(Formatted for web reading.)
(Formatted for web reading.)
Early evening winds swept across the Metreskan desert, gently folding sand dunes, and erasing footprints. A chill had settled on the land as the sun draped low in the horizon, and the fragrance of creosote bushes filled the air. Babylonia tied her flaming red hair into place and wiped the sweat and dirt from the top of her brow with her pink bandana. She dropped to her knees in the sand. “It’s beautiful.”
She glanced over her shoulder before leaning over to examine the artifact further. “Uri . . ..” her voice barely audible above the howling wind that moved across the singing rocks. “Uri, come quickly.”
Uri dropped his trowel and scrambled up beside her. His dark knees made circular divots in the sand. He examined the object nestled in the dirt next to Babylonia’s small hand.
“I think we’ve found it.” Babylonia gave him a brush. “You do the honors. It’s your people.” She leaned back on her feet.
He carefully brushed away the thin layer of dust revealing the twisting edges of a ruby and sapphire encrusted silver pendant. A multi-tentacled creature draped his long appendages around the gemstones. Uri ran a finger over the surface of the pendant and his fingers lightly brushed across the back of Babylonia’s hand. Electricity surged between them.
Babylonia gasped as the heat crawled up her arm and she reddened. For a moment, the pair knelt in silence. Babylonia cleared her throat, and carefully pulled the object from its resting place. It was unusually cold to the touch and heavier than she’d imagined. She brought it closer to examine it further. “It’s a pendant from King Fanning’s Court. Unmistakable. It’s exactly as the legend-keepers have described it. We are looking at an actual artifact left behind by the world builders.”
She placed the pendant in Uri’s open hand.
“You know what this means Uri? It’s significance?”
Uri nodded, “I may be new to digging in the dirt, but I do know my people’s legends. It means that the Metreskan Dynasty ruled in this area! We have proof.” Uri closed his eyes and traced the smooth stones with his finger. He could almost see his ancestors building their empire, seeding the world, and creating a planet safe for the exiles of Old Earth. He opened his eyes, “You know the regime isn’t going to like this.” He handed her the pendant, and she dropped it into a clear plastic bag.
“No, they’re not. Neither are the Militarian.” Babylonia rocked back onto her heels. “The quicker we get this piece cataloged, the better.” She stood, stretching her back and legs.
Uri picked up his sketchpad and quickly drew the pendant’s location and added the coordinates.
She placed the pendant on a long table that held numerous other artifacts. “After you finish your sketch, have Johansson catalog it.”
“Then how about meeting me at Crowley’s for a drink. The Militarian may not like the implications of this finding, but I’m elated. I want to celebrate.” Babylonia started across the compound but looked back. “Oh, and tell the guys the drinks are on me, but no alcohol. I won’t have my crew sauced. We have too much to do, now that we know for sure what we’re looking at.”
Uri gave her mock salute. “I’ll see to it. Ms. Steele.”
Babylonia rolled her eyes. “As you were.” She crossed the few hundred yards from the dig site to her starcruiser, the Lady Serpentine, with haste. Her long hair shone like spun copper in the evening sun. The dessert winds whipped stray hairs and little bits of sand into her eyes. She blinked as tears of protest obscured her vision. “Next time remember the goggles, Babylonia.”
The Lady Serpentine sat nestled in the center of a rocky outcropping. Here the scenery was a stark contrast to the desert’s rolling sands. The evening sun bounced off the towering rocks. They glowed orange and red in the direct light, but as the sun sunk lower into the horizon, the rocks changed color to a brilliant glowing purple.
A few feet away from the Lady Serpentine’s hatch, the hum of the mechanical wind turbines generating electricity for the dig site buzzed. Babylonia paused. She glanced at the machines; everything appeared to be working. “I’ve got to remember to have Johansson check on those in the morning.”
She rested her hand on the side of the cruiser, “Hopefully, they’re not draining too much of your power.” She patted The Lady Serpentine and stepped up the temporary steps to the hatch.
“Open.” The door flashed open with a pop and a hiss. She frowned. “I need new funding. One of these days you’re not going to open.” She ducked her head and stepped through. The cold air refreshed her hot and dry skin.
“Close.” The door shook but finally shut. “Once I get this new finding to the council, I’ll get you fixed. I promise.”
Babylonia unlaced her boots and dropped her clothes to the floor. She dialed Gwyn’s number for the Pleiades, sank into her overstuffed lounge chair and shut her eyes. “Just for a few minutes.” She murmured. Babylonia waited for Gwyn to pick up, but she didn’t answer. A computer voice came on the line. “Ms. Casteliano is out. Please leave a message. Say one for video, say two for voice.
Babylonia looked down at her naked body and laughed. “Two, please.”
“You may now leave your voice message.”
