To say I haven’t been happy with what’s been going on lately is an understatement. Lance Rey is out of control. I am one of the few people who knows the truth about him. Well, one of the few on planet Earth anyway.

Oran is another story.

There is no one more hated on Oran than Lance Rey. At least amongst the common folk. What he did to Stryker Gunn and his sister is unconscionable. He must be punished.

Let me tell you how it happened.

Believe me or not. But you will believe when the day comes that vengeance is brought upon this man.

There is a world called Oran. It is connected to Earth. They say this happened by chance, as is so often the case with what we term “science.” Let me explain. Nothing is known amongst humans. If things were known, such as what you call “gravity” or even “life,” there would be no need for experiments to prove these things to be “true.” This is how science works: someone comes up with a theory. Experiments are conducted to “prove” the theory. A theory is something one decides one wants to believe is true. And so around in a circle it goes, back to the beginning of wanting to prove a theory.

There can be all sorts of reasons why one wants to prove, or shall we say believe, this thing or another. A thousand years from now, the theories that have been proven true in our time will be ridiculed and a thousand new theories will have come and gone since then. Perhaps progress will be made. But how do we even determine what progress means? By whose compass?

In summation, from the start there is bias. It is impossible for any human to approach what they term knowledge without bias. Therein lies the innate flaw of science.

Not so on Oran. We are spiritualists.

And the alchemist Plecham Extorlia was experimenting with fireflies.

Oh, now wait, let it be made clear. On Earth, alchemy was defined in medieval times as the “transformation of matter,” concerned primarily with experiments to change metals into gold. Here, immediately, as is so often the case with humans on Earth, is the flaw. Because what was the starting point? The bias? It was the desire to create gold. This desire came from the lust for power. Greed. Whoever could unlock the secret of the transition would be the most powerful human, or group of humans, on Earth. They never succeeded in this, but they went on to experiment in other ways and achieved greater successes.

For us Oranians, spiritual transformation far exceeds the physical. To transcend matter. To be able to move objects and travel through space through the power of heightened spiritual awareness.

And so, Extorlia was on this path of research, with full endorsement of the Vishku Supreme Council.

At the same time as Extorlia was conducting her research, here on Earth, military research was being conducted into the transformation of matter, along the lines of space travel. On both planets, fireflies were being used, fireflies being the conduit of matter through space.

There is much more to this story, of course, perhaps to be told another time. The short version is that a Soviet spy named Andrei Kuzmich had infiltrated the research facility in the United States. This man stole one of the engineered fireflies. He was going to sell it to enemies of the United States and was meeting his contact at a café in Hollywood. That café later became Le Relais Basque, owned by Adonai.

As Kuzmich awaited the arrival of his contact, he went to use the bathroom, down the short hallway.

At the same moment, Extorlia was on the desolate steppes north of the city Aarabaythia, Oran, walking toward her isolated research facility. In her hand, she held one of her altered fireflies.

We now know, because of what happened next, that there is a wormhole, a vortex, whatever you want to call it, on Oran. We call it a “Paradora,” or a passage connecting Earth and Oran in these exact points. Just as Kuzmich was in the hallway about to open the bathroom door, there was a strong earthquake and the box holding a firefly fell to the ground and opened. The firefly escaped and flew into his ear, burrowing into his brain, naturally seeking to balance itself with another life. The pain, along with another strong aftershock, caused Kuzmich to fall against the wall opposite to the bathroom. This was a Paradora. At that precise moment, Extorlia was holding a few of the fireflies she’d been working on while walking in a small forest near her home on Oran. She passed another Paradora and the altered fireflies connected.

Kuzmich landed at the feet of Extorlia.

And so the spy’s adventures began. Suffice it to say, this man created havoc on Oran, a planet with a delicate balance, ruled by a severe religion of clearly defined right and wrong and perfect balance between the two. The spiritual way of Oran is not without pitfalls. Those in power on Oran impose austere rules upon the population. Inhabitants live in strictest piety, without deviation, similar to how people lived on Earth a couple hundred years ago. There are no pollution-creating industries. Horses and carriages are used for transportation. Wood and coal burning stoves heat homes. There are no guns, only knives and swords and suchlike.

The caste system keeps everyone in their place with no prospect of climbing higher. Those at the top have elevated psyches and can manipulate matter and control energy sources. Their minds can be weaponized in ways just as destructive as the weapons of Earth. These elevated ones travel in sleek crafts that hover above the ground or in sky ships that transport them and their armies long distances, even back and forth to the two moons.

The ordinary folk are kept in check due to a strict system of reward and punishment. Upon achievement of a certain level within this system, subjects are rewarded with time on Peira, or the Blue Moon. This moon has every pleasure imaginable. It is where all the constraints of Oran can be set aside and carnal instincts prevail without fear of reprisal. This is where children are conceived.

On the other hand, those who do not conform to the rule on Oran and commit sin, such as stealing, indulging in sexual relations, murder, and so forth, are sent to the Eipia, or the Red Moon, to be punished. The severity depending on the severity of their crime. The Red Moon is as horrific and painful as the Blue Moon is marvelous and pleasurable. There are no words for the terrors and torments awaiting those who have committed severe sin. There is no mercy to be found on the Red Moon.

Between the Red and the Blue Moons hangs the Vishku, or the Golden Sun.

All life is balanced by the control of the Vishku Supreme Council. All Oranians worship the Vishku Way, a practice of self-control and the giving up of individual needs for the good of all. This practice isn’t without personal reward, however.

Rebels exist on Oran. An ever-growing underground network seeks to bring down the constrictive government. Stryker Gunn is the leader of the resistance. His sister, Amaria, was his right hand general. If captured, these fighters face endless torment without death on the Red Moon. Gunn would face the worst punishment of all. He would be roasted endlessly above the flames of a pit of lava in the lowest and hottest regions of the moon.

Of course, you can guess that Lance Rey, the author of Moon Wars, is the Soviet spy who fell through the Paradora. He changed his name to Rey upon his return to Earth.

I am Extorlia, the alchemist at whose feet Kuzmich, who I will now call Rey, fell when he landed on Oran.

Rey was weak and shaken. I took him back to my research lab, a small and desolate castle on the steppe. In a few days, when he had recovered, we started to piece together what had happened. Now we had fireflies from Earth and Oran, so we could unlock the secret of travel between the two worlds and the connection these fireflies had to each other. I kept this secret from the Vishku Council. If they found out I was harboring someone from another world and hadn’t informed them, I would be sent to the Red Moon, but not before they had extracted every bit of knowledge from my brain, which, by the end of the interrogation, would have left me brainless.

Actually, why do I say Rey and I worked together? Even now, he influences me with his overbearing personality and his pride! No; I worked alone. Rey knew nothing of science or alchemy. His talent lay in the manipulation of others. Such charisma.

In honesty, although he didn’t help me scientifically, he helped me mentally. Before his arrival, I had been discouraged. He awakened hope and further resolve to finish my work. I told him more than once he was my inspiration.

Often, in the middle of the night when the moons pulsed red and blue, we walked together in the garden. It was the one lovely feature of my forlorn castle. Entrance was gained through a small wooden door in the library. Once through this door, one entered a world of wild flowers and exotic trees, bearing many kinds of fruit. There were pathways and little alcoves to sit. At night, the scent of Moon Flowers filled the air. These flowers opened when the moons rose. They were the palest of red and blue. Sometimes, one moon or the other pulsed with greater intensity, turning a deeper color. This usually meant some great pleasure was occurring on the Blue Moon, or some terrible torment on the Red Moon. Along with the heavy perfumed scent of the flowers came feelings, either of a delicious dread or a delicious pleasure. Since coming to Earth, I can liken it to a drugged experience.

As we walked, I would tell Rey stories of my world. I told him the story of Gunn and Amaria, I explained the government structure and how delicately all was balanced, just like our two moons. He was fascinated. The best listener. For so long, I had been alone because I could trust no one to work with me. I only kept my maid, who had been with me since childhood. I had started out completely devoted to the Council. But then, I had met Gunn and Amaria and some of the other freedom fighters. And my loyalties had changed. Now, I hoped to find an escape for them when the time came.

My guard was always up, but Rey pulled it down. I thought I could trust him because he was from another world. He also told me stories of Earth and I longed to go there. This gave me a sense of hope I’d never had before.

I realize now Rey was a vampire of sorts, sucking the knowledge, the very life-breath, out of me. Unbeknownst to me, all this time, he was writing down the stories I told him. The stories of Stryker Gunn and his battles against Ith Daktar, the supreme leader of the Vishku Way.

Rey treated me like the most precious friend. Never a lover, although I suppose you could say I fell in love with him. He exploited this, I realize now. I didn’t hide my support for the freedom fighters from him. He knew exactly where my loyalties lay.

One day, although I repeatedly had warned him not to, Rey took a horse and went to the City of Aarabaythia. It happened on a day when I was asleep, as I had worked the entire night before. Rey was captured. To save his own skin, he made a deal with Ith Daktar Sanand, betrayed me and the freedom fighters. He returned late that night. I had been beside myself with worry and was flooded with relief upon his return. He was in fine spirits, eyes alight with enthusiasm as he told me of all the wonderful sites he had seen in Aarabaythia. He spoke of the great walls and high-spired temples, of the beautiful architecture and how everyone seemed to live well. I never suspected what had really happened.

I remember how he said with such curiosity and wonder, “But the people; they’re so sedate. So hard-working. They pray at regular intervals during the day. In the day, every single one of them turns to the Vishku Sun and pays obeisance. At night, they do the same with the two moons. It’s quite incredible how they obey. I suppose it’s why they’ve achieved such a high level of success as a society. Life is serene. The city is a shining jewel, the architecture magnificent, the streets clean, the people well dressed and polite. Yet without spontaneity or joy.”

From the garden, we climbed to a small balcony on the highest tower, a place we often went. Together, we looked across the vast steppe to the lights of Aarabaythia far below, and then up to the moons.

Rey spoke softly and in some wonder. “I understand now what you’ve been telling me. The balance that’s maintained. It doesn’t work on Earth. We don’t like sacrificing personal freedoms. And yet, how brilliant. I could feel the restrained energy as I passed people by, going about their business industriously. All the while, an underlying excited anticipation bubbles beneath the surface. They await their holidays on the Blue Moon with such admirable restraint. And naturally, no one wants to end up on the Red Moon. The rewards and punishments are clear. No excuses or misunderstandings. Equally balanced. Brilliant.”

I had a moment of concern then. I should have listened to my instincts. But by that point, Rey had gotten so far under my skin that a mere moment of doubt was not enough to undo the spell he’d cast. Upon me! One of the elite. An alchemist who should have been the one casting the spells!

That night, Rey turned and looked at me with such love and acceptance I immediately felt foolish for my doubt. He was about as tall as me and our eyes met on the same level. There is something about when eyes meet in equality like that. A connection unexplainable in words. His body was a wonderful work of art, I must say. Powerful and yet not bulky. Just right for his height. His bald head lent an esoteric, monk-like quality balancing the sheer force of his masculinity. He didn’t have the tattoos he has now. He got those when he returned to Earth. Detailed tattoos memorializing scenes from Moon Wars. And his eyes. Those intense azure blue orbs pulling you in like the pleasure of the Blue Moon itself. He kissed me that night. That one time.

I am not a beautiful woman. But since coming to Earth, I’ve been told I am many other things, such as intriguing, exotic; someone even called me “mind-bending” once. I felt beautiful that night and I don’t regret the moment. It never came again. Indeed, if he ever tried, I would spit in his face.

