Ned Boone

by Doc Sawzall

Part 2

Chapter 1

Rubbing his tired eyes as the late afternoon sunlight bathed his study in a warm diffused glow, the dust motes dancing in the beams of light that bathed the floor. Closing the oldest book of records, he set it down next to his journal. So much valuable information was contained between those two books, not to mention all the other books that recorded all the history between those two tomes. Soon the time for the next lottery would be upon them and with it the rush of bittersweet memories as well.

It felt as if there were so many things to do and not enough time to attend to all the duties that lay before him. At times like this Ned felt a bit querulous waiting for the promise to him to be realized. Shrugging his shoulders, smiling, and reminding himself that being impatient wasn't helping anything. Wasn't that the lesson he imparted to his children and now his grandchildren as they sat at his feet when he first taught them their lessons.

He could hear them playing outside, their mothers most likely in the kitchen preparing the evening meal. If he looked in, most likely he'd see his youngest son, giving as good as he got, working alongside his aunts and in-laws. Of his two sons, Thom the younger, was the one that took after him the most, had the same inclinations and was living contentedly with Graham, his partner. Thom was a late child, a blessing after so many years after Peter's birth. His mother, Hanna passed shortly after his birth. An understanding woman, she understood Ned's needs and was the perfect match, he took great comfort in her arms and greater sorrow when she passed across the great river.

Thom and Graham, took in three orphans when they lost their house and parents in a devasting fire eleven cycles ago. Brought them up to the farm and thankfully they were thriving. All told, between his two sons he had five grandchildren.

The farm had prospered as well. His oldest son Peter had taken over the day-to-day management of the farm. Peter's twin sons Max and James worked alongside him. Wise management and careful planning had seen to it. No doubt he was grateful for the backing of the town fathers as promised when they returned from their participation in La Tombola. When time for Ned, along with Billy Dunbar and Tom Harrison to assume larger roles within the community, there was a guiding hand for the three of them. It was the communities desire to see that they got off on the right foot, in assuming the running of their parent's farms or businesses Now it took all his sons to run the place, it had grown that large and prospered.

Tom Harrison and Billy Dunbar had also done well for themselves. Tom married Mary, the daughter of Horace Smith. They inherited the general store and warehouse. Billy successfully took over his father's farm and did very well. Oddly, despite years of trying for sons, both had two daughters who in turn produced some very fine grandsons.

Then there was the cloth, his most valuable possession. All that was left of Peter Miller in this world was in that cloth, when it was his time, that cloth would be his guide across the great river into the welcoming arms of Peter Miller.

It never got any easier, Ned knew that each year one family would say goodbye to a cherished son, the pain of the parting obscured from the reality. A family would bid farewell to a son off on a great adventure and a new life, never to return. Such was the way and accepted custom. That now, at long last, was never questioned. The failure of the New Toledo settlement was a stark reminder.

As he recalled, whatever the reasons they had, they had given up the tradition some thirty cycles ago. They ignored the obligation to the Gnos, chased them off their hunting grounds, and failing in their gift of obligation to Mithras.

By the time anyone in New Boston was aware of the self-inflicted disaster that had befallen them, it was too late to reverse the damage Mithras wrought. Her vengeance was swift. Just over one full cycle of days, the four-hundred inhabitants suffered greatly, of that number less than thirty-five survived. Those survivors were comprised of four outlying families that refused to break with tradition and made sure to see their obligations were made. Despite the odds, they packed up what they could of their possessions and made the arduous trek to New Boston. New Toledo had become a wasteland. By the time they were halfway, they were just at the point of starvation. There had been serious doubts as to their survival when the Gnos found them.

Much to Ned's surprise, it was Bahet brought word to New Boston of their struggle. He had long thought that the wizened old Gno had crossed the great river some time ago. It had been more than a few cycles of the sun since they had last met. It was a day that would forever be etched deeply in the very fabric of his soul. It awakened memories and reminded him of his duties to Mithras.

It had been a morning like any other, rising before daybreak, enjoying the serenity that came with those hours of the morning. It was a chance to reflect on the current state of farm and family affairs, the immediate world around him, and the needs of their community. And as it was for every morning since that fateful day, a few moments of quiet certitude with the memories of Peter.

Mithras had told him that her need for both boys would be a long road to walk. He found that she listened to him, for she had something most precious to him and that he, had something most precious to her. For Peter wasn't entirely gone from Ned's world, a part of him remained. He would be forever in Billy Dunbar's debt, in gratitude for the gift of the cloth that covered the fatal wound. It had taken time and hours of reflection before Ned came to understand the magnitude of the gift of Peter Miller to Mithras.

They were new species of life to the planet they came to call home. Over a thousand years in the old terms of measurements, their ancestors fleeing a decimated, strife riven, and war-torn world, poisoned beyond repair to this new beginning. As best his ancestors planned for a new beginning, it was what they did not know that changed everything.

There can be no one definition of what we would call or recognize as life as seen from the perspective of Homo Sapiens. In worlds near or far, evolutionary forces will act independently from one another. Such was the case with the world Ned Boone lived in. Ecologically, everything is connected, all that exists form and make up the whole, only evolution went one step further on this planet. Ned finally came to understand that the driving life force called Mithras, expended much of herself in maintaining balance.

With the dawn of the Gnos, there was a need to give back part of that life force in payment for what was consumed. They were in communion with the larger world around them, living in harmony taking and using only what was needed. They knew of the planet's life force and named her Mithras. They took more than they replaced, they were consumers that affected the balance. They were her children and when she spoke, they listened. In exchange for her bounty, she asked for one boy on the cusp of adulthood as an offering to her, to be made on the longest day of the cycle of days.

When Ned's earliest ancestors came, the strain was doubled, they knew not of the delicate balance they were disturbing, threatening with destruction. Of larger concern was the damaging effects of their technology on the carefully evolved ecosystem. It was a cancer that could forever change the nature of the planet. Imperceptible changes to the planet's electrical and magnetic fields soon rendered all their modern technology useless, left to succumb to the ravages of time.

It was the Gnos that realized why, the people who fell from the sky, as they called them, were falling ill, and dying. That they knew not the ways of Mithras. Taking it upon themselves they would honor Mithras in the name of the settlers until they were able to do so themselves. It was the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship with the Gnos. They were a semi-nomadic hunter/gather cluster of clans who followed the seasons. When contact was established between the Gnos and the settlers they were, over the course of two full cycles of the days, converse with each other. Once the settlers understood why so many of them were dying and what was needed to reverse the devastation they had suffered, things began to improve. They could never repay the gift of obligation that was made by the Gnos in their name, saving them from extinction. As their numbers grew, several smaller towns and villages were established further to the south of the Gno's territories.

Quickly adapting, Ned's forefathers became farmers, weavers, tradesmen, glassmakers, sawyers, merchants, and shopkeepers in the ensuing years. With a limited dearth of available natural resources such as iron or coal, what they could scavenge from the failed tech and mechanical equipment, was put to newer uses, and repurposed until it could no longer be of use.

Using crude charcoal, they were able to fashion farming implements, heat and work various repurposed metal and work raw iron ore from small, hard to find deposits. They had glassworks and made use of clay found in pits near some of the rivers. Over time they domesticated several beasts of burden to facilitate travel and farming.

Bahet, as he recalled was ancient when they first met, his age indeterminate. That he had lived a long life showed in the many lines reflecting the cycles of days on his visage. Adding to his impression was the manner that he carried himself and the way others naturally deferred to him.

Now, answering the urgent summons to come to the public square, Ned was shocked to see Bahet, accompanied by one Joshua Graves, a survivor of New Toledo, was greatly upset once he heard the news of the tragedy, self-inflicted as it was. Both were emaciated, nothing but skin and bones, that they had made it to New Boston was nothing short of miraculous.

The news spread quickly; many townsfolk began to gather in the square. As Ned, Tom Harrison and Billy Dunbar huddled with Bahet and Joshua, who turned over the book of records, New Toledo was no longer. They had buried the last of the fallen, packed up what they could manage to take and set out for New Boston. Before leaving they set fire to every building and the clothing they wore that day, hoping to incinerate the deadly virus and stop it in its tracks.

Fearful of further contamination they only used their own farm wagons and carts. New Toledo was one of the remotest villages, easily three full moons away. They gathered their farm animals, the bulk of the wagons carried feed for them. What belongings they could pack along with provisions were loaded into the carts. Sledges were attached to some of the domesticated cattle, the smaller barnyard critters were lashed together for the long journey.

There had been dissention within the community for some time. Three of the largest farms, were upset that they had to share with the less fortunate within the community, furious that they were restricted from the land of the Gnos. To them, it was good land there for the taking, rather than seeing lie fallow and going to waste. While nothing could be proved, the town administrator and two other prominent town officials died in mysterious circumstances. Those who sought to stand in the way of the new 'progress' soon were taught the error of their ways. A major land grab was underway south of New Toledo, displacing several nomadic clans of Gnos from their traditional lands.

The Graves, Jameson, Smith, and Reynolds farms, were well to the north to New Toledo, somewhat insulated from the settlement proper in a remote valley. The entrance a narrow defile alongside a swiftly flowing river. They knew trouble was coming when the first inhabitants of the town proper, fell ill and died after the old traditions of gratefulness were discarded. There were no gifts of oregano to the Gnos. The obligation to Mithras discarded. Young Timothy Smith was chosen by lottery from the eligible boys of the four families to stand when the days of summer next reached their peak. In keeping with tradition, they would seek out the nearest clan of Gnos, met them at their ancient rock on the longest day, and fulfill their obligations.

They had simply brought too much in their effort to flee to safety, nearing the halfway point supplies were running out. They had been rationing and foraging to supplement their dwindling supplies. Had a hunting party not stumbled across an encampment of Gnos, their very survival was doubtful.

Ned and the others were stunned to learn that help was urgently needed and as soon as feasible. What was evident, that along with the starving remnants of New Toledo, the Gnos had suffered much in rendering their assistance.

Shelter was made ready, donated foodstuffs and other goods flooded the community center. Quickly a train of wagons and carts bearing provisions was made ready and sent out to meet them. The survivors were in for a grueling convalescence, it took the best part of several moons for them to get back up on their feet, before they were able to support themselves. It took some doing, space was found, the Gnos made some grasslands available and the thirty-five survivors of the four families were able to successfully reestablish their farms.

It was a sorrowful lesson for the village of New Boston, reenforcing the ancient customs. While painful as it was to say goodbye to a precious son, families no longer grumbled. They saw it as a necessity that ensured their survival.

Chapter 2

It was an omen, a premonition that led Ned to believe that out of the twenty-eight boys, that Thad would be chosen in some capacity, who would be called to that ancient rock table wasn't a guess. He had never interfered in a choosing for the lottery and would not do so now. Plans were well underway, there had never been so many eligible candidates. New Boston had grown more than expected. A large part of the increase in population, were the survivors and their offspring that had come from New Toledo. He had sent word to the Gnos that there was a need to talk some time ago.

It was one of Tom Harrison's grandsons who came running up the dusty driveway, with the message he had been waiting for. Only slowing down as he approached the back door to the kitchen. Showing minor signs of exertion, he was surprised to find his adopted Uncle Ned standing at the door.

"I saw you running up the drive young man, tell me what is the reason for you to come running all the way out here?"

