Passion Play

Phases in the Life of Alisa-zar Kim’Vallara


By Brantley Thompson Elkins


Revised from 2013/15 versions


Vest’athy, Velor, Late 2036 AD Earth Count. Morning

It was shortly after dawn, and the Rites were about to begin.

The induction of Candidates at the Great Door was always a special occasion, but this induction was more than special – it was epochal. Prime Minister Sigurd Utvandrer was there with Senator Naomi Kim’Vallara. Yet the eyes of the Witnesses were not upon them, but upon one of the Candidates and her proud parents.

Lillith Liddell, for so she yet styled herself, held center stage. All the Candidates were beautiful, even those below Prima rank destined to become Auxiliary Protectors. But Lillith was especially beautiful. 

Most Velorians assumed that her name honored one of the greatest of Protectors, Lillith’a Zor’el, whose great deeds and great love on Tetra were legendary. If so, none here begrudged her bearing such an august name. And none begrudged her being daughter of Alisa-zar Kim’Vallara, alias Alisa Liddell – the prodigal P1 come home at last. 

Not that Alisa regarded herself as prodigal. She had not wasted her years of exile, and her living had been no more and perhaps less riotous than that of a typical Velorian. She had helped bring the change that had revolutionized Velorian society in the past few years. But she had taken no credit for it, knowing that luck – including the initiative of a certain Theel’dara Utvandrer – had been decisive. 

Of course, she had known what needed to be done when Theel’dara came her way. But that was because of what she had learned from working with Lionel, on the Anders Flame and in the Culture Service… 

It was Naomi herself who recited the ritual today. Such a thing had been unheard of for a woman just five years ago. But then, it had been unheard of for a woman to serve in the Senate. A lot of things had been unheard of then.

“Protectors there were of old, Protectors there are today, Protectors there will ever be. So was it ordained by Skietra.”

“Ever” goes back only 400-odd years, she knew. Still, she felt the power of the words.

 “It has ever been so, and ever will be,” intoned the Witnesses.

Perhaps they believe it, Naomi thought. Would that it were so.

 “And thus do we gather here to fulfill her ordinance. Here come all that be new to try their vocations before the Great Door. And here today, on the tenth day of the seventh month, come—”

Things change, Naomi reflected. And yet some things do not, for they were rooted in the very nature of Velorians.

The role of the Sponsors, for example, each standing behind his Candidate. Naomi gave them the once over as she read the names of the Candidates, taking care not to stress that of her granddaughter above any of the others.

A good crop, she thought, an excellent crop.

Some might question the participation of Ben Shaffer, which Nikki had urged on Lillith at a family get-together. None Velorian-born would have considered him a proper Sponsor, given his age – let alone his Terran origin. But Lillith had not been born on Velor, and her upbringing had been – well, cosmopolitan. Yet she had longed to be a Protector, knowing full well that her mother had refused that office.

What would previous generations have made of James’ wife Bidu, the Legionnaire who sat proudly beside him in the gallery, along with Alisa – these two reconciled at last – and her other errant daughter Nikki? Nikki was resplendent in her uniform, which was nothing like that of a Protector – which she had once longed to be. Alisa had a small regret that Ari couldn’t be here – but he didn’t qualify as family of a Candidate, or as a Sponsor. In any case, he was now a visiting professor back on Kelsor 7…

All plasma through the wormhole now, Naomi mused. And she knew that Velor was the better for it, that the Enlightenment was better for it.

Yet some essentials hadn’t changed. Like the preparation of Candidates by their Sponsors – something dictated by Velorian physiology, although it would have seemed bizarre anywhere else. And while her older daughter Sara was in the gallery, she wasn’t recording the ceremony for broadcast or even family remembrance – that proscription, too, had endured: the Rites were strictly for the Candidates, Sponsors and witnesses.

Naomi could see the pride on the faces of Andre and Alisa as they watched their eldest daughter’s empowerment, and all the more when Lillith forced open the Great Door and entered the Hall – now an Initiate, and not to be seen again until she had gained Probationer status. 

Only when the last Candidate had entered the Great Door did Naomi come down from the stage to the gallery to embrace Alisa. 

“I’m so happy for you,” she said. “This is one of the happiest moments of my life.”

“And mine,” Alisa agreed.

“Shall a mere male be permitted to share in this happiness?” asked Andre.

“Silly boy,” Naomi kidded, embracing him as well.

Andre Kalik hardly looked like a boy. He looked like the proud father he was.

They’d all heard his story by now. Even Col. James Kim’Vallara, back from Novo Recife with Bidu just in time for Lillith’s Rites, was impressed. James was all the happier for Andre and Alisa, knowing what they’d gone through. Compared to them, he’d had an easy time of it. 

They were assigning him and Bidu to Binkley’s World now. After years of delay, Star Marshall Teri Raul’lan was mounting a full scale war of liberation. Time was on their side now, and they would all be part of it.

Kim’Vallara Estate, Velor, 2036 AD Earth Count. Mid Day

They were enjoying lunch, and Naomi Kim’Vallara was hosting. It was a family affair, but some of the guests had never been seen here before, and one of them had never been to Velor before.

Ben Shaffer they all knew. Ben’s son Todd was here for the first time.

“I’d have brought Harisa, but she’s a Kella Prime from Rostran, and Ben thought Velor wouldn’t be ready for that even now,” Todd explained. “Anyway, they have young children, and she didn’t think it would be a great idea to bring them all this way. It’s the same with Blair and her family.”

Blair was Todd’s half-sister, the daughter of Paris McCloud.

“Still, it might have been different if only we’d known about James and Bidu,” Ben broke in. “Or, for that matter, Theel’dara and Xikander.”

“She’s been keeping a low profile the last few years,” Naomi observed. “Given that so much has been done in her name.”

“Most of the ideas for the Theel’dara Initiative come from her father,” James said. “Including the Legion, to which I owe Sigurd for bringing me and Bidu together – not that he was thinking of us, or could have. And now we’ll actually be serving together on Binkley’s World.”

“Once we clear out the Aureans,” Bidu reminded him.

That drew a few laughs around 

 “Lest we forget, Alisa was the catalyst for it all,” Andre said.

“With a lot of help from a Kelsorian named Lionel De Camp,” Alisa interjected. “He was the one who taught her how to inspire an audience.” 

“But how did you know she was the one to speak?” Ben wondered. “That she would be heard?”

“A hunch,” Alisa said modestly. “Or maybe just a hope. She’d been out there, in the thick of things. She knew she needed to redeem herself, and that the Enlightenment itself was in need of redemption; that she had a challenge to offer – and a righteous cause in saving the Domyrans. She was a woman of action, but she needed to become a woman of words.”

“Hear, hear!” said Andre.

It had been just a chance, Alisa knew. But it was a chance she’d had to take. If it hadn’t worked out, she wouldn’t be here. None of them would be here. And yet, she had a sense for what chances to take. The emigrants from Belside who journeyed to Kelsor 7 must have had the same sense… 

It was easy for people to be cynical, she knew. There was a Terran novel, she’d once read, before her defection, about a corrupt and brutal political leader who claimed to be for progress. “You have got to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of,” he told a supporter who had come to doubt him. 

But she’d never accepted that view. There was good in the universe, and there were people of good will. The problem was how to help them live up to the best within them. It was a matter not so much of morality as of morale. There was another Terran writer who had once come up with a treatise called Organization, Symbolism and Morale. It wasn’t very well known, even on Earth, but Alisa had always made a point of finding inspiration in unlikely places. And from unlikely people.

Like Ben Shaffer.

“If it hadn’t been for you, I’d never have known what they could do for Andre on Sanctuary,” she reminded him now.

“And if it hadn’t been for you, they couldn’t have,” Ben responded. “It was only from you that he learned about Sanctuary, although you can’t have known it at the time. It was on a certain night at the Dirac Hole…”

She remembered it. She remembered having suddenly thought about Sanctuary while she and Daniel Pestrov, chief science officer of the Anders Flame, were talking about the seminar on Quantum Synchronics. She’d never been there, but Klara had told her about Ben, and about how he’d found the planet. Somebody had left the bar just afterwards.

Jason! What were the chances of that?

“Why didn’t you tell me back then, when I came for Andre?”

“Jason didn’t want me to.”

After all he’d told me, after what he’d learned from reading Andre’s memories? It was a revelation, and yet Ben didn’t seem to realize how great a revelation.

“We’d had a falling out when Jason first arrived,” Ben continued, as if it were still relevant. “About Myra. She’d thrown me over for him. And then she was attacked by Aayla and lost our second child. It was the worst time of my life.”

Things had eventually been resolved between them, and Jason now had a son and daughter, Aman and Anya, who also shared Supremis and Diaboli powers – as did their parents, through mutual enhancement. And Blair was named for the daughter Myra had lost. On it went.

Alisa was stunned. She’d known about how Jason restored Andre to full mental capacity – ready for patient teaching to restore his basic knowledge, and for deepteach to restore his expertise in science. His personality had been childlike at first, like Lara’s on Rostran, but Alisa had ministered to him once he was ready to leave Sanctuary, and made a man of him again. 

Only, if it hadn’t been for her, Jason would never have found Sanctuary, and…

Not only would she have lost Andre forever, but she’d never have learned what Jason had discovered when he probed her lover’s traumatic memories. She’d never have gained the sense of a tide in the affairs of the cosmos.

And she wouldn’t be here today… 

She looked at Andre. He seemed to be taking it in stride, but she found herself musing about how she had found her sense of purpose and sense of history through what seemed pure chance. And yet it wasn’t pure chance that she had sought them.

She’d managed to sort that out in her own mind, over the years…



Theel’dara’s Residence, Velor, 2036 AD Earth Count. Evening

 “I only told you what you needed to hear,” Alisa said. “And Lionel coached you what you needed to say. But you did the rest. You still deserve the credit.”

It was a confession, and yet an affirmation, and Theel’dara – now the most famed Protector of all time – accepted it as such.

“It was Aphro’dite, after all, who gave me her blessing,” she said. 

Aphro’dite has never spoken about that, even to new Initiates, Alisa knew. It was a mystery that might never be revealed…

“And my father who knew what had to be done with that blessing,” Theel’dara continued. “He has a flair for the dramatic, but he knows that changing a world, changing a whole system, calls for imagination, and even discipline.”

Not without a lot of help from Mother in the Senate.  

As Prime Minister, Sigurd Utvandrer held an august position, which he exercised from an august office complex in Vest’athy. He was the owner of an august estate in the countryside. But Theel’dara and her life partner Xikander had chosen to live in a modest home in the capital.

“It suffices,” she had told Alisa when she arrived, having made an appointment by com. “We expect to be moving as soon as the Project is completed. Boris is out there working on the logistics.”

She meant the project to outfit a new world for the Domyrans, of course; the very project that Alisa had initiated soon after Theel’dara and company had arrived at Kelsor 7 – having sent a Messenger ahead to bring word of their need. Boris Eristratov, a defector from the Scalantrans, was general contractor for a fleet that would transport the surviving Domyrans to their new homeworld.

 “We’re two of a kind, Theel’dara,” Alisa said. “We’ve both suffered disgrace, and recovered from it, found new purpose in our lives – made them count for something. Perhaps we are still destined to count for something we can’t yet imagine.”

And so it her odyssey had ended. 

Kelsor 7, Cathedral of the Alpha and Omega, 2006 AD

But how had it all begun? On Velor? At the Institute here on Kelsor 7? On Rostran? In the nightmare of Cygnias 275? All those times and places, and yet others. But the first inkling of her present course might have been when she went to Confession.

It had been just after she had completed her training mission with the Survey Service under Vicente Zapata. She hadn’t known at the outset that Zapata was a Christla, and it had come as a surprise to her even though she knew that the work of the Service had the approval and even the blessing of the Church.

Her relationship with Zapata had been formal and correct. She had avoided any behavior that might hint at her Velorian origin. If he had any suspicions about the matter, he kept them to himself. It was strictly Sir and Captain, Dame and Probationer.

But she had done her work. She had proven herself, as she had at the Institute. She had come to the attention of Admiral Tso. Tso had access to sealed records; his position required it. His position had also required him to make the best use of Alisa Liddell when he learned her secret. 

Alisa had been overwhelmed when he recommended her for the Anders Flame. It was unprecedented for a probationer just turned scholar/ensign to be favored with such an important assignment on such an important ship. She knew that she deserved it, and she should have been deliriously happy. 

But she wasn’t. There was something weighing on her mind. She’d almost forgotten it at the Institute, and on her training mission. Yet here it was again. 

That was what had brought her to the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas, the very church where Zapata himself worshipped, where he took the sacraments, when he was home on Kelsor 7. She knew that much from him; the rest she had looked up, including the old ritual of penance and absolution.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

“How long has it been since your last confession?”

