The Evaran Chronicles: The Arrival | The Awakening | The Fredorian Destiny | The Purification | The Time Refugee | The Evaran Origin | The Shadow Connection | The Human Factor | The CosmicParallel | The Evaran Chronicles Box Set: Books 1-3 | The Evaran Chronicles Box Set: Books 4-6

The Human Factor Image

Title: The Cosmic Parallel

Series: The Evaran Chronicles

Book #: 8

Publisher: Quantum Edge Publishing

Published: 8/22/2018

Formats:

eBook
Paperback (In Development)
Audio (Planned)

THE COSMIC PARALLEL

Book 8 Of The Evaran Chronicles

Not all prey is the same.

Dr. Albert Snowden just wanted to see a parallel timeline where Neanderthals were the dominant species on Earth. What he did not expect was a barren world. While investigating what happened, he, Evaran, Emily Snowden, and V are pulled into a trap created by a mysterious group.

One issue is that the trap forces the group to jump to parallel Earths. Another problem is that the Torvatta, Evaran’s ship, is out of the picture. It does not help that the cosmic-energy-enhanced nanobots in Dr. Snowden and Emily are not working as intended.

To make matters worse, each jump to a new parallel Earth weakens them. Along the way, they meet Jelton Stallryn, a Rift Guardian, who has also fallen into the trap. Together, they will fight to escape and then track down the mysterious group responsible.


Read the sample below! Read the related short story below!

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Series Note

This book involves the theme of parallel Earths, while diving deeper into the Evaran Chronicles cosmology. It is a second series arc closer, and introduces a new situation, one which will pop up in future books.


SAMPLE

Chapter One

A thin circular metallic platform kept Dr. Albert Snowden from plunging several thousand feet to the ground, and possibly his death. Although he had been intrigued and wanted to try out the hovering platforms he had seen before, looking down made his muscles tense. There was a shielding of some type that encompassed the platform and went up to his knees. Even if he were to fall over or tilt too far, the platform would right itself and put him back up. At least the shielding rooted him to the platform. The more intriguing aspect was that when off the platform, it could shrink and fit in his pocket.

To his left was his niece, Emily, on her own platform. On the other side was Evaran. V flew along in orb mode. Dr. Snowden had enjoyed the last two months in AD 10105 on Earth. It had been a nice change of pace from their last adventure, which took them to another part of the galaxy and involved a rogue AI.

“This is cool!” said Emily.

“It’d be cooler if we started off a little lower to the ground maybe?” asked Dr. Snowden, adjusting his glasses.

“Bah,” she said. She leaned forward and took off, with V pursuing her.

Evaran tilted his head. “We can go lower if you wish.”

“I’m all right. I know these are safe and won’t let me fall to the ground,” said Dr. Snowden, licking his lips. “It just … takes a bit to get used to the height and all that.”

“I see,” said Evaran. “I will follow you then.”

Dr. Snowden grinned. “You don’t want to go zooming around like Emily and V?”

“I do not. However, these are quite efficient.”

“Yeah. I wish we’d had these on previous adventures,” said Dr. Snowden. He shook a hand out. “I know, I know, I say that every time we discuss enhancements, but this really would have been handy.”

“I will look into integrating something similar to your PSD.”

Dr. Snowden leaned forward, and the platform moved ahead.

Evaran kept pace.

“I guess we can’t just borrow these.”

“That is correct,” said Evaran. “You can imagine how even just one of these could change history, or even the future. If it was integrated into your PSDs, no one other than yourselves could make use of it since your PSDs are bound to each of you.”

“We could still be forced to use it,” said Dr. Snowden.

“Perhaps, but even then, it is not something that could be replicated for mass consumption.”

“I get it.” Dr. Snowden’s muscles relaxed. “I think I’m getting the hang of this.” He jumped when Emily laughed as she whooshed past him and slapped his arm. Apparently she had circled around and was enjoying herself. He gulped as he watched her and V fly around. It was good to see her smiling and having a good time. Her joy reminded him of giving her airplane rides when she was a kid. “I’m glad Emily likes this.”

“It would appear she does,” said Evaran. He pointed in the distance to a large hovering disc with guardrails. “We can take a break there.”

After ten minutes, everyone had assembled on the disc. Their small hovering platforms shrank enough to fit in their hands.

Evaran wore his usual light-gray suit with metallic forearms, boots, and neck guard and padded armor pieces outlined with multiple colors, and Emily wore her light-armor suit, which looked more appropriate for battle than a casual outing. V was still in orb mode, and his four segmented tentacle-like arms hung behind him as he flew around.

Dr. Snowden wore his gray formfitting survival suit, which he had come to rely on to keep him safe. He leaned on the guardrail and looked over the city. Earth in AD 10105 was beautiful, and although it was only about 7:15 p.m., the sun was still out, but beginning to set.

Sleek buildings rose like monuments to mankind, with humans and aliens alike flying around everywhere. Energy beams of some type quickly transferred others between buildings, while in the distance, on the far edges of the city, he could see ships arriving and departing.

“It’s so nice out here,” said Dr. Snowden.

Emily joined him. “Yeah, it is. There’s so much to do. The virtual environment here is amazing.”

“I seem to recall you and V heading out to the dance clubs quite a few times,” said Dr. Snowden, wagging a finger. “Leave you two alone for two months and watch out!”

She smiled. “They had some … interesting music, that’s for sure.”

“Analysis. I have acquired several new dance techniques,” said V.

“I’m sure you two brightened the place up with your presence,” said Dr. Snowden.

Emily dipped her head toward V. “He took Solia along.”

Dr. Snowden drew his head back. Solia was a female android from a previous adventure who had to be left behind in an alternate timeline. He narrowed his eyes. “Was she the same or …”

“Analysis. I did not mention anything of our previous meeting. She was curious about why I contacted her, and I mentioned I had heard of her while browsing the galactinet.”

Dr. Snowden chuckled. “You lied!”

V’s lights glowed a bit brighter. “Yes, but it was necessary, and I enjoyed her company.”

Dr. Snowden raised a hand.

V extended one of his four arms and high-fived Dr. Snowden.

“Well, I’m glad you two had fun. I got a lot of research in while I was here. Speaking of alternate places … I still want to see that parallel timeline with the Neanderthals,” said Dr. Snowden. He shook a finger at Evaran. “You mentioned it during our abduction long ago, and it’s been a fire in my head ever since.”

Evaran glanced over at Emily. “Does this intrigue you as well?”

She smiled. “Oh, yeah. I’m always up for something new, and since I did study them in depth, I’d be curious as to what an advanced Neanderthal society is like, assuming we’re going there in AD 10105 and not AD 2012.”

“Analysis. I would be interested in seeing another Earthborn species.”

“Then it is settled,” said Evaran. “We can go there tomorrow. As it is our last night here then, perhaps we should all take in a natural meal, nonreplicated, before heading to the Torvatta.”

Dr. Snowden grinned. “Works for me.” One thing he liked about Evaran’s ship, the Torvatta, outside the ability to travel through space and time, was that it had a neural effect that helped him sleep. It was his new home, one with six doorways to other dimensions and a plethora of abilities such as stealth, tractor beams, and an impenetrable shield, at least to regular matter.

Several hours later, and with a full stomach, Dr. Snowden eased back into his chair around a square table. Looking out over the patio at the city while eating had been a treat. He enjoyed moments like this, with good food, close friends, and no stress. Although the pull of sleep was strong, he savored every moment he could.

He knew how chaotic it could be traveling with Evaran. The downtime between adventures was what Dr. Snowden had initially envisioned traveling with Evaran would be like. Helping Evaran was Dr. Snowden’s newfound purpose in life, and with the enhanced nanobots that kept him healthy and extended his life, he appreciated and understood the opportunities for research and learning about new cultures that was afforded to him. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime situation, and one he could not fathom having almost passed up on.