Evan, thankful he was quickly able to find his uncle to deliver the message, "The Gno known as Bahet's son is down to grandpa Tom's store and he's looking for you." He added quickly, "He looks to be awfully tired and he's resting a bit. Gramps said for me to come and get you right away!"

"Give me a minute Evan," as Ned looked for his walking stick, his one concession to his age. "Did he say anything about what our old friend wanted?"

"Not really, I just took off when Gramps told me to get my backside up here pronto!" Evan replied, pleased with himself knowing his grandfather would be delighted he would be returning quickly as instructed.

After leaving a quick note on the kitchen table, the two headed down to the store. Along the way Ned asked, "You looking forward to the lottery this year, if I remember right, it will be the first time for you…right?"

"There's a bunch of us this year for the first time," Evan replied, a little unsure of himself. He along with the other first timers were all wondering what it would be like to be one of the boys to make the walk up to the cliffs.

"What do you think of it, how are you feeling about it? Inquired Ned, looking over to gauge the boy's reaction to his question. He watched as a slight frown creased young Evan's face.

"John Begins is really nervous about having to take part, he's a bit sweet on Mary Jameson and hate like all heck if he were the one to be picked. He sure doesn't want to be the one to go with the Gnos." Whispering softly, not sure he should be sharing secrets.

"How about you, you sweet on anyone?" Ned asked, giving Evan a pat on the shoulder.

Furiously blushing, Evan recalled the day when he was caught with Uncle Ned's grandson Thad. "Um…you know," he stammered, "Didn't Thad tell you?"

Ned knew there had been a minor falling out between the two of them, not wanting to pry, he had told his grandson that if he ever wanted to talk, he would make time to listen.

His grandson Thad Boone was the delight of his eyes, a boy much in the mold of his Uncle Thom and himself, he delighted in the boy's antics growing up on the farm. He'd made friends easily, did well with his formal lessons down in the village school. By the dint of his family's relationship with the Dunbar's and Harrison's, Thad was good friends with their grandsons Levi and Evan. As the fates would have it, a burgeoning sexual relationship with Evan Miller. He could not discourage it, nor stand in Thad's way. Early on he became Thad's confident, they spent hours together wandering the farm. His son Max, Thad's father, was at time a bit too serious and strict, trying to fill the shoes of his father, expecting the same from his children

Their closeness only deepened when one afternoon Ned found Thad and Evan fooling around. They had lost track of time and would late for the evening meal. Ned, having an inkling of where the boys may have wandered off to.

Years ago, his sons had asked for a swimming shelter down by the irrigation pond, it was a place to sit and relax, or lie down to enjoy the day after swimming. Thad was like one of the water bugs that skimmed across the ponds surface. It was above all else, his favorite spot on the farm, and that's where he found them. To be exact, Evan was ensconced between Thad's legs and judging by the flaccid state of Evan, a favor was being returned.

"You know Evan, as bright and smart as you tend to be, sometimes you're as thick as a mudpuddle. I don't think you were thinking with the correct head, nor do I think what you saw was what you thought it was," Ned cautioned, knowing the delicate balance that existed between the two boys.

His face coloring up in a deep blush, "He was kissing her, Uncle Ned, I saw him kissing her!" An exasperated Evan snorted, his anger clearly bubbling up near the surface.

Letting out a deep sigh, "You know Linda is his cousin, his first cousin…don't you? Not only that but she's four years older. She may not be as tall as some of her sisters, but she's also engaged. He was congratulating her on the good news." Ned explained patently.

It was if Evan suffered a gut punch, the color drained from his face and his hands unclenched the fists he had been holding tight by his sides. Running one hand through his dirty blond hair all he could say or muster was a very quiet, "Oh."

As difficult as it was, Ned held back the grin that was threatening to break out into a laugh and smile. "I think I can manage to by myself from here Evan, I'll let your grandfather know you needed to talk to Thad, why don't you plan on spending the night…Ok?"

"Oh boy, I've been a fool…haven't I Uncle Ned?" Stammered a blushing Evan, obviously upset with himself, thinking he just made a complete idiot out of himself.

"Listen, I happen to know that Thad was meeting some others down at the swimming hole, I think you will catch him there before the others show up." Ned suggested. If you're quick about it you'll have the time to clear the air between you two. He was mighty puzzled as to why you were upset with him; now why don't you skedaddle and I will bring a change of clothes for you when I come back." Pausing for a moment, placing his hands on Evan's shoulders, knowing that not only Evan and Thad would have much larger worries, as the day for the lottery drew closer. A frisson of apprehension left Ned momentarily concerned. Both boys along with several others, would be the largest group ever to stand, there had been concerns that Mithras may require an additional gift of obligation.

He needed to talk to the Gnos, it was why he had asked Bahet's son Thery to meet with him. "I will be back for supper tonight, why don't you and Thad plan on spending some time with me afterwards, ok?"

Ned watched as the rapidly disappearing backside of Evan as he ran back towards the farm and swimming hole. As he walked down to meet with Tom and Thery, he hoped Billy would be there to meet with them. Ironically, all three had grandsons standing for the lottery for the first time this year. It brought back many memories, some pleasant, most painful.


Ned heard Mithras accept this gift of Peter, her voice shaking him to his core, the abstract was now a reality. Peter, bending his head back, silently crying out his readiness to join her, as he awaited the edge of the obsidian blade that would slice across his neck. Tom steadied his head as Billy readied the cloth he had been carrying. Ned pressed the keen edge to Peter's neck. Time seemed to move slowly as Ned reluctantly, ready to draw the blade across the exposed bare flesh.

Peter, placing his hand on Ned's, astonishing him, helping to hold the blade against his neck. A thin line of blood appearing where the edge broke the skin. Taking a deep breath, his chest expanding, he whispered the words of thanks and friendship to Tom and Billy. Looking to Ned, their eyes connecting, a wan smile appearing on his face, he increased pressure on Ned's hand, pressing it firmly down.

The pain of the cut was fleeting, the blade sliced deep as if on its own accord. The cloth then quickly covering the fatal wound, as Peter's life was tendered for his community. Ned continued to holding Peter's hand, feeling the life ebbing away as the grip slackened. Tom noted the slowing of Peter's beating heart as the blood spilled under the cloth, until it did no longer, the chest no longer rising in breath. Billy confirmed for Ned that it was over; the benefaction had been made.

Closing Peter's lifeless eyes, Ned tenderly kissed him on the lips with tears he could not stop.

They gently wrapped Peter in his sleeping blanket and carried him to the cliff face, where the three teary eyed companions watching the body fall towards the ground, saw a flash of light and the Peter they knew was no more.

It was done.

Peter was gone.

Ned felt the void, the blackness overtaking him.

He was empty inside.

A silent wail of anguish to the sky above, his arms raised in supplication.

The enormity, hitting him like a herd of gruntlings, his torment unleashed.

Tom and Billy gathered by his side, holding him, bringing him back from the edge as Mithras spoke to the three of them. Allowing them to see both Manat and Peter happily sitting by her side. She was pleased with the gift in the name of the settler's clan and the clans of the Gnos. To remember they were her family and they would all prosper. To think of the selfness of Peter and to honor this day, now and in the future.

A warm gentle, soaking rain began to fall, drenching them as the storms around them dissipated, cleansing not only themselves but the rock table as well, Mithras would have all her due.

The rain showers soon ended; a brilliant clear blue sky emerged from the retreating storm clouds. The three boys gathered their belongings and walked over to Bahet with their gifts of the oregano, clasping hands they bade each other well.

Bahet, an ancient…wizened Gno, asked for a private moment with Ned, a rare honor from the titular head of the Gnos clans, to approach…a mere boy. "It is a terrible price to pay for one in love such as you, the cry of your heart was strong, I heard it powerfully but remember this, each day Mithras gives us what we need to survive, it is she who feeds and clothes us with her bounty…that she allows us to harvest. All she needs in turn for what we take from her…what she needs from us, is this small gift of thanks and sustenance, one day out of our cycle of days. It ensures that we both prosper."

Continuing, holding Ned close, his hands on his shoulders, "She gives us a home when we cross the great river at the end of our days, her valleys and gardens await us. Know this young Ned, she heard your cry…she knows of your love…feels and understands the pain of your loss…of the great gift you have bestowed upon her, for it is the rarest there is…you will be favored in her house…and your love returned when it is your time to cross the great river."

As they parted Bahet, his eyes rheumy with age and wisdom, had one last comment, "She has great plans for you young Ned, and in time you will understand. Go with my blessings, go not in sorrow, for your love is not lost…he awaits you. I hope that one day we meet again on this side of the great river, and that I can walk beside the fine man you will become. Until we meet again my son."

It was time to head home, back to their lives and the beginning of another cycle. While Ned was in a deep conversation with Bahet, having retrieved their clothing, Billy carefully placed the cloth in one of the cups they had used for drinking and secreted it in Ned's backpack. He'd let Ned know before they returned to the village.

When Ned's conversation was over, he found himself back at the ancient, age worn rock table. Of what had happened there was no trace, the rain had cleansed what evidence of the day remained. Placing the flat of his palms on the table as difficult as it was, he let his grief go. Peter wasn't gone, just away for now. He couldn't dwell in the past, no matter the pain, his future was ahead of him, there were challenges he would need to face, and many steps to be taken before he could hold Peter in his arms again.

It was quiet as the boys redressed themselves. The Gnos, grateful for the gift of the oregano had quietly slipped away, they could hear them softly chanting their song of thanks as they wound their way back down to return to their clans.

It was a silent walk back down to their campsite at the site of the first landing, each reflecting on the events of the late morning, their childhood far behind them, forever in the past. They had served their community, fulfilled their obligation to the Gnos and Mithras. Their future awaited them and in thanks, they would have the guidance and support of the village fathers.

Now it all seemed so insignificant in comparison to what they had participated in. Each of them was shaken to the very fabric of their being when Mithras spoke to them, showed them her house and gardens in the valley across the great river, and let them see Manet and Peter sitting at her side. And they knew without any doubts, their service to her was not finished. That she would call on them when she needed them.

It was late afternoon by the time they made it back to their campsite, thankful they had left it ready for their use. All that would be needed would be to start the camp fire for their evening meal, such as it was. At the moment, no one contemplated eating anytime soon. With loving care and concern, Tom and Billy walked Ned down to the dock on the irrigation pond. Standing him knee deep in the water they tenderly washed him. While not catatonic, Ned was deep within himself, giving the most perfunctory of answers to their questions. Billy was worried, fearful of what the reaction to the blood-soaked cloth would be if he gave it to Ned, the last thing he wanted to do was to add to his grief.

Once cleaned up, the boys walked back up to the campsite and started the fire. Billy was tending to the food as Ned opened his pack looking for something clean and dry to wear and found the cloth inside the cup. A myriad of emotions surged throughout him in an instant, all that was left of Peter was contained in that cloth. Something clicked, something important just happened. His mind racing, Ned tried to calm himself down…It had to be Billy…Billy…dear sweet Billy, he held the cloth and must have kept it, knowing it was all that remained of Peter on this side of the great river!

Tom saw Ned's reaction to finding the stained cloth, not sure how to interpret Ned's reactions. As best he could tell from the look on Ned's face that he wasn't mad or upset, surprised was more like it. Before he could react, Ned had Billy in his arms hugging him tightly and calling him over to join in.

