28 To Earth

It took the R'tlin a week and several jumps to reach Earth's system. It was a large ship, but didn't have facilities for housing a large complement and still have space to carry the small shuttle that would make the trip down to Earth. Walls had been installed to provide a couple of cabins, but that didn't leave a lot of room for a trip that would confine them to an area the size of a small house for weeks.

In addition to the general, Zeke, Jonephs, and four others would crew the R'tlin to Earth. They had studied the data on the Earth's radar and sensors and could navigate without being detected.

The anticipation that Zeke had felt when the mission had been approved grew sharply as they entered the solar system. This time, when he saw the images of Jupiter and Saturn on the screens, he knew that their destination would be home.

He'd warned his grandfather that he wouldn't be sending messages for a while. Doing so during their transit to Earth wasn't practical, but once they'd jumped into the system near the orbit of Uranus, he sent another.

I should be there soon, I hope by tomorrow. A lot has happened since I've been gone--more than you would expect--more than you would believe. It has been difficult for you, I know. I hope you will see that it was worth the grief that I have caused.

The R'tlin would land on the far side of the moon. It was not for practical reasons; they could have easily stayed in a large orbit around the Earth, at a Lagrange point, but Zeke suggested they bring his grandfather to the moon. He was sure it would have a profound effect on him, as it had on Zeke, when he had landed there with Danil.

Hours later, as they neared the moon, a reply reached them.

I hope you kept warm throughout this cold winter. It's been colder here in Kansas than I can remember. You have almost always been responsible and made good choices. It is hard to imagine an explanation, but you have earned my trust so I choose to believe you, no matter how difficult it is. I cannot wait to see you again.

Zeke replied.

I will be there tonight. Keep the lights on!

Jonephs had been studying English since he started with the analysis group. The rest of the crew, including the general, had started learning it when the mission was approved. With the same Anyari technology that Zeke had used to learn their language, they spoke and understood it with only a slight Anyari accent. They had spoken only English on the trip to Earth and would do so to ease John Taylor's introduction to Anyar.

As they entered the small shuttle, Zeke smiled at seeing Jonephs and the crewmen in Earth clothing. They all had on heavy twill pants and cotton shirts, except for Zeke, who was in jeans. It was winter, so they carried heavy coats and hats, and wore boots that looked and felt like leather. Only Zeke and Jonephs were expected to venture outside the shuttle, but they all dressed in what would be expected in a rural area, just in case.

Soon they were on their way, the blue crescent of the Earth rising over the moon like the famous photo. Even with modest acceleration, they crossed the gap in a half hour.

"It will take us another hour to get down to the surface," the pilot advised them. "We've shrouded the thrusters, but they will glow in the infrared, so we want to keep that emission to a minimum."

The terminator was passing California. Zeke could see the lights outlining the shape of the United States. It was a cold winter night across most of the country with only a few clouds in the south.

Their course took them towards the less populated western part of Kansas. At first, they picked up airliners on their sensors. Soon, knowing where to look, they could see the strobes as they passed below the shuttle.

When they'd dropped down, they headed back east. Zeke could see Salina and Manhattan off to the north. The streetlights were sparkling through the cold, clear air. They dropped down further as they approached Topeka. The farm, a waypoint on the screen, soon came into view.

The moon, almost full, had risen in the east. The ground was snow-covered and the light painted a magical luster on the unbroken white dust.

Zeke pointed out a stand of trees, about a half mile from the house, and the pilot set the craft down in a deep wash near the middle.

Jonephs apprehension eased as he saw the excitement on Zeke's face. "It will be OK," Zeke assured him. "My grandfather is like us."

The large hatch swung up, and Zeke noticed the melted snow and burned grass. It couldn't be helped. He doubted anyone would be out here before spring. The thought quickly vanished from his mind. He looked back to the shuttle to make sure Jonephs was behind him, then headed east towards his grandparents' house.

The air was cold on Zeke's face. The snow, clean and unblemished, crunched under their feet. They'd landed in a neighbor's pasture, far from any other house. After a few minutes, he could see the light on the porch shining through the trees ahead.

The barn and work shed were dark and silent, surreal in the glow of the light from the house. The rear patio and steps they took up to the deck had been shoveled. As Zeke stepped onto the deck, he saw his grandfather, framed in the doorway. The storm door creaked as it opened and before he knew it they embraced in a strangling hug, his grandfather repeating, "Zeke. Zeke..."

His eyes were wet, "Grandpa."

For a moment, it was as if he'd never left. His grandfather looked the same as he had when he'd left. It took a moment for Zeke to be able to speak, "You are OK? Everything is OK?"

"I am fine now," his grandfather replied.

Zeke stepped back, remembering Jonephs. He made the introduction, "Grandpa, this is Jon...Jonas, a friend, a good friend."

Jonephs stepped forward without hesitation and extended his hand, "I'm honored to meet you, sir."

"Pleased to meet you," was the reply, "Please call me John. It's cold out here, let's get inside where it is warm. I have hot chocolate. Have you eaten?"

They removed their boots and coats, hanging them on hooks near the door, and made their way into the living room. The iron wood stove cast a warm glow around the room. John Taylor turned up the lights and they sat on the familiar furniture arranged comfortably around the room.

"I'm counting on an interesting story," John told his grandson. "I think that is the least I have a right to expect."

Zeke struggled for words, "Grandpa, if you don't find my story interesting, then I don't know what would be. I'm not sure where to start."

He looked at Jonephs for help, but Jonephs knew it was Zeke's story to tell. "Mr. Taylor...John, Zeke is going to tell you things that are going to be hard for you to believe. I say that knowing that you are an open-minded man who loves and trusts his grandson. Nonetheless, what Zeke tells you is true--absolutely true. It is a story that he should be the one to tell."

Zeke could see his confusion and surprise on his grandfather's face. "Are you from the government?" he asked Jonas/Jonephs.

"No... not exactly."

Zeke started his story.

"I guess it is just easier to tell you what happened. The day I left--I was out on the southwest part of the pasture. I saw something over on the Miller's land, in the woods. Something caught my eye the night before, a meteor, or a plane, or something, and I went over to see what it was. We know the Millers pretty well, so I didn't think they would mind."

His grandfather nodded, waiting for him to continue.

"I walked back into the woods and I saw something near the stream. Something that was big enough that I couldn't figure out how it could have gotten there. When I got closer, well, it looked like something that people don't put in the middle of the woods. Not the people I know, anyway.

"I was walking up the stream bed and I saw someone laying on the bank, not moving. I got closer and I could see it was someone about my age. I could also see the big thing. It was as big as a Greyhound bus. A large hatch was open on one side. That was about as close as I had the nerve to get, and seeing it that close scared me enough that I ended up backing away, then running for a while. I was afraid, really afraid."

He paused, looking for a reaction from his grandfather. He saw mild surprise, but he didn't understand... yet.

"When I got back to the fence, I stopped and waited. Nothing was following me and I calmed down enough to realize that whoever it was probably needed help and if I didn't go back and find out..."

Jonephs sat listening as Zeke related the rest of the story, up to the point where he wrote the note for them and they took off in Danil's shuttle.

John Taylor watched his grandson intently. Making up stories had never been one of Zeke's talents--or faults--so he struggled to digest all that he was hearing.

Zeke looked at his grandfather, "I know Grandpa, I know. I don't think I could believe it if you were telling the story to me."

"I am struggling," his grandfather replied, "but I know you. I have always had faith in you. That you have come back shows me that my faith was justified. Go on and I'll try to gather my wits.

"So you went with Daniel... Danil? Where? How far?"

"A long way," Zeke answered quietly. "A long way."

Jonephs finally spoke, "Zeke tells me that you have a scientific background."

"I'm an engineer, and I read a lot."

"You have a telescope and an interest in astronomy?"

"Yes, I dabble a bit."

"Have you ever wondered if life exists on other planets?"

"Doesn't everyone, at least those who are interested in science and astronomy?"

Jonephs voice was gentle, yet serious. "Some don't wonder. They know."

"I don't know how... I don't know if I can tell you this story in small pieces that make it easier to accept. I look like you. Physically I am just as human as you, but I wasn't born on Earth."

Zeke looked at his grandfather, knowing he had been active and was in good health, but afraid the shock would give him a heart attack. The elder Taylor was quiet, he shook his head and smiled.

"I'm guessing, maybe hoping that you're going to be able to prove what you've said?"

Zeke answered, a little excitement creeping into his voice, "Grandpa, that will not be a problem."

"Why did you come back now?"

Jonephs took this question, too. "We have more to tell, but I think you've heard enough to make your head spin. There is more that you should hear."

"It is a long story, a lot has happened since that day that Zeke helped Danil. I am reluctant to heap more incredible information on top of what you've already heard."

The rest of the story Jonephs knew well enough to relate. He told it from his perspective. He ended with the reappearance of the Redun with Danil and Zeke.

"Yes, that is a lot to take in all at once---a lot to accept while sitting in a farmhouse in front of a wood fire. I'll need some time to think about all this."

Jonephs responded, "I understand. Take the time you need, ask any question you like."

"I can't think of any right now, I'm struggling just to convince myself I'm not dreaming.

"Do you need to leave, or can you stay tonight?"

Zeke looked at Jonephs who nodded. He spoke into his comm, in English so his grandfather could hear, "We're going to be staying the night. Everything has gone well. We'll contact you in the morning; please pass that along."

Only Zeke could hear the acknowledgment, but he could tell his grandfather was impressed.

"I'm guessing we don't have anything like that on Earth?"

"No, not really," Zeke answered. "But I don't think it is too far removed from what we've developed here on Earth, but wait until you see some of the stuff I've seen Grandpa. Wait until you see."

Zeke was warmed by his grandfather's smile.

"What day is this? Is this Grandma's bridge night?"

John Taylor's face grew somber and he paused before speaking.

"It is Tuesday, but she is not there."

His grandfather's tone brought a chill to Zeke's heart.

He bent forward and clasped his grandson's hands in his. "Zeke, she passed away two months ago. A stroke. I'm sorry."

Zeke went numb, he could neither think nor catch his breath. He bent forward and put his face in his grandfather's hands. John could feel the tears dampen his palms.

"You are sorry for me? I am the one who was not here! I was not here for her and not here for you!"

The room was silent except for the sobs which wracked Zeke's body. It took several minutes to compose himself and sit up.

"She did not understand why you left, but she believed in you, and believed you would be back someday. No, she knew you would be back and she was right."

Zeke's composure cracked again and he bent forward sobbing again, unable to speak. Jonephs sat quietly.

"This is unfortunate timing, but I could not wait longer to tell you," John said, gently holding Zeke's head in his hands, blinking back the tears caused as much by his grandson's pain as his own.

He looked at Jonephs, "I am sorry that our meeting has taken this turn."

"It is I who am sorry for your loss, and for Zeke's. He has many friends who will want to send their sympathies. Many, many will be saddened by this news."

Zeke sat up again and wiped his face with a tissue from his grandfather. He asked Jonephs, "Can you tell the general and the others? I might need a little more time, can you ask him...?"

"Yes, you will have the time you need."

"I'll fix that hot chocolate, and something to eat. You can use the other room to talk with the...general?"

"Thank you, there is no need for secrecy, but I would rather not disturb you," Jonephs answered. He went into the next room and John could hear him talking quietly.

Hot chocolate and cheese sandwiches were ready when Jonephs returned. Zeke was quiet, but had calmed down and listened quietly as Jonephs and his grandfather spoke.

"Actually, my name is Jonephs," he said. "Zeke did a last minute translation to limit the shock of all he had to say."

"You call your world Anyar? I'm assuming you all don't speak English, too?"

"No, I learned English in anticipation of meeting you. Anyar is the name of our world. Anyari is both the tongue we speak, and the name of our people."

"Only one language, only one country?"

"Not always, but now, yes. Are you interested in history and social science?"

