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Chapter 1

The door to the Agoge Center’s art editing room eased open allowing natural light to stream in from the hall. A head of white-blonde hair entered the room at the height of four feet, nine inches. Declan Mallory walked along the edge of a long table before he pushed a wheel-bottomed chair forward and caused its occupier to jump in disoriented panic.

“Wake up, Agabus. You’re late for school.” Declan climbed into an open chair and marched his rear end inward against the backrest, his short legs dangling barely off the edge of the seat.

“I never left school.” Andre Dietrich cleared his throat and rubbed his bleary eyes.

“Aren’t you finished with this yet?” Declan scratched his nose with a bored grimace.

Andre tapped the keyboard and set a news clip in motion on a large screen on the wall behind a row of computer monitors in front of him. “I just need to render it.” The two boys watched the last few seconds of their founder’s interview play through to the end before Andre touched the keyboard again and reached for the computer mouse. “I wanted to put in that clip of Elder Mathis at last year’s Eleutheros—”

“With the pie?”

“Yeah, but I can’t find it anywhere in the footage.”

“He probably deleted it.” Declan grabbed the counter holding the row of editing equipment and propelled his chair into a lazy swivel.

Andre frowned in disappointment. “Pie-face is nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Truth,” Declan agreed in his strong Irish brogue. “Anyway, Agabus, next time you decide to sleepover at the Agoge, do me a favor and let the concerned parental units in on the plan, could you? My dad wasn’t thrilled with all the calls from your aunt last night. She was looking a bit nervous when I stopped by this morning. I told her not to fret. I mean it’s an island, where could you go?”

Andre clicked a button on the mouse in his distraction. “Sorry.”

Declan shrugged as if it were nothing.

“Wait—” Andre realized something. “What time is it?”

“Almost eight or maybe nine—” Declan glanced up as his friend exclaimed in frustration and flew out of his chair in his sudden urgency. “What is it?”

“The new arrivals,” Andre grumbled as he grabbed his things and rushed into the hall. Declan quickly followed at a run to catch up. “I’m supposed to be down at the pier,” he explained as he pushed his way out of the door of Arts building into the parking lot.

“That’s today? Where’s your car?” Declan asked.

“It’s plugged in up at the garage,” Andre muttered with increased frustration.

“We’ll take mine,” Declan offered while pulling out his keys and walking to the compact vehicle with bright yellow paint gleaming under the sun. “You drive like an elder anyway.”

Andre followed Declan and jumped in the passenger seat as he started the motor. With an electric whine, he sped the car through the nearest parking lot exit. Winding through the tight access streets curving around campus, he left the Agoge Center and drove north on Highway 1 in the direction of Kentro and Paralios Bay.

Andre held tight to the arm rest as Declan careened around a tight corner overlooking the sea where the landscape dropped drastically over a steep precipice. They had no chance of reaching the wharf in time. The village was only ten miles away, but the ferry from Kaluma was always on time. Andre was supposed to be on the pier waiting when it pulled into port. It was his one diplomatic responsibility as Agabus, the single living prophet on Koinonia, and he was going to be late. Komer Costa would not be impressed.

The interior of the car was warm, and Andre began to sweat with moisture beading at his brow. Brushing his unruly caramel-colored hair out of his dark eyes, he reached for the AC and cranked it on high.

“We’ll make it.” Declan could sense his agitation.

“I’m an idiot,” Andre muttered.

“You were busy. No one will be bothered.”

“No?” Andre challenged. “Not the komers, the elders? I think they’ll care, Dec. They already doubt my abilities as Agabus. This won’t help.”

“We’ll be late two minutes, maybe ten. They’re not going to strip you of your title for one act of tardiness. I doubt Theos is that fussed with whether or not the prophet is there to meet the newcomers precisely on time.”

Declan sped along the rolling meadows of Sunergeo Moor. Low clouds were moving across the sea, shading the sun and casting shadows over the grazing flocks of sheep in the fields. Andre peered through his window hoping to catch a glimpse of Koinonia’s sister island, Kaluma, in the distance. Six miles off the southern end of the main island, Kaluma was already behind them, and Andre twisted his neck to see if the ferry could be seen crossing the cove.

“It’s already here,” he said in dismay.

“No it’s not,” Declan argued.

“I can’t see it on the water.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s docked yet.”

Within minutes they reached the outskirts of Kentro, and Declan turned left before entering the village. Driving down a steep dirt alley leading to the docks, he searched for a place to park. The open sea lay before them, churning with whitecaps under the force of the wind. Andre spotted the crowd of villagers grouped at the center of the harbor in front of Nord’s Bait Supply. He also saw the ferry tied along the pier where the crew was already setting down the gangplank to allow the passengers to disembark.

Declan hit the brakes and skid on gravel alongside the reserve tank outside of the fuel station. It was the closest he could get with all the parked vehicles blocking the way to the pier. Andre would have to run the rest of the way. “Go,” Declan encouraged him. “I’ll meet you here after.”

Andre jumped out of the car and sprinted through the maze of vehicles and people in his way. Bursting through a cluster of startled fishermen, he ran down the length of the expansive dock to several lighthearted jeers and a spattering of applause at his arrival. Reaching the ferry, Andre stopped abruptly before a surprised group of newly adopted Koinonian citizens. He struggled to catch his breath, sucking in cold, saltwater air with a disheveled appearance. His day-old school uniform was in disarray, shirt un-tucked and wrinkled, top button out of place, sleeves rolled to the elbows, and a discarded tie missing in action. His hair fought the breeze, playing in his flushed face as he opened his mouth to speak while grabbing at the stitch in his side and praying he wouldn’t keel over.

