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As an eternal, Judith gave up on the world long before those fools destroyed it. She didn’t run out of her forest looking for survivors, didn’t seek out those she knew of. She wanted nothing to do with any human until Garth fell out of the sky. He aroused one emotion she had left, curiosity. Where did he come from and how did he get there? Why did he have a perfect adult body and the mind of a child? What terrified him? To get the answers she must first educate him and then protect him from the survivors down the mountain, wanting a healthy, mature male to rebuild the human race.

Excerpts

#1

Prologue

First month, first year 0001

  Someone made a mistake, or a computer made a mistake. No matter who or what, the damage was done. The world, as those few knew it, was gone. None of those in the tiny community could reason it out. None could explain why their small remote area was missed when worldwide destruction annihilated billions upon billions, demolished cities, towns, hamlets, villages, and even the land itself.

  Judith may have been able to puzzle it out if she cared. Long before the people and machines destroyed the world they existed in, she had withdrawn, walked away from a third lifetime, seeking isolation from any human being. She had obtained solitude with difficulty since there had been so few areas left where one could completely isolate oneself. Few others would have been able to. Few others had the intelligence or funds to find a place where man had not spread out to cover the land with dwellings, forcing his presence on nature. Unrestricted natural land, not governed zealously, existed in small quantities. The government, however, was more than willing to supply the funds and bend the laws to allow her a permanent, full-time dwelling on some of the federal parkland.  Doing so was far easier than repeatedly changing her identity to hide her existence.

  Her latest home, and last, was forty miles from the nearest town and twenty miles from the closest vacation-retirement community of Soft Wind Respite, a collection of cabins and homes, most designed for summer and holiday visiting. No road from either led to her home. No road from anywhere led to her home. Only by foot, horseback, all-terrain, or four-wheel drive vehicles could one reach it on ground. Though she had a four-wheel drive SUV and a snow-cat when she needed to go beyond her private existence, she usually traveled by air in her own helicopter and only to a federal installation for whatever she might need. Even the last had become a rarity as she had grown, or degenerated, to the point she avoided contact with any human as much as possible.

  Few in the nearest inhabited areas even knew she existed. Those few, an occasional hunter or hiker, wondered why a pretty, young woman would want to live alone, so far from anyone, from anything. Was there something wrong with her? Was she weak in the mind, touched, twisted, or just eccentric? What did she do, alone there, in the fancy house so far away, so difficult to get to? Was there something evil about her?

  Far fewer were left to wonder and most of those in the Respite community had only heard gossip. Those who had survived the devastation no longer worried over one strange woman who lived far back in the forest where private dwellings were forbidden. The realities of a dead world were too horrifying to deal with, leaving no time to wonder, fantasize, or care what went on with one strange woman. The worries were too strong and never relented. The fears of each second of every day dominated their lives and filled their thoughts.

  How would they eat? How would they keep warm when the cold came? They had only the summer clothes they had arrived with for their summer vacations. How would they keep the cabins warm during the winter? The only heating sources were fireplaces and wood stoves designed more to create a cozy atmosphere than the monumental task of protecting against the deep cold of snow and ice. What would they use for clothes when even the thin summer ones wore out? What for shoes? What for medicine? The what, why, and how concerned every facet of their survival.

  Of those few who had survived the war—if war it could be called—some could not face the unknown, fear, and dread. During the first week when the reality of what was left sank in, seven of those survivors at the Respite took their own lives. If the end had come on a weekend there would have been more to survive, only to face dying. More men, the husbands and fathers, would have been there for the women and children to depend on for strength and assurance, making the chances of survival greater.

  The end, however, came on a weekday when those men had not yet left their jobs in the cities to join their families for a last weekend of relaxation and enjoyment before summer’s end. Had it been one week later, there would have been nearly no one. School would have begun, and the vacation houses would have closed. The forest haven would have been empty except the few retirees who lived there year round.

  As for Judith? With food stored for years, a nuclear generator, solar banks, and a wind generator for a constant supply of power, she had none of their fears. Nor did she have any expectations or hope.

    She lived past despair, frustration, and bitterness long before the world’s end. Unlike everyone who had ever lived, she was not bound by time. She had a life she didn’t want and couldn’t end, living in a void. Empty of emotion, she no longer cared what came or went, not people, worlds, or civilizations.


#2

  A rumbling sounded like thunder in a cloudless sky. A flash lit the area, more akin to heat lightning than an electrical charge, and a body fell to the ground from some twelve feet or so above, coming from nothingness. Her hair settled, the sound disappeared, and there were no more flashes.

  Just the body.

  She stared at it, and it wasn’t what she expected. Aside from something abnormal, one didn’t expect what appeared to be a perfectly normal human being to fall out of the sky. He appeared to be normal, though superior in body structure, with facial features more regular than most. Still not abnormal. Obviously one male still lived who was not old and decrepit, but where did he come from? And how, in this world, before or now, did the technology exist to drop him there?

  His chest rose and fell, his breathing erratic. The trip, wherever it had been from, did not seem to have been an easy one.

  She hesitated briefly before shrugging slightly and touching him. If he was contaminated, it could be a way out for her, a way to die.

  Rolling him over, she took his pulse, peeked under his eyelids, and felt his skin. He was in shock of some kind, strengthening her theory it hadn’t been an easy trip. He had no detectable broken bones, no fever, and no indication of infection.

  His only identification was a patch on the front of his shirt with the name Garth, a meaningless, hyphenated abbreviation, and a number. The clothes were interesting, though not as interesting as the metal ring around his neck. She’d never seen the coarse material the pajama style shirt and pants were made of, though only noticing in passing. The ring drew and held her attention. Made of a cold metal, it was not jewelry. The ring wouldn’t move up or down more than slightly, anchored in some way at the back of his neck.

  One emotion had not died in Judith, curiosity. The ring fascinated her. She pushed the man to his side to examine it further. The strange necklace ran through a smaller ring protruding from a plate implanted beneath the skin at the back of his neck. On his side without his weight on it, the ring would slide through the small one, allowing an up and down motion in the front, all the movement it allowed. The large ring was firmly attached, with no seam she could detect. Whoever put it there meant for it to stay.

  She eased back a few feet when the man stirred, to observe his reaction to his destination.

  Open-mouthed, wide-eyed wonder gave a childlike quality to what she admitted was a handsome face until he saw her. His face contorted into terror, though controlled, transforming into anger. He started up only to fall, and when he realized he didn’t have the strength to run from her, he crawled, dragging himself away, staring at her belligerently over his shoulder.

  He wasn’t mute. “Trick,” he retorted.

  “Falling out of the sky the way you did was some trick. Where did you come from?”

  “You know,” he told her sullenly, the little strength he had fading rapidly.

  “If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”

  “You Supreme,” he spat out, his head dropping to lie on his arms.

  She didn’t know if the single word was a title or a name. She tried name. “My name is Judith. You’re in the White Mountains in Arizona.”

  “Burnt out wasteland.”

  He said each word slowly as if he had just learned them. but if it wasn’t his native language, he didn’t have any accent.

  “If wastelands are what you want, try over the mountains. It seems your aim was off in distance as well as altitude. Why would you want to go there?”

  “No.”

  “No what?”

  “No want.”

  She stood up, and he screamed.

  “No!” Clawing and kicking at the ground, he lacked the strength to drag himself forward.

  Judith didn’t follow, telling him, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

  “Punish. No. No.” He quickly worked himself into hysteria. “I know station. No will band. No Madeline. No pleasure band. No Mother. Supreme. Supreme punish, no band.”

  He babbled incoherently, and the way he fought to get up and run from her, despite his weakness, he was in danger of hurting himself. She didn’t want him hurt. He had aroused her curiosity, and she wanted answers.

  “Calm down,” she told him dispassionately and moved toward him.

  Screaming again, he still tried to get away from her. He collapsed the instant her fingers touched his shoulder, went limp with his face in his folded arms, crying like a baby.


#3

April 15, 0001

  Modesty was not an important point for Garth, but then neither could it be called a weakness. He simply didn’t have an ounce of self-consciousness when it came to being naked. He apparently had no thought of putting on the clothes he carried in his hand.

  Judith had spent three days examining him and building his strength back up with intravenous fluids and nutrients. She’d kept him sedated to accomplish both tasks, moving what she needed from her hidden laboratory in the basement for the least amount of aggravation to herself. He would be, she was sure, a difficult patient while awake, and keeping him asleep had been no easy chore. His body, for some reason she had yet to identify, required nearly twice as much medication as normal.

  Garth was human. His body, however, carried a few items no human had ever carried before —to her knowledge. The implanted plate securing the metal loop holding the ring around his neck was attached to an extremely slim, flexible metal band beneath the skin, stretching down over his spine and out each arm to the wrists. Metal threads extended upward from the same neck implant into his skull and brain cavity. The ring itself was hollow and contained receiving equipment of some sort as well as a small power source.

  He had spoken of a will band in his ramblings. She was beginning to fathom what that was and its function after finding all the wires.

  Garth, on the other hand, was having great difficulty in understanding how the simple mechanism of the bedroom door worked. When he approached it from inside the room, the panel had opened, sliding into the wall pocket. He picked at the edge of it, trying to make it come back out, only to lose interest when he spotted a painting on the wall. He walked off, the door shut, and he spun around to stare at it. Stepping toward the door, into the sensory field, he froze when it opened. He backed off. The panel closed. He stepped forward. It opened. He repeated the process three times before going back to the painting.

  Resembling a child in a toyshop, seeing too many toys to be able to decide which he wanted, he touched and stroked his way down the short hall, until he spotted Judith at the dining table, watching him. He jerked, not in embarrassment over his nudity, as he made no effort to cover himself. He went on the defensive, braced for battle or flight.

  Judith didn’t speak. She watched, wondering how long it would be before his attention was diverted. Distraction didn’t take long. His eyes drifted off, though they jerked back repeatedly to check on her. He looked at everything, and when she made no move toward him, he wandered, touching things, glaring at her in defiance, while making sure he kept the room between them.

  After ten minutes, convinced he was not going to speak first, she asked, “Is nudity common where you come from?” He went back to a staring statue. She rephrased the question. “Do you go without clothes often?”

  He hesitated, drawing his brows together in concentration. “You no clothes me. You Mother?”

  “No,” she snapped sharply in answer to the question. If she understood the first part of what he said, she had indeed been the one who undressed him, which he had pointed out to her sarcastically.

  “You want me no clothes?”

  “I don’t care either way.” 

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