It was a quest for his identity which found the boy returning to village on the planet Shepreth he knew as a child. He had been away in the big city for a few short years learning his craft as a spaceship engineer and had stayed well away all that time He had not been back to this place again since his parents had died; there was nothing to hold him then and only a badly buried mystery to make him return one day. Now that mystery was too much to live with and he needed an answer and people to tell him the truth before he could go any way forward in his life.
Now the boy was searching out the old woman Lynfa who, due to her advanced age, had been both aunt and grandmother to him as he had had no other family or relatives amongst the widely spaced sprawl of houses which was the village he grew up in. His father was often away long months, following his work as a itinerant engineer amongst the far flung planets. His mother was not one for interacting much with others. Lynfa, their only neighbour had been his only mother's only confidante in those years as their community was a thinly spread scatter of houses amongst the scrub and forest of the world he called home. Joylar the old woman's daughter was his only playmate until he went to school and he would have taken her to be his wife if she had been prepared to come with him when he packed up his worldly goods and left his childhood home.
It had often passed though his thoughts to wonder why his family lived so far from civilised society on the worlds nearer Earth. The old government, which his father so detested, had collapsed with the alien invasion the year before his birth. Still we remained on this out of the way planet until he had grown and with few visitors from the outside galaxy. Those that arrived made the happening an event to be remembered. Even then is was only a few and rarely, once a stooping man with a limp and receding hair visited them. his mother was kind to him, as she said he had been kind to her once when she was travelling to this planet. He didn't speak much and had a face full of sorrow that told of a life full or disappointment. He felt it would be an imposition to ask what had happened and how he knew his father. He never came to see them again.
Another of these arrivals from space was thin dark man with aquiline features and missing an arm. As a child he frightened the boy, he had a haunted look of haunted darkness about him, as if he waited to death but it would not take him. When the man arrived it was always at night, he never stayed long, never ate anything the boy's mother offered him and he always left before dawn the following day. He wore a patched leather tunic that had grown too large for him, as if he had lost a great deal of weight at some time, and he hid the stump of the arm under the fold of the garment. The other held a strange gun which he never let go of; If their other visitor spoke rarely this spoke never at all, to him or his mother, only to his father.
This strange haunted man came to their home a few times when the boy was very young he remembered and once when he was nearly a man and the week before his father disappeared. Like the times when he had visited before the dark man had spent long hours closeted with his father in the parlour and then left without speaking to his mother or the boy. That occasion was memorable because following the dark man by a few hours came another man who his father also spent time alone with, only this time there was only short conversation to be had. The sound of his father's strong voice raised in anger came ringing through the closed door between the parlour and the kitchen in the small house where the boy and his mother sat waiting. This man left soon after that saying he would not be back but the boy saw his father looked worried and thought about what he had said before he left.
He had told his father he was betraying the people and all he had fought for. The boy's father had laughed, but not with humour, and said with a deadly and serious look that he was far better a poor engineer than what this infernal tempter would have him be again. Then he told the stranger to get well out of his sight and stay there; if he returned to darken their doors again he would not leave with his life intact.
The boy remembered the look the stranger gave his father and the look that was turned on himself too as the one who was unwelcome passed on his way out of the house. It was lingering, as if the man knew he meant something important. The boy was not sure what that meant then although later, much later, when he learnt all the facts he was very sure indeed.
Shortly after that day disaster came knocking at the door of the little house in the village in the wood on the planet in the middle of nowhere. The boy's father had left on another work contract and he and his mother would not hear from him again. After a small amount of time came word from the authorities that the small ship Dar Plantagenet the engineer was working on had been lost with all hands in a meteor storm near Ayot. It was a huge loss to those who had so little and the boy's mother never recovered it was clear.
The following season their village was visited by the illness which plagued their land, brought by summer Hese insects flying in from the marshes and dreaded as yet there was no cure. It was said that those who came from off planet were the ones which it killed most readily. The boy was ill but recovered, his mother nursed him and their close neighbours through the stages of the illness as each tossed and turned with the fever. Then as they grew well again she developed the start of the symptoms herself. She succumbed, and slipped out of life so quickly and so quietly her son could not even get their neighbour Lynfa in from next door to bid her farewell
He left their village soon after, a school friend's father who ran a refit service at the spaceport had offered him an engineering apprenticeship. That was something he was only too glad to go and do as he had nothing here to hold ;in the house where he grew up that his father had not owned. Even that had been rented. He was happy to quickly pass the keys next door to Lynfa and let her handle clearing it and passing it back to the landlord to let out to another family in need of accommodation.
