By Steve Carr
The shimmering silver underbelly of the enormous ship broke through the dense, dark clouds as it descended into the gale force winds that swept the planet’s surface. Eight large metallic legs with claw-like feet extended out from the sides of the ship. Plumes of vapor shot out of vents that encircled the perfectly round saucer-like craft. As the feet touched the ground they gripped the dark red soil and the ship came to a complete stop. A ramp slowly slid out of the ship’s side, reaching to the ground. A moment later a portal covered with a transparent membranous curtain opened at the top of the ramp and Sister Banca stepped out, flanked on each side by a nine foot tall Lyxonian. She carried in her arms a red box that glowed brightly in the dim light of the storm.
At the bottom of the ramp she and the Lyxonians looked up as a piercing screech sounded from within the clouds. With its dark purple leathery wings spread, jagged teeth barred and front talons outstretched, the dragon burst through the clouds, diving straight for them.
Simultaneously the Lyxonians quickly removed their weapons from their belts and aimed it at the dragon. Sister Banca shifted the box to one arm and reached out her hand and placed it gently on the skeletally thin orange arm of one of the Lyxonians. Immediately the Lyxonians lowered their weapons.
The dragon pulled in its talons, swooped upward and disappeared into the clouds.
Holding the box close to her chest, with the wind ripping at her blood red habit, Sister Banca and the Lyxonians crossed the drawbridge to the open gates of the convent.
Standing at the gate, Sister Glary said, “Welcome home, Sister Banca. We pray your trip was successful.”
“I must see Mother Superior immediately,” Sister Banca said.
She nodded to the Lyxonians who then in unison turned and walked back across the bridge, headed back toward their ship.
Sister Glary closed and locked the gates, hit the lever to raise the bridge, and then followed Sister Banca down the stone path to the convent doors and then inside.
The long corridor was lit by white orbs of light that floated in midair beneath the Gothic hammer beamed ceiling. The orbs cast flickering shadows on the statues of sisters dating back two thousand years standing in alcoves in the walls. Except for the swooshing of the hem of the habits of the two sisters brushing the stone floor, the convent was silent.
The large wooden double doors with round polished brass handles opened just as the sisters reached it. At the open doorway, they genuflected.
Sitting in a throne-like chair behind a desk made from a large slab of stone and covered in white lace, the mother superior lifted her hand. “Rise and enter,” she said.
Sister Banca raced up to the desk and placed the box in front of the mother superior. “These are the ones we have been seeking, and found just in time,” she said excitedly.
Mother Superior crossed her arms, inserting her hands in the sleeves of her habit. “We have thought that many times before,” she said. “Did they pass the first test?”
“Yes, Reverend Mother,” Sister Banca said. “They’re humanoid, but their power of empathic thought is the strongest I’ve ever seen, especially the female. They will make great leaders.”
“Open the box,” Mother Superior said.
Sister Banca unlatched the box and slowly raised the lid. A rainbow of color shot out of the box.
Mother Superior let out a scream of pain and put her hands to her temples. “Close it now,” she cried out.
“I’m sorry, Reverend Mother,” Sister Banca said as she slammed down the lid.
Wiping beads of perspiration from her cheek with the back of her hand, Mother Superior said, “How is it possible that they can possess so much emotional knowledge at their stage of development?”
“The Lyxonians found their mothers on an obscure, dying planet at the edge of the galaxy. Nothing is known about the lineage of the embryos, but it doesn’t matter. As you can see, unlike all the others they communicate feelings even in their cryogenic state,” Sister Banca said.
Slowly standing, Mother Superior turned toward the large stained glass window behind her chair and looked out. Two bright green dragons were circling a twister that skimmed across the barren landscape.
“It does matter,” she said. “We can’t jeopardize the sisterhood’s sole purpose for existing by making any mistakes in what embryos are selected.” She turned around and looked at the two sisters. “Take these two to the nursery and I will think on it.”
Sister Banca picked up the box. “Yes, Reverend Mother,” she said.
She walked out of the room with Sister Glary following behind.
“I had never seen the reverend mother look so frightened by the power of any of the embryos before,” Sister Glary said.
“Me neither,” Sister Banca said as she tightly hugged the box.
The two sisters descended the long winding stairs to the cavernous nursery. There, 1400 large glass bottles filled with liquid, each containing an embryo, egg or other unborn life form from pairs of seven hundred different sentient beings gathered from seven hundred planets in the galaxy were being tended to by the ten other sisters in the order.
As Sister Glary stopped to record in the log the arrival of the new embryos, Sister Banca carried the box down a long aisle until she found two empty bottles. She set the box aside and unscrewed the tops of the bottles and placed the lids on the table beside them. Using tubing that ran from a network of tubing she filled the bottles with life sustaining fluid that also prohibited continued development of the unborn. She then opened the box and immediately staggered backwards a few steps.
I know, she thought, fighting off the urge to scream out in pain. There’s nothing to fear. We’ll keep you safe.
The pressure on her brain eased and she stepped up to the box. The two humanoid embryos were each in a large transparent tube with dials and thermostats affixed to them to control their cryogenic state. She slowly changed the settings on the tube containing the male embryo to gradually prepare it for transition to the bottle, and then emptied the embryo into the bottle and screwed on the lid. She turned on the monitor attached to the bottle and watched as the readings for the embryo’s temperature, blood chemistry and heart rate lit up on the monitor.
