- Part One -
Up until now I have never mentioned anything
about my family. The reason for this oversight is very simple.
I'm something of a disappointment to them. My father was a two
sport star in high school, lettering in both football and basketball.
He went to college on a full sports scholarship and while he
didn't have the talent to go pro he did make the starting team
his junior and senior years. After he got married my father vowed
that his kids would do better than him and make it to the show.
Well, you can imagine what his reaction was after mom gave birth
to me, Ross Archer, confirmed nerd. Hell, he practically disowned
me the day I was told not to try out for little league. After
that dad never spoke more that five words to me at one time.
He left it up to mom to raise and discipline me. Instead, he
turned all his attention and affection toward his daughter, my
sister, Christine. Chris was everything that I wasn't. She was
popular, good looking, athletic and nothing was too good for
her. All Chris had to do was hint that she was interested in
something and dad would be all for it, check book in hand. When
she turned sixteen dad had a mustang convertible in the driveway
with a big red bow on it and when I turned sixteen I got a handshake
and a pen and pencil set. Chris went to college on an sports
scholarship and dad was right there to pay for anything that
the scholarship didn't cover. When I left for college, shortly
after the pen and pencil incident, I was told that I'd have to
pay my own way because it would make a man out of me. I suppose
that if I'd gotten an MBA and a killer job with a six figure
salary dad might have taken some notice but by then I didn't
really care what he thought. So, I got my degree in archeology
and when I graduated Magna Cum Laude mom and Christine were there
but dad stayed home. After graduation I left for a dig in the
Valley of the Kings and I never looked back. I never made any
attempt to visit my family and the only contact I had with them
were the cards we'd exchange on birthdays and Christmases.
I had just finished a particularly long evening. Two Arion Primes had decided it would be fun to mess with the GPS system and send half a dozen oil tankers crashing into the California coast. It was up to yours truly to convince them that this would be a bad idea. When I was finally done `convincing' them I had just enough time to get to work. There wasn't even enough time for a quick cup of coffee. Thus, I was in a lousy mood when I walked into my office.
I had just settled down to tackle the mountain of paperwork which always seemed to be on my desk when Mary Howard walked. If it had been anyone other than Mary I would have bitten their head off and sent them back the way they came but Mary was a friend. So, I put my work down and forced a smile onto my face.
"Hi Mary," I said as pleasantly as I could manage. "What can I do for you?"
"Ah, Ross, there have been a couple of phone calls at the main office from a woman who says she's your mother. She says that it's urgent that she speak with you."
I digested that tidbit for a couple seconds before I began laughing out loud. Mary looked at me like I'd lost my mind.
"Mary," I explained when I'd stopped laughing, "that woman wasn't my mother. My mother and I haven't spoken in six years. There's no way she'd call me. She'd rather cut off her arm and if she didn't my dad would."
"Oh, I didn't know."
"It's no big deal. I got used to it a long time ago."
"What should I tell the receptionist if she phones back?"
"Tell her that I'm out or in conference and can't be disturbed. If that doesn't work just hang up on her."
"Okay, I'll take care of it."
When Mary left I turned back to the pile of paperwork in front of me but I couldn't face it. I was just too upset to deal with it. I never once considered the fact that it had indeed been my mother on the phone. The thought was too ridiculous to consider. All her life mom had taken most if not all of her opinions from dad. It wasn't that she was old fashioned. It was simply that she loved him so much that there was this big blind spot when it came to my father. So, when dad decided that I was worthless and not a real man mom went along with his opinion, reluctantly. To phone me would have meant that I existed and that was something my mother could never acknowledge.
Knowing that the paperwork would have to wait until another day I turned my attention to a collection of pottery shards that I was working on. I spent the rest of the day caught up in eastern Mediterranean trade and despite my state of mind by the time 6:00 rolled around I'd gotten a lot of work done.
The moment I opened the back door and stepped into my kitchen I knew that something was wrong. The whole atmosphere of the house had changed. It was as if a dark cloud had descended on the Victorian home but Melythra would have warned me of any danger. So, I shook my head and went into the living room.
When I opened the door I saw her sitting on the sofa. Six years hadn't changed her that much. She still looked very much as she had the last day I saw her, at my university graduation. Her back was to me as she looked toward the front hall assuming that that would be direction I would come from. For a moment I considered turning and leaving the way I had come but rejected it. This was my home, damn it. And I was not going to let her drive me out of it.
"Hello mother," I said stepping into the living room.
Mom stiffened and turned to face me. Her posture was incredibly rigid and the look on her face was one of shock, disbelief and fear. When she saw me she jumped to her feet and pointed her manicured finger at my chest.
"What's the meaning of not answering my phone calls," she demanded. "I'm your mother."
"And just how was I supposed to know that it was you mom. You haven't spoken to me in six years and I'm supposed to believe that after all this time you finally deigned to call me. Yeah right."
"Watch your mouth. I demand the respect that's mine by right," she said haughtily. "Now, come with me."
"I'm not going anywhere. I just got home and plan on putting my feet up and relaxing."
Mom's face turned beet red and the explosion was right on the tip of her tongue. It was at that instant that Melythra chose to walk into the living room. She was her usual unflappable self and her presence cooled my mother's imminent outburst.
"I see that you have returned," Melythra said. "Your mother arrived and said it was imperative that she speak with you."
"Well, we've spoken," I said hotly. "And now it's time to draw this little family gathering to a close."
"Ross Archer!" mom shouted. "I always knew that you were an ungrateful child. But I had hoped that you at least had some feelings for your sister."
"What about Chris?"
"She's in the hospital. The doctors aren't sure if she's going to live or not and your father and I thought that you should be told."
"Why the hell didn't you say that in the first place!?" I exclaimed using the Voice.
Mom froze and stared at me. I silently cursed my stupidity for having gotten so out of control that I used the Voice on her. I snatched my car keys from the mantel and hoped that mom was so upset that she soon forget about what just happened.
"Let's go," I said taking Melythra's arm and propelling her toward the front door.
The drive to the hospital was done in complete silence. Melythra sat in the passenger seat. Mom was in the back trying to bore a hole through the back of my head with her eyes. From the corner of my eye I saw Melythra turn toward me. I put my finger to my lips to stop her speaking. The last thing I wanted at that moment was for mom to have an excuse to start speaking again. My eyes were firmly fixed on the road as I fought to keep my hands from turning the steering wheel into a pretzel. I could feel my Companion's mind reach out to mine. Normally, this would have upset me but right then I couldn't have cared less. If Melythra wanted to see the chaos that was my mind she could go right ahead.
Yes, I thought at her after a moment.
Your mind is disquieted. Do you wish to discuss it?
Not really, no.
If you were to speak of your emotional turmoil there is a possibility that it would go some way to alleviate it.
What the hell would you know about emotions, I shot back. You haven't got any, as far as I can tell.
Melythra did not respond but she didn't have to. I felt the coldness settle over my Companion like an arctic wind. Yes, my sister might have been dying but that wasn't an excuse for acting like an asshole.
That was uncalled for, I mentally apologized. Please forgive me.
Forgiveness is not necessary.
Yes it is, actually. So, will you forgive me?
All right, now that that's settled. What do you want to know?
I confess that I find your relationship with your earthly family most confusing. Could you explain your feelings of anger and resentment?
That's a long story.
There is a quicker method. Would you permit me to probe your memories of your family.
Okay, go ahead, I thought to her after a moment.
Melythra was quiet for a minute and I felt her mind sift through my memories with a gossamer touch. I was expecting something a lot more painful and was surprised at how pleasant the entire process was.
Is this truly how your parents treated you?
Yup, pretty much. Although my memories might be slightly biased.
Even so, it explains your emotions concerning them. I do not understand the dichotomy of feeling where your sister is concerned. You love her. Yet, you resent her at the same time. How is this possible?
Well, Chris is the apple of mom and dad's eye. They think that the sun rises and sets on her. Measured against that perfection I came a very distant second. A fact which my folks never hesitated to remind me of. It was hard to take at times. But the fact is that Chris was very lovable and she was the only one who didn't treat me like a failure. Does that explain it?
Yes, it does.
There was a pause and then Melythra thought, I grieve with you Chosen.
Hey! Chris isn't dead yet.
No, there was no way in hell Chris was going to die. My parents may have occasionally treated me like something nasty stuck to the bottom of their shoes but Chris never did. Oh, she teased me all right but never maliciously. There were times when she was angry and spiteful toward me but that always meant that something had happened to her. Once I had fixed her problem Chris would be her old self again. No, there was no way Chris was going to die, not with the powers I'd been given. And then it hit me. I couldn't interfere. I'd sworn not to. Unless Chris had been attacked by Arions or some other alien being then I was helpless. My vision fogged as tears filled my eyes and I wanted to howl in frustration.
We arrived at the hospital ten minutes later. The moment we were through the doors mom took off for the ICU with Melythra and I right behind. The ride up in the elevator was even more tense than the ride to the hospital. Mom was fidgeting and kept pressing the floor button as if it would speed the ride. I wasn't moving but I was probably just as concerned. Melythra was her same unemotional self but this time rather than irritate me I actually gained a measure of composure from her unflappable attitude.
The moment that the elevator doors opened we were engulfed in a sea of Feds. There were DEA and FBI agents in hall. They were easily identifiable by the stenciled wind breakers they wore. At the end of the hall were four older men dressed in regulation charcoal grey suits. Their posture and appearance couldn't have screamed federal agent any louder without a town crier. They were huddled together and I was about to try and eavesdrop on their conversation when I saw my father.
Dad looked smaller than I remembered and a lot older. He was sitting by himself on a couch away from everyone else. Looking at him like that alone and vulnerable I realized for the first time that my father was human after all and not just a maniacal tyrant. When he saw mom get off the elevator he smiled weakly at her and nodded. Then he saw me and his whole demeanor changed. Dad was once again the proud athlete who was deeply ashamed of his nerd offspring. He did not acknowledge my presence in any way and I followed his example. I turned my attention and improved hearing to the group of grey suited Feds.
"How many did you lose Charlie?" asked the first suit.
