Excerpt for Jury's Creation by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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~JURY’s CREATION~

Copyright by Linda A Weir - 2018

All Rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition

Free edition.

Author website: http://www.pearltrees.com/la_wilson

Cover art: http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/norman



Table of Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

END





CHAPTER 1


The only thing he could remember when he woke this morning was a powerful voice saying over and over: the immortal can never die… the immortal can never die…

And waking this morning, he could not remember who had said these echoing words; now fading from his memory. He could not remember anything at all as he looked out of the window where the world bloomed in strange colours, streaking down the sky, beautiful as the dawn and cold as the night. When he saw the looming silver-white mountains on the horizon, the lapping blue waters of the sea below, he could not remember who he was, or where he was, or how he had arrived here in this astonishing room that overlooked a new and alien paradise. This place, coming at him from nowhere, was a place that filled him with a sense of profound wonder. And ever since first waking this morning, he had been unable to pull away from the visions he discovered before him: of the streaking sky and clouds of red. He stared out through the blue-green frosted glass with a feeling of euphoria touching his mind and body until all else ceased to exist.

The voice that spoke of immortality faded and was gone.

All he saw was a world of crystal and light, while the blue sky tinted red covered him with a sense of deep comfort, where above again, he saw clouds floating on a streaming wild wind blowing down from the north.

All day he stood before the wall of glass, twelve feet overhead to reach a domed ceiling also of crystal glass. Sunlight speared into his eyes as he turned to study the room around him; he had been deep asleep in that bed, under those crumpled sheets. Even though the room was beautiful, he turned back to look out of the window and down over a vast landscape, brilliantly lit by the sun. The sight was breath-taking.

Even the abstract words that described the beauty of this place and the land beyond formed easily in his mind; all things save his own name. And strangely here, in this place, he was not afraid of his loss of identity. He could not care less, and so he stood before the glass, swooning in and out of a gentle feeling of euphoria. He even knew that this was no dream. This was reality. This was bliss. He was naked before the world; and all of it felt right, perfect and totally without fear.

Sometimes he stroked the glass; its texture felt like silk, warm to touch; he could see a reflection of himself in the glass and he stroked a hand through his hair, long to his shoulders and autumn-brown in colour, ringlets in the glass, and for one tiny streak of memory, he thought that something had changed – his hair was slightly longer than before.

Before what?

But this thought did not destroy his euphoria or seed doubt in his mind. He tried to comb his ringlets with his fingers; he liked his reflection in the glass. He stood over six-feet tall, was lean, with arms and legs that were correct for his height and weight, nothing lanky or loping or disproportional. An athlete’s body; a patterned body with gold, blue and black tattoos over his shoulders, down his back, down his arms, stomach and legs. Some of the tattoos were streaked with red lines. When he turned to look at himself closer, he found scars within the tattoos: two long slit-like wounds on his left side, just above his hip. He found more slit-like scars on his upper right arm, cutting through the tattoos with fine white lines. Maybe the tattoos concealed a clue to his identity? But studying them, he found the patterns were all abstract, familiar, where again he had a flash of memory so quick and sharp it felt more like a pain than purely thought.

He wished for a true mirror; he looked around the room and saw a large silver-framed mirror on a wall by doors that opened onto a balcony. The mirror was partly concealed by tall ferns in pots either side. Table and chairs were set by the wall under the mirror.

He moved to the mirror, then stopped, trying to remember what else the mirror could show; mirrors could do so many things, he was sure, but he could not make any firm connections. He failed to remember; and pushed aside the ferns to see a darkly frosted surface that showed only his head and shoulders. He touched his face with strong fingers, searching for more scars. Smooth skin, hair on his upper lip, around his chin. His reflection was beautiful in a strong masculine way; a touch of animal about his face that he could see also in his eyes—fox-like, wolf-like; but there was no memory.

Losing interest in himself, he turned to pay greater attention to the room he was in. Around the smooth walls of pale orange stood more potted plants, palms and bromeliads. The domed crystal ceiling was ribbed with beautifully moulded beams in some light silver metal, the same as the mirror frame.

He sat down at the long dark table and looked out over a high balcony, out again to the sea. He knew he was looking at something extraordinary, yet did not know why; the sense of it was there inside him, but not the reason.

Before him the black-glassed doors would access the balcony, but were now closed. Beyond the foot of the bed there was a long wall, where on the far left side was a black door with a silver handle.

He got up from the table and walked to this door, tried the handle and found that it led into a luxurious bathroom with a deep silver spa-bath embedded in the floor. A beautiful triangular crystal ceiling flooded the tiny room with warm light; the toilet and washbasin were spotless and white like ivory. Another black-frosted mirror was above the basin.

He came out of the bathroom and picked up an object that was sitting on a tall bronze stand by the door. He thought it was a small black box of some sort, but turning it over and over in his hands, he found the entire surface of the object sooth and totally without indent or imprint: there was no lid that he could find, no joins or clasps or locks.

Not a box, but a strange art ornament.

Just one small black box that looked to him more like a tiny black pig without a head, standing on tiny stumpy legs. He studied it, felt only a smooth surface that seemed solid and impervious to anything that might strike against it. The corners were rounded, and its tiny legs joined the body without mark. He knocked against it and heard a slightly muffled sound from within—could it be hollow, not solid? He shrugged his tattooed shoulders; the object gave him no answers.

He put the thing back on its stand without further interest and turned back to gazing out of the window, sighing in wonder when he watched the patterns of sunlight sparking against the crystal of the dome above. Tiny daytime stars flared and broke into infinite rays, white-light and full of colour. The dome, he realized was made of diamond—diamond formed to suit the needs of those who had built this fantastic room.

