Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Return to Arkon

by Charles R. Richard


As first light appeared on the horizon, two very agitated beings finally reached the edge of a forest near the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. They were more than an hour late for their scheduled pickup on the beach just ahead. Both of them felt miserable, since they knew that their commander would be furious, especially after he learned the reason for their tardiness. Their captive had escaped and even taken one of their weapons in the process, and they got lost during the failed attempt to recapture him.

The sight of the beach was such a relief that they became careless. The two walked right out onto the sand and out of cover without checking the area first. A shot fired from behind a nearby rock grazed the younger of the two in the arm. The elder quickly produced a weapon and fired it at the man who had shot at them. As the weapon's beam collided with the man, he convulsed and fell to the sand.

While losing consciousness, the man became aware of wet sand against his cheek, the sound of ocean waves, and the smell of salt spray. His last perception was the sight of the solid black eyes of his captors looking down at him. Everything went dark for him with the sunrise.

####

"Captain Taylor," said the synthesized voice of the central computer, "I'm picking up a vessel of unknown origin on long range scans. It appears to be just drifting, sir. Shall I investigate further?"

"Yes, of course. Report as soon as you have further information," replied the Captain.

"Yes sir."

The computer spoke again soon afterwards. "Sir, the vessel appears to be from the Solang Empire. It looks like it has been adrift for many years. I am detecting a very low level life reading aboard." After a pause, "It's human, sir."

"Computer, do another reading for life forms. There must be an error."

After a short pause, the computer responded. "The life reading is definitely human, sir. In some sort of stasis, it appears."

"Computer, set course for the Solang vessel. Maximum speed."

"Yes sir."

After about an hour, the computer said, "Captain, we are approaching the Solang ship. What are your orders?"

"Have you any new information?"

"No sir."

"Order a team to board and investigate. I want a full report."

"Yes sir."

Sometime later, the computer said, "Captain, the leader of the team sent to the Solang vessel, Lt. Jones, is ready to report."

"Put him through."

"Yes sir."

After a short delay, "Captain, this is Lt. Jones reporting from the Solang vessel."

"What have you found, Jones?" asked Captain Taylor.

"Captain, the computer was right. We have found a human aboard. He is alive and in some form of stasis."

Taylor frowned and asked, "Have you found anything that explains what he is doing there?"

"We've done a preliminary analysis of the Solang ship's records. They show that the man was captured on Earth about three hundred years ago. There are some other references to him, but they just don't make any sense to us at this point."

"Have you found any other persons alive onboard?"

"No sir. Just this man."

After some consideration, the Captain asked, "Computer, what are the chances of reviving the man that Lt. Jones found?"

"Good, sir."

The Captain directed the boarding team to return to the ship with the former "guest" of the Solangs. Full quarantine procedures were to be used, just in case. Dr. Welby, the ship's Medical Director, was ordered to attempt revival after full decontamination procedures were followed. A further order was issued to the computer to upload the Solang ship's records and perform a complete analysis on them.

Later, the computer spoke to the Captain again. "Captain Taylor, I am ready to report on the analysis you requested of the Solang ship's records."

"Proceed."

"Would you like it sent to your viewscreen or by voice?"

"By voice, please."

"Yes sir. For the record, this is a report to Captain George Taylor, SS Lafayette, Terran Imperial Space Force, by the Central Computer, SS Lafayette, 23 June 2319, concerning the recent Solang ship encounter. Would you like me to start with the full background section or only a summary of it, sir?"

"Please give me all the background. I only know the very basics on the Solangs."

"Yes sir. For the report, I have combined what was learned from the Solang ship's records with other known, relevant information.

"In existence for well over ten thousand years, the Solang Empire vanished about 275 years ago. Records indicate that it was at its height when it disappeared, being made up of twenty-two planets in seventeen star systems. Its population consisted of several humanoid species very devoted to scientific and cultural development.

