An insensitive night club logo. A young man battling memory demons. And a young woman who just wants to be his friend. Jez is the ‘Boy on the Rope’, the last person to touch the Spher’rios holiday-sphere before it vanished. The tragic image of Jez scrabbling against the escaping air, and gravity, has become the emblem of the disaster. An image treated with reverence by those who remember, but it’s ten years since the disaster and only those who lost friends and family remember. Now, as if to rub salt into those memories, a nightclub ‘Club 5 Eight Zero 6’ is using a neon outline of the ‘Boy on the Rope’ for its banner.
Lucy wants to mindMerge with Jez, but he’s not interested. He could lock into her thoughts without effort, his telepathy is thousands of times more powerful than hers. This boy, who can weaponise his thoughts, whose fellow cadets know to keep him at arm’s length, isn’t interested in linking with the poster girl of Mech-U, the prettiest girl on campus. He just sits there staring up at the stars. Lucy, though, won’t be beaten, Jez’s sad demeanour has triggered her maternal instincts. A little bit of coaxing, she thinks, is all that’s needed to get that mindLink. Or is Lucy poking a sleeping tiger?
Continuation from – ‘Look Inside’ – Amazon preview
Chapter 10 – What a beautiful smile …
“Lucy,” the Prof implored, “you’ve excelled in all the other units and even with all your student hi-jinks and drunken nights, and everything else,” he added with a wink — which she acknowledged with an embarrassed nod — “I know you’ll get that double-first you’ve always strived for. So please, please don’t throw it away now,” he begged. “You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
Lucy nodded, her eyes glistened, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “Yes, it would be a waste,” she said, sniffing. “But I just can’t get through to him. I know he’s listened, he told me as much.” Then she told the Prof about her heated outburst the other week. “It was just after you left me that evening, on the bench. The time I pointed him out and he skated past on his ridiculous board.”
The Prof listened, nodding where appropriate, then said firmly, “Right then, you’re not going to give up are you?” It was more of a telling than an asking and before she had time to reply, he said, “You have two more weeks to complete this unit and you’ve just told me that a connection has been made. So, build on that, and to help you I’m going to give you this, and he held up a sheet of paper. “Read it, understand it and incorporate it into your report. I have given similar studies to all the other students, so you’re not alone in wondering what it’s all about, and what it has to do with your current studies.”
The sheet of paper contained a bullet list. Lucy quickly scanned them then said, “Sorry Prof, but I don’t understand. There’s nothing in this list that relates to the course, let alone this unit. And nothing I can see that would help me build up a genial rapport.” She was dumbfounded and just stared at the paper.
“Isn’t there? Are you sure?”
“No.” She ran her finger down the list, then said, “‘Club 5 Eight Zero 6’, it’s a club, was a club and, for reasons that no one’s prepared to talk about, has been closed down. It was a great club, really quirky and it’s been closed down.”
“And why is that?”
“Beat’s me,” Lucy replied, adding a frown for good measure. “And this other stuff too, what’s that all about? How is any of this supposed to help me get that little shit talking to me? For example, ‘Praes~Eedan’, what’s that when it’s at home?”
“Well that’s for you to find out, and you only have two weeks in which to do it. If you want that double-first, then you had better get reading,” said the Prof. Then he held up a finger, and added, “Or you could give up now. It’s your choice, Lucy. Hmm?”
Chapter 11 – Oh, that’s not good …
“Hey Luce, are you about?” Cristi called, but she got no reply. “Sounds like she’s out, come on, I’ll get the wine out of the fridge, you get the glasses.” But as she stepped into the kitchen/lounge, said, “Blimey, it looks like we’ve been ransacked!” There were papers strewn everywhere. “Watch where you step, Sam, looks like, yeah it looks like we’re not alone.” Lucy was lying on the sofa, a sheaf of papers in a cascade from her chest to the floor. She was fast asleep.
Sam tapped Cristi on the shoulder. She turned, and he held his finger to his lips and led her back out the way they had come. “Let’s go out for a drink instead,” he whispered, then winked. “Don’t disturb her.”