"Yes. I have too many interests," John replied. "More than I have time for."

"Social science and history are my field."


"For us, they are one subject. Our word for history also encompasses the study of societies. I have an interest in engineering and technology, too."

John served the sandwiches he'd made. "I hope this is alright... not too different from what you're accustomed to. Not an impressive introduction to the first visitor from another planet."

"It is good. A little different, but good. It might be the next fad to sweep Anyar!" he said with a smile.

Zeke excused himself, "You'll be OK Jonephs? If I go to bed now?"

"Certainly, I'm sure your grandfather and I will have a great deal to talk about."

He hugged his grandfather and went to his room.

"He feels a lot of guilt," Jonephs said after Zeke had gone. "He has spoken of it before."

"He has always been the responsible type. His early childhood, with my daughter, was... difficult. She died when he was four, so he barely remembers. That is when he came to live with us. He has been all that his mother was not. I don't know why--if it was us, or if we did things differently. I don't know that we are extremely close, but he has always been responsible and respectful. We have, I think, always understood each other."

"He respects you more than you know. His belief in your wisdom and knowledge is why we are here."

"I would never have known he held me in such regard. He didn't really go through the rebellious teenage stage, but neither did he confide his thoughts. I don't know that I have that much wisdom, although compared to the average person on this planet, maybe I do."

Jonephs reply was a puzzled look.

"I recall a famous quote by someone from a famous family, someone who was hoping to be elected to our highest office: Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not. He was assassinated while he was seeking election. I guess that sums up my view of our planet. So much potential, but we fall so far short. Is Anyar different?"

"We have solved a lot of problems. It has not always been that way. Humans, it seems, are a violent and superstitious lot. Maybe we've had some good luck, I think most would agree that life for us is secure and rewarding. I'm hopeful that you will learn more about Anyar and I'm curious as to what you think. For everything gained, though, you give up something."

"I think most of the people on Earth would be happy with just 'secure.' That alone would be cause for happiness, at least by the first generation that was freed from fear and want."

"Fear and want... is that common here in America?"

"Less so than in most of the world, but it is often true here. I teach at the school my daughter and Zeke attended. I've seen too many kids who lacked for many things--sometimes just the affection of their parents. It is, of course, more complex than that. Maybe I am just melancholy these past few months since the death of my wife."

"The pain of the loss of someone close is not something we have found a cure for. I don't think it would be a good thing if we did."

"Yes, I never thought about it that way. Some days I'd like for something to lift the weight from my shoulders. But then I would not want to lose the depth of my feelings for her."

"You seem to be someone who wishes they could change the world: right the wrongs and cure the ills?"

"I guess I have my delusions of grandeur. If you've eliminated fear and want on Anyar, I think we could use a big helping of that here."

"We are peaceful and peace-loving, but the diversity and ambition that once had fueled our advancement has diminished. Not that we have stagnated and are apathetic, but we have, I think, lost much of the creativity and drive we had generations ago. Until recently, it seemed like a good trade. Now, though, we are facing a threat and must rethink that."

"That seems to be one of the great contradictions of life: adversity hones the will, and makes you appreciate it when things get better."

Jonephs nodded, "Just as true on Anyar. We have, however, lost that adversity. I didn't think that was a bad thing."

He continued, "One thing that didn't come out in the story Zeke told is how big an impact he has had on Anyar. You would not think one boy, I think he deserves to be called a young man now, could so quickly change the direction of a world. Our population is small compared to Earth, a few hundred million, but that is quite an accomplishment in a less than a year."


"Yes, Zeke. Your Zeke. I like to think he is our Zeke now, too. I don't know that I believe in destiny, but he was clearly the right person, in the right place, at the right time. You will want to hear the story."

John shook his head, "Yes, I'm sure I will."

It had been a long day, and John showed Jonephs to the guest bedroom. "Good night. My room is at the end of the hall. Zeke's is the other, and the bath is on the right. Hopefully, the facilities are similar enough it won't be a problem."

Jonephs smiled, "If I can't figure it out, I'll have a tough time living it down."