A Worlds of Light Story
My name is Serenity Elizabeth McKesson. Serenity.
Except here on Terana, I am Sarina Kelvin. Sarina.
Wherever I go, Whoever I am, I am now and always, Midnight.
I spent most of my adolescence looking for the place I am now, and couldn't find it. It cleverly eluded me, frustratingly hid, just beyond my ability to detect, played hide and seek with every nuance and ability I had. I was one of the Children of the Light, dammit, traveler in Light and Dream! ... and I couldn't find my dream.
Until I gave it up. I took my big brother Andy's advice and let go of the dream, stopped trying to reshape myself into it, and I swear, in what seemed like an eye blink worth of time, it found me.
It found me in the last place I'd ever have thought, a world that seemed so exactly opposite what I sought, but there it is. On Arbor, Andy's world of Magic, I was Named. Serenity Elizabeth McKesson couldn't find Terana, but Midnight could.
I found Terana in the middle of the night. The stroke of midnight, to be precise. Fate may like to play with my family, but at least she does it with a sense of humor. Her humor is never to far away from reality's reminders though, as the sounds of squealing tires and rending metal told me.
I arrived on Terana at the scene of an accident. Two cars had collided on a back country road, and there were bits of glass and metal scattered everywhere. Nothing had burst into flames like in the movies, but the smell of leaking gasoline was in the air. I did a quick scan of the area and found a single faint life sign in the scrub brush to the south of the accident, half way down a dirt embankment. I caught her dying thoughts, and I was almost too late for even that, but I managed to grab her memories before she was completely gone. She was almost a dead ringer for me, except for her blond hair.
That was how I became Sarina Kelvin. With the sound of sirens growing louder in the distance, I worked a little with the Light, changing my hair color to match and dinged myself up with some scrapes and bruises, including a big ugly knot on the back of my head, and took Sarina's place amidst the debris on the side of the road. Sarina herself went to the bottom of the sea on far off Kite, to join the solemn wait for the end of that world. I let myself fade into self-induced unconsciousness.
I woke up with a concerned face staring down at me. A mop of curly brown hair that ran off in an unmanageable coil managed to evoke images in my mind of Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein and distracted my eye for a moment from the kind eyes and the big toothy smile. Just as my eyes were beginning to focus, that face pulled away and an older, gray haired female face slid into view replacing it.
"How do you feel?" I was asked in Teranish. I blinked in reply and smiled weakly, but didn't answer. I was given a sip of water through a straw.
"Can you talk?" Came the next question. I nodded yes and smiled wider, but again didn't say a word. I looked around and saw that there were several other people standing behind and above me besides the guy with the mad scientist hair. I smiled at everyone and laid my head back down on the pillow and told myself to go to sleep.
When I woke up I could hear the nearby clack of heels on tile flooring. I felt someone to my left and rolled my head on the pillow to look that direction. A nurse was standing near a sink with a small table, making notes on something. I raised my head in an effort to sit up and the crisp linen sheets rustled slightly as I did, catching the nurse's ear.
"Ah! You're awake!" She said, smiling down at me. "Don't try to get up. I'll fetch the doctor."
I sent my senses out then to get a quick survey of the immediate vicinity, and to quote Keanu Reeves, 'Whoa!'. I was in a room at Bayside Hospital, in Fort Richardson. I was still savoring that information and the easy manner in which I got it when the nurse returned with two people. I recognized both of them from the scene of the accident. The gray haired woman who had asked me questions and the wild haired guy I'd seen when I'd first opened my eyes.
"Good morning!" The woman said. "I'm Doctor Gloria Tompkins. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Much better, thank you." I answered. I looked past her shoulder at the mop of hair and she caught my glance.
"This is Harvey Keaton, he found you at the scene of the accident last night. Do you remember him?"
"Yes, I remember thinking he needed a haircut." I answered. They both laughed at that and I joined them.
"Do you remember the accident?" The doctor asked. I had Sarina's memories, so I did.
