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Author: Wayne Cole Page 1 of 13

Toran Station Part IV

Fiction Fragment Friday

Well I guess this has become serial fiction instead of flash fiction at this point.

     The first thing I noticed when I woke up were beeping sounds coming from the health monitors.  I will never understand why they do that.  I understand alarms, but they could have those just go off on the nurse’s tablets.  Regular beeps for normal conditions though just do not make sense.  I think it is just to let us know they are doing something.  Keep you so frustrated you can’t think about why you’re in medical to begin with.  I knew why I was in medical though.  Someone tried to kill me.

     After breakfast I was walking the corridors on my way back to the administration office.  The longer I worked through the audit the more disturbing it was getting.  There was so much obvious that I was starting to obsess about how much worse anything actually hidden could be.  When you stumble across incompetence everything is typically as it seems, but this didn’t feel like that.  This felt like corruption and Administrator Foster going to such effort to avoid me told me that he was involved.  I suspected that he was the source, but I couldn’t figure out how he was profiting.

     I was lost in my own mind and completely unaware of my surroundings.  Lack of sleep due to stress was likely making it even worse.  That is the only reason I can think of to explain why I didn’t notice that the corridor was empty.  That time of the morning there should have been crowds on their way to work, but I was completely alone.  I don’t know how they did it, but there were no witnesses around and the security cameras were conveniently off-line.  As it turns out there are many corridors around the station with the cameras out where anything can happen.

     As I went around a corner pain wracked my side.  I screamed as my insides burned and the light above my head went out.  My knees went out from under me, but I grabbed the wall on my way down.  Nothing made sense, but I knew I had to move or I wouldn’t survive.  The adrenaline hit and I had a moment of clarity to take in my surroundings.  The corridor in front of me was clear, but every movement was excruciating.  If someone was coming, they could easily overtake me before I could get to the end of the corridor. 

     I leaned up against the wall and listened to the sound of footsteps on the corridor.  Running wasn’t an option so I had to fight and if they were running, they might not be cautious.  It was a long shot, but I was desperate.  I could feel the vibrations in the floor as they got close to the bend.  I braced myself and the moment they rounded I lunged.  It hurt so bad I knew that I would only have one shot with the element of surprise. 

     I hit the woman hard tackling her to the ground and grabbing the wrist of the hand holding a microwave pistol.  I was larger than her, but not particularly strong and the pain from having part of my body cooked alive was not helping.  We wrestled for control of the gun, but the best I could do was keep it pointed away from me.  I was fading fast and knew that the longer we fought the weaker I would get.  I let her think that she had control and gathered my strength for one last push.

     When the gun turned towards me she moved to pull the trigger.  At that moment I pushed with every bit of my remaining strength and swung the gun up at her face.  The microwave gun went off unloading the full blast directly into her head.  I will never forget the look on her face as her brain cooked from the inside out.  It was one of sheer terror.  That was the last thing I saw as I passed out from my own injuries.

     “Welcome back to the land of the living sleeping beauty.”  Janice was sitting in a chair next to my bed. 

     “What are you doing here?”  My voice came out raspy and pained. 

     “Who do you think brought you in here?  I was trying to nail Administrator Foster down for an interview and his new assistant mentioned you hadn’t shown up this morning.  I was worried so I backtracked from there to your hotel.  I and found you in the hall barely alive.   More than I can say for whoever you were fighting with.”

     “She tried to kill me.”   The realization that someone had tried to murder me was finally sinking in.  Auditing doesn’t make you any friends, but it isn’t exactly dangerous work either.  My first fight ever and it was for my very life. 

     “You get used to it.”

     “I certainly hope not.”

                We both laughed for a moment, and it sent waves of pain through my body.  She told me to rest and left me alone with my thoughts.  Thoughts of what I had done in a moment of panic.  I slipped away into fitful dreams.  Nightmares where I was haunted by the face of the woman I had killed.    

Toran Station Part III

Fiction Fragment Friday

Toran Station

Toran Station Part II

Well I think this has officially become a series. With this week I’m adding a category for Toran Station so you can easily find all these stories. I’m not sure if this is a short story in the works, a novella, or a full novel. I do plan on putting them all together when it is complete and doing some rewrites. I will add in the connecting tissue at that point as well.

     “I don’t understand how you got such poor terms on these contracts.  You’re paying base rate prices for bulk orders, twice the standard price for shipping, and no penalties for late deliveries.”  I had been going through Toran Station’s supply contracts for three hours and the one thing they all had in common was the station being screwed over.  In all my years of auditing books I had never seen anything even close to this bad before.

     “Beats me.  I just started last week.”

     “When can I meet with the station administrator?”

     She just shrugged her shoulders and took a big drink of her coffee.  “No clue.  I haven’t even met him yet.  He doesn’t really come into the office.  Apparently, he does all his work remotely.”

     I couldn’t help but shake my head and roll my eyes at this latest revelation.  A few puzzle pieces were starting to come together in my mind, but I still didn’t quite know what the final picture I was building would look like.  “Are you hungry?”

     She looked up at me with a bit of a smirk.  “Why Mr. Wetherford are you trying to ask me out on a date?”

     “Not at all Miss Sakuraba.  I’m just ready for a lunch break because if I stare at this screen any longer, I think I’m going to lose my mind.  Plus I have some questions and I think I would rather ask them outside of this office.”

     “Are you insinuating the room might be bugged?  That’s a little paranoid don’t you think?”  Her tone sounded incredulous, but her expression gave away quite a bit of concern.

     “I would never dream of accusing Administrator Foster of installing surveillance equipment in his office.  However, I do see invoices for such equipment here that were never marked as received.  I also see contracts for undisclosed installation services.”  I tried to read her face at hearing this news, but she seemed to be getting more guarded by the moment.  “So back to my question.  Are you hungry?”

     “You know now that you mention it I do seem to be getting a bit hungry.”

     “Excellent.  I’ve only tried one restaurant on the station, so I think I’ll let you lead the way.”

     She led me out of the administration office and towards the closest lift.  Once we were on board and the doors closed behind us she turned to me.  “Do you really think he installed surveillance equipment in the office?”

     “Well that would be more reassuring than my other suspicion.”

     “And what would that be?”

     “That he had them installed throughout the station to spy on everyone else.”

     She led me out of the lift to a little sandwich shop called Jeremy’s in a shopping district I had not been to yet.  The menu was simple, but the prices were very good.  I couldn’t help but wonder if she was being underpaid and made a mental note to check salaries in the afternoon.  I had a feeling it might tell me a lot about who might be in the know and who wasn’t.  We made small talk while we ate with her mostly telling me about the businesses on the station and asking what I had already tried. 

     When I finished eating, I decided it was time to try and get some of my questions answered.  “So you said you’ve never actually met administrator Foster?”

     “That’s right.  I was hired by his assistant, and he hasn’t been in the office since I started.  Honestly, it’s been really boring and most of my time has been spent either trying to get my access sorted out or telling people I don’t know where he is.”

     “Didn’t you find that a bit strange?”

     “Of course, I did, but it’s not easy to find stable work around here.  You get a job you don’t ask too many questions.”

     “I’m not so sure about the stable part.”

     “What do you mean?  You can’t get more stable than station administration.”

     “Maybe on another station. From what I’m seeing this station is so far in debt it won’t be able to pay basic operating costs for more than another month.  Did you know you have half the maintenance crew recommended for a station half this size?  The engineering crew was let go over a year ago.  There’s nowhere left to cut costs and I’ll be honest I’m starting to get nervous about the safety of the station itself seeing how run down it’s gotten.”

     Now she did look concerned.  “He let the engineers go?”  I nodded.  “I think I owe the maintenance crew an apology.  I’ve been fielding complaints all week and had just assumed they were incompetent.”

     “They might be.  I haven’t actually looked into them, but they’re stretched really thin and having to cover for the engineering tasks they likely aren’t qualified for as well.  I plan on checking in with them because I suspect the supplies, they’re getting might be low quality.”

     “You can tell that from the orders?”

     “Nope, just a feeling.  I don’t know anything about the supplies themselves.  I couldn’t tell you a good brand from a bad one.  It’s just a feeling I have though.  I’m seeing the same supplier being granted the contract for disposal.  I suspect the station might be paying them to haul off the parts that they then refurbish and sell right back to you.”

     “That is insane.”  An expression crossed her face that I couldn’t quite place.  “If we are out of money, why did he hire me?  Why hire anyone?”  I couldn’t make eye contact with her.  “Wait what have you figured out?”

     “I don’t know anything for sure.”

     “Don’t bullshit me.  You figured something out.”

     “You said yourself you were told to babysit me.  He knew I was coming, he needed someone to work with me, and he didn’t want anyone who actually knew anything to let it slip.”  I could see the anger on her face.  “Please don’t take that the wrong way.  I’m not saying you’re dumb or bad at your job.  I’m just saying that you are too new and haven’t been told anything he doesn’t want me to know.”

     “That son of a bitch.”

     “For what it’s worth you seem pretty observant and seem to be asking all the right questions.”

     “Not soon enough.  Come on let’s get back to work.  You have a lot of files to go through and I’m going to help you do it.  I grew up on this station.  It’s my home, and I’m not about to let him destroy it without a fight.”

                I grabbed the bill and paid the entire thing before she could protest.  It still felt like I was missing large parts of the puzzle, but I had a bit of hope.  Two days in and I already had two allies who were dedicated to finding the truth.  Things were starting to come together so of course the next day someone tried to kill me.

Jeremy the Merchant

Fiction Fragment Friday

This has been an extremely busy week and Fiction Fragment Friday almost didn’t happen. I am very dedicated to these though and it takes a lot for me to miss one. It is too easy for bad habits to come back when you let things slip for a bit. As I work on quite a bit of audio editing this week including work for Fear the Boot as well as Bite Size Tales I am thinking about the projects I want to work on this year.

Fiction Fragment Friday is consistent, Bite Size Tales is rolling out using these stories as a back catalog in the next few weeks, and essentially I have my processes built out. Now it is time to decide if I start editing long form work I have already written or if I move forward with new long form work. I also want to provide regular updates including a count of fiction submissions I have done and any rejections I receive.

     Jeremy didn’t see the truck coming until it was too late.  One moment he was stepping out of the failing used bookstore he worked at and the next he was laying on the ground in pain.  He could tell that people were gathered all around him, but his vision was starting to fade.  Someone yelled to call 911, but they didn’t single anyone out so no one made the call.  By the time the ambulance arrived he was already dead.  Tiberial, his guardian angel, stood over the body holding a slushy in his right hand.  “I am going to be in so much trouble for this.”

     Tiberial sat at a desk opposite Jeremy typing away at his computer.  He was talking, but Jeremy couldn’t quite focus on his words.  The room had no walls, instead they seemed to be enclosed in white light.  The floor was made of clouds and the ceiling too bright to even glance at.  The intense stimulation was overwhelming to Jeremy’s mind.  He felt the pressure of the place ready to break him.

     “Oh my I’ve messed up again haven’t I?”  Tiberial clapped his hands and suddenly the world around them changed to an office.  “There that should be better.  Now as I was saying we have a bit of a complication.”

     “What kind of complication?”  Jeremy was starting to focus and could finally respond.  He still had no idea what was going on, but his thoughts were getting less foggy.

     “Well see you weren’t technically supposed to die today.”  He rushed through his explanation trying to cut Jeremy off before he could ask any questions.  “You did though and that can’t be changed, but you can’t move on yet either.  Don’t worry though I can fix this.  See there are countless other realities out there and I can just send reincarnate you into one of those.  One where you never existed at your current age and you can live out the rest of your natural life.  How does that sound?”

     “So I’m dead, but I shouldn’t be?  You’re going to take away everything I’ve ever known and dump me in some alternate reality with nothing?”

     “Uhm, well yes to the first part, but you won’t have nothing.  We can give you some advantages in your new world.  First off, I can improve some of your abilities and skills so you will be better than you were.  Also, you won’t be entirely alone.  You will have a mental connection directly to me for questions and information.  You just have to reach out and I will answer.”

     “I don’t have a choice in this do I?”

     “Not really.  Look on the bright side though.  Hardly anyone gets a second chance like this.”  He turned back to his computer.  “Now a few questions.  How do you feel about farming?”  Tiberial looked up at the expression on Jeremy’s face.  “That would be a no.  Ok, how about boats?”

     “I get seasick.”

     “Mining?  Soldier? Plumber?”  Jeremy shook his head at each of the suggestions.  “Oh, I know.  I have the perfect option.  Let me just bring up the details and…..  No, no I didn’t mean to click accept.  Oh dear I hope he would have found this one acceptable.”

     Jeremy woke up in a rather comfy bed.  The building was made of some sort of oak and there was no drywall over it.  The windows had shutters, but no glass in them and the walls were fairly bare.  He stood up looked around the room.  “Where am I?”

     “You are in your bedroom.”  The voice was inside his head instead of being audible.  Still, it felt familiar to him, but he just couldn’t place it.  It was like something out of a dream.  He gathered clothes from the dresser and quickly got changed.  He noticed that the pants and button up shirt didn’t have any sort of label in them. 

     “Status.”  The word came out naturally like something he had always known, but he had no idea what had made him say it.  Then a stream of information came into his head just like the voice had.

Name: Jeremy Bollinger
Class: Level 1 Shop Owner
          Strength 9
          Agility 8
          Intelligence 6
          Perception 4
          Charisma 5
          Organization 1
          Salesmanship 1
          Sweeping 1
          Cooking 1
          No special abilities
          Reincarnated - You are from another world.  50% chance for others to overlook your strange behavior.


“Uhm what the heck was that”

“Your status of course.”  The voice was once again in Jeremy’s head.  “I told you you would have a mental connection to me.  Well, that’s how it works.  You saw key words and I will respond.”

Jeremy went down the stairs to the first flood of the building.  It was a general store and he instinctively knew that it was his.  Mindlessly he grabbed a broom and started sweeping the floor.  After a few minutes he heard “Sweeping +1” in his head.  By the time he finished cleaning the shop and restocking the shelved he had earned 12 points in sweeping and 7 in organization.  Not quite sure what any of it meant he turned the shop sign from closed to open while unlocking the front door.

He sat down on a stool behind the counter.  Somehow all of this felt right, and he knew that he was where he truly belonged.  This was his shop, and he would be the best shop owner this town had ever seen.  This store would not fail like that bookstore he used to work at.  This time he was in charge and could make the changes that were needed to be successful.                                   

Emergency Alert

Fiction Fragment Friday

This story was inspired by a dream I had last night. In the dream an alarm was going off. It wasn’t on a spaceship and nothing else in the story was in the dream. Mostly that was just a jumping off point to start. A few lines as I wrote them shaped the story that came after.

     It wasn’t the blaring alarms that made me panic, it was seeing the captain run down the corridor towards engineering.  The flashing red lights and ear-splitting sounds were certainly concerning.  I didn’t have any of the context of what was happening at that time though, so it just generated a general anxiety.  Seeing a man known for being so stoic that he made robots seem warm running when he had previously never done more than a controlled fast pace told me just how serious the situation had to be.  While I still lacked details, I knew that whatever my worst-case scenario was it probably didn’t live up to reality. 

     In my four years aboard, I had never been to engineering.  That shouldn’t really be a surprise because there is no reason for a xenobiologist to visit engineering.  You don’t go into that field though without a serious tendency towards curiosity.  Before I consciously thought about what I was doing my body started moving to follow Captain Christie.  It didn’t matter that I had no idea what was going on and most likely would not be able to contribute to the solution.  I had to know what was so bad it would elicit that reaction.

     By the time I reached the entrance to engineering I had a pounding headache.  The alarms hurt my ears and the flashing lights assaulted my eyes.  I understood the point of alarms, but were ship wide alarms really the most efficient way to address emergencies?  They had to impair the ability to concentrate for those trying to fix the issue.   I mentally added that to the list of things I would never understand about shipboard life.  While most of the crew saw the ship as home and a chosen career for me it was just a method of transportation between work sites. 

     Engineering to me seemed like a chaotic nightmare.  There were crew everywhere rushing from console to console, climbing into maintenance tunnels, and screaming technical information.  This was not how my department functioned, but after a few moments I realized that it was actually very controlled.  Chief Engineer Sapkowski was directing everyone in the room like an orchestra and the yelling was actually reporting into him.  There certainly was an abundance of concern and waves of urgency radiating from the room, but it was organized. 

     I could make out the captain’s voice across the room.  “Let me get this straight.  We are about to rip a hole in reality and don’t have any destination set.”

     “That’s the long and short of it cap’n.”  The chief walked from station to station while speaking to the captain.  He did not let updating him interfere with his work in the slightest.  “The engine reaction has spun up and we can’t shut it down.  We’re gonna jump and astrogation is still locked out of their systems.”

     “What happens if we jump without one?”

     “Your guess is as good as mine.  No one has ever done it before.  Not supposed to even be possible, but we’re about to do it anyway.”

     Part of me felt the need to panic, but I wasn’t sure what to be panicking about.   I knew that our engines worked by essentially punching a hole in reality and connecting two separate points for a fraction of a second.  How that was accomplished or what would happen if we only created a hole in one location was far beyond my understanding.  It couldn’t be good though. 

     “Hey, are you supposed to be in here?”  Someone had finally noticed me, and she was walking towards me with a purpose.

     “Uhm, well I.”  It certainly was not my brightest response to a question.  I closed my mouth and focused my thoughts for a moment.  My mind raced with ways I could reply to calm her down, but before I could I learned what true chaos looks like.

     The engines flared to life, and we jumped.  The entire ship started shaking and I was tossed against a wall.  The initial impact hurt, but it soon got worse as the women who was confronting me was flung on top of me.  I felt her elbow hit my rib and something gave way.  The pain was intense, but I seemed to have broken her fall.  I’m sure the sounds of pain that escaped my lips were far from dignified. 

     The captain reached out to the wall and hit a button on the communication system. “Bridge someone report in.  What is going on up there?”

     The shaking was getting worse, sparks started to fly from multiple panels and I could see a crack forming on the engine.  The only thing that seemed to be working correctly was the obnoxious alarms that still blared and flooded the room with red light.  Nothing seemed to have any impact on them. 

     “This is the bridge.  We jumped into an atmosphere sir.  We’re losing altitude fast.  Impact in less than 10 minutes and thrusters are only giving us minor maneuverability.”

     It took a moment for the reality of the situation to set in.  We had jumped into the atmosphere of a planet.  Due to something related to strong gravity wells that was not supposed to even be possible.  Our ship was not designed to operate in an atmosphere and had no ability to land on a planet.  We were going to crash and there wasn’t anything that could be done about it. 

     I heard the ship-wide speakers crackle to life and the captain’s voice came from it.  I could hear him in the room and at a slight delay over the speakers giving it a bit of an echo.  “Calling all hands.  Brace for impact. I repeat brace for impact.”  That was it.  If there was a protocol for this situation, I was unaware of it. 

     “Hey are you listening?”  The woman struggling to get up off of me had apparently been talking.  I had no idea what she had been saying, but she was pointing to one of the maintenance tunnels on the wall next to us.  I could see the captain and chief engineer entering one across the room.  Taking the hint, I crawled in.  She followed me and I could see a bright flare as the engine ruptured behind her.  Reaching back, she pulled door shut behind us just as the wave of plasma hit it.  The scream of pain was loud in the enclosed space as her hands were seared by the heated metal. 

     The ship impacted the planet in what I would come to learn was a large lake.  The combination of engine explosion and crash the ship scattering sections for miles around the impact site.  I held on tight to hand holds in the crawlspace, but we were tossed around, and I was knocked unconsciousness in the process.  I assume she did too because when I returned to consciousness, she was lying near me with her arms pulled close to her chest.       

          I crawled over and checked on the engineer.  She was breathing, but the breaths were ragged.  Her pulse was steady though and that gave me hope.  Her hands looked terrible, and I knew if we didn’t get them treated soon, she might lose the ability to use them at all.  She needed a medic, but with the crash I bet a lot of people would.  I crawled to the other end of the tube and forced it open.  I could see water pouring in the hall from cracks in the wall.  I did not know this area of the ship very well and wasn’t sure how to get to the nearest airlock. 

     I pulled her out of the tunnel and lifted her up into my arms.  Thankfully she was not particularly big and while a strain I could carry her.  We moved slowly down the hall away from the water.  I looked for any indications on the walls for directions, but they all just looked the same to me.  The portion of the ship we were on was sinking into the lake at an angle, so it was an uphill climb to get away from the rising water.  Finally, as we moved around a corner, I could see an opening in the side of the ship.

     The sky was green with three visible moons.  I didn’t know of any phenomenon that would cause a green sky, but part of me was excited by the idea of figuring it out.  We were near the coast and even though it would be difficult I was pretty sure I could make it even with her.  I had always been a strong swimmer and had even worked as a lifeguard in college.  Holding her close I dove into the water and started paddling my feet.  As I got closer to shore, I saw others come out to meet me.  We were not the only survivors and they had already gotten a campfire set up. 

                I looked around my new home and took in the sites of plants and animals that I had never seen before.  Part of me couldn’t help be excited about the prospect of being the first person to study this life.  Would there be anyone to file the reports with though?    Would anyone ever come to rescue us?  Not sure what the future would hold I set about meeting my fellow survivors and starting the long process of building a camp. 

Even An Evil Genius Procrastinates

Fiction Fragment Friday

Another story inspired by a dream for this week. I took the concept of a hidden bunker that is actually in another dimension from a dream. I then decided I wanted to focus on a mad scientist style character. Thus was born, “Even An Evil Genius Procrastinates.”

     They say that I’m paranoid for having a hidden bunker under my house.  Well, I say who are these people and how did they find out about my bunker?  Are they spying on me.  I swear I will hunt them down and they will feel the crushing weight of my wrath.  Really people should mind their own business and worry more about their own pitiful lives than they do about my activities.  Until the inevitable day that I achieve world domination of course and then my every word will be law. 

     Besides being nobody’s business except my own, it is also factually inaccurate to say that I have a bunker under my base.  I can understand how such feeble minds would believe that to be the case though.  The stairs leading to my bunker form by lowering from the floor of my living room.  This would seem to indicate that the bunker is indeed under my house.  However as with myself all is not what it seems.

     My bunker actually exists in a pocket dimension of my own creation.  How can a bunker truly be secure when you never really know what it could be hit with?  By displacing it from your reality of course.  So when I designed my bunker the first thing I had to do was punch a hole in reality to create a pocket of reality that only I could access.  That is the only way to truly have a secure bunker.  Plus, it gives me the added benefit of being able to move the entrance anywhere I want to. 

     The stairwell is actually a portal.  With each stair you are stepping through a void towards the door that is a stable entrance to my pocket dimension.  I actually have four different stairs that connect to my bunker hidden around the world.  Besides just being a backup in case something happens to my house it is a really fast way to travel.  Only someone of my genius could have come up with such locations.

     The first portal is obviously in my living room.  It makes it super easy to get to my base.  Barely an inconvenience to roll back the large rug in front of my couch, say the activation code to raise the keyboard, type in my 37-character password, and walk down the stairs.  It is the perfect location for a portal.

     My second portal is in Akihabara.  Obviously, that is to have a location on the opposite side of the world and not to just have easy access to a store that sell merchandise from all my favorite animes.  Being in the alley behind my favorite ramen shop is just an added bonus.  Plus, it is just good business to be near the maid cafe that has the loyalty punch card.  A true genius never does anything for only one reason.

     My third portal of course needed to be somewhere where I could blend into a crowd.  Somewhere that deals with large quantities of physical bills so I can launder all the money I take from bank heists.  Where better than the happiest place on earth?  A large theme park is the perfect place for a portal.  If I’m going to build a portal in a theme park why wouldn’t I put it next to my favorite ride?  It makes it easy to travel through first thing in the morning after the gates open, but before anyone else could get in line.  Of course, when I do eventually rule the world as I am destined to I will just ride whenever I want without needing to wake up so early in the morning. 

     My final portal might very well be my most ingenious.  Who would ever suspect a future ruler of the world to have a hidden entrance to his bunker in the office of a television network headquarters?  It gives the added benefit of ensuring that quality television continues to be made because I can pop in and threated those idiotic television executives any time I want.  Have you ever wondered why Space Patrol Zeta is still on the air despite having truly abysmal ratings?  Well, you are welcome.  We all know the show just doesn’t have an audience because the mindless rabble are too dimwitted to grasp the advanced plot of such a masterpiece.  I also had to intervene when they planted to break of Kuric and Jeva because we all know that they are the OTP of that show and Jomo is pathetic pretty boy who doesn’t deserve her. 

                Oh yes, the world will be so much better when I have taken over.  I won’t have to take such hands-on approaches.  For now, though I have ramen to eat while I watch my favorite show.  After this episode I will totally make my move.  Oh wait, no it will be time for the evening parade at my favorite theme park then.  I should also really get a good night sleep before I take over the world so after is out.  Ok, first thing in the morning after the ride I will take over the world.  Unless I’m hungry then I will eat first. 

Christmas on Colony Ship Endeavor – Gemma’s Perspective

Fiction Fragment Friday

I never imagined being back so soon. After I wrote the first story I just kept thinking about it. I wasn’t happy with how it started. I felt the writing was weak, but that it had gotten better. I had thought out a world and had inner dialogue going for both characters. I was given the feedback that Gemma was too mature and something felt off. After explaining what was really going on in her head I was told I should write that story.

As it turns out this story was told better from a different perspective. Perhaps a combination of both really gives the best overall story. In the end though I sat down to write from Gemma’s perspective and before I knew it had a story almost twice as long at the original that I was much happier with. I don’t know if it is as good on it’s own as it is after reading the original.

Instead of waiting until next week I decided to share this now.

     I see him sitting there on the gantry overlooking hydroponics pod three.  Brian has been my best friend for as long as I can remember, but he has been so angry lately.  His dad died eight months ago on a spacewalk that went really bad.  His whole family is hurting, but instead of getting through it together he keeps fighting with his mom.  He is just so angry and has nowhere to focus that anger.  Thankfully none of that anger has come out in my direction. 

     I approach him slowly but making sure to step very loudly on the gantry.  I don’t want to startle him.  When I see his face, I know without a doubt that he had another fight with his mom.  “Well, you look grumpy today.”  I try to play it off as irreverent but the moment the words come out of my mouth; I am second guessing them.  I can’t let him see the insecurities right now though.  He is in pain and needs me to be the strong one, so I sit down on the gantry next to him and let my legs dangle over.  “Another fight with your mom?”  Did that sound understanding I wonder.  I hope it did.

     He lets out an obnoxious exasperated sigh.  I hate it when he does that, but I hide my annoyance as best I can.  “It’s just so stupid.  I get that she grew up there, but we weren’t even born on Earth.  Why do we have to keep celebrating holidays like they do?  I mean I get it they weren’t always around all their family so Christmas was a gathering.  We can’t ever get away from our families though.  It isn’t quality time it’s just another day.”  It all flows from him like a river through a dam. 

     He is ranting.  He just wants me to sit here and listen, but I can’t do that.  I have to try and help so my mind starts racing.  How can I put this in perspective for him to understand?  I search my memories and find the perfect thing.  “Do you remember when sector four lost power and we all had to migrate to sector seven for two weeks?”  I keep my voice level as I ask him. 

     “Of course.  It was the single most terrifying thing that ever happened to me.  I woke up floating in the middle of my room.”  Of course, he remembers it only happened two years ago.  I remember us huddled together in a hallway as he told me what happened.  It was the only time he has ever admitted being scared of anything. 

     “Now do you remember how you felt going back after everything had been repaired?”  He had hated having his whole life upended even if it was only for a few weeks.

     “Yeah, I was worried, but it was good to be back home.  I was completely lost in sector seven.  Everything was so different.  Where are you going with this?”  He avoided looking at me, but I could hear the annoyance in his voice.  He just wanted me to sit here and listen to him rant, but instead I was bringing up memories he didn’t want to revisit.  I needed to push on though. 

     “Now think about our parents.  They left their home planet.  Left behind everything they knew, and they’ll never have that feeling of coming home again.  Is it so hard to understand why they want to hold onto things that remind them of it?”  The very thought always filled me with awe.  That our parents could give up everything to board a generation ship knowing they would never see its final destination.  Could I give up everything I knew? 

     “Earth isn’t their home anymore though.  They need to just accept that and move on.  We should be making new traditions.”  I was close, but not there yet.  I could hear the pain in his voice creeping into the annoyance.  He was trying very hard to stay angry and that meant that there was something else going on. 

     I reached my hand down to cover his as a gesture of support.  Something happened though.  I don’t know if his hand moved or if mine acted on instinct, but instead of just sitting on his hand our fingers intertwined.  I had to take a moment to really compose my words.  I had been hiding my feelings for over a year now and I wasn’t about to let them slip out now.  What was the last thing he said?  Oh yeah making new traditions.  “We will, but why take this one more thing from them?  They gave up so much and they have to think they robbed us of those things.”

     When he squeezed back my heart sped up in my chest.  “They didn’t though.  This is our home.  We were born on this ship and some day we will die on it.  We can’t miss things we never experienced.”  The anger was gone.  I was getting through.  I was helping and as much as I didn’t want him in pain, I felt good that I was the only one who could get through to him. 

     “I know that, and you know that, but have you ever told them that?”  Boom, mic drop. I nailed it.

  “No.  It should be obvious though.”  He had lost and he knew it.  Now would be time for him to change tactics.  I wondered what he would pull out to throw me off guard.  “And what about this stupid gift giving?  We live on a spaceship.  Everything we need is provided or can be printed.  How are gifts supposed to have any meaning?”

     Suddenly it all made sense.  I expected deflection, but he deflected with more truth than he intended.  I remembered how much he used to love picking out the perfect gift with his dad.  It was a bonding moment.  “Ah, now I see the real problem.  You can’t figure out what to get your mom can you?”

       “No.  She always somehow comes up with the perfect thing.  Dad used to help, but with him gone Jack, and Elizabeth are expecting me to help them.  I can’t even figure out what to give her myself and if I screw this up I’m going to ruin everything for mom.  I can’t do that to her.  Not on the first Christmas without him.”

     I could hear the pain in his voice and saw a tear start to form in his eye.  He would push me away if I saw him cry.  It’s just who he is.  I leaned over and hugged him pushing his head into my shoulder.  We both knew that he was crying, but this way we could pretend and that was the lifeline that he needed.  I gave him a moment to compose himself before speaking.  When I thought he had gotten most of it out I whispered into his ear.  “You can’t put this all on yourself.  It’s too much.  Your mom just wants you and the family together.  Your only job is to give her that.  I’ll help your brother and sister figure out what to give her.”  It was the least I could do for them.

     “Thank you.”   The words sounded so small but filled with so much meaning.  He was in pain, and I could be his lifeline.  When he finally pulled back our eyes met.  I felt a pull deep down in my chest.  A need so strong I don’t have words for it.  Then before I knew it, he had leaned in and we were kissing. 

     My brain went into a full meltdown.  I had imagined this for so long, but never thought it would actually happen.  My mind raced with what it could all mean.  Did he feel the same way about me or was he just vulnerable.  I wanted a real relationship and if we started something now while he was still mourning it might not last.  I had been telling myself for months to just be his friend and not think about more.  With his lips on mine though all rational thought left me. 

     Finally, he pulled back from me.  “I’m not sure why I did that.”  I could hear fear in his voice. 

     No, No, No.  I can’t have him feeling fear.  I had to do something fast, or this would all blow up in my face.  Not only would we never be together, but I might lose him as a friend.  I couldn’t let him know how much that affected me.  I had to be cool, calm, and collected.  I got this.   “Well, I know, and when you figure it out we can talk about it.  For now, though you need help Christmas shopping.”  What the hell was I saying?  I didn’t know.  I had no idea what that meant for him.  The line was perfect though.

                I jumped to my feet quickly.  I needed to break eye contact and hide my blushing.  I needed to move now, or my shaky legs were going to give way.  I held my hand down to him so he could take it normally this time.  “Come on.  We’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it.”  There we go I thought to myself.  Take control and keep moving forward.  Put the next moves all in his hands.  Disaster averted I told myself as I dragged him off in search of the perfect Christmas present.  My still tingling lips reminded me that I had just gotten mine. 

Christmas On Colony Ship Endeavor

Fiction Fragment Friday

Being so close to Christmas this weeks story is of course a holiday story. I had two ideas for this week I was debating on. The first was “A Time Traveler’s Christmas” and I might still write that one in the next day or two. The story I ended up going with though was inspired by thinking about traditions and how they would be different for the first generation born on a generation ship.

I debated on how I wanted to tell this story. I knew from the beginning it was going to be from the perspective of a teenager rebelling against traditions. What I wasn’t sure was if I wanted to have it just be an inner monologue or a conversation. I have done a few inner monologue stories lately so I decided I really needed to go the dialogue route.

I didn’t want to include the perspective of someone who was born on Earth, but I did want a sympathetic voice. That was when I decided to include someone the same age, but more open perspective.

     “Well, you look grumpy today.”  Gemma could always tell my moods just from looking at me.  Some days I thought she might know be even better than I knew myself.  She sat down on the gantry next to me with her legs dangling over hydroponics pod three.  “Another fight with your mom?”

     I give her credit for not rolling her eyes when I let out an exasperated sigh.  I know I’m a broken record, but when I’m in one of my moods I just can’t seem to control what comes out of my mouth.  “It’s just so stupid.  I get that she grew up there, but we weren’t even born on Earth.  Why do we have to keep celebrating holidays like they do?  I mean I get it they weren’t always around all their family so Christmas was a gathering.  We can’t ever get away from our families though.  It isn’t quality time it’s just another day.”

     “Do you remember when sector four lost power and we all had to migrate to sector seven for two weeks?”

     “Of course.  It was the single most terrifying thing that ever happened to me.  I woke up floating in the middle of my room.”

     “Now do you remember how you felt going back after everything had been repaired?”

     “Yeah, I was worried, but it was good to be back home.  I was completely lost in sector seven.  Everything was so different.  Where are you going with this?”  I didn’t make eye contact with her.  I was annoyed and knew that she would see it in my eyes.  She wasn’t listening.

     “Now think about our parents.  They left their home planet.  Left behind everything they knew, and they’ll never have that feeling of coming home again.  Is it so hard to understand why they want to hold onto things that remind them of it?”

     “Earth isn’t their home anymore though.  They need to just accept that and move on.  We should be making new traditions.”

     She reached over and slipped her fingers between mine squeezing my hand.  “We will, but why take this one more thing from them?  They gave up so much and have to think that they robbed us of those things.”

     I squeezed her hand back.  I wanted to lash out and keep being angry, but she always had a way of getting through to me no matter how stubborn I was.  “They didn’t though.  This is our home.  We were born on this ship and some day we will die on it.  We can’t miss things we never experienced.”

     “I know that, and you know that, but have you ever told them that?”

     “No.  It should be obvious though.”  I felt like I was losing the conversation and needed to change tactics.  “And what about this stupid gift giving?  We live on a spaceship.  Everything we need is provided or can be printed.  How are gifts supposed to have any meaning?”

     “Ah, now I see the real problem.  You can’t figure out what to get your mom can you?”

     I really hate how well she can read me sometimes.  “No.  She always somehow comes up with the perfect thing.  Dad used to help, but with him gone Jack, and Elizabeth are expecting me to help them.  I can’t even figure out what to give her myself and if I screw this up I’m going to ruin everything for mom.  I can’t do that to her.  Not on the first Christmas without him.”

     She leaned over and pulled me into a hug.  I can’t stand having anyone see me cry so I buried my head in her shoulder.  I was grateful for the chance to hide just a few moments until I could get myself back under control.  I knew that she was fully aware but pretending to not know is just one of the reasons she is my best friend.  She whispered into my ears.  “You can’t put this all on yourself.  It’s too much.  Your mom just wants you and the family together.  Your only job is to give her that.  I’ll help your brother and sister figure out what to give her.”

     “Thank you.”  I wanted to say so much more, but just couldn’t get the words to come out.  My voice would just not hold together for anything more than that.  The relief of having help gave me hope, but I was feeling so guilty for my attitude.  Mom didn’t need me making things worse by fighting.

     I leaned back and my eyes met Gemma’s for a moment.  It felt like suddenly my body was moving on its own.  My free hand came up to cup the back of her head I leaned towards her.  Our lips met and I was overcome with how soft hers were.  It was not a kiss of need or desire, but something much gentler.  I was reminded of the conversation about coming home and realized I was having a similar feeling.  When we parted I turned away to avoid making eye contact.

     “I’m not sure why I did that,” I said with a hint of fear in my voice. 

     “Well, I know, and when you figure it out we can talk about it.  For now, though you need help Christmas shopping.”  She let go of me and stood up brushing herself off a bit.  Then she held out her right hand to me.  “Come on.  We’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it.” 

                I smiled and let her lead me off in search of the perfect Christmas Gift. 

Magic Books

Fiction Fragment Friday

I had an idea this week I wanted to explore. Sometimes when I do this a story forms and I realize I have something that worth developing. This is not one of those times so this weeks story is pretty short. I still think there is a seed of an idea, but it is not one that I will be developing any further. Perhaps it will inspire someone else to write a story.

     You might say that I sell magic books for a living, but I prefer to describe it as uniting people with the tomes they were destined to have.  That said I take money for those and books that hold no magical properties at all.   My landlord doesn’t take rent in destinies fulfilled.  Also, people come into bookstores to buy books not to have magic meddle int their lives.  In fact, I suspect only a few will ever realize there was something special about the book they walked away with. 

I should clarify something.  I do not sell books that contain magic spells.  These books are physical works of fiction or self-help writing that just happen to have a mind of their own.  Sometimes everyday objects become imbued with a purpose.  They are still the same items they were, but after they radiate with magical energies and find ways to influence the world around them.  Since I have the gift of being able to see this magical energy they tend to end up in my shop.

Let me give you an example.  Last year a woman came into my shop and bought a copy of Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery.  She wasn’t looking for it, but once she saw the book on the shelf, she started telling me all about reading it as a child.  She remembered things about her childhood that she had not thought of in years.  Later that day she was looking through the book at a cafe and a man walking by saw it.  He started telling her about his childhood and they realized that they had gone to the same school.  I received my invitation to their wedding last week. 

These two were destined to be together because their child is going to make amazing discoveries in the field of inertia shielding.  He will single handedly revolutionize space travel within the solar system and unmanned probes outside it.  The book’s job was to ensure that they met so this could occur.  They are usually far more subtle than that, but sometimes the direct approach works best. 

After years of study, I still do not know what causes items to become magically charged.  I’ve never seen a non-magical item become magical, but they never come from the publisher like that.  Each magical book in the shop was brought in and sold to me by a customer.  I make sure to always purchase them even if I would not otherwise do so.  It is my job to ensure they reach the right hands.  I sometimes wonder as I walk past other shops that sell used items if they have someone working there that can see the glow like I do.    

Toran Station Part II

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week’s story is a sequel to Toran Station. I don’t often return to these stories and I’m not sure if I have ever done a sequel that starts immediately where the last one ended. If this were in a book it would be in the same chapter. When I wrote the original I felt like it could be the start of something larger and writing this second part has really driven that home.

I find that writing these character and this setting flows very easily. I sit down to write and before long I have written a much longer story than intended. I’m not sure this or the first one could really be called a full story and not just slices of life being presented. After this week I think maybe it is time to sit down and outline a much larger story that these scenes fit into.

                My room wasn’t the worst I had ever stayed in, but it was in the bottom five.  When I hit the light switch the light by the door just flickered on and off.  There was a stench to the room that I couldn’t quite place, but I made a note to get disinfectant before touching anything.  I also needed new sheets because there was no way I was going to lay down on the bed as it was. After two weeks of sleeping in bunk beds set into a bulkhead though I was just grateful to have my own room again. 

                When I stayed on station as a kid, I remember the rooms being the nicest I had ever stayed in.  It felt like we were the first people to ever stay in that room.  It was clean and everything looked brand new.  I still couldn’t understand how the air had gotten so poor.  Even tiny shuttles with much smaller ecosystems were not this bad.  Simple lack of money could not account for just how bad things had gotten.  I knew that I was only here to sort out some accounting issues, but I needed to know what had caused this.  It hurt too much to see it without getting to the bottom.

                It was time to get some answers.  I pulled out my tabled and shot off four messages.  The first was to my station contact to let them know I had arrived and requesting a meeting first thing in the morning.   The second message was to station information.  I requested an updated list of all businesses operating on the station and contact information for them.  My third message was to my boss back home.  I needed him to know what I had already seen.  Finally, I messaged Janice and offered to buy her dinner tonight wherever she wanted to go.

                After a couple minutes my tablet dinged, and I saw that Janice had already responded.  To my surprise she had picked the restaurant I remember my father taking us to as a kid.  My first instinct had been to suggest it, but after all the other disappointments of the day I just didn’t want to assume anything at this point.  I didn’t know if it was still here or what shape it might be in.  I couldn’t help but smile knowing that it was not only still here, but that if she had picked it then it couldn’t be too bad.  Still, I tried to keep my expectations low. 

                With a few hours left before dinner I decided to take a walk.  Instead of just wandering around I used the map on my tablet to plan my path carefully.  I needed to start getting used to the layout and find all the location I would need for work.  Shopping was going to be important as well so I needed to know where the important shops and services were.  If what I had already seen was any indication this would not be a short project.  What I did not expect was to feel unsafe in certain parts of the station.  It felt like I was being watched so I made a point to stay to the more trafficked corridors. 

                I showed up to dinner about fifteen minutes early.  I wanted to make sure we had a table and that I had time to let any disappointment fade from my face.  I won’t say that I was as impressed with the restaurant as my childhood self had been, but it did not show the same degree of ware as the rest of the station.  Papa Guido’s was clean, well lit, and the food smelled incredible.  I was met at the door by a waitress dressed in a red and white frilly top with an ankle length green skirt.  I made note of her nametag.

                “Welcome to Papa Guido’s.  How many in your party?”

                Her smile seemed genuine and so far, it was the nicest greeting I had received on station.  “There will just be two of us.  I’m meeting someone.”

                She nodded and grabbed two actual printed menus from the podium.  “Right this way sir.” 

                “I have to say Erica this is the only place on the station so far that lives up to my memories.”

                She seemed taken aback at first by my use of her name, but I just pointed to her name tag, and she nodded.  “Well, I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve been here, but this is a family restaurant.  I may be his daughter, but this place is dad’s really baby.”

                “Well, it shows.  Gives me a little hope.”

                She led me to a small table in a corner and set the menus down.  Nothing looked new, but the furniture was all very well maintained, and I had not seen a single light fixture that wasn’t fully functional.  Mostly I was just grateful that the air didn’t have the grease scent that the rest of the station seemed to linger with.  As I looked over the menu, I was surprised that the prices were not as high as I anticipated.  No matter the cost though I knew the conversation was going to be worth it.

                “Well, well, well.  I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.  I thought you were worried I would get you in trouble with your bosses.”  I jumped a bit as Janice caught me off guard.  She sat down at the table across from me with a big smile on her face.  It was the kind of smile someone gives when they know something that you don’t.

                “Oh I’m pretty sure you are going to get me into trouble, but I’m hoping you can help me avoid some too.”

                “Go on.”

                “Let’s order some dinner first.  This place smells incredible.”  I ordered the chicken parmigiana, and she ordered the manicotti.  We made small talk while we waited for the food not talking about anything in particular.  We spoke about our jobs, and I told her all about my trip to the station as a child.  It was a pleasant conversation and I found her very easy to talk to and had to watch myself to avoid sharing too much.  Something told me she was a very good reporter who could get people to share without even realizing it.

                “So, James why don’t you tell me why I’m here?”

                “Well besides finding out what restaurant might be safe to eat at I have a feeling you have a better idea of what is going on around this station than anyone else.  No way poor management alone let things get this bad.  When I start digging in am I going to be in danger?”

                She actually laughed.  “Oh James.  You were in danger the moment you accepted this assignment.”  She took a sip of her wine and game me another smile.  “You have no idea how lucky you were to run into me.”

Atlantis Station 4

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks story is another one inspired by a dream. The dream of course was long and convoluted but like many of my dreams there were elements that I thought could make a good story. I hope you agree.

     The Liger statue opened its mouth and roared.  There were no visible seems in the statue’s mouth, but instead the stone moved like living flesh would.  Behind the very sharp looking teeth was a glowing purple gem.  The glow was soft with a pulse to it, and if I looked directly at the gem, I could see fields of stars in the glow.  I instinctively know that this was called a dream gateway.  The statue froze again looking like any other intricate stone carving hiding the fact that it had just moved moments ago.

     I reached out cautiously and touched my right hand to dream gateway.  I could feel it’s energy pulsing through my body in waves.  Everything went blurry for a moment, and I could hear my partner calling out to me in concern.  It sounded like she was so far away, but I knew that she was right there in the museum room next to me.  I was in a museum, wasn’t I?  Or was it an aquarium?  What was I doing?

     “Welcome to Atlantis Station 4 my son.”  The woman was wearing an ornate golden dress with bracelets and necklaces that looked more expensive than my last car.  She was smiling at me and I felt warm acceptance from her.  She looked at me like she had known me my whole life and my mind could not make sense of the feelings I was receiving from her.  I just knew how she was feeling when I looked into her eyes and though I knew it was strange my brain told me this was how the world was supposed to work.

     I looked around the room.  We were surrounded by technology, but it was not like anything I had ever seen before.  The Atlantean technology was as much a work of art as it was functional.  Gold colored with many moving parts giving it something of a steam punk vibe.  On one of the screens, I could see what looked kind of like a sphere if you sliced off some of the sides to make it look like a big, rounded die.  In a language I had never seen before, but somehow could read it was labeled Atlantis Station 4.

     “What is this?” I asked finally managing to form words.  There was so much to see and I wanted to make sure I could take it all in.

     “This is Atlantis Station 4,” she replied.  “Well, it was.  I’m afraid the real one is likely long gone.  It is where I lived and worked until it’s destruction.”  I could feel loss and failure coming from her.  Overshadowing both was a deep feeling of guilt.  “It is where you were born.”

     “Uhm no I was born in Missouri.”  I was not some long lost orphan.  I knew my parents and had no questions about my childhood. 

     She looked confused as she reached out a hand and touched my face.  “Oh dear.  You are not my son.  You are a decedent though.  He must have been your great or great great grandfather.  While it is reassuring to know that he lived and made a life for himself this does mean that my failure to him is complete.”

     “You look pretty young to be my great, great, great grandmother.”  She looked barely older than me with long black hair that had not yet seen a strand of gray. 

     “That is because I’m not really a person.  I’m just an imprint left behind to explain things to my son.  A mission that I failed to accomplish.  That is how the dream scape works though.  It preserves memories and imprints as they were and while some things drift because memory is imperfect, they do not age or grow.  I will be as I am now until I am forgotten.”

     “What is, or I guess was, Atlantis Station 4?”

     “It was a research station of sorts.  One of four spread out around the planet.  Our people long ago used our technology to transcend our physical forms and become beings of pure energy.  At least that is how they like to describe it.  In reality our solar system was dying and in a last-ditch hope to save ourselves we shifted into another universe.  We gave up much just to live, but the form of existence we became was not enough for many of us.  We wanted physical forms again.  Thus, we returned to this universe using humans as a template for our own new bodies.  Stations were our outposts were we tried to rebuild our technology from memory.”

     “What happened to them?”

     “Our people happened.  They felt threatened by the movement to return to this plane of existence and so they struck out.  My partner and I managed to keep station 4 hidden for a time, but then something unexpected happened.  We fell in love.  It had been so long since physical bodies had been part of our existence.  We didn’t think about the consequences, and I got pregnant.  While in labor we neglected our duties and because of that our people found us.  I just had time to record an impression of myself into the dream scape before sending my child away into the world.  I expected him to be drawn to the message and find me someday.”

     “How do you know I’m your descendant?”

     “If you were not the dream gateway could not have brought you here.”  I could feel another wave of guilt come over her.  “Now that it has though you will have been marked.  Our people will come for you.  You were born here into the physical world so they cannot simply lash out like they did to me.  They will have to take physical form themselves.  I do not know the state of politics within our people, but there was a growing resistance who did not approve of wiping us out.  You may have aid but be wary of who you trust.”

     “Wait they’re going to try and kill me just because I touched a rock?”

     “No, they will try and kill you because of what you represent.  A reminder of something that we lost but can regain.  As a physical being you are no threat to them, but as an idea you are the greatest danger they have ever known.”

     I awoke on the floor of the museum with Sherry shaking me in a panic.  The Liger statue above me had closed its mouth and looked exactly the same as when we had arrived.  I could hear Sherry’s voice but could not yet focus on it.  The world felt like it was coming back slowly.  No, it was more accurate to say it felt like I was returning to the world slowly.  A defensive part of my mind was already trying to categorize my experience as a dream.  Another part was sure it was real. 

     I tried to argue with Sherry, but she insisted that I be taken to the hospital to be checked out.  I had been unconscious for five minutes with no response.  My whole body still felt sluggish like I wasn’t quite aligned with it and my thoughts were foggy so I couldn’t put up a good enough argument against it.  They strapped me into the hospital gurney so I would not fall off and loaded me into the back of the ambulance. 

                The paramedic leaned down to me and whispered in a calm tone, “Don’t worry sir we’re going to take good care of you.”  I might have been reassured, but as I looked into his eyes, they gave off a light purple glow.  A glow that I could see the star in.  He closed the ambulance door before Sherry could see me start to struggle against my bonds.

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