This is the first installment in a serial novel, written by our Regular Contributors. The next chapter will appear Tuesday, March 22nd.
Seven-year-old Daeva stared at her father, watching his every move. He hugged her mother for a long time. Neither of them spoke. Her mother’s face when he finally let go resembled a marble statue, her feelings locked deep inside.
Her beloved papa came over to her and knelt so that his eyes were close to hers. “Never forget that I love you, little one,” he said. “Be strong. Obey your mother. Study hard and grow into a smart woman.”
He pressed her to him, hard, and kissed the top of her head.
She clung to him, tears running down her face, old enough to understand that she would never see him again. “Come with us, Papa. You don’t have to do this.”
He stood, tall and straight. “I must face my fate, and do what I can to ameliorate the situation. I will be happy, knowing that you are safe.”
Going to her three-year-old brother, Tinsley, he knelt again. “You may not remember me. You probably won’t. But I pray you’ll grow into a wonderful man.” He embraced his only son and stood. “Now go. This fortress won’t hold much longer.”
“No,” Daeva screamed. “No, Papa, no.”
But their nanny, Bruna, grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the warp drive. Daeva struggled to free herself, until her mother added her strength to that of the nanny and they lifted her through the open door.
“Stop it,” her mother said, sharply. “The daughter of the ruler of the world will not behave like a common thief.”
That rebuke, so unusual for her normally serene mother, shamed Daeva into sitting still and strapping herself into her seat for take-off.
Her mother drew her mouth into a grim line. “That’s my girl. We’ll be safe in the place the faithful have prepared for us.”
She kissed her husband one last time, then picked up Tinsley and joined them in the ship. Two bodyguards sat next to the pilot, who closed the lid, started the oxygen, and hit the accelerator. A week later, they landed at their estate on Gardotion-56. It was years before they heard the news of her father’s execution, only hours after their departure.
Daeva smiled to herself as the Franklin Mini Time Machine materialized in Jeffrey Jamison’s bedroom. Bingo again. Her brother was amazing, the way he could dig through long-abandoned data records and find the exact coordinates, not just of a house, but of its floor plan, and guess exactly where each child’s bed and dresser would be located. He could even pinpoint nights when the parents were away, and some dimwit teen was babysitting. He’d made some mistakes, of course, and she’d landed in the wrong bedroom, or on top of a child, but this time he was exactly correct. Her machine sat in the open space, between the bed and the closet.
She watched the little boy as he breathed quietly, shuddering slightly in his sleep, hugging a stuffed animal. For a moment she hesitated, then she slid the door open and got out. She was, she reminded herself, saving his life. If she didn’t take him, he’d drown two weeks from now. And what a find he was, with two physicists for parents.
Quietly, she donned her gloves and slipped across the room, picking up Jeffrey the way Bruna had taught her, holding him carefully against her body, as if she were his mother. He murmured, then rested his head on her shoulder. It was only when she lifted him towards the time machine that he woke and screamed for his real mother.
“Shhh. Quiet, little one. It’ll be okay.”
She moved quickly, grateful that her machine shut off all computer-operated devices because of its strong magnetic fields, so no one could witness the abduction on the wall monitor. The boy fought hard, as hard as a two-year old child could fight, but she was much stronger. She wrestled him into the passenger seat, jumped in after him, and closed the door.
A rattling noise, then a scream brought Melina up off the couch, where she was studying a beginning text on Quantum Mechanics, and down the hall to Jeffrey’s room, afraid he’d fallen out of his new bed. Jeffrey cried out again.
She arrived just in time to see his tear-streaked face pressed tight against the window of a round, shiny-white ship, with three rings of colored rainbows around it, and the side view of a woman looking straight ahead, before the craft vanished, taking Jeffrey and his large brown eyes begging her for rescue along with it.
The sudden quiet pressed upon her, and she glanced around the room for some clue as to what had just happened. He was gone, well and truly gone, his bedclothes a chaotic mess, his favorite stuffed duck, which he always slept with, left in the middle of the floor.