The boy passed his course of study with ease, his course mates told him he must have some genius for the subject and after that, freed by his employer for a year he roamed the seas of space. The older man had said the boy should see something other than the planet he had grown up on, but in his travels he knew he was trying to prove something, running hard and fast from who he had been and what he had left behind.
Then one day he decided he would return, to settle down and pair bond with the strong willed, dark eyed, longhaired daughter of his employer who had always followed him around when he was in her father's house. Her father was pleased he had returned and to have a son-in law to pass his business to, he had no other child. Elspeth his daughter was just who the boy needed, she seemed to understand him, his restless nature, his search to be something other than who was when he was growing up. She complemented him and shared his love of silence and communicating much and many things with few words. They would be a good match
'Roj, you really must want to know who you are though? Don't you think you should find try to out?' she asked when he was lying with her on bed, quiet after their loving on the night of their bonding. He had told her something, a secret, which he had kept closely guarded in his heart and had repeated to no one. When his mother was dying she had asked him to forgive her, and his father, they had kept information from him. He was certainly his mother's son, she had borne him, but the man he called father was not the man who had made him.
'We didn't want to hurt you,' she had said as she had slipped away, 'we always loved you too much to tell you the truth.'
'I don't understand,' Roj said to Elspeth on that night as he told the tale of the loss of his father and the death of his mother, 'I look like my father, see ...' he said getting up from the bed to bring a crumpled holograph from his tunic where it hung on the post of the bed
The young husband had proof of his resemblance to his father even if it was only one holograph of the older man in his possession. The gruff engineer was one who didn't like having his likeness taken and Roj had had to plan do it secretly when a friend brought his holocam with him to take a record of a school project we were working on together. Even then they had had to shoot the image through the window of his father's workshop when he was not looking and it was not a good image of him. It was his bad side, the one with the slumped shoulder from his injury he got at the invasion, but it got his likeness all right, his gritty intensity and showed that he and his father shared the same features. He would have looked like Roj did when he was as young; and didn't wear the weight of the world that he always seemed to carry on his shoulders. The son often wondered what happened to his father to cause that, but had never had the courage to ask
So it was Elspeth who suggested that they both go to find the one person left who would know about his father. Roj was sure his mother would have spoken to the old woman Lynfa whose house was so near theirs when he grew up. They took his father-in-law's flyer with his blessing; he too seemed to understand that there was a need to make peace the past before his daughter and her new husband could settle. The way back to the village on Ayot was etched in Roj's mind even if he had not wanted to return before now. Now it was of great importance and they hurried there quickly
They found Joylar still living at the house where she had been brought up, it had been added to and she had a small boy running around her feet and a baby girl carried in her arms. She welcomed Elspeth and told how she had bonded to Dil, another of Roj?s school friends, and a good man, just after the boy had left the village for good.
She said she was glad Roj had come at this time at her mother had not long left she thought. The travelling medics were doing their best but there was only so much one could do. She was being kept comfortable and was in no pain.
`I've brought my new bond mate to meet you Lynfa.' Roj said as he stood by the bed in the room upstairs looking down at the occupant. The woman there looked a lot older than he had thought she would. He had forgotten that she was many more years senior to his own mother and that Joylar had been a late gift after many years of childlessness and a comfort when her own husband had died.
'How lovely of you to come and see me in my declining years.' she said, 'and to bring your lovely new bride with you too. You look just like your father Roj.' she added, 'It could be him standing here.' she said, `but you are more handsome to course. You will both make fine children between you.?'
Lynfa had said she knew why Roj had come and had sent him to look in the row of old leather bound volumes, real books, that she kept on a shelf in her room. He recognised one, it was a book of Old Calendar plays, his father's favourite, by a man called Shakespeare. He had been a proscribed playwright during the old government but his father had found an old copy of the book on his journeying before he settled on Shepreth and he kept it with him always.
'I kept it for you, in case you came back.' Lynfa had said smiling, 'I found it with your mother's things when I was clearing the house after you left. There's an envelope in it addressed to you. Your father must have known you would come looking for the truth eventually, I recognise hand.'