“This is my first.”

“How can that be?”

“Because I am not a Christla?”

“I don’t understand. Why come here?”

“Because I have no place else to go.”

“Perhaps God has spoken to you, even if you have not recognized His voice.”

“I don’t believe in God, or in the gods.”

“But God believes in you. He believes in all of us. And the sacraments do not depend on your belief or unbelief. That is why I am willing to hear your confession.” 

“There was a man I knew. He was in love with me. And I betrayed him.”

“Loved him and left him? Are you confessing to sins of the flesh?”

“I never slept with him. I should have. He deserved it.”

“Surely you know that we do not sanction that, outside the sacrament of marriage. Were you contemplating marriage with this man?”

“I was not. And neither was he. He couldn’t have, believing as he did--”

Alisa-zar Kim’Vallara paused for a moment.

“Is all that I say here under seal, even as if I were of your faith?”

“It is.”

“He believed that I would become a Protector. That he would probably never see me again. But that he would have had the honor of being my Sponsor at the Great Door.”

There was a long silence.

“You have me at a disadvantage. I have never heard confession from a Velorian.” 

“Do you think the less of me, now that you know?”

“God does not think the less of anyone, and neither must His priests. Especially since our Founder had a Velorian for his companion. But I have to admit that, from one of you, I might have expected a confession of wild debauchery. Even servants of Christ like myself can have our prejudices.”

“I am still a virgin.”

“I find that hard to… perhaps I should be the one making confession. Which I shall indeed have to do. But that doesn’t bear on your problem. Is there anything you can do to make it up to this man you feel you betrayed?”

“None. I can never return to Velor.”

“Surely you… but of course. None called may refuse the Rites. I know that much, at least. Only, why would you do such a thing, cut yourself off from your homeworld and everyone and everything there?”

“To pursue my work. I am an astrophysicist, assigned to the Survey Service.”

“A noble undertaking.” 

“I have heard that the Church has given its blessing to the Service.”

“Indeed. But do you understand why?”

Alisa shook her head.

“We consider it part of God’s work, perhaps His greatest work. To discover and bring together all sentient life in the Galaxy in holy communion. You too are part of that great work, knowingly or unknowingly.”

Skietra! Alisa thought. But she didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings, so she listened with a semblance of rapt attention as he spoke of the galactic noosphere and the Omega Point and Christ the Reconciler of All Things, in Whom all peoples and all species would one day find a common destiny.

“It’s all right,” he said at length, “I can tell that you believe none of this. Neither does the Church in Rome, which would consider us heretics if it knew of us. But as I said, God believes in you, and He will surely sustain you in your work. It will be very difficult, even painful at times; but it will be also be very rewarding in ways you cannot yet guess. For whatever sins you have committed, therefore, may this be at once your penance and your absolution. May I ask your name?”


“May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, by the grace of His love for sentient life, forgive you, my child, Alisa, all your transgressions. And I His unworthy Priest, through the power given me, forgive and absolve you from all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

She managed to make a polite exit, hiding her shame and embarrassment. In the days that followed, she wondered whatever could have possessed her in this fool’s errand – an errand that had evidently accomplished nothing: she still had the nightmare, she still felt badly about Ari’jis. She vowed never to speak about him again.

She vowed as well to put the whole business at the Cathedral out of her mind, and in the main she succeeded.

In any case, there were other, more important things on her mind in the days and years that followed.

Losing her virginity wasn’t one of them. Not for long.



2007: Aboard the Anders Flame, bound for Rostran

She might have lost it sooner, if she’d approached Andre after he delivered his epochal paper, Wormholes and Quantum Synchronics, at the Institute of AstroScience when she was in her second year there. But she was too intimidated; the man was a prodigy, after all.

So she’d plugged on, gotten her own degree in Exploratory Astrophysics, with a stress on wormhole anomalies. Andre had inspired that course of study, but he was gone by then, having joined the Survey Service without bothering to pursue a career as a professor. It was only fate, and a recommendation from Admiral Tso, that had put her on the same ship with him.

She had reveled in her good fortune, but still felt intimidated. After all, Andre was head of the Physics Section and she was a novice. But he had put an end to that. He’d actually read her dissertation before she reported for duty, and wanted to put her thought experiment involving pulsating stars to the test.

“Let’s hit the TANK and run some simulations,” he’d invited her. Moments later, there they were in the Transit Analysis Neural Kynesthetics lab. 

Quantum synchronics held that instantaneous long-range influences between subatomic particles were a sort of glue that held the universe together – were what kept universal laws truly universal, and universal constants truly constant. 

But just as those universal laws broke down in the extreme conditions of black holes, Andre suspected that they might break down, or at least vary, in wormholes. Wormhole transits were experienced in subjective time, anywhere from several minutes to an hour – but was that subjective time the same as objective time in normal space?

“I’ve tried to collect data on as many wormholes as possible,” Andre told her that first day. “But it hasn’t been easy. The Scalantrans don’t seem to care – as long as they get where they’re going, what difference does it make how much real time it takes? I’ve tried to use Survey Service records, but our traffic is far less than that of the traders, and far more selective – in any case, any post-transit readings have been for the purpose of establishing location after initial penetration. They simply don’t address our issue.”

“We could ask the Scalantrans to do readings for us.”

“Not my department. That’s External Affairs, and they don’t see the point. Anyway, it would take decades to compile a useful data base. But we can at least test out your approach on this mission.”

Alisa’s experimental strategy was to take readings on extra-galactic pulsating stars, which went through their dim and bright phases with clock-like precision, before and after each transit, and compare the readings to determine how much actual time had passed. That called for very precise readings, of course. 

It wouldn’t have worked for pulsating stars within their own galaxy, because transits taking them dozens or even hundreds of light years would make it impossible to correlate readings taken at significantly different distances from the target stars.

“Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about the period-luminosity-distance correlation,” she said, with a sigh of relief. “As long as our target is way the heck out of here.”

Andre let her pick a target that was “way the heck out:” a Type One pulsating star in the nearest neighboring galaxy. “Nearest” was a relative term, of course; it was some 2.5 million light years away, and that was plenty far enough. 

And we’ll be transiting at right angles to the pulsar’s vector, she reminded herself. The locations of Lundmark and Terdyne were well known, and their distances from the target were virtually the same.

She brought up the basic equation in the TANK:

Mv = -2.81 log 10 (P) – (1.43±0.1)

When they made the transit to their stopover on Terdyne, their first readings indicated that their transit had been close to instantaneous in real terms. They began writing a paper about that, while awaiting the next transit that would either confirm or invalidate their findings. 

But Andre, who had come aboard at Latham Four, then confided in her that their ultimate destination on this mission was Cygnias 275, a wormhole reported to be especially anomalous – it might test another aspect of his theory. 

“Durgin’s been treating it as a security issue,” he said. “But I’m trusting you with this. We can’t do good science without trust.”

“I already knew,” Alisa confessed. “Durgin’s hoping to make his reputation there.” 

The first ship to venture there, a generation ago, had been the Dauntless Explorer, and it had been… well, daunted by the complexities the octopus paths. The captain had never lived it down, but Durgin – then himself a lowly ensign – had vowed to return one day...

“Now you tell me,” he said.

“I assumed that Durgin briefed you, just as he’d briefed me.”

It was a brief misunderstanding in their relationship. They had been nearly inseparable in their first few weeks together – comrades in arms, so to speak. It might have gone farther than that; she thought Andre was really cute, and would have taken him in her arms. If only… 

But he was also really shy and, incredibly to her, seemingly oblivious to her own charms. “We’re just two geeks,” he said on more than one occasion. It was true that she had kept a low profile, physically, kept her orgone energy low, but still…

He didn’t know her secret. Captain Durgin had insisted on that. She didn’t like having to live a lie with Andre, and that lie had come between them. Perhaps it was just as well, she tried to convince herself; after all, he was a Terran. Terrans had extreme reactions to Velorians, and not always healthy ones. She had already experienced that aboard the Flame.

Peter Durgin had become her first lover. He hadn’t known, or even suspected, that he had been her first. She had claimed “limited experience,” knowing even that would be hard to believe after he had found her out.

If Durgin hadn’t found her out, he might not have been her first. Her sex life aboard the Flame might have been as solitary as during her education, or her training flight. Some of the other aspirants at the Institute had suspected her of being a secret Christla, or even frigid. Never mind that the Christla practiced their faith, and preached their strict morality, quite openly. As for frigidity… there was simply no such thing where she came from. 

Kelsor 7 being a lightly-settled planet, had been easy enough for her to find the privacy to pleasure herself without attracting attention, and without having to muffle her cries of pleasure. But there was an edge of sadness, even when she came, because she would fantasize about Ari – never mind that imagining him could do him no more harm than she already had.

Her first time with Peter, she had cried. It was about the loss of her family, she had told him, and he accepted that. 

“I understand,” he’d told her after that first time. “Let me take away the pain.”

She had believed him. And it was good to have a real live man instead of a fantasy. In his arms, she had been able to lose the pain, even if she could never tell him about its other source. But after taking her, he had wanted more – and yet not enough. When he had proposed to her, it was out of a sense of entitlement more than love.

“I can advance your career,” he said. “I have the connections.”

And indeed he did. The Durgins were one of the First Families; some far-removed great uncle of his had been the last president of Belside, and he had kin in Home Affairs, External Affairs and even the Secretariat.

“I love you,” he told her, and he probably believed it. But it was only an addiction; she knew that Terrans could easily become addicted to Velorians. “We’re all goddesses to them,” her mother had told her, and she had seen it in the eyes of the men on Kelsor 7. Alisa never thought of herself as a goddess, although she could play the role. But playing it with Peter had gone to his head.

“My goddess!” he would exclaim when he came. But the emphasis was increasingly on the “my.” He must have known that few Velorians made long-term commitments, except to raise children, and even then… Only he was blinded by his own pride, thinking that he could be the exception – the one exception.

By the time they reached Rostran, it was over. 

2007: A History Lesson on Rostran

Andre thought they might have lost time in the transit through Cygnias 275; they’d have to confirm their galactic location to be sure. That had been the thrill of the mission for him and Alisa, and they hoped to be busy updating their paper for the Temporal Society.

But their efforts had been sidetracked by Durgin, who’d volunteered them for a goodwill mission to a newly-discovered planet called Rostran, without knowing that it was a world of hostile Aureans and heading into a civil war at that. Perhaps he wouldn’t even have cared.

The only good thing to come out of it for Andre was having been fortuitously enhanced by one of the Aureans preparing him for ceremony called a Conjugational that amounted to an orgy. But what had also come out of it for Alisa was immersion in raw history – and in a daring effort to redeem a world from that history. Of course, it had taken the intervention of a goddess as well as the work of Rostrans of good will…

Durgin had seen nothing but glory for himself in establishing Contact with Rostran; it was rare to find a Seeded world unknown to the Scalantrans. That meant, among other things, that it was a potentially lucrative market for the Quantum Electric Drive – to which Kelsor 7 had kept the secret, and the exclusive rights that went with that secret. 

But he had a problem with exploiting the seeming golden opportunity: the natives hadn’t wanted any contact. At first they’d refused to allow a landing party on Rostran itself, and he’d had to plead for permission just to send a Cultural and Trade team to an outpost on its moon to deliver a sample QED module. Only, then he got caught up in the rivalry of two factions – one of which didn’t want anything to do with the Kelsorians, the other of which did… or seemed to, at least.

Seeking to curry favor with the latter, Durgin had sent Andre and Alisa as emissaries of a sort. But he had had no way of knowing that a long-standing patriarchal culture Rostran showed outsiders was a false front, that the world had in fact been settled barely a century earlier by Aurean dissidents with no love for either the Enlightenment or the Empire. He had no idea that there was a power struggle between Kella Primes, also known as the Gwyndylyn, and a Church dominated by the Betans – and that both groups were riven by factionalism, with double agents making things even worse.

Having belatedly learned the true state of affairs from de Camp, Durgin had sent in the Marines on a foolhardy mission to rescue Andre and Alisa. Several Marines were killed during the operation, and Durgin himself almost joined them. He was saved only through enhancement by a Kryp’Terran adopted by Frida, a tset’lar who led one of the warring factions.

Yet Alisa would later realize that she had been clueless as Durgin, almost accepting an offer by Frida to take on education of young women and men of her own kind to master space and even time. Only when it became clear that joining her faction would mean a death sentence for all the other members of the expedition, and after Andre had told her of the Brooder program exploiting human slaves, had she awakened to her folly.

