cnwood

March 11, 2012

Because The Bible Tells Me So

The other day someone asked me what I did to keep track of all the details in my novel. It was a great question and got me thinking about the different methods I use to classify and coordinate characters, structures, equipment, customs and procedures, transitions from one chapter to the next, and so on.

While the right side of my brain revels in the creative high of working with sentences and paragraphs, the left side steadily focuses on making sure all the different aspects of those sentences and paragraphs are consistent throughout the writing while striving for those final words, The End.

In the beginning Beneath the Surface (BTS) was just a broad concept that used the ‘what-if’ approach to generate ideas, profiles, scenes, and bits of dialogue for a story that was always destined for novel length. That meant I was looking at approximately one hundred thousand words.

Not being as fortunate as my main character to have a photographic memory, I put together a binder that held every scrap of description, back history, timeline, possible subplots, and all relevant and irrelevant data about the world I was creating. That binder became my bible to the BTS universe.

Having completed eleven chapters, my novel is coming along nicely. But things have changed since I first fleshed out the characters and concepts and put together my bible. With each chapter the details have been tweaked or rewritten, objectives have been discarded and new ones added, and the characters have taken on lives of their own—some with personality transformations while others faded into walk-on parts.

You get the idea, my created world has evolved and much of the old bible is now outdated and sitting on the shelf. I had been putting off the update, preferring to work on the novel, but the time had finally come to stop procrastinating and reorganize that growing mountain of new details.

This past week the majority of my writing time has gone into creating a new bible using MS OneNote. Copy and paste features have made transferring the new data directly from completed chapters and other assorted files much faster, but it still takes time.  Meaning, part one of chapter twelve is not ready. It’s a pivotal chapter; worthy, I think, of all my little bedside notes in the middle of the night and the number of times I’ve blocked out the start of the chapter as I work to get it right and make that gut-feeling happy.

Now with the new bible saved on computer, DVD, and flash drive, I no longer need to waste time flipping through previous chapters or penned pages and computer files to confirm something vital to a character or keep the background scenery true to form. Being accurate is as important to me as creating the story itself. And with the writing once again progressing, it’s my BTS bible that tells me what I need to know to keep all those details consistent.

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March 4, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eleven Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 26, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eleven Part 2

Rejecting the effort needed to wake completely, Debra snuggled deeper into the soft pillow and groaned. Her head ached, something fierce, like a tightening band that threatened to split her skull in two. Even closed eyes exuded a raw tenderness of flesh and senses that was not unlike the aftermath of a debilitating black rage. A dry tongue licked over dry lips as she tried to pierce the fog interfering with her brain.

Had she succumb to a black rage attack? The best she could recall, at the moment, was bits and pieces of her conversation with Manton in the conference room after the match. True, she didn’t normally remember what happened during a rage, but memories of the buildup were always present when consciousness finally returned.

With barely a thought, internal self-healing flooded her body with endorphins to dissipate the ache. When nothing happened, a chemical cocktail saturated cells and receptors, managing at best to dull the intensity of the pain, yet failed miserable to mask it completely.

However small the reprieve, more of her senses now seemed able to surface and begin functioning, raggedly. Internal defenses warned of a nearby presence, and yet the killing power, normally coursing through her body awaiting command, was noticeable absent. Slowly, and with great care not to upset the status quo, Debra opened her only visible eye to find Damon on the pillow next her.

His golden-toned cheek was pale and sunken beneath the bristling black whiskers. Even though his one visible bloodshot eye stared at her, Debra could tell by his deep even breathing through dry lips that Damon was trying to meditate his pain under control. The healer in her could not let him suffer, in spite of returning memories of the dream world holiday. Under the feather-light, white comforter, her fingers found his arm close by and saturated his cells and receptors with the same chemical cocktail.

Damon groan, his eyelid closing in relief, his body able to relax somewhat for the first time since waking.

“Now go away,” she mumbled, “while I make up my mind if I’m talking to you or not.”

“Astral sickness,” Damon quietly offered. “No known cure. Has to run its course.”

No more astral travel, Debra chided herself. Made her think of the one and only time she got drunk. Plastered would be more accurate. After falling down a steep set of stairs, she had landed at the bottom without a scratch, not even a bruise, but spent two days in bed throwing up and getting over the hangover and alcohol poisoning. Never again. The loss of control became as much a deterrent as her abhorrence for the taste of alcohol. That abhorrence now extended to astral travel.

“Where are we?” Debra asked, her voice strained and raspy. “I don’t sense anything . . . but you.”

Damon backhanded a jaw-splitting yawn as he eased over onto his back. “In quarantine. A dampening field activates automatically when the unit is in use. Telepaths need the isolation when illness demands absolute rest.”

Gritting her teeth she maneuvered onto her back and croaked, “I’ve never heard of patients being put in the same bed before. Your idea?”

Both her eyes finally opened together and glanced around the white room. For one mind-blowing second Debra thought she was back in the private clinic, minus, of course, the curtained window and muffled sounds of street traffic.

“I can use the com-link if you’d prefer to be quarantined in a different unit?” he finally answered, an arm shielding his eyes from the moderate ceiling light that automatically came on when the room sensor detected prolonged movement.

He didn’t want her to go, but was too tired to argue with her, or care, at the moment, about instructing his consort, or deal with the backlog of work waiting in his office. Never again, he promised himself. His astral travel days were definitely over.

Another fresh surge of endorphins flooded Debra’s system, helping muscles and tendons to relax and absorb. She pressed a hand to Damon’s side, the healing skill easily repeating the process, helping to keep the aches and pains at a tolerable level. Her internal clock revealed several interval gaps, making it impossible to piece together an accurate timeframe from when unconscious and outside her body. She could only hope all her abilities worked normally again from this point on.

Debra licked dry lips again, ready to grovel for a drink of water. Quarantine meant seclusion. So how did a patient confined to bed get a drink or go to the bathroom for that matter?

Splayed fingers rested on the bed, the room condensing into a three-dimensional image in her mind. As brown eyes stared unseeing around the bedroom, Debra recognized a handful of concealed compartments, like cupboards, some holding linens and towels, others storing medical equipment. In the wall compartment directly to the side of her bed, Debra intensified the sight on the outer panel and grinned. Unsteady fingers reached for the top right corner of the panel and pushed. Automatically the door opened and the shelving unit extended, almost touching the bed.

Her mouth actually watered at the sight of the half cooler of chilled bottled water. Debra groaned in anticipation as she reached for the nearest bottle, all discomfort momentarily forgotten in her need for something cool and wet against the dryness in her mouth and throat.

One quick sip lead to another, and then another, before Debra capped the bottle and handed it to Damon. She ignored the brush set and body lotions, the mirror and packaged wet cloths, even the rounded rectangular contraption on the bottom shelf as she reached for another bottle of frosty water. The morning’s aches and pain suddenly changed to contented sighs with wet smiles and dripping chins.

Satisfied with her lot in life for the moment, Debra stretched out beneath the coverlet on the comfortable bed, letting her thoughts turned to Damon. “You obviously had us put together for a reason. I’ll go if you really want me to. But first, tell me why?”

It didn’t matter that he was sovereign over an entire nation or that he was a gifted Vion and one of the strongest psychics on earth. Too many times he found himself hurt by Debra’s independence, illogical or not. Or the way her analytic skills could sometimes talk circles around his arguments, leaving him tongue-tied on occasion. Yet no one was more proud of her abilities, her courage and strength. Damon clasped his hands behind his head and heaved a sigh. He just wished Debra was a tad less self-reliant and needed him a bit more.

“I’ve always wanted you with me, Debra,” Damon said, his voice deep and low in the small bedroom. “But the reality of life has a way of changing all the best laid plans. Never in a million years did I envision you and I coming together from opposite sides like we have.” He grunted and rolled his eyes. “Believe me, I wouldn’t have been offended had you willingly rushed into my arms that first night on Edith’s veranda.”

Debra remained quiet, sensing his disappointment, and silently admitted if his mind hadn’t been closed to her she just might have.

The half-hearted grin faded from his face. “None of what’s happened was planned. My parents and the other colonists didn’t dream of a new home to end up dead because of it. The bi-humans weren’t conceived with love and given a chance to live in the sunlight only to end up cutoff from us and dead. Life doesn’t follow plans, Debra.”

Damon stared at the ceiling, picturing the last time he had seen his parents together; at his mother’s deathbed on the ship. “You know the story now of why and how we came here. You know about the colonists and the horrible way they died.” His eyes squeezed shut, trying to expunge all the gory images of the past through sheer strength of will. “The virus changed everything,” he whispered, heatedly.

Part of him wanted to hate the humans for their stupidity and environmental genocide. But that was his pain talking.  Reason demanded that he bear in mind that life accepted no plans from the humans as well.

He cleared his throat, struggling to explain his thoughts. “What I don’t think you fully understand is that Thalians are forbidden to have children because there’s no room for expansion in the underwater cities. That means physical relationships are frowned upon, unless it’s like your parents, a human female and a Thalian male.

“It’s why medical tried so hard to recreate our dream world,” Damon said with solemn patience. “With physical sharing no longer allowed, Thalians can only touch one another through mental bonding. For the majority of those born en route or in orbit, that means they’ve never experienced the physical side of a relationship.”

“My god. You’re right, I didn’t realize. But what about some kind of birth control?” Debra asked, regarding him thoughtfully.

Beneath the cover, his sprawled large frame was anything but relaxed. “Human birth control has no effect on Thalians, male or female. Our reproductive cycles are based on the amount of the bond between a couple. The body is controlled by the brain. Bonding is a mental function that knows when the commitment is deep enough between mates to produce a child.”

He took several long swallows from the water bottle. “It sounds complicated trying to explain it like this. Just know that the bond takes into account health, previous pregnancies, emotional desire for a child, environmental conditions. I’ve never heard of a Thalian family having more than two children, ever. But no one knows how the Thalian bond will be affected by human influence. Either way, we’re damned if we have children and damned if we don’t.”

Brown eyes widened at the staggering inference of aloneness and Debra wondered how they all stayed so sane. Then she realized the same could be said of her nature. Survival often made strange bedfellows of logic and compromise. Sometimes even between right and wrong. In the blink of an eye her perceptions of survival and death seemed to have shifted once again.

“I’m listening,” Debra said, somberly. “Go on.”

The change in her voice had Damon glancing over at her. She finally believed him. He could see it in her eyes. Hope revived as he sensed all her barriers coming down. Ignoring the aches and pains, Damon rolled onto his side, letting his gaze roam her face.

“Do you believe that I love you? That I’ve always loved you?” Debra nodded, ready to listen with an open mind. “If it had been just me I would have shared everything with you in the dream world. But . . . I couldn’t . . .” He stumbled over trying to make clear what was in his heart and his duty to the elders and the Thalian people. “I couldn’t go against my upbringing or my oath as sovereign.” His eyes misted beneath a furrowed brow. “Most of all, I couldn’t take the chance of being wrong, not with your life in the balance.”

Believing him, yet feeling the old frustrations bubbling to the surface, Debra automatically challenged, “But why block our Thalian side? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be all alone when psychic abilities start emerging, when the black rage comes over you?” Her fist thumped the bed. “Would it have hurt protocol so much to have included some kind of mental suggestion that we weren’t crazy or demons or evil?

“You say Thalians loved us. I say we were nothing more than expedient to your cause. Our lives were developed and guided under a medical-scientific thumb. I at least had you and the dream world fighting for my sanity. But take that away and where was the compassion, the consideration for our feelings and the hell me and my sisters went through?”

The breath in her body vibrated with emotion. Yet somehow saying the words after a lifetime of festering deep inside helped to stem the anger. Debra rolled to her side and faced him. “I’m not stupid, Damon,” she finally said, quietly. I understand what’s at stake for the Thalian nation, and that risks had to be taken. But what I don’t understand is the almost cruel abandonment of the consequences of those risks.”

Teeth clenched, the muscles flexing in his jaw, Damon rasped irritably, “You of all people know how paranoid most humans are. The natal blocks were nothing more than protection against human intolerance. The virus had us all trapped, Debra; bi-humans above and Thalians below. If it hadn’t been for the human helpers, I doubt any of us would have made it. Right or wrong, protocols and procedures were established so that Thalians and human family were all on the same page for helping the bi-humans.”

There was not an ounce of sweetness in her face now. Only the fact that her mind was still open kept him from trying to shake some common sense into her.

“Without a Thalian seer on earth there was no way to predict the fatal chemical imbalance that mentally and emotionally crippled the bi-humans at the onset of puberty. Or to know how much time beneath the surface would weaken their immune system and make them susceptible to the atmosphere. Only time proved that the imbalance was degenerative. And our human friends did the best they could with what we all had to work with. Thalians sure as hell couldn’t go above with our cloaking auras and the risk of fatal exposure to the atmosphere if caught.”

Running out of steam Damon rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling, and sighed deeply. “It was a bad time for everyone, Debra. The program never resumed once it became apparent that the degenerative cycle had to be some kind of bi-species malignant mutation.”

Damon took her hand and held it to his chest. “Our failure wasn’t abandonment, love. Human watchers dedicated their lives to making sure you and your sisters were never alone in times of need. They just weren’t allowed to tell you.” His callused palm lightly rubbed the back of her hand. “Our failure to the bi-humans and the babies is being unable to find a cure, no matter how hard we try.”

Silence filled the small white room. Debra pressed her hand flat to Damon’s chest and sent a fresh flood of endorphins surging through his veins. She could feel his muscles relaxing, his breathing becoming easier, as her own pain-numbing chemical concoction pushed the headache into the back of her mind somewhere.

“Do you think we’ll ever have a conversation that doesn’t leave us both mentally and physically drained?” Debra wearily asked.

A feeble grin curled the corners of his lips. Heaving onto his side, Damon nudged her shoulder. “Roll over on your side.” He snuggled up behind her with a contented sigh, an arm draped over her waist. “Thank you for saving my life,” he whispered, letting his eyes close.

“What happens—”

“No more questions, love.” He pulled her in close so her naked bottom nestled snuggly against his groin. “It’s time to rest.”

Five minutes later the ceiling light went out, leaving the bedroom in darkness.

February 19, 2012

Rewrite in Progress

In spite of all my best intentions, Part 2 of Chapter Eleven has to be delayed. I’m not happy with the ending scene and am in the middle of rewriting it. Of course I can’t quite put my finger on the problem but my gut is definitely kicking up a fuss and will let me know when I’ve got it right LOL. I could have posted what I had but the perfectionist in me couldn’t let it slide. So the work continues.

As a substitute, I’d like to offer a wonderful WordPress site that I subscribe to, PhotoBotos.com. This site features stunning photographs by a global variety of talented photographers. The above recent posting link is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Till next week.

February 12, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Eleven Part 1

Edith held onto the balcony door handle with both hands in an effort to stop pacing back and forth across the carpet in Debra’s quarters. Not wanting to waste precious time shuttling from the city to the surface every evening and back each morning, Manton had approved security override on the door and given Edith a place of peace and quiet away from the growing crowds.

His observation that Debra had not had the apartment long enough to even leave a psychic imprint helped somewhat to ease the feeling of intruding. Just one more burden added to the growing weight of culpability she carried around these days.

Leaning against the sliding door, the one-way glass pane was cool against her moist forehead. Guilt over Debra and Damon had been ruthlessly whipping at her conscience day and night, and was now taking a toll on her health.

The thought of food turned her stomach, making her gag when Rowan forced a nutritional drink on her three times a day. Sleeping through the night was a thing of the past and just another venue for tossing and turning. And while the city remained at a constant moderate temperature of seventy-five degrees, Edith continued to breakout in sweat like a condemned murderer awaiting the last long walk to the gas chamber.

Bloodshot blue eyes closed, shutting out the lush, colorful park, knowing if Debra died she could never again take pleasure in all the beauty and technology her Thalian family benefitted from. She cursed the slight tremor of exhaustion that shook garden- rough fingers as she tugged her sleeveless summer dress in search of a dribble of cool air.

The upset and panic that tightened inside her chest, making it sometimes hard to breath, was not unlike the day Trevon had died years ago. She had acted irrationally that day, too, only to discover she had been wrong. But by then the damage had become irreparable. So many lives had been changed that day because of her. One would think that so momentous a mistake would be an immeasurable lesson to avoiding the same folly again.

Tears trickled down smooth, pale cheeks. She hadn’t learned a thing. Once again her irrational act could have cost the lives of Debra and Damon, not to mention the loss of a great Vion sovereign and the last of the original bi-humans to live above. A senseless, empty death because Edith thought she knew better than the top Thalian medical minds and the council of elders.

That night Debra awoke and found her on the veranda, the night Ruthie had died, played over and over in Edith’s mind. Every fiber of her being had empathized with Debra’s frustration and anger at the hell life was putting her through. After all Edith was an empath, as quaint as that gift may be compared to Thalian standards or Debra’s uniqueness.

Yes, Debra had a right to know the truth about Damon, just as she deserved Thalian candor about her hidden heritage, or what a nation expected of her in the hopes of survival. Medical and the council had emphatically agreed that Debra was different from her sisters, stronger and more powerful. Yet no one could explain why, so the protocols had remained in place.

But the council and medical masters and grand masters didn’t have to look into Debra’s eyes and lie, year after year. They didn’t have to watch her be brutalized and almost beaten to death, or see her retreat from the world and live in poverty as a recluse because it was safer for everyone.

But looking back, Edith now second-guessed her resolve. Would it have hurt to wait several more days until Debra’s birthday and the Awakening? Would the release of the knowledge have prepared Debra for acceptance of her heritage far better than her sisters?

Confused and more tired than she could remember, Edith didn’t know what was right anymore. The only absolute she could cling to was that all the others of Debra’s kind were dead.

Glancing over at the clock tucked into the bookcase seemed a subtle form of torture. Seven hours and twenty-three minutes had passed since word had been posted to the message site that brain activity had returned to both Debra and Damon. Consciousness and movement had yet to return. Rowan had sent Theron to the apartment with the news, his celebratory hug no doubt his discreet way of checking on her vital signs.

She glanced at the clock again. Seven hours and twenty-five minutes.

Several times over the years Debra had come so close to dying. But this time she had actually achieved ascension from her body. Anyone with experience knew of the dangers of astral travel. A tiny smile of satisfaction tugged the corners of Edith’s lips. With no training or knowledge of what to expect, Debra had simply taken a leap of faith in her own abilities and instinctively did what no other master or grand master could do, find Damon.

If Eron didn’t proclaim her Vion, Edith was prepared to call the man daft to his face.

Feeling a bit stronger from a surge of family pride, she hastily wiped her face of tears and sweat. A half-hearted chuckle rumbled deep in her chest. Duran would be a plague in everyone’s life now until he got the whole story for the archives. Rumor had reached her that he was scrutinizing the different video angles of the match between Debra and Manton in an effort to breakdown the moves for instructional study. His weekly blog after the impromptu contest had boasted that Debra’s skill brought a new level of intensity to the hand-to-hand combat classes, along with a flood of new members, all eager to someday pit their skills against the sovereign’s warrior consort.

Aware of Duran’s longtime fondness and awe of Debra, Edith wondered if the young man still poured over the hundreds of files that catalogued Debra’s life. The gift of total recall made his research invaluable and the perfect tool for the book he hoped to someday write regarding the contributing influencers to the survival of the Thalian nation.

The door chimed. Edith brushed agitated fingers through uncombed silver curls and swallowed hard. Surprise registered at finding Duran standing in the hallway, his smooth face breaking into a disarming smile. It was way too weird to be thinking about the man and then suddenly find him at her door.

“No change, yet,” he apologized, remaining outside the room, hands behind his back. “No one has seen you for several hours. I came to make sure you were all right.”

Duran liked Edith, enjoying their many conversations and her feisty, outspoken nature. Her stimulating questions about Thalian culture and beliefs allowed him to show off his knowledge about Thalians and humans and future projections for the two species on one planet. He was also exceedingly grateful that he could come to her any time for insightful discussions about his favorite research theme, Debra.

“I’m dithering myself into a headache,” Edith declared in a conspiratorial tone, her expression strained by regret and exhaustion. Duran blinked, remaining silent. She had spent so much time with him over the years that speaking her mind now seemed second nature on just about any topic. “Part of me feels like I’ve betrayed everyone with my interfering over Debra. But the other side of me believes change is needed and is ready to defend my actions at the top of my lungs,” she helplessly gestured with a shrug.

Duran nodded, recognizing her dilemma. As the sovereign’s archivist and researcher he clearly understood the complexities involved. Like most he lived with the horrors suffered by the colonists and bi-humans. Finding the balance between survival and extinction continued to divide some of the greatest minds searching for answers.

None of his sadness showed as Duran softly coached, “When so much is at stake, it’s difficult to tempt change.” He managed a smile. “Between you and I, there are many who feel things should have been handled differently with the original bi-humans. Unfortunately, hindsight remains our only frame of reference.” He cleared his throat and straightened. “But enough about protocols and procedures for now. As I feared, you are clearly in need of diversion. Why not join me. We’ll stop by the OT for an update and then go for a long walk in the park.”

Such a polite, uplifting young man. Edith sniffed and waved him into the apartment. Thalian upbringing and shielding may have kept her from sensing his deeper emotions, but she had no doubts that many of his memories of loss remained painfully raw. A condition that pertained to all earthbound Thalians. In many ways the Thalian higher consciousness functioned like a collective that continually kept alive the essence of those who had fallen. And although Edith aspired to a similar graciousness of character, she candidly conceded her way of coping was not as dignified or altruistic.

Edith headed for the bedroom, suddenly swamped with relief at no longer being left alone with her own company. “Did Rowan send you? I’m surprised she hasn’t sent someone with one of her horrible potions.” In the doorway Edith turned, mouth gapping open as Duran held out a nutritional drink. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. Silently she marched across the living room, tossed back the infusion like a power drinker, and gave him a bland stare. “In warning, I want you to know we humans take our revenge very seriously. Have a seat while I freshen up.”

The third level corridor was surprisingly empty of residents as Edith and Duran went through the Operating Theater’s decon procedure at the main entrance. Blue-suited security kept a low profile, moving stragglers along, and keeping entrances and exits clear in case of emergencies. A posted stern-faced security guard stepped aside at a nod from Duran when the inner decon doors swished opened into the theater. Both Edith and Duran sensed the commotion on the platform below and cautiously pushed their way down the crowded, dimly lit aisle for a better look.

“I’ve got movement, too,” Rowan called out from beside the second bed, her fingers splayed across Debra’s flat stomach. Mentally visualizing on a molecular level, she instinctively willed body chemicals to ramp up and ease the return of total consciousness after such a long astral sleep.

Medical personnel moved in to relieve Rowan and Theron, their nimble fingers kneading slowly awakening circulation. Yet in spite of all the precautions and expert care, both patients were going to have to deal with arduous muscular aches and pains for the better part of a week.

Rowan stepped back to the side of the brightly lit platform, brushing away several strands of loose hair from her face, and watched in satisfaction as her people worked quickly and efficiently. “Prepare the inhibiting hypos,” she ordered, looking over at the med-tech in charge of manufactured medications. “I don’t want things to start flying around or accidentally get grabbed by Debra autonomic defenses when their subconscious taps back into full awareness.”

Moving to the head of Damon’s table, Rowan placed the hypo against his neck and waited for the familiar hiss to finish. Long fingers spread around the crown of his head as she assisted his emergence with the healing energy of her body. She could sense him reaching for consciousness, like a tidal wave of intellect and emotion surging toward the light.

“Almost too late, Damon,” her thoughts greeted telepathically. “Even I couldn’t reach you.”

“Quarantine . . . together,” he mouthed, barely above a whisper. “No sensors,” he requested weakly, finding telepathy easier to negotiate than speaking.

You’re a fool where she’s concerned. But I love you anyway. I’ll take care of everything,” Rowan promised and beamed a smile at his satisfied grunt. One down, one to go. Her head popped up, looking over at Debra. “How is she?”

“Weak, but conscious,” shouted Theron, squinting out at the darkened theater and grinning at the roar of applause and cheers. He took a deep breath and blew out a cheerful but weary sigh. With hands still monitoring Debra’s vitals, he marveled at the strength of her lifeforce, even with astral sickness. The sovereign had chosen well. Theron now looked forward to Jubilee and Debra’s confirmation as consort. Then they could all get down to the business of saving the Thalian nation.

The adrenaline rush crashed with a vengeance and Rowan wanted nothing more than a hot shower and a clean bed. She would change the sheets but the rest of her cluttered quarters would have to wait for another day. She kissed Damon’s cheek and straightened slowly, her fatigued back muscles aching in protest.

All it took was a look from Rowan and Manton signaled security personnel to start ushering the boisterous spectators from the theater. He nodded at her in compliance. “I’ll take care of posting the news. You go get some rest.”

Rowan motioned to Theron and his tall, lanky frame hurried over. “As soon as all vitals are normal for both, I want them placed together in quarantine, one bed. No monitoring. Install the portable com-link on Damon’s side of the bed. He’ll call if he needs anything.”

“Will do,” Theron responded, noting the circles of exhaustion under her eyes. “Do you want to be notified if there’s a problem?”

“One of the benefits of being in charge of the best staff is being able to delegate,” Rowan replied and impishly winked. “You’re in charge till further notice.”

February 5, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Ten Part 3

All thoughts of destiny and duty fell from his mind as he watched Debra stride purposefully from the warm turquoise water. She could have been a pin-up model with her smooth golden-brown skin, rounded in all the right places, her tightly sculpted muscles giving strong arms and long slender legs the look of a healthy animal stocking its pray. Instead she favored the life of a recluse, living off the grid most of the time.

Cascading sea water followed the curves of her naked body, making small puddles at her feet with each step onto the beach. The hunger stirred again in his mind and groin, his tongue leaving a trail of moisture across his lower lip.

Later, he reminded himself, teeth grinding in an effort to stay focused. Soon they would have to return to the physical dimension and still they had not talked. The city and its problems seemed so far away at the moment, and the chance to be together, completely open with each other for the first time, was too hard to resist.

Those long wet legs braced apart on either side of his hips, the dripping cool water helping to take some of the heat out of his groin and ardor. “What are you thinking about,” Debra asked huskily, amusement glinting in her eyes.

He glanced at her full pink-tipped breasts swaying slightly as she stood brazenly tall with hands on hips before looking into her eyes. “Read my mind,” he whispered, running his hands up the backs of her legs and placing a kiss on the soft curls at the apex of her thighs.

Debra hoped for much more but was disappointed when Damon settled back on his elbows. She sat down beside him on the cushioned mat. “I’m not sure I want to read your mind. Is the hot sex over all ready?” she pouted angelically.

“Never. Not if you’re anywhere in my sight, or my thoughts,” he said in that disarming velvet voice that always turned her mind and freewill to mush. “But we have to go back soon and there are things we need to talk about.”

The pout suddenly became real when she realized he didn’t have pillow talk on his mind. In spite of his laying there splendidly naked, Debra sensed it wasn’t the lover watching her now but the sovereign.

“Christ, Damon. We just beat the odds against the neutering universal taxonomy contraption. I say we’re entitled to a little down time, alone, together. I don’t want serious right now. I want wild sex, no responsibilities your sovereign-ness, and no other people within a million mile radius.”

Damon glanced down at his lingering erection and smirked arrogantly. “As we can both see I’m up for the wild sex, but after we talk. Because I am sovereign, Debra, with thousands of lives depending on me to make the right decisions.”

“Well I’m not sovereign,” she protested petulantly, then shrugged tolerantly, her swaying wet breasts drawing his glance. “Yet lately I always seem to be in the middle of everything, don’t I.”

Not knowing if he would make it back or not, duty had demanded that the matter of successor be legalized. His sealed death testament had been left in Manton’s care, with only his sister and best friend aware of the objective and the danger involved. Had he been declared dead, Damon now wondered how angry Debra would have been to find herself named the sovereign apparent, with Rowan and Manton as her council and tutors. No doubt she would have come after him just to make sure he was dead, he mused.

“No, you’re not. But you are the sovereign’s consort, with your own responsibilities to the Thalian nation,” he said deftly, his eyes impossible to read.”

Debra stared speechless, long fingers clenching tightly together against her bare thighs. A nation of people, all depending on her. Good lord, just the thought alone made her stomach heave. When had she forfeited the right to free will, her freedom to choose what the hell she wanted in this whole bloody mess?

Was a lifelong relationship with Damon worth all the changes she would have to endure, all the things about herself she would need to relearn? Not to mention did she even still love him after all the lies and manipulation?

Great sex was one thing, she thought, looking out at the vastness of the lively blue sea. But becoming a wife and consort, all in one breathtaking leap, suddenly seemed an impossible undertaking to comprehend. How could anyone truly depend on her unstable disposition and mental abilities? And try as hard as Debra could, she had no answers for bringing Thalians into the sunlight, or curing babies to watch them live beyond childhood.

Gravely, she looked over at him and sighed. “So, we’re back to that again.” Exasperated, Debra shook her head as Damon nodded. “If the dream world is nothing more than an imaginary place we share inside your consciousness, how can you possibly expect me to believe anything that happens here is real?” she demanded harshly.

“Because the dream world is not in my head or your head, but an entirely separate dimensional reality, that only we seem able to access,” Damon countered, his voice cutting like the crack of a whip.

What?” Stunned into silence Debra simply stared. When younger she had believed the dream world was a real place, a kind of parallel universe that offered them sanctuary and freedom from the pain. But when one is told it’s all a figment of your imagination, over and over, you start to believe in the lies. Even the records in the Thalian archives considered the dream world an unreality interim created by Damon’s subconscious.

Damon sat up, facing her, his hands resting gently on her thighs incase he had to grab those delicate-looking lethal hands to protect himself. Maybe having this conversation naked wasn’t such a good idea. Confident at what was coming next, he hurried to head off the explosion of temper. “I know I said the dream world wasn’t real.” He gave her legs a pleading squeeze. “Please, give me a chance to explain before you kill the messenger.”

Hot sex was no longer on her mind as she grappled with the newest lies and manipulations. She could simply meld with his mind and find the truth for herself. But since she thought they were already melded up until a moment ago, Debra didn’t have a clue how to initiate or find what she wanted.

“You bloody liar,” she erupted furiously, trying to stand up but firmly held in place by Damon’s hands. “This is the last time. You hear me. No more surprises, no more not knowing what everyone else knows.” She leaned toward him and shouted. “So fucking talk. But I swear, Damon, if I feel like I’ve been kicked in the teeth one more time by the people who supposedly love me, then I’m gone.”

Even without being melded, Damon could feel her pain of betrayal, in spite of the angry tears trickling down her cheeks. His heart felt like it was breaking in two. All he wanted to do was love and protect her. Yet time and obligations seemed to thwart him at every turn. The bond they shared since first rights made sensing her emotions easier, even at a distance. But the price was he had to live with all those frightening, unhappy emotions right along with her. And yet after all that had happened, Debra was still unaware of the bond between them.

Feeling like he was fighting all alone for their survival, Damon bit back his own anger and frustration. “This is a real place,” he said, his voice raw as he continued to hold her. “It’s just not Earth. Our bodies, the things we interact with here are all real for this dimension. Here we just have to think something and it exists. A little taste of Home and what awaits us after physical death.”

Curiosity got the better of her temper, letting the analytical side of her nature take control, and ignored his large hands pressing her legs to the mat. “How do you know this?” she curtly challenged.

“You would agree that any Thalian is psychically far superior to humans.” Damon waited for her nod before continuing. “It’s also true that even among Thalians there are those considered Vions, people who are exceptionally gifted and thought to be one evolutionary step away from becoming a Mystic or planet-bound immortal.”

Debra blinked, slowly digesting this latest revelation regarding her Thalian heritage. “Are you a Mystic?”

Vigilantly sitting back on the mat, Damon crossed his legs, scooting close enough that their knees almost touched. “There are no recorded cases of actual Mystics, just fables and hearsay passed down through generations. Eron proclaimed me Vion when I was a boy. And of all the Thalians on Earth, there is only one other.” He stared directly into her turbulent eyes, arms nimbly resting across his sturdy thighs. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”

Having enough pride in her self-taught abilities to know that she was mentally stronger than many of the Thalians she had already met, Debra did not truly comprehend the significance of what he was trying to tell her. “Are you saying I’m Vion? We both know I’m stronger than most. So what?” Suddenly Debra remembered the vision and Manton’s unwavering belief in her abilities. “Did you have a vision about me?”

Damon shook his head, not ready to get into her astral visitation to Thalia or the nightmare. Too much too soon would only overwhelm. “No visions,” he answered guardedly. “I just know things that others don’t.”

For a moment Debra mulled over the facts as given. “So being Vion lets you know that this place, our dream world, is real?”

“Until you understand your full potential, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it,” he gruffly declared, his barriers completely down, his mind open should she chose to link.

But the thought of linking never even occurred to Debra as she leaned forward, her eyes growing hard. “Then why tell me the dream world wasn’t real? That we couldn’t stay here? Why did you make me go back to that hell every time?”

“Because our lifeforce endured in vitro into the physical domain. Not here. That means we are connected or tethered to that domain. If we stay here the tether eventually terminates. If our physical bodies die while we’re away, the tether terminates. Either way we become one of those lights of energy in the prism heading Home.” He brushed the side of her cheek to help soften the sting of reality. “The dream world is real, Debra, but nothing more than a temporary sanctuary for our current existence.”

Slender fingertips lightly traced across the calluses on her palm; stirred the fine hairs along her forearm. A small, fleeting frown chased across her brow. “Are we real in this dimension or just thought manifested like everything else we think up?”

Like always Debra had no problem finding the difficult questions, and expecting the meaning of life to be summed up in a single sentence. Should he tell her the whole truth before she was ready to listen and accept? That here their lives were born of thought and not in vitro like the physical domain. That it was Debra’s powerful psyche, channeled through his consciousness, that made life in the dream world possible.

“With all your questions, Eron’s going to love tutoring you,” Damon admitted with a chuckle. “For this domain our bodies are as real as it gets.”

“You knew I would find you,” she grudgingly muttered aloud. “You let me think I might have killed you, just to make me find you.”

“I couldn’t get passed your anger and mistrust any other way. So I bet my life on your need to find and protect.” Damon caressed the side of her leg, his gaze bold, his tone whisper-soft. “And it was worth getting trapped in the prism. Because it was my name you called out when I was inside you, not Kalon.”

Debra shrugged stiffly and fought to appear indifferent to the allure of his velvet voice. “As the great Vion, how did you manage to get yourself trapped in the prism?”

“Obviously it takes one to know one,” he commented dryly, his gaze narrowing sharply. He let the fact of her own entrapment in the prism go without comment. “I can’t tell you how I got there, but when I came to I found myself trapped. And the longer I was there the weaker I became.” He grinned and winked roguishly. “I think you really did save my life, and now you’re responsible for me.”

His black eyes were gleaming, his tone intimate. Debra smiled, showing a lot of teeth.

Damon noticed the bridge of her nose beginning to burn from the strong sunlight. A large beach umbrella suddenly appeared, throwing a circle of shade over both of them. “I have no idea how long I was there when you showed up.” Before she could ask, he brashly offered the answer, gauging her reaction. “Time here is not the same as on Earth. What seems like months here is actually only a matter of hours to those there. You’ll learn all this from your tutors.”

With hands on hips Debra irritably shook her head, unaware of the small beads of sweat sliding between her breasts and down across her lightly muscled stomach. “You make me want to spit, Damon,” she retorted contemptuously. “I’m expected to be some kind of leader or helper to the Thalian people—‘but gosh, so sorry Debra, we had to handicap you and bury any trace of who and what you are. But now it’s time for you to be a team player and know everything. So if you could just twitch your nose and fix all the problems we’ll add a new statue in the entrance chamber in your honor.’”

She crossed her arms with an angry jerk beneath her breasts as though suddenly offering up the moist pink tips for inspection. Damon blanched, the muscles in his groin twisting in knots, his mouth so dry he almost choked when he tried to swallow.

Thinking Debra deliberately used her sex to torture him, his black eyes flashed in fierce warning as he shouted, “If you had been born pure Thalian, we never would have had this problem. Nor would there have been a problem if Edith had just kept her damn mouth shut. As a bi-human you would have learned everything from the Awakening on your twenty-fifth birthday. But you didn’t have the proper Awakening because your . . . because Edith didn’t want to wait and forced the memories and knowledge to come out in dribs and drabs. So now everyone has to deal with a mess.”

Damon slapped the umbrella out of the way and stalked to the shoreline. “Fuck,” he roared at the choppy waves, using the human word he inwardly promised never to lower himself to utter. Several minutes passed, with only the sound of waves slapping up against the shore, before he felt calm enough to curtly announce, “It’s time to go back. I’ve got a nation to oversee.”

A shapely, arched eyebrow was the only response Debra had time for before the dream world disappeared.

January 29, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Ten Part 2

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

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

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

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

“What about you?” Rowan said flatly.

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

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

*   *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Octagon.

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

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

Soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Ten Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dream world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 15, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Nine Part 3

The two of them stood watchfully, neither taking the other for granted. Manton towered over her. Combat would in veritably be David pitted against Goliath. But Debra did not worry about his height and extra weight, an obvious disadvantage that would eventually be used against him. As the adrenaline flooded her system and the warrior emerged, her calm dark gaze observed his assertive black eyes and controlled body language.

All emotion, worry, and self-doubts about her future in the city evaporated. In seconds tactical data from heightened senses pinpointed weaknesses and assessed aggressive and defensive moves. Both realized the competition had gone from playful to something much more meaningful and potentially dangerous.

Any human male seeing her closed, intensely focused face, her poised motionless body would have thrown down his weapon and run for his life. Manton watched her as he slowly stepped away from the draping branches of the willow tree. Over the years he had taught many men and women how to fight, how to protect themselves. Only once in a rare while did someone come along who was a natural born fighter.

Debra followed, taking up a power stance as she cautiously circled out into the open with him. Without warning she ducked, leg thrusting out in a blur to cap his knee and end with a quick kick to his groin.

Manton easily saved his knee and sidestepped to let the kick bounce off his thigh.

Between one breath and the next, Debra launched herself at him, hands smacking against his ears, then locking behind his neck as she used her falling body weight as leverage to pull his large frame in a fast flip over her head.

The head of security had barely hit the ground before he was back on his feet, a gleam of anticipation flashing in his eyes. She came straight at him again and bested his defensive posture once more with a leap that brought her knee like a bullet into his stomach, one hand painfully squeezing his esophagus and the other bracing on the nape of his neck while she used the heel of her foot to slam into the back of his knee and bring him down. In a blink she rolled clear and turned to watch and wait on the balls of her feet.

“Don’t ever hesitate to make a kill shot,” Manton instructed, crouching in front of her and reducing the amount of target areas on his body.

“Give me your best,” Debra demanded, hastily pulling off the baggy sweatpants and shirt to reveal her everyday workout sports bra and tight knee-length shorts.

And the non-lethal war was on, even though it looked like both combatants were doing their best to kill each other. Everything became a weapon. Feet, knees, hands, and elbows moved in a blur of speed as each sparred for superiority over the other. It became a deadly dance of strength and agility as they baited and evaded, blows landing, each grunting and spinning away, only to return with incredible speed.

At the last second Manton managed to duck under a blow, reaching out for flesh, and flipping Debra over his back. She landed with feline grace, steady on her feet, ready to counterattack. His feet cut out from under him, Manton went down. More jabs, punches, and kicks landed while the two combatants scrambled to their feet and fought for position.

The punishing hits were pulled just short of doing real damage but the pain inflicted still registered and only seemed to fuel their desire to win. With a mighty heave Manton threw Debra and followed her down, setting up for the killing blow. Even though Debra could still have dodged or counterattacked, instinct warned it was time to stop. She conceded the match by opening her hands in a surrendering position. Instantly Manton stood and offered Debra a hand up.

A large crowd had gathered along the jogging trail, everyone curious to see what Debra could do against the Grand Master. Cheering and wild applause erupted from the spectators, the loudest shouts and whistles coming from Manton’s current students in the combat arts. Many had taped the spectacle on their personal com-links, with at least a dozen versions offering different angles showing up on the public sites for those who had missed the match of a lifetime, eventually to be heralded as the warrior’s poetry in motion.

Unaware that their match had been witnessed, a surprised Manton and Debra gazed out beyond their grass ring of combat at a substantial and enthusiastic crowd, sweat running freely and chests heaving. The Grand Master raised their joined hands in acknowledgment, drawing another spirited cheer from the viewers. Adrenaline was still pumping, making minds and bodies feel invincible. An hour from now the bruises and pain would remind them both that no matter how invigorated a well-fought fight made them feel, they were still mortal.

The roar of the crowd diminished for Debra as she slowly turned to stare at Manton, their clasped hands still waving in the air. She resisted the urge to use the sight when images of Jordon Lorran flashed in her mind. Father and son, she thought, and marveled at how alike they were.

Debra leaned in close to his ear. “I need to tell you something, now.”

The bewildered look on her face drew his concern as much as the hesitation in her voice. He nodded and telepathically suggested his office. The crowd was breaking up but he needed to hurry them along their way before well-wishers surged to talk shop and offer congratulations. Even he would be the first to admit it had been one hell of a contest.

“Shows over,” Manton shouted, laughing with enjoyment. “Debra and I need to get cleaned up.”

Gathering up her discarded clothes, Debra walked in silence beside Manton across the jogging trail, wondering how to tell him about the vision, about his father. Was it something that all should take at face value? Or was there a deeper meaning that maybe she had picked up on from someone inside the city? Either way, she doubted that Manton would be pleased with her.

Inside the empty conference room Manton gestured to a chair at the far end and retrieved two bottles of cold water from his office. Before joining her at the table he locked both door panels from the wall com-link.

“Do you think you owe me a winning wager?” Manton asked, sliding into the chair at the head of the table and taking a long, refreshing swallow of cold water. He was curious what her response would be.

“I forfeited, therefore I lost. And now I owe you a winning wager,” Debra conceded earnestly.

“Is that why you forfeited? So you would owe me the wager?”

Silently Debra shook her head, gulping down several small sips of water. “It wasn’t a deliberate action. I was simply following my instincts.”

The black crystal tabletop felt cool and invigorating under his hand. As cool and somehow as promising as the solemn young woman sitting motionless across from him. “If I demand a win-wager, is there anything you would refuse to do?”

Debra’s back squared stubbornly, her gaze direct. “I will not link or meld with anyone else,” she said resolutely.

Not surprised, Manton nodded and turned his seat to face her, sensing she was ready to talk. “What happened with Rowan?”

Dark head bowed, Debra sighed long and loud, slowly rubbing the cold bottle back and forth across her sweaty forehead. “She was showing me what it’s like to link so I would know what to expect with Eron. Everything was fine . . . until I got locked into a vision. I have no idea what happened to Rowan after that.”

Burly arms leaned against the table, concern clearly stamped on his face. His black eyes instantly flashed with the authority of the head of security. “I’m told you have total recall. Looking back when you and Rowan were on the commons, are you saying you can’t find anything in your memory regarding Rowan when you had this vision?”

“Yes. Usually my internal senses keep track of time and what’s happening around me if I’m unconscious or incapacitated in some way. But this time there was nothing. I can’t even tell you how long we were linked. And since I haven’t heard a citywide outcry for my arrest or expulsion, I’m assuming she’s all right.” Debra shifted uncomfortably, hands balling into fists on her thighs. “Did I cause any harm?”

Disappointed, Manton sat back in his chair, believing her admission. “Nothing physical,” he answered succinctly, yet decided to be just as candid about what he knew, or rather, didn’t know. “Rowan mentally reached out to me for help and we melded. I saw the carnage she was seeing and feeling. Within minutes you were found on the commons. She was still linked to you, but otherwise unharmed.” Long fingers harshly scrubbed his face and plowed through his hair in frustration. “At this point I’m not even sure what happened. We’ll let the med-team tackle that part. What can you tell me about this vision?”

“Do you remember your father?”

Manton blinked at her, surprised by the question. “Are you saying the vision was about my father? Are you a seer?” he queried, taken aback, unable to recall any mention of such abilities in her file. At her puzzled stare he clarified. “I guess the human term would be clairvoyant, meaning, to mentally see clearly an event or person, a location or object. If you can see into the future then you are precognitive. Are you?”

Debra shook her head mutely. “Not that I know of. I’ve never had this happen before. I saw Jordon Lorran in an underground town square on Thalia. They had lost another well and were down to ten. They would be out of water in little over a year. Your father made the decision to journey to earth even though the message beacon never arrived. They couldn’t wait any longer. He issued orders for the crew to begin boarding and prepping the ships. Once they were ready the remaining population was to board.”

She told him everything, painting a picture with words about how he looked and the state of disrepair in the underground cities and tunnels. How the annihilating solar flares were now affecting the stability of the cities and life support resources. “You are so like your father,” she said, her tone softening at the anguish in his eyes.

His voice suddenly hoarse, Manton cleared his throat and tried again. “Did you get any sense of when this happened or would happen?”

“My impression is that it’s happening now. The last Thalian fleet is on its way to Earth. But I have no way to prove it.” She grabbed up her sweatshirt and roughly pulled it on. “And before you ask, no, I don’t have any idea why this vision came to me now.” She stood and yanked up her sweatpants. “And that goes double for how I got tuned into your father and Thalia.”

Manton struggled with the overwhelming implications, his thumbnail scraping methodically against his lower lip as he mentally prioritized the mother city’s response to the remainder of the Thalian nation. With Damon incapacitated and Rowan suffering some kind of mental disorder, the responsibility fell to him. “My mother needs to be told before I see the Elders or report to the other cities.”

“Then you believe my vision?”

There was no mistaking the stubborn jut to her chin. “I don’t know if you’ve had a clairvoyant vision or not. What I do know is that your abilities are damn impressive. And considering you’re the source, I believe you saw something relevant. The earthbound Thalian nation needs to prepare for the strong possibility of new arrivals in the next year or two and begin monitoring the space corridor that the fleet will use to enter earth’s high orbit.”

They shared a look. “Is there anything further I can do?” Debra asked earnestly.

“What I wish is that you could link or meld as easily as any other Thalian.” Manton pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. There was only one person she might feel inclined to try with. “If you want to honor your owed wager, go see Damon. You’ve been linked to his mind all your life. Maybe you can help, maybe you can’t. If you at least try to save his life, you will owe me nothing.”

Debra nodded, tears filling her eyes.

Manton unlocked the entryways, turning back in the opened doorway. “Debra,” he waited until she glanced up, “if we ever have to go into battle, I’d be honored to have you watching my back.”

And then he was gone, leaving a stunned Debra staring at the closed door.

Other than Edith, no one had ever believed in or needed her before. Dying wasn’t what Debra feared. Dying meant freedom. And if Edith was right, dying meant going Home. Failure was what Debra feared, and others paying the price for it. She would honor her wager to Manton and would either try and succeed or die trying.

January 8, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Nine Part 2

“Only one medical call last night,” Jenna said, her voice suddenly tense. “The nursery made an emergency request for assistance just after one.”

Manton’s large body went rigid, his mind fearing the worst, his heart barely over the loss of Ruthie. “The baby again?”

“Yeah. They’ve got Kirri in recovery now. Vitals are stable but she’s still having trouble breathing. That makes the third time this month.” It had taken every ounce of Jenna’s willpower to remain at her post when the call had popped up on her screen. Anything to do with medical or structural maintenance was always automatically flagged for copy and routed to security.

Determined to speak her mind, Jenna cleared her throat anxiously. “I trust your judgment, Manton. So tell me honestly. This Debra, do you think the rumors are true? Is she strong enough to lay hands and find a cure for the babies? For all of us?”

“Jenna,” Manton admonished gently like an older brother. “I know you’re very close to Kirri. Research is doing everything they can.” Even through the one-way window he could see how fear for Kirri had tightened her profile in the soft pool of light from the desk lamp. Was Debra gifted enough? Images flashed in his mind; of the consort on the beach and Damon’s life held assertively in her hand, of witnessing the warrior in the woman, waiting and watching in the airlock, ready to fight if necessary.

“I was only with Debra for a few minutes. Aside from her abilities, which appear to be impressive, even untrained, I sensed a will of steel in her.” His head dipped. There were no words left to comfort the untold losses they had suffered. All that remained was truth. “Whether that fortitude will help or hinder us, we’ll know more tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?”

“I got a message from Eron. Debra’s agreed to testing and evaluation first thing tomorrow morn—”

A loud choking gasp erupted from Jenna’s earpiece, then silence.

The weakened voice filled his head. “My . . . love . . .” Debilitating pain took the breath and strength from his body. Manton staggered and dropped to one knee, every ounce of mental control struggling to shield his mind from the agonizing pain. Blood and gore filled his sight. Darkness pressing in. The overwhelming stench of burnt flesh and hair made his stomach heave violently.

Like all bonded couples, he saw and felt what Rowan offered. A blackened, bloody cavity where her chest should have been; mutilated heart muscle and lungs skewered to broken ribs. All that kept Rowan earthbound was the diminishing protective barriers that shielded mind and lifeforce.

Without thinking of the consequences, Manton merged himself with Rowan, combining strength of mind and ability. Mentally he used Rowan’s healing skills to mask the pain and place her body in stasis until medical-research staff could take over. And yet Rowan’s awareness continued to feel death encroaching, to see her body shrouded in blood and pain. Unable to do more through the bonding meld, he strengthened her protective barriers and slowly withdrew his mind from the madness.

“Manton? What is it? Manton? Can you hear me?” Without waiting further for a response Jenna hastily pushed back from the desk, her chair toppling, and sprinted for the connecting conference room panel. High-backed chairs, neatly pushed up to the long black crystal-top table, datapads, current reports, large schematic pads, and the a suspended monitoring screen programmed for the morning briefing at 0700 were nothing more than a blur.

Jenna slapped the palmpad to Manton’s office and burst in to find him crouched on one knee in front of the one-way window, visibly fighting for control.

Shaken by the sight of Manton on the floor, she dropped down beside him. “Are you ill,” Jenna cried, detached professionalism out the window. “Sweet sunlight, what is it?”

Eyes closed against the dizziness, Manton freed his senses from the carnage in Rowan’s mind, and grabbed Jenna’s arm to help pull himself up. “Locate Rowan, now,” he gasped, and rested hands on large thighs while his strength slowly returned.

The power of mind and body had always come easily to Manton. At the unheard of age of twenty-six he was the youngest Grand Master of combat and self-defense in history, and yet he could not recall ever feeling such intensely concentrated pain.

Jenna keyed into the computer and quickly isolated Rowan’s personal com-link signal. “She’s in the park, on the common, sector 15B, by the giant willow tree.” Using the confirmed coordinates, she re-directed the nearest sensor and frowned at the screen. “The sensor is showing all her vital signs as normal? There must be a malfunction. Once Rowan is secured, I’ll get maintenance right on it.”

The waves of nausea finally subsided. Although not a healer, Manton knew enough about anatomy to manipulate the glands in his body to relieve normal distress from sports and overwork. What he experienced with Rowan was beyond all comprehension.

“Sir?” prompted Jenna, a touch of fretfulness in her voice.

“I’m all right now.” Manton warily straightened to his full towering height. “Signal OT to prepare for a trauma emergency. Patient is approaching bleed out, multiple injuries, self-healing not started. Have them send a bed and master healers to Rowan’s coordinates.” Sucking in a deep fortifying breath he hastened toward the corridor access panel still issuing instructions. “Contact Theron. Have him take responsibility for level three until he hears differently from Rowan or myself. And have whoever is on patrol in that sector meet me there.”

“I’m on it,” Manton heard Jenna shout as he sprinted down the corridor to the entrance chamber sliding doors. There was no backing off his stride this time as he burst into the palatial chamber, running flat out along the main airlock aisle, cutting across behind the marble fountain and around several vine-covered statues to the rear aisle where he nearly sent Eron toppling into the greenery.

Barely stopping, Manton grabbed the older man’s arm and pulled him along toward the glass corridor. “You’re with me,” he gravely commanded and gave an abbreviated description of the images in Rowan’s mind.”

“I simply can’t believe anyone in Tantria would commit such a crime,” Eron protested, following Manton through the glass corridor at a steady run. “And if the sensor readings are correct, then it sounds like she’s locked in some kind of psychotic delusion.”

Both men rushed out of the glass corridor into the park, then raced for the giant willow tree on the commons. Manton’s natural speed and concern for Rowan had him pulling ahead as he bounded from the strolling path, jumping the low beds and hedges and climbing several tiered flowerbeds, as though he were leaping up stairs, only to launch himself into the air and land running without even breathing hard or breaking a sweat.

The early morning dew from the night sprinklers had already evaporated from the thick forest-green lawn that covered the entire park acreage. Manton’s specially made soft-soled boots allowed his feet to feel the ground and grip for better traction, leaving little sign or sound of his passing. Long, muscular legs raced along the crushed stone jogging trail, for several minutes, before diverting over onto the common’s well-trimmed turf and approaching the giant willow tree.

The girth of the tree was wide, easily spanning six feet, its graceful outer branches draping almost to the ground. Over the years, several of the unwieldy roots had thrust up through soil and grass like gnarled knobby knees. In the branches he could see birds eating at the feeders, could hear them singing as though all was right with the world.

Did he have the wrong willow tree?

Movement off to the left had Manton hand signaling to the two-man patrol racing to assist to spread out and circle the far side of the tree, while he and Eron approached the nearside.

The sensor reading had been correct. Rowan sat motionless against the tree, hands buried in gouged up dirt and shredded grass, and not a drop of blood anywhere. Even more surprising was finding Debra sitting not more than four feet away from Rowan, eyes wide open and unseeing, as kinetic energy arced menacingly about her body.

Cautiously, Manton reached out to feel the pulse in Debra’s neck but quickly backed away as her autonomic defenses took control, her hand snaking out to grab hold of him in a crushing, burning grip. The heat coming off her body was incredible. Neither of the women looked physically in distress.

“I believe they’re linked,” Eron whispered, trying to calm his heart and emotions to better sense first Rowan’s mind and then Debra. “If I’m reading this right, Rowan initiated a link but is now trapped.

The meld between Manton and Rowan remained functional, yet all he could see and feel in her mind was blood and debilitating pain. Without warning he threw himself sideways onto Debra’s lap, effectively pinning her arms and legs. Even as the burning heat sucked the breath from his lungs, he pushed hard callused thumbs deftly against her carotid arteries until the lack of brain oxygen rendered her unconscious.

His jumpsuit smoldering with stinking smoke and the skin on his side and chest raw and black with fiery pain, Manton bellowed deafeningly as he rolled free of Debra, telepathically commanding the others to carry Rowan to the far side of the tree and await the med-team.

“You did it, Manton. Rowan is free,” Eron shouted breathlessly, looking back over his shoulder, torn between getting Rowan to safety and helping his friend.

With effort Manton sat up, making sure to keep his undamaged side to Eron. “I’m all right,” he hissed between clenched teeth. “Stay with Rowan. Help the med-team with her. I’ll stay with Debra.”

The others had barely rounded the tree when Manton felt her hand on his lower leg. A grunt of alarm rumbled in his chest as he stiffly moved to protect himself and block whatever aggressive stance Debra threw at him. Instead of more injury, he could feel the endorphins flooding his body and the pain subsiding.

Weak, but quickly regaining strength, Manton glanced over at Debra, their eyes meeting as though equals of long standing. The danger was finally over. Almost instantly his injuries healed; his body whole and strong once more, his lungs able to breathe deeply for the first time in what seemed like hours instead of only minutes.

Well understanding the process of empathic healing, he watched as Debra’s hands blackened and shriveled like claws, as the skin on her lower bare arms split into oozing, bloody wounds. Even knowing the transference was only momentary, he still found it hard to watch as her body listed to the side in pain, the agony clear on her face and flashing in her dark eyes.

And then her skin cleared and all trace of the transference was gone.

With the tip of his finger he activated his ear transceiver. “Jenna,” he demanded quietly, eyes once again locked with Debra’s. “Are you still online?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Jenna’s steady voice in his earpiece. “The bed is heading through the glass corridor now. They should reach you in five or less. OT staff is running the outer edge of the commons now and should sight you any minute.”

“Hold, Jenna.” He tapped his earpiece to deactivate and spoke to Debra. “Are you in need of medical assistance?” Her head slowly shook. Again he tapped his earpiece. “Jenna, the med-team is here. I’m going to be with Debra for awhile. Leave word with the next shift to notify me if there are any complications with Rowan. I want you to take charge of this morning’s meeting.”

“Not a problem, sir. Do you require any further assistance?”

Still looking directly at Debra, he softly asked, “Do I require any assistance?” Color flushed Debra’s face at the implication she might be a threat. Again, she slowly shook her head. “No, thank you, Jenna. Update the monitor that I’m to be contacted only if it’s an emergency until further notice. Manton out.”

He disconnected and pulled out his earpiece. To anyone out for a morning stroll before their duty shift, the Grand Master and the newcomer looked as though they were sharing a friendly conversation or teaching session on a peaceful patch of grass. It was common knowledge that Manton preferred the park to an enclosed classroom or office for instructing students and handing out the odd duty reprimand; of course that was second only to the combat gym and a good full-contact bout to relieve tension and frustration to body and mind.

Manton pulled his feet up, crossing his legs, and rested elbows on his knees as he leaned forward. “I’m told you know your way around the mats and have bested Damon on several occasions,” he said casually. The sudden, startled gleam in Debra’s eyes seemed to confirm that the stories were true. Once on the mats he would judge for himself whether there was talent and a true joy of the combat arts.

Prepared to be confined to quarters, Debra was surprised, yet wary, of Manton’s abrupt change of tact. “I’ve beaten Kalon in the dream world.” Brown eyes outlined the contours of his well muscled arms and legs. “I don’t know how I would fair against Damon, or anyone, here in reality.”

A dark brow rose sharply in inquiry. “Would you like to find out?”

“Are you going to try and pound me into paste for Rowan?” Debra asked with wry resignation.

She watched his eyes get that glassy, unseeing look to them, as though his mind had the sight. Instant flashes of earlier moments, when she had seen the two of them together, popped into her head and suddenly she realized there was a deeper connection between Manton and Rowan; one that both chose to ignore or not show in public. It would be a simple matter to reach out and take his hand and know the history between them. But maybe there was a better more enjoyable way.

“Will you wager for a win on the mats?” she asked, her lips twitching mischievously.

Manton threw back his head and roared with laughter. “All right. Name your terms.”

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