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Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

Chapter 7

Later, the High Priestess helped him to his feet and showed him a small bowl of oil and clay goblet of wine sitting on the altar. Moistening a finger in the oil she traced a symbol in the middle of his forehead where his third eye was located.

“I mark you with the triple sign.”

“I consecrate you with oil.”

Dipping her finger in the wine, she again drew a symbol on his forehead.

“I consecrate you with wine.”

“I consecrate you with my lips,” she said lastly and softly kissed him on the lips.

Then she handed Tobal a piece of paper. He recognized the Oath of the Apprentice written upon it.

“Now you must sign the oath you have just taken.”

Tobal signed the paper as everyone cheered and applause erupted all around the circle. Looking around the circle for the first time, Tobal saw fifty or sixty people cheering and waving cups at him in celebration and congratulation. After the applause died down the High Priestess handed him a pair of gray woolen trousers.

“The color gray symbolizes the imperfections that are within each of us. As we strive toward the spiritual life these imperfections become harmless and as we accept them they in turn nourish our souls like the seed is nourished by the dark rich soil of the earth. Our imperfections help us to grow stronger if we use them wisely and learn from our mistakes.”

She handed a sheathed knife and belt to him. “This is your true weapon. It symbolizes the mastery of thought and intent over the material world. As you learn the art of survival in the wilderness you will come to appreciate how important this simple tool can be. It will one day save your life. You will also use this tool in your dreams as your spirit grows stronger and is tested by your personal fears and demons.”

As he buckled the belt and knife around his waist the High Priestess gave him a decorated wine skin filled with mead.

“This is the vessel of the Lady, the Holy Grail of immortality. From this we drink in friendship and in honor of them both. It is the emotional joys and pleasures of human companionship that make life deep and rewarding. It is in sharing our lives with others we find purpose and reward. Life is an eternal celebration and it must be celebrated with others lest we find ourselves alone and unloved.”

“These are the tools of the Apprentice. In the second degree you will learn other mysteries.”

Then taking her own knife in hand she said, “Brother Oak, to learn you must suffer and be purified. Are you willing to suffer in order to learn?”

“Yes,” Tobal answered.
Gripping his right thumb the High Priestess expertly made a small cut. “You signed the oath with a pencil but your Higher Self signs with the blood of your life.”

She took his bleeding thumb and placed it on top of his signature. Then both she and the High Priest placed a drop of their own blood over his saying, “I know you as a beloved brother. Our blood is forever mingled. I will defend and help you according to my Higher conscience and Higher Self to the best of my ability.”

She gazed intently into his eyes, “Look at this oath that you have signed, witnessed by your Higher Self.”

Turning she stepped and threw it into the bonfire. He started as the paper burst furiously into flames. She continued, “As a symbolic act this paper is consumed and purified by the flame of the bonfire until nothing is left but your pure intent. So also in reality may all levels of your being find their true place in the transforming fire of the Lord and Lady that are both found within your own heart. Your commitment and oath is between you and the Lord and Lady. It is not a matter for us. This simple act is a token and symbol of your desire to live in the spiritual light and to be purified in mind, body and spirit.”

“Yet, this is not enough,” she continued.

She took his wine skin and drank from it before offering it to him. “Truly the powers of your higher self flow ever into your being and if you are open to the process your life will be changed forever. Let the chalice of your soul freely receive the wine of your spirit and experience divine intoxication thereby.”

At her gesture Tobal lifted the wine skin and drank the mead. It seemed to glow in the fire light as if it were full of some vital energy that had a life of it’s own. He felt the warmth and energy spread through him warmly bursting with energy and love. As the golden fluid poured down his throat into his stomach he could feel the warmth grow until he was standing in a large ball of energy and spiritual light.

Then the High Priest and High Priestess both placed their hands on his head invoking the highest power of the Lord and Lady. The energy poured into him sealing his initiation forever.

The High Priestess said, “I now salute you in the name of the Lord and Lady.” Turning, she led him to each of the four smaller fires at each quarter of the circle and proclaimed loudly at each station.

“Brother Oak has been consecrated Apprentice of our ancient craft and is become a Child of the Lord and Lady.”

As she finished the entire circle came forward in a wild celebration and swept over Tobal. The party had begun.

“Hey, get up! Get up!”

Someone was pushing and shaking Tobal. Groggily he raised his head. It was Rafe shaking him and grinning mischievously. “Hey, c’mon. We’ve got a lot to do today. You going to sleep all morning?”

Tobal groaned and put his hands to his head. He had a splitting headache and a nasty hangover feeling in his gut. Must have had too much of the mead and home brewed beer last night he thought morosely. He rolled over and tried going back to sleep but Rafe was shaking him again cheerfully.

“C’mon, I’m not kidding. It’s a busy day. Let’s go get some breakfast.”

Tobal sat up and looked around realizing he had been sleeping in one of the teepees he had seen yesterday. He didn’t have any idea how he had gotten there. There were empty blankets where other people must have slept but they were all gone. He was the only one left.Sitting up he looked bleary eyed at Rafe.

“What are we doing today?” He tried valiantly to ignore the throbbing in his head and the churning in his gut.

Rafe gave him another light hearted, good natured poke with an elbow. “How does it feel to be a witch?” He asked cheerfully. “Perhaps I should say an Apprentice witch.” He chuckled.

An Apprentice witch?” Tobal mumbled. “I didn’t know I was going to become an apprentice witch! What the hell are you talking about anyway?”

Rafe hunkered down on his haunches, “I keep forgetting your parents are dead,” he said. “I can’t believe all of this is completely new to you. Most of us have grown up within the system and understand it.”

“Well I don’t,” grumped Tobal. “Maybe you can fill me in on what I’m getting myself into here.”

“There are three separate degrees in our system,” Rafe told him. “These three degrees correspond to the three degrees of the ancient mystery schools, the three degrees of ancient Freemasonry and the three degrees of witchcraft. We simply call it the three degrees of the Craft.”

“The first degree of Apprentice is concerned with learning the basic survival skills that will keep you alive in the woods during all seasons of the year. We are given gray tunics and trousers…by the way.” He grinned. “How do you like your new trousers?”

Tobal flushed and grinned back, “They are pretty nice actually. It was getting kind of drafty after they shortened my robe.”

Rafe snickered, “Well anyway, the color gray symbolizes the degree we are in. The second degree is black. You probably noticed your guards last night were wearing black?”

Tobal grinned. He was starting to feel much better. “They were pretty rough too, but my guide was nice looking, that dark haired girl?”

Rafe ignored him, “That’s part of the Journeyman degree. The Journeyman degree is where you learn self-defense among other things. “ Rafe looked at him quizzically, “Do you remember how you have to train six other people to solo before you can enter the Journeyman degree?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, to complete the Journeyman degree you need to beat six other people in hand to hand combat. That doesn’t mean how many times you get beat yourself,” he grinned ruefully.

He looked a little worried and Tobal couldn’t help but think Rafe was a bit anxious about becoming a Journeyman. That was probably due to his small size. It was hard to think Rafe could beat anyone in a fair fight.

“What about the third degree then? What’s that degree about?” he asked curiously. “Are they the ones dressed in red tunics and robes?”

“Yes, they are dressed in red.” They are titled Master of the circle and accorded the highest respect. You never know when your life is going to be in their hands. Their obligation is to serve as emergency medics and to officiate during circle and initiations. They monitor the health and well being of everyone. You will see them riding around on their air sleds. They monitor our med-alert bracelets and are instantly alerted if our vital signs change through injury.”

He held up his silver bracelet to show Tobal. “If something ever goes wrong and we are badly hurt our wrist alarms go off and it is the third degree Masters that give us the medical attention we need. Sometimes they are too late or nothing can be done. Other times they will take us to sanctuary or the hospital for serious injury or illness. Basically they keep tabs on everyone and make sure we are healthy and doing all right. They serve as medics for three years. After three years of medical service they are accepted as citizens into Heliopolis.”

“Three years!” Tobal blurted. “It will take forever to become a citizen!”

Rafe shook him hard and looked seriously into his eyes. “Don’t even think about becoming a citizen,” he warned. “Focus on learning and living right now in the present moment. Get this right or you will not live to become a citizen.”

Tobal found his pack and carried it silently thinking about what Rafe had just told him as they went off to find some breakfast.

The second day of circle was pleasant. Rafe introduced him to many friendly people he instinctively felt comfortable with. Tobal wondered how many of these new friends Rafe had personally trained and helped solo. He noticed Rafe was well liked by many circle members. Even more interesting was a certain section of the circle that seemed to really dislike Rafe. Tobal wondered why.

This small group went out of their way to be disagreeable to Rafe and to him. After one roughly pushed past him Tobal asked Rafe about it.

“What’s with those jerks anyway?” He asked.

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No one came for him as he sat meditating and watching the moon rise. He guessed it must be around midnight and the moon was full and bright. The sky was very clear and the stars were brilliant. Then he saw a black robe coming toward him in the moonlight with a torch. As the figure neared, Tobal saw it was a dark haired girl. Feeling a little self conscious, he scrambled to his feet and steadied himself.

She stopped in front of him holding the burning torch in his face. “You are a lost and lonely soul wandering in the darkness and searching for light. Without wisdom you are wandering blindly and doing harm to yourself. If you wish, I will act as your guide. Do you seek the light and wisdom of our clan?”

Tobal answered, “Yes, I do.”

“There are two passwords you must remember or you will not be allowed into our sacred circle.” She slowly whispered, “Perfect Love” and “Perfect Trust” into his ear. “Can you remember these two passwords?”

Tobal nodded in silence.

“You must speak, Yes or No,” she demanded shoving the torch at him fiercely.

“Yes, I can remember them,” he stammered backing away from the fire.

“Come with me, but first I must blindfold you.” She took a strip of gray cloth and bound it tightly across his eyes so he couldn’t see anything.

She led him stumbling in the darkness toward the central fire he had seen in the distance. As they neared he could feel it’s heat and hear the flames crackle. He could also hear the muffled stirrings of other people as they hushed to watch and listen. Another female voice spoke loudly from the center of the circle.

“Listen to the words of the Lord and Lady. Whenever you need something call upon us, the guiding spirits of the human race, male and female. We shall answer you and assist you in all things. You are meant to be free, to dance, to sing, to feast and to make love. Do these things all with our blessings for the “Blessings” of physical life and the “Blessings” of spiritual life are as one within each human heart.

Embrace your dreams and desires as you strive to make them real. Let nothing stop you or turn you aside. Accept our blessings and help because life is meant to be a joy of the heart. We, male and female, can be found within the dust of the earth and the light of the stars. Our awareness encircles the universe and binds it to our wills. In our union is the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars, the mystery of the waters and the desires of the heart of man. We call upon your soul to join us in the creation of nature and the expansion of the life force into the universe.

From the union of male and female all things must come and all things must return. Rejoice therefore in the duality of life and let your worship be acts of love and pleasure, beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence. Know that we are within you, male and female, and if you can not find our union within yourself, you will never find it within another person. We will be with you at your death even as we were with you at the moment of your birth.”

In the pause that followed Tobal’s guide stepped forward and said loudly, “A seeker is among us. Tobal Kane has claimed sanctuary. He wishes to join with us and follow the ways of the ancient craft.”

The High Priestess called out, “This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Your immortal soul will be deeply committed to the path of the Lord and Lady if you continue. Do you wish to join your destiny to that of the Lord and Lady?”

Tobal spoke out firmly, “I do.”

The High Priestess came up to him and placed her hands on his shoulders, “Know well that love and trust must be freely given so they may be freely received. Consider carefully your own words because your life’s blood may someday be required. Do you still desire to join your destiny with ours?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Very well, in following the way that stretches beyond life and death will you serve the Lady and reverence the Lord? Will you keep secret from the untrustworthy those things we will show you?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Have you chosen a name by which you will be known within the circle?”

“I have chosen ‘Brother Oak’ as my magickal name.”

“So be it brother Oak, enter the path of light.”

Tobal was pulled forward into the circle but his guide sharply pulled him back.

“Brother Oak, You cant’ enter our sacred circle unpurified.”

Tobal waited, wondering what was going on. He felt water being sprinkled over him.

“I purify you with water.”

He suddenly smelled incense very strongly.

“I purify you with fire.”

The High Priestess continued, “Know this, you will not be asked to go against the inner voice of your conscience or against your higher soul by taking the oath of our sacred circle.” He felt the sharp point of a knife blade pressing painfully into his chest.

“It would be better to rush upon this blade than continue with fear in your heart. There are two passwords that will allow you entrance into our circle. What are they?”

Tobal whispered, “Perfect Love” and “Perfect Trust.”

The High Priestess smiled, “These are most welcome within our circle. I give you another.” She embraced Tobal and kissed him, her body pressed tightly against his. With her body she turned him around and pushed him into the circle. Then she led him stumbling clockwise around the fire coming to a sudden stop.

“Powers of the East. Brother Oak is properly prepared for initiation as Apprentice into our ancient craft.” He was led further and stopped again at another point. “Powers of the South. Brother Oak is properly prepared for initiation as Apprentice into our ancient craft.”

This was repeated two more times, once at the West and once at the North. Then she led him back near the center of the circle where he felt the heat from the bon fire against the front of his body. “You are about to be recognized as an Apprentice of our clan and circle. As an Apprentice you are expected to gain the skills to survive on your own in the wilderness. You are expected to take care of your own belongings and eventually set up your own household.

You are expected to solo for one month to prove your mastery of survival skills. Following that”, she continued, “you are expected to train six others even as you will be trained. You must do these things before you are allowed to progress into the 2nd degree of our ancient and holy craft. Do you understand this? Do you agree to do these things to the best of your ability?”

“I do,” said Tobal.

“In agreeing to these obligations you have passed the test required and may now take the Oath of our circle. Are you ready to continue?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Will you always help, defend and protect brothers and sister of our clan from harm?”

“I will.”

“Then repeat after me, I, Brother Oak, in the presence of the Lord and Lady, most solemnly swear I will keep the secrets of our clan. I will never refuse to share these secrets with a brother or sister if they have been initiated as I was. I further swear I will not loose control of my thoughts, words, or actions. I will not use my powers for evil purposes and I will proceed with firmness and courage to the conclusion of this initiation. I will let my inner conscience and higher self guide me in all ways. I further swear by my hopes of a future life, mindful that my measure will be taken. May my weapons be turned against me if I break this solemn oath. So help me, Lord and Lady and my own Higher Soul.”

“Now we are going to take your measure.”

Tobal felt the High Priestess and someone else stretch a cord from the top of his head to the ground and heard them cut it. Then the string was placed around his forehead and a knot tied as the measure was taken. Next he was asked to raise his arms and the string was placed around his heart where another measurement was taken and another knot tied in the cord. Lastly he felt the cord around his hips and genital area where a final measurement was taken.

The High Priestess wound up the string and placed it on an altar that stood near the fire. “Before you are sworn, are you willing to pass the ordeal?”

“I am willing,” Tobal answered.

A drum began to sound and he could hear the outer circle come alive as members began to dance and move around the circle. They gently pushed and nudged Tobal as they passed turning him until he was giddy and completely disoriented. This seemed to go on forever as a feeling of stuffiness, energy and heat within the circle became overpowering until the cone of power was raised. Tobal felt like he was about to faint.

Abruptly the High Priestess called a halt and turned Tobal back to face the bonfire.

“If you seek the light, you shall find it!” She shouted snatching the blind fold from his eyes.

He was momentarily blinded and couldn’t see.

“This bonfire is the symbol of the triumph of truth and wisdom. The light it gives is symbolic of the greater spiritual light you now seek.” Placing her hand on his head, she intoned, “In the name of the Lord and Lady, I transmit this blessing of love and light to stir your higher self and bring you into the light.”

A tingling and pouring of light and energy flowed through Tobal. It was so powerful he felt dizzy and happy at the same time.

The High Priest came up next placing his hand on Tobal’s head. “In the name of the Lord and Lady, I transmit this blessing of love and light to stir your higher self and bring you into the light.”

Again Tobal felt the tingling as a wave of energy swept through him. It was a different type of energy but just as powerful as the first. They felt different but somehow they also felt like they belonged together.

He felt himself being torn from his body and pulled into a vortex of energy that swirled him upward to be embraced in the arms of a man and woman of radiant light. This must be the Lord and Lady, he remembered thinking before he collapsed.

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Chapter 6

Tobal stood on flat rock at the cliff’s edge looking down into the valley. He could see the main camp being set up. He also saw some log cabins surrounded by teepee like structures and a smoking fire pit in the center of the camp itself. The people looked like ants from this distance.

He wondered how they were going to make it down into that guarded valley? He couldn’t see any possible way down from where he was standing.

Rafe said, “Don’t worry about it. I told you I know the way down. Just follow me.”

Tobal reshouldered his pack and took a last drink from his canteen. It was nearly empty. He turned and limpingly followed Rafe. He had not tied his boots tightly enough and his left heal was raw and blistered. Rafe had really chewed him out and treated him from the first aid kit. He had been reminded any open wound in the wilderness was very serious and could get infected easily if it wasn’t taken care of immediately. There was limited help available and he had to take better care of himself.

There was a faint two foot wide trail Rafe was leading him on. It sloped steeply downward and Tobal clung nervously to the rock face trying to keep his balance as Rafe scampered on ahead of him. The heat of the sun warmed the cliff face and had melted most of the snow off the trail. They didn’t need the snow shoes anymore and carried everything in backpacks. Rafe sprinkled sand on some of the slippery spots and Tobal used his walking stick to pound away the ice from stubborn areas.

The ledge widened into a real trail with boulders to climb over, hairpin turns, and stomach lurching drops before narrowing down again and hugging the cliff face so tightly that Tobal needed to move sideways along it. There were no handholds or supports and it was slow going made even slower by his extreme nervousness. He had never liked heights.

He half slid, half fell, but managed to stay on his feet. More than once the sturdy support of his walking stick helped him keep his balance. Rafe had long since disappeared down the trail and Tobal felt alone and abandoned. He went around a large boulder where the trail widened into a road and leveled out. He heard a scraping sound on the rock above him and looked up to see a large gray blanket being thrown over his head as he was roughly grabbed and thrown to the ground.

Tobal was bound and hoodwinked with his hands tied securely behind his back and then roughly shoved by at least two people that led him further down the path for almost thirty minutes. His foot hurt badly and he almost tripped and fell several times but rough hands caught and held him steady as he blindly staggered along.

He was abruptly pulled to a stop and heard a loud knocking three times that echoed and hurt his ears.

“Who is there?” A voice challenged.

“A prisoner, Master.”

“Where is he from?”

“Master, he is from Neo-Rome and comes by way of Old Seattle.”

“What is he doing here?”

“He is claiming sanctuary at Heliopolis, city of the sun.”

“What does he want from us?”

“He can not survive in the wilderness without our aid, he wishes for peace and seeks wisdom.”

“Let him confirm his intentions with an oath.” The deep voice continued. “If your intentions are truly honorable you will be set free and received as a brother into our clan. Is this your wish?”

Tobal nodded his head under the hoodwink.

“I can’t hear you,” the voice bellowed harshly. “You need to say ‘yes, you do’ or no, you don’t’.”

Tobal stammered in a muffled voice “Yes, I do wish to become a member of your clan.”

“That’s better,” the voice continued. “Repeat your name and say after me:

I, Tobal Kane, am a helpless prisoner in your power. I am a native of Neo-Rome and claim sanctuary at Heliopolis, the City of the Sun where I seek citizenship, light and truth. I come in peace. I further demand by right of blood full participation in the mysteries of the Lord and Lady. I swear to hold these mysteries sacred and secret. If I break this oath.”

The hoodwink was roughly lifted and a large chunk of rough bread covered with rock salt shoved in his mouth.

He started to gag but a fierce voice whispered in his ear, “Eat it.” As he struggled to swallow the deep voice continued.

“If I betray the bread and salt may my body be mutilated and thrown to the wolves.”

Panicking, he stammered his reply and felt the sharp pain of a knife point near his groin. Someone was cutting away the fabric of his robe and the bottom half fell to the ground around his knees. He felt very exposed and vulnerable.

“Release the prisoner!”

His arms were unbound and the hoodwink taken off. He blinked in the fierce sunlight and shivered in the cold as the wind swirled around his bare legs. He was standing in front of a teepee. The Master was standing in front of him dressed in a red robe and welcoming smile.

“Tobal Kane,” he said, “welcome to our clan.” The fiery figure stepped forward and embraced him in a crushing bear hug. “Come in, sit down! We greet you as a brother and a seeker after the hidden wisdom of Heliopolis.” They entered into the warm teepee and Tobal sat on some warm furs next to the cheerful fire in the center of circular structure.

The Master clapped his hands together loudly. “Proclaim the arrival of Tobal Kane to our entire camp!”

“Yes Master,” a black robed guard replied. Bowing stiffly he backed three steps before turning and leaving the teepee.

Tobal heard the guard shouting loudly, “Welcome Tobal Kane, the newest member of our clan!” Then he heard sounds of scattered applause, whoops and yells of welcome.

“The Master turned toward Tobal, “You will need the sign and password of our clan to enter our camp in the future. The pass word for the present month is…” and he whistled a tune that Rafe had been whistling from time to time.

“Before you leave I will give you the first of our teachings. Remember this and dwell upon it in the days to come.

Those that wish to be free must submit to some form of discipline and organization. This evening you will be initiated as an Apprentice and expected to complete the duties of an Apprentice. If you do not have the self discipline you will find your time among us very hard. Our goal is the development of self discipline and personal freedom. If you learn your skills well you will discover personal freedom and self empowerment that you have never dreamed of.

