News and Thoughts

Hello there! Another post with news about me and what I think. And if that isn’t your cuppa, keep scrolling down to another piece of a story.

Some significant changes have taken place in my life. Namely, after 18 years in Florida, we moved to Maryland, a state I haven’t even visited prior to coming to live here, and the adjustment is HARD. It’s harder now that I’m all alone, waiting on my family to join me. I married young and have been a wife and mother for 23 years, never having lived alone in my entire adult life – until now. This sudden solitude is unwelcome, and it undoubtedly makes my adjustment period especially sharp. The fact that I have almost no furniture in this echoing new house doesn’t help either.

But I have my laptop to write this post and compose my stories. And I finally have internet! So what that the technician was an hour late to my appointment? He came! A native of Portugal and a former farmer, for forty minutes he impressed on me the dangers of walking in local parks unarmed as I sat in my armchair swaddled in a throw to ward off the winter chill (NOT the picture of an outdoor enthusiast). The bears in these parts, according to him, are vicious. Don’t bring a tasty smelly sandwich along for a hike – the bears will pounce from behind. And if you happen to come across a bear, give up your backpack – with the sandwich in it, – don’t be fighting the animal. I mean, a solid advice from your friendly internet provider. Oh, and the vipers. One bite, and the venom will coagulate your blood. You die. His advice? Don’t attempt to pick up snakes in the woods. Gotcha, man. You don’t have to tell me twice.

Apart from the weird but rather entertaining visit from the internet tech, my weekend went by in isolation. It allowed me time to think, to regroup, to consider what’s important to keep in my new life and what I can let go. I listened to music – a welcome distraction in a still house. Music doesn’t really help me focus when I write, but rather individual tunes bring to life scenes that later get realized in my books. It can happen anytime, at any place when I hear a song for the first time. The lyrics may matter but usually don’t – what matters is that visual composition that the song as a whole – words, music, artistry – stir in my brain. For instance, “Mama” by Clean Bandit/Ellie Goulding brought on the idea of a scene where Gemma washes Simon’s hair in Homebound. It’s so random, but it does happen to me.

This weekend, I listened to Stromae and LP, two very different and unique artists with equally impressive catalogues of wonderful songs. Actually, I played LP when driving home late from work on Friday through the mother of all fogs, and “Forever for Now” gave me an idea for my work-in-progress, Sky Song. There’s a moment where Cricket looks up, and her eyes meet Lyle’s. There’s also fog. So I rewrote the first chapter to include this short but meaningful moment of connection between the two.

As usual, a disclaimer: What gets posted here is an unedited draft that may or may not end up in a final version in this exact form.


