Tier Zero: Volume I of the Knolan Cycle

The default assumption underpinning most tales of first contact between Earth and hypothetical aliens is the presumption of hostile intent. War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Falling Skies, Colony, “V,” and Defiance are an incomplete list of examples. There are exceptions, of course. Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Carl Sagan’s Contact, come to mind.

Another common assumption is that we would necessarily know about hypothetical alien visits. In the The Knolan Cycle, first contact occurred thirty-plus years ago, and as the story unfolds, it’s evident that no one realizes it’s happened…never mind why.

The latter question will come up repeatedly. But not unlike the Knolans themselves, the answer to this and many other questions is both multi-faceted and elusive. If enigma, paradox, adventure and the seductive possibilities of “another way” fascinate you, turn the page.

Tier Zero, Chapter One-Presence

“Like eyes, Awakened minds must be open to see.”

 (Varineya, First Oracle of Knola).

Chapter One—Presence

   

Marty Tellus claimed the seat he’d taken the first day of class. He could feel it, again—the presence that had been part of his dream the night before. Like cat’s fur against the back of his neck, while his attention was somewhere else. He sat down at the long conference table, and the recurring dream he’d had since he was four replayed itself, while conversation swirled around him unheeded.

In his dream, he soared through a night sky over a mountain city mantled in a thin, silvery fog that softened the carpet of lights below. A wind he sensed rather than felt swept him along. He’d struggled to control where he went, the first few times. But always the wind had carried him where it would—gentle, irresistible—and without explanation.

So it had been last night, drifting to an unfathomable will, seeing things he didn’t understand. But it had been different, this time. Woven into the dream had been a presence, and the whisper of words, in a lyrical, unfamiliar language—spoken in a haunting mezzo-soprano voice.

He’d awakened and switched on the light, expecting to find someone or something in the chair next to his bed. Half right. His bookpack, left there the day before rested against the arm of the chair. Marty had gone back to sleep, hoping to finish the dream.

And it had returned, after he drifted off, but this time the presence was of a silent watcher who knew him better than he knew himself. Marty had awakened again, to prickling skin and the soft glow of the red numbers of his alarm clock proclaiming 2:42. Sleep eluded him after that. It wasn’t fear, exactly. Restlessness? Disquiet?

    “Is this seat taken?”

     Marty jerked back to the present, looking up into dazzling amber eyes set in a face of delicate beauty. Asian? Polynesian? He couldn’t tell. The woman’s eyebrows lifted, quizzically, and he remembered his manners. “No. It’s all yours.”

    “Thank you.” The woman flowed into the chair and reestablished eye contact. “What was covered, last class? I missed it.” Her matter-of-fact tone was at odds with the intense warmth of her gaze. And her English, though flawless, betrayed an accent he couldn’t place.

    “Introductory stuff mostly,” Marty heard himself reply. “Reading assignments for Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. I’m Marty, by the way.”

    Her hand, when she took his was more caress than handshake. “Lysia. Lysia Uupao.”

    “Hi Lysia. It’s a pleasure.” Marty finally let go in response to her subtle withdrawal.

    “The pleasure is mine.” Full lips bloomed into a whimsical smile.

   “Uupao,” Marty repeated.  “I’m not sure—”

    Melodic laughter immersed him in well-being. “You’re wondering where I’m from.”

    Marty nodded.

    “Uupao is Indonesian…a corruption of a Javanese family name whose origins not even my family knows.” Her smile was apologetic. “Obscure, at best. Perhaps we should leave it at that, for now?”

    “Fair enough,” Marty agreed. “I—”

    “Alright!” A male voice amputated conversation. “I see fresh faces around the table, so those of you who were here last time know what’s coming.”

    A slender man wearing a goatee and mustache trimmed to perfection stood at the head of the class. A tailored gray herringbone sport coat, unbuttoned over a dazzling white shirt, open at the collar suggested the assurance of tenure. Behind silver wire-rimmed glasses, eyes alight with intelligence and wicked humor appraised the class.

    “I’m Harmon Kittrick and this is Ethics three-oh-one. If you’re here for something else, you’re in the wrong place, which means someone, somewhere is this very instant pining over your absence.” His quip was greeted by nervous laughter, serving as cover for a man slinking out of class with a sheepish look. “Anyone else? Kittrick asked. “No? Okay. As this course has no prerequisites, I need to get an idea of what you may already know. So. Let’s go ‘round the room and hear your stories. We’ll start here.”

    Kittrick pointed to a woman in a powder blue UCLA sweatshirt and braided chestnut hair. “Please give us your name, major and why you think you’re here.”

    When Kittrick got to Marty, he stumbled through his own introduction, still thinking about Lysia’s. A foreign student here in the United States to improve her English, she’d said.

    As the introductions continued, Marty’s awareness of Lysia seemed to swell. Even the air around her seemed charged with her presence. Attraction? Yes, but somehow familiar as well. Who was she…where had he seen her before and why couldn’t he remember? Those eyes, especially—he had seen them somewhere, but—gone, like morning fog evaporating beneath the sun, leaving him tingling with deja vu.

    Pay attention…focus! He managed, but his attention, even his active participation had a dreamlike, almost ethereal feel to it. As though in an altered state of consciousness. Paradoxically, he absorbed the salient points of the class, while still, somehow being aware of Lysia’s every reaction, her every move. How, he wondered. Strange, even disquieting—that word again.

    “Okay,” Kittrick concluded. “Enough for today. Good discussion. Your assignment for next Tuesday.

    “First, relevant to our discussion of healthcare…write a paper arguing in favor of Mr. Tellus’ position, i.e., healthcare is a practical rather than ethical dilemma, provided you agree.

    Healthcare? Marty thought. What the hell did I say?

    “If you disagree with Mr. Tellus’ position,” Kittrick continued, “make Ms. Rathbun’s alternative case.” Kittrick handed a stack of papers to the first student on each side of the table. “Ei-ther way, keep it logical and under two pages double-spaced. I stop reading after that.

    “In addition,” Kittrick added, “wade through the readings for Tuesday on the handout making its way down both sides of the table. Be prepared to discuss the relevance of the philosophers represented in those readings to our world today…or their lack of relevance, if that’s your take. We’ll see you all Tuesday.”

    Marty stuffed his note pad into his backpack and zipped it closed, still wondering what he’d said about healthcare. Next to him, Lysia rummaged through her purse, apparently searching for something. When she withdrew her hand, a bottle of nail polish careened out, headed for the floor. Without thinking, Marty reached out and caught it, setting it casually on the table next to her purse.

    “Good catch!” Lysia met his eyes and held them. “Thank you so much.”

    Marty had an impulse to look down, followed almost immediately by an urge to lean over and kiss her. He even measured the distance while speculating on the likely repercussions. She smiled, as though reading his thoughts. Time taffy-pulled into what seemed like an eternity, as he felt the pleasurably panicky sensation of getting lost in her eyes.

    Finally looking away, Marty grabbed his backpack and stood. Lysia rose with him, the scoop neck of her flowy, forest green tunic giving him a peak at her modest cleavage. White Capri leggings called attention to perfect hips and legs. He realized he was staring and met her eyes again with his own.

    “I will see you Tuesday?” Lysia cocked an eyebrow and Marty nodded.

    “I’ll look forward to it.” She pivoted gracefully and seemed to flow—that was the only word for it—toward the exit.

    Marty followed her with his eyes, until she disappeared around the corner. The space she’d vacated seemed to cling to her presence, as though reluctant to let her go.

Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle is scheduled to be released in 2019. The series chronicles first contact between the Knolan Alliance and Earth.