Journey to Eden

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Journey to Eden
by Scott Ramsey


Once it had been the epitome of luxury, but the forty-five-foot Novatrek motor home had seen far better days. The custom painted exterior was obscured by armor plating that was dented and scarred but still functional. The extra weight reduced the vehicle's top speed, but proved advantageous when the wedge-shaped ram welded to the frame was employed to crash through roadblocks.

"The power levels are getting' flakey again, Avi," the pretty girl in the co-driver seat said. "I think we're losin' another fusion cell."

Avi Stark's eyes shifted from the road to the console for and instant, a growl of frustration rumbling from his chest.

"Yeah looks like it," he said. "Damn that's going to slow us down. Better find a spot to hunker down so we can recharge the batteries."

"We're close to Durleigh," Becky said after consulting the nav system. "We might be able to find a replacement there."

Avi shook his head. "What would we pay for it with? There's no work in Durleigh. We'll just have to limp to New York and hope the last cell holds out."

"Nav sat shows a big lake about fifty miles ahead," Becky said. "Lake Waccamaw … funny name … anyway the atlas says it's clean, relatively."

Avi glanced at the console again and said, "The bad cell should have enough power to run the purifier. We'll hunker down there for the night and fill up the fresh water tank."

"Well I'll be glad when we get to New York," Becky said, looking out the armorglass window at the North Carolina landscape. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but green, rolling hills.

"At least there's people there," Becky sighed.

"Oh there are people out here," Avi assured her, "just not any you want to run into."

They reached a long, straight stretch of rode and Avi tensed as he caught sight of something in the distance. He eased off on the throttle and the motor home began slowing.

"Trouble?" Becky asked, peering ahead.

"I can't tell for sure, I saw a flash," he replied. He looked to the west were the sin had already dipped below the hills. "Check the camera."

Becky flipped a switch and a screen in the center console lit up, displaying the image from the forward looking camera. At maximum zoom they could make out a large black vehicle with three figures crouching behind it. As they watched, one of the figures popped up and fired a weapon towards a hillside about a hundred yards away.

The image shifted as Becky panned the camera to the left. Muzzle flashes were visible from the brush on the hillside and they could see figures crawling through the grass towards the road, below the line-of-sight from the car.

"Scabs," Avi growled as he pressed his foot to the floor.

As the motor home surged forward Becky panned the camera back to the front. As they drew nearer the armed figure rose and fired towards the hill again, then staggered back and fell.

"Get my rifle," Avi said. "When I stop lay down some fire on those scabs."

"You know I can't shoot that thing worth a damn," Becky said as she rose.

"You don't have to hit anything, just keep them from rushing us while I get those idiots in."

Avi could see the vehicle clearly now and shook his head in disgust. The skimmer was a big black one, a limo like the kind used for executive transport. It wasn't even armored, being built for speed and far too vulnerable to be traveling the countryside in.

"Someone with more money than sense, "Avi muttered as he applied the brakes. He called back over his shoulder, "Get ready Becky!"

The motor home screeched to a halt in front of the skimmer, shielding it from the fire from the hill side. Avi hit the control for the door, rising from his seat as staccato cracks reverberated from the rifle in Becky's hands. He hit the ground at a trot and came around the skimmer to find himself looking at the face of a very handsome, and obviously frightened, young man over the barrel of an assault rifle. Behind him knelt an old man with snowy white hair and between them lay a third man, alive but bleeding from at least three wounds.

"I'm not here to hurt you, kid," Avi said, raising his hands slowly..

The auburn haired youth looked indecisive for a moment, the barrel of the weapon drifting to his right. Avi seized the opportunity and snatched the rifle from his hands. He noted as he flipped the weapon around that it was an M-23, not a current issue weapon but still thoroughly illegal in the hands of a civilian. As his hand closed around the grip of the compact rifle he pointed the barrel towards the ground.

"We have to move, those scabs will be on us," Avi said. "Can you get him into the bus by yourself?"

The kid nodded and Avi left him to deal with the injured man as he leaned in through the open door of the skimmer and hit the release for the hood. The plasteel covering popped up and Avi walked around to the front and leaned over the engine. He quickly located and pulled the skimmer's fusion cell and took it to the back of the Novatrek.

The fire from inside the motor home paused as Becky reloaded, so Avi set the fusion cell down and switched the M-23 to his left hand. He flicked the selector to full auto and fired several bursts around the bus until Becky resumed shooting. Then he returned to where he has left the cell, opened a compartment and snapped it into one of two empty slots.

After closing the compartment he stuck the assault rifle around the bus and emptied the magazine, not really trying to hit anything. When he turned back towards the front he saw the kid at the rear compartment of the skimmer, unloading several large cases. Avi swore under his breath and strode forward, grabbing the youth by the arm.

"Forget that crap," he yelled. "We have to get out of here!"

"There's no point in saving us if what's in these cases is lost," the young man replied, jerking his arm free. "There's more ammunition for the rifle here too."

Avi swore again and slipped the rifle sling over his shoulder. He grabbed two of the heavy cases while the kid lifted the other two. They got the cases into the Novatrek and Avi dropped into the driver's seat, his foot already pressing the accelerator to the floor as he closed the door. The scabs made a desperate rush forward, but Becky continued to fire, forcing them back to ground.

"Hey we got more power," Becky said a few minutes later as she dropped into the co-driver's seat.

"How's it going back there?" Avi asked.

"That guy looks pretty bad," she told him. "I gave the cute one the first aid kit, he said he's a doctor but he looks awful young to me."

"Take over," Avi told her. "Keep an eye on the rear camera in case those scabs try to follow us."

Becky grasped the wheel in front of her as Avi switched control to her. He rose from the driver's seat and made his way into the back of the motor home, his head nearly reaching the ceiling. They had placed the wounded man on the right side bunk of the forward sleeping area and removed his shirt. As Avi approached he noticed a Marine Corps emblem tattooed on the left side of the man's chest. Avi had an identical tattoo, burned into the skin by laser over the spot where his medchip was implanted. The auburn haired youth – he really did look too young to be a doctor – had a medical scanner and was reading the data transmitted by the wounded man's chip. The old man was kneeling near the foot of the bunk, his hand grasping a crystal that hung about his neck as he chanted softly in a language Avi didn't recognize.

Avi didn't need a scanner to tell him the man was mortally wounded. There were two holes in his upper abdomen and a third just to the right of his breastbone. If they could get him to a trauma center he might have a chance, but there was no chance of that.

"Hey Marine, you hang in there," Avi said as he knelt down next to the bunk. He opened his shirt to show the man his own tattoo and smiled.

"Apply pressure here," the kid told Avi, taking his hand and placing it on the dressing over the chest wound. His voice was a soft tenor with a distinct, cultured British accent.

"Our six is clear, Avi," Becky called from the front. "I don't think the scabs had any wheels."

"Avi?" the wounded man croaked. "Avraham Stark?"

"That's me," Avi said.

"Ben Grissom," the man told him. "I was with the 15th MEF in Cozumel when you saved our asses."

"I wasn't exactly alone," Avi said. "A lot of good men died that day."

"Yeah," Grissom said. "Shit what they did to you after."

"Shit happens," Avi said. "You just lie easy, Ben, let the kid work here."

The young doctor bristled at being called a kid but didn't say anything. He turned again to the old man, who had stopped chanting. He moved forward, his left hand still clutching the crystal as he placed his hand on Grissom's chest.

"Don't bother, Doc," the Marine coughed. "I've seen what you can do but I'm done and you know it."

"Yes, my friend," the old man said. He had a soft, kind voice that was tinged with sorrow. "I can ease your pain and soothe your passing however."

