2 - the first morning

"How did you find her?" Carmen asks, sipping her tea as we both sat in the living room. She's akimbo on a bearskin rug, staring into another gas fireplace that's probably right below the one in my room, if I have the building's layout right. I'm on a velour sofa that seems to suck me in when I sit on it.

"The situation being as it is, I'm starting to wonder if she found me." Carmen turns back to me.

"How do you mean?" She asks. I look about the room, stopping myself from answering immediately.

"Marshal, what's the work that we're going to be doing?"

"I feel it better to wait for all your guests to be present," Marshal says.

"I guess I'll know more after breakfast," I say to Carmen. "But to answer your question, I read about her. She's...from this series of stories I read." Carmen looks confused as ever.

"You don't mean she's--"

"Fictional. Yeah. At least for the purposes of anything that happened before last night. But that's not really here nor there at this point. What I'm wondering is if she--"

"Jon, does she know?" Carmen looks worried. "I mean, I don't know how I'd react to being told I was just a figment of someone's else's imagination--and she's--I mean, the woman seems to have some pretty powerful abilities."

"We were over it already. She wanted to know why I knew so much about her, and I told her. It didn't seem to phase her."

"You just--told her?"

"In a diplomatic way. Not ‘cause I was trying to appease her. I mean, Marshal and I had a conversation about how she was 'created', and--from some weird ontological fucked-up-ness--I couldn't really define the difference between an identity like hers and an identity like ours."

"You lost me."

"I asked Marshal how he created her, and he said he didn't. I didn't create her. Neither did the author that wrote about her. Not entirely." I take a deep breath. "It applies to us, sort of. DNA makes our physical potentials, interaction with culture gives us personalities. Your parents didn't make you, you. Mine didn't make me, me. Not entirely."

"Right. Our friends, our culture, the zeitgeist, what we experience, blah blah blah. So you're saying Selene has all that too?"

"You met her before you knew she was...summoned. What do you think?"

Carmen looks around at the room. She goes to a window and looks at the forest below as the first light breaks up the shadows beneath us. She grabs one of the huge cedar columns, knocking on it as if to make sure it’s real.

"I think she’s warm, reassuring, friendly...a bit flirtatious.” She shakes her head and looks at me. “Human, except for being able to lift you in the air with her mind and...apparently she can fucking fly. But human in the important ways."

"So she’s human, then.” I’m saying it to myself. I need it to be true. “She’s witty. She knows human culture. She was made warm.” I think over Selene’s canon, and wonder about her effect on the real world. “Right now, we’re all in the same place. She’s being helpful. I don't see her as dangerous."

Carmen chuckles, and I wonder if she saw my eyes light up, recounting Selene’s written history.

"At least not dangerous in a way you don't like,” Carmen says. “I almost forgot how you chose us."

I feel like an idiot every time it comes up. If I cringe visibly, Carmen plows right through it and continues.

"So she's powerful, she's probably promiscuous, and I share fantasy space with her in that naughty little frontal lobe of yours."

She sees my reaction, because she makes a pouty face. "Hey--mope."

"I'm sorry, it's just that--"

"Douchebag. Shut up. You're better off. Listen." She uncrosses her legs and stands up, stretching her body. "If I wasn't okay with people seeing me as a fantasy, I wouldn't plaster pictures of myself all over the internet. I wouldn't do that shit for a living."

"I get that, but--"

"Quiet!" She shouted, maintaining a smile. "I want this off my shoulders so that I’m not to blame for you being a fuckin’ drag." I have to laugh this time.

“Got it.”

"Okay. Now, you're a fan of my work. Clearly. But it’s not like you drugged me or kidnapped me or took advantage of me in any way great or small." She walks over and sits next to me on the sofa.

She waits for a second, and I know it’s on purpose. She’s looking around at the detail of the place.

“You’re clueless as to how it happened. So am I. So is Selene.” She slaps my leg hard. “Look at this fucking place, Jon. Look at it.” When I’m staring at her, her eyes are reaching at me. It’s fucking with me. Bad.

She pulls away after a few seconds, standing up again.

"Alright...okay.” She turns around, and I feel her staring at me again--to the point where she WAITS for me to look at her. “Jon, even if it is your fault that we're all here--you couldn’t have known about Marshal. You look--completely disgusted with yourself. Am I about hitting the nail on the head?"

The fuck is this analysis shit? What have I gotten myself into with these people? Do I lie? Do I let her in?

Maybe I need to let her in. Maybe I don’t have a choice.

"Pretty much," I finally admit. “I can’t think of a bigger disruption to other people’s lives. We’re in the fucking Adirondacks.”

"Well, like I said: you’re clueless as to how. You couldn’t have known." She’s standing over me, leaning close. "Look at me, Jon." As if I wasn’t already. "You're a perceptive guy--do I look angry to you?"


"I'm not. Do you think I want out of here? To be magically dropped back in SoCal so I can get back to my oh, so important life?" Inches from my face now, the intensity of her eyes drilling into me.

"I wouldn’t know."

"I don't." She pauses. "I’ve seen some shit, man. You don't go to the events that I've been to, dealing with the scene I've stomped without being pretty fucking sharp on who the wolves are."

"And I’m not a wolf?"

"You're not a wolf, Jon...and, neither is Marshal.” She listens for a second to see if he responds, but maybe he knows better than to interrupt. “I'm intrigued. I'm excited, Launcher." I sneer at that last one.

"Don't start with that, Carmen."

"You're in an extraordinary position, Jon. All of us are.”

I’m looking at her like she’s crazy, and she gets a determined look on her face.

“I think we are. Don’t you?” I can only shrug back at her. “Oh, don't be a schmuck about it! Don't be fucking aloof because you feel the need to dull your god-given senses in the face of something amazing. I've seen that dumb shit from people, too."

“Okay, I mean--I get you, but what am I supposed to do?” I’m wondering how much lecture she has in her.

"You're the LAUNCHER, Jon, and whatever the hell else that means, it means we're here in your hands, and we're watching this through your eyes. Don't distance yourself from it." I lean back against the couch.

"Jeeeeezus," I draw out. Carmen reaches out a hand.

“C’mere. Off the couch.” I look up from the floor, and she’s smiling. Already trying to lighten the mood up.

“You’re gonna beat me now.”

“Oh, shut up. And be careful what you wish for, wimp.” She reaches again, and I grab her hand. She pulls me off the couch. “No more speeches today. I promise.” She punches me in the shoulder. “Besides, I think you get it."

Carmen Douglas the motivator. She might be the smartest one here.


"Yeah, yeah." She reaches out for a hug, and I oblige. "I'm not making that speech again..." she lowers her voice to a throaty whisper, "...and I'm going to beat the snot out of you if you act like a little bitch again." I laugh a little as we pull away, but she holds on for a second. "Be here, Jon; we're going to need you."

What the fuck am I supposed to say to all this?

"Okay." Carmen Douglas the big sister, Carmen Douglas the therapist. What a fucking morning.

"But after that cup of tea, I reeeeeally gotta go."

"I think I saw a bathroom off the kitchen," I say.

"There's a half bath next to the base of the stair," Says Marshal, finally coming in. "The master bath is around the corner, near the den."

"Thanks, Marshal." Carmen stands and heads through the kitchen, closing the door behind her.

I get up off the couch and head in the other direction, looking around at the master bath and the den--and taking in the view outside now that there's enough light to see through the dense cover of the evergreens.

"You're a remarkable person, Ms. Douglas," Marshal says as Carmen is on the toilet, making her jump a bit. "Thank you for setting the Launcher's mind at ease." Carmen laughs almost silently, burying her face in her palms.

"Marshal, could it wait?" She says quietly, trying not to laugh any louder.

"I believe it would make the Launcher self-conscious to hear it in his presence," Marshal says. "I detected the change in his tension, and I'm almost certain it's thanks to you."

"You're welcome. Now some peace, Marshal?"

I sit in the office chair of the den, looking out the window after I boot a laptop sitting on the desk.

