And so, no one was sentenced to death that day. Nor even banished to the Red Moon.

The Meditator Ith Rennat spoke the prisoners’ fates.

“Lance Rey will be awarded a small palace in the Fanquai Forest. There he will live with his wife, Lana, and their daughter, Gem. He must not attempt any travel to Earth without approval of this entity.”

Cries of shock and anger erupted among Gunn’s band. A low hum arose from among the Meditators, growing louder. Immediately, the prisoners fell to the ground, writhing in agony because of sounds in their heads. The torment stopped and the rebels rose. They did not dissent again.

Ith Rennat continued, “Stryker Gunn and those who were misled by him are banished to the Walabana Islands. This is a not unpleasant environment. By working hard and making a home for yourselves, you will find forgiveness and renewal. Obey the edicts of the council. Know that a force field will surround the islands so you can never escape. Anyone attempting to do so will be shown no mercy.”

Gunn moved forward. “May I speak,” he asked.

The Meditators assented.

“You have lied and betrayed our trust. You promised our freedom in exchange for this traitor.” He pointed at Rey where he stood with his usual aloofness. “Instead of punishment, you reward him with his own palace? Maybe you aren’t aware of what he’s done on Earth. The lives he’s destroyed. Not to mention a network of weapons, drugs and human trafficking.”

“And yet, you and your warriors murdered many Oranians,” Ith Rennat reminded him.

To this, the Lords and Ladies murmured in agreement. “These vile creatures should be slaughtered. I’ll do it myself,” cried one of the Lords.

Chu, who had been watching this exchange with heightening agitation, yelled plaintively, “What about me? I need medical help. You can’t banish me with them. They’ll kill me.”

Indeed, I thought. Someone did need to die this day.

Drawing Gunn’s attention toward me, I made a throwing motion with my arm and a flash of silver light arched across the room. Gunn reached upward and grasped his sword.

Swiftly, Gunn turned on Chu and sliced off his head.

There is an art to the kill and Gunn was a Master. I watched in appreciation as Chu’s head spun slowly through the air, delicate ribbons of blood spreading out in ever widening circles, like rings around a planet, before landing with a splat and rolling to a stop at Jessica’s feet.

Bright dots of blood now covered Jessica’s face and clothes. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, smearing the blood down her cheeks and onto her hands. Speechlessly, she stared at the head of the man who had tormented her for so long, his mouth frozen in a big “oh” of surprise.

“Problem solved,” said Natasha with satisfaction.

Nearby, Chu’s headless body twitched a few times, a red stain expanding on the pristine floor.

“That was my movie star,” Rey objected. He eyed Gunn speculatively. “Maybe you want the job?”

Gunn growled and raised his sword as if to decapitate Rey next, but the writer remained unruffled, knowing Gunn would do nothing of the kind. “You don’t want to go back to the Red Moon, do you, Stryker?”

Lana was rocking little Gem, her eyes darting back and forth between her husband and Gunn.

Then she said something startling, that even I could not have predicted. Her voice, although soft and somewhat plaintive, echoed throughout the large hall. “Red Moon, Blue Moon? But they’re not moons. They’re planets.”

For three long seconds, there was total silence. Then one voice spoke out in shock from the lords and ladies. “What did she say?”

“It’s not possible,” said another.

“Heretic!” cried someone else.

“Take her away!” came many cries.

The baby gave a little cry and Rey reached out and took her, cooing gently. “You shouldn’t have said that,” he told his wife.

She looked confused, lost. “But it’s true—“

“Shhh,” he said.

Amazing, that the one who appeared most clueless would come out with such an obvious statement of fact. A fact that should never be mentioned. They were planets. But they had never been called that. Oran was a planet. Oran represented what a planet should be. Moons were something other, and so, it had been decided long ago by the original Meditators, that they should be called moons. And so it had always been. It did not matter what they actually were. The story of what they represented was set in the minds of every Oranian and so it should remain. It was imbedded in our religion. To say otherwise was a terrible heresy.

This thought could not persist.

“Enough!” I said and the room quieted once more. “She is ignorant and so can be forgiven her outburst.”

Rey looked relieved. All the other Earthlings seemed confused by Lana’s outburst. This was unimportant to them.

The lords and ladies sat back down, knowing that, at least for now, they had no alternative but to control their anger.

The Meditators hummed once more and it was as if the outburst had never happened.

“You may have your weapons back. This is to show trust and respect,” I said to the rebels.

The next moment, those of the rebels who’d arrived with weapons found they had them again.

Now, the lords and ladies had new objections, and with this, all previous thought of moons or planets was scraped from their minds.

