cnwood

March 4, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eleven Part 3

Stepping out of the bathroom in a clean long-sleeved white medical scrub top and loose drawstring pants, Debra towel dried her long hair and gazed about the small sparsely furnished living room. Two oversized stuffed chairs of stiff white fabric angled in toward a decorative white mantel and shallow marble hearth.

Debra glanced toward the bedroom on her right, noting Damon had not moved from the bed and was still engrossed with the com-link. Her attention quickly turned to the sealed double doors on her left. She placed an empty palm flat against the locking pad and nearly laughed out loud. The doors had been secured and the inner workings of the mechanism taken apart.

“Good one, Manton,” she smirked and faced the room again. Her touch-healing infusions had them both feeling stronger after only four days in quarantine. Restless, bored, she went about the room pushing buttons for lights and temperature control. One of the knobs by the mantel activated a virtual fire inside the superficial hearth. Kneeling, Debra studied the unusual looking flames and jerked back when memories surfaced of the blue flame in the mediation globe.

She tossed the damp towel into the bathroom hamper and quickly finger combed her hair into a tidy French braid. Locked down as they were, a hot shower had become a focal pleasure with prepared meals a close second. Regular workouts were missed by both. Each morning they took turns doing stretching exercises in the open entryway space to help loosen up tight muscles. Anything more strenuous would have to wait a bit longer. Pulling off her scrubs, Debra reached for the workout top and shorts left on the nearby chair.

After four days of sleeping and talking, Debra gamely admitted a rematch with Manton was out of the question. But she inwardly groaned wishing for something a little more adventurous to do than prowling about their three-room suite and waiting for the next meal.

Suddenly a chill raced up her spine, bringing out goosebumps on her arms and legs. Internal defenses offered conflicting data of danger and all safe. Secure in the knowledge that they were in an underwater city, locked in quarantine with a dampening field, Debra was more inclined to believe her eyes rather than her recently traumatized defenses.

Adrenaline spiked just the same, the warrior ready on the balls of her feet, enhanced eyesight searching the empty spaces for an enemy. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, Debra focused inward on the replay of her internal tracking and matching it to different angles from where she had been in the room. If nothing else, the task gave her something challenging to do while she stretched.

Unaware of Debra’s dilemma, Damon sat on the side of the bed in clean white scrub pants, his long fingers moving quickly over the com-link’s touch screen. An impatient growl erupted from his empty stomach. Breakfast was late arriving and The Terrance kitchen had yet to acknowledge his enquiry as to the delay.

Ignoring his stomach, Damon studied report highlights for the past week from the four other underwater cities. News of his heralded survival topped the resident gossip and message sites, followed closely by fight raves and exhibition invitations to the sovereign and his warrior consort.

Puzzlement furrowed his brow as fingers hastily called up searches for fight and warrior consort references. Suddenly Damon found himself inundated with videos of Debra and Manton tearing into each other on the park commons. At first glance the battle looked real, Debra going for the throat and groin, Manton pounding her into the ground. But it wasn’t long before Damon could see that both of them were enjoying themselves immensely.

“She almost had you there, buddy,” he grinned at the screen, always fascinated by the way Debra moved in and out of complex maneuvers. She was a natural born athlete. Had she been inclined to join the humans instead of avoiding them, there was no telling how many of their Olympic gold medals she would have won by now.

Bookmarking several videos to watch again later, Damon did a quick scan of his office calendar. Several missed appointments had been rescheduled. The following week was shaping up to be grueling, but it couldn’t be helped. Damon wanted to clear as much of the backlog as possible before Jubilee.

A flagged report from Manton was waiting in his personal inbox. Damon’s white stallion had tangled with a honey bee, the damage to the stall extensive. The stable had been repaired, better than new, and both Troja and the mare were safe and sound.

The beautiful pure white animal had been a gift to the sovereign at Jubilee five years ago, in memory of those lost to the virus. The yearling colt had been bred specifically for its coloring, stamina, and long strong legs, and delivered to the underwater city with the understanding that a matching mare would follow when ready.

With space at a premium, the majority of any future offspring would be held in trust in Montana until the time Thalians could live above. Prominent businessman and trainer Earl Stanton, owner of the ranch and close family friend of Damon’s parents, had kept his promise and personally delivered an exquisite pure white filly of breeding age two years ago, named Broslynda. Many of the Lincoln County, Montana residents remained lasting supporters to the Thalian nation, despite the colony town being dismantled so long ago.

Knowing the mare was to be presented as gift to the sovereign’s consort at this year’s Jubilee, Stanton had carefully trained Broslynda before having the horse shipped to the west coast. Damon admitted, if only to himself, that he was nervous about the gift and Debra’s reaction. Although they had ridden together thousands of times in the dream world, the finest thoroughbreds and the best equipment that imaginations could dream up, earth had always been reality for him. Unfortunately, in this reality Debra’s mind and soul remained unpredictable despite the bonding.