It had been quite a night Ned recalled, after finding the cloth, overjoyed that he had a part of Peter to hold on to meant everything. No longer were they somber bunch that had walked down from the cliffs, remembering that Mithras had made a promise to him. It had become clear to him just then, when he found the cloth. She had seen and understood their love, so unique and new to her, it would not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Never had two ever given her that kind of love.

They stayed up for hours, talking, forming deeper bonds of brotherhood. And in the ways of young men, found themselves sharing their bodies.

They were up with the sun Ned recalled, eager to be on their way, to finish what they had been chosen to do. Josiah Trimble and Horace Smith were waiting for them when they entered the hall of records. No longer boys, the three young men reported in, leaving out any information of their conversation with Mithras. Carefully Ned handed over the obsidian blade, "We've done as you asked and of what was required of us, we look forward to your help as promised when that time comes." Without further word, Ned, Tom, and Billy turned and walked out of the hall and into their future.

Chapter 3

Thery, along with Tom and Billy were waiting for Ned when he walked up to the general store. "Looks like you lost something or should I say someone Ned," cackled Tom, much to Billy's delight.

"Were we ever that young," Ned asked exhaling a long sigh. "Evan saw something going on between Thad and his cousin Linda, his first cousin mind you, and the wrong part of him got to thinking bad thoughts and wrong impressions!"

Laughing, Billy poked a bit of fun at Tom, "Weren't so long ago as I recall that Tom over here had some bad thoughts and wrong impressions when he caught the Miller boy sneaking round back of his house. What do you think woulda happened if he didn't have the ring in his pocket?"

Ruefully shaking his head, Tom replied, "So true, I was sure he was looking to climb into a window, turns out he was waiting for me to walk over to open up the store. He wanted to ask my permission to marry my daughter…thank goodness I didn't react so quickly, leastwise we wouldn't' have Evan!"

"Ah, is it ever so, that our young will find ways to test our patience, finding new ways to out think and outsmart us." Added Thery sagely. "Now Ned, I understand you have concerns, let us talk about this and see if we can reach an understanding."

It took a moment but Evan finally remembered the word that describe how he was feeling walking towards the swimming hole, chagrinned, a bit put out with himself for jumping to conclusions. He'd been such a fool; Thad must really think that he was an idiot.

Knowing he needed to swallow his pride, a dozen excuses for his behavior failed miserably as he silently said them to himself. Regrettably he said just a few, not many, words of anger. That's what hurt the most, it wasn't like him, he wasn't that kind of person. If pushed, there was no exact definition that could describe what impact Thad Boone had on him. The boy simply drove him crazy; it was what kept him up at night, that face when he pleasured himself. Thad was his reason for getting up in the morning, simply the very idea, chance that he would see him at the school house. Share a few words between lessons and when not at school or doing chores, finding mischief to explore.

They had known each other for ages it seemed. It wasn't until the end of the last school year that their friendship developed into something more. There was the end of the school year party up at Thad's. Several of their classmates were there, all enjoying the food and the games. It was after their mid-day meal that a bunch of them wandered down to the swimming hole. The lack of bathing suits wasn't an issue, neither was nudity uncommon among his agemates. He had grown up knowing what boys and girls looked like and they him.

He and Thad had grown up the closest of friends in a slightly larger circle of friends including Levi Dunbar, Seth Miller and John Begins. There wasn't any explaining the closeness of their friendship, it just was and tacitly understood among their other friends.

The party celebrating the end of the school year had become an annual event, left unsaid was that next years would be just before the lottery would be conducted and they all would be standing for the first time.

He knew when his feelings for Thad changed, he could pinpoint it to that day of the party, that very afternoon when he along with Thad and the gang had wandered down to the swimming hole. While they were shucking their clothes to go swimming, Thad had been looking at him with an intensity, a seriousness that was uncomfortable, that is until the kiss.

One minute he was stepping out of his shorts, wondering what was Thad up to and the next, wrapped up in Thad's arms, realizing his lips were betraying him. It was the final connection in his deep friendship with Thad. Despite being the best of friends, it was as if there was an invisible barrier between them and in a moment's time, it was no longer.

The swimming hole was quiet, most likely a good thing Evan thought. It would give him a few more moments to sort out his feelings. Lost in thought as he sat on a bench, he nearly didn't hear Thad coming up behind him and it proved to be all too much for Evan, struggling with the powerful emotions leaving him feeling morose. "You must not think much of me, the way I acted the other day," the comment directed more towards the ground, afraid to look up to see what he knew would hurt him the most, the look of rejection on Thad's face. "I'm…so…frigging…sorry." Evan choked out, wringing his hands in a futile gesture to stop the tears. "I can't take back what I said, it hurts so much to think you must hate me now." Abjectly looking up over the pond, "I'll be leaving, I don't want to spoil the rest of your day, I just…needed…to say how sorry I am."

Evan was shocked when Thad straddled the bench beside him, stunned when he felt those hands gently turn his face towards his. His thumbs wiping the remnants of those tears away, tenderly caressing the damp cheeks. "I don't hate you, you silly twit, you took off so fast I couldn't explain what you saw."

Looking up into those eyes that so mesmerized him, the eyes that had captivated his heart, Evan struggled to find the words he wanted, needed to say when the very thought of speaking, was the last thing he could think about. Now, the most pressing matter he had to deal with, was a tongue seeking to find its mate.

Taking a needed break for air, Thad knew he had to reassure Evan that all was forgiven, "I saw you coming up to the house, Gramps asked me to stay back, we had a long conversation the other day, and he helped me sort out my feelings and understand why you were so angry. He told me he'd speak to you and send you back, sorry I wasn't here before you."

With a glint of naughtiness in his eyes, Thad guided Evan to lay flat on the bench they were sitting on, his fingers tracing the contours of Evan's side, coming together in an exquisite dance just above and around his rigidity. He shuddered slightly when he felt the cool fingers lever him vertically, coax and uncover the prize he sought. The warm breath he had felt was soon replaced by a warm, wet feeling. He felt the other hand lift the orbs just below, tugging at the taught pouch discerning and defining the center of his being. His hips soon matched Thad's ministrations, bringing forth a keening cry as he expended his uniqueness in a euphoric fog.

Soft words and loving kisses helped bring Evan back to the land of the living, recovered he had Thad sit on the bench as he spread the knees apart. Dropping between his legs. Evan could smell the heat of Thad's passion, his musky odor inflaming his senses. Thad was the spitting image of his grandfather at the same age, an appendage appreciable length and moderate girth, Evan had wondered how it would ever fit when the time came for Thad to lay inside him. Looking at it now, he needed to finish what he had just started, he'd have to come back to that idea later in a discussion sometime soon. He knew Thad was close, his breathing had changed, the soft mews were becoming strident moans of pleasure. A tempo had been reached between them, when Thad's hips thrust forward, charging Evan with the receipt of his essence.

It was a fruitful meeting with Thery, he had learned much. Apparently the Gnos had seen an increase in population as well. Those who had survived the predations of the wayward citizens of New Toledo, had found refuge with Bahet's clan and prospered. Both Ned and Thery agreed that they should seek out Mithras and seek her guidance. They would leave in three days' time and hike up to the site of the first settlement. There they would drink the herbal tea, laced with the mushrooms, and strive for an audience with Mithras.

Supper that night was a pleasing affair, Ned was glad to see the boys had put the issue between them aside and were carrying on as normal. As requested, both met him in his study after the evening meal. There were a few things Ned wished to impart to the boys. Gently admonishing them to think before acting, to talk before confrontation, and never be afraid to show their love for each other. The time was coming for the lottery and he wanted to be proud of each of them. That they stand tall and not show fear at being chosen, if they were not picked but were selected to accompany whoever was chosen, to do their duties faithfully.

Without going into specifics, dealing in the most general of terms, Ned took the time to remind the boys of the sacred obligation that was owed.

It was a painful lesson that Ned knew only too well, for this year it was a stark reminder of his time standing for the lottery, and the duty required of him. He could see the boys were restless, they had listened well and had promised they were ready to take part. Asking both to come forward, Ned gathered them in a hug before sending them on their way.

Ned was worried, not only would Thad stand for the first time at thirteen cycles of the days, so would Billy Dunbar and Tom Harrison's grandsons Levi and Evan. Included in that mix were John Begins and Seth Miller, who ironically was Peter Miller's great nephew. The five of them were thick as thieves and no amount of internal dissuasion, could dispel Ned of the unsettled feeling that this year's lottery would challenge him so.

Thery along with the elders of his clan, were waiting at the site of the original landing and settlement, when Ned showed up accompanied by Billy and Tom. A quick lunch was enjoyed while the tea was brewing. As an insurance policy, Ned had carefully wrapped and carried the cloth that was so precious to him. Once the tea was ready, a good-sized fire was laid in. One of Thery's sons would see to it through the communion. The first pail of tea was consumed, a gentle buzzing beginning to form in Ned's mind. Finishing the second, Ned could sense the interconnection with his fellow travelers. Thery's gentle chanting leading them along a path towards Mithras. It was while they were on that path that Ned sensed a shared vision, appearing before him, as if the pages of a book were being turned, he could see the faces of all the settlers who fulfilled the obligation to Mithras.

A pang of longing occurred when he saw Peter, sitting as the side of Mithras. Gazing at his face, a feeling of reassurance and contentment filled him, dispelling any sorrow. Over a thousand faces appeared before him, all contentedly resting in the valley and gardens across the great river. The last face to appear was that of James Bishop. The first settler to be in accordance with the obligation Mithras imposed. In all the settlers recorded history, James was the only settler who went to the cliff face knowing the fate that awaited him and did so bravely. They watched as James was led to the ancient rock table, lay upon it, not flinching as the obsidian blade sliced across his neck as he joined with Mithras.

It was James who came forward out of all the faces, extending a hand to Ned and his companions, leading them to Mithras. Standing in front of her, she had heard their concerns, their worries of upsetting the balance. She was pleased that they sought out her council and guidance.

It was time she told them to start a new settlement, across the valley that abutted the ledges. There would be land sufficient for both the Gnos and the settlers. There they would find water and a place to grow food sufficient for their needs. It was imperative that they leave as soon as preparations could be made. The new clan would find plenty of room to follow the seasons. They will need the assistance of the settlers and the Gnos to establish a foothold. Once moved, they would on that longest day, of the next cycle of days, satisfy their obligations and prosper so.

It was what she said next the shook everyone to their very foundations. "I am aware that your ancestors are reaching out Ned, their probes are not far from here, a full cycle of days or more. They bring with them danger, not only to you and yours, but to all of us, including your reunion with Peter. I say this not as a treat but as a warning, if they cannot be persuaded to leave us in peace, they could destroy everything.

They are looking for something, if I understand their communications, their language is that of your ancestors and has changed somewhat, the context is different. For some reason, whatever they are looking for is shielded from me. Nevertheless, should someone find or stumble across it, warn them, it is not to be touched or moved unless you are present. I have charged you with many tasks, all of which you have done willingly for me. You service to me is nearly complete for which I thank you. You have much to do between now and the longest day, when these tasks are complete, you will be reminded of this vital task.

With her blessing she left them, leaving James Bishop to return them to the present. Slowly, groggily they began to come to. Just before they fully returned to the land of the present, in the ethereal glow of the campfire, Ned and Thery caught a glimpse of James Bishop, the look on his face beseeching as he faded along with the warning from Mithras, from view and memory.

