Aphelion Issue 227, Volume 22
April 2018
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Queen of Denial

by C.E. Gee

Denise's hotel room was not to her standards. Though the city of Bradbury was the largest and oldest city on Mars, was renowned for its amenities, the University had Denise on a strict budget.

Denise faced the room's 3D array. "Array on," she ordered.

The array fired up, displayed the hotel's logo. "Front desk," said Denise.

The image switched to that of a clerkbot. "How may I help you?" politely asked the clerkbot.

Denise made her request. "I need a tour guide with surface transportation."

"Bot or human," inquired the bot.

With her nose in the air, Denise snidely replied, "Human, of course."

"Your destination?" came the response.

"Salt creek, out in Kings Valley."

There came the briefest of pauses before the clerkbot's comment. "I assume you are aware that your destination is 72 klicks from here, much of it over a rough road?"

"I know the distance," replied Denise.

The clerkbot said, "There's a tour guide who's familiar with the area. I'll see if he's available and get back to you."

"Array off," ordered Denise. She went to the room's closet, lifted her pressure suit off its hooks, and laid the suit out on the bed.

Carefully inspecting the suit, Denise smiled at the University's logo, located just below the left shoulder. The logo was a cartoonish duck.

The room's array chimed.

"Array on," said Denise.

The clerkbot appeared, said, "Your transportation will be here in about 15 minutes.

"Array off," said Denise.

Denise climbed into the pressure suit, closed its visor, and checked the suit's status indicators. She opened the visor, sat on the room's lounge chair until the clerkbot announced the arrival of the tour guide.

In the lobby, Denise immediately saw the tour guide whose pressure suit was emblazoned across its chest with the words BOSTON TOURS.

Denise strode up to the tour guide, extended her hand. As the two shook gloved hands Denise said, "I'm Denise."

"Lynn," replied the tour guide.

His visor was open. Normally contemptuous of the male of the species, Denise was attracted to this one, and was surprised by her feelings.

Lynn's handsome features, the smoldering, piercing eyes, his friendly, slightly leering smile, his tight pressure suit revealing a broad-shouldered, athletic build--all brought forth feelings not experienced since Denise was an adolescent. Denise stifled a laugh. She was amused.

Striving to keep her voice from trembling, Denise asked, "Are you willing to accept a purchase order from my university?"

"Of course," answered Lynn. "I get lotsa academic types here. Where you wanna go?"

Now that the ice was broken, Denise's voice assumed its normal authoritative, firm tone. "Salt Creek," she announced. "I'm a biologist. I'd very much like to see and study first-hand the area where we first discovered the preserved remains of Martian microorganisms. I received a grant to produce an educational vid on the subject."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Lynn.

Denise was surprised at Lynn's enthusiastic response.

Lynn asked, "What's your security clearance? We need to drive through the Camp Five Solaraian Security Forces base to get to Salt Creek."

"I've already been pre-approved for this trip. They'll have my clearance on file," answered Denise.

Lynn nodded, said, "The road out to Camp Five is in fine shape, but once we get through the base, the road on the other side is pretty rough."

"I expected nothing less," said Denise.

Lynn continued, "My vehicle is a four person rover that has no airlock, but after we climb in and the rover pressurizes the cabin, we can open our visors."

Denise nodded.

Lynn closed his visor, Denise did the same, felt her suit inflate.

Denise followed Lynn out through the hotel's double airlock.

Parked in the taxi zone was Lynn's rover. Its four large carbon-mesh wheels kept the rover high up off the pavement. After Lynn instructed the rover to open its doors, Denise climbed aboard to the front passenger seat.

The doors closed; the cabin pressurized. Lynn told the rover the destination.

The dirt road to Camp Five was well maintained and had been packed smooth by many years of traffic. Denise enjoyed the view. The rover had no windows but did have numerous video screens; a couple were 3D.

Denise and Lynn chatted. Lynn made seemingly polite inquiries about Denise's family back on Earth. Denise didn't care for anyone in her family and made it clear that she had no contact with her family or interest in any relatives.

