Children of the Light
Chapter 3: Hide and Seek
Copyright© 2010 by Sea-Life
Andy didn't understand it.
The rule was absolutely no presents. It had always been the rule. Birthday parties were for celebrating and for parties, but they weren't for getting presents. Birthday presents came from Mom and Dad, and always after the party was over and the guests were gone. No exceptions, that was the rule.
This was what made the brightly wrapped package sitting on the table alongside the birthday cake such a mystery to Andy. He continued to eye the package for the entire party, waiting for the joke to be revealed. Or maybe it wasn't a joke. Dad could be unpredictable, and Mom was an unfathomable mystery.
There were no candles to blow out on the cake. That tradition had ended when he was three and discovered how to use the gift to snuff them out. 'That was the year they stopped trying to hide the Christmas presents too' Andy thought to himself. Now all he did was reach out and suppress the holo field that was generating the glittery, flashing '10 — TEN- 10' that hovered above the cake top.
With cake and ice cream out of the way, Dad got everyone's attention.
"Before we sing Happy Birthday, we're going to let Andy open his present." Dave said. "Everyone here knows that birthday presents aren't something Andy and Serenity are used to seeing at their birthday parties, so bear with us please. Andy, go ahead and unwrap your present."
Andy reached out with his thoughts and felt the thin wrapping, he measured the uniqueness of it in his mind and with a quick thought, jumped it to the other end of the table, leaving the contents sitting in front of him.
"Show off!" He heard his sister say with a giggle.
The unwrapped object was ... a solid 4 inch square block of granite???
"A present?" He asked.
"A test." Hid Dad answered.
"What kind of test?" He asked.
"The kind where you have to figure out what kind of test it is." Dad answered. "You have five days."
"What do I get if I figure it out?" I asked.
"When you understand the nature of the test, you will understand the nature of the reward." Dad answered. Serenity snickered.
"You'll be ten in two years Ren, don't get cocky!" I told her.
"I already know the answer copper top, so there!" She taunted.
"No you don't, and I've asked you not to call me that." I said.
"Copper top?" Great Grandpa A.J. Asked.
"As in Duracel, as in battery, as in Double A, as in A.A. McKesson." Dad told him. "Ren has discovered a new way to annoy her big brother."
I stared at the cube for another moment. Ren probably didn't know what the test was. Probably. I jumped it to the dresser in my room.
"I'll look at it tonight. Let's play football!" I said.
We played football four on four, and the teams were pretty even. I was only eight months older than Trevor, and none of us were way bigger or stronger than the others. That was probably not going to stay true for very many more years. Ian and Kieran were both two years younger than me and they were both already as big as I was.
Trevor and I were captains, and we took turns picking until we had our teams. We ran out the front door of the house where Uncle Con 'announced' the starting line ups.
"Starting for the McKesson Marauders; Andrew Alan McKesson, Jeni Jean Anderson, Maia Patrice Poole and Grace Marie Parkin!" Con yelled, and we ran out on the grass.
"Starting for the Parkin Prowlers; Trevor Paul Parkin, Kieran Oscar Alvarez, Serenity Elizabeth McKesson and Ian Dale Parkin!" Con yelled out their names and they ran out too.
"Pick a number between 1 and 1 billion." Con said to Trev and I.
"4,137,269" Trev called.
"500,525,215.3175!" I hollered back. I heard Jeni giggle behind me.
"The number was 4! the Parkin Prowlers win the toss." Con declared.
We just laughed. Con always picked 4, and none of us really cared who won the toss.
As we lined up to kick off, I heard Grandpa Carson lean over to Grandma Carson and whisper "Does Hyannis Port ring a bell?"
I'd have to look that up later. Now it was time for football.
We played with Legion rules. We were allowed to use our gifts on ourselves only, but not on the ball, and not on the other players. If we were carrying the ball we could do Light-jumps sideways or backwards, but not towards the goal, and the ball carrier couldn't do more than one per play.
We started on defense, which was fine with me, because I had a new trick I wanted to try. We had a standard trick called the 'residual afterimage linebacker', where we jumped back and forth between two places while we waited for the snap. We cycled through the spots so fast that your eye couldn't really tell which image was live and which one was residual. Kinda like the trick of making circles in the air with Halloween glow sticks at night.
