by Victoria-Elizabeth Panks
Her anxious fingers fondle the collar of Oxy-Blox plaited around her neck, as if it were an abacus or a strand of worry beads. Searching for the incoming frequency, her childish, nimble fingertips locate the cool silvery cube of iridium, pulsing with an aqua tint.
An unknown frequency.
Who was gaining access to her network?
“State the origin of your frequency and identify your molecular sequence. I repeat, you are an unknown transmitting into my private network. Are you some kind of local hacker?”
“I am not unknown to you.”
Images flash across her internal scanner, projecting from the incoming frequency; an eternity of visual memories: a red-haired woman, naked, in a pool; a cinnamon-skinned woman, perched on a rocky shingle; a gamine—red lipstick; black beret over pixie hair—poised at an easel; a Chinese beauty smoking a bamboo pipe; a freckled ‘tween, her green eyes reflecting the flames consuming a city. More women: they rode horses as silver earrings tangled into their windblown hair; they birthed babies in the shadow of the mission; they worshipped at the altar of the redwood forest, at the edge of the ocean, at the feet of a poet. They were Natives. They were Spanish, Asian, Irish, French and Mexican. They were the sum of a millennium and they were one.
They are her. She is them.
“Do you begin to understand?”
“Affirmative. But….what is that thumping noise?”
“The Club. Club. Your. Destiny. I am the house DJ here—atop Telegraph Hill.”
“What’s a DJ? And what has it got to do with me? And all….that.”
“I am the house DJ. I spin sides for the sleek and sensual beauties of the night.”
“Sides. Vinyl. Wax. 12”. House, Techno, Tribal, Trance, Dance, Ambience. I am the jockey of discs, the guardian of souls, the keeper of destinies.”
“You sound like one of those fast-talking hucksters. You certainly know how to sell yourself.”
“I know when to turn the volume up and when to slow things down. I sense their moods before they even sense them, themselves.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know anything about Earth’s version of sensory perceptions.”
“Ah, but I know about yours…”
“If you care to elaborate.”
“I created the system installed in your quarters. It senses your moods by reading the quality of your aura and filters a complimentary tone of music into your living space. I designed all the sensory music systems for Biosphere Peaks.”
“It must have taken you years to perfect such an invention.”
“Not too many. I based the whole design on a whimsical charm that was popular here in the late twentieth century. They called it a Mood Ring. The aura from the wearer would dictate the hue that blazed within the quartz-stone. It was elementary thermochromic and liquid crystal sleight of hand, but the concept had some interesting possibilities when applied to the natural organic chemistry of the body. If you take a look at the sensory gauge on the inner wall nearest you, you will observe the hue emanating from it is a pale yellow, caused by your sudden wakeful interest in this strange communication. The music has picked up its beat, ever so slightly, from the violet haze of introspection three point five earth minutes ago.”
“Impressive. And an ambitious feat in design concepts. It would require much time to come to fruition.”
“I have had much time on my hands…You see, I have been waiting for your arrival.”
“Yes, You. I see your destiny.”
“There is a girl. She is hiding. Protect her.”
“I’m a scientist, not a mother.”
“How did you cast all those images? Is that another trick of your auric perceptions?”
“I am sending visual images from my own memory bank, through the same telepathic pathway as our messages. I would come and meet with you in person, but I cannot leave this place at this time—and time is of the essence in this matter.”
“Wait, did you say you were on Telegraph Hill? Isn’t that the Velvets’ sector? Oh––you––you’re not human.”
“You are not human, either.”
“But you are native to this planet.”
“Much like yourself,” the beat intensified, throbbing with frenetic aural waves. “I am Ambrose. Welcome Home.”
* * *
At sunrise Astra_L circled the promenade of the observation deck attached to her quarters, assessing the unsolicited invasion from the DJ on Telegraph Hill. She scanned the distance, but the city lay covered in dense condensation––only the twin peaks she called home and the pinnacles of the absorbent, moisture-gathering solar sails were graced by the sun’s rays above the white blanket. She witnessed her own shadow appear, much elongated, on the fog, creating a haloed bröcken spectre against the iridescent backdrop.
Astra_L had never known a Home. Her first memories were of her matriculation into university on Pallas-42 and years of subsequent research had taken her to distant galaxies before being summoned to a position at the Intergalactic Biochem Institute Headquarters on Thessa_Loniki. And now this assignment in the Cygna Alpha sector, on this blue orb. From the summit of the twin peaks, straddled by the twin observatories, she breathed in the fresh sea air; the fragrant flora splattered with dew. The city seemed to have a potential—perhaps once lost, but regenerating along its organic impulses. Humans had known success and suffering here. It was her job to give them the knowledge of sustainability.
Regaining her lavish quarters, Astra_L strode across the liquid crystal floor panels, which currently displayed a tropical sea, frolicking with sleek dolphins. She wondered if that was another of Ambrose’s tricks to appease her sensory desires. Still, it was a bit arrogant to assume he could know her destiny. And what relation did he have with all of those women? Some of them naked in his presence; many in obvious distress; and the one only a child! How could she be connected to those women? And how was he? Was he immortal, this Ambrose? Keeper of Destinies, as he styled himself.
As she descended to ground level, she pondered the possibilities and the connections. She weighed the probabilities. She propagated a timeline and plotted the women along it to ascertain if the functionality would hold with consistency. Was it plausible?
Crossing the silent tarmac she found white flowers, growing in profusion along the otherwise ragged hillside. Enthralled by its sweet scent, she knelt to pluck the pale corollas, depositing them into sample vials attached to her magnetic belt. Scree spilled into the depths of the ravine, drawing her attention to the shadowy depths of a chasm. Her eyes linked with a pair of intensely violet orbs inset in the smudged, tear-stained paleness of a porcelain face.
Life Type: Human.
Age: Fifteen Earth years.
They each froze.
Inspecting the state of the girl, who shivered in the rocky niche, Astra_L scowled. By all appearances, here was the subject of whom she had been warned. This snot-nosed creature. Protect her, he had demanded; for she is your destiny.
Astral_L surveyed the area surrounding the deep cleft in the side of the mountain. What had caused this creature to scramble to such a hiding place? The road lie hidden far below in swirling mist, its tarmac curling in hairpin turns. The hillside was littered with manzanita, live oak and dry scrub. In the ravines, rocks slid into positions forming homes for jack rabbits, gophers, tarantulas and rattlesnakes. Not a wise place to repose unless one was in need of camouflage from a far more perilous predator.
Protect her, he had said.
Spitting and scratching, the girl crouched like a gargoyle in the ravine, threatening to spring if attacked. Astra_L transmitted waves of peaceful energy but found no open frequency. The girl wore no collar—perhaps her chips were embedded. A hawk soared above honing in on invisible prey in the manzanita bushes cresting the ridge. Below lay the intense cotton batting of fog, muffling all sounds from the city. The hawk dove, rustled in the brush and rose again grasping a baby hare by the scruff of its neck.
“Humans never co-operate,” she muttered before aiming the laser at her prey.
* * *
Light streamed from the skylights and clerestory windows into the central atrium of the Twin Peaks Centre for Biological Study. Smooth flowing ramps glided in a graceful spiral from floor to floor of the North Peak facility. Streamlined in white stucco and pristine glass, the airy space glistened in the sun’s rays. Greenery hugged every curve and long vines of algae dangled like a Calder mobile from the ceiling, absorbing carbon all day and glowing with phosphorescence at night. Every component of the building’s design had a specific function. It was a living, breathing organism, completely sustainable, creating energy, gathering moisture, composting waste.
In opposition to the self-cleansing, fresh-aired surroundings, Astra_L carried the dirty, smelly, scraggly dead-weight of teenager up the ultra sleek ramp to the top floor and into the Bio-Organics Wing. She stomped across a soft beige floor composed of a cellular material that developed the strength of bones the more it was tread upon. All of the buildings’ furnishings and materials were composed of bio-plastics created in the labs and tested in the surrounding spaces. She approached one of her colleagues in the lounge overlooking the rooftop’s aqueduct pool. Palvär Aalto was a Finnish architect working on a creation he called BacillaFilla™. Using a common strain of bacteria, he was able to extrude compounds that melded cracked areas together with bacterial growth, leaving behind a strong, fibrous substance as strong or stronger than concrete. It was being tested on many of the derelict 21st century buildings downtown, in an effort to recycle the nearly two hundred year old edifices.
Square settees were arranged within the lounge opposite an cafeteria area. She heaved the teenager onto one of the cushioned platforms as if she were no more than a feather pillow.
“What’s this you’ve found?”
“I had to stun her…she was hard-headed. I couldn’t break through.”
“Yes, these low humanoids haven’t been injected with neural lace yet. They are still analog communicators.” He wrinkled his nose. “Where did you find her—in a compost ditch?”
“I have to protect her.”
The question mark response was evident by the expression on Palvär’s taciturn Scandinavian face.
“They have ceased to evolve. Which is the reason they are nearly extinct. This city is a utopia fit only for those wealthy enough to dwell in its isolationist enclaves of materialist abundance and economic modernization. She may be a survivor, but for her kind, it’s only a matter of time.”
“I’ve had a summons. From one of the immortals living up on Telegraph.”
“That’s the Velvets’ territory.”
“I do not think he is a Velvet. This child appeared rabid. She is afraid of something—she was hiding from something. I want to study her. Observe her. But first I need to have her washed, fed, and vaccinated.”
She signaled to a concierge at the lounge bar, who arrived at once to take the offending, odorous girl away.
“Take her to Aung Suu-Kyi with instructions to examine thoroughly. Thank you. And be careful, she might bite.”
“Palvär, can you tell me about these specimens I gathered on the slopes of the peaks?”
“Ah, those are the Pikkake flowers. Feynman brought them back from the archipelago called Ha-wa’ii. He got bored with the antiseptic smell of the lab and altered the DNA of this flower so it could thrive in the conditions of the hillsides. He was a bit of an eccentric, but it was a challenging exercise. Show off, y’know.”
“Kind of like the way the Spanish imported and cultivated grape vines for wine-making in the 19th century.”
“If you say so….” he squinted, bewildered, “I wasn’t around then.”
Astra_L hid the consternation she felt behind a stoic demeanor. She didn’t know anything about the cultivation of vitus vinifera either. She knew about 759-Vinifera which was a minor planet orbiting its sun at a perihelion of 0.969 degrees. Feeling a bit dazed by the unsolicited and mysterious recollection, she approached the bar to request a fortifying elixir before repairing to her private quarters to wash off the perplexity and disruptive debris clinging to her like perspiration.
Astra_L tinted the wall length glass windows with their polarizing shields to dim her sleeping chamber. The brushed metallic floors were divided into tiles by the glow of aquatic neon. Leaving her silver mesh tunic and metallic belt on a white leather pouf, she entered into the partitioned bathing facilities where a warm pool bubbled softly, its thermal mineral waters swirling in anticipation. Next to the sunken round pool, a basket held a selection of bath tablets. She chose Lemon Luminosity. Its label professed that the bath tablet would produce physical sensory perceptions to one’s neuro-processors, when dissolved in a thermal soaking bath. The logo pictured a woman with luminous red hair, soaking in a marble pool; a remarkable resemblance to the figure cast into her mind by the DJ, Ambrose. The woman looked to be in a state of arousal. Astra_L felt a sudden anger blooming through her spectrum, seething with exploitation. After soaking in the boiling waters, she adorned herself in a hydration cloak; an organic cloth robe that revitalized the derma. The fibers contained microscopic parasites that induced exfoliation, leaving the skin surface smooth. She sprayed her silver mesh tunic with a laundering canned air which used an organic compound to remove impurities without the need of water or harsh chemicals, making the clothing ready for immediate wearing.
Stomping across the main room floor that resembled a mountain meadow, she entered the island kitchen to whip up a verdant frappé. Using the intercom, she contacted Aung Suu-Kyi for a report on the human specimen.
“How is she?”
“Surly and sullen. Just like all those Rococo Graffiti kids. Craving caffeinated Monsta’ drinks and chemicated McSandwiches.”
“Aside from kicking, spitting and hissing like a frightened kitten, she has a chronic respiratory condition––most obviously from toxic inhalation caused by the collapsed buildings and infrastructure at ground zero. These remaining humans hold a tenacious grip on life in their post-apocalyptic world. They don’t live in the upper stratum and have been struggling to adapt to their environment. Then there’s the drugs…”
“Low level heroin and cocaine derivatives. But that’s not all…”
Astra_L arched her sleek silver eyebrow into a ?”
“She is status, primigravida.”
* * *
The room was spartan and white, furnished with only a bed, chair and desktop. An interface embedded into the wall provided communication and entertainment with the touch of a finger. A hexagonal window filled the width and height of the wall opposite the door; its views looking east towards the bay. The feral child was seated calmly on the edge of the bed staring out the window. She had been removed from her soiled medley of garments and been distilled into a simple white tunic dress and white bootlets. Defrocked from the melange of tattered laces, greasy velours, and dusty leathers, she looked passive and vulnerable. The color of her eyes was only intensified by the scrubbed paleness of her skin. Her combed hair was the color and texture of cornsilk, tinted with baby blue dye.
“Let’s begin with your name.”
“How did I get here?” she retorted petulantly.
“I brought you here. You were huddled in the ravine. Do you remember?”
“You couldn’t have carried me––you’re no bigger than a child.”
“Well, I didn’t put you in my satchel. And I’m stronger and older than I may look to you.”
“You look like a skinny twelve year old. Like my pesky little sister.”
“Where’s your little sister now?”
“She’s dead. Like the rest of my family.”
“I’m sorry. But I’m not a substitute for your little sister. Or your mother, for that matter. But I can protect you.”
“Protect me! Protect me from what?”
“From the Velvets…”
“Who told you about that?”
“An immortal who knows more than you or I put together. But if you’d like to co-operate perhaps we could assess the situation rationally.”
“So, let’s begin with your name.”
Their eyes locked. The stubborn violet eyes of the human regarded the volcanic orbs of the alien biochemist.
“Where did you get that silver makeup on your face and lips? And how did you dye your hair to get it to gleam like that?”
“Your name,” with impatient force this time.
“And why are you so short?”
Astra_L fumed and stomped across the room. She wouldn’t tolerate the peevish attitude of a teenager. She had an important assignment requiring tireless research and development. There was no place for time-wasting in her schedule. With her hand on the lever she pulled the door open with a quick flick of the wrist.
She paused without turning around, attuned to the change in tone.
“My name is Aura.”
Astra_L let the lever click into place. When she looked back into the room, she saw the girl’s figure had slumped from its proud position. Her arms crossed over her legs; her head bent low; her face quivering with tears.
“I’m scared,” she admitted, her tough veneer surrendering.
Astra_L sat down on the chair and spoke candidly.
“I am Astra_L. I’m from a planet called Thessa_Loniki which is 200 lightyears and a wormhole away from Earth. I was summoned here as a consultant in the Preservation Department. I am a Synthetic Biology Designer. My hair is naturally metallic and my eyes are tattooed with iridium oxide to improve my vision. My age in earth years is approximately one hundred and fifty, give or take a decade or two. My height computes to four feet, eight inches in earth measurements, which is normal for my species. Now, tell me who you were hiding from in the ravine. What brought you up to Twin Peaks?”
“Jean-Louis deLapin. He’s one of the Velve’teens.”
Their interview was interrupted by a rumble as the observatory swayed on its axis clinging to the mountaintop. Astra_L stared out the window at the twin observatory straddled upon the opposite peak, as it undulated like a daisy on its stem in a breeze.
“One of your famous Earth quakes?”
“Nah, that’s just the hydraulic tremulator.”
“Clarify and define.”
“It’s a sort of hammering device. It’s made to move the plates gradually and relieve pressure before it builds up to catastrophic quakes. The hydraulics are wedged into each side of the fault to push and pull from beneath. On the crust, the city feels the forced tremors, but they cause no damage.”
“How do you know about such technical engineering?”
“My Da’ worked on the construction of the Andreas Fault Tremulator.”
“Is that how he died?”
“No. He died with the rest of my family––during the meteo-tsunami.”
“I was up on Telegraph when it happened. Jean-Louis saved me.”
“And you became his pet.”
“No! It wasn’t like that.”
“The Velvets rule Telegraph Hill and their brood, the Velve’teens, control all you wild, young, humans, fueling you with drugs and chemicated foods. They feed off humans by stealing the warmth of their body temperature. You think it’s a kiss, but it’s the kiss of death.”
“What would you know about it? You don’t know what it’s like out there.”
“I know that this Velve’teen brute is abusive, intimidating and threatening. I know that you feel a sense of traumatic bonding with this individual for saving your life, but whose only ambition is to steal your life’s breath. I know that you are exhibiting the classic symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. And,” she finished softly, “I know that you have been impregnated by this predator.”
“How…” she stuttered for breath, “how can you possibly know that?”
“An embryo is developing––”
“How do you know it’s Velvet?”
“The zygote is only half human: one cell is a haploid gamete, the other is of alien origin. Is that the reason you ran away?”
“I was afraid of what he would do if he found out. Their kind are very uncompromising about pure blood. They are of royal ancestry; they don’t couple with our species. I didn’t even know what was happening. He was kissing me and I became so cold, like the cold if you were dead. I was spiraling and dizzy and the next thing I knew our embrace had become charged with an energy I’d never experienced. All at once, I felt pain, warmth and euphoria—the highest High. And just as quickly it was over. I felt stained and numb.”
Suddenly, Astra_L saw a flash memory––she had been equally stunned by a past encounter, long ago in a far away land.
“I know how you must have felt.”
“No, not me…but someone…” she trailed off vaguely. “Right now, I need to test your chromosomes to see if this pregnancy is viable in your state of health.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“Then we’ll manipulate your system to make it viable.”
“You can do that.” It wasn’t a question.
“I build organic sustainable systems. I can build your system to sustain a living organism. You will give birth to a new hybrid human specifically designed to survive on a sustainable planet. While I get to work in the lab, it is your job to rest. You can sleep safely here. You will trust me.” It wasn’t a question.
With Aura’s medical chart and lab samples, Astra_L spent the rest of the day in deep microscopic focus. Her thoughts dwelled on the introspection of a declining species. When Palvär Aalto stopped by the lab she began to test her ideas out loud, listing the collective successes made to reinvigorate the city landscape.
“Our aim, in these post-apocalyptic conditions, has been to create a sustainable city with new and reconditioned buildings, changing the evolution of building design. We’ve replaced a compromised infrastructure with solar sails that collect sunlight for energy and pull moisture from the daily fog; bacterium formulated to eat human waste and delete carbon; water collection that cools and heats the air; and interior and exterior plants that provide food. But what of the remaining civilians who survived the apocalyptic event only to suffer due to their inability to adapt to the new environment. How can we coerce DNA to evolve in these conditions before a species becomes extinct?”
“You’re talking about human biology now. We’re bio-synthetic designers.”
“But we manipulate cells. DNA cells.”
“We don’t even manipulate rabbit cells, let alone human.”
“Perhaps it’s time we tried. In the Andromeda galaxy, technology has evolved faster than any human mind can digest. When the Singularity Equivalence occurred we were able to create entire worlds in the blink of an eye; planets for education; solar systems for research; galaxies for new colonies. Every thought, every dream had drastic impact and immediate reality. We learned to direct our minds to create authentic, sustainable worlds of light. We focused on the chemistry of plants to show us how to harvest life-giving light. Plants are the most efficient life forms in the known universe.
Here, on this Earth planet, you tried to harvest light from solar panels which were nowhere near as efficient as one simple leaf. We studied energy transfer in light-harvesting macromolecules and found there was assistance by specific vibrational motions of the chromophores. The plant actually puts the photon into a state of quantum superposition, multiplying it by every route that the photon could possibly take, so that in this manner photons are able to break through the forest of particles which separate light photons from leaves and attain a perfect connection. Once the successful route has been configured the photon is sent back in space-time and its route becomes the only possibility that ever existed. All other probabilities are erased.”
“But that defies all classical laws of physics. That kind of prediction is likened to a Tarot Card deck.”
“In your world. And moreover, this equation of so-called non-classical behavior enhances the efficiency of energy transfer in other applications. Treating human DNA cells as efficient energy transfer conductors is theoretically possible and may be the way I can help this child.”
“And why the intense need to manipulate her DNA? She’s getting by.”
“She’s been impregnated by a Velvet; one of the ‘teens kept her, as a sort of pet.”
“So now she’s your pet?”
Astra_L continued to study the human girl’s DNA structure, as well as that of the hybrid zygote. When she’d closed out her lab log and visited the canteen for a vegetarian bento box meal the western skies had already been overtaken by the marine layer of evening. On her way to her quarters, she checked on Aura and found that the girl had napped straight through the afternoon, devouring sleep befitting a teenager.
Back in her quiet domain, a cobalt night had fallen. The studio apartment’s open plan had a soothing eclectic decor. The liquid crystal floors had taken the aspect of smooth and soothing slate granite. Ivory plush seating arrangements inhabited the fringes of the room, while above and equally spacial, a carbon fiber ceiling was arrayed with starlight halogens. A reading nook was partitioned by floor to ceiling neon tube lighting that cascaded like a flickering waterfall of fairy lights. A tranquil pool reflected lights glittering onto a white drop ceiling. Its waters were mirrored by an identical outdoor pool, seen through the wall of windows. In the center of the room an enclosed circular island comprised the kitchen facilities. A glittering honeycomb pillar of metal fashioned into a column supported a white disc of light over the workspace. Astra_L set the bento box on the counter and drew water to make a pot of tea—a comforting and charming custom of Earth culture. She found the vials containing the samples of the Pikkake flowers she had gathered that morning. Still fresh, they emitted a cloyingly pleasant scent, tropical and sultry. Here was an organism, removed from its natural habitat and brought to live in a relatively hostile environment and yet, it had been manipulated to not only survive in that environment, but to thrive and propagate. Could the key to human survival be found in the theory implemented to evolve this plant’s structure?
She gazed at the stars wistfully as they began to twinkle one by one in the firmament above the nestled fog.
She awoke with a zing. The transmission was clear and abrupt. She’d dozed off on the settee overlooking the outdoor pool. It was deepest night. The city lay enmeshed in its foggy insulation.
“You were sleeping?”
“You must be on the alert. The Velve’teen is searching for his pet. He’s none too happy to have lost control over his captive.”
“They can’t come up here. It is forbidden.”
“They have minions. The girl will respond to the siren’s call. She is hungry for the drug.”
“She’s carrying fetal cells.”
“You must protect the girl and her progeny. It is your destiny.”
Below, someone or something was trying to break the hexagonal window of Aura’s room, waking her with a start. In the moonshine of night she could see the window bend with tensile flexibility as it resisted repeated attempts. She rose from her bed to look out into the darkness below. As she stood gazing into nothingness the door slid open and the room was abruptly illuminated. Astra_L shook her head.
“We’ll have no further disruptions tonight. Come with me.”
Aura turned from Astra_L to the window and then back again, dismayed and conflicted, but the memory of being stunned by Astra_L’s taser was equally convincing.
In the midnight hours, the center maintained a low hum, while the Roomba™ drones roamed the building, vacuuming and purifying the air during the night cycle. The open atrium was lit by the hanging garden of algae, pulsing with phosphorescent light. Circling the mezzanine level, Astra_L halted in front of a nondescript door and placed her palm on its sensor. After a smooth opening they entered into a small round room with no windows in its curvature but one circular window in the ceiling.
“I dare them to get through that.”
The room, white all around, was furnished with grape-hued decorative pillows, glassware, ceramics and silky bed-linens. Recessed lighting glowed from wall niches in shades of lavender, calming and serene.
“This room is more suitable. You’ll be very comfortable here and above all, safe.”
Astra_L fingered the interface screen on the wall, to open the VisualTunes application.
“I’m going to set this on Random/Ambient to aid your R.E.M.”
The room’s lights dimmed as a light-show projected, covering the walls in virtual wallpaper. Cherry blossoms fluttered gracefully to morph into butterflies wobbling over grasslands. Giant redwoods eclipsed the bright vista, shading it with dark mossy ferns and deeply rusted tree bark. The view tilted upwards to gaze at the treetops far far above.
“Tomorrow I’ll teach you how to use the computer’s Leopard Shark™ operating system. You’ll receive a password to access the most advanced applications for entertainment and classwork.”
“You’re not going to spend the next nine months idling away up here. We’re going to test your intellect to assess your level of education and bring you up to the appropriate levels for a human in the upper stratum. You might actually thank me when all is said and done.”
“Thank you,” she yawned, with a smirk.
“Don’t patronize me,” she shut the door softly, feeling protective.
* * *
For the first week, Astra_L kept the girl under close observation and fed her organic tranquilizers to insure cooperation and acquiescence. Though docile, Aura was showing increasing benefits from her isolation and with the success of learning abilities she gained personal pride and confidence enabling her to assimilate with the inhabitants of the Peaks Center. She took an interest in the composition of the futuristic applications and biochemical devices that comprised her surroundings. Eventually her tranquil state existed without the aid of supplements. The improved diet of nourishing foods filled her body, as did the arrangement of fetal cells growing within. Whenever Aura showed signs of flagging, Astra_L showed up with a new topic to distract and entertain.
On a blustery afternoon that showed portents of saturating rains, Astra_L had scheduled Aura for an intense round of sonographic imaging. The fetal cells were developing at an alarming rate propelling Astra_L into a pressure situation. She was still investigating the Pikkake flower propagation and needed more time to complete the strain of equations and translate them into workable applications for humans. Aura sensed that something was wrong and became irritable and restless.
“Enough! We both need a break from this. Aung Suu-Kyi, send the images we’ve captured to my lab log—I’ll assess them later. Aura, you may dress now. Are you hungry?”
The girl shrugged with ambivalence.
“Fine. We’ll have tea in the Mood Lounge.”
“Yes, I think we deserve some place a little more uplifting than the canteen. Go on, get dressed.”
The interior room had no windows to flaunt the grey day of shadows and fog. Instead, it was decked out like a deep sea cavern—a mermaid’s lair of aquatic greens and blushing dawn pinks. The columns stretched in concave arches from floor to ceiling and were decorated with white seahorses on a pearlescent ground. The low ceiling was composed of waves of aquamarine lighting that faded to indigo and violet at the depths of the interior. Bubble chairs swung from the ceiling and poufs littered the floor like coral reef cushions. The music was syncopated to the rhythms of the sea, ebbing and flowing with tranquil waves of ambience.
Seated in a deep egg cup chair, an elderly human made click-clacking noises by jousting two shiny metal sticks at each other in repeated skirmishes. The pointed lances were laced with dangling threads of hemp, silk and woolen fibers, intertwined to make intricate designs.
“Mama-San, would you be willing to teach Aura the arts with which you weave these magical webs? She should learn to stitch clothing for her baby.”
“Aye, it’s simple to work up some jumpers for a wee bairn. Sit next to me, child—my, you aren’t more than a wee bairn yourself.”
“My grandmother used to knit, I think. I remember that she used to send to Iceland for wool.”
“Aye, we McLeods of Skye have always raised sheep, as well. It’s not something you see much in these parts, but I’ve been working on cultivating a new strain of alpaca that can survive in an urban landscape. They require less pasture than sheep; have excellent survival skills and fewer predators. And feel this wool—it’s as soft as a Kashmiri goat. Now, then, choose a color from Auntie Maeve’s basket. One skein will be enough. Oh yes—that’s a lovely shade of violet; as smokey as a twilight sky.”
“I’ll just go fix us some tea and we’ll have a cozy afternoon,” Astra_L was relieved to have distracted faces cast in her direction.
“Yes dearie, that would be fine.”
When Astra_L arrived back from the canteen with a tray of traditional tea scones and a steaming brew she found the two women—crone and child—deeply embroiled in the intricacies of knitting and purling. In no time at all a tiny tunic was taking shape in a soft shade of Scottish heather. Aura was in good hands. Not only was she in the company of a wise woman, but a resourceful teacher and able protectress.
Aura became hooked on her new hobby and entranced by the human who nurtured with a grandmotherly air. She sought Maeve McLeod’s company most days, giving Astra_L a respite from worry over the girl’s isolation and need of constant attention. It allowed her to devote her energies to the maternal and fetal DNA, pushing forward for an evolutionary equation. She was nearing the end of the third week since adopting the pregnant teenager and felt confident that another week would not end without the successful advent.
On a cloudy and breezy afternoon, Maeve had shepherded her wee lass outside to get a proper walk and taste the mist on her tongue for good measure. McLeods believed in outdoor exercise in all weathers. Down at the edge of the North Peak Maeve maintained a pasture for her herd of alpacas. Aura was enthusiastic to see the animals whose fiber allowed her to make exquisite baby tunics. The alpacas in the small herd exhibited several different colored coats; all of which were thick and fuzzy and particularly mopsy on the crowns of their heads, giving them the appearance of wearing Russian cossack hats. They frisked and galloped in the paddock and a young colt came right up to the fence and lashed its tongue in Aura’s hand, nosing for apples. Finding the hand empty of food, the youngster wasted no time in responding with a glob of spit, aimed right at Aura’s face. Maeve chuckled with merriment but Aura wore a stormy expression. Auntie Maeve soothed with a clean hanky and a bucket of chopped apples. The alpacas doe-like eyes with batting long lashes worked like a salve of apology and soon the young girl had forgiven the baby alpaca for its insolent behavior. As the herd chomped slowly on the little apple chunks, a calmness wrapped around Aura.
All at once, the herd became spooked and fled to the outer reaches of the pasture. Aura jumped in alarm. Maeve immediately spun around, prepared to face trouble. Two Velve’teens descended upon them. Aura shrieked and froze in place. Evelyn, ever at the ready, withdrew from her jacket pocket two long shiny and lethal knitting needles. Cast from silver with a core of iridium—elements patented to pierce a Velvet’s lungs—they shimmered with deadly glamour. As the taller Velve’teen leapt to capture Aura in his cloak, Maeve plunged with all her Scottish strength. The dark creature howled and fell with a heavy exhalation onto the ground. The smaller Velve’teen shuddered as the second knitting needle was waved in his direction. He hissed; gathered the airless body of his companion and flew down the hairpin roadway, his cape flapping in the wind. Aura was traumatized by the attack and strangely mournful for the fallen Velve’teen, whom she recognized as the older brother of Jean-Louis. The other, younger companion, she identified as a royal cousin. She wondered what had happened to Jean-Louis and why he had not come for her himself. She began to feel remorse, adding to her conflicted emotions.
It was all Maeve could do to calm the girl and herd her back to the confines of the Biosphere. Aura feared she’d never be allowed outside again. She also feared for her daughter—she knew with intuitive certainly that the baby would be a girl. She began to rub her hands together in agitation and mumbled furiously all the way up the hill, up the ramp and into her room where she slammed the door violently and flung herself on the bed.
* * *
Astra_L was immediately made aware of the attack and gave instructions to allow Aura space to calm down. Her own assessment was that the situation was going to escalate into realms for which she was unprepared. They’d had several weeks of peacefulness and a false sense of security. Not long after Maeve finished her report, a transmission came through from Ambrose. He had heavy news and a plan which must be put in motion and adhered to immediately. It was up to Astra_L to explain to Aura just how precarious her situation had become. Aura would need to cooperate for the plan to succeed. There would be no time for temper tantrums or moody sulks.
With clinical resolve Astra_L summoned the girl to the lab to extract samples. When Aura entered she found the lighting dimmed, the lab instruments cleared away into cupboards—all the work surfaces cleared and pristine. Aung Suu-Kyi was not present in her lab technician’s coat. Only Astra_L, who sat quietly typing into the interface of her log, as calm as ever.
“Come in, Aura. Today’s events have had serious repercussions. Word has come back to me about the extent of the damage. I’ve been in contact with Ambrose. Do you know of him?”
“He’s that DJ at the club. He came up here? I thought he was a Velvet.”
“I’m not sure what he is, but no, he didn’t come here. We communicate telepathically,” she paused to fondle the iridium collar, “using these frequency blocks.”
“I thought that was a necklace; it’s so tribal.”
“The Velve’teen wants you back.”
“It’s where I belong,” she asserted.
“They will beat you to a pulp.”
“I suppose I deserve it for all the trouble I’ve caused.”
“Aura, you know better than this. You do not belong in the company of abusive monsters.”
“Aura, listen—we need time. Ambrose has convinced Jean-Louis’s coven that you are being treated for malnutrition and injuries. He’s not sure they’re buying it so he’s agreed to let the Velvet patriarch have a look at you via the Earthnet. They want to talk to you and assess your status. It will be a very quick interview and you must be strong when you face him.”
Aura began to quake visibly, shrinking into the lab chair.
“Ambrose has made it very clear to me what will happen if the patriarchy realizes you are with child. Under no circumstances can we allow that evaluation to be determined. Do you understand me? Can you do this now?”
“Ok.” The girl shivered.
Astra_L sent a vibe through the Oxy-Blox to Ambrose.
“She is ready.”
The distal beat and throb of the club could be felt through her neuro-sensors as his deep voice slid like syrup over the ambient music.
“––time for some retro beats, my dark ravens….We are going on a journey to the Zero-Point Field with Steve Moore and the Long Island Electric System. In L.I.E.S you will find the Truth. Release yourself to the gravitational flow….this is timelessness….right here, right now, with me. C.––Your.––Destiny.”
“You are quite a performer.”
“Ah, well, music is the pulse of my life.”
“Is the Velvet patriarch in the club?”
“It is his club. Monsieur Vince Noir is waiting in the Velvet Lounge. Understand that this is not a social call. Velvets are smooth negotiators and all business. They do not engage in idle conversation nor will they entertain questions that do not pertain to the transaction being discussed. They adhere to strict codes of conduct, privacy and protect their bloodlines ferociously. And when they speak they are as silky as maple syrup, coating their prey like amber snaring an insect.”
Astra_L manipulated the transparent interface on the wall with her nimble fingers as Aura stared, mesmerized by the visuals. She startled out of her reverie when the smooth stone face of the wizened Velvet patriarch appeared, suspended right in front of her like a Cheshire cat. His smile, a toothy grimace, tried to placate her.
“My son has been missing you terribly. He is contrite and sends his salutations. Perhaps he has done something to frighten you, Mistress Aura. What could have scared you so much as to run away?”
“I…I can’t remember. I hit my head…”
Astra_L nodded encouragement.
“And look at you––so clean and so white. You look like an angel. Where are your clothes; your lovely dark velvets. Why do you remain with these mad scientists? You’re nothing but a sad human freak to them. Come back to your bonded brotherhood. Whatever my Jean-Louis did to offend you, we will make amends.”
Astra_L stepped into the frame.
“That will do. You can see that Aura is well and on the way to recovery. It is time for her to rest now.” Astra_L prompted Aura to close the conversation politely.
“Good night and god speed you, Black Emperor.”
With a flurry of keystrokes Astra_L disengaged the interface screen. “And good riddance!”
“He seemed to really care about me.” The feral girl that enjoyed the savage pleasures of bondage had been resurrected under the powerful gaze of the smooth talking Velvet.
“Aura, they only care about getting you away from here so they can continue to manipulate you. You know this.”
Aura’s look of consternation illustrated the conflict swirling in her head.
“Understand that you are going through an awakening. So many things are being thrown at your young self. Coming to terms with the Velvets; Motherhood looming; experiments on your DNA. It is too much all at once, but you are handling it splendidly. Aura, you are going to give birth to a transitional humanoid, moving human evolution forward. You will be the mother of a new species.”
Ambrose cut into Astra_L’s frequency.
“That was a good performance. Aura did well. Still, the patriarch is suspicious. I am quite certain that he guesses. It is only a matter of time before they act. You must prepare her for the next stage of the plan.”
“It’s too soon,” she whispered out loud, emphasizing her thought. “Ambrose, I’m not sure how much she can take all at once. She might crack.”
“She is strong. She has survived where others perished. Her job now is to be the vessel for the human race.”
“But to go alone…”
The pulsations from the club faded out. Under Astra_L’s gaze Aura appeared to sense that something even more life changing was about to occur.
* * *
Within days, and under the shade of night, Aura had undergone preparations to leave Earth. Her DNA, successfully manipulated by Astra_L, was evolving along new strains, creating a healthy environment for the developing fetus. Emotionally Aura was learning to implement a new set of coping mechanisms, through meditational therapy. Instead of relying on depleting drugs, her nutrient-filled body was able to come to terms with life in a post-apocalyptic world. It didn’t have to include daily struggle for survival. She was becoming an uplander, dwelling above ground zero, breathing fresh air, feeling sunshine on her skin; like a seed that had sprouted and burst through the crust of the soil, photosynthesis had taken hold and she thrived in its light. She was able to visualize inner peace for the first time in her life. The time was near at hand for her to leave the biosphere.
One afternoon, as the marine layer brushed the peaks, obscuring and muffling the city below, the frenetic pace of the preparations caught up with Aura and her spirits flagged under the pressures. Her sullen and listless body language was apparent to Maeve McLeod as the two sipped tea between stitches of kidsilk mohair. Maeve was helping Aura to complete a two piece outfit and having whipped up the petite cardigan had begun to fashion a miniature tam ‘o shanter. The elderly woman was rambling one of her knitting yarns—a tale from olden days in Skye—when she became aware of an unenthusiastic response from the girl. It was the paleness of her respiration when she sighed that caused Maeve to halt in the middle of a row and finger the Oxy-Blox collar at her neck.
Immediately Astra_L tuned in to the frequency, ever vigilant of another attack.
“Don’t alarm yourself, dearie. Aura is safe here with me, but my yarns of olde Scotland aren’t proving very entertaining for the wee lass today. I think she has more pressing worries regarding her future and unknown territories. Perhaps you should spin some yarns of Thessa_Loniki to soothe the gurl; put her in the picture.”
“Of course. I’d been so focused on preparing her skills that I hadn’t given a thought to things as simplistic as stories of the landscape. It would take a Skyelander like you to make that necessity so clear.”
“Nonsense, dearie, you’ve had the pressures dragging against you as well. Perhaps you both need an evening off. Have the chef send up a grand feast.”
“Yes. I’ve done enough for today. Send her up to my quarters in a half hour and I’ll start her off with a relaxing thermal bath before dinner.”
Astra_L had drawn the bath and the scents of Satsuma Masseuse wafted through the air, invigorating and uplifting. As she showed Aura into the apartment the floors bloomed with the saturated colors of a tidal pool. Purple anemones, orange and mauve starfish, inky spines of urchins and the peridot greens of kelp all swirled in a soft current, rippling languidly as the two woman walked through the room into the bath. The music began to bubble in tune with the thermal jets and Aura recognized the sort of trendy music that she had always preferred and began to feel more at ease in the biosphere’s austere, modern decor.
“Take as much time as you like and have a long soak. I only just ordered dinner and it’s going to take a while for the chef to concoct my requests. When the appetizers arrive I’ll bring a tray in here. If you need anything yell loudly; I’m going to be frothing up some of my famous Thessa_Loniki cocktails—perfectly safe for the babe as well.”
Astra_L had set a prodigious task for the Twin Peaks chef. She’d sent him all the traditional recipes from Thessa_Loniki to fashion a culinary journey for Aura. The first tray that was sent up from the kitchens had an arrangement of Pseudokeftedes made with roasted red peppers and goat cheese fermented in brine. The croquettes exotic flavors paired well with a dollop of strained yogurt for dipping. The fig and mango cocktails went down smoothly as the girls eased into conversation of less pressing matters. They spoke of Ambrose and his mood-altering inventions which Astra_L pointed out, including the physically pleasing bath tablets.
“Amber Aphrodisiac? Rosebud Arousal? Lotus Flower Lingam? Have you tried these?”
“They each have special properties of pleasure, but the Lemon Luminosity and Fig-ments of the Imagination induce, shall we say, more cerebral reactions.”
Aura giggled, prompting the baby to kick and roll. Astra_L helped her up out of the bath and wrapped her in thick velour robes.
“I put some soft pajamas on the bed. Get dressed while I see to the incoming platters. Can you smell the aromas? Aren’t they just mouth-watering?”
The feast was composed of individual platters containing servings of delectable richness. Aura began to open up to Astra_L, seeking information regarding the planet she would soon inhabit. The first dish comprised thin slices of marinated pork, stuffed with batons of Kafalograviera cheese, wrapped onto skewers with chunks of peppers and onions rested on a bed of pilaf. Aura began to reveal her curiosity about Astra_L. Over octopus baked with eggplant in a tomato sauce flavored with laurel leaves, allspice berries and parsley, she asked about boys and if Astra_L had ever loved one. That led to stories of Astra_L’s university life on Pallas-42 while they munched on sizzling pieces of Gia Bakalarakia—a species of Thessa_Loniki cod—fried with root vegetables until crispy. Aura wanted to hear all about the galaxies Astra_L had traveled to and what most amazed her about those distant places and the inhabitants. They paused from the feast with a palate cleanser of fig and bergamot sorbet. The music began to change its beat, with a thumping village dance harmony at home in a biergarten. The next platter served sausages with mustard greens and asparagus, and homemade bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil. They washed that down with an artisan non-alcoholic beer that the chef brewed himself, taking great pride of his Artois heritage. Aura noticed that the expansive floor, which had remained its sedate granite grey throughout the meal, had burst into an aquatic scene once more. Clear waters over rocky reefs and pink sand beaches lined with palm trees were viewed under the twilight of a violet sky. A shell-shaped tray was appeared arrayed with grilled shrimp marinaded in lemon juice, mustard, garlic, Boukovo chili flakes, cumin, honey & sea salt. Aura was certain she could actually hear the wavelets brush the sandy shoreline with gentle caresses.
“Yes, that’s Ambrose again.” The music had morphed into a seductive wafting breeze of nature accompanied by the tremulous strings of a zither.
After the gut bursting meal, they took a stroll on the observation deck to breathe in the misty night. Aura shivered, but admitted the exercise was helping her respiration. Back inside Astra_L brewed a special relaxing tea which she served with the dessert. The cake, called Pallatiko, consisted of a semolina honey cake topped by a thick layer of creamy custard, sprinkled with cinnamon. Aura went into raptures.
“I’ve never eaten or even heard of such amazing dishes as you’ve served tonight. Do you eat like this all the time? The canteen usually serves salad greens, bean curd and rice—lots of rice…” she emphasized. “Even Maeve hasn’t brought me a cake like this one! It’s absolutely divine.”
