May 2022 Archives

Presently, they gave up. They had to let Dalia and Peter and Tina go - no evidence meant no excuse to arrest them. They didn't want to, but I made it clear that they'd be facing the wrath of god and fifty-seven civil rights lawyers, so they caved. Me, they placed under arrest for the heinous crime of not somehow preventing my employee nephew - whose possessions I had no legal or moral right to search, by the way - from possessing two tenths of an ounce of marijuana on my property. They drove me down to the Riverside County Jail for booking, and put me alone in a room with a prosecutor who was introduced as Mr. Mendez, no matter what my rights said. I refused to talk without a lawyer. When the prosecutor started talking about confiscating my property, I said, "Maybe you can, and maybe you can't. Seems to me United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury is pretty much on point, and directly against you. Now how about letting me find a lawyer? Or at least letting me post bail? Maybe actually charging me with something?"

Then the tenor or the interview changed completely. "Look, we have pictures of an Imperial cruiser landing on your property this morning. You know and I know what that means. We want siphons and converters. You get them to us, your problems go away. You don't, we make life hell for you and your family." So he's one of the ticks - whomever was left of the stons' Earthbound stooges after I killed Brian, Greg, and Jeff.
Time to change tactics. Contrary to procedure, we weren't being recorded, so I took advantage. I held my hands up, and made the handcuffs fall off. His eyes got real big, and his mouth dropped open. "You group of ignorant, stone age savages, you really don't have any idea of what you're messing with, do you? You have to be operant to pilot an Imperial starship. I could kill you and everyone behind you, and you're just about making it worth my effort, too. You think you can stop me? Remember when you had operants, and nobody could touch them? Understand that you're looking at the reason you don't have any operants on your side anymore." I stayed seated, kept my voice low and deliberate, "I killed them. I also helped kill the basileus your stupid ston overlords couldn't control. Yeah, I'm only a Second Order Guardian. That makes me only worth about a hundred million of you. You want a war?" I paralyzed his motor control, and his eyes filled with fear. "Try and fight me right now, when you entered the room thinking I was a helpless woman. It's not going to get any easier than this. What are you waiting for?"

I continued, "I know you're just a little errand boy. But you tell your bosses from me to back off. Release my family, get away from us, leave us alone, or I swear upon my Savior Jesus Christ that you will all find out you don't have to die to spend time in hell. You want a siphon or a converter, maybe I can arrange it in return for something I want. So you send me an emissary to buy one. But you try taking one, and not only will it blow you and your rotten ticks to kingdom come, I will personally hunt down the survivors and see to it that they spend twenty years screaming in incoherent agony before I let them die. Is that plain?" I released control of his muscles; he managed to nod, cold sweat dripping from his forehead. Maybe one of the stons had used him to demonstrate what they could do, but he clearly understood that I wasn't bluffing. "I now have your entire organization because you were ignorant enough to put someone who knows something where I could reach them. Even if you hadn't, it would only have taken me a few seconds to trace you back with spak and kored. I can duplicate that any time I want. You have thirty seconds to drop charges and release me before I decide your little farce has gone too far. And while you're at it, release my family and my property and convince me you understand what a boneheaded error you made by fixing it." Adding a touch of auros, "move!" Yeah, some of it was exaggeration, and some of it was lie, but if these clowns really wanted a confrontation, I would carry through. It's one thing to go looking for trouble, it's something else when trouble comes looking for you. And yes, I was and am still Catholic. The Empire is amazingly open-minded about faith.

My diatribe had scared him, but not enough to confront his boss. He didn't understand enough about what "operant mindlord" meant, much less "Guardian". He was going to pretend to play along for a few minutes while he slipped out of my presence to arrange his dirty work. So I spoke to him, direct mind to mind, I understand what you're planning all too well, so you understand this. You try to leave the same room I'm in for any reason before my family tells me they are all safe, you will die. So you'd better do what I tell you and work fast, or resign yourself to wetting your pants. Not that letting him use the bathroom or leave my presence would give him any measure of safety, but maybe I'd picked up the Imperial habit of sand-bagging, making opponents think I couldn't do as much as I could. Besides, you didn't want to give people like him anything in the way of slack - they'd mistake it for being soft, sure as the sun rose in the east.

