Authors Life, Books, Fantasy, Future, New Releases, novel, Publishing, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Writing

What’s this…Another Update?

Cover for HOMER UNDERBY

This past weekend marked another milestone. HOMER UNDERBY is now on pre-sale for Kindle with a launch date of August 14th. That also means the ARCs are available and being distributed for pre-launch reviews. I’m proud of this book, not that I haven’t been proud of my others. But this one is a little different because of the collaborative effort that went into its conceptualization.

If you’ve been following my blogs, I mentioned that the first draft of BECOMING THUPERMAN was written in the summer of 2013, while FRIED WINDOWS was in editing. I polished up the draft a bit and submitted it to my publisher who eventually put the book under contract a few months later. From the outset I intended the book to be a one of kind thing as an author. It is a story about kids, after all, and although my books have been kid-friendly for the most part, they have been intended to be YA or older. Despite the ages of the two main characters, BECOMING THUPERMAN is not a children’s book, per se.

During the editing process for BT, about a month before it was released, Jessica Reino, the substantive editor, suggested that a couple of story lines might be easily extended if I feathered in some foreshadowing earlier on in the story. And after an hour or so discussing the possibilities, I had two more books plotted out in a rough outline. I know that’s the way some writers work, but it was unusual for me. My first drafts tend to be free form. I create an outline after the fact to organize the resulting chaos. So, you see, HOMER UNDERBY is the first book I have ever composed according to an outline. The third book in the series, titled THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA, will be the second book produced that way.

What about all my other manuscripts? They were created the old way. However, I am revising all my Wolfcat books and have begun imposing an outline structure for the sections that require some rewriting. And for those who are interested in following their favorite characters in other series, Brent from Fried Windows is in HOMER UNDERBY and THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA as well as THE WOLFCAT CHRONICLES. Will and Sandra from the Thuperman Series are also in the sequel to FRIED WINDOWS, titled CASTLES OF NINJA BREAD. Ela’na from THE WOLFCAT CHRONICLES appears in other manuscripts the titles for which have not been determined. In some of those stories Brent, Will and Sandra are also included.              

Authors Life, Books, Fantasy, novel, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Writing

A Tale of Four Books

For the past couple of months I have been in revision mode working on some unfinished and unpublished manuscripts.  Two of the novels-to-be serve as background on Brent Woods, the lead character in FRIED WINDOWS (IN A LIGHT WHITE SAUCE) published May 2014 and CASTLES OF NINJA BREAD (coming in 2020). Brent Woods also appears as a supporting character in the final two books of The Thuperman Trilogy, HOMER UNDERBY (Coming 2019) and THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA (Coming 2020). So, it was important to sift through the background material I composed several years ago and flesh out something in book form about Brent’s past. His senior year of high school is chronicled in WRESTLING IT and HAVING IT as well as his first semester of college contained in Losing It.

WRESTLING IT and HAVING IT were originally contained in a draft that was over 2,000 pages. After revisions and putting the story that now spans two volumes on a strict diet, it’s now around 500 in total with the WRESTLING IT comprising about 275 pages while HAVING IT is around 235 pages. I’m hoping both will receive good haircuts in the editing process. The story covers a lot of ground and introduces several characters that become important to understanding Brent’s motivations and relationships. There is more story to be told, enough for a third book about Brent’s senior year but it feels anticlimactic. The draft of what part of the story was never finished.

Front Cover for LOSING IT

LOSING IT, a book about Brent’s first semester of college, was already close to finished. In fact, I had arranged for an editor to take on the project and it was waiting in her queue. Over the past few years it existed under different working titles but has never been published.  As originally composed, it was told in subjective as opposed to chronological order. So, one of the major revisions this year was to reformat its flow so that it events are presented sequentially. Some scenes were removed. These may appear in future novels or separately as short stories.  Also, some sections needed to be rewritten to accommodate adjustments made to the WRESTLING IT and HAVING IT story lines, including the addition of new characters.

The third book I’ve been working on is titled DEADMEN DON’T WEAR WATCHES, another book with an odd title. Unlike the two FRIED WINDOWS books, this one is presented in third person. Brent Woods is a supporting character in this one and there are appearances of the grown-up Will and Sandra from The Thuperman Trilogy. The story is an urban fantasy, crime mystery thriller mash-up that follows Detective Mona Parker who is struggling with a perplexing serial murder case that threatens her job as well as her reputation for solving tough cases. DEADMEN is necessary to fill backstory elements for The WOLFCATS Series, book one of which is coming soon.   

Authors Life, Books, Fantasy, novel, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

I Wonder Is the Magic Gone

Writing is a curious habit by its nature. Some attempt turning it into a profession with varying results. One might have better odds winning the lottery than publishing a best seller that makes the author wealthy. Don’t quote me on that. But I’ll bet the odds are close.

Creative people, like writers, analyze things, read things into situations that others may not consider and, yes, see things that are not there. How else could watching from your back porch as a bird sings in a tree in your garden inspire you to write a murder mystery thriller? It happens.

With every book you write there comes a point, no matter what the book’s about or how long or short it is, that you wonder if it is good enough to submit for publication. If you have never experienced the magic of having someone else validate your art by accepting your work for publication, you may only imagine the exhilaration. It is a magical moment. But with each subsequent submission you will always wonder if the magic is gone, especially if it takes months for your publisher to get back to you. 

In some ways I’ve had an exceptional experience. Exceptional not in my subsequent success, but in that it kind of goes against the grain and bucks the usual course. When I wrote Fried Windows, I was in a bad place in my life. For many years prior I’d been battling demons, both internal and external, imagined and real. Toward the end of my tenure as a retail manager I was abusing alcohol and frequently felt depressed. Often the two are linked. I’d been writing for years. I’d published a few things, a couple of books through a small publisher and others I’d self-published. I sold some books, but I didn’t feel there was a great future ahead of me. Still, I never gave up on writing because…well, if you’re a writer you know that stopping isn’t a choice. It’s not how we are wired. I doubt my body would respond in the same way as if I stopped breathing, but it would be close.

Work, my ‘day’ job that is, had long since ceased to inspire me. Since all my kids had grown and were out on their own, I wasn’t sure why I was still going through the motions any more. When I married, I made a commitment to family and struggled a lot, putting in long hours, many too many times, to support them. Although I wrote whenever I could, because, again, it is what writers do, I set aside pursuit of my personal ambition of being a published author. Every parent understands that a part of the job is subordinating private dreams for the sake of putting your children first.