Grissom nodded, and the old man began chanting again. As Avi watched in amazement light began to emanate from the crystal and from the palm that rested against Grissom's chest. The light spread through his body and his labored breathing eased as a look of serenity spread across his face.

"Thanks, Doc," Grissom said, his voice still soft but no longer strained. He looked up at Avi and reached out to grip his forearm.

"They need you, Avi. Keep 'em safe and get 'em where they need to go."

"I'll do my best, Ben," Avi said.

"I want your promise, Marine," Grissom said, his grip on Avi's arm tightening.

"I promise," Avi said. "I'll get them safely wherever they're going."

Grissom smiled and released his grip. He drew in a long breath and said, "I'm sure sorry we didn't have more time, Avi. Semper Fi."

"Semper Fi, Marine," Avi said as Grissom exhaled slowly and closed his eyes. His chest stopped rising and falling, and Avi rose to his feet.

"We'll be stopping in about thirty minutes," he said. "We'll bury him then."


Avi wasn't sure who was crazier, himself or the old man. The ex-Marine couldn't explain what he had seen earlier in the motor home when the old man had relieved Grissom's pain, but he wasn't ready to believe it was magic. He certainly wasn't ready to believe he was in the company of the legendary savior of humanity.

"I know it is hard to believe," the old man said. "I assure you I am telling the truth. I am Dr. Jubal Hawkins."

Avi didn't say anything; he just sat at the small dinette table and stared at the old man and his young companion. They were sitting on the right side bunk, which had been folded into its sofa configuration. The old man had an amused look on his face, while the young man named Daniel seemed fascinated by Becky. He kept glancing at her and then looking away when she noticed.

"Um, excuse me Doc, but wouldn't that make you like a hundred years old?" Becky asked. She was sitting on the left side sofa, her feet propped up as she painted her toenails a bright pink.

"One-hundred-forty-six to be precise," the old man said. "I had the good fortune to be born just one week before the Venus Plague was unleashed. My mother died two months after I was born, and by the time I was a year old, every human female had perished."

The story was familiar to Avi and Becky, and every other man on Earth. The Venus Plague had been released by a group of ecco-terrorists called the Gaia Liberation Army, who saw humanity as the greatest threat to the survival of the Earth. The virus was supposed to render females infertile, but it had mutated after it was released. The new strain was fatal, and even the vaccine provided by the GLA to a select group of females had proven ineffective against the mutated virus.

With literally no future, the world had descended into chaos. Long simmering tensions had boiled over into all out war, and it seemed that what the virus had not destroyed, man would. Then, twenty-four years after the plague, a brilliant geneticist named Jubal Hawkins had developed a method that allowed two males to father a child.

The Hawkins Process involved taking genetic material from the sperm cells of one male and inserting it into a synthetic ovum, which was then fertilized by sperm from a second donor. The resulting embryo was then placed in an artificial womb for gestation.

Hawkins restored hope, but the violence following the plague had caused tremendous damage. Europe and Asia were ravaged by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The United States and England were spared for the most part, thanks to anti-missile defense systems, but a significant portion of the mid-western US had been reduced to a wasteland now known as the Deadzone. Virtually every major city had been devastated by civil unrest, and the violence had spread to many suburban and rural areas. The majority of the population now lived in one of several megacities.

"So you've used magic to keep yourself alive all these years," Avi said, his tone making his disbelief apparent.

"Magic is real, Mr. Stark," Daniel said, "whether you choose to believe it or not."

Maybe it was the accent that made the kid sound so condescending, but Avi was rapidly developing a dislike for him. He certainly hadn't offered one word of thanks for their saving his life.

"Why couldn't you save Grissom then?" Avi asked.

"You know that Mr. Grissom's wounds were sever," Daniel answered. "His lung was punctured, his spleen virtually destroyed and his descending aorta was perforated."

"If I had had more time to prepare," Hawkins said with a shake of his head. "I'm not all powerful, Mr. Stark, not by any means."

"Well, maybe you could give us a demonstration," Becky suggested. "Ya know, pull a rabbit out of the air or something like that."

"That could be done with mere slight of hand," Hawkins said, "but a demonstration … I think I have just the thing."

Hawkins grasped the crystal about his neck and began chanting in that strange, lyrical tongue once more. There was no glow this time and it didn't seem like anything had happened at all.

"What did you do?" Becky asked.

Avi turned to her, his eyes widening in surprise.

"Your hair," he said.

"What's wrong with my hair?" Becky cried, fumbling in her purse for a compact. She opened it up and gasped at what she saw in the mirror.

Her jet black hair was now flame red. She looked to Avi, then to Daniel and Hawkins before turning her eyes back to the mirror.

"That is so cool!" she squealed. "Is it gonna stay like this?"

"The change is only temporary," Hawkins said. "It would be extremely rude to permanently change your hair color without your permission. The effect will fade in about an hour."

"But could you make it permanent? I always wanted to be a redhead … but a darker red … that'd go better with my complexion. And could you make it thicker…?"

"All that is possible but it will take time to prepare for a permanent change," Hawkins told her.

Avi couldn't take his eyes of Becky's hair. His rational mind kept insisting it was some kind of trick, but he couldn't deny what his eyes were seeing. He turned to Hawkins, who was grinning broadly.

"It does contradict everything you know, doesn't it," he said.

Avi nodded, then he shook his head and grinned.

"All right, I don't seem to have any choice but to believe you," he said. "Where are you trying to get to?"

"First we need to travel to a location in southern Ohio," Hawkins said, passing a slip of paper to Avi. "It's approximately six hundred miles from our current location I believe."

Avi called up the nav system on a screen set into the wall over the table and punched in the coordinates on the paper. The location was about sixty miles east of the ruins of Cincinnati, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

"Okay, it'll take us about two days to get there," he told them.

"Two days to travel six hundred miles?" Daniel asked.

"This crate is supposed to be powered by four fusion cells," Avi explained. "Thanks to the one I salvaged from your skimmer we have three, but one of those is failing. With all the armor our top speed is about fifty, but we have to use the batteries to make up for the missing cells, so we have to cruise slower. Even then we can only make about eight hours in a day before we have to stop to let the cells recharge the batteries."

"Your vehicle is quite remarkable," Hawkins said. "How long did it take you to salvage everything to get it running."

"Over a year," Becky answered. "Avi worked construction in New Orleans and scrounged as much as he could. I tried to help pay for the stuff we had to buy but he wouldn't let me … hormones treatments are expensive ya know."

"What do you do, Becky?" Daniel asked.

Becky grinned impishly and said, "I do what most girls like me do, sweetie. There are a lot of guys out there that want sex but just can't bring themselves to do it with another guy, so they come to us."

"Oh, I … um I see," Daniel stuttered, his face turning red.

"Awww he's blushing, how cute!" Becky giggled.

"So you two are a couple?" Daniel asked when he had recovered his composure.

Becky rolled her eyes and laughed. "No way. Avi isn't even into girls like me. If he had his way I wouldn't be working the streets. He just sort of adopted me as his little sister four years ago."

Avi snorted and said, "Like I had a choice." Becky turned and stuck her tongue out at him.

"You said Ohio was your first destination," Avi said, steering the conversation back on topic. "What's after that?"

"After that, we need to get to Baja, California," Hawkins said, "specifically the old Laguna Diablo spaceport."

"That's a long haul," Avi said. "The port's been closed for decades; what the hell do you want to go there for?"

Hawkins didn't answer immediately. He studied Avi for a long time, the smile gone from his face.

"I don't think you are ready for that explanation yet," he said at last. "It is very vital that we get there, however."

Avi looked at Becky who shrugged and said, "Sounds like an adventure to me."

"I'll have to work out a route," Avi said. "The shortest way would be around the southern end of the Deadzone."

