Sigh. It was so tranquil, but only for a moment. My pulse raced as I slowed my pace. The cool black night gave way into the early morning light. The last of the stars faded into a blanket of pink, the clouds reminding me of the cotton candy from the carnival my sisters and I would eat. My feet stopped pounding on the sidewalk and the only sound I could hear was my own fragmented breathing. The sun emerged from behind the hillside like a perfectly ripe peach. Another sigh escaped my lips as my free hand brushed across my brow.
The air was already warm at six-oh-three A.M. Still, I was determined to complete six miles. I had been slacking lately, and I wanted to get back in shape. Six miles. You can do it! I convinced myself, trying to maintain enthusiasm. Truthfully, I was tired. I didn’t want to admit it, but I hadn’t slept well since my argument with Gage… or Davis. I didn’t really want to talk to or even think about either of them. Still, my emotions hadn’t quite caught up with my head yet.
Don’t feel. You’ll only make it worse. I grimaced and picked up my pace again, heading down toward the beach. The sidewalk narrowed and I stepped off the main road. Few cars ever drove down this road so early on a weekday. I could see the water up ahead, the incredible Simistral Ocean in all its glory, the hazy white evaporating fog contrasting with the deep blue waters.
I breathed deeply as I stopped on the cliffside, the salty air hitting my lungs like a soothing salve. Someone had once told me the cure for anything was salt water – sweat, tears, and the sea. The call of the waves pounded in my ears and my heart swelled, longing for for the cold water to wash over my tired, achy body.
No, I shook my head, turning away from its primal cry. I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of grieving. I didn’t want to lose my strength completely. Besides I don’t have my swimsuit. I reluctantly resisted the temptation to climb down the rocks, run across the sand, and dive into the ocean. Another time. I decided to stop by my father’s house. I had met with him yesterday at the diner. I was avoiding the coffee shop like the plague… for good reason.
Davis had respectfully adhered to my wishes about the house, trying his hardest to avoid me when he could. He was staying with a friend, but he was still working at my grandparents late afternoons and evenings, and then would pull late shifts at the Jolt. I tried to always have plans so I’d avoid having to see him. Occasionally, I’d catch sight of his car pulling into the driveway at night. Who am I kidding? I’d lie awake waiting to see the lights of his car hit my window blinds as my room overlooked the driveway. I couldn’t sleep until I saw him step out of his car, and even then, I tossed and turned the entire night.
I hated myself for caring so deeply only to be betrayed so much. I still couldn’t believe the truth, and I didn’t want to admit it – that Davis, perfect, sexy, amazing, kind Davis, had lied to me – that he wasn’t a virgin, that he had worked in the porn industry, that he had nearly killed a man, that he had sex, and that it had been with a prostitute. It was unfathomable. Davis had spoken to me briefly and had tried to explain more, but I wouldn’t let him. I had flubbed my way through the conversation, butchering my words. I couldn’t say what I meant. My heart and head weren’t on the same page and it was a dangerous and vulnerable place to be. I wouldn’t allow myself to go there. I couldn’t. Life was so unfair.
At least Davis had tried. I hadn’t heard from Gage in two days, but that was typical. He’d say something and then let it hang for days at a time, never taking the initiative. Men! I grunted as I stopped in my father’s driveway. I rang the doorbell. Dad took a few minutes to answer the door. I could hear him hobbling around. He and Kate had been arguing lately. He had finally admitted to her the truth about his condition. She had been more than a little freaked out. She was threatening to leave the relationship. I figured it was only a matter of time before she’d kick my father out. I honestly didn’t know what he’d do then.
He invited me in and leaned tiredly against the door frame.
“Hi Kass,” he greeted me.
“Hi…Dad…” it sounded odd to say it, but it seemed the most appropriate to call him ‘dad.’ “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve got this pain in my neck today,” he replied, rubbing his shoulder gently with one hand. “I was trying to get Kate to give me a massage but she had to leave for a work conference.”
“Oh,” was all I could think to say.
Dad limped down the hallway toward the kitchen, asking me if I’d like some breakfast or some juice. I asked for the latter as I glanced up on the black and white photographs on the wall. The house, Kate’s house, looked immaculate, but it felt cold and staged. The pictures were of smiling people who were cookie-cutter catalog images. Too perfect.
“Are you sure you don’t want some eggs and bacon? Or waffles?” Dad called over his shoulder. “Waffles used to be your favorite… if I recall.”
“Yeah… I still love waffles,” I smiled, surprised and flattered that he remembered.
“Then waffles it is,” Dad slapped his hand down on the counter as he tried to regain his balance.
I frowned. He looked tired and frail, much older than his forty-four years. It was the EXCES. The disease was leeching his energy. Pretty soon he’d probably need a cane or possibly even a wheelchair. It seemed so strange to me – watching a parent suffer. I wasn’t sure I was ready to forgive Dad for leaving my mother for another woman, but his condition was enough to motivate me to have a relationship with him. He needed someone, even if it was just one of his daughters. Kate clearly was ill-equipped to handle the depth of the reality of dad’s health. Some part of me was glad she was uneasy. I was too, but somehow, knowing the woman who stole my father away was scared provided me a small, albeit odd, comfort.
He had confided in me that Dr. Landgrabb had mentioned the possibility of a treatment at the Mustard Clinic if he could scrape together the funds. Dad wasn’t too hopeful because he hadn’t been taking many catering jobs due to the illness. He wasn’t making a steady income, and his previous medical bills had caused him to rack up no small amount of debt. With his savings depleted, short of a miracle, Dad wasn’t getting the experimental treatment. His next best option was to make lifestyle changes, ones he wasn’t adjusting well to, he had admitted. It was all very… sad.
Dad dropped an egg off the counter jerking me from my thoughts. The yolk splashed out as the shell shattered into many tiny white shards.
“Let me get that, Dad,” I said, reaching for a hand towel.
“No, it’s okay,” Dad said, bending slowly to pick up the pieces.
He nearly slipped.
“Dad, seriously, let me clean it up,” I insisted, grabbing his arm.
His muscles felt like gelatin, lacking any substance. I resisted the urge to gasp. My father was turning into a skin-and-bones man.
“Here, you…” I snagged a bar stool with my free hand. “…sit here and finish mixing the waffle batter. And I’ll put it in the oven when you’re ready.”
“Thank you, my daughter,” my dad smiled weakly, his eyes closing for a moment as he sank into the seat gratefully.
We enjoyed our breakfast with no more cooking mishaps or near falls. I’d even found some fresh fruit in the refrigerator to garnish our plates. Dad and I spoke a little bit in between bites – mostly small talk about the weather, the food, the ocean view. I don’t think either of us was in the mood for deep conversation like the reality of yesterday’s talk. I desperately wished there was something I could do to help my dad. He was just fresh back in my life and now I could… no, I won’t admit it.
After leaving my dad’s, I headed for the Papyrus Memorial Library. I was going to research as much as I could about EXCES. I had found some articles online via my laptop last night. In fact, reading about the experimental procedure and possible financial options had been all I could focus on. Every time I had tried to close my eyes, I’d think of something else I should look up and so I’d get up and open a new browser.
I had been awake until nearly one in the morning, slept for a short time, and woke up again, staring at the ceiling. Davis’ car lights slid through my blinds and hit my ceiling at about quarter til two. Like every night, I slipped out from underneath my covers and ran to the window. I watched him slide out of his car, jingle the keys out of the ignition, and quietly walk around the side of the wall to the pool house. My heart ached every step he walked away from me. Why am I torturing myself? I remembered thinking as I had jerked away from the window, flopped on my bed in a huff, and willed myself to sleep.
Today, I was determined to find a better answer. Perhaps I’d have better luck at the library without the distraction of family members around. I had previously tried to do a search at the breakfast room table, but had been interrupted by Nonno wanting to play chess, Nonna asking me when I was going to get a job and do something productive this summer, Mamma asking me to drive my sisters somewhere after she got home from summer school, and the maid wanting to vacuum. The public library was a better option.
