Space Station Michelangelo

Though Rusto dislikes children, he can tolerate the orphans running around the station market. As long as they keep to themselves, only steal from the oblivious travelers stopping at Rodan 8C for resupply and not his spacecraft parts, he let the children roam free around his stall.

They like shiny things, the orphans. They like ghost stories and the latest weary stranger arriving at the station. They gossip, a lot, like a pack of sparrow drones. They are good at gathering information that way, and trading them for shiny things. Those little rats scurry through the air ducts and between the fueling pipes.

Rusto listens to their fanciful tales while he cleans his wares, sometimes curses at them but they take everything like a joke and always come back with giggling laughs. They ask which portal generator is for what class of a ship, as if that kind of knowledge could one day allow them to fly far away from this hell hole.

Not now, kids. Not anytime soon. Rusto knows. He has been rotting on this dusty colossus in the frozen vacuum for a handful of decades. They drift in space, orbiting a decaying tourist planet that fewer and fewer come for a tropical getaway. Life is a dead end and the only good entertainment—besides the bar and Red Lights—is a good story.

“…and murders. I know they are. They store the dead bodies on their ship, and ferry them off-world. I know they do. I’ve seen it.”

The orphans chitter as Rusto is waiting for a penny-pinching customer to make a decision. Rusto sits his weight on a stool behind the display stand, as the traveler inspects each and every one of the oxygen recycler filters. Rusto is patient, and it’s not like these sapient species can live without oxygen.

Personally, Rusto takes comfort in bargaining spaceship parts. His hearing is well, so naturally, the orphan’s story flows into his ears. There is a steady monotone in dressing the gears, which look positively ancient. Whichever ship they last belong to must’ve come from galaxies away.

He pays half a mind to the orphan’s new tale like he usually does. Except for this time it catches his attention. He listens closer just because of the subject matter.

The kid dumps his pocket full of credit chips on the tarp and starts sorting them by colors. He keeps on talking.

“I did saw the bodies on that Terran ship!. They store them upright, in this hard, white material. It’s like the dead bodies are frozen! It could be cry freeze, but there’s no chamber, I tell you. No wires, no nothing. I doubt it’s even the tech we can understand. It’s like those poor bastards are still alive when the Terrans turn them into white stone!”

“Terrans?” The children look at each other in horror. “Did you just say Terrans? They are freaky, that’s what I heard. And they are here on 8C? Why are they here?”

Rusto knows the Terrans are just space merchants, nothing more to it. Same as every other ship, they are stopping at the station for resupply while unloading some of the goods they are carrying. Exchange for credits, buy more goods, sell them in another galaxy.

He has seen plenty of Terran trading ships in his lifetime. Some as large as a colony ship, gliding like a massive whale in one of those old films. Or small and agile cruisers, buzzing like flies, usually with something less than legal onboard.

Rusto sees this particular ship at the hangar. It looks nothing fancy, parking at the dim end of the lot. He never sees the dead bodies, though. The children’s tales are just tales.

Until much later in the evening, when half of the market is closing shop and the other half opening up for the nightlife—the real freakish hour of the day, when everything hangs in limbo—he spots a pair of Terrans with a handcart. The metal wheels make creaky noises as they carry the stone-encased bodies down the service path. Rolling, screeching, toward a temporary stall.

They are selling them, Rusto realizes Wirth a rare kind of chill. The Terrans truly have no respect for the dead. Even on an old station like 8C, they mourn their dead by holding a drinking ceremony in the bar and float the body wrapped in good fabrics.

Did the Terran kill those people, who look like their own kin? They freeze them in stone, preserving their likeness, and use them as decoration.

The pair of Terrans look…average. They are much smaller than Rusto himself, but most sentient species are. Terrans are slim, soft, and fragile beings. Maybe that’s why they make their dead into stone things, so they become strong in the afterlife. Rusto can rationalize their culture, but even he cannot fathom why they would sell their deceased.

Perhaps some perverse customs would be interested.

The Terran spacemen are neatly dressed in khaki work suits, faded but clean. One could never know they deal in such distasteful wares. Rusto eyes their cart as they push it across the market. Before he can think it through, a boldness takes hold of him.

“How much?” Rusto asks, stopping them in the path. He searches the eyes behind their masked faces for a sign of comprehension. They must speak the common tongue if they get so far away from home. “For one of these.”

The Terrans exchanged a surprised look.

“The statues aren’t for sale, sir.”

Sta-choo. That’s what they are calling this. Rusto looks for an equivalent in his native language and found none. It should be similar to a monument. However, these things are too small and numerous to be monuments.

Hearing the Terran speak make Rusto realize a critical error. The statues are not for sale, so they are not decorative souvenirs like he previously thought. For the first time, the children may be right in their assumption.

“So what are they for?”

Rusto asks out loud. The Terrans exchanged another look among themselves.

“We are taking them back to our home system. Our Sol is too far away and we need supplies and a bigger ship. It’s waiting for us on the lower deck of this station. We are taking the statues there.”

The sound comes from the translating device, a common accessory the Terrans wear like a wrap on their necks. Their words are stiff and mechanical. Rusto understands, though he wonders how much of their true meaning is lost in translation.

“Are you going to sell them in your home system? Why not sell them here, then you don’t need a bigger ship to carry your cargo.”

There are holes in the Terran’s narrative. Suspicious. Profit is one of the usual things that drive one to murder.

“We are not selling the statues.”

They say this with finality.

The killers feel neither guilt nor sympathy. Rusto muses, since they appear to be uninterested in hurting those not of their kind. Or are they waiting for the right prey?

They are stiff–their voices flat, but otherwise polite. A peculiar behavior, but Rusto has seen worse. But the children, no one is looking out for them and no one is going to care if they disappear one day. There are young bodies among the Terran’s cargo. Naked, and tense when they died. The children may be captured turned into a statue.

Rusto looks around. They have attracted a small crowd. Workers who got off work and on their way to bars or sleeping quarters. Plenty of witnesses here. He is safe if he exposes the Terrans right here.

“Fine. If not for profit, then why did you kill them?”

For a moment, silence. They exchanged another look, as if they can communicate with looks alone. This time, entirely confused.

“We didn’t kill anyone.”

The crowd murmurs.

The pair look like prey animals, small and innocent, wrapped in bulky suits. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“You are hiding dead bodies inside the white stone. You have the nerve to parade it down the street. You have committed crimes, and are now escaping back to your home system.”

Rusto says, his voice raised. The spectators are his neighbors and friends who stand with him.

“I will report you to the Galatic Peacekeepers.” Like they’d do anything for him, but the foreign travelers don’t need to know. Rusto looks intimidating in size, and his bluffing never fails him. Yet the Earthlings look unbothered, just curious.

“You think there are dead bodies inside the statues?” They asked. “There are none. It’s all stone, marble, mineral on our homeworld.”

The small crowd of night dwellers gathers around the scene. All examine the cart full of statues with mildly horrified but interested stares. Rusto himself caves in. He has to prove himself right. Before he can think things through, he uses one of his forelimbs and gives the closest stone statue—what looks like a woman carrying a child—a shove. His touch light enough to be an accidental nudge. And with the crowd buzzing around him, no one notices.

The anatomical body falls, as if in slow motion, toward the ground. The marble leaves a phantom coldness on his skin. Then the spell breaks, the stone shatters to pieces.

The head rolls away to the side, half of her face gone. The legs break into pieces, but the arms are still half intact just not attached. Everyone stares, some gasp, and take a step back. There is no dead body inside. It’s all just stones.

The previously unfazed Terran let out a howl. A gutwrenching sound, the way it goes through the static speaker of the translator. Rusto winces, alarmed. Sounds like a battle cry. He tenses, preparing for a fight—but instead of a war cry, it was the sound of sorrow.

One of the Terrans kneels, attempting to pick up the broken pieces. They are trying to put them back together like a child with building blocks. It’s all broken now. The sharp edges of the stone cut through their gloves in the frenzy. No one can see their face behind the mask, but Rusto imagines it’s a look of desperation.

What is broken cannot be mended. The other Terran simply stands leaning against the cart, quiet.

Slowly the kneeling one looks up at Rusto. “Are you happy/ satisfied now?” The translator glitches as it struggles to convert strong emotions. “For five years we have searched far and wide for our artifact/belongings. The sculptures are a part of our history/past that is lost to the stars. We are locating/gathering them are returning them to our home.”

“I…” Rusto begins, but the Terran stands up and presses a bleeding hand to the trader’s chest.

“They are not trophies/decorations, though they used to be, a long time ago. Now they belong to our history/past that we don’t want to forget. Why did you destroy it? The sculpture is older than you, older than this space station. It was carved by hand out of a rock, long before we human/Terrans could leave our home, long before any of us was born.”

As Rusto understands it, he has done a horrible thing.

“You are not killers.”

“No. We are artists, historians, and travelers. We are reclaiming the history of our species.”

“You Terrans make wars, just like the rest of us.”

“Yes. Some of the statues are made from war. See, this one depicts a warrior with his weapon. We do not select which part of the history we tell,” the Terran paused, looking out the greasy window panel of the station, toward the stars beyond. “At least, not anymore.”

Rusto thinks he can scrap together some credits to compensate for the damage. He contemplates, though he doesn’t say anything.

The space station orphans sneak between the adults’ legs, picking up the tiniest pieces of stone, examining them under the white light.

“Well,” they say, lost for words, as is Rusto.

The Terran has stopped weeping, and together they sweep the pieces into a garbage bag and carry it like a hefty bag of coins. Neither of them speaks again, before turning away and continuing to push the cart toward their destination.

They are going home. Rusto follows their diminishing shadows with his gaze. With their long lost treasure, now found.

They are going home. After all, that’s all that tired travelers could ever dream of.

The Flowerhead Year

On the last day of high school, I got up earlier than usual. In the shower, I washed my long hair with lavender soap, and saw a few flower petals getting stuck at the drainage. They were pale white rose petals, almost indistinguishable amount the shampoo bubbles that gathered there. They twisted and crumpled, yellowing into an ivory white, like a few pieces of tissue paper.

I ran my fingers through my hair. Brunette, or so I hoped. The tips of some strands were turning white and felling off. I pulled slightly and a handful of hair fell right off. As I washed out the soap, a sinking feeling grew in my heart. I watched with mild horror as more and more rose petals fell at my feet.

My suspicion was true. As I wiped the fog off the mirror, dripping water from my still human skin, I looked into my reflection and found something other than myself. A few rogue flower buds were sprouting amongst my hair.

Not yet blooming but they were about to. Not yet a bouquet, but they were about to become as one. A bouquet of roses will replace my hair and my face. They are growing out of my scalp as if it was fertile soil, and bloom for all four seasons for the rest of the year. They would bloom forever—for a year. I would no longer have a face—for a year, which felt like forever.

I recognized this. I was becoming a Flowerhead.

It was not the news I enjoy waking up to. But the incident in the shower wasn’t the first sign of my transformation. It started with loose petals shaking out of my hair as I brush it into a ponytail for school, or the small, dead flower buds on my pillowcase. It started with classmates commenting on the scent in an attempt at small talks: “I like your shampoo, smell like roses”.

It was a strange sensation, having flowers growing from my skin. Nothing painful—surprisingly but thankfully. It was simply out of the blue. A bit itchy, a bit sore. And on the day of my graduation no less. I would be starting college as a Flowerhead.

Never imagined I would be the one who got inflicted. The Flowerhead Syndrome was random. I heard all about it on the news, but never paid two minds about it. Guess I never thought it’s something that would happen to me. The Flowerhead Syndrome—its scientific name I forgot. There are a few nonsensical Latin words in there. The name has a calm bizarreness to it.

That’s what it was, bizarre. No one knew the cause or the cure. It seized its victim for a year, and there it was gone. People have all sorts of theories. Maybe some kind of alien pollen, or a government brainwashing regime. The stories were countless. Mine? I agree with the aliens.

I was only slightly upset, as I downed the black robe and cap and got my diploma. People stared at my floral head, but no one commented anything.

It was illegal to discriminate, and more and more people are becoming Flowerheads nowadays. Life wasn’t going to get harder.

In the next three days, I went to my part-time job at the yogurt shop as normal. The flowers on my head were multiplying like an aesthetically pleasing cancer. I could still eat food, thank God, and I stuffed my face with frozen treats when the manager wasn’t looking. I could see perfectly fine, even as my eyes were covered by the vegetation. This syndrome must be either alien or magic, there can be no scientific explanation. Or both, or all of it.

The sixth day was when Mom noticed my new condition. She came out of her studio. Dried paint on her hands and apron as I was in the kitchen pouring myself a bowl of cereal.

“What’s wrong with your face?“ She asked, squinting her eyes. She wasn’t wearing her glasses.

“Oh, I’ve got the Flowerhead.”

I only had one chance to announce it, and I tried pulling it off casually. I said it as if I said I had a cold. If only the flu made you look like a mutated creature and last an entire year.

“I see,” she said. Her hand was reaching for my scalp, as if I was back to six years old and she liked to run her hand through my hair. “Are you still going to university?”

Back to this again. We had enough discussion about this. She didn’t like me going to the other end of the system to attend school, so this would have been a perfect excuse to keep me in the nest. I had my mind made up months ago.

“Yeah, why not?”

“It’s too far away. I always said you should go to a college on this world. It’s just more convenient, and you can come home for the weekend.”

Like she’d even notice when I was gone.

I might have to run away from home if it came to that, I thought idly. Imagine that, a runaway teenager at eighteen, who stuck out as the most floral person everywhere I went.

“Fine, fine,” I didn’t want to start this again. The subject change was abrupt. “What do you think of my flowers?”

“White rose,” she observed it from different angles, like my head was a still life piece. “Just like the community garden.”

It made me think. The greenery project in front of our apartment had dozens of flora from our home planet. The flowers bloomed in a miniature ecosystem behind glass domes. I wonder if the pollen theory had any true. I certainly didn’t inhale anything before I became…this.

“What are you going to do?” She crinkled her nose. My smell was apparently too strong for her air filtration implant in her delicate nose. Or that she wouldn’t;t want to catch what I had. Even though everyone knew it wasn’t contagious. Old fashioned like her still had a sort of phobia. They lived through plagues and viral outbreaks, after all. I understood.

“I don’t know. Keep living as normal I guess.”

“But its’ not normal. It’s far from normal. You’ve flowers for a head, for God’s sake! Now you look like one of those freaks on the news. What would the neighbors think? Are you going to see a doctor? I can find you a doctor, a proper one—“

There it was. The kind of outburst I was expecting. Mom always acted calm and collected because if she spoke all her thoughts out loud, they would flood with venom. She wouldn’t;t do that to me. She was the only one in the world who truly loved me. No, she wouldn’t/ she was one of the only few people this side of the galaxy who gave a fuck if I lived or died—but she could still scold like a boarding school nun.

That’s fine with me. She inhaled sharply, and turned to the cabinet above the oven to get self-medicated. She popped two pills and chewed on them like hard candies. I cringed. That was bitter. Trust me, I knew.

“And why white roses, of all the beautiful flowers of the great flora kingdom? There are so many. Thousands, millions. Why something so…basic.”

I had no smart comebacks. This fact bothered me as well. It didn’t reflect my individuality, or whatever Flowerheads on the online forums believed their flowers represented. White roses just weren’t colorful or exotic enough, and I hated that I was stuck with it for a year—unless some scientist somewhere found a cure within that time frame, which was highly doubtful.

There was much unknown about the Flowerhead disease, and yet most people didn’t care. We as a society had evolved to stop demanding answers from the universe. They simply accepted it as a part of life, like there wasn’t a walking vegetation next to them on the pedestrian crossing. Just indifferent, because if they obsess over it, the sheer mysterious in the world would blow their mind.

On the tenth day was when I have decided to start writing things down. Monumental changes were happening to me, and I would like to remember it for later. I seemed to change shape by the hour. There was no telling how many roses were on my head—or in my head, I couldn’t find a proper term—a few dozen, a few hundred? The flowers were everywhere. My hearing got bad because they were in my ear. They covered my eyes and my entire face, so eating was impossible. Somehow I still lived. The flowers had their photosynthesis, and I sense things so I could still see.

I walked around smelling like a kid who just got her hands on her mother’s perfume. I smelled like that all the time now. It made me want to avoid elevators so strangers wouldn’t look at me with disgust. It could have been worse.

I could’ve smelled like literal trash. I could. The thought comforted me so. A more romantic person than me could find a pleasant angle to this mutation. Wax poetic about the loss of self, of organic matters, and their contradictions. I could try. I promised myself I would never start self-hating no matter what. I could’ve been a lot worse.

Like my cross-system move to New Victoria, a city-state on Talos 2R. The flight was alright, for that was my first interstellar trip alone. I would never miss the in-flight menu. My fear of small, enclosed spaces got amplified. It felt like an eight-hour elevator ride.

When I arrived at the decent-sized college town I went to pick up my two suitcases. They weren’t there. I realized with a sinking feeling that the company lost my things. I’d just have to deal with it.

So, new in town with nothing but some allowance money, I headed toward the University of New Victoria. At least I wouldn’t be homeless after checking into the college dormitory.
A big city made me feel so much better.

There was a good amount of Flowerheads walking about, like it was the most normal thing. They acted like actual people, because they were. No one even bat an eye at them—I mean, us. I got compliments even. On the subway about my flowers. That never happened before. The elderly woman with a paper bag of grocery asked politely for a closer sniff. I didn’t see why not. I

t felt a bit weird, like someone asked to touch my arm. I stopped washing my head but still kept bathing every day. I watered my plants once I entered the bathtub. The flowers were blooming under the New Victoria suns, and they bloomed into the long, cold nights. Though on scorching hot summer days the buds drooped. That day my flowers looked below average, but not exactly sad looking.
Well, the old lady said I reminded her of her old garden back on the planet Earth. Our homeworld, where I had only heard stories about. I didn’t realize she was that old. An early generation settler. She gave me a fresh carrot as a parting gift when she left at Adela Ave. I never saw her again. She was a passing stranger, kind to me, and made me feel a bit less alone in this new town.
No matter how much I thought otherwise, I was still a perfectly average human. I still craved social connection even when I thought I was fine being vegetation. Growing up I tried so hard to isolate myself until my mutation finally gave me the reason to. But I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to starve myself off of human contact altogether. I was no plant. I could still find a place to fit in.
And what’s better than a city like New Victoria? It’s not as suffocating as a metropolis, but it’s still large enough to contain people of all walks of life and gave them enough space to grow—enough to not want to kill each other. I liked it. I didn’t care what I study at UNV as long as I got to stay.

It was a good Thursday night when I first stepped foot into the Salon. It was after a stressful study hall session, which lasted long after the second moon had climbed over the first one. The air smelled artificial, or at least it would’ve if I could still smell anything other than my own rose blossom. The thing about human-settled planets was that they all smelled like filtered oxygen. It was a pleasant night regardless.

The Salon opened all day and all night. It occupied a corner of the street crossing on my way back to the dormitory. I reeked of floral, but so did the Salon. A sort of stomach-turning monstrosity that was a mixture of too many flowers. Just looking at the signpost I could already tell what sort of establishment it was—a place for Flowerheads.

It was a hair salon, that much was obvious. It had one of those spinning striped post things. I didn’t know why, must’ve been a popular decoration from the homeworld.
This salon didn’t cut hair. They trimmed the flowers.

For a small, reasonable fee. Retro-styled ad posters covered the window display, showing all the sorts of bush they could trim our head into. I entered, entirely too intrigued to ignore this little shop.

“I’ll just get the basic Victorian pruning package,” I told the front desk, a yawning boy with hair made of drooping Brugmansia. He looked to be in the middle of the transformation. The flowers had yet to take over his face. I made sure to pronounce the full name of the packaged deal so he wouldn’t get it confused.

“First-timer, huh?” He glanced at my head. “I can get the gardener. Just wait over there for a sec.”

I went to sit at the one-legged bar stool. Realizing my overgrown head probably egged me as an inexperienced Flowerhead. Actually that night was the first time I realized the flowers could be styled and organized. So much so it became a fashion choice, not an involuntary disease I contracted. The signs were obvious.

In New Victoria, everyone looked some form of aesthetically pleasing, even when they—we—looked like literal aliens.

In the next months, my obsession with the Salon made time flew by. I was eagerly waiting for my plants to grow out so I can try the newest style of trimming. Some days I had only green bushes with sharp thorns, some days I have a head full of the proudest flowers. The gardeners were magnificent. They could make a Flowerhead look like a human with dyed green hair, or make them stand out with an old English royal garden on their head. As the gardening scissors snipped away my growth, the quiet sound drowned out all the other ambiance in the world. I could relax after a day of school. I could grow attached to this.

Except that this kind of entertainment would get stale after nine months. I was back to my old self. I was dragging my feet to find the next thing that holds my interest. Human or Flowerhead, I was always looking for excitement without trying to step out of my comfort zone.

It’s sad, really. Becoming a Flowerhead was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. Now I only counted until the one-year time limit was up. I couldn’t wait to turn back into a human again. I kept a calendar over my bed, counting down the days. It all went downhill after that.

The calendar becomes the only thing I could think of every day. Good memories of being a Flowerhead gets replaced by the anxiety. I was born human, I could never get used to being something else.

Till then, I will be as patiently as I could, waiting for the day I become human again. For the day I could leave this behind, just a bizarre chapter of my life.

This is Your Reminder to Vote

Ever since March, there was a feeling in my bone that this year would be different. And different became an understatement. The global pandemic and all the millions of things happening at once. Somehow all these events pointed me to November. Like something big is about to happen. As someone living in the US, it’s the election season.

Currently, I’m under a lot of stress from work and school, but I’m starting to find joy in a world seemingly mad.

You must’ve heard it from a lot of people, but go vote. Other people say it better than me, there are lists about how and why you should vote. Not many people read this blog anyway. No matter how much the future looks bleak, it’s your chance to change it.

Snapshot of my life

Currently reading: Slouching Toward Bethlehem, by Joan Didion

Currently watching: The Boys on Amazon Prime

Currently playing: Overwatch (it’s just so much fun)

Currently drinking: badly homemade milk tea

Currently listening: Caravan Palace

Current dream plan: bonfire s’more at the beach

Actual Plan: design a poster for school

Aurelia x

Quarantine Update

So, the world is in the middle of a pandemic. It feels like a surreal state we are currently in. I’m writing this post to prove I’m still alive, ha.

It’s difficult times, and I’m quarantined in California for a few months now. Tried not to leave the house as much as possible, but the reality wasn’t as ideal.

In May 2020, I had a 3 A.M. trip to the ER and got diagnosed with something serious, but at least it wasn’t coronavirus-related. In June, I had a major surgery and spent the majority of the summer recovering. Now I have a clean bill of health, and got the result back that it wasn’t cancer. All is good now.

I’m too young to die. So many things I have yet to do. Anyway, it feels amazing that I’m still alive–even though we are living in uncertain times. I have decided to stop looking forward to the better future that may or may not come, and learn to appreciate today.

Whatever I’m doing, whether it’s writing, reading, playing too much video games, and watching Netflix, I’m going to enjoy it. Because life is supposed to be enjoyable, and I’ll never again beat myself up for feeling guilty of enjoying it.

My current WIP, Cage the Magician, is going well all things considered. Not sure it will hit the shelf this winter, since I’m only halfway through the novel and I don’t want to rush it. But I will be spending the rest of summer working on it. I’ll try not to get distracted by flashy new projects. Cage the Magician is one year old now, and it has changed so much. I need to finish the first draft no matter what it looks like.

People on the internet joked that we are living in the darkest timeline. I’m sure there are darker ones than this. No matter what I put my characters through, I will always guarantee them a happy ending. Or at least a bittersweet one. Never a tragedy, because I don’t want to live in a tragedy.

This is my selfishness as a writer and worldbuilder. Now I want to live long enough to share the worlds in my head–with you.

Aurelia x

August 1, 2020

Operation Jurassic Park

Attention all operatives, the Board have decided on the recent rise in violence against human in the Xamion system. Several thousand human residents across the planets had been abducted or murdered due to racism violence. The Watcher Council has calculated a spike in the possibility of further escalation. As a response, we will be exporting Earth entertainment featuring dinosaurs to the Xamion system, which includes motion media as well as fictional prose.

The dominant species of the system, the Bildrus, have an extensive amount of historical knowledge about other galaxies, due to their mandatory education system. They are knowledgable about many systems except for the Milky Way because it’s a great distance away.

By injecting dinosaur media into the Xamion pop culture, we are expecting an increase in the fear of these prehistorical creatures. By contrast, if humans, small and hairless, survive and prevail against these fearsome beasts, the Xamion public would fearfully respect humankind as a result.

The operation is codenamed “Jurassic Park”. It should be noted that the Jurassic Park films are on top of the list.

The decision is made to protect the local human. It is not for the amusement of the Board. All operatives assigned to Operation Jurassic Park should receive their mission updates shortly.

End of announcement.

Julian is unimpressed with his new assignment. He is always unimpressed with everything. His colleagues come to CICADA for some kind of adventure, or the satisfaction of saving the world. To Julian, it’s just a job that pays well.

To be brief, his boss has him working the desk job in the cubicles. It’s perfectly safe, comparing to other professions in the same agency, and just what he wants.

He is assigned to Operation Jurassic Park, a brand new project born from the higher-ups. His assignment includes scrapping the internet from bad dinosaurs movies, pirating them (or legally acquiring them, even though he does not have enough funds to work with) and uploading them to the cloud drive.

Everyone on his floor is assigned to the same project, but different time periods. A hundred bad dinosaurs movies are playing at the same time, across all monitors. They have to screen the films to make sure they are appropriate for distribution.

On coffee break, he asks his co-worker.

“Who would want to watch these many B movies?”

“Aliens, man.”

It’s unfortunate that the first half of the 22nd century—the time period Julian is in charge of—does not produce enough good movies.

Samuel dreams of an infinite rollercoaster when he falls asleep at the cubicle desk. A beep on his computer wakes him up.

“Alert: Message from Watcher Tain.” The automated voice of the system AI says.

Samuel unwillingly opens the email. Tain is a pain in his ass.

“Hey Samuel. The operation is going smooth on my end. The films are distributed throughout Xamion. Initial feedback is quite positive. Raptor Ranch is better received than the Jurassic Park films, for some reason.
That’s not the main thing I need to talk about. Cinema is good and all but only the Xamion II and IV residents have popular movie-going habits. The other planets simply do not have cinemas or its equivalents.
We need a cyberspace website. Thanks.”

Samuel groans into his hand. You need a website, everybody needs a website.

“This is what sucks about middle management.” He mutters to himself, and turns to write an email to his goons. He mumbles while he types. “We need a website…to host all the dinosaurs movies…and novels…make the e-reader…user-friendly.”

He takes a walk around the office floor. His office building is just another boring skyscraper in downtown. With a few layers of shell corporation names, the agency’s office location is hiding in plain sight.

A thought strikes him, while looking out the window at the cityscape. Once it’s here, it hits him hard.

He rushes back to his desk and sends the follow-up email to the group.

“We do not want any erotica. I repeat, we DO NOT want to distribute any inappropriate material to Xamion.“

Then comes a chorus of “yes”, “understood”, and “sure, boss”.
A goon has the audacity to reply, “we do not?”

It’s hard work micromanage multiple realities and galaxies. Samuel cannot even manage his team of office workers without having massive headaches, one worse than the previous one.

Call her a skeptic but Lucia really cannot see how this is working.

How do you market dinosaurs to a bunch of aliens who have no definition of these creatures? How do you insert them into popular culture, and somehow arrive at a result that benefits humanity?

Disaster film might evoke sympathy inside the xeno, therefore achieve the goal. But no, it has to be dinosaurs. Not even humans want to see these shitty movies.

When she first applied for the job here at CICADA, she had grand ideas, too. Something about protecting humanity spoke to her. She truly thought she could do some good.

That’s before she discovered the leadership is a bunch of lunatics.

Operation Jurassic Park is the last straw. The Board has officially lost their collective minds.

She angrily drafts a two-week notice letter.

Attention all operatives. Operation Jurassic Park will conclude later this week. Except for the website maintenance crew, all non-essential personal will be reassigned to new or ongoing projects.

The operation is a success albeit with setbacks along the way. The Xamion residents do not have the same emotional range as humans, so it is impossible for them to feel sympathetic. Their version of fear and awe was also different, according to recent analytic reports.

Instead of respecting humanity for besting the dinosaurs, so they treat humans better, the xeno species arrived at a different conclusion The result was unexpected.

The widespread distribution of dinosaurs media had gain immense popularity among most settlements. The website has crashed twice due to the enormous amount of visitors. Tickets are sold out in the cinema (or the local equivalents). The news was spread through word-of-mouth, since the marketing team was working less than efficient.

The settlers hailed humans as geniuses, intelligent and creative for producing the media. Humanity in the Xamion system has gained a new reputation. Humanity in the system are well respected because of Operation Jurassic Park. Violence against humans has dropped 140% percent during the last month.

Some operatives are under the wrong impression, that this operation would not achieve the intended result. They are wrong.

The mission is a success.

An Apple a Day

The last time Ruso was betrayed by his handler was also his first. He wasn’t prepared for it. No one really would. Ten years in the business made him a professional, but not professional enough. Old-fashioned backstabbing was still painful.

Crawling back to his safe house in a bullet-ridden aerocar that no longer flew, he swore it would never happen again.

At least the medicine cabinet was well-stocked. The liquor shelf? Less so. For two moons, Ruso holed up in the dingy apartment in the slum. A perfect place to let his wounds heal while drowning in self-pity. A perfect time to consider early retirement from the job—one didn’t involve in his unnatural death, hopefully.

He was laying low, but it wasn’t easy. Lowdwellers talked, a lot. He could not take a walk on the street without the bounty hunters from a galaxy away hearing about. He had always been an outsider, even among his own people. Not a lot of Ghrusculs became assassins. Too cumbersome. Ruso was a small runt abandoned at birth and raised by the streets. Unwelcomed at most places he used to call home.

He wanted revenge. His handler was all fake smiles and hidden clauses. He hung Ruso out to dry, calling it a “vacation” and sent another asset to do the job. It went south, and he made Ruso take the fall. The number was half a million credits for his head, the last he heard of it.

He woke up sick. The medicine cabinet was empty. He considered a venture outside for some pain injections. Then, as if on cue, the telephone rang.

He wondered if it was telemarketing, just for the sheer irony. The phone was an old fashioned landline, one that not even the trash recycler wanted. It startled him when it worked, and was shrieking at such obnoxious volume, too.

“Hey, are you open for business?” The voice sounded young and lightly accented. Some dumb kid.

“Wrong number,” Ruso was about to hang up.

“No—wait, wait!” The voice called. Ruso stayed on, because he was getting used to the headache and bored. “Check your front door. Janajati, 200mg.”

Ruso hung up. He grabbed the rail pistol from under the couch and checked the front door through the slit. No one was outside his door. He checked the only window, next to the door and in the kitchen. Nothing stood up, just the bustling stackable dirty streets. He went to open the door. The hall was empty. A small package in yellow wrapping was sitting on the ground.

He locked the door and returned. The line rang again.

Ruso picked up.

“You kill people for a living, right?” Same kid, same trick trying to sound older than his age. “My employer wants someone dead.”

“I’m not in the business,” Ruso said tensely. He turned the package over. It has a smiley face sticker from Cha’s Pharmacy on the back. “Who am I talking to?”

“People call me ‘Green’,” the caller winced. His voice wavered briefly, perhaps was the bad connection. “Yeah…Look, man, I can’t do this mysterious benefactor thing. Woll’uyen…Tash-kor? I butchered that, didn’t I? The name’s on the file, along with his pic. Dead by Thursdays, that’s…let’s see, in five days.”

Along with the injector pack was a crumbled up, hand-written note. Ruso assumed it was the file. A printed photo of an Issiosiax in a three-piece suit.

“Okay, Groo…”

“It’s ‘’Green’,” the caller corrected him. “Dumb, I know.”

“Green. So you’re my new handler? You’re human. A human working for the Ranorks?”

“What? No, no,” Green said. “This is private interest. Half a million points’ already in your account. The other half after he makes the news. Good?”

“Who do you work for and how did you find me?”

Already, Ruso felt his resolve weakened. He couldn’t hide in this shithole forever. He had some savings from past jobs, but not enough to last. He needed this. He knew.

“My employer has their ways, I suppose,” Green was pulling away from the microphone. “Sorry, give me a sec.”

There were noises coming from Green’s side of the line. People talking. Ruso pressed the phone to his largest ear, straining to hear the conversation. Nothing much he could hear, but Green’s voice was still coming through.

“Coming, coming!” Green’s voice came from far away. “Yeah, sure, I’ll buy coffee. Latte? Two lattes half sugar, and a matcha green tea, got it.” He came back. “Sorry about that. The comm device in the package, clip it to your ear so you don’t have to lug this antique everywhere. So, we good?”

“We good.”

Retirement could wait, said every hitman ever.


Thus begin a new career with this strange human handler. Russo was making good money so he didn’t complain. Actually, there was no much to complain about. The jobs were never too simple or challenging. It kept him on his feet. In three months, he had infiltrated a galactic corporation’s regional office, poisoned a tourist trying out local street food, and got rid of a drug dealer who was getting ahead of himself. Not big-time contracts, but not small either.

Green’s voice was there to guide him, as annoying as that sounded. He seemed to know Ruso’s every move, and made odd comments now and then through the comm piece. Yet he also knew when to shut up and let Ruso do the work.

Risk had gotten used to his presence. One thing was clear. Humans were scary conversationists. They could spend hours talking about nothing.

He was sitting in a dingy diner that served “American-styled” food. Green recommended this place, said their food printer was high-quality import so it was almost the real deal.

The Contact was sitting across from him. In the private space of the red plastic booth, they discussed the target.

“I heard you’re the most feared assassin in this part of the galaxy,” the man said, blowing smoke after inhaling from a pipe-like device. “Is it true?”

Ruso was not particularly interested in the man’s information. He trusted Green would find out about everything he needed.

“I wonder if an apple pie still counts as an apple.” In the earpiece, Green was on one of his usual rants.

“Sure,” Ruso said. “If you say so.”

“Be glad your boss paid me enough to talk. Here, the guard schedule,” the Contact pushed a little chip toward Ruso. “The warlord usually wine-and-dines in the hot spring area before moonfall.”

“Back on Earth, we’ve got a saying,” Green pauses for dramatic effect. “An apple a day, keep the doctors away.”

Ruso forked his slice of synthetic apple pie.

“That sounds like an expensive lifestyle,” he said, chewing on the syrupy part.

His Contact did not have the appetite, nor did he noticed the other conversation going on, parallel to his own.

“The area is open and has plenty of roofspaces nearby,” he looked anxious, with his voice lowered even though there were few other costumers nearby.

“You’re also very well paid, if I may add.

It’s ancient wisdom,” Green said. “Hey, it’s not just in Commonspeak. It rhymes in English, too. Also Chinese. A lot of humans grow up hearing this phrase.”

“Do I look like a ninja to you?” Ruso huffed.

“Ninja is Japanese, not Chinese. You really should read more about human history. Fascinating stuff.”

“Not exactly,” the Contact said, looking away to check their surroundings the tenth time since they sat down.

“We’re done here,” Ruso said, standing up. He picked up the empty plate and handed it to the cleaning bot.

“Hey there, excuse me.” On his way out, he asked the waitress. “Do you know of a fresh produce market nearby?”

“Yes!” Green yelled, victorious, a little too loud in his ear. His voice synced with the waitress nodding. “I know I can convert you. You will see the benefit of the Earthling way!”

Ruso cleared his throat. He did not grin. He knew the area like the back of his hand.


Ruso would never become a stealth guy, not in a million years. His approach to disposing of the target was straight forward. He first takes out the waiter on a smoke break. He could not disguise as him—the uniform was too small—so he took the key card. He climbed through the outer wall of the hot spring resort, walked across to the other end of the private property, and entered the building through the roof access door.

The guards were simple. Their footsteps sounded like thunders, thanks to his great hearing. So they were easy to avoid. Since getting Green as his handler, Ruso no longer had to worry about the surveillance cameras. The human took care of them on his end.

Once inside, he took an elevator to the ground floor. The halls were empty, except for expensive vases and revolutionary-styled paintings.

He noticed the Ranork family emblem. Instantly recognizable, too. He did not comment on it. He was always silent during missions.

He strode toward the outdoor spring. This pool of pinkish water was a rare luxury in the entire Ishtri system. Someone like Tezux Ranork who dealt in shady businesses could surely afford it. Ruso knew him well.

Revenge was right under his nose, so Ruso admitted he might have gone overboard. Shot all the guards and then seven bullets into Ranork’s head. By the end, there wasn’t much left to shoot at.

“Woah,” Green spoke in the comm, for the first time since Ruso entered the resort. “Let’s not meet in real life. Now get the hell out of there.”

Later that night, near the morning, Ruso ate his apple pie at a different dinner. It tasted different, though he could not tell which was more authentic.

Green ranted away in the earpiece.

“…not that it wasn’t a mission accomplished. I’m glad Target’s done, and all, but—it’s supposed to look like an accidental drowning!” Green paused to catch a breath. “Now look at all the paperwork I have to do. How am I gonna explain now? Target shot all his guards while naked in the pool and then accidentally drowned?”

“Those gills-men drowning? You are bad at jokes,” Ruso grunted. “I’m sure you can make it work.”

“Fine, fine.” The keyboard cluttered away on Green’s end. “Ugh, my boss is gonna kill me.”

“You sent me to kill my former handler. Anything you want to clue me in?”

“My employer wants him dead. I’m just the middleman…” Green hushed his voice. “A middleman who can pick which asset does the job, and I thought…you might appreciate this.”

Appreciate killing the man who stabbed him in the back? Ruso certainly did.

“Thank you,” Ruso said. He had been considered saying this all night. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. “There is something I need to ask you, face to face.

“What? Why? This channel is totally secure, you can ask anything here.”

“If you say so,” Ruso paused briefly. “Who am I working for? Who is your employer?”

“Look,” Green exhaled noisily. “I’m just the intern here. It’s a giant organization. One beyond the imagination of either of us. We are cogs, so let’s do what cogs do best.”

“Work, get paid, and shut up about it?”

“Exactly,” Green said. “Simple.”

So it was. Ruso was a simple man. The first time he was betrayed by his handler was also his last.

This one is not so bad.

The Uncommon Database

The World of Clepsydra is nothing without “the uncommons”. Uncommon Humans are those who have survived Near-death Experiences and emerged with special, often supernatural abilities (or superpowers).

Not all uncommons become superheroes, but all are required by law to register with their local D.U.R.M.A. authority.

The Rules of the Uncommon World

The Color Rating is the official meter of measuring how dangerous an uncommon is. There are four levels, from least dangerous to the most: Yellow, Orange, Red, Crimson. This system is a general overview of an uncommon’s power. It is designed for the common public to better understand the uncommon they are dealing with.

KSP Classification is the power classification system used by D.U.R.M.A.
The three letters stand for “Kinesis”, “Situational”, and “Permanent”.

Kinesis power-users are the uncommons with the ability to weld and/or control an element. The mastery of their power usually requires constant practice. The creative application of their power is dependent on the individuals.

Situational power-users are those who can only use their power under pre-determined, often unchangeable conditions. Some situational power can only be activated under ex

Permanent power-users are those who cannot turn their power off. These are the people who are physically or mentally altered when they gain their powers. A Permanent power may also be invisible, described as an “aura”. One thing in common, Permanent powers have no off switch.

All uncommons require Fuel to use their power. Fuels vary by individuals. Some uncommons do not know what their fuel is, even though it’s in their best interest to find out about it as soon as they gain their power. Which isn’t always easy, since the fuel can be something obscure.
Since the fuel is so important to the uncommon’s power performance, many keep it a secret as a strategical choice.
It is considered bad form to ask an uncommon about their fuel.

Alright, enough of all that basics…

Here we have the Database, a one-stop collection of all known uncommon humans.

Keep in mind, we are venturing into MINOR SPOILER territory. Keep reading will not hinder your enjoyment when reading the books, but some of you might prefer to go into it blind.

Skylar Griffin, AKA Clepsydra

Age: 18

Gender: female

Alias: Glitch (as a member of the Masks), Chrono (assigned by DURMA caseworker), The Timekeeper (by Starlight)

Appearance: Dark hair, light brown eyes. Average height and build.

Identifiable Marks: Needle tattoo on the left inner wrist.

Additional Notes: Veins glows gold when using stasis

Family: Malcolm Griffin (brother)

Education: high school graduate, college in progress

Power: chronokinesis

KSP classification: Kinesis

DURMA Color Rating: Crimson

Counteraction: All operatives are advised to use caution when interacting with Clepsydra. There is no known counteraction for her stasis power. Look for a tell before she deploys time stasis. MUD (Module for Uncommon Disobedience) is only effective against touch-based aging power. The use of a power nullifier is currently the most effective way to contain Clepsydra.

Near-Death Experience: The train wreck at Wilkindale, RM.


BRIGHT DECAY Sneak Peek: Chapter 3

Author’s Note: BRIGHT DECAY is a superhero sci-fi about a girl who can stop time. As of June 2019, the 90k-word novel is available on Amazon. Right now, you can read the first three chapters for free, here on my website.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3   Mirage 

Skylar lived with her neighbor, and not by choice. It was the third house down from her actual house. As a minor, she couldn’t live alone when her brother Malcolm was away for college. 

Mrs. Kersey, the neighborhood grandmother, had been her guardian for the past two years. She was nice enough to take up Skylar as a charity case, though she got paid to offer Skylar food and a roof. As an empty-nester, she liked having one more kid but not the future responsibility of it. Skylar treated the house like a hotel. They tolerated each other with pleasantry and distance. 

Skylar was moving out today. She had already packed up her things in cardboard boxes. 

“Don’t throw the door,” Mrs. Kersey had yelled from the kitchen. Skylar obediently propped the front door open. A box in arms, she walked down the sidewalk and placed it in front of her house. It was identical to Mrs. Kersey’s, but it looked deserted. The dust and neglected flower beds completed the run-down look. She put the box down on the front porch and went back for another.

When she was moving the last box out, Mrs. Kersey was at the door, supervising. Skylar had once eaten out of her snack cabinet, which wasn’t included in the contract of two meals per day. After that, she was always nervous about Skylar stealing. 

“Come to visit me often.” Mrs. Kersey smiled a fake smile, ready to close the door.

Skylar wouldn’t visit her unless someone was pointing a gun at her, but she still nodded. 

Finding the key somewhere in her backpack, Skylar unlocked her childhood home. Nothing was the same but everything was the same. It was no longer familiar enough. She hated how she could smell the scent of the house.

She moved everything inside and into the guest room on the first floor. She minimized her need for air, but still coughed when she entered. Setting the boxes down also kicked up another puff of dust. 

When she had finished the move, she sat on the couch and turned the screen on. It was an old model, small and slow, but it worked. Skylar had it playing Uncommon Report while she at least attempted to clean the house. 

The show was a rather successful one. It reported all news about uncommon humans around the world, from serious to hilarious. 

Her wearable vibrated. She looked down at the beeping screen on her wrist. It was Malcolm. 

“Hi,” she answered the call. 

“Hey you,” came Malcolm’s annoyingly cheery voice. “Sorry about the ceremony. Couldn’t make it. Congrats though.”

“It’s fine. It’s just that, a ceremony.“

“I’m taking the train. Leaving Duskim at 11 pm, and arriving at 5 in the morning of the 19th.” He was used to talking fast. “Are you coming to the station? It’s okay if you don’t. I’ve …acquired a lot more stuff this year, and I need an extra hand.”

“I don’t have a car.”

“Ask Alysia.”

“Her car’s too small. Plus, she’s probably working.”

“Mrs. Kersey?”


“Fine. You can walk. It’s only, like, two miles.”

“Alright.” Skylar wouldn’t admit it, but she was excited to see Malcolm again. He was one of the few people in the world that she got along with. 

“Well, see you then. That’s next week. Don’t forget.” He hung up quickly.


Two days came and went. Skylar had sunk into the couch. The house became livable, and she didn’t seek to improve it more. She hadn’t gotten up for a while. Burying herself in blankets while the air conditioner was on, she set the temperature to make the house as cold as winter. Just as she liked. 

She read a novel, something cheesy about a superhero hiding his identity from his girlfriend. The screen in the living room droned on in the background. On and on about the uncommons taking all the common jobs, until the topic shifted to the uncommon human incident at the school. 

Skylar perked up. She patted the couch, found the controller and turned the volume up.

“…Luckily, no one was hurt. No living things—that includes students, that includes the lab rats, was affected by the transformation…” 


“…Wilkin Hills High School, now more widely known as “the golden school”, will be opening in this coming semester. The structure was deemed safe by local authorities and D.U.R.M.A. It seemed like a result of new uncommon human awakening, though we are still waiting for confirmation from D.U.R.M.A. According to the school officials, Wilkin Hills has unexpectedly received increased enrollment of students coming from all over the nation. It’s not every day your local high school becomes covered in precious metal…”

Skylar stared at the screen, which continued to show the current state of her high school. It was covered in gold. The buildings, the walls, the cracked pavement. And then the classrooms, hallway, the tables, and chairs. 

“…during the summer. Police forces are stationed on the lookout for trespassing. Two were arrested yesterday, claiming to be students while attempting to steal a ‘gilded’ chair.”

Something must have gone wrong. Skylar wasn’t there to see it happen, but she was sure that it was Palmer’s fault. Perhaps he lost control of his power and turned his surroundings gold. 

He messed up, bad. But it was still good to know he couldn’t turn living things gold. If he could, D.U.R.M.A. would probably put a bullet in his head…if it could get through his skin.

She tapped on the wearable on her wrist. The circular screen lighted up. With a few swipes, she was calling Alysia. She prepared her sentences as the device beeped. “Did you see the news?” she was going to say. “Wilkin Hills turned entirely gold.”

In the end, Skylar couldn’t reach her. The line died when Alysia didn’t answer. When Skylar tried again, the call didn’t even attempt to get through. She sighed. Alysia probably forgot to charge her device. She always forgot.


Alysia was gone.

Alysia’s parents were carefree people, caught up in their art. They ran a studio on the side of the road, famous for selling paintings to random passersby. 

Skylar liked those paintings, but she liked Alysia more. 

Alysia was gone and they didn’t take notice, since “she’s an adult, she can take care of herself.” 

On the third day, they realized their daughter hadn’t come home. They hadn’t seen her since the morning of the graduation day, when she had told them no need to come to the ceremony, since she wouldn’t be there. They shrugged and agreed. 

They checked her room, no sign of anything. Everything was normal, even the degree of messiness. 

They called her wearable. The battery had died and they saw Alysia had left the charger at home. 

And finally, they went to the police. 

The local police force had their hands full with the gold incident. D.U.R.M.A. agents were in town, and there was a new uncommon human. The school had been shut down for deep inspection. An 18-year-old’s disappearance wasn’t too high on the priority list. Alysia had a car. She could be anywhere.

“She could be taking a spontaneous road trip, all by herself,” Skylar told the officer taking her statement. Yes, Alysia went away. But nothing worse was going to happen, Skylar thought. In fact, it was better that she was away from the stalker group who wanted her power. Alysia was safer away.

Skylar repeated the tale of what they did when they last met. The car crash, the ice creams, the tattoo. Skylar told them about the tattoo and showed them her wrist. It looked nothing out of the ordinary, though the officer scowled at it. He was probably thinking about “DIY skin infection.” 

Skylar made sure to leave out the part of Alysia being an uncommon. She had promised not to tell. What if Alysia turned up a day later, she’d be pissed if Skylar had snitched. 

Skylar wasn’t about to lose her only friend. 

Leaving the station, Skylar headed to work at the fast-food chain. It was a job she hated, but it gave her money and something to do. 

She was in deep thought when she rotated between flipping burgers and handling money. When the regular who stress-ate himself to obesity told her to cheer up, she realized the gut-wrenching anxiety was real. She stared at the double-double, as her heart slowly sank into her stomach.

Reality became clear of fog. 

Alysia was gone.

At night, she lay on the mattress and stared at the needle tattoo. Pressing on the eye of the needle, she willed it to come true. It was perhaps not a good idea. The needle fell off and stabbed her in the chest. She yelped and jumped up. She strained her neck, looking down. A bead of blood oozed out. Other than that, she was fine. She had not yet sighed in relief, when she realized the needle was missing from her wrist.

“Shit,” she muttered. She sat up in a stiff position, carefully avoiding movement. Scanning the entirety of her body, paying attention to the wrinkles on her pajamas, she cursed herself for being stupid. 

The needle was gone. Her mind raced to the worst-case scenario. What if Alysia was dead, and the tattoo was gone with her?

She found the needle next to her pillow, and put it back on her skin. Her heart was still racing when she looked into the bathroom mirror. Her wound was fine. It was like a paper cut, and even smaller. The blood washed off when she sprinkled some water. 

Everything was fine.

The next day, a cop car parked in front of her house and the same officer came knocking at the door. Skylar couldn’t help but feel like she had done something wrong. She wasn’t the last person who had seen Alysia…was she? She went with him to the station for more questioning. 

Mrs. Kersey was standing in her front lawn, and stopped watering her blueberry bush to stare at the cop car. Skylar sighed. By the end of that day, the entire elderly community would know that strange girl was going to juvie.


Sitting on one of the waiting seats, Skylar distracted herself by watching the busy proceedings in the station. The small-town police department had received unexpected attention during the last few days. People from the school, neighborhood, and media came in and out. 

Skylar bounced her crossed legs, looking around for the D.U.R.M.A. troopers. There were two of them standing guard outside of a conference room. They stood at a casual stance, aimed not to alarm the others. Still, their black body armors and half-face masks deserved sideways glances. 

The conference room door opened and closed. A fragment of conversation slipped out. 

“…though we strongly suggest you come with us to the Duskim HQ.” 

Skylar didn’t have time to digest what it meant, or see who was inside. She shrank back under the gaze of a D.U.R.M.A. agent. 

“This way, please,” he said flatly, turning around.

Skylar stood up and followed him. She was slightly trembling, she hoped because of the cool air conditioning.

They entered the conference room. The agent went down and sat at the oval table, next to the woman Skylar had seen at the crash site. On the other end were Palmer and his father, gazing curiously at her. Plenty of space in the middle. Skylar hesitated and took a seat, not sitting next to anyone.

“Do I need a guardian…or lawyer?” she asked, folding her hands on her lap.

“No need for that, Miss Griffin. We are just going to talk,” the woman said smoothly. “I work for the Duskim Division of D.U.R.M.A., Department of Uncommon Registration, Management, and Association. You can call me Inspector Maxwell.”

Skylar nodded and quickly rehearsed a series of pleasantries in her head. “If you don’t mind me asking,” she slowly said, “why am I here? I’m neither an uncommon nor do I know one. Unless you think I’m…”

“It’s alright. We have found no reason to suspect you,” Maxwell said, her voice calm. “At this moment, Alysia Sloan’s disappearance is classified as a runaway. There was no sign of abduction or murder.”

That was a relief, yet the way Maxwell said it so easily made Skylar queasy. 


“All you need to do is listen as we explain our progress, and offer your insight if you want to.”

Skylar didn’t see why not, so she nodded.

“It came to our knowledge, that the two incidents could be connected.” Maxwell addressed the whole room, then turned to the parents. “Your son’s awakening and her friend’s disappearance both happened on the same day. They were both in the same grade, shared two classes out of five. Mr. Stevens, can you remember any clue why Alysia would want to run away from home?”

“We didn’t talk much.” He sounded deep and echoing, perhaps an effect of his new autonomy. “I don’t see why she would, but then again, we only ever talked about schoolwork when we talked.”

Maxwell nodded slowly. The agent took notes on a flip notebook, expressionless.

“As it is well known, new uncommons are quite unstable when it comes to controlling their powers…”

“We were here at the station the entire time,” Palmer’s father immediately said. “If you’re implying something.”

“We barely know each other,” Palmer exclaimed, despite the lack of emotion of his golden face, looking embarrassed by his parent’s outburst.

“I’m simply gathering information.” Maxwell smiled. “I’d like to know about how you turned your high school entirely gold, save for the living beings. The police report was rather vague.”

“It was an accident.”

“Becoming an uncommon can be quite exciting.”

“Listen,” Palmer’s father began. “My son–”

“Skylar, do you believe the incidents were connected?”

“I don’t know.”

“Somehow, I do remember seeing her in the crowd.” The Inspector tapped her jaw. “The hair stood out, and casual wear instead of the graduation gown. As I recall, she looked rather uneasy, and you two left the scene soon after. Any idea why?”

“We didn’t talk about it,” Skylar swallowed. “No offense, but maybe she was scared of what she just saw? The car turning gold and the portal was…unexpected.”

“You are certain that she is not an uncommon.”

“I am…certain.”

“Forty thousand people in this town and two are powered.” Maxwell agreed. “The uncommon population was quite sparse, so yeah, it’s unlikely to have another uncommon around.” 

“It is unlikely.” Skylar agreed. Uncommons were one in a million. 

“Let’s wrap up. Skylar, if you hear from Alysia, let us know. Otherwise, the police will be searching her house and workplace, as well as tracking down her car.” Maxwell looked at her while she was standing up. Skylar nodded and slowly retreated toward the door. She wanted to give them privacy as the Inspector talked to the family.

“As for you, Palmer. Go home and look at the brochure I gave you. Get adjusted. Since you already got registered, the choice is yours. Though I would say the Academy would be a wise decision, the resources…”

Skylar didn’t let the thought take root in her head. There were people with special abilities in this world. Most people were common. She had long since grown out of the fantasy of having a superpower. Her reality was what it was. It was…normal.

When the door was closing and she was free to go, Skylar heard the D.U.R.M.A. Inspector’s voice from within. “It is always a good idea to plan your future around your power.” 

Skylar scoffed. Some people could have their lives forever changed in just one moment. Some people couldn’t.

Get the full book on Amazon! It’s the best way to support a writer. My appreciation in advance and hope you enjoy 😀

BRIGHT DECAY Sneak Peek: Chapter 2

Author’s Note: BRIGHT DECAY is a superhero sci-fi about a girl who can stop time. As of June 2019, the 90k-word novel is available on Amazon. Right now, you can read the first three chapters for free, here on my website.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2    Needle 

Skylar left the ice cream parlor with a cone in each hand. The receipt was crumpled inside her palm. West Coast summer in the Pacific Northwest was usually more pleasant than this, but this lukewarm summer day was perfect for ice cream. She didn’t have to worry about them melting onto her hands. 

Alysia gladly accepted hers and took a generous lick. The two of them curled up on the car seats. The engine was off. The windows were down. They parked in the plaza, in front of the ice cream parlor. The lot was mostly empty. 

Skylar raised her legs to rest them on the dashboard.

“What do you think of the Golden Boy?” Alysia asked casually. 

“Palmer?” Skylar was caught off guard. “What about him?”

“Do you think he’s gonna join the Academy? I heard he had been planning to join the military. That’s basically the same thing, but more…uncommon.” Alysia giggled at her own genius. “Or, he could start a jewelry store, turning junk into gold.”

“He could learn more about his power,” Skylar pointed out. “Academy could be good for him.”

“There’s really not much to learn. I mean, he touches something, it turns to gold.”

“He could learn to…not turn everything to gold.”

“Is that even possible?”

Skylar took small bites of her Rocky Road. It chilled her teeth.

“Did you see him turning back?” she asked. “Or is he going to be stuck like that for the rest of his life?”

“No idea.”,


“There are worse-looking uncommons out there. He’s fine.”

“It’s still…kind of weird,” Skylar decided. “Some look completely normal, some could never blend in.”

Alysia thought about it. “Do you think that woman is uncommon? She looked normal, but she does work for D.U.R.M.A.”

“Not all D.U.R.M.A. employees are uncommons, I don’t think.” Skylar guessed. “Otherwise they would be a very small organization.”


Their scoops were diminishing. Alysia twisted the key and turned on the air conditioner. Music blasted from the radio. Alysia turned it down.

“What’s the thing you want to show me?” Skylar asked, remembering the topic. 

“We can go back to my house, if you want.” Alysia looked around their surroundings. “It’s not exactly convenient to show you here.”

“Okay.” Skylar knew not to ask what it was. Alysia liked her surprises.

They pulled away from the lot and onto the road. Ravenmont had mild summers, though it got hotter into July and August. It was mid-June, the best days in Skylar’s opinion. The old sedan raced down the open road. Alysia drove it as if it was a sports car. 

“It must be kind of fun to have powers,” Skylar mused, rolling down the window.

Alysia glanced at her briefly, then fixed her eyes on the road.

“It must be.”


They arrived at a small one-story house on the edge of a neighborhood. Their town was calm and clean, located on the outskirt of the city. Their neighbors had well-trimmed lawns and American flags near the front door. It was almost July, after all.

Alysia’s family had lived in Washington state until the 5/25 incident that had rendered Seattle uninhabitable. That was four years ago. A terrorist group had attacked a family of uncommons, who defended themselves somewhat successfully. The collateral damage, however, laid waste to the city. 

Alysia and her parents had evacuated in time, and they left the state altogether. Ravenmont was located under Washington and above Oregon, so the state became their next choice of a home. They had been living in Wilkindale since. 

“Come in.” Alysia parked the car on the slope in front of the garage. She took the duffel bag and swung it over her shoulder. “My parents are at the studio.”

Each house that was not Skylar’s own had a distinctive smell. Alysia’s home smelled like a bird’s nest. Her parents’ artworks and supplies stuffed the place. Large canvases leaned against the walls. 

Skylar navigated the walkway, following Alysia to her room. Alysia kept her room dark with thick maroon curtains. There were no ceiling lights. She walked over to her desk and turned on the lamp, next to her collection of alien plants. Three pots in different sizes, but none larger than a palm. Two were obviously dead, at least to an earthling’s eyes. The other one was a blight sight, but flowering. Blue shimmering bulbs hung low.

“The greenhouse said they should all bloom,” Alysia explained upon seeing Skylar’s glance. “I don’t actually mind though. You get what you pay for.”

“How much are they?”

“A hundred bucks for all three. It’s a bargain.”

Skylar nodded as if she thought it was indeed a bargain. “Where did you get those?”

“A greenhouse. I already said it.”

Normal greenhouses didn’t stock alien flora. Skylar glanced at the plants again. They must’ve been from a questionable source, but she didn’t point it out.

Skylar sat down in her usual place near the window. 

Setting the bag on the carpeted floor, Alysia plopped down in front of Skylar and reached over to open the zipper.

Inside, there was nothing too strange. Sports clothes, like Skylar had guessed. Alysia took them out and threw them to the pile near her bed. 

A paperback book lay at the bottom. Alysia removed it without giving it a second glance. Skylar saw it was a science fiction. 

“Wait a minute.” Alysia stared at the empty bag, thinking. She then went back to the clothes pile and dug out a sweater. She unwrapped the bundle, revealing a bottle of ink. She set it aside and raised the sweater with both hands. It was in navy blue, the school color, with “WHHS” on the front. Wilkin Hills High School. 

“Can you believe it? I’m never wearing this shit again.” She let out an exaggerated sigh, then lowered her voice to a mutter. “Great.”

“That’s a bottle of ink.” Skylar glanced at the object. “That’s what you are showing me?”

“There’s more.” Alysia ignored her mocking tone. She reached into the pocket of the sweater and took out a pencil pouch. “Promise you won’t laugh, or get scared, or call the cops?”

“Sure.” Skylar let suspicion drip from her voice. “I promise.”

Alysia crossed her legs, one hand holding the ink bottle, the other holding the pencil pouch. She took a deep breath. 

“I have uncommon power,” Alysia said.

Skylar blinked. “Okay…” She slowly processed the information. “What’s your power?”

“I can—” Alysia began to speak. “Uh, let me show you.”

She set the objects down and lifted the hem of her t-shirt. Skylar’s eyes widened as she saw the flower there. It was a rose on a thin stem, inked on her rib cage.

“You got a tattoo?” Skylar asked. “And you didn’t tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.” Alysia huffed. “Now shut up and look.”

She touched the rose tattoo, with her thumb and index finger closed upon the stem. Nails quietly scratched the skin. 

Her hand pulled away, holding a real rose.

“You…”Skylar gasped. “Wow!”

The tattoo was made of dots and lines, but then it became the real thing. Three-dimensional, organic, real. Rose petals fluttered as Alysia lightly shook the flower. Instead of being red or white, or any natural color, it was tan like the color of Alysia’s skin. Other than that, it was every bit as real as something that grew from dirt. 

Skylar inhaled the air. A fresh fume, a pleasant scent. 

The tattoo was gone, turned into the real thing. Alysia let her shirt down, grinning cheekily. 

“What do you think?”

“This is magic.” Skylar decided. 

Alysia threw her head back and laughed heartily, the weight lifted from her chest. 

“I thought you’d think it’s creepy,” she admitted. 

“It is. Kind of. It’s way too cool.” Skylar was grinning. “So this is your power. Turning tattoos into real things?”

Alysia nodded. “I’m learning to do tattoos, look.” She grabbed an orange from her table. 

Alysia turned it around and showed Skylar the sketch of an origami crane on the skin of the orange. At first look, Skylar thought Alysia had drew it on there. Upon closer inspection, the dark lines were made of multiple dots. 

“I was practicing. They not only work on me, but other things as well.” She touched the crane, and the origami came alive and fell into her palm. The fruit became ink-less. Alysia pressed the origami to the orange, and the tattoo reappeared.

“You try it.” Alysia shoved the orange into Skylar’s hands. “It should work. I have a feeling.”

Skylar touched the orange and nothing happened. 

“It’s not working,” Skylar said. “Should I press harder?”

“No need.” Alysia stared at the orange.  “Just think of it becoming real. It should work.” 

It was peculiar how the orange paper crane just fell out of the curved surface and into her hand. Skylar stared at it with her mouth slightly open. She turned it around in her hand.

“Do your parents know?”

“My power? No.” Alysia scoffed. “They’d freak. And they’d tell me to get registered.”

“You don’t want to?”

“Of course I don’t. I did look up the registration process. There was fine print, saying technically D.U.R.M.A. could conscript you.” Alysia gestured as she spoke. “You saw what Carver was doing, right? His power is so convenient. His boss is probably laughing in his sleep, getting his hands on an uncommon like that. I bet he works all day, opening doors. He’s basically the D.U.R.M.A. Express.”

“There are other options,” Skylar told her. “Imagine what you can do. You can open a tattoo parlor.”

“Mm, that would be nice,” Alysia hummed. “People from around the world would come and visit my little shop. I would charge outrageous prices…” 


“Do you want one?” Alysia abruptly asked. “I have my tools here.”

Skylar hesitated. She never thought of getting a tattoo, but she didn’t hate the idea of getting her skin inked, either.

“It’s okay if you don’t,” Alysia quickly said. “I understand. It’s a bit weird, and not everyone likes tattoos.”

“Have you tried it on someone else?” 

“A teammate,” Alysia admitted. “Brea Harada. She always wanted a tattoo but she’s scared of the parlors. She read somewhere that a hand poked tattoo hurts less. I’m not sure.” Alysia played with the ink bottle. “She doesn’t know about my power, though. You’re the first one I told.”

Skylar nodded in appreciation. “But isn’t it kind of risky? What if one day her tattoo…falls off?”

“I gave her a star. A tiny, simple one. Here.” She pointed at her ankle. “Plus, it won’t come off unless she wants it to. Even though it does, I doubt it’d be much of a difference.”

Alysia let Skylar think for a moment. 

“Alright.” Skylar agreed. “I’ll do it.”

“Great! What do you want? I can… I have to do it life-like. But nothing too difficult.”

Alysia emptied her pouch. There were needles and threads, even a ruler. She pulled her notebook to her lap, a pen in hand. She was looking at Skylar with expectation. 

Skylar wasn’t going to back down. She scanned the room, looking for inspiration. Alysia’s belongings were quite ordinary, and she didn’t want the quirky ones forever on her skin. 

“A needle,” Skylar said.

“A needle?” Alysia arched her eyebrows. 

“Like one of those.” Skylar pointed at the tattoo kit. “But shorter and smaller. Like a sewing needle.”

“Ah.” Alysia sketched. A thin stick with a hole at one end. It should be easy to do. “Why a needle?”

“Why not?” Skylar knew why. They had met on the first day of an elective art class. The teacher was quite…experimental, and had the bunch of students take up sewing. Skylar had been sitting alone and couldn’t get the string through the hole. Alysia had taken up Skylar as a charity case since then. 

Skylar would never tell her that was the reason. She would laugh. 

After Skylar decided to put it on her inner left wrist, Alysia prepared the tools and got started. 

Skylar was trying to live recklessly, so she propped her arm out and waited. It was a moment so intense that she knew she would replay it in her head. She stored it in her head nicely, in case of future viewing. 

It didn’t hurt too much. Alysia cursed about her low-quality tools as she had to switch to new ones during the process. 

When it was done, Skylar examined the tattoo under the light. It was two inches long. A thin black line. Alysia was packing things away. Skylar attempted to help by cleaning the trash, though there wasn’t much.

“I wish I could just do this forever,” Alysia said wishfully, out of nowhere.

“Making tattoos?” 


“That’s nice. I bet people out there would like this. You can really make a living out of it.”

“Yeah…I wish.”

She stopped packing and just stared at the equipment by her hands.


“I don’t know, everything is so…strange. I’ve been hoping for this all my life, and now I have a superpower. But everything isn’t suddenly better. I don’t know what I was expecting, sunshine and rainbows?”

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s a group. They’re after me.”

“What? How?”

“They want me to arm their people. They have a militia or something. I don’t know how it happened. I’ve been careful. But they’ve been calling me and wanting to meet, and I don’t know how they got my numbers…”

“You should call D.U.R.M.A. They will protect you.”

“And be registered? And be used the same way?” Alysia growled. “You don’t understand. This group is dangerous. I know their kind. I’ve…I’ve seen them in Seattle.”

“But the Brigade is gone.” It was true. The Brigade had five uncommons and they all died during the Battle of Seattle. The common members were either dead or in prison. 

“Now they’re recruiting. Uncommons like me.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to run,” Alysia said. “Get out of state. Maybe to the East Coast. They’d have less influence there. I got a train ticket, and I’m leaving tonight.”


“You don’t understand,” she said gravely. “They showed up at my parents’ studio yesterday.”

Nothing good could last. Skylar knew Alysia would cut ties sooner or later. After all, high school was over and they both had to move on to the next stage of life. She expected Alysia to use an excuse because Skylar wasn’t as cool as her. She never anticipated this.

“You won’t tell anyone, right?” Alysia asked, somewhat insecurely.

“Of course not.” Skylar saw her visibly relax. “Unless someone’s torturing me for information. Then I would save my own life.”

Laughing, Alysia proceeded to swat her arm. 

“But seriously. Promise me you’ll keep this a secret. I’d rather not deal with the D.U.R.M.A. bullshits now.”

“I promise.”

The sun was setting. Alysia offered to drive her home. They quietly listened to the bad music on the radio. 

“Thank you,” Skylar told her when exiting the car. She was being unnecessarily formal. “For telling me about…you. And for the tattoo.”

“Thanks for being my test orange.” Alysia grinned, though she looked exhausted. “Now you have something to remember me by.”

Skylar was nodding slowly. Somehow this felt different. She imagined getting a tattoo from Alysia would be different than getting one from a parlor, and not because Alysia is an uncommon human. 

“I’ll find a way to call you,” Alysia said. “Or write a letter.”

The day of their graduation had become much more significant. Skylar watched Alysia drive away and disappear. 

Chapter 3

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BRIGHT DECAY Sneak Peek: Chapter 1

Author’s Note: BRIGHT DECAY is a superhero sci-fi about a girl who can stop time. As of June 2019, the 90k-word novel is available on Amazon. Right now, you can read the first three chapters for free, here on my website.

Chapter 1   Affinity 

The bell tower struck the hour, mainly for sentimental reasons. Skylar watched with mild surprise. The thing never actually worked. In her four years here, she had only heard it chime once.

It was a dull, growling sound. She had the misfortune to sit on the closer end of the field. The bell rang out throughout the campus, a low hum in her bones. Twelve o’clock never sounded so sweet. When the echoing faded, Skylar was free. Free to do everything and nothing with her life.

She stood from her plastic chair and sulked away. The Class of 2020 were throwing their caps into the air, reminding her to remove her own. She carried it in her hand. 

As she exited the stadium, she came across the small patch of garden and the stone plate, installed as a memorial to the Fallen One. The bell tolled for him, a depressed student who had wished to turn his life around. The only way he had known was to jump off the tower. 

He was two years older than Skylar, the teacher’s assistant in her Biology class. They had talked once or twice, not enough for her to shed tears at the memorial they held under the tower. 

Skylar eyed her classmates of four years. She was never one of them, never a part of something. They cheered and hugged each other. Their parents were coming down the bleachers. Some were sniffling with tears in their eyes, which was a bit too dramatic. The scent of perfume and fresh bouquets, the smell of new clothes and fabric, attacked her mockingly. 

Wading through the students and parents, she carefully avoided being hit by the caps. Apparently, not everyone threw them at the same time, and not all of them could catch their caps once they fell.

She walked across the lawn in front of the school gym, perhaps for the last time. The graduation was fun the first few minutes. By now, she had had enough.

Skylar passed through the exact spot where the body had splattered. There were no stains of any kind. A stone plate and that’s it. Few students slowed down when they walked past. Perhaps it was less ignorance, more that they didn’t want to color their big day gray. 

She didn’t realize she cared, but she had been there when he jumped. Far away, but she was there. She had slipped out of the classroom with the excuse of going to the restroom, and ended up sitting on the science building rooftop. 

It was a late afternoon. She had been staring at the highway. The bell tower was thrice taller. Dread and confusion took a hold of her when there were commotions underneath. The gym class arrived at the scene first, almost immediately after. A few girls screamed. They called the ambulance, but he was long gone. 

Zachary Duncan had taken a leap. If he had survived, he would gain superpower. If he had died, he would stay dead. 

Even as Skylar lived a lonely existence, she never felt the need to gamble on life. 

“Where’re you going?” 

Ah. She heard a female’s voice behind her. Crisp and pleasant, with a slight accent. Most importantly, familiar.

“Alysia.” Her voice was low and scratchy from the lack of use. Skylar cleared her throat to make it work. She turned around to greet her friend. “I thought you were ditching the ceremony.” 

“I tried. Turns out I can’t pick up my diploma unless I walk the stage,” Alysia answered nonchalantly. She had her hair tied up in a messy bun. 

“I didn’t see you walk.”

“I didn’t.” 

“But you’re here.”

Skylar had stopped trying to understand Alysia. She was a different breed. Skylar followed the rules because it was easier, Alysia broke them because it was easier. 

“I had to come to school, anyway. Forgot my stuff in the locker.” She wasn’t wearing the graduation cap and gown, but her usual t-shirt and the pastel blue pajama pants she wore to school. 

“Did you get it?”

“The custodian had clipped all the locks. I found it at the front desk,” she explained. “My soccer bag looked important enough that they didn’t throw it in the trash.”

Skylar glanced at the navy-blue duffel bag clinging on Alysia’s shoulder. It looked full but not heavy, probably containing her dirty laundry and gear. 

Sensing her curiosity, Alysia smirked and tugged the loose zipper closed. 

“There’s something I want to show you,” she said. “But later. We need somewhere private.” 

“Your house?”

Alysia nodded. “You wanna grab ice creams first? I’m literally melting.”

“Okay.” Skylar looked away. “Sounds great.” 

Her mind drifted. There was something important in that bag.

They were walking together, heading toward Alysia’s car in the parking lot. A white sedan she had bought two years ago. It had already seen three owners before her. The numbers on the license plate were legible, but not the state logo on that small, metal canvas. The silhouette of a blackbird looked gray underneath a layer of dust. Skylar knew the words written there: “Ravenmont” on the top. On the bottom, with a smaller font, read: “the ever-changing state.”

After Alysia unlocked the car, Skylar opened the passenger door and began peeling the black gown off of her. She wore a white t-shirt and dark shorts underneath. They were wrinkled, but not badly so. 

The traffic in the parking lot was horrible. They were stranded among a sea of mechanical machines, crawling forward now and then. Skylar turned on the radio. It was playing Top 40 Hits. The same old song she had heard a hundred times. 

They chatted mindlessly about the ceremony. Alysia had all the information about who was going to what college, who was going out of state, and who was working minimum wage at Lou’s Deli. 

Skylar didn’t care all that much. She knew what she was going to do. She had detailed plans of rotting inside the two-story house she grew up in. It had been left behind by her parents, so it was technically hers. She was going to watch bad documentaries on aliens, browse the internet, snack on grocery store junk food so she could avoid interacting with a food delivery person. 

“What are you going to do?” Skylar asked. “Didn’t you get into that college in Ridgewood?”

“I’m not going. My parents aren’t paying the tuition and I’m broke. RSU isn’t terribly expensive, but still,” she said absently. Fingers tapping on the steering wheel. “You?”

“Nothing.” Skylar was glad that she asked. “Just going to stay home, I guess.”

“Seriously?” That got her attention. “You’re wasting your youth, girl.”

“The house is paid for. Malcolm is in college and in debt. Not counting him, I got enough money to live frugally for the rest of my life.”

“You sound so old, Grandma. We should stop by Petshop and get you a cat. Or twenty.” Alysia wrinkled her nose. 

“Said the girl who dyed her hair gray,” Skylar countered, reaching out to pat her head. Alysia dodged away, giggling. 

“You’re seventeen. Do something with your life! I know normal high school graduates are excited about their future.”

Alysia let the car inch forward and stopped, almost touching the pickup truck in front of them. 

Police sirens fast approached.

“I’m doing fine, but…” Skylar drifted off.

A sharp honk interrupted the conversation. Tires screeched. 

“What the…” Alysia muttered, extending her head out of the window. 

A crash, the sound of metals crumpling. Someone cried out. 

The sirens rushed past and disappeared into the distance.

“I think there’s an accident,” Skylar told her, who was opening the door to have a look. People were getting out of their cars, curious and afraid of what had just happened. 

Alysia got out and locked her car—it wasn’t going anywhere soon. Together the two of them approached the crossroad.

A small car was flipped over, its wheels slowly spinning. Smoke rose from the hood and the jammed door. Another car was parked several feet away, with skid marks trailing behind. The front was smashed, but the car was otherwise intact. The driver was scared but uninjured. He struggled out of his vehicle and broke down among his friends. 

“A car accident,” Alysia agreed.

“A car chase,” Skylar told her what she heard from the crowd. “Didn’t you hear the sirens?” 

“A car chase in Wilkindale?” Alysia wrinkled her nose. “Are you joking? Nothing ever happens here.”

“Don’t ask me.”

Skylar quickly collected information from the gathering crowd around them.

“Looks like there was a cop car chasing some escaped criminal.” Skylar gestured at the flipped car at the intersection. “They almost hit that guy. He swerved and crashed.”

“Sucks to be him.”

Students and parents who had been crossing the road had gotten over the initial shock. They erupted into conversations. Others went about checking on the overturned car and hoping to get the jammed car door open. 

“That cop didn’t even stop to check on him. It’s their fault he’s in an accident,” Skylar commented.

“It’s a car chase. Do you see them stopping to check the collateral in the movies?”

Skylar thought she made sense. They stood on the side to observe. 

They watched the wrecked car slowly turn to gold.

Impossible. She blinked, and then blinked again. Not hallucinating. It’s real. Liquid gold spread from the top of the car on the pavement, and continued its way upward. It reminded her of a bucket of paint pouring down, but it was defiant of gravity and…it went up. The color washed over the machine, slowly and smoothly. Soon the entire car looked like a golden statue with a smooth coat, and a metallic reflection, shining under the early summer sun.

The audience gasped. Those standing too close were backing away, afraid that touching the gold would infect them.

“Is that…real?” Alysia said to herself. The crowd was murmuring things along the same line, eyes fixed on the brand-new existence. 

Skylar snapped out of the initial shock. It was something uncommon, no doubt. 

“Are you alright?” Skylar asked. Alysia looked like she could be sick.

She nodded, eyes fixed on the golden car. “What the fuck is that!” She scoffed. “I mean, it’s kind of cool, but what the fuck.”

“Look! The gold stopped spreading.”

Hearing the comment, Skylar studied the vehicle again. Indeed it was the only thing that turned gold. The asphalt road around it was still asphalt.

“Is it someone in the car who did it?”

“Someone activated their power, I guess,” Alysia muttered. “I never heard of power like that. It must be new.” 

Sirens approached. Someone had called the police. In the deafening silence, tires screeched against ground. Two police SUVs had arrived. Car doors swung open, and the cops came out running. They were wearing bulletproof vests and holding pistols in their hands. 

Red and blue lights flashed. Radio chattered. Directions passed through the ranks. Fire trucks and ambulances were on the way. 

A man exited from the back seat of the second cop car. He looked to be in his thirties, well-built and towering. In fact, inhumanly so. He unfolded himself to get out of the car, and strode confidently toward the scene. He was dressed like the cops but his uniform was sized larger. An orange-colored patch on his vest identified him as a powered individual. It was an equilateral triangle, with a small circle in the place of the bottom line, but the circle was small enough that it didn’t touch the triangle’s two sides. The Araesow Delta.

Standing among his colleagues, he was two heads taller than the tallest. From where Skylar was standing, she could see his eyebrows knitted into a frown.

Students and their families gathered on the sidewalk to watch. Some of them cheered upon seeing the uncommon human on the police force. 

“That’s Deputy Sheriff Wallace,” Alysia informed. “He’s an uncommon.”

“Yeah,” Skylar said. It was quite obvious but she wondered how Alysia knew his name. “I can see that.”

“He can punch through a wall.”

“Okay.” Skylar eyed his arm muscles. “I figured as much.”

“He’s the only uncommon on the police force. Wilkindale is too small of a town.”


Wallace drew closer to the golden car. He carefully touched the top and then examined his hand. His hand didn’t turn. That was good news. The gold had solidified. He whispered to the sheriff, a balding man on the heavier side, humanly so.

The onlookers took out their devices to film the scene. The crisis was no longer life-threatening for them. No one was turning into a lifeless shiny statue. The display of superpowers entertained them. Theories were spreading, none of which were reliable.

Wallace pushed the car with his left hand, as easy as pushing a lunchbox across a table. He reached for the driver’s door and ripped it off. The gold was a coating. It didn’t reach the mechanical parts in the hinges. He bent down, level with the driver, blocking others from seeing who was inside. People craned their necks as the conversation continued. 

With an arm, Wallace helped the distressed driver out of the tangle of seatbelt and airbag.

Alysia sucked in a deep breath. The driver was a familiar face. A student in their graduating class. He was still wearing his gown, though his cap was missing. He looked unharmed, except that he had gold as his skin color. 

He looked like one of those street performers in downtown Duskim. But he was the real deal. He looked like a living statue without painting himself gold.

“Fuck, it’s Palmer,” Alysia swore. “Now he’s literally the golden boy.”

Skylar stared. The new uncommon’s facial structure had become more generic, but it was still easy enough to see him as one of the popular kids. Skylar remembered seeing him around the campus, laughing and talking loudly with his crews.

Wallace patted his shoulder in reassurance. The student seemed dazed, but physically fine. He looked at his hands incredulously. Flexing his fingers, he examined the golden coat with a neutral expression. Then the corners of his mouth stretched, slowly and numbly, into a smile. 

“I’ve never seen a person gain their power,” Skylar said, eyes still fixed on the scene. 

The deputy was talking to Palmer. The other cops held back his parents, who had been inside another car when the crash happened. It was for their safety.

“Well, it’s usually not this tame,” Alysia huffed loudly beside her. “The show’s over. Let’s go get ice creams.”

No one got hurt, but Skylar wouldn’t exactly call a car crash “tame.”

It was still unknown if the golden boy’s power would turn a normal person into a statue. He could turn inanimate objects, it seemed; and his power didn’t work on Wallace, who was an uncommon. It was known that uncommon humans weren’t exactly human. 

“Wait. See if he might turn back to normal.” Skylar took Alysia’s sleeve as she was turning away. “Otherwise he couldn’t live a normal life, could he? Everything he touches would become gold.”

“Guess he’ll be eating bricks from now on,” Alysia snickered, then her face fell. “And he’s gonna be rich. Shit. Why is everyone else excelling in life?”

“It’s not fair,” Skylar said, suddenly angry.

“Damn right it isn’t.” Alysia scoffed. “Wait, what’s not fair?” 

“Why does Palmer get power when he got into a car accident that won’t really kill him, and Zachary killed himself but doesn’t get it?”

“Well, that’s the way it is. People die. Otherwise, we’d all be immortal superheroes. The overpopulation is already bad enough.”

That was quite morbid. Skylar was going to say something, but was interrupted by a spark. She turned her head in annoyance, which quickly turned into horror. 

Something was cutting the air. She wasn’t exactly sure how, but a bread knife was floating in mid-air, slicing down and creating a blazing shape. The crowd scattered to get away. 

Alysia let out a squeak and evaded the space. The knife was directly behind her, cutting out a rectangle. Once the lines were connected, Skylar realized what it looked like. A door.

“Thank you, Carver.” A voice came from inside the suspended door. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and stared. 

A foot, wearing a black suede flat, extended from the inside of the door. A woman in a business suit appeared and stepped out onto the ground. She smoothed out her blazer, dusting off imaginary dust, and inspected the scene around her. She looked like she was in her forties, though appearing younger with her impeccably curled hair. 

The “Carver” was nowhere to be seen. Skylar saw a human shape ghosting beyond the door, but then the rectangle disappeared as if it never existed. The woman strode forward. The audience parted to make way. She tilted her head, seemed to throw a glance back. 

Alysia shifted her weight in discomfort. 

“Let’s get out of here,” she mumbled quickly and dragged Skylar toward her car.

“Wait—” Skylar saw the woman talking to the deputy and the new uncommon. “Do you know who she is?”

“Didn’t you see that pin on her collar? She’s from D.U.R.M.A.” Alysia said with disdain. “Golden Boy is a new uncommon. She’s going to take care of him now.”

“And the Carver?”

“You don’t even know who he is? Fine, he’s not that popular.” Alysia glanced at Skylar. “He also works for D.U.R.M.A. One of the precious assets. He creates these doors. They open to anywhere in the state.”

The crowd was clearing. A tow truck came and loaded up the golden car. The not-golden parents found it safe to hug their son and cry. 

The D.U.R.M.A. woman was telling the deputy to sign some document. They got into the cop cars and left for the station. 

“How do you know about all this?”

“I do my research.”

Skylar knew Alysia was secretly a nerd, but she wasn’t expecting this. Skylar herself knew about uncommons, though her knowledge was limited. She had only done school projects on uncommon influence on the society, had seen the viral videos of them displaying powers, had known the general few who had celebrity status. 

Carver seemed like a secretive one, working to open doors and not stepping through them. Alysia had probably done some serious research to find out about him.

Either way, school was over. Perhaps if she got bored of wasting her youth, she would go see the world. But now…

“So, ice cream?”

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

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