November 20, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Six Part 3

Once again the sun felt good on her face, the large boulder surprisingly warm against her back. Barely a couple of hours into sunup, she was still alone on the beach. Debra welcomed the isolation, needing distance from others as a way of re-energizing her strength. Arms resting on pulled up knees, she gradually opened herself to the gentle sound of lapping water and thought of Damon below.

Protective senses suddenly quivered in warning. Someone was coming.

Splayed fingers rested palm down on the shifting sand, activating the sight. Instantly her mind’s eye soared high above the beach, searching for an intruder. With most of the residents still asleep in their beds, the park’s roads and walkways were clear. Edith and Naomi Taylor were no longer on the veranda or walking on the bluff.

Instinctively, Debra turned inner eyes toward the lake. Nothing was visible, but senses warned of a presence.

Damon was coming, as though thoughts of him had sent out a call.

The placid lake remained black below the surface. Debra’s mind processed cold mountain water as fast as the sight could gather the minutiae.

Suddenly the blue aura was visible, moving through the blackness at a high rate of speed.

Heartbeat pounding a little faster, adrenaline surged through Debra’s veins. Although still a great distance from the surface, the tethered aura was clearly discernible now and took on the explicit shape of a man.

On impulse, Debra focused the sight at the top of the aura and tensed at the self-assured smile on his striking face, as though he knew she was watching.

Blackness finally filtered to gray, the strong sunlight bleeding downward, until the aura’s blue energy blended with the prism colors of the surface light.  Lifting her hand from the sand, Debra braced, the warrior ready for the next round, and studied the distinctive shimmering blue aura as Damon broke the lake surface and walked ashore with commanding animal grace.

“Your aura is different from the others I’ve seen,” Debra said tonelessly.

A wry grin touched his lips. Apparently the hours since they were last together had not warmed her heart toward him.

“You have good eyes,” he said, leaning against the large boulder that covered the cloaking crystals. “Or did your sight do the breakdown for you?”

“The aura comes from you, doesn’t it? Not the crystal.”

Damon nodded, his gaze roaming her tired, beautiful face. “Energy is channeled through my body to create the cloaking aura. And my mind sustains the field while I’m above.” White teeth gleamed in a slow smile. “If you truly want to hurt me, I’ve just given you a weapon to use.”

Her dark brows rose sharply. “In other words, if you become unconscious the cloaking field would collapse allowing the virus to begin killing you,” she replied coolly. Yet her pulse seemed to stutter at the intensity of his black eyes.

“Something like that,” he said drolly.

“Would I be able to generate my own aura?”

He pondered her a moment, enjoying the quickness of her mind. A mind that was still closed to him. “All Thalians have the ability,” he said truthfully. “What you call the killing power we refer to as a channeled energy field.”

Dressed in his usual black linen shirt, trousers, and soft leather shoes, Damon raised an aura-outlined hand in demonstration. “I control the density of the field, the brightness, the area covered, or the power intensity.” A thin laser beam of energy shot from his index finger and exploded like a firecracker in the sand at his feet. “All Thalians have the ability to channel energy. But only a very small percent have the strength to kill . . . like you and I.”

Animosity forgotten, Debra indulged in the pure pleasure of learning more about her abilities. “Show me how to channel,” she said, her voice a trifle sharp with her impatience to begin.

Damon laughed out loud. “Aren’t you tired? I was told you’ve been up all night and then had a run in with Naomi this morning.” His hand reached out and softly brushed her cheek. “The woman can be very blunt at times. Even more so now with Ruthie gone. If you’d like, I’ll speak with her?”

“I can take care of myself,” Debra warned. “What I want is to learn channeling. I’d also like to know more about telepathy. In particular, reaching someone with a closed mind,” she said with biting sarcasm.

Strong hands spread in a noble and generous gesture. “I’m yours to command,” he said simply. “What you’ve accomplished on your own is truly remarkable, in spite of the dream world.” Damon pushed away from the boulder and slowly approached her. “But there’s so much more to know. So much I want to show you.”

He leaned toward her, their eyes locked. “Thalian babies are taught many of the basic protocols through the parental bond. Like manipulating and maintaining the various levels of mind closure.”

“Thanks, but I’ve already had my spam-blocking session with Edith,” Debra said, somewhat breathlessly. “How can you teach a baby that doesn’t have any experiences, no frame of reference for learning?”

“Umm, an interesting point. Our baby, for example, will learn from both of us through the natal bond while still in your womb. And once she’s born, her mind will continue to be linked to us through telepathic imagery, the first language for all Thalian babies.” He brushed the pad of his thumb across her pale cheek. “And once she learns control over the levels of mind closure, not even you or I will be able to intrude if she chooses to fully close herself. Closed like you are now.”

“You should talk, KALON,” she said tartly, her brown eyes flashing angrily. “And according to Naomi Taylor, I’m not going to live long enough to have anyone’s child.”

Damon growled, giving Debra’s shoulders a quick shake. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You need the facts before making any decisions,” he challenged, impatiently. “I’m asking you to come stay with us in the city. You’ll have your own quarters, access to the entire complex, and all the teachers you can handle.”

Tears pricked at heated eyes as her nostrils flared. “And in exchange for all this knowledge and training, what is it you want from me?”

Strong hands pinned her gently to the boulder. “I’ve waited a lifetime to hold you in my arms, to love you,” Damon argued with conviction. “Yet for some reason you think I’m the enemy. Well know this, my love. Help us or not, I will never let you go.”

Without thinking, Debra grabbed his wrist and found the nerves between the bones and squeezed.

Damon gasped and quickly stepped back, holding his aching wrist. Black eyes watched her closely while his healing touch eased the pain. “We’ve been bonded since you were sixteen.”

“That’s dream world crap. I am not your wife just because you say so. You may rule the Thalian world below. But right now we’re standing in my world.

“Enough of this, Debra,” Damon hissed through clenched teeth. “Thalian law says we are married. Now start dealing with it.”

“What do you want from me,” she spat savagely.

“What I want is my wife in my bed, a healthy baby joined in parental bonding, and a partner to help me lead the Thalian nation into sunlight.”

A wretched cry tore from the pit of her wounded soul. “You don’t own me,” she shouted wildly, fists coming down hard against his chest. “Nobody owns me . . .”

The killing power flooded her hands as a red haze clouded her eyes. Caught up in overwhelming autonomic reflexes, Debra let sanity slip its leash and fed on the strength of blood pounding through her heart and veins; rejoiced in the massive whirl of kinetic energy that arced like lightning between her fingers.

She never felt the mighty pulse of energy burst from her open palms. Was only vaguely aware of strong hands being wrenched from her arms. Consciousness returned in time to see Damon’s body lift into the air in a shimmering blur of blue energy and land in a heap by the water’s edge.

Stunned, Debra stood as though turned to stone, eyes wide as saucers, her rage evaporating in seconds in face of the carnage she had just caused.

Damon lay sprawled, motionless, his broad back having plowed several inches deep into the wet sand before coming to rest mostly on his right side.

Debra sensed no heartbeat, no lung movement. The aura’s energy faded, then simply dissipated into the air, leaving Damon completely exposed and pale as death.

“Nooo!” she shrieked, dropping to her knees by his lifeless body. Already his skin was cooling, his blood pressure drastically low. And each moment of exposure to the atmosphere meant certain irreversible cell damage by the same virus that had killed her father.

The healer took over and she slapped a palm to his chest. For the first time in her life she observed the complexities of another living being. Debra focused on his heart and lungs, analyzing in seconds, planning a healing strategy that would give him the best chance for survival.

Debra willed another surge of kinetic energy to the palm of her hand, not realizing that she was the one directing the killing power. With deliberate determination, she pumped a controlled discharge into Damon’s chest, then bent and filled his lungs with air.

For several agonizing moments his heart fluttered and stalled, barely hanging onto life. Debra hit him with another small discharge and held her breath as a weak thumping beat slowly settled into a regular, faint pulse.

Protect him you fool, her mind cried. And operating on pure instinct, she fashioned an aura with her mind in the only way she knew how—from the inside out, maximum density, full intensity—and instantly a cloaking aura enveloped his cells, bones, muscles, organs, sub tissue and outer skin layers in a protective cocoon that sealed his body against the poisonous atmosphere.

Her palm remained pressed firmly to his chest to sustain the cloaking aura around him while her mind warmed his internal core to offset the dangers of serious shock and death. None of her efforts had him opening his dark eyes to glower at her stupidity.

“Help!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Help me!”

Debra burned with shame and regret but refused to leave him to get help. Using the healing-touch she searched his body for any further signs of trouble . . . and found his mind empty.

“Help me!” her mind roared to all the telepaths living beneath the lake.

A hand locked onto her shoulder, a stranger penetrating her connection with Damon, and gently urged her hips aside to make room.

“It’s all right, Debra. We’re here to take him below,” said the stranger urgently.

The tall, broad-shouldered man knelt beside her and slipped his right arm beneath Damon’s back.

“I’m Manton, head of security,” he said matter-of-factly, locking hands with the man across from him. Four other men in identical dark blue jumpsuits locked hands beneath Damon’s unconscious body, while a fifth man held his head immobile and monitored internal vital signs.

“On the count of three, lift,” Manton ordered firmly.

With barely a strain on their solemn faces, the security team raised Damon’s motionless body on a stretcher of strong muscular arms.

“Release your hand now, Debra,” Manton ordered gently. “We have a stable collective cloak around him.

She hesitated, fearing to give up control of his life, then followed the big man’s orders for fear of causing more damage. Debra scrambled back out of the way as the team of men turned together and entered the shallow water.

“I’m sorry,” she quietly declared. “I didn’t mean . . . I didn’t realize . . .”

Manton’s deep, calming voice pulled her tear-filled eyes away from Damon’s body. “You did well bringing him back.” Using his mind, he sent out a soothing vibration that passed harmlessly through Debra, but helped to focus her attention. “Rowan’s waiting. We must go now.”

The team moved deeper into the water, the going slow to ensure that full contact with Damon’s body was never broken.

Making sure she was following, Manton glanced back to the shore. “All of us, Debra. You must come with us.”

“Yes, yes I’ll come,” she stammered, fumbling in her jumpsuit pockets for the cloaking crystal. The aura surged to life around her like a second skin, her dry feet splashing awkwardly through knee-high water.

“Hurry,” Manton shouted firmly. “We must get him below at once.”

Seven dark heads bobbed momentarily on the surface of the lake, then disappeared from sight. Debra followed quickly to the underwater ledge and hesitated for just a second, glancing up at the blue sky and golden sunlight, and felt life shifting in the space around her. For better or worse, everything was changed now.

Debra stepped off the ledge and let the underwater tether take her down beneath the surface.

November 19, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Six Part 2

“The original on-land colony was built in the northwest section of Lincoln County, Montana. It was more than a town but not an unmanageable sprawling city either.”

The corners of her mouth twitched upward with laughter. “Some of the architecture caused quite a stir in the nearby towns. People who were used to square boxes and poor quality craftsmanship. But it was beautiful and clean and provided the best of everything for the colonists.”

“You admired them, right from the start,” Debra said with a quick smile.

“Yes,” Edith nodded wistfully. “I found them to be beautiful, intelligent, and extremely resourceful. Your father belonged to the first family and was well respected and earned his position as part of the original on-land team. He was muscular, like a well trained boxer, and stood over six feet and had short black hair curling wildly about his ears and neck, and merry black eyes.”

Lost in the good memories, Edith laughed. “Actually, he was a charmer with a ready smile and a Thalian joke, with punch lines I never understood. He was a good man, Debra. A loving husband and doting father who deeply regretted leaving you more than suffering that slow painful death by the virus.”

“I never saw any of this in the dream world.”

“You weren’t supposed to know any of this until the awakening. Damon’s mother, Brionna, was one of the first to die. Your father locked himself away with Kalon for over a week when despair almost had Kalon taking his own life. He finally came to his senses and devoted the rest of his energy to Damon and Rowan and finding the cause. He died seven months later, never knowing why.” A sob caught in her throat. “Your father followed him Home two months later.”