The rules of our clan are as strict as the rules of nature. A ‘Circle of Elders’ guides us in all things. Respect them and go to them for advice and counsel when you need to. Don’t worry about the apparent restrictions your obligations will place upon you. They are designed to free you and assist in the personal discovery of your own ‘True will’. In finding your own internal authority you will no longer need our external authority. That is when you can follow your true destiny in life. It is our wish you find your own internal Master and allow him to guide you in all things.

We have no way of knowing what your true destiny might be. You have the right to discover and follow your true path and none of us shall ever stop you. We will place power and knowledge in your hands. Remember you have made a solemn oath to us of your good will and intention.”

“Now,” the Master clapped his hands and smiled, “You need to be prepared for your Apprentice initiation.”

The Master and four black robed guards led him to another teepee that had a fire burning within it. Tobal was introduced to five others that were also going to be initiated that night. He was left there to share a light meal with his new comrades. Several hours later the Master and guards reappeared and addressed each of them.

“Do you wish to take the Apprentice Initiation?”

“It is my wish,” said Tobal solemnly along with the others.

“Then you need to be properly prepared. Guard!” The Master indicated toward Tobal and the others.

“Take these candidates to be prepared.”

The guard silently took the small group to a sweat lodge and told them to purify themselves first by the steam and then by diving into the pool of icy spring water that was close by. Tobal dropped his clothing with the others and walked naked into the sweat lodge. There were three girls and three boys but no one seemed to notice anything unusual about it.

Tobal sat in silence and meditation with the others for thirty minutes in the steam until the sweat was pouring off him. He had been instructed to choose a magickal name for himself. During this time he had also been instructed to think about why he wanted to become an Apprentice. His thoughts naturally turned toward his parents and how they had somehow wanted this for him.

The sweat poured off as his stiff muscles slowly loosened and relaxed. He felt clean and refreshed. He was also getting excited about the coming initiation. Two of the others had already left the sweat lodge but he still hadn’t decided upon a proper magickal name for himself. Suddenly it seemed his mother was whispering to him, “Brother Oak, you will be strong like an oak tree and help your brothers and sisters.”

After another five minutes in the steam he ran out and dived into the shallow pool of icy water gasping as the shock took his breath away. He staggered gasping out of the pool and ran into the main teepee where he grabbed a blanket and began rubbing his body furiously trying to bring the circulation back. He felt a bit strange and silly as he picked up his mutilated robe and put it back on. It was no longer a robe but more like a tunic that came down just barely below his waist. The cool air and a slight draft made him keenly aware of his lack of underwear. He made a mental note to make some as soon as possible. The unaccustomed draft made him feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

He laughed and moved nearer to the fire joining those already there. They joked about the coldness of the icy water and the draftiness of the shortened robes as they made room for him at the fire. That broke the ice and they chatted as one by one they were taken to their initiations. Finally Tobal was left alone in the teepee. He was warm by then and even opened the door flap and sat in the opening looking out as he waited.

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“You know what time of year it is don’t you?” He looked over at Tobal.

Tobal was puzzled, “It’s April.”

“That’s right,” Rafe said. “The full moon in March or early April is a very special time when we celebrate the beginning of spring and Osteria.”

“What’s Osteria? What’s that mean? I’ve never heard of anyone celebrating Osteria before.”

Rafe answered, “When we live in the woods we try living in harmony with nature. We try to understand the tides and energies of the seasons. Have you ever felt the energy of spring before, the energy of the spring thaw? Have you felt nature coming back to life again after the cold winter? When you tap into that energy it makes you feel alive and great! We study the natural forces of nature and how to adapt to them.

The yearly cycle has major festivals to celebrate the energy changes that are important to us. There are eight major festivals in the year. Four of them are solar festivals and four of them are lunar festivals. You will learn more about them later.”

“Consider yourself lucky to have your initiation during Osteria because it will give the added power of spring.”

“Anyway,” Rafe continued. “We are going to the gathering spot for the celebration and for your initiation into the clan. That way you’ll get to meet everybody. The gathering place is about 30 miles north of here.”

“What initiation?”

“Your official initiation into our clan as a brother. It is when you will be introduced and welcomed to the other members of our clan.”

“Our clan?”

“Forget it for now. We’ve got to get moving.” Rafe pulled out his map and laid it flat on the ground. He showed Tobal.

“You remember last night? You said we were right here,” He made a little mark on the map with his pencil. “Oh, by the way, don’t forget to make marks on these maps. Mark all of the places you want to remember.” Then he pointed to a spot on the map Tobal recognized as the campsite. Tobal nodded.

“OK,” said Rafe, “We spin the map around so it’s facing north just like before,” he spun the map around. “Have the string straight north like we did before. 30 miles is how far on the map?”

Tobal looked at the gridlines and did a quick calculation. “30 miles will put us right about here”. He pointed to a spot on the map about 3 inches north of their campsite. He noticed there was an “x” marked on Rafe’s map at that spot.

“That’s right,” Rafe chuckled. “What can you tell me about getting there?”

“What do you mean?” Tobal asked.

“Look at the map. Do we go in a straight line or what? Describe the terrain we need to cross.”

Tobal looked more closely at the map and noticed something strange. “What’s this,” he asked suddenly?

Rafe looked smug. “What are you talking about?”

“Well,” Tobal continued, “the lines get real close together and then there is just one thick dark line. It must be a cliff or ravine. Do we have to climb down a cliff?”

“That’s right,” Rafe grinned again. “We can’t go in a straight line to the gathering place. We can almost go in a straight line until we get to the cliff but then we need to find a way down into the valley from above. Fortunately I know the way down. It’s not too far out of our way and for all practical purposes, we will just head straight north today.”

“Now,” Rafe said, “take all the knots out of your cord. You will be tying new knots today.”

“New knots?” Tobal said blankly.

“That’s right, we don’t keep knots in the cord forever. We’re already where we wanted to be. The cord is a tool to get you where you want to be, not to tell you where you’ve been.”

“Oh,” Tobal said sheepishly.

“30 miles is how many knots in the cord?”

“60 knots,” said Tobal.

“Right and we’ve got a day and a half to do it.” Rafe got up. “Let’s get going.”

Three times Tobal saw deer in the distance. They were still herded and eating the browse on the smaller pine trees and scraping for fodder underneath the snow. They looked thin but Rafe told him they would start gaining weight soon when the last of the snow left.

As they snow shoed north toward the gathering place Rafe dug around in the snow and pointed out different plants. He explained their uses and showed Tobal how to make sure plants were safe to eat.

“Look,” Rafe said, “there are two ways of doing this. I can go along and point out all the things that are good to eat and all the things that are bad to eat or I can do something else. I’m going to teach you the right way. This is winter and there are not many plants around right now but in a month or two this entire area will be filled with things to eat. There will be times when you might be in a strange area or come upon a strange plant that you’ve never seen before. You might need something to eat. This one plant might be the difference between you starving or not starving. The first thing that you do with a plant you are not sure about is to pick a leaf and place it against your skin. Preferable soft skin like the skin on your belly which is more sensitive than the skin on other parts of your body.”

