Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 2 – Dust to Dust

Elizabeth slid into her tunic, gritting her teeth against the twinge of discomfort as she slid it over her left shoulder. The heat from the shower had helped somewhat, aided no doubt by the analgesic that Hope had injected her with.

I won’t be swinging a racquet with that arm any time soon, she considered sourly.

Wincing in anticipation of another stab of pain, Elizabeth fastened the waistband of her uniform. Relieved when she felt only the slightest twinge from the strained ligaments and muscles, she released a slow breath. She still could not decide which hurt more: the physical pain from her injury, or the embarrassment of being seen tripping over her opponent.

It had happened during the second match of her racquetball game with Ensign Manuel de Marco. He was good, better than she had expected, but not very experienced. Although he had kept her moving on the court, Elizabeth had held back slightly, trying to keep the score close. Manuel had fired in a particularly adept shot. Elizabeth raced over to volley it. Instead of moving toward the wall as she expected, though, Manuel had stepped back. She stumbled over his extended leg, sprawling and unable to stop her slide until she smacked hard against the wall.

And all because I was trying to impress him . . .

A certain amount of off-duty fraternization among the members of the crew was, while not encouraged, expected. Since she had been promoted to First Officer, though, she discovered that those boundaries were now far less flexible. Technically, none of the crew reported directly to her, but she was a member of the command staff now. So it was critical to her career that she maintain a certain level of professional detachment. There was something about Enrique de Marco, though, that kept bringing her thoughts of him back to him. Since he was not assigned to the bridge crew, she had given herself permission to see what might happen if they met while off-duty.

I found out all right, she sighed heavily. It must be a sign.

Sitting down on the edge of her bunk, she pulled on her left shoe, managing to do it with surprisingly little difficulty. She was startled by the tight knot of pain when she attempted the same action with her right shoe. It took her several clumsy attempts with her left hand, with some awkward twisting, but she finally managed to get her foot into it. She stood, wiggled her foot so that the shoe fit more comfortably, and then took a long, slow breath.

Light duty, huh? She looked in the mirror, checking the appearance of her uniform. At least I don’t have to wear a sling.

It was a small consolation. She knew the Captain would review Hope’s medical log at some point during the day and probably ask her what happened.

Assuming that she doesn’t know already . . .

One of the things that she had learned at the Academy, and the lesson had been reinforced during her postings on the both the Emerald Flight and the Washington, was that, like those ships, some information also traveled faster than light.

Particularly, she mused unhappily, the kind that you wished wouldn’t.

#

Rusty eyed the twin slipstream drive cores warily. Quiescent now, as they were traveling under normal thrust, he still could not shake the feeling that there was something off about them. Each one had been tested, calibrated, and re-tested—and not a one had revealed any significant issues.

Seen that before, he mused glumly. But put them all together and . . . KABOOM!

He had heard about it happening, but never on any ship that he had ever been on. The most serious problem he could find on his ship, in fact, was a blemish on the aft coolant flow casing where someone had dropped a tool on it, probably weeks ago. Out of sheer irritation, Rusty had ordered a detail to repair and polish it out.

He studied the engineering status displayed on his desktop monitor, and then the diagnostic reports contained on the tablet his hand. Only an immense effort of will kept him from hurling them both across his office. That was fortunate, he realized, as Aruna appeared in the hatchway.

“Chief?” Her soft, clipped tones sounded hesitant.

Rusty looked up from the tablet, trying to decide whether or not to snarl at her. He wanted to be alone, to puzzle this out without interruption.

Then you should have locked the door . . .

He opted to behave civilly.

She doesn’t deserve it. She’s just trying to do her job.

“What is it?”

“The Bridge has asked if we can send a maintenance crew to the galley. There’s some kind of leak from one of the refrigeration units.”

Rusty looked away from her for a moment. He really had no good reason to refuse. All his engineering teams were doing now was wearing out parts by replacing them when there was nothing wrong with them.

“Yeah,” Rusty finally answered. “Go ahead.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And Aruna?”

The young Indian ensign paused in the doorway. Rusty saw tension tighten her posture. Seeing it made him realize just how wound up he was.

“Take the rest of the day off.”

Aruna turned, puzzlement evident on her mocha-tinted features. “Sir?”

“You heard me,” Rusty replied. “Do it,” he said, trying to sound gruff. “Before I change my mind. The waste ducts on Deck Two still need to be cleaned.”

“Yes, sir.” A faint smile then formed on her dark lips. “Thank you, sir.”

Rusty grunted, turning his attention back to the status display. Once he was certain that Aruna was no longer there, he allowed himself to smile.

I do have a reputation to maintain, after all.

#

The distance from the bridge to Devereux’s quarters was short, but it gave her enough time to consider her growing restlessness. She had felt it even before Hawkes had interrupted her workout, attributing it to the current monotony of their mission. The unexpected sensor readings had done nothing to fan those feelings, so she assumed they were unrelated. Yet, there was something . . .

Entering her quarters, she palmed the lights up to a brighter daylight level. Activating the “Do Not Disturb” indicator, she began to strip out of her workout clothes. Pulling her shirt off over her head, she caught a whiff of her dried perspiration. Other than for Hawkes and Pyrafox, no one else on the bridge had been close enough to smell her.

It’s not that bad . . . 

She pulled and naked now, studied her body’s profile in the long mirror.

The soft edges she had acquired during her leave of absence were nearly gone. Her legs and hips had regained nearly all of their previous muscle tone. She did not have them back in the same shape as they had been when she been a Lieutenant, but she was close to doing so. Although she had tried to maintain a rigorous exercise regimen during the last weeks of her father’s life, it had been nearly impossible at a time when even sleep had become a precious commodity.

She studied the curve of her breasts for a moment, grateful for the ship’s low gravity. During her personal leave on Earth, she had noticed that they had begun to sag slightly. It was, she knew, as much an unfortunate side effect of being planet-side as it was a reminder of her brief pregnancy. The hollow feelings of loss no longer came immediately upon her at that memory. What she did not expect was the remembered sensation that came unbidden to her next—that of Scott’s touch on her body.

He is gone now, she reminded herself, closing her eyes against the memories. Long since dead and gone.

No matter how many times she had practiced that litany since she had returned to her own present—his future—a part of her refused to believe it. They had touched, talked, and made love. For her, it had happened only months ago, not more than a century past. With some effort, she shrugged away the visions, turned on the shower, and stepped inside. The instantly heated spray cleansed her body, but did little to ease her mind.

#

Twenty-four minutes later, Hawkes heard the main hatch open and looked up from his station. The Captain entered, carrying a mug in one hand, just as he had predicted. Her other hand, though, did not contain the protein bar he had expected. Instead, it held some kind of pastry. Hawkes recognized it as one of the scones from a batch that Ensign Evelyn Jaccard had baked that morning. Apparently, the Captain had opted to sample one.

“Anything new on the sensors?” Devereux asked, taking a small bite from the scone as she waited for an answer.

“We’re still out of the optimal sensor range, Captain,” Lieutenant Gho reported from the main Science station. “It still looks like it could be an asteroid cluster,” she went on, “or maybe a comet, or maybe even some other kind of debris field.” Gho consulted the displays on the station before continuing. “There’s nothing to suggest that there’s anything the size of a planet or small moon out there.”

That, Hawkes considered, would have been intriguing.

Planets and moons were typically not found outside of established solar systems. None of the previous surveys had reported any of the usual signs of a planetary system in the region. Their own sensors now appeared to confirm that as well. Hawkes knew that was no guarantee that one was not present. In his experience, the universe made it a point to remind those who explored it that they did not understand everything about it how it worked.

Devereux stared at the trio of main bridge displays, chewing another bite of pastry thoughtfully.

“Still,” Devereux mused aloud, “it’s odd for it be out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Hawkes found that he had to agree.

“And there’s nothing at all unusual about this region?”

Gho shook her head, her sleek shoulder-length hair casting dark waves across her face. “Nothing, Captain,” she answered. “At least nothing our sensors can detect.” She waved her hand toward the Science station, indicating that the Captain could check the readings for herself.

“What about spatial displacement?” Hawkes asked.

The ensign tapped at the surface of the console and then glanced at Devereux before answering.

