cnwood

November 14, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Four Part 2

The door closed behind her as she stepped further into the room, allowing the surrounding elegant beauty to distract her aggravated thoughts.

Thick teal carpeting covered the entire floor. Temptation had one eyebrow arching upward as dirty bare toes wiggled in her filthy sandals. The plush carpet pile definitely looked inviting. Maybe another time when she wasn’t quite so grubby or pressed for time.

Fingertips gently fondled the silvery sheer floor-to-ceiling drapes that barely concealed the colorful gardens and corridor beyond the tinted glass walls. The delicate material shimmered and rippled liked moon glow on a dark velvety night and was soothingly cool to the touch.

Comfortable chairs and sofas of teal, black, and silver complimented the highly glossed tables and beveled glass shelving. An immense etched-glass writing desk sat facing into the room and kitty-corner to the rear wall and the built-in hutch that ran the full length of the dividing cream-colored wall.

Lightly she laid her hands over the cloth headrest of the high-backed chair. Kalon’s image exploded like fireworks within her mind. Debra jumped back as though her body burned, confused, afraid, bumping up against the glass-front cabinets in her haste to escape the impossible.

Darting eyes glanced overhead in bewilderment at books and small-framed pictures, at collector’s keepsakes and flowering potted plants. Shaken, Debra hastily snatched up pens and papers, forcing herself to wait for the images instead of bludgeoning the residual memories for answers like a frightened child. A heavy crystal water glass, a half-filled carafe, the cold silver links of a man’s thick bracelet. Kalon’s image, Kalon’s thoughts . . . Kalon living in this underwater world.

Debra flung the items away and stood motionless, her breath loud and heavy in the quiet room. Angry tears glimmered dangerously in narrowed brown eyes.

The extent of his deceit hit hard. The lover she knew from the dream world had been raised here, had family and friends here in the underwater city—

She stared, stunned, at the beautifully framed painting of Edith hanging on Kalon’s office wall. The ugly truth was suddenly in plain sight: Edith had known Kalon all along. And they were both using her.

Even now she could hear his whispered words. “‘ . . . no dream world without you in reality.’” He had said.

“‘ . . . you must live for our love and future to survive,’” he had pleaded.

“‘ . . . all depends on your strength of will . . . can never cross over . . . live for us.’”

Lies. All of it damned bloody lies.

Shaky fingers quickly clamped tightly over her mouth as bile surged to the back of her throat. Desperate, Debra hastily searched the suite for a bathroom and a dark quiet place to lie down for a few minutes.

If needed, she was prepared to wait out the disorienting wave of nausea, curled up on the thickly carpeted floor like some whimpering child, when she spotted the far corner panel behind an elegant crystal screen framed in delicately carved silver rod.

Her palm against the pad opened the door onto a simple bedroom and bath, its rectangular dimensions not much bigger than her aunt’s sizeable walk-in closet. A partition of black-tinted glass offered little privacy as Debra dropped to her dirty knees before the spotless commode and heaved until her stomach ached and her throat was raw.

Exhausted, she curled up on the cool patterned tile and willed her body to heal. Eyes closed, her mind focused on restoring chemical levels to depleted blood cells and brain, she relaxed, breathing deeply, feeling the stress and tension leaving her body now that the nauseating poison was out of her system. Now she could minimize the aftereffects of her touch-find ability and resume the challenging task of getting some answers for herself.

Cold water from the black marble sink helped to rinse the sweat and grime from her face and the sour taste from her mouth.

Debra stared at the dirty frazzled image in the mirror and winced.

To hell with time and black-cloaked strangers and the need to hurry before some unseen enemy closed in. Since the quarters belonged to Kalon she felt no hesitation in taking five minutes to shower and make herself more presentable.

A spray of hot water washed the sweat and filthy lather from her skin and hair, bringing a blissful moment in spite of the raw cuts and bruises. Rinsed clean, she toweled dry and replaced her bra and panties, reluctant to put on the shell top and shorts that had become little more than rags of dubious red.

The stark white cloth stood out on the long narrow bed like a neon sign against the masculine teal, black, and silver bedspread. Debra grabbed up one of the large black and silver bath towels and quickly covered herself. She had sensed no one in the room, felt no presence hovering nearby, yet someone had left the jumpsuit in plain sight on the bed.

“Why all the games, Kalon?” she shouted, working her long wet hair into a new French braid. She snatched up the jumpsuit and slid into the one piece, grateful it wasn’t formfitting . . . somehow not surprised at the perfect fit.

