Legends of Amacia: Mysteries of Tiamat

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The Child and the Cats

“That must be Dennis,” Mary said, rising from her seat and going to the front door. She looked out to see Dennis coming up the driveway with his backpack in tow and a downcast expression on his face. “It’s Dennis,” she said over her shoulder as she opened the door. Stepping out of the house, she closed the door behind her, going to meet Dennis. “What’s the matter, honey?” she asked him as they slowly walked back to the front door.

Dennis hemmed and hawed and finally said, “I told my friends at school about what Hannibal gave us and told us last night.” He paused a second, and then continued as they reached the front steps, adding, “They didn’t believe me and worse than that, they made fun of me.” Dennis sighed deeply, obviously upset by what had happened at school.

Mary put her arms around him and consoled him. “They’re just jealous of what you know. It doesn’t matter what they think,” she said, kneeling down in front of him. “You know it’s true, don’t you?” He nodded yes. “That’s all that matters,” she said warmly.

“Is Hannibal still here?” Dennis asked, noticing Hannibal’s truck still in the driveway.

“Yes, he is and some of his friends have come to visit too,” Mary said, trying to suppress her excitement about what Dennis would think of Selina as she stood up. “They came a long way just to see us and you.”

Dennis cast an uncertain look at his mother. “They came to see us?” he asked as he remembered the stories Hannibal had told the previous night. His mood changed a bit as his excitement slowly began to grow while they walked to the front door.

Mary opened the door, letting Dennis in and following him in, closing it behind her. She smiled as Dennis surveyed the scene. Everyone sat snacking on sandwiches and chips. Dennis saw his dad sitting in his favorite recliner with a drink in his hand. Hannibal sat on the sofa with Selina at his side. Dan sat next to Hannibal on the kitchen chair. Everyone looked at Dennis. “Dennis, I’d like you to meet some of Hannibal’s friends. They showed up here about lunchtime. This is Dan,” Harry said pointing to Dan.

“Hi there, sport,” Dan said, introducing himself. “I’m Dan.”

“And sitting over there next to Hannibal on the sofa is Selina,” Harry said, smiling.

Dennis dropped his pack and walked over to Selina with his eyes as big as dinner plates, ignoring everyone else in the room. He rubbed his eyes with his hands and stared with his mouth hanging open. Hannibal sat silently, smiling as he finished his sandwich.

“Hi,” Selina purred, leaning forward to look Dennis square in the face. “How are you?”

“Wow!” Dennis finally replied. “You’re – you’re a cat!”

“Yes, I am,” Selina purred, smiling. Dennis started to reach out to touch her, but hesitated.

“Go on and touch her, Dennis. It’s okay,” Hannibal said. “She doesn’t bite.”

Dennis looked at Harry, who nodded that it was okay. “Go on. It’s all right,” Selina purred, holding out her hand and arm.

Dennis reached out and touched her hand and arm, beaming with delight. “Wow,” he cried. “I have a real cat woman in my living room! How cool is this!” Selina smiled as he stroked the silky soft fur on her arm. “I’ve never felt anything this soft. Dad, you’ve got to feel this!” he bubbled with excitement.

“I already have,” Harry answered.

Her fur enthralled Dennis as he stroked it. “Do you purr like the cats we have around here?” he asked.

Selina smirked. “Yes, I can,” she replied, letting him sit next to her. “Listen closely,” she instructed and the room got very quiet. She began to purr softly as she put her arm around Dennis.

Dennis listened intently and his face lit up in pure joy. “She can purr like a cat, dad!” he beamed.

Both Selina and Hannibal chuckled softly, absolutely enjoying the moment. Harry, Mary, and Dan smiled while watching Dennis make one discover after another.

“I can see that,” Harry answered his son with a pleased look on his face.

“What about your claws?” Dennis asked Selina, looking into her delighted face. “You do have claws, don’t you?”

“Why yes, little one,” Selina answered, holding her hand so that Dennis could see it, “watch.” She flexed her fingers, extending her inch long, razor sharp claws.

“Your claws are an extension of your hands and feet like the cats here on Earth, aren’t they?” Hannibal asked.

“Yes, they are,” Selina replied with a purr, “although I haven’t had much use for them here recently. It does make it so much easier to climb things, to keep my footing in treacherous spots, and to defend myself.”

“You’ve got some long claws. It’s just like a tiger. I like tigers myself but you’re much better than a tiger. I would never be able to touch a tiger,” Dennis crowed. Selina chuckled again as she retracted her claws. “Where are you from?” he asked intently, looking up into her deep catlike eyes.

“Are you sure you want to know that, Dennis?” Hannibal asked.

“Yes…yes, I do,” Dennis pleaded.

Hannibal looked at Harry, who nodded. “Go on and tell him,” Hannibal ordered Selina, smiling wryly. “He’s a man. He can handle it.”

“I’m a Lynxian, Dennis,” Selina purred in her smooth melodious voice. “My planet was called Kaitia and it used to be on the other side of the galaxy.”

Dennis gave her a blank look as what she said sunk in. Then his countenance lightened with understanding. “So you’re a real alien from outer space,” Dennis stated.

“Yes, I am,” Selina declared, nodding.

Dennis beamed with delight. “This is too cool. I always knew there were aliens out there. But how did you and Hannibal get together?” he asked.

“Hannibal saved my life when my home was blown up,” Selina answered. Before Dennis could ask any more questions, she asked, “Would you like to see what my planet looked like?”

Selina looked at Hannibal for approval and he nodded as Dennis said, “You bet! But how will I be able to see your planet? You don’t have a spaceship we could go there with, do you?”

Selina chuckled again. “We don’t have to go there to see it,” she answered. “But I have special pictures of it. Why don’t you show him the pictures, Dan?”

“Okay...just give me a minute,” Dan replied. He rummaged through his satchel and retrieved both the disk with Kaitia on it and the hologram projector. He changed the disks while Dennis watched in utter fascination. “Hold on to your hat, sport,” Dan said as he punched the start button on the projector, and then sat it on the coffee table next to the sandwich platter. Dennis watched as it hummed, and then a light shined out of it with the holographic representation of Kaitia materializing in the living room. Dennis looked on in awe as Dan tweaked the holograph so that it would zoom in on Kaitia.

“That’s where I’m from, little one. It’s a long, long way away,” Selina said, pointing to Kaitia.

Dennis’ eyes sparkled with wonder as he got up from beside Selina, going to touch the planet. His hand passed through the three dimensional image. He stood there looking at his hand, and then the image with wonder and puzzlement. Finally, it dawned on him what he was looking at. “This is a hologram isn’t it?” he asked.

“Why yes, it is, Dennis,” Hannibal answered.

Dennis stood there, staring at the holographic projection in complete wonder. “This is where you come from?” he asked. “Wow! It’s so pretty, just like you are.”

Selina sat back and smiled. “Why thank you, Dennis,” she said after taking a sip of lemonade from her glass.

Dennis continued drinking in the holographic image. “Where is this?” he asked abruptly.

“Can you show the Earth’s position in relation to where Kaitia was?” Hannibal asked Dan.

“I think so,” Dan replied as he retrieved the projector. He pressed a series of buttons, which allowed the image to zoom out, giving a view of the entire galaxy. Seconds later, the Earth and Kaitia lit up on opposite sides of the galaxy, highlighting their positions. “We’re here,” Dan said, pointing to the Earth deep within the second spiral arm in from the edge of the galaxy. “Kaitia is over here,” he continued, pointing to Kaitia in the center of the outer spiral arm of the galaxy on the far side of the galaxy from the Earth. “It’s about eighty-five thousand light years away.”

Dennis stood there for a moment, digesting what he saw. “Your planet is way over there?” he asked Selina.

“Yes, that’s where it was,” Selina replied, nodding.

“Can we go and see it?” Dennis asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid not, little one. Dan, could you bring Kaitia back into view?” Selina asked.

Dan nodded and zoomed in the hologram in on the whole Kaitian system.

“Why not?” Dennis asked in a puzzled manner.

“Do you know what a supernova is, Dennis?” Selina asked Dennis.

