Recently, I upgraded my Kindle Paperwhite. The latest one has twice the memory and is waterproof (within reason, anyway). It also supports Audible audiobooks, which is rapidly becoming huge in the publishing industry, with many Indies and small publishers joining the major publishers with titles in release. So, I decided to give this new thing a test drive.
Audible is an Amazon company, but you don’t need a Kindle device to enjoy the audiobooks. If you have a smartphone (who doesn’t these days?) you can download the Audible App for Apple or Android and play the book through your Bluetooth speakers, headphones, earbuds or vehicle (if so equipped). There are some special trial deals going on for little or nothing. Once you see how much it frees you up, while still satisfying your lit needs you’ll want to sign up for it. You get one free download per month and discounts on other purchases throughout the period. What I have discovered is that I can listen to an average length book in a day or so, while doing menial things like laundry, cleaning the house, riding my bike, taking a walk, just about anything.
Author Rose Montague has been an early adopter of the audiobook format for her action-packed YA/NA books. Previously, I’ve read two of The Three J’Amigos Trilogy, as well as both of her other, spin-off books, which take place in the same universe but feature some other characters that have supporting roles in the trilogy. It was just with all the requests for reviews from others I hadn’t gotten around to reading JILL, which was published within the past year or so. But it was coming up on my “to-be- read” list.
All three audiobooks are narrated by Caryn Kuhlman, who does a fine job. It is essential for continuity between books of the same series to have the same narrator, I believe. Kuhlman varies her voice to make each character distinct, which helps a lot from a listener’s standpoint. For example, Jane in the series is “London Jane” and, yes, she has a British accent.
The one thing I will say that is a difference between listening to an audiobook and reading the eBook or print formats is that if you have read the print or eBook previously, it takes a bit to adjust to the narrator’s voice as opposed to your internal, reading voice. The characters are not going to sound the same as you have previously imagined. But you get used to that in relatively short order.
As for the story – I recommend taking the time to binge read or listen to this series. If you enjoy YA books featuring Supernatural beings (Supes), like Vampires, Shape-Shifters, Witches and Faeries, this is a series you’ll love. It offers a mind-expanding journey into the imagination of the author who is a great, natural storyteller. Her books’ pacing is quick.
Her characters are diverse. Jade is a Supernatural mutt, having the attributes of just about every supernatural being. Jane is a Vampire (Vamp) and a member of her community’s royalty. Jill is the Faeire Winter Queen who interacts with the human world on occasion. The female lead characters are strong, independent, sometimes snarky, sword-wielding, dagger-jabbing, (or steel-bat-swinging) badasses who you’ll be rooting for straight out of the gate. Oh, yes, there is a dragon in the mix as well. As J.R.R. Tolkien informed us, every good fantasy needs a dragon. There is plenty of action, excitement, and globe-trotting along the way, with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat guessing what will happen next. Rose’s books are a thrill ride waiting for you to jump in and claw at anything available while you hang on for dear life.
Following this first exposure to Audible, I’ve decided I much prefer listening to the three books in sequence. While waiting for JANE to be written (after having read JADE) I had forgotten some of the story and had to go back into the first book of the series and catch up a bit. I am certain I would have needed to do the same with Jane before reading Jill. However, listening to the books proved to be the best way to revisit the story in preparation for JILL. The trilogy comes to a satisfying, fitting conclusion that also directs the reader to the author’s other series which features Jewel, a budding teenage badass in her own right. Having read both available books of that series I can say that I can’t wait for the audiobooks and also look forward to the next book in that series.
**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
By the time the local sun disappeared behind the skyline of Haven, one of the two moons was already visible just cresting the eastern horizon. Paul stared at the large beach combing machines the Sakum’malien drivers staged at the edge of the dunes awaiting the departure of all the human sun worshipers. Perhaps they wondered at the odd human behavior, but they said little if anything to anyone – even those who spoke some words of English.
The odd feeling of having forgotten something returned, taunting him with information he could not grasp to recall. Again, he sensed a presence but there was no one immediately around except for Chase, Julie and Clare.
“Come on,” Clare prompted. Paul turned and hurried along as the four of them were among the last to leave the beach and rinse off in the beach house before getting dressed into more proper attire for dealing with the big city life.
Julie and Clare hugged one another and said their goodbyes as Chase and Paul retrieved their coaches from the docking station. When they arrived queued behind one another, Julie hugged Paul and Clare hugged Chase. They two men shook hands. It was a nice late afternoon get together they shared.
Chase was always traveling, mainly between his company’s office in Andromeda and Haven where he worked. Paul worked from dawn to dusk daily, sometimes even going in to work for a few hours on weekends just to catch up. He sometimes worked every single day within a month just to finish a project.
Clare climbed into the floater coach and Paul entered after her, settling in at the controls of the console. He waited for Chase and Julie to get settled and pull away from the boarding curb before he pulled out of the parking area and onto the street. “You aren’t in any trouble leaving work early?” Clare asked.
Paul shrugged, “What if I am? I’ve been working there for five years. I receive minimal raises in reward for always finishing my work on time or ahead of schedule and being at work at least on time but usually early and always staying late when necessary.”
“You don’t want to lose your job.”
“Of course not but I don’t think they even know I exist. No one knows who I am but if I was missing for a while they might finally appreciate what ol’-what’s-his-name takes care of for them.”
“Maybe others would take up the slack and they’d never notice.”
Paul nodded. “Yeah, well that puts the onus back onto me, now, doesn’t it?”
After a long pause Clare cleared her throat, “What was it Chase and you went off to yourselves to discuss?”
“Were you and Julie jealous of phantoms and some imagined competition?”
Clare forced a smile but her eyes did not leave his.
“Chase knows a guy he met a while back named Pete. When I was out in New Milan with Chase last fall we both met him and I beat him at shooting pool.”
“He must be awful at it, then.”
“Thanks a lot!” Paul exclaimed even as he shook his head in disbelief.
“I’m, just being honest, hon,” she said. “My baby brother beat you when we went to visit my folks last year.”
“Yeah, that little scoundrel’s a hustler, though,” Paul countered, after receiving a wave of impressions and perceptions the memories cascaded into his mind, filling in many missing pieces of an established past that stretched back well before he stepped out of the ocean water onto the beach.
Everything was there, meeting Pete in New Milan, accompanying Chase to Andromeda on a detour while on their way home. Chase signed a band and then they returned to Haven. Paul never told Clare he and Chase detoured through Andromeda. It took them three extra travel days but Clare always believed he stayed in New Milan for an extra meeting. It wasn’t like they did anything wrong, but it was just he never bothered to tell her where all they went.
As Paul pulled the coach up to the curb of their apartment building, he pressed the button commanding the door to open and as soon as the coach stopped, Clare stepped out onto the curb and waited for Paul to do the same and dock the coach before he joined her. They both entered the building and stood in the lobby waiting for the elevator car to arrive.
“So, that was the big secret Chase had to talk to you about, this guy Pete?”
“Yeah, it was part of it. Pete’s in a band and they’re looking for a female lead singer.”
“So, of course he thought of Cristina.”
“Yep.” The elevator arrived and they both boarded. Paul pressed the button for their floor.
“I could see her doing it.”
“I could too,” Paul said. “I was waiting about calling her, seeing if she’d call first. I guess I have an excuse, now.”
“You miss Cristina, don’t you?”
“I do,” Paul confessed. Even though he felt as if he had been with her recently.
“It’s been a year a least since she left for school.”
“Closer to two years,” Paul said as he tried to pin down an exact time or event associated with it. “I mean we talk by phone or even exchange messages over the global network but we’ve not been together for a long time. The conversations we’ve had were mostly about her acting and how successful I am. I don’t know where she gets it from but somehow she thinks I’m successful.”
“Aren’t you?” The elevator arrived at their floor and they stepped out. Their apartment was just down the hall, the third door on the right.
“Maybe on a comparative basis. I have steady income. She doesn’t. That’s not how I would define success, though.”
“The material element is a consideration.” She arrived at the door two or three steps ahead of Paul, keyed in her security code and leaned against the door as it unlocked and opened. She held the door open for him as he arrived.
“I suppose what I make is a lot or most people.”
“Well, I think you’re successful.”
“I’m happy – not with work but the rest of my life’s great.” He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and kissed her neck.
“I love you unconditionally.” She reached up with both hands and grabbed his head, then turning she releases and kissed him passionately.
“I don’t know what I would do without you,” Paul said as their lips parted. “It’s just I’m not quite what I wanted to be and whenever Cristina sends me a message it reminds me because she’s the one who’s still faithful to her dream. I guess it makes me feel like I’ve given up and maybe sold myself short, just accepting what I can get paid to do.”
“Cristina reminds you of whatever it is that you perceive as your failures. But you’re successful at what you do.”
“I know. I know exactly what you’re going to say. I’m far from being a failure but failure lurks just past the next decision at my company. I’ve never felt like I have any sort of job security. Backstabbing assholes and highly political opportunists surround me. I have a knot in the pit of my stomach every day when I go into the office. I feel like they’re going to fire me, not just threaten it, but follow through with it. I’m not sure that enduring all of that is worth the pay credits.”
“You just take things way too seriously.”
“Maybe that’s part of it, but most of it is I work for self-serving pricks.”
“Everything in life is about perspective,” Clare said.
“And I lack perspective – is that what you’re saying?”
“I was going to say maybe Cristina is more mature than you are. You always say she handles rejection well. Yet you cannot seem to define your success. You have a good paying job. Some people would call it a dream position.”
“My job is anything but a dream position,” Paul said, flipping around a dining room chair backwards and sitting with his chest resting against the chair back.
“Nothing is easy, Paul. Is there any job anywhere that will pay you what you think your time is worth?”
Paul smiled. “Of course not. With the difficulty of the job comes the compensation.”
“Not always commensurate to the demands of the job…”
“But high enough that some damned fool, like me will attempt the job because it pays better than the last three things I tried.”
“Exactly,” she said. “So what do you want for dinner.”
“Let’s shower and get fixed-up and go out for dinner and some dancing.”
“Really? What’s gotten into you tonight? The beach didn’t wear you out?”
“Yeah a little, but I want to make it a memorable day for you.”
“It already is. “
“Then let’s work on the night part of it.”
“Okay,” she smiled broadly.
“I really need to take a proper shower and put on some lotion,” she said. “I’m sure you do too, you always burn so easily.”
“I wore enough sunscreen I think. I’ll call for reservations. Where do you want to east?”
“Surprise me,” Clare said as she headed toward the bathroom.
“I’m not sure you really want me to do that,” he called out after her.
“It’ll be fine,” she called back.
“Okay. But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Paul said as he flicked on world viewer and brought up the index for local restaurants. “I think it’s always a good night for Italian.” He said to himself.
After calling for reservations, Paul began watching the news. By the time he heard her shower end he was ready and waiting to take his turn, tired of the dryness on his skin and the overall smell of fish.
When she emerged from the bathroom Clare headed to the bedroom to apply her makeup and get dressed. Paul showered quickly and joined her in the bedroom where he dressed accordingly, in casual attire appropriate for the restaurant to which they were going.
“Are we in a rush?” she asked while putting on her eyeliner.
“No, I made the reservations for eight thirty. Take your time.
“This is a nice surprise. Usually you take the easy way out.”
“What does that mean?’
“‘I’m tired – lets eat in and go to bed early’.”
“I’m a guy. I always seek the path of least resistance whenever possible. Sit down a relax a bit.”
“You are the one who was stressed out.”
“It’s a normal state of being for me. I’ll prevail.”
“I hope so.”
Paul joined her on the couch. “You look pretty.”
“Thank you. You look handsome.”
“We match well, then.”
She laughed. “Whatever’s different about you, keep it going, okay?”
As the news on world viewer played in the background, they shared light conversation about other things that had happened throughout the day, mainly the morning events in Clare’s life at her dance studio. She was grateful when Julie called her suggesting they take the afternoon off and head for the beach.
Clare looked at her wristband. “We probably should be going.”
Paul smiled, starting to get up a few seconds before his cell phone ringer flashed on his wrist. He tapped his earlobe, “Hello.”
“Hey, it’s me,” his sister’s voice was welcome.
“I was going to call you. What’s the news?” He tapped his right wrist to display her holographic image in the palm of his outstretched hand so that at least Clare knew whom he was talking to.
“I didn’t get the part.”
“When you didn’t call, I was worried it was something like that.”
“They wouldn’t tell me until yesterday. I went out with friends and got drunk after I found out. I’ve been sleeping it off all day.”
“Are you okay now?” He asked then allayed Clare’s concern with a nod and a wink.
“Except I want to come home and I have no money. I mean, I really am embarrassed having to ask you, but…”
“I’ll get you home if that is what you want. How much do you need?”
“I don’t even know,” she said. “I have really tried to make it on my own. I even took a job waiting tables.”
“I think Chase might have something to interest you.”
“Really, I thought he did musical groups, not actors.”
“I think you need to broaden your horizons a little, sis.”
“Well, I’m an actress.”
“You have an amazing voice. You should be singing.”
“I’ve been auditioning for musicals, Paul.”
“You’re not getting the traction you need. For whatever reason, they’re passing you over, but everyone who knows you says you have a wonderful singing voice. So, let it become your vehicle.”
“I’m trying to do just that.”
“You aren’t getting it. Listen to me, Cristina. You have to make it where you can, and then go on from there. Then you can do the other things you want to accomplish. Once you have established your credibility, you can do other things maybe something you can’t imagine right now.”
“Well, I guess if you pay my way home I should at least listen to your advice.”
Paul laughed. “If you think I’m full of shit, just tell me.”
“It’s not that.”
“I think I’m being pretty reasonable.”
“Some of what you say makes sense.”
“Cristina, honestly. I think everything will be fine for you, but you have to adapt. It’s a big, strange world.”
“Yeah strange is not the half of it. Lately, I’ve had some bizarre dreams.”
“Really?” Paul asked even as Clare reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek and then proceeded on toward the bedroom. “Hold on.”
“Okay,” Cristina said.
“Hon, retrieve the coach and I’ll be right down.”
“Last night could be explained away by all the alcohol. But even before that…the dreams are like the world had not been completely terraformed – like it was forty years ago, you know all the cities were still domed.”
“The strangest part, you were in a lot of trouble there,” she said. “You were in prison and trying to escape. It was very bizarre.”
“And what was it that you did in that world?”
“What do you mean what was I doing there? It was a dream, or more like a nightmare.”
“No, I mean what did you do for a living?”
“I don’t…remember…well, but no, I think…I think I was actually a singer.”
“See, in your dreams it’s your destiny. Take it as a sign.”
“Maybe it is, Paul. I don’t know. I’m tired of this craziness. And I want to see you and just sleep for a while.”
“Good you can rest up and when I go to New Milan next month you can come with me.”
“I’ll be back at school by then,” she protested.
“So you have spent almost two full years learning how to act and perform…”
“But I can’t land a role at an audition.”
“Sometimes, I think destiny forces your hand. Maybe you need to audition for a rock band in New Milan.”
“Come home and make a fresh start, sis. Take a sabbatical from your studies. I have always thought you have the potential to be a star. All you need is to find the right path. Chase seems to think you’ll work out for this band in New Milan.”
“I don’t know…”
“The two guitarists are professional sound engineers so the audition will be at a real studio. Chase knew one of them, a drummer from another association. Chase sort of auditioned them. He said what they lack is a vocalist of your caliber.”
“He said that?”
“Maybe not in those exact words, but it was his idea to ask you to audition.”
“So, he’s the one who put you up to this?”
“Yeah, well, I worry about my baby sister, especially when she calls me to tell me she’s broke.”
“Okay, I hear you. I told you I’d give it a shot.”
“Go into this with a positive attitude. I have a very good feeling about this.”
“You know me. I’m always positive whenever I audition.”
“This can work for you.”
“In a strange way, I feel good about it, too,” she confessed.
“That’s the Cristina I know and love. Go to the station in the morning. I’ll arrange everything for the ticket from this end, okay?”
“I appreciate this a lot, Paul.”
“Hey, if I was in trouble I know you’d come to my aid.”
“Since Dad and Mom…well we only have each other.”
“I know. We have to be family first. “
“I’ll call if there is any change.”
“Okay, sis,” Paul said. “Have a safe trip.”
“See you day after tomorrow.”
He tapped his earlobe to disconnect the call. He went to the kitchen for a glass of water, fully intending to go straight downstairs. He hoped Clare was not pissed at having to wait. But when he passed through the dining room he felt the strange presence again, an eerie sensation as if he just passed through another consciousness, causing him to shiver as his skin erupted into gooseflesh.
“Who’s there?” He challenged.
With no answer, even the sensation of the presence was gone.
He continued, rapidly gulping down the water.
“Is anything wrong?” Clare stood in the doorway?”
“No, I was just coming. I’m still having odd feelings,” he said.
“Maybe you need to rest. We can go out some other time.”
“No, I need to spend all the time I can with you.” He felt the presence again – behind him, but saw nothing.
“Yeah.” He nodded.
He opened the closet door on his way out the door to grab a light jacket. After slipping it on he stepped out into the hallway to join Clare. “I hope I don’t get a ticket. I’m parked in the loading zone.”
“It’s okay. So, Cristina is coming home?”
“Yeah. I have to get her a ticket.”
Clare nodded as they arrived at the elevator.
“She’ll be here at least a month. Then she’s going out to New Milan.”
“With Chase and you?”
“Or just Chase. I haven’t decided to go.”
The elevator doors opened. They stepped inside. He pressed the button for the lobby. Then as mostly a reflex he plunged his hands into the jacket pockets, his right one wrapped around a small orb. Withdrawing his hand he looked at it resting in his palm.
“Something I thought I lost.” He closed his fist around it, the opening his hand palm up it disappeared.
“That’s from the magic act you used to do?”
He chuckled. “Yeah. Maybe that was the last time I wore this jacket.”
“You need to check your pockets before you hang things up.” She wrapped her arm around his elbow.
“I know, hon. Sometimes I forget,” Paul admitted.
“So, where are we heading?”
“I thought you wanted me to surprise you.”
“I said that, didn’t I?”
“Having second thoughts?”
“No, it’ll be fine. I’m sure,” Clare said.
**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
There was general wrongness Paul felt in their departure from the past. First he lost their images and then the touch of their hands. He did not want to be right about paradoxes but immediately believed he was.
Isolated in a void he decided was non-existence, dread overwhelmed him, engulfing his presence and consumed his essence. His soul served from his physical form, just reward or punishment for meddling with past events upon which existence depends. Lingering consciousness stretched across limbo and connected at both ends of infinity, he was a singularity – a tiny, insignificant point between the vast and the infinitesimal. He was his beginning that concluded in the same thought of being, life evaporated into the wisps of unrealized probability.
There was no pain, no sensation at all except for separation. If there were a floor where he could have collapsed he would have. However, it was impossible for him to discern real from surreal as he lost consciousness, giving up in the process as he yielded to the oblivion he fully anticipated, a place he decided might be called Never.
Shocked, and suddenly immersed in cool salt water he flailed arms and kicked legs in panic, going over in his mind the principles of swimming – when had he learned them? Struggling to reach the surface, the light from above and beyond the brilliant blue, cloudless sky. He broke through to the sudden sensation of wind in his face. He gasped. It was his first gulp of air that led to immediate panic – an errant thought of the risk. But then he wondered why he would ever think such a thing. How could breathing air be dangerous?
As he tread water, he opened his eyes, but it felt as if it were for the very first time. Looking toward the shore he recognized everything, the thought of strangeness rapidly evaporated under the gross volume of intense memories that foundered his mind and almost instantly reestablished identity, role, purpose and obligations.
He swam a ways coming up closer to the breakers. His toes touched the sandy bottom there. He stood for a moment, allowing the waves to crash around him. Then he walked through the surf onto the shore.
Disoriented but remembering everything about him it was troubling that he had no memory of how he arrived at the beach.
Ahead of him was a white sand dune with some vegetation growing to cover some of its surface. It was likely an attempt to resist beach erosion. It was a problem, wasn’t it? He recalled hearing something about it, the balance between protecting beaches and property along the coast from storm surges while accommodating the public’s desire to enjoy their time in recreational pursuits.
Continuing his confusion he pivoted, trying to reconnect with disassociated memories. He saw the community beach house, recalled emerging from there sometime earlier. Remembered having showered before dressing in his swimming trunks and applying sunscreen to his overly sensitive, exposed, lily-white skin. Over his shoulders he draped a towel as he walked out to the beach. Locating the same towel he picked up from the hard pack directly in front of him. He dried off as best he could and left his hair damp.
The beating rays of mid summer warmed his shoulders as his back was turned toward the ocean. He wrapped the towel around the back of his neck in an effort to protect from the intensity of the local yellow dwarf’s radiation.
Automatically he replaced the protective UV lenses over his eyes, the ones he found on a lanyard along with his towel. The ocean breeze swept over the dampness of his skin and trunks as he tentatively progressed back toward the beach house.
A flash of memory came of being at the office having another rough day. Clare called him and told him she was going to the beach with Chase and Julie. She invited him to join them whenever he got off work. He even slipped out a little early just so he could swing by the apartment to collect his swimming trunks, sunscreen and a couple of extra towels.
Going to the beach was a fantastic idea. He really needed to unwind. It was just he felt strange, like until a few minutes ago he might have been dreaming. It wasn’t a new sensation for him, but it always left him feeling unsettled.
There were some images of a nightmarish set of circumstances worse than anything he endured at work. His imagination was vivid. It helped him in his work, coming up with warped story lines for video games to be played over world viewer. At times it was almost like he had two sets of memories, one his real life and another the fantasy worlds he fabricated in a digital universe.
Framed with that consideration, one set rapidly dissipated to the point that he wondered why he was even trying to recall anything about any of it. It wasn’t like it belonged to any project he was currently working on. Still, at the moment even the more plausible set of memories did not feel real enough for him to grasp and call it his own.
He looked past the beach house to the evidence of the thriving community back on the mainland. A causeway was the way back there from the beach. A high arching bridge spanned the navigable channel in the river of brackish water between the mainland and the barrier island where the beach was located. It did not look right to him but then he wondered how it should look. The towering skyscrapers of a second largest city on the planet sprawled out to either side of the bridge along the mainland shore. It was exactly what he expected to see but, in another way, it seemed strange.
Paul turned back into the sea breeze to drink in another deep, refreshing breath hoping somehow it would magically clear the confusion from his mind. Maybe he had been working too hard. He could be having some sort of breakdown that caused everything to feel surreal.
Seagulls hovered overhead, suspending their mass by the lift they maintained from the steady sea breeze that flowing over their carefully positioned wings. He always envied bird their ability to fly.
He felt a presence nearby but turning around, he saw no one. Still there was a definite presence but then just as suddenly as the sensation came it was gone.
Paul continued on along the beach. Clare stood up when she saw his approach, and then bounded over the white sand, seeming to barely even touch the surface as she proceeded toward him. At the moment of her arrival she launched herself, leaping toward him then wrapping her arms around his neck as he caught her slight weight in his arms. He swung her around as he spun to keep from falling. She offered and he accepted passionate kisses in welcome greeting.
“I missed you all day long,” she said as she pulled back from his lips leaving him almost breathless. Then he leaned toward her and kissed the tip of her nose. She giggled giddily like a schoolgirl as he continued to hold her close, staring into her gorgeous green eyes.
To him she was the epitome of the perfect woman, perfect for him in every way. What did he care if the events around him were still swirling a little and his mind was dizzily unsettled? As long as he was with Clare everything else could seem tentative. He did not care if in an instant the world might change completely. Then he realized how silly it was to have such a thought. Was tentative not how the present moment should feel?
He liked the liberating power of his newfound confidence, feeling as if he could make decisions that mattered. Clare provided him with the strength to endure anything while he sought his creative potential. She believed in him and, in turn, he believed in her.
Smiling across the short distance for the interval her response took, kissing him on the cheek he decided to just allow the flow of events to take him wherever they would for at least the remainder of the day.
“You couldn’t wait to jump in the water?” She challenged as she realized his towel and trunks were damp.
“It was kinda hot when I arrived.” He responded in a way that was hard to argue. It had to still be in the upper thirties, Celsius.
“I already brought towels enough for both of us, silly man!” She playfully punched him in the arm as he returned her to her feet.
“You can never have enough towels, especially at the beach,” Paul replied.
She shrugged, but as she led him down from the dune and closer to the hard pack where she and the others had been sitting and talking while they awaited for his arrival.
Paul knew Chase but he did not recognize Julie at first, even though he knew her name and was certain that talked many times before. The disorientation lingered, nagging at him. Sure, he knew her for even longer than he knew Clare. Julie introduced the two of them! She arranged for the only blind date he ever consented to in his life – based solely on her recommendation. Amazed it worked out so well, Clare was just as Julie promised, perfect for him.
“So, Paul, are you and Clare coming over tomorrow?” Julie asked even before Paul had a chance to shake her hand or Chase’s for that matter.
“It depends,” he replied. It was a safe, noncommittal answer to something he knew nothing about, yet.
“Well, tell those assholes you work for that it is your niece’s birthday party!” Clare said with a laugh, causing everyone to laugh as well. Julie was sitting on a towel between Chase and where Clare resumed sitting to take a swig from a bottle of cold water she opened only a few moments before she noticed Paul down the beach from them.
As Paul sat down he looked out at the undulating surface of the ocean. The steady sea breeze whipped across the tops of the two to four meter swells. White caps crashed into the shore with enough force that even from where they were sitting he felt the refreshing chill of the spray. Some kids were attempting to ride short boards closer in to shore while a couple of hardcore surfers were lingering out a ways offshore warming up while really waiting for the evening’s double-moon effect to prevail. It was the time of the season when, toward the evening, the gravity of each of Pravda’s two moons amplified the other’s effects while the two celestial orbs were virtually aligned. It produced some serious waves that sometimes even rivaled the ones that preceded an approaching seaborne storm.
Chase leaned back, reaching for the ice chest, saying something about being thirsty. Then he sat back up and glanced over at Paul as he was sitting on the far side of Clare. “Are you feeling okay, dude?”
“Yeah, I’m fine?”
“You’re not thirsty?”
“There’s plenty of water on ice. So when you need one, help yourself.”
“Thanks,” Paul said.
“So, is Cristina still in Emerald or is she on her way back home to enjoy her break?” Julie asked.
“She called me a few days ago,” Paul said, having immediately recalled a phone conversation with his sister. “She had an audition two days ago. She said if she got the part she’d be staying in Emerald for the summer. I sort of expected her to call me by now and really thought she would, especially if she got the role in the musical. But I have not heard from her. So, I’m concerned she didn’t get the part.”
“I hope she’s not discouraged.”
“She’s tough – a true artist. She handles rejection well,” Paul said proudly, but then he dealt with something strange and alternative. He experienced a momentary flash of her singing on stage before thousands of frenzied fans, fronting a rock band of all things. It amused him. “I don’t think anyone has given her a chance to demonstrate her fullest potential.”
“Obviously,” Julie said. “Her voice is simply amazing. I keep telling Chase to hook her up with a talent agency at least. I mean, with her voice she could take a so-so pop band right to the top.”
“Or a rock band of great musicians to legendary status,” Chase said as he stood up and stretched. “It’s not like I haven’t offered to help her. Paul has resisted giving her his opinion.”
“It isn’t that as much as she’s headstrong.” Paul confirmed even as several examples came immediately to mind in support.
Chase walked around the two ladies and nudging Paul with his foot as he passed by. “Follow me. You and I need to talk,” he said as he turned back and looked toward Julie and then Clare who both wanted to know why the boys were going off on their own. “It’s a guy thing,” Chase excused.
“As long as it doesn’t involve other women,” Julie warned.
“It involves business and Cristina. Is that okay?”
Julie smiled. “I’ll let that one slide, I guess, since my best friend is engaged to her brother and all.”
When Paul and Chase arrived at a place Chase figured was beyond earshot of the ladies, he sat down on a bench and waited for Paul to join him. “You are just as headstrong in your way as Cristina. You think you know everything?”
“I doubt what I know is even remotely close to everything, so maybe your assessment needs revision.”
Chase chuckled for a few moments, but then he stared into Paul’s eyes. “You are going to continue pretending?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re good. I’ll give you that. No one plays dumb like you can.”
“Maybe it’s because usually I’m don’t need to play.”
“I was in New Milan two weeks ago.”
“I think Clare mentioned that.” He guessed.
“Do you remember Pete?”
“Yeah, Pete, the percussionist I introduced you two at The Stable in New Milan.”
“When was that?”
“Last fall when you and I were there.”
Paul shrugged, struggling for the memory that felt vaguely accessible but not quite within his grasp.
“Damn it, Paul! You and Pete shot pool for over three hours after you met. You even beat him, rather badly at that. I offered to give him a ride home because he didn’t have bus fare after you finished taking his credits.”
“Okay you remember or okay you don’t?”
“I remember some of it,” Paul confessed. “Look Chase, I have the world’s worst memory for people’s names.”
“You have to remember this. He kept hitting on the waitress, asking her out and she kept saying no to him, but he was relentless. He thought she was playing to get him to buy more drinks from her, but she was genuinely getting annoyed. That distraction was probably part of the reason why you beat him at shooting pool ‘ ‘cause you aren’t that good.”
“Just tellin’ the truth. Anyway, as the club was closing she gave in to his offer to buy her dinner. You graciously transferred back the credits that he lost so he would not be financially embarrassed.”
“I’m a nice guy like that,” Paul offered.
“It was actually funny as hell. I can’t believe you don’t remember it.”
“Well, I sort of do and he still owes me the money,” Paul said as he recalled it was not a gift but a loan.
“Or there needs to be a rematch.”
“That would involve going back to New Milan.”
“Well, there is a convention coming up again, same as last year.”
“There you go.”
“It’s even better.”
“Why?” Paul inquired.
“I was thinking. We could get the same special rate as the last time we went together, discounts on the railcar as well as the hotel. Julie can arrange all of that for us.”
“And maybe you could ask Cristina to come to New Milan and spend some time with you while you’re there. I mean it’s only three hours by railcar from Emerald.”
“I don’t know about that, Chase. She’s kinda on break right now, but by then she’ll be pretty busy with college again.”
“Well I was thinking that while she’s there she could audition for Pete’s band. They aren’t really new just they got back together. They were a band when they were all still in junior high. Pete and Alix, the bassist, share an apartment. Keith and Tim, the guitarists are also sound engineers at a recording studio, which makes getting a place to do demos and have auditions really pretty easy. I mean, I sort of contacted Pete already about auditioning her.”
“I’m not sure she would want to do that.”
“Well, ask her. The guys are great musicians, but frankly, no one in the band sings well enough and they know it. They are looking for a lead singer and really prefer the vocal range of a female.”
“And you immediately thought of Cristina.”
“Honestly, Paul I’ve sent several female vocalists their way, but no one clicked for them. Their voices were good, just they didn’t have the personality the band needs.”
“You think Cristina has what the others lack?”
“She wants to do musicals, Chase. That’s what she’s been studying.”
“Well, it was just an idea. But really what I was thinking was no one I know doesn’t like Cristina.”
“She’s a charmer.” Paul allowed. “I don’t know if she likes that sort of music. She’s classically trained. Dad and Mom paid for her lessons from the time she was able to talk.”
“The band doesn’t play the usual fare, not at all. Their style’s unique. I don’t know your sister’s tastes in music, but maybe she would actually like their sound.”
“I’ll mention it to her. I’ll let her decide. That’s all I can do, Chase.”
Chase turned back toward the ladies, listening from the distance to see if he could eavesdrop on their girl-to-girl conversation. Paul looked out at the ocean waves trying to fill in the remaining gaps of his memory. He still felt there were important things he’d forgotten.
“I guess it’s all gone,” Paul said.
“What?” Chase asked as he glanced at Paul.
“No, really what, I didn’t catch what you said.”
“Have you ever had a dream, and when you wake up, you think it was a really important dream? You want to remember it, but it’s gone.”
“Yeah, that happens. It happens a lot, actually.”
“It’s like you’re certain you are going to remember it, but then regardless of your intentions, you forget what was so great about it. Or why you wanted to remember it in the first place.”
“Yeah and trying to write it down doesn’t work all that well either.”
“You had a dream recently that you wanted to remember?”
“I’m not sure what it is, Chase. Ever since I got here I have felt really strange, like I had something important to do but I can’t remember what it was. It’s almost like I have forgotten everything I knew, but then, I remember other things. It’s just not complete.”
“Like you forgot about shooting pool against Pete.”
“Yes, things like that.”
“Maybe you hit your head or you had heat stroke.”
“I don’t know,” Paul said.
“Maybe you’re getting old.”
“Chase, I’m three months younger than you.”
“Well, then I need to watch out, too.” Chase corralled his shoulders. “Come on, you’ll snap out of it. We need to get back to our women before they conspire to make us go shopping with them on the way home.”
Paul smiled as he continued along beside him.
**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
Cristina fought her petty apprehensions. Grand designs and her destiny were before her, but she considered the betrayal of her heritage. Maybe it was an illusion, something borne of her conscience, but it felt true.
A human father and mother who possessed a special characteristic, a gene that made her special passed it on to her. She shared a connection through her heritage, maybe she was not totally but she was human enough to wrestle with the guilt of the species’ potential extinction. Whatever she did, she could not prevent it any other way but the reset the world.
Across the room Alix stood patiently awaiting her decision, sensing it was already the right time. She needed to be as settled in her decision and as focused on the tasks ahead as he already was, otherwise what they needed to do would never be properly executed.
Then there was an interruption, unexpected but hardly a surprise. They were both aware of the intentions of others. Had she not foreseen the possibility? Certainly he had. So, they expected him.
As she looked up, she saw his smiling face emerge from the shadows, a presence but he was not physically there. “You know this is not the time or the place,” she said.
“How is it not right? Is it not a brother’s place to be with his sister in her time of grave choices?”
“We grew up apart, always strangers.”
“True, but even so, look at what we have in common. We both know the truth, don’t we?”
“You think you know,” Cristina said.
“Oh, I know. Perhaps in the sum of all knowledge I’m yet lacking.” Paul laughed. “But I know the truth. Look, it has even set me free!”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m here because I’m concerned. You must realize you’re venturing along an unwise and highly speculative course.”
“Is it you who has determined that or is it some other’s espoused wisdom?”
“I had a visitor come to my cell,” Paul confessed. “He came unannounced but before he left he taught me how I could be in the cell and yet also be liberated.”
“Through the orb,” Alix said.
“Yes,” Paul glanced toward him, mentally registering the need to observe him more closely as he obviously underestimated him.
Cristina stepped back but did not retreat from her resolve. “So you are doing the bidding of the couriers? Who was he? Let’s see, did he still have an orb? That would make it Hummingbird or Sparrow. Both of them came to me and we spoke at length and they taught me things about the orb. So, whichever it was, it isn’t like he’s unaware of my potential or my destiny. I don’t understand why he didn’t choose to communicate his concerns more directly.”
“They have always been a mystery,” Paul said. “Maybe he felt you might listen to your brother. What concerns the couriers is the course you’re pursuing. That’s what separates you from me and the others.”
“The course I’m on is why any of us exist, Paul. Can’t you see that? I know what I’m doing. I’ve thought this through. It may not be the only way, but it’s the best of all possible alternatives.”
“What makes you think you can perceive all possible alternatives?”
Cristina shrugged. “I guess it’s mainly instinct. If there are other alternatives they’re variants along the same course and of minor significance. They would register barely at all in the overall event stream.”
“Damn, hon. You’re beginning to sound like me,” Alix said but chuckled.
“I’m surprised you find anything about this is amusing,” Paul responded instead.
“Look, I get how serious this is,” Alix said. “You think we’re going to die. If that’s the case, then take it as gallows humor. I mean, if you’re right and I’m going to die anyway, maybe I should die laughing. Just to lighten my load of karma for the next go ‘round.”
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t combine our skills,” Paul said to both of them. “We might have been formidable in anything that, as a group, we determined to do.”
“It isn’t too late for you to join us,” Cristina offered.
“Join you? I’ve come here to talk sense into you. What you and your boyfriend intend to do will end the world as we know it. It’s beyond suicide. It is mass murder. None of us will ever be born!”
“That’s not entirely true,” Staash interrupted them from a silence that led the others to ignore him.
“And so the beast speaks,” Paul said.
“The same might be said of you,” Staash retorted. “It is an ability that would be far in excess of what any resurrected Sakum’mal could render.”
“Even if such a resurrection were possible,” Cristina added.
“Look, I was stupid to fall for that rouse. I’ve had a lot of time to think things through. Even the leadership of The Resurrection never believed they could restore the lives of the sand-morphs.”
“The Sakum’malien,” Staash corrected.
Paul glared at him. “Look, I’m sorry for what happen to your kind. I’ve fought to and killed bring the truth to light. I wish I was there and could’ve fixed it, but I was born too late.”
“But we can change that,” Alix said. “That’s the entire point, Paul.”
“No the real point is it’s too late. We can’t change it now. It’s suicide. I’m sure your friend here impresses you as being worthy of life. Then let him stay here with us…”
“How wrong is that notion? He doesn’t belong here, not in this world. He would eventually die here and in very short order. The Sakum’malien are social creatures. To be alone, to be cut off from the others of his kind is a death sentence, Paul,” Cristina explained.
“You of all people should understand that,” Alix added.
“What you intend to do will change so many things that the world around us will be extremely altered. It will never include us because there’ll never be a reason for us to even exist.”
“Humans seem to have an odd understanding of this thing you call time,” Staash said.
“I think we understand our limitations quite well,” Paul said.
“If you understand then, why don’t you know there are no paradoxes? Whatever someone would do in the past requires continued presence as the catalyst of change. The world must adjust around the agent of change.”
“A new event stream emerging,” Alix said. “Raven said that, Paul.”
“Beyond the change it’s all speculative. Maybe the catalyst will exist in a changed context but everything else will be different.”
“Still the catalyst must always endure.”
“It would be an extreme leap of faith for me or anyone else to simply jaunt back into time alter something with major ramifications and expect to return to the same life he or she left,” Paul said.
“The world adjusts, Paul. That’s what we are trying to explain,” Cristina argued.
“It isn’t a leap of faith at all,” Staash said. “It does depend on a higher understanding of mathematics than humans presently possess. Cristina and Alix understand what I have shown to them so far. What they are doing isn’t suicide for them. And it’s not murder. They intend to prevent murder.”
“You’re welcome to join us,” Cristina said, reiterating her offer as she gathered up her belongings and the necessary materials for delivery of their message. Alix did the same and both drew in closer to Staash. Paul stepped back as if he were even physically present.
Cristina and Alix reached out to grasp Staash’s sand-covered mitten-like hands. With their other hands they grasped one another’s relatively softer human hands.
“You must not proceed!” Paul attempted to forbid them.
“You cannot stop us,” Cristina responded. “You’re not physically here.”
“I can still project my will!” Paul threatened.
“If you can do that, you can be here in body as well as mind,” Cristina said.
“It’s the orb.” Alix explained. “You established a conduit to be here. Through it you can draw energy back to you.”
Even as Paul stared at his sister his image gradually became more and more solid. “Why would you tell me this?” He looked at his hands and stomped his feet. “Why give me the means of stopping you?”
“Because we know you’ll join us.” Cristina explained. “You said it yourself. We can be formidable.”
Paul started toward them. A ring of flames encircled Paul a few feet from his, knees leaping up to around his waist, preventing him from stepping closer.
“What you intend to do is too dangerous!” Paul protested. “You’re risking your lives and the lives of everyone in the world.”
“We intend to warn the Sakum’malien in their own language so they have a chance to save themselves. That’s all.” Alix explained. “We spent the past few days learning and recording a song that meticulously produces the correct tones to be understood.”
“It was a complicated song to write. It was an effort to learn and execute it for recording, but we were up to the task.” Cristina disengaged her hands and shrugged the straps of her backpack from her shoulders. She knelt down and opened the flap of her backpack and produced the music player. “Would you like to hear it?”
Paul stared at his sister even as Alix engaged the playback.
The song was mesmerizing. Intricately woven overlays of instrumentation danced around highly structured patterns of counter-rhythm. It was an achievement well beyond anything anyone had ever imagined let alone heard.
Tearing away at his defenses heart, exposing every carefully hidden weakness he knew he needed to protect. Entranced unto the ending of the song, Paul cried.
“That’s their language,” Cristina explained. “Imagine millions of them conversing, Paul.
“It’s beautiful,” he conceded.
“This is only the superficial, what we can hear.” Cristina explained. “How can we allow such beauty to remain lost in our past, apart from us, from our experience?”
Staash glowed, sensing what Cristina already knew. They were altering Paul’s thinking.
“It’s perfect,” Paul suggested.
“It has few flaws,” Staash said. “Those will be perceived as you might detect an accent from one who has learned a second language. It does not affect the meaning. It lends credibility to the source.”
“You could delay further, fix the mistakes,” Paul suggested.
“We would risk further interference from the couriers or others who do not understand the importance of what we are doing,” Cristina pointed out.
“It is a singular achievement for someone not Sakum’malien. The message will be immediately understood. It’s source will gain attention through novelty,” Staash said.
“We the warning will be heeded.” Cristina turned toward her brother. “You could bless our efforts and remain here or join us on our grand adventure.”
“I’m not convinced you’re right.”
“How ironic it is! Once your objective was to correct the sins of the past but now you voice opposition,” Alix said.
“I never considered it imminent danger to resurrect a sand-morph.”
“Sakum’mal,” Staash corrected.
“Look, Paul. The moment we leave here, the world changes. We are going into the past and what we intend will create a different event stream.”
“Even if we are only partially successful this world will change.” Cristina stared at her brother. “If you come with us at least you participate in the change. Isn’t it better to know what happened?”
“We’ve never been siblings, not really. It’s the cruelest of ironies we shared the same womb and each of us believed our mother died, but we never knew one another. I have met her at least but I was already an adult and very set in my ways and opinions.”
“I’ve never met her,” Cristina said.
“I hate the Colonial Authority with a passion. They are the bane of my life, of all of our lives,” Paul said.
“Then join our effort and help us. We can change the world.” Cristina reiterated her offer.
“Alix is over-taxed now,” Paul said.
“I can do anything necessary,” Alix assured Paul. “I would rather not leave you behind. I do not know what will happen to you or the others we’ve always known. All I know is that after this adventure is over I’ll be with Cristina. That’s all that matters to me.”
“I have dreams,” Paul revealed. “I have been in the presence of a goddess.”
“So your destiny is beyond this,” Cristina said. “You already know that.”
“I would do anything to be with her,” Paul said with a sigh. “I want to live but I’m not sure the life I have is living at all. I’m here and now only because of the orb.”
“The attributes brought you here,” Cristina explained. “All of us are here because this is our destiny.”
“There’s still interference,” Paul replied. “As I am now, I’m uncertain whether I would register as an entity in your efforts. There’s still the anchoring I feel back in my cell.”
“You are here and if I can touch you,” Alix said. “That makes you real enough.”
Paul shrugged. “I’m nearly here, but a ghost.”
“Then the ghost needs to concentrate more,” Cristina chided.
“What do I have to lose except a prison cell,” he said, finally expressing his choice. Moving toward the others, he closed his eyes, concentrating, pulling his essence with him, by force of his will. Brightly, his image glowed brightly. When the glow diminished he had completely arrived. Reaching out he locked his hands in the circle between Cristina and Alix.
Alix closed his eyes to focus, making slight adjustments to compensate for the delay. Surrounding them with the outward expression of his inner light, he directed them while he negotiated the fold.
Confident in his mental calculations of a few elapsed minutes beyond where Cristina, Staash and he departed. To the amazement of all except for Alix’s they arrived almost exactly in the same physical place as before, eight years in the past.
The Sakum’malien seemed partially disoriented as they maintained some distance. Most stepped back, yet continuing against their surprise to surround them. After all there was now an additional human presence in the group standing very near Slahl’yukim. Alix and Cristina had obviously changed apparel and now Staash was wearing human clothes.
Alix assisted Cristina in removing her backpack, opening it, they extracted the portable player from it. Immediately, she pressed play. Even if the sounds echoed throughout the cavern, she could see the Sakum’malien response. Listening, some of them glowing in their comprehension of the message Duae Lunae recorded ‘phonetically’ in the Sakum’malien language.
In initial response as the message became clear, there was general concern amongst them. A few of them came forward and spoke directly to Staash, but through telepathy which only Cristina could perceive even if out of the multiple queries she caught only a fraction of what was frantically conveyed in a few brief instants. Staash responded to them but then he turned and explained. “They want to know how the humans attack us?”
“None,” Alix explained. “We’ve never figured exactly how it was done. The records are sealed. The terraforming required sterilization first. We just know it had to have happened.”
Paul cleared his throat as he looked around. “Uh, excuse me. Having lived in this cavern for some time, I can tell you something about the sand-morphs… er Sakum’malien and their technology. I also know about the air lock. From it we deduced how the sterilization was accomplished.”
“You know how they got past the airlock?” Alix asked.
“Yeah, actually I do or at least I have a lot of clues that point in one direction. The devices we found suffered from the same problem we discovered with the air handler systems at the cave entrance. Everything was fused as if it was burned out instantaneously. The air handlers drew power from a single crystalline energy cell. Under normal circumstances it should have operated for decades. Once we replaces the control boards, we got it up and running again on the same power source.”
“Your point?” Alix said.
“There was a sudden release of tremendous energy outside the cave and a electromagnetic pulse overloaded every electronic device, including the controls of the air handlers – and the alien devices deeper in the caverns – some of them, the ones closer to the surface, but not the ones deeper. You see, there are considerable deposits of lead in this caverns.”
“Lead,” Alix said. “Lead would insulate against EMP.”
“What is EMP?” Cristina asked.
“Electro-Magnetic Pulse,” Alix said. “It means the means of sterilization was nuclear.”
“Yes and because of the lack of residual radiation following the blast, we can assume the devices were neutron bombs. That would actually make sense since the objects was eliminating anything organic, particularly anything micro-biotic. Then the terraform agents poisoned the Sakum’malien.”
“So, the air handlers weren’t destroyed on purpose?” Cristina asked.
“The humans might have not really intended it at all.”
“Well, they weren’t shielded,” Paul said. “But why would they if they were sterilizing the planet to begin terraforming?”
Staash nodded with his understanding, then turned and through telepathy communicated the consensus on what happened to the Sakum’malien who were standing near to them. Immediately one of them projected something that Cristina captured about half of, yet she responded.
“I’m no longer as certain as I once was that the humans even knew you were here,” she said to a few of them that she could reach through telepathy. “Humans are so ethnocentric that they may have believed that your form of life was not possible and therefore just never even bothered to look for it. When Alix and I were here previously we understood the necessity of over-pressurizing the caverns and realized the delivery of the elements for sterilization would be blocked from the caverns if the systems were in tact. It appears that we did not include the means of delivery into our assumptions.”
A Sakum’mal who were standing nearest to Staash approached Cristina, and then projected. “We do not understand this neutron delivery device.”
“I’m not sure I’m qualified to explain,” Cristina responded. “We have five days to figure it out and get the message out to the world. But if you don’t know what a neutron device is I’m not sure what you can do…”
Staash uttered something very complicated and specific aloud to all. Cristina only caught three of the sixteen overlaid tones that formed the words he expressed and as they were not key words she was at a nearly complete loss as to what was exchanged. Then he turned toward her. “They want to know what sorts of things might protect them.”
“Lead,” Paul interrupted. “There’s lots of it in the rocks, deeper in the caverns. Everyone going as low into the caverns as possible will help. Taking all the electronic devices deep as well.”
“Well placed lead shielding, not naturally occurring lead but refined lead fashioned into heavy plates and used to shield the air handlers. That would prevent the terraforming agents from entering the caverns. But we don’t have lead plates.”
“Deeper in the caverns, we found chambers stacked with lead ingots and evidence of a refining process,” Paul said.
“What is lead?” Staash asked.
“You must know lead,” Paul said. “It’s a fairly common metal, especially in this cavern. There’s actually a lot of lead on this planet.”
Cristina probed what she knew of the Sakum’malien language for anything remotely close to the description of lead. Then after several minutes Cristina finally uttered a word. “Octumiethalum’salieithum.”
Sakum’malien in close proximity stepped back. What she said startled them.
“That is an element so rare on our home world it is valuable beyond estimation. Until our coming to this world we call Ham’uelin we never found as much as was here.”
“Maybe I have it wrong,” Cristina allowed. “It seemed like the proper description, though. There was a lot of lead on Earth. In fact there was so much that people tried to transform lead into gold as they are very close in the elemental state and share many properties.”
“Gold?” Staash asked.
Cristina again probed her own vocabulary of Sakum’malien words before finding a likely match. “Utumiethalum’salieithum.”
Staash glowed as was his way of smiling.
“Gold is rare on Earth,” Cristina felt compelled to explain.
“Would gold prevent the disabling of these harmful things that the humans will do to us?” Staash asked.
“I don’t know,” Cristina uttered, mostly for Staash’s benefit.
“It’s a Nobel metal and therefore it would provide shielding against EMP,” Alix confirmed. “Not that it helps us any more than the lead we don’t have.”
Staash’s eyes widened as he glowed even more brightly. There was a good deal of telepathic activity amongst the Sakum’malien. Then the one of them who was closest to Cristina addressed her verbally in Sakum’malien, “We have much gold – too much gold. It’s useful. We construct all manner of things with it. It is common on this world, same as on our home world. We have been mining and refining both here. The gold we use for our construction purposes. The lead we export to our home world.”
Paul stared at Alix. “But we found no evidence of gold here.”
“This is rich lead mine,” he said. “Gold is nearby. We need mine and refine first to build places to live inside mine.”
“But we never found…officially, anyway,” Paul stepped back, shaking his head.
“Now it makes sense,” Alix said. “The answer for all the covering up. It was about the gold.”
“And protecting the colonial market of exchange from flooding it with all the gold,” Paul explained. “At least they learned that much from human history.”
“I don’t understand,” Alix said.
“In the colonial times on Earth, the Spanish stripped the gold form the Americas but in the process their economy experienced rampant inflation, to the point that gold wasn’t worth as much as it was before. Somewhere the Colonial Authority has a stockpile of all the gold they stripped from the Sakum’malien mines. They melted it down into ingots and have been shipping it back to shipped it back to Mars or Luna to finance the colonial expansion here.” Paul said. “That’s why there was such an interest in terraforming the place and settling the atmosphere. The colonization efforts were an afterthought, perhaps. It was part of the cover-up. Maybe it was even a way of getting enough people here to work in mines to extract more gold.”
“But all that is in the future.”
“Yes, so now—“
“All that gold is still here and when combined with the lead,” Alix said. “They have the means of survival.”
“You need to surround the air handlers that over-pressurize the caverns with lead or gold – whatever’s available. The electronics must be completely shielded.”
Staash gurgled with amusement. “We could bury the devices in gold.”
Paul shook his head. “All these years that was the reason. They were covering the tracks of their greed.”
“They stole from the Sakum’malien,” Cristina said. “They probably believed that’s why they were here, mining the gold.”
“We have five days,” Staash said telepathically to Cristina but then vocalized for everyone else.
“Or less,” Alix said.
“The message must be spread far and wide so that every enclave is prepared,” Staash communicated with his kind.
“That is already underway,” a Sakum’mal said to Staash, and then he extended the left one of his scoop-like hands toward Cristina, then telepathically expressed his gratitude to her, adding, “I have gathered from probing your thoughts that this is a customary gesture of friendship.”
“It is usually the right side one,” Cristina projected back.
Quickly the Sakum’malien switched hands, “My apologies.”
“It is easy to make such a mistake. You knew no better,” she replied as she shook his hand. “I’m Cristina. And you are called…?”
Cristina repeated the name in her mind then uttered it aloud as best she could.
“So, that’s the solution?” Staash asked. “Shield the air handlers?”
“If there is enough lead and gold,” Alix said. “I would suspect that you need to provide sanctuaries where everyone is shielded as well deep into the caverns just to prevent any possible exposure to the radiation.”
“I thought it was a rhetorical question,” Paul said. “I am sorry, Staash. I really am. But, yes Alix is quite right. Against a neutron explosion most of you would been cooked from the inside, the water in your bodies evaporated until you were a pile of sand, or perhaps turned to something glass-like.”
“We must communicate this to all the enclaves. Some may not be able to do what is necessary.”
“Then they must go to where they can be safe, Staash. There is no other answer.”
“How many colonial enclaves are there?” Paul asked.
“Five,” Staash replied. “There are seven additional outposts having very few inhabitants, mostly researchers – prospectors, you would call them.”
“All of the colonies are like this one?” Paul asked.
“Yes, all of them were explored by humans and they installed the air handlers at the entrances for their own use. Humans did not explore the outposts.”
“The others can be warned now?” Cristina asked.
“It is underway. There is a link, open for emergencies,” Dtuot’manuh responded.
“This would constitute an emergency.”
“The others are preparing the link. We need to bring the message to everyone, everywhere so they will know. It must be broadcast through the links,” Staash said as he turned to Cristina and helped her by lifting the burden of her backpack from her and then he began walking on a path that descended deeper into the cavern. Cristina, Alix and Paul followed him to a place that was obviously where the Sakum’malien lived where every structure was constructed of gold.
Staash progressed with the backpack, taking it several layers even further down into one of the smaller caverns that extended deep beneath the mountain. There the cavern’s ceiling formed a natural near-hemispherical dome covered in smooth polished gold. Others were there, working feverishly to establish contact with the other enclaves and the few outposts.
Staash set down the backpack and then withdrew the music player from it. When the others were finished with their testing of their links, Staash spent several moments trying to get Cristina’s player to interface with the Sakum’malien equipment before finally Alix and Paul assisted him, creating a way to present and broadcast it.
Once the message was played it took only a few minutes before the local colony was inundated with requests for confirmation of the intelligence sources. Every colony confirmed having encountered the alien life forms probing the surface and their building the air handlers into the cave entrances, which most Sakum’malien felt were beneficial in maintaining the interior atmosphere. They said they ignored the humans as harmless and never saw them again.
“Apparently there was more than enough guilt on each side to be shared for the calamity between the humans and the Sakum’malien,” Staash commented.
When the confirmations were transmitted and acknowledged, Staash and several of the others in the link center turned toward the three humans. Telepathically they expressed their heartfelt gratitude to Cristina and asked her to please convey it to the others. The warning at least gave the Sakum’malien a chance to survive.
Then even as she was ready to turn toward Alix and Paul another projected, “You three are very brave and very resourceful. If other humans are like you, perhaps our kind can deal with them in a mutually beneficial way. Our primary interest in this world is its lead resources. Since you indicate that lead is not as revered amongst your people we might be able to share our abundant gold in trade.”
“Not to mention our different technologies,” a third added. “We have been colonizing worlds for many of our generations Perhaps we can share some of our knowledge about transforming worlds to suit certain needs.”
When there was a significant pause. Cristina turned toward Alix and Paul and told them what the Sakum’malien said.
“It’s done,” Paul said, lowering his head as if resigned to accept whatever came of the changes they created.
“We go home now,” Alix slapped him on the back.
“Where is home? If what they do from here on works, our future no longer exists.”
Cristina snatched up her backpack. “We could stay here.”
“What?” Paul asked.
“If we stayed here, we create our own future alongside them.”
Paul laughed. “You’re not serious.”
“We can welcome the next humans who arrive.”
Alix shook his head. “I’m ready to go home, to whatever there is eighty years from now. That’s where all of us belong.”
“Wait,” Staash said. “You need this.”
Cristina turned back to look at the music player, but then laughed, “What would it be like in the future from which we come if our latest recording was an oldie from eighty years before, something the Sakum’malien give to them.”
“Or discover on the floor of a cavern?”
Alix laughed, “It would be something.”
“What kind of paradox would that create?”
“There are no paradoxes,” Cristina said. “I believe that.”
Staash opened his arms in such an invitingly human way that caused Cristina to smile with tears rolled down her cheeks. She fell into his embrace, her arms unable to span his bulk as he had returned to his former mass, content to be among his kind and apparent more accepted.
“I will miss you,” she said.
“I will always remember you, pretty lady. And see you whenever.”
When she turned Alix embraced and kissed her long and enduringly. When he released her, he stepped back still holding her hand as he offered his other hand to Paul. Paul accepted and offered Cristina his other hand.
“We’re finished here. It’s time to go,” Alix said.
Staash glowed brightly. “Thank you, again, my friends. All of you.”
In the very next moment Alix focused upon a time and a place in the future from whence they had come. In an instant they were no longer in the cavern or in the past.
Back in May, I reviewed Great Van Fleet’s “From the Fires”, an 8-Song double EP that included the #1 hits Highway Tune and Safari Song as well as other fan favorites from their concerts and a couple of covers. Since discovering them around this time last year I’ve been following their rise with great interest.
Greta Van Fleet consists of four guys from Frankenmuth, a small town in Michigan, who are currently in the beginning stages of living the Rock’n’Roll dream. Over the Past year they have been working on a debut album, all the while making friends (including Sir Elton John and Tom Hanks) and some enemies. Their fans are avid, devoted supporters. Their critics are quick to point out their youth and parrot a prevailing belief that they are ripping off musical styles of some legendary 60’s and 70’s bands.
I must laugh at the latter. Do these same critics challenge the rips sampled of classic rock music riffs behind certain pop music? Well? What is there in music that is not in some way derivative?
You see, all music is in some way an extension or evolution rooted in elements of a past genre of style. There are elements of classical music in many Rock famous songs, for example, but largely the entire genre is borrows heavily from Blues and Country. I believe it was Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who said when asked about some other noteworthy bands being charged with plagiarism, there are only so many chords and notes to be arranged in a finite number of ways. Sooner or later something has got to sound like something else. GVF share many of the same same influences as those bands they are sometimes accused of copying. But to my ear, there is something additional in their sound, and it is the blending that makes their music worth giving a listen.
I’m hard pressed to recall the last time I anxiously awaited an album release as much as “Anthem of The Peaceful Army”. You’d have to go back to at least the early 80’s, but more likely the late 70’s. You see, I’m one of those people the music industry has written off as an unlikely buyer for ‘new’ music. I turned 30 in 1986. And it is true that my interest in new music waned around that same time. Hey, I was in Asia for a while and completely not interested in the pop music played on the other side of the planet. Also, it was hard being 13 time zones away from home to be tuned in to the mainstream of American culture for those couple of years. Around that same time I married and began a family, eventually having three kids. When I returned home I started working 40+ hours a week and all that. However, my interest in music returned around the time my kids stopped thinking it was cool to watch Barney and idolize the Power Rangers. I began listening to the bands and artists that my kids were interested in and, in turn, I began to follow some of them as well. The Rocker inside never died, just I felt like the music biz went off on a tangent and I had no interest in following it down that rabbit hole. Also, it was hard – very, very hard – for me to appreciate anyone’s music when it did not come from a real musical instrument.
And so, here’s the core reason I like Greta Van Fleet so much. Jake Kiszka plays real guitars, and his brother Sam plays a real bass and real keyboards. Danny Wagner plays an authentic set of Ludwig drums. In fact, they play their instruments pretty darn well. That excites me because I know they will continue to evolve and grow over the next few years and, hopefully, at least as many new albums. But a large part of the bad rap the band has been getting is how much lead singer Josh Kiszka sounds like Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) or Geddy Lee (of Rush). Honestly, he does at times, but not all the time.
As a first official debut album “Anthem of The Peaceful Army” impresses me as a sort of response to the band’s many critics as much as an attempt to satisfy their growing fan base. It offers a variety of styles and at times sounds it does bring early Rush to mind, as in “The Cold Wind”. The Rolling Stones influence in “You’re the One” can be felt. But there are a few times that I hear bits and pieces of AC/DC as well as some other bands. Rarely does this new album remind me of Led Zeppelin.
They are not a cover band, as is the assertion many of their harshest critics. Sure, Josh Kiszka has a wild and wicked falsetto, hitting some high notes I’ll bet Plant wishes he still could. Josh’s voice goes from ethereal to primal and guttural. But if you want to know who he really sounds like, he’s exactly like Josh Kiszka!
It’s hard to say which track is my favorite. Since its release last Friday, I’ve played the album many times. Of course, nearly every song was familiar to me as they have been introduced in live concert here and there over the past year. Also, the band did something remarkable in advance of the album’s release, putting out five singles. “When the Curtain Falls”, which they performed on national TV (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) back in July, came first. About a month later they released “Watching Over”, which they performed live about a year ago as a tribute to Tom Petty after his untimely death. And guess what, that one sounds like it was slightly influenced by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – go figure!
“You’re the One”, “Lover, Leaver” and “Anthem” round out the singles released prior to 10.19.2018, each showing a different aspect of the band’s developing style and range, acoustic to hard-driving Rock and back again. The album leads with an eerily haunting melody, “Age of Man” that sets the tone and mood for what’s to come. Common threads throughout are love, peace and respect for the environment. “The Cold Wind” is next followed by four of the singles: “When the Curtain Falls”, “Watching Over”, “Lover, Leaver” and “You’re the One”.
The next three songs have rapidly become my favorite tracks for differing reasons:
“The New Day” has an unexpected, killer hook along with its up-tempo beat and uplifting lyric. It is also one of the songs that relies on an acoustic guitar.
“Mountain of the Sun” begins with a striking, bluesy slide-guitar riff carried throughout the song. Again, its lyrics are positive about love and sharing the journey of life.
Next up, “Brave New World” returns to an environmental message with more haunting riffs that will hang with you beyond your first listen. Toward the end there is a powerful bass and lead guitar jam between Sam and Jake Kiszka that’s reminiscent of the late sixties.
“Anthem” rounds out the album, tying the messages and threads together in another acoustic driven melody behind a positive lyric.
There is an 11th track on the Digital Version of the album, an extended version of the single “Lover, Leaver” titled “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer) which includes a jam similar how the band presents the song when performing live. I’m told the CD and LP have this version of the song and not the single version that appears as Track #5 of the digital version.
Band members from Left to Right: Danny Wagner (Drums), Jake Kiszka (Guitars), Josh Kiszka Vocals, and Sam Kiszka (Bass and Keyboards)
“Anthem of the Peaceful Army” will be supported with an international tour called “March of the Peaceful Army”, in reference to the swelling number of fans around the world that have adopted the name “GVF Army”. Look for this band in a city near you and, if you get the chance, see them live. As solid as their performance is on this album, they are, and I expect will always be, an exciting band to watch.
Overall rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Have I told you I’m moving in a few weeks? I think I did. California here I come!
My son and daughter-in-law are having a baby, my first grandson, and I’m going out to help with things, at least for a few years. So, no, I’m not going out there to try my hand at acting or anything like that. However, I know a couple of actors, some artists, a few writers, several models and such. Being out there, where they live and work, will allow some time to catch up on things with them. I’m looking forward to all of that. What I’m not looking forward to is moving.
Does anyone hate moving as much as I do? Maybe it’s because I’ve done so much of it over the course of my life, most of it recently, but I suppose I’ve gotten better at prepping it with each go-round. You might think that after sixty-two years and five months I’d have accumulated a lot of stuff. And you wouldn’t be wrong…at least about the me of a few years ago. When I was still married, and all my kids were still at home, we had a lot of stuff. When we moved it filled a moving van. But since the kids ventured off in their separate directions, and my wife became “the ex”, things have changed for Dad. I began renting furnished rooms, for one thing. And with each successive move I’ve made from there to here, the pile of my necessary stuff has diminished and been refined to a few essentials.
One thing I’ve learned is to get rid of stuff each time I move. I set a goal and reach it. Also, I start a month or two early with packing and preparation. That way I spend a little time on it each day or every weekend. It’s hard to gather up the motivation but sorting through my stuff is kind of like taking a trip in a time machine, revisiting memories and old friends. Everything I pick up represents another period of the past. Some things really are trash, though. If I’m honest I know I’ll never use it again. But in some cases, I might be wrong. It’s a challenge to throw something away that I’ve kept for thirty years, something I’ve decided many times over not to throw away. But it comes down to weighing sentimental value against utility.
I have digitized photographs and uploaded them to “the cloud” for safe-keeping. That made me feel much better about ditching the originals. Keeping in mind that, over time, photographs fade makes that choice easier. I’m preserving the memory in a better, much more portable way that can be easily shared with my tech savvy kids. Also, I’ve got to ask myself if I really need anything I’ve kept in a closet, the basement or the attic for much of my adult life? The answer, of course, is probably not. Asking when the last time was that I looked at whatever it is I now hold in my hands works. Some things I have not looked at since the prior move. Those are immediate candidates for the trash. Other things have some historical value. They are personal items I’m keeping as mementos to pass on or things needed for legal reasons like government documents and such. I have about three boxes full of the essentials.
Also, I go through my clothes. If it doesn’t fit, I donate it. Do I really believe I’ll ever wear something I’ve kept since high school or college? Sure, maybe it will come back into vogue…some time before the turn of the next century, but will I be around? More relevantly, will I be able to squeeze into it? It’s better to let someone who really needs it get some use of it. Donate it.
As for all the electronic devices accumulated over the years, the ones that are outdated or broken, whatever can be sold, I sell. For all the other things that won’t sell, I wonder why I kept them in a drawer, or the closet in the first place? There is a reason stuff is called junk and that semi-permanent catch-all storage place to which all things retire before disposal is called the “black hole”. No one’s gonna want a ten-year old cellphone or a five-year-old computer accessory. Remembering that I replaced those things for a reason helps. If it still works, though, donating it makes the parting easier. If I want to keep it, weighing the cost of shipping (or having it moved) against the retained value of the item settles things quickly. It’s not worth it. Future utility against the cost to replace it with something newer, better, faster is also a fair way of assessing value. Lastly, I decide whether it can be recycled before adding it to the trash.
Once I have reduced life to the essentials, I can rest assured that I can travel light (or at least lighter). And the next time I move my effort will be easier, if not less painful.