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Every time Jamie Richards falls asleep, she’s bounced through time and injected into possible futures. And all of these diverse futures lead to one horrifying conclusion; the end of everything.
300,000 years from now, human spirits called Phelastians are finally making peace with ape-like creatures called Dwellers. Formality requires that a twenty-first century Earthling be present as witness to the treaty. A Phelastian travels back in time and recruits Whitmore Middle School’s newest student, Jamie Richards. When a Dweller overlord sabotages the celestial link connecting Jamie to her own world, she vanishes from the signing, crumbling the negotiations, and sending her on a series of mind-bending, alternate-reality adventures. Can Jamie save trillions of lives, prevent a war that has already occurred, and stop herself from meeting her self, all while attempting to stabilize creation and find her way home?
“Nothing happens unless we first dream.”
~ Carl Sandburg
I am Vixtan!
Words came into Jamie Richards mind as clearly as if someone had spoken them aloud. She was instantly awake. Nausea swirled in her belly. Pins and needles prickled her skin.
“Who said that?” she questioned.
She sat up against the trunk of the old apple tree on Macungie’s orchard.
Mid-afternoon shadows had lengthened since she’d laid down to nap. The sky was mirror clear except for a puff of cloud suspended lazily above.
I must collect you.
The voice startled her. It was so clear, so distinct. She spun around and noticed someone lying beneath the apple tree with their hands pillowed behind their head. Her jaw dropped.
“That’s me!” she shrieked.
She looked down. There was nothing there. Her hands swished through empty space where her chest and stomach should have been. Fear spiked.
The cloud dropped and enveloped the orchard in dense mist. The mist swirled and condensed into a single ball of continuously curling fog.
You do not require a mortal shell to house your spirit as we travel the strings. I will provide a duplicate of your physical when we reach our destination. Your spirit will only be away from this dimension for a few seconds. Your body will be safe.
“What is this?” Overwhelming feelings of incredulity engulfed her. “Am I dreaming?”
The dream world can be as real as the physical.
The cloud enveloped her consciousness and they bolted into the sky. It was as if she were inside a balloon. Her belly swooned. Borders of the orchard disappeared as they reached the bright white haze of the upper atmosphere. Dots of multi-colored light appeared, swirled in a tornado around her, and assembled into her body complete with the brown button-down shirt and blue jeans she’d been wearing. Air beneath her feet became a solid, yet marshmallow-consistency. She patted her face, her sides, wiggled her fingers, and ran a hand through her long, brown hair. It all felt real.
A human-like being, small and rail-thin, stepped toward her. Two black eyes the size of goose eggs stared at her from above a small, knobby nose and horizontal slot of a mouth. The being wore a gray body suit that covered from head to toe like skin.
“This is what my people looked like before we evolved into pure energy,” the being said. “I am Vixtan.”
“What is this?” Jamie questioned, her voice quaking. “Where am I?”
“Not where,” Vixtan corrected. “When. This is the city of Phelastia, which exists three hundred thousand years in your future.”
Mist cleared as if wiping a foggy lens. Huge, ivory-colored, geometric-shaped structures jutted into the pearly atmosphere and sparkled in the ultra-bright light shining from a pinpoint sun. A clear spheroid dome formed a soaring roof above the city’s gleaming spires and encased the entire metropolis within a colossal, arcing, transparent shield. To their left, a shimmering, silver path cut through the swirling cloudscape and led into the great city.
Jamie stood stunned, slack-jawed, and stupefied. She scratched absently at a mosquito bite on her arm.
They stepped onto the shimmering path which jiggled like gelatin as they walked. Dozens of beings identical in appearance to Vixtan rose from the cloudscape and knelt as if Jamie and Vixtan were passing royalty.
“Those who are able wanted to greet you outside the city despite the danger of drifting patches of Ru,” Vixtan said, and quickened his pace. “Most have never seen a pre-nova human, especially the chosen Fen Ta.”
Jamie kept up beside him and nearly stumbled into one of the kneeling figures before regaining her balance on the wiggling walkway. She glanced back along their path. The crowd of Phelastians followed a few yards behind and formed an entourage that swelled in size as they neared the city.
They approached two ornate iron gates guarded by Phelastians wearing full, knight-like body armor. The armor-wearing Phelastians bowed and waved them into an immense courtyard constructed of opalescent marble. A massive three-tiered fountain bubbled glacial-clear water that bounced and refracted brilliant winks of light. Manicured bushes covered with various shades of blue and green leaves grew in gold cylinders along the perimeter. Thin wisps of cloud-haze pooled in the uneven grooves and corners of the floor.
“This is amazing!” Jamie stated.
Vixtan nodded. “Our great city of Phelastia was our pride and joy.”
Jamie cocked her head. “Was?”
“Everything will be explained in time.”
Vixtan led her through a smaller gateway into an ornate cathedral with high, ivory walls. Crystal chandeliers hung from the vaulted ceiling.
They continued down a wide columned hallway patterned with varying shades of white and gray marble. Pictures of orange trees ripe with fruit lined the walls. The hallway ended in a spacious room draped with elaborate tapestries of vivid color. Four Phelastians sat around a rectangular table carved from a huge purple gemstone. The Phelastian at the farthest end stood up.
“Welcome, Fen Ta,” the Phelastian greeted. “We are honored at your presence. My name is Shooka Ella. I am High Chair to the Council of Phelastia.”
An alarm blared. The mood instantly electrified. A dozen Phelastians clad in armor marched into the room and lined up against the wall. Each held a metal tube about the size of a baton. Vixtan ushered Jamie to stand beside Shooka Ella.
“What’s happening?” she asked.
Phelastian soldiers aimed their metal tubes at a set of tall double doors at the far end of the room. Handles jiggled and the latch appeared to strain outward, as if something huge were pushing against it. Doors burst open and the odor of raw onion overspread the room.
A towering, albino, gorilla-like creature lumbered through the doorway and up to the table. It had huge, pupil-less black eyes like the Phelastians, but fine, translucent fur covered its burly body. Knife-size talons poked from its thumbs and three fingers. It wore a brown tunic.
The creature faced Shooka Ella and then glared down at Jamie. A shiver raced along her spine.
“Is this the pre-nova human?” the creature growled.
“Yes,” Shooka Ella replied. “She will be the Fen Ta at the signing as Delegate Zare agreed.”
“I am Core!” the creature announced. “Leader of the Dwellers and successor to become overlord.”
Core lurched back from the table and the Phelastian guards targeted their metal tubes at his head. He curled his lips, exposing long, yellow, plaque-encrusted teeth and laughed with a sound like a slaughtered pig.
“No need for this aggressive display,” Core said. “If I wanted to destroy you, Shooka Ella, you’d already be a pile of dust sifting across your beautiful courtyard. We meet two hours before lights end at the Shrine of Bella to sign the treaty and formally end the hostilities. This is all I came here to say.”
Core loomed over Jamie and glowered. Fear prickled the hairs on her neck.
“Your generation is weak, human!” he stated. “It sickens me that I evolved from you.”
He strode through the double doors. Two soldiers moved quickly to close and lock them.
Shooka Ella turned to Vixtan. “Take the Fen Ta to the nutrient replenishment structure and show her the places we discussed. Then bring her to my chambers for a final briefing.”
They crossed the courtyard and entered a huge, octagon-shaped building. Identical-looking Phelastians sat four to a table in dozens of long rows. Each table had a large crystal about the size of a bowling ball in the center. Bowls of different colored sauces graced the tables. The only sound was the slurping of the Phelastians as they ate.
“Please, sit.” Vixtan said. “Are you hungry?”
“Not really,” Jamie whispered, and took a chair.
“You do not have to lower your voice. The others are involved in their own telepathic conversations. Pre-nova verbal communication is not an intrusion to them.”
“Why is everyone calling me that? Pre-nova?”
“Pre-nova is the period before the sun collapsed into a neutron star, after which we base our linear time. Much like your cultures’ system of A.D. and B.C.”
Jamie’s attention piqued. “When does the sun collapse?”
“Not for tens of thousands of years after your end.”
Vixtan stared at the crystal, which then flashed as if a match had ignited inside.
“I ordered nourishment,” he said. “It will strengthen the cohesion of your spirit and allow you to remain on this time level for a longer period.”
A Phelastian approached and placed a silver tray containing two golden bowls of brown sauce on their table. The Phelastian also put down two spoons and two crystal goblets filled with clear liquid.
Vixtan lifted a spoonful of sauce. His lips morphed into something that resembled an elephant’s trunk and he slurped the contents.
His lips retracted.
“Please eat,” he said. “It is important that you consume the Jiji broth.”
She dipped her spoon into the bowl, lifted, sniffed, and then sipped. The Jiji broth tasted like diluted beef gravy. She drank some of the clear liquid, which tasted like water, and then cleared her throat.
“Who are you?” she asked. “What is all this?”
“Phelastians are the final great mutation of humanity,” he said, poising his lips to sip. “The last evolutionary stage of mortal consciousness on this dimension.”
Jamie’s mind filled with questions. “You were human once?”
Vixtan finished the Jiji broth and rattled the spoon in his empty bowl.
“Consume your broth,” he said. “There are some unpleasant sites you must visit before you fulfill your role in these proceedings.”
She guzzled the remainder and then followed Vixtan across the courtyard and into a mammoth square building. They walked down a long, white, sterile hallway toward a dead end. The closer they approached the dead end the more the air smelled of bleach and antiseptic.
“What is this place?” she asked.
Vixtan pressed a button concealed in the wall and the dead end slid open. Emotions of sadness and agony blew over her like a physical wind, knocking her back a step. She grasped at the entranceway for balance, her mind exploding with telepathic Phelastian despair.
Inside a huge, warehouse-like area, hundreds, possibly a thousand beds lined up like the tables at the nutrient center. A Phelastian ghost-cloud swirled in each bed. Instead of being white, their cloud mist was slate gray. Dozens more wearing body suits scurried around and tended to their needs.
“What’s…” Jamie struggled to speak. Psychic anguish pounded in her head like a beating drum. “What’s wrong with them?”
“They are casualties of war,” Vixtan said.
Jamie noticed a Phelastian on a bed close to her trying to swirl its wisps into a more solid form. Its color was almost black. In a strained, telepathic projection, the Phelastian attempted to communicate. A piercing headache hit Jamie’s mind like a bullet. She winced against the pain.
Are you the Fen Ta?
“Yes,” Jamie gasped.
The Phelastian settled back onto its bed. Its lower half flared white and then turned into dust. A burst of agony jarred Jamie’s mind. Her knees weakened and she stumbled. Vixtan steadied her and then led her quickly out of the room and down the hallway.
“Azaria has ended,” Vixtan said, and his voice was morose with sadness.
“That Phelastian just died?”
Vixtan nodded. “Yes.”
“But you didn’t even try to save her.”
“There is nothing we could do. Our medicine supply in the city is depleted.”
“What’s wrong with them?”
“They are infected with the Ru. A synthetic disease manufactured by the Dwellers. Dweller terrorist groups concoct ways to fly up here and pump Ru into the city. Those Phelastian citizens are the casualties from the last wave of attacks, before the treaty and agreement to end hostilities.”
They stepped outside. Jamie felt relief from the psychic pressure, but emotionally drained.
Vixtan leaned close and his voice grew soft. “We’ve kept our casualties hidden, but we don’t know how much longer we can keep them a secret. We have stashed a few units of a medicine that acts as both a vaccine and a cure for the current virus. It comes from the juice of an extremely rare fruit. We don’t have enough to treat those already infected, but the immediate population is protected for now. Dwellers believe we have become immune to their laboratory diseases. We can’t let them know we used this medicine. Core would never have agreed to this treaty if he fully realized the advantage the Dweller Empire has. He needs only to manufacture a new strain and he could end the rest of us.”
Jamie looked skyward. The translucent outline of the dome protecting the city reflected the stratosphere like smears of rainbows on glass.
“What am I doing here?” she asked. “And what’s a Fen Ta?”
Vixtan’s face set into unreadable lines. “Only Shooka Ella can tell you the information you seek.”
“When will I speak with him?”
“Soon. There is one more place I was instructed to take you.”