On February 22, 2012 I snapped. It occurred to me that no longer did I have a valid reason to continue putting up with my company’s abuse. It was my day off. Although I’d been scheduled to have at least one day off per week for the past 21 days, regularly, I was putting in 16-hour days and coming in on my days off. My masters were abusing their slave all because I was on salary and, let’s face it, they’d always gotten away the abuse before. Okay, technically they were paying me so it was not really slavery, but I wasn’t being fairly compensated for the hours I was working. You see, salaried = no overtime pay = abuse. They surely owned me for all intents and purposes. I received alarm calls waking me in the middle of the night that I had to respond to even when I had to come back later on to work an entire shift. And because my store was old the alarm system was buggy, It went off all the time. Only occasionally had there been a break-in.

I had been a manager all for the sake of getting paid a little more, never having my pay cut when business was soft, and maybe earning a bonus at the end of the year. That last part, by the way, is a moving target, a carrot that corporate dangles to entice while, in the background, doing everything they possibly can to make it unobtainable. If you have ever worked in retail management, you may have experienced some of that. Not every company does it, but the last couple for which I worked did.

It’s a given that nothing was ever good enough. And yet they told me I needed to be more positive. It’s damned hard to be positive when all you receive from your superiors is negative reinforcement. I was told to execute their plans not to think for myself. Hey, my last DM was an ex-Marine. He ran things as if he were still in the corps.

As a result of the pressure and stress, I drank to excess. Whatever didn’t hurt was so tense that I couldn’t sleep without putting myself into a stupor. Yeah, I know that’s an excuse. But it was why I drank so much. And so, roughly 7 years ago, I was enjoying my first day off in three solid weeks. Then, around 1 PM, I received the dreaded call from my boss telling me I needed to come in to work because his boss was there, in the store, raising hell about all the stuff that needed to be done. For some reason I was the only one on the planet who could do the work – oh wait, I’m salaried, so they were already paying me for doing it. Like Inspector Gadget, I was always on duty.

Like a good obedient dog, I went to the store. The guy I worked for was a new boss. In many ways he was the same as my old boss who had just retired about a month before, but in other ways he was not. My past manager was reasonable about dressing down if I was going to be doing physical lab, as in sweating a lot and getting dirty. Since the new guy told me I needed to put away freight, I assumed I could dress to make a mess. Ever before, when I came in to work ‘for a few hours’ to slam freight, that was what I did.. So, wearing casual clothes, I reported to work. When I saw my boss, he asked me why I wasn’t in uniform. I explained. He told me to go home and change. I started to do that, got all the way to the front doors and was about to go home and comply fully, when I asked myself, why am I still putting up with this crap?

Why was I killing myself – figuratively and literally, enduring the torment? My job was interfering with what I wanted to do with my life, what I loved to do, what I had been doing that day (my day off) prior to receiving the call – writing. I was divorced, my kids no longer needed Dad breaking his back to support them. Why was I doing it again and again and again?  Because it was routine? Because I had bills to pay? Because it was force of habit?

There is an old saying that most managers know but few heed. Never allow your subordinate to reach the point of not caring. I’d been pushed well past that and, although everyone told me after the fact that I was crazy to do such a rash thing, I handed in my keys and never looked back.

What are you going to do now?

I don’t know, look for another job, maybe something with lower stress. Or maybe I’ll just focus on writing. I’ve always wanted to do that, and I got sidetracked.

Are you nuts?

I thought you knew me well enough for that to be established. Yes, I am nuts. That’s part of the reason why I write.

For a few years I’d belonged to an online writing community. I won a couple of feel-good trophies for my writing. But being among other creative people served a valuable purpose, validating what I wrote in draft and posted online for all to read. Having the almost immediate feedback of other writers, be they poets, novelists, script writers or short story writers bolstered my confidence in storytelling. It helped me improve basic writing skills and allowed me to explore and expand the range of my author’s voice. Without that experience I would have never evolved past where the brute force of hammering out words led me, a.k.a. nowhere. 

For several years before that, I’d worked on downsizing my life. I’d started walking or riding a bike to work. Getting rid of my car was one huge expense eliminated. You see, subconsciously perhaps, I’d been adjusting for the inevitable all along. Something told me that I needed to learn how to survive on next to nothing because that was what it would take to become a full-time writer

I stopped drinking beer, not only out of necessity because there was no money for it. but also, because the reason for my drinking was gone. One day in March 2012, one of the people I knew in the online writing community challenged me to write a poem about being a child at a carnival. Not being a poet per se, what I wrote was of dubious merit. But the poets in the community were kind and encouraging about the noob’s effort. They wanted more of the same. But the well had already dried up. Instead, I wrote a short story. And, because that went over well. I wrote another story based on the first, receiving a stronger response than before. I continued, for 16 days, composing a story a day. Each story was part of a series that collectively I had called Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce), based on a scene in the first story. Still, titling them as a bundle was for my sake and did not necessarily imply intent for them to ever be a contiguous story.  

When I finished, I set all that work aside to pursue other works in progress that, at the time, felt more important. Around me, my world continued falling to ruin. With no job, and no money. I was living with relatives. And, as every writer knows, relatives don’t usually consider writing a valid endeavor – because it doesn’t generate a weekly paycheck and all you appear to do is sit in your room staring at a computer screen.

Have you ever considered the lunacy of that last part? You can sit all day staring at a computer screen in an office somewhere outside of the home and no one has an issue with it (maybe because someone is writing you a check for your attention). But an author gets paid long after the fact – if at all. Therefore, that’s not a job at all. Uh, isn’t that the point? I want a profession not a job. 

New Cover for Fried Windows

Around a year from the initial creative spurt that produced the nucleus of Fried Windows, I decided to stitch the sixteen pieces together, adjusting and amplifying the story arc that was there. You see, I’d always thought of the individual parts as a series of stories. But once i read it as a whole, there was some continuity. There were common characters and the same fantastic world. Why had I never read through the entire thing as if it were a novel? I saw the potential immediately. Sure, it was missing stuff. But there was magic in those pages. Somehow, I needed to continue that. Still, I wondered if I had it in me to transform what several people had validated as good, into something better.

Further validation came in a few months later when I signed a publishing contract for the book. Still, each time I write a novel there is concern about the magic – if it is still there. Do I still have what my publisher saw in my first or every previous work they have accepted?  The answer is always ‘we’ll see’ as I send it off. The only way you ever answer that question is to finish your work in progress and push it out into the world.    

Authors Life, Books, novel, Publishing, Writing

How My Fictional Universe Began

A couple of people have asked me about my first publication, ONE OVER X: FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER. They saw there were two books offered in eBook under similar titles. Here’s the story behind that.

In the mid-90’s I spent a lot of time digitizing a stack of typewritten pages. My now ex-wife regretted talking me into getting a home computer as every waking hour I was home I worked on that project. I had some stuff that dated back to my college years, a rough draft that has been titled TAROT, which as the title suggests had something to do with the fortune telling cards. I made an attempt to create characters based on the Major Arcana. I still have that rough draft, by the way. I’ve kept it around for humility’s sake. It reminds me of how badly I wrote at a time when I believed I wrote well.

Most of the material that I transcribed into computer files came from the period directly after my military service. You see, just prior to leaving Texas where I received a degree in Marketing, I threw away roughly 20,000 typewritten pages of accumulated bits of pieces of novels, short stories, and poetry along with the personal journal I kept throughout college. Trust me, it was trash and needed to be discarded. I’d say 95% if what I’ve written into draft manuscripts and published novels came from ideas I’ve had since 1987. However, ONE OVER X: FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER has roots in TAROT and shares many of the characters of a larger work, WOLFCATS, that date back to the late 70’s.

My wife and I separated in late ’97. For the next two years, in my spare time, I revised the material I had digitized. I wrote some connective material and rewrote large sections creating an extreme rough framework that would eventually become my first publication. While my first publisher wrestled with the editing, which all told took two years, I began writing a sequel titled A GAME OF HANGMAN. Roughly half of that book, which was also published through the same publisher, Ash Creek, and like FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER, is now out of print, became the core of the WOLFCATS story, which spans 10 as yet unpublished novels. I wrote that material in the summer of 2000, about a year before FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER was finally published.

I was never satisfied with either FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER or A GAME OF HANGMAN. The editing was sub par. At the time I was working in retail management, averaging over 60 hours a week and could not afforded the time to properly promote the books. However, I did not abandon the story. It is a series I plan to continue. There are drafts of two more novels. However, when the two ONE OVER X series books went out of print, I did a heavy revision of the material, using notes and comments from several readers as the basis for revision. Also, I split the book into two parts due to the length of the original material. In my opinion the story’s flow is much better. It is easier to follow Andy Hunter’s leaps and hops throughout the span of his multiple lifetimes. Also, it doesn’t take the reader over a hundred pages to figure out what is going on. Those books are available in Kindle format on Amazon.

Eventually, there will be a revised version of A GAME OF HANGMAN, though the WOLFCATS material has been extracted from the manuscript. There may or may not be two more novels in that series. There are additional stories involving Andy Hunter and Lee Anders Johnston of ONE OVER X, though some of that material falls into the FRIED WINDOWS series and THUPERMAN TRILOGY. So, the remaining story may be told as part of different series.

You may also notice another out of print book titled CURSE OF THE SPECTRE. The material contained in that book has been revised extensively, rewritten and reformatted. It is the prequel to the foundation material of the WOLFCATS series that I wrote int he summer of 2000. Much of the prequel is now contained in WOLFCATS I and II. Both are currently under contact with Pandamoon Publishing and I hope that one or both will be published later this year. The material that was extracted from A GAME OF HANGMAN is contained in WOLFCATS III. The remainder of the story I wrote as a separate volume during the summer of 2000 is contained in WOLFCATS IV through VII. Volumes VIII through X were written between 2005 and 2007, in response to several beta readers telling me they wanted to know how this, that and the other played out. Although there is a somewhat natural conclusion to WOLFCATS VII there are two major story arcs left unresolved. Those are completed in the final three books.

Authors Life, Blog, Books, Editing, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

2019: Starting Out in So Cal

I’ll be consolidating my Facebook pages from three to one. It has been cumbersome maintaining the three pages and, frankly, I haven’t been keeping up with regular posts. Also, my FB account has nearly maxed out with the mythical 5000 friends limit, so I’m directing everyone to my author’s page. I will be posting everything book related there and, for the short term, some of those items may be posted on my timeline as well. Ideally, I will end up with a author’s page and a timeline which caters more to my family and close friends.

2019 promises to be a wild ride. I’m starting out in So Cal. There have been some adjustments to make, but overall I like it here. And I can finally say I’ve eaten at In-And-Out Burger and shopped at Ralph’s. I’m not sure that makes me a Californian or that anything ever will, but that’s okay.

I’ve been working on a project titled Dead Men Don’t Wear Watches, which fits into the larger Fried Windows/Becoming Thuperman universe. Although the main character is a badass female detective named Mona Parker, Brent Wood and well as Will and Sandra make helpful appearances.

The book is set in this area of California. I wrote the draft for it several years ago and, while I’m here, I’ll be fine tuning the details to make a better fit to this setting. In the overall chronology of the fictional universe I’ve been working on, DMDWW come after Fried Windows and its sequel, Castles of Ninja Bread, which, of course, occurs a decade later than the Thuperman Trilogy (Becoming Thuperman, Homer Underby and Thuperman & Cassandra). It serves as a backstory piece for my Wolfcats series as well, filling it a few details not covered in that story. There is also a prequel to DMDWW, which is set in the Boston area as well as a sequel, which is set in central Texas.

Anyway, I’ll be busy for a while finishing those stories . For now, they exist in various stages of completion but certainly need updating.

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The Resurrection: Chapter 29 – Nature’s Resettling

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

There was general wrongness Paul felt in their departure from the past. First he lost their images and then the touch of their hands. He did not want to be right about paradoxes but immediately believed he was.

Isolated in a void he decided was non-existence, dread overwhelmed him, engulfing his presence and consumed his essence. His soul served from his physical form, just reward or punishment for meddling with past events upon which existence depends. Lingering consciousness stretched across limbo and connected at both ends of infinity, he was a singularity – a tiny, insignificant point between the vast and the infinitesimal. He was his beginning that concluded in the same thought of being, life evaporated into the wisps of unrealized probability.

There was no pain, no sensation at all except for separation. If there were a floor where he could have collapsed he would have. However, it was impossible for him to discern real from surreal as he lost consciousness, giving up in the process as he yielded to the oblivion he fully anticipated, a place he decided might be called Never.

Shocked, and suddenly immersed in cool salt water he flailed arms and kicked legs in panic, going over in his mind the principles of swimming – when had he learned them? Struggling to reach the surface, the light from above and beyond the brilliant blue, cloudless sky. He broke through to the sudden sensation of wind in his face. He gasped. It was his first gulp of air that led to immediate panic – an errant thought of the risk. But then he wondered why he would ever think such a thing. How could breathing air be dangerous?

As he tread water, he opened his eyes, but it felt as if it were for the very first time. Looking toward the shore he recognized everything, the thought of strangeness rapidly evaporated under the gross volume of intense memories that foundered his mind and almost instantly reestablished identity, role, purpose and obligations.

He swam a ways coming up closer to the breakers. His toes touched the sandy bottom there. He stood for a moment, allowing the waves to crash around him. Then he walked through the surf onto the shore.

Disoriented but remembering everything about him it was troubling that he had no memory of how he arrived at the beach.

