Monday, September 15, 2014

In Plain Sight -Chapter 14

Phoenix

Almost all flights had been put on hold until the governments were satisfied that there were no more ships lurking in the solar system. When all the telescopes reported clear skies six weeks after the show in the sky, planes were allowed to fly again.
The governments were ignoring the Trekkers who warned about cloaking devices. Scientists said such things were only in the realm of science fiction. The science fiction people said so were alien starships and space battles.
There was a flurry of activity below the offices in most of the major countries with military leaders dragging science advisers onto the rug and demanding that something be done to contact those ships buzzing in and out of cloaking shields in their solar system. The advisers tossed their various tablets down in frustration and demanded to know how they could contact the ships if the military and governments couldn’t.
A private call to the ISS, where three astronauts had a front row seat much to their own consternation during times that ships were firing at each other, assured the governments that they were fairly sure the ships that had taken up residence were getting the messages. Why they were not responding, the men couldn’t say. But the biggest of the ships did send two fighters to protect the space station after the men called out an SOS when the latest battle began. No verbal contact, but they responded to the emergency. They swore that the pilots of those small fighters were human, which the governments dismissed. No, they also didn’t know why the images were not getting Earth-side.
The U.S., England, and Russia, who had astronauts currently in space, breathed a small sigh of relief: It was better than nothing.
Countries in the Middle and Far East were closing their borders until the new devilment was dealt with. That set off another round of fighting between Pakistan and Israel; Israel wanted in on whatever was happening, and Pakistan wanted to keep her people as safe as possible. A few enterprising scientists began sending encrypted messages using mathematical and chemical languages. The spy agencies knew something was up with the strange messages, but they were unable to find an encryption key. What the alphabet soup agencies didn’t know, also, was that a few brilliant hackers were enjoying the messages they had cracked into within a couple days of discovering them. One of them, a seventeen year old girl with a stunning IQ of 198, used the encryption and sent a suggestion to the large ship parked near Mars.
In the meantime, the FCC was finally allowed to resume flight. Almost half of pre-paid tickets were immediately turned in for refunds. Amtrak, however, reported a surge in travelers on their trains, and roadside motels were booked solid with drivers. Not even after 9/11 were planes so empty.
Of the people who dared to fly, there were twenty-six around the world who felt no concern at all about flying. One of those people boarded at SeaTac with tablet in hand and settled into her seat. If Ninah had seen any of those people, she would have noticed that they shimmered.
The flight to Phoenix wasn’t something Ninah was looking forward to; the flight path from Seattle tended to go over the mountains in Nevada and the air turbulence was horrible. She needed to go, though; according to Aaron, there were funky things happening on the set of Michael’s latest movie.
The movie was a thriller and contained scenes of magic. Ninah had Aaron read her a few lines from the script, which was Top Secret, and she agreed that she needed to come out right away. The writer had either managed to accidentally stumble onto the correct verbiage, which was entirely possible considering the limited English language, or he was an idiot and used someone’s ancient formula.
Michael’s opinion, he could be heard in the background, was the latter. If the news articles were anything to go by, Michael never hesitated to make his opinion known. The gray hairs coming in at Aaron’s temples were Michael’s fault, according to Aaron.
She had yet to meet Michael; he had spent most of the summer in Vancouver, filming the new season of his show. Aaron seemed to relax, though, once he began to trust that Ninah had no interest in gossiping about his partner and celebrities. So often he had someone express an interest in friendship only to turn to Michael the moment he made an appearance. Early in Michael’s fame, Aaron had become bitter about it until Michael sat him down and informed him that he was behaving like a child; if Aaron was upset about all the false faces, how did he think Michael felt? Michael went through the same issues with people who tried to latch on to his rising star. From then on they agreed to tell each other about potential friends and scope out the people before letting them further into their sphere. Michael did a little research on Ninah, and agreed to let her into the next circle.
Ninah liked Aaron; he was usually quiet, spent a lot of time in his head, enjoyed books both good and bad, and had an appreciation for ancient history and old ruins. She shared her pictures and video of old castles and forts she had explored in Eastern Europe a year earlier, and he took a great deal of pleasure in pouring over them. Some he had even visited himself.
