Emerald Flight: Star Wing – Chapter 3 – Off to a Rocky Start

Entering her quarters, Elizabeth lifted her left arm experimentally, prepared to feel sharp twinges of pain shoot along her shoulder. Instead, she felt some tightness, but no real discomfort.

That’s good stuff Hope has, she mused with a faint smile. It faded quickly. No wonder the Chief wanted it so bad.

She eyed her bunk, wondering if she dared try to remove her tunic before she lay down. She swung her arm slowly across her body.

It really doesn’t hurt that bad any more. And a little rest wouldn’t hurt. Hope said “light duty” and . . .

Elizabeth’s eyes caught sight of the chronometer on her desk.

Damn it! I’m supposed to be on the bridge in ten minutes!

Her eyes searched the room for the pieces of her uniform, silently praying that last night had been one when she had bothered to hang it up.

Thank god this isn’t the Washington.

Captain Dresden made it a point to conduct regular inspections of his crew’s personal quarters. Officers were subject to even more severe reprimands than non-commissioned personnel. Elizabeth had discovered this very quickly, but not before she was assigned to three extra shifts and some particularly unpleasant duties with the reclamation maintenance teams. Dresden’s quarters had looked as if he never actually used them. 

She located her trousers draped over the side of her chair and held them up, satisfied that they were presentable. Her duty tunic, which she found buried under her pajamas, was a wrinkled mess. She shook it out, but that proved to be of little help.

I could wear my dress uniform . . .

She turned toward her closet.

No, she stopped herself. Stupid idea!

Glancing at the chronometer again, she swore again.

Damn it, I still need to shower!

She knew without checking that skipping that step was not an option. Taking a slow breath to calm herself, she considered her options.

I can do that in ten minutes. She felt her dismay begin to grow again. My hair . . . !

It was stiff with dried perspiration and, she guessed, probably smelled almost as bad as the rest of her.

Damn! Damn! Damn it!

She peeled off her clothing, forgetting about her injured shoulder, and let it fall in a pile on the floor. She palmed on the shower and stepped inside before making certain itt was warm.

Eight minutes later, she emerged, dripping wet and as clean as she could manage. She rubbed viciously at her hair with a towel, feeling its strands tangle, and wondered irritably once again why she liked to wear it long. Her shoulder tingled fiercely. Elizabeth forced herself to ignore it.

She checked the chronometer.

Damn, I won’t have time to brush it out. She swore silently at herself, thinking of the mess she would have to unsnarl after her shift was over. I’ll just have to pull it back . . . and pray.

It was not at all unusual for her to wear her hair pulled back into a ponytail while on duty, but she usually brushed it out thoroughly first.

She dried the rest of her body, having to reach around to dry her back several times as her hair dripped water down it. After dressing in her underwear and pants, she attacked her hair again, getting as dry as she could manage with the single towel.

That’s what I get for not doing laundry . . .

After sliding into her tunic, she reached back to gather her hair. Gritting her teeth, she threaded her hair through a narrow elastic band, managing to snap only two of her fingers with the band. Waving her abused digits in the air, she resisted the urge to place them into her mouth like a child. The abrupt movements did little to appease her damaged shoulder.

Dressed now, and with her hair passably arranged, she glanced at the chronometer again.

Less than two a minutes left!

She darted out into the corridor, nearly colliding with a passing crew member. Apologizing to him breathlessly, and then trying not to look as if she were running, she resumed her dash toward the bridge.

#

Rusty prowled the main Engineering Deck. He peered into open access panels as his technicians tried to work inside them, generally making a nuisance of himself. The crew had become skittish in his presence. He knew that he was driving morale down right through the deck plates, but he was determined to find out just what was not right with this ship.

“Carson,” he said, walking by a thin, blonde-haired crew member, “watch out for that yellow conduit. You’ll short out the aft radiation sensors.”

Carson started and then stared at the activated micro-welder in his left hand, wide-eyed at just how close he had nearly come to severing that conduit. He swallowed hard and then, very slowly and carefully, deactivated the tool and pulled it clear of the junction.

“Thanks, Chief,” he called out, his voice trembling slightly.

Rusty grunted something unintelligible in response, distracting the technician from realizing that he had not actually looked inside the panel.

He noticed that conversations stopped as he approached. Whispers returned as he passed. Both of these just added to his irritation. It was not at all how he liked to run his department, but he could not shake the feeling that something was wrong, that this ship might be in serious danger.

“Tsu-tao,” Rusty called to the dark-haired technician. “Make sure all the ramscoop feeds are closed and sealed tight before we get too close to . . . whatever this thing is. The last thing we need is to flood the intakes with a bunch of magnetic or irradiated ore.”

“I’m on it, Chief,” the short, but sturdy, engineer replied with a genial smile, making a note on the tablet he carried.

“You’d better be,” Rusty warned him in something that resembled a growl. “Or you’ll be cleaning them out with tweezers.”

Tsu-tao’s smile faded. Swallowing visibly in response to his Chief’s uncharacteristically sour mood, he looked down at his tablet as he walked away.

