Prescription drugs are so common in the future they’re called supplements, and dispensed at meals like side dishes. Like everyone else, Luna takes pills to curb her appetite, increase her memory, focus her concentration, improve her mood, even suppress her sex drive.
By her sophomore year in college, however, she’s beginning to wonder what life is like outside this drug-induced state. The perfect opportunity to break out of the mire comes when she sees a picture of a medallion from the 5th century. She’s not sure where she’s seen it, but she hopes once her mind is clear, she will find the artifact.
When she stops taking supplements, she discovers food tastes delicious, her friend Sal is suddenly sexy, and the search for the lost medallion turns into a real adventure.
Hopefully, all her new habits don’t get her killed.
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
It seems like these days everyone wants a quick fix for their problems. A pill to lose weight, a pill to stay alert, a pill to help concentrate, a pill to make you content, even a pill to get an erection.
I decided to look into the future when grade school children are all given pills to keep their minds on their studies, to ace tests, and to even suppress those pesky sexual urges. By the time my main character is in college, she’s been taking these supplements for over 15 years and she’s tired of it.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My main character, Luna, is at the cusp of becoming an adult. She has begun to think about how she wants to live the rest of her life. I could have written her as a high school girl, but because there were sexual situations, I decided to make her a college sophomore. She had to be underage because there’s a drinking debacle, and she had to be living away from home.
Luna stretched her right arm up, and gripped the protruding edge of a rock with her fingertips. She braced herself, then lifted her left foot, felt for a crevice, and wedged her toe in. With a hard push, she boosted her body up, and secured her hold on the mountainside with her right hand.
There were two different approaches to Jenyiku. The Tanbo Road wove up the gentler south slope, switching back and forth as it rose. But none of her classmates chose that route. It took too long, and most considered it a cop-out to simply stroll to the temple.
The north face, on the other hand, challenged students to push themselves to their physical limits, and because of the time constraints of this particular scenario, the quicker route allowed Luna and her classmates more time to make a thorough search.
As she climbed her way up the sheer face, she listened to the faint whistle of the wind through her helmet. The peaceful isolation calmed her. A moment ago, she’d let her mind wander to the descent, and her right knee had trembled. She’d refocused by assuring herself that plenty of students had done it before. She trusted her equipment. There was no reason for her trepidation.
To further bolster her resolve, she concentrated on her assignment: document and catalogue artifacts in the Jenyiku Shrine.
The Japanese had long ago considered Tanbo a holy mountain, so in the early 12th century, they’d built Jenyiku at its summit to house sacred objects. One of the artifacts she discovered at the Shinto temple would be the focal point of a project for her antiquities class.
Professor Delmont, the instructor, had been adamant from the first day. “If you enjoy vegetating in front of your computer, scouring the internet for information, then this class is not for you,” he’d told them. “I expect physical research, people. Not documented footnotes.”
For the past three weeks, Luna had prepared for this climb, cycling an extra thirty minutes each day, and experimenting with shorter ascents that helped her develop a rhythm. Of course, she’d never gotten high enough to practice the descent.
Below and to her left, her roommate Bryn’s grunt of exertion registered through the earphone in Luna’s helmet.
“I should have taken the road,” Bryn said.
“Come on,” Luna said, “It’s not that hard once you get a steady pace going.”
Luna glanced up to gauge how far she was from the top. One hundred feet? Her tinted visor filtered the bright sun, and gave the blue sky a surreal tone.
She reached with her left hand, gripped the next rock and pulled up again.
“Ten minutes to the top,” she said.
A slight tremble vibrated in her fingertips. At first it was so insignificant that Luna thought a jet high in the atmosphere was causing the tremor. But it quickly grew, causing her arms to quake.
“Are you kidding me?” Bryn squawked.
The whole mountain suddenly shuddered; the jolt shook Luna’s left foot loose. Thrown off-balance, her left hand slipped until only her fingertips clung to a rock. Panicked, she scrambled to find purchase and ended up jamming her toe into the mountainside. She yelped at the pain.
“You okay?” Bryn called up.
“Yes,” Luna answered, her voice hissing in frustration.