Perhaps the kiss would have led to something further if not for the sky ships that appeared from over a hill, moving swiftly towards us with their searchlights. We dropped quickly into the shadows. I wasn’t concerned for myself. The sky ships made regular runs in all directions as a security measure against the rebels. But if they spotted Rey, he would be captured. I didn’t know, of course, that he’d already betrayed me.

The sky ships never came close to my home and once they were gone, we got up and went back downstairs to our separate bedrooms.

It was only a few days later I’d made enough fireflies for a small group to travel to Earth. I wanted to send Gunn away as soon as possible. The danger was growing worse every day. He’d narrowly escaped capture twice already. Gunn and I argued, and in the end, he refused to travel to Earth and leave his resistance fighters on Oran without their leader.

We arranged for him and his most elite fighters to come one night to my castle. On that night, we were to send Amaria and some others who were in grave danger back through the Paradora. But we were ambushed by Council guards. Amaria was killed in the attack. Gunn and his top generals were sent to the Red Moon.

It was Rey who was responsible. Not only did he betray Gunn and me, but he went back on his bargain with Ith Daktar Santo to hand over the fireflies. He gathered all the fireflies and together we went through the Paradora to Earth.

And so I became a fugitive, not by choice but because of Rey’s betrayal.

Two years had passed on Earth since Rey had left. He was a much smarter Soviet spy than anyone gave him credit for. His strength, something he holds until this day, is the ability to transform himself and keep secrets. I suppose, in a funny way, he is a kind of alchemist himself.

Rey had a number of false identities, passports, and accounts. He took up the identity of Lance Rey, an obscure nobody. Quietly, he worked on his book. His masterpiece. Based on the stories I’d told him on Oran and the experiences he had. He sold Moon Wars to the highest bidder as science fiction. The rest is history.

And what could I do? To whom could I tell the truth? No one.

He bought the café and set me up as the owner. I became Adonai, creating this aura of mystery around myself. Somehow, the rumor started that I’m a Berber. I liked this interpretation of myself, so I allowed it to flourish. I tattooed my hands and feet. I played this game for as long as necessary. I helped as many as I could. In the case of Natasha, I admit my part in sending her to what one could have only imagine was certain death.

Pressure was mounting on Rey to write a sequel to Moon Wars. And with the movie premiere about to happen, that pressure was becoming intolerable. As it turned out, Rey couldn’t write, much as he tried. Why? Because he had no imagination of his own. He could only steal from the minds and hearts of others. And he was, it turned out, rather superstitious. With such high expectations for his next book, he felt the only way it could be equal or exceed Moon Wars was for him to write it in the same way. Except that he could never return to Oran himself. That would be too dangerous.

And so, when Natasha unwittingly saved Chu from thugs, Rey and his horrible little sidekick Manson decided to send her instead. She was perfect. A warrior who could free Gunn and no doubt be killed in the process. What a story it would be. All he needed was the energy of her adventures to propel him to write. He could make up whatever alternatives he wanted.

The deal was Natasha would report back to Rey of her adventures using the firefly implanted in her to communicate. Fireflies cannot be removed. They alter a person genetically and one would die if the firefly was extracted. Rey promised Natasha she could return if she did well. But I knew that was a lie. Natasha wouldn’t survive a day back on Earth.

Lately, Rey has been growing ever more concerned. Thanks to Natasha, he knows that Gunn has done the impossible and escaped from the Red Moon. Together, they are causing quite a stir on Oran, killing lords and ladies and striking fear into the Council. That’s good for Rey’s manuscript. What’s bad is that Gunn and Natasha are bent on revenge against him. Rey knew this would be a danger and he faces it in a completely cool-headed manner. He is in his element. He thinks he can outsmart us all. Take our stories and spit us out.

