April 15, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Twelve Part 4

Edith refused to let go of Debra’s hand and pulled her over to the nearest sofa. Seated almost hip to hip she held onto her daughter’s arm with both hands. The end of the secret had her heart pounding and her mind ecstatic. Debra was hers again. Yet as the room quieted in anticipation of Eron’s findings, Edith also found herself feeling vulnerable. Would Debra still love her once the whole truth was out in the open?

Muscled arms and strong backs arranged two of the larger sofas and a couple of overstuffed chairs into a tight grouping so voices wouldn’t carry, but more important, to achieve an intimate show of support for Edith. Eron waited until all were ready and lowered himself into the remaining empty chair.

Seeing Debra wedged between Damon and Edith on the green plaid sofa, Eron sheepishly smiled at Debra like a kindly old uncle. Under Thalian law they were family, all members of the House of Bromon. “My dear,” Eron began, his tone purposefully neutral. “I’m going to keep you guessing about your evaluation for just a bit longer.” He glanced at Edith’s anxious face, believing the direct approach to be the fastest way to ease the woman’s fears.

Sitting on the edge of his seat, elbows flat against the cushioned armrests, Eron focused his attention on Debra. “You’ll no doubt be wondering why you ended up in Dorothy’s care.” An excellent poker face, Eron mused, then berated his wandering thoughts. “One of the reasons Trevon stayed at the Montana settlement was because of you, dear. The only guarantee of keeping your immune system strong and healthy against the atmospheric virus was to keep you on the planet surface.

“Your father wasn’t willing to give you up for the sake of staying alive a few more months on the ship. You had a very special bond with your father. Part of the reason was that you both shared Thalian abilities. But even more important was the fact that you were Thalian and human. He saw you as the best part of himself and Edith and took great pleasure in parental pride.”

Try as hard as she could, Debra failed to recall any memories of her father at all. Mind and heart found it so easy to love the sentiments of the man described to her. Yet she would never know him or remember that special loving bond between father and daughter. Times like these she had to wonder what good her total recall served when the most important memories were beyond her abilities.

“You were linked to your father at the time of his death.” Eron paused to let that fact sink in before carefully choosing his next words. “It’s because of that link that I can tell you what happened the day your father died.”

Eyes widened in surprise about the silently enthralled group. Except for Eron and Edith, all of them had been only children at the time of Trevon’s death; Debra only a baby. Each had still been growing into their abilities and learning Thalian ways of the past and future. Now as responsible adults, it was a little bit of a shock to discover that their old tutor’s skills as observer still had something new to teach.

Sitting back in the comfy chair, Eron looked inward at a memory not his own. “The two of you were in the backyard, lying on Trevon’s motorized recliner and watching the clouds float by. It was warm that day. Edith had cut the grass earlier, an earthly smell Trevon found deeply pleasing.  Although physically weak, Trevon remained strong mentally until the end. He was sharing visions with you about how Thalian’s view corporal death as a joyous release, like graduating from the university of life with honors, and the well earned pass to journey Home.

“The two of you were laughing at his funny images of the large flowers and trees that exist at Home. So he took you to the back fence and opened the gate to show you the verdant meadow beyond the ravine and the stunning wildflowers in bloom. He told you the colorful species of nature on Earth were just like Home, only at Home they were much, much bigger.”

Hearing the candor of the older man’s words brought back so many wretched memories of that day. As though Edith would ever let herself forget. So she sat like a condemned prisoner, awaiting sentencing from her peers and loved ones, and let the truth of Eron’s words stab into her heart over and over.

“The strain of walking that short distance was too much in Trevon’s depleted condition. He went into convulsions and collapsed in the yard, leaving the gate open.  Instinctively you laid hands on your father’s chest, trying to make him well. Because of the link, he knew it was more a matter of your body automatically doing what came naturally than a conscious thought.

“When his heart stopped, he lay dying, his mind watching with the help of the link between you as kinetic energy channeled through your hands and restarted his heart. In the process, the energy created a cloaking aura around the both of you. And because of the amount of energy being channeled into him, his torso levitated a good foot off the ground.”

Eron glanced at Edith’s stricken face, tears streaming, hands holding onto Debra so tightly she threatened to cut off the blood flow. “Your mother had come out onto the veranda and saw you standing over Trevon. She witnessed the energy leaving your tiny hands and driving into Trevon’s chest several times. The stress of the long illness had drained Edith’s strength, leaving her emotionally exhausted. We all knew Trevon’s passing would be very difficult for Edith to accept. When she came out and found the two of you—”

“She thought I was killing him.” Debra answered jadedly, eyes unafraid and intense. “Are you sure I didn’t?”

“Let me finish,” Eron said gently, watching the stubborn young face flush with self-recrimination, “and I think you’ll be able to answer that question for yourself. The sight of Trevon being bombarded by all that energy was too much for Edith to handle, and in human terms, her mind snapped.

“Screaming like a demented soul, Edith tried to tear you away from Trevon. You never made a sound, never cried out once. But even at the tender age of two, your cloaking aura was formidable and held her off. Using clasped hands, Edith beat you off of Trevon, then threw your body outside the fence and closed the gate to keep you away.

“By the time she got back to Trevon he had just enough strength to whisper the word “No” and place the image of you tumbling down the ravine in her mind. Already in a catatonic state, Edith couldn’t comprehend the danger she had placed you in. It took almost six months for her to recover and piece together what she had done. By then it was too late for both of you.”

What Eron refused to divulge were all the horrendous words Edith had shrieked at her baby daughter. The face of hate and fear screaming murderer, bad seed, evil and demon . . . kill you.

