The Threshold

The setting: A very hot, humid world inhabited by real Dinosaurs, peopled by the stone-aged humanoid Nekomata culture, immediately before a young extraterrestrial mysteriously appears on Earth initiating the adventures recounted in 'Chromosome Conspiracy'.

Shameya sat cross-legged on the fine grass-like moss, molding the soft earth, creating smoothly rounded depressions fitted to her form. For perhaps the 98th time she repeated the self-admonition that she should've brought a rug or even a blanket to her duty shift. No matter, the shifts were not arduous and hers the last one today. The sun was drifting toward the horizon and the danger would increase rapidly the closer the day's end. She soon must return to the castle, to safety, to the room shared with her sisters, where she might wash herself of any stain or soil before evening feast. It wasn't a hardship to sit on bare ground.

     It must soon be time for the Beasts to roam, she thought. They prey ever earlier in the wanning daylight. When she was a child, the creatures dared not appear while the sky yet held light. Monsters had become bolder.

     She wondered, as she peered toward the Threshold of Worlds, if she might someday be lucky enough to see the shimmer of an opening, much less visitors from the other world. Few had seen the Miracle. The phenomenon happens rarely, often when none see. She was quite certain she was looking in the right place, although she had never seen the aperture. She knew the tales of the portal opening and the Smooth ones stepping into the world as she herself might step through a doorway. She hoped to see the wonder for herself. She took every shift she could, determined to be present when the Smoothies again visited.

     Shameya's mind wandered back many months, to the time the Smoothie called Fitz spent an evening with her and a dozen of her sisters. Several siblings now raised beautiful sons owing to his generosity but she was too young on that indelible evening. He had treated her graciously, made her feel cherished, warm and excited, yet although full of eagerness and desire, she was not ripe. Heartsick though she felt, he refused her insisting he must bestow his blessing only to those who were ready. She could not blame him for hoarding his seed. She presumed it too rare and precious to waste. Though denied then, she was now ready, her body ripe, and she prayed he would again visit before she turned too quickly barren as had so many of her sisters. She desired a beautiful son too.

     It was not, however, mere desire for a child or a juvenile infatuation which prompted her focus and attention on the Threshold. While she wished to be the first to greet Fitz and hoped to receive his boon, her present vigil wasn't about the People's ephemeral fertility. Her vigil was in fact her contribution to the Project. Although she hoped to be present when the legendary ones again appeared, greeting Fitz or any other Smooth one wasn't her mission. Her mission was to monitor the Threshold and record openings, even a momentary flicker, anything she might record for the Mathematician. Information desired for her calculations—calculations which would, the Mathematician hoped, one day unlock the secrets of the Threshold.

     She eavesdropped on many conversations among the Smoothies, listening as shamelessly as her sisters. She understood the portal would open according to its own whims and not fervent desires of any person, smooth or furred. The Smoothies alone possess the knowledge of portal openings. Though they understand the when of it, they themselves do not command it. The Portal's secrets remained theirs alone, mysteries the Mathematician sought to unravel, an enigma to decipher for the People. It was Shameya's duty to monitor the portal as much as possible along with her sisters, in order to record and report anything which might add to the calculations.

     The Threshold had long existed, a strange doorway between the familiar world and the mysterious Smoothie realm. For countless generations before Shameya, before her mother, before her grandmother and even before HER mother, the Smooth ones had stepped into the world from beyond. They brought nothing with them, nothing one might carry, yet they conveyed knowledge, sometimes odd, useful ways of doing things and sometimes ideas and philosophies. They are also full of stories and songs.

     They brought something else too. The boon of babies. There once was a time when the People did not need the Smooth ones, when fertility came easy and there were males enough for every castle. Her mother had once told her in her own grandmother's time castles possessed as many as three or even four fertile males. Males had proved fragile. Even with the best of care, many families had none at all now and of those who remain, many are no longer able to grant. Those who can grant their boon rarely bestow infant males.

     Her own castle possessed a male, though aged and frail. It had been more than a decade since his last boon. Her own birth had been nearly his last. But for Fitz, there would be no babies in this house. Some worried babies from his loins might breed smooth but the Smoothies had promised they would breed true, with a proper pelt. Thanks to his boon, the family now had more than a dozen infants, all to become fertile Males when grown. The family was proud to possess so many fine Males in the offing. Nearby families with none at all will pay a heavy fee for the boon of such as these. The very scarcity they would alleviate will make the family wealthy.

     Learning the secrets of the Threshold is an important goal, Shameya being but one member of the larger group devoting attention to the project. From mid-morning until late afternoon, she and her fellow watchers take turns sitting in this spot, watching intently. She would happily do so through the night as well, save she did not wish to become a Beast's dinner!

     Monsters prowl from dusk to dawn, only thick stone walls keep them at bay. Outside at night means certain death!

Mastering the Threshold was more than curiosity by the People. The Monsters had ceased confining themselves to the hours of night! For untold generations the People had a sort of quiet detente with the monstrous beasts. They would walk and forage at night while the People hid behind thick stone walls. The creatures would then sleep during the day, allowing the People to roam from the safety of the castles. The beasts now violate the truce!

     Midday still seems to be safe enough. Watchers have spotted them an hour or more before dusk and almost an hour after dawn. It was feared they were becoming willing to walk in the daylight.

     People who found themselves outside near dusk fell to the beasts horrible appetite before this became well recognized and now the People spent considerable effort tracking the wakeful monstrosities. Any daylight sighting automatically topped the list of all the Criers in the land, with much banging of the Crier's drum and intoned dire warnings. Thankfully sightings remain rare, though when a Monster is sighted near a castle, People who live therein now hide most of the day behind thick walls of stone.

     The Crier often intoned the warning, “Do not prowl the woods when the Beasts are up, for thou are crunchy and good with ketchup.”

     Caught outside by a Beast, night or day, was certain death. There's no defense. They are impervious to the swift fired hunter's arrow. Only a Hero's bow might pierce such hide and yet no mortal such a bow may draw. It was the People's fervent hope the Smoothies might kill such beasts or show the People how.

     Thus the reason Shameya sits in the meadow, making smooth depressions, staring at a spot in mid air. The People desire to reach out, to reach through the portal and demand aid to kill a Monster!

     Focused on the purported location and musing over the dangers of the beasts, Shameya startled on hearing something approach along the forest trail. She was a nervous, high-strung girl, given to panic at the slightest provocation. For a full two heartbeats she considered bolting, knowing full well if it was her worst nightmare approaching she was already dead. It was not possible for a human to outrun the creatures. Not even Fitz himself could hope to escape despite his legendary speed!

     She rose to her feet, about to bolt in panic when a familiar voice called out. It was her sister Williya. Shameya calmed her racing pulse and turned to greet her sibling. Williya stepped into the clearing, baby cuddled in her arms, suckling as she walked.

“Hey Sis,” she called out, “Don-cha think you should be getting behind stone? It's getting late.”

     “Aww, how's little Fitz today?” Shameya took the infant by the arm and made cooing noises. The child giggled and gurgled at his auntie and turned back to his sustenance, greedy to continue his meal.

     “I was about to head back in a minute. It's not so late and besides, the last Crier said no Beasts were sighted near our castle.”

     “I don't care, Sis, you know how Mama worries. Besides just because the last sighting wasn't near, doesn't mean the next one won't be! Those Crier reports are full of guesses anyway. Don't bet your life on them.

     “Unless you want to run as hard as you can all the way, we must go now. Besides I must carry little Fitz here! He's heavy.”

     “Let me carry him, if he's finished nursing!” Shameya turned away from the Threshold one last time and reached to take her nephew. As Williya reached to hand the infant over she glanced at the portal. Her sharp intake of breath caught her sister's attention and Shameya released the child back to his mother's arms as she turned back toward the faint, shimmering haze.....