Rusty’s eyes turned upward and surveyed the ceiling, the equivalent of two decks above him. It was covered in a maze of tubes cabling, most of which were accessed from the deck above. He had not thought to study it before.

“Sandersen!”

It took a moment, but then a male voice answered him from across the wide space of the deck.

“Yes, Chief?”

Rusty continued to stare up at the ceiling as he spoke.

“I want a team to inspect every conduit, junction, and vent up there.”

“Right now?” Sandersen’s voice sounded incredulous.

“Right now,” Rusty replied flatly.

His eyes remained pointed toward the ceiling, but there was no change in the nagging sense of uneasiness that drove him. That was not it.

Still, it won’t hurt to check.

He looked down and his gaze quickly swept the Engineering Deck again.

Maybe it’s not here at all.

“I’ll be on the bridge,” he told Aruna, who had come up beside him. “Don’t break anything while I’m gone.”

“I’ll try not to, sir,” she responded softly, sounding far more sincere than was probably necessary.

Rusty did not look at her as he headed for the main hatch.

#

Devereux sat at the command station, trying to review status reports. Despite her best efforts, she was unable to keep herself from glancing up at the main bridge displays every few minutes. Although they would be entering nominal sensor range shortly, it would be a while before they provided any new information about the mysterious field they had detected. Given the many types of suspense to be had out in space, Devereux was more than willing to experience this kind than that of heading into combat.

Looking up from her desk, Devereux covertly surveyed the other members of the bridge crew, noting with a certain relieved satisfaction that few of them were having any better success at staying focused on their routine tasks than she was. At the helm, Pyrafox occasionally made what were probably unnecessary adjustments to the navigational controls. He leaned forward in his seat, as if by willpower alone he could propel the ship ahead more quickly. She even caught Hawkes taking a glance at the trio of large displays. Only Gho appeared to be solely focused on her assigned tasks.

But then she actually has work to do.

Devereux was tempted to ask for an update, but stopped herself.

She’ll report when she has something to report.

The main hatch opened and Elizabeth entered. Devereux turned to look, watching as Elizabeth appeared to nearly stumble over the hatchway. She also seemed to be slightly out of breath, but trying to hide it. Devereux fought back a smile.

“Nice of you to join us, Lieutenant . . .” she paused, seeing her First Officer’s light-skinned cheeks grow pink. “. . . Commander.”

To her credit, Devereux noted, Elizabeth met her eyes. The young officer was less than not even two minutes late. Still, A a little light-hearted teasing would ease the general tension of the crew—and probably ensure that the Elizabeth would not arrive even remotely tardy for a duty shift for weeks to come.

Like you’ve never overslept . . .

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Elizabeth said, standing straight and nearly at attention. “I was—”

The hatch opened again, interrupting her, and Rusty stepped inside. Devereux was surprised. She had not expected the Chief Engineer to make an appearance on the bridge.

“Is there something wrong, Chief?”

Rusty turned to look at her and seemed, for a moment, to have trouble focusing on her.

Damn. He’d better not be—

“I don’t know yet,” Rusty replied. His words came out as a kind of loud mumble, not slurred exactly, but definitely the indication of a distracted man.

Devereux and Elizabeth exchanged a glance. Elizabeth moved closer to Rusty. He seemed unaware of her until she nearly touched him. At that moment, he stepped forward, staring with fixed intensity at the main bridge displays.

“What’s going on?”

Devereux and Elizabeth exchanged another look. They both knew that the Chief had been briefed when the course was made.

“We’re entering scanning range of the debris cloud,” Devereux said, trying sound as matter-of-fact as possible.

Rusty nodded as if he understood.

“Anything yet?”

Devereux looked toward the main Science station and caught Gho’s eye. The science officer shook her head.

“Nothing new yet, sir,” she said. “From this distance, it still appears to be just a collection of rocks.” Gho tapped some controls. “We’re having trouble getting high-resolution scans,” she reported, frowning. “There’s probably a lot of some ionized dust particles in the way floating around out there.”

Rusty made a thoughtful sound, his eyes never leaving the main screens.

“There’s something out there,” he murmured, loud enough to be heard.

Devereux looked over at Elizabeth, whose mouth tightened into an frown.

“Yes there is,” Devereux agreed, trying to sound calmly reasonable.

She noticed a change in the Chief Engineer’s posture. The muscles along his back and shoulders appeared to relax. Not certain whether to take this as a positive sign or a warning, she considered ways to reach the intercom and alert Hope without alarming Rusty. She caught Elizabeth’s attention and directed her eyes toward the intercom controls on the Science station. Elizabeth nodded almost imperceptibly and then turned her eyes back toward Rusty.

“That’s what it is,” he announced, sounding surprisingly lucid and relieved.

“What is, Chief?”

“That,” Rusty replied, nodding toward the screens. “It wasn’t the ship at all.”

Devereux’s expression tightened with concern. Looking toward Elizabeth again, her First Officer just gave a faint shrug.