Chapter 4

Spring had been early this year, as Ned recalled. With the longest of days approaching, everyone had been had been occupied with helping get the families who would populate the new settlement, ready to make the move. They had already been across the valley, found a suitable location for a new village, put crops in the ground and established temporary shelters. In all, eight families comprising of some odd fifty-five souls had chosen to go. If all went according to plan, semi-permeant central lodgings and barns would be in place for in time for the winter season. It would take at least two full cycles of the days before they were firmly established and individual homesteads could be built. After much discussion, it was decided to name the settlement, New Plymouth.

What had been truly remarkable Ned thought, was the alacrity in which the village of New Boston had undertaken, in making the preparations for the move happen. Seemingly overnight, goods and materials appeared in the town square, safely put away in the warehouse awaiting the day of the move. When the time came wagons and carts of every imaginable size and description were loaded and in short order, the village of New Plymouth was a reality.

He'd never admit it, but Ned was tired. The preparations for the move had taken much out of him, if he learned anything, it was that he wasn't a young man anymore. They were but a moon away from the lottery and one delicate issue had just been resolved. None of the young men who now resided in New Plymouth would stand, reducing the number of eligible candidates from twenty-eight to eighteen. At first there were some ruffled feathers but a town-wide meeting with Thery and two of the Gnos elders soon dispelled any angst. By the time the meeting was over it was clearly understood that Mithras had spoken.

He would have to meet with Tom and Billy to begin the final plans for the lottery. They would have to call in Sam Jameson the town administrator and Doc Smith. Both the wooden drum and the black lock box would have to be brought out of storage and gone over. As testament to the serious nature of the work to be done, all five of them would have to be present as any repairs or other work was done, certifying all was in order

The next order of business would be to sign off on the list of this year's names. Once that chore was done, formal notices would go out to the families involved. Next up on the plate was the planning for the day. Shortly after Ned, Tom and Billy stood so long ago, a decision had been made to reinstitute several of the longstanding traditions that had fallen by the wayside. Now that they were sufficient in numbers, the age of inclusion was raised from twelve to thirteen. The three boys who escorted the boy chosen, no longer had to stand with the others in the succeeding lotteries, even though they were exempt from being chosen.

There would be a remembrance ceremony, honoring all of those who had been chosen, an accounting of the successes each family enjoyed, a pot luck lunch would be served along with a selection of ales and wines, and finally, a short speech just before the drawing of the names. There was much to do and the days to complete the necessary tasks were dwindling away. Ned checked his lists, he was sure nothing had been overlooked, he simply couldn't help but thing he was overlooking something important.

Thad woke with a start; the dream was so lifelike and what bothered him was he remembered it in its entirety. Like the other boys of his age who would be standing, he was nervous. Compounding his anxiety was the upcoming end of the school year. The lessons had become much harder, he never realized how much more complicated becoming an adult would be. There was so much more to learn than his letters and the simple math they had been taught. Then there was the trouble of the previous day.

He wanted more than anything to be just like his Grandpa Ned. It wasn't that he didn't love his parents. It seemed lately there had been a growing distance between them. What bothered him the most was overhearing his father exclaim to his mother that he was going to be just like his Uncle Thom, that he should be thinking about girls. What hurt, was his mother telling his father to give it time, that it was a phase. He tried to please both, almost the top of his class, he was an exceptional student, a good son, dutifully doing his chores about the farm always making sure any odd jobs were looked after.

And to top it all off, he was growing up, his body had begun the changes, his voice deepening and hair growing thicker on his legs and down there as well. There were times when his feelings would run riot, leaving him all jumbled and confused. Sometime they would surge uncontrollably and he had quickly learned to bite his tongue. It was a point of pride that he wouldn't talk back to his parents, no matter how much they pushed or angered him.

Adding to his angst was Evan Miller, they had gone from best of friends to something more, a connection that in their play together, was intensifying the growing feelings he had for him. There wasn't any hiding it and he praised his lucky stars the day Uncle Thom found him down by the barn, angrily going about his chores.

A late child, Thom Boone was just but a few full cycles of the days older than Thad. There had always been a closeness between the two as Thad was growing up. Many an afternoon found Thom watching over him. Teaching the youngster how to swim, build play forts, games of hide and seek and most of all, being the big brother, he needed. Concerned for his nephew's demeanor and calling out, he was surprised to see a good-sized black eye forming and his good school shirt had been ripped.

"Want to tell me what happened?"

"It's nothing," came a frustrated response.

"It don't look like nothing, I think your eye and shirt are evidence something happened."

Tossing the hay rake into the pile he had been working on, "Jacob Trimble is dumber than a gruntling and a bully," came the vehement reply.

"What on earth did Jacob do to get you this worked up? I mean he's two years older than you, why would he be bothering you?"

Moving closer to Thad, it became apparent that there were several spots on his shirt that looked like blood, Thom's mild alarm quickly changing to a growing concern, there was much more that he needed to find out.

Eyes narrowing, his fists clenched by his sides, Thom watched as Thad's posture stiffened, "He was picking on little Sammy Johnson, Evan asked him to stop and grow up, when Jacob pushed Sammy down and out of the way, popping Evan in the stomach."

"Next thing I know I'm rolling on the ground with Jacob. His nose is bleeding and two of the teachers are pulling me off him."

Looking up at his uncle, Thad can't stop the tears, "Dad's gonna kill me, Ma is gonna be pissed I ruined my clothes, I figured I best get as much of my chores done while I can still walk."

Holding his arms out, Thom grabbed his wretched nephew into a hug, holding the sobbing boy close, letting him cry it out. "Let me worry about that, who saw all of this? It happened during school; or just after?"

"We had just finished for the day, Mr. Reynolds and Mrs. Miller were standing nearby. Most of my class saw what happened." Was Thad's soft, tentative response.

"You head up to our rooms, your cousins would love to see you, give your clothes to Gavin and get yourself cleaned up, he'll find something of mine that should fit you, tell him to look in the closet, there are plenty of my older clothes in there."

You'll stay for supper with us, I will talk to your dad in the meantime."

Thad wasn't exactly sure what Thom said to his father, what he had found out was, that he had spoken to the teachers, and then his father. Ready to face the music, his parent's anger, he walked back over to his parent's rooms where he found them both sitting in the parlor.

"Your uncle just left, your clothes have been mended and cleaned, your mother will give them to you. Why didn't you come and tell me what happened instead of hiding down at the barn?" His father said sternly.

Something snapped inside Thad, rather than over react, as simply and coldly as he could muster simply said, "I figured it was best to get my chores done while I could still stand, I knew you'd be upset. I understand things better now, I heard you telling mother I'm nothing more than an inconvenience to you and a disappointment." Thad said quietly.

Turning around, he headed off to his bedroom, he had one last comment, "Uncle Thom actually talked to me, asked me what happened before jumping to conclusions." Looking at his father he knew he was pushing his luck, judging by the look on his face and left the room.

Laying there in bed that morning, the events of the past day, the past few days, had Thad wondering why his life was getting so complicated, it was like he had fallen into a swiftly flowing river and he had no control as to where it was taking him.

Walking downstairs the following morning dressed for his weekend chores, he heard his grandfather speaking to his parents. It was the tail end of whatever conversation they had been having. What little he caught was his father being told to send him over as soon as they talked.

The table had been set, his mother at the stove, his father in his customary seat at the head of the table. Taking his seat, waiting to eat, when his father cleared his throat. Looking up he could see his father was having some sort of difficulty arraigning his thoughts.

"Your grandfather and I had a conversation this morning, he heard our discussion last night, apparently Jacob Trimble's father was up to see him while you were with your Uncle Thom. He wanted to apologize for his son's actions."

"Needless to say, your grandfather was a tad upset, with both your mother and I, upset in the way you have come to feel as to how we are treating you. He reminded me of something I had long forgotten when I was your age."

"I had become fond of one of the porcums we were raising. It would follow me around everywhere. I decided that I was going to train it and make it a pet. I was convinced that I could housebreak it and was sorely disappointed when all my efforts came to naught. In tears I went to my father and asked, just what was I doing wrong. I could not break it of its indiscriminate bathroom habits. It went where ever and when it wanted to. Your grandfather told me it was its nature, something I could never hope to change."

"While the situations are completely different, there is a similarity. The lesson I needed to relearn, is that you are who you are, and will always will be. I needed to be reminded of that and to let you know your mother and I are proud of you for standing up for what is right."

"I believe your grandfather is waiting for you, he'll feed you, and the both of you are going fishing. I think you have earned a weekend without chores."

Giving both of his parent's a hug, the dust had barely settled by the time he reached his grandfather's rooms.

It was a glorious morning Thad thought, the morning was warm, it was going to be a fine, late spring day heralding the summer to come. There was just enough breeze to keep the skitos away. The fish had been biting all morning, there were more than enough to feed everyone up on the farm, there were enough to have used a couple of strings to keep them in the water. The sun shining through the newly formed leaves of the tree they were sitting under. The wirrels and monkychips were scampering to and fro, the birds singing out their songs and later this afternoon he'd go get Evan to come up for the weekend.

"You know young feller," Ned began, "You are so much like your grandmother, your features favor her. You have her hair and eyes, more importantly, her sense of what's right."

"Tell me about her, would you please?"

Giving it some thought, Ned figured it was time to share with Thad a bit more about himself, going back to when he was his age. It was a story known only by two other souls, Billy Dunbar, and Tom Harrison.

You have to promise me what I tell you today is just between the two of us, you are old enough to know, some you will find out later, but the gist of the story goes like this."

Ned's memories ran deep, taking a breath he began, "When I was your age, I fell in love. I knew, just knew with all my heart that this was the one. Growing up I was a bit different that the other boys, somewhat like you are today. We tend to be longer between the legs. I was teased unmercifully when I was younger, when I got a bit older as you are now, it faded and other boys were a bit envious. All the while this was going on, one boy, Peter Miller became my friend, never making fun of me and together we learned how to play boy's games. That friendship blossomed into a love so pure, I carry it with me to this day."

"What happened to Peter gramps?"

Letting out a long sigh, "Peter was chosen the first year we were eligible to stand for the lottery, and I along with Billy Dunbar and Tom Harrison were his escorts to the Gnos. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, was to say goodbye to Peter. But Peter taught me that I was just like you, I liked boys. Billy and Tom helped me after Peter was gone, helped me fill a need.

Confused, Thad asked, "How does grandma fit into all of this?"

"It was a couple of full cycles of the days later when I truly met her. She was Tom Harrison's sister, a little younger than me. Turns out she liked girls the way I liked boys but wanted in the worst way to be a mother. We began seeing a bit more of each other, our parents were glad we were seeing each other and as things happened, she convinced me to lay with her."

"We came to care for each other and as these things happen, she was soon with child or so we thought. I asked her to be my wife and boy we were surprised when she gave birth not only to your father but your Uncle James who runs the farms glassworks."

We still, with each other's blessings, sought out the companionship we needed from time to time. Life was good, we truly loved each other as man and wife. Not so long ago, just a few cycles of the days older than you are now, she was with child again. That child would become your Uncle Thom."

"Not long after his birth, she became ill, at first, we thought it was nothing, growing concerned when she wouldn't get better. Mercifully, whatever was wrong with her was quick, she didn't suffer and passed peacefully in her sleep. "

"We only get so much time Thad, it's up to us to make the most of what we've been given, now…help your old grandfather up, we've got some fish to fry and let's do some tubers as well!"

