It’s January and I’m still feeling like the world needs more fluff. This is a fun story I wrote a few years ago. Hope you enjoy it!
Walking Away from the Past
Estelle stood motionless inside the Special Effects Tent, while they rigged her black, faux leather catsuit with small explosives. They’d already coated her skin with a layer of sooclea to protect it from burns. The gel came from a plant on some Unity planet and it smelled like stale beer. That, combined with all the chemicals housed in the tent, made her feel slightly nauseated this early in the morning. Bright lights reflected off the white fabric of the tent and the light would have shocked her awake if she hadn’t already been there. She shivered slightly in the chill predawn air and glanced at the clock strapped to the tent support. It was 4:30AM. Fifteen minutes till filming started.
“Okay, you’re good,” said Marshall.
“Thanks,” she said, picking up her bag and walking towards the set. The street was mostly dark, lit only by a few streetlights in this strange mix of grungy urban apartments, small run down shops and a grass filled park with a grove of tall Eucalyptus trees. The park, just outside Santa Barbara, took up two blocks and had been taken over by the tents and trailers of the production. A slight breeze ruffled her short, cropped hair, but didn’t do much to cool her off. It must already be eighty and sweat was pooling beneath the non absorbent fabric of the catsuit.
Today was supposed to be in the hundreds. She felt relieved her scene would be finished early. The Suits were supposed to be here today. Hopefully, they’d arrive to see the leads. Long after she’d gone home.
Home. A heaviness filled her. At home she would have to deal with the legalities of an almost ex-husband who’d just blown his brains out after downing a bottle of whiskey and some alien drugs which hadn’t been identified yet. Too many companies still left to contact. She still hadn’t dealt with his condo rental either. All of it made her head hurt.
Estelle ordered an espresso from the catering tent and was at the set by 4:25, plunked her bag down on a chair and sat down to wait. She didn’t bother to adjust the catsuit. It would just creep back up again.
The set was in the alley of the buildings across from the park. It was filled with intense work lights at the moment. The alley had been hosed down so it would have puddles and be easier to simulate the rainstorm. The buildings had been distressed and looked more grimy and disheveled than a few days ago.
Sipping the straight black espresso, she savored the bitterness and intensity filling her mouth. The lighting grips were scurrying around, adjusting everything. Susan, the Production Assistant nodded to her, acknowledging her presence and looking around for the other stunt people. Most of them hadn’t arrived yet.
Jane from makeup came over to Estelle and began to stretch the wig over her head. She used some nasty smelling, cold and wet adhesive, just to make sure it stayed. Nothing like ruining a shot because your wig flew off in the middle of a stunt.
Just as the final light was focused, the Suits arrived.
Three men, two women, plus two aliens. Estelle hadn’t expected that. One was a Cassion, large, blue and many legged, with a short tail and small eyes. No one ever said it out loud, but Cassions really looked like blue hippos, except for the extra legs. The diplomats of the Unity, they were called.
The other alien was from the Kessara. The ultimate Suits. They were all about the bottom line, with more charm than anybody had a right to. When the Unity had taken over Earth, for the better most people agreed, the Kessaran corporations had offered their ‘assistance’ to Earth’s corporations. Those that accepted thrived. Those that didn’t were ruthlessly cut down. Huge global corporations imploded and the Kessara quickly picked up the pieces, restructured everything and made them solvent again. As if they’d done it hundreds of times. And maybe they had. No one she knew had a good grasp on how powerful they were.
She stared at the Kessaran, in his casual royal blue T-shirt and jeans. Dressed down for the day, he still looked like a Suit. A seven foot humanoid with a face slightly more angular than a human’s, wide blue eyes, shoulder length, dark hair and a muscular physique.
Word had it they were shape shifters, but no one really had any proof. It just seemed unlikely that aliens would look like humans. After meeting the hundreds of different aliens which made up the Unity, only the Kessara and a handful of others were humanoids. The rest were a staggeringly diverse group of body types.
He was good looking, she had to give him that.
Apparently, the two security goons were his. One was human, tall, thick and bulky with blonde hair that flopped over his eyes. He looked like a surfer dude. The other was humanoid, although she had no idea what planet he might be from, with a couple of extra arms, no hair anywhere she could see and coal black skin. Even through the modified loose fit T-shirt she could see long, lean muscles that reminded her of a gymnast. She decided to call them Flop and Flip.
Sam, the Director, shook hands and introduced the assistant directors to them. It looked like he had assigned Maria, one of the PA’s, to manage them. She wore her crimson power suit and her long, blonde hair down, gave them her charming smile and they followed her. Even the two women. Maria was usually magnetic, but when she really turned it on, most people were helpless.
Jerry came up and stood beside her, the mint tea he was holding, permeated the air. “I see the money arrived early today.”
“Yeah, well it can’t be helped. Hope they don’t want changes this late in the schedule.”
“You know they always do. Gotta flex some muscle,” he said.
“Places,” yelled one of the PA’s.
Estelle nodded at Jerry and she took her place in the covered doorway of an old shop. She reminded herself of what was going to be added later, pouring down rain, darkness, attacking bats from her nemesis which would cause explosions, thus the devices she was wearing.
She looked around, acting panicked, but still in control and ran out of the doorway in her retro high-heeled boots, pretending rain was driving into her face. She fled down the alley, then caught sight of the imaginary, attacking bats and the explosives went off. One on her left shoulder, another on her back, then the right arm and the last on her head, slightly catching the wig on fire.
She jerked in all the right places, then fell to the ground, rolling in an attempt to put out the fire in a puddle, pulled a special gun off her belt and began shooting a cloud of gas at the colony of bats. They screeched and dropped to the ground. At least that’s what they would do once they were added in to the print. Which wasn’t actually a print anymore.
She came up to a crouch, then ran again, this time attacked by the other stunt people. She kicked and spun and shot and elbowed, taking them all out, then ran again to the end of the block.
Time after time, they worked the scene trying to get everything right at the same time. Once, the bats’ timing was off. Another the ‘rain’ was so hard that she could barely be seen, another take she slipped from so much water.
Every take something went wrong. And the clock was ticking. They were already behind schedule. Thus the visit by the suits.
After the seventeenth take, she stopped, breathed hard and walked until she had caught her breath. She slipped off the wig before it fell off. It wasn’t damaged at all. They’d finally found the perfect material. Looked like hair, but didn’t burn.
And her knee hurt like hell. Concrete scrapes were the worst.
“Perfect Estelle,” said Sam to her, rubbing his balding forehead. “We’re done for that take. I don’t think anyone can handle another one.”
His crankiness told her that Sam was stressed by being behind schedule. It just didn’t happen on his movies.
She nodded and began to drink her espresso.
“Are you all right?” said a deep voice from behind her.
She turned to see the Kessaran, his forehead wrinkled, looking at her.
“I’m fine,” she said, fluffing her short hair, trying to get it to dry. Why wouldn’t she be fine?
“That looked like a dangerous shot, all those explosions.”
“They were fake, you realize. Movie magic.”
“I didn’t know. I have a lot to learn about the movie business. I only saw my first one last week.”
Her mouth almost flapped open at his statement. He ran his perfectly manicured fingers through his slightly mussed hair, which she felt sure was a calculated move. He seemed like the type who did everything in a pre-planned, strategic manner. Knowing it was calculated made no difference in the effect it had on her. He was something else. Yum.
Maria came over and said, “Mr. Rethmay, they’re ready over on soundstage 10 for the next few shots. Are you planning on joining us?”
“Yes, yes. I am,” he said to her. Then he turned back to her and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you Ms.?”
“Turner. Estelle Turner.”
“A pleasure, Ms. Turner. I hope to see more of you.”
Then he followed Maria and the rest of the group in the direction of the soundstages. Flip and Flop joined in the parade. They were on high alert and she knew there wasn’t much that got by them.
Estelle shook her head, puzzled. None of the Suits had ever deigned to notice her before, let alone speak to her. She was a stunt woman. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought he was on the make.
No, not possible. He was just an alien who hadn’t quite figured out human interactions yet.
She went back to costuming and changed into her street clothes: baggy khaki shorts, a black tank top and sandals. She scraped the makeup off her face, arranged her hair and returned the costume for cleaning.
Then Estelle went to the catering tent and grabbed a quick salad, downing it as fast as she could, but still savoring the bites of steak in it. She couldn’t afford beef at home. And she made a good living. Four of the current leading actresses had the same build and face shape that she did. Lucky that.
Susan found her and sat down for a moment, chugging some of her bottled water before, gasping, “They’re going to try to shoot the climax scene this evening. You ready?”
“I’m ready if the costume’s ready,” Estelle said.
“What do you mean?”
“I went to try it on yesterday and they said the costume needed major adjustments. Someone had used the wrong measurements. And something about it looked too contemporary, not historical.”
“Shitola. I’ll check. I hate it when he moves things forward in the schedule. If you don’t hear from me, you’re on at 7.”
“Okay then,” Estelle said, watching Susan scurry off towards costuming.
It was going to be a long day.
After eating, she grabbed an iced espresso and took a seat in the back of the catering tent. At least it was in the shade, even if the heat was rising. She pulled the tablet out of her bag and scanned the headlines first. The Power Party was still reeling over the assassination of Larke. Joan Larke had been their candidate, but every day another comment showed how much of a wacko she’d been. The current joke was that the Power Party had her killed so they could put James in for the election. She seemed to be more sane. Not that the election really mattered. The Presidency had little power any more, not after the Unity took over. The office had just enough to mess things up for some humans.
Estelle looked at the list, tension building in her neck and shoulders. About ten million things to do concerning Jimmy. She felt such a loss at his death. Even though they were divorcing, she still loved him fiercely. As a friend, not a lover. That had been gone for years. She just couldn’t protect him from himself any more. He’d needed a mother, not a partner.
Estelle forced herself to look at the list again, dread closing a fist around her heart. She needed to close his bank accounts, which were nearly empty and probably would be overdrawn once she paid all his bills. Close his utility accounts. Contact the landlord and try to get out of the rental agreement, there must be a death clause in them somewhere, but she hadn’t found a copy of the contract at his condo. He’d never been good with records. Get yet another copy of the death certificate and send to the life insurance company who didn’t want to pay, even though suicide was covered on his policy. Damn, it had cost a fortune for that extra coverage, even though depression was far more out in the open than back in the dark ages of the early 2000’s. Good thing she’d insisted they both have life insurance; they both made a living doing stunts, after all.
She sighed. A slight breeze blew through, chilling the sweat forming on the back of her neck. She rolled her head in a circle, trying to stretch a little and loosen up her tight muscles.
What else did she have to deal with? Finish cleaning out the condo and cash in his tickets for a trip to the planet Ectamoria, which now lived on her tablet.
She sipped her espresso, savoring the strong coffee smell, and gazed across the street. Sam was yelling at Susan, the main PA, his arms flailing. Sam never yelled. Ever. Things must be really bad. The tension in her shoulders shot back up her neck, tightening her muscles. She stood and stretched her arms behind her. If she couldn’t relax, she’d be heading towards a headache.
Her mind came back to the problem of Jimmy. What had he been thinking, why Ectamoria? Why had he wanted to go there? The new development capital of the known universe. The perfect suburbia with a small film industry and a tourist trade. The scenery was dramatic. But why would Jimmy want to go there and where had he gotten the money? The puzzle nagged at her. It felt wrong and menacing. What had he been up to?
He wasn’t exactly a normal, straight up guy. He always had a scam going. After five years of marriage, she’d given up on him and started divorce proceedings. His lawyer had quit just after filing. After he realized that Jimmy wouldn’t actually pay him.
What was he planning on Ectamoria? Or was that where he planned to run to? Maybe his friend Eric would know.
She rubbed her eyes, smearing what was left of her makeup and sipped more espresso, taking an ice cube and chewing on it. She ordered another death certificate, called the condo management company to get a copy of the lease and left a message for Eric to contact her. He might be on the set today, but Estelle didn’t have access to anyone else’s schedule.
A couple minutes later, a message pinged.
“I’ve got a letter from the nincompoop. He left it with me and asked me to send to you. Scanned and in ms. format. Then deleted from my brain and systems. Don’t understand it.”
She puzzled his strange message. Nincompoop was what they called Jimmy sometimes. The mysterious letter in ms. format, what was that about? Eric was a novelist and stuntman. She checked her email and there is was, Nincompoop letter. Opening it she read:
If you’re reading this I’m gone from Earth for good. Dead or escaped. Either way, whatever’s left is yours. Make sure you check all my accounts, including the one that’s on Ectamoria. I tucked a little something away for you, so it’s in your name, too.
I’ve done something awful to a woman who probably deserved it. What a Larke! Anyway, someone may decide to kill me, someone in Power. Of course, I may actually get away with it all and go on to lead a normal life.
Just wanted you to know I still love you, even if we couldn’t make it work.
Damn. Estelle wished she didn’t still love the louse. But he was right. They couldn’t make it work.
She wiped at the tears forming in her eyes and took a deep breath. Clearing her throat, she picked up the iced coffee.
Then she realized he was talking about an account she hadn’t known about before. But there were the account numbers. There was something else about the note that bothered her,
She sat back, reread the note trying to figure out what was wrong with it. As Estelle put her feet up on the chair beside her, a thundering noise came from the street between the set and the caterer’s tent. Then she saw the Cassion barreling down the street using all his legs. Who would’ve thought anything that large could move at a speed like that?
Where was it going in such a hurry?
An automated prop wagon was wheeled out from between two buildings. The Cassion ran straight into it. The prop wagon got the worst of it and flew up in the air. Knives, swords, guns and other props also went airborne. Max, who was accompanying the wagon had gotten out of the way and stood yelling curses.
It must have seen the cart at the last minute because the alien swerved to the left, rolled and kept running full speed.
The sight of the Cassion rolling was even more unnerving than the running. How incredibly flexible it was.
By now everyone around was staring down the street and chatting with each other. Tessa, one of the prop people, ran from the catering tent to help Max get everything back together again. Estelle didn’t hold out much hope for the mangled wagon.
“I have never seen a Cassion move quite that quickly,” said a voice next to her. She turned to see the Kessaran, shadowed by Flip and Flop.
“The leads were shooting in the soundstage and something went wrong with the effects. Smoke filled the place, we could hardly breathe. Then something exploded. I don’t know if it was an effect or not, probably not since everyone seemed panicked. Yrots included. He bashed the door down and fled. Cassions are very sensitive, having lived through attack upon attack from Ipsa. Since they lead extremely long lives, I have no doubt Yrots remembers the wars.”
The Kessaran held out his hand. “I’m Pellan. Do you mind if I sit down?”
“No,” she said, lying. You never, ever insulted the Money on a film.
“I can’t help wondering, have we met before this morning?”
“No,” she said.
“It seems to me that we have. I recognized you when I first saw you this morning.”
“No. I would have remembered.” He was the only Kessaran she’d ever met. She felt sure of that.
“Well, perhaps I was mistaken,” he said, reaching into his pocket and taking out his buzzing phone. It was the size of the card she used to track her credits. The rich always got the newest technology. After fifty-some years of little technological progress in making phones, computers and everything else, smaller, lighter and more powerful, there’d finally been a massive leap forward when the Unity showed up on Earth. But it wasn’t available to everyone.
He checked something on it, then put it away. “I dislike having to keep in touch with the office. By the way, I was wondering if having special effects go wrong on a set is a normal thing.”
Oh, oh. He was pumping her for information. “I think Maria could answer that better than I could,” she said.
Flip and Flop were lounging a couple tables away. Looking relaxed to most people, but Estelle had been in many action movies, studied fighters enough to understand when they were on constant alert. And they were. What made Pellan that important? Or that much of a target?
“Ah, but she would give me a false answer. I want the truth,” he said, staring at her with those wide, blue eyes.
“Anything done by humans is bound to have a problem. We’re not perfect, but then again perfection has no life, no surprise or genius in it. Every set I’ve ever been on has had problems. It’s just a matter of magnitude. Whether it’s a costume that doesn’t fit right and looks wrong to a costume that fits so badly that the actor can’t breathe or it’s so loose that it gets in the way and the actor can’t move right and becomes injured. That’s where competence, and sometimes luck comes in.”
She sipped her espresso, sucking out another piece of ice and chewing it; unsuccessfully trying to pretend it was one of the cream cheese danish that catering had today.
“Luck. I’ve heard the word, but I don’t really understand the concept.”
She drained her iced coffee. She wanted another one, but really two triple espressos was pushing it, even for her.
Estelle said, “Luck is like chance.” She pointed to Max who was loading up a functional cart with the props; the damaged cart being loaded onto a maintenance truck. “Max was lucky today, he wasn’t in the path of the Cassion. He moved away in time. He might have been killed.”
“I see. So I’m lucky today, I was chosen as the representative from my company, to come and see how things are going.”
“If you see it that way, then yes.”
“I do see it that way. I got to meet you.”
“I guess,” she said. Estelle felt embarrassed. It was such an obvious line. But then perhaps the Kessara weren’t that good at pick up lines.
“Have you always wanted to be an actor?” he asked, giving her his full attention.
She felt like blushing, but struggled not to. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of thinking his efforts had any effect on her.
“I’m not really an actor. I do stunts. And no, not always. But I took dance, gymnastics and martial arts classes as a kid, so my body was trained for this sort of work.” She was tired of being interrogated. “What about you? Did you always want to be in business?”
“No. I never did and actually I still don’t. I’m too much of what your people would call a gambler. So they let me have freedom with some projects, especially in the idea stages, because I come up with plans that would never occur to those who are more traditional. Which is why I’m here. Our company has been reluctant to invest in movies.”
“Movies can make a lot of money or they can be a real bust. No one’s found a sure way to predict what people will love.”
“Thus the gambling part,” he said, smiling.
His straight white teeth made her think, predator. He was giving off all sorts of vibes which confused her.
“Is it true that Kessara are shape shifters?” Estelle asked. She had crossed the line into rudeness, but he was pushing all her buttons. She had no intention of letting him win, damn it.
He gazed at her silently for a while.
She felt chilled, as if he could see inside her and understand her every thought. Estelle began to dig through her bag to cover up that his staring at her was making her shiver.
Finally, he said, “Yes, we are.”
“What do you really look like?”
“We don’t change that much. Most of us only have minor shape shifting abilities. I think you have a word for it in your fairy tales. Glamour. We make ourselves just a little better than we really are. All Kessara look radically different from each other. Especially on our home planet. This is what happens when I shape shift with my attention on you,” he said.
She watched as he grew even more attractive. His lips fuller, his skin more radiant, his eyes deeper and more soulful. Estelle could hardly keep from reaching out to touch him. She wanted to touch him. To rip that flimsy T-shirt right off him. To tear his jeans off, throw him to ground, climb on top of him and take him inside her.
She heard thundering which shook the ground around her, a loud bang and tearing, screeching metal. She tore herself away from the glamour which had enveloped her, feeling slightly dazed.
Looking towards the street, Estelle saw the Cassion again. Lumbering back down the street. Yrots had just hit an old car which was being moved into position and bounced off it. Rolling and howling the blue blur careened into the catering tent.
She stood, trying to get out of the way and stumbling backwards over her chair. She was supposed to be graceful and strong. That was her job. The entire tent came down around her. A metal pole hit her in the head. She felt herself falling, wrapped in the tent fabric, then being caught. She was surrounded by the rich, deep scent of roses.
Estelle slowly woke to find herself on a bed in the medical tent. She still smelled the rose scent. Pellan sat beside her, his forehead wrinkled in what looked like worry and his eyes closed. Flip stood behind him, leaning against the wall, eyes on the front opening.
The nurse practitioner walked by and saw her eyes open. His name tag read Will.
“Well hello, how are you feeling.”
Pellan jumped and looked at her.
Her mouth felt dry and pasty. It was hard to talk at first. “I’m okay, I guess, except that my head hurts like hell.” She touched her head and found it was wrapped with an iced bandage. That meant they were trying to keep the swelling down.
“You’ve got a nasty bump there. But it could have been worse. One of the caterers has a broken leg.”
“And the Cassion?”
“He’s finally calmed down and the damage has been dealt with. He’s absolutely mortified at what happened. Poor guy.”
Estelle tried to nod, but it hurt too much. “How long have I been out?”
“So, it’s what time?”
“Almost 11:00. Do you want to try sitting up?”
She slowly sat up. The pain didn’t get any worse.
“I think we can take off the ice now,” said Will, as he began to unwrap it. Once it was off, he dabbed some goo on her temple. “This is Genosian healing balm. It’ll help with the swelling and continue to seal the cut. It might even be sealed by the time you’re called for makeup, so don’t touch it,” he said, slapping at her hand.
He held up a mirror for her. She had a fist sized lump on her temple, the gash was about two inches long. She doubted it would be closed in seven hours. Even with magic goo. But she nodded anyway.
“Thank you,” she said.
“By the way, costuming wants you as soon as you can get there. And production has said to tell you, they’re trying to get you a new tablet. The tech guy will find you when he gets on set.”
Her eyes widened. Shit. She’d left her tablet unprotected on the table when the tent came down. She felt defeated. She’d never get out from under the fallout from Jimmy’s death.
“Where’s my old one?”
Pellan stood and retrieved her bag from a table. She pulled her tablet from it, the screen was cracked in three places. Which probably meant all her data was gone. The mysterious letter from Jimmy, which meant what? And including the tickets she was going to cash in. Or use to go empty those accounts from Ectamoria. Which had been used to store money from what? Her heart sank. She could have used that money. Paid off all of Jimmy’s debts, which would inevitably be tied to her. They were still married. God, what a feudal system money was.
“Damn. Well, at least it wasn’t my leg,” Estelle said, pretending she didn’t care, pretending everything would turn out fine, pretending nothing had happened.
What if all her info was lost? What was the worst that could happen? She’d be responsible for Jimmy’s debts, which she couldn’t pay. Not without selling the condo. She’d be broke, living in a grody apartment. In a bad part of town. She’d get killed while being mugged. And die.
She dug around inside the bag looking for her phone.
“You didn’t find a phone, did you?” she asked.
Will shook his head and said, “No. Is it in a pocket? This is how they brought you in.”
She checked her pockets. No phone. Her purse, again. No phone.
Panic began to grip her, making her head hurt even more. She couldn’t live her life without being able to communicate. The PA’s couldn’t find her. Neither could her agent. She wouldn’t get jobs. Someone might be calling right now!
She looked at Pellan.
“I haven’t seen one,” he said.
“I’ll have to go to the tent and look,” she said.
Estelle stood and slipped into her shoes, arranging her short cropped hair over her temple as best she could.
“So, can I go?” she asked. She had to find her phone!
“Yes, you’re good to go,” said Will, as he stripped the bed of sheets.
Estelle walked out the doorway and looked across the street towards where the catering tent had been. It was entirely gone. People were putting up a completely new one, red this time. The tables and chairs were stacked in the middle of the grass and all the catering cases were gone.
She crossed the street and asked, “Has anyone seen a phone? I lost mine when the tent came down.”
“No. We came and dismantled it and it got trucked away. Didn’t see a phone lying around. You could report it to one of the PA’s,” said one of the men.
“Okay, thanks.” Damn, now she couldn’t even know if someone contacted her to deal with Jimmy’s stuff. This was going to be a helluva day. And now she didn’t even have a clock.
She crossed the street near the costuming tent. Partway down the block, she realized Pellan was following her. And Flip was following him. What was that about? She turned around and asked. “Are you the one who got me to the medical tent?”
He shrugged and said, “Yes. I saw it this morning on the tour and thought you needed help.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m just wondering, why are you hanging around here?”
He smiled at her and then looked away, his eyes flashing orange then back to blue. He turned back and said, “Two reasons. Maria, our minder, took Yrots to a hospital in town, one large enough to know how to treat aliens. Sam insisted, not wanting there to be any more problems. Actually, I think he just wanted Yrots off the set. Can’t blame him. So the rest of the Producers and I are, how would you say, at loose ends while we wait for filming to begin again.”
“What’s the other reason?” she asked, shading her eyes from the blazing sun.
“I want to be sure you’re really okay.”
“You just saw me get released from the medical tent. He said I’d be fine. Try again.”
“Caught that, did you?” He smiled, looking somewhat guilty. “Okay, I’ve been on Earth a year. Humans fascinate me. But none as much as you,” he said.
“Why?” Estelle asked, crossing her arms. She didn’t buy that he felt guilty. He was a good actor.
“You puzzle me. You clearly have the ability, looks and everything necessary to be a star. Yet, you are a stunt person.”
“Yes, I’m a lowly stunt person. Clearly I can even survive being mowed down by a Cassion and having a catering tent fall on me. Not everyone wants the sort of life most stars have. Too much time dealing with fame. I wouldn’t have enough time to do what I love,” she said.
“Which is what?” he asked, staring at her with a gaze which made her want to hide. It felt as if he could see all her thoughts. It creeped her out.
“Acting and stunts. Most of the time, I’m actually good at them. They’re exciting. And it makes me feel great when I’ve done something right that fits into the movie. Makes it a better film in the long run.”
“You are a craftsperson then?” he asked.
“Yes. I am. Look, I’ve got to get to costuming. You can either tag along or not, but I can’t just stand here chatting.”
He smiled at her and Estelle nearly melted. How could a simple smile have such a profound effect? And how long had it been since she’d felt her heart, her battered, broken heart, come back to life and flip over like that?
“I would love to follow you around,” he said.
She turned and continued to costuming, telling herself, ‘No, no, no. Don’t fall for the alien. Or anyone for that matter. Bad, bad idea’. She still had to clean up the mess with Jimmy, emotionally and physically. Just because they had called it quits over a year ago didn’t mean she was over him. His death had proven that. She sighed and wondered when the tech person would show up with a tablet, so she could get back to dealing with everything. She hoped everything had been backed up to her account.
Pellan caught up with her, following Estelle into the costuming tent.
“Estelle! Oh. My. God! Are you all right?” asked Jonathon. “So glad you’re here. We need you to try on the costume again, for tonight.”
She almost laughed at his not waiting for her to answer the question.
He handed her a short leather skirt, a cropped leather tank top and thigh high leather boots, all faux, of course.
She headed towards the dressing room.
As she dressed, pulling on the skin tight skirt, Estelle overheard Jonathon talking to Pellan.
“So, how are you liking our little world?”
She snickered. Jonathon was flirting with Pellan. He flirted shamelessly with everyone.
“Very much. In fact, I love it here. You all have such highly functioning teams. I haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t love their work. Of course, they may not be telling me the truth.”
Jonathon laughed and said, “You’re right though. Most of us are loving working on this film. Every director’s different and creates a different mood on the set. Sam is one of the best and his films are usually drama free. Which makes it easier to get the work done. For me, at least.”
Estelle nearly snorted with laughter, but managed to hold it in. Today hadn’t been exactly drama free. She wiggled into the cropped top, breathing heavily from the exertion.
Pellan asked, “If you could change things about this production, what would you change?”
“Oh God. More money of course. We’re not exactly working on a shoestring here, but faux leather just doesn’t move like real leather. And for Amana’s ball gown, real silk would read better on the screen. But that’s not in the budget. And special effects always need more money.”
Estelle pulled up the taupe stockings being careful around the flesh colored bandage from this morning that was on her knee, then slid on the boots, pulling hard and stepping down at the same time to get them completely in place. She bounced around a little, testing them. They were tight enough to be workable in the scene she was in tonight.
She went back out into the main tent.
“A vision in black,” said Pellan.
Jonathon began fussing with the skirt. Pushing and pulling it, trying to get it right. “Better, better, better,” he said.
Sam entered the tent, rubbing his head. Poor guy, directing this movie would make him bald. He looked at Pellan, his forehead wrinkling as if trying to figure out what the alien was doing there.
“Why hello, Mr. Rethmay.”
“Hello,” said Pellan, completely unreadable.
Susan, the ever faithful PA, followed Sam into the tent, her phone held up to one ear. Why she didn’t just wear an earbud always puzzled Estelle.
“Hey Jonathon, are we going to have everything ready for 3:00?” Sam asked, then took a bite of a carrot stick. He carried a bag of baby carrots.
“All ready to go, they’re on that rack,” he said, pointing. “I’m working on the 7:00’s now.”
Sam began to head towards the rack, stopped and looked at Estelle and frowned.
“What happened to you?” he asked, walking towards her.
“The Cassion,” she said.
“Hmmph,” he said. “I hope makeup can hide that, or maybe the wig will. At least it’ll be getting dark.” He shook his head, frowning. Then he looked at her costume and said, “That looks much better than before.”
“It’ll look spectacular with the long black wig. And the red and black glove for her sword hand,” said Jonathon.
Sam nodded and said, “It’s good.” Then he nodded at her, looked at her temple again, sighed and went to examine the costumes on the rack.
Susan rolled her eyes and said, “What a day.” She followed Sam.
After a few minutes they went back outside, followed by Pellan and Flip. She heard Pellan and Sam speaking for quite a while.
Jonathon said, “Okay move around a bit. Do some of the choreography from your scene.”
She crouched and kicked, squatted and spun.
“Not bad. Everything’s pretty good,” she said.
“Black panties. We need black panties,” he said, grimacing and dramatically covering his eyes.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “This scene was supposed to be shot tomorrow. I didn’t plan for it. Obviously.” She’d worn pale blue underwear today.
“Okay, you’re done. Tonight, I’m going to have Emma sew you into the top. So you’ll need to be here at five.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
Estelle changed back into her clothes and handed the costume to Jonathon.
Outside the costuming tent, Sam and Pellan were still talking. Sam was smiling broadly and Pellan was gesturing with his hands. Flip stood against a wall, his head moving back and forth like he was at a tennis match, scanning the area.
Estelle couldn’t quite make out what the conversation was about.
Susan sat perched on the tailgate of an ancient pickup truck. Trying to eat her lunch as quickly as possible, Estelle knew.
She walked over and sat next to Susan.
“What are they talking about?”
“Susan shook her head. “Not sure,” she mumbled with her mouth full. “Finances, I think.”
Estelle nodded. Were they about to get the rug pulled out from beneath them? No, not if Sam was smiling.”
“Did you get your tablet yet?” asked Susan.
“No, and I lost my damn phone.”
“Damn it. I’ll call,” she said, pulling out a phone.
“No. Finish your lunch first. You might not get another chance.”
“And I might not get another chance to track down your tablet either. I know you’re trying to deal with all Jimmy’s stuff,” she said, holding the phone up to her face, putting it on speaker.
It said, “Carson here.”
“Carson, where are you? And where is Estelle’s tablet?”
“I’m stuck in traffic. The autocar won’t go up or around. Says my mission isn’t important enough. I can’t get through to the company to override anything. I’m about fifteen minutes away with normal traffic.”
“Okay, get here as soon as you can. Do you have any extra phones?”
“I always have extra phones. Somebody’s always losing theirs.”
“Great. Estelle needs one.” Susan clicked it off and shoved the phone in her pocket. “Technology, sometimes I really hate it.”
“Yeah. Bureaucracy too,” said Estelle, thinking of all the loose ends to tie up.
“Sing it, honey,” said Susan, stuffing the last of the pseudo-fish sandwich into her mouth.
Maria came around the corner, leading the remaining Suits. Two women and three men. She saw Pellan and said, “Oh Mr. Rethmay. We’ve been looking for you.”
“It’s okay Maria, Pellan and I have been having a most interesting conversation.”
She nodded at him.
Then one of the Suits, cleared his throat and nodded to the others. Walking across the street from the hastily constructed catering tent and carrying her espresso, came Amana Tanako. She wore a strapless, mauve ball gown made of satiny material and accented with pearls. Her long black hair hung straight to her waist. She positively shimmered in the sunlight.
Smiling, she walked over to Maria and the Suits, shaking their hands and making them all feel blessed. She listened to what they had to say and asked questions of those who were too shy to speak.
Estelle always marveled at Amana’s abilities. She was one of the most gracious people Estelle had ever met.
Her stomach rumbled and she decided to get some lunch. And wait for the tablet.
“Good luck,” she mouthed to Susan, who was on her phone again.
Susan waved goodbye to Estelle and shook her head and rolled her eyes at whoever was on the phone.
Estelle walked past Amana, who said, “I’ll see you tonight. Can’t wait to see what you do.”
Estelle nodded and crossed the street. She heard footsteps and Pellan was at her side. And behind him, Flip. She wondered where Flop had gotten to.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation,” she said.
“We were done. Sam had somewhere to go.”
Halfway across the street, she stopped as it hit her what Jimmy’s note was about. His strange comments about ‘What a Larke! Anyway, someone may decide to kill me, someone in Power.’
Jimmy wouldn’t have misspelled and capitalized a word like lark, or capitalized power. Not without a reason. They’d both been English teachers before they started doing stunts. That’s what had bothered her about his note.
Pellan looked at her and asked, “Is everything all right?”
“Fine, just fine. Just remembered some things to add to my to do list. On my dead tablet or my missing phone.” She continued across the street.
She didn’t know if he believed her or not, but he followed. Her personal life really wasn’t any of his business.
Had Jimmy killed Larke and been paid for it? That seemed unlikely. He ran a good scam. But she must have been surrounded by security. No one was releasing information about the assassination, but they had to be looking for someone to hang it on. She just couldn’t picture Jimmy as a murderer. But what if he was? Was that where the money for the trip to Ectamoria came from? And the account there?
If so, would they nab whoever cashed out the tickets? And who was the second one for? Were they tracking the accounts as well? Did they know it was Jimmy?
Estelle shook her head. Her entire upper body ached. Hydrate. Time to hydrate. It couldn’t hurt and it might help.
Had the Power Party or someone else killed him and made it look like a suicide? What if he hadn’t killed himself? Her entire world spun around and wouldn’t resettle itself into anything coherent.
The food cases were back in the catering tent and the chairs and tables reset. As if nothing had happened. She sighed and asked for an apple and water.
Estelle sat at a table and put her head in her hands. It hurt. How was she going to make it through the next several hours? And what would happen after that? What if they came after her?
Pellan joined her.
“You aren’t well,” he said.
“I’ll be fine. I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
“Do you want to talk about your thoughts?” he asked.
“No. It’ll all clear up, eventually. So, what were you and Sam discussing?”
“I was just asking him what he wanted to do for his next few projects, if he had a choice.”
“And does he have a choice?”
“Most people have a choice,” he said.
“Do you?” she asked. He didn’t understand life here on Earth very well, she decided.
“Yes, I do. Not the best of choices, but workable.”
“What are you choosing between?” she asked.
“I can’t really talk much about it yet. It’s down to a choice between what’s probably a sure thing financially and one that’s a gamble as far as making money is concerned, but would be much more exciting creatively.”
“And you’re taking the second choice?” she asked.
“I’m thinking about it,” he said, gazing at her.
A young man with wild, curly brown hair rushed up and asked, “Estelle?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I’m Carson.” He pulled packages out of the canvas bag strapped over one of his shoulders.
In one package were six different phones.
“I’ll let you choose one. Where’s your tablet?”
She sadly pulled the tablet out of her bag. The production company had given everyone one at the start, wanting them to have script and shooting schedule copies.
“Ouch,” he said, looking at the cracked screen. He tried to turn it on with no luck. Then he sat down at the table and pulled a small case of tools out of his bag, opened the back of the tablet and set to work. “I’ll try to get your info transferred, see if we can save anything.”
She looked at the six different phones and quickly chose one similar to what she’d had. Carson stopped what he was doing and set it up for her. Then she downloaded all her info from her account onto it, closed off her old phone to destruct in case someone else found it. She really, really didn’t want anyone else to see Jimmy’s letter to her.
She felt immediate relief. At least she had a phone now. She could contact people and they could contact her. She had thirty-four messages. One from Jimmy’s landlord, saying he’d need a copy of the death certificate in order to cancel the lease. And of course it would take a couple weeks to verify it was accurate. And he’d need to look at the condo after Jimmy’s things were moved out to make sure there was no damage. And that she couldn’t just remove things from the apartment, he’d have to hire someone to do that. What was that about? Was he trying to make extra money there?
She called him back and left a message informing him that as Jimmy’s wife, she could legally remove everything. After that, she realized, she might not be able to. Did he have a will? Who was his lawyer? Did he even have a lawyer for that sort of stuff? His divorce lawyer had dropped him after all.
Estelle put in a request for another death certificate. She should just buy a case of them, or a pile or whatever quantities death certificates came in. What was a group of digital files called anyway? A herd, a flock, a pack?
Carson was still trying to get her tablet to come back to life and give up the goods.
She heard raised voices over in the trees. Sam came stomping out from behind them, followed by two of the Suits. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Sam was clearly about to lose it.
Estelle asked Pellan, “Do you know what that’s about?”
He listened and said, “The Producers just told him costs are too high and he’s got twelve hours to finish filming or they’ll shut him down. They’re turning off the money.” He turned back to her and asked, “That’s not possible is it? For him to finish that soon?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “The leads are scheduled for another week.”
“Then why would they tell him that?” he asked.
“They’ve run out of money, but they want to put the blame on him,” said Estelle.
“Hardly seems fair,” said Pellan. “Is the film good? Will it make money?”
“You can’t know that until the audiences show or don’t show,” she said. “It’s got a great cast, a wonderful script, a really good director, but who knows? Whether it’ll get good reviews, or be released in the right places or at a bad time is anybody’s guess. It’s all a crapshoot.”
“A what?” he asked.
“A guess. It’s all guessing. No one knows anything,” she said. She wondered why it mattered to him.
She shook her head, trying to bury the image of the two of them entwined, naked on a bed.
Focus. What had she been trying to figure out?
Carson finally put the old tablet down and looked at her sadly. “I can’t think of anything else to do,” he said. “I think all your data’s lost.”
Estelle sighed. Some of the new stuff that had been on the tablet, there would be no replacing. She hadn’t had time to upload it to her account. Not the tickets or Jimmy’s letter with the bank account numbers. Damn.
Pellan asked, “May I try?”
“Knock yourself out,” said Estelle, not holding out much hope.
Pellan took the tablet and pulled a palm sized device from his jean’s front pocket. He attached it to the broken tablet, touched something on it. Then a small blue light flashed. After a minute the light changed to orange. He detached it and connected it to the new tablet, touched the side of the device and after another minute the light turned purple. Pellan slipped the device back into his pocket and scrolled through her new tablet.
He handed it to her and asked, “Is it all here?”
She checked contacts, then began looking through all the other categories.
“What was that?” asked Carson.
“Just a little device we’ve been testing.”
“Can I see it?” he asked.
“Sorry. I’m not supposed to have one.”
“You’re sure I couldn’t have just a tiny peek.”
“Sorry,” said Pellan.
“It’s all here, that’s amazing.” She felt such relief. The tickets were still there. And the letter, along with everything else.
“What is it supposed to do?” asked Carson.
“Copy data and transfer it, then erase the data from itself, which I just did. And it does a few other things,” said Pellan. “You’ll destroy Estelle’s table, yes?”
“Always do,” said Carson. “That’s why I still have this job. Gotta protect everybody’s security.”
Estelle shot off a message to her lawyer, enquiring how to find out if Jimmy had a will. She was able to get into Jimmy’s local accounts and pay his outstanding bills and cancel the service on quite a few of them, since she had cosigned for most of them.
Pellan continued to fend off Carson’s attempts to examine his device. “Thanks Carson for the new phone and tablet. You’re a life saver,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he said, bowing from a sitting position.
Her scattered thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Sam storming across the street and entering the catering tent. Carson fled when he saw the look on Sam’s face. Sam sat down next to Pellan and glared at Estelle. She gathered up her things and went over to a grassy are under the trees. She began stretching out, watching Sam and Pellan. Flip stood nearby, ready for action, but seemingly not paying attention to the conversation.
Sam and Pellan talked animatedly. Even though Sam’s voice was raised, Estelle was too far away to hear what they were saying. Finally, Sam seemed to calm down and talk more quietly. Estelle saw Susan and a couple of the PA’s drinking espressos on the far side of the tent, behind the catering equipment. Just out of sight from Sam, but not out of earshot. They huddled together, whispering to each other nervously. Was it about the threat of being shut down?
Sam got up and shook hands with Pellan, then walked off towards props. Followed by Susan. The two PA’s went in separate directions.
She returned to the catering tent and realized she was shivering. The sky had clouded up and a brisk wind had begun. A breeze was coming in off the Pacific. Maybe it wouldn’t get into the hundreds today. Setting her bag down, she pulled a sweatshirt out of it, wishing she had worn pants. Well, just a few more hours and she’d be done for the day.
Pellan looked at her and said, “I need to talk with you.”
“Okay, I’m listening.” She took out her phone to check the time. 4:00. An hour till she needed to be at costuming.
“The other Producers just pulled out.”
“Doesn’t that violate their contract?” she asked.
“Yes, but it also puts a stop to the filming. And if Sam sued, by the time a case made it through your court system, it would cost twice as much to get the film going again. Provided everyone involved was available.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen it happen before. There used to be ways to deal with those situations. But since the Unity came, everything changed.” She felt a lump in her throat and took a deep breath, trying to push the tears away.
“I’ve brought my company in as the sole Producer.”
She looked at him, open mouthed. How much money did his company have?
He continued. “I may get roasted for it though. I may have to leave abruptly because what I’ve done, isn’t exactly ethical.”
“What do you mean?”
He brushed back his long hair and said, “Normally, I would have to take this back to the two people above me. They may or may not have said yes. Then they would hand out the money a little at a time. I know Sam’s record for coming in under budget. I gave him the amount he budgeted for plus more. Transferred it directly to the film’s account.”
