cnwood

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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January 29, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Ten Part 2

He pinched the bridge of his nose, glancing sideways at her. “The elders are convinced she’s had psychic access to one of the underground cities on Thalia. Mica believes she saw the main space port city of Shinzia.” Manton exhaled loudly, thinking about the state of shock he’d left his mother in. “Considering its Debra, they plan to take the vision at face value. A message is being drafted and will be sent to the other cities later today for all to begin making preparations and to initiate scanning the space corridor.”

Rowan backhanded a stray lock of hair off her cheek. “We’ve failed them,” she said tonelessly. “Fleeing one dying planet only to find death on this one.” She sat there, tears smarting in her eyes. “How long do you figure we have?”

“If we assume the vision was current, and Debra is convinced it is, then we’ve only got about two years to find new locations for underground cities and arrange for purchase of the land and water rights for approximately fifty to hundred thousand Thalian newcomers.” Manton stepped outside the alcove and made a helpless gesture as he looked back at Rowan. “If it wasn’t current and the ships are already well en route, we’ll have maybe enough time to arrange for massive food drives to subsidized ship’s stores and get volunteers ready for indoctrinating Thalians to Earth’s customs, languages, foods, and immunization.”

His black eyes glittered brightly, unnaturally. “Since there isn’t anything you can do about any of this at the moment, you should get back into bed and rest for a couple of hours. Give your self-healing a chance to do its work.”

“What about you?” Rowan said flatly.

“I’ll be with Duran and some of the elders in archives if you need me. A team is being put together to start narrowing down relevant land masses around the world; possible sites for further investigation by our helpers above.”

Rowan nodded mutely, sitting on the side of the IR bed long after Manton had gone, and wondered what more could be done to save the Thalian nation that had not already been done.

*   *  *

It was like being confined inside a large multi-faceted prism of slow, unvarying motion. At first no sensations, only pure intellect absorbing the glimpses of existence on display within the prism’s turning and twisting shape, carried along inside by refracted lines of dimensional color to new panes of time and space.

The warrior was gone, but not the mind’s ability to process and be aware. Without eyes, Debra could still see. Without lungs to breath and a heart to pump blood, she was still alive. Instinct was her guide now in this shifting realm of color and shimmer, the ever changing snapshots of universal beings and localities reaching out from the prism’s portholes of existence.

Flashes of light, like tiny fireflies, continuously broke away from the conveyer-like lines of colors to scurry from one window to another, seeming to wait for the right moment, then one by one breach the enormous panes to join the river of color beyond the tumbling prism, beyond reality, seeking the journey’s end.

Instinctively understanding that thought was action and reaction, Debra pressed up against the pane directly before her, not really surprised or discouraged when nothing happened. What did shock though was the insight that the flashes of light were souls of the universe, beings of pure energy, needing a precise windowpane of dimension and space for traveling Home.

She pressed her consciousness to another pane and suddenly realized that the river of color, visible through the gleaming, gossamer walls, was an irresistible beacon for all entitled souls, and provided a road back to the Gateway and release from the arduous weight of the physical domain; the return to omnipotence again, with all the rights and privileges of life memories, cerebral abilities, and true appearance.

At the next pane Debra focused on Damon, pictured him in her mind, mentally calling out to him, and finally demanded that her ability, FIND DAMON. Either her capabilities were useless here in the prism or Damon had moved on. And yet another insight became apparent. Not all souls earned the right to the Gateway and were absorbed by the black river flowing throughout the prism and returned in vitro to physical existence.

Since Debra did not perceive herself as a flash of light and was unable to breach any of the panes, she found it logical to assume that ‘earning the right’ to the Gateway or being ‘absorbed by the black river’ was, for the most part, related to those who had at least physically died. So what was the protocol or recourse for those who entered the prism by mistake?

Octagon.

The familiar voice was suddenly there in her mind, as though holding on to her existence with barely more than a tenuous grasp. If Debra still had the ability to feel her heart, it would have skipped a beat and thumped for joy. Damon was here, locked in the prism with her.

Absorbing his fragile thought into the safety of her existence, she sensed his weakness and desperately strained awareness toward the next oncoming window. The effort was pointless, though, and threatened a form of pain for her effort as the prism continued its slow, unwavering tumble and turn around her. Not all the panes offered answers or showed fleeting images. And none of the intermittent sequences of places and beings were familiar.