The insanity of that day had never been apparent in the woman he had known before or after her recovery. He saw no reason to taint the relationship further between mother and daughter for the sake of full disclosure. Edith still suffered for her actions that day and the ten years of hell Debra suffered at the hands of her sister, Dorothy. Often Eron was the voice of calm at counsel over Edith’s rebellion against protocol where Debra was concerned; a fragile mind’s way of trying to make amends.

“After that you would cry yourself sick whenever Edith was present. The decision was made by the elders to place you in the care of Dorothy and Jeff, who was still alive at the time. No one had any idea Dorothy would become psychotic about normal psychic behavior.”

Eron accepted a cold bottle of water from Manton and took several deep swallows to relieve his parched throat before continuing. His attention remained focused on Debra as he hurried to explain. “An evaluation was done at that time but you were way too young to get any accurate images from. And of course, your memory of that day had been completely eradicated. Yet you continued to suffer mentally and physically, as if tormented by phantom recollections. Shortly after your fourth birthday a memory block was inserted, concealing all memories of the first four years of your life.”

Silence hung heavy in the brightly lit room as tears rolled down Edith’s cheeks. “I’ve never forgiven myself,” she quietly sobbed. “So many times I wished I could just forget the whole mess. But then I’d see Debra, getting older and dealing with everything as best she could. Fighting on, no matter what. And I’d tell myself there had to be part of me inside her, making her strong to keep going. How could I do any less?”

Releasing her stranglehold on Debra’s arm, Edith took a deep breath and wiped away the fresh tears. “I deeply apologize, Debra, for me and my sister. You deserved so much better than we gave you.” Glancing at Debra she smiled halfheartedly. “I’ve often wondered what our lives would have been like had I not lost it that day.”

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Debra answered calmly, feeling no real emotions over Eron’s words because there were no memories of the fear and pain as a baby. “Believe me, mother, I understand what it means to ‘lose it’. It’s happened to me, more than once.” She studied Edith’s lovely familiar face and remembered a little girl of five and that magical summer with Edith. Instead of feeling angry about the past, she felt the magic returning to her soul a hundred times over.

Eyes gleaming in amusement, Debra grinned. “I may be backward where some of my abilities are concerned, but at this moment I like who and what I am. I like being here and knowing you’re my mother and actually having a future for a change.”

Debra glanced around the group of smiling, caring faces, no longer strangers, more than a little surprised at how much of herself had been shared with these people in so short a time. In all honesty, she had lived more in the few weeks she had been here than could be said for her entire past.

“I even accept that Damon is the consort’s husband,” Debra said regally, then spoiled the effect by giggling when Damon choked on a mouthful of water. “But I’m only half Thalian and the human part of me doesn’t feel married.”

“Are you expecting me to get down on one knee?” Damon asked with sardonic laughter.

“We can discuss it later, over dinner,” Debra said genially, giving Damon a wink. Turning her thoughts inward, she listened to that tiny voice inside and tried to describe all the new feelings to Eron. “At the moment I feel so strong, like all of a sudden an oppressive weight, I didn’t even know I was carrying, has been taken away. Actually, I feel quite free and I don’t recall ever experiencing that sensation before.”

“I guess that means you’re ready to start linking with your tutors tomorrow,” Damon innocently grinned, lightly patting the slender hand that jerked against his thigh. Her fleeting frown did little to reprimand or change his plans for a quiet evening alone for two. At the moment happiness seemed a contagious commodity in the OT lounge. And like the others, he doubted anything could squelch the contentment bursting inside him right now.

Was she ready to link? Debra wondered, and stopped to consider if the feeling of dread in her stomach was a habit response or how she truly felt about linking with others? And yet she did feel different since hearing the truth about the past. But did that knowledge automatically wipe clean all the havoc her abilities had caused? At this point there was no way to be sure except by actually taking Damon, and her tutors, up on this challenge.

Dark eyes flashed with understated sarcasm at Damon’s smug expression, promising retribution later. Being on intimate terms with the sovereign, Debra knew every one of his weak spots and wasn’t above using them against him. She smirked to herself; no doubt that was one of her more human traits exerting itself from under the mountain of Thalian procedures and protocols.

Always the researcher, Rowan left Debra to her brother’s charms and zeroed in on the logistics of what they had just heard. “All this detail from a memory Debra doesn’t even remember. How is this possible, Eron?” Rowan curiously asked. Routine had her shutting out the lively voices of Manton and Theron as they drew Edith into a conversation of the many preparations still to be completed for the upcoming Jubilee.

Ready for inquiries, Eron leaned closer to Rowan to be heard. “From a medical standpoint you’re aware that the mind dies slower than the body. But it’s not just the electrical aspect of the brain that continues to function. Cerebral awareness is also present.”

Rowan mutely nodded in agreement, accepting the premise of one specialist to another.

“And although it’s not a secret, many Thalians don’t realize that when linking with another, a part of them is left behind in the other. These bits of left behind memories are easily ignored because linked memories are often mirror images of each other. Trevon saw everything that happened just as Debra did, until she was rendered unconscious and tossed into the ravine.

“Debra’s memories of that day were destroyed when her father died, brutally severing the link between them. If she hadn’t already been unconscious then the severing would have put her into a coma, like what happened with Damon. Trevon knew what was coming and buried his memory deep in her consciousness. As it was, the chemical pathways where destroyed, but the memory remained intact. Without those vital chemical pathways Debra will never remember.”

“And that’s what you went looking for,” Rowan stated, her eyes reflecting an earnest fascination. “How did you know Trevon would send the memory deep? For that matter, how did Trevon even know how to manipulate a memory?”

Eron laughed at her eagerness, allowing himself a moment to reminisce about the old days. His current duties kept him quite busy and in constant interaction with the city’s residents. But his heart and soul deeply missed evaluating and teaching; what he had been born to do. Now, looking back, he better understood the discord his old friend had suffered.