Scene Break

Ten hours later, Dr. Snowden woke up from a solid night’s rest. According to his personal support device, it was 9:00 a.m. He loved his pen-shaped PSD. It could shoot various types of beams and form morphable metal to meet all sorts of situations. It was also a miniature computer in its ability to analyze things, provide augmented reality views, and even store food and water via the use of dimensional mechanics.

There were a lot of recently added patterns for the morphable metal, and some looked like it could form another material that was not metallic. How that worked he was not sure, but it was something on his list of things to find out about.

His mind focused on getting coffee, and he was a blur as he got cleaned up. Stepping into his formfitting silver survival suit was always something he enjoyed. It had saved his skin more times than he could count, and it was resilient and also had defensive abilities.

After getting his cup of coffee from the conference room, he went to the command center. A smile crept onto his face as he saw Emily sitting in the U-shaped seating area off to the left. She was talking animatedly with Evaran and V. Evaran was in his usual command chair, while V hovered near the front U-shaped console. Dr. Snowden went to the right side of the command center and took his seat.

“You’re finally up!” said Emily.

Dr. Snowden took a sip and then smiled. “Yes, I am, and I’m ready to see this Neanderthal world.”

“Analysis. I am excited as well.”

Evaran half smiled as he tapped at his chair console. “Very well then. V, take us to the coordinates I have entered. Make sure we are in Torvatta scan profile one and stealthed.”

“Acknowledged,” said V. After a moment, he said, “Torvatta scan profile one activated. Stealth mode engaged.”

The Torvatta floated in orbit above Earth, which was buzzing with activity.

Dr. Snowden bet anyone seeing the Torvatta would do a double take when it formed a portal and flew through.

As if on cue, the Torvatta shot out a silver beam that formed a blue-bordered portal with a red surface, the color scheme for a portal to a parallel timeline. The Torvatta flew through the portal and exited above a parallel timeline version of Earth.

“V, perform standard scans,” said Evaran.

“Acknowledged.”

Dr. Snowden examined the transparent floor and sides of the room, expecting to see advanced Neanderthal ships. There was no sign of activity around the parallel Earth. “Umm … where is everything?”

Evaran raised a finger. “Something is not right.”

Scene Break

Emily wrinkled her eyebrows as she studied the various data windows popping up. On the mini map of the galactic region they were in, she could see a concentric circle pulsing out ten light-years from the representation of the Torvatta. There was some activity on the edges, but around Earth and in the solar system, there was barely anything. Her eye caught a small blip in low Earth orbit. “What’s that?”

Evaran tapped at his chair console. After perusing his augmented reality interface, or ARI, for a moment, he said, “It appears to be a satellite. V, take us to it.”

“Acknowledged.”

The Torvatta moved near the satellite.

It was unusual-looking, a dodecahedron with each of its twelve sides containing a small bump in the center. No antennae were visible, and it had a green sheen to it.

“V, attempt to connect to it,” said Evaran.

“Acknowledged. Initiating connection,” said V. After a moment, he said, “No connection protocol or mechanism found.”

“That is odd,” said Evaran.

“In what way?” asked Dr. Snowden.

Evaran glanced at Dr. Snowden. “Satellites usually have a system capable of some form of receiver and transmission capability. This satellite has neither. Unless … V, perform a targeted exotic energy scan.”

“Acknowledged.”

A green beam swept over the satellite. Small labels popped up off the side.

Evaran sat up in his chair.

Emily’s eyes widened as she glanced at Dr. Snowden. Whatever was showing on the labels, which seemed like gibberish to her, was something that had attracted Evaran’s attention.

Evaran narrowed his eyes. “This satellite has a trace of cosmic and rift energy. It has a connection to something on the planet.”

Emily remembered that rift energy could also come in the form of crystals allowing for portals to other places. “So the lack of any other type of technology out here, and now this … What do you think that means?”