The factional conflict continued during the remainder of their stay, and involved not only the Gwyndylyn and the Church and their factions but an underground of Terrans – descendants of prisoners from Seeded worlds; Andre had, quite by accident, stumbled across them. Alisa had later worked with the ceremonial head of state, Crown Princess Andrea, to secure the escape of her comrades – accomplishing anything beyond that had seemed hopeless. She had wanted only to wash her hands of Rostran. But to her surprise, she had played a role in the resolution of the crisis there by a new player, Klara, who came from a world called Sanctuary that Alisa had never heard of, and who was powerful enough to deal with Frida. That had cleared the way for at least the possibility of a humane democratic order; but the rest would be up to the ordinary people of Rostran – Kella Primes, Betans and humans alike. 

Alisa never expected to see how things would play out on Rostran. Yet she could never forget her experience there. She felt that she had become part of the history of a world, and that there was some lesson to be learned from that. In a sense, this came naturally to her; she had fled Velor to escape a role ordained for her by its history. But could a world, or even a culture – like that of the Enlightenment or the Empire – ever escape its history?

“Superstition and accident manifest the will of God.”

That came from a Terran psychologist named Carl Jung. Alisa had never believed in God, and certainly not in the god of the Christla. But could history never be the working of anything more than superstition and accident?

The question would haunt her in the decades to come.

2007: Making Time for Love – and Temporal Physics

Andre had joked about their experience on Rostran as the Anders Flame made its way back to Cygnias 275.

“So I get a short course in super-sex, and get turned into a superman so I can make it with these Aurean women. And then the whole thing never comes off. At least, not for me. What the hell am I going to do now? Big waste of time.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” she’d replied. 

The look on his face – a look of astonishment and tenderness and lust.

“I’ve heard that one of the things they teach here is called the sword dance.”

Andre blushed.

“So draw your sword…”

In just moments, Andre’s sword had found its true home, buried to the hilt, and that first stroke reminded Alisa what his love had meant for her. A man who had admired her, even when he had thought himself unworthy and her off limits. A man she had admired from afar yet never hoped to have in her bed because of her secret.

There were no secrets between them now, only passion. They took and gave their bodies as they had shared their minds, without reservation. She reveled in what came after the sword dance – several sword dances. 

She had finally found what she had dreamt of finding with Ari’jis. But she had also found a true partnership in their collaboration on Temporal Physics – only they were disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to make use of what they had learned in the transit to Rostran. On the record, they would never have been to Rostran.

“We’ll never be able to finish that paper,” Andre lamented. “This whole journey has been a waste on that score.”

So he and Alisa had actually welcomed Durgin’s decision to further explore Cygnias 275, although the rest of the Kelsorians were eager to just return home – even Chief Science Officer Pestrov. They made their feelings clear. Still, Durgin was the captain. He was their commander. And so they had followed him.

Andre and Alisa were excited about the possibilities for their research. They had no idea what they’d actually be getting into. But how could they?

2007: Finding a Lost City – and the Heart of Darkness

Things had gone wrong from the start when the Anders Flame made its way through one of the branch wormhole vectors.

They’d already known Cygnias 275 was an anomaly. Every known wormhole connected only two points in space. Every known one until now. Instead of a single route, the Old Galactics had marked several. They had picked one almost at random, because the beacons were standard in color, and it had led them to Rostran. Now they had picked another… only for the record, it would be their first and only. 

Durgin had been edgy over what had gone down on Rostran, and still smarting from his rejection by Alisa – although he did his best not to show it. He was even afraid that the Rostrans might come after them – never mind that they hadn’t done so when they had a chance in their own system, never mind that they probably didn’t even know about this other vector. 

There was a subtle difference in the color of the beacons marking the route; nothing like it had been seen before, and nobody knew what to make of it. Something seemed to drag on the ship, as if there were an intense gravitational field – but in a wormhole? They didn’t know what to make of that, either.

And then they emerged, into what seemed to be a bubble of normal space, like the eye of a planetary storm. There was a red star, but no star field. It was if there were an eddy within the wormhole itself. There were other oddities, such as an unusually large amount of debris; and the gravitational field turned out to be centered, not on the red star itself, but on a thus far unseen companion. 

“It’s powered by a quantum singularity,” Pestrov announced, after he and his colleagues had taken a number of readings and fed them through the TANK. “Almost like a black hole.” 

As captain, Durgin was in command of the bridge, even if Pestrov was the authority on matters of science. He kept his eyes on the readouts, looking for signs – any signs – of trouble. And then he thought he’d sighted trouble.

“Battle stations!” he shouted. “Evasive action!”

It had turned out to be only an errant asteroid rather than an enemy ship; Pestrov had seen that right off. But the singularity was affecting asteroids generally; finding safe passage through the field of space debris was a real challenge. 

As they cautiously approached, their scanners showed that the singularity was part of a huge space station – incredibly ancient, pitted with what were evidently old asteroid impacts.

“It’s like finding a lost city,” Pestrov said – and the name would stick.

The other officers on the bridge were dumbfounded. Most of them hadn’t wanted to come here in the first place, and had resented Andre and Alisa as well as the captain for delaying their return home after all that had gone down on Rostran. But now…

“Where the hell are we?” asked Duty Officer Shearjashub Walark.

“Very far away from anywhere else,” Pestrov said. “In time as well as space, if I don’t miss my guess. Kalik might have some idea.”

Get Kalik up here,” Durgin ordered, in a tone that at once asserted his authority and his lingering hostility towards the physics section chief, notwithstanding the fact that the success of this mission and his hopes for fame depended on him.

“By your command, Sir and Captain,” Pestrov reacted, snapping to attention in a belated attempt to defuse the situation. Then he got on the horn.

By the time Andre reached the bridge, Pestrov had made some surprising and disturbing observations. The darkness beyond the red dwarf wasn’t total, after all; a few faint patches of mistiness in the distance had been resolved by the scopes as some sort of nebulae. 

“It’s as if we’re in a different universe here,” Andre said, after Pestrov had briefed him. “Without any stellar reference points, we can’t tell where we are or whether we are in the past or present or future. But the star is a late period red dwarf, surely billions of years old. It could date back nearly to the beginning of things. I can see the potential for great discoveries. We must be extremely cautious, however. I can also see potential dangers.”

Only Durgin, seeing his own place in history assured, threw caution to the winds. And so he had ordered that they approach the City – carefully, avoiding meteoric debris, but without waiting for the kind of further analysis Kalik had called for. The Flame had taken orbit around the Lost City. It had deployed its long-range scanners. They had found something that looked as if it had once been a portal. There were no doubt others like it, but one would do. 

To no one’s surprise, Durgin ordered Andre and Alisa to land there and find a way in.

“They’re the best qualified for a potentially dangerous mission,” he observed. 

That much was obvious, if nothing else was.

* * *

Alisa used her heat vision to cut through a crack in the ancient metal that seemed to outline an airlock. When she broke through, what had been an access sprang open, releasing a puff of air.

There must still be pressure inside, she realized. And indeed, as she forced the inner door, there was a rush of air from within. Nothing she or Andre could feel, but they could see the dust that came with it.

Maybe what’s left of the inhabitants, she thought with a touch of sadness. She and Andre had considered the possibilities before they set out from the Flame, so he knew what to do. He jetted inside and lit his headlamp as she followed him, closing the door behind them. Whatever air had escaped was replaced from the rest of the station.

The lamp showed nothing but a featureless corridor that vanished into the distance and into the dark. There were doors on each side, but they led only to empty rooms without any other egress. After a while, Alisa didn’t bother opening the doors, but just used her tachyon vision to check the rooms. Apart from dust, there had been nothing; but she took a few samples of that.

The corridor finally ended at another door, larger and more massive. It took Alisa a while to force it open. Beyond… a vast circular hall, with other doors at 90-degree points leading, she surmised, to other sections of the station. It was empty, like the side rooms, and featureless but for s circular depression set in the floor. 

It looked vaguely familiar to Alisa, yet she was sure she had never seen anything like it. “Curiouser and curiouser,” Andre said. “What could it possibly be for?”

He made his way forward to take a closer look at whatever it was, stepped…

“Andre, no!” Alisa cried, in sudden fear from sudden understanding.

…into the depression and vanished. 

His disappearance was marked by a sequence of flashing lights around what she had just realized must be a Dimensional Transporter – like the one the Naturalists had used for their journey from Velor to Aurea. Only this one still worked... 

Andre could be anywhere. Or anywhen.

Alisa could hardly bring herself to report back to the Flame, but it had to be done. She tried to remain calm as she called Pestrov on the com.

“Daniel, we have a problem.”

She was explaining the situation to him when Durgin broke in.

“Return to ship immediately,” he ordered.

Her hurt blazed into anger, and she might have cursed the captain if she hadn’t heard a sound behind her.

Alisa turned. Somebody had appeared on the edge of the Transporter. He looked to be dead. No, not quite dead; he began crawling out slowly towards her, moaning in seeming pain. He wore a strange uniform, and his face was obscured by some sort of mask.

The man was very, very old – his hair was white and what she could see of his skin was papery. He looked up at her, and seemed for a moment to regain his focus. But when he tried to speak, it was all babble – something about the Builders and plants and the Others and Riantra and destroying worlds. 

He must be suffering from some sort of dementia, she thought; that was common among Terrans in old age. And then, in the midst of his babble, a word jumped out at her: Synchronics. 

Alisa looked at him again, knelt down, pulled aside his mask…

She almost went mad herself. But she still maintained enough presence of mind to move Andre to a safe distance from the Transporter, then fly back to the main entrance to call for help.

2007: Dire Straits and Dire Fates

It was Walark who answered the call, Durgin having left the bridge. Fortunately.

He couldn’t believe what Alisa was telling him, but he knew his duty, as an officer of the Anders Flame and as a Christla bound the teachings of Jesus. He immediately ordered a shuttle sent to the rescue, and detailed Pestrov to man it – taking two of the marines, plus an emergency space suit. 

Walark explained to them about opening and closing the inner door – the marines would be needed for that, he reckoned, given the pressure differential and the fact that Andre might really need oxygen now, if he had somehow lost his enhancement. And the marines could slip the emergency suit onto him piece by piece and seal it up.

It was only when Durgin returned to the bridge that trouble began. Walark briefed him on the situation, but the captain interrupted and told him to abort the rescue.

“You’re putting the Pestrov and the marines in mortal danger,” he said. That was his justification.

“We can’t leave Andre to die,” Walark protested. “God would never forgive us!”

“Since when does a duty officer speak for the Almighty? Not that I believe in such rot.”

“I’ll warrant I speak for the crew. And it would go hard on you with the Survey Service if they found out.”

“They’re not going to find out. We’ve all agreed on that.”

“We’ve only agreed not to talk about Rostran, and to concoct a story to account for our losses there.”

“Andre will be just one more loss.”

“Not if I can help it.”

“You’ll do as ordered!” Durgin shouted.

Of a sudden, Walark punched a General Quarters call into the com.

“We have another medical emergency!” he shouted. “The captain—”

Durgin grabbed the mike. 

“Belay that!” he cried.

“The captain is incapacitated!” Walark shouted over him. “That’s the emergency.”

Members of the crew were already responding, including the ship’s doctor, Nat Dowell, who had been with the Flame when Alisa first served.

“Our captain is suffering from a breakdown,” Walark said. “He needs to—”

“I’m in command here!” Durgin insisted.

But as the other crewmen, including the section chiefs, crowded onto the bridge, it soon became clear that even if he had the letter of the law on his side, that was all he had. By the time he realized that, the shuttle had made it back from the Lost City, and it was a moot point.

* * *

The Anders Flame had taken station at the Rostran exit from the wormhole.

“Time is of the essence, Sir and Captain,” Alisa told Durgin. “I can bear Andre to the Rivera more quickly and more safely.”

It would have take the Flame 30 ship days to reach the planet. That might be too long, she had feared. And the crushing G-force of a shuttle landing might be fatal. 

“Let there be no unnecessary delay, Dame and Ensign,” Durgin said gruffly, an edge of jealous anger in his voice, even at this hour. Without ever coming out and saying it, he had made it painfully obvious that he thought Andre’s loss should have been his gain.

“I have had Section Chief Kalik suited up, Sir and Captain,” Alisa said, addressing him formally and ignoring the tone of his voice. “I shall accelerate at only one G, and decelerate at one G. It should take me only three days. I will return at maximum acceleration, in less than a day.”

And so it went. Alisa exited the lock, bearing her precious cargo. Andre had continued to babble incoherently while she had gotten him into his space suit, but at least he had accepted liquid food beforehand. She had switched off his suitcom, unable to bear hearing his suffering any longer.

* * *

Andre was crying like a baby.

Which in effect, he was, lying in bed in one of the chambers at the Rivera. 

Through a ritual of salvation by Lara, with Alisa as intermediary, he had been restored to – not exactly youth, but close enough: he looked to be no more than 40.

