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Splintered Light
a SF novel by

Lee Denning


Chapter 1


Rainforest, Waimanu, HI | Sunday 1703 HST

The girl pounded down the forest path into deepening darkness. The bottom of the cloud ahead had lowered almost to ground level. A part of her mind sensed its moisture condense, its droplets form and gather and grow heavier. Rain would slicken the trail, slow her down. The storm was coming on so fast it seemed unnatural.

Did he make it happen? How?

Another part of her mind ranged outward, seeking the dark thing in pursuit, calculating distance and direction, estimating his intercept time.

He's gaining!

She picked up the pace, running flat out on the uneven ground, feet finding purchase with the instinct of a mountain goat. Her mind made another reflex calculation as lungs and heart edged into the anaerobic zone.

I can't keep this up. He's too damn fast.

The cloud bottom ruptured then and the rain came, torrents so heavy they hammered through the triple canopy as if it were tissue paper. The mental radar that let her detect him went chaotic, its signal degraded by the rain. But that would work both ways: he can't pinpoint me either.

The girl skidded on a wet stone and slammed against a tree, ripping her shirt on the rough bark, scraping skin off her shoulder. She swore with a hard grimace and spun off the trail.

Yes! A little fork... maybe... if he'll just buy it...

She ripped a second piece of sleeve, broke a branch and snagged the cloth on it, stepping on rocks and tree roots to avoid leaving footprints. She edged down the side of the trail, wet feet in the streams of water that would erase signs of her passage, then took flight again. The rain came down harder. Sudden torrential downpours were common enough on this part of the island, but this one? Just too incredible.

Lightning flashed. The compression wave followed instantly, slamming branches and debris into her back, knocking her down. She rolled as she hit the mud, then flipped upright and staggered onward. Her cheek was numb and she spat blood.

Did he cause the lightning? Could he have that kind of power? Here, of all places? How?

Fruitless questions now. The cards had been dealt, the dice rolled.

Too much power!

Fear began to build on that possibility.

And I'm totally turned around! How can I be lost in my own forest?

The fear rushed toward panic. She forced it down by reaching out to feel the forest with her whole mind. The interconnectedness flowed through her, its unity triggering commands from her mind to her body. Glands reacted, neurochemicals flowing into her brain's blood, a complex orchestrated balance of pain suppressants and stimulants.

Adrenaline-laced strength flooded back into her wobbly legs. She resumed running down the trail, feet again anticipating each unevenness and adjusting instinctively. Her mind filled with the confidence that she was truly a creature of this forest: adaptable, resourceful, agile, powerful. Calmness returned.

The rain stopped abruptly as she ran out of its shaft into sunlight and onto a dry trail. Yet the joy and calm proved fleeting; with the rain behind she sensed the distance between them had been halved. He was following her like a homing missile.

How can he do that? Through that downpour!

Panic flared again and she almost tripped.

Think! Make a trap? No, that would take too much time; he hadn't bought into the decoyed path, so he'd be on her before she could fashion anything damaging.

Sisters, help me!

Images of white-robed women flashed across part of her consciousness as she ran. Face your fear, child, stern voices invoked, stop running. Turn and fight.

Thunder roared behind her, as if the storm would spin on its heels and drag her back. She ran toward the late-day sun. A familiar tree flashed by, and she was no longer lost; the trail dead-ended not far ahead on a volcanic headland overlooking the bay.

I will face my fear. But on my battleground, not his.

Seconds later, without slowing her headlong pace, young Eva Connard hurled herself off the cliff and arrowed down toward the sun-speckled waves of Waimanu Bay a thousand feet below. A vortex formed in the bay as she plunged toward it, and spun a waterspout upward to greet her.

Merauke, Irian Jaya | Monday 1303 JYT

A gaunt face stared back at him in the mirror, a face he hadn't seen in eight long years. The lines are deeper. The hair is shot with gray.

Slowly, he realized the time in captivity had enhanced his appeal rather than diminished it. He smiled at his reflection. Yes, that will do nicely. The very image of a prophet.

A man entered the washroom behind him, froze, and stared into the mirror.

"Mahdi!" the man gasped. He went down on one knee, head bowed.

"Yes," Muhammad Zurvan answered. He ran an admiring finger down the harshly handsome plane of his own cheek, but suppressed elation. I must appear humble. Zurvan turned away from the mirror and let the old skills rearrange his expression accordingly.

"We thought you were dead," the man glanced up, a sidelong frightened look, then lowered his eyes again. "Seven years, Mahdi..." he murmured.

Zurvan studied the man. The myth is being re-born. I must choose my words carefully, my actions as well.

He spoke to the man almost in a whisper. "Long years. I wandered the wilderness. Now I return."

"Praise Allah!" The man quivered, gave another sidelong glance.