"I must warn you both, there are those who want to stop us," Hawkins said. "The government for one, and others who will be far more ruthless. I cannot expect you to honor Mr. Grissom's last request."

Avi shook his head. "No, I made a promise, and I'll keep it." He turned to Becky and continued, "There's no chance of me convincing you to stay behind is there?"

"Lemme check the weather," she told him. She made a show of opening an imaginary computer and said, "Nope, it ain't snowing in hell … I'm going with you."

"Then I guess we're going to Baja via Ohio," Avi said. "Now I suggest we get some sleep."

"Daniel can bunk with me," Becky said. "I promise not to take advantage of him."

Becky literally sprang from the couch and took Daniel by the hand, pulling him to his feet. As she started pulling him towards the back, she continued talking at a rapid pace.

"I've got the big bed in the back, it's really, really comfy and there's plenty of room. It is kinda pink, cause I really like pink. Oh, and I like to sleep in the nude … I hope you don't mind….


"I don't really sleep naked, I was just playing with you," Becky said as she began stripping off her dress. Daniel quickly looked away, his face reddening again.

"I don't mind if you look, Daniel."

"I'm sorry it's just I've never…."

"You never met a girl like me?" Becky asked. "I can tell 'cause you keep lookin' at me when you think I don't know it. Are you a virgin?"

Daniel shook his head but didn't speak.

"It's okay if you are. I mean Avi's a virgin and he's like thirty-six. At least he says he's never been with anyone."

"I'm not a virgin," Daniel said. "It's just … I've led a rather sheltered life … and no, I've never met anyone like you."

"So ask me?"

"Ask what?"

Becky laughed. "You've got so many questions your head's about to explode. Go ahead and ask whatever you want."

Daniel turned, unable to keep from looking at her breasts. They weren't particularly large, but they were nicely formed. His eyes drifted down to her crotch, which was smooth and flat beneath her pink panties.

"Well, um, where do you hide it?"

"Well, it's not very big," Becky explained, "and all my panties are designed to keep everything tucked away."

"That doesn't sound very comfortable," Daniel said.

"I'm used to it," she told him. "I've been wearing 'em since I was eight."

"Weren't you still in a development center then?" Daniel asked.

"You really don't know anything about t-girls do you?" Becky laughed. "Yes, like most boys I was put in a DC after I was born. I dressed like the other boys and I even had a boy's name, they called me Stuart then."

Becky sat down on the queen-sized bed in the compartment and motioned for Daniel to do the same. Once he was seated she pressed a button on the headboard and bed began sliding out, increasing the size of the compartment.

"Now we have a little more room," she said as the slide-out reached full extension. "Anyway, when I was six they taught us about girls, and showed us all these pictures from before the plague. Right then, I knew I wanted to be a girl. It's kinda hard to explain, but I just knew it. I started telling everyone I was a girl not a boy. I asked the teachers all the time if I could have a dress.

"They finally decided I was serious and so they sent me to a different DC. Everyone there was like me, even the teachers. We got to wear girl clothes and they taught us all kinds of girl stuff like how to do makeup. That's when my name was changed to Rebecca. It was really great being there. They also gave us pills that to keep us from developing like boys. When we got older, they gave us hormones so we'd start developing like girls."

"The hormones made you sterile though," Daniel said. "Have you considered surgery?"

"I'd like to but GRS is really expensive," Becky said. "I know a few girls who've had it, but they're almost thirty. I just turned eighteen … I've been putting some away but it's gonna take years for me to save up enough for that. Hey, could the Doc do something with magic?"

Daniel looked very uncomfortable and said, "An alteration like that is very complex as I understand it. The spell has to be specifically tailored to the subject and it takes a lot of work. There are serious risks involved as well."

"Figures," Becky sighed. "So can you do magic too?"

Daniel shook his head. "Jubal has been teaching me, but it requires years of study. It's taken him a hundred years to learn all he knows. How did you and Mr. Stark meet?"

Becky's smile disappeared and she looked down at the bed.

"Avi saved my life," she said after a moment. "See, when I was twelve I was adopted by this rich guy. He wasn't interested in having a kid though … he wanted a fem-toy. I mean he bought me all these really nice clothes and stuff, but what he did to me … well when I was fourteen I ran away."

"And you became a prostitute after that?" Daniel asked. "Why?"

Becky shrugged. "I had to eat, and it's what I knew how to do. And as a working girl, I do it on my terms. If I don't like a guy I'm not gonna let him touch me no matter how rich he is.

"I don't even think he tried to find me. We lived in New York and I mean that's a big place. I started trying to turn tricks on Park Avenue – I was just a dumb kid and I didn't know that was boy-toy turf – ya know, non-fem boys. A couple of them decided to show me I wasn't welcome there … they were workin' me over pretty good when Avi came along. He got 'em off me then took me to his shack in Central Park and got me patched up. I've been with him ever since."

"I can't believe he let you continue working as a prostitute," Daniel said. "You were just a child!"

Becky gave him a severe look and got up. She moved to the built-in wardrobe and took out a shimmering nightshirt, slipping the silky garment over her head. As she smoothed it in place she turned to glare at Daniel.

"Avi doesn't own me, nobody does!" she told him. "I know he'd like me to stop, but I wanted to help him like he helped me. He wouldn't even let me help buy food at first; he didn't want anything to do with the money I made. I finally convinced him I needed to do my part. He still doesn't like it, but it's all I know. He looks out for me, so don't you dare look down on him!"

"You look out for him too it seems," Daniel said. "I'm very sorry, Becky. It was rude of me to judge him like that."

"You're forgiven," Becky said and then leapt on the bed. "So what about you? Aren't you awful young ta be a doctor?"

"I suppose you could say that," Daniel said. "I'm only twenty-three, but I started my medical studies when I was fourteen."

Becky's eyes grew round as she said, "You must be really smart."

"I was meant to be," Daniel told her. When Becky gave him a confused look he explained, "Well, you know that babies are conceived now by combining genetic material from the sperm of two men?" Becky nodded and Daniel continued, "It's also possible to combine DNA from more than one person. They take parts of the DNA from different donors and piece it together in an attempt to create a specific result. I didn't have two fathers. I had twelve."

"Wow, did you ever meet any of them?"

"Only one," Daniel said. "Part of my DNA comes from Jubal Hawkins."

"So he, like created you?"

"Oh, no, he wasn't involved in it," Daniel told her. "When I was conceived, Jubal was traipsing across Europe in search of arcane texts and artifacts. His DNA came from samples that were frozen over a hundred years ago."

"So they did that to make you smart?"

"Basically yes. The men behind the project were seeking to create what they considered a perfect human."

"How did you end up with the Doc?"

Daniel smiled. "I didn't like what they were doing, what they represented, so like you, I ran away. I didn't know where I was going, but it was like something was drawing me. I ended up in France and that's where I met Jubal. I knew who he was right away, and I knew that wherever he went, I had to go with him."

"The guys you ran away from, are they the ones after you?"

Daniel nodded. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it, showing Becky a tattoo on his right shoulder. It was a black circle with an arrow pointing out at an angle.

"This is the symbol of Mars, the Roman god of war," he told her. "It's also the biological symbol for males. If you ever see anyone with a tattoo like this, run as fast as you can."

"Why?" Becky asked.

"Because they're twisted, evil men," Daniel said, "and you represent everything they despise."


The two day drive to Ohio passed without incident, for which everyone was thankful. Avi could only get the Novatrek to within a half mile if the coordinates Hawkins had given him. The road simply ended, and the motor home was far too heavy to even attempt going off-road.

They arrived with several hours of daylight remaining so Avi deployed the solar panels on top of the bus to power the electronic systems and switched all three power cells to recharge the batteries. He had a feeling like he hadn't had since his days in the Corps, one that warned of danger close at hand. He had learned to trust those feelings then, and saw no reason not to now.

