The Heart of the Cluster
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© 2012

 

This erotic three-part gay-themed science fiction novel takes you to the Hyades Star Cluster. Many light years from Earth, starships sent the genetic code of Mankind there to create a human foothold in a different part of the galaxy.

 

Separated into ethnic groups, each planet's mono-culture inhabitants had an opportunity to do things differently than their forebears. The idea was to prevent the bloodshed that was an unfortunate hallmark of the past. But the Seed Ships didn't account for differing sexual and gender expressions or orientations.

 

This story is essentially three short stories that may appear to be unrelated, but are indeed intertwined.

 

Act 1:  The Azenki Trap 

Kostos and Grigo are pioneers on Nyhavn.  This planet is at the edge of the star cluster and has only recently been colonized.  Kostos and Grigo, both 18, have been knocked out, captured by aliens and taken into custody.  These aliens are utterly unlike humans and have no idea what they’ve discovered.  On the other hand, Kostos and Grigo discover something about each other that makes them thankful to have been kidnapped together. 

 

Nyhavn is where everyone else wants to go as you read on.


Act 2:  The Menu

Tak-Shaan Kolo is a very wealthy man.  His family is wealthy and everyone he knows is wealthy.  But his life is a mess.  Forced to accept a position in life that’s not him, Tak-Shann has reached a turning point.  A serendipitous trip to a men’s-only resort turns his entire life upside down and teaches him the most valuable lesson he’s ever learned in his entire 30 years.


Act 3:  The Companion

There are few people who can completely transform the use of technology on an entire planet.  Steve Jobs comes to mind for Earth.  And on Dahkarren, it was Rylo Se Na, an engineer like no other.  In his thirties, he single-handedly altered his society’s economic base by transforming people’s relationship with robots.  He didn’t get his start on his home planet though.  He started his endeavor on a dead moon.  And there he left his masterpiece.  When Dr. Kel Hu Nor, a historian, accidentally discovers that masterpiece, the long dead engineer transforms Kel’s entire life, too.
   

 

 

Samples From Each Story

 

The Azenki Trap

 

