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Free Now to Live, Free to Love Forever
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-714-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 263 Pages
Published: November 2010



From inside the flap

When Wyoming ranchwoman Ashley Russell sees a human-appearing man step out of a shimmering atmospheric anomaly in her horse pasture, and learns that he is a defenseless, courageous, but terror-stricken android who accidentally traveled four hundred years back in time in an escape pod released by a doomed military space ship, she offers to conceal his nature, and let him live in her home, purely out of the kindness so deeply a part of her. Belatedly, she discovers that not only is the manufactured person to whom she gives the name Jason Jones capable of sexual intercourse, he also sees the sixty-year-old widow as attractive. Ashley takes Jason as her lover.

When an old friend of hers visits--a helicopter pilot named Charlie Hogan--Ashley greets him warmly. Jason experiences jealousy, an emotion new to him, but being incapable of hating a human being, he reacts by agitatedly expressing a wish not to become a burden to his benefactor. On hearing that she thinks of Charlie as a brother, Jason grows greatly relieved.

Informed by the patently worried android that a second escape pod will shortly descend, and that the occupant, Lieutenant Commander Mina Baxter, will track him down so as to destroy him, Ashley implements a strategy designed to protect her vulnerable lover and herself from an enemy the self-reliant descendant of pioneers regards as a murderous interloper in her life.

Faced with a series of daunting challenges, the fearless ranchwoman and the selfless android draw on their ample reserves of courage and cunning so as to survive.

Free Now to Live, Free to Love Forever (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

A shrill neigh-a sound clearly signifying fright-assaulted the ears of the woman methodically doing the monthly accounting for the ranch she owned. That ominous sound prompted her to spring out of the chair facing her computer. Running to the window, she saw her sorrel gelding leap over the wooden rails of the pasture bordering the south side of her yard and race away into the large hay meadow beyond that smaller enclosure: one in which the sixteen-year-old saddle horse normally grazed placidly.

Shock blended with fear as she beheld the reason for his flight. In the center of the horse pasture, a luminous, silvery-gray, shimmering, stationary, non-transparent disturbance in the air-a phenomenon differing completely from fog-covered a large expanse of ground, and rose to a height of perhaps thirty feet. Highly noticeable despite the brightness of the July sunlight-the sky above, the woman saw to be cloudless-the strange apparition resembled no natural occurrence the Wyomingnative had ever before beheld.

An avid reader of science fiction, the well-educated retired teacher immediately conjured up visions of aliens emerging to attack her.

Scathingly urging her alter self not to go off the deep end, she dominated an onslaught of fear. Acutely conscious that the nearest neighbors lived three miles away, in a house located in a hollow that allowed no view of her own dwelling, she knew she must deal with this happening on her own. She considered calling 911, but she shrank at the thought of having the Sheriff’s deputies-most of them men well acquainted with her-drive at high speed to her home to find her afraid of some atmospheric anomaly, strange as it seemed. She likewise knew that it would take twenty minutes, at least, for an officer to come to her aid, and perhaps far longer.

Fright she instantly condemned as irrational failed to produce paralysis, but that emotion rendered her exceedingly wary. Striding across the living room, she reached for the .270 caliber pump-action Remington rifle reposing in a gun rack hanging on the wall, before opening the door and stepping out on the porch. As the unexplainable distortion of air utterly clear elsewhere filled her vision, she braced herself. Boldly, she advanced across the yard.

Having opened the wooden gate leading into the horse pasture, she hesitated. The hair on her head stirred. Her skin tingled, as if a thunderstorm approached. Belatedly recalling that the ship, if such it was, could be radioactive, she felt her gut constrict. Halting, she gazed at shimmering, silvery-gray opacity, wondering what to do next.

As she watched, change occurred. A dim, vertical streak appeared-a place where the luminosity seemed to have dulled. Fright verged on terror as she saw a figure step out of the gray streak, which then promptly disappeared, so that the strange manifestation again became uniform in appearance.