His four-year-old sister, Eran, spoke sleepily from the doorway. “She stole Jeffrey!”
Melina wouldn’t know later why the line the pillow had left across Eran’s face seemed so significant, but she could never shake the memory. Perhaps it was because it showed the way the ship had appeared in the middle of the night, waking her charges. Her hands shaking so hard she could hardly move them, she fumbled for the Smartscroll in her pocket. She was supposed to call her mother if she needed help, but instead she said, “Mr. Jamison.”
At the sound of her voice, the micro-thin screen unrolled. Seconds later, the children’s father appeared on it, and she explained what had happened.
“Don’t let Eran out of your sight,” Mr. Jamison said. “I’ll call for help. We’ll catch the first plane home.” The screen went blank.
How could she leave Eran, who had grabbed her around the leg as if she were a security blanket? She pried her off and took her hand. “Come on. I’ll crawl in bed with you and tell you a story.”
“Not scary. Don’t want scary,” the little girl said. “Want Jeffrey.”
“It’ll be a nice story.” And Melina searched her mind for something sweet to take Eran’s mind off of the kidnapping.
Melina’s father was at the conference with the Jamison’s, who must have told him what had happened, because the doorbell rang soon after the call, and her mother stood on the porch. “Cops are on the way. I don’t want you talking to them unless our lawyer is present.”
Melina, with Eran clinging tightly to one hand, gestured for her mother to enter. They walked down the hall to the living room, where Eran sat on Melina’s lap. “I don’t have anything to hide, Mom. I told Mr. Jamison the truth.”
“No one’s going to believe you, honey.”
“No, but your dad does, and that’s good enough for me.”
How could her mother admit so readily that she didn’t believe her? “Mom! I’m telling the truth. Cross my heart and hope to die. Eran saw it, too.”
Eran grabbed Melina hard around the waist and pushed her head into Melina’s stomach. “Mean lady. Then, poof, just like magic.”
“Huh.” Melina’s mother regarded the two of them. “Could you draw a picture of the ship, Eran?”
Melina tightened her grip on the little girl.
Eran let go and stuck her thumb in her mouth. She nodded, her eyes big, then started crying.
“Scared?” Melina asked. “It’ll be okay. We’re right here.”
They sat in silence until the house filled with police, who spread out and began taking photos. A policewoman took Melina into the kitchen, after forcibly pulling Eran off her and handing the little girl to a man in plain clothes.
Melina’s mother followed them. “I’m her mother. She’s fifteen. You have no right to question her without her lawyer present.”
“I just want some basic information. I’ll be recording this.” She flicked her head at Melina. “You’re the one who witnessed the abduction?”
Melina forgot her mother’s injunction and answered. “Eran did, too.”
“Right. But I want to hear your side of the story.”
“Later,” Melina’s mother said. “Tomorrow.”
“Alright. Just give me your name and address, and tell me why your daughter is here.”
Melina opened her mouth, but her mother shook her head at her, and spoke for her. “I’m Karen Penrose. We live a block away. My husband works at Ames Research with the Jamisons, and I teach at Stanford. Melina’s fifteen; she’s babysitting while Mr. and Mrs. Jamison are away at a conference. They assumed that, since I am only a block away, she could call me in any emergency. It’s summer, she’s on break and so am I.”
That was it. Karen refused to tell the policewoman anything else until the morning. “It’s two AM, for crying out loud! These kids need to get some sleep.”
“Mr. Jamison was very clear that he doesn’t want Melina anywhere close to Eran for the rest of the night.”
Melina couldn’t believe this. She’d been babysitting the Jamison children for the past year, without incident. “But who will stay with her? She’s terrified the woman will return for her.”
Her mother put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll stay. You go home. The police will be here a long time.”
The woman who had been interrogating them spoke. “No, go home Mrs. Penrose. We have an officer coming to watch the Jamison girl. And please stay in town. I am certain we will be pulling Melina in for questioning.”
The second part of this story can be read here.
Thanks to Elvis Santana at freeimages.com for the photo of the inside of a space ship