An especially large and pompous fellow stood up, pounded his fists on the rail in front of him, and yelled, “You give them weapons in the Great Hall when none are allowed for us?” He raised his hands to show they were empty, as did many of the others. “We are at a disadvantage.”

I motioned to one of the guards who came forward and seized the lord, putting him in chains.

“Take him to the Red Moon,” I said.

“I am a lord. I have rights,” he spluttered as he was led away.

The other lords and ladies watched in silence. A scapegoat was always good at reminding people that their fear of consequences was too great to risk defending an unfortunate colleague.

The trial ended and everyone went their separate ways. The prisoners were taken to the predestined locations.

About a month later, I visited Rey in his palace. His wife greeted me in a small sitting room. Beyond the windows was a shimmering lake, surrounded by fir trees. The weather was chilly and a light mist crawled along the surface of the lake giving it an air of mystery. Inside, a cozy fire played in the hearth. Little Gem slept in a bassinet. Lana trusted no one, not least the nanny provided for her. She’d gone through three nannies already, insisting she didn’t even need one. But on Oran, it was already unprecedented for a woman to keep her child. A council-approved nanny was necessary.

“You’re not happy here?” I asked, noticing how thin she’d become and how her eyes bore a haunted look.

“You know everything, so why ask?” she said in an emotionless voice. A maid brought in a pot of tea on a tray, but she ignored it.

“What are you lacking? We will provide it,” I said.

She laughed bitterly. “Don’t pretend you care about me.” She gestured hopelessly at the fine furniture, luxurious rugs and beautiful paintings. “I want to go home.”

“This is your home now,” I said sharply. “Get used to it and be thankful you’re not suffering on the Red Moon.”

I had no sympathy for this woman who still refused to face reality when she so obviously had it in her to do so. A servant came to lead me to Rey. I left Lana staring bleakly out at the serene lake.

Rey, on the other hand, greeted me boisterously. With a little help from me, his hands had healed. He was writing daily. Filled with creative energy. The sequel to Moon Wars was going to be an even greater success than the first book, he had no doubt. He would return to Earth when the time was right. It would all work out.

“Your wife doesn’t seem so happy,” I remarked.

He shrugged it off. “Once we get back to Earth, everything will be fine.”

“She’s been offered a visit to the Blue Moon, but I’ve heard she declined,” I said.

“Of course she declines. What decent wife would go there,” he said.

“You’ve been.”

“All for the sake of research, mind you.” He winked mischievously.

“What makes you so sure you’ll get back to Earth,” I asked, fascinated as always by his self-assurance.

Since coming to Oran, he’d taken to smoking cigars. He removed one from an exquisite silver box inlaid with pearls, went through the ritual preparation, and lit up. Inhaling deeply, he let out a long, slow cloud of smoke. With a shrewd look, he pointed the cigar at me.

“You spared me, even though I betrayed you. Even though I told Natasha to kill you. Of course she couldn’t have done it. But still…why would you spare me? Allow me to live here with my wife and child? Mind you, I’m grateful.”

“I think you know why,” I said.

He nodded. “Exactly. The universe makes these choices. You—all of us—merely do what has been preordained.”

“Who were you before you became the spy, Kuzmich?” I asked curiously.

He laughed. “I guess it drives you crazy, not knowing everything about everyone.”

“I enjoy our conversations,” I said.

He laughed again. “You mean, you have some feelings left, under that hood of yours?” He scrutinized me. “What is under there?”

“Answer my question,” I said.

He smoked silently for a moment, then continued. “I was nobody. Just a poor boy in a small village outside of Stalingrad. Like everyone else, I suffered. Unlike most others, I was not content to remain passively in that condition.”

“This is no explanation,” I said.

“Some mysteries must remain, even to you, Ith Daktar San.” He shot a question back at me of equal measure. “I’m curious about Stryker Gunn. Who was he before he became the famous warrior?”

“Just a poor boy from a village on Beria Denn. Not unlike you,” I said.

He laughed. “That’s no explanation either.”

I left him then, satisfied that he was doing well. Protected and for whatever reason, untouchable. My emotions were few, but I felt a stirring of unease that he was still loose on Oran.

From there, I traveled to the Walabana Islands, to the little settlement the rebels were forming on the edge of a natural harbor, on the largest island of For. We’d allowed for 50 of Gunn’s followers to join them there. The rest had been hunted down and killed. The uprising was quelled. Or at least as much as the combination of fear and death could quell it.

These islands are a tropical paradise of white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and an abundance of naturally growing fruits and vegetables. Already, the rebels had built houses and started some farming. We’d allowed animals to be brought so they could have milk and cheese and other such staples of life.

There would be children. And the children born to those who had fireflies would have the firefly gene. An added element to balance that had never been seen before on Oran. Those children, along with Gem, would need to be controlled. Gem would be different, though. She had Rey for a father, after all. Or so it seemed.

