Part II

Anytime that Aramaes visited with them was a time to remember, and a time for celebration. Though Pytheas helped decorate the house for his brother's homecoming, he silently cursed fate's cruel joke against him. Lethia continuously reminded him to hold his tongue for his children's sake. This would their first time ever to see their uncle, they had heard stories from their mother about the job that he had. Pytheas had told them of the stars, let them know about the beautiful worlds that were out there just beyond their reach. He knew he was waxing peotic, but he couldn't help himself. The stars were his friends, though they did not seem to shine anymore. The city lights were just too bright. He had contemplated destroying a few power lines to send the city into darkness one night, but common sense told him that the consequences would be too great.

He fixed the welcome banner up across the archway of their door, his eyes ever straying to the skies. Would he see him come down early? It had been known to happen. Sometimes the shuttles returned earlier than scheduled, and when they did it was possible to see them streaking through the bright blue sky, leaving behind plumes of hot gas as they slowed their descent. The air was empty, the bright sun hot against his hide. He felt it's warmth cover his body, and he relished it. That was one benefit of staying on Earth, he didn't need an environmental suit to walk out into the sun. If he had been on another celestial body, he would be either brunt to a crisp or frozen to death by now. But that thought only took the excitement away for a moment. Those worlds were totally alien, that was the whole reason, to see something that almost nobody else sees. To be a part of something that was beyond normal circumstance.

He shook his head, taking his thoughts from the skies. If he didn't get the place prepared in time, thne they wouldn't be able to see his brother land. That was something that Pytheas had only seen once. It was just after he had married Lethia, and before any of their children had been born. It had been asultry afternoon, the pad cleared fromt he debris, the winds powerful, blowing snads everywhere. The had to erect tarps about the facility to prevent any from disturbing the landing site. Then out of the sky came the brilliant streak of light, and the shuttle came soaring into view, lowering itself towards them ever so slowly. Distances were quite deceiving, for in mere moments, the shuttle was on top of them, and the landing, successful. What had first struck Pytheas was that his brother looked no different from when he had first lifted off. Meanwhile, Pytheas's scales had begun to fade, and a few crack. He was getting older, he was still in his prime, but he was still getting older. How much older was he now than when his brother first went up? Ten years was it? Yes, it had been ten years ago that his brother first ventured into the limitlessness of space.

He finally finished putting the banner up, and stepped down from the step ladder. He took a few steps back, and examined his handiwork. It looked good, and would serve the proper purpose. Pytheas then went inside to check and make sure that his wife and kids were nearly finished up inside. The food was all prepared, and the kids had cleaned the house sufficiently for it to look respectable. Things looked like they were well in hand, "All right, is everybody ready?" he called out, standing at the front door.

"Of course, Pytheas." Lethia told him, setting the last of the fruit down, beneath the plastic wrap.

His three children all chimed their support. They were all too young to really appreciate the moment. Four, four and three years old were they, still so far from understanding the higher concepts. However, that does not stop a father fomr loving thme as he should. He looked over them, made sure that they were washed up properly, and that all their scales sparkled. He ushered them outside, and they climbed into the hov, a common activity, but on that day it held excitement.

Pytheas looked to the sky as he climbed in, not sure what it was that he was looking for. Lethia, who was busying securing the children's safety harnesses, looked over at him, and clicked her tongue against her teeth, "Poor Pytheas."

Pytheas turned back and stared at her solemnly for a moment, and then the emptiness passed. "Let's welcome my brother home, shall we?"

His kids gave an enthusiastic cheer, and Pytheas slipped down upon the cushion, strappd his shoulders securely, and then turned the hov on. Immediately they rose form the ground a good bit, and he turned the hov about, heading out of town for the first time in a while. He had on occasion taken his kids out into the countryside, but only infrequently. In this particular geographic region, there wasn't much worth seeing. The desert went on and on for hundreds of kilometers to the south and to the east. To the west and to the north lie the mountains, beautfil spires that Lethia wanted to go see one day. He knew that past the deserts and mountains lay the swamp where most humans lived - Pytheas had been there once before when he was young; unfortunately, it was mighty hard to launch a shuttle form such dense overgrowth.

The pad was really a launch and land station. The shuttles wouldluanch and land on it, and did so about every few months. The exploration business was big, as industry had built manufacturing plants on several of these planets and plentoids that had been discovered in the past hundreds of years. Of course, the plants were robotically maintained, as there was not nearly enough manpower capable of space flight to man these stations. True, anybody working for the space program could go to the space station, but only those born with a certain genetic anomoly could go any further. Pytheas had often looked into the nightsky, hoping to see the space station, but it's orbit was in the southern hemisphere, and he lived in the northern, so any siting of it would have spoken of a collosal disaster.

Pytheas had tried earnestly to get even to the space station, but they had rejected his application every time he sent it. The poeple working in the application department knew him by name, and he knew theirs. They shared his sense of longing for the stars, and Pytheas surmised that they pitied him. He did appreciate their efforts to make his applicaiton more noticeable, but to no avail, he still had his feet upon the ground. He wondered just how much Lethia supported his efforts. She reminded him that there was no place for his children in space. She reminded him that he had responsibilities on Earth. He surmised that she disapproved, but would not stop him form trying.

The pad this day was clear, and the winds were low. The spectator's site was a good distance back form the pad, an enclosed semicircular building stretching for nearly a kilometer. Many came to see the touch down, only a few were actual family, the rest were spectator's or scientists who had a vested interest in the reports that were being brought back. After climbing form the hov, Pytheas led them through familiar doors, stepping onto the moving sidewalk, looking for his spot. It was the spot he had first met Lethia, a place that he would always remember. He had come as a child with his parents and brother to see the shuttle launch. His parents stood at attention, Aramaes was sitting on the floor fiddlign with his tail, eyes never once glancing at the shuttle. Pytheas though had his muzzle pressed up against the Plexiglass, wishing that he could reach out and join those on board. It was just after the shuttle had streaked out of sight that he had bumped into her. She had also been here with her parents, and they immediately became friends.

Twenty years later, and they still came back to this spot. It was a very romantic one for them, and Pytheas told his children what the spot signified. He watched as the buiding past by them, looked for the familiar structures, the small indents in the frames, the imperfections in the design that gave it all away. With each passing moment they drew closer, and there before them was the place he had met Lethia, and a group of scientists were standing in it. Pytheas felt his lips curl back in anger. Lethia put a hand on his shoulder and whispered to him, "Please Pytheas, a spot close by is just as good."

"No." Pytheas told her, and stepped form the moving sidewalk, and strode up to the scientists, a group of men who obviously held themselves in high esteem. There were four of them, and they were talking amongst themselves about some procedures that Pytheas could not fathom. "Excuse me, sirs, but you are standing in my spot."

A bright-colored one, who stood nearest Pytheas turned on him, and looked bemused. "Your spot? Since when is anyplace in the ampitheatre yours?"

Pytheas expected that much so decided to explain as best he could what it meant to him. "This was the spot where I first met my wife, it has special meaning to us, and we always have stood here."

"Well, I guess you'll never be able to say that again." the bright-colored one remarked highly.

"No, no, we can move." one of the others, a man with yellow-striped scales interjected. "If it's important to him, then let him stand here."

"Why? We were here first!" the bright-colored one insisted.

"For our purposes, one spot is as goos as any other, they want to stand here, so let them." the striped one pointed out.

"Fine." the bright-colored one shook his head, his tail swinging back and forth in agitation.

Pytheas approached the striped one, "Thank you very much, this place means a lot to my wife and I. I'm Pytheas."

"Habakkuk." the striped one introduced himself. "We work in research and development. An experiment we sent up is finally coming back, and we are hoping the results are positive."

"Are you guys ever going to develop a way for anybody to travel through space?" Pytheas asked hopefully.

"That would be nice, but don't count on it for quite sometime." Habakkuk shook his head.

Pytheas grimaced, "Well, I hope your experiment worked." Pytheas turned back to his family, which had moved into their spot by the Plexiglass almost as soon as the scientists had vacated it.

Habakkuk turned to follow his collegues, but called over his shoulder, "Say hello to your brother for me."

Pytheas nodded, and then it struck him that he had never told the man that his brother was on the ship, or that he had a brother. How had he known? Before he got a chance to ask though, Lethia said to him, "You didn't have to do that, my Pytheas."

"I did it for you." Pytheas told her, embracing her comfortingly. "Now, let's see if Aramaes is late again." he pointed at the launching pad, which seemed rather abuzz with activity. Various tubings were dragged across the pad, washing it down one last time before the shuttle landed. The pad was coated in a crystaline alloy that absorbed heat very well, as was necessary since the exhaust form the shuttle landing was supposed to reach into the tens of thousands of degrees. The engineers who were scurrying about checked the high pressure water hoses one last time, and then they scampered into the bunkers, most certianly heading for the safety that distance provided.

It was only a few moments later that somebody cried out in joy. Pytheas examined the sky, searching across it's great blue vaults for even the most insignificant variance. There he saw it. Just at the range of their view, a small red spark could be seen. It was the end of the exhaust from the engine. Pytheas saw it and then knelt beside his children and said, "Look, you can see the shuttle coming in now."

Lethia looked over at him, her eyes searching, and then turned away to regard to descending shuttle. Pytheas caught the look, and grimaced once before turning back to the window, and watching as the ship grew greater in size. After only what seemed seconds, the shuttle was plainly visible against the bright jets of flame that it sent to slow it's descent. The plumes were red at the bottom, then yellow, and finally a white hot against the base of the ship. The rest of the shaft seemed to glow from the incandesense of the engine. As it neared the ground, the flame began to diminish in size, till only just the red heat seared at the platform. The water jets let loose, cooling the engine even further, and causing billows of smoke to rise from the site. The landing gear extended, and the shuttle touched down, shaking the ground for miles about.

Pytheas regarded the shuttle coldly. How he wished he could be in it, how he wished that he could partake of ther journeys, but because of a simple genetic strain, he was forever forbidden from such inquiry. Yet his brother Aramaes did get to partake of that cup. He grumbled disconsolately, and thne noticed the reproachful stare that Lethia was giving him. Pytheas turned away form it, idly scratchign at some dirt that had lodged betweenh is scales att he base of his tail. He licked his teeth with his tongue, going over what he could say to Aramaes when he arrived. Confrontation would solve nothing. He had to be cordial.

It was an hour later when Aramaes had finally shown up and found them. The debriefing procedures took place on the space station, so once he was securely off the shuttle, he was free to go as he pleased until his job called him back again. He had ben walking down the hall, head held high, his scales had a glossy sheen that testified to his youth. Even though they had been born only a year apart, Pytheas looked ten years older than him now. He was wearing the company logo on his specialized knit shirt. He walked up tot hem, open arms, "Pytheas!"

"Aramaes." Pytheas regarded him in the friendliest way he could manage. It was not quite so eager as his brother, but he embraced him all the same.

"It's so good to see you again." Aramaes let his mouth hang open in delight. His teeth were nearly completely white, and it perfect health it seemed. His tongue was nice and fleshy, it also looked to be in perfect health. That was the benefit of going into space, allt he best dental hygenie, and you never aged significantly.

"How long has it been for you, a week?" Pytheas asked stoicly.

"Actually a couple months, that's the one thing I hate about it." Aramaes remarked, sensing Pytheas's displeasure. He then looked at the little kids next to him and his wife. "Are these your kids?"

"Yes, Thales, Hanno, and Aletia." Pytheas motioned to each one in turn. "And of course, you know my wife, Lethia."

"You're looking quite pleasant Lethia." he inclined his head, cocking it to one side, and winked at her with his black eye. She plumed in amusement.

"Your looking fit Aramaes. How did you flight go?" Lethia asked.

"Well, it's a long story, let's tell it when we get to your place." Aramaes gestured towards the moving sidewalk. They all agreed, and Pytheas herded his erstwhile children, who were still pretty enthusiastic at meeting their uncle for the first time in their lives. They moved out to the car, Aramaes answering their questions allt he while.

Pytheas had tried to be friendly with his brother during his stay, but had found himself growing quite resentful, especially towards the end of the visit. Aramaes continued to talk about the new worlds that were being discovered, and of the people he worked with. He talked about setting foot on an alien world, and described the rock formations and silence that was there in very mystifying terms. Pytheas wanted to have nothing to do with him. Then on the last night, Lethia pulled him aside.

"You have said almost nothing to your brother the whole time he's been here. Your brother loves you, and you don't get to see him for years on end. Take the time to be with him, as you are the only reason he takes that shuttle back here, you know he hates having to ride in that shuttle to Earth form the Space Station." Lethia scolded him.

"Fine, I'll talk with him." Pytheas replied, not wanting to get into an argument over something like this.

Aramaes had been regaling the kids with another story when Pytheas came in. "Sorry kids, it's time to go to bed."

"But Daddy!" they cried.

"You heard your Father," Lethia called from the next room, "go to bed."

The children said goodnight to their uncle, and then went to bed. Pytheas sat down opposite Aramaes, and sighed, not sure what to talk about.

"You have three very nice children." Aramaes congratulated. "You should be proud of them."

"Thank you." Pytheas replied voicelessly. He looked over into the other room, and could see that Lethia had pulled out her sketching again, and was meticulously forming lines with her hands, scratching over the parchment with her claws, moving whatever mediums across the paper to create a picture that he would never see. He knew that she had situated herself so that she could hear the conversation without being intrusive, but Pytheas didn't want her to hear anything of it. "Want to take a walk out under the stars? They are very beautfiul, and I haven't walked with you for some time."

"I'd love to." Aramaes brightened. Both slippd on their thermal coats, and slipped out the door. They began to walk down the city streets in the chill cold. Their toes inched through the sand, feeling it fill in around them, leaving a trail to follow. Pytheas looked up into the clear sky, but still could not see the stars.

Pytheas wasn't sure how long it was that he walked before he commented. "Have you ever just looked at the stars?"

"Sometimes that's all I can do." Aramaes replied.

"I look at them all the time. They mock me." Pytheas didn't feel like explaining that statement.


"Because I was not born with the right gene sequence." Pytheas deliberately stepped on a fallen leaf, shredding it beneath his claws as he passed.

"Yes, you've told me that before." Aramaes grew distant then, and he looked up into the sky, his neck throbbing with the blood of youth. "There isn't much up there worth looking at. I'd trade it all in an instant to have a family like yours. Even if I didn't, I'd rather seem the splendors of Earth than that of space anyday."

"I don't think I'd want to give up my family, I love them too much, and besdies, that's just plain terrible to even think about, but I've always wanted to travel amongst the stars." Pytheas remarked, feeling a bit guilty at his responsibility's conflict with his passion.

"What you have back in that house is more precious than all the stars in the Universe." Aramaes agreed. "They are alive and can love you. What I do there is none of that. The planets I discover are dead worlds, where life has never existed, and where it won't exist either. They can't love you, and they can't fulfill you. I am cursed by my genes, but you are blessed."

Pytheas sighed. No matter what his brother said, he still would like to see it himself. However, he was right, he shouldn't through his family away just because he wanted to satisfy his curiosity. He took one last look at the sky, the stars were still invisible to him in the light of the city. He scuffled another fallen leaf, and continued walking with his brother. Aramaes did not say another word until they returned back to his house. And for that, Pytheas was glad.

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