"BOO!" Selene shouts, jumping out from the other side of the glass. I jump in the chair, almost falling off it--and this sends booming laughter through Selene.

"Yeah, hilarious," I say, glaring at her.

"Lighten up, Libbey." She flicks her finger, and the locks on the window unlatch themselves. The window slides open, and Selene leans in, looking at the laptop screen. "Whatcha doing?"

"Exercising habit," I say. "I assume he wouldn’t put this here unless it was connected. I wanna see what’s going on in the world. How was the sunrise?"

"Pretty amazing," She says, hovering horizontally and floating in the window. "Harv picked a decent spot for the HQ."

"Glad you approve, Ms. Sibylla," Marshal says. "Two more guests are awake, Launcher." I stare blank at the login screen on the laptop. "Mr. Barron and Ms. Almeda."

That’s Jake and the Co-ed from the video. The girl is the only person in the house that I truly know nothing about--only that she was a hottie that posted a webcam dance in hot pink spandex shorts. Christie, who I dread speaking to most, is still asleep for now.

"How's Jake doing, Marshal?"

"Amused and content to speak with me, for now," Marshal replies. "Recent experience tells me he believes he's dreaming."

"Direct him downstairs," I say, looking back to Selene, who's lounging in zero-g. "I hate to ask, but do me another favor?" She smiles.

"Oh, of course," She smiles. "That'll be two you owe me, Launcher."

"Bring, um--Marshal, what's her full name?"

"Angelina Maritza Almeda."

"Bring Angelina downstairs, would you?"

"If you tell me how you know her," Selene says, reaching out and running her fingers down my cheek. I don't want to encourage her--but my body will not let me try and break contact. In fact, even when I try to take my mind off of her, all I can think about are the insane carnal possibilities a sorceress could offer. "Jon..." she says, hovering in front of me and cradling my face in her hands. "...is this an invitation?"

And apparently--through touch--the dream-peerer spots daydreams just as well. How many men would kill to be in this position right now?

"I won't bother saying no to you, Selene--but right now we have some things to do." She raises her eyebrows and shifts her body beneath her, aiming her legs at my waist. She's still wearing that dress, and as her legs spread to wrap around me, I can't help but see black satin panties beneath it.

"You have things to do, Launcher," She says, bringing herself down to rest on my lap as she straddles me. Her thighs go tense, and she pulls herself closer as my body responds to her presence whether I want it to or not. "I'm simply doing you another favor--for which I intend to be repaid." She puts an arm around me, and pulls me close to her face, so our lips are inches apart. "You understand that."

"Every part of me," I smile.

"Good," Selene says casually, releasing me and hovering back off my chair. She places her feet on the ground and heads toward the kitchen. I follow, and Carmen is just coming out of the bathroom.

"How was the sunrise?" Carmen asks.

"Breathtaking, my dear," Selene replies, kissing her on the cheek before heading up the stairs. Carmen is frozen to the spot, and she looks at me with wide eyes. I shrug, trying my best not to grin like a fool.

*What-was-that?* I see Carmen's lips mouth without sound.

"Selene..." I say just loud enough for her to hear. Up the stairs, I hear a voice I recognize.

"God damn, this is some dream," Jake's voice echoes in the stair. "Hey, where you headed, lady in red?"

"Call your puppy before you owe me three, Libbey," Selene shouts over the railing.


"Jake!" I shout. "Downstairs, man." Jake starts laughing, and I hear him pound down the stairs until he's at the kitchen entrance. He sees me immediately, but his eyes soon shift to Carmen.

"Oh shit, and Carmen fuckin' Douglas," He walks toward Carmen, sizing her up. "Dunno who's better, you or lady in red." Carmen sneers, looking at me.

"Jake, this is Carmen," I say.

"I know who the hell Carmen Douglas is. J-Libs." He turns back to her, "But I can't deny I'm a little miffed you're in PJs."

"Uh huh. Nice to meet you too."

I can tell she’s waiting for me to break it to him. He’s already made an ass of himself.

"Jake, cool it." He turns back to me, approaching close.