Ninah hated Phoenix. No, one can’t hate a thing or a place –she really really didn’t like Phoenix. It was hot. There were only two seasons. And it was flat. Mountains? HA! Large hills, more like, she thought. Forests? Miles and miles of cactuses… cacti…. did not constitute a forest. She was already missing the greenery of western Washington. She did like monsoon season, though; the orange sky before a haboob, the Arabic word for dust storm (Phoenix was on the same latitude as Iraq), was beautiful in an eerie sort of way, and the rain storms were fun.
When Ninah got off the plane in Phoenix, she could feel the heat coming off the tarmac. Walking through the metal gangway felt like walking around in a tin-foil pocket in a 500-degree oven.
Ninah hadn’t told her mother about Severance, yet. No one outside the clans knew about them. Not that any of their group deliberately emailed the rest to gossip about it, gossips didn’t remain around the clan for long, but a lot of people witnessed their initial playtime at the bonfire.
Ninah had been sharing her bed with him for the past month. Watching Severance and Shara making out at the campfire had been incredible. Ninah had never deliberately watched a couple making out; it had always seemed impolite to her. The party had quieted down, though, with most people already asleep in their tents, when Ninah, half asleep herself, had noticed that the guys sitting next to her were kissing and lightly touching each other.
There was no sense of invasion as she watched; if the men wanted privacy, they could have gone into the forest where the shadows were dark, or simply gone home.
The weather was comfortable, and most people were without their shirts. Ninah had never been hesitant to take her shirt off, so she was bare-breasted, also, and enjoying the evening breeze on her skin.
Severance and Shara were shirtless, their bare, muscled chests glistening in the firelight. They weren’t shy, either, about the playful fingers that stroked the bulges in each other’s jeans.
Ninah couldn’t take her eyes off them, watching them kiss. Knowing that the two were together was one thing; seeing it was another. Both men were very masculine, not a hint of ‘gayness’ about them. Some assumptions were being quickly deleted from her dictionary; it wasn’t her fault that, up till that point, all her gay friends had been a little on the flamboyant side.
Shara made his way down Sev’s chest to play with nipples. Severance smiled and stretched back against the log, fingers playing with Shara’s long hair. He had a knee up, bared foot resting flat on the ground. Shara’s hand was curled around Severance’s thigh, reaching possessively from inner-thigh around to the back, while he played at the tanned and lightly furred chest with his mouth.
Sev noticed Ninah watching, his eyes dark and glittering in the firelight. He held out a hand to her.
The loudspeaker announcing the arrival of unloaded luggage made her jump. The clerk behind the car rental desk looked at her and began to recite the dos and don’ts of rentals. Ninah signed and initialed where directed, took her keys, and went to find her temporary car.
“Mom, I’ll be in tonight,” she said into the Bluetooth. She broke into a sweat the moment she left the airport and grimaced. “I have a business meeting in an hour. No, very late. Don’t wait up for me, I can let myself in. Why don’t you pick someplace for breakfast and I’ll treat? I’ll be here all week, Mom, so just make a list of places to go and things to do. How about heading up to the Canyon for a couple days? Get in some site-seeing before the first snowfall in the high country. No, call the charter desk at the airport and make the appointment for Wednesday, if they have an opening on the schedule. Use the card I gave you, and I’ll take care of it when we get there.”
She got into her rental and pulled out of the parking area. “The house is coming along fine. Most of it is close to done. My contractor has a great team; they’re working fast to beat the fall rains. I’m thinking you guys can come up for Thanksgiving. Everything should be ready by then.”
It had been hard making her mother understand that it was alright to use the money Ninah had given her. They had always made do with what little they had, and spending money was a new concept. Her siblings, Laura and Eddie, were teenagers, so she bought them computers and clothes; they adjusted to the new status much more quickly than their mother.
She called Aaron to let him know she was in town, and he gave her the address of where he was, which was downtown, not the movie set.
Michael had been talked into giving a last-minute concert for a local charity, which was scheduled for that evening, so Aaron was sitting at the tables on the ground floor in front of the stage while roadies and volunteers hustled to get the stadium ready. With a tablet, he could work practically anywhere in the world, so he was keeping busy while his partner pranced on stage.