“How old was Damon when this happened?”

“He was almost five, still living on the mother ship, when his father died. The two of them were linked telepathically. The trauma from the abrupt severing of the link left him in a coma for three days. But he was strong, like his parents, and pulled through. Kalon was very important to Damon. You just have to look at the son to know who the father was.”

The heartache in her voice caught Debra’s attention.

“You shouldn’t be so hard on Damon, Debra. He was just following orders, like the rest of us. He’s a good man, too. A born leader and one of the most powerful psychic minds to come along in centuries.” Her tense shoulders visibly relaxed. “He told me one time, years after the underwater city was built, that he chose to use his father’s name in the dream world as a tribute to his memory, and because he wanted you to get to know the real Damon when the time came for the two of you to meet, and not some distorted dream lover image.”

Flushed with fury, Debra’s stare was level and unwavering. “Why wasn’t I told any of this while growing up? Do you have any idea how different my life might have been?”

The jarring ring of the telephone shattered the moment. Edith hurried from the veranda, muttering about who could be calling so early.

Debra slumped in her chair feeling drained, yet too tired to sleep. She needed more down time, off by herself, and hoped Edith would understand. Her brain couldn’t handle any more confessions or surprises; refused to even think about what her Thalian kin might have in store for her.

A light breeze poked the loose tendrils of hair about her face. She grimaced, figuring once again she must look a sight, and thought about changing out of the white jumpsuit into cooler shorts and a shell top.

Debra sat up, alert, and let inner defenses track the approaching stranger. The heartbeat had a distinctive uneven rhythm; one she had sensed before in the chalet up by the entrance way. The tall, heavyset woman came to mind. The woman who seemed to take great pleasure in the fact that Debra would eventually kill herself like all the others of her kind.

Footsteps were audible now, the image clear as she followed the sounds of clothing rubbing and shoes scuffing over the cobbled walkway alongside the carport to the end of the veranda. Debra stood and watched Naomi Taylor round the flowerbed and step up onto the veranda.

Just under six feet tall, the older woman slowly approached Debra, her demeanor tense, almost aggressive. The warrior in Debra braced, with no visible show of concern. Heightened senses studied the Taylor woman as she would an enemy.

No doubt a striking woman in her youth, Naomi’s longish face now had a mottled tinge to her plump, sagging cheeks and along the jaw line. She appeared drawn and haggard from lack of sleep and grief. Debra tried to remember that Ruthie’s death had hit the woman hard and may have unbalanced her.

The ill-fitting green pantsuit from the day before had been replaced with a flattering calf-length summer dress that carefully concealed her ample body. Like the rest of the park residents, Naomi’s thoughts were closed behind impenetrable walls. But body language never lied.

As they silently stared at one another, Debra saw only arrogance and a bully in the harsh green eyes that stared down a long, straight nose at her. The warrior almost scoffed at the woman’s feeble attempt at intimidation. Debra had lived through too many black rages to be frightened by a few mind games.

For Edith’s sake, she extended the olive branch of good manners. “You have my deepest sympathies for your loss, Mrs. Taylor.” The woman was a predator, looking for any weakness to attack, thought Debra, listening to her instincts.

Naomi nodded and stood taller, if that was possible. “The Thalians and Edith have pinned all their hopes on you,” she said carefully, a hint of a southern accent present in her speech. “But your abilities are no better than the others.”

Debra’s body remained loose and balanced on the balls of her feet. “And what do you know of my abilities?”

Naomi sneered. “You can’t even help yourself.”

“So you mentioned the other day,” Debra said dryly.

“And when you fail to help the babies or produce a healthy heir, you will die just like all the others,” Naomi said with a flash of anger.

Adrenaline spiked through Debra’s system; could feel the killing power pushing out from her core and down her arms. “And why does this concern you?” she finally asked.

“Damon should have belonged to my Mary,” Naomi challenged, emotion bringing a red flush to her face. “But he’s being forced to choose you.”

“Excuse me?” choked Debra incredulously. “What soap opera have you been watching?”  She chuckled at the woman’s audacity, then drew serious as images of black bordered photographs filled her mind. Saw those sad, haunted eyes in Mary’s wretched face. Suddenly she knew why Mary’s photographs lined the baseboards in the Taylor dining room. Not because Mary had succumbed to death. But because she had defied her mother’s obsession with Thalian power.

“No,” Debra said with cold assurance. “I think you want Damon, or rather Damon’s power.”

Debra stood her ground as Naomi stepped closer.

“What do you know of power?” the older woman shouted. “Just like all the others you have no control, no concept of the infinite power achieved when joined to a strong Thalian mind. Think of it. You could be immortal.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Debra snapped exasperated, the blue energy visibly arcing between her fingers.

“We should have been the ones to reap the power,” Naomi snarled savagely. “When you’re dead we’ll still be here.”

Debra reached for the cloaking crystal and slipped it into her jumpsuit pocket. “So you came here this morning to make an enemy of me?”

“You won’t live long enough for it to matter,” Naomi sneered.

Edith rushed out onto the veranda in time to hear the last of Naomi’s contemptible words, and felt her breath quicken, the blood drain from her face at the searing look in Debra’s eyes.

“Debra don’t,” Edith blurted desperately. “Please . . . don’t.”

“I know it’s not polite to kill the guests, Auntie,” she returned caustically, the killing power arcing like blue fire between her fingers.” Debra stood eye to eye with Naomi, a faint smile edging her lips. “If I were you, I’d see a doctor soon . . . for that nasty little heart irregularity,” she purred coldly.

A flicker of shock registered in Naomi’s hard green eyes.

Body language never lied. Satisfied, Debra glanced at Edith as she stepped off the veranda. “I’ll be on the beach if you need me.”

*   *   *

“Nothing ever changes,” Debra choked furiously, her sandaled feet barely touching the stone steps in her haste to reach the beach. The angry hate inside had dried up all her tears, even though part of her would have enjoyed a good cry to clean out all of Naomi Taylor’s poison. The woman’s cruel words had stabbed deeply into the child still hiding and afraid inside after all these years. Debra slid down behind a ponderous boulder and hugged herself tight until the bitter disappointment had burned itself out.

Would she ever find a place to fit in? Even here, a stone’s throw away from her Thalian heritage, she was still an outsider—too abnormal and dangerously unpredictable to be accepted as human, and unstable abilities and a genetic time bomb made her a failure as a Thalian.

Was the Taylor woman right? Would she die soon, like all the others? Would her abilities bring more harm than good if she tried to help as they seemed to want?

“You’re weak,” she cursed herself, hating the fear and doubts that kept her a prisoner to the pain of the past.

With fists clenched, Debra focused on the beat of her heart, willing the warrior in her to diminish the volatile emotions that made her body tremble like a child. Her lungs breathed in a shaky breath, then steadied. And with each slow, focused breath her heartbeat decelerated and the tension eased. The world around her hushed and measured each moment as though in hours, until all that remained was the deliberate, strong beat of her own heart.

The heart of a warrior.

November 18, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Six Part 1

Dawn burst in an explosion of pure white light between twin peaks rising like sacred steeples high above the mountain range. Curled up in the thickly cushioned wicker chair, Debra sat alone on the spacious veranda and watched the velvet blackness of night hasten from the early morning sky. The splendor of color and light seemed surreal as mist rose from the ground to fuse with rainbow refractions from the orchard glass house and the hundreds of crystal teardrops that hung throughout the garden.

Her nostrils flared with each deep breath of clean freshly turned soil and trim green grass. Tired eyes roamed the bluff, taking in the morning dew clinging like jewels to intricate webs and nearby leaves and flower petals.

Here, on the surface, was where she belonged. Letting this moment of peaceful beauty fill her senses with some measure of comfort.

Damon’s shocking words and haunting images continued to pound through her mind. Instincts that were never wrong shouted that his words were truth. And finally with that acceptance, Debra lost herself and what little identity she had come to rely on over the years.