As she stood motionless, her heart thundering, her breathing suspended, she saw that the being walking slowly forward seemed as human as any of her neighbors. Relief contended with a new accession of fear.

"Freeze!" she commanded sharply. "Raise your hands, and then don’t move a muscle. You may be an astronaut, but I don’t know whose astronaut!"

The person thus summarily addressed instantly raised his hands and moved not a muscle thereafter.

Her heart still pounding, the woman walked through the gate, holding the rifle aimed at the mysterious visitant. Chin jutting, she approached the man she saw to be clothed in a loose gray jumpsuit featuring many pockets. On his feet he wore sleek black boots. His hands she saw to be empty. Nothing resembling a weapon could she spy on his person.

Frowning, she stopped about ten feet from where he stood as if carved of stone. His face she saw to be handsome. His age she first surmised to be around thirty, but some indefinable quality in his grave expression prompted her to judge him older, despite his lack of the lines etched around eyes and mouth that normally accompany middle age.

"What’s that strange alteration in the air behind you?" she asked, her nervousness rendering her tone imperious. As she spoke, she kept the rifle pointed at the man’s chest.

"It’s a force-field surrounding an escape vehicle formerly attached to a ship plying space," the figure responded in wholly unaccented English.

Holy shit. "Are there…more people…inside?" the woman queried hoarsely.

"No."

"Are you an American astronaut?"

"No."

"A Russian astronaut?"

"No."

Visibly perturbed, the questioner blurted, "Are you from Earth?"

"I came here in an escape vehicle from an interplanetary ship built on Earth."

"No nation on Earth has ships capable of interplanetary flight!"

"Not…in this age. But…owing to an unfortunate circumstance beyond my control…I come from an Earth…future to this time." That assertion seemed to the listener as if torn out of a speaker dreading having to reveal it.

Taken sharply aback, the woman grew aware of a seeming evasion. "Are you human?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"I’m an android created by Earthmen," the object of her scrutiny stated tonelessly, his manner subtly conveying that he expected his admission to engender hostility.

Deprived of speech for the few seconds it took for her to digest those astounding assertions, the observer trained in the scientific method rasped sardonically, "You really expect me to believe that you’re a time-traveling manufactured person who speaks American-style English?"

"I told you the truth," the android replied levelly. "I’m incapable of lying to a human being. I speak hundreds of languages, along with a multitude of dialects arising from those root tongues."

"Can I pass through that shimmering whatsis to see the vehicle?" Determined on obtaining proof that she was not the victim of an elaborate joke, the woman unconsciously took a step forward.

Agitatedly, the mysterious visitant exclaimed, "No! You cannot! You’d die the instant you made contact with it!"

"But you just passed through it!"

"I passed through it from the inside to the outside, but I’d be destroyed exactly as you would, if I tried to go back through it!"

"So no one can see…or examine…this vehicle you say is inside?" the interrogator queried, her voice dripping sarcasm.

"No. Not to touch or to study. No! But if you’ll allow me to do as I intended…initiate a process that will reduce the vehicle to its component atoms…the force-field will cease to exist once the disintegration becomes complete."

Racked by doubt, confronted with an enigma, the woman frankly stated her thought. "I wish to hell you could prove to me that you’re telling the truth!"

"I can tell you how to obtain proof that I’m an android," the visitant stated levelly. "Aim that projectile weapon at my chest, and fire it. The bullet will glance off my torso. I’ll stagger a trifle, but I’ll quickly reassume this posture you commanded me to take. The missile will gouge my flesh, and I’ll bleed, but my fleshly exterior will heal in a short time."

Badly jolted, the woman cried, "I have no wish to harm you!" Stepping a trifle closer, she studied the taut face of the human-appearing man claiming to be from the future, and made a startling discovery.

"You’re scared spitless," she asserted, frowning. "Terrified! Of me?"

"Of…what you could do," the man explained softly. "Of your contacting the officials of your country and telling them what I am. They’d take me away for study. And when they found me to be…what I am…they’d almost certainly deactivate me…out of fear…and the wish to learn how I’m made." A slight quiver in the soft, clear voice attested to an increase in the terror sensed by the woman.

