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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #1513515
First foray into sci-fi that's not Star Trek.
Getting there

On the dark, desolate road, deep inside a mountain valley, the silver car and the U-Haul stuck out due to the fact that it was the only vehicle on the road in the storm. Nothing could be seen in the dark, stormy weather, though, by rights, there should be plenty of visibility, with all of the lightning. With each lightning flash, the mountains loomed around them. The family inside the vehicle were lost. They had been traveling on the road for hours, but knew that they should have been at their destination before noon. The two children inside the car hoped as best as 3 year olds could that someone would find them before their father went haywire. The children knew what would happen to them or their mother should the twins make any noise. All of the occupants of the car realized that they were running out of gas.

"John," their mother half-dared to whisper.

"What, Marta?" John growled.

"I saw a house not too far from here during the last lightning flash."

"You better be right, Marta, or you'll be sleeping with the fishes when I find a damn lake. Sooner if we run out of gas." She probably thought she saw something, John thought. These mountains are varied enough, including all the trees, that anything could look like a building.

She nodded, shrinking back into her shell.

They slowly drove along, never knowing what their fate would be, even if they found the house that Marta saw. Not until it was too late to turn back. As they turned the bend, the house slowly came into view. Partially hidden by trees, it was soon apparent that it was an old Victorian mansion, painted in very dark colors, reminding John of the black and white Addams Family shows that had been on in the 1964. While it looked small on the outside, the family would soon find that looks were to be deceiving and that the 'house' was in reality the back entrance to John Day, Oregon. John, while eager to get to his new job in the accounting division of a government project here in Oregon, was in no hurry to tell his family what the place was known for. John really didn't know the details about the project, nor did he want to. What was known by everyone in the area was that the project had been going on for at least 50 years. While John knew of the potential problem with their car, he figured that they could just walk if they needed to. He was too curious about the house and too determined to get to his new job before too much longer.

Pulling into the driveway, John really felt like he had driven into the old television show. Instead of Lurch, the tall, groaning butler, standing at the door of the house, 5 oddly robed people came out of the house. John and Marta both were having trouble placing the color of the robes, as well as wondering why someone would wear robes in the middle of summer. It was not quite green, blue, brown, or red, but rather a color that combined all of those, but yet was somewhat lilac. The robe almost shimmered, as if it was made out of a waterproof material. John had heard of such a material, it was supposed to be a combination of fabric and the plastic that they use in raincoats, but that the fabric did NOT feel like plastic at all and was very comfortable to wear.

Stepping out of the car, John opened his mouth to ask directions to the nearest town or city where he could get his car filled up with gas. Before he could speak, the man-or woman, it was difficult to tell under the robe-said, "Please, sir, come inside from the storm, you and those with you."

Before the stranger could finish the welcome, John forcibly replied, "I am just looking for directions to the nearest town. I am due to be in John Day..."

The others looked at one another. "You, sir, are far out of your way," a different stranger replied before John could finish his sentence. "There is no town by that name for miles. We are the only ones in these parts, if you catch my meaning."

Like hell, John thought. I am guessing that I'm right where I am supposed to be. These robes weirdoes may say I'm not, but they usually will say one thing and mean another. I wonder which one is the 'leader' of this little cult. Only one way to find out. Out loud, he asked, "Who exactly are you people and you is your leader?"

"We are The Ones." The group spoke as one. "As for our leader, Aznohn could not be here to greet you."

"The Ones? Isn't that a bit clichéd?"

The group looked at each other, evidently amused. "That, sir, is a common reaction even within our group, but no-one has come up with a better name."

John snorted. Go figure. "What exactly do you mean when you say you are 'The Ones'?"

"We are The Ones who have been, who are, and who always will be." One replied. John noted it was the first one to speak to them. The stranger said a statement that John would later find was repeated often, "Enough of this talking. We are all getting wet and you and your traveling companions must be cold and hungry. Inside, all of us." Pointing to one of the robed people, he asked, "Adrianna, will you be so kind as to see their things brought inside? Thank you."

John snorted. Like he was going to trust his belongings to some robed weirdo. When asked for the car keys, he refused. He needed to get his family to the nearest town, to gas up and continue on. Maybe even by a GPS unit. Even if this was John Day, Oregon, he still wasn't trusting his things to these robed cult members. Adrianna tugged at the keys, causing John to grab them out of her reach. By doing that, the male robed stranger was able to grab them and hand them to Adrianna. "Hey! Those are mine! My family and I are NOT staying. We just need to get to the closest town to gas up our car."

"This is the closest town. We have no gas station," Adrianna pointed out. "It looks like you don't have a choice. You can either come with us, or die when you run out of both food and gas. We do have phones to the outside world, but one of us will call your employer and tell them that you have been delayed."

"Really? I don't think so," John retorted, making a grab for his keys, but falling flat on his face to the general laughter of the cult.

"John, are you ok?" Marta asked. Without John's noticing, she had gotten out of the car and ran to his side.

"Marta, I'm fine, you little bint," he snapped, adding quietly that if she said one word about their marriage, she'd be dead before she could say any more. Getting up, he noticed that the cult members wore shocked looks. "What? You've never heard someone talk like that?" John started to rant about idealists and their want of control over the rest of humanity. Before he could finish his rant, one of the cult members came over and threw a punch that knocked him unconscious.

Waking up, John found himself in a raspberry colored room, which contrasted the dark, gloomy look of the outside of the house. Getting up, he found he was on a futon, with his head on a takamakura-or small neck pillow that John had last seen in an geisha's home-or okiya-in Japan. Marta wasn't in the room, but John figured that'd change by the end of the night. Noticing a window, he found that he was still in the main house, for which he was relieved. John really didn't care for the room color, but what he didn't know was that this was the same color that he would find in many of the rooms, including the dining hall and Aznohn's office.

Hearing a door open, John kept his face towards the window, but noticed that it was the same cult member from earlier, the one that had first talked to him and his family.

"You're awake. Good."

Turning to him, "Is that all you can say? One of your followers knocked me out and you don't even apologize? And this room! It's a geisha room. I am NOT sleeping by myself, without my wife. I want to see her and my two boys. Add to that, I don't even know where I am and I'm guessing my employer are wondering where I am as well."

The stranger held his hand up. "Enough questions. All will be answered in time, as you need to know. Marta is in her own room-for this is how we do things. If she wishes to partner with you once the trial week is over, she will be able to. We do not follow such things as legal marriage. Your twins have their own rooms, in the children's ward. They will be partnered to their older brothers after this week. Your employer has been notified; Marta was kind enough to give us their number. Your employer said that this is where you are supposed to be. You can call them at the end of the week to verify if you wish."

The man continued to talk, explaining to John that the women partnered with whomever they wish, though most would partner with other women. Some partnered with men, though they went through extensive personality testing and fortune telling to determine the right man for her. The theory behind that was women could figure out the right woman for themselves and the men the right men. Beyond that, they needed a fortune teller or one of the priest/ess to find the right mate of the opposite sex. Shrugging, he finished with, "But you don't need to worry about that right now. We must talk of your place here."

"What do you mean, Mister?" John blustered, thrown for a loop. Just because this man indicated that John's employer said that he was supposed to be here doesn't mean that it was true, John thought. "My family and I were just looking for a place to wait out the storm and fill up the gas tank before getting to our destination, Mister...hell I don't even know your name, Mr. Whoever you are!" he thundered.

Through it all, the strange man remained calm. "We had been notified of your arrival months ago, by Aznohn, our high priest and head. If an outsider is to be brought in to any department, Aznohn is the one to make the final approval and also the department, John. As for names, just call me Lehrer. It is the only name you need to know at the moment. No mister or sir is needed, just Lehrer. If you stay, you will eventually get a name for the other members of our group to call you, as no-one here is known by their birth name. Aznohn might call you by your real name, as might some of the higher ups. If you choose to just do your job at the end of the week, that is your choice, or if you want to be involved in the religious aspect as well. Your family will be assigned mentors if they stay, as will you."

"Mentors?" John faintly asked. Deciding to try and manipulate Lehrer as the cult was already obviously doing to him, he changed his posture, voice, and expression to that of a person genuinely sorry for their actions, he said, "Lehrer, forgive me for my actions and for taking my frustrations out on you."

Lehrer waved it all off, though. "You are not the first outsider to say that to their mentor. Do not worry about it."

John asked where he and Marta would live if he decided to stay. To his surprise, he found that she also had the same choice and that the kids would most likely stay with her. He knew that the legally, if he and Marta were to separate, he had custody of the twins. He even had the legal papers that said so. He figured that he wouldn't have to rely on that though, because if she stayed or left, so would he and the vice would be true as well. Maintaining his act, John asked Lehrer what his duties would be outside of his job.

