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art by Tim Stewart

Gathering Glory

Steve Stanton's science fiction stories have been published in twelve countries and nine languages. He lives in the Muskoka area of Ontario, just north of the Casino Rama First Nation, and presently serves as the vice-president of SF Canada. His debut novel, The Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliation, was recently published by ECW Press in Toronto, the first book in a contracted scifi trilogy.

Destiny drove him forward like a taskmaster from the bus, up the grand entranceway into the ballroom at the Civic Centre, past the sign-in table where he received his laminates and loot bag, onward to his publisher's booth in a back corner. There it was: the fabled anthology, bright with colour but creepy enough to grab his attention. He picked up a copy to examine it closely, saw his name on the cover, third from the top, felt a surge of satisfaction. His first sale as an author.
"Do you like science fiction?"
He looked to the young girl behind the desk, a frail creature with bright eyes and long dark hair. "Sure do," he said and held up the book. "I'm Nigel Harris." He tapped the front with a finger. "I'm on the cover."
"Nigel!" she exclaimed as she rose from her chair. She stepped around the table and hugged him with fierce intensity. "I am so happy to meet you." She pulled back and stared at him with delight on her face. "I'm Stefany Rose, the publisher."
"Oh." He nodded. "Great." She looked younger than he had imagined from her email. And why the aggressive body contact?
"I have your check," she said.
He smiled. "Cool."
"Upstairs." She pointed. "We'll get it later."
"No problem." He waved a polite palm.
Stefany led him around the table to the business side. "Take my seat for a minute. You've come a long way. Can I get you a mocha latte?"
"Sure." He sat and looked around. "What if someone wants to buy one?"
"There's a card reader in the box." She tapped it with her toe. "Just stall till I get back. Ask them if they want your signature, 'kay?"
His signature? Holy cow. He nodded after her with numb abandon and turned to see a gaggle of teens shuffle with hesitance toward the table, an ambient mass of haute couture. A young girl picked up a copy of the anthology. "What's it about?" She had a crystal stud in the left side of her nose and a small tattoo at her temple.
"It's a theme anthology called Lost Tribes."
She turned it over. "Did you write it?"
"I have one of the stories, 'Gathering Glory.' There are ten stories in all. It's good value for your money." Now that sounded lame. Was that the best he could do for book promotion?
The girl smiled and tilted a tousled head of curls. "What's your story about?"
"Well, it's about a lost race from another planet who get stranded and scattered on Earth when their starship crashes in the ocean. It's about their struggle to find each other without getting caught by the government, and the love that two aliens find when they finally connect. They look just like humans but have special psychic powers."
The girl pursed her lips and nodded. "Wow. I'll take one. Will you sign it for me?"
He patted his pockets, felt his face bloom with heat. "Uh..." He peeked in the box under the table and spied a ballpoint. "Sure." He held up a finger and ducked down for a second.
"To Helen," she instructed and glanced around the room. "Can you date it to the Con, too, please?"
"Here's your coffee, sir," Stefany said behind him. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Uh..." He turned to see her conspiratorial wink urging him on. He straightened his shoulders with a shrug. "This young lady would like to pay for a copy."
"Brilliant," she said. "Debit or credit?"
Two more teenagers lined up behind Helen to buy copies as Nigel gave away more details about his story: secret codes on the net to draw the aliens together, clandestine public events and mysterious psi contact. He seemed to have struck a chord of interest among this perpetually outcast age group.
"You're a natural," Stefany said as the teenagers ambled away en masse. "'Gathering Glory' is a great glimpse of truth."
Nigel squinted at the young publisher for a moment. Her smile was radiant, her face beatific.
"I mean," she said. "It's almost true, you know. The aliens didn't really end up in the ocean. They ejected from the ship on the way down and were scattered across the continent from Alaska to Chesapeake Bay." She tossed her dark hair with confidence.
"Sure." Nigel bobbed his head, playing along. There were a lot of stories in the book and he hadn't read any of them yet. "That's possible."
Stefany scrutinized him for a moment. "Well, it's a brilliant glimpse," she repeated and sipped her mocha latte. "Want to hang around a bit and mix with the common folk?" She winked again and pulled up another chair. She patted his knee and he wondered if she was flirting, but his attention was torn away by two more customers approaching the table.
When colleagues finally arrived to take over their duties, Stefany took him upstairs to the penthouse to fetch his paycheck. He stayed out in the hallway while she ducked inside her hotel room and returned with a bulky black satchel filled with paperwork. She fumbled around for a minute and looked up. "Have you seen the view from the roof? It's fabulous. C'mon."
Nigel followed dutifully behind as she pushed the crash bar and headed outside. The air was cold and fresh, the wind breezy up this high. She walked to the edge and pointed with a palm at the shore dotted with sailboats in the distance. The sun was dipping down, already pinkish in the clouds.
"It's magnificent," he said.
"The aliens can fly, Nigel. I wondered why you didn't use that in your story." She peered in her satchel again, fished around and finally produced the envelope with his modest advance royalty, his first one ever. She held it up but back, waiting for his response.
Nigel frowned at her. "They have wings?"
"They have an antigravity gene. It's not aerodynamic."
"Ahh." He nodded. "Cool."
She studied him. "I'm surprised you didn't know. So much has been lost in two generations."
"Right," he said as he reached for the sacred envelope, his inaugural paycheck as a writer. He felt a renewed sense of destiny, an absolution.
A gust of wind kicked up and took the paper away like a kite. Stefany lunged to grab it, lost her balance and teetered on the edge. "Nigel," she said and windmilled an arm toward him.
By instinct he grabbed her and tried to pull back, but her shifting weight tipped them both over the precipice. A moment of weightless panic stunned him as the horizon tilted and turmoil boiled in his abdomen like a death spiral. He felt a brief wind on his face, had a glimpse of the grave and found himself floating, holding Stefany by her dangling arm. He looked around at the city landscape suddenly tranquil, watched the pink sun glint on mirrored windows, a flock of pigeons wheel around a tower. A paradox seemed to curl around him in comfort, an ancient truth made plain.
"Take us back to the roof, Nigel," Stefany gasped as she reached to grip his wrist with both hands. "And welcome home to the family."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 7th, 2011
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