"Now, see--gorgeous house, fine fuckin' women--this'd be a perfect dream if it wasn't for you and your hacker buddy blowing up my cell RIGHT before I went to sleep..."

"Jake, this is all really complicated--" I start before Carmen cuts me off.  

"This isn't a dream," Carmen says to Jake. "Tell him, Launcher. Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be."

"Launcher? Jon, you--" Jake's head in working overtime, and I swear I can hear his heart start to beat faster. "Jon, she's not--I mean...this isn't--this fucking can't be--" He runs over to the kitchen window, overlooking a small ridge in the woods. "My head is fucking with me. Bad."

"You're not dreaming, Jake," I say. Jake looks back from the window, calmer.

"Yeah, yeah--" He ignores me, turning to Carmen. "Except that you're Carmen Douglas, there's another brutally attractive woman upstairs, some voice in my room was talking in my brain, my best friend is here, and all we're in some Aspen McMansion--so I'm fuckin' dreaming."

"The Adirondacks," Marshal corrects.


"The Adirondacks," I repeat this time. "Upstate NY." Jake is back to looking out the windows, going spot to spot, trying to process why we're nowhere near the 80/90 corridor. "Jake."

He looks at me, his eyes wild.

“That’s...I’m--I’m gonna wake up.” He’s staring at the rising sun when he says it--as if he’s waiting for it to happen. He’s gonna wake up. I have to unconvince him.

"Come on, dude. You've NEVER had a dream this detailed or nuanced." He looks down after my plea, thinking about it.

"I dunno, I've--" He looks at his hand, articulating it. Then he looks back at me, then to Carmen. "But--Carmen Douglas."

"Don't wear it out," Carmen says. Embarrassment is showing on his face.

"It's real, dude. All real. We basically did the same thing when we woke up. Don't be too hard on yourself."

"You--" He shakes his head. "You all what?" He starts toward the living room, looking around the place all over again. "Jon--how did we get here?" I hear footsteps coming down the stairs, and Selene enters the kitchen again, followed by Angelina...and Christie.

My jaw falls open when I see her. I'm not ready.

"Jon!" She says, turning back to Selene. "I was just saying that--"

"Now that's interesting," Selene says. "Am I right in thinking that Christie here is the only woman here who knew you before today?" Angelina sticks close to Selene, looking around at each of us tentatively even as Christie heads straight for me.

"Jon. It really is you, right?" She looks back at Selene. "What are me all doing here?" Selene does her patented stare again, waiting for me to take the situation off her hands.

"Wait, who...?" Jake asks, pointing at Selene and Angelina.

"Everyone just bear with me," I say. "We're all awake, we're all here. That's a start. For now--there's this: you're not dreaming," I say, looking at Christie almost apologetically. "You're not in danger," I continue, meeting Angelina's deep brown eyes, "and I'm doing my best--just like the rest of you, to understand why we're here."

"Where is HERE, Jon?" Jake asks.

"Adirondack Park, Jake. Northeastern New York." Jake laughs, shaking his head. Angelina puts a hand to her mouth, and Selene turns to her, gently rubbing her back. I look back at Christie again. "Hiya, Chris," I say, trying my best to sound reassuring. Her blonde hair is tossed about her, and she's looking at me with bright blue eyes, searching my own for something.

"Welcome to everyone," Marshal finally says. "I'm sure you all have questions--many of which I hope to answer over a morning meal."

"Who are you?" Angelina finally says, her southwestern accent apparent. "And where are you?"

"I'm called Marshal," it replies, "and for now, I'm best described as a host and a guide. You may call upon me anytime."

"You're learnin', Harv," Selene nods.

"Thank you, Ms. Sibylla," Marshal says. "For now, may I introduce you all to each other?"

Nodding all around, except for a 'please' from Carmen and a 'fuckin-A' from Jake.

"Excellent. Now, if you would please greet the others as I introduce you...Launcher?"

"Hi," I say sheepishly, looking around at faces empathetic, sleepy, awed, and uncertain. "My name, for those of you who don't know, is Jonathan Libbey. You'll hear Marshal, and maybe a few others here, call me Launcher--but you can call me Libbey, Jon, douchebag..." I turn to Jake, who isn’t laughing at my joke.

