Genre: Science Fantasy, Comedic Action Adventure
Audience: YA, NA (New Adult), Adult
Reader Review: WOW!!!! What a RIDE! This was an amazing story, Candice. Your characters are strong, interesting, they draw you in. You successfully created a heroine who is incredibly strong, yet vulnerable. And you have a great sense of humor. Your supporters hold the story together. You give them personality and they give your tale So much depth. I want a posse like Eli, Tress, and Adrivah! ~ Charlene O
Book Flap: Ever since the bizarre death of her grandmother, Maeve Grandie has made it her sole purpose to be reliable, even if that means living a dreadfully predictable life. The only sense of adventure Maeve experiences is in her dreams. The only problem is her peculiar hereditary condition that gives her rashes on her hands and arms, turning the veins of her arms a screaming azurite blue, not only gives her weird dreams but causes her to sleepwalk as well.
But what would happen if those dreams that carry her into a bizarre land where people can cause their arms to ignite with blue flames and tear open the sky with their bare hands is not really a dream at all?
What if the dream world, Maeve finds herself suddenly trapped in, is actually a true world of wonder but one she is somehow destroying just by being there?
Senior Warden Vincent Jasper of Trident finds himself facing that very real and immeasurable danger when a young woman in the ugly pink nightgown interferes with an arrest right before disappearing through an Unzoned Door in the Universe causing the very threads of the Cluster and Realms to ripple and stretch, putting it and the lives of all who live within it in grave danger. Not only is the woman unknown but she keeps opening Doors and is somehow hiding right underneath his nose.
Can Jasper and his team along with the rest of Trident, apprehend this villainous threat clad in garish pink flannel and ruffles? Or will they find out that she is not the threat at all but the weapon of someone else, all before their side of the universe collapses?
Maeve turned over onto her back. Her heart raced and her ears drummed from the rapid blood flow coursing through her. She sucked in a sharp breath, held it in her chest for a few moments—just long enough for the pressure to begin to hurt—and then she let it slip slowly from her puckered lips.
She’d had the dream again.
In all honesty, she didn’t know if she should call what she was seeing while asleep a dream. It wasn’t like the other strange dreams she’d been having lately. Those she knew the instant they began were not real. They had a different feel to them altogether. She felt like she was in a foreign place entirely. This dream, however, this was her reliving a memory. With staunch detail and vivid imagery the events of the day her grandmother died played over and over again as if on repeat the moment she laid her head down to rest.
She was fifteen, nearly sixteen when it happened. It was late spring. The sun was shining but the sky was a deep threatening gray, the kind that makes the trees and grass look far more bright green than they are with a blue backdrop and sunlight. Her grandmother had warned her to come inside, said there was a tornado coming. Maeve ignored her. The trees were still rustling in the wind and had not stopped for nearly an hour. She knew the signs of a coming tornado and this was not it.
She’d hoped it would be one of her favorite spring storms; a dry storm with loud, rumbling thunder and lightning but had no rain to go with it, just sound and lights and gloriously thick, chilled wind. Or a warm spring shower with big, lazy raindrops that soaked clear down to the bones.
This storm was neither of the two.
Maeve couldn’t see her grandmother, not in the night memory and not on that day. She could only hear her yelling from the house, calling her name as only agitated grandmothers could. “Maeve! MAEVE! Come now! I NEED YOU!” Her grandmother had called her before with the same urgency each time a storm like this brewed.
Obediently, Maeve had gone to her but soon came to know her grandmother to be just like the-boy-who-cried-wolf. As soon as the rain would fall or the lightning would crack the sky, her grandmother would pat her shoulders, smile and say, “I just didn’t want you electrocuted, darlin’, or sucked up like Dorothy in one of those nasty spinners. Come now, I put the kettle on some time ago and your tea’s fixing to catcha’ chill.” Then she would walk away, her chin up in the air as if nothing had happened, like she had gained some kind of victory.
That was Catherine Much, her grandmother, fighting against the storms in her own mind.
It was the same song and dance over and over again until Maeve began to ignore her grandmother, take her time in going to her, if she even went at all.
She remembered sighing this particular day, yelling back at the house with enough sass to make her tremble with the thought of her grandmother’s retribution, had the woman heard her above the rustling wind. She remembered the smell of the soil as the grass tore open. She’d slipped when she went to stand and pulled the turf away with the toe of her sneaker. It reminded her of a sore. More so than anything, more than the smell and the heat, or the moisture on her backside from sitting on the ground too long, she remembered the sound.
What was that sound?
Even after reliving it once again, and hundreds of times before, Maeve could not describe it with due justice. She had told the authorities that it sounded like the sky was being ripped in two, like boulders were being hurled together at incredible speed, like lightning had ripped right inside her inner ear. That sound had shaken her to the ground. The reverberation made her cover her ears and scream, her body pressed down in the grass. And although the sound was incredible and had shaken her until her teeth chattered even into the following day, there surprisingly was no pain.
But she had seen lights following that sound. She lay in the grass, struggling to catch her breath, struggling to make her heart stop racing, her hands still pressing into her ears when she gazed up at the sky. In the east, just above the tree line, the sky drew together in a knot like crumpled black paper, angry and ruined. Then the lights came, jettisoned from the center of the dark space in three unison lines of electric blue.
