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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (10 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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Her feet joined the trail—the harmony of her bones meeting the loamy ribbon cutting through the woods both welcome and familiar after the confrontation with her mother. The air felt cool under the shaded canopies. She inhaled deeply, tilted her face to the shimmering sunlight filtered through the leaves above. She wanted to forget her mother's parting expression—the utter contempt, the unguarded regret—but she couldn't seem to shake it. She wandered deeper into the woods until the trailer was out of sight, fantasizing about putting a thousand miles behind her. She sighed, knowing that she could never do that to her dad. She paused briefly at a branch in the trail before veering toward the Thompsons' estate.

The Dwyers had lived in the hills surrounding Concord for many generations. The Thompsons bought the old Bryson estate a decade ago, but it didn't start out as a neighborly friendship. Kylie's parents weren't welcoming at first, not because the Thompsons were black, but because Reggie Thompson was a brash, extremely wealthy pro baseball player. He played for the Cardinals and was on the road most of the year. He bought the estate as a single father with full custody of his two children: RJ (Reggie Jr.), who was Kylie's age, and Dawn, who was a year younger. The differences in social class were stark between the two families.

The first year or so passed with only a handful of solemn nods exchanged among the adults. But soon the patriarchs of both families found a common ground: hunting. The area was renowned for its deer season. Reggie enjoyed the sport of it; Mitch prided himself on putting food on his family's dinner table. And when Linda lost her job at the A&P a number of years back, Reggie had hired her on as his housekeeper and kept her on even after he married his second wife, Monique.

Since they were the only kids for a mile in any direction, Kylie had bonded quickly with RJ and Dawn. As they got older, Dawn drifted away, surrounding herself with friends from wealthy families. At first it bothered Kylie but she got over it. She didn't dislike Dawn; she just knew their social circles would never cross, even if they did live next to each other.

RJ was a different story altogether.

When the woods began to thin, she hesitated. Finely manicured gardens bordered the Thompsons' entire five acre backyard, as if the innumerable delicate flowers could hold back the wild woods beyond. She felt unsure of herself, even though she'd been cutting through the woods to visit RJ since they were kids. The estate had always intimidated her, and just crossing over into their yard would make her feel like she dressed in shabby rags.

She walked quickly across the thick carpet of grass, her heart beating wildly. Kylie stepped around a low hedgerow bordering the pool and found RJ where she expected him to be—sitting poolside with his feet dangling in the water. He didn't notice her approach; he was too busy reading the tablet resting on his lap. He'd read a page of text, nod in agreement or furrow his brow in thought, then swipe the screen to advance to the next page of text.

When she reached the pool's concrete apron, she said, "You do know it's summer vacation, right?"

"Yeah…" RJ said, still looking at the tablet. "This is just fun reading."

Kylie walked over to his side and slipped off her sandals. She sat next to him and dipped her feet into the water. It felt like bath water but was still refreshing.

"Did you feel that earthquake?" RJ said.

"Is that what it was?"

"Yeah, I looked it up on a website that tracks seismic activity. That was a 3.2 on the Richter scale."

"Really? That's crazy. I thought that only happened in California." RJ glanced up from his tablet, raising one questioning eyebrow. She normally didn't feel dumb, but it was hard not to around RJ.

"Earthquakes happen around here. It's just not common they're strong enough to feel."

"Well, you learn something new every day," she said, feeling foolish.

RJ went back to reading, nodding, swiping pages of backlit pixels.

"So what are you reading about?"

"It's a new long-form essay by Dr. Efram Gould. He's a professor in Nanoscale Technology at MIT."

"Gould, huh?" She didn't have any idea who that was, but she continued. "What's he rambling on about now?"

"The possible slowing of Moore's Law and its impact on the future of microfabrication." He switched off the tablet and finally looked at her. His sad smile made her realize how closely they sat to one another. He could reach out and wrap his arm around her with no effort.

"Micro… what?"

"Microfabrication." He kicked the water.

"What's that?"

"It's like nanotech. You know, building things on a super-small scale. Like on the molecular level."