Once she had her left hand clamped on the rock again, she flattened her body against the mountainside and drew in a calming deep breath. She refused to consider that she might have overestimated her abilities.
The tremor stopped, and Luna continued her hand-over-hand vertical crawl upward. At the top, she braced both elbows on the flat surface and clamored up with her feet, scooting onto her belly, then up to her knees.
Ahead, she got her first sight of the Jenyiku complex. A torii gate to the left welcomed travelers from the road; two small pavilions flanked the actual temple. Like Professor Delmont said, it was small. There were no bright orange rafters or colorfully-painted motifs. Just weathered wood that testified to centuries of wind and rain and solitude.
Luna stood and blew out a satisfying breath. The pant leg of her form-fitting jumpsuit was twisted so she wriggled to straighten it.
Right behind, Bryn boosted herself up onto the rugged plateau, then rotated her shoulder as though it might have gotten wrenched in the tremor.
“This better be good,” she mumbled.
“You okay?” Luna said. “We don’t have much time.”
Other students who had been here before warned that the time allotted was short. And Luna wanted to find something unusual as the subject of her project.
After a quick nod, Bryn trotted alongside Luna towards the official pathway to the temple, lined with ancient stone lanterns.
Luna tapped the side of her helmet, engaging the camera embedded in the visor. Then she winked her eye to activate the camera, taking an establishing shot of the whole shrine before she moved closer to the pavilion with the temizu basin where visitors cleansed their hands.
Bryn hurried over to the belfry housing the bonsho and got a quick shot of the large brass bell used to call monks to prayer while Luna took more pictures of a large bronze guardian warrior in a separate alcove, his fierce snarling face a warning to trespassers. Then they hustled up the two steps of the entrance porch to the temple.
Some of the slats on the saisen box where visitors offered money had been broken. Luna flashed her light down into the darkness. No coins. Looters? No wonder the Japanese government was hesitant to issue permits.
Jenyiku had been closed because certain international tourists – Professor Delmont insinuated Americans – could not be trusted to ‘look, but not touch.’ Technically, Luna and Bryn were trespassing, thus the impetus to survey the area quickly and leave.
From the very beginning, Professor Delmont had addressed students’ ethical questions. He considered archeologists and antiquarians citizens of the world, not bound by borders or governments.
“I’m not saying we are above the law,” he told her class, “but rather we are beyond the law. Our job is to search for and document the history of the world.”
He had a point. Politicians came and went. Some were motivated by greed, others by power. But history told the real story of civilization, and just like Professor Delmont, Luna believed that this visual history of the world should be accessible to everyone.
She glanced at the running timer in the upper right corner of her helmet visor. 1:32. Previous climbers had reported that the authorities usually showed up at around five minutes. She and Bryn had at least three.
Above the entrance to the temple, more bells hung with sash pulls that could be rung to purify souls and call the spirits. At one end of the covered entryway, a bulletin board of sorts was covered with small wooden plaques, each with a written wish or prayer.
So far, everything Luna saw was common to nearly all Shinto temples, but she was determined to find something unique.
She snapped two more quick shots before slipping off her shoes and stepping inside. The floor was covered with tatami mats; a simple wooden bench offered the infirm a seat.
She took another establishing shot of the entire altar, including the enormous twisted rice rope draped overhead to signify a sacred place. On either side of the altar stood tall bronze lanterns, and on top, several sanbo stands held trays that once offered food to the holy spirits.
Still nothing remarkable.
While Bryn took pictures of assorted talismans and amulets of the Kami, Luna wandered to the far side of the altar, flashing her light into the dark corners. Grooves in the stone floor caught her attention. She swiped her socked-foot over the surface, but could not make out the markings.
She dashed outside to the temizu basin and scooped up two ladles of water. Back in the dark corner, she poured the water on the scratchings, washing away the dirt in the crevices. Symbols appeared.
Excited at last, she called out, “I’ve got something here.”
Bryn hurried over as Luna winked several times, reactivating the camera in her visor so she could take pictures of the inscription from different angles.
“This is the kind of thing Delmont is looking for,” Bryn said as she squatted down next to Luna. “I wonder if anyone else has discovered it.”
Luna glanced again at her timer. 3:12. They were getting close to that 5-minute deadline.
“I don’t know, but we need to keep looking,” she said. “I don’t want to be one of fifteen students all writing the same report.”
Back in front of the altar, she studied the urns and sanbos again. Nothing unusual. The front of the altar was covered with three framed panels of rice paper inscribed with holy script. The middle panel stood out slightly from the two sides.
Crouched low, Luna pressed a finger against the wooden frame of the middle panel and it shifted to the left.
“Whoa!” Bryn said.
Luna slid the middle panel more to the left, revealing a wooden cabinet. Her pulse jumped with excitement.
“It’s a shrine,” she whispered.
“A concealed shrine,” Bryn corrected.
A decorative lock secured the two doors on the front of the cabinet.
“We’ve got to find a key,” Luna said.
She sprang to her feet, pulling lids off urns and shaking others to listen for a rattle. Nothing. The key was not in a carved box with a hinged lid, either.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to touch anything,” Bryn said.
“No, Delmont said not to take anything.”
Gently, Luna rifled the pages of a book. No key tucked inside. She shined her flashlight up in the rafters. Zip. And there was nothing dangling from the walls except for two dusty oil lanterns.
“I’ve got it!” Bryn yelled. She reached into the saisen box on the porch and came up with what looked like tweezers.
“That’s not a key.”
“Yes, it is.” She brushed it off and showed Luna. “You have to pinch the two pieces to get them into the lock. Then the grooves fit into the locking mechanism.”
Luna patted the top of Bryn’s helmet. “You’re a genius.”
In the distance, a low rumble broke through the quiet.
“Oh, great,” Bryn said. “We need to go.”
The timer read 3:46.
“We’ve got time,” Luna insisted.
She dropped to her knees, and slipped the key into the side of the brass lock but even when she pinched and twisted, the lock wouldn’t pop. “This probably hasn’t been opened in decades.”
“Centuries,” Bryn said. “Give it up. Let’s go. I don’t want to get caught here.”
Luna pulled the key out and pushed it back in.
“I know there’s something in this cabinet. We’ve got to get pictures.”
“Whatever extra credit you might get for the discovery is going to be cancelled out if we get arrested. Let’s go!”
The revving of an automobile engine was louder now. Originally, when the authorities arrived, the students produced documents from the Japanese government authorizing their expedition, and that was the end of it. But last year, one of the students decided to shake things up. Now, when the officers arrived, they were less than hospitable. Sometimes they even had guns.
Bryn didn’t wait. She darted for the door, slipped on her shoes, and ran. Through clenched teeth, Luna tried the key one more time. It didn’t budge.
Frustrated, she leapt to her feet and dashed to the door. As she jammed her feet into her shoes, she glanced across the plateau; Bryn was already halfway to the ropes. A jeep lurched up the final curve of the Tanbo Road dragging a cloud of dust behind it. A voice shouted through a loudspeaker in Japanese. Bryn didn’t stop.
It was too late for Luna to make a run for the ropes. She’d intentionally delayed her escape to eliminate the possibility of climbing back down. Now was the moment of truth.
Beyond a stack of sake barrels, and through a straggled stand of trees, she saw the eastern edge of the plateau. Her heart lurched, her breath caught in her throat.
Time for the descent.
She closed her eyes for a second, and counted to three to calm the sudden riot going on in her belly.
Off to her left, a tree trunk exploded with splinters. Someone had taken a shot at her.
She dashed into the trees, and before she could reason herself out of it, she launched her body off the side of the cliff, her arms wide in a dive.
The moment she was airborne, adrenaline took over; blood pulsed in her ears, the nerves in her limbs prickled. Air swooped around her arms and legs as she widened her body’s surface. Through her helmet, she heard the rush of wind, combined with the rapid pulsing of her heart.
The demonstration video she’d watched put the descent at 2100 feet, and calculated that the total fall time was fourteen seconds. She’d studied the sky divers, listened to the instructor explain the proper technique for a jump. She had even chatted with other students who had made the dive.
Some pulled the ripcord immediately, preferring the safety and assurance of the longer, slower parachute descent. The downside was that the authorities had plenty of time to shoot.
Other students swore that by freefalling, they had the option of speed and maneuverability, to say nothing of the heart-pounding rush.
Maybe next time.
Luna pulled the chute cord and felt her harness tighten. Her body, hurling toward earth, jerked upright and slowed to a gentle drift.
With a shudder, she blew out a breath of relief, and relaxed into the last few seconds of the drop. She even took a moment to appreciate the bucolic beauty of the country: the rice paddies in the distance, the terraced hills beyond. As the lush green valley floor rose up to meet her, she flexed her knees for impact.
The touchdown was barely noticeable. First she was suspended over a grassy field; then she was standing in it.
She unsnapped her helmet, and as she pulled it off, she shook her auburn hair, damp with sweat. The pent-up anxiety she’d been holding in made her let out a loud whoop.
Other students in the rec center turned at the sound of her piercing cry. A guy nearby was just buckling into his harness. A girl over on the snow ski platform stood with her helmet halfway onto her head, staring at Luna.
Embarrassed by her outburst, Luna quickly busied herself unhooking her own harness. Her fingers trembled as she pinched the clasp and let the straps fall to the floor. She unzipped her jumpsuit and cautiously stepped out of it, her legs trembling.
The others were right; the Jenyiku simulation was one of the best virtual scenarios she’d ever experienced.
She wiped her sweaty palms over her gray and white tunic, but she couldn’t stop shaking. Her lips still tingled, and her breaths came in jagged gasps. The light-headedness felt exhilarating, as though her senses had been charged with positive ions.
Sure, the Delirium Dive at Banff’s Sunshine Village had been exciting, but the lack of cold and wind didn’t give a true feel of skiing. It had been more like a roller coaster ride. And last year, when Bryn and Luna had tried the caving simulator, it didn’t feel natural, crawling over the lumpy floor here at the rec center.
But that free-fall? Wow!
Luna wanted to jump and clap and shout. Instead, she huffed out another long, shaky breath. Others had made the same descent. There was no need for her to carry on as though it was a monumental accomplishment. Still, she couldn’t stifle a big grin of satisfaction.
She glanced over at the treadwall, where Bryn had rappelled most of the way to the bottom. Next to Bryn, a climber started an ascent. Each time the climber rose up, that section of the rock wall rotated down, like a treadmill. Usually the motion was undetectable, but lately the mechanism had become jerky and unpredictable.
Luna wiggled her big toe in the climbing shoes she had been issued. The nagging pain from jamming her foot into a toehold hadn’t subsided. Had she loosened a nail? She wondered if Delmont would issue extra credit for an injury sustained on the job.
As she jogged over, Bryn fought her way out of her harness. Her brown hair exploded in a riot of curls as she yanked off her helmet.
Luna threw her arms around her roommate. “Wasn’t that incredible?”
She felt Bryn stiffen in the uncomfortable embrace. Luna was surprised at herself for making such close contact. It was an invasion of her friend’s personal space; an offense that could result in disciplinary action if reported. Even if no one did report it, hugging was not acceptable.
Quickly releasing her hold, Luna stepped away, pulling back her offending arms and balling her fingers to restrain them. Why had she done that? It was like she’d felt so giddy and light-headed, she needed to hang on to someone to keep from floating away.
Bryn seemed to be just as embarrassed as Luna by the sudden outburst, but true friend that she was, she glossed over the gesture.
“Incredible for you maybe,” she said, taking an extra step back. “I got lasered.”
“Oh,” Luna sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“I should have taken the road.”
“You definitely would have gotten lasered that way.” Luna said. “McKenzie said she talked to Delmont and he agreed not to dock her grade for getting caught. Maybe he’ll do the same for you.”
“I guess,” Bryn said, still unhappy. “The treadwall malfunctioned again on my way down.”
Luna shook her head. “I heard they aren’t going to repair it until Thanksgiving break.”
As if on cue, one of the sections shuddered and a climber lost his grip. He hung suspended by his harness as he grappled for one of the rocks on the wall.
“Maybe it’s a simulation of an earthquake,” Luna said. “To see how we handle the stress.”