Hawkins and Daniel secluded themselves in the back bedroom, saying they needed to prepare for what was to come. When they emerged as the sun was sinking in the west, both were dressed in long, flowing robes. Hawkins had a bag slung over his left shoulder and he took a vial filled with milky liquid from it and gave it to Daniel.

"Are you sure about this, Daniel?" he asked.

"Yes," Daniel said. He removed the stopper from the vial and drank the contents.

Avi had been busy preparing as well. As Daniel had told him two days earlier, one of the cases was loaded with ammo for the M-23. There was also a twenty millimeter grenade launcher that could be attached to the rifle, and once it was in place Avi loaded the pockets of his long coat with grenades and magazines for the rifle.

"You keep this crate locked down tight while we're gone," Avi told Becky. "Keep the lights off and watch the cameras."

"Can't I come with you?" Becky pleaded.

Avi shook his head. "I need you here."

Once they were outside and the bus was sealed, Avi led them towards the coordinates using a handheld navsat unit. He paused frequently, turning his face to the wind and sniffing.

"Why do you do that, Mr. Stark?" Daniel asked. His voice had an odd, sleepy tone to it.

"I'm trying to pick up the scent of anyone nearby," Avi explained. "I was recon in the Corps – biomechanical sensory implants are standard."

"I wonder if I'll smell different," Daniel mumbled.

Avi stared at Daniel for a moment then cast a questioning look at Hawkins.

"The potion he drank is making him drowsy and a bit detached," the old man explained.

Within a few minutes they reached the coordinates and Avi was surprised to find – nothing. It appeared that they were in a completely empty field.

"This is the center of what was once called the Serpent Mound," Hawkins told him. "It was a sacred site to the Native Americans, and this spot is what is called a vortex, a center of arcane energy. It would be a good idea if you moved about fifty feet away from us."

Avi nodded. He had no clue what the old man was up to, but he wasn't about to ignore his advice. He moved the advised distance and began walking a circle around Hawkins and Daniel. He knew his enhanced senses were only marginally useful in their situation. They were great when you were sneaking through enemy territory, but when the enemy likely knew where you were, they were fairly easy to negate.

At the vortex, Hawkins took a container of white powder from his bag and used it to draw two concentric circles around Daniel. The young man removed his robe and spread it on the ground and then laid down on it, completely nude. For the next several minutes Hawkins used more of the white powder to scribe symbols between the two circles. Once that was accomplished he began to chant, the crystal around his neck beginning to glow as the words seemed to float on the air. Avi paused occasionally to glance at the bizarre ceremony taking place, but it was getting too dark for him to see what was happening.

Then his attention was drawn by an odor drifting on the wind – the odor of men. It wasn't scabs; they had a slightly putrid odor, a result of the numerous ulcers on their skin from which their derogatory name was derived. The sores were caused by frequenting contaminated areas, and since they weren't permitted into any city they tended to roam the countryside preying on the unwary.

But these were city dwellers. There was even the distinct fragrance of colognes, which meant they weren't even typical of the megacities. Cologne was an expensive luxury for the wealthy.

The breeze was light, so they were probably close but it was impossible to tell how close. He had to assume they were hostile, and that there were more coming from other directions. He could only hope they weren't between them and the Novatrek.

Hawkin's chanting reached a crescendo, and Avi saw that the circles he had drawn were glowing, the light surrounding Daniel's nude body. Then there was a thunder-like rumble and a column of white light rose skyward like a beacon.

"Well if they didn't know where we were before, they do now," Avi muttered. He started to trot towards the pair as the column of light faded.

By the time he reached them, Daniel was on his feet, the robe wrapped around him with the hood up. It seemed to Avi that the young man was shorter, but before he could ask any questions fire erupted in the distance and projectiles began whizzing through the air around them.

"Get back to the bus!" Avi shouted, shoving them both for emphasis.

They were moving, but not very fast. Avi turned towards the source of the incoming fire, dropped to one knee and sent the four grenades in the launcher downrange in as many seconds. The grenades were still in the air as he shouldered the rifle and peered through the sight, which was set to thermal imaging. The crosshairs settled on a man-shaped heat signature and Avi squeezed off a short burst. The figure dropped as the hyper-velocity rounds struck home and then the grenades landed.

Avi fired another burst and another figure fell and then he rose to his feet and set off towards the motor home at a run. He quickly caught up to Daniel and Hawkins – the old man seemed to have caught his second wind but the young man was obviously struggling. Avi was reaching out to help him along when his robe snagged on some brush and was torn away. Despite the threat from behind, the ex-Marine froze in his tracks. Daniel stopped as well, looking at Avi with wide, frightened eyes.

Except this wasn't Daniel, at least not the same young man he had been before. The image before Avi was something he had only seen in pictures. Daniel's formerly short, neatly trimmed hair now flowed past his shoulders and down his back. His body was slender, especially at the waist and shoulders, while his hips were wide and round, and from his chest a protruded a pair of round, firm breasts that were considerably larger than Becky's.

"That's right, Mr. Stark," the former young man said in a soft, lyrical alto, "I'm a girl now."

Daniel's knees buckled and Avis scooped him – her – up into his arms and started running again. Hawkins was right on his heels, moving surprisingly fast for a man his age. They covered the distance to the Novatrek in half the time and Avi was relieved to see that Becky already had the rig fired up. The door hissed open as they approached and he stormed up the stairs.

Avi deposited Daniel gently on one of the sofa beds and then turned, closing the door as soon as Hawkins was inside.

"Hit it Becky!" he shouted.

The Novatrek lurched forward as projectiles ricocheted off the armor. Avi turned to the girl that had once been Daniel and tried to wrap his mind around what was happening. She was sitting up now and Hawkins had gotten her a blanket to cover herself, but she was still shivering and she looked utterly lost. The only vestige of Daniel that remained was her green eyes, but even those were larger and more expressive. Her hair was more than just longer as well. It was more red than brown now, like a deep, rich burgundy.

"She needs to rest now," Hawkins said. "We both do. The transformation was very draining. I promise we'll answer all your questions later."

"I look forward to that," Avi said as he helped Daniel to – her feet. She started slowly towards the bedroom, leaning heavily on the galley counter for support.

"You do smell different," Avi said as he watched her, his voice barely a whusper.


Avi kept the Novatrek close to top speed for over an hour. It was dangerous – the batteries were only half charged – but he wanted to put as much distance as possible between them and their attackers. He had Becky monitor the rear facing camera constantly for signs of pursuit. Thankfully there was none, at least none that they could detect.

Four hours later the batteries were nearly drained as Avi steered the motor home off the highway. He found a place to park that offered good concealment and shut down everything that wasn't essential. Once the sun was up they would be able to use the solar panels again, but it was still going to take at least eighteen hours to recharge the batteries.

"Get some sleep," Avi told Becky. "Use my bunk so you don't wake … her … up. I'll keep watch."

"You come get me in four hours," Becky insisted.

Avi nodded. The rest of the night passed in peace, though the cameras picked up shapes moving in the darkness several times. The area was crawling with scabs, which was exactly why he had chosen it. They posed little threat to the armored motor home and they might act as a crude early warning system if anyone else came near.

After Becky spelled him, Avi collapsed onto his bunk and drifted into a restless sleep. The face of the girl now sleeping in the bedroom haunted his dreams. There was no doubt in his mind at all that she was completely female – something that had not been seen in almost a hundred-fifty-years.

When Avi awoke four hours later, Hawkins was already up. He and Becky were sitting at the dinette talking quietly. Becky saw that Avi was awake and tossed him a foil packet.

"Can't spare the power to cook so it's emergency rats for breakfast," she told him

"Are the solar panels up?"