I searched every term I could think of – EXCES, alien DNA, complications with human-alien hybrid, alien disease, each individual symptom and possible causes, cures, and reliefs, etc. Finally at seven minutes to three, I dropped my head against the desk in annoyance. I was exhausted, hungry, and pressure was beginning to mount behind my forehead.
Before I left though, I browsed through the catalog, trying to see if I could find any written books on the disease. I was surprised when only two books came up as a match. One was a medical textbook. Not surprising, I figured. However as I glanced at the index, I was disappointed there was only one page that mentioned EXCES. I flipped to the page only to find a short section about how many in the medical and scientific community were baffled by the effects of alien DNA coursing through human veins, and most dismissed the disease as a rare phenomenon, unworthy of real study.
“Gah!” I huffed in frustration, shoving the book back onto the shelf.
The second book was about early Simterran history, the first settlers on the planet and their first encounters with the ‘foreign humanoid green-skinned species’ they encountered flying around in ‘saucer-like ships,’ and also their interactions with the SimNatives.
Lady Simelia was the young royal who had founded the Sim Nation in 2104. The youngest of five siblings and the only girl, Simelia felt smothered, sheltered, and spoiled. She wanted to prove to her father that she was fit to rule their earth city-state of Simse.
Simelia, her two sisters, Vilhelmina and Ursula, and her fiance, Admiral Leonardo Landgrabb, left earth in 2015 for the far reaches of space into another solar system. She determined to colonize another world, demonstrating her bravery and worth. She brought with her a group of wealthy financiers and servants.
After eighty-five years, Simelia’s ship reached a sustainable planet. Her sleeper ship crashed on Twikkii Island after encountering the ‘alien species.’ Over the next forty years, she famously established a vibrant, thriving colony, an alternate Earth-home. During this time, Simelia married a servant, Dietrich, and had three children.
Fascinating, I admitted. But not exactly related to my search. I was about to close the book when it slipped from my fingers and crashed to the floor. I stooped to pick it up and noticed the name Lady Mathilde ‘Ravendancer’ Goth. She had been a young noblewoman from Deutsimland, similarly trying to prove herself to her family. She had been Simelia’s great-granddaughter. The words ‘premier authority on EXCES’ and ‘devoted her latter years to researching the alien disease and trying to find a cure’ jumped out at me. I eagerly sat down in a nearby chair and began reading.
Mathilde was known as a nonconformist among her peers, a troublemaker to the noble classes, and a liberator to the lower classes. She didn’t abide by racial or socioeconomic barriers, often fraternizing with nomadic mixed-race gypsies. Her long raven-black hair and her love for dancing in street faires and bazaars earned her the nickname ‘Lady Ravendancer.’
Although her older sisters, Bertrice and Zelma, thought her behavior was bizarre and undignified, preferring to stick to traditional ways of life, Mathilde’s younger brother, Ambrose, enjoyed spending time with his free-spirited sister, despite their twelve-year age difference.
Hmm, I thought. I like her already.
Lady Morgana, Mathilde’s mother, was believed to have gone missing shortly after their arrival on the planet. Maximilian assumed this was due to his wife’s inability to adjust to life on a new world. She resurfaced after five weeks, only one-hundred miles north of New Germania, suffering from hypothermia, and genuinely disoriented. She had no memory of her absence, but seemed to be in perfect health otherwise. In fact, family members and friends remarked about how much stronger and vibrant she seemed at first. Shortly after her reunion with Maximilian, Lady Morgana was pregnant.
Sir Ambrose was born a year after his parents settled on Simelia. He was often sick as a boy, his skin resembling a bluish-green color. The village healers believed this was due to a respiratory failure, the result of a birth defect.
During this time, Lady Morgana was prone to violent mood swings. Her behavior was erratic and unruly, and she became more reclusive and withdrawn, leaving her husband to rule the kingdom.
Mathilde’s older sisters married within months of each other. Because of this, castle life was lonely for Mathilde and , and both felt neglected. Mathilde would read to her baby brother during his long bed confinements, acting out the parts of the characters.
Lady Mathilde had a ‘soft spot for strays’ as her father liked to say, adopting street animals, caring for children orphaned by the territorial disputes with neighboring kingdoms, and breaking bread with lower working class men. Despite her parents’ attempt at an arranged marriage, they ultimately failed when Lady Mathilde became pregnant by a servant.
Wishing to avoid a scandal, her parents sent Mathilde to the countryside village of Praaven. However, when the village was attacked by unseen (presumably alien) forces, Mathilde gave birth prematurely, and only one of the babies survived.
The surviving son was taken away by his birth father before Mathilde even named the child. Devastated, she refused to return home for ten years. During her exile, she married a villager by the name of Cecil (last name unknown), believed to be a healer. As a noble custom, he took her last name. They had two children, Timeaus and Cosmo. Mathilde was persuaded to return when she learned of her brother’s illness. He had been stricken with the ‘green plague,’ a disease modern scientists have called EXCES.
I gasped. EXCES! Wait, if Ambrose had EXCES, then… My mind raced at a million miles a minute. …then one of his parents…. had to have EXCES… Sir… what was his name? Maximilian! or… Lady um… I flipped back a page. …Morgana. And if they were… experimented on… or were aliens themselves… but wait, didn’t they come from Earth? But Lady Simela’s spacecraft was attacked by aliens and crashed on Twikkii Island… wait, no, Lady Ravendancer’s parents came much later… after they settled… in what year? Oh… wait! The disappearance! I bet she was… I’m so confused… maybe I need to reread.
I stopped and took a deep breath. What does this mean? I continued reading, hungry for details.
Mathilde, undeterred by her exile, completed a Masters of Science in Clinical Research from a premier New Germanian university. She devoted the next two years to researching her brother’s illness and hoping to discover a cure. She tried unsuccessfully to explain to the healers and her parents that Ambrose’ DNA was being rewritten at its base. Her research notes show that she believed a foreign substance had entered his blood and was corrupting him from the inside-out like a virus, but different. It was unlike anything she had ever encountered before in her studies. She compared samples to the SimNatives, but didn’t find answers. She attempted fifty-five separate experiments, ultimately failing at every one of them.
Ambrose died in March 2303, mere hours before the first attack on her village by alien forces.
Lady Morgana took her own life, fearful of dying by alien hands.
Both of Mathilde’s sisters and her sisters’ husbands were killed in a raid on the castle.
Mathilde and her husband took in her young nephews, Victor and Samuel and baby niece, Frida.
Mathilde took a DNA sample of a dead alien in a crashed vessel on a hunch and brought it back to study. Her research was able to provide the crucial link between alien and human DNA. Mathilde hypothesized that the mixing of alien and human DNA through experimentation or direct implantation caused genetic defects and possibly the ‘green plague,’ EXCES itself.
Mathilde was never able to complete her work. The townspeople were angry at the Goth family’s inability to protect the village and stormed the castle. They dragged Mathilde and Cecil, and her father, Maximilian out of the castle, declaring her to be an unfit ruler, denouncing her research as witchcraft.
Maximilian was shot trying to protect his sons, and Mathilde was to be tried and killed, but the morning of her scheduled death, she mysteriously disappeared, never to be found again.
Many of her notes were saved by her nephew, Victor. He founded The Goth Family Foundation, specializing in disease research and prevention and providing a variety of financial, physical, and emotional support and services to families of patients, survivors, and victims of terminal illness.
“Wow!” I exclaimed, as I jumped up and raced over to the computer desk again.
I frantically typed in ‘Goth Family Foundation’ I was redirected to the Raven Research Syndicate website. I glazed over company information. For 65 years… blah… blah… blah… involved in medical research of contagious and terminal diseases… blah.. blah… blah…contributed to many major breakthroughs of the twenty-second century… blah…blah…blah… I typed in ‘EXCES’ into the search box. A press release from 2413 popped up as the top selection. I clicked on it. My eyes scanned the page, and my heart sunk. The press release announced the retirement of Gunther Goth, Sr., the CEO of RRS, and the closing of various projects, including EXCES research. Gunther Goth, Jr. would be assuming his father’s role in the company.
I searched ‘Gunther Goth, Jr.‘ and ‘EXCES.’ A video popped up at the top of the search results. I clicked play.
“We just don’t have the materials or the funds to support any further research of this incurable disease,” Gunther Goth, Jr. said. “My family devoted their lives to trying to find a cure and we are no closer today than we were over one hundred years ago. Millions of people die from cancer each year. We should be focusing on finding a cure for cancer.”
What a jerk! Just because millions die from cancer and only hundreds die from EXCES doesn’t mean it isn’t worth researching. I kept reading. “We will be concluding our study at this time,” Gunther concluded.
At this time? So maybe there is hope?! Maybe they’ll reopen the study. I searched the site for contact information, and accidentally ended up on the News and Events page. I discovered Gunther Goth, Jr. was throwing a fundraiser for new research funding to coincide with the celebration of his fortieth birthday at his home on Wednesday evening. I immediately called Ayesha.
“Are you crazy?” she exclaimed. “You can’t just invite yourself to a Goth family party.”
“But your mom… she works in the medical field, right?”
“As a nurse at the county hospital, not for the RRS.”
“But she has connections I’m sure…like won’t there be a representative from county general at this thing?”
“Yes, but it won’t be my mom…”
“But… I have to get in, Ayesha. I think I can convince Gunther Goth, Jr. to support the re-opening of the EXCES research division.”
“Are you nuts? He’s not just going to let you walk right up to him and talk him into reopening a research fund that has been dead for two years!”
“But I have to try.”
“Why? Why is this so important to you?”
I paused for a moment and tried to think clearly. “Because I might be able to save my dad, Ayesha, and I finally have a relationship with him again. You’d do the same if you were in my shoes. I know you would. You wouldn’t give up on someone you love.”
She didn’t answer me for a moment, pondering what I said. “You’re right,” she sighed. “Okay, I’ll talk to my mom and get back to you. Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight? It’s pizza and poker with the Ansari sisters this evening. Even my sister-in-law’s in town. I’ll whip your butt.”
“You’re on,” I grinned. “And thank you! I’ll be over shortly.”
Pizza night at the Ansari home turned out to be just what I needed. Ayesha had talked to her mom who called a friend of a friend who called another friend of a friend and secured me a spot on the catering staff for the party. It was the best she could do with short notice and I would take it. Ayesha decided I wasn’t going alone and she had another in for herself.
“What on earth?” I exclaimed as I walked out into the driveway to meet Ayesha. “That doesn’t look like any waitressing outfit.”
“Oh llamas no!” Ayesha laughed. “I figured one wait staff was enough. No, I’m going as an old friend of Alexander’s.”
“Alexander?” I frowned.
“Yeah, Gunther Goth Jr’s nephew. Alexander Goth and I met on the Meditersimmian cruise my family took last summer. We hit it off, had a couple of drinks, enjoyed some time in the ship’s upper deck hot tub, and that was it… or so he thinks…” Ayesha grinned mischievously.
“You didn’t!” I gasped.
“I did!” Ayesha giggled. “I told him he had to remember me after the amazing night I gave him and then I FACEMASH-ed him a photo of myself. He invited me to the party.”
“Just like that?” I widened my eyes. “You pretended you had sex with him so he’d invite you to the party.”
“Worked like a charm,” Ayesha admitted proudly. “He said his family parties are dull as dry toast and I would be just the thing to liven it up.”
“Wow, you are brave,” I tilted my head to the side, partly admiring my friend and partly detesting her methods.