Sky Song - Chapter 1

  The sounds of the forest were terrifying.
  Strong gusts of wind came in like waves, and the dense tree canopy responded with a sinister whisper that swelled, expanded like a balloon being filled with air, turning into a powerful whoosh. It grew, gathering force until it drowned out the world. 
  And then it subsided.
  When the great rustling of trees quieted down, the grating screeches of birds took over, menacing and mocking. There were other sounds, too. Tree trunks groaning and twigs crackling. Invisible animals traipsing through the undergrowth, disturbing dry leaves where they stepped. A sudden flapping of wings… 
  Fists balled tightly at her sides, Cricket stood still as a statue with her eyes closed, forcing herself to absorb this music of the wild. 
  I can do this, she told herself for a hundredth time. 
  Her feet remained immobile as they began to perspire inside her cheap canvas sneakers, calling her bluff.
  Another wind gust came, bringing along another great whoosh. 
  A thin trickle of sweat slid between Cricket’s breasts, and her eyes snapped open. She stared at a large wooden sign in front of her that spelled in carved cursive Serenity Forest: Where Nature Welcomes You! 
  Bright painted flowers and butterflies decorated the rough board in an attempt to convey a rustic feel, an invitation to leave everyday worries behind and soak in the calming essence of the park.
  Yeah, sure.
  An older couple dressed for hiking emerged from the pseudo-forest, and to let them pass, Cricket had to move back from her position where she was toeing the line between the paved walkway and the pine straw-covered park trail. 
  “What a beautiful day!” the man said to her. “A little windy, but warm.” His companion smiled at Cricket.
  Stretching her lips in an answering smile that felt as wooden as the park’s sign, Cricket nodded at them as they passed by in their matching boonie hats and lace-up boots that clodded when they hit the pavement.
  Alone once more, she squinted at the bright blue sky where Meeus’ sun Kle shone cheerfully between a handful of fluffy clouds. It was, indeed, a beautiful day. 
  Turning around, Cricket headed for the med center, wondering when - or if - she’d finally be able to leave her old hang-ups behind and take a, literally, walk in the park. 
  One day soon, she promised herself, like she’d done countless times in the past six years.
  Maybe when mama finally joined her on Meeus, they’d go to the park together, and this time it would be fine, it would be glorious.
  One day.
  Cricket took a long way to work to compensate for the time she didn’t spend at the park. She walked slowly, enjoying the mild warmth of the early spring that arrived early this year. Really, even the worst kind of weather on Meeus was still good weather. Rather, there was rarely bad weather on Meeus. Not like back home, none of those fierce winter storms of January or exhausting dry spells of August. Temperate, that was this world. Temperate and moderate, as if the government adopted special provisions to regulate the weather like they regulated every other aspect of its citizens’ lives to make them as comfortable as one could possibly imagine.
  Cricket wanted for nothing. It was wrong of her to long for an occasional thunderstorm.
  She entered the med center through a secured door and took the elevator two stories down to the sub-basement where the lab was located. 
  Contrary to the norm, the lab was deserted.
  “What’s going on? Where’s everybody?” She checked the time. It was accurate. Slowly turning in a circle, Cricket took in abandoned workstations with stacks of litmus test slips and vials of bodily fluids. 
  Instruments sat at the ready, waiting for the techs to process the specimens submitted by doctor’s offices on behalf of the sick.
  And then she remembered about the symposium. The alien delegation was arriving today!
  Cricket took the same eerily silent, chrome-encrusted elevator back to the main floor, went out, and rounded the building to see the main entrance. 
  What she could see there was a great crowd that swallowed the entrance. A stern security guard firmly instructed the gawkers to move back. People excitedly milled around and ignored his warnings. 
  Everyone Cricket knew from the hospital was here, and then some. Doctors, nurses, cleaning people, and the electricians who came for repairs that day. Patients who had mobility and some in wheelchairs. The patients' visitors. The little old lady that worked in the cafeteria. Even their blind accountant and his service animal were standing, bizarrely, at the front of the line. 
  All in all, the circus had come to town.
  She spotted Salty’s stringy dark hair in the crowd next to Kim Creek’s unflattering brush cut and moved closer to them. 
  “Oh, hi,” Salty uttered in her usual depressed monotone. “You missed the first four.” Salty’s tone said she didn’t care if Cricket missed all of them, or if Cricket lived or died.
  Ignoring Salty’s Eeyore personality, something they all dealt with every day, Cricket made regretful noises. 
  “Who did I miss?”
  “I don’t know their species. They’re so strange looking - I’ll have bad dreams all week,” Salty gave a weak shudder inside her blue laboratory scrubs.
  “Why don’t you go back inside? Maybe it’s best not to watch if aliens upset you,” Cricket pointed out.
  “Kim says we need to learn who they are.” Salty threw a hateful glance at Kim who must’ve dragged her out here. “To be prepared.”
  “Prepared for what?” Cricket asked a pointless question. Kim always prepared. She lived her life in preparation for the apocalypse.  Doomsday was coming, and aliens were the devil of it.
  Kim turned her eyes, hard as chips of hazel rock on her equally unyielding face, to Cricket. 
  “Watch,” she said. “See how they move. Learn how they act.”
  “They step out of the riders and go inside - it takes but a few seconds. What can you learn?”
  Kim scoffed. “You’re never going to understand. Good thing there are people like me watching over people like you.” 
  Cricket rolled her eyes, not caring to hide it from Kim.
  Another rider glided to a stop, sending the security guard into a flurry of activity. He yelled and waved his hands, bearing down on the few excessively curious who blocked the path to the main entrance.
  The rider’s door slid up like a wing, and a Tana-Tana alien emerged. The crowd quieted down as if people beheld a miracle. The Tana-Tana was dressed into something that could only be described as a kaftan, richly embroidered with shimmering swirls that set off the gunmetal glimmer of his deep set eyes. He paused, giving the crowd a sweeping glance, then moved his sloping shoulders as if shrugging them all off and walked inside the hospital, his gait a bit lurching as all Tana-Tana gait was.
  The rider pulled away from the curb under the resumed chorus of excited chatter. 
  “Did you see his crest? Wild!”
  “I’m telling you, this one’s ratchet.”
  “Silly clothes.”
  “I still would…”
  Cricket quietly slipped away. Retracing her steps, she went back to the lab. She felt awkward from the spectacle. They were alien people, not some freaks on display. 
  But to the born-and-raised Meeus residents, they might as well have been. Meeus’ strict immigration policies prohibited non-humans from gaining residency, and even alien visitors were rare and mostly limited to Colvart city-continent. Here in Shadush, regular people knew of aliens from documentaries, but meeting one in real life was exceedingly rare. 
  Cricket could understand people's curiosity, but her Earth upbringing took care of her own. She’d seen aliens of all stripes up close and personal. She’d worked alongside some of them. She’d been accosted once or twice by predatory Peralis and opportunistic little Xosas. With her experiences so diverse and not altogether pleasant, she remained ambiguous toward Meeus’ alien prohibition. 
  “Not my business, not my problem. Keep your nose clean and think about mama,” she repeated her mantra as she tugged on a pair of protective gloves and covered her face with a clear shield.
  Not everyone at the lab was as obsessed with protective gear as Cricket, but she refused to take chances. Clearly, the fact that she replaced someone who had died of exposure to chemicals had something to do with it. On her first day, it was Salty who had demonstrated the proper procedures to Cricket and regaled her with a story of Igor.
  Igor used to process piss and poop samples, the basic and the least glamorous of the lab’s work, but occasionally helped with tissue analysis. Either because his training on tissues was inadequate, or he just got too sloppy with the face shield, but something got into his system and he died. Right here, at the lab. In the middle of the day. Just turned blue and dropped to the floor. 
  And by blue Salty meant blue. The skin of Igor’s entire body turned an electric shade of bright blue. His nails, too, and the whites of his eyes. He had foamed at the mouth before he passed, and the stuff was also blue. To add to the horror, his body had started dissolving immediately upon death into a blue gooey mess. 
  No one at the lab really knew what the hell Igor had ingested, but after his liquified body mass was removed, the floor tiles had to be replaced. The blue stain wouldn't come off.
  Cricket adjusted her face shield and fetched a tray of samples. She was grateful to have gotten this job, even though the legend of Igor’s untimely blue demise continued to haunt her a little.
  Before too long, excited voices of her co-workers reached Cricket as the party was returning from the show.
  “Emma!” Young Terrance burst through the doors ahead of the others. Cricket turned after a small hesitation. Six years, and it still took her a second to respond to the name. She was Emmaline, Cricket to her mother and a few others who’d known her since childhood. But here, on Meeus, she had shed her old Earth identity, adopting a shorter and simpler version of her name. 
  “They were so cool!” Terrance bounced up and down from excitement, earning a censoring glance from scowling Kim.
  Cricket raised her eyebrows behind her screen. “Cool?”
  “Yes! The aliens! You should’ve come.”
  “I came.”
  Terrance impatiently shook his head setting off an atmospheric event in the cloud of his shaggy coils. “You should’ve stayed. There were fifteen of them, and can you believe how different they were? It’s crazy! I never knew! They never told us about the cool stuff. I wish I could travel to all those different worlds. Maybe I will… No scratch that. I definitely will.” 
  “How about you travel to Pepper Pass first,” Kim scoffed, “to see your mother.”
  Terrance’s exuberance momentarily dimmed. “I don’t have any money. I’m still paying off my fines,” he admitted. Even his hair seemed to droop.
  Salty snickered. “You mean, for that rented rider that you wrecked at the plaza?”
  “The rider’s insured. It was that stupid statue. Who knew a pile of twisted wires was so expensive?”
  “It was a city-commissioned object of art,” Kim said.
  “It was a piece of garbage that deserved to be demolished,” Terrance countered, indignant, but quickly waved off his financial woes in favor of more interesting stuff. “Anyway, the Xosa was the first to arrive - a skinny little bastard, looked shrewd. And that Gaorz! Fish, I'm telling you.” Terrance roared with laughter ignoring Salty’s annoyed look. “With blue lips. The Tarai was normal-looking, except for the big ears, really distracting. Tana-Tana, Perali, Rix - they were, I don't know, kind of a lot like us. The Sakka gave off a weird vibe. And…”