"Yeah but you parked us inside a building practically," Becky told him. "What's left of one anyway. The sun's gonna have to get higher before we get any real output."

"I expected we would be well into Tennessee," Hawkins said after looking out the window. "This doesn't look like Nashville."

"Chicago," Avi said. "We're well outside the metro-zone though."

"You're taking us north around the Deadzone? That will add considerable distance to the journey will it not?"

"It seemed advisable after last night," Avi told him. "That wasn't a random attack, and it wasn't FedGov either. Who are they and what do they want?"

"They call themselves the Brotherhood of Mars," Hawkins replied.

"Are they the ones Daniel ran away from?" Becky asked.

The old man nodded. "That's not why they attacked however. They're what you could call techno-pagans, a term which could be applied to me as well because I utilize both science and the arcane.

"The Brotherhood reveres the Roman god of war, Mars. They believe the Venus Plague was sent by Mars, and they actively oppose any efforts to revive females. Over the last twenty years they've been responsible for bombings at several research centers."

"And they know what your planning," Avi said. "Now that Daniel is female, they won't stop until she's dead."

The old man nodded. "Rebecca is in danger as well. They've brutally murdered hundreds like her. To them a male who wants to be female is an abomination."

"Daniel told me that," Becky said. "Is he … I mean is she really a girl now? Can she have babies?"

"I'll have to do an exam to be certain," Hawkins told her. "If all went as planned, Danielle will be able to bear many children."

"That's a pretty name," Becky said, "and it's close to her old name."

"That's why she chose it," Hawkins said.

"I would have never guessed that Daniel wanted to be female," Avi said. He looked at Becky apologetically and continued, "I mean he really didn't seem to be the type."

"Daniel had no desire to be a woman," Hawkins said. "He would have been perfectly happy to live out his life as a man."

"Then why?" Avi asked.

"Quite simply, to save humanity."

"Excuse me, Doc, but didn't you already do that?" Becky asked.

"I only delayed the inevitable," Hawkins said sadly. "My process was never intended to be a permanent solution. It was always assumed that we would be able to produce female babies once we were certain the Venus Plague was no longer a threat. You see it should have been possible because men carry both X and Y chromosomes, so by utilizing X chromosome sperm cells from two donors we should have been able to make female embryos. Unfortunately none have ever survived to the fetal stage."

"Isn't that because even though men aren't affected by the virus we still carry it?" Avi asked.

Hawkins shook his head. "That's the lie that has been allowed to propagate to hide the truth. For some reason, my process cannot produce viable female embryos. Even worse, with each successive generation the number of successful male births has been declining, and more and more babies are born with defects."

"You mean like my friend Sasha?" Becky asked.

"The one born without testicles?" Hawkins said with a nod. "That is one of the most prevalent defects. There are also more and more individuals like you being born, Rebecca. It's as though nature is trying to correct the imbalance, but lacks the necessary components."

"So why is this happening?" Avi asked.

"Because we were never meant to be like this, Mr. Stark."

All eyes turned to the back of the coach where Danielle stood in the doorway of the bedroom. She was wearing one of Becky's silky night shirts, her hands worrying with the hem constantly. It was too small; she was taller than Becky and had far more pronounced curves which were only accentuated by the garment.

"I hope you don't mind," she said to Becky, gesturing to the nightshirt. "It seems for all our planning we neglected to consider that my old clothes wouldn't fit."

"You can wear anything of mine you want," Becky assured her. "I've got some dresses that aren't too skimpy. I bet I could make some alterations so they'd fit you better."

"How are you feeling, Danielle?" Hawkins asked.

"Still a bit weak," she replied.

She took a shaky step forward and nearly fell, but Avi was out of his seat in a blink and caught her. He helped her over to the left side bunk and sat her down next to Becky, who reached over and took her hand.

"Daniel … Danielle … what did you mean when you said we weren't meant to be like this?" Avi asked.

"Humanity is supposed to have two genders," Danielle said. "When the Venus Plague struck, we lost something, something that goes beyond science. There is some arcane … divine … component that was taken from us."

"And you're going to restore that?"

"That is our hope," Hawkins said, "but not here on Earth. Our planet's natural resources are too depleted and the contamination from the wars too widespread. That's why we have to get to Laguna Diablo. We need a new home."

"Rigel?" Avi asked. "There hasn't been a signal from there since the mayday about the plague. That was seventeen years after it was released here."

"Yes, undoubtedly one of the last ships to Rigel carried the plague with them," Hawkins said. "That colony is surely dead now, but the planet would still be viable. Rigel is not our destination, however."

"We're going to a planet orbiting a star named Epona," Danielle said. "It's about forty-one light years from Earth."

"It'll take over eighty-years to travel that far," Avi said.

"Just over fifty actually," Hawkins said. "This isn't something we've put together at the last minute, Mr. Stark. Our ships have been refitted with the latest drive technology and are quite fast."

"Two of them are already on their way," Danielle said. "The third is docked at the abandoned L5 station, waiting for us. We're taking a total of three thousand men … less one now of course."

"I guess that's why there's no rush," Becky giggled. "It's not like they're gonna leave without you." Her brow furrowed and she gave Danielle a serious look.

"Aren't you gonna get kinda, well, tired? I mean just you and all those guys?"

The color drained from Danielle's face but she managed a weak smile.

"Danielle won't be alone," Hawkins said. "The spell I used to transform her was very special. It took me nearly a hundred years to construct it, and it required far more power than a human could summon. That's why we had to be at the vortex to cast it."

"What's so special about it?" Avi asked.

"Danielle's body will soon begin to produce an arcane compound. Using a small amount of her blood, we'll be able to synthesis a serum that can transform others."

Becky gasped, her hand rising to her mouth. She looked at Danielle with wide eyes as if she hardly dared believe what she had just heard.

"Yes Becky, if all goes as planned, I can make your dream come true. I can transform you into a real girl. There is one catch though … you'd have to come with us."

"You're both welcome to join us," Hawkins said.

"Avi … can we?" Becky asked.

"Let's get to the port before we start worrying about anything else," Avi said. "I assume FedGov's interest in all this is more pragmatic."

Hawkins chuckled and said, "Indeed it is. They want control, just as they wanted control of my original process."

The government's interest was not surprising. There was great power to be had in the control of the only population of females.

"Just to be safe we'll steer well clear of Colorado Springs," Avi said. "There's no sense in getting any closer to the Capital then we have to."


Five days later they reached the outskirts of Las Vegas. There was no way to drive around the sprawling megacity, at least not without driving hundreds of miles out of their way, so Avi reluctantly discarded the M-23 after rendering it inoperative. The chances of being boarded for inspection as they entered the megacity were too great, and getting caught with the weapon would mean instant arrest. Avi's own semi-automatic rifle and the other weapons they had in the motor home were perfectly legal, and it would actually have attracted more attention if they didn't have some means of self-defense.

There was another reason for entering Vegas. The Novatrek's transmission was making disturbing noises. The landscape south of Vegas was nothing but rocky, barren desert so they couldn't risk it without making repairs.

"You're sure that fake identicard Danielle has will work?" Avi asked as they sat waiting for their turn to pass through the security checkpoint.

"It should be foolproof," the old man assured him from the co-driver's seat.

"Well we're about to find out," Avi said.

The vehicle ahead cleared the checkpoint and Avi eased the motor home forward. As he killed the engine gates closed in front and behind them, and he fervently hoped they wouldn't be forced to test the battering ram on the front against the barrier.

Avi opened the door and then he and Hawkins joined Becky and Danielle in the back. A bored looking perimeter guard entered and barely gave them a second look.

"Identicards please," he said in a monotone.

