Preview The Race

Chapter 1: Voices

Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 

This is the way; walk in it. Isaiah 30:21, NIV.

Ventura Pier ©iStock.com/bon9

Ventura Pier ©iStock.com/bon9

Harvard.

The answer that Chris Strider had been chasing for months came to him suddenly, right in the middle of a grunion run. It so startled him that he jerked upright, losing his grasp on the creature wriggling in his hands.

When the fish plopped onto the moonlit beach, 4-year-old Oliver shrieked with excitement, “Get him, Uncle Chrith! Get him!”

Chris bounded after the small silver fish. It took him two more tries (adding to his nephew’s entertainment) to recapture the critter and dump it into Oliver’s bucket.

The boy clapped enthusiastically. “We got him! We got him!”

But Chris couldn’t celebrate. As he stared into the bucket, he felt a strange kinship with that fish, as though he too was just waiting to be someone’s dinner. Impulsively he scooped it up and tossed it into the dark ocean.

Oliver looked up with an expression that betrayed his confusion with the new game. Then, in a fit of giggles, he bent to topple the whole bucket of fish.

“No, Ollie, not all of them,” Chris said as he reached out to stop him. “I only let him go ’cause his family needed him.”

The boy again peered up at him, but this time his chin started quivering. Chris squatted down. “It’s all right, buddy. He’ll find his family, and they’ll be fine.”

Bursting into tears, Oliver cried, “But we need you, too, Uncle Chrith. Don’t leave!”

Oh, good, let’s add a little guilt to the mix. It shouldn’t be like this. Getting into Harvard Medical School was supposed to be a good thing, a great thing, considering no one else in the family had even gone to college. So why would his good fortune be the cause of the vague uneasiness he’d been battling? And now that he knew its cause, why had that uneasiness morphed into a sense of danger?

Chris shook his head. The riddle was too complex to solve just now. And he couldn’t do anything about it anyway. Three weeks after college graduation was much too late to change his mind. Picking up his blubbering nephew in one arm and the pail of fish in the other, he carried both far up the beach to the blanket his sisters-in-law had set out. He settled against a large piece of driftwood and tucked a well-worn quilt around Oliver, murmuring comforting words until the boy’s crying faded into the rhythmic breathing of sleep.

Chris’s father soon came toward them carrying Oliver’s older brother upside down. Amid much laughter, he dumped 7-year-old Roman on the blanket, sank down beside Chris, and settled the child with a sandwich from the cooler. Then he turned to his son. “What’s wrong, kid? You look like a minnow in a bait bucket.”

Smiling at his dad’s usual dead-on perceptiveness, Chris gazed out across the familiar midnight panorama of the beach in his hometown of Ventura, California. “I don’t know. I’ve had a weird feeling for months, and I just figured out what’s causing it. Except now that I know, it feels more like danger, which doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“So what’s causing it?”

“Going to Harvard.”

“You shouldn’t leave, Uncle Chris,” Roman said authoritatively, although the bits of tuna salad flying from his mouth somewhat spoiled the effect.

“Why are you going there?” Dad asked. “You always dreamed of going to Stanford.”

“Yeah, I did prefer Stanford. It’s closer to home, and I liked the people and the atmosphere. But the scholarship I got is only for Harvard.”

“What scholarship?”

“Didn’t I tell you? A full scholarship, Dad—it covers everything.” The thought still put a smile on his face. He expected his father to slap him on the back and bellow his congratulations. Instead his voice grew wary.

“Where’d that come from?” his father asked.

“Some anonymous donor.”

“Anonymous, huh? Through what agency?”

“MD Bank.”

Dad groaned and turned away.

“What’s wrong with that? It’s certainly solvent.”

Two full cycles of waves crashed and receded while his father stared out across the beach. “Yes, it’s solvent,” he finally said. “It’s probably nothing. I’m sure the largest bank in the world must handle plenty of legitimate stuff, right?” He spoke as if trying to convince himself. “Still, an anonymous donor coming through that bank is, well, suspicious.”

“Suspicious of what?”

His father suddenly jumped to his feet. “Mike!” he called to one of Chris’s brothers. “Come watch your sons. Chris and I need to take a walk.”

“Sure, Dad,” Mike jogged toward them, casting a questioning look in Chris’s direction. Chris shrugged.

Father and son walked in silence for a few moments, Dad seemingly preoccupied with his own musings. Then, without warning, Dad just stopped.

“Son, this bothers me. It doesn’t make sense that my Can-Do Kid feels threatened about going to Harvard. In fact, you’ve always been energized by challenges. So if you’ve got this feeling, it’s worth exploring. Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you even apply to Harvard? You said you were applying to schools only in California.”

“I applied because Uncle Bob wanted me to. I figured I wouldn’t get in anyway—”

“Wait a minute! How did my brother enter into this? How would he even know when you were applying to schools?”

A grunion wriggled against Chris’s bare foot, tickling it, and he moved out of the fish’s way. “He met some guy at a party who encouraged him to talk to me about going to Harvard.”

Something crept into his father’s blue eyes. In the moonlight Chris couldn’t tell whether it was fear or anger. Maybe both. “How did this guy know about you?”

“I’m sure Uncle Bob just mentioned me when the subject came up.” Dad didn’t look so sure, but when he didn’t say anything, Chris continued. “He called me the next day, all psyched about it. He said going to the most prestigious school offered the best chance for success—”

His definition of success, kid,” Dad interrupted softly.

“What do you mean?”

“Bob’s done pretty well for himself, if you define success as jet-setting around the world, wearing gold, and driving sports cars. But he’s left behind three ex-wives and two sons who hate him. Doesn’t that make you wonder if he hasn’t shipwrecked the best parts of life while out hunting treasure?”

“Then what’s your definition?”

A fond smile spread across his father’s face as he turned to watch his family of five children and nine grandsons laughing and having fun with the slimy job of catching grunions. He threw his arms out in a wide gesture. “This is what I call success. I know we’re just a pack of gardeners who vacation in tents and shop in thrift stores, but we do it all together. We love being around each other.”

If this were a bunch of hot air, Chris would have walked away. He hated phonies. But this was no act. He hadn’t worked out all the reasons his family was so different from every other he knew. He suspected it came mostly from his Native grandmother’s influence. Whatever the cause, the difference was real. His friends saw it too. They had always wanted to hang out at his house, and actually came looking for Dad when they needed to talk.

“Still, everyone has to make their own choices,” his father continued. “Do you want a life like Bob’s, kid?”

“Not if it comes at the risk of losing this.”

“Then don’t make decisions using Bob’s logic. Trust your own instincts.” Dad gave a little hop to avoid stepping on a spawning fish. “So you applied after Bob met a suspicious character at a party? Tell me about the scholarship. Was there a contract or any kind of requirement for accepting it?”

“Only that I work on the East Coast for four years after—”

“Then it is them!” Dad exploded. “Those fiends! I thought . . .” He looked away, shaking his head. “I should have known.”

“Who, Dad? What’s going on?”

But when his father turned back, he wore the hard look he got when someone asked why he had stopped running, and Chris knew he wouldn’t get the full story.

“MD stands for Moden and Desmon,” Dad answered in a clipped tone.

“Moden, as in the richest guy in the country?”

“Yes. They’re not people you want to know. You sure don’t want to owe them anything.” His father turned and stalked away.

“But it’s too late to make changes. The deadlines are all past! That’s now the only seat open to me. You just don’t understand what—”

Dad wheeled around. “No. You don’t understand what those people are capable of!” His almost vicious expression sent a jolt of surprise through Chris.

Glancing down, he continued, “I’m sorry, kid. This isn’t your fault. But don’t discount that bad feeling you’ve got. New options have a way of popping up if you’re open to them, but those people . . .” He looked away before turning back. “Son, they’ll ruin your life.”

That night Chris slept little. He’d always dreamed of becoming a doctor, and he’d worked hard to make his dream come true. Now he stood on the threshold of starting medical school—at Harvard, no less, and with someone paying his way—and there’s this one glitch that could ruin it all. Worse, he didn’t even know what the glitch was, exactly.

What he did know, though, was that only one subject turned his warm, sociable dad into the sullen man who stood apart, staring out over the ocean, for the rest of the grunion run. Somehow the scholarship must relate to his mother’s death 21 years before.

Yet her death was an accident, wasn’t it? Or could a man of Moden’s wealth make it look accidental? Even if he could, why would he? How would Mom even know someone like Moden? And why would Moden care anything about Chris, let alone give him a generous scholarship (if it even came from him)?

Whatever the answers were, one thing was clear: That scholarship scared his generally imperturbable father. Under any other circumstances Dad’s peace of mind would be sufficient reason for Chris to refuse the offer. In this case, though, refusing it meant not going to medical school at all— after being accepted by every school he had applied to. Would those schools accept him again next year if he did something so unreasonable? Was this Moden-related risk worth jeopardizing his lifelong dream?

He got out of bed and stepped to the open window, breathing in a deep draft of the cool night air. New options have a way of popping up, Dad had said. But what other options? If he sat the year out and reapplied next year, how would he explain his crazy decision to turn everyone down this year? The admissions committees would want an explanation, and he doubted they’d be OK with “Well, you see, it made my daddy nervous.”

Chris was still pondering and pacing at 4:00 a.m. when his twin sister came into his room. Her agitation was clear, and he went straight to her side. “What is it, Rosie? What’s wrong?”

“Grandma’s bad, Chris, real bad. Please?”

“Sure.”

He snatched up a couple of pillows and followed her into the room she shared with their maternal grandmother. As soon as he entered he understood Rosie’s concern. He might not be a doctor yet, but after working as an orderly in an emergency room for four years, he certainly knew his grandmother’s breathing shouldn’t be so noisy and labored, nor should her lips be so blue. He elevated her head with the extra pillows, but it helped little. When he suggested taking her to the hospital, Grandma surprised both twins by agreeing.

Several hours and as many doctors later the conclusion came: Grandma was dying. The doctors would hospitalize her, put tubes everywhere, and monitor everything, but they doubted she would live more than a day or two.

When Grandma didn’t respond to the doctor’s announcement, Chris thought she hadn’t understood, so he gently translated the message into Rarámuri, her native tongue.

She nodded. “Yes, I understand. I’d like to go home now, please.”

He started to object but reconsidered. This must be a cultural thing. His grandmother believed, as did the Rarámuri generally, that death was simply a change in form. She didn’t fear it as did the chabochi, the “bearded,” or White, man. Still, these issues confused him. Yes, he was one quarter Native; his Native grandmother had helped raise him, and he knew the language. And yes, that heritage had probably influenced him. But his White father had also raised him, and in a White society a thousand miles from the tribal lands in Mexico. Truthfully, he didn’t even know his grandmother’s culture well, much less understand it.

Behind him Rosie translated the conversation for their father, who approached and laid a reassuring hand on Chris’s shoulder. “She has the right to die in her own way, kid.”

“But if she stayed here they might be able to help her,” Chris whispered. “We can’t just stand around and do nothing.”

“It’s her decision, not ours, and part of love is respecting another’s decisions. But we will do something. What she wants is to be with family. We’ll arrange that and keep her comfortable.”

Without further discussion they took her home and assembled the family. Once everyone had arrived, Rosie came to find Chris, who was getting some juice for a nephew. He took one look at her swollen, mascara-smudged eyes and drew her into a hug. She buried her face against his chest and cried.

When she finally drew back, she said, “She wants everyone together. I think she’s ready to bestow the necklace now.”

A tiny shiver of anticipation passed through Chris. In all the hubbub and gloom, he’d forgotten about that.

The pungent smell of eucalyptus greeted them as they entered the small bedroom. Uncle Ray leaned against the dresser, coaxing an old runner’s tune from his violin-like raberi. It lent a strangely hopeful note to the somber atmosphere.

Grandma lay on her bed, her long white hair flowing over the pillow. The sight sent another wave of grief through Chris, along with wishful disbelief. She looked so much as she always did. Sure, she was getting old and would die someday. But someday was sometime in the future.  Not now. “Someday” should never be now.

Grandma opened her eyes and smiled weakly. She held her hands out to Chris and Rosie, the youngest of her grandchildren, the ones whom she had raised since they were a year old. The two knelt on either side of the bed and took her hands. She motioned toward the nightstand beside Chris. “It’s time.”

He slid open the drawer to reveal his grandmother’s most prized possession. Uncle Ray lowered the raberi,and relatives nudged each other as Chris reverently lifted the necklace from its resting place. He ran his fingers gently over the painted figurines that his great-grandfather, the famous runner Juan Misi, had carved a century before. Each one represented a story from a race he had won; each story touched a vital place deep within Chris.

He transferred the necklace into his grandmother’s hands with a mixture of excitement and disappointment: excitement, because the necklace would now be worn by a male descendant worthy of it; disappointment, because that descendant wouldn’t be him. Grandma would entrust it to her son, of course, along with the honor of carrying on Juan Misi’s legacy and the responsibility of passing on the family’s history through storytelling. Uncle Ray was the oldest, wisest male in the family and, like Juan Misi himself, was an accomplished runner, storyteller, and carpenter.

Rising, Chris moved back to make room for his uncle. Grandma looked up at him, her black eyes tender. “Come.”

He stood still. She couldn’t mean . . .

With a nod, she said, “Akiná simí, towí ke akemi.” (Rarámuri: Come, Runs-Barefoot.)  He knelt beside her.

“I see so much of my father in you.” She stroked his cheek with fingers grown velvety soft with age. “Will you accept the responsibility of guarding your great-grandfather’s trophies and passing on the stories of your family?”

“Yes, I will,” he said, though wondering if he was dreaming.

Grandma paused to regain her breath, which now came in heavy puffs. Rosie dabbed at the perspiration dotting Grandma’s forehead with a cool washcloth. Then she helped her secure the priceless heirloom around Chris’s neck.

He reached up to touch it, to assure himself it was real, and an overwhelming sense of family pride and responsibility filled him. Grandma had chosen him to continue the legacy of his ancestor! He would not fail her.

In English, Grandma asked Mike, “Did you get the flyer?”

“Pfft!” The exclamation that punctured the quiet room drew all eyes to its source—Benny, the oldest of the five siblings and twelve years older than Chris. His disrespect earned him a sharp look from their father, but Grandma chose to ignore it.

The pale-blue flyer that Mike produced brought a knot to Chris’s stomach. He immediately recognized the royal crest of Paradise Island, which topped the page. The words were equally familiar, for he had studied them countless times:

Announcing

THE DAMOUR FOOTRACE

6,000-mile loop around the U.S.A.

All finishers become heirs to the Damour Fortune

Start Date: July 18

1-800-D-DAMOUR

Chris had wanted to run this prestigious race for a long time. He had mapped out the route, figuring and refiguring time and distance. The race began in Death Valley, ran through the southern part of the country to Washington, D.C., and then looped up to end in Seattle. It took an average of 15 months to complete (for those who finished at all). That translated into delaying medical school for two yearsif some school reaccepted him.

Grandma spoke again, and he leaned closer to hear.

“My father said that until he devoted his life to running he could never do anything else well. I didn’t understand then, but looking back on my life now, I do. I wish I’d been a runner, Chris. This is my one regret.”

She paused to regain her breath before continuing. “I thought a runner’s life would be too restrictive, too demanding. Now I see no unreasonable demands, only instructions on making life better. There were no restrictions, only warnings to avoid sadness. My father was right. Running makes everything else better.” She relaxed into her pillows, breathing heavily.

New options have a way of popping up . . .

Chris looked up, searching for his father. Instead his gaze fell on Benny, who glared at him while shaking his head.

Right. Of course he couldn’t run the race. He owed it to Dad to finish school and start making some money. Benny’s plan to fund their father’s retirement needed all of them to help, and Dad’s diabetes was getting worse; he’d have to retire soon. Besides, Grandma probably didn’t realize that the race started in a few days. He couldn’t train for something of this magnitude that quickly.

New options have a way of popping up if you’re open to them. Trust your own instincts.

Chris had to admit, everything in him screamed Run! In fact, as guardian of Juan Misi’s legacy he should run it. That’s right! It was almost his duty, wasn’t it?

He looked into his grandmother’s eyes, into the face of the one who had nursed him when he was sick, corrected him when he was wrong, and loved him when he was difficult. What had she ever asked of him?

Certainly some medical school would accept him in two years. He’d still be a valedictorian, summa-cum-laude, MCAT-scores-in-the-top-five-percent track star with work experience in the medical field. And now he’d have a good excuse for the delay: family emergency, fulfilling a dying wish. Stanford might not give him another chance, but he’d get in somewhere. Of course he would.

He took Grandma’s hand in his. “I will honor the memory of Juan Misi,” he vowed in the old tongue. “I will run the race, Grandma. I will run it for you.”

Natérarabá,” she murmured. (Thank you.)

But Chris also noticed the reactions of two other people. One was Benny, who let out an angry chuff; apparently he knew more Rarámuri than he let on. The other was his father, who, upon hearing Uncle Ray’s whispered translation, bowed his head and squeezed the bridge of his nose.

When the group broke up, Chris followed his father out of the room and drew him aside. “Dad, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. That was a good decision, kid. Running the race will be a wonderful, life- changing adventure. Besides, now you won’t have to take that scholarship. And if you have to face—” He stopped. “Anyway, it’s never wise to delay running the race.”

“But you’re upset. Or worried. Or . . . something.”

Dad forced a smile. “I’m just tired. Everything will work out fine. I’m sure it will.”

Chris gazed into his father’s warm, cornflower-blue eyes and discovered why he never lied: he was lousy at it.

 

Chapter 2: Time Is Short

The Devil has come down to you in great fury,

knowing that his time is short! Revelation 12:12, REB.

©iStock.com/jhedberg

©iStock.com/jhedberg

Camille Desmon strode with a brisk, sure step toward her partner’s office. She radiated confident sophistication from the elegant French twist in her hair to the designer heels that added several inches to her five-foot-11-inch frame. On most days this image of strength represented her accurately.

Today, however, an invisible fist was already squeezing her heart. If she were honest (although honesty wasn’t a trait she valued), she’d have to call that fist worry, or maybe even fear. But Camille L. Desmon, Ph.D., didn’t tolerate such nonsense in herself any more than she did in her employees. Her dictionary defined all weakness—especially fear—as “where to attack.” More important, that’s how her brother/business partner defined it, too.

The guard outside the office saluted and stood aside at her approach. Camille placed her thumb on the security pad and cracked the door. As soon as she did, she sensed her brother’s anxiety through the link that connected them, and the fist squeezed a little harder. Stanley L. Moden, D.Sc., J.D., Ph.D., did not frighten easily.

Stan looked up from the oversized mahogany desk that dominated the far corner. Over his shoulder the early-morning sun shone brightly through the spotless floor-to-ceiling windows. But Stan’s mood was not bright. Camille immediately sensed his two simultaneous responses to her arrival: relief and irritation.

“I arrived as quickly as I could, Stan. The roads were surprisingly crowded for a weekend.”  She stopped in front of the desk. “What’s the emergency?”

Stan glanced up at Malcolm, their leading molecular biologist, who stood beside him. “Show her,” Stan ordered. He rose from his chair to glower into the sunlight.

Malcolm rearranged a stack of papers while she settled at the desk. “Ma’am, our research into the waning effects of the Viv fruit has yielded some unexpected findings. As you know—”

“Don’t tell me what I know!” She snatched the papers from him. “And don’t lecture me as if I were a schoolgirl. I’m quite capable of interpreting data myself.”

Malcolm bobbed a quick bow. “I beg your pardon, ma’am. I meant no disrespect.”

She examined the information, page by page, reviewing data from several disciplines and absorbing tables of complex statistical analyses. The fist around her heart squeezed tighter yet.

When she came to the last page, which combined all the data into one time line, a bolt of panic shot through her, and she instinctively looked to her elder brother for reassurance. He had sensed her alarm and turned from the window, but the disgust glinting in his eye offered no support. She glared back at him, knowing he must have felt the same way when he first saw this material two hours before.

Returning to the summarized time line, she reviewed every element, searching for any hole, any incorrect assumption, any miscalculation that might yield a different conclusion. But the analysis was flawless.

She squared her shoulders. Very well, then. She must simply work this new fact into her worldview and develop strategies for dealing with the problem. This meant she would—

But her mind rebelled, refusing to think the word. Consciously suppressing her rising panic, she forced herself to focus on the label below the final date on the time line. She simply needed to read it: Date of . . .

Again her mind refused to do her bidding. Taking a deep breath, she tried again, determined to master this deplorable fear: Date of . . . Death.

Panic again threatened to surface, and again she fought it back. How did humans live this way, knowing their lives would someday end? For the first time in her long life she felt some measure of pity for the pathetic little creatures. It lasted only a moment, however, before concern for her own future supplanted it.

Camille’s problem arose from the fact that Paradisians didn’t die. Therefore, she had never—not once in her 8,006 years—seriously entertained the idea that she might die. As she considered it now her fear quickly gave way to anger. She had already lost so much since Damour exiled them. True, she was the sixth-richest person in the country, had droves of employees groveling at her feet, and wielded power the rest of the world coveted. Still, if she had known 6,000 years ago that these things would come at the cost of country, family, profession, and now even her life . . .

Well, she hadn’t known, and she couldn’t undo the past.

Malcolm interrupted her musings. “Do you have any questions, ma’am?”

“Yes, I have a question,” she said in a conversational tone. “As the one overseeing this research, it was incumbent upon you to direct the investigation in such a manner that the most serious side effects were considered first. Tell me, Malcolm, which consequences did you feel were more important than our lives? The possibility of facial wrinkles, perhaps? Or was it receding hairlines?”

He didn’t attempt a reply, which was the wisest course, all things considered.

“Oh, and one more question: Would you prefer that we consider this lapse one of negligence or incompetence? Not that the distinction will matter a great deal once we’re all buried, mind you, but it may substantially affect your quality of life in the meantime.”

Eyes wide, Malcolm stepped back—right into Stan, who was advancing toward them. Shoving him toward the door, Stan bellowed, “Get out!”

Malcolm seemed delighted with the order. Leaving papers and briefcase behind, he bolted for the door. As it closed behind him, Stan crossed his arms and stared down at Camille. “Well?” he demanded.

She stood to face him. “Well, what? Forgive me if I’m unable to produce an impromptu solution to this small problem—”

“Watch your tone with me,” he snapped.

Pausing, she drew a deep breath and softened her manner. “I apologize for my sarcasm, Stan. But here’s a summary of our situation as I see it. First, the only Viv tree on the planet is in the center of Paradise Island and is protected by Damour’s impenetrable Dome of Lashani. Second, we will apparently be, well, indisposed if we do not eat Viv fruit within the next five decades. And third, our Global Strategic Plan requires 22 more centuries before we’ll be ready to engage him in the Final Battle and retake the island.”

Stan grunted. “These are estimates, but the margin of error isn’t nearly the 22 centuries we need. So much for Damour’s guarantee that we’ll face him in the Final Battle.”

“Indeed! Although I’ve no doubt he would wish us to believe such a fantasy.”

“Exactly.  Lull us into believing we’re safe from premature death. That could be his whole strategy: just sit around and wait while our clocks wind down. He’d win by default.”

“Agreed. No, I shall accept the concrete information our scientists provide rather than trust his word.”

“And that means …” Stan strode to the window and gazed into the sky for a moment. “We’ll just have to design a new Global Strategic Plan.”

“I don’t find that humorous, Stan,” she said, joining him at the window. “How can we possibly condense 22 centuries of intensive labor into a half century?”

“I don’t know. That’s why we need to link minds.”

She turned away with a groan, only to have Stan grab her arm.

“Enough wallowing, Camille! Now help me solve this!”

Casting a pointed look at the hand gripping her arm, she noted, “This will hardly help. Or have you forgotten that you can’t force linked abilities? Antipathy shuts down the neural pathways, remember?”

He released her with a muttered oath. “So you just want to crawl off and die somewhere, is that it? Let Doú—” He coughed. “Let him win the war without a challenge?”

She heaved a sigh. Stan loved linking minds. Actually, she did too. Combining her genius with his produced an exhilarating sensation of unbridled freedom and limitless power. It was the aftereffects she despised.

“There is no choice, Camille. If there’s a solution, we’ll find it only by linking.”

He was right. She might as well admit it and quit squandering precious time. There were lives to save, starting with her own.

Having decided to link, Camille simply met Stan’s gaze and willed her brain’s processes to join with his. Since they now performed this action rarely, it took a few moments for their minds to fall into sync, but the instant of mind-link was unmistakable. She suddenly felt as if a new world had opened up to her, a world in which no obstacle was insurmountable and no problem unsolvable. It was a breathtaking sensation, and it put a smile on her face that matched the broad grin forming on Stan’s. And in that moment she knew exactly what he was thinking: The world was theirs for the taking!

A link was essentially another sense, as real as vision or hearing, that made the linkmateshyperaware of each other. It was the rarest, most cherished relationship within the Paradisian yushún, or family. Indeed, all Paradisians prized it because of its remarkable potential.

Yushuni were formed differently than human families because Paradisians were not born in the same manner as the lower species. Instead, the Damours personally formed each individual as an adult, first fashioning the elder brother, and then using grafts from him to make several siblings. The family members studied together during their yanja (their formative years of a century or so) and lived together all their lives. This resulted in an emotional bond deeper than any relationship outlanders knew.

But as close as Paradisian siblings were, two other bonds were deeper still: twins and linkmates. An elder brother and his identical twin were so close that the two men usually shared the same job, which was generally a high-level position in Doug Damour’s government. Much more rarely (approximately once in every 500,000 individuals), the elder brother was given a linked sister with complementary abilities. Because of their unique ability to link minds,  a process something like connecting two high-power computers, these pairs invariably went on to make great discoveries in their field. In fact, linkmates were responsible for all the major advances on Paradise Island in every field, from art to zoology.

Only once in Paradisian history had an elder brother been given both a twin and a linkmate. Everyone on the island had celebrated the occasion, believing that the trio must certainly be meant for great things. The rebellion changed those expectations.

The problem now facing Stan and Camille was a difficult and complex one, and even with the mind-link it took nearly 48 hours to solve. The breakthrough finally came when they realized, after thoroughly reviewing all programs, that their ideals had become so entrenched in outlander society that most of the programs would run on their own momentum.

When they finished the new Global Strategic Plan, Stan summarized it: “The bottom line is that we can now concentrate on areas specifically targeted for winning the Final Battle. Of those, our first priority will be preventing Damour from raising an Outlander Division for his army. It will cripple him substantially if his only military resources are on the island itself.”

In line with this focus, Camille mentally moved two names to the top of her priority list: Benjamin Strider, Sr., and Christian Strider. Although they were too doltish to know it (they were humans, after all), they were sitting on a plan capable of devastating this objective. Nevertheless, she was no idiot, and she had diligently kept both men under control.

“Our second priority is to thwart Damour’s recruitment of nonmilitary supporters,” Stan continued, “since that’s the base from which he would recruit military personnel. Therefore, we’ll intensify our efforts to reduce both the recruitment rate and the completion rate for his training programs—the races.”

Camille nodded her agreement.

“And our third priority is to sully Damour’s reputation and otherwise discourage undecided individuals from supporting him by using group contravention and diversion.”

“Agreed.”

Now standing side by side at the window, the two fell silent. Camille loved this view. Everyone else on the planet looked tiny and insignificant from 90 stories up. Even better, all of them were right where they belonged—far below her. And today that view, combined with the physical warmth of the sunshine and the emotional afterglow from the mind-link, filled her with a measure of simple contentment that she rarely experienced anymore. She savored such moments, considering them infinitely more precious than any luxury that money could buy.

As she gazed down on Manhattan, however, that time line at the end of Malcolm’s report resurfaced in her mind. How could they possibly overthrow Damour in a mere half century? Even if everything went perfectly, they needed a full 50 years to optimize their position. But how often did everything go perfectly with any plan? And what if the margin of error went against them? What if they had only 40 years left?

A familiar ache began to throb in her chest—the ache of loneliness, of a heart that had once sacrificed everything, only to be broken, trampled, and abandoned. This ache was nearly as old as the outlander world, old enough that she knew very well the danger of indulging it. Simply admitting its existence could sap her strength, her purpose, and even her will to live.

Still, she couldn’t help reflecting on how very much she missed Stan at times like this. Stan as her best friend, that is. Professionally the siblings always stood united. They had to. But despite the link, their personal relationship had deteriorated long ago, and sometimes she really missed the closeness they had once shared. In fact, although the media called her “the most powerful woman in the hemisphere,” all she wanted right now was for her big brother to wrap her in his strong arms and tell her everything would be all right.

Still gazing through the window, Stan reached out and drew her to him, instantly assuaging the ache in her heart. She snuggled her face into his muscular shoulder while he murmured, “We’re going to be OK, Kami. Everything will work out. I promise.”

Under normal circumstances his reaction would have shocked her. For one thing, unlike her, he could generally sense only her most intense emotions without eye contact. More important, he had long since denounced such feelings as weak. For that matter, so had she.

But this wasn’t a normal circumstance, so Camille didn’t respond normally, either. Rather, she gratefully rested in his arms, drinking in his strength and reveling in that sense of connectedness she so often craved. As she did, their old camaraderie settled over them, a unity born of shared pain and nurtured by common peril.

Before she realized it, though, that feeling was growing, challenging the barriers she’d erected, and threatening to reignite that ancient, deep, fraternal love of yushún linkmates. This was the aftereffect she despised, the one she didn’t dare tolerate. For millennia she had diligently suppressed that love, and she’d done it for good reason. Forgetting that, she knew, could be fatal after what he’d done—or rather, after what he hadn’t done. In any case, she slapped both hands on his chest and shoved him away.

“What?” he exclaimed. “It’s what you wanted!”

Ignoring his observation, she stepped to the desk. “I’ll be late for the entity management kickoff. Brief me on the company management phase quickly.”

“No,” he said peevishly. “I’ll brief you with the rest of your team.”

“I beg your pardon! This is my meeting, my agents! And I have a great deal to do today.”

“Don’t take that tone with me. I’m going, and I’m doing a presentation.” He strode to his desk and snatched up his laptop. “Senior partner, remember?”

She rolled her eyes (behind his back) and followed him onto the VIP elevator. As the door closed, he muttered, “And don’t roll your eyes at me.”

As they entered the auditorium Stan grabbed her hand and lifted it into the air, triggering a hearty round of applause. Then he gallantly handed her into a seat on the front row and kissed her on the cheek, the Paradisian sign of friendship. These gestures were less a picture of reality than a charade for their fellow Paradisian exiles, who were somewhat like human children: They fought a good deal, but felt more secure when Mom and Dad didn’t.

Still sulking, Camille doodled while Stan spoke, and ended up scribbling the date: 10 July 8006 M.E. When she realized what she’d done, she scowled and drew briars around it. Whereas society in general called this the twenty-first century, Stan demanded that Moden Industries reckon dates in Modén Eshí, “Moden Years,” which began with the year of Stan’s birth (also the year of Camille’s birth, of course, but that was inconsequential). It was just one example of his insufferable arrogance.

Another was his surname, which she scrawled next, decorating it with thorns. Paradisians all chose their surnames, but Stan’s choice literally meant “exalted one,” the Paradisian equivalent of “his highness.” Until then, only one person, the crown prince of Paradise Island, had ever been called modén. It shocked Camille as much as the other exiles when Stan appropriated the title for his surname. In fact, she flatly refused to use it, even though yushún siblings had never before taken different names.

She looked up to peruse his next slide. His team had truly excelled during the prerace phase of this campaign, when discouraging Doug’s potential recruits was the goal. This was one aspect of “company management,” the Moden euphemism for the manipulation of groups, which fell under Stan’s purview as a sociologist. Once the race began, the emphasis shifted to “entity management,” the manipulation of individuals, with the goal of derailing Doug’s supporters individually as he trained them. Psychologist Camille oversaw this phase, and she was perfectly capable of doing so, too. She’d been doing it for six millennia now. She certainly didn’t need Stan stealing her platform, her time, and her team to brief them on his team’s results. Not when the two of them could exchange the same information in a fraction of the time. That made this presentation a complete waste of time. But Stan insisted upon it, simply because he liked the attention. The conceited, arrogant, overbearing—

Wait a minute! What did he say?

She stood up. “Dr. Moden, would you repeat that, please?”

His emerald eyes danced. “Absolutely. Although a record-breaking number of runners signed up for this race, 42 percent have already dropped out as a result of our work.”

Remarkable! No wonder he was proud of himself. And sharing such unprecedented results with the whole group was a great idea. Good for morale. What a stroke of brilliance, inviting him to do this presentation.

She broke into a smile and began clapping. Her agents followed her lead, jumping to their feet with applause and cheers. When the plaudits subsided, she stepped forward. “Thank you for your excellent work, Dr. Moden.”

“Certainly, Dr. Desmon. I now place this race in your masterful hands.”

More applause followed, and someone shouted, “Together?”

The reminder chased away what remained of Camille’s irritation. She and Stan grinned at each other, lifted their joined hands into the air, and answered in unison. “Together!”

A long, loud standing ovation ensued, punctuated by cheers and whistles.

Together. That was a lucky stroke. It started as the shorthand Stan and Camille used for their business pact. However, shortly after their falling-out, which sent the company into an uncontrollable tailspin, word of that pact leaked out. The other exiles, generally believing the two linkmates to be invincible when united, latched onto “Together,” coming to equate it with guaranteed victory. Now that single word, when used well, contained all the power of the atom.

And no one could harness that power better than could Stan. Brilliant, charming (when he chose to be), and charismatic, he could work groups better than anyone.

When the applause died out, Stan strode to the door, and Camille readied her slide presentation. As she did, a tiny yip caught her attention. She looked up in time to see Savana DeFin tuck a puppy’s head into her coat.

Savana was a tumor to excise, a weed to pull. A new agent, she had not only failed her first two field tests, she had recently called Camille an “arrogant, overdressed viper” when she thought she wasn’t in the room. (She was—right behind her.) The one thing Savana did right was pick an appropriate surname: defín (dog keeper) summed up her utility in life quite well. Still, protocol granted her one last chance at her field test.

Apparently Stan heard the puppy too. As Camille silenced the group with a narrowed gaze, he returned to stand beside his sister. His deep bass voice echoed through the hushed auditorium: “Explain.”

Camille’s irritation rushed back. Now he was hijacking the discipline of her agents too?

Hesitantly Savana stood. “I—I found him by the trash bins. He was hungry and scared. And, well, sir, don’t you think he’s cute?” She held the pup up, and, right on cue, it cocked its fuzzy white head, gazed at Stan with those big eyes for which puppies are famous, and whined its petition for mercy.

“Cute?” Stan grimaced. “I’ve never seen an infant of any species I could call ‘cute.’ That flea-ridden stray canine certainly doesn’t fit the bill. Your punishment for disturbing this meeting is to polish the equipment in the company gym today.”

“A-all of it?”

The pinkish scar tracing part of Stan’s left cheekbone flamed bright red. He let fly a few choice expletives and roared in a British accent, “You dare question me? I’ll meet you downstairs for correction then, shall I?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Savana said quickly. “I’ll be happy to do the gym. All of it. Tonight.”

Camille nodded to her executive secretary, Patric, who climbed the stairs to Savana. Grabbing the pup by the scruff, he carried it out of the room at arm’s length, the animal whimpering the whole way.

While Patric rid the auditorium of vermin, Stan turned his back to the group and took a moment to calm himself so that he could address Camille more civilly. Outside Desmon Tower he often capped his volatile anger to manipulate outlanders. But within this building he did it only for her, and only occasionally.

His ire successfully controlled, he whispered, “Make sure she fails so you can kick her off your team.”

Camille briefly considered answering that she really was quite capable of managing her own team, thank you, but decided on a simple nod instead. She certainly wasn’t exempt from his explosive temper.

Stan left the room, and Camille flashed a reassuring smile. “All right, team. Let’s return to the business of crushing Damour’s runners, shall we?”

The group responded with cheers and applause.

Triggering her first slide, she returned her attention to Savana. “This is your subject, New Agent DeFin. Susana López is a particularly talented Connector-Catalyst.” Continuing in an oversweet tone, she said, “Humans, of course, are only tools to be used, Ms. DeFin. In order to predict the manner in which Damour plans to use his tools, I developed a classification system for them. It has helped us thwart his strategies for several millennia now. The system assigns each subject two designations. The first describes the role the subject tends to assume within a group. The second refers to her most dangerous aptitude. This subject, therefore, is a Connector, a particularly gregarious personality type that easily forms and fosters relationships. And she works best as a Catalyst, one who helps others develop their fullest potential.”

Snickers sounded around the auditorium, and Savana’s cheeks reddened; precisely Camille’s intention in stooping to define terms her agents learned on their first day of training. She modulated her voice to assume an even more condescending tone. “This means that your priority for this subject must be to prevent her from teaming up with any Leader, especially Leader-Activators. Leaders are those whom others tend to follow. Activators convert ideas into reality—they make things work. Connector-Catalysts complement them best because Connectors excel at finding those with the needed skills for a project, and Catalysts help all teammates work most effectively. Is this clear, New Agent DeFin, or am I moving too quickly for you?”

By now the snickers had grown into outright laughter, and Savana slumped in her chair, her face crimson.

Camille smiled in satisfaction as she brought up the next slide. “The next subject is yours, Master Agent Fiden.”

She proceeded through the slides, assigning each agent to a runner, and summarizing the points most critical in formulating a successful strategy against them. They broke briefly for lunch, and again for dinner. By 7:00 p.m. Camille was tired and her voice scratchy. She certainly wasn’t in the mood for interruptions, but one walked in anyway.

Patric, her executive secretary, had left the auditorium several times throughout the day to carry out small assignments. So she had thought little of it when he left again 30 minutes previous. When he returned, however, she read trouble on his face and interrupted her presentation. “Patric?”

He stepped up to her and whispered, “Christian Strider relinquished his seat at Harvard and signed up for the race this afternoon.”

She glared at him, and his brown eyes darkened. Taking a giant step backward, he murmured, “Don’t shoot the messenger, Doc.”

Her gaze narrowed as her anger rose. Who was Christian Strider to spoil her plans? She’d gone to considerable trouble to keep that boy out of mischief, and now he had entered the race, had he? Well, he wouldn’t succeed! She’d make sure of it. He could never be useful to Damour if he didn’t finish the race.

She realized suddenly that the auditorium had gone deathly still, every eye trained on her. She consciously relaxed the muscles of her face and said calmly, “Send a—”

“I’ve already dispatched a scout on your jet,” Patric said with a nod.

“Excellent. I need his—”

“Got it.” Patric flipped his long blond braid over his shoulder and inserted a memory stick into her computer. Strider’s file came up.

“Thank you for your attentiveness, Patric,” she said in full voice. “Group, we have an unexpected development that will require some reassignments. May I ask all master agents—”

“Sorry, ma’am.” Patric handed her a sheet of paper. “Here’s the list of master agents, along with their current assignments.”

“Never mind, group.” She granted Patric a small smile and reviewed the list, mentally shuffling assignments, until she had freed up Anthony Fiden, the master agent whose skills and experience most qualified him for Strider.

“Master Agent Fiden, I’m changing your assignment to this boy, Christian Strider, who is being coached by . . . Joshua?” She turned to Patric. “Are you certain?”

Patric nodded. “He’s already en route.”

She clenched her jaw. Statistically 91.7 percent of the runners Joshua coached finished the race, and all who finished became problems for Moden Industries. Strider’s status had just changed from possible pest to certain menace—if he finished the race.

“I know this subject well, Tony,” she said. “I’ve monitored his family for decades. What we have is a high-risk personality, a Leader-Activator, with a high-risk history as well—four flags.”

“Already?” Tony exclaimed. “One flag is because Joshua is coaching him, of course, but what are the others?”

“Another for being the son of Benjamin Strider, Senior, a regressor who remains a serious threat, even if he never returns to running. His file is classified, but—” She looked at Patric, who was busily tapping on his laptop. He hit one last key with a flourish and nodded. “—but I’ve just authorized you to access it. Review his file, and I’m sure you’ll understand the problem.”

Tony jotted a note. “And the other flags?”

Camille turned to the screen, her gaze wandering over Strider’s handsome face, inviting smile, and razor-sharp cheekbones, finally settling on his clear, black eyes. Just like his ancestor’s. “One red and one orange, but both for the same reason: He’s a son of Juan Misi.”

“Juan Misi?” Tony’s blue eyes widened. “The one who—?” He stopped abruptly when he glanced at the door, which stood open.

When generalized murmuring erupted, Camille glared at the group, which immediately quieted. Not that it would prevent the story from spreading; that would still happen in hushed tones behind closed doors. Nevertheless, she wouldn’t allow it in her presence. Addressing Tony, she said, “Yes; that one.”

Patric had risen to shut the door. “Ma’am, what’s that around the subject’s neck?”

She focused on Strider’s necklace. It did look familiar—that bull, the knife, the snake.  And then it clicked. A deep chuckle bubbled up within her and grew until she threw her head

back in unrestrained laughter. When she finally contained her merriment, she exclaimed, “Oh, Tony! This is your lucky day. Mind you, you must not become careless with this subject. Strider shall remain a priority subject as long as he runs. That necklace, however, is Misi’s trophy! If you do no more than keep that trinket around his neck, he’ll be unable to finish the race.”

Tony settled back with a satisfied smile. “Excellent.”

 

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aladyk@gmail.com
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 06:58:58

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  2. Trackback: Interview with Della Loredo, author of The Race « Felicia Alvarez

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