“He’s like a newborn,” Klara explained. “His brain functions are fully developed, but it’s as if he’ll have to learn things all over again, like a child. He apparently has memories, but no way to access them or put them together and express them in any coherent manner.”

At that moment, he left off crying to moan, “It was me, I killed them;” and “They were plants. Plants.” 

His eyes were open, and yet he seemed oblivious to the room, to Alisa and Klara, or to the sun streaming in through the window.

“He was talking about plants when I found him,” Alisa said. “And other things. None of it made any sense.”

“Nor to us. But remember, even I can’t read minds; I can only sense that Andre is feeling intense inner pain and fear from whatever he encountered in what you call the Lost City. I can’t even tell whether his aging was caused by some sort of weapon, or whether he was caught in a time warp and actually spent a lifetime there.”

“Is there anything you can do?”

“As I said, treat him like a child, and hope for the best.”

“Perhaps on Sanctuary–”

“From Aayla? I hardly think so. And I can’t spare a moment to travel there, in any case. Things are far from settled here, although the Queen and I are working with representatives of all three peoples to agree on a constitution and establish a new legislature.”

“The Queen?”

“Andrea has assumed that office, without any strong objections. She is also working to beget a new Crown Princess. We expect that one of the first acts of the new legislature will be to eliminate Excelsia from the line of succession for… conduct unbecoming. Whatever.”

“Could ‘whatever’ go as far as creating an opening for Talak?”

“I hardly think so. Nobody wants a patriarchy as opposed to a democratic matriarchy. But Andrea and I will see to it that men’s rights are respected. We’ve been working on a number of policy initiatives, and leaving everyday enforcement of them to the Guardians – and Lara.”

“They send me to deal with violence against humans or Betans by die-hard Gwyndylyn that can’t be handled by the Guardians,” Lara fairly beamed. “I can fly, and I have a com, and when they see me coming, the assailants usually cut and run. A few of them are stupid enough to attack me with heavy weapons. I get off on that, then destroy the weapons.”

“Do you ever have to—”

“Kill them? Hardly ever. The humiliation is enough.”

“And all the Guardians are on your side?”

“Nearly all. The better they do their jobs, the better chance they have to fuck me.”

Alisa didn’t want to hear any more of this, and wondered how Lara could still be so self-absorbed, so… childish. Some “learning experience!” She looked at Klara in desperate appeal – knowing that the Chancellor, unlike the child-woman, could sense her own torment.

“Alisa doesn’t have time for small talk,” Klara advised her. “She has to return to her ship soon, lest it depart without her. I need to speak to her alone now.”

Lara could understand that, even if she couldn’t understand Alisa’s feelings, and left the chamber.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Klara assured her. “But I can’t promise anything. If I have a chance to go back home, I’ll ask Mother if she can think of anything. Whether we save Andre, or lose him, I’ll send Ben to Kelsor 7 to inform you.”

“I hope we can meet again, in better circumstances.”

“Be well,” Klara said.

There was nothing more to say. Alisa rose into the air, flew through the open window, took her bearings, and was off like a shot.

2008: Kelsor 7, Judgment Day

Damn the Secretariat!

Alisa was livid as the she listened to the judgment of the Old Men – the members of the Special Subcommittee weren’t really all old, but that was how she thought of them. 

“It is the determination of this panel, lawfully and formally assembled, that all testimony regarding the Cygnias 275 mission be put under permanent seal,” Chairman Andrei Yakovsky intoned. “Any violator of the seal shall be subject to Unspeaking.”

Yakovsky had glared at her, as if he thought she were the one most likely…

“Furthermore, it is our recommendation the full Secretariat that Cygnias 275 be placed under Interdict. The Survey Service is put under Warning not to return there, and especially not to visit the planet Rostran. Unspeaking or even banishment will be the penalty for any violation.”

They’re frightened out of their wits, Alisa thought. She couldn’t agree with them about trying to keep everything about Cygnias 275 secret. And yet she couldn’t blame them, after her testimony, confirmed by brainscan. She alone of the crew of the Anders Flame had known the whole story about Rostran – and the Lost City. She’d left out a few details known only to herself, but had been frank about everything relevant to the purpose of the Inquiry…

“It is further ordered that all casualties of the mission be ascribed to a routine accident or accidents. Captain Durgin is instructed to prepare documentation to that effect, for the use of the Secretariat in its official account, and affix his seal.”

Andre! The memory was a stab of pain. 

“The business of this panel is concluded,” Yakovsky announced.

Not quite, as it turned out.

* * *

They might have gotten away with their carefully-rehearsed cover story – a shuttle that had been hit by an asteroid, taking the lives of all aboard – Andre, the marines actually killed, and even Rafish. They had jettisoned one of their shuttles; no chance that it could ever be found. They were home free.

The problem had been Durgin. In presenting the cover story to the Survey Service itself, he had hemmed and hawed, as if he were having trouble remembering the details – or simply didn’t care. When pressed hard, he had responded with irritation and even anger. But there was something the captain couldn’t have hidden, even in a better mood and with the best intentions: the change in his appearance.

Alisa had been afraid of that. So had they all, but they had agreed to back up the captain in the account of the mission they had all memorized chapter-and-verse. Durgin had used make-up to conceal his enhancement, but the counselor for the Survey Service, one Kyril Peikoff, had become suspicious, and reported his suspicions up the chain of command – which led all the way to the Secretariat.

The Secretariat had already known about Alisa; her immigration record told the tale, and it had gotten around – Subrahmanyan Ramasekhar, now head of the Institute of AstroScience, had known from the start as her sponsor. Now it also knew about Durgin. The cover story was blown. She herself wasn’t in trouble, even if it were to become known that she too had been enhanced – that was a minor detail for a Velorian. But Durgin had been caught out in a lie – and the Secretariat had wanted to know why…

* * *

In the days that followed, she had been contacted by Dr. Ramasekhar, who was worried about Andre – and her. She could tell him nothing, only that it was a matter of security. It wasn’t fair, given that she’d never even have known of Andre, but for him. But there it was.

And then the Special Subcommittee had called them back to listen to its announcement of the report Durgin had prepared for the Secretariat, as directed at the hearing. 

Alisa was shocked to learn that Durgin had altered the original cover story they had all agreed to: Andre had supposedly died in a separate accident – a failure of his space suit during a routine EVA, after she had failed to perform a routine test on it.

How could you?” she shouted, and there were protests from the others, but Yakovsky had threatened to hold them in contempt.

“Captain Durgin has exercised his prerogative, as authorized by this panel. The Survey Service is not a democracy, and the chain of command must be respected. Given the necessity of concealing the true course of events that led to the failure of this mission, the precise details of the version to be made public hardly matter.”

Hardly matter? It was her reputation at stake. Was this only a sop for Durgin, who had himself been discredited, but whose enhancement by her was an embarrassment to the Service – and a complication for him, to say the least – even if it had saved his life. 

Had there been some sort of backroom deal? It was pointless to speculate. There was nothing more now to be said, or done. Alisa was the first to get up from her seat and leave the chamber, and the rest followed. Durgin was last, but hurried to intercept them in the corridor outside. 

“We should stand together,” he said. “I know it’s been a trying time for you, but there’s nothing more we can do about the past; we should consider the future.”

“Get out of my way,” Alisa said.

“Is that any way to speak to your captain? After all I’ve done for you? For all of us? And after you violated our agreement with Rostran?”

“I had no other choice.”

“You could have stuck by our story. You could have stuck by me.”

Could he really believe that, or was it just bluster? Had he forgotten that she had been brainscanned? As for his overture… She was tempted to lay into him, when she heard another voice.

“What kind of a man are you?”

It was Daniel Pestrov, no longer Chief Science Officer of the Flame, but still a friend and comrade.

“More of a man than you’ll ever be,” Durgin snorted. “I was the one who went after Alisa and the others on Rostran. Risked my damn life, almost lost it. But now I’m a different kind of man – too bad she can’t appreciate that. Too bad none of you can.”

Daniel turned to look at Alisa, saw the rage on her face.

“Leave her the fuck alone!” he shouted at the captain. “Have you no sense of decency?”

The other crewmen who had come outside broke out in applause.

Lionel DeCamp was applauding the loudest, but everyone else had joined in – even the dour Walark. Durgin started to say something, but apparently thought better of it. All he could manage was a sullen look as he left the Secretariat complex.

A moment later, Daniel and Alisa were out of there, under the bright light of Kelsor and the warmth of dim Kelsor 6.

* * *

Alisa was heartened by the show of support, especially since Daniel and the others had been cool to her and Andre when they sided with Durgin on the need for further exploration of Cygnias 275. The two of them had been motivated by ambition, she knew, just like the captain.

But after what happened to Andre on that terrible day, they rallied to her support, and she could never forget that. Without going into all the details, she had told them that the chances for his recovery were slim at best; that they would never see him again as the man he had been.

She had a felt a pang of guilt after the Lost City, but never told anyone. It was irrational, she knew; there was no way she could have known or even imagined that Andre might be in danger. But for Durgin to blame her...

“I should kill the bastard!” she cried to Pestrov when next they met. 

“That piece of shit isn’t worth it,” he told her. “He thinks he’s pretty super, but he’s still nothing but super shit. He’ll get his, just wait and see.”

Daniel was right. He usually was. Peter Durgin did get his. It just took a while.

2009: Kelsor 7, the Dirac Hole

Alisa had a strange feeling one night the following year at the Dirac Hole.

It was otherwise like any other night at the hangout for physicists. Pam was pouring the drinks at the bar, except for the Zuxian wine that Daniel was sharing at the table. 

She had been teaching a seminar on Quantum Synchronics at the Institute. It had been an honor, she knew – but had come only because she had kept her silence about the Cygnias 275 mission, as her comrades had kept their silence – except for Durgin, who had been sentenced to Unspeaking and left the system for parts unknown after trying to put his spin on things – and put all the blame on her.

It should be the time of my life, she thought. Andre’s theory was being confirmed again and again from readings by other Survey Service missions, and she was able to share the latest with the honors students.

But all she could think of was the travel ban. She could never return to Rostran, never learn whether Andre had been healed. Would he think she had abandoned him, after all they’d been through together? She pushed the thought away.

“They’re still asking about subjective time at the seminar,” she told Daniel Pestrov. “I don’t have an answer to that.”

“Neither do I. Neither did…” He let that pass.

“We know that the Scalantrans experience the same subjective time as we do,” Alisa said. “We’ve known that for centuries. We just didn’t know it was subjective. But does that apply to all sentient species? Even those with entirely different metabolisms, like the Pactrellans?”

The Pactrellans were ammonia breathers on frigid worlds. Oxygen breathers like Terrans and Scalantrans had little contact with them.

“Cold comfort to find out, I’d imagine,” Daniel quipped.

Alisa tried to laugh; it was a good quip. But she wasn’t in the mood.

“Damn the Secretariat!” she said.

“I’ll drink to that,” Daniel responded, raising his glass. He too had chafed under the ban on any public discussion of the Cygnias mission. And on the way the subcommittee had treated Alisa – had it gone along with Durgin’s version of the cover story only to punish her for having enhanced him?

Schroedinger the cat chose that moment to sidle up to Alisa, brushing against her leg. That finally brought a faint smile to her lips.

“Maybe he just wants to be fed,” Daniel ventured. “Only, we all know how it is with Schroedinger’s cat food – it’s in the can or it isn’t; you don’t know until you pop the lid.”

An old joke. An old Terran joke. 

Like the Dirac Hole itself. 

Like Pam – who took her barmaid nickname from the initials of Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, the first physicist on Earth to imagine positrons, which he thought of as holes in normal space. 

Like the cat Schroedinger, a reference to a thought experiment by Erwin Schroedinger about whether a cat could be both alive and dead under quantum physics. 

Like the mock-ritual of trying to exclude Pauli Tyburczy every time he showed up. It was Pauli himself who’d started the bar; he’d been reading up on Terran work on particle physics and quantum mechanics, including Wolfgang Pauli’s determination that two electrons in the same orbit in an atom couldn’t share a common quantum state.

Alisa still remembered her first visit here with Andre. She’d been given the drill, and was ready for the ritual.

“I love these seaside restaurants,” she’d said. Meaning the Dirac Sea of negative energy, albeit the tavern was indeed near an actual sea.

On that occasion, Andre had told an anecdote about Dirac that might or might not have been true.

“They say he was at a party once with another physicist, George Gamow, and proposed a theory about how there must be a certain distance at which a woman’s face looks its best. He argued that at d = infinite one cannot see anything anyway, while at d = 0 the oval of the face is deformed because of the small aperture of the human eye, and many other imperfections (such as small wrinkles) become exaggerated. Thus there is a certain optimum distance at which the face looks its best. 