He accepted the plastic cards from each of them and ran them through his datapad. When he got to Becky and Danielle his eyebrows arched and a leering grin spread across his face. He paid special attention to Danielle, taking far longer to process her identicard. It wasn't because of any problem with the forged card, however.

Becky had been able to alter several dresses to fit Danielle, at least more or less. All of Becky's clothes were fairly revealing, and even altered they were still a bit tight on Danielle. Her bras were also too small, and while they provided support they also emphasized Danielle's cleavage. It was something she had to deal with, however. People would perceive her as a femboy, and if she tried to hide her appearance it would attract even more attention – femboy's were expected to flaunt their appearance.

The guard finally returned her identicard and asked, "What's your business in Vegas?"

"Just stopping for repairs," Avi told him. "We're on our way to LA."

"How long do you plan to stay?"

"No longer than it takes to get the transmission fixed," Avi said. "No more than two days I hope."

The guard looked at Danielle and licked his lips. He turned back to Avi and said, "I'll put you down for a five day visa … give your girls some time to make some money."

"Thanks very much officer," Avi said.

"Maybe I'll see you on the strip," the guard told Danielle with a wink before leaving.

The gates lifted and Avi pulled forward and away from the checkpoint. Becky took the left side seat and began searching the computer atlas for information on shops that would be able to handle the Novatrek. She kept looking up and staring at the gaudy lights and the throngs of people.

"You know the guard was right, we could make a ton of cash really quick here," she told Danielle, who was standing between them in the cockpit.

"I could never do that," Danielle said. "I don't mean that to insult you either, Becky. I'm so thankful for all the help you've given me."

"Hey I understand," Becky assured her. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't have to."

Danielle put her hand on Becky's shoulder and said, "I hope you'll never have to do it again."

"Did you find me a shop yet?" Avi asked, his voice edged with irritation.

"Yep, feeding the address to the nav system now," Becky told him. "While the bus is in the shop Danielle and I are gonna go shopping."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Avi said.

"She needs some clothes that fit, Avi," Becky insisted. "And I know wearing my bras is killing her."

"It would be very nice to have some proper clothes of my own," Danielle said. "We'll be careful."

"All right, but I want to know exactly where you're going," Avi said. "No wandering – you get what you need and you get back."

"Yes sir, Lieutenant sir!" Becky said, snapping her hand up to salute.
They reached the shop after an hour of weaving their way through the crowded streets. Avi talked with the manager for several minutes and when he returned to the motor home he looked satisfied.

"They've got the parts," he told them. "It's not going to be cheap though."

"Leave that to me, my boy," Hawkins said.

"We'll need a place to stay for the night," Avi continued. "The manager told me there's a good casino hotel a few blocks away." He looked at Becky and Daniel as he added, "It was it's own mall too, so you should be able to get everything you need there."

It took a few more minutes for Hawkins to arrange for payment using his credit chip. Like his identicard it was in the name of Malcolm Gerrard, his cover identity. Once that was taken care of they walked to the hotel and got two adjoining rooms. Becky only paused long enough to drop her bag before she was dragging Danielle towards the elevator.

If Danielle had hoped to find something less revealing to wear, she quickly realized she was out of luck. The mall was fairly large, but there were only two shops that catered to t-girls, and their selections were all aimed at working girls. She picked out three dresses and enough undergarments to get her through the rest of the trip.

"We should get back to the room," Danielle said once their purchases were bagged. She had insisted that Becky pick out some things for herself as well, and they were both carrying several bags.

"Aww come on, let's check the casino out," Becky said. "I mean we're never gonna be in Vegas again."

"Does that mean you've decided to come with us?" Danielle asked.

"That all depends on Avi," Becky said.

"You love him very much don't you?"

"Well yeah, of course I do," Becky said. She saw the look on her face and amended, "Not like you're thinkin' though. I had a huge thing for him at first, but I realized it was just because he was the first person that ever treated me like I was someone and not some thing. I won't leave him here alone though … not even to be a real girl."

Danielle smiled and put her arm around Becky's shoulder to hug her.

"Let's go check out that casino."

They spent an hour walking around the casino, which was a dizzying cacophony of noise and lights. Neither felt the desire to try any of the gaming machines, and after fending off several dozen propositions from exceedingly drunk men they decided to return to their room.

The casino was exceedingly crowded and neither girl noticed the four men as they moved into positions in front and behind them. By the time they knew something was wrong, they were being dragged roughly towards the back of the casino. The noise level in the cavernous room drowned out their cries of protests, and those patrons that did notice the altercation quickly looked away. At the back of the casino they were shoved through a door and into a narrow alley.

"We still need the wizard," one of the men said. "What room is he in?"

Danielle lifted her chin in defiance but said nothing. The man turned to Becky and slapped her hard across the face, knocking her to the ground. Blood trickled from her lip and she started sobbing as she clutched her face.

"Please don't hurt me!" Becky pleaded. "I'll tell ya where he is."

"Becky, no!" Danielle cried.

"I ain't dyin' for you or that crazy old man," Becky sobbed.

"Where is he?" the man demanded.

Becky turned to face him, moving forward until she was almost touching him.

"He's not far," Becky said. "I got him right here!"

The little brunette put all her weight behind her knee as she drove it into the man's groin. As he doubled over in pain she lashed out, raking her nails down the face of the man next to him. The other two were caught off-guard by her sudden resistance and hesitated long enough for Becky to grab Danielle and start running.

They reached an intersection of two alleys and turned left, neither having any idea where they were going. The alley finally brought them to another street and they paused long enough to look behind them. They couldn't see their attackers, but they knew that wouldn't last long.

"I think the hotel is that way," Becky said, pointing to the left. "Hang a left at the corner, then another left at the next one and you should be right in front of it. I'll lead these guys away."

Danielle shook her head and said, "I'm not leaving you."

"You have to," Becky told her. "You're important, I'm not. You have to get away. Now go, get Avi. He can track me."

Danielle still didn't move so Becky shoved her and screamed, "Just run!"

Danielle staggered a few steps and then started running. Becky turned to look back down the alley and saw the men rounding the corner. She waited long enough to make sure they saw her and then started running in the opposite direction.

She didn't bother pleading for help as she ran because she knew none was likely to be given. When she reached another alley she ran into it, mentally keeping track of the turns they had made. The alley she was in should lead back to the first one, and taking a left there should bring her back to the street on the opposite side of the block. From there she could loop around to the hotel.

She reached the intersection and turned left, but had only made it a short distance before she had to stop. She had reached a dead end – the alley didn't go through to the street on that side.

"Dammit," she swore as she spun around.

Her pursuers reached the intersection before she had taken two steps. Instead of backing away, Becky charged at them, hoping to push through, but they were ready for them. She was thrown to the ground hard, the impact knocking the breath from her. A series of blows and kicks followed, and soon she was sincerely pleading for them to stop.

They did stop, but they weren't finished. One of the men reached down and grabbed the front of her halter top, ripping it and her bra away. Becky crawled back from them until her back was against the wall.

The one who had hit her first stepped forward and said, "Little deviant slut. We'll teach you to defy the Brotherhood."

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a sliver, palm-sized disk. The sign of Mars was embossed on the surface, and as two of the others lifted her to her feet and pinned her arms, the symbol began to glow red with heat. Becky was already screaming before the red hot brand touched her breast.


As soon as Danielle told him what happened Avi was moving. He made his way down to the casino and bulled his way through the crowd to the door in back. Once he was in the alley, he caught Becky's scent and started tracking her.

He found her curled up in the corner where the alley ended. She wasn't moving or making a sound and her body was a mass of welts, bruises and cuts. Avi knelt down next to her and gently rolled her over, a gasp of horror escaping his lips at what he saw.

The sign of Mars had been burned into both of her breasts, her cheeks and her stomach. Her genitals were badly bruised and swollen but Avi figured there she had been marginally lucky – obviously her attackers hadn't had a knife.

Avi removed his long coat and as gently as he could he wrapped Becky in it and lifted her into his arms. She opened her eyes as he did and looked up at him.

"Sorry Avi, I screwed up," she whispered through the pain.

"It's not your fault," Avi told her. "Now be quiet and save your strength. I'm gonna get you to the Doc and he'll fix you up."

Passersby stared as Avi carried her back to the hotel but a glare from Avi was all it took to convince them to move along. He got her up to their rooms and laid her on the bed. When Daniel saw what had been done to her friend she let out a strangled scream and started sobbing hysterically.

"I never should have left her!"

Avi grabbed the young woman by the shoulders and shook her gently until she stopped crying.

"You've got to hold it together," he said firmly. "You're a doctor … Becky needs you."

"She needs more than Danielle can provide," Jubal Hawkins said. "Both of you, in the other room now, let me help her."

Avi and Danielle obeyed, closing the connecting door behind them. As soon as they were seated on the couch in the room Danielle started crying again. Avi wasn't sure what he should do, but when she leaned her head against his chest he put his arm around her to comfort her.

"I should have listened to you, Avi," she cried.

"This is my fault, not yours," Avi said. "I should have gone with you."

They could hear Hawkins chanting in the other room, and occasionally light shone from beneath the connecting door. It was almost two hours later when an exhausted looking Jubal Hawkins opened the door. His face was pale and drawn but there was a smile on his face.

"Rebecca will be just fine," he told them. "Her injuries were severe, but fortunately they were more interested in maiming than killing her. She'll be sleeping for some time."

"And I'll be right by her side when she wakes up," Avi said as he rose.

"I'll join you in just a moment, Avi," Danielle said, rising as well.

He looked down at her and smiled. "I that much better than Mr. Stark."

When Avi was gone, Danielle helped her mentor to his bed. After she removed his shoes and got him under the covers, she checked his pulse and then reached out and gently caressed his face.

"You have to be careful, Jubal," she told him. "You're still weak from casting the transformation spell. You need to give yourself time to recover."

"We both know that's not going to happen," the old man said. "I used far too much of my life force to cast the spell. I'm afraid I will not live to see your children born."

"You don't know that," Danielle said, holding back her tears. "You rest now."

"I love you, child," Hawkins said.

"I love you too, Father."


"I can't believe it, there's not even a trace of a scar," Avi said in wonder as he and Danielle sat on the edge of the bed next to Becky's. She had slept through the night peacefully, and there was a slight smile on her face as she lay beneath the covers.

"Magic can heal virtually any injury," Danielle said. "There are risks though. The caster uses their life force to sustain and heal, and it takes a great toll."

"That's why Jubal couldn't heal Grissom," Avi said. "His wounds were mortal – it would have killed the Doc."

Danielle nodded. "A younger sorcerer could have healed him enough to allow his body to recover, but Jubal is very old. Even though magic has sustained him, he's getting weaker, especially since my transformation."

"I called the shop this morning," Avi told her, "The bus is ready. As soon as Becky and the Doc are up, we'll get moving. They found us two more fusion cells to so we can drive straight through. By this time tomorrow we'll be at the spaceport and you'll be safe."

"Will you come with us?" Danielle asked. When Avi didn't answer she said, "Becky won't leave you."

"She'll get on that shuttle if I have to carry her on and strap her down," Avi said.

"But you're staying."

"You don't need me," Avi sighed. "You've got a new world to build and I don't think I’d fit in."

"We do need you, Avi, you're a good man and we need all of those we can get," Danielle said. "More than that, I need you. I … I want you to come … for me."

Avi looked into her green eyes and it felt like he had just stepped off a cliff. There was an odd sensation in his very center, like a huge hole had just opened up. It was like nothing he had ever felt before. The temperature of the room seemed to be rising as Danielle's eyes pleaded with him.

As he lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers it felt both terrifying and wonderful. She rose to meet him, her lips parting as they kissed. They were soft and moist and as they continued to kiss Avi felt the emptiness being filled with something amazing and powerful.

"Jeez guys, would you get a room of your own?"

They both turned to face Becky, their cheeks growing warm and red. She was sitting up in the bed with a big grin on her face, and they both rose, rushing over to hug her.

"How do you feel?" Danielle asked as they broke the embrace.

"I feel great," Becky said. "I mean really great."

"We better see if the Doc is up to moving," Avi said. He touched Danielle on the cheek before continuing, "We've got a shuttle to catch."


Avi and Becky took turns on the twenty hour drive to Laguna Diablo. They encountered no difficulties at the border – the security was more directed at people coming in than going out, and none of them would be returning.

They were far from out of danger, however. The Brotherhood of Mars had to know where they were going. Diablo was the only place in the region where a shuttle could land, and Avi was certain when they reached the abandoned spaceport they would find a reception committee waiting.

Hawkins had contacted the shuttle before they left Las Vegas so the crew could begin preparations for deorbiting. When they were two hours from the spaceport he made contact again. Timing would be critical – they needed the shuttle to arrive as they reached the port.

"We're coming up on the gate," Avi announced two hours later. "If you don't need it, don't take it. We're gonna need to move fast."

He saw the roadblock while they were still at least two hundred yards away. Two large hover-trucks were blocking the road to the landing grid. Four more smaller skimmers were on either side, no doubt filled with members of the Brotherhood. The ground to either side of the road was flat, dry lakebed, but all it would take was one soft spot to bog them down.

"Strap in back there," Avi called out as he pressed the accelerator to the floor. He turned to Becky and said, "Let's hope they don't have any heavy weapons.

The massive motor home surged toward the roadblock. As they drew nearer projectiles began to whine off the armor. Spider web cracks appeared in the windshield but the armorglass held

"Hang on!" Avi shouted just seconds before impact.

The wedge-shaped ram on the front of the Novatrek struck precisely between the two trucks. The motor home lurched sharply and the screech of metal-on-metal was deafening as they crashed through the roadblock, the trucks careening away from the speeding behemoth. They took out two of the skimmers in their flight and then tumbled away across the landing grid.

Avi nearly lost control as the rear of the converted bus began to fishtail, but he fought the steering and brought them out of the skid. He could see the shuttle descending from the sky and steered towards it.

"They're coming up on our six, Avi," Becky told him, her eye glued to the rear camera display..

Avi shifted his foot from the accelerator to the brake, pressing it all the way to the floor. The brakes locked and he cut the wheel, this time wanting the skid, but a controlled one. The Novatrek slid to a halt sideways, the right side towards the approaching shuttle.

"Everybody out!" Avi shouted as he rose.

As the others exited the motor home Avi grabbed his rifle and a bandoleer of magazines. As soon as his feet hit the ground he moved to the front of the Novatrek, bringing the rifle to his shoulder. The shuttle was settling to the grid just a few yards away, its thrusters kicking up clouds of dust.

"Run for the shuttle, I'll cover," Avi told them. Danielle and Becky both looked like they would hesitate and he shouted, "Go! I'll be right behind you."

Without waiting to see if they obeyed Avi turned and sighted through the rifle scope. The skimmers were probably armored, but they still had a vulnerable point. The repulsor pads that allowed them to hover above the ground were protected from minor flying debris, but heavier armor would interfere with their field.

Avi settled the crosshairs on the left-front repulsor of the lead skimmer. The range data was scrolling quickly on the right side of the eyepiece as the speeding vehicle closed the distance. He shifted his aim, leading his target just slightly, and then he squeezed the trigger.

The rifle pushed against his shoulder but he rode out the recoil and settled the sights back on his target. The hyper-velocity projectile punctured the pad and it exploded in a shower of sparks. The skimmer nosed down and spun about wildly before settling to a stop.