“Trevon’s first love was wood sculpting,” Eron boasted warmly, sitting back in the chair, suddenly realizing all eyes were once again on him. “Many of his pieces are on display throughout the city. Excellent craftsmanship.” He chuckled at Edith. “He spent hundreds of hours hand carving each interlocking piece of wood for that Lover’s Box he gave you. Every spare moment till it was finished. A premier master for sure.”

A seriousness came over Eron’s demeanor that seemed to darken his drawn face. “But the times and survival in a new home called for sacrifices from many. Trevon was my trainee.” There were several gasps. Not many Thalians were born with the right qualities to be an observer. “I’m the only psychic master on Earth. There are several good psychic observers I’ve trained over the years. But Trevon was the first.”

Noting Edith’s confusion, Eron nodded and resumed. “It’s true, my dear. Not many knew. Mass assessments were conducted aboard each ship, with prospective trainees relocated to the mother ship. Trevon had one of the highest scores and had been training with me for almost four years before he became infected. None of the trainees had a natural aptitude for psychic observation. What set Trevon apart was his talent for learning. A gift he often cursed, at the time, when training took him away from working with the abundant supply of wood Earth had to offer.”

He looked at Rowan. “To answer your question, Trevon was fully qualified to perform psychic evaluation and memory manipulation. I knew I would find something buried in Debra’s consciousness about that day.” He rolled his eyes and glanced at Debra. “The problem was getting her to link with me so I could carry out the fact-finding evaluation.”

Debra shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry. Out in the real world it’s better to be tight-lipped and extremely cautious,” she touted in her own defense.

“What about her nightmare,” Damon inquired quickly, giving Debra’s hand a light squeeze.

“Repressed fears,” Eron said simply. “Debra and the kinetic energy became the evil killing power that destroyed Trevon, something that was reinforced by Edith’s actions. To cope, a sane young mind will often use monsters, fear, and punishment as persecutors rather than admit to the possibility of truly being all those terrible things. An insane person would have no conscience and not care, but go merrily about their way wrecking havoc.

“Linking or melding became painful, like the viciously severed link with her father. It was something to be avoided and caused numerous aberrations when tried.” Like a tutor to his students, Eron swiftly glanced at each face. “The mind has a way of self-correcting when the root cause of a fear or other problem has been confronted. It’s my opinion that Debra will no longer suffer her previous lack of control or the nightmare.”

“But if she didn’t remember anything—” Rowan challenged respectfully.

“Her awareness can’t remember anything of that day. It’s something she will never be able to access. But Trevon’s linked memory will always be a part of her consciousness.”

“Why did Debra and I never have any trouble linking and melding? We’ve known each other since she was eighteen months. So why were those memories never forgotten?” Damon asked, intrigued.

Eron smiled widely. “From a psychic observer’s perspective, the two of you are made from the same mental fabric. You were a part of each other on a daily basis well before Trevon died. There was nothing to fear between you, only comfort. Your memories of the dream world reinforced Debra’s early existence every time you joined mentally. She knew herself as a baby through you and the environment you created together.” Becoming more formal, Eron faced Damon directly. “With your permission, sovereign, I would like to be the one to announce your consort as Vion at this year’s Jubilee.”

“I knew it,” shouted Edith gleefully, pumping raised fists in the air victoriously.

Laughter filled the room, voices talking over each other, and whoops of delight rending the air. Eron sat watching the joyous pandemonium and sighed, a satisfied grin on his face. Damon and Debra, the only two Vions on Earth. Between the two of them there had to be an answer to the virus.

April 1, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Twelve Part 3

“Calm yourself, Rowan,” Eron said stiffly. “I said no such thing. I’m simply presenting the findings from that long ago day, facts now part of the archives because that’s all the elders had to work with.”

“I beg your pardon, Eron,” Rowan said contritely, head bowed like a school girl being chastised. Her mentor’s opinions meant a great deal to her and she would no more insult Eron than she would her own father. “Please, continue.”

It was rare for Eron to lose his temper. A telling sign as far as Damon was concerned that his old friend was more upset by Debra’s evaluation than he let on. Theron stepped away from the bed, feeling uncomfortable at seeing his superior and the head of medical-science rebuked in front of witnesses, and busied himself with gathering up the last few blackened towels and tossing them in the hamper.

Cold drink in hand, Eron glanced at the empty doorway and stalled for time. “By the end of the day, the reached consensus was that only Trevon, Edith, and Debra had been in the backyard, the gate presumably opened at one point, and left slightly ajar when Trevon went into convulsions. And Edith, overcome with grief, had passed out leaving Debra alone in the yard.”

Glancing at the doorway again, Eron finished off the cold juice and tossed the glass bottle down the recycle chute. “A neighbor heard Edith screaming and went to investigate. Only Trevon and Edith were found and the back gate was closed. Without further evidence, the elders assumed the tension-spring automatically pulled the gate closed when Debra, unable to wake either adult, pushed it open and stepped through. Fortunately the irrigation ditch was empty of water at the time or Debra would most likely have drowned after falling down the ravine.”

Rowan kept waiting for a ‘but’ that never came and finally asked what everyone else was thinking. “But after evaluating Debra, you don’t think it happened that way anymore?”

“Only two people survived Trevon’s death. And both of them were severely traumatized. Debra has no memories of that day on a conscious level. Her link to Trevon, and the brutal shock of separation caused by his death, erased those memories forever.” Looking for confirmation, Eron met Damon’s baffled eyes.

“It’s true,” Damon agreed, wondering what new evidence Eron could have found if Debra’s memories of that day were gone. “I don’t remember that last link with my father or much of what happened that day. The memories are just gone.”

“What’s going on, Eron?” Rowan asked earnestly. “I’ve read many of the archive files that pertain to Debra, looking for something to explain her psychic difficulties. If Debra’s memories can’t tell us about that day, and the archives say Edith can’t remember that day, I don’t understand what it is you’re getting at.”

