Thoughts on An Alien Trope

There are certain tropes in worldbuilding and science fiction that are as ubiquitous as they are inevitable.

When you see an alien race, such as in television, film, or theater, they tend to have markers that make them look enough alike to be unrealistic. If you see someone of that species dressed differently it isn’t a choice in that person’s personal style so much as it is a device to let you know “This person is important, pay attention.”

For example, the Tok’ra in Stargate SG1 all tend to dress in a tan or cream color. It helps viewers to tell them apart from all the other alien races since the races all tend to be played by humans (for obvious reasons). But in daily human life and even in some jobs this sort of uniformity would be creepy. When we do dress alike there is a reason for it. I certainly never wore a uniform for the way it looked.

This is a story device to help viewers tell different species apart. But it annoys me to see it used cheaply. Sometimes the barriers that writers and creators face can seem to limit writing but I often think these moments are wasted chances for creative solutions.

Our protagonists only meet one government or culture from a planet but they explain that the other governments with their own unique cultures have not yet achieved space travel due to … what? A natural disaster? A culture of isolationism? Poor management of resources by governments? Tyranny by the technologically advanced government? Environmental or physical disadvantages?

Is this a problem that the protagonists need to solve or just foreshadowing for the introduction of a future introduction, war, conflict, or what have you?

The aliens our protagonists meet are all dressed alike but when the protagonists meet a civilian they tell the aliens about their assumption that all of the inhabitants of the planet dress alike the aliens have a laugh. They are wearing uniforms, obviously. Even the uniforms have small differences that indicate different ranks and divisions of the nation’s military, which the aliens show to the humans. For that matter, having all of the aliens show up in dress uniforms (versus combat uniforms) would be an interesting worldbuilding moment. Think of the differences between navy and army uniforms.

There’s an easy explanation, though. Maybe there are some planets that only have one government after one culture of many dominated all of the others. Globalization “the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale” may be something that most planets go through by the time they have developed advanced enough technology to make interstellar travel possible.

Still, there will be things that will be different. People are different. Even servicemen don’t wear the same holy symbols because they don’t share the same religion. They don’t all have the same rank and there are usually indicators that allow the servicemen to tell who is a commanding officer.

The opposite could easily be true, though. Perhaps some planets have even more variety than humans. Perhaps they have more than one intelligent species and those species are integrated into daily life together. Maybe they have multiple intelligent species and live primarily isolated from one another due to the huge differences between the multiple species. Regardless, there should be some explanation as to why each world is structured the way that is, even if it is a matter of a tradition surviving past its usefulness. I consider “It’s always been this way and no one remembers why” to be a cop-out.

Another thought: They might be dressed differently but we just can’t see the differences with the naked human eye. Human eyes are UV blind and yellow biased. Alien eyes don’t have to work the same way; they might think they are dressed quite uniquely.

Here’s an excerpt from True Colors: How Birds See the World by Cynthia Berger.

In 2005, Eaton used a spectrophotometer to scan the plumage of museum study skins of 139 songbird species in which males and females appear alike, from cedar waxwings to barn swallows to mockingbirds to western meadowlarks. Though scientists previously had classified these birds, along with 70 percent of all songbird species, as sexually monochromatic (males and females looking identical), a full 90 percent of the species Eaton scanned actually were sexually dichromatic: different once you took into account the better discrimination of colors (including ultraviolet) by birds and the amount of UV light feathers reflect. “To the birds themselves, males and females look quite different from one another,” Eaton says.

Deep sea fish may be red blind and have other advantages to living in low-light or no-light environments. Some fish can see polarized light. As long as there is a reason, even if it is as simple as, “It’s vestigial from when we lived underground or underwater.”

We can imagine a large, alien world with naturally land-bound cervine species competing with both the flying, tree-top avian-like species who dominated the sky and the water-breathing serpentine species which control the saltwater oceans and seas. One species might achieve space travel before the other, creating conflict. The multiple governments might not agree on how to interact with the species of this new planet, creating conflict. It might be difficult to communicate with one or any of these different species based on our own limitations. What if the first species on this planet to achieve interstellar travel is also the one with which we have the least in common?

“The different smells are different words? Seriously?”

“By their standards, all humans are deaf because we can’t detect a large variety of different hormones at the levels necessary for communication. From their perspective, we also can’t lie. We don’t choose which variety of hormones to produce. Stress sweat contains different hormones and we can’t control our sweat and hormone secretions the same way.”

“Well, can we get a perfumer to help with the smell-talk and a machine that can smell for us?”

The story of the first perfumer to become an alien ambassador could be good if someone were to write it. Plus, how fun would it be on an episode of The Orville?




Book Recommendation


We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing.

There was far more to tell. Had I been asked to speak of it, I would have begun with the story of the generation that raised me, which is the only place to begin. If you want to understand amy woman you must ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life—without flinching or whining—the stronger the daughter.

Of course, this is more complicated for me because I had four mothers, each of them scolding, teaching, and cherishing something different about me, giving me different gifts, cursing me with different fears. No two of my mothers seasoned her stew the same way. My mothers were sisters as well.

They traded secrets like bracelets, and these were handed down to me, the only surviving girl. They told me things I was too young to hear. They held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember.

Daughters eased their mother’s burdens —helping with the spinning, the grinding of grain, and the endless task of looking after baby boys, who were forever peeing into the corners of the tents, no matter what you told them.

But the other reason women wanted daughters was to keep their memories alive. My mother and my mother’s stories about themselves. No matter what their hands were doing—holding babies, cooking, spinning, weaving— they filled my ears.

In the ruddy shade of the red tent, the menstrual tent, they ran their fingers through my curls, repeating the escapades of their youths, the sagas of their childbirths. Their stories were like offerings of hope and strength poured out before the Queen of Heaven, only these gifts were not for any god or goddess—but for me.

I can still feel how my mothers loved me. I have cherished their love always. It sustained me. It kept me alive. Even after I left them, and even now, so long after their deaths, I am comforted by their memory.

I carried my mother’s tales into the next generation, but the stories of my life were forbidden to me, and that silence nearly killed the heart in me.

And now you come to me—women with hands and feet as soft as a queen’ s, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in children, and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, and my mother’s, and my grandmothers before them.

I wish I had more to tell of my grandmothers. It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.

I am so grateful you have come. I will pour out everything inside me so you may leave this table satisfied and fortified. Blessings on your eyes. Blessings on your children. Blessings on the ground beneath you. My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over.

From THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant.

The Academy for Heteroclites, continues

October 1998, Celeste Green

I woke up in a private room of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. There was an undercurrent of antiseptics, a particular smell that would make anyone think of a hospital. The walls were a warm off-white color with pictures on the wall that were supposed to be calming. There were real flowers in a vase on a bedside table and it occurred to me to wonder who had left them here. I didn’t think the hospital would invest in fresh flowers; hospitals were too conscious of the bottom line for expensive frills like fresh cut flowers. They looked like pink and purple sweet pea flowers; they were my mother’s favorite flower so I recognized them. I tried to remember how I’d ended up here but all I had were a collection of jumbled, nonsensical fits and bursts of hazy awareness. I had colorful sticky surgical tape on me, keeping different monitors in place. I had to try several times to press the nurse call button, even though it was on the bed with me. As soon as I pressed the button a nurse came quickly and a doctor was paged over the hospital intercom.

“Where’s my mom?” I asked, my words slurred.

“How are you feeling?” the doctor asked, instead of answering my question.

“Weird,” I told her slowly, staring hard at the sheet that covered me, “I have a headache and I had trouble trying to press the call button. My body is taking ten times as long to do what I tell it to do and then it’s doing it wrong.”

“Doing it wrong how?” she persisted.

“I’m pretty clumsy but not this clumsy,” I explained, then held up my hands so she could see, “My hands are shaky. Where’s my mom?”

“Do you remember what happened?” she asked gently.

“I remember Mom woke me up and put me in the car,” I told her, “We were going to visit some friends in San Diego. It was early and dark so I went back to sleep.”

“You were in a car accident,” the doctor told me, “Your mother’s car went off of the onramp to the 280 East and hit a utility pole.”

“Is my mom in another room?” I asked, suddenly afraid, “Can I see her now?”

“No,” the doctor said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie, your mother died in the crash.”

“No,” I objected, automatically before I stopped talking altogether.

“Your father is here. Would you like to see him?”

No, in my head I said, I don’t have a father. It’s just me and my mom. She can’t be gone. I tried to burn the image of her into my mind so she wouldn’t be gone. I could still remember her. If I could still remember her, she wasn’t gone.

She was wearing a sundress, singing in the kitchen. The light was good and bright because our kitchen had a lot of windows. Mom had this constant medium tan like warm bronze but her tawny coloring wasn’t from the sun. Her hair was wavy and sort of amber, a reddish light brown with honey and gold highlights. She had hazel eyes with a ring of dark green around the edge. Her eyes were round and wide, like a princess, in a heart shaped face. She had high, angular cheekbones. She was slender but she had wide hips.

I thought it all but I said nothing out loud.

The next several days passed in a blur. I felt like a camera when someone had forgotten to hit the record button. I saw and heard everything but it was gone as soon as it happened.

“Celeste?” a man was talking to me, or trying to talk to me. I looked at him, seeing him for the first time.

“Celeste,” my doctor spoke to me directly, “Do you understand what’s happening?”

“Celeste, I’m Sebastien Alicea. I’m your father,” he told me. I had a feeling it wasn’t the first time he’d introduced himself. He was wearing a burberry tie and a beige vest. He’d thrown a long, dark brown pea coat over the arm of a chair. He made me think of a forgetful teacher except he seemed muscular and fit with a thick waist. He had blue-green eyes and ruddy pink skin.

No, I thought, I don’t understand. I don’t care. I want my mom. My mom is fun and smart and creative. She likes to read. Sometimes she’ll ask me if I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before and we’ll just get in the car and go. She likes to drive. When I can’t sleep she takes me out where we can see the stars and she teaches me about the constellations. I can tell her anything.

I was crying but I didn’t talk to them. I couldn’t talk to them. They weren’t my mother. I didn’t know this man who they said was my father. I only wanted my mother.

I spent a long time in the hospital even after I woke up. I didn’t keep track of the time or the date. I didn’t care. I woke up to hear a few male voices talking about my mother and me. I listened without moving or opening my eyes.

Sebastian said in a low voice, “I remember her mother, Elizabeth. We went to university together. I knew she dropped out but she never told me she was pregnant. What can you tell me?”

“Her name is Celeste Green,” the man from Child Protective Services said, “She was born in 1988 at Menlo Park Birthing Center. Her birthday was September 22 and she just turned ten. We tried to contact her aunt, one Victoria Jenkins in New York. We discovered that the aunt was deceased. The child’s uncle, Andrei Jenkins, recently contacted us. He confirmed that Victoria died last year. He said he’d only met Celeste when she was very young and she might not remember him. Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins divorced a few years ago. He has a daughter, Renee, who is a few years older. He volunteered to bring Celeste’s cousin to California to see Celeste.”

I remembered Uncle Andrei a little but I remembered his daughter, my cousin Renee. Our mothers had been identical twins so I thought of Renee more like a distant half-sister. She took after her father in looks the way I took after my mother. She had a quiet, reserved personality but both Aunt Sissy and Uncle Andrei were quiet people. Aunt Sissy and Renee thought visiting us was like going to live in a musical because we sang all the time.

Sebastian sighed, “I don’t know that anything will make this easier for her. Can I get his contact information so I can make arrangements for them to visit?”

“Yes, of course,” the man hesitated, “Mr. Jenkins thought that Ms. Green might have made arrangements for him to take her daughter in the event of her death but that was not the case. Ms. Green did not have any end of life arrangements for her daughter. Your name was listed in the medical history and on the application for Celeste’s birth certificate but not on the certificate itself. If she had been put up for adoption when she was born you might never have known.”

“I’m her father,” Sebastian’s tone was clipped, “I’ve spoken with my attorney and I’ve submitted the voluntary declaration of paternity. I’ve started paying for her hospital bills. I’m taking custody of her when she is ready to be discharged. Her birth certificate will be updated. If you have any questions or concerns about that you will need to speak with my attorney.”

He’s used to getting what he wants when he wants something, I thought. He sounds like the sort of person my mother would nod and smile at before she did whatever she had wanted to do anyway. I tried to imagine my mother dating this person but I couldn’t picture it.

“I would only ask for a paternity test to be done,” the man interjected, “We want what is best for Celeste, of course. We reached out to you because we were unable to find any living relatives such as a grandparent or her aunt. Mr. Jenkins only contacted us yesterday.”

“The test has already been done,” Sebastian reassured him, “My attorney told me I needed it, in case anyone decides to fight for custody. Elizabeth was able to deprive me of my daughter for a decade because I didn’t know about the pregnancy. No one else is going to keep me from being her father.”

“The test results will be back tomorrow and Celeste will not be ready for discharge before then,” the doctor added.

I fell back asleep. I didn’t care what they did with me. It didn’t matter. I didn’t think that anything mattered.

November 1998, Celeste Green

“You’re being discharged today,” Sebastian was telling me when I tuned in to him, “Your doctors objected to taking a plane so I was planning for us to take a train from here to Denver. It’ll be a longer trip but that will give us some time to get to know each other.”

He paused. I was silent. He’d brought me clothes from home. Uncle Andrei and cousin Renee had come to visit me while I was in the hospital. Renee had hugged me so hard it hurt and I had cried. Uncle and Sebastian had promised we would get to visit again when I was feeling better.

“I would really like it if you would talk to me, Celeste,” he sounded so sad.

I don’t mean to hurt you, I thought, I’m not talking to anyone.

I put my hand on his shoulder. He reached out and started to hug me, slowly, waiting for me to pull away. I sat further up, leaning forward. He held on with one arm, not painfully tight like Renee. It was tentative.

Have courage and be kind. My mother had said those words so often that I could hear them in her voice when I thought them. It was all she’d asked from me. She wanted me to be brave, gracious, and happy.

“Sorry,” I whispered.

He nodded, pulling back, “In your own time then. In the meantime, I’ll just assume you don’t know much about me and I’ll talk to you. Will that work?”

I nodded.

The train from San Fran to Denver would take almost two days. The scenery was beautiful and the train was special, the California Zephyr. I thought about how my mother would have loved this trip. When we first sat down Sebastian handed me a gift, wrapped in pretty paper and tied with ribbon. I opened it and found that he’d gotten me one of those fancy leather-bound journals. The cover was embossed with “Celeste” across the bottom.

“I thought perhaps it would be easier for you to write down what you can’t say,” Sebastian explained, “I can promise you I won’t read it.”

I nodded. I’d never kept a diary with any consistency before but things were different now. Everything was different now. I felt like the girl I had been had died in that car crash. I was a different person now and I didn’t know who, yet.

“I’m going to tell you about me,” Sebastian told me, folding his hands in his lap, “If that’s alright with you?”

I nodded, fingers playing over my embossed name.

“My mother, your grandmother, was an American from Denver. My father was a young man from Britain. I spent many summers in my youth in London, visiting with my paternal grandparents,” he smiled, like he was getting away with something, “I can fake a British accent better than most actors.”

I tried to smile back. He was kind of cute, in an old man sort of way.

“I went to Stanford when it was time to attend university,” he explained, “I met your mother when I was twenty-four. Elizabeth was a freshman at university. We were together for two years. I believe we loved each other, as much and as best as we knew how at the time. She asked me to marry her. I said that it wasn’t a good time. We argued about it and we went our separate ways. The next year she didn’t come back to Stanford. I didn’t know about you but if I had known I would have tried to be a part of your life.”

He sighed heavily and rubbed his hands over his face.

“I finished University with my Master’s in Education before I moved back to Denver,” he finally continued, “Five years ago, I inherited my mother’s parents home and a significant portion of land in Denver. I turned the estate into a boarding school where I live and work now. I’ve asked for a room to be prepared for you before we arrive.”

“Officially, I will be homeschooling you at first,” Sebastian told me, “When you are well enough to attend school I would prefer for you to make your own decisions about your education. That can wait until you are feeling better.”

He meant when I was talking again, I decided. I liked the idea of being homeschooled, though. I could almost teach myself. I figured I’d be better at teaching myself anyway.

I wrote on one of the pages, “Will there be other kids there?”

“Yes,” he smiled when I showed him the question and he sounded relieved, “The school has thirty beds for students. You will have your own room. The student dorms are on the second and third floors of the main building. The campus and the dorms typically empty out during the holidays which are coming up. A few years ago, just after I opened the school, a couple of very dear friends of mine died in a plane crash. I became their son’s legal guardian. Thomas Bowlen attends the school almost year-round.”

“I am the headmaster. We have an Assistant Headmistress, four full time teachers, and two part-time teachers. We offer Mathematics, English, Sciences, Visual Arts, Theater, Dance, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and we offer Horse Riding Camp in the summer. Additionally, students are given marks for a course if they’ve mastered it independently,” he smiled broadly, “One of our students, Heinrich Zyndrunas, speaks Lithuanian as his first language. He also fluently speaks Russian, Polish, and German. He learned those extra languages in his free time, on his own, and we gave him credit as if he’d taken those languages with us the same way he takes English with us. Heinrich is exempt from being required to take Spanish or Mandarin, although he chose to learn those languages as well. Heinrich is a hyperpolyglot.”

I gave Sebastian very large eyes to show him I was impressed.

“Heinrich is very special,” Sebastian agreed with my look, “All of our students are very special. Celeste, do you know what a heteroclite is?”

I wrote my answer out for him to read: “EAP, Extra-Abled Person. Heteroclite. Extra-abled persons are protected by law from discrimination, like people with disabilities. Extra-abled people can be born with genetic adaptations that provide them with advantages an average person does not possess and may not be able to mimic or learn. Extra-abled people can also be transhumanists or formerly disabled persons who have had technology or other advanced prosthetics built into the body to surpass typical biological limits. My mother was a heteroclite.”

“Yes,” Sebastian nodded, “Do you know what your mother’s extra-ability was?”

I nodded. My mother had been magnetic. Her baseline magnetism had destroyed any watches, hotel keys, and credit cards she had tried to carry. She’d had to have a special purse made for her to carry her debit card. My mother had also been known to unintentionally distort the picture if she stood beside an older television. She had usually carried cash instead and I was the one who always wore a watch so we’d know the time. I’d learned how to tell time on an analog watch by the time I was in the first grade. Her magnetism had been largely useless and outside of her control.

“Elizabeth and I had that in common. I have what is known as a strongman adaptation,” he explained, “My blood carries fifty percent more oxygen, I produce almost no myostatin so I am physically stronger with less training, I am a short sleeper, and my bones are very strong. I also have another extra-ability called perfect memory recall.”

I wrote in the journal again: “Am I a heteroclite?”

Sebastian shook his head, “No. Heteroclites are particularly rare. Inherited extra-abilities are typically recessive. Heteroclites or extra-abled persons are particularly rare in the human population; the genetic anomalies affect only one in every hundred thousand people worldwide. It is estimated that roughly three thousand people in the United States are heteroclites. I imagine, whatever your gifts may be, that they are less flashy.”

I shrugged. I thought of myself as fairly average.

“I opened the Academy for young people like myself and like your mother,” he told me, “I wanted to provide an option that would better suit students with special abilities and unusual gifts.”

“Do you want to go see about getting into the dining car early for dinner?” he asked.

I nodded at that.

I wrote in my journal that night while I laid on the upper bunk.

Dear Mom:

I wish you were here. You’d love taking a train to Denver. We’re in a sleeper car. The two seats at the bottom go down to become a bed and the top bunk comes down from the ceiling. Sebastian Alicea is my dad, I guess??? He’s sleeping on the bottom bunk.

I miss you. I don’t know how to be without you. I’m scared that I’ll forget you.

You liked music. You listened to everything from the Beatles to Sinatra. You were constantly singing. My favorite memory of you is one of the times you sang “Let It Be” in the kitchen. It was a sunny afternoon and you were wearing a pastel floral print sundress.

Victoria was your identical twin sister but you always called her Sissy. When I was little she told me I couldn’t call her sissy because she wasn’t my sister so I called her Auntie Sissy. Aunt Sissy was always solemn, even as a baby. Nan told me once that she could tell you apart when you were little babies because you were “the singing baby” who cooed, vocalized, and hummed even back then.

You had deep tawny beige skin. Your long, wavy hair was a reddish dark blonde with gold and honey streaks spun through it. You had golden green eyes with an edging of dark green. You were all the colors of autumn. Your eyes were round and wide, like a princess. I wish I could draw you.

Your favorite flowers were sweet pea and fuschia. You liked wild flowers, especially wild roses, because they smelled nicer. You were fun, smart, and creative. You knew everything it seemed like. You read all the time. You read Watership Down and Jane Eyre to me. I loved it when you’d ask me if I wanted to go somewhere I’ve never been before. You loved driving. I loved it when you would take me out at night to see the stars and learn about space.

I won’t forget you. I promise.

The Academy for Heteroclites

My father, the Major had been a Weapons Systems Officer who’d been stationed at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom during the early nineteen eighties. While exploring the local taverns he’d met a young Englishwoman, Miss Alcegood, from a small village in West Suffolk. They’d run into each other in the White Hart, a small flint face pub in Tuddenham. She’d been fascinated and they’d had a brief affair that had resulted in a pregnancy. I was born Giles Morgan to Gillian Alcegood and Major James Morgan on Friday, December 21, 1984 at 16:10:00 GMT in West Suffolk Hospital. The Major nicknamed me Gill.

When I was twelve years old my father, Major James Morgan, had completed his full military obligation and was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force. He had chosen not to reenlist. The Major had applied for me to have US citizenship when I was a toddler and I already had dual citizenship, despite my parents having never married. My mother agreed to give up her custody rights a little too easily and I was moved from the United Kingdom to the United States.

In July 1997 we landed in Denver International Airport and my black-dressed self trudged through the pedestrian walkway from Concourse A to Baggage Claim in a tee-shirt that read “Punks Not Dead” with the Union Jack in the background. I remember because it was my favorite shirt back then and I wore it almost daily. We collected our luggage, loaded it into the boot of a taxi, and took the dual carriageway to pick up a hire car.

July 1997, Gill Morgan

“You can keep in touch with your bevvy mates with email or IRCnet,” the Major suggested. I was nervous about everyone driving on the wrong side but the Major didn’t seem to be worried.

“My friends are seven hours ahead, Major,” I argued, although I already had plans to set up the computer before anything else. I drummed black painted fingernails on the seat next to me. I was unhappy about leaving home. Out the window I could look at the Denver city skyline and the mountains behind the skyscrapers. It was my first time in the United States, my first time outside of Europe, and I tried to see it as an adventure. The empty feeling in my gut and the sour taste in the back of my mouth didn’t believe me.

“We’ve been on a plane for ten hours,” the Major told me, his whiskey colored eyes looking me over, “It’s fifteen hundred hours, mid-afternoon local time but your body is still on London time. You’re probably exhausted but it’ll be better in the long run if you can stay awake a few more hours.”

“I haven’t gone to bed at ten since I was ten,” I fidgeted in my seat as I objected, ignoring how knackered I felt.

“I’m glad to hear it,” the Major replied, though not like he believed me, “We’ll get a car, check out the apartment, and then there are some people I want you to meet.”

“Sure, that doesn’t sound dodgy at all,” I mumbled, “What’s the crack?”

“I won’t always be home with this new job,” the Major explained, “I want you to meet the headmaster of a boarding school nearby. You’ll be able to come home like a day student when I’m home. This job is going to ask for a lot of weekends and holidays from me for a while.”

“So, what I’ll bunk at the boarding house on weekends and holidays?” I was horrified, “What’s the point of bringing me to the states then?”

“Your mother and I agreed this would be the best thing for you,” the Major had repeated that line over and over again, “You have dual citizenship so if you want to move back to the United Kingdom you can do that when you turn eighteen. For the next six years you’re stuck with me so you ought to make the best of it.”

“Buggering hell,” I swore. I saw my father’s hands tighten.

“Watch your language,” his tone was angry, “I want to go easy on you because I know this change is hard but there’s a limit.”

I was sullen the rest of the taxi ride. We unloaded our luggage into a hire car and I discovered it was called a rental car in the states. We got to see the flat for the first time. It was a tiny two bedroom, partially furnished carriage house behind a main house. My bed was full sized, which was nice. I asked the Major about setting up the computer and he told me we didn’t have internet yet.

“We’ll get it soon enough,” my father assured me, “For now, let’s go. We’ll check out the boarding school. If you really don’t like it we can talk about babysitters.”

“I’m twelve, I don’t need a babysitter,” I was both insulted and angry, “I’m old enough to be a babysitter.”

“We’ll talk about it,” the Major didn’t sound happy.

The prep school off of Tennyson and West 46th was done in a Spanish theme. The wide, paved walkway was lined with trees that looked good for climbing. The red buildings looked like they might have been made out of clay or adobe and the doorways and windows were decorated with ornate woodwork. We were met by an action man who I was surprised to learn was Headmaster Sebastien Alicea. It was summer term but I was surprised to see that they were still students mucking about on the grass.

“Welcome to Alicea Academy. The school sits on more than sixty acres of land, including a tennis court, a baseball field, and a small lake,” Headmaster Alicea explained, gesturing for us to follow him into the main building.

He didn’t comment on our appearance, which I thought was odd. I had light brown, wavy hair with copper streaks, like my mother and I had inherited the shape of her almond eyes. I had my father’s whiskey colored eyes, his skin color, and his extra-abilities. My father and I both have gills on our faces around our sinus cavities. They were sealed up above water, especially in this super dry heat, but people often noticed them. If conditions were too dry we could get “gill bleed” which was like our version of a nose bleed. We also had very black skin, not dark brown like someone from Jamaica or Africa, but a dark olive with yellow undertones. The military physicians had taken a biopsy during Major’s military career and had discovered that the tissues were so densely packed with myoglobin, which bound to oxygen and might release it during long free dives, and that made the flesh appear almost black.

“Shite,” I mumbled grabbing his sleeve, then under my breath I asked, “Major, are you sure I can go here?”

“Why not?” the Major asked, equally quietly, “And you can call me dad, you know.”

“Dad,” I hesitated, “Are my marks good enough for me to go here?”

The headmaster had paused but was letting us have our hushed conversation. The Major looked thoughtful.

“My son is worried about his low scores,” the Major explained, “Gill, I’ve already discussed this with Headmaster Alicea.”

“Mr. Morgan,” the headmaster spoke to me directly, but quietly, “I am aware of your academic challenges. We are familiar with ADHD and dyslexia. There are different strategies we can provide to help you with your conditions. Your red-blindness is new to us but that shouldn’t be an issue.”

“It’s called protanomaly,” I explained, having had this conversation before, “I confuse black with many shades of red, dark brown with dark green, dark orange and dark red, some blues with some reds, purples and dark pinks, and mid-greens with some oranges.”

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” the headmaster nodded at my father.

“I’m also extra-abled, in case you couldn’t tell,” I rolled my eyes, “Are your other students going to like having a freak like me around?”

“Mr. Morgan, the students here are all heteroclites,” the headmaster smiled, “We don’t all wear our advantages written so clearly on our skin.”

I thought about the girls I’d seen sitting on the grass outside when we got here while the headmaster continued the tour. The chance to go to a heteroclite school rather than a mundane one got my attention but the art studio made me want to sign my soul away. It was a two story building with windows everywhere. Inside were marble top wood tables, a dozen or so easels, an overstuffed couch in a small seating area, and cubbyholes stocked and labeled for different types of art supplies.

“This is one of the oldest buildings on campus,” the headmaster explained, “It was originally used as horse stables in my grandparent’s time. The students affectionately dubbed this space the Art Stable. Would you like to see upstairs? We remodeled it for display.”

I nodded mutely. I have to go here, I thought.

“I think this is Gill’s favorite part of the tour,” the Major smiled broadly at Headmaster Alicea, “He doodles on everything.”

“Art can be a wonderful outlet,” the headmaster agreed amicably.

“It helps me think,” I said in a low voice.

“This building is also used for theater performances by the students,” the headmaster continued, as we trailed him up the stairs. My dad was smiling at me. The upstairs display room had properly matted and framed artwork on the walls but it also had plain white pillars with sculptures and handmade jewelry on display. The art display room was different from the rest of the building; the wood floors were polished to a shine and the walls were pure white. It was obviously well maintained but nothing took away from the student’s artwork.

“What do you think, Gill?” my dad asked as I stared at everything.

“I have to go here,” I told him, and I could feel how wide my already large eyes had become, “I have to go here.” Our amber eyes met and held for a moment. He’d known, or predicted, how I’d feel about a place like this. It made me wonder why I’d grown up in a small English town outside of an air force base with my mundane mother.  

“Officially, classes for the next term begin on August 24th. You are new to the United States so I recommend attending the New International Students Orientation on the nineteenth,” the headmaster waited.

“Aren’t there any classes before then?” I asked, thinking of the girls I’d seen.

“There aren’t formal classes, although there are a few students who live here almost year-round,” Headmaster Alicea explained, “We do offer a summer riding camp in June. You can apply for next year’s summer camp if you have an interest in learning to ride a horse.”

“So I could come here in August?” I asked, turning to my dad, “I could start in August?”

The Major nodded, “Don’t take it for granted. You’ll have to work hard to justify the expense, Gill. The Academy is for heteroclites but attending this school is still a privilege.”

“I’ll do whatever you want,” I told him, then I turned to the headmaster, “I’ll do whatever I have to do so that I can go here.”

“All we ask is for you to study, turn in your work, and try not to break the rules,” the headmaster led us out of the art studio, “There is some paperwork I’ll need to review with both of you. We’ll need to have Gill complete placement testing. You can complete your placement exams in the computer lab.”

“I didn’t study,” I started to panic, “What if I fail?”

“We’re a little tired, Sebastien,” my father interceded, “Do you think we could come back another day for the placement testing?”

“Absolutely,” the headmaster agreed easily, “I wasn’t thinking. You did tell me that you would only just be arriving today.”

“I’m just happy it’s all working out,” the Major sounded relieved.

Working Title: Third World

[20050625 Sat].[Ch1].[Sc2].[Celeste Green, Professor Sebastian Alicea].[Celeste goes through the Kiva at Balcony Palace without her father and disappears/is teleported].[Mesa Verde National Park, CO].[]


They followed the tour guide, a park ranger, hiking with their small group across the black paved winding path. The path took them lower, making Celeste worry about her father. The trip back up this way was going to be hard on him. He shouldn’t have left his wheelchair in the car.


“Perhaps I shouldn’t have left my wheelchair in the boot of the car,” her father mused quietly.


Celeste nodded fervently, “Are you having trouble now? I was just thinking of how difficult it’s going to be for you on our way back up.”


“I’m fine for now but I was thinking about the same thing,” he admitted in a low voice. They stopped to listen to the tour guide talk about the benefits and drawbacks of living in the Mesa Verde for the Pueblo ancestors. The tour was strenuous for the professor. In the back of her mind, Celeste anticipated her father would be resting all through tomorrow whether he wanted to or not.



“The Balcony House is harder to access than the Cliff Palace, sir,” the ranger explained, his posture and tone suggesting he didn’t recommend that the Professor attempt the climb, “There is a thirty foot ladder and then you would have to squeeze through the relatively tight passages.”


“I think I will have to pass on that particular tour,” the professor said lightly.


“Oh,” Celeste made an audible sound of regret.


“Don’t worry, Celeste,” her father reassured her, squeezing her hand, “I may not be able to make the climb but I know you’re capable and eager. I trust you will look after yourself and respect the ranger while you’re up there. I’ve had about as much walking and hiking as I need for the weekend.”


“Yes, Papa,” Celeste promised, nearly vibrating with excitement, “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay with you?”


“I’m certain. I am old, dear, and I need a rest,” the professor shook his head at her, “You go make the most you can of it. I’ll be waiting here for you when you return.”



“There are a few kivas that you’re welcome to climb right down into,” the tour guide advised the group, “Kivas are the temples of the village. The kivas served primarily as centers of religion and worship but these Pueblo temples were also used as meeting halls and for other social gatherings.” Celeste and some others among their group followed the tour guide down into the kiva.

She climbed down the ladder, descending into the dark. Her eyes would need a moment to adjust but the rungs of the ladder were evenly spaced so she didn’t have hardly any trouble getting down without seeing where she was going.

“This kiva was a center for social gatherings,” the ranger explained, “We can fit twenty people in here. Sixty to eighty people would have lived in the apartments above but the kivas here are relatively large.”


Celeste milled around with the other tourists, listening to their guide.


“A cornerstone of the Pueblo religious system contains the belief that the Pueblo ancestors travelled between worlds, coming up from lower worlds,” the park ranger gestured at the floor of the kiva as he spoke, “It’s Celeste, isn’t it? You’re standing over one of the spirit holes. The Pueblos believe that these holes allow spirits to come up from the other world.”


Celeste was uncomfortable when attention was directed at her but she tried to let it slide off of her.


“They say they moved because the other worlds were full of crime and they weren’t very good places to live,” their guide continued, “When they came through from the other world they used prayers to seal the passageway between the two worlds.”

Recognizing that she was in a holy place Celeste closed her eyes for just a moment to say a short, silent prayer of respect. She had a moment of dizziness, a feeling of lightheadedness, and falling. She jerked and opened her eyes to find she was standing in a fire.


[date] [chapter] [scene #] [characters present] [summary] [location/place name] [important notes]
[20050625].[Ch2].[Sc1].[Celeste Green, Tag, other clerics].[summ].[Mountaintop temple, Otherworld].[Meeting the Mentor & Call to Adventure & Refusal of the Call].


Celeste shrieked and jumped out and away from the flames automatically. Hands caught her before she could realize that she wasn’t burning. She checked her clothes and they were untouched. She looked back over her shoulder at the fire. It was still going and it was warm but there was no smoke, no wood. The hands on her shoulders dropped away and Celeste looked forward again.

“You’re not in our tour group,” she spoke without thinking.


“Wikwee,” the man sounded surprised as he stepped back from her. He wore a dark linen tunic that fell to mid-thigh with a slit on either side up to his hips. The trim of the tunic shined even in the dim light. His pants were loose, simple, and they matched the long sleeved undershirt he wore. His hair was long, black and his eyes seemed to glow like liquid gold by some trick of flame and shadows.


Celeste looked around. There were eleven others wearing clothes like his but they were all sitting, staring up at her with confused expressions. The park ranger and the rest of her group was gone, as far as she could tell.


“Did I fall asleep or something?” she muttered, grabbing for a rung on the ladder. She avoided the fire burning directly below the ladder. One of the women reached out to her.


“What is it?” Celeste asked but the woman had already placed two fingers on Celeste’s left temple. The woman said a few words in a language that Celeste didn’t understand and for a moment Celeste felt strange. She pulled away from the oddly dressed woman.


“I’m sorry I don’t understand,” Celeste told her, wishing desperately that she could be anywhere but here.


“You should understand now,” the woman smiled warmly at Celeste.


“Oh! You do speak English,” Celeste was partly relieved but she still thought the woman was odd.


“No, we do not,” the man behind her contradicted, “The cleric simply cast a spell to allow us to communicate. You are now speaking our language and you understand our language. There will be some words that do not come across well such as… English.”


The way he said English was slow, like he was trying it out for the first time. Celeste’s eyes went wide. Crazy people. She’d fallen asleep standing up and had woken up surrounded by crazy people.


“Okay, well, I’m going to go rejoin my tour group. Excuse me,” Celeste bolted her way up the ladder as quickly as she could manage. When she stepped up out of the kiva she was shocked. This was not the Mesa Verde National Park.


She was standing on the edge of a cliff staring out and across a valley of towns and villages connected with swollen blue rivers bordered by tall, thick hedges. Some the multicolored pastures were spotted with livestock. Celeste started to worry maybe she’d lost her mind somehow. The people who had been sitting in a circle around the fire below climbed up and gathered around her.


“Preeminent Palatine, Messenger of the Veil, Daughter of Faith, promised and foreseen,” one woman said, petting Celeste’s sleeve. Celeste wondered who had fallen and gotten a concussion in the kiva.


“You wear odd clothing,” the man remarked. He was one to talk, Celeste thought, grumpy. Celeste noticed with a sinking feeling in her stomach that his irises were really golden. They were also cat-like, with vertical pupils that examined her. As his brows lowered and drew together lines appeared between his brows. His nostrils flared then he made a chuffing noise, a sort of breathy snort. He had one fist pressed to his waist and the other he ran through his hair.


