Abbas inhaled the bittersweet scent of the dying season, fully conscious of the vitality of his young companion.
Noman paced at his side through the spent garden, his gaze searching, though his lips remained stiffly in place.
They both knew why he had come.
Noman shook his head and waved toward the silent mounds where flowers, bushes, and fruit trees had once bloomed. “I’ve never understood your obsession with seasons. You know perfectly well that it’s just a repetitive cycle.”
Stopping under a gnarled tree radiant with autumn foliage, Abbas smiled through his discomfort. “Stages, even repetitive ones, have much to teach us.” He pointed to three milk-white moons rising in the light-green evening sky. “Everything is a part of a larger whole. We cannot live in isolation.”
Noman tilted his head and stared at the golden sun sinking onto the horizon. “If we are going to survive — much less thrive — we must choose soon.”
Abbas plucked a scarlet leaf off the tree. “Home is where the heart is.”
His tone bitter, Noman snorted a laugh. “You love riddles and poetical expressions, Abbas, but reality faces us with stark choices.”
A soprano note rose over the sleeping landscape, arresting the two. They stopped and listened as the voice danced, rising and falling, whirling with words until the singer burst through the gate at the end of the pathway.
She stood luminous, her long black hair fell past her shoulders, golden eyes sparkled in mischievous fun, and her lips twitched with unspent laughter. A long blue dress caressed her upper body and fell into gentle folds at her feet. A garland of late-season herbs crowned her head.
Abbas’s gaze darted to her rounded tummy, seeing in his mind the life curled on contentment within her body. “Angela?”
Noman’s perfect composure stiffened, a cord stretched to its limit.
Abashed, the laughter on Angela’s lips died. She swayed forward, her gaze slipping from Abbas to Noman. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean — ”
Abbas lifted his hand. “You are always welcome, my love. Any news?”
A fluttered sweep over her tummy, she smiled and nodded a polite salutation. “All is well.” She glanced into the sky. “I pray the same can be said for those under our watchful eye.”
Straightening, Noman scowled, a pedagogue forced to impart a hard lesson. “A time to choose is upon us. They have no intrinsic value other than in service to the greater good.” Noman glanced at Abbas. “I wish you could teach your husband to see with your vision.”
A flash of irritation sped over Angela’s face, quickly replaced by her usual serene unconcern. “My vision only extends to my own sphere. I make no pretense of managing the larger universe.”
Abbas gestured to the arched gateway leading to a magnificent castle, resting on a mountaintop surrounded by a pine forest. The stone structure with myriad exalted towers, round and rectangular windows on every level, and a domed central roof dominated the landscape. “Let’s return and enjoy our evening together.” He nodded at Noman. “We can discuss your concerns in more depth after a good meal — ”
Tapping his thigh, Noman’s agitation spread to the air around him. “There is little to discuss. I simply wanted to know if I had your support.”
Pained, Abbas dropped his gaze. “You have my support but your plan does not.”
His face tightened into a frozen mask, Noman nodded. “What I expected. Though I am disappointed. My mission is now clear.”
Angela sucked in a breath, her hands clasping her middle. “What do you plan to do?”
Noman waved her question away with a formal salute. “Nothing you need concern yourself with.” He turned to Abbas. “I will take my leave. Humans must face the greatest conundrum of their existence. Either they are slaves or masters.” He shook his head. “The council will see, I’m right. It’s a pity, really. You could have saved us all a great deal.” He shrugged. “But it’s no matter. The truth will come out.” He bowed low. “I must be on my way. The sooner I get this over with, the better.”
Angela nodded, her eyes clouded, her forehead furrowed in knots of concern.
In a blink of the eye, Noman disappeared. Only his footprints in the soft soil testified to his presence a moment before.
Angela sighed. “Why is he so angry? And why take it out on a primitive race that has never done him any harm?”
Dread filled Abbas, a gut-wrenching certainty that boded ill for many. “Noman was not created like us. Despite his intelligence and abilities, he lacks fruition.”
Angela swallowed, fear filling her eyes. “But why — ”
“For all of their limitations and failings, humanity can reproduce. A privilege denied him.”
“But he has his own glory. Can’t he see that?”
Abbas sighed and took his wife’s arm. “When we refuse the good in others, we often destroy it in ourselves.”
Angela jerked to a halt, her hand clasping her stomach. “He kicked!” She laughed. “It’s almost as if he could hear you and wanted to respond.”
Abbas lifted his eyes from his wife to the dim horizon, onto the first twinkling stars. “We best get home. Night is falling fast, and we don’t have much time.”
Angela patted his arm. “Don’t worry, my love. We’re protected here, and Noman will do as he pleases, in any case. He always does. What happens out there isn’t our responsibility.” She stepped away and beckoned with laughter. “Let’s enjoy our night together.”
Abbas let her go ahead and stood alone in the dark, his grief rising at the thought of his son inheriting such a universe. He shook his head. Slave, master, or honest service to all. Tears filled his eyes.
What will humanity choose?