Tellingly, Lynn also asked about Denise's romantic life, which was non-existent.

Denise then explained her interest in Salt Creek. There was no actual creek. Instead, a line of salt left over from the time Mars had oceans trailed out over the sand. An early expedition found preserved remains of Martian microorganisms buried in the salt. The discovery was definitive proof of life on ancient Mars, though previous unmanned probes had found fossils.

At the Camp Five main gate the rover's audio transducer tuned to the open channel, which was low-power with extremely short range. One of the guards in the guard shack said, "Howdy Lynn. Who's your fare?"

Buck replied, "She said you have her clearance on file. She goes by Denise. Don't know her last name yet."

Replied the guard, "We've been expecting her."

The gate swung open, the guard said, "Pass."

On the opposite side of the base, there was another gate, guarded by two troopers.

The gate swung open; the rover drove through, Lynn waving at the guards in passing.

The road was rough, not maintained. The rover was a newer model, had the latest in AI, expertly dodged potholes and rocks and small piles of sand.

"Hope you don't mind," said Lynn. "You're my third fare this week. We need to stop at the Salt Creek Store, top off the rover's charge. I figure we can grab a snack while waiting. We'll be off the clock so you won't be charged any credits. I'll pay for the grub."

"Sounds fine to me," replied Denise.

* * *

At the Salt Creek Store, following Lynn's command the Rover drove around to the back lot where the charging stations were lined up. None were in use.

The rover parked at the first charging station. The charging station's robotic arm flipped open a small hatch on the rover's side, then plugged a thick cable into the accumulator compartment's socket.

"We're going inside," announced Lynn to the rover. When you see me come out, be ready."

"Understood," replied the rover.

Lynn closed his visor, Denise did the same.

The pressure suits inflated, the rover depressurized, swung up both doors.

After passing through the store's airlocks, Lynn and Denise sat at one of the deli tables. There was no one else in the store.

Denise thought it odd no touch screens were at the tables. A serving cart rolled over to them, said, "Welcome to the Salt Creek Store deli. Good to see you again, Lynn. Today we are serving sandwiches composed of produce grown in Bradbury hothouses. You may choose chopped lettuce, chopped onion, sliced black olives, sliced tomato, sliced avocado, a soy-based cheddar cheese substitute, and as you know, our house hot-sauce and an assortment of spices are at the center of your table."

"Give me one of those sandwiches with everything," ordered Lynn.

"Me too," parroted Denise.

Lynn looked over to Denise, asked, "Beer?"

Denise nodded.

Lynn told the cart, "We'll have a coupla your beers."

Martian beer, famous throughout the Solarian System, was the planet's primary export.

While waiting for their order, then eating, Denise and Lynn chatted.

Lynn asked, "So this vid you're making--who all's gonna see the thing?"

Denise's smile was coy. "Students from level 11 through university levels. Also, we've got a contract with a history channel."

His mouth full of food, Lynn grunted, then swallowed, and said, "I'm paying for the eats. If you want any souvenirs from this place, you're going to have to pay for them yourself. Got an iCard with you?"

Denise nodded. "Yes, of course. The iCard unlocks my room door at the hotel."

Lynn took a healthy swig of beer, asked, "You stay in contact with your university?'

Wagging her head, Denise replied, "Nope. I'm totally on my own. This isn't my first expedition. Though all my previous trips have been on Earth."

Through a wicked grin, Lynn, replied, "Let's hope this expedition is a memorable one."

At that moment, a door at the other end of the store swung open. A short and swarthy older man with sloped shoulders emerged, closed the door.

Arms spread wide, the man approached the table, exclaimed, "Lynn, my friend!"

Lynn stood. The two men embraced, vigorously patting one another's backs.

"Good to see you again, Haka," said Lynn.

Haka gazed at Denise, asked, "And what did you bring me?"

The two men released one another; Lynn turned to the table, said, "Her name is Denise. She's here to make an educational vid about Salt Creek. Denise, this is Haka. His family owns the store."