“There’s nothing, sir.” She tapped a control, replacing the image on the leftmost main bridge display. “If there’s been any FTL traffic through here, it happened a long time ago.”

The Captain’s posture relaxed slightly. Hawkes felt an undercurrent of relief as well. It seemed unlikely now that they were heading into some kind of ambush. There were no known ways to obscure the spatial displacement caused by the passage of a vessel using a faster-than-light drive, regardless of the technology being used.

Devereux turned toward Hawkes with a bemused expression.

“I hate to tell you this, Lieutenant,” she said, “but it looks like we’re going to get that spot in the history books after all—for discovering a new cloud of space dust.”

Hawkes met the Captain’s eyes for only a moment before turning away. Until he was convinced that the region was safe, he would not share in her amusement. With that thought in mind, he turned back to his station and studied the tactical readouts once more.

#

Hope stood, engrossed in her examination of the data from her last experiment, despite its clear failure to produce the results she had hoped for, It took a moment to recognize that the insistent buzzing sound was the intercom calling for her attention. She had also failed to notice the blinking alert signal. Feeling only a faint twinge of chagrin, she reached over and lightly tapped the intercom control.

“Infirmary.”

“Doc!” a voice shouted over the speaker. “Sanchez tumbled down a maintenance shaft and banged herself pretty bad.”

There was brief delay, filled with a background of unintelligible sounds.

“She’s says she’s all right,” the voice went, hesitating slightly as it added, “but there’s a lot of blood.”

Hope picked up a tablet and linked it to medical monitoring network. It her a moment to determine which “Sanchez” the voice might be referring to, but guessed that it was the one named “Ensign Sheryl Sanchez”, as she was the only one currently assigned to Engineering-related duties. Hope accessed the Sanchez’s medical record and checked the current readings from the Ensign’s embedded physiological monitor.

Pulse rate slightly elevated. Respiration elevated. Blood volume slightly reduced.

While definitely in some discomfort, the Ensign did not appear to be going into shock.

“Bring her,” Hope said.

There was a noticeable pause before the voice returned to the intercom.

“Are you sure?” If Hope interpreted the vocal intonations correctly, the individual sounded both uncertain and incredulous.

“Yes,” Hope said. “Bring her.”

Once again, there was a burst of undecipherable noises.

“Okay,” the voice said. “We’re on our way.” The intercom speaker hissed into silence.

Hope put the tablet down and began shutting down the equipment, placing those she might want to use again soon in standby mode. Picking up the tablet again, she rechecked the Ensign’s readings then headed for infirmary’s main section, letting the lights dim and the hatch close and lock behind her.

She just finished preparing Diagnostic Bed One when the main hatch opened. Through it came the Ensign, supported by a Human male wearing maintenance coveralls which hid his rank insignia. Hope was forced to identify him from his facial features, finally deciding that he was Ensign Josef Gogorsky, also a technician assigned to Engineering. Dark stains streaked the front of his coveralls. Hope was certain that an analysis would report it was Ensign Sanchez’s blood.

“Bring her,” Hope said, directing him toward the diagnostic bed.

Sanchez’s face twisted with pain as Gogorsky guided her toward the platform. Her teeth showed brightly as she gritted them together. The front of her tunic was slick was a coating of blood. She released a sharp moan as Gogorsky helped her into the bed.

“Remain still,” Hope instructed the Ensign, and tapped the control to begin the diagnostic scan.

Ensign Gogorsky watched with obvious concern, fidgeting as Sanchez continued to breathe rapidly while the scan was run.

“Doc!” Gogorsky called out sharply. “Can’t you see that she’s in pain?”

Hope quickly glanced at the Ensign’s face, but saw no significant change in it from before.

“Yes.”

Gogorsky’s eyes widened, the change in his posture adding to his expression of incredulity.

“Aren’t you going to give her something?”

Sanchez’s eyes also watched Hope as they waited for her to respond.

“Yes,” Hope replied.

Some of the tension on Sanchez’s face eased away.

“When scan is complete.”

Gogorsky’s hands and arms moved in a motion that she could not identify. Hope presumed it was a physical expression of his frustration. She ignored it. Based on established medical protocol, she would not administer an analgesic of any kind until the type and severity of the injury was determined. This might displease Gogorsky, and prolong Sanchez’s discomfort, but such caution was required.

The instruments connected to the diagnostic bed completed their evaluation and alerted Hope that the results of the scan was ready. She studied them quickly, confirming what she had surmised on her own: the Ensign had suffered a deep laceration along the anterior thorax, penetrating the pectoralis major. The ribs had prevented any damage to the organs beneath them. Had she suffered the same injury, Hope considered, it might have proven fatal. Her skeletal structure, at least where it supported and protected her torso, was much less durable.

She quickly considered the proper sequence of treatment, knowing that if she delayed much longer, the Ensign would likely slip into shock. Hope had found Humans to be surprisingly resilient, even after suffering severe—and even life-threatening—injuries. There was a wide variation among Human responses, she had learned, though.

Hope checked the Ensign’s medical record again and then selected a medium-strength analgesic. She loaded an injector and pressed it against the Ensign’s chest, just above the wound. The injector beeped once, emitting a barely audible hiss, and then Hope removed it. Sanchez watched her, still grinding her teeth.

“That’s it?” Gogorsky shouted. “That’s all you’re going to do for her?”

When Hope did not immediately respond, he went on, his voice rising, “You don’t care when we’re in pain, do you? We’re all just some sort of alien experiment to you!”

A moment later, Sanchez relaxed, releasing a long, slow breath. Glancing at Gogorsky, she flashed him a quick, relieved smile, and then settled back into the bed’s cushions. Hope turned away and began gathering equipment from one of the cabinets. She then paused and turned back the face Ensign Gogorsky. Her dark eyes fixed on him.

“You will depart.”

Gogorsky stared back at her, blinking in stunned surprise.

“What?”

Hope considered his question for a moment, wondering if perhaps her instruction to him was unclear. She searched her memory for another Human word that might more accurately convey her message.

“Leave.”

Gogorsky’s eyes widened. His mouth opened, but only sputtering noises came out before Sanchez interrupted him.

“Get out, Go-go,” she said, chuckling hoarsely. “I’ll be fine.”

Gogorsky’s mouth closed. His eyes shifted between Sanchez and Hope.

“Okay,” he finally said, his shoulders squaring in a gesture of mock defiance. “But I’ll be back to check on you later.”

He shot one final glare at Hope and then trudged out of the infirmary.

Sanchez breathed another soft chuckle, shaking her head slowly. “I think he’s got a bit of a crush on me,” she told Hope.

Hope paused for a moment, considering the truth of the Ensign’s statement. Gogorsky’s actions were consistent with some of the mating behaviors she had observed among Humans. Whether Ensign Sanchez desired Gogorsky as a mate, Hope was not yet certain.

“Yes.”

Sanchez stared at Hope, trying to read some meaning into the Aerian’s large dark eyes and flat expression. When she found none, she settled back once more and closed her eyes as Hope began to cut away her ruined tunic.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 1 – Look what we found

– 1 –

“I don’t need to stay here,” Elizabeth protested, rising from the diagnostic bed. “I can . . .”

She gasped as pain stabbed across her shoulder and down along her left arm. The analgesic that Hope had given her had not taken full effect yet. With deliberate care, Elizabeth lowered herself back onto the bed. The pain subsided, but she still winced with the slightest movement of that arm.

“You will remain here.”

Elizabeth glared back at Hope, finding the Aerian physician’s dark alien eyes as unreadable as ever.

“Right,” Elizabeth conceded unhappily, and settled herself back to wait.

Hope studied Elizabeth for a moment. She said nothing, and then turned away to examine the readings on the diagnostic displays. Elizabeth wondered if she was thinking about running some additional tests. Hope had reported that the injuries to her shoulder were more painful than serious. With immediate treatment, she should recover almost completely within the next few days. Hope also maintained that she had not suffered any damage to her head. Elizabeth wanted to believe her, but her throbbing headache claimed otherwise. 

Hope said nothing.

Turning back to Elizabeth, she said, “You are restricted to light duty.”

Elizabeth sagged against the thin cushions. “Does the Captain know?”

“I will inform her.”

“Do you have to?” Elizabeth sincerely hoped that had not come out with as much of a whine as it sounded.

Hope seemed puzzled by her question. “The Captain awaits my report.”

