she the type to start fights. It had to be an accident in the dark.
Delah swung around. Lights, music, and air vents all came back on as if someone had turned on a switch. A group of people stared at her with hands to their faces and widened eyes. Hushed voices whispered.
"Another Araidian," a man with bags in his arms said at the entrance of the walkway. "A dark one, too. Can't stand light-skinned Araidians, either. They're all alike. I wouldn't be surprised if she had something to do with the blackout."
"You're crazy. Aradians have a right to live here just like anyone else." another man in front said.
The man with bags shook his head. "Nope, one less Araidian. One less bad day. Who in their right mind cares?"
"I don't believe what you've said," a woman from behind the two men said. "I had these on," she had a pair of green goggles in her hand. "You should've seen what just happened. That looked like assault, even if she is Araidian. We need to report that boy right now."
"Oh, so you're saying you saw everything in the dark? I couldn't even see three feet past my hand." The man tightened his hold around the bags.
"I could see a little with these. Enough to know they shouldn't have been so reckless in the mall."
"I don't have to deal with this. First this Araidian kid and now a blackout. And what in all Shatazar caused that, anyway?"
"Don't know," a short man replied. "It's all over now. No harm done. The push could've been an accident. Still those boys shouldn't be running here. Hey, you two!" The two other men walked away as the short man rolled up his sleeves.
Some had called Delah a hybrid. Half Araidian, that's what she was, with Araidian hearing, and she could hear them clearly -- the two men, and the remaining man, woman, and two boys.
Borell and Jakin!
It had to have been Borell, her classmate, who had pushed her. Borell poked his tongue at her, called her a name, and grabbed Jakin's sleeve. They ran at breakneck speed past the short man to catch up with the class halfway down the walkway.
A pain pressed against her chest, her heartbeat slowed, and her mind stopped working. She heard the name-calling and the laughing. Red
she only saw red, a blank red screen across her eyes. For those few seconds, while the boys sprinted to their classmates, time was nonexistent.
The red dissipated, warmth touched her skin again, the crowds below the walkway bustled, and her heart drummed so hard in her ears, she thought her head would burst. Borell and her Jakin, the boy she liked, had hurt her. Now they were halfway down the other side of the walkway, still running.
With a deep breath, she dashed after them, feeling the air rush pass her face, as she closed in on the boys.
"You! Stop!" It was Master Fontell, a tall man with thinning hair. Right before she touched Borell's collar, she skidded to a stop.
"Right now," he said. "All of you come here. Class, wait quietly until we come back." Master Fontell took Delah and the two boys aside near the railing and spoke in a firm but low voice.
"If you ever attempt any shenanigans like you pulled today, not keeping up with the class and running in the mall, you will be suspended. Understood? All three of you deserve to be punished. Delah, this surprises me. You're supposed to be here for your cousin!
"You all have gotten off easy this time. Just make sure this doesn't happen again. Do you understand what I'm saying?" All three nodded. "Keep up with the class and be
"Sir?" A graveled voice came from behind. "I'm Sawnders." It was the short man shaking the teacher's hand. "I saw what happened."
Delah listened to the man's explanation, how one of the boys, Borell, accidentally pushed her into the railing. Master Fontell's face reddened, he thanked the man, and promised the boys would be attended to.
Time wasn't going by fast enough. Only thirty-three minutes had passed since their class had arrived on their field trip. Delah couldn't wait to witness her cousin's ordination and to share a secret with him. After her brush with death, she kept pace with her classmates, but she wished she could speed up the itinerary.
She could hardly believe Jakin had allowed Borell to push her. Jakin, with his long ponytail and light brown eyes, had seemed so nice. Sometimes he smiled when she passed by his desk at school. He didn't seem to care that she was different.
Ever since he had been hanging around with Borell, Jakin didn't smile as much. She had hoped he would notice her today. She had even gotten her mother to help her with makeup: lip balm, lash color,and rouge for her cheeks. She lowered her head, scuffing her feet while she kept up with the class.
