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False gods, a secret alien invasion, and two women hunted because they know the truth. The Heaviness of Knowing (Book 1) Roxal's life revolves around one core principle: obey your gods or die. So even though she knows her gods are false, Roxal has to pretend she's a devoted follower to survive. But her survival comes at a high cost. Obeying her false gods means Roxal is forced to use her dream travel ability to covertly manipulate an earth woman to do their bidding. However, now her gods are hunting and executing nonbelievers. And Roxal knows it’s only a matter of time before she’s discovered. Lauren's on the verge of making a technological breakthrough when a sudden illness stops her in her tracks. Desperate to get back to work, she’s willing to try anything. Even seeing a hypnotherapist. During her hypnosis sessions, Lauren “meets” Roxal and discovers that not only are aliens real, but they're planning to attack Earth – and she's been helping them. But unfortunately for Lauren, the people who want her to continue helping aren’t going to let her walk away easily. Both Roxal’s and Lauren’s lives are at risk. Can Roxal find a new way to survive now that pretending will no longer keep her safe? Can Lauren stop the alien invasion that threatens life as she knows it? What will be the ultimate price these two women pay for knowing the truth? The Peril of Knowing (Book 2) Serial over-achiever Lauren is never more in her element than when tackling a new problem. So, she didn’t think twice about walking away from everything to join ENL in the fight against the impending alien invasion. However, after four months, very little progress seems to have been made. And worse, by the way she is ordered around and not allowed to go anywhere alone, ENL doesn’t seem to have any trust in her or her ability. It certainly doesn’t help that when Lauren finally does force them to give her a little freedom, she’s kidnapped. And that’s just the start of the hell that breaks loose in her life. Roxal has escaped the false gods who had enslaved her, but she still doesn’t feel as if she’s free. Living within a Resistor group, she gets an up-close view of their fight against her former captors. However, after seeing the tactics the Resistors are willing to use, she questions if they are, in fact, the “good guys”. Even though everyone around her seems sure about their reason for fighting, Roxal struggles to come to terms with what people do in the name of war. Both Lauren and Roxal are fighting to make their lives make sense again. Can Lauren successfully stop the aliens planning to invade Earth? And can Roxal figure out who the enemy really is before it’s too late? Will these women be able to survive the danger that comes from knowing the truth? Book 3 of The Conscious Dreamer Series coming August 2018 Dystopian science fiction, metaphysical and visionary, alien invasion, alien contact, parallel dimension
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The Heaviness of Knowing Copyright © 2016 by Sharolyn G. Brown. All rights reserved.
The Peril of Knowing Copyright © 2017 by Sharolyn G. Brown. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual locales, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author. Please visit www.sharolyngbrown.com for information.
The Heaviness of Knowing, July 2016 Edition
Cover by Steven Novak
Edited by Therin Knite
Specialty font used, Anita Semi-square
The Peril of Knowing, July 2017 Edition
Cover by Steven Novak
Edited by Therin Knite
Specialty font used, Anita Semi-square
The Heaviness of Knowing
The Peril of Knowing
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Acknowledgments - The Heaviness of Knowing
Acknowledgments - The Peril of Knowing
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To Octavia – written.
Blending in to the point of being invisible was the only way Roxal knew to survive. So she stood quietly in formation with her fellow Travelers caste members, waiting to enter the assembly hall for an unscheduled Glorious Session. Unscheduled gatherings never meant anything good, but Roxal did not let her worry show. Like the sea of people all around her dressed in their identical cobalt blue uniforms, she stood erect, looking forward, with her hands clasped behind her back. Her stance matched that of everyone around her. No one fidgeted; they all just silently waited until it was time for the Travelers to enter.
When the shrill tone sounded, everyone stepped forward in unison, right foot first. Once through the doors, smaller groups split off with precision as people went to their assigned seating areas. The room was noiseless, except for the sound of marching, even though thousands of Citizens had already entered and many thousands more were silently streaming in.
The assembly hall was a massive, four-sided room designed to reinforce the strict caste system in which they all lived: the lower your rank, the lower your seating area. Along the outer wall where the doors were located, there was a walkway that went around the entire room. However, to get from the walkway to the seats, there were only four floating walkways on each caste’s level that connected to their assigned seat section, like spokes running from the outer section of a wheel to the central hub.
In the case of her assembly room, the central hub was also four-sided and sloped at an angle, like the four-sided pyramids that Roxal’s Earth Connection, Lauren, had once shown her. There was a slight difference from the pyramids she had been shown, however. Instead of the sloped walls meeting at the top to form a triangular point, the top of the hub was a broad, flat platform on which the highest in their society, The Keepers’ Representatives, sat during Sessions. When seated, everyone else had to continuously look up to see them.
The seats were arranged in concentric boxes around the hub. One level down from The Keepers’ Representatives was the seating section for the next highest caste group, the Talented and Honored Citizens. Below them was the seating section for Roxal’s caste group, the Travelers. And at the bottom was the Helpers and Laborers caste. Roxal, thankfully, had always been a Traveler, so she knew nothing about the lowest caste beyond what her various assigned Helpers had told her through the annums.
Everything on Trebor revolved around their caste system. Children were created in birth pods of thirty beings. Once gestated, you were trained and educated together until the age of ten annums. At ten, each child began a series of aptitude tests to determine his or her caste designation. Travelers were identified first, and then the remaining children were sorted into Helpers and Laborers. Membership in the higher groups, the Talented and Honored and The Keepers’ Representatives, could only be earned through ascension. Ascension was a gift bestowed on the obedient by their gods, The Keepers. And assemblies such as Glorious Session were just one of the many ways obedience was reinforced.
Attending Glorious Session was a solemn occasion, so once Roxal was seated, she sat in silence with her head raised so that she could see the platform where The Keepers’ Representatives would eventually sit. She watched as the last of the Talented and Honored took their seats. The Representatives would not enter until everyone else was inside. Their sacredness demanded they not mingle long with the masses.