He dug in the snow and found a plant with some frozen leaves on it. “Hold this leaf against your belly held with a piece of cloth tied around your waist. Keep it there for a few hours and then check for signs of irritation or an allergic reaction. If you get a rash or it hurts, the chances are it is not good to eat. It might be usable for other things, but not to eat. We’ll talk about herbs for medicine later. Right now, we’re just finding food.”

Tobal took the leaf and cut a strip of gray cloth that Rafe handed him, tying the leaf against his belly as directed. Then they continued toward the gathering place. Two hours later they stopped to rest.

“Ok,” Rafe said. “Take a look at the leaf now.”

Tobal checked and there was no rash or irritation on his skin.

“The next step is to crumble them up so they are bruised and wet with sap. Now place them back against your skin,” Rafe directed.

Two hours later Rafe again asked him to check the leaf. Again there was no reaction as Tobal examined the skin on his stomach. All he could see was maybe a small red spot from the friction of rubbing. The skin was not tender and didn’t hurt or anything. He told Rafe everything was fine.

“Good, now put it in your mouth and taste it. Just taste it. If it tastes bitter or burns spit it out.”

Cautiously Tobal stuck his tongue out and tasted the leaf. Nothing happened, it just tasted like a plant.

“Now this is important. Go ahead and chew it 10 times, then spit it out.”

Tobal put the leaf back into his mouth and chewed 10 times. He could feel the flavor getting strong in his mouth. Hastily he spit the leaf out.

“It tastes like wintergreen,” he said.

“Yup,” Rafe laughed. “It’s wintergreen. Not much food value, but it has an oil that is flavorful. There aren’t many plants to eat yet so we will use what we can find.”

After he had spit out the leaf the taste stayed in his mouth as they continued. He felt his mouth go dry. Other than that there was no adverse reaction. Later Rafe gave him another leaf and told him to chew it 20 times and then hold it in his mouth. While it was strong tasting, the taste did not get any worse and after awhile became more bearable.

“That means you can probably eat the plant for food. Go ahead and swallow it.”

Tobal struggled to swallow the leaf and almost felt like throwing up.

“Don’t eat too much at a time if you are not used to it. You might get the runs.” Rafe grinned wickedly. “Getting the runs in the woods is not a very good idea.”

Tobal groaned weakly and managed to hold the leaf down. There was a knot in his stomach and he didn’t think he would be getting much nourishment from the leaf.

As they continued northward Rafe told him that wintergreen was not really a good plant to eat. It was mostly used for flavor and medical uses like making the stomach feel better. Rafe continued to dig out various plants and herbs as they went along. There was not much to find since it was early April and snow covered most of the area they were traveling. It was too early for any fresh vegetation.

They used some dried herbs Rafe had in his pack as seasoning in their jerky flavored soup that evening. Rafe pulled out a few tubes of food from sanctuary and combined it with jerky and herbs in the canteen cups. To Tobal’s surprise it was tasty and filling. They finished the meal with a steaming cup of wintergreen tea that was refreshing and pleasing.

Rafe pointed at Tobal’s pack. “There’s a book in your first aid kit about the plants that grow in this area. When you get the chance read it and study it. You need to know those plants and how to find them.”

Camp was in a small clearing much like the first one and Tobal went to bed early. He was exhausted. They had made about 20 miles and were looking forward to a fairly easy day tomorrow arriving at the gathering place in plenty of time for the celebration. He drifted off to sleep thinking about the next day and his coming initiation.

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Chapter 5

They headed toward Old Baldy. It was tougher than Tobal had thought. The terrain was broken and uneven making it impossible to walk in a straight line. The snow shoes were awkward and Tobal’s legs ached from the unaccustomed effort. He didn’t need the compass but headed as straight as he could toward Old Baldy and tried to keep track of his paces.

Most of the time he could keep the mountain in sight but sometimes there was deep brush and trees so thick he couldn’t see. That was when he pulled out the compass and used it as a guide to keep going in the right direction.

Rafe made them both snow goggles to protect their eyes from the fierce blinding glare of the snow. These were simple strips of gray fabric with narrow slits cut in them and tied over their eyes. Without them they could have suffered snow blindness.

It wasn’t long before Tobal completely lost track of how many paces they had gone. Rafe told him when they reached the first half mile. Tobal kept better count after that and by the second mile his count was close to Rafe’s. He was in the lead so he could use the compass and find his direction. It allowed him to set the pace.

The terrain changed the further they traveled. It had been meadow around the city-state but as they got closer to the mountain it became more forested and rocky. Rafe cut a walking stick for Tobal and showed him how to use it to save his balance and help get over some of the rougher spots.

“Uneven ground like this is really dangerous,” Rafe said seriously. “You could break a leg or worse. A walking stick can help keep your balance and test for weak spots in the snow and ice before you step into them. With a heavy pack you are top heavy and the walking stick gives you something to lean against.”

They stopped a few times to rest and drink water from the canteens. The water tasted terrible, but Rafe made him drink it anyway.

“It’s easy to get dehydrated out here. You should drink about two gallons of water a day when you are living outdoors like we are.”

Later Tobal realized he was so thirsty he didn’t mind the weird taste. It just felt good having something wet to drink. The afternoon wore on and getting toward sunset. He had just finished tying his eighth knot and looked around uneasily. Theoretically he should be close to where they were going to camp for the night. He said as much to Rafe.

“Hey, shouldn’t we be close to the creek? I have my eight knots. I think we’ve come four miles. Where is the creek?”

“You do, do you?” Rafe said, grinning widely, “Do you see any place that looks like it would make a good campsite?”

Tobal looked around more closely. There was a clearing ahead, a small open area off to the left that sloped down toward a line of thick brush. Then he saw it.

“There’s a creek!” He pointed excitedly toward the line of brush. He could hear the water in the distance.

Rafe chuckled, “Right where the map said it was, isn’t it? You did a good job for a newbie, only a quarter mile off. That’s not bad at all.”

Together they hiked over to the creek. It was a small creek with clear icy water that was run off from Old Baldy. It tasted fresh and clear. Tobal asked why the creek was not frozen.

“It was frozen earlier,” Rafe said. “Now it gets above freezing during the day and just below freezing at night. Because the water is moving so fast it does not freeze anymore. It will remain flowing now until next winter.”

They emptied the old water and refilled their canteens. The air near the creek was fresh with the tang of spring thaw but Tobal knew it was going to be a cold night. He felt elated but also tired and exhausted from the day’s journey. He was hungry and asked Rafe when they were going to eat.

“First thing is to set up camp,” Rafe told him. “Then you can eat. Set up a shelter, get your fire going, and then you cook food if you have it. First we’ve got to find a good place for a campsite. I’m going to take it easy on you tonight. It’s not going to rain so we can sleep out under the stars. Our sleeping bags will keep us warm enough if we set up our fire near a boulder or rock so it reflects the heat back onto us, We will need to keep it going because it’s going to get cold tonight.”

“This will make a good spot.” He said walking over to a rock out cropping on an otherwise fairly level area clear of brush. We build the fire here. First dig a trench in the snow so we are down out of the wind. Use your snow shoes to shovel.”

Together they scooped an area clear in front of a rock outcropping and set their packs down.

“Now we’ve got to find some firewood before it get dark,” Rafe told him. “Look for old dead branches that are not lying on the ground. We need wood small enough to cut up or break by hand.”

ogether they gathered quite a bit of wood including pieces from a splintered log that had fallen against another tree and not touched the ground. The wood was dry and they were able to break off some of the bigger branches. This would help hold the fire overnight.

“Next the fire,” Rafe said, crouching in the snow near a small pile of the wood they had found. “We’ve got to have tinder to get the fire going.”

He pulled some tinder out of his pack and Tobal watched as he skillfully used the fire starter, shaving pieces of magnesium with his knife into the small pile of tinder. Then he struck sparks along the side of the fire starter by rubbing it with his knife blade. Some of the sparks landed in the pile of dry tinder. Rafe blew carefully on those sparks and they brightened and turned into a small flame. Carefully nursing the flame with small dry twigs, he slowly added larger pieces until there was a roaring blaze.

“We’ll let that burn for awhile,” said Rafe with satisfaction. “Now we’ve got to get our beds made. Got your knife? Cut some small branches from these pine trees to sleep on. No one in their right mind sleeps on the ground if they can help it. Make a mattress about one foot deep. It will create an air cushion underneath so you won’t get so cold. If you do it right, it’s like sleeping on a bed.”

Tobal had never heard of anything like that. He had his doubts but went ahead following Rafe’s lead, cutting pine boughs and lacing them together into an enormous mound that smelled of fresh pine.
“Now take the blanket you are using as a poncho. It won’t matter if it gets dirty. Lay it down over the pine boughs to keep the pitch from getting on your clothing and sleeping bag. Put your sleeping bag on top of that and use your last blanket if you need to.”

Tobal did as he was told, sat down and stretched out over his blanket and sleeping bag. An incredulous smile raced across his face.
“Hey, this is great!” He bounced up and down. “This is just like a bed.”

Rafe chuckled and started fixing the evening meal. He took both canteen cups and filled them with water. Then he put some jerky in them and made a stew adding wild onions, wild potatoes and other herbs that he pulled out of his pack. The smell of cooking stew made Tobal crazy with hunger. All in all, Tobal thought as he finished the meal, licking the last drop out of the canteen cup, it was one of the best meals he had ever eaten. It was filling and really hit the spot as well. He thanked Rafe for sharing his rations.

Rafe said, “Tomorrow, you’re going to find your own food. The next meal will be on you, but we did enough for today. Better get some sleep.”

Tobal crawled into his bed. It was against the rock face and heat from the fire reflected back from the rock and warmed him from both sides so he was toasty warm. The melting snow lay somewhere hidden beneath the thick pile of pine boughs. His eyes closed and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pack. He sank into a deep dreamless sleep.

The smell of baking fish woke him up. Rafe had gotten up ahead of him and managed to catch some fish.

Tobal laughed and asked, “How did you catch fish?”

Rafe just shook his head, grinned and said, “I set some traps last night and checked them this morning. We got a good batch of fish for breakfast. You got lucky today,” his eyes twinkled mischievously.

“Will you teach me how to catch fish?” Tobal asked.

Rafe looked soberly at him. “There is only so much you can learn in a day. Relax a little. It will come at it’s own pace. We’ve got to take it easy, but we will get there. The way I figure, it will take a month to learn what you need. Then you can solo for a month. We’re doing pretty well right now. You go ahead and enjoy your breakfast.

The first week of being in the woods will wipe you out. It will take awhile to build your strength and stamina. So these first few days I’m going to take it easy on you. After that, you better look out.”

The fish were wrapped with herbs and baked in the fire. He tore into the trout and washed it down with water from his canteen. He couldn’t remember anything that tasted so good and he really felt alive. The morning air felt crisp and chill with a slight breeze. It was going to be a good day.

“What are we going to do today?” He asked.

“Well,” said Rafe, “I don’t know if you noticed last night but it is almost the full moon. Every full moon we have a big get together.”

“How many of us are out here?” Tobal interrupted.

“Oh, it varies. There are somewhere between 150 and 200 of us out here. Sometimes we see each other and sometimes we don’t,” Rafe answered. Then he continued as if Tobal hadn’t said anything, “We have our meetings, social time, get-togethers and parties. We share stories and connect with each other. We also share the latest gossip.” He laughed. It’s also when we initiate newbies like you.”

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Chapter 4

Adam Gardner was very effective in making travel arrangements and in a few hours Tobal found himself with a full stomach, refreshed and once more on an airbus heading toward what he fervently hoped was his final destination.

It was mid April and the sun was shining brightly as the airbus flew east toward the Rocky Mountains. Patches of snow grew the farther they flew until it covered everything in an unbroken blanket. From the air he could see deer sheltered in valleys and herded together for protection against natural predators such as the timber wolf and mountain lion.

Hardwood trees looked like skeletal ghosts as they raised leafless arms to the heavens. There were patches of them scattered like occasional cemeteries hidden within the deep pine forests. The airbus flew low enough that Tobal could make out an occasional fox or wolf. Flying over the wilderness made him realize how far from civilization and the Federation he was going. The pines were dark green and the boughs weighed heavily with snow and blocked all efforts to see the ground beneath. It was almost an hour before he caught his first glimpse of Heliopolis.

From the air the city-state looked huge and modern. He saw one huge complex that must be the living quarters. There was a large open agricultural area and a wooded park. They were all within tall imposing walls that encircled the city itself. To Tobal it didn’t look much different than any other modern city-state he had visited.

As the airbus descended he was surprised the pilot was not taking him into the city but dropping him outside of it into a snow covered courtyard.

“There you go son.” The airbus driver told him cheerfully, “Take care of yourself, they’re a bit strange here. Don’t really see much of anybody. Haven’t been here that much and I don’t want to either.”

The driver opened the door and Tobal stepped outside into the cold winter landscape. It was one o’clock in the afternoon on April 13. The airbus took off leaving Tobal standing in a cloud of snow just outside the high walls.

Tobal began looking for some way into the city. Not finding any, he spied a small building near the edge of the woods about 100 yards away from the wall. He waded through knee high snow toward the windowless dome like structure. There was an arched doorway with a faded snow covered sign.

The snow was so bright it hurt his eyes and he had to squint against it. As he came nearer he made out the word “Sanctuary”. He recalled the letter from his parents had mentioned claiming sanctuary. Somewhat reassured, he entered the portal that opened silently at his approach and stepped inside. It was dim and his eyes took time adjusting to the faint light. He kicked the snow off his boots onto the gleaming tiled floor. To the left, he saw a computer terminal. A light on the consul was flashing urgently.

He walked over to examine the terminal more closely. As he neared it, a disembodied voice came from somewhere near the terminal base.

“Welcome, Welcome.”

“Do you seek Sanctuary in Heliopolis, the city of the sun?” The same words scrolled across the screen.

“Do you seek Sanctuary in Heliopolis, the city of the sun?” A prompt flashed on the screen “Say Yes or No.”

“Yes,” Tobal said. “I claim sanctuary.”

“Then enter here,” an oval door slid open to reveal a small interior lighted room. The door slid closed behind him as soon as he stepped completely into the room.

“What is your name?”

The voice intoned, it was now coming from somewhere ahead of him. What followed was a grueling 70 minute question and answer session in which the computer questioned Tobal about every area of his past and present. There was no place to sit and it was uncomfortable but he was committed at this point. There were questions he could not answer, but that did not bother the computer. Finally the computer turned silent as it processed the information. After a short time it spoke again.