And nothing. He was still determined not to cooperate, like they still had something to hold over me. So I had choices: I could break out, and be officially a fugitive. I could take him over, and be a mind-rapist. I could let him do what he wanted to my family, and lose most of them. I could get them what they wanted - and even if my family escaped unscathed this time, we'd be subject to extortion forever. Or I could do what I did: Make every neuron in his body to fire at maximum for ten seconds.

I hoped never to see that again, but I knew I'd have to. It was ugly and pitiful, both at the same time. He dropped to the floor, writhing uncontrollably in small jerks, completely oblivious to the fact his thrashing around was banging his shins into a desk or his forehead into a chair leg. Any concern about him losing bladder control, or bowel, was strictly past tense. It was so bad he couldn't even scream until it was over. Two more stooges burst into the room in the middle of it, both foot-soldier thugs in the organization. They started towards me, so I gave them exactly the same treatment. When it was over, they were laying on the floor, whimpering and moaning, completely broken. I said, "That was ten seconds. I can make it last days just as easily. If I want to work at it a little bit, it can last for years. This is your last chance. What's it going to be?"

They were convinced. I'd finally done something that overshadowed their fear of their boss. Weakly, he said, "Ms. Juarez, you're free to go. Mike, get the paperwork for rescinding arrest. I'll sign you out myself." The designated thug slowly limped to a computer in the next room, printed a single sheet, brought it back. The prosecutor thug signed it. I stood there while he ordered the four teams he had harassing my family to stand down.

It was a good fifteen minutes before my family members called my cell phone, telling me they'd been set free. When I finished the call, I turned to the prosecutor thug and said, "You're off the hook for now. Let me tell you how it's going to be. I'm in and out and all over, so if you want something, you send a letter to my sanctuary. Not a messenger, not a phone call, not an e-mail, not a text message, a good old-fashioned US Postal Service letter. You address it to me, personal and confidential. You include a phone number I can call back at. I'll explain this to your boss, too." And I was off - Blink! Blink! From the rooftops in Washington DC, I picked out the federal office building that housed Ms. Okuda - head of the biggest cabal now that the shakeouts from Greg, Brian, and Jeff's deaths were over.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.


We headed outside and Zeb handed me a piece of chalk. I knelt down and reached out as far as I could before spinning around slowly in a circle to draw a bigger circle on the driveway, maybe three feet or so in diameter.

It wasn't good enough for Zeb. He pointed to a place where the line crossed what had likely been a bubble in the cement when it was poured. "See that? 's no good. The circle's broke afore ya start!"

"Can it be repaired?" I asked, drawing over the gap with the chalk to the point where there was a continuous line of chalk, just a little bit thinner in that place because of the bubble.

"Yeah, that'll prob'ly work," he admitted, "The important thing is it's gotta be con-tin-was, 's IF you din't pick up yer chalk while drawin' the line. Now le's all look for other holes." Julie and I looked around the line of the circle; it didn't appear there were any other gaps like the first.

"Okay, now, stand inside, put yer drop o' blood on th' circle, 'n' will it to pertect."

I didn't have anything to draw blood handy, and I didn't want to scratch to get one, but it was a summer afternoon, over ninety still and I was in a suit. I'd developed a sheen of sweat; I ran my hand over my face and came away with enough it would probably drip off if I let it, leaned over to almost touch the circle and willed the protection as the drop fell.

I felt it right away, a feeling almost like static electricity. I didn't need to hear Zeb's "Hot damn! Jes' 's strong as yer light 'n' shield! Yer gonna be a helluva sorc'erer when ya get some 'sperience!"

"Okay, so how do I stop it?"

"Jes' step outta the circle! 'T'ill ground out. But don' step on it or smear it, yer wife's gonna use it, too!"

Julie carefully stepped into the same circle, powered it in the same way I had. It worked just as well too, judging by her smile and Zeb's interjection of "Her too! Jes' 's strong! Jumpin' Jee-ho-sa-phat, I wanna see what 's like when you two learn enough ta work together!"

And that was about the time our two favorite detectives drove up. Whitehall and Ramirez. They'd probably been by earlier, asked one of the aforementioned neighbors who thought I was a murderer to call if I came home.

"Mark Jackson, Julie Ingmar, we need you to come downtown and answer some questions."

"Whyever for?" Zeb asked, "The answers 'r' going to be the same right here."

"Detective Whitehall, Detective Ramirez," I said, "RaDonna Adedeji called me this morning to say there'd been an attack on my old office, and told me you were looking for me. At the time, I'd been looking at a property in Pasadena we're considering buying for nearly two hours, with three other people, two of them the entire time. We also met two tenants of the property during that time."

They looked at Julie, "I was in a boring office meeting that should have been an e-mail," Julie said, "But Mr. Silver likes to show off, and he pays my salary."

"What are you doing here?" Ramirez eyed the circle suspiciously.

"'m teachin' 'em to play a game I know." I hadn't known Zeb could be sarcastic, much less that he was good at it.

"Right. Who were these people whom you were with?" Detective Whitehall asked.

"Karen Alder, Jerome Butler, and Rose Houseman, an architect Ms. Alder recommended." I followed with their phone numbers. "The tenants are Harriet and Amanda, I don't know their last names, but they are tenants at the address. The listing agent set up the showing with my agent, Zhou Li." I gave them Zhou's number as well. I wasn't certain of the listing agent, and better the listing agent speak to Zhou or Karen anyway.

He looked at Julie, "Everyone in my office was there except Liz, who was in court."

"Ya heered 'em, they could'na done it!" Zeb almost screamed, "Go 'way and leave us alone!"

For a miracle, they did. Both detectives turned around and returned to their car without another word, got in, and Ramirez drove them off.

"Did you do that?" I asked Zeb.

"Durned tootin'! That one is a right nasty piece o' work! Li'l bit o' mind magic ne'er hurt no one, long's it's the truth! Yer getting married tomorry, right? Ain't got time fer him to be persecutin' his private little war!"

Oh hell. "What's likely to happen when it wears off?"

I'd meant the question for Zeb, but Julie answered, "Well, I'd expect them to be hesitant enough about admitting they were charmed to call the people we named and verify our alibi first, and that's if they didn't do it before Zeb's spell wears off. Then knowing we weren't there, they won't be in a good position to come bother us again without some sort of evidence laying it at our feet. Since we didn't do it, that will be hard."

"What if they don't have any other leads?"

"Zeb's right about Ramirez. He may try to manufacture something. But that's a worry for another day."

Copyright 2022 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

When I woke, the light was late afternoon. I checked the clock - almost four. I guessed I'd been out almost twelve hours. As strung out as I'd been, I wasn't surprised. I was pretty certain ScOsh had gone the last two days plus of his life without sleep, but I didn't know the trick to doing that yet.

I had to do something almost as scary as fighting the basileus - tell Papi the truth, and convince him it was the truth. Did I mention he's a high school math teacher with forty years of experience? He's heard it all, many times before, and Occam's Razor is something he was so used to applying I'd learned it by osmosis so early I couldn't remember. Mama was pretty sharp, too, but she'd believe me if Papi did. I had to carefully consider what hard evidence I had.

Item: one Mindsword, no longer "alive". I could maybe buy a live mouse at the pet store to demonstrate its killer cancellation effect, or use it to cut something. In fact, the brand new sweatshirt it was wrapped in was halfway shredded already, despite how careful I'd been. Not exactly impressive evidence, and dangerous to handle as well. It might be good supporting evidence, but Aurora by itself would never convince Papi. Not unless I was so irresponsible as to let someone touch it, which wasn't going to happen. ScOsh, wherever his soul had gone, would never forgive me.

Item: one small hand blaster. I checked it and the charge level was back to orange. I remembered that ScOsh had told me to dial it up, so I dialed it back down, and the meter cycled through colors back to blue. According to what ScOsh had told me, it should have recharged itself completely in about eight hours, so I figured the power per shot was about comparable to the original setting. I considered turning it off for safety, then decided against. ScOsh had been pretty certain he'd gotten all the stons, but he hadn't even tried for whatever minions they might have, and I had no way of knowing how many demons were wandering loose around Earth, and I had no way of knowing either group hadn't been given information that would lead to my parents. I left it on, and put it back in my bag. Not only self-defense, but good hard evidence as well. Earth had nothing like it.

Item: about thirty thousand dollars in cash. ScOsh had destroyed the rest. Also, what appeared to be a numbered Swiss account with a balance of just shy of six million Swiss francs, as well as various other financial instruments that I might or might not be able to access somehow. Not evidence; too many less outlandish and more morally questionable ways of acquiring it. It would be useful to the extent I could tap into it, which would have to be done carefully, but it wouldn't do anything to convince Papi.
Item: one "logbook" that ScOsh had handed me with Aurora. Problem was, it didn't look like anything more than a small case of some indeterminate material. No display, no readouts I could access. Not impressive. It might be a miracle device for all I knew, but for all I could demonstrate to Papi, it might as well be a paperweight.

Item: one "pocket". I unfolded it. Jackpot! I could actually see into it, and there was not only ScOsh's other sword, which could be handled a lot more safely than Aurora even if it was less unearthly, there were side pockets of a more mundane nature inside holding other stuff. Some if it was mundane Earth stuff (including more cash), other items were nothing I could identify. Nothing I was going to fool with, but what looked like the "gun" he'd used on the gangbangers and another similarly styled device, probably a different gun. I didn't know how to handle them, but they weren't Earth made, that was for certain. Half a dozen items like nothing I could identify. I didn't know for certain they were Imperial, but it seemed likely. I wasn't going to handle any of it more than was necessary, and I certainly wasn't going to fool with trying to use them, but the pocket by itself was probably going to convince Papi. Imagine your kitchen trash can. Now imagine all that you could see was the mouth of the trash can, with no apparent "trash container" attached, but that still held whatever you had put into it. The "mouth" was a cloth-like material about the size of a scarf or bandanna on one side with a 'lip' around the edges, but you could reach into the other and pull stuff out, or put it into for storage, without apparent care for what the pocket was resting on. A three dimensional space, carried around like a two dimensional piece of cloth, and with only the apparent mass of the cloth. Kind of like the hole that the Roadrunner was able to pick up and move like a physical object, whenever doing so would frustrate Wile E. Coyote. I thought about putting Aurora inside the "pocket", and decided ScOsh hadn't done it despite obvious opportunity, so that might not be a good idea somehow. Still, while the hand blaster might conceivably be not be too far beyond Earth's technology, and I knew even less about the other pieces of hardware I had been given custody of, this was demonstrably so far beyond anything Earth could do that Occam's Razor would tell Papi that the least complex explanation was that I was telling the truth - at least as well as I knew it.

Finally, item: Graciela Juarez, newly operant but without much practice and only the most basic level of training. I decided against telling them anything I didn't have to about the changes I'd been through. I'd last been home on Sunday, so it had been less than a week. They had to know that I'd been through a change of some sort because of the difference in my appearance, but I wasn't going to tell them their baby girl was now a bruja. Papi was only one generation removed from Mexican farmworkers who might as well have been medieval peasants. Abuelo had been a wonderful warmhearted man who got his two sons through college through incredible hard work and saving, and educated his three daughters at least through high school, but some of the superstitions I remember him having when I was a little girl were more than enough to persuade me to keep my mouth shut. Abuela, who'd only died a couple years ago, had been sweet and cheerful and happy, tough as nails beneath, and even more superstitious. Mama's family wasn't that much different. No, Graciela Juarez was not going to say one word about the marvelous things she might be able to do someday.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

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No matter what the song says, it does rain in southern California. All the damn time in March of El Nino years.

The most recent storm had finished blowing through earlier that evening. I didn't like working after dark, but the compliance reports just couldn't wait any longer. My boss, "Call me George" Martinez, had informed me that the EPA was crawling all over him and that if the hazardous usage and disposal reports weren't completed by the time he got to work in the morning, I would be joining the ranks of the unemployed. In blue state basket case California, in the middle of the worst economy of the last eighty years. Jerk.

Overall, Riverside's not a bad town. I've got a small apartment not too far from the UC campus. The complex is full of students with a smattering of old fogeys too poor and too stubborn to leave, and working class stiffs, not to mention hybrids like me. The ones I've talked to were alright.

But this wasn't there. The warehouse sits in a commercial district near where the 91 dies and turns into the 215 at the 60 merge. There are some rough people nearby, in the old twenties and thirties housing they threw up back before tract housing. Tiny lots, old decaying houses, ancient plumbing and wiring, never updated. Paint cracked, chipped, and peeling. Calling them Craftsmen would be implying a level of charm that simply didn't exist. Streets jammed with old junker cars. Chain link fences, neglected lawns, junk left wherever someone dropped it because it was too much effort to clean up. An occasional abuela put in a few flowers that just made the rest of the neighborhood look even more pitiful. Rough people, mostly poor hispanics with the occasional white trash or black, human refuse that just didn't have what it took to get ahead in the world as it had become. Some were disabled, most simply never applied themselves much. Get a second or third generation in there, and you got some real gangbanging. Easy path to see, damned near impossible to make it work into a real life worth living. Enough to make me appreciate my parents, who escaped that world and made sure I knew enough not to fall back.

The gangs had been cooped up inside most of the previous ten days. El Nino storms came through one after another. Maybe they wouldn't drown or freeze you, but they were cold, wet, and miserable - at least by the standards of California weather. Nobody came out when it was raining without a good reason why they had to be out there and then, but once it stopped a light jacket would keep you warm, and the hoodies would be out looking to burn off some energy. It's not like they had anything better to do.

And here I was, a 28 year old woman leaving the building all by myself in the dark just after eight-thirty with no one around. Just bad luck the four guys in jackets walking up the other side of the street at the exact wrong time. No key to get back in - damn "Call me George" to hell. I picked up my pace. If I could get to my car - beater that it is - and lock the doors there was a chance I'd be able to drive away.

Mistake. The hoodies started to run. Now there was some effort in it for them, things were looking worse for me. Cell phone, you say? I could grab the phone and push the number to dial 911, but it wouldn't do me a bit of good. Typical response time was thirty minutes. By the time the cops showed up, it would be long over. I was about to do it anyway when it happened.

I swear on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that this happened. He looked like an Angel of the Lord, minus the wings. Hanging up there in the air. Well, not hanging - he was falling, though not like he was getting pulled - more like he was riding an escalator that wasn't there. At least six five, thin as a rail, with a softly glowing sword of all the improbable things. Wearing what looked like some kind of uniform, dark with lighter trim, cut like nothing I'd ever seen.

I don't know what he did to call attention to himself, but all of a sudden the 'bangers noticed him. Not just the 'bangers, but everything's attention was wrenched towards him as if someone grabbed our heads, sunk hooks into our eyeballs and made us look. Right down to the rats in the dumpsters.

That was enough for the 'bangers. They hauled out their guns and started banging away. The visitor looked puzzled for an instant, then the sword vanished, and I saw a flash from him. Something in his hand - didn't did get a good look at what it was. The gang members fell over so fast it was over before I could twitch. Damn! The guy was fast. I'd never seen anything like that even in the movies.

One look showed four lifeless bodies with blood starting to pool. The visitor lit with catlike grace, apparently as unconcerned as if nothing had just happened. I had a decision to make, and I did. I jumped in my car and got the hell out of Dodge. I didn't want to be anywhere in the neighborhood when the cops finally got there. I didn't stop to say thanks, I definitely didn't talk to him, I just jumped in and went. I didn't slow down until I was home. I might have run a red light or two; I really couldn't tell you with any certainty.

I pulled into the parking lot, and spent a few minutes having a quiet attack of the shakes. The steering wheel was a nice solid reassurance of the familiar world of everyday life. Things like that just did not happen. Bad enough to come that close to being raped or maybe worse. I lived in the real world, and things like that happened even though you don't want them to. But you do not get six and a half feet of impossibly fast man walking down out of the sky to kill your enemies every day, or any day. Maybe in fairy tales or fiction, not in Riverside.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

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"Somehow, I thought there would be more for a god to do."

"Why husband, you always seem busy enough," Petra replied.

"Those are my own projects, and I know I spend more time than you would prefer on them. But I presumed the position of being a god came with its own duties and requirements. Thus far, I have found none."

"Husband, we are both Eternals - minor gods as such things go. We know there are at least two tiers above us. I spent ten thousand years and more as an Immortal. Outside of the chains of my creation, I was never tasked with anything. Art thou disappointed?" She'd taken to wearing what I called her Ultimate Lady from The Next Farm Over appearance most of the time we were together. She appeared as a dusky, light brown-skinned young lady with shoulder length medium brown hair, just barely into the first flush of maturity and shapely to the point where she drew eyes from all the men, even now at the end of her pregnancy with our first child. Petra's skin glowed with health, her hair shone with golden highlights in the soft brown. Nothing exaggerated or fancy - her breasts and buttocks were if anything slightly smaller than average, her parts just all fit together perfectly. Her hairstyle was dead simple - straight with just a hint of wave. She never wore complex fashions or glaringly sexual clothes or anything that clung too tightly, just simple and loose, hinting at the lush curves beneath. Nor was she particularly thin. Maybe by some perverse standards she might even be a little overweight. She almost never used cosmetics of any sort. But most women of King Edvard Haraldsson's court hated her for the way she drew male eyes despite everything they did to keep attention centered on themselves. They'd never understand what Petra had spent ten thousand years learning - men liked simple and elegant. These days, Petra was happy and content, and that amplified attraction even more.

"Nay, O Lady of My Heart, I am not disappointed, but happily surprised. The fact it is a happy surprise does not alter the fact it is a surprise. Why does the universe allow us to exist, when it does not require our assistance? Why are we thus privileged? There must be some purpose to allowing us this power."

"Why question thy good fortune, husband?"

"I am ultsi, milady, by habit if not by fact. We are seekers after knowledge, which requires us to be askers of questions, and I'm not explaining myself clearly, so let's approach it from another direction. Have you ever seen a living thing simply exist?"

"Trees. Grass."

"Trees and grass do not simply exist. They're in competition for soil and sunlight and water. All the other trees and blades of grass want these same things, and there's only so much to go around. Where are our competitors?"

"Other gods."

"The niche seems suspiciously empty. One of the rules is populations expand to make full use of resources. Doesn't it seem that with so much energy available, there would be more and more beings clamoring to take it for their own survival? Yet it seems that there's plenty there for all, and there's a disturbing next question."

"I would rather not be disturbed at present, husband, but it does seem that the number of gods is increasing."

I let the next question lie for now. "And our rivals?"

"Kiltig and Klikitit would fit that description."

She had a valid point. Perhaps I came from a place so energy-starved that we'd been forced to learn to make more efficient use - and now suddenly I'd been given access to a place where all the energy you could want was there for the taking, and my competitors simply had less ability to take advantage of that energy? But resource rich environments served as a beacon for organisms from less fecund locales. Aescalon was so energy rich its divinities never learned skills that even the weakest martsi and natsi - ordinary humans with the weakest level of mind power - learned as a matter of course. "Not the same thing, milady. Those are personal animosities. Given the energy rich environment of Aescalon and its fountain of plentiful energy, there should be so many gods clamoring to partake that there is none to spare. I can think of two possible reasons why this is not the case, but I'm unable at the present to test either hypothesis."

"What are those possibilities?"

"First, that the amount of energy has seen a recent increase, although 'recent' in this case is in terms of natural time, and I've insufficient data on the length of divine generations. The second is that there was a population collapse - something caused the number of divinities to drop - and we're still building back up to equilibrium. In either case, resources would seem to be plentiful until the new population increased to fill the niche."

"And how long will it take us to fill this 'niche', husband?"

"Thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands."

"Then does it not seem like thy worry is premature? We shall have plentiful time to solve it."

"A true observation my love, and yet questions of this nature are better answered sooner than late. A full answer would point us to a method of securing needed sustenance for ourselves and our descendants when the resources become strained, and such procurement is much simpler when the resources are easily acquired."

"I have faith in your abilities, milord. In ten thousand years, I have encountered none with so restless a mind."

"But as resources become strained, the quality of competition will necessarily increase as well."

"I thought I asked you not disturb my contented state, milord?"

It wasn't worth the argument at this point. I changed the subject, "How long until you believe yourself ready to give birth, milady?" But that didn't mean I wasn't going to keep pursuing answers. Nor did Petra expect me to - she knew I was ultsi to the core. She just didn't want to be disturbed at the moment. I hadn't even touched upon the most disquieting notion of all: predators. Every ecosystem has predators, and they almost always strike without warning, when they think you're most vulnerable.

Copyright 2020 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

The Monad Trap is book 2 of Connected Realms.

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