Elizabeth released a long, slow breath. “Great,” she murmured aloud. “Just . . . great.”

Hope turned back toward Elizabeth. “You will recover.”

“I know,” Elizabeth sighed. “But do you have to tell her how it happened?”

Still seeming perplexed by Elizabeth’s persistent questioning, Hope replied, “It is in the report.”

“All of it?”

Hope picked up and consulted the tablet. “Minor internal damage to the anterior—“

“Yeah, I got that part—” Elizabeth interrupted irritably.

“. . . improperly compensated change in equilibrium during competitive recreational athletic activity.”

Elizabeth was silent for a moment.

“That’s it?” she finally asked.

“Is information lacking?”

“What?” Elizabeth replied. She paused a moment with stunned surprise. he began to laugh out loud. “No! It’s fine the way it is.”

Elizabeth flexed her shoulder experimentally. It still hurt, but much less than it had a few minutes earlier. Enough time must have passed for the analgesic Hope had given her to take effect. Elizabeth dropped onto her feet from where she sat on the edge of the diagnostic bed and reached for her tunic.

“Thanks, Hope,” she said with renewed cheerfulness. “I’ll take it easy on it.”

Before the Aerian physician could respond, the Elizabeth strode toward the hatchway. She exited without looking back, certain that she left a confused Chief Medical Officer behind her.

#

“Aruna!”

Rusty shouted from the status panel just outside his office.

“Yes, Chief?”

The ensign appeared from behind the adjacent bulkhead as if summoned by genie’s lamp. That was fitting, Rusty decided, considering where the young woman had been raised on Earth. Her Indian heritage was clearly evident in her dark hair and clipped English accent.

“Check out the flow regulators on the primary core power conduits.”

The engineering technician frowned, creating lines of worry on her dark-skinned features. “Is there a problem with them?”

“I don’t know yet,” Rusty replied quickly. “Just check ‘em out. Run full diags.”

Aruna failed to completely hide her skepticism, but she made no effort to object. Instead, she responded with a snappy, “Yes, sir,” and grabbed an equipment case from a nearby rack.

Rusty watched her depart for only a moment before he turned once again to survey the interior of the vast main Engineering Deck, searching for any sign of something amiss with one of the systems. He saw nothing. All of the diagnostic tests that his teams had run had also shown nothing wrong.

He ran his large hand through his short, sandy-blonde hair. Something felt vaguely wrong here, but he could not put his finger on it. It was an odd sort of premonition, even for him. Unlike most of his foresight, this lacked the dark presence that usually clung to them like a malevolent excretion. He had tried to dismiss it several times, but it returned like a vague itch in his mind.

That’s exactly it, he decided. No matter how he tried to soothe it, he could never seem to hit exactly the right spot.

“Xi!” he called out.

The young crew member’s response was not nearly as prompt as Aruna’s had been, but was every bit as enthusiastic.

“Yes, sir?”

“Inspect the primary power junction at sixteen forward.”

“Um, sir?” Xi inquired hesitantly, his brown eyes blinking quickly.

“What is it?”

“We checked those conduits yesterday.”

Rusty stared at the oriental crewman. “So?”

Xi swallowed, hard.

“Check them again,” Rusty instructed him deliberately.

“Yes, sir,” Xi acquiesced, appearing properly abashed.

Rusty shook his head slowly as the technician departed. It felt like some kind of absurd scavenger hunt, but one where he was forced to find the hidden treasure by searching places at random and without any clues to aid him.

Luckily, he considered with some relief, no one has asked me why.

His gaze explored the upper deck of the Engineering section.

That’s a good thing, he decided. Because I don’t have an answer for them . . . yet.

#

“Captain, this is the bridge.”

Devereux’s eyes narrowed. She glared at the intercom as her Tactical Officer’s faintly accented voice came over its speaker.

This had better be good. If he’s just calling to report a drop in the drill response times, I’ll have him on sanitation maintenance for a month.

Without slowing her pace, she reached over and tapped the control on the bulkhead in front of her.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Captain,” Hawkes replied. “Our long-range gravitational sensors are picking up a series of small objects to starboard just at the range of our instruments.”

 Devereux frowned. Based on the summary of the area she had reviewed earlier, they should not be detecting anything more than random space dust in this region.

“Asteroids?”

“Impossible to confirm at this distance, Captain.”

“How long will we be in sensor range?”

There was a brief pause before Hawkes answered. Devereux guessed that he was checking with Pyrafox at the helm or the officer at the main Science station.

“For approximately twenty-two more minutes.”

Devereux considered this for a moment. Something currently just at the range of their sensors would mean a significant change in their planned course if they decided to investigate it.

It’s not as though anyone is expecting us to be anywhere any time soon. Still, she thought, we can make the time up easily, if we need to.

“Maintain current course and speed for now,” she ordered them. “I’m on my way.”

She took a cautious sniff of herself as she stopped the treadmill and jumped from its platform. While her personal aroma could hardly be mistaken for a field of flowers, she did not believe that anyone would find it to be overwhelmingly offensive, at least for a short period of time. In any case, she did not have enough time to shower and make it to the bridge before the anomaly slipped out of sensor range.

When she arrived on the bridge, she found Hawkes standing near the helm console. The left of the three main bridge displays showed a computer-enhanced image of the data being captured by the starboard long-range sensor array.

“Still no better guess?” she asked as she moved toward them.

She saw Pyrafox’s vulpine nose wrinkle as she approached. She ignored him even as her cheeks tingled with mild embarrassment. Offering him a silent apology, she slowed to a stop, leaving more distance between them than she had originally planned.

“No, Captain,” Hawkes reported. “But there is definitely mass of some kind out there.”

“Nothing on any the charts?”

“No, sir,” the helmsman responded. “But this area has only been very lightly explored.”

“What’s our ETA if we alter course?”

“We should be within nominal sensor range in eighty-six minutes at maximum cruising speed,” Hawkes reported. “Our readings should improve significantly at that point.”

Devereux frowned, trying to make sense out of the false-color images on the screen. Nothing about their patterns looked familiar. Her intuition, she noted, was not screaming for attention. It only niggled at her quietly, but then it often did that whenever it encountered anything new and unknown.

“Helm,” Devereux announced. “Change our course to intercept.”

“Aye, Captain,” Pyrafox responded.

His fingers danced over his console. Devereux heard the faint click-click of his claws as they moved across its surface.

“Course change completed, Captain.”

There was another audible sniff from the direction of the helm station. Devereux managed to suppress most of a smile.

“Lieutenant Hawkes,” she said, turning to the Tactical Officer. “You have the bridge—again. I’ll be back shortly.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Devereux turned and headed for the main hatchway that led off the bridge. She was not certain, but she thought she heard Pyrafox breathe a faint sigh of relief at her departure.

The next time we’re caught in a rainstorm on some distant planet, I’ll remember that, Lieutenant, Devereux thought with wry amusement. Once out in the corridor, she permitted herself a quiet chuckle as she headed back to her quarters.

#

Hawkes watched the Captain leave the bridge, and then tapped into the sensor feed from the main Science station. It was not that he doubted the competence of the young ensign who monitored it. He was, actually, intrigued by the unexpected sensor contact.

There was a reason that this area of space had only been lightly explored. Until now, nothing of any astronomical or strategic importance had ever been reported here. It was of so little interest that no side in the current conflict had expressed even the smallest claim to it.

That, of course, could change.

Even though their sensors detected no other vessels in the immediate area, Hawkes was certain that they were being monitored in some fashion. If their survey of the anomalous objects turned up anything interesting, this previously neglected region of space might become a focus of great attention.

Hawkes brought up the updated chart for this area of space on one of his tactical displays. What he saw did not surprise him: the region was essentially empty space for several light years in all directions. Without any large astronomical bodies present to create hazardous gravitational effects, incoming vessels could approach from any direction. It would a difficult region to defend and manage from a tactical standpoint.

Not impossible, Hawkes noted. Just . . . difficult.

One advantage of this situation was, should they need to retreat quickly—assuming they were given enough time to bring the slipstream drive cores properly online—they could do with relative ease. The lack of any significant gravitational fields meant any direction out from the fighting would be a good one. Their escape would be dependent on the positions of any enemy ships, rather than the locations of immovable celestial bodies.