“Will you get fired?”
“Why did you do it then?” she asked.
“Because the gamble felt right. We Kessara aren’t known for our intuition, mostly because we hardly ever use it. But I’ve always trusted mine and I’ve nearly always been right. However, now that it’s done, until the film is finished and ready to release, my family and colleagues are going to torture me and question all my abilities. Again. I think it’s time for me to go on a vacation. For any number of reasons. And I want you to come with me, but before you answer, there’s more.”
“Okay,” she said, sitting down across from him. Her head was spinning with the day’s events and now this very strange, very handsome, alien wanted her to go away with him? But he hadn’t said why. As if she’d go.
“When I came here this morning, I was aware of your late husband’s, er, problems. And when I transferred your info, I saw all your late husband’s as well. I’m familiar with what happened to him.”
“To him?” she asked.
“I don’t believe he killed himself and neither do a few others who keep a close watch on Earth Politics.”
This was beginning to sound like a conspiracy theory thing, like the ones Jimmy used to go on about.
Pellan continued. “He killed Larke. And was paid well to do it. In advance, for some strange reason. And then he was murdered afterwards. I know the Power Party has looked for the money in his accounts. They don’t want a trail to them. Next they’ll look in yours. They’ve bungled the job once, but they won’t be so stupid again.”
Estelle shivered and not from the cold.
“Chuck, my other security guard,” he said, nodding at Flip, “is at your apartment with the company movers, getting your things packed. They’ll be finished in an hour. Everything will be shipped with us. I’ve made reservations.”
Oh, so his name was Chuck, not Flop. Wait, what had he said? Movers.
“To where? What if I don’t want to go?” she asked.
“Then I can in no way protect you.”
“Why you? Why are you so interested in Jimmy and what he may or may not have done?” she asked. “And why are you interested in protecting me? I thought you Kessara were all about the bottom line. What’s in it for you if you save me?”
“We have nothing to gain if the Power Party is in office. If we expose the fact that they hired an assassin; they will hopefully be ousted. So that answers your first question. About you, if I save you, it’ll make me feel better. I don’t want you wrapped up in what is sure to become an ugly, ugly and perhaps violent mess. And I like you very, very much. You’re a good person. I don’t want you hurt. And I want you to like me. I want you to love me. And while I understand that’s out of my control, there are a few things I can do to help that happen. One of them is to extract you from the media war that’s about to happen.”
“You bought the tickets for Ectamoria, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been investigating this ever since Jimmy died. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to stay ahead of everyone. The Power Party paid the cops off, so the public case got closed quickly. Suicide. There are others who are looking into it as well. But they’ve been continually put off track. My company has deeper pockets. None of that will matter when this story breaks. Hopefully, we’ll be off planet by then.”
“What a mess,” she said. “I’ll think about it, but right now I need to head over to costuming.”
“I understand. I’ll be following you though. And I think you should make a backup of that letter Jimmy sent you. Just in case it gets lost.”
She went to costuming. In the dressing room, Estelle sent herself a copy of the letter and the tickets to her phone and to the tablet. She also stored them in different places online. She didn’t entirely trust him, but there was sense in what he said. Then she locked her tablet and her phone as well. Not that that would keep out a real hacker. After changing into her costume, she stood for fifteen minutes while Emma sewed her into the top, making it look like a second skin.
In makeup, they removed what was leftover from the morning, fussed over the bump on her temple, which had shrunk considerably and actually sealed, thanks to the Genosian healing balm. She didn’t want to know what was in it. Genosians had no taboos about using strange body parts in their medicines.
Estelle sat in the chair for what seemed like forever, as they messed with various types of makeup trying to cover the bruising and tried to glue the wig to hide her lump.
Outside thunder rumbled and a downpour began.
Damn. She hoped the rain would stop by seven. She wanted to finish her last scene tonight. And Sam couldn’t afford to lose the filming time.
She spent much of her time in the makeup chair going back and forth over what to do after she finished her last stunt for the film. What would she do in Ectamoria? She wouldn’t fit in there. But maybe it wasn’t the final destination. The thought of traveling the universe was thrilling. In the past she either had money or time, never both at once. So she hadn’t been much of anywhere. And Jimmy had hated traveling.
At last she was on the set. The rain had slowed to a drizzle. She stood there in her black boots, stockings, short black skirt, crop top and wig. Holding her sword, Estelle stared up at the huge old house. Raindrops punctuated the smoke. The bats were released and she walked slowly towards the house, dusk closing in.
Eric flung open the front door and stepped outside to meet her with his sword. They paused and let the camera run so the leads’ lines could be cut in later.
Finally, he moved off the porch, teeth gleaming in as near dark as it was possible to film in. They circled around each other. She flashed in for the first attack. They’d practiced the choreography for weeks, slashing, blocking and dodging. The fight lasted for five minutes before she finally killed him. Leaving him lying in a pool of fake blood, surrounded by his dying, magical bats. Her down on one knee, injured and breathing hard, but alive.
“Cut,” yelled a PA.
She stood, panting and looked at Sam, waiting.
He was watching what had been filmed along with the assistant directors. Eric stood up and waited as well, both of them getting wetter, even though they’d been wrapped in blankets. Estelle’s mostly to keep her costume dry. Eric, covered in fake blood, would need to change into a new costume if they needed more takes. Umbrellas were held over them.
She looked out at the crowd. Amana was under an umbrella, watching everything. Wanting to see how her character killed her nemesis, just before her own wrap-up scene.
Pellan stood with Flip and Flop, waiting for her to finish. Waiting for her decision. The look on his face was almost heartbreaking as he gazed at her. She didn’t know a lot about Kessara, but if he’d been human her guess would be that he was completely smitten. And afraid she’d say no.
Sam yelled, “Print it. We’re done here for tonight people. Thank you so much!”
Estelle released the deep breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
Time to get out of her wet clothes, the wig and makeup.
Time to walk away from the past.
Time to start a new life.
Copyright © 2012 by Linda Jordan
Published by Metamorphosis Press