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Here Comes Treble: Pathfinders Beginning

...The dread of approaching loss tasted bitter in her throat. She opened her mouth. Nothing happened. She disengaged a tiny hand and raised it to her mouth, cleared her throat and tried again. "Tom," she said, "I'm different. I'm not like you. I'm not really human."...

Tom is shocked to find just how different this beautiful young woman, Zo, really is.

Isabel Bradley begins a remarkable love story set in a future time.

"Look, over there," said Tom, "a little to your right - see those four bright stars, set apart as if they were at the four ends of a cross?" His left hand was gentle on Zos waist, as he turned her. With his right hand guiding hers, she found that she was suddenly pointing at the Southern Cross. She felt him lean close behind her, bend down until his eyes were level with hers. His beard was soft against her cheek. "There, see?"

"Yes," Zo breathed. "Oh, they're beautiful, so bright."

They lowered their arms. Tom's hand still rested on Zo's dainty waist.

As she turned to face him, his arms crept round her. For one magical moment, they kissed. His mouth tasted clean and sweet, his body was firm, his arms cradled her. She lingered there, her face pillowed against his chest, listening to the drumming of his heart under her ear. The air was cool and clean, fresher than any she had ever breathed. Above, the four pointers sparkled in their deep blue setting.

Zo sighed and pushed away from him. "Tom, before we go any further, I have something that I must tell you. I... She stopped, cleared her throat and started again, We couldn't go on seeing each other if I didnt tell you... what... who I am."

"Zo what is it? Here, let's sit down on this thing. I think it's a tree-stump..." He guided her with large, gentle hands. They sat on the rough, dusty stump, her hands clasped in his.

The dread of approaching loss tasted bitter in her throat. She opened her mouth. Nothing happened. She disengaged a tiny hand and raised it to her mouth, cleared her throat and tried again. "Tom," she said, "I'm different. I'm not like you. I'm not really human."

His eyes were dark and blank, reflecting the starlight. "Whatever do you mean? Zo, you're the most gorgeous, human girl I've ever known...."

"Tom, no." Her chest was tight. This revelation was terrifying to make, but she had to tell him, couldn't let him fall in love with her without knowing the truth. She took a deep breath. "Tom, a week ago I wanted, more than anything in the world to be with you like this, to hear you say those things."

"So what's the problem?" Tom sounded puzzled and a little irritated. "I think I'm..."

"Tom, you won't say those things when you know what I am. Please let me finish. It wouldn't be fair for you not to know." Zo took another deep breath. "Last Tuesday I slipped on a wet patch in my bathroom. My head hit the corner of the basin, just behind my right ear. I was dizzy and disoriented for a few moments. When I recovered, I looked in the mirror to see how bad the wound was. It felt dreadful, a fierce pain, as if my brain was open to the air. A great flap of skin was lifted. But there wasn't any blood. I leant forward to look closer, and inside the wound were computer chips and tiny blinking lights..."

She trailed off, dropped her eyes from the horror she saw mirrored in his. Then, with a great effort, Zo made herself look up and into Tom's eyes again.

Shaking his head, he gently took his hand from hers. His eyes, surrounded by long, dark lashes, were frozen pools that didn't seem to see Zo. They stared, troubled, at the beauty of the night.

"Tom," Zo whispered, more afraid than she had ever been in her twenty-five years. For both their sakes, though, she had to finish. "Tom, I I dont think I'm human. I'm an android... Tom, say something, do something! Tom? Please, don't just sit there. Tom, I don't feel any different from last week, except, I'm so afraid, so lonely. Tom? Tom, please, say something... Tom?"

Desperate to hear his voice, feel his touch, she needed reassurance and comfort. This horrifying new knowledge of herself hadn't changed her emotional awareness. Zo still felt as human as she had all her life.

Tom sat gazing through her, the warmth gone from his eyes. When he spoke his voice was bleak. "I can't talk to an android. Androids are walking, talking computers. Like The Keepers, who all look the same, act the same, keep us trapped inside The Building. He stood up and turned away. Thank you for telling me. I won't say anything about this to anyone else. And I won't bother you again."

He brushed the dust from the seat of his trousers and shambled away towards The Building.

Zo covered her face with her hands. She had never imagined such soul-searing agony. She was alone. Rejected because she was different. She was an Outsider. An android.

Preoccupied with her own misery, she didn't see Tom half-turn, as if to return to her. Nor did she notice a Keeper stride out of the shadows to challenge him. She didn't see Tom turn and run towards The Building as if in fear of his life.

She had expected Tom's rejection. Everyone knew they had to stay away from the androids, The Keepers, those machines who were so different from everybody else. Expecting the rejection, though, didnt stop the pain that settled as a hollow emptiness, deep inside her. Her hands dropped to her lap, folded gently over each other. She lifted dark eyes to the Southern Cross and watched the four bright points swim through her unshed tears.

After endless hours, or perhaps only a few seconds, Zo stood, brushed the dust from her skirt, and walked towards The Building, head bent so that she couldn't see the glittering path-finders above.

She had no difficulty going Inside. The Keepers were no-where in sight, probably off on a mission other than guarding the exits of The Building for once. Zo wasn't interested. She wouldn't have worried if they had caught her, dragged her to The Guardian for punishment.

Ill shield my identity from now on, she thought bitterly, tell no-one else my secret. Overwhelmed by self-pity, she knew her only chance of survival was to live alone, never truly belonging anywhere in The Building which was her home, her world...

**

Until next time, here comes Treble!

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by Isabel Bradley

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