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A09.14 At the Conference Center (2,115) Henry

Source manuscripts: pestaner.com/sm09 pestaner.com/smp1 – SM09 P1.docx

Content advisory: Adult language, content, and situations, controversial religious and cultural references, speculative histories, acts of violence, and self-harm. Find more information about the novel at SHATTERED MIRRORS NOTES.

What happened before [H9.11]

Ikart, a celestial detective, begins investigating the disappearance of Guardian angel Panea. Without anything to go on, the detective intends to interrogate Salina, the leader of the Angel’s union. On his way to see Salina, Ikart learns from Luci that a budding shaman, Henry Snyder, had a relationship with Panea before her disappearance. The investigator interviews Melvin, Henry’s Guardian, before observing Henry to learn more about the disappearance.

As Henry lies on the beach, he has a vision. In Henry’s vision, Henry is introduced to several celestials. Among those celestials is Panea, who provides divine affirmation to the young shaman before being arrested by two archangels and taken away.

Ikart remains observing Henry through his protector’s eyes, Lindsey, as he is contacted by Lord Lakita, who had ordered the arrest warrant for Henry’s brother, Tom, a year earlier. The arrest ended in Tom’s execution. Henry does not trust Lakita, who he blames for his brother’s death, yet departs from his serene beachside routine, setting the stage for them to communicate.

Henry initially resists the Council and secretly takes energy from Lakita. Their relationship is tense due to their conflicts. During their conversation, Henry contrasts his approach to storing prana with his brother’s way, and within the disclosure, he has a change of heart. Despite the past, Henry takes a risk, trusts Lakita, and shares his knowledge with her. Henry manages to release his resentment towards Lakita. Henry reveals to Lakita his unique pranic healing powers and ability to store energy.

Their encounter highlights the power of ordinary natural life events. Amidst a spiritual experience, they share a significant emotional output.

Chapter 9 At the Conference Center 
Narrator: Henry
Place: Burris Conference Center, New Berkeley University

I bent down, put on my socks and shoes, and walked towards the conference center. My time on the beach with Lakita reminded me of Tom. This made me sad as I imagined sharing this accomplishment. I see his face in my mind and feel his presence. I wish he were here so I could make him proud.

The truth is, if he were right in front of me now, I probably wouldn’t say a thing. I would stare at him. Tom was non-verbal and would use his telepathic powers with me and use a letterboard with friends. I did not value my time with him when he was alive, and this makes me feel a bit empty. Along with many in my class, we remember him as a courageous and benevolent superhero.

This is why I dread having to be around other people right now, especially his friends. The only thing worse than constantly thinking about Tom’s death is having hundreds of people asking about him and saying dumb shit – it hurts, and it is awkward as hell.

The strong aroma of coffee lingers around me from a large roaster at the rear of the building. As I peek through the windows to see how many have shown up, I see the university staffers register the remaining attendees, provisional graduates attending their final required course.

It is crowded and bustling. Most people arrived early to take advantage of the free buffet, which already had long lines. Name tags and binders holding the course materials are geometrically aligned and symmetrical in front of the assigned seats. A microphone on a stand is in the middle of the room for students to ask questions. The room arrangements are very neat and organized, perhaps more special this year after last year’s tragedy. The fresh-cut peonies color the room and honor Tom. The stair rails leading up to the speaker’s podium are adorned with red, orange, and white lilies. Peonies and lilies were Tom’s favorite flowers. These details make a difference.

Most importantly, the speaker, my friend and roommate Lauren Mendoza, is at the podium. She is responsible for getting everything ready. Thankfully, I am pre-registered. This helps avoid a lot of awkward questions.

As I walk through the door, I hear beeps from the security system and briskly pass through. I look around as I saunter through the foyer. I noticed it was more crowded with attendees than I had believed. After I go to the table to drop off my pack, I return, trying to find the line for the food. Soon, I am surrounded by many people waiting for the course to start, and I end up standing in some weirdly winding line that leads nowhere. I learned, happily, that I was in line for the buffet.

The buffet has a variety of breakfast choices and includes my favorites: waffles, freshly roasted Mojave coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice from nearby Phoenix groves. Attendees occupy every conceivable space to chat with classmates or introduce themselves to a new friend. Some other masochists are taking the opportunity to meet with recruiters for post-graduate positions.

“Hey, Onree!” Lauren’s friend from my morning coffee club and Bio-Engineering class loves to say my name with a fake French accent. He appears unusually professional today. Instead of his usual mismatched and oddly-sized clothes, he’s dressed in a neat blue shirt and gray pants. Just last week, he wore a striking outfit of a striped red and white shirt, yellow and black pants, and shiny, pointed rain boots to Bio lab.

“Hi, Bobby. I’m glad we made it to the end!  How did you do in Bio?”

“Uh, bro, I passed! Just barely. How is you holding up?”

I am not sure why smart people like to purposely fuck up grammar. “I’m good. Couldn’t be better.” That was a complete lie. I was doing some interesting things, and parts of my life were coming together. But I felt lost, bitter, and sad all at the same time. But that is not what he was asking me.

“Cool, cool. We should hang.”

I wanted to laugh. Who says that? Lauren likes him, so I shouldn’t judge.