She glanced about the small room. “Damn you, Kalon. Did you think I’d never find out the truth?”

Silence greeted her, along with the subdued glow from the heavy sheer silver drapes. Beside the bed, a glaring black rectangle beneath a small accent light seemed to call out for a painting or photograph. Fingertips stroked the antique light, still warm to the touch.

Something she wasn’t supposed to see?

A coldness settled around her heart, the softness of lips and cheeks visibly tightening into hardened lines of determination as she deliberately tossed the worthless shorts and top into the scrolled silverrod wastebasket.

Enough games.

Debra exited by the bedroom door panel, concealed as part of the mirrored wall from the corridor, and hurried passed several well-spaced offices to the nearest lounge-like elevator.

Standing just inside the opened doorway, she noted the first metal sculpted symbol aglow on either side of the front and back doors. Suddenly the larger etched version, hanging directly across the hall against the underwater glass wall, took on a meaning of more than crystal decorative art.

The doors closed silently at the touch of the palmpad. To her left, she pressed the next symbol in line, unaware of any upward motion. Not even the flower filled crystal vases, brimming with clear sparkling water, were disturbed on the glossy side tables. And yet, palm flat to the wall, her sight observed a leisurely ascent through a looming structure of metal columns and black rock walls.

The hallway door automatically slide open and held, revealing a marbled-floored corridor almost identical to the main floor. The same soft blue glow reflected through ceiling-to-floor glass panes and mirrored walls. Air bubbles gushed upward like disembodied columns, outside the large windows, rendering long tendrils of sea grass into constant motion upon the shifting currents of artificial tidal drifts.

Gone was the stunning view of statues and patio gardens, unless looking directly downward from the window. And although the floor bed was home to the vast majority of abundant aquatic life, darting fish continued to fill the upper level observation windows and reflective walls like a kaleidoscope of jeweled colors.

Mind-sight quickly confirmed the second level as some kind of teaching center. Spacious classroom suites and adjoining offices and labs were well appointed with comfortable chairs and tilted drafting desks, computers, database servers and other equipment beyond comprehension, their images meaningless to Debra as she rapidly categorized the detailed surroundings flashing through her mind.

Various maps of planets, solar systems, and vast galaxies covered many of the walls and ceilings like exquisite paintings from the great cathedralled churches of history. Bulletin boards overflowed with pictures of Earth and neighboring planets and moons, and strange symbols, almost like picture-graphics, seemed to provide written captions beneath photos of prominent cities around the globe.

The richness of color and detail fascinated Debra, pulling her outside of her mind and deep into the second level to see for herself, to lie back in one of the thickly padded reclining desk chairs and watch the painted heavens revolve slowly above her.

Surprise gleamed from amused brown eyes when Debra left the main corridor and stumbled upon wide branching side aisles of clothing establishments, carpentry shops, upholsters, and beauty salons. Each storefront tastefully displaying quality merchandise as if available for purchase by the local patrons of some thriving urban community.

Following the intersecting warren of clean spacious hallways further into the mountain, she explored well-lit shops of books and shoes, of crystal jewelry, even perfumes and household linens. Each store consisted of an open display area in the hallway and a more intimate setting for merchandise inside. Supply rooms were well stocked and neatly presented. It was obvious by the lack of tools and actual workspace for building or creating that manufacturing of the various products was presumably handled elsewhere in the complex.

Curiosity pulled her away from the main shopping core into muraled hallways with recessed boxes of hanging flowering plants and running water in narrow under-lit troughs on either side of the marble flooring. Walkways opened up into large chambers filled with saunas, Jacuzzi pools, recreation courts, and five well-equipped gymnasiums. The crowning jewel, and by far Debra’s favorite of the spa-like haven, was the glass-enclosed Olympic-size pool, shimmering beneath a high arching dome of tranquil blue crystal light.

With a sigh of regret, she turned away and made her way back to the main corridor and the expected dead-end that opened onto the entrance chamber walkway. A quick mind-scan revealed well-organized kitchens and an elegant dining terrace on the other side. Uninterested, Debra took the nearest lift to the next floor.

The entire third level corridor of office suits and labs was devoted to medical and science. Mind-sight quickly discovered two adjoining chambers carved deeply into the black mountain rock. Isolated Recovery, just off the main corridor, a large enclosed room with bed alcoves for privacy or long-term care, open seating areas for visiting and consultations, and well maintained first-aid and surgery prep stations. Gone was the usual cold stainless-steel look and dreadful hospital décor.