The thought of this lie and the many others that she once believed left her feeling anger toward those who had taught them to her and shame at how, for most of her life, she had accepted the lies as the truth. Actually, the shame she felt was also mixed with some anger, because even though she now knew the truth, she still had to pretend that she believed the lies for her own safety.
Her conformity allowed her to be invisible. Roxal did nothing to bring notice to herself. She dressed the part of loyal Traveler. She talked the part of loyal Traveler when not around Edo, who had taught her the truth. She acted the part of loyal Traveler. Being invisible allowed her to stay alive, so she perfected her invisibility.
The tone signaling the entry of the Reps sounded. Roxal, in unison with everyone else in attendance, stood, raised both of her hands, and covered her eyes, so as not to gaze too long on the godlike beings. Even a motion as simple as covering one’s eyes in assembly was scripted. Their arms were raised and held parallel to the ground. The elbows were bent, and each hand covered an eye with the palm side toward the face. The hands were flat and the tips of the longest fingers touched on the bridge of the nose.
She presumed everyone covered their eyes. Roxal had never been brave enough to even peek through her fingers. As they all stood with their eyes covered, they began to chant, “The Keepers know all. The Keepers see all. The Keepers are gods and therefore must be obeyed. It is through their benevolence that I am allowed to live and serve them. If I can no longer serve The Keepers, then I no longer deserve to live.”
Another tone sounded and everyone was allowed to uncover their eyes and be seated. Covering their eyes while the Reps entered was symbolic, because the Reps’ uniforms completely covered them from head to toe. The Rep uniform consisted of a heavy brown robe with a black, hooded piece attached at the shoulder that covered the entire head and face. In contrast, all Travelers wore front-fastening shirts and drawstring pants, in their caste color.
“All hail The Keepers! All hail The Keepers! All hail The Keepers!” the Reps led the responsive chant.
“We have called you all here for a matter of grave importance,” one of the Reps spoke. “It is with much sadness that I must inform you that there are traitors among us!”
With those words, Roxal’s heart fluttered and her breath skipped. An audible gasp was heard, and for the first time in her life, Roxal heard the murmuring of the Citizens in attendance. She looked around at the other Travelers in her area. In the sea of blue, she could see heads turning in different directions, with some people whispering to their neighbors. She wished that she could look behind herself down into the Helpers’ section. Edo was back there, somewhere. And she desperately wanted to see him to reassure herself that her worst fear was not about to come true. But she was afraid of what would happen if she was seen looking out of her area.
Though she had learned that The Keepers were not all knowing and all seeing gods, she knew they had surveillance everywhere. And concern for someone other than yourself and your fellow caste members was not normal. Showing concern for Edo would disrupt her camouflage of conformity. As she thought about it, this announcement during an assembly would be just the type of trap their surveillance was made for. Bring everyone together, make the announcement, watch their reaction, and follow up with those who did not respond as they should.
The Rep spoke again, “Yes. We are devastated as well to know that there are blasphemers among us who have rejected the wise and benevolent leadership of The Keepers. But then again, it just shows us why we, The Keepers’ Representatives, are so needed. We are here to guide you and to ensure that you stay on our holy path.
“To that end, we are letting you know that everyone will be reviewed and judged to determine if you are still loyal, or if you have turned against your gods and deserve death.” The Rep paused again, as if to let the weight of his proclamation sink in.
“What does he mean by reviewed?” was a question Roxal heard whispered over and over again.
Roxal sat in silence while her mind raced.
Something must have happened. Why now? she thought.
Roxal first learned of the Resistors almost an annum ago from her current adult Helper, Edo. Edo was a demoted Traveler who had been abruptly assigned to her, replacing her previous adult Helper, Daken. When they were first paired, Roxal did not trust him, and apparently Edo had not trusted her either because for two annums he said nothing to her about the Resistors. Even after they became involved physically, as all Travelers did with their adult Helpers. But at some point, things between them changed, and slowly, he told her what he knew.
Initially, it was hard to believe that her entire life had been a lie, until she finally worked up the courage to begin testing the so-called omniscience of The Keepers. Her first act of defiance had been small. While in a Glorious Session, she had dared to think of The Keepers’ Representative who was speaking at the time as an ignorant Rep.
A stray unapproved thought was her first act of defiance. However, for Roxal, it was huge. She honestly did not know what she had expected to happen exactly. But when she thought about it later, she realized she had expected that in the sea of hundreds of thousands of people present, her treacherous thought would be heard by her gods and she would immediately be called out for it. Yet nothing had happened. The Glorious Session had continued, and she was allowed to leave unharmed. She returned to her quarters, and continued on with her helio as if nothing had happened. That simple thought had opened up a world she never considered possible.
Still, this new world was dangerous. Always guarding her behavior to ensure she never broke character was becoming tiresome. Only being able to trust one person, Edo, with her newly discovered truth was isolating. And always waiting for the moment when her defiance would be discovered and she would be killed was nerve wracking. Now this assembly, as if in answer to her worst fear, was moving dangerously close to her dread of being discovered and killed.
“Silence,” yelled the Rep, and everyone stopped speaking at once. “Do not worry, dear Citizens. You will have a part to play in rooting out this evil before it takes hold and destroys our paradise. But first, we must make an example of The Keepers’ power.”
There was a scream from the seating section around the corner to Roxal’s left. She could not see what was happening, but there was a lot of commotion. Then, other shouts could be heard from all around the assembly. As Roxal wondered what was going on, she saw the all black uniforms of the Security Force entering the aisles and making their way through each row of seated people. As she watched, someone was grabbed from five rows above her. The person was dragged out into the aisle and practically carried up to the platform.
