February 4, 2013
Walsh Estate Winery
45 days since The Wave
Scott Dunne and Katie Walsh watched from the patio as Katie’s parents drove away in the company van, not for business but to relax. Brenda and Jonathan Walsh needed a break from the constant news about terran transformations, talking animals, and aliens coming in and out of the winery as they please. A simple break. Like a lunch and a movie. Scott and Katie tried to convince them otherwise, but they made their point.
But if anything happens, Jonathan brought a small revolver, stashed in the glove compartment.
“I’m not liking this one bit,” Scott said, squeezing Katie’s shoulder. “The town is not even close to settled. I can imagine an idiot transforming in the theater.”
“I kept repeating that too,” Katie added. “So much for changing their minds.”
Nothing else to do but wait until they come home. Which is unnerving given that the adults own the winery. Scott and Katie, not only worried for Katie’s parent’s safety, but the young family members were not ready to take over a hundred-year-old family business.
On top of that, Scott and Katie are terrans. They were transformed since the Wave, gaining magic and body augmentations like stacked cartilage armor plating under their arms and legs, a thin hairless tail with similar armor pattern, and long elf-like ears.
Scott and Katie were the only terrans on the property at the time. And every day, more and more humans are transforming. A matter of time before the Walsh family is complete.
Robert Walsh, the oldest son, walked up carrying a wine crate for the store. The tallest of the family, he wears black over half of his body, just because he is a hobbyist ghost hunter and a bit of a grunge music fan.
“They actually did it?” He asked. The couple nodded. “Wow. I didn’t think they were that serious.” He paused and looked up at his sister. “Dad brought the gun?”
“Yes,” Katie answered.
“Good. Because I can see an idiot transforming in the open.”
“That’s what we were saying,” Scott said. “They were ignoring it the whole time.”
“I can understand. Let me know when they get back.” He adjusted his grip on the box and went back to the storefront.
The couple turned back to the house, but stopped all together from a familiar sound coming from the driveway. A pack animal’s howl, but coupled with a high-pitched electric engine of raw power. They closed their eyes, and could hear Robert increasing his pace and enter the warehouse.
“Please tell me it’s a golf cart dragging a wolf,” Katie said.
“No. Not even close.” Scott sighed and they turned back to the driveway as a motorcycle pulled up.
A vehicle to human and terran’s point-of-view, but the level of design, engineering and technology far exceeded that. The prominent feature was the tires; twice the size of rear chopper tires and thinner for tight turns. The frame was thick metal but shaped and forged like it was built by an organic metal alien. Condition was far from new; it made countless rides and survived unaccounted battles, riddled with holes, dents, and scraps of its matt black and red paint job. The engine powering the beast was a small, stable nuclear reactor, powering a high-output electrical engine, and the controls were alien in origin, including the rider’s alien language.
The alien rider with digitigrade legs took off his helmet, dreads made of wood draped over his shoulders. His black eyes with gold iris opened.
Scott shook his head. “Jaruka why…”
“Can’t chat now,” the alien said. “Saw the parents leave while coming. Good thing for me.” He got off the motorcycle and walked passed the couple, carrying a technical-looking briefcase and a black plastic bag. He stood seven feet tall and had to duck under the door jam, nearly bumping into Katie.
“Wait… come one. Why?” Scott tried to ask and went inside.
“No big problem, just taking over your big screen monitor.” Jaruka set the items on the coffee table (a brand new one) and opened the briefcase. Scott knew it’s the only communication device Jaruka had for off-world information. Scott wondered every time how it worked, including the three rings surrounding an oddly familiar purple crystal that caused the terran transformations across the world. Yet the Wave crystals can’t match the Slipspace crystal’s purpose.
In seconds, the ring device moved, purple light emitted from the crystal, and several beeps came from the device. Jaruka quickly made commands and stood up.
“We call it a television,” Katie cleared.
“Whatever, it’s mine for a few hours and you can’t do crap about it.” Jaruka stepped over a dog sleeping at the foot of the couch. Normal dog by sight, but also, it is Scott’s totem Keeji, a physical representation of a terran’s subconscious and will power. Keeji snored away after scaring animals away from the vineyard early morning, which still proved that he was useless for Scott.
“I’ll leave after the race is done,” Jaruka cleared.
“Howler Cycle race. It’s preliminary week,” Jaruka answered after connecting a small device to the LCD TV over the fireplace. Somehow Jaruka figured out the remote control and flip channels to the input feeds. A warning sign for Scott, either Jaruka finally accepted the earth’s Internet and read a owner’s manual, or the mercenary snuck in late at night and learned himself.
“Well why can’t you watch it at the ship? You know how mom and dad are when you’re here,” Katie reminded him, and Scott nodded.
Jaruka paused and looked up. “Uh… my monitors suffered spontaneous explosions.” He paused, looking around the living room, then continued with the TV. Jaruka’s device popped apart, but stayed together by soldered cables and crystals. “Don’t mind that, the homemade glue sucks.”
Katie whispered in Scott’s ear. “Meaning he had a temper tantrum again.” Scott nodded.
Picture on the big screen changed to what showed on the briefcase screen. “Good the connection works,” Jaruka said with a smile, then screamed at the ceiling, “Take that Wringheart! You’re not the only crack engineer in Nova!”
He sat back down, making the couch creak from his weight. Keeji still didn’t move. Inside the black bag were snacks from off world, some that made Scott’s stomach churn. One snack was a mix between a cockroach and hamster, roasted Scott believed. “Now be aware, I might get rowdy, so watch your faces.” He popped the cork on a bottle of homebrew he likes, sipped it, and laid back. Chewing on that described snack made Scott look away.
No matter of reasons would budge Jaruka from the couch watching an alien sportscast filled with aliens and technology other humans would die to see. Scott and Katie passed it on like it was an everyday thing. Although, Jaruka was well planted. And Scott learned earlier that fighting would not get him anywhere with him.
“So much for out somewhat peaceful day,” Scott whispered.
“We can’t leave him alone,” Katie said.
Scott nodded. “Yeah. Wanna stay down here for a chance? You’ve been in your room for a long time, you need the fresh air.”
“I know, but me and Arana are close to completing enchanted item research,” Katie said, but that caused Scott some frustration.
“You’ve had your face in that book ever since we got back. And you can do that down here. I don’t mind you two talking. As your boyfriend, you need a break.” It may be good advise for Katie, but considering that Scott could not use magic for a while (his mana heart that produces terran magic was damaged), he could not understand Katie’s long-lived fantasy come to life.
Katie had to think for a moment, and she agreed. It pleased Scott that he kissed her forehead. Besides, she knows more about the winery, good enough to help watch the phones. Still, Arana, Katie’s red-winged hawk totem, came down to talk, but through telepathy Katie mastered.
From the sportscast, the vast array of alien species changed from shot to shot. Scott was amused; some he recognized from the Endeavour, many were new. Scott took note that these Howler Cycle races are like NASCAR, but involve deadly weapons and simple objectives to gain points, including time markers and crippling rival riders.. A fight broke out half way the race between two aliens on the black tarmac, near a white-light power stream. Jaruka called one a Skrilgax, a naga-like magical species, and a humanoid Octocre that just snapped the opposing rider’s arm in three places. Odd how it looked, but the terrans and totems could not help but watch.
In the middle of Jaruka explaining the rules and various species--in between cheers and hollers at his favorite riders--a loud crash came from the kitchen.
“Whoa,” Scott yelled, but dubbed down to a whisper. “The hell was that?”
Katie stood up from the couch, knocking over the phone and notebook. Arana was behind her, startled that she flapped her wings. “Sounds like the window. I’ll check it out,” she whispered too.
Scott stood. “Uh, remember last time you used offense magic,” he said. “Either a stranger or it’s Jacob ditching school again. I’ll check it out.”
“But you have no ma…”
“I’ll be fine. Trust me. I have Jaruka to back me up.”
Jaruka slowly looked up at Scott with a glare, whispering, “Are you mad? I never miss these races.”
“So I have no real backup?”
“You fired a rifle and nearly killed an immortal. You can handle it.” Jaruka took another drink.
Scott rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll bring Keeji.”
Keeji huffed, protested for a second to sleep some more, but got up. Seemed that he was pretending to sleep.
“And turn the sound down,” Scott asked Jaruka, and he did by half.
Since the Wave and the countrywide zombie attack, Jonathan placed weapons everywhere. Guns he kept close, but others like baseball bats, like the Louisville Slugger Scott grabbed from the fireplace. Scott became used to them. Katie fussed over them saying that her magic can protect the family and can enchant the weapons for a better “oomph,” but seeing holes in walls from unpracticed offense spells, non-magic attempts were the winner.
He and Keeji slowly made their way to the kitchen, but kept out of sight. He felt Katie’s eyes on him; Jaruka, not so much. Rummaging sounds were heard, most likely from the fridge. A Jacob thing, he always comes home from school for a snack. Or a homeless person needed food. If a terran, even more trouble. Back against a wall, the noise stopped. Scott told Keeji to peek around the corner. The fridge door was slammed shut, footsteps, and a door slam. Scott lived in the house long enough to tell it was the pantry door.
Keeji yelped and backed away.
“What did you see?” Scott asked him.
The husky’s eyes were big as Ping-Pong balls and his tail was between his legs. “Not Jacob. Definitely not. It’s terran girl with big hair, and covered in dirt.”
Dammit, Scott thought.
“You just make a serious mistake,” Scott started. “You entered a house with two terrans and a grump with a bad temper. Just come on out and let’s talk.”
Scott caught Jaruka giving the evil eye, like peering into Scott’s soul from that remark.
Short pause, then a young girl’s voice came. “Scott? Scott, is that you?”
Scott blinked. “Yeah that’s me.”
“It’s Andrea. Remember me? I-I need help. Please.”
Fear in the child’s voice. Being cautious and protective of Katie, Scott cannot help but bring aid. Andrea especially, she is the daughter of a close family friend of the Walsh’s.
“Oh my… Katie, it’s Andrea,” Scott said and turned into the kitchen, but stopped.
He has not seen Andrea since last summer but still remembered who she was. Looking at the young girl, Scott thought it was not Andrea, an impostor to say. Her black hair that used to be clean and straight was tangled, unruly, and caked with dried mud. Even her clothes showed the same condition, including the rips on her jeans and Adventure Time t-shirt. The sandals on her dirt-coated feet were crying to be thrown with the garbage.
Keeji was right about her being a terran. Besides from the scrapped and scabbed two-foot tail and armor plating, and hopefully the elf ears under the hair, it was Andrea. The brown eyes could not be faked.
Yet as Scott stood there shocked, Andrea screamed. Her bare arms ripped with blue Celtic symbols, then without uttering a word, raised her hands and casted her spell.
Scott ducked away in time before the kinetic blast his face. His own tail wrapped around him from fear. The spell sailed over the lounge area and crashed into the wall, knocking down a few pictures from the nails.
Keeji screamed and ran up the stairs. “Armed terran in the house!”
Scott took a breath from the shock. “Andrea calm down, it’s me. Remember? Katie’s boyfriend?”
“Can’t be. Scott is not a terran. And he’s chubby.” True, Scott was on the heavy side before transforming into a well-fit terran man.
“I know. Scared myself too, but it’s really me. Forget the terran thing now. Just settle down and let’s talk.”
Katie came up beside him. “Andrea is that really you?” She asked from her cover.
“Is that you, Katie?”
“Yes it’s me. Relax, Andrea. Katie’s here to help.” If any person could calm Andrea, it’s a familiar, caring voice of the Walsh family.
Scott heard Andrea’s voice soften, then the sound of mana charging died. “I can’t tru… No. How can I be…” The couple understood that self-rambling she was not alone.
Scott announced they were coming around, and Andrea allowed it. Katie gasped at the sight. As did Andrea seeing Katie.
“Oh my God, what happened to you?” Katie asked.
Andrea flexed her palms. Her face changed in an instant of sadness. Tears started tricking down Andrea’s dirt-covered cheeks. It broke Scott’s heart to see that. “P-Please… help me,” she begged, wiping the tears.
Footsteps came from the second hallway toward the kitchen and a large weapon pointed down at the little girl, inches from her face. The sides and the barrel glowed neon green. From sadness to shock, she looked up at Jaruka, who was at all pissed at the situation.
“Better not cast another, this is my friend’s home,” he said with a rumbling voice.
A second later, Andrea feinted on the tile floor.
Scott and Katie’s jaws were open.
Jaruka lowered and powered down his custom plasma rifle, sighing. “What? She was disturbing the race, and I did a good deed,” he said. He shook his head and walked off, back to the living room.
Quickly the couple went to Andrea. She was out cold; no matter of words or shaking could make her come back.
“Geeze. What are we going to do?” Scott asked.
“Help me with her, we need to figure out what happened,” Katie said. They picked her up and set her on the other end of the couch. And with much talk, Jaruka packed his things and stood far from the living room as the couple tried waking up the little terran.
What Do We Know - Titan Spires
I'm honest to say this this feels and reads rushed. I need to slow down because I happened to leave out some descriptions. Need the comments on this one. This is the first third-person Mana Pool story in a while so the support is welcomed.
Mana Pool and all characters and events belong to L.J. McLean