“I suspect whatever this satellite is, it is involved in the change of this world. V, take us down to whatever the satellite is connecting to. Let us see what we are dealing with.”

“Acknowledged.”

The Torvatta angled itself and then flew toward the planet.

Dr. Snowden chuckled. “Another mystery. Let’s hope this time there aren’t any Hadryn spawn overlords to deal with.”

Emily clenched her jaw. The overlord had been held up as a god by the Purifiers, a human-supremacist group that tried to alter Earth’s history. They were defeated and the overlord was banished by Evaran. A part of her hated the overlord for killing Levaran, one of Evaran’s other plane forms.

“I do not think we will need to worry about that,” said Evaran.

The Torvatta broke cloud cover and soared over a lush forest.

Emily noticed something shiny sticking out near one of the larger trees. “You seeing that?”

Evaran tapped at his chair console.

A data window popped up showing the rusted remains of an advanced building.

Dr. Snowden adjusted his glasses. “Okay … so it looks like maybe there was a civilization here, and now there’s not. You thinking a timeline change?”

“I am,” said Evaran. “We will gather some additional information, then head to low orbit, travel back in time, and attempt to find where the change occurred.”

“So a lot of little jumps?” asked Emily.

Evaran raised a finger. “We will jump back to a known point that I have visited before. That should establish a base point. From there, we halve the time difference from then to now, and jump there, and then note if the satellite is present. This process is repeated until we narrow down to when it appeared.”

“Huh. That’s pretty cool.”

Evaran nodded. “V, take us to low orbit and then to AD 105.”

“Acknowledged.”

The Torvatta ascended to low orbit and then faded out and back in.

“Analysis. The date is now November 2, AD 105. The satellite is not present.”

Emily noted that on the next jump, the year showed AD 5105, and the satellite was not present. “This could take a while.”

“Not as long as you might think,” said Evaran.

The Torvatta jumped to AD 7605.

Emily examined the scan results that appeared on the screen. “Looks like the satellite is here, so it appeared sometime between AD 5105 and AD 7605.”

“Yes, we are getting closer. Now we halve from there and keep going,” said Evaran.

After a while and many jumps, V said, “Analysis. The date is now January 1, 5705.”

“That wasn’t too bad,” said Emily.

“We know it appears this year,” said Evaran. “V, deploy a tracking satellite. We can check on it in a year and pinpoint the exact arrival.”

“Acknowledged. Deploying a stealthed tracking satellite.”

A small orb shot out and then stealthed.

“Now, take us to the end of the year,” said Evaran.

The Torvatta jumped forward in time.

“Why didn’t we just do that in the first place?” asked Dr. Snowden.

“It could cause potential timeline issues if it was detected over a long range of time. However, in this case, it is only a year, and the satellite may not have lasted that long.”

“All right.”

“Retrieving data,” said V. “Isolating appearance of the exotic energy satellite.” After a moment, he said, “Date confirmed.”

“Good. Retrieve the satellite, and then take us ten minutes prior to the exotic energy satellite’s appearance,” said Evaran.

“Acknowledged.”

Dr. Snowden chuckled. “We’re time hoppers today.”

“Indeed,” said Evaran.

The Torvatta satellite flew back into one of the Torvatta’s side panels, and then the Torvatta jumped to the point Evaran requested.

Emily narrowed her eyes. There was some traffic, and most seemed to be rudimentary satellites. “It looks like they were still around in this time period.”

Evaran nodded.

After ten minutes, the exotic energy satellite popped into existence.

“What the heck?” asked Dr. Snowden. “Where did it come from?”

“I am not sure,” said Evaran, narrowing his eyes.

“Scanning now,” said V.

The Torvatta bathed the satellite in a multicolored beam. Statistics on the object appeared in a data window.

Evaran rubbed his chin. “Interesting. It came from another timeline, but which, I do not know. The amount of power required to do that and be this precise must be immense.”