His expression narrowed as he thought. “Yeah,” Dennis replied after a moment of contemplation. “It’s when a star blows up and makes a neutron star or black hole. That’s what they taught us in school. But what does that have to do with going there?”

“We can’t go and see it because it isn’t there anymore,” Selina declared with just a hint of grief in her voice. “Do you see this star?” she asked Dennis, pointing to the blue giant member of the trinary system.” He nodded yes and she continued, “This sun exploded as a supernova the day I met Hannibal. It vaporized everything you see here and it would have gotten me and my father had Hannibal not showed up and rescued us.”

Dennis sat down next to her and let what she said sink in. He looked up at her with a genuinely concerned look. “You can’t go home then,” Dennis stated in a worried tone.

Selina saw the look of concern and a small tear welled up in her eye. “No, I can’t. But I’m here and that’s all that matters,” she purred.

Dennis saw her expression and response to his question and hugged her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he apologized.

“That’s all right,” Selina responded, returning the hug. “It seems that I have a new family and a new home now.”

“You can stay here if you want,” Dennis offered with complete sincerity, looking into her eye.

“That’s sweet of you to say that but I’ve already got a place to stay. Hannibal has given me a place to call home,” Selina said, gently touching his cheek. “But if I ever need a place to stay, I’ll know where to come.” Her answer satisfied Dennis, who began to bubble with joy and excitement again. He helped himself to one of the remaining sandwiches and some chips. Immediately, he offered some to Selina who graciously declined, informing him that she already had a sandwich.

Mary rose and asked Dennis whether he wanted anything to drink. He answered that he wanted a soft drink. Mary went into the kitchen, got him a drink, and brought it to him. After giving Dennis the drink, Mary asked her guests, “You’re staying for supper, aren’t you?”

Hannibal looked at Selina and Dan, asking, “Do you want a good home-cooked meal? Mary’s a very good cook.”

“You make too big a deal over my cooking, Hannibal,” Mary said, blushing. “I just do what I can.”

“Sure. I haven’t had a real home-cooked meal in ages,” Dan replied.

Selina glanced at Hannibal, and then at Mary. “It’s a day for new experiences,” Selina stated. “I’d be honored to have dinner with you.”

“I’ll go on and start supper then,” Mary replied, pleased with the answer as she went into the kitchen. Selina looked after her briefly, and then brought her attention back to Dennis, who sat quietly next to her, eating his sandwich and drinking his soda.

“If we’re done with the projector, I’ll turn it off,” Dan said as he finished his snack.

Hannibal leaned back and placed his arm around Selina on the sofa back, saying, “I think so. Go on and turn it off.”

Dan picked up the projector and turned it off. The hologram vanished in an instant and he put the projector in his satchel. Dennis gave a slightly disappointed look when Dan turned off the hologram. Hannibal noticed it, so he motioned for Dan to come over beside him. He whispered into Dan’s ear and Dan replied in a whisper so that Dennis could not hear, “Yeah, I think that could be arranged. I’ll have to return to the Temple in order to do it, though.”

“Excellent. I’m sure he’ll love it,” Hannibal whispered.

Dennis then suddenly looked up at Selina and asked, “If your home is eighty-five thousand light-years away, how did Hannibal rescue you?”

Selina prodded Hannibal gently in the ribs with her elbow. “He wants to know how you were able to rescue me since Kaitia was on the other side of the galaxy and you don’t have a spaceship,” she said.

Hannibal withdrew his arm from behind Selina and leaned forward so he could see Dennis. “Remember last night when I was talking about the Temple?” he asked. Dennis shook his head yes and Hannibal continued, “We found more things in there than what you heard about last night. Now what I’m about to tell you, you mustn’t tell anyone else. It’s a secret.”

“You don’t have to worry about that. Even if I did say something, no one will believe me. I told my friends about last night and what you said,” Dennis said in a humbled tone. “They laughed at me and didn’t believe a word I said. They said that I made you up and that I was crazy for telling such stories. After I told them, they teased me unmercifully for the rest of the day. I shouldn’t have told them anything.” His demeanor had changed and his features were downcast. “So you don’t have to worry about me saying anything else,” he added.

Selina looked down at him sympathetically. “I know about that all too well. I was the smart one, just like you, when I was in school and my classmates treated me the same way. It seems that this behavior is universal. But cheer up,” she said, gently turning his head by the chin with her hand so that he was looking her in the face. “They’re just threatened by you individuality. Besides, you have a real cat woman in your living room today and I’m not the figment of someone’s imagination.” She smiled pleasantly at the young boy and his face lightened up.

“You can’t tell anyone about Selina either,” Hannibal said sternly. “I think you know why too.”

“Yeah, if the government found out, they might try to take her away,” Dennis said profoundly.

“You’re quite the little genius, Dennis. It looks like you’ve got a pretty good bead on things,” Hannibal said, impressed with him. “Just know that we’re in…” He was cut off as his phone rang. He pulled it out and answered it. “Talk to me,” Hannibal said. He listened intently for a few seconds and then replied, “Indeed? Well, that is news. Is the Temple still secure?” He listened a few more seconds and said, “Good…very good. Since the Temple is secure, would you like some home-cooking?” He listened intently for a few moments. “All right…Home in on this signal. But before you come, I need you to bring me one of those little projectors,” Hannibal stated. He smiled as he listened and replied into the phone, “We’ll be here. See you in a little bit.” He laid the phone down just as he did when Dan and Selina used the portal. “Do you mind if your father comes for a little visit, Selina?” Hannibal asked.

Selina’s face lit up. “You mean you were able to get him out of the Library?” she queried excitedly. “Of course, I wouldn’t mind. It’s been a while since I’ve had a meal with my dad.”

“Hope you don’t mind one more,” Hannibal said to Harry.

Harry looked at Hannibal with a serious look. “You mean there’s one more coming?” Harry asked. “Damn! Why don’t you have the whole world over?” He kept the serious look for a few seconds while he and Hannibal stared at each other. Hannibal began to think he had overstepped his bounds. Then Harry snickered and cracked a grin. “Had you going, didn’t I?” he crowed.

Hannibal chuckled. “I guess you did,” he admitted.

“Of course he can come. I’d better tell Mary there’s one more coming,” Harry said, rising out of his recliner and heading for the kitchen.

Dennis sat there in puzzlement, trying to figure out how Selina’s father was going to come and what he would look like. His excitement began to grow at the anticipation of seeing someone else that looked like Selina. He looked up at Selina as she asked Hannibal, “How soon will he be here?”

“Oh...just a few minutes; I needed him to find a spare projector for me. As soon as he finds it, he’ll come,” Hannibal said plainly. Selina nodded in acknowledgment.

Dennis began to wonder how this was going to happen. “Were you talking with the Temple?” he asked.

“Yes, I was,” Hannibal returned. “This is what I was fixing to tell you about. What you’re about to see stays in this house. Do you understand? We found things in the Temple that are way beyond our present technology. People will kill for this stuff.”

Dennis scratched his head, saying, “Okay. No one will believe what I say anyway.” He sat there a few moments then blurted out, “Could I write a story about it?”

As he spoke, Harry re-entered the room. “No problem for one more,” Harry announced.

Hannibal sat there a moment and considered Dennis’ request. He looked at Dennis’ expression of hope and eagerness about the request. “Harry...is Dennis a good writer?” he asked.

“He has a gift,” Harry replied, looking at Dennis. “He aces every essay he writes and he seems to enjoy doing it. He has a vivid imagination too. I’ve read some of his work and it is good for a kid his age.”

Dennis blushed slightly and tucked his head in a sheepish manner. “So you can write. Do you do it often?” Hannibal asked.

“Sometimes,” Dennis answered.

“Is it for school or just for you?” Hannibal probed intently.

“Some of both, but mainly for school,” Dennis replied.

“Do you like to write, Dennis?” Hannibal asked, rubbing his chin. Dennis nodded yes and Hannibal hesitated for a moment. “Well, since you’re an up and coming writer, let’s encourage him,” Hannibal stated. “Yes, you can write a story about it as long as everyone believes it just a story and not real. Can you do that?”

