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February 26, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eleven Part 2

Rejecting the effort needed to wake completely, Debra snuggled deeper into the soft pillow and groaned. Her head ached, something fierce, like a tightening band that threatened to split her skull in two. Even closed eyes exuded a raw tenderness of flesh and senses that was not unlike the aftermath of a debilitating black rage. A dry tongue licked over dry lips as she tried to pierce the fog interfering with her brain.

Had she succumb to a black rage attack? The best she could recall, at the moment, was bits and pieces of her conversation with Manton in the conference room after the match. True, she didn’t normally remember what happened during a rage, but memories of the buildup were always present when consciousness finally returned.

With barely a thought, internal self-healing flooded her body with endorphins to dissipate the ache. When nothing happened, a chemical cocktail saturated cells and receptors, managing at best to dull the intensity of the pain, yet failed miserable to mask it completely.

However small the reprieve, more of her senses now seemed able to surface and begin functioning, raggedly. Internal defenses warned of a nearby presence, and yet the killing power, normally coursing through her body awaiting command, was noticeable absent. Slowly, and with great care not to upset the status quo, Debra opened her only visible eye to find Damon on the pillow next her.

His golden-toned cheek was pale and sunken beneath the bristling black whiskers. Even though his one visible bloodshot eye stared at her, Debra could tell by his deep even breathing through dry lips that Damon was trying to meditate his pain under control. The healer in her could not let him suffer, in spite of returning memories of the dream world holiday. Under the feather-light, white comforter, her fingers found his arm close by and saturated his cells and receptors with the same chemical cocktail.

Damon groan, his eyelid closing in relief, his body able to relax somewhat for the first time since waking.

“Now go away,” she mumbled, “while I make up my mind if I’m talking to you or not.”

“Astral sickness,” Damon quietly offered. “No known cure. Has to run its course.”

No more astral travel, Debra chided herself. Made her think of the one and only time she got drunk. Plastered would be more accurate. After falling down a steep set of stairs, she had landed at the bottom without a scratch, not even a bruise, but spent two days in bed throwing up and getting over the hangover and alcohol poisoning. Never again. The loss of control became as much a deterrent as her abhorrence for the taste of alcohol. That abhorrence now extended to astral travel.

“Where are we?” Debra asked, her voice strained and raspy. “I don’t sense anything . . . but you.”

Damon backhanded a jaw-splitting yawn as he eased over onto his back. “In quarantine. A dampening field activates automatically when the unit is in use. Telepaths need the isolation when illness demands absolute rest.”

Gritting her teeth she maneuvered onto her back and croaked, “I’ve never heard of patients being put in the same bed before. Your idea?”

Both her eyes finally opened together and glanced around the white room. For one mind-blowing second Debra thought she was back in the private clinic, minus, of course, the curtained window and muffled sounds of street traffic.

“I can use the com-link if you’d prefer to be quarantined in a different unit?” he finally answered, an arm shielding his eyes from the moderate ceiling light that automatically came on when the room sensor detected prolonged movement.

He didn’t want her to go, but was too tired to argue with her, or care, at the moment, about instructing his consort, or deal with the backlog of work waiting in his office. Never again, he promised himself. His astral travel days were definitely over.

Another fresh surge of endorphins flooded Debra’s system, helping muscles and tendons to relax and absorb. She pressed a hand to Damon’s side, the healing skill easily repeating the process, helping to keep the aches and pains at a tolerable level. Her internal clock revealed several interval gaps, making it impossible to piece together an accurate timeframe from when unconscious and outside her body. She could only hope all her abilities worked normally again from this point on.

Debra licked dry lips again, ready to grovel for a drink of water. Quarantine meant seclusion. So how did a patient confined to bed get a drink or go to the bathroom for that matter?

Splayed fingers rested on the bed, the room condensing into a three-dimensional image in her mind. As brown eyes stared unseeing around the bedroom, Debra recognized a handful of concealed compartments, like cupboards, some holding linens and towels, others storing medical equipment. In the wall compartment directly to the side of her bed, Debra intensified the sight on the outer panel and grinned. Unsteady fingers reached for the top right corner of the panel and pushed. Automatically the door opened and the shelving unit extended, almost touching the bed.

Her mouth actually watered at the sight of the half cooler of chilled bottled water. Debra groaned in anticipation as she reached for the nearest bottle, all discomfort momentarily forgotten in her need for something cool and wet against the dryness in her mouth and throat.