“I’d like that.” That was not likely going to happen. We are all moving on with our lives. I am so glad he didn’t ask me about that.

“So whatcha doing after ya graduate?”

There it is. “I think I will take a year off. They will say that we must get involved in one of the projects to pay our time back. But they did kill Tom, so they owe me.” I don’t know who I was trying to convince. There was no chance I would be able to take that year off.

“Well, good luck, bro.”

“Bye. Bobby.”

As I walked away, I was relieved that the first conversation was over. A billion more awkward moments to look forward to.

Lauren’s outfit and accessories are appropriate and stylish, and she’s well-prepared for her presentation. Lauren usually dresses in a simple work outfit, and today, she’s following her sense of business fashion, looking especially sharp and attractive on stage in a crisp satin royal blue shirt and dark-fitted navy blue pencil skirt. She accessorized with a pearl necklace from her dad and a gold watch and earrings from her mom. Her long black hair is neatly tied back, and her makeup looks natural. My only concern is her unusual nervousness from last night, which seems out of character for her.

My other roommate, Lindsey McCauley, worked with Lauren yesterday to practice her presentation and prepare her clothes. I have not seen Lindsey, but we met at the Observation Point earlier. Lindsey thinks I am in danger, so she watches for suspicious activity.

As Student President, Lauren regularly performs speaking engagements. She is very knowledgeable and is often requested to teach the classes she is supposed to be attending. Today is the last time she will represent her class or school at an event. Lindsey and I organized a banquet in her honor to mark the end of academia. We will quietly celebrate her graduation for two days and nights.

Lauren’s presentation is a bit overboard, but that is what Dr. Magillacuddy wants. He likes to throw his weight around and wants everyone to witness his influence. Lauren’s father overuses the word’ ostentatious’ when discussing Magillacuddy when he means to say ‘narcissist.’ That is the word I would use.

The Mayor of the Serenity and the President of the University will attend. These guys are in it for the money. It is no secret that they are paving the way for future donations from the Mendoza-Burris multi-billion dollar estate. Lauren’s father is a well-known Filipino real estate mogul who owns many major Nogales beach properties. Lauren’s mother, Sandra Burris, is the dangerous one. She pretends to hate me, but when Lauren is not around, she touches me and tries to take my clothes off. I don’t want to complain and cause a fight in her family.

I have asked Sandra to stop many times. She threatened to tell Lauren about our relationship, which was not sanctioned by the Council edicts.

I was with Sandra long before Lauren, and we dated only a few times, as the law required me to. The problem was that we kept seeing each other for about a month, several times each day, for non-reproductive sex. It was fun and tiring for about a month. I didn’t even know Sandra and Lauren were related until much later. The facts matter. If Lauren finds out, it will no doubt bother her because she is serious about Council edicts.

“Hi, Henry.”

It was Nadia Martin, a friend of my brother. “Hi, Nadia. I didn’t know you were graduating.”

“Yes. A lot of people still think I am a Freshman.”

We both laughed. Nadia looks very young because she is young; Nadia graduated high school at age twelve. She is brilliant. Tom and Nadia were very close, and she wanted to have a baby with him. Nadia secretly asked Tom to meet with her during every time slot but didn’t want to get pregnant until she completed her doctorate. Tom respected her for that, and I was the only one who knew. I even took a few time slots, and we played chess the whole time. It was more fun than Sandra. But, just the same, we could have been arrested for violating the rules.

Lauren and Lindsey would never approve of what I did with Sandra or Nadia. They always remind me about the Council’s Great Directives. Those are the rules. Lauren does not know about her mother and me, and if I say anything, She might blow something up, maybe me. I don’t want to add to the drama in her life. Of course, I must play it cool with the other jackass in Lauren’s life.

I am talking about Dr. Magillacuddy, the other jackass. Linsey and Lauren call him Magpie. Lindsey came up with the name Magpie for the doc. He will be leading the presentation. We all hate this prick, but don’t say anything to Lindsey out of respect. I believe Magpie had something to do with my brother’s death along with the governor. Lauren is nervous because her mother and her boss are concerned about her comments about the Council and want to speak with her after the presentation.

“Henry!” I heard Lindsey calling me.

“Good morning!… Wow! You look great!” Lindsey was wearing jeans, which she never—I mean never—wears.

“Henry, thank you! This is just for you. Lauren and I have a present for you after the test.”

“Hmm. I like the sound of that!”

“Yeah, hmm. We can do that too, but we have another present that you will like. Maybe not as much. Who knows?” Lindsey was smiling and gave me a naughty wink. She really rocks me. Lauren too. I am a lucky guy.

At the same time, there is something I could not put my finger on. I could not help but sense something unsettling about her as I looked into her eyes, almost like her eyes were not her own.

Summary S9.2 > a9.14 06-24-24 (2,115)

Henry, Lauren, and Lindsey grapple with the Great Directives, a set of complex societal rules at New Berkeley University. They face personal, familial, and political conflicts, challenging their past, beliefs, and the authoritarian Council. Henry’s relationships with Sandra, Lauren’s mother, and Nadia, a friend of his late brother, risk exposure, testing their bonds. As Lauren prepares for a crucial presentation, Lindsey’s protective nature adds to their complicated lives. Faced with emerging truths and increasing pressure, they must choose between compliance or defiance of the controlling system.

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