Dennis bounced up and down next to Selina in absolute joy. “Yes, yes I can do that!” he exclaimed.

“Just remember, if you have to share it, keep it as a story,” Hannibal warned.

“Oh I will, I will,” Dennis bubbled.

As he spoke, the area in the middle of the living room began to get an odd look to it. Hannibal saw it and said to Dennis, “Okay now. You wanted to know how I rescued Selina. Well, it’s show time. Look!” He pointed to the middle of the room where the air went from strange to shimmering.

Dennis sat in awe, watching, as the shimmering turned into a glowing sphere, and then a ring large enough for someone to walk through. His mouth hung open as a shimmering seven-foot figure appeared inside the ring, and then suddenly stepped out of it into the living room. The ring disappeared with a pop after the figure cleared of the portal.

Hannibal rose from his seat and extended his hand to the figure. “It’s good to see you again, Nathanael,” he declared.

Nathanael grasped Hannibal’s hand firmly, and then pulled him in for a big bear hug. “Oh it’s so good to see you too, son. It’s been a while since you’ve been to the Temple,” he said, releasing Hannibal.

“Yeah, it’s been too long since I’ve been to the Temple,” Hannibal agreed.

Nathanael surveyed the scene and noticed Selina sitting on the sofa with Dennis, who stared in fascination. “Hi princess, how have you been?” he asked Selina.

Selina rose, giving her father a big hug, who reciprocated in kind. “I’ve been fine, dad. Just took a little break to meet some new friends,” she said.

“I see that. And who have we here sitting next to you?” Nathanael asked as his piercing gaze fell on Dennis.

“This is Dennis,” Selina purred, sitting down and putting an arm around him. “He’s Harry’s son and a very clever one at that.”

Hannibal spoke up as Harry rose from his seat. “This is Harry,” he said introducing Harry.

Harry reached out, grasped Nathanael’s huge clawed hand, and shook it firmly. “This day surely has been full of surprises. So, you’re Selina’s father. I can see where she got her looks from,” he said pleasantly to Nathanael.

“Well actually, most of her looks she got from her mother. She got her strength, tenacity, and drive from me, though,” Nathanael answered modestly.

“Oh dad,” Selina purred sheepishly, running her hand through her hair.

“Now let’s have a look at the boy,” Nathanael said in a fatherly way as he squatted down in front of Dennis.

Dennis watched, as Selina’s father looked him square in the eye. “Wow!” he breathed. “You’re a cat like Selina.”

Nathanael smiled broadly, showing his canines. “Yes, I am,” he stated. “I am a Lynxian, just like Selina.”

Dennis looked on in wonder, his eyes sparkling like stars. “You’re so big too,” he observed. “Is your fur soft like Selina’s?”

“Why don’t you find out?” Nathanael said, extending his arm so Dennis could touch it.

Dennis reached out and touched his arm, stroking the fur and satisfying his curiosity. “It’s different somehow,” Dennis stated. “Her fur is soft and smooth like silk. Yours is soft too, but just bit coarser than hers and more like velvet.”

“You have a good eye, young man,” Nathanael complimented. “You’ll do well to keep that eye for detail. It may help you someday.” While he was speaking, Harry went into the kitchen to bring Mary out to meet Nathanael.

Hannibal edged over to Nathanael as he rose from his position in front of Dennis, asking quietly asked if he had gotten the spare projector he wanted. “Yes,” Nathanael whispered. “It took me a few minutes to find it, though.” He pulled it out of his pocket and slipped it into Hannibal’s hand.

“Good man,” Hannibal praised as he put an appreciative hand on Nathanael’s shoulder. Turning, Hannibal sat down next to Selina and leaned over toward Dan, handing him the little projector. “Can you copy the Kaitia disk onto this thing?” he asked Dan in a low tone.

“Yeah, no problem,” Dan murmured. He immediately started tinkering with the projector. Dennis didn’t notice what was going on because his attention remained solely on Nathanael and Selina. Nathanael sat down next to Dennis and began to engage him with small talk.

A few moments after sitting down, Harry re-entered the room with Mary. “Mary,” he said. “This is Nathanael, Selina’s father.”

Nathanael rose to greet Mary, who stood silently while wiping her hands on her apron. Before her towered an enormous Lynxian seven feet tall with a build most football players would envy. Just as with Selina, he portrayed the perfect combination of human and feline characteristics. His great mane of almost black hair streaked prominently with silvery gray lay pulled back into a braided ponytail as long as Selina’s ponytail, reaching down his back to just between the shoulder blades. His fur was nearly the same color as Selina’s, only a little duller and he wore tan khakis cut off just below the knees with large pockets and a tan tee shirt that hung on him loosely. He had large piercing green eyes and his catlike ears poked out from under his mane. Nathanael emanated a profoundly powerful presence that seemed to reflect his confidence and intelligence. He saw Mary as she entered the room and humbled himself so he would not frighten her. She extended her hand slowly, in awe of this giant cat. Nathanael dropped to one knee so he could look up at her, and then took her hand, gently kissing it. “It is an honor to be invited for dinner in your home. I hope my size and appearance doesn’t frighten you,” he said softly.

“No, sir,” Mary replied, blushing. “Your appearance doesn’t frighten me, though your size did take me back a little. It’s my pleasure to have you here tonight. Any friend of Hannibal is welcome here.”

“Thank you, ma’am. It seems that Hannibal is the common link here today. Everyone here is very close to him,” Nathanael purred. “I won’t detain you any further. I’m sure that this dinner will be one to remember.”

“Yes, I’m sure that it will,” Mary answered. “If you folks will excuse me, I have some supper to get ready.” She turned and headed back into the kitchen.

“Maybe you would like to help her, Selina,” Hannibal suggested.

“Yes, maybe you could help,” Nathanael agreed. “At the very least, it would give you a chance to see how humans cook real meals.”

The suggestion intrigued Selina and she rose from the sofa. “You know, I think I will,” she declared. “I might learn something new.” Then to Dennis, she said, “I’m going to help your mom, all right?” Dennis shook his head okay and Selina followed Mary back into the kitchen.

“I thought it would be good if she could see how a real meal is prepared by someone who knows how,” Hannibal said to Nathanael after Selina left the room. “I remember how the food was at the Temple. Has any improvements been made since I’ve been gone?”

Nathanael and Dan looked at each other briefly and said simultaneously, “No.”

“Well,” Nathanael started. “Maybe a little; the main problem is a lack of variety. We have, on occasion, retrieved a deer or boar from the jungle and prepared it. Still, despite that, it’s the same old thing over and over again. Not that I’m complaining because I’m always thankful to get it, but if we could just have something other than those blasted MRE’s that are so bland, it would make life a little easier.”

“Yeah,” Dan agreed. “We haven’t had anything else for a couple of months and those things are getting old. Like Nathanael said, we kill a deer or wild pig from time to time just to vary the menu.”

“You should’ve said something,” Hannibal replied, rubbing his chin. “I’ll see if I can’t do something about that. I absolutely understand about the MRE’s. I’ve had more than my share of those bland things in my lifetime. They were just the most convenient thing at the time we went in there. Now that things are pretty much secure, maybe we can improve the menu. Who’s getting the wildlife, anyway?”

Dan glanced at Nathanael and then looked at Hannibal. “Nathanael and Selina; they’re the most skilled hunters that I’ve ever seen,” Dan stated. “In one instance, they actually ran the deer down after wounding it.”

Nathanael looked down modestly. “It wasn’t anything,” he stated. “The wildlife on this planet is pathetically slow in comparison to that on Kaitia. The lower gravity of this planet makes it easy for us to overtake our prey.”

“I’ll bet those claws came in handy,” Hannibal commented with a smile.

“Yes, they did,” Nathanael agreed as he sat down between Dennis and Hannibal on the sofa. The sofa groaned under the new weight of Nathanael, but held.

“We’ll do something about the menu tomorrow; first thing,” Hannibal announced.

Dennis abruptly noticed the Relic on the coffee table for the first time and went to it. “What’s this thing? Man…it’s weird looking,” he asked, staring at the Relic.