One quick sip lead to another, and then another, before Debra capped the bottle and handed it to Damon. She ignored the brush set and body lotions, the mirror and packaged wet cloths, even the rounded rectangular contraption on the bottom shelf as she reached for another bottle of frosty water. The morning’s aches and pain suddenly changed to contented sighs with wet smiles and dripping chins.

Satisfied with her lot in life for the moment, Debra stretched out beneath the coverlet on the comfortable bed, letting her thoughts turned to Damon. “You obviously had us put together for a reason. I’ll go if you really want me to. But first, tell me why?”

It didn’t matter that he was sovereign over an entire nation or that he was a gifted Vion and one of the strongest psychics on earth. Too many times he found himself hurt by Debra’s independence, illogical or not. Or the way her analytic skills could sometimes talk circles around his arguments, leaving him tongue-tied on occasion. Yet no one was more proud of her abilities, her courage and strength. Damon clasped his hands behind his head and heaved a sigh. He just wished Debra was a tad less self-reliant and needed him a bit more.

“I’ve always wanted you with me, Debra,” Damon said, his voice deep and low in the small bedroom. “But the reality of life has a way of changing all the best laid plans. Never in a million years did I envision you and I coming together from opposite sides like we have.” He grunted and rolled his eyes. “Believe me, I wouldn’t have been offended had you willingly rushed into my arms that first night on Edith’s veranda.”

Debra remained quiet, sensing his disappointment, and silently admitted if his mind hadn’t been closed to her she just might have.

The half-hearted grin faded from his face. “None of what’s happened was planned. My parents and the other colonists didn’t dream of a new home to end up dead because of it. The bi-humans weren’t conceived with love and given a chance to live in the sunlight only to end up cutoff from us and dead. Life doesn’t follow plans, Debra.”

Damon stared at the ceiling, picturing the last time he had seen his parents together; at his mother’s deathbed on the ship. “You know the story now of why and how we came here. You know about the colonists and the horrible way they died.” His eyes squeezed shut, trying to expunge all the gory images of the past through sheer strength of will. “The virus changed everything,” he whispered, heatedly.

Part of him wanted to hate the humans for their stupidity and environmental genocide. But that was his pain talking.  Reason demanded that he bear in mind that life accepted no plans from the humans as well.

He cleared his throat, struggling to explain his thoughts. “What I don’t think you fully understand is that Thalians are forbidden to have children because there’s no room for expansion in the underwater cities. That means physical relationships are frowned upon, unless it’s like your parents, a human female and a Thalian male.

“It’s why medical tried so hard to recreate our dream world,” Damon said with solemn patience. “With physical sharing no longer allowed, Thalians can only touch one another through mental bonding. For the majority of those born en route or in orbit, that means they’ve never experienced the physical side of a relationship.”

“My god. You’re right, I didn’t realize. But what about some kind of birth control?” Debra asked, regarding him thoughtfully.

Beneath the cover, his sprawled large frame was anything but relaxed. “Human birth control has no effect on Thalians, male or female. Our reproductive cycles are based on the amount of the bond between a couple. The body is controlled by the brain. Bonding is a mental function that knows when the commitment is deep enough between mates to produce a child.”

He took several long swallows from the water bottle. “It sounds complicated trying to explain it like this. Just know that the bond takes into account health, previous pregnancies, emotional desire for a child, environmental conditions. I’ve never heard of a Thalian family having more than two children, ever. But no one knows how the Thalian bond will be affected by human influence. Either way, we’re damned if we have children and damned if we don’t.”

Brown eyes widened at the staggering inference of aloneness and Debra wondered how they all stayed so sane. Then she realized the same could be said of her nature. Survival often made strange bedfellows of logic and compromise. Sometimes even between right and wrong. In the blink of an eye her perceptions of survival and death seemed to have shifted once again.

“I’m listening,” Debra said, somberly. “Go on.”

The change in her voice had Damon glancing over at her. She finally believed him. He could see it in her eyes. Hope revived as he sensed all her barriers coming down. Ignoring the aches and pains, Damon rolled onto his side, letting his gaze roam her face.

“Do you believe that I love you? That I’ve always loved you?” Debra nodded, ready to listen with an open mind. “If it had been just me I would have shared everything with you in the dream world. But . . . I couldn’t . . .” He stumbled over trying to make clear what was in his heart and his duty to the elders and the Thalian people. “I couldn’t go against my upbringing or my oath as sovereign.” His eyes misted beneath a furrowed brow. “Most of all, I couldn’t take the chance of being wrong, not with your life in the balance.”