Alone on the veranda, surrounded by the soft summer night, Debra had opened herself to emerging Thalian memories and let a new reality take control of her senses. And by the first sliver of light in the eastern sky, Thalia and its ill-fated cloud cities had become as real to her as the history of Earth.

Once a great nation of genetic telepaths, the Thalian race had eventually splintered into two powerful legislative bodies: those unwilling to believe in the reported death of their world as predicted by the distinguished scientific House of Bromon; and those who sacrificed everything to discover compatible new worlds that offered survival and a future for those willing to risk the unknown.

Hundreds of delegation fleets carried thousands of men, women, and children from each supporting lineage House and their associate families—the elite in technology, medical science, agriculture, and craftsmen. All who stood the best chance of securing a strong foothold in a new world.

Thousands from the House of Bromon waited their turn to leave, building new ships, scrounging for resources, documenting Thalia’s orbit and decay, and reaching out to any who would listen and save themselves. Their ranks were thin, even if disciplined and willing; aging craftsmen, trainees, scholars, the optimistic who waited for the signal from their designated worlds before saying goodbye to Thalia forever.

And now Thalian survival on Earth was uncertain. While the fate of hundreds of other fleets throughout the galaxy remained unknown. Thirty-six years was a long time to wait on a dying planet for a signal that might never come.

Even now Debra continued to lapse into moments of utter disbelief at the magnitude of change and upheaval that Damon’s people had undertaken. Her body trembled each time she thought about being the last of her kind, her mind struggling to comprehend how she was supposed to bridge the gulf between bi-human and Thalian existence.

The sound of Edith padding across the living room rug brought Debra out of her reverie. She searched for words of anger to hurt, just as their words had hurt her. But somehow that tearful ire had relinquished its hold during the night, leaving her empty inside. Too tired to care at the moment, Debra sat motionless and waited for life to pick a direction.

Bright sunlight erupted over the wide mountain ridge, chasing away the last of the sleepy shadows as the veranda door slid open and Edith stepped out in a cotton summer nightgown.

“Debra . . . honey?” Edith noted the cloaking crystal lying on the table placemat. “We’re not allowed to keep the crystals. This one needs to be returned to the beach locker—”

“How long, Auntie?” Debra quietly asked without preamble. “How long have you known about Damon and underwater cities, or that my father was Thalian and died of the virus?”

There was a long pause before Edith answered. “I gather Damon told you everything,” she remarked cautiously, her empathic skills remaining vigil for any telltale signs of the black rage.

“Pretty much,” Debra nodded slowly. “I’m the last of my kind, or so I’m told. But you know what I keep wondering about? If my kind was so important to Thalian survival, why were we left to fend for ourselves?” Images of Dorothy and wretched black bordered photographs filled her mind. Of hiding, with the black rage her only companion. Of living alone with an entire country between herself and the only other living relative, who also just happened to know the whole story and never thought to mention it.

“Yeah, he told me everything but what’s expected of me. Because having a Thalian baby sure isn’t going to save all those people down there?” Vacant brown eyes finally glanced across the table at Edith. “All their advance technology. All the years they’ve spent looking for a cure. Just what is it I’m supposed to do, Auntie, that they can’t?” The silence lengthened as Debra stared waiting for an answer, a comment, anything. “If you know something I don’t, now would be a good time to share.”

On the verge of mentally crashing, Debra rubbed at the dry ache in her eyes.

“I knew your father,” said Edith, her voice a rasping whisper. “He was a wonderful man. He used to say that he loved you as much as the Milky Way and all the way home again.” Tears gathered. It was not the first time that Edith envied Debra’s control. With a loud adamant sniff, she admitted the truth. “I’ve known about everything since the beginning.”

The blip of tension in her bi-human heartbeat barely registered. “And what is the beginning, Edith Bromon? Are you part of the House of Bromon? A Thalian? Is that why you’ve always been closed to me?”

Surprise reflected in Edith’s blue eyes. “Is that what you think? Well, I’m human. And my mind was always fully blocked to you because your bloody abilities are too damn powerful and spontaneous. Your Thalian heritage had to remain secret until adulthood and the awakening ceremony, to protect all of us.”