“We prayed and cast the divine fire together so that you could be summoned to this world from the other,” another man explained, “We need you, Lady Palatine.”


This is a dream, Celeste thought, this isn’t real.


“The Queen’s royal consort, her husband, has hidden and sealed her majesty away,” the woman explained, “Will you help us?”


“What can I can I do?” Celeste asked, still worried about her own mental health, “I’m not who you think I am. My name is Celeste. I’m only sixteen years old. I don’t think I’m the person you think I am.”


“I am the Priestess Archmage Zara. These are the Priest Monks and Priestess Nuns of this mountain temple,” Zara indicated the other men and women, although the man with the gold eyes stood apart.


“This is Priest Tag,” Zara gestured at him, “He will be your escort and guardian.”


“I must be dreaming,” Celeste threw up her hands, “This isn’t happening.”


“This is not a dream,” the priests seemed upset. Some were glancing between each other, whispering, while a few just stared at her expectantly.


“Then I want to go home,” Celeste insisted, “I want to wake up. I want to be away from here. I’m not who you need. I can’t help you.”


“Is she right?” Tag asked Zara, perplexed, “Did you make some mistake?”


“We prayed and we performed the ritual,” Zara gave him a dark look, “The energy of the universe, deity itself, chose her and pulled her from the next world into this one.”


Tag looked back at Celeste, “The prophecies, the foretellings, and the covenant have all been consistent. What do you know about our world?”


“Nothing,” Celeste admitted quietly. He nodded, his eyes falling to her hands as she rubbed them together nervously.


“There hasn’t been clear communication between the worlds in many years,” he told her, “So that makes some sense. We are a world of magic but your world has very little magic. The worlds with more magic are harder for mundane humans to settle and control. Our world has humans like you but we also have non-humans like myself.”


“You look human,” Celeste interrupted, “Mostly.”


Tag smiled grimly, like a grimace, and held out his hand to her. She looked, curious, and just as she was about to ask him what she was supposed to be seeing there was a snap. His sharp, pointed fingernails protracted enough for her to realize they were actually talons.


“There are other differences,” he told her solemnly, while she gave him wide eyes, “My father was human but my mother was draconian, a dragon in human form.”


“Dragons requires too much magic to live for long on your world, although they are a very long-lived race on our world,” Priestess Zara added, giving Tag a withering stare which he ignored, “The daevans have the same problem but rather than lose their minds and their magic like the dragons the daevans would feed off the energy of others. The decision was made eons ago by our ancestors and yours to seal the worlds. We broke the seal and opened the doorway to call you through.”


“Our prophecies and covenants say that the one who answers our call will be a daughter of faith. Are you spiritual?” Tag asked her. He seemed relaxed, as if it didn’t matter to him one way or another how she answered.


“I’m Trinitarian,” she answered hastily, “I attend services every Sunday. I’m a cantor that means I sing for my temple or I lead others when we sing as a group.”


Tag nodded, “The name you call your faith matters little here. The covenant says you will be the Messenger of the Veil. You are a messenger or herald of the divines. The Preeminent Palatine is a position, a job as well as a title. You are the highest level of official in the royal court after the Queen herself. Our government and our church as the same; a high level official of the state is also a high level official of the faith.”


“I am not joining your faith,” Celeste objected immediately and with vigor.


“You do not have to change,” the Priestess assured her, “It only means you have the ability to lead a congregation. How you lead a congregation or if you lead one is entirely up to you. The church and the state will respect you and your word. You outrank all but the head of the church and state, our Queen.”


“What is the Queen going to say about that?” Celeste asked, shaking her head.


“The Queen needs you. You are the one who must find and free her,” Tag told her, “If you wish.”


“If I wish?” Celeste asked and the rest of the priests and priestesses gave him a sour look.


“You outrank us all,” he told her coolly, ignoring the others, “If you wish to return to your world, we cannot stop you.”


“Send me back then,” Celeste glared at the rest of them, “My father will be worried sick about me.”


“You don’t know what will happen to us, to our world, if you go back,” Priestess Zara argued, “Her new husband hid her and sealed her away after the marriage ceremony so that he could wrest control of our world from the worship of the divines and give our world and all of its magic to the daevans.”


“I’m just a girl,” Celeste argued, frightened, “I want to go home.”


“Your will be done,” Tag told her, as he held his hand out to hers, “Now that the seal has been broken you can take any portal to your world. If you would give me your hand?”


Celeste gave him her hand and he held her hand gently.


“World Gate!” Tag spoke. With her eyes open she saw the space around and beneath them become translucent. Celeste could see the tour guide and the other people come into focus. Celeste felt dizzy and lightheaded as she had before and suddenly she and Tag were on the other side and his world faded away. He was still here with her though. He looked around briefly when he whispered something, his clothes changed. He was suddenly wearing black jeans, a red t-shirt, and a black and red hoodie. His clothes weren’t identical to anyone else’s but they blended right in. He pulled the hood over his head and smiled at her.


“How did you do that?” Celeste asked in a whisper.


“Chameleon,” he whispered back, “It’s an illusion spell. I’m still wearing the same clothes. You should be able to do small spells like this close to a higher portal.”


Trinitarians did believe in occurrences outside of what science could currently explain but Celeste had been like any other young child, racing around the house playing make believe. None of the make believe spells she’d made up as a child had really worked. Celeste ignored Tag the best she could. He hovered just behind and beside her, never more than five feet away. Finally she gave up.


“Tag, right?” Celeste finally said, as they walked back to the visitor center where her father would be waiting, “Thank you for bringing me back home but what are you still doing here?”


“I am meant to serve and protect you. I would swear an oath to do just that if you would have me,” Tag answered her while his avid gold eyes examined everything. He didn’t look at her, even when he turned his head towards her to listen or speak.


“I don’t need your oath or your service or your protection,” Celeste replied, walking a little faster up the steep paved path.


“We shall see,” Tag murmured, easily keeping pace with her, “I would like to leave something with you, in case you need me or if you change your mind.” His long, slender legs ate up the distance easily.


“If I take it, will you go back?” Celeste whispered as her father caught sight of them and waved. The last thing she needed was for her father to ask about her new friend. He’d gotten his wheelchair from the car so Celeste could be relieved about that at least.
“As you wish, Lady Palatine,” Tag bowed only slightly but any bow was archaic, formal, and completely out of place to Celeste’s mind. Her face took on a hot flush and a look of horror. She grabbed the pendant on a leather cord out of Tag’s outstretched hand. She turned away from him and hurried to her father’s side. When her nerves forced her to glance back, Tag was gone.

Setting / Scenery SE Asian Inspired

The people had an ingrained love for ornamentation and a culture steeped in traditions that were centuries, if not millennia, old. The people’s love of elaborate design was first reflected in the painstakingly carved stone of their walls and columns, ceilings made up innumerable colorful tiles, and sweeping archways. The local woman passing by quickly appeared as delicate, feminine visions of vibrant flashes of colorful silk. The people even decorated themselves with dark, sepia or deep terra cotta colored ink staining their skin in ornate designs.


The lawsonia plant was used to create dye for skin, hair, and fingernails. The art had developed into a truly elaborate affair. Lawsone had been used to adorn young women’s bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations for centuries. The dried lawsonia plant was crushed with mortar and pestle into a fine powder and mixed with strong black tea, molasses, and lavender or tea tree oil. The resulting mixture was called lawsone. Men and women have both used the lawsone to stain their skin with detailed patterns and intricate geometric designs, to add red highlights to their hair, or to dye their fingernails a deep reddish-brown.


Women wore brightly colored and complex patterned silks. The traditional outfit was a three-piece ensemble consisted of the stanapatta, a band of silk wrapped tight around the chest, antariya or silk pants, and the uttariya. The women were know for the uttariya, the cloak-veil made of silk that was worn over a woman’s shoulder or over her head. The uttariya represented elegance, softness, and lightness with a beautiful, elegant, caressing drapery of silk. The traditional veil was usually embellished with difficult stitching and hand-woven gold borders. Although most women wore the same basic traditional clothes the uttariya was such a versatile strip of silk that it could be worn more than eighty different ways. Between the different ways to wear the uttariya, the different patterns, and rich palette of colors it was certain that no two women looked alike.


One woman wore her uttariya with long pleats passed through the legs and tucked into the waist at the back. Some women had pleats in the back, others had pleats in the front, and some had no pleats at all. Another woman wore no pleats with the uttariya wrapped around the waist in an anticlockwise direction and then a second time in the other direction. The loose end was a lot longer and that circled her body and was draped over the left shoulder. There was so much cloth left that she covered her head as well. A third woman had tucked in the pleats similar to the first style, with the loose end taken from the back, then draped across the right shoulder, and pulled across to be secured in the back.

Interview with a Character

What’s your full name?

Renata Sasha Yunkin

Do you have any nicknames or aliases?

Renee or Rene. I started calling myself Renee when we emigrated to the United States. Oh, when I was little I was called Rina. 

When are where were you born?

December 21 1989 at 11:18 PM EET: I was born late December, during the riots of the Romanian revolution in Bucharest, Romania. I’m a Sagittarius born on Winter Solstice.


How old are you now?

I’m eighteen.

Where do you live?

I live in a studio apartment in Boulder right now. I’ve been working, going to college, and taking vocational courses.


What are some key events that happened during your childhood?

According to public record, my father impregnated an unknown Romanian girl and she’d dropped me off and left me with him as an infant. Technically, I am Romanian on my paternal grandmother’s side. My actual family tree is somewhat convoluted. Both of my biological parents were the product of human genetic engineering. My mother escaped the facility where she was born and raised with the help of a scientist who died in the process. She escaped while pregnant with me, dropped me with my biological father in Romania after I was born, and left. I expect she knew that the corporation would follow her and she wanted me to be safe. My biological father, for all intents and purposes, was also genetically engineered but his parents had consented to the process. He’d never been treated as property. He’d had Russian citizenship and a real identity whereas my mother’s creation, birth, and subsequent life had gone unreported. He had been unaware that the corporation had used his genetic material to inseminate my mother. He hadn’t even known that she existed until she found him in Romania. He immediately got me papers, a birth certificate and a passport. When I was eight days old he took me to the church for my prayers of naming. His birth had been international news and my “birth” attracted a similar level of coverage. I was baptized a month later on a Saturday in Russia. My sponsors were my father’s parents. A nun volunteered to take my mother’s place during the ceremony. The corporation has more or less left me alone because of the legalities and publicity that my disappearance would garner. I’ve lived all over. My father traveled a lot when I was young. I was born in Bucharest, like I said, and when I was very young my father would sometimes leave me with my grandparents. We’ve also traveled all over different parts of Asia and North America. My father is a military man; Russia had a two year required term of military service for able bodied men when he was young. He was in Romania during the revolution but he’s never said what he was doing there. We mostly settled down when we emigrated to the United States when I was nine. We lived in San Francisco, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Queens, New York. I love Boulder and San Francisco. I was homeschooled throughout most of my childhood and all of my adolescence.


What key events shaped your adolescence?

I started going to confession when I was seven. I sang in the choir. When I was eight my father left me with my grandparents less and less. I was old enough to travel with him so he took me with him. I lived on the bases where he was stationed and the other military wives and families often checked on me. The corporation that designed my mother bred her with a genetically engineered mercenary before they created me. Her first child, Celeste, showed no signs of any special abilities. The program’s procedures called for an average infant to be killed but there was a scientist on the team who smuggled Celeste out of the facility. My mother told my father about her first child and said she would try to find her. My father spent years looking for them both. When my father finally found Celeste, she was ten. Her adoptive mother, a relative of the scientist who had raised her in the United States, had been beaten to death. He found Celeste after she stabbed the man who’d killed her mother. There was a missing person report filed for her after the bodies were found. My father suspected the attack had something to do with the corporation so he asked Professor Green to move Celeste through the system with forged papers. According to public record the Professor is her father. Professor Green started his own private boarding school in Denver when his parents passed away years ago. My father has worked at Professor Green’s school teaching physical education and self-defense. He’s also in charge of security. They’ve been friends for a long time but I don’t know how they met. When I was sixteen I took the test to get my GED and I moved into an apartment my father rented for me in Boulder. I attended college for two years and graduated at eighteen.


What key events happened to you as an adult?

Spoilers! My goal after college was to become a personal fitness and yoga instructor. I thought about becoming a police officer, too, but that would have to wait until I was twenty-one. When I turned eighteen I got my CPR and First Aid certifications, trained up to be a yoga instructor, and took courses to be a personal fitness trainer. I offered group and individual classes in yoga, personal fitness, and self defense. I met a few police officers during my few years as a personal trainer and they encouraged me to attend the police academy. I graduated the police academy and applied for a job in the Boulder County Sheriff’s department. I worked for the Sheriff’s Department for five years.


What languages do you speak?

I grew up speaking Russian and English. I learned the Queen’s English first, as a child, so sometimes I sound like a British ex-pat. My English has almost no Russian accent. I rarely slip into Russian by mistake. Sometimes I swear in Russian, when it’s not part of a sentence. I might just mutter “Derr`mo!” if I dropped my keys. If I’m surprised, especially by falling or tripping or a sudden cramp or something I might say “Blin!” or something. I speak Russian to my father, of course. My father days I speak Russian in my sleep or when I mutter to myself. Certain drugs, the ones my dentist uses, will cause me to speak Russian.


What are your religious beliefs or do you have any religious or moral beliefs?

I think I’m pretty moral but it’s relative to what you think morals are or what you think constitutes moral behavior. I was raised Christian in the Eastern Orthodox Church but I left the church as a teenager. I think I’m an agnostic theist, probably. I’m pretty progressive but I tend to dress somewhat conservatively. I believe moral behavior is behavior that benefits the well-being of life and living beings, with a scale for the most moral behaviors being those behaviors which benefit the most lives while doing the least harm. The problem is that nearly every action we take causes or has the potential to cause harm to some life, somewhere. Turning a light switch on takes electricity, electricity is often produced by coal power plants, and coal power plants contribute to global warming, global warming endangers lives all over the planet. Coal power plants is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution which contributed to rates of asthma in children and the elderly. I think that’s a better way to explain why we’re all sinners rather than talking about a girl with an apple. I still wear babushkas and longer skirts but that’s because I like them. I’m not a big fan of following laws, religious or otherwise, if I believe the rules themselves are wrong.


How would you describe your general appearance in detail?

I have an angular, heart shaped face with high cheekbones. My eyes are a deep, dark twilight blue. I would say they are prussian blue but I’m not Prussian. My spiralling mane of thick raven black tresses is cropped into an inverted bob. I have a short stacked bob of coarse, corkscrew curls the color of gunmetal. My skin is the color of cold bones or white gypsum. Seriously, I’m the whitest person I know and the undertones of my skin are cool. I’m ghostly pale. Translucent. The word is translucent. I have clear skin, though. Americans usually guess that I’m about ten pounds lighter than my actual weight. I’m pretty slender in a toned, athletic way. I weigh more than the layman realizes because the numbers on the scale don’t mean what most people think they mean. Workouts and Krav Maga practice have put muscles on my small frame and muscle is denser than fat. My coloring is deep winter. I have cool and clear skin that is almost freakishly pale, but my hair and eyes are vivid and dark. My black hair and blue eyes are in contrast to my pale skin and I generally look good in dark, rich colors.

How would you describe the fashion or style of clothes you like to wear?

There is only one rule: Only wear heels you can run in. My style is sort of witchy boho or dark indie. I don’t know, I just like to dress in pretty, quirky things that are comfortable. I usually wear a babushkas, a large handkerchief tied under the chin. I wear them usually as shawls. I sleep in quirky graphic tees. I don’t wear traditional bras but I do wear bralettes and undertanks. I longer length skirts, knee length or longer. I wear leggings beneath shorter skirts or shorts. I really like prints and layers but I have to remind myself not to go overboard because I’m pretty and petite.


What are your favorite clothing or accessory items?

I wear this steampunk style, sort of military looking black jacket all the time so it’s probably my most favorite. My second favorite is probably this little black dress with an embroidered, grey lace overlay. I like to wear it with a purple fedora or my black wide sunhat. I have this gorgeous, burgandy backless dress that I couldn’t resist buying even though I had no idea when I was going to wear it. My most favorite shoes are ankle booties with or without chunky or wedge heels. My second favorite shoes are my boots; they have a tiny heel and they come up just under my knee.


What kind of makeup do you wear? Do you wear makeup often?
I don’t usually wear makeup. I try to remember to put eyeliner on. I do have this great creamy, sand colored foundation called Gosh that I picked up in a drugstore in the UK. It’s about the only thing I can wear with my see-through skin tone other than the Feeling Younger skin tint by Lush.


Who are the people that are important in your life?

My cousin Celeste and my father. I call Celeste Green my cousin but she is my half-sister genetically. Celeste is a year older than I am. I have a friend that I met through my yoga class. I have some friends from my self-defense and martial arts courses. I also participate in a 4-H Shooting Club so I have friends who go with me to the shooting range.




Morality: Moral (vs. Immoral or Neutral)

Orderliness: Neutral (vs. Orderly/Lawful or Chaotic/Unlawful)


Sex/Gender: F/F



American/UK: 5’3” or 63 inches

Metric: 160 cm



American: 130 to 135 lbs

Metric: 59 kg to 61 kg

UK: 9 to 9 ½ stone


Crown of curly strands, spiralling mane, corkscrew locks, winding tresses

Color: Raven Black, True Black, Dark Gunmetal

Length: Short, Cropped

Texture: Coarse, Thick, Curly

Eye Color

Deep, dark, blue, dark prussian blue, deep twilight blue


Color of cold bones, gypsum white, cool with undertones of blue, ghostly pale, clear complexion





Bust: 34 in or 86 cm

Waist: 24 in or 61 cm

Hips: 37 in or 94 cm

Inseam: 29 in or 74 cm



Size: Small (American/UK)

Shoe Size: 8½

Style: Dark Indie, Witchy Bohemian, (Creative, Natural (Sporty), Classic). Printed clothing, quirky detailing, layers of jewelry, graphic t-shirts (sleepwear), bralettes, undertanks, long skirts (knee length to ankle length), leggings, babushkas (large square scarf folded into a triangle and worn as a shawl or a headscarf)

Notable Items: burgandy backless dress, steampunk/military inspired black jacket, sleeveless little black dress (no waist) with grey lace overlay, purple fedora, black wide sunhat

Rules: Only wears heels she can run in. Only wears layered outfits and detailed prints with heels.

Colors: Deep, dark, purples, blues, black, greys, silver, platinum, cool whites



Style: Vintage-inspired, printed bags, bold colored footwear, Women’s Jorge black oxford shoes, chic boy’s hats (fedora), chunky/thick heels, knee high boots, ankle booties.

Metals: Silver, platinum, white gold

Gems and Stones: Hematite, onyx, obsidian, silvery blue pearls, garnet, blue and white sapphires, black and white diamonds

Notable Items: Silver toned crescent moon hair barrette, oversized cat-eye sunglasses



Eyeliners: Black, silver, grey

Lipsticks and Eyeshadows: Black, purple, blue, burgundy, wine, silver, grey

Eyeshadows: Black, purple, blue, burgundy, wine, silver, grey

Foundation: Gosh BB Cream in Sand from a drugstore in the UK, Feeling Younger Skin Tint by Lush


Role in the Story


Key Relationships

Cousin / Sister: Celeste Green

Bio-mother: Rae

Father: Andrei Luca Yunkin

Paternal Grandparents: Andrei Sasha and Nataliya Irina (nee Lupei) Yunkin


Casual friends from yoga, the gym, self defense class, shooting club


Homeschooled year-round from age two to sixteen, GED certificate, CPR and First Aid certifications. Graduated from college at eighteen.

Work History

16-18: College bookstore clerk, manager

18-23: Yoga, Personal Fitness, and/or Self Defense Instructor

23-28: Sheriff’s Office


Marksmanship/Shooting, Martial Arts (Krav Maga and Russian Systema), Cooking, Mechanics (Cars), Plumbing, CPR and First Aid, Yoga, Personal Fitness Trainer, WPM 55 with 99% accuracy.



4-H Shooting Club (4 years), Krav Maga (5 years), Russian Systema (10 years), cooking classes, summer automotive camp (8 weeks), plumber’s training program (8 weeks)


Current Schedule: Breakfast Mon-Sun, 8a. Lunch Mon-Sun, 12p. Dinner Mon-Sun, 5p. Work Out Mon-Sun, 9a. Shooting Club (Rifle) Mon, 3p-4p. PT Class Tue+Th, 4p-6p. Yoga (Hatha) Wed, 6p-8p. Self Defense (Women Only) Fri, 6p-7p.


Phobias / Fears

Fears loss of freedom: close relationships are difficult for to maintain due to a fear of the loss of freedom


Best Qualities

Well-educated, open-minded, liberal, progressive, idealistic

Passionate in her defense of others, generous

Voracious reader, curious about a broad range of subjects and topics

Fun-loving, spirited and energetic, you have a huge reservoir of physical energy

Gregarious, sociable, cheerful, and generally positive


Worst Qualities

Avoids emotionally intimate social relationships

Quick to reach conclusions (makes assumptions)

Prefers to socialize rather than work


Sexual History

Sexual Scale, Restricted vs Unrestricted: Moderate leaning unrestricted (58.4%)

Orientation: Heterosexual

Preventive activities: Condoms, spermicidal sponge, STD testing with every sexual partner

First sexual experience: Age 17

Sexual partners: Average 1 every 3 years from between 17 to 28 (total of 5)

Sexual illnesses: None


Colors: Purple, Silver

Food: Kasha (porridge), Olivier salad (mayonnaise-based potato salad), Borscht (beet and beef soup)

Books: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore, The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, Dark series by Christine Feehan, World of Watches series by Sergei Lukyanenko

Movies: Chocolate, Bitten


Style of Speech



British, Russian, American

Scrap – Describe CPR and/or Intubation in Historical and/or Fantasy Setting

After the child’s lifeless body was pulled out of the water the healer, Character A, began shouting terse directions. The small boy’s face was a ghastly shade white, his lips a pale blue. After having been in the river he felt cold as ice to the touch.

“You! Get my pipe and my bellows. You two, hold his feet in the air. Are you the mother? Go fetch a wool blanket, something to warm him, and dry clothes.”

Character A positioned the victim’s head lowest by having two others elevate the child’s feet. Character A applied pressure to the youth’s abdomen with rough hands and water flowed out of the drowned boy’s mouth. Character A knelt over the child’s unmoving body, mouth to mouth and eye to eye, to give him the breath of life.

The mother returned and without hardly pausing Character A started stripping the boy of his wet clothes. Character A wrapped the boy in the wool blanket, padding the blanket with the dry clothes, while the mother broke down and cried. The father had also joined the circus of people who wanted to help but he was hysterical. The father’s tears seemed to push the mother towards sensibility and she found her voice to issue frantic prayers of entreaty to her Gods. The two parents hung on each other like a pair who were themselves drowning.

When the others returned with the healer’s tools Character A used a slender, clean tube of gold and silver and advanced the tube down the child’s throat. Character A gently and slowly used bellows, as you would find next to the fireplace, to push air through the tube. The child finally coughed and gasped several times in a spasmodic fit and opened his eyes, only to have them roll back in his head again. He was breathing again, though, and that was important.

“Where is your home? We need to take the boy inside where he will be warm and dry,” Character A explained brusquely.

“Yes,” the mother said, “We’ll take him home.”

“He needs warm drink, not alcohol, but tea or coffee. I have some among my things if you do not,” Character A told them, lifting the young child as easily as a mother with an infant. The boy was disturbingly still and quiet.

The parents led the way and Character A placed the boy on top of the masonry oven’s ledge. The family’s home was old and well-built. The home was small and the main room was well heated by a masonry heater that used the ancient Imperial Empire’s hypocaust method for warming floors and sometimes walls. Masonry heater’s firebox burned wood at very high temperatures, and the hot air was channeled through a maze-like structure of flues throughout the raised floors of the house, baking the soapstone tiles and heating the house. These old homes used less wood, produced less smoke, and burned more quickly than hearth fires. All in all the masonry heater’s could burn as little as three cords of wood in an entire winter season.

The child finally started to shiver, a great trembling that seemed to spread over his entire body. The boy seemed confused but seeing his mother kept him calm.

“Keep him warm,” Character A commanded the parents, “If he can swallow tea or coffee then he should try to eat as well. Do you have rice? Porridge? Oats? Cook it with butter. Add raisins if you have any.”

The father nodded emphatically and the mother was already starting in the kitchen. The father, feeling useless, seemed to look around for something to do. Character A noticed and told him to fetch the boy a hat, if there was one. Character A pulled a sachet of loose tea out of a knapsack to give to the mother.

The boy drank the tea without complaint, under Character A’s watchful eye, and then handed the boy a sweet cracker with honey and dark cocoa powder. The mother served hot oatmeal with butter and raisins. The boy slept soon after eating.

Character A turned to the mother, “Stay with him until dawn. Wake him often tonight, don’t let him sleep for more than an hour or so. Let him rest here tomorrow and let him sleep through the night tomorrow night.”

“Is there anything else we can do for him? He’s our only child,” the mother said. Her face showed the strain of the afternoon’s events but she also showed resolve.

“Tell him to keep out of the river in colder weather and teach him to swim in the summer,”  Character A added prosaically.



With thanks to Writing Questions Answered on Tumblr for inspiration. Anonymous asked: “I’m writing a sort of classic fantasy story with mythological creatures and the like and there’s this scene where one of them is in danger. Would using the phrase “CPR” or “performing CPR” be inaccurate? Or would it depend what customs or advancements they have?”

Superpowers – Intro

David Levitt Cohen tested his body and discovered his wrists were bound and tied to a bed or cot. He opened his eyes to find himself in a hospital bed, without any idea of how he’d gotten there. Levi felt awful though. He was weak, stiff, and sore. He used his ability to get out of the restraints without a second thought. It was odd; his magic made it possible to simply move through the stiff leather cuffs like they weren’t even there. It made him wonder how he’d been caught unaware and restrained in the first place, since whoever had tried to tie him down obviously didn’t understand his powers.

He stood up, slowly for him, but he slowed time and space around him so anyone who was in the room with him  had no chance to register any movement. For another person, it would appear as if he’d simply disappeared once time resumed its normal pace for them. It was a power he could only use if he was in motion so he kept moving, removing the IV catheter from his arm as he went. He ran his hand through his pale, bright red hair, feeling shaky and off-balance.

He noted that two of his friends were strapped down on either side of him, on their own hospital beds. A young woman he didn’t know was holding a plastic, unmarked spray bottle over Damian’s dreadlocks. Damian was usually tanned, but his deep umber skin had taken on a sallow cast that suggested they’d spent some time here. He was also skinnier than usual. A feeling of dread darkened Levi’s usually sunny expression.

He had all the time in the world to examine her. Her eyes, the color of the first signs of autumn, were framed by high cheekbones in a heart shaped face. Highlights of golden and honey streaked through wavy, whiskey colored hair that was pulled back into a low ponytail. He didn’t recognize her but he never forgot a face.

The girl didn’t look dangerous so Levi kept going, leaving the room to explore the rest of the place. He kept time still, or nearly still, for everyone else within a half mile radius. He wanted to know what day it was and what had put them here. He also wanted to find some real clothes and get out of this ridiculous medical gown.

Celeste Marchand was behind and to the side of the young man with the dreadlocks. She had turned his head so she could spray down his hair with a mixture of water, sea salt, lemon juice, tea tree oil, and aloe vera extract. She avoided getting the sea salt mixture on his scalp; she’d discovered quickly that what was good for his particular hair would dry his ocher skin and cause flaking. She worked the treatment into the locks directly, separating and rolling each lock between her hands gently as she worked her way to the ends of his hair.

Celeste was so focused on her routine task she almost didn’t notice when the young man two beds over sat up in bed. The sound of his ripping off his restraints garnered her attention immediately. John Coleman was built like a very thick tree: thickly muscled, bulky waisted, and strong enough to bench press a small car. At five foot four the top of her hair didn’t even reach his shoulders. John weighed, she knew from his chart, nearly four hundred pounds. The bed he’d been strapped to was particularly built and reinforced to bear his weight and his nearly seven foot tall height.

“Are you?” her question trailed off as she stared into eyes like melted chocolate. The last time she’d seen him open his eyes they’d been glazed over and empty but now they were angry and confused.

“You’re under your own control now?” Celeste asked, excited and nervous at the same time, “Do you have your free will back?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” John eyed her warily, then held up the restraints, “Did you think these would actually hold me?”

“No,” Celeste held both of her hands in a sign of harmlessness, dropping the spray bottle, “It was to keep you from hurting yourself.”

She didn’t add that the restraints were only intended to hold long enough for her to tranq him. She expected that wouldn’t go over well.

John stared hard at her for a moment but them he seemed to dismiss her as a threat. Celeste usually hovered around one fifteen or one twenty pounds and she was built with an almost bird-like bone structure. Even if they’d both been average, as she was, a girl like herself wouldn’t have posed much of a threat to someone with his physique. As it was, John was a superpower. His abilities made him physically immune to brute force. If his friend Levi was an unstoppable force, then John was an immovable object.

Celeste knew Levi had been unconscious only a moment before but now he stood, wearing the street clothes he’s come in wearing, in front of the door to the medbay. Levi looked relaxed, leaning against the doorjamb as if he lived here. His light brown eyes were unfriendly.

“Damian,” Levi said, smiling unpleasantly at Celeste, “You awake, bro?”

“I’ve been awake,” Damian opened eyes like good espresso and yawned, “I was enjoying a luxury spa treatment until Strongman interrupted.”

The girl moved away from Damian’s bed quickly, her already rosy beige skin flushing russet all the way from her neck to her hairline. Damian momentarily grinned with delight despite the odd circumstances. The young woman was wearing khaki scrub pants and a long sleeved, fitted pastel turtleneck under a boxy teal and khaki patterned v-neck scrub shirt. The warm, bronzed coral turtleneck was nearly the same color as the girl’s medium tanned complexion. He suspected her coloring was less a result of the season’s sunlight and more a genetic inheritance.

“Who are you?” Levi and Damian asked, almost with one voice.

“I’m Celeste,” she answered immediately, her cheeks fading back to a deep fawn, “I’ve been caring for you here for the past two weeks.”

“Where are we?” Damian asked, but Levi answered him before she could.

“We’re in college outside of Denver,” Levi handed Damian and John neatly folded clothes, “This place is emptier than a tomb, though. There’s police tape outside the door with quarantine written on it in all capital letters.”

“Why are we here?” John directed his question at Celeste, who had turned around to let them get dressed.

“It’s a long story,” she promised on a sigh, “Do you three want to eat while I explain? You’ve been on a liquid diet for more than two weeks. I expect you’ll want a real food and real shower.”

Levi nodded. Damian expected that Levi had already been through the entire college. If Levi didn’t seem to think they were in any immediate danger Damian would go along with him for now. John seemed to agree. They’d been friends for more than ten years so they knew and trusted each other. Levi led the way to the cafeteria while Celeste started talking.

“About a month ago, superpowers started going missing. You three were among the first. After a few days everyone reappeared again. It seemed like you couldn’t talk or move. It looked like some form of catatonia. More and more superpowers began to show the same symptoms, eventually even some superpowers who had been unknown or hadn’t been reported missing were taken to hospitals all over the country.”

“How did we get that way?” John asked, his heavy eyebrows had dropped sharply down.

“No seems to know how it started, exactly,” Celeste shrugged her shoulders, “It was only superpowers who were affected and it seemed to be able to spread from one superpower to another. Mundanes were immune but there was some concern that a mundane could be a carrier.”

“It was a virus?” Damian asked, digging into a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread on the kitchen counter.

“At first that was the leading theory,” Celeste seemed angry, “Until someone took credit for the phenomenon. It was an awful day. Victims all over the country had been gathered in a medical research hospital and suddenly many of the affected patients began attacking people. None of the superpowers used any active powers and most were easily restrained but there were a lot of injuries on both sides.”

“That’s why I woke up wearing such unfashionable accessories,” Levi had pulled out butter, cheese, eggs, and a frying pan and was scrambling up enough for the four of them.

“Yes,” Celeste nodded and looked at John with sympathy, “John was harder to subdue. His innate durability and strength, passive abilities, were unchanged.”

The girl’s pity and the bad news did nothing to alleviate John’s dark scowl.

“Who was responsible?” John asked. Damian could well imagine John was already planning some cold, hard revenge.

“He called himself Catharsis,” Celeste supplied, helpfully, “No one had ever heard of him before. He announced he was bringing the purgation of planet Earth. There was some speculation he was an alien but no one took that seriously. The leading theory is that he found some way to control superpowers and was forcing them—you—to attack people to force police and military to use lethal force.”

“Is he an alien?” Levi asked, lifting a single eyebrow in her direction.

“I don’t know,” Celeste gave him a helpless look, “I’m not sure anyone really knows anything for sure. I suppose, it was hard for people to imagine one superpower doing this to so many other superpowers. The next thing Catharsis did was to have many of the victims walk out in the early hours of the morning, about a week later. A number of superpowers just walked off of the roof and fell.”

There was silence. Being a superpower didn’t necessarily mean being durable, the way John was durable. Damian knew Levi would not have survived such a fall.

“You were caught by emergency medical personnel,” Celeste nodded at Levi’s back and he turned, surprised.

“I jumped off a roof?” he seemed incredulous.

“Yes,” Celeste’s face was alternating between angry and sad, “You three don’t remember anything? Not even how Catharsis took control of you?”

Damian shook his head to indicate a negative, his mouth was full of sweet carbs. He’d stolen some of the butter Levi was using and was quickly inhaling the entire raisin bread loaf.

“Well, there were injuries among the jumpers,” Celeste told them solemnly, “A woman died.”

“What happened next?” Levy started serving clumps of cheesy scrambled eggs to each of them.

“You three were transferred here so Dr. McGuire could study how the infection or whatever it was might have started,” she informed them. Damian held up a hand to stop her and tried to swallow quickly.

“People call him the Good Doctor. Dr. McGuire is a superpower,” Levy pointed out before Damian could say it, “Wasn’t he affected?” Damian nodded emphatically.

“No,” Celeste shook her head, “The risk of infection was why I was called home. I’ve worked with Dr. McGuire before and my father is the CEO and Chairman of the college. We had a large population of superpowers enrolled here. The campus was largely emptied by the tragedy. Students and staff alike were told to go home and isolate themselves. My father was out of the country and so far our nation is the only one dealing with an outbreak. My father and Dr. McGuire are superpowers but they weren’t among the affected. It appears whatever Catharsis did, he started with young superpowers.”

“Weren’t they worried about becoming affected?” Damian asked.

Celeste gave him a wane smile, “At first, I was Dr. McGuire’s hands and the webcams were his eyes. I treated your injuries and ran the tests according to Dr. McGuire’s instructions. He was never in the college at the same time as the three of you. He stayed isolated in his New York apartment.”

“As a mundane, you weren’t in danger,” John put together.

“I was in no danger of becoming affected,” Celeste clarified, then showed them a small bandage on her arm, “The three of you started struggling against your restraints right before I started to take a blood sample. You grabbed an empty syringe from me.”

“Is that why my leg is so sore?” Damian asked.

“Yes,” she seemed reluctant to answer, “You were mostly trying to hurt yourself and it took me some time to get the needle away from you. I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t sound like any of this is your fault,” Levi told her grimly, “Did someone find Catharsis?”

“There are people looking for him,” Celeste replied, “I am hoping that the three of you waking up unexpectedly means that someone has stopped him.”

Levi, John, and Damian exchanged a look. Catharsis was a dead man, either way. The three of them would see to it, if it wasn’t already done.

Bystander Effect

A Counterfeit Journalist's Blog

Here’s the scene:

The camera pans over a neighborhood at dusk. There’s the ice cream/coffee shop, the community garden. There is the neighborhood god, which isn’t a boy making perfect three-pointers in the pocket park, but the Greek god painted on the side of a building in a swirl of blues and purples. There is the basketball court, and no boy working on his game, but a man sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette. There is the man talking in what might be Creole, walking toward the apartments with the No Vacancy sign. There is the man waiting at the bus stop. There is a woman on a bike, and a woman walking a dog.

And there, in the alley north of the park, a man who can’t be more than 20 is choking a woman, who has a basket of laundry at her side. She’s crying and telling…

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