"Records show that the Solangs visited many less advanced worlds in order to collect information of various sorts. Earth was a favorite for some unspecified reason. Their intent was apparently non-hostile.

"From information available, it appears that the reason for these visits is somehow related to what most Terran experts have termed the "techno-religious philosophy" of the Solangs; this unusual term is employed since what it describes is unlike anything in Terran culture and is seen by most experts as the most accurate description of it. A main point of confusion about this techno-religious philosophy involves a personal evolutionary element of some great apparent importance; there is intense debate among our experts as to when and where this evolution was supposed to occur.

"There is much interest in this techno-religious philosophy for another reason as well, since"

Before the computer could finish, the Captain interrupted. "Stop. Please clarify what you meant concerning the debate among our experts as to the personal evolution."

"Experts cannot agree as to whether this personal evolution was understood to occur in a current life or in an afterlife. If in a current life, it is uncertain whether it was to be within normal space or elsewhere."

"I see," said the Captain. "Please proceed with your report where you left off."

"Continuing. There is much interest in this techno-religious philosophy for another reason as well, since the Solangs were apparently going through a period of renewed and feverish devotion to it just prior to their empire's disappearance. Experts strongly suspect a link between the disappearance of the empire and this revival.

"To clarify, it was actually the inhabitants of the empire that vanished. Their cities appear to remain intact and to an amazing extent given the time since they have been abandoned; this observation is based on data from a long range, unmanned probe which accidentally ran across the remains of the empire some 25 years ago. This has been partially confirmed by a recent survey of the nearest of the Solang planets, Arkon, conducted by a manned Terran ship.

"The latter mentioned survey showed extensive, intact cities and many still functional, but unmanned, hyperlight capable spacecraft in orbit. No signs of violence, disease, or sudden flight were found. No indication was found of the disposition of the former inhabitants.

"Our Emperor, Long May He Reign, took an interest in this mystery after the report of the survey vessel was brought to his attention, and he has since ordered the Imperial Archeological Academy to get to the bottom of this situation. Plans are underway to mount a major expedition to Arkon for this purpose, as well as to assess the suitability of the planet for Terran colonization. Expeditions to the other Solang worlds will follow if warranted. This ends the background section of the report."

"Please continue with the rest", said the Captain.

"Yes sir. As we reported earlier, it appears that about three hundred years ago, the Solang ship visited Earth, and kidnapped this human.

"Analysis of the Solang ship's records shows that some accident took place soon after the ship left Earth that involved studies on DNA collected from the captive. A retrovirus present in this DNA and fatal to Solangs, but apparently not to humans, had been activated and released and rapidly killed every Solang aboard. It is unclear if the Solang authorities were informed of these developments. The last Solangs put their captive in stasis and sent the ship on a course away from their empire.

"Repeated references in the Solang ship's records to the "Missing" are present, but without detail and remain a mystery. We know that the Solangs referred to their captive as "one of the Missing". Exactly why the Solangs took this man is unknown.

"A comparison of the Solang ship records with those from archives on Earth, as well as information obtained from mitochondrial DNA samples of the man has resulted in a positive ID on him. His name is John Martin. He was born in 1960 in the Louisiana region of Earth. He was reported missing in the Florida region of Earth in 2014 by family members. At the time of his disappearance, Mr. Martin was a successful engineering consultant.

"Mr. Martin has been brought aboard the SS Lafayette and taken out of stasis. He is expected to regain consciousness at any time. Plans for his repatriation to Earth are pending.

"This concludes the report. Do you have any questions or need clarification on any part of it, sir?"

"Not right now," answered the Captain. He needed time to process what he heard.

Taylor looked out of his office viewport at the stars and was soon lost in thought. He tried to imagine what it would be like to be Martin, the "Rip van Winkle of the Space Age". The whole situation seemed so incredible to him, what with Martin's kidnapping, the disappearance of the Solangs but not their cities, and Martin now being found after all this time.

Rather unexpectedly, the computer interrupted the Captains musings. "Captain, Dr. Welby reports that our passenger is awake."

"I'll be right there."

"Yes sir."

Upon his arrival at the ship's hospital, the Captain was met by the Medical Director, Dr. Welby.

"Sir, I've taken the liberty of telling Mr. Martin that you would personally answer his questions when you arrived."

"That's fine, Doctor."

"I should warn you, sir, the man thinks that he's been found at sea on Earth. He seems to have no memory of his capture or anything that happened since. I'd go slowly, sir," said the doctor with a worried look on his face.

"My thought exactly," replied the Captain.

The Captain went in to where Martin waited and warmly greeted his passenger. Very slowly and carefully, he explained where they were, and how it was thought that Martin came to be there. To Taylor's immense relief, the look of shock and disbelief on Martin's face hadn't lasted long. However, the Captain couldn't help but wonder if Martin really took the news as well as it appeared. He waited for Martin to say something, and Martin soon obliged.

"What you've told me, Captain, seems to have jogged some vague memories that fit, but they seem to be more like from a bad dream than of something that actually happened to me."

"I don't think those memories are from a dream."

"I think that you're right, but it is still hard to accept. At least the ordeal is over."

"True," said the Captain, not sure of what else to say.

Martin had many questions about the current situation on Earth, as well as concerning what transpired during his absence. The Captain told him that the computer would handle this.

"Computer, prepare a summary report for our guest on Earth history from the time of his disappearance to the present," ordered the Captain.

"Yes sir. What type of output?"

"Printed would probably be easiest under the circumstances."

"Of course, sir."

A few minutes later, Captain Taylor handed the printed report to his guest. He then turned to leave Martin to his reading.

On reaching the door, Taylor looked back and said, "When you are finished reading, if you have further questions, just ask the computer. It's fully voice actuated. I'll check back later to see if you are up to having dinner with me. Until then, if you need anything else, just ask one of the medical staff or the computer."

"Thank you very much, Captain."

As the Captain left him, Martin began to read.

To: John Martin, Passenger

SS Lafayette

From: Central Computer

SS Lafayette

Date: 23 June 2319

Subject: Summary of Earth History Circa 2000 to Date

As you may recall, the situation on Earth at the start of the 21st century was difficult -- terrorism, wars, crime, drugs, pollution, corruption in government, economic instability, etc. Fortunately, meaningful changes soon took place.

In early 2021, the new U.S. Vice President, Edward Lamury, became President following the assassination of his superior by a terrorist with links to a foreign drug cartel. This killing turned out to be the trigger event that shook America out of her long decline that most historians agree began with ...

Martin grunted. He'd had little interest in politics or history in his own time. The details of how Party A had displaced Party B before collapsing due to some scandal two centuries ago were completely irrelevant. He skimmed through several pages of this kind of trivia, wincing as he read that the United States and most other nations had merged into -- an Empire? -- but paying close attention to references to the development of interplanetary space travel, and finally, a way to sidestep the speed of light.

...Since then, the Empire has grown to seven planets in five star systems. The most distant of these planets is seventy-two light years from Earth or about six weeks journey by fastest space vessel. No other extant civilization was encountered in this process.

The next most likely planet to be added to the empire is the uninhabited world, Arkon. It is about a hundred light years from Earth or about two months by fastest ship. This planet belonged to the Solang Empire, some citizens of which kidnapped you in 2014; the Solang civilization is thought extinct for the last 275 years.

Attached, you will find a printout of a portion of a report recently prepared for the Captain on the Solang Empire and your kidnapping and discovery. It might be of interest.

This brings you up to date.

End of Report

Putting the report down on the table in front of him, Martin found that he had even more questions than before, if that was possible. He sat a long time thinking about all that he learned and what he should do. He felt surprised that he was so calm and had a bad feeling that this might not last. What would Earth really be like now? He wouldn't know anyone there anymore. Still, it seemed to him that getting back to Earth was probably the best thing he could do for now.