“Chief,” Devereux said, calmly. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in telling us what you’re talking about?”

Rusty continued to stare at the main bridge displays. Devereux wondered if he had not heard her, then he turned around. He looked like a different man from the befuddled one who had wandered onto the bridge. Although his grin appeared to be genuine, Devereux remained unconvinced that there was not something else going on with her Chief Engineer.

Rusty regarded her for a long moment, glanced at Elizabeth, and then back to Devereux. His grin faded, making him seem somehow less menacing.

“It was out there,” he said, smiling happily. “It was out there.”

“What was, Chief?” Elizabeth asked gently.

Rusty turned to her, still smiling, but his eyes reflected his seriousness.

“I don’t know.”

#

Hawkes watched the Chief Engineer carefully. Although the man appeared intoxicated, Hawkes found himself surprised . . . and not quite ready to accede to that explanation. To his knowledge, Chief Rayna had ceased his usage of unauthorized medications ever since returning to the ship. For him to regress now was too great a coincidence for Hawkes to readily accept.

He had seen the Captain and Elizabeth exchange a number of meaningful glances. Based on the direction that their eyes moved, Hawkes concluded that their intent had been to reach the intercom. They could not without attracting the Chief Engineer’s attention, so Hawkes had keyed a silent request for medical assistance on the bridge. He also instructed a security team to report to the bridge, but not to enter it without orders to do so.

Devereux moved closer to the main Science station.

“Anything new?” she asked Gho.

The lieutenant checked her console before shaking her head. “Nothing, Captain,” she reported. “We’re still too far out.”

Devereux nodded, frowning slightly. She looked over toward the Chief Engineer, but he offered no reaction to Gho’s report. Devereux started to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of the main hatch opening.

Hope entered, carrying a medical case. Hawkes noted with satisfaction the two Security personnel that flanked her, but remained outside the hatch, taking positions of each side of the hatchway.

“Hope,” Devereux said. It was almost a breath of relief.

“Captain.”

“Hey, Doc!” Rusty called out without turning away from the bridge displays.

For several moments, no one spoke. Devereux’s eyes directed Hope toward Rusty. Hope placed her case down on a nearby console and removed a portable medical scanner. Hope finished her scan of the Chief Engineer. Although she said nothing while she scanned the Chief Enginner, Hawkes noticed that she appeared to be startled by something the scanner had shown her. It was only the most subtle change in the Aerian physician’s expression, but Hawkes was certain that it was there. The Captain appeared to have noticed it as well.

Hope finished her scan of the Chief Engineer. Even as she stepped back, her dark eyes fixed on the scanner’s readout display. After a moment, she looked up and stared at Devereux. The Captain read something in the Aerian’s expression that made her jaw tighten.

“Chief,” she Devereux said, sounding reasonable, but firm. “I want you to go with Hope back to the infirmary.”

Rusty did not respond, nor did he move for several moments. Finally, he turned slowly around. He regarded Hope critically, as if he had never seen her before.

Although Hawkes saw nothing belligerent in the Chief’s manner, he held his fingers over the control that would summon the guards waiting out in the corridor. He noticed a change in the Captain’s posture. She, it appeared, also waited for the Chief Engineer to protest or resist.

“Chief,” Hope addressed him flatly.

Rusty looked down at the scanner in her hand. Awareness seemed to dawn on him.

“You think I’ve finally gone space happy, don’tcha?”

“Chief,” she repeated. It was a command, not a plea.

The Chief Engineer met Devereux’s eyes. Elizabeth shifted awkwardly on her feet. Devereux’s throat moved as she swallowed, but she remained resolute. The Chief’s eyes moved to Elizabeth, causing Elizabethher to shifted awkwardly on her feet awkwardly. and His gaze then fixed on Hope. Hawke’s fingers hovered above the security alert signal.

The Chief Engineer smiled, but Hawkes saw no signs that he intended to attack Hope or bolt for one of the hatchways. He continued to smile, the familiar bright twinkle returning to his eyes.

“I think you miss me, Doc.”

Hope stared back at him silently. Her large dark eyes revealed nothing. Devereux nodded once to her and then inclined her head in the direction of the main hatch.

“Come,” Hope said.

She waited for him to move in the direction of the hatchway. The Chief Engineer waited for only a moment, and then before headinged for the bridge’s main hatch. When it opened before him, he paused and looked back at Hawkes.

“For me?” he said, grinning with clear amusement at seeing the guards positioned there. “You shouldn’t have.”

He stepped into the corridor, the two security personnel falling in behind him. After a moment, he stopped and turned around.

“Whatcha waiting for, Doc?” he called out. “The Captain doesn’t have all day.”

Devereux exchanged a look with Hope that Hawkes interpreted as silent approval to depart. Hope stared back at the Captain for a long moment and then headed for the hatchway. Hawkes raised his hands from his console and looked at the Captain. Her expression betrayed deep concern as she watched Hope depart. Her eyes continued to follow the Medical Officer until the hatch closed behind her.

