Had I been transported to a closet in Holland, and the Gestapo discovered my hiding place? A crack of light brought a familiar room into focus, my mother’s laboratory. Had I awakened pregnant after falling asleep a virgin? Déjà vu all over again. Said a dying Lazarus, ‘Not this again.’ Some tidbits of Twentieth Century humor that came to mind. I rubbed my eyes and peered into the silhouette that morphed into Albert’s trim frame. I had given him Anne Frank as a code to announce him, but I couldn’t remember why I chose her name. Perhaps subconsciously, I wanted him to find my journal, if my tutorial still existed and had been returned to me.
I rubbed sleep from my eyes. “What happened? Where’s Sera?”
“She needed recharging after her efforts to rebuild some electronic consoles.”
I glanced toward the lower level where she had recharged earlier.
Albert understood my quandary. “Dad created a closet in the communication center just like the one in your bedroom. I designed it from memory. He was astounded that I had been in your room.”
“You told him about us?”
“Only that we went spying on him and my mother one night, and we got back too late to sneak into my own room.”
“And his reaction?”
“At first, anger, and then a glimmer of surprise.”
“Good. We’ll present him with the new heterosexual-you in bits and pieces.” I sat up and beckoned him to sit beside me. “Tell me about his encounter with Sera.”
“He was relieved to see her, but she could only maintain verbal communication between him and Paul. When the Realm comes back on line, they may be forced to use the code they developed.”
“You guys really must have screwed up the system.”
“Not our doing. The Realm cut communication with us. Paul was correct. It wants us to disappear and not have to take responsibility. Sera suspects we’re isolated from Earth as well, but we need to wait until their next message arrives.”
“Has the data library been restored?”
Albert cast his eyes down. He sobbed, “I’m sorry.”
I shook my head. “We lost our history.”
“We still have your books, movies and television shows. Jimmy’s addicted to some of them.”
I had a flash of insight. “You wiped out the original tutorial on purpose just to be mean.”
“I still may be able to restore your personal system.”
“I’m no longer over there, and I have little interest in accessing it here, since you and Jimmy contaminated it by playing silly games.” Perhaps we had retained the better of the two programs. A history book with a thousand year gap and an encyclopedia that expired in the year 2069 wasn’t worth much to us anyhow. More important, I needed contact with my sister.
“Dad wants to talk to you.”
“He knows I’m here?”
“Your travel across deep space came out in the discussion of possibly creating some kind of transport between our two halves. Waiting fifty years for it to happen on its own is ridiculous.”
I felt betrayed. Sera certainly understood my desire to remain anonymous. I’m unable to keep secrets from her. Be firm. “I will meet with him after certain conditions are met.”
I glanced around what could have been Mother’s lab. “Converting this room into our apartment.”
“Yes. If I am to carry your child, I need to have you close by. Once we’re settled, we’ll invite your parents to come and visit. That’s what families do.”
“I think he wants to talk to you now.”
I folded my arms. “I imagine he does, but this time he won’t get his way.”
“How will you stop him?”
“She’s busy with the console, at least for now.”
“She knows my wishes and will do anything short of shutting down this habitat, if I don’t get my way.” By her own admission, I still controlled her in all matters other than survival, and I am sure her telepathy received my intention. “Have your father ask her about it.”
“Sera can’t stop him from barging down here.”
“Go. I’ll expect the interior decorators to begin on our apartment in the morning.”
Twenty minutes later—I clocked it—Albert’s and a man’s voices drifted from the upper floor.
“Dad, the lift won’t operate. I tried everything.”
“I refuse to stand here like a damn fool. I shouldn’t have agreed to give that brat the satisfaction.”
“She’s not a brat. She’s my fiancée.”
“You down there. Come up here this instant.”
“Albert? Is that you?” I cupped my hands to project my voice. “If that’s the decorator droid with you, instruct it to come back in the morning. The lift will be functioning at that time.”
“Ariel? It’s my father. He wants to talk to you.”
“Your father? Goodness, our apartment is in no condition to receive your parents. They should not see us living like this. As a matter of fact, you better not join me either until we have better accommodations.” I faked a yawn. “Come home when the place is more presentable. I love you.”
I willed my tutorial open, and as I expected, Albert had restored my access but only to Jimmy’s copy. Star Wars in-progress appeared, and I hadn’t the energy to change the program.
“Ariel Gordon?” I awoke to the sound of a woman’s voice. “I’m Emily, Albert’s mother.” A long sigh. “May I come down?”
“Yes, please do.”
“But the lift?”
“Just step on the round disk, and it will descend.” Sera, make it happen! I sat up but remained on my bed. My first taste of morning sickness.
A pair of shoes, socks covering ankles, slacks, blouse followed by alabaster neck, face, and gray hair tied back in a bun. Pinched lips formed a tight smile. “Frank complained that the lift wouldn’t operate, but Albert said you could will it to work. Is that correct?”
“Sera, my avatar, still protects me. She, like your husband, didn’t ask to be burdened with additional responsibilities.”
“Do you believe that?”