"Computer?" asked John Martin a little uncomfortably; voice actuated computers had still been a novelty when he left Earth.

"How may I assist you, Mr. Martin?" replied the computer.

"How long would it take to get to Earth from here?"

"About three months at our maximum speed."

That seemed like a very long time to Martin, until he realized that compared to the three hundred years he had been gone, three months was a short time. He then asked, "How can I get to Earth from here?"

"You would have to speak to the Captain, sir."

"Would you find out when I might speak with him?"

"He should be there shortly to collect you for dinner, but in the meantime, I will let him know of your interest in going to Earth."

"Thanks."

"You are welcome, sir."

Martin did not have to wait long for his return to begin. Late the next day, the SS Lafayette went hyperlight and headed for Earth. She had been ordered home by the Emperor when he learned the details of the discovery of John Martin and the Solang vessel; he was as eager to meet John as John was to return to Earth. The mystery of the Solang Empire was of special interest to the Emperor, and John was a man attached to that mystery; John was also the last human alive from the time before the Terran Empire as well, making him a double curiosity.

About a week into the journey home, John woke up from a night of sleeping badly. Still lying in bed, he looked out the viewport in his cabin. He thought about the immensity of the distance back to Earth and the greater immensity of the space around him outside the viewport. These thoughts made him feel cold and very lonely. Everyone he knew back on Earth was dead; the people he met on the SS Lafayette were kind to him, but they could not replace his family and long time friends.

The cold he felt made him shiver, and the lonely feeling overpowered him. He started to sob uncontrollably. His appointment with Dr. Welby for breakfast was forgotten.

An hour later, Dr. Welby was at a table in the Officer's Dining Room waiting for John as they agreed the day before. When John was 15 minutes late, the doctor paged him, but he got no answer.

"Computer, what is the current location of John Martin?" asked Dr. Welby.

"He is in his cabin, Doctor."

"Please put me through to him."

"Yes sir."

After a short delay, the computer spoke again. "Doctor, Mr. Martin is not responding."

Feeling uneasy, the doctor got up and went to John's cabin. When he arrived, he knocked, but John did not answer. With his unease intensifying, the doctor tried the door, but found it was locked. The computer verified that John was in the cabin and not physically injured, but he would not answer when the computer spoke to him. Because of privacy rules, the computer was not allowed to open the door or scan the cabin for details, unless protocol was overridden due to an emergency, and so began to inform the doctor at length.

Annoyed at the delay, the doctor cut the computer off by saying, "Computer, I declare that there is a medical emergency in this cabin. Open the door, now!"

As the door opened, the doctor could hear something, but at first he didn't know what it was. Then he saw John staring out the viewport shivering and with tears in his eyes and running down his face. His sobbing was almost silent by this time.

"John, are you all right?" asked the doctor as he walked into the cabin, but the doctor was certain things were not all right.

John was aware that someone came in, but whoever it was seemed too far away for it to matter to him.

Dr. Welby could not get John to answer him nor could he get him out of bed. John looked very bad to him.

"Computer, I need assistance to get Mr. Martin to the ship's hospital."

"Right away, sir."

The few minutes it took seemed much longer to the doctor as he waited with John for help to arrive.

Two hours later, Captain Taylor went to the ship's hospital to see John and to talk to the doctor about the situation. Since the Emperor would not be pleased if John got to Earth in anything less than excellent condition, putting things right was of special importance to Taylor, though he was concerned otherwise as well, as he genuinely liked John.

When Taylor arrived, he was told that John was heavily sedated and asleep. He found Dr. Welby, who explained that John had experienced a delayed, but very severe, grief reaction and depression over the loss of his "old" life.

"I am not surprised he broke down," said the Captain in reply. "What treatment do you propose?"

"A multifaceted therapy is recommended."

