Chapter 1

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Forbidden

Shoahn’Fal watched the man crawl in a circle and claw at the cold desert sands under the Shoahn’Tu night sky, blinded to everything but the terror ripping his mind apart. Shoahn’Fal felt his antennae rippling along the top of his head like two snakes writhing in the ecstasy that spewed out from his own mind. He glared with bulbous eyes set in a harsh leather face that protruded into a short snout and let out a low growl. The man crawling on the ground made a sound as if he had been shot and then rolled over on his back. His eyes twitched so violently, they seemed ready to burst from their sockets.

Shoahn’Fal had been a priest once. He had also been a father and a husband. Did the man kicking away from him know that? He called up the memory, formed it into a crystal-clear vision and thrust it into his victim’s mind. The man gasped and sat very still for just a second. Then he let out a wail that reached into Shoahn’Fal’s very soul.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s what it’s like. Feel that? Share that with me.”

He pushed his hand into the air and the man screamed again. Together, they reveled in the terror that had been the night Shoahn’Fal watched his wife and daughter howl in agony as bullets ripped through their chests and pitched them to the ground. He wrapped himself and his victim in the agony of watching his people starve and the despair of losing an entire world to invaders who fought each other over something that did not belong to them. Shoahn’Fal embraced it all with every fiber of his being, feeling the anguish flowing between them, through each other’s minds and then back again.

“You didn’t know, did you?” he asked the man.

The man kicked ferociously with boots made form a synthetic fabric the same color as the sand. Shoahn’Fal studied the block lettering over the pockets on either side of the soldier’s field utility blouse. He couldn’t read the name stenciled over one of them, but he recognized the emblem and lettering over the other that said TERRAN GUARD. An ornate patch with more cryptic scribbling he didn’t recognize was sewn into the cloth over the man’s shoulder. He did, however, recognize the motto that adorned everything these humans seemed insistent on smearing with their language: ‘That they shall survive’.

Shoahn’Fal knelt down, folding his tall thin frame into itself so he could tap the shoulder patch. “Do you know who that’s for?” he asked.

The man was still gasping for air uncontrollably. Shoahn’Fal closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating to control something that he was still just discovering. The man’s breathing eased and Shoahn’Fal opened his eyes. The man croaked, as if somebody choking him had let go of his throat just in time to let him live a moment more.

“It’s for you,” he said.

“That’s right. But have you ever seen anybody like me?”

“No.” The man was still pushing at the ground with his boots, but his flailing was becoming less frantic now.

“No, you haven’t.” Shoahn’Fal stood back up and looked at the man. Sadness filled his eyes now as he remembered what it was to be a priest. Whether it was weakness or mercy, he did not know, but it had been enough, at least for now. Shoahn’Fal flicked his hand and the man started to crawl away. He watched the man crawl away until he could barely see the man’s form dusted by icy starlight and could barely hear his whimpering.

Shoahn’Fal turned away from the man and leaned on a long stick made from the intertwined strands of the tough sinewy wood of a cord tree. His shoulders rolled forward and he took a deep breath through his snout. His antennae lay down on top of his head, as if going to sleep. He stepped out into the night, heading for another encounter with the forbidden.

As he walked away, he said, “That’s because you failed.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence