In the near future, Earth has been saved from a gargantuan asteroid by a well-meaning alien race. The asteroid, named Ohmani, was then hollowed out and terraformed for colonization. Over time, the interior city has become one of the most progressive and culturally diverse metropolises in the galaxy.
Many years after The Great Rescue, Levi Avondale and his small broken family find themselves moving from the ground to this 'Las Vegas of Space' after a family friend is brutally murdered. Levi must leave his small-town life in the California waves to make a new one in this fast-paced and futuristic new world.
Unfortunately, Levi soon discovers this tragedy was not an isolated event. Now he must navigate this strange place and uncover the secrets and conspiracies behind the homicides before someone he loves ends up dead next…
Pila Terry wouldn’t have been surprised to know this day would be her last, but that didn’t mean she was prepared for it. She had landed back on the ground a couple hours ago after a week-long business trip to the sister Stellar Grand Hotel on Ohmani, and those flights always arrived at such unpredictable hours. After depositing her luggage at home, careful not to wake her sleeping daughter, Pila drove straight to the hotel even though she wasn’t on the schedule. Inner turmoil combined with jetlag had driven her to the spot where she now stood in the semi-dark, quiet laundry room waiting for her best friend to come waltzing in, unbeknownst to the drama, for the opening shift.
Pila could have just called Axella, but wouldn’t risk their phone conversation being intercepted – not with what she had discovered. Even so, she felt a little ridiculous standing there alone and waiting amongst stained sheets and bleached pillow cases. Something was caught in the air vent above the shelves, she noticed with perked ears. It’s faint discordant ticking against the metal ductwork was a welcome distraction from her thoughts doing their usual ravishing of her sanity.
Pila was questioning everything – all of the choices that led to this moment where she felt as soiled as the linens thrown into the hampers. So many mistakes, she sighed. A grave one was becoming used to this little earthbound tourist destination by the beach and forgetting why she was there in the first place. She had become complacent with her peaceful routine here; forgetful that chaos could drag her down into its lair at any moment…and that moment had come. She wouldn’t let Axella get dragged down with her. It was her duty to protect her. The two best friends had met right before the discovery that shook the world…
It was eighteen-and-a-half years ago – she remembered because she was on assignment in college – when the Chilean-based E-ELT spotted the asteroid 12-Ferres on a straight trajectory towards Earth after being gravitationally deflected by a larger nearby space body. Pila remembered the first wild rumors and speculations that spread via social media and other outlets lacking serious credentials. Before private companies and enthusiastic hobbyists with the means could point their instruments to the sky, NASA and the ESA had briefed a chosen few on the situation as it was known at the time – that 12-Ferres, an M-type asteroid of massive proportions, would reach Earth at its current relative velocity in nineteen months, and that it was highly likely to destroy planet Earth and every living thing upon it with no exceptions.
In the speeches that ensued in every country on the planet, there were no conspiracies, cover-ups or even cradling the reality in a swaddle of soft semi-truths. Pila vividly remembered world leaders urging their citizens to stay united, to rally all peoples and nations into peace and accord; to avoid massive panic and rioting, which, strangely enough, they mostly did. The people of the United States of America had watched on their televisions as the president walked down the red carpet and past the ivory pillars to stand in front of the black podium. She gave her speech, and although it was strong and hopeful, at the end of it the universe seemed to mock the alabaster marble and intricate crown molding around her. Nature had declared war. It was queen.
The problem was, Homo sapiens were a bit arrogant. Throughout time, the organism of humanity had stepped up to every adversity it had faced, adapted, and come out on top. Indeed, Pila remembered people continuing life as usual with a trusting glow that the end of the world would not occur during their lifetime – not with humanity’s triple threat of intellect, technology and faith. Many would even lay in bed at night and fantasize about how lucky they would be to re-tell the story of how they lived during the time when the world united to triumph against a doomed end.
But 12-Ferres was already virtually in Earth’s backyard, her citizens now regretting not having supported a stronger space program as attempts to redirect or destroy the asteroid did little more than deflect the crash site from one location to another. Pila remembered how, over time, man’s confidence faded as operation after operation repeatedly failed. Confidence faded into worry, which quickly turned into fear, and finally settled into acceptance. For the first time in human history, there was no more adapting, no more evolving. It was time to surrender. Her heart had slumped into the depths of her belly like everyone else’s.
A timeless feeling fell like a thick blanket over Earth as people eventually realized that their planet was no better than the other billions of planets in the cosmos. That their species were only different in that they had the serendipity of billions of years of neuronal evolution to understand what was about to happen. In the meantime, dogs sat at their owners’ feet with slobber flying from smiling jowls, happy the whole pack was together once again.