Devereux glanced for only a moment at the main bridge displays before turning and returning up the ramp to the command deck. Hawkes regarded her for a moment, and then turned his attention back to his console. He keyed the security monitors so he could follow the Chief Engineer’s progress to the infirmary, to ensure that he actually arrived there.

#

Hope trailed the Chief Engineer and his two Security escorts. She had been surprised by the Tactical Officer’s signal. His message had been brief and vague, giving her little other information than that the situation was potentially critical and she needed to report to the bridge immediately. She had done so, and was still not clear on what had transpired there. Clearly, there was an issue involving the Chief Engineer, but she had witnessed nothing that deviated significantly from his typical behavior. She would follow the Captain’s orders, of course, hoping that doing so might provide her with some answers.

She still held the medical scanner in her hand. The readings that it had produced her troubled her, not so much from that data that it had reported, as it did from what it had not shown her. After they reached the infirmary, she could conduct more detailed physiological and neurological tests that might explain what the portable scanner had reported.

When they reached the infirmary, the two Security personnel stopped outside the hatch and waited for her open it. One took a position on each side of the Chief Engineer with one hand resting openly on their weapon. Hope completed the security procedure quickly and efficiently, standing aside as one of the guards pushed open the hatch. The other one, using nothing more than his physical presence, ushered the Chief Engineer inside.

Hope entered, letting the hatch close behind her. 

“Bed Four,” she instructed them, moving toward one of the starboard cabinets.

Although the diagnostic beds were essentially the same, she had equipped Bed Four for more detailed neurological diagnosis. One thing she had learned during her first voyage on this ship was the wide variety of ways that myriad spatial phenomenon could affect the human brain. She was now also better equipped to deal with human birthing as well. However, sShe was not surprised then suspected the likelihood that she would needed to use either the new equipment or the knowledge was low so soon.

The two Security personnel moved closer to the Chief Engineer. He appeared to ignore them, stepping forward before they approached him. Standing next to the diagnostic bed, he surveyed each of the displays as Hope brought them online.

“The Cap’n wants you to make sure I really have a brain in there?” the Chief Engineer said, snickering.

He stood beside the bed for a moment and then lifted himself onto it. Parts of its metal structure creaked as he settled more comfortably onto its pad. He looked toward the ceiling, seeming uncharacteristically calm and composed. The two Security guards stepped back, taking positions between the Chief Engineer and the hatchway.

“Remain still,” Hope instructed him.

“I’ll do my best not to boogie too much.”

Hope regarded the Chief Engineer for several moments, but he remained motionless. This behavior added to her uneasiness. Despite his customary quips to the contrary, he was being far too compliant. After giving him one more look, she activated the diagnostic scanners. Within a few seconds, the first results appeared.

Respiration normal.

Pulse slightly elevated.

Blood pressure slightly elevated.

The latter two readings did not surprise her. Although both were higher than normal, they were not significantly out of range based on her previous medical scans of the Chief Engineer. Still, Hope noted them in her log. It was data and might prove useful later.

The preliminary blood scans showed no traces of any restricted pharmaceutical substances. This both surprised and frustrated Hope. She had not expected to find any, but their presence would have helped to explain the Chief Engineer’s unusual behavior. It meant the cause was something else entirely.

She waited for additional reports. These scans involved deeper analyses of the Chief Engineer’s body functions, measuring factors such as hormonal levels and tissue density, and would require more time to complete. Hope looked at the Chief Engineer, but he remained uncharacteristically still and silent. She looked back at the readouts just as the next set of results began to appear.

Hope studied each one with increasing incredulity. There was not a single deviation from any the Chief Engineer’s previously recorded medical scans that would account for his unusual behavior. If anything, there was a marked improvement in several of them as his body began to repair itself after years of chemical abuse. All that remained now, was were the results of the deep neurological scans—and . Hope was rapidly losingheld diminishing confidence that those they would reveal anything useful.

The diagnostic indicator flashed blue, signaling that the neurological scans had been completed. The results appeared on the screen. Hope noted without surprise that variations among the different bands fell well within both established norms and those previously recorded for the Chief Engineer . . . except for one.

“What is it?” the Chief Engineer asked, breaking her concentration. “What’d you find, Doc?”

Hope looked up at him, said nothing, and then turned her eyes back to the display. The Chief Engineer turned his head. Unable to see the display clearly from that vantage point, he sat up and looked at the diagnostic readouts.

“Good thing my engine outputs don’t look like that,” he remarked, “Or we’d be spinning in circles.” He studied the graphs more closely. “Or in lots of little pieces.”

Hope said nothing, but continued to stare at the diagnostic display. The graphs showed a distinctive spike in the Chief Engineer’s Gamma band.

“Okay, Doc,” the Chief Engineer said. “Want to tell me what we’re looking at?”

“Gamma,” Hope said.

The Chief Engineer peered at the graphs on the display, clearly without comprehension. “Which means . . . what?” he asked with clear irritation. “I’m going to turn big and green and nasty the next time someone ticks me off?”