Of course, one day, the rebels would grow weary of this easy life. They would create reasons in their minds to cause more trouble. They’d escape. Conflicts would arise.

Who knows, perhaps one day Natasha and Gunn would, in fact, confront Rey again.

For me, I needed to confront my daughter.

I found her on the other side of the island, far from the others. She was sitting very still on the sand, meditating I supposed. A group of dolphins played close by, just where the water grew deeper. They chattered and jumped.

She didn’t acknowledge me as I came and sat down a little distance from her.

“I know who you are,” she said.

I must say, I felt shock. How had I not been aware of this?

“Your moment of weakness was a mistake,” she continued. “You let me know who you were and then you took the knowledge away. Or you thought you did. But I’m too strong now. I kept the knowledge.”

“I taught you well,” I said.

Too well, I thought to myself.

Still, she didn’t look at me. After all, there was nothing to see. I hadn’t looked at myself these many years. I had not removed my robe in…how long? To even touch my body was anathema. I did not eat or drink. Perhaps there was nothing beneath my robe. Why was I not more self-aware about this? That thought almost broke my mind and the intricate connections it needed to constantly maintain life on Oran. I stopped this dangerous direction of my thoughts and returned to the balance.

This was why children were raised away from their parents. Children brought too many complex distractions.

“I understand you can never admit you love me,” Erolin was saying. “That you, too, are part of this balance and are not in control of everything you do.”

“These are things I can easily admit,” I said. “I am but one thread in the vast web of the universe.”

“That sounds so poetic. Let me put it in a straighter way: you’re just one more puppet with your endless platitudes. Did you ever consider there might be other things that are simply out of control of anyone?”

“That’s not possible,” I said. She was still so naive to believe such fantasies.

“Will you look at me?” I asked. I was weak now. I knew it. But I couldn’t stop myself. I should have never come to see her.

I watched her profile, for I still must have eyes to see. How intelligent her eyes were, missing nothing. How regal her long, straight nose. How lovely her lips. And that hair, as brilliantly red as the sunrise. I had such hair as that. Once. I thought of all the suffering my daughter had endured in the Pleasure Palace. On the Red Moon. Relentlessly, all her life. And here she was. Neither bitter nor angry. Merely brushing me aside in her quest to grow.

I left her there, knowing she would never look at me. She had cleansed herself of those complex emotions humans have towards their parents, going over and over past events, laying blame to try and justify their own mistakes. Trying to find that illusive thing that Earthlings call “closer.” Even her love for Stryker Gunn would not stop her. She would keep moving forward.

Erolin was the one who would get the others off the island. Her loyalty was to them. I could see she already knew it would be her job to protect the firefly children that would be born there. Or so it seemed.

What a perfect universe this is. What a perfect balance of foulness and beauty. Violence and peace. Chaos and harmony. Emotion and intellect.

Who are the gods? Whose hand is above them all? Not even I know that. We know nothing, really. Except that emotions are what give us meaning. And what makes us weak.

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a man from another world and I bore a child in pain. That child was taken from me. I gave up the pain and the pleasure of my own life to take on the pains and pleasures of Oran.

I gave up my child. Why should I think I could get her back again?

I bow to the forces above me. There is nothing I can do except what I am told.

Lilly, Farida, Extorlia, Jessica, Hannah, and Ariyan all seem to be thriving on the colony. Farida and Ariyan help Gunn and Natasha to train their warriors in hopes they will find a way to escape one day. Natasha and Jessica seem happy together, although it’s a somewhat stormy relationship. Hannah is pregnant already. She will have a boy, the first child to be born on the island. Erolin and Gunn’s relationship remains as complex as ever.

They have all they need. Why cannot they be content to prosper on this paradise?

Back on Earth, Le Relais Basque is now surrounded by a high security wall and a tent above. It is being probed by scientists and secret intelligence. They haven’t found the lane yet. But it’s only a matter of time before they do. And then what? Will armies from Earth invade Oran? Or will the armies of Oran beat them to it? So far, the Meditators have been kept from probing the vortex further. Who would win such a war between the two worlds? Those who follow the power of material technology or those who follow the power of the spiritual mind?

There are other vortexes, of course. I know where they are. I have been through one. But I have no way to reveal them. Perhaps my daughter can find it out for herself.

There are always those who appear to have power, those on Earth and on Oran. But they merely do the bidding of the gods of the universe. And those gods none of us will ever know. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite.

The universe is a marvelous mystery. I float within it.


This is an excerpt from K.H. Mezek’s new novel, Luminaria: Tales of Earth and Oran, Love and Revenge. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.