"Ms. Sibylla?" A smile curled over Selene's lips.

"Selene," she says, waving.

"And that's it?" Carmen asked. "You're not going tell us all something interesting about yourself?"

"I'd love to put you on the spot, my dear..." She says to Carmen. Then, turning to me, "...but I'm not sure our hosts would appreciate it." I shrug at her.

"Don't hold back on account of me," I say. "If anyone appreciates your talents, it's me."

"Yeah?" Selene smiles. "Well, you have someone to compete with now." She holds her hands up toward Carmen. "Let it happen, darling--I promise I'll be gentle." Jake snickers at the innuendo, then goes stark silent when Carmen rises into the air.

Gasps from Angelina and Christie, and a drawn out 'hhhhhholy fuuuuuuck' from Jake. Carmen takes short little breaths as she wiggles her toes under her, searching for the ground she's no longer tethered to.

"This is fucking crazy! This is--” Carmen looked down around us, trying to bounce in place--trying to force her body to fall. “That's--just...s-so fucking cool!" She puts her arms out to either side of her and pulls her legs up under her, crossing them. "That's..."

"How is that possible!?" Angelina cries out at Selene, taking a step back as she does so. Selene just winks back.

"What I do, gorgeous." Selene raises an eyebrow. "Don’t you wanna try?" Angelina visibly swallows, watching the hovering Carmen.

"You WANT to try," Carmen smiles. "Trust me." Christie, who'd been staring at me intently until now, touches Selene's shoulder.

"Can...can I try?" Selene nods and leans into her, kissing her cheek as one of her hands comes up to Christie's face, caressing it and gently sliding her fingers under Christie's chin.

"Anything you want," Selene whispers to her, unheard by anyone else in the room. Warmth moves through Christie as her body loses its gravitational pull, and soon she rises into the air just like Carmen.

"Wh-what's it like?" Angelina asked. Christie's closed eyes gently open as an almost drunken laugh trickles out of her.

"It's exactly what you'd expect," Carmen says. "Isn't it?"

"Better..." Christie sighs, looking down at Selene.

"How about you, mouth?" Selene says, approaching Jake. "Wanna get high?" Jake waves his arms.

"Uh-uh. I'm cool," he says. "Ground is fine here.” Jake is more stunned than I’ve ever seen him. “So...what else can you do?"

"Loaded question, Jake," I say.

He takes a seat at the bar, just nodding.

"Enough about me," Selene says. "Let's keep moving, shall we?" She directs her hands to each of the hovering girls, palms down this time.

"No-no-no!" Carmen pleas. "Just leave me up here; I like it."

"Later," Selene says. "Later." Both women settle on their feet again, and Carmen shakes herself off, giggling. Christie seems like she's in a hazy dream state.

"That really is a wonderful feeling," Christie's soft voice slurs. "Wowww." Selene winks at her.

"Alright Harv," Selene says.

"I believe it's your turn, Ms. Douglas." Carmen did an ersatz curtsy in front of the group.

"I'm Carmen Douglas."

"You are, aren’t you?" Angelina says. "Headlining Lock&Key in San Diego!?" Carmen smiles.

"I guess you attended...or you’re a fan?"

"I was a go-go dancer for Ezerio Romp," Angelina says. "One of the little music acts on day two. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you in pajamas."

"Small world," Jake says, turning to me. "What do you suppose the odds of that are?" I think about when and where I saw the internet video featuring Angelina, and sure enough...it probably leads back to a Carmen Douglas playlist.

"One," I say. "The odds are one."

"So you know Jon too, Carmen?" Christie asks.

"We've done business," Carmen says. I'm pretty sure Christie's turned to me for an explanation at this point, but I sheepishly avoid meeting her eyes.

"Mr. Barron?"

"Jake," he says, standing from his stool at the bar. "I said some shit that was pretty ungentlemanly, like, right on the tip-off. So, I'm sorry--I shouldn’t have done that."

