Clack, whirr, splat! The huhu beetle, drawn by the solitary light illuminating my desk, smacked into the opaque glass shade and tipped to its back in a stack of papers, its frenzied spinning dislodging several of my carefully-organized notes to the floor. Muttering under my breath, I plucked it up by its antenna, careful to steer clear of its claws and mandibles, and rose to toss it out the window and back into the night.
You ready to take a break? Castor asked. I’m almost done with the preps for tomorrow’s shoots.
My eyes narrowed as I closed the window behind the beetle, not bothered as much by the beetle as by the chaos it and its kin had a tendency to cause upon entry into my office. Its arrival, closely followed by Castor’s not-unexpected intrusion into my thoughts, had reminded me of an issue we had yet to address.
“Sure,” I replied to Castor’s query. “Meet me in the south wing den in twenty.”
Make it half an hour. We’re just sorting out a few cabling glitches for the dollies. There was a pause, a silence I knew wasn’t associated with his withdrawal from my head. We’ve been together, united in our minds, for a very long time and I’m more than aware of every subtle nuance of his psychic presence.
It’s time, isn’t it? For that discussion? You didn’t forget.
“You thought I might?”
I hoped, that’s all. I should have known better, he sighed. I can’t get you to forget what you heard back in, you know, his office?
I said nothing. I had no need to.
Ok, he agreed. I’ll be there soon. You might want to crack open something good.
So it was like that. I picked up the notes the beetle had scattered and cast a lingering look around the comforting familiarity of my office. We’d been here a while, had built the house ourselves out of native timber and river stone, and had overseen the clearing of the land and sowing of pastures. We eventually caught onto the potential of what would eventually become the global film industry and started our business here. Even though I knew Father had said he had no desire to see us relinquish any part of our operations here, it still hurt to think of having to transplant even a part of myself elsewhere, especially without Castor’s immediate presence. My heart ached more than just a little at the thought. My bonsai was going to be small consolation. I rubbed tension from my temples and wondered who it was I ought to contact about getting a walk-through of my new premises.
All you have to do is show up again, Castor informed me. Someone will take you up and hand you the keys.
“That’s the thing we’re going to be talking about very shortly,” I informed him darkly. “I can’t believe you’ve been keeping secrets from me.”
His discomfort resonated through my head, making my scalp tingle, and I ruffled my short-cropped hair in irritation. “Stop that.”
I didn’t do anything.
“Stop it anyway.”
Castor grunted and I felt the echo of a sharp pain through my left wrist as he lost his grip on something heavy and pulled a ligament. It’s not only each other’s thoughts we share in this curious co-dependency we’ve acquired along with Castor’s immortality. I stifled a curse and clasped my wrist, willing the pain and injury into retreat. I do healing. Castor is more about mind-links, and clearly more of that than I’d previously given him credit for. The pain receded and Castor murmured something suggestive of gratitude. He was worried. Rightly so. He had some explaining to do.
A little over a half hour later, we were settling into a pair of well-worn recliners in the den, cradling bourbon neat in heavy crystal highballs. I swirled mine lazily, eyeing Castor as he stared into his, as if wishing he could disappear into it, and waited.
He wasn’t being evasive. Though I don’t often pursue my ability to enter his thoughts, I’m equally as capable in that respect as he is and I’d have felt it immediately if he was. He was doing his best to find words to frame his thoughts. I finally spared him the effort.
“How long?” I asked him. “How long have you been able to get into other people’s heads?”
He shook his head and looked up at me, his expression undeniably confused. Holding up his glass in one hand, he opened the other in a gesture of innocent denial. “Recent, Pollux, I swear. It’s not as if I intentionally kept it from you.”
“Oh?” I tipped my head, understandably skeptical. He’d read Father’s thoughts, through his link with me. That couldn’t have been any easy feat.
He tipped the glass to his lips and took a generous mouthful and I could see him rolling the bourbon in his mouth before swallowing it, closing his eyes as it seared its way down his throat.
“Only since the summons,” he said. “Since Hermes came to tell us we were to present one of us at the OA.”
I blinked at him. “Not before? Not at all?”
He shook his head emphatically. “No, I swear. You always had a better grasp of reading people than I did. I never paid a lot of attention. It was kind of your thing. The only one I ever paid any attention to was you. I always figured, you know, if I knew what you were thinking, I’d know what everyone else was thinking and I’d have it covered.”
This was true. I’d spent our entire lives, both before the event and after, wary of everyone and everything, always anticipating the worst and ready to take evasive or defensive action. Many times, it had saved not only our lives but countless others, too. I scratched absently at my chin and incongruously thought to myself that I was overdue for a shave. I’d be looking too much like Castor at this rate. He didn’t even bother to chuckle at the detour my thoughts had taken and instead coughed discreetly.