“I lied,” Edith said breathlessly, standing in the lounge doorway, tears glittering in her eyes. Manton stood just behind her in the hallway, feeling cleaner from a quick shower and a change of uniform, his large hands resting lightly on Edith’s shoulders as though offering support.

Eron gave Edith a kindhearted nod and gestured for her to come in.

Debra groaned, drawing everyone’s attention back to the wheeled bed. Long, slender hands made feeble motions of helplessness as her system purged the last of the drug from her body. Eyelids slowly fluttered open, seeking out Damon, his mind gradually separating from her own and ending the reassuring meld. Theron promptly raised the head of the bed, helping Debra in her efforts to sit up.

Smudged faces, framed with oddly sticking out hair, stared at her, a perplexed frown creasing Debra’s brow. “I gather things didn’t go as planned,” she grimaced, longing to spit the awful taste from her mouth. Intense dark eyes zeroed in on Rowan and the tranquilizer guns sticking out of her smock pockets. “I don’t recall anything being said about shooting me. So why was I drugged?”

“After we’re through here I’ll take you down to the crisis room so you can see why,” Rowan said drolly and offered a bottle of water. Fingers coated with maintenance cleaner rubbed an itch on the side of her nose and came away covered with bits of black. “Damn,” she muttered, certain it would take at least a dozen showers to get this crap out of her hair. “Your defenses kicked in again when things went a little sideways.”

“We’re all okay,” Damon offered. “The extra precautions worked.” He fingered aside several loose strands of hair from Debra’s face. No sense mentioning the crisis room needed to be completed gutted and rebuilt. Later would be soon enough. “You were only out about fifteen minutes, just long enough for me to reestablish the meld again and make you feel safe.” He placed a quick comforting kiss on her lips.  “Eron has been giving us some background information about your situation.”

“What did you find, Eron?” Debra quietly asked, eyes focused on her dirty thumb stroking across Damon’s knuckles. With the moment finally at hand, she was suddenly afraid to hear the answer.

“What do you remember about your father?” Eron asked, his eyes compassionate as her head came up, confusion clear on her face.

A small gasp sounded. Debra glanced toward the sofa and blinked in surprise. “Edith, I didn’t know you were here.” Her aunt’s erratic heartbeat resonated in her head. The woman reeked of fear. Whatever was coming, Debra braced for the worst and hoped to survive the heartbreak.

Sad eyes watched Edith as Debra answered Eron. “Until I came here I grew up believing Jeffrey Hall was my father. No one told me any different.” Damon squeezed her hand, reassuringly. “I have no memories of my real father. I don’t even know his name.”

Tormented, tear-filled eyes held Debra’s gaze. “Trevon was your father,” Edith blurted, needing to get the truth out as though her life depended on it. Tired of the secret and living with the shame, Edith held her breath and prayed to see forgiveness this day.

At first comprehension was slow in coming. Blood flushed her cheeks as Debra struggled to understand. Lips moved in silent agitation, her breath audible and brows deeply furrowed. Eyes slowly widened and gaped at Edith as the blood drained from her face. “Then . . . you’re—”

“Yes,” Edith cried, “I’m your mother. I’m so sorry for what happened. I didn’t mean it. Please, Debra, believe me. I didn’t mean it.” Rushing to take her daughter’s hand, Debra instinctive leaned away in confusion, chest heaving, a heaviness closing in about her, unable to get enough air.

“She’s hyperventilating,” Damon warned, feeling Debra’s heart racing, her thoughts spinning, throwing out flashes of the past, of wishes and torment.

Theron hastily dropped the head of the bed and Rowan flattened her hand over Debra’s solar plexus, letting the heat of her touch-healing relax the diaphragm while applying pressure to several nerves at the base of the neck and shoulder.

The attack eased almost immediately. Damon kept Debra on the bed, giving her time to catch her breath and a moment to adjust to the truth. Their bond allowed him to reassure her there would be no more surprises. The secret of her parents was the last hurdle to overcome.

Gut-wrenching sobs intruded as reality slowly returned to normal. Held tightly in Manton’s brawny arms, Edith cried in abandoned wretchedness like a child. Both Eron and Manton encouraged their friend to let it all go, to get the poison of the past finally and forever out of her heart. Now they could all join together on the same path toward obtaining a new future.

The tightly knit group of family and friends all watched as Debra shifted off the bed and moved to stand before Manton as he gently rocked Edith. Defenseless against such heartbreak, the big man waited for Debra’s judgment with tears glittering in his eyes. Today the Thalian nation would judge the consort’s compassion and control toward her people.

“Edith,” Debra said, sounding lost, her hand resting lightly on the older woman’s shoulder.

Slow to turn around, Edith finally faced her daughter, sniffing loudly and wiping streaming tears from her face. Manton remained behind her for support in case his instincts were wrong.

“I’ve always loved you, Edith,” Debra began slowly, softly. “I can’t tell you how many times I wished you had been my mother instead of Dorothy.” The familiar heartbeat continued to rapidly pound in Debra’s head. “You’re still afraid, so there must be more to tell. I just want you to know . . . I love you mother.” With a moist, lopsided grin, she gave Edith’s shoulder a little shake. “That doesn’t mean I’m not mad as hell at all your manipulating and deceptions. But I am ready to listen with an open mind.”

Surrounded by grunts and chortles of good humor from the others in the room, Debra glanced at Damon. “In the last few days I’ve learned that shit happens to everyone and we all do the best we can with what we’ve got.” She touched fingertips to Edith’s wet cheek. “I know you, the kind of person you are, and I know you love me.”

Edith threw herself into Debra’s arms, fiercely hugging for the first time as mother and daughter. Now it was tears of joy sliding down her reddened cheeks. But Edith wasn’t alone. Giving them privacy to enjoy the moment, the others stepped away, blinking back tears and dabbing at wet lashes.

