Layers of Light is the fourth 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.
This page contains a short description of the book Layers of Light followed by six of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel.
Teddie likes her country music and her old pick-up truck and she’s not sure how she let her best friend talk her into spending a semester abroad in Darjeeling India. Once she arrives, her innocence quickly collides with an underworld in which young women are bartered and sold. As she fights to understand a depravity that she never dreamed existed, Teddie finds that her own mind develops a unique ability for locating her friends and that an ancient group is willing to train her to save others by using her innate skills for out of body experiences. It will require trust in ideas she barely believes, and more courage than has ever been expected of her. When it becomes clear that the alternative may be her friends’ deaths and the unchecked growth of an evil crime lord’s empire, Teddie accepts the challenge and shows those guilty of unspeakable crimes just how powerful a young woman can be.
At night, Teddie took refuge from the strangeness. The collage of colors, faces, and smells that permeated her world by day subsided into the comforting greys of darkness. She lay in her bed and thought of how much she missed boots. Western boots, and pickup trucks. Country music and dead armadillos in the road. Now wasn’t that stupid? Pine trees and Tex-Mex food and churches everywhere even though her family didn’t belong to one. It was her world, and she missed its familiarity.
In fairness, this place wasn’t all bad. She could understand people better each day. The classes were challenging, but she was a good student, and doing well in class earned respect here, not disdain. Teddie knew she was surrounded by sixteen-year-olds from India, Nepal and Bhutan, who came from wealthier and better-educated families. They kept mostly to themselves, but no clique was rude to her. It made Teddie sad that a girl from India would not have fared as well at her own high school outside of Houston.
One of the biggest adjustments was not having a cell phone. Teddie was surprised to discover texting was a big part of her life. However, the school was adamant; no students were allowed to have cell phones. At least she had her laptop, and today she had gotten to video chat with her parents before class. The sight of the two of them sitting on the geranium-filled porch in the Texas evening had left her yearning for surroundings she was used to.
That night, she starting sleepwalking.
She didn’t remember getting out of bed, or walking down the hall or going out the door of the school. Didn’t they keep it locked at night? She thought they must. Maybe she had climbed out the window? Could she do that in her sleep?
Yet there she was, walking down the street in front of the school in the middle of the night. Lights were mostly off and half a moon was high in the sky. A group of older boys stood huddled together a couple of blocks away, smoking cigarettes. If they noticed Teddie they ignored her.
She looked around. The mountains in the distance glistened with snow and she took the time to enjoy the view without people jostling into her. The boys down the street all wore jackets, and Teddie wondered if she’d thought to grab a coat. She glanced towards her arm, and the next thing she knew she was back in her bed, with no memory of how she got there.
Well, sleep-walking was supposed to be an odd phenomenon. It had probably been set off by homesickness, to be honest. Good thing her subconscious found ways to navigate her in and out of the school. This time. Hopefully it wasn’t going to become a habit.
Lhatu came to India often, and he had become adept at absorbing the noise and chaos without allowing it to warp his inner peace. He tried instead to gain energy from the surroundings, energy to do the bidding of those he served.
His large size made travel harder on him, but he recognized it also made him an unusually capable operative on behalf of his group’s needs. At thirty-one years old, he was tall and physically strong by the standards of any race. He could see over the crowds to find others, and thanks to clearly visible muscles he was seldom a target of the pickpockets or scammers who preyed on those who traveled. The simple robes he sometimes wore bought him respect from those of any faith.
Today he arrived in Bagdogra, and had been told to take the train to Darjeeling. He liked Darjeeling; it had a certain spirit about it. There was a girl attending a school there, a young woman whom he’d been asked to observe. Do not make contact. Just bring back information.
Very well. Lhatu was used to odd assignments. He did not question the wisdom of those who directed his life.
So when the three American girls came to her office begging for help in finding their friend, Amy knew this had all the markings of a case that would get her in trouble with the agency. The involvement of three American students only made it more probable this would reach the press and the ears of Amy’s superiors back home. A savvy woman would give these girls the brush off.
“What did you say her name was?” Amy asked.
“Usha.” It was the tall confident girl with the long blond hair girl who spoke first. “She’s really smart and so happy to be in school, and she has these beautiful big trusting eyes and you’ve got to help us find her.”
The girl with the East-Asian ancestry jumped in. “The school’s been busy with the aftermath of the earthquake all week. Last night they got a hold of her mother who says she has no idea where her daughter’s gone and so the school now says she’s a runaway who couldn’t handle the advanced classes and they’re washing their hands of it!”
The pretty one with the head full of black curls picked up the narrative. “We know better. There’s no way that’s true. Usha was doing great in her classes. She has to be in real trouble.”
“Okay,” Amy said. “Start at the beginning and tell me everything you know. No holding back.”
The three girls starting talking all at once. Amy smiled at their vehemence, their innocence and their concern for their friend. There was an uncle from another city, and huge debts to be paid. The girl wasn’t even from Darjeeling so there was no one local to help her. Amy looked at the photo one of the girls had on her laptop. She sat for a minute in silence as she studied Usha’s face.
A young hopeful human being, full of potential. Just as all young people were. Was that reason enough to get involved? Of course it was.
“So why not kill her?’ Vasily persisted as they finished their lunch. “You don’t want her. She’s useless.” He was talking about the American girl of course, in which Pavel had no interest and who now sat bound, gagged and heavily sedated in a walk-in closet in a vacant rental home in Manali.
“Because if she is dead, we know that she is useless,” Pavel said. “If she’s alive, it remains to be seen. Get her out of here, far away from this town. In fact, get her to Southeast Asia where she looks like the other girls and won’t stand out. We have a business in Bangkok, send her there. I do not—repeat, do not—want any trouble to come from this one. Make sure that you don’t lose track of her, just in case she turns out to be any kind of bargaining chip down the road. Now go. I need some peace and quiet to drink my coffee and think about what to do next.”
“Okay,” Vasily sighed. He had been looking forward to killing the girl.
Pavel, who knew him too well, admonished him as he started to leave. “I don’t want you or any of your goons laying a hand on her either. I’ve told you before. Your guys do not know the meaning of the word restraint.”
“Plenty of others gonna lay hands on her where she’s going,” Vasily muttered.
“Yeah well most of them don’t like to do so many things that leave marks,” his boss glared back. “I mean it, Vasily. Get her to Bangkok where she can earn her keep and be out of our way. If we can use her, we’ll bring her back.”
“Yes boss.” Vasily thought sadly that power did strange things to men. There had been a time not that long ago when Pavel not only would have okayed the kill, he would happily have joined his men in the fun.
The next time Teddie went sleepwalking, it occurred to her that she wasn’t really walking. She was floating. And she was pretty sure that she was headed towards the train station. It was the middle of the night and this was no time to catch a train. What was she doing going there? Wasn’t this the same way she had gone to check on her brother Zane, when she was only four years old?
She was moving fast now, almost like she was in a car, and certainly like she knew exactly where she was headed. How did she know where she was going?
She thought that maybe she should go back to her bed when it occurred to her that if she actually got to the station, she could take a train all the way to the airport. And if she could just get to Bagdogra where the airport was, then she could get on an airplane and fly far, far away to a place where eleven-year-old children didn’t have to be scared when their mother got a cold, and girls didn’t have to plead to get admitted to classes for men only, and high school juniors from Texas didn’t have to cough up their entire allowance just to keep a roommate from getting taken out of school by evil uncles.
Was the uncle really evil? He must be.
And then she thought that she felt the uncle grab her arm and she jumped. But it was just Usha grabbing her arm, and she was in bed.
“You were making noises in your sleep,” Usha said worriedly. “You were having a bad dream?”
“I didn’t think I was dreaming at all,” Teddie muttered as she turned over, and then she felt confused. So she wasn’t going places in her sleep? She was just having dreams about going? Why?
I want to go to Usha and see if she’s unharmed.
It was a simple command and Teddie had no idea what to expect. She began to move, not by force, but by what felt like her own choice, down the hall and out the door and down the street. Teddie had never been comfortable with heights, so she was relieved that while it felt like she was flying, she was flying in the manner she’d have chosen. She was skimming really, maybe ten feet above the ground, close enough that if she fell she’d be okay. She made her path down roads rather than over buildings, but she was picking up speed as she went. It seemed like she was guiding herself, that a part of her knew Usha’s location and was leading the rest of her to where she wished to go.
She was headed north towards the mountains, speeding now over the major road out of Darjeeling into the Himalayas. Weren’t those some of the renowned tea fields off to the left? Teddie looked closer, and the next thing she knew she was standing in the middle of the tea field, examining the beautiful green tea leaves up close. Great. She was stuck in a field and had no idea what to do next. She felt herself about to snap back.
No. If my body is safe then I want to go to Usha and see if she is unharmed.
With that, she was back on the road and moving again. This time she concentrated on not becoming distracted, and she picked up speed as she went. After a while, she slowed down as she entered a large city. Gangtok? She made her way through streets to a far edge of the town, where she found herself standing next to an old pick-up truck parked outside a roadside hotel. Usha was sleeping in the back of the truck. Oh dear. Her friend was homeless, and had stopped to sleep in the soft hay lining the back of a stranger’s vehicle.