(Copyright) 1997 - 2006 G. Dallman
June 13, 1998 Version 2.01
Revision Date 05/20/2006


A Father's Surprise

The display on Howard's datapad wavered briefly as ShipSoul adjusted frequencies and digital communication protocols, but soon stabilized showing the QuanDev logo. After a few seconds a rather sexy synthesized, female voice announced that Dr. Ripley had been paged and would be present shortly.

Howard nervously wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs, again rehearsing in his mind what he was going to say. About half-way through his spiel the display changed to a view of his father's head and upper body. The elder Ripley's bland expression suddenly changed to open surprise when he saw his son.

"Howie, where the Hell have you been? Anderson said you just disappeared! Goddamn it, its been over three weeks and nobody's seen hide nor hair of you!"

"I'm sorry if I worried you. I guess I do need to explain a few things," temporized Howard, discarding his canned speech.

"Damn right, son!" blustered his father.

Taking a deep breath, Howard folded his hands in front of him, leaning toward the datapad. "This is going to take quite a bit of explaining, and…"

"Just get to the point!" growled Dr. Ripley, cutting his son off in mid sentence. I'm right in the middle of a meeting with a bunch of customers."

Howard took a deep, exasperated breath, holding up his left hand, motioning his father to silence.

"What's that on your hand!" shouted his father, staring at the angry, red Oath scars arcing across his palm.

"I said this would take some explaining. If you just keep quiet for a few seconds I'll try."

Dr. Ripley's face twisted into a sour expression. For a moment he looked down at something in front of him, eyes growing wide with surprise. "Where are you son? The time delay seems to indicate you're over two million kilometers away!"

Howard shrugged. "That's what I'm trying to tell you, dad. Now, you either go back to your fucking meeting or shut up and listen to me!"

"Okay…okay, How. No need to get all riled up. Just tell me what's going on, Son. Where are you?"

"I'm with…ah…some new friends. Dad, I just couldn't go on the way things were; it was driving me nuts! My new friends are helping me."

"I thought you got over that shit twenty years ago. You haven't joined some sort of damned hippie commune have you?"

"No, Dad, its nothing like that," smiled Howard, remembering past experiences.

"Good! Then what..?"

Howard stood up and motioned for Heffnss to join him. His father's eyes took on the aspect of dinner plates. "Dad, this is my friend and Teacher, Heffnss of Teff. Lord Teacher, this is my father, Dr. Andrew Ripley."

"Oh shit!" groaned the older Human.

"I am pleased to meet the sire of my Student, Dr. Andrew Ripley," growled the Sasskal, bending down to put his fierce muzzle on about the same level as Howard's face.

"Oh jeeze, I gotta hear this! Explain away, Son." groaned Andrew, staring openly at the huge Feline.

"There's so much Dad. I…I just don't know where to start."

"Perhaps I can be of help," growled Heffnss, straightening to his full height and moving to stand behind his Student, clawed hands on his shoulders. "Dr. Ripley, your son is very important to us. As we shall help him, he shall be of great assistance to us also, for he alone of all the beings in the Universe is S'Challh, The One."

"The what?" The elder Ripley leaned back in his chair, running shaking hands through his short-cut, gray hair.

"Its sort of hard to explain, Dad, but somehow…Oh how can I say this without sounding like some sort of megalomaniac!"

"Just say it, How," said Andrew gently.

"At times, I'm not sure if I believe it myself, but I'm sort of the genetic key to what the Sennal races hope to become. Because of certain…ah…inborn traits, their creators programmed into them, the Sennal must change or perish."

"And how are you supposed to do that?" asked Andrew, a look of confusion and concern on his face.

"Don't ask," sighed Howard, rolling his eyes back in his head.

Andrew looked as though he wanted to say something when he suddenly turned to respond to his secretary. "Tell them I'm busy, damn it!"

"Dad, are you listening? I…I'm not coming back. I intend to fulfill whatever destiny it is that I'm caught up in. There's nothing left for me on Earth and if I don't go…The pull is too strong, I'll die, we'll both die.

"What's with the 'we'? Who'll die?"

"I'm not sure, Dad. All I know is that there's another, on Taahas, who's got this same compulsion as I do and she'll die too."

"Taahas? What…where's that?" asked Andrew.

"It's the HomeWorld of the Sennal. We call it 52 Pegasi D."

The older Ripley ran a hand through his hair again, as though trying to wipe a clinging layer of confusion from his mind. "Son, I…I don't understand half of what your trying to tell me, but I know your life hasn't been going well. If…"

Howard barked a humorless laugh. "That's an understatement!"

"What I was going to say is, if you feel its the right thing to do, I'll understand."

Howard sighed, breathing a silent prayer of thanks that his father hadn't tried to argue with him. "Dad, there's something else and it's really important to me."

"What's that Son?"

"In a few days I'll try to forge a FoldSpace Portal to Taahas. I want you to be there. This is going to be the most important time of my life."

"Did I hear you right? FoldSpace?"

"Ya, Dad."

"How the hell are you going to do that? Chheng and Henson developed some equations for a similar construct and the energy required for even a few light-years would exceed the mass-energy of the entire Earth."

"It's a matter of quantum intent. Heffnss will be able to explain it, I can't. That his specialty. You wouldn't believe the grasp these people have on quantum physics!"

Andrew's expression radiated skepticism as several times he tried to speak, but each time slumped in his chair when the words failed to come out. If it hadn't been for the imposing presence of Heffnss, he wouldn't have believed anything his son was saying. Finally, with a frustrated sigh, he sighed and changed the subject. "Where do I meet you, and when?"

"You'll get a map with some more instructions, Dad. Its the same map they sent me."

The older Human disappeared from the pad's field of view momentarily as he reached to retrieve a piece of paper from his printer. "Ok, I got it. This is out by Winthrop, isn't it?"

"Ya, its about eight or nine kilometers north of town, look for the big stump on the left-hand side of the road. You can't miss it." replied Howard.

Again, Andrew looked over his shoulder, responding to something in his outer office. When he once again faced the screen there was a pained expression on his face. "I've got to get back to my customers, Howie. Don't worry, I'll be there for you. Is there anything you'd like me to bring for you?"

Howard thought for a moment. "Ya, dad. Stop at Ivorson's and buy two hundred kilos of frozen salmon."


"You haven't seen these guys eat!"

"Anything else?"

Howard looked earnestly into his father's eyes. "Yes. This means everything to me. Please remember this: You'll meet some strange people. Try not to fear them. Trust them. You won't meet a more honorable group of people on this or any other planet. Remember, trust Aarrl!"

Andrew's strong features suddenly clouded with emotion as he appeared to be struggling to say something, but Howard pressed a small stud on the corner of the datapad. The transmission wavered and ended, leaving him staring at a blank screen.

"Your sire was about to tell you something, my Student," observed Heffnss as he gently took the datapad from Howard's slack grasp.

"It's always been hard for him to say it, but I know what he was trying to say," whispered the Human, wiping away a tear. "I love him too."

* * * *

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