Authors: Corinn Heathers
Tags: #Fiction, #Urban Fantasy
dawn of a new astral age, book one
dawn of a new astral age, book one
copyright © 2015 by Corinn Heathers
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced without express written permission from the copyright holder, with the exception of short excerpts for review purposes.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and situations are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
act one / bound
act two / together
act three / love
Traffic was lighter than I expected, probably because it hadn't actually started snowing just yet. I turned off the freeway onto the exit that would take me home. My apartment complex was right on the edge of the interstate, which would probably be annoying for a lot of people, but it made getting to work easier and the noise didn't bother me much.
Once on the surface streets, I took a right and there was my complex. It was nice enough, I suppose. The best I could afford on my salary. I pulled into the parking lot and killed the engine. A glance at the fuel gauge and battery levels told me that I'd probably need to fill the ethanol tank up soon, a thought that did not fill my heart with joy.
My apartment was on the fourth floor. I decided not to take the stairs as I usually did, mostly because I was just dead tired. It was almost seven, the very beginning of the evening proper, yet it felt like I'd been awake for days on end. These were usually the results of my hour-long counseling sessions once a week. At least I didn't have to work until the day after tomorrow.
I waited for the elevator and stepped inside when it opened. I mashed the button marked “4F” and leaned against the interior wall. My phone chirped in my pocket and I pulled it out to check the notification while the elevator ascended. It was an email from Marisa, a girl I'd been seeing on and off again for the past few months, but it had no subject line. Ominous.
The door to the elevator opened before I could read the email. I stuffed my phone in my pocket and walked to my apartment, unit 409, and tapped my ID card against the silver panel on the locking mechanism. The auto-lock chirped once and disengaged, the door swinging open on its own.
I walked into my apartment and took off my battered leather jacket, tossing it in a random direction. The place was a mess and I didn't really feel like cleaning it up. The small table I kept next to the foot of my bed, where I'd sit on the edge of the mattress and have my coffee in the morning, was covered in crumbs and stray cigarette ashes.
“What a fucking mess,” I grumbled aloud as I took the overflowing ashtray and dumped it into the trash can near the little kitchenette. That was almost full, too. I didn't want to deal with it right now, though.
I took a detour to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of my favorite amber ale. There was a bottle opener on the counter, sitting next to a stack of dirty dishes that I hadn't bothered to clean. I popped the lid on the beer and sat on the edge of my bed, putting the bottle and the ashtray down on the small table while I unlaced my boots.
After I got my shoes off, I lit a cigarette and puffed a bit before pulling my phone back out to read that email. No subject line and from Marisa, who I hadn't seen or spoken to in a week; I had a pretty good idea what was inside the email. I tapped the touchscreen and opened it up, revealing a hesitant and rather overwrought break-up letter.
I sat there, drinking my beer and smoking my cigarette, while I read the letter. It was not easy to read and not because I was especially broken up about breaking up. I had already resigned myself to that after a week of radio silence. It was more because her writing ability was best classified as fucking horrible.
Nothing gained but nothing lost. Marisa was cute but she hadn't been too smart, as the badly-written email so eloquently proved. I wasn't even really sure
I'd kept going out with her after the first few dates other than the socially-imposed need and expectation to have a romantic partner at my ripe old age of twenty-nine.
“That's what you get for using online dating sites, Karin.” I checked the time and realized it would soon be about time for my usual weekly call to my little sister, So-yi. She lived one state down in an upscale subdivision near Portland with her lovely wife, Nicole, whom I didn't really get along with.
I collapsed onto the bed and wondered what I'd eat tonight. I realized I'd just end up ordering pizza from the usual place—there were three empty boxes stacked up near the trash can—and went right to wondering something else. Like why I, the big sister, had such an aimless and seemingly pointless life when So-yi was married, had a house, a bunch of cats and a career she loved.
And here I was, Karin Ashley, freshly arriving at her twenty-ninth year on the planet Earth without a fucking clue what to do with her life. My job wasn't a career. Well, it could be, but I really, really did not want it to be.
I was a security specialist working for the federal government at the Records & Licensing Agency branch office in Seattle. The head security officer, actually, the Grand Poobah of staring at system dumps and access logs trying to figure out which group of internet script kiddies tried to replace all the graphical elements on our website with pictures of grotesquely huge cartoon penises.
That was sarcasm, by the way. My job is actually more important than that, as most of the hacking attempts on the agency were legitimate attempts to steal data. Unfortunately, as these things usually tend to go, the importance of my job was not counterbalanced by the size of my paycheck. I wasn't exactly starving here, but forty thousand a year wasn't what I'd call the big bucks.
Forty grand a year kept me housed, paid my outrageous auto insurance premiums, kept the fuel tanks topped off most of the time and put food on the table. Outside of that, I occasionally would get the chance to go shopping and buy a bunch of cute clothes that I would play dress-up with but rarely wear anywhere nice.
Barring that, I read a lot of books. My apartment had several bookshelves which were stuffed with physical volumes. I had plenty of ebooks, too, but those didn't look as nice on a shelf, probably because they were intangible computer files. Like most people who live in developed nations, I also spent way too much time messing around on the internet. I would even watch television, something that apparently only old people did anymore.
Essentially, I had no life to speak of. Not a social life, anyway.
Marisa wasn't the only girl I've ever dated, but she was the only one in the past year. The whole process of dating was something I loathed. It just drained the energy from me. I was the poster child for “unlucky in love,” except it was more complicated than that. Let's just say that my feelings for my little sister were a bit of a mess, at least on my end of things, and the primary reason why I had weekly counseling sessions.