“You must go through processing before you can enter sanctuary. Processing will include detailed medical and psychological examinations. These will be automated. The purpose of these examinations is to ensure the current state of your health. In addition, the information will allow us to better understand your needs and abilities. This will aid us in determining how you will best fit into our society. These examinations will take place within this building and last approximately two days.”

One wall of the small room slid open and a voice prompted him to enter and begin the medical examination. The wall slid closed behind him and he found himself in a small hallway. Another wall section slid open to the right and he stepped into another small room. A drawer slid out from the wall as the voice continued.

“Please place your clothing and personal items into the drawer. You can not take any items into the examinations. Place your items here for safe keeping. They will be returned to you after you have entered Heliopolis.”

Tobal stripped and placed his clothing and boots into the drawer. He carefully placed the medallion under some clothes where it would be hidden and then pushed slightly on the drawer. His plan was to leave the drawer slightly open and retrieve his things after the medical examination. To his horror the drawer kept moving and slid shut with a forbidding “click”. Panicking, he tried to open the drawer and failed. There was no handle and it was almost impossible to see the faint lines indicating it was there at all. He pounded on the wall but it refused his efforts and the drawer remained closed.

“Give me back my medallion,” He sobbed pounding on the unforgiving wall. His voice echoed around the small room and in his ears.

“You may proceed with the medical examination now. We will be starting with a shower.”

A small shower nozzle emerged from the ceiling and began spraying him with tepid soapy water that left his eyes stinging and his lungs gasping for breath. This was followed by a rinse of cold water as distinctly unpleasant as the jets of air that dried him off.

Realizing the futility of further resistance and wiping back an angry tear Tobal finally gave up and concentrated on what lie ahead. He moved from cubicle to cubicle and was given an exhaustive physical exam that lasted several hours. Then he was given a small silver bracelet and instructed to wear it at all times. It was a med-alert bracelet that monitored his physical health and acted as a locating device so he could be found in an emergency.

After the physical examination, he began a series of mental and psychological tests that seemed to last forever. Small breaks were given with food and water appearing out of the wall just like the drawer had. Twice he slept on a cot that slid out of the wall. The first things he learned were the controls to activate the food and water. The bathroom and shower were the next. He lost all sense of time and for two days was moved from one cubicle to another, problem solving, analyzing and doing test questions on a computer screen or taking objects apart and putting them back together again in demonstrations of physical dexterity.

After two days of wearing nothing but a silver bracelet, Tobal was relieved when a drawer opened containing clothing. There was a gray woolen robe that reached to the floor, folded gray blankets of the same material, a pack, a sleeping bag and a pair of hiking boots with several pair of socks. He was busy tying his new boots when a final door opened with a cold draft and the computer voice said.

“Welcome to Sanctuary.”

As the door closed behind him Tobal found himself in dim light standing between rows of sleeping cots. It was a dormitory of some sort. His legs started trembling and he sat down on one of the cots. It was hard and uncomfortable like molded plastic or ceramic. Still shaken by his experience of the past two days, he wondered what he should do now. Sanctuary was not what he had expected and he had not seen another living soul. He was nervous and wondering when he would be getting his medallion back.

His eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom and he heard a noise in the corner to his right. Moving closer he saw two of the cots were occupied by sleeping figures. Against the wall he saw another food and water dispenser. To the right was the restroom and shower area. He walked around exploring each area in the dim light. He didn’t see any exits and it smelled like a locker room.

Moving over to the food and water dispenser he tried some of the food and nearly gagged. The machine dispensed soft chewy bars the consistency of glued together oatmeal. It was cold and distinctly unpleasant with a wicked aftertaste that stayed long after the food was gone. He grabbed a paper cup filled with water trying to get the taste out of his mouth. The water had a strong plastic taste and odor that made it just as unpleasant as the food bar. While it was wet, it was not at all satisfying. Again he sat down on the nearest cot and tried to think. So this was sanctuary. Just what was Sanctuary? What had he gotten himself into?

There had to be a way out. He walked slowly around the room brushing his hand against the wall and in the darkest corner noticed something he had missed before. He entered the darkness and turned a corner that was barely visible. A light was glowing weakly and he moved cautiously toward it in the gloom. The light seemed to be flashing and oddly familiar. As he came closer he recognized it as the terminal he had first encountered on entering the building. At his approach it sprang to life and asked.

“Do you seek sanctuary in Heliopolis, the city of the sun?”

“Hey, what’s the matter?” “Everything ok?”

Tobal heard someone come up behind him and start shaking him on the shoulder. He looked up and there was a smaller tow haired boy with a shock of yellow hair grinning impishly. His face full of mischief.

“What’s wrong?”

Tobal replied miserably waving his hand toward the hidden doorway behind the terminal.

“I lost all my things. It took my things, my medallion that my parents left me.”

“Don’t worry about that,” the boy said, “you’ll get your stuff back after you become a citizen.”

“Become a citizen?” Tobal asked.

“Yeah, first you claim sanctuary, then after completing the training you are granted citizenship.”

“You mean I can’t get into the city right away?” Tobal asked anxiously.

The tow haired boy laughed, “Hey, that’s a good one! Didn’t your parents tell you anything?”

“My parents are dead.”

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He paused and took a sip of brandy before continuing. “ The holy men and women of the earth’s religions knew these techniques and passed them on in secret to a select few. The Gods and Goddesses of all religions were once human. After they learned these techniques they became ‘divine’ and transcended normal human life. Later they were worshipped as Gods and Goddesses.

Can you imagine the military application of such super human abilities? Imagine spies and assassins that can’t be stopped or caught. Do you understand what I am saying? Phase III was insignificant compared to Howling Wolf’s bi-location process.

Your parents refused to cooperate any longer with the harmful studies because of the mutagenic effect it had on the human DNA. Several volunteers had already died horrible deaths. The Federation found out about our secret group and panicked. They sent in Special Forces and massacred our entire village hoping to kill every one of us.”

Adam’s throat caught and his voice faltered. “Many innocent lives were lost. Not just those in the sanctuary program. My wife was murdered and my two older children. Howling Wolf’s entire family was living in the village and they were murdered too. Only two of his grandchildren survived and that was because they were with us. We were at a secret meeting and had taken you, Sarah, and Howling Wolf’s two grandchildren with us. I was taking care of the four of you. The rest were in a meeting when it happened.”

“When we came back,” his voice faltered and there were tears in his eyes, “When we came back they were all dead. Your father and mother went to find your uncle. He was the Federation officer in charge of Phase III. They never came back. They took you with them. Howling Wolf’s son and daughter-in-law were hunted down and executed. The rest of us vanished. Howling Wolf took his remaining grandchildren and I took Sarah. She doesn’t know she had two older brothers.”

“We went back in secret and buried our loved ones. Several times they almost caught us but we slipped through them like ghosts,” he laughed hollowly and without humor, “That’s what we were, ghosts burying ghosts.”

His fist clenched, “That’s what they were too, if we ever caught them. We wanted to stay but the children were not safe and needed protection. We waited for word from your parents but no word ever came. Howling Wolf was going to keep an eye on things and keep our secret meeting place from being discovered. We knew how to contact each other in an emergency. I was going to get money for the supplies to rescue your parents if they were still alive.”