Inside the front cover was a yellowing envelope written on in his father's unflowing engineer's script. Dar Plantagenet always insisted on writing things with pen and paper rather than use a computer keyboard Roj extracted a thin piece of paper inside and read it, it told him if there was a search for answer and he was dead and Rashel was dead then he would have to find a man called Keir Chevron and that that person would be able to tell him everything he needed to know
They stayed the night with Joylar and her mother and met Dil the following day as he returned. He exhorted promises from the two newly weds to return and visit them soon, and wished them luck in their search. Both he and Joylar and the young child who toddled about the house waved them off from the door of the cottage
It took the boy a long time to find the man his father's letter told him to search for and it was his father-in-law who was finally able to help. He had contacts throughout the galaxy with his work, and it was a contact on the space station Tower 34 who told them where to look. This was a large psychiatric institution and it seemed that Keir Chevron was a patient there and had been for some time.
When the two young people visited the staff were most surprised, the man they cared for got no guests and had sent the people from the League of Visitors away when they had tried to befriend him. He was not a friendly man. They were happy with the boy's credentials however, his father-in-law was well know, and interested to see the letter which his own father had left for him. Since the war and the problem of the destroyed computer on Star One many people were searching for lost relatives.
They were lead down a corridor and left at the door of the large day room. The man they saw sitting alone in front of the large view port, the rest of the inhabitants were at their morning meal. The person sitting there had aged terribly and was hardly recognisable and only after looking at him for a long time did the boy realised he was the one who had visited the at their house on Shepreth and given him nightmares with the darkness he carried with him like a burden. It was strange, only a few years had passed yet it was as if the life that had been reluctantly held there before had been let go of and was leaking away, aging does not have to be related to years. The man looked no longer gloomy and foreboding now, but old and diluted, a wreck of who he once was. He still hid the stump of his arm in the folds of his clothing only instead of the black leather jacket from before he now wore a grey dressing gown over institutional pyjamas. He did not look long for the world; he seemed to be being chased by death in his travels and the two young people might have come here just in time.
'Roj?' the man asked when the young man walked closer. Then he blinked and after looking at him for a long time, the two people assumed it was the treatment drugs they gave Keir here which must make him slow. Then the older man seemed to realise where he was and the two were told ;to sit down
'I thought you were your father for a moment,' the old gunfighter said, 'he looked like you when I first met him.'
Now the boy understood something, this man knew his father by a rather different name to the one of Dar Plantagenet he had used in the life when he lived as an itinerant engineer on their lonely planet at the edge of the galaxy. This revelation brought many questions with it and he ached to ask them all quickly and now; if his father had run away from his real name then he must have been running away from something else too. The boy only hoped it would not be something terrible. Dread grabbed his heart and held it tightly
'I came to you to find out about my real father,' he said gently, taking things slowly for the this man's sake understanding the confusion on his face to be the product of the illness that had brought him to this place, 'my mother is dead, ` he said, `so I can't ask her and my foster father left him a letter to tell me to look for you if I wanted any answers. I know he is not my real father because my mother told me. '
The Roj handed over the yellowing piece of paper in its envelope. The man looked the contents over and smiled sadly, it seemed he had mellowed a little, as he no longer wore that look that wanted death. Perhaps he knew now it was coming and had gained enough patience to wait for it to come in its own time rather than wishing it here already.
'I am truly sorry about your mother,' he said when he finished reading, 'I am not the most sociable of people but she always without fail tried to find a way to be kind to me when I visited your family. It is just like you foster father to start something and leave him to finish it to;' he added with a smile, 'and he will finish it, he owes me that if he owes me anything.'
'So why did my foster father lie to me?' Roj asked wanting to get to the truth, wanting this man to speak the words, 'that's what I came to talk to you about, the letter says you are the only one left who will know.'
The man in the chair looked at him long and then sighed, 'Well now, I suppose you are due the truth Roj,' he said, 'and I will tell you if your father did not have the decency to do that for you. You have your father's genetics it is true but the man you knew was only the one who raised you. The man who was your real father was the one who gave you life and died saving it.'
'So why do I look like a man who is not my father?' the young man said, 'did he have an identical twin brother?' he asked.
'No,' the old man replied, 'the man who brought you up had a brother who looked quite different than him I am told, and who died, was executed, long before you were born. The man who is your father was a clone, you will not have heard of his creators the ones they called the Clone Masters, I hope you understand when I speak about them. They were all killed during the invasion before you were born too but they created your father. They were people could take a person's genetic code, and for the one, who paid the correct price, make a copy of in an afternoon. Your real father was an unfortunate pawn in another man's game, a instrument in another man's war.'
'But why a clone?' the boy asked, 'why was the man my father was cloned from so important that someone required a copy? Tell me about my real father,' he said, 'what happened, why did I end up with the man who he was cloned from bringing him up as his son in his stead?'
The boy saw the look in the man's eyes, they looked pained, as if telling him all this was hard, as if he did not talk much about the past and this was something he was done with and wished finished. The man pressed on though and the boy thanked him silently for doing so. Maybe he would be glad to tell this tale one more time, it obviously weighed on his soul.
'Your real father was killed saving your mother from agent's of the old Federation government.' the boy was told, 'there was something valuable, a weapon that they wanted and he was used in their attempt to get it and to destroy the man who fostered you. After the alien invasion your foster father, I myself and a man called Vila Restal went to move your father and mother to a place of safety. Your foster father was concerned about them in the way his great big bleeding heart made him interfere with everyone and he would not leave them alone to their own fate. When we returned to the planet where your family had been left we were followed by what was left of the old government. They wanted the weapon that had been left with your father. It was to be instrumental in his death but he managed to protect your mother and you long enough for them to get her away and to destroy what their enemies wanted.'
'So my father is a hero.' the boy said, 'and the old government did end, they didn't get what they were after it must have been an important asset they were trying to reclaim..'
The older man looked at him with a cynical smile in his eyes, 'Yes your father is a hero, if giving up your life for a cause you value creates one called so.' he said, `your real father and your foster father were forged from the same mould, and the one left felt so much guilt over the other's death he took you and your mother to an out of the way planet to raise you as his own.'
'You look as if you think he should have done differently.' the boy replied interested in the way this conversation was going. He got a smile then in reply with an almost imperceptible embarrassed dip of the head, a confession of sorts from this man.
'Yes,' the older man sitting in the chair said sighing, 'I would certainly have done things differently, not interfered, left you to your own destiny. Altruism and concern for other people not my style' he added, 'I must however say your father seemed very content to be settled down cosily with Rashel and his little ready made family. On reflection I think he may even have got the better deal with his life choice.'
There was a look of regret in the man's eye despite his fine words about being unfeeling.
'If he was so happy why did he abandon us then?' Roj asked, 'I can't blame him for my mother's death, she did die of the Hese Plague, but I am sure he had broken her heart by leaving.'
As he said that he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, the other inmates of this care home were returning from their meal. The old fighter he was talking to looked round and saw that too, he looked as if he must hurry, that there was something important to tell him in private.
'You must ask your foster father about all that.' he said, 'Now don't look surprised, he is still alive,' he said at the son's sudden look of shock, 'he told me you might come looking for him some day and told me to send you on to him in the event of that happening.'
'Then where is he?' the boy said excited all of a sudden gaining an intenseness he had not felt before. Elspeth, who had sat by his side. silent and supportive through all of this, squeezed his hand showing her support.
'On Ayot where I left him if course,' Keir said looking round as if worried someone would overhear them, 'they say there is no one as free as a dead man and if you know how easy it is to alter Space Track Control computers to report a two man shuttle lost in a meteor storm it is quite simple to place a man where he won't be looked for.'
By now the room was filling with people, there were no more things that needed to be said. 'You must go now.' the old man said hurriedly, 'go and find the man you are looking for, he will tell you everything.'
'Thank you,' his visitor said, 'does he know you are here, should I take some message to my foster father from you?'
The reply a vigorous shake of the head from the older man as a clear negative, 'Your foster father and I passed part of our lives in each others company. That time is past and gone by many years. The fact that you have been sent to find him will be all he needs to know about my fate. My time is near I know and I welcome it, he does not need to have to bother himself with me again.'
The boy realised that was the end of the conversation, he would hear no more.
'Well thank you again.' he said not knowing how to end the exchange, feeling lame, and crowded as he looked at the people milling around him as other occupants of the space station returned. There were no more words to be said here so the boy and Elspeth left.
It took a long time to get a passage to Ayot. After Roj had found out what he had from Keir Chevron he returned to his father-in-law and told everything, asking his advice and trying to find out what to do. His Elspeth's father was a good man and the boy trusted him. He was told he must follow his own destiny, if he wished to find his foster father them he must go, but he must find his own way to get to the planet he was on. Ayot was half the way across the galaxy and there were no ships available to go there from the fleet they owned.