Damon made a mental note to also retrieve the handmade crystal talisman from Manton’s safekeeping. The crystal talisman had been Damon’s marital gift to Debra in the dream world when she was sixteen years old, a gift that could not transcend between the two worlds. So an exact duplicate had been created at the same time by the city’s master craftsman, and had waited all these years for Debra to come home.

Now all that was left to do was convince Debra to accept their marriage and her place by his side as consort. Damon sighed, his lips twitching into a grimace. Standing at death’s doorstep suddenly seemed like child’s play compared to getting Debra to cooperate.

Speculation continued to hound him, though. He had read the latest reports by Rowan and Eron with great interest. It seemed they were all approaching Debra’s psychological problems from a different perspective. Only Damon had the unique stance of knowing his wife, sometimes better than she knew herself, and often wondered if Debra’s being unaware of their marital bond had anything to do with her fear of linking or her lack of channeling control. Gut instinct agreed with his sister; the nightmare was somehow the key.

But only Eron had the ability to penetrate deep enough into the psyche to find the root of a cerebral problem. Yet, according to Rowan and Manton, Debra had made it emphatically clear she refused to link with anyone. And without the link, Eron was powerless to find the problem. Stiff, agitated fingers roughly rubbed against his temple in frustration. Around and around we go, he mused, looking through the com-link’s music menu for something to sooth the savage feminine beast.

Debra leaned into the open bedroom doorway, eyes checking out the corners of the room and the wide gap under the bed. “Did you feel anything weird a few minutes ago?” she asked guardedly.

Without looking up from the com-link screen Damon made his selection, Hans Zimmer’s Chevaliers de Sangreal. “Define weird?” he asked, as the music started out soft and slow, gradually filling the suite with the impressive harmony of strings and horns from the hidden wall speakers.

Leaning back against the doorframe, Debra crossed her arms and smiled. Damon often played her favorite music in the dream world when trying to coax her out of a mood, or into one. Since she wasn’t feeling down or sexually inspired, she was curious if there was something else on his mind other than boredom.

Eyes twinkled in amusement as she answered, “I must be suffering from cabin fever. I could have sworn there was someone in the living room with me.” The muscles in her body responded to the music, relaxing, her lungs seeming to expand and constrict in time with the building tempo. Damn if his ploy wasn’t working, again.

“How long do we have to be in here?” Debra asked reasonably. “I can sleep just as well in my own quarters, you know.”

His eyes raked up and down her body as she leaned in the doorway. Black sports bra and tight knee-length shorts molded to moist skin suggested Debra had finished her morning stretching exercises. Full breasts and gracefully defined muscles made his groin clench but the non-ensuing erection was a physical reminder that his body was still recovering from the astral sickness.

“I think you like sleeping with me,” Damon said huskily, his roguish grin making him look like a resplendent half-naked pirate.

Arrogant male eyes devoured her and crinkled at the corners in amusement at her sudden blush. Only yesterday had he commented on her predilection, and his pleasure, at finding her practically on top of him every morning when he woke.

“My body craves warmth. And you’re still like a bloody heater. I’m simply adapting to my circumstances,” she teasingly admitted. “Why don’t we grab a picnic breakfast from The Terrace and have it in the park?”

His stomach growled again at the reminder that his hunger had still to be appeased. Using the portable com-link, Damon paged his sister’s personal com. “We can’t leave quarantine until the inhibitor is completely out of our system,” he explained while he waited for Rowan to answer.

The smile disappeared, her relaxed visage closing up completely. Lies and manipulation filled her mind while suspicion glared from dark eyes. “What’s an inhibitor?”

After five beeps Damon’s call went directly to message. Watching her face he held up a finger for silence. Back to square one, he thought impatiently, taking his frustration out on Rowan’s inbox. “If the prisoners in quarantine don’t get some damn breakfast in the next five minutes, I’m going to initiate a prison break.” He disconnected and sat back against the headboard, the muscles clenching and flexing angrily in his chest and arms.

“An inhibitor is a synthesized drug that prevents higher psychic functions from working,” he stated flatly, the final notes of the Sangreal fading out and the room going quiet. “In our case it was used to suppress those functions when the consciousness and subconscious tapped back into the body after such a long astral travel. Without the inhibitor the higher functions often strike out unexpectedly.” His tone softened and his shoulders relaxed. “Our abilities are too lethal to take that chance.”

Discomfited by her automatic leap to the wrong assumption, Debra looked away and drolly asked, “Then I gather the threat of our breakout was just a bluff. We could go to the dream world until our bodies are back to normal?” she offered by way of an apology.

“Not this time, love,” he said agreeably. “No higher functions, no astral travel, no cerebral jumps, and no sex until the inhibitor wears off.” He laughed at the disgruntled look on her face. “Just another day or two,” he promised.