One facet included giving John an update on his family history. The therapist assigned the task of dealing with this discovered that an Ensign Arceneaux aboard the SS Lafayette with them was a relative of John's. Not long after, this aspect of the therapy began.

"How are you today, Mr. Martin?" asked the therapist as he walked into John's cabin.

John looked up at him from his bed and nodded, but said nothing.

"I am here to bring you some information on how your family has fared since you were last on Earth."

Again, John nodded, but did not answer.

The therapist gave him a brief summary, saving what he hoped would be welcome news for the end.

"I have a surprise for you. One of your relatives is on board with us, Ensign Phillip Arceneaux. Isn't that something?"

John then spoke for the first time since the therapist arrived, if rather flatly. "I would like to meet him."

"I hoped that you would. Should he come here?"

"No, I would like to meet him somewhere else. Where do you think would be a good place?"

The therapist was very pleased with this response. John refused to leave his cabin since he was discharged from the ship's hospital more than a week before. A meeting was arranged for that evening in a private dining room normally used only when the Captain had diplomatic guests.

The meeting went well, and John and Phillip soon became good friends. Captain Taylor arranged for the Ensign to spend several hours each day with John.

With the help of his new friendship with Ensign Arceneaux and the other therapy administered, John improved significantly quite quickly. His hypnotherapist was somewhat at a loss to explain some of the results obtained with John, however.

"I think he is holding something back, but I cannot get at it. He repeatedly mentions a blue prison, then he veers off onto some other subject," the hypnotherapist told Dr. Welby. "I think I have gone as far as I can go with him, sir."

After further discussion, they decided to stop the hypnosis for the time being.

At this point with his therapy winding down, John had time on his hands. He began to study information collected on the Solang Empire, especially on the planet Arkon. Something beyond the obvious drew John into the Solang mystery. He wondered what happened to the Solang Empire and what the Solangs wanted with him.

Captain Taylor commented to John when they discussed the Solangs that from what he gleaned from the records he believed that in kidnapping John, the Solangs were somehow trying to help him, but Taylor could not explain this very well when John pressed.

John became determined to visit Arkon and try to find answers. A plan formed in his mind.

####

John stood at a large viewport of the quarters aboard the SS Lafayette that had been his home during the long voyage. He could see a reflection of himself as he looked out that seemed to hover in space before him; beyond this lay the planet Arkon. In his mind, he went over all that happened to him since going back to Earth.

John couldn't help but remember hearing that "voice" in his head when he first saw Earth from space. It said, "Behold, your prison!" This really shook him up, yet he had no idea where the "voice" came from. He thought he should discuss this with his hypnotherapist, but something stopped him.

Earth seemed more beautiful to John than when he left. There had been much intelligent progress made. Ensign Arceneaux was an excellent tour guide. They had a wonderful time exploring restaurants all over Louisiana that still served food that John could remember from his former life there; the chefs were very curious as to how close they were to the dishes John could recall. There had been time for a quick tour of other areas as well. The cities were quite spectacular.

The Emperor had been very gracious. John met with him privately for over an hour when he visited the palace. The furniture of his suite on the SS Lafayette and the wall aquarium in its living room were favorites among the gifts from his Majesty. The Emperor also made John a member of the nobility given his background.

John was especially happy when the Emperor granted his request to go on the expedition to Arkon, and the Emperor had even given John status as his special representative. This was by no means merely honorary; John greatly impressed the Emperor and the planners of the expedition with his quick and analytical mind during their discussions with him. He was put through a strenuous training regimen so that he could really be of use to the Arkon team. John was also pleased that the Emperor allowed him to have Ensign Arceneaux as his aide on the expedition.

As John looked down upon Arkon, it was impossible for him not to wonder if he would find what he really came for there. He felt certain that he would, even though he wasn't exactly sure what that was. John knew that the answer was now just outside his grasp. He had to figure out how to reach it.

John had many other questions seemingly related to his main one. Why had the Solangs called him "one of the Missing" and was the retrovirus that killed them really an accident of biology? Were there others like him? What had happened to the Solang civilization?

Someone buzzing to request entry interrupted John's thoughts.

"Come in."

Ensign Arceneaux entered. "Hello, John. The shuttle to the planet's surface is ready for boarding."

"Thank you, Phillip. I'm ready."

John went down to the shuttle with the Ensign, and they were quickly on their way. Soon after, the shuttle's doors opened to reveal a seashore on the edge of a large, empty city.

"We're finally here," said Phillip as they got up to exit the shuttle.

"Yes, finally," John agreed.

A strange feeling came over John as he walked off the shuttle towards the city. He stopped. As his feet sank slightly into the sand beneath him, the sight, sound, and the smell of the sea seemed to close in on him. He flashed back to the solid black eyes of his kidnappers, which he recalled through his hypnotherapy, then his mind began to lock up. It seemed to him that he would collapse.

A thought struggled to the surface of his consciousness. "Deja - vu," John said to himself as the thought finally broke through. He fell to his knees and then completely collapsed.

Ensign Arceneaux stood just ahead looking at the city as John went down. Arceneaux said, "Isn't it wonderful, cousin?" As he turned back to hear John's reply, he saw John on the sand staring upward as if in a catatonic trance.

Quickly recovering from the shock, Arceneaux yelled into his communications device, "We need a doctor, now!"

A doctor was soon located, and just as she arrived, John became responsive. With a little difficulty, he told the doctor about a strange vision that he had while out.

"I saw a group of people moving together in a circle around a fire in a large, green-black marbled room. I am sure they were Solangs, and I was one of them.

"Suddenly, I became terrified, broke the circle, and fled. I then saw a man at one end of the room opening a large, golden gate. He beckoned to me. Passing through the gate, I looked ahead and saw a path that slanted upward and went up as far as I could see. Directly overhead and high above, I could see what looked like an eagle hovering in a sunny, blue sky. Then the vision ended."

The doctor not sure what to say, covered by performing a quick physical examination on him.

"You look fine, Mr. Martin. I don't think it will be necessary for you to return to the ship, unless you don't feel up to staying down here."

The doctor kept any other thoughts to herself; it probably would not have been wise to question the mental stability of the Emperor's special representative without more evidence.

Trying to cover his embarrassment over what happened, John told the doctor, "Yes, I'm fine and will stay on the surface. I have to make a report to the Emperor today, and he will want details about the situation down here." He then attached himself to a group that was making a tour of the city.

After nearly an hour of walking in various directions, John nearly forgot about the scene when he landed. The architecture of the city resembled the Art Deco style once popular on Earth which John always liked. He came upon a building that especially attracted his attention.

Wandering off from the group, he walked in. Something about the entrance hall was very familiar, so being curious, he continued further inside. Passing under an archway on the far side of the hall, he entered a large room with green-black marble walls and flooring. He froze, recognizing it as the room in his vision.

John suddenly found himself in the circle of Solangs that he saw in his earlier vision. The leader of the circle was explaining the "solution" -- enemies would be transported to a prison planet and then "transferred" to native bodies there. John realized the truth behind the plan and wanted no part of it.

He fled and again saw the man opening the gate at the far end of the hall. As John passed the gatekeeper, the man smiled at him; the man had solid black eyes, like John's kidnappers.

Looking ahead, John again saw the path rise up into the sky and the eagle high above. As he started up the path, John saw the eagle start to fly away ahead of him. The sky became dark and filled with stars. John saw Arkon and then Earth from space and could hear that "voice" tell him that Earth was his prison. Earth provided the "solution".

Back in the marbled room of the present, John felt very afraid. He ran outside and was soon spotted by a worried Ensign Arceneaux.

"There you are! You just disappeared. After what happened earlier, I began to imagine that all sorts of bad things happened to you when I couldn't find you," said Ensign Arceneaux.