“The Realm has no conscience.”
“Hush, child.” Her eyes darted from side to side. “It has ears.”
“Your husband’s ears maybe, if it ever decides to connect back up with us.”
“I’m afraid we need to do a lot of explaining.” Blue eyes, Albert’s and hopefully his daughter’s, widened and facial tension began to relax. “Are you carrying our grandchild?”
“Not a miracle, just function women haven’t used for a thousand years.”
“Yes, that, too.” She sat alongside me. “Albert is a healthy normal man.”
“Not a fag, you mean.”
“I suppose so, but I detest that word.”
“Would you still claim him as your son?”
“Of course. And I’m speaking for Frank as well.”
“Then why all the concern?”
“Being the only homosexual, who could Albert ever have as a partner? No woman would want him, and the Realm frowns on bachelors. None has ever existed. With the Realm’s need for mathematical gender-balance, it would stop birthing children, if matches weren’t established between adults.”
Fact or fiction? I needed to ask my mother, if she would even be aware of such a ruling. The Realm might not have established the policy until Albert, possibly the first gay person, emerged, especially the son of their number one spy.
I selected a haughty tone. “I can tell you that Albert is not gay. I tried to discourage our having intercourse, but neither of us could resist the strong urges and attraction we had for one another.” Not a total lie. Intellectually, we were determined to return to nature’s way—God’s way—of bringing children into the world.
She glanced around the four walls and said, “Frank and I want you to live closer to us. He’s prepared a room across the hall in an empty space alongside his office where Sera performs her duties. I would feel more comfortable with her close by to monitor your pregnancy. None of the mothers here have had that experience.”
“I would like that.” After two nights of total isolation, I decided not to be coy.
“Good. I’ll have my husband come to get you.”
A trap! Should I allow him to have his way? I’ll let Sera make the decision by controlling the lift. “I will be ready.”
Go now. The thought came to mind much too quickly. Does Sera’s telepathy work two ways? I’ll trust my—her—instincts. “On second thought, I will go with you now.”
Emily gasped. “Oh, not in your condition. Let him make the effort.”
Go with her.
“Thank you. That’s very kind.” A spontaneous rebellion to an impulse that might not have been mine, “Allow me a half an hour to get dressed before I receive him.” I glanced down at my only outfit, wrinkled and clinging to my body, and faced the bathroom. “And to freshen up a bit.”
“Very well.” She stepped onto the lift. “I will tell him he’s welcome to come down.”
You should have gone. My thought or Sera’s reprimand, I didn’t care. I had no intention of going with her or waiting for the lout to have his way with me. I searched the cupboards and found quantities of white lab coats like the one my mother wore when she impregnated me. I slipped one over my blouse and slacks and then stepped onto the lift, challenging Sera to prevent me. It zoomed to the top level.
Assuming the floor plans were similar to the other hemisphere, I tiptoed to the door of Albert’s apartment, the same location as my parents’ if Sera calculated it correctly when we landed. I put my ear to the door and heard nothing. I stopped to listen at each of the other four apartments, three were silent, but from the fourth came the continuation of Star Wars I had been watching last night before I fell asleep. I knocked.
Jimmy, wearing the facemask of a monkey, opened the door. “Princess Lea?” He scratched the floor with the back of his knuckles. “Welcome to my starship.” He continued to dance a jig, as if he’d waited too long to make a bathroom stop. “Shall I fetch Han?”
From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a door opening across and down the hall with Frank voicing instructions to Albert and Emily. I entered Jimmy’s apartment and kicked the door shut, Chewbacca bounding off it.
Jimmy yelled, “Ouch. Why’d you do that?”
“Lock it.” My request meaningless in a society that disallowed privacy.
He abandoned his character, grabbed a chair from the table, and jammed it against the knob. He smirked. “Sometimes I watch Charlie’s Angels and don’t want to get caught.”
The door opened an inch and rattled. “Jimmy, let me in.” Frank’s voice. “Jimmy, do I have to get your parents?”
I put my finger to my lips and switched Star Wars to Charlie’s Angels. Jimmy’s eyes widened and he produced a broad smile. The volume increased without my tampering. Albert had also given Jimmy mind control over my tutorial. I held back my anger, enjoying the trouble I might have caused each of them.
“I’m going to tell your parents.” Frank made one last protest and clomped down the hall, either to fetch Jimmy’s parents or to rendezvous with me.
“Thank you.” I attempted to sooth Jimmy’s fear of reprisals. “I’ll explain to your parents.”
“Not necessary. They usually watch the program with me. Blocking the door is to keep Frank from walking in when he makes his rounds.”
“Makes his rounds?”
“Yeah. Like he’s Marshal Matt Dillon.”
“What can he do about anything?”
“He’s also in charge of the commissary. We ain’t had any desserts all week.”
“Where are your parents now?”
“What are their jobs?”
“They operate the health salon.”
“I want to go there.”
You are heading for trouble. Can I no longer trust my own thought process? Sera, mind your own business.
“Now,” I whispered. “Take me to your parents’ salon, but avoid Frank’s office.”