So the people of Earth had braced for the impact the best way they could. Some chose to end their life their own way, while others drowned in distracting pleasures. Most chose to savor their last moments with loved ones by turning off their personal technologies. Billions of people huddled around fires, talking in the same antediluvian way as their ancestors and emotionally-baring themselves as uninhibitedly as their cousin apes before them. Indeed, the only redeemable thing about it all was perhaps the shear level of honesty among people who had allowed lies and petty humanely woes to wedge so tightly between them.
Pila heaved a deep sigh at that thought. How quickly the lessons of open communication were forgotten. She had kept so many secrets. Lying and sneaking around was part of the reason she was in this linen room. Not anymore. She was going to tell Axella about what she had learned on her business trip as soon as her best friend walked through that door. Then she was going to go home and do the same with her daughter, Talon. The truth shall set you free, as they say.
As Pila carried a heap of goods towards the closet near the back of the room, the story of how Ohmani came to be continued to play like a movie in her head. The knot in her stomach, she was confident, was not so different from the way the people of Earth felt in those last few moments before the asteroid was scheduled to strike. Many years ago, across the globe, monitors displayed the closing distance between 12-Ferres and Earth. Most watched the descending numbers as intensely as if the last ball was dropping in Times Square, and in fact, it was. Millions stood in cities, churches, and living rooms trying desperately to savor what it felt like to be alive. Lungs expanding with air, skin prickling with angst, muscles strained with adrenaline.
Pila had been with Axella, Kaylan, and Bockie at the time.
“I’m sorry little ones,” Axella had cried, resting her hands on her pregnant belly and on Pila’s. “I’m sorry we won’t get to meet you two.”
The screens and radios broadcasted in real time. People thought that was it – the end of humanity and all life on Earth. There had been no mountain high enough or underground bunker low enough to protect a single soul from the inevitable. That celestial monster was over five times the size of the one that finished off the dinosaurs. All around the world started the final ‘goodbyes,’ and the ‘I’ll see you on the other side’s; the embraces, and kisses, and tears.
It was time. 12-Ferres would soon be entering into Earth’s atmosphere and crash into the eastern Pacific. Massive tsunamis and a global firestorm would engulf the world in a mere thirty minutes. Many of the world’s governments offered fast-acting anesthetic-type pills, which people began popping into their mouths like candy.
…they saved us.
A smile curled Pila’s lips ever so slightly as she remembered that moment. Nothing, she thought, was ever as bleak as it seemed. Not the situation with Talon, nor the one she discovered on Ohmani involving her long-time friend, Axella. Pila was so engrossed in both her reminiscing and her planning on how she would handle both situations that she did not hear the assassin sneak up behind her. She barely had time to register the sharp snick of pain across her throat before she fell, silent and bloodied, to the floor of the supply closet.
“What? Ohmani? We’re moving to…space?” Levi Avondale roared, dragging out the last word with a whining that could put any toddler to shame. Levi, however, was eighteen.
His mother, Axella Kaplin, sat on their front porch wringing her hands in desperation and hiding beneath a massive sunhat. It’s brim flapped as restlessly as her heart. Didn’t Levi understand this was just as scary for her, too? Brown curls bounced gently around her cheekbones as she lifted her head to say something and then changed her mind.
Levi was her only son and she didn’t mean to upset him. She had planned to break the news easy, even rehearsed exactly what she was going to say. Instead, the announcement of their impending move came rushing from her in a failed attempt at sensitivity. Then again, how could one ease a teenage boy into the reality of the situation? Failure had been inevitable.
“Vi, the job position I’m being offered there is an amazing opportunity for us. It’s a supervisory position you know…a promotion,” she added with a twinkle in her eye. “Besides, Ohmani is not space, really. Think of it as Earth’s 196th country.”
“It is out of Earth’s atmosphere and, therefore, in space,” he droned. Levi sat stunned for several moments before speaking again. “Can’t you get promoted at another Stellar Grand? Like on this planet maybe? There’s no ocean there. There’s no sun there!”
Levi knew he sounded like a brat, but by God, moving to a cramped city inside of a rock was his greatest nightmare. Claustrophobic thoughts made his palms sweat and he wiped them on his board shorts.
“There are no other positions as good as this one. They received over three hundred applications and it just posted earlier this week. Can you believe that? I was chosen.” She sat biting her bottom lip, waiting in anticipation for her son’s shouts of disapproval.
“When?” is all he said.
“Oh God,” Levi breathed as softly as a prayer. “Mom, I’m a senior in high school. I’m trying to get a surfing scholarship.” His words came tumbling out in his haste to convince Axella that this move would become a fiasco of epic proportions. He knew he was wasting his breath.
Axella’s quiet and reserved demeanor was only a shell to the strong, independent woman she really was. If she decided the kitchen needed more light, a wall was being jack-hammered in the morning. If she decided her hair was getting a little dull, it was the color of fire and brimstone at the next available appointment. One unusually warm November a decade ago, she sat an eight-year old Levi down to explain she and his father were getting a divorce. Cheating men, unlike walls and hair, were not on her list of things that could be renovated. If she said they were moving to a cave world full of aliens, they were moving to a cave world full of aliens.