Holding her mother at arm’s length, Debra suddenly laughed at the wide smudges of black soot smeared across the front of Edith’s green summer top and cotton pants. Frayed nerves made ruined clothes seem like the funniest thing since slapstick and had everyone laughing uproariously.

“Please,” Eron choked, holding the stitch in his side. He couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed so hard. Seeing those he loved flushed with happiness sent a surge of hope through his soul. It was time to reveal the final pieces of the puzzle. “Please, everyone find a seat and I’ll tell you what I found during Debra’s evaluation.”

March 25, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Twelve Part 2

“Don’t move,” Damon quietly commanded and cautiously eased in front of Manton. “Wait outside,” he whispered.

Head to toe Damon was covered in enough greasy, black soot to hide the color of his silver-teal jumpsuit. The same goo seemed to line his mouth and throat, the vile taste threatening to heave his stomach. Awakening only moments ago on the OT platform, he had found Rowan and Eron with him, dazed but conscious, and looking just as ragged. Fear had him racing back down the hall to the crisis room, the meld severed and Debra’s mind closed to him.

The filtration activators shutoff and the ceiling vents closed; the stench of soot almost overwhelming. A soft sizzling sound drew his attention to the melting booth window. Eyebrows lifted in mute admiration. Composition of the triple pane safety glass was hard enough to withstand an energy blast fired at pointblank range. Whatever Debra hit it with had punched a hole through the middle, almost liquefying the glass down to the frame instead of shattering into razor sharp shrapnel.

Movement from the back corner snapped his head around at the same time as the backup lights came on. Debra stood, shifting slowly, side to side, her blood red eyes focused on something unseen in the distance. Hands and fingers twitched awkwardly as larger muscles in arms and legs jerked defensively.

Without warning, the aura disappeared, revealing just how transparent her skin had become. Damon could hear the persistent soft whimpers trapped in her throat, the deeply frantic breaths sawing fast and furious from flaring nostrils.

“She’s reliving the nightmare,” Eron said grimly from the doorway, a blackened hand clutching the filthy jumpsuit material against his chest—reassurance that his body hadn’t been cleaved in two while caught up in Debra’s hell.

The intensity of the nightmare, the absolute persuasive immersion of the mind’s senses; his eyes blinked in astonishment as he rubbed his aching chest. What his battered body now suffered went far beyond dream reality and into psychic torture. How Rowan had survived hours of Debra’s nightmare was a testament to her singular strength of self.

As a practicing subliminal translator, Eron agreed with contemporary theories that the conscious mind did not switch on and off with wakefulness or sleep. But rather provided release from physical restrictions through consciously-created dreams.

Ancient Thalians were convinced the conscious mind was the road taken in life while the subconscious was the map of all existence. As an observer Eron’s task was to gather the clues and symbolism from the conscious journey and interpret them using the map of the subconscious.

The arduous trek into Debra’s mind had confirmed many of his growing suppositions, and all the pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place.

Arms raised to prevent Eron from getting too close, Damon continued his efforts to probe Debra’s mind, yet failed to penetrate her sealed barriers. “How do we snap her out of it?” he demanded tightly, knowing better than to try and tangle with her autonomic defenses. “I can’t reach her. She’s closed to me.”

Both men heard the popping sound and turned, staring at Rowan’s extended hand, holding what looked like a toy handgun.  Manton stood behind her loading a second gun in case the first injection wasn’t enough. In unison everyone looked over at Debra, the feathered dart piercing her stomach, and waited for a reaction.

“Ro, what the hell are you doing?” Damon blurted angrily, searing his sister with a dangerous look.

Rowan passed off the empty tranquilizer gun to Manton and accepted the loaded weapon. “We can’t get near her with her autonomic defenses active.” She held up a palm-size gun with a six-inch barrel. “I wasn’t taking any chances this time. I borrowed these tranquilizer guns from Mica this morning.”

“He actually let you take weapons out of his human arsenal collection?” Eron interrupted, stunned.

Her shoulders shrugged, tellingly, eyes averting her brother’s glare. “I was in a hurry,” she said tersely, glancing at each dubious face. “I’ll clean them before putting them back,” she groused, hoping grand master Mica remained ignorant of the temporary pilfering from his prized collection of earth weapons.

All eyes returned to Debra, her black-streaked face like camouflage against the heavily scorched corner and dark sweatshirt. Almost six-feet of muscle and bone slowly weaved as her body fought to expel the impairing drug. Mouths gaped as the cylindrical mental dart wiggled on its own, bit by bit, then ejected from Debra’s stomach to bounce noisily several times on the hard floor.

Rowan swallowed stiffly, pressing dry lips together. “The drug should knock her out, hopefully stopping the nightmare.” She placed a hand on Damon’s rigid shoulder. “Enough time for you to reactivate the meld and let her know she’s safe.”

Debra stumbled, taking a small step forward, eyelids closing in exaggerated slowness over blood red orbs. Each time heavy eyelids fluttered open the bold red had diminished, until only a faint pink remained to color the whites of her eyes. In silence, Debra slid down the wall, a heap of uncoordinated limbs, yet aware enough to be thankfully free of the bloody nightmare. In the gathering delirium that filled her mind, she found Damon waiting for her.

A collective sigh lightly echoed in the room as Debra’s chin dropped heavily to her chest, a clear sign that she was out cold. Everyone looked to Damon, who nodded in acknowledgment of the reestablished meld, before helping hands cautiously lifted her to the damaged chair.

Rowan checked the pulse in the slender neck, avoiding Debra’s hands that could grab with astounding speed and the kinetic energy that continued to arc gently between her fingers. As a precaution, Rowan forced a small stream of kinetic adrenaline into Debra’s system to overcome the nauseating withdrawal symptoms that would soon follow.