"And why are you spending your summer reading about that?"

"I just got off the phone with my dad. He asked me if I'd done any extra work in the batting cage."

Reggie Thompson had converted part of their basement into a workout facility complete with batting cages, a video room, a hot tub and sauna, as well as weight lifting equipment and cardio machines. When Reggie wasn't on the road, he spent a good amount of time in his basement, doing whatever it took to prolong his career.

"When are you going to tell him?" Kylie asked.

"What, that I'm quitting ball?" RJ looked down at his hands. "I'm hoping I can put it off until after the season. It might be easier when he's home for the winter."

At sixteen, RJ was already an inch taller than his dad and broader through the shoulders. He had an easy, natural swing—Kylie had watched a number of his games over the years—and the ball exploded off his bat. Professional scouts had taken notice of his talent for the last year or so. While RJ had a natural talent for baseball, it had never brought him joy. He'd only played this long because of his father.

"So, until winter you're going to rebel against your dad by reading dense books about micro-building?"

"Yeah." He chuckled. "Pretty much."

"That's very passive aggressive of you." Kylie nudged his arm with her elbow. He chuckled and they shared an easy silence, letting their feet cast small waves across the warm pool.

She glanced over her shoulder at the small pool house. After yet another argument with his dad the previous spring, RJ had moved out of the mansion and into the pool house. The squat building had a single bedroom and a kitchen even smaller than the one in Kylie's doublewide. RJ had complete autonomy at the pool house. He could escape Dawn and her snobby clique whenever they took over the house. And Monique, their stepmom, was happy to have him out of her hair. Most teenagers would have taken advantage of such early freedom. But RJ wasn't like most teenagers. The walls of his bedroom weren't covered in posters of bikini babes or sports figures. He chose instead to hang posters of his heroes: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Buckminster Fuller, Alan Turing.

"He said…" RJ hesitated. "He said he's talked to the Cardinal's front office about drafting me after I graduate. It's his dream that we can take the field together before he retires, even if it's just during Spring Training."

"Sounds nice, but is that
your
dream?" she said, already knowing his answer.

"No. I want to go to Berkeley or MIT or Harvard. I want to perfect translucent solar panels, and discover habitable extrasolar planets—"

"So," Kylie cut in, "what you're saying is, you have your own dreams?"

"Yes." When RJ turned to face her he seemed startled to find her sitting so close. "But it doesn't matter to him. He thinks that since I'm his only son I should follow his path."

Without thinking Kylie did something she couldn't remember ever doing intentionally, besides their playfully exchanged elbows; she touched him, placing her hand over his. She squeezed and looked into his eyes,
really
looked into his eyes as if for the first time.

RJ could read plainly her thoughts, could see how her feelings for him had changed, with him unaware. He jumped up from his seated position, every bit the athlete. "I better… you know…" He looked around for a distraction, a change of subject.

Kylie's face flushed with embarrassment. "What I'm trying to say is… you should really follow
your
dreams… whatever they are… wherever they may lead you," she stammered, and immediately lost her train of thought, as if she now possessed the world's shortest memory.

A sliding door off the kitchen of the main house eased open. "Kylie Ann, what's going on?" Her mother hurried out, wearing yellow rubber gloves and a plain brown apron splotched with dampness.

"Nothing, Mother. I just came over to hang out with RJ."

"I see that, but why are you
here
, Kylie?"

"Because, like I
said
, we are hanging out."

"Hanging out?" Her mom looked like she'd never heard of the concept.

Kylie saw the confused look on RJ's face. They had been hanging out together for years, and no one had ever given them the third degree about it. A variable in the equation had changed, and RJ didn't know what it could be. Or at least that's what his expression reflected. "Yeah, Mom. RJ was just telling me about the potential slowing of Moore's Law."

Linda Dwyer looked from Kylie, to RJ, and back again.

Still sporting that same confused expression, RJ retreated to a lawn chair and the comfort of his tablet. Kylie left his side, the hot concrete baking the soles of her bare feet as she made her way over to her mom.

