A New Life

Humans often speculated the meaning of their existence. They knew life on the planet had begun in the form of plants and fish and smaller mammals. Life itself was pondered by many humans because it seemed near unfathomable that they were the result of extreme chance; of being on a planet that held an atmosphere and was the perfect distance from a star whose orbit did not deviate enough to prevent conditions that encouraged life. This chance, however great, created a rift between many, causing humanity to segregate itself into different sects of ideology. However, all of them were correct in a way that neither could comprehend. They were allowed to grow and populate the planet because the planet itself allowed it. The human population grew and grew until it reached ten billion inhabitants. It was around this time when the tremors began.

Earthquakes became consistent. After the first year, when the earthquakes grew in frequency, many governments dedicated teams to study the cause of them and provide insight into the changes the planet was undergoing. Arthur Denali was recruited by the Chilean government to study the earthquakes and provide insight as to how they might alter the nations landscape. The main concern centered on how the quakes would impact the mining industry.

Arthur took the job for several reasons. He had been studying earthquakes for over ten years and knew his field, he needed the money to support his two young boys who were both starting their teenage years, and he was genuinely interested in what was causing the quakes themselves. He was certain there was a cause, and he wanted to find it first.

Leon and Christian were on the couch watching the game when Arthur walked in. They were sharing a bag of chips and never tore their eyes away from the screen.

“Did either of you make dinner?” he asked. Leon shook his head without looking away from the game. Arthur sighed, put his bag in a chair, and turned on the stove. He grabbed a pot and a pan and made a simple pasta with meat sauce. When he was done, he divvied the meal onto three plates and took two of them to the boys.

“The last one to finish does the dishes,” he said before returning and grabbing his own plate. They tore into the food, occasionally eyeing each other’s plates as they raced to finish. Arthur watched the game while he slowly picked at his own plate.

“Done!” Leon yelled and slammed the plate down on the coffee table.

“There are still noodles on your plate,” Christian objected.

Arthur pretended to look over their shoulders before saying, “Sorry Christian. He finished first.”

“But…” The younger boy began and turned toward Arthur with sad eyes that were growing too old to draw much empathy.

“You can wait until after the match,” Arthur said. Christian smiled and turned back to the game.

Arthur finished his plate then grabbed his computer before sitting down in the chair next to his boys. He opened the laptop and logged into an international database established to share information regarding the earthquakes and speculate the cause of their increasing frequency. Arthur primarily logged in as an observer. He rarely posted more than the day’s readings at his location. He scanned the readings from other parts of the world hoping something would come together from the information. After gathering what he could, he set up his seismometer and settled in to watch the final twenty minutes of the match with his boys.


 

The rumbling woke him. He sat up and looked around for Leon and Christian. The later opened the door of their room letting Arthur breathe before turning his attention to the seismometer. This quake had been greater than any previous ones. It stopped after nearly three minutes. He scanned the readout. It had maxed at 6.0. As he began his calculations to predict the next cycle, he was surprised by another quake. This one was softer, measuring in at 5.4, but also lasted nearly three minutes.

“What’s happening dad?” Leon asked, more curious than scared.

“I’m not sure,” he answered. The quakes had never been back-to-back before. They were consistent but spread out over several hours. If his new calculations using the previous time-frame and the new data was correct, the next one would come in roughly four hours. He packed his equipment and loaded the car. He returned and gave the boys his usual speech. Go to school, do your homework, clean up the kitchen, and try to make dinner that was more than simply chips. When he left, another quake occurred. He kept his eye on his watch as he waited until it was over. It lasted three minutes and had happened only forty-five minutes after the previous two. A second quake followed, just like earlier, and his phone rang as the trembles subsided.

“Yeah,” Arthur answered. “I know, I know….Yeah….It may be too soon to tell….Tell you what,” he pulled out his notes from the morning quakes and looked them over, “If we get another round….Yeah, two in a row….Yeah….If we get two more in the next hour, let’s call it….Okay?….Okay.” He hung up.

“Everything all right dad?” Christian called from the doorway.

“We will see,” he saw the concern in Christian’s face, “Go pack a bag and tell your brother to do the same. You two can come with me today.”

“What about school?” Christian said, trying to act genuinely concerned about missing his education and failing miserably.

“You can skip today.”

Before Arthur finished his sentence, Christian had bolted back inside the house. Arthur packed extra provisions for a worst-case scenario that he couldn’t shake out of his head.

The boys had loaded into the car and Arthur was driving toward the office when the quakes began again. Again, there were two, lasting three minutes each with a five-minute pause between them. Arthur’s phone rang.

“Yeah…Yeah…Okay.” He spun the car around and headed toward the ocean. After an hour, they were safe from any areas at risk of landslides. His phone rang again and he answered it. “Denali……what do you mean underground?………..Okay, okay, send me the coordinates and I’ll meet you there.” He dropped the phone in the cup holder and adjusted his course yet again.

“Dad…” Leon started from the backseat.

“Everything’s okay,” Arthur cut him off. He was too panicked to worry about lying and he didn’t want either of them to know how worried he really was.

They drove for hours. The rumbling of the quakes stayed consistent but increased in magnitude. Arthur had Leon pull out the seismometer and place it in the empty seat. Taking readings in a moving car skewed the results, but it provided Arthur with the information he needed. The quakes were increasing gradually. The last one had been a 6.8 give or take a few decimals for the road conditions.

The steady frequency of the quakes gave people an expectation and allowed their fears to subside a little. Many had gathered out in open areas. Only a few had packed up and gotten on the road. Arthur weaved through them on his way to a place he’d never been. The sky was growing dim when they pulled up to the gates. It was still midday, but dark clouds filled the sky. Two guards approached Arthur and asked for identification. He provided his badge the government had issued him and they let them through. He drove into a hangar and they were all then escorted into a small transit car that took them below into a bunker.

Arthur was greeted by his boss who walked him down a hall. They passed a series of glass windows and Arthur saw the president sitting with a group of men in heated discussion.

“Was that-”

“The president? Yeah. They brought him here this morning after the second set. I need you to give me updated after each grouping. They have been consistent so far. Your boys can stay with you. In fact, they won’t be allowed outside the room.” Arthur was led into a room full of equipment. “Use this phone,” his boss showed him an old landline receiver, ” to contact me.” Then he left.

Arthur surveyed the room and rolled up his sleeves. “Leon. Look after Christian. Don’t leave this room.” He bent down and placed a hand on each boy’s shoulder. “Everything’s going to be okay.” He pulled them in for a hug.

He ran from machine to machine for the next several hours, calling his boss after every set of quakes. The quakes were growing stronger. The last set registered at 7.6. They were also beginning to grow in frequency. Arthur predicted the next wave would come in seventeen minutes. His boss came in twenty-three minutes later when the next wave subsided.

“Arthur,” he said, “It’s over.”

“What’s over?”

“Everything. The president called a national emergency four hours ago urging everyone to get below ground. The first volcano erupted two hours ago, since then-”

“Volcano?”

“Yeah. There have been hundreds, maybe even thousands, erupting all over the globe. Spewing ash and gas into the atmosphere. No one can survive outside. The earth is cracking to pieces and-”

“Hold on,” Arthur stopped him. He grabbed papers from all around him, scanning the information, processing the meaning within it. He was on the edge of understanding what it all meant. Then it clicked. “Oh my god,” he whispered. He looked at his boys.

“Arthur! What is it?” his boss nearly yelled as the next set of quakes began.

“They’re not earthquakes,” Arthur said, “They’re heartbeats.”

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. This book is the first of a trilogy, but can be read as a standalone, which means the second two books are there for you should the first leave you wanting more (which it probably will).

I first discovered V.E. Schwab before I’d discovered her books. It may seem strange, but it’s not the first time it’s happened for me. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and see things differently or it’s because I’ve become serious about my own writing and have started quasi-networking. I don’t know, but this is not the first time I’ve discovered an author before reading their work.

Anyway, I discovered Victoria as a person and thought she was pretty cool and decided to read her book which I am now recommending to you. I’m also recommending you watch her delivery of the 6th Tolkien lecture titled “In Search of Doors” which took place two months ago. I’ll provide a link to that here: “In Search of Doors” because I thought it was brilliant, especially when she begins by stating she has never read Tolkien. Watch it and you’ll understand why I was initially drawn to her work because of her as a person.

Now onto the book itself. A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM for short) centers around the character Kell. He is unique because he possesses a rare magic which lets him travel between Londons, of which there are four. Stay with me here. There are four Londons that are identical but are essentially within different dimensions for lack of a better word. The city is the only constant between the four worlds and each has varying degree of magic that flows through it. Kell is from Red London which is prosperous in magic. Grey London is where us commoners (or muggles if you prefer in this context) would hail from. White London is a power-hungry world. And Black London is a world that was consumed by magic. When Black London fell, the doors were shut between “dimensions” and each world was effectively lost to the others, except to those capable of traveling between them with their own magic.

That’s all the setup I’ll provide. After all, this is a recommendation, not a review, and I would hate to spoil anything for you. If you like reading about magic and the worlds that contain them, give this one a shot. I was in a pretty bad reading slump when I decided to read this one. I read it quickly and enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope you do too.

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This book has a lot going on and it all works in amazing ways. I strongly believe that time travel is a really hard topic to pull off because there are many opportunities for plot holes or for something to leave the audience unsatisfied about. Even popular movies that venture into that territory often falter. This book, and the movie based on it, do a great job of avoiding the many pitfalls surrounding the subject. Just as it is for the characters in the book, the time travel element seems second nature/a random event that is both problematic but sometimes good.

The premise is Henry DeTamble involuntarily travels through time at random moments. He first travels at a young age (around 4?). He can’t control it. Every time he travels, he doesn’t know where or when he will show up, but his clothes never go with him so he ends up naked wherever he ends up. He has to find clothes and eventually just wait for the “jump” to pass because he eventually travels back to his original time and place from where he first disappears. Essentially, he lives a linear life but disappears every so often to visit other time periods of his life and other places he may have never been before.

Anyway, the rules are laid down and adhered to within the book and the fantastical element works extremely well, especially when creating complications for Henry and his eventual wife Clare. The movie came out in 2009, which I saw and thought was an excellent adaptation. I recommend both, but of course encourage the option of reading. Though the movie does have one scene that makes me hold back a tear. Not many movies do this but this one does.

Rare moment of vulnerability aside, this book does contain a lot of sex and drug use (not a ton, but enough to not recommend it to children/younger/immature persons). The movie cut a lot of those things out so it is safe to watch. They do show Eric Bana’s butt a few times though (I’m sure some of you may be pushing play on the movie right now because of that). Other than the few omissions of “suggestive themes,” the book is pretty much spot on in capturing the major moments and most of the smaller ones. Of course, movies never include everything in the book.

The story centers on the relationship of Clare and Henry and focuses on each character equally. It’s a gripping story that incorporates time travel extremely well and isn’t even a typical science fiction book that you might expect. It’s more of a fiction with the time travel element added for a bit of excitement (to put it mildly).

Happy Reading.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I know, it seems a little like cheating recommending the most popular book series of the last 20 years (21 actually, it came out in 1997) that also became hugely successful movies. However, it did occur to me that there may be a few people on this planet who have not heard of this series (they were probably all born in the last few years and have names like Hermione, Severus, Cedric, Sirius, etc.). I recently saw someone who was older than me admit they hadn’t read the series and was going to check it out. As with most things that become famous throughout the world, many people will be grouped into two mindsets about the work. Either it is the best thing ever, or they won’t read it and think it’s overrated. I’ll admit I’m stuck in the middle because I like so many things (I may be leaning toward the first group though). If you are being stubborn and don’t want to read it because you’re tired of your friends talking about it or think you know the story just from hearsay, stop being stubborn enough to give the books a chance. Maybe you haven’t read them because you’ve seen the movies. Try the books (books are often better than the movies, with few exceptions). If you’ve read the books, then let’s face it, you didn’t even bother to read this recommendation which means I wrote this sentence for no reason.

I grew up with these books. I was only six years old in 1997 and remember reading the books as they were released. I couldn’t just dive into the whole series at once (as you can now). I had to wait until a pallet full of books were delivered to bookstores before I could get one, go home, and devour the whole thing in a day or two. I remember waiting in line for the first movie, which came out in 2001. I grew up with Harry. We were close to the same age as I followed him on his adventures.

Another reason I’m recommending this book now is because I’m actually in London today on vacation. J.K. Rowling was born in the United Kingdom and wrote these books on this island. The original title of this first book is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The “sorcerer” switch happened when the books came to the United States (because we have to be different, also because we do speak differently).

If you’ve read these books, check out a previous recommendation. If you haven’t, this book is about a young boy who finds out he is a wizard and goes off to a wizarding school. That’s all I’ll give you about the book because I’d hate to accidentally give away a spoiler. This book is about magic. That might be all you need to know. I look forward to reading this series to my kids one day.

Happy Reading.

Elemental Cocktails

They weren’t strictly legal. Places that sold them always claimed to be on the level, but everyone knew what really went on, and it was only a matter of time before someone slipped up and the place would get shut down. Others would pop up as soon as one fell. Overnight, multiplying like a virus. They served anyone and everyone who wanted a taste. The problem was, one taste could be too much. Many died after one dose. Some people gained unnatural abilities most of which were temporary. Just enough to make a man feel immortal, and that was the draw.

Martin never considered trying them. The thought had occurred to him, but he kept to alcohol for any inhibiting drugs. It was predictable, slow, and his body could cope with the recovery. No risk of instant, permanent damage. Genetic Altering Tonics, or GATs, were the latest craze that had created a lot of problems for the city. To Martin, GATs were only slightly worse than cocaine or heroin. He’d never been interested in trying them but he found himself in a DNA bar nonetheless.

It was near midnight on Thursday and he’d wondered down the steps from the street, past a dark-haired man with glowing blue eyes smoking a cigarette, and through the solid wood door. It looked like another bar. Tables spaced around the room. Booths along two walls. The lights dimmed and music playing just loud enough so no one could overhear your conversation. Martin picked a booth near the back corner and ordered a whisky; two fingers, no ice. At first, he sat quietly and sipped his drink. When the waitress brought his second one, he pulled out his screen and flipped through some news and pop-culture videos. The bar filled up and the noise rose. Martin saw a young man following a waitress through the crowd. He got up and headed toward the hallway where he presumed the restrooms were located. His timing was exact and he exited crowd to fall in line behind the young man. The waitress passed the restrooms and knocked on a door at the end of the hall. She said something and the door cracked before opening all the way. Martin feinted toward the restroom door then followed the waitress and young man inside.

“Who’s this?” a voice said as Martin stumbled into the room.

Strong hands grabbed his shirt and lifted him up against the wall. Martin’s eyes followed the hands against his chest, down the forearms, and up to the eyes of the bald brute holding him in place. The brute broke eye contact to look at the waitress for an explanation. She pointed to the man that had followed her.

“I don’t know. He’s the only one who followed me.”

The brute cursed under his breath and turned back to Martin.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m just here for a drink,” Martin said. The bald man stared at him so he offered more. “Whiskey. Maybe a G if you have it.”

The brute lowered him to the floor and let him go. “We don’t. Whiskey is out front.” The bald head nodded toward the door.

“Too bad,” Martin said, brushing his jacket, “I came prepared.”

The bald man raised an eyebrow. Martin pulled a small wad of cash from inside his jacket. The man smiled, took the cash and flipped through it. He patted Martin on the shoulder. Then he turned toward the young man who came in with the waitress who also pulled out a wad of cash and handed it over, managing to look bored through the entire interaction.

The bald man turned toward the waitress. “Get back to work.”

The waitress scurried back into the bar as the bald man walked to a small table and sat down. He gestured for Martin and the younger man to sit. They did.

“So, what’ll be?”

Martin remained quiet, letting the younger man go first.

“Elemental. Windstorm.”

“Good choice. And you?”

Martin wasn’t expecting to make a choice that quickly. He was hoping to see how the younger man fared.

“Elemental. Lightning.” He managed, hoping he sounded genuinely informed of what he was doing.

The bald man smiled. “Looking for a little extra kick? Your wife’ll appreciate you tonight.” He nudged Martin.

Martin smiled. “Someone will at least.” This brought a laugh out of the man while the younger one sat there impatiently. Martin placed his hands in his pockets. His left one gripped a pistol, the right rested on a button.

The bald man opened a cooler and brought out two tumblers, setting one in front of both men. Then he rummaged around doing something out of Martin’s view but eventually planted two cocktail shakers on the table. He shook one and held the shaker over the young man’s glass.

“You’ll have to drink this one fast I’m afraid. Not much to savor but gives a good kick.”

He flicked the top off the shaker and let the contents pour into the glass. He quickly pulled shaker away but some of the liquid started rising out of the glass, floating as if untouched by gravity. The young man gulped down the tumbler’s contents and then rose from his seat to sip the three orbs of liquid floating above the table. He sat back with a smile on his face. His eyes glazed over and his arms rose, then the rest of his body lifted from the seat and he hung suspended in the air. Limbs moving glacially. His hair independent as if he were underwater.

“Alright,” the bald man said, breaking Martin’s attention from the young man, “Your turn.” He shook the container and poured it into the tumbler. The liquid was opaque, but glowed blue and white as electricity flickered through the it like lightning in a cloud. Martin stared at the drink. He’d already forgotten about the man floating across from him. Something irrational and unnerving.

“Drink up, before the spark fades.”

The voice brought him out of thought. He pressed the button in his jacket before reaching for the drink with his right hand. His left remained on the pistol. He’s pressed the button too late. There wasn’t enough time. The bald man would become suspicious if he didn’t drink the lightning in front of him. He held it in his hand and watched the flickering light inside the liquid.

“Go on,” the bald man said.

Martin took a sip hoping a small amount wouldn’t be too strong. He felt the liquid crackle down his throat. He placed the tumbler on the table before his muscles began flexing involuntarily. His mind shifted into overdrive as his synapses fired rapidly. He fought to remain conscious he began to see the lightning firing inside his eyes. He lost track of time but what little he took in of his surroundings showed him that his team had arrived and were detaining the bald man and strapping the younger one down.

He barely recognized his partner’s face as Skolfield hovered in front of him. His body was shaking violently as his muscles contracted so strongly he thought they might break his bones. Skolfield was yelling something at him but he couldn’t hear anything but a crackling in his ears.

Then his vision turned a pure white, as if looking into the sun, and he lost consciousness as his body discharged the energy that had wreaked havoc upon him.