"You were shocked enough by waking up here, right?" Carmen asks. "Apology accepted." Selene nods in agreement.

"Regardless. Sorry. And J-Libs, I...probably owe you."

"Don’t mark any tallies." I say.

"Ms. Almeda?" Angelina looks around. It takes her a while to speak.

"Well...outside of being at the same convention as Carmen once, I don't know that I have a connection to any of you." She looks around the room suspiciously--like we all might vanish at any moment. "You all seem like nice people--but this--has to be a dream, doesn’t it?"

“It’s not,” Carmen says. “We all said the same thing--and it’s not.”

"Well, hey--if you know Carmen," Jake asks, "you’re a model, right?"

"I'm pre-law." She says. "I dance for fun. I’m not a pro like Carmen."

"No arguments here," Jake said. Angelina smiles at him, blushing a little.

"Ms. Dawes?" Marshal’s smooth voice, brings us back to task. Christie looks around at the room, stopping on me.

"Jon and I work together," She says. "I'm his proofreader and contact point for a lot of his freelancing. And, um--I’m sorry, but I have a question. Won't people be looking for all of us? At least some of us?"

"A question I will be happy to answer at breakfast, Ms. Dawes," Marshall responds. "And speaking of breakfast, I'll begin preparations if you'd like to gather in the living room."

"I think I'll stay and watch," Jake says. "I wanna see how someone without a body preps a meal."

"I can imagine ways," Selene says, "But I'm with Jake, Harv. I'd like to see your technique." Selene takes a seat next to Jake at the bar, and Angelina and Carmen head to the living room. Before I could say a word, Christie grabs my arm and pulls me toward the living room as well.

"Jon,” her blue eyes are blazing. “Is there anything at all you want to say to me?"

I’m silent.

"Anything?" Christie pleas again. I’m looking at the others through the doorway--Carmen and Angelina on the opposite side, through another door. “You are really Jon, right? Not some sort of copy to make me feel better?"

"Feel better about what?" I finally ask. "What would even make you say that?"

"Oh, I dunno--being surrounded by an unnatural amount of luxury and beauty, maybe? Being spirited away to some fantasy place with a sorceress and--" She stops a second, her eyes lighting up. "Holy fuck, Jon--I just realized...Selene. Is that Kefler's Selene?"

Dave. David Kefler. He wrote "Call Down the Moon" and "Orbiting You," the most delicious examples of the goddess in the other room.

"I don't think it's that easy, Chris--but to answer the question simply, yeah. That's the Selene." Her eyes jump around as a part of her desperately tries to reject the idea.

"That's--fucking impossible, Jon." I look back at Carmen, who seems to be eavesdropping as she listens to Angelina talk about west coast gigs.

"Well, if that's the issue, let's go talk to her, shall we?" I move back toward the kitchen, rounding the corner to an agape Jake. He’s watching dishes and ingredients hover around the room all on their own, guided either by Selene's magic or by Marshal's unknown methods.

"Don't get in the way," Selene says. "Marshal may be careful enough to keep everything flying safely, but I can't guarantee I am." Christie gasps behind me as she comes in and watches the lively kitchen performing tasks on its own.

"Yeah, pretty much," Jake says after Christie's sigh. "You should probably sit before you go limp from disbelief."

"Something that obviously doesn't affect you," Selene says, winking at Jake. I can see his face tense a little at the wink, and it becomes clear to me that he’s feeling a few disembodied tugs at his midsection.

"I want to know more about you," Christie says, walking to the other end of the bar next to Selene. "Especially how you do all that stuff." Selene stares at her.

"I could show you everything, but it might melt that pretty head of yours," Selene says. "Your head if you're lucky." Selene grins, and Christie jumps back a little.

"Ooh!" She gasps, putting her hands between her legs. "What the hell was that?" Her eyes rise to Selene’s, angry. “Did you just do that?” Selene laughs. I’m wondering if I should get involved.