"I sought enlightenment."


"I have spoken with the Prophet."

The man dropped his other knee, prostrating himself in the prayer position, gasping. Zurvan smiled at the top of the man's turbaned head. I have him now.

"I have met the Christ."

The man moaned.

"He is with us. He will pray with us, with the Mahdi. Speak it now."

The man began to sob, reciting the proper prayer. Zurvan stroked his beard, listening acutely, parsing the complex intonations. Excellent! Years with no contact and they still remember the code, and the al-Mahama al-Kubra. Their discipline remains intact. He erased elation from his face, making it thoughtful, humble, caring. Then he spoke.

"I have wrestled with Shaitan, in the wilderness."

The man jerked back up on his knees, shocked, and just stared.

"By Allah's grace, I overcame him."

"Praise Allah!" The man pulled off his belt and began to whip his back, weeping with joy, working himself into ecstasy. Zurvan watched for a bit, keeping his expression fixed.

Not too bright. But faithful; he stayed in place for years. He retained the code and came when I called.

Zurvan grabbed the man's flailing hand. "Peace, my son. What is your name?"

"Ahmed, Mahdi."

"Ahmed. Yes, I remember now. You were a boy when I entered the wilderness. You are a man now. And you remembered the code."

"I am your servant! As before. As always."

Zurvan reached out to grasp the man's shoulder. If you can get me off this island you are. If not, I'll kill you. He smiled at the thought. So many years a prisoner of those wretched little creatures. I'm overdue for some killing.

"Good. Ahmed, there must be no word of my return. Not a hint."

Ahmed's eyes widened, disappointment clear on his face.

"I overcame Shaitan once, Ahmed, but the devil is strong. His infidel armies are in the West. They have ears and eyes, all over the world, especially here."

Ahmed straightened, puffing out his chest proudly. "Islam will conquer all, Mahdi! It is foretold! The end time!"

"Yes, Ahmed. And that time is nearly on us. But Shaitan is clever, so we must be too. Clever and quiet, and building our strength unheard and unseen until we are ready. Do you understand?"

Ahmed nodded, silent, but Zurvan read the expressions fleeting over the man's face. You crave to announce it, the great war. So stupid. Do I kill you now, Ahmed?

"You must hold your joy close to your heart, Ahmed. No word of my return."

The man nodded.

"Not until my time has arrived."

"The faithful, Mahdi... your Jaesh..."

"Of course, my friend. A few must know. But very few; cell rules apply. And first you must get me off this island, to a safe place beyond the reach of the Indonesian government. It collaborates with the infidel."

Ahmed stroked his own beard. "There is a place... East Timor, in the highlands, a Muslim retreat. You will be safe, and welcomed."

One of my old ones, in the safety net. Yes! Zurvan kept his expression bland. Well isolated, but... so many years? Are they compromised now?

"The United Nations? Australian peacekeepers?"

"Not in the highlands, Mahdi."

And that country is no friend to the Indonesian government.

"Good. Then arrange it, Ahmed. Quickly! And when you return, bring me clothing. And scissors."

Waimanu Bay, HI | Sunday 1704HST

Eva Connard sucked in air as she fell, driving it into her lungs, commanding them to supersaturate her blood with oxygen. The waterspout caught and gently cradled her body as she'd intended, bleeding off momentum as they fell together toward the water surface. Her mind's radar sensed her dark pursuer launch from the cliff top, then the water closed over and she lost contact.

She smiled grimly. He can't match my skill. He'll have a much harder landing. And then we'll see...

As she dropped through the water she framed a second intention, a safety valve: Attend me, my friends! I may need your help. She sensed their instantaneous alertness as they forsook their game, turned as one and sped toward her from the deeper waters offshore.

How far out? She couldn't tell; water diminished her ranging ability almost to zero. But they're coming if I need them. Good!

Eva flipped and landed on the bay bottom, feet kicking up coarse black volcanic sand mixed with organic sediment. Fish flashed away, startled. The water was not as clear as it sometimes was, but neither was it murky. No advantage either way, she decided, but edged into the partial concealment of a rock outcrop anyway. A reflexive twist of her mind adjusted local gravity enough to counter buoyancy as she anchored herself to the rock. Let him come to me; let him use up his oxygen and energy.

Almost on cue, a pressure wave told her he'd hit the water surface ten meters above. She smiled. Ouch! That must've hurt.

And there the thing was, a formless shadow, almost invisible except for the distortion it caused in the water and the flickering around its edges. It twisted as it sank down.

Eva pulled a null field over herself and watched her body fade into just a hint of waviness in the water, a wraith against the rock and sand. Find me if you can. Then she slowed her racing pulse, reducing oxygen consumption. Let's see who runs out of air first, bozo.