Chapter 5

"Ensign, I want you to run those scans again, contrast the data from the logs of the Mayflower and Speedwell. This time run each individually and triangulate our known star position. Once you have done that, extrapolate the same position from the stars as they would have been when they first entered this sector."

"Yes sir, at our current speed, the variables will magnify any errors, while I can account for most of any discrepancies, I can't guaranty accuracy."

"Thank you, Helm please match our speed to the Mayflowers last known speed for this sector.

'Aye…Aye sir, taking steps to match speed as requested, estimate time to optimal match in fifteen minutes."

Captain Jameson ws hopeful that they had finally narrowed the vastness of space, to a likely corridor the Mayflower, Speedwell, and Discovery would have traveled, on their way to Orion-24ZFX. It was a ballsy move, one he wondered if he would have had the courage to have taken, knowing how primitive space technology had been at the time.

The burning question on everyone's minds was, did they make it, and just what did happen to the Discovery? It wasn't so long ago that both the Mayflower and Speedwell had been found, floating empty in the vastness of space. His grandfather had been a kid when the news was out that they had been found. It was a great time to be alive and often wished he had lived through that era of history.

Like many of his peers growing up, he marveled and took pride in his nation's history. Despite the odds, the planet survived the internecine wars of attrition…barely. Remembering his lessons, at the time of the launch of the Mayflower, Speedwell, and meeting the Discovery stationed on the far side of the moon, several advanced nations launched what was thought to be a devastating blow of hypersonic, nuclear armed missiles.

At the time it was believed that there was no defense by those who launched them. It didn't take long for those who launched them, to realize the serious nature of the colossal error in judgement. Unbeknownst to all but a few, those who launched did not know their codes had been broken. Low level stealth satellites gave enough advanced warning of the missile launches, that a third-generation tri-sonic defensive missile, eliminated over ninety percent of the incoming missiles, before they had a chance to detonate!

The repercussions were staggering, the political, social, and humanitarian fallout brought the old-world order down. All nations on every continent demanded change. Over the course of the next two centuries the United Federation of Nations was born, a governing planet-wide body with the teeth to enforce its mandates. Ecological damage would be reversed, hunger and want would be eliminated. Citizens were educated for free in whatever their chosen professions were.

All this demanded raw materials, and the ability to extract them. The logical solution was to look to the heavens and the move towards space exploration began in earnest. Now, over a millennium later here they were. What took his ancestors five hundred years to travel, could be done in a handful. When the Mayflower and Speedwell were found hardly anything had been left. The desiccated hulks had suffered mightily in space. Little if anything was left, the shielded computer cores barely survived. The technology to restore them had to be invented. What information they were able to glean from historical archives filled in some of the blanks.

It was much like another historical search he recalled. A famous ship had hit an iceberg and the ship was supposedly unsinkable. The mystery enthralled millions and some seven decades and change later, it was found some two-odd miles beneath the ocean.

The discovery of the Mayflower and Speedwell, floating aimlessly in the black emptiness, of the void called space, became the greatest mystery of generations. Countless theories abounded, all unprovable…only fueling intense speculation. It became a race to understand what had happened, where did they end up, did they survive and if so, what became of them?

He remembered sitting, vividly enthralled at his grandfather's knee, as he told him about that discovery and the ancient history that led to their embarkation from the planet they knew as home. What really furthered his interest were the tales his grandfather told of one of his ancestors who took his family aboard the Mayflower all those years ago. Every time he looked out to the stars, he wondered about the family he had out there.

It had been driving him crazy Thad thought, now he was scared. The reoccurring dreams he had been having, were almost every night now. In the dream, someone was trying to talk to him. At first, all he could see was a ghostly outline, delineating the shape of what he suspected was a young boy. The boy was trying to speak to him, the words were garbled, indistinguishable, nothing making any sense. Occasionally a gesture followed the words but it made no sense at all. To make matters worse, each time he had the dream, it was becoming clearer. He was beginning to see details at the edges of the foggy middle.

Whoever it was, was standing in what appeared to be a town square, he could make out buildings now around the square. As the details became clearer, he realized they looked much like the ones in the drawings of the first settlement. This morning as he recalled the dream, he clearly heard the boy say his name was James Bishop.

Letting out a deep sigh, Ned sat back in his favorite chair in his study, the preparations were done. All the necessary jobs had been assigned, the roll of names of qualified boys vetted and the families visited. Finally, it was all over but getting through the day of the lottery. And for the first time since his youngest son stood on that day of choosing, he was worried. He was overlooking something, in speaking with both Tom and Billy, they both felt the same way. Ned knew he had no issues with his memory, his recall was legendary, the same went for his two closest friends. What was bothering him was a niggling thought that just would not go away

The best answer that the three of them could come up with was that Mithras deliberately had tampered with their memories the day they sought her out. They could remember the walk up to the site of the original landing, the former Plimoth Plantation. Of drinking the tea, and of James Bishop leading to Mithras. They had all seen her sitting in her garden across the river. How his heart soared when he saw Peter, his beloved Peter. Again, she had a task for them, and that's where his memory got stuck. What truly bothered him, was the face of James Bishop he saw in the campfire that night, it was if he was trying to deliver a warning.

Later, in discussing with Thery what they had seen, his memory wasn't any better, only that shortly the time would come when all would be made clear to them.

"Captain Jameson to the bridge please, Captain to the bridge please."

The summons to the bridge wasn't unusual, one of the many inconveniences the position required. Putting the engineering tablet down, he'd have to come back to the anomaly later.

The trip to the bridge was perfunctory, finishing up a few ideas with the Chief Engineer. Logic would win out, there had to be reasons their longest-range sensor droids were greying out. There hadn't been any issue previously, the state of the are electronics were the most advanced available. Sharp enough to look up the backside of a gnat on the moon from earth. All the systems checked out, every long-range droid was disassembled and put back together. Parts were interchanged, or completely replaced. Past missions were gone over ad infinitum, looking for any discrepancies. Sensor findings run over, and over again, at times multiple readings run against each other. Yet nothing conclusive, just an ethereal mystery.

"Captain on the bridge!"

"At ease everyone, Navigation report your findings."

"Sir, we were successful in extrapolating the info requested from the star charts. From the data retrieved we can extrapolate the direction the Mayflower and others took. If out figures are correct, we should be about thirteen months.

"Good work, plot the course and Helm, resume cruising speed."

Thad found Evan in the back of his Grandfather Tom's warehouse, sorting boxes, and rotating some of the previous years remaining stock of winter vegetables and grains. While those commodities were dwindling, it was critical that an up-to-date inventory be done so space could be allocated for the soon to be incoming foodstuffs. Shortly after the lottery concluded, wagons from some of the other settlements would be arriving with goods to trade.

New Boston produced some of the finest grains and winter wheat. The glassworks made a steady supply of windowpanes, goblets, fancy dinner service along with kiln fired clay earthen ware. Wool from their domesticated schaffers was sent out to be spun into cloth. Cured meats from their porcums and bife went quickly, so great was the demand.

Trading days were always exciting. Enormous wagons full to the brim with materials they could not furnish for themselves rolled slowly into town behind teams of museulos. From the wool they sent out came back bolts of finely woven and dyed cloth from New Kyoto. Barrels of fine-grained sand came from as far away as New Johannesburg to be used in the making of fancy glass. In addition, harness makers from New London produced all sorts of leather goods. New Sidney's limited iron works keep up a steady supply of nails, sawblades, knives, tools, hoops for storage barrels and boxes. Once back up and running, New Plymouth would restart the manufacturing of paper in addition to their surplus farm goods. They specialized in cheeses of all sorts.

For Thad, the warehouse was a magical place, in that building was stuff from all the remaining settlements, everything anyone needed and lots of material someone his age could only guess at. The best part however, was stolen moments with Evan once the days inventory task was done. With both working at it, it went much quicker, leaving time to practice kissing and the inevitable boy games.

The afternoon had been warm and the interior of the warehouse warmer still, having satiated certain urges the two boys soon found themselves nestled together resting their eyes and bodies from their exertions. As they fell deeply asleep on that warm afternoon, they unknowingly shared a dream. Thad soon found himself in what he now recognized as the central square of the first settlement, The difference this time, as he was walking towards it, he soon realized he was holding Evan's hand.

This time, the surprise was he could see everything clearly, no longer were parts fuzzy or out of focus. As they entered the square Thad heard, then saw who he now learned was James Bishop, calling to him. He was standing by the granary building pointing towards the inside. He was asking for help, help retrieving a box. As they drew closer, the dream was rudely shattered by some sort of commotion outside the warehouse. Something either fell or was dropped or fell with a loud clatter.

Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Evan wondered and asked why someone named James Bishop was looking for them, visibly shaking Thad.

"I can't see any other explanation for it Captain. As we left the last star system, one of the long-range droids captured a faint beacon. A preliminary analysis indicates it is of the type and typical to what the Mayflower would have used as a location beacon."

"How long will it take you to compare the signal to the records in the databanks?" More to the point the captain added, "Have you sent out any other droids?"

"We should have confirmation within the half-hour Sir," was the reply from the Chief Engineering officer. "The problem is that once we captured the signal from the beacon, the droid greyed out and we lost the signal. The back-up droid failed to capture anything from the beacon and greyed out as well."

"Call both of them back now please, Helm increase speed and plot the fastest intercept course and then bring us to where the signal from the beacon was lost."

"Aye…aye Sir" Course plotted for fastest intercept; navigation estimates a bit less than twelve bells Sir".

Having retreated to his ready room, there was much for Captain Jameson to ponder. He could feel it in his bones, they were closer than ever to possibly solving the greatest mystery of the ages. Everyone wanted to know what did happen to the Mayflower and the Speedwell, and where was the Discovery, what was her fate?

What would they be like he wondered, if they had been able to make a landing? Considering the condition of both ships that were found, it appeared that they had discharged their cargo. From the fragmented logs every indication from the data they were able to retrieve, indicated a planet known as Orion-24ZFX was hospitable for human life. Seasons that mirrored earth, a plethora of flora and fauna compatible for consumption. More to the point, there wasn't any reason the seeds they brought with them should thrive once planted. All sorts of wheat grains along with fruit and nut trees. Of greater concern was the dearth of natural resources. From the historical records of the earliest data collected long with the planetary surveys conducted by the Mayflower as they drew closer, indicated no large deposits of oil, coal natural gas, or metals.

After a thousand or more years, how did they develop and grow, what customs did they keep and how did they organize their societies? Were they able to avoid conflict or religious strife? What were the issues with health and their technology?

The most frustrating aspect of all of this to Captain Jameson was the loss of the exact location of Orion-24ZFX in the wars following the launch of the Mayflower and Speedwell. The navigation data retrieved from the Mayflower and Speedwell once discovered not so long ago, was useless, those files were corrupted beyond repair.

Chapter 8

The morning of the lottery dawned bright and clear. Up before the others, Ned had breakfast ready and hoped to leave for the town square shortly after with Thad. There was an underlying current of unease that had permeated the household over the past couple of days. Ned knew it was because Thad would stand for the lottery for the first time, his chance of being the one picked to leave to go with the Gnos was every bit as good as any other of the seventeen boys. He knew it was all down to chance and if, on the off chance, Thad wasn't picked but selected to accompany the one chosen, there would then be a host of different issues to sort out.