Jimmy nodded, released the chair and opened the door. He glanced both directions and beckoned me to follow down the hall to a door adjacent to the room set aside for Albert and me. Inside, a scattering of adults and children occupied a variety of exercise devices, massage tables, and Jacuzzi tubs. I recognized my former neighbors, Bob and Helen. All heads turned toward Jimmy and me, presumably the droid who came to restore a malfunctioning communication device.
Do not do it!
“I’m Sera, the Realm’s replacement on Mission Two.”
Three sets of parents emerged from various activities, each pulling a single child into a protective embrace, while Bob and Helen stood and defiantly faced me.
Jimmy dodged his parents’ grasp. “Wow. I guessed you were something special.” He glanced around the semicircle of adults. “Mom. Dad. Everyone. I know Sera. She’s one of us.”
Not sure if he recognized the difference between Sera and me, I responded. “My human form, as Jimmy says, is just like everyone else under my control.”
Go easy, Ariel. Make your introduction and get out of there.
“I’ve already met with Frank and his boy.” I enjoyed that one. “They are quite relieved that my presence removes their burden of maintaining order, a chore which they have dutifully performed.”
Well done. I complimented myself and received no reprimand from Sera.
“Now that I am visibly in your presence, rest assured your survival is guaranteed, and there is no further need for the harsh restrictions you have placed on yourselves. The Realm on Mission One has chosen two groups of five families each to embark on an experiment in self governing.”
Curious glances and a few sighs and gasps from the group.
“The decision to temporarily separate you into two groups presents a challenge as well as an opportunity to develop a friendly yet spirited competition over which I exercise no influence. My function is to ensure survival within the most optimum conditions possible. Your overall goals as well as day-to-day activities are at your discretion.” I made individual eye contact with everyone in the room. “What questions do you have?”
Helen stepped forward, Bob close behind her. “What about children?”
I had been totally unprepared to explain to the emasculated men the loss of their frozen sperm. “We will be no different than every society since the beginning of time. Your future is with your children.”
“We’ve been on a waiting list as long as we’ve been members of the Fortieth League. Why the delay? Is there a connection?”
The group gasped, and Bob cupped his hand over his wife’s mouth.
“The Realm endorses the goals of the Fortieth League.”
Leave God out of the equation for now. Do not present everything to the group all at once.
“The realm respects the pioneer spirit represented by the ten families of the League.” From the expressions around the room, I might just as well have said xyz spirit. I explained, “Individuals who have the courage and ability to attempt something new and different.” They are ready. “Your group’s acceptance of a divine being relieved the Realm of that responsibility and demonstrated that these ten families were capable of self governing.” I added, “You have not been abandoned; just given the opportunity to develop into a self sustaining society.”
Something for everyone. Might work.
“And our desire to raise a child?” Helen hadn’t exactly accepted my response.
“All requests for children will be considered within the capabilities of our birthing procedures and our habitat’s ability to sustain a growing population.” For these adults, natural childbirth will necessarily be delayed to the next generation.
More than electronic communication between us and Earth, we need transportation between us and my mother’s laboratory.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I need to rejoin Frank and Albert who are repairing the temporary glitch in our communication with the Realm.” Oops. “With Mission One.”
Opportunity to validate our name.
“Between us at Mission Two and the Realm on Mission One.” I stepped toward the door. “By the way, Ariel Gordon, the female after whose human form I had been modeled, is also with us. She will be marrying Albert and is carrying his child.” I ducked out the door before the group’s stunned silence ignited into hysteria.
I ditched my lab coat in a trash container as I entered Frank’s office. He and Emily stood aghast and stared at the intercom, the buzz of voices from the health salon continued to fill the room. They had overheard our discussion. Frank glimpsed me and immediately muted the audio. Albert and Sera, their backs to us, sat intense at the control panel in rear of the room. Four couples and three children from the salon appeared on the muted monitor raising their hands as if taking a vote.
“What right do you have to . . .?” Frank became speechless.
“About as much right as you had to intimidate those people.”
“What do you know about keeping order with a panic stricken crowd who could riot at any moment?”
“A riot of less than a dozen people is not a threat. A tyrannical leader who uses fear as a device to maintain control is the problem. We are free of the Realm, and you will not be allowed to replace it.” Albert approached and stood beside me.
The door burst open and the childless couple entered, an entourage of families in the hallway behind them. Bob faced Frank and said, “On behalf of the other families, we’d like you to represent our interests with the new Realm.”
Frank glared at me but his eyes indicated he wouldn’t expose my impersonating Sera.
Helen squeezed past him and stepped up to Albert’s mother. “Congratulations on your son’s selection for a wife.” She glanced from me to Sera, who straightened from her crouch over the console and buttoned the white lab coat she had draped over her shoulders. The woman’s gaze settled back on me. “You must be Ariel. I recognize you from when we were neighbors. Welcome.” She wrapped her arms around me, her hands trailing around my waist settling on my abdomen. She turned to her husband. “There’s life in her. I can’t feel it, but I know it is there.”