A short-nailed hand waved off Debra’s interruption. “I know what you’re going to ask. Why your twenty-fifth birthday? Right? Simple. Established Thalian research proved that a human female body was emotionally and physically at its peak of health at age twenty-five and offered the best chance for conception and birth of a bi-species child.”

“Mmm,” Debra murmured coolly. “To bad things didn’t quite go according to plan.”

That technical quagmire would be left for Rowan to deal with. Edith was still smarting from Damon’s harsh reprimand for causing the whole mess in the first place. But with Debra seeming to take all the changes in stride, Edith thought it best to take advantage of the moment and press on.

“Your . . . Uncle Trevon was adopted by the House of Bromon as a boy, making him a part of the first family and entitled to use the name. Thalians’ don’t normally utilize a patriarchal system where the wife takes the husband’s last name. Their society is based more on a clan or lineage house structure with all those in the immediate or first family allowed to use the Bromon name. Distant relatives or associate families use the more influential family name in a marriage, whether it belongs to the husband or the wife. But all of them are ‘of Bromon’. And each member is extremely loyal to their House and pool whatever abilities or vocation expertise for the prosperity of the family as a whole.”

Despite a crushing exhaustion, the vibrancy in Edith’s voice held her attention. “Sounds like an interesting system,” Debra said, pondering a moment. “After all these years, you still grieve for him; like he died yesterday.”

Edith caressed the Talisman Crystal pendant that always hung next to her heart. The Thalian wedding gift had been given and received with promises of love and intent. In the Heart of the Talisman, Edith and Trevon had joined mind, body, and soul until released from this lifetime. For bonded lovers, the journey into the Talisman would be the closest that mortals could get to experiencing the omnipotence of Home.

“He affected my life like no other man,” Edith said without hesitation. “Oh, I’ve done some dating over the years. But he’s still inside me and that wouldn’t be fair to someone new.”

The strain of the last few days vanished from her unlined face as the memories of Trevon brought a warm smile to her lips. “When Trevon and I married, my status as human made my last name more influential than the first family name. But when the virus took him, I had it legally changed to Bromon. Just another way of keeping him close to me, of keeping his memory alive.”

“How did you and Mother ever end up involved with aliens?” Debra snorted loudly. “I can’t see Dorothy helping anyone let alone married to a psychic alien.”

Edith remained pensive for a moment, then cleared her throat. “We met Kalon and Trevon Bromon at a seminar for psychics in Kalispell, Montana in nineteen-seventy-six. I was twenty-three at the time, and looking for a place to fit in.” She grinned and lazily shrugged a shoulder. “Dorothy came along that afternoon to make sure I behaved myself. Only two years older, yet she was always acting like my mother.”

“So what happened?” Debra prompted.

“I know you find this hard to believe, dear, but Dorothy wasn’t always like she is now. There was a time when she was very considerate of others and quite gifted empathically.”

“I was told she couldn’t handle the death of my father.”

Something bleak and hopeless flitted through Edith’s eyes. “All of us were changed after the virus killed so many. The loss to everyone was devastating.” She reached for the Talisman Crystal and clasped it tightly in her fist. “So many needed help recovering from the emotional blow. For some it was just a long rest, while others simply couldn’t deal with the loss. Eventually a handful had memory blocks implanted. But Dorothy didn’t respond well to the procedure, or even to the second attempt that summer you turned five—”

“I don’t want to talk about her,” Debra snapped harshly, suddenly tense for the first time that morning. “It makes me sick to my stomach every time I think about her.”

Edith sighed. “I understand. Truly I do. If I could have changed things . . . I just wanted you to know that sometimes things happen beyond our control.”

Debra leaned across the table, gently squeezing Edith’s hand. “So many things make sense now. I always hated your preoccupation with the past, keeping the dead alive. But now I understand why.” A powerful emotion welled up inside her. “My real father. Tell me about him.”

Blue eyes shone with tenderness, her smile bittersweet. Edith realized almost thirty years of hopes and tears had come down to this quiet moment between them.

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