He didn’t want to be conspicuous, but Kelwin still glanced back at his wife as he strolled closer to the administration building. His grip on their son’s hand tightened as he spied her perusing the variety of meats offered at one of the market stands.
As he expected, Norah betrayed nothing about fulfilling the role of lookout.
The underground systems of Eda were surprisingly comfortable for not only the indigenous Martimu, but Humans as well. Artificial lighting reflected off the ivory-colored walls of the predominant stone, casting a glittering luminescence throughout the broad, chiseled caverns. It was quite probable that being forced to live underground, due to the inhospitable surface, had contributed to their proclivity for designing and building interstellar ships.
And that was why he’d dared to come here.
Their son, seven years old by Earth standards, pulled on his hand and spoke in Olde English because it was indecipherable to any translator.
“Can we go to the Grendelette Pools after this?”
Kelwin drew a deep breath, wishing yet again he could say yes, even in an archaic language. “You know that all depends.”
Colmac’s lips pursed. As a youth so accustomed to disappointment, he’d developed a stoic cynicism already. Kelwin had given up on cursing the prophecy that had abstracted his son’s childhood. That achieved nothing. Their focus was better served at ensuring the Voratene never succeeded in … executing … him.
So Kelwin spent much time teaching his son how to survive.
A new ship had started appearing in the ports. Before the Voratene threatened his family, Kelwin serviced and repaired all kinds of craft. Their years of living as fugitives dictated consistent travel across space, and his familiarity with the vessels proved useful.
But he wasn’t going to set foot on one of those new contraptions until he knew how it was constructed. He needed to know all the ways of escape, first. And quite possibly the Voratene forced the Martimu to design snares within it.
There was only one way to view the abstract.
Although no flashing light or electronic beep betrayed they were being scanned, he knew their entrance into the administration building was recorded. Norah had programmed false identities for all three of them even though there was no plan for her to enter the facility. But plans had a way of getting changed in an instant….
This invasive monitoring didn’t exist until the Voratene established their domain and decided all their subjects needed to be supervised. Luckily, keeping track of races on eleven different planets scattered many light years apart made their surveillance system sluggish.
“Why aren’t there any drafts on the syncosphere?” Colmac pulled his hand free as they entered the library room. Several dozen stations, in an assortment of sizes to accommodate various races, created a bit of a maze. Each was outfitted with a screen and buttons, knobs, and levers to manipulate the devices.
“Because our toads control what’s on it.” Since there was no Olde English word for Voratene, they employed some code to further stymie any eavesdropping translators. “They keep off anything that’s genuinely useful.”
There were only a few other patrons, mostly quadrupedal Martimu, in the library. He had no difficulty locating a station they could access, and showed his son how to go about bringing up the information they sought.
Kelwin’s heart fell as he studied the schematics. His wife’s suspicion had been right, and he offered thanks for her suggestion they should investigate how these new ships were constructed.
“Look.” He tapped a finger on different parts of the screen. “What do you see?”
“Air-locks?” Colmac frowned. “Those are standard.”
“Compare them. Do you notice a difference?”
His son leaned forward, chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds, and then looked up at his face. “Some are missing escape hatches?”
Kelwin nodded. “So that means?”
“Trap.” There was no mistaking the disappointment in his voice as his gaze returned the screen.
As he watched the child stare at the diagram, Kelwin wrestled with his own competing emotions. That Colmac was a swift learner stirred a bit of pride … but like how the Martimu were brilliant engineers because of the bright and barren surface, he had to be.
He had to adapt and think and confront all sorts of situations a youngster shouldn’t have to face. Declared guilty of a crime he’d never committed, he was hunted to guarantee that he never would. Even by staying alive, he had to sacrifice his childhood.
Life wasn’t fair, but more so for his son….
Colmac looked up again. “What about the Grendelette Pools?”
He started to calculate how long they’d been here, what the odds were that sentries would try to track them down because their fake identities might be discovered by now. At least Norah hadn’t alerted them of any troops approaching their location.
The sensation that pulsed through him brought those calculations to a halt.
Of course his son wanted to visit the pools. The grendelettes, fish-type creatures, were so domestic they would frolic with any swimmers who entered those waters. The youth of all the races who visited there found them quite enchanting.
By God, he wasn’t going to allow the Voratene to dash his son’s hopes yet again.
Kelwin smirked as he switched the station off. “We’re going. But before we do, we do need a plan of escape in case any sentries track us there.”
Colmac nodded, his beaming smile making worthwhile any complications they might run across. And then his words prompted that mixture of emotions again.
“I have an idea.”
So here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and the word this round is Abstract. It took me a while to get around to drafting this one, so I decided to milk it. And don’t miss checking out the other submissions!
Father’s Day is nearly here in my part of the world, which might have had some influence on the theme in this story. So happy Father’s Day to all you dads!
7 thoughts on “Stolen Moments”
[…] “Stolen Moments” by A. E. Branson […]
it makes me wonder why Olde English is “indecipherable to any translator.”
I like how Colmac is an unusual child. He doesn’t seem scared at all, which makes me wonder if he knows that he is being hunted. Kelwin taught him well regarding all the schematics and such.
This is a great mystery piece. Are there other humans? What happened to Earth? etc. It’s a stellar stand-alone but would make for an even better novel.
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Thanks, and that last comment was pure gold since this is a bite of backstory for the next novel I plan to write. 🙂 As for the first ‘question’, the necessary translators can only work with the multiple languages used by all the alien species – they can’t handle anything archaic.
Your comment about Colmac not showing fear is the sort of thing that can send me plunging into philosophical weeds, but I’ll keep it brief here: We adapt to what we live with, or, there are risks we’re willing to accept. He knows his parents love and protect him, so during those moments when terror isn’t upon them, they embrace what joy is available. Living in fear is a form of servitude, because without hope there can be no freedom.
Yes, there are other humans, but Earth isn’t part of the planetary alliance. I don’t have to be as coy about your questions this month, so I will say what’s happening here involves the ‘descendants’ of people in my serialization. Whew, I may have said too much…!
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Well, not every child (or human) is the same and we don’t all deal with the same in uniformed ways.
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You’re absolutely right – and thanks again!
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The amount of character and worldbuilding you give us in such a short piece is really astounding! Excellently done, AE. As I imagine was your intent, I’m left with lots of questions! Why are they hunted? How did they (humanity) get here? And who is hunting them? I also want to know more about the Martimu (love the name, btw!) and the friendly fish.
Oh, and I’ve not forgotten about Tossing Dice — I will be reading the bonus chapter when I can catch five minutes!
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Thanks, and the answers to those questions belong in my next novel … although since you mentioned Tossing Dice, I will admit humanity ‘got there’ because this is what happens a few generations later. And while we’re confessing ‘getting around to it’, I do intend to read your second collection, but it will take more than five minutes. 🙂 Everybody is so busy these days!