At least his explanation solved one puzzling dilemma. “That’s why I don’t feel the killing power inside me,” Debra stanchly reflected.

Tersely, Damon countered, “It’s called channeling, Debra,” and reined in his impatience when he sensed her confusion and withdrawal. “All you’re doing is channeling your body’s own kinetic energy. That power is no more a killer than your touch-healing. It’s simply a matter of control.”

Listening to instincts, he pushed Debra harder. “Considering that you’re self-taught, the skill with which you use your gifts is nothing short of phenomenal. Living among non-psychic humans, it’s understandable why you never mastered mind linking and melding. But you’ve barely used you channeling power.” He leaned forward, staring intently at her face. “Are you afraid of the energy?”

Anger and fear stiffly straightened Debra’s spine away from the doorframe. “Maybe if I’d grown up with masters and grand masters I’d have control like the rest of you.” Arms crossed, she turned her back and restlessly prowled the small confines of the living room. She heard Damon follow her from the bedroom.

“I know the transition you’re experiencing right now is difficult.” Her back went even more rigid, goading his anger. “Dammit, Debra. Do you honest believe we don’t know what you’re going through?” he argued, his tone deceptively soft. “As the human’s say, we’ve all been dealt the shitty end of the stick. But I swear to you, had there been any other way . . . any other way.” He came up behind her, hands lightly caressing her stiff shoulders. “I would have given my life to save you from the hell you went through.”

Yes, he would have, Debra inwardly groused on a long deflating sigh. Why did he say things like that? How was she supposed to stay angry at the world when he said such beautifully unselfish things like that?

“It’s time to stop running, love. You’re not alone anymore.” He slowly turned her body to face him. “If you can’t talk to Rowan or Eron, then talk to me, the man who loves and knows you better than any other being on this planet. Tell me how you felt, what you were thinking about those times you tried to channel.”

Weakness wadded in her throat like bile. She would rather fight a gang of desperate addicts than turn herself inside out, baring her inner demons. Her only saving grace was that Damon already knew most of her feelings and emotions. But still it galled her to have to admit out loud, even telepathically, that there was a side of herself that even she didn’t understand.

“Each time I tried to used the killing . . . the channeling power . . .” Debra struggled in a low strained voice, hot color spotting her cheeks, “it was like drowning in absolute terror, a feeling so strong I couldn’t move and if I tried something horrible would happen. I could smell death all around me.” her face completely flushed, the intensity of reliving the emotion making her shake uncontrollably.

Concerned, Damon sat in the closest stuff chair and pulled Debra onto his lap. Strong arms held her tightly in an effort to stem the trembling and provide a haven of warmth and safety. A surge of unease pricked at his conscience. He may be Vion, but only Eron had the expertise to deftly enter the psyche and interpret the evidence.

“I stopped trying to practice because each time was the same. You were right about the linking stuff and humans. But since coming here I’ve been experiencing some of that same paranoia with everyone wanting to link or meld with me.” She looked up at him, eyes pleading. “My instincts are telling me something bad will happen and they were right. I almost killed Rowan. Almost killed you.”

Damon grabbed her arms, making her face him. “You are the bravest woman I’ve ever known. Do you want to keep living in this fear or do you want to find out why this is happening?”

Tears streamed down her cheeks. In shame, Debra bowed her head, covering her face. The fear was so strong she could barely breathe let alone speak.

Tucking her back against his chest again, Damon spoke softly as he brushed away the loose strands from her face that had fallen from her braided hair. “You may not realize it, but you and I have linked and melded thousands of times over the years.”

Debra hiccupped and wiped her eyes. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying you are capable of melding and linking and have no problems doing so with me. And because we’ve been doing them since we were babies, you don’t think of it in those terms but as something natural like eating or sleeping.”

“Then why can’t I do it with others without all the turmoil?” she choked as the breath continued to heave in her chest.

“That’s what we have to find out, love.” Damon cuddled her closer. “I have an idea. When we get out of here, you and I will meld so our minds become one. Just as we’ve always done in the dream world. That way you’ll know I’m there and that I can protect you. Then Eron will link with both of us, going deeper than either of us can go and find the root of the problem. He’ll also be able to determine if you’re Vion or not.”

The heat of his skin helped to ease the chilling fear that made her body feel like a block of ice. “What if somebody gets hurt? What if somebody dies?”

“Everyone here wants to help you, Debra. They know the risks. And we all think you’re worth whatever it takes to get you through this. I think the question you should be asking yourself is, can I continue to live with this fear now or do I let the warrior in me step through that fear and find the truth. I know you can live with the truth, Debra.”

“You’re right,” she whispered, curling up in his lap and letting her mind and body go numb.

Suddenly the cupboard in the entrance way popped open and the shelving unit rolled out with two steaming breakfast trays. Unfortunately, neither one was hungry anymore.

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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.

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.”

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