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Editing Captivate

Hello all – I’m furiously editing away on Captivate, the sequel to Manipulate. It’s slow going, as I’m busy with a few other things right now, but I thought I’d post a teaser chapter to help you wait! 🙂 This may not be the final version of this chapter – I usually go back and tweak the first chapter after I’m ALL DONE editing the rest of it – but this is what I have now!

 

Prologue

The Spo space station could be seen from the surface of the Earth, if you were careful enough to look at the right time of night in the right direction. And if you did, and you waved, and the space station saw you (via satellite, of course), it would wink.

Only a few people knew about this, but word was getting around, and more than a hundred people had now waited on their roof or their front lawn and watched the blip of light sail across the sky – and (wondering if their friends were only having a good laugh at them) they’d waved.

And Akemi, who among other things now had the honor of being the space station, winked her lights in recognition.

She may have been forever exiled from Earth and from her own body (she was part of an alien computer now, hence all the space for satellite feeds), but anyone who took the trouble to look up and wave at her, received a cheery wink in appreciation.

Sadly, the secret of her existence was still so little known that no eyes were turned towards her when she streaked across the sky for the final time, blazing with enemy fire.

Chapter 1 – Akemi

The escape pods burst out of her skin like boils, and smoke roiled through her halls, blinding her view from the cameras.

She frantically monitored water systems and airlocks, trying to isolate the fire from the few people still aboard; but so much of the space station was burning! Most of the station’s protections were automatic, so there was little she could do but watch and wait. The station’s heat censors (which usually would tell her where people were located, by body heat) were overloaded with fire, and told her nothing. The video monitors were obscured by smoke, so all she had were the escape pod records of how many aliens and people were aboard each pod as they blasted off. So far there were 21 of 22 pods away, and nearly 150 souls accounted for. But the souls she cared the most about, her sister Nat and Nat’s boyfriend, Sam, were still on the space station.

She knew because she had a direct link to their iGlasses, and from the tiny camera embedded in the frame she could see that they were both still stumbling through the smoke filled halls.

She couldn’t see much else, but she knew they were getting near the engine room, where the computer that housed her brain was located. Occasionally she caught a glimpse of Nat’s ashy face when Sam glanced at her, but that was all she could see. Now she heard Sam’s hacking cough over the whine of warping plastic and the wail of alarms.

ARE YOU BREATHING THROUGH YOUR SHIRT? STAY LOW.  She put the words in the iGlasses’ heads up display. They transparently overlaid Sam’s vision.

“I know, I am low,” he said. But she saw him crouch lower still and put a hand on Nat’s back to push her lower as well. “We’re almost there. Don’t let the last pod go,” he added.

Akemi wouldn’t. Half her attention was on that last escape pod. There were four people on board already, she wasn’t sure who, and they were pounding on the release button. It was like a fingernail on a chalkboard – release, release, release – pinging each time they whacked the button. But the pod wasn’t going anywhere yet, she’d put an override hold on it. Whoever was inside surely thought it was broken, and must be panicking.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a computer display in the pod, so Akemi couldn’t explain to them why it wasn’t responding. She felt bad for their undoubted terror, but there were two more people to get on that escape pod (three counting her), and there was no way she was letting it go without them. And, not to be selfish, but she didn’t want to die here either.

Just then Sam and Nat’s glasses cleared, and Akemi got a better view. They were at the engine room. They stumbled across the room to the biobank, the portion of the computer that connected to the biological operating system (in this case, her brain). It had a small door, like a microwave oven, and Sam jerked it open.

WAIT WAIT! Akemi shouted into his glasses. When you take me out I’ll be disconnected from you.

I’ll leave the hold on the escape pod, but you have to know how to release it…

Akemi told them both exactly what command to use, once they reached the escape capsule.

THAT’S IT. HOPE THIS WORKS… :-/

And everything went softly black, like a smothering pillow. Like liquid smoke.

 

***

Star.

Akemi slowly became aware again, like a computer rebooting without enough RAM to hold its whole operating system.

So for a moment she merely thought…

Hoshi

Star

Earth orbit, she finally thought groggily. The space station would eject us in stable earth orbit, roughly half way between Earth and the moon’s orbit.

“Akemi, can you hear me?” Nat’s voice.

“Is she responding to you?” Sam’s voice. “I’m not getting anything.”

“- and why in hell you had the gall to hold my escape pod? I could have you court marshaled for risking the lives of everyone on this pod, and yourselves too, just to retrieve a computer –” An angry voice.

“Oh, shut up.” That was Sam again.

It’s laright. Alright. I’m here.

Akemi sent the message to their display.

“Akemi, please respond if you hear us.” Nat was starting to sound frantic.

Can’t you see this? I’m fien. Fine.

From the camera on Nat’s glasses, Akemi could see Sam fiddling with a large black sphere the size of a basketball. There were thin power cords running from it to the capsule’s rudimentary computer system. Sam held up the sphere to look on the bottom, running his fingers over several small inlets there.

“It doesn’t look damaged,” he said.

Her brain was in there. For all intents and purposes, that black ball was her. Unbelievably creepy. She knew it, of course, but being joined with a ship or space station was one thing. Seeing the tiny container holding the remains of her real body…

YOU CAN’T SEE MY OWRDS? WORDS?

But Akemi was realizing what was wrong. The capsule computer was almost nonexistent. It could hold them in a stable orbit until it got within proximity of a Spo ship. Then the capsule computer would automatically slave itself to the ship, which would handle docking and extraction of passengers.

In other words, she was lucky she could think at all, or receive anything from their iGlasses, but she certainly didn’t have the capacity to send data to them.

She was trapped.

Nat was running her hands over the cords, probably checking for breaks. “I don’t know. I don’t want to unplug and replug her more than I have to. It could cause errors.”

Errors, indeed.

Angry voice again, “I don’t appreciate you mucking around with the controls! How do I know you won’t make our capsule spin into the sun?”

Sam and Nat both finally looked at the man, and Akemi saw that it was Senator Fontley – the newly elected representative of humanity to the Council. He took himself very seriously, and had already rubbed up badly against Sam and the Spo. He didn’t look very imposing at the moment, with his clothes thrown on in the middle of the night and his knees black with soot from crawling through the halls.

Sam rolled his eyes. “We can’t spin into the sun; it’s hundreds of thousands of miles away. If we spin into anything, it’ll be the moon.”

The Senator’s hand twitched, like it was just itching to slap someone. “Well then –”

“We won’t do that either,” Sam said firmly. His voice was still rough from the smoke. “This capsule couldn’t go off course if it tried. We’re trying to save our friend, so if you could kindly PIPE DOWN – “

“You watch your mouth. The Spo may think you’re an adult, but you’re not. This only proves my point…” He went on, but Sam and Nat had turned away from him.

There were three other Spo with them in the capsule. Akemi recognized one of them as a kind of handyman on the space station, the other two she didn’t know. That meant they were probably visiting the space station from the Spo planet and probably didn’t speak English.

Sam had come to the same conclusion. He spoke in Spo, briefly. “I apologize for delaying the capsule. It is our responsibility to preserve this computer. Our capsule should be retrieved as soon as possible.”

They flushed a neutral gray. “Acceptable,” said the oldest Spo. He gestured to Nat and the sphere. “Responsibility calls.”

Akemi tried to collect herself. She couldn’t send messages to Sam and Nat the way she usually could. How could she let them know she was here… and mostly error free?

Nat had taken off her glasses and was examining them.

Sam was fiddling with the ports in the wall of the capsule. “I think I should rewire her to this port. See this here? It should have at least half again as much capacity… I should have thought of that originally, but I didn’t. That might work.”

Akemi did not want him to rewire anything. Please, she thought, please, not all that nothingness again. But she had no way to tell him to leave it alone.

Almost all the equipment in the glasses was for input – she could monitor their temperature, their head and eye movement, speed (if they were in a car or something), and of course, see everything they saw. The only output, the only way she communicated, was with the data display.

Oh, she mentally kicked herself, except for the antitheft protocol. She could overheat the glasses so that they would burn whoever tried to wear them without permission.

Sam’s glasses were still on his face, so she focused on Nat, who was still holding hers in her hand. Normally Akemi’s output to the glasses was as easy as talking, but now she had to focus. Port 17… the capsule computer was so slow. She painfully made the connection to Nat’s glasses and sent the heating command.

Nothing happened.

Nat frowned and put her glasses back on her nose.

Even in Akemi’s weakened state she felt a flare of pride at the glasses she’d chosen. They were designer frames, each specifically chosen for Nat and Sam and wow, Nat’s made her look gorgeous. Smart and gorgeous.

“OW!” Nat flung her head forward and the glasses flew across the capsule. Akemi got a whirling view from that camera. Pants –ceiling – pants – ceiling – shoes.

“What happened? Are you alright?” Sam was bending over Nat whose hands covered her face.

“What is it?” the Senator said.

“Anke butte? Elsse butte!?” From the Spo.

Shoot shoot shoot! Akemi’d never tried the antitheft device before (which now seemed like a major oversight), and now she’d burned her sister.

Nat sat back, just touching her nose gingerly with her fingers. “It’s fine. Ow. Yeah, it’s okay.”

From the camera on Sam’s glasses, now very close to Nat’s face, she could see a ridge of red on the bridge of Nat’s nose, and two red ovals on each side. The skin around her eyes was tight and pink, like a bad sunburn, and the whites of her eyes were a little bloodshot.

Nat started to laugh with relief. “Seriously Akemi! Watch it. That might leave a mark.”

Sam took a second.

“Oh. Antitheft. Well, I guess we know she’s okay.” He laughed somewhat shakily (fading adrenaline) and put his arm around Nat, kissing her forehead. “That was unnerving. And very dramatic.”

“Akemi. I gather you can’t send data at the moment? No need to reply. We’ll get you all ship shape as soon as possible. I’ll have them bring a mobile unit to the capsule, and we’ll make sure you’re squared away with that one before unplugging you here.”

He leaned over and touched the edge of Nat’s glasses with his finger. “Just warm now.”

He handed them back to Nat who folded them up and slipped them in her shirt pocket. “No offense, Akemi,” she said. “My nose is a little sore.”

Sam looked at Senator Fontley, who was staring at them.

“She’s not alive anymore,” he said. “That’s a hunk of meat in that black ball. You can pretend otherwise, but it only shows that you deal better with wishes than reality.”

Nat caught her breath.

Sam glared at him. “I won’t say this again, and I only say it now because there are practically no witnesses – but you are the most close-minded, selfish, and arrogant human being I have ever met.  And you have no idea what you’re talking about. As usual.” Sam took a deep breath. “However, as I’ve told you before, I’ll try not to undermine you during negotiations.”

The three Spo looked on with interest and one was flushed with a color of amusement. That one clearly spoke English, Akemi thought wryly.

Nine Ankle Fractures: A Fairy Story

Another short story – romance this time…

 

A fairy curse is no laughing matter.

Neither is table tennis.

Nine Ankle Fractures

The worst day of my life started with a dance lesson.

The best day of my life started with a table tennis lesson.

On the whole, I think I should take up crossword puzzles or rubiks cubes, something that doesn’t take me out of my bedroom.

I left my dorm room that day (March 12) at 10am for my tennis lesson. It was starting to warm up and I was in shorts for the first time since fall. My legs (though shaved) left me feeling white and conspicuous as I walked through the gym to the rec room on the other side of the building.

I was taking table tennis purely to get my Phys. Ed. credit, and because archery was canceled. And as usual, after six weeks in class, the coach offered to give me a couple one-on-one lessons, to help me find a work around for my disability.

Now usually when a coach or gym teacher got to this point I politely declined their help, letting them off the hook for trying to get one more moderately disabled student up to par. And usually they gave me an A for effort and left it at that. But this coach…. Well, he was hot, okay? Single (not even dating anybody, I asked around), only a few years older than me, and funny. I’d been having a great time in his class.

In short, I was not opposed to a few extra lessons.

His name was Phil, and he was waiting for me, volleying a ping pong ball against the far wall, or whatever you call it when someone can’t sit still and starts to play a game with a wall. (Seriously, what is it with sports people? They’re always in motion.)

He grinned at me. “Five minutes early, that’s the spirit.”

He gave me a paddle and some pointers on returning a serve. “You’re clearing the table, see? Swipe it across and pretend you’re knocking every last thing on the floor. Or this way… yes, harder, push the air out of your way like water… okay!

“Now for your feet… let’s have you keep your feet planted, to limit your ankle movement. Normally that’s not… well, the way to make that work is to play further back. Let the ball come to you, you don’t lunge for it. It’s a more conservative game, but you can work it.”

I planted my feet as he indicated, and he went to the other side of the table, starting with a nice, slow serve.

We volleyed comfortable three or four times before the ball spun towards my left edge… and so focused on the ball, I stutter-stepped left and went down on one knee.

“Woah, you okay? That’s what I’m talking about. You could let that one go, keep your feet planted.” He came around to check my ankle.

I pulled myself up with a hand on the table, “Right, I forgot, sorry.”

He was staring at my legs, not (sadly) in an admiring way, but the way everybody with any knowledge of physical therapy stared at my legs – with frustration and doubt. The problem was that they could almost identify what was wrong, it lingered intuitively on the edge of their understanding, but it didn’t make any rational sense, so they never quite got there.

Which brings me to the worst day of my life.

It was a rainy day in November. I was thirteen, at a ballroom dance class with about ten other kids from school, and I was dancing with Robert, the teacher’s son. He was fifteen and a good sport about filling in as his mom’s assistant sometimes. He was a fantastic dancer (possibly gay, we suspected), and when I danced with him I was suddenly ten times better than normal. When you’re thirteen, that is some heady stuff.

Well, we were talking and sort-of flirting (also heady) and his mom kept shooting me odd looks. Robert ignored it and I mostly did until the end of class. I was putting my tennis shoes back on, Robert and his mom were talking by the piano, and the door to the hall closed with a slam.

I looked up, must have been a draught or something. But now I realized all the other students had left, and Robert and his mom were arguing about something. Awkward.

I walked as inconspicuously as possible toward the door, but suddenly she turned to me and pointed.

“May your feet be as iron!” she said in a ringing voice.

“No!” Robert said. “She’s perfect.”

“It’s done,” his mother said. Her face was pearly white and set and Robert’s face was grey like stone.

I stared at them. “Um. Okay. Sorry.” When in doubt, apologize. That’s always been my standard response, but I sure wish I could take that one back.

I stumbled out the door, not quite processing the fact that my feet were not working right. I was on the sidewalk trudging home almost before I’d processed what she said. I think when you see a fairy lose control it sends you into something like shock.

Anyway, when I came out of the mental fog, I realized that I could barely walk. My calf muscles were burning and my feet were dragging. I stopped, breathing heavily, and looked at my reflection in the full length window of the laundromat.

Iron shoes. That’s what I saw. My feet seemed to be incased in clunky, old fashioned ladies’ shoes (with lots of buttons) made of iron. I reached my hand down gingerly to touch them, but felt only my thick athletic socks and Adidas sneakers. But my reflected fingers were touching the top of heavy iron shoes.

Well.

Two near drownings, nine ankle fractures, and eight years later – I stood at the ping pong table and watched Coach Phil frown at my feet. I shifted them back into place and he looked up at me, smoothing his frown away.

I’ve learned to compensate for my ‘disability’ quite well, for the most part, but quick, small moves of my feet can still trip me up, particularly if I’m concentrating on something else, like slapping a tiny ball with a paddle.

Large motions are actually easier. A step is easier than a slide, and a lunge is easier than a shift. Tiptoeing is out of the question. I obviously never danced again, and Robert and his mother disappeared that same week.

Phil smiled, “Right. Let’s try again.”

After half an hour my serve was actually not bad, and I was getting better at gauging which balls to let go, and which to swing at. I hadn’t moved my feet much, which was always a plus.

“That’s good for today,” Phil said finally. “We want to stop while you’re ahead, or else you’ll get tired and start engraving mistakes.” In class he was always talking about ‘engraving’ perfect moves and ‘deep practice’ and ‘focused reps.’ I found his enthusiasm endearing, though usually I’m a very cynical person. (I can’t imagine why.)

“Want to grab lunch now?” he asked. “I’m going to Moody’s before my twelve o’clock class.”

Moody’s was a campus café, a popular alternative to the cafeteria. “Isn’t it kind of unhealthy?” I asked with a smile.

He held the door to the gym open for me. “If Marie is working she’ll throw together a great Reuben sandwich. Sauer kraut is good for you.”

I grimaced as we skirted the basketball court where two guys played. “Suaer kraut isn’t my favorite, gives you such bad breath. I mean, not you, personally – ”

“Hey, heads up!” one of the guys yelled.

From the corner of my eye I saw a basketball flying toward my head. I instinctively raised my hands, which was good, but I also instinctively tried to pivot towards the ball, which was not. My weighted feet moved badly, tangled – and I feel to the ground with a grinding pain in my left ankle. And the ball still hit me in the head. Typical.

Phil squatted next to me. “You alright?”

I winced. “Mostly.” He gave me a hand up, and I awkwardly got to my feet, putting most of my weight on my right foot. I tried to step and – “Shoot,” I said.

“Your left ankle?” Phil picked my foot up gently and I put a hand on the wall to keep my balance. He twisted my foot carefully one way and then the other. “Tell me when it hurts too much.”

“It’s – ouch, right there. Another sprain,” I told him. “I’m used to it.”

The basketball guy stood hesitantly nearby. “Really sorry,” he said. “Bad luck.”

I tried to shrug it off. “Not your fault, I have bad ankles.” And bad feet. Stupid fairies.

Phil’s hands felt cool against my ankle as he set my foot down. “I can wrap this in the clinic,” he said. “We’ve got all the athletic bandages and braces in there.”

Suddenly he picked me up, under my knees and around my shoulders and started carrying me back the way we’d come.

“Oh, hey, it’s okay, I can hobble in there,” I said. Not that being carried wasn’t everything the romance novels said it was… because it totally lived up to its reputation. Nothing makes you feel small and feminine like being carried, and Phil carried me really well. He was even stronger than he looked.

“it’s no problem. You’re a lot easier to move than a football player, you know. And it’s just around the corner.” He smiled and I admired his chin which was most of what I could see of his face from this angle.

He backed into the clinic, to avoid banging my head on the door, and set me heavily on a bench. For a moment we made eye contact, our faces only inches away. The silence in the room rang like a tuning fork, and I felt a tingle in my back.

Then Phil blinked and straightened up, looking bemused. He turned his back to me and started rummaging through a drawer.

“There’s, uh, some ace bandages or… um maybe an ankle brace.” He muttered disjointedly, sorting through the supplies.

Eventually he turned back to me, his smile and composure back in place. “Sorry, you’d think I’d never dealt with a sprained ankle before. Here we go.”

I slipped my sock and tennis shoe off and he knelt in front of me to wrap it tightly.

“You should get this checked with your doctor this week,” he said. He looked up when he was done and met my eyes again. And I swear, the silent-tuning-fork-thing happened again, and we both vibrated in the stillness. And then he leaned forward and kissed me.

Only for a moment, and then he jerked back. “Wow. Sorry. I shouldn’t – we shouldn’t even be alone in here. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

He sort of blindly shoved some crutches in my direction, and waited for me in the hall. I sat still for a second, savoring the moment, even the tension in my stomach… Then I sighed and got to my feet, using the shortest crutches. I was very good at these.

I planted them and stepped forward with my good foot and – oh my goodness. I almost yelled in excitement, but Phil might have misinterpreted that.

Was it possible… I pointed my toes. I lifted my good foot and then my hurt one (it still hurt, but who cared?) They were so light. I’d forgotten what it felt like not to have invisible weights always pulling me down. I felt like I could fly, like I could float, like I could dance…

A boy appeared next to me. He was handsome and pale and I would have recognized him anywhere.

“Robert?” I gasped.

He took in my crutches and my expression and a smile lit his too beautiful face. (I hadn’t exaggerated that in my adolescent mind, it turned out.)

“I made a note to find you, when you were free.” He took my hand. “Will you dance with me?”

“Will I dance – ?” I stuttered.

“With me?”

“With you?!” I seemed to be afflicted with repetition.

Phil pushed the swinging door open, “Are you okay? Did you say something to me?”

He looked right at me, his eyes didn’t even flicker in Robert’s direction. Clearly didn’t see him.

“I – Just a second.”

The door swung shut and Robert pursed his lips together.

“I see,” he said. “How predictable of Mother.”

He touched my lips and I pulled my head away.

“You’ve been marked by your man.” He sighed. “You would have been perfect.”

He disappeared as fast as he’d come, and I came as near as I’ve ever come to fainting. Fairies are freaking overwhelming.

When I finally pulled myself together and came out, Phil was still waiting.

He walked me back towards my dorm, and I must have been in a daze because I don’t remember what inconsequential things he tried to talk about. Finally he stopped walking.

“Look, I hope I didn’t scare you off or – or offend you. I don’t normally – I’m not some grabby coach that’s always making out with his students. I like you a lot, I have since I met you, but I didn’t mean to kiss you all the sudden – ”

I stopped him with a hand to his arm. “It’s fine. It’s – let’s just forget about it, and go get lunch. What do you say?”

He grinned at me again and I smiled in return, feeling the freedom in my feet, the feeling of a broken curse. If I knew anything of fairy tales, this meant one thing for sure:

Phil was totally my man, he just didn’t know it yet.

 

The second best day of my life began the day after we got married, when Phil gave me my first scuba-diving lesson on our honeymoon. Crossword puzzles are just not what they’re cracked up to be… I’m a lessons kind of girl.