“I didn’t know,” he repeated. “Not until the meeting with Father. His thoughts were simply, I don’t know, there. I mean, I knew he was reading me. But I’m not entirely sure he was aware I tracked his thoughts back and was suddenly reading him.”
“How deep?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
Castor hesitated and I felt it in that same hesitation. Shit!
Ripples shimmied across my skin as I imagined what might have happened if Father had been aware and had realized the full implications. Surely he’d have shut Castor down in some way if he’d known the full extent of Castor’s access.
“I didn’t mean to!” Castor protested forcefully, his voice resonant with implied innocence. “It just, I don’t know, happened.”
“It just happened,” I repeated, downing my bourbon and reaching across to the slab totara coffee table between us for the bottle to refill my glass. “It just…happened.”
“Yes. I can’t explain it any better than that, Pol. One moment I was where I usually am, in your thoughts and the next, the next I’m eyeball deep in freaking Zeus!”
I shuddered, but…
“You seemed awfully calm for somebody who just suddenly discovered themselves in Father’s head,” I observed, eyes narrowing as I fixed my gaze on him. “Care to explain why and how you were so uncharacteristically controlled?”
I studied his eyes and face carefully, my mind linked tightly to his, waiting to catch him in any suggestion of evasion or deceit. I found none.
“I couldn’t react,” Castor said. “I couldn’t let it slip, any hint of where I was.” He shuddered and his face paled beneath his normally golden tan. “Can you imagine if he’d caught me there?”
I could and it wasn’t actually worth contemplating. I continued to swirl my bourbon speculatively.
“Is there anything else I need to know?” I asked. “Any other secrets you’re keeping from me?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and I could see as much as sense the sweat building on his brow.
He didn’t answer directly.
“Ever wonder, Pol, what really happened when Zeus brought me back to you? Ever wonder why he encouraged us to be elsewhere afterwards?”
I waited, sipping my bourbon, knowing he had more to add. Castor licked his lips, running fingers through sun-bleached hair. He looked directly at me, blue eye to blue eye, brown eye to brown eye. He’d been the one with brown eyes before the event.
“Ever wonder what it really meant to walk the underworld and touch the stars?”
Beyond the immediate implications of circumstances at the time, I had to admit the answer was no. I was more than a little surprised that Castor, of all people, had thought more seriously about it, as he was beginning to intimate he had. Or was this recent? And if so, after all these centuries, why? Castor took a deep breath and blew it out through pursed lips.
“Haven’t you felt anything different since the summons?” he asked. “Hasn’t anything changed for you? I mean, I can’t believe it’s just me.”
Different, like Castor had experienced? My brows drew down in a deep frown as I gave this some thought. I hadn’t had a great deal of time to think about anything but the impending move. We’d also been busy with several film contracts in progress. My immediate absence was guaranteed to cause glitches. I’d been doing my best to minimise the impact while at the same time trying to get my head around the logistics of a secondary base in the OA.
My left palm itched and I scratched absently at it.
“How long has that been happening?” Castor half-whispered, interrupting my inner contemplation.
“The itch in your palm.”
“Itch?” I stared at my hand as if it were a foreign object I’d only just noticed and shrugged. “Just now?”
Castor shook his head and scratched at his own palm, the right. “Are you sure?”
Now that he’d brought it up, no, I wasn’t. I brought my hand closer to my face and stared at it, half expecting to see something different in it, some scar or rash or other indication of change. Nothing. Castor stood up and extended his hand, palm forward, towards me and, half-unconsciously, I did the same.
My palm tingled and burned and, looking at the expression on Castor’s face, I knew he was experiencing the same thing. There was a peculiar ringing in my ears, like the pealing of church bells at a wedding. Everything faded from my peripheral vision, my every sense focused on the space between our extended hands, directly above the coffee table.
It appeared initially as a vague purple haze, a coalescence of shadows and smoke, rolling and writhing in what might loosely be defined as a roughly spherical cloud. The burn in my palm increased and heat struck tremors up my arm. The ball darkened and became shot through with streaks reminiscent of lightning. I stared at it, mesmerised, barely aware of Castor, but knowing he was equally hypnotized. The shadows expanded and flickered, and a darkness that was pure and unclouded appeared in the center. Stars? Cosmos? It was as if we were staring into a window out into the Universe itself, an open doorway into something not of here and now. Something indescribably bright and moving at incomprehensible speed raced directly towards us, growing far too rapidly in size.
I shut my hand, stifling an involuntary curse as pain shot through both my arm and my head, and I both felt and heard Castor’s mirrored response. I stared up at him, my hand clenched into a fist.
“What in all the godforsaken realms was that, Castor?” I asked, my heart pounding against my ribs and cold sweat slick on my skin. “What did we just do?”
Castor’s face had turned a sickly shade of grey and his eyes flickered nervously.
“I have absolutely no idea, Pol. But I think we’d better not do that again until we figure it out.”
For once, I could find no reason to disagree with him.