Directly behind, and joined by automatic doors and a short decontamination entry, another massive chamber housed the Operating Theater—spacious aisles of smoked colored glass dividers, monitoring screens in each of the intensive care alcoves, special self-sustaining quarantine units, and four eight-foot viewing screens in a joined arc behind the operating platform, providing the suspended enclosed observation gallery with an in-your-face view of the medical procedure or speaker.

Debra wondered if underwater living was actually hazardous to one’s health to warrant the amount of specialized equipment, the resources of space and materials, not to mention the amount of manpower devoted to all the third floor offices and labs. Maybe the whole complex was one big government experiment for all the top scientists of the world. Or maybe wealthy promoters, taking no chances with a faltering eco system, decided to create their own alternative living environment for those privileged and desirable enough to afford admittance.

A growing apprehension settled in Debra’s stomach the longer she viewed the operating platform. No unfolding memories. Just an unsettling feeling of disappointment and resentment. It was time to move on.

Scanning beyond the marble and glass of the main corridor, she stretched her mind-sight well into the mountain, on the far side of the complex, and found a treasure trove that merited a personal on-site investigation.

Hydroponics Meadow, read the curved overhead sign that drew Debra toward the massive planting chambers where flowers, grains, and vegetation grew in special beds of nutrient solution. Bright artificial illumination, as intense as nature’s own sunlight, roughly duplicated the twenty-four hour light and dark cycle from the world above.

Cut deeply into the mountain range, the high domed ceilings and rock walls were painted in reflective sky blues and blended shades of grassy greens, acres of tended rows and raised beds, miles of hanging planters and seeding tables filled the huge growing caverns with plants and flowers for food and pharmaceutical purposes.

Smaller side rooms, ranging in size from the entrance chamber to one of the more spacious office suits, were well lit and ventilated to accommodate the numerous rows of floor-to ceiling drying racks, or the reeking plants and flowers in different stages of extraction on pressing tables, in separating gyrators, or carefully combined in fat blending tubs made of thick crystal.

Filament stations, with brightly pigmented skeins of yarn made from fibrous plants and fruits, hung loosely from smooth coated rails above her head and along the walls. Further along the well-lit rock corridors, beyond the rank smells of blending and drying, she stood in awe of a wide marble avenue, branching out to a dozen or more great halls where computerized looms squatted like giant beasts, reaching high overhead into the domed ceilings. For now the great textile looms were silent, each gently offering up a glimpse of half-finished carpets and tapestries or completed rolls of fabrics, patterns and colors she easily recognized from throughout the complex.

Hefty rolling carts and trolleys lined the sides of the avenue, loaded with similar bolts and larger rolls of colors and textures, awaited distribution to craftsmen, shops, or storage. A smaller cart, crammed exclusively with the unique pattern of teal, black, and silver caught her eye.

The colors from Kalon’s office suite; a distinct pattern, now that she thought about it, seen nowhere else in the city.

Gut instinct warned there was more to the fabric’s design than aesthetic value. Debra rubbed the beautiful cloth between her hands, unable to grasp any answers through touch. The sleek material slid from her fingers, the poser set aside for the moment. Time to move on.

A hushed coziness greeted her on the fourth and fifth floors—no machines beeping, or hurrying footsteps, or the imaged drone of voices on a busy workday. Here the atmosphere was more relaxed and intimate with thick blue carpeting covering the marble floor and big baskets of colorful flowers and ferns hanging from self-watering brackets high up on the window frames all along the corridor. Narrow alcoves housed beautifully crafted tables and cushioned benches with photos and collectibles, some with large framed areas filled with children’s drawings, cutouts, and finger paintings.

Through mind-sight, Debra discovered three types of personal quarters. Single, double, and family units alternated evenly throughout the top two floors. Palmpads, just below the numbered brass plates, required an occupant’s handprint to gain access or would gently chime to announce a visitor.

The fifth level was a solid floor with no outside balcony access to the park. Painted landscapes and tapestries, portrait collections, and crystal sculptures decorated the numerous corridors that intersected and veered inward toward a large high-domed lounge that offered residents a marvelous place to relax and socialize. Music, games, food and refreshments, all were available any time day or night.