"Glad to meet you," said Denise.

Haka then turned toward Lynn, inquired, "She checks out?"

"Perfect," came the answer.

Haka nodded, went over to Denise, grabbed her glass of beer which was down to the last few sips.

"I can't believe Lynn let you drink this pale swill. We brew our own beer here. It's dark, full-bodied and is absolutely delightful."

Flushed and flustered, Denise replied, "Oh, you needn't go to any extra trouble for me."

Haka bowed slightly, said, "I'd be honored."

Haka went to behind the store's counter, then half-filled the glass with a dark liquid.

He then returned to the table, placed the glass before Denise, said, "Drink up young lady. I'm very proud of this beer. It's special."

Denise lifted the glass to her lips, took a sip, and declared, "Why, you should be proud! This is really good."

In four gulps, Denise downed all the beer. She put down the glass, wiped her lips with the backside of one pressure suit glove, and then sat back in her chair.

Through her open visor Denise fanned her face with both hands, tilted her head upward, looked at the ceiling as she slowly slurred her exclamation, "Jeez, this stuff is really strong!"

Her eyes fluttered, went shut.

Haka gripped Lynn's shoulder. With obvious emotion Haka softly said, "My friend, the drug worked; our destiny is about to be met. I've waited all my life for this."

Lynn nodded.

In the weak Martian gravity, it was scarcely an effort for Lynn to cradle Denise in his arms, carry her to the door from which Haka had emerged.

Haka opened the door. Lynn carried Denise into the living quarters. Haka followed, closed the door, and locked it.

There were a half-dozen other people in the room, all sitting cross-legged upon an ornate rug and around a low table.

A young female stood. She appeared to be not much older than a teen. In a slow, and fetchingly sensuous, walk she approached Lynn. She stroked one forearm of Lynn's pressure suit saying, "You've done well."

"Thank you Ani," replied Lynn. "I've met my destiny."

Ani and Lynn's eyes met. Their love was obvious. Her eyes now downcast, Ani flashed a sly little smile.

Some of the group carried the table off to the side, rolled up the rug, and opened a trap door.

There were no stairs. Instead, a gentle slope paved in squared stones led downward.

Down the slope went Haka, followed by Lynn who was still carrying Denise in his arms, followed by Ani.

The sides and ceiling had the same construction as the slope. Lamps mounted on the stones fed by a black cable gave the stones a sheen. The stone surfaces were covered in what appeared to be a very thin layer of sprayed or brushed-on, clear plastic.

Walking in trail, Ani ran her fingers over one wall, said, "The ancient stone masons were very skilled at their craft."

Haka grunted at Ani's remark.

After a moment, Haka said, "Don't forget, those masons had help from the starpeople."

"Only the reptilian starpeople from Orion," added Lynn. "Let's give credit where credit is due. No other starpeople participated."

The gentle downward slope transitioned to a steep upward slope. They were headed toward the heart of the hill.

Occasionally, the group passed small, circular openings in the rocks. From the openings came gentle streams of warm air, pressurizing the passageway.

The group encountered a door, which appeared to have been carved flat from a large boulder. Horizontal metal bars, kept the door from being opened from the other side.

Haka removed the bars, using one of the bar restraints he pulled opened the door.

The group entered a chamber. Haka closed the door.

The walls of the chamber were painted with pictures of ancient Egypt and Egyptians and their gods, accompanied by many hieroglyphs.

At the center of the chamber was a bed. To one side of the chamber, near one wall was a large and rectangular sarcophagus. The sarcophagus was covered in hieroglyphs. A horizontal line of ankhs encircled the sarcophagus halfway up its height.

Lynn laid Denise on the bed. Lynn and Ani removed Denise's pressure suit, her jumpsuit, her underwear.

There were ancient appearing manacles with thick chains fastened to all four bedposts. Ani spread Denise's legs wide. Lynn fastened to the manacles to Denise's wrists and ankles, gave the key to Haka.

The group went over to the sarcophagus, lifted off the lid. What appeared to be a classic Egyptian mummy was within.

Haka and Lynn stepped back. Ani, as if in prayer placed her hands together, bowed slightly as she spoke in Egyptian.

Ani spoke for a long while. Haka repeatedly glanced at his watch. After some time, he whispered to Lynn, "The drug should be wearing off very soon, but I dare not interrupt Ani. The spell must not stop."

Lynn nodded.

At that fortuitous moment, Ani completed the spell.

The group quickly left the chamber, closing and securing the door.

Haka and Ani and Lynn all shook hands as Ani wept.

Haka motioned for silence. There was a speaker mounted on the wall next to the door.

There came a period of silence. Then from the speaker came the jangling of manacle chains. In a loud voice, Denise called out, "Hello? Anyone here?"

More jangling.

Even louder, Denise shouted, "Help!"

More jangling, which soon stopped.

Faint rustling and thumping sounds came next.

Denise asked, her voice trembling, "Who are you? What are you?"

Slow shuffling sounds.

Denise softly said, "I can't believe this is happening. I have got to be dreaming. That's it! Must be a dream."

More jangling.

Much Louder, Denise exclaimed, "What are you doing? Get off of me for crying out loud!"

"Ow! Stop! You're hurting me!"

More jangling.

Then came sobs accompanied by scraping and shuffling sounds, a thump.

Haka whispered, "We must wait a bit to allow time for the soul to transfer. It'll happen as soon as the woman's egg is fertilized--should take no more than an hour. Let's hope and pray Denise is fertile and in an appropriate time of her cycle. I'm sure the Pharaoh is potent. He is a god, after all."

The three sat, their backs up against the door. Ani cuddled with Lynn. Haka made frequent glances at his watch.

After exactly one hour had passed Haka stood, said, "Let's check things out."

Haka removed the bars; Lynn swung open the door, and then closed it after the three entered the chamber.

Denise was crying, still chained to the bed. The mummy was face down on the floor, not moving.

Haka smiled, declared, "The transmigration must have occurred."

Lynn went to Denise, placed one gloved hand on her left shoulder.

Around sobs, Denise said, "This is the strangest dream I've ever had."

"It's not a dream," replied Lynn.

Denise wagged her head, said, "It's got to be. What else could it be?"

Lynn smiled as he spoke. "Believe me, it's not a dream. It's your destiny. You will be greatly honored."

Haka strode over to the bed, unlocked the manacles. "Get her dressed," he ordered. "But not the pressure suit."

Ani gathered up the clothes. Lynn pulled Denise to her feet, helped Ani dress Denise.

As soon as she was clothed, Denise pressed up against Lynn, wrapped her arms around him. Ani's eyes narrowed as she grimaced.

Lynn looked at Ani and smirked while he shrugged.

"Let's go," ordered Haka.

Haka led. Denise slipped one arm through the crook of Lynn's right elbow, again pressed in against him. Ani followed closely behind the three, carrying Denise's pressure suit.

The walk back to the living quarters was uneventful save for Denise's persistent questions, which were not answered.

Back in the family's living quarters, while the trap door was being closed and hidden beneath carpet and table, Lynn escorted Denise to another room.

There was thick and heavy drapery over one wall. Lynn pulled open the drape, revealing a cell with sturdy appearing metal bars.

Lynn opened the cell's door, grabbed Denise by one elbow, shoved her into the cell, closed, and locked the cell door.

While Lynn walked back across the room to hang the key on its hook, he declared, "You'll be comfortable here."

Lynn returned to the cell. Denise gripped a couple of bars, was sobbing. She asked, "Why are you doing this? I can't believe this is happening."

Lynn continued, "There's a toilet, sink, bed, a cupboard for snacks. The array is programmed for incoming only, so you'll have some entertainment. A couple times a week Ani and her mother will bring a change of clothes, wash you down. Don't try to escape. Haka and his sons will be ready, right outside the door."

Around sobs, Denise asked, "Why? For God's sake, why?"