Hope turned to face the Chief Engineer.

“No.”

“That’s a relief,” he replied, grinning back at her. “I don’t look good in green.”

Hope said nothing, failing to understand either his meaning or the cause for his sudden amusement. She was nearly certain that her response had not prompted it.

There was a long silence as Hope studied the results again. The Chief Engineer fidgeted. He had stopped looking at the diagnostic display, as it was essentially meaningless to him. He tried staring at Hope, as if willing her to turn around and address him. A few seconds into his little game, his eyes widened suddenly with realization.

“You don’t know what it means either,” he announced. His grin widened. “Do you?”

Hope regarded him for a long moment. His eyes continued to study her expression, although she was reasonably certain that it revealed nothing.

“No,” she admitted. Her voice, normally soft, was barely more than a whisper. “I do not.”

The Chief Engineer burst out laughing. Hope turned quickly to the medical monitors, but none of them signaled that he was in any distress. All she could do was to wait until he regained a measure of control, although his grin never went away completely.

“You really don’t know what it means?”

“I do not,” she repeated. “I will research.”

“I’m sure you will,” the Chief Engineer chuckled. He slid from the table. His boots banged against deck, echoing in the infirmary chamber. “Is there any reason you can think of I can’t return to duty?”

Hope studied him critically. His behavior, while needlessly boisterous, was not atypical. Based on the results of the scans, she had no medical reason to detain him. The spikes in his brain’s Gamma band were not justification enough. At least, they were not sufficient enough that she wanted him to remain there while she conducted her research.

“No,” she answered finally.

The Chief Engineer grinned with triumph.

“You will return,” Hope said firmly, “when I inform the Captain.”

“You do that.”

Hope held the Chief Engineer’s gaze for a long moment. She was the one who looked away, turning to face one of the Security personnel.

“He may depart.”

The Security guard nodded her understanding and stepped back, clearing the way to the hatchway. The Chief Engineering strode past her, seeming to be in no hurry.

“Doctor,” the other Security guard said courteously, and then turned and followed the Chief Engineer and the first Security guard out of the infirmary.

Hope watched the hatch close, and wondered what she was going to tell the Captain.

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.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 2

Both Sapphire and Selene bought in immediately, and Yellowjakket suddenly became enemy number one to the new government. The recorded power effects and her own movements convinced Control that one person was responsible. Her powers became the enigma, as any locator spell never worked properly, frustrating the casters to no end. That was the true power of triplets. Three different signals confusing the search. Each identical to the others, creating a feedback that destroyed the intent of the spell. The last trick was the most morbid. A small bomb, designed to hide any trace of their identity from discovery. It was something they all understood. If one of them was captured, the others were as good as caught was well.

Serinda was the first to die. She stepped into direct fire to help protect citizens from Control’s press-gangs. Her actions saved fourteen children from Zahrenholt, and cost hers. The detonation had an unexpected secondary effect, the first convincing those in Control that this was a new power. It made them more cautious in their efforts to capture Yellowjakket. The second was to further destroy the ability to track the surviving girls, as the ‘essence’ of Serinda had been thoroughly scattered within the town by the blast, that tracking spells were useless.

The two sisters stopped operating for weeks, then returned with a vengeance. Selene was driven to make her sister’s death mean something, and she threw herself into disrupting press-gangs at every opportunity. The effect was to bring the whole of the Magocracy after Yellowjakket, and propel her into the papers. Other heroes emerged, and for some months, the Magocracy started to lose control in Londinium. Riots followed the press-gangs, as did combat with the newly emerged meta-humans. The newer metas engaged the mages in open combat in the streets. Both sides used power and technology. In this the mages had superiority. Their power, being external, was slower to build, but stronger, and more encompassing in effect. Meta-humans, their power coming from within, were able to fire quickly, but in limited manner. They too could create large changes, but the effort to do so cost them personal energy, so it was seldom done.

The mages, could more freely do so, and did. Creating snowstorms, fire, ice, whipping winds, that affected the metas not in close combat. Sheer numbers overpowered individuals. The press-gangs returned, only now to find any children with the affinity to power, not just potential mages. These were turned into the next batch of loyalists to the Magocracy. Tools to fill the depleted ranks of the press-gangs and other arms of the government.

Not that it was easy. People remembered the old, true past, and fought the new history. They fought with words, memories, guns, and their own abilities, when they had them. But for all the resistance, the Magocracy had taken the first step by organizing. The organization allowed them to defend themselves, and repel individual attacks. That was still the way things were. The mages united to hold onto the reins of power. Until a second power could organize, the mages would remain atop the political food chain.

Yellowjakket had threatened to build that organization. When a villain gets into the papers, and then the local papers start showing what the state-controlled papers won’t, people begin to notice, and question. That’s what happened. Questions became rallies, rallies became demonstrations, Demonstrations became riots. The riots started eating at the base of the Magocracy’s power. It had reached a head last night when Yellowjakket had detonated the south wall of Zahrenholt prison, releasing over one hundred children from the re-education wing. Half had been recaptured in the ensuing hours, but over half got away, disappearing into the alleys and sewers under Londinium, and Brianburgh to the north.

Selene had paid for that audacity with her life, and now Sapphire was the last to hold the mantle of Yellowjakket. She huddled in the wet muck, remembering, holding onto every memory she could recall. Replaying them again and again, trying to shut out the truth that they were gone. Holding onto every thought so that she’d never forget them. Hours passed until her feet and bum went numb from the cold water, and her legs ached as the cold crept into them. She stood slowly, her internal clock telling her it was early evening. She shook out her hair, dragging fingers through the tangled wet mess, then jogged slowly back to the west checkpoint. She had to go find a new place. First though she had to cover for her sister, and herself.

The jog back took another half hour. When she was challenged, she swallowed her despair and told the two on duty in a pompous voice, “Ask the password, wizard, I’m not afraid.” The two smirked and waved her through. That was the secret. There was no password. Odd numbered days you challenged the guards, even numbered days you teased them. Anyone who tried to answer the challenge with a password, those were the spies. That little shift in style had kept the small community safe from infiltrators.

She walked back to the small home in ‘Diagon-tubely’, and changed her hair, and borrowed some of her sister’s clothes. She packed a change of her own clothes in her backpack. She got a couple slices of bread from the oven-pantry, and spread some butter and apple slices on it, Slapping the other bread on top, she bit into it and sauntered out the front door. The first person she spotted was Simon, with his distinct limp. She gave him a wave and continued out towards the checkpoint. Once she reached it, just made another jaunty wave to the guards and jogged off, turning down the tunnel heading north up to Brianburgh.

When she was out of sight, she kicked in her power and sped to the next intersection. She found the small emergency tunnel she and Selene had found on their early forays. She moved past the rubble-camouflaged entrance, and put down the backpack, emptying it. She changed clothes, cached the food and Selene’s clothing, then sped down the tunnel to the other camouflaged end that linked with a side tunnel. The side tunnel linked back to the unblocked Brianburgh storm sewers, which she followed back to the main tunnel. She hopped over the three foot retaining wall, jogged back to the checkpoint, and back to her home.

Once home she flung herself on the mattress, and cried silently for a long time. Later, she made two more trips to her hideout. Laying in more canned food and items for an extended stay. She was going to need locations like these if Control got aggressive in coming after the escapees. She needed to find where the others at the ZaP had directed the children. They had to be moved away from Londinium for their safety.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 1

The black-clad girl slid under the legs of the first trooper as he tried to shoot. A flick of the hand smacked him hard between the legs. She heard the strangled squall of pain, and the heavy thud of the man falling to the ground. She popped back to her feet and accelerated as bullets pockmarked the ground just behind her.

A quick turn, and a leap caught the bottom rung of a fire ladder. She pulled herself up to the first landing, then moved to the outside of the rail and jumped up, pulling herself to the next. By the time the pursuers had turned the corner, she was halfway up the twelve-story building, well out of reach of accurate fire. “Damn git. You two! Work north and call for backup, block the roads out of the district. You two, the same to the south. The rest with me, we’ll push her east. Start on the first floor. Carror\t and stick. Shoot one, offer a bribe to the others. Someone will crack. She’s a s good as ours.”

The grey armored men followed the golden armored leader to the base of the maze of towers that was called “The Rookeries”, due to most of those that lived here were desperately poor. The buildings stood up like rotted teeth. The brick facade curmbling and fallen from the concrete understructure. Ragged curtains fluttering from broken windows. Some boarded up with plywood to keep out the humid cold. The search went for hours, but the woman had disappeared like smoke. It was an angry group of officers that reported empty-handed to their equally angry captain.

Yellowjakket had pulled a set of jeans and a shirt over her costume, then joined the ranks in the halls as she worked down from the roof. She scooped some grit from the ground, and rubbed it in her hair and on her face and hands. Now properly grubby, she descended the stairs rapidly then moved onto the eighth floor, joining the throng in the market. The number of people made it impossible for the police to search every person as nine out of ten had no radio tag to identify them. Once out in the street again, she ducked back to the crumbling remains of a glassblower’s shop. Down in the basement was an entry into the sewers, and she sped through them back south into the maze of tunnels.

Yellowjakket slowed to a stop when two voices challenged her at a T-intersection of the sewers. “Holdit! Give us the word, mate”, laughed the young man in front of her. He had a pair of old green pants held up by a piece of rope around his waist, and a worn-faded green T-shirt that Proclaimed ‘Sex Pistols – London Calling’ on the front. His thumb on the trigger of a deadman switch was openly shown, as was the girl behind him with an AK-74. She held it loosely aimed at Yellowjakket. Her maroon goose down jacket a contrast to the silver-and-black of the assault rifle. Her Black capris pants covered her legs halfway down her calves, with long mismatched athletic socks peeking out of unlaced hiking boots.

“What’s the word you want?”, she asked the two with a smile. “Oho! She’s a right tricksy one”, the man said. “G’wan, yer good.” The two raised their weapons, the girl giving Yellowjakket a qucik wave and smile, then went to their posts once more. Yellowjakket sped through the maze of tunnels that were home to her and others who defied the authority. At a corner in the sewers whimsically called ‘diagon-tubely’, she angled left and slowed to a walk. Here the press of people was gone, only curtains along the sewer walls, showing where small caves called ‘homes’ had been dug out. She walked down four, and pushed the curtain open to reveal a small three room cave.

Stepping into the cramped first room/kitchen/den, She pulled the curtain shut behind her. Tapping a small light on the stove on, she dropped her backpack and continued to the left, into a small bedroom. The room had been hewed out of the loose earth, having pilings and a thick wood roof to keep the earth from sprinkling down. The bed was a mattress set on crates. The crates were open facing into the room, with each holding some clothing. The mattress, worn and collapsed, had a thick green-striped comforter for warmth.

Yellowjakket stripped out of her costume, and went back into the main room, and poured a pan of water. She grabbed a cloth and did her best to wash the sweat and smell off her body, before dressing in worn jeans and a baggy brown sweatshirt. She crawled onto the bed, and pulled the comforter over her head, losing herself to sleep.

* *************

Morning brought her awake with an uneasy start. She heard vague noises of people wandering around out in the sewer tunnel, but none inside the room. She uncovered, pulled on some work boots, then stepped out into the tunnel. The bright lights made her squint a moment, then she started back towards the entrance. The bustle of people moving to a new day filled the tunnel with sounds and smells. The scent of fried eggs had her mouth watering as she passed an open doorway. She just turned off of Diagon-tubely to the main tunnel when a voice called out, “G’day Sapphy, how have you been?” She slowed, and turned to the young man. “Hey Simon.”

Simon was older than her by a few years, with brown hair and eyes. He limped slowly to Sapphire, his left knee fused and half his foot having been blown off by the invaders four long years ago. His eyes lit up with mischief as he approached and gave her a warm hug. She returned it then stepped back. “I’m going to the front gate, my sister must have gotten up early for her shift today. She forgot to leave me breakfast.” “Musta been early, I din’t see her go by me place.” Sapphire smiled at Simon, then hugged him again. “She probably did. I’ll see you later, Simon.” He smiled and gave a wave, then turned to slowly limp back to the small grill he had set up.

She walked past other small homes with people cleaning their steps or readying for the day. Here in the tunnels, keeping things clean was a constant battle against the environment. Many of the sewers had been diverted so the rain water wouldn’t flood the living areas, but even the best walls leaked. So there was always a humid, faintly moldy smell in the air. Sapphire reached the T intersection and waved to the two girls on duty. “Binny, Susan, Have you seen Selene? I thought she’d come here early for shift.”

The smaller girl, Susan, shook her pale blonde hair. She looked up at Sapphire with one green eye and one blue. “Sorry Saph, not seen ‘er today. She’s prolly out with the others trying to nick a few things.” The other girl, Binny, shook her dreadlocks and stretched a coffee-colored arms our front palms out, fingers interlocked. “I’ve not seen her either, Sapphire. I’m about to end shift and didn’t see her go out with the …”, she stopped as a small child scrambled past screaming as a girl near the same age chased after him, a doll clutched in her arms. The two laughing children disappeared into the crowd.

“Hey, girls! You hear the latest? Control’s saying they nicked Yellowjakket last night!” Rodney Greyson came trotting towards the three girls. He stopped, placing his hands on his knees, out of breath. He looked up at Sapphire, and his face flushed a deeper red. “Oh bollocks. Saph, I’m sorry, I wanted…bloody hell I wanted to tell the girls…”, he just stopped, and watched the three. Susan and Binny looked at Sapphire, who had gone pale. “You’re sure? Control said that? You’re sure?”, Sapphire said, her hands clutching together at her waist. She twisted her hands, trying to deny his words. “You know Control. They announce all sorts of lies to keep folks under their thumb”, Rodney said. He looked away as he did, the transparent lie floating away like the fog of his breath in the tunnels.

“Saph, come her girl”, Binny said, and hugged her. Sapphire wailed, and broke away, running away from the group down the tunels and towards the surface. “Rodney, you git. You should have waited.” Rodney looked down the tunnel as Susan slapped him on the shoulder. “I know, I know. Lost her twin she has.” “Triplet you git. She’s a triplet. An’ she’s now a only”, Binny told Rodney. She looked down the tunnel where Sapphire had disappeared. “Damn girl, don’t go up today. Stay down”, she said to the echoing footsteps.

Sapphire ran until her lungs burned. She turned and ran, turned and ran, following the tunnels deeper southward, towards Londinium, or London, to those that remembered the changes. London had been part of a bustling Great Britain, when the changes knocked things askew. The government morphed from Parliment, to one controlled by monsters in human form. Control, the not so ‘secret’ arm of the Government, was tasked with capturing political dissidents. The ‘other’ part of their mandate, was to locate children with an affinity for magic, that ability to influence the world via means external to a person.