Hawkes checked the chronometer display, comparing it against his internal time sense. Assuming that she followed her usual routine, the Captain would return to the bridge within the next ten minutes, having stopped at the galley along the way to obtain a low-fat cappuccino and processed protein bar. He had that long to update the readiness status of their weapons and defense systems.

It took him even less time than he had estimated. The changes in those systems were almost trivial since the report he had delivered at the beginning of his shift, almost not worth updating it for—almost. He filed the report in his duty log and then submitted it for the Captain’s review.

Checking the chronometer display on his station one more time, he performed a quick mental calculation. There was time for one more battle alert drill before the Captain returned.

There’s was no telling what they might find ahead.

#

After making a few final notations on the Lieutenant Commander’s medical report, Hope approved it and then filed it. Checking her schedule, she confirmed that she had no appointments scheduled for the next several hours. She placed the diagnostic equipment in standby mode, returned the tablet to its designated storage place, and headed toward her private laboratory.

She felt a faint, almost imperceptible tingle as the security access panel tested her palm. A moment later, the door unlocked with a faint click and Hope pushed it open. The lights eased into full brightness as she entered the small chamber. It was cooler here than in other parts of the infirmary, adjusted to a temperature more comfortable to Aerian physiology. Hope tapped the door and it swung slowly closed.

Only one of the testing chambers appeared to be active. It status display emitted a soft blue glow. Hope nodded slightly, relieved to see that the analysis had completed successfully. Many of her earlier attempts had proven too fragile to survive even the primary testing process. The cryptic symbols displayed on the small screen would have been meaningless to almost anyone else aboard this vessel—at least to those lacking her knowledge of genetics and the genomes with which she was working.

Her cautious optimism over the successful completion of the test was short lived. The samples had survived the testing process. They had not even mutated. They had, however, broken back down into simpler forms, hardly better than amoeba or algae. Their usefulness in a higher, intelligent form of life was limited at best.

Hope recorded the data to her archives and then sterilized the sample. It was of no further use to her—no more so than the hundreds that had preceded it. After making certain that the sample was neutralized and disposed of, she turned off the chamber. The glow emanating from its display panel faded into darkness.

I need older samples.

These latest samples that she had received from her home world, while centuries old, still contained too many of the genetic errors that were now threatening her people with extinction. No one had yet discovered original genetic sources from more than a few centuries ago. The degenerative process, it appeared, had begun further back even than that. What had caused it, no one seemed to know for certain.

The most widely held theory among the Aerian scientists was that it was the result of centuries upon centuries of small genetic errors creeping into the genome, increasing with each generation. Countless other theories abounded, ranging from the equally possible to the incredibly unlikely.

The Creators would know, she told herself. But the Creators are not here.

Even if the Creators did not know the answer, as unlikely as that seemed, they would, presumably, have the original genetic blueprints for each of the Aerian races. The flaw that faced them now affected all Aerians equally, although its effects differed with each race. Even with those differences, Hope knew, their extinction was inevitable.

Activating the holographic display, she studied the slowly rotating representation of the base Aerian genome. She had seen it uncounted times before. This time, as it had during all of those others, it revealed none of its secrets to her.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 14 & 15

Chapter 14

Hamish Montrose settled in behind his new, polished oak desk. The promotion ceremony went without any incident. He was surprised by the appearance of Donald McDonough, the executive secretary to the High Magus Harold Crist. “Congratulations on your promotion, Captain Montrose. Your rise in the ranks bodes well for your future”, McDonough informed him. Montrose smiled and replied, “I’m at the Council’s beck and call. I serve with pride.” McDonough nodded, then smiled slyly. “Indeed, your service has been impressive. The only blemish being The Yellowjakket. I’d heard that she’d beaten another sweep for her.”

Montrose gritted his teeth behind a bland smile. “She’s certainly a challenge. One could wonder that with the power of the Council, how she has managed to survive.” Montrose smiled internally as he saw McDonough’s eyes narrow. “It is a puzzle”, McDonough replied, with feigned nonchalance. “I hope that, for all our sakes, she’s brought to account soon.” With that McDonough proffered his bare hand. Montrose made certain his glove was on as they shook. He felt a tingle of an attempted spell in his fingers, and smiled knowingly at McDonough, who finished shaking and released. He turned away and disappeared into the crowd, as others moved in line to shake Montrose’s hand.

Once the crowd had thinned, he left the ceremonial to sit in his new office. He was now Captain of East London, with the power to move resources about as he saw fit. He reported directly to McDonough he found out after the man had left. The spell bothered him. It was so subtle, he couldn’t determine what it’s intent was. McDonough also hadn’t seemed to notice the failure of the spell to affect him. Perhaps he had noticed and was playing ignorance. Either way, he would bear watching. He would need to be very careful about his position.

The political waters ran very muddy and very deep at this level. Any mistake would be magnified. That worked both ways however. He knew that the Council was always in flux. With some luck, and some careful planning, a seat could be his. He reached for the mind-crystal. It was time to inform Root and Thorpe of their new duties. The game’s stakes had been increased, and he was determined to win.

Chapter 15

Yellowjakket had run hard through South London, looking for a potential target. The mages here with the authorities were the ones most likely to have any information on the raid, and where any prisoners were taken. She’d had no luck at all as she ran the streets. The notorious London Fog had come in off the river, blanketing the city in grey so thick that she had to slow down to avoid the ubiquitous double decked buses, autos, and cabs. It made movement like a huge game of blind man’s bluff. She turned hard left at a main street and finally spotted her target. The short distance of maybe forty meters visibility worked to her advantage. She was among them like a fox in a hen house before they realized she was there.

A quick look at the situation made her focus harder. This press-gang was in the middle of hauling away a teen-aged girl, who was hanging limp in her captor’s grasp. A man in work clothes lay sprawled on the step, and a woman was huddled against the door lintel, clutching a little girl to her as she tried to stab another mage who was trying to pull the child from her. She concentrated and hit the first man with an electrical cage, locking his voluntary muscles. The cage was about two meters in diameter. One mage who spun towards the speeding huntress, brushed the cage, and grunted as his body locked in place. Two out of the fight, six to go.

She fired an electrical blast at a mage who’d pulled a stone from his pocket. The stone glowed reddish and pulsed as he was hit in the chest. The blue-robed mage was lifted off his feet and propelled four meters away, striking a trash receptacle, and falling stunned to the sidewalk. One mage finished a quick spell, and a blue glow covered him. He drew a pistol, and fired a quick pair of shots at Yellowjakket, who skidded sideways, and leapt into the air. The bullets cut a path of disturbed air through the fog underneath her, to shatter some glass in the fog.

This is unit three-oh-five”, she heard and turned to look at the speaker. He’d ducked into the house, using the door as a partial shield. She fired again, and the surge of power hammered into the man struggling with the woman. He blew backwards into the door and frame. She missed the mage trying to contact help, but did startle him enough to stop his communication. Right now that was all she wanted.

Another mage began glowing blue. The first who’d set a defensive screen began intoning a quick spell she’d heard before. He was trying to hit her with a disruption spell. She didn’t fire, knowing the blue would stop electricity, so she sped at the man rolling her shoulder forward at the last moment before impact. She caught him flush in the stomach, knocking him backwards into the front of the townhome. A quick cage locked up another wizard mid-spell. Five down three to go. The three left were going to be difficult. One was the mage in the doorway, trying to call assistance. Another still had the girl, and had retreated down the street, holding the girl between him and Yellowjakket.

The third aimed the pistol and fired again. Yellowjakket dodged, and hear a meaty thwack behind her. She glanced back, and saw a blotch on the girl’s thigh. She’d been hit by the bullet. Something clicked off inside her. The next blast took the shooter in the chest, burning away the robes, and charring his skin as he was hurtled towards the townhome, snapping ribs on impact with the brick facade.

The next shot tore the door away from the frame, blowing it to flinders and blasting the mage with splinters. He screamed and clawed at his eyes as he blasted backwards, colliding with the inner wall headfirst, and dropping to the floor, bleeding from a dozen wounds. The last man dropped the bleeding girl and vanished in the fog. Yellowjakket sent a blast his direction, and a yellow-orange ball erupted from a unseen vehicle in the fog.