Having weighed her limited options, the epitome of self-reliance arrived at a decision. "If you think I want a bunch of damned bureaucrats, or military brass, or members of Congress flocking onto my property to haul you off, you’re very much mistaken," she declared vehemently. "How long will that force field continue to render entry into the vehicle impossible?"

"For ten days. At that point, the self-destruct mechanism will automatically initiate the change I’m incapable of implementing after receiving your orders."

Faced with the direly unsettling prospect that the weird phenomenon might already have drawn the notice of pilots of planes, or been photographed by satellites, the woman launched on an irreversible course.

"Initiate the change," she ordered. "Destroy the vehicle, and get the damned thing out of my pasture."

"I cannot obey, unless you allow me to face the force-field, take a device from my pocket, and activate it," the android replied, moving no whit.

"Face the force-field, take out the device, activate it, and then put it the instrument back in your pocket before you again face me," the woman commanded, hoping that the request formed no devious ploy designed to put a weapon in the hand of the being who looked eminently human, his startling claim notwithstanding. As she spoke, her grip on the rifle tightened.

"Yes, ma’am."

As he spoke those words, the android turned his back to her. Lowering his right hand, he reached into a pocket. The hand he immediately withdrew grasped a small object, which he held at waist-height.

Moments later, the distortion in the air thinned, allowing the dim outline of what the astounded viewer clearly saw to be some sort of strange vehicle to become visible. As she watched, the outline grew more substantial, but only for a few fleeting seconds. Swiftly, the apparition blurred, faded, and was gone. Simultaneously with its disappearance came that of the field itself. All that remained of the unearthly manifestation were five gouges in the sod of the meadow: imprints of the five metal feet the keen observer had briefly seen to be supporting the cone-shaped body of the craft. The sun-dappled grass of the pasture she saw to have suffered no charring, no withering, no change of any sort.

"Well, I’ll be damned," she breathed softly, wondering uneasily whether she hallucinated. Glancing at the android, who again faced her with his now-empty hands raised, she saw that his face looked unutterably bleak.

Pity overwhelmed her. "Look, my friend from the future, you have nothing to fear from me, hear? I’m not about to tell anyone what you are or how you got here. And even if I tried, anyone I told would think I’d gone crazy. See? I’m no longer aiming the rifle at you."

As she spoke those final words, she lowered the Remington, eyeing the visitant warily as she did so. To her relief, he stood motionless, as before.

"Now, then. Walk up to the door of the house, and open it."

"Yes, ma’am."

Obediently, the android strode ahead of the woman. When he crossed the ground-level stone flagging beneath the roof of the porch supported by log pillars and stood facing the door, he pressed his hand against the knob, seeming to recognize that it represented the key to entering, but remaining unaware of what to do with it.

"Turn the knob, and push," the woman directed. "Walk straight ahead, through the living room, and turn left, into the kitchen."

Having followed the personage obeying her directive, she ordered, "Pull a chair out from the table, and sit down." When the android seated himself at the square, sturdy kitchen table, she cocked her head, and stared at him for a span of seconds, conscious that her heart pounded.

"My name is Ashley Russell," she declared. "What’s your name?"

"AHLI579400085."

"Didn’t the people aboard the ship you say you came from give you a nickname?" the woman asked, frowning in disapproval. "Surely they didn’t spout that mouthful every time they addressed you! Or did they?"

"They called me Eighty-Five."

Grimacing, Ashley absorbed that bit of data. "You need a name," she declared forcefully. "Do you mind if I give you one, or would you prefer to pick your own?"

"I don’t mind if you give me one. Please do so, if you think it necessary that I have one."

"Mmm. I’ll call you Jason. In ancient mythology, Jason made a voyage in quest of the Golden Fleece-a dangerous journey that turned out to be full of nasty surprises. Like yours, eh?"

Intent on watching the face she saw as wholly human in aspect, the woman caught a fleeting change in the grave, unsmiling expression. The eyes opened a trifle wider, as if her pronouncement startled their owner.

"Like mine…yes. I’ll answer to that name…Jason…from now on."

"Jason…Jones. That’s one of the commonest last names in the country. It breathes anonymity."

"I accept the name."

"Do androids eat?"

Again, the face changed: betrayed a glimmer of what Ashley swore was humor. "Yes," the visitor acknowledged.

"Holy shit! You must be starved. Are you hungry, Jason?"

"Yes."

"Can you eat what I eat?"

"Anything that nourishes you will nourish me."

Springing out of her chair, the woman cogitated for a moment, and then withdrew a covered casserole dish from the refrigerator. Having reached into a drawer for a serving spoon, she deposited a generous portion of the contents of the dish into a bowl, which she placed in the appliance she used for heating leftovers. As her hand reached for the start button, she hesitated. Turning to face her guest, she asked, "Jason, this is a microwave oven. Will the radiation harm your…delicate innards?"

At that point, the handsome face definitely registered discernible emotion: fleeting amusement. "No," its owner replied softly.

"Sorry-I just wanted to be sure. I hope you like lasagna. Would you prefer to drink milk or tea?"

Faint puzzlement now showed on the face the viewer judged to remain habitually grave. "Milk," he replied a shade hesitantly.

"Milk it is."

Reaching for the pitcher, Ashley poured a tall glass full of milk, and set it before the guest. On hearing the ding of the timer, she took the steaming bowl from the microwave and placed that next to the drink. As she laid a knife, fork and spoon next to the bowl, she urged, "Please, dig in." Suddenly unsure whether or not the android’s vocabulary included colloquialisms, she added, "I mean-eat."

Again, she caught a glimmer of amusement, prompting her to conclude with relief that he seemed to possess the one quality she considered uniquely human: a sense of humor.

Having made herself a cup of tea, the hostess sat down and observed her guest over the rim of the teacup. She noted that he knew how to use the silverware. As he sampled the flavor of the dish, his face plainly registered surprise, but he went on eating.

"Do you like it?" the hostess asked.

"It’s pungent…strong-tasting." A slight frown accompanied that assertion. "But I find it quite enjoyable. Yes."

Smiling, the woman rapidly adjusting to a situation unprecedented in the experience of any Earthman of this age remarked knowingly, "Everyone likes lasagna. Especially as I make it."

"You make this yourself? It doesn’t come prepackaged?"

"Damned right I make it myself. Of course, I don’t make the pasta from scratch, or the sauce. I buy those separately, as I do the three different kinds of cheese. But the meat comes from a grass-fed steer raised locally, and the spinach grew in my garden. The mushrooms grow wild, after a rain."

Shock fleetingly surfaced on the face of the android who said only, "I see."

Wondering which ingredient caused that reaction, the woman yet refrained from prying.

When the diner finished eating, Ashley asked, "Would you care for another helping?"

"Yes, please. Half as much as before."

When the bowl again stood empty, as did the glass she refilled without inquiring whether her guest wanted more milk, Ashley picked up the soiled ware, rinsed it, and placed it in the dishwasher, which she opted not to run, given that ample space remained. Pulling out a chair, she sat facing the visitant from the future. Choosing her words carefully-several unsettling notions had occurred to her as she watched him eat-she inquired, "Do you have special enhancements…abilities ordinary men don’t have?"

"Yes," he replied unhesitatingly. "Physical ones and mental ones."

Yielding to potent curiosity, the woman asked, "Would you mind giving me a demonstration of one of your physical enhancements?" Still finding it hard to believe that this human-seeming person had been manufactured, she snatched at the chance to have her growing belief in his veracity confirmed.

"No, I don’t mind. Have you a piece of flatware you wouldn’t regret my rendering useless?"

Rising, Ashley rummaged in the silverware tray for the lone table knife composed of stainless steel rather than silver-one of a collection of inexpensive items she used on picnics and kept elsewhere. The knife, she recalled, had gotten misplaced after she emptied the dishwasher some weeks earlier, and she had never bothered to rectify the error. Handing the knife to Jason, she urged, "Carry on."