“‘Tell me, Paul,’ Gamow asked, ‘How close have you seen a woman’s face?’ 

“‘Oh, about that close,’ Dirac said, holding his palms two feet apart.”

The memory was bittersweet now.

“Quantum Synchronics: the application of quantum mechanics to the synchronization of space-time.” That was how Alisa had introduced her seminar. They were all here to honor his memory. But they couldn’t really talk about him in any other context, or make any allusion to the mission from which he had never returned.

Of a sudden, she was thinking about Sanctuary. Why Sanctuary?  

Even Daniel didn’t know about Sanctuary. Nobody else on the Cygnias 275 mission did. She glanced around the bar. Somebody was just leaving; she hadn’t noticed him come in. He wore a workman’s uniform – that was passing strange…

“You look distracted,” Daniel said.

“I was just… thinking.”

“It’s not good to think about things you can’t do anything about.”

“How can I stop thinking about Andre when I’m giving the seminar he should have been giving?”

Daniel gave her a sympathetic look. She knew it was all he could do. But it wasn’t all she could do.

“I can’t take this any more,” she said. “I’ve got to get out of here. Finish the seminar and then ship out.” 

2011: Kelsor 7, Division of External Affairs

It was going to be enough to make people forget about Cygnias 275 – the few besides her former colleagues on the Anders Flame who knew anything about it, at least. The discovery of an previously unknown alien species was epochal. 

Alisa knew that word about Domyr would spread far beyond Kelsor – to Velor and even Aurea. But it was out of her hands – it had never really been in her hands to begin with – and out of the hands of the Survey Service and even the Division of Educational Affairs. The Survey Service, in any case, answered to External Affairs; given that ships for its missions were supplied by the Military Service and under military discipline.

Admiral Tso had briefed Kaya McKee, Commissioner of External Affairs, on the mission of the Mindful, and she had responded by calling a special session of the Division’s governing board. The issues Tso raised had to be addressed at the Division level, perhaps even by the Secretariat. That put Captain Jecel Davidson on the spot, along with all his crew.

Alisa, as he knew, had been on the spot before.

“Will my testimony be necessary?” she asked Jecel, after he had reported to Tso and Tso had reported back.

“It will be expected,” he said. “But we can bear witness to each other, unlike you and your captain in… the previous case.”

“That wasn’t the same kind of case. This will be an open hearing.”

“Which means our real problem will be Noenda.”

After first finding them only amusing as what she called “mild mannered muppets,” after some old children’s entertainment program on Earth, Noenda Li Gran of the Culture Section had championed the Domyrans for having achieved a truly utopian existence – unlike the people of any human world and certainly not Velorians or, worse, Aureans. But then she had discovered that their idyllic life was founded on the extermination of those of their own kind who had not embraced a revolutionary ideology – and she had raged against them as “evil.”

“Are you suggesting that the hearing shouldn’t be open, after all?”

“Perhaps Noenda could be induced to testify in closed session. If we can’t persuade her to keep her peace.”

“In that case, I might have to speak more frankly at the same closed session.”

“Nothing new for you.”

“It’s not really the same. I can’t tell you any more than this, but the Secretariat feared that Kelsor 7 faced actual danger from… what the Anders Flame encountered. The Domyrans are no danger to anyone, whatever Noenda thinks.”

She suddenly thought of Andre. Jecel was nothing like him. But he had been like her in one sense, when first they met: he too had suffered a loss. His wife Miriam had died recently, but that really had been in an accident – not in space disaster, but a flitter crash back home.

Alisa couldn’t tell him just how she had lost Andre, but she could share her sense of loss, and he could relate to that – and to her need for comfort. She needed him beside her and inside her, just as he needed the consolation of a woman’s body.

“It’s strange how much we know about Earth, when we’re not even allowed to go there,” Jecel once remarked. “I don’t suppose any of us go quite as far as Noenda, though. And it’s strange for her to condemn the Domyrans, considering how many people have been slaughtered on Earth in the name of race or nation or religion or ideology.”

“They can’t help it, I think – there are just too many races and nations and religions and ideologies there. It was bad enough on Reigel Five, where there were no more than half a dozen. Most of the seeded worlds are monocultures, and the Domyrans simply turned themselves into a monoculture.”

“And yet there are so many eloquent voices on Earth. That’s the tragic part. They speak words of great insight, even great wisdom. And yet none really listen to them.”

Alisa suddenly thought of Ari’jis, the Sponsor she had betrayed on Velor, who had been so passionate about the art and music and literature of Earth and the evolutionary interplay of different kinds – he had once quoted some Terran writer about “the spiral of art, holding up the sky.” 

“Perhaps we can listen to them. Perhaps they can help us find our way. Perhaps there are others out there on worlds yet undiscovered we could listen to.”

At that moment, she realized she had made her decision: to join the Culture Service. She would never forsake physics, but without Andre she couldn’t bear to pursue it. Was that a wise decision? It might take many years to determine. But she had chosen. 

2015: Sanctuary, Sanctuary! (with input from Tarot Barnes)

There had been word from her mother that Durgin had visited her. She already knew that he had come down in the world, but to appeal to Naomi for help? She’d actually recommended he try emigrating to distant penal colony in the Reigel system. Alisa couldn’t say she really cared any more. Especially since there was a visitor at the Culture Service office: Ben Shaffer.

“I have news from Sanctuary,” he said without any preliminaries. “Andre has recovered as a functional adult, but without memories of anything associated with the mission. They were so traumatic that Jason had to edit them out. He’ll have to tell you about that.”


“Jason Ungphakorn. A Diaboli. He arrived on Sanctuary a couple of years after… it all happened. A refugee from his own kind, he told us. When Klara learned about him, she brought Andre there, and Jason went to work on him – very carefully. 

Ben paused a moment to let her take that in.

“When Jason was finished, Andre had to relearn how to speak and write, and then relearn the fields of knowledge, including physics – he still had a talent for it, but we had to reawaken his vocation. In that and all other things, he had to go through childhood and adolescence all over again. We told him about you, and he’s looking forward to meeting you.”

“But will he still love me?”

“You’re the same woman, and he’s the same man, even if he doesn’t realize it. There was a movie that came out on Terra some years ago, about a woman who was told that the love of her life had been killed in a war, but refused to believe it, refused to give up searching for him. In the end, she found him. And even though he had lost his memory, she still loved him – and could tell that he would fall in love with her all over again.”

Alisa needed to take a leave of absence from the Division, where she had been compiling a cultural history of Domyr based on the latest monitoring as well as her original field reports. They progress since first contact had been incredibly rapid – they had completed the first phase of a deep space tracking system and were building a fleet of pusher ships to explore their system and plant space colonies.

Their urgency might have to do with fear of the Aureans – Domyr had known nothing of them until the Mindful’s visit – or about the Velorians, for that matter, except for Alisa herself. It was unlikely that the Empire would take the slightest interest in Domyr, but follow-up visits by the Survey Service made a point of keeping an eye out for any approach by ships of the Empire or the Enlightenment.

Not her problem. Not any more, in any case.

Getting to Sanctuary was complicated and roundabout for her, but to Ben it was a matter of routine – he’d used the same kind of false identity chips and travel documents to bring Nikki there six years earlier.

Klara greeted them at the Spaceport; it seemed she was still dividing her time between her home planet and Rostran. She was the only native of Sanctuary she had met; Alisa asked her about Tyla alias Aayla, but got only a curt response that the erstwhile goddess of Rostran had turned against her family and was now “on ice.” 

“Jason will be here soon,” Klara said. “He needs to tell you about Andre. And then we’ll go see Andre.”

Jason looked to be of exotic racial origin, and indeed his surname was common in a place called Thailand on Earth. But the Diaboli also counted ancient Egyptians among their remote ancestors, and remote was the word – their homeworld now was New Atlantis, from which Jason had fled after being sentenced to death for challenging the leaders of its corrupt government.

At least I wasn’t sentenced to death, Alisa thought, and immediately wondered if he were reading that thought. But if so, he didn’t give any sign of it – instead, he was busy relating what he had learned from reading Andre’s mind. 

“He was in an alternate universe, an alternate history, for more than 100 years. There was a war raging, a war more ruthless than any we have known here  – at least in history as we know it. Planets were destroyed wholesale, whole peoples slaughtered, by the counterparts of not only Velorians and Aureans, but the Galen themselves – the Elders never came to be, it seems – a Terran Empire, and another species Andre only knew as the Others.

“But when Andre appeared at the opposite terminus of the Dimensional Transporter, he found another Lost City there… or perhaps simply the other half of the one you discovered. That city had also been recently discovered, by something called the Galactic Expeditionary Task Force; a fleet of ships led by a half-Velorian Admiral named Riantra. Her other half was human, if you can believe it; Andre certainly does though I couldn’t begin to explain how that would work. Her fleet was manned by a mix of Terrans, the equivalent of Kelsorians – only Kelsor 7 didn’t exist there; the Exodus from Belside was an iffy thing, after all. And there was also a contingent of Others.

“Their Earth’s history was quite different from the one in our universe; theirs had been attacked several times and become obsessed with tracing the Old Galactics – what they had been, and more importantly, how they had made Wormholes. As part of their mission, the GETF had discovered the Lost City and its records seemed to pinpoint the location of their home planet, as well as a complete wormhole map. It seems that that they had been experimenting with their side of the Dimensional Transporter when Andre appeared among them; in fact, they might have inadvertently been responsible for opening it on our side, but at the time they assumed he was responsible and took him into custody in the hope he might be able to answer their question – there were enough enhanced humans there to overpower him.

“But they had barely taken him back to one of their ships when their fleet came under sudden attack, and had to withdraw, its work unfinished. Setting a course for the Galactics’ homeworld, the counterparts of Kelsorians analyzed the records they had retrieved. Andre was taught their language, which was like nothing he had known on Kelsor 7 – and pleaded to be allowed to return home. Only that was impossible; Riantra’s people didn’t have the resources to fight their way back to the city, and they had more immediate concerns in any case, like a mutiny by the Others.

“Where the Others came from, nobody seemed to know. But no one knew more about the Galactics, whom they claimed to worship, believing that they had intentionally peppered the galaxy with technological marvels for “worthy” developing races – like themselves, naturally – to get a leg up in their evolution. It was heresy to challenge to their religion and that is what Riantra did, when she found the Galactics’ homeworld and proved that everything they believed in was wrong.

“Her fleet had already encountered, in various forms, the remains of past attempts to locate the Galactics; enough to realize that far from being the first to begin the quest, they were but the latest chapter in a saga that reached back to before there was life on Earth. Some of the people who went before them had discovered evidence that the Galactics were a race of giants that terrorized the galaxy with an enormous fleet of ships, while others documented proof that they were peaceful farmers who spent millions of years seeding dead planets with life. 

Every previous expedition had discovered different “Galactics” – but that might have been understandable; as in our universe the Galactics were around for a very long time, certainly long enough for the civilization to change. But what disturbed Riantra was when they stopped at one dead world and discovered that their theory had been based on ships that been discovered floating in the void for half a million years; ships that Riantra knew were in fact simply another expeditionary fleet; the people of the dead world hadn’t realized because their civilization never reached the level of the derelicts they’d discovered.

“Her suspicions deepened as her archaeologists found sites elsewhere that incorporated elements of the same historical lies and fictions of previous races; stories built upon stories from species that had that sprang up, searched for the Galactics, reached their own conclusions… and died off.

“Riantra was afraid that what her fleet had discovered was not the long-dead detritus of a vast and powerful ancient empire but a galaxy-sized Pass the Message game that stretched back billions of years – that the Old Galactics they’d spent so many years chasing might be nothing more than a collection of fairy tales, formed around the idea that just because something ancient and advanced, it had to have been made by the same species who mastered wormhole creation. But the GETF was on to something, and Andre was along for the ride.

“It was only many years later that their researches bore fruit. The Old Galactics had been plants, just as Andre mumbled when he returned. His return was a miracle in itself; as he grew older, he increasingly despaired of ever seeing home again – or seeing you. But Riantra finally took pity on him; there was a lull in the war, and she took the opportunity to fly him back to the Lost City in a private ship, carry him to the Transporter, and hope for the best,”

“You got all that from him?”

“That’s only the barest outline. You have to remember that he spent a whole lifetime in that other universe. Although much was lost because of his growing mental impairment, much else remained – but so intertwined with the trauma of his exile and the galactic blood bath that I couldn’t leave it there. But some may be useful to you, for the light it sheds on how the course of their history has differed from that here – and what we can learn from that. You’d better plan on spending some time here…”

“Can you at least tell me about the Old Galactics?” Alisa asked. They were old, at least, and had nothing to do with current history.