“Gwyn, this is Babylonia. I’ve found it! It’s here. I finally have proof! The Metreskans settled this planet first!” Her green eyes flashed with excitement.
“Man, Gwyn, I can’t tell you how I wish you were here.” Babylonia paused, pushing away the memories that filled her mind. “Anyway. I just wanted you to know because you’re the only person I know who’d be as excited about this as me. I miss you girl.” She paused again. “If you’re ever in this sector, stop by for a bit. I could use your expertise. Just in case there’s trouble. I’m certain the Militarian aren’t going to like this finding.” She paused, “Oh, and speaking of, send my regards to that guy of yours. I know you’re wondering if there’s anything new on the romance site, um, well. Let’s just say maybe, and if you stop by Mirada, I will fill you in.” Babylonia grinned. “His name is Uri. Okay. That's all I’m telling you over the com. Call me back when you get this. Later, Chica.”
Babylonia ended the call and leaned back in her chair. She shut her eyes and focused on her ship’s environmental program. The melodious warble of bird calls and the cascading sound of a babbling brook filled the cabin. The sweet mountain air programmed into her internal atmosphere swept across her bare flesh. Her skin raised into thousands of little goose bumps, but after the heat of the day, it was a welcome feeling, so she resisted the urge to grab a blanket. Babylonia stretched her long legs and sunk deeper into the lounge. Soon, the rhythm of her breath kept time to the gentle hum of the machinery in her cabin, lulling her to sleep. As she dreamed, the land outside grew dark and purple.
The loud thrum of helocruisers and sirens pierced the quiet. Babylonia thought she was dreaming, but as the sounds intensified her cabin shook. She bolted upright. “Crap!” Babylonia threw on her silky kimono styled robe, slipped her bare feet into her boots and rushed out the door.
Green, purple and silver lights flooded the dig site as Militarian troopers stomped across her newly excavated field. Their boots smashed through gridlines and trampled artifacts like they were debris left over from a space fight. A large man stood next to her command tent dressed in black combat fatigues. He barked commands to men who were dumping her findings and paperwork into large black bags.
Babylonia took off at full speed. Her lean body unusually fast for a woman of Old Earth descent. Babylonia bowed up to the man in charge. “What do you think you’re doing? This is a dig site authorized by the Metreskan Heritage Council. You have no authority here.” She poked him in the chest with her long finger. “You need to leave. Now. Put my things down.” He pushed forward, and she stumbled backward, barely regaining her footing.
He shoved a paper in front of her face that bore the Militarian seal.
She scanned it. “This can’t be!”
The soldier read it aloud. “Dr. Steele, you are accused of digging without a permit, and profiteering.” He pushed Babylonia into a chair. “We are removing the contraband, and if you’re quiet, I’ll let you go with a warning.”
“Let me go with a warning!” Babylonia snarled. “I’ve got all of my permits. Everything is in order, and you have no right to interfere with this dig. Who do you think you are?”
The soldier smirked. “Someone who doesn’t answer to a little girl like you. If you have your permits, let me see them.”
Babylonia glanced across the tent. A man dressed in similar fatigues was carrying a large box of paperwork back toward his ship. She frowned. “I had paperwork, but your man just took it.” She pointed in his direction. “See that man there. If you could just stop him. He has my papers.”
“So, you’re telling me that you don’t have a copy of your permits with you?”
She groaned, her breath exhaling with an exaggerated sigh. “Yes, that’s what I’m telling you, but they’re in that box. If you’ll just let me get them.”
The soldier pointed the end of his pulse pistol at her. “Stay put, Ms. Steele. You’re going nowhere.”
Dressed in black fatigues instead of his usual khaki’s and button up blue shirt, Johansson stepped forward. “It’s gone, sir.”
Babylonia furled her brow. “What’s gone? What are you doing, Johansson?”
Johansson turned to her. “My duty, Ms. Steele.”
Anger radiated from her eyes, and for a moment she thought about punching him in the face.
Instead, she balled her hands into fists and then released them. “How could you?”
He turned his back to her. “As I was saying it’s not here, and neither is Uri. I bet it’s with him.”
The commander pointed his pulse pistol at Babylonia. “Where’s the man?”
Sweat beaded on her upper lip and her voice shook. “How should I know?”
He flicked off the safety and lowered the pistol closer to her head. “I said, where is he?”
Fear flashed in Babylonia’s eyes, and her heart felt as though it was going to fly right out of her chest.
“I don’t know.” She sobbed. “I don’t. Please. I haven’t done anything wrong.” Tears slid down her cheeks, leaving tracks in the dust that had settled on her skin.
“That’s just not good enough. Dr. Steele.” The man lifted his pistol and struck her against the temple with its back end.
The world went black as Babylonia hit the ground with a thud.