Using his fingers, the android effortlessly bent the stiff metal into a simple knot. Grasping each end, he pulled, tightening the knot. Silently, he handed the twisted object to the astonished woman.

Badly jolted, Ashley stated evenly, "You could have taken that rifle away from me before I could pull the trigger, and shot me with it. Isn’t that so?"

"Technically, yes. Practically, no. I possess the speed, strength and agility to disarm someone carrying a weapon such as that. But I’m incapable of harming a human being. I’m also incapable of disobeying any order except a command to harm another human being. And, as I told you earlier, I can’t refuse to answer truthfully any question a human being asks me."

Pity contended with shock. "Your creators left you utterly defenseless, didn’t they?" the questioner exclaimed, her tone attesting to strong disapproval.

A slight frown crossed the time-traveler’s unlined, handsome face, which again grew bleak. "I needed no defense from the officers I served aboard the ship," he pointed out. "But I can’t defend myself against people of this age-beings ignorant of my origin and usefulness-human folk experiencing irrational fear or uncontrollable revulsion when confronted by my nature. When I discovered that the area in which the vehicle would descend possessed so wild an aspect in this time…that it seemed so undeveloped…so sparsely populated…I grew greatly afraid of what might happen to me."

"Justifiable fear," Ashley acknowledged soberly, thinking of the impact on the town of Roswell of a similar event (or, more likely, an apocryphal one) long shrouded in mystery, legend, and garish, blatant commercialism persisting after half a century. "So we tell no one what you are. No one! Hear? We let my friends and neighbors assume that you’re no different from them."

"If they ask me whether I’m human-as you did-I’ll be incapable of lying."

"I asked because I saw you step out of that weird disturbance in the air. But anyone dropping by to visit me wouldn’t dream of asking. They’ll simply assume that you’re human. We’ll let them go on thinking that."

"Any command any of them issues me, I’ll be compelled to obey."

"No visitor had better dare issue commands to a guest in my home! If one does, I’ll invite him to leave, right suddenly! But no one I know would be that rude to a friend of mine, Jason."

Shock showed nakedly on the face of the listener. "You consider an android a guest…a friend?"

"Of course!" Frowning as she assessed the state of her feelings, Ashley laid a hand on that of the being sitting opposite, and countered evenly, "Your flesh is human flesh, right? You look human, Jason. You can reason logically, and you can make choices for yourself. You did that when you chose milk over tea. You feel fear, and you exhibit a capacity for being amused, so probably you can generate other human emotions as well.

"All right, you were made, not born. But I don’t regard being born as a defining factor in humanness. We have babies now that got conceived in test tubes. Nobody claims that they aren’t human. To my mind, you are human."

As the android sat speechless, his face reflecting wonder, Ashley studied him. His skin she saw to be a light tan, rather than white. Brown hair she suspected of being clipped quite short, normally, seemed to have grown out a trifle untidily. Dark, smooth eyebrows arched above long-lashed brown eyes. The sense of beholding agelessness deepened, as she again grew aware of the lack of lines etched by age, experience, and the constant play of an array of differing facial expressions.

Wrestling with several direly upsetting conclusions flowing from his revelations, she observed, "Jason, it’s considered extremely rude for a hostess to ask a guest all sorts of highly personal questions, but this is a unique case. I need to know more about you, so that I can help you pass as human. You’re welcome to stay here with me indefinitely-please rest assured of that-but visitors do drop in, and word will get around that I’ve got a man living with me. That could spark quite a bit of local gossip. So will you agree to let me ask you some very personal questions?"

"I’m incapable of refusing to answer."

"I know that. But I’m giving you a choice: to be asked questions, or not to be asked questions. Which would you prefer-my asking them or not asking them?"

The android’s brow knitted, and a second or so elapsed before he replied, "Because you wish to help me…to protect me…I prefer that you ask them. Your regarding me as human…as a guest…fills me with joy."

"I’m glad to hear that you can experience joy as well as fear. Jason…what year was it, in the future you come from?"

"2417."