“Their original environment was harsh, volatile and desolate; life was short and violent. You might assume that a species that evolved on such a deathworld, and reached the heights of crafting wormholes to be apex predators, but they were plants; plants that could move, but still near the bottom of the food chain. Everything ate them, and as a result their evolution focused on fast reproduction; they never developed skeletons, for example, because hard structures take too long to grow. Instead their bodies were soft; a photosynthesizing bundle of organs and muscles supported by gas bladders.

“This created a society that would have seemed utterly callous to later inhabitants of the Galaxy. It would be considered normal for thousands to die clearing land for a new building, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t care; they cared a great deal, but for each other and their society as a whole.

“Old Galactics didn’t live very long, only about ten years, which meant that their culture rested on the knowledge that almost nothing substantial – such as building a wormhole – could ever be completed in an individual’s lifetime. As such individual achievement wasn’t as important to them as making life better for one’s family.

“This… ‘generational patience’ was their greatest strength; since few would ever see a project completed, it didn’t really matter to them whether it took a decade, or a millennium to complete. As such, they could envision tasks no modern species would even contemplate; I mean, could you imagine starting work on a project that might take 700 years to finish?”

Except for the Lost City, that seems to be all they left behind, Alisa mused. But no, wait a minute, what about the Dimensional Transporter? And if the one at the Lost City was a relic of theirs, what about that on Velor. Could it, too, date back millions of years?  If so, what use had the Old Galactics made of it?

But that could wait. What couldn’t wait was her reunion with Andre. He had long since left the hospital, Klara told her, and was living at a student hostel. He’d be waiting for her in the garden outside. It was a short flight; Klara would show her the way.

* * *

There was nothing remarkable about the garden, except for Andre. He was seated at a small table, playing solitaire chess. He seemed very intense at it, and she wondered if different parts of his brain were contending.

She stood there for a moment, and looked at him. Looked at him. Looked at him.

He seemed to sense her gaze. He glanced up from the chessboard. Looked at her, Looked at her, Looked at her.

“Care to join me?” he asked. “They told me we know each other.”

2015: Sanctuary. Loving and Learning (with apologies to Tarot)

“Yes, I care to join you,” Alisa said.

They had placed another chair at the table, on the white side of the board.

Andre’s expression was that of a childish curiosity, and when he invited her to take over white, it was with a seemingly childish enthusiasm. Only, he didn’t play like a beginner, but like a precocious master in the making. White had held the advantage, but in a series of dazzling moves, he reversed that, and ended up mating her.

His look was one of triumph, but also of curiosity, as if he were trying to recall the last time they had played. He couldn’t, of course, and yet there was that fleeting sense of recognition. Even if his mind couldn’t remember her, however, it was as if his body did.

He looked at her as a woman, and she looked at him as a man.

“Let us know each other again,” she said. “They’ve left us alone here for that.”

Without further ado, she began undressing to show him exactly what she had in mind. He was startled for a second, but only for a second. and began undressing himself. In a few moments, they were facing other stark naked. But what happened next was a revelation as well as a delight.

It wasn’t just that he’d gotten hard as soon as he set eyes on Alisa, before she stripped – any man would react that way to the sight of a Velorian woman, even if she weren’t plying him with her pheromones. It was that his body somehow knew hers, and told him exactly what to do with her.

He knew exactly how to kiss and caress her, not limiting himself to her breasts as a novice would, or even to her mouth, but starting with her cheeks, ears and neck before he focused on her lips and tongued her. Working his way down, he concentrated on her arms and belly, knowing that they too had pleasure points – but that triggering them would make her ache for him to let loose with his hands and lips and tongue and teeth on her twin peaks.

Alisa was dripping with lust by the time he began squeezing her breasts, and she knew he was going wild from her honey and wildflower scent. As an enhanced human, he could maul her mounds with all his might, reveling in their invulnerability, and when he zeroed in on her nipples, sucking and biting with wild abandon, she came and came hard – her body shuddering with release. She screamed with pleasure, and cried out his name. He cried hers, taking pleasure in her pleasure, perhaps taking pride in what he had done for her, even if he couldn’t remember ever having done it before.

“Fuck me, Andre!” she moaned as she lay down and spread her legs. “Fuck me now!”

It was only then that he buried himself in her, clear to the hilt. She took his cock prisoner, squeezing it with all her might – knowing as he must know that it was as invulnerable as her cunt, that their bodies could give each other nothing but pleasure. And when she relaxed just enough to let him fuck her in earnest, she came and came as the relentless pounding of his cock triggered her inner pleasure points. Any other man would have exploded inside her as soon as she allowed it, but Andre managed to hold off coming until her third orgasm – and remained hard afterwards to share two more with her.

It was heavenly, and it was especially heavenly that they were doing it here in the garden, in bright sunlight. It wasn’t like fucking on shipboard, or even in a bedroom with the lights on – they could drink in the sight of each other as well as savor the touch. And delight in the aroma – that of her juices blending with those of the actual wildflowers. Andre could see her cunt oozing with lust before he buried his face in it to eat her out, and Alisa could see the pre-cum leak from his cock as she moved in to suck it until he shot in her mouth – and because he was enhanced, she could feel him shoot, in her mouth as in her cunt.  

For hours, they couldn’t get enough of each other. It was only at sunset that they finally took a break. Alisa knew Jason would have more words to share with her tonight, and so would Klara. She’d have to look in on Ben and Nikki, too, catch up with their lives on Sanctuary. She told Andre about the others, but not about Jason.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I have to attend a lecture tonight, on temporal physics. It sounds really fascinating. A whole new field. They told me a lot has been done with that back on your world – I wish I could remember being there. I know you were part of it.”

“And will be again. You can depend on it.”

But he would never remember that part of his previous life. It wasn’t part of his body memory. The love they had shared today had been a miracle, but the rest of his recovery would be hard work. That lecture was part of his rehabilitation. Alisa had known about that. It was one of the things she’d have to discuss with Jason.

* * *

“The greatest mystery is why the Dimensional Transporter returned him to practically the same moment in our universe after more than a century in Riantra’s,” Jason said back at the hospital. “Not that it has anything to do with his trauma.”

“What does?”

“The war there, as I said before. Like on Rostran, from what Klara tells me – only worse, and on a galactic scale. But at the heart of it, Riantra herself. She never had any qualms about her part – nor did Velor or the Terran Empire. It was a war of extermination for them and the Aureans and the Others, no quarter given and none expected. The Galen seemed to switch sides, apparently just to keep any of the main contenders from achieving outright victory.”

“And Andre?”

“She took him in, and then took him on – as a lover. It was some time before he could learn the language – would you believe they didn’t have deepteach? – and still more time for him to learn the rest. All he knew early on was that she had rescued him from the Others, and he was grateful for that. She was kind to him, and curious about him – but when he told her where he came from, she found it hard to believe. He found that strange, at first…”

But that was just the beginning of Jason’s account.

Knowing nothing of her world, but assuming that Riantra was a woman of good heart, he had been eager to tell her about temporal physics, and she had been just as eager to hear about it. She saw great practical applications for a science new to her and the Empire Too late did he learn that those applications had to do with surprise attacks on enemy fleets and enemy worlds, aimed at utter destruction. That turned the tide of battle, and might have led to ultimate victory, but for the Galen – the Galaxy’s usually unseen Equalizers, who shared temporal physics with the other powers.

It had been terrible beyond anything Alisa could have imagined. Entire species that had no part in the conflict were slaughtered. One of those species had been the last of the Old Galactics, or the Builders as they called themselves, who had survived on the world the Terrans had learned about at the Lost City – their rest of their kind had already been exterminated across the Galaxy in some ancient war that antedated even the Galen. 

And Andre had seen it all, been a part of it all – and the worst of it was that it had been made possible, like all the rest of the apocalyptic war, by his own temporal physics. The shame and guilt of that may even have accelerated his aging, Jason speculated; it certainly accounted for his breakdown. Perhaps Riantra had realized that, when she afforded him a chance to return home.

“He must never hear about that again, even from you,” Jason warned her. “I had to share it with you, but it must go no further.”

“I’ll never tell him, or anyone else,” she promised.

“You’ll have to be patient with him; he’s like an adolescent now – he has to get a good grounding in science and history and every other field of knowledge valued on Kelsor 7. We can only hope that relearning the basics will unleash his creativity. I can’t guarantee anything, but you can certainly be a great help – especially in restoring his morale.”

She’d already made a great start at that in the garden, she knew. But it wouldn’t be like that in matters that went beyond body language. Not at all…

And there were things Jason hadn’t mentioned, if he had known them from Andre – such as the actual location of the Old Galactics’ world. Was it the same in Alisa’s own continuum? If not, might some yet survive elsewhere? Did she even want to know? And what could it mean that the only known Dimensional Transporter besides that between Velor and Aurea was at the Lost City? Perhaps it was best not to know that, either. Had he known she was thinking about these issues, and decided it was best not to address them?

There was something else at the back of her mind, but it didn’t come to the front of her mind until she was at Klara’s headquarters, safely out of range of Jason, she assumed.

The Scalantrans. If they had come to the alternate universe Andre had visited, surely there would have been some mention of them. After all, Jason had spoken a good deal about the equivalent of the Kelsorians – who weren’t actually anything like the Kelsorians except for their expertise in science. Could the harsher reality of that universe have anything to do with the lack of an interstellar trading community that nurtured seeded worlds as opposed to a galaxy where the only trade was in violence?

She couldn’t talk about that with any of the others she was meeting, without telling them the rest – and that just wouldn’t do...


* * *

Things were less troubling with Klara, and with Nikki and Ben – or so it seemed at first.

“We’re used to a functioning legislature now,” Klara told Alisa. “I can afford to take more time off from duties on Rostran. Lara can take care of any emergencies while I’m gone, but there aren’t many of those. 

“Terrans feel safe now – Nevil has become a hero to them, even if he’s an enhancee. He and Tanya are back living in the Capital now; he’s a doctor, and they have a couple of children, Tanar and Thuvia, and they’re planning on more.”

“All born naturally, of course?”

“Indeed. But he’s also developed an alternative to the brooder system. That’s a relief to the kella-primes as well as the Terrans.”

“As well it should be. And you?”

“No children, here or there, and I keep a low profile here. Just for fun, though, I get in  lots of fucking on Rostran. You remember that fuckfest I had with Dargrin and Thomas at the Stadium? They’ve shown it again a lot on video, and I’ve made other videos, more intimate and more graphic, with kella-primes and Betans and Terrans. I’m an equal opportunity lay!”

But Alisa could tell that there was hard work ahead, however lightly Klara might speak of her life as the chancellor of two worlds. It was only here, however, that she learned about her host’s previous career as a bank robber.

“Perhaps it helped me to learn how to steal a world, if that’s what I’ve been doing on Rostran,” she kidded.

Or was it kidding?

At the McCloud estate, Alisa met Ann for the first time. She found it hard to believe the matriarch’s story of her Aurean origin, her adoption by Laboratory W and later taking the Rites as a Protector – only to be threatened with annihilation and having to make a hairbreadth escape with the connivance of the lab director. Yet it had happened, and Ann had found a new life and a new purpose in life on this world – a world about which Velor knew nothing. And talk about a bizarre family history once she’d settled here...

When she met Nikki, it wasn’t really a surprise to learn that what she really loved here was playing Protector – even an M Class could manage that on Sanctuary – so that she could rescue guys and then invite them to fuck her. She was even into girl-girl action now, if there was a woman who had to be rescued and she was interested in rewarding her.

“But I don’t think I could get into mothering,” she said. “Could you?”

Alisa hadn’t really thought about that, for all that she had thought of living with Andre again once he was fit to return to Kelsor 7.

As for Ben, he had two children, but by different mothers – Todd’s was Myra McCloud, who had been his first love after he’d arrived here. But she’d left him for Jason six years ago. That had really broken him up, but he felt better now that Myra’s sister Paris had presented him with a daughter, Blair. It has been a surprise of sorts; Paris wasn’t into commitment, any more than Nikki, and had said she’d wait a few more years, but…

“I’ll have to be a minder again,” he kidded Alisa. 

But he suddenly looked wistful, even sad.

“There was another Blair, Myra’s child, but Myra miscarried. That was before Jason got involved with her – at first just using a spell to heal her pain. But Aayla may have had something to do with the miscarriage in the first place. She went crazy later, and… we had to put her on ice. Literally.” 

It was a terrible story, and Alisa didn’t really want to listen to it – it was too much like what Jason had told about the Supremis on the other side of the Lost City. Klara’s sister had all but declared war on the rest of the family; in the end, she had to be exiled to a distant comet. Yet Ben said he and the McCloud family and friends had managed to get over it.