“Analysis. A link has been detected from the satellite to an object on the surface.”

“Display it,” said Evaran.

V interacted with the front console.

A golden beam appeared from the satellite to an area on the planet.

“Well, that’s what we saw in the future,” said Dr. Snowden.

“Yes. I believe we may have found the cause of the timeline change. Whatever is on the planet, it possesses a sliver of cosmic energy. That is not a good sign,” said Evaran. “V, jump us one hundred years forward. Let us see the impact of this.”

“Acknowledged.”

Everything outside the Torvatta faded away and then eased back into view.

“Analysis. The date is now November 2, 5805.”

Emily studied the screen. The activity she had seen in orbit just a hundred years ago was now gone. “Whoa … it looks like whatever that satellite is involved in had a big change.”

“It would appear so,” said Evaran. He glanced at Dr. Snowden and then Emily. “Shall we investigate?”

Emily laughed. “Let’s do this!”



RELATED SHORT STORY

Note:This story takes place between The Arrival, the Evaran Chronicles prequel, and The Awakening, book 1 of the Evaran Chronicles. This event is referred to in The Cosmic Parallel, book 8 of the Evaran Chronicles.

James Gavin was not crazy, or so he told himself. He had not planned to spend the last year in a mental health institute. Yet here he was. He looked around his meager room. Even the sunlight filtering in through the cracked blinds looked like it did not want to be there. Going back to bed was his immediate plan of action, but he knew he had to have breakfast or the aides would hassle him. With a sigh, he cleaned up and got dressed.

As he trudged to the cafeteria, he observed other patients wandering around. Some looked like they needed to be there; others’ issues were harder to identify. In his mind, there was nothing wrong with him. He just had a different view of the world than what was considered acceptable. As he turned the corner, an older, dark-skinned female employee rushed up to him.

“James! I was just coming to get you,” said the woman.

James furrowed his eyebrows as he studied her. The first thing that crossed his mind was that they wanted to talk to him about an incident from the previous week, when he had gotten into a fight. He did not start it, but he did end it. Being pushed to the floor and kicked in the stomach because the other patient said the walls told him to was grounds for self-defense. He sighed. “Morning, Janice.”

“Someone’s not happy this morning.”

He shrugged. “Am I in trouble?”

Janice tilted her head. “I don’t think so . . . but there is someone here to see you.”

His eyes lit up. “Is it . . . Karla?” He missed his wife, although she seemed to not remember who he was.

“No . . . You have a restraining order from her. Remember?”

He snorted. “How could I not. Who is it then?”

“I’ll be honest . . . I don’t know. Dr. Prost just said to go get you for a visitor.”

“Did you at least see what they looked like?”

Janice nodded. “Middle-aged white guy. Clean-cut and wearing a striped suit. Stiff hair. Handsome too.”

James exhaled from his nose. “Okay . . . lead on.”

Janice spun around and hustled down the hallway.

Something about whoever had come to visit him had Janice more worked up than he had ever seen her before. He caught the handsome part, but this seemed like something different. Almost fearful. He had to increase his pace just to keep up with her as she jostled past both staff and patients. Whoever this person was, a visitor was a nice change of pace from the boredom that had become a part of the fabric of his life.

When they got to Dr. Prost’s office, Janice knocked on the door. “James is here!”

“Come on in,” said Dr. Prost.

Janice pushed the door in and stepped back.

James peered into the room. He saw the man that Janice had described, and pleasantly plump Dr. Prost. The contrast between the visitor and Dr. Prost in terms of body type was striking. He glanced at Janice, who nodded and gestured into the room. With trepidation, he entered.

“Take a seat,” said Dr. Prost. He looked out the room. “Janice, this’ll be private.”

“Of course.” Janice closed the door.

James sat and eyed the visitor. Maybe he was a specialist or some official Dr. Prost was trying to appease.