Today, Delah had felt confident, happy! Her mother, Leptis, had curled her wild dark brown hair and suggested she wear her favorite dress top and pants. Her boots even matched her blue outfit. And she'd gone to all that trouble for one boy, Jakin. Every time she saw him, her heart fluttered. It scared her, made her giddy, made her want to see him again.
"You have a crush on the boy, dear," her mother had said while curling her hair.
"But, Mom?" Delah frowned, lowered her head.
Her mother touched Delah's cheek. "Honey, look at me. Never look down on yourself. I want you to remember that. Even though the Araidians keep enslaving the Shatarians it doesn't mean we're all bad. And though Shatarians have carried this hardship for such a long time, it still doesn't mean they're all good. Learn to watch how others behave and treat others as you want them to treat you.
"Oh, look at your hair; it's shiny, thick, past your back." Her mother had taken one last tug at her hair to get it all in place. "So don't worry about who you are, honey. Lots of boys will like you and want to be with you." Her mother had chuckled with the golden flecks filling her eyes and she turned Delah's head away from her, finishing the last curl. "I may have to beat them off with this curling iron."
Remembering, Delah grinned and felt better as she strolled behind her classmates on the walkway. She stopped. They kept going through the tunnel. Her mind wanted to absorb all of it and her heart wanted to enjoy this wonderful moment. The sun's heat warmed her skin through the dome and she felt her heart warmed by her mother's words.
Further ahead, nearly out of visibility for a normal person, her small class of twenty stopped at the other end of the tunnel in front of the museum entrance. From where she stood, gazing into the darkened tunnel nearly twenty feet long, she could make out her classmates' features, the color of their eyes, and the teacher at the other end.
Her teacher took time to explain this great structure, their pride in their small city, Irema. She heard him lecturing her classmates, even while passers-by talked and made background noise. "Class, this dome complex you're in is made up of geometric shapes. Its frame is made of steel. Doesn't it feel like we're in the corner of the mountainside ready to be crushed?" The children hesitated, murmured, and finally answered with a yes that popped in and out among them. He continued. "No need to be concerned, because the hexagonal membranes are made of transparent aluminum. They are strong and hold us up, even within this mountain.
"When we were out on the walkway, did you see how clear it was through the dome ceiling? They transmit more light than glass and the largest biome spans more than one hundred meters without requiring internal supports. This allows complete freedom for our landscape, classes, and commercial needs. We're in the main bubble. Two other domes, appearing like bubbles, are set beside us. The main dome, where we are, is in the middle. This place is so huge that it is a quarter of the size of our small city, Irema. Impressive, right?"
Good, they had forgotten about her in the shuffle. That left her free to gaze at the flank of the mountain that gobbled half of the hexagon bubble they were in. She felt as if she could fly away high, through the membranes into the orange-tipped blue sky.
She extended her arms, looked up toward the two moons of her planet Shatazar, and said softly, "I can fly to Miropos on the wings of a firefly and hop on the back of Shael." She wanted to soar out of her skin. She lowered her arms. That was impossible, she thought. She wasn't a firefly, and she couldn't get back at Borell for turning Jakin against her.
Reluctantly, she followed her class. In the tunnel, dimmed artificial lighting replaced bright daylight. They toured the spacious Bernardian Memorial. Delah's master explained that this gentle race had been extinct for nearly three hundred years, killed by disease and the greed of the False Watchman. A nine-foot statue showed the graceful, lean body and humanoid structure of the race. Bernardians and Shatarians had built the city Araidia together in treaty with the Araidians. Then the peace-loving Bernardians, a race that possessed intelligence that, by far, exceeded that of Araidians and Shatarians, had died out from violence and sickness.
The violent past of the Araidians seemed to haunt her. Her deep-seated shame was about more than boys not liking her. It was about having Araidian blood. It was mixed with Shatarian blood that tempered her Araidian strength, the sparkle in her skin, her acute hearing, and her eyes that never completely coalesce with golden flecks. Though superior in some physical ways to the Shatarian humans, she would always be an inferior to the Araidians and in this place called home.
Jakin had turned against her. He saw an Araidian, not Delah. Her lower lip quivered, while she stood and looked up at the statue, the tall thin figure, shining like quicksilver. She blinked and blinked again to fight back the tears.
Delah made her way to the front of the group, close to where her teacher stood, as they entered a hexagon demi-dome, much smaller than the main dome, and made for auditorium activities. Overhead, the ceiling was nearly one hundred feet high. The 569 students from her school were assigned to the front rows of Sections B, C, and D. Her seat was thickly cushioned in dark red and conformed to her size as she sat in it.
The stage in front showed a backdrop that reminded her of heaven, clouds moving gently against a blue holo sky. Delah had never seen a blue sky.
And she had never seen an ordination into the priesthood. Now, her own cousin, Teeabu, had excelled in his class and received the honor of entering holy service as an apprentice.
The service hadn't started yet. Master Fontell sat a couple of rows in front of her. But she could hear Borell whispering to Jakin and a girl four rows behind, picking up their distinctive tones and fluctuation as they responded.
It was Borell. "See her. Me and Jakin got her good. She's nothing but a wimp, not as strong as they say. She didn't even catch us." The girl snickered and Jakin remained silent. Borell continued with his awful comments, "Look what I got from the commerce mall
one for you, and you, and me. Hey, don't be scared. She's nuthin' but a lazy dark, ugly nothing. She's so ugly, her daddy couldn't keep her." They jeered.
Delah squirmed in her chair, trying not to cry. Her face felt like it was on fire and her hands shook. I'm not ugly -- not ugly, not ugly.
Looking at her holo tablet received from their arrival gave her an excuse to lower her head. She studied the directions. It had a small blank screen; when touched, a holo image would pop up. The first button would show what was on stage and the second button showed what was inside the small entrance against the stage's wall.
Overhead, way, way up toward the curved ceiling were transparent patterned hexagons. She started on one hexagon, counting the sides, the silver titanium beams with others connecting, and multiplied them by the honeycomb shapes. Easy.
She counted the light fixtures on the wall to her right, the flood lights that spanned on a beam above, and the chair arms. She got lost in counting, until a rushing sound brought her back, and she ducked just in time.
Three whooshes shot over her. Three huge water balloons smashed into Master Fontell's nearly bald head. Water splattered everywhere, splashing her, the students in front of her, and Master Fontell. Classmates yelled and jumped up. Some scrambled out of their seats and scurried into the aisle. Delah leaped up, ready to tear Borell apart, but her teacher's wet hand grabbed her arm and pulled her to him.
"Who did this?" her teacher asked.
Delah and some of the students in Borell's row pointed at the three culprits.
He gestured for them and Delah to come with him.
She was in trouble. Her heart pumped fast while she followed them to the back door. Today seemed to be the worst day of her life. Was he going to remove her from the field trip and miss her cousin's ordination?
Master Fontell surprised her by leaving her at the door, rather than taking her in with the others for disciplining. She stood closer to the door to hear everything that went on.
"She's nuthin' but a dark Raidy. She don't belong here
never did!" Borell said.
"Jakin, do you have anything to say?" her teacher asked in a stern voice.
A long silence. She strained to hear. Nothing was said, until, "Me and Borell didn't mean anything. We didn't mean for anything bad to happen to her. We just wanted to have some fun." Jakin's voice rose to a squeak.
"At the expense of one of my students, correct?"
Jakin added, "She could be a spy or something. That's what Borell said."
"All three of you are suspended, even you, little miss."
Borell's sister cried out, "She's got no right to get us in trouble. We didn't mean nothing. And she's always prancing around like she owns the place. She thinks she's pretty, but she's not. She's ugly like Borie says. Master Fontell, you said we were at war with these people. They even ended up killing that other race and now we're stuck with her! I'm telling my mom and dad on you, Master Fontell."