“And I can even get along with Jason now; he and Myra have two children of their own. Didn’t he tell you?”

“We were discussing… other matters. Andre and his recovery.”

“I understand. How is that coming?”

“We’re off to a good start, but he still has to catch up on a lot of things that don’t have to do with just me. He’ll have to find a place for himself again back home. I’ll be doing all I can to help him find that place.”

It had begun in bed, and from the start there had been a sense of rightness about it. Even after they were exhausted, they would lie together, feeling a kind of glow that they had never felt with anyone else. They had felt it before, on Rostran, and his body remembered that glow even though his mind couldn’t remember their time together there.

Alisa hadn’t been ready for it when she arrived here, but she was ready now – ready to bring him back to Kelsor 7, a world he might not recognize, but where he would, she hoped, feel at home.

There came to her mind the closing line from a Terran novel about a man who had been torn from his old life and could never go back to it – only find a new life: “all human wisdom is contained in the words ‘Wait and hope!’”

She herself would have to wait and hope, on Andre’s behalf... and her own.



2020: Kelsor 7. Motherhood and Fatherhood and… 

“Would this make you a criminal back on Velor?” Andre asked.

He had just taken their baby girl into his arms for the first time. Alisa could tell he was just having fun with her. But beyond that, from the look on his face, she could tell he was really getting into fatherhood 

“I’m already considered a criminal there, remember?” she teased him in the same spirit.

She hadn’t wanted to rush things, even after their marriage. Andre had a lot of learning and relearning to do after they returned home. It was only in the past year that he had gone back to work at the Educational Division – but in Culture rather than Physics, serving under Lionel De Camp.

“I’ve caught up enough to understand in temporal physics,” he had told her. “But I don’t think I’m up to doing any new contributions there – beyond what we were working on before, of course.”

He couldn’t actually remember having worked on it, but even if he had, it was off limits – all the field work had been part of Cygnias 275 and beyond. Everything to do with the expedition of the Anders Flame was under seal. 

“People here must think we’re the first of our kind to have a baby,” Andre observed now, getting back to the subject at hand. “And I can’t tell anyone here otherwise. Besides Lionel, of course.”

That was one of the reasons for taking a job with De Camp, although not the only one – or even the most important.

“But at least we can benefit from what you learned on Sanctuary,” he said, placing their infant back in the crib with its wire mesh enclosure that had just enough gold to keep her from getting out, and causing any accidental damage to their home – but without interfering with her development. She cooed contentedly from having been hugged, and was falling asleep.

“You can claim to be the first in your family, at least,” Andre said softly.

“And probably the last,” Alisa said just as softly. “Nikki will fuck anything that moves when she’s wearing gold, but does not want to be a mother, no matter what Ben might want – and it’s really Ann who’s so fucking set on it.”

“Such language!”

“As if our little darling could hear. Or understand.”

“By the time she can, we’ll have to engineer a safe room for her, like Paris did for Todd. And one of us will have to stay with her whenever it’s time to leave her room, or even go out.”

“The price we pay!” Alisa said, in mock protest.

Neither of them was going to be leaving the planet now, in any case. Andre would be collaborating with DeCamp on cultural dynamics – based on their shared experience on Rostran, which they couldn’t share with anyone else but Alisa. They had lost touch with other members of the ill-fated expedition. 

Relations were strained with Andre’s family because he couldn’t tell even his parents and siblings where he had been, or what had happened there, or why. That grated on his father Antal, whose forebears were immigrants from Tabor, but even more on his mother Dora, scion of one of the founding families of Kelsor 7, going back to Eriq Asenion, captain of the ship that brought the first settlers from Belside. 

Not that the Kaliks didn’t have their own secrets. They were both engineers in a quantum electric drive facility, which they couldn’t talk about. They even had microchip implants in their brains that would kill them if they tried to – by leaving the system, or in the unlikely event of capture by foreign agents and subjected to enhanced interrogation. 

Kelsor 7’s prosperity still depended on the export of QED units, which was why Peter Durgin had been so eager to visit Rostran. Of course, neither Durgin nor anybody else involved in the trade knew how the drives worked. Neither did Andre, who had never shown any interest in following his parents into the business. Instead, he’d picked up on physics from his maternal grandmother, Lillith Asenion, who had died while he was on Sanctuary – and he told Alisa a few days before her time that he wanted to name their daughter for her.

“That… might not be a good idea,” Alisa said. And she told him about the other Lillith, a Protector who had served on an alien world and become a legend in the annals of Velor.

“She may be a legend there, but I’ll warrant that nobody else here has ever heard of her. And my Lillith deserves to be honored. I only wish I’d had a chance to while she lived.”

That settled the matter as far as Alisa was concerned, but Antal had groused about it. His younger children, Ramuel and Regina, were named for Asenion kin and he had wanted to honor the Kaliks – specifically his maiden aunt Jamaine, who had apparently doted on him when he was a child. Andre had met her rarely, and thought she was a real pain. It was a relief to him, and even to Alisa, that his siblings sided with him.

They were both in the military, but Ramuel served on a real warship and Regina on just a Quaker ship – the Quaker ships looked like the real thing, and since nobody from other worlds was allowed aboard, they served to enhance Kelsor 7’s deterrent image. The Secretariat meant for the Velorians and Aureans alike think at least twice about challenging the world’s neutrality – or trying to gain he secret of the QED by force.

Ramuel was married to an Alecan, while Regina was involved with another woman in the skeleton crew of the ship she was serving on. Nothing unusual in either case; Kelsorians were broad-minded about races and sexuality and even religion. But Regina, who was also a Christla, wanted there to be a formal christening for Lillith by the priest of her parish church. Not the one at the Cathedral Alisa had confessed to in her moment of weakness; that would have given her pause… 

“We can humor her,” Andre advised. “It can’t do any harm. And it’s a family affair – an occasion for us all to be together, and for all of us to remember.”

Alisa almost blushed at the memory of her only previous contact with a Christla priest – when she gone to confession and sought absolution for leaving her Sponsor Ari’jis in the lurch at the Rites, having used him to cover her plan for escape. He must have felt terribly humiliated at being so treated by the woman he loved. She hoped he’d gotten over it, but she’d probably never know…

It took a good while to set up the christening, because Ramuel and Regina had to appeal for leave at the same time, and Regina wanted her lover Darna to take part as well. Also on hand, of course, would be Ramuel’s wife Chausiku and their children.

It was an unlikely ceremony for the rest of the family, and yet it brought them together. Antal and Dora made their peace with Andre and Alisa over the naming of their granddaughter. By sheer coincidence, the parish priest, one Father Bedrich, was of Taboran ancestry, although no relation to the Kaliks. 

It was the perfect time and place, dawn of the Long Day on Dirac Sea. Kelsor Prime had just risen, bringing its light to the seacoast, which had heretofore been bathed only in the faint ruddy glow of Kelsor 6. Alisa herself had chosen the time and place, for this was to be a day of renewal for her Kelsorian family.

She had been thinking a lot about renewal – and not only in terms of her own family, but the extended family of humankind, Supremis as well as Terran. She had seen both kinds at their worst, and yet also at their best. Here on Kelsor 7, disparate peoples lived in harmony, and had for hundreds of years – even as other worlds with disparate peoples had been torn by civil strife, and the inhabited universe itself torn by the Velorian-Aurean war.

She had grown up believing that to be inevitable, although she wanted no part of it. But perhaps there was a way out, given the right actions by the right people in the right places at the right times. Only, what were the right actions and places and times? Who were the right people? There had been too many tyrants and true believers on too many worlds who thought themselves and their causes to be right. Reigel 5, where she had spent her formative years, had taught her that much. 

And yet since then Alisa had seen signs of hope. Peace had dawned on Rostran, against all odds. Klara McCloud seemed to have sensed as much as known the right course to follow, once she had understood the situation there. Sanctuary had been tranquil and sort of democratic under the watchful eyes of the McClouds – well, except for Aayla. Even on Reigel Five, the bitter war in which her brother James had served as an advisor to the loyalists had ended in a reconciliation between peoples and factions that seemed to be holding.

Such reconciliations might come by accident as much as design. And yet, there must have been those who had seen the signs of what had to be done, and tried to follow them. They might not have been blamed if they failed, nor been given credit – or taken it – when they succeeded. It was best, perhaps, not to seek or assume credit. The kind of work they seemed inspired to do should be its own reward…

Alisa caught herself in mid-thought. That kind of thinking might seem noble, but it might also be only an excuse for narcissism. And for a Velorian on a Terran world, in a Terran society, it was easy enough to become self-absorbed. Sufficient to each day are the temptations thereof. But it was this day she had to face now.

She hadn’t met any of the others in person, only on the com; Andre’s family was new to her. Two of its members – Ramuel and Chausiku’s son and daughter Jafari and Karina – were new even to him, having been born during his absence. He thought they were adorable; no doubt he’d dote on them in the years to come. 

Alisa realized that she should get to know the Kalik kin better. They were family to her now, as much her mother and siblings – and those were far, far away. There would be a picnic after the ceremony for them to share food and conversation, but for now, after the greetings, it was time for the ceremony. Regina had already introduced the priest, who proceeded to perform his office.

“What name do you give your child?” Father Bedrich asked.

“Lillith,” Andre and Alisa said in unison.

“What do you ask of God’s Church?”

“Its blessing.”

“You have asked to have your child blessed. In doing so you must accept the responsibility of raising her in the spirit of our faith, even if not in the letter, for in teaching her to love goodness  and to love her neighbors, it will be as if she loves God, whether or not she knows Him. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”

“We do.”

Father Bedrich turned to Regina and Darna. 

“Are you ready to help the parents of this child fulfill their role as goodly parents?”

“We are,” they said together.

Father Bedrich sprinkled holy water on Lillith’s forehead, then made the sign of the Cross there as Andre held the infant steady. There was no mention of baptism, but for Regina and Darna, as for the priest, it was implicit.

“So let it be,” he said softly, and ended the ceremony by reciting a passage from Psalm 85 in the Holy Book:

“Will you not give us life; and shall not your people rejoice in you? Show us, O Lord, your kindness, and grant us your salvation. I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord – for he proclaims peace to his people.”

Could this be another sheer coincidence, Alisa wondered, or was it meant to be a sign to her? She knew that the Christla had their ways, as did other institutions here and elsewhere.

She must learn to read the signs, on Kelsor 7 and other worlds that the Culture Division was studying. She must learn where they pointed, and whether they might offer a way to make things better. It would be the work of a lifetime…

Kelsor 7, Division of External Affairs, 2027 AD

“This can’t seem to come from me,” Alisa said. 

“Understood, Dame and Mentor. But there are bound to be questions.”

“To which you shall have the proper answers. If you have any difficulty in framing them, I’m sure Counselor DeCamp can help. He’s good at that kind of thing. Very good.”

“But formal relations with Velor?”

“Formally, they would have an interest section at Shalmirane’s embassy. No Velorians would be stationed here. Aurea can hardly have cause for complaint about the arrangement. As for our legation to Velor, it can formally be an interest section at Varig’s embassy there. Again, there can be no cause for complaint, Aurea not having had diplomatic relations with Velor for centuries. Of course, Varig would be also our silent partner in the arrangement with Shalmirane. Unofficially. Very unofficially.”

“And the Secretariat will approve?”

“You will see to it, Sir and Subchief.”

“Do we have to be that formal, Alisa? The name is Vicente.” 

“And this is my birthday, and in one short day comes the Festival. That should make me doubly dangerous to a Christla. I might be tempted to use my powers of persuasion.”

“I’m a bit old for that,” Zapata kidded her. “Seriously, though, you’ve already done so. Considering the fact that even a Mentor of the Cultural Service has no business advising External Affairs.”

“You know what I mean. And the advice will be strictly yours.”

“So why am I doing this, again, Dame and Mentor?”

“Because it’s the right time to do it. For Kelsor 7. For the universe.”

“And how do you know this?”

“Because I have been places you would not care to be. Because I have learned things you would not care to know. Because my analysis shows that there is a tide in the affairs of the cosmos, which we must take at the flood.”

It was true. She knew it. But she dared not say how she knew it.



Cultural Service headquarters, one week earlier

Lionel DeCamp had been there. She knew she could trust him. He was good at his job, and she was sure he’d come through for her in supporting this diplomatic initiative. But they had a history, and because they had a history, he deserved the truth. So she’d gone to him before she approached Zapata.

Theirs wasn’t the kind of history that would have ever made for gossip, seal or no seal. Nothing romantic. Nothing heroic, at least not in the usual sense. Lionel didn’t have a military background like Zapata, who’d come up through the ranks and been captain on her orientation cruise – he’d made admiral before getting an appointment to the Secretariat.