Soon.

“Hang on, Damon. Help me find you.” she cried out, using the familiar form of telepathy from the dream world. Awareness scanned every image and tested every pane within range. “Help me. Give me a sign,” she fiercely demanded.

Suddenly the lines of color disappeared and the cloying pull of the black river seemed to anchor inside thought and emotion, weakening her mindset, clouding focus and determination. She felt the struggle to break free fading away and was terrified of losing control. With every ounce of strength still locked within her human consciousness, Debra roared as the killing power flashed outward in a surrounding wave of destructive energy.

The prism’s faceted structure and diaphanous walls shuddered, its slow tumbling turn momentarily suspended. Where once the black river had roiled and swelled, now there was only emptiness.

No,” intellect thundered, horrified she had finally managed to kill Damon with her carelessness.

The prism began moving again, so slowly, the struts and walls reforming, inch by inch. The next pane, in the shape of an octagon, came into view. What remained of the membrane that covered the window was smashed into jagged shards. No light or shadow hinted at a presence, and yet Debra instinctively and joyously knew Damon was there in the darkness.

A thought, a wish, a simple melding of intellect and emotion and Damon was securely held within her consciousness; completely open and vulnerable. How many times over the years had his mind reached out to her from the shadows to keep her safe and take her home to the dream world to reenergize. How grateful her existence now to finally be able to reciprocate in kind. Delight shivered blissfully over blended senses, for barriers were down with no more lies or hidden truths.

Before the prism could completely repair itself, together Debra and Damon willed themselves beyond its boundaries and into the blackness of dimensional space and time. Of one mind they journeyed to the safety of the dream world, knowing each had their lifeforce of existence duly anchored once more in the physical domain.

*   *  *

Theron rushed into Rowan’s office, looking ready to burst. “We’ve got brain activity on both of them again,” he blurted breathlessly, his wide infectious grin hard to ignore. He winked at her. “Brain wave readings correspond to the dream world interim. I guess they stopped off for a little R&R.”

Theron laughed, enjoying the dazzling smile that expanded over Rowan’s beaming face. Eyes closed, she took a moment to give silent, grateful thanks. It was like the mountain had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. While Damon was in for a scathing piece of her mind for scaring the wits out of family and friends, Debra was about to become hero to the Thalian nation, whether she wanted it or not.

Almost seventy-two hours had passed since Debra disabled the doors to Quarantine One. As Manton had order, the very next day technicians broke into the unit and all were stunned to find Damon and Debra together on one bed, as though lover’s lost in sleep. Not designed for multiple readings, the headboard monitor had disengaged. Great care was taken in the tedious job of extricating their joined hands to avoid breaking fingers or damaging skin.

Once separated both were moved to individual surgical beds on the platform in OT, life signs normal, their minds vacant, and under constant supervision by the duty staff and the hundreds who crowded into theater seats and the overhead observation booth.

Manton darted into the office and looked expectantly from Rowan to Theron. “Is it true? Word’s spreading like wildfire that their back.” Even convinced that Debra had the emotional and mental strength to find Damon, the past three days had weighed heavily on his conscience. Because Rowan was right. Desperation for his friend and sovereign had forced his hand into provoking Debra to risk everything. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to send someone into harm’s way, and very much doubted it would be the last. At Theron’s grinning nod Manton breathed easier for the first time in days.

Rowan stood up from behind her desk, her eyes twinkling through weariness. “I just got word myself. You might as well come with us to OT.” She gave him a defiant stare. “I’m going to need them both conscious before I can confirm a successful mission. So you’ll have to wait until then before you start gloating.”

The com-link terminal quietly beeped on her desk, the viewing screen showing a cataleptic Damon and Debra on the platform, plus smaller rotating views of monitor readings, the crowds in the theater and observation, and the congregating throng in the main corridor on level three.

*   *   *

Damon watched Debra from the rocks as she swam in the perfectly warm, flawlessly blue sea waters just down from their home. Time meant nothing in the dream world. Only in reality did time become an obsession that ruled the living and dying.