Who had built this room?

He felt suddenly warm and when he did, he heard a gust of wind and felt a breeze touch his face. The breeze was fresh, cold from outside and yet the room was fully sealed; breathing in the air, he was again flooded with euphoria. He turned away from the windows and dropped down onto the soft covers of the bed and momentarily closed his eyes.

He woke, unable to contain his euphoria within sleep; the feeling snapped him awake, where again the light streamed down through the crystal ceiling, although the light had moved; it was now the soft light of late afternoon, of coming night. The sun was sinking into the sea outside, and the sight of it blasted his mind with beauty—he had never seen such a vision before, never seen such colours. The glory … pure glory flooded inside him, choked him and he swallowed. Tears streaked his face and he fell back onto the pillows and watched the sunset. A frosted tint of turquoise touched the surface of the sea, turning red as the sun reached the waves, as it launched a billion rays of golden light across the flat and calm surface. An evening sea-surface, too calm to thrash in rolling waves…undulating, not breaking, surface-oil with the colours of sunset. Shadows fell over the crystal windows and he turned to see red clouds, orange-streaked, floating above the domed ceiling. Stars appeared.

As he stared above, a previously undetected door opened by the strange black box and someone came into the room. The someone was a doll-like woman—a doll with no hair. Her head was bald yet spiked all over with small chromium-coloured studs, a battery of open connectors where her makers could access her inner computer-brain. She was, he knew at once, an android of rare manufacture. He had never seen her like before.

The android came and stood by his bed and looked at him with large liquid eyes that were display screens, behind which he could see pinpricks of organic-electric light.

‘Welcome,’ she said in an equally electric voice.

In reply, he nodded; he had never before needed to interact so closely with an android …another flash of memory.

How did he know this?

‘Where am I and who am I?’ he said. ‘Why am I here?’

The android took steps backwards as he climbed out of bed to stand before her, programmed to stand always outside his personal space.

She answered his questions: ‘Aurora. Christian Jharr. Because the Master wants you to open the black box.’

All of the words she spoke were displayed in her eyes as text; he could read as well as hear her answers.

Her eyes were crystal-alignment monitors.

Beyond the windows, the sun grew cold in the waters of the sea and it darkened, and darkening, tiny lights around the base of the dome switched on, glowing whitish-blue, frosted, icy, yet paradoxically warming. He looked at the android and said nothing, as nothing she had just told him had meaning. He had listened to her voice more than the content of her words: for whoever programmed her had given her a voice with an accent, a beautiful electric voice with an accent that sounded—French?

Her emotion-sensors detected confusion in him and she explained, ‘Your memory will return fully over the next few days. I will give you all you need, Christian.’

He said, ‘Then give me some clothes; standing naked is interesting, but disturbing, even before an android.’

‘As you wish.’ She bowed her head and clicked as she turned to leave the room through the invisible door.

The world outside was almost black with night, leaving only a tint of red over the sea; the sky was massively packed with stars, far more stars than he could ever remember seeing before. It looked cold outside in the space of the sky.

Inside, it was warm and perfect.

He realized then how hungry he was. And in hunger, he thought over the words of the android: The Master wants you to open the black box...

Meaning that black object by the invisible door?

He could not even remember the names she had given him in answer to his ‘who am I’ question. No, he remembered ‘Jharr’. He was sure this name was his, his surname…

But the black box?

Again he went to pick it up, examined it with greater concentration. Nothing. There was nothing to be found. It was as smooth as glass and impossible to open if it had no lid. It had no drawers, no secret compartments, nothing that his examining fingers could find anywhere on its surface. He was feeling around the legs of the box when the door opened again and the android came back inside, carrying a large container. He watched her as she carried it to the bed and opened it.

Far easier than opening this damn black thing…

From inside the container the android took out a bundle of clothes and a pair of boots.

‘You can wear these,’ she explained as she unpacked, neatly and carefully arranging the things on the bed.

He put down the box and came to her side, pointed back at it and said, ‘I can’t open that thing! What makes your master think I can open it? There’s not even a lid.’

He looked into her monitor eyes and saw neat black text appear; it scrolled: Master wants you to open the Black Box ... your name is Christian Jharr from Earth-city, Paris. You are now in Aurora. Your name is Christian Jharr...

He turned away from her scrolling eyes and began dressing in the clothes she had brought. Everything was black: black trousers made of a clinging shining material, a number of black shirts and black long-sleeve tops, also of the same soft shining material. There were two pairs of black boots, lined inside with the same material.

He took a pair, pulled them on. As the boots fitted the shape of his feet, he knew they were surely his own. He put on a long black coat with slit sides; the coat was edged with a deep silver strip of a harder material that closed without buttons—he felt comfortable and at home in these all-black clothes. And none of it had meaning.

‘I’m hungry,’ he said, fully able to see his reflection in the crystal windows. Dark outside, light inside, he was fully reflected and mirrored. He was as handsome as he thought he was and his name meant nothing. ‘I’m starving, you know.’

‘Then I will take you to food. Follow me.’

The android moved towards the invisible door, and Christian Jharr, whoever he was, followed her. The android walked slowly, a small staggered step with her hands poised before her, as if she were conscious that she might fall.

Beside her, Christian walked at her pace, watching her strange synthetic face, wondering if she had any form of self-consciousness working within her artificial intelligence; he wondered what she was thinking, if anything. He wanted to see her electronic thoughts reflected on her face, but she seemed to see and express nothing.