It took over a year to arrange things; in the end one of Elspeth's fathers contacts was taking a load of important parts to a planet in the same system as Ayot. Elspeth, who had accompanied Roj and they took the irregular transport shuttle (it had required longer to wait for it than they thought) the rest of the way and landed in the Space Port when the planet was in its dark phase. They to wait until the following morning when it was light to begin their search
The two young people had ten days and then they had to begin their return back to Shepreth. Roj was needed on important business, a takeover deal for another shipping company by his father-on-law's firm and with Elspeth in the condition she was in, their first child was due in a few short weeks, it was not a good idea to be on a frontier planet with very little health care available. They both wanted to be home in time for the birth of their offspring but the boy's bond-mate had insisted she come with him to support him on his search for the facts that would set his mind at peace
After a week of looking around and asking questions around the settlement they had come to the two searchers were getting no further, they changed their position, to one of the other large towns on the one landmass the planet supported. Here they too drew a blank, and were about to give in and call things a day when a man in a bar where we had stopped to eat a frugal midday meal from their scant savings said although he didn't know the name Plantagenet he thought we must be talking about Dar the engineer whose house was in a wood about a mile from the next village.
They left with very little hope; Roj felt we really were looking for a needle in a haystack, or rather his true birth identity on a small planet out of a whole galaxy and how was he to know if his foster father was even still alive? He took the next transport shuttle with Elspeth to the settlement and then got out to walk. It would be dark again by the time they got to where we were going; the days on this planet were short even in the summer season. He only hoped the person we were about to visit was friendly towards strangers; even it if was not the man they were seeking they would have to ask for shelter overnight.
Roj had been brought up on a planet with forests and trees but this place was strange and odd with different bird and animal calls than he was used to and disconcerting rustlings coming from left and right as they walked. The trees, which had strange leaves, glowed of phosphorescence in the dying light; it was unlike anything he had seen before. Everything seemed to be going wrong.
The bags they carried were heavy, the track they followed on foot was difficult to see in the twilight. Elspeth tripped and sprained her ankle as she put her foot into a hole she couldn't see. The two searchers had nearly given up hope, and were preparing for having to spend the night alone in that eerie desolate place when suddenly Roj thought he saw a light ahead. Staggering on now with a little hope, and through even thicker ground cover as they had lost the path completely now, they stumbled out into a clearing where a small cottage was standing. There was smoke coming out of the chimney and a man moving boxes of electrical parts across to a shed, brightly lit within and some sort of workshop, next to the house.
At first the young man didn't recognise his foster father, he had changed completely in the years they had been apart. Then he had been grizzled and wiry, now he had gained a great deal of weight and had a shock of pure white hair. He still looked as durable as he ever, firm and forceful and as tall, and the boy knew it was him. Their search had come to the right place finally, but would they get a warm reception or a brisk rebuttal for themselves pains when they made themelves known?<br><br> Their stumbling out of the undergrowth, and Elspeth's small cry as her ankle was jagged by a trailing briar, had alerted the attention of the man who's home they had just chanced upon. He was returning from the shed carrying a torch and it seemed they had surprised him. He rapidly pulled out a weapon with what looked like a practiced response of many years and looked in the direction the noise had come from.
'Who's there?' he called roughly, 'better come out into the open or I shall shoot you down where you stand.'
'It's all right father,' Roj called, 'its only me, its your foster son. I have had a long journey to find you.'<br><br> That took the old man by surprise, 'So you found out and came to find me?' he said abruptly turning, and then, 'you shouldn't have come boy but by the look of things you better come inside.'
The young nodded, and helped the pregnant woman by his side to walk the last steps into the clearing. His foster father looked surprised at what he saw there too, and then hurried over to take the bags she was carrying.
'Who are you girl?' he asked.
'I'm Elspeth,' she replied, with no fear of the gruff man who's dour front she could see behind very well, 'I'm your son's bond-mate and I am carrying your grandchild.' she said.
'That is no grandchild of mine,' he muttered coldly, but looked somewhat shocked all the same. It was as if Dar Plantagenet had not thought about the possibility of his foster son ever becoming father himself, and something else. `Someone made sure I would never have no children of my own a long time ago.'
The girl gave the older man a calm look in reply. `There are many ways to make a family, as you well;know.' she said, 'Its not who begets a child but who brings him up that makes a parent.'
The old man looked away and saying no more, her words had obviously made an impression. He huffed along in a grumbling way as he picked up the bags and easily carried them into the house but it was with great gentleness that he helped the pregnant girl to the only chair in the kitchen and placed a cushion behind her back. She took a sharp breath then and looking down with surprise at her swollen belly put her hands on the bump to steady it. The old man chuckled.
'I thought that might be about to happen,' he said, 'you can't be that long from having that offspring you call the grandchild of mine can you? That long walk won't have helped either.
Elspeth looked surprised at him, she did not ask how he knew all this but said, 'Our Health Worker on Ayot assured me I had a few weeks to go yet. She said I was fine to come on this trip with Roj.'
That made the old man chuckle again, 'I would say you've lost track of time in your search for me girl. You've come a long way to get here from Shepreth. How about I call for some help for us,? This planet may look like the back of beyond but we have a good support service when we need it. If no-one can come out I've a flyer behind the shed that will get all of us to where we need to be on time.'
And so Roj Plantagenet sat back on a stool he was given and, in surprised shock himself at these new circumstances, watched his foster-father take charge again, as he had many times before in his life. It felt good to be here, they had been well welcomed after the bad start and his father seemed genuinely pleased to see them. Maybe this could be the beginning of something good between them again. Elspeth seemed to have helped a lot, Dar had taken a shine to her from the beginning.
The young man''s father had gone over to the sub-space comms unit he had in the corner of the kitchen to call on the help he said he could summon and within a very short space of time, shorter than would have been imagined, there was the noise of a flyer in the night air above the house. It put down in the clearing and two medics in white trousers and tunics buttoned down one side stepped out, one a man with a mop of flame coloured hair, one a cheerful faced woman with her hair braids curled up on her head. They ran from the open hatch to meet the occupants of the house who came out. The boy was relieved to see these people came carrying efficient looking portable equipment; perhaps everything might be all right after all.
'Hello Mr Dar,' the said, 'we got your call and came as soon as we could.''
'This is my daughter-in-law,' the old said smiling in welcome, hurrying them through, 'my grandson seems to be in a bit of a hurry to get out and get born. I was hoping you might be able to help him do it safely?' He said with a grin which melted Roj's heart. Now he understood something about his father he hadn't known.
After a first quick check the medics announced there was nothing wrong at all with Elspeth or the child but there no time to take the mother in labour to anywhere near. They said would just have set up and do the thing here the ginger haired man said cheerfully.
He was smiling, the man with the read hair and the white tunic, he seemed to be enjoying his job immensely, and went outside to collect more things that would be needed. The woman, smiling also, came over to Roj and put her arm around him, shaking him gently to get his attention.
'Don't seem so worried, your first I presume?' she asked, and when he nodded she grinned, 'don't stress yourself lad really,' she said, 'we know our job and we'll get your kid out and leave your wife in one piece. Now if you can help us we ought to get your girl upstairs to a bed while we have still time. She's going to need to be comfortable when things get exciting.'
The father-to-be did so and his own father bustled about beaming, providing clean sheets and towels and running a bath in the adjoining bathroom in case it would be needed too. Roj helped get his bond-mate settled, and elected to be there to hold her hand as she toiled to bring his child into the world. Then after all that hurry and rush things it seemed would take their own pace and half an hour later, and with no result yet, the male carer there smiled through his ginger fringe at the two young people in his care.
'Go and make yourself cup of tea,' he said turning to Roj, 'you could do with one, and a breather from being in here, there'll be time yet for you to get back up here before the exciting bit. Go on!' he said waving his hands and chasing the youngster out of the door like an old mother hen.
Roj went as he was told and found his way downstairs to find his father who had remained below by the fire reading from a book. Hej recognised it as the Shakespeare plays he had handed him from his luggage before he'd left the bedroom earlier.
'Ah Roj,' the old man said when he saw him, handing him a mug he must have just poured out, 'come, sit with me and talk for a bit.'
Oh how much of a difference there was in the man's demeanour now. He seemed very happy with what was happening around him and was humming to himself as he poured himself a mug too and went to join his son picking up a bottle of something to pour a slug in both drinks. The young man was very encouraged after the frosty welcome earlier, now he was certain his father was back for good.