He knew the three chosen to accompany the other boy, would go up as boys and come back as changed young men. They would become part of a select group and would forever be interwoven into background fabric of their community. Not surprisingly, Thad managed to be the first of the household to enter the kitchen. Without saying anything he began to assist with the breakfast preparations. By the time they were done and the food ready to be brought to the dining room, the rest of the family had found their seats at the table. The undercurrent of concern and silence proved too much for Thad and he rose from his seat. "From the beginning of our time here, the Boone family has stood proudly when called upon, I am ready to carry on in that tradition. I go with a desire to serve my community as I am called to do so in whatever manner the fates have for me. I love each, and every one of you and ask only that you remain proud of me this day."

The recovery of the droids went smoothly. Engineering had poured over the records of the one that had captured the signal, however brief it was. The data from that signal wasn't lost or corrupted. What was found was a standard distress signal from a typical deep space craft of the 21 st century.

With Captain Jameson's assistance, records were checked trying to identify the unique signal designation. All hands knew it could only be one possibility and were waiting on pins and needles for the confirmation, the name of that vessel.

"Sir, I have cleaned up the transmission as best we can without further corrupting what we have." Captain Jameson knew that it was standard operating procedure that all space faring vessels were given unique identifiers. At issue here, was that there had been several attempts to find the Mayflower, Speedwell, and Discovery over the years. Trying not to get his hopes up, he reminded himself that all those expeditions, not only failed to find the three spaceships, but that several had been lost in the vastness of space.

Everyone sitting in his ready room either had their fingers crossed or were saying silent prayers waiting for the computer to confirm their initial findings. Literally there were tens of thousands of records for the computer to work through. After the first hour, the computer had narrowed the possibilities to a few hundred, things started to move quickly, the next ten minutes saw the possibilities winnowed down to slightly more than twenty-five. The tension in the room was palatable as they waited for the result that wouldn't be long in coming. It was as if everyone had forgotten to breathe. Everyone sat bolt upright when the computer announced it had a result.

As calmly as he could, forcing himself to carefully modulate his voice, Captain Jameson asked the computer to announce the results.

"Sir, the records were checked and rechecked, the signal matches the unique identifier of the Discovery,"

Erupting in loud, boisterous cheering they nearly missed the second half of the computer's announcement.

"and have confirmed the approximate location of the planetary beacon."

Thad thought the responsibility would crush him. Along with Billy Graves and Evan Miller he tried to process what the three of them had learned. His great uncles Billy Dunbar and Tom Harrison had spent the remainder of the afternoon with the three boys. Educating them on the importance of the task they were charged with. They had seen the records. In addition, they had seen the records of the settlements, that had failed in their basic obligations. He knew they needed no further persuasion. In a few minutes both Billy Graves and his boyfriend Evan would be dismissed and he would meet with his grandfather to collect the obsidian knife. The blade was older than a thousand cycles of the sun, a gift to the settlers from Mithras.

Ned was concerned, what was being asked of Thad went against the boy's nature. A quiet well-mannered child with a sunny, pleasant disposition, what would be asked of him would test his very nature. He watched with concern as Thad entered the room, looked at the obsidian blade laying on the table beside him.

Squaring his shoulders as he approached his grandfather determined to uphold the tradition and obligation of the lottery, his face reflecting the seriousness of the task ahead of him. He could see the obvious concern in his grandfather's face and was determined not to let him down.

They spent the remainder of the afternoon together in deep conversation. Thad fully learning of his grandfather's time in the lottery and the task he had been charged with. It was incomprehensible at first and so difficult to come to terms with, and he wondered if he would have had the same strength of character as his grandfather if it had been Evan selected. All he could do was to thank his lucky stars it would be a choice he would not have to make.

His grandfather was stunned to learn of his and Evan's dreams involving James Bishop. He began to remember parts of the conversation with Mithras and he needed to have a long discussion with both Billy Dunbar and Tom Harrison. He would need to send a runner to the Gnos, letting Thery know they needed to meet after the rite of obligation at the site of the first landing.

Nothing is static Captain Jameson reminded himself, including objects in the limitlessness of space. Everything is in flux, constantly moving at the direction of an unseen conductor. As they drew closer towards the location of the beacon, they were able to intercept additional fragmentary signals. The droids they had sent out ahead of them were unable to lock on to the exact location.

As they drew closer, the reason became apparent, there wasn't anything left of any appreciable size of the Discovery. All that was left was a portion of what had to be the bridge and the central computer core. With some delicate maneuvering they were able to bring the badly damaged remnants into the main cargo bay.

All ship operations slowed to a near halt as they hovered there in awe of what they had accomplished. They had traveled further than any of their predecessors except one, searched more of the vastness of space than their counterparts, and here they were, on the doorstep of the discovery of the ages, just a step away from finding the lost pilgrims.

It took the better part of a standard earth week and after much trial and error, careful observation, and delicate handling of the ancient computer core, they were able to extract more information, much more, that what was recovered from either the Mayflower and Speedwell. After verifying their findings and triple rechecking, they were certain they had the probable location of Orion-24ZFX.

"Helm, set a course at all practicable speed, engineering, I want a minimum of two droids a minimum of two standard earth days in front of us, let's see if we can find our missing cousins!"

Thad took little note of the storms that raged incessantly around him, he dispassionately watched as the Gnos paid their tribute and as Banr lay on the ancient rock table, the storms fading as his life was given to Mithras. He heard the multitude of voices, softly singing in the background, his hand on Josiah Trimble's shoulder, knowing it was soon to be his turn to walk him to that ancient surface.

The voices were coalescing, becoming singular in nature, guiding them for what was to be done. It was something he would never forget; it was if he was standing outside of himself as he placed the edge of the blade against Josiah's neck and he watched as the life drained from the body. Surprised as he watched the carefully wrapped body disappear into thin air, as they let him over the edge of the cliff face.

It was what happened next that shook him along with Evan and Billy Graves, to the very core of their souls. One moment they were standing in the softly falling, gentle warm summers rain and the next…standing before Mithras in her garden among the valleys across the great river. Alongside her were, as they would come to learn, were Peter Miller and a face Thad instantly recognized, James Bishop. They learned of the danger they all faced from out among the stars, dangers that could destroy the very foundations of the planet. The difficulty, rather the issue was, that electronic signals and devices were harmful to Mithras.

As a sentient entity, Mithras was the unique lifeform that all life and evolutionary progress sprang from. That somewhere down at the site of the first landing and township, was a device that was cleverly hidden and it needed to be destroyed. That device, while weak and by itself posed little danger, if it were able to call others to its signal, the danger to Mithras would be fatal.

That James Bishop would accompany them to locate and retrieve this device. Once found Peter Miller would guide them to a lava vent, where it would be tossed into. The journey to this vent and back would take nearly a half moon cycle. More to the point, they would not be alone or unassisted. That others from their town would be joining them, who they would meet once they returned to the old town square.

They simply could not travel fast enough, over a thousand years of differing gravitational forces had caused the remnant of the Discovery to set out on its own journey. A swarm of galaxies lay before them, an all-encompassing, multitude of suns and so many possible habitable planets. They had a direction and an approximate location to search, whatever signal the beacon was receiving, was weak and intermittent. Literally there would be possibly hundreds or more locations to search.

The frustration was evident, everyone did their best to remain focused. Compounding their weariness was the simple fact that the universe, and particularly this quadrant of space, was the straightforward fact that the universe generated all sorts of ambient noise.

They needed a miracle, the past thirty days had everyone on edge, they weren't at the point where they would have to begin the journey back, but it was coming closer that he would like, thought Captain Jameson. The finding of the only remnants left of the Discovery would be heralded an enormous success, the pinnacle of anyone's career and a heralding achievement noteworthy in the annals of their history. No, he wouldn't give up, he'd push past the margins of safety until they had no other choice to either abandon ship or reluctantly, as a last resort limp back home.

It was time for his watch on the bridge, he'd spend his time reviewing the logs collected over the past twenty-four hours. One thing he prided himself on was his crew. Advances had made it possible to crew as spacecraft of the size of his with a team of twelve. Automation and a semi-sentient AI. It was a marvel of the latest in technology and in all honestly, flew itself.

The process of weeding out the chaff from the considerable background noise had become easier as the main diagnostic computer learned what it was, they were looking for, saving them hours of time. Much to his chagrin, there wasn't anything new to report, and as he was closing his station for the night, the announcement from the main diagnostic computer startled him.

"Captain, we have received a signal from a planetary beacon and have identified the location, it is compatible with the device from the Discovery."

Their obligations to Mithras fulfilled and understanding the task ahead of them Thad, Evan and Billy Graves met with Thery. They learned he and a few other Gnos would accompany them on the trek to and from the lava vent. There would be much to do to prepare for the journey. Larger packs would be needed, basic foodstuffs would be augmented with what they could glean from the countryside as they passed through.

It wouldn't be an easy trip Thery told the, parts of it would be an arduous walk-through unsettled land. As they neared the lava vent, the last days journey would be very dangerous. Unbeknownst to the boys, a runner had reached the Gnos bearing a message from Thad's grandfather Ned. They would be accompanied once the device they were looking for was found.

On the walk down, James Bishop told them of what life was like for the first settlers, the difficulties they encountered, the failure of the technology they had brought with them and the sickness that took half of them away. While Thery accepted the presence of the two ethereal beings, it was disconcerting at first to Thad and his two friends. So much had happened, so quickly, that it left his head reeling when he focused on the implausibility of it all.

In consulting with Billy Dunbar and Tom Harrison, Ned knew the only decision they could make was to head up to the old town square to meet the boys and hopefully Thery to see what answers awaited them. For reasons not understood at the time it just made sense, they each had taken their fully laden packs and sleeping gear and headed out just after the mid-day meal.

The walk up to the site of the first settlement brought back many memories as they reminisced about the boys they used to be. How much changed for them as they fulfilled their obligation to the community, the Gnos, and Mithras. For Ned, the sadness that a life in the present with Peter Miller wasn't possible, but comforted and secure in the knowledge that they would once again be together once Ned finished serving Mithras.

For Billy and Tom, it was a loss of innocence and yet, at the same time, forging lasting friendships, knowing they could depend on each other and share private, intimate moments. Not much had changed since they were last up here, the trees were noticeably larger, and as they passed the old Begins farm, the mounds that had grown over what was left of the original settlers failed equipment seemed smaller through their adult eyes.

It was Ned as they walked into the old town square who first noticed James Bishop, standing there talking with Thad and his friends. Thery was busy making a cooking fire when he saw Peter Miller walking towards him. Almost too much to take, Ned faltered for a moment, wondering if his eyes deceived him, when he felt Peter clasp his hand.

"We have much to discuss Ned, and I need you to be patient a bit longer. James has a story to tell and we all need to listen."

"Good, we're all here," James stated. "There is danger facing us from a device Captain Reynolds and his crew secreted shorty after landing. The device signals its location to any space going vessel. The device was secured in a container made to withstand the ravages of time. That container has been failing, intermittently allowing weak signals to escape the shielding."

"It is critical that we remove what is in the container to a place where it can be destroyed. While Peter and I stand here before you in the truest sense as physical beings, there is only so much we can do, and that's where all of you come in."