The doctor cleared his throat as he gestured at the visitor. “James, this is Evaran. He wants to ask you a few questions.”

James glanced over at Evaran. “About?”

Evaran raised a finger. “I would like to discuss this somewhere private. Let us go outside.”

James glanced at Dr. Prost, who nodded. James shrugged. “All right.” The soft, yet somewhat distant voice of Evaran surprised him. There was a quiet confidence that seemed to exude from him. Dr. Prost allowing him outside with just Evaran also was unusual. James stood and gestured toward the door. “After you.”

Evaran nodded as he stood and headed to the door. He peered back at Dr. Prost. “He is in good hands.”

Dr. Prost nodded. “Sure.”

“And . . . thank you for your assistance,” said Evaran.

Dr. Prost licked his lips as a drop of sweat ran down his face. “Of course. Anytime.”

The exchange intrigued James. Something bothered Dr. Prost.

After exiting the building, they walked along a dirt path in the four-acre backyard of the institute.

Evaran clasped his hands behind his back. “So . . . how long have you been here?”

“One year,” said James.

“I see. May I ask how you ended up here?”

James eyed Evaran. “Look . . . everything’s on file. If you just wanted a report, you could have had Dr. Prost get you one.”

“I wanted to hear it from you.”

James snorted. “Is this another psych evaluation? Some new process?”

“It is not, I assure you.”

James sighed. “All right. For the thousandth time then. Everything I thought I knew changed about a year ago. I know what you’re thinking. This guy must be nuts. I’m not.”

“I believe you. Please continue.”

“I was at work one day and went to use the bathroom. While I was in the stall, there was a bright flash. It took me a moment to recover, and when I did and left the bathroom, that’s when everything changed.”

Evaran tilted his head. “Changed how?”

“Everything. The company I worked for no longer existed, it was something else. When I went to my desk, it wasn’t there. Went to my car, it wasn’t there. I was able to use someone’s cell phone to call my wife, and it was someone else. I ended up going to the police.”

“That must have been disorienting for you.”

James snorted. “To say the least. The police weren’t helpful. They said I had fake identification. When I asked them what was fake about it, they said everything. That’s when I learned that even the city, state, and country were different.”

“What was the city you knew called?”

“Blinsville,” said James.

Evaran tapped in the air in front of him. “And what was the state?”

“Jastucky.”

“Was the name of the country Solica?”

James stopped dead in his tracks as his eyes widened. He had been expecting Evaran to maybe snicker or chuckle, not verify what he knew to be true. He licked his lips. “Did you say . . . Solica?”

Evaran nodded as he faced James. “I did. Was your currency the mesollar?”

James’s heartbeat increased. “Yeah . . .”

“And do you have the exact date and time you went to the bathroom when all this occurred?”

“How could I forget,” said James. He gave Evaran the date. Maybe Evaran had already read the mental health institute’s file and this was a test of some sort. The one thing that did not line up was that he did not recall ever telling anyone about the currency.

Evaran pointed at a steel-framed bench off the trail and down a bit from where they were. “Let us head there.”

James knew the bench well. He usually sat on it and watched the crows. Sometimes he felt like the crows understood him. They were mean to everyone but him, and he had shared many of his thoughts with them. He knew that if Dr. Prost knew that, it would make things worse, but the crows made James feel like he had someone to talk to. He nodded and followed Evaran.

When they arrived at the bench, they sat.

James ran a hand through his hair. “So . . . what’s all this really about?”

Evaran nodded as he looked off into the distance. “I am going to guess that you eventually found your wife, and she did not know who you were.”

“Yeah.”

“And everyone else you knew had no idea who you were.”

James’s eyes misted as a torrent of memories from the last year flooded through his mind. “Yeah.”

“Good. I can help you then.”

James sighed. “No . . . no, you can’t. No one can, unless you can change everything back to what I know. Apparently, I’m the only one who’s changed. I swear I’m not crazy.”