‘We’ve got about fifteen minutes before she comes around,” Rowan stated briefly. She hesitated, watching Eron whisper something to Manton just outside the door, his dark eyebrows lifting in a combination of surprise and unease. Using the bond between them, Rowan opened herself, sensing Manton’s heightened concern, before he finally nodded in agreement and left the room.

Curious, but not willing to press the issue, Rowan spread her hands in a questioning gesture at Eron.  “So what did your evaluation find?” she asked succinctly.

“Manton’s having Theron move any staff out of the OT lounge,” Eron said evasively. “Once Debra’s conscious, we’ll all be more comfortable there.” He looked down at his filthy hands and jumpsuit. “I’d like to at least wash my hands and face before we get started.”

Brother and sister swiftly glanced at each other as the older man turned to leave. “What is it, Eron? Please.” Rowan implored, afraid for Damon and Debra and the hope she represented.

“It’s complicated.” His gaze lingered over anxious faces, noting the candid resemblance in their features. Over the years he had evaluated them, taught them, helped ease their youthful fears; always feeling so much pride and love. Rowan and Damon had become like his own. With a sigh of resignation he straightened, wondering how much damage the truth was going to leave behind this day. “If I’m reading everything right, and I usually do,” he muttered, “the initial trauma goes back twenty-three years.”

Eron could almost see the wheels of Damon’s mind churning, sifting through those long ago memories. Watched the younger man’s eyes suddenly stop and slowly rise up to stare at him with such certainty.

“You’re talking about when Trevon died,” Damon said bluntly.

Eron nodded. The archives still listed many unanswered questions surrounding the actual cause of Trevon’s death. Massive cell disruption made findings incomplete; it appeared the virus had done its worst, but didn’t explain the extensive smoldering burns on clothing, or the singed hair that covered his body. None who were present had any memories of the actual time of death to help piece all the events together. So the evidence had been taken at face value and those left behind to mourn were coddled and cared for. And life went on.

It hurt dredging up memories he had worked hard to forget. Look to the future had been the rallying cry when dreams of living on the surface had died with the colonists and craftsmen. Eron struggled to focus on the present, his mind and body tired. Maybe he had seen too many generations come and go and it was time to see to his own Farewell. Yet there was always that small ray of hope, of one day standing in the sunlight or seeing healthy Thalian children playing in green fields of wildflowers.

Eron licked black smeared lips and grimaced at the foul taste on his tongue. He really did want a shower in the worst way. But the past was waiting, as were Rowan and Damon.

Theron entered the charred room with a tray of bottled water and passed the cold drinks around. “The lounge is ready,” he said attentively, “with fresh uniforms laid out and lots of cleaner and towels.” He turned to Rowan. “There’s a gurney in the hallway if you’d like to move Debra to the lounge now.”

Still cupping the nape of Debra’s neck, Damon calmly offered, “She’s still under the drug, but we won’t have any trouble transferring her to the bed.” With the meld firmly activated, Damon sensed nothing of what Eron found from the past. All trace of the nightmare had receded.

At Rowan’s nod Theron wheeled the bed beside the reclining chair, hands grabbing at shoulders and legs, each cautiously keeping a good distance from those lethal hands and the arcing energy that continued to lovingly caressed Debra’s fingers.

OT on-duty staff was on standby and waiting in Isolated Recovery in case they were needed. The huge Operating Theater stood empty and silent as the small group entered the brightly lit lounge. Comfortable sofas and chairs were scattered about the long rectangular-shaped room. The food case on the nearby wall had been freshly stocked that morning by Terrace staff, providing everything from nutritional snacks to full meals. True to his word, Theron had restocked the cooler with ice cold bottles of water and juices, and a table had been set up at the far end with a dozen bottles of spray cleaner and old towels that were destined for recycling.

The room was quiet as everyone took up a bottle of mild spray solvent, normally used for safely cleaning grease and grime from sensitive maintenance equipment. Thick towels came away from faces and hands disgustingly black and rank smelling. The laundry bin quickly filled with towels and jumpsuits destined for the incinerator. It wasn’t a long hot shower, but better than suffocating beneath a dense layer of tar.

The cold sweet juice felt refreshing on his raw throat as Eron stared out the large tinted window at the park. From the third level only the nearby treetops were visible, with the flowerbeds and green lawn stretching out into the distance. Beyond the far rise his mind visualized the stately black marble altar standing alone in the valley of souls, a testament to Ruthie and the hundreds of others who had become a part of the beauty of Tantria. Without warning, his tired voice filled the silence.

“After Kalon died, Trevon refused to return to the ship,” Eron said tonelessly, watching Thalians and humans go about their work and pleasures. “He wanted to die in his new home in Lincoln County, with the woman he loved and many of his family around him.”

He turned to find them all hovering about Debra’s bed, their eyes following him as he moved restlessly about the room. Only Damon felt secure enough to clean the soot from his wife’s face and hands while she remained unconscious from the drug.

“It was a weekday, well into the morning. And since no one came forward, it was presumed that only Edith and Debra were present when Trevon died. I can now confirm that was the case,” Eron grimly admitted. “We found Edith unconscious beside Trevon in the backyard by the gate. Debra wasn’t in the house or on the grounds. A search spread out and found her outside the fenced-in yard at the bottom of the ravine, badly bruised and in a coma.” He glanced at Damon, remembering another time. “It was later determined that she had been linked to Trevon when he died.”

“And you think that’s the cause of her psychic disabilities?” Rowan asked doubtfully. As one who had been inside Debra’s mind, who knew firsthand the younger woman’s strength and determination, Rowan just wasn’t convinced.