“Okay, just give me a mo,” she whispered, nipping into her room, “I just want to change out of this work stuff.”
He smiled and nodded, and whilst he waited for a ‘mo’ to turn first into five and then ten minutes, he gazed at the mess at his feet and shook his head. He was a soldier, disciplined and tidy. [-“How can anybody live like this?”-] “I certainly couldn’t now,” he said, and he stooped down to part the scattered sheaves to make a safe path to the hob and the sink. As he did so, curiosity got the better of him and he read some of Lucy’s notes. “Oh. That’s not good, or is it? I don’t know. I suppose it could be. Hmmm…” But Cristi interrupted his deliberations and he put the paper down, and together they slipped silently out of the front door and left Lucy to her slumbers.
Chapter 12 – One more try …
On Monday afternoon Lucy took up position once more on the bench. Jez, the boy, was on the fallen log staring into the afternoon sky. Something in the heavens twinkled and she was sure he flinched, and he was also hunched. He looked sagged!
This afternoon she was going to give it one more try; she owed that much to herself. He had been in the refectory earlier, in his usual place, slightly apart from the other cadets, and she was amazed at how wretched he looked. If he didn’t respond this time, then she was going to go right up to him and tap him on the shoulder. But seeing how fragile he had become, she was afraid that a physical intrusion would be too much for him. With so little time left for her to complete this part of her course, however, she was left with no other choice. Today he was going to have to talk to her. Because today ‘No’ was not an option. But before Lucy had a chance to prepare, she heard familiar voices and turned to see what it was all about.
Andy, the professor that had carried the bag of the lady with the beautiful smile, was walking towards her. He was followed by Sam, Robbie, Conner and a couple of other cadets. But they sped past her, although each acknowledged her with a nod or a wink. But it was the boy they had come to see.
“Come on my old mate,” said Andy as he put his hand under Jez’s arm and helped him stand. Then Robbie and Sam each took an arm, and with the others carrying his baggage and Conner carrying his board, they gently supported him back to college. Lucy found out later that evening that they took him to Andy’s rooms, where they stripped him, showered him and put him to bed.
Back in the apartment, Lucy was chatting to Sam whilst he waited for Cristi to get ready. They were going to see a movie that Cristi particularly wanted to see, though chick-flix weren’t Sam’s thing, but if it made her happy then he was happy too. As usual her ‘get ready in a few minutes’ was already close to half an hour, but Sam was used to this, so he always allowed plenty of time and it meant he could catch up with Lucy.
“This afternoon was my make or break moment, Sam. I was going to give it one more try and if necessary, tap him on the shoulder and make him reply. I was just readying myself, had just gathered my stuff and… and you lot turned up,” she said.
“He’s just not up to it Luce,” Sam replied.
“Who’s not up to what?” Cristi asked as she rushed into the room. “Have you seen my gold necklace, Luce?”
“JD,” said Sam.
“Have you looked in the jar on the window ledge, Cris?”
“Oh yeah,” she said and turned back the way she had come, calling over her shoulder. “What’s he not up to?”
“No, not the one in the wet-room, the jar in the kitchen,” Lucy cried, and she jumped up to look. “Here it is, Cris.”
“There’s even talk of sending him home for a few weeks,” said Sam. “I hope they don’t, but they might, and he might even get shunted back to another training group. I think the next one is Tech10. I hope they don’t, he’s a good mate, and I wouldn’t want to lose that friendship now. He certainly needs some space though. Those weeks we spent at the Star-Link Hub were just too much for him. Poor sod. And because of Cris and I, he’s been living rough. We never gave it a thought.”
“Have you seen my red bag?” Cristi called from her room.
“Under your bed,” Lucy called back.
“Got it, thanks.”
“What exactly went on up there’?” Lucy asked.
“Well, nothing really. It’s just the Memorial Stone, it took him back.”
“There were names on the stone that we think were relatives of his, and seeing those names certainly seemed to shake him. Then there was that trouble between the… eh, those other guys. A few fists were thrown.”
“Fists?” Lucy was puzzled; Sam seemed to be talking in riddles. “Who was fighting Sam?”
It was Sam who was puzzled now though. “I thought you knew. Haven’t you told her Cris?”
“Told her what?” Cristi asked as she arrived beside Sam. “Will I do? Was it worth the wait?”
“Wow Cris, you look great. You know it’s always worth the wait.”
“What am I supposed to have told Luce?” Cristi asked.
“You know, when those guys started wrecking all of our hard work.”
“Yeah, I told you, Luce, at breakfast, weeks ago, when the boys came back. But you must have been rummaging in your bag or something. Sam didn’t exactly say what went on, but whatever it was he said JD was in the thick of it.”
Chapter 13 – For one scary moment …
Lucy stood slumped against the railings across from the Claude Atkins Institute, thumbing through her notes and checking her watch, and twiddling her hair. Checking her watch and then thumbing some more. Her hair was in knots! It was ten weeks to the day since they had received their last assignment and she hadn’t completed it; she still hadn’t made proper contact with her subject, and all she had to show for her ten weeks research were her notes. She had watched all the others taking someone into the building and then each couple coming out, their faces cut with beaming smiles. Now there were just five minutes left before she knew, most assuredly, that she would fail.
“Five minutes, so at least I won’t have to endure the humiliation in front of anyone else. Oh well, let’s get it over with then,” she muttered, pulling down her beret. Then she picked up her bag and strode boldly up the steps to the front door.
Lucy had realised that being of a Homid origin could be very useful when she qualified if she could learn and develop the mindSpeak skill. She had enjoyed her brief spell on the green planet, and had made a good impression with her seniors at Beadles because she was prepared to try. In trying, Lucy had laid the foundations of a very useful network. The Beadles’ seniors had seen her potential and had enrolled her on the mindPlain course as part of her degree. It had been strongly intimated, that when the supply-chain partnership was fully up and running, there would be a position for someone like her who possessed mindSpeak skills.
Mecklenburg University had the most renowned mindPlain Laboratory outside of The Belt of Homid, and Prof Tomasz Beske’haht was the acknowledged leading man in the field. He was probably only bettered by the nomad shepherd drovers of the Mii’een steppe who, for thousands of years, had worked symbiotically with their dogs, and communicated over the vast steppe, using the mindPlain as they drove their flocks.
“Ah-ha, Lucy, for a scary moment I thought you weren’t going to come in.” The Prof had been looking at her through the window, watching as she feverishly thumbed through her notes and constantly checked her watch. “What have you got for me? Do we have double-first material? I’m sure we do.”
Lucy didn’t say anything. Instead she just thrust her notes towards the Prof, and waited a few moments whilst he flicked through the sheaves. He was impressed, and she was puzzled.
“This looks good Lucy, meticulous as ever. I’m going to enjoy reading this. It looks really good.” But Lucy turned to go. “Hold on Luce, where are you going?” he asked, surprised.
“That’s all there is Prof,” she said. “All I have is notes. I’ve written them up, and it’s all there. There’s nothing else.”
“Oh?” the Prof replied, clearly puzzled by what she’d just said. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course I am. I should know,” she said, her voice starting to break. She was about to run out when a chair grated and she turned to the noise. She hadn’t taken in the room when she entered, as she was too intent on delivering her pathetic report and getting out as quickly as possible. It was the boy, who had been sitting at the back, waiting through the whole session whilst she was leaning against the railing agonizing over whether she should come in or not.
“This young man has been waiting patiently, I assume for you, because all the others brought their own conquests.”
[>“Have you been waiting for Lucy?”<] the Prof asked.
[>“Yes.”<] the boy replied with an upward nod.
“Well, I just asked him if he was waiting for you, and he said he was. Perhaps you might ask him or tell him something that he could then tell to me,” the Prof said to Lucy, “and then I can sign off your assignment.” He gestured and smiled, then added, “Go on, I don’t think he’ll bite.”
Lucy was flummoxed. She hadn’t expected this at all, and she certainly hadn’t asked him to come and didn’t know what to say.
So Jez, who was reading her thoughts, hesitantly said something to her instead. [>“Eh, I’m sorry I ignored you,”<] he said. [>“I didn’t realize how much I was hurting you, sorry. Please don’t tell him that, please. No, don’t tell him that. Tell him, tell him…”<] He hesitated again. [>“Tell him, that I’ve only ever wanted to be a shepherd, a drover; yes tell him that.”<] Then he gave her the faintest of smiles.
Lucy took out a slip of paper and scribbled a note, then said to Prof Beske’haht, “Ask him what he would like to be.”
So the Prof did. It was a brief exchange. Lucy watched and noticed that the Prof put his head to one side and pulled back, the way folk do when they don’t quite believe what they have just heard. When he did Jez gently nodded. The Prof then shrugged and turned to Lucy.
“Oh right, are you sure?” Jez nodded and smiled again. “Right then Lucy,” the Prof continued, “your young friend says that all he’s ever wanted to do was stay on the steppe and follow the flocks. He says that he only ever wanted to be a shepherd or a drover. Is that what you have written on that slip of paper?”
“Yes, it is,” she replied, opening the folded slip so he could see.
Prof Beske’haht, nodded, smiled and shook his head. “Well it’s not quite the rapport I was expecting, a little bit unorthodox, but you’ve obviously been chatting enough for Master Devii’rahl to be here when you delivered your report. Well done. I will now sign all the necessary paperwork, and you can move onto the next unit of your course. Well done Lucy, first class.”
Lucy was cock-a-hoop, her day had started so full of dread. She hadn’t managed to keep her breakfast down and had gone the whole morning with a foul taste in her mouth. “Thanks, Prof, thanks.” Then turning, she said, “Jez do you want a coffee, let me buy… Huh? Where’s he gone?”
Whilst the Prof was signing the necessary paperwork Jez had jumped onto his board and floated silently out of the room.
Chapter 14 – Prof Beske’hahte writes …
‘My dear friends,’ Prof Beske’haht began his letter. He felt that words written on paper were more personal than that of an E. True, an E would reach the reader within seconds and a letter might take a day or two, or as in this case, with the readers somewhere out on the steppe and unlikely to be near to a postal service, maybe a couple of weeks. But for the Prof and his longstanding, and fond friends, a paper letter was much the preferred choice of both parties.
‘A breakthrough has been achieved, though alas I fear it is too late for our purposes. Contact was made, but a rapport was never established and now our dear boy has been posted to the Jaeger Corps to start his eighteen-month soldiering training. But there is hope. You will recall me telling you of the altercation during the construction of the Memorial Stone. It appears that it’s the same unit to which the injured Jaegers belong. So, I would hope that they, knowing this, would wrap a protective arm about him. I will write again when I know more.’
Chapter 15 – Jaeger Basic – JB316 …
“STAND STILL,” the escort screamed, and Jez did his best to do just that as he struggled to keep his balance and to keep his kit bags from tumbling onto the polished floor of the Senior Ranks Mess. To do so he shuffled.
“Who said you could shuffle? Stand still!” the escort screamed, then turned to the seated Warrant Officers (WOs), and announced, “Devii’rahl.J OiT as requested, sir.” Then she smartly left the room.
“We get all the shit,” Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Tomsen announced without looking up from the paper in his hand. “So why then do we have you? Hmm?”
Jez didn’t reply, he just stood to attention and waited under the gaze of the WOs that ruled the base. He’d been on the base for less than twenty minutes and had been summoned the moment he’d arrived. He had been run here at the double; he was panting, and he was finding it difficult to breathe in the room’s stuffy air that was heavy with cigar smoke and brandy fumes.
“Very wise,” the RSM continued, this time looking up and breathing out, adding to the smoky atmosphere. “That wasn’t a question that required an answer. So why then do we have you, when your service record puts you at the top of every class? That doesn’t make sense to me, does it you?” he asked the three other lounging WOs, who all shook their heads. “All I can say then,” the RSM continued, “is you must have done something really bad to make all the other wasters shine brighter than you. They were all given the plum postings: It just doesn’t make sense, does it. As I said before ‘we get all the shit’! So, it must then be something to do with the margin notes, and there are quite a few. ‘Can’t make up his mind who he wants to be’, and over the page I saw,” — he turned to the next page, studied it for a few seconds, then read — “‘little shit didn’t even try’. It seems you made yourself rather unpopular with someone on Tech-Basic. Someone has even been in touch, told us to give you a bloody good kicking he did. Told us to shake you up because you’ve been languishing at college this past year, and we might have followed that advice had you not defended three of our own when they were at their most vulnerable. But to look at you… ” he paused and turned to the others. “Look at him, the skinny runt. I’ve seen more muscles in a bag of whelks!”
Jez was wiry yes, skinny no. His bulky uniform covered a muscled body, but the oversized jacket made his head look small and his hands hardly extended beyond the cuffs. Never-the-less, the RSM’s remark raised a chortle from the others. Sensibly Jez just stood to attention, stared over their heads and said nothing.
“So in my mind, and knowing what was done and how quickly and efficiently it was executed, and seeing you now for myself, I have to say you’re either one very brave son of a bitch, a very brave one indeed, or just very, very stupid,” to which the others nodded and grunted in agreement. “Which is it I wonder?”
The RSM then turned to the third page of Jez’s service record, frowned and shook his head. “Homid, hmm?” he said and nodded, “That might expl… ” The RSM hesitated, then asked, “Reading my thoughts are you, boy?” and he canted his head to one side and asked again, [-“Reading my thoughts?”-]
But Jez was smart enough not to reply, even though he was.
[-“Smart lad,”-] the RSM smiled. “You’ve certainly upset someone.” [-“Well you’re not going to upset me.”-] Did you get that? [-“That does require an answer.”-]
But Jez still played dumb, and the RSM waited a moment before continuing. “So, do you intend to upset me?” he asked again.
“And who do you intend to be, boy?” the RSM asked, referring to the margin note.
“Me, sir. Jez’ziah Devii’rahl sir. No one else, sir.”
One of the others, who also had a copy of Devii’rahl’s service record and was scanning the third page, noticed another comment. “‘Side-Stepper?’ What’s one of them when it’s at home, huh?” One of the other three leant across and explained.
The RSM tossed his head. “Homid mumbo jumbo,” he muttered. “Or is it mumbo jumbo, Devii’rahl?” Jez said nothing and the RSM stared thoughtfully, looking him up and down. “You really are a wiry little sod… there’s nothing to you is there. I can’t see how a runt like you could inflict enough damage to take out nine newly-badged Jaeger officers unless our training regime isn’t tough enough, or maybe it’s not mumbo jumbo after all. Maybe it is possible. Just maybe. What do you think fellas?” he asked, turning to the other WOs. “Is it possible?”
“A side-stepper, aren’t they supposed to be able to know where a punch is going to land and move — side-step — before it lands? If that’s the case, boss, then that might explain a few things.” The others, including the RSM, all nodded in agreement. “Those people can move quickly too, boss.”
“I’ve heard it said, read about them too,” said the RSM. “Never actually come across a live one though.”
“That would tally with those that were there, saying they never saw anyone move or anyone else throwing a punch or taking part,” one of the others added. “They all said it was just one; that one. Although no one saw him move, they just saw a blur, like smoke, and those nine laid out and groaning. They say he took out nine and the other cadets mopped up the other six.”
“Aye that’s what I heard,” Tomsen agreed. “So, until I’m proved wrong Devii’rahl, I’m going to believe what I heard and what’s written here. And because you saved the life of one of us, and saved two more of ours from serious injury as well, we,” he said, encompassing the others, “are going to give you a second chance. As long as you play the game by our rules and put in the hard work then we will do our best to make you into a fine officer, you got that?
“The regiment is grateful, but our gratitude comes at a price. You’re going to have to work for it, because it’s not going to come on a plate, make no mistake. Oh no, make no mistake, because I’ve read about you, I know your background; a shepherd, a fell runner who has won prizes, and now we know you’re a fighter. Yet for reasons known only to you, you kept all that a secret whilst you were at Basic. Well, it’s not a secret now, and I expect you to be the best runner we’ve ever had. So I’m giving you a second chance.”
He turned and swept his arm around the room, and the others nodded. “We are giving you a second chance. But mark my words, Devii’rahl, and get this into your thick Homid skull. If it wasn’t for the Memorial Stone incident then you wouldn’t even have got this interview. You would be shovelling shit for the whole of your time with us because we don’t like Officers in Training. OiTs, we’ve shit’em. But the regiment is grateful, so you are getting that second chance. You will start by redoing your Basic, but none of that namby-pamby officer stuff that you did before. We’re giving you the chance to prove that a boy from the steppe is as tough as they come. You join JB316 this afternoon. You got that?”
“Good. I’ll see you in six months. Now piss off.”
The RSM watched as Jez shuffled out of the mess, doing his best not to drop any of his kit on the polished wooden floor. The boy from the steppe puzzled him.
“I reckon he can handle himself you know.”
“Yeah, he looks like a runt but that’s just the QM’s joke, OiT, O for oversize. The QMs do it to all the OiTs, don’t they? But I reckon he’s going to grow into his. Yeah, he can handle himself alright. Got his head screwed on too I’d say, as it takes balls to want to leave the steppe and join up. And to know how to cover your tracks with a proper address and not use the standard PO Box. He obviously put a bit of thought into all of this. He’s smart, maybe too smart. We’ll keep a close eye on him, I think.”
One of the others then spoke up. “This article might interest you, boss,” he said, then passed him an old magazine, “bottom of the page.”
“Okay, what have we got here? ‘The Homid Smoke Dance’, hmm?” The RSM frowned. “Right then, here we have it, a reference to ‘side-stepping’, so where does smoke come into it?”
“Didn’t one of the stewards on the Star-Link say something about smoke, and you mentioned smoke too, and that they thought there was a fire and rushed up with extinguishers?”
“Yes, you’re right. I think that was in the report,” one of the others added.
The RSM read on. “‘Extrasensory ability’, ‘penetrate the thoughts of others’, and you can bet your sweet arse that he knew what all of us were thinking whilst he stood there. But that’s just an everyday Homid thing, and all those weirdos can do that. No, there’s got to be something else.”
Tomsen spent a couple of minutes scanning the paragraphs whilst the others chatted.
“Right then, here it is. ‘The Smoke Dancer ability is only likely to surface in one in ten million’. Wow! ‘And could miss several generations too.’ That’s a shame, imagine a regiment of them. Oh well, never mind. Now then, what else does it say? Erm, okay ‘the average person of Sckerian or Mii’een decent has the extrasensory gene, but once in a while — one true Homid person, one in ten million — has a concentrated ability that can be as much as tenfold, and the gene bearer can not only penetrate the thoughts of others but can manipulate them too; seeing in the dark or with their eyes closed is another manifestation, or even seeing through the eyes of others. But the real phenomenon is their ability to speed up their movements, or as the legends say, appear as smoke. These traits are only ever found in the Mii’een nomad gene pool’. Wow indeed,” he finished, and the room hushed as they all considered the possibilities of what they had just heard.
“Can I read it, boss?” asked another.
“After you, Jim,” said a third.
Then the RSM said, “We most definitely must keep an eye on Devii’rahl J. I get a feeling that, with the proper mentoring, he will one day be an asset to the Corps. Keep an eye on him, boys and girls. Watch over him. Keep him safe, as we might just have been in the presence of something great.”
Now why not buy the book?
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 October 2020
I really did enjoyed this book, hope there’s more.