Eighteen-year old Kostos Patton awoke and realized right away that he was outside and naked. The last thing he recalled before awakening was that he was having lunch in his living quarters. Lying next to him was nineteen-year old Grigo Lanorka, naked as well. They were side-by-side on a huge fur. Kostos immediately identified the fuzzy pelt. It was from a norrid, the long-legged shaggy creatures that roamed the forest and ate quickly sprouting treetops. Where were they? What had happened to their clothing? Why was Grigo here with him? Grigo had a high profile since he was the colony leader’s eldest son. Kostos was a first year bio-engineer in the new village. Their station in the settlement’s hierarchy was totally different and Kostos was painfully aware of it. What was worse was that Grigo had been the object of a dozen or more of Kostos’s sexual fantasies.
            They and their respective parents had been part of a migration, a mere four months ago, from Nyhavn’s capital of Heletros, to a new settlement they had founded called Tahyosei. Pioneers all, the two boys had headed west with the group. Officials in Heletros had finally opened up new parts of the planet to settlement, now that most of the wild animal and climatic dangers had been cataloged. They were the first to make the journey. Eventually, as the human population grew, the planet would open up more and more to new settlers. Their region was selected because of its favorable climate, arable land and plenty of water.
            He had met Grigo in a galley tent just before their departure ceremony the day before they left the capital. Four hundred sixty-eight people had ultimately made the journey, but they had travelled in groups of approximately thirty. Unfortunately, the boys were not in the same group.
            Kostos had had his eye on Grigo because he held his two-meter height with a certain pride and swagger that Kostos found enticing. His bright green eyes were magnetic and seemed to pierce the air. Yet, Kostos usually noticed a boy’s hands right away. There was something about them he found mesmerizing. Perhaps it was because they could offer so much pleasure. He had decided that Grigo’s were perfect in their balance between bone and flesh. As Grigo had eaten his dinner, Kostos couldn’t help but study them.
            The first month in Tahyosei was spent building housing, laying out farming areas (with most of the work done by bots, of course), and thus had them extremely busy most of the time. As attracted as he was to handsome Grigo, Kostos quickly discovered that they were in different leagues. Unobtainable Grigo was the perfect specimen of a man-boy, which compounded the complication of Kostos having come out to himself only a week before their journey. Kostos had finally mustered up enough courage to tell his parents about his sexual orientation only two weeks ago.
            The Seed Ships that planted them here had done so only forty-three years ago, barely long enough for their culture to find its voice. Kostos and Grigo were of the second generation. The Seed Ships’ libraries contained a complete history of Old Earth. Growing up on Nyhavn, everyone had learned that various groups on Old Earth throughout its history had been socially ostracized. Everyone on Nyhavn was of the same racial and ethnic stock to avoid making that same mistake. Standing out in too many ways could easily be a source of distraction and ridicule, which would inevitably lead to political conflict and certain strife. Their new settlement hadn’t completely stratified yet, so he was totally unsure where he might stand if he came out publicly. Kostos was one of only three bio-engineers in the settlement. He had an excellent reputation so far and wanted to keep it that way.
            Now this.
            This bizarre situation was a serious threat to his careful public concealment. The object of his most intense sexual fantasies was with him. Naked. His presence was a Siren song for Kostos’s penis. It threatened Kostos with a fierce hard-on, despite the fear of the unknown that currently gripped him.
            The boys were in a ravine or narrow canyon. Above them what looked like long thin strands of translucent purple taffy crisscrossed randomly five meters overhead. The material descended and went vertical preventing their exit from both ends of the ravine. The material left openings smaller than shoulder width. Filtered sunlight streamed through the gaps. The structure had created an enclosure spanning twenty-five meters long and four wide. What was it? How did it get here? Where were they?
            At his feet, the ground beyond the thick fur was granite, interspersed with boulders, rocks, pebble and sand. Some meters away, a trickle of water ran down a crevice. A narrow stream ran down the slight slope toward the wider end of the ravine.
         Grigo looked passed out. At least he was breathing softly, so Kostos knew he was alive. Kostos figured he must have passed out, too. But how? In those precious few seconds after coming to, and after evaluating his situation, he took a deep breath. He took those next seconds to stare as if he’d never get this chance again.
         Grigo was only a few centimeters taller than Kostos’s two meters. His dark hair contrasted with Kostos’s sandy brown hair. Grigo’s was considerably longer though, wearing it nearly to his shoulders. Kostos’s was neatly cut, exposing his ears. Kostos drank in the sight of well-defined pecs and tiny nipples, along with nicely shaped biceps. But the sight of Grigo’s genitals was a dream come true. Grigo’s neatly trimmed pubic hair, hairless sizable balls and a nice-sized flaccid penis called to him.
         This was simply not happening.
         Before Kostos could descend into a full-on panic at their situation, Grigo stirred. He groaned and opened his eyes, blinked a few times, then bolted upright. He looked to his left and saw the now terrified look on Kostos’s face. He quickly realized he was naked and covered his crotch with both hands. “What the fuck? Where are we?”
            Kostos shook his head. “I woke up just seconds ago.”
            “Where are our cloths?” Grigo asked, noting that Kostos was quite naked.
            “I-I don’t know.”
            Still holding his hand over his crotch, Grigo stood. He felt woozy at first and stumbled before steadying himself. Taking a deep breath, he realized he was okay now. He looked up and also surveyed their enclosure. “Well, I say we look for them,” Grigo said, referring to their clothing.
            Kostos stood, daring not to remove his hand from over his crotch or he would reveal that he was half-hard. It was nearly impossible to hide it though since his balls were a handful. Take deep breaths, Kostos. Just look for your clothes. Ignore that he’s naked with you.
            The boys gingerly picked their way across the bare granite ground. Kostos wore boots or shoes most of the time. The soles of his feet weren’t toughened and there was considerable rocky debris to avoid. They approached the wider end of the narrow area where they were trapped.
            Now that they were close to it, they could tell why the lattice was translucent. It was crystalline. Kostos touched the edge of one of the narrow beams with his fingertip, observing how it was nearly razor thin.
            Grigo observed it himself. There was an easy way to determine what they were being confronted with. He reached down and retrieved a sizable rock. “Stand back,” he said as he held the rock up high.
            Kostos sucked in a startled breath. He took in the minute details of Grigo’s body, cataloging everything. To Kostos Grigo had forgotten he had genitals. He had had to bend way over to pick up the rock, exposing a very hairy anus. Now he stood as a mortal god, his lean body taut from the rock held above his head, his triceps tight, his hairy armpits in perfect view, his tight ball sac supporting a magnificent penis.
            Grigo let the rock fly. It hit the thin crystalline beam, doing no damage, and nearly hit his left shin as it bounced back.
            “Definitely nanocrystal,” Kostos said as he nodded his head.

 


The Menu

 

I’m Tak-Shaan Kolo, the younger of Atu-Jorma Kolo’s two sons. My father is the well-known owner of Kolo Minerals in Eluria on Arvukus. Eluria is the name of the continent and the province where I was born. Arvukus is my home planet. Kolo Minerals is the largest mining conglomerate on the planet, with headquarters in the capital named Rown. That’s where I work.


I was the vice-president of production and inventory control. I oversaw ore storage facilities on the continent and monitored shipments of high quality ore to manufacturing companies on our planet as well as to most off-world customers. I had lots of control, lots of responsibility, and lots of influence in my industry. At twenty-nine, I was at the top of my game, but I was becoming increasingly desperate.
Our culture is unusually conservative. At least, those who rule our government and most of my family are. My culture comes from what was called Nordic stock, whatever that means, on Old Earth. What I do know is that we’re mostly light-skinned, hearty people. I would say that I’m an average Arvukan in that I’ve got fair skin, fair hair, blue eyes, a medium build and little body fat. I stand just over two meters tall. I don’t have bulging muscles, but I’m filled out where it counts. I particularly like the fact that genetics endowed me with nice upper arms and shoulders like my father.


I’ve known I was different in a culture that doesn’t like differences since I was fourteen years old. Most of Arvukan society, of which my family has significant influence, has fixed ideas about who’s good and who’s not. So, I couldn’t tell anyone in my family about my true nature and expect to stay in good graces with them. So, for a very long time I hid that true nature from myself and from others in a desperate attempt to fit in.


For the last one hundred sixty-three years, since Arvukus was settled, the planet of my birth has been no different than the majority of the worlds in the Cluster. Each planet is inhabited by a monoculture. For some worlds, the lack of cultural or racial diversity allowed them to thrive, like it did on my home world. For some, it didn’t. I had heard that the reason the Seed Ships used that algorithm was because of the constant fighting humanity did with each other on Old Earth. Differences, although important for a society to progress, were apparently a problem for most of them on that planet.


Now that you know about my home planet, you should know we have a sister world, named Sedara. Our planets orbit each other in the middle of our sun’s habitable zone. We’re each other’s moon four point eight light seconds apart, and growing further apart by two centimeters a year. Although in proximity of each other, the planets couldn’t be more different. We have a vast planetary ocean with two large continents. We were very lucky to have struck it rich with heavy metal ores on the Elurian continent right away; then later on Toinen, our other continent. Sedara on the other hand is a stormy world, with a few large unconnected seas; deep ice caps on each pole; a spotty magnetic field, which results in bizarre storms, an unpredictable climate; and a smothering taiga forest that stretches across one of the limited temperate zones. Their wealth is in their incredibly fertile soils. So, they became an agrarian society, living in an egalitarian web of peaceful farming communities. They’re focused on tradition and family, and are steeped in a lore born from a farming culture. They grow more than enough food for themselves despite their odd climatic zones.


The Seed Ships settled Arvukus and Sedara at the same time. Their people were from a land called The Arab Shield on Old Earth. I don’t know what that was or where it was located on that planet, but that’s the culture Sedara ended up with. For over a hundred years we barely spoke to each other, despite having interplanetary communications. Despite that, we’re the only planet in this system that developed interstellar transportation. The Seed Ships had provided the plans for such systems for every culture in the Cluster.


The Sedarans were perfectly happy being left alone. But fifty-three years ago their isolation came to an end. Did anyone think that the populations of two worlds that orbited so close together would stay away from each other? Those who programmed the Seed Ships failed to take into account.
After contact was made an agreement for exchange was worked out with various population groups. Those agreements worked for decades. Their agricultural centers supplied us with some foods we couldn’t or didn’t grow on Arvukus, and we supplied processed ores and some semi-finished goods for their light industry. But that cordial relationship came to an end several years ago when one of our orbiting probes discovered minerals there that we wanted. More specifically, what my company Kolo Minerals wanted and was going to get.


It finally came down to a paramilitary occupation by a company euphemistically called Black River Management. They had been hired by my father several years ago to lead a campaign to quell an act of civil disobedience there. That well-coordinated uprising had led to hundreds of thousands of soltakas worth of destroyed equipment, tens of thousands of soltakas of lost profits, and skewed schedules. I’ll explain that in much more detail later on.


It’s ironic that I had never been there, yet it was visible in our sky. On the other hand, I had been to Nephora twice, which is our largest trading partner, a planet a little over two light years away in an entirely different star system. I had been focused on overseeing a profit center, and had been fighting my own demons. I didn’t have time to concern myself with a neighboring planet’s human rights.


For my thirtieth birthday, I was going to end my self-imposed sexual frustration. Let me back up a moment to explain what that means. At nineteen, I accidentally discovered a seedy part of the capital, where I grew up. There, I had had clandestine rendezvous with men in alleyways, in underground clubs and in ridiculously dirty rooms. In every one of those encounters I was mostly clothed and standing up. I had six furtive encounters with men before I was almost caught by a local vice sweep. I vowed never to go again. I carefully squashed my feelings, ignored my true calling, and generally focused my attention on other things. But two years ago, when I attended a conference out east, near one of the mining towns, I found myself in the awkward position of being hit on by one of the managers there. The conference was over and I was at the bar having a few drinks with some other executives when they decided to leave for different entertainment. By that time I had had three drinks, one over my limit. I wasn’t in any condition to accompany them, yet still had enough presence of mind to make sure I didn’t. I found a booth and was drinking a soda before returning to my hotel room, when he sat down opposite me. He immediately hit on me. I have no idea how he knew I would respond the way I did, but it was as if I knew the secret language he was speaking to me. I brought him back to my hotel room where he had his way with me. I can’t believe I let him fuck me. Frankly, I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t been drinking I would have said yes anyway.
I woke up the next morning with him gone, my ass sore as hell and a note saying I was just what he needed. Dried come had matted the hair on my chest, so I apparently hadn’t even cleaned myself up. I remember how empty I felt because I didn’t remember having an orgasm. I only remember that his penis was a rare treasure.


I had the same girlfriend since I was twenty-six. We’re the same age and her name’s Janika. She was trim, feminine, yet assertive and aggressive in bed. It was easy for me to respond to her because I was used to her and felt comfortable in her presence. Yet, our relationship felt hollow to me. Whatever imprint men get about them simply hadn’t worked on me. So, I was pretending. Once we turned twenty-nine, she started pestering me to visit the clinic and have our stem cells genned. Our union would be very good for her. She would become a very wealthy woman once we signed a marriage contract. But I had no intention of fathering children with her. She became more and more exasperated with me, but only to her girlfriends, never to my face. How did I know that? Women can be persuaded to talk about things they’d rather keep secret if you ask them the right way.


I was scheduled to give a presentation in three months at a mining conference in the Toinen capital called Yarros.


The week after that conference hit my calendar, I found something that sent me on a treasure hunt of a lifetime. I had found an ad for a resort in Toinen’s far west that was, shall we say, exotic. I came across it while looking for smut on our planetary data network. As I scrolled through the ad, I noticed a certain way the wording was written. A certain way the phrases were obfuscated. I recognized it as that secret language I was mysteriously able to understand. So, in the course of my investigation I discovered that the noteworthy nature of the resort was that it was exclusively for men. Men who enjoyed the company of other men. For the cost of a suite, one could choose a young man for a five-day. Really? Right here on my home world? How did I not know it existed until now?


It was a good thing I was sitting down when I finally discovered that little nugget of information, because I nearly passed out. I had found my dream resort. It was clear across Toinen and only accessible via rail. Yes, rail. I couldn’t find any commercial air transport on their west coast. The west was still sparsely populated and had limited access to the rest of the planet. After all, that end of the continent marked the end of the world for all intents and purposes. It’s over twelve thousand kilometers from there to the east coast of our continent across a very rough planetary ocean. So, what I decided to do was to give the presentation, then head west to the resort.


I found out how to contact them. There was actually a secret password one had to use before they would say they had vacancy. Well, I had that damn password by that time. I had to make up a persona because I certainly wasn’t going to tell them my real name. I’m not exactly famous, but I’m well-known in my industry.


I’m not an expert on our social media systems, but I knew how to use them. It took three five-days to create a new persona and have it established on PlanetNet. I became Mr. Tel-Jonn Koznetzken, one of the nouveau riche in Rown. I had no connection whatsoever with Kolo Minerals.
Yarros is the continental capital on their east coast. It’s a major seaport, conference center, and the terminal for Kolo Minerals mining interests there. Unlike the heavy metal ores we extract on our continent, Toinen’s value is in its extensive lithium and beryllium deposits, and other light-element compounds. Toinen is mostly desert, and thus, the main towns are along the coast. That exotic locale? The place was called Palal Seaside Resort.


One evening over dinner a couple of weeks before I was set to leave, I told Janika that after the conference I planned to take a five-day and visit some of the mining facilities. I told her it would be rather boring and dusty. The continent is sparsely populated and there aren’t a lot of things for tourists to do. She decided she didn’t want to take the time off to traipse around with me.  Perfect.  I had planted the correct seed and it had taken.

 

 

The Companion

 

“Dr. Hu Nor,” I heard the captain say through my earpiece. We had been in orbit around Ketiga for six hours. I had been on the observation deck of the ship for the last half hour, by myself again of course, watching the planet turn beneath us. It was breathtaking, and the planet looked serene. But Ketiga was nothing of the sort at the surface. The atmosphere below those brilliant white clouds was a toxic brew of mostly nitrogen, sulfur, carbon dioxide, and just a whiff of oxygen. It certainly didn’t resemble our home world of Dahkerran.
“Yes, sir,” I responded.


“Your landing briefing is in half an hour in the main conference room,” he responded.
“I’ll be there,” I told him. I released my grip from the railing overlooking the huge transparent wall and pressed the icon that opaqued it. The room’s interior lights rose as the brilliance of the planet’s cloud cover faded.
 
I was aware that, for the crew, I was an unwelcomed guest aboard Stairway to Heaven, this seriously misnamed starship. Stairway to Heaven was a salvage ship. It’s been seventy-four years since anyone’s come back to this planet. Despite being surrounded by roughnecks who’re only interested in becoming rich by hauling junk back to Dahkerran, I feel that I’m the luckiest person alive. I’m lucky because I’m on the first ship to return to Ketiga after it was abandoned so long ago.


I’m a professor of History at Nalpa University in the capital back on our planet. I’m on this ship because of Dr. Rylo Se Na, our famous bot engineer. I’m writing a new biography about him. A so-called definitive one was written shortly after his death over fifty years ago. But it’s time for another one. Why? Because much was left out of the original biography. You see, Dr. Rylo Se Na never married. Much of his personal life is a mystery. I’ve always suspected he was secretly gay. Secretly gay, like I am. Gay people are not discussed in our society. It’s not polite to do so. That aspect of his life was entirely left out in the original biography. We’re ignored, as if ignoring that segment of our population will make us disappear. If any of us becomes too visible, laws are in place to make sure we become invisible again. That cultural flaw existed in his day and it still exists today.


Despite that, Rylo’s contribution to our culture was significant. He singlehandedly transformed our relationship with bots. Rylo had a vision about technology that’s never been duplicated in any other industry. No one has transformed our relationship with anything like he had. He was truly one of a kind. Before him, bots just did discrete labor for us like they had done for half a century before he was born. That labor was mostly in industrial settings. But because of him and his genius, they became our constant companions, doing personal manual labor, connecting us to information resources, running errands and a lot of other drudgework.


Owning a personal bot is woven into our culture. Not everyone has a bot, but they’re everywhere. To make it humane that we have what amounts to slaves, Rylo made sure that none would look like human beings. Not a one. In fact, the very idea of making a bot that looks human is anathema to our thinking. That makes bots personal while keeping them apart from us, and just out of arm’s reach so we won’t become emotionally bonded with them.