She sped over to the girl, and dropped to one knee to inspect the wound. To her untrained eye it looked bad. The area was swollen already at least half-again as much as her undamaged leg. “I’m taking her to a doctor, Where’s the closest hospital?” The woman stood silent, clutching her child and staring that the downed wizards. Yellowjakket looked at the man, who was trying to sit up. “Lewisham, I think. She’s North of here and a few streets left.” His voice was rough, unsteady. He sounded drunk, or maybe a concussion. “I need to know NOW! Exactly where it is! This girl’s been shot! I need you to think!” She urged him. The desperation in her voice lending it an urgency that helped the man focus.

Go west to the one-two-one then north, it’s about a kilometer, maybe two up. It’s on the left.” His eyes dropped to the unconscious girl then back to Yellowjakket as she shouldered the girl in a fireman’s carry. The fear in his eyes lent Yellowjakket a desperate strength and she lurched into motion, hitting a solid stride after a few shaky steps. She accelerated, turning right on one-twenty-one and speeding north.

The hospital loomed out of the fog, the lights creating a soft whitish glow in the fog. She turned and sped to the doors, her free hand yanking the door open and stepping through. “Emergency! I’ve a woman who’s been shot! I need assistance for her! The activity in the lobby stopped in shock as she shouted over the din. The distinct costume drew officers and medical staff. “Take her she’s been hit in the thigh. I’m not certain how bad”, she explained hurriedly. The police were moving between her and the door, trying to box her in.

All righ’ gel, settle, an’ we’ll take it easy on ye”, an older man in uniform said. He was about one point eight meters tall, and stocky. His paunch lapped out over his belt, which he adjusted as he spoke at her. His left hand had an automatic pistol, and his right was up to his microphone on the shoulder. He had it tight on the mic, so everything was being radioed to his precinct house. She didn’t hesitate. A quick glance showed three halls that would be possible exits. She chose the leftmost and accelerated past the surprised officer, and disappeared into the hall before the officers could react.

Yellowjakket sped through the halls, finally coming across signs the guided her to an exit at the back of the building. She slowed to push the door open, then was out in the open once more speeding northwest away from the hosptial. She darted back south after a moment, intent on finding the mages she’d fought. It took her about eight minutes for the full round trip back to the fight. One of the mages was trying to struggle up, confronted by an ugly sounding crowd of people. She datarted past the men and women to the mage’s side. “They’re in a foul mood. I think they dislike you”, she told him with a smirk. “I’ve a mind to help them out, unless you can tell me something I want to know.”

The mage peered at her. He’d been the first one hit, and held in the electric cage. “You come in quiet, and I’ll put in a good…hrrk!” He dropped to his knees as Yellowjakket kneed him in the groin. “Try anything at all and I leave you here. You’re screwed, mate. Think you can get a spell off before they decide to beat you to death? I don’t think so. They’re too close, and you’re too slow. You’re about to die here. Unless you give me something. There was a sewer squat hit just south of here a little while ago. What do you know about it? Where’d they take the people?” Her voice was hard, brittle. She meant every word.

Faerie Thoughts

This is a story from the writing challenge a friend and I are doing as a way of practicing our writing skills.

The picture is below the story, and here is

Faerie Thoughts

Taeliun Highfeather slowed her wings as she gently touched down next to Chuckling Creek. The buzzing clatter faded to a bubbling quiet from the waters as she sat on a small boulder. She concentrated, and both leaves and grass, bent and flowed to her, covering her with a rich emerald dress held by two thin straps across her shoulders. She shook out her short brown hair that she’d cut just that morning, and waited for Siki’ek to arrive.

The morning sun had barely started to shed its orange coat for yellow when the Iridescent Drake made his appearance in a whirl of colors and melodic chirps. Siki’ek noodled through the air to hover in front of Taeliun. She gazed at the miniature Drake hovering scant inches from her nose as a wistful pout formed about her lips. The Drake noticed the change and hovered higher concern darkening his scales.

“Whyfor are your wings not humming the air and your nose reveling in the scents of morning little Taeliun?” The young faery blew her bangs away from her forehead then brushed them to the side with her left hand.

“I’ve been told by Mother to wait here. So I’m waiting.”

“Wait for what?”

“I asked Mother the same question, and she said, ‘you will know when it happens.” She rested her elbow on a knee, and supported her chin as she sat. The other hand draped across her legs. “I do so wish I knew what I was waiting for.”

The diminutive Drake whirled in the air, his colors brightening as he gamboled above the ground. “Perhaps it is an adventure! All adventures wait to happen!”

Taeliun perked up, her eyes getting a sparkle of mischief. “I do so hope it is! I shall wait for it!”

For the next while she and her companion waited eagerly, and quietly. It wouldn’t do to startle the adventure into running off before it started. Birds flitted from tree to tree in colors of brown and green, and red and yellow, and orange and black. Each melodius whistle and chirp felt like a premonition of excitement to Taeliun as she cast her eyes everywhere looking for the adventure. Finally she slumped back down on the tree root once more and sighed.

“I suspect it is not an adventure. Adventures must be what one goes looking for, not waiting for.”

The Drake whirled again, flitting a quick circle about her head, and stopping to hove mischieviously in front of her once again. “Maybe adventure is something that needs to be looked for. I shall think more about it.” Siki’ek settled with a quick whoosh of wings next to Taeliun. “Perhaps it must be something else we are waiting for.”

“You do not have to wait with me, Siki’ek, Mother did not ask you to wait.”

The little Drake scoffed and huffed and fluttered his wings. “Whyfor should I not wait? You are waiting, I can wait also.” He gave a dragonly smile of iridescent good cheer. “If I do not wait, I will miss what you are waiting for. It is much more fun to wait with another than adventure alone.”

Taeliun smiled and Siki’ek bounded off the ground, bright colors dancing as he noodled about once more in the air in front of her. “I wonder what it is we are waiting for, Taeliun. Whatever it is, it is certainly taking its own time getting here.”

He settled on the ground and resumed his waiting along with Taeliun’s. Over the next while of aniticipation the observed deer of brown and white pick carefully through the trees; small brown rabbits scampered about, nibbling plants. They froze mometarily when the birds squawked loudly. The sped off in a blur of brown just before a fox in soft orange appeared just where the rabbits had been.

It sniffed the ground, casting back and forth slowly, then began trotting the direction the rabbits had sped off. Taeliun wished them well. A hungry fox was a fast fox, and rabbits were smart to be elsewhere when one searched for food. Siki’ek lept into the air, startling the fox, which vanished into the low growth in an instant. The two friends gazed at each other, smiling and Siki’ek once more dropped from the sky to sit next to Taeliun.

A leaf chose that moment to drop from the lofty branch it clung to. It’s fluttering descent captivated both companions as the light breeze flipped it, spun it in a circle then lifted it higher in the air before finally allowing it to tumble to the ground. The breeze played with it, and rolled the leaf onto its edge and then over onto its back, finally laying flat against the ground. The breeze tried to lift it once more but now the leaf clung stubbornly to the ground and refused to move.

The little Drake pounced on the leaf, grasping it by its stem and leapt into the air, flying near the tops of the trees and releasing the leaf to begin fluttering back down once more towards the waiting earth. “It’s fun to chase, but slower than dragonflies. Flying bugs are easier to catch than it. They don’t bounce around as much.” Siki’ek swooped at the leaf which the breeze flipped into a roll, causing the Drake to undershoot. He rowed at the air, wings buzzing determinedly for altitude, then he flattened out and dove, snapping up a butterfly before returning to attack the leaf.

“I wonder when waiting is going to be over. Today has been fun, but I do not want to stay here after dark.” She remained properly proper sitting on the root as the leaf fluttered once more to earth. Siki’ek remained in the air chasing moths and butterflies for a snack. Seeing the little Drake eat reminded Taeliun that she had not eaten anything since setting out to do as Mother asked.

“Perhaps,” said the tiny Drake thoughtfully, “Perhaps what was to happen, did happen?”

“What do you mean?”

The Drake settled on Taeliun’s knee for a moment, then flitted up to eye level.

“Perhaps it was to find what we could wait for?”

Taeliun frowned and gazed at the iridescent creature. “What do you mean?”

“Did your Mother tell you what to wait for?”

“No, she did not. She only said I’d know when it happened.”

“Maybe that was what happened.”

