C7: Chapter Four – Lost on Earth
“You did WHAT?”
For the past hour, John had sat on the ottoman in the middle of the living room. Bob frenetically paced across the cheap shag carpeting and laid out the whole story, watching his brother’s face journey from stark disbelief to shock and back full-circle to disbelief.
Bob knew the story was outlandish—at best—but he also knew John would believe him. As identical twins, they had always shared some sort of—well, psychic would be the wrong word—but there was a connection on a level others didn’t have. And while it wasn’t even on the same planet with what Nico had done to him, he knew that he and his brother could always tell when the other was lying.
As Bob wrapped up his story, they had switched places—Bob sinking down onto the ottoman, while John leapt up and took over the duties of wearing tracks into the carpet. Now John was staring down, uncomprehendingly at Bob.
“Why?” John pleaded.
Bob jumped up. “It’s my job. And it’s one of the most important discoveries ever. I can’t keep it quiet.” He sounded confident—far more confident than he felt. In fact, he was having serious misgivings about having sent the email.
John put his hand on his brother’s shoulders and waited until Bob met his eyes. “You love this girl.”
“No,” Bob replied reflexively.
“It wasn’t a question, Bob. You love her.”
“I do not,” he said rather more weakly than he’d intended.
“When was the last time you even so much as mentioned a girl to me? Grad school? And all you ever told me about her was her name and how cute you thought she was in her glasses. For the past two years you’ve barely had a conversation with me where you didn’t mention her. It’s always Nico and I this, and Nico that. Christ, by now even I know she only drinks water.”
Bob laughed but quickly stopped himself. “OK, maybe I have been a little… infatuated, but that’s all different now.”
“Is it? Maybe it is. I don’t know. Maybe you can’t love someone from another planet, maybe you can. We’re not going to solve that problem here tonight. But I know, for damn sure, you can be friends with one.”
“True…” Bob’s voice trailed off in a tangle of unspoken thoughts.
“Or, at least you were in love.”
“Bob, you turned her in. You got the chance to tell someone that you, Bob Price, found a signal from outer space, and like that,” he snapped his fingers, “you turned her in.”
“No, I didn’t turn her in.” But John didn’t look convinced. “In the email… I told them about the signal—or more precisely, the lack of signal—but…”
“But… I never mentioned Nico.”
A wide, smarmy, smile spread across John’s face. “Sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind to help her.”
Bob looked his brother squarely in the eye. “So?”
“So… what are you still doing here?”
Bob started to say something but thought better of it. He smiled—an odd, mischievous smile John hadn’t seen on his brother’s face since childhood.
As his brother watched, Bob picked up the overnight bag John had brought with him and ran out the door.
As soon as Anakin had given her the news, Nico felt the panic welling up inside of her. She immediately stepped out of the house and started to walk, intending just to go around the block to clear her head. Now, Nico’s walk had turned into a marathon. When her mind was troubled nothing helped more than a long walk in a drenching rain. The cool water falling on her head calmed her—stopped her from spiraling down into panic.
The Empress was dead. And they were coming for her. To drag her back to her home planet. To make her take up her position as Empress. To leave the life she really wanted.
After three years on Earth the thought of entering back into the Hive sent shivers from the tips of her antennae out to the spines of her wings. The voices—everywhere—constant. Everyone always looking to her. Here it was so peaceful. It was wonderful to make her own decisions. Without the input of hundreds—or thousands—of others. And to have her decisions affect only her.
She hadn’t listened to others’ voices for so long that, now, she had to concentrate to hear them. Even the brief conversation with Anakin has been less like a psychic connection and more like a psychic… discussion—no more than each of them sending words rather than speaking them.
Deliberately, and with careful thought she reached out to contact Anakin. I don’t want to go back.
His answer was immediate. He had obviously been waiting for her to call to him. What about your duty?
Don’t lecture me about duty. Without meaning to, she stomped her foot in a puddle attracting the attention of a woman huddled under the roof of a bus stop. We both abandoned our expected roles when we left.
Nico, I am not lecturing you. It was you who spoke of duty when we left. It was you who wondered what you would do when they came for you and you had to make a decision.
She noticed that she had her finger to her mouth. Even though she had no fingernails, she had taken on certain human habits. Do you know who has come for me?
Not precisely. But I do know that there is one Th’Urn among them.
That was worrisome. Th’Urn rarely left their planet. How do you know?
I can hear him.
How is it that he cannot hear you?
He is a messenger and not psychically strong. He is not looking for me, so unless I announce myself he will not find me. He is only looking for you.
Reflexively, Nico looked around for anyone following her. Does he know where I am?
What are you keeping from me?
Nico, I have found out why he is here.
Don’t we already know that? If she had been speaking her voice would have shot up an octave. He’s here to take me back.
Yes, but that is not the complete truth. Back on Th’Urn when I met Lisa and started to speak and work with her, the contact inadvertently affected me—some of the Th’Urn said she had infected me. And because of my connection with you, you became affected as well.
Her impatience was growing. This was all old news. What does this have to do with anything?
Everything. It now seems evident that Lisa did not leave soon enough. Or perhaps we didn’t.
Soon enough for what? Why are you speaking in riddles?
There was a long pause before Anakin answered. Nico, there is an epidemic on Th’Urn. A plague is wreaking havoc.
Oh no. The humans brought some sort of disease?
No. This is a plague of the mind.
I don’t understand. Tell me what’s happening.
There is a plague of individuality spreading through the Hive.
Nico was silent as she tried to understand what he was saying. Was individuality such a bad thing? She and Anakin had certainly taken well to it.
Nico, the Empress didn’t simply die. She was killed. By her own people.
Chapter four by Dale Challener Roe