Doing the same thing with the female embryo, she said to it soothingly, “Don’t worry. Your birth mother wasn’t harmed. Her memory of your existence was erased. You have a greater destiny now to fulfill.”
She stared at the two embryos floating in the fluid and placed her hands on the bottles. The thoughts and emotions emitted by the embryos coursed through her body like electric currents that ended in her mind.
Standing at the small square window of her cell, Sister Banca watched dragons rise out of and disappear into the black mountains that stretched out across the near horizon. Their guttural calls and high pitched screeching echoed across the desolate landscape. When there was a knock on her cell door, she turned around. “Come in,” she said.
The door opened. Sister Mayna, the oldest sister in the convent, and Sister Glary, came into the cell, shutting the door behind them. Sister Mayna sat on Sister Banca’s cot and placed her wrinkled hands in the folds in the lap of her habit.
“This sisterhood has been existence for over two thousand years,” she said, her voice quivering with age. “We have had only one purpose.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Sister Banca said.
Sister Glary put her finger to her lips. “Quietly, we must not be overheard.”
Lowering her voice to a whisper, Sister Mayna said, “Reverend Mother wants to delay the loading of the Lyxonian ark that brought you here and sits waiting for the unborn.”
“Why?” Sister Banca, said. “I’m certain the two embryos I just returned with are the ones the sisterhood has been seeking and the forecasted time of the galactic cataclysm is upon us.”
Sister Mayna lowered her whispered voice even more, to the point of almost being inaudible. “She has doubts.”
“Doubts?” Sister Banca said.
“About the forecast, the mission of the sisterhood, and the last two embryos you brought in. All of it,” Sister Mayna said.
“She said this to you?” Sister Banca said.
Sister Mayna raised her hands and clasped them. “During meditations, she spoke it aloud.”
Sister Banca sat on the cot next to Sister Mayna. “Except for the first ones, all sisters were selected from the unborn kept in the nursery just as we keep the unborn now. It’s in our power, as it’s in the power of every unborn that is chosen, to know empathically what the future has in store for the entire universe and beyond. How can Reverend Mother have doubts?”
“She has been Reverend Mother for over a hundred years. She fears a future that doesn’t include her,” Sister Mayna said.
Seated at the long dinner table, as she put spoonfuls of soup in her mouth, Sister Banca glanced sideways at Mother Superior who was in her chair at the head of the table. The other eleven sisters around the table ate quietly, keeping their heads bowed over their bowls. Two light orbs hovered above the table, bathing the sisters in soft light. A large stained glass window at the end of the dinning room looked out at the glowing green, full moon poised above the black mountains. Silhouettes of dragons glided through the moonlit sky. Wind buffeted the window, causing it to tremble.
Sister Banca placed her spoon next to her bowl, cleared her throat, and said, “Forgive me Reverend Mother, but the time is upon us to begin loading the ark.”
Mother Superior bit into a small piece of bread, slowly chewed it and then swallowed. “I alone will make the decision when it’s time, Sister Banca,” she said sternly.
The other sisters stopped eating, looked first at the mother superior, then back to Sister Banca.
As a shadow of a dragon crossed the window, Sister Banca slowly stood up. “There is no time left to wait,” she said. “Just as the prophecy in the great book is written, all the planets in the galaxy will face never ending storms and upheavals in the months and days before the great cataclysm. The Lyxonians have assisted us these many centuries because we alone have a plan for saving every dominant, sentient race in the galaxy by sending an ark with superior beings untainted by war and hatred through a dark hole into another galaxy. They will not understand the delay.”
Mother Superior smacked her hand down hard on the table, causing the bowls and cups to rattle. “You have forgotten your station, Sister Banca,” she said. “It’s not for you to recite our mission to me. The Lyxonians do our bidding, as they always have.” She took another bite of the bread. “Now, sit down.”
Sister Banca pushed her chair back and rushed out of the room.
The violent wind saturated with ice crystals whipped Sister Banca’s habit as she ran down the walkway to the convent gates. She released the lever to lower the drawbridge and then opened the gate and stared into the dark, dry moat as the bridge lowered into place. By the time she ran across the bridge, six Lyxonians were standing there, waiting.
She placed her hand on the arm of the one nearest to her. Mother Superior has forgotten her vows. I will open the doors to the nursery and you must quickly load the unborn into the ark and take off while there is still time.
All six Lyxonians nodded in unison.
At that moment a dragon swooped down from the turbulent sky carrying an egg in its two front talons. It laid the eggs a few yards from where Sister Banca and the Lyxonians were standing and then rose up in the air where it flapped its wings, staying in place.
Sister Banca nodded toward the eggs, and placed her hand on the Lyxonian’s arm. Take them with the others and raise all of them to live without hate.
The dragon ascended and then flew off, headed toward the mountains.
In the chapel, Mother Superior stood at the altar with tears streaming down her face. Hazy morning light streamed in through a stained glass window, casting the colors of the glass on the floor and walls of the chapel. The twelve sisters sat in the front pews, holding hands.
As the ground shook and the convent began to crumble, Mother Superior lifted her eyes heavenward and said, “Forgive my weakness.”
Bio: Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, has had over 300 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. Four collections of his short stories, Sand, Rain, Heat, and The Tales of Talker Knock, have been published. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His Twitter is @carrsteven960. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/ He is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
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