  “Terrance,” Cricket interrupted him. “You said a Rix alien came?”
  “Yep, read his name tag myself, that’s how close I got,” he boasted. “It said his name’s Lyle.”
  “But Rix aren’t one of the consortium nations.”
  Terrance’s face got a blank look. He was a nice kid but not the brightest bulb in their lab chandelier. He clearly didn’t know what nations made up the intergalactic consortium.
  Cricket took pity on him. “Was there fourteen delegates?” 
  Terrance brightened. “Fifteen. And you know I have a knack for numbers, Emma.”
  Cricket smiled and went back to work, her mind, against her will, on the alien members of the intergalactic consortium that arrived to spend a week at the hospital’s medical research facility. To exchange knowledge and share ideas. 
  A Rix alien. 
  Maybe she should’ve stayed to the end. This was one species she’d never met in real life, but boy, had she heard a lot from mama. One of them, a Rix named Simon, had been imprisoned at a facility on Earth where mama used to work. He had come to them tortured and sick, and everyone thought he was going to die, but Gemma, mama’s friend who also worked at the prison, fought for him. Simon and Gemma fell in love, and he took Gemma away, and it would all have been terribly romantic if Simon hadn’t made an attempt to kill mama. He hadn’t, but only because Gemma interfered. 
  Regardless, mama held Simon in high esteem. She felt indebted to him because she was able to send Cricket to Meeus on an illegal passage Simon had procured by means of killing its original owner. And Cricket figured she should feel indebted to Simon as well, but try as she might, she never did. 
  Gemma was another matter. Cricket owed it big to Gemma for stalling Simon’s hand and sparing mama’s life. And for giving up her Meeus passage to Cricket. And for guilting her former fiance, Dr. Zeke Ragberg, into helping Cricket get established on Meeus. 
  Likewise, Cricket would be forever grateful to Dr. Ragberg for setting her up with a legal status here. It was Dr. Ragberg who gave her this job. And it was Dr. Ragberg who treated Cricket for a lung condition that had plagued her since she was six. 
  Cricket would never be able to pay Gemma and Dr. Ragberg back for their kindness. She would do anything for either of them. But her feelings toward Simon the Rix ran in a different direction.
  Still, she was curious. 
  Two trays of urine samples processed, Cricket logged the results and sent them off. Terrance had by now run out of excitement about the aliens, but Kim took over and spouted her usual conspiracy theories about how this group was a Trojan horse of all delegations, and that they would do an inside job of messing with Meeus’ medical infrastructure, and how aliens wanted nothing more than to replace humans, and those who fraternized with aliens would be the first to perish. And so on and so forth. 
  Cricket took off her gloves and reached for a snack. 
  The door opened with a bang, and Yanet appeared, her hair askew. 
  Cricket’s hand retracted. She’d never seen Dr. Ragberg’s nurse assistant with her hair out of order.
  Yanet’s wide - and slightly wild at the moment - eyes swept over the lab, landing square on Cricket.
  “Emma,” she said breathlessly. “Dr. Ragberg needs you quick. Come.” She motioned for Cricket to follow but abruptly stopped and frowned. “Take this off.”
  Cricket looked down. “My scrubs?”
  “Yes, the scrubs. What are you wearing today?” Yanet actually reached for the fasteners and opened up Cricket’s scrub top to reveal a plain beige sweater underneath. Cricket was so shocked by Yanet’s actions that she could only stand there and gape at her from behind her face shield. 
  Yanet’s perfect bioengineered face briefly registered disappointment, but she waved her hand dismissively. “Nothing can be done about it now. Come.”
  Divested of her protective gear, Cricket followed Yanet down a familiar route, up the elevator and through the hospital corridors to Dr. Ragberg’s office. 
  It was unoccupied.
  “Wait here.” Before she left, Yanet found her reflection in a glass cabinet door and smoothed her hair.
  Cricket lowered into a patient chair that she’d long come to caustically call her own. Dr. Ragberg still saw her once a month to monitor her condition, but it was more a precaution now. She’d come a long way since six years ago when she would sit in this chair almost every day, gasping and wheezing. Back then, every night she felt like drowning, and despite his unshakable optimism, the look in Dr. Ragberg’s eyes had been… uncertain.
  She didn’t have to wait long.
  “Emma! Thank you.” He walked in, young but appearing older with his conservatively styled clothes and an old-fashioned haircut. Cricket suspected it was intentional on his part.
  “Of course, Dr. Ragberg. What happened?”
  “Nothing, precisely. But I’m in a bit of a sensitive situation.” He sat down across from her. “Our alien guests are here. It’s a full house, I’m sure you’re well aware.”
  “The lab staff talk of nothing else.”
  Dr. Ragberg smiled his crooked smile. “I imagine. It’s the same on every floor. Well, the guests came to learn about us, about what we do. They asked us to share human experiences with them, stories, even of anecdotal nature. They’re curious about what we like, what we think, and how we react to outside stimuli.” He trailed off as if carefully weighing what he was going to say next.
  “That’s why they came, isn’t it?” Cricket prompted.
  “Yes, yes. That’s expected. But right now they’re asking to hear about humans who lived on Earth, to better understand how we’re different. If we’re different.” Dr. Ragberg shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Of course, I can always say we don’t have anyone with such a background, but I was wondering if you could do me a huge favor, Emma…”
  Cricket understood. Like her, Dr. Ragberg was born and raised on Earth, and like her, he had come to Meeus if not exactly illegally, but certainly as an uninvited guest. But that’s where their situations diverged. While Cricket, a non-entity, could get away with glossing over her Earth roots, Dr. Ragberg went to great lengths to bury his so that the stigma couldn't affect his brilliant medical career. And he was brilliant. It would be a shame if he lost his position over his lack of proper pedigree. 
  “You’d like me to talk to them?” Cricket guessed.
  “If you don’t mind.”
  She would do anything he asked. And in this case, it was nothing, really. “Of course I don’t mind. I’d be happy to.”
  He rose, still uncomfortably looking. “I’m much obliged, Emma. It would be so much easier if I could just… I wish I could change how things are.”
  “No worries, Dr. Ragberg. You know I will never mention you and Earth in the same sentence.”
  “Yes, well.” He cleared his throat. “I appreciate it.”
  As he led Cricket across the hospital, he instructed her to act natural and answer the aliens’ questions honestly, so long as she was comfortable with the topic. They came here to learn, and they expected to be educated. And entertained.
  Finally, they reached a large atrium that ended in an impressive set of double doors. 
  “And don’t worry, an interpreter is already in the room.” Dr. Ragberg pushed the heavy doors open, and she walked into a cavernous conference room.
  She took several steps and stopped, processing the scene before her. The alien delegation was seated around a U-shaped mahogany table that reflected the light of crystal chandeliers hanging above it, their glow turned to the max. The table was the width of a race track, befitting the room, and the aliens were widely spaced apart. It appeared that refreshments had just been served, with full plates and bowls of varying sizes standing next to each guest. Some of the bowls’ contents looked and smelled mysteriously. 
  A low hum of conversation flowed around the room. Three waiters hovered near the table at even intervals, and a wizened old man with hair in a long scraggly braid stooped solicitously next to a snooty Perali who was apparently having trouble making his request understood by one of the waiters. 
  Dr. Deja Nura who worked closely with Dr. Ragberg was also in the room, and she smiled at Cricket encouragingly. 
  Cricket sensed Dr. Ragberg behind her. 
  “Here you go.” He pulled up a chair for her, positioning it at the heel end of the mahogany horseshoe of the table. 
  “Thank you.” Automatically, she sat down.
  Another scan of the room told her that she’d been noticed. The conversations quieted down as the aliens regarded her openly, though their emotions were difficult to read even for a human like Cricket who spent her earlier life around them. 
  The Perali was drilling her with his animalistic beady eyes - a familiar experience. The big-boned Tana-Tana she’d seen on arrival was checking her out with bored curiosity. 
  A Tarai female with large furry ears and coarse facial features was looking at her like Cricket was a peculiar circus animal. Fair enough. That was her role at the moment.
  There were a Xosa; a Sakka; a fish-looking Gaorz - she had to give credit to Terrance for not making this up; a red-skinned Levisur whose flattened bald head sat on the body without a neck; a Rix with overlarge black eyes that clearly told Cricket that was what he was; a Brata with four jointed tentacles for hands; one bird-looking citizen of the planet Romtu; a gentleman with seven eyes scattered randomly on his reptilian face whose nation Cricket struggled to remember; and three representatives from the Kessa planet cluster that belonged to the subgroups of the same race. In a nutshell, the gang was all here.
  “Is this the Earth-born human?” someone asked in barely-understandable Universal. 
  “Yes! She is here for you,” the interpreter answered in an equally atrocious accent.
  Then he shuffled over to her chair and bent down, his stringy braid grazing her knees. “Do you have a greeting in mind or are we going to do a traditional one?”
  Cricket blinked and focused on his face. What she saw there was pity. Here she was, a thin young woman with mousy hair and a plain face, dressed in an unremarkable beige sweater and worn-out sneakers. She was sitting in that chair, a lone figure dwarfed by this huge room with soaring ceilings and enormous chandeliers, lost in the echoing space barely broken by the shiny expanse of the table, a poor nervous nobody in front of the exotic guests that were looking at her like she was part of their refreshments course. That was what the interpreter saw. That was what they all saw.
  “I’ve got it,” she said, causing the interpreter’s eyebrows to jump to his vaguely defined hairline.
  Cricket slowly rose to her feet, all five feet ten inches of her with a long neck and perfectly straight posture. Pressing her palms together in a cross pattern at the chest level, the gesture as familiar as it was global, she gave the room another sweeping glance.
  “What you ask, may you receive. What you seek, may you find,” she said in Universal, modulating her voice so it reached the guests at the far back, like that Rix alien. She then lowered her hands down without unclasping them, performing the expected ritual. “Here, the light shines upon you, and peace awaits you.” Now she moved her hands aside and palms out, cocking her head right and down in a half-bow. “We’re with you, by your side, always.” 
  The traditional part over with, Cricket dropped her hands at her sides and smiled. “I’m happy to take questions, but please, continue with your lunch.” 
  The silence in the room was so complete it rang. 
  And in this sudden, permeating stillness, Cricket’s eyes collided with the Rix’s. He was looking at her without blinking from his seat at the very back of the U-shaped table, the farthest point from where Cricket stood, and even across this vast distance, she could clearly see his large eyes. They appeared deep and bedewed, shining with a glistening, wet sheen that was deceiving. Like black amber, his eyes were hard and dry. Snake’s eyes, even though there was nothing reptilian in his appearance.
  An attack of nerves swamped Cricket, the Rix’s eyes causing it and soothing at the same time. It got colder. The blinding lights of the chandeliers dimmed and the aliens around the table blurred as if in a dense fog. The floor dropped, and Cricket was standing on air, and her only lifeline was that magnetic, hard gaze of the predator who lured her when her system clamored for her to run. 
  “Emma! You speak Universal?” 
  The floor slammed into place and the fog vanished.
  “Yes, I do.” Cricket turned to Dr. Nura who was looking at her in astonishment. Dr. Ragberg mirrored his colleague’s surprise. The interpreter appeared completely floored.
  “I had no idea. But of course, I had no clue you were from Earth until a few minutes ago. How fascinating!” Dr. Nura’s surprise appeared genuine and welcoming, and Cricket smiled in response.
  “What are the humans saying?” The Gaorz asked in her broken-up Universal. Having taken Cricket’s invitation to continue with the lunch to heart, she’d speared a slice of something with a two-pronged fork and was now pointing at Cricket with the food.
  The interpreter remembered he had a job to do and translated their exchange.
  “Good point.” The Gaorz popped the food between her deeply toned blue lips and chewed. “How did you learn to speak Universal?” 
  “They teach Universal at schools on Earth,” Cricket explained. “And I have held a lot of different jobs since I started working at fourteen. I had to talk to all kinds of peoples over the years. Earth is diverse like that.” 
  “How’s that?” the Gaorz pressed on, clearly the most outgoing of the group despite her poor command of the artificial language adopted by the consortium nations for intergalactic communications that came to be known as Universal.
  “I’d say it's very diverse.” There was unrest and conflicts but Cricket wasn’t going into all that unless specifically asked. “Many peoples settled on Earth. Perali,” she made eye contact with the one in the room. 
  “And Tana-Tana live there now.” She nodded at the Tana-Tana delegate who was busy eating. “The Sakkas have a large community, Xosa travel in and out, and many others who aren’t from the consortium nations.” Except for Rix. Rix never came except that one time when Simon’s ship crash-landed near the City where Cricket grew up. That hadn’t worked out all that great for Simon, so she couldn't say she blamed his people for not wanting to socialize.
  “You worked, you said? What did you do?”
  Cricket briefly described the countless menial jobs she had taken over the years only to lose them when her afflicted lungs kept her bedridden for days on end. She omitted the lungs part, of course.
  The Gaorz dabbed her blue lips with a napkin showing some manners. The napkin came away blue, and Cricket realized with surprise that blue was the color of the lipstick not the lips as she’d assumed. Between that and the purple eyeshadow above the Gaorz’s round lidless eyes and horizontal pink smudges below them, the choice of makeup shades left Cricket baffled but not critical. Aliens were like that: different.
  Others had by now expressed interest in asking questions, and one of the Kessas even clucked at the Gaorz for hogging the conversation. 
  “Do you have a family?” asked the Tarai lady.
  Cricket got quiet. She had her mama back on Earth, her only family. Here, she was completely and utterly alone. Such a simple question, it left her uncomfortable and, if she were completely honest with herself, feeling a tiny bit inadequate.
  She raised her chin defensively. “I do have family on Earth,” she stated with confidence. “I hope to create one here, too.”
  The Rix at the opposite end of the table continued to look at her out of his black eyes set in an impassive face. He no longer appeared predatory and otherworldly. And Cricket felt fine now, not nervous in the least, not shaken or upset. That strange moment where she’s fallen into his eyes was gone from Cricket’s imagination, but looking at him brought back the memory of it. And underneath her calm, she experienced an unexplainable fear that she had gotten infected with something that was now living within, a part of her till the end of her days. 
  “Do you have a boyfriend?” asked the Levisur in a hoarse hacking voice.
  “Ronjuk!” the Gaorz reached over and smacked him on the arm with a napkin. 
  “What? Did I say it wrong? Is boyfriend not the right word?”
  The Gaorz clucked and whistled and flapped her arms at Ronjuk the Levisur who rolled his eyes around in confusion. The aliens at the table expressed amusement in their different ways and even the Tana-Tana fought to hide a smile.
  “Are you applying?” the Perali asked the Levisur snidely. 
  Turning a deeper shade of red, Ronjuk worked his mouth to form a denial. “I just asked… from a purely scientific perspective. For research. It isn’t like I have an interest… I have a…  have a…  partner. Her name is Alalassa, and she looks like me only taller. A very beautiful female, a very rare specimen with dark spots on her head - I had to give up my two brothers to servitude to buy her…”
  The Kessas howled like hyenas. 
  “What?” Realizing he’d made another blunder but unable to figure out what exactly he’d said wrong, the Levisur looked helplessly at Cricket.
  She pulled the chair closer to the mahogany table and sat down. “Let me tell you more about our traditions.”

11 thoughts on “News and Thoughts

  1. Oh I loved this update – Homebound is one of my favorite sci-fi romances and I’m excited to see more of the Rix! Thank you for sharing!

    I hope your family catches up with you soon – I do not do well myself with being alone. A little bit of time during the day, sure (I’m a SAHM) and I love it, but I’m pretty sure I would give myself anxiety if I had to live somewhere and wait for everyone else lol!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooooh, this was very nice ! Thank you for sharing this chapter. You’re right, the scene with the protagonists’ eyes meeting was a nice touch, and very well described. I absolutely love this universe you’ve created with the Rix and I’m always happy to get a snippet. Hope you settle down okay in your new home. *virtual hugs*

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was pulled in immediately. Wish I could have kept reading and can’t wait to hear more updates!

    By the way, are you still planning to release a paperback version of Planet Zero? Would love to add it to my home library 🙂


  4. Welcome to Maryland! I’m pretty sure if you survived the snakes and alligators of Florida, you’ll be just fine here. Can’t wait for the Homebound sequel!


  5. So sorry to hear about your stressful move and the installer who gave you the creeps by warning you of every possible danger. I’m sure you will navigate Maryland just fine given a little time. Thank you for the glimpse into Sky Song. As before, your writing talent is amazing and wonderful. However, I do truly hope this book is not about Cricket and a new Rix. I really NEED to hear about the life that Simon and Gemma made for themselves.


  6. I have read three of your books and I love the stories and well thought out characters. I am looking forward to reading this one too. I lived in Maryland for twelve years and never saw any bears! Lovely state and lovely people. I wish you much happiness there!


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