The lounge, known as Hi top or The Top, also served as an evacuation point through the mountain should an emergency ever shutdown the five airlocks on the lower level. A bronze plaque, glassed in by the bar, paid tribute to the lack of need for such emergency measures since the city’s commencement over two decades ago. Yet every effort continued toward maintaining and stocking the miles of carved tunnel and its many recessed aid and housing stations.

Debra stopped before a set of double doors covered with stenciled clowns and circus animals. Dread made her belly ache and her mouth go dry. Without mind-sight or touch-sensing she knew she had found them . . . the dying children from the trance in the mediation globe. She could hear, inside her mind, the slow erratic beat of fourteen laboring hearts. Without touching the doors she could still feel the bleak resignation emanating from their young sleeping minds. Failing strength battled with brilliant intelligence until the body finally shutdown one organ at a time.

Ruthie . . . and the Farewell to her short, confined existence.

Tears gathered as Debra touched the palmpad, dreading that there would be many more Farewells to come.

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November 13, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Four Part 1

The entrance chamber appeared to be a dead-end.

Aside from the pressurized airlock and glass corridor, all signs of exits or passageways to other areas of the complex were deftly hidden from casual view. Even the trailing vines, hanging high overhead from the walkway, were way beyond her five-eleven reach.

Lips pursed in concentration, Debra knelt, palm down against the stone floor. An instant aerial view crammed her mind along with the helpful traffic pattern layout of the room. Polished pathways of white marble intersected throughout the massive foyer, yet ended abruptly before paneled walls near each corner of the large chamber.

With little time to lose, she followed the layout in her mind, almost at a run, heading toward the airlock and the closest plausible exit.

Hurried footsteps, coming from the glass corridor, invaded the silence. Echoed loudly in a space void of inhabitants. Old habits had automatic defenses shielding her presence behind full mental barriers.

Stealth, a skill indelibly ingrained in her autonomic reflexes, guided each careful step off the wide pathway into the greenery behind a tall column. A fearless strength emanated from the stillness of her primed body; blazed from controlled dark eyes that missed nothing.

Virtually invisible and completely protected meant now being extremely limited in the use of her sensory surveillance abilities. Yet undeterred, the warrior calmly waited, her remaining five heightened senses reaching out like radar, zeroing in on the intruder.

The mind quickly sorted and rapidly pieced together all the bits of incoming data to create a mental picture.

Heavy footfalls resonated into the entrance chamber from the glass corridor. A tall male, alone, judging by the widely spaced distinctive steps. The playful splash of the water fountain made it difficult to hear the movement of clothing. But she could easily imagine a flowing black robe billowing briskly about the intruders’ long legs.

Just inside the entrance chamber the footsteps abruptly halted. The scuff of shoes turning slowly, this way and that, as he glanced down pathways, listening.

He was looking for her. She could feel it.

The footsteps resumed, evenly now, as though the need for hurry had suddenly passed. Heightened hearing followed his steps along the far aisle where he deliberately turned to the right and paused by the fountain, the drumming pulse of columned water smacking loudly against his open palm.

Her eyes widened in surprise. He was playing with her, his cat to her mouse. She could almost see his arrogant smile and thought of Damon, Edith’s friend and accomplice at mind incursion.

The thud of heel against stone drew closer to the main aisle running parallel to the airlock wall. Debra flinched at the unexpected trembling tones from a hanging chime; no doubt intentionally letting her know just how close he was getting.

The bastard.

A lone robed figure stepped deliberately into the spacious aisle and stopped by the sealed airlock, head slightly dipped, black cowl shading his face in deep shadows. Beneath the loosely hanging cloak she spied a trim waist and long firm legs in tight fitted riding pants with glossy knee-high boots.

There were horses down here? Debra had trouble imagining a horse willing to undergo the trip beneath the lake, no matter how pleasant or harmless the ride.

The stranger’s wide stance spoke of strength and virility and the arrogance of authority. From her position behind the last broad column before the paneled wall, she avoided staring to elude any chance of alerting his senses to her location.

So together they simply waited on the other to make a move.

He was only one against her strength and abilities. Debra calculated the odds of reasoning with his mind or physically incapacitating him for several hours and continuing her private tour of the underwater complex.

Yet instinct told her this one would not go down easy. She shifted tactics toward defensive negotiations and prepared to confront him.

Peering around the column, Debra hesitated, pulling back. Resignation and indecision were plain to see in the slump of his shoulders, the tilt of his hooded head. The way his curled hands were no longer relaxed and quiet by his side. Heightened senses helped assess the exasperated frustration pumping off him like heat from a blast furnace.

