SAMPLE OPENING CHAPTERS - HELIO TROPEZ

Prologue

Hawaii—December 21, 1960

B

y the tender age of twenty, Hadden Violetta learned one crucial life lesson: to heed his intuition, even if he risked losing everything. On that day, stealing an aircraft seemed a gamble worth taking.

       The sun, a mere sliver of golden light, breached the horizon. A full day of lying on the beach had burned his face. Add to that, the scent of cheap mulled wine trailed behind him, from last night’s Christmas party. Leaning against an ancient ironwood tree, he drew a quivering breath to steady himself. Wiping the perspiration from his brow, he shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet, rolled his shoulders, and burst into a sprint through the dense undergrowth.

       Emerging from the sheltering shade, the trees expelled him into the humid, fume-laden atmosphere of the air force base. He darted between pockets of darkness, seeking refuge behind a discarded shipping container. Peering around the corner, Hadden observed the ground crew's final preparations for the aircraft, huddled together engaging in idle conversation. As scheduled, a truck arrived at the entrance, delivering a fresh consignment of provisions. As expected, the ground crew abandoned the unguarded plane to assist with the offloading. With only a skeletal staff remaining to cover the morning shift, most were nursing a Christmas party hangover.

       The F-100 Super Sabre now stood alone; its canopy open. Hadden looked in both directions, then broke cover. He sprinted across the runway, hoisted himself into the cockpit, sealed the canopy shut, and donned the pilot’s helmet. Even without a photographic memory, he’d have known what to do. The countless hours of training had made running checks a second nature, his hands moving from switch to button without so much as a hesitation. As the engines roared to life, the ground crew looked up, startled. The pilot emerged from the latrine with a confused expression, his eyes darting back and forth between the ground crew and his no-longer-idle aircraft.

As Hadden thundered down the runway, the crew ran for the airfield, waving their arms. The propellor plane lifted him into the air and the base disappeared into the background. He breathed a sigh of relief. Once he entered the cloud cover, Hadden activated the cloaking device in his Amethyst Amplifier, but he couldn’t tell if it worked. To be on the safe side, he deactivated the radio signal in the plane. No one could stop him now.

In the distance, the Makapu'u lighthouse jutted like a beacon of hope against the azure sea. A humpback whale breached out of the sea below, and Hadden barrel-rolled in response before dropping low over the water. The whale breached again, splashing down in great plumes of foam. Hadden smiled. He felt free, even if just for a few rare moments. He climbed to five thousand feet, then veered north-east, leaning hard towards the Big Island. The engine vibrated in his chest as he leveled out the plane.

As he cruised through the atmosphere, faces appeared, as they often did, in clouds and seascapes. Today, his mother’s star-drenched eyes appeared in the swirls of indigo below him. Their last conversation haunted him, still echoing in his ears. His decision to join the air force had torn the family apart, but this meeting could change all that and undo any wrongs against his family and those he loved.

His hands trembled on the controls, and he had to take a long, slow breath to calm down. He searched through his memory banks for the story he needed—a tale about his father flying through a vortex that warped time, blurring the edges of one reality with another. The tale possessed such vividness that it seemed as if he’d lived it firsthand.

Air Force personnel rarely discussed these anomalies. Places like the Bermuda Triangle remained an unsolved mystery as far as civilians were concerned, but Hadden knew better. His father came from a place where people could travel between timelines and dimensions. A well-kept secret in one world was common knowledge in another.

He scanned the horizon until he saw it: the tubular cloud that marked an underwater volcano where he could access a time travel vortex. As he neared it, the instrument panel grew erratic, dials leaping like fleas. Instead of pointing to the magnetic north, it spun before locking on to the true north. His breath quickened as he unfolded the handwritten note. It contained four images, a date, and a set of numbers.

For four nights in a row, he dreamt the contents of that note. The first night was an image of the tubular-shaped cloud near Kilauea Volcano, also known as the Hawaiian vortex, with the date 21 December 1960—the winter solstice. On the second night, he saw a city with skyscrapers and a tower that had a flying saucer on top of it. In the distance, a snow-capped mountain had towered above that city. On the third night, he dreamt of a house with a dome. It stood near a miniature Statue of Liberty. On the fourth night, he’d seen the time-space coordinates. The realisation had jolted him awake, covered in sweat. If this mission proved successful, it went against all-time travel regulations that had ever existed, but he had to do it, anyway.

Gripping the controls, he held the plane steady, pushing it to max speed, then plunged into the centre of the great cylinder. The cloud swallowed the aircraft whole. Inside, flashes of fork lightning erupted all around him. Thunder shook his ribcage. Swirling black clouds formed a tunnel ahead of him. As the propellers strained against the magnetic pull, sparks flew from the engine. Still, the plane glided forward as if on a frozen lake. His hands clenched the steering shaft, the plane shuddering so hard that metal plates separated. When the tailpiece erupted in a fireball, his breathing caught in his chest. He pressed his neck against the headrest, tucked his chin to his chest, brought his elbows in close and yanked the ejection lever.

The canopy flew off, and the charge beneath the seat fired, launching him clear of the plane. Seconds later, the chair fell away as his parachute opened. He watched in anguish as the plane flew into the distance, trailed by a cloud of black smoke. As he fell into the abyss, his stomach churned. Wind screamed in his ears, and sodden clouds engulfed him in the pitch dark. Hadden prayed for a soft landing.

When the clouds parted, the moon hung full in a starry sky. A landmass covered in silver skyscrapers sparkled in the twilight, most of them standing taller than anything he’d seen before. One looked like a flying saucer on top of a tower, just like in his dream. He maneuvered his parachute away from the buildings and towards a nearby beach park. In the distance, the white cap of Mount Rainier looked on over his hometown. He recognised it, but Seattle had exploded in size, sprawling as well as stretching skyward.

Yet, despite the immensity of the city, it seemed quiet, the roads void of cars. He splashed down into Puget Sound, fifty meters from Alki Beach Park. Freeing himself from the chute, he swam to the familiar beach with the miniature Statue of Liberty. Crawling out of the water, he looked down at both ends of the shoreline. Not a soul.