“I am very confused, Siki’ek. Why are you saying something happened? All we saw were bugs, and sky, and clouds, and rabbits, and birds, and foxes, and deer” she said in frustration.

“Because that was what happened.”

She glared at Siki’ek, and as she opened her mouth, it closed again just as quickly.

“We were supposed to see all that?”

“Yes, Taeliun! We saw what we were supposed to find! We saw it! We saw what happened!”

“But, if what was supposed to happen, did happen. Why was it not an adventure?” She pondered for a moment, then found herself getting caught up in the idea. “We saw the day happen, and it happened around us! No one else could see what we did!”

“Let’s go tell your Mother!” The Drake noodled in the air then darted straight for Taeliun’s home, darting and dodging between branches and leaves. Taeliun laughed and spread her wings. She buzzed after her friend and back toward home.

 

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 13

Yellowjakket sped into Whitechapel, and dropped her power. She’d near exhausted herself holding onto it for longer than she’d ever done before. She’d needed to rest and ready herself. She hurtled though the narrow side streets, turning and skipping through them like a mad hare. When she’d felt certain any pursuit had been shaken off, she dove into the Aldgate East Tube entrance. Yellowjakket dashed down the steps and launched herself off the landing, heading west. Following the tracks, she slowed to a stop and blasted a service door open, disappearing off the tracks, and out of the search area.

She kept up a steady run. The dark, narrow tunnels were filled with pipes and littered with debris, making high speed travel very hazardous. More than once she barely ducked a low-hanging valve or bend in a pipe. At her speed, a concussion would be a lucky result. She finally reached her destination after a slow fifteen minutes. She entered the back end of the hidden tunnel, and immediately the bitter smell of marijuana assaulted her. The thickness and intensity caused her to gag involuntarily.

She recovered, and crouched, listening. Up ahead a number of voices carried to her. She started to stalk forward slowly. Yellowjakket wanted to charge in, but it was prudent to get a look first. These might be metas, and if so, it would be potentially very dangerous to get in a fight. The last thing anyone needed was the interest of the Patrols. The smell made her light-headed. She shook her head to clear it, and fell on her side, partly dazed by the potency of the smoke. Her vision swam, rippling like a heat mirage above hot asphalt.

The talking stopped when she fell. Fortunately, no one came to check out the noise. She slowly pushed upright and retraced her steps, finally getting out of the tunnel into clean air. The slim woman took deep gulps of air trying to clear her head. She couldn’t figure out why the smoke in the tunnel was so potent. She’d been around marijuana and other drugs growing up. In the public schools it was impossible to get away from. Kids wanted the latest, and greatest drugs. Their way of rebelling against family authority, or something to sell and make some quick cash.

After ten minutes, her mind cleared. Balance and a sense of wholeness returned. She started down the tunnel, and towards the checkpoint. The guards would want to know about the tunnel and the people nearby. New smells met her as she moved closer. Smoke from burned plastic hung in the air, along with a charcoal smell. She started to trot, suddenly fearful. There was no noise. She moved past the first home. The curtains over the small man-made caves had been burned away. She didn’t smell any petrol or other liquid flammables. The regularity of the burn marks made her think mages. Those were the only ones who might trouble themselves to attack a place underground like this.

The checkpoint was devastated. The metal pipe that served as a watch point had been melted so thoroughly that the sewer tube had collapsed. Debris and loose dirt half-filled the main tunnel. She kept walking, occasionally seeing a location where someone she knew had stayed. Where there had been a small, bustling community, there was now only the sound of dripping water and the quiet squeal of vermin that scurried through the debris of the lives that were once here.

She held her sorrow tight inside. This was not the time to grieve. Right now was time to look, search the detritus for any possible clues about the attacker, and the fate of the people. She sifted slowly through the wreckage, hunting for anything that might tell her where and who to focus her efforts on. A spot of color drew her attention. She moved a piece of charred wood, revealing a strip of blue-grey cloth with a distinct bit of red piping on it. A mage’s robe. That confirmed who the attackers were. It also meant that the people here fought back rather than ran. A piece of robe doesn’t just fall off.

So, with the mages being the culprits, she needed to find a group to question. That could get problematic. The other problem was, why had this place been attacked? It was small, out of the way. Nothing was here that would draw a full-on raid to her knowledge. She needed more information, which went back to finding someone to ‘talk’ to.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 12

Montrose was up and shouting orders as soon as the call came in. Yellowjakket had been found, just south of the main search. She’d apparently felt the pressure as she’d accelerated and was now just east of Stratford, moving towards London at a measured three hundred and forty kilometers per hour. Her sped made any ambush futile currently, but he knew she’d have to slow down. The past reports said that Yellowjakket couldn’t maintain that high rate of speed for long. He contacted Root and Thorpe, and had Control’s apportation specialists ready a teleport for him and his new team. Once she slowed down, then they could chance a jump ahead of her expected travel. Perhaps what he needed was a few metas himself. Fight fire with fire.

He returned in his mind to Root’s words. She wasn’t a teleporter. So what had really happened in those earlier encounters? He had built and cast out any number of scenarios, as any magic would have been detected by the mages trying to capture her, and if it was another meta, they would have shown in the sense-scans the mages performed trying to locate her. The only way to avoid either was to teleport far enough away. Once the target got a kilometer or so away, the traces faded unless a majo working was done by Control’s tame wizards. But with their inability to pin her location, they might as well be throwing darts at a map to try and predict her location.

Hamish stepped to his private teleport circle. The essence he’d gotten from the boy was almost used. He’d need another recharge when he got to Control. He wanted to be fully ready when he confronted Yellowjakket again. The teleport took hold when he triggered the permanent spell, hurling him in an eyeblink to Control in downtown London. “Where is she?”, He demanded as he strode from the circle. Montrose nodded at Root, walking past as the small man mumbled a ‘good evening’. He stepped to the prefect in charge. “Who’s on the list?” The prefect lifted his arm, and mumbled a spell. A face and name appeared above his open hand. Montrose nodded. “She’s in the ready room?” “Yes, sir. I’ll ring ahead and make certain you’re not interrupted”, the prefect said in a high, shaky voice. Montrose smiled. He enjoyed the respect power gave him. When Yellowjakket died, he’d be another step to a full council seat.

Sir! We’ve got news! The team assigned to search the tip for Charing Cross found the runaways.” The courier snapped a salute, and handed Montrose the memory crystal with the full report detailed therein. Montrose pressed the crystal against his temple and concentrated. The report said that the press-team had searched the Charing Cross orphanage, and had found exactly what the mole had described. Upwards of thirty children, all young mages and metas, currently unwakened.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 11

Yellowjakket sped east, darting through London Fields and continuing was through the small streets. She’d slowed enough to be seen, now it was time to move back North and West. She needed to meet the boys and guide them to the next conductor. He would guide them out to points north. She turned north, hiding in between buildings and away from the large main streets, sticking to feeders and cutting between buildings. She ran through Highbury Fields and turned Northwest, It took another half-hour to work her way up to Hampstead. Hampstead Heath is on the north side of London, still in the city proper actually.

This was the toughest portion of the trip. Pryor’s Field was a large area, and out here, while more remote, was out in the open. The fog thinned as she moved north so travel was much easier under near cloudless skies and a full moon. If they were spotted, there was no quick escape. The boys would be taken to Rochester, if they were lucky. If not, to Control, and then to god knew where. She was dead if they caught her.

It took ten minutes of searching quietly around the prior to find them. They’d huddled in the trees as she’d told them, going up to Joy pond to hide. One of the boys yelped when she seemed to step out of the shadows next to him. She stifled a tired giggle, then said quietly. “This is going to be the hard part. We need to traverse north, to Monken Hadley. I’ll be staying with you more on this leg of the trip. It will take a day, and we’ll find a place to hide at sunrise.”

The trip to Monken Hadley took two days, as the neighborhoods between there and Hampstead had active police patrols going day and night. One of the boys found out that there was an escaped felon loose in the area. Taking it slow and careful, the small party made it through without attracting attention. She finally ushered the tired and hungry students inside the building. The lights were left off, leaing Yellowjakket and the fugitives in the dim light.

