Welcome to SPFBO 6 and my brand new feature, Party with the Stars! Have you ever wondered what might happen if you could throw a party of your choice and not only could you invite your MC(s) but other literary figures as well? In this feature, I ask you to imagine exactly that scenario and some more. Meet Grace Bridges and let’s get the party started!
aka The Author
Grace Bridges is a geyser hunter, cat herder, editor and translator, and Kiwi. The current president of writers’ organisation SpecFicNZ, she is often found poking around geothermal sites or under a pile of rescued kittens. She is a multiple nominee and two-time winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand, an editor and mentor for Young NZ Writers, and has edited dozens of published books. Her own novels include Irish cyberpunk, Classics in Space, and the Earthcore urban fantasy series based in New Zealand.
aka The MC(s)
Anira is 18 and has the gift of supernatural awareness, when it’s triggered by running or by water from the spring in Rotorua.
Tiger is 20, gifted with amazing distance vision.
Harley is a senior who can run on water.
Bethany, almost retired, can see the invisible dragons.
Manaia is 21 and has a gift of fire along with her 1-year-old son.
Graeme is 25, can command the birds, and mostly drives the van.
Ngaire is 15 and connects via telepathy to her younger brother.
Aroha is seven, and she’s the key to the story in Aftershocks. There are others too!
The 13th Doctor, who knows the Earthcore gang from a future they haven’t yet experienced.
Captain Janeway will have a good heart-to-heart with various characters about leadership and keeping the team together.
Miles Vorkosigan will be all excited about the effects of the magical spring water, and will pester everyone with questions until he figures out exactly how it works.
The Main Attraction
When you’ve got geothermal hot pools on hand, everyone’s going to spend the evening alternating between a hot soak and the very cold crater lake that is adjacent. Of course there’s also delicious food cooked in the boiling water that bubbles up from underground. The Earthcore stories all happen in real places, so everyone’s in New Zealand for this event. Welcome!
Tangaroa Whakamautai by Maisey Rika
While this sounds like a relaxing song, you have to watch the video to see the power of it, filmed on a live volcano. Be sure to click “CC” to get the English translation. It is about a Taniwha, the god of the sea in particular.
Aotearoa by Stan Walker
Aotearoa is the original name for the islands of New Zealand. You can also find an English version of this song at https://youtu.be/Oqr8a0iDyNs
Yellow by Jodie Whittaker
Sung by Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor herself, this video also shows many of the friendships that make Doctor Who such an enduring influence in my life. My books include lots of team-building and found family, so this speaks to what makes me tick as a storyteller.
The Inner Light
The Inner Light theme from one of the greatest Star Trek episodes ever, here paired with a retrospective look at the first forty years of the show. Trek is my other great fandom love, and regularly inspires me – watch for space shenanigans later in my stories!
Slice of Heave by Dave Dobbyn
Let’s finish with this Dave Dobbyn classic for a NZ-flavoured dance-off! Everyone who grew up here in the 80s and 90s will know this one, and we’ll all sing along.
aka Who Let the MC(s) Loose?
Some would eat a lot, some would hide, some would grumble about the crowds, and some would try to teach the guests about local mythology and customs.
Readers are welcome to grab a free copy of Earthcore 1 at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/b9tq68xwup – book 2 is also on Amazon – book 3 is the one I’ve entered in SPFBO, but each one also stands alone. Books 4, 5, and 6 are already written and getting ready to publish!
Grace Bridges submitted Aftershocks to SPFBO. You can connect with the author here:
To read about more parties and to follow our process in SPFBO 6, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!
Excerpt from Aftershocks by Grace Bridges
Lake Rotorua glowed red in the last light of day as Anira stepped closer to the boiling stream. It was the source of her supercharged brainpower and stamina. Would the otherworldly creature that governed this spring grant the gift she sought tonight?
She breathed in the stream’s vapours, as she had the instant she’d arrived. This time, instead of drinking from it or trailing her hand, unharmed, in the boiling water, she prepared to immerse herself in it—at least as far as she could, since it was barely a foot deep in the middle.
A strange domain for an otherworldly creature to govern? No, not really. Not now. This is my normal.
Anira glanced back. A step behind her, Bethany followed, hands shaking, eyes wide and staring at the searing hot water. Arrayed behind the two of them stood the other Earthcore members—Tiger, Harley hanging back a little, Manaia with her son and her cousins, the tall and serious Graeme, and even young Hana who had helped them earlier in the year. She turned to a silent figure who stood slightly apart from the group: Wāhi, the elder from Whakarewarewa who had become their closest ally in ensuring traditions were properly kept. The steam swirled around him, lifting the feathers of his ceremonial cloak. He nodded at her to continue.
All took care with their footing in the hot swamp. Little sulphurous springs bubbled up here and there around the narrow path that hugged the stream, leaving bright orange deposits on nearby tree branches. Pale grey mud burbled in holes in the ground. A haze of steam enwrapped the group, even partially occluding the nearby low sandhill that marked the swamp’s separation from the beach at the lake’s edge.
Bethany swallowed hard, her gaze still fixed on the stream. “I can’t believe I agreed to this.”
“We’ll make sure you don’t get hurt.” Anira rested a hand on the older woman’s shoulder. It trembled under her fingers.
“Do not make contact before it is the right time,” intoned the elder, and Anira withdrew her touch.
Tiger nodded. “You’ll feel the gift come upon you first, then you’ll know it’s safe to touch the water.” He scratched his head, and a tuft of blond hair stood up. “At least, we hope so.”
“O—okay.” Bethany’s gaze flicked up. “The two taniwha are here. Your eel and my eagle.”
“What are they doing?” said Anira.
“Just hovering. Watching us.”
Anira shivered and glanced into the darkening sky. Nothing. Of course. That was the reason for this solemn gathering: perhaps soon she would be able to see the spirit beings without needing physical contact with Bethany, the bearer of taniwha sight. “They’re not angry, are they?”
“Not at all. Curious, yes. Maybe even excited. But not angry.”
“It is enough,” said Wāhi. “Anira, please enter full contact with your giver of gifts.”
She hauled off her skivvy and stood in her singlet and shorts, the nascent night breeze pricking the skin on her arms into goosebumps. A smile quirked her lips. In a moment she’d be anything but cold. She edged her toes into the shallows and flinched as the water soaked into her skin and its effect rushed through her body.
Anira’s brain awoke to endless possibilities, its dormant places coming to life. She fixed her eyes on the pale, not-burning skin of her feet as she shuffled deeper into the current. Its grip tightened on her ankles and her throat constricted at the memory of how it—or rather its taniwha, the flying eel guardian—had held her face underwater the last time she’d tried this. Then, reason kicked in again, and she remembered: she could breathe this water. Perhaps she had better do so again, in the interest of the fullest possible contact.
“The eel’s tail is wrapping around your legs,” whispered Bethany.
Anira looked down at herself and imagined the giant coils holding her. She shuddered. Something pressed against her ankle. Was that the eel’s coil tightening? She drew a slow breath. With so many sensations pouring over her, it could be anything.
She knelt in the middle of the stream, her back to her companions, her face towards the lake. Without thought, she leaned on her hands, straightened her legs, and lowered herself face-down.
Just before she submerged, Bethany’s voice reached her ears. “The eel’s wings are around your head.”
Splash. The flowing stream pulled at Anira’s hair, spreading it out on the surface. She wriggled, but found she could not move at all. Her heart boomed in her head while the hot water pricked at her cheeks.
Against all logic, she forced her mouth open. Water swirled in. She swallowed once and then again. Her brain sought oxygen; her lungs refused to breathe in. Out of practice. How long had it been—months?
She wasn’t going to drown, so why not just breathe? She set her focus instead on what the water did to her brain. There would be no sleeping for a few days with a dose like this. Her thoughts strayed to the additional intellect she gained at times such as these. Was it really just her own brain in its full potential, or the eel talking to her, or something else altogether?
Familiar thoughts relaxed her and she took a breath. Pure, sweet air flowed into her lungs. Were the eel’s ethereal wings filtering it? How? Even for a supernaturally enhanced brain, some things defied understanding.
She breathed for a while, luxuriating in the warmth, The unseen taniwha pushed her gently against the sandy stream bed so that the water flowed over her back and touched every part of her.
Then, abruptly, it released her and she surfaced, gasping in spite of herself. She pulled her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ears, and turned towards the bank where Bethany still stood.
Stars glimmered behind the gathered figures, the sky now almost completely black. Their other companions were huddled figures along the edge of the stream, waiting. Anira shook her head—she always lost track of time when in the stream.
Wāhi’s voice rang out over the bubbling water. “Anira and Bethany, please join hands.”
Anira raised her arms towards her friend, steamy droplets trailing. Bethany clasped her hands with her own, right to right and left to left in a crossover as they had been instructed. Anira caught a glimpse of smooth eel skin around her waist, but refused to look at it yet. After all, contact with Bethany would enable her to see that on any normal day.
“Repeat after me,” said Wāhi, raising his hands high. “He koha tō maku, he koha taku mau.”
Anira looked into Bethany’s eyes and both spoke the words.
“He koha tō maku, he koha taku mau.” My gift is your gift, your gift is my gift.
“Ehara tēnei koha mā te kino, engari, ko tēnā mā te pai.” This shall not be for harm. But only for good.
The words went on. We wish to share our given abilities. May the guardians approve and grant our request.
Bethany’s eyes grew wide and wild, staring at Anira. “My brain! What is this?”
Anira recoiled at the sudden sensation of looking at herself in a mirror, though she was only looking at herself through Bethany’s eyes. “Whoa,” she said, watching her own lips move, but it was herself who spoke. Knowledge overwhelmed her, of being with Bethany, of sharing the same brain-space, of connecting both sets of thoughts and intellect. Unlike Anira’s usual experience, this enhancement resulted from Bethany’s participation. Anira’s other assistance still hovered in the background.
“Do you feel it?” Tiger called out from somewhere far away.
Bethany nodded slowly. “I do. It’s crazy! No wonder Anira realised something more was going on.”
Tiger cleared his throat. “Then it’s probably safe for you to get in the water. Try just a finger, if you’re not sure.”
“At this point, I’m actually pretty sure.” Bethany kept hold of Anira’s hands and joined her in the stream. The water sloshed around her feet and she sucked in a quick breath.
“Okay?” said Anira.
Bethany gave her a tiny sharp nod and broke eye contact to look around. “Oh my.”
Anira shifted her focus to what was going on around them. The great eel moved at speed, flying circles around her and Bethany as if swimming, wrapping both of them in its tail and body. Anira blinked. She could still see through its form to where the others waited, but its substance was physical to her now as it had never been before. It pressed against her legs, back, and shoulders.
When it had covered both women almost completely, it brought its huge head level with theirs, facing inward to the space between them. It opened its mouth as if letting out a powerful cry—inaudible to them. Anira tried to flinch back, but one of the wings had wrapped around her head and neck. The other wing held Bethany in the same way.
The eel eyeballed them both and spoke, not with its mouth, but brain to brain. “A taniwha cannot be tamed, but I shall do what I want.”
In a flash, the cool loops of its not-quite-there body became warm. Bethany squeaked. Anira clenched her teeth as the heat grew beyond pleasant. It burns. Just when she thought she couldn’t handle any more, the pain ceased. The taniwha loosed its hold, flying into the night sky to hover above them.
Anira and Bethany slumped, then lost grip of each other and fell on their rears in the stream. Bethany struggled upright, leaning on her arms, then lifted one hand to look at it: just as white as ever. A pained smile crossed her face. “The stream does me no harm.”
Slashes of heat throbbed across Anira’s torso and legs. She groaned. “But the eel might have.” She dragged herself to her feet and stepped out of the water onto the firm-packed path of pumice grit. Bethany splashed behind her, but Anira’s eyes locked onto Tiger’s wide-eyed, frowning face.
“Wait a moment,” he said, fumbling in a pocket. He pulled out his phone and turned on its powerful light. Blinking, Anira looked to the side where Bethany now stood. Murmurs broke out among the assembled watchers.
“What is it?” asked Bethany.
Bethany’s arms and legs, what she could see of them, were painted in angry burns in a wide spiral pattern where the taniwha had held her. Anira glanced at herself and found the same patterns; not only the visible places, but the same heat blazed across her back and shoulders, and…her head? She clutched a place behind her ear and yelped as her fingers encountered a sensitive stripe. A careful probe revealed a scalded portion of scalp that wrapped around towards the back of her head. She lowered her hand and found a clump of hair came away with it.
The eel burned me! Anira plucked at her clothing. It was still in one piece—the heat had not affected it at all, but only her skin.
“This is the mark of the taniwha,” said Wāhi. “Perhaps it is his way of saying there is a cost to force our will on him.”
“He did say he would do only what he wanted,” said Bethany, her breath coming in short gasps. “I guess you guys didn’t hear that part.”
“I did,” said Anira. Was the eel a male, then?
The glint of a wing drew her attention upwards. The eel danced above them, whirling and drifting its pattern towards the south. Far away, a light emerged from the treetops and remained there; if Anira squinted, she could just make out the mighty wings and talons of Bethany’s taniwha, the eagle.
To read about more parties and to follow our process in SPFBO 6, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!