Ahead of him was a white sand dune with some vegetation growing to cover some of its surface. It was likely an attempt to resist beach erosion. It was a problem, wasn’t it? He recalled hearing something about it, the balance between protecting beaches and property along the coast from storm surges while accommodating the public’s desire to enjoy their time in recreational pursuits.

Continuing his confusion he pivoted, trying to reconnect with disassociated memories. He saw the community beach house, recalled emerging from there sometime earlier. Remembered having showered before dressing in his swimming trunks and applying sunscreen to his overly sensitive, exposed, lily-white skin. Over his shoulders he draped a towel as he walked out to the beach. Locating the same towel he picked up from the hard pack directly in front of him. He dried off as best he could and left his hair damp.

The beating rays of mid summer warmed his shoulders as his back was turned toward the ocean. He wrapped the towel around the back of his neck in an effort to protect from the intensity of the local yellow dwarf’s radiation.

Automatically he replaced the protective UV lenses over his eyes, the ones he found on a lanyard along with his towel. The ocean breeze swept over the dampness of his skin and trunks as he tentatively progressed back toward the beach house.

A flash of memory came of being at the office having another rough day. Clare called him and told him she was going to the beach with Chase and Julie. She invited him to join them whenever he got off work. He even slipped out a little early just so he could swing by the apartment to collect his swimming trunks, sunscreen and a couple of extra towels.

Going to the beach was a fantastic idea. He really needed to unwind. It was just he felt strange, like until a few minutes ago he might have been dreaming. It wasn’t a new sensation for him, but it always left him feeling unsettled.

There were some images of a nightmarish set of circumstances worse than anything he endured at work. His imagination was vivid. It helped him in his work, coming up with warped story lines for video games to be played over world viewer. At times it was almost like he had two sets of memories, one his real life and another the fantasy worlds he fabricated in a digital universe.

Framed with that consideration, one set rapidly dissipated to the point that he wondered why he was even trying to recall anything about any of it. It wasn’t like it belonged to any project he was currently working on. Still, at the moment even the more plausible set of memories did not feel real enough for him to grasp and call it his own.

He looked past the beach house to the evidence of the thriving community back on the mainland. A causeway was the way back there from the beach. A high arching bridge spanned the navigable channel in the river of brackish water between the mainland and the barrier island where the beach was located. It did not look right to him but then he wondered how it should look. The towering skyscrapers of a second largest city on the planet sprawled out to either side of the bridge along the mainland shore. It was exactly what he expected to see but, in another way, it seemed strange.

Paul turned back into the sea breeze to drink in another deep, refreshing breath hoping somehow it would magically clear the confusion from his mind. Maybe he had been working too hard. He could be having some sort of breakdown that caused everything to feel surreal.

Seagulls hovered overhead, suspending their mass by the lift they maintained from the steady sea breeze that flowing over their carefully positioned wings. He always envied bird their ability to fly.

He felt a presence nearby but turning around, he saw no one. Still there was a definite presence but then just as suddenly as the sensation came it was gone.

Paul continued on along the beach. Clare stood up when she saw his approach, and then bounded over the white sand, seeming to barely even touch the surface as she proceeded toward him. At the moment of her arrival she launched herself, leaping toward him then wrapping her arms around his neck as he caught her slight weight in his arms. He swung her around as he spun to keep from falling. She offered and he accepted passionate kisses in welcome greeting.

“I missed you all day long,” she said as she pulled back from his lips leaving him almost breathless. Then he leaned toward her and kissed the tip of her nose. She giggled giddily like a schoolgirl as he continued to hold her close, staring into her gorgeous green eyes.

To him she was the epitome of the perfect woman, perfect for him in every way. What did he care if the events around him were still swirling a little and his mind was dizzily unsettled? As long as he was with Clare everything else could seem tentative. He did not care if in an instant the world might change completely. Then he realized how silly it was to have such a thought. Was tentative not how the present moment should feel?

He liked the liberating power of his newfound confidence, feeling as if he could make decisions that mattered. Clare provided him with the strength to endure anything while he sought his creative potential. She believed in him and, in turn, he believed in her.

Smiling across the short distance for the interval her response took, kissing him on the cheek he decided to just allow the flow of events to take him wherever they would for at least the remainder of the day.

“You couldn’t wait to jump in the water?” She challenged as she realized his towel and trunks were damp.

“It was kinda hot when I arrived.” He responded in a way that was hard to argue. It had to still be in the upper thirties, Celsius.

“I already brought towels enough for both of us, silly man!” She playfully punched him in the arm as he returned her to her feet.

“You can never have enough towels, especially at the beach,” Paul replied.

She shrugged, but as she led him down from the dune and closer to the hard pack where she and the others had been sitting and talking while they awaited for his arrival.

Paul knew Chase but he did not recognize Julie at first, even though he knew her name and was certain that talked many times before. The disorientation lingered, nagging at him. Sure, he knew her for even longer than he knew Clare. Julie introduced the two of them! She arranged for the only blind date he ever consented to in his life – based solely on her recommendation. Amazed it worked out so well, Clare was just as Julie promised, perfect for him.

“So, Paul, are you and Clare coming over tomorrow?” Julie asked even before Paul had a chance to shake her hand or Chase’s for that matter.

“It depends,” he replied.  It was a safe, noncommittal answer to something he knew nothing about, yet.

“Well, tell those assholes you work for that it is your niece’s birthday party!” Clare said with a laugh, causing everyone to laugh as well. Julie was sitting on a towel between Chase and where Clare resumed sitting to take a swig from a bottle of cold water she opened only a few moments before she noticed Paul down the beach from them.

As Paul sat down he looked out at the undulating surface of the ocean. The steady sea breeze whipped across the tops of the two to four meter swells. White caps crashed into the shore with enough force that even from where they were sitting he felt the refreshing chill of the spray. Some kids were attempting to ride short boards closer in to shore while a couple of hardcore surfers were lingering out a ways offshore warming up while really waiting for the evening’s double-moon effect to prevail. It was the time of the season when, toward the evening, the gravity of each of Pravda’s two moons amplified the other’s effects while the two celestial orbs were virtually aligned. It produced some serious waves that sometimes even rivaled the ones that preceded an approaching seaborne storm.

Chase leaned back, reaching for the ice chest, saying something about being thirsty. Then he sat back up and glanced over at Paul as he was sitting on the far side of Clare. “Are you feeling okay, dude?”

“Yeah, I’m fine?”

“You’re not thirsty?”

“Not particularly.”

“There’s plenty of water on ice. So when you need one, help yourself.”

“Thanks,” Paul said.

“So, is Cristina still in Emerald or is she on her way back home to enjoy her break?” Julie asked.

“She called me a few days ago,” Paul said, having immediately recalled a phone conversation with his sister. “She had an audition two days ago. She said if she got the part she’d be staying in Emerald for the summer. I sort of expected her to call me by now and really thought she would, especially if she got the role in the musical. But I have not heard from her. So, I’m concerned she didn’t get the part.”

“I hope she’s not discouraged.”

“She’s tough – a true artist. She handles rejection well,” Paul said proudly, but then he dealt with something strange and alternative. He experienced a momentary flash of her singing on stage before thousands of frenzied fans, fronting a rock band of all things. It amused him. “I don’t think anyone has given her a chance to demonstrate her fullest potential.”

“Obviously,” Julie said. “Her voice is simply amazing. I keep telling Chase to hook her up with a talent agency at least. I mean, with her voice she could take a so-so pop band right to the top.”

“Or a rock band of great musicians to legendary status,” Chase said as he stood up and stretched. “It’s not like I haven’t offered to help her. Paul has resisted giving her his opinion.”

“It isn’t that as much as she’s headstrong.” Paul confirmed even as several examples came immediately to mind in support.

Chase walked around the two ladies and nudging Paul with his foot as he passed by. “Follow me. You and I need to talk,” he said as he turned back and looked toward Julie and then Clare who both wanted to know why the boys were going off on their own. “It’s a guy thing,” Chase excused.

“As long as it doesn’t involve other women,” Julie warned.

“It involves business and Cristina. Is that okay?”

Julie smiled. “I’ll let that one slide, I guess, since my best friend is engaged to her brother and all.”

When Paul and Chase arrived at a place Chase figured was beyond earshot of the ladies, he sat down on a bench and waited for Paul to join him. “You are just as headstrong in your way as Cristina. You think you know everything?”

“I doubt what I know is even remotely close to everything, so maybe your assessment needs revision.”

Chase chuckled for a few moments, but then he stared into Paul’s eyes. “You are going to continue pretending?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re good. I’ll give you that. No one plays dumb like you can.”

“Maybe it’s because usually I’m don’t need to play.”

“I was in New Milan two weeks ago.”

“I think Clare mentioned that.” He guessed.

“Do you remember Pete?”

“Pete?”

“Yeah, Pete, the percussionist I introduced you two at The Stable in New Milan.”

“When was that?”

“Last fall when you and I were there.”

Paul shrugged, struggling for the memory that felt vaguely accessible but not quite within his grasp.

“Damn it, Paul! You and Pete shot pool for over three hours after you met. You even beat him, rather badly at that. I offered to give him a ride home because he didn’t have bus fare after you finished taking his credits.”

“Okay.”

“Okay you remember or okay you don’t?”

“I remember some of it,” Paul confessed. “Look Chase, I have the world’s worst memory for people’s names.”

“You have to remember this. He kept hitting on the waitress, asking her out and she kept saying no to him, but he was relentless. He thought she was playing to get him to buy more drinks from her, but she was genuinely getting annoyed. That distraction was probably part of the reason why you beat him at shooting pool ‘ ‘cause you aren’t that good.”

“Hey!”

“Just tellin’ the truth. Anyway, as the club was closing she gave in to his offer to buy her dinner. You graciously transferred back the credits that he lost so he would not be financially embarrassed.”

“I’m a nice guy like that,” Paul offered.

“It was actually funny as hell. I can’t believe you don’t remember it.”

“Well, I sort of do and he still owes me the money,” Paul said as he recalled it was not a gift but a loan.

“Or there needs to be a rematch.”

“That would involve going back to New Milan.”

“Well, there is a convention coming up again, same as last year.”

“There you go.”

“It’s even better.”

“Why?” Paul inquired.

“I was thinking. We could get the same special rate as the last time we went together, discounts on the railcar as well as the hotel. Julie can arrange all of that for us.”

“Okay.”

“And maybe you could ask Cristina to come to New Milan and spend some time with you while you’re there. I mean it’s only three hours by railcar from Emerald.”

“I don’t know about that, Chase. She’s kinda on break right now, but by then she’ll be pretty busy with college again.”

“Well I was thinking that while she’s there she could audition for Pete’s band. They aren’t really new just they got back together. They were a band when they were all still in junior high. Pete and Alix, the bassist, share an apartment. Keith and Tim, the guitarists are also sound engineers at a recording studio, which makes getting a place to do demos and have auditions really pretty easy. I mean, I sort of contacted Pete already about auditioning her.”

“I’m not sure she would want to do that.”

“Well, ask her. The guys are great musicians, but frankly, no one in the band sings well enough and they know it. They are looking for a lead singer and really prefer the vocal range of a female.”

“And you immediately thought of Cristina.”

“Honestly, Paul I’ve sent several female vocalists their way, but no one clicked for them. Their voices were good, just they didn’t have the personality the band needs.”

“You think Cristina has what the others lack?”

“I do.”

“She wants to do musicals, Chase. That’s what she’s been studying.”

“Well, it was just an idea. But really what I was thinking was no one I know doesn’t like Cristina.”

“She’s a charmer.” Paul allowed. “I don’t know if she likes that sort of music. She’s classically trained. Dad and Mom paid for her lessons from the time she was able to talk.”

“The band doesn’t play the usual fare, not at all. Their style’s unique. I don’t know your sister’s tastes in music, but maybe she would actually like their sound.”

“I’ll mention it to her. I’ll let her decide. That’s all I can do, Chase.”

Chase turned back toward the ladies, listening from the distance to see if he could eavesdrop on their girl-to-girl conversation. Paul looked out at the ocean waves trying to fill in the remaining gaps of his memory. He still felt there were important things he’d forgotten.

“I guess it’s all gone,” Paul said.

“What?” Chase asked as he glanced at Paul.

“Never mind.”

“No, really what, I didn’t catch what you said.”

“Have you ever had a dream, and when you wake up, you think it was a really important dream? You want to remember it, but it’s gone.”

“Yeah, that happens. It happens a lot, actually.”

“It’s like you’re certain you are going to remember it, but then regardless of your intentions, you forget what was so great about it. Or why you wanted to remember it in the first place.”

“Yeah and trying to write it down doesn’t work all that well either.”

“Exactly.”

“You had a dream recently that you wanted to remember?”

“I’m not sure what it is, Chase. Ever since I got here I have felt really strange, like I had something important to do but I can’t remember what it was. It’s almost like I have forgotten everything I knew, but then, I remember other things. It’s just not complete.”

“Like you forgot about shooting pool against Pete.”

“Yes, things like that.”

“Maybe you hit your head or you had heat stroke.”

“I don’t know,” Paul said.

“Maybe you’re getting old.”

“Chase, I’m three months younger than you.”

“Well, then I need to watch out, too.” Chase corralled his shoulders. “Come on, you’ll snap out of it. We need to get back to our women before they conspire to make us go shopping with them on the way home.”