"Eight," replied the second.
"Son of a bitch! That makes twenty agents altogether."
"It's a fucking disaster," exclaimed the third suit.
"Any ideas what the hell happened?" asked the fourth.
"Nothing yet," the first answered. "I've got three forensic teams going through the debris now but it'll be a while. The place was leveled."
As there was nothing more I could learn from the four I went in search of a doctor to find out how Chris was doing. One of the nurses at the nurses station was very short with me until I explained that I was Chris' brother then her whole attitude changed. She nodded sympathetically and directed down the hall toward a tired looking woman in her early thirties wearing green scrubs.
"Doctor?" I said approaching her.
"I'm Ross Archer, Chris' brother. How is she?"
"Your sister is a very sick woman Mr. Archer. She was apparently caught in some kind of explosion which threw her into the bay. She was fished out by the harbor patrol a couple hours later. She has hypothermia, some internal bleeding, and an infection. Taken individually each is grave but not life threatening. But you combine them and . . ."
The doctor didn't finish and she didn't have to. I could see it in her eyes. She would continue to do all she could for Chris but it was only a matter of time.
"Do you have any idea how it happened?" I asked.
"Not really. There was a raid of some kind that went horribly wrong. Your sister was the only survivor."
"You mentioned something about an explosion. What kind was it?"
"I can't say. I thought at first it was electrical and then perhaps propane but it doesn't match either one. Why do you want to know?"
"I just want to get a clear picture of what happened to Chris."
"Oh, I see. I wish I could have been more help but that's all I know."
"Thank you doctor I appreciate it."
"Don't give up hope," the doctor said placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
"I never even considered it," I answered before going to find Melythra.
I found my Companion in a corner farthest from the coffee machine where the Feds had congregated. When she saw the look of determination on my face her facial expression went from calm reflection to concern. I didn't have to read her mind to know what she was thinking. Melythra stepped forward and grabbed my wrists.
"You cannot do this," she said her voice filled with emotion for once. "It is forbidden. Although it is your sister, you must let nature take its course."
"Like hell I do," I hissed. "I'm not going to stand around and do nothing while my sister is dying."
"But . . ."
"That doesn't mean I'm going to step in and forget about my vow either."
"What do you intend to do?" asked a now confused Melythra.
"I'm going to talk to the others. If I have to let my sister die and do nothing to stop it then they're going to have to tell me that face to face and take the responsibility themselves."
"Is that wise?"
"Probably not," I admitted. "But right now I don't give a shit. My parents probably won't notice that I'm gone but if they do tell them I've gone down to the chapel."
I didn't give Melythra a chance to protest. I turned and headed for the stairs. Once the door was closed behind me I quickly scanned the stairwell for energy signatures. There were none. So, I switched heads and translocated to the moon.
I was surprised to find both Horus and Isis and a pocket of air waiting for me when I arrived. This startled me as I thought that I would have to call them and so, I lost my train of thought and didn't say a word to either of them.
"Thy disquiet did call to thy brethren across the void," explained Horus. "Thus we have journeyed unto this place of meeting that thou mayst disclose thy mind unto us."
"It's my sister, Christine. She's been badly injured and will probably die."
"Ah," said Horus and Isis together.
As their voices echoed through the air around us I realized that there were more than the three of us present. It was then that I sensed the invisible presence of the other Wanderers. It was as if they were the jury and my sister's fate would be decided by them.
"The covenant is inviolable," said one of the unseen Wanderers.
"Only if her injuries were inflicted by humans," I shot back.
"And was thy earthly sister injured by an outside influence?" Isis asked.
"That's the thing. I don't know for sure. Chris is an agent of the FBI, a law enforcement agency. She may have been injured by humans but it's also possible that she was injured by aliens. What I do know is that she was hurt in an explosion which has the doctor stumped."
"The covenant demands proof," said a voice from the heavens.
"And by the time I have that proof my sister might very well be dead."
"A serious dilemma," said Horus.
"I perceive no dilemma my brother," said Isis. "While the possibility of outside involvement exists our brother must act as if it were proven. To do otherwise would be to neglect his sacred trust."
"And should these injuries later be proved to have had a mundane cause. Then will the covenant be sundered," said another disembodied voice.
"Not so," said Horus. "For our sister is correct. The possibility is all that is required. The Chosen must act with haste if the life of his earthly sister is to be spared. Thus, proof cannot be obtained lest it endanger her life. In this instance possibility must act as certainty."
Horus and Isis looked skyward and I could feel the thoughts of the other Wanderers float around and through me as my sister's life was decided. I could have listened in on their conversation but knew that I couldn't influence their outcome. So, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor in this case and hoped that they wouldn't take too long deciding. They didn't. A few seconds later I felt the change in the collective consciousness around me and the misgivings in their decision. And even though I thought I knew what they had decided I waited for it to be confirmed.
"It is agreed oh my brother," said Horus. "The possibility that thy earthly sister did suffer her injuries by others beyond this realm is sufficient. Go now and succor her."
"Thank you brother," I sighed. "I will."
As I left the moon I only hoped that I was enough time left to save Chris.