The place had a surreal look. The building was one large open room, with double doors front and rear. One small water closet, and a bank of dimmable switches for the interior lights. Light coming from the streetlamps was filtered by the closed curtains, bathing the interior in a disturbing greenish glow. Dust seemed to dance in the beams of light, making the place feel almost disconnected with reality.

The Hadley Memorial Hall, and most of Monken Hadley, had been abandoned when it had been deliberately burned by Control. A small group of metas had used this area as their home, until someone had informed the authorities about their activity here. Control adopted a ‘scorched earth’ policy to send a message and create an object lesson as to their intentions. Whole families had been taken and tossed in the new isolation camp at Water’s End. Only a few still lived here. Those who stayed were unswerving in their loyalty to the Council, and Control.

So, on one hand, this location was one of the worst to choose because of the people. It was also one of the better places as most of the people had been removed. From here, they were in the hands of the UG, until they made it to Scotland. Yellowjakket decided to take a quick turn around the small town before turning in. She started to the door, when she heard a lock turn at the back door of the hall.

Everyone froze in place at the sound. She moved next to the door, ready to attack should something attack. The door rattled as someone pulled at it, then a second lock was turned at the bottom of the door. Yellowjakket drew a breath, and focused, as an old woman entered. She took a quick look at the boys, pointedly ignoring the black and yellow meta by the door. Hse was dressed in a dingy looking dress that looked a sickly green in the light. A darker, purplish-green shawl was around her shoulders. Her heavy black-framed glasses made Yellowjakket think of a librarian. Her skin had the same sickly greenish tone as the light. Her nose was a classic Roman nose with the prominent spur between the eyes. Her thin lips were a garish pink, and pressed in a thin line as she gave each boy in the room a once-over.

Hurry up dearies, let’s get you out and to the house. We’ve got food and a warm barn for you to sleep at.” She smiled then turned as Yellowjakket stepped behind her. “How do we decide to trust you?”, she asked bluntly, her hand beginning to glow with a yellowish cast. “Oh how clumsy of me”, she chuckled. “Ah, oh dear my memory.” She frowned in concentration, and then looked at Yellowjakket. “You’re that girl in London that’s got everyone in a snit. Yellowjakket’s baker’s dozen. So what is the countersign?”

The smile left her face, and she made a claw of her left hand. A bluish liquid seemed to form there, smoking and spitting like boiling fat. “You’re Granny Goodwitch.” Yellowjakket said, and watched the old woman’s face wrinkle with distaste. “Yes, you’re the one and I’m the one. No one would call me that to my face around here.”

She looked at the children. “You’re a day late, and you’re way out of your home, girl. Why?” “Gewlry asked me to. She had some difficulties crop up and wanted these out soonest”, Yellowjakket informed her. “As for the late part. There was a report of an escapee around Hampstead, and the patrols were heavy. I prefer stealth to speed, especially when none of the boys can outrun a car, or a bullet.” Granny nodded. “That’s very true. I heard about that escaped prisoner. Bloody rotten luck the timing. But when is timing good for anyone?”

You seem to do well by it.”, Yellowjakket smiled. Granny frowned at Yellowjakket, who could see the mischievous twinkle in Granny’s eyes. “If you mean I’m old and slow, you’re a cheeky one.” Yellowjakket shrugged, and looked over to the children. “They’re yours now, I’ve got to get back to Londinium. I’ve got to find where they’re training the children to be Control members. If that place could be shut down, there might be a chance to really disrupt things. Maybe even get a full resistance going.”

Granny looked at her. “The resistance is there already. Someone just has to start calling for it.” Yellowjakket looked at the old woman. Granny Goodwitch opened the door, which turned the shawl from a sickly purple green to a warm lavender. “Well? We’ve not all night to chatter, fun as it is. Let’s get you to the house and some food in you.” She stepped out the door, and slowly walked towards the back of the lot and then turned north. The boys filed out and followed her in a silent gaggle, turning north and disappearing around the edge of the wooden fence at the edge of the property.

The slim huntress watched for a few minutes, then stepped out the door, quietly closing it behind her. The streets were empty of any moving traffic. Curfew was in effect. Yellowjakket flitted quickly from house to house. She could move much faster now that she needn’t worry about the boys. She swung wide around downtown Monkton Hadley, then paralleled the tracks back towards London. She was far enough outside of London proper that it was easy travel, without the dangers of overhead reconnaissance. She moved east intending on coming in from the last direction she’d lured them towards. If they took the bait, the area around Stratford would be futilely searched for her, at least for a few days.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 10

Yellowjakket sprinted hard and dodged left past two abandoned cars. The police sirens were louder but so far she’d only seen one and a quick shot had blasted the front left tire, crippling the car. It had swerved, and skidded to a stop as she sped off. She hoped it didn’t roll. Up ahead, over the rise she could see a number of flashing strobes in the gathering fog. There were a lot of police cars gathering. She needed to find a way to get by the roadblock and into open ground. The further away from the enclosed streets, the harder it would be for them to corner her.

She came hurtling over the rise, a dark blur in the light fog. Two vehicles had turned across City Road, blocking her path. A quick glance to her right showed officers behind vehicles on those streets also. Yellowjakket considered pulling a reverse, but discarded the idea immediately. The police would be blocking the roads, hoping she’d turn and allow the trap to close. It was time to push her limits.

She concentrated, then her body lit up like a firefly. The glow surrounded her, and she accelerated to thrice her original velocity. A hard left at the patrol car then a leap put one foot on the boot, and she was over and past before the officers could react. She ran, turning right when the street ended, then chuckled grimly to herself, charging into the City Road Basin and turning up the basin and then east in Regent’s Canal. She dropped her power, running on top of the water at a solid one hundred twenty. She was past the blockade and in the open. The helicopter following her she lost them after turning up Kingsland basin, and losing them in between the buildings.

* * * * *

Montrose gaped at Yellojakket’s sudden break. “No! No no no no no no no no NO!” She disappeared in a blaze of Yellow, passed over the parked police car and was gone. He heard the police radio frantically trying to redirect officers enroute to cut her off, but none were equipped to deal with the canal. “She’s a proper bitch, she is.” Root ambled up to Montrose, who ground his teeth. “I thought you said she’s a ‘porter. That weren’t no ‘port.” “She didn’t need to ‘port! You saw what she did. She just ran through the blockade like it wasn’t there. Root held up his hand placatingly. “No sir, I mean she’s not a ‘porter at all. If she were, using it or no I’d feel a shift. If ye ken ‘port, there’s always a, displacement, if you will.” He nodded at Haverstock, where Yellowjakket had disappeared. “She don’t have it.”

Montrose was still seething as the words sunk in. “No teleportation. Are you sure, Mister Root?” “Sure as I am standing, she cannot teleport. There is no feel of a ‘porter to her at all”, the small man replied seriously. “I repeat, Mister Root, you are certain?” “Yes, I am absolutely certain, Mister Montrose. There is no way that Yellowjakket is a teleporter.” A whoosh, a burst of light from overhead, and a wash of heat pushed down on them for a moment. Mister Thorpe, came at a trot towards the other two. “What happened? I’ve been holding that heat for nigh on three minutes. I never saw the git. I had to let it go. So, if you please, why did you leave me to cook like that?”

Montrose glanced at Thorpe, who returned his angry gaze with one that nervously flicked from his shoes to Hamish’s and back down again. The man had been left out of the events. Montrose noted that the police scanner had partly melted on Thorpe’s jacket. The heat he’d built up apparently shorted the system. Montrose went over the details briefly to bring Thorpe up to speed. “That’s a proper bollocks. Something like ‘er is hard to pin with just normals about. Perhaps more auxiliaries to control the edges?” Thorpe noted the slow building of anger and power in Montrose, and stopped talking.

Will you be needing us further, Mister Montrose?”, Root asked him, very politely. Montrose got his temper, and his power back under control, then looked at Root and Thorpe. With Yellowjakket out of reach until they sighted her again, there was nothing to do about her. Root and Thorpe were both good, obedient wizards. A tighter relationship between them would be mutually beneficial. With the captain’s job all but his, he would need reliable lackeys to watch his back as he worked to further his own power.