Avi had already shifted aim to the second skimmer and squeezed the trigger again. The driver was jinxing evasively and the bullet missed. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he squeezed the trigger a third time. He anticipated the driver's evasive movements perfectly and the repulsor pad erupted in sparks. The front of the zig-zagging skimmer dug in hard and the vehicle cart-wheeled several times before exploding in a brilliant ball of flame.

Dropping the rifle, Avi turned and ran for the shuttle. He was almost to the ramp when something hammered into his back repeatedly. The occupants of the first skimmer had exited and opened fire, four of their rounds finding the ex-Marine.

Avi;s momentum carried him forward for two strides before he crashed to the ground, sliding to a stop just inches from the shuttle's ramp. Becky and Danielle screamed as one and rushed down the ramp, mindless of the projectiles that continued to strike around them. They each grabbed an arm and dragged Avi up the ramp, which began rising as soon as they were aboard. The shuttle's engines roared and it nosed upward into the sky.

"Get me a medkit!" Danielle screamed at one of the crewman as she ripped open Avi's shirt. She turned to him, tears beginning to stream down her face as she said, "Stay with us, Avi. Please just hang on!"

Avi reached up and touched her cheek, smiling as he stroked her soft skin.

"Looks like there's not gonna be a new world for me," he whispered. "I love you, Danielle."

"Avraham Stark, don’t you dare die!" Becky cried. "You have to stay, Avi, please. You have to see me…."

"I wish I could, Becky," Avi told her, his voice growing weaker. "Thanks for putting up with me. You know I love you too kid."

"Where's the damned medkit!" Danielle screamed. She was frantically trying to staunch the flow of blood from Avi's wounds, but the projectiles had passed completely through his body and she knew she was losing him.

Then she felt a hand on her shoulder and she turned to look up into the face of Jubal Hawkins. The old man pulled her back and knelt beside Avi, gripping the crystal about his neck as he laid his hand on the Marine's chest.

Danielle wanted to scream at him to stop, that it would kill him, but the words just wouldn't come. She sank to the floor and started sobbing as the old sorcerer began his healing chant.

"No," Avi said, grasping the old man's hand to force it away. "It'll kill you. They need you more than they need me."

"You're wrong, dear boy," the wizard said. "Taming a new world is for the young."

Jubal pushed Avi's hand away and resumed the healing spell. Avi felt warmth spreading through him that quickly grew into a blazing fire. The pain and weakness began to subside and he felt himself growing stronger, but Jubal's magic was keeping him restrained so he couldn't interfere.

Avi's wounds began to miraculously close as a soft glow enveloped his body. He felt strong like he hadn't in years, and he knew Jubal was healing more than just the bullet wounds. He was wiping away the toll his years of wandering had taken on his body, erasing the damage done by the world they lived in.

Finally the chanting stopped and the glow faded. Jubal slumped back into Danielle's arms. She cradled his head in her lap and cried as she stroked his face.

"Oh Father, I'll never forget you," she told him. "Thank you for everything you did for me … for all of us."

Avi rose and looked into the eyes of the old man he had once thought mad. He wanted to say something, but the words wouldn't come.

"Do you know what your name means, Avraham?" Jubal asked him. Avi shook his head and the old man smiled. "It means father of many."

He turned his eyes towards Danielle, his smile growing broader.

"I love you, my sweet, brave girl," Jubal said, his voice barely a whisper. "I have one final gift for you … my legacy."

He took the pendant from around his neck and slipped the chain over her head. As the crystal touched her skin, it flared brightly. Danielle gasped and touched the stone as she looked down into the old man's eyes. He smiled at her one last time, then his eyes closed forever.

Fifty-Two Years Later

The shuttle descended from the brilliant. Clear blue sky and touched down gently on the landing grid just outside of Hawkins City. A crowd of men began to gather as soon as the engines had shut down, waiting with anticipation for the ramp to lower. Once it was down Danielle appeared in the doorway, Avi and Becky at her side.

There was no clapping or shouting, but the looks the men gave her were almost unnerving. All of them were smiling and most of them crying as they stared at her, their eyes burning with a fire not born of passion.

Danielle shifted nervously and turned to Avi.

"What are they staring at?" she whispered.

Avi smiled and squeezed her shoulder as he told her, "Hope."

For a moment she was frightened. So much depended on her, and she wasn't sure she was up to the task. Then she fingered the crystal pendant resting between her breasts and felt comforted. The legacy Jubal had given her was his power and knowledge of the arcane. All that he had learned and mastered was hers now.

They started descending the ramp, and now the men did begin to cheer. The throng parted to let them through, but for a moment they stopped to take in the pristine beauty that stretched out before them.

"Hey, I just thought of something," Becky said. "Does this planet have a name?"

Danielle Hawkins turned to her friend and nodded, tears glistening in her eyes.

"It's called Eden."


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Scott, AWESOME story!!!

It was very moving. Saving human kind is quite the needful and noble task. I liked the combination of magic and science.

About the interstellar voyage: Were some or all of the people on board in some sort of suspended animation? If the vehicle were large enough and Danielle and Avi were awake, I would have expected 2 or 3 generations of childern to deboard on Eden.

50 years for 41 lightyears is definately some kind of speed, if the path was though standard space! Even if that is 50 years ship time. The fastest standard space trip would consist of accellerating to the halfway point then decellerating the rest of the way. I'm guessing that even at the acelleration of one G, max velocity would be a significant fraction of C. The energy needed to do this would probably be equivalent to the mass of a small moon. The time dialation might make 50 years ship time the same as 100's or 1000's of years on Earth or Eden. blah, blah, blah.... That's what happens when a nerdy enough person goes to MIT.

Anyway, great story!

Hugs and Goddess Bless,

Renee M

Yes and um, well ...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Renee. Thanks so much for commenting!

Yes, they were in cryogenic sleep for the voyage to Eden, which should have been explained, and would have if I had finished with time to proof the story. I also neglected to include the fact that the first two ships left five years earlier, which is why there was a settlement already established.

As for the drive systems on the ships, I did do some research in the outlining stages and came up with something called a Tachyon Anomaly Displacement Drive (God only knows how it works). In the end I decided to just leave that to the imagination of the reader. It was at best peripheral to the story, and I knew if I went into it I would probably go overboard with unnecessary detail.

Thanks again for your encouragement!



Calvin: You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes: What mood is that?
Calvin: Last-minute panic.



Calvin: You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes: What mood is that?
Calvin: Last-minute panic.

Not the Bistromatic Drive?


If you get stuck for starship drives cosult Douglas Addams.

Bleak post-apocalypse story but with a twist. Jeese we has several on that theme, each different and intersting for this contest.

A pitty RL limits how much you can write. Your middleges magic bodyswap story was just gttinng to the swap and Genomorph ...

John in Wauwatosa

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine)

Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine) Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

A kick ass adventure!

I'll refrain from saying Great Scott but it was. It did the summer blockbuster thing perfectly, better than so many I shelled out $8.75 to see. Plenty action; a noble, vital struggle that I could actually get behind (absolutely crucial for my enjoyment of stories/movies where there's fightin', or I resort to critiquing the set design); but it didn't skimp on characterization, a viable post-apocalyptic society/dilemna. And the science....... no major bloopers that I (with my high school education) could see, and anyway someone who pulls a "potentiality conversion drive" and "Saturday Night Hemmorhagic Fever" out of their, uh, backbrain can't be too critical ..... Odd, some of the similiar details we latched onto for these quite dissimilar stories (I was trying to do GRAPES OF WRATH or something); musta been some o' that synchronicity......Anyway yours was A WHOLE LOT OF FUN, and while there were parts
I would have liked to see expanded, I know the deadline beast that loomed over this too well...