James, continuing, hoping he wasn't going too fast, "I know of the location and in the morning, we will remove it from its hiding place. I will need Evan and Thad to open the vault that lies beneath the old granary. In order to access that vault, I will need you adults to prize the stone flooring up. We will talk more once you've had your evening meal and Mithras wishes to commune with all of you.

Chapter 9

"Helm, Navigation tells us we are on course, match our speed to that of what the Mayflower's was. It's not that I don't want to sneak up on the planet, we need to carefully approach and gather what data we can before we make any contact."

Continuing Captain Jameson issued further orders to Engineering, "Chief, I want those droids gone over once again, ensure that all systems are operational and the redundant systems will seamlessly come online in case of any primary system failures."

He wanted nothing left to chance, having come this far, failure wasn't an option Captain Jameson thought. "Chief, I want the droids sent out in pairs, two pairs at a time. Confirm they will be simultaneously linked. I want to approach Orion-24ZFX from multiple directions. If any droid senses interference, back them off and resume probing from a different direction."

Rubbing the sides of his nose, the things they needed to do was creating a list of tasks that was beginning to seem endless. It was critical to duplicate the course the original droids took when they made their initial surveys, and those of the Mayflower. He needed to know everything about the planet, duplicate all the surveys, conducting topographical, mineral, along with environmental and most importantly the technological capabilities of any descendants of the original settlers.

Now wasn't the time to rush, there were so many things they needed to know, if it took the time equal to a standard earth month, then that was what they would do. What was it his grandfather told him when he always seemed to be rushing form one thing to another, "Haste makes waste' he remembered fondly.

From the texts of the ancients, Ned thought he understood the theories of how they were able to travel to this place they now called home, though much of it remained unexplained. The concept of electricity was foreign to him, and while they had not the ability to create it as such, he saw no need for it.

After the evening meal, James Bishop once again led them to Mithras and now understood the danger they all faced and why the first settler's technology failed. It was primitive compared to the technology they were facing and thus easy for Mithras to render it inert, useless. Whatever was in that box presented a danger to all of them, that it could call out to others placed them in the gravest of danger. It was almost too much to take. As he stood by the fire he felt an arm slide around his waist, "Would you care to go for a walk with me?' Peter asked.

Looking once again into the eyes of the boy he loved above all others, he simply nodded his head, words were failing him and his memories playing tricks with him Closing his eyes as Peter gently grasping his elbow leading him back down towards the cement dock at the old irrigation pond. The years fell away as they made their way down, the mid-summers evening giving away to the rising of a full moon. There was a placid breeze soothing his troubled mind, carrying the faint smell of the fruit tree blossoms.

Time and the years seemed to slowly slip away and once again as if in a dream, in his mind's eye, Ned was transported back to another summer's night, one fraught with pain, misery, and a silent acquiescence of the duties of obligation his community entrusted him with. As they drew closer to the irrigation pond, he could sense the warm breeze slightly raising goosebumps on his exposed flesh, bringing him back to the present.

In the soft, diffused moonlight, Peter was every bit as beautiful as he could remember. He knew with age, his memories tended to romanticize the images he recalled. Standing before him was an image that had never faded, dulled, or clouded in his memory. Every detail of his features was exactly as he remembered. A frisson of excitement surged throughout his body as he watched Peter remove his clothes, awaking long dormant memories of his youth.

With what could only be described as a 'come hither' grin on his face, Peter called out, "You aren't going to stand there all night are you?"

With a determination and speed that belied his age, Ned soon found himself standing knee deep in the water, drawing Peter towards him, enveloping him in a hug he had waited so many years to give him once again. Time seemed to stand still, he knew not how long they stood there, only that the pain and sorrow at their forced parting had dissipated. He needed to see more of Peter, to touch him, grasp his flesh, to hold him at arm's length, to once again drink in the physical perfection of his lover's body. Looking down, it was then he saw the reflection of their bodies in the moonlight on the surface of the still waters.

It couldn't be he thought, desperately trying to convince himself it wasn't a dream, for in the reflection, standing next to Peter was his thirteen-year-old body.

A finger softly placed against his lips momentarily calmed Ned, whispering in his ear, Peter explained that the night was a gift from Mithras, that in the morning, things would be as they were, they were wasting time.

The data they were collecting looked promising, nothing yet was specific to detailed, the first information the droids sent back was general in nature. A typical class M planet, mostly a water world, its rotation around its sun was nearly a standard month longer than earths. There were no indications of any resource's worth extracting. As to its place in the universe, it was by all indications a young planet. Most of the surface was three-quarters water and the remaining landmass was broken into what could be considered three continents and two ice covered polar regions.

Two of the continents appeared to be newly forming, not as far along as the one indicated as the landing destination, deep in throes of evolutionary development. That third continent spanned the optimum position to take advantage of the better climate. If they were going to find any of the descendants of the first settlers, it would be somewhere on that continent.

"Sir…I'm picking up a reaction, a variation to the planet's magnetic fields every time a droid comes too close to the planet."

"Have you run your findings through the diagnostic computer Chief?"

"Diagnostics confirm it is a cause-and-effect situation and diagnostics extrapolated one other data point Sir," the chief engineer replied.

"What are your findings Chief?' The captain asked, a bit of impatience showing through his otherwise placid demeanor.

Not wanting to belabor a point, the chief engineer knew everyone was on pins and needles, impatiently awaiting any news or new data. "It would appear Sir, that every time the planetary beacon sends a signal, it creates or sends ripples through the magnetic field as well!"

"Please review your findings one more time, and while you are doing that, I want a low-level electrical pulse sent to nudge the magnetic field. It is imperative you make it just strong enough to dissipate on contact. Until we know more, have all the droids maintain a safe distance, hold off any further scans until we have a better handle on what we're up against. Let's meet in my ready room in a half hour…Helm, you have the bridge!"

Rubbing his temples, Captain Jameson contemplated the latest developments. It was clear they posed a threat to the planet, one he now understood to be somewhat similar in some respects to earth. Earth had a robust magnetic field, generated by a swiftly revolving liquid conducting core. The result of all of this, was that that magnetic field repulsed particles from the sun's solar wind. Without that magnetic field, the solar wind would be able to eradicate all living things on earth.

Now he had a partial answer to at least one of the mysteries, Orion-24ZFX differentiated from earth in one critical aspect, the core of this planed either was slower in its revolutions or the liquid core wasn't revolving as quickly. The issue of solar winds had him slightly perplexed, the sun this planet revolved around, appeared to be far more stable than earths. Additionally, of the twelve planets in this solar system, those that were closer to that sun, appeared to shield Orion-24ZFX from much of the damages from those solar winds.

All his thinking and thoughts left him with one horrifying thought, what if they inadvertently or unknowingly damaged or destroyed that magnetic field?

The morning dawned cool and clear and found everyone gathered around the cooking fire. Off in the distance a rumble of thunder could be heard, looking in that direction they could see that storm clouds were brewing. As they ate their morning meal, James Bishop explained where the container and beacon were secured. Leading them to the furthest corner of the old granary he pointed to three large flagstones. It was obvious from the size of the stone that a lever and fulcrum would be needed to move the largest.

In short order a log of suitable length along with a large piece of firewood were put to use. Backs straining, the stone was raised enough to block under it, several pairs of hands were able to grip the edges and safely move it off to one side. Moving the other two stones took little time and the man-made opening was uncovered.

Thad went into the opening followed by Evan and disappeared down a short passageway where they found a blocked off opening. Cleaning and scraping around the edges revealed handholds large enough for their hands to fit. As they pulled against the stone, it fell back with a thump, raising a small cloud of dust from the tunnel floor. A torch revealed the container, a small metal box with handles on either side. Carefully exercising caution, they were able to bring the container to the opening in the stone floor of the granary.

A decision was to leave it there for the moment while everything was packed for their trip to the lava vent. Once all their gear was packed and stowed away, they turned their attention to the box sitting on the floor of the tunnel. Closer examination as they lifted it up showed that time, over a thousand cycles of the sun, had affected the condition of the box. The chamber it sat in had not been watertight and one corner of the box had rusted away. It clearly wasn't in any sort of condition to make the trip to the lava vent.

They were fortunate that the box wasn't secured by a locking mechanism, with a bit of effort and some groaning from the rusted hinges the top was lifted, revealing what they understood to be the danger to Mithras. It was a black cylinder the length and size of Ned's forearm. The surface was polished to a smoothness that revealed no other openings or identifying markings. After a few minutes, giving everyone a chance to look at it, it was time to go.

"Captain, I'm picking up stronger signals from the beacon, Engineering tells me the signals are having a ripple effect on the magnetic field."

"Can you tell me if the signals are strong enough to do any damage, any lasting affects?" The concern in Captain Jameson's voice was palatable. He wasn't sure what they were witnessing, from his seat on the bridge, the view screen showed a computer-generated image of the planets magnetic field. Every time the beacon sent a signal it left a dark spot. Now the concern was over what the stronger signals would do, if they continuously bounced against the same area.

"Captain, a closer reading of the magnetic field shows a large faded distortion over the general area of the signals from the beacon."

"Bring it up on screen please concentrate on the affected area and contrast it against an unaffected area."

Another piece of the puzzle was right in front of his eyes, with knowing what they did now, the electrical effects of their equipment on the planet's magnetic field, was it, would it be possible that the faded discoloration was indicative of the first landing site? Was the magnetic field capable of healing itself?

"Engineering, give me some options on landing on the surface, the challenge is to get us down there without disturbing the magnetic field."

"This is where I need to leave you," James Bishop sadly informed them. "Peter will guide you to the lava vent and back. Mithras asks that you make way quickly and while you will see many wondrous things not to delay and she will await you up at the cliff face upon your return."

They made good time that first day, it set the tone for the days to follow. While the weather remained fair, they were never far ahead of a bank of storm clouds that seemed to follow them.

Thery led them as they crossed the land of the Gnos, much like the land they tilled, there was an abundance of wildlife, fruit and nut trees and a larger assortment of bushes laden with berries. While the Gnos were hunter/gathers, they tilled small garden plots with dietary staples. As they crossed the verdant grasslands, they encountered a series of rolling hills. Crossing over those hills the landscape began to change as they approached their destination. Here the land began to resemble scrub wastelands.

The soil became sandy and the vegetation they were accustomed to slowly disappeared. No longer were they accompanied by the birds flying overhead, the wirrels and monkychips had fallen to the wayside. It was clear to all that little to no rain fell on the ground they were traversing. What pools of water that they did see were foul smelling and shined with a rainbow of iridescent colors on the surface. Scattering about their feet were small scaly creatures that seemed to blend into whatever surface they happened to be on.

More disconcerting were the intermittent mud pits, bubbling away, infrequently sending small streams of mud or water skyward. Occasionally they would see remnants of skeletons of creatures that were unaware of the dangers this land possessed. It was a confusing land, something they were completely oblivious of. What they feared the most were the times the ground underneath them would shake, sporadically leaving small fissures on the ground they walked on. The path they traveled on was narrow and to a person they were careful not to stray past the edges.

It wasn't far now, Peter informed them, a half day's walk. The landscape began to change once again as it began to rise steeply under their feet. No longer were they walking over the hot sands, as the path led them across a boulder field. As they gained elevation the landscape changed once more. Ahead of the were vast streches of barren land, the remnants of an old lava flow.

The blackened surface rolled and rippled away from them, frozen in time. Here and there, small spouts of steam would escape the confining surface. To Ned, the surface resembled a river stopped in the midst of moving. In the distance he could see what appeared to be bursts of solid flame breaking the surface reaching skyward, only to fall back down in glowing clumps.

