Saturday, September 22, 2007

A preview of Star Shadows

It was one of those days that it hurt to be alive. The beauty of it inspired you to live life to the fullest. But it also made you feel as if you could die from it.
At least on the inside.
Arielle Phoenix, one day short of her eighteenth birthday, looked at her twin brother Alexander and grinned.
“How long before they figure out we’ve escaped?” she asked.
Zander shrugged as if to say he didn’t care and flashed a grin of his own. Elle grabbed onto the back of their friend Boone’s shirt with a shriek as he kicked the jet cycle off the ground and set off over the waves.
Zander was right behind them as they headed straight out to sea and hopefully out of sight distance of the villa that hung on the side of the dormant volcano. The “borrowed” jet cycles hovered just over top of the waves, kicking up spray as the ocean rolled beneath them, revealing swirling colors of bright blues, shimmering greens and the purest aqua.
A pod of dolphins joined them as they headed towards a small spit of sand and coral that only appeared at low tide. It was another remnant of a volcano, one that had long ago caved into the sea leaving behind a veritable garden beneath the glass-like surface.
Elle moved her arm up and down as if she were skimming it over the waves. The dolphins swam closer, racing beside them, jumping over the wake fanning out behind the jet cycles and then diving beneath the surface, only to come up again in a race against the humans.
Elle didn’t understand how she could speak to the dolphins. She just knew that they, somehow, understood each other. The dolphins tossed their heads with a smile and agreed to join them in their get-away.
It seemed there were no limits to what she could do with her mind.
Zander couldn’t do anything with his. At least not anything extraordinary. Their parents seemed to think that he should be capable of great things. Their parents were both telepaths, and their father could move large objects with his mind and had the ability to see in the dark.
Yet no matter how hard their mother probed into Zander’s mind there was nothing there. At least nothing that answered back to her. After countless attempts and endless frustration he begged their mother to stop wishing for something that obviously was not going to happen and she did, reluctantly. Not that she had much choice. Zander might not have the ability to project into minds but he knew how to protect himself with the litany their parents taught them.
Elle knew that he felt like a disappointment to their parents. All she had to do was look inside his mind to know how he felt.
She looked because he wouldn’t talk about it. But in the past year or so it was harder to see what was inside him. His mind was not able to reach out as Elle could do with hers, but it was very good at keeping things hidden. And Zander kept a lot of things hidden from his sister and his parents.
The truth was that Zander was normal. Like Boone. Boone’s mother had some of the physic abilities, and his sister showed some promise but his father Ruben, and the twin’s grandfather Michael, and the servants were all just normal, everyday people.
Elle wondered what it would be like to be normal. To live a normal life and not live under the constant security and scrutiny. She also wondered what it was that made her so special.
Elle did not understand the fear that consumed their parents. Both of the twins chaffed against it. They felt as if they were prisoners in their own home. In their entire life time they had never left the villa, except for short jaunts down to the beach, and only under the watchful eyes of unseen yet heavily armed guards. The guards whose jet cycles they were now riding across the waves at breakneck speeds.
If only they knew why they were so protected.
Their parents were very good at shielding their thoughts from their children. At least Zander had inherited that talent or else he wouldn’t be so good at hiding things from his sister.
And Elle was very good at convincing their parents that she and Zander were completely innocent.
Until they found out they were missing from the villa.
But until then, they were free.
The wind poured through Elle’s waist length hair, spreading the ash brown locks behind her like a banner. Her strangely pale gray eyes, identical to her brother’s, crinkled against the salt spray and the bright sun reflecting off the top of the water.
“Faster,” she said into Boone’s ear. He stole a quick look over his shoulder at Elle and her heart did the little flip that always resulted when his bright green eyes were on her.
“Hold on,” he replied and the jet cycle jerked forward as his thumb pressed a button on the handle.
Elle shrieked with joy as they sped up and the dolphins raced beside them.
Zander, up to the challenge, flew by on his craft and leaned sideways, spraying Boone and Elle with water.
“No!” Elle screamed as Boone went after him. Her protest was half-hearted at best. She knew she’d get the wettest when the two started battling but she didn’t care. She’d be soaked through soon enough when they dove into the coral garden that grew beneath the surface of the water.
Zander’s cycle moved directly in front of them and Boone bent low over the cycle. Elle moved with him but still got a face full of spray. She felt Boone’s lean, muscular frame move with laughter as she held on tight. She tried to pinch his abdomen, but could not find enough loose skin to grab. His two years at Academy has erased any softness left over from his boyhood.
“Get him!” Elle yelled.
“I will,” Boone said. The velocity of the wind snatched the words from him but Elle recognized the intent in his eyes. She had seen that look many a time in the past. They had grown up together after all. And mischief was not a new or sudden concept.
The dolphins moved away, content to follow along at a distance as they realized the play was getting serious. Zander’s cycle sped away, hopping waves, and Boone moved even lower over the engine.
Elle, pressed against his back, was sure she felt the pounding of his heart against her cheek. He moved his hand from the control to brush against hers and she knew he that he was allowing her to enter inside his mind.
“We’re carrying more weight.” The words formed inside him. ‘It will be hard to catch him.”
“You will.”
The craft skipped across the wake fanning out behind Zander as they gave pursuit. Zander toyed with them, veering across from left to right and then back again, knowing they would be slower, knowing they would have to fight the chop, hoping that they would…
Elle felt her body fly through the air as the nose of their hover cycle got caught in a wave and stalled against it. The craft flipped up on its end and both of them were dumped into the water.
Elle immediately kicked to the surface and a dolphin nudged her side with the tip of its nose as she rose.
I can do it…
The dolphin responded in kind, it’s smiling face inches from her own as she broke through into the warmth of the sunshine that danced across the water.
Zander circled them and waved cheerfully when he saw that she was safe. Elle was tempted to send him a blazing, torturous thought but lost it when she was jerked back under from below.
She twisted and found herself caught in Boone’s arms as he moved up from below. Even though the water was cold, her insides warmed as their bodies slid together beneath the water. Strange sensations coursed through her as his eyes moved level with hers.
“We might drown.” She sent the thought into his mind as they bobbed just below the surface.
“I could…easily…or… we could try this. ‘
His lips touched hers, tentatively then more forcefully as she opened her mouth against his and closed her eyes. Elle’s stomach gave a sudden lurch and she realized that she needed to breathe but didn’t really care.
This was better than breathing.
It wasn’t the first time Boone has kissed her. They had shared a few awkward, embarrassing moments the first time he left for academy and then again when he was home on his breaks.
But this was different. It was almost as if he’d been…practicing?
Her eyes flew open and she shoved him down and away as she kicked towards the surface. Zander was waiting on his cycle, a concerned look on his face.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Elle spit out the words with the water she had swallowed after her quick trip into Boone’s mind.
“That wasn’t fair,” Boone yelled as he came up beside her.
Elle splashed water in his face and swam towards Zander.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said as she held her hand up. “Help me up.”
Zander looked over her head towards Boone, who was trying to right the craft in the water.
“Zander,” Elle hissed. “Pull. Me. Up.” Her words were threatening and she knew that he knew better than to toy with her when she was angry. Zander jerked her up and she settled herself onto the seat behind him.
“You’re soaked,” he said.
“Shut. Up.”
“Did he kiss you?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Then why are you so mad?”
Elle looked over her shoulder at Boone who had righted the craft and was now following them. It wouldn’t take him long to catch up since they were now the heavier ones.
Why was she angry?
Because Boone has kissed a lot of girls. She had seen their faces in his mind as if she were watching a parade and each one had been more beautiful, more mature, more self assured than she was. He had practiced. A lot. And more than kissing.
Boone was no longer the boy that they had played with in the dark tunnels beneath the villa. He was a man. A man who had the capability of traveling the universe. Her father admitted that he was already the best pilot he had ever seen. He processed numbers and equations in his head as if he were a machine. He had been to more planets than she could count and had the type of freedom that she and Zander dreamed of.
And he’s here…with you…
Elle felt her anger dissipate a bit. After all, if all those girls were so wonderful why wasn’t he with one of them?
And the kiss had been nice.
She glanced his way and quickly recognized the stubborn tilt to Boone’s chin. He was looking straight ahead. The sandbar was in sight. The dolphins swam merrily between them.
He was right. She shouldn’t have looked inside. It was an unspoken agreement between the three of them and something her mother had pounded into her head since she began her training.
She should never use her abilities to take advantage of her family and friends.
But it was always so tempting. And easy.
Zander cut the engine back to idle and they coasted in to the narrow curve of sand. Boone pulled in beside them and jumped from his cycle with a quick, jerky, motion. His green eyes rounded on Elle and sparks seemed to fly from them as he stared down at her.
“I think you two need to talk,” Zander said. He got his pack from beneath the seat and walked towards the opposite end of the spit.
Elle turned to watch him go. She was avoiding Boone, which despite the wide open spaces around them, was hard to do. The spit was barely wide enough for them to stretch out on but was long enough that Zander’s body diminished in size as he moved away.
It suddenly struck Elle that her brother seemed lonely as she watched him shrink against the horizon. Her heart ached with a strange emptiness as she watched him jump up and down three times and move his neck from side to side as he always did when warming up his muscles.
Elle felt Boone move up behind her and dismissed the thought of Zander’s feelings from her mind as other strange and bewildering things flooded in.
“It’s hard to be away from you Elle,” he said. “And it’s lonely at Academy.” She was surprised. She had expected a fight, not this strange gentleness.
He was so close that she felt the rise of his hand, as if he were about to touch her. Elle crossed her arms and kept her eyes on her brother as he peeled off most of his clothes and sliced into the water.
“I have no claim on you Boone,” she said. “We’re friends, nothing more.”
“What if I want it to be more?” he said.
Elle’s heart jumped into her throat and she turned to face him.
“What do you mean?”
His hair, a warm rich brown shade, was already dry from the wind. The academy required that he keep it short but Elle could remember a time when it hung over his eyes and flipped wildly around his ears. His eyes, all the greener against the vivid blues that surrounded them, looked down at her with a strange yet familiar glow.
“You know what I mean Elle. You are all I ever think about.”
“Strange way to prove it,” Elle said defensively.
His hands gripped her upper arms and pulled her a step closer. Elle placed a hand on his chest to stop him and Boone looked down at where it rested gracefully against his chest and a slow smile spread over his face.
“My heart has always been yours Elle. Since the first time I saw you.”
“You were only six,” she said with a wry smile. “and I was four.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I love you. I always have and I always will.”
Elle looked up at him, her pale gray eyes searching his. “How can you know that?”
“I just do.” He lifted her hand from his chest and placed it against his temple. “Look inside and you’ll see.”
Her hair whipped around them with the strengthening of the breeze as she closed her eyes and let her mind flow into his.
She saw the girls again and quickly dismissed them. She saw the pranks he pulled at Academy. She saw him studying with his comrades and she saw him practicing the fighting skills that his father and hers had taught him along side Zander.
She saw shared memories from their childhood and she saw the places he had been with his father and with his uncle Stefan. She saw the love he felt for his mother Tess and his sister Zoey, who was several years younger.
But there were some places he would not allow her to search. He knew the litany that her mother had taught them. He knew how to protect his mind. Elle wondered what he kept hidden but quickly dismissed it because of the surprise she felt as she realized that with all the memories she saw there was one constant.
She saw her face staring back at her.
Elle felt Boone’s forehead touch hers as her mind floated with his. He truly loved her. But how did she feel? She had nothing to compare her feelings with. Boone was the only boy besides her brother that she had ever known. What if there was someone else out there that she was supposed to love?
But all thoughts of anyone else left her as Boone kissed her. She couldn’t imagine kissing anyone else. Kissing Boone was all she ever dreamed about. All she ever thought about. And there was more than kissing; she had seen that very clearly in his mind.
She wanted that too. She wanted Boone to show her what it felt like. Her arms snaked around him and she felt his sudden intake of breath as she pressed against him.
“Elle.” He groaned her name and moved the lower half of his body away from her.
“What?” she asked. She felt dazed, breathless, and warm yet twisted up inside.
His hand smoothed the wild tendrils of her hair back into place. “Maybe we should go for a swim,” he said. He tossed his head towards the water. “Zander.”
“Zander,” Elle sighed. For the first time in her life she wished that she didn’t have a brother.
Boone quickly turned away as she looked at Zander, who was playing in the water with the dolphins. He handed her pack to her and moved to the other side of the cycle and turned his back to her as he pulled of his shirt.
Elle couldn’t help but admire the contours of the muscle in his back as she wondered at his sudden shyness around her.
She skinned off her shirt and kicked away the baggy pants that she wore. She adjusted the hem of the short revealing top, checked the tie around her neck and made sure that her bottom half was properly if not scantily covered.
Her father would certainly raise his eyebrows at the cut of her attire but she didn’t care. What could he do to her? Lock her away from the world?
“Ready?” she asked Boone as she adjusted a set of shields over her eyes.
“Right behind you,” he said, settling his own shields into place.
Elle took off at a run for the water and flattened herself out to dive beneath the gentle lap of waves with Boone close behind her.
The sand bar ended suddenly as the rim gave way to the ancient crater and a world of bright colors and exotic plants opened up beneath them.
The water felt warmer, as if the volcano that had once been here still burned down in the deep. Elle was certain parts of it were inside her. She felt the brush of Boone’s body as they swam side by side and was certain that the water around them would boil.
Boone pointed out a pair of brightly colored fish that darted from behind a trumpeting piece of coral. From below a ray moved up as if it were part of the water and barely missed their heads with its tail.
They turned and grinned at each other and as one moved to the surface for air. The dolphins quickly circled them and chattered as Zander joined them.
“I see you two made up,” he said.
Elle pushed her goggles up and looked at Boone.
“Kissed and made up,” Zander added.
Elle splashed water at this face and Boone rose up with a yell, placed his hands on Zander’s head and pushed him under. The dolphins headed for cover as the three of them splashed, wrestled and dunked each other as they had done since they first knew each other.
But it was different now. Zander knew it and he swam away as Boone pulled Elle under again.
He’s lonely…
The thought once again faded as Boone’s lip’s found hers and they twisted away from Zander, moving as one beneath the surface and they breathed air into each other’s lungs.
They kissed until Elle thought she would pass out from lack of oxygen. Her ears roared as she felt the blood rushing to her head. She pulled her head away and opened her eyes to look at Boone but saw that he was looking up.
A shadow fell across the water and as they swam to the surface Elle knew they were in trouble.
Her father had come looking for them.

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