Bright Decay is here

My debut novel is now live on Amazon. You can purchase a paperback now or preorder the ebook edition, which is coming out on September 16, 2019.

The cover of BRIGHT DECAY

Bright Decay is the origin story of a female superhero who can control time. It’s the first book of a trilogy and can be read as standalone.

Everyone knows there’s something off about Skylar, including herself. She wades through high school being normal, but ever since the disappearance of her only friend, her life spirals out of control. Humans with uncommon abilities live closer than she thinks. 

Skylar wants nothing to do with the government-sponsored superheroes that inhabit her world, yet a near-death experience makes her one of them: she can stop time with a thought. The entire world, frozen in stasis, can become her playground.

In the city of Duskim, she has to adjust to her new reality. Her powerful ability can’t save her from past regrets, though it attracts the attention of all kinds. If she wants a rank among the heroes, she must stop the resurfaced terrorists threatening to burn down everything she knew.

She may be powerful. She may be powerless. Who is she when it matters the most?


BRIGHT DECAY on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45032011

BRIGHT DECAY on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1093784865/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_tyXdDb89CXJFN


Want a sneak peek? Right now, you can read the first three chapters for free!

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Learn more about the World of Clepsydra here


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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.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

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?”

“…No.”

“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…” 

What?

“…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. 

“But…”

“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.”,

“Hmm.”

“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.”

“True.”

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…” 

“Indeed.”

“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?” 

“Mmh.”

“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.

“Alysia?”

“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.”

“Alysia…”

“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.”

“Figured.”

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

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

My Roommate Wants to Kill Me

Day 1 of Moon 5

Dear Diary,

Good job, you’re completely useless. Here I am, hiding inside my room, fearing for my life, and you can’t do anything about it. Not that I expect you to. That would’ve been strange. You’re just a digital file on my computer.

But just in case something happens to me, you are backed up on cyberspace, where I hope the law-keeping authority can use you as evidence against my murderer. There is only one possible suspect.

Stella Sandhill. Human female. My roommate.

She isn’t home right now but I’ll make this quick.

Ever since the first day, my roommate has been acting strange. At first, I thought it’s because she’s human. I’m very open-minded so I already expected there might be some misunderstanding between species.

But this goes beyond that. I’m almost certain my roommate probably wants to kill me.

That sentence doesn’t sound right. Never mind.

So I’ve started attending the Fourth University of Ishtri Prima. 4thU is a good school, and the Prima is in my home system. The diversity program cuts the tuition in half, so I took the chance.

By now we have been rooming together for three moons, and I’m half-convinced that she’s an assassin just waiting for the chance to strike. I didn’t know what in the world did I do to warrant this. Apparently, I’m her target.

I watch a lot of human entertainment, so I know how this goes. She’s under-covering as my roommate; she’s an insane serial killer. Or both.

But she’s also very bad at her job because I’m still alive.

I take plenty of precautions, but I’m not delusional. I could lock my door at night, test my food for poison, and only drink from sealed hydration packs. I make sure to stay on all the public paths while walking to class. Yet, a skilled assassin would be able to murder me without a problem.

My theory so far is that she’s waiting for me to cross a certain line. One wrong strep and she’d have the perfect excuse to kill me. The problem is, I have no idea where the line lies. I just have to be extra careful.

I misread the clock. I have to go to class. Be back soon.


Day 2 of Moon 5

Dropping the “dear diary” because that just sounds stupid. Don’t know why I kept doing it. My first human teacher taught me and it stuck.

To clarify, I have nothing against humans. Many of my friends back on the Green Moon were human. My siblings keep dating humans. I appreciate their culture. I know what humans are like, but my roommate might be an exception.


Day 7 of Moon 5

[Entry 1/3]

Just met with my mentor about the essay revision. Prof is a nice human. He’s polite, though he always wears linen stripe around his neck for no reason. I keep hearing things about him, though. Not good things. That he bought his teaching certificate, but I’m sure that’s just bored students gossiping.

4thU is a prestigious college. My parents almost couldn’t afford it. My family is well-to-do, but there’s only so much they can do when they have twenty children.

The human is munching on something loudly in the kitchen. I don’t want to go out there, but I left my bag out and the revision’s due in three days.

[Entry 2/3]

So I just went out, and the human is pouring some white liquid into a bowl. “What’s that?” I asked her.

“Almond milk,” she said.

“But almond doesn’t produce milk.”

Guess what she said? “It can if you make it to.”

Why did she have to word it like that? I was just gonna ignore what she said. She then said something even stranger.

“Your mentor is wanted in three galaxies.” Probably saw my face, she then added. “Not this one, though. Don’t worry.”

“How did you know?”

“Everyone knows.”

No, they don’t. “Even if it’s true,” I was trying not to anger her by pointing out she’s lying. “I’m sure it’s something minor. Like pirating movies off cyberspace.”

“If you say so.” She went back to eating. I couldn’t stand the noise so I left. It’s like a hive in your ears.

[Entry 3/3]

I was just about to go to sleep, and I heard my roommate went out. She’s always like this. Nocturnal when her species is not. I wonder where she goes every night.

It’s fine, you know. This way I can see her as little as possible.

She sleeps during the day, too. What kind of class is she taking?

It’s not fine because she can murder me in my sleep. She hasn’t done it yet.


Day 9 of Moon 5

I was surprised to run into her when I was back from class. She’s in the living room, putting a rack on the wall. It holds a peculiar, mechanical-looking thing.

“Is that a weapon?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“No.” The same kind of nonchalance.

“What is it, then?”

It’s not a gun. It’s in two parts. One is curvy with a thin string, the other was hanging perpendicularly and contained several similar sticks.

“A recurve bow,” she said. Sensing my blank stare, probably, she added. “I’m on the archery team.”

She left with the bow, putting it in a long bag. She wore all black.

Our school doesn’t have an archery team.


Day 10 of Moon 5

[Entry 1/2]

Called Ren’el and she didn’t appreciate being wakened up. Kept forgetting the relay puts her day behind. Like always, she didn’t give me any solid advice. It’s been that way since we were kids. She never took me seriously.

Just talk to the human, she said.

As if it’s that simple. My roommate literally owns a weapon and it’s hanging in our living room right now. She disappears from time to time, doing god knows what. She eats an exceptional amount of meat, of unknown origins.

Her leg wrappings had blood on them. Not a lot, but to me, they looked like a splatter. Do I sound too calm? I mean there is BLOOD on her clothes!

Ren’el was surprised to hear that I dug through my roommate’s clothes.

Are they piled up in a basket? She asked. That’s where humans put the clothes they wore.

Where would they put the clothes they don’t wear? Why own them if they don’t wear them? I was confused.

Don’t go through her clothes again. Ren’el suggested. The call ended there.

Seems like a bad connection but I can’t afford another call.

[Entry 2/2]

I got a message from Ren’el. She apologized for how the call ended as if it was her fault.

She also said this:

“Many humans don’t like it when you go through their stuff, especially when they aren’t watching you do it. Keep that in mind. She’d probably kill you if she finds out. “

Oh no.


Day 17 of Moon 5

My roommate bought knives. She said she wants to cook because the cafeteria only serves nutrition pastes and eating off-campus is expensive.

The knives don’t make me fear for my life. It’s that she bought lab-grown meat and cut it into quick and tiny pieces, all with scary efficiency.

My roommate is in the—what do you call it, mafia!

“I have my ways.” She was satisfied with herself.

Needless to say, I refused the food she offered even though they filled with a mouth-watering smell. I justified my decision by claiming to be herbivorous by choice—even though my species is omnivorous like humans.

“Sorry, didn’t know you’re vegan.”

Do I look stupid? She separated the food into two containers. The one for me was probably poisoned.


Day 10 of Moon 6

It’s been a while. School has been hectic. Prof was fired three days ago. He had been importing illegal “school supplies”. The news doesn’t shock me but some of my classmates were devastated. We will be getting a new mentor soon, maybe in a few days. We are having study groups until then.

My roommate kept giving me the “I told you so” face.

She started a job at the nearest station, serving earth food. I like earth food, so it was tempting to accept some when she brings leftovers home. I didn’t, of course.

Between her new job and cooking, she starts to act like a normal diurnal creature. I think we might be able to get along well. She still looks at me when she sharpens her knives, but I can ignore that for now.


Day 11 of Moon 6

Just when everything is looking up, I found the most damning evidence. It was unlike her to leave her door open, but I guess she left in a hurry. The knives were still here. The recurve bow was gone.

I decided to venture into her room. My roommate isn’t the neatest person, but her room is more organized than I expected. A lot of her stuff is in container boxes. On her desk are her main screen and a smaller one. The smaller one is glowing with text.

I was mindful of not leaving a trace, so I took a quick picture and escaped back to my room to read.

What I saw is horrifying.

“After you kill all of them, keep going down the ventilation and reach the research room. Some soldiers will be patrolling the lower level so get rid of them quickly. You will encounter two officers but they’ll be sleeping, kill them without rising an alarm.”

No doubt that’s some sort of instruction for infiltration and assassination.

I can also see half of the image at the bottom of the page, which shows a 3D rending of what I’m assuming, a military base. It looks like a space station? The style of the interior, however, is unlike anything I’ve seen.

I sneaked back into her room for a second look. Some wires are attached to the screens. There’s also a palm-sized controller made for human thumbs and fingers.

I don’t know what they mean. Nothing good.


Day 12 of Moon 6

I contacted Ren’el again. She suggested I should calm down. Talk to the human before calling security. I’d much rather talk to the law-keepers than having them studying my dead body.

I’m confronting the human tomorrow. Wish me luck, but first I have to go to the study group.


Day 13 of Moon 6

I was having difficulty focusing on studying last night. To my defense, it’s well justified. Te’kad at my group pointed it out, so we all gave up and went to get food.

A human—I don’t know his name, he’s the one with glass obstacles over his eyes—said there’s a cafe serving decent earth-inspired food.

Needless to say, my luck ensured it’s the same place my roommate works at.

Apparently, she is acquainted with my human classmate. They waved their limbs, and the next thing I knew, she waved at me and expecting me to wave back. I waved back. She said nothing and went to make black caffeine liquid for us.

After feasting, my classmates and I wandered the streets. One of the stores at the station carries 21st-century earth entertainment, according to my human classmate.

The shelves display many plastics with images of humans with guns.

“Humans enjoy this?” I asked him.

He was excitable and explained a lot, all while waving his limbs as he spoke. I’m paraphrasing here: basically, humans enjoy fake killing people.


Day 25 of Moon 6

As you can see, I’m strategically delaying the confrontation with my roommate.


Day 27 of Moon 6

My roommate brought home donuts. They are inside a sealed container. After my success with discovering coffee, I decided to give it a try.

Donuts are sweet and I ate most of them. My limbs were weak and my head heavy. I thought I was poisoned, but my roommate called it “sugar high”. I asked her a lot of questions, none of which I remember now.

Oh, she taught me how to pronounce her names. It sounds strange.


Day 3 of Moon 7

My roommate and I have reached a tentative peace. Keeping me alive outweighs the trouble of killing me.

I’m meeting my new mentor today. I’m considering changing my major to study humans. Or, as my roommate calls it, “anthropology”.

The dictionary didn’t tell me what is “anthropo”. Useless.


A/N: This one is hysterical and I had a lot of fun. Is it connected to CICADA? It is, even though the organization wasn’t name-dropped. In case it was unclear, the Roommate was looking at a video game walkthrough. The game is Wolfenstein: New Order. Comment your thoughts or questions!

Glass Marbles

“How long is it gonna take?” 5765 laid on the operation table, asking the doctor. “Would I be late for dinner?”

The doctor introduced herself as Calypso. The name sounded fake, but 5765 wasn’t in the position to complain about names. Doctor Calypso was kind to him and didn’t treat him like a child. So that’s good.

“Probably,” Doctor Calypso said. “It’s not that good anyway. Canned beef stew and potato again.”

“Okay.” It didn’t stop his mouth from watering. Any food was good food. A stew in the war zone would have been heavenly.

He tried staying still on the cold surface, but he couldn’t help himself. A lengthy disinfecting process had got rid of all the grimes. His skin was still tender. His fresh new jumpsuit made him fit right in with the sterile environment of this…facility.

He didn’t know where they were. Just underground. It’s large and full of people. They’ve been here for a few weeks. Waiting for something. It’s finally his turn to get treatment.

“Is it gonna hurt?”

“Only a little at first.” The doctor said.

5765 believed her. The doctor was younger than his mother as he last remembered her, and carried an entirely different vibe than anyone he used to know. The same vibe as the man in white, who guided his group inside the facility. The same as those who gave them fresh bedrolls, clean water, and food. They were nice.

“Ouch.” 5765 felt the sting on his arm.

“See? That’s it.” Doctor Calypso put away the empty syringe. “I won’t lie to you.”

5765 was feeling the effect. His eyelids felt heavy, and his limbs felt light. The table underneath him was moving. He used up all his energy to squint. He was inside some kind of pod, and the lid was closing on him. There was a brief panic, but he relaxed. It was the safest place he had ever been to.

Then he closed his eyes and began to dream.

***

His family lived on the east side of Mt. Trash. Their house was a shipping container, rusted and forever smelled like something crawled in and died. It was probably accurate, since her parents never told him where Grandma and Granpa went. One day they were living with them, the next they were not.

His family scavenged for a living. Mt. Trash was truly resourceful. On a good day, all of them could fall asleep not hungry. On a really good day, they could even find something to sell. Dad would dig out the cyber implants from the dumped corpses they found, and took them to the market. He would come back with fresh food, usually bread. And Mom would yell at him because three implants would certainly worth more than three loaves. He gambled the rest away.

5765 had a handful of siblings. This oldest brother got scammed by the prostitute he “fell in love” with. He was saving money for two tickets out of the system, and ended up broke and stabbed, left to die in the gutters.

But no one would hate the prostitutes because of that. Because his sister did that for a living. She swore to 5765 that she’d never fall in love, and made him swear he’d do the same. 5765 never understood what love was.

“Can you eat it?” He asked his sister.

“No. It eats you.”

Scary.

That was what roughly happened before the war came. For the first time, they were glad to live in Mt. Trash, because the firefights didn’t reach here. Until the bombs started falling. They scurried toward the next settlement, with only the clothes on their backs.

In Clifftown, Dad was conscripted by the rebel army, and that was the last 5765 saw of him.

Back to the shelter under the bridge. A few dozen refugee families were camping there. Sometimes they fought over clean water and food. But when the shells started dropping, they huddled for warmth.

His last surviving brother was one year older than himself. He taught 5765 how to steal. When the soldiers left town, the stores would reopen. That’s how they could get anything they wanted.

In theory, anyway. 5765 got caught on his second try. His first target was the food stand, where he got his dinner. The amazing feeling of being full had made him dizzy. Made him bold enough to forget that he was far from a seasoned thief. His strike on a former toy booth—now military surplus store—went awfully wrong.

It all happened so fast. 5765 was standing among the shelves, pretending to browse. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He was a young man, just old enough to fit in with the surplus crowd.

There weren’t a lot of costumers, so his brother offered to distract the owner. He pointed at some laser gun on the wall, and the owner turned his back to retrieve it.

5765 knew it was his opportunity to act. He grabbed a fist full of pellets and stuffed them down his pockets. These kinds of things were the real currency, these days. He grabbed one hand after another, until his jacket was weighted down.

Some spilled out and pounced on the floor. They made sharp, clicking noises as they rolled.

The owner turned his head and caught him red-handed.

“Robbery!” He was yelling. Everyone in the market turned their heads. None of them helped either side. They ducked and screamed when the guns came out.

The next thing 5765 knew, he was running. In his panicking state, he had put a handful of pellets in his mouth and swallowed them.

What was that for? He didn’t know. They felt like pebbles stuck in his chest. All he knew was that he was choking. He coughed violently, still scrambling to run.

His brother was behind him, scrambling between the various stands.

“Faster!” He yelled.

5765 was running with biological tears rolling from his face.

Before he knew it, his brother was shot. He was shot twice in the back as they were running. 5765 thought he was dead. He hoped it was quick. Because in the blinding panic, he left his brother behind.

5765 went back to the camp under the bridge. His family’s empty tent was still there. He crawled under the plastic sheet, curled up and began to cry.

While sobbing, his waist muscle tightens and he felt the pain. Looking down, he found blood. He was grazed. And he was bleeding. A dark red stain was spreading on his tattered clothes.

His pockets were empty. The treasure that costed him all he had left, were scattered on the way back.

He was certain that was how he’s gonna die. Alone, last of his family, inside a dirty hellhole. The same kind of place where he was born. As his consciousness slipped in and out of focus, he heard voices. Was it God’s angels? They were outside his tent. Then, someone tore off the plastic sheet, and light flooded in.

“Here’s another one!” Someone yelled.

He strained his eyes to look. A group of strangers was standing over him. Some kind of military men. He panicked. Tried to run. Forgot he couldn’t. And he laid there in pain. The night was made bright by all the flashlights they carried. Under the light. He saw that the man in front of him was wearing white. Not the black armors or camouflage like the soldiers.

Someone picked him up and put him on a stretcher. A few hands carried him away. To where? He fell unconscious.

Briefly, he woke up again. This time, he was inside a moving. The hulls vibrated. It was an aircraft. He had never been so high in the sky, and it scared him shitless. He closed his eyes and hoped for the best.

Then, he wasn’t bleeding any more. He was in a shower. He was getting fresh clothes. He was waiting in line for food. Food! He had a metal tray in his hands, like the other people in line with him. The cook dropped a spoonful of something onto his tray. He didn’t know what it was, but it smelled heavenly.

“People, gather around!” A few of those men in white armors came back. One of them looked like the leader, stepped forward.

“By now, you probably heard a lot of rumors about what this place is. Arber Conservatory will be your temporary home. A refuge until we make the arrangement for your new lives. Rest assured that you are safe here. The war is behind you. We have staff in place to take care of your needs. For your safety, please do not venture beyond your designated area.”

“Why did you give us these numbers?” Someone among the crowd asked. “What are they for? Why can’t we use your names?”

“Your number is assigned to you by chronological order. The first one who arrived here was “number 1”, the second was “2”, and so on. It’s easier for our agents to identify you, since some are having trouble pronouncing your names.”

“Please be patient until the transportation is arranged. We will notify you when it’s your turn. If you have any questions, any working agents around you can answer them. If they can’t, direct your questions toward the Caseworker’s office.” The agents scanned the room. “That’s all for now.”

***

Doctor Calypso processed her patients in groups of eighteen. She used to have twenty regeneration machines but two were down, and there were no technicians around to fix them.

The organization had deemed this dimension “lost”. Even after decades of trying to fix things, trying to make things right. Thousands of agents died to fix this dimension. At first, they were adjusting the timeline so the war wouldn’t happen. When that failed, they were trying to bring back peace. Calypso knew of a colleague who went as far as infiltrating the governments, but none of that worked. In the end, she supposed, fate was fate. What’s lost was lost.

In recent months, CICADA had been pulling their resources off the planet. Personnel evacuating through spacecraft or portals.

This underground cave they were in, was the last CICADA facility in this dimension.

Arber Conservatory was originally designed to house endangered local plants and seeds. It was far from designed to act as a refugee center, but it’s the only safe place large enough.

It had been months, and they were still stranded on this god-forsaken world, waiting for their turn to evacuate. Only one portal was working. It opened once a week and had to recharge. They could send about five hundred people through, before risking overheating the gate.

Calypso told herself it didn’t matter where she’s doing her job, here or the other side of the portal. These patients needed attention. But the med bay here is basic and severely understaffed.

It could have been a lot worse, though. They could’ve been dead, caught up in the war that’s tearing the planet apart.

Also, she badly needed a cigarette. She had two options. Ascending miles to the chaotic surface, or crawling into the outgoing air duct. Neither was worth the trouble.

She compromised by having a cup of powdered coffee. A green light popped up on the control panel. The procedure was complete. She leaned back in her wore chair, waiting for the machines to power down.

Calypso glanced at the screen, which was producing a detailed report about her patients. One of them caught her eyes. The boy, 5765. Barely a teenager and already suffered multiple old wounds. Hairline fractures and old burn scars.

He was a survivor. She briefly wondered what he could achieve in a peaceful world.

There was something in his stomach, the imaging showed. The automatic operation had removed them from his body, and deposited the small spheres for the doctor to examine.

They were shiny, glass marbles.

***

The light was too bright as he stepped through. The other side didn’t look too different. The same kind of room, but with clean white walls.

“Refugee number 5765, you may now choose a name.” A slightly mechanical voice began. The room had many screens, and he was standing in front of one. “If you choose to become a civilian, on the screen in front of you is a list of socially acceptable names, ranked from the most common to least.”

“There’re other options?” He asked, hesitant. It seemed silly speaking into a machine.

“You may also choose to join CICADA Our organization specializes in the protection of the humankind across timelines, dimensions, and beyond. The benefits of joining our organization are as listed: guaranteed housing, a competitive salary, and a purpose in the service of mankind.”

“It’s like the people who saved me, right?” He asked.

“[Direction Unclear].” The machine said. “Please repeat your inquiry.”

“…Never mind,” he said. “Go on.”

“As an agent of CICADA, you may choose any codename you like. As long as it is one word and does not conflict with those in our database. Type in your potential name to see if it’s available.”

“You have chosen to become an agent of CICADA Please exit to the room on the right for information regarding your future identity, housing, and training program.”

After he made his choice, a woman in a black suit greeted him at the door.

“Welcome to Earth.” She shook his hand. “This one is safe. You are safe. You are home.”

And, for the first time in his life, he felt like he could finally breathe.

Divine Intervention

“The portal is ready, Kyan—wait, why aren’t you in your costume?”

Startled by the sudden opening of her office door, Kyan turned to face her colleague, Beryl. His presence was always anxiety-inducing, since it either meant more work or bad news.

Or both. She was just about to take a sip of coffee from her “world’s best boss” mug when he barged in. It would be a shame if she dropped the precious cup.

“What portal?” She asked, dumbfound. “There’s no scheduled portal opening today, I don’t think. Also, what costume?”

“Well, check your calendar again. The Moongate project just got an update,” Beryl tapped his hologram wearable, looking agitated. “Never mind, the launch window is in just under an hour. We have to get you ready. I’ll brief you along the way.“

Kyan sighed, putting down the coffee and got up. It was then she reconsidered her life. The mug was a mere souvenir from a trip back to the 21st century. She was no one’s boss. She was just another lowly employee at C.I.C.A.D.A. Level 3 in the dimension-spanning organization’s hierarchy. Anyone could order her around.

“What is this update about?” She asked. They walked down the labyrinth of white corridors. Judging by the scenery, she knew they were heading toward the launch hall. “Start from the beginning.”

“Fine. You know the trip we planned for the Eyaithen Ceremony? When their entire planet gather to pray to the goddess Yaeshene? What’s worse, the sun of their system just had an unpredicted flare event. Which means they are holding the ceremony *now*. We aren’t ready, but someone must go.”

Well, fuck. “Do we not have a Traveler on call?”

“No, we do not. Kyan, I cannot stress enough how important this job is. They are going to ask for the Yaeshene’s blessing on their new spacecraft launch. Our analysts calculated a 62% chance of them discovering Milky Way on their next expedition. That was two months ago.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Kyan said. “I’m supposed to have my afternoon off.”

“The percentage is now eighty-seven. We need to put it under twenty. 10% or under would be even better. Take a look at this,” Beryl pushed a tablet into her hands. “A report from Lark.”

A shaky footage of a devastated hellscape. Kyan faintly recognizes the architecture style to be of Earth. A middle-aged man showed his ash-covered face in the frame, as he turned the camera toward his tattered self.

“Level 6 Traveler, codenamed Lark, reporting a Class A event from the year 2487…” He coughed. Blood seeped from between his fingers as he covered his mouth. His augmented left eye was hanging out of its socket. The footage was glitching badly. “To any agent seeing this, take a look at Point Sigma-Beta-Echo-Four, to Echo-Seven. Something went wrong…there. Requesting…intervention.”

“Let me guess,” Kyan gave Beryl back the tablet before the footage cut off. “That’s the timeline where we didn’t stop the Eyaithens from waging war on Earth. Not good. Everything goes to shit. The stakes are high. You can’t find a good Traveler, so you find me.”

“You aren’t taking this serious enough.” Beryl made an angry gesture, as if he wanted to smash the tablet on the wall. “Do you think I wanted to come to you? The Traveler we are training for this mission is sick. Something she caught on her last trip. I don’t have a choice.” He stopped abruptly. “We are here.”

Gate Hangar 9. Kyan sighed. She was really doing this.

“Tell me, at least there’s someone to go rescue Lark.”

“Of course. He’s a valuable agent.”

In the changing pod, Kyan changed into the gray protective armored suit. She held the helmet under her arm when she stepped out. The space opened up.

In front of her was the heart of Project Moongate. The site was styled like a hangar, with tall ceilings and maintenance crew walking on levitated platforms. The most eye-catching subject was the circular gate in the middle. Four pairs of metallic arches held it steady, taking up most of the space. The actual gate wasn’t that big. It could only let in the smallest spaceship. The Moongate was humming even in pre-activation mode. The steel platform vibrated beneath Kyan’s feet.

“Is this necessary?” Kyan eyed the four-person costume crew as they crowded her. They were dressing her up in Eyaithen fashion, attaching ready-made white cloth stripes to her suit. The material felt like silk.

Beside them were crates of artifacts, collected by other Travelers on their previous journeys.

“We don’t have time for makeup,” one of the costume crew members said. “A mask should do.” They discussed among themselves, and decided to take her helmet. The crew was working in terrible efficiency. They put it through the handheld 3D printer and sprayed it gold.

When Kyan got it back, the helmet had two branching horns attached to it. It was also shaped like a goat’s face, with a complicated engraved pattern on the sides.

Kyan turned to look at the holo screen she saw them referring. It was the Holy Text of the Eyaithen people. She could barely recognize the language, let along speak it. Guess that’s why the crew attached a voice filter to the built-in translation device in her helmet.

She wasn’t close to an expert in the Eyaithen. As a Traveler, her specialty was in time travel, not planet-hopping. She did remember one report about this alien species. They were devoted believers, even though C.I.C.A.D.A. has not found out if their goddess actually existed.

“Your mission is to impersonate the Eyaithen goddess, Yaeshene.” Beryl approached Kyan just as the crew was putting on the finishing touches.

“Are you serious?” Kyan glanced at the complicated costume. Dozens of fabric stripes dragged on for a few meters behind her, acting like tails. “Alright, I kind of saw that coming. What am I going to say? Should I say anything at all?”

“A few words would be fine. Yaeshene is not a chatty god.” A beat. “Don’t say anything stupid.”

“I’m a professional,” Kyan said.

“Sure. There will be twenty drones surrounding you in a crescent formation. Sixteen of them are hologram effect projectors, making quite a light show. Four have speakers attached, so don’t be surprised when your volume is booming.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

They were walking slowly toward the bridge. Crew members helped carry her tails.

All around them, the engines were powering on. The noise echoed in the Hangar 9. They have to shout to be heard.

Beryl side-stepped to avoid stepping on the tails. “Double-check your jet thrusters,” he reminded.

“Already did,” Kyan was putting the mask on. It was a heavyweight on her head. “Wouldn’t be a convincing goddess if I fell from the sky, would it?”

The translator inside her helmet was projecting her words into a different language. A slow and rusty sound.

The Moongate powered on. The boom made Kyan glad for the helmet to dampen the noise.

Kyan stared into the gate. It was swirls of white light and nothing else. She took a deep breath, waved back at her colleagues and gave a thumb-up.

The Traveler took a step into the portal. The drones followed after her.

*********

King Alqovoh stood at the top of the tower. Below him, his royal subjects knelt. The air smelled like a hundred or so flesh burning, or some kind of herb.

The bells chimed in the wind.

“Lit the pyre,” he spoke. His servant cut the string. The embroidered signal flag rolled out. Under the tower, ten soldiers dressed in silver armors held the torches to the pyre.

The King moved his gaze toward the horizon. A crimson cloud was forming, casting shadows over the land of sand. Not an ideal weather for the launch, but the craft’s departure should not stray from the schedule.

Lightning flashed across the sky, making his subjects cower. Still, the King stood tall.

“The ceremony must continue,” he spoke, even as his servants trembled.

That was until the booming thunder rolled over the hills. He felt the presence before he looked up. The sky opened up. A circular ring of light. Energy crackled like a storm. The sharp wind shook even the firmest joints of the tower. He looked up and saw the celestial being descending in the glow of golden light.

His subjects knelt once more. Each of them must have been shivering worse than he was.

“The Gate of Thantonia,” he heard himself muttering in awe. “Just like the Holy Text… ‘a ring of pale fire burns…’ The Goddess has not abandoned Eyaithen, after all.”

“Do not abandon your homeworld.” The Goddess spoke. Her voice was calm, gentle even. The voice echoed through the sand plain. “Those who reach for the stars will not receive my blessings.”

“But—” That was not what the King had expected. He could not bear to look straight at her radiance, as he spoke in rebellion.

“Forgive my bluntness, but we have to search for a new homeland. This world is…We are running out of resources, and our kins—”

One of the Goddess’s lightning orbs struck the ground, causing flames to flare up. The divine act installed fresh fear in his people.

The King tried to keep calm under pressure. According to the Holy Text, the Goddess Yaeshene was not a merciless one. The spell she cast was merely a warning. The explosion did not injure his subjects, even though they were dangerously close.

Indeed, the Goddess seemed to lean down, closer toward him. He risked a glance up.

“I entrusted this land to you. Use it wisely.”

As if it was all in a dream. Yaeshene disappeared into a blinding ray of light. The pyre was out, leaving only ashes and smoke. The King searched the sky, but not a single trace remained.

The ceremonial ground was holding a collective breath. King Alqovoh was in deep thought, then he broke the dead silence.

“Burn it.” He pointed at the craft. “Burn it for the Goddess.”

*********

The Moongate spat Kyan out and powered down. The Traveler fell onto the bridge platform, less ceremoniously than she expected. She stood up, as the machinery whirled. Platforms folded to box her in. The decontamination process began.

“Woah, now that’s a nasty headache.” Kyan’s head felt like it was about to split open, but the pain only lasted for a few seconds.

When she stepped out of the pod, the crew helped her get out of the costume.

She exited the decontamination pod. The project manager and his inner circle was there, waiting. Kyan froze. What did she do to warrant this?

The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied with her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.

“Welcome back, Kyan.” Beryl was among them, also the only one who looked glad she was fine. “The project manager wants you to explain this.”

The tablet he was holding was showing a page from an Eyaithen book. A history book, as far as she could tell. It showed a sketch of something that looked…faintly, like a broken drone.

Oh fuck.

“Only nineteen out of twenty drones came back through the portal.” A crew hurried over and reported. That wasn’t helping.

“A drone flew too close and I accidentally knocked it down. It fell and crashed.” Kyan explained, as professionally as she could manage. “I didn’t know where was my arms with that stupid helmet on.”

“What!” Beryl was scandalized. “That goes against everything a Traveler stands for. You should never leave anything unnecessary behind, ever. Is this affecting the timeline?” He turned toward the analysts.

“Not much. The likelihood of the Eyaithen leaving their planet within the next five centuries is 6%,” the analyst said. “To be honest, their spacefaring technology is shaky at best, at least at this point in time. The likelihood of them discovering the drone’s real use is close to zero.”

“See, I would consider that as a success,” Kyan said. Even as she said it, she realized how much of an excuse it was. However, she was exhausted and sweaty because the suit didn’t have proper ventilation. She just wanted a shower and sleep on her day off. She was going to get a day off after all this, right?

Beryl nodded. “We achieved the goal, no matter how.” For once, he was agreeing with her.

The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied at her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.

“Wanna grab a drink after work?”

“Sure, why not. It’s been a long day, after all.”

*********

In a distant world where the sandstorm washed against the scorched land, fragments of celestial origin sat on a golden pedestal behind the throne. The relic was metallic in color and smooth to touch. The Shards of Divinity, it was called.

According to C.I.C.A.D.A. analysts, the cost of sending an agent to retrieve the broken drone outweighed the risk of humanity’s exposure. So, they left it like that.

It would remain there, for the entirety of the reign of King Alqovoh the Entrusted, and long after.

When Writing is Like Shouting into the Void

I’m, unfortunately, the kind of person who’s easily discouraged.

I could get a brilliant idea in the shower, come from the steam and open the laptop to write, but there’s another open window with the Goodreads page open. I would see a successful author in my genre, then remember the mediocre reviews on my book, and there goes the urge to write.

This year is a year for changing. I’m at a crossroads, having to face the reality of writing. I have to decide if I want to keep it as a passion or if making money sounds like a priority. I don’t know yet, but I’m not hurried to find out.

I’m exploring new things, new genres I haven’t touched before. New formats, like the sort of creative non-fiction I’m writing these days.

Sometimes writing feels lonely. And then that’s all I can feel.

I was once in a writer’s discord group. It was lively for a while. They were the only writing friends I had, at least in recent years. We talked about nothing and everything, but in the end, I realize there was never a true connection.

I know what a true one feels like.

All the way back to elementary school, I used to threaten my friends to write so I can have something to read. I was writing a novel even then. I wanted them to be like me, because the writers were cool. A few of them did, but gave up two pages in.

They preferred to read. Pen on paper in a tiny notebook I got from the nearby convenience store. That tiny notebook got passed around the class under the teacher’s eyes.

Now I haven’t heard a single notification from the group in months. And I haven’t been in contact with any of my childhood friends in years.

Except one, who visited me last summer. By chance, I just got my author’s copy in the mail. I opened the package in front of her. She was pleasantly surprised and thought it was unbelievable.

We met again in Beijing a few months later. Us two, and another friend of ours agreed on a reunion. We sat around in the back of a boba shop in a busy mall, each with a drink in front of us.

She said something I don’t think I can ever forget.

“It’s great that you actually went out to complete your dream.”

She said it in an almost wistful way. It made me stop for a few seconds to think.

We were all lost youth. Didn’t she have a dream she has yet to complete? Plenty of time left.

Also, was publishing a book my dream? I never really treated it as such.

When I was a teenager, I made a bucket list and one of them was “publish a book”. But it was obligatory.

I never intended for it to be just one. To publish more, of course, you have to publish the first one. I wasn’t going to stop, the idea of such is ludicrous. I wasn’t going to stop at just one.

I want to keep writing as long as I’m still alive.

That’s, I guess, is why I’m also easily encouraged. Just writing this article is making me feel better. There’s no profound insight here, just a writer, venting.

I don’t know who invented the phrase “there’s no going back now”, but he sure was an idiot. That’s what heroes say at the start of the third act. That’s not real life.

There’s never a way of going back. Not now, not ever. We can only look forward. Sometimes forward is the void.

Sometimes the abyss stares back.

How to Give Up on Your Work in Progress

This isn’t an article about never giving up

You are a writer and you have countless ideas. You have unfinished drafts too. You are working on something but it’s not working as intended.

You want to give up.

People have written countless blog posts about giving up. Articles are urging that you should finish everything you started, but sometimes we can’t.

So there are also posts about when to give up. Spotting the signs of a disaster in the making, a trainwreck too far gone. You should give up on your work-in-progress (WIP) then.

It’s not easy, not at all. Some may feel giving up is taking the easy way out, since you are refusing to do the work to see it through. Sometimes you know giving up is just as hard, because you realize it’s not working, and you can’t waste your energy on something that doesn’t.

Either way, there should be no judgment. It’s your work and only you can decide when it should end.

Maybe you have put in countless hours into it. You conceived this idea since the day you dreamed it up, and carried it with you ever since.

Understand this: you are basically a god. Not unlike the Lovecraftian deity Azathoth who dreamed up everything, ever. To your creation, whether it be a short story or an epic novel, you can decide where it goes from here.

Perhaps you are just putting it down for the moment. You have other things, deadlines to hit and life gets in the way. Perhaps you have plans to go back to it later.

Great.

Whether the giving-up part is permanent or not, now that you have decided on abandoning your WIP, how should you do it?


Braindump everything related

Go open a blank file and just write. Write down what’s frustrating you. Vent. Write down what makes you stop writing.

After the venting, write down your thoughts on the project as a whole, and your plans for the future. You might not remember it after you move on to the next project. Future you might find this helpful, and find ways to prevent past mistakes.

If it’s a novel, write down all the foreshadowing you have done.

This is important, because it helps you tremendously if you ever want to go back and finish the rest of the story. If you have to sift through your old writing to find the hidden details your younger self thought clever, you will be discouraged. Or worse, forget about the foreshadowing is even there and leave plot holes unresolved.


Never delete anything

Under whatever situations, you should never delete anything related to your writing.

Organize everything you have generated for this work. Your list of ideas, future chapter names, character ideas (even if it’s only a name and a gender).

If they are all separate in your chaotic Notes app (like mine), you can copy and paste them into one giant file called “ideas”, if you are lazy (like me). Or you can clarify from there. Character ideas, plot ideas, and scenes you have written.

Don’t delete any of your writing, and keep them together with your existing chapters. Don’t let them get lost in the sea of apps.


Finish the story —in a few sentences

I’m not telling you to write the next 40,000 words, just one or two sentences.

Every writer should be able to tell their story in a paragraph. Give it a beginning, middle, and end. At least you have one finished story, no matter how short it is.

One day you might realize, a story you loved so much just fade from your memory. It’s the worst feeling, like you lost a part of yourself.

The simple act of writing down a paragraph summary prevents it from happening.

Feel free to elaborate, though.

If it sparks a writing session, just keep writing. Finish that outline. Give each chapter a summary, or something like that.


Archive, and make backups

Even if it disgusts you when you spend one more second looking at it, you have to keep your writing safe.

The same should go to every project you ever work on. Archive your writing. If you usually write offline, make a copy on the cloud, vice versa.

While you are at it, make a few backup copies. External drives are cheap and spacious nowadays.

All your dead projects together on a USB thumb drive won’t cost you too much, certainly not more than the pain if you lose your writing.


So, you have given up on your writing project. Time to move on to the next one. Carry the lessons with you, and you might finish the next one.

While you do that, your abandoned project is safe. Whether or not you want to go back to it someday, your old writing will be waiting.