The amorphous nothingness drove through the water and splashed up a wave of sand and sediment as it smacked into the bottom twenty meters away. Ouch, that hurt, too, I bet. Or...

It was, in theory, possible to project a gravitational field outward from the body. A higher skill level than she'd yet achieved, but... maybe not beyond that of her pursuer. The possibilities flashed across her mind and converged: drive a gravity wedge ahead of you to decelerate, push it down through the water into the bottom. Did I see what I saw? Her mind played it back. The distortion in the water could have been a null field around his body, or it could have been a gravity wave. Deception, a decoy. He's very smart. And he's not where I think!

Eva's legs reacted instantly on the thought, pushing her away from the rock just as his energy blade slashed down on it from behind. She spun, her own hands flaring ovals of indigo light, and parried a sweep from his foot. Coruscations erupted where their energies met. She sprang backwards into the cloud of sediment his decoy had raised, and snapped off her blades. I can deceive, too.

Eva blinked away the searing afterimages on her retinas, turned at right angles and swam across the bottom to flank his position. Fear rose again but adrenaline and anger drove it down. Dammit! I'm going to win this battle!

But her determination wavered as she emerged from the sediment cloud and found him standing in front of her. If he had been stunned by impact with the water, or was running short of oxygen, he didn't show it. In fact — she studied the flickering black nimbus around the emptiness of his null field — he's laughing! He's laughing at me!

Teasingly, tiny energy blades grew from his hands, making figure eights in the water. More laughter, mocking.

Anger shook Eva and her hands reflexively flared energy blades, but then her training imposed the coolness of reason. I can deceive, too. She waved blades to mimic her enemy's, slicing bigger figure eights, the water hissing and vanishing into the planes of pure energy. Just watch my hands.

He did, crabbing sideways with lightning quickness, his blades elongating to match hers, but not engaging. He danced across the bay bottom, studying her hand motions, hesitating.

Now Eva laughed at him. Cautious. As well you should be. But it's too late now, sucker!

The dolphin slammed into his back, driving him hard against the rock outcrop. Another one caught him from the side as he bounced off the rock; it knocked him onto the bay floor. A third hit him again, on a downward trajectory, driving him into the sand and muck.

Enough! Her mind screamed the command and the rest of the school broke off their attack and gathered around her, chirping. Eva Connard petted the alpha female on her nose and framed the intention that they should return to their own dolphin games. Thank you, my friends. Well played.

Senate Office Building, Washington, DC | Sunday 2210 EST

The Capitol dome gleamed white under its lights. The Senator contemplated it for a few silent moments through the window of his corner office in the Russell Senate Office Building. Then he raised his hand off his considerable paunch, gesturing toward the dome and the flag flying off to its side.


He's getting right to it tonight, the younger man thought as he suppressed a fidget. "I'm aware of that, Senator."

"But not enough, son. Not enough power for what's comin' at us."

"I'm aware of that, too, Senator." He'll lead off with patriotism.

The Senator examined him, then glanced back out the window. He spoke sonorously. "We need to control this new species, boy. Adopt 'em, make 'em our own. It's the only way America will be safe."

"A way to make America safe; yes, Senator."

"I hear a ‘but' in there, boy."

"Control is the issue. I don't believe it's possible."

"You wet behind the ears, son? It's always possible; just need the right leverage."

"Right. A judicious application of power. So you've said, Senator. And I've heard."

"I worry about you, boy. Seems like you hear, but you don't listen."

The younger man placed his hands flat on the desk, spread them apart then turned the palms up expressively. His ring clicked against the desktop. "I don't know what more I can do at this point, Senator."

The older man's gesture invited him to explain.

"Where's our leverage?" he continued. "The world is quiet. The Mideast is peaceful for a change. Mainstream Islamics are clamping down on their radical cousins. No other big conflicts in the world. The economy's good, the market's up. There's just nothing we can create an issue around. Nothing we can spin onto Nova sapiens and then come to their rescue, bring them into our camp... no opening wedge."

The Senator tilted his chair back and inspected him.

Like a bug under a microscope, the younger man thought, but went on anyway.

"And, Senator, their own strategy is working beautifully. Those young incipient Novas are flying completely below the radar. No publicity, no hint of what evolution is about to do to the human race. None."

The Senator's inspection continued, but he pressed on.

"And we can't expose them. You said it yourself: too much downside risk. All our projections agree on the chaos that exposure would cause."

The Senator gave a reluctant nod. "They'd be up for grabs by anyone, if we disclose their existence. Yeah. Still..."

The younger man watched him consider that, and reject it yet again. You should see what I see running across your face, Senator. Greed. Lust. I recognize them all too well. Patriotism is just your cover. The Senator blinked and rearranged his expression before he spoke.

"Access is the first step. Trust is the second." The older man turned aside and contemplated the Capitol dome again. "I'm lookin' for the third step here, boy," he added softly, "the one that gives us control."

"They make their own decisions at that enclave in Hawaii, Senator. Control isn't possible."

"Um. Direct control... maybe not, son. But you're smarter than that. I've seen you in action. You're slick."

"I've been working toward getting control, Senator."

"Work on it harder, son."

The Senator stared at him.

I have to do whatever he wants. I know it. He knows it. But he still toys with me. Ah, power.

"You gonna do it, boy; for the good of our country, you gonna get control..." The Senator gave him a toothy grin, crocodilian beneath empty eyes and coiffed silvery hair. "Whatever, however, you gonna deliver those Nova sapiens kids to us, so we control their power." He paused, then slammed his palm down hard on the desk.

"Or you gonna be fucked six ways from Sunday!" he shouted. "So go figure it out, boy! And God bless America!"

Waimanu Bay, HI | Sunday 1711 HST

Her blood-oxygen nearly depleted, Eva Connard strode across the bay floor, grabbed the flickering darkness out of the muck and threw it ahead of her to the surface. She shot upward and out of the water, gasping in buckets of cool clean air, and swam over to him as the null field decayed and his body became visible.

"Josh! You okay?"

Her big brother bobbed on the waves, paddling weakly and coughing out water. Shit! Hope I didn't crack another rib. He hates that.

Joshua O'Donnell groaned and vomited.

Eva swam under him and added some buoyancy as he spasmed and vomited again. She held him around the chest, feeling his pain and easing it. No ribs broken. No lung perforations. Good.

"Thanks, kiddo," he gasped, "I needed that."

"Hang on, Josh. Don't be the tough guy. Let me finish."

As they floated on the cool waves, Eva ran her hand over his back, sensing. He took some nasty hits; especially that last one. But... liver... kidneys... yeah, good. All good. He really is incredibly tough. Relief poured out of her. She wrapped a healing intention around it and let it flow from her hands into his body. His gasping eased. He sucked in seawater to rinse his mouth and spat it out. Then he turned and smiled, his turquoise eyes the same color as the sunlit water. She watched those eyes flicker bright with a mix of pride and amusement.

"Nice improvisation, kiddo. Thought I had you there for a minute. Great ambush; never saw it coming."

"That's three times, Josh... in a row. Can we quit now?"

"I know, Sis. And I'm proud of you. But all three were close games. Too close. So we keep practicing. Sorry."

"Live fire exercises are dangerous," she objected. "Even with the safeguards of this place. With my mind locked into the gaming I might hurt you beyond my healing capacity."

"Life's dangerous, Eva. Especially yours. Or it will be shortly. You said that yourself, remember?"

Yes I remember that, Joshua. The waves rocked her soothingly as she contemplated him. And I know this is just the calm before the storm. I'm grateful we're preparing for it together, and for the love that makes you risk yourself to prepare me.

Her brother continued. "So every damn thing I can think up to throw at you, I will. Every Sunday."

"You're the deadliest creature on the planet, Josh. Who out there is going to throw something worse at me than you can?"

"Remember Lao Tsu, Eva."

She smiled at him. "Those who have knowledge, don't predict. Those who predict don't have knowledge. That one?"

"Exactly. Especially around the edges of chaos."

Edges of chaos. Yes, you're probably right; the attack will come out of nowhere. Something we can't prepare for no matter what. She sighed, splashed him, then popped out of the water to stand on its surface. Still, he's right; we have to prepare all we can.

"Come on, let's go have dinner," she said, laughing.

Eva Connard bent down, grabbed her big brother's hand and yanked him up to stand with her on the water's surface. Together they ran across the top of the gravity-flattened waves and up the black sand beach toward their enclave deep in the Big Island's volcanic rock.


Chapter 2


O'Donnell Enclave, Waimanu, HI | Sunday 1727 HST

"Well. No emergency medical for Joshua this time, it would appear," Dr. Sarah Kruse observed with more calm than she felt, "so I'll go check on my lasagna." She smiled at the images of Eva and her brother on the monitor as they passed the enclave's outer checkpoint. Her hand found the shoulder of the young woman seated at the monitor, felt its tension, rubbed it soothingly. Let it go, Elia; the terror is over for another week.

"You know how erratic her control is," Elia Baradei O'Donnell whispered as she drew her fingers across the monitor screen, touching the moving images as they started up the cliff. "She could have killed him."

"But she didn't. And her control is getting better."

"Not fast enough. Not for me."

"Nothing we can do about that, Elia. The first Nova to hit puberty, in a new evolutionary process... all we can do is watch."

"And hope."

"That too."

"I love Joshua. I love Eva."

"I know."

"It hurts, watching their... games. Their deadly games."

"We all agreed the training was necessary, both to accelerate the gene expression and to refine her control. It was unanimous. You agreed, too."

Elia sighed. "I know, Sarah, I know."


"My mind understands. My heart aches."

Sarah put both hands on Elia's tense shoulders, willing them to relax. So young. She has yet to discover how much pain a heart can have. "We have to go down this road, Elia. Eva has to be prepared. Joshua is right."

Elia let out a long breath and her shoulders slumped.

Sarah felt the knotted muscles release. Yes, good, Elia. Use your Sisterhood training; ease your mind, even if not your heart. She spoke calm reason. "And Eva herself senses the chaos is gathering faster than we thought. She knows she has to be prepared."

Elia let out another long breath. She reached up and squeezed the hands on her shoulders.

"I'm scared."

"As are we all." Sarah squeezed back. Acceptance, child. It will be what it will.

On the monitor, the view switched as a different camera automatically picked up the two approaching the middle checkpoint beside the waterfall and pool, on a ledge part way up the cliff.

"What, no blood this time?" boomed TC Demuzzio cheerfully as he walked into the Security Center. Mr. Bojangles, a large tiger-striped tomcat, slid through the door after him. It meowed, jumped onto the long console holding the monitor banks and stalked toward Elia.

"I thought for a minute I'd have to toss Bo here off the cliff in his scuba gear to haul ‘em out of the water..."

Mr. Bojangles sniffed dismissively at Demuzzio and jumped off the console into Elia's lap.

"What the hell good is a freakin' security chief when Eva blows right through the perimeter and... goes underwater, for Crissakes? Where I can't pick her up on camera? That's goddamn dangerous. I gotta have a word with that kid. I gotta..."

Sarah shot him a warning glance and watched Demuzzio's expression change as the man belatedly noted Elia's trembling shoulder and the cat staring at him over it. His cheeriness evaporated.

"Oops. You guys were really worried, huh?"

"Eva's still a wild card at this point, Thomas," Sarah responded, "late puberty, and Nova genes just starting to be expressed... a lot of raw power in this locus for a young mind to control. You know it's dicey."

"Yeah... yeah, I guess." Demuzzio rubbed a big hand across his buzz-cut hair. The cat dropped back down into Elia's lap, and the four of them turned their attention to the monitor.

Eva and her big brother had clambered up on the ledge and now stood in the waterfall.

"Rinsing off the salt?" Demuzzio guessed.

"Rinsing off sins." Elia said softly.

"Say what?"

Sarah squeezed Elia's shoulder and clarified. "Thomas, the waters of a power locus are sort of a... spiritual crèche, we think, for Novas. We don't understand why."

"A crèche." Demuzzio studied the two forms in the waterfall, and reached down to the joystick on the console to zoom the camera on them. The fading daylight played an indigo glow around Eva and bubbled out to include her brother. "Spiritual, huh?" He rubbed the top of his head again.

Brother and sister walked out of the waterfall, through the pool and toward the camera. As they got closer, Demuzzio thumbed up the audio volume, but there was too much background noise from the falls. Joshua was gesturing, Eva laughing.

"What's that about?" Demuzzio muttered.

Sarah squeezed Elia's shoulder a last time and smiled at Demuzzio as she left.

"We'll hear about it at dinner, I'm sure. I've got to check how my lasagna is doing. They'll both be starved out of their minds."

O'Donnell Enclave, Waimanu, HI | Sunday 1730 HST

"You went outside the game parameters, Eva," Joshua gestured at the bay below them, "outside the power locus. You broke the rules." I'm not angry with her, exactly, he thought, and it was a decent solution. But...

"Josh! You're the one who said there are no rules! Just survival!" She poked a finger in his still-tender right kidney and he winced. "I survived this game, bro. You didn't." She laughed.

They climbed up the cliff path as he pondered that. Her laughter is relief for me. So... The insight came suddenly. He stopped and looked back at her.

"They pulled their punches, didn't they? Your dolphin buddies."

Eva smiled. "You're not sore enough?"

Finesse? So these training games are working? Their intensity is honing her control like we hoped? His logic ran off on a tangent. "The game reality... you buy into it even though your rational mind knows it's artificial..."

"I can do that, Josh. I have to do it, really — if I don't feel a threat right down to my core, the stress of the game isn't enough to accelerate the gene incipience."

Joshua nodded. Force-feeding her own development. She believes the clock is ticking down on us and she's probably right. "So how do you do that? Fool yourself?"

Eva moved past him on the cliff path as she answered.

"Rationality for my mind is not pure reasoning, like it is for yours. And my reality is more fluid, it can be more of what I want to make it, less of what the outside world wants to make it..."

She glanced back over her shoulder.

"...when I'm in the game, Josh, I have to be totally convinced that I could be killed."

"But not necessarily that you have to kill your opponent? Thus the dolphins." He sighed. "There will come a time, Eva, when you have to kill someone to save yourself. It's almost inevitable. Will you be able to do that?"

Eva shrugged as they climbed toward the cameras around the inner checkpoint.

"I don't know. But I'm not going to find out on my own brother."

I should be grateful for that. Joshua's logic shifted back to the main track. "So you are getting more control of this... fluidity of reality? You didn't tell me."

"I wasn't sure."

"Until now?"

"Well... last Sunday's game gave me a hint."

"You could have told me."

"I didn't want to influence your design for this week's game." She shrugged again, apologetically, not glancing back. "Wouldn't be a valid test."

"And today's game? Any hints from this outcome?"

Now she did glance back, and her eyes flashed in the fading light. "Today... was good. It feels like something has flipped over inside, some kind of genetic switch."

"So the psychic effect of these games, their intensity, their reality to you... it's honing your control of the power locus?" Please confirm that for me, little sister.

"I'm... I think so. I'm still processing the feeling."

"What does it feel like?"

"Like I'm bigger than my body. Like I'm not in one single place at a time anymore."

"Can you relate the feeling to Ireland, or Irian Jaya, years ago?"

"Well... back then it was like I was riding a horse. This is... more like I'm my own horse."

In the bay just now, you went outside the enclave's power locus... or were you in two places at once? He smiled at her uncertainly. Her response read his mind.

"I wasn't even close to being outside the locus, Joshua. I pulled it along with me, I think."

"You think?"

"All right. I feel. I sense. I guess. Whatever." She looked puzzled for a moment. "Or maybe I just know."

Good. That agrees with theory. As the changes manifest, she'll be able to carry a power locus with her. Or create her own. Maybe that'll happen pretty soon. Hallelujah!

Eva leapt onto the shelf and put her hand on the concealed pad. The camouflaged rock face of the O'Donnell Enclave rear entrance split apart to admit them. Joshua followed her in.

O'Donnell Enclave, Waimanu, HI | Sunday 1735 HST

"Lasagna's out of the oven and cooling down," Sarah announced as she re-entered the Security Center. "And I suspect you're going to be right about Lara's recipe, Elia. Smells like world-class stuff to me." She looked at Elia's face then at the video paused on the monitor. Uh, oh; arguing again. She smiled at Demuzzio. "Another debate, Thomas?"

The man grinned crookedly. "C'mon, I'm not that bad; I just like to get Elia jazzed up so she makes trouble for Josh."

Elia held up a finger then dropped it down onto the console keyboard. The video replayed Joshua's question to his little sister about killing to defend herself, then paused again at Eva's ambiguous answer. The camera captured the girl's face, looking directly at her brother.

"Well... that's good, Elia," Sarah observed, "she's not going to kill Josh. See how she's looking at him! Feel better now?"

"I do, actually. A lot better, especially if one of Eva's genetic incipiencies has kicked in. We'll hear about it at dinner, I guess. But..."

"Our debate," Demuzzio returned them to the argument, "is the usual..."

"The boundaries of power," Elia added.

"It always comes down to that, doesn't it?" Demuzzio rasped.

Sarah rolled her eyes. They want to go at it. And I'm the referee again, like it or not. Ah well, it's probably healthy.

Demuzzio snorted and picked up the thread, frustration in his voice. "Josh is right, Elia. The bad guys won't have any qualms about using power. Or abusing it. So neither can Eva."

"We don't even know who the bad guys will be, TC."

"Doesn't matter, dear. We know what they will be."

She hates that condescending tone. Sarah intervened, smiling at them both in turn. "Is this a male-female thing? You and Josh the testosterone hard-cases, Elia and I the pacifiers?"

"Nowhere near that simple, Sarah, as you know better than anyone. Except maybe Eva herself." Demuzzio rubbed the top of his head again.

I think he rubs clockwise when he's impatient, counterclockwise when he's frustrated. Sarah stifled the humorous urge to start a small research project.

"Self-defense is one thing, TC," Elia continued, "that's survival. It's your anticipatory concepts, how you and Josh have been talking to Eva about pre-emptive strikes. That's what worries me. How can you possibly know whom to pre-empt?"

"Eva will know... if our projections about her capabilities are right."

"Maybe. But we don't know how fast she'll move through Nova puberty and develop those capabilities."

Demuzzio shrugged. "So in the meantime... both of them together... Josh's rationality and logic, Eva's empathy and insight..."

"Even so, her judgment can't possibly be perfect. Neither can Joshua's. And, TC..." Elia struggled for a way to breach Demuzzio's stubbornness.

The man shrugged again, dismissively. "So mistakes will be made. It's inevitable. Collateral damage. Happens in war all the time."

"We don't want this to be a war," Elia said gently. And..."

Sarah saw doubt flicker across the man's face. Hit him with his own practicality, Elia. He's too rigid for your moral arguments. She glanced at Elia, watched her parse Demuzzio's expression and come to the same insight.

"...and collateral damage can come back to haunt you, TC, especially in today's interconnected world. Truth flies almost as fast as rumors on the internet. Might actually bring on a war."

Demuzzio conceded. "Might."

Sarah studied him. Thomas! You're uncertain, but willing to gamble? That's new. "Another of Joshua's projections?" She put reproach into her tone. "You and Josh haven't shared, Thomas?"

"Sorry. Hot off the computers just this afternoon. Got it while you guys were busy prepping Eva. Josh was planning to go over it at dinner. Wanted me to have it in case he was... umm... laid up."

Sarah saw Elia's shoulders slump. Undercut by her husband, ouch. Dinner will be interesting.

Demuzzio continued. "The projection says whack-a-mole really is the best way. If we take out key people, one at a time, organized opposition can't get started. The wraps stay on Nova development that way, until more kids come of age, until we have more of a critical mass."

"And if we can't keep it under wraps, Thomas?" Sarah asked.

"Hey. Different ballgame." Demuzzio shrugged and rubbed his head clockwise. "Josh is working on projections for that." He rubbed counterclockwise. "As you know."

Arafura Sea, South of Irian Jaya | Monday 1811 JYT

Two men stood in the stern of the fishing boat. Ahmed watched the island of Irian Jaya recede slowly toward the horizon, framed by the boat's wake bisecting a flat glassy sea. Zurvan studied the young man's profile, debating the options. He is faithful, yes, and useful. But he is young and stupid and a zealot. A two-edged sword.

"Thank you for the scissors to trim my beard, Ahmed, and the clothing. And especially this computer. Were there any questions? Any hesitancy?"

"They obeyed instantly when I spoke the code, Mahdi. They provided all you requested. No questions."

Seven years, possibly eight for some. No degradation of discipline. Religious conditioning is a remarkable tool. Zurvan stroked the open laptop, watching it spin through its startup.

"I think the technology has advanced, Ahmed."

"I do not know these things, Mahdi. I am a simple man." He looked distrustfully at the windows unfolding on the laptop's screen.

"Ah, yes." Zurvan smiled at the young man. "As I was, in the wilderness. But now I'm back in the modern world."

"To conquer the infidel!" Ahmed quivered with excitement.

"We must use the tools of the enemy, Ahmed." Zurvan patted the laptop. "Turn their technological strength against them. This computer links to such tools. Do you understand?"

"As you say, Mahdi. Allah be praised!"

The laptop beeped and confirmed encrypted satellite communication. Even more remarkable! That infernal O'Donnell boy didn't find my backup control center. He keyed in the command to boot it up from its dormant state, and watched it come online. This will cut years off developing a new strategy. Lovely!

Zurvan studied the screen in the deepening twilight, keying through status messages as they appeared. The contact net was at least eight years old. But if all the sleeper cells followed their instructions as well as Ahmed's, and went to ground awaiting the recall signal...

"We will see, Ahmed, whether my Jaesh has been faithful, like you."

Ahmed began whispering the appropriate prayer. Zurvan let its cadence wash over him, feeling the power of the ancient symbolism, reveling in it as he considered his extraordinary good fortune. Finally satisfied with the laptop's reports, he shut it down, stretched his back and contemplated the crescent moon above the boat's running lights.

"How long to East Timor, Ahmed?"

"The captain says almost four days, Mahdi."

"The captain is to be trusted?"

"He is one of us, Mahdi; only the third circle, like me, but one of us. You spoke with him; he greeted you with the ritual."

"So he did, Ahmed, and his crewmate. But another opinion never hurts. Do you trust both of them to keep my return a secret?" Third circle... do they have the discipline?

"With my life!"

"As you have kept the secret?" he asked casually.

"Yes, Mahdi." The man's eyes flickered.

So. You haven't leaked yet. But you will. The news is too great for a zealot like you to keep to yourself. Well... you can serve me now in another way. Feed my hunger.

"Thank you, Ahmed. Kneel, and for your faithful service I will bestow the Prophet's blessing upon you."

"Mahdi! I am unworthy!"

"Nonsense. You have been faithful. Kneel."

As Zurvan held one hand on Ahmed's curly head, his other silently slipped one of the boat's fish-gutting knives out of its holder. The blessing completed, he plunged the blade into the back of the young man's neck, angled up under the skull, quick and paralyzing.

In one smooth motion he pulled the head up and slashed across the carotid artery, then lifted the body quickly away and over the stern. A few drops of blood splattered the rail. He bent over the railing in simulated prayer, presenting only his robed back to the shocked captain, concealing a near-orgasmic expression of pent-up relief. His forefinger rubbed a spot of blood off the rail. He licked the finger and smiled. The sharks will enjoy you, Ahmed.

Then Zurvan turned and walked to the white-faced captain and mate. "Ahmed would betray us." He arranged a sorrowful expression. "It was necessary. He died in the grace and mercy of Allah."

O'Donnell Enclave, Waimanu, HI | Sunday 2231 HST

Eva Connard winced, her hand flying to her neck. What was that? She pulled her hand away and looked at it.

Elia caught the motion from the corner of her eye and turned to look. "Eva? What? You've gone pale."

"I... oh, nothing." She felt the color return to her face. That was weird.

Elia studied her. "Nothing? You sure?"

"Well... Nova hormones, maybe. I'm changing." Two realities at the same time? But that wasn't one of mine... was it?

"So we noticed. You okay now?"

"I'm fine. Come on, let's get these dishes cleaned up. I'm ready for more dessert."

"I think you and Josh already cleaned it out, with your post-game metabolisms."

The two carried dishes into the kitchen. Conversation drifted in from the deck past the partially open glass sliders, the familiar sound of an ongoing debate. They grimaced at each other, listening.

"Eva's power of love versus the world's love of power," Demuzzio was saying, "Yeah, yeah, Sarah, I've heard that before. I know what you mean, but..."

Joshua jumped in. "It's a fantasy. Compassion is fine, but it has to be reserved for those not trying to kill you."

"Aside from that thing three years ago, the world's been very quiet, Joshua. And that was an attempt on you, not Eva." Sarah's voice went soft.

"Eva was the real target, Sarah. I was just an inconvenient obstacle. And from our own government, for crying out loud."

"Rogue elements, Joshua."

"Sure, but some of them probably are still out there. TC's right. Whack-a-mole is the best strategy."

"Do unto others before they do unto you?" Sarah's voice developed an edge.

"Yes. Before word about the Nova development leaks out."

"Best defense is a good offense." Demuzzio jumped into reinforce Joshua. "And I am your security chief, you know." His voice went flat.

Sarah's tone hardened. "Spare me the platitudes, Thomas. You know it's not that simple. And you certainly do, Joshua, with all your logic, all the probabilistic projections of your array of supercomputers."

Silence for a long moment then Sarah continued.

"And forgetting the moral dimension for a moment, you know Eva has trouble even swatting a fly."

"The games are conditioning her," Joshua replied.

He sounds uncertain, Eva thought. Well... so am I, brother. But I'm trying it your way. We'll see.

"Is that what these games are really about? Conditioning?" Sarah's voice went softer. "Joshua, you can't turn Eva into an executioner. She's not a soldier like you."

Silence lasted for another long moment on the deck outside, then her brother spoke in grudging acknowledgment.

"So give us an alternative, Sarah. To neutralize those who want to either destroy or control the new species."

"Empathy. Compassion."

Demuzzio barked a response. "He means a viable alternative."

Sarah's long sigh was audible, wafted into the kitchen by an errant night breeze off the bay. "Thomas, there's historical precedent. Jesus turned the other cheek."

"Yeah? You remember what happened to him?"

Inside the kitchen, out of view of the darkened deck, Elia and Eva exchanged glances. Eva yelled out through the sliders into the suddenly contemplative silence outside. "Hey, anybody want more dessert? We found some macadamia nut pie!"

Mr. Bojangles stalked in from the darkened deck and meowed at them. Eva crouched down and picked up the big tomcat. "Some dessert for you, Bo?"

He nuzzled her cheek and purred. She nuzzled him back.

"Or did you want to tell me about the Jesus alternative?" she whispered into the soft fur of the cat's neck.





Author Bio

Lee Denning is the pen name of a father-daughter writing team. Denning Powell has been a soldier, scientist, engineer and entrepreneur.

Leanne Powell Myasnik is a psychologist, poet and mystic.

He lives on the East Coast, she on the West. They correspond. With love. And hilarity.

TTB title: Hiding Hand
Monkey Trap
Splintered Light

Author web site.




Splintered Light Copyright © 2012. Lee Denning. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.


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  Author News

Hiding Hand is an Award-Winning Finalist and Honorable Mention in the category of Fiction - Science Fiction in the ForeWord Magazine 2008 Book of the Year Award and a finalist in the "New Age Fiction" category of the National Best Books 2008 Awards, sponsored by USA Book News.



Praise for Monkey Trap

"...The first volume in a projected trilogy presents a cast of convincing characters and a compellingly paced plot. Denning, the pseudonym of a father-daughter writing team, uses quick changes of scene and character-building flashbacks to create an sf adventure that combines hard science, mysticism, and alien contact. For most libraries." Library Journal





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