Lehrer explained that for each man and woman, it would be to their best abilities.


Lehrer, closing the door, but not locking it, strode up the hall Aznohn's office. On his way, he recalled the first time he had entered the office of the imposing leader. He was surprised to find behind the mahogany desk an older, but kind man, one who took the young lad under his wing and taught him about the administration side of the so-called religious compound. At first, Lehrer was shocked and even angry to find that what he had been raised to believe was a religious center for those who revered and worshiped the older gods and goddesses was in fact a government experiment designed to help figure out human DNA as well as causing certain...mutations. Eventually, Lehrer grew to accept it, though grudgingly. He eventually painted a picture for Aznohn, one that still stood in the older man's office after all these years, one that stood right above a window looking out at a brook that ran through the property. Aznohn had been so impressed with it that he had Lehrer design and paint an image of the outside of the complex onto his desk. Lehrer smiled at the memories; he had grown to view Aznohn as a father, though he did not blindly trust the older man like he did before. Knocking on the door, he waited to hear the familiar "Enter" before going in.

"What do you have to report?" Aznohn asked, looking up from the folder he was reading, the setting sun shining off of the file cabinet behind him.

"As you know, Aznohn, a group of four outsiders, the ones we were expecting, came in during the storm. There is a man, John by name, 25, a woman, Marta, 24, and their twin boys, Bill and Harry, 4 years of age."

Aznohn nodded. "I have observed...Marta, you said was her name? Yes, I observed and met with her earlier and her Lehrerin says that Marta intends to stay; but also that the young woman shows signs of being in a controlling, if not abusive, relationship."

"I have gotten that impression from John, just from the few things he let slip and from his actions. He acts like one who wants to be in control, in charge. I wouldn't be surprised if he is planning to try and manipulate us like we are trying to do with him. He is very clever, but is too clever. Sooner or later, he will make a slip, with it being somewhere in between."

"Can this behavior be controlled or corrected?" Aznohn asked merely out of habit then curiosity. "I do not want any of our women hurt." Nor anyone else, but especially them.

"I believe so, but it must be done carefully. Too fast and we will lose control of him; to slow and he will realize something is up. If that happens, he will gain the upper hand and start making demands, the first being that he control Marta and be her only mate choice. Either that, or he will leave and insist that the other three come with him, which is unacceptable if they have no choice in the matter."

Aznohn nodded, knowing that John was capable of making such a choice. The men who had hired John knew of that aspect of him; and that it was part of the reason that the young accountant was not one to take many orders from people, except his superiors. Neighbors and friends had mentioned that John had always had a dominate personality. It wasn't a bad trait to have, especially for someone who looked like he could rise to the top of things, but it needed to be properly channeled, not left unchecked and unfocused. "I do believe that we distract him from thoughts of Marta for the time being. Allow him to see her once in a while, but if he decides to join in on the religious aspects, he will, of course, be bound by the rules. He wouldn't have a choice in the matter of mating."

"That would frustrate him to no end, Aznohn, and yet we can't make exceptions for anyone. Where should we assign him if he did decide to join the religious aspect?"

"Definitely not in a breeding group...maybe in the genetic experiments group?"

Lehrer's jaw dropped. "You mean...the one that failed earlier..."

Aznohn nodded, quite serious, making Lehrer wonder.

Not even I would subject my worst enemy to that group, unless Aznohn wants a revolt. That group was started to try and figure out the genetic reason why some people are born with both male and female...it only failed when they tried to twist the mutation so that those born such would also be fertile. The mutation became unstable...it needs another element to stabilize it. Those that had implants put in went crazy when they didn't know what was going on. Aznohn...what are you planning? Are you going crazy? What happened to the man I once viewed as a father; to the man I called Lehrer once? This will either kill John or make him go crazy...unless he has the mutation, in which case...Aznohn, do not make me tell him this. Someone must, not I. He would not trust me. You maybe, not me. He would take it from someone higher up. That is his personality style; you said it yourself last week that it is in his file. I noticed it myself. All I represent is the separation between him and his wife and children. To him, you would represent either a chance to take over or a chance of losing his sanity.

Out loud, he asked when Aznohn wanted to meet with John, trying to hide his bitterness and frustration.

"Friday, two days from now. I know you told him a week, but I spoke with his bosses again and promised that he would be in work by Monday. You and I both know what his answer will be. Marta has already agreed to stay, provided that John has limited contact with her and the kids. That wouldn't be a problem, given if he agrees to leave the education of his children to us."

"He no doubtedly will, when we point out that the only school in the area is here and that this is John Day. That, and when he meets with his bosses Monday, he will agree."

The two men continued talking, oblivious to the fact that all the planning was going to come to naught.


John listened outside the door, both curious and angry. Aznohn and Lehrer brought up some good points. Neither man knew that John had a map of the area inside his pants pocket and had discovered the fact of where he was on his own. He didn't mind working in a place like this, but the only thing besides separation from Marta and the children that he didn't agree with was the fact that he would be part of the failed genetic experiment group. It reminded him too much of what had happened to put him off genetic research as a university major. It had been either that or accounting. Here he was, a year later, an accountant and hired by the government.

Uh-oh. Chairs were being pushed back and it sounded like someone was walking around. John hurried back to his room and slipped back into bed, not knowing that he had just heard Aznohn pulling his chair back to put something away in a file cabinet. He just hoped that he wouldn’t be caught spying. There was too much at risk here for him to ignore everything and hope it was all a dream; or that it would all go away. John knew that if he had remembered the map earlier, he, Marta, and their children wouldn’t be in this predicament, not at all. John figured, though, that he’d get farther with Aznohn then he had with Lehrer. Aznohn sounded like his kind of guy, sort of.


Lehrer exited the office shortly after Aznohn had put John’s folder away, head down. He did not enjoy having to tell his young charge the plans for the future. Hearing a door close, he looked up and glanced down both sides of the hallway. On a hunch, he quickly went to the left, to John’s room. Opening the door, he had to suppress a chuckle. “Schüler…John. I know you’re awake. There’s no trying to hide it.”

“Damn.” John sat up.

Lehrer folded his arms. “How much did you hear?”

“What makes you think I heard anything?”

Lehrer just smirked, raising an eyebrow. I’ll see how long I can drag him out. “Because I did the same thing when my teacher was meeting with an administrator about me.”

“Huh? Wait a minute! I never said I was snooping!”

“No, you did. You just said, and I quote, ‘What makes you think I heard anything?’ implying that you did indeed, at least, try to listen in. You and I will talk tomorrow. Who knows, you might find out something that you never expected.”

John’s jaw dropped. This Lehrer guy was clever. Too clever for his own good…either that or he was telepathic…or both. Given what had happened earlier, at supper, it didn’t seem like a remote impossibility. As Sherlock Holmes once said, “If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” John was in so much shock, he didn’t even notice Lehrer pushing him so that he was lying down. He soon fell asleep, not even remembering the dreams he had that night, though in the days to come, he would often wonder if he made the right choice.

The next two days saw a very sleepy John up before the crack of dawn. Any attempts to skive off the morning run were foiled. Lehrer spent the day just talking with him, getting to know the young, grey eyed, brown haired young man. Lehrer knew that while John controlled his wife’s behavior to some extent, he didn’t realize how far back into his family it went. To get that far, Lehrer had to deal with being yelled at by John. The young man did not want to trust him at all. Lehrer had to slowly coax the information out of him. By lunchtime the two had made it to a point where John was seriously re-considering how he had treated the woman he had fallen in love with, married, and had children with. Was that how he wanted to live the rest of his life? Lehrer was shocked at the information he received. Most of it had come out accidentally, as he figured that John would definitely not reveal that information to a stranger unless he wasn’t in the state of mind to do so, like being angry. He had noticed that John remained quiet, but troubled during lunch. It would be easy to get him to open up, especially if behaved in the role that the outsiders called the ‘priest confessor’.

When they got back up to his room, Lehrer quietly requested that John sit down. “What’s wrong, Schüler?”

John looked up. “Will you tell anyone?”

“Not unless you say I can. I won’t even tell Aznohn, even though he has asked me to tell him everything. I don’t like what he’s planning for you or for your family. You were brought here to do a job, got lost, and met me. Aznohn probably arranged for you to get lost, given that most of the outsiders in some of the other towns won’t even direct people to this place if they can help it, due to the fact that they know that those who go in rarely come out and the ones that do eventually go into a mental institution due to the things that they say happen here, most of which, I regret to say, are true. I would not blame you for taking Marta and the children with you and leaving. Now, will you please tell me what’s wrong?”

John was upset enough over his behavior towards his only friend here that he didn’t think through what Lehrer had told him. “Where did I go wrong with her?”

“With who, my student? I am not a full-fledged telepath, John.”

“Marta, my wife, my love. I treated her fine when we were dating. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t turn into my father due to how I saw how he treated my mom. Now that I think about it, I’m doing the exact same thing to her as my father did.” Without realizing it, John slowly began to cry, thoughts of manipulation far from his mind, the plan that he had haphazardly constructed far from his mind. He had originally thought to try and manipulate the older man, but Lehrer had not only mentioned that he expected John to try that during their morning talk, but was proving to be a capable ally.

After John had calmed down, the two headed out on the grounds, where Lehrer taught John some basic mind shielding techniques that anyone gifted with telepathy would have some difficulty reaching his mind. The two bonded over the training, though John was not ready to trust his new ally with some of the information regarding his past…walls did have ears and eyes, after all. He vowed to tell Lehrer everything, when this was all over, though. The two began to plan a plan based off of what Lehrer had told John earlier, a plan that would put Aznohn so far off balance that he wouldn’t realize he was being tricked until too late.

All in all, it had been an exhausting day for John. By the time he got back in his room after supper that night, he wanted to fall asleep. Lehrer had other plans right then. “I know that you want to sleep right now, but I feel I should tell you that Aznohn might be meeting with you in the morning. I will erect better shields for you while you sleep, but right now, you need to stay awake a couple more hours. The shields I will erect for you will last until you can build some of your own. Before you ask, staying awake will help. It is only 6 in the evening. You won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep if you go to bed now.”

“Lehrer, I really don’t care. I’m tired and have had a long day. I’m going to bed,” John grumped and crawled into bed in his clothing, ignoring the look on his teacher’s face and promptly fell asleep. He regretted the decision the next morning when Lehrer shook him awake.

“Schüler. Time to get up. I know you’re tired, but this will pass with time. Aznohn wants to meet with you today. I know you were expecting next Wednesday, but I think he has other reasons for asking you to come sooner.”

“You mean to tell me what I’m doing and where I’m going.”

Lehrer raised an eyebrow. His student wasn’t the most cognitive this early in the morning, though he still had a smart mouth. “Possibly. I don’t know the exact reason why, but you do need to get up and get into clothing that, ah, hasn’t been slept in,” he lightly admonished.

John got up, grumbling. “This is an unholy hour to get up. I’ll get up if I have to…just don’t make me do this when I start work. My boss won’t appreciate me coming to the office half-asleep and I doubt this Aznohn fellow won’t appreciate it either.”

Lehrer looked gobsmacked for a second before he cracked up laughing. “John, my student, your meeting with Aznohn isn’t until after lunch. You won’t be half-asleep at the meeting, so I wouldn’t worry about it.” Add to the fact that you’ll have plenty of caffeine in your body from coffee and whatnot. The morning run woke you up yesterday…though you did fall in the stream, cold as that is. When John didn’t move, Lehrer pulled the covers off of him. “If you don’t like your covers being off, maybe you should get up,” came the admonishment after John had made a grab for his covers. Lehrer added that perhaps he should get a bucket of cold water. John shot out of bed like a bullet, remembering how cold that stream was. He figured that any bucket of water Lehrer found would be much colder then the stream.

Going to his closet, he began to pull out his best clothing, ignoring the robe that Lehrer was trying to push to him. “Listen, Lehrer, I know you mean well, but honestly, do you think I will wear a robe to a meeting with the top dog? I know it’s normal for you folks to wear robes, you grew up wearing them. Me, I grew up wearing pants and shirts…not robes of this kind. Us ‘outsiders’ as you call us only wear robes as costumes or before and after a bath; not as normal wear.” He paused as a thought came to him…in his plans to manipulate the people here he didn’t realize that he had forgotten such an important thing. “Would it be too terribly rude if I wore my normal clothing under the robe?” Mentally snickering at the look on Lehrer’s face, he figured no-one had ever thought of that before; that it wouldn’t be ‘taboo’.

“I do not think it will be a problem, except that no-one has ever thought of that before, not even the others that joined, outsiders like yourself.” Lehrer was shocked, for the second time that morning. I can’t believe Aznohn forgot to put something that simple in the rulebook; or his predecessors. I think that they were relying way too much on the so-called ‘religious’ aspect of this place to shut up any outsiders that came to this place. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of Aznohn’s office when John comes in wearing his best outsider clothing. “Though I don’t see any problems with it, it wouldn’t hurt to take them off if someone objects, especially one of the hire-ups. This reminds me, after your meeting with Aznohn, I’ll have to teach you the differences in robes and what they mean. You’ll need to know this even if you decide not to stay because you’ll be dealing with people in robes as part of your ‘outside’ job…”

“And I’ll need to know which robes signify what part they have in the pecking order, correct?”

“Good, you catch on quick. No-one else has figured that out within the first few days that they are here.” Some never do…even some that are born here, verses raised. Then again…he shook his head to clear it of thoughts, then told John to get dressed, that he’d be outside waiting, and to at least have the robe on…John didn’t want to be late for breakfast, did he? As soon as Lehrer left and closed the door, he started to softly chuckle. The look on John’s face as he scrambled to get his clothing off from the day before was priceless, one of those-how did the outsiders say it?-a Kodak moment, yes that was it. Lehrer was just glad he was able to get outside the room before John was completely naked.

After breakfast and their morning run, Lehrer took John out to the woods for John to have a chance to rest. It wouldn’t do any good for Aznohn to see John half asleep. Even though John had gone to bed early, Lehrer reflected that John did have an exhausting day, partially due to how early he was up and partially due to the emotion-charged day that they had. Lehrer started to meditate after setting his watch to notify him when it was lunch time. Waking John quietly, they hurried into the main building. It wouldn’t do for them to be late for lunch.

After lunch, both John and Lehrer walked up to Aznohn’s office, both men quiet. Lehrer was praying that John would use his brain and decide to not stay active in the group beyond his accounting job; John was trying to figure out how to turn both Aznohn and Lehrer into allies or, failing that, how to manipulate Aznohn into letting him do what he wants with Marta. Neither man liked the prospect of John being placed in a group where the younger man was sure to go insane. Lehrer had cautiously answered only a few questions about the group the day before, things that were in public domain as far as the genetic experiment went. Both hoped that Aznohn would concede some things to John, but John was not looking forward to the rules he’d have to face, no matter which choice he made.

Quietly entering the room, John was surprised that Lehrer did not come in with him, but rather stayed outside, at the door. Puzzled as to why that may be, he turned his attention the grey-haired, imposing older man that sat behind the desk. “Aznohn, I presume?” which received a shock on the older man’s face.

“Didn’t Lehrer tell you to be silent unless spoken to?” Aznohn was merely curious and his tone showed this. Normally, if it were a younger charge, he would be angrier. Since this was only John’s second day, he would be more…lenient.

“Only that first night and I thought it was in reference to the people in the dining room, not to everyone else, sir,” John replied, obediently. “I shall keep that in mind for the future, sir.”

“Thank you.” Aznohn smiled, though John thought it had a bit of an evil look to it.

I do not trust him at all. He might be harder to manipulate then I thought…Lehrer is easy, the poor sod is so trusting; this Aznohn fellow is a tougher puzzle to crack. I may need to either change my plan or just abandon it all together. I do NOT want to be separated from Marta and our kids, nor do I wish to be placed in a failed genetic experiments group. If this Aznohn fellow thinks that he can dictate the path of my life and the life of my family, he has another thing coming!  For the first time in the few days that John had been there, he began to doubt his plan of manipulation.

“Now, as I am sure Lehrer has told you, I asked you here today for you to make your choice on if you are going to be involved with the life of the compound besides your job or if you are just going to stay here and do your job. I understand that you have only been experiencing our way of life for a few days, so I will make an exception for you. IF there is any one time that you want out or in after today, all you need to do is either come to my office or call me up and let me know. After that, you will not be able to change your mind. Do you understand this? Good.” Aznohn looked closely at John, trying to see beyond the grey eyes. Lehrer had thought that John might try something, but it didn’t yet seem like it. Did the young man finally meet his match, Aznohn seemed to wonder.

John, on his part, started getting a little nervous. He had a feeling that Aznohn was a master manipulator, otherwise he wouldn’t have made it as high up as he did. This is it; the plan is off, for now. There is no way that I can manipulate him…though I might be able to learn who his superiors are…find out if this sort of thing is normal. I wonder if the government even bothers to check on their little secret project. My family is too important for me to try anything. If I do, I’ll be separated from them faster than I can sneeze. Some of the plan can still be used, like the copy of the agreement that I signed. Thank God for that…I don’t know what I would do without it.  Throwing up the mental shields that Lehrer had shown him the day before, he was able to look like he was paying attention, but was in reality partially paying attention, but also thinking.