Time seemed to slow down in that moment and all Maeve could do was stare in fearful wonder. Were they shooting stars? Their tails of light were too perfect to be lightning. Lightning was erratic and unpredictable. It came in one line and then in an instant branched out in several. These three lights did not move erratically. They moved with singular purpose as if they were sent, the center light pulling in front of the others creating a triangular formation, aimed directly for her house, and her grandmother!
Maeve dumbly watched as the lights overtook her home. The stab of instant regret and the sound of her shouting out her grandmother’s name were swallowed up by the shock of impact that came at her like a wave the moment the stars made impact. It hit her with such force that she fell backward, knocking her head hard against the ground. A rush of what she thought was electricity broke forth in and around her. She screamed as it streamed out from her hands, covering them like gloves, with a strange sensation akin to a dull itchy rash.
The feeling reminded her of the rashes she’d started to get when she turned twelve, but much more intense. As a younger child, the rashes would cover her hands and wrist like gloves, turning her peanut butter brown skin a nasty shade of red. The veins in her hands and arms, clear to her elbows, would peek past her melanin in strong shades of blue like someone had traced them with azurite-blue oil pastel.
Her hands would throb and tingle and grow numb, and stay that way until the red died or the throbbing in her chest and head ceased. The blue of her veins never faded completely although the intensity of the blue did lessen when she wasn’t having flare-ups.
As a child, the doctors never said anything about the rashes or the blue because she never got to see any doctors about it. Her grandmother assured her that there was no need to ‘cause bills over something harmless and hereditary.’ Maeve just had thin skin, she’d said. What she had was ‘the same as when someone got eczema or allergies to eggs—hereditary.’ After all, her rashes were not damaging to her health, they were just a minor irritant.
How were throbbing red rashes, crazy blue veins, and a strange pulsing in her head and chest minor?
Maeve couldn’t recall anything else about that peculiar stormy day except for finding her house completely empty with an ash gray triangle where her grandmother must have been standing when the shooting stars hit. She also had the lingering curiosity of whether or not shooting stars could vaporize a person.
That was nearly eight years ago to the day.
Her hands still flared up with itchy rashes and screaming blue veins.
* * *
“Maeve, are you sure you don’t want to go?” Lyrice called out from her bathroom ensuite with a whine. Maeve lay on her stomach across Lyrice’s bed, her eyes widening as she read some of the price tags still attached to Lyrice’s new clothing.
“Yes, I am sure. I told you I have to work.”
Lyrice poked her head out the door and gave Maeve a look.
“It’s the truth. Some of us have bills to pay.” She flicked the clothing tags out of her sight. The way Lyrice spent money made her head hurt.
“You also need a vacation. Come on, it’s Sky Caribbean. It’s just ten days—”
“Ten days?” Maeve croaked.
“It’s going to be amazing! And you are going to miss it just like always.”
Maeve sat up. “That’s not true—”
“Yes it is.” Lyrice finally came out of her ensuite, pushing a post on the back of her earring. She was getting dressed for the sky cruise flight like she was going to a dinner party; short navy blue cocktail dress, flashy makeup and jewelry. And maybe she was going to a dinner party. Sky Caribbean promised your vacation would begin from the moment you boarded their space craft.
Lyrice said, “You have gone to a total of zero of the events that I have invited you to in the last three years,” she made a circle with her hands and peeked through it. “You have missed every date that I have set you up with. Where are my shoes?”
Maeve rubbed her hands together; they were tingling, turning red. She grimaced. She always had crazy dreams when her hands tingled, crazy apart from the night memory about her grandmother. “I don’t have the money for a vacation right now.”
“I find that hard to believe with all the overtime that you put in.” The two stared at each other. “I also told you that I would pay your way and then you could pay me back later, offer is still on the table.” Shoving her hand beneath the bed, Lyrice grunted, pulling her heels out from where she had absentmindedly kicked them.
“Debt makes me uncomfortable. You know that.”
“I’m like your sister, Maeve. So it’s not real debt.” Lyrice snorted and shook her head. She was like Maeve’s sister. They had been friends since the first grade, when Maeve came to live with her grandmother after her parent’s died in Kentucky, and then Lyrice’s parents became her guardians after Maeve’s grandmother was shooting-star-vaporized. She and Lyrice had been inseparable ever since.
“Lyrice I don’t have time to pack my things—”
“I have already packed for you.” Cheeky smile painted across her face, Lyrice pointed to a bag in the corner.
Maeve felt her collar tighten. “My passport has expired and there is no time to renew it. The carrier leaves for the cruise in less than three hours.”
Exasperation poured from Lyrice’s response. “How is it you can come up with a thousand reasons why you can’t have a life, but not a one when it comes to going to work, finishing school, paying bills fifteen days before they are due? It’s like you are glued to routine. Or you’re just scared to have a good time.”