Lionel had been a lowly culture tech on the Anders Flame. He wasn’t good looking, he wasn’t socially adept. What he was was smart. He’d figured out for himself that she was a Velorian, which nobody aboard besides Captain Durgin was supposed to know. Bad move. But he’d also figured out the truth about Rostran, a world where she’d faced danger without having known it. Good move, even if it had come too late to be of much use. She was grateful.

“You’re remarkably forgiving,” he remarked now, after she told him why she wanted Kelsor 7 to mend fences with Velor.

“It’s been a long time,” she said. “I expect the Senate and the High Council may also be in a forgiving mood by now. And I would like to actually see my family again. Not just hear about them, or get occasional messages from mother.”

“James is still in the military, I suppose.”

“Still a major with StarBright Command. He might have advanced another rank, I think, but they haven’t had much to do the last few years.”

“Does he have a family?”

“No. Which seems strange. I’d always thought my brother would settle down after the usual sort of youthful excesses. The Kim’Vallaras are a conservative family, as families go on Velor. I was the only rebel, unless you count Nikki – but that came later. And yet here I am, a respectable married woman and even a mother.”

Lionel laughed.

“They wouldn’t find it respectable back there, would they? Married to a foreigner, even if he’s an enhancee? And actually giving birth? They’d call you a Naturalist, figure you for an ally of the Evil Empire!”

“But they don’t have a Maternity Engine here, after all. And it wouldn’t have been very practical to try to extract my eggs for exterior fertilization… Besides which, they don’t have the capability of testing Supremis eggs or sperm... Seriously, though, I decided that I wanted to give nature a chance, to accept the unexpected. Just like with Andre…”

Lionel nodded. He knew their story. They’d been thrown together as emissaries to the Rostrans, based solely on appearance. They hadn’t known what they were getting into; neither had Captain Durgin and the others back on the ship. 

Andre and Alisa were to take part in a ceremonial orgy, honoring the planetary Prince and Princess – which would have been a disaster for Andre as both a frail and an innocent to local sexual customs. It was only by happenstance that he’d received on-the-job training and enhancement from local talent, or he’d never have survived Rostran – or what had come after Rostran...

She hadn’t been about to give up on him, no matter how hopeless it might seem. She’d pleaded and wheedled and cajoled her contacts on Rostran to heal him, if that were possible. It had taken seven years, on Sanctuary. To restore his sanity, they’d had to erase his traumatic memories – even those related to Alisa. When he came around, when she saw him again, he hadn’t remembered her name; and yet he’d sensed that he knew her.

“‘Somehow, deep down, I knew that you were the woman I loved,’ he told me later. Yes, those were his exact words,” 

“Love conquers all,” Lionel responded. Not that he felt any jealousy. He’d married long before Alisa, and had a son and daughter studying at the Institute.

“I’d gone over what had happened by then. Of course, I had to tell him about Jecel and the other temporaries. But he didn’t mind – ‘They were just keeping you warm for me.’ And the funny thing is, that was true. I knew I had him back, and that we’d never be apart again.”

2027, Kelsor 7, Kalik-Liddell home, two weeks earlier 

“And how did it go?” Andre asked her when she got home.

“As planned. You know my methods. No problems with Lillith?”

“For a seven-year old, she’s been an angel. I think we’ll soon be able to dispense with the collar for good, at least here at home. It might be different at school. The authorities…”

“She knows her heritage. She’s come to know her own strength.”

“I think she learned her lesson when she smashed her first perscomp ten shorts ago. But the comps at school are––”

“‘Property of Educational Affairs.’ Which I still work for, even if it’s a different branch, and I have to set an example and all that.”

At that moment, the light began to fail. Nothing to do with the power, however, nor any sort of bad omen. It was simply Kelsor going into eclipse behind the dim red sphere of Kelsor 6. A normal part of Kelsor’s long day/short year cycle, as Andre and Alisa well knew, although it had slipped their minds during the talk about Lillith.

For a Mentor of the Culture Service, or even a Chief Scientist like Andre, their home was a modest dwelling. But it was historic, one of the oldest on the planet, part of the first settlement of the survivors of Belside. Not primitive, however: it was all glass and metal, all pleasing in appearance, all efficient in its functions, everything needful in its place. The Belsidea had been civilized people, not abductees from Old Earth, making do with Old Earth ways, scratching for a living.

The home was part of Andre’s cultural heritage; that was why Alisa had chosen it as her wedding present. The Kaliks had been among the First True Wave of settlers after the planet had been claimed centuries ago by Tuva Armaan and Prima Kelsor. More than half the Kelsorians today were descendants of later immigrants, or even immigrants themselves... 

At that thought, Alisa’s eyes were drawn to the Smeerp, a constellation that came into view during the eclipse. It was a minor constellation, but from Kelsor 7 it was the direction of Velor’s sun – not that even she could see it without a powerful telescope. Things were happening there, not all of them to the good… But she had thought enough about that today. Tonight, it was time to think about dinner, time to banish the dark and any dark thoughts.

As Alisa palmed the lights, Lillith scampered down from her dome. Her face was lit up with excitement. Surely it couldn’t be about the eclipse…

“Mama, I want to be a Protector.” 

Alisa looked at her, then at Andre. Andre shook his head, as if to say, not my idea.

If there was one thing Alisa had learned from the very beginning of her life here, it was how to compose herself. Her daughter’s words had come as a shock, and yet...

I should have been prepared for this, she thought. After all, children have always needed to assert themselves, to become more than mere reflections of their parents. But so soon. And she can’t have any idea what it really means, can she?

“Aren’t you a little young to be thinking about that?” she asked after a moment.

“But Mama, I’ve been reading about the other Lillith, the one who protects those insect people. That sounds like fun.”

Damn! Alisa thought. We told her we named her after Andre’s favorite grandmother, the one who got him into temporal physics. I should have known better, but how could I disappoint him? Only, she was bound to find out about… 

“Lillith, have you forgotten about your great grandma? She was a physicist, like your father, back in the days when he was into temporal physics.”

“And a damned good one, too,” Andre put in for good measure.

“I know that, you’ve told me all about her,” Lillith said, her voice a bit petulant. “But I like to read about other life forms, and the Tetrites are so cute. So I looked for more about them, and there was the story about Lillith the Protector.”

Not all children would think Tetrites were cute. A lot of kids were scared of creepy-crawly things on their worlds, maybe because they could bite. Nothing could bite Lillith or harm her in any way; she was old enough to know that – old enough to know that she and her parents (if only by enhancement in Andre’s case) were different from other Kelsorians. Alisa had been frank about having come from Velor; Lillith was bound to hear about it anyway. But she’d hoped to save some of the details for later.

At least it’s only a children’s version of the Lillith story, Alisa thought. But for now, it was time to change the subject.

“That’s very nice, honey,” she temporized. “But it’s time for dinner. We’re having daglat tonight.”

“I know,” Lillith protested. “Dada was telling me about how the First Settlers engineered them from local and Belside fish and named them for two ancient fish gods on Earth.” 

“They weren’t fish gods. That came later. They were just fish.”

* * *

“Should I be worried about Lillith?” Alisa asked Andre later in bed.

“You know how it is,” he reassured her. “She’s just getting to the age where the foliage seems redder on the other side of the stream. It was like that with my own younger sister and brother. She’ll grow out of it.”

But Alisa knew it was more than that, would become more than that.

Choices. It was all about choices, would always be about choices. That was how her life had been. So it would be with Lillith.

Some of her own choices had been good, others not. Some were known to all, others only to a few. One wasn’t known even to Andre. That had seemed a wise choice at the time, under the circumstances. It had to do with the Lost City and how she knew some of the things she knew. 

And with what she wanted to accomplish. She had found a way to her true vocation. But what if Lillith still wanted to become a Protector when she came of age? She might still need to find a way home…

Immigration Portal, Kelsor 7, Early 2035 Earth Count

The Keeper of Gate 17 was brusque with him.


“Ari’jis Zor’el,” Sir and Keeper.



The Keeper slotted his passport card, and noted that it bore a diplomatic code, although it bore no diplomatic title. So he did a quick search of other records.

“This is quite irregular,” the Keeper said. “Are you a diplomat or not?  Are you here in an official or a private capacity?”

“Both, Sir and Keeper.”

“I need to consult higher authority.”

“Does the name Alisa Liddell mean anything to you?”

“The Chief Mentor of the Survey Service? What business could you possibly have with her?”

“Perhaps I should explain that to your higher authority, Sir and Keeper.”


When the Senate approved the Amnesty for Alisa-zar Kim’Vallara and her family, it was assumed that word would be delivered to Kelsor 7 through regular diplomatic channels.

Naomi, however, had a very long memory, and other ideas on the matter.

There was a professor at the Academy of Scribes, she knew. Alisa had known him just before her defection. Indeed, she had chosen him as her Sponsor.

“Preposterous,” Sigurd objected.

“She will believe Ari’jis. She made a veiled allusion to him in one of her private messages.”

“May I see this message?”

“It was delivered orally, by a trusted intermediary. There was no record.”

“And this intermediary?”

“I can’t disclose that, even now. It could cause... complications. Not here, perhaps, but elsewhere.”


Ari’jis stepped out of the shuttle and onto the surface of Kelsor 7. The Kelsorians were bundled up, he saw. There must be a chill in the air. 

There was one exception. A tall blonde woman in the Kelsorian equivalent of summer wear. He recognized her immediately.

“Dame and Mentor,” he said, saluting her – hand to heart, in what he hoped was proper courtesy.

Alisa was about to respond when he spoke further.

“Before you say anything, you must know this: I myself forgave you long ago. Now I bring word that your world has forgiven you. As a special representative of the Senate and people of Velor, it is my honor and pleasure to present you the Certificate of Amnesty.”

Ari’jis made a short bow, and handed her the card.

Alisa burst out laughing.

“For Skietra’s sake, did they really think this little ceremony was necessary? Or was it your idea?”

Ari’jis blushed.

“We weren’t sure what your reaction would be, after all these years, after...”

“As if I didn’t keep up with the news. As if I hadn’t expected this.”

She popped the card in her PersComp.

“I see they got Andre’s and Lillith’s name right.”

“We keep up with the news too, Dame and....Alisa.”



Office of the Chief Mentor, Survey Service

“I still loved you desperately, at first. I had an affair with Nikki, did you know that?”

“Naomi never told me. Our contacts have been infrequent, even in recent years. Until your recent Revolution.

“Well, it didn’t last long. I tried to pretend she was you when we…. And she tried--”

“I know. She wanted to be me. She wanted to be a Protector, and she couldn’t.” 

“Your mother said she never got over it. Until she went off to some strange planet, with a Terran of all things. An enhanced Terran.”

“Naomi did mention that. But I’d already learned about it from… other sources. I really can’t say any more than that. I can’t even mention the name or location of the planet.”

“Understood,” Ari’jis said. “None of my concern.”

“I couldn’t talk about you all these years – except once or twice. But I never forgot.:

“It was over between us long before that. I hated myself, and I hated you. I hated the way people looked at me at home in Excelsor. But where could I go? It would have been even worse in Vest’athy. I was desperate, seeking shelter. And there was only one. Daxxan.”

“The Academy of Scribes.”

“It was a place of exile for me. As far away from Excelsor as I could get. I’d never considered teaching at the Academy. It was a place for the second-best, I thought. Women who weren’t good enough to be Protectors.”

“Only in their gene sets,” Alisa reminded him, as if he needed reminding.

“A really big only, that. But I thought of them as second-best in every way, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Until I began teaching. Until I began listening.”

“Listening to what?”

“Their minds. They were really interesting. And they were interested in what I had to say. I don’t think you ever were.”

“I would be now. And I imagine a lot of people here would. Did you know that what set me on the path I took had to do with a visiting astroscience professor on Kelsor Five.”

“From this very world, I imagine.”


“Perhaps I should try it myself. I teach about Earth and the seeded worlds, but I’ve never been further than Daxxan myself. Until now. And after 30 years there, I figure I’m entitled to a sabbatical.”

“Maybe you could teach Lillith. She wants to be a Protector. And Andre and I are thinking of having more children – in the natural manner, of course.”

“In the meantime, I can see that I may have to become your advocate, and Lillith’s, when I get back home.”

“It would be greatly appreciated.”

A year and a half later, it was…


Further Notes:

Alisa-zar Kim’Vallara a.k.a. Alisa Liddell, also appears in…

Ordinary Velorians:


Alisa’s Story: 

Shore Leave, Parts One-Three:

Pictures of an Expedition:

Throne of the Gods:

Encounter at Westfold, Parts One and Two:

See also: “Moment of Truth:”

For further information:

From A Very Long Engagement, the film referenced by Ben Shaffer: