26 parts of a Speculative Fiction story by J Lenni Dorner
“Attie, we have to go.” Jenesis holds my face in her hands. They’re slippery.
“Your palms are sweating.”
She gives me a sympathetic look. It’s not right; sympathy looks wrong on her. “It’s not sweat, is it?”
Her thumbs rub my cheeks. She kisses my forehead. “You have to help me. We need to go. I know how to read the panel, but I don’t know what to press or turn.”
“Neither do I.” I wipe my nose on my sleeve. Ximena is blindfolded, so she doesn’t yell at me about it. But she’s not my Ximena. Maybe this one wouldn’t yell at me for using my sleeve as a tissue. Or maybe I’d get a pass, given what I just witnessed.
Jenesis leads me to the panel. I have no idea what to do there. How did Sammy know?
“Do we tell them?” I ask Jenesis so quietly that I have to repeat the question for her to hear it.
She looks at Ximena, Quinn, and Teressa before answering me. “No. We need them calm while we escape.”
I look from my blindfolded family to Brydanz. He’s still struggling against my acid-soaked uniform. I march over and pull it from his head, wrapping it instead around his throat.
“We kept you alive to clear Sammy’s name. He’s gone now.” I spit the words in his face, keeping my voice low so the others don’t hear.
Brydanz gasps and pleads. Layers of his face have melted off. He can’t produce his hideous grin like this.
“Let me go. I’ll activate the portal, I’ll send you to Earth,” he gasps between each word.
“Not good enough. I need to know that you won’t come back. No one else from Earth will ever be abducted. The connection to Phaeton has to be cut.”
He pulls something from his pocket. “Please, Great Fighter. Spare me. Take this and, once you reach your world, use it to destroy the portal.”
I take the green key. I’d seen him use it the night he took me. “You used that on the lock on the chains. I remember wondering why the door was chained shut, especially if there were people inside.”
“Turn once to unlock the chains, twice to lock them, thrice to destroy the portal. You need a Phaeton touch. Jenesis can do it.”
I tug on my uniform around his neck, pulling him to his feet. “I can use you to do it.”
“Someone must stay to operate the portal.” He points to Jenesis. “She knows this.”
I look to her. She shuts her eyes.
“My father was a coward. He left me here.”
I shake my head. “What? I thought you didn’t know how to operate the panel?”
She rubs her upper arms. “You should leave me, Master Attie of Earth. Samuel was going to sacrifice himself. He was going to stay behind.”
“Dad?” Quinn calls out. “You have to come with us, Dad!”
I curse under my breath. “No one is getting left behind. Be quiet, Quinn.”
Teressa cries. Ximena moves closer to her, working against the restraints to comfort her child. The room not only stinks, but it’s filled with negative energy. This is a place of horrors.
“You should leave me. I planned to leave you.” Jenesis falls to her knees and presses her forehead to the floor.
“Get up,” I command. “You were desperate to be free. I cannot fault you for that.”
I pull on my uniform, forcing Brydanz toward the panel. “Open the portal.”
He turns a dial and holds it in place. A round, swirling door of silver and light appears.
“How do I know that leads to Earth?” If I were him, I’d send us to a world without atmosphere. We’d be dead in seconds.
“I’ll go,” Ximena says.
“What?” I turn toward her, yanking hard on Brydanz’s leash. The portal fades in and out as his grip on the dial loosens.
“I will not lose a father of my children. Nor will I allow someone who has never been to Earth to go first and report back with a guess.”
By the way she’s phrased it, the shake in her voice, I can tell she knows that Sammy is gone.
“Jenesis, help Ximena out of the blindfold and binds.” I tighten my uniform around Brydanz’s neck and lean toward his left ear. “She will cross to Earth, then report back that it’s the correct location. She will be unharmed. Anything else, any harm, and you’ll quickly discover that you were right to abduct me. Samuel was trained by me. Ximena will return, or I you will witness firsthand what an unstoppable champion I would have been. My loss record is zero. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Great Fighter.”
Arms wrap around me. I turn from Brydanz to see Ximena. Tears flow from her eyes. I kiss her cheeks.
“Sam?” She mouths.
I shake my head. “Yellow blobs,” I whisper in her ear.
Her chin quakes as she nods. She takes my face in her hands. “I will be right back. Keep the children safe.”
I shake my head.
“Say it, Attie.”
“Quinn and Teressa will be safe.”
I give a tug as I address Brydanz, “Ximena is going. Does she need anything to get back?”
“Not while I hold this open, Great Fighter. If you give her the key, she could lock it or destroy it. There’s no need to unlock it while it is open.”
I watch my wife, no, not my wife, the alternate Earth version of my wife. She kisses the children and tells them not fear, that she’ll be right back. Then she backs into the portal.
The silver and light swirls round and round as we wait. I can’t look away. Once again, I find myself hating that I don’t have a way to tell time here.
“I left my jacket,” I mutter.
“Will you require me to go retrieve it, Master?”
“Stop calling me that.” I shake my head. “No. I suppose I’ll buy another one. It’s just that it has my wallet, which would be useful. My phone would be good, too, but that’s been dead since I got here, and I wasn’t carrying a charger.”
How many times did I yell at Mystic and Darcy for not carrying a charger? Or Daunte. We fought over that the night I left, didn’t we? Such a foolish thing. I’ve killed beings here without knowing their name or gender.
The portal shakes, interrupting my thoughts. Ximena steps through. “It’s Earth.”
She runs over and hugs me, soaking my shoulder with her tears.
“Take the children and Jenesis. Go. I’ll be right behind you.” I kiss the top of her head.
I wait until they are gone.
“We know where Phaeton is. I will tell my people, my government, what you are doing here. I suggest you find some other world.”
Despite the lack of flesh, I swear I see Brydanz grin. “Yes, Great Fighter. Thank you for sparing my life.”
I walk backward through the portal, watching him. And then it’s dark. Someone taps my shoulder.
“Come, we must lock the portal.” Jenesis takes my arm. The sun is rising outside. I’ll be with my children soon.
Ximena in kneeling on the ground, tending to her twins. I still don’t know how we’ll explain anything. One step at a time.
I lift the chains on the door handle, putting the lock in place. “One,” I count aloud as I turn the key.
“Two,” I shouldn’t destroy the portal. I should get the government to launch nuclear weapons into it. How long would it take to convince them? I was there and I barely believe it. Phaeton could send others to attack. How many like Myndi exist?
The lock, key, and chains all turn to dust. The five us head to the sidewalk. Ximena carries Teressa, and I carry Quinn. They won’t stop crying. They don’t understand why Sammy isn’t with us. I know how they feel.
A pick-up slows for a moment as it goes by. A man in the back chucks a pile of newspapers onto the sidewalk.
“The date!” I run toward the stack. How long was I gone? Days, weeks, months… years?
I stop dead in my tracks as I stare at the cover.
“What? What’s wrong?” Ximena looks at the paper.
“The Philadelphia Inquirer?”
Ximena tilts her head. “Yeah?”
“It’s not the Globe.” My eyes widen, unable to look away.
“Attie, what are you talking about? It’s the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Always has been. What’s wrong with you?”
We’re on her Earth, not mine.
Here, all of my children are dead. On this version of Earth, Phaeton isn’t a planet; it’s an asteroid belt.
I stare at my dust-covered hands. Brydanz won.
I hope you enjoyed the month-long story. Please let me know if you think I should publish it as a free ebook novella as is, or just leave it as blog posts. (Or other ideas.)
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