As Roxal continued watching, she heard a noise to her right. She turned and looked just in time to see Security Force members forcing their way onto her row. The Security Force members did not speak as they marched through the gathered. Some people were fast enough to climb over their seats and get out of the way. Other, slower moving people were just shoved either backward or forward over the seats.
Roxal sat, waiting for them to come get her. Running would do no good because there was nowhere to go. However, when the Security Force members reached her, one of them grabbed her arm roughly and tossed her over her seat. Entangled with the people she landed on, a bewildered Roxal worked herself free in time to see them grab Jonar and drag him toward the platform.
The seizing of Jonar made tears spring to Roxal’s eyes. She knew him. He was raised in the same birth pod as her and Edo. But more than that, he was a member of the Resistors. Roxal had never spoken to him about it, but she had seen him speaking with Edo in private during general work assignments.
Jonar struggled as he was carried to the platform. Roxal could do nothing but watch him get taken, powerless to do anything of consequence. She could not yell out or fight for him without damning herself to his same fate. So she watched along with everyone else who was spared as the captured people were dragged onto the platform and shoved to the floor. Some of the people on the platform tried to run back to their seats. They were recaptured, easily, and thrown back into the platform’s center. Finally, there came a point where no new people were being brought up, and those who were on the platform seemed resolved to their fates and stopped fighting.
Then the Rep spoke again. “You who are here are examples of the power of The Keepers. Our omniscient gods have been watching you. And they know that you are blasphemers!” The Rep’s back was turned to the crowd as he focused on the twenty or so people on the stage. There were several cobalt blue-clothed Travelers; Jonar was one of them. However, there were also some olive green-uniformed Helpers and slate gray-uniformed Laborers. Roxal noticed that there were none of the golden yellow-uniformed Talented and Honored Citizens.
I guess once you become a member of the Talented and Honored caste, The Keepers are guaranteed your loyalty, she thought.
The Rep continued, “Your unfaithfulness is a fact, for The Keepers are never wrong. Now all we have to do is determine the appropriate punishment for you.”
“Please, your Holiness. I am innocent,” someone cried out from the stage. To make sure that everyone could see what was happening, an enlarged projection of the platform was now hovering above them. It could be seen from all angles. On it was a close-up of a Helper who was crying out her innocence.
The Rep walked over to the Helper and she cowered on the floor. He crouched down to get closer to her. His long brown gown partially obstructed Roxal’s view of the crying woman kneeling at his feet. “My child. You cannot be innocent, for The Keepers have reviewed you and found you to be guilty. But if you now truly repent of your sins, maybe you can be spared.”
“I repent, your Holiness,” the female Helper quickly exclaimed as she grabbed on to his lower body. “I repent of whatever my gods have found me guilty of. The Keepers know all. The Keepers see all. The Keepers are gods and therefore must be obeyed.” Sobs interrupted her exposition. She continued, “It is through their benevolence that I am allowed to live and serve them. If I can no longer serve The Keepers...” Her crying intensified. “If I can no longer serve...” Again, her crying choked off the words she was struggling to say. “If I can no longer serve The Keepers, then I no longer deserve to live. Please spare me.” Her sobs continued.
“My child, your plea has not fallen on deaf ears or a hardened heart.” The Rep forcefully removed the woman from his lower body and stood. He then faced the people in the seats. “You see, I was directed by The Keepers to kill all of the traitors that were uncovered tonight. But their deaths were not to be merciful and quick ones. They were to be drawn out and painful.”
Roxal watched the screen, knowing what was coming next. Exile.
The Rep continued, “These blasphemers were to be exiled to the poisonous wilderness that exists outside the safe walls of our compound.” Now the projection switched from a view of the platform to a scene showing the conditions outside of their compound. The sky was a dingy, brownish-orange, and lightning flashed from purple-black cloud to purple-black cloud. As the toxic rain fell onto sickly and dead trees and scorched land, a mist rose, signifying the continuous burning and damaging of the land. Darkened viscous pools of liquid puddled and ran along the surface of the burned terrain. The thought of stepping outside the compound made Roxal’s skin feel as if it were itching and burning.
“But, if you would like to confess”—the video switched back to the Rep, who looked down at the Helper still groveling at his feet—“you will save yourself from exile and be killed here mercifully by our Security Force.”
“No. Please,” she continued to plead. “I am loyal. I serve The Keepers.”
“Well, if you serve them, my child, you should be willing to give your life for them.”
The Helper then collapsed fully onto the floor, weeping. Two members of the Security Force picked her up by her arms and dragged her to a chair with arm and leg restraints, that Roxal had not noticed when this all began. The Helper was fastened in. She did not fight the Security Force members as they locked her in place. Her head hung forward, and her sobbing was now more of a whimper.
“My child. Because you have confessed and repented of your sins, you will be granted a merciful, quick death. Have you any last words?”
The Helper remained slumped over, not even acknowledging the Rep as he spoke to her.
“Very well.” The Security Force members raised her head and strapped it into place against the back of the chair. The video showed a close-up of her face as they did this. Her eyes were partially opened; it was as if she had almost fallen asleep. Once her head was strapped in, one of the Security Force members pulled out a gun and held it to her head. There was a crackle. The Helper’s face tensed for a moment, and then her eyes closed as her face relaxed. Dead.
Tears welled in Roxal’s eyes and ran down her face. She did not know the name of the Helper who had just been killed, but she had just witnessed the woman’s death nonetheless. She had stood there and just watched her be executed.
It was not until the thought that she herself could be killed that Roxal began to search the remaining people to see if Edo was one of them. The projection remained on the face of the recently executed Helper. So she stopped watching the projection and stared at the actual platform above her. She strained to focus on the faces of the remaining green-uniformed people. There were six still alive, four men and two women. Of the four men, only one had brown skin, and his skin was darker than Edo’s.
Roxal let out a sigh of relief. She did not feel that she and Edo were safe. But she did feel that maybe they were not going to be executed in this session. Living through this assembly was the first step, then they could figure out what to do to survive later.
