Sorry for the miss last week. I had a space cadet moment with the #TuesdaySerial collector. Chapters will be posted weekly from now on.
Third Dimension, Earth, Southeastern United States
Debtra had been born before, five times in fact. An old soul, she remembered each time – the mess, the cold, the slap in less enlightened times. Arriving as an adult and having to stand on her feet right away as the swirling colors resolved into familiar shapes, that was odd. She was grateful for a steadying hand under her elbow, attached to a blur that resolved into Professor Homily.
"The first time is the hardest," he said with a wink.
She blushed. Was he flirting with her? Had he noticed when she'd brushed against him in his office?
"It's certainly different." She took a deep breath and went through the mental checklist they'd all had to memorize on the first day of Soul School to make sure that her manifestation functioned properly. All systems – even reproductive – signaled "Go!"
The scene in front of them screamed, "Stop!" A marble pedestal stood empty atop a flight of granite stairs. Everything in a twenty foot radius sparkled with a film of bronze and black dust. Shards of the same material lay scattered around the base of the pedestal, some shining with a slimy red substance.
An ambulance with flashing red and white lights stood nearby, and Debtra could feel the hum of the motor through the soles of her athletic shoes. A still figure lay draped with a sheet on a stretcher beside it, and red droplets stained the white material. That grisly detail didn't catch Debtra's attention so much as the young man standing beside it. He wore a blue suit and white shirt, both already wrinkled in the humidity that caressed her own skin. He listened attentively to the uniformed woman who spoke with him, but his eyes darted to the still corpse. The set of his cheeks and mouth said, "professional," but his eyes said, "human" and possibly "new soul."
"What do you see?" asked Professor Homily.
Debtra reminded herself that she was here as a student in spite of the memories of her five previous lives pressing on the back of her mind. "A mess."
He chuckled. "It would seem so."
She looked at him more closely. He had been so tense in his office, especially after the mention of Forsyth – whoever that was – but now he appeared relaxed and happy, almost relieved. He appeared the same in his white shirt, grey suit, and black loafers, but now he wore glasses. Still handsome, she noted, with a rugged, ageless face. She wondered how her own manifestation appeared and fought the urge to find a mirror. Sometimes first Plunges could rearrange things or make clothing disappear, hence Old Souls' dreams of appearing naked in random places.
"It looks like it exploded," she ventured. "And someone was standing too close when it did." She nodded to the figure on the stretcher. She'd seen worse, but there was something about it that repelled her. That had not been a natural death or even a mundane murder.
"That was one of the volunteers who picks up trash in the park before it opens." Detectives Gurney and Troxley stood behind them, and Gurney frowned at them. "We came through the transfer point. Where the hell did you go?"
Was that another wink from Homily? "Guess we missed it."
"It's not protocol to appear out of nowhere in a public place," Troxley told them.
"Sorry," Homily said, but Debtra could tell he wasn't. "It was your transfer node, after all. Maybe it's the same problem that allowed you to barge into my office?"
"They said they'd fixed it." Troxley cursed under his breath as he texted another query to the tech department.
Gurney waved to the young man who stood by the stretcher, and after making one final note, he walked over with long, confident strides, although he stopped well short of the four of them.
"Professor Homily, Miss, ah?"
"Lacoeur," she said, picking the first last name she could think of. That one had been hers in eighteenth-century France.
"This is Thomas Pickering, our in-dimension detective who will assist you with the investigation."
"Oh, it's not you?" asked Debtra.
"No, we're the agency that handles things on the other side," Troxley said. "Kind of like an interdimensional F.B.I. or C.I.A."
"Professor, Miss Lacoeur." Gurney nodded to each of them and then to Troxley, who pushed a button on his telephone. The two of them disappeared.
"So much for protocol," said Homily.
Thom shrugged. "Guess they don't care if there's no one to be shocked by it. Nice to meet you both." He shook their hands and gestured to the grisly scene in front of them. "As bad as it looks, it shouldn't have been enough to kill the volunteer, at least not according to the coroner's initial assessment. They'll do a full autopsy to see how he died."
"How old was he?" asked Debtra.
"About sixty," Thom said.
She nodded, surprised at the pang of jealousy. She'd never made it that long.
Professor Homily's hand on her upper arm reminded her that she was still the student in spite of her own years in the Third having added up to over 100.
"Are you okay, my dear?" he asked.
"Fine, just a little disoriented. I can see why they don't let the undergrads Plunge."
He smiled and squeezed her arm. "Just let me know if it gets too much for you. You can always go back."
She smiled through the embarrassment at having been called out in front of Thom. "I can handle it, Professor."
"Good. Now, about the statue. What do you think happened to it, Thom?"
Well, that's why you're here, Professor. They said they thought it was impossible." He lowered his voice. "They said to tell you that the prisoner has escaped."
Professor Homily raised his eyebrows. "Tell me, Thom, are you a Sensitive?"
Thom shook his head. "That's why they let me handle things on this side – I'm not squeamish."
"I see." Homily walked to the edge of the dust circle, took some on his fingertip, and tasted it. "This was a standard bronze statue, yes?"
A wave of dizziness hit Debtra, and her knees buckled. Thom caught her before she hit the concrete sidewalk.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Just a little dizzy." She looked at Homily and tried to scramble to her feet, but she was helpless as Thom lowered her into a sitting position on the ground. She closed her eyes against the spinning.
"Of course!" Homily placed the flat of his palm to his forehead. "It's all my fault, Debtra. I forgot that you need to feed your manifestation regularly in this dimension. Thom, is there a place where we could get a bite? Quickly?"
"There's a diner just outside the park."
"Excellent. Can you get her a soda or something to prop her blood sugar up so she can walk there?"
"I'll be right back."
The next thing Debtra knew, someone held a can to her lips, and she took a sip of something simultaneously sweet, bitter, and bubbly, like sweet champagne but not as sophisticated. After another sip, she opened her eyes to see that the world had stopped spinning. Thom and the Professor helped her to her feet, and she took a few shaky steps.
"What is that?" she asked.
Thom grinned and held out the red and white can. "It's called a Coke, a type of soda."
Debtra nodded and took the can, turning it to see all sides. She had learned about sodas in her Twentieth Century Trends class.
"I remember an older version of this," she said.
"Shall we?" asked the Professor. "It won't hold you for long."
She nodded and closed her eyes against the dizziness that tried to overwhelm her again. This time, when the Professor cupped her elbow, she didn't mind.
"Lead the way, Thom?"
In the back of her mind, Debtra wondered why the Professor hadn't crashed as well.
In danger of a sugar crash? This fudgy French Silk Pie with Mint and Raspberry sauces should hold you over! It was part of a recent meal at Le Vigne Restaurant at Montaluce Vineyards. To read about the rest of the day and the 2009 vintage release gathering, click here.
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