'If that child's a boy it'll look exactly like us you know.' the prospective grandfather went on conversationally, 'that's the problem with clones, they have the same effect genetically on their progeny. I'm glad you found the letter I left you though, it would be a pity for you not to find me again after I left.'
'Then why did you leave?' the boy asked urgently as the sounds of approaching new life continued above in the bedroom above them, 'my mother was heart broken when you did. It killed her I think, more than the Hese Plague really, although that was what got her in the end.'
The old man nodded his head, 'I'm sorry about Rashel,' he said looking down and hunching over his drink, 'genuinely but I had no choice but to leave. My past had caught up with me and I didn't want you or your mother affected. You had a right to a quiet life of your own making.?'
'What past did you have,' the boy asked, he heard his voice called from upstairs, 'who are you that would fill lives with turmoil?'
'A man bad past that no-one should have been burdened with,' his father said, 'now run along.' the cries were getting shriller and the boy could hear it was his bond mate who was calling him as well as the medics now.
As he stood on the stairs he looked back to his father for reassurance. He got it in a look, a look which would have lead a man into battle with this man, and against his own will, and the information he had been looking for long years.<br><br> 'I'm Roj Blake,' his father said, 'isn't that more than enough to make anyone want to leave their child alone to be free of me? I had to leave.'
Later, when he had his child born and time to think about what his father said now everything fit for Roj Plantagenet. As the new father lay awake in bed that night, by his sleeping, exhausted bond mate he thought about it all. The little cottage was quiet, the medics were gone and his child, a boy, was asleep in the makeshift crib beside the bed. His father was in the spare room having said, nay laughed out, that the two proud parents deserved the bigger bed, as there were two to sleep in it now, properly, as it should be.
What his father had said earlier explained a lot to the young man. Roj Blake was known a hero, he'd fought the old government and yet when the time came, saved humanity by putting his ship in the breach when there was no chance of the government's fleet getting to the alien invasion site at Star One in time.
The boy knew what had happened after that. Several of his father's crew members had been killed in the fight when their ship was lost, only three survived, Vila Restal, one called Kerr Avon was badly wounded, he knew that was the Kier who he'd seen in that psychiatric facility, and his father. They had lead the fight for freedom against the weakened government then, and won, but then inexplicably had disappeared out of the galaxy, off the face of the known planets.
Those men might have been found, identified on the planets where they had gone to ground, the boy was sure the man called Vila must be somewhere out there. What had hampered things was the total destruction of the government's computer records when Space Command was blown up by an alien flank attack into Earth space, and that fact that the old government had a ban on images of personal likeness. Maybe that was where his father had got his dislike of having his image taken ... maybe it was just because he'd been a wanted man for too long even when he was no longer on the computer data base.
Roj still had questions to ask when he finally fell asleep that night. If his father was a hero and no longer on the wanted list why had he run away? He was to find the rest of the story arrived next day with the timely and unwanted return to their lives of the man who was also a part of this story. This was the one who he'd seen last that day in the house in the cluster of buildings called a village when his father had shouted threatened to kill the man unless he left them. Time had not been kind to the returning stranger, he had a limp and several scars that were not there before, but a few years had passed since he'd been to Shepreth.
The little family, father, mother, son and devoted grandfather were sitting in the sun outside the cottage in the clearing that had been made into a rough, homely garden with its strange blue-green grass. It was the morning following the shortest day on the planet of Ayot and they had all agreed that the new baby boy should be called Solstice, Sol for short, as the day before had brought an end to the days of darkness. Although there was no such thing as spring on this planet the days would lengthen now
The doting grandfather had just handed the new infant back to his mother, the little boy was letting his anger at being hungry known with annoyed and extended yells and the discussion about a name for him had had to be curtailed for the time being.
Then a cloud came over the twin suns of Ayot and the two men sitting there looked out to see someone entering their Garden of Eden. A snake was walking on two feet across the lawn.
'You,' said Roj?s father getting up and removing a strange gun with a long clear muzzle, from behind the woodpile he was sitting on, he never had one far from his reach. 'Dav Perterson, I told you to keep away,' he said, 'if you don't I'll do what I promised. Get out of here.'
'Let me talk then before you get violent Roj,' the stranger said letting on he knew perfectly well who he was talking to, 'or at let me least talk to your son, he may see sense where you have failed.'
'No!' Roj Blake said, and stood up, until his son also stood up and put his arm out to take hold of his father's hand and lower the gun he was holding.