"Yes. There was another car. It seemed to come out of nowhere! I never even saw someone driving. Is everyone okay?"
"The driver of the other car did not survive the crash." Harvey said. "The police report says it appears he was driving with his headlights off. They think he was intending to commit suicide and you and your car were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
I thought about that for second. The first person to respond to the scene of my accident has enough pull to see the police report on the accident before the 'victim', me, is even conscious?
"Do you remember your name?" The doctor asked next.
"Where do you live?" She asked.
"I don't know." I answered. That generated a look of concern. "I was moving here from Circle Lake to start a new job. My employers are supposed to have found me an apartment, but I was going to get that information when I got here."
"Who is your employer?" Harvey said. "We should contact them."
"The Fort Richardson Metropolitan Museum of Art. My boss' name is Jack Pelham." I answered. "I have his number in my purse somewhere I think. Did you find my purse?"
"We did. Relax everything you had in the car with you has been recovered and the police have it safely stored away."
"The police again!" I said.
"Its nothing to worry yourself over. Someone died. There's always an investigation, and everything is considered evidence at first."
Again my mysterious rescuer seems to be intimately familiar with what the police were doing. I must have given Harvey an odd look. He raised an eyebrow in response. I suddenly felt a wave of forgetfulness wash over me, but I got my defenses up just in time and fought it off. Harvey the mop-head's eyes went wide.
"Excuse me for a moment, would you?" The doctor asked. "I've got to go check on a few other patients." She never even glanced at Keaton as she left.
"Well, you're quite the surprise." Keaton said the minute the door closed behind her.
"I guess I could say the same about you." I said. "Your being at the scene of my accident was no coincidence, was it?"
"No, I was trying to catch up to the car that hit you. The driver had been sent off on a task by someone and I was concerned that it would end in someone's death. I was surprised to find that one who died was the agent I was following."
"There are some big unknowns in what you are telling me. Can you make it a little clearer for me?"
"Not today. Not here. I'll see you again after you get settled in. Do you recognize that there are bad guys and good guys in the world?"
"Well I'm one of the good guys. I think you will be too, down the road, but all I can ask is that you trust me just the tiny little bit required to let this all slide for now, okay?"
"Alright." I answered.
"I usually do a nifty little disappearing trick about now, but that probably wont work with you, will it."
"No, but I"ll pretend it did if it makes you feel better."
I got a grin in return and Harvey Keaton walked out the door without another word or glance.
I slept through the night, at least as far as the nurses and doctors were concerned. In actuality I pulled my mind into a little corner of the Dream World and pored over Sarina Kelvin's memories. I hadn't gotten to them in time to get a good feel for her mind, only the memories, but they spoke volumes. No boyfriend, no friends, incredibly focused on her craft and her career. Especially since the death of her parents five years earlier. I delved into the memories of my education and training. I was an expert at art preservation and restoration. I protected expensive and ancient art objects from damage due to wear and tear, weather, age, anything that can cause damage. To a lesser degree, I worked to repair damage to the same.
I met Jack Pelham for the first time after breakfast. I was officially discharged into his care. I had to hold my hands out for him to show him they were steady.
"They said the big knot on the back of your head had them worried for a while." He told me on the way out.
"Yeah, I guess I was a bit goofy for a while right after the accident and wasn't talking. Then last night there was a momentary panic because they thought I had amnesia."
"But your okay?"
"Yeah." I said with a laugh. "They asked me for my home address, and I couldn't give it to them." He laughed along with me then.
"Because I hadn't given it to you yet."
"Exactly. I explained that to the doctor and everyone was happier after that."
The car we climbed into was interesting, as was the chauffeur who drove it. Based on what I'd observed so far in the hospital and here outside it, Terana was firmly stuck in the 1950's technologically. The chauffeur finally confirmed for me that the fashions were as well.
The apartment the museum found for me was conveniently located only a block away from the museum. It was no rat hole, but it left a lot to be desired. It was on the fifth floor of an old brownstone with no elevator. It had no washer and dryer or dishwasher, but this was the 1950's, I reminded myself.
I had no view. The telephone was the prototypical big black Ma Bell special you would expect to find in a worls stuck in the 1950's. The living room was tiny, and the bedroom was even tinier. The furniture was tacky and the walls were probably thin soundboards for my neighbors nighttime activities.
I discovered all of these things after returning from dinner at Jack's house. He and his wife lived on 'The Hill', and that was when I discovered, looking out the big picture window in their living room, that Fort Richardson was Terana's San Francisco.
Terana was so close to our Earth in so many ways it was scary. The languages and cultures were achingly similar. The histories were an interesting mix of familiar names and unfamiliar situations.
Terana had not suffered through an equivalent to World War II for example. There had been no Hitler, no Reich, no Holocaust. The bomb had not been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Communism still rose up as a concept, and Russia still felt the impact of the revolution, but China had not. Russia's communist state was large and implacable, but without an 'evil West' to rally against, it had remained solitary and insular. Many other pieces of the political and international landscape were oddly different. There was no Israeli state on this world and the equivalent to Palestine was home to the World Court and the Society of Nations, Terana's equivalent to the League of Nations that had predated our United Nations.
Their first try had worked, and was still working. There were Christians and Muslims and Hindus and a world's worth of religions and faiths, but there was almost no record of religious persecution. Racial prejudice was considered an aberration of the mind. Gender equality was the norm. The biggest difference was a difference impossible to measure, and its influence impossible to weigh.
On Terana, there were Super Heroes and Villains!
I knew this from the beginning, it was in Sarina Kelvin's memories, but it was confirmed the next morning at breakfast. There was a diner near the museum called the Telegraph and I sat and ate bacon and eggs, drank coffee and read the Bay City Clarion, Fort Richardson's primary paper, and Terana's equivalent to the New York Times.
The big overnight news had been an attack on a Brazilian ore shipment by ShatterLocke, a well known bad guy who had some sort of vibrational power that let him bust things up pretty good by making them vibrate until they tore themselves to pieces. I read the entire article, but at this point the details meant little to me, so I filed it away and read everything else. With one last swallow of the less than inspiring coffee, I folded up the paper and tucked it under my arm and headed for work.
The guard at the security station was pleasant and polite, even if his eyes never managed to make it all the way up to mine. I had 'engineered the superstructure' as Andy put it, so I had to be willing to live with the consequences. What I was wearing wasn't even particularly form-fitting. After signing a few documents and getting my picture and fingerprints taken, I had a temporary ID badge and directions to Director Pelham's office.
The receptionist at the desk in front of Jack's office introduced herself as 'Mrs. Johnson'. I never heard anyone call her anything else. She was gray haired, bespectacled and wore a white knit sweater over a dark blue print dress.
"Miss Kelvin is here, Doctor." She spoke into an intercom on her desk.
"Send her in please Mrs. Johnson."
Jack Pelham had a great office! He had an upper corner that overlooked the bay, and the space was large and open.
"Nice office!" I said automatically.
It was, but Jack's tour guide duties didn't involve his office.
"You'll have your permanent ID badge in a few days. In the meantime, your temporary ID is dated, and is good for five days. I have your keys here."
One at a time he handed me three keys. The first key was for the staff entrance. The second key for the elevators, and the third key was for the 'lab', where all the preservation and restoration work was done. I got to use the elevator key immediately and found that we were headed for level B3 according to the elevator panel. Levels B1 through B5 became accessible once the elevator key was turned.
In very short order I met the 'denizens of the deep', as they collectively referred to themselves. Lloyd Lyons and Conrad Adler were both college students. They were the 'muscle'. The guys sent to fetch things from storage and who were depended on to provide the extra hands and strength needed when things were getting set up or taken down. Rosalyn Lamont was a redhead in her mid to late thirties who was the link between our department and the Research department. Becky Sweet was a college student, and she was a carpenter, but she mostly built and repaired frames for the paintings we were working to restore. She was also responsible for disassembling incoming crates as well as building any shipping crates we needed. She seemed the very definition of perky. Tom Anselm was an odd mix. He was in his early fifties, a widower, and a chemist, but years ago he had developed an interest in the chemistry of paint, and artist's paints in particular. MAMBA, the Metropolitan Art Museum Benefactors Association, the organization that funded and directed the museum's operations, paid him far more than he could make as a research chemist to study and duplicate the paints used in the ancient masterpieces we worked on. Tom was a popular fellow in the art and museum world. MAMBA loaned him out on a regular basis.
The Lab was at the opposite end of the museum from the shipping and receiving bay, which were on level B1. The two levels below us were for long term storage of museum acquisitions. The level between us and shipping was for mounting and staging. The crew referred to it as the prep center.
My section of the Lab was divided into two distinct sections. The restoration section and the preservation section.
In addition to separate workbenches and tool and material bins, each section had its own storage area.
There was a third storage room for hazardous materials that was shared by the entire lab. There were two sections, one labeled 'hazardous materials' and the other labeled 'REALLY hazardous materials'. Someone's sense of humor on display, no doubt. The chemicals involved in the preservation and restoration game could be toxic, flammable and even explosive. Some of them violently so. The sign on the door was the only funny part of the entire setup.
I spent a couple of hours with everyone, and then got the grand tour of the actual museum from Jack. I met a few of the 'floor staff' as they were called, and got a good sense of the building's layout. There was a lot to remember, as the building covered an entire square block and was eight stories tall above ground and five stories deep below ground.
My second day of work was spent with my tools and supplies. Sarina Kelvin had a set of tools in the trunk of her car, and they were now mine. I saw what she liked about them in her memories, and I gave them a place of their own near my workbench. I used the convenient cover of familiarizing myself with the lab to familiarize myself with the tools. I spent half a day, which according to Jack was all I was allowed to work the first week, just to be safe. I used the off time daylight hours to familiarize myself with the neighborhood and the city. I did a little grocery shopping, got the newspaper delivery started and found the public library. I was going to be spending a lot of time there.
My nights were another matter. The first thing I did was jump to Terana's Focus.
Because this was one of the geographically non-divergent facets like Meadow and Taluat, the Terana facet was in a grotto in its familiar location on the North Carolina coast. America was still America.
The Facet was more or less as I expected to find it. The spot was marked here, not with a tree or spring, but with a huge black volcanic rock. A huge, black triangular mass of stone that seemed perfect for my needs. Midnight's Lair would be here in the safest place I could think of, where none but a guardian was likely to ever come. Tomorrow was Saturday, and come the light of day, I was going to be busy.
Since I was going to be spending a good chunk of my day on Obsidian, I decided to have breakfast at Boccaccio's. Roman Boccaccio was the best cook on Obsidian. He had been found in a homeless shelter in San Francisco and recruited into service during the Preci war. His culinary abilities had quickly brought him to Mom and Dad's attention, and then to Grandpa A.J.'s. He had begun his career among the awakened working in the mess on Cascade feeding soldiers. He fed me crepes and cinnamon toast with honey butter and blueberry jam. He patted my hand with his rough, weathered one and kissed me on the forehead.
"Little Beth, you come here to make toys for some clever game you are playing somewhere and you stop to see me. You know how to make an old man happy."
Roman refused all but the most basic of the family's rejuvenation treatments. He didn't mind being pain free and he was willing to live a few more years, but he wasn't prepared to be young again. He doted on me like a grandfather, and I loved the simple warmth I felt just being around him. Like Andy, he was one of my calm centers.
With breakfast's pleasant thoughts still lingering, I walked into the Hall of Gifts with a smile and a spring in my step. I reached out to see if Con was in, but he wasn't.
I had some toys already built here, waiting for a time when I had somewhere safe to keep them, including something special that I found up on the roof and had Con modify for me. It was not time for that yet, either.
I grabbed three of the big fabbers and one of the databank - controller modules and jumped them all into the grotto on Terana. I popped open the controller module's console and began looking through the stored plans, looking for ideas. Ideas that came close to what I saw in my dreams. I found what I wanted after a couple of hours and began working on making the changes I would need to adapt it to the presence of that mass of basalt I planned to build it around.
By the time I had what I wanted, it was late afternoon. I locked in my plan and set the fabbers to work. I would be back to check on them in the morning. It was time for a late lunch and another trip to the library.
I had quickly decided the Telegraph was fine for a quick breakfast on the way to work, but I was going to find other places to eat during the week. One of the places I had already discovered was Runyon's, across the street from the Library. The meals were a little more upscale, but still not pretentious.
Particularly pleasing was my discovery that someone here knew how to brew coffee. There were some very tasty toasted and grilled sandwiches on their menu, including several with a definite Italian flavor. One in particular had already become my new favorite, an open faced sandwich of ham, tomato and cheese, grilled and then finished with a dollop of salsa-like mixture of basil, chopped olives and roasted red peppers. Another plus was that Runyon's lunch sandwiches were served with fresh fruit rather than the usual french fries.
I had picked out a spot in the library that I liked, and I did my reading there. It faced the bay and had plenty of natural light coming in through the large windows that made up most of the front of the building. 'FRML', was the acronym used for the Fort Richardson Municipal Library, and I already had adopted the custom of the staff and other regulars in saying it out loud as 'formal'.
I grabbed the book I was currently reading from the reserved shelf and headed for my desk. I was reading some general history texts now, just to get myself familiarized with the general course of mankind on Terana. Sarina Kelvin's background in history was too art-specific to be useful in the broad sense. The intense focus which had been so beneficial to her early career advancement was a hindrance in this case.
History on Terana seemed to diverge from history on Earth in the 1920's. I kept thinking of Terana as being stuck in the '50's, but of course they used the same calendar we did and they were in the new millennium here as well. Something had happened on Terana almost a century ago that had changed life fundamentally. Something had shifted here, bringing super powers into existence.
The first known person with super powers had been The Spaniard. His name was Juliano Marquez. Starting at the end of 1923 and into 1924, he waged a brief war of retribution against the Spanish nobility, over some slight or another to his honor. He killed almost twenty men and women before someone was finally able to get a bullet in him. His victims had all been desiccated, every drop of moisture in their bodies gone.
Strangely, as more and more super-powered individuals began to appear, science and technology seemed to take a back seat to the burgeoning phenomenon. Of course the text I was reading didn't say this, but I was able to read between the lines.
I limited myself to a couple hours of reading, and then headed back to the apartment. This was a world without voice mail or answering machines, so I called my service to get my messages. It felt strange having a live person reading off the messages left by those who had called while I was out. I only had one message in any case. I had called someone with a studio apartment for rent. It was several blocks further away from the museum than the one I was in now, but I really wasn't fond of the current location. They had returned my call, and of course it was my turn to be out. I called back immediately.
"Hello?" Came an elderly woman's voice.
""Hello, Mrs. Sanders?"
"This is Sarina Kelvin. I called earlier about the studio apartment?"
We arranged to meet at the apartment the following day, just after lunch. If the person I was going to meet matched the voice, I expected to find a widowed spinster with a shawl and her hair in a bun.
With dinner still a few hours away and yet another restaurant trek in my plans, I decided to finish reading through all the documents and paperwork that were a part of the real Sarina's life. It was mostly insurance forms, paid receipts and school and college transcripts. While leafing through the insurance papers it suddenly dawned on me that I had full coverage on the car that had been destroyed in the crash, and the insurance company had no current address for me. Sarina's memories told me it was one of the things she had planned on doing as soon as she had a new home address. I carried the insurance papers with me over to the phone and dialed the number. I didn't expect anyone to be there on a Saturday afternoon, but the company was large enough to afford their own message service, and I left my name and policy number, along with my new address and phone number. I also left the number of the museum. The museum would have operators, and the call would get transferred by hand to our extension in the lab.
Over dinner, in a quiet but elegant little place called Charlie and Banjo's, I listened to some quiet piano music and ate a nice chicken and dumpling dinner. This place was only a few doors down from the address I had for Mrs. Sanders' apartment. There was a laundry service right across the street and it would be a shorter trip to the library and back from here than I currently had. The downside, if there was one was that the walk to work would be mostly uphill.
That night as I lay with my head on the pillow thinking about the events of the past few days, I thought back to Andy and his challenge to me to stop waiting for my life to fulfill itself and just start living it. It had knocked me loose from the spot I had frozen myself into enough to decide I wanted to be a part of Andy's adventures. That freedom had led me to Arbor, and to my Naming and to Thistle and Magic.
Once I had accepted Magic, and become Midnight, Terana practically called to me like a beacon across the facets. It didn't exactly feel like home, not yet anyway. Not in the way that Arbor had come to feel for Andy and Cor. Maybe it never would, but in the meantime, I had a life to live and adventures on the horizon, something I'd always hungered for, and I had Thistle happy to see me on Arbor whenever I was there.
The whole goddess thing that Andy called me on was a joke amongst us kids – and it wasn't. Andy, Jen and the rest of us Children of the Light had taken to calling it my impending goddess-hood because it was an amusing shortcut to expressing the feeling we all had that I was special somehow. It was more than Spinner's picking me to pass the mysteries of working with the Dream Stuff on to the rest of the kids. His picking me only reinforced the feeling that was already there.
I woke up, found a life and started living it, and now I was preparing to settle for something a few rungs below godhood. I was going to be a superhero!
These were the thoughts that lingered as I finally drifted off to sleep.
I let Wing hover a hundred yards above the narrow street as I dropped through the belly port and into the night air. My senses told me the three men had gone through the door and one of them was working on the safe inside while the other two nervously stood watch. They appeared to be common criminals, so I left Dream and Nightmare in their sheathes. I jumped myself into the front room, behind the one watching the door and gave him a quick caress with a gloved hand and let the Zombie field do its work. I helped his unconscious body ease itself to the floor and then walked back to where the other two were hovering over the safe.
Some shift in the room's acoustics, or a stirring of the air must have tipped off the safe-cracker. He spun on me and fired a pistol. I wasn't there when the bullet arrived, I was beside the other man and I delivered an elbow to his gut driving the wind from him and sending the pistol in his hand flying. Another shot from the safe-cracker's pistol landed where I wasn't.
I raised my other hand and a streamer of black night left my hand and wrapped itself around the gun in his hand. When the blackness faded the gun was gone.
"Who are you!" he spat.
"Midnight," I said, and pulled Slumber from my left hip and shot him.
The modified zombie gun did its thing and with three unconscious crooks it was time for the window dressing. I propped the two in the back against each other and put one of my calling cards in the safe-cracker's hand. I jumped back out onto the street and flew back up through the belly port and into Wing. Once I was in the pilot's seat I tapped into the FRPD central phone system and routed a call to the nearest station house on Third and Wabash.
"Three men tried to crack the safe at the Pierson Brothers Bakery. They are there now," I said to the voice that answered.
"What?" Came the unsure reply.
"Pierson Brothers Bakery. Send a patrol car and an ambulance."
I dropped the connection. I wasn't worried about the call being traced. The technology wasn't that far along here. I'd had to put physical taps of my own devising into the system at several places to be able to do what I was doing now. I had also spread Lightmitters across the entire city. Every conveniently located cornice and fixture across a hundred city blocks sported an almost invisible little video camera. My system for monitoring the feeds of those hundreds of cameras wasn't perfect yet, but it had spotted tonight's unfortunates. I saw the flashing lights of an approaching patrol car in the street below. It was time to call it a night.