Damon shook his head, feeling the same doubts as his sister. “No, that can’t be it.” He looked around at the faces of friends and family. “I suffered a severed link with father when he died. Remember? I was left in a coma for three days, but that didn’t stunt my psychic growth.”

Rowan could see it in their eyes, the dawning of the unimaginable. But it wasn’t possible. It just couldn’t be possible. Her voice came in a rasping whisper, “You think Debra killed Trevon?” Stunned into anger she shouted, “She was a baby, Eron. A baby. The elders listed the cause of death as the virus. Are you saying that was a lie? That the elders and past leaders are somehow involved in a conspiracy, a cover-up of a two-year-old baby supposedly strong enough to kill her father?”

March 18, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Twelve Part 1

Every precaution was taken to ensure the safety of all involved in Debra’s upcoming psychic evaluation. Rowan and a small team of medical custodians opened up the seldom used crisis room just off the Operating Theater.

Known as the drill cell, the comfortably lit white room had a haunted feel for many of the staff. Most of the first generation bi-humans had spent time strapped into the permanently bolted, semi-prone chair when psychic abilities needed to be altered or blocked to reduce the chance of accidents or death. But in the end death had claimed them anyway.

A mental block was a physically created barrier, psychically positioned in the brain, so the chemical recall of one memory or many was permanently impeded. Occasionally a block would fail to control psychic or emotional outbursts. In such cases mechanical medicine stepped in and microscopically altered, or drilled, a tiny core area of the temporal and sometimes frontal lobes.

Years ago blocking had failed twice with Debra’s mother. After she had recovered from Damon’s mental beating, Dorothy Hall’s frontal and temporal lobes had been carefully drilled using a pinprick laser beam that fired from a small metal grommet in the ceiling. Focused through a crystal cylinder, the laser was powered by Thalian kinetic energy and psychically guided inside the brain by the experienced operator. The ensuing drilled hole was so miniscule that complete recovery was almost instant once the procedure was completed.

Many of the city’s residents felt uneasy that Debra’s unpredictability now demanded use of the room, as though a curse continued to linger by all those who had been held immobile in that austere, white padded chair.

In spite of Debra being so much stronger than her sisters or that the cell was simply a precaution in this case for its insulating properties and damping field, no amount of reassurance from Rowan or the elders seemed to make a difference in everyone’s mood as the hour approached.

Over the years the ten-by-ten square, windowless room had become nothing more than a large storage closet of spare parts incase of a sporadic breakdown on the operating platform or backup databases. With everything already tucked into rolling shelving units, cleanup took under thirty minutes, leaving only the lone chair in the center of the white flame-retardant room.

Overseeing the chair from the side, a large window panel slid up revealing a compact control booth. Rowan glanced over, catching Theron’s eye, his grim stare a reminder of the room’s indubitable purpose. No Thalian could ever truly revere the practice in spite of the need to help those in pain. The thought of losing one’s psychic abilities was no less devastating than amputating one or more limbs to survive.

Rowan had absolutely no intention of using the drill procedure this day. Damon had argued well into the previous night that Debra’s autonomic defenses would protect her from any mental or physical threat, no matter how unintentional. All agreed, under no circumstances was anyone to remain in the room with her once Eron started his assessment. The team could only hope that whatever buried trauma was at the heart of her debilitating fears would respond to intellectual stimulation rather than the need for force, or worse.

Damon and Rowan accompanied Eron as observers into the control booth while Theron guided Debra into the small room. Once the cross-straps automatically locked into each side of the chair, Theron smiled and gave her restrained hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Just relax,” he instructed Debra easily, all thoughts of the past set aside. “There won’t be any discomfort. Damon will meld with you first, then Eron will let you know when he’s about to proceed.”

Taking a deep breath, Debra nodded, her fingertips momentarily seeking out the palm of his hand. Images flashed liked colored snapshots in her mind. Death was taking its toll on his bleeding soul. Like many, work had become his passion and pleasure in life. And family was never really gone in the Thalian collective mind. He cared deeply for Rowan and their relationship, but loved another who would never know. Hope and desperation had somehow become intertwined and he was now willing to bet everything on the strength of the sovereign’s consort.

The door closed behind Theron with a thump, the locking mechanism sealing the portal with a decisive snicking click. Securely bound to the chair, Debra relaxed as best she could in the quiet, empty room, trying not to think of all the misplaced faith in her debatable abilities, and opened herself to the unknown.

Gently, Damon fused with her mind, like so many times over the years. Always near. Always protective. Blending his thoughts and emotions until the lines between one and the other faded, allowing them to breathe and move as one. Usually the dream world appeared once the melding was complete. Not this time. Instead, she was given the unique perspective of seeing herself through Damon’s eyes.

She never noticed before how baggy her black sweats looked on her slender frame; and just as quickly dismissed the thought. The clothes were warm and comfortable and came in extra long.

Damon gave her a mental hug, his amusement more a shimmer between them than words. The Thalian image for beautiful unfolded like an exquisite blossom, leaving little doubt that he found her pleasing in every way.

“Remember,” his thoughts caressed over her senses, “you are the bravest and strongest woman I’ve ever known. I’m with you, so just go with whatever happens.”

The human subconscious was often defined as nothing more than a repository of all things that pass through the chaotic conscious mind. For Thalians the subconscious was more substantial and acted as a spiritual wellspring of life and the truth of existence, of the expected paths and potentials of an individual, and a collective of all the mental, emotional, and physical aspects that drive the conscious mind in action and reaction. It is a permanent account that offers recourse for change or perfection.

Those gifted with subliminal insight, like Eron, used the subconscious knowledge to see the future potential of a child or to pinpoint where the conscious mind had deviated, often due to sickness or injury or some emotional trauma too horrendous to endure.

Eron’s steady, courteous voice came through the room’s speaker system. “I’m ready to begin, Debra. The whole process should take about ten minutes.”