For now he was content to sit and watch her beautifully rounded bottom bob to the surface with each powerful arm stroke that sleekly cut through the water. They had fed on each other in a sexual haze of hunger and need the moment they materialized in the dream world. After two cycles of day and night they had slept like babies in each other’s arms in the wide hammock beneath the willow trees.

The cycle of day and night was a comfort to the mind and body and one both Debra and Damon wanted incorporated in their world. The sun shone constantly throughout the day, unless the mood found pleasure in the sounds of raindrops tapping against the leaves while making love. Nighttime resembled the twilight of the Yukon’s midnight sun, with a delicious breeze coming in over the water to make cuddling and sleeping a pleasure all its own.

Many Thalian researchers proclaimed the dream world simply a cerebral reality in Damon’s mind that Debra shared because of their link. In truth, Damon realized years ago that Debra was the power that accessed the dream world dimension. It was her psychic intensity that Damon had picked up on and followed as a baby. It was Damon, waiting in the shadows for her, needing her strength to focus. In either reality, Debra was the powerful engine while Damon was the drive that kept them both on course.

Born of a Thalian father and a human mother. Conceived in love. Yet raised in fear and abuse. Debra now struggled to assimilate both birthrights, and live up to the epic expectations as the last hope for the Thalian nation.

Looking out at the solitary, self-contained woman strongly swimming in the vast, overpowering sea, Damon slowly shook his head and once again marveled at Debra’s strength of will.

Only when she finally accepted her life, her strengths, her natural ability to do what needed to be done to survive, when the fears of her past were irrevocably let go, only then did Damon believe the truth would become apparent to everyone. Without Debra there was no dream world. Without Debra there was no saving the Thalian population on Earth.

The time had come for Debra to stand by his side, as wife and consort, and become the leader she was born to be.

January 22, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Ten Part 1

Debra stood inside an empty Isolated Recovery, hand flat against a nearby column and absorbed the data images of her surroundings; a large chamber directly off the main third level corridor, carved into the mountain and reinforced against the off-chance of seismic shifts. Even though only hours ago she had been denied access, Rowan was true to her word and this time the doors had opened wide for her to enter.

Ceiling and walls were a cool golden color and made of the same energy absorbing material that covered the majority of the city. The floor was a matt black and provided an understated cushion underfoot as she moved further into the chamber. Private alcoves, created with smoke colored glass dividers, housed single beds and glass shelves lined with medical devices. Heightened eyesight had yet to find a speck of dust or dirt anywhere.

She stood in the narrow decontamination entryway, letting the sensors scan for any infection, while the misting jet sprayers cleansed her body and breath of micro-organisms. At the end of the short cycle, one set of doors opened automatically into the massive Operating Theater.

The chamber itself was lower than the entryway and IR; a kind of amphitheater with gradually descending aisles down to the operating platform. It was a remarkable piece of engineering that allowed one to stand anywhere in the theater and see everything.

Descending tiers of quietly humming crystal power converters and database storage towers made the OT self-sufficient and a backup center for all critical city data. Closer to the operating platform, similar smoky glass dividers made up intensive care bays with inactive light bars extending upward from the monitoring headboards. A caregiver could be anywhere in the theater and assess a patient’s condition by the colors on the bar.

At ground zero stood the vast operating platform, an area used for several purposes depending on the need. Beneath the platform four autonomous surgical beds could be raised together or individually in seconds. When not in use for surgeries or emergency trauma care, a wide podium was raised from beneath the platform for conducting medical seminars and lectures. Debra stared up at the eight-foot viewing screens that joined together, forming a gradual curve for optimal viewing from the overhead observation gallery or anywhere in the theater.

Debra lowered protective barriers enough to sense only one heartbeat nearby. She approached the three self-sustaining quarantine units that lined the far wall, her hand hesitant to touch the palmpad of the unit marked Quarantine One. No doubt those who had suffered with the virus had lived and died within these small apartments. Debra opted not to live with such memories of her father and closed herself off completely before tapping the palmpad.

Quarantine One was classed a family unit and therefore built on a larger scale with a main living area, two fairly wide bedrooms, and a standard size bathroom. All meal trays were sent and retrieved through a decontamination shoot or portal.

Damon lay on a medical bed with only a cream colored sheet covering his body. The rhythmic beat of his heart was steady and strong. Debra struggled to realize all that had happened since arriving at Crystal Lake. She glanced at Damon’s chin stubble and the look of sleep in his relaxed features and found it hard to accept that only a day had passed since the accident. And in six more days he would be declared dead if his mind, his living essence, failed to return.

If truth be told she was already tired of so many people pressing in around her, with all of their consuming expectations. It begged the question; would medical and security leave her alone long enough to find any trace of Damon to follow? Her chest heaved in temper at the thought of being studied and manipulated. Debra looked around the room, wondering how many sensors were recording her every move.

Not caring about the consequences, her hand flattened to the wall and quickly located the two built-in sensors. A search of the bathroom produced a slim-handled brush that she used to knockout the devices. The locked door pad was disassembled and rendered useless from either side. The rest of the apartment was of no concern to her.

She placed a hand flat against Damon’s wide forehead, noting the skin still held warmth, but nothing like the vigorous heat she was used to with Kalon.

No, Kalon was the dream world and Damon was reality. It was time to merge to the two truths in her mind and set aside anger and disappointment.

As a healer Debra moved opened hands, barely touching the soft black hair, across the top of his head and down the sides over his ears. The pulse in his neck was like a beacon of light to the sensitive pads of her hands, the data centering in her mind in seconds to present a visual representation of his brain matter and skeletal-skin shell.

She could find nothing physically wrong with Damon’s body. His consciousness was simply not there. And the emptiness she was experiencing was vastly different than butting up against a closed or blocked mind.

Debra figured there were two options. Despite Rowan’s assurances to the contrary, Damon’s mind was ripped unwillingly from this existence when the killing power rendered him unconscious on the beach. Or, Damon left of his own accord either to teach her a lesson or . . . create a situation that would require her to overcome her fears.

Gut instincts felt the rightness of it as soon as the thought entered her mind. So where would his consciousness go to wait for me?

The dream world.

Debra laid down on the empty twin bed and closed her eyes, waiting for him to approach from the shadows. When nothing happened after thirty minutes, she re-fluffed the soft pillow, straightened her sweatshirt, then cleared her mind of thoughts and emotions and placed herself into a light trance that more closely resembled her mind and body just before falling asleep.

After an hour of wallowing in emptiness, Debra was clearheaded, relaxed and re-energized, and back to square one. She let concern force the flow of adrenaline into her system. Felt her body harden and her mind focus as she called upon the enhanced abilities of the warrior inside to guide her next move.

Damon was either beyond all hope of recovery or lost between earthly existence and Home. She would have to leave her body and hope that the currents of life and transition were constant and ended up taking her in the same direction.

Fingertips lightly traced his defining cheek and brow bones. “I miss what we had in the dream world,” she whispered against his lips, then lightly kissed the familiar contours of his mouth.

The warrior refused to acknowledge fear and accepted the fact they would both most likely die. In that case there was nothing to lose and no reason not to reach out with every ounce of her intuitive mental strength.

The adrenaline rush subsided as Debra striped off her sweats and workout clothes and slid beneath the sheet to lie down on top of Damon. Resting on elbows she let the heat from her body warm his skin, sadly smiling that all the memories of the dream world and growing up together had led them to this moment.

Like a thousand other times, she laid her head on his shoulder, her face tucked into the side of his neck and breathed deeply. His clean scent filled her head and still managed to make her stomach do flip-flops like some untried teenager. “If we don’t make it back, I want to die as lovers,” she murmured against his throat. Debra repositioned his arms so that his hands were up by his shoulders and threaded their fingers so they were clasped palm to palm.

“FIND DAMON,” was her last conscious thought before her breathing slowed and all earthly restraints were let go.

*   *  *

The Isolated Recovery on-duty staff made a quick, quiet retreat, leaving Rowan and Manton to shout the mountain down without an audience. The patient had been declared out of danger with only a headache and mild exhaustion to show for the bizarre link with Debra. Eron’s superior level of skill had effortlessly repaired the resulting psychic trauma and experienced firsthand the power of the nightmare vision now regretfully locked forever in Rowan’s memories.

As usual, Debra was at the heart of the heated quandary. Absolutely livid with Manton, Rowan swore to write him up as unfit for duty and restricted to quarters. Sitting around doing nothing like a caged animal would be worst than any contrived torture to Manton, not to mention the satisfaction for Rowan as he slowly went insane.

Hot color spotted Rowan’s cheeks. “How could you egg her on like that,” she shouted furiously, a fist pounding the bedcovers. “We could bloody well end up losing both of them. And don’t think because I’ve been stuck in IR that I haven’t seen the fight. She may be strong enough to put you on your ass numerous times, but that doesn’t mean she’s one hundred percent. Especially after what happened with our link.”

Manton flushed with anger, his eyes heating dangerously. “If you’re through chewing out my ass, maybe you’ll let me get in a word in my defense.” Legs braced apart and thick arms crossed, his glance skewered Rowan, warning her not to say another word. “As the head of security it’s my job to sum people up quickly, especially their abilities. And there is no doubt in my mind that Debra is strong enough to try and find Damon.”

Her expression strained, Rowan was openly exasperated. “I’m not talking about physical stamina but her emotional/mental strength. After all that’s happened since she’s been here, you’re going to stand there and tell me you think she’s capable mentally and emotionally?”

“Yes,” Manton tersely replied. “She’s aware of everything that’s happening around her. She can analyze a situation and formulate strategies in seconds.” He turned to pace the small alcove to think better, being careful not to bump any of the glass shelves. “Her only real weakness at the moment is her inability, her fear, of linking or melding.”

He stopped, looking down at Rowan, his tone slightly sarcastic. “I don’t know about you but that says some kind of trauma to me. And judging by her hellacious childhood I’m willing to bet this month’s credits that we’ll find the problem stems somewhere between the age of one and sixteen.”

Rowan sighed loudly, suddenly out of arguments to stay angry. She agreed with Manton’s assessment of Debra’s condition. Throwing off the bedcovers, she swung her legs down and sat on the side of the bed, mentally conceding the point but still ticked by his when-in-doubt-attack approach to life. “I think that horrible vision I was locked into is the key.”

“I’m listening,” he said, his tone perfectly polite, his arms back to being crossed and legs braced.

“Being stuck here, I’ve had time to think it all through. Last night I gave Debra a physical and all hormonal levels were normal. Yet when we were linked this morning several levels were depressed. I think she had the nightmare last night, probably after she was in her quarters. That’s why the memory of the nightmare was fresh in her mind when we were linked. The only thing different yesterday, as far as her abilities are concerned, was the use of her killing power on Damon.”

Without thinking, Rowan laid a hand on his hip as she focused to put all the pieces together. “That vision had an incredible amount of power, Manton, as you well know.” She looked up at him. “And since she won’t link or meld, I think the nightmare happens as a way of reinforcing, at least in her mind, that the use of channeling or linking is somehow evil and punishable by death. Her death.”

“How’s the headache,” he softly drawled, reaching around to the base of her neck and pressing against the nerves. No matter their differences or how long they had been apart, Manton would never be able to simply stand by and do nothing when Rowan was in trouble or in pain.

Wearily, Rowan groaned, her head coming to rest trustingly against his stomach. How she missed these quiet moments with Manton. Just touching or holding one another. Finally able to pay attention to her own physical condition, she flooded her system with a cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline to counteract the tension headache and drowsiness.

The stiffness went out of her back and shoulders and Manton knew self-healing had begun. His large fingers continued to gently rub her soft neck. “Debra’s buggered the lock on Quarantine One and took out the two sensors in one of the bedrooms. I’ve ordered all personnel to give them complete privacy for the next twenty-four hours.” He paused, tipping her face up to him. “Let her try, Ro.”

Sitting back, Rowan shrugged. “I seem to have little say in the matter. But I’ve said my piece, so I’ll let it go for now.” Manton grinned, stepping back from the urge to kiss her disgruntled lips. “As for this vision she had, I’ve seen nothing in the files or her disposition to show she’s a latent seer.” Hands waved as she rolled her eyes. “Eron would know if she’d only let him do the bloody test.”

“And there’s nothing to say she’s not a seer,” Manton said dryly. “I checked with Duran in archives. There are no detailed descriptions of any Thalian underground city, let alone my father. There’s a great deal of information about the surface of the planet, the dome parks, even the cloud city structures but not the underground caverns, tunnel schematics, and food and water distribution systems.”

“I’m assuming you’ve already spoken with the elders. What do they think?”

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