“How unfortunate.” The Rep slowly shook his head from side to side. “This is a tragedy. This Citizen did not have to die. Not like this. But such is the fate of all blasphemers. Now, for you who are left.” The Rep turned toward the remaining Citizens on the platform. “Is there anyone else who would like to confess their guilt and receive a merciful death?”
The projection widened its focus on the platform so that the faces of the remaining kneeling people showed clearly. Roxal watched Jonar. She would not have blamed him for confessing at this point. It was guaranteed that everyone on that platform would be killed. Now it was just a matter of how. As the Rep stood watching the Citizens, no one else stepped forward. The accused Citizens huddled in pairs and trios, comforting one another on the platform. Jonar huddled with another Traveler, but remained silent.
“Well, if no one else is willing to confess, exile is what you are choosing. Is that what you want?”
No one moved.
Then Jonar looked up.
The projected image focused on his face. With all attention on him, Jonar smiled. As Roxal wondered what possible thought would make him smile, he jumped up and ran for the edge of the platform, directly toward the Rep. Two Security Force members ran over and tackled him before he even got close to the Rep. Roxal startled.
The image continued to focus on Jonar, now on his back, struggling beneath the bodies of the two Force members. Jonar somehow managed to plant his feet on the floor and lift his lower body, rolling the two people on top of him toward his upper body. As he lifted, he shifted his body and began wriggling out from under them.
The two Force members who were on top of Jonar were now tangled together. Roxal could not tell if they were fighting each other or Jonar at this point. However, before Jonar could totally free himself from the pile, two more Force members ran over.
The first to reach Jonar hit him in the head with something that caused him to fall motionless onto the platform. The second of the new arrivals straddled Jonar’s lower body. The member who had hit him in the head was holding down Jonar’s shoulders. The two Force members he had originally fought were now separated.
One dove back onto Jonar’s upper body, while the fourth removed a gun from his side and placed the tip on Jonar’s forehead. The same crackle from moments before sounded. Jonar’s body convulsed for a few moments and then went slack.
As the Force members removed themselves from Jonar’s lifeless body and stood, the other Citizens on the platform suddenly exploded into action. All of them ran toward the Rep who had been speaking. The projection expanded to show the full scope of the chaos. The Rep took a few steps back as the mob of captured Citizens was met by a wave of Security Force members.
The scene was now one of mayhem as blue, green, and gray-uniformed Citizens crashed into the multitude of black-uniformed Security Force members. Every moment of the horrific scene was shown for all to see.
The Citizens never stood a chance. There were at least two Force members for every one of them. Roxal did not look away as each Citizen was caught and thrown to the floor. Some continued to fight as they lay on the floor, as Jonar had. Others surrendered immediately.
Ultimately, it did not matter whether someone continued struggling or not. The end result was the same for them all: the Force members eventually got the upper hand and the Citizen was shot in the head.
Time seemed to drag on and on as they watched the massacre. Eventually, the Security Force members stood and returned to formation. The bodies of the dead Citizens lay strewn across the platform for all to see. Finally, the Rep spoke again.
“You have all witnessed the power of The Keepers. Those of you who are still hiding will be uncovered, and you will meet the same fate. So turn yourself in. Also, if you harbor a blasphemer, you will suffer the same fate.” The Rep paused and then added, “This Glorious Session has ended.”
Like the trained animals they were, all of the remaining Citizens stood and recited, “The Keepers know all. The Keepers see all. The Keepers are gods and therefore must be obeyed. It is through their benevolence that I am allowed to live and serve them. If I can no longer serve The Keepers, then I no longer deserve to live.”
As she walked toward her quarters at the end of the helio, Roxal was mentally berating herself over the mistakes she had made. After witnessing the slaughter of Jonar and the other Citizens, Roxal had gone to her mental training work session, as scheduled. Normally, she was one of the top performers in class. This time, though, she could not seem to complete some of the basic exercises.
In addition to mistakes in mental training, Roxal had gotten dressed down for breaking caste protocol. She and several fellow Travelers had been walking to physical training when she had failed to notice the approaching golden yellow-clothed Citizens. The others she had been walking with, however, had noticed. And had, appropriately, stopped and stood with their backs against the wall. Roxal, unfortunately, had continued walking.
One of the Talented caste members had stopped to question her about her delay in response. “I have no reasonable justification and humbly beg your forgiveness,” had been her reply. Though to herself, she thought, We just witnessed people being killed in front of us. And you care about how long it took me to position myself against the wall?
After commanding Roxal to recite the loyalty to The Keepers oath, the Talented caste member had walked away, joining his compatriots, and left her alone.
Finally, in physical training, Roxal had been more aggressive than normal when sparring with her training mates. Though the Instructor seemed pleased by this, Roxal knew this aggression was the only way she could express her anger and fear.
Now approaching her door, the fear was growing. Is Edo inside? she wondered. Though she had not seen him dragged onto the stage during the assembly, it did not mean he had not been grabbed afterwards. For all Roxal knew, he could be being held in preparation for exile.
Once at her door, Roxal touched her hand to the access panel. It validated her identity, and she heard the soft swish as it opened, sliding into the wall. She stepped through the open door and exhaled loudly. Edo was there, arranging her clothes in preparation for the new helio. She pursed her lips to keep the smile she felt from showing on her face.
“Helper, I am pleased to see that you have begun preparing for new helio without being told,” Roxal said. She hoped Edo heard what she really meant, that she was pleased to see him, still alive.
“Yes, Traveler. After this helio’s events, I thought you might want to retire for sleep before end of helio lights out.”
Whether he understood her real message or not, Roxal understood Edo’s: Let’s get into the sleeping unit as soon as possible so we can talk privately.