Believing him, yet feeling the old frustrations bubbling to the surface, Debra automatically challenged, “But why block our Thalian side? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be all alone when psychic abilities start emerging, when the black rage comes over you?” Her fist thumped the bed. “Would it have hurt protocol so much to have included some kind of mental suggestion that we weren’t crazy or demons or evil?

“You say Thalians loved us. I say we were nothing more than expedient to your cause. Our lives were developed and guided under a medical-scientific thumb. I at least had you and the dream world fighting for my sanity. But take that away and where was the compassion, the consideration for our feelings and the hell me and my sisters went through?”

The breath in her body vibrated with emotion. Yet somehow saying the words after a lifetime of festering deep inside helped to stem the anger. Debra rolled to her side and faced him. “I’m not stupid, Damon,” she finally said, quietly. I understand what’s at stake for the Thalian nation, and that risks had to be taken. But what I don’t understand is the almost cruel abandonment of the consequences of those risks.”

Teeth clenched, the muscles flexing in his jaw, Damon rasped irritably, “You of all people know how paranoid most humans are. The natal blocks were nothing more than protection against human intolerance. The virus had us all trapped, Debra; bi-humans above and Thalians below. If it hadn’t been for the human helpers, I doubt any of us would have made it. Right or wrong, protocols and procedures were established so that Thalians and human family were all on the same page for helping the bi-humans.”

There was not an ounce of sweetness in her face now. Only the fact that her mind was still open kept him from trying to shake some common sense into her.

“Without a Thalian seer on earth there was no way to predict the fatal chemical imbalance that mentally and emotionally crippled the bi-humans at the onset of puberty. Or to know how much time beneath the surface would weaken their immune system and make them susceptible to the atmosphere. Only time proved that the imbalance was degenerative. And our human friends did the best they could with what we all had to work with. Thalians sure as hell couldn’t go above with our cloaking auras and the risk of fatal exposure to the atmosphere if caught.”

Running out of steam Damon rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling, and sighed deeply. “It was a bad time for everyone, Debra. The program never resumed once it became apparent that the degenerative cycle had to be some kind of bi-species malignant mutation.”

Damon took her hand and held it to his chest. “Our failure wasn’t abandonment, love. Human watchers dedicated their lives to making sure you and your sisters were never alone in times of need. They just weren’t allowed to tell you.” His callused palm lightly rubbed the back of her hand. “Our failure to the bi-humans and the babies is being unable to find a cure, no matter how hard we try.”

Silence filled the small white room. Debra pressed her hand flat to Damon’s chest and sent a fresh flood of endorphins surging through his veins. She could feel his muscles relaxing, his breathing becoming easier, as her own pain-numbing chemical concoction pushed the headache into the back of her mind somewhere.

“Do you think we’ll ever have a conversation that doesn’t leave us both mentally and physically drained?” Debra wearily asked.

A feeble grin curled the corners of his lips. Heaving onto his side, Damon nudged her shoulder. “Roll over on your side.” He snuggled up behind her with a contented sigh, an arm draped over her waist. “Thank you for saving my life,” he whispered, letting his eyes close.

“What happens—”

“No more questions, love.” He pulled her in close so her naked bottom nestled snuggly against his groin. “It’s time to rest.”

Five minutes later the ceiling light went out, leaving the bedroom in darkness.

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February 19, 2012

Rewrite in Progress

In spite of all my best intentions, Part 2 of Chapter Eleven has to be delayed. I’m not happy with the ending scene and am in the middle of rewriting it. Of course I can’t quite put my finger on the problem but my gut is definitely kicking up a fuss and will let me know when I’ve got it right LOL. I could have posted what I had but the perfectionist in me couldn’t let it slide. So the work continues.

As a substitute, I’d like to offer a wonderful WordPress site that I subscribe to, PhotoBotos.com. This site features stunning photographs by a global variety of talented photographers. The above recent posting link is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Till next week.

February 12, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eleven Part 1

Edith held onto the balcony door handle with both hands in an effort to stop pacing back and forth across the carpet in Debra’s quarters. Not wanting to waste precious time shuttling from the city to the surface every evening and back each morning, Manton had approved security override on the door and given Edith a place of peace and quiet away from the growing crowds.

His observation that Debra had not had the apartment long enough to even leave a psychic imprint helped somewhat to ease the feeling of intruding. Just one more burden added to the growing weight of culpability she carried around these days.

Leaning against the sliding door, the one-way glass pane was cool against her moist forehead. Guilt over Debra and Damon had been ruthlessly whipping at her conscience day and night, and was now taking a toll on her health.

The thought of food turned her stomach, making her gag when Rowan forced a nutritional drink on her three times a day. Sleeping through the night was a thing of the past and just another venue for tossing and turning. And while the city remained at a constant moderate temperature of seventy-five degrees, Edith continued to breakout in sweat like a condemned murderer awaiting the last long walk to the gas chamber.

Bloodshot blue eyes closed, shutting out the lush, colorful park, knowing if Debra died she could never again take pleasure in all the beauty and technology her Thalian family benefitted from. She cursed the slight tremor of exhaustion that shook garden- rough fingers as she tugged her sleeveless summer dress in search of a dribble of cool air.

The upset and panic that tightened inside her chest, making it sometimes hard to breath, was not unlike the day Trevon had died years ago. She had acted irrationally that day, too, only to discover she had been wrong. But by then the damage had become irreparable. So many lives had been changed that day because of her. One would think that so momentous a mistake would be an immeasurable lesson to avoiding the same folly again.

Tears trickled down smooth, pale cheeks. She hadn’t learned a thing. Once again her irrational act could have cost the lives of Debra and Damon, not to mention the loss of a great Vion sovereign and the last of the original bi-humans to live above. A senseless, empty death because Edith thought she knew better than the top Thalian medical minds and the council of elders.

That night Debra awoke and found her on the veranda, the night Ruthie had died, played over and over in Edith’s mind. Every fiber of her being had empathized with Debra’s frustration and anger at the hell life was putting her through. After all Edith was an empath, as quaint as that gift may be compared to Thalian standards or Debra’s uniqueness.

Yes, Debra had a right to know the truth about Damon, just as she deserved Thalian candor about her hidden heritage, or what a nation expected of her in the hopes of survival. Medical and the council had emphatically agreed that Debra was different from her sisters, stronger and more powerful. Yet no one could explain why, so the protocols had remained in place.

But the council and medical masters and grand masters didn’t have to look into Debra’s eyes and lie, year after year. They didn’t have to watch her be brutalized and almost beaten to death, or see her retreat from the world and live in poverty as a recluse because it was safer for everyone.

But looking back, Edith now second-guessed her resolve. Would it have hurt to wait several more days until Debra’s birthday and the Awakening? Would the release of the knowledge have prepared Debra for acceptance of her heritage far better than her sisters?

Confused and more tired than she could remember, Edith didn’t know what was right anymore. The only absolute she could cling to was that all the others of Debra’s kind were dead.

Glancing over at the clock tucked into the bookcase seemed a subtle form of torture. Seven hours and twenty-three minutes had passed since word had been posted to the message site that brain activity had returned to both Debra and Damon. Consciousness and movement had yet to return. Rowan had sent Theron to the apartment with the news, his celebratory hug no doubt his discreet way of checking on her vital signs.

She glanced at the clock again. Seven hours and twenty-five minutes.

Several times over the years Debra had come so close to dying. But this time she had actually achieved ascension from her body. Anyone with experience knew of the dangers of astral travel. A tiny smile of satisfaction tugged the corners of Edith’s lips. With no training or knowledge of what to expect, Debra had simply taken a leap of faith in her own abilities and instinctively did what no other master or grand master could do, find Damon.

If Eron didn’t proclaim her Vion, Edith was prepared to call the man daft to his face.

Feeling a bit stronger from a surge of family pride, she hastily wiped her face of tears and sweat. A half-hearted chuckle rumbled deep in her chest. Duran would be a plague in everyone’s life now until he got the whole story for the archives. Rumor had reached her that he was scrutinizing the different video angles of the match between Debra and Manton in an effort to breakdown the moves for instructional study. His weekly blog after the impromptu contest had boasted that Debra’s skill brought a new level of intensity to the hand-to-hand combat classes, along with a flood of new members, all eager to someday pit their skills against the sovereign’s warrior consort.

Aware of Duran’s longtime fondness and awe of Debra, Edith wondered if the young man still poured over the hundreds of files that catalogued Debra’s life. The gift of total recall made his research invaluable and the perfect tool for the book he hoped to someday write regarding the contributing influencers to the survival of the Thalian nation.

The door chimed. Edith brushed agitated fingers through uncombed silver curls and swallowed hard. Surprise registered at finding Duran standing in the hallway, his smooth face breaking into a disarming smile. It was way too weird to be thinking about the man and then suddenly find him at her door.

“No change, yet,” he apologized, remaining outside the room, hands behind his back. “No one has seen you for several hours. I came to make sure you were all right.”

Duran liked Edith, enjoying their many conversations and her feisty, outspoken nature. Her stimulating questions about Thalian culture and beliefs allowed him to show off his knowledge about Thalians and humans and future projections for the two species on one planet. He was also exceedingly grateful that he could come to her any time for insightful discussions about his favorite research theme, Debra.

“I’m dithering myself into a headache,” Edith declared in a conspiratorial tone, her expression strained by regret and exhaustion. Duran blinked, remaining silent. She had spent so much time with him over the years that speaking her mind now seemed second nature on just about any topic. “Part of me feels like I’ve betrayed everyone with my interfering over Debra. But the other side of me believes change is needed and is ready to defend my actions at the top of my lungs,” she helplessly gestured with a shrug.

Duran nodded, recognizing her dilemma. As the sovereign’s archivist and researcher he clearly understood the complexities involved. Like most he lived with the horrors suffered by the colonists and bi-humans. Finding the balance between survival and extinction continued to divide some of the greatest minds searching for answers.

None of his sadness showed as Duran softly coached, “When so much is at stake, it’s difficult to tempt change.” He managed a smile. “Between you and I, there are many who feel things should have been handled differently with the original bi-humans. Unfortunately, hindsight remains our only frame of reference.” He cleared his throat and straightened. “But enough about protocols and procedures for now. As I feared, you are clearly in need of diversion. Why not join me. We’ll stop by the OT for an update and then go for a long walk in the park.”

Such a polite, uplifting young man. Edith sniffed and waved him into the apartment. Thalian upbringing and shielding may have kept her from sensing his deeper emotions, but she had no doubts that many of his memories of loss remained painfully raw. A condition that pertained to all earthbound Thalians. In many ways the Thalian higher consciousness functioned like a collective that continually kept alive the essence of those who had fallen. And although Edith aspired to a similar graciousness of character, she candidly conceded her way of coping was not as dignified or altruistic.

Edith headed for the bedroom, suddenly swamped with relief at no longer being left alone with her own company. “Did Rowan send you? I’m surprised she hasn’t sent someone with one of her horrible potions.” In the doorway Edith turned, mouth gapping open as Duran held out a nutritional drink. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. Silently she marched across the living room, tossed back the infusion like a power drinker, and gave him a bland stare. “In warning, I want you to know we humans take our revenge very seriously. Have a seat while I freshen up.”

The third level corridor was surprisingly empty of residents as Edith and Duran went through the Operating Theater’s decon procedure at the main entrance. Blue-suited security kept a low profile, moving stragglers along, and keeping entrances and exits clear in case of emergencies. A posted stern-faced security guard stepped aside at a nod from Duran when the inner decon doors swished opened into the theater. Both Edith and Duran sensed the commotion on the platform below and cautiously pushed their way down the crowded, dimly lit aisle for a better look.

“I’ve got movement, too,” Rowan called out from beside the second bed, her fingers splayed across Debra’s flat stomach. Mentally visualizing on a molecular level, she instinctively willed body chemicals to ramp up and ease the return of total consciousness after such a long astral sleep.

Medical personnel moved in to relieve Rowan and Theron, their nimble fingers kneading slowly awakening circulation. Yet in spite of all the precautions and expert care, both patients were going to have to deal with arduous muscular aches and pains for the better part of a week.

Rowan stepped back to the side of the brightly lit platform, brushing away several strands of loose hair from her face, and watched in satisfaction as her people worked quickly and efficiently. “Prepare the inhibiting hypos,” she ordered, looking over at the med-tech in charge of manufactured medications. “I don’t want things to start flying around or accidentally get grabbed by Debra autonomic defenses when their subconscious taps back into full awareness.”

Moving to the head of Damon’s table, Rowan placed the hypo against his neck and waited for the familiar hiss to finish. Long fingers spread around the crown of his head as she assisted his emergence with the healing energy of her body. She could sense him reaching for consciousness, like a tidal wave of intellect and emotion surging toward the light.

“Almost too late, Damon,” her thoughts greeted telepathically. “Even I couldn’t reach you.”

“Quarantine . . . together,” he mouthed, barely above a whisper. “No sensors,” he requested weakly, finding telepathy easier to negotiate than speaking.

You’re a fool where she’s concerned. But I love you anyway. I’ll take care of everything,” Rowan promised and beamed a smile at his satisfied grunt. One down, one to go. Her head popped up, looking over at Debra. “How is she?”

“Weak, but conscious,” shouted Theron, squinting out at the darkened theater and grinning at the roar of applause and cheers. He took a deep breath and blew out a cheerful but weary sigh. With hands still monitoring Debra’s vitals, he marveled at the strength of her lifeforce, even with astral sickness. The sovereign had chosen well. Theron now looked forward to Jubilee and Debra’s confirmation as consort. Then they could all get down to the business of saving the Thalian nation.

The adrenaline rush crashed with a vengeance and Rowan wanted nothing more than a hot shower and a clean bed. She would change the sheets but the rest of her cluttered quarters would have to wait for another day. She kissed Damon’s cheek and straightened slowly, her fatigued back muscles aching in protest.

All it took was a look from Rowan and Manton signaled security personnel to start ushering the boisterous spectators from the theater. He nodded at her in compliance. “I’ll take care of posting the news. You go get some rest.”

Rowan motioned to Theron and his tall, lanky frame hurried over. “As soon as all vitals are normal for both, I want them placed together in quarantine, one bed. No monitoring. Install the portable com-link on Damon’s side of the bed. He’ll call if he needs anything.”

“Will do,” Theron responded, noting the circles of exhaustion under her eyes. “Do you want to be notified if there’s a problem?”

“One of the benefits of being in charge of the best staff is being able to delegate,” Rowan replied and impishly winked. “You’re in charge till further notice.”

February 5, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Ten Part 3

All thoughts of destiny and duty fell from his mind as he watched Debra stride purposefully from the warm turquoise water. She could have been a pin-up model with her smooth golden-brown skin, rounded in all the right places, her tightly sculpted muscles giving strong arms and long slender legs the look of a healthy animal stocking its pray. Instead she favored the life of a recluse, living off the grid most of the time.

Cascading sea water followed the curves of her naked body, making small puddles at her feet with each step onto the beach. The hunger stirred again in his mind and groin, his tongue leaving a trail of moisture across his lower lip.

Later, he reminded himself, teeth grinding in an effort to stay focused. Soon they would have to return to the physical dimension and still they had not talked. The city and its problems seemed so far away at the moment, and the chance to be together, completely open with each other for the first time, was too hard to resist.

Those long wet legs braced apart on either side of his hips, the dripping cool water helping to take some of the heat out of his groin and ardor. “What are you thinking about,” Debra asked huskily, amusement glinting in her eyes.

He glanced at her full pink-tipped breasts swaying slightly as she stood brazenly tall with hands on hips before looking into her eyes. “Read my mind,” he whispered, running his hands up the backs of her legs and placing a kiss on the soft curls at the apex of her thighs.

Debra hoped for much more but was disappointed when Damon settled back on his elbows. She sat down beside him on the cushioned mat. “I’m not sure I want to read your mind. Is the hot sex over all ready?” she pouted angelically.

“Never. Not if you’re anywhere in my sight, or my thoughts,” he said in that disarming velvet voice that always turned her mind and freewill to mush. “But we have to go back soon and there are things we need to talk about.”

The pout suddenly became real when she realized he didn’t have pillow talk on his mind. In spite of his laying there splendidly naked, Debra sensed it wasn’t the lover watching her now but the sovereign.

“Christ, Damon. We just beat the odds against the neutering universal taxonomy contraption. I say we’re entitled to a little down time, alone, together. I don’t want serious right now. I want wild sex, no responsibilities your sovereign-ness, and no other people within a million mile radius.”

Damon glanced down at his lingering erection and smirked arrogantly. “As we can both see I’m up for the wild sex, but after we talk. Because I am sovereign, Debra, with thousands of lives depending on me to make the right decisions.”

“Well I’m not sovereign,” she protested petulantly, then shrugged tolerantly, her swaying wet breasts drawing his glance. “Yet lately I always seem to be in the middle of everything, don’t I.”

Not knowing if he would make it back or not, duty had demanded that the matter of successor be legalized. His sealed death testament had been left in Manton’s care, with only his sister and best friend aware of the objective and the danger involved. Had he been declared dead, Damon now wondered how angry Debra would have been to find herself named the sovereign apparent, with Rowan and Manton as her council and tutors. No doubt she would have come after him just to make sure he was dead, he mused.

“No, you’re not. But you are the sovereign’s consort, with your own responsibilities to the Thalian nation,” he said deftly, his eyes impossible to read.”

Debra stared speechless, long fingers clenching tightly together against her bare thighs. A nation of people, all depending on her. Good lord, just the thought alone made her stomach heave. When had she forfeited the right to free will, her freedom to choose what the hell she wanted in this whole bloody mess?

Was a lifelong relationship with Damon worth all the changes she would have to endure, all the things about herself she would need to relearn? Not to mention did she even still love him after all the lies and manipulation?

Great sex was one thing, she thought, looking out at the vastness of the lively blue sea. But becoming a wife and consort, all in one breathtaking leap, suddenly seemed an impossible undertaking to comprehend. How could anyone truly depend on her unstable disposition and mental abilities? And try as hard as Debra could, she had no answers for bringing Thalians into the sunlight, or curing babies to watch them live beyond childhood.

Gravely, she looked over at him and sighed. “So, we’re back to that again.” Exasperated, Debra shook her head as Damon nodded. “If the dream world is nothing more than an imaginary place we share inside your consciousness, how can you possibly expect me to believe anything that happens here is real?” she demanded harshly.

“Because the dream world is not in my head or your head, but an entirely separate dimensional reality, that only we seem able to access,” Damon countered, his voice cutting like the crack of a whip.

What?” Stunned into silence Debra simply stared. When younger she had believed the dream world was a real place, a kind of parallel universe that offered them sanctuary and freedom from the pain. But when one is told it’s all a figment of your imagination, over and over, you start to believe in the lies. Even the records in the Thalian archives considered the dream world an unreality interim created by Damon’s subconscious.

Damon sat up, facing her, his hands resting gently on her thighs incase he had to grab those delicate-looking lethal hands to protect himself. Maybe having this conversation naked wasn’t such a good idea. Confident at what was coming next, he hurried to head off the explosion of temper. “I know I said the dream world wasn’t real.” He gave her legs a pleading squeeze. “Please, give me a chance to explain before you kill the messenger.”

Hot sex was no longer on her mind as she grappled with the newest lies and manipulations. She could simply meld with his mind and find the truth for herself. But since she thought they were already melded up until a moment ago, Debra didn’t have a clue how to initiate or find what she wanted.

“You bloody liar,” she erupted furiously, trying to stand up but firmly held in place by Damon’s hands. “This is the last time. You hear me. No more surprises, no more not knowing what everyone else knows.” She leaned toward him and shouted. “So fucking talk. But I swear, Damon, if I feel like I’ve been kicked in the teeth one more time by the people who supposedly love me, then I’m gone.”

Even without being melded, Damon could feel her pain of betrayal, in spite of the angry tears trickling down her cheeks. His heart felt like it was breaking in two. All he wanted to do was love and protect her. Yet time and obligations seemed to thwart him at every turn. The bond they shared since first rights made sensing her emotions easier, even at a distance. But the price was he had to live with all those frightening, unhappy emotions right along with her. And yet after all that had happened, Debra was still unaware of the bond between them.

Feeling like he was fighting all alone for their survival, Damon bit back his own anger and frustration. “This is a real place,” he said, his voice raw as he continued to hold her. “It’s just not Earth. Our bodies, the things we interact with here are all real for this dimension. Here we just have to think something and it exists. A little taste of Home and what awaits us after physical death.”

Curiosity got the better of her temper, letting the analytical side of her nature take control, and ignored his large hands pressing her legs to the mat. “How do you know this?” she curtly challenged.

“You would agree that any Thalian is psychically far superior to humans.” Damon waited for her nod before continuing. “It’s also true that even among Thalians there are those considered Vions, people who are exceptionally gifted and thought to be one evolutionary step away from becoming a Mystic or planet-bound immortal.”

Debra blinked, slowly digesting this latest revelation regarding her Thalian heritage. “Are you a Mystic?”

Vigilantly sitting back on the mat, Damon crossed his legs, scooting close enough that their knees almost touched. “There are no recorded cases of actual Mystics, just fables and hearsay passed down through generations. Eron proclaimed me Vion when I was a boy. And of all the Thalians on Earth, there is only one other.” He stared directly into her turbulent eyes, arms nimbly resting across his sturdy thighs. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”

Having enough pride in her self-taught abilities to know that she was mentally stronger than many of the Thalians she had already met, Debra did not truly comprehend the significance of what he was trying to tell her. “Are you saying I’m Vion? We both know I’m stronger than most. So what?” Suddenly Debra remembered the vision and Manton’s unwavering belief in her abilities. “Did you have a vision about me?”

Damon shook his head, not ready to get into her astral visitation to Thalia or the nightmare. Too much too soon would only overwhelm. “No visions,” he answered guardedly. “I just know things that others don’t.”

For a moment Debra mulled over the facts as given. “So being Vion lets you know that this place, our dream world, is real?”

“Until you understand your full potential, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it,” he gruffly declared, his barriers completely down, his mind open should she chose to link.

But the thought of linking never even occurred to Debra as she leaned forward, her eyes growing hard. “Then why tell me the dream world wasn’t real? That we couldn’t stay here? Why did you make me go back to that hell every time?”

“Because our lifeforce endured in vitro into the physical domain. Not here. That means we are connected or tethered to that domain. If we stay here the tether eventually terminates. If our physical bodies die while we’re away, the tether terminates. Either way we become one of those lights of energy in the prism heading Home.” He brushed the side of her cheek to help soften the sting of reality. “The dream world is real, Debra, but nothing more than a temporary sanctuary for our current existence.”

Slender fingertips lightly traced across the calluses on her palm; stirred the fine hairs along her forearm. A small, fleeting frown chased across her brow. “Are we real in this dimension or just thought manifested like everything else we think up?”

Like always Debra had no problem finding the difficult questions, and expecting the meaning of life to be summed up in a single sentence. Should he tell her the whole truth before she was ready to listen and accept? That here their lives were born of thought and not in vitro like the physical domain. That it was Debra’s powerful psyche, channeled through his consciousness, that made life in the dream world possible.

“With all your questions, Eron’s going to love tutoring you,” Damon admitted with a chuckle. “For this domain our bodies are as real as it gets.”

“You knew I would find you,” she grudgingly muttered aloud. “You let me think I might have killed you, just to make me find you.”

“I couldn’t get passed your anger and mistrust any other way. So I bet my life on your need to find and protect.” Damon caressed the side of her leg, his gaze bold, his tone whisper-soft. “And it was worth getting trapped in the prism. Because it was my name you called out when I was inside you, not Kalon.”

Debra shrugged stiffly and fought to appear indifferent to the allure of his velvet voice. “As the great Vion, how did you manage to get yourself trapped in the prism?”

“Obviously it takes one to know one,” he commented dryly, his gaze narrowing sharply. He let the fact of her own entrapment in the prism go without comment. “I can’t tell you how I got there, but when I came to I found myself trapped. And the longer I was there the weaker I became.” He grinned and winked roguishly. “I think you really did save my life, and now you’re responsible for me.”

His black eyes were gleaming, his tone intimate. Debra smiled, showing a lot of teeth.

Damon noticed the bridge of her nose beginning to burn from the strong sunlight. A large beach umbrella suddenly appeared, throwing a circle of shade over both of them. “I have no idea how long I was there when you showed up.” Before she could ask, he brashly offered the answer, gauging her reaction. “Time here is not the same as on Earth. What seems like months here is actually only a matter of hours to those there. You’ll learn all this from your tutors.”

With hands on hips Debra irritably shook her head, unaware of the small beads of sweat sliding between her breasts and down across her lightly muscled stomach. “You make me want to spit, Damon,” she retorted contemptuously. “I’m expected to be some kind of leader or helper to the Thalian people—‘but gosh, so sorry Debra, we had to handicap you and bury any trace of who and what you are. But now it’s time for you to be a team player and know everything. So if you could just twitch your nose and fix all the problems we’ll add a new statue in the entrance chamber in your honor.’”

She crossed her arms with an angry jerk beneath her breasts as though suddenly offering up the moist pink tips for inspection. Damon blanched, the muscles in his groin twisting in knots, his mouth so dry he almost choked when he tried to swallow.

Thinking Debra deliberately used her sex to torture him, his black eyes flashed in fierce warning as he shouted, “If you had been born pure Thalian, we never would have had this problem. Nor would there have been a problem if Edith had just kept her damn mouth shut. As a bi-human you would have learned everything from the Awakening on your twenty-fifth birthday. But you didn’t have the proper Awakening because your . . . because Edith didn’t want to wait and forced the memories and knowledge to come out in dribs and drabs. So now everyone has to deal with a mess.”

Damon slapped the umbrella out of the way and stalked to the shoreline. “Fuck,” he roared at the choppy waves, using the human word he inwardly promised never to lower himself to utter. Several minutes passed, with only the sound of waves slapping up against the shore, before he felt calm enough to curtly announce, “It’s time to go back. I’ve got a nation to oversee.”

A shapely, arched eyebrow was the only response Debra had time for before the dream world disappeared.

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