Friday, January 14, 2022

HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 2: Buried Box In the Jungle

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)

Because there were only thirteen soldiers, she cooked for them. Emerald’s authentic quesadillas, pizza Napoléon, and Brazilian feijoada, a hearty meat stew made from pork and black beans, had made her a few friends. She smiled as the older soldiers and their officers left and the youngsters relaxed and started texting about music, Rlife, ‘casts, clothes, v-games, and only a little about aliens and space exploration. Sometimes they even spoke out loud.

One of the women who seemed very uncomfortable in her blue jeans and a yellow, buttoned, sleeveless shirt, the front halves tied together in a knot glanced at Emerald and smiled. Emerald loosened her own knot, not meaning to imitate Rashida Dewidar.

Rashida came over, turned and looked toward the ocean and said, “Hi, Em.”

Emerald looked away, wrinkling her nose. She hated that nickname.

“Oops, sorry,” said Rashida.

Emerald thought that the woman wasn’t sorry at all. She tried the same thing every day, like she was probing Emerald to find out if she really was high-functioning despite being on the spectrum. Emerald knew she wasn’t great at interacting with other people, she watched movies all the time. She knew how she was supposed to act. She’d seen enough fictional mysteries to know that Rashida suspected her of something, just not what.

Rashida said, “So, some of us are going to be shipping out in a day or two.”

Ha! Shipping out was a military term. She’d been right figuring them for soldiers. She still didn’t know what they were doing here. Emerald looked at Rashida. The woman was the only one who’d even tried to talk to her in the past two weeks. She seemed friendly. She was friendly with Dad, too. Mom didn’t like her, but Mom didn’t seem to like anyone lately.

Emerald pulled her opad out from where she tucked it in the small of her back and accessed a file she’d made on the soldiers. She’d rated each one to see which ones were smart and actually aware of what the village elders were talking about and which ones were just doing their duty in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Rashida was one of the ones who seemed to know what was going on. She tried to sneak a look at Emerald’s opad.

Emerald reached down to scratch her ankle, tipping the ‘pad forward to give Rashida a good look. Sitting up, Emerald smirked. A lot of good a peek did the older girl. Emerald was writing in Mayan today. She said, “Ba'ax ka wa'alik?”


Emerald repeated herself and Rashida made a face and said, “Mosh fahmah.”

Without looking up, Emerald said, “I know you didn’t understand. I said it in Mayan. What do you want?”

Rashida blinked in surprise and said, “Nothing. How do you know Egyptian?”

Emerald shrugged and Rashida waited for more, didn’t get it.

“I’m not asking you what you want. It’s what I said to you in Mayan,” Emerald said, surfing for the internet page on the Combined Forces. “Ba'ax ka wa'alik means ‘what do you want?’” She held up the opad so Rashida could see, “Have a nice trip.” She hopped off the stool and headed into the house, feeling claustrophobic under the tent.

Rashida followed her. “Emerald, I want to talk to you.”

Emerald ignored her and hurried into the trailer.

Mom and Dad were arguing.

She needed to get away from everyone but knew that wouldn’t change anything. She knew it wasn’t how her parents wanted her to behave. She even knew it wasn’t how she wanted to behave. It was just that sometimes, she had to get away. She had to be by herself. Dad was saying, “We need to get out of this limelight, Nhia! It’s driving me crazy. It’s driving all of us crazy.”

“We can’t stop now. If the military will fund the research, we can validate the theory once and for all! We got the seed money because of your aunt!”

“Of course we did! But we can’t validate the theory if the military makes all of our data top-secret! I hate her for what she did! I hate her control over us!”

“She doesn’t control us and our research! They said they’re not interested in classifying our data – only verifying it.”

“And you believe them? Since when did you place your trust in the military-industrial-congressional complex?”

“Your aunt is your family! She’s been a soldier all her life and famous since she became the first woman to breathe the air of Mars! Since when did you start doubting her? We’ve worked for the government before...”

Emerald ran out the back door, nearly tripping over Rashida. The young woman cried, “Wait, Emerald! I didn’t mean to…”

Rashida’s attention was suffocating. Emerald spun away, sprinting into the jungle beyond. “Emerald!” Rashida called again.

Emerald’s parents stopped arguing. A moment later, she heard her mother shout, “Emerald?”

Emerald ran, cutting off the main trail following a faint animal track that led to the Gulf north of the base camp they lived at. Behind her, she could hear Rashida running after her, branches slapping her. The noise stopped abruptly, replaced by a sound that reminded her of mumbletypeg, a knife throwing game the young soldiers played when they were bored. Two people with one knife faced each another with their feet shoulder-width apart. The first player took the knife and threw it into the ground as near their own foot as possible. The second player then repeated the process. Whichever player sticks the knife closest to his own foot wins the first challenge. Each player took one step to the right and repeated the throwing. They kept on until one of the ‘professors’ showed up and they got back to work.

The noise in the jungle sounded like a couple of people were playing a really, really fast game, knives stabbing into the ground like they were running.

Emerald cut off the track, hunkering down, pressed against a Kapok tree trunk. Her pulse pounded in her ears as she gasped, catching her breath. After a few minutes, she stood and ran back toward the regular trail then turned and headed to the Gulf. She stopped, squatting, breathing open-mouthed, listening intently. The heavy foliage soaked up sound like a sponge, and she couldn’t hear the Rashida any more.

Instead, she heard dirt tapping followed by the thunk-chunk of a shovel biting into the jungle floor. Scowling, she crept through the undergrowth, focusing on the sound until she was close enough to push aside a branch and see.

The lady root digger was hard at work, wiping her forehead with a wrist then attacking the jungle floor again. But she hadn’t just begun. She glanced around as if looking to see if anyone was watching, then slipped into the hole, which was as deep as her waist. She took the shovel and dug again, this time the blade making a dull thud as if it were hitting something hard and hollow. She bent over, disappearing from Emerald’s view and a few moments later straightened up, both arms down as if she were pulling a giant plug from a drain.

She climbed out of the hole then reached back in and with a grunt, hauled out a cube of dirty pastel orange. Frowning, Emerald touched the tektite necklace around her neck, the teardrops oddly warm to the touch. What was in that box?

Muffled but much closer than she’d expected, Rashida called Emerald’s name. The root digger spun, kicking the box back into the hole then frantically throwing soil back on top of it. She’d nowhere near covered it when Rashida called again and the woman sprinted in the direction of the Gulf.

Pursing her lips, Emerald backed up slowly, made her way back to the animal path and hurried back to the tents and the trailer she and her parents called home. With the jackknife she usually carried, she marked a trail, making certain she knew exactly how to reach the hole with the box in it and leaving Rashida to fend for her soldierly self in the jungle among the coatis, jays, spider monkeys, agouti and parrots.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: