On the way to the lobby, he was careful to keep his thoughts neutral. He’d become an expert at inconspicuous thinking. It was certain that the Essence knew he was aware of their monitoring and that he and Grace had been discovered and they would be patrolling his every thought, no matter how benign, shadowing him. When he got in the car he would do the one thing that always created enough static and mental fuzz to confuse any Presence doing some stalking, he would slide in his heavy metal CD’s. They were a sure fire time buyer when you’d been marked by the essence for tracking. He slid in a little Cat Scratch Fever and cranked it high, letting the grinding steel fangs devour his mental energy. He sensed the falling away of the presence who had followed him to the car. If he was quick and luck was on his side, he could get to Grace and the baby, before they had a chance to decease her replicated body. He slammed his foot to the floor, zigzagging in and out of traffic until someone cut him off, disturbing his momentum. It seemed every nut was now on the road and determined to block his path. After a while, he and Ted Nugent decided to take a road less travelled and turned off the freeway to the strains of Stranglehold. The jeep crawled down the open road, until the sun began to dip beneath the horizon. How many times had he witnessed this, the passing of a day and why had be become so oblivious to the beauty and meaning in that ball of fire that controlled human survival. It was this one thing, a ball of fire 93 million miles away that would determine the course of humanity, not a homeless colony of invaders. Their fate had already been decided by an energy hungry dying star and their refusal to accept it had led to this. He knew now, more than ever that a war was imminent but deeper than thought, in a place the Essence hated and more importantly didn’t understand, his human side was confident the hybrids and humanity would prevail against their enemies.
As the last light faded, Dominic turned down the rough dirt road toward the compound that housed the anchor terminals. He’d been here twice before; spying for the hybrids. But that was so long ago, he wasn’t sure if he could rely on his memory to find her unit in the darkness. As if some unseen force was working on his behalf, a lovely full moon rose in the cloudless sky. It would provide just enough brightness to illuminate the digits on the markers. He slowly crept along the boundary line between the terminals and the compound, careful to keep his mind as blank as possible. It was always more dangerous where the presences gathered in clusters at the compounds and bases of operation. The upside was that they were less trouble in body than when they were free to roam in and out, completely unseen.
The terminals were comprised of five units each and Grace was in Terminal 4, cell #1. When he reached to open the door, he heard footsteps behind him. He tried desperately to quell the tension building inside his gut, a tension that could only lead to panicked thinking and his capture. He jammed his body up against the wall of the cell and after a few minutes, the footsteps passed into the distance toward the next terminal. He was sweating heavily, his heart jumping like an animal in a cage, but he managed to grab the handle of the door and open it. Grace was sitting on the side of a cot, her head in her hands, until she saw Dominic’s body filling the doorway. She stood and fell into his waiting arms, a deluge of tears soaking his shirt. “Oh Gracie, my sweet Gracie, I love you so much, so very much.” They stood like that until their tears were spent and they could talk. Before she spoke, Grace tilted her head, looking at him in a teasing way that always drove him crazy with desire for her.
“I need to blow this replicated nose Dominic or we’ll be able to slide out of here on a river of snot, no need for a car.”
Oh god, how he loved to hear her talk about things so banal so basic. Her humour was still intact and he grabbed her, kissing her bang on the lips with a passion hotter and more powerful than either of them had ever felt. “Dominic, I felt the baby kick today.”
“Yep, and you know what?”
“I think it’s a male.”
“Know what Gracie?” He said as he slid his hand across growing belly.
“I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s ours.” Dominic hesitated before doing some of his own coming clean. “Gracie, I have something to say to you, so now it’s your turn to sit down. You know who I am, but you don’t know what I am. I’m not all that human, in fact, I’m a hybrid.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me Dominic?”
“At first I couldn’t be sure I could trust you, but then as time wore on and you started to dive into the deep end of emotion, I put it off, thinking you had enough going on inside you and I didn’t want to overwhelm you. Then, it just got harder to broach the subject as time went on.”
Grace stared at the floor in shock, but her silence was beginning to frighten him.
“Gracie, are you okay? Please don’t be angry with me. On second thought, I want you to be angry with me, it’s the unfeeling I fear in you. Yell at me, do something, but don’t just sit there like a stone wall.” Grace looked up at him and grinned.
“I think we’re even on the lying thing, don’t you?”
“Know what Gracie?’
“I think you’re absolutely right.”
“Now we have to get out of here Dominic. These walls are impossible to penetrate with thought, so we’ve been safe in here, but when we get out there we have to tune out everything, including our feelings. If not, we won’t make it to the gate. Can you do it?”
“I can do it Gracie, for you and the baby, I can do anything.”
Grace laced her fingers through Dominic’s as they quickly made their way past the terminals, careful to keep their minds a monotonous hum of non thought, each furtive step taken with great care. When they reached the jeep, Dominic heard a shuffling nearby, turning, he saw Grace pointing at a clump of sumac bushes near the driver’s side.
Before they had a chance to make a run for it, Gerard emerged from the shadows. “For chrissake Gerard, you nearly scared the shit out of us.”
Sorry about that old Pal, but this is kinda urgent, you have to get your ass back to the pit, pronto. It appears we have a visitor from out there.” He said, pointing up at the blanket of stars. A comet has entered our orbit and it will be making its impact in about four hours, give or take a few seconds here or there.”
Dominic swallowed hard, “where exactly is the trajectory of the thing, where is it headed Gerard?”
“You’re not gonna believe this one old Pal, but amazingly it’s supposed to touch down with a bang somewhere in Alaska and I don’t thi…
“How big is it?” interrupted Grace.
“It’s big Grace, goddamn gigantic and there is no stopping it. The terrifying thing is that it came out of nowhere and we’re totally unprepared for it. NASA, the international space station, no one knew. One minute it wasn’t there, the next, it’s coming at us like a rocket. Even if we had known, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference, it’s just too immense.”
Dominic took a deep breath and exhaled, leaning back against the door of the jeep.
“This makes the Essence look like a flea on a elephant’s ass. We need to get underground, let’s get the hell outta here.”
After they were on the road a while Grace turned to Dominic, “Okay, I can’t take the suspense any longer, what the hell is the ‘pit’?”
“Well Gracie honey, it’s the meeting place for human’s and hybrids, our headquarters I guess, which is essentially a hole in the ground, hence its name: The Pit. As intelligent as the presences are, they think in terms of rats, sewers and missile silos, when they even bother to acknowledge anything not above the surface. It never occurred to them that it would be used as a meeting place for their enemies.”
“How do you get down there?”
“You’ll see in couple of minutes Gracie, we’re here.”
Dominic pulled the jeep up to a grove of trees next to a ploughed field.
“I don’t see anything Dominic.”
“You will Gracie, be patient.”
Gerard was waiting for them in between two towering cedars. “Okay kids, time to go for a ride. You’d better prepare yourself Grace, because you’re in for the slide of your life.”
“What’s he talking about Dominic?”
“You’ll see.” He said.
Gerard lifted a grass covered hatch, inviting Grace to go first. Inside was a dimly lit shaft with a metal chute like the slide in a children’s playground.
“You’ve got to be kidding you guys. That thing has no end and, this may surprise you, but I don’t like the idea of falling into an abyss, no matter how fun the ride. Dominic, I don’t think this is a very good idea.”
“Look Gracie, I’ll sit in front and you just put your arms around my waist and in no time at all we’ll be there, okay?”
“Okay, but I’m if we end up falling into oblivion, I’m blaming you Dominic.”
Gerard closed the hatch behind him and followed them down until they reached the landing room, which was really a padded floor.
“Okay, that was fun; even I can admit it.”
“That’s the Gracie I know and love. Now lets get over to the surveillance room so you can see what we’ve been doing down here all this time. I’m sure you’ve got a million questions honey and Gerard and I will try to answer them all.”
They walked through a series of intersecting tunnels with enough human traffic to imply something important was happening down here. It was much more brightly lit than the shaft, but the pungent smell of the dirt walls and floor were making her queasy and Grace was ready to vomit by the time they reached there destination; a large round room, filled with humans and hybrids, its walls covered with maps and monitors scanning every inhabited area on the planet. On each screen there were dots in red, blue and green, all moving at different times but the green were in constant motion and Grace knew exactly what they were.
She turned to Dominic and Gerard, “how long have you been down here tracking the presences?”
“A long time Gracie; the better part of twenty years. My father built the pit before he left and I’ve kept it going, upgrading it and with the increase in the hybrid population, it’s become a tool of our survival. It’s allowed us to keep one step ahead of the presences. Down here, we’re free.”
“Did you say your father built it?”
“Yeah, he was like you, a presence who altered himself and began to feel. He met my mother, fell in love and lived a double life more or less, until I was about five, then he was gone, that’s all I know really. Mother never talked about him after he deserted us.”
“Uh, I think this is my cue to take a hike, since this is less than none of my business” Said Gerard. “I’ll be back to let you know how long we have until the comet gives us a kiss.”
“Yeah, uh, that’d be good Gerard, thanks.”
When he turned to his wife, she’d focused her penetrating gaze on him.
“Why are you so certain your father deserted you Dominic?”
“Because he did Gracie, I was there. If you don’t mind, I don’t really want to talk about him anymore okay? That man is not my favourite topic of conversation, he broke my mother’s heart and he’s dead to me now. End of story.”
“Yes, he is Dominic.”
“He is what Gracie?”
“He’s dead Dominic.”
“What did you just say?”
“I said, your father is dead. He didn’t desert you or your mother. He was discovered by a presence on thought patrol, captured, interred at the anchoring terminals and vanquished two days later.”
Incredulous, he stared in her clear blue eyes. He was afraid to ask the next question, but he needed the answer, he needed to know.
“Were you there Gracie, when it happened?”
“Yes Dominic, I was and before you jump to conclusions, aside from my nature as a presence, I did not take part in his termination. I was there between replications and witnessed it. That’s all.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before Gracie?”
“Because I didn’t realize until just now after reading your memory of him the connection and who he was to you. You have to believe me; I would have told you if I’d known. There is something else you need to know about him.”
“Okay, go ahead Gracie, what is it?”
“He turned himself in after he was detected and your mother knew all about it. They discovered his feeling nature one day when he wasn’t careful to shroud them and he was summoned to appear before a tribunal. He slipped under the radar long enough to tell her and to say goodbye. He never went back home or thought of you after that because he was saving both of you. It was his final act of love, a feeling that was still new to him but so strong he would do anything to protect those most important to him.
“I had no idea Gracie, none whatsoever. I’ve been trying to avoid every thought of that man for most of my life and now you tell me he should be ideal, my hero? How do I stop hating him now? My whole life has been lived to prove I’m not like him. You can’t just turn it off like that!” He said, snapping his fingers for effect.
“Well honey, I’m more than a little ignorant when it comes to such complex negotiations between feelings. As a presence newly realized, I’ve got a long way to go before I can even come close to finessing emotions like a human or hybrid. Sometimes it feels like I’m lost in the wilderness with you Dominic. But I can tell you this much, you may have been living your life to be all you thought he wasn’t and should have been, but the truth is, you are your father’s son after all.”
“Come here baby.” He said, wrapping his arms around her, no matter what happens, we’ll be okay; you, me and the baby. I love you Gracie and you love me and whatever tries to tear us apart won’t prevail. I swear to you, we’ll still be standing at the end of this.”
“Ehem, could I interrupt this passionate embrace?”
Dominic looked behind him, “what’s going on Gerard? You look like you’ve just been shot out of a canon. Is there a new development?”
“The comet entered the atmosphere and just hit landed outside what used to be Sitka Alaska. I used to, because it pretty much exploded, according to our contact at NASA. The Russians are in a panic and looking for some way to expedite the end by hitting the nuke button compassionately lessening the horror for us all by toasting the remaining breathers. Apparently, our own President has been hearing some presence whispers in his ear and now the white house is toying with the same idea. I think these goddamn presences can’t wait to exploit our fear of suffering and death. You do know you two, if they do the unthinkable and set off some missiles, we’re as good as gone.”
“They won’t do it Gerard. As long as the possibility exists that there will be survival, the power mad gene in the humans at the top will be focused on keeping and retaining control of some moving object. Ah, you gotta love our human side don’t ya?”
“You have a point there old pal. I guess I’m not cynical enough, I gotta work on that.”
“Have you locked the exit hatches and alerted the population?
“All taken care of old pal, but there is some panic developing in the tunnel nine. Joseph, a human who controls the temperature in the pit is having his own hot little meltdown and telling people they’re gonna die. I think he’s whipping up the fear so he doesn’t feel like the only chicken shit.”
“Aw, gee Gerard, you’re always so compassionate. You sure that presence side of yours is under control? Getting rigid might cramp that laid back style your famous for.”
“Hardee har har Dominic, my comedian friend, I’ll have you know it isn’t my lack of compassion, but that guy’s lack of job skills. He’s been a problem down here before. Every week he has some complaint about something, you could set your watch to his bitch sessions. Yep, our Joseph is as regular as a bowel movement. The disgruntled bastard should’ve been fired a long time ago.”
“Well, it won’t matter for much longer because there may not be a world or a pit to complain about, so in a way he’s getting the ultimate pink slip. We all are.”
“Well, if you two guys don’t mind, I’m carrying a baby and a little optimistic lying would go a long way right about now.”
“Shit, I’m sorry Gracie, I wasn’t thinking. Tessa took a strip off me this morning for even mentioning the comet in front of our kids. Maybe Dominic here is right; maybe I do need to work on caging the presence in me.”
“Hey, did you feel that you guys?”
“Yeah, I felt it Gracie, how about you Gerard?”
“Well old pal, I felt the goddamn earth move and we haven’t even kissed. We’ll just have to hope the supports down here hold up.”
“We need to close off the tunnels Gerard. Gracie and I’ll shut off the first two that link up to the landing room. If you do the others, that should eliminate some danger. We don’t need anyone getting stuck in there if the supports buckle they collapse. I think we can expect a continental shift the likes of which this earth has never seen.”
“You got Dominic, consider it done. On the way back I’ll collect the missus and the little hybrids.”
Gerard sprinted away, while Grace and Dominic left the control chamber, which was rapidly filling with people preparing for the comet to hit; their chatter nervous and high pitched. The two walked through a junction in the first corridor and up the ramp to the regulation boxes that controlled the access tunnels in the pit. After ushering out the remaining people, instructing them to gather in the control chamber, he pulled the first lever and Gracie pulled the second, effectively sealing them off from the world above.
“Well, that’s done Dominic. Now what? Do we wait like trapped rats? I gave up my immortality and replaced it with the Dominic, but it isn’t until this moment I realize what it means to die, really die.”
“Are you sorry Gracie?” He asked, a bit afraid of her answer.
“Dominic, I would give up eternity again and again for just one day of what I have with you and our unborn child. There is more meaning in your love and our baby’s future laughter than could be culled from one thought as a presence. I will never be sorry for this, never.” She reached over and put her arms around him and when the first tremor hit, she buried her face in his neck.
“Come on Gracie, we’d better make it back to the control chamber before the next shock comes, the supports there don’t rely on man made concrete beams. My father was pragmatic enough to exploit a structure that was already here, by digging it out of the rock ledge. It’s a self contained room, so we’ll be safe there.”
On the way back, they held hands, running through dust clouds, dirt and rock that the quake had shaken loose, but before they made if back, another tremor hit, this one longer and stronger than the first. Grace clung to Dominic but the shifting earth knocked them off their feet.
“Gracie, are you okay?” he shouted, pulling her close to his chest.
“I’m okay Dominic, I think I hurt my ankle, but I’m okay.”
The sat like that for the next several seconds until the quake finally subsided. “We’d better go Dominic, before another comes. I think this area is going to cave in shortly.”
“I agree baby, let’s go.”
The control chamber was full to capacity with bodies and everything was surprisingly intact. Gerard was already sitting with his wife and children when he looked up, relieved to see their faces. “I was getting worried old pal, where the hell have you two been?”
“We were on our way back and got caught in two shakers,” Dominic said, reaching over to greet Gerard’s wife Annie. “Long time no see Annie, this is my wife Gracie, Gracie, this is Annie, Gerard’s very tolerant better half.”
“Hey, watch it there old Pal, I’ll have you know my wife adores me, don’t you honey?”
“Of course I do Gerry, in a tolerant better half sort of way, replied Anne.” She offered her hand to Grace, “It’s nice to meet you Grace and it’s good to know that Dominic also has a tolerant better half so I can have some company in my misery” she joked.
“It’s nice to meet you too,” said Grace. I hope once the baby comes you can give me some pointers,” she ventured, looking at the two year old boy in Annie’s lap and the five year old girl sitting between them.
“You’ve got it Grace, I’d be honoured to help you any way I can, just give me a call. When are you due?”
“In four months.”
“Enjoy the sleeping while you can, because once that little arrives, you won’t sleep again until they’re in college.”
Dominic looked at the people milling around the maps in the center of the room and noticed that the number of dots on the board representing the presences had decreased and every so often one would just vanish.
“Gerard, he said, are we still getting communication from the surface?”
“Nope old pal, once it hit everything went dead.” He followed Dominic’s gaze to maps. “You noticed it too?” he asked.
“Yeah, and it doesn’t make sense. Isn’t this what they were waiting for? Gracie, something peculiar is going on; look at the board, the number of presences has diminished to less that half of what they were. What do you make of it?”
Grace studied the boards and after a while she turned to the group with a stunned expression on her face. You aren’t going to believe this, but I think they are dying.”
“How the hell is that possible?” Gerard asked. Nothing kills them, NOTHING. I thought they’d be crawling like ants on the surface by now, enjoying our absence and the spoils.”
Grace swallowed hard. “All day long I’ve felt something, a tug in my head, something familiar but indefinable that made me so tired, but when I came down here disappeared. Now I know what it was. That comet is a big chunk of the dying star that forced us to leave our planet, wandering until we found you and the earth. The energy contained in it is what was depleted our life force and it looks like it is killing the rest of the essence now.”
Everyone looked in awe at the maps, watching the green dots disappear, one by one, until none were left. They sat speechless for a long while after the last one was extinguished, then Gracie started to cry. “It’s over. They’re gone and I will be too. If I go to the surface Dominic, it will destroy me.”
“We don’t know that Gracie, you’re different now, you’ve been realized, you feel emotion. It may not affect you at all.”
“You know something, I’m facing the same horrific thought Grace; I’m a realized presence as well, said Annie.”
“Grace was shocked, You’re kidding right? I didn’t even pick up on a single thought or perception. You must have buried them deep Annie.”
“Nope, she isn’t kidding,” Said Gerard she is indeed a presence and a damn hot one too I might add.”
“Why thank you Gerard, I always said you were nearly as intelligent as me, Annie Teased. “The truth is, she said, I’ve been realized a very long time Grace and after two children, you become more emotionally influenced. To be honest, I don’t try much at all anymore, unless I pass one and I do it as a precaution.”
Grace grabbed the hand Annie extended and they shared thoughts, something Grace hadn’t been able to do fully with another presence since she’d met Dominic and felt love. She had missed this pure thought communication more than she wanted to admit.
“I think we’ll be okay Grace, we have enough feeling within us now to fight whatever energy the comet tries to take. Keep thoughts minimal and emotions strong and it will be okay. We’ll survive this,” Annie assured her.
They all sat silently, holding each other until no more shocks were felt. They finally slept, huddled together and when they woke a few hours later, Joseph, the temperature control officer and Gerard’s nemesis was standing over them with a piece of paper and a very wide grin. Dominic Sat up.
“Hey Joseph, what is it?”
“You are not going to believe this one, and if you weren’t already sitting, I’d tell you to. There is life on the surface, other people have survived!”
“DO NOT screw with us Joseph,” warned Gerard. I do not take kindly to fake survival pranks.”
“Well then Gerard, it’s lucky for you I don’t do pranks and to prove it, here is a record of communication from none other than my brother Sydney.”
Gerard snatched the paper from his hand and read it out loud. “We’re all alive up here Joe, can you read me, and we’re all alive and well.”
“How did you get this Joseph?” Asked Dominic
“He sent me a text on my cell phone, I wrote it down on paper because my battery is almost dead.” He passed his cell to Dominic, who read the text. “I will never complain about technology again. Thank you Joseph, and thank Sydney when you see him, which should be soon. I think we’ll open the tunnels now and make our way to the exit hatch.”
“Are you sure?” asked Joseph, it could still be dangerous up there and the temperature is bound to be unstable.”
“You’re officially not working now Joseph, so stop worrying about the temperatures and get your belongings together, we’re going up.”
Joseph nodded his head at Dominic and shot Gerard a dirty look before making his way back to his corner to retrieve his knapsack.
Dominic stood to announce the good news. “Ladies and gentlemen, it appears we have some incredible news. A message was sent from the surface that life is ongoing and that means we will have to make our way up there before we run out of air. Will you all remain calm and make your way to the exit tunnel. We’re going home everyone. Don’t be disheartened by what you may encounter up there, but whatever awaits us, we can and will rebuild. We’ve probably been thrown out of orbit and that means the celestial bodies we are accustomed to seeing may be gone entirely, perhaps replaced by others or maybe nothing at all. Be prepared. Okay, pep talk over and one last thing, hold on to those you love, you’re gonna need each other.
Dominic sat back down, seeing each person in the room as if it was the first time. Along with the other splinter groups of hybrids, humans and realized presences, they were going to be the foundation of the new world. His father would have wanted it just this way, this unity of the three. For the first time in many years, he missed him so much his heart ached and he wished he could have seen the man he’d become. His thoughts were interrupted by Gerard slapping him on the back.
“Well, old pal, at least one good thing came out of this nightmare.” Said Gerard.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
“I won’t have to work with him again.”
They stood, preparing to leave. Annie woke the children and Grace rubbed what she suspected was a sprained ankle from the tumble she and Dominic had taken the night before. “You okay Gracie?” he asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I’m fine Dominic, I’m just a bit queasy and afraid.”
“Whatever happens up there, happens to us both. There is nothing to worry about anyway, it’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. “He said, trying to convince himself as much as her.
Everyone walked in pairs, talking in excited but muffled tones. When they reached the ascent ladder to the exit hatch, Grace held so tightly to Dominic’s hand it hurt.
“It’s okay Gracie, I’ll go first.”
When Gerard and his family had made it to the surface, Dominic and Grace emerged into the light of a bright new day, their arms entwined.
Gerard was the first to speak. “Old pal, I’d say we just might be somewhat out of orbit.
Dominic grinned. “Oh, and what makes you think that?”
Well, for starters, what the hell are they?” Gerard asked, pointing to two suns. One had already risen and another, smaller in size was just creeping above the horizon line. Higher in the bright blueness of the sky, a trio of moons, one new, one full and one quartered, were lined up like coins on a table.
“Well Gerard, I think this means we may have a serious problem with global warming this year and it doesn’t have a thing to do with the essence.”
“Yep, I agree with you there Dominic, I think it’s time to go green.” He deadpanned. “I knew we should have started composting and buying local.”
“Dominic pulled Grace closer. “You okay Gracie? How do you feel?”
She hugged him tightly. “I’m fine honey, better than fine, I feel different. Annie knows don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do Grace, I know exactly what you mean. It’s better than I imagined it, as if I’m…uh…more of something.”
“Exactly Annie, that’s how it is,” Said Grace. I think this is what it means to feel free.” She took her husband’s hand and placed it on her stomach. “Can you feel it Dominic?”
“Is that…is that the baby?”
“Yes, it’s our baby. Isn’t it amazing, how it moves and lives and feels?”
“It sure is Gracie, it sure is.”