Evaran raised a finger. “I do not believe you are. Do you believe in parallel timelines?”

James chuckled. “What? You mean like . . . an alternate reality or something? Or a parallel universe?”

Evaran nodded.

“I’ve never really given it much thought, to be honest. I’ve read about it in science fiction, but it’s just that, fiction. Although . . . I feel like I’m in an alternate reality. Maybe fell through mine and landed here. Not gonna tell Dr. Prost that, though. They’d think I was even crazier.”

“The crows found your ideas intriguing.”

James chuckled. “The crows? Are you being serious . . . ?”

“I am. They believe you, and said that you do not belong here.”

“Oh, and . . . they told you this?”

“That is correct. They talked to me when I was observing this place. They said you were different. I decided to check it out.”

James leaned to the side, a bit away from Evaran. “You know . . . you’re an awfully strange person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dr. Prost sweat in his office before. And now you’re talking about conversations with crows and parallel timelines.”

Evaran smiled. “I can see how that might appear. Nonetheless, I can help you.”

“How?”

“I can take you where you need to go, back to your timeline.”

James eyed Evaran for a moment. “Okay . . . look . . . I’m not crazy. I’ll say sure, you’ll tell Dr. Prost that I’m nuts, and things will get worse for me.”

“Not at all,” said Evaran. He pulled out a cylindrical hilt-sized object and offered it to James.

“What’s that?”

“Your way out of here.”

James took the device and flipped it around in his hands. It was like nothing he had ever seen before.

“Grip it with both hands, one on top of the other.”

James complied.

“Are you ready?” asked Evaran.

James sighed. “Sure. I guess.” He did not know what this exercise was about, but he figured he would humor it.

Evaran tapped in the air.

James yelped as blue lights arced around the device and climbed up his arm. A moment later, everything went black.

When he opened his eyes, his aching muscles let him know he was not dead. Something was different. He propped himself up off the ground and took a look around. He saw he was in a parking lot. The sight of his old company’s building made him catch his breath.

“Steady,” said Evaran as he helped James stand.

James took a deep breath. “What . . . what happened?”

“You are now in your proper timeline. I did not get you back into the bathroom, but this will do. I got your company’s address from the name you gave Dr. Prost.”

James gulped. “Is this for real?”

Two men walked across the parking lot toward the building.

One of the men waved at James.

James knew it was Brady, one of his coworkers. His heart raced as he glanced at Evaran.

Evaran gestured forward. “Go.”

James rushed across the parking lot, and when he got to Brady, he said, “Do you know me?”

“Uhh . . . yeah. You all right?”

“What’s my name?”

“James Gavin. What’s going—”

James grabbed Brady and hugged him as tears flowed down his cheeks. He trembled as Brady reluctantly patted him on the back.

“Whoa, man. What’s wrong?” asked Brady.

James stepped away and sniffled. “I’m back.”

“I think they’ll understand if you’re running a little late.”

James laughed. He turned around and focused on Evaran.

Evaran slowly nodded and then pivoted around and took a few steps, vanishing into thin air.

James turned his head and pointed to where Evaran had been. “Did you see that?”

Brady looked up from his phone. “See . . . what, exactly?”

James shook his head. He narrowed his eyes as he looked around. It was clear to him now that Evaran was not human. He could not be. It did not matter to James. He was just happy to be back, and to have a second chance. The last year would always be a part of him, but he wondered if it was all in his head. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pen that had the name of the mental health institute on it. This was real. With a deep breath, he spun around to face Brady. “I . . . I need to use your cell phone.”

Brady handed him his phone. “Sure, man. You sure you’re okay?”

James’s eyes filled with tears. He did not know why Evaran had helped, or why the crows had decided to help. What mattered in the end was that someone had. He would call his wife and get everything sorted out. There were a lot of pieces to pick up. He glanced at Brady. “I think . . . everything’s going to be all right.” With a final look at where Evaran had been, he joined Brady as they walked toward the office.