“I had plenty of stress without that,” Bryn said. “Thankfully, I took an extra Fenidrin before I started.”
At the far end of the structure, a climber stood at the edge and dove off, just as Luna had, his arms and legs wide. An air handler on the floor blew up, simulating wind resistance. Halfway down, the climber’s harness slowed his descent.
“That was the most incredible experience of my life,” Luna said, her voice hushed. She was glad she hadn’t heeded Bryn’s warning to take her own Fenidrin. The stimulation wouldn’t have been nearly as intense.
As she gathered up her harness and jumpsuit, she thought back through a childhood of uneventful school outings, and holidays spent in the museums of foreign countries. She’d been to summer camp a number of years, but the most thrilling experience had been sitting on an actual horse-following a whole string of horses-that plodded along a trail. There had been no trotting, no galloping with her hair flying behind. The only thing that made it memorable was that it had been a real, live horse.
As a teenager, her interests had turned to the debate club and Mathletes. Nothing exciting ever happened there.
Then she’d joined Emory Explorers last year – at Sal’s insistence – and went on some of the virtual trips with the club. They were fun, but still they were basically video games taken to the next level.
It wasn’t until she signed up for Professor Delmont’s antiquities class that she’d discovered a practical use for the VR games: hunting for treasure.
Two weeks ago, she and a team had rafted down a simulation of the Amazon. Her first week in class, they had all hiked a Tibetan trail. Each adventure reaffirmed Luna’s desire to search the world for lost antiquities, with real adventures to real destinations. All of this pretending was tiresome.
After turning in her equipment, Luna walked with Bryn through the large two-story lobby of the campus recreation center. To the left, a glass wall cordoned off a room of stationary bikes, nearly all occupied with riders wearing the familiar virtual reality helmets. The bikes had some great programs: riding through rainforests, deserts; one simulation rode around the rim of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Other students coming and going in the center were wearing a variation of the tunics Luna and Bryn wore, in Emory University’s blue and gold colors.
Luna massaged her fingertips with her thumbs. “I can’t believe my fingers are still tingling from the adrenaline,” she said with a smile.
“It’ll wear off soon.” Bryn was not as enthused. “I’m surprised Professor Delmont allows that new escape scenario. Isn’t it basically teaching us to steal and avoid capture?”
“Yeah, he’s been pretty tight-lipped about it. I think he wants deniability in case a student or parent complains.”
Overhead, an advertisement played on a large screen.
“I knew the answer,” an actress posing as a student said, “but I hesitated and my classmate answered first. I can’t make myself take a chance.”
As the camera focused on the poor, insecure girl, an announcer said, “Now, with Cadizyl, you can feel confident and assured. Don’t doubt your abilities. Assert yourself.”
Bryn turned to Luna. “Maybe I should try Cadizyl. Then I could make that jump like you did.”
They walked under the first screen, and a second screen continued the same commercial only now the actress/student was sitting in a classroom. She shot her hand into the air before any of her classmates, apparently full of confidence.
The announcer warned, “Side effects may include dry mouth, dizziness, constipation, nausea, or diarrhea. Heart palpitations, rash, or thoughts of suicide should be reported to your doctor immediately.”
“I don’t know,” Luna said. “What about all the side effects?”
“That’s why you take Hebrimat.”
Outside, a tinted, glass dome covered the sidewalk. As Luna and Bryn walked to the street corner, Luna held her palm to her chest. “My heart rate is still elevated.”
“Maybe you should have it checked.”
Luna cocked her head as a thought occurred to her. “Next time, I’m going to try a somersault during the fall.”
She stepped aside to let two students on Segways whisk by.
“I don’t think the harness is designed for that,” Bryn said.
At the corner of Clifton Road and Asbury Circle, they waited for the light to turn green then darted across the unprotected crosswalk, and back under the covering on the other side.
“Maybe I’ll see if the rec center has a program for sky diving.”
“Sure. Why not?” Bryn said, but Luna detected a hint of sarcasm. “I read about an astronaut who parachute-jumped from space and broke the sound barrier.”
Luna’s face lit up. “Really?”
Bryn rolled her eyes and kept walking.
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