“It’s an artifact we found in the Temple,” Nathanael said.

“What’s it for?” Dennis asked.

“No one seems to know what it’s for,” Hannibal answered. “Now that you’re here, Nathanael…maybe you can help with this. What do you think?”

“Could you hand it to me?” Nathanael asked Dennis, who promptly picked it up and handed it to him while sitting next to the cat. Nathanael examined it closely. “You know, this is the eighth or ninth time I’ve looked at this thing and it still baffles me. Look at this writing on the Relic,” he said referring to the glyphs inscribed on it. “This is some sort of language that I’ve never encountered before and I’ve been around. The metal is the same as that in the library books and in the machinery that we found.” He scratched his head in puzzlement.

“I asked Selina about it too and she had as little a clue as you. But she did tell us about the Ammkar in your mythology, saying the Relic reminded her of it,” Hannibal declared. “The story was that the Ammkar was some kind of device cooked up by some people called Etherians. Does that name mean anything to you?”

“Hmmm…the Etherians,” Nathanael murmured as he thought. His mind whirled and churned at the mention of the name. “Yes, that name is familiar to me. Selina told you the myth, did she?” he asked.

“Yes, she did, at least what she remembered of it. At this point, we shouldn’t dismiss anything, no matter how crazy or weird it sounds,” Hannibal said. “Someone went to a tremendous amount of trouble to keep this thing hid so no one could get it.”

“The Etherians are a mythical species that were conquerors of the known universe many eons ago,” Nathanael declared. “They pillaged and plundered entire galaxies in their onslaught. No one was safe. Their capabilities were far beyond what either your or my civilizations could ever dream. They could literally invade any space at a whim, usually enslaving whole worlds and stripping them completely of anything of value, including the people. In essence, they were the ultimate warlords or pirates. I’ve encountered in my explorations several references to the Etherians; however, no one seemed to know anything about them except that they were extremely savage and cruel. There are no descriptions of them and no one knew where they came from or why they swept across the universe like a plague. The one thing the few references that I’ve encountered about the Etherians said is no one ever withstood their onslaught. I have even seen some of their written language, though we never accumulated enough of it to attempt deciphering it. The writing on this Relic is similar to the Etherian writing but it’s not the Etherian writing that I’m familiar with. I’m at a loss as to what this writing means or who wrote it. One thing I am sure of, this Relic is a key to something very important. Of what it’s the key to, I don’t know.”

Dennis sat reverenced silence listening intently to Nathanael. “What happened to those guys?” he asked.

“They ravaged the universe for eons, and then suddenly they vanished,” Nathanael informed. “They were like locusts you have here. They would swoop in from out of nowhere and utterly spoil entire civilizations, usually destroying them and leaving dead worlds in their wake. Only God knows how many civilizations they destroyed. Their name became a thing of dread. People panicked at the mere mention of these world-enders coming. Then for some mysterious reason, they themselves vanished without a trace. All that’s left of them are bits and pieces of their technology scattered around the galaxy, the myths of their existence, and where they stashed the spoil of ten thousand galaxies. I personally know of hundreds of people from Kaitia and our part of the galaxy who tried to find that fabled place. I never saw any of them again.” He paused a moment, remembering one of his friends from Kaitia who went off in search of the fabled spoil of ten thousand galaxies. “It’s said that they hid their treasure on their home world that is in the farthest reaches of the universe. Legends say there was so much spoil that they hid it through a dimensional rift they created in the center of their planet,” he stated.

“You seem to know quite a bit about the Etherians, Nathanael,” Hannibal said. “How did you come to know about them?”

“The knowledge about the Etherians came from a lifetime of study at archaeological excavations from all over our part of the galaxy, including Kaitia,” Nathanael replied. “I have personally seen the name of the Etherians mentioned in the digs of forty different star systems. We know what we do about them because of what the indigenous cultures of those planets said about them. As of the time when Kaitia was destroyed, there hadn’t been anything found that could help in deciphering the Etherian language. Maybe one day it’ll be found and who the Etherians were will finally be known. In nearly every case, the mention of the Etherians was part of their ancient lore and myth. Whether or not this Relic is the key of the Ammkar, I don’t think so. The writing on this relic is Etherian-like, but not Etherian. It’s some weird variation of it that I’ve never seen before.”

“So do you think there is a possibility that the Relic we have here may be some retro-developed alien technology?” Hannibal asked.

Nathanael looked at the Relic closely and said, “No, this is not the same technology we’ve encountered in the Temple. This is definitely alien in origin and not the same technology of the Temple. The more we uncover, the more convinced I am that the technology in the Temple is of alien origin that humans modified so they could operate it. Humans had little input in how most of the technology in the Temple was created. Who or what made it I don’t know, but it wasn’t the people of this planet. It was only altered so they could operate it.”

“That’s quite a hypothesis, Nathanael,” Hannibal replied. “If humans didn’t make it, then would you venture a guess as to who did?”

“I don’t have enough data to answer that question,” Nathanael stated. “But whoever created Tiamat had the technological capability to tap the power of an entire planet and use it for their benefit. What the Temple’s purpose was initially, I have no idea, but it’s a feat of engineering surpassing even what my people did, and we tamed a black hole for our purposes. There’s no way your people could have created Tiamat. Take the portal for instance. Do you have any idea of what happens when we engage that machine?”

“Not really,” Hannibal admitted. “I figured it must have a way of creating wormholes to make the connection. Our people don’t even know if wormholes exist yet. We just know that they are a theoretically possible.”

“Wormholes exists naturally in many places and forms throughout the galaxy,” Nathanael stated. “Some are stable enough for us to use as shortcuts from one sector of space to another. Others are violently unstable and tear apart anything that comes near them.”

“That’s very interesting,” Hannibal murmured. “So what do you think the portal does? Is it a wormhole generator or something else?”

“This is only a theory,” Nathanael answered. “But I think the portal does more than just create wormholes. I believe when the portal is activated, it does what our people were trying to do just before our blue sun exploded. It actually folds space to connect two points separated by time and space. This is why I suggest that humanity had no hand in making the machinery at Tiamat. To fold space and create a stable doorway through which people and material can move unharmed requires a level of technological sophistication that even my people didn’t have. Yes, we had faster-than-light capabilities with our starships. We also had matter-energy transporters that allowed us to teleport people and material, and yes, we did occasionally use stable wormholes found around singularities, pulsars, and quasars to make long distance jumps. But we never had the ability to make a gate the way the portal does.”

“Whoa,” Dennis breathed. “So aliens made the machine that brought you here from the Temple everyone is talking about?”

“Yes, Dennis,” Nathanael stated. “But apparently at some point after the machines in Tiamat were created, they were modified so humans could operate them. That’s where the human fingerprint is on the machinery: in the adaptation of the machinery for human use. But it’s still early yet to draw a conclusion about the machinery or the human influence on it since we’re still looking through the Library. The answer to this conundrum may lie in one of those books. That reminds me, Hannibal. We found a second level to the library down through one of the sarcophagi. We found it just this afternoon right after lunch after Dan and Selina left.”

“Yes, I remember you saying something about that over the phone,” Hannibal returned. “What did you find down there?”

“There’s another chamber below the first much larger than the first and there are many more sarcophagi that are as big as the ones in the main Library,” Nathanael explained. “These, however are locked with a strange new mechanism. It looks like they will require some kind of key to get into them. Moreover, these sarcophagi are different from the main library too. They’re not made of stone but of a strange translucent crystalline type of material. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You’ll have to come and take a look. I do suspect that the key to those sarcophagi is in the Temple somewhere, probably in an area that we haven’t found yet.”

“Were there any traps involved with getting into the second level of the Library?” Hannibal asked.

“None that we’ve seen so far, although, we haven’t tried to open the sarcophagi yet,” Nathanael answered. “I’ve instructed everyone to stay out of that level until you have a look. I expect that we’ll need your help down there.”

“That was good thinking, Nathanael. It’s not a good idea to just let anyone down there,” Hannibal chimed. “You closed it then.”

“Yes, only three people know which sarcophagus is the entrance: my two assistants and me. I left strict orders with them that no one was to go back down there until I got back,” Nathanael informed.

“Do you think they’ll follow those orders?” Hannibal asked. “I know human nature pretty well. Tell someone not to do something and a lot of the time, they’ll go and do exactly what you tell them not to.”

“Well, I think they will. I told them that if anyone went down there while I was gone, that I would personally eat them,” Nathanael said, smirking. “I believe their instincts for self-preservation will keep them in line.”

Hannibal chuckled. “Nice going; that’ll work. If it had been anyone else, it probably wouldn’t have worked, but because you’re a seven-foot Lynxian from the far side of the galaxy, the threat has some real teeth. Very good!” he exclaimed. “Is there anything else of interest you need to bring to my attention?”

Nathanael thought for a moment, and then said, “No, that’s pretty much it.”

“How many people do we have there now?” Hannibal inquired.

“We still have a full complement of researchers there,” Dan interjected. “The people we lost in the altercation with the militia were security personnel. All of the researchers were in the Temple when that happened. Because of that skirmish, we could use a few more security personnel.”

Hannibal sat there with a stern look on his face. “I thought you said the Temple was secure,” he replied in a concerned tone.

“Well, it is,” Dan returned. “I was just saying that I would feel a little better if we had just a few more security personnel. I’m not so much worried about problems from outside as I am encountering some unknown still in the Temple. Who knows what else we’ll encounter in there after finding those giant spiders and other creatures.”

“Oh, I see,” Hannibal answered in a more understanding tone. “I’ll see what I can do. It won’t be easy finding some more trustworthy associates though.”

“That’s all I can ask,” Dan returned.

“Now Dan,” Hannibal began. “In the not too distant future, I’m going to need you to take care of the Temple for me. The decisions that I usually make will be relegated to you. Do you think that you can handle it?”

“Absolutely…I’m your man,” Dan answered without hesitation. “The work will go on and when you’re done with Amacia, we’ll be here waiting for you.”

“Good man. Before I leave, I’ll put your name on my accounts so that you can pay for anything that needs to be done,” Hannibal stated. “I’m going to trust you with this. Don’t disappoint me.”

“I won’t,” Dan said plainly. As he finished speaking, Selina came out of the kitchen into the living room and announced, “Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. What do you all want to drink?” One by one, they gave their preference and Selina disappeared into the kitchen. The odor of roast beef and gravy subtly drifted out of the kitchen and into the living room.

“Something smells good,” Hannibal announced.

Nathanael sniffed at the air. “Yes, it does,” he agreed. “It definitely smells better than those MRE’s we’ve been eating for the last two months.”

“If you need to wash your hands, the bathroom is just down the hall to the left,” Harry offered.

Dan looked at his hands and said, “I think I need to.” He rose and headed to the bathroom.

Nathanael sat for a moment considering whether he should wash. A few moments later, Dan reappeared and Nathanael rose, saying, “I think I’ll do the same.” He then promptly disappeared down the hall.

“Go wash your hands, Dennis,” Harry ordered.

“Do I have to?” Dennis whined.

“Yes,” Harry insisted. Nathanael suddenly appeared out of the hall and Dennis went to wash his hands.

Nathanael was about to sit down on the sofa when Selina reappeared. “It’s ready,” she announced. Hannibal and Harry rose promptly.

“After you,” Hannibal said to Nathanael.

“Thank you,” Nathanael returned and everyone followed Selina into the dining room where a modest meal of roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn on the cob awaited them. Mary pointed out where everyone was to sit as Dennis came in.

They all sat around the table and Harry asked Hannibal, “Would you like to say grace?”

“Sure,” Hannibal replied. “Our Father in Heaven, we come before you this evening to give thanks for this food, which you have so generously provided us. I would also like to give thanks for Harry and his family for their friendship and hospitality to us. Thank you for bringing Nathanael and Selina into our lives and broadening our perceptions about the true nature of your creation. Thank you for Dan and the research team, which you have brought to me to help explore and understand the mysteries of the Temple for without them, this pleasant evening with my friends, would not have been possible. Bless them and all that sit at this table that we may do that which pleases you, o Father. Bless this food that it may keep us strong and sound in our bodies, minds, and spirits. As always, thy will be done in all things that we do. In Jesus name we pray and ask these things, Amen.”

“Okay, just dig in,” Harry declared. “We’re not fancy around here.” With that, they helped themselves to the food.

Nathanael and Selina looked at each other, and then at Hannibal as he filled his plate with the sumptuous meal provided by Mary. Selina hesitated for a few moments as she decided what to get first. “You are just full of surprises, aren’t you Hannibal?” Nathanael declared in an impressed tone while grabbing generous portions of the roast beef, potatoes, green beans, and gravy. “From where we come from, what you just did would classify you for the padded room and a full frontal lobotomy.”

“Really?” Hannibal returned with a raised eyebrow. “It’s not that far from the truth on this planet, either. What do you think?”

“Actually, I think it is rather refreshing. I’m sure that Selina has given you some idea of where we stand on God,” Nathanael answered.

“Well, yes,” Hannibal stated. “I got a pretty good idea. I just wanted to hear it from you.”

“Go on and tell them, Dad,” Selina insisted as she poured some gravy over her roast beef and potatoes.

“Oh, all right. My schooling and book learning despise this, but I know better than let it dictate my beliefs. Apparently, your god and my god are the same God. Just a couple of your years ago, I wouldn’t admit it openly because of what it would do to my career and my family. Selina was the same way. We were in the closet with a very close circle of friends that believed the way we did. We were among the very few to have paid attention to those crazy prophets who said our blue sun was going to supernova because of the Kaitian people’s abandonment of the Lord. It’s the main reason we were on the Interceptor when the blue sun went supernova.”

“How long did your prophets warn your people about the impending supernova?” Hannibal asked as he ate.

“They’d been warning our people for almost one hundred of our years,” Nathanael answered. “I was just a lad when I first heard the prophets while at my grandfather’s home. He was a firm believer in the great Ancient of Days…Maker of all things. It’s because of him that I became a believer.”

“So your people had adequate warning?” Harry asked, sipping from his drink.

“Yes,” Selina stated, “if you don’t dismiss what these prophets said as the ravings of an unstable fanatical mind. Every time the government shut one up, two more would rise in their place, so we were amply warned.”

“Especially when these people the government and our culture considered raving lunatics started making predictions that came true with unusual accuracy concerning our blue sun,” Nathanael declared. “The prophets revealed the time and intensity of flares, coronal mass ejections, magnetic storms, and solar quakes among other things and how these events would affect our civilization. When their accuracy became more than just coincidence, the people became irate and irrationally fearful. They forced my brother, the King Milineus, to decree that anyone who listened to or repeated what these prophets said would be arrested and jailed for fomenting insurrection against the Kaitia Empire. Tens of thousands were arrested and jailed, forcing those who believed in the prophets to go underground. Some were even executed for treason just for believing what the prophets said. It was completely irrational for them to have tried to silence the prophets after what they predicted came true with the pinpoint accuracy.”

“Whoa,” Harry murmured. “That’s almost where we are now on this planet. The only difference is that we don’t have a world government that openly rules the planet and a sun fixing to explode.”

“No kidding,” Hannibal agreed. “When did they silence the final prophet, Nathanael?”

“The same day you plucked us from oblivion,” Nathanael replied bluntly. “It was all over the news and broadcast to every corner of the Imperium. They caught and publicly executed the last prophet the same day they captured him. His final words before they decapitated him were that the Lord would destroy the blue sun for the sins of the Kaitian Empire and for all believers to flee the Kaitian star system and not look back. It’s eerily similar to the story in your Bible about the Lord destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. We were on the Interceptor when they took his head in a ritual resurrected from our ancient past just for what they considered the greatest threat to the stability of the Kaitian Empire. As they held up that poor prophet’s head to the cameras, the blue sun went dark briefly before it flashed with the initial detonation of the supernova, sending out the EMP that shut down the entire solar system, destroying or disabling nearly every piece of technology we had, including the Interceptor. I’m sure millions of us perished with that initial hit because of the life-support cybernetics widely used in the main population.”

“Holy cow,” Harry breathed. “It was that quick?”

“Yes,” Nathanael stated with a sigh. “The EMP detonation from our blue sun occurred precisely one minute after they cut off the prophet’s head. It was literally the last time that government ever did anything. I find the timing of that EMP beyond coincidence.”

“Why were you and Selina on the Interceptor?” Harry asked, nibbling on a piece of beef.

“Officially, we were on our way to one of our colonies on the outer rim to take over another archaeological excavation,” Nathanael stated. “Ruins of unknown origin had been located in the Triaskus system and they needed someone to oversee the dig so Selina and I volunteered to go.”

“But what you were really doing is heeding the prophet and getting away from Kaitia, weren’t you?” Hannibal asked.

“Yes,” Selina answered after sipping on her drink. “But we didn’t leave quickly enough. The EMP overtook us right after we left Kaitia. We were just about to engage our ion drive when the EMP slammed into us and wrecked the ship. Had the EMP been thirty seconds later, we would have escaped unharmed.”

“But it didn’t happen that way,” Mary surmised.

“No,” Nathanael stated softly. “It didn’t. Only a handful of us on the Interceptor were believers and we had to hide our faith because of the persecution. All the government knew was that Selina and I were on our way to Colony 656 in the Triaskus system to oversee the archaeological project underway there. The energy wave hit the Interceptor and the last thing I remember seeing is the science station blowing up in my face. When I woke, I was at the infirmary in the Temple with Selina while Hannibal and several other humans treated our wounds. Eventually, I came to understand what happened while I was unconscious and I thank God for Hannibal’s timely rescue. It’s strange how something like that changes one’s perspective on things. And when we found out how you and the people who associated with you believed, well, as they say, the writing was on the wall. At that point, I knew beyond any doubt that our rescue was a divine deliverance and we could no longer hide our beliefs. Besides, what was the point of hiding it? My career and Selina’s career and life in the Kaitian Empire vanished in an instant with a supernova so there was no point hiding it any longer.”

“Well said, brother. Well said,” Hannibal chimed. “The Lord is great and marvelous. What can He not do? He brought us together, did He not?”

“Amen to that,” Nathanael agreed wholeheartedly.

As ate their fill, the conversation turned to small talk about the meal itself. Selina and Nathanael reveled in the meal and Dan thoroughly enjoyed his first good meal in months. About a half hour later, they finished up and Mary brought out some ice cream for dessert. Everyone had some. Hannibal watched with pleasure as Selina and Nathanael loved the ice cream, heaping praise upon it and Mary for the fine meal. Finally, as the meal winded down, Hannibal decided to tell Selina and Nathanael about the vision he, Mary, and Harry witnessed to the night before.

They went into the living room and Hannibal began to spell out what they saw while Harry and Mary cleaned up the table. Selina, Nathanael, Dan, and Dennis listened intently as Hannibal spent nearly forty minutes telling the vision. Harry and Mary came into the living room about ten minutes into the account. Hannibal didn’t say much about his past because of Dennis, but he did share the whole vision. Once he finished, he looked at them and said, “I believe the Black Prince knows we’re coming so we’ll have to be extra careful.”

Nathanael looked at Hannibal sitting on the sofa with Selina and Dennis from his seat in a recliner. Dan looked on from the chair he’d used the whole afternoon while Harry relaxed in his favorite recliner with Mary sitting on a chair next to him. Nathanael rubbed his chin, sitting in silence as he contemplated what he had heard. Selina sat next to Hannibal, leaning back with her arm around Hannibal’s back. She had a puzzled look as she tried to comprehend what was just said. Hannibal prayed a silent prayer for understanding to come to Selina and Nathanael. Finally, Nathanael spoke. “You know,” he murmured. “It seems to me that our God has some really big plans for you and it seems everyone here is part of it. All I know is there’s some kind of serious shit that is fixing to go down and we’re going to be in the thick of it. This may be why we were rescued from the supernova…to help Hannibal with this task. Otherwise, we would have no doubt perished.”

Selina squeezed Hannibal’s shoulder gently. “I agree,” she stated. “We’re in this together. Where you go, I go. That’s my instinct, and it’s not usually wrong. The Lord wants us together to do this. You need our help.”

“Well,” Harry declared. “It looks like we’ve got some more help, Hannibal.”

Hannibal smiled. “I guess so,” he answered. “But I’ll warn you now. This isn’t going to be easy. Where we’re going, most people never come back from, not to mention that we’re going to run headlong into the most powerful being on the planet that can do pretty much as he pleases. We may all die doing this. That’s the risk. If we fail in this, the planet may very well be destroyed by this malignant demon.”

Nathanael gazed at Hannibal with a gleam in his eye. “Our God has given you this task and He’s brought us to you to help you achieve this goal,” he announced. “I’m with you to the end even if it means going into abyss with you. I’ll be there at your side watching your back to the very end. Besides, He’ll not abandon us to face this evil alone.”

Selina moved in close and looked Hannibal square in the eye. “I’ll be there too,” she declared. “We’re family, and I’m not about to lose you like I lost the rest of my family. Family sticks together and helps each other. I’ll be there at your side right to the end of this matter. It’s what our Lord wants and it’s what I want.” With that, she kissed him on the cheek and sat back. Harry noticed it and the way Hannibal reacted to it, but remained silent.

“All right then,” Hannibal said softly. “Just as long as you know and understand the risks of this expedition.” He looked at Selina and stated, “You’re my friend and have been since that fateful day when I pulled you from that burning starship. I love you more than you know. I’d hate to see you get hurt or worse.”

“Don’t worry,” Nathanael reassured. “I don’t plan on getting hurt. Together, we will stand or fall. Our fates are inexplicably intertwined by the will of our God.”

“That’s the truth. We know the risks and gladly accept them,” Selina agreed. “We’ll stand or fall as a family.”

Hannibal sat there in silence, stunned by the outpouring of support from Selina and Nathanael. “So be it,” Hannibal said after a lengthy pause, “friends and family to the end.” He grabbed Selina’s hand and squeezed it firmly, adding sincerely, “I’m honored to have you on board.” For the next half hour, they discussed the expedition.

“I think we’d better get back to the Temple,” Dan stated, looking at his watch. “It’s getting late.”

“Yes, I believe that’s a good idea,” Nathanael agreed. “Thank you for the delicious meal and your hospitality, Harry…Mary. I certainly did feel welcome here.”

“You and Selina are always welcome here,” Harry insisted. “Oh, before you all leave; let’s get a picture of everyone for posterity. I have a digital camera and can make photos with it on my computer.”

Hannibal’s eyebrows lowered a bit as he considered the request. “All right Harry,” Hannibal said cautiously. “Just don’t let the pictures circulate. The governments of the world mustn’t know what we’re up to or about Nathanael and Selina.”

“They’ll never leave here. I’ll make some hard copies for everyone and then erase it from my computer,” Harry said in an understanding tone as he stood and disappeared into the house to retrieve the camera. A couple minutes later, he reappeared with the camera. “Hannibal; I want you in the middle with Selina and Nathanael either side of you. Dennis, you can stand next to Selina and Mary can stand kind of behind you and Selina. Dan, you can stand over here by Nathanael and I’ll stand by Mary and Dennis,” he ordered as he set up the camera on a tripod and set the timer. Selina and Nathanael each put an arm around Hannibal. After setting the timer, Harry rushed forward, standing behind Mary, Selina, and Dennis. The camera wined then the flash blinked, taking the picture. “All right, now let’s get one with Selina and Nathanael. Dennis, you can stand here in front of them,” Harry ordered with modest excitement. Dennis, Selina, and Nathanael moved into position and Harry took the picture.

As Harry took the picture, Hannibal asked Dan quietly if he had finished with the spare projector. He nodded and slipped it to Hannibal, who patted him on the shoulder in appreciation.

“Okay, let’s get one with Hannibal and Selina,” Harry announced. “Hannibal…put your arm around her.” Hannibal blushed and Harry added, “Just think of it as two good friends posing for a picture.”

“All right,” Hannibal conceded, putting his arm around Selina as she slid her arm around him.

“Okay…say Lynxian,” Harry chimed. Hannibal laughed at the phrase and Selina suddenly kissed him on the cheek in a bit of comic relief as the camera flashed.

“Selina!” Hannibal scolded. “What kind of picture is that going to make?”

“A good one I hope,” Selina crowed. “What do you think, Harry?”

Harry chuckled at the picture on the display of the camera. “I’ll show you in a second,” he said. “Now let’s get one without the practical joke. Just stand there and look at the camera.”

“You’re no fun,” Selina pouted.

“He wants to get a good shot of us together like the other pictures,” Hannibal stated.

“All right,” Selina chimed. “I’ll behave. How’s this?” She smiled broadly, showing her canines as she held Hannibal close with one arm around him and her other hand on her hip.

“Perfect,” Harry called out. “Don’t move.” He clicked the shudder and the camera flashed, taking the picture. Harry scanned the result on the camera’s display, finding it perfect. “Got it; that ought to be enough pictures,” Harry said. “Come see them before I print them.”

Hannibal, Selina, Nathanael, Dan, Dennis, and Mary gathered around the camera’s display. “Here’s the last one,” Harry said, pulling it up on the display. “What do you think?”

“Oh that’s a good one,” Mary declared.

“It is,” Nathanael agreed. “It shows how well matched they are.”

“I agree,” Dan chimed in. “Hannibal…you and Selina are truly two of a kind that belong together.”

Hannibal blushed. “You’re just saying that,” he rebuffed mildly. “But I must admit it is a good picture. Somehow, it catches our friendship.”

“That it does,” Selina stated, “that and so much more. We’re kindred spirits and this shows it.”

“If this picture shows that, then I wonder what the other one says about you two,” Harry replied. “Let’s see.” He indexed the camera back to the picture of Selina kissing Hannibal playfully. A broad smile crossed Harry’s face. “I guess this one shows what a playful kitty Selina is,” Harry chimed, chuckling. “Better watch out, Hannibal. This kitten knows how to be a joker.”

Everyone broke out laughing, including Hannibal. “But it is a good picture of them too,” Mary stated. “It shows who Selina is at heart. I like it.”

“So do I,” Nathanael agreed. “I want a couple of these, Harry.”

“You got it,” Harry answered briskly. “But only if Hannibal will let me do it.”

Hannibal shook his head as he smiled. “Of course Nathanael can have a couple of these,” he stated. “It is a bit embarrassing, but it was done in fun to get me to lighten up, right Selina?”

“Of course,” Selina stated. “I want a couple of these too for my scrapbook. This is the first time I was able to sneak up on him and kiss him like that.”

“Sure,” Harry stated. “Now let’s review the other pictures to make sure they’re okay.” He indexed through the other shots he made, getting their feedback on them. Everyone agreed the pictures were very good and for Harry to make hard copies of them. “Now that’s settled,” Harry announced, “I’ll print out copies for everyone and give them to Hannibal.”

“That’ll be quite all right. And once again, thank you, Harry, for letting us visit and dine with you,” Nathanael said, shaking Harry’s hand firmly while looking deep into his eyes. “It has been truly a memorable evening.”

“You’re most welcome. The honor has been mine. I hope that you will come again to visit. You and Selina are always welcome here,” Harry answered in humble gratitude.

“Do you have to go now?” Dennis asked, clinging to Selina’s hand.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. We have a lot of work to do. But don’t worry; you’ll see us again. I promise,” Selina reassured. “Whenever we need a break from the Temple, we know we can come here.” Then turning to Mary, she said, “Thank you for having us over and letting me assist you in the kitchen. I learned much this evening.” She gave Mary a big hug, which Mary reciprocated.

“You’re very welcome, Selina. Come anytime,” Mary replied pleasantly.

“All right, Dan,” Hannibal said in a businesslike tone. “Let’s open the portal so you can go.” Hannibal picked up his phone and keyed a sequence, at which time the center of the room began to shimmer.

In an instant, the portal opened. “Hannibal,” Dan said with a parting gesture as he disappeared into the portal with his satchel. Dennis once again watched in wonder as the portal did its job.

Nathanael knelt down and looked Dennis square in the face. “Remember to keep that eye for detail, son. It’ll not fail you when you need it most,” Nathanael told Dennis, gently shaking Dennis’ hand. “I’ll see you soon.” At that, he rose and turned to Mary. “Thank you for the delicious meal once again. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had such good eating,” he said, gently shaking her hand.

“It was my pleasure, Nathanael,” Mary replied. “Please come again anytime.”

“I just might take you up on that,” Nathanael stated. Then he turned to Hannibal and said, “I hope to see you at the Temple. The Library is waiting for you.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’ll see what I can do about the menu and the extra security first. It won’t be long, though,” Hannibal replied.

Nathanael nodded soberly. “Farewell for now,” he stated and vanished into the portal.

“I guess I’d better get going too,” Selina told Hannibal. Then turning her attention to Dennis, she knelt down and gave him a big hug. “You be sure to do what Harry tells you,” she instructed Dennis, who nodded with a down look on his face. “Oh cheer up. I’ll come back. You’re my friend and brother and I’ll always remember you,” she said in a loving tone. Her voice purred, soothing his feelings of sadness about her leaving.

“Okay,” Dennis said. “Bring me something the next time you come?”

Selina glanced at Hannibal, who nodded. “Maybe if you’re good, Dennis,” she replied. “But you will see me again. I promise.” Her words seemed to satisfy Dennis as she rose and looked at Hannibal. “Thank you for allowing me to meet Harry and his family. They’re truly special,” Selina said as she threw her arms around Hannibal’s neck, kissing him on the cheek.

Hannibal responded in kind with a hug. “It was my pleasure, Selina,” he answered. “It’s the least I could do. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m going to see if I can make some improvements in the living quarters at the Temple tomorrow.”

“That’ll help greatly,” Selina answered. “See you tomorrow.” She stepped through the portal and was gone. The portal snapped shut with a pop, leaving Harry, Hannibal, Mary, and Dennis alone. Hannibal plopped down on the sofa and Harry sat back down in his recliner. He looked at Hannibal with a wry grin on his face. He had watched the interaction between Selina and Hannibal closely.

“She’s quite an imposing creature, isn’t she?” Harry asked.

“Yes, she is,” Hannibal returned quietly. “She is completely unique and special in ways that she doesn’t even know.”

“You care a great deal for her, don’t you?” Harry queried.

Hannibal just looked at him and his look said everything. “Yes,” he finally answered. “She’s very special to me. I really don’t want to see her or her father hurt or killed.”

Harry gazed at Hannibal with a compassionate look. “It seems to me that you love her deeply,” Harry observed. “I’ve watched how you two interacted this evening. Your body language screams it even though you try to hide it. You love that cat and can’t hide it.” Hannibal blushed as Harry added, “Don’t be embarrassed, Hannibal. It’s okay to admit it. I know what you’re feeling towards Selina because I’ve tasted of that same fruit myself when I met Mary. You’ll do anything for her; even sacrifice your own life for hers. It’s a feeling that’s somewhat alien to you too and you’re having trouble dealing with it, aren’t you?”

Hannibal looked at him and sighed deeply. “You’re right,” he admitted. “The feelings I have for Selina are as alien to me as she is. I’ve never felt this kind of love for anyone. It’s a conundrum; a paradox that I cannot solve, but also one I cannot deny. That’s why I was taken back so by their joining the mission. I don’t want anything to happen to her or her father.”

Harry scanned Hannibal’s face, seeing the genuine concern about Selina and her father there. “You know Nathanael is right about them joining us,” Harry stated. “The Lord didn’t have you rescue them for no reason. Has it ever occurred to you that they may be safer with us? You know the government is going to find out about them eventually. If they’re with us, the government will never get them.”