“Do you have any questions, John?”

“Only a couple, sir, and I shall make them brief.” John had snapped out of thinking towards the end of Aznohn’s speech on both choices. “The first is that if I decide to stay, will I be assigned a group right off or will there be a delay? Lehrer said other outsiders usually had a delay. The other is if I will be able to see Marta and my children sometime soon?”

Aznohn made a show of sighing. “I cannot answer the first question until I get your answer, but to the second question, Marta right now has no desire to see you and wishes that you stay way. As for the children, I see no problem. I know that in the outside world, if you and Marta were to split, you have legal custody of the children. This is not the outside world, John, and we have our own rules. That means that if you left, the children would stay here with their mother, should she stay. Is there a problem?”

“Yes, sir, there is,” John said, pulling a few papers out from one of his pockets. “I just so happen to have this piece of paper with me that both your superior and I signed that said that you could not legally keep my wife and children here if we left, even if you tried to force them to stay. Especially the children, because, like you said, I have legal custody of my two boys if she and I divorce.” John handed over the paper, which was thankfully a copy. There is no way that you can contest this. I will respect Marta’s decision and in the future, should she want to speak to me, she knows where she can find me.” I know that sounds a bit harsh, but I suppose I have treated her roughly. Talking with Lehrer really has made a difference. I don’t know what will be harder…telling Lehrer that he was right or apologizing to Marta for all that I’ve put her through. On second thought, apologizing to Marta will be harder.

Aznohn pushed his chair back. “I really must know your decision now John. Do you wish to stay or leave? I believe your wife has decided to stay.” Leaning forward, he added, “It might make a good peace offering if you were to stay.”

“Funny, I could make the same argument for leaving, sir. I know I haven’t treated her right in the past and by just sticking to what I was hired to do and not bother her, it would show that I am respecting her wishes. I do plan to stay, for now, sir, but I will let either you know or your successor know if that does change. Is that acceptable, sir?”

“I believe it is…though I must warn you that any attempt of yours to talk to Marta without her consent will result in your immediate expulsion from the grounds of the main building…and that includes ‘accidental’ meetings as well. You’ll be able to travel to and from your room to your workplace, but that will be it. Either I or someone I trust implicitly will be updating your love with news on how you are. If Marta wishes to see you, I will of course not only let you know, but also look the other way when the two of you meet.”

John wasn’t too worried, he figured that Aznohn would be doing much of this ‘reporting’, but also knew that Lehrer had his work cut out for him, his wife’s Lehrerin was Lehrer’s partner. From what Lehrer had said, Marta had received the same info and talk that he had and the two would keep their respective students updated with news of the other and of the children. He also knew from what Lehrer had told him the day before, Aznohn would be able to twist the facts to suit his own ends and since Marta, in his own mind, is the prettiest woman around, he knew should be worried and that is what he tried to project.

“Do you have any questions right now, John?”

“Only when I will be able to see my children, sir.”

“Soon, perhaps after dinner, my dear boy. You have been separated from them for two days and I have heard that they do ask for you. They would be so happy to see you. You may go now.”

John quickly left the office, trying not to show how happy he was. Looking at Lehrer, he knew that his ally had heard all, even if he hadn’t seen it. As they began to quickly walk to the outside, a quiet conversation began.

“Don’t be too happy right now, Schüler. I know you’ll probably see your sons tonight, but if Aznohn has his way, then you have every right to be worried. Even though Marta gave Aznohn her decision to stay this morning, she may not have the right to chose like she is supposed to have. While you were in talking with Aznohn, I was able to deliver both the letter you gave me to your boss along with my own letter. With any luck, Aznohn will be out of here before long, before he has any chance of getting his hands on your wife.”

“I don’t understand, Lehrer.”

“Aznohn was installed here to sort of keep those who were born here believing in the religious malarkey that I grew up with. Unfortunately, he started to ignore us, those who had grown up here. I originally believed that he had grown up in a different section, but I later found out he wasn’t even born here. People in his position are supposed to be born at the compound.”

“Which means he has friends in the higher ups….”

“Exactly, but he won’t any longer, not after they take a look at my evidence and your letter.”
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