I’ve read every paper Rylo authored or co-authored, and watched every vid he was ever in or made. Rylo was one of our planet’s most brilliant engineers. But I think there’s even more data from him and about him on Ketiga. Data that never made it back to Dahkerran. After all, he did some of his most brilliant work on Ketiga, inventing all sorts of new specialized bots needed for the smooth running of automated systems needed on a planet in the midst of being terraformed. I suspect there’s something down there that he left behind, more clues to that well-known, yet enigmatic man. As a historian and an author of two books on technology in our culture, I’m hoping there’s more information hidden away in the various computer systems and databases he used. I’m hoping to discover data, vids or even personal writings he may have left behind after everyone’s hasty departure so long ago. That’s why I’m on a salvage ship with twenty-eight people, employees of All Worlds Salvage.


I can tell you the exact day that I became obsessed with Dr. Rylo Se Na. It was my eighteenth birthday. That very same day, I won the Rylo Se Na Excellence in Education Award, due to having graduated from high school summa cum laude. The ceremony was a huge deal, and I was ecstatic that I had won such a prize. It funded my college education. Later, it allowed me to do my master’s thesis at minimal cost. So, you see, Rylo wasn’t just a brilliant bot engineer. He didn’t just revolutionize our relationship with them. He did much more than that. He had been a humanitarian and had set up several foundations to award educational pursuits. I was one of those lucky recipients seventeen years ago.


Dahkerran, where we’re from, is a temperate world midway from the center of the Cluster in the Gamma sector. Dr. Se Na was just thirty years old when he was hired as the chief robotics engineer at Interstellar Terraforming LLC, a company hired to work on the transformation of Ketiga.


Ketiga is a moon of the terrestrial giant planet called Apassara.  Apassara orbits Suvenak a mere one point two light years from our planet. Suvenak is a bright jewel in our nighttime sky. Apassara is fortunate to be in the center of Suvenak’s habitable zone. Sadly, Apassara’s gravity, being just over three times normal, prevents anyone from landing there. Ketiga, on the other hand, is the right size. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the right atmosphere for human habitation, which is why the Seed Ships didn’t come here. Enter Interstellar Terraforming, a company that was developed to nudge Ketiga to become more habitable. It was to have taken a couple of hundred years, but the result would have been a world we could colonize. Our world has limited continental landmasses and we needed to expand. Interstellar Terraforming took on the burden. Our entire society knew it would be our children’s children’s children that would inherit that world, but it seemed worth it at the time.


Terraforming is a long-term project. Atmogen stations had to be built all over the planet. The construction of those stations would have taken over a century if not for Rylo. He had presented his plan to build thousands of bots to do most of the labor, reducing their construction to about twenty-five years. His genius was in how to mass-produce armies of specialized ones, using only materials found on Ketiga. He had developed a networked processor bank that could be operated from a central location to control the bots, too.


A minimum number of humans commanded the bot army and supplied them with the inputs they needed. In a hostile environment, they were the perfect workers. Based on what I learned about the Ketiga Failure, as it’s been called for decades now, it was there that Rylo trained dozens of managers to interact with those networked bots. That was another of Rylo’s geniuses. He was able to explain things in a way that nearly anyone could understand. He had even developed the training materials needed to make sure those managers could carry out such a feat across an area the size of a planet. He was a genius, an outstanding inventor and teacher.


But a mere three years into the endeavor a massive tectonic shift at the largest station, resulted in hundreds of casualties. A geothermal shaft had been sunk into the crust to supply it with power. During the quake, the station was destroyed, and magma poured up from the shaft. It didn’t cease flowing for months. By that time, hundreds of billions of gigatons of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide had poured into the atmosphere, pushing back the time horizon for being able to inhabit the planet. The magma kept pouring out until it had covered fourteen hundred square kilometers and was over a kilometer thick. It was a planetary scale disaster. Needless to say, Interstellar Terraforming was finished. No one on Dahkerran was willing to fund it anymore. Everyone was sent back home.


After Rylo’s return, the moon was written off as a gargantuan loss and an utter folly. Rylo then formed his bot company. So much had been riding on the terraforming project, that a large amount of our economy had been tied to its success. It was in the wake of the Ketiga disaster that he nearly single-handedly propped up our economy after those investments failed.


But I think there’s much more to Rylo’s illustrious legacy. My intuition tells me that I’ll find something else there. Something that will point to the real Rylo. I’m hoping my book will put a new shine on the man. Did I mention that I’m obsessed by everything about him?

 

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© 2016 | Mark Ian Kendrick | Palm Springs, CA