Chapter One: The Darian Matter
Author’s Note: Here’s a taste of my new science fiction novel, tentatively titled, The Darian Matter.
It was cold and damp, the sun hanging low behind a gray curtain of clouds wrestling against the horizon. On the Friday the before Thanksgiving, the sidewalks of Birmingham were filled with distracted men and women anxious to make their way home to begin their holiday festivities. The rhythmic incantation of a ringing bell, intermittently punctuated by coins falling into a red steel can, danced across the chill. A tall gaunt man, wearing a wrinkled navy suit, stood at the edge of the curb, unperturbed by the noise and fumes of the growing traffic. Across the street, the DON’T WALK sign flashed its silent orange warning.
The tall man had first felt Mike walking beside him more than he had seen him. He had seen Mike before and generations of watching had honed his ability to distinguish humans that were unique in some way. Mike stood over six feet, with a lean body and cautious eyes, carrying himself with the confidence of a man unburdened by social expectations. Letting his eyes briefly meet Mike’s, the tall man then stepped gently, but deliberately, into the path of the oncoming traffic.
An impatient driver was punching at the radio dials in her silver BMW and jerked at the wheel just in time to avoid the man who had stepped into her path. A pick-up truck, it’s horn blasting an angry warning, raced around the pedestrian. From behind the wayward man, a woman screamed a desperate warning. Whether the bus driver had failed to see the careless man, or simply had no time to react, was never clear. Only after the bus had rolled over the man in the suit did it come to a frantic, jerking halt.
Most of the crowd of pedestrians had turned away in horror, but now reluctantly peered through half-closed eyes to find the red pulpy remains of the victim of the bus’s violence. Their fears quickly turned to disbelief as they watched man continue his deliberate march across the intersection. He continued walking, stepped onto the opposite curb, and quickly disappeared into the incredulous oncoming crowd of pedestrians.
Even though the distortion of space-time, time dilation as Einstein had called it, was a skill he had fully mastered, he felt the brief but sure fatigue that accompanied his feat. Normally, such measures were reserved for times of battle or other perhaps other dire circumstances. But something had been stirring this man, driving him to action that might well become a matter of collective thought and, perhaps, a rebuke—if not something worse—from the The Magisterium.
Regaining his strength, the man quickened his pace and continued down the sidewalk, turning right at the end of the block. He walked about fifty feet and turned to face an unmarked gray steel door. Reaching into his left coat pocket, he pulled out a small scrap of paper, reading the instructions scribed in the complex mathematical language of his race. For a moment, he stood before the door glancing over his right shoulder, then passed cleanly through it.
As he vanished into the blackness of the building, a police officer and several others turned onto the same block. They searched for the tall man in the rumpled suit and encouraged one another with uncertain assurances. He was right here! I just saw him. I’m certain he turned this way. Had they known to look for the door through which the man had passed, they would have found none. Like the man, the door itself had vanished.
Once inside, the man paused, waiting for his pupils to adjust to the darkness. He adjusted his clothing, buttoned his jacket, and tightened the Windsor knot of his paisley tie. Rather than walk slowly through the darkness, he plunged forward across a seamless concrete floor. He took precisely twenty-five steps forward and stopped. The next moment he stood unblinking, bathed in white fluorescence. “What is your report?” asked the man standing before him
The second man had white hair and wore khaki cotton twill pants along with a blue oxford-cloth button-down shirt. He was a bit taller than the man in the suit, older by some vague number of years, but had broader shoulders—as if he might have been an athlete in his youth. The man with the white hair carefully studied his younger friend. Anyone listening to the exchange would have thought the men were speaking some ancient dead language. Latin, perhaps. Or maybe Pali—or something Arabic.
“They are not prepared, Theisen,” he said.
“Not prepared? How is that possible? Your last report was almost a generation ago.”
“It is just as it has been so many times before. Many of them are still bent on destruction. Some kill in the name of religion. Some in the name of race. They will oppress and destroy one another for anything from perceived offenses, lust, or greed. Some of their cultures still oppress their females, treating them as chattel. It is a difficult thing to watch. They have yet to learn they are one.”
Theisen recognized the man’s unspoken plea. “The Magisterium and the Path forbid our intervention. Influence without revelation. Perhaps if there were more of us to offer some gentle influence. What then? Is there any progress? Any at all?” Theisen’s own words were tinged with desperation.
The man in the navy suit thought for a moment. Weary, his head hung low between his shoulders.
“There are some. Though few are in a position to help them make dramatic leaps forward. The others tend to destroy or imprison the ones that might unify them. It will take time.”
For several minutes the men exchanged their observations about the condition of the indigenous people of this tiny blue planet. Theisen repeated his questions, looking for any sign of hope, his face washed in a brownish-orange dismay.
“Thank you, Athelius, my young friend. I will consider your report carefully. Return to your duty, Watcher. Your time here may be nearing an end,” said Theisen vanishing.
Darkness fell over the room once more and the solitary man strode through it to the opposite side from which he had entered. He did not slow his pace as he approached the interior wall of the abandoned building. Reaching the wall, he effortlessly passed through it as if the steel and masonry were nothing more than the morning fog that had laid over Birmingham that morning.
In the amber light of dusk and neon, Athelius stopped and took a deep breath. He had grown to enjoy the smell of this world, especially the damp cool of fall. He would miss this place. “How long have I watched them?” he wondered.