Paul smiled as he continued along beside him.

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The Resurrection: Chapter 27 – The Bridge

**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.**

The reason for the linkage was unclear, but with certainty she could sense it. Cristina wrestled with the concept in her waking mind, hunted with the images lingering from her dreams. Nonsensical visions from the distant past, well before she had been a thought in her mother’s mind and before her mother or grandmother was born. Past voices telling stories of others worlds, of destinies and obligations, strange but compelling, each of them was telling her the same undeniable truth about connections and relationships. Her life had a meaning that transcended the brief spans of an individual’s mortal plight.

In her dream there were beautiful green eyes, just like hers, staring back at her from a mirror. Though the face resembled her, it was exotic in a way hers was not. Observing her transforming into a half human hybrid with features of wolves and cats, this was the bridge and how it formed in her ancestral past.

Upon the brink of a void deep and dark she stood until suddenly, with spiraling light that spread across a spectrum it exploded. So broad the range and vast the scale her mind retreated barely able to conceive of the colors at the fringe of perception. More refined, the twisting, climbing ladder wrapped around with the rungs breaking in the middle, unlocked to allow for other pieces of the light to be included within its framework.

In the background the harmonic beauty of the Sakum’malien language swept past her, capturing her imagination as her voice layered upon it in persisting nuance. With a voracious hunger a solitary alabaster orb floated consuming everything around it until it became all that was left, and its surface changed colors on its whim. Only the black blankness of the void surrounded it, the beginning as well as the culmination of all journeys compressed into the single stone the orb had become.

Unwitting allies, unbounded in time, the Couriers went into the past carrying the alteration as a disease to infect every human. Slow and methodical, the Sakum’malien patience prevailed spreading the necessary pestilence that bore curious hope in its wake as part of the balance. A time would come for the bridge’s arrival. She would communicate the horrible fate of colonists and provide a remedy that would alter the divine countenance of forever.

Finally, she understood a role, appreciating the subtlety of the Sakum’malien revenge. Contained in her personal truth, the threads of continuity extended through and wrapped around the greater context. It was something she possessed, portions of it shared with others, but its heart resided within her and no one else. How could she embody both what was and what would become? Who would understand her if she could not comprehend the new role as the bridge? Alone, providing the remedy, she was held all potential, nullifying the need for the disease as well as the mutation that made her and others like her special. Her vision contained a billion trillion destinies to awaken via a song she could not but sing. She was the heart and soul of the universe, the physical and spiritual linked to the infinite dreams of innocent children and the harmless fantasies of old men and women lamenting the loss of better times.

Cristina stretched as she sat up in the bed. Alix rolled away from her, clutching at a pillow, pulling it toward his chest as a surrogate for his unconscious affections. He settled anew and resumed his sleep with a substitute lover held fast in his arms.

Quietly, she rose, taking pains not to disturb him. Her lover needed rest. He had not slept well on the railcar ride from Star City. Still recovering and adjusting to the time zones, he never did sleep well while traveling. Afterward, he always remained in bed for a day or two. Usually so did she, but this time was different. This time there were guests, not just the other members of the band who crashed on the floor and couch in her apartment.

As she stepped lightly across the threshold, carefully she closed the bedroom door behind her. Taking a few moments to purge her bladder in the bathroom before rejoining Staash at the table. From the living room she could hear the snores of her friends and fellow musicians. It was still dark, before dawn perhaps. Her sense of time was distorted. People were probably never intended to travel faster than they cold walk or ride on the back of a beast of burden. Then again, what might the gods have expected of the most clever of all the apes? Would they have not foreseen the curiosity leading them to explore and colonize other worlds?

It appeared as if the Sakum’mal had not moved since she left him last night. They were up late. The learning process was mentally intense and exhausting, though apparently it had taken less than a half hour. The song containing the warning was composed and well rehearsed. She had only to teach it to her band. With their instruments and vocals sung in harmony they would fill in for the multiple layers voice she physically lacked.

Staash rested in his own way. She did not know how long it would take for him to recover. Since their intimate connection there was deep understanding of his nature. He could go for many days without downtime. So, she figured whenever he finally rested, as he was at the moment, it would be for an extended period.

To her immediate surprise he looked up at her and even acknowledged her through telepathy as was natural for him and his kind. Now, the gift of her telepathy made sense. How could she had been born otherwise than she gifted in the way she was? Responding with a smile she observed his face brighten. He loved her in his way, after his own fashion. It was nothing that could be physically consummated, of course. Last night their minds merged in mutual admiration without reservation or embarrassment. They were lovers of one another’s creativity, sharing a bond well beyond what either of them knew with their separate species. Silently she spoke to him in Sakum’malien, even though her thoughts felt flat and not quite as interesting as it seemed in her imagination.

“You’ve learned my language well,” he projected.

“You’ve been an immeasurable help to me.”

“It’s all purposeful, for us both.”

“And beyond either of us,” she responded. “I am the human half of the bridge you complete you built.”

“I’ve always wanted to know you.” Staash peered into her eyes, meeting her mind halfway. “The uneasiness I felt when I first came here is gone.”

Cristina nodded. As well as he did, she knew what had been done and what was left unfulfilled. After a few moments Staash’s eyes engaged hers and in moments she was off again, on another adventure of mutual discovery, immersed in thoughts she could only have if the Sakum’malien language was her foundation.

The irony of the plague was the cruelest sort of revenge for human stupidity. The first human encounter with alien life ended tragically in the ignorance of not expecting the truth. The violence had not gone unnoticed. All mankind now suffered for the acts of the first few humans who explored Pravda. Now, facing extinction as one possible culmination, a plot was carried out over centuries, but in the balance one bridge could provide an equitable remedy.

The Sakum’malien represented a prevalent form of life in the cosmos. In human ethnocentricity carbon was believed to be the key to life in the universe. Yet it was the exception. One had only to observe humans and the other forms of life that once populated the Earth to understand how frail carbon-based life could be. Sickly and prone to spreading disease humans were easy prey for the Sakum’malien to attack, enlisting the help of humanoids to deliver their revenge. They could afford to be patient in meting out their vengeance over centuries. Merely seeking the unbounded to fold time and deliver their curse upon all of mankind, an insidious genetic plague was visited upon the unsuspecting and spread through the act of procreation.

Staash interrupted her thoughts. He spoke, not through his mind but with his raspy voice. “I’m thirsty.”

Cristina took the empty pitcher from the table and his glass and took them into the kitchen. From the freezer she scooped ice into the pitcher then poured water into it from the faucet. After a few moments she returned to the dinette table and delivered to Staash the pitcher and a fresh glass both filled with cold water.

He consumed the contents of the glass almost immediately and then meeting her eyes he projected happiness as he poured another glass and consumed it as well.

“You can drink water anytime you know. There’s a faucet in the kitchen, same as the place we were before,” she said.

Staash nodded. “I have been content to sit here close to the source in case of an emergency that has not yet come.”

Cristina sat back, staring at him. “You speak fluently.”

“As do you and now in my language as well. It happens with enough practical experience, I suppose. Also the manner of our merging helped. You learned Sakum’malien, I learned English, Italian, Spanish, German and French.”

Cristina smiled. “My languages.”

“They are similar despite their differences,” he said.

Staash stood up from the table and focused on her eyes but only for a moment. He focused on the world viewer screen where Alix and Pete had engaged in a battle royale sort of marathon well into the previous night.

Activated with a thought, the main screen illuminated full on, Staash pointed his hand and the device scrolled through the channels to an unassigned frequency that appeared as random black and while pixels representing the static. Yet, he allowed it to linger. As she stared at the graphical display of white noise, it suddenly appeared, in full focus with sharp clarity and well-defined resolution. She understood it and even wondered why it had never occurred to her before. Everything being part of the same Continuum, it seemed simple. Then as her mind reached to possess it, the image returned to the random pattern of noise.

“Yes,” Staash said as he switched the display off. “Now you understand how everything is connected through the electromagnetic spectrum.”

“The reason has a source we must remove,” she protested.

“Your role is not incongruous with your original plan. You always knew what to do not how to do it.”

“How can it be?”

“You warn the colonies of Sakum’malien about the airlocks.”

“They were ours not yours.”

He nodded.

“Why ?”

“It is a mystery, but should it matter?”

“I suppose they needed the airlock to seal in air we could breathe without respirators or filters as we explored the caverns.”

“How do we fix it?” Staash asked.

“I’m not sure it can be.”

“There must be a way. The plaque is removed never to be visited upon humans, if we solve the riddle.”

“The couriers will never be dispatched into the past to deliver the disease…” Then she sober realization came as she posed the one question he had avoided asking. “What about the attributes?”

Staash sighed but his lack of response answered in silence. Despite her attempts to probe he guarded his thoughts. When he finally spoke his tone as conciliatory. His mood was philosophical. “The world will change regardless of what you or anyone else does.”

“Will I be here after? It’s not irrational trepidation. It’s instinctual. I want to survive.”

“Then you’ll find the means to survive,” Staash said. “The attributes exist within all humans. They have been there since the beginning. My kind enhanced the inherent abilities in a few. Over many generations the gifts became distinct for not one or two of a thousand but millions. Then, enough apparent randomness brought attributes together.”

“In the Twenty-Four.” Cristina stood beside the Sakum’mal, her arm wrapped around his waist. “Come with me.” They walked toward the balcony. “Maybe you can explain something.”

There they paused to stare out through the sliding door of her balcony. Beyond the dome the skies in the east were bright with dawn. Behind her apartment building was a grassy courtyard. In the midst there was a circular bench set around a large table. There were two girls and two boys sitting, coloring-in line-drawn picture with markers. One looked up at the sunrise, the others averted their overly sensitive eyes. Cristina wore a smile in empathy with what she could sense from the girl.

“She’s like me,” Cristina pointed. “I noticed her before we went on tour, and again afterwards. She’s the age I was when I began to feel self-conscious about my differences.”

“You see but you miss the point of your visions. Who are her playmates?”

“I don’t understand.”

“They are the same age, exactly.”

“Siblings.”

Staash glowed.

“Quadruplets?”

“Why would your physical nature be as it is?” Staash asked.

“It never occurred to me.”

Then he pointed to a balcony in the building across the way, one that was an exact mirror image of Cristina’s apartment building and where they stood. “The mother of four.”

“She has the attributes.”

“It is intended that those like you replace humans and repopulate the world rapidly.”

Cristina looked into his eyes. “Four offspring? The next generation will be called The Ninety-Six.” Cristina smiled.

Staash reached out patting her stomach. “Already it begins.”

She leaned against him for support, not questioning how he knew what she had not dared to admit to herself. “I felt the possibility, of course.”

“Alix should know.”

She nodded.

“The little girl sings.”

“She’s a lot like me.”

“Another bridge.”

“In case I fail?”

“You won’t.” Staash turned away from the door and Cristina followed. She drew a deep breath. Almost overwhelming pressure upon her, why was it that she had to be the bridge? Why was it that only she was the bridge for this generation. Was her set of gifts that rare?

The very means by which the Sakum’malien revenge was meted out would not only ended many innocent lives, but also it produced the very attributes that made her different enough to give mankind its only hope. To remove the curse would end the need for her and those like her to ever be. Her mother might never be born, nor the little girl and her siblings in the courtyard. There would be no plague sent back in the past to infect all of mankind.

“I have not previously felt this mood in you,” Staash said. “It’s melancholy and not at all becoming. You’re too beautiful inside and out to have such dread darkness in your thoughts.”

“It’s how I feel. I’ve written a song that contains a message to communicate danger to your kind. Saving you will kill me. Ultimately I bring an end the world I know to become part of the random noise you showed me on the world viewer screen.”

“Within the noise there was a hidden pattern you saw. That is the hope.”

“Where I’ll be, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Staash’s face turned dark as he fully grasped her unique dilemma. “Instantaneous transformation, somewhere else in the cosmos we will be. Only the path we’re on ends.”

Having awakened, Alix visited the bathroom, then arrived at the table ready to boast of his eventual victory in last night’s marathon video game match with Pete. But instead he fought back tears of sympathy for having overheard enough of the conversation. What a burden Cristina bore.

He did not know how they could continue pursuing the course they had begun. In a way it seemed to have come from an accident, except there can be no accidents. Everything led to the present moment. It would not matter to any of them what could have been. Once the choice was made, everything else would adjust to accommodate change – even if it meant that in convergence some lives became oblivion.

He wanted to hold her except he felt the separation was necessary. If he embraced her at that moment he would never let her go. He needed for her to always be with him but, antithetical to his purpose, her life was to change the rules. It could be as he desired most to hold her close to him. If he refused to assist her in this oddly noble sort of suicide, would it matter to anyone else but him?

Alix tried hard to appear happy, as if he had not been eavesdropping and did not know what troubled the love of his life. But as he approached her he could not contain his emotions or the sadness of realization. She bore his offspring. How could any choice be worse than what she already faced? He diverted toward the kitchen and turned on the faucet and cupped his hand to splash cold water onto his face in an effort to conceal the trails of his tears.

She turned toward him. Her eyes met his. There could be no secrets, not between them. “What am I going to do?” she asked him.

“You’re going to do the right thing because you don’t have it in you to do otherwise,” Alix said.

“What if we cease to be?”

Alix shrugged. “I prefer to the believe somewhere we will still be together.”

“So we go on with our plans.”

“We have no other choice. We have to take Staash back home before he drinks up all the water in the world.” He looked up at the Sakum’malien who was glowing in apparent appreciation of the humor intended in the remark.

“We have a song to learn and rehearse. We need to record it. It’s our legacy.”

“Then what?”

“We come back and finish recording the new album and begin a world tour.”

“Do we?”

“Of course, we do. Those are our plans. We have to have plans, right?”

“What if this world does not exist, Alix? What if humans never colonized Pravda? What if we’re never born? Once we have changed the past, it can’t possibly be as it is now. Everything will be different.”

“One thing at a time. We do what’s right. Okay? Everything takes care of itself as long as we do what we know in our hearts is the right thing. Anyway, why wouldn’t it be like it is now except the Sakum’malien will be around, maybe not living in complete harmony with us but drinking their share of the water, for sure.”

“There are oceans for us to consume,” Staash suggested.

“See, a little salty for my taste, but there’s plenty for all.”

“I’ll never be born.”

“Someone like you will, though. The world I’m in must have a Cristina, okay?” he kissed her forehead. “It wouldn’t work otherwise.”

She forced a smile.

“Our world’s necessary so that the past can be changed. Have you considered that? We can come back to it and everything will be here but adjusted for the changes. That’s probably how it works.”

“Probably?”

“I’m new to all this too, hon.”

Staash was quiet as he contemplated the possibilities and even tried to understand paradoxes even though the concepts were a strain for him to consider in his language. The words did not natively exist so he had to use the English that he acquired to conceptualize what Alix and Cristina were discussing. There were thoughts that he could render only in his language, simple mathematical proofs that exposed the absurdity of what was perplexing Cristina and needlessly troubling her. Finally he found the will to express his conclusion. “There are no paradoxes.”

“What?” Alix challenged.

“Nature is balanced to zero-sum. Everything adjusts. To live is to always live. All life shares continuity in natural harmony.”

“How’s that possible?” Cristina asked. “Without the reason for the altered gene–”

“Your concerns are for the vessel that contains your spirit. Your body is a shell that changes but your spirit is the same.” He laid his heavy, rough-textured hand on her shoulder. “You think this is you, but ‘I’ is now. It is less real than the image you saw in the noise on the world viewer screen.”

Cristina looked at Alix, seeking confirmation but all she received as a shrug.

“Your brother believes he can bring a Sakum’mal back to life. He might reanimate the body but once the essence has departed, it does not come back. Why would it want to? For the body death is the absence of desire to live. That is derived from the spirit,” he explained. “The missing part is what the container needs to transcend being an inanimate amalgam of chemicals to become self-sustaining life.”

“But if all the surrounding conditions change.”

“Why would that concern you as long as you’re alive?”

“I want to have choice.”

“To be alive is to have choices,” Staash said.

“What if Alix and I are not together?”

“How could you not be together?”

“But the attributes–”

“Affect the body and how it can respond for the spirit inside. They do not define you. They shape the container that accesses the energy around you.”

Cristina stared at the alien. Alix wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “So, we will not cease to exist. See, the problem is solved.”

“What if we come back and we’re not together?”

“A better question to ask is what if you and I did not waste ten years pretending to be just friends?” Alix asked her.

“The world is what you perceive,” Staash said. “One change everything adjusts.

“The process begins tomorrow,” Alix said.

“In the studio,” Cristina confirmed with a nod. “We record the message, our truth.”

Staash’s face glowed ever so slightly as he considered the change of Cristina’s mood and appraised the resolve he found.

She did not fully believe that she had nothing to fear, but she didn’t need to. She turned and to kiss Alix before they parted, Alix returning to the bedroom to get dressed while Cristina headed toward the bathroom to enjoy a shower. In the interim, Staash consumed the remainder of the pitcher of water, dutifully pouring it out one glassful at a time and then he reverted to a restful state of near meditative bliss.

Pete, Tim and Keith woke about the same time. They raided the fridge finding something to eat, consumed it and rinsed off the dishes before announcing they were leaving. “We’ll meet at the studio,” Cristina promised.”

“In a couple of hours,” Alix added.

When Cristina emerged from the shower she wrapped a towel around her, and another around her hair. She engaged Alix as he was lying on the bed reading. “It’ll feel odd being back in the studio,” she said aloud.

“After all we have been through lately, it should feel like a vacation,” Alix said without looking up. “I’m looking forward to making music again.”

“I just wish that was all we had ahead of us.”

“I hear you, hon,” Alix said, finally looking away from the text.

“What is it you are reading?”

“Pete told me I’d enjoy it. It’s funny at times but, maybe I need to be in a different frame of mind.”

“I understand that.”

“It will be fine. I promise. I’ll be there. We will do it together. We’ll make it happen the way it needs to be.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

“Staash will be there, too.”

“And once we get back there, we have just five days to spread the word,” she said.

“We go back to a point immediately after we left. I worked out some of that on the computer yesterday before Pete came.”

“My concern is how we get to every one of their colonies in only five days.”

“I suppose we could go back earlier,” he said.

“We have to deliver Staash to where he belongs. If we go back earlier there will be two of him.”

Alix smiled. “Yeah, one of him is quite sufficient, I think.”

“I’m glad you think this is funny,” Cristina said.

“I guess I was trying to lighten the mood. I used to be good at making you laugh.”

“I’m sorry I’m not in the mood,” she turned away from him, continuing to dress.

“This really has you on edge,” Alix said as he got up from the bed and came up from behind her and began to gently massage her shoulders and neck.

“That feels good.”

“You just need to relax. It’s going to be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“It will be fine because it has to be.” Alix kissed her on the nape of her neck. “I love you,” he whispered as he came up to her ear lobe, kissing a special place just under it. She turned around and into his open arms that he immediately closed tightly around her, holding onto her to share a kiss that lingered for several moments before breathlessly she pulled away and out of his grasp.

“I have been the focal point for so long that maybe I should be used to this,” Cristina said.

“You’re the star,” Alix said.

“The reluctant one,” she said with a forced smile.

“I’ll be with you, right behind you like always.”

“I know,” she said. “Sometimes I think I was able to perform all those concerts because you and the other guys were there with me. It was never only me performing. That was always the difference. I know there would be someone to catch me if I fall.”

“I’ll always catch you.” Alix promised.

“For whatever reason there are parts of this only I can do. But I also need you to deliver Staash and me to the time and place where we will begin delivering the message. I have no idea how we’re ever going to pull this off.”

“We have accomplished some pretty amazing things already,” Alix said. “It has always been because of your inspiration.”

“Add this our growing collection, then. Hopefully we’ll remember it.”