Suddenly his hand came up, spreading the cloak sleeve into a large black wing. A single finger pointed toward the paneled wall at the end of the marble pathway. Nothing was said. He turned on the polished heel of his riding boot and left the entrance chamber the same way he had come.

Debra slowly blinked, replaying the moment in her mind. The lord of the manor had given her permission to do as she pleased. And yet there was no mistaking his restrained anger. Nor the unsettled feeling that he knew precisely who she was and visibly chafed at her reluctance to stand and face him.

Not exactly a normal greeting for a gatecrasher. Which only proved her point: she was supposed to be here. Was somehow a part of all this.

Damon! Who else would be so presumptuous?

Kalon, she conceded, teeth grinding, anger flaring. All the lies, all the secrets were driving her crazy.

One thought and she could make them all pay. Yet just as quickly Debra buried her feelings of revenge to the deepest regions of her mind. As always the voice of reason was there to remind her of right and wrong—you cannot harm or kill another maliciously; your soul is strong enough to take the pain.

Yes, she was stronger than most and would no doubt survive.

But to what end.

Staring at the large seamless section of cream-colored wall, she willingly took a mental step back, letting the warrior side of her personality take control. And although she doubted any further interference from the inhabitants, the possibility of danger on the other side of that wall was enough to start pumping adrenaline through her veins.

Debra approached the panel head-on, anticipating some form of sensory activation device. And roughly four feet from the wall, two access doors slid silently open the width of the wide marble pathway and held for her to proceed.

Attentive eyes missed nothing as she stepped through an opening at least fifteen feet high. Overhead, eight rows of different colored recessed lights formed a uniquely shaped rectangular wedge across the corridor ceiling. Heightened senses detected a slight vibration against her skin but discerned no immediate danger.

The doors closed quietly behind her.

Marble flooring continued passed the wall panel, widening into a spacious corridor that veered off to the right, suggesting the complex was circular and enormous in design.

Floor to ceiling glass panels created the outside wall of the building, providing another stunning view of the huge aquarium. The underwater garden followed the curve of glass and metal for as far as the eye could see.

A vibrant blue glow flooded the hallway, the brightness enhancing the clear illumination of the crystal tubes running down either side of the marble ceiling.

Hand pressed flat to the warm glass, Debra searched beyond the spacious garden to the impenetrable blackness at the far edge. A satisfied smile curled the corners of her lips. No simple glass tank looking out into Crystal Lake but a secretly enclosed saltwater aquarium, meticulously carved from the surrounding rock, encircling a gigantic hive-shaped domed city within the shielding mountain that rose above.

She wondered how many billion tons of rock and water pressed in over her head as she watched the colorful swarms of fish dancing playfully in and out of the soaring fragile plants and moss-covered statues.

It was all so dreamlike . . . mesmerizing . . . so familiar. Just like the dream world she shared with Kalon. Or had shared with him till recently. A sharing that had stopped at almost the same time the new dreams of Edith and danger had started. When the impulse to come west to Crystal Lake and become a desperate need to dismantle her old tedious life and hurry to Edith’s side like some warrior ready to do battle.

Debra sighed heavily, wondering how Kalon and the dream world, and Edith and Damon, how Crystal Lake and this city were all somehow connection. “And they are connected,” she whispered with sudden conviction, the overwhelming tingle in her gut confirming her leap in logic.

Turning, she stopped abruptly and gaped in startled amusement at the filthy woman in ripped shorts and sleeveless top staring back from the inner mirrored wall. Dirty black knees and an angry red scrape cut deeply across her left shin, with smaller scratches and bruises scattered over her lower legs and arms. A layer of gray grit and grime covered her face and even managed to get loosely caked in her frazzled hair. She winced at the three broken fingernails on her slightly dented left hand, regretting the last minute thirty-dollar manicure while waiting for the first of her three buses for the trip out west.

Just as well the stranger had left her alone. She smirked at her pitiful image, then focused more closely at the wall.

Mirrored sections went floor to ceiling and covered roughly sixty feet of gradual curved wall, butting up to glossy white doorway panels and all without one single seam showing. Impressive. Debra shuffled about in front of the first doorway, hoping to activate a sensor, before spotting a thin palmpad on the upper right doorframe.