Maeve stood up. She was going to leave the room. She hated arguing with Lyrice or anyone for that matter. “I am not scared, I am responsible. I rely on being reliable. People rely on reliable people. If it weren’t for someone like me, someone like you would not have the ability to take a space cruise. You need a reliable person to coordinate the cruise and—”
“Maeve Grandie! You live in a bubble, and it’s a boring bubble. But fine, don’t come. Unpack your bag and continue to be dull and alone. My goodness girl you are going to fade away and it’s going to be slow and uneventful. And that makes me sad. Hmmm I am forgetting something . . . ” Lyrice did a twirl, patting her body down as if she had pockets. She finally stopped when she touched her hair. “Oh! My hair! How did you let me forget to do my hair?” Her broad shoulders slouched and her knees slightly buckled, bringing Lyrice down to Maeve’s height; five foot six to Lyrice’s solid five eleven barefoot.
She hurried back to the ensuite tugging at her short, black; pixie cut hair, all drama. The style didn’t suit her long narrow face and square jaw at all in Maeve’s opinion, which only made Maeve feel guilty. Maeve’s hair was similar in style to hers except she had tighter curls. Her face was also a bit rounder with a delicate chin so the hairstyle worked for her. She should have known better than to suggest, or rather allow Lyrice to bully her into suggesting that she get the same look. Twenty times Lyrice had asked if she should and Maeve had, in a roundabout way, told her no. By the eighteenth query Maeve had given in and said Lyrice should go for it. Times nineteen and twenty she had even insisted.
Although Lyrice loved her bad hair, she had decided that she was going to wear it long and colorful for the cruise. Men loved long hair, she’d said.
Silently, Maeve followed Lyrice into the ensuite and watched as she wrapped and attached threads of Super Tracks to her head. She was always amazed at how fast the synthetic hairs grew from the threads, and even more surprised with the different textures and colors that Lyrice chose. They all looked so real and yet none of them matched Lyrice’s face, which was a shame because she was actually very beautiful in Maeve’s opinion.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! That’s long enough.” Lyrice stopped the growth of her Super Tracks with her longest layer at her waist. Then she massaged in the desired color scheme; red hair for the top layer, honey blonde of the middle layer, and platinum for the longest layer.
The color combination made Maeve wince. It was a tragic attempt at ombre.
Catching Maeve’s reaction in her periphery Lyrice scowled. “I shouldn’t even let you see my hair since you aren’t coming along.” Her shoulders slouched again. “Pleeeeassse, Maeve. I need—”
Maeve’s back went rigid. “Please don’t do that, Lyrice.” A tension-filled silence bloomed between them.
Feeling the chilly edge, Lyrice shifted uncomfortably. “Fine, I apologize.” She leaned over and kissed Maeve’s cheek. She’d intended to push Maeve’s “I need you” button, one she knew would throw Maeve into a guilt trip of quick surrender.
Maeve had been that way ever since her grandmother passed away, moved by guilt because of someone else’s need for her. Saying she was needed was like a hateful puppet’s string. She had been boring and square with an overly compulsive way of being “responsibly reliable” because of it. She knew Lyrice loved her anyway. But she also knew Lyrice realized she was not playing fair. The resigned look in her eyes indicated that she was going to leave Maeve alone.
“But I am going to miss you, a lot.” She added.
“Me too,” Maeve whispered. “Enjoy yourself and stay out of trouble.”
“I make no promises. But I will take lots of pictures and maybe even get myself a husband,” she made praying hands and mouthed “please, Jesus” as she looked heavenward, before looking back at Maeve. “In which case, you, my dear are going to have to find a new place to stay.” She winked.
Maeve hugged her before helping her get her bags downstairs and into the taxi, even though the concierge had offered his assistance. Maeve had to be downstairs anyway so it was no problem. She had to go to work after all.
* * *
Maeve made it home a quarter after one in the morning. Second shift was not her favorite, but it gave her a few extra dollars in pay since nobody else wanted to work the shift. She felt that was a decent exchange. Museum security was certainly not for the faint of heart, especially on a Friday night. Or maybe it was not for those who had healthy social lives.
She made quick work of dinner, smelling the two-day old carton of Szechuan Chicken before warming it up and washing it down with flat Ginger Ale. She needed to go grocery shopping. Lyrice was supposed to. She must have really thought I was going to go on that cruise. Sighing, she shook her head before preparing for bed.
She let herself enjoy the heat of a shower, getting out only after her fingers had pruned and her body was warm to the bones. Lately, whenever she had an outbreak, her body would catch a chill. She massaged cooling cream into her hands to soothe the increasing throb, and pulled on her long, bright pink, checkered, flannel nightdress with the tiny pink and white flowers. Lyrice told her that she was going to burn the thing when Maeve wasn’t looking. Maeve didn’t care about the unflattering nightdress’s appearance. She was only concerned with not being cold throughout the night.
She pulled the covers up to her head and went to sleep expecting to have another one of her crazy dreams . . . her hands had broken out completely by the time she’d closed her eyes.
* * *
Maeve struggled to open her eyes. Wind was rushing at her face terribly fast and whipping past her ears with the same sound that vehicles make when they pass each other at high speeds. Her feet were also freezing. Whatever she was standing on rocked and she lost her balance, hitting her knees hard on the cold surface.
She opened her eyes jolted by the loss of balance and the clanging of the metal underneath her. She was on top of a fast moving train! She fought to take a breath and would have completely lost herself in the panic of the dream had it not been for the sounds coming from the top of the train that raced beside her.
Two women were fighting on top of it. Teeth were bared and faces were twisted in angry determined scowls. Language that Maeve preferred not to hear was being exchanged between the two. She must have fallen asleep with the television on and something less than wholesome was playing while she slept . . . had she even turned the television on?
She eased her knees in between the ridges on the top of the train, finding just the slightest bit of security in her not-so-secure grip. She hated to fall in dreams. She always had a sour stomach the following day from her swimming equilibrium.
The two women continued to tussle. The one on top, the one with the black leather jacket, short-cut sandy hair and elfish eyes, reached for her hip, grabbing for her weapon. It’s a gun. Maeve thought. It’s always a gun. Except for it wasn’t a gun. Maeve couldn’t tell what it was that the woman was wielding and she didn’t get the chance to figure it out. The woman that had been losing the fight somehow managed to gain the upper hand.
Maeve’s knee’s had also slipped from their position. She grabbed at the air and took hold of the train again, just in time to see the armed woman lose her weapon and then her footing before flying awkwardly from atop the train and out of sight into the pearlescent purple nothing that the trains were traveling through.
Maeve’s heart leapt in her chest. She flinched at the sudden burning sensation that assaulted her hands and arms and the pain that pulsated at her temples. Even in the dreams she felt the dull, familiar pain. Bellowing with laughter the other woman managed to stand, not caring at all about what had become of her adversary. She held her belly and chuckled considerably hard after having knocked another person to their death. Then she turned to Maeve, her smile suddenly fading and her hands rising in fear as if she was trying to block Maeve from coming at her with trembling hands, all the while repeating, “No, please, no!”
Maeve only stared harder, her unattractive flannel gown pulling in the wind, snagging on a sharp metal edge of the train top, the lace ruffled neckline scratching her beneath her chin. Then she saw it, a black angry hole breaking open in the sky behind the woman and a streak of blue light arching in lightning speed in her direction. It was just like when her grandmother died!
Her stomach roiled. She had not had a dream like this before.
“Look out!” She warned but her words were for naught. The blue light hit the woman from behind, knocking her almost completely from the train as well, her head snapping back like a ragdoll’s. She should have fallen off the train top and been crushed to death but a man had taken hold of her. He was suddenly there right where the light had hit, his face angry. With what seemed like very little effort he yanked the woman back on the train’s top, slamming her down hard. The woman gagged. The man straddled her, pinning her shoulders down with his hands that burned with blue flames.
He stared down hard at the woman, and said something to her that Maeve could not hear. The woman responded in turn, but pointed a sharp arm in Maeve’s direction. The man turned his head Maeve’s direction, his face flickering with shock for just a second before it fell into a dark, and threatening, scowl.
There were a number of things that should have gone through Maeve’s mind at the sight of him and the danger he imposed. Thinking that he was the most handsome Black-ginger she’d ever laid her eyes on was not one of them.
He glowered at her through the most amazing molasses eyes. His honey-brown skin began to burn red, giving his complexion an attractive allure. The color in his cheeks only drew out the copper shade of his short-trimmed goatee and mustache that followed a well tapered line into a head of low-cut copper waves that fluttered against the wind.
Stomach quivering, Maeve’s eyes slid down to his lips. They were pinched tight but seemed deliciously formed. Although they looked a bit too small in her estimation, she was certain they would be great for a kiss or two . . . or three. But who would keep count kissing that guy. He probably smelled good too.
She paid no attention to the death stare that he was giving her, but she did notice the blue flames in his hands amplifying with intensity right before the oddest thing happened. Her arms erupted with similar fire and light!
Panicked, she tore her eyes from his and stared at her hands and arms. They were fully engulfed in star-dusty, blue fire, the flames of them licking up at her face.
Screaming until she near fainted, Maeve slammed her eyes shut, and swung her arms with all her might, anything to put out the fire, anything to wake up from the dream.
The unforgiving contact of her knuckles smacking hard against the countertop in the kitchen, snatched her out of her dream and back into reality. Her knuckles were bruised now, and she had been sleepwalking…again. That was another “minor irritant” associated with her hereditary disorder, hence the need for the long flannel nightdress. There was nothing more frightening then wandering out in public with your undergarments exposed while asleep. That had yet to happen to her but Maeve wasn’t taking any chances.
She rubbed her knuckles and sucked them until the pain had completely ebbed away. Then she made her way back to her bedroom and threw herself on the bed, glancing at her clock. It was 4:40am. She only had two more hours to sleep before she had to get ready for her other job. The crazy dream and the sleepwalking had left her feeling even more exhausted than she had been before she’d even gotten into the bed a few hours ago. At least she got to dream about a handsome man. That was well worth it, bruised knuckles and all.
A smile crept across her face at the thought of the leather-clad, dreamy, Black-ginger. She figured had she not woken up, the two of them could have really had something. He was eating her up with his eyes even if it was in a death-stare. She giggled as embarrassed heat warmed the apples of her cheeks. She hoped she’d dream of him again.
Sadly she didn’t, nor did she notice the fresh tear at the hem of her nightdress.
“What was that? Somebody open up Magen Satellite, I need to connect! Did you see that? Did anyone see her?” Senior Warden Vincent Jasper rushed through the command room of Trident headquarters, urgency in his heels. The glass windows of the Trident building reflected the silent lightning flashes that cut through the continuous black of the sky around them—black accept for the azurite blue hue of light that shined down from Magen Satellite.
Jasper kept the image of the young woman firmly on his mind; Black, medium height, brown skin, short black curls, dark brown eyes, ugly nightdress.
Two Deputies and one Junior Deputy slid open the upper window to Magen Satellite. The black triangular tabletop of the viewing bay beneath it began to break apart like a puzzle, pulled upward by a magnet. The smallest center triangle ascended three-hundred feet upward, with the middle triangle one-hundred feet below it, and the largest at equal distance from that. The three tiered triangles hovered in place as the harnessed energy of the powerful wormhole—Magen Satellite—streamed down into the center of the viewing bay painting the black of it radiant blue.
Magen Satellite. It was Trident’s heartbeat. It was the very essence and energy of each and every Warden and Deputy. It was also the very substance that had built and held the whole of the Cluster and Realms together.
Senior Warden Jasper tapped into it like he’d done numerous times before. He needed the others to see what he’d seen. He waited until the center tier spun with such speed that it appeared as an orb and burned white. Then as the energy poured in a column through the center of the larger and second triangle ring, Jasper slid his hands underneath the third and largest, resting his hand upon the surface of the viewing bay that was one hundred and fifty feet around. Instantly Magen adapted to his pulse, pulling white threads of his energy upward into its core, connecting with his memory, taking the very image that Jasper wanted exposed.
More azurite blue energy radiated downward, coursing through the seemingly random cracks and grooves of the viewing bay’s surface and Trident’s flooring, projecting the image Jasper had given into the minds of each Warden on call and even a few of the Deputies that were due for promotion.
Everyone saw the blurry image of the woman in the garish pink flannel nightdress. They saw her energy, felt its pulse and the wildness within it. They saw her scream and disappear, and then use a Door, an Unauthorized Door! They also saw the ripple that broke forth when she did.
This was beyond bad news. Opening an Unauthorized Doors or Unmarked Doors was like weakening threads of a delicate fabric. A rippling Door was a sign that it was Unzoned altogether and there was no telling what the consequences of using one of those could be. Several Wardens rushed to the edges of the room and stared through the large glass wall out into the Realm of Trident.
Nothing outside had changed. The tinted-glass office building still stood sentry. The orange clay earth was still fractured and dead with the impossibility of life every growing there. The sky was still ebony black and cracked with streaks of continuous lightning and burst of deep purple like bruises. The golden train car, the very needle that had knit together the threads of the Cluster, remained in its place, with its continuous humming vibrating outward. It had been vibrating since the very day it ceased to move, the day the Cluster had fully formed. But it had continued to vibrate as if it still had somewhere to go after all these millennia, as if it had one more song of creation to play. But it had not budged nor played a single song in all that time. Instead, it sat at the kissing edge of the Darkest Star like the needle of a record player against an old vinyl record just waiting to play one last tune.
The Darkest Star had not budged either. Its pulse remained consistent and even, its menacing black depth well under control. A black hole, flattened and devouring, but only with a controlled appetite, controlled by Magen itself, and the infrastructure of Trident.
The Wardens stepped away from the windows. “Nothing’s changed out there,” Warden Eli Fossi remarked, his near black eyes shined, reflecting the flashes of the lighting outdoors.
His mouth was turned slightly down at the corners, making his once round dimples look like elongated wrinkles against his pale skin. He was stating the obvious, however. Even the Junior Deputies would have felt a change in the Realm if one had taken place. It was still comforting to all of them to hear the words. Most everyone went back to their prospective post. Those Wardens and Deputies that had seen Jasper’s memory stayed put.
Jasper turned to Eli. “Nothing yet. But you know what could potentially happen when an Unauthorized Door is used. We all know what’s at stake. Unfortunately, that Door was Unzoned. Furthermore, who the heck was that?”
* * *
The train pulled into station just as if nothing had happened. And for most of the passengers nothing had happened. Everyone knew that the crime rate in Bigsby was on the rise. Bigsby was a Passage Station that led to Authorized Doors to other Realms. Unlawful Pulsars were bound to be around, and unpleasant encounters with Wardens were equally expected to happen. So no one paid any attention to the clanging above their heads, or the beams of Warden light that often reflected light against their windows during Warden-Pulsar altercations. It was a usual occurrence upon an arrest.
But someone had noticed. They had watched with careful eyes everything that had happened. They had not paid much attention to the Wardens or the Pulsar they had apprehended. Who they had noticed was the woman in the pink checkered flannel nightdress, the one who beamed with wild energy, and then disappeared through an Unzoned Door. Hardly anyone knew how to access those Doors or even how to use them. But she had. She was impressive.
“Passage to Iotona, please.” The woman handed her passageport to the Station Warden and waited her turn to pass through to her desired District, all the while thinking about the woman in the nightdress and all the possibilities that she could bring, would bring when she saw her again. And she would see her again. She had lassoed the woman in the nightdress’ pulse.
Maeve rolled her head around her shoulders and yawned again. She was so tired from the night before she could hardly keep her eyes opened. It didn’t help at all that she was at the Library on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was too quiet and too predictable. The most excitement that had taken place that morning was someone returning a movie in the audio return slot of the Library memory bank. Other than that, it was nothing but white noise.
She stood up several times and stretched her legs hoping that would get her blood flowing, but it wasn’t helping. All she needed was two more minutes and then she would take a quick nap in the restroom lounge area.
Her break finally came, bringing with it a wave of relief. She was feeling terribly strange, apart from being sleepy, like something was squeezing her middle. Moaning, she loosened up her belt and ran her thumbs in between her pants and stomach. The synching feeling didn’t go away. With another groan, she settled on ignoring it, deciding it was probably a side effect of eating two-day-old Chinese food even though she didn’t have any urges to heed any calls of nature.
She checked each stall in the restroom before turning on the “out of order” sign and locking the door behind her, only to suddenly grip her head, a wave of lightheadedness hit her hard making her feel weightless. She mustered all of her strength and staggered to the nearby lounging couch, gripping its arm for support. Food poisoning, it had to be food poisoning. She took several breaths fighting against the urge to faint. The tightness around her waist only increased. Unable to stand any longer, Maeve finally sat down letting her head dangle in between her legs, hoping that would help with the dizziness and the tightness.
Taking a deep breath she pulled her head from between her knees and leaned back into the support of the couch cushions, except her head never touched the back of the couch. She hadn’t even touched the wall. No, Maeve was falling, tumbling fast and backward into black nothing!
Darkness engulfed her like someone had placed a bag over her head. Her lungs constricted against the rush. No matter how hard she struggled to take a deep breath she couldn’t. Panic tugged at her just as firmly as the pressure around her waist. Now she felt like a noose was dragging her, not at all like food poisoning.
She reached her arms out, swinging them wildly, snatching at the open air, hoping to catch hold of something to stop her fall. She was alone, and in the dark, and she needed something firm to hold onto, something reliable! One thing was for sure she was never eating Szechuan Chicken again.
Maeve landed hard on her back, forcing what little breath she had from her already strained lungs. She clinched her fist and tightened her jaw muscles, grinding her teeth as she focused to breathe.
Within seconds her lungs inflated like balloons, giving way to the oxygen they so desperately sought. Her back and head ceased to scream at her and her eyes, even behind pinched lids, began to register the light above them. Sound slowly flooded her ears with the whooshing sound of moving trains and dripping water.
Trains? Dripping water? Maeve sprung up from the ground, tiny pebbles of gravel stuck to her hands leaving pink and white dimples in her palms. Spinning around, she brushed the pebbles off on her pant legs as if they were some sort of frightful bug, her eyes widening almost as much as her mouth. Where was she? Had she fallen asleep and slept walked? She knew she sleepwalked, that was one of the reasons why she locked the bathroom door. But she had never walked this far. She didn’t even remember falling asleep!
“Don’t panic, Maeve. Stay. Calm.” She whispered to herself hoping that the sound of her own voice would be enough to settle her nerves. Her equilibrium was still swimming, keeping her off balance. She stumbled to a rusted support poll that was nearest to her and held on to it for balance.
As quickly as her mind could, she began to take in her surroundings. She was under an overpass. There were several train lines overhead. She was standing in gravel, leaning against a rusty poll.
“Okay, you are clearly not at home,” she grimaced, her eyes burning with tears. She blinked her vision clear and massaged her forehead with the heel of her hand. A hot tear ran down her face. “Maeve, what did you doooo?” She pushed away from the rusted pole and tried to decide which way to go. She obviously needed to go to the doctor over this. Her grandmother was absolutely wrong. Her condition was far more than a minor irritant. This, whatever it was that she had, was absolutely frightening.
Balance having been restored, she convinced herself to move. Standing there alone in the shadows of a train overpass was not going to help her find out where she was, let alone get her back home. She was definitely no longer in any area of Cincinnati, Ohio that she was familiar with.
And why had none of the people she worked with stopped her, asked her where she was going, woken her up? Sure she only worked with two other librarians but one of them could have said something. Karen was always so attentive.
Taking careful and timid steps, she eased herself into the sunlight. Sunlight? There was indeed light and it was warm, but there was no sun. At least Maeve couldn’t see it. The sky wasn’t even blue but more a sallow shade of buff, or was it grayish-white?
Maeve staggered backward almost falling. The passerby who’d shoved her away from his path shook his head at her with an irritated grumble. She hadn’t seen his face, only caught a subtle whiff of his sweat as he shoved past her.
“S-sorry,” her throat was suddenly constricting and dry. She felt like a lost, abused puppy, a wet, lost and abused puppy, because being wet made her more pathetic. Here she was in the middle of somewhere foreign, hopefully a bad dream—it had to be a bad dream—and she had no idea how to wake up or where to go. The only thing that she could think to do was to follow the direction of the crowd.
That bit of logic was flawed since there was no crowd to follow, only the path of the rude man who’d nearly knocked her over. But she would follow him. What choice did she have?
There was also the squeezing tug at her waist, the same sensation that she’d felt before her horrible dream began. And that is what she was going to believe it was, a horrible, bizarre dream, empty of people—except one rude one—and full of rust, and trains, and a pitifully colored buff sky.
* * *
Maeve had been walking for hours seeing nothing but the field of gravel beneath her feet and hearing little besides it crunching and shifting with each step she took. She had long since lost the person she was following as if that were possible in a sea of gravel. But they were indeed gone nonetheless. At least three hours had to have passed. She was certain of it even though she could not tell by her watch since it had broken in her fall, ceasing to tick, and she couldn’t tell by the sun since there clearly wasn’t a sun. But she could sense that it had been three hours. She knew because she always grew hungry two hours before her shift at the library ended. And she was hungry.
She startled. How was she going to eat? She didn’t have her wallet. She had left that in her locker back at work. But if this was a terrible dream then someone would feed her, hopefully. Maybe it would be that handsome Black-ginger she saw on top of the train last night in the other dream. She hoped so.
She found herself smiling and a nervous giggle released from her throat at the thought of him. Her smile quickly faded. Goodness, Lyrice was right. My life is so boring I am fantasizing about a man from my dreams taking me to lunch!
She kept walking. Within twenty minutes sounds of life began to call to her. She could hear people and birds although she failed to see evidence of either of them. Still, she quickened her pace, moving at a slow jog, her heart jumping higher in her throat with each stride she took. She slowly came to a stop at the threshold of what had to be a town.
“Welcome to the Iotona”, a sign read aloud in English before making other audible sounds she couldn’t place.
“Iotona?” Her face twisted. Where on Earth was Iotona? She’d certainly never heard of it and she’d heard of lots of places. She was a librarian for goodness sakes, apart from being a museum security guard by night.
Pssss! Maeve startled at the sound. Fast gusts of air blew past her from the columns that flanked the large Welcome to the Iotona sign. There were twelve columns in all standing at least one hundred feet high. Each of them had digital images of trees blowing in the wind. Even birds flew across the pictures, soaring from one digital tree column to the next.
“That’s where the bird sounds are coming from?” After walking in miles and miles of gravel and not recalling having seen one bird she was convinced that the sound came from the columns.
Shaking her head and staring at the columns with absolute wonderment, Maeve took her first official steps into the Iotona.
* * *
(Day 1 of Sky Caribbean Vacation)
The shuttle gave another violent jerk, knocking Lyrice off her balance and nearly out of her seat. Face scrunched in an irate pucker, she flipped up her sleeping mask and unfrosted her carriage window just in time to see an explosion.
Before the question of what had happened could be pushed from her grape colored lips, a holograph of a pilot appeared in her carriage. “Please excuse the disruption.”
“The second disruption you mean.” She rolled her eyes.
The holograph continued. “Sky Caribbean has experienced a bit of turbulence. Pressure levels in all carriages have been cleared at maximum function. Please continue to remain calm and enjoy your flight.”
The holograph was gone just as a fiery explosion let off several miles out, leaving a flash on Lyrice’s eyes. She waited for the holograph to reappear with an explanation, but realizing it wasn’t going to, she phoned the stewardess.
“This is Jessica,” the smiling brunette said. “How can I assist you?”
Lyrice leaned forward and thumbed out her window. “There was a flash of fire out there right after the turbulence. It looked like a chunk of the ship.”
Jessica’s smile fell but suddenly reappeared. “It is nothing to worry about, Ma’am. We’ve, unfortunately, encountered a bit of turbulence that claimed our lesser baggage unit. Anyone who is missing luggage will be fully compensated. But for safety measures, our anti-debris shields have been enforced. Will there be anything else; warm towel, cocktail? We are serving lobster.” Her smile was far more forced than before.
Lyrice cocked an eyebrow and shook her head. “No. Thank you, Jessica. How long until we reach the dock?”
Jessica made several lines of information flash upon Lyrice’s screen. “We will reach dock in twenty minutes, at which time you will board either the Single’s Cruise or the Couples.” Another smile.
“Thank you.” Lyrice broke contact. Twenty minutes; that was sure to be enough time to get herself freshened up for all those delicious single men who were waiting for her picking. “Maeve, you have no idea what you are missing. Oh!” A large piece of chard luggage slammed into the anti-debris shield at Lyrice’s window before sliding off into space.
Lyrice watched it, shaking her head, bits of chard intimates and clothes dotted the sky like confetti. “God pity the soul who just lost their underwear.” Shrugging she began to fix her hair.
“What do we have on the woman from the train? It’s been four days.” Senior Warden Jasper swiftly moved through Trident like the wind was on his back. He always moved fast, walking as if he was trying to keep up with something, as if everything he was doing was of the highest priority and urgency.
Out of all the Senior Detective Wardens in the Trident, he was the only one who had managed to solve and close every case that had ever been given to him, every case but one. He seldom thought of that case, and when he did he thought of it in terms of a woman who was right under his nose, one he failed to notice until it was too late. She was gone and never coming back. She was ‘the one that got away’. Everyone in Trident knew of the case as The-one-that-got-away, but no one knew what she was about. No one bothered to ask, and Jasper never bothered to tell.
To anyone who did not know him, Senior Warden Vincent Jasper was all seriousness, all work and no play. That was only partly true. Although he saw things in two colors of morality, black and white—right or wrong, he was easy going and did enjoy a joke or two. He just enjoyed them at a faster pace than others, and quickly moved on to the next phase of thought, generally a more serious phase of thought. All he’d been thinking about for nearly a week was the brown-skinned woman in the horrid nightdress, riding atop a train toward Bigsby.
Warden Loomes, the main Warden who kept the viewing bay to Magen, nodded toward his apprentice Deputy, Smith Janks. They’d had a bit of time to do some digging in regard to the woman from the train; the one who’d disappeared through an Unzoned Door.
Ready to answer, Deputy Smith Janks squared his shoulders, clearly wanting to make the best impression on Jasper. Most everyone did. His calm but powerful presence demanded it.
Deputy Janks’ voice cracked, his nerves getting the best of him. Jasper could feel it. This was the young man’s first time reporting on Magen and out of all the Wardens he had to report to Jasper. Jasper knew it was a tough break.
“Senior Warden Jasper,” he swallowed down the cotton that had formed in his mouth.
Jasper remained calm, wide stance, and shoulders square, hands clasped behind his back, and chin slightly lifted. If anyone from the outside was looking on at the exchange, they would have seen Jasper as arrogant and intimidating. But Deputy Smith Janks saw and felt differently, reading the pulse of Jasper’s energy. He projected confidence to the Deputy, pulsing his own energy so that Deputy Smith Janks would relax, and feel secure in his place. It was encouragement given without words.
Jasper lifted his brow as if they were hooks, pulling Deputy Smith Janks up and together. It worked. The young man’s energy and posture changed.
He cleared his throat one last time. “Senior Warden Jasper, Warden Loomes and I,”
“We, Deputy, always ‘we’. Trident is many but one. We are community. Proceed.”
All Wardens were to speak using the pronoun ‘we’. It spoke of group dependency, removed the bounds of superiority. That was the rule for all Wardens except Senior Wardens. They were the only ones within Trident permitted to use ‘I’ when addressing a fellow Warden unless context suggested otherwise. They were the only ones with enough energy to singularly sustain Magen Satellite and thusly the Darkest Star. It was that knowledge and that truth that brought meekness and humility. The Cluster would be completely devoured and all life within it consumed, otherwise.
The Senior Wardens recognized that with one false move they could destroy all of Trident, and their very own existence. All of them recognized their responsibility for what it was—a sacred trust. They were part of the threads that kept their world firmly knitted together.
“Yes, sir.” Deputy Smith Janks responded. “We’ve been successful in isolating a signature read on the woman in question. Although the signature is faint, it should prove to be enough to properly identify her.”
Jasper studied the Signature Isolator, taking note of the scarce energy traces that had been captured within it. The main S.I of Trident was only a few yards away from the central viewing bay, erected of the same black-as-sackcloth stone, with a waist high asscher cut surface. The table top was smooth apart from Trident’s emblem that was carved in its center. The sides of the structure were etched with similar cracks and grooves as the floors of Trident. Energy from Magen coursed through the crevices like blood through veins, pushing itself upward through the center of the table where everything that had been isolated floated within a blue orb of Magen light.
The energy signature retrieved seemed fragile, like the breath of a whisper against the ear, breaking and fading with the start and end of each word. But it was there and it would have to be enough. Jasper had to take what he could get.
“Can we receive it?” he asked, still staring at the signature, his appetite for it increasing.
Deputy Smith Janks looked to his superior. Loomes nodded again. “Yes sir, Magen is ready whenever we are.”
Jasper exposed his wrists and with one slight flinch absorbed what had been gathered of the woman’s signature. Instantly he was given access to far more information than the suspect’s DNA. Although faint, every aspect of her became exposed, her personality characteristics, dominant emotional patterns, her strengths and weaknesses. The very core of her person was laid out for him to see. Very little was left hidden from that single, fragile reading. Ironically, it failed to give clear details like her name.
As if he were sleeping, Jasper’s chin rested against his chest and his eyes closed, his brow just slightly drawn together. He stood for several moments taking in all that he could from the frailty of the absorbed signature, rubbing his fingertips together, massaging the signature into a more firmly rooted memory. The gesture was nothing more than a force of habit.
His head cocked to the side. Well, she certainly isn’t a lunatic. That blew that theory out of the water. Other Wardens had suggested that perhaps she, the woman in the ugly nightdress, was one of the Broken, the kind who had to be given over to Magen before they reached complete adulthood. The Broken were far too dangerous otherwise. They were uncontained Magen power with little-to-no concept of reality. The power within them drove them mad, turned them into weapons of mass destruction. They couldn’t be reasoned with.
At least that was one concern brushed away. On the contrary, this young lady was very firmly grounded which only troubled Jasper.
What else did he see? What else could he gather? He concentrated deeper, shifting his head at slight angels as if he was trying to hear a very faint voice, and he was. The word, coming forth, translated in a pulse of energy, finally came into focus and held strong long enough for Jasper to receive it and not lose hold of it. Resolute.
He straightened, still gnawing on that single word. That was all he could read from that signature. He had gotten other things from it, things of importance, but lesser importance: things like her physical attributes, her fragrance.
As usual her physical attributes would be taken into consideration with Trident, but they would not be held with the highest of esteem. Attributes like those were seedy. They could be easily mistaken with someone else’s. But Signature Traits, like being resolute, were strong and easy to grasp. They were solid—distinct. Everyone had a unique type of resolution. This woman’s resolution was specific; it reminded Jasper of his own.
He almost smiled. It wasn’t a happy smile, or maybe it was; but it wasn’t the kind of happy that this woman would appreciate. No, what it meant was the hunt was on. He felt his own energy rising at that thought.
END OF TEASER CHAPTERS