The band had flown in earlier in the week and they had been in practice since; Michael insisted on keeping his band in practice, just for instances like this.
The star that was scheduled to appear had the nerve to come down with appendicitis and was currently recovering from surgery at the hospital about a mile from the stadium. Board members of the charity were contacted and someone mentioned that Michael Black was in town for a couple of weeks. Michael was known for his charitable works. The show would go on.
Ninah knew where the stadium was; it took her about twenty-five minutes to get there, almost a direct drive west from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. She parked in the multilevel garage at the stadium downtown and went in to find Aaron.
It was strange to her, having met Aaron only five weeks earlier and yet they knew each other as though they had worked together for years. Another case of strangers jumping into a magical situation and forced to work closely with each other. A couple of times they had spent half the night discussing favorite books and movies. Much to her surprise, he didn’t care much for music; he was tone deaf. He and Michael met before Michael became famous, so it wasn’t music that bonded them. Thinking about it, Ninah commented that it must be hard to make new friends; how did one tell whether or not they were a true friend or a rabid fan trying to get close? Aaron agreed that it was a big problem. His tired smile included her in his short list of friends.
Grandmother told her that Aaron was supposed to be part of New Babylon’s clan. She was unable to explain how their ideological differences would fit together. He was Christian and going through a fast lesson in redefining concepts he was once sure about.
When things began flying around the film set, he called Ninah. Although flying things were still new to her, also, she nonetheless hopped onto the first plane heading south.
Contrary to what Hollywood says, or the Vatican for that matter, inanimate objects flying around a room was not a common thing; none of the clan had experience with such things until this past summer. Most of their time had been spent blessing and consecrating people and places, doing hand-fastings, and being available for divinations, training people new to the polytheistic path, and dealing with spirits that needed to be moved on. There were no true experiences of possession, animate or otherwise, and no film of such happenings. The only people who had ever been ‘possessed’ were those who believed in it, and no neighbors could give evidence of said possession. If a house was going crazy, why didn’t the neighbors notice?
There were hauntings, although few and far between, and it was easy enough for a magician of any religion to move the confused energy mass onto the plane it was supposed to have entered upon the death of the body it originally inhabited. That was about all the clan had done ever since vortexes, small and large, began spooking the general public a couple years earlier.
Even reputable, conservative newspapers and magazines had begun to report the odd occurrences. Evangelical preachers were declaring the End Times.
Ninah checked in with the guard at the main door to the stadium, and he checked her name against his list of approved visitors. She was given a badge on a lanyard to hang around her neck and was escorted to the lower floor of the stadium where ball games were played when music wasn’t being performed.
“Ninah!” she heard her name called out. Aaron waved at her from the floor. She waved back and the guard left her to head down on her own. The floor was being covered with tables and chairs for the high-priced ticket buyers. Workers scurried back and forth like busy bees; t-shirts of different primary colors identified the different businesses present, while the red shirts and gray shirts declared the staff.
Twelve-person round tables were being decorated with colorful light streamers, tassels, and pamphlets from the sponsors of the event. Special care was made that every seat had a donation pledge card.
Most of the conversations she over-heard were centered on the extraterrestrial light show. The latest story was that the ships were American, built at Area 51, and Russian, built at their equivalent of the base. Since base representatives were spouting their usual rhetoric of ‘we can neither confirm nor deny’, no one could prove differently. Reports from the townies outside of Area 51 claimed that the base had suddenly gone into lockdown. More locked down than usual, that is.
Military bases all over the world were on stand-by, and jet fighters filled the skies. Ninah had to go through a long, drawn-out security process before getting to her plane. A lot of people were refusing to fly period, so the plane was half empty.
She made her way through the tables and finally got to Aaron. He was at a center table, surrounded by paperwork and accompanied by another man. Aaron stood and held his hand out. Ninah swatted it away and gave him a quick hug. He chuckled and hugged back.
“Ninah, this is Malcolm Petrovich, Michael’s manager,” he said, indicating the other man. Ninah took the hand offered.
“Aaron’s been telling us incredible things,” Malcolm said as they sat. He was a little older than Aaron, slightly craggy-faced, with gray hair beginning to beat out the brown. “Don’t worry; managers are trained in secrecy. Do you think you can help with this problem?”