"I'm sorry, cousin. It was very inconsiderate of me," John replied looking contrite.

They found the group they had been with and rejoined them. John kept what happened in the marbled room to himself, since he thought the others would think he was losing his mind otherwise; he thought that he might be himself. Neither Arceneaux nor any other member of their group pressed John for details about what he had been doing.

That night after retiring back on the orbiting ship, John dreamt that he was back in the circle of Solangs in the marbled room and had started to run away again. This time, there was no gateway at far end of the room, only a wall; he ran outside towards the seashore.

After a while, the others caught up with him on the beach and encircled him. Trapped, he tried to break through the circle, but he was seized by several strong hands. Something struck him hard on the head. Again, he saw Earth from space, his prison. He heard something like a loud electrical discharge and felt like he was being pulled out from deep within his body -- his Solang body. Then, he perceived nothing but blackness.

He woke up in a cold sweat, breathing hard. The dream was very upsetting. He was certain that the events in the dream actually happened to him or at least symbolized something that had. It took a long time for him to fall asleep again.

Upon waking the next morning, John returned to the surface of Arkon intending to go to the marbled room that kept haunting him. He felt he had no choice. Somehow he managed to convince Captain Taylor that Ensign Arceneaux would be a sufficient escort, which hadn't been an easy feat under the circumstances.

After they entered the building containing the marbled room, Arceneaux became interested in some inscriptions on the wall of the entrance hall. "I wonder what these mean," he said to John while pointing at the inscriptions.

"Why not try the translator on your computer on them? I'll be in the next room," John said to him as he passed under the archway.

Since John would be close by, Ensign Arceneaux thought it would be OK to stay where he was and translate the inscriptions. He would try using the hand held computer he had with him as John suggested.

About half way down one section, the Ensign came across something that translated as: "To the Missing: the eagle will show you the path to find us." After some thought, Arceneaux realized that John mentioned seeing something like an eagle in his vision the previous day.

Intrigued, he continued the translation. At the end of the same section, he found the line, "We make this solemn oath to all of the Missing: we will wait until all of you have returned." He then continued with another section nearby.

Meanwhile, John finished walking the length of the room, and came to the wall where the gate appeared in some of his visions. Looking around, he noticed there was no way in or out of the room except the way he came in under the arch.

Turning back to the wall, he saw the gate and the path beyond it. This time, the gate was closed. It wouldn't open when he tried it. Grabbing the bars of the gate, John shook to no avail. He let go and stood back. The gate then opened for him.

Passing through the gate and looking up, John saw the eagle as before. He began to run up the path. His head swam. There was a blinding flash and John could see something small, but very bright, on the path ahead. Looking up, he could see that the sky had gone from blue and sunny to starry.

As he kept moving along the path, John saw the bright object grow and become even brighter. As he got closer, the brightness from the object almost completely blinded him, and he stopped. He started to feel a little afraid. He wondered what the object was.

Music seemed to come from the object, very beautiful music. It was much like the sound of welcome raindrops or even tears of joy. Lives of many people on Earth flashed before John's eyes. Then he saw lives of people on Arkon before the exiles to Earth began.

John started going up the path again, though it was hard to see. He now understood that he had nothing to fear. The others waited for him.

"You are the last of the Missing, and now you are found," they said to him.

In the entrance hall, a gust of wind struck Ensign Arceneaux, and the floor of the hall shook under him. He was nearly knocked down. After regaining his balance, he ran under the archway into the room there calling out, "Cousin, are you all right?"

There was now no one there to answer him.

THE END


© 2010 Charles R. Richard

Bio: Charles R. Richard is a patent attorney based in Washington, DC. He is originally from south Louisiana. Science fiction short stories of his were published by Aurora Wolf in May 2010 and Static Movement in July 2010. His introductory article on nanotechnology was the cover story in February 2009 Chemical Engineering magazine.

E-mail: Charles R. Richard

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