She led him out into another crystal-walled space: a corridor where on either side he could see out to the beautiful night-world around him. To his right, he could make out the shape of a huge jutting side of a mountain, around which clustered houses: he could see their lights shining up the hillside. The sea was deep purple, surging up and back on his left. A road was lit like an avenue in a long sweep around the beach before the sea—there was nothing on the road. And although there were lights, city lights, he could see no movement of people in the darkness.

This thought was mildly disturbing even though he felt very little curiosity about anything that was now happening to him. But he was intrigued by the android—he found her fascinating, more than anything she had so far told him. By the time she led him through another invisible door and into a domed chamber of gigantic proportions, Christian had forgotten entirely about the black box that he was supposed to open.

Suddenly the android said, ‘This is the Aurora Dome and control-centre.’

The words scrolled across her eyes as she led him down a long flight of steps onto the floor of the cavernous room, circular and massive…

Large enough to construct an interstellar lightcraft…

The sheer size of the chamber astonished him and he stared up into the terrible heights of the ceiling. He guessed the height was at least three hundred feet above.

“I don’t see any food in here. Must we walk across this huge space?” he answered, “I’m starving, remember.”

“I do not forget. I am not programmed to forget.” She took hold of his arm with small tight fingers that dug a little too heavily into his muscles…

Perhaps she doesn’t know how much pressure to apply?

She led him one step forward, where a flashed sub-second later they were standing on the opposite side of the chamber.

Christian was still thinking of her tight little fingers when he realized he had jumped in space – jumped from one place to another without the aid of any visible device he could see.

He gasped, bewildered, looked at the android for answers.

Matter transference…

He thought that her smooth artificial lips were attempting a smile, but this was impossible; she was without emotion.

He even thought that her visual-screen eyes were staring into his astonished face, into his own eyes.

She moved again now through yet another invisible door, into a room that was the perfect opposite of the one they had just traversed – a tiny compact room furnished like an intimate study with fireplace, bookshelves, ornaments and a table laden with food.

And the food delighted him more than his recent instantaneous jump through space.

‘For me? This is for me?’

‘For you, Christian Jharr. Please sit and eat, enjoy your stay in Aurora.’

Again the android escorted him, now to the table, where he sat before a small feast, where the firelight shone through a crystal goblet and carafe filled with sparking red wine. He studied the food on the plate before him: roast potatoes with a rare steak and green vegetables in a sauce of some kind.

For a moment, for only a moment, he wondered how, or why ... but gave in to hunger and began to eat, showing rapture at the taste of the food as it melted in his mouth. All the while the android stood aside by the fireside, watching him. She was frozen in android shutdown – the position she takes when there are no orders to follow.

Christian ate like a half-starved wolf, never so hungry, never so full of desire; the wine was liquid silk in his mouth, on his tongue, swallowed whole, and pouring out more as the steak dripped blood and juices and he was near overwhelmed with delight.

Still the android stood, statue-like and occasionally making tiny beeps. At first the tiny beeps did not distract him, the food was more powerful, yet as he filled his stomach, Christian became more aware of her presence.

He heard her little beeps like bird-song.

He mopped at the juices from the devoured food with a crusty bread roll, sipped more wine and slumped back into his chair, satisfied.

Even so, he still eyed a bowl of fruit, but knew himself too full to eat another bite.

He sighed, rocked his head on the back of the high-backed chair in a kind of sleepy rapture and gazed at the android through half-closed eyelids.

Frozen – a poor frozen thing without feelings … she could never experience the sheer delights of food, or love, or sex, or anything else.

Languishing in the low red light, he gazed at the android.

He said, ‘Do your makers give you a name, android?’

‘I am called Carolina.’

‘Carolina!’ He seemed surprised by this very feminine and human name. ‘Why Carolina, then?’

‘Where I was made.’

The name was sweet but meant very little as an indicator of place. He moved his chair around to face her, stretched out his legs towards the fire and clutched the wine glass in his hand; he studied her.

Nothing moved her and he said, ‘You are an obsolete model, aren’t you? I can see that… even me. Yet this… Aurora,’ he waved a hand at the walls around him, ‘is beyond technical, I mean. But you are an obsolete model. Look at your head-connectors. Does your master not have access to your data without having to plug you in?’

‘My Master plugs me in. I am obsolete. My Master keeps me because I am charming.’

‘Oh really!’ He was delighted with her response and he smiled and laughed. ‘Yes, you are charming. Your master would keep you as an example maybe, of days gone by? When androids were more simple?’

‘That is what my Master says exactly.’

Beside her, the fire spat and sparked and everything was pure within the tiny room.

He studied her until he said, ‘And who is your Master? The one who wants me to open that ridiculous black thing? Why does this master think I can do that?’

‘I do not have this information. I am forbidden to disclose the name of my Master.’

‘Of course … and my name, you know my name. When will I remember?’

‘Within the next few days.’

‘Why can’t I remember?’

‘I am forbidden to disclose this information.’

‘Then you are not charming anymore.’

Carolina beeped in reply; information began scrolling across her eyes: Aurora welcomes you, Christian Jharr…

He did not answer her scroll; he thought about her master. He said, ‘I want to go back to that room now, where I slept on the warm bed. I want more sleep.’


CHAPTER 2


Later in the evening, long after the Android Carolina had brought him back to his room and left him alone, Christian sat on the edge of the bed and stared out of the crystal and into the beautiful night. There was something strange beyond the window; the stars seemed different, everything felt different, even alien. As he looked into the night, he searched his mind and found images without names or meaning, found images that were memories unremembered. Beside him on the bed sat the container Carolina had brought earlier – the one that held his black clothes. He turned to it now and looked inside. He pulled the container closer and took out a pair of black leather gloves. He put them on; they fitted his hands perfectly, were his own. But there was something else in the container, something much more demanding of his attention.

Lying on the bottom, beneath where the gloves had lain, were two curve-bladed short swords with black handles; beside the swords was a heavy leather belt with beautifully embossed scabbards for the blades.

The fascination and euphoria that Aurora engendered within him increased when he picked up the swords, one in each hand.

The soft icing-like light in the room glinted on the blades as he held them before his eyes, where he saw the razor-sharp edging, sharp as scalpels; blades engraved down their lengths with strange and cryptic symbols, like an unknown writing style.

Though the symbols had no meaning, he recognized them; they were also on his body, tattooed down the insides of his thighs. His gripped the handles; the hand-guards were curved plates engraved with dark squares separated by black rings with shining black suns inside them. He moved the swords in a small circle and something clicked on in his mind: killing blades. Beautiful, so beautiful, deadly beautiful; a thrill ran through him when he felt the weight of them in his hands, felt their perfect balance and make, the way they made a firm swinging sound through the air as he circled them once, twice, three times. He came to his feet, staring at the glittering light on the honed and cutting edges. Again something familiar pricked into his mind, sharp like the tips of the swords.

As he studied them, he moved them from side to side, until he suddenly found his hands moving in defined patterns, defending himself from an imaginary attacker.

The swords began to lead him; they jumped forwards in his hands and he found himself unconsciously becoming the attacker, not the defender.

The blades then took full control, and Christian, watching himself reflected in the crystal windows, began an armed martial arts routine of such power and control he felt excitement building inside him. Attack and defence, the routine came out of his body without his conscious mind having to think; he moved the swords with astonishing swiftness and expertise. Attack and defence, counter strike, block and strike, blades pointed as if they were the fangs of snakes, armed combat movements in a long controlled routine that would lead to death if played out to its true conclusion.

Rearing up, he poised the swords above his head to strike; he thrust down swiftly, stabbing. As the routine became longer and more complex, memories flashed into his mind. This was the most dangerous form of attack, Christian knew, because he would be the one to strike the killing blow, he would be the one to impale an opponent, he would be the one to put a man on the ground before the ultimate strike of death left his hands.

He felt fear when a killing lust rose and burned in his mind. But still he moved, strike and counter-strike, attack and defence. He was mesmerized by his own reflection in the window, when he saw the intensity in his own eyes, when the swords flashed in dexterous arcs and circles before him. Whoever he was, he was an expert – maybe the best alive – and the Master wants him to open the black box…

Christian turned to the box now and hurled a sword at it, but it merely bounced aside and clattered to the polished floor. He ran to pick up the blade, saw that it was undamaged – and so was the box. The steel hardness of the sword had not even left a nick on its intense black surface. He ran a hand over where he thought the nick should be and found only total smoothness; and the smoothness was blissful to touch, as if its surface unity transmigrated to his soul and he was calmed by the object’s solid perfection.

He looked at its beautiful blackness and felt tired; he quietly went and slid the swords back into their scabbards in the container. Slowly he undressed and got into the luxurious bed…


CHAPTER 3


The new day again brought a sense of dawning euphoria; a swell of bliss woke him. He pulled ringlets of hair out of his eyes and threw back his tattooed arms and stretched, smiling with the joy of another day. The morning sky was pink, and the rising far-away sun came from his right, where he looked out through the crystal glass and was shot into his eyes by rays of spearing light. Out of the window on his left, the sea gently lapped at the sandy shore as the promenade road twisted around a bend in the bay. Yet the road was deserted: there were no people strolling by the seaside or surfing the gentle waves.

Christian propped up on an elbow to watch the waves as the sun crested behind him. He felt no urgency to rise, no guilt at lying in bed when maybe he should be up and working … this place, this Aurora, required no guilt about wallowing in luxury and peace.

His morning daydream was interrupt by a small beep and he knew that the Android Carolina was standing at his bedside, arriving silently, or else he had been too absorbed by the visions beyond the crystal to have heard her come in. Either way, he turned to face her, to look at what messages her eyes would scroll this morning.

‘And?’ he said.

Again, he could have sworn her man-made lips attempted a smile.

‘It is morning,’ she answered. ‘The sun rises.’

‘In the morning, it always does that, I know.’

The sunlight flared and the android said, ‘This morning you can visit freely the grounds of Aurora. I will escort you to breakfast.’

‘Do you think I’m hungry after all the food I ate last night?’

‘In the morning there is breakfast. Rise and dress,’ and she stepped away from his bedside. When Christian got out of bed, naked, he stood before her, studied her doll-like face and knew she could not see him…

Has she turned off her television eyes in an act of modesty?

He smiled and began dressing, watching her all of the time.

Android-still, she made no move until he pulled on his long black coat and said, ‘I’m ready now. Maybe a walk in the park outside will give me an appetite. Carolina?’

She beeped and moved, looked up into his face and scrolled: You are welcome in Aurora, Christian Jharr…

‘You said that before; now come, show me the way.’

This time she led him out through another invisible door, on the opposite side of the room to the first.

As Christian followed her, he looked back once at the black box sitting on its stand by the wall. The door slid open then snapped closed behind them as they entered a triangular shaped corridor of crystal. The floor beneath was also crystal; they walked on air above a lush green garden with treetops reaching to surround the corridor.

Through the twining branches, Christian could see the rising sun lifting over the shoulder of mountain he had seen the night before. The colours of dawn, seen through the crystal, burned like fire in starlight flashes that speared the corridor with colour. All of the colours he saw were deep and vivid and intense, near to surreal.