After some discussion of their schedule for the next helio, both Edo and Roxal stripped out of their clothes and into clothing for sleep. As with most things on Trebor, sleep clothes were all the same. Whether male or female, they consisted of drawstring sleep pants and a matching shirt made of a lightweight material. The only difference between their clothes, other than the size, was the color: Edo’s sleep clothing was green, to match his caste’s color, and Roxal’s was blue.
Wearing only her sleeping shirt, Roxal climbed into their shared sleeping unit. Edo pulled her close and kissed her. The warmth of his bare upper body was comforting. This was not their first kiss, and because she knew they were possibly being watched, she responded as she normally did by reciprocating. Not long after the kissing started, Roxal and Edo were out of their clothes and physically mating, as was typical.
Travelers, from the moment they were identified, were assigned Helpers. When the Travelers were children, these Helpers filled a role similar to caretakers. They supported the young Travelers as they learned how to fulfill their assigned tasks. They also taught the young Travelers how to become loyal Citizens. When not with the Travelers, they assisted Laborers with general activities within the compound.
Then, between the ages of eighteen and twenty annums, a Traveler was considered mature and was assigned his or her new adult Helper. These adult Helpers continued to assist a Traveler with accomplishing his or her task. But the Helper also filled the role of mate. Meaning it was expected that, in matters of physical pleasure, a Traveler’s adult Helper was the primary source.
Roxal had learned from connecting with Lauren over the annums that on Earth, humans had elaborate mating rituals where they connected with different people at will. On Trebor, though, a Traveler could physically mate with his or her Helper or with someone else of the Travelers caste. However, if she wanted to mate with another Traveler, approval from her Section’s Rep would be required. Roxal had once believed that this approval was to ensure that any relationship between Travelers did not interfere with their responsibilities. Now she was not so sure. Edo had told her he and some of the other Resistors thought it was to make sure the Reps could maintain control by keeping people separate.
Once they had finished mating, they both lay in the sleeping unit, not speaking. The tone for evening mantra recitation sounded, and over the loudspeaker, it played. Roxal and Edo both sat upright in their sleeping unit and chanted along.
“The Keepers know all. The Keepers see all. The Keepers are gods and therefore must be obeyed. It is through their benevolence that I am allowed to live and serve them. If I can no longer serve The Keepers, then I no longer deserve to live.”
After the word ‘live’ had been spoken, the lights went out. In the dark, with their sleeping unit’s covering pulled up to their necks, Roxal placed her hands against Edo’s naked stomach and used them to communicate.
What has happened? Roxal asked in the hand signal language Edo had taught her. Why are the Reps looking for traitors now?
I am not sure, exactly. I thought it too dangerous to meet with my Resistor contacts after the assembly. But... he paused during his response.
But what? she prodded.
Roxal, you have always asked that I not give you details because you did not want to get involved. The questions you are asking will get you involved.
This time Roxal paused before answering Edo because he was right. Even after her moment of defiance and after learning their gods were fake, and that her mission with Lauren was a lie, and that she was actually a slave, Roxal had asked him to not give her any details on the activities of the Resistors. She had thought that by not knowing any of the details about the Resistors, she could keep herself safe by denying membership. However, today had shown her otherwise. The sight of the Helper pleading for her life while declaring her innocence had shown Roxal that there was no such thing as being safe.
She finally admitted to herself, that as a slave to The Keepers and the Reps, her life was forfeit from the moment she was created. Appeasing her gods and the Reps could keep her alive. But if they ever decided that she should die, she now knew there was nothing she could say or do to stop it.
Glorious Session showed me that not knowing will not keep me safe. What has happened? Roxal pressed even harder against Edo’s stomach to let him know she wanted an answer.
Jonar’s part of our cell was planning something big. I do not know what. Before the assembly, one of the leaders told me there was something he needed to discuss with me about the plan. Initially, I thought we were going to assist Jonar, now I do not know. He did not remove his hands from her stomach, so she knew he was not finished. Roxal, I am worried. I do not know if anyone murdered today was a member of the Resistors, other than Jonar. But, the fact that even one person was a Resistor member means this helio’s exhibition was not random. We must be extremely careful not to be exposed. When it is safe, I will meet with our leaders and find out what we will do next.
She removed Edo’s hands from her stomach and placed her hands on his. Then there is nothing we can do other than hope we are not executed next.
With that, she removed her hands from Edo’s stomach and turned her back to him. She did not turn her back in anger. Instead, she wanted to definitively signify that the conversation was over.
Edo wrapped his arms around her and drew her close to his body. On her back, she felt his warmth and the beating of his heart. She let its strong rhythmic beating lull her to sleep.
First, there was the brief sensation of floating in a void. Then, everything around Roxal took shape. This time, the dreamscape had taken the form of a work laboratory. The laboratory was eerily similar to Roxal’s training classroom from when she was a child.
There should not be this much bleed over from my life into Lauren’s dreams, Roxal thought.
Looking around the empty room, she counted five wooden tables. On each of the tables were pieces of electronic equipment, soldering irons and other tools, and a variety of tagged metal specimens. Her vision grew hazy for a few seconds. When it cleared again, Roxal now saw an open door on the other side of the room. A voice she recognized could be heard coming through the door, so Roxal walked toward it. As expected, she saw Lauren standing at one of the worktables.
“Why is this so freaking hard?” Lauren exclaimed.
“Hello, Lauren.” Roxal approached the table where Lauren was hard at work.
“Oh, hey Roxal. This stupid microprocessor is still not working. Hopefully, you have some ideas we can try because I’m all out.” Lauren dropped the electrical component she had been holding onto the table. She then took a seat in a tall chair that had appeared only moments before Lauren moved to sit in it.
“I am sure the two of us can figure this out. Is heat still the issue?” Roxal asked and moved closer to where Lauren was now sitting.
“Yeah. I built the chip exactly as we discussed. But, whenever I use it, it overheats. I don’t know what to do. The transfer of electrons and signals is fine in the beginning. Until eventually, it starts to heat up and then pieces start to melt or the reliability of the signal transfer decreases.” Lauren closed her mouth and let out a loud breath through her nose. “I’ve done everything I can think to do.”