“Welcome to Koinonia,” he spat over the roar of the wind. “Theos called you here to be brothers and sisters with us in fellowship, participates in the communion of service to Him and one another…” Andre faltered, forgot the rest of the speech, and quickly gave up. “Come on in,” he finished lamely before waving a pathetic hand over his shoulder and catching the eye of each individual as they made their way to the shore.

Even as the last walked by, he remained motionless at the end of the dock staring dejectedly at the sky overhead while they trouped to the awaiting assembly near the bait shop. There were smiles of nervous excitement on the faces of eager families. Fathers, mothers, children, even an aging couple with matching silver hair who held tightly to each other’s hands with beaming faces as if they were entering the promised land.

Right, Andre thought, annoyed and disappointed in his poor performance. Welcome home. That was the end of the speech, the very last thing he was supposed to have told them. Welcome home.

“Glad you could make it.” Komer Abramo Costa walked up behind him, and Andre grimaced as the holy man placed a hand on his shoulder. Prepared to accept the chastisement, Andre turned to face his spiritual leader. “What happened?” Komer Costa asked.

“Failure,” he stated simply.

“You think so?” Costa rubbed his stubbly chin.

“Not completely,” Andre muttered.

“A minor failure then, only a minor one. Don’t let it bother you.” The komer smiled, showing a jagged line of neglected teeth as he gazed up at the boy with a shrug of his angular shoulders. A man of fifty plus years, the religious leader looked a great deal younger with a boyish face full of amusement and unending mercy.

“Did it bother any of them?” Andre glanced over Costa’s shoulder at the shore where a group of men stood conversing with the two lower members of the komer sect.

Costa followed the boy’s gaze and his eyebrows disappeared beneath his sandy-colored hairline. “Disappointed perhaps…” He bobbed his head and turned back to Andre with a knowing smile. “But their opinions aren’t really the ones that matter, are they?”

Andre returned the smile.

“Right!” Costa slapped him gently on both shoulders before turning to walk up the pier. “You will go this morning, no?”

“Yes,” Andre nodded. “As soon as I leave here.”

“Good,” Costa agreed with this. “Then put aside your disappointment ‘til then and leave the elders to me.”

“Yes, sir.” Andre was glad to oblige his mentor. He left Costa and gave the circle of stern men a wide birth, choosing the long way back to Declan’s car to avoid the attention of the elders.

The newcomers had been swallowed up by the crowd and greeted with typical Koinonian hospitality. A car was waiting for each of the three families with an escort to lead them to their respective homes. A tour would be given of the entire island and a family feast was to take place at the Alleluia House the following evening. Each home had been filled with provisions according to the family’s needs with enough to get them by until they were established in their prospective occupations on the island. These professions had already been decided during their interim stay on Kaluma after much deliberation over what would best fit each individual’s talents and abilities.

Andre had never been a part of the Citizen Acclimation process; he did not know how services were attributed or what questions the foreigners underwent in order for the Acclimation staff to make their decision. All he knew was that it was a month long process to become a qualified citizen and not everyone who applied passed the test.

“Dre!” Aunt Demi waved an erratic gesture in Andre’s direction and called him over to where his family stood beside their vehicle parked off of Port Avenue. “Where have you been?” she shouted, not caring who witnessed her interrogation at full volume. “I was beyond worried. I hope you know that!”

Andre crossed the boardwalk lined with villagers chuckling at his expense. Grimacing with embarrassment, he nodded at a few as they jeered with lighthearted name-calling.

“Explain,” his aunt demanded when he reached her.

“I was at school.”

“The school has phones.”

“I’m sorry,” he apologized lamely. She was right, he could have called. He just forgot.

Standing in a row next to the vehicle, a trio of snickering children covered their amusement behind their hands. Andre frowned at his thirteen-year-old brother, Davi, for encouraging his cousins in their unruly behavior. It was one thing taking it from the adults of the community; he wouldn’t allow it from the kids as well.

“It was inconsiderate,” Demi lowered her voice but not her tone. Sighing heavily, she pushed her youngest nephew at his brother. “Where’s your car? I brought you a change of clothes.”

“Declan drove me.”

She caught her breath sharply and trapped a negative comment behind tight lips. “Was that necessary?” she asked instead while handing him his bag of clothing.

“At the time, yes,” Andre responded.

“Well, next time reconsider. I can drive you to the mountain.”

Andre turned down her offer with a shake of his head. “Declan will drive me back for my car.”

“Then tell that young man to drive the speed limit or I’ll call the Phulake station myself.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Andre nearly smiled.

“He’s reckless.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he repeated and began backing away in the direction of Declan’s car.

“I will save you some dinner.” Demi waved for the girls and Davi to climb into the open vehicle behind her. “Andre?” She stopped long enough to give him a look of concern full of meaning. “Be careful.”

“I will,” he promised.

“We’ll see you at home.”

Andre nodded and waved as he walked down the boardwalk once again. The crowd had dispersed leaving the way clear for them to move easily. Declan stood waiting by his car, and he climbed behind the wheel as Andre slipped back into the passenger seat. “What did I tell you, Agabus? Just in time and no harm done. Did you move my seat?” he demanded, tapping the altered brake and acceleration peddles designed specifically for his height.

“I didn’t touch your seat,” Andre informed him blandly.

“It feels like you touched my seat.” Declan fumbled for the adjustment lever, sliding himself forward half-an-inch. “Perfect.”

“How is that any different?”

“You don’t know everything, Agabus,” Declan shot back, reversing away from the fuel station and easing onto the highway. “All you average-sized people and your average-sized legs… What do you know? Where to now?”

“Back to Agoge,” Andre informed him. “I’ll drive myself to the altar.” Once again, he would have to hurry. The new citizens had arrived, now it time to finish the job and claim them for Theos and for all Koinonia stood for.

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