I've just completed my most recent book. I'm currently looking for a publisher but am also thinking about self-publishing. Here's the first chapter. Drop me a line and let me know what you think. If you're interested in reading more, sign up for updates (at the bottom of this page) and I'll keep you up to date. Thanks!
It is difficult to believe that it has only been ten years since the transdimensional door was invented. The world had finally recovered from the threat of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War and was full swing into worrying about Global Warming and the very destruction of the Earth herself. Was it literally overnight that the subway systems of New York, Paris, and Tokyo were replaced by the Global Nexus? Was it just another two years before the car, the birthright of every Los Angelian, was usurped by the T-Door? Has it truly been five years since any politician has warned of pending war with the Middle East over oil? What is this world we find ourselves in where children play dodge ball in the middle of Times Square?
It is beautiful.
– Wired Magazine, “The T-Door Turns Ten”, March 2032
The first time I see Skylar, he is plummeting from 12,000 feet.
His face is pulled tight by the wind, his cheeks pressing up towards his ears and lips spread into an impossibly wide grin. Though I can hardly see his eyes, blurred out of focus by the goggles and vibration of the camera on his helmet, I can’t help but find the unrestrained enthusiasm of this man captivating.
“Here I come!” his voice bellows through 1000W speakers.
I look around the living room of the posh New York penthouse I’m crammed into with a hundred other people. We all watch the wall-sized monitors that show us a close up of Skylar’s face on the left, what he is seeing on the right, and a long shot of the clouds above San Francisco’s skyline. Everything is being streamed to the Internet, and I’m here to track how fast it spreads as part of my PhD thesis.
The people around me jostle for a better view of the screens, and I pull my drink back to keep from spilling on myself. “Excuse me, Karen,” says the producer/investor/groupie, whatever the hell he is as he bumps into me. I’m surprised he remembers my name. He had tried to engage me earlier in his protracted prowling. I wasn’t the first woman to brush him off this afternoon. Nor was I the last.
I see myself reflected in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors to the left. At 27, I thought I would fit in with this twenty-something crowd but my conservative black cotton skirt and blouse give me away compared to the style-whore extravagance surrounding me. Leather minis and sheer. Wing tips. Tight, short sleeves. Flared slacks with cut-off boots. And that gawd awful heart-shaped cleavage that’s making a comeback.
“Ready to deploy?” I look down at the grand couch facing the triple-screen theater. A young man — god, he might actually still be a teenager — dressed in jeans and a “Journey Lives” shirt sits in front of three laptops. He speaks into a headset as his fingers race over multiple keyboards. Beside him sits JaxPott, the current overlord of the rap scene. This is his penthouse, his party, his inane publicity stunt.
“Come on, Skylar!” JaxPott shouts into his own headset. “Show us what you got!”
“You can still join me, Jaxman,” says Skylar, his voice booming throughout the room.
“What? You think I’m crazy like you?”
“I guess not,” says Skylar. He smiles even wider, his teeth bisecting the huge monitor. “Punch it, Rick.” The kid tech on the couch raises his hand dramatically. The crowd whoops. I feel my body tense. And his hand comes down.
Time slows as I watch. On the center screen showing the long shot, we can see a yellow bird appear as the sculpting wings unfurl from around Skylar. At the same time, Skylar jerks ahead with a burst of speed from the ‘Zephyr’ wind engine we’ve been told he’s wearing. It’s a new design as well, using a transdimensional door connected just behind an actual jet engine. Basically, it’s like he’s tied a 747 to his back. Insane. As he blasts forward, the screen with Skylar’s point of view shows him rushing towards the ominous white of a cloud. Then it is just white as he plunges in.
On the screen with the long shot, the cloud around Skylar is blown away in the wake of the Zephyr. Skylar swoops around the cloud, the wings slicing into the white like a giant spatula shaping frosting over a cake. A sudden cut to the right, then up and over to smooth out a chunk off the top.
“Hey! My hair’s not that short,” laughs the rapper into his headset.
“Who’s the one who tells me not to bother the artist while he’s at work?”
“Okay, my off.”
I shift my focus to the screen showing Skylar’s face. I can’t tell for sure, because his skin is pulled back tight, but I’d swear that he’s clenching his teeth in pain. The crowd presses in around me, and I have to grab the couch with my free hand to keep from falling.
As I brace myself against the couch, I look down at the tech and his laptops. One display shows a grid of a man with a huge set of wings. I look at the screen showing Skylar’s face again. I can only imagine the forces being put on his body by this contraption.
Skylar blasts forward, circling the patch of cloud over and over again. His motion isolates and condenses a column of white from the rest of the cloud. A few more cuts around the cloud and it begins to take the rounded form of a human head. Then Skylar soars high above the cloud and cuts back in sharply.
Skylar’s scream is drowned out by the cheering in the room.
I wince. That doesn’t sound like the typically primal war cry of masculine stupidity I’m used to hearing when I walk by the fraternities after a late night at the library. I lean over the couch and shout above the noise to the rapper. “He sounds like he’s in trouble!”
“Skylar in trouble?” laughs JaxPott. He stands from the couch. Suddenly I am dwarfed by his imposing bulk. He has power, this man. Tremendous power. I shrink back, regretting calling attention to myself.
JaxPott turns his back to me. “Skylar?” he says, facing the wall of monitors. “There’s a little lady here who thinks you’re in trouble.”
As I bristle at JaxPott’s demeaning words, the face on the screen, I swear, it suddenly focuses on me. Skylar’s eyes are like electric ice, their sharp off-worlder blue, piercing through me. No, not through me. They are intensely aware of me.
I am seen.
I jerk back, spilling my gin and tonic on my blouse. Dammit! But no one around me notices. For the crowd cheers as Skylar bursts from the side of the cloud, wings in tight. The vapors erupt, swirling into myriad wisps in his wake.
Skylar plunges down then swings back up into the emerging head’s neck. A heartbeat later he shoots out the other side of the cloud, creating another eruption of white plumes. One more downward loop and then back up again for a tight series of twists around the circumference. Each turn buffets the cloud, sculpting curves.
In seconds, the face of JaxPott emerges, unbelievably.
“Beautiful,” says the woman next to me. And it is.
Skylar enters the cloud again, then rises from its crown, white tendrils flowing behind him. And then even the hair is perfect.
“It looks like me!” shouts the rapper, jumping in excitement. “That’s me in the sky!”
The room erupts in cheers and applause. Skylar continues to rise high above the cloud until his speed slows and he stalls, hanging over the world. Then, leaning to one side, he aims downward. Wings pulled in, he gathers speed.
Suddenly the wings burst out, catching the sun. They become a yellow blur as Skylar spins tight loops ripping to the left, then right, as if there are two of him, now three, now a whole flock of Skylars locked in a furious dance of motion and color.
The room is speechless. All I can hear is the windstorm from Skylar’s microphone.
Broken from the spell, I notice the tech’s laptops. On the screen with the tiny man and his huge wings, I watch as the wings are superimposed within a flashing red gridwork. Blood red.
“Skylar!” yells the tech.
But the warning comes too late. The air is rent with the sound of fabric tearing at the speed of terminal velocity, shaking the glass coffee table and windows. The screens showing Skylar’s face and his point of view go solid blue with the message “No Signal”. The room becomes unearthly quiet, all but for the alarm. Only the center screen is still active, the one with the long shot showing JaxPott’s laughing face etched in the clouds as Skylar drops, his wings torn free and left behind.
“Skylar!” yells the tech again. “He’s not answering,” he tells the rapper. “I can’t tell if he’s conscious!”
I came to this party to study the cutting-edge of viral marketing. I can’t believe I am about to see a man die.
I turn away, not wanting to watch Skylar plummet to the ground on his fall from grace. ‘Death is a sacred moment,’ my father used to say, ‘between a man and Yahweh.’ He’d even sent my mother and the rabbi out of the hospital when he died. I’ve often wondered why it was so important for him to die alone.
The tech rants “I’ve killed Skylar!” and pulls at his hair. The rapper stands frozen, his eyes locked on the screen. I look from face to paralyzed face throughout the room. It seems wrong to me, all of these people egging the daredevil on and then being distressed when he is about to epically fail. No, that’s not what seems wrong.
The wings failed only after he completed the sculpture.
I laugh aloud. Several heads turn my way in astonishment. The dismay in their eyes, it almost shakes my belief. But no, those brilliant blue eyes on the screen that had looked through to me, they had also allowed me to look through to him. Of course he has a backup plan. You don’t just jump out of a plane with only a jerry-rigged jetpack and rickety set of fabric wings designed by some socially awkward geek whose idea of meeting women is going online to the tavern in Wizards and Warriors.
“Skylar in trouble?” I say. And I leave it at that.
As Skylar plunges towards the skyscrapers, I watch to see if faith in my judgment – for that’s what it is, I realize – will waver. And I wonder if there is a point at which I will allow the pressure of doubt to trigger me to abandon what I feel has to be true: This is all part of the plan.
Halfway to the ground. Plenty of time for him to recover. Still falling. Not just a dot on a screen but a human life. Three quarters of the way. Approaching the threshold of miracles, the impossible. Seeing in my periphery half the people around me turn away, unwilling to witness the reality of what they believe to be true. Time slows, the moment stretching like taffy, pulled longer and farther, growing thinner and more translucent, about to snap at the point of no return…
My brain first registers the catcalls of excitement, relief, and disbelief mixed together. Next it sees Skylar suddenly swooping upwards, just avoiding the ground. Finally, I can feel my own body and the relief that splits my face.
“I knew you were just foolin’ with us,” JaxPott shouts at the screen.
Really. Though it is probably true now, the rapper’s past already rewritten. I consider my own reaction. In this moment, the relief I feel makes me question if indeed I held faith. I can’t tell whether I doubted at the last moment or if this is all part of the alchemical reaction when faith transforms into knowledge. For me too the moment is gone, already rewritten in a surge of adrenalin and other hormones that create havoc with my logical mind.
Bright blue bursts forth, engulfing Skylar’s yellow jumpsuit. A parachute. It slows his cannonball trajectory, dips, then sweeps back and forth. The screen suddenly shifts to a shot of the parking lot at Fisherman’s Wharf as Skylar drops in. Exactly where he is supposed to land, I realize as I register the cheering crowds held back behind police lines. The sneak planned everything. Two men rush from a nearby EV to help Skylar out of his chute. They try checking him but he walks away from them.
I’m still not used to the bizarre look of EVs. So much has changed in the past ten years, so quickly. Instead of the long red fire truck with ladders and hoses I grew up with, modern emergency vehicles look more like souped-up golf karts with three transdimensional doors on both sides and the back. Blue doors open directly onto a critical care center. Black doors lead to a ready police task force. Red is for fire. I remember when the White House announced that the new EVs would be launched in Washington DC. I was an undergrad, and a fire had broken out in the medical building. The red door opened and men poured out of it like a troop of clowns jumping out of a small circus car, huge, strong men in full fire gear and tiny little water guns in their hands. At least that’s what the guns looked like until they were turned on. Each firefighter had braced himself against a strong wall or tree and then thrown the switch on his gun. If they hadn’t taken this precaution, the pressure from the eruption of water would have knocked them back. These weren’t toys. They held miniature transdimensional doors whose other side was submerged in a reservoir under a thousand feet of water. They could kill a man if used improperly, and had.
Skylar reaches the EV. Next to the vehicle is a standalone transdimensional door. Skylar opens the plain white door.
I turn from the screen to see one of the doors in the living room open at the same time. Skylar stands in the doorway, the cheers from Fisherman’s Wharf mashing with the applause in our New York penthouse. As the blue parachute billows behind him, I can finally see his face, clear of goggles and undistorted by terminal velocity winds. He looks young, maybe 24, but I’ve seen his type before. Athletic, healthy eater, non-smoker, only occasional drinker. They’re always older than they look. I figure him for 29, 30 tops. Then I notice his yellow jumpsuit. For this kind of publicity stunt, I would expect it to be covered with corporate logos. There are no promotional patches on him except for a large smiley face and the words, “Happy Day!” Now that I can respect.
Skylar grins as he scans the cheering room, and a hot breeze blows in, hitting my face at the exact moment Skylar’s eyes cross mine. He stops his scan, cocking his head slightly to the side. Then he stumbles to the left as JaxPott pushes through the crowd and engulfs him in a bear hug.
“You had me there for a minute,” says the rapper. “I thought you were a goner. Wicked prank.”
“I wasn’t pranking,” says Skylar as he holds my eyes for another moment. Yeah, right. Then he says, “Where’s Rick?”
Attention turns to the tech. The kid is holding his head and, in the slice of silence following, releases a deep sob. Skylar rushes past a young man holding his hand up for a high five and jumps over the back of the leather couch.
“I thought I’d killed you. When the wings tore off…”
Skylar laughs. “It was beautiful, Rick. Just a few more tweaks and they’re perfect.”
“There at the end I gave them all I had to see what they were capable of. You know there’s going to be some joker out there trying to cut the turns tighter than you thought possible. I wanted to see if we could do anything about it.” Skylar puts his hand on Rick’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean for you to worry.”
There’s a brief silence before Rick lifts his head. His expression is calm as if all the anxiety he’d been holding has just vanished. I have never seen this happen before. Anxiety seizes your body against your will, fills your thoughts. Letting it go takes me hours, days if my mother’s involved.
“Where’s the champagne!” shouts Skylar, standing and hauling Rick up with him. In moments, waiters walk out with trays of empty flutes and several magnums. JaxPott grabs one of the huge bottles and hands it to Skylar to open. “Watch out!” and the cork shoots across the room. The crowd converges on them.
Now it’s time for me to get to work. I give my drink to one of the waiters and pull out my tablet to start taking notes. I pick a spot where I can watch the crowd, near the French glass door overlooking the white sands of a tropical beach. Here I am, a sprawling New York penthouse view through the windows in front of me, the Caribbean ocean behind me, and an open door on the opposite wall that leads out onto the bay in San Francisco. “You are here” has taken on a totally different meaning in the last decade. Am I at sea level or hundreds of feet above city streets? Place has lost its meaning, as have concepts like country, neighborhood, and home.
I need to get focused. I bring up my Notes application. My goal is to be able to draw a correlation between the experience of an observing crowd (i.e., those actually present at an event) and the infection rate of a viral message. I begin quietly taking notes about what people are talking about, how often they look at either Skylar or JaxPott, the topic they bring up first when they change groups, and other standard indicators. Later I’ll download this data to the servers running the software I have tracking the spread of the video of Skylar cloud sculpting – how many new eyeballs it captures each minute, propagation speed of each related post, number of steps it takes to reach the top thirty trend spotters, etc. I’m hoping to get some solid data today. I need to if I want to have any hope of completing my PhD before I’m 30.
“You’re the one who thought I was in trouble, aren’t you?”
I turn to find Skylar standing behind me. The gears of my mind slip a few teeth, the visions of my graduation overrun with embarrassment. I open my mouth to speak.
His preemptive words have a strange quality to them. They actually sound sincere and don’t feel like an attack at all. But I can’t help but feel the indignation rise within me, making the area just below my neck uncomfortably hot. I hate being spoken over.
“I did not think you were in trouble,” I say more fiercely than I want to.
Now I feel my anger firing up. This always happens. The hotshot jock notices that I’m not falling over him, so he tries to pick me up by setting me off balance. Like that’s going to impress me.
He says, “I could see that when I walked in.” He tries his disarming smile again. I’m not having any of it. “I knew when the radio went out that people were going to worry. Except for you it appears.”
So I saw past your gimmick. That’s what impresses you? I say, “Pretending to fall is hardly what I would call a sublime prank. More like mere spectacle.”
Skylar nods. “I see.”
And then I see too. He is telling the truth. It wasn’t a prank. I suddenly feel anxious…I swallow the feeling down.
“You’d already finished sculpting the face. If there was going to be a problem, it would have happened before that.”
“There was a problem,” says Skylar. “The wings broke under the strain.”
And I hate it when guys purposely manipulate my emotions. “You don’t strike me as so crazy to have trusted your life to just that contraption. Or have I vastly overestimated your sanity?”
“I was testing them. I hoped the wings wouldn’t break, but I needed to see their limits.”
I consider my options of what to say next. I could insult him. I could just ignore him. I could also tell him the truth that I really didn’t care and had serious work to do.
He says, “You make me want to show off.”
Now just how the hell do I respond to that?
I say, “Why are you talking to me? Isn’t there someone at this party who would love to spend the afternoon listening to you talk about your exploits? So I saw through your stunt. Big deal. It was logical. As was waiting until the last minute to save yourself. It pumps up the drama beautifully, boosting the tension to a whole new level. And that’s it, isn’t it? It’s all about the show for you. If there isn’t an audience, what would you do?” I step back and look at him in his obnoxious yellow jumpsuit. “What if the world didn’t love you and gawk over your every move? Every single person. So you hone in on the one woman who isn’t knocked off her feet by your obvious brilliance.”
Skylar blinks. “Wow,” he finally says.
Even in this he is irritating. His ‘wow’ isn’t the wow of self-realization that all this is true about him. His wow is…I can’t tell what his wow is.
“No other words?” I give him another chance to contradict me. He doesn’t. I shake my head. “You remind me of a T-Door.”
Skylar raises an eyebrow at this. “A transdimensional door? Really? How?”
“You know how you can look through a T-Door and see what’s on the other side as if there’s nothing between you and it? But there is something. That moment when you’re between doors and the world goes ‘Zzztt.’ It’s like you’re here and then suddenly you’re someplace else. That’s what you’re like. That Zzztt. The part of a T-door no one really thinks about.” Now if that doesn’t shake you off…
“Someplace else,” mumbles Skylar, as if he is suddenly in another dimension. Zzztt. “Give me a minute,” he says, stepping away. Then he adds quickly, “Make that 40 minutes. Maybe a few more, a few less.”
I watch him walk away, now more surprised than annoyed. He is clearly retreating from my brush off, but I’ve never seen it done in such a way. Certainly, I’ve experienced abruptness, everything from “Excuse me, I have to talk to that person over there” to a silent stare and walking off without another word. But “Give me a minute”?
I watch as he walks to the door connected to San Francisco. He shuts it and puts his back to the closed door. For a moment, I think he is looking at me. Then I see that his eyes are angled past me and that he is looking at the door onto the beach behind me. His right hand comes up, marking lines in the air. He smiles as he removes a light blue device from his pocket.
Turning, he reaches up and pulls off the white T-Door controller over the threshold. Then he walks towards me. I freeze. He keeps smiling as he passes me as if laughing at some internal joke. He stops in front of the French door onto the beach and reaches up for its controller.
“Whoa! Whoa!” says JaxPott, pushing his way through the crowd. “What are you doing? I paid a lot for this view.”
“It’ll be okay,” says Skylar as he removes the controller from the wall. The beach behind the glass fizzles out, replaced by unpainted drywall. I’m intrigued. I’ve never actually seen someone mess with a T-Door like this. It never occurred to me that you could.
Skylar holds the blue controller back-to-back with one of the white controllers. Both controllers briefly flare. “Aw, man,” says JaxPott. He pouts like a five year-old who has just dropped the ice cream from his cone.
Skylar places the white controller back over the French door. Cutting back across the room, he places the blue controller over the door that led to San Francisco. The glass of the French door flickers and the unpainted drywall behind it is replaced with the lighter grain of wood. Then the French door opens as Skylar opens the wooden door.
Several of us look through the door that used to open out onto the beach. Through it we can see the backs of our own heads. The door in the door shows us again, with Skylar’s own face in the background visible just over his shoulder, his head over that shoulder as well, and so on until his face is so small I can no longer see it. A man in a red sports coat and his fifty regressive duplicates wave to themselves. Even though I’ve seen this infinity effect before in a carnival funhouse, it still feels new to me.
Skylar walks through the door. As he does, he nods as if he has confirmed something.
“Hey JaxMan!” he calls to his dejected friend. “Do you have any climbing equipment?”