“I propose reexamining material selection. I still believe that is key.” The table from the previous room that held the tagged metal pieces now appeared behind them. Roxal walked over to the table and began scrutinizing pieces one by one.
“Haven’t we done that already? It seems like we’ve tried changing materials before. And it hasn’t helped.”
“I realize this is not the first time that we have considered a change in materials, Lauren. However, when we reviewed materials before, we were primarily focused on weight and conductivity characteristics. Not heat dissipation.”
Lauren sighed. “Well, I guess you’re right.” She moved to stand beside Roxal and join in the consideration of material samples.
After reviewing about half of the tagged pieces, Roxal stopped. “There has to be something else. Otherwise your planet will never advance beyond your current level of technological achievement.”
Lauren exhaled and walked away from Roxal and the table. “Well, we do have other materials, but they’re rare and expensive. If I used them, this microchip would cost so much it couldn’t be mass produced. And you told me I need to design it so it can be used in everything if I want to save Earth.”
“Yes, that is what I said.” Roxal paused. In this dream world, she and Lauren were well acquainted. Roxal had been traveling into Lauren’s dreams for over twenty-five annums, which equated to twenty-five Earth years. They had known one another since they were both young, and therefore Lauren trusted her just as Roxal had trusted The Keepers.
Initially, Roxal had been told that getting Lauren to create the microprocessor she was now working to build was for the benefit of Lauren’s planet, Earth. That if Lauren were successful, her chip would be one small part of a larger plan to save Earth from the ecological devastation her own planet, Trebor, had suffered. Because this was what she had been taught and believed, this was what Roxal taught Lauren during their dream sessions. And though Lauren would have no conscious memory of their time together, subconsciously she would feel the importance of building her microchip.
But now, Roxal knew the chip would not help Earth. Instead, it was a small part of a larger plan for The Keepers to conquer Earth. And she and all of the other Dream Travelers were instrumental in implementing The Keepers’ plan.
Once Roxal knew the truth, working with Lauren had gotten harder and harder. Though no matter how hard it was, Roxal did not know what else to do. Because failing The Keepers was punishable by many things, including death.
“Lauren, I believe that if we take a break from this, you will be able to think more clearly. Tell me about your world.”
The table containing the metal samples was now cleared, and two chairs appeared on either side. The women each walked to a seat. Roxal loved hearing stories about Earth. She watched the smile spread on Lauren’s face. “Well, my boyfriend and I just got back from a vacation on the beach. Oh, actually, I mean my fiancé. Anyway, it was a short trip. I just wanted to go somewhere to relax. And it was gorgeous.”
“Describe this beach to me.”
Lauren looked left, and a rectangular section of the drab workroom’s wall began to dissolve. “The weather was perfectly sunny the entire week. The water was crystal blue and so clear you could see straight to the bottom. The sand was very fine and looked white under the sun. I had to wear sunglasses every time we went outside. Near the resort was a group of palm trees with cabanas and lounging chairs underneath, and we sat there every day.”
As she talked, the scene came into focus. Roxal was temporarily blinded as the blazing sol reflected off the almost white sand below it. The leaves of the tall, skinny trees swayed in a wind Roxal did not feel. Even though Lauren did not describe one, a soft, sweet scent wafted in through the window. It somehow made Roxal feel calm. The sound of the water hitting the beach and going back out into the distance only added to the feeling of ease.
“Your planet is so beautiful, Lauren.”
Over the years, Lauren had done this many times. For Roxal, it was a bit of an escape from her reality. But lately, as she watched scenes like this, she always felt sad. Sad that for many generations before she was delivered from her birth pod, her planet had been an ecological waste. Today, living in the compound was the only way she and her people could survive. The video of the world outside the compound that the Reps showed periodically during assembly was a reminder that life only existed within the compound. And within the compound, you could not hide from The Keepers forever.
The longer she stared at this beach with its white sand and crashing waves, the more Roxal felt trapped in her own life. Then, instead of enjoying experiencing a morsel of Lauren’s freedom, Roxal began to feel sad.
Slowly, the wall began to reform as Lauren walked over to her. “I’m sorry. I thought you wanted me to show it to you. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
In this dreamscape, neither of them had a physical body, only their mental projections of what they each thought they looked like. Because they were connected mentally, they could each easily sense what the other was feeling. Roxal needed to distract Lauren from asking about her sadness.
“You do not have to apologize. You did not do anything wrong. I asked you to tell me about your world. But it is time to return to work. Our visit is likely almost up.” Roxal walked away from Lauren. As she went back to the table where the chip sat, a dream representation of Edo suddenly appeared in front of her.
What more can go wrong? Roxal thought as she stopped and shook her head. This dream representation of Edo was not real. He was just the form her doubts took when in the dreamscape.
“Edo, you are not supposed to be here.” His appearance also meant she was losing even more control over the link with Lauren.
“Roxal, tell her the truth. Lauren should know what she is doing to her world.”
“Edo, stop it. I cannot tell her anything, and you know it.” Roxal crossed her arms tightly and looked away from him.
“If you did not want to tell her, I would not be here.” Dream-Edo walked toward Roxal and put his hands on her shoulders. “My being here is proof you are considering severing your link with your Connection, as I did with mine.”
Roxal buried her face in Dream-Edo’s neck, feeling the weight and the truth of his statement. More and more, she thought of guiding Lauren to take the medicines Earth had that could sever their ability to connect. Edo had done this when he had been a Traveler, and she had heard that other Travelers who learned the truth had done the same.
Once he trusted her, Edo had told her what had happened that resulted in him being demoted from Traveler to Helper. As a Traveler, he had initially been very successful. He had appeared to be on track to guiding his Connection to complete his task. In fact, Edo had told Roxal, their Section Rep had told him his ascension into the Talented and Honored Citizens caste would be all but assured once he was done.