Lynn smiled. "That's exactly it--it's for a God's sake."

Lynn gently held the knuckles of one of Denise's hands still gripping a bar. Lynn said, "You recall about a decade ago the Viking corpse found in that cave next to Camp Five?"

Denise nodded, replied, "Of course."

Lynn smirked as he continued, "Well now, you recall how the Vikings guided the Knights Templar to America?"

Denise nodded while Lynn said, "And I can only assume you know of the link between the Knights Templar and the Masons?"

Again the nod.

"You, my dear, you are carrying the next incarnation of an Egyptian Pharaoh."

Denise stepped back from the bars. She gasped, "No! I don't believe it!"

This time it was Lynn's turn to grip a couple of bars as he laughingly said, "Oh yes. It's happening all right. You should be happy. Someday, you will be revered as the mother of a living God."

"No! No! No!" exclaimed Denise. The sobbing began again.

After the sobbing stopped, Denise said, "I should have figured this out. Kings Valley is an analog for Egypt's Valley of the Kings."

Lynn fell to his knees, bowed toward Denise as he proclaimed, "Should you terminate your pregnancy..."

There came a lengthy pause before Lynn went on, "Let's just say the Egyptians know some very ancient but effective methods of torture before they take your life. Understand?"

Voice trembling, Denise replied, "I understand."

Lynn got to his feet. With a firm voice he announced, "Mars has a way of changing the destiny of us Solarians. With the appearance of a new Pharaoh, perhaps the starpeople will come back. One can only hope."

"Goodbye my dear."

Lynn left the room.

Haka and Ani went to Lynn while the rest of the family looked on.

Ani buried her face in Lynn's chest, Haka said, "You've done well, my friend."

Haka put one hand on Ani's shoulder as he said to Lynn, "Even though you're not Egyptian, you know you have my blessing. I suspect my grandchildren will be gifted, given the past successes of racial hybrids, and my grandchildren will be living in a new and exciting era."

Lynn put one hand on the hand Haka had placed on Ani's shoulder.

Lovingly, Lynn asked, "May I now call you father?"

"Of course. Of course, my son."

Lynn stepped one step back while he said, "My officebot just sent my suit a message. I've got another fare waiting in Bradbury."

Ani had climbed into Denise's pressure suit. Lynn asked, got her iCard?

Ani nodded as Lynn said, "When we get to Camp Five and then to the hotel, activate your visor's polarization setting so your face can't be seen. I'll let you know when I'm back in town from my next fare. We can then meet at that club down the street. Okay? That way it will look like you disappeared in Bradbury, not during the trip to Salt Creek. I'll wear a pressure suit with no advertising. I know where all the security cameras are, will park the rover out of their sight."

Lynn went to the door, opened it, let Ani pass by. Lynn turned around, gave a salute.

As previously instructed, the rover opened its doors upon Lynn's approach.

After the rover pressurized the cabin, Lynn opened his visor, said to the rover, "Well pal, back to Bradbury. We've got a fare waiting at the spaceport, they want to go all the way out to Chinatown. Gonna cost the fare a goodly bit of credits. It's been a productive day."

Lynn turned to Ani, softly said, "Productive in more way than one. I love you, sweetheart. Today our future together is set."

Ani made no reply. She smiled, unlatched her seat and shoulder belts, climbed across the center console to Lynn, and kissed him. Their open visors clacked together. The couple pulled apart, laughed, kissed again.


2017 C.E. Gee

Bio: C.E. Gee (aka Chuck) misspent his youth at backwater locales within Oregon and Alaska. In his days, he answered many callings: logger (choker setter) meat packer, Vietnam War draftee infantryman, telecom technician, volunteer fireman/EMT, light show roadie, farmer, businessperson, sysop/webmaster. He is currently retired, a disabled veteran, and now writes SF stories. Chuck maintains a blog at http://www.kinzuakid.blogspot.com. His last Aphelion appearance was Buck's Driving Force in our August, 2016 issue.

E-mail: C.E. Gee

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