Dripping wet, he hiked up the rocky beach to a picnic bench. Between the slats, a newspaper caught his eye. Hadden held it up to the moonlight, squinting to see the date. He let out a breath and held his forehead.

“It worked…” he muttered, spinning around in a circle, trying to see what this new century looked like. “2010. That’s… that’s unbelievable.” A few blocks away stood the house with the dome. He shook himself off and headed towards it. It’s why he’d come, after all. Summoned by an enigmatic call from the future, he sought to meet the person who had sent him the message.

His seventy-year-old self.


CHAPTER 1

Seattle—July 18, 2010

A

t 1:11 a.m., Tia Violetta ended her Skype call. This client was a tough one. The old woman preferred her sessions late at night when everyone in her house had gone to bed.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she flopped onto the four-poster bed, rubbing her forehead. She dimmed the lights and poured three drops of lavender into a diffuser. Indigo fabric canopied either side of the bed, helping her feel safe again. Her client lived in a prison of luxury, surrounded by vulturous and violent family members. Though the session revolved around grievances towards the gardener, Tia knew the true undercurrents. She would need to spend days helping the woman process the unacknowledged anxiety and protect her from the death threats. After each session, Tia imagined the woman’s fear burning like logs in a fire, and she erected a fortress of light to surround her night and day.

Her apartment stood separate from the rest of the estate where her father lived, which, she told herself, made it okay to live at home, even if she was twenty-nine. She had decorated her space in lush shades of lavender and magenta, accented with gold tapestries. Matching Ming vases, always brimming with violets, adorned each bedside table.

After seven clients in a row without a break, hunger gnawed at Tia. A kitchenette lined one wall of the apartment. On her way there, she glimpsed her gaunt face in the mirror and grunted. Sleep wasn’t as frequent an option as she’d have liked.

Too often she chose not to eat—a side effect of a life encountering allergy after allergy. On this night, however, hunger overwhelmed her. Bowl in hand, she entered an indoor greenhouse next to the kitchenette. Shelves of hydroponically grown plants glowed in the pink LED lights, such as alfalfa sprouts, lettuce and basil. She harvested some of each, returned to the kitchenette, and set her newly gathered ingredients on the counter. Beside it, a multi-tiered food dehydrator housed other plants from the greenhouse. From the top shelf, she took a flax seed cracker she’d made the day before.

Fetching a jar of cashew spread, she took a seat at a tiny kitchen table next to the window. A pink placemat shared the surface with a vase of purple roses and a matching napkin rolled in a silver ring. After placing the napkin in her lap, Tia inhaled the food, barely chewing each bite.

To passers-by, her apartment looked like her father’s mansion came from the future. With its curved walls of stainless steel and large round windows, it spilt out over the buff above the West Seattle beach. She’d often seen people on the shore pointing up, discussing the unusual sight.

As she leaned back and dabbed her lips with a napkin, the digital clock on the table flipped to 1:11 a.m. That’s strange. I thought it was 1:11 at least fifteen minutes ago. Too tired to investigate the anomaly, she yawned and cleaned up her dishes. At her vanity table, she removed the seventeen pins that held her hair in place, allowing each French braid to uncoil before brushing out her hip-length hair. Once her routine completed, she had to laugh at her reflection. Before going to bed, she often looked like Cousin It from the Addams Family. Fortunately, only her father had ever seen her like that, but he made enough playful jokes to compensate for those who missed out.

A series of thumps shuddered from below, and Tia groaned. This usually meant her father needed help with something downstairs. He’d taken to thumping the ceiling with his cane to get her to venture down. Weary but resolute, she climbed back out of bed and put a headband on to keep her hair out of her eyes before bracing herself. The descent down the spiral staircase would lead her to the chaos of her father’s world, so she took a breath to steel herself. Once the jewel of architectural magazines, the mansion now lay in disrepair, clutter reigning in whichever room her father chose to haunt.

A maze of decades-old newspapers, mouldy books, broken-down appliances and electrical cords ran haywire in all directions. It made a fine haven for spider webs and dust bunnies. Cobwebs ran from light fixtures down to dead houseplants while piles of old books choked the already narrow hallway. Dust and mould filled the air as she carefully avoided stepping on anything, moving with well-rehearsed precision. As she neared, the cacophony of three television sets grew louder. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over the ocean, but tattered curtains and untended trees blocked a million-dollar view.

When she entered the living room, her father lay stuck in the ‘feet up’ position in his reclining chair. His domed head gleamed in contrast to the fringe of long, frizzy grey hair.

“I’m uh… well…” he looked at himself, assessing his situation, then looked back to Tia.

“Stuck?” she offered.

“Exactly! Did I wake you? I’m sorry if I did. I wouldn’t have if it had been anything else, you know.”

“I know, Dad. It’s fine, I was still awake. I’m going to push from behind the chair,” Tia said, rolling up her sleeves. She heaved, but to no avail. After several attempts, she slumped exhausted in a nearby chair, awaiting the next instructions. Her father said nothing and just squeezed his eyes shut.

“Maybe I should call that Care Centre,” she suggested in a thin voice. “Remember someone left a flyer in our mailbox recently? Maybe it’s a sign. You know, how you like to talk about synchronicities…”

“No! Try again,” he growled. “That could be an artificial sync.”

Whatever that means, she thought.

“I can’t do it, Dad. I’m not strong enough.”

The corners of his mouth sagged downward. He blinked a few times as though trying to piece something together in his mind. “Someone is outside the house, trying to get in.”

“Haven’t I told you not to pay attention to visions like that? They just make you lose sleep.”

“But I’m often right!”

“I don’t remember any of them being right.”

“But you need to believe me…”

She stopped. Are we really having this conversation again? She thought. After a few moments of tension, she mustered her courage and said, “You need help to get out of that chair. They’ll only be here for a few moments.”

He scowled. “Ten minutes, and ten minutes only.”

She nodded and let out a low, slow breath. Searching in a hidden box, Tia found the flyer she’d stashed there. After dialling, however, the phone rang at least ten times. She was about to hang up when a cheerful woman answered.

“SRA Home Care!”

“Hi, um… my name is Tia Violetta, and we have a bit of a situation.”

“What kind of situation?

“My seventy-year-old father is stuck in his reclining chair, and I can’t get him out. We’re going to need someone quite strong to help.”

“Your father is a big one, then?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay, then. We’ll send our on-call nurse, Mary.”

“I’m sorry,” Tia said quickly, “but I think we might need a man in this case.”

“It’s okay. Mary used to be a bodybuilder.”

“Got it.”

As they waited, Tia peered into her father’s fridge. The vegetables she had put in there had turned new colours. Instead, TV dinners and fast-food containers filled every shelf. She walked back into the living room but paused when glass crunched underfoot. Amidst shattered glass and a fallen curtain rod, a photo lay on the floor. Removing the glass shards, she studied the image.

“Your magazine cover broke, Dad!”

He hummed his acknowledgement. “I dropped it by mistake and couldn’t pick it up again,” he said, keeping his eyes closed but moving his hands in front of him in Tai Chi type movements, quite unconcerned.

 On the cover, eight-year-old Tia stood beside her father on the lawn of the Violetta mansion. The Seattle Magazine caption read: Genius Investor Builds Space Age Home. She made space for the frame on the mantle. Three additional photos captured Tia at various ages, but sadly, no other family members appeared next to them.

As he watched her cleaning, her father cleared his throat and said, “You know you don’t need to keep doing that therapy work, honey. I’m going to put another 10K into your account tomorrow...”

“You don’t need to do that, Dad. I make an okay income. And it’s called performance coaching, actually. I like doing it.”

“These people you work with, they rob your energy and hardly pay you anything.”

“Yes, I know what you think about all that… it’s fine, okay?”

“Still, I worry. You’re on computer with clients every day, all day. It’s too much.”

“I’m in demand. By the way, the organizer of a conference for people in the coaching industry just invited me to speak.”

“What?” he said, that familiar facial tick that appeared whenever he got anxious. “Where?”

“Los Angeles.”

“You’re not thinking of going, are you?” His face was now in full twitch mode.

Tia felt a jolt of energy in her solar plexus. “It’s an honour to be asked. How could I turn them down?”

Going against her father often brought on a headache. When she left the house to buy items that they couldn’t ship, a head pressure accompanied her the whole trip. Now her throat ached, too.

“My community wants to hear about the techniques I’ve developed. I have a full practice based on referral alone. I thought you’d at least be proud of me.”

“I am proud of you!” he said with a force that startled both of them. They glared at each other, unable to speak for a few moments. He took a breath and looked down. “I just know they will try to…”

“Harm me? Who would try to do that? Why would they try to do that?”

 A rapid clicking sound echoed throughout the old estate. The doorbell hadn’t worked for years, and her father didn’t want it fixed. Instead of a chime, it sounded like someone trying to start a car with a dead battery. Tia sighed and opened the door just as a woman lifted her fist to pound on it. A stocky woman in a blue oversized caregiver’s uniform stood squinting at her. She looked like she’d hit her mid-fifties hard.

“I’m Mary Redus from SRA Home Care.” Exhaustion rolled off the edges of her Bostonian accent. The dark circles under her close-set eyes spoke of burdens too painful to tell.

Mary brushed past her, leaving Tia to stare as the home care worker darted around stacks of rubbish, down the long hallway and into the main living room. How does she know where to go?

Tia caught up as Mary planted herself in front of Hadden, assessing the problem. He looked away.

She tilted her head and drummed her fingers on her elbow with a scowl.

“I’m Mary, Mister Violetta, and we’re going to set you free in no time.”

She summoned Tia’s help, and together they took a running leap at the rocker. They hit the chair at the same time; the force knocking him free. He winced as he staggered to his feet, flailing for balance. Grabbing his two canes, he stilled himself, but when the two women rushed to help him, he pushed them away.

“I’m fine!” he insisted, stalking off to the bathroom, cursing in a foreign tongue.

“What’s that language he’s speaking?”

Tia shrugged. “I’ve only ever heard him speak English… Well until recently.”

Mary looked intrigued. “Where is he from?”

“I don’t know. Maybe born here, in Seattle?”

“I’m sorry. I thought you were his granddaughter.”

“His daughter, actually.”

“Oh… really?”

Tia nodded, knowing she looked more like a teenager with her tiny frame and Rapunzel length hair.

 “Lately, he’s been mumbling these strange words. When I ask him what he’s saying, he either ignores me or says it’s the Matrix language.”

“Matrix? Like in the movie?”

“Maybe…?”

They both stifled a laugh.

Mary cleared her throat, growing serious. “With his physical limitations and growing dementia, he needs to be in a care facility. A skinny thing like you can’t possibly give him the help he needs.”

“Try telling that to him.”

Mary surveyed the unkempt mess and raised her eyebrows.

“I try to tidy things,” Tia explained, “but he stops me. He used to be fanatically tidy, but now he’s gone in the opposite direction. I try to help, but he prefers to be alone.”

“He needs to be in a well-equipped senior care facility,” Mary repeated.

“I know, but he made me promise I would never put him in a home.”

“It’s not good for him here. This house is a firetrap. That said, the only place that could take a man of his size is where I work, SRA, but it’s not cheap.”

“We have the money. It’s just that he would hate it there.”

Mary raised her eyebrows. “Oh, yes. He’s the owner of Violetta & Burres Investments. I remember reading about him. He’s some kind of genius?”

Tia nodded, feeling that familiar discomfort of being seen as the weird father and daughter cloistered away in the UFO house.

Mary leaned in closer. “Are there any relatives who can help?”

“No.”

“Your mother also passed away?”

“I don’t know where my mother is. She left when I was a child and did not keep in touch.”

“What kind of mother would abandon her own daughter?”

Tia stayed silent, giving the caregiver a look that told her to mind her own business.

Mary looked sideways and cleared her throat. “So you’ve lived here your entire life?”

“I live in the upstairs apartment. It’s a totally separate living space, but I need to be close by, given his situation.”

“Neighbours or friends?”

She shook her head. “As I said, he likes his privacy.”

“So, there’s no one else that can help you?”

“Listen, I understand you are trying to help, but my father would be upset if he knew I talked to you about all this.”

Mary handed her an in-home caregiver leaflet from SRA. “I just want to be helpful, but only in a way that works for you. If you hire someone like me, I can clean this place up, make it safe for him, ensure his every need is taken care of so that you can focus on your life again.”

“He won’t allow anyone else in the home except me unless it’s an absolute emergency.”

Mary sighed. “It’s your home, too. This is as much for you as it is for him.”

Tia busied herself clearing cobwebs from a door frame, unsure what to say. An inner pressure that had been building up over many years swelled.

The bathroom door opened, and he weaved his way towards the stair lift at the base of the grand staircase. “Thanks for your help,” he grumbled. “You can go now.”

They watched as he lost his balance part way there. Mary lunged forward like a defensive linebacker, righting him before he could topple. She guided him towards the stair lift, buckled him in and took him to the top. Maybe he felt too exhausted to resist, or maybe Mary was the kind of person he would finally ‘let in’. Nevertheless, as she followed, Tia marvelled at how he softened under her care. Mary found his walker at the top of the stairs and led him to the bedroom door, where he stopped.

“Thank you. I’m good from here.”

 Mary nodded and followed Tia back down the stairs, down the central corridor to the front door.

“Call SRA,” Mary said, stepping onto the front porch. “You don’t have to do this alone.”

Tia looked down at the ground and nodded, not trusting her voice to speak past the lump in her throat. Mary opened her umbrella and headed out into the damp night air.

Tia lingered, watching the woman walk away while enjoying the fresh air and contemplating her options. Hiring Mary would mean she could go out more, attend events or even, God forbid, date.

As she walked towards the door, a crash came from behind. She reeled around to see a man stumbling from the bushes. Tia jumped back and screamed.

He held his hands up. “My apologies, Miss, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said. “I may have the wrong house. I’m looking for a Mister Hadden Violetta.”

Tia backed up towards the door and pulled her sweater around her. This young man looked more like a teenager. He wore a helmet, military jumpsuit, and a bewildered expression.

“What are you doing here? Leave before I call the police.”

“No, wait. Please. My name is… um… Addy. Does a man named Hadden Violetta live here? He would be… I guess seventy years old by now.”

The man shivered, water dripping from his jumpsuit.

Tia opened the front door and stepped inside the landing, pausing, poised to shut the door. “There’s no one here by that name. You have the wrong house. Now, leave!”

She slammed the door hard and double-locked it.

“What happened? What’s going on?” Hadden shouted out from the bedroom.

Tia tiptoed upstairs and peered inside his bedroom. “This time, you were right. Someone is outside. A strange man jumped out of the bushes and scared the heck out of me. Maybe one of those weird fans of yours. He wore a helmet and jumpsuit, and he was all wet!”

“What did he say?”

“He asked if you lived here, but I said no.”

His eyes grew wide. “Did he give his name?”

“Um… I think he said Addy.”

“Addy? Bring him in! Now!”

Tia stared at him. “But you hate having strangers in the house…”

“He’s not a stranger. Let him in.”

“I—Okay…”

“Bring him into the living room. I’ll meet you down there shortly. And if he’s wet, bring him some of my old clothes from the hall cupboard.”

Tia hadn’t seen her father get so riled up about a visitor in a long time. She padded downstairs again and unlocked the front door. The man stood shivering in the chilly night air, looking lost. “Come in. My father says he knows you.”

“Thank you,” Addy said, relieved. He climbed the stairs, his helmet swinging from a finger. “You’re his daughter? That’s… ah… amazing.”

“Why is that so amazing?”

“It’s just that…” he stammered, looking away, then down at her long, frizzy mane. “My mother had the same kind of hair.”

“Really? How exactly do you know my father?”

“I’ll let him tell you about that.”

Tia stared at him for a moment, then led him into the living room. “Why were you lurking in our yard in the middle of the night?”

Addy looked around the room, awestruck. “I just wanted to dry off first before knocking. This is quite the place. Mister Violetta has done well for himself.”

Tia narrowed her gaze but said nothing. Perhaps he’s a con man, she thought. He stopped in front of the flat-screen TV and ran his hand over the top.

She noticed a puddle of water forming around his feet. “I’ll get you a towel and some dry clothes. My father will be down in a few minutes.”

As Tia gathered a tracksuit for him, she couldn’t help but notice he looked like a family member. In fact, he could even be her brother, with that same dark wiry hair and facial features.

“Try these,” she said, holding out the clothes and pointing to the bathroom. “There’s a towel on the shelf.”

“Much obliged, Miss.”

“You can just call me Tia.”

“Tia,” he nodded, “copy that.”

When he emerged from the bathroom, he looked bemused, holding his arms up as he assessed his new attire. “This is quite the space-age outfit.”

“Yes… right.”

Maybe he comes from a rural part of the world and doesn’t get out much. He stopped at the mantelpiece and held up the magazine cover image.

“This is him?”

She squinted. “Yes. Sorry, but how long has it been since you’ve last seen him?”

He hesitated before answering. “A very long time.”

“Want some hot cocoa?”

“That would be mighty fine, Miss... Tia.”

As she boiled the water, Tia peered at him from the kitchen, concerned he might steal something. He picked up the TV remote and studied it for a few seconds before putting it back down. He spent a lot longer looking at the connections along the side of the flat-screen TV.

“Here you go!”

“Thank you,” he said, taking the mug and sipping from it. He hummed contentedly. “So good.”

“Did you want to turn it on?”

His eyebrows lifted.

“The TV.”

“That’s a television set?”

She nodded.

“Sure.”

She picked up the remote and on came a TV show. He jumped back, mesmerized by the images of starships fighting in space.

“Are these in your atmosphere now?” he said, sounding panicked.

“What? This is a TV show… Ever heard of Battlestar Galactica?”

“Oh! A TV show. Copy that.”

One actor in the show spoke, and Addy looked to the left as if expecting to see someone there.

“It’s surround sound.”

“Surround sound?”

Tia nodded once and knitted her brow. “The audio doesn’t come from the TV. We’ve got separate speakers for it.”

“Pretty nifty.”

Her father hobbled into the room with his two canes. Tia helped ease him into the chair, and Addy sat across. The two men nodded to each other but said nothing for a few moments.

Tia tapped her fingers on her knees, looking from one to the other. “How do you know each other?”

Her father cleared his throat and looked sideways. “It’s a long story, Tia. I’ll tell you later. Addy and I just need to have a chat…”

Tia nodded, but she couldn’t help feeling left out. “Of course. I’ll let you two catch up. Just call up if you need anything.”

As she backed out of the room, Addy stood up and nodded to her as she left. How old-fashioned, she thought and smiled back at him.

“Don’t go to sleep just yet, honey,” her father called out. “I’ll call you back down in a bit.”

Puzzled by the request, Tia shrugged. “Ok. See you soon.”

Maybe Addy needs a ride to the airport. Closing the door behind her, she climbed the spiral staircase to her apartment. She lay on her bed for a while, staring at the ceiling, but the curiosity gnawed at her. Who was this stranger who had stumbled onto their property in the middle of the night? What made him so special that her father had let him into the house?

Unable to bear it, she tiptoed to the floor radiator and placed an ear against the grate. As she strained to hear, they seemed to speak in a strange language. Frustrated, she crawled back onto the bed and thumbed through a magazine, half concentrating as her heart drummed faster and faster.


CHAPTER 2

 H

adden leaned forward on his cane, his corpulent mass spilling out over his knees. “Speak in Matrix.”

Addy nodded and closed his eyes, looking for the words in his mother tongue. After several moments, he shook his head. “I can’t seem to remember…”

“I forgot they took out your amethyst already,” Hadden tutted.

“What do you mean?” Addy said, feeling behind his ear. “It’s gone!”

“The SIM agents did it at night, a few days ago in your timeline, and then wiped your memories. But don’t worry, I’ve got another one. They’re a bastard to make, but it comes in handy to have a few spares,” he said as he sifted through the old food containers that had piled up on the coffee table.

Addy kept feeling around on his skull. No wonder he couldn’t cloak the plane. In the past few days, he’d felt so out of sorts—like he’d lost a vital organ. High-intensity energies pummeled his body, and even just dragging himself out of bed in the morning had become an effort.

“Besides losing your amethyst, it’s the time jump of fifty years,” Hadden said, as if reading his mind. “Back in 1960, wireless technologies were just getting going, but now they’re thousands of times more intense. It’s like we’re frogs in hot water, slowly being boiled to death. With the time jump and losing your amethyst, you must be feeling pretty strange.”

Addy nodded, rubbing his forehead.

Lifting away a stack of books, Hadden uncovered a gold-plated container, inside of which were five tiny gold boxes. “Each of these contains an Amethyst Amplifier. One is for you. I must warn you that once you re-activate it, your soul frequency may show up on their radar. We’ll upgrade the SPS, but if they’re looking at this time, the amethyst won’t hide you. It’ll buy time if nothing else.” He closed his eyes and, holding up both hands, then started making intricate patterns in the air.

“An SPS?” Addy asked, recalling his classes as a boy. “I haven’t set a Secure Protective Space for years.”

“It’s okay. I’ll do it.”

“Whose radar would I be on?”

“Those in the psychic warfare project. The ones that discovered you.”

“What do you mean, discovered me?”

He sighed, failing at keeping his patience. “Remember when you did those district-wide tests at school? Of course, as a Vision, you scored in the top one percentile on photographic memory and clairvoyance. That’s why they recruited you.”

 “They recruited me to be a pilot, not to use my psychic abilities.”

 Hadden dismissed his statement by waving his hand. “A ruse. There is a hidden group, unbeknownst to most US Air Force people, except those at the very top. They target people like you. They knew how much you wanted to fly. Why make it harder than necessary to recruit you?” Gnarled, swollen fingers handed Addy one box. “The box acts as a Faraday shield. I’ve never taken them out, just in case, but it’s about time.”

Addy examined the tiny box. “You made this?”

“It’s based on the blueprint they give to people on the mission, except that this one is an upgrade. Instead of masking your abilities to fit into the population, it enhances them. There’s a map of our next stage of evolution embedded within it.”

Addy remembered the day his mother showed him the blueprint for the Amethyst Amplifiers. His photographic memory had captured it without effort, knowing it would come in handy one day.

“We need to converse in Matrix. So go ahead, put it on. We should be safe—for the time being, at least. Place it in the same spot as your last one, next to your upper left earlobe. Remember how to do it?”

Addy shook his head.

“Balance it on your index finger, then hover it over that area. It will magnetize to the correct part of your skull.”

After placing it behind his left ear, a buzzing roared through Addy’s skull. Closing his eyes, he waited as a protective shield emerged around him, and the pressure eased. Soon after, the words rushed back to his consciousness like water breaking through a dam. “It’s working!”

“Good. Keep that on, no matter what,”  the old man warned in Matrix. “Addy…” he added as a smile touched his face. “I haven’t heard that nickname since I was a kid.”

“I hoped you wouldn’t forget,” Addy grinned back. He closed his eyes and sat in silence for a few moments, adjusting to the new frequencies running through his system. The Matrix language allowed them to exchange much more than words—it included intricate patterns of metaphors, feelings, impressions, symbols and information, each penetrating one's consciousness in multi-dimensional ways.

“I feel so much more like my old self now. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s so amazing to be here. You know, my plane fell apart as it went through the anomaly. I had to eject. I barely made it.”

“I thought that might happen. Thank you for your courage.”

They laughed the same baritone chuckle. Some things never change, Addy mused.

“I didn’t know whether you’d interpret my message correctly. You did well. Although I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow night.”

“Your imagery helped. I guess I misinterpreted the time-space coordinates… but luckily only by a day. It’s when I saw the number 111 or 1111 three times this morning, so I knew there was a glitch in the timeline and I’d better act.”

“I saw that, too,” the old man nodded.

 “So, what’s with that tower with the spaceship on top? The one in the downtown area.”

“The Space Needle. It’s now a landmark for Seattle. They built it for the World’s Fair in 1962.”

Addy smiled and took a sip of cocoa. “So, I end up looking like Santa Claus?”

“Yes,” he mused, patting his stomach. “Except a hundred pounds heavier.”

Addy wrinkled his brow and looked down at his own athletic body, comparing it to what he saw across from him. “So what happened?”

 “I like food?” Hadden offered as he smiled for a moment, then the corners of his mouth turned down again. “What can I say? It’s been a hard life, and food has been my solace.”

“But you obviously had a family, and you’re wealthy…”

“All at a great cost.” A look of pain filled his swollen face. “They made me build Violetta Investments to fund their black projects. I’m the frontman, but Leo Burres and his family control everything.”

“The Burres Family control you?” Addy asked, clenching his fists.

“Yes.”

“How?” he growled.

Hadden grunted. “On the outside, I might seem a wealthy, successful man living a life of luxury. But the entire company is just a front. We launder money, use it to fund wars, assassinations, and crimes against humanity. I’ve been a slave to SIM my entire life up until the last few years. As you can see, it’s taken its toll. That’s what the CM does to you—Cognitive Modification. It was the price that I had to pay to keep my family safe.”

A strangling sensation engulfed Addy’s neck. He leaned forward and remarked, “So that’s why you summoned me here… to change the timeline?”

Tears filled the old man’s crinkled eyes. “Yes... I’m sorry, Addy. You’re the only one I could call on. Listen, you have to pay attention, okay? I’m not going to last long. There’s a fatal disease eating away at me, and the clock is ticking. I’ve protected Tia her whole life, but my strength is weakening. Once I’m gone, SIM will take her and try to weaponise her, just like they did with me.”

“I’ve got protection against SIM—all of us in the Quinary Mission do.”

Hadden offered a bittersweet smile. “They outwitted us years ago. Look, when you go back, you need to avoid any more CM.”

Addy scoffed, unable to believe that what Hadden said.

“Soon, they will take you at night, and the deep CM will start. They’ll split your personality into two; the light and dark side. One won’t know that the other exists. Then they’ll wipe your memory to convince you that you’re just this regular, good guy, but from time to time, you’ll wake up with terrible nightmares and strange bruises all over your body.”

Addy’s skin crawled. “When does that all start?”

“Soon. That’s why I chose December 21st. It’s the only date in the calendar that works because it’s after I—I mean, you—become a pilot and before the deep CM starts.”

A cold creeping feeling uncoiled in Addy’s stomach. “Why did you wait to contact me now, fifty years later? Why not do it, say, one year later when I’m 21?

“It’s taken me fifty years to heal enough from the CM to recover my abilities. They tied my powers to their agenda. I had to first build the protection grid, then rebuild my amethyst to help me re-access my capabilities.”

“Isn’t this time travel experiment forbidden by the Temporalia? I mean, you’re never supposed to encounter yourself in a future or past timeline. It tears a hole in the quantum. At least, that’s what father taught me.”

“I know, but I was desperate. Maybe it won’t cause too much damage.”

A creaking sound above grabbed Addy’s attention, making him sit straight as he pricked up his ears.

“It’s Tia upstairs. She’s restless. Addy, you must take her back home.”

Addy frowned. “You realise I’ve never even been home?”

“Look, most everyone in the Quinary Mission disappeared in 1961, all because of me joining the air force.”

“How did that happen?”

“They mapped my mind to find their whereabouts.”

“Is that why Mum and Dad were so against me joining…?”

“…Of course. They knew that could happen.”

“But I have protection from that…”

“SIM was smarter than I thought.”

Addy’s throat tightened up, thinking he had caused such harm to people he loved. “What happens to them in my future?”

“I’m not sure. The only people I saw from Quinary after that were Daphne and Annika. They also got pulled into working for SIM. Daphne and I tried to go home, but they blocked us from entering.”

As he considered what the old man had confided in him, a burning feeling filled his chest. The names Daphne and Annika seemed familiar. “But now that I’ve left that timeline to come and see my future self, maybe it will all change.”

“I hope so. When you go back to your timeline, you must escape the SIM agents, protect Quinary, and ensure the twins are born. With these amethysts in their possession, they might be able to do it.”

“Twins?” Addy asked in a high-pitched voice.

“Tia has a twin sister, named Metta, but she doesn’t remember her. I didn’t want to explain why they had to leave. It would open a big can of worms. I don’t even know if Metta and Daphne are still alive. If they are, then Tia needs to bring them these amethysts to dial up on their abilities. Please, you must help them.”

“Why can’t you help them? You seem to have developed powers I don’t have.”

“There’s a suicide program in my mind. If I use my powers to help humanity or try to reconnect with my family or any other members of Quinary, I will drop dead within a second. But I’m going to die soon, so you’re my last-ditch effort to make things right again. They will soon discover that I contacted you and kill me, anyway.”

 Addy’s stomach twisted into a knot.

Hadden cleared his throat, his voice becoming more instructional. This was no longer an idle conversation. “There’s a man who leads the psychic warfare project named Loman.”

“I’ve met him already. He took me out for lunch.”

“That’s right. He’ll be your good friend for a while until he gets what he wants. The Burres family control him. In retrospect, it’s quite obvious that they arranged my marriage to Daphne for the genetic pairing.”

“You don’t mean the Daphne?”

“Yes… of the House of Zuris.”

“I get to marry her?”

“SIM lured her into one of the black projects, so you must help her escape as well.”

The mounting assignments made Addy’s hands tremble.

“When the twins were three years old, SIM agents tried to take them away from us. We pleaded with them, and eventually, they agreed to let them be as long as we met their conditions. We had to separate them forever and never let them come in contact. I took Tia, and Daphne took Metta. I don’t even know where Daphne and Metta went, but that was twenty-seven years ago.”

Addy leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. “Why did you have to separate them?”

“They’re the last two members of Pentada. I’ve seen the signs.”

“Really? I end up being the father of the last two members?”

“Yes, and that’s why SIM wants to keep all five members apart.”

“Because if the next generation of Pentada reconnects….”

“It would be game over for SIM.”

Addy let out a sigh. The responsibility weighed heavily on his young shoulders. “And Tia knows none of this?”

“She only knows about the three-dimensional world. It’s for her own safety. If she knew, I’m afraid it would dial up her powers. They have a tracking device on her, so they’d know right away.”

“Then how will I be able to protect her and get her home? Have you ever been back to Helio Tropez?”

“They wouldn’t let me. Probably because my choices led to the failure of the Quinary Mission. I am hoping that the original members made it home, but they could have died or something much worse. You still have a chance to protect them.”

Addy shifted in his chair, half regretting his decision to time travel to the future.

“Daphne and I added something to the amethysts that Tia and Metta gave us when they were still children. They just called it their MindStory game, but we soon saw its brilliance. It’s a code in a double helix, like DNA, only structured in a story sequence.”

“What does it do?”

“It’s like an upgraded operating system you need to ascend to the next density level. I imagine that’s what this next generation of Pentada can do. They can give us the new operating system. After Daphne left, I tried thousands of times to map and encode it into the amethyst. Despite it being my life’s work, there are still some missing parts, but I can only take it so far. I suspect it has to have the input of all five Pentada to complete the sequence. That said, anyone wearing it will have more protection against SIM than they did before, at least. Let me explain how it works.”

They talked in detail about the capacities of the amethyst and his plan for redemption. Old Hadden transferred the mental photographs of his plan to the mind of his younger self. Once complete, Addy rose from his seat and paced the room, grappling with the weight of this new information. Abruptly, his foot snagged on a bag tucked beneath the coffee table, and a gadget tumbled out. Retrieving it, he marveled at the device. “What’s this?”

The old man donned his glasses to see. “It’s just a smartphone.”

“With all these space-age gadgets now… surely there’s some way.”

“Those gadgets are not a good thing. That smartphone, in particular, has managed to Cognitively Modify masses of people.”

Addy whomped the phone on the table and recoiled his hand. “What does it do?”

“One thousand times more things than a computer from your era. Still, it’s just a fraction of what is available in Helio Tropez. But it won’t solve our problems now.”

Addy studied the old man. The trauma in those hooded eyes filled his heart with dread.

“Where did you find this, by the way?” Hadden asked as he reached for the phone.

“It fell out of this bag,” Addy said, pointing to a black handbag. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry into your daughter’s personal things. It just fell out.”

Hadden straightened, frowning, then barked, “Give me that bag.” He snatched it from Addy and upended it. A brush and a notepad with SRA letterhead tumbled onto the floor. “Shit!”

He picked up Addy’s cup of cocoa and poured it over the phone. The screen flickered, then went black.

“Why did you do that?” Addy said, jumping to his feet.

 “It’s not my daughter’s. It belongs to the home care worker who just left. The one time I let someone else in,” Hadden tutted, cursing himself as he scanned the air with his hand. “Listen, Addy. She’s a SIM agent. That device just spied on our conversation. I see a breach in the SPA. As far as I know, they can’t decipher Matrix, but they know you’re here. We have to move fast,” he panicked, thrusting the gold boxes towards him. “Guard these amethysts with your life. They are only for Tia, Metta, Annika and Daphne.”

“You mean Daphne’s twin sister, Annika?”

“Yes. She’s Pentada as well. All five are in the same bloodline. Three generations from the House of Zuris.”

A rush of energy ran up Addy’s spine as he placed the four boxes inside his coat pocket.

The old man heaved himself up on wobbly legs. “I have an idea how you can get Tia home, but it’s not going to be easy.”


CHAPTER 3

U

pon hearing her father’s cane on the ceiling again, Tia crept bleary-eyed down the spiral staircase. At the bottom of the steps, the clicking doorbell sounded again. Seriously? What could be so urgent that it couldn’t wait until a sensible hour? As she headed for the front door, Addy appeared out of nowhere and stepped in front of her.

“Don’t open it,” he said, his voice hushed.

A Bostonian accent pierced the quiet. “It’s Mary! I left my bag there. So sorry!”

“She just needs her bag…”

Addy pulled her away from the door and whispered, “Your father says she’s dangerous. We need to leave now. He says there’s a secret back entrance?”

“Leave? You do know that my father is a paranoid man with growing dementia, right?”

“He’s not! He’s right about this. We need to go,” he said, pulling her by the arm down the hallway.

Looking back, Tia saw her father near the front window, holding up his hands, doing his crazy arm movements, eyes closed in a kind of trance. A second set of footsteps sounded on the front porch. Gunshots pinged against the front door lock, and shock waves pulsed through her body. She ran to her father, but Addy yanked her back.

“He wants me to protect you from whoever’s behind that door. Leave him there to protect us. Here are your car keys, coat, handbag. We’re leaving, now!”

Tia resisted Addy until her father turned and shouted, “Get out of here!”

Her eyes filled with tears, and her heart pounded in her chest. Addy ran downstairs, dragging her behind him to a concealed back door.

“Wait! I forgot to get the contents of his safe! Where’s his office?”

“The office is right there, but my father doesn’t have a safe.”

“Apparently, he does,” he replied, stepping into the basement hallway. A drilling sound screeched from the front door, and they broke into a run until they reached a locked room. Addy unlocked it, picked up the set of jeweller’s tools lying on the desk at the centre of the room, then enlisted Tia’s help to move a bookcase aside. To her surprise, a safe lay embedded into the wall. After just a few seconds, Addy opened it.

“Your father gave me the code,” he explained, pulling out three large padded envelopes. He shoved them in her satchel.

“What are these?”

“I’ll tell you later. We need to get to the company plane.”

“Why?”

“It’s the only way. Now stop asking questions and move.”

“I hate going on that tiny plane. I get sick and panic …”

“Your options are to get sick or die. Take your pick.”

The door upstairs crashed open, and a man’s voice shouted, “Where is she?”

Adrenaline pumped through her veins. “We need to help him!”

Addy took her by the shoulders, forcing her to look him in the eye. He blurted out, “Your father begged me to take you to safety and to leave him here. He’s doing all of this for you. Don’t make all his years of sacrifice mean nothing.”

Her heart ripped apart as he dragged her to the back entrance. A black Jaguar sat gleaming in the low light. Addy jumped into the driver’s seat, set the engine roaring, and took off at high speed down the back lane, taking side streets until they got onto the highway.

This has to be a dream. I’ll wake up soon. Nothing like this happens in real life.

 “Your father has a protection system on the house, the car, and you. We should be okay until we get to the plane. He can take care of himself.”

“My father is a fragile old man,” she rebutted.

“He’s a lot stronger than you think.”

Tia blinked. “Wait, what do you mean that there's a protection system? We don’t have one.”

“It’s not electronic. Don’t ask how, but it’s done with the mind,” Addy explained, yanking the wheel and manoeuvring between slower cars. “Didn’t you ever wonder why he never wanted you to move out?”

Tia’s eyes narrowed.

“They want to use your powers for their own agenda. He’s spent the last thirty years doing everything he can to protect you, and we’re not about to put all of that to waste.”

“I don’t have any powers,” Tia said, clutching the handle on the roof. “And protect me from who?”

“The Burres Family.”

“You mean Leo Burres, my father’s business partner?”

“Yes.”

“Not possible.”

“Who do you think was at the door?”

A flood of emotions drowned Tia’s thinking capacities as the voice at the front door echoed in her memory. It can’t be. “But what kind of powers are you talking about?”

“Let’s just get to the plane first.”

Her hands trembled. The streetlights were skipping past. She didn’t even dare glance to see at what speed they were going. “Make a left onto Elliot Avenue.”

“I know the way.”

 Again, she reminded herself, all this is just a crazy dream.

“How far to the airfield?” he asked, peering out of the back window.

“You just said you know the way. Do you even know how to fly a plane? Because I don’t!”

“Older planes, sure,” he nodded. “I’ll figure it out.”

“What?” Tia shouted, her knuckles aching from the tight grip. “You’re just going to figure it out? You’re crazy!”

“Crazy or not, you’re going to have to trust me. Your father wants me to take you to his family. It’s the only place you’ll be safe.”

The tyres screeched as he pulled a hard right. “Anything is better than driving in a car with you.”

Addy grinned. “Just wait until you get on a plane with me.”

“Not helping. Look, my dad doesn’t have a family. My grandparents died when he was a kid. There isn’t anyone else.”

“That’s what he told you?” Addy rolled his eyes.

 A creeping sense of betrayal caught in Tia’s throat. Did he have a secret family somewhere?

She glanced over at the man, white knuckling the steering wheel. He looked like a family member, but she’d never heard of any cousins. “So, are you going to tell me who you are?”

“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Give it a try. I’m about to get in a tiny plane with you to… God knows where… so call it a token of good faith.”

He opened his mouth, then closed it again, seemingly thinking better of it. He tutted to himself, then stated, “My name is Hadden Violetta. I’m your father, just fifty years younger than the one you know.”

Tia burst out laughing. “Right, and I’m the Queen of England, only fifty years younger.” However, when she glimpsed Addy’s expression, devoid of amusement, her laughter ceased.

“No way…”

His jaw clenched, and he nodded. Inhaling a deep breath, she held her stomach. Nausea gripped her, but it wasn’t from the terrible driving. Although it seemed logically impossible, some part of her knew it was the truth. The whole evening replayed in her mind: his old-fashioned behaviour, the timbre of his voice, his facial features. In fact, his whole demeanour utterly spoke of her father. He pointed to the mole on his left cheek in the exact same place. “See?”

“How? I... How?!

“When I woke up this morning, it was 1960, and I was training as a pilot in Hawaii. The week before, your father telepathically transmitted a message to me, showing me how to time travel here. It almost killed me, by the way, but you can thank me later. Now he’s asked me to get you to safety, after which I need to go back to my timeline and make different decisions so that I don’t end up like him. But it can’t be that different because you still need to be born. I still need to marry your mum, and I still need to get filthy rich and buy that huge mansion. I’m not sure how to do any of this, so if you could chill out, you’d be doing me a massive favour.” He took a shaky breath, and Tia noticed his locked jaw and clenched shoulders.

Tia frowned, feeling the weight of all this bizarre new information. “You said you’re taking me home. Where’s that?”

“Again, you wouldn’t believe me, and it’s going to take too long to explain. Suffice it to say, it’s called Helio Tropez, and it’s supposed to be a pretty nifty place where you live on cloud nine. At least for most of the time. You’ll get to meet my parents, who, I guess, are your grandparents. I’m just hoping they’ll let us in….”

At a stoplight, Tia slapped her cheek, hoping to awaken from this dream, but it didn’t help either—nothing did. Fighting with the kid beside her didn’t seem to help either, so she decided to go with it.

Addy glanced at her. “I know it’s all hard to believe. Even though you’re one of us, you’re not really. Your father raised you like a surface person. The programming is deep. Scepticism is a SIM program designed to activate whenever there’s a glitch in their control matrix.”

Tia wanted to shake her head, but she resisted. There was a can of mace in her bag. This had gone too far. Once at the airfield, I’ll mace him and take the car.

Despite the appeal, doubt writhed at the back of her mind. But where would I go? I’m being hunted. Someone wants me, and it doesn’t sound like they have a tea party planned.

She swallowed, biding her time. An opportunity would come, and when it did, she either needed to trust this maniac kid claiming to be her father, supposedly taking her to a safe place. The other option was to navigate this world alone… and that terrified her even more.



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