Then, Edo had learned the truth about The Keepers and what it would mean for his Connection and the other people of Earth if he was successful. Not wanting to help The Keepers ruin another planet, he had begun pushing his Connection harder and harder. To the Reps, it apparently appeared that he was zealously trying to complete his mission. He was warned on several occasions to be careful. However, in truth, he was trying to break his Connection. Even though Edo knew he could be killed if his Connection did not finish his work, he did not care.
When his Connection did finally suffer an episode of severe emotional distress and visited the Earth medics, the Connection was given medications that permanently broke their link. Edo had expected he would be killed, and was prepared to die. Instead, after his failure assessment, the Reps thought they would be better served by using him as an example of what failure looked like. Edo was stripped of his position in the Travelers caste and of all of its associated privileges. Then he was demoted to Helper and assigned to her. Roxal never knew why he was assigned to her, but she believed it was to send her a very important message: Failure is not an option.
When Edo had finally shared his story with her, Roxal had admired the bravery of his decision. But she was not brave. She was a follower and a survivor. And even though she knew her life was a lie, she was too afraid to defy The Keepers in a way that could be noticed.
“Please, stop.” She raised her head and looked into his eyes. His light brown eyes with small flecks of shimmering gray. In her reality, they always reassured her. In this dreamscape, they were little more than hollow reflections of her fears. “I know you could not continue lying to your Connection. You helped him to get free. But I am not strong enough to do the same.” Roxal looked over at Lauren and saw her staring at the two of them. Though she and Dream-Edo were not trying to conceal their conversation, Lauren only watched and did not say a word. Roxal really hoped this part of the dream would again fade from Lauren’s subconscious when she awakened.
Looking back at Dream-Edo, Roxal touched his cheek and smiled. “I have to get back to work.”
He returned her smile, replied, “I understand,” and disappeared.
She continued to watch the space in which he had stood, building up the resolve to carry on.
Lauren interrupted the silence. “He’s cute. I like Edo.”
“I know, Lauren. You have told me many times before,” Roxal replied with a forced smile wondering if Lauren’s thoughts about Edo were Lauren’s actual thoughts and feelings or hers. “Now let us get back to work.”
There was little conversation as they worked. Together, they would think of new material mixes and design changes for Lauren to try, and Lauren would take notes. The women fell into a familiar pattern developed over the two and a half Earth decades they had worked together.
While listening to Lauren recite the changes she was going to make to the chip once she awakened, a wave of dizziness and nausea rolled over Roxal. She gripped the table and held her eyes closed as it passed.
“Looks like we are finished for today, Lauren. Remember to try out the new ideas and let me know the results the next time we meet.” Roxal opened her eyes briefly. “Until we meet again.”
By the time she heard Lauren reply goodbye, Roxal was on the floor, curled in the fetal position with her eyes closed, and making the transition from the dreamscape back into her own reality.
Roxal lay in her sleeping unit curled in the fetal position, just as her Dream Traveler self had been when she was leaving Lauren. She remained in this position while the transition completed. If she moved too fast, she could be struck with headaches, nausea, and even seizures.
While in the unit, Roxal could hear Edo preparing first meal. There were soft thuds and gentle scrapes as he arranged the food for their meal and their eating utensils. She smiled. Then she quickly cleared it from her face. The Keepers or the Reps could be watching. Once she felt the transition was completed, Roxal continued to lie in her sleeping unit, listening as Edo went about his duties.
Now in the quiet, Roxal exited the sleeping unit, still naked from the previous night. Before joining Edo to eat, she went into the grooming corner in her quarters. Roxal’s quarters were typical of a Traveler’s living quarters. All Travelers lived in private quarters assigned only to them, though most allowed their adult Helpers to stay in them as well. There were no windows to the outside and only one door for entering and exiting. When you entered her quarters, the first thing you saw was the table at which Roxal and Edo ate first meal and sometimes mid-helio meal. Behind the table, against the rear wall, was the sleeping unit they shared. Along the rear wall, in the opposite corner, was the partitioned area used for dressing and grooming.
Within this partitioned area was a sink used for both grooming and general cleaning, a commode, and a small shower. Outside the grooming corner, along the room’s right wall, was a small storage area that contained the few clothes that Roxal owned. Edo also had clothes in this storage area, since he did spend most of his nights with Roxal and not in the Helpers and Laborers’ communal living area. Continuing along the right wall of this room, toward the front of her quarters, was an open space that was formerly used as her work area.
When Roxal was younger and needed extra time for training to teach herself what she needed to know to show Lauren how to build computer components, she had a worktable and various mechanisms set up in this space. Now it was empty. The last time it had been used was when Edo was first assigned to be her Helper. His separate sleeping unit was kept there before he started sleeping in hers.
After quickly showering and slipping on her Traveler’s blue uniform, Roxal walked toward Edo, who was standing beside the table, waiting on her before being seated, as was protocol. Her dreadlocks, which reached almost to her waist, were still slightly damp.
“Good new helio, Traveler,” Edo greeted her. Roxal understood that the fact that Edo had waited for her before being seated and had addressed her by her title meant he also believed they were being watched.
“Good new helio, Helper,” she replied in kind and then took her seat at the table.
After she sat, Edo also sat across from her and then began serving the food, making sure she was served first. First meal consisted of a coarse grain bread, a gelatinous protein mixture with some actual meat in it, and pieces of sour fruit, whose thick rind you cut into and threw away but whose leaves you ate along with the juicy meat of the fruit. Roxal tore a piece of the bread from the small loaf and spread the protein mixture on it. She was swallowing her first bite when Edo said, “I will not be joining you for mid-helio meal, Traveler. I will be working on a special assignment. Unless you believe you will need my assistance at mid-helio.”