"Moore's Law, really?" Her mom scoffed.

"Yes, Mother," Kylie said. "It could have a profound impact on the advancement of micro… microfabrication."

"You better run on home, little girl," her mother whispered. They could be at home, trying not to wake Kylie's dad. "You don't belong here, you and your slutty mind."

"Why don't you run back inside and finish cleaning the toilets. That's all you're good for," Kylie replied and immediately regretted it.

Her mom gasped and raised an open palm as if to slap Kylie. She'd never struck her daughter, and somehow she managed to hold back now.

"Mom…" Kylie inched closer to her mom, reaching for her. "I didn't mean that."

Her mom looked at her raised palm and lowered it to her side. She sighed heavily. "I don't know what to do about you anymore, Kylie Ann. You're lost to me. You know what? Do whatever you want. I'll save my breath. Just know—I'm not raising your kids. I'm done."

"I never asked you to. And it doesn't matter, anyway, because I'm never having kids."

"That doesn't add up when you're going around spreading your legs." Her mom headed back along the patio to the sliding door.

"Mom?"

Linda Dwyer hesitated. After shaking her head in frustration, she opened the door and went inside without another word.

Kylie walked over to where RJ was sitting on a poolside lounge chair.

"What was that all about?" He set the tablet aside.

"My mom found out…" She hesitated.

"Found out what?"

Kylie sat on the chair next to him. She swallowed the lump in her throat. "That I like you…"

"Wow… Kylie, that's… sweet of you…" RJ's tone said it all. The feeling wasn't mutual.

"I'm sorry I ever mentioned it." Kylie stood, her cheeks burning, and felt like sprinting until she reached the woods, until she lost herself among the shadows and shade.

The ground beneath her began to shake, and it crossed her mind that she might be having a seizure. Or perhaps a heart attack. When RJ sprang to his feet Kylie was somewhat relieved that he'd obviously felt it too. Perhaps she wasn't dying of embarrassment after all.

"Another quake?" she asked.

"Must be."

As the ground continued to shake, Kylie let instinct take over and she wrapped her arms around his waist, her ear pressed against his sternum. He patted her back a couple of times, and then hugged her closer to him. They stood in a panicked silence.

When his body shifted in her arms, she followed his gaze to the sky. The bright blue canvas exploded in waves of rumpled gold and gray, the colors colliding and coalescing, before shattering into a million shards of lightning that discharged across the horizon.

It was beautiful, yet horrifying. She couldn't look away, and only reluctantly let RJ pull her to the ground as a concussive wave of thunder pummeled against them. She cried out in pain, but she couldn't hear herself over the blast. RJ wrapped her in a protective embrace, shielding her body with his even though she could feel the fear quake through his limbs. Kylie closed her eyes, breathing in RJ's closeness, as one wave of ear-splitting thunder after another bashed into them.

Within seconds the earth quieted and RJ's voice overtook the retreating thunder splitting the sky. "Shh… shh… it's okay. It's okay…"

Kylie opened her eyes and saw RJ staring back at her. For a moment, a fraction of a second at most, she saw his unguarded feelings on full display. More than platonic feelings were in that stare. More than innocent childhood flirtations. "What was that?"

"It couldn't have been another earthquake."

"So, what… terrorism?"

"Don't say that. There has to be a logical explanation." He furrowed his brow as if he were working the problem out in his head.

"Are we under attack?" She couldn't help herself. She felt jittery and scared, and all she wanted to do was chatter away.

"I don't know, Kylie," he snapped. "I know as much as you." He got to his feet and brushed grass clippings from his shorts. He extended a hand to Kylie and he helped her up. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"Don't worry about it," Kylie said, somewhat breathless. She looked to the sky and saw tracers of gold descending to the tree line, diminishing to ghostly afterimages. After blinking a few times, the color was gone altogether.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

 

Kylie's ears still rang from the explosion, but she heard RJ's voice loud and clear. "C'mon. Let's find out what's going on." He went over to a lawn chair and picked up his tablet.

"Kylie Ann! Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
4.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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