"Borell and Jakin, there will be an investigation into your violent behavior toward Delah. All of you come with me. Now!"
The door flew opened, Delah jumped back. She had never seen her teacher so flushed and angry. He took the three with him and spoke to another teacher. They were escorted out of the room and Mr. Fontell returned.
"I want to talk to you privately, Delah. Please come in here." He gestured her to sit. The room was bleak with only a small desk, chair and couch. A file cabinet sat adjacent to the wall on the other side. No pictures or plants were there to brighten the dull gray-yellowish walls and floor. Her heart pounded in her ears.
"What happened on the walkway? By the time I noticed you weren't with the class, you were chasing after those boys."
Her hands shook in her lap, chewing on her bottom lip not knowing what to say. To her surprise, her face was wet.
Master Fontell exhaled. "You're up against a lot. Especially with those types of children. But you must remember." He cleared his throat and spoke quietly, carefully. "A part of you will always be Shatarian. This is your home. And your mother will always care for you. Don't ever allow anyone say you can't be the best. You are Delah of the House of Ruyles and you are a great student. And many of your classmates care for you."But no one will ever love me.
The tears kept coming. Jakin hates me.
Her shoulders shook. She wiped her face and eyes with her sleeve.
"Delah, your time will come. You never need to worry for someone to love you. Now you have your mother, cousin, friends, and other family. Never deprive yourself of those who care for you." He took out a handkerchief from his tunic pocket. "Here give your nose a good blow."
She honked through the kerchief and he chuckled. "I know this, little girl. You've always had the chance to give them a big thrashing. But I've expected more out of you and you've given it. There's no need to resort to violence. Hold your head up and let's go see your cousin's ordination."
Sitting on the edge her seat, Delah waited impatiently for his name to be called. Before any calling of honor students, Elder stood on the stage in a great white robe, wearing the priesthood sash of many colors. His gray eyes glassed over while he stood reciting his dream: "Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire."
His voice commanded everyone's attention. It was eloquent, emotional, rhythmical like a storyteller. She listened, seeing images play in her mind. She heard the words "war" and "eyes like a flame of fire." Her heart sank. Her eyes sparkled like fire, and the Araidian part of her had waged a war. Was this pointing to the Araidians? She hoped not because they weren't faithful or true.
The auditorium was quiet, no snickering, chewing, or shuffling of the feet. A sweet quietness hung over them as Elder explained his dream, and that he believed it foretold the future.
He stopped and bowed his head toward them. "I can see you're all anxious to ask. Pop out the questions, children, one at a time."
She raised her hand. "What is a horse?" she asked.
" Elder sat on a high stool, adjusted his robe to cover his pant legs. Wrinkles deepened in his face as he smiled. "I've seen the creature many times in my dreams. It stands one head taller than a Shatarian and travels on four legs. Much like the Granulups, it is very swift, and a man can straddle the creature's back."
Delah wondered how a man could ride a Granulup, a huge, wild burrowing serpent.
"They're called by a different name, 'steed.' They're not from this planet. You've seen them on this tour in the zoo over in Demi Dome Four."
Delah nodded and smiled. Now she understood.
The other children fidgeted and grew restless. She couldn't imagine why. Ever since she could remember, Delah had looked forward to this annual ceremony. And this year she would never forget, because her beloved cousin would be called to the priesthood.
At long last, the names began. Over the other children's cacophony, she heard Teeabu's name boom out. Her heart drummed just as loud.
Teeabu, a youth of fourteen years, the son of Jamis from the lineage of priesthood, stood beautiful and tall among his friends as they lined up on the stage. His broad shoulders were a symbol of his spiritual ability to take on the heavy responsibilities of his new apprenticeship. His long ebony hair, in a single braid, nearly passed the middle of his back. Yes, he was the best-looking one in the room. She laughed to herself. All that she had gone through today was worth this moment.