Shape of Secrets is the second novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. The stories are designed to be read in any order as they overlap in time and build upon each other in all directions.
Excerpt 1 (from Chapter 1. The Question)
One afternoon, Zane took a deep breath as he watched Balthazar change colors, and he forced back his fear as he made himself remember that time last summer. Zane’s dad had made him go outside and play, and he’d gotten stuck in a game of hide and seek with neighbor boys he didn’t like. They did more mean things than most, so Zane hid well because he didn’t want to be “it” with these guys.
As one boy came close to the bushes where he hid, Zane saw his own bare foot sticking out over the orange-brown soil. He dare not move it, so he thought hard about his foot and tried to flatten it tight against the ground.
The skin on his foot had started to burn and itch, and an alarmed Zane saw his foot was blushing. At least, it had turned an orange brown that mimicked the dirt. It had been his first inkling he could do more than make his body’s shape twist and warp. Zane watched his orange brown foot in fascination while the neighbor boy ran by.
Every so often after that, Zane’s skin would surprise him in the same way his muscles did. He could feel a color change coming, but didn’t know how to control it. He figured he needed a wise teacher, like Balthazar.
“Can I learn to do that when I want to, wise one?” he asked his chameleon. He tried to make the feeling he felt when his skin did this. He concentrated hard on his arm. At first nothing happened. Then, yes. He felt the feeling. He made the feeling. His skin went from its normal color to a tan orange.
“You and I are going to be great friends,” Zane told Balthazar as his grin widened. “You can teach me ways to fight bullies and you’ll be the only one who knows what I can do.”
Excerpt 2 (from Chapter 3. Selling Trust)
Toby was considering whether he should buy more pineapples. Samoan pineapples were tasty, but he didn’t want more than he could eat before they spoiled. He was concerned he’d already bought too much fish, but it was too late to remedy that.
He looked behind him and saw a young man with straight jet-black hair and a Polynesian’s round face with East Asian eyes. A genetic blend of the Pacific Rim, the young man was wandering along the dock near the back of his boat. He was thin and wiry for a local, and looked harmless as he took off his shirt and shoes as though he were thinking of jumping into the water. Toby glanced away, taking one last look at the pretty harbor with the older wooden houses framed by the fast-rising hills and dense trees. He heard a splash, and focused on getting the rest of his gear aboard.
He started his engine when he noticed three stout Samoan men wearing the traditional lava-lavas marching towards his boat. The oldest of the three waved at him and shouted. “Stop your engines. We need to check your boat for a missing boy we saw head onto this dock.”
“Oh, sure, I saw him.” Toby pointed to a shirt lying on the pier as he yelled back “He jumped in. He didn’t bother me.”
“We’d like to make sure he’s not on your boat,” the Samoan said as the three men approached the craft. Toby shrugged. “Look for yourself.”
There wasn’t much looking to do on his vessel. Seating for up to six was above deck, and below was a cabin with a head and shower, a compact galley area and sleeping for up to five, depending on what was raised or lowered. The men boarded without further courtesy, which irked Toby. He was sensitive to people walking into his home. One man began opening each of his storage areas above deck, while another descended below and opened the door to the head. The small toilet seat had no one on it.
“I’ve been right here. I promise you, no one is onboard.” Toby wasn’t anxious to have strangers pawing through his possessions, legal though they were. “Please gentleman, I’d like to be on my way.”
The man who’d opened the door to the head ignored him, opening the larger storage areas below deck, starting with those beneath the sleeping and sitting areas. One was filled with kitchen supplies, another held clothes and toiletries, yet another lifejackets. He shrugged to his cohorts.
“Guess he jumped in the water then. Radio back if you see him. He could be dangerous.”
Toby’s dark brown eyes widened. “Really? What’s he done?”
“We don’t know. He’s one of the young men at that special school for troubled teens. These kids are lavished with good care and opportunities, but sometimes they don’t realize what they’ve been given, and try to escape so they can return to their troubled ways. We help the school by returning these misguided ones.
“Well then, I hope you find him.”
As he headed out into the harbor, Toby thought maybe the men had a point. He hadn’t realized there were schools for misguided youth. Go figure.
He’d gotten past both reefs and was tacking under a nice slow breeze, heading northwest on a course for Fiji, when he decided to go below and grab some water. A movement caught his eye. The lid to one of the smaller storage areas was opening. No person could fit into it; it had to be an animal. Toby looked around for something to use as a weapon.
He grabbed a knife as the stowaway tumbled to the floor in a mess of ropes. A small young man in the briefest of underwear stood, shook himself, then turned to face Toby with apology in his eyes.
“I’m sorry. And sorry about no clothes. Please don’t hurt me.”
Toby took a deep breath and decided to hear the other side of the story.
Excerpt 3 (from Chapter 6. The Laws of Nature)
It was hard not to like Peter Hulson when one met him in person. In spite of his age, he had a liveliness about him, and his sharp, bright blue eyes were probing but not unfriendly. He shook Zane’s hand, gestured him onto a soft green velvet-covered settee and offered Zane water or coffee. Zane passed, although he wasn’t sure if it was ruder to accept or to decline. He allowed himself an appreciative peek at the surprisingly unobstructed view of Lake Michigan.
“I’ll get right to the point, young man,” Peter began, drawing his attention back. “It’s well known I’m seeking bright new young people, and I like to mentor them myself. I get a fair amount of grief from my VPs about it being beneath my pay grade, but the fact is I want my company to thrive for a long time. The way I see it, that only happens if I can hand the reins over to at least two more generations of focused and brilliant successors.”
A swirl of sorrow came and went from his face so fast Zane thought he might have imagined it. The older man kept talking.
“I’m finding these brilliant successors to be in short supply. But, you’ve landed on our doorstep with excellent grades from an exceptional school, and managed to get yourself in a position reporting directly to my director of sales and marketing. Word is she thinks you have excellent potential.”
Zane tried to smile appreciatively.
“Excellent potential.” Peter repeated the words for emphasis. “I don’t think there are two finer words in the English language. So I’d like to personally do what I can to encourage you.”
Zane tried to make the smile even more appreciative because he had no idea what to say.
“Would you consider a trip to Fiji to be encouragement?”
Okay, he could answer this one.
“Yes. I think most people would.”
The older man chuckled. “Good, good. Brenda and Gil are in the process of putting together an important conference for us and I’ve told them to spare no expense. We believe we can save families huge amounts of grief by providing a treatment to guide young people into making more mature and acceptable choices. Mind you, the drugs aren’t new, but the combination and the approach are. This conference in Fiji will introduce our new product in the most favorable light possible, so its success is important. I’ve okayed sending Brenda to Fiji late this month to do a recon and I want you to go with her. Help her with travel and logistics, but also keep your eyes open and your brain on. Help us find ways to make this symposium better. Have ideas for us, Zane. Think for us. Will you do that?”
Of course Zane said yes. He said it sincerely and shook the man’s hand and thanked him. Because Zane wasn’t an idiot.
But on the ride back down on the elevator, Zane kept seeing his fourteen-year-old sister Teddie’s face. She had anger. She had issues. More than he’d had at that age, for sure. But she also had a huge heart and a creative streak a mile wide and Zane really wondered if both Teddie and the world would be better off if some doctor was convinced to medicate her now.