The crowd funding campaign for Welcome, Earthborn Brother is now in it’s third week. Here’s a sneak peek at the novel, for all of you who are looking forward to it’s release:
WELCOME, EARTHBORN BROTHER
Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred. Ayden raised his head from his arms and scanned the kids’ library in search of his friend, Sage. “How come I never get to hide?” he muttered, as he peered up and down each row of the short shelves filled with picture books. “I always have to be It!”
The children’s section still had plenty of books with real pages that you could actually touch. At eleven years of age, Ayden was a little old for picture books, but he still loved the bright illustrations that stayed put, so you could really examine them, unlike the animated pictures in most of the latest e-books. He liked the feel of the paper under his fingertips. He even liked their musty smell.
He stopped for a moment to examine the new display in the virtual aquarium before moving on. The holographic “tank” formed a cylindrical column several meters in diameter that stretched from floor to ceiling. The display changed periodically to feature different types of fish.
Last month, he had seen sleek leopard sharks gliding silently about the bottom of the tank while a school of rays flew through the water, flapping bat-like fins. Before that, the virtual tank had been teeming with colorful trigger fish. But today, it held three-dimensional images of creatures unlike any Ayden had ever seen.
They had large dark eyes with a mass of tentacles in front, and a delicate, rippling membrane that encircled their oblong bodies. They swam about or remained stationary in the water by means of this strange translucent “fin.”
The weirdest thing about them was their color. Waves of alternating hues washed over them in rhythm. When two of them came close to one another, the bigger one flashed a new pattern and the smaller one moved away. It almost looked like they were communicating through the dancing colors of their skin.
Ayden walked around the display, his eyes glued to the mesmerizing creatures, until he came to the information screen at the aquarium’s base.
“European Common Cuttlefish,” the sign read.
He stood staring for almost a minute before remembering that he was supposed to be searching for Sage. She wasn’t anywhere in the kids’ section, so he headed for the stairs.
Ayden climbed up to the main floor and peered around the front desk, ducking low to stay out of the sour-faced librarian’s field of vision. The last time she’d caught them playing hide and seek, she snarled and snapped like an angry pit bull. They’d had to spend the rest of the afternoon banished from all the upper floors and confined to the children’s library on the lowest level.
Trying to look nonchalant, Ayden sauntered over to the upholstered armchairs clustered near the big picture window that overlooked the street, just to the right of the library entrance. He carefully checked behind each one, then turned to the adjoining snack bar area. Walking past the line of barstools that flanked the counter, he peeked behind the automated café machine, with its brightly colored menu screens, but his friend was nowhere to be found.
He trudged up yet another flight of stairs and surveyed the room, finally coming to a sitting area where two sofas and several chairs were arranged. Noticing a slight movement under one of the sofas, he crouched down and darted forward, grabbing for a shoe before it disappeared into the dark recess under the couch.
“Gotcha!” he proclaimed.
A disheveled Sage crawled out. She straightened her red and yellow uniform tie, smoothed her rumpled school blouse, stark white against her warm mocha skin, and tried to push several strands of unruly brown hair back into the knot of tight curls at the top of her head. She plopped down on one of the chairs.
“Now, you’re It,” said Ayden.
“We don’t have time to play again. It’s already after five.”
“How come we always quit playing before I get to hide?”
Sage sneezed loudly. “I had no idea there would be so many dust bunnies under there.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Come on, Ayden. I’m really hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”
“Fine. I’ll race you.”
Sage squealed, hurrying to catch up with Ayden, who was nearly halfway down the flight of stairs. They almost tripped over one another while rushing down to the main lobby. Laughing and breathless, they stumbled from the staircase to the little café area near the front doors.
“You got any money?” Sage asked as they surveyed the menu screens.
Ayden fished a plastic card out of his backpack. “Not much.”
“I’m broke until Grandma reloads my card with this week’s allowance.”
“How ’bout pretzels?”
“That sounds good.”
Ayden pressed the console screen to indicate his selection. He inserted his cash card, and paid for the snack. A panel dilated on the countertop above the purchase console and a small bag of pretzels rose to the surface.
Ayden grabbed the bag. “Why does the food always look twice as big up on the menu?”
He followed Sage to the other end of the bar and climbed up on the stool beside hers. Ripping open the bag, he offered her a handful of pretzels.
After popping one in his own mouth, he asked the question that had been bugging him all afternoon. “How come whenever we play hide and seek, I’m always It?”
“We’re out of time,” Sage hedged. “You don’t want to be hiding when your mom comes, do you?”
“I’m not just talking about today. Every time lately, I have to look for you. How come you never let me hide?”
Sage took a deep breath. “This is gonna sound stupid, but I’m afraid I’ll lose you.”
“Have you ever had déjà vu?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“It’s the feeling that you’ve experienced something before. Like you remember having done it already. I have it a lot. Only sometimes, things happen that I know I’ve seen before in my dreams.”
“Weird!” Ayden munched on a pretzel, his brow furrowing. “When you have the dream, can you tell that it’s going to come true?”
“No. It seems like a normal dream to me until I start experiencing it in real life,” she explained. “Like the other day; Ms. Harris told us our book reports wouldn’t be due until next Friday. I could remember hearing her say those exact words in a dream.” She leaned forward, her bright, golden-brown eyes wide, and whispered, “Sometimes I wonder if I might be psychic.”
“More like psychotic,” Ayden smirked. Sage punched him in the arm.
“Ow!” he whined, rubbing his bicep.
“You had it coming.” Sage grinned and reached into the bag for another pretzel.
“I don’t get what this has to do with why I’m always It.”
Sage dropped her gaze. “Because of this dream I had. I was searching for you everywhere, but you had completely disappeared. It was really scary.”
“And you’re afraid it might come true?”
Sage shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“But you never know a dream is going to come true until it’s really happening, right?”
“So, I’d say the fact that you’re already worried means it’s not really going to happen. It wasn’t a premo-whatchamacallit.”
“Yeah. It was probably just a normal dream.”
“I’ll tell you one dream I had that I wish would come true; I’m playing soccer, and it’s a really close game. The score is tied, but I kick the winning goal right before time runs out.”
“That’s not the really good part. While everybody is cheering and giving me high fives, my dad walks up.”
“Yeah. He runs onto the field and throws his arms around me and says, ‘I’m so proud of you, Ayden!’ Then he hoists me up on his shoulders and carries me off the field.”
“But Ayden, you’ve never met your dad. Have you even seen a picture of him?”
“No. My mom doesn’t have any.”
“Then how do you know this dude in your dream was really your dad?”
“I just knew, okay? It was a dream, for crying out loud!”
“Hey, I’m only asking.” Sage sucked the salt off of another pretzel. “You think about him a lot, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I wonder where he is…what he’s like…if he ever thinks about me…”
Sage just shook her head.
“What?” Ayden demanded.
“When are you gonna learn to be thankful for what you’ve got? I mean, your mom loves you. She takes good care of you. Why isn’t that enough?”
Ayden shrugged and looked away. He didn’t really expect Sage to understand. She thought that her Grandma Naomi was all the family she needed. Her mother, Samantha, was so messed up, Sage considered it a blessing that she only turned up every once in a while. As for her father, Sage speculated that not even Samantha was sure of where he was, or who he was.
“What if you met your dad and he turned out to be a royal jerk?” Sage persisted.
“Look, forget it, okay?” Ayden peered into the bottom of the bag. “There’s two left. You want one?”
Sage reached in and grabbed a pretzel. Ayden shoved the last one into his own mouth.
“So,” he said, crunching noisily, “next time we play hide and seek, do I get to hide first?”
“Sure.” Sage smiled.
The big glass doors of the lobby slid open with a whoosh, and Sage’s grandma, Naomi Adams, walked in. She wore a long coat with a bright red transit badge pinned to the lapel. A triangular mask of silver and white covered her nose and mouth. She pulled the respirator mask down around her chin. “Come on, Sage. Get your stuff. We need to get going if we’re going to make it home before we have to catch the train to Ashbridge.”
Sage wrinkled her nose. “We’ve got to visit my Great-grandma in the nursing home this weekend,” she explained. She hopped down from the stool and pulled on her windbreaker. Fishing her own respirator mask out of the pocket, she slung her satchel over her shoulder and waved. “See ya Monday.”
“See ya.” Ayden slid off of his barstool and stuffed his hands into his pockets. He watched Sage and Ms. Adams slip their masks up over their faces and walk out the front doors.
He checked the time on his wrist phone: 5:30 p.m. Settling into one of the chairs near the front window, he rummaged in his backpack for his tablet computer. While he opened the file for his language homework, he scanned the crowds passing by outside for any sign of his mom.
She was always easy for him to spot. The feature that made her stand out in a crowd was her hair. She wore it short, about chin length, in wavy layers, and it was almost completely gray. People constantly told her that she ought to color her hair, but Ayden was secretly glad that she never listened. He had always thought his mother was beautiful, and he didn’t want her to change.
Ayden stared out the window at the moving sea of faces for several minutes, but didn’t see her, so he turned his attention to his grammar homework.
“Circle the subject and underline the verb in the following sentences,” the instructions read.
He scrolled down the page trying to determine how many of these he’d have to do. With a resigned sigh, he got to work.
After he’d finished the last one, he checked his watch: 6:05. He shut down his tablet, slung his backpack over one shoulder, and went downstairs to the kids’ library in search of something to read.
He browsed through the e-book titles on one of the catalogue kiosks until he found a book about the history of space flight. It looked interesting, so he downloaded it onto his tablet, returned to his seat by the window and started to read. He cruised through about four chapters before checking the time again: 6:45.
He was surprised his mom hadn’t called him. She often ran a little late, but he always heard from her if it was going to be more than an hour. Ayden unsnapped the earpiece from his wrist phone, inserted it into his ear and then dialed his mom’s number.
The phone rang once, twice, then three times. With a click, her voice recited a greeting, “Hello, this is Thesta Livingstone with New World Consulting. I’m unable to take your call at this time, but if you leave a message, I will get back to you.”
“Hi, Mom. It’s me. I was wondering how much longer it’s gonna be until you come to pick me up. Give me a call, okay?”
He went back to his book, but this time it didn’t hold his attention. Lines formed at the check-out kiosks near the front desk. Everyone must be in a hurry to finish up at the library and head home for supper.
Shifting in his seat, Ayden tried to ignore the grumbling in his own stomach and continue reading. After about two pages, he checked his watch: 7:08.
With a worried frown, he called his mom again, only to be greeted by the infuriatingly calm tones of her pre-recorded message. “Hello, this is Thesta Livingstone…”
He wiggled his foot in frustration. “Hey, Mom, where are you? Call me!”
Out the front window, Ayden saw the street lights coming on. He stood up and started pacing between the reference desk and the refreshment bar.
He phoned her again, holding his breath while he counted the rings, and then heard, “Hello, this is Thesta Livingstone….” He hung up, not bothering to leave a message. His watch read 7:33.
Something was wrong. His mother wouldn’t abandon him at the library. What if she’d gotten mugged, or been in a train wreck? His mom might be lying unconscious in an emergency room somewhere, while the doctors called her home number trying to contact her next of kin. Should he risk walking home all alone?
There were millions of strangers on the streets, any of whom might be a mugger or a kidnapper. Sitting by himself in the bright shelter of the public library under the constant supervision of security cameras and library staff was one thing. Walking alone down Umberton’s crowded streets in the dark was a different story, but he was getting desperate.
If he had his transit badge, he could take a public tram. Since he usually walked home with his mom, he didn’t always carry it with him. He rifled through his backpack in search of it. No luck. If he had any money, he might have called a cab, but cabs were expensive, and he’d totally depleted his cash card at the snack bar.
He checked the time: 7:45. The library would be closing in another fifteen minutes. He couldn’t just stay here.
He called her one last time. The recorded greeting seemed longer every time he had to sit through it, and the beep more annoying.
“Hi, Mom. This is Ayden. It’s nearly eight, and I don’t know where you are, so I’m heading for home.” The thought of walking all that way alone in the dark made him feel kind of shaky. “I love you,” he added. “I hope everything’s okay.”
He slipped on his windbreaker, fastened his respirator securely over his face, then bent down and retied his school shoes. He slung his pack onto his back, making sure to tighten down the straps. The big glass doors parted before him. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out of the library into the street.
Copyright © 2015, Rebecca D. Bruner