Complicated or not, I still cared for So-yi a lot. Growing up we were joined at the hip, never far from each other. We were analogous to Very Best Friends, regardless of what other social involvement we might have. When I moved out of the family house and went off to university, our relationship changed, but I still worried about my little sis and called her often.
The “often” started to decrease when she met and eventually married Nicole. I can't say I
my sister's wife, but we usually just end up arguing about stupid shit. I'm pretty sure she knows all about, or at least strongly suspects, the one-sided, Karin-sided weirdness inherent in my relationship with my sister.
I sat up, realizing that my cigarette had went out sitting in the ashtray. I picked it back up and re-lit it, grimacing at the taste of the carbonized end being lit again. My beer was still cold and fizzy, though, so things weren't all bad.
I picked up my phone and opened the ordering interface for my favorite pizza joint, tapping the icon that let me repeat my last order, which is what I did basically every time I ordered from them. Variety seemed pointless most of the time. My phone chimed a few seconds later, the instant message letting me know that my order was in process and would be delivered in about an hour.
So-yi would be done with dinner now, I was sure. Early to bed, early to rise, and she and her partner ate dinner like normal people, right around six. I scrolled through my contact list and tapped the address. The call connected a moment later and So-yi's voice came over the line.
“Hey, little sis,” I greeted her. “How's it going?”
“I'm tired, but otherwise I can't complain.” I could hear the sound of a cat demanding attention with meows in the background. “How's my favorite big sister?”
big sister, you mean. I'm okay, I guess. I just got in, actually.”
“Aren't you off today?” So-yi asked.
“Yeah, but I had to go out and run some errands and go to a doctor's appointment.” I didn't tell her that the doctor was a psychiatrist. It wasn't that I was embarrassed about needing some help sorting out my head, it's just I didn't want to make things any weirder between us than necessary.
“You should be more active on your days off. I know you just stay at home and read or play around with your clothes or on the internet. You should come visit me! It's just a three-hour drive.”
“Hey, that 'just a three-hour drive' costs me a shitload in ethanol,” I grumbled. “I'm okay usually but I'm not exactly rolling in the dough here.”
“Right, I forgot, you still have that old hybrid you got when you went off to uni. You can't trade it in for a fuel cell EV?”
“It's in good shape and I keep it maintained, but nobody wants to take any decent fucking trade-in value on a burner, even a hybrid.” I stubbed my cigarette out in the ashtray. “The best I could do would be like, maybe four thousand tops. I'd have to get a lithium battery car and those have shit for range.”
I could hear So-yi's sigh on the other end. “They still make those?”
“Yeah, and they still suck. I mean, it's okay if all you do is drive around town and they're loads cheaper than fuel cells, sure. Great cars for little old ladies that never go anywhere and if they do they take the train, but I don't want to be so limited.”
“So you keep the hybrid, even though combustible fuel taxes are going up again.”
I didn't have to see her to imagine the look she would have given me. “Karin, if you need help you can always ask me or Mama—”
“Look, if I really needed help, I would say so, okay? I mean... it's fine. It's a car, the wheels roll and it gets me places I want to go. I don't want to borrow money to put a down payment on a car that I won't be able to keep up with the payments—”
“I'm not even talking about the car, Karin,” So-yi interrupted. “I'm talking about
. You can't just stay locked up in your apartment all the time and avoid your family. Don't make excuses about cars and fuel taxes and monthly payments.”
“Damn it, Karin, let me talk. I'm worried about you. What happened with you and that girl you were dating? Did anything ever come of that?”
I winced. “N-no. I got an email today and it... well, it was a break-up note.”
“Oh, Karin, I'm sorry.” My sister's voice was filled with sympathy, which actually did make me feel a little better. So-yi was good at making me feel better. Even though I wasn't especially upset that Marisa decided to break it off for good, I
“It's okay, sis. I'll be fine. I'm just...”
“You're not fine, Karin. I can hear it in your voice and I can see it in how you act. The way you just sort of float through your life, the way you act so lackadaisical about everything. You're lonely. Admit it.”
I felt a stinging in my eyes. “Yeah. I am.”
“Then you should stop trying to be a tough lone wolf, which you aren't, and remember that you have a family, which you
. Why don't you come visit soon? I'll even help with your fuel costs.”
“I... I mean, um, what about Nicole—”
“Don't try to use my wife as a shield, Karin. I know you two don't get along very well, but look, you always try to pick fights with her. Just try to be civil and come over. Please? You'll do it for me, won't you?”
Fucking hell, she knew there was no way I could resist when she asked that way. “A-all right, sis, I'll come visit after the snow lets up. I promise.”
“I was thinking more in the 'next weekend' time frame,” she grumbled. “Fine. If you're going to promise a visit that far out, then I have another demand, and you better damn well do what I say or Mama's going to get an earful the next time she calls.”
Shit, So-yi was breaking out the big guns. She must really be worried about me. I felt a little warmth spread through me as I considered it.
“What do you want?” My tone was wary.
“I want you to get out more.” So-yi ignored my obvious reluctance and charged on ahead. “I don't care what you do, just get out of the house more. Go to the library and read books. Go to a cafe and drink coffee and leech wireless or something, I don't care. Just get out into the world. Talk to random people. Make conversation. Go window shopping.”
I couldn't really argue with her. “All right, I'll make an effort to get out more.”
“I promise, little sis. I'm not going to pretend it'll be easy or that I'm looking forward to it, but I'll seriously make the effort. My counselor says—er, I mean...”
. I absolutely did
mean to say that.
“You're... seeing a therapist?” Her voice actually sounded pleased. “You're actually talking to a professional about all this? Since when?”