Fear had her heart beating a little faster than normal. Not enough to spike her adrenaline and call out the warrior, though. Yet she couldn’t help but wonder about those younger and weaker than herself. “You actually do this to small children?” Debra asked incredulously.

His soft, patient chuckle filled the room. “Normally I would test in my office over a hot cup of tea while my student worked on a project or listened to music. Evaluating is completely non-invasive.” Eron looked directly at Damon so Debra could see him. “Once the evaluation is done, I’m going to be looking deeper for a root cause to your fear of channeling and linking—”

“But my defenses sometimes have a mind of their own,” Debra rattled off by rote. Before coming to Crystal Lake Acres it was rare for her to have a problem with one of her abilities let alone harm anyone. Meeting her Thalian relatives was turning out to be more demoralizing than reassuring.

Eron grinned. “Exactly, my dear. Let’s begin.”

Manton waited outside the booth by the door, glancing up and down the empty hallway. Security teams had been posted at all OT exits as a preventative measure. Not that he was expecting a disturbance of any kind. But emotions were running high. Death was so closely associated with the crisis room that residents had great difficulty separating the past from the present; of extricating Debra from the horrors suffered by her sisters.

Of course, of maximum concern by those who had experienced Debra’s defenses firsthand was whether containment in the cell would be enough. Manton rubbed his chest, just one of many places on his body that had been badly burned by her adaptive energy defenses. Debra may have healed his injuries better than new, but memories of that sickening smell and slicing pain still caused his mind to shudder.

He checked his personal com-link for the time and was surprised to find only five minutes had passed. The bond between him and Rowan was quiet, a clue, maybe, that all was going well with Eron and Debra. A lack of space in the booth and unnecessary skills meant his presence was redundant, forcing him to stand alone in the hall.

It was the waiting that was driving him crazy. What he needed was a damn good workout. He smiled suddenly, thinking of the sparring match with Debra; more fun than he could remember in a long time. Videos of that one match had gone viral throughout the Thalian nation in a matter of hours. Interest in hand-to-hand combat had his classes overflowing with ready students all wanting the advanced training. All wanting to be worthy warriors like the sovereign’s consort.

Manton had to admit Debra was anything but boring, her abilities often appearing larger than life. He had known many Thalians of considerable psychic strength, but none had captured the imagination of a nation, or its hopes, like Debra. One would think her bi-human physiology would tend more toward a diluted blending of both species, much like those who came before her. All commendable women of consequence and remembrance. But not one with the emotional and physical intensity of Debra’s mind and will.

Why the disparity still remained the big question in the labs and research caucuses up on medical-science. Any children between Damon, a known Vion, and Debra, a suspected Vion, did more than lift one’s eyebrows in mind-boggling speculation. With a grin, Manton hoped that any forthcoming offspring had an extra helping of their mother’s brass and natural grit.

A sudden muffled blast from inside the booth took Manton completely off guard, the explosive concussion slightly tilting the solid metal door in its frame and shoving him across the hall. Blaring amid the shock and confusion that crowded his mind, Rowan’s emotions seemed to skyrocket with fear before settling into a humming bundle of nerves and concern. As far as he could tell from his wife’s rattled senses, no one was dead.

Yet how far the blast was felt was anyone’s guess. Manton ignored protocol and telepathically notified on-duty security officers to have all personnel standby for possible crowd control. The current duty-shift was to present a calm visible presence on the third level and double up the watch at OT exits. When asked his opinion, Manton had simply said, the crisis room was living up to its earned reputation.

Keying in his override code, Manton had to pry the door ajar with brute strength. Once opened, a steam bath of vapors and noxious fumes billowed into the hallway bringing instant tears and racking coughs. Down on hands and knees he fell over an unconscious Eron in the doorway and tugged the older man further into the hallway and into waiting rescuing hands.

Blinded by smoke, he heard the telling snicking click of the crisis room lock releasing and sprang up from the floor like a provoked defensive tackle. “No,” he roared, pinning Theron to the sealed door, succumbing to a coughing fit as a blue aura formed a skintight protective shield around his soot-covered body. “Get the others out of the booth and into clean air,” he gasped. “I’ll take care of Debra.”

Theron nodded, backhanding a choking cough, and followed Manton’s lead by activating his own cloaking aura. Very little clean air was being filtered from the noxious environment into each cloak. Both men had mere minutes to get the others to safety before having to withdraw to fresh air themselves.

Only a handful of seconds had transpired since the accident, but waiting for the filtration override to kick in made it seem like hours.

Automatic sensors instantly relayed data back to maintenance and security, confirming hazardous air and no active fire. Manton slowly opened the crisis room door. Thick, swirling black filled the small space. He could hear the decon-filtration activators rapidly sucking up smoke and toxic vapors, the strong intake drives of the central artificial oxygen core swiftly treating and purifying, eventually blowing the remaining waste deep into the dormant fault under the mountain.

As the smoke dissipated, he saw the empty chair, the self-locking straps mangled and broken. The melted white padding scorched and smoldering, adding to the heavy stench that left a chemical taste in his mouth. Crouched in the far corner, a shimmering blue light suddenly rose up in the thinning blackness, outlining a tall, slender shape.

“It’s Manton, Debra,” he said guardedly, his throat raw and in need of something cold and wet. “Can you hear me?”

The activators continued to pull the fumes quickly up into the open vents in the ceiling. Manton got his first clear look at the room and gaped in awe. It was like someone had taken a paintbrush and drunkenly made thick black lines around the room. Only it wasn’t black paint, but long continuous burn marks.

Debra stood silently in the corner as he gradually approached, her eyes lowered, her skin almost completely white behind the aura. His heart nearly stopped beating when blood red eyes suddenly glared at him, no recognition, energy arcing angrily around her hands inside the aura.

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