Special assignments were usually large-scale tasks primarily assigned to Laborers but that Helpers were allowed to assist with due to the scope or magnitude of the project. Edo had told her that these types of jobs were good cover for Resistor members, who used them to exchange information and other communiqués. There were usually large numbers of people working together from various sections of the compound. It would not be considered odd to see these people speaking to one another while working. Also, because the work usually consisted of manual labor, exchanging items could also be managed if you were careful.
Roxal only replied, “Very well, Helper. I will see you in time for last meal before Glorious Session.”
The rest of their meal was finished in silence. When they were done eating, Edo cleared the table and cleaned the dishes. Then they both left for their separate activities.
Roxal entered the room for mental training. After getting strapped into the helmet, she heard the golden-yellow-uniformed Instructor announce, “Travelers, all bow for the entrance of The Keepers’ Representative of Section 02.”
Our Rep, here, Roxal thought. Her stomach fluttered and her hands shook as she worked to remove the helmet and all of the wires and probes attached to her body. As soon as she was detangled, she dropped down onto her hands and knees and crouched until her forehead was touching the floor. In the silence, she heard other people in the room doing the same. Finally, no one was moving, and Roxal could hear nothing but the sound of her heart as it pumped blood through her body.
“My Citizens, please take your seats.”
Roxal climbed up from the floor, sat in her chair, and made sure to keep her eyes on the Rep’s feet.
“I have come here today to speak with you individually. I know that you were all witness to the glory of The Keepers at just past helio’s assembly.”
At the mention of The Keepers, Roxal and all of the other people in the room chanted, “All hail The Keepers! All hail The Keepers! All hail The Keepers!”
“I am here,” the Rep continued, “to ensure we continue the good work that was begun. Each of you will submit yourself for examination to determine if you are still loyal or if you have been tainted and have become a blasphemer. When you are called, come and stand beside me and I will take you to your examination.”
The Instructor began reading official designations, “Beta 58-04-17, Gamma 49-03-36, Beta 63-01-29...”
As Roxal listened for her official designation, Beta 56-02-05, her stomach would flop every time he read a designation that began with Beta. Finally, he finished with the list. About half of her forty fellow training members had been called. Making sure to keep her head down, she looked in the direction of the people who had been selected.
Roxal watched as they stood, seemingly docile, awaiting the Rep’s next command. Even though they had all attended the same assembly and saw the people get slaughtered on the platform just one helio ago, no one was resisting.
“Thank you, my loyal Citizens, for your cooperation,” the Rep said, and she watched his feet move.
When the Rep moved, she noticed the feet of several Security Force members standing by the door. Roxal kept her head down as her fellow training members left the room behind the Rep and wondered if she would ever see any of them alive again.
When it was time for last meal, Roxal went to meet Edo and walk with him to the Travelers’ dining facility. Since he had been working on the special assignment all day, Edo had spent the day in the Laborers’ section of the compound. Both the Laborers and the Helpers lived in quarters different from Travelers.
First, instead of having individual rooms, Laborers and Helpers slept in communal sleeping rooms with rows and rows of sleeping units stacked two high. Also, instead of having individual grooming corners, they also shared communal facilities. For clothing storage, there were two boxes at the end of each stacked sleeping unit, one for each person, which held everything the Laborer or Helper owned. The box did not have a lock of any kind. Everything about this setup was disturbing to Roxal, who had grown accustomed to having her personal quarters. Though, when she did really think about it, if one of the Reps or someone from the Security Force wanted to enter her quarters, there was nothing she could do to stop them.
While Edo did have an assigned sleeping unit and storage box in the Helpers’ quarters, he now slept in Roxal’s. Usually, the only Helpers who actually slept in the shared living area were the older Helpers assigned to child Travelers. Most Helpers paired with adult Travelers slept in their Traveler’s housing. But, when Edo had first been assigned to Roxal, she had refused to invite him into her quarters out of spite. And to his credit, Edo never complained, or asked her to invite him in. Even though living in the common Helpers’ section surely must have been hard for him, since Edo had lived his life as a Traveler with private accommodations up to that point in his life.
Roxal watched as other Travelers waited for their Helpers outside of the Helpers and Laborers’ sleeping area. None of them spoke to one another as they waited. Finally, Edo exited the Laborers’ section and nodded a simple greeting. Roxal nodded back and the two walked to the dining facility in silence. When she entered, Roxal saw several Helpers eating with their assigned Travelers. Generally, Helpers ate their meals with their assigned Travelers when their Travelers allowed it, because Travelers received better food than Helpers and Laborers.
Roxal and Edo sat across from one another at the communal table. While first meal and even mid-helio meal could be eaten in Roxal’s quarters, all Travelers were required to eat last meal in the group dining facility before Glorious Session. In the group dining facility, everyone ate in silence. When last meal was completed, everyone exited and headed to the assembly hall for Glorious Session. Roxal and Edo again separated to go to the seats in their respective areas.
As with all Glorious Sessions, Roxal marched in, in silence, with her fellow Travelers. Once she was seated, she waited anxiously to see what would happen. Though this Glorious Session was happening during the normally scheduled time, she was expecting to see another massacre.
The tone sounded for the Reps to enter, signaling the start of the assembly. Roxal, and everyone else, stood and said the opening chant of submission to The Keepers. After the chant, as a Rep stood to begin talking, she expected to see the Citizens taken from her mental training class brought out on stage.
However, instead of bringing out people to be executed, the Rep gave the usual sermon. He spoke about their history, about how they had practically destroyed their planet, and about how The Keepers had saved them. He talked about the greatness and the benevolence of The Keepers. At the appropriate times, Roxal chanted the “All hail The Keepers” refrain along with everyone else.
Roxal kept waiting for the Rep to break from his normal lecture and bring out the ‘traitors’ from her mental training class. But it never happened. Views of their ruined world were shown, the lecture ended, everyone repeated the chant of submission to The Keepers, and then they were released.
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