The corridor was very long, and as he walked again at Carolina’s pace, Christian said, ‘What’s the weather today?’

‘Outside temperature,’ she turned to face him, ‘is thirteen degrees Celsius, with a maximum today of twenty-two point five degrees Celsius,’ and her information scrolled across her eyes. ‘The day will be fine with light high cloud, ice bearing from the north, with light north-west winds. You will feel no cold within Aurora.’

‘Of course not. And where are we going?’

‘A long walk to breakfast.’

A long walk it was; everywhere they went the walls and ceilings and floors were made of crystal. Never did they exit to the outside, though Christian could see the outside in all its strange and glorious colour and richness; he could not remember ever seeing a land such as this before. He walked beside the Android Carolina, as fascinated by her as he was by the sights beyond the glass: glorious gardens filled with luscious plants; hanging gardens from terraces of glass; sweeping green swards to the foot of the mountain on one side and the deep lapping sea on the other. On the eastern side, the land stretched far into the distance as a dry and broken desert, though the mountains on this side were white-tipped under the sun.

The corridors seemed to extend in every direction, through which he could see towering crystal apartments. Above, the sky lightened to a blue so fine and clear it opened the doors of his memory – no sky was as blue and clear as this in his memory.

He did not know where he was, did not know if he were truly alive in such a place. And as the sun came higher, he could feel its rays on his skin through the crystal, yet it did not burn or make him feel hot. Soft breezes blew around their feet, sweet with the scents of the flowering gardens. There was even a hint of salt from the sea and Christian believed he was in paradise. Each corridor ended with an invisible door that opened at their approach and closed behind them with a tiny snip of sound that was as satisfying as the colours, as satisfying as the way Carolina moved in her strange android walk.

Still Christian studied her face, smooth as the crystal in a light pink colour; her head connectors gleamed a beautiful chromium gold.

He said, ‘Why am I here?’

‘To open the black box. That is all the information I have for you.’

‘And you know who I am, as I do not. It annoys me, even though I don’t feel annoyed. Is this a part of Aurora’s magic?’

‘Magic is not a concept I understand.’

‘I did not mean magic in a literal sense. I mean is this a part of Aurora’s power? To calm; I feel so much euphoria here.’

‘I do not understand the concept, euphoria.’

‘Damn silly android, euphoria is not a concept! Maybe you need reprogramming.’ He laughed, hoping she would understand he spoke lightly, a joke that a fellow human would easily recognize.

But the android did not answer.

She approached another door that opened and they stepped though into a deep green interior, into the heart of the gardens. They walked down a flight of crystal steps to stand before an indoor pool, fed by a tiny waterfall cascading down a wall of red-brown stone. To the far right was a large dark table, laid with breakfast.

At once Christian moved to the table; a pot of coffee waited, bubbling on a stand that had no visible heat source. He poured the coffee into a glass cup and studied the crispy golden croissant on his plate. Hungry, he sat in a deep padded chair of white and, as the night before, began to eat with great delight while the Android Carolina stood aside, watching him with eyes that he did not understand.

The breakfast, small and simple, was delicious, the coffee exquisite.

Overhead the branches of trees bent down to touch the crystal roof, covering him in shadows, dappled again with sunlight as the branches moved with the wind.

The water in the pool splashed and filled the air with sweet negative ions. He drank his coffee and devoured the croissant, licking his fingers and pulling a face of deep appreciation, wondering now who had cooked this food.

Who had prepared the feast from the night before. Carolina?

She seemed a mere service-droid to him and her small clever fingers would certainly have the skill to produce such fine food.

She fascinated him; he watched her as he sat back to enjoy his coffee. Behind him the waterfall splashed into the pool and the sunlight fell dappled over his hands. Peace filled his heart and mind and he rested his head back against the chair…

Maybe he slept, maybe he dreamed, maybe his mind was filled with scents exotic and bells that tinkled with the soft breeze that always blew in Aurora, but when he opened his eyes…

He saw someone else sitting at the table with him, opposite him and staring at him with dark lustrous eyes. He gasped and sat up, wanting to say something but found no voice. The someone was a woman, a young woman so beautiful he was speechless.

Beautiful, no, beautiful was not the word; she was beyond words. She touched his senses immediately and he stared at her. Lithe and full, skin porcelain pale without a mark or blemish; her hair was a long thick straight mane as black as night. Her stunning eyes were deep dark jewels – a vision opposite him, dressed in what looked like a skin-tight night-blue velvet cat suit under a sleeveless blouse of layered blue silk. He could even smell her beauty. On her slim and rounded upper left shoulder was a tattoo – a flying red bird.

She came closer to him over the table top and said, ‘Carolina has given you all the welcomes you need. I hope you will not stab me with your swords, Christian.’

In answer he shook his head, speechless, until he said, ‘Swords? You know who I am? Who are you?’

‘I’m Simone Cady. And you are Christian Jharr.’

‘So everyone keeps telling me! When will I remember?’

‘Soon you will remember, soon you will know. There’s no hurry. We have all the time in the universe to enjoy Aurora.’ And she smiled, the corners of her mouth gently turning up, showing her beautiful white teeth.

His heart thrashed and confusion began to take hold. He blurted out, ‘What is this place? Why am I here? Why are you here? What the hell is going on?’

She reached out for his hands, took his hands in hers; her touch was a soft warm sensation that flooded his every nerve – nerves that were raw and exposed. Somehow he knew this when she touched him. Because her touch was a salve and he could feel the relief swamping him. Somewhere inside, he was hurt, and he had not known it until she touched him.

‘We will spend the day together,’ she said, still holding his hands. ‘I know all of this place, and I want to show you a favourite spot of mine; it has a beautiful view of the sea and the mountain. Will you come with me now and see it? We can talk there.’

She squeezed his fingers and he stood up with her, watching the way her jet-black hair swung over her bare rounded shoulders, her red bird tattoo peeking through the jet strands. At once she began to lead him out of the room with the pool, still holding his hand. Behind them, the Android Carolina stood still and beeped.


CHAPTER 4


Christian stood on a long narrow balcony under a glaze of crystal that overlooked the gardens of Aurora and down to the sea. Although enclosed by the crystal roof, he could still smell the cresting waves. On his right lifted the foot of the mountain, surrounded by lush gardens and terraced crystal buildings, tiered part way up the side of the mountain.

All of the terraces had crystal windows that looked out to sea; the roofs of these terraces were draped with hanging vines and great trumpet-like flowers, bright orange in the sun. On his left was the bulk of the building of Aurora, through which Simone had led him, showing him its vastness, its hundreds of rooms and chambers, all equipped for a life of deep comfort and perfection. Around him, before him was the blue sky, the white clouds, the sea and the promenade road that was empty of traffic.

Christian stood leaning on the balcony railings and watched the sea through the crystal, desperately trying to remember who he was and where he had been before this astounding place. Simone had taken a seat at the balcony’s outdoor table setting, relaxing in a spot in the sun, her olive skin glowing with sunlight. Christian was conscious of her watching his back.

He turned away from the crashing sea and said to her, ‘Why is there no traffic on the road? There’s not a soul to be seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an empty road before in my life. Never seen a place with no people.’

He went to join her at the table, where again they sat opposite each other, strangers. Strangers together and he wanted answers from her.

Simone smiled and said, ‘Because there are no people here … other than us. There is no traffic; the road leads to nowhere, from nowhere. There’s no one here other than we two, and sweet Carolina of course.’

This information shocked him and he remained silent, feeling the mystery deepen, feeling a seed of anger begin to grow within. The more he wanted answers, the more he got nothing but infuriating cryptic responses.

But what could he do in the face of such beauty?

All around him was beauty, Simone the most beautiful of all. He could not tear himself away from her… He was locked into her, and the seed of anger suddenly withered.

‘Go on,’ he said. ‘Tell me it all. You seem to know it all.’

Simone laughed, beautiful when she tilted her head to study him, to partly close the lids of her astonishing eyes. ‘I don’t know if I want to tell you. It’s fun watching you squirm.’

Again she laughed, and Christian sat back from her. Again the seed of anger grew. Now he smiled, saying, ‘If we do in fact have all the time in the universe, I suppose it only natural you would want to play things out for as long as you can. What else is there to do?’

‘I would like to watch you train with your swords.’

‘How do you know about that?’

‘I just know; you know how to use those swords, even though you can’t remember it now.’

‘How then did I forget?’

‘Everyone forgets the journey to Aurora; you are put into stasis so that you won’t need to suffer the long trip alone. The others that will soon come here will also forget. But you will remember over the next few days. The drug will eventually wear off, as it did with me.’

‘What drug?’

‘The drug that makes you forget!’ and she really laughed; her breasts bounced under her blouse and Christian felt maddened by her. He suddenly felt hot and got up and stripped off his black coat, throwing it over a chair beside him.

He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and she saw the tattoos on his arms, so much more extensive and rich than her single red bird. He stood over her, looked down at her and tried to swallow his budding anger; he felt now a desire to take the steel of the swords in his hands.

He gripped the back of his chair, shook it, demanded, ‘Tell me! Why the use of an amnesia-drug? Where are we if the journey is long?’

This question stopped her for a moment; thinking, she answered, ‘When you are given something,’ she indicated the Aurora building, ‘something is also taken away. Coming here, waking here without knowing your identity? This changes you somehow.’

‘What is this place?’

Simone peered up at him through half-closed eyelids, deep black eyelashes as fine as silk. ‘Christian, sit down. I think we should be friends. As we are the first, so we should be friends. I haven’t spoken to a living soul in over a year. Only dear Carolina to keep me company, but she’s an android with limited programming.’

‘I know,’ he said as he sat down again. ‘She’s an obsolete model.’

‘He allowed me to keep her, as he allowed you to keep your swords. Carolina was mine before I came here.’

‘Who allowed you?’

‘The Master, of course.’

‘Ah… the bloody master of course, the same who wants me to open that stupid black box?’

‘No, no; I also want you to open the box.’

‘You! But Carolina said the Master-’

He stopped, his heart was thrashing, the pain of swallowing his anger; he narrowed his eyes at Simone, glared at her.

There she saw the burning in his eyes – eyes that were an intense golden-brown, strange and animal-like. She believed she knew why he was here; to torment her; to torment each other. It was all too plainly displayed in that stare of his. His stare reminded her of the eyes of a wolf. She turned her face away and looked up at the tiers of crystal buildings, shining in the sun. With him still glaring at her, she said, ‘Look at the sky, Christian. At the sun.’

Slowly he turned to look at the sky.

Through the crystal roof everything seemed magnified. And that was the point. Because the sun was not really so large, but was small and distant. He knew now that he was not on Earth; he realized it with a snap of horror. He sat up, staring at the sky, horrified…

‘Where are we?’ he whispered.

When she answered him, her voice was barely above a whisper: ‘Mars… we’re on Mars. And we’re all alone here. We are the only two humans alive and living on Mars.’

For a long, long time she watched him as still as death, his eyes fixed on the sky, his face drained white. She could feel his horror and she understood his feelings. To be all alone on a planet that was not Earth; to be so far away from home, to be isolated in the vastness of space was a terror no human before them could voice or describe and she reached out for his hands again. Their fingers locked and twined together; he said not a word. She could see all of his fear in his golden-brown eyes.

Urgent, she leant towards him and said, ‘Don’t be afraid; this place is safe, secure, and impenetrable; Aurora is a huge life-support dome… but it’s something more. It’s our prison. We are prisoners here, because you and me… are criminals. And this is our prison.’


CHAPTER 5


In the evening, after another fine meal, Christian sat with Simone before a wood-fire enclosed within a silver firebox. They had hardly spoken through dinner, only making polite conversation about the beauty of Aurora, about the Android Carolina, about the perfect food and the perfect climate – and all of the time, Christian thought only about the information Simone had earlier told him – prisoners.

The chair he sat in was deep, a recliner, where beyond his upraised feet he watched the flames flickering perfectly in its sealed firebox, burning, licking, sparking and beautiful. He was quiet. He held a brandy glass, sipping the brandy, a prisoner in paradise. The brandy relaxed him, the bliss-feed breeze that came through tiny ports all over Aurora relaxed him. But he could remember the fear. Beside him, Simone sat on a deep sofa with her feet tucked up under her, herself with a brandy glass, herself staring into the fire. Standing in the shadows, Carolina occasionally beeped, waiting to wait on them if they should call her.

But they did not call.

It was a long time before Christian could break the silence and talk about Aurora.

He said without looking at Simone, ‘Is this a life-sentence? Are we to be here for the rest of our lives? Will we ever go home?’

Her red lips parted for the brandy.

She replied after a sip: ‘This is home. We may never see Earth again. But we will not always be alone; soon others will come and fill the crystal terraces. Aurora will be the first colony on the newly terraformed Mars. We’re guinea pigs, of course, sent here first to see if we can survive, because being criminals, we’re expendable. He won’t waste his precious terranauts on a first colony settlement. He uses us instead.’

Christian looked desperate when he turned to face her, when he said, ‘Simone…’

Beautiful Simone…

She answered, ‘You want to know what you did to be sentenced here. You want to know what I did. And what I did was nothing compared to you. Still, I can only help you a little. Come, I will show you something.’

He watched her get up, her fluid body moving to the centre of the room where a holographic receiver sat; two viewing chairs were before it. Simone sat on one, waiting for Christian to join her.

Reluctant … maybe he was, but maybe too this would open his temporarily forgotten memory. He got up and followed her, sat down at the receiver and waited.

Simone touched a crystal alignment pad and a holographic image appeared in the viewer. The image was of a handsome man dressed in a white suit; he was tall, strong, his hair white-blonde – and his eyes were a strange slate-blue, a dark slate-blue. He was young and dynamic, pouring out an inner power that could reach even across space.

Seeing this figure, silent because Simone had not turned on the sound, Christian came forward, alarmed; he stared at the figure’s face, shook his head … something, something beginning to touch his memory.

‘I know him … Simone, I know him; is he the Master? Give me his name.’

A deep sigh came from inside her, her black eyes touched his, where the look on her face was a look of loathing. She came to her feet, turned her back on him and walked away. She left the room through the ever-invisible doors of Aurora.

All Christian could do was sit and watch her go; he heard the doors snip shut and he was alone … almost alone – Carolina beeped behind him, still standing in the shadows of the far wall. But he did not turn to look at her; he stared only at the hologramatic image, at the man’s face and desperately tried to understand what he was seeing. Something sharp cut across his mind, but he could not remember the name.

He continued to stare at the image and suddenly growled from deep inside, anger again seeded in his chest, waiting to grow. Nothing made sense, the mystery maddened, he growled again … the face of the image … name?

He said aloud, ‘Carolina? Why is there no euphoria now?’

The android beeped in answer and she moved, and when she moved the bliss-feed of Aurora filled the room and Christian sat back in his chair and sighed…

That’s the feeling … the feeling of ecstasy… Aurora…

Did the bliss-feed make him remember, or forget? He closed his eyes and wanted to be back in his room, wanted to feel the two swords in his hands and use them in practise, he wanted to sleep.

Still the man in the hologramatic viewer moved in graceful strides, talking to a gathering, a huge gathering ... no, not talking, but giving an oration before a huge audience of adulating people. All of this Christian saw and did not like; but not liking did not touch him deeply, the breeze of Aurora filled him so that he swam and floated and dived within an ocean of inexplicable sensations of something that touched the states of perfection.

If he were a prisoner here, what did it matter?

Carolina was here too, making beeps for attention.

He looked at her through half-closed eyelids; he said, ‘Who is the man in the hologram? What is he to me? To Simone?’

The android answered, ‘He is the Master. He is the one who put you here.’

Christian took full interest; he sat up, came to his feet and demanded, ‘I know him, can’t remember his name, you give me his name!’

It was now the Android Carolina beeped, then shutdown, scrolling across her eyes as she did: You are welcome in Aurora, Christian Jharr…


CHAPTER 6


He had to find his own way back to his room that night: Carolina had totally shutdown and would not revive. Simone had gone and Christian wandered Aurora trying to find her, but she could not be found within the dome’s terrible vastness and empty rooms – all of it waiting to be filled with more prisoners, more guinea-pigs for the newly terraformed Martian world. An encapsulated world. He found only corridors of crystal beauty that sat high on the building’s rooftops, where the star-packed night sky wheeled overhead like a cosmic storm.

And when he grew tired of staring at the stars in an euphoric trance, he moved back down and inward, coming across familiar corridors that led him to his own room.