“I don’t know, yet,” she said. “I need to take a look at the place and see exactly what’s going on before a plan can be made.”
Malcolm nodded. “I’ve already left word with security that you are to get a full access pass. In the morning?” They set a time. Ninah needed to see the action first, to determine if there really was a problem or if people were imagining it.
“Sean, I can’t hear the background singers from the speakers,” Michael called out from the stage to the sound engineer. He insisted on doing sound checks himself, from what Ninah had heard about him.
The old, ragged jeans, t-shirt and sneakers were also very different from his usual stage-wear, and yet they looked as sexy on him as everything else he wore. Or didn’t wear, as the case may be. Several of his movies were R-rated for a reason. Ninah was slightly envious of Aaron’s ‘access’.
Michael listened to someone in the earwig and nodded, waving a finger. The two women and two men behind him gave another round of a chorus Ninah was familiar with.
Michael shook his head. “Not good,” he called out. His tone held a touch of impatience. His back-up singers were fine; it was the speakers he was having an issue with. Another tweak happened and another chorus was sung.
“Better,” Michael said.
“Michael,” Aaron called out. “Speakers stage left are a touch louder than stage right.”
There was another round of tweaking before the roadies decided that the wires needed to be changed out. Even Ninah could hear that the sound was better when they had done so.
Michael jumped off the stage and came over to the table. He took Aaron’s water bottle and drained it. His forehead was beaded with sweat which he wiped with the edge of his ragged t-shirt, displaying a tanned and buff stomach as he did so. He held his hand out to Ninah.
“Aaron has been talking non-stop about you,” he said. “What’s your take on this stuff he’s been telling us about?”
“Specify,” she said with a smile. “He talks about you, the family, his work….”
Michael leaned in with his own blinding, white smile. “He talks about me? What’s he say?”
“Michael, really,” Aaron protested. His cheeks were slightly pink.
“That he has an incredible crush on you,” she told Michael. Something about a camera made him appear to be taller and broader in the shoulders than he was in real life; sitting next to him, he was just the cute guy next door.
Michael put his hands over his heart and fluttered his blue eyes. “Awwww, he does?” He leaned over to Aaron and put an arm around the man’s shoulders. “Well, I guess you’re kinda cute; how about a date?”
Aaron inspected his fingernails with pretend disinterest. “I don’t know… I’ll need to ask my boyfriend if I can stray for a few hours…”
“Really?” Michael purred. “I saw a cheesy hotel a few blocks from here. I have oil.”
“Guys,” Malcolm roped them in. He looked at Ninah with long-suffering eyes. “They really will run away for a play-date, if I let them,” he told her. “Sometimes even if I don’t let them.”
Aaron was kissed noisily and released.
“Dads!” A short young lady very pretty, with dusky, latte-colored skin scurried up to them. Without a word, Michael took a credit card out of his back pocket and held it up over his head. She snatched it and pecked his hair.
“Thank you!” She skipped off to meet with a waiting friend.
“You spoil her,” Aaron told him. Obviously, it wasn’t the first time.
“Wasn’t my card she maxed out last month,” Michael countered. It wasn’t the first time for that one, either.
He turned back to Ninah, his face serious. “I’m sorry,” he said, reaching over and putting his hand on top of hers. “You knew Karrin, didn’t you? How are you?” The play was gone in the blink of an eye, replaced by genuine concern. This was the open, caring face that Aaron had fallen in love with.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she assured him. “I had only known her for a few months; her brother is a friend of mine. He’s the one still hurting for her.”
While Michael made appropriate noises, Malcolm was shuffling through papers until he found the one he was looking for.
“Ninah, before you get onto the set and see the script, the lawyers need these releases signed,” he said, pushing a contract her way.
“I understand,” she said, taking them. “My lawyer already told me about them.” Basically, they said the studio would sue the pants off her if she spoke a word about the script to anyone. Ninah signed. Although the amount of charity he contributed time and money to in a year spoke volumes, it was the one-on-one experience with him that took the wind from Ninah’s sails. He had magic in his voice. Literally. Damn, Ninah said to herself; he’s just as Talented as Aaron. Aaron’s talent was earth-based, while Michael’s talent was air-based. He didn’t shimmer, though.
And he had no idea.