The Adventures of Bel & Soni A Steampunk Tale of Untimely Significance
Story by Sonicity Fitzroy Illustrations with Belinda Barnes
Episode One: An Introduction ***
The story that I am about to share is one of the past and the future. It is not really about me, as much as it is about my good friend, Belinda, who I came to know again. It arrived to me through a series of dreams. I was a little girl, but the setting for my life had changed. I now lived in a world birthed of imagination. Not my imagination, but 3
imported into my consciousness, accidently or intentionally I do not know. I was caught in a time convergence, a shifting and realignment of scientific, technological and literary genius, creating what is known as the future past. Thoughts, emotions and ideas of the old world would breathe again in this new realm, void of any sense or sentiment toward the future. Humans measured their morality in increments of time. Time had no similar constraints on technology. It was as if I had traveled back in time to the 1800s, but the human race had the technology of the future. All those inventions that Nikola Tesla had conceived, and others like him, had sprung to life. It was as if H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine had found a way to condense time, to compress what was with what might be. It was an era in which I was reborn to live again – different parents, different opportunities and a different path yet to be revealed. My path would intersect with my best friend Belinda Barnes, but I would not recognize her, nor would she even remember what had been in our former lives. We would come to be known in this new old world as the “gadget girls.” I was intelligent, rich and truly advantaged in every way. I was an inventor. Bel was a warrior mystic. Quite different from my previous life, I only remembered fragments, and even those I hold in question. If I had been a spiritual person, I would have thought I had died and been reincarnated to this new position in life. But technology ran through my veins. I had a different path, and Belinda, with a far less fortunate childhood, would one day meet up with me again, accompanying me on this journey through the realms of time and space.
This is her story, as much as it is mine, as we rediscover our friendship through the many realms we encounter.
Episode Two Poor Man's Symphony
I would not remember how I arrived at my current location. For a while to complicate matters, I would confuse my series of episodic dreams with just that – my imagination. As time passed, I struggled to hang on to my first life, and my second existence would overtake my thoughts and my concerns. I had lived a wonderful blessed childhood, with me being as fortunate as I had been in my first life growing up, and more so if you consider that my upbringing of the latter was among the elite of the era – the welleducated and wealthy echelon of this futuristic Victorian world. I begin my story in the second world. I remember even the little things about this day. I awoke in a chilly hotel room in one of the biggest cities of the world - Retropolis, with my parents in the adjoining suite. I believed I could see a hint of condensation exiting my lips, as I yawned. The sunlight peeked through the dark musty curtains, red velvet with gold embroidery. I simply lay in bed, as listened to the day begin. I will tell my story, as it was revealed to me. I felt as if I were a character in my own life – my second life. My story unfolds as such, and my perspective is one of third person, as if I am watching her/my story unfold before “our” eyes. I have become the observer, and perhaps obsessed, of my second life. I experience this new world apart from myself, my former self, and yet it is every bit my life, real, imagined, or whatever exists between. 7
The City of Retropolis, Second Existence Hisssh. Hisssh. The steam whispers secret codes to those listening intently, telling of the historical covenant between machine and worker, those who make their living partaking with technology are tuned to its pulsating, rhythmic downbeat. To management and owners, the beat is a steady one, but those who touch its very gears have long appreciated the intonations that transition depending on weather and maintenance. The machines are not tools as much as instruments that need to be tuned, maintained; when accompanied by workers, trained and skilled, it is evident that the soul of the working class had become one with machine. Some machines grew silent as the economy had worsened; their rhythm, as with that of the energy from displaced or unemployed workers, was now missing from the cacophony of city sounds. Technology grew independent, and robots began to take over traditional jobs. The cyber workforce added nothing to the soundscape, and nonetheless some residents appreciated the quieter soundtrack. For others, the growing silence was indicative of the bad times, and meant fewer and fewer jobs for those already struggling to afford food and the necessities. Technology and its consequences had far exceeded the social implications. For the poor and middle class, it is a time of survival. For the rich, it is glorious era in history, with amazing new technologies to ponder. Electric cars have all but replaced the steampowered ones, so a carriage travelling down the cityâ€™s main street sparks particular attention and curiosity. The historic district of the city is situated in the well-kept downtown, and saying that, it is commonly known that tourists seem to prefer the old time charm of brick streets. *** 9
I rubbed my eyes â€“ but alas, I will refer to myself as Sonicity from this point forth (except for the occasional note here and there, when I lapse to my former self ).
The city was an awesome sight of smoke, glass, woods, bricks and metals. Overwhelmed by all the sights and smells surrounding her, slightly burning, her eyes remained wide open. Two golden braids falling on each side of her shoulders bounced along with her, as she skipped ahead of her parents. It was the sound of the city that she loved more than 10
anything. It was a soundscape reserved for the working class, but she felt in tune with the machinery. Sonicity breathed in the sound. Factory cities speak to the working caste. She was not of that caste, but she was tuned to its ways. It was a poor man’s symphony of bings and bangs, repressed and compressed by the swoosh of the steam, as their sonic belts thrust the sound forward. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. But ‘tis the pounding against metal with alternating gears, seemingly grasping and then releasing, that reverberated the clangs, expressed as high notes against a familiarity of a downbeat. It is the common person’s theme that comforts and disturbs simultaneously. New and renovated buildings were subject to aesthetics, whereas the older ones stood as symbols of a manufacturing era when décor had little relevance over efficiency of production. There was a push for cities to diversify and to accommodate the retailers of certain quadrants. Who might have interest in a city if it were all gloom and doom, and bolts and belts, other than those who are required to be there for their earnings? Her parents were among those concerned with such matters.
“Soni!” called out her mother, a tall slender woman with sandy blonde hair, highlighted naturally from life with a mix of gray, the most obvious of which was undetectable under her day hat. “Soni, don’t go so far ahead, dear.” Her mother, Serene, was a gentle spirit who hardly elevated her voice, no matter the circumstance. Sonicity always sensed the care and concern in her tone, and that was enough to motivate her to respond on command. She stopped, and her parents caught up with her – and now the word of caution began. “The back streets are seedy, filled with dark adventures that we want to avoid, dear. Soni, it’s no place for a little girl to get lost amidst all this squalor,” explained her mother, 12
in a matter-of-fact manner, averting her eyes from the alley. Serene Erandana remembered her outings with her parents when she was about Soniâ€™s age. The city quadrants ran together at times, good districts would blend into rougher neighborhoods. Such places had grown fiercer and distinctly separate since those early years. The family was headed to uptown, by foot today. It was an indeed an adventure.
“Soni, when I was your age. I took my first trip to the Retropolis. It was an exciting day, and the city was bustling with street vendors and musicians playing on corners. It was a wonderful time. And yes, sometimes, I would run ahead of my mother too.” She smiled at Sonicity. Sonicity smiled back. “Ah, my little bubble,” jested her father. “I always like that smile – a bit impish perhaps.” He laughed. Sonicity could change her mood in a flash, from enthusiastic to sullen. Something was always brewing in her head, and she would get lost in her own world for hours. Even barely 12, she would over analyze anything and everything anyone would say, whether to her or to anyone else, whether she heard it on the news or as gossip among the townspeople. “Impish,” she thought. She would ignore that comment. She knew better than to challenge her father, when all seemed to be going so well. Indeed, she had gotten her birthday wish to visit the largest city in the universe. “Wait until I returned to school, and told her classmates.” Sonicity would be one of the few children to visit the Retropolis. She thought about how she would be the grand star of the school, with her teachers asking her to stand at the front of the classroom, sharing of her travels throughout the Retropolis. Sonicity was used to attention. Her family was royalty among her people. They were thinkers, the intellectuals.
Sonicity had already been selected to attend the HLC, The Higher Learning Center, not only due to her excellent scores on her world exams, but she had a high intuitive ranking on mathematical concepts. She also had an aptitude for civil matters even at her early age. Some members of her family envisioned her as a political leader one day. Today, however, she was a young girl romping around the city, and taking in the sights. Her father was pleased with the timing of her birthday. The World Convention of Intellectuals had invited him to keynote tomorrow, and why not bring Sonicity to sit on some of the activities. The family arrived on Sunday night, and it was Monday. Tuesday, he would present to thousands at the auditorium, and millions across the world could potentially watch him live. Today was family day. It was a time to take the women out and about for some window shopping, and a few purchases here and there would be inevitable, if something caught their fancy. As Sonicity passed my some girls playing in the streets, nearby, running here and there, from the storefronts to the alley ways, her mother whisked her off down the sidewalk. She looked back, observing their tattered clothes and unkempt hair, and particularly noting their worn-out shoes wrapped with cloth to protect little feet from harsh streets. Such a contrast to her life, and of course, she could not help to feel somewhat guilty about going shopping, even on her birthday.
*** I knew this birthday would be different; it would be on this day that I would meet my best friend, Belinda, who would become comrade of both lives â€“ my past and present. But that is for next time.
Episode Three ***
The Little Urchin
Sonicity ran ahead of her mother, forgetting what she had been told earlier until her Mom called out, “Slow down, young lady. Your father and I don’t quite have the energy you do.” 17
Then the magic word was spoken by the tall handsome master of ceremonies for the day. “Lunch?” asked her father, laughing. “Yes! I’m famished, Papa. Might we get some of the city bread with that nasty sauce all over it that Uncle George told me about?” “Interesting suggestion, my dear,” her mother said, amused. “Lunch is such a powerful word. That can stop any child in her tracks,” said her father, proudly, as if he had invented the concept. Sonicity hung close to her parents, as they walked down the street looking for a restaurant. She tugged on her Papa’s coat sleeve at the various places along the way, asking what about this one or that one. He would simply shake his head, no. Already several blocks from where they started, Sonicity began to lose interest in the lunch hunt and began to study the city. She looked up at the darkened sky and noted a clearing, revealing partial sunrays and a tease of blue. It peaked through for a moment, and then smoke absorbed its beauty. Even back in her district, it was rare to see blue skies. Most days were overcast, but not nearly so darkened as in Retropolis. As gloomy as it was, it was also mysterious in its own way. She contemplated, “I bet, there are many secrets hidden here. “ People passed by each other, without hello or a warm smile. She wanted to ask her father why were the people like this, and so different from her district. She pondered these thoughts to herself, mulling over the circumstances that might have caused this 18
alienation. The downtown area has its dark side, and the small winding back streets offer many curiosities, smoke shops, pubs and oxygen bars. Antique shops and vintage clothing stores draw visitors away from the center square down the alley roads, eventually leading to the back door of the city, segueing to older apartments and renovated buildings now made into residential quarters. Many of the lower paid industrial workers, small shopkeepers and craftspeople, struggling artists, the society drop-outs and vagabonds, and those working for barter, live on the south side while the northwest side of the city caters to the wealthy, from management types to business owners to old money; the north had been recently renovated as an upscale business sector. The old factories and warehouses weave throughout the southside, primarily east and west of the residential areas where many former employees, layed off, once worked. It is on the south sector that children can be seen playing in the streets on warmer days and after school, playing ball, jumping rope and tagging and teasing each other. People in Retropolis seemed always on their way to something, whatever was next on their agenda, their list of to-dos. The city was especially busy with tourists and travelers, even with winter clinging on for its final round, in preparation of The World Convention of Intellectuals. Her father, serving as one of the longest members of the World Council, had been invited to keynote at the opening ceremonies. His black tailored satin-trimmed jacket was old fashioned with a conservative draping hemline. The suit coat remained open on most occasions and it served to showcase his vest and bow tie, the latter two of which were
selected by Sonicityâ€™s mother (so therefore were likely to be fashionable and lively in color and texture). His tall hat added a few more inches to his height of 6â€™3.â€? His deep set dark solemn eyes, coal black hair and thick turned down (increasingly salt and pepper) mustache made him a worthy contender for the prettiest and most intelligent women of his caste, especially in younger days - and Serene to him was the best of the best then and now. Yet he never really questioned his choice, nor did she; they were childhood sweethearts.
Few among intellectual royalty traveled the streets without escort or at least some form of security. Her father, a brave and proud man, was among those that travelled alone, wanting to experience the city for himself. Maybe he saw the city like her mother did, both parents being simply nostalgic about what Retropolis used to be like. She remembered family stories about extraordinary races of people from various realms that came to visit and sometimes migrated from across the universe. It was an exciting time of invention and new ideas. But those were considered the frontier days, the days of expansion.
With too many people and not enough resources, regulations had begun to stop the immigration. Some envisioned her world as a place of opportunity, and they would risk their lives to break through the realm. Some would die in the process. Banditos began to seek ways to ravage this world, even when the portals were closed by the government. The portals to other realms were secured; the people of her society became assimilated, and the intellectuals guided the world into a peaceful existence – peaceful but predictable. Sonicity grew weary and chilly from the changing weather. Her father was evidently seeking the perfect restaurant. She looked toward Serene and caught her eye. Her mother nodded in sympathy, and slipped her arm around her husband’s waist, and told him to hurry up and make a decision if he might for she was famished. He smiled gently at her, looking back to Sonicity as well. “Okay, you two are you conspiring. I know I can be difficult sometimes to please. I have to add maybe I am not as hungry as the little girl who skipped her breakfast for a few extra minutes of sleep.” Sonicity lowered her head. “Ah, don’t worry, my dears, I see ahead a plethora of quaint eateries.” 21
The temperature had dropped quickly in the last half hour, and the wind began to pick up force. That was reason enough to find shelter and lunch. Her mother noted that they would have to call for their coats. Sonicity reached for her silk scarf, and it was gone from her bag. She looked back, and saw it several yards away on the ground. Her parents waited, as she rushed to snag it. As she picked it up, she noticed a little girl tucked into the doorway of a large cathedral. Sonicity clung tightly to her scarf, with her focus on the girl. She thought, “Hadn’t I seen this girl playing in the alley earlier today with other children.” The archway provided minimal protection. The little girl appeared to have 22
fallen asleep on the steps. Her tattered clothing hardly protected her skin from the harsh winds that would occasionally gust across the city streets. Sonicity stood near her, eyeing the girl carefully. Her parents had gotten distracted in their conversation, and her mother’s eye had been on a day dress displayed in a store window while her father noted a bistro nearby. Sonicity stared at the girl curiously – and cautiously. She was slight in build, with darkened skin - a mix of dirt and olive, with wavy locks of thick golden hair. The girl didn’t seem to move, with her chest compressed into her legs for warmth. The street girl glanced up with her large brown eyes, now wide, startling the fair maiden who was not accustomed to seeing such poverty in her proximity. Sonicity thought how she might help the girl, for she had no money of her own, and her parents might not approve of her stopping here. The urchin girl was awe struck that this seemingly enchanted princess would take time to notice her, for so many simply hurried past without a second thought. The simple girl was fascinated with Sonicity’s dangling jewels on the charm bracelet crowning her wrist. Sonicity watched her as she looked at the bracelet. It was adorned with rare gems, 13 of them, an expensive birthday gift from her grandmother. Each gem represented a different realm now closed. She knew she only had a moment, before her mom called out for her. “Should I? What else might I do?” Sonicity unclasped the bracelet and slipped it off, and gently wrapped it around the girl’s wrist, quickly securing the clasp, and then she whispered to the girl, “Friends forever.” The girl’s attention advanced from her new gift to looking at Sonicity, with their eyes meeting in that instant. 23
Serene called out, and Sonicity was off running down the street. She glanced back at the girl, and flashed a playful but compassionate smile at her. The girl was overwhelmed and baffled at this extraordinary gesture and occurrence. She studied the bracelet, particularly the engraved name on its underside - “Sonicity.” The girl said softly to herself, “Miss Sonicity, nice to meet you. My name is Belinda.” Sonicity would not hear those words that day. 24
*** Belinda would tell me one day that this event changed the direction of her life, in ways she would have only dreamed. My path would also shift as a benefit or consequence of my decision to give her the bracelet. That night, as I slept, flashes of my future past were revealed to me. I was standing on a bridge, and I felt myself succumb to the energy surrounding me. I saw Belinda on the bridge that night, standing apart from me. I wanted to draw near, but it wasnâ€™t time yet. We had to grow up again in a different past, and that was about to happen quickly.
Episode Four ***
Pomp, Papa, and Circumstance
It was an unusually gloomy day, more than unusual for the city skies.
The huge steam powered factories spat clouds of grayish blue out of the long pipes that reached into the sky. Intellectuals, political leaders, corporate owners, and the media were already preparing for Maxwell DeLanceâ€™s long awaited speech. Papa sounded pompous at times but his heart is grand with good intentions.
A brilliant man loved by all, especially his family. He had been invited to present the keynote that would officially set in motion building for World’s Fair 2093, two years away. As the result of a decade of experimentation and private funding from his own family, generations of the DeLances, the exposition would launch what the organizing committee was calling forth - an “Era of Reinvention, reconsidering lessons from the past to build a better future.” 27
The cities were in despair, and the more well-to-do had moved out to villages in rural areas. Wireless communication had been available across the world for two centuries, and transmitters and satellites were positioned to instantly channel these frequencies. As industrial pollution saturated the airwaves, however, the city began to lose its connectivity. Larger areas of the city lacked their former interconnectivity. The people of rural areas and smaller towns and villages were connected to each other across the world, whereas the larger cities, especially the largest one – The Retropolis – were becoming increasingly alienated from its residents and the world. With this being the case, it was a symbolic decision to vote Retropolis as the annual convention site. The organizers realized that parts of the city and the world would not be able to receive the live stream of the event. That also meant attendance to the convention would likely be at an all-time high. Sonicity was exceptionally smart in her fashion choice for the day. She wore with pride her classic red blazer, embroidered with what one might call her family coat of arms, “MW,” on the right lapel. MW represented Mythwium, named after her great grandfather’s discovery of the synthetic chemical element naturally produced through a convergence of various toxins. The blazer accented her long-sleeved white tailored blouse and black tie, with a matching school girl skirt. She stood behind her father watching him shave off his mustache (mama’s request, for “for the best impression”), and listening to him rehearse his speech.
Sonicity was proud of him, and glad to hear him practicing in the bathroom (and soon the podium she imagined) in the greatest convention center of the greatest city in the world. He shooed her along with a loving smile. With time on her side, and her mother making a coffee run, Sonicity looked at all the extra breakfast food on the table. She thought of the street girl, and wrapped up some wheat buns and dried fruit in a couple of napkins and tucked it all into the pouch attached to her belt. She hoped that they would pass by the cathedral on their way to the convention. As it turned out, her father called for a taxi. They waited inside the lobby of the hotel. Her father pacing back and forth, looking nervously at his watch and then outside at the sky that omened rain soon to come. The taxi pulled up, and the family climbed into the big yellow vehicle, heading off across town after a brief apology from the driver on being late and some small talk about the traffic, which was extremely congested due to anticipation of her fatherâ€™s appearance in the city. The traffic, along with the inclement weather on the horizon, made him feel on edge. Sonicity and her mother kept on the down low, sensing his emotions were running crazy with excitement and nervousness, wanting everything to go as planned, as well as concern about arriving on time to the conference site.
The cab driver came to a fast halt, thrusting the passengers forward. With mother and daughter in the backseat, Serene swung her arm quickly, instinctively, protecting her daughter from lunging forward. Papa, in the front passenger seat, braced himself from hitting the windshield. BAM, a falling figure hit the cab. All were aghast at the blood and the body of the young man strewn across the hood. The impact was tremendous, crushing any breath of life that might have been left in him. 30
The cab driver shouted, “Get of the car – NOW.” Her father opened the passenger door, and Sonicity and mother rushed to the sidewalk. Blood had splattered everywhere.
The body seemed to drop from the sky, likely a nearby roof. The cab driver yelled, “Just get out of here, before the police come. You need to find another cab. Go.” 31
“I can help!” shouted back Maxwell. He searched further for the right words and actions, but none came to his mind as the sky opened and it began to down pour. The rain washed the blood onto the road, washing past his shoes. Maxwell stood fairly speechless, uncommon for a man of his personality and stature. The driver shaking his head, retorted, “They are both dead. There’s nothing you can do. This is a matter for the police and the morgue.”
“Both dead?” her father inquired, surprised about the second death. He saw another body lying on the road, in front of the cab.
“Ohhhh, No,” exclaimed Serene, trying to garner strength as she processed the situation and realizing that her daughter had seen it all. She pushed back Sonicity, again instinctively, but it was too late.
Episode Five ***
The dead bodies consumed Sonicity’s thoughts. Two bodies – a young man and woman, perhaps in the mid-twenties, had fallen seemingly from the sky onto her cab and the sidewalk. Logically, they would have fallen from a nearby roof, but most of the buildings in the area were not extremely high, and they were not necessarily positioned appropriately near the street to fall as they did. Her mother was frantic. Sonicity was morbidly curious, more than she was frightened. It seemed so random. Theories spun about her mind on what might have led up to this tragedy, as she played detective but only within herself. She knew that her parents would not appreciate her speculations. Her father hurried them along to a nearby building tucked into a side alley, seeking shelter from the rain. They huddled under the awning for a moment, trying to brace themselves from the cold wind and thundering downpour. Her father said, “We need to find a hotel or restaurant along the way when the rain lets up a bit, and call for another cab.” Her mother said, “You will be late.” He responded, with a sullen tone, “None of that seems so important. We are safe and we are together, but we do have to move along when we can. I need to call the police and let them know I was at the scene.” 34
“How can you help?” inquired Serene, with a twinge of sarcasm. Maxwell, like his daughter, was always one to get involved in matters that didn’t directly concern him. Part Samaritan, and a bit of a nosy bloke, he would find a way to entangle himself into the most bizarre scenarios. Just the fact that these deaths occurred near him was not surprising to Serene. Trouble seemed to find its way to Maxwell, and she often thought he welcomed the excitement, and perhaps invited it by his very nature. Maxwell held his wife and daughter tightly, and said, “I know, I know. Really you are correct. I don’t have a clue how I could help. But I have to offer, that’s all.” Serene sighed. Her family, the Erandanas, had a different life philosophy, the classic sage advice “mind your own business” seemed to bring less complications than Max’s approach. Sonicity was certainly a DeLance in this way. At the corner of her eye, Sonicity thought for a second that she had seen a girl run across the alley, a block down from them. The shadowy figure stopped, seeming to look toward Sonicity, and rushed off. Sonicity jolted out of her father’s arms, and looked down the alley. Her father pushed her back toward her mother, and gave her a stern glance. Sonicity dismissed the incident, for she couldn’t tell what she saw with the rain so heavily impairing her vision. She thought for a moment it was the little girl that she had befriended. She reached two fingers into the pouch attached to her belt, and felt that the remnants from breakfast were still there. She never had the opportunity to give the girl 35
any of that. Overwhelmed, she decided it best to let it all go, and she clung tight to her papa. That always felt good, and definitely secure. Papa would figure this all out. Word quickly raced through the media that the keynote speaker had been at the scene of two bizarre deaths. The police had orders to locate Maxwell and his family to ensure that they were escorted safely to the conference site. Conspiracy theories began to abound on whether this was an attack on the famous scientist and intellectuals, and the search was on for the family. Unfortunately, the phones were not working in this part of the city, and the family was not visible, being off the main drag. A phone signal was even less likely in their current location. As the rain began to diminish, and clouds cleared somewhat, the family set off down the city sidewalk. A car pulled up toward where they were walking, and the driver called out, “Aren’t you Professor DeLance, the scientist that is scheduled to speak in 30 minutes? It is all over the news, what happened. Hop in, I’m headed that way. Do you wanna a lift to the conference?” The professor curtly answered, “Thank you but no. I would prefer a cab. I would rather take my family to the hotel first. They are drenched and cold and have witnessed an unfathomable event.” “Okay, buddy, only trying to help,” retorted the man. “All the cabs are busy today, good luck with that. A big conference in town, or haven’t you heard?” said the man, sarcastically. Then he paused, noting the professor’s sullen expression, and added, “I’m sorry, I will let you and your family be.” 36
The man stared at the family, as if giving them a minute or two to reconsider, before heading off. “Wait!” shouted Serene. She looked at Sonicity, who nodded back to her mom. “It is good for us to be with you. We will go as planned. It will be okay. Sonicity is okay. Life is complicated, but we must go on.” “Okay, take us to the Unity Convention Center,” said the professor, with authenticity. “Good deal,” exclaimed the man. The professor asked him to turn on the radio, but there was nothing but static in the center city. The convention center was coming into focus. The dome was massive, showcasing an encased globe that slowly rotated between the silver arches that embraced it. “We almost there, Papa,” said Sonicity. The man said, “Yes, almost, but I am going to have to circle around, away from all this traffic, and see if I can get in from a different route. At this rate, we’ll never get in there.” Incoming lines of cars and buses blocked the drop off point at the conference entrance. “Can’t you drop us off?” beckoned Serene. “Hmmm, my phone is still out,” acknowledged Maxwell. “Please drop us off anywhere; we will be fine,” he continued. 37
“Can’t do, professor,” responded the driver. Looking at his watch, and continued, “Don’t worry you got a bit of time, and no one is going anywhere at this rate,” as he spun the steering wheel, making an U-turn in the midst of traffic and headed away from the center. “There’s no place to stop. Maybe I can find a place to let you out further down the road.” He drove a couple blocks from the convention center, and added, “Here you go, you can get out here now.” “What?!” exclaimed the professor. “Here! There’s nothing here.” “This is as far as I go,” responded the man. “I think your best bet, professor, is to walk from here. With all the delays, they won’t start on time.” “Hmmm,” murmured Serene under her breath. “We will get out. Come on, girls,” said Maxwell. The man pointed a gun at the professor, and said “No, they are staying. Don’t try anything professor. I will shoot them. You have an appointment here.”
The professor exited the car reluctantly, hesitating, trying to think of what to do. A black cloaked man standing near the curb bashed Maxwellâ€™s head with the bunt end of his gun, and the professorâ€™s body went limp. Another helped to drag him away from the car. A 39
third man, shorter, older, with silver and black hair, jumped in the passenger seat, and pointed the gun toward the back. As the car pulled off, Sonicity and her mother screamed and cried simultaneously, a range of emotions flooded through them. Sonicity pushed to open the car door, with Serene pulling her closer, motioning her to stay put. She wanted to jump out of the car to help her father, but she worried about leaving her mother. Sonicity noticed her father’s briefcase on the car floorboard. Rubbing its handle softly, “Papa,” she whispered. “Papa, I love you.” As the car pulled away, a little girl stood in the shadows of a nearby alley. She rubbed her bracelet, and whispered “poor Sonicity.”
Alas, that was my new (and old) friend, Belinda. I didnâ€™t know her name yet in this new life. This incident would mark the true beginning of the Bel and Soni adventures in this steampunk world, propelling the City of Retropolis to center stage.
I write this story, as it unfolds in my memory, and I struggle with keeping my two realities separate, for I am increasingly aware that both worlds are tangible to me. I would find out later that Belinda had witnessed the mugging and kidnapping. But that is for another time.
A stray ray of light entered the room, enough for Sonicity to see her mattress, a water faucet and a small bidet.
The door opened, and she saw only the shadow of a man – large, bulky with Einstein hair. He threw her mother into the room, and she fell toward Sonicity. She had been bruised and beaten. Her blouse had been ripped open, her skirt gone, with her bodice being torn and bloodied. Sonicity noticed across her abdomen the word “Intellectual Whore” had been carved into her skin. Her mother over-wrought with pain and grief had only energy enough to reach for her daughter’s hand.
Sonicity frightened, weakened, and confused, squeezed her mother’s hand. She reached into the small pouch attached to the travel belt around her waist, and pulled out her stale breakfast food and shared it with her mother. They fell off to sleep for several hours, 43
with no sense of time. explosion.
Sonicity and her mother awoke to what sounded like an
BAM. BAM. The door blew open.
Sonicity gasped, and saw the figure of a girl, standing in the midst of the smoke. Sonicity could barely keep her eyes opened; the light blinded her against the darkness of the room. When she glanced again, the girl was gone â€“ and maybe sheâ€™d never been there.
All was quiet, except for the sound of dust and ashes settling. The man who threw her mom into the room was gone, but his boots remained by the door entrance. Sonicity forced herself up, and then pulled her barely conscious mother to her feet, with one arm around her waist pushing her toward the door. When she looked back to the entrance, 45
now a man stood there. He reached out his arm to both of them. Sonicity retreated a few steps, trying to hold up her mother. The man assured her that he was there to help them. Two other men in uniforms rushed in to carry Sonicity and her mother quickly out of the house.
Later that day, a detective explained to them that the explosion alerted the police. The explosion was contained to two rooms. The kidnappers were dead before the explosion. As devastating as those chemical explosives were, it seemed the building structure overall remained intact. “In other words,” noted the detective, “someone knew what they were doing.” 46
“My father, where he is? Can I see him?” Sonicity inquired hoping for the best. “And my mother, where are you taking her?” “I need to talk to your mother first, and get her medical attention immediately,” continued the detective. Two medics slid her mother on a gurney and lifted her into the ambulance. “I want to go with Serene,” Sonicity stated with authority. Maxwell is.”
“And I want to know where
The detective nodded to a nearby officer, and excused himself to go back to work, walking toward the crime scene. “I will have one of these women officers take you to see your aunt, after a quick run to the hospital yourself, and then you can visit your mother. Your aunt has been waiting at a nearby hotel since last night for news on you and your mother,” explained the officer. That night Sonicity found out that her father was still missing, presumed dead. The search continued for him. The kidnappers had demanded Serene’s sister Louise pay one million talons for the return of Serene and Sonicity. Louise was 15 years older than her sister, and caretaker to the family estate. There had been no demands on the return of Maxwell. Her father’s briefcase had not been recovered, and it was believed that many of his important scientific findings had been enclosed. The World Commission of Intellectuals was in frenzy, using every resource to conduct a massive search across the city – and world - to locate it. Travel 47
terminals had been alerted, and suspicious people and activities would be reported at once to authorities. The exact nature of the papers was government classified, and the commission was not quite sure what Maxwell had been working on, only that he had planned to reveal his plans worldwide at the opening convention keynote. A memorial was scheduled for Saturday and her aunt asked Sonicity if she felt up to attending the ceremony. She had not seen her father since the car ride. She had lost sense of time, as days and nights had rolled into one long nightmare. Of course, Sonicity would attend. There was nothing that would stop her now from honoring her father, but she would not believe this would be the last time. Tears rolled from her eyes, across her cheek, but Sonicity was no longer a little girl. She was 12 years old, having the full rights of adult citizenship among the Intellectuals. It was the age of accountability for oneâ€™s actions, legally and ethically. She could own property and enter into contracts. She would be invited to speak about her father, as she knew him. Her mother remained in critical care at the hospital, and Sonicity arranged for a monitor to be set up so her mother could watch from her hospital room. Friday night, in a fleeting moment of awareness, between pain medications, Serene woke up in a panic, recounting to a nurse how the kidnappers had attempted to violate Sonicity as her daughter lay unconscious, drugged. In the midst of that, Serene hit one of the men on the head with a chair. They responded by breaking off the chairâ€™s leg and hitting her ankles repeatedly and then they dragged her out of the room and continued to beat her. The nurse told Sonicity that her mother had been very brave. 48
“Quite an understatement,” Sonicity thought. So much was unsaid. No one had answers regarding her father’s disappearance. Or at least, no one was willing to share them with her. Sonicity sat by her mother for hours, hoping that she would awake to talk with her, wanting her mother to recount any details that might led to her father. She would not give up on him. Serene did wake up every now and then, but the pain subsumed any thoughts or details that she might have wanted to share with her daughter. It was late, and her aunt nudged Sonicity, gently whispering, “It is time to go now. Tomorrow, you have a big day.” As they rode home, the radio recounted the biggest news of the century. It appeared that whoever set off the explosives would remain a mystery for some time. It was reported that a little girl, dirty and shabbily dressed, was seen running from the building, perhaps a homeless child who had found shelter in the building or maybe a child who walked too closely to the building when it partially exploded. The city managers asked for any whereabouts of this child, for she might have witnessed the event and a large reward was posted for any information related to the professor’s assumed death and his family’s kidnapping, as well as the preceding murders of the young couple. Police efforts were made to link the series of events that foreshadowed the kidnapping and the debut of the professor’s work that he had boasted would change the world historically, and would bring back Retropolis to its glory. 49
“The world would never be the same,” he claimed. The World Commission of Intellectuals agreed to reconvene in March, while reviewing proposals for World’s Fair 2093, the Era of Reinvention, keeping to the spirit of renewal and transformation in honor of Maxwell. “Papa, the world is nothing without you,” said Sonicity, to herself. “I miss you Papa.” That moment, Belinda, across the city, alone huddled in a tunnel below the metro, wipes off the dust from her bracelet. “Best Friends Forever,” she says to herself.
Episode Seven * *
little girl, Belinda Bascent, of seemingly no consequential threat to any one or thing, would not stand out among the rest. She was one child of many that roamed alley ways and abandoned buildings, far too many and fast on their feet to be caught by police and well-meaning social workers. The search for Belinda would prove to be futile. She was faceless and nameless to most observers. The innocence of my childhood connected to her being that one day, one moment, in the city. I sensed I knew her, or was at least connected by her spirit. The bracelet continued to unite us. The city cloaked her identity unintentionally, for she was among those lost to poverty and misfortune. She sat on the cathedral steps, in full visibility, as people passing by gave her no thought. There she mulled over her life, remembering her mother and her chance meeting of a young city girl, the kidnapping of Dr. DeLanceâ€™s family and all that ensued. In my other life, I had known her as a Barnes â€“ Bel Barnes. But in this world, her life had been a series of surprising and not always good occurrences. She was born among conflict. Her father, a great among the warrior caste, was killed before she was born in a street battle, and her mother died, a victim of cross-fire, of stray bullets nearly one year ago. Belinda had a hard time dealing with her motherâ€™s death. Her anger could be barely contained, and her temper at times would rage, inside and outside of herself. She would kick at trash cans and break windows, anything to let out her pain. Anything could trigger her to vent. It was often just the idea that good people were forced to co-exist 51
among street gangs and criminals. Children raised with no hope and future, and only platitudes from politicians and businessman intent on exploiting the cityâ€™s resources. To the police, her mother, Nina, was a statistic among the many in her neighborhood. Her mother never caught a break, although she tried hard to make life as good as possible for her daughter, at least not a break big enough to get them away from the crime and poverty. It was bad enough coping daily, let alone having to die amidst poverty, and to die for what; what purpose did her motherâ€™s death serve in the larger scheme of things. Belinda had lost the most important and only person in her life, and nothing else really mattered. Her tears turned to anger, but emptiness prevailed.
For now, she kept her mom alive through her memories. Belinda had glimpses of her daily, brought on when she saw a mother and her daughter walking down the street, a beautiful day dress in a store window, the smell of cookies in a bakery, and white curtains blowing outside a window sill on a windy day. These flashbacks overwhelmed her with feelings of peace, then turned into anger when she felt the reality set in, the absence of her mother’s smile, laugh, and warm hand upon hers. Her favorite memory was imagining her mother standing in the apartment, with sunlight shining on her like a spotlight, as she showed off her newest finds from some thrift store or trash bin outside a designer store. Then it would be Belinda’s turn to try on a dress. The two giggled and played dress up on her mother’s day off, which was rare but all the more precious.
They had enough income to get by, and by neighborhood standards, they did better than most. Nina was a waitress at one of the city dinners. Her good humor earned her more tips, accounting for a few extra coins, than the other women. They had a one bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of the oldest building, The Temporal, in the city. Her mother had decorated the modest dwelling with some linen she managed to salvage from the trash bins of some uptown stores. She traveled through the city in the wee hours of the morning to find clothing, necessities and curiosities to decorate the small apartment. They never talked about Bel’s father, for her mother did not agree with the ways of the warrior caste, nor did she condone the abuses of power among the intellectuals. Her mother had one big rule – no visitors in their house. She worried if anyone saw their nice things that they would be robbed, and Belinda honored that request. Together the two were happy with each other’s company. Belinda had a tough time in school. Most of the kids had no desire to stay there, and most of the teachers did not remain at the school for long. The children had been raised to fight and hate – and to hate formal education. Such was viewed as a privilege of the wealthy, an elite that would not let a warrior rise up among their ranks. School was a symbolic effort among the intellectual caste. Intellectual rehabilitation was the phrase that was coined among politicians, when asked to clean up the bad sectors of the metropolitan areas. Schools were set in place to help with those efforts, and teachers were required to perform one year of service within the first five years of their teaching career. Most completed their term upon graduation, and that meant they were relatively inexperienced with no real sense on how to instruct anyone let alone motivate and control a classroom. Belinda spent most of her time at home, skipping school and reading books that her mother found for her. 54
A few times her mother took her to the back of the uptown library where they tossed away old copies of donated books. Belinda was so excited she filled up two backpacks. She was warned not to call attention to herself. She grew up to trust only those proven to herself through their actions. She also had the sense to be extremely suspicious that if the librarians had knowledge of her rummaging through the books the staff might burn them much faster. The keepers of knowledge were in a powerful position to dispense information. The books were tossed into the trash bin, and then transported out of the city for incineration. It was unlawful to burn trash within city limits. Appropriate books were donated to the local schools on occasion and also sold at public sales. The extras were destroyed. Some books were used among the homeless for keeping warm, burning small fires in the alleys. So getting books before they were burned one way or another was often a challenge. The inseparable duo would celebrate and read to one another, when Bel and her mother emptied the books from their backpacks onto the kitchen table. Belinda would read through the night, aided by moonlight and candlelight. She would often sleep when her mother went to work. The apartment faced the sun in the morning, and her motherâ€™s white lace curtains blew gently in the breeze. The window was barred, but they could open it on warmer days with a bit of effort. In colder seasons, they would cover the window with plastic and cardboard to maintain the warmth from the stove and the smaller unit that heated the apartment. There was a shared bathroom on their floor of the building, and that led to some interesting encounters with other tenants. So they used the kitchen sink for just about everything. 55
In one room, there was a kitchen, antique bathtub (a wonderful find but very hard to drag across the city in the middle of the night â€“ that required Belinda to help), a small beat up sofa (another find) covered with a quilt, and a twin bed for Belinda. Her mother slept on the sofa as her bed. Electricity service was limited in their part of the city, so candles and gas lamps were the norm. They had no real knowledge of what was going on in the world, except for the occasional newspaper that her mother would find on the street and bring home. Belindaâ€™s mother kept her isolated from much of the world outside their apartment. She promised one day when Belinda was older they would tour uptown in beautiful day dresses she would find for them. Her mother always looked pretty in her work dress with her hair pulled up in a bun. Bel would see glimpses of motherâ€™s youth at times through her smile and eyes, but most of her energy had been directed at keeping them alive and in moderate comfort. Christmas was approaching and Belinda hoped that she and her mother might be able to spend the holiday together, walking through the city and noting all the decorations and festivities.
Episode Eight * *
As the holidays drew near, it seemed Nina worked longer hours with less opportunity for her daughter to enjoy the season with her. There seemed to be no time for holiday cookies and special moments. Belinda feared that her mother would not get the day off, as she had promised. It was two days before Christmas, when her mother was accidently shot in cross-fire that suddenly broke out among rival gangs. When her mother didnâ€™t return in the late evening, Bel imagined she had found some odds and ends that she was dragging home or maybe some finds to serve as gifts for the holidays. But that night, the landlady knocked on the door and told her that her mother died that afternoon. Belinda felt her chest crushing inward; her legs quivered as her body weakened. She listened to the old lady, who motioned her to sit down on the sofa. Belindaâ€™s fingers ran against the blanket folded on the sofaâ€™s arm. Just this morning her mother had slept there. As it turned out, Nina was going to surprise Belinda, and had asked to take the afternoon off to spend time with her. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, explained the old lady. Social services had been informed that she had a daughter, and called the landlady to confirm. Bel would need to be ready to go in the morning with an officer, and the landlady was to see that she would only take what she could fit in a small bag.
Then the old woman, seasoned of age and old liquor, said to Belinda, “Dear, if I was you, a pretty missy of good health and strength, I would take my chances on the street. I would get whatever I could get from this place and run away. They’re gonna lock you up in some orphanage. And bad things happen to lovelies like you, even with your tough spirit. I could put in a good word for you at the shelter on 17th Street and they don’t ask questions.” Belinda nodded, holding back her tears as much as she could. Belinda and her mother, too, had this conversation. What would her daughter do if something happened was a topic raised by her mother more than once. It had become a monthly drill for them recently and the solution was always the same – survive on the streets, but don’t go to the orphanage. Her mother told her, “Make yourself useful to some family or go to the shelter, and offer to cook and help, and work there as long as you can.” The shelter offered a place to live for usually a month, but on occasion some stayed for 6 months, and some became part of the staff when they turned of age. Those were usually the street savvy ones, with kind hearts and strong hands, and good sense not to ask questions. Belinda only had to get through the cold months. Then she might travel outside the city in spring and seek work elsewhere. Belinda was rough around the edges, but she did have some social graces that got her out of trouble most times. The last night at the apartment Belinda spent alone. The old woman did not offer to comfort her or take her into her home. Belinda would have likely declined. One thing was clear - Bel would not be there when the officer knocked on her door. Belinda never spoke of her feelings or that night. 58
On her first night at the shelter she met an interesting man of senior years. He would come for the nightly dinner, and began to strike up a conversation with Belinda.
He told her, he admired her strength and hard work, and then after a few weeks, he mentioned he knew her father. They had served together in the warrior ranks. He saw 59
her father’s spirit within her small frame. She agreed to cook and housekeep for him, in return he would train her in the warrior arts. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but she was curious to learn about her father. A fire broke out at the gang’s headquarters, where her mother’s murderers hung out. The old man speculated Belinda had been involved. One of the key members was found beaten and tied up in a warehouse, near a suitcase of money and guns. When the cops arrived, the place smelled of gas and the young man was unconscious. Attacks such as these on other gang members were insignificant to the police. But they raised the eyebrow of the old man. He knew her heart was good, and her mother had taught her well in civility. He didn’t want all that to be lost; she would need the strength and wisdom of her mother, and her father’s fortitude and passion for justice. During the course of the month, he grew ill. Too young to earn any money of consequence, she learned to steal and salvage what she would find on the streets. She refused to go back to the shelter and leave the old man alone to his bad health. The cold months were cruel to them both, but they bore the harsh weather with courage. Nightly, he told her of the great days of the warriors, and how they would rise again. He spoke of white magic and taught her secrets of the ancients. He told her stories of her father who began as a great man, respected among all, until injustice came his way. The old man would not elaborate on those latter days, and he was not a man easily nudged or persuaded. With warmer weather on the way, he grew in strength and began to physically train Belinda in the ancient ways of endurance and battle. She also found out he made some modest income teaching martial arts, boxing and skills in strength building, yet less so 60
recently. With his health improving, he would take her to a city gym, where she watched him guide others; she listened to his words, nuggets of wisdom rooted in a long life and an appreciation and respect for ancient culture. Most, she noted, ignored his advice, and pressed him for stylistic tips on winning a competition. She once sneaked up on the old man in the boxing ring; he instinctively kicked her across the ring. That only made Bel all the more interested in the sport.
Belinda fought with her grief. The old man filled a void in her life. He channeled her loss and anger into physical training. He taught her a sense of justice and conviction, a fatherly right and wrong, something that she had needed. She would take pride in learning the customs and practices of her people and their heritage. At times, it seemed she was heading to self-destruction even with the old man’s guidance; her behavior had been becoming increasingly fearless, risky and unwise. Belinda had met Sonicity, as the old man lay in bed recovering. She had missed the warm smile of her mother, and Sonicity reminded her of Nina. As winter turned to spring and then summer, Belinda’s thoughts would turn to curiosity on Sonicity’s whereabouts. Her meeting was Sonicity was fateful, and the future would bear that out. One of the old man’s decisions was to ensure Belinda attended school daily. Belinda would not be allowed to skip school, and through a few favors here and there, he got her enrolled in a private school, where the tuition was waived and uniforms were provided. It would be a long walk across the city. For a man with no money and sparse resources, he certainly had his ways. Belinda was amazed at how many people he knew, among the intellectuals and warriors, being he was notably a humble man. After school, Belinda was responsible for her homework and then the physical training would fill the rest of the evening. At the gym, the old man was rumored to be her great uncle on her dad’s side. He would not entertain her incessant curiosity or questions, and he kept her too busy to think much about such matters. He called it all “nonsense – and now get back to work.”
Belinda would soon have another distraction – she would catch a glimpse of the girl that she met on those sidewalk steps that one cold day. She knew Sonicity would not recognize her, as the urchin girl she had met. Here Sonicity was – walking past her; as Bel entered the classroom, she was exiting. Belinda glanced at her quickly. Something was missing – her smile. Belinda decided not to say a thing, and let time take its course. Her heart longed for Nina. Sonicity had become a fantasy, more than a reality. Nevertheless, this wonderfully pretty girl, saddened by her father’s absence, had walked past her several months later in the same school. Sonicity had lost her father, and Belinda had lost her mother and nearly her caretaker, the old man. Belinda longed for Sonicity’s smile, for that was the vision that she had remembered.
I had no idea that Belinda was attending the same school as me. I was distracted by my own grief. My mother and I had relocated to Retropolis so that we could continue efforts to find the whereabouts of Father. Memory of the little girl blurred into the past, as I became self-absorbed. While I did think I had seen her at the warehouse, that seemed too odd for me to dwell upon, and I reserved it for consideration at a later date and upon occasion when I had emotional strength to take myself back to that day. 63
I did think of the bracelet when my grandmother died, some say of grief, with the disappearance of her son. Mother and I grew distant in our relationship as hope seemed to progressively wane for my fatherâ€™s return. I would continue to pursue my studies, for I knew that would honor him best. I am surprised Belinda would recognize me in that classroom. I was a fragment of myself.
Episode Nine * *
As by fate or circumstance, some renovation to the upper floor of the school would cause some minor inconveniences among the student body. Belinda, a year younger than Sonicity, would find herself among upper level students. And through some stroke of luck or destiny, Ms. Belinda Bascent was asked to share a locker with Ms. DeLance. It so happened that alphabetically, there was a shortage of B’s and C’s among female students’ last names, resulting in the two girls being assigned to share the same locker. Belinda approached Sonicity who stood by her locker, with books in hand Sonicity warmly greeted her, saying only a few words as she instructed her to use the top shelf of the locker, and she would use the bottom. Something familiar about this girl, mused Sonicity to herself. But she had to move on to her next class, and was much distracted about the speech assignment that she had to present in a few minutes. Belinda watched Sonicity go as quickly as she came. She stood there for a second, as the bell rang, and then she scurried off to her own class. That afternoon, as school came to a close, Sonicity saw Belinda putting her books away. As she walked up to the locker, she watched as Belinda stretched her arms up high to reach the top shelf. “We could exchange shelves. I could take the top one,” noted Sonicity. 65
Belinda glanced at her as she tried to sort out her books and papers, and said “Oh that would be very nice.” Belinda stepped back and placed her stuff on the floor, and Sonicity moved her belongings to the top shelf. “There you go,” Sonicity said. The bottom shelf was still a bit of a reach for Belinda. Pushing up her sleeves, she would have a bit more freedom to reach upward. Without much thought to the matter, that is what she did. It was then that Sonicity was awe struck. The bracelet that she had given that little girl on the street was on Belinda’s wrist. “Where did you get that?” exclaimed Sonicity, as if Belinda had stolen it from the girl. “It was a gift to someone special.” “I know,” responded Belinda, and then she smiled. “It was me to which it was given.” Sonicity, stunned, said nothing. “I will explain, but outside of school,” Belinda continued. “We can talk freely there.”
So that is how the two girls met again. Sonicity listened, as Belinda told her wild adventures with a full range of emotion, from the grief of her motherâ€™s death to her new found mentor, the old man.
Mostly she talked about the wonderful life that she and her mother shared. Although it had been a hard life, it had been a happy one with Nina. 68
Sonicity shared her sadness about the loss of her father, and her hopes for his return and how her mother was wearing down. Sonicity feared they would return to the country before they found him. Belinda had to excuse herself and run home to do her errands and homework. Sonicity said she would walk home with her, if she wished. Belinda reminded her that while she lived nearby, she lived very humbly.
The days had become shorter. Sonicity was a bit concerned about walking home in the dark, but she couldn’t resist going out of her way about 15 minutes to visit Belinda. Her mother would not notice, for she rarely left her bedroom as of late, becoming increasingly depressed. As they approached Belinda’s home, the young girl announced: “Here we are – Welcome Ms. DeLance.” To which Sonicity, laughed, with a curtsey, and said: “Why thank you, Ms. Bascent." Sonicity was very accustomed to such politeness, and it was fairly automatic for her, even when she was taken aback by a person or a situation. Yes here it was, Belinda’s home, a hovel – at least judging from the outside. As she walked through the door, the walls were distressed as was the furniture. Yet, the fireplace near an old rustic sofa seemed to warm up the room. The kitchen, living room, and dining room were all of one room. Belinda gave her the tour, and brought her to the bedroom, which looked about the size of Sonicity’s closet (at her current residence, and she had thought that was modest). Sonicity smiled back at Belinda, and realized how grateful this girl was with simplicity; and she was happy she met her. There was something resolute about Belinda, who could see beyond her circumstances. She was a fighter. And now she was Sonicity’s friend. 70
Sonicity spent only a few minutes there, but enough to solidify their friendship. Belinda waved bye; as her friend left, she turned around and saw the old man standing behind her. “So a friend from school, huh?” he noted, not pleased at all with having a visitor. “Yes, yes, she is lovely, isn’t she?” said Belinda, oblivious to his tone - a mix of frustration, sarcasm, and concern. “I have no problems with friends – at school. Not here. Do you understand, Belinda? You are home late. We cannot go to the gym tonight. Tomorrow walk home alone, and be ready to fight. You have a challenge this weekend.” Belinda sunk her head, and walked off to her room. Perhaps if I told him how we met, she thought. But she decided against it, afraid that he would also disapprove of that. No matter, Belinda was thrilled that Sonicity came over to her house. She had never brought a friend home, for Nina never allowed it. More than that, Belinda never made a friend before she met Sonicity. Belinda jumped on to her bed, looking up toward the ceiling, chipped with paint and worn with age.
She closed her eyes, and whispered to her mother, “Mama, you do like her, don’t you? I know you do? Thank you, Mama, for letting me have a friend.” The girls would become close friends. And the old man would eventually invite Sonicity to the gym at the urging of Belinda. He knew that Belinda would not let go of this one. Sonicity had many of Nina’s qualities – a good listener and a gentle spirit. Belinda had seemed to be the better for the friendship. Her caretaker asked around town with regards to Sonicity and her family. He had learned who she was, and wanted to find out if she could be trusted, since Belinda had grown so fond of her. As Sonicity walked into the gym on this particular Saturday, she saw Belinda with a large smile. She was in the midst of a challenge, but upon seeing Sonicity she lost her focus. The young boy of her age and size took a jab to her jaw. That woke up Belinda. She came back with three blows to his upper torso, which nearly tossed him out of the ring. “Impressive, isn’t she?” said the old man. Sonicity’s eyes widened. The old man was certainly a strange character. It wasn’t so much his age that bothered her, but his way of getting into one’s space. He liked to glare right into the eyes – looking into the soul. For that moment, he could control you. Staring intently at Sonicity, he said, “Friends can make you weak.Friends can make you strong. Which one are you?” 72
Episode Ten * *
Holiday Edition - “Thanksgiving in Deacon’s Bend”
Across the city sidewalks, the Fall winds carried the autumn leaves.
Once reds, yellows, oranges, and purple hues – now brown and withered, the leaves accumulated outside store fronts and alleyways until the street sweeper brushed them away on another day. Just yesterday, it was warm and sunny. Suddenly the season changed, a bit later than usual. It was Thanksgiving Day in Retropolis. But Sonicity and Belinda would spend their holiday far away from any semblance of city life. School was out for Fall Break, and Sonicity’s mother planned to run home for the week to take care of a few odds and ends at the old house. She hated going back there these days; it felt so empty without Maxwell. Sonicity begged her mother to take Belinda with them. Bel had no plans for the holidays. She could either go on the road for the next week with the old man, who had a chance to pick up some extra work by helping out with a boxing match a few cities away, or she could stay home alone. Sonicity’s offer was a pleasant surprise. Sonicity told her to pack light, and they would take care of whatever she needed. The train ride seemed endless, about 18 hours in all. 74
The girls spent most of the time outside their sleeper car, exploring every facet of the train. When they arrived at Deacon’s Bend, it was sunrise. The train station was located in the town’s square. There was no one to greet them, and in fact there was no one around anywhere. The town was desolate, yet there was an ambience about it that exuded a sense of community. Even the town’s welcome sign offered a joyful testimony upon entrance: “Everyone’s Welcome at Deacon’s Bend – the good life starts here.” The town consisted of a dozen antique brick buildings of various sizes and a simple, lovely park area in the center completed the square. Two park benches provided rest spots, which might also serve as convenient observation points for “people watching.” A few store signs caught the eye of Belinda – Deacon’s Sweet Treats, R&B Trains and Toys, and Yummy Tummy Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor. Another building housed the general administrative offices, including the mayor’s office. A big sign hung by the door Office of Mayor Dina Duncan of Deacon’s Bend. Engraved on the glass door was a listing of the city offices within the building. Other store fronts were occupied by the town dentist (across the street from the candy store), the barber and the tailor, among a few others. With no cab in sight, Serene told the girls they would walk six blocks to the house. “Be strong girls,” she said. “I know this trip has been long and weary, but we are almost home.” 75
For Belinda, this was far from any sense of home that she had known. She may as well have landed on another planet among aliens. Her mother would often read her stories about places like this, but it seemed so foreign to her right now. Had she landed in a fairy tale, and of course Sonicity was the princess and Serene, the queen? Perhaps she was dreaming, and was actually sleeping on the sofa in her humble dwelling back in Retropolis. Belinda pinched herself. There was certain surreal charm to the sleepy suburbs. The streets were quiet being it a holiday. Adding to the quaintness, homes was accented by lovely stained glass windows in earth-tone hues and designs that reflected nature â€“ birds, flowers, and more birds. Belinda could not help to notice the orderly nature of this town â€“ two flower pots equally distributed across each window sill with few exceptions, manicured lawns adjacent to cobblestone sidewalks, and leaves that seemed to stack themselves into piles as they dropped from the oak trees. At this time of day, brilliantly intense were the reflections bouncing off the pristine windows, so much so that the sun rays were blinding. It became a twinkle as the sun rose quickly. The girls were nearly home. Bel lagged behind, soaking in this new world. Immaculate would be another word that might describe the town. It was almost too much for Belinda to take in, and when she walked past one of the houses, there was a steamy apple pie cooling in the window sill. She had spied it from a distance; with Sonicity and Serene so far ahead of her, she had opportunity!
She couldn’t resist some mischief. She kept her head low, reached up her right arm, poking her finger in it, and plucked out a piece of apple. A woman shrieked from inside the house and slapped her hand. Belinda ran down the street catching up with Sonicity, with the old woman still staring at her. She could sense the woman’s eyes on her, and thought she even heard her say, “I’m going to keep an eye on you, missy.” Belinda glanced back at her, pointing to Sonicity and Serene, fairly much telling the woman, “I’m with them.” Belinda felt better just knowing she messed up the order of the town, if only slightly. The trio came upon a beautiful blue cottage with white shutters, outlined by a white picket fence. Sonicity’s mother opened the gate, and motioned the girls to wait on the sidewalk near the street. Sonicity explained, “This is Granny’s house. She died of heartbreak after my dad was kidnapped.” Bel said nothing, and Sonicity expected nothing to be said. What could be said now? “I’m sorry” seemed as inappropriate as anything one might have offered up to console Sonicity or Serene. The house remained the same as Sonicity remembered. After a few minutes of silence, she added, “Your bracelet was a gift to me from Granny. And now it is yours.” Belinda smiled, understanding the significance of what Sonicity had said.
Her mom had checked for mail, and then came back toward the girls. The house next to Granny’s was Sonicity’s. It was a three story brick manor, elegantly designed and maintained outside as well as inside. The housekeeper left for the holidays, but she typically lived there, keeping the place in good order, while Serene lived in the city. The girls spent the rest of the morning browsing, with Sonicity giving Belinda the grand tour. Meanwhile, Serene headed over to the house of the local grocer who saved a turkey for her in his own freezer. When she got back, she told the girls that she was exhausted, and needed a short nap. After that, she would try to prepare some sort of Thanksgiving dinner for the three of them. “I worry, girls, that the turkey will not be ready until very late tonight. It’s thawing on the counter, and I will do my best when I wake up in an hour or so to see what we can prepare as some sort of holiday dinner. Just be ready to help when I awake – we have lots to do.” While her mother slept, Sonicity secretly took Belinda into her father’s lab, attached to the back of the house. It was a massive room that spanned half the manor. From the outside, it appeared to be some sort of greenhouse or garden area.
Bel’s eyes got big. She focused especially on the bottles that were labeled “caution” and “flammable.” Sonicity yawned. She had been in this lab many times to work with her father. Seeing the lab comforted her, as well as saddened her. Neither girl had gotten any rest on the train. They agreed to go to their rooms. Sonicity wanted to take a bath. Belinda had a grand bedroom; the guest room was fashioned in olive bedspreads and curtains. Her room was on the second floor across from Sonicity’s. Belinda settled into the room, exploring it and its large closet. She sat on the edge of her bed, tired but too restless to sleep. She decided to get a glass of water in the kitchen and searched the counters for a snack. She noticed the turkey near the sink. She had an idea. She could help prepare dinner while Sonicity and Serene rested.
She grabbed the cooking oil, and took the turkey to the lab, setting it on a tray above several Bunsen burners. She gradually raised the intensity of the flames, adding more and more oil on the tray.
Sonicity went to check on Belinda after 20 minutes and found her in the lab. The turkey rested on a tray balanced by two jars marked flammable. Sonicity started shaking her head at Belinda, running to turn off the burners. As she did, she hit the tray, and one of the jars toppled over breaking, and the oil on the turkey engaged with the flammable liquid. Sonicity and Bel heard a rumble inside the turkey, and they backed off just in time for it to burst into flames, exploding upward. It rocketed through the sky roof above the house. The girls exited the back door, through the yard following the turkey as it jettisoned toward the front gate. As fast as it went up, it went down with the flames extinguishing before hitting a nearby fence post and then spring boarding toward a group of old women passing by. As fate had it, it knocked off the hat of the pie lady that Belinda had encountered earlier. The turkey flew past her head and then splattered on the road. The other women, first shocked, then relieved, tried not to chuckle. Few events like this ever happened in Deacon’s Bend. And no one was hurt, except the turkey and the woman’s hat. To the women, it was something to be expected of youngsters once in a blue moon. Sonicity promised to pay for the old lady’s hat. Then the old lady said, “And my pie too,” staring at Belinda, who moved behind Sonicity. By then Serene had joined the girls on the sidewalk, and had pieced the events together in some sort of sequential order.
She summed up the whole situation, noting, “I guess we were not to have a turkey dinner. I hope you girls like crackers and cheese.” The old women were horrified at the thought. “Crackers and cheese for Thanksgiving!” All invited Serene and the girls to join them for dinner. The old woman then added, “No, they will spend Thanksgiving with me and my sister. So I can keep an eye on this one,” as she pointed to Belinda. Then she smiled, and Belinda grinned sheepishly. Maybe this town wasn’t so odd after all; they did have a sense of humor and didn’t seem upset with a little mayhem every now and then. Belinda liked Deacon’s Bend. She had no idea how that old woman would change her life.
Episode Eleven * *
Holiday Edition II - “Christmas in July ”
The holidays came and went. Thanksgiving bonded Belinda to the DeLance family. Time quickly passed by the girls. This story began in 2091, with the kidnapping of Maxwell DeLance. His body was never found, and no ransom was requested. Serene had moved to Retropolitan to keep close to the police, hoping for his return to no avail. Sonicity was reunited with the little urchin girl Belinda, that girl she had met on the city streets and gifted the bracelet that her grandmother had given her. The charm bracelet was the key to the universal realms that ruled the ancient and future past. The fateful meeting of Belinda and Sonicity on the streets and then at the urban school would be more than coincidental. There were larger elements at play that the girls would soon realize to their surprise. Yet not in this episode. Here it was celebration of friendship. So many things had happened in 2092. Serene DeLance felt the warmth of coming home Thanksgiving 2091, and decided to stay at Deacon's Bend through the Christmas holidays and the coming year. Belinda returned home to the old man, only to find that she deeply missed Sonicity. Feelings were mutual. Both girls spent Christmas apart. Gifts were sent to her house by Serene. Belinda sent a book of impressive sketches to Sonicity, ones that captured her life in the city as a poor girl. It broke Sonicity's heart to know of their struggles. They were proud people and wished no special treatment. The friendship perhaps bonded by circumstances, with each child losing a parent and through fate (or merely circumstance 84
to skeptics) would result in a strong alliance. Belinda and Sonicity exchanged letters over the year. Belinda matured physically and intellectually. The old man kept her busy, teaching her the physical and spiritual arts of her people.
The old man grew weak as the school year ended. As the summer heat intensified, he lay in his bed with fever, while Belinda watched over him, fanning his forehead. A knock on the door brought a surprise. It was the Deacon's Bend lady, Mrs. Notterwheelie, the woman whose hat was once grazed by Belinda's exploding turkey. Along with her, it was Serene and Sonicity. Serene told the girls to go play, which they readily did. A local physician came to the house to diagnose the old man, and found him physically worn. "He is a strong man, but he can no longer push himself. He is a scrapper." In other words, he was a hard worker, and time was catching up to him. Throughout the day, it seemed that the women talked to the old man, Vladamir, for hours. (Bel only knew him as V, as he was known at the gym and boxing rings. ) Over the next few days, the women came and went from his room, nursing him to good health. The old woman spent much time caring for him, while Serene attended to the children. Sonicity had never seen her mother live so humbly before. She bought some cots and blankets, and all slept in the living room. On the third day, the old man was sitting up in his bed, in good spirit. The girls and Serene cleaned up the house a bit, and set a table appropriate for dining. All dined together on the final night. V was very quiet, and observed the women. After dinner, he went back to his room.
Serene asked Belinda to speak with her privately in the bathroom. That was the only secluded room, aside from the man's bedroom. It was agreed that Bel would be moving back to Deacon's Bend. "What about Mr. V?" she inquired. "I will not leave him." Serene responded, "No, no, my child, you and him will move to my mother's cottage. He is weak, but he can be nursed back to health in a few weeks. He cannot work at his current pace. As much as he doesn't want to admit it, he is getting up in years." She winked. "He didn't want to leave you either, my dear Belinda." Belinda was amazed at what had been said and transpired. It was not like V to accept such hospitality. There was more to this story, she thought. Nevertheless, she learned to accept good news, being that it was so far and few between in her life, as what it is - a good turn in her circumstances. This was a miracle in so many ways. A car was sent to escort Belinda and V to the train station in four weeks, when the old man was much stronger. They packed up their modest belongings. The old man was very quiet about the whole affair, and Belinda didn't want to jinx this amazing occurrence. She didn't question his decision. Sonicity would travel in a car with her mother and the widow Mrs. Notterwheelie back to Deacon's Bend. They would have time to prepare the house.
When Belinda and V arrived at the cottage, it was decorated for the Christmas holidays. Lights were strewn inside the cottage and outside stood a big evergreen decorated with bows and candy canes. The girls ran ahead. Soni escorted Bel through the house. Inside, it was immaculate; the furnishings were well crafted, with a quaint feel. Belinda had her own room. The curtains were white lace; a small breeze gently swayed them. Belinda reminisced about her mother and the curtains in their old apartment. Sonicity had a sketch of Bel's mother framed above the headboard of her bed. Bel stood on the bed to touch the sketch, and smiled back at Sonicity. It was those personal touches that Belinda appreciated, those details that only Sonicity seemed to remember, like her mother once did. They could not be purchased with great wealth, but only through the melding of two hearts, two friends who came to know each other through sad circumstances. Together, they would become invincible because they had each other. awaited them, even one that they would invent in due time.
Sonicity smiled back at Belinda. "Best friends forever."
She had no idea the truth that she had spoke into the air that day she met Belinda. There is power in words, if there is will and wonder in one's being. Sonicity had spoken her future with Belinda that first day and the bracelet would seal their fate. She had given Belinda the gift of friendship. Belinda accepted it without question or reservation. Belinda said, "This is real, isn't it? Me, here, at Deacon's Bend. You and me, neighbors. But why Christmas? All the decorations for Christmas in July? I don't understand. " Sonicity said, "It is about beginnings. Christmas is something you hold close in your heart year around. This is your second beginning, Belinda." Serene, the widow, and the old man stood in the doorway of Belinda's bedroom, overhearing the conversation. Belinda was overwhelmed and even the old man struggled to hold back a tear when he saw her room. The old woman smiled at V. He averted his eyes. Serene thought, "Hmmm, maybe there would be another beginning." So that year, 2092, Christmas would come twice. The first one would be best remembered.
Episode Twelve * *
Unraveling the Mysteries It was an odd sight. A home with a laboratory, thought Belinda. Sonicity had invited her to look around her father's private lab for hints and clues regarding his disappearance. Sonicity and her mother had looked through it so many times, and the police had been there in the beginning quite a bit. His journals and other paperwork revealed nothing that would lead to his whereabouts. Some science foundations and libraries had requested the volumes of his research on Quantum Physics, as well as his notes on alchemy and political and economic considerations regarding intellectually mining alien realms. The fervor around his work had been that he was delving into something that would radically change the world. Everything here had been published or presented, and there seemed no attempt to keep it private. Just browsing through her father's work made Sonicity reminiscent of all the times that she watched him work in the lab. Sometimes she assisted him, carefully retrieving books, test tubes, wires and what not. Her mother didn't much like the idea of Sonicity hanging out in his lab back then, nor now. Mother was shopping today, and Mr. V was off traveling once again. His health had improved vastly under the care of the old lady, Wilma Notterwheelie. She went along with him this time, which in and of itself was amazing, given the gentility of her upbringing. 91
"Boxing - really?" snickered Sonicity and her mother. Mrs. Notterwheelie simply retorted, "I think I have one or two adventures left in me. I used to be quite a handful when I was your age." She stared directly at Belinda. That dynamically juxtaposed couple had left a day or so earlier. Belinda was back in the lab, the same one from which she jettisoned a turkey out of the sky panel upon her holiday visit to Sonicity's home in Deacon's Bend. That's how she met Wilma. Hence forward the story of the flying turkey became legendary, and Bel had become part of the town's local history. She knew she was different from most of the other girls born and raised here. Yet she felt accepted by everyone, and even if she didn't - she had Sonicity, her best friend at her side. Belinda loved the lab; it was filled with gadgets to evoke curiosity in anyone, let alone a young girl of the mischievous sort. Putting all that aside in her mind, she cautiously approached Sonicity, knowing that these visits to the lab varied with her emotional state. This is where Sonicity escaped to talk to her father, in her own way. Today she invited Belinda to come with her. This was not the first time that both girls looked for some sort of lead on her father's whereabouts. "I'm not saying we won't find anything here. And it is always extraordinary to spend time in your father's lab. But what are you thinking, Miss Sonicity? Is there more to this, today?" 93
"I guess, I am losing hope about my father. When I was rescued, maybe they killed my father. By now, we would have heard something." Bel's heart sank. She remembered that horrific moment. She had witnessed the incident. More than that, she had been the one to retrieve Sonicity and Serene. She thought she had done the right thing, and of course she did - they would not be alive otherwise. Yet everything was botched, Bel thought, and she had to make this right.
"I have an idea," said Belinda softly, looking over Soni's shoulder as she thumbed through a manuscript, with the pages yellowing from age. "I am listening," Sonicity replied, eyes focused on the book. pages.
She stopped turning the
Bel continued, "You know there's still time to enter the science fair at school. All we need is a letter of support from our science teacher, and we can submit it to the inventor's competition at the World Fair, if our project qualifies." Sonicity turned to Belinda, with raised eyebrows, musing over what she had said, remarking, "Oh, the deadline is in a month. And you have to stay there for a week and attend the science camp. No way, Mother would never let me go there. It would bring back so many memories to her." Bel said, "So you have thought about entering?" Sonicity look back down at the book. "She will never forgot, Soni," Bel went on. "She will understand. You will honor your father's name, and help his legacy live on and take your rightful place among the World Commission and the long line of inventors and leaders among your ancestors. You are nearly 15. Walk in your father's footsteps and maybe you will find the path to him whatever happened to him. I will be there with you. And if it is too difficult for your mother, Mr. V could take us." 95
Sonicity began to laugh! She said, "Mr. V! That alone would be well worth entering to observe Mr. V among all those scientists and la-de-dahs, the who's who of something or another. I would fear for them." "And you should fear for them!," replied Belinda. "Nothing gets past him. He has this uncanny sense about people and there's unwritten volumes in his head, I bet. Your father and him could likely solve the problems of the universe." Sonicity dismissed Belinda's comments as merely adoration for the man who took her into his life, and cared for her after her mother's death. She would recall those words soon enough, and realize the universe is far more interconnected than any one of us could have ever imagined.
*** Back in Retropolis, Mr. V and Mrs. Notterwheelie were on a mission, unbeknownst to the girls, that took them back to scene of the kidnapping of Maxwell and the explosion at the warehouse where Sonicity and her mother had been held. Serene had confided in the old lady: "Wilma, I cannot deal with this any longer." Serene was visibly stressed, as she had attempted so many times to claim peace sorting through the guilt of not doing enough to find her husband and the reality that there was nothing to do. "I have been through the gamut of false leads, and so many wanting money or attention from this tragedy. I have tried to put this behind me when I moved 96
back home, working quietly with the Retropolis police to keep the case alive but out of the headlines." Wilma responded, "I know, dear. You need to let this go, and trust in time you have your answers. You have a lovely daughter who needs your attention."
Serene shook her head, adding, "You don't know - I cannot put this to rest, look - " She directed her attention to the newspapers on the side table. Several newspapers exploiting the anniversary of her husband's tragic kidnapping. The Retropolis Daily ran an anniversary feature, "The Max Mystery: Two Years Later." Another tabloid offered a substantial reward for tips surrounding the whereabouts of the briefcase and the girl that was spotted running away from the explosion. Wilma told Serene she would call a few people in the city, and attempt to find out what was going on with the case - as well as seek assurance from Retropolis' city officials that Serene and Sonicity would be kept away from reporters and the whole media frenzy. Wilma conspired, she would enlist Mr. V, now in good health, to accompany her to Retropolis. It had been a decade since she had been in the grand city. She was up for a bit of adventure. She bragged to V that she was a secretary to a private detective in her younger years. V knew many of the locals, and upon arrival he began to follow up on rumors circulating about DeLance's briefcase. It had never been recovered, and with 97
opening ceremonies in May, the buzz grew stronger in Retropolis and around the world (and speculated to reach some of the realms beyond). Maxwell DeLance was, after all, the most prominent among all the members of the World Council of Intellectual Leaders. Various pundits proclaimed in the media different theories. The television echoed the sentiment of the world, be it true or not: "Whatever was in his briefcase was likely related to his anticipated keynote that was never delivered before the World Council nearly two years ago." That speech was to set the tone for the 2093 World's Fair, "The Era of Reinvention."
Episode Thirteen * *
The Science Project It was a wild sight - a massive Ferris Wheel spinning, reaching into the clouds, and words stretched across its center, "The Future Past."
The theme of the 2093 Fair, "The Era of Reinvention," was a thoughtful look back at unfinished work of the great minds, inviting leading and upcoming inventors and scientists of this age to springboard the former to the future, propelling and tweaking, and even totally reconceptualizing the brilliant yet uncompleted visions of the intellectual forefathers. In some cases, it might be rethinking and reimagining ideas based on failed experiments. It was an homage to the past, while moving ahead. Coinciding with the larger fair, there was a huge student exhibit. Sonicity had decided to finish one of her father's experiments. She and Bel had worked fairly much night and day rummaging through his papers until discovering a particular project that seemed interesting. The girls stood there before their exhibit, only days before the grand opening, waiting for the jury to come back with its evaluation on their project. This project had been difficult emotionally for Sonicity, but it had brought the girls together intellectually on their first of many projects to come in the near future. They named it, "The Time Masher" in which images, audio, video, books, papers and so forth could be downloaded into a computer - complete objects would be scanned once placed on a conveyor belt or even tossed into a dropbox, synthesized into a mash-up of historical proportions. The drop box was their idea. It was not a particularly revolutionary project by intent, or seemed not to be, and Dr. DeLance had hoped it would be a fun way to reexamine the past. It had been near completion but the doctor had more pressing work with which to contend. What made the software particularly interesting was that it had been programmed to identify acoustic patterns and visual relationships among data - soft information imported 101
from disks as well as physical objects that would be immediately scanned into the machine. That was where he left off, never taking the software to the next level. It was one of his many projects that went unfinished. His concluding notes regarding this invention was, "As it stands, this might be a fun to way to present historical events, drawing parallels between them, or at the least make an interesting audio-visual archive of one's life and that of one's family. Might make a wonderful gift for Serene and Sonicity." Over the past month, the girls had worked long hours, initially musing through Dr. DeLance's materials, seeking inventions that might be workable for the fair. Sonicity had grown introspective, disconnecting from Belinda as time passed. She wondered, fairly sure by now that her father had been murdered, where he might be in the universe. Her mind began to wander to the many stories that her parents had shared with her, extraordinary races of people from assorted realms that used to visit her planet, and many had assimilated into the human race to the point that no one noticed much difference anymore. Maybe someone had a rare taste for insects or some had a unique gift of sensing the changing weather, and another might hear at extraordinary perceptual levels. But most people were about the same, if just passing them on the street, provided they had financial means. Her dad had joked to her that he would wander throughout the realms upon his death, and report back to her about his many travels, namely those he had not been permitted to partake in with the closing of the borders.
Her people were the Intellectuals, and Belinda had the heritage of the Warriors. Not much fighting occurred these days, other than in the back streets among the poorest of castes. Other factions had encampments far in the countryside, away from prying eyes. It was a long time ago that anyone had broke through the borders, and for the most part, the world was orderly; when things were out of sync, the system worked quickly to restore balance and justice was swift. No tolerance for those who sought to challenge the government or the World Council. It was a world ruled by "compassionate science," some would say. Things were predictable, and that meant peace could be maintained. Sonicity's father had been the most compassionate member of the World Council. Serene had worried that the kidnapping had been an inside maneuver to relinquish Maxwell of his political power (and popularity among the people). He had been an advocate for all people, and rumor had it, opening up the realms once again. The masher had been in clear sight, but rested alongside numerous other contraptions. It looked like a heap of junk, actually. The girls had spent half the month trying to find a suitable project for the fair and several journal entries led them to this monstrosity of a machine. It didn't look like anything special, and was bulky and awkward to maneuver. The journal notes caught their attention. Their eyes sparked with curiosity. Sonicity had regained her focus, with some nudging from her good friend. Belinda read aloud what she could of the final sentence on the last page. It was barely legible, having been stained with coffee. The girls could make sense out of no more than a handful of words, ".......could revolutionize....if I could only........." 103
"I know what he was going to say," interjected Soni. "I know Sonicity," said Belinda. "He wants us to finish his sentence, complete his work." "Yes, it is as if Father is here with us now."
*** A chill ran through Belinda's body. She knew they were delving into something more than the science of Maxwell DeLance. It was his energy that resided in this laboratory, no matter where he might be now, in this world or another realm. The after-life carried much superstition as well as truth for Belinda. She had little to go on, and much of what she thought about her family was drawn from intuition and her imagination. She had picked up bits and pieces of her family history from Mr. V. She could never confirm whether or not he was her great uncle, or how else he came to meet her father. Belinda had also been contemplative lately. It is difficult not to be so, when sorting through the past. She missed her mother, and thought how different her life was now. She wished her mother could live with her in her new home with the Old Man. Young people like Belinda were fortunate if they might befriend a member of the intellectual caste. Belinda had no idea about such things. She happened to have good fortune some might say. She was far from cunning on society matters. Perhaps it was her orphan status that allowed Belinda to slip through the intellectual cracks, in that she no longer had any former ties with the warrior caste. In time, it might appear that her path had been designed for her, an attempt by her ancestors to restore the universe to its natural 104
state, riddled with unpredictability and chaos while rendering creativity beyond comprehension. The old man, of course, never shared much with anyone other than Belinda about his past or hers. He only told Belinda what she needed to know, helping her to acknowledge her rich heritage and not be ashamed. He was a proud man, yet he didn't feel that he needed to discuss such matters with those who would not understand his people's legacies and the inherent wisdom of the universe, simply ignored and not even disputed among the intellectuals. The Warriors had been misunderstood and were only seen through their present state of poverty and societal imprisonment. Belinda heard the old man say, "Brilliance is accomplished through a synthesis of energies, and the intellectuals were an incestuous group, confining their ideas to one another 's praises, so much so that it limited free thought and expression. Impish clones, nearly the lot of them." He thought the World Fair's theme was another example of similar thinking, as it concentrated on the work of the intellectual forefathers, and anything outside the box was irrelevant. But he felt that Belinda needed to find her own way through the universe. Belinda was helping a friend sort through life as well, finding closure or opening a new chapter for her and Sonicity. Sonicity continued, "Let's see if this thing works!" Belinda smiled, up for any adventure where she didn't know the outcome. 105
The girls were able to process collages on some minor and major historical events - like the Great Earthquake of 2015 and the Market Crash of 2023, using data freely available on the World Library Network. Belinda had an idea; she tossed in video clips of random television shows, Bunny Bitz, a kid's program, and then Sonicity dropped in photos of her family. The girls giggled incessantly at the strange combinations that ensued - her mother with bunny ears in one image, and a crazy mix of environments and people blending one into another. Then the computer froze on one image "It's Papa," exclaimed Sonicity. "It stopped on this photo of Papa." Her smile turned to a frown, and her eyes watered. "It won't move from here. The program has stopped working." "Sonicity! No. It's just that the resolution of this video image is overpowering the computer, along with everything else that we downloaded and brought into the mainframe. Get your computer - it is more powerful and will handle the graphics and has much more memory..." "It was a message from Papa, you know," softly murmured Sonicity." "Maybe so, Sonicity. Maybe not. But one thing for sure, we will need a much more powerful computer than yours to do what I am thinking." "What are you thinking, my little mischievous urchin," jested Sonicity. 106
"Okay princess, just get the computer," retorted Belinda. Sonicity ran out of the room, and brought her desk computer into the lab. The girls set it up, installing the computer program after several hours and many work-arounds. Belinda refused to tell Sonicity her plan â€“ until she knew that the computer was compatible with the program. 107
“Okay, it’s done – I think this will work! – for now at least, for a simple experiment.” "What's this all about Bel?! Tell me." "What better way to finish your father's work than to get into his mind, and the only way we have right now is to input his work into this computer..." Interrupting, Sonicity shouted, "Brilliant, Belinda!" Over the next few days, the girls had secured funds to build a computer that would rival any of the leading scientists on the World Council. They begin to input the doctor's notes, sketches, audio tapings, and video lectures into the computer, solely dedicated for this software. They would bring the work of Maxwell DeLance to life. The professor would be present at the conference, in one form or another.
Episode Fourteen * *
The judges moved to the next table, taking notes on their pads.
The World Council leader, Mr. Xavier Huddleberry led the charge, shuffling the four men and one woman across the exhibit room. The Science Fair was filled with impressive exhibits, but none so much as Belinda and Sonicity's grandiose invention. When Huddleberry arrived at the final table, he raised his spectacles to take in the sight. Now this my gentlemen and lady is an extraordinary structure..." "Extraordinarily large, if nothing else," joked one of the judges. A few snickers could be heard among the men. Mr. Huddleberry offered no emotion. He continued, "This is an exhibit entered by two young girls, one of which is the heir to the DeLance estate." A hush swept among the crowd of onlookers. Mr. Huddleberry nodded his tall hat toward Sonicity. "Young lady, shall we see if this contraption works? Ms. DeLance, I very much respected your father and his work. I am sure no matter what you have done, he would be proud. " 110
Serene, attempting to control her watery eyes, stood by watching, intrigued, not really quite sure how the girls had adapted the invention. Sonicity had shown her mother the entry in her father's journal, where he had planned this as a gift to her in its original form. She was there as much for Sonicity, as she was to pay tribute to her husband. Sonicity gave a brief speech regarding the project, and how it evolved with Belinda at her side, her best friend. "So let's give this a whirl," she smiled. Belinda turned on the machine, and it made a fearsome sound, with its large cooling fans seemingly more like jet propellers than those of a computer. "Welcome my friends to the wonders of The Time Masher," Belinda announced. On this day, she dressed like a magician, whereas Sonicity was adorned conservatively in a gray jumper, trimmed with a stylish gear imprint in black lace. The outfit was completed with a tall hat and her lucky cog backpack. The judges smiled. Wilma smiled, as did Mr. V. Sonicity's mom laughed, not expecting such showmanship from little Belinda. Sonicity continued, "We will start with a search for the best apple pie recipe of all times. " Mmmmm. The crowd salivated. "The Time Masher is connected to three of the largest databases related to food in the world," elaborated Sonicity. "Watch as it sifts through the recipes of the greatest chefs, as 111
well as their archived guest appearances on cooking shows, numerous interviews and materials from all over the world." After some clamoring and shaking the machine spit out a sheet of paper - a recipe for apple pie, scientifically formulated to appeal to 95 percent of apple lovers. Wilma presented a pie to the judges. "The girls gave me a sneak peak of their presentation. And I made this pie for the judges." The judges, as well as the onlookers, laughed. "No bribes," said Mr. Huddleberry smiling at Wilma. "Never," she retorted, winking back to the master judge, to the shock and subtle jealousy of Mr. V. He gently tugged the large back bow of her white apron, which covered her maroon day dress. As he did, she stepped back toward him and Serene, unaware of his concern. Each took a sample, and nodded at each other. Mr. Huddleberry announced, "Well Madame, that pie is the best I have ever tasted." Then he looked at the girls, and said, "Well done." Belinda continued, "But whoa, do not dare exit the premise, my good people, that is not all. It is time for the real test. Who might be the greatest inventor, at least to his darling daughter and lovely wife, but Dr. Maxwell DeLance. We come to honor him today! Inventor Extraordinaire!" 112
Belinda motioned to Soni to accept her cue. "Inside this invention," continues the proud daughter, "we have accrued all his work, and we have found that each time we run this program, new configurations arise. Each time solving a dilemma proposed by himself in his journals. Moreover, we can broaden and narrow the search field, as we wish. And, we can share our notes..." Belinda interrupted, saying, "We have documented all our work for the judges, referencing not only his journals, but that which has been archived in scientific journals and conference proceedings." Serene nodded her head at Belinda, impressed with her maturity and articulation. Sonicity continued, "We bring you the mind of Professor DeLance. We offer a tribute to his work - and today we merge his unpublished findings and speculations from his journals with his documented work, to verify and reveal new ideas and patterns, giving life beyond his earthly time." Serene's heart dropped, realizing Sonicity had given up hope of her father's existence beyond his legacy. It was a moment of mixed emotion. Sonicity, now 14, had grown strong and was ready to step into her father's shoes. "And more than that, we propose to solve that even which the professor had not solved," concluded Sonicity. "Ooos" and "Ahhhs" were heard from the growing crowd of spectators. With Maxwell's daughter as presenter, even the press was on hand for this event, albeit a school science fair exhibit. There had been some scuttlebutt that the DeLances might show, but the family had kept Sonicity's participation fairly quiet. The judges looked at each other, 113
amazed and confounded that two youngsters came up with this idea and projected such boldness beyond their years. "Why this might revolutionize the way scientists process their ideas," whispered one judge. "Imagine solving your own equations, ideas, and speculations," noted another judge. Another chimed in, "...and testing your work against your peers instantly."
"Testing your own ideas against yourself," mused another. "Drum roll, please," continued Sonicity. "Let's see what Father has to say today. someone give me one or two words to search within his database?"
"Quantum Physics," shouted someone in the audience. One of the judges responded, "Let us try something of general intellect for our good audience here." "Lemon pies," suggested another, in the spirit of dumbing down the search term. Then a reporter, stepped up, advancing from the back of the crowd, shouted, "Realm." Several others in the audience began to shout, "Realm, Realm, Realm." 114
That was an old, but familiar, term which had not been publicly discussed in awhile, indeed somewhat controversial given the Professor's stance on the topic. He had advocated reopening the realms, and was believed to have continued his research along that line, something that would "realign and revolutionize the world and scientific order" he had boasted openly before his disappearance. Without blinking, Bel entered the term "Realm" into the computer database. Mr. Huddleberry was visibly nervous, but did not really think that this machine by two school girls could revolutionize the world at this moment. It was an invention of possibility, admittedly brilliant in its conception. No matter, it would be fruitless to try to stop the presentation with all the media around. He nervously took a breath and sighed - as the computer fans turned swiftly, emitting grumbling noises and lights of various intensity. If anything, the judges feared this oversized computer would explode. The crowd now encircled the machine. A reporter entered the exhibit area from the left, and undetected until too late he had inserted a newspaper into the adjoining computer scanner, that which feeds program data into The Masher. Belinda tried to pull it out, merely tearing off a corner. The newspaper was scanned, with its front page projected onto the large computer screen. It was a lead story on the DeLance kidnapping, particularly covering the investigation involving the rescue of Sonicity and her mother. 115
The paper was caught in the scanner. Belinda tugged at it; as she pulled back her arm, her bracelet slipped into the machine. It fell into the depository as well. Rather than being simply scanned, it along with the newspaper was sucked into the machine. The machine began to convulse, and then on the screen came the face of Maxwell. From the speakers, his voice boomed, "Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the opening of the 2093 World's Fair." Serene screamed, nearly fainting. Two women caught her, and held her closely. girls stood amazed, as did the crowd.
The judges were equally dumbfounded, with some murmuring, "What trickery is this?" The crowd withdrew in awe, but too curious to completely retreat. "A school girl's prank," said another. But the girls looked as surprised as everyone else. Maxwell continued, "Today we will reopen the realms, beginning with the final realm. Let me take you on an adventure to show you what we have given up by closing all thirteen." "Is this his speech he had planned to present," asked one reporter. No one knew. The machine seemingly damaged by the newspaper and bracelet began to overheat.
The crowd stepped back further, as the machine began to smoke. It blinded the crowd. Belinda ran toward the machine to turn it off, hoping to save it somehow. Sonicity ran toward her, to pull her away. Belinda said, "Soni, I am so sorry, my bracelet is in there. I fear I ruined everything." The judges tried to pull the girls away from the machine, which began to rumble incessantly, and then an explosion ensued, sending the girls upward into the sky. A dark cloud formed over the fair, and sucked the girls into an inverted black hole, of a triangular shape, much like a pyramid. As the girls faded from sight, Sonicity's hat glided through the sky downward into her mom's hand, as Serene simultaneously reached upward to her daughter, imagining she could rescue her, catch her, swoop her up in her motherly arms. Bel's scarf landed on top of Wilma Notterwheelie's head. The old man grabbed it and looked up to the sky. Belinda was no more. "I know what this is. I have seen it before. They have entered the vortex, our mirror realm - Zuatha - the 13th of the realms," noted the old man.
"The realm of The Clones?" asked Wilma. "Heavens," exclaimed Serene. "Will the girls be alright?" "Is Maxwell alive?" asked Wilma. 118
Mr. V., musing for a moment, "I don't know, but the girls are alive. They have been summoned by someone or something. I am confident." "By what - whom?" anxiously inquired Serene. "That I do not know," sighed the old man. "Time will tell. Maxwell may very well have his wish, if the prophecy holds true - to open the realms. That would mean the girls will return home in 14 years, but only if and after they complete their missions."
*** Far above her family and friends, Bel and Sonicity looked around at their new world, puzzled and exhilarated. Standing before her was her father, Maxwell DeLance and beside him was Belinda's mother Nina. Belinda also noticed that Sonicity was now a woman, perhaps in her mid twenties. Her own form as well had transformed into a woman of strength and beauty. Belinda, typically not one faint of heart or strength, collapsed into Sonicity's arms.
Episode Fifteen ***
Realm Thirteen: The Future Present
Belinda awoke in a room that appeared vaguely familiar.
She felt the cool breeze that gently pushed the lace curtains back and forth against the window sill. Nina smiled, sitting in a nearby chair at her bedside. At first Belinda thought it was merely a dream. Then she felt the warmth of her mother's skin as Nina softly squeezed Belinda's hand. "Mother," responded Belinda. "Is that really you?" "Why yes, dear? It is me. There is so much for me to tell you." "This doesn't make sense," said Belinda. "I was told you ---." "Hush, Bel. Just know I am here for you, as I will always be," her mom answered. "So this is heaven, and I died," stated Belinda, now sitting upright in her bed. "No. You are quite alive." Belinda looked at her self. She tossed off the covers. She jumped up, and looked in the dressing mirror. "What happened? How long have I been sleeping?" 120
Sonicity entered the room, and laughed. "So Sleeping Beauty is awake at last." Belinda was amazed, seeing her best friend, as she was, full grown and a lovely young woman. "You too, Sonicity. I am so confused." "We did it. We crossed over into the realms. This is Realm 13. There is much to see. It is a good place to start, as any I suppose. It seems pleasant here, as well as sad at times." "How long have I been sleeping," repeated Belinda. "Just a day," answered Sonicity. "I suppose space travel can be exhausting." Belinda looked around and noticed her mother was gone. "Where's Nina?" "She will back. No worries." "So she is real? I wasn't dreaming." "No she is here, as is my father. But it is a bit complicated," explained Sonicity. "It might be easier for me to show you. Get dressed, and let's take a walk. There's plenty of clothes in your closet - your size." "This room looks like the bedroom in my old home," noted Belinda. 121
"And for good reason; you will see. Hurry and we will be on our way." Belinda walked out of the bedroom in a white summer smock with sandals, and suddenly she stood on a large pier, facing a harbor filled with large fishing vessels. The warm wind blew her hair into her face, and as she pushed it aside she saw Sonicity standing near her. Soni grabbed her hand, and said, "The adventure has only begun." Belinda remained silent, still in awe. "Turn around now," she coaxed Belinda. When she did - Bel stood downtown Retropolis at the very steps she met Sonicity. There she watched Sonicity, as a little girl, give her the ring as a gift. Bel remembered what Sonicity said and as she did, she thought she heard her say it, as then - "Friends Forever." The little girl walked away, disappearing from view. The vision was gone. Bel blushed. "Now think of something, anything Belinda, but keep holding my hand." The two women stood before a crowd, as observers, outside the science exhibit at the World's Fair. A blast of smoke filled the air, when their invention imploded. Belinda watched herself transform from a young girl to a woman.
The audience stood amazed, not sure what had happened as she and Sonicity disappeared into the sky. Belinda watched, as the events replayed before her. Moments before she fainted, she saw her mother. "What is all this, Soni?" Belinda asked, frustrated. As she looked away, the vision faded. "This is the end of the road, where the past, present and future meet. There is no beginning or end. The past is as relevant as the future here. Everything we have ever experienced is here. And we stand here as young women, so this is either our present or our future. I am not sure." "So Nina is a memory," sadly Belinda noted. "She is as real as you. She is here now, that you are here. You can dwell in the past with her, as memory. Or you can interact with her in the present, as if she never went away. You can create a future with her. She is living here, as we are. My father too. He carries on his work. That's what I have gathered so far. He will dine with us tonight and share the rest." Later that afternoon, Bel and Soni joined Nina and Maxwell on the back porch, very much similar to the one at grandmother's house in Deacon's Bend. Belinda half expected the grandmother to join the party, and joked about it privately to Sonicity, who was not as amused at the possibility of her deceased nanna joining in the conversation. Belinda stated the obvious. "I am sorry but I do find this odd. Mother I love you, and I am so happy to be with you. But they told me you died." 124
Sonicity looked at her father, and he responded. "That was the past, Belinda. Your mother is with you now. What happened in the past does not determine the present or the future here." Belinda scratched her head, shaking it. "Pinch me, Soni." Nina smiled. Maxwell continued, "It's 2107. You have leaped 14 years in the future, at least to those back home if you were to return now. You broke the seal of the realm, and as long as you remain in the future present, you can create your path. Time is infinitely flexible and limited to only your imagination. When you return, you will rejoin the past, to all those things that happened when you were there and the things that happened when you were away. You cannot change the past. You left it. Time moves on for those living in the present, which is now your past, back home. But the future present is limitless, if you remain within the realms." "And Nina is where?" asked Belinda. "I am here, dear - here to the end," responded Nina. "I cannot go back though." "Papa, what about you. Can you return home to mother?" "In time Sonicity, I will return. I am working on it," he smiled. "Or the past will catch up with me," he added in a playful mysterious tone. That moment, a dark shadow fell over the house. 125
Nina hurried the young women inside. "It's nightfall. The air is chilly. Let's go in dinner should be ready." Belinda noted, "That was not much of a sunset." "The days are short on Realm 13, and night comes quickly," Maxwell explained.
A strong wind pounded against the house, as Maxwell secured the back door. It continued to hit the house, shaking some framed art on the walls. Belinda and Sonicity looked at each other, concerned, and toward Maxwell and Nina who went about preparing the table for dinner, seemingly oblivious to the approaching storm. "Don't worry girls," Nina remarked, with her back to Bel and Soni, as she placed one of the covered dishes on the table. "It's night moving across the realm. It can get unsettling, so best stay indoors." "Remember your imagination here can be over-active, if you are not accustomed to your potential. One more thing at night, it is best to think of happy things. As long as I am awake, no worries," assured Maxwell. "Best to be positive," concurred Nina. "And you will have a bright future!" "Always good advice," chimed in Maxwell, and Nina laughed along with him. Belinda excused herself, and motioned for Sonicity to join her in the bathroom to wash their hands. "What was that about?" Belinda whispered to Sonicity. Sonicity shrugged. "I am totally clueless. Yeah things are strange." "That is an understatement," Belinda retorted, with sarcasm. "Girls, hurry along, dinner awaits," shouted Maxwell. 127
Episode Sixteen ***
Sweet Lullaby, My Bel
young women awoke the next morning to the pleasantly intoxicating smell of home-grown coffee beans. On the table sat two plates, one with toast and jelly, and other with eggs and bacon. They each knew where to sit, by the matter of their taste preferences. The only thing missing, whispered Belinda, was a nice hot bowl of cinnamon oatmeal. At that very second, entered Nina with exactly that. She laughed, "Oh you thought, I forgot my lovely Bel. Aha, here it is. breakfast for the perfect daughter...."
Sonicity added, "...by the perfect mother." Nina smiled brightly. "Why thank you, Sonicity?" she beamed, glancing over to Belinda with an eyebrow raised. Belinda reluctantly said, "Thank you Mother. That was very thoughtful of you." "Now that's my girl! " Nina responded, nudging Belinda a bit with her elbow as she put down the bowl of oatmeal in front of her. "None for Sonicity?" questioned Belinda. 128
"Oh, did you want oatmeal, my dear?" Nina asked. "No no! Please no. I am not that fond of it, I am sorry. But I am sure yours is quite delicious." "No offense taken. I had a feeling you didn't care for it. special recipe. Isn't that so, Belinda?"
I know Belinda craves my
"Yes Mother, this is amazingly accurate - just like you used to make me before you.." "Before I what, Bel?" Nina interrupted, without hesitation. "Before you left me to cook for some other lucky souls," Belinda laughed. "Mother, I have missed your cooking." Nina pleased with her daughter's answer retreated into the kitchen. Sonicity was curious about her father's whereabouts, and was about to ask - when Nina shouted from kitchen: "Your father is in his lab. He woke up early to work on some project. He said he will catch up with you later." The young women startled looked at one another, with Belinda nodding her head as if "You see, I told you so." Neither girl said a thing, and each decided independently to concentrate on absolutely nothing but the brilliant sunshine entering through the bay window. 129
After breakfast, the duo hugged Nina, thanking her for breakfast and she encouraged them to further explore the community - as long as they were back before evening. She made them promise, and Sonicity promptly did. Belinda paused for a second, then smiled, never really responding to her mother's wishes. Both felt like little girls again. They agreed that they would not imagine anything today, simply walk around and enjoy the beautiful day. The thing is that when Sonicity saw a blue tricycle that reminded her of the one she had when she was a little girl, Belinda saw no such thing. "It's right here, Bel!" Sonicity repeated, and in frustration the two women continued their walk about without resolution. Belinda shouted, "Sonicity, look! Look up at that plane in the sky." Soni couldn't see it and didn't even hear the sound of it passing by. The two friends debated on such sightings throughout the day, who was far less observant than the other. There were plenty of places to see, for both of them to enjoy - an ice cream parlor for instance. The teenager that served them look like someone they knew back at school in Retropolis, but this girl hardly said a word unlike the one they knew. Familiarity ran its course. That feeling of deja vu irked Belinda significantly more than Sonicity who enjoyed the nostalgic undercurrent. A few people passed by the women as they strolled along, all with warm smiles. 131
Curiously, no small talk here in this sleepy town. An occasional nod from a storekeeper or a tipped hat from a nearby gentleman was the typical response from the locals. It was like no place you have ever been, because it was like every place you had been. As they continued, Belinda mused over her first view of this realm, recalling the quick tour that Sonicity gave her. She simply thought something, and it would appear. Today Bel tried very hard not to imagine any place or anything in an effort to test her theory on whether this place solely existed in their respective minds, or it was indeed a town, simply an odd community that may or may not represent the larger realm. It became extremely wearing to restrain her thoughts. Belinda was equally disturbed by the voices that ran through her head. She thought that one of them sounded like Mr. V. This realm was messing with her ability to concentrate, as she tried to block out overlapping messages from familiar voices and those which she didn't recognize. She wanted to confide her mental state to Sonicity, but she sensed something was off range with her as well. She knew something was dangerously wrong with this realm, and she also knew it would be difficult to pry Soni away from this place, increasingly as time progressed. She had her father now, and she could emotionally rest. This would be the first time in months that her best friend was content. She had to figure out how to leave this realm, and at this moment she would be happy for some solitude within her own being. 132
That evening, Sonicity snuggled in her father's arm chair in his office, as she watched him work. The crackle of the fireplace cloaked the sound of the strong night winds that lashed against the house. She didn't notice that Belinda was not in the house. Her friend had slipped out to see what happens at night, when the shutters are latched and the doors are bolted. Nina was busy baking Sonicity's favorite cookies. She told Belinda to check the front door to make sure it was locked. It was an opportunity that Bel had to take, to escape if only for a few minutes. Was it curiosity or intuition that led her into the howling winds? Perhaps a little of both that night. It was also the faint voice of Mr. V that had grown louder throughout the day. It was comparable to a bad radio transmission, with a wavering signal; the words were jumbled. What she did hear beckoned her onward into the night. "Trust no one. Not ----. Not ---- . Not even Soni." It was Mr. V's voice. Yet, she wondered if she could trust her own thoughts anymore. Little did she know that Nina watched out the window as she exited into the darkness, against the fury of the winds. As she ran toward the hills, the house lights were no longer visible. The wind had dissipated, easing down to a gentle breeze. As the temperature dropped considerably, she had wished she had come better prepared for her adventure. She found a cave, which appeared more like an old mine shaft. But it was too small for anything commercial.
Belinda didn't know what she expected to find in this vast wilderness beyond the house. No town lights. No sense of humanity surrounded her. She huddled in the cave to clear her mind as she thought what to do next. She could join Soni at the fireplace, sharing cookies and perhaps some laughs. She wasn't ready to go back there! Something on this realm - something at this moment frightened her - and challenged her simultaneously. That something was near, invading her very thoughts. Her intuition would not prove her wrong. The wind began to pick up, and its howling sent shivers down her spine. She became overwhelmed by the heavy presence that rested upon her mind and body. She no longer felt cold, rather comfortable and at ease. Her eyelids became heavy, as she drifted to sleep to a sweet lullaby "Hush my dear, mother is here. Let the wind weep, for you are mine to keep. Gentle be your sleep, and wake to forget your fears. Be with me, my Bel, forever, forever, forever....." Nina caressed her child, keeping her warm in the depth of the night. Her mother covered her with an extra jacket, one that Nina brought with her from the house. "I am here for you, always," whispered Nina, as Belinda rested her head on her lap; her mother's arm served as a shield from the cold.
Episode Seventeen ***
A Storm Brews
Bel wakes to find the coat.
She is amazed that she slept in that cave all night and doesn't remember taking a jacket with her. Groggily, with the sun shining toward her face, she wanders home before anyone wakes. The front door had been locked. The back door was open for her. "Did they know I left," she thought. Yet no one was waiting up for her, nor sleeping on the sofa. She changed her clothes, and jumped into bed to catch a couple more hours of sleep in her much more appreciated bed. All is quiet. When she wakes, no seems the wiser about her adventure. She waited through the day for someone to say something, even Sonicity to have noticed her absence. She wanted to share her secret with her best friend and confidant. But she didn't trust her in this realm. She didn't even trust her own thoughts. Throughout the day, she recalled fragments of what appeared a dream. Nina holding her in the cave, keeping her warm through the cold night, singing to her, and other images and impressions that made her feel odd, unsure of herself. She mused, if this place were so dangerous, why did she survive the night. She didn't remember falling asleep. Her whole exploit seemed pointless, for what did she really accomplish other than sneaking out the house like some immature teenager. Then 136
again, she had proved that the creatures of the night were perhaps no more than idle myth or legend, or a way for Nina and Max to keep them inside the house. On the other hand, she wouldn't bet her life on that. She had more questions now than last night. Moreover, she no longer heard Mr. V's voice in her head. The voices had stopped. She sensed some peace, and the day seemed more enjoyable, although she felt that she had betrayed her friends and mother for slipping into the darkness. It was not like Bel to give in so easily and not question her comfortable surroundings. If it were too good to be true, well you know. She simply decided she needed to give her brain a well-deserved rest and take what she saw at face value for a change. She needed that today. She needed a mother. She needed a best friend. But she was not ready to share all her misgivings on the whole situation. She would enjoy the moment, knowing soon this vacation must end for better or worse. On this day, the four of them, as if one happy family, journeyed about town, enjoying lunch and doing some shopping. For Sonicity, this was how she remembered life with father as a young girl, skipping ahead or trailing behind her parents, listening to her mother comment on mannequins dressed with the latest fashions in store window displays. Father would look on at his two girls, and smile - then as he did today at Bel and Soni.
"You young ladies will be pampered today. I am sure the past days have been strange for you. So many mysteries in this realm, for you to experience," explained Nina, in a compassionate tone, one of a mother who wants the best for her children. Maxwell, puffing on his cigar, nodded in agreement, adding, "Have no worries about expense! I have it covered." The store clerks rushed about assisting Sonicity with this and that, shoes, hats and anything she touched. Belinda, in contrast, knew what she wanted. She went over to the men's section, after eyeing a poncho and jeans. Maxwell laughed, "I suppose she fancies herself a sheriff or outlaw or something. Watch out there's a new sheriff in town!" Nina acknowledged Belinda's strong will. "Well she is not our typical gal. She's got attitude, spunk and wit - a bit like her mother, and more so like her father in stubbornness." Nina smiled at Max, avoiding eye contact with Belinda. "Is that so!?" Maxwell laughed, noting Nina's observations about her daughter and herself. "Oh yes, and let me tell you that makes for an interesting combination. That can be a dangerous mix for a young woman, you know. She is the kind of gal that could look her enemy in the eye, and not even realize she should be afraid." Belinda looked directly at Nina. 138
"Well, Mom. I might be all that. And it is not that I am not afraid at times; it is just that I know I will not allow myself to be manipulated, my mind or emotions, even by those I love," replied Belinda authoritatively. She made her case, so matter of fact, that Nina and Max, and the store clerks, became quiet. "It's my code," she added, laughing, while putting on a cowboy hat and walking out the store. With that, the tension was released; all laughed and life resumed. Sonicity never missed a beat in her shopping frenzy, and had not paid attention to the conversation, with her eye on a cute jumpsuit. Like the new sheriff in town, Belinda stood in the middle of the cobblestone road, with people walking past her on sidewalks both sides of the street. That conversation was more than witty banner, thought Bel. It was a challenge to her from Nina. Belinda stood in the street, knowing and feeling that a storm was coming her way. No cars travelled down this road today. It was a beautiful day for shopping. Then again, everyday seemed like the perfect day here. Today, there seemed to be an exceptional calm in the air, the kind before the storm hits. Something was different about this day, with the people out and about. It almost appeared to be a big show put on for her and Sonicity. It was very unlike when she and Sonicity went on their walks; clerks had been far from animated; in contrast, here everybody seemed alive and spontaneous. 139
Belinda thought to herself, "How can Sonicity be so intelligent at times, and so oblivious to this situation." "That's because she is not ready to do so," said Mr. V. Belinda heard his voice, clearly as she had heard Nina's voice. Her reception was clear at that moment. She looked up at the sky, and saw only vastness. The air was charged with electricity, a rumbling echoed through the realm. It could have been a storm brewing within Belinda. No one seemed to notice or run for cover. One thing was clear, Mr. V would be by her side for this impending battle. "When it is time, Sonicity will hear the call," he explained. "You will help her hear." Belinda thought back to his stories about the ancient ones, how her people called out to each other in times of strife, connecting them as one body, one mind, one soul. Mr. V said it was greater than religion, it was truth. Mr. V reminded, "Those tales are not legend. That which I told you of our people is for this reason, for this realm. It begins here, again. Remember your ancestors. Remember the magic." She looked back toward Sonicity. Suddenly anger consumed her, as she watched her best friend walk hand in hand with Nina and Max, like some schoolgirl.
Bel decided she had to do something to stop this insanity, to tear the veil off of her friend's eyes to see the town for what it really was because deep inside she knew that was not her mother, and Maxwell might or might not be Sonicity's father. Maybe that person was not her friend. Was that even Sonicity anymore? As all these possibilities raced through her mind, A building of emotions overwhelmed her senses. Something was terribly, terribly wrong here.
Belinda ran down the street in frustration, so tired of role-playing the good daughter, as part of this fake family as she saw it, restraining thoughts and emotions, and pretending nothing was wrong. She blamed her sense of peace earlier in the day as weakness. That she could not tolerate in herself. As much as she missed her mother, she would not ascribe Nina's death to a fairy tale. And what would happen next would shatter her world, and any illusions of understanding or sense of reality.
To be continued..... 142
An adaptation of the series published in Retropolitan Magazine (Feb. 2012-July 2013)