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Shopping with Amazon -or- How to Wrestle with the 800-Pound Gorilla & Sometimes Win

I use Amazon. These days, who doesn’t? I own a Kindle Paperwhite and use it about 80% of the time when I read eBooks. When I read at my desk I use the computer Kindle App. And because the Kindle device and app synch, I can switch back and forth without losing my place. Convenient.

About once a month or so I order something, occasionally more, but it has never been enough for me to justify the expense of an Amazon Prime membership. Yes, it would be nice to download and read books for free, but not worth the monthly fee. And I’m not one of those people who needs two-day delivery on everything I buy. If I do, I guess I can pay for rapid delivery.

So, even though there are a lot of things about Amazon that I like, their hard and heavy push to boost their Amazon Prime memberships each time I buy something irritates me. What’s more, I don’t appreciate the heavy-handed tactics they use to entice people to subscribe. Let me explain.

In case you don’t know, Amazon delays shipping orders going to non-Prime customers. It is a fact. I’ve seen it first-hand. Things that I order will sit in the queue for 3 days (or more) before processing begins. It’s a penalty for checking the little box that says, “No, I don’t want my order shipped in the quickest way possible” – or whatever the exact verbiage is for that button I must check to not sign up for the trial Prime account they offer with each purchase.

If the order is fulfilled by Amazon from one of their warehouses, sometimes it appears to be routed from an alternate location that is farther away. Yes, I get it that sometimes a nearer location may be out of something, or perhaps they don’t stock the item, but it happens often enough that I think I’m right on this one. It is yet another way to delay an order from shipping.

The tactic used to be blatantly obvious. If you ordered two things, one fulfilled from an Amazon authorized supplier on the other coast from where you live and the other from Amazon (an item they stock in the warehouse nearest you) the item from across the country would arrive a couple or three days before the Amazon supplied item. To prevent that from happening (and being obvious), if you don’t use Prime, Amazon sits on your order for three days regardless of the fulfillment.

If you doubt any of this, test it. I have several times.

If Amazon wants (or rather if they need to because of a problem) they can get something to you from one of their warehouses on the same day you ordered it. They can certainly ship anything you order that is stocked in one of their facilities and get it to you within two days. That’s the Prime deal, right? They should be able to get a non-Prime package to me within four days, which I’m okay with. I think most people would be. But that is contrary to Amazon’s goal of having everyone signed up for Prime. So, without Prime I’ve come to expect seven days or maybe ten.

Why does Amazon rule the world? That’s the real question every one of their competitors needs to ask. You see, any company that wants to capture the hearts of disgruntled Amazon customers (like me) only has to do things the same or (preferably) better. For example, guarantee FREE two-day delivery for any purchase $20 or more, which undercuts Amazon’s $25 – without any membership fee. Heck, guarantee FREE 3 or 4 day delivery without a fee. That’s still better than the service from Amazon for non-Prime members.

Last Saturday I ordered a few things I’ll need for a trip I’m taking to the Midwest to promote my books. As always, I didn’t select the One Month Trial for Prime. And I confirmed that I didn’t want the items shipped in the fastest way possible. I expected I’d get them in a week or so. And that was fine. One of the four items was coming from an authorized supplier. The other items were fulfilled by Amazon, two from the warehouse south of Tampa and the other from a warehouse in South Carolina. I use past tense because the items have all arrived (two on Monday and one of them on Tuesday). Why so soon? Well, you see, I decided to cancel the item coming from the authorized supplier because it would take so long (possibly two weeks). I had decided to buy somewhere else or make a different selection. The box I checked for the reason for the cancellation was “It will take too long to arrive.” Then a funny thing happened. The next morning, Sunday, I received shipping confirmation on all my Amazon fulfilled items, showing them expected on Monday and Tuesday. This sort of proves that Amazon could get the items to me faster if they wanted to. Obviously, someone decided to get my stuff to me before I cancelled the whole order.

Despite my attempt to cancel the order for the last item (within 24 hours, mind you) Amazon was unable to kill the order with the vendor. I’m skeptical about that whole thing, but I’m receiving the item on Saturday. That is a week earlier than the expected date given to me when they sent the order confirmation. We’ll see if the product suits my needs, which was one of the reasons I tried to cancel the order. The supplier received some negative reviews about the item being a cheap knock off, not the real thing.

Yes, all this expedited order shipping could be a coincidence? Except, I write mysteries often enough that I don’t believe in coincidences. The fact remains that an 800-pound gorilla can do pretty-much what it wants. Amazon can make anything happen with shipping, if they want to. You can believe that.

Blog, Books, Editing, Environment, Fantasy, Future, music, novel, Publishing, Rock Music, Science Fiction, Space, Technology, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Word, Writing

The Resurrection: Chapter 15 – Revelation

**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.**

Julie stared at him, her mind working in its usual quick way, leaping ahead four or five steps in logical conversation as she asked, “You think Neville is actually on our side?”

Chase adjusted to the seemingly abrupt change of subject but he also realized that everything was interconnected and that Julie appreciated that as much as he did. “I think he’s honest and really wants to help. It hurts nothing to get to know him better, meet his wife and have dinner with them.”

“When does he want to do this?”

“Soon, maybe on the weekend. He needs to discuss it with his wife.”

“So, it was something you two came up with on the fly?”

“Yeah, I guess it was. It started with him saying that he wanted to save Paul in whatever way that he can. He doesn’t see the need to execute him, which is where the process appears to be heading rapidly. The Colonial Authority does not want that either, but Paul’s killed people.”

“If Paul is anything like the rest of us, he has his own personal set of rules that he obeys.”

“Exactly and if he killed that many agents they must have given him more than enough cause.”

“Tell Neville okay to the invitation. I’ll have to check my schedule if it is before next weekend.”

“I think he was hinting about Friday.”

“I think I could do that,” Julie said. “My supervisor is out of town from Wednesday on and his boss always leaves early on Friday.”

“Which means you might really get off of work on time.”

“Yeah,” Julie said. “Sometimes I hate being on salary.”

Chase laughed, “Me too,” he said as he had reached the curb in front of Julie’s apartment. “But then, the bonus check comes in along with the stock options and, all of a sudden, those seventy-hour work weeks seem to have been compensated.”

“Do you want to come up?”

“Uh, well…yeah,” Chase said, as he opened the passenger door and Julie stepped out of the coach. Then Chase exited and using the remote docked his coach in the visitor’s rack. Returning the remote to his pocket, he followed Julie into the familiar lobby of the place that, until recently, was also his residence.

They rode the elevator up to her floor and entered her apartment where she immediately went to the bathroom while Chase sat down in the living room and checked out what was going on via the world viewer array of screens.

As Julie emerged from the bathroom the phone chimed and Chase reached for the remote and clicked answer.

“Julie, Yates here,” the image of the speaker dominated the main screen.”

“What’s up?”

“Oh, hi there Chase.”

“Hello,” Chase responded feeling it was pretentious of Yates to feign that he was surprised. “Julie and I have been together for most of the day, as you well know.”

“Well, yes. But I knew you were having some issues and had separated for a bit. I’m pleasantly surprised to see you.”

“I can leave if you want to tell Julie something in complete confidence.”

“No, I’m fine with you knowing everything, as long as Julie doesn’t mind.”

“I don’t even know what it is you’re going to say so how would I know whether to mind at all?”

“It is about your uncle, Carl,” Yates said to her.

“What about him?”

“He passed away earlier today, in Star City,” Yates said.

Julie sat on the couch, silently adjusting to the new reality as she drew a deep breath. She had not been that close to her uncle until after her father died. He was her next of kin. He transferred to Andromeda to live for a few years just so she would not have to be dislocated from her school and all of her friends. At the time she did not realize what a sacrifice that was, but now she did. She respected him after the fact even if she grave him more problems than he deserved while he was her legal guardian.

Her Aunt Lydia divorced Carl a year and a half before he came live with Julie in Andromeda. Lydia had taken nearly everything Carl had, but he had not really protested it. In fact, he saw coming to Andromeda as a chance at a new life. He remained in Andromeda for a year and a half after Julie graduated and started attending college. Then, he was offered something in Star City and he went to take advantage of it. There had been a meeting with him, a lunch at her college. They said goodbye. It felt awkward to Julie, really. It was like Carl was trying to be her father for that one brief moment but he did not quite know how.

“I knew it would be hard for you,” Yates said, his words breaking the silence of her reflection.

“Thank you for the information,” Julie said. “He was a good man.”

“No problem,” Yates said. “I’ll send you the information to your global network account.”

“Thank you,” she said in response.

“There’s it’s sent,” Yates said. “I have another call coming in. Take care.”

The call disconnected.

“You were close?” Chased asked.

“For the last five years of my adolescence he was my surrogate father.”

“We should go to his funeral, then.”

Julie looked away. “There are some other issues, some of them feelings I don’t enjoy revisiting.”

“You didn’t like him?”

“I loved him in my own way,” Julie admitted, the wiped a tear from her eye. “He was an amazing man. There was a time I was being picked-on at school. You know, when you don’t want to be in physical education class because you have to take showers with everyone else.”

“I remember the trauma well.”

“It wasn’t so bad when I was little, but by the time I was in high school and my boobs began growing – all four of them…”

“Yeah four nipples and four balls are a little more discreet.”

She nodded.

“Anyway, he took me out to dinner. We dressed up and he made me feel important, like the differences I had were a good thing. He was the first man other than my father who understood what it felt like.”

“He had the attributes too?”

“Maybe he had them inside, you know?” She paused for several moments, and then drew a deep breath. “There was one night, not too long after that. He’d been out celebrating some contract his company won. He was drunk when he got home. He came into the living room of our apartment and sat down beside me and we watched something together on the entertainment channel. He had his arm around my shoulders the entire time and, for whatever reason, it made me feel secure. Then after the program ended he got up and said he needed to go to bed. But it was like I didn’t want him to leave me lone. I stayed up and watched another show before bed. Then, as I was getting up, I thought of all the pain and suffering Carl endured. He told me about Lydia and how he still loved her. He never cheated on her but she did on him. And somehow he forgave her even though she put him through it with the divorce. I wanted to help him. I wanted him to feel like he was loved. I went into his room and…,” her voice cracked. “I entered his dream. He called my Lydia. I was okay with it because it was his fantasy and yet it was weird. Then after he passed out again I went to my room. In the morning he did not remember anything, other than he had a dream.”

“But it was real for you.”

She nodded.

“That was your first time?”

“Yep. The first time for both the sex and using a gift I knew I had. I know it’s pretty sick, but I was fourteen at the time. Confused and my hormones were on overtime.”

“I understand.”

“At the time it felt right and I thought I was helping him – and maybe it helped me a little too. He lost his brother, my father. Despite his wanting to leave his past anyway he had come to Andromeda to take care of me. I wanted to know what life was about. And I found out.”

“Did he never know?”

“I missed my period that month and the next month. I went to the clinic. I was so embarrassed. They had me there on the examining table, my feet up in the stirrups. It was the first time I had ever been to that kind of doctor. I was terrified and I felt violated, especially when they began to tell me that I possessed the attributes – like I didn’t already know how different I was. They made it sound like I was defective. They ran all sorts of tests and concluded that I was pregnant.”

“Wow!”

“I told them I couldn’t be – knowing how and when it happened, but I meant it couldn’t be allowed, you know? They showed me the proof and had me sign some forms. With women who have the attributes, there’s no required notification or consent with a minor getting an abortion.”

“Because women usually die after giving birth.”

“Yeah. The Colonial Authority never publicizes that, but the procedure isn’t free. I paid them, charged to my uncle’s payment wand account that as a minor I was linked to. I was so frightened and alone in my decision and I was too embarrassed to seek anyone’s advice. I felt horrible for days after that. I had nightmares. I kept thinking about what the child might have been. Then the receipt for the services came from the doctor and my uncle confronted me with it. I told him everything. I could tell it bothered him deeply and he even got up and walked away from me at one point, but then he returned and he opened his arms and held me close, telling me he was sorry and that nothing like that would never happen again.”

Chase looked into her eyes. “Did he live up to that?”

“Chase,” she said then cleared her throat. “Three days after that he tried to kill himself but failed. I was in the hospital with him for 36 hours. He almost succeeded. I took naps in a chair beside his bed. When he came around he was angry with me that I did not let him die. He didn’t want to live with the shame that we made love even if he thought at the time it was a dream and I was Lydia. I told him that it had been my choice not his and that in his drunken state I took advantage of him. I raped him, really. It was all my fault and I respected him as my uncle and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.”

“I guess you need to attend his funeral,” Chase said.

“Yeah, I need to be there,” Julie said. “I would like for you to be there with me.”

Chase nodded. “I can make it happen,” he said.

“I would appreciate it,” Julie said as she leaned over and kissed him. “It seems we both have some darkness in our pasts.”

“We would not be human otherwise.”

“Are we human?”

“We’re human enough,” Chase said.

Julie leaned into him where they sat together on the couch. She kissed him and he responded in kind. Before long, and definitely before the end of the show that was on world viewer that they had been ignoring, Chase scooped her up into his arms and carried her to bed. He did everything he could to make her forget, for a while. They spent the night together.

Blog, Books, Editing, life, novel, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

Being a Writer in the Modern World

full length of man sitting on floor
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There is something about a bookstore. Maybe it’s the special smell of relatively fresh ink on paper, or just the atmosphere of being surrounded by the worlds of imagination captured between the covers and shelved in row after row, divided by category. A library gives me a similar sensation. I love visiting libraries, too, but usually it is for research. In a bookstore I’m looking for a story and characters to love.

Some of my best memories as a father were reading to my children when they were little with bright eyes and minds filled only with potential. Everything was new to them. Anything was possible. And in a way that is distinctly childlike, they didn’t care whether they had already heard a story. They wanted to experience it again, perhaps something would change. Occasionally, I provided the change and almost immediately one or the other of them would point that out.

I loved taking my children to the bookstore to spend an hour or three perusing the shelves. As they grew older, of course they went off in separate directions in search of something different. It was an exciting place for them and for me.

The Barnes & Noble in Melbourne, Florida was where we usually went, even if we weren’t intending to buy anything – just to look around. Usually, each of us bought something, though. There was a Books-A-Million closer to where we lived, and we frequently stopped there as well, but the B&N always had a different atmosphere. My kids preferred it, and so did I, not to mention that they served coffee.

cup of coffee in distance with red rose
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At the time I had just published my first novel, One Over X. It was listed for sale on B&N’s website as well as Borders and the then upstart Amazon. Like most authors, I would have loved to see the book on the shelves in my store. What’s more, my kids would have loved seeing Daddy’s book added as part of that fantastic world of real, tangible, printed books. But alas, my publisher was a small press out of Connecticut. Even though everything about my first book had been done in a meticulously correct way according to acceptable standards, including have the press run completed at a one of the offset presses the Big-Name publishers use, the fact that I was not with one of the Big Five seemed the impenetrable barrier to getting my novel stocked in the bookstore chains. However, I was successful in getting the book into my local library, and a several others.

When I talked to the local store’s manager, she gave me the conditions for stocking my book, which, as a business person with years of retail experience, seemed summarily ridiculous. I needed to accept all returned, damaged and shop-worn books. It would be stocked briefly, on consignment and contingent only on my direct support with a book signing or a reading. If it sold well, they might reorder. Despite it not being a good deal from my perspective, it was a deal. I did my part and promoted the book with personal events.

As scary as it might seem at first, signings and readings are a lot of fun. I sold a few books and made some friends.  Still, the conditions up front were ludicrous and slanted way in favor of the store. Clearly, they weren’t going to lose any money, and for all the lip service they were giving me about supporting a local author, they had no interest in me making money. Yes, it was discouraging.

Of course, the goal with an author’s first book isn’t about making money, though that would be nice. First books tend to be about gaining an audience of readers who will, hopefully, want to buy an author’s next book and so on.

I had better luck with a couple of small shops. They displayed my book but, again, it was a consignment deal. Even though the book was available through Ingram, a major book distributor with channels worldwide, the store preferred calling me when they needed more inventory. I personally delivered the books. As I kept some inventory at home it wasn’t a huge problem. Still, being the distributor and delivery guy as well as the author limited my efforts to the immediate geographic vicinity.

Interviews on local media and reviews in local papers proved next to impossible. The first question asked was: which publisher are you with? And when it was someone they’d never heard of…We only accept submissions for review from major publishers.

My initial publishing experiences never dissuaded me from writing more books. After all, a writer does not choose whether to write but, instead, what to write. I was convinced that if I continued to write stories that eventually I’d grow a following, one reader at a time. And write I did. All the while I worked a full-time job to support a wife and three children, one of whom was already in high school.

After publishing my second book and having similar experiences with bookstores, I decided to self-publish my next. After all, I was doing everything anyway, I may as well handle the production as well and make more money on each book sold. There was a lot going on my life, though, and the company for which I was working was struggling. Eventually, they would go out of business. They paid me severance but I was unemployed for a little while. Money doesn’t last long. I found a summer job selling cars that lingered into the autumn. All the while I continued looking for something more suited to my background. Every evening I worked on a manuscript that eventually became two books. Around Christmas I landed another job that would see me along for the next few years.

In the background I witnessed the sad, slow decline of large bookstores chains. Amazon was growing its presence in publishing, while making the process of self-publishing easier than ever. B&N, et. al., claimed to support eBooks with their own version of a reader, but they still refused to deal with indie and small press authors whenever it came to stocking books in store. The funny thing is that most books published in the eBook format come from indie authors. Anyway, they treated indies as if our books were inferior, as if they carried the same stigma as vanity-press products of the past. They refused to adapt to the paradigm shift, turning down many good writers in the process.

What sours authors on queries to big publishers is the lunacy of the process. It is designed to dissuade unsolicited submissions. Rarely do the Big Five have open submissions. When any of them do, you can imagine what it’s like when the flood gates are opened. Odds are your manuscript upon which you have worked for perhaps a year or two will be lost in the shuffle.

The usual case for an author to gain approval for even submitting a manuscript is to go through a literary agent that the publisher recognizes. So, along the way I queried several literary agents in my genres. I learned that finding an agent is almost as hard as connecting with a publisher. Even when a manuscript is solicited, it may not be approved. And so, an aspiring author may expect to be out some money and wait forever only to be told his or her book baby is ugly.

Still, I continued to write, because that is what a writer does. By now, my family and friends figured I was insane— you know, the adage about continuing to do the same thing expecting different results? I wrote for at least three and sometimes as many as six hours a day. At times I missed doing things with the family because I was writing or taking a nap after staying up all night to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wee hours, a perfect time to compose.

There comes a time when it should be clear that the world has shifted, or perhaps moved on without giving proper notice. It also happens with businesses and I firmly believe that around the time I quit my last job in management the end began to accelerate for large box bookstores. Though I was determined to make it as an author, I knew that utilizing more time at self-promotion, brand-building and writing was what needed to happen. I never had the time while working 60 hours a week in management, always away from my home computer. And yes, when I quit my last job to devote full-time attention to writing, my family considered this proof positive that I had lost my mind.

It was a perfect time for a change. My kids were grown and moved away. I was divorced. I’d already begun to reduce my expenses. I didn’t have any money saved, but that was all right. I was going to walk a tightrope without a safety net. No, it didn’t work out all that well. I crashed and wound up couch-surfing with relatives, which was not as fun as it sounds. But eventually things turned for the better. I found a small publisher with goals and a vision of community that I share.

books bookshop bookstore business
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As I approach bookstores anew with fresh product, I wish I could say that they have adapted to the changing times.  They still believe in the old system where five or so major publishers decide what everyone should be reading. The same barriers I confronted almost 20 years ago are still there. Meanwhile, some small bookstores have begun welcoming new authors as a means of survival. It still requires a good sales pitch, but at least they are willing to order through a distributor.

Over the past couple of decades as a writer, I’ve learned a lot about the publishing business and I’ve helped other people promote their work. It’s kind of funny, because as the influence of the big publishers over the marketplace wanes, the industry is reverting to the way things were done in the 19th Century. Back then, authors found ways to gain attention, publishing short works in newspapers and magazines. Those who had the funds published their own work, by and large, at least until they garnered a significant following and were able to contract a publisher to do the hard parts (editing, layouts and such) for them. A couple of hundred years ago, authors sold their books directly to the public and made their own deals with bookstores. The only difference today is that with the evolution of publishing technology a lot of the hard parts can be accomplished electronically with much greater ease.

Blog, Books, Editing, Environment, Fantasy, Future, music, novel, Publishing, Rock Music, Science Fiction, Space, Technology, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Word, Writing

The Resurrection: Chapter 14 – The Way

**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 settled into the couch in the living room of their temporary residence above the coffee shop. She was tired and her feet ached. Deciding not to use the public transit system to return was not the best idea, but after Paul’s escape, things had become a little dicey in that section of town. She was glad they had not waited around.

Hoofing it wasn’t the best way to get back to the shop, but it was all they had at the time. Cristina was in heels and despite what they believed was the near proximity of the coffee shop, it was actually two and a half kilometers from the detention center. Alix generously consented to carrying her piggyback for at least half the way.

Once inside the apartment, she took off her shoes, careful not to break the blisters. Alix picked the remote and turned on world viewer to the local news channel. “You can… rest here,” He said breathlessly while sitting on the edge of the couch not wanting to drip too much of his sweat on it. “In the interest…of my smell…not offended you, myself…or anyone else, I’ll…shower first.” The physical exertions of the past couple of hours wore his out.

“Thank you for carrying me,” Cristina said. “You go ahead. I’ll watch the news.”

He smiled. “You should have…brought some…walking shoes…to wear after.”

“Yeah, well next time…”

“Let’s hope…there’s not going…to be next time.” On the world viewer screen, the local media was reporting a possible disturbance at the Security Agency detention center, but there were no details. “So, we made…the news, sort of.”

“Let’s hope it stays ‘sort of’ and they don’t put the pieces together and come after us.” Cristina looked at Alix and smiled. “You were phenomenal.”

“It was more luck…and timing…than anything else, except for…your skills…at distracting…a lot of people.”

“Go shower. I need one too. But you need it worse.” Cristina kissed him on the cheek.

“That’s all…I get for carrying you…” he complained, half seriously as he stood up.

“That was for Paul. You gave him a chance. There’s more to come,” she turned to stretch out her legs on the couch where Alix had been sitting, then stretched her arms.

Alix shrugged. “It still…doesn’t resolve…anything…for Paul.”

She leaned arching her back over the couch arm, then scooted down a bit, sinking into the overstuffed cushions. It was a comfortable couch for relaxing as she watched the unfolding news evolve on the main screen of world viewer. “I’ll thank you for the rest little later,” she promised with a wink. “Speaking of rest. That’s all I want to do right now.”

Alix left her on the couch to shed his clothes and take a shower – making the water as hot as he could stand it. Rivaling one of her twenty-minute sessions, he let the hot water cascade down his neck, shoulders and back, hitting the places, other than his legs that hurt him most. When he finished he dried off, put on some fresh clothes and rejoined Cristina in the living room, half expecting her to be asleep. She was rolled over onto her side, watching the coverage. “So what’s happening, now?” he asked.

“They’re reporting many agents are dead, many more are wounded and now all the prisoners who were inside the detention facility are at large.”

“Including Paul, though.”

“They haven’t mentioned him directly but I’m sure he’ll be a priority for them to recapture.”

“So, what did we accomplish?”

“We still need to fix the cause, but we always knew that,” she said as she sat up.

Alix sat on the end of the coach and leaned back. “I guess I need to figure out where I’m going in space as well as time, then.”

“Where are we going, you mean,” Cristina corrected.

“You cannot go,” Alix said adamantly.

“I have to.”

“No you don’t. It’s too dangerous.”

“How do you expect to communicate with them?”

“I don’t need to. I grab one and bring it back. There’s no communication necessary.”

“What if it doesn’t want to come with you?’

“I doubt it will. It will be an abduction. Add kidnapping an alien to our growing list of crimes. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll ever go to court over that one, though.”

She chuckled.

“At least I made you laugh.”

“You have to. It’s either that or cry, right?”

Alix shrugged.

“Alix, I really have to go with you. You need to accept that.”

“I can’t risk that. I don’t want to lose you.”

“‘So you’re risking your own life instead, without me. What kind of sense does that make?”

“Perfect sense for me.”

“Look, it’s necessary. We’re in this together. Besides, I have obviously traveled with you in the past.”

“Yeah well, that was different.”

“How was it different?”

“You were in immediate danger.”

“We are all in danger, Alix. Don’t you see it? The Colonial Authority is stealing what’s left of our privacy. Our lives are not as important as their purposes for them. They see everything in terms of what’s best for humanity, for everyone not what’s just for the individual.”

“That debate has been going on for a long time, hon.”

“It’ll only get worse. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m a prisoner because I’m different, because don’t agree with what the government is doing or what they want – or what the majority thinks is right. The majority isn’t always right because it’s too easy to mislead people. They’re going to put all of us in jail, sooner or later. When the official real prisons are full, they’ll turn our homes and apartments into our cells, calling it for protective custody, for our safety – for the common good.”

“That still doesn’t tell me anything about why you think it is necessary to go back into the past with me.”

“It has everything to do with it. The whole reason we have to go in the first place is bringing a sand-morph here to expose how this insidious lie began, Alix. The Colonial Authority had great visions for Pravda. After the lies and the cover-up…well, it only gets worse from here. Once we expose what’s going on…”

“What makes you think anyone will listen? They’re happy being numb. They have world viewer to keep them pacified,” he made a sweeping gesture with his arm toward the far wall of the room where the screen array hung. “Nothing much will change just from bringing back a sand-morph. They’ll twist and distort that too, making it somehow favorable to them. They have the power, Cristina. That’s all they want and all they need. They’ll do anything to preserve their power, even if they have to kill us in the process.”

“It depends on how we pitch what we do. You turn their own game against them.”

“I’m listening.”

“The use people like us, Alix. While we make music because it’s what we love doing, they pervert it into something crass and commercial. And we go along because it helps us survive while we make more music.”

“That’s how it works, if you’re one of the lucky ones. We’ve only been doing this for thirteen years, ten for you. We’ve struggled a lot. But it’s the system. Without Chase and the tour, where would we be?  We’d still be playing clubs in New Milan, maybe going to Haven in the summer. Chase changed all that for us.”

“I know, and he can help us change this too. He’s good with selling and marketing. That’s all we need.”

“And they ban our songs.”

“Which only makes our fans want them more and everyone else more curious. It’s how you spin it, Alix. That’s what works for the Colonial Authority, we can do it too.”

“I don’t think this requires a good marketing campaign, hon. It’s way beyond that.”

“Well, it won’t hurt. Anyway, more directly, we don’t know what we’re dealing with in the past. We only know what we say and what we’ve heard. I know I can communicate with the sand-morphs. Paul and everyone else in The Resurrection seem convinced that the sand-morphs were peace-loving.”

“They could be mankind’s worst nightmare.”

“Exactly, you don’t know.”

“Neither do you,” Alix reminded her.

“But I know I can understand them,” she said.

“The dreams,” he said in response.

Cristina nodded. “I’ll make this work. You just need to get me there, where there are living sand-morphs. That’s your part of it.”

“You and I will have to wear breathing filters, the really heavy-duty ones that no one has needed for decades,” Alix said as he leaned forward.

“Understood,” she said. “We might have them somewhere around here.”

Alix nodded. “So when do we do this?”

“Why not now?”

“Don’t you want to take a shower or something first?”

“Yeah, I can do that first.”

“We can rest.”

“Why do you want to put it off?”

“We have time, Cristina. That’s the thing about time travel, you can always go back further.”

She smiled. “I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right. Besides, I really have to spend some time figuring all of this out, okay? There are logistical matters, calculations in multiple dimensions and all that–”

“So you need a day or what?”

Alix shrugged. “I can use that antiquated computer we found in the closet, if it still works. Maybe that’ll help. At least it’ll give me a calculator function. Hopefully there is a programming function, if not I’ll have to write a script to do it and connect this online.” He stood up and walked across the room to the closet. “Maybe two or three days at the most, provided this thing works, more time if it doesn’t. Once I’m there, it won’t take long. I’ll already know where we are here and now.”

“That’s too long to wait for this, Alix.”

“Well I don’t have a faster computer.”

“How about Dom?” Cristina suggested.

“Dom, you mean at Raven’s place?”

“Yeah, Dom. He’s a living computer, perhaps even more advanced than anything else we know about.”

Alix smiled. “Well, yeah maybe that’s a course we could pursue.”

“Sure it is,” Cristina said.

“You want to return to Raven’s estate, then?”

“I think we have to,” Cristina said. “He’ll have the breathing filters, for certain.”

“After you shower?”

“I want to get this done before anything happens to either of us. Okay? We’re maybe the only ones who can pull this off. We’re the only hope for many people.”

“The majority, the one you said that can be wrong, they do not realize what we are doing for them.”

“They probably never will. Even if Paul has escaped, it’s just like you said. They’ll eventually recapture him,” she said. “We’re really his only hope. Doing this is the only way to stop The Resurrection’s plans and expose The Colonial Authority’s cover-up.”

With that she stood up from the couch and went into the bathroom to remove the makeup from her face, take a shower, get dressed and return to a more or less normal appearance. It took about a half hour, but when Cristina emerged from her bedroom she was the lady Alix had grown accustomed to seeing off stage and, more so, learned to love these past several days that they had been together.

It turned out to be some kind of weird vacation. If nothing else, he believed it would make him appreciate recording music in a studio, even if he had never completely enjoyed the experience in the past. He had always hated the repetition part of it. He lived for the creative process, whenever the spark occurred. He could not get used to laying down the same bass lines for fifteen to twenty takes before the producer was good with just one of the tracks.

Her transformation fully completed, dressed in some different, less provocative clothing, she applied band aids to her blisters on her feet and put on comfortable walking shoes. Alix waited patiently for her to finally be ready. When she was finished she stood and he kissed her.

“You like me this way?” She asked.

“I like you everyway, but this one is more like the real you.”

“The real me depends on my mood at the moment,” she said with a laugh. “Let’s go.”

“You’re not tired?”

“I took a nap, a short one while you were showering. I still tired, but this is important.”

“We skipped lunch and it’s almost dinner time,” he stated.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of time. Are you hungry?”

“Not especially. I’ll be fine. I was more worried about you.”

“When we’re on tour I sometimes get busy and forget to eat. I have even missed eating for a while day.”

“I know,” Alix said. “We all watched out for you.”

Cristina laughed. “That’s why you ordered a pizza seemingly as a random thought…”

“Of course.”

She shook her head. “What would I ever do without you guys?”

“What would we ever do without you? That was our concern.”

They descended the stairs and said hello to Emma and Arnie as they passed through the kitchen.

“Going out again so soon?” Emma asked.

“We have to go see a friend.”

“Let ‘em be,” Arnie said. “Don’t start treating them like they are our children. You see where that got us. They hardly even see us anymore except for holidays. Only Neville has an excuse. The girls live in this very city!”

“They’re busy too,” Emma defended them.

“They’re too busy to visit any old fuddy-duddies.”

Emma smiled, but decided to refrain from further comment, directing her attention to Alix and Cristina. “You haven’t eaten lunch, though.”

“We’ll eat a big dinner,” Alix said. “We’re going to a friend’s house.”

“I’ll make something for you and leave it upstairs. How’s that?”

“That’d be wonderful,” Cristina said. “But I’m not sure we’ll be back tonight. We may be away for a little while.”

“It wouldn’t be any trouble. It would give me something to do today. It’s been slow what with all the trouble down around the detention facility.”

“It’s okay. We’ll be fine.”

“Isn’t it awful about what’s going on. They say a lot of agents are dead.”

“I hope your brother is okay,” Arnie said.

“Me too,” Cristina admitted.

“We were listening to the news before we came down.”

“It’s awful. Some of those men probably ate in our very shop the other morning.”

“Maybe so,” Cristina said.

“I feel like we may have cursed them,” Arnie said.

“Well, I’ve always believed that people make their own misfortune by the way they choose to live and how they treat others,” Cristina said. “As tragic as it may seem to others, sometimes when people die maybe they deserved it.”

“See, she agrees with me,” Emma said, punctuating it with a wink and a smile projected in Cristina’s direction.

Arnie offered an old fashioned manual key to Alix as he was the one standing nearest to him. It was the type that the outer door lock of the coffee shop still required. “You’ll need it to get inside. It’s one the kids used to use. If you come back after we lock up and go home. Just lock the door back from the inside before you head upstairs for the night.”

Alix looked at the key. He had not seen one since he was a kid but recognized it. “Okay,” he said. “We may be back tonight.”

“If not we’ll lock up anyway,” Emma said.

“Regardless of what happen, at least this way you have the option of coming and going as you please,” Arnie said.

“We really appreciate all of this. You’ve been too good to us,” Cristina said.

“When you get to be our age, honey, you can tell a lot about the quality of people just by talking to them. We knew you needed our help,” Emma explained.

“Well, don’t think we are ungrateful. We will return the favor.”

“We expect nothing,” Arnie said. “We’re happy we can help.”

“Cristina, we probably need to go,” Alix prompted.

She nodded in response.

“We’ll see you later or tomorrow,” Cristina said.

“We’ll be here. This is our life,” Emma said.

Alix and Cristina walked the few blocks to ‘the crosstown’ coach stop, waiting there for only a couple of minutes before a coach arrived to provide them a lift. As Alix and Cristina settled in beside one another in the bench seat they looked around the fairly crowded coach.

“I’ll watch for our stop this time,” Alix said.

Cristina nodded, and then leaned into him and kissed his cheek.

Alix glanced down at his hands. There was a hangnail on his right index finger that was bothering him so he gnawed at it until he clipped it loose with his teeth. Then he checked his other nails just to be sure.

“You chew your nails?”

“Not usually,” Alix responded.

“I hadn’t noticed you doing it before.”

“It bothers you?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“I don’t always carry nail clippers.”

“I do.”

“Maybe most women do.”

“I wouldn’t generalize,” Cristina said.

Alix leaned back, folding his arms across his chest in the classic, insecure, defensive position.

“I’ve made you self-conscious.”

“Of course.”

“That was never my intention.”

“Do you watch my every action and scrutinize it?”

“Of course not,” Cristina said, and then she chuckled, “No one could endure such a challenge.”

Alix looked up at the display and map. “Five more exits,” he said.

“You can be so amazingly focused at times,” Cristina said.

“It’s a gift, I guess,” Alix said. “One of several.”

“Are you worried?”

“About what we are doing or that maybe it’s never been done?”

“I guess a little of both.”

Alix shrugged. “We have to do it so I’m just sort of accepting that we have to make it work, I guess.”

“What if you can’t do it?”

“I hope I fail immediately because halfway through would be upsetting.”

Cristina looked at him, receiving a smile from him it response.

“Look, it will be what it is. Whether this is possible or not, there’s absolutely nothing either of us can do anything about. We can only do what we can do.”

Cristina kissed him on the cheek again, but then lingered close to him. “We have to do it for Paul and everyone else.”

“We are working on that,” Alix said. “If we can we will.”

“I feel so helpless.”

“It’s because you are relying on me instead of yourself and I’m not exuding confidence.”

“I know I can count on you whenever you commit to me to do anything but you’re right. The uncertainty has been the source of my recent apprehension and frustration.”

“I can only do what I can do,” Alix said. “I think I can make it work. I’ll not lie to you. This will be extreme as challenges go. That’s why we need exact coordinates.”

“Which Dom can provide.”

“I hope he will.”

“He has to,” Cristina said. “He’ll do it as a favor for me.”

Alix chuckled.

“What’s so funny?”

“An android is smitten by your beauty and stunning physical presence.”

“I don’t think that’s what it is.”

“Then tell me what it is,” Alix said.

“I don’t know what it is,” she said.

“Next stop is ours, by the way.”

She nodded and began her preparations for the impending exit.

When they had exited the coach, it was as they had expected, the coach for ‘the hills’ route was already approaching the stop, minimizing their wait, just as it always had. They boarded into a relatively empty coach. In fact there were only two other people aboard and they exited at the third exit leaving Alix and Cristina alone.

At the seventh exit they stepped off the coach and the headed up the hill toward Raven’s estate. When they arrived on the front porch, Cristina reached up and tugged on the rope to ring the bell. They waited for several moments – beyond a minute and then, finally the door opened. Dom might have seemed glad to see them except his face did not so readily belie any emotion.

“We need your help,” Cristina prefaced.

“You’re seeking my help or the Master’s?”

“Your help, Dom,” Alix said.

“I’m flattered you think I might be of some service.”

“It’s something we feel you’d be particularly good at,” Cristina said.

“We need to go back in time, physically – both of us. About 80 years.” Alix said. “That requires us to know spatial coordinates as well as temporal aspects.”

“Of course,” Dom said seeming to indicate expertise without further elaborating, and then opened the door wider. “Please come in. Just do not disturb the Master. We will go to my working room.”

They followed the DOMLIB down the corridor to the back of the main floor of the estate. There was a small room by human standards, but perhaps perfectly accommodating for Dom, including an array of display screens that were tied into the house’s main computer system as well as the resources of the Colonial Authority.

“Please be seated,” Dom gestured to the four chairs at the worktable, he sat in one, while Cristina and Alix settled into two of the others.

“We’ll be leaving as soon as we know where we’re going and what we’re doing.”

“How is it you know where you want to go?” Dom asked.

“We were practicing with our orbs and brought them close together. We first saw our star system as if we were approaching it from space and then we were in a dark cavern and there we saw a sand-morph. Since there are none in the present world, it had to be in the past, before the world was sterilized.”

“That seems a logical deduction,” Dom said, then added. “Of course, it depends on whether your premise is valid.”

“You mean there may be sand-morphs that survived?”

“It would think it’s almost axiomatic,” Dom said. “Just not in this world.”

Alix’s mind raced as he tried to grasp what Dom so casually revealed as a potential. “There could be other sand-morphs on other planets.”

“Your assumption was they’re indigenous. This planet was far too young to have evolved their live form at the time of terraforming. It is one of the reasons for the oversight.”

“They were colonists like us,” Cristina said.

“That is  the most likely conclusion from all the evidence of which I am aware,” Dom said.

“Wow!” Alix expressed the only word he found in his vocabulary to encompass the sum total of how much Dom has just expanded his range of thought.

“I do not have sufficient resources or information to make a definitive determination,” Dom said. “The Master and I’ve discussed it previously. He also tends to agree with the likelihood. It is possible and therefore should be considered in any sort of analysis.”

When Alix emerged from the depths of thought, he looked first to Cristina and then to Dom. “I don’t even know the exact date of the initiation of the sterilization process,” Alix said. “I only know it was in the 2120’s”

“September 9, 2124,” Dom said.

“Then a point in time before that would be good, let’s say September 4, 2124.”

Dom seemed to be completely occupied for several moments. At the conclusion he looked at Alix. “I have the coordinates plotted.” From Dom’s eyes a holographic projection of the immediate star system issued. Overlaid upon it Dom cast the temporal coordinates as well as the spatial coordinates. “I have archived them and printed a copy to your portagraph.

Alix hastily accessed the device he wore on his wrist and usually only used as a chronometer. “Got it.”

“Is that what we needed?” Cristina asked.

“Yeah, well I suppose we should know where to return.”

Dom removed the overlay and pinpointed the present and sent that information to Alix’s device as well. When Alix finished studying the information. Dom closed is eyes and, immediately, the projection terminated. “You will need full mask filters for your journey. There is a pair of operable ones in the front closet in the foyer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other things to attend to for the Master.”

Cristina stood along with the DOMLIB and pressed her hand to Dom’s chest halting him. Then she kissed him on the cheek.

Dom seemed startled but appeared to smile ever so slightly.

“So, now we have everything we need?” Cristina followed Alix and Dom to the front entry. There, Alix opened the closet and found the masks they would need.

“They coordinates are for the cavern where the sand-morph’s were discovered,” Dom explained as he opened the front door to allow them outside.”

“And the return coordinates are here?” Cristina asked. She stepped out onto the front porch to join Alix.

“On this front porch, yes,” Dom replied.

“Thank you, again.”

“You’re welcome,” Dom said as he closed Raven’s front door behind them.

“I know where we are and where we’re going. I just hope there’s a sand-morph nearby.”

“There has to be.”

“It is a huge world.”

“Well, let’s hope for the best. At least we know where to look for them,” she said as donned the mask. Once it was properly fitted she checked as Alix did the same. In each of their hands they allowed their orbs to appear and they brought them closer together. In the balance they created a window into another world, a previous era and set of circumstances. Alix grasped her free hand and in the next instant there was a brief but brilliant eruption of white light. They stepped through and were where they were a moments before.

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 13 – Invitation

**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.**

Julie stopped just outside the door and waited for Chase to finish his brief conversation with Neville. She thought the visit went very well. Chase seemed to be a little more at ease with the new reality. Toward the end of their visit Chase’s mother had told a couple of anecdotes about Chase’s father, embarrassing things that, of course, his father never told him. Although he was skeptical at first that the woman in front of him was his mother, now he seemed to accept it. Maybe he wanted it to be true and did not want to pursue the matter any further or he was like her in that he could feel the truth.

Julie did not want to participate directly in the conversation Chase and Neville were having. The subject bothered her, and she could not wait to get Chase away from Neville so they could discuss it in private.

Neville was an atypical administrator. He had his own agenda, but he was also a caring human, not a bureaucrat. Still, he was attempting to enlist Chase’s aid in his plans. She was worried The Twenty-Four would end up in a controlled environment for study just like their mothers. Then an even worse thought occurred to her. What if the Colonial Authority was courting their cooperation to gain access to the offspring of The Twenty-Four? What were they up to – planning to keep them all separated and under scrutiny for all their lives?

The same, cold clear logic about researching The Twelve could be bent and twisted to fit any aim the Colonial Authority deemed was in the common interest for the general good. They had already invaded her privacy and all but destroyed her relationship with Chase. Really, she wanted to have as little as possible to do with the Colonial Authority but thus far they were been relentless and pervasive.

Chase finally glanced in her direction and noted she was impatiently motioning for him to hurry along. He offered some closing remark and his hand to Neville who accepted both but he followed Chase for a few more steps, finishing up whatever it was he felt was most important. Then as he and Chase reached Julie’s earshot, he raised a hand to wave and say goodbye to them both before turning back and reentering the security entrance.

“You seem to have hit it off surprising well,” Julie said as Chase approached the coach.

“He’s a nice enough sort. He says he grew up in Star City.”

“Really.”

“Yeah his folks owned a small cafe. As a kid he and his family lived in an apartment above it. He’s just like anyone else, except he’s not a stuffy bureaucrat, and he has the attributes.”

“Really?”

“It’s not common knowledge. He’s a generation behind us, of course. He has the traits not the outwardly physical things, you know…”

“Yes, I know. And he just told you this?”

“No, I picked it up from shaking hands. Anyway, that’s why he’s sympathetic to us and our situation.”

“Why didn’t I get that from him?” Julie asked.

Chase shrugged. “Maybe you weren’t open to it. I don’t know. He invited us to dinner with his wife.”

“You didn’t accept.”

“I said I’d ask and it’d be up to you,” he said as they boarded the coach.

“Maybe it’s not wise to get too friendly with Neville,” Julie said.

“I thought you were the one who was all about cooperating with the authorities,” Chase countered as he pulled away from the curb and headed toward the perimeter gate. They paused there, opening their doors for the required inspection of the coach before the gate was opened for them to exit the compound.

“There’s a difference between providing information and becoming close friends,” Julie said once they were beyond the gate.

“What about Yates?”

“He was friends with my father,” Julie said. “He’s trying to help us out but that’s as far as my friendship with him would ever go. I wouldn’t go to his house or become friends with his wife.”

“Well, I don’t think it hurts anything to know these people as real people. Maybe that is the entire problem. We are different and that frightens most people because they don’t understand us. He’s different because he has some of our traits. Maybe he’s like a bridge.”

“He wants you to go with him to Star City,” Julie said.

“You caught that.”

“How could I not?”

“He thinks Paul might listen to me. The good news is the Colonial Authority doesn’t want to kill Paul. It’s just that after what he did…well, they can’t exactly just let it slide. They even allowed his mother to go there to see him.”

“I heard something about that. It was a failure. He wouldn’t listen to his mother, so, what hope do you have?”

“That is what I said, but Neville seems to think Paul would listen to someone like me, someone he knows, as opposed to a mother he never really knew.”

“Why not just find Cristina?” Julie asked.

“Cristina and Alix really have disappeared.”

“There have been no ID scans or payment wand transactions since here, except for one set of ID scans that does not make any sense because they happened in Star City a couple of days before they left here.”

“Someone stole their identities?” Chase suggested.

“Well, that is what Yates thinks but no one is sure. He thinks the reason they have not been found may be related to someone else using their IDs. But he’s not sure. I’m not so sure, though. It could have been them.”

“How? They were here with us.”

“Remember how they were practicing with the orbs and they saw a living sand-morph?”

“Yeah.” Julie looked at him.

“Cristina believed they were seeing back through time.”

“But it has been over eighty years since…well, since there were any sand-morphs.”

“When I was getting ready to take them the railcar station, the agents stormed the front door of your apartment. I couldn’t see everything. It happened pretty damned fast. Cristina and Alix were taken away. They could not have escaped but they did. Somehow they did.”

“Perhaps Alix can shift from one place to another,” Julie said. “Maybe that is his ability.”

“That isn’t his only ability. He causes things to ignite.”

“Catch fire?” Julie sought confirmation.

“When he thought I was flirting with Cristina he lit my hair on fire.”

Julie laughed.

“I’m glad that amuses you.”

“No, it is just the visual it brought to mind. I’m sure it was scary.”

“All that time I thought he wasn’t practicing with his orb but he was.”

“Maybe those aren’t his only abilities,” Julie suggested. “We all can do a number of things. What if he can ‘shift’ as you say but not only from one place to another but also from one time to another?”

“Okay, okay. That’s interesting. What if they didn’t go anywhere else but went back in time, a day or maybe more and ended up in Star City well before they were even supposed to leave here.”

“But why hasn’t there been any trace of them in Star City since? Anytime they get on or off a bus they would have a payment wand record.”

“Star City has free mass transit,” Chase said.

“That’s right,” Julie said. “So they could have spent all day in the city without being tracked. But they would have to eat…”

“Not if they went to see Raven and he put them up for a few nights.”

“Okay. What about since then? The authorities have been looking for them everywhere, since the afternoon that they disappeared.”

Chase cleared his throat. He was about to divulge a secret and was having some second thoughts in that Julie had sold out to the authorities. Then again he had cooperated as well, but mainly because she betrayed him and whatever he had to say was minor in comparison and mostly only confirmed what she had already told them.

“You know something. You won’t tell me because you don’t want Yates and the authorities to know. They may already know everything we have said to each other.”

“It wouldn’t matter but this coach is clean. It had six hidden devices in it when my friend scanned it. He neutralized all of them.”

“So it is safe?”

“Well, they might have put more bugs on it since, I suppose. But I don’t see why they would. Everything still works, it’s just he applied the zipper to the audio bugs.”

“The zipper?”

“It’s what they call it, like ‘zipping your lip’. It creates an inversion field corresponding to microphone patterns. They used to use it ages to control analog feedback from the monitors in concerts before everything went digital and wireless.”

“Okay. I think I understood most of that.”

“The microphones still show that they are present and they even show the authorities where we are. But none of the bugs can pick up our voices because the zipper cancels out the microphone’s pick-up pattern.

“So, as far as they know we are just being very quiet.”

“Exactly.”

“Won’t they get suspicious that we aren’t talking?”

“Yeah, but, well, we haven’t been together much and as for my coach, I don’t exactly talk to myself when I’m driving to and from work.”

Julie shook her head. “You know someone who can do that, the zipper thing?”

“Julie, I am not a saint. Okay? I even told you that when we first met. I got into trouble a lot when I was growing up. As a result, I know people who know people who can make anything happen for enough laundered payment wand credits. I even know some people who electronically launder the payment wand credits. In this case, though, the guy’s someone I grew up with who went legit. He’d an audio engineer. They use zippers when they are doing live recordings. That’s the only reason the Security Agency allows them to exist. There’s a modification you have to do to the device to get it to jam bugs, but it’s effective, once it’s tuned in properly.”

“Don’t you think that since the authorities have been following us for all our lives, they also know who these people are and where to find them.”

“The authorities know anyway, Julie. Don’t be naïve. There’re ways around everything if you have the right set of connections. There are honest agents and crooked agents everywhere.”

“Why haven’t you ever told me this? I mean, I figured from what you said you had a brush or two and then learned your lesson.”

“I learned my lesson alright but I also still know the system and have my contacts. One of the reasons my father moved us here was to get away from the people that I associated with but then there were plenty of the same sort of people to connect with here. He even sent me to Haven to live with my uncle and aunt for a summer in hopes of changing my course. I suppose it worked to an extent. When I returned I had a new outlook on things and I was a little more focused on the positive things. In fact, until this crap started to happen, I’ve not been in contact with any of my cohorts since before I went to college.”

“After college you had that job in advertising.”

“Yep, I did a flyer for a band that worked well and that got me an interview with Global Star. I had a good job that led to a better job and now I am about ready to be given a great job.”

“Somewhere in all of that you met me.”

“And when I met you it just reinforced that I was on the right course. I had no reason to want to go back to the crazy life that I led before.”

Julie sat silently digesting all the details that never before had Chase shared with her. She wasn’t sure that any of it mattered more than filling in the details about him. Since she met him, he was predictable and dedicated to his work. His darker past troubled her but in another way that might be exactly the sort of background he would need if what she was beginning to suspect eventually came to fruition.

Chase glanced over at her, wondering about the silence lingering between them for the past few minutes. “It matters to you, that I was a punk?”

“I don’t know, Chase. You aren’t that way anymore. I know that. It’s not like I was a saint either.”

“You never got into trouble with the authorities.”

“No, I didn’t,” Julie said. “I was willful and headstrong, though. I was defiant and belligerent. Whenever anyone challenged me I fought. It was never with anyone outside of my father and uncle.

“We each have a past,” Chase said. “What’s important is we learned from it and left it behind.”

Julie reached her hand over to lightly touch the back of his. “I miss having you around.”

“I miss you too,” he admitted what she already knew.

“Why are we not together?”

“Maybe each of us did some stupid things, said things we wish we could retract – even what we felt at the time but now the relationship we had is more important than anything that has come between us.”

 

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The Resurrection: Chapter 12 – The Big Gambit

**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.**

When Alix opened his eyes, the first rays of sunshine streamed through the slight gaps in the drapes over the windows. He could not remember having slept as soundly, not even at Raven’s where he felt extremely comfortable. Beside him Cristina stirred and stretched. She, too, rested well, appearing revived with the world’s energy flowing through her. Always he enjoyed being around her, but especially when she was full of energy. At times her mood infected him almost as if he leeched some of her energy, not that he was incapable of making the natural connection to the world.

Momentarily, following before opening her eyes, she kissed him on the cheek then roused, while complaining he needed to shave. When had she complained about his beard before? It seemed odd, since he did not shave regularly and his beard was always sparse, anyway. She told him several times she liked his rough look – if that was what it was. Why was it an issue now?

Alix stood up, out of bed and hurried to the bathroom where he relieved the pressure on his bladder. As he returned, Cristina was already queued to take her turn to do much the same thing. At the end, she turned on the hot water of the shower and disrobed, stepping into the shower first, foiling any attempt Alix might have contemplated beating her to that necessary part of the morning ritual.

Waiting patiently, he shaved, knowing here might be a lack of hot water after her usual twenty-minute session in the shower. Also, he brushed his teeth. Several times he looked at his reflection in the mirror, meeting his eyes in the process. It wasn’t exactly the same as looking into the eyes of others. How could it be. They reflected the soul a mirror could not. Still, he challenged the reflection that this was probably the day for the big gambit, as Alix had begun referring to it in his mind. Maybe Cristina did not see it in the same way or was not fully appreciative of what was involved. He would need to focus with undivided attention in a way that, to his knowledge, he had only accomplished once before – and then it was unintentional.

Somewhere in the process of focusing all of his attentions, he would find the way to will himself into another place in a completely controlled manner. For the immediate moment, that was his challenge. Later on, he would have to be able to navigate the points in space separated across time to when Cristina and he visually connected with a living sand-morph. She believed that was an open, two-way connection, not merely an observation of past events. He didn’t know how he could do it without both orbs, though. The previous encounter seemed serendipitous. Happening upon the exact moment again would be random chance – something he personally did not believe in and neither did anyone else with the attributes.

In her oversimplified way, Cristina seemed to think the event was merely a thought away. Perhaps it was that simple. She could know something he did not. It was equally possible she was naïve about the finer points of navigating folds in time and space – not that he was an expert but he had greater experience than anyone else he knew.

She emerged from the shower and began drying off even as Alix twisted the knob and resumed the flow of water, taking his turn. His shower was much shorter in duration even though the hot water lasted throughout. When he emerged, Cristina was already half dressed and applying make-up as he towel-dried. Alix went into the bedroom and dressed, then went out into the living room and sat on the coach to watch the news on the world viewer. Turning it on almost as a reflex, immediately he felt stupid. Surely it was not active. The apartment sat vacant for how long? Yet, to his surprise, the monitors came to life and displayed the last previous set of programmed channels in preview with the main monitor displaying the local news, which was what interested him.

Were Emma and Arnie paying the bill all this time without using the service? If that were the case, it smacked of a bureaucracy taking advantage of the lack of technological sophistication of customers who allowed all of their bills to be automatically deducted from their payment wand accounts. The apartment should have been disconnected from the network long ago. It irritated him that a heartless agency of the city’s public utilities might be taking advantage of the elderly couple but, at the same time and for the sake of his entertainment while he waited on Cristina to get ready, he was glad world viewer worked.

When Cristina finished with her makeup, she emerged from the bathroom to finish getting dressed. Her appearance stunned him. For whatever reason she decided to wear make-up as if she were preparing to perform. It had been a while since he saw her in the full treatment. As impressive as she was with normal makeup or no makeup at all, her performance face was instantly distracting. It would serve its purpose on others, drawing attention while allowing Alix to do unimpeded in the background whatever was necessary to free Paul from incarceration.

Looking the part of a star, phenomenally attractive and photogenic in exactly the way that caused people to stop whatever they were doing to take notice, she posed between him at the world viewer screen. Alix had trouble tearing his eyes from her anyway but then, he always had. Flashing a smile she was the bait fishing for a compliment – as if she needed it. “How do I look?”

“Like the total diva you are!”

She laughed and she leaned over and he attempted to satisfy his natural compulsion to kiss her. He wanted to ravage her, but he figured they were on a timetable. Cristina was solely focused on rescuing Paul, however that might become possible.

They went over the details of the plan, her part of it anyway. A great deal depended on him, particularly his ability to do something he was not sure was possible. He wanted to try it out first. It seemed prudent. Cristina had the utmost faith in him and told him everything was going to be fine, but he wished he had more time or her confidence because, honestly, he was doubtful.

As crazy as the idea was of returning a living sand-morph from the past, the mission just ahead was more dangerous. They were agreed that it seemed like the only viable means of liberating Paul from his present dire situation. The agents of the Colonial Authority had him in custody and as a branded subversive accused of terrorism, all bets were off about giving him individual rights. Certainly they were interrogating him, perhaps exercising physical threats and torture to extract information. Alix had heard horror stories from some people whose relatives died at the hands of interrogators. They spoke about it in discrete whispers not wanting to risk bringing the same treatment onto themselves or their other relative. Getting on the bad side of the Security Agency of the Colonial Authority was a very bad idea, the kind with lethal consequences regardless of innocence or guilt. If their clandestine undertaking went awry they could expect similar treatment.

“Are you hungry?” Cristina asked, her question breaking in on his mulling over concerns for the day ahead.

“Yeah, actually I was waiting for you to get dressed.” Whether he was or wasn’t didn’t matter. He’d already been to the fridge, saw the making of breakfast inside and decided he’d fix something for both of them.

“Are they in the shop downstairs?”

“I haven’t heard them. At some point – I’m guessing yesterday – Emma must have brought us some things from the kitchen downstairs. We have eggs, bacon, bread, butter and juice. I guess they are reserving the making of coffee to experts.”

Cristina smiled. “Are you cooking or am I?”

“I got it,” he said as he leapt up. “Scrambled as usual?”

“Over easy,” she said.

“Well, that’s a bit of a change.”

“You always have them over easy so I thought I’d try it that way.”

“You are really in the mood today, taking chances and doing things differently,” Alix said as he winked at her from across the room.

“I think it’s the influence of the nature around us. The world wants to change. It’s demanding our attention.”

Alix nodded, soberly accepting the truth underlying her comment. He felt the same thing but found describing it ineffable until hearing her express it in her way. She was directly on target. It was not going to be an ordinary day at all. If he had to do what Cristina fully expected of him it could be a very important day with precipitous consequences in ways they might not fully appreciate.

By the time Alix finished making breakfast, Emma knocked at the apartment door. Cristina answered it.

“I know you slept well,” she said as she brought a tray bearing a pitcher of orange juice and small pot of fresh coffee along with empty glasses and cups for two. As she sat the tray down on the dinette table she continued talking. “This old building has one very good thing going for it, like all the buildings in this part of the city the walls are thick and the windows are made to withstand sudden depressurization of the dome. In the old days, all the doors and windows had to be sealed and the buildings were fitted with their own air supplies and filtering systems. None of that stuff’s needed anymore. I’m not sure it still works. The major benefit is the older buildings are they’re well insulated and very quiet. Hardly any outside noise gets through. The downside is you have to periodically open windows and circulate the air because the buildings don’t breathe like the ones they construct nowadays.”

“Was it common to have breeches in the dome?”

“Until they had all the seals in place and tested everything under full load, yes, sometimes it happened. It took many years to complete the dome. By the time we moved in here, though, it was rare to have an alert – maybe once a year. After we were here for ten years, there were no more alerts,” Emma said. “Neville, our eldest, hated the alerts. He could not go to school and play with his friends. He had to sit home and take his lessons through the world viewer. The systems back then were primitive. “Right before we moved out into our new home, public utilities sent people out to remove the old viewer screen because they said it was far too inefficient and it also would not receive all of their new entertainment channels – especially all the single view pay channels. Since we were original subscribers, they did the up-conversion free of charge and we are only charged for one service between our two residences.”

“I was wondering why it was still active,” Alix said.

“Arnie said there’s no reason to ever cancel the service if they’re going to provide it for free. Once we cancel it, then the next people who would live here – you at the moment – would have to contact them and reactivate it and then receive monthly debits from payment wand accounts.”

“It was a pleasant surprise when I turned it on and it worked,” Alix said. “I was hoping you weren’t being charged for something you weren’t using.”

“He’s addicted to the thing.” Cristina explained.

“I am not! I just want to stay informed.” Alix insisted.

Cristina laughed, as did Emma. “Arnie’s the same way,” the latter said. “You look like you have plans. You are far too pretty to need makeup, but I have to say, you look like a model from the ad channel.”

“Why, thank you.” Cristina blushed though Emma probably could not tell through all of the makeup.

“Well, I’ll leave you to enjoy your breakfast in peace,” she said as she carried the tray with the coffee and juice back with her toward the door.

“Thank you for the juice and coffee,” Alix said as he opened the door for her.

“And the hospitality,” Cristina added.

“If you want refills of either just come on down to the shop. There’s more juice in the fridge.”

“We saw that,” Alix said.

“We’ll be fine,” Cristina said.

Emma paused by the door, her attention drawn to a whatnot shelf where there was a stuffed animal she had not seen for a very long time. “Where on Pravda did you find that old thing?”

“There was a loose floorboard in the back of one of the closets. We noticed it when we were cleaning and when we pulled up the floorboard in the process of fixing it we found that. We dusted it off and thought it would serve to decorate the apartment. I hope you don’t mind.”

“It was Neville’s favorite toy when he was a little boy. I thought we’d never see it again. He outgrew it, of course. The day he couldn’t find it he was far too old to be playing with it but, even so, he cried and cried. At first I thought he would never get over it. But he did. Arnie’s long talk with him helped. Whatever he said to him worked. He never told me what he said – just that it was man to man.”

“How old was he then?” Cristina asked.

“He was ten, I think. As I said, he was far too old to be playing with stuffed animals anymore. But he talked to it all the time. It was his friend. Growing up the only boy with two younger sisters, he always seemed able to entertain himself when need be.”

“What’s its name?”

“He called it Staash – a good, strong and friendly name. Arnie has an ancestor with that name who was a member of the last administration of the nation of Poland on Earth. In family lore he’s something of a hero as he’s reputed to have aided many millions of people to escape the devastation of the wars and escape to the colonies.”

“That’s impressive,” Cristina said.

“When Staash here disappeared, Neville’s sisters were old enough to tease him by taking and hiding it. I always thought they did and just wouldn’t tell him where, but they denied it.”

“Well, next time you talk to him you can tell him you found Staash.”

“Yes, I will,” Emma smiled, returning the stuffed animal to the shelf. “That’s a good place for it, right out where everybody can see. Thank you for finding it. I’ll see you later, downstairs.”

“We’ll be leaving out soon.” Cristina responded.

As the door closed behind her, Cristina picked up the stuffed animal, looking at it, staring into the odd holographic sort of button-like eyes – the kind that change colors and depth whenever moved a certain way to reflect the light. “Staash.” She uttered the name that Neville had called it.

Shadows intruded from the past becoming refined and more resolute by the passing moments. Observing three children at play sitting on the living room floor. Seeming from nowhere a tall man materialized, wearing shimmering robes of the kind Raven wore when they dined with him. In the palm of his hand he held an orb and, as he stood over the children they looked up in amazement as he levitated it between this two hands. The light of the orb illuminated his face casting an eerie glow that accented his prominent facial characteristics and also accentuated the reality of his advancing age.

“Are you okay?” Alix’s voice interrupted her as well as his hand placed on her shoulder. “You seemed in a trance.”

“I was seeing the past.”

“Not the sand-morph.”

“No, something more immediate back when kids were young here. One of them has the attributes – at least one.”

“You’re sure?”

“I saw Raven here. He had them mesmerized doing tricks with an orb.”

Alix shrugged. “Maybe the boy, since Staash belonged to him.”

“I think you’re right,” she returned the stuffed animal to the shelf. Then, turning toward her love, she looked into his eyes. She shared a smile.

“Your eggs are getting cold. There’s nothing worse than cold runny eyes – well maybe there actually is something worse but nothing right now.”

She returned to the dinette table. He held the chair for her and assisted in scooting it into place beneath her. Eating breakfast allowed her to focus on the present and claw back into her immediate life. She drew a deep breath. “I’m okay, now,” she verbally confirmed, prompting Alix to look up.

She finished her eggs and bacon. With the edge of her buttered toast the sopped up what remained on the plate of the broken yolk.

Alix laughed as he observed.

“What?”

“I see you’ve finally learned how to enjoy breakfast.”

Cristina smiled as she wiped her lips with the corner of a napkin, then they both busied their dishes where she rinsed them off before placing them in the dishwasher.

Afterwards, she immediately returned to the bathroom to touch up her makeup, especially her lipstick. Then they returned to the table to finish their cups of coffee before setting out for the day.

It was an ambitiously concocted plan. Neither of them knew exactly how it would play out. Cristina was going to enter the Colonial Authority detention center where all the prisoners were held for interrogation pending any hearing for formal charges. She was going to ask to see one of the prisoners, a name she’d obtain, drawing it from someone’s mind.

Meanwhile, as attentions were hopefully focused on Cristina, Alix was going to come in all alone and sit down as close as possible to the door that accessed the detention cell blocks. At the first chance of an open door he was going to penetrate, slipping in behind someone. He needed to know where he was going if he was going to shift in space – otherwise he might end up somewhere he didn’t want to be, like inside a wall.

From that point on, the plan was dicey. Depending on luck and timing as much as skill and caution Alix needed to find the control room and shut down the security system. This would require him to catch someone leaving the room and immediately step back into time and shift inside the room and watch what they were doing, acquiring access codes and everything. Then, before being discovered, slipping back into the present – or rather a few seconds after where he was before.

If he were challenged for why he was in a security area, he would play dumb, saying he followed a guy from the reception area that he thought might be going to the restroom. He expected to be escorted back outside of the secure area, or at least he hoped they would be that lenient, giving him the benefit of doubt. Knowing the precise location, he could shift back into the control room, disable the alarms and the communication relay that linked the center to other Colonial Authority assets within the city and in other cities as well. He would shut down the electromagnetic jamming system that projected into the interrogation rooms and detention cells. Before leaving the control room, he would disable the network server putting, applying a different administrator password. It was nothing he had not done before, just he had not needed to do it since college. Unfortunately, he was caught then, changing grades for his friends.

When they arrived at the Security Agency’s detention center complex, Cristina executed her role flawlessly. Alix did exactly as he planned. Upon discovering the control room, the door opened and he immediately stepped back a few moments across a fold and observed the passwords and key commands before returning to the hallways a few seconds after he left.

Immediately discovered and questioned, as expected he was escorted back to the reception area where Cristina was still working her charm to its fullest. Alix smiled as he watched her at work. She was a natural at flirting and had everyone’s attention and they were smiling as she performed her role flawlessly. All Alix needed to do was access the control room.

In a thought he was back inside. Immediately, he accessed the computer and changed the passwords to reflect a code requiring knowledge of hexadecimal mathematics – and the solution to the square root of quantity ten minus pi expressed in base sixteen.

He had done something very similar when he was in college. When he was caught it was fortunately after he had completed his operation. By then, the college was much more interested in getting everything put back the way it was than officially prosecuting him – even if he was on probation and watched carefully for the remainder of his self-abbreviated collegiate career.

It would take the Security Agency a while to access the computer again. Then, he shut down the communication links and the internal jamming equipments before shutting down the main server, effectively crippling every workstation in the facility from accessing files and information on the host holographic array.

With the entire security system off-line Alix figured the overall authority structure would react within a few minutes to alert the center through other means. He disabled the local communication access as well to delay notification. It would be several minutes to maybe as much as an hour before anyone discovered what he did to the communications systems. It would be days before they could undo what the damage to their internal computer network.

Having completed his tasks, Alix concentrated and reappeared exactly where he had been seated before, just the few minutes it had taken him to do his handiwork had elapsed. Due to Cristina’s masterful performance, no one noticed when Alix vanished from where he was sitting or when he returned.

He stood up and walked over to the desk, asked a question of someone who seemed perturbed to be disturbed as his attentions were focused on Cristina. Then he turned toward her, “Hey, I think I know you.”

“That line’s so old it should have been left on Earth.”

“No really, I’m sure we have met. Julie introduced us, right. You know Julie, of course.”

“Yes, Julie and I are friends.”

“See, I knew it,” Alix said. “It was at that concert.”

Cristina smiled. “Yes, now I remember you. Bert, right?”

“Bart. Your Patricia.”

“Patrice.”

“Close enough both ways. You were wearing body paint last time I saw you.”

“And nothing else.” She winked.

“Damn, hon, you look good even with your clothes on.”

“Thanks she said. So, Bart, what are you doing today?”

“Nothing now,” he replied, offering his arm. “I have the whole day free, just for you.”

“What a coincidence. So do I.”

“We could go back to my place and…” he paused, and then glanced at all the astonished and envious faces behind the counter. “I could play my guitar.”

She giggled and then hand-in-hand they exited the building. Even outside she continued playing her role, occasionally bumped into him, pushing him off course until he pushed back. “You did it?” she asked in a whisper.

“Of course,” he said. “It was actually pretty easy. But I have doubts it will help Paul. There are real, mechanical locks on the doors that stay locked even when the electronic open-and-close functions are off-line.”

“As long as you disabled the waves that frustrate his senses. That is all Paul needed. The rest of what you did buys him the time he needs to escape.”

“Well, I hope it’s enough.”

Having reached the nearby bench for the Starport transit coach stop Cristina sat and waited. “It won’t be long. We’ll see it from here.”

“Are you going to talk to him?”

“Paul, no. Not right now. He needs to get away. We need to stay clear of him for the time being,” she said. “In fact, maybe we should disappear, too. I mean, not hang around here.”

“The coffee shop isn’t that far. We could walk.”

She stood up. “Let’s do that. On the way we can talk about the next challenge. That’s really how we solve everyone’s problems.”

“Cristina, I have been thinking about it ever since you first suggested it to me.” He took her hand. I have no real experience shifting except for the times I’ve done it and never beyond what I did in a serendipitous way. A day or two is nothing on the cosmic scale. The world is just about where it was relative to the rest of the universe, close enough for argument and accessible as obviously I could still sense it when we shifted. I suppose the danger of being somewhere unintended was yet there, but certainly it was not an extreme departure like going back eighty years.”

“You are telling me you can’t do it?”

“I am telling you I can’t do it unless I know exactly where I am going. And the only way for us to ever find where we are going is…”

“Using the orbs.”

Alix nodded, and then continued. “I’m sure I can do it, though. I mean, in principle, folding time for a minute or a millennium should not matter much. The relevant issue that’s the major logistical challenge is the spatial concern. I have to know where I am going to be, precise coordinates even. Maybe our orbs can give us some of the answers, but I need to project where the exact coordinates for where I’m going to be – eighty years ago.”

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The Origin of a Book or Three

A few years ago an interviewer asked me why I write. The answer started another journey for me, pursuing tangents and in the process writing a book or three. Perhaps only other writers would understand that process. It happens.

As a kid I was big for my age, not necessarily a likely candidate for bullying. But I was picked on quite a lot. My guess is that the bullies in my school thought it bolstered their credentials or something, beating up a guy twice their size. But I was never much of a fighter. It didn’t help that I grew up in a family environment where two older sisters also picked on me a good bit. And my parents took us to church on a regular, if not weekly, basis. So, I was a true believer in turning the other cheek. That was until one day, I asked my dad about it.

Dad, who was a strong man of considerable size, confirmed that he believed in turning the other cheek. But then he told me. “I always try to follow what The Bible says. But if someone is stupid enough to hit me twice it’s okay for me to knock the tar out of them.”

That advice changed things. The next time a guy picked on me at school, I leveled him. Of course, the teacher saw only my response and I ended up in the principal’s office. The bullying stopped, though…for a while anyway.

When I wrote the first draft of Becoming Thuperman I wanted it to be a story about kids being kids, the feeling of endless summer on vacation from school, and overcoming the odds. I decided to set it in Normal, Illinois, just because I figured from the outset that the story would be anything but normal. Where the story and its characters took me in the telling became something well beyond my initial intentions. And, as I wrote it, I found it largely cathartic in dealing with some left other things rotted in my experiences as a bullied child. At the time I had no intention of ever publishing it. I did share the rough drafts with a community of fellow writers to which I belonged. Based on their feedback, I pitched it to my publisher as a coming of age story, which is the essence of the story arc.

BT deals with bullying, though not directly. Will is a runt with a speech impediment and low self-esteem. Like me, he has two older sisters. Unlike my sisters whose taunting was playful by comparison, Will’s sisters revel in tormenting him, especially when his mother is away, and the girls are left in charge. Sandra, the female protagonist and Will’s best friend, has a reputation for giving bullies bloody noses. She defends Will, which is something Will may not be proud of but he certainly appreciates the support.

The book deals with gender roles. Sandra is a natural athlete who convinces Will that he should try out for pitcher on the local Little League team. Also the book is about what might happen if children’s imaginations are allowed to flourish. And then the kids begin to discover their superpowers. Well actually, Sandra is sort of aware of hers well before Will notices either his or hers. Girls develop faster, after all.

From the outset, BT was intended as a MG/YA standalone book, which is something rare for me. I used to tell people that the reason I write serial stories is that I suck so much at coming up with endings. BT has a nice, satisfying ending. Yeah, like any decent little story it left a few things hanging in the balance. And the first few people who read the draft asked if there was anything more to come. Maybe, was my answer. That is always a writer’s answer, by the way.

Frequently the writer is the last to know when a story decides to become a trilogy or something beyond that. Although BT took place in the same universe as my other novels, when I wrote it I didn’t consider that its threads were connected to any overall arc, or that Will and Sandra might actually meet and interact with Brent Woods from Fried Windows or Lee Anders Johnston, Andy Hunter, Terry Harper and Caroline Henderson from One Over X. That occurred to me while talking with Jessica Reino, the fantastic substantive editor that my publisher assigned to work with me.

While reading through Jessica’s notes and suggestions, I decided that there was at least one more book to be told. We discussed where that story arc might lead and over a few sessions spanning a week, we outlined a rough plot for two more books. I had no idea what to call the second book in the series. I just knew that the last one would probably be called Thuperman & Cassandra.

I wrote the first couple of chapters for Book 2 in the early Summer of 2017. It felt strange, writing something for which I did not have a title. Tentatively I was calling it Being Thuperman.  But the story wasn’t so much about that as a continuation of the process of becoming from the first book. Also, we’re introduced to Will’s Papaw and Mamaw, who are mentioned in Book 1. Will is close to them, more so that his maternal Gram and Gramps who live several hours away in a suburb northwest of Chicago.

Homer_Underby_Preview

The title for Book 2, Homer Underby (Release Fall 2018) came to me around MLB’s All Star Break. There was a hashtag on Twitter ‘homerunderby’, applied to the annual contest among professional baseball’s best long-ball hitters. When I first read the hashtag, I saw ‘Homer Underby’. I guess, after having worked for The Home Depot for nearly 13 years, I was conditioned to see ‘Homer’ as a name, referring to the little guy in the company’s ads.  I had no idea where that would lead, just that it needed to be the title for Book 2 and it would be a character introduced in the book.

Homer Underby takes place in the week following the events of Becoming Thuperman. Will and Sandra’s idyllic childhood is about to be interrupted as intruders from the outside step in and force the pair of budding superheroes to utilize their extraordinary powers to save each other and their families. Will discovers that Sandra has not been completely forthcoming about her magic. And Will learns that he is more like his Papaw than his father, having inherited a family secret that usually skips a generation and that most of his ancestors considered a curse.

Will and Sandra are drawn into solving a decades-old mystery about the disappearance of a once prominent citizen of Normal and in the process learn that there is far more magic and intrigue in the world than either of them ever suspected.