The invisible door opened for him and he rushed inside, loving the comforting sound of the doors snipping closed behind ... safe, warm, delicious interior; stars wheeled again, Martian nightscape. He opened the container with the swords and grabbed them tightly, one in each hand. He swung round on an imaginary attacker and began again the martial movements to defend then attack, striking the perfect stance of a master, trained so highly, trained so tightly nothing could penetrate his defences. As he slit the throat of an imaginary attacker, the man in the hologram appeared before him, standing fully before him as a solid-body image. At once Christian stopped, gasped, said a name … and the name in his mouth was like tasting blood. Rich as blood, and the red lights of Mars touched his eyes.

Red as blood. Tasted in his mouth, the name…

Jury

‘Jury,’ he repeated aloud and lowered the swords as he did. He turned away from what he knew was another hologramatic image, beamed down from the ceiling above.

He turned and looked out of the window, down to the lapping sea. Oh, so cold and far away from home … two tiny people on a planet so far from home. Prisoners, prisoners in Aurora and the far deserts of red sand, impossible to escape.

Jury

He dropped the swords onto the bed. He could still see the hologram reflected in the crystal window, standing still behind him, where he looked into the slate-blue eyes of a man he had known, had known intimately, had known like no other – there was no other!

… This was the one who had put him here in Aurora.

Christian knew this man, knew him well. He knew him well because his name struck deep inside him, tasted it on his tongue, filled his mouth with blood. It was now he felt the swirl of the Aurora bliss-feed pass softly over his face. The image behind him disappeared, sucked back up into the ceiling’s hologramatic projector and extinguished. He wanted to sleep...

In the morning, his room was flushed with rich golden light; the sun had risen and the crystal dome was pouring down rays so thick and rich Christian believed he could breathe them into his lungs. No matter what this place might truly be, it offered only euphoria each new day that he woke. He was so full and content that all he wanted for breakfast was more of the delicious coffee.

As if she had read his mind, Carolina now came into the room, carrying a tray. On the tray was the bubbling jug of coffee on a stand that had no visible heat source. She placed the tray on his bedside table and stood back, beeping when he sat up and poured himself a mug.

Christian studied the android through a fringe of dark ringlets; he wanted to tap into her head-connectors and read her information, he wanted more from her crystal-display eyes.

He said, ‘Will I see Simone today? I want to tell her something.’

‘My mistress walks in the gardens after breakfast; you might find her walking.’

Then the day’s weather report scrolled across her eyes: Current temp: 9 degrees Celsius. Low winds from the south; no precipitation. A top temperature of 23.7 degrees Celsius… Followed by: Would you like me to increase the bliss-feed?

‘Oh… no thank you; it’s enough for now.’

He fell back against the fragrant pillows of his bed and looked out of the window on his left; the sea was again rolling gently, gentle breakers on the golden sand.

He wanted to walk on the beach and said so; ‘Why can’t I walk on the beach?’

‘It is beyond the dome’s boundaries.’

Christian sipped his coffee; he wanted to talk again to Simone, but wondered how much she would tell him. Last night, when Simone had walked out on him, she did not appear as if she would ever talk again.

He said to Carolina, ‘Who was that man in the hologram image?’

‘I do not have that information. I know only he is the Master.’

‘Have you ever met him?’

‘No.’

He answered, ‘When it warms up, I’ll go for a walk in the gardens.’


CHAPTER 7


Christian spent most of the day walking in the gardens as he said he would, searching for Simone. Though he did not actively seek her out, he wandered, strolled, explored, and with each path he took, he was breath-taken by the extensive beauty of Aurora.

The lush plants and landscaping, the pools and waterfalls, the light, the powerful crystalline light, all enclosed under the diamond dome of Aurora. In his wanderings, he found the room with the waterfall and pool where he had first met Simone; he stayed there for most of the day, sitting at the table and thinking, wondering when his memory would fully return.

At midday the Android Carolina came with his lunch, just as he knew she would. He ate without company, thinking of nothing but Simone. And thinking of her, he began to feel outraged that she could leave him so alone … alone when they were both so terribly isolated. But now, when an overpowering rage began to claim him, the wafting breeze of Aurora, the bliss-feed, entered the room and filled his mind and body with delight.

His rage washed away and all the world was a dream; all the world. Himself, the most important thing to the world because he was all it had…

Sunlight dappled his hands and face again, sunlight as pure as diamond…

Late afternoon came and he got up from the table and went for a walk to see the sea.

Of course he knew that Simone would be there; and by the time he finally found her, it was close to sundown. This was the perfect place to watch the sunset – down into the sea that was red and crashing to the shore in a sudden urge to fight for the last rays of light. He found her standing in the spot where she had stood the night before, on the balcony edge, gripping the railings and watching the sight before her with intensely black eyes.

At once Christian went up to her and said, ‘I don’t know what it is with this stupid black box you want me to open, but whatever it is, I refuse to play your games. It doesn’t even have any openings to open.’

She turned on him, black eyes blazing; she answered, ‘You will open it! You will! You must, you must.’

‘Why? What’s in it? What’s in it that’s so precious to you?’

She turned away now and looked again at the crashing sea. She even hung her head, seemed unhappy when she answered, ‘I don’t know what’s in it. I only know that something is. Someone… someone told me that it must be opened – to set us free.’

‘What are you talking about?’ He softened; he wanted to take hold of her, but he only stared at her beautiful face and wondered … ‘Tell me, what are you saying?’

A long sigh came from her; the same long sigh she had released the previous night when they had viewed the hologram. She seemed distressed, yet contained it tightly within her lithe frame. Christian waited. Simone knew that he waited.


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