“Darling, I thought you wanted to know how I do ‘all that stuff’...I was just showing you.” Selene grins at her, but Christie isn’t having it. For a second, I thought she’d react even worse, but she seems to hold herself back. She actually gives me a withering glance for a second, but keeps her mouth shut. “My dear--I’m sorry--sincerely. My habits are very hard to break, but I’ll try to keep composure for your sake.”

This is the first time that I hear Selene give so gently--especially given her appearances. Christie seems taken aback, and with Selene’s apology, her face softens.

“Thanks.” Christie’s looking at Selene thoughtfully, with cautious wonder in her eyes. I wonder what’s going through her head. She and I know Selene’s origin better than anyone here.

“Do you remember anything?” Christie asks Selene. The goddesses’ eyes narrow a moment, and a smile curls over her face when she realizes Christie’s still talking to her.

“I remember plenty.” Coy. “Is there anything in particular I should be remembering?” I can’t very well stop Christie from elaborating without making Selene suspicious.

“Call Down the Moon?” Christie says. I tightened a bit, knowing this was only going to get worse.

“Is that off-broadway?” Selene jokes. “Harv, you want me to get anything else?”

“The French Toast will do nicely, Ms. Sibylla,” Marshal says. “Thank you for your help.”

“Yeah, you got it, Harv.” Selene looks carefully at the eggs, which split open one by one, their contents held suspended by her thoughts. “Elaborate, my dear.” The insides of the eggs wind together, ending up in a bowl. A scoop of sugar trickles the sparkling grains into the eggs as a whisk mixes it.

“Before you got here,” Christie says, watching the batter come together. “Right before, Selene. What were you doing?”

Selene’s deep in thought now. The whisk slows, and the loaf of bread that hovered outlands on the counter.

“You don’t sleep,” Christie says. “So you couldn’t have been sleeping like the rest of us.”

Libbey, I think you and your girlfriend owe me a discussion. I can’t help my leap when she directs the words at me. Telepathy. She’s still looking at Christie.

“I’d love to know what else you know,” Selene says to Christie as the bowl passes in front of her. Bread dips itself slice by slice as she watches, and I can see Christie reacting to something.

The same telepathy?

“That’s so fucking awesome, Selene.” Jake’s beaming like a fool in his seat, and Angelina’s next to him--looking a little more comfortable.

“It really is,” Carmen laughs. When our eyes meet, I can tell she’s been taking in the scene at my level--watching Christie and Selene in particular.

I break the tension when I leave the room, heading back to where I found the laptop. Still booted, still at the logon. I used my usual creds as I would on my computer at home, and I was in.

Internet. News. The world outside.

Landing gear malfunction this morning at Cleveland airport. Delays but no injuries. Traffic in the heights due to a water main break. Cleanup underway.

An email from a client.

The world goes on. The fine details are there. Morning has come in the east, and I didn’t wake up in bed.

I woke up here.

I consider writing an email to Dave, but what the hell am I going to tell him? That I’ve made one of his characters flesh-and-blood by somehow feeding it into a superintelligence that’s acting like my buddy?

I start an email to my parents. As soon as I’m a sentence in, trying to figure out how to say I went on vacation, he chimes in.

“You can do as you wish, Launcher--but before you reach out to the greater world, you may want to hear me out first.” I take a deep breath. I’m actually scared at what he’s going to tell us all. I’m scared of what my title means. “Just a suggestion?” I ask.

“Ms. Dawes asked if people would be looking for you. At least, some of you. I intend to answer that question, Launcher. My response may change what you intend to pass on to your family.” I close the email, trusting him. Why not?

“That’s fair, Marshal. You’re gonna tell us why we’re here--right?”

“I can’t tell you that, Launcher. I can explain a little more about what here is.” I fold my hands and rest my head against them. “Breakfast is ready.”

I stand up and look outside at the blend of deep and bright green--the orange of the sky shifting to blue.

“I’m not fuckin’ ready, Marshal.”

“The world is ready, Launcher.” It’s a tone of conviction. Marshal’s otherwise airy voice dripping molten lead into my ears. “It’s waiting for you.”

I turn around and head back toward the kitchen, where Marshal’s already started his speech.