Hand against the door panel confirmed the large room was unoccupied. She could have easily used her mind-sight to catalogue the office setting inside but wanted to touch the objects and possessions for a sense of the owner’s image and personality. An ability she instinctively called touch-sensing.

Inside, an elaborate desk and high-backed chair dominated the airy office. The blank-screened monitor and curved keyboard sat waiting on the countered cabinet just behind. Matte white walls were lined with artwork and bookshelves crammed with magazines, books, and thin cases resembling stored compact discs. The rear wall was tinted against the bright sunlike crystal lighting and fitted with a sliding door that led to a small patio and a splendid view of the lush colorful gardens that surrounded the park common.

Debra clutched the fabric covered headrest of the desk chair and braced for the flood of images in her mind. She could see him clearly, his short black hair and serious dark eyes. His face was smooth and fairly young with its lack of lines and chiseled male planes. Yet he was beautiful in his quiet disciplined ways, his basic character free of greed and deceit.

“Gailon,” the name softly slipped passed her lips in the quiet room, her fingers rubbing methodically about the chair back and arms, unable to more clearly understand the unexplained pain and sadness that constantly lingered just beneath the surface of his shadowed thoughts and feelings.

The young man understood duty to secrets and fighting forward through the pain. In another time and place she might have easily called him friend.

Further intrusion was useless. Debra turned for the doorway and stopped, momentarily jolted by the tinted floor to ceiling view of the underwater garden. The mirrored walls provided privacy and enlarged the corridor space beyond, yet offered a stunning unobstructed view of the gardens from inside the office. The effect was breathtaking.

A strong sense of awareness made her fully vigilant at how quickly time and her freedom were slipping away.

Back in the hallway, she pressed the palmpad to seal the door panel and moved along the wide corridor, randomly entering a unique empty office or using the sight to quickly study blocks of similar rooms that encircled the perimeter of the complex. The ground floor was made up of well-designed offices, fully stocked supply rooms and numerous lounges, with the occasional built-in bench seating in the spacious corridor that gradually circled around to a dead-end that silently opened onto the far side of the entrance chamber.

Debra glared across the vast room at the far exit she had early used to access the corridor. Her sight turned inward as she sifted through recent memories for a stairwell or elevator and found none.

“Well hell,” she signed and placed her palm against the inner mirrored wall of the corridor and scanned all the rooms again, coming up empty.

Her temper flared like flooding heat, irritatingly mingling a fine layer of sweat with the grit and grime on her skin.

Time was fast becoming her enemy. Debra flattened her hand against the inner wall, eyes closed and heartbeat slowed, and focused all the strength of her mind on two simple words: FIND ELEVATOR.

A rarely used touch ability for finding missing objects, the strenuous drain never failed to leave her body sluggish and struggling to overcome the distraction of tension headaches and nausea. Even the strength of her mind-healing skill was unable to block the unsettling aftereffects. Impact of the physical symptoms was much like her black rage—once rooted there was no avoiding the trauma.

Images of the smaller lounges flashed like postcard pictures in her mind. She remembered the last one clearly, not more than five or six rooms back along the corridor. Undersized compared to the twenty or so large sitting rooms, the ten square-shaped spaces offered no windows but upon closer inspection provided double sliding door panels on both the main and back wall. Fabric covered sofas and chairs, polished wood tables and vases of fresh cut flowers nicely complimented the smaller space in the similar layout to the larger salons. The only difference between them was the five recessed neon symbols equally spaced down either side of each doorway in the smaller rooms.

Maybe not chrome and wood artwork, as first supposed, but symbols for floor levels?

Suddenly, a familiar impression emerged from the tumult of imagines and reflections filtering through her senses. Debra steeled her strength against the encroaching headache and nausea that crept into awareness, and hurried back along the corridor, the spacious portal silently closing on the entrance chamber.

Her fingers trembled as they rested against the door panel, then quickly tapped the palmpad before courage failed. “How can this be?” she whispered, incredulous.

His presence filled the sumptuous room, flaring memories of his scent and taste, of black eyes and smiling lips and strong arms holding her tight.

Kalon’s essence was as much a part of the curved rectangular suite that opened up before her as the tastefully lavish décor that filled the room.

But that was not possible.

Kalon was part of the dream world. And if the lies were true, a part of the real world above. A wave of nausea roiled uncomfortably in her belly, making her wince impatiently.

The harder she tried to sort through what was real and what was memory, the tighter her muscles knotted, the more painfully the headache fisted between her eyes.

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