My new trick was to add a third spot to the cycle of jumps, but I popped a Light shield between me and the line as I hit first and third spot. It kept the image from building in those spots because the Light was disguising it. It looked like I was just crouched in one spot, and when the ball was snapped I zoomed in from nowhere and sacked Trevor.
"Good one!" Trev called as I helped him up.
It only worked one more time for a good play before Ren figured it out, but any game where you could introduce a new trick was a good one. We played until the adults began to think we should be getting tired, and then we stopped, collapsing onto the lawn laughing and pretending to catch our breath.
I did get a birthday present before dinner, and as usual Dad was sneaky about it.
"If you want to see your birthday present Andy, we're going to have to take a little ride."
"Okay!" I said. I stopped trying to peek in people's minds to find out what I was getting when I was four. That was the year I didn't get any presents. Dad still liked to be sneaky though.
"On horseback!" Dad called out as he jumped out of the room. I jumped right behind him to the stables at Kieran's house. Dad was already sitting in the saddle of Copper, his horse. He must've jumped straight into the saddle. He was holding the reins of another horse that already had my saddle on it.
I looked at Ranger's stall, the horse I usually rode, then back at the horse, then at Dad. He held out the reins to me.
"Happy birthday son!"
Whoopee!! My own horse! I danced a little happy dance in my head, but managed to only grin at Dad.
"Awesome Dad! Thank you, thank you!"
I took the reins and touched the horses mind with my thoughts. We tried each other on for size, and I think we were both pretty happy right off the bat.
"His name is Slider." I said to Dad. I checked the saddle and blanket for fit and made sure things were cinched up tight. Uncle Dwight always said "Treat a saddled horse like a parachute and always double check everything before you strap it on."
We only had an hour of daylight to ride in before dinner. But we road down to the Cataloochee, and followed it for a little while. Slider was happy to let Dad and Copper lead, but I could tell that he had bundles of energy he wanted to let go of, so I promised him a big ride in the morning. We picked up the pace a little on the way back and both horses were happy when we got back to the stable.
WE got the tack put away and Copper and Slider cleaned and groomed. I got a nice nuzzle from Slider, and I patted his neck before we took off for home.
Dinner that night was just family. Dad and Mom, Grandma and Grandpa McKesson, Grandma and Grandpa Parkin, Great-Grandpa A.J., Great-Grandma and Grandpa Carson, Uncle Ambrose, Aunt Ia and Uncle Aaron, Uncle Pete and Aunt Sarah, and Con and Eru. And Ian and Grace of course.
Grandma McKesson made me Grilled Lime Chicken with black bean sauce. my favorite! Trevor thinks I'm weird, but Grandma is an awesome cook so its hard to pick a favorite around her. Last year it was Mom's curried lamb and rice. Next year it'll be Great Grandma Parkin's turn. I plan on having a new favorite every year until they stop throwing me birthday parties. Maybe by then they'll figure out that I'm rotating the cooks when I change favorites.
That night, after bedtime rolled around, I sat in my room staring at the granite cube as I held it in midair in front of me, slowly spinning it around and around. The first thing I did was zoom in on it with a little augmented vision. I found it right away, as I'm sure Dad expected. Micro-etched into every side of the cube were the words. "This isn't the answer."
I had only looked to satisfy my curiosity. Depending on the mood he's in, Dad's sense of humor can be very strange. Since I had used one of Ren's old sandbox game tricks, I decided to try the other, and I began trying to coax the cube's Light signature to reveal what was connected to it. That was the first big road sign that told me I was on the right track.
This piece of rock didn't have the usual connections. If you can coax the information out, even a grain of sand at the mouth of a river can lead you back to the exact spot on the mountainside it washed down from. This one didn't have any connections leading anywhere, except one to Dad, and I expected that one. The only connection I could find seemed to just vanish into ... nowhere!
That oddness with the Light signature was the key, I knew it, but I wasn't sure why. I went to sleep with the image of the cube still spinning in my brain.
We took Slider out for a ride the next morning after breakfast. We weren't a working ranch or farm, like a lot of the homesteads we visited were, so we weren't up before sunup doing chores, but we ate breakfast every morning at eight. Mom or Dad usually cooked, unless they were gone on a trip somewhere, then it would be Shelaana. I cooked once in a while, pancakes or french toast usually. Serenity made waffles once in a while, but not much else. I knew how she worked though. She would wait until she'd absorbed the whole 'being a chef' thing and then she'd offer to cook some day and we'd all get treated to a gourmet meal.
Trevor and his Mom and Dad came over to go riding with us. Ian and Grace were going to go to a concert in Austin, Texas with Serenity, Mom and Aunt Felicia. Cyrus was going, along with an Obsidian Industries security team. Mom and Dad weren't allowed to go anywhere on Earth without a security team anymore. Trevor says its because Dad is the richest man in the world. Dad didn't say where he had to be, he was already gone by the time I got up.
We followed the Cataloochee east again, but we crossed the river early in the ride and rode through a seemingly endless stand of tall thin alder trees that seemed to fill the flats on the south side of the river. Dwight said they grew thicker on this side cause the light was better and the alders preferred the sandier soil.
"These alders go for the easy life, first to get the sun and right next to the water, but they pay a price for it." Pete said. "You almost never see one of these trees get much bigger than you see them right now, and a hard winter with some heavy rain raising the river out of its banks will wipe a good chunk of em out."
As we rode, the light from the rising sun in front of us strobed through the trees, and at the same time the reflected light from the Cataloochee did the same from our left. Since we only saw light from the moving surface of the river as the angles caught the sun just right, the timing of the two flickering strobe effects were different. It was hard to watch them both at the same time because of it. Their phases didn't match up, except very briefly once in a while, and then it seemed for just a split second like the light was coming from everywhere at once.
That's what triggered it for me. Suddenly I knew what I"d been missing last night, looking at that granite cube!
I reached out to my room and jumped the cube to me, holding it in the air in front of me, letting it spin slowly. Slider sensed my attention shift from the trail in front of us, and he stopped. Trevor looked back at me and took it in.
"Uh oh! Andy's having an elder Hurlon moment." He hollered to everyone.
I didn't notice Trevor stop and his words didn't register. My mind was focused on the cube, and the Light signature that had puzzled me so much last night. I coaxed the Light to give up its Light trails again, and this time when the one that led back to where it had started, I didn't let it disappear, I just shifted my mind a little and followed it!
It was a strange sensation, like Jumping, magnified! I fell into a spot of Light for just an instant, almost seeming like I'd gone all flat and one dimensional, just long enough for the sensation to register, and then the entire feeling slipped away, in exactly revered order.
I was still on Strider, and the two of us were on the edge of a mesa of some kind. There was a huge cliff to my left, where there had been a river seconds ago. Slider 'whuffed' a little snort, and I heard a hawk's cry from somewhere. The sun was much lower in the sky here, still in front of me, and it was barely past sunrise. I looked to my right and saw the mesa I was on stretched of to the horizon to the north.
"Welcome to Hawk's Mesa." I said to Strider as I reached down to rub his neck in reassurance.
It suddenly occurred to me after a moment that I probably had some confused and worried folks wondering what happened to me back on Meadow. I jumped Strider and I right back to where we'd started.
"He's back! He's back!" Ian and Grace began hollering in unison the instant I reappeared.
"Andy, you're not supposed to be jumping off on your own without permission, you know that!" Uncle Pete said angrily.
"I'm sorry Uncle Pete, Aunt Sarah, I didn't go jumping off. Well, I did, but not on purpose!"
"Looked like it to me, Andy!" Grace taunted.
"What was this all about then?" Aunt Sarah asked.
I realized then that in all the excitement, I'd left my cube back on Hawk's Mesa. I jumped it into my hand and held it up.
"I solved the test Dad gave me for my birthday yesterday."
We finished our ride, but with Ian and Grace along, I didn't really get to let Slider run. When we got back to the house for lunch, Dad was waiting for us.
"Good Job Andy!" Dad said, thumping me on the back, followed by ruffling my hair. "Lets eat!"
Lunch was one of Dad's usual concoctions, something he called 'Chicken Fried Steak Wraps". Chicken fried steak got cut into really thin strips and then mixed in with hash browns and wrapped in a big tortilla shell. We each got a little bowl of country gravy to dip them in. We also had some fresh pineapple, pear and peach slices in a bowl.
Everyone headed home after lunch, and I helped Dad clean up the kitchen. We got finished and Dad jumped a big package onto the kitchen table.
"Open that up." He said.
Ren wasn't around, so I didn't feel the need to get fancy. I tore the plain white paper off with my hands.
Inside the paper was a complete set of Legion armor. Except this armor had a deep emerald green everywhere that the Legion armor had sapphire blue.
"Wow!" I said, stunned.
"Take off your bracelet and try it on." Dad said.
Like the rest of the family who weren't actually Legionnaires, I had one of the 'auxilliary' bracelets that let me use the gates, and the enhanced cell phones that we got from Grandpa's company.
I pulled the bracelet off and tossed it to Dad. I had the armor on in a heartbeat.
"This is no special privilege. Everyone who can demonstrate that aspect of the gift will get the same treatment. The armor isn't for showing off, its for protection. You now have the demonstrated ability to find and jump to facets unknown to anyone else. unknown and unexplored means we don't know if they're dangerous or not. You will wear the armor whenever you are on one, no exceptions. Understood?"
"Yes sir." I said. Dad had an 'I mean business' mode, and he was in it. He locked eyes with me for a long couple of seconds.
You can't say yes and not mean it when your sharing your thoughts with the person asking. Dad's stare wasn't about honesty, it was about character. 'There are plenty of people who will say yes and mean it. But men of character do not put time limits or conditions on their promises.' he told me the first time he asked me to promise him something.
"Okay, lets go for a ride!" Dad said finally.
But when we walked out on the front porch, there was Uncle Constantine standing in the open hatch of Dare, their hopper.
"Greetings Andy!" Con said with a big smile. "I hear we're going to go add a new facet to the data banks today. Does it have an official designator yet?"
"Hi yourself Con!" I said. "So that's what kind of ride we're going on huh? I don't know about official designator, but I've been calling it Hawk's Mesa."
With Dare buttoned up and hovering 20 feet off the ground, I got to jump us through to Hawk's Mesa. We hovered in the air for a few minutes while the hopper took some initial measurements. The altimeter said we were over a mile above sea level, and the pressure and atmosphere readings confirmed it.
"Thin but breathable." Dad said, "sort of like visiting Machu Picchu. We may have some adjustment issues if we spend more than a few minutes though."
Dad and Con both had their armor on, and as we walked down the ramp onto the grassy plain of the high mesa, Dad explained the procedure.
"Your armor, just like what your Uncle Con and your Mom and I wear on missions, has built in sensors and recorders. I'll let Con give you a memory dump of the operating procedures.
As soon as we were all off the ramp I got the dump from Con's memory, and saw how to start the recorders and sensor array. I got mine going right away.
"The first thing I do is a quick scan with my mind, just to see if there are any other people in the area. We're looking clear here. Try it to the limit of your range."
I did, and saw that there was nobody within at least a hundred miles of us.
"Your suit is recording atmospheric composition, pressure, gravity, and temperature. You're also getting a reading on background radiation, UV exposure and other possibly harmful elements. Anything potentially harmful will trigger an immediate warning." Con told me.
"The suits recorders are a passive system. Turn it on and forget it is the best idea. For long range scanning we use the Long Ear." Dad said, opening a compartment in the side of the hopper.
Dad pulled a long cylinder out of the compartment. One end had three metal rods sticking out, and the other was smooth, with a flat end.
"Pop the legtennas here" He said, showing me where he pushed an inset switch "and set it on the ground. It'll self adjust at that point if the ground is uneven."
"Legtennas?" I asked.
"They're legs before you launch it, but when it hits its operational altitude they get used as an antenna array for several of the sensor systems, so we call them legtennas." Con said.
"At this point you hit the power up here" Dad showed me "and then you can either manually enter a delay time or hit the go button to initiate an immediate launch."
Dad hit the go button and the device zoomed off into the midmorning sky, disappearing above us in the blink of an eye.
"Tell your suit to go into comm mode, like this." Con said, showing me his thoughts. I got comm mode going. "and tap into the Long Ear like this." I saw that procedure in his thoughts and followed it as well. I saw a row of telltales pop up into the holo-display the comm gear had popped up in front of my eyes.
"It starts listening for radio broadcasts, radar nets, grav signatures and other signs of technology immediately. If it hits anything, your telltales will pop up a warning indicator, and an audible alarm will sound." Dad said.
I followed them through the entire Long Ear deployment and evaluation procedure. It only took ten minutes. Dad said the original Long Ears took 30 minutes just to hit its target altitude, but the newer ones were much faster.
We got a series of 'quick looks' on the way up. Low resolution still shots that popped up on the holo-display behind the telltales. The telltales went almost transparent when that happened, but Dad said they would go solid the minute they detected any change.
By the time the ten minutes had passed we began to notice the thin air.
"Its a good thing you didn't stay very long on your first visit. I doubt that horses would do well up here." Dad said.
With good feeds coming in from the Long Ear we didn't linger any longer outside. With Dare buttoned up and the internal air pressure back up to normal levels we checked out the rest of the data.
"Definitely no signs of civilization, high or low tech. We've got a strip of lowlands between this high mesa and the ocean that averages about a mile wide as far as the Long Ear can see, but this isn't intended to give global or even full hemispheric coverage."
That would have to wait for one of the Legion teams to do a survey. I knew that. We hopped to Obsidian and went through the official process of dumping a new facet into the data banks. When it came time for the official designator, I decided to be brief, and just called it Mesa. Dad and Con shook my hand and congratulated me.
Dad and I went to the Garden for a session after we were done at the admin center, and I got a good lesson on the use of my new suit and the hopper.
At dinner that night I got congratulations all around. Mom, Dad and Con told me they made one trip a week, and I could go on one a month with them.
"Because you can find and jump to new facets does not mean you have permission to do so Andy." Mom said. "Once a month, we'll let you do the finding, but for now that's it."
Restricting my ability to find and jump to new facets was not that big a deal to me. I had a new Horse!
After a week of going for morning and afternoon rides with Dad or Uncle Pete or some other adult, The decision was made that Slider and I were comfortable with each other, and I was finally allowed to ride alone.
Once I had permission, I began jumping over to Darin and Esau Jacobson's farm to ride with them. Darin was the same age as me, and his brother Esau was thirteen. Their farm was in a nice stretch of country a little southeast of what would have been Meridian, Mississippi on Earth. They were growing some sort of barley or something I think, and raising a nice herd of Dairy cows. Darin and Esau rode the 'line' looking for strays and predators, but it was pretty easy work most of the time. Every once in a while they'd come across a piece of fencing that needed work, and we'd wind up pounding posts, digging holes or twisting wire. It was dirty, sweaty work when we found it, but most of the times it was just riding along, talking. Still, Mr. Jacobsen said we were earning our keep. Mostly I just enjoyed the riding and listening to Esau's endless line of jokes. Some of them weren't all that funny, but I laughed at the good ones and shook my head at the rest.
Esau tried bullying us a little when we first started riding with him, but it didn't last too long after the first time he tried to get physical.
Dad's right that being a McKesson doesn't mean we're born with special privileges, but being a McKesson does mean there are opportunities. Taking Uncle Cyrus and Uncle Chet's self defense classes since I was five was one of them.
Esau turned out to be pretty happy to have us along once he got the idea that he wasn't going to have to babysit us. The thought of being saddled with two 'babies' was what made him try bullying us in the first place. If anything, Darin was probably more serious minded and hard working than he was anyway.
Darin had been born right there on the ranch, and had never even seen snow, so I got to bring them up to the smoky mountains the next winter and teach him how to build a snowman.
The initial survey of Mesa was done by Team One. The data feeds from the survey platforms were spectacular. Mesa contained a single island super continent, and the entire coastline duplicated the small section we saw at our arrival point. There were seven other major river canyon systems that ran to the sea. None quite as spectacular as the one we'd spotted during our initial trip.
The high plains were not featureless. There were hills and mountains, including a range with rugged peaks of near Himalayan magnitude in the far northeast.
I was too busy with other events to pay much attention. That unknown face we'd left a faint tag on in Pittsburgh years ago during the Howard Dexter ruckus resurfaced in Dearborn, Michigan at the ground breaking ceremony for the first Obsidian Motors assembly plant.
After ten years of refusing to compete against American auto makers, we couldn't ignore the closure of over half the Ford, Chevrolet and GM plants in the country. We decided to buck current trends by making cars in America with American labor. To be honest, we did it because we could afford to. First of all we were able to knock the costs of licensing the fuel cell and reactor technologies right off the top. We didn't have to pay to use our own patents and technologies.
There were a lot of future long range plans that hinged on the production from that plant, and we didn't much care if we made a penny from it for the next ten years. It may have been Dad and I standing in front of the sign holding the golden shovels, but it was A.J. McKesson's hand and mind that had hatched this scheme and mapped out the road to achieving it.
With Dad and I both attending, security was out in force, including both Chet and Cyrus as well as Sylvia and Tony Herrera. In the past ten years the couple had moved completely into our inner group, received the basic training on Obsidian and eventually moved completely over into the category of 'awakened'. Sylvia in particular had taken to the mind training, and was recently included in the small group of people who were getting Spirit Master classes. Eru and the twins were currently working with Sylvia, Laik Hulin, Porter Burgess and his daughter Ariana, and a young man from Taluat named Byl Thron.
With Chet, Cyrus, Sylvia and Tony detailed as our security for the ceremony, we had plenty of traditional support, and plenty of mental support as well. That left me free to take advantage of the situation when the tag I'd left behind in Pittsburgh was triggered.
The tag was a proximity trap wrapped around the little piece of consciousness that was 'interest in the McKessons'. It was active only when the tagged person was within 100 feet of me or Ginny. It was also very low power. So low that it wouldn't impinge on our conscious minds at all. We had set up triggers within ourselves to recognize and react to it without a conscious act on our parts. When activated our trigger jumped a tiny Light transmitter half as thick as a human hair directly under the skin, square between the shoulder blades of our unknown target's back.
Based on some of the Kri Light technology we discovered buried in the 'rabbit hole' on Autumn, the transmitter picked up any surface thoughts within a 5 foot radius and converted them to a stream of modulated Light and broadcast them out to the world, and there is no such thing as distance or direction when it comes to Light. All limitations and weaknesses are in our weak flesh and limited minds.
A person's surface thoughts generally convey all their verbalizations, sub-vocal or otherwise, as well as everything audible picked up by their hearing, even if its not consciously heard at the time. They'll even convey visuals if the person is really focusing on something.
Our faint little tag was now an untraceable tap into not only the thoughts of our unknown enemy, but every word he spoke or heard as well. On Taluat, Eru and the twins jumped up in the middle of a lesson like they'd been poked with a cattle prod when the transmitter began broadcasting. Laik described it later.
"They shot up like they were spring loaded, did a little happy dance like I'd never seen before, and then clammed up. Lesson over, time to go home now boys and girls, see you later and goodbye!"
Two days later, with all of us back on Meadow, Ginny and I got filled in on the details along with the Legion and the Directors.
"His name is Gordon Halsey. He lives on a ranch near the small town of Raton, New Mexico. This is in northern New Mexico, very near the Colorado border. He is the owner of a Colorado whitewater rafting business that offers 'luxury' guided tours of the Colorado, Snake, Rio Grand and other rivers." Eru said.
"The actual Whitewater rafting operation appears completely legitimate, and its daily operations are under the control of Diane and Roger Turner, Gordon Halsey's sister and brother-in-law. They employ about 20 other people during the peak of the season" Zaia added.
"The interesting wrinkle is the dozen or so 'ultra luxury' trips taken each year by the very rich. These are always headed by Gordon Halsey himself, and the charge is anywhere from a couple hundred thousand dollars to as much as 2 million. This is where he's getting his personal operating income." Riah continued.