He along with the others stood there in wonder at what they were seeing, a world so alien to what they were used to, that it seemed incomprehensible. Standing beside him, Peter explained that he would need to carry the device to the edge of that pit and see it safely tossed in. He would have but a few minutes to do this as Mithras prepared the way. No matter what he saw or felt, he wasn't to dawdle or hesitate.

Taking the device in his arms Ned followed Peter across the lava field. At first the heat was searing and as they drew closer it was as if a path had been created for them. On either side of the path, they walked on he could see shimmering walls of incandescence. Now that they were but steps away, the ground under their feet gave of a glowing luminosity. Drawing closer, Ned could now see the river of molten rock flowing as if a swiftly moving river through an opening in the hardened lava bed. Standing there entranced at the sight Ned was mesmerized, Peter's hand on his shoulder reminding him why he was there. Taking a last look at the device, he watched it disappear as it landed in the molten lava.

"Can anyone tell me what just happened?" Exasperation showing through Captain Jameson's voice, further putting everyone on edge. "What do you mean the signal from the beacon is lost?"

"Sir, we've been following it over the past few days. It started moving as you know. If you look at the image of the magnetic field you can see a series of what appear to be dots, indicating the direction it was moving. From what we can best ascertain, the signal was lost in what would appear to be in an area of some sort of volcanic activity. With our sensors blinded anytime we get too close to the planet, there's just too many unknowns."

Captain Jameson knew, like everyone else, that the beacon simply could not move by itself. So…what did move it, and how was it moved and why? Research into the ships historical records and databanks showed that the beacon weighed less than ten old earth pounds and was about eighteen inches in length. "Can you give me an estimate as to how far it has moved?"

"Sir, we estimate the object was in motion for nearly seven of our days. Additionally, we're confident based on the rate of signal, that the beacon wasn't moving during night on that part of the planet."

From the facts in front of him, the logical conclusion Captain Jameson surmised, was that someone or something was responsible for moving the beacon and ending its capability to send signals. The question now was why, what dangers did it present to whomever moved it?

"Science Desk, where's the report on the status of planetary technology? Do we have any inkling of any sort of a power grid, energy generation? Have you intercepted any means of communication over distance?"

"Negative Sir, we can't, from this distance detect any evidence of an industrial base or development."

It shouldn't be possible Captain Jameson thought, if there were survivors of the first landing, with the tools and technology they had at the time, there should be some sort of sign of technological/industrial development. What was it they didn't know when they landed? From what limited information they had when they first came to this planet, the conditions were ripe for human colonization. There weren't any indications of any other humanoids inhabiting the planet.

All the conjecture left only one other option, they would need to find a way down to the surface, after surveying the planet below the magnetic field.

The desire to go home propelled their feet a bit quicker than the journey to the lava vent. Up a bit earlier in the mornings, taking less time eating and resting, walking until the last bit of light faded from the evening sky, saw the weary band of travelers took less time arriving at the location of the old town square. They arrived early enough to sit for a mid-day meal and to replace and recover the section of flooring they had opened to get to the beacon. Hot, sweaty, and dusty a trip to the irrigation pond was in order before they sought to commune with Mithras.

"Engineering to Bridge, Captain we've discovered an issue with the computer files from the Discovery."

Unknown to anyone but those who created the computer virus, it lay dormant until it was triggered. Complicating any chance of discovery and removal was the age and construction of the virus. It was so old and basic that it lay virtually undetectable until a series of basic commands were issued. Those commands that lay dormant were those revolving around embarkation to a planetary body.

"Sir…we're losing…no, we've lost parts of the main computer system, the droids we've sent out have all self-destructed. Moreover, records show any transmissions back to earth stopped once we came across the Discovery. All redundant systems have failed and it is anticipated we will start losing critical systems shortly."

"I need an estimate until we have a systemwide failure, isolate the shuttle and have the shuttle bay doors opened. Confirm the shuttle hasn't been tethered to the main computer."

"At the rate the systems are cascading, our best estimate indicated we have no more than four hours until life support crashes."

"All hands…this is the captain speaking, it would seem that we are the victim of a computer virus we picked up from the Discovery's programming. As I speak, all ship wide systems are failing, please grab your personal effects and meet me in the shuttle bay. Engineering estimates we have less than four hours to clear the ship."

"The ship is programmed to self-destruct in situations such as these. We need to ensure we are as far away as possible. As such, I intend to bring us down to the planet we've been surveying."

Chapter 10

Sitting around the dying embers of the campfire, Ned looked towards the sky, the electrical storms had been raging ever since they had communed with Mithras. He felt as unsettled as he had ever felt. In a way, it was nearly too much to ponder, it seemed impossible but, here they were.

It was real, not an abstract possibility, there were others from earth that would be here shortly, it was information all of them were finding hard to digest. If Mithras was correct, they would not be leaving, the impact, the disruption was mind-boggling. There was something he was trying to recall, one of the lessons he had learned as a child, and like every father could not fully explain it to his children when asked.

The old books of his ancestors told of a world where humans had grown past the simple life they enjoyed now. That they had machines and devices that did wonderous things, that could fly, talk to each other and travel to and beyond the stars. And yet, despite the advances they had made, they managed to destroy the world his ancestors left. More puzzling till now, were the reasons that despite all the advances, tools, machines, and devices they brought failed.

It was Mithras and this world they now called home, as best he could understand, it was in the air that they breathed, the atmosphere that surrounded this world, it sensed the danger and simply neutralized it.

The order to launch from the doomed spacecraft had been given and as they approached orbit around the planet Orion-24ZFX, one they would call their new home, they saw the darkness of space around them light up as their craft, the Mayflower 2, simply cease to exist. Sitting there in that black void was a blue/green water world, one of twelve planets orbiting that system's sun. Similar to earths, a moon revolved around that world and they matched their path to follow that moon, as they circumnavigated the planet, hoping to gather information that had been previously denied to them.

What they found stunned them.

There was an intensity to the storms swirling around them Ned noticed, if anything they were growing stronger. Looking over to Thery he saw a smile on the Gnos' face, eyes closed as he sat cross legged looking out to the turbulent skies. As if he could sense Ned looking towards him, he opened his eyes and simply said, "The storms will be over soon, shortly after first light and Mithras asks, that we gather at the site of the first landing, she asks that James Bishop accompany us to welcome them.

Captain Reynolds would not have believed it if someone else were to tell him, that after more than a millennium, that what he was looking at was a world bereft of the technology the first settlers arrived with. Ground penetrating scans identified the rusted remains of several large lumps of what could only be the decayed remnants of mechanical equipment.

They were able to identify at least six, possibly active communities and the remains of possibly a half dozen more. The only comparison he could make was to earth's agrarian society of the eighteenth century. There were no factories, or bulk users of raw materials. The atmosphere was pristine and from what they could tell, no pollution.

They saw unidentified beasts of burden hauling carts or in the farmyard fields. Rudimentary paths and a crude network of, for the lack of better words, dirt roads that connected the different villages. Their houses and outbuildings looked sturdy and well made of wood and stone. The outlying farms were connected to a central town square with several buildings of differing sizes. The only oddity was that it appeared that the central square appeared to be paved with stones.

There were indications that they had at least harnessed water power, nearly every farm had irrigation ponds. In addition to irrigation, scattered among the different settlements were what appeared to be waterwheels, and in a few communities, what appeared to be sawmills.

Thery and Ned were up before the breaking of the new dawn, this day would be unlike any other. The storm had abated, the angry clouds were scuttling off across the valley, looking out across the old town square Ned could only wonder what changes were coming. Thery had brewed a pot of tea and handed him a cup. Joining them were Peter and James Bishop as they were brought to Mithras.

She greeted them, thanking them for their selfless service and the danger poised was nearly abated. Asking them to look up into the last of the night sky, they saw a fireball streak across the darkened sky. They saw through her the explosion of the spacecraft and the shuttle approaching the surface of their home. They understood now, that those aboard the smaller craft would be not returning to their homes and there was still much to do.

James Bishop would greet and welcome them, clothed as he would have been on the day of the first landing, his appearance would be familiar. It would be up to Ned to provide the necessary background, to invite them to break bread and share some of the original journals and history of their ancestors.


Looking up at the early morning sky, Captain Reynolds found it hard to believe that a full year had past he thought to himself, with a chuckle, a full cycle of the days since they had landed on this new world. With a minor twinge of regret, he recalled a fleeting sense of hopelessness as he watched the unmanned shuttle take off with all their electronics and devices and then resulting fireball, as it exploded far above the planet's atmosphere. The streaks illuminating a fiery path as the larger pieces burned up in the fell to their doom.

Yet despite it all, he was happy and content, he and his crew had assimilated without any issues, starting families, and integrating in the community of New Boston. There had been a few steep learning curves and adjustments made. As he looked out over the pastures and crops growing in his fields, a sense of satisfaction washed over him. A cry from his hungry son broke his reverie, he could hear his wife stir and hoped she wouldn't be mad when she found little James Peter Reynolds in his arms. He was growing quickly, no longer would one bottle suffice, as his messy diapers attested to.

Already Sarah was with child again, if he could believe the doctor, little James, or as everyone was calling him JP, was going to have a couple of siblings come planting season. He heard Sarah come out the kitchen door and smiled when she wrapped an arm around his waist. With the other she gave JP a breakfast bread stick assuaging his hunger pangs. As he stood there in the cool, early morning dawn with his pregnant wife and child, he couldn't help but feel gratified.

Elsewhere that morning others were up or stirring. Ned could hear Thad and Evan getting ready for the day. These days the boys were as thick as thieves, where you saw one, there was the other. They had come to the decision that they would split their time between the farm and Evan's grandfather's store and warehouse. There were doubts at first, but the boys were committed to making it work. They had become a little more judicious in the places they loved each other. The early days of indiscriminate coupling, once their union was accepted, had moderated. Down at Grandfather Tom's, a lock was placed on one of the storeroom doors. Up here at the farm, Ned quietly reminded them that the walls were thin, not everyone needed to know what they were up to.

He needed to pay Matt Reynolds a visit later today to see how he was doing. It had taken the better part of what Matt and his crew, would have called a month to fully understand their place here. Reading the journals of his ancestor, learning how he came to accept his new life was instrumental. It was his visit with James Bishop to Mithras that cemented his acceptance. In that meeting, Mithras let him sit with his ancestor, the original Captain Reynolds.

And then, there was his last meeting with Mithras, the details still vividly clear in his mind. "You have done me great service Ned Boone, not once but several times. I have not forgotten the gift of what was most precious to you, nor the promise that you would be together again, for your unselfish sacrifice and service."

Continuing, "Yet you have something that is mine, and as you say, I have something that is yours, what is it you seek in exchange for that cloth you carry always?"

It was temerity Ned thought that he had asked, it had to be, the shear boldness…audacity of it all, as he remembered the rest of that engagement with Mithras. One does not bargain with the gods after all, and yet as he ran his fingers through the few greyish hairs on a sleeping Peter's chest, watching it rise and fall with his sleepy breathing, his plea had been listened to and granted.

While no longer carefree, callow youths or in the last decades of their lives, Peter had been returned to him, and in that gift of thanks, was the promise of decades to come, as they traveled whatever path that lay before them.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead