**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
By the time the local sun disappeared behind the skyline of Haven, one of the two moons was already visible just cresting the eastern horizon. Paul stared at the large beach combing machines the Sakum’malien drivers staged at the edge of the dunes awaiting the departure of all the human sun worshipers. Perhaps they wondered at the odd human behavior, but they said little if anything to anyone – even those who spoke some words of English.
The odd feeling of having forgotten something returned, taunting him with information he could not grasp to recall. Again, he sensed a presence but there was no one immediately around except for Chase, Julie and Clare.
“Come on,” Clare prompted. Paul turned and hurried along as the four of them were among the last to leave the beach and rinse off in the beach house before getting dressed into more proper attire for dealing with the big city life.
Julie and Clare hugged one another and said their goodbyes as Chase and Paul retrieved their coaches from the docking station. When they arrived queued behind one another, Julie hugged Paul and Clare hugged Chase. They two men shook hands. It was a nice late afternoon get together they shared.
Chase was always traveling, mainly between his company’s office in Andromeda and Haven where he worked. Paul worked from dawn to dusk daily, sometimes even going in to work for a few hours on weekends just to catch up. He sometimes worked every single day within a month just to finish a project.
Clare climbed into the floater coach and Paul entered after her, settling in at the controls of the console. He waited for Chase and Julie to get settled and pull away from the boarding curb before he pulled out of the parking area and onto the street. “You aren’t in any trouble leaving work early?” Clare asked.
Paul shrugged, “What if I am? I’ve been working there for five years. I receive minimal raises in reward for always finishing my work on time or ahead of schedule and being at work at least on time but usually early and always staying late when necessary.”
“You don’t want to lose your job.”
“Of course not but I don’t think they even know I exist. No one knows who I am but if I was missing for a while they might finally appreciate what ol’-what’s-his-name takes care of for them.”
“Maybe others would take up the slack and they’d never notice.”
Paul nodded. “Yeah, well that puts the onus back onto me, now, doesn’t it?”
After a long pause Clare cleared her throat, “What was it Chase and you went off to yourselves to discuss?”
“Were you and Julie jealous of phantoms and some imagined competition?”
Clare forced a smile but her eyes did not leave his.
“Chase knows a guy he met a while back named Pete. When I was out in New Milan with Chase last fall we both met him and I beat him at shooting pool.”
“He must be awful at it, then.”
“Thanks a lot!” Paul exclaimed even as he shook his head in disbelief.
“I’m, just being honest, hon,” she said. “My baby brother beat you when we went to visit my folks last year.”
“Yeah, that little scoundrel’s a hustler, though,” Paul countered, after receiving a wave of impressions and perceptions the memories cascaded into his mind, filling in many missing pieces of an established past that stretched back well before he stepped out of the ocean water onto the beach.
Everything was there, meeting Pete in New Milan, accompanying Chase to Andromeda on a detour while on their way home. Chase signed a band and then they returned to Haven. Paul never told Clare he and Chase detoured through Andromeda. It took them three extra travel days but Clare always believed he stayed in New Milan for an extra meeting. It wasn’t like they did anything wrong, but it was just he never bothered to tell her where all they went.
As Paul pulled the coach up to the curb of their apartment building, he pressed the button commanding the door to open and as soon as the coach stopped, Clare stepped out onto the curb and waited for Paul to do the same and dock the coach before he joined her. They both entered the building and stood in the lobby waiting for the elevator car to arrive.
“So, that was the big secret Chase had to talk to you about, this guy Pete?”
“Yeah, it was part of it. Pete’s in a band and they’re looking for a female lead singer.”
“So, of course he thought of Cristina.”
“Yep.” The elevator arrived and they both boarded. Paul pressed the button for their floor.
“I could see her doing it.”
“I could too,” Paul said. “I was waiting about calling her, seeing if she’d call first. I guess I have an excuse, now.”
“You miss Cristina, don’t you?”
“I do,” Paul confessed. Even though he felt as if he had been with her recently.
“It’s been a year a least since she left for school.”
“Closer to two years,” Paul said as he tried to pin down an exact time or event associated with it. “I mean we talk by phone or even exchange messages over the global network but we’ve not been together for a long time. The conversations we’ve had were mostly about her acting and how successful I am. I don’t know where she gets it from but somehow she thinks I’m successful.”
“Aren’t you?” The elevator arrived at their floor and they stepped out. Their apartment was just down the hall, the third door on the right.
“Maybe on a comparative basis. I have steady income. She doesn’t. That’s not how I would define success, though.”
“The material element is a consideration.” She arrived at the door two or three steps ahead of Paul, keyed in her security code and leaned against the door as it unlocked and opened. She held the door open for him as he arrived.
“I suppose what I make is a lot or most people.”
“Well, I think you’re successful.”
“I’m happy – not with work but the rest of my life’s great.” He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and kissed her neck.
“I love you unconditionally.” She reached up with both hands and grabbed his head, then turning she releases and kissed him passionately.
“I don’t know what I would do without you,” Paul said as their lips parted. “It’s just I’m not quite what I wanted to be and whenever Cristina sends me a message it reminds me because she’s the one who’s still faithful to her dream. I guess it makes me feel like I’ve given up and maybe sold myself short, just accepting what I can get paid to do.”
“Cristina reminds you of whatever it is that you perceive as your failures. But you’re successful at what you do.”
“I know. I know exactly what you’re going to say. I’m far from being a failure but failure lurks just past the next decision at my company. I’ve never felt like I have any sort of job security. Backstabbing assholes and highly political opportunists surround me. I have a knot in the pit of my stomach every day when I go into the office. I feel like they’re going to fire me, not just threaten it, but follow through with it. I’m not sure that enduring all of that is worth the pay credits.”
“You just take things way too seriously.”
“Maybe that’s part of it, but most of it is I work for self-serving pricks.”
“Everything in life is about perspective,” Clare said.
“And I lack perspective – is that what you’re saying?”
“I was going to say maybe Cristina is more mature than you are. You always say she handles rejection well. Yet you cannot seem to define your success. You have a good paying job. Some people would call it a dream position.”
“My job is anything but a dream position,” Paul said, flipping around a dining room chair backwards and sitting with his chest resting against the chair back.
“Nothing is easy, Paul. Is there any job anywhere that will pay you what you think your time is worth?”
Paul smiled. “Of course not. With the difficulty of the job comes the compensation.”
“Not always commensurate to the demands of the job…”
“But high enough that some damned fool, like me will attempt the job because it pays better than the last three things I tried.”
“Exactly,” she said. “So what do you want for dinner.”
“Let’s shower and get fixed-up and go out for dinner and some dancing.”
“Really? What’s gotten into you tonight? The beach didn’t wear you out?”
“Yeah a little, but I want to make it a memorable day for you.”
“It already is. “
“Then let’s work on the night part of it.”
“Okay,” she smiled broadly.
“I really need to take a proper shower and put on some lotion,” she said. “I’m sure you do too, you always burn so easily.”
“I wore enough sunscreen I think. I’ll call for reservations. Where do you want to east?”
“Surprise me,” Clare said as she headed toward the bathroom.
“I’m not sure you really want me to do that,” he called out after her.
“It’ll be fine,” she called back.
“Okay. But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Paul said as he flicked on world viewer and brought up the index for local restaurants. “I think it’s always a good night for Italian.” He said to himself.
After calling for reservations, Paul began watching the news. By the time he heard her shower end he was ready and waiting to take his turn, tired of the dryness on his skin and the overall smell of fish.
When she emerged from the bathroom Clare headed to the bedroom to apply her makeup and get dressed. Paul showered quickly and joined her in the bedroom where he dressed accordingly, in casual attire appropriate for the restaurant to which they were going.
“Are we in a rush?” she asked while putting on her eyeliner.
“No, I made the reservations for eight thirty. Take your time.
“This is a nice surprise. Usually you take the easy way out.”
“What does that mean?’
“‘I’m tired – lets eat in and go to bed early’.”
“I’m a guy. I always seek the path of least resistance whenever possible. Sit down a relax a bit.”
“You are the one who was stressed out.”
“It’s a normal state of being for me. I’ll prevail.”
“I hope so.”
Paul joined her on the couch. “You look pretty.”
“Thank you. You look handsome.”
“We match well, then.”
She laughed. “Whatever’s different about you, keep it going, okay?”
As the news on world viewer played in the background, they shared light conversation about other things that had happened throughout the day, mainly the morning events in Clare’s life at her dance studio. She was grateful when Julie called her suggesting they take the afternoon off and head for the beach.
Clare looked at her wristband. “We probably should be going.”
Paul smiled, starting to get up a few seconds before his cell phone ringer flashed on his wrist. He tapped his earlobe, “Hello.”
“Hey, it’s me,” his sister’s voice was welcome.
“I was going to call you. What’s the news?” He tapped his right wrist to display her holographic image in the palm of his outstretched hand so that at least Clare knew whom he was talking to.
“I didn’t get the part.”
“When you didn’t call, I was worried it was something like that.”
“They wouldn’t tell me until yesterday. I went out with friends and got drunk after I found out. I’ve been sleeping it off all day.”
“Are you okay now?” He asked then allayed Clare’s concern with a nod and a wink.
“Except I want to come home and I have no money. I mean, I really am embarrassed having to ask you, but…”
“I’ll get you home if that is what you want. How much do you need?”
“I don’t even know,” she said. “I have really tried to make it on my own. I even took a job waiting tables.”
“I think Chase might have something to interest you.”
“Really, I thought he did musical groups, not actors.”
“I think you need to broaden your horizons a little, sis.”
“Well, I’m an actress.”
“You have an amazing voice. You should be singing.”
“I’ve been auditioning for musicals, Paul.”
“You’re not getting the traction you need. For whatever reason, they’re passing you over, but everyone who knows you says you have a wonderful singing voice. So, let it become your vehicle.”
“I’m trying to do just that.”
“You aren’t getting it. Listen to me, Cristina. You have to make it where you can, and then go on from there. Then you can do the other things you want to accomplish. Once you have established your credibility, you can do other things maybe something you can’t imagine right now.”
“Well, I guess if you pay my way home I should at least listen to your advice.”
Paul laughed. “If you think I’m full of shit, just tell me.”
“It’s not that.”
“I think I’m being pretty reasonable.”
“Some of what you say makes sense.”
“Cristina, honestly. I think everything will be fine for you, but you have to adapt. It’s a big, strange world.”
“Yeah strange is not the half of it. Lately, I’ve had some bizarre dreams.”
“Really?” Paul asked even as Clare reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek and then proceeded on toward the bedroom. “Hold on.”
“Okay,” Cristina said.
“Hon, retrieve the coach and I’ll be right down.”
“Last night could be explained away by all the alcohol. But even before that…the dreams are like the world had not been completely terraformed – like it was forty years ago, you know all the cities were still domed.”
“The strangest part, you were in a lot of trouble there,” she said. “You were in prison and trying to escape. It was very bizarre.”
“And what was it that you did in that world?”
“What do you mean what was I doing there? It was a dream, or more like a nightmare.”
“No, I mean what did you do for a living?”
“I don’t…remember…well, but no, I think…I think I was actually a singer.”
“See, in your dreams it’s your destiny. Take it as a sign.”
“Maybe it is, Paul. I don’t know. I’m tired of this craziness. And I want to see you and just sleep for a while.”
“Good you can rest up and when I go to New Milan next month you can come with me.”
“I’ll be back at school by then,” she protested.
“So you have spent almost two full years learning how to act and perform…”
“But I can’t land a role at an audition.”
“Sometimes, I think destiny forces your hand. Maybe you need to audition for a rock band in New Milan.”
“Come home and make a fresh start, sis. Take a sabbatical from your studies. I have always thought you have the potential to be a star. All you need is to find the right path. Chase seems to think you’ll work out for this band in New Milan.”
“I don’t know…”
“The two guitarists are professional sound engineers so the audition will be at a real studio. Chase knew one of them, a drummer from another association. Chase sort of auditioned them. He said what they lack is a vocalist of your caliber.”
“He said that?”
“Maybe not in those exact words, but it was his idea to ask you to audition.”
“So, he’s the one who put you up to this?”
“Yeah, well, I worry about my baby sister, especially when she calls me to tell me she’s broke.”
“Okay, I hear you. I told you I’d give it a shot.”
“Go into this with a positive attitude. I have a very good feeling about this.”
“You know me. I’m always positive whenever I audition.”
“This can work for you.”
“In a strange way, I feel good about it, too,” she confessed.
“That’s the Cristina I know and love. Go to the station in the morning. I’ll arrange everything for the ticket from this end, okay?”
“I appreciate this a lot, Paul.”
“Hey, if I was in trouble I know you’d come to my aid.”
“Since Dad and Mom…well we only have each other.”
“I know. We have to be family first. “
“I’ll call if there is any change.”
“Okay, sis,” Paul said. “Have a safe trip.”
“See you day after tomorrow.”
He tapped his earlobe to disconnect the call. He went to the kitchen for a glass of water, fully intending to go straight downstairs. He hoped Clare was not pissed at having to wait. But when he passed through the dining room he felt the strange presence again, an eerie sensation as if he just passed through another consciousness, causing him to shiver as his skin erupted into gooseflesh.
“Who’s there?” He challenged.
With no answer, even the sensation of the presence was gone.
He continued, rapidly gulping down the water.
“Is anything wrong?” Clare stood in the doorway?”
“No, I was just coming. I’m still having odd feelings,” he said.
“Maybe you need to rest. We can go out some other time.”
“No, I need to spend all the time I can with you.” He felt the presence again – behind him, but saw nothing.
“Yeah.” He nodded.
He opened the closet door on his way out the door to grab a light jacket. After slipping it on he stepped out into the hallway to join Clare. “I hope I don’t get a ticket. I’m parked in the loading zone.”
“It’s okay. So, Cristina is coming home?”
“Yeah. I have to get her a ticket.”
Clare nodded as they arrived at the elevator.
“She’ll be here at least a month. Then she’s going out to New Milan.”
“With Chase and you?”
“Or just Chase. I haven’t decided to go.”
The elevator doors opened. They stepped inside. He pressed the button for the lobby. Then as mostly a reflex he plunged his hands into the jacket pockets, his right one wrapped around a small orb. Withdrawing his hand he looked at it resting in his palm.
“Something I thought I lost.” He closed his fist around it, the opening his hand palm up it disappeared.
“That’s from the magic act you used to do?”
He chuckled. “Yeah. Maybe that was the last time I wore this jacket.”
“You need to check your pockets before you hang things up.” She wrapped her arm around his elbow.
“I know, hon. Sometimes I forget,” Paul admitted.
“So, where are we heading?”
“I thought you wanted me to surprise you.”
“I said that, didn’t I?”
“Having second thoughts?”
“No, it’ll be fine. I’m sure,” Clare said.