Hannibal shook his head in agreement. “You’re right. I’m letting my own feelings get in the way of what the Lord wants. You’re right and Nathanael is right. They must come. It’s the way it has to be. They are as much part of this operation as we are. Thank you, Harry, for pointing that out. Sometimes I just get too close to things,” he confessed. As he finished speaking, he remembered the spare projector and turned to Dennis. “I saw how much you liked the hologram of Kaitia. Well, it just so happens that I have a spare projector here with a copy of that hologram. Would you like to have it?” Hannibal asked.

“Would I? You bet!” Dennis answered, his eyes lighting up. “Can I show it to my friends?”

Hannibal considered the request for a few moments. “I guess so. Just don’t take it to school. As a matter of fact,” he said with a hint of mischief in his voice, “you say your friends at school didn’t believe that I was real?” Dennis nodded yes and Hannibal continued, “Why don’t we show them just how imaginary I am. Why don’t I come in tomorrow and see you at school.”

Harry’s expression narrowed. “You’re not going to do what I think you are, are you?” he asked smartly.

“Oh yes, I am!” Hannibal laughed. “Do you have a show and tell time in class?” he asked Dennis.

“Yeah,” Dennis answered, chuckling. “We have that right at the end of the day just before we come home. It lasts about an hour so everyone can get a chance.”

“Really…then I’ll be there at that time with some of my trinkets. You think they’d believe you then?” Hannibal asked. Dennis shrugged his shoulders, not knowing what their reaction would be.

Hannibal looked at Harry and reassured him. “I’m not going to do anything stupid or give away anything about the Temple or Amacia,” Hannibal stated. “I have some old artifacts from some of my digs in the Andes that are collecting dust. I’ll just show them. They don’t have a thing to do with what we’re doing now. They were from some of my earlier digs. Maybe you could let the school know that I’m coming in for a show-and-tell visit and it’s okay for me to pick him up after school.”

Harry eyed Hannibal suspiciously, and then his expression mellowed. “All right; I think we can arrange that,” he conceded.

“Would you like to show the projector to your friends tomorrow?” Hannibal asked Dennis.

Dennis’ face was ecstatic. “You mean we can show my friends the hologram?” he chimed.

Hannibal nodded and Dennis jumped up and rushed over to him, hugging, and thanking him.

“I’ll need to keep it tonight though so I can bring it. Is that okay?” Hannibal asked.

“Sure,” Dennis replied.

“Now let me show you how to work this thing,” Hannibal stated. At that, he showed Dennis and Harry the sequence to start and stop the hologram, even letting Dennis try it out several times to let him get the hang of using it. Once Dennis knew how to operate the projector, Hannibal pocketed the device. “After tomorrow, it’s yours,” he declared.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Harry said in a serious tone.

“Relax. I’m just going to get Dennis’ friends to respect him so he won’t be such an outcast at school,” Hannibal stated.

“Oh that doesn’t bother me,” Dennis interjected. “I like it that way. It’s just that I wish they’d believe what I tell them at least once in a while instead of calling me crazy every time I open my mouth.”

“Well, that’s what I hope we’ll be able to do tomorrow,” Hannibal answered. “I can’t wait to see their faces. It’ll be priceless.” He chuckled and told Dennis, “Now don’t breathe a word to any of your friends that I’m coming. I want it to be a total surprise.”

Dennis made a zipping motion with his hand across his mouth. “Mums the word,” he said. “I won’t say a thing.”

“After tomorrow, you can show the hologram to anyone as long as it’s here at home, all right?” Hannibal instructed.

“Sure thing, Hannibal,” Dennis returned.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at school,” Hannibal said, rising from the sofa. “I have much to do and very little time to do it. Thank you for having us over for dinner. It certainly has been an interesting twenty-four hours, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” Harry agreed, rising from his seat. “Did you leave anything in your room?”

“Yes, my duffel is still up there,” Hannibal said.

“Dennis, could you go get Hannibal’s duffel bag?” Harry asked Dennis more as an order than a request. Dennis immediately went up to the guest room and retrieved Hannibal’s bag.

“Here,” Dennis said, handing it to Hannibal after bringing it to the living room.

“Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon. Maybe we can silence some of those unbelievers,” Hannibal said, taking the duffel in hand. Turning to Mary, he gave her a hug with one arm saying, “Thank you for being so patient with me. I know that many strange things have happened in the last day and you weathered it very well. Thank you.”

Mary gave him a sisterly hug in response. “You and your friends are family,” she replied, smiling. “We’re family. It’s the least I could do. Next time, just try and give us a little more warning if you’re going to bring along your friends.”

“I’ll try and keep that in mind. I didn’t mean to bring my friends in on such short notice,” Hannibal replied.

“Fair enough,” Mary answered. “But just remember, they and you are welcome here anytime.”

Hannibal nodded and turned to Harry, grasping his hand firmly. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.

As he turned to retrieve his backpack, Dennis walked up to him with the Relic in his hands. “Don’t forget this,” he said, handing it to Hannibal.

“Thanks. I almost forgot about that. Dan will be relieved that I remembered to pick it up,” Hannibal said, dropping his duffel on the floor. Opening his backpack, he carefully placed the Relic inside and closed it up. Hannibal slung his backpack over one shoulder and picked up his duffel before heading to the door. Harry quickly moved and opened the door, letting Hannibal out.

“Bye!” Dennis called out from the house as Harry and Hannibal walked to his truck.

Hannibal reached in his pocket and fumbled for his truck keys, which he promptly used to unlock the truck. He sat the two packs in the back seat, and then turned to Harry. “When I come in tomorrow, we’ll discuss the time when the expedition will begin,” Hannibal declared.

“Okay,” Harry answered. “I was wondering about that.”

“We’ll come to a decision about that tomorrow. For now, relax. My friends and I are out of your hair,” Hannibal crowed. He waved good-bye to Mary and Dennis, who stood in the front door of the house, waving.

“Yes, that I’ll do. Moreover, I’ll personally kick your ass if you do something like this again,” Harry responded with a bit of sarcastic humor.

Hannibal saw the smirk on Harry’s face and laughed as he climbed into the truck. “Deal,” he answered, starting the truck.

“Go on and get out of here,” Harry said with a smile, smacking the hood of the truck with his hand.

“Until tomorrow,” Hannibal yelled out as he backed out into the street.

“Until tomorrow...my dear friend,” Harry murmured, waving as Hannibal drove away.

As Hannibal, drove away, his mind raced with the thoughts of what had happened. He thought about Selina and sighed deeply. Lord, I really, really hope you know what you’re doing bringing Selina and her father in on this, he thought as he drove. A feeling of great peace fell upon him about the idea as he drove on. Thy will be done Lord, he thought.

Harry went back into his house and plopped down in his recliner. Dennis had begun to amuse himself by drawing as Mary sat on the sofa. She looked at Harry, who had a drained look on his face. “This thing is getting bigger by the minute, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes,” Harry admitted, looking Mary in the eye. “I had no idea that Hannibal was in as deep as this. I’m still feeling like the deer in the headlights because of Selina and Nathanael. Can you believe it? We had real alien beings from another planet in this house. Humans aren’t the only intelligent beings in this universe.”

“Yes, I know,” Mary answered. “I felt totally out of place. It’s like some strange dream but I know it wasn’t a dream. We had real aliens here and they’re Christians like us. She was so beautiful and knowledgeable and he was so ruggedly handsome and powerful. The Lord is truly wonderful in the things He does for us.”

“That is so true. The Lord has shown us great mercy and favor over this last day,” Harry returned. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. “These pictures will have to be guarded very carefully,” he declared. “I want to put the one of us all on the wall. But I’m not sure if I should. What if someone sees it?”

Mary mulled over his comments for a moment. “Well, if you really want to put it up, go ahead,” she answered. “I would suggest that you keep the pictures in your study though. That way, no one will know about it because you don’t ever take anyone into your study.”

“Good call,” Harry answered in a relieved tone. “That’s where I’ll keep them.” At that, he picked up the camera and tripod and took them into his study. Mary sat there silently and thought about Selina and Hannibal. She, too, had noticed the close interaction between them. I hope it works out. They’re meant for each other, she thought as she watched Dennis draw.

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