“No braver than you busting into the party to convince an old fossil to fund a defunct department. Girl, you’re the one with the moxie,” Ayesha replied, giving my arm a friendly punch.
“Well, let’s get going. I’m supposed to be there an hour before the party starts. Don’t want to lose my ‘in.’ Some of us actually have to work for a living,” I said sarcastically.
“I am working… working this skirt…” Ayesha grinned devilishly, giving her hips a little swish.
“Shut up! Get in the car!” I rolled my eyes.
“Whatever you say, boss,” Ayesha smirked as she slipped behind the wheel. She sobered a bit as she slipped her sunglasses on.
“You know, Kass, if this doesn’t work, what goes up, must come down. I hate to see you disappointed.”
“Yeah, but you don’t know until you try. And I have to try.”
“Then I’m with you.”
Chapter 28 Coming Soon!
- Will Kass reconcile her relationship with Davis and with Gage?
- Will Kass be able to help her dad and revive EXCES research?
- How will the party at the Goth house turn out?
- The Simistral Ocean is my Simworld version of the Pacific Ocean. This is the Western Sea[located on the western coast of Sim Nation; Simistral is a play on the word ‘sinistral’ which means relating to the left side, hence the left or western side of the world.
- The Dr. Landgrabb mentioned is Dr. Geoffrey Landgrabb, husband of Nancy Landgrabb and father of Malcolm Landgrabb VI.
- The Mustard Clinic was mentioned in an earlier chapter and is a play on the Mayo Clinic.
- To read more about the history of Simterra, you can click here and here.
- To read more about the Xenosi, click here and here.
- View the detailed Goth family tree here.
- To read more about the disease EXCES, click here.
- FACEMASH is my Simworld version of Facebook.
Author Changes: What’s different?
- Picture size was edited.
- The sentence “My feet stopped pounding on the sidewalk and the only sounds I could hear were my own fragmented breathing and a few cars a couple blocks away” was changed to “My feet stopped pounding on the sidewalk and the only sound I could hear was my own fragmented breathing.” Something about the sentence bugged me, even if I couldn’t figure out “Were” and “was.” I blame the fact that I’ve been out of high school grammar classes for a long while. Someone with an English background could probably tell me, but I just decided to change the sentence.
- The sentence “…Gage for you…” was changed to “typical.“
- “Get together the funds” was changed to “scrape together the funds.”
- Dates were changed from the 2000s, 2100s, and 2200s, to 2100s, 2300s, and 2400s.
- Simelia was initially engaged to Admiral Landgrabb and then married a servant named Dietrich instead. Her new husband took her name because of her nobility title.
- Bertha was changed to Bertrice.
- Old World ways was changed to traditional ways.
- Rowan was changed to Ambrose.
- Lady Ursula was changed to Lady Morgana (grandmother to mother).
- Cyrus was changed to Maximilian (grandfather to father).
- The second Cyrus was changed to Cecil to avoid name confusion.
- Lady Mathilde only had two children with Cecil.
- Added section about Kass’s confusion and needing to reread sections.
- Lady Mathilde has a masters degree instead of a bachelors degree. This was completed during her exile at a New Germanian university instead of an Earth one.
- 13 months of research was changed to 2 years.
- Mathilde’s sisters and their husbands were killed instead of her sister, sister’s husband, and niece.
- Victor Goth is Mathilde’s nephew instead of second cousin.
- “Nearly one hundred years” was changed to “over one hundred years.”
- Extended was removed from Gunther Goth Jr’s statement about family.
- The research funding fundraiser and birthday celebration details were cleaned up.
- An instance of Jr. was added to Gunther Goth.
- Press release was changed from 2184 to 2413.
- An instance of bastard was changed to jerk.
- Given Ayesha’s family situation in the future, I decided it was best to adapt the pizza and poker night scenario. I changed it from at the Ansari’s to with the Ansari sisters and mentioned Ayesha’s sister-in-law.
- Gunther Goth’s grandson was changed to Gunther Goth Jr’s nephew.
- Grandparent’s parties was changed to family parties.