But Rey, in his insatiable desire for power and glory, made a fatal error. By sending Natasha and thinking he could control her, like he does everyone else, he instead opened a Pandora’s box of troubles for himself.

In so doing, he has given me, and everyone else he has betrayed, the chance for revenge.

I have done what I could to help those he tried to destroy. Do I do this because I am “good?” Of course not. I do it to position myself to take Rey down.

Rey heard about Hannah’s brilliant firefly paintings. He became obsessed with them, sure she had some secret knowledge. I don’t think so. Earth has its spiritual humans and Hannah is such a one. But her attachment to the spirit is flimsy. Perhaps Rey is right and there is something with this one painting in particular. I don’t know.

At least I was able to save Hannah from Rey’s clutches. Thank the gods she got away with Ariyan.

I know about Lilly and what she’s done. Farida told me. Lilly has my sympathy. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as she did married to that creature, Manson. Nightmares plague her. She is not one who can deal well with the memories of her actions. I hope she holds onto her sanity through these crucial days. We will need her help when the time comes.

And Lana. Which way she will go in the end, I’m not sure. I think she suspects the truth about her husband but blinds herself with love.

All this time, I have trod a delicate balance. Patiently awaiting my moment. I am the only person Rey actually needs. He needs my scientific mind to build the fireflies.

He thinks that I need him, too. He thinks we are balanced, just like the Red and Blue Moons. Just like Earth and Oran. And perhaps in this he will be proved right. I hope not. I hope we can prevail and overpower him.

All this time, I have never displayed the full extent of my power to him. We keep the fireflies in a lab we’ve built beneath the café. The security surrounding it is of the highest level available on Earth. I have free access, but each time I go in or out, he is alerted. But I am an alchemist from Oran. I know how to circumvent locks and alarms.

Rey does not disdain or deny the spirit. He would like to think that he embraces it. But the reality is that it fills him with fear. It is the only thing that makes him afraid. He is afraid of me. But this he would never admit.

In his arrogance and greed for another story, he let a firefly go with Natasha. That was his second mistake.

Two mistakes were all I needed.

Tonight is the premiere of Moon Wars. The guilty must be punished. I am only concerned for Rey’s wife and baby daughter, Gem, who is only a few weeks old. I examined Gem recently. I didn’t tell Rey what I discovered—of course I didn’t—but this baby has the firefly gene born into her. She can travel naturally, without an implant.

The café is empty. Rey is back at his home, distracted, getting ready for the premiere. The safe holding the fireflies is open. The fireflies lie neatly in a row, inside their boxes. I have made enough for Earth and for Oran. Natasha has one already. I will go through the Paradora and bring the others to Gunn. He can decide who he will bring with him to Earth to deal with Rey. Carefully, I take the boxes and put them into a backpack. I lock the door to the lab and go back upstairs.

I take the fireflies through the Paradora and return. There, in the café, I wait for the travelers to arrive from Oran. I close my eyes and call up the image of Rey. I can see him standing in front of his mirror, looking at his reflection. Ready to walk the red carpet. Ready for the adulation that will come.

I whisper into the space between us, “Enjoy this false moment of success. It will be the last pleasure you will ever experience on Earth.”

Tonight everything will change. Forever.

Tonight, two people will enter Earth through the Paradora.

Tonight, Lance Rey will face Stryker Gunn, the warrior he betrayed and whose sister he allowed to be killed. And he will face Natasha, the warrior he sent to what he assumed would be eventual death or life imprisonment. But not before he had sucked another story out of her for his Moon Wars sequel.

And what about Chu? I laugh to myself. That will be a sight to see. Phillip Chu facing Stryker Gunn. Truth and the imposter.

Vengeance will rain down this night. Blood will flow.

Rey and Chu. Prepare to meet your doom.

***

For all installments from Luminaria, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Chapter 1: Come to Me — Lana
  2. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 1
  3. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 2
  4. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 1
  5. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 2
  6. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 1
  7. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 2