November 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Challenge: Victorious and Without a Parachute

The Office of Letters and Light verified my 50k word count on Friday 25th and I admit to being exceedingly happy to see this first finish line and to once again get a good solid eight hours sleep at night. In spite of the ‘dragging-my-butt’ syndrome that had me waiting until the following day to do my little victory dance around my chair, I couldn’t stop until I finished and posted the final submission for chapter eight.

Now it’s time to take a break, get reacquainted with my family, clean the house, and always, always be thinking about getting to that second finish line . . . a completed novel.

Over the past four weeks I experienced a wonderful bonding with my story characters. They’ve existed for years somewhere in the layers of my mind but now I see them and hear them, and like some scribe hired to tell of their hardships and triumphs, they’ve become friends just living over the next rise. And as someone who likes to plot things out with lots of details, outlines, and scene sketches, they still managed to surprise me more than once in their determination to go off in a new direction. Suddenly I was the one following, waiting to see what would happen.

Work on the remaining chapters of the novel will resume soon with a daily writing schedule until finished, although not at the NaNoWriMo insane pace LOL. Thank you to those who subscribed and those who stopped by. It was knowing you were watching that made me keep going when family was in the other room enjoying our favorite movies, or wanting to take time off and read my new Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt adventure.

I’d never heard of NaNoWriMo until WordPress posted this year’s notice. But something inside me said DON’T SAY NO. Before I could talk myself out of it I signed up and began preparing in earnest. The 50k challenge showed me I could do the work. I’m glad I didn’t say no. This novel is starting to look like a sequel may be following and already I’m thinking of laying out the groundwork and trying my luck again with NaNoWriMo 2012. But, as always, I’ll just have to wait and see what direction life takes me.

November 26, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eight Part 3

“Are all mind links as involved as the dream world?” Debra asked almost absently. In the morning she would be linking for the first time with someone other than Kalon. Once Eron was in her mind would she have any protection? Would her awareness and defenses be able to stop any subterfuge on his part?

“No, absolutely not,” Rowan said swiftly, relieved to be off the subject of past memories. “What you and Damon have is more like what bonded or married couples share.”

Eyes flashed dangerously. “Damon and I are not married.”

Hands up to avoid an argument, Rowan acquiesced. “If we do our jobs right, that’s something you’ll be able to settle with my brother. But, for future reference, bonding is more than couple’s setting up house together. A permanent link is forged between the couple, and a subtle blending or melding of the mind and body occurs on their first journey to the Heart.” Rowan shrugged. “But that’s another discussion . . . unless . . . did Damon ever give you a necklace with a crystal pendant attached?”

Startled brown eyes confirmed Rowan’s suspicions.

Debra clearly remembered the day she had died and Kalon’s tenderness in the dream world. Remembered his gift, the pendant necklace she always wore when they were together, and their first rights. Just passion, thought Debra, not marriage. Not at sixteen. Not without telling her.

“You said the dream world was real to you,” Rowan reminded her. “It would seem you are bonded to my brother.”

“But it isn’t real to Damon,” said Debra flatly, unwilling to explain or defend herself further. Should he make it back alive, this would be settled between the two of them.

Sister-in-law, thought Rowan guardedly, testing out the sound of their new reality in her mind. Damon had never doubted the bond between them. Never wavered in his assurance of Debra’s ability to be a strong consort to the Thalian nation. Yet listening to her instincts, Rowan doubted strength had ever been one of Debra’s failings. Glancing over at the tight-lipped woman beside her, she could only wonder if it was too late to change a lifetime mentality of self-preservation into a genuine desire to help others.

Her mind made up, Rowan took the first step. “Think about this in terms of helping Damon. With the Talisman given and received, the two of you have already journeyed to the Heart. It’s a place inside your immortal psyche; a place sanctified by the lifeforce of Mother and Father God. Once that journey has happened, you are bonded throughout the remainder of your physical life. Whether it happened in reality or the dream world, the two of you now have the capacity to know when the other is hurt or needs help. You have access to each other’s thoughts and emotions unless you choose to fully close your mind.”

“You think I’ll be able to find his mind because of this bond,” Debra stated resolutely.

“Yes,” Rowan said succinctly, watching, waiting.

“Then you probably already know that I’m meeting Eron in your office at five-thirty tomorrow morning.” Rowan nodded. “I’ll do whatever you want, on two conditions.”

Rowan studied the closed face before her. Debra wasn’t interested in personal gain. Her life above had been seclusion, living well within the limits of the trust fund setup for her the day Dorothy had tried to kill her. For years at a time she lived more like a street person, carrying only what was needed to survive. What could be so important now that Debra felt the need to bargain?

“If it’s within my power to give, it’s yours.”

“I want unrestricted access to Damon in Isolated Recovery.”

“Done.” Rowan pulled out her handheld com-link and programmed Debra’s voice and palm signature into the IR database. “What else?”

“Tell me everything about mind links and melding. Especially this link with Eron tomorrow.”

“Words aren’t enough, Debra,” Rowan insisted, turning to face her. “The only way to truly understand is to show you.”

Stone-faced, Debra stared. It always came back to trust and opening herself to others.

“Does it mean anything to you when I say a link is when two or more minds are connected? That melding is simply one person touching another to accomplish a link or initiate some function of the body?” Debra’s lips pinched even tighter as she slowly shook her head. “For a psychic evaluation, there’s no one better than Eron,” Rowan softly admitted, sympathy shining bright in her eyes. “After my parents died, Eron took over my training. He’s like a father to me.”

Debra sighed, resigning herself to the inevitable, and lowered her protective barriers. “What do I do?”

With the words barely out of her mouth, internal warning instincts tried to automatically shut out the foreign presence that cautiously moved from the black edges of awareness. It took all of Debra’s concentration not to protect herself, even knowing that the intruder was Rowan.

This was nothing like the dream world where her life with Kalon had been lived outside of mental constraints, using its own form of reality. And yet she knew the disembodied presence was Rowan by the distinct voice sounding in her head, by the thoughts left open for Debra to explore.

Silently, a sliver of static energy arced between Debra’s motionless fingers.

Curiosity conquered fear and Debra’s instincts automatically took over. Guided by words and imagery, her mind became a visual cavity of compartments and levels, each with its own relevant details and propriety. In an exaggerated flourish, Rowan carefully selected a trivial thought or memory, offering approval when her pupil quickly obliged an interest or adeptly denied with a calm withdrawal of that particular compartment. Between them it became a game of lead and follow until Rowan was satisfied all protocols had been experienced at least once.

 “Now see Thalia,” Rowan whispered, and stilled her presence as Debra followed instincts to the waiting image.

Suddenly Debra was seeing Thalia from space, looming large and lifeless like some brown, dry ball. The arid surface shimmered over immense riverbeds long dead and filled with dust. Blackened scars, miles wide, remained the only testament of where nature and imposing architecture had burned to the ground under the brutal midday solar star. It was a place of darkness and a heavy retching stink.

Debra physically shuddered, her mind finding reality one moment on Thalia and then thrust back into the terror of the nightmare. Fear flooded her body with adrenaline, releasing the warrior mind and strength. Locked in a perceived battle of fight or flight, inborn defenses protected flesh while the warrior absorbed power from the core lifeforce to seal away intellect and emotion. Overlooked was the functioning link between Debra and Rowan.

Unable to sever the link, Rowan mentally braced as though her presence had been swept up in a mighty rogue wave and transported to hell. Awareness discerned only memory, and yet her committed senses believed the nightmare to be real.

The high pitched screams penetrated the cold darkness. Rowan ran from her hiding place in the shadows, her breath rasping heavily from aching lungs, her bare legs covered in blood. It was all she could do to keep upright and running. If she fell again, there would be no strength left to get up.

Alone with the terror that hunted in the shadows, tears blinded her eyes, as sweat soaked hair plastered about her face in thick wet ropes. Evil howled in agony, its roar shattering eardrums and ferociously shaking the burnt, dust-filled terrain.

A demon bolt of energy tore into her chest, exploding bone and heart muscle in seconds. Blood gushed from every gaping wound and orifice, covering her in a shroud of thick, dark red . . .

Her body ridged against the tree trunk, Debra’s unseeing blood red eyes snapped open, as the killing power arced menacingly between her fingers. Sweat glistened on pale white skin that smoldered blistering hot. Every muscle was clenched and trembling under the massive amount of energy that strained against the confines of her physical body. But it was not enough to keep the vision out. Like the meditation globe, free will fell and Debra watched the image unfold.

His craggy face wore leadership well. Only the black eyes whispered of loneliness and a heart empty after all this time. He might have endured the long years with more grace had he known if his wife and son were safe and thriving on Earth. But a beacon message had failed to arrive.

Jordon Lorran was one of the few remaining Masters of engineering left on Thalia. His sacrifice had been to stay behind and oversee the building of the last Bromon ships. The final vessel had been completed over a decade ago. And now they waited for the arrival of the teleport beacon to begin the journey to Earth.

Thick silver hair framed a face more rugged than handsome. But when he smiled, all felt the impact of his male charisma. Pride had accepted that his prime had come and gone. And yet his tall, trim body still carried the burly shoulders and arms that were characteristic of the men in his family.

Like other nights, Jordon finished his workday with a stroll through the town square. Too many people and not enough upkeep had left the stones worn and the plaza looking a little run down. The great fountain was just a shell now. Water had become far too precious to simply let it evaporate in the dusty air. Filters broke down, adding to the strain on the purification system. And there were never enough replacement parts or repair personnel to go around.

Sitting on the edge of the old fountain, Jordon let tired muscles rest after a long day of rounds through the empty disembarking port and inspecting the pristine deep space vessels waiting at the distant space dock. Across the sizable square-shaped center, several of the eye-screens shorted on and off, disrupting the colorful pastoral scene that covered the bare rock walls of the vast underground cavern.

He understood that life support and food processors were more important than providing a sense of comfort that helped one forget reality for a moment or two. But still, he liked to end each day by gazing out on the lush green meadows filled with trees and wildflowers; to see a sky of blue again.

“Jordon,” a young man sharply called from across the square. Bryon, born and raised in the manufactured caverns, never knew the beauty and splendor of Thalia, except in archives and on datapads. Barely into his twenties, rations and badly filtered air seemed to age the smooth face beyond his years.

Standing a head shorter than Jordon’s impressive seven feet, he spoke quietly in the hopes of not raising an alarm. “We’ve lost another well.”

Knowing the final decision rested on his wide shoulders alone, Jordon bowed his head and mentally compared the boarding/preflight timetable with the latest decaying orbit data. “Which well?” he asked uneasily, already figuring their luck had run out.

“The big one at Osram.” Bryon watched his mentor and friend digest the news. “With so little atmosphere left, the solar lightning is striking the ground almost at will. The flare hit the silo dead on and vaporized everything. We lost a stretch of nearby tunnel, but the new shields are holding and no one was hurt.”

The news was worse than he thought. It was time to throw old protocols and promises out the airlock. “Any word on the beacon today?”

“No. Sorry. What are your orders?”

“With only ten wells left, we’ll run out of water in a little over a year.” Bryon nodded in agreement. “We can’t wait for an invitation anymore. For all we know they’re all dead.” Placing a big hand on the shoulder of his hardworking assistant, Jordon gave the word. “Notify primary crew personnel to be ready for transport in five days. Once the ships are prepped and ready, begin boarding the remaining population by predetermined order.” He gave Bryon a stern look. “Clothing and bedding only. Nothing else. We’ll be living better on the ships than we ever did in the caverns. Let them knew that. Maybe it’ll help ease the fears of this unexpected jump into the unknown.”

*   *   *

Awareness returned and Rowan was back in the shadows, hiding once more. The high pitched screams penetrated the cold darkness, lungs aching, her bare legs covered in blood.  Evil howled in agony, its roar shattering eardrums and ferociously shaking the burnt, dust-filled terrain. A demon bolt of energy tore into her chest, exploding bone and heart muscle in seconds. Blood gushed from every gaping wound and orifice, covering her in a shroud of thick, dark red . . .

My . . . love . . .” Rowan moaned feebly.

November 25, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eight Part 2

Without thinking she tapped the menu button and called up the resident index. Barely having pressed Eron’s name, his familiar voice came through the speaker.

“Eron, here. Someone’s an early riser.”

Debra mouthed the word, shit, and grimaced at her stupidity. The com-link time read 4:10 a.m. “Sorry, Eron. It’s Debra. I lost track of the time. I’ll call back later.” Her finger hovered over the disconnect key as his comfortable laugh came through the terminal.

“If I was busy or asleep I could have let your call go into message mode. But your name came up as the initiator. And I’m available 24/7 to help with whatever you need.”

It was time to take the plunge and have some faith in the experts. Fingers tapping anxiously against her bare thigh, Debra prayed they knew what the hell they were doing.

“It seems I can’t start any training until I’m tested by you.” Debra hesitated, chewing on her lower lip. “If it’s all right, I’d like to set up an appointment for tomorrow morning, if possible.”

Eron could hear the withdrawal in her voice. She would never deliberately come to him for help, and the thought saddened him. As a teacher and friend he wanted to argue his case. But he had sensed her deep well of mistrust the first time they made eye contact in the airlock. Actions speak louder than words, he reminded himself.

“Are you normally an early riser? Or is this morning an aberration due to the fact you slept all day yesterday?” he chuckled.

“No secrets in Tantria, I see,” she grimaced at the terminal, feeling the walls closing in about her. “I am an early riser. Would five-thirty be okay?” The less people around the better, Debra thought.

“Works for me,” Eron said. “Meet me in Rowan’s office. I’ll need about an hour. There’s no pain or side effects.” He hesitated, knowing his next words would either light a fuse or have her backing off altogether. “I will be forming a temporary link with certain areas of your higher cerebral functions once the initial brain assessment is completed.”

Eron waited, letting the silence drag out, giving Debra all the time she needed to come to a decision. Too late, he realized he should have had this conversation with her in person.

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” Debra said, her voice raw with the memories of black rages and the killing power and inborn defenses that protected her, no matter the cost.

“I’m a fully trained Thalian psychic, Debra. Not some human with a hazy ESP connective ability. I specialize in higher cerebral function links. I’m a master in the field of psychic function assessment and training of children and young adults. The only real advantage Thalian children had over you was the natal/parental bond. That bond allowed children to grow up understanding the deeper levels of traditions, customs, the very protocols that define Thalian heritage and control. A kind of psychic symbiosis, if you will, between parent and child.”

“And what about your Thalian-human children?” Debra demanded defiantly, letting the old angers surge free. “We were given nothing.” Her agitated breaths echoed loudly through the com-link as she fought for a calm she didn’t want. “The others may all be dead, but while I’m still alive someone is going to have to answer for the lives we were given.”

“We thought we had given you immunity to the virus and a life in the sunlight. But the price turned out to be much more than just your natal bond,” Eron admitted, his voice trailing off as emotion gripped him. “If a cure isn’t found for the virus, there can be no more children. Without children, the Thalian nation, whether bi-Thalian or natural blood, will be just as dead as your sisters.”

Head bowed, Debra rubbed fingertips hard across her forehead. Everyone had their problems, it seemed. And she was tired of being one of the problems. The only answer for now was to learn Thalian control. The dead could afford to wait a little bit longer.

“It seems I have no choice but to trust you.”

Eron chuckled softly. “Not the most flattering of praise, but it’s a start.”

“What if you’re wrong, Eron?”

“I’m aware of your concerns, Debra. We all are. With the link I’ll be able to see any underlying emotional impairments or mental blocks. I’ll instantly know if you are incapable of handling the power you were born with. And with that knowledge I can make recommendations for specialized learning choices available to you.” Eron took a deep breath, remembering how it used to be. “The great Houses of Thalia sought my skills because I match individual characteristics and psychic potential with the right vocational challenges and gratifications to make you an invaluable resource to yourself, the House of Bromon, and the earthbound Thalian nation.”

“I’ll meet you in Rowan’s office in the morning,” Debra said simply, and disconnected the call.

*   *   *

As reported, Rowan found Debra sitting under the great willow tree, back resting against the wide trunk, her long legs stretched out over the neatly trimmed grass. Watching their newest resident to the city, Rowan compared the reality of the younger woman to the impressions she had grown up with through reports and Damon. The woman that had kept her brother enthralled throughout the years and never at a loss for stories of their time together in the dream world.

A world no one else could create or share.

She was beautiful, Rowan thought, in a wild exotic sort of way. Brown-black hair tied back in a long French braid that draped over a shoulder buried beneath an oversized black sweatshirt. The matching black sweatpants concealed an exceptionally strong, lithe body. Or so Damon often bragged about when telling tales of their regular sparing matches in the dream world.

Moving closer, Rowan recognized the empty stare, the fast heart rate, the palm pressed flat to the ground. Mind-sight, a gift Rowan did not possess, had Debra off on some mental exploration.

Old memories surfaced, bringing a moment of shame. Damon had the same mind-sight ability. In fact, he shared a great many of the higher abilities with Debra; as though they were mirror images of each other.

Time had taken away the mean spirited jealousy she had punished Damon with as children for not being as gifted as her younger brother.

A state of mind that was swiftly excised when testing and evaluation revealed her own distinctive gifts in the medical arts. From that moment, her feelings of inadequacy were tossed aside as a waste of time. Today, she was the head of all Thalian medical-science on Earth and a master of healing.

Rowan looked around the spacious, beautiful park, enjoying a rare moment of contented freedom, and quietly approached Debra sitting under the willow.

The grass would surely play havoc with her white smock and jumpsuit. Rowan sat down next to the tree trunk anyway to wait. She wondered what Debra was seeing with the sight. Black eyes closed, letting normal senses see her surroundings. Nostrils flare at the smell of tended soil and fresh-cut grass. The crunch of crushed mountain rock meant someone was on the jogging trail for an early morning run. A bee flew passed her ear and eyes snapped open to watch the tiny creature gather nectar from the plentiful blossoms, then disappear in the direction of the honey pots down by the orchard.

Overhead the crystal lighting rods were duplicating the sun’s intensity up above and increasing the brightness throughout the city. For just a moment, Rowan remembered the early morning sunlight peering through the great protective domes on Thalia. The automated sensors changing the clear night filters to opaque before the scorching heat of the day forced everyone below and away from the demoralizing view of the arid wastelands beyond.

“Have you news about Damon?”

Rowan yelped, her heart galloping in her chest for a handful of seconds before returning to normal. “Bloody hell, Debra,” she gasped. “That’ll teach me to daydream.”

Each stared at the other, suddenly unsure what to say.

Rowan finally broke the silence. “No change. I assume you were using the mind-sight. What had your curiosity?”

It felt strange talking about psychic abilities to another as though comparing notes for an upcoming exam. Would it always be this uncomfortable opening up to others? Would she always feel like she was on the outside looking in?

Debra shrugged, self-consciously. “I wanted to know what keeps the birds and honey bees from getting into the main complex.”

“Ah, the energy shield,” Rowan grinned. “It’s all computerized and programmed to respond in certain ways depending on the data collected by the sensors.” Another bee flew passed, heading for the honey pots. “If the data reads bird or bee then the shielding in that area intensifies just enough to veer our little friends off in another direction.”

As truly fascinating as Debra found Thalian technology, Damon remained uppermost on her mind. After talking with Eron, earlier that morning, she had tried to quietly gain access to Damon in Isolated Recovery, but the entry doors refused to open. Undeterred, it was only a matter of time before she found an obscure backdoor to let her in. Only when she could see and touch his body for herself would she understand and accept, should the worst happen.

Debra squared her shoulders, a fierce light of determination entering her eyes. “Tell me the truth, Rowan. Is Damon going to be all right?”

The sudden stiffness in Debra’s demeanor had Rowan glancing at her warily, and wondering if a hand to the back of her neck would be required for every conversation they shared.

“Tests on blood and skin cells came back normal. Your quick action kept exposure to the atmosphere to only seconds.” Rowan tossed several blades of grass away and dusted her hands. “Problem is, without live testing we can’t isolate the exact point that exposure becomes fatal. So we’ll run the tests every two weeks for six months to make sure his body’s not infected.”

“What about his mind?” Debra asked tightly.

Rowan wanted to shout that Debra was the keeper of his mind. As a bonded mate, no one would have a better chance of finding Damon’s lifeforce. The question on most Thalian minds, besides uncertainty, was did Debra have the skill to initiate astral travel? Or would they lose her too?

“The person we know as Damon has left his physical body,” she gritted shortly. Seeing Debra’s face cloud over, Rowan continued quickly, her tone less agitated. “This has nothing to do with what happened between the two of you up above. This is something else entirely.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“It’s my job to be sure,” Rowan snapped, her words tinged with bitter frustration. “Whether my word means anything to you or not, your actions were not responsible for Damon leaving his body.”

Leaning stiffly back against the willow, Debra folded her arms and re-crossed long legs. “If I didn’t trust you I wouldn’t be saying yes to helping with Damon,” she gruffly declared.

A surge of joy softened all the prickly edges that Debra seemed to bring out in her. Rowan nodded, gratefully. Buried, deep inside, she had been more than a little afraid that Debra would not have the courage; would simply claim ignorance and walk away. An abundance of energy and impatience battled inside now, but would have to wait until after testing.

Plucking up another blade of grass, amusement lent Rowan’s voice an attractive huskiness. “Did you know that the earthbound Thalian Nation is home to some of the most powerful psychics ever recorded?” Black eyes stared off across the park’s lushly pristine common area, her cheeks lightly flushed with pride. “On Thalia such gifted people were called, Vions, and thought to be one evolutionary step away from becoming Mystics; that’s a physical being with all of an immortal’s knowledge and power from Home.” The blade of grass was slowly shredded and tossed away. “Eron tested Damon when he was seven and proclaimed him a Vion. To date, he is the strongest Vion on earth record.” Rowan sat up, gazing directly at Debra. “But instinct tells me you’re going to be even stronger.”

Debra took a long breath, making a dubious gesture. “I don’t want to be superwoman. I just want to understand what I have. And to be honest, before you came over here I was working myself into a sweat about this link with Eron tomorrow.” She looked at Rowan, her stare open and unwavering. “I’m afraid of linking, and I don’t why.”

“How can you say that, Debra? You’ve shared the most extraordinary link in all recorded history with Damon since you were in diapers.”

Hands fisted against firm thighs. Debra scowled and shook her head. “That was the dream world; my alternate plane of existence. Not something in my mind. Not some presence taking over my thoughts. I had a safe and happy life there.”

Brows came together as Rowan nodded. “Up until a few years ago, Damon described the dream world in the same way. But he knew one day you’d come home to us . . . to him. I think the last couple of years were very hard for him, almost a form of self-torture.”

Rowan gazed up through the brightly lit hanging branches, letting out an uneasy breath. Revealing her brother’s state of mind had not been her intention when she left the IR to seek out and enlist Debra’s help. “He had your quarters constructed ten years ago when he established his own residence,” she remarked calmly. “The suite remained empty all this time. Two years ago he had the connecting portal installed. Then last year, with Edith’s help, he started selecting fabric colors and furniture.”

“It’s hard for me to think of Kalon and Damon as the same person. I know they are, but . . . they feel so different.” Wetting dry lips, Debra strained to gather up the loose threads of a troubling thought. “My real father died when I was two. Yet I’ve known Kalon since I was eighteen months old.”

As always, hearing her father’s name spoken aloud caused a fresh stab of pain at the demise of her parents. Memories of their slow death, and the loss of so many others, continued to haunt Rowan over the long years. “You remember your father’s death?” she asked cautiously.

“No,” Debra answered, perplexed. “I remember every time Kalon came to me. Every time we journeyed to the dream world. Yet I remember nothing about my father. Not even memories of Dorothy or Edith until I was four.” Dark brows drew together in doubt.

Had Edith and Damon done more than just manipulate her emotions over the years? Recalling those forgotten sensations while exploring the city, Debra now had to earnestly consider the fact that certain memories may have been deliberately suppressed or wiped out all together. But why?

November 24, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eight Part 1

The high pitched screams penetrated the cold darkness. She ran from her hiding place in the shadows, breath rasping heavily from aching lungs, her bare legs covered in blood. It was all she could do to keep upright and running. If she fell again, there would be no strength left to get up.

Pain radiated from the smoldering wounds about her body in tormenting swells of agony that pounded into her brain like the shrill screams that stabbed, over and over. Yet pain was the only thing keeping her conscious.

Alone with the terror that hunted in the shadows, tears blinded her eyes, as sweat soaked hair plastered about her face in thick wet ropes. The blistering energy centered painfully throughout the palm of her hands, the intensity of the force making her shake uncontrollably. Heavy feet stumbled in her rush and confusion to escape, her mind buried in mayhem, desperate for the power inside her body to kill.

As though on command, the blue light erupted, cutting through the darkness, the air heavy with the retching stink of burnt skin and hair.

Evil howled in agony, its roar shattering eardrums and ferociously shaking the terrain.

Her legs buckled, the breath driven from wasted lungs, her body seeming to take forever to reach the ground. A demon bolt of energy tore into her chest, exploding bone and heart muscle in seconds. Blood gushed from every gaping wound and orifice, covering her in a shroud of thick, dark red.

“Dada,” she moaned feebly . . .

“Ahhh,” Debra roared, lunging up from beneath the bedcovers, still clawing her way out of the nightmare. Heavy breaths stuttered loudly in the quiet bedroom as her body viciously trembled from shock and cold. Like a terrified child she rocked back and forth as hands clutched at the agony that still burned in her chest.

Autonomic healing remained useless against the pain of nightmares.

Rivulets of sweat glistened on pale, cold skin, her T-shirt and panties soaked through. Tears flowed unheeded from eyes squeezed tightly shut against anything more cognizant than the reassuring sound of her beating heart. Debra groaned as the intensity of the familiar nightmare eased, and once more reality enveloped her.

Why now, goddammit, her mind raged. “What else can go wrong,” she mumbled, frantic to push free of the soggy linen sheet and swung heavy legs over the side of the bed.

With the pain finally subsided, her breathing slowed and her mind cleared. Always about the killing power, she lamented, struggling to pull up memories of the handful of other times the nightmare has assaulted her senses. Eyes stared, watching the past roll through her mind, instinctively sensing the answer was right there in front of her.

One last forceful shudder shook her body, leaving her too drained to concentrate and piece it all together. An omen, maybe. A warning that the killing power was evil and would end up destroying her and everyone she cared about.

Sighing resoundly, Debra accepted there would be no more sleep this night and stiffly padded off to the bathroom for a much needed shower.

*   *   *

Sitting with her back against the headboard of the stripped down bed, Debra restlessly glanced about the spacious room. The bedside clock read three-thirty in the morning. She had managed to sleep away most of the previous day as though it had never happened. But the recalled memories told her different.

First there had been Edith’s confessions of mind manipulating, followed by that horrible Taylor woman and her predictions of failure. And now Damon was lost and near death and Rowan nearly burnt to a crisp. Debra sighed, profoundly. Not a bad first day, she thought with discussed sarcasm. And could only wonder what other feats of disaster she could impress her new relatives with today.

Taking a moment to step back from her pity-party, Debra actually looked around and had to admit the bedroom of her personal quarters was better than most high priced hotel suites. The room itself seemed huge for single occupant housing, easily fitting the king-size bed and handcrafted high chest and bureau, end tables, and two overstuffed chairs.

Thalian use of glass walls, mirrored on the outside and see through from inside, made spaces seem bigger and brought outside living color into the home and workplace. Mirrored closet doors slid open, like pocket doors, revealing several white jumpsuits and a flowing silk caftan in bold red. Her eyes widened in surprise at finding her duffle bag tucked into one of the empty custom shelf organizers waiting to be filled.

A tinted glass sliding door opened out onto the communal balcony that overlooked the magnificent park now lit in sundown shadows. The smell of cut grass, blossoms, and freshly turned earth had her breathing deeply, her body relaxing with visions of Edith’s bluff and the orchard, and the silent skyscraper cliffs across the lake.

Bare feet appreciated the warm softness of the barely-beige colored wall-to-wall carpet as Debra wandered into the main living area.

Childhood photos of herself and Edith stood in simple cut-crystal frames on several of the end tables and the main shelving unit along the bedroom-living room wall. Books from her favorite genres had been grouped amongst blooming flowerpots and small sculptures of metal and stone.

The standard sized bathroom was off the open kitchen-living room. Debra stuck her head inside, finding the wet towels on the floor where she had dropped them earlier. But even in this small room, the glass and light colors made the space warm and comfortable.

Arriving last night remained a blur of commotion. Although the memories were buried away somewhere if she truly needed to know. Rowan had programmed her palm print and voice signature into the computer through the compact com-link terminal on the kitchen counter.

Debra thought about changing out of the clean sleeping T-shirt and into one of the jumpsuits, but figured what was the point. It wasn’t like she could go for a walk along the beach or pick up groceries and junk food at the corner 24/7 convenience store. Now that she was a legitimate resident of the city, would she be allowed to wander around at all hours of the night?

Curious eyes spotted the closed panel just down from the bathroom. The only door in the apartment with a locking mechanism. Debra flattened her palm to the doorway, and jerked back in shock almost immediately.

Damon’s quarters were right next door. Debra blinked, staring dumbfounded at the inert panel. Her temper spiked. If the bastard survived, they would be sharing adjoining suites. No woman wanted to be lied to and taken for granted, let alone one who could kick his ass off the balcony.

The matter of their supposed marriage would be dealt with, once and for all, just as soon as Damon was himself again.

Scowling, Debra gave the palmpad a good smack and the panel slid quietly open to reveal a space of several feet and another door panel with no access from her apartment. Stepping aside, out of sensor range, the door remained open. A green fingertip light below the pad indicated the doorway was in manual mode. When pressed the light went out and the panel opened when she approached sensor range and closed when she stepped away. She activated the lock on her side, even though Damon wasn’t around to intrude.

Guilt at her lack of control still haunted a conscience that hated conflict. And even though Manton, Duran, and Eron had gone out of their way to appease that guilt, Debra knew the fault was hers. She remembered the anger, the fury at wanting to make Damon pay.

Her stomach grumbled long and loud. Debra realized she hadn’t eaten since the early morning hours yesterday on Edith’s veranda, before Thalian memories had filled her consciousness to the point of bursting.

The trim kitchen had a wall of different-sized cupboards visible behind the island counter. But it was the flashing com-link and sticky note on the countertop that drew her gaze. The note simply read: push message key.

The time on the lower right of the unit read 4:00 a.m. Debra hit the ‘mes’ key, activating a com-link message sent by Rowan.

“Debra, got back to my quarters last night and realized you’d have no idea how things worked. Thought it best to highlight some of your living space options.” Rowan’s voice chuckled softly over the speaker. “You were pretty much asleep on your feet when we arrived.

“You’ve been programmed into the computer and now have access to the com-system. That’s the terminal in front of you. Its voice activated or by the touch pad on the bottom and controls communications, emergency medical and security, environmental, and cleaning.

“Yup, each of us is responsible for keeping our own quarters clean. No maid service. You’ll find the vacuum in the kitchen closet. Just pull the unit off the wall. It automatically empties when plugged back into the wall charger. In the same closet you’ll find a portable washer and dryer and some basic cleaning supplies.

“On the touch pad you’ll find keys already programmed: medical, security, local or world news, music, time, favorites, and so on. You’ll find the keys marked with either the first three or four letters of the word. The menu activates by key or by touching the screen. Once you’re familiar with the com-system you can program to activate the presets or submenus by voice command.

“Each terminal can be personalized, for example: push the music key and select whatever you want to hear. Or push the favorites key to set several different choices like music, environmental, news, library preferences—”

Debra hit pause and tapped the ‘mus’ key out of curiosity. From the extensive list she touched ‘classical’, then ‘Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons’. The instant fullness of harmony was like having the orchestra playing right in the room. The stirring sweep of violins filled the apartment. Eyes closed, leaning against the counter, she let the music pervade mind and body.

Her stomach loudly growled again. Surely the cupboards had something to eat. Stale crackers, an old candy bar, anything would do. Maybe Rowan had provided instructions for meal times and snacking. She cancelled the music and hit the flashing message key again.

“. . . if you’re in the mood to socialize, the Terrace offers excellent dining 24/7. The second level Galleria also has café-style eating and takeout with hours and menus depending on the establishment. Your kitchen is setup for in-home meals with a mini fridge under the counter, a cooking element that retracts under the countertop and is raised by pushing the element key on the com-link.

“Edith stocked a couple of the cupboards and drawers with a few dishes, utensils, and staple goods to get you by until you’ve selected what you need. When you want more fresh produce and personal items you’ll find them in the Galleria—”

Hitting the pause key, Debra started flipping cupboard doors open until she found pasta noodles, breadsticks, cereal flakes and teabags all clearly visible in glass containers. Snatching up the breadsticks she could see more filled containers lined up neatly behind. She crunched through half a breadstick before swallowing, searching the bottom cupboards for the mini fridge and found more glass containers of water, sliced bread, some kind of mayo type condiment, and cleaned salad fixings.

Hunger had her wolfing down another breadstick and pint bottle of water as she listened to the last of Rowan’s message.

“. . . This is important, Debra. All medication must be requested through the third level dispensary. NO EXCEPTIONS. Even if it’s just something for a headache or cold.

“I also recommend checking the public announcement site each morning and evening for important updates, events, warnings, or whatever. You’ll find access through the menu. You should check your messages daily for any personal appointments scheduled or requested on your behalf.”

Debra licked the last of the breadcrumbs from her fingers and wiped them dry on her T-shirt.

“Lastly, is the subject of money. We use a banking system as a way of conditioning ourselves for living among humans. Every month your numbered account, under the bank key, will be credited with an amount that will be established by the administrative office for you. Anything you purchase will have a cost amount that’s deducted from your account. We encourage city residents to live within their budget as practice for up top, but you’ll never be denied something you want.

“The city is self-sustaining. Everything you need or could want is here or can be made for you by our craftsmen. Some of the products may be different than what you’re use to but they serve the same function and in many cases are far superior for health and basic needs.”

A long sigh hissed over the com-link speaker. “A lot to take in, I know. But I have it on good authority that your memory comes with total recall. If you need help in any way, I can be reached at my office, RN33, or my quarters, RN4475. Feel free to rest up for the next twenty-four hours. Because after that I’m going to need your help with Damon. I’m asking now so you can think about your response. When you’re ready to get down to work, contact Eron for testing at, EN5863, or use the resident index on the menu, then come see me.

“It’s hard to believe you’re finally here. Welcome home, Debra.”

The message ended and silence suddenly prevailed. Lips pursed, she wondered what Rowan had in mind for Damon. She swallowed hard, unable to escape the fact that she owed Damon whatever assistance she could to bring him back safely.

Debra tapped the terminal screen and the menu popped up. On the bottom left she found the public site button and accessed the link. Damon’s condition was stable yet unchanged. The sooner she was tested, the sooner she could provide the help Rowan needed. But only on the condition that all involved knew she had absolutely no knowledge of astral travel. Surely between the two of them, and all their healing skills, Damon could be found and returned to his body.

November 23, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Seven Part 3

Angry, and now afraid, that her brother could be so stupid as to gamble his life on the unknown, Rowan walked out of the Operating Theater with a heavy heart. The medical and physical facts had been painstakingly sifted through and entered into hundreds of probability scenarios. Nothing they tried had worked. Between her years of experience and training and that of her staff, hopes had been high of bring Damon back to his body.

Now she had a few hours to clear her mind and come up with some kind of new plan of action. She wondered if Duran’s archives held any information about the ancients’ transcending the body due to a kinetic discharge.

Muted lighting in the main medical-science corridor simulated the evening hours on the surface. On-duty personnel was lighter, but she was never alone in the walk back to her office. She waved to the patrol team on their rounds as they entered the nearby lift, knowing they had questions about Damon. And grateful they left it at a mental hug of support.

Round and round her mind went, sequencing the data with known methods of transcending, until she found it difficult to even think straight. So she forced out all the clutter and fear and slowly went over the current facts again, one by one.

Unless taken by old age or inoperable disease, Damon’s body could be sustained indefinitely, but was nothing more than an empty shell at the moment. The problem was with his immortal lifeforce, what the humans called the divine spark inside.

An emergency assembly had been called and the council of Elders, the Masters and Grand Masters had all agreed with the ancient teachings: an out of body existence was extremely dangerous and life threatening to the physical existence. Should an immortal’s lifeforce not return to the physical body within seven days, that physical existence, its life experiences in that existence would be deemed a self-termination. The journey Home would be denied until the immortal lifeforce or being had completed the agreed upon covenant for physical life.

Learning through the limitations of physical existence carried only one sin. Suicide, whether the taking of one’s own life to escape the physical hardships and fears, or the addiction of substance abuse that numbed the mind and wasted the chosen cycle of enlightenment. Only those born to an existence of extreme mental disability were exempt and brought directly Home after physical death, their acts of desperation more often an edifying catalyst for those left behind.

Tired after a long day, Rowan entered the dark, quiet sanctuary of her office. Even though a half-hour nap on the sofa would be more wonderful than pure, dark chocolate, the first order of business was to update the message sites in the central computer, then complete her report in the medical-science database.

Sitting at her workstation in the small pool of light from the desk lamp, efficient fingers quickly typed out the latest update on Damon’s stable yet unchanged condition, and queued the text for copy to all sites. Sometimes following the human’s limited forms of communication threatened to test her fortitude. But once above, all of the human ways had to be instinctive to protect them and their Thalian technology.

So, stretching out some of the kinks in her shoulders, Rowan activated the transponder and sent a brief coded message to each of the administrators of the four other Thalian cities around the world. Until midnight of the seventh day, no legislative decisions would be made regarding a new sovereign.

A faint moan drew Rowan’s attention from the com-link screen to the shadows across the room. Surprise had immediate medical responsibilities shifting to the back of her mind. She had forgotten all about Debra and the mandatory physical.

The comfy high-backed chair swiveled silently, as Rowan quietly crossed the thick carpet, her Thalian senses considering the young woman who slept as though dead to the world.

Unlike her brother, Rowan did not possess the ability of mind-sight or touch-sensing. All her exceptional gifts focused around the tools of healing. Which made her lack of success with Damon all the more frustrating.

And here, stretched out on her sofa in peaceful innocence, was the cause of her irritation. In spite of Eron’s estimations, Rowan remained unconvinced. There was simply no way to tell whether Debra would end up being a menace or savior to the Thalian nation.

In all the photos she had viewed over the years, Rowan had never seen Debra’s face so relaxed, so delicate. It was the closed eyes, she realized. When open, those dark brown orbs had a way of glaring at the world with distrust and even a mild contempt, and eclipsed the beautiful skin, the high cheekbones, the soft vulnerable mouth.

In no mood to deal with those surly eyes awake, Rowan rallied her flagging strength and primed her hands and mind to administer Debra’s physical while she slept.

Technology may have freed them from a dying planet and built their cities deep underwater, but Rowan preferred to use the psychic probing technique that allowed her to see inside biological matter through the sensitive tips of her fingers and palms.

She pressed her hands together, lightly rubbing the sensitive skin, and felt the forming cushion of energy warm her hands. Gently, barely touching the epidermis, Rowan laid one hand over Debra’s exposed left neck carotid artery, and placed her other hand on top of the blanket, over the aorta, low on the abdomen.

Unseeing eyes visualized everything in her mind. A body perfectly maintained; organs and tissue free of disease, old injuries healed with exquisite skill, crippling scar tissue all but eliminated, with only a faint shadow left to mark the memory. Cell regeneration, chemical stimulus, lung oxygen enrichment, heart strength amplification.

Rowan broke the connection and backed away from the sofa, suddenly seeing the younger woman in a totally new light; as a healer of the highest order. As someone to collaborate with in finding a cure for the children and the atmospheric virus. As a bonded wife able to follow her husband into the ethereal dimension between physical existence and Home.

But even more astounding, Debra no longer carried all the same degenerative weaknesses that had destroyed the others of her kind. No doubt this was what Eron had sensed and waited for Rowan to confirm.

Psychic testing and training would begin immediately in the morning. For the first time in hours, Rowan felt a measure of hope. Lost in the possibilities for answers, she gently squeezed Debra’s shoulder, ready to escort the city’s newest resident to her prepared quarters. If Debra could stay awake long enough, maybe they could get started on a tentative training schedule that would make them both happy.

Without warning, long fingers clamped tightly around Rowan’s wrist, the crushing strength and fiery heat bringing Rowan to her knees in a breathtaking cry of pain. The harder she tried to break Debra’s grip, the tighter the slim fingers squeezed, until blackness started to encroach upon the edges of her vision.

“DEBRA!” Rowan screamed, distantly aware that Debra was still sleeping soundly. In a last effort of strength, she heaved backward and tumbled Debra to the floor, her wrist still locked in a vise of flesh, her hand red and swollen from amassing blood.

Debra was awake and responsive before she hit the floor. Internal defenses recalled the circumstances in seconds and the warrior stood down. Immediately her fingers released their compressing grip, revealing the ugly, raw wound around Rowan’s wrist.

Beyond words and unable to control the tears of pain coursing down bloodless cheeks, Rowan struggled to find her inner discipline and begin self-healing. She had never experienced such debilitating pain before and was still trying to catch her breath.

Debra saw only someone in need and instinctively followed the rhythms of her body. Fingers splayed flat against Rowan’s chest, sending endorphins to all cell receptors and dulling the sensation of pain. The older woman sagged to the floor, her breath sawing loudly in the small office. Debra checked the wound, pulling out pieces of burnt jumpsuit material, then gently clasped Rowan’s wrist and visualized the transference of damage.

For Rowan, the pain eased almost instantly and allowed for rational thought once more. She watched the skin on Debra’s wrist redden, then blister, and finally split open in a charred, oozing wound that smelled of cooked blood and skin. Debra released her arm and slowly sank to the floor, all her attention focused inward.

Rowan witnessed with the eyes of a healer the injury on Debra’s wrist meticulously repair from the inside out, until once again the skin was smooth and soft and free of injury.

“I didn’t realize you were an empathic healer as well as touch,” Rowan said with forbearance, sitting up slowly and leaning back against the bookcase.

Lifting dark, empty eyes, Debra glanced at Rowan, then pulled herself inward, conserving energy and strength. “Is that what I did? Empathic healing?” she said, indifferently.

“It was my own fault, Debra,” Rowan quickly reassured. “I know your skills are instinctive, that your defenses are unused to distinguishing between friend and foe. Living above, alone, everyone had to be considered an enemy. This wasn’t your fault. I was the one who was careless.”

“And what happens the next time someone forgets . . . and I can’t heal them.” Wretched, dark eyes blinked slowly and stared at Rowan. “I want the training, but not if it means somebody else gets hurt.”

Rowan scooted over the carpet beside Debra and reached out. “Give me your hand.” She placed the warm, slim fingers around the nape of her neck. “As a strong healer you should be able to feel the pulse at the back of my neck.” She grinned at the surprise in Debra’s eyes. “What you’re feeling is the body’s normal electrical pulse that travels up and down the spinal column from the brain.” Sensing the younger woman’s curiosity eased some of the tension in the pit of her stomach. “Now concentrate on the pulse. My name is Yolanda Breckenridge and I’m a retired astronaut selling rental lots on the moon.”

A shocked gasp filled the small office, as sensitive fingers pressed firmly against the erratic pulsations passing down the center of the neck vertebrae. “It’s returning to normal now,” Debra murmured truthfully.

Smiling for the first time that day, Rowan felt over that moon at seeing Debra’s quirky little grin. “I call it a biological lie detector,” she said, humor in her eyes. “Instead of reading the symptoms of a person who’s lying with a mechanical detector, a touch-healer can feel the spasms in the electrical pulses that initiate those physical symptoms with absolute accuracy.”

“What do you want from me, Rowan?” the words were quietly spoken, without anger or fear.

None, including Rowan, had been prepared to call the odds in favor of Debra’s survival. All except Damon, whose strong belief in her abilities was enough to gamble his life on. Rowan often speculated that her brother’s deeper understanding of Debra was most likely due to the unique link between the two them since they were babies.

Rowan placed Debra’s hand back on the nape of her neck again. “What’s expected is that we all go slow and get to know one another. Once you’ve had the training and acquired the control that all Thalians grow up learning, then you’ll be free to choose whatever you want to do to help us all survive.”

“Edith is convinced my healing abilities will cure the children. In spite of all the gifted healers right here in this city.” Debra leaned closer. “I know what I’ve sensed and heard, Rowan, and most everyone in the city seems to think I’m some kind of prophet come to set them all free.”

A cold shudder gripped Rowan at the thought of failure. “You’re the last of your generation, Debra. The very last Thalian-human to live above, immune to the virus. It’s no wonder that all hopes have been pinned on you. Whether it’s fair or not. But we’ve learned not to take any possibility of hope for granted. There is a cure, somewhere. We just need to find it before the humans annihilate themselves or this planet.”

Debra sighed, her eyes glittering brightly, almost unnaturally. “For the first time in my life, I’m afraid of my abilities. Look what’s happened to Damon, and now to you. I honestly don’t know if I can control what happens. I’m starting to wonder if I ever had control.”

They shared a look of understanding, of the responsibilities each of them had learned to live with because of the incredible power they had been born to.

“I know you’re concerned about unconsciously hurting the people you’re going to be working with. Unlike above, you’re safe here, Debra. With people who know who you are. People who are like you.” Her back squared stubbornly. “And I want you to know I can be trusted. With your level of skill you’ll only be working with Masters and Grand Masters. A Master is someone who’s an expert at evaluating, teaching, and guiding in their respective field. A Grand Master is someone who has excelled over all other Masters in that field.”

The pulse in Rowan’s neck never varied. Debra removed her hand. “And you?”

“I’m a Master of medical-science,” Rowan nodded. “It took me most of my life to achieve that status. Are you interested in healing? I ask because you’re already quite good at touch and empathic healing.”

Debra shrugged never having thought about having an interest in one of her abilities. “I don’t think of healing as an interest. It’s just something I do for myself. Like all my other abilities.” A frown marred her forehead. “Am I expected to pick something to specialize in?”

Rowan grinned, tucking her arm around Debra’s identically white covered arm. “I just thought since you’re already wearing a white jumpsuit . . .” Debra flushed guiltily as Rowan laughed. “Whatever I have is yours, Debra. Maybe someday you’ll say the same to me and the Thalian nation.” She gestured toward the office entryway. “But first, you need at least eight hours uninterrupted sleep. You’re exhausted. Come on, I’ll take you to your quarters.”

November 22, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Seven Part 2

Heavily gray-streaked hair seemed a contradiction to the sparsely lined face that smiled graciously at her. The sturdy body beneath the loose-fitting green jumpsuit bowed slightly from the waist.

Head tilted to the side, Eron watched her. “We’re all here to help you, Debra. But only with your consent.”

She took a step back away from him while his eyes, shining with concern, followed her.

“A moment ago you were incapacitated and suffering,” Eron said boldly, gauging her reaction. Debra finally nodded mutely. “I used a minor pulse to release a small amount of kinetic adrenaline into your system, and that quickly relieved the symptoms.”

“Then I owe you my thanks . . . and an apology for my rudeness.”

Eron grinned, remaining close by her, just in case. Debra’s hybrid DNA made Thalian absolutes questionable.  “The more you practice with your skills the better your body can handle abrupt fluctuations in pressure and energy. We’ll also teach you some little suppression tricks to help ease the withdrawal.” His head tilted, satisfaction clear in the gruff voice. “Although, your touch-healing ability should have no trouble regulating kinetic adrenaline in future.”

Suddenly images popped into her mind for a simple breathing-acupressure maneuver. Startled, Debra slammed shut her protective barriers, but not before sensing a small residual signature that had her looking to Eron as the sender.

“Hmm, I see you’re unused to Thalian telepathy,” he said bluntly. “Yet you instinctively knew the message was from me.”

“Are you testing me?” she asked incredulously.

Lips puckered as he shook his head, thoughtfully. “No. Merely intrigued by your cerebral reflexes and strength. Our way of telepathy is precise and quick. It’s how you will learn here, Debra. Your psychic aptitude is exceedingly high, but greatly in need of training to achieve control, and full capability. Once you’ve had your physical, Rowan will be able to set up a program of learning for you. I look forward to watching your progress.”

Stunned, Duran remained silent at Eron’s open admiration of Debra’s skills and potential. Maybe the rumors were true. Maybe Debra really was a mystic.

“I don’t need a physical. I can take care of myself,” she swiftly insisted. “I do, however, want to learn more about my abilities. But not if it means having a bunch of people poking around inside my head.”

A reassuring pat on her arm, Duran hastened to alleviate her fears. “For the most part Thalian telepathy is just thoughts or images sent and received. Like sending and receiving emails. No personal contact.” Eron frowned at the crude analogy. “There is no touching of minds unless a joining or melding is established. Eron has the unique ability to sense conscious and subconscious cerebral functions.”

“On Thalia,” the older man said, the wistfulness in his voice bittersweet, “I taught children and young adults how to fulfill their potential.”

Duran grunted in agreement, and clarified. “Eron is one of the premiere Masters of psychic education. From newborns to young adults, all the great Houses sought his evaluating and teaching skills.” As an afterthought, he muttered softly. “I have all the Thalian archives, Debra, if you’re interested.”

“That was a long time ago, my friend,” Eron stated candidly. “The few children we have now are instructed by others medically trained to care for them. There are no young people left to teach.” Sadness clouded the strong features of his face. “My training skills have become redundant.” He stepped outside the airlock and gestured with pride to the entrance chamber. “This is my domain now. Here I am host and guide, information resource, storyteller, nurse . . .” His boisterous laughter had Debra and Duran smiling along with him. “Well, you get my meaning. As the humans say, a-jack-of-all-trades.”

“That explains why you seemed to be hovering nearby, earlier.” Debra conceded. “You knew I was in trouble before I did.”

“I could sense that you weren’t feeling well. And knowing what happened above with Damon, it was logical to assume you were going to have trouble with withdrawal.” Firm shoulders shrugged nonchalantly as Eron signaled for them to follow. “There is also the fact that I must remain by the airlock while the doors are open. Should someone come down from above, the outside doors won’t activate while the airlock is in use.”

“What!” Debra blurted, concerned, stepping quickly into the aisle. “How long can the cloaking aura sustain someone once they’re caught in that pulling force?”

The two men grinned and quietly laughed at her assumption.

Eron touched the red square on the bottom of the wall panel, activating the closing mechanism. “There’s no need for concern,” he replied affably. “A warning is sounded when the exterior sensors are tripped and the inside doors are still open.”

All three watched the mammoth black doors rumble closed, the overhead whirling blue light winking out as the main panel activation button flashed to green.

“That pulling and pushing force is an underwater tether, or gravitational beam, that locks onto the cloaking signature. The aura’s energy field pulls oxygen from the water continuously, so there’s no need to worry about drowning.”

Eron winked at her startled gasp. As suspected, Debra had lowered her protective barriers once she felt safe again. So used to living among non-telepathic humans, there had been no need to constantly protect herself from intrusion. The Thalian nation’s newest daughter would find things quite different in a city full of psychic beings.

The master teacher folded his arms with a good-natured grin. “At least you didn’t close yourself off this time. What form of communication did you find easier to absorb? Verbal or mind?”

“Alright, the image that flashed in my mind relayed everything you spoke of verbally, and much more,” she admitted honestly, feeling somewhat disconcerted that all she had learned and come to believe in over the years was now inadequate.

Satisfied, Eron patted Duran’s shoulder and bowed once again to Debra. “A fine beginning. But I’m needed elsewhere at the moment. So I’ll bid you a warm welcome. Once you’ve had your physical, you know where to find me.”

“What is it about this physical business,” Debra argued. “I’m not having a physical.”

Duran’s lopsided grin distracted as he linked arms with Debra. “Come on, old girl,” he teased. “I’m afraid a physical is mandatory for every newcomer to Tantria. We can’t risk any form of infection spreading citywide.”

They headed toward the closest exit; the one Debra had used the night of her secret search of the city. “I can understand the need for being careful in an enclosed environment. But I’ve already been in the city. In fact, I’ve been all over this city,” she said with finality.

Silently the corridor exit doors parted and closed behind them. “That’s because Rowan took a skin sample the night you had your black rage. The results of the analysis were fed into the database. If that information hadn’t been added, you would have set off intruder alarms all over the city and the airlock doors would have remained sealed in lockdown.”

A weighty breath whistled from Debra’s pursed lips. “I feel like Alice stuck in the rabbit hole and things will never be normal again.”

“A bit of training is all you need,” he nodded. “But a skin sample isn’t enough for Rowan’s files. Everyone is given a complete physical so the data can become part of the virus research database. One day someone’s data will provide a clue for finding a cure. So nothing can be overlooked.”

He leaned closer, his voice hushed in tone. “Just so you know, the energy fields in the cloaking auras have a simple form of decontamination, as well as all the lifts. All exits from the entrance chamber have stronger decon sensors for about twenty feet past the doors, either way. If there’s a problem, an alarm is triggered on the medical level and brings down a force-field to contain the contaminant. That’s when you’re given the physical from hell,” he laughed.

Feeling cowed by logic, Debra allowed herself to be shuttled off into the waiting lift. Just how intrusive could a Thalian physical be, she wondered?

“Oh. My. God!” Debra exclaimed, wide-eyed, staring at herself in the lift’s mirrored panels.

The bellowed outburst brought the habitual hum of voices and movement to an abrupt halt in the administrative hallway. Duty personnel, visiting human helpers, and residents stopped dead in their tracks or peered inquiringly from nearby office and lounge doorways. Duran’s uproarious laughter only added to the commotion.

Floor to ceiling mirrors made it difficult to ignore the filthy once-white jumpsuit and rat’s nest hairstyle. Debra finally threw up her hands in defeat and glared at Duran as the lift doors closed. Friendship, she pondered sourly, was never there when you really needed it.

*   *   *

“Give me a break, will you,” Debra sighed in complaint over Duran’s sporadic outbreak of laughter. Lack of sleep the night before had finally caught up with mind and body, leaving her camped out in exhaustion on Rowan’s comfortable office sofa. “A real bloody friend would have told me I looked like the walking dead,” she groused, yawning against the back of her hand.

The spacious office had been empty upon their arrival. Debra had instinctively palmed the doorway to mentally see all of Rowan’s domain, and discovered a large compartmentalized suite that housed a main office, examining room, laboratory, and private retreat.

Her mind-sight had quickly zeroed in on the small bathroom off the private library to the right of the entryway. Brightly lit, the en suite had afforded fragrant soft soap and thick towels for washing up, and a sturdy brush that helped tame her long hair that she simply pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of her neck.

Further snooping turned up Rowan’s last clean jumpsuit in the narrow wardrobe tucked in on the far side of the glass-enclosed shower. Debra hesitated for less than a second before stripping out of the filthy jumpsuit and pulling on the freshly laundered garment. Although the fit was somewhat bigger than the discarded suit, at least she looked clean and not like some poor relation begging a handout.

Duran stood in the open office doorway and chuckled again, as he searched the main medical-science corridor for Rowan. “The look on your face was priceless,” he grinned, smiling back at her. “Be honest, would your reaction have been any different had I told you?” He grunted at her silence. “Exactly. As a true friend I was doing you a favor by not mentioning the obvious.”

Two hours had passed since leaving the airlock. One didn’t require a psychic to know that Debra was on the brink of collapse and desperately in need of some uninterrupted sleep. Curled up dozing on the plump cushions, he saw a child of two worlds in the smooth shape of her face, could see the striking woman of Damon’s dream world, and the warrior queen who would eventually stand by the sovereign’s side. A living, breathing Debra was so much more than he had anticipated. Already he loved her as one of his family.

Carefully he removed her sandals and tossed them under the end table out of the way, then reached for the plaid linen blanket on the back of the sofa and gently covered her naked vulnerability. He suddenly realized she would hate knowing that frailty was visible when her defenses were down. First impressions had been very clear: Debra despised any form of weakness in herself.

His restless, deep sigh filled the office. The hope and anxiety that Debra inspired in the residents and helpers often had one holding their breath in anticipation. Two combined DNAs flowed through her veins, often in a tormented union. Reports of her remarkable mental strength and hellish existence between life and death could only make one wonder if the story would ever have a happy ending.

A subtle four-beat chime from the workstation com-link announced an incoming call. Duran inserted the earpiece to minimize the noise level. A minor earthquake in the northeast quadrant of the state required his immediate computer hacking skills.

Endless subterranean shifts and fault movements were regularly updated and forwarded to city engineers. Although the mountain above them was dead, and the fault line under the lake had remained dormant for millions of years, the ground under the city’s adjustable suspension was automatically screened for any unexpected modifications needed.

Datapads lay haphazardly on tables and chairs and among the cluttered files that almost concealed the enormous modular workstation at the rear of the office. Message and emergency posting sites on the com-link and central computer offered no updates on Damon’s condition. A clear indication that Rowan and OT staff were unable to salvage his missing consciousness to re-bond with physical matter.

Duran tabbed a short note on one of the nearby datapads and tucked the slim device under the corner of her pillow. Determined to return as quickly as possible, he sent a message for security to monitor Rowan’s office and to be notified if she awoke alone. But it was highly unlikely that Debra would awaken any time soon.

November 21, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Seven Part 1

Judging by the crowd filling the nearby corridors and overhead walkway, Debra estimated the entire city had turned out to witness Damon’s return. Even without the medical-science uniform of white jumpsuit and knee-length smock, she would have easily recognized Rowan by the strong resemblance to her brother Damon.

The clear black eyes blazed with authority and intelligence beneath long wispy bangs. Straight raven black hair hung in a tail to her waist from a Bromon insignia clip at the nape of her neck. Like Damon, her golden skin exuded health and vitality.

The flawless oval face and wide unsmiling mouth showed little emotion as Rowan glanced directly at Debra before focusing her concern on the security team as they transferred Damon’s motionless body to the waiting medical bed.

A small team of medical personnel stood just outside the airlock behind Rowan. Their vigilant faces, like all the others watching from inside the entrance chamber, were calm, almost emotionless. No one glared at Debra or cast stones of blame her way. And yet their black eyes politely followed her as though her face and psychic limitations were familiar to them.

One didn’t have to be a mind reader to see that everyone in the city knew what had happened up above. Thalians and human helpers had gathered or stopped in their tasks, thoughts flowing and merging, one mind to the next, eyes and psychic sight watching and waiting for word of the sovereign.

Having come prepared for the worst, Debra consciously lowered all her protective barriers and braced for the on-slot of beating hearts. Normally, inborn defenses automatically filtered out nearby internal sounds like heartbeats and breathing. But she needed to know what was waiting for her beyond the steel tomb of the airlock.

The clamor assaulted her like a pounding wall of sound. Debra staggered, momentarily dizzy, before shutting out the incredible din that temporarily shorted out her senses. And then the truth hit her. There were over nine thousand people within the city. And all of them had their focus trained on her and Damon.

Prayers for the sovereign’s swift return to good health. Prayers of welcome and success to Debra and the training of her abilities. Prayers for answers to living in the sunlight.

And all wished for long life to the sovereign and his consort.

This time Debra had heard their thoughts, or at least what they wanted her to know, and suddenly felt overwhelmed by others of her own kind. She was no longer alone and the thought seemed to make the air constrict inside her lungs.

But not everyone felt reassured by her presence. Untried. Unstable. The last of the original bi-humans, destined to die.

Debra would bet her abilities against any of them, even without training. As for her presumed marriage to Damon, she held her objections for another, more appropriate, time.

All watched as Rowan gently touched her palm to Damon’s chest. For those close enough to see, her black eyes glazed over as the healing-sight traveled down through layers of skin tissue, touching on organs, arteries, bone and muscle.

“He’s breathing well on his own, and there’s no physical damage,” Rowan announced loudly, sightless black eyes glancing in Debra’s direction. A voluble murmur of relief went through the crowd, filling the large entrance chamber with a muted roar.

Rowan lifted her hand and the chamber went silent. “Unfortunately, the body is empty.”

A deluge of verbal shouts clashed forcefully with psychic cries of fear to resonate off thick rock walls and unprotected minds alike. Immediately, Debra blocked her mind to the deafening pandemonium. Unsure of Rowan’s meaning, her body braced as she looked to Manton, still standing beside her in the immense airlock doorway.

As a man, Manton accepted that the sovereign’s woman was quite beautiful and talented. But as a teacher, he found her more like a child in many ways. Her bewildered frown reminded the head of security of just how much she still had to learn. Extraordinary abilities alone did not make one a Master.

To be heard over the uproar, he leaned closer, his mouth next to her ear. “Leaving the physical body at any time is extremely dangerous; life threatening if consciousness does not return in time.”

Dark eyebrows shot up. “Did I do that?” she asked, appalled.

Shaking his head, Manton’s large reassuring hand squeezed her shoulder, as he mouthed the word no. Seeing that many of the residents had crowded into the airlock aisle in hopes of touching Damon’s body with a spark of their own lifeforce, he used hand signals, and motioned for the nearby security team to flank the medical bed and clear a path to the corridor exit when Rowan had completed her scan.

Like no other medical bed she had ever seen, the headboard contained automatic monitoring sensors that continuously updated when occupied by a living being. Debra failed to understand the meaning of Damon’s data readouts. With her mind blocked she was incapable of even sensing his heartbeat. Not like above, when the touch-healing had held his life in her mind, when she could see and feel what was happening and had the intuitive ability to make things right.

Debra realized Rowan also had the touch-healing gift. The woman’s long fingers were stretched like a cap around Damon’s head, her sight focused inward for clues to his condition. The news was obviously not good, as frustration thinned her full lips into a grim line. Breaking contact, Rowan sighed irritably and stepped back from the bed.

“Get him up to OT,” she briskly instructed Theron, her assistant of many years, and nodded to Manton. “I want life support standing by, plus full blood and cell workup.”

“Right away, Ro,” Theron responded, and signaled to his waiting team.

Security gently cleared the aisle of well-wishers while the med-team strapped Damon securely to the bed. When ready, each of the team kept one hand on some part of his anatomy, feeding the body energy.

As Rowan joined the procession, she glanced toward the airlock. “Manton, you’re with me.” Her gaze found another in the crowd waiting in an intersecting aisle and shouted to be heard over the low din. “Duran, show Debra the way to my office. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

The big man gave Debra’s shoulder one last squeeze of encouragement. “We’ll find a way to make things right,” Manton said with gentle firmness. “If you need anything, you can reach me at security on the com-system.”

He grinned at her look of surprise. “Why technology over telepathy?”

“Something like that,” she answered wearily.

Manton laughed, his strong craggy features transformed into a face of compelling maleness that made Debra’s heart unexpectedly skip a beat. The loose fitting blue jumpsuit did little to hide the powerful body that towered over her at six-foot-eight. First Damon’s mind and body and hypnotic voice, and now Manton. Were all Thalian men so well put together, she wondered?

“Most of us have lived with humans almost our entire lives,” Manton said, folding burly arms thoughtfully. “We’ve adapted many of this world’s customs, especially in ways of communication, for when the time comes to go above.” He stepped from the airlock and looked back at her with a wink. “I don’t think having mind conversations with unsuspecting non-telepaths would go over too well.”

Left standing in the open doorway of the airlock, Debra admitted to an appreciative curiosity as she watched his muscled, well proportioned frame slip easily through the crowd, large hands comforting, words reassuring, his intriguing combination of strength and gentleness offering a sense of normalcy that had residents returning to on-duty shifts or resuming the morning with personal tasks.

“He doesn’t like to show his rank, but Manton is Grand Master in the arts of hand-to-hand combat and self-defense,” a male voice said with amusement from behind.

Debra flinched, just barely biting down on a yelp of surprise, as she glanced over her shoulder. What the hell was wrong with her internal sensing? First impressions had her almost eye to eye with a baby-faced adolescence with long lanky arms and legs that had no trouble filling out a gray jumpsuit uniform.

“I wouldn’t doubt Manton’s skill at anything he put his mind to,” she muttered, noting an elderly gentleman a few yards away toward the rear of the airlock. Too many damn people creeping up, she fumed inwardly, and backed off on her mental barriers so inborn defenses could track everything around her.

“Don’t let the face fool you,” quipped the young man easily. “I turned twenty-nine last Sunday.” At her raised eyebrows he grinned impishly. “Debra, I would never lie to you—”

“Stop reading my mind,” she ground out testily, eyes heating dangerously, more angry at her own inadequacies than anything. So use to dropping her barriers once a crisis was over, there was going to be hell to pay until she remembered to properly close herself off, now that she was here in a city filled with thousands of powerful psychic beings.

Debra focused, edgily wondering if she would ever get the hang of Edith’s spam instructions and levels of closure. With careful, conscious thought she amplified her protective barriers up a couple of notches.

A knowing nod of his head seemed to verify that her efforts had been successful. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” he said lightly, a wide toothy smile dimpling his smooth cheeks. “But I doubt I’ll ever be able to again.”

Her glance skewered him. “You did that on purpose. Who the hell are you?”

“Not a Grand Master, I’m sad to say. Just a friend, here to help you settle in.” He offered a firm callused hand in greeting. “I’m Duran, head of research and human-Thalian interrelations.” Wide shoulders shrugged. “Not a very large department as far as staff goes. But we’re locked into every known system worldwide.” Duran patted her hand and smiled readily. “Debra Hall, may I be the first to welcome you to Tantria. After reading about you for so many years, I’m honored to finally meet you in person.”

She shook her head in disbelief, a wry grin hovering about her lips. Another sweet talker, she mused, figuring it must be in the Thalian genes. Their hands still joined, Debra brazenly used her touch-sensing for a closer look at the charming head of research.

Immediately impressions formed, some swirling into images of Duran kneeling alone at the black funeral alter after Ruthie’s death, or of full contact combat with the big boys and good-hearted dreams of taking the championship away from Manton. Compared to most Thalian males, what he lacked in physical height and body mass was made up in pure genius with human computer systems and hacking undetected into any database in the world.

And yet, buried deep behind the smile and good-humored persona, fear lie in wait of the unknown and for Damon, his sovereign and friend. The young man was honest and generous to a fault, leaving Debra with a twinge of guilt for her intrusion. But until she knew exactly what these people wanted of her, she would use every self-taught skill to her advantage.

Withdrawing her hand, Debra silently judged Duran’s size and deportment in terms of a warrior, and found him not wanting. She would answer his unasked challenge to test the mats and satisfy his curiosity. As for the friendship he was looking for, the emotion was new to her life. And one that made her feel awkward and vulnerable.

“So, you think you know me, huh?”

“Only what I’ve read and heard,” he teased confidently, then bowed slightly. “If I seem overly familiar, there’s no disrespect intended. But your arrival is like that of a family member who’s been gone for years and now returned.” He gestured toward the empty aisle outside the airlock. “Come. It’s time to get you up to Rowan’s office for your physical.”

“No. I’m fine,” Debra replied stubbornly, even though she was feeling lightheaded and drained since using the killing power. If truth be told, she was more than a bit concerned about the reaction of her automatic defenses should anyone start poking around inside her. The days of the private clinic and school were long over where they controlled her mind and body with drugs or tie-downs. She was nobody’s experiment ever again.

The wave of nausea plowed over her, making the sweat pop out on her forehead and down her back. “Bloody side effects,” she muttered through clenched teeth, hands resting on her thighs for support.

Duran guided her backside down to the metal floor of the airlock. “Relax, Debra. You’ll be all right in a minute.” He signaled the older gentleman to move in beside her. “I’ll hold her securely, Eron, while you give her a small shot of adrenaline.”

With steady, sure-placed hands on her neck and head, Eron guided a gentle pulse to stimulate the body’s adrenal glands into releasing a small amount of adrenaline hormone to counteract the severe withdrawal symptoms.

Lightly rubbing her back, Duran drolly remarked. “This is not the way to get out of a physical, old girl.” He felt the half-hearted chuckle rumble deep in her chest. “That’s it,” he soothed. “I think she’s back with us, Eron.”

Together, Duran and Eron helped Debra to stand.

“What the hell just happened,” Debra asked, her voice more like a rasping whisper.

“It’s called e/c withdrawal, or enhanced channeling withdrawal,” Eron offered politely. He felt the muscles bunch in her arm and released his hold. A quick look and thought to Duran had the younger man following suit, although neither of them stepped away. “There is an intense adrenaline-kinetic spike when using enhanced channeling; what you call the killing power. Symptoms of this type of withdrawal are lightheadedness, nausea, a drain of energy, even loss of consciousness.”

Feeling like herself once more, Debra turned, her clear gaze locking directly with his gentle, black eyes in challenge. “And what did you do to me?”

Duran saw the spark of surprise in the older man’s face and noisily cleared his throat to fill the long silence. “Debra Hall, I’d like you to meet Master Eron, who also happens to be an Elder on the city’s council.”

November 20, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Six Part 3

Once again the sun felt good on her face, the large boulder surprisingly warm against her back. Barely a couple of hours into sunup, she was still alone on the beach. Debra welcomed the isolation, needing distance from others as a way of re-energizing her strength. Arms resting on pulled up knees, she gradually opened herself to the gentle sound of lapping water and thought of Damon below.

Protective senses suddenly quivered in warning. Someone was coming.

Splayed fingers rested palm down on the shifting sand, activating the sight. Instantly her mind’s eye soared high above the beach, searching for an intruder. With most of the residents still asleep in their beds, the park’s roads and walkways were clear. Edith and Naomi Taylor were no longer on the veranda or walking on the bluff.

Instinctively, Debra turned inner eyes toward the lake. Nothing was visible, but senses warned of a presence.

Damon was coming, as though thoughts of him had sent out a call.

The placid lake remained black below the surface. Debra’s mind processed cold mountain water as fast as the sight could gather the minutiae.

Suddenly the blue aura was visible, moving through the blackness at a high rate of speed.

Heartbeat pounding a little faster, adrenaline surged through Debra’s veins. Although still a great distance from the surface, the tethered aura was clearly discernible now and took on the explicit shape of a man.

On impulse, Debra focused the sight at the top of the aura and tensed at the self-assured smile on his striking face, as though he knew she was watching.

Blackness finally filtered to gray, the strong sunlight bleeding downward, until the aura’s blue energy blended with the prism colors of the surface light.  Lifting her hand from the sand, Debra braced, the warrior ready for the next round, and studied the distinctive shimmering blue aura as Damon broke the lake surface and walked ashore with commanding animal grace.

“Your aura is different from the others I’ve seen,” Debra said tonelessly.

A wry grin touched his lips. Apparently the hours since they were last together had not warmed her heart toward him.

“You have good eyes,” he said, leaning against the large boulder that covered the cloaking crystals. “Or did your sight do the breakdown for you?”

“The aura comes from you, doesn’t it? Not the crystal.”

Damon nodded, his gaze roaming her tired, beautiful face. “Energy is channeled through my body to create the cloaking aura. And my mind sustains the field while I’m above.” White teeth gleamed in a slow smile. “If you truly want to hurt me, I’ve just given you a weapon to use.”

Her dark brows rose sharply. “In other words, if you become unconscious the cloaking field would collapse allowing the virus to begin killing you,” she replied coolly. Yet her pulse seemed to stutter at the intensity of his black eyes.

“Something like that,” he said drolly.

“Would I be able to generate my own aura?”

He pondered her a moment, enjoying the quickness of her mind. A mind that was still closed to him. “All Thalians have the ability,” he said truthfully. “What you call the killing power we refer to as a channeled energy field.”

Dressed in his usual black linen shirt, trousers, and soft leather shoes, Damon raised an aura-outlined hand in demonstration. “I control the density of the field, the brightness, the area covered, or the power intensity.” A thin laser beam of energy shot from his index finger and exploded like a firecracker in the sand at his feet. “All Thalians have the ability to channel energy. But only a very small percent have the strength to kill . . . like you and I.”

Animosity forgotten, Debra indulged in the pure pleasure of learning more about her abilities. “Show me how to channel,” she said, her voice a trifle sharp with her impatience to begin.

Damon laughed out loud. “Aren’t you tired? I was told you’ve been up all night and then had a run in with Naomi this morning.” His hand reached out and softly brushed her cheek. “The woman can be very blunt at times. Even more so now with Ruthie gone. If you’d like, I’ll speak with her?”

“I can take care of myself,” Debra warned. “What I want is to learn channeling. I’d also like to know more about telepathy. In particular, reaching someone with a closed mind,” she said with biting sarcasm.

Strong hands spread in a noble and generous gesture. “I’m yours to command,” he said simply. “What you’ve accomplished on your own is truly remarkable, in spite of the dream world.” Damon pushed away from the boulder and slowly approached her. “But there’s so much more to know. So much I want to show you.”

He leaned toward her, their eyes locked. “Thalian babies are taught many of the basic protocols through the parental bond. Like manipulating and maintaining the various levels of mind closure.”

“Thanks, but I’ve already had my spam-blocking session with Edith,” Debra said, somewhat breathlessly. “How can you teach a baby that doesn’t have any experiences, no frame of reference for learning?”

“Umm, an interesting point. Our baby, for example, will learn from both of us through the natal bond while still in your womb. And once she’s born, her mind will continue to be linked to us through telepathic imagery, the first language for all Thalian babies.” He brushed the pad of his thumb across her pale cheek. “And once she learns control over the levels of mind closure, not even you or I will be able to intrude if she chooses to fully close herself. Closed like you are now.”

“You should talk, KALON,” she said tartly, her brown eyes flashing angrily. “And according to Naomi Taylor, I’m not going to live long enough to have anyone’s child.”

Damon growled, giving Debra’s shoulders a quick shake. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You need the facts before making any decisions,” he challenged, impatiently. “I’m asking you to come stay with us in the city. You’ll have your own quarters, access to the entire complex, and all the teachers you can handle.”

Tears pricked at heated eyes as her nostrils flared. “And in exchange for all this knowledge and training, what is it you want from me?”

Strong hands pinned her gently to the boulder. “I’ve waited a lifetime to hold you in my arms, to love you,” Damon argued with conviction. “Yet for some reason you think I’m the enemy. Well know this, my love. Help us or not, I will never let you go.”

Without thinking, Debra grabbed his wrist and found the nerves between the bones and squeezed.

Damon gasped and quickly stepped back, holding his aching wrist. Black eyes watched her closely while his healing touch eased the pain. “We’ve been bonded since you were sixteen.”

“That’s dream world crap. I am not your wife just because you say so. You may rule the Thalian world below. But right now we’re standing in my world.

“Enough of this, Debra,” Damon hissed through clenched teeth. “Thalian law says we are married. Now start dealing with it.”

“What do you want from me,” she spat savagely.

“What I want is my wife in my bed, a healthy baby joined in parental bonding, and a partner to help me lead the Thalian nation into sunlight.”

A wretched cry tore from the pit of her wounded soul. “You don’t own me,” she shouted wildly, fists coming down hard against his chest. “Nobody owns me . . .”

The killing power flooded her hands as a red haze clouded her eyes. Caught up in overwhelming autonomic reflexes, Debra let sanity slip its leash and fed on the strength of blood pounding through her heart and veins; rejoiced in the massive whirl of kinetic energy that arced like lightning between her fingers.

She never felt the mighty pulse of energy burst from her open palms. Was only vaguely aware of strong hands being wrenched from her arms. Consciousness returned in time to see Damon’s body lift into the air in a shimmering blur of blue energy and land in a heap by the water’s edge.

Stunned, Debra stood as though turned to stone, eyes wide as saucers, her rage evaporating in seconds in face of the carnage she had just caused.

Damon lay sprawled, motionless, his broad back having plowed several inches deep into the wet sand before coming to rest mostly on his right side.

Debra sensed no heartbeat, no lung movement. The aura’s energy faded, then simply dissipated into the air, leaving Damon completely exposed and pale as death.

“Nooo!” she shrieked, dropping to her knees by his lifeless body. Already his skin was cooling, his blood pressure drastically low. And each moment of exposure to the atmosphere meant certain irreversible cell damage by the same virus that had killed her father.

The healer took over and she slapped a palm to his chest. For the first time in her life she observed the complexities of another living being. Debra focused on his heart and lungs, analyzing in seconds, planning a healing strategy that would give him the best chance for survival.

Debra willed another surge of kinetic energy to the palm of her hand, not realizing that she was the one directing the killing power. With deliberate determination, she pumped a controlled discharge into Damon’s chest, then bent and filled his lungs with air.

For several agonizing moments his heart fluttered and stalled, barely hanging onto life. Debra hit him with another small discharge and held her breath as a weak thumping beat slowly settled into a regular, faint pulse.

Protect him you fool, her mind cried. And operating on pure instinct, she fashioned an aura with her mind in the only way she knew how—from the inside out, maximum density, full intensity—and instantly a cloaking aura enveloped his cells, bones, muscles, organs, sub tissue and outer skin layers in a protective cocoon that sealed his body against the poisonous atmosphere.

Her palm remained pressed firmly to his chest to sustain the cloaking aura around him while her mind warmed his internal core to offset the dangers of serious shock and death. None of her efforts had him opening his dark eyes to glower at her stupidity.

“Help!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Help me!”

Debra burned with shame and regret but refused to leave him to get help. Using the healing-touch she searched his body for any further signs of trouble . . . and found his mind empty.

“Help me!” her mind roared to all the telepaths living beneath the lake.

A hand locked onto her shoulder, a stranger penetrating her connection with Damon, and gently urged her hips aside to make room.

“It’s all right, Debra. We’re here to take him below,” said the stranger urgently.

The tall, broad-shouldered man knelt beside her and slipped his right arm beneath Damon’s back.

“I’m Manton, head of security,” he said matter-of-factly, locking hands with the man across from him. Four other men in identical dark blue jumpsuits locked hands beneath Damon’s unconscious body, while a fifth man held his head immobile and monitored internal vital signs.

“On the count of three, lift,” Manton ordered firmly.

With barely a strain on their solemn faces, the security team raised Damon’s motionless body on a stretcher of strong muscular arms.

“Release your hand now, Debra,” Manton ordered gently. “We have a stable collective cloak around him.

She hesitated, fearing to give up control of his life, then followed the big man’s orders for fear of causing more damage. Debra scrambled back out of the way as the team of men turned together and entered the shallow water.

“I’m sorry,” she quietly declared. “I didn’t mean . . . I didn’t realize . . .”

Manton’s deep, calming voice pulled her tear-filled eyes away from Damon’s body. “You did well bringing him back.” Using his mind, he sent out a soothing vibration that passed harmlessly through Debra, but helped to focus her attention. “Rowan’s waiting. We must go now.”

The team moved deeper into the water, the going slow to ensure that full contact with Damon’s body was never broken.

Making sure she was following, Manton glanced back to the shore. “All of us, Debra. You must come with us.”

“Yes, yes I’ll come,” she stammered, fumbling in her jumpsuit pockets for the cloaking crystal. The aura surged to life around her like a second skin, her dry feet splashing awkwardly through knee-high water.

“Hurry,” Manton shouted firmly. “We must get him below at once.”

Seven dark heads bobbed momentarily on the surface of the lake, then disappeared from sight. Debra followed quickly to the underwater ledge and hesitated for just a second, glancing up at the blue sky and golden sunlight, and felt life shifting in the space around her. For better or worse, everything was changed now.

Debra stepped off the ledge and let the underwater tether take her down beneath the surface.

November 19, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Six Part 2

“The original on-land colony was built in the northwest section of Lincoln County, Montana. It was more than a town but not an unmanageable sprawling city either.”

The corners of her mouth twitched upward with laughter. “Some of the architecture caused quite a stir in the nearby towns. People who were used to square boxes and poor quality craftsmanship. But it was beautiful and clean and provided the best of everything for the colonists.”

“You admired them, right from the start,” Debra said with a quick smile.

“Yes,” Edith nodded wistfully. “I found them to be beautiful, intelligent, and extremely resourceful. Your father belonged to the first family and was well respected and earned his position as part of the original on-land team. He was muscular, like a well trained boxer, and stood over six feet and had short black hair curling wildly about his ears and neck, and merry black eyes.”

Lost in the good memories, Edith laughed. “Actually, he was a charmer with a ready smile and a Thalian joke, with punch lines I never understood. He was a good man, Debra. A loving husband and doting father who deeply regretted leaving you more than suffering that slow painful death by the virus.”

“I never saw any of this in the dream world.”

“You weren’t supposed to know any of this until the awakening. Damon’s mother, Brionna, was one of the first to die. Your father locked himself away with Kalon for over a week when despair almost had Kalon taking his own life. He finally came to his senses and devoted the rest of his energy to Damon and Rowan and finding the cause. He died seven months later, never knowing why.” A sob caught in her throat. “Your father followed him Home two months later.”

“How old was Damon when this happened?”

“He was almost five, still living on the mother ship, when his father died. The two of them were linked telepathically. The trauma from the abrupt severing of the link left him in a coma for three days. But he was strong, like his parents, and pulled through. Kalon was very important to Damon. You just have to look at the son to know who the father was.”

The heartache in her voice caught Debra’s attention.

“You shouldn’t be so hard on Damon, Debra. He was just following orders, like the rest of us. He’s a good man, too. A born leader and one of the most powerful psychic minds to come along in centuries.” Her tense shoulders visibly relaxed. “He told me one time, years after the underwater city was built, that he chose to use his father’s name in the dream world as a tribute to his memory, and because he wanted you to get to know the real Damon when the time came for the two of you to meet, and not some distorted dream lover image.”

Flushed with fury, Debra’s stare was level and unwavering. “Why wasn’t I told any of this while growing up? Do you have any idea how different my life might have been?”

The jarring ring of the telephone shattered the moment. Edith hurried from the veranda, muttering about who could be calling so early.

Debra slumped in her chair feeling drained, yet too tired to sleep. She needed more down time, off by herself, and hoped Edith would understand. Her brain couldn’t handle any more confessions or surprises; refused to even think about what her Thalian kin might have in store for her.

A light breeze poked the loose tendrils of hair about her face. She grimaced, figuring once again she must look a sight, and thought about changing out of the white jumpsuit into cooler shorts and a shell top.

Debra sat up, alert, and let inner defenses track the approaching stranger. The heartbeat had a distinctive uneven rhythm; one she had sensed before in the chalet up by the entrance way. The tall, heavyset woman came to mind. The woman who seemed to take great pleasure in the fact that Debra would eventually kill herself like all the others of her kind.

Footsteps were audible now, the image clear as she followed the sounds of clothing rubbing and shoes scuffing over the cobbled walkway alongside the carport to the end of the veranda. Debra stood and watched Naomi Taylor round the flowerbed and step up onto the veranda.

Just under six feet tall, the older woman slowly approached Debra, her demeanor tense, almost aggressive. The warrior in Debra braced, with no visible show of concern. Heightened senses studied the Taylor woman as she would an enemy.

No doubt a striking woman in her youth, Naomi’s longish face now had a mottled tinge to her plump, sagging cheeks and along the jaw line. She appeared drawn and haggard from lack of sleep and grief. Debra tried to remember that Ruthie’s death had hit the woman hard and may have unbalanced her.

The ill-fitting green pantsuit from the day before had been replaced with a flattering calf-length summer dress that carefully concealed her ample body. Like the rest of the park residents, Naomi’s thoughts were closed behind impenetrable walls. But body language never lied.

As they silently stared at one another, Debra saw only arrogance and a bully in the harsh green eyes that stared down a long, straight nose at her. The warrior almost scoffed at the woman’s feeble attempt at intimidation. Debra had lived through too many black rages to be frightened by a few mind games.

For Edith’s sake, she extended the olive branch of good manners. “You have my deepest sympathies for your loss, Mrs. Taylor.” The woman was a predator, looking for any weakness to attack, thought Debra, listening to her instincts.

Naomi nodded and stood taller, if that was possible. “The Thalians and Edith have pinned all their hopes on you,” she said carefully, a hint of a southern accent present in her speech. “But your abilities are no better than the others.”

Debra’s body remained loose and balanced on the balls of her feet. “And what do you know of my abilities?”

Naomi sneered. “You can’t even help yourself.”

“So you mentioned the other day,” Debra said dryly.

“And when you fail to help the babies or produce a healthy heir, you will die just like all the others,” Naomi said with a flash of anger.

Adrenaline spiked through Debra’s system; could feel the killing power pushing out from her core and down her arms. “And why does this concern you?” she finally asked.

“Damon should have belonged to my Mary,” Naomi challenged, emotion bringing a red flush to her face. “But he’s being forced to choose you.”

“Excuse me?” choked Debra incredulously. “What soap opera have you been watching?”  She chuckled at the woman’s audacity, then drew serious as images of black bordered photographs filled her mind. Saw those sad, haunted eyes in Mary’s wretched face. Suddenly she knew why Mary’s photographs lined the baseboards in the Taylor dining room. Not because Mary had succumbed to death. But because she had defied her mother’s obsession with Thalian power.

“No,” Debra said with cold assurance. “I think you want Damon, or rather Damon’s power.”

Debra stood her ground as Naomi stepped closer.

“What do you know of power?” the older woman shouted. “Just like all the others you have no control, no concept of the infinite power achieved when joined to a strong Thalian mind. Think of it. You could be immortal.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Debra snapped exasperated, the blue energy visibly arcing between her fingers.

“We should have been the ones to reap the power,” Naomi snarled savagely. “When you’re dead we’ll still be here.”

Debra reached for the cloaking crystal and slipped it into her jumpsuit pocket. “So you came here this morning to make an enemy of me?”

“You won’t live long enough for it to matter,” Naomi sneered.

Edith rushed out onto the veranda in time to hear the last of Naomi’s contemptible words, and felt her breath quicken, the blood drain from her face at the searing look in Debra’s eyes.

“Debra don’t,” Edith blurted desperately. “Please . . . don’t.”

“I know it’s not polite to kill the guests, Auntie,” she returned caustically, the killing power arcing like blue fire between her fingers.” Debra stood eye to eye with Naomi, a faint smile edging her lips. “If I were you, I’d see a doctor soon . . . for that nasty little heart irregularity,” she purred coldly.

A flicker of shock registered in Naomi’s hard green eyes.

Body language never lied. Satisfied, Debra glanced at Edith as she stepped off the veranda. “I’ll be on the beach if you need me.”

*   *   *

“Nothing ever changes,” Debra choked furiously, her sandaled feet barely touching the stone steps in her haste to reach the beach. The angry hate inside had dried up all her tears, even though part of her would have enjoyed a good cry to clean out all of Naomi Taylor’s poison. The woman’s cruel words had stabbed deeply into the child still hiding and afraid inside after all these years. Debra slid down behind a ponderous boulder and hugged herself tight until the bitter disappointment had burned itself out.

Would she ever find a place to fit in? Even here, a stone’s throw away from her Thalian heritage, she was still an outsider—too abnormal and dangerously unpredictable to be accepted as human, and unstable abilities and a genetic time bomb made her a failure as a Thalian.

Was the Taylor woman right? Would she die soon, like all the others? Would her abilities bring more harm than good if she tried to help as they seemed to want?

“You’re weak,” she cursed herself, hating the fear and doubts that kept her a prisoner to the pain of the past.

With fists clenched, Debra focused on the beat of her heart, willing the warrior in her to diminish the volatile emotions that made her body tremble like a child. Her lungs breathed in a shaky breath, then steadied. And with each slow, focused breath her heartbeat decelerated and the tension eased. The world around her hushed and measured each moment as though in hours, until all that remained was the deliberate, strong beat of her own heart.

The heart of a warrior.

November 18, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Six Part 1

Dawn burst in an explosion of pure white light between twin peaks rising like sacred steeples high above the mountain range. Curled up in the thickly cushioned wicker chair, Debra sat alone on the spacious veranda and watched the velvet blackness of night hasten from the early morning sky. The splendor of color and light seemed surreal as mist rose from the ground to fuse with rainbow refractions from the orchard glass house and the hundreds of crystal teardrops that hung throughout the garden.

Her nostrils flared with each deep breath of clean freshly turned soil and trim green grass. Tired eyes roamed the bluff, taking in the morning dew clinging like jewels to intricate webs and nearby leaves and flower petals.

Here, on the surface, was where she belonged. Letting this moment of peaceful beauty fill her senses with some measure of comfort.

Damon’s shocking words and haunting images continued to pound through her mind. Instincts that were never wrong shouted that his words were truth. And finally with that acceptance, Debra lost herself and what little identity she had come to rely on over the years.

Alone on the veranda, surrounded by the soft summer night, Debra had opened herself to emerging Thalian memories and let a new reality take control of her senses. And by the first sliver of light in the eastern sky, Thalia and its ill-fated cloud cities had become as real to her as the history of Earth.

Once a great nation of genetic telepaths, the Thalian race had eventually splintered into two powerful legislative bodies: those unwilling to believe in the reported death of their world as predicted by the distinguished scientific House of Bromon; and those who sacrificed everything to discover compatible new worlds that offered survival and a future for those willing to risk the unknown.

Hundreds of delegation fleets carried thousands of men, women, and children from each supporting lineage House and their associate families—the elite in technology, medical science, agriculture, and craftsmen. All who stood the best chance of securing a strong foothold in a new world.

Thousands from the House of Bromon waited their turn to leave, building new ships, scrounging for resources, documenting Thalia’s orbit and decay, and reaching out to any who would listen and save themselves. Their ranks were thin, even if disciplined and willing; aging craftsmen, trainees, scholars, the optimistic who waited for the signal from their designated worlds before saying goodbye to Thalia forever.

And now Thalian survival on Earth was uncertain. While the fate of hundreds of other fleets throughout the galaxy remained unknown. Thirty-six years was a long time to wait on a dying planet for a signal that might never come.

Even now Debra continued to lapse into moments of utter disbelief at the magnitude of change and upheaval that Damon’s people had undertaken. Her body trembled each time she thought about being the last of her kind, her mind struggling to comprehend how she was supposed to bridge the gulf between bi-human and Thalian existence.

The sound of Edith padding across the living room rug brought Debra out of her reverie. She searched for words of anger to hurt, just as their words had hurt her. But somehow that tearful ire had relinquished its hold during the night, leaving her empty inside. Too tired to care at the moment, Debra sat motionless and waited for life to pick a direction.

Bright sunlight erupted over the wide mountain ridge, chasing away the last of the sleepy shadows as the veranda door slid open and Edith stepped out in a cotton summer nightgown.

“Debra . . . honey?” Edith noted the cloaking crystal lying on the table placemat. “We’re not allowed to keep the crystals. This one needs to be returned to the beach locker—”

“How long, Auntie?” Debra quietly asked without preamble. “How long have you known about Damon and underwater cities, or that my father was Thalian and died of the virus?”

There was a long pause before Edith answered. “I gather Damon told you everything,” she remarked cautiously, her empathic skills remaining vigil for any telltale signs of the black rage.

“Pretty much,” Debra nodded slowly. “I’m the last of my kind, or so I’m told. But you know what I keep wondering about? If my kind was so important to Thalian survival, why were we left to fend for ourselves?” Images of Dorothy and wretched black bordered photographs filled her mind. Of hiding, with the black rage her only companion. Of living alone with an entire country between herself and the only other living relative, who also just happened to know the whole story and never thought to mention it.

“Yeah, he told me everything but what’s expected of me. Because having a Thalian baby sure isn’t going to save all those people down there?” Vacant brown eyes finally glanced across the table at Edith. “All their advance technology. All the years they’ve spent looking for a cure. Just what is it I’m supposed to do, Auntie, that they can’t?” The silence lengthened as Debra stared waiting for an answer, a comment, anything. “If you know something I don’t, now would be a good time to share.”

On the verge of mentally crashing, Debra rubbed at the dry ache in her eyes.

“I knew your father,” said Edith, her voice a rasping whisper. “He was a wonderful man. He used to say that he loved you as much as the Milky Way and all the way home again.” Tears gathered. It was not the first time that Edith envied Debra’s control. With a loud adamant sniff, she admitted the truth. “I’ve known about everything since the beginning.”

The blip of tension in her bi-human heartbeat barely registered. “And what is the beginning, Edith Bromon? Are you part of the House of Bromon? A Thalian? Is that why you’ve always been closed to me?”

Surprise reflected in Edith’s blue eyes. “Is that what you think? Well, I’m human. And my mind was always fully blocked to you because your bloody abilities are too damn powerful and spontaneous. Your Thalian heritage had to remain secret until adulthood and the awakening ceremony, to protect all of us.”

A short-nailed hand waved off Debra’s interruption. “I know what you’re going to ask. Why your twenty-fifth birthday? Right? Simple. Established Thalian research proved that a human female body was emotionally and physically at its peak of health at age twenty-five and offered the best chance for conception and birth of a bi-species child.”

“Mmm,” Debra murmured coolly. “To bad things didn’t quite go according to plan.”

That technical quagmire would be left for Rowan to deal with. Edith was still smarting from Damon’s harsh reprimand for causing the whole mess in the first place. But with Debra seeming to take all the changes in stride, Edith thought it best to take advantage of the moment and press on.

“Your . . . Uncle Trevon was adopted by the House of Bromon as a boy, making him a part of the first family and entitled to use the name. Thalians’ don’t normally utilize a patriarchal system where the wife takes the husband’s last name. Their society is based more on a clan or lineage house structure with all those in the immediate or first family allowed to use the Bromon name. Distant relatives or associate families use the more influential family name in a marriage, whether it belongs to the husband or the wife. But all of them are ‘of Bromon’. And each member is extremely loyal to their House and pool whatever abilities or vocation expertise for the prosperity of the family as a whole.”

Despite a crushing exhaustion, the vibrancy in Edith’s voice held her attention. “Sounds like an interesting system,” Debra said, pondering a moment. “After all these years, you still grieve for him; like he died yesterday.”

Edith caressed the Talisman Crystal pendant that always hung next to her heart. The Thalian wedding gift had been given and received with promises of love and intent. In the Heart of the Talisman, Edith and Trevon had joined mind, body, and soul until released from this lifetime. For bonded lovers, the journey into the Talisman would be the closest that mortals could get to experiencing the omnipotence of Home.

“He affected my life like no other man,” Edith said without hesitation. “Oh, I’ve done some dating over the years. But he’s still inside me and that wouldn’t be fair to someone new.”

The strain of the last few days vanished from her unlined face as the memories of Trevon brought a warm smile to her lips. “When Trevon and I married, my status as human made my last name more influential than the first family name. But when the virus took him, I had it legally changed to Bromon. Just another way of keeping him close to me, of keeping his memory alive.”

“How did you and Mother ever end up involved with aliens?” Debra snorted loudly. “I can’t see Dorothy helping anyone let alone married to a psychic alien.”

Edith remained pensive for a moment, then cleared her throat. “We met Kalon and Trevon Bromon at a seminar for psychics in Kalispell, Montana in nineteen-seventy-six. I was twenty-three at the time, and looking for a place to fit in.” She grinned and lazily shrugged a shoulder. “Dorothy came along that afternoon to make sure I behaved myself. Only two years older, yet she was always acting like my mother.”

“So what happened?” Debra prompted.

“I know you find this hard to believe, dear, but Dorothy wasn’t always like she is now. There was a time when she was very considerate of others and quite gifted empathically.”

“I was told she couldn’t handle the death of my father.”

Something bleak and hopeless flitted through Edith’s eyes. “All of us were changed after the virus killed so many. The loss to everyone was devastating.” She reached for the Talisman Crystal and clasped it tightly in her fist. “So many needed help recovering from the emotional blow. For some it was just a long rest, while others simply couldn’t deal with the loss. Eventually a handful had memory blocks implanted. But Dorothy didn’t respond well to the procedure, or even to the second attempt that summer you turned five—”

“I don’t want to talk about her,” Debra snapped harshly, suddenly tense for the first time that morning. “It makes me sick to my stomach every time I think about her.”

Edith sighed. “I understand. Truly I do. If I could have changed things . . . I just wanted you to know that sometimes things happen beyond our control.”

Debra leaned across the table, gently squeezing Edith’s hand. “So many things make sense now. I always hated your preoccupation with the past, keeping the dead alive. But now I understand why.” A powerful emotion welled up inside her. “My real father. Tell me about him.”

Blue eyes shone with tenderness, her smile bittersweet. Edith realized almost thirty years of hopes and tears had come down to this quiet moment between them.

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