'Speak to me then,' he said looking the intruder straight in the eye, 'tell me why you haunt us and why a poor man and his family can't enjoy this child's first day of life in peace. Why will you not leave my father alone?'
The stranger smiled, 'Yet another of the clone-Blake dynastic line eh? And made from the same metal I'll wager. Maybe I should wait eighteen years and come back for him, he'll be just the same, the grandson of a clone. Perhaps he would make a better president than his father and grandfather.'<
'So that's it!' the boy said, his face clearing, understanding now, everything fell in place, 'you wanted my father to lead your new government, and he wouldn't.' he said. He turned to look at his father, 'Is it true?
The stranger laughed and looked at the older Blake too who was looking like thunder but then the erstwhile fighter checked his rage, and put his gun down and turned to his son
'It was nothing like that, nothing,' he said with feeling, 'you don't understand. Before the Andromedans destroyed Star One I was leading my rebel rabble to do the very same thing. My crew all tried to prevent me from doing it, tried to talk me out of it, and suggested other ways of dealing with the events. I would not listen to them and only by chance had the aliens do the deed for me. I should have died there for that misdemeanour rather than being alive to enjoy seeing my grandchild born.'
'But you still won,' the stranger said, 'the people were freed, why didn't you stay to lead them?'
The older man looked sick. He went over to his daughter-in-law and he picked up his grandson and held it for a moment before handing him back.
'Did I deserve to rule a government when I had tried to kill thousands of innocent people?' he said quietly, 'I would have been no better than the many presidents who had gone before me.'
The stranger smiled at that, 'Kerr Avon always did say you had a great big bleeding heart,' he said, 'and a more than human capacity for guilt.' He turned to look at the other Blake there, 'maybe your son will take up the challenge instead.' he suggested turning to face the younger man in the older man's image, 'wouldn't you enjoy being a leader of men like your father Roj?'
The young man looked between his father, who had been driven to what he had done at desperation against the Federation's treatment of him he was sure, and his bond mate who was holding his child. Then he looked at the other man there, bringing discord where there had only a few moments before been an understanding for the first time in years. He had lost his mother to this terrible secret and was not going to give up his only other parent, his child's grandfather, without a fight.
'Go away,' he said, 'leave us alone. I want none of this. I have my own life and family and don't want one you will hand to me.'
Now the young man Roj knew why his father had left and taken this temptation away when he was younger. He would have made the wrong choice if he had been asked then, young and hot headed as he had been.
Elspeth stood up now holding the child she had carried for nine months in her arms and spoke for the first time. 'I am Sol Blake's mother and I can speak for him.' she said, 'he will not make your choice either. He is like his father and grandfather, he will make the same choice they have made as he is as wise as they are. Better a life in peaceful obscurity than fighting another person's battle.'
The older Blake smiled then, 'Thank you Elspeth.' he said, his son thought he saw his father accepting forgiveness for all he had done from what she said. The big man went to put his arm round his daughter-in-law standing there as if he was taking up the post of one of his grandson's protectors and would not be moved.
The girl's words seemed to be the ending of that conversation that went on in that place that day and the closing of a very long episode in several people's lives.
'Well if you are agreed on that matter I shall go and find someone else who will answer my need.' the stranger said turning to go, seeing he would get no satisfaction here, 'I do hope you will let me leave your land alive.'
'Just go,' said Roj Blake, 'and don't come back.'
'If my father doesn't kill you I will ...' Roj his son said sounding as serious as he could, he would do it too to protect his family. He stood on the other side of the woman holding the child, there also to protect it
Then the man, who with his coming had brought much disturbance gave a shrug, turned, and was gone into the woods. After the noise of his retreating footfalls had fallen silent all was quiet again.
The father and son, two men sharing the same genetic code, turned to look at the new child lying in its mother's arms who was also one of them of this strange bond. For some reason the babe they had named Sol had begun to make a very happy sound. It looked at them all curiously with its big eyes and then giving a big sigh of contentment closed them and slept with the trust only the newborn had.
All three adults, Roj, his father and Elspeth, they looked at the new life sleeping there ;thinking even on its first day in the world the child seemed to know that some great weight had been taken away for good. It was true, the feeling of dark and the feeling of death which had been following each of the three adults in their long journey, every step of the way from the battle at Star One to this forest on Ayot, was gone now. Perhaps it was a new beginning, a return of the light.
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