He looked at Thorpe, and forced a rueful smile to his face. “You are right, Mister Thorpe, it was a bollocks of an operation. We tried a slapdash approach, and it failed. What we need, is a dedicated force to find and corner her. Would you two be interested if such a possible group were to be formed?” He watched their faces carefully as e presented the idea. The two men listened, then turned to look at each other for a moment. Montrose almost chuckled to see them shrug their shoulders at the same time. “We’d be in, sir, if such a group were put together”, Thorpe said quietly. Root simply nodded in agreement with Thorpe.

Montrose smiled in genuine good will. He had a start of something. Certainly, it was spontaneous, but some of the best efforts came from spontaneity. Things were looking up.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 9

Yellowjakket took out at a flat sprint, holding to alleys and back streets until she was a good distance away. She was out on the street, in view, and moving as fast as she could, going south, crossing the Thames at Vauxhall. She angled southwest, then dropped into the underground. She followed the tube back to Euston, then scrambled through the tube to Camden Town. The black-clad huntress was listening to the radio traffic. While the wizards used magical means to communicate, everyone else used their cells and the police used their own channels. This was how she knew where the press-gangs were. The police would report their movements as a way of staying out of the wizards way. The less attention you had from those in power, the safer you were.

She listened to the radio traffic, trying to visualize the moves the ‘PG’ were making. If nothing seemed to be coming north, then they could use the train, otherwise it’d be on foot to avoid discovery. The radio traffic didn’t sound like they’d seen her. She decided to play it safe. She trotted through Camden Town station, and spotted the children where they had gathered. The platform had a few evening pedestrians, though none seemed inclined to notice her when she landed on the platform. She watched the commuters as she waved the children near. Making sure none of them tried to leave or take cell-phone pictures, Yellowjakket whispered the next set of directions to the boys.

“All right everyone, we’re going out to Hampstead. I have a few places to be to keep the PG off of us. Once you get to Hampstead, Go northeast to Pryor’s field, and stay in the trees. I’ll meet you there.” She looked to the two oldest boys. “Keep an eye out for the others. And watch the people on the landings when you exit the station. Anyone tries to follow you, alert the others and try to lose them. If you can’t, scatter in two’s and lie low for a few hours. Then gather at Pryor’s. I’ll be there, and any trouble, I can handle it.”

She hopped down to the tracks, then places a hand on the outside rail, closing her eyes. She could feel the faintest vibration, the subway was near. Yellowjakket jumped the track, then jumped the southbound line, accelerating up the steps and actually generating enough of a draft to pull dust and paper into the air behind her. A couple of commuters shrank back against the wall fighting the sudden draft behind her. The dismayed security had an eyeblink of time before Yellowjakket was past him and gone up the steps and into the night.

* * * * *

Montrose was reading when the link went active. “Sir, she’s been spotted, Camden Town, moving east at high speed. We’re diverting teams to cut off her escape. Latest report coming in is Euston, now moving due east. Estimated speed one hundred twenty kilometers per hour.” Got you, Montrose gleefully thought. “Send two emergency auxiliaries a kilometer east, I’ll be there momentarily.” “Very good, sir”, the disembodied voice replied. “Messers Thrope, and Root will be meeting you. They will pop red for ident.” “Understood.” “Control, out.”

He gathered the pitiful remains of the boy, condensing the essence into a space, then he envisioned his destination. A moment later, there was a slight ‘pop’ as displaced air rushed to fill the location he had been in a moment earlier. He appeared Just east of St. Mark’s hospital. There was activity ongoing as a police cab screeched to a halt straddling the road Yellowjakket was expected on. Two plain clothes officers braced themselves on the hood and boot, aiming back up the road. Montrose raised a hand and a a ball of red light formed. Two other red globes popped into existence to his right. He smiled as the two auxiliaries trotted over.

Both were in dark long-coats that trailed to their ankles. The short thin man Montrose knew by sight and had worked with before. Andrew Root looked like he could be blown over by a strong wind. His face at first glance seemed emaciated, which a further glance at the body beneath the long-coat seconded. Barely one point two meters tall, Root looked like his namesake. His eyes however were a striking yellow-green, and almost seemed to glow in the dim light. The other man, was taller, and more rotund.

Philip Thrope had been a sideshow ‘freak’ before the turning had occurred. His skin hung in loose flaps, hair sprouted thick like a pelt in patches, giving him the grotesque visage of a animal with a case of mange. He weighed over two hundred kilograms, and while his appearance was striking, his strength and abilities with fire magic were known and respected. Both had been tested in combat, against men, and metas. Montrose smiled as the two men joined him by St. Mark’s.

“What’s the plan, mate?”, Thrope asked him. “The plan is to kill her when she gets here, start casting now, she’s due in seconds. “Righto, we’re on it.” The big man rotated his hands, speaking in a clear voice, “اللهب جمع، يدي المصدر، ذهني النموذج، هل لي القوة

The air glowed then caught fire around his hands, the flames getting brighter as he brought them together in front of him. Root began his own chant, a reddish darkness forming around him, then floating aside as another liquid-like outline formed and moved away to make room for yet another. In mere seconds thirty reddish black humanoids had formed. Shouts and shots from the west announced the arrival of their target.

Montrose grinned. Twice Control had been certain she had died, and twice she’d somehow survived. This third time would be the charm. He wondered how she’d survived the ambush at the prison. He’d snapped her neck, he knew it. Yet, here she was. The location spells had confirmed it. What instinctual power did she have, that allowed her to survive a broken neck? What power would cause teleportation to explode the ground around the teleporter like she did? He’d find out and claim that power. That was Root’s function. Each of his simulacrums devoured entangled displacement. More properly, they devoured the energy. She couldn’t teleport away, not with Root locking her down.

“You there!”, Montrose roared at the police. “Block off Pickard street, and ..” He glanced at the streets, “put men on Haverstock and Remington! Keep her on the City Road!” The second half would be on Thorpe. His fire could stop her from being able to escape. He could form barriers, and create balls of fire. Thorpe’s fire could, and would, burn anything it touched. Montrose’s personal specialty was metalmancy. He could warp metal, and animate it. The one flaw was that he had to touch his target. So it would be up to Root and Thrope to trap her. Then when she had no place to run, he could finally kill her.

It would be another step up the ladder. His previous commanding officer had died last night. The cause was a sudden heart attack. No one knew he’d hidden a small metal ‘bug’ loaded with potassium chloride just outside the odious man’s window. A thin wire that allowed control made it easy to inject the man with a lethal amount. Now the job was his. All that was needed was a proper conclusion to this trap.

Writing exercises – 1 – A picture is worth how many words

Hi.  A friend challenged me to a picture writing exercise and I wanted to share it.  The idea is to find a picture and tell the story behind it from your perspective as a writer.  I’ve found it to be great practice for focusing on detail for me.

Here’s the picture

story challenge

And here is the story:

Terry Chang smirked playfully and pressed his wrists together under his chin. The first two fingers on each hand flipped forward, straightening into a pair of ‘V’. He held the pose as Nick struggled to get the camera working on his cellphone.
The colors behind him clashed with each other: A poster which transitioned from white to blue hung over his left shoulder on the red-orange rusted steel door, making his on grey-green sweater and slacks create a neutral transition between the two extremes.
“How do I pull it up again? This cellphone is not intuitive.”
Terry chuckled as he held the pose. “It is intuitive you Luddite. Just tap the camera icon.”
Nick glared at Terry’s cellphone for a moment, then jabbed at the face aggressively. “Why am I looking at myself?” he grumbled.
Terry sighed, then stood up and moved over to his roommate. He sighed theatrically. “How did you ever become a physics major?”
“By not having to worry about technology. Physics is the laws of the natural universe made understandable via mathematics. Nothing in Physics has anything to do with these infernal creations.”
Terry leaned to look at the screen that Nick held out. “Here’s the problem, you reversed the camera choice.” He reached over and tapped the screen. It flipped, showing their feet and the cement pavement.
Terry chuckled as he walked back over to the rusted steel door and sat down on the step. He brought his hands back up alongside his chin and flashed a pair of ‘V’ with his fingers. “Should I say cheese too?” he said with a teasing smirk.
“Got it, and got it.” He clicked an additional shot then walked over to Terry and handed him the camera.
“Looks good Ter.” Nick harumphed. “Despite your Luddite cameraman.”
Terry grinned and looked at the picture. “It’ll make a great graduation photograph. Thanks, Nicky.”
In this instance, the picture generated 313 words.  🙂