“Maybe once we all settle in up there you’ll finally meet a nice girl that will help you forget about surfing for one day of your life,” cackled a voice from inside the house. The door to the sandstone veranda whipped open with a creak and a bang. Out stepped a frail old woman carrying a tray of lemonade and sugar cookies shaped appropriately, if not a little insensitively, as stars and spaceships. The wicker chair she braced herself down into squeaked in excitement.
“Bockie’s coming?” Now Levi had to be dreaming. He strained to look into his grandmother’s hazel eyes through her obnoxious star-shaped sunglasses for any sign of jest. When nothing came but a small burp and some crumbs he shouted, “Mom, she’s ninety!”
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here, boy. And don’t you worry about me. Remember, I whooped cancer on its ass!” she crowed triumphantly.
Levi sighed dramatically and settled more comfortably into his chair, waiting for Bockie to finish her favorite topic of discussion.
“If I can send breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, and gum cancer with its tail between the legs I can certainly handle a little star gazing. Come on boy, no fruit of my loins is going to be a big ol’ whinny!”
The last thing Levi wanted to do was think about his grandmother’s loins. The truth was Bockie barely weighed more than her age and the thought of her frail body enduring a star-trekking adventure made him angry with worry. Knowing his grandmother though, this space debacle was probably her midlife adventure more so than her retirement plan.
“Mom,” Levi began calmly, deciding it best to take an entirely different approach. “Ohmani is in space. It’s cold and dark…and the crime! It’s like Miami on steroids. You don’t really want to live there, do you? There’s plenty of Stellar Grands all over the country. With your experience I’m sure you could even transfer to a different company. I know what happened at the last job…sucks,” he regretted his insensitive choice of words immediately, “but there are lots of other opportunities, right? I really need to stay here and get ready for my future. Come on, let’s just go inside and we’ll find you another job…a better job…online.” He got up, almost convinced that tomorrow this would all be a nightmare.
“Sit down,” Bockie commanded as she flipped her sunglasses atop her faded frizzling red hair.
Although she had used surprising gentleness, Levi promptly accommodated as though she had barked the order.
“Now your mom’s not asking you, Levi Kai. She’s giving you ample warning, so cut the attitude.”
Even though he believed three days was anything but ample, he dared not counter her words. Bockie had a gemstone of a heart and loved Levi with all of it, but she never tried or cared to tumble away her sharp edges. Levi knew this, but sometimes it was hard not to be afraid of the woman.
“Let’s face it, boy. You don’t know what you want to do with your life other than surfing. It’s a shame you don’t act like a man despite all those muscles.” Bockie reached over to squeeze Levi’s bicep. “Here, have a cookie. Your mother’s had a tough time lately after what happened to Pila at the hotel. All that blood…poor thing. She finally found something she’s excited about. A new beginning for all of us.” She continued directing her gaze to the sky. “If you’re lucky like me and you survive all your cancers, you’ll live to the ripe old age of ninety. My bet is you’ll miss your mother and me and wish you hadn’t been such a nincompoop at this very moment.” She sat back in her chair clearly satisfied with her discombobulated speech and grabbed another sugar cookie.
Realizing his pleas were ineffective, Levi turned his attention out into the street and tried to concentrate on breathing instead – even that was hard to do. They lived in a modest three-bedroom bungalow in the Hillcrest neighborhood in Mantauky, California. It was a colorful lot from the curb, with pink azaleas spawning up the sandstone walls of the house and various fruits bobbing brightly on citrus trees in the late afternoon sun. It was very…Californian, and the ocean was only a short five mile drive away.
Levi had three surfing competitions lined up this year where he was going to hopefully catch the eye of a college scout. The first one on the schedule was the NSSA amateur surfing competition in Huntington Beach. He had saved up enough money to take the Skyway there, cutting his travel time in half. Now, he wouldn’t even be on the same planet. He was going to lose everything.
That thought snapped him back to the reality of the afternoon’s unwelcome announcement. His chest grew hot and tight with anger. How could this have happened at such a pivotal time in his life? The enormity of the impending changes was overwhelming. Without premeditation, Levi shot out of his chair and headed for his black jeep wrangler.
“Vi!” Axella called after him. “Please don’t leave! Can we talk about th—” but before she could finish her sentence Levi was slamming his the driver-side door.
Axella tore the hat from atop her head and watched her son do a two-point turn and screech out of the driveway, sending gravel shooting out from under the tires. His mother scrunched the straw-like fiber in a fist in an extension of her frustration. Levi didn’t deserve to have his life turned upside down again, but what choice did she have?
Bockie watched, rocking back and forth. “Let him go,” she advised, “he just needs to cool down a bit.” A wry smile crept on her face for she knew where Levi was going. He needed his father.