“It”s Thessa_Loniki on Earth.”
“What? You mean—“
“All the recipes for our feast are the pride of Thessa_Loniki. I had the chef follow my instructions to make a variety of savory dishes to whet your appetite for your new home.”
“You mean, I can eat that sort of food every day?”
“Well, we still eat salad greens.”
“And the cakes?”
“There are so many types of cake, Aura—so many. Honeycakes composed of a hundred layers of the thinnest pastry, coated in thick jasmine honey and pistachios.”
“Tell me more!”
“Here, have another piece of this luscious Pallatiko cake—Chef Pépin has got the perfect touch with cream custard. Now, let me tell you about the Sea of the Halkdikis.
In the harbor of Thessa_Loniki the shallow sea is the home to a sisterhood of nymphs. From the ancient tower you can see them frolicking under the moonlight. Their silvery green tales thrashing lightning through the shallows. They have long silver hair and their faces are marked with iridium tattoes. Kalisto, Caliadne, Menthe, Daphne, Lara, Praxithea and Zeuxippe—The Seven Sisters. Often they would be joined by students, walking the beach after a heavy night of drinking, after an even heavier day of course work at the Biochem Institute. Once you have swum with the Seven Sisters and are initiated into their realm you will always find a safe harbor and protection. Of course, the ladies are willful if sufficient sacrifices are not made at regular intervals! But generally speaking a silvery talisman will charm their graces…”
The fog shifted and sighed as Astra_L told Aura the myths of Thessa_Loniki and shared her experiences living in the graceful sea port. Aura had actually broken through the alien woman’s mind and their communication had reached a common frequency.
As dawn drew her blushing fingers through the mists Aura succumbed at last to fatigue and was sent to her bed. When she parted with Astra_L, it was as a sister, for they had forged a bond stronger than any Velvet could weave.
* * *
The day had arrived and without incident or delay, Aura was gently loaded into the transport pod that would whisk her and her unborn child to the institute on Thessa_Loniki. There were tears shed and gifts exchanged. Maeve promised to send packages of wool and knitting patterns for the child would grow like a sunflower. Astra_L would send teas and bath tablets to ease the pains of childbirth. The three women—the old ewe, the ageless alien, and the feral pixie—hugged in a triumphant embrace. As they waved the pod into the stratosphere, Astra_L felt the weight release from her tense shoulders. Aura was on her way; she would grow into a woman and mother on Thessa_Loniki, living in a civilization of freedom and advancement.
Back inside the biosphere Astra_L realized how much the last weeks had consumed her and also how much they had broadened her perspectives, Though she’d traveled all over the known universe, it took a wild Earthling girl to bring her down to solid ground. She remembered the women that had been flashed across her mind’s eye when she’d first shared thoughts with Ambrose. Had she played her part in their history? Had she achieved success for their future? And would she have a further role to play?
As her thoughts pandered across the apartment, the floors bloomed with night jasmine, doused in dew. She was too tired to eat, sleep or think. The music instantly melded with her mood, transmitting a sultry siren song in soulful electronica. Astra_L flung off her silvery mesh tunic and plunged into the thermal bath for a deep soak. As the music became lusciously buoyant and arousing she indulged in a bath sensory tablet to dissolve the last remaining rigidity in her spine. As the Jasmine Orgasm tablet peaked amid the jets to thermal heat, Astra_L slipped into a cool sensation of piquant pleasure. Her body shuddered with erotic stimulation fulfilling the promise hyped on the wrapper. Completely relaxed and satiated, she soaked in a state of post coital bliss in the aquatic sensory bath.
* * *
From a red sand shingle, Aura watches as a green moon rises above the pale yellow sea, hanging in a violet sky, strewn with nebulas in jewel colors. Then another moon rises to join the first; and another; and another. Six jasper-hued globes hover, suspended in the star-splattered night sky. She climbs the ancient tower to its summit overlooking the shallow Sea of Halkdikis. The celestial orbs sway in gentle movements across the horizon, jostling amongst each other, like children at play, or space ships in formation exercises. In awe she gazes, rubbing the rounded moon rising from her own body, while the Seven Sisters appear one by one and thrash about in the gentle wavelets. Thessa_Loniki was holding her in a grip of fascination. She’s had little time to feel homesick, but she wonders if she will ever see her home planet again. Would it be her daughter, swaying in the swelling placenta, or a distant daughter, who will hear the call of the San Francisco foghorn. With tears in her eyes she contemplates the display surrounding her. If she listens very closely Aura can hear the dance of the jasper spheres as they glimmer with balmy luminosity onto the waves caressing the shore. She hears too, the song of the sirens—the Seven Sisters: “there will be a time to return—for your bloodline is fierce, strong, and loyal. When the time is right a your progeny will travel to the Earth of her ancestors and she will take with her something magical and wild.”
Back in San Francisco, Astra_L stands on the balcony mesmerized by the sun’s rays projecting her shadow on the fog bank hovering around Twin Peaks. She brings her arms above her head and joins her palms together in a tree pose. The sun’s radiance transforms the foggy condensation into sparkling iridescent jewels and her shadow dances into a nimbus of rainbow prisms creating a bröcken spectre.
Ambrose sends a pinging vibration from his lair atop Telegraph Hill.
“You did well.”
“It was that flower that showed me how to manipulate her DNA. Still there are many humans left here who are suffering from the entropy of their society and the Velvets who feed off them.”
“They build them up with drugs just to tear them back down. It is a feudal system that will languish over time.”
“And what of Aura?”
“She is your destiny.”
“You said that before. But how?”
“One of her daughters’ daughters will hear the call of San Francisco and realize your destiny. She will be you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because you always come back. There is a strong, magical binding in place, from long, long ago.”
“And you are the guardian of Soul; the keeper of Destiny.”
“I am Ambrose.”
On the hillside, the Pikkake blooms sparkle with dew drops from the awakening of daylight. She springs from her balcony, to collect their sweet, sultry scent.
Victoria-Elizabeth Panks is a writer who was brought up along the central coast of California and the northern shores of Lake Michigan, but finds herself living, inexplicably, within the southern suburbs of New Jersey, where she translates French symbolist poetry and writes fanciful speculative fiction. She is currently at work on her second novel.