“That’s all I know,” he said wearily sitting back in his chair. “Howling Wolf never contacted me. They must have hunted him down and killed him too. I don’t see how he could have survived.”

Adam peered at Tobal over his spectacles. “Now you tell me there is renewed interest in your parent’s research. I’ve thought about this for a long time. I’ve always wanted Sarah to go through the sanctuary program. I’m getting too old to train her myself. Knowing that you will be there makes me feel better about Sarah going. I will send her next fall after the tourist season.”

“Can you bi-locate,” Tobal asked in awe?

The old man nodded gruffly, “Howling Wolf and your parents taught me.”

“Can Sarah?”

Adam sighed and took another sip of brandy. “No she can’t. She needs to go through the sanctuary program first for the preliminary training. After that I can train her.”

“Will you train me,” Tobal asked hopefully?

Adam took a long time before answering. He bent forward and his steely eyes looked straight into Tobal’s soul. “Get through the sanctuary program first and then ask me. If it is still what you want, then I will train you. I owe your parents that much. Make sure Sarah gets through her training too.”

Tobal was overwhelmed by the information and needed some time to think. He believed the old man, but he also felt the old man was not telling the entire story. He excused himself and said he needed to go for a walk down by the park and clear his head.

The sun was high and it was almost noon when Sarah came to get him for lunch. She was shy and awkward in social situations. Tobal guessed she didn’t get around much and was surprised she was being home schooled. To be home schooled in today’s high tech society was unheard of. As they walked back to the shop for lunch he wondered how good her education really was.

Sarah and Tobal spent a lot of time together and became good friends. She was interesting to talk with and certainly knew far more about history than he did. The days crept by and early March brought heavy snows that made a mess in Old Seattle where traffic was foot traffic. Sidewalks were kept shoveled clear but the streets were left to melt on their own. Getting around on foot made travel hazardous. They spent most of the time inside the store or visiting other shops.

One day they went to New Seattle. It was like any modern city-state he had ever visited. It was lacking in personality and created to satisfy its population with passive pleasures like virtual gaming tournaments and interactive learning terminals linking people from all across the globe. Like many city-states if followed the European pattern of stacking people like sardines in limited living quarters. That was balanced with large parks, recreational areas and gardens where a person could spend time alone in nature without ever leaving the city itself.

It was Old Seattle that was a breath of fresh air to Tobal with its strange shops and residents. The entire area was filled with people that dared to be different and creative. Each person was living their own self-created reality and prospered or reduced to poverty on the merits of their vision and efforts. Old Seattle survived on the seasonal tourist trade. Still, it was surprising how much business it drew even in the slower months of winter and late spring.

There was a darker side to the city as well and they tried to steer clear of it. Drugs and prostitution had found a home in the old city along with other illegal activities not allowed within New Seattle. There were dangers that beckoned with shadowy fingers. This was an area of human predators and there was little protection from the law. Tobal realized why there were iron bars and heavy reinforced doors on most of the homes and shops.

The freedom of the old city came at a heavy price. That price was no medical or police service. It simply was not available even though one could go through the gate into New Seattle and have instant service. New Seattle did not want people living in Old Seattle and did not support its occupants. The local community united together to provide emergency service and transportation when needed. They looked out for each other through a neighborhood watch program.

Sarah and Adam lived in a fairly safe and respectable neighborhood but even she was concerned when they were followed home one snowy night by a shadowy figure they couldn’t quite make out. They never did know if it was a friend making sure they got home safely or a predator. The mysterious figure vanished into the snowy night when they reached the shop entrance.

Tobal spent a lot of time talking with Adam. One afternoon he was helping set up a new display in the shop.

“Where does all this stuff come from,” he asked? “How do you find things like this?”

The old man answered evasively. “They are just hand crafted items here on consignment. I know the people that make them and have an exclusive trade agreement with them. While I get a commission on each sale, I don’t really know the history of each piece.”

He eyed Tobal speculatively and continued, “Several times a year I take some time off to restock my supply. When I’m gone Sarah takes care of the shop for me. That’s why I’m going to miss her so much when she leaves.”

“Have you ever heard of Tavistock Educational?”

“Hmm, yes I think I have. Why,” Adam asked?

“That’s my old school. I graduated from there.” He paused and corrected himself. “I mean this spring is my graduation but I graduated early.” “Anyway”, he flushed, “last Halloween we had a costume ball and I was wondering if our theatrical department got its costumes from you. This shop reminds me of the costumes we were wearing.”

Adam Gardner eyed him shrewdly. “Your uncle must do pretty well to send you to an exclusive school like Tavistock Educational. It’s a very hard school to get into and I’ve never heard of anyone graduating early from it. I’ve heard it’s real high society, not like your parents at all.”

Tobal persisted, “Did the school get the costumes from you?”

Adam relented and said mysteriously, “Yes, they have an account with me and are one of my good customers. There are not many places that can afford high quality reproductions. I move in some pretty elite circles myself.” Then he changed the subject.

Adam also proved evasive about the medallion, especially when Tobal told him that he had seen the same image as a tattoo on Uncle Harry’s chest. Adam said there were some things he couldn’t talk about. Maybe later after Tobal completed the sanctuary program they could sit down and talk. It was just not the right time. There were some things that could only be told after he received the proper training.

“There are some things just too dangerous to talk about right now,” he told Tobal. “I haven’t been to Heliopolis in over fifteen years and they think I’m dead. I want them to keep thinking I’m dead. I don’t know if things have changed and I don’t want to endanger Sarah when she is taking the Phase I training this fall.”

“Tell you what,” he said. “ You come back here with Sarah after you’ve completed the sanctuary program and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.” He looked hard at Tobal, “Will you trust me on that?”

Tobal didn’t have much choice. “I guess I will have to”, he muttered dryly.

Soon after that the old man made arrangements for transportation to the closed city-state of Heliopolis. It was about 80 miles from the coast into the Rockys. Heliopolis lay in a sheltered valley between mountains and was hidden by hard wood trees, ringed with dense pine forests and shaded by snow capped mountains.

Tobal and Adam had one last talk in private before he left. Adam told him more about Heliopolis. It did not follow the accepted rules of the Federation. Tobal was reminded he would not have the same civil rights he enjoyed now. Heliopolis was a separate sovereign nation. He needed to be very careful.

Tobal was getting a little worried until Adam reminded him that Sarah would be coming next fall and she would need his friendship and help. It was a high honor to apply for sanctuary. No one was turned away but it was so secret few people knew they could apply. It was limited to word of mouth and generations of family members that had already gone through the training themselves.

Adam had been a citizen of Heliopolis before Tobal’s parents changed everything with their research. He remembered how Heliopolis had been before it became a closed city-state. His wife and two sons were buried back there and some day he wanted to go back and visit their graves. He was bitter about it because under the current political conditions he would never be able to go back.

His older citizenship was no longer recognized and his life would be in danger if he tried. Sarah’s life would be in danger if they knew who she really was. She would come under a false identity. He hoped Sarah would be able to visit her mother’s grave. She didn’t know about her two older brothers and he needed to talk to her about them before she left. His voice faltered as he was telling Tobal these things. Tobal knew it would be very hard for Adam to share these things with Sarah.

There was not much else to say and Tobal silently gave the old man a hug. Then they went downstairs to find Sarah. It was almost time to go.

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