Those children were taken to Zaherenholt, where they were tested. Children who passed, were then broken via brainwashing techniques, and turned into dedicated students of the ‘Arts’. The others. The ‘lost’, who were too strong-willed, or too impotent to be full mages, were drained of their abilities, and used as fodder for experiments in necromancy and physiomancy, the molding of flesh and bone. Other ‘powered’ children, called ‘metas’ because their abilities were internal to themselves, were culled from the populace, and used as the ‘lost’ were.

These young children were initiated into the ranks of Control when they passed their final tests. As each person reached this point according to their personal ability, the ages in the ranks varied widely from around fourteen to twenty. In every case, they were cold, dedicated, and convinced of their own superiority over the masses. A true, yet twisted meritocracy.

She collapsed against the tunnel wall, sliding to a sitting position with a wet splash. Sapphire curled her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and buried her cries of pain on her knees. She sat and wept for what seemed hours. It had all been so simple growing up. Her mom, Saffron Christian, had been the first Yellowjakket.

Safron/Yellowjakket had been one of the first to take up the fight against the magocracy that grew up in London. She was an American who’d married an Englishman, and emigrated with her husband. Yellowjakket had been in the London papers for years after that. Fighting crime, uncovering conspiracies. It had read like a comic book. Then she became pregnant, and retired. She had triplets, Selene, Serinda, and Sapphire. Saffron, seeing the potential they had, started training them as soon as they could stand, to become heroes. Their father objected, and a nasty, prolonged divorce happened. Their father died two years afterwards, having drank himself to death after losing his children.

Control appeared for the first time the year they were born. It started as the magocracy worked to solidify its hold on the United Kingdom. Control was tasked to hunt down political dissidents, and ‘educate’ them to the new system. Eventually Control’s power spread to finding children to add to the mages as apprentices. The mages were still trying to solidify their hold on Great Britain, as the people, and the meta-humans, fought the system.

Metahumans, or metas, operated internally, rather than influencing the environment like mages. Their abilities came from themselves, rather from their ability to influence the environment around them. This made their powers faster to trigger, while mages took time. The problem mages had was the source of the power is the same for each. Quantum physics. If the mages cut the meta ability to reach to the quantum level, they were effectively cutting off their own link as well. So each meta had to be handled individually rather than all collectively.

Sapphire slowly pulled herself back together, but the empty ache remained. She was alone now. In the most literal sense of the word. He mom had died stopping a bombing attempt by Jihadists in downtown Londinium four years after her husband died. Selene, being the oldest triplet by a few minutes, took over as Yellowjakket. Sisters being sisters, they decided to ‘suit up’ with her and for a short while the fought side-by-side as Yellowjakket, Dove, and Shock.

Their first forays as meta heroes made them realize that all the training in the world doesn’t mean a thing in real combat. You have to get into it, and survive it. Then the training makes sense. As their efforts began to actually make a difference, the found the news reports online and in paper slowly slanting their stories against the metas. Instead of allies against corruption and crime, they became the sinister force behind it. Control began a systematic campaign to kill costumed heroes. Serinda was the one to come up with the idea of all three of them becoming Yellowjakket.

“It’s perfect! We split up, stop trouble, and confuse the hell out of Control. So long as we’re not caught on camera at the same time, we can make it look like one person. It’ll drive them barmy.”

Dark Renaissance – Introduction

She sped through the dank alleyways towards her destination. Her body flickering like a neon light going bad as it constantly shifted location along her route. The clear skies showed her the single moon in it’s waning crescent. That silent sentinel seem to frown down on the city, giving each shadow an ominous sense of waiting. She sped towards Zaherenholt Prison. The massive ziggurat was built on a square mile of land on the edge of Brianburgh’s Industrial district. The soot from the coal-fired furnaces and electric plants showered the downwind area with black, destroying color and rendering everything a shadowy dark.

The slim woman blinked from the corner of the abandoned textile mill, across the half mile of open ground around the ‘ZP’ as it was called. The multiple fences that were intended to impede escapes didn’t stop her in the slightest. A slight popping sound and she would disappear, and reappear beyond the chain-link barrier. She accomplished this four times, then scrambled the last forty feet, snugging tight against the concrete base. Speed was of the essence. Each teleportation had tripped alarms from the seismic sensors in the ground between fences. She pulled the backpack off, and dumped the contents on the ground. She picked up six devices, and teleported again, praying that the map she’d studied was accurate.

The black-clad woman appeared inside the ‘ZP’ with a faint pop. The guards at this base level were robotic, and fell easily to her electric blasts. She placed a charge, then teleported in and up, more confident now of the map’s accuracy. She reappeared a floor up and in. Placing a charge then te;eporting up and in once more, to place the last of the first string. Horns and sirens blared. Safety walls dropped sealing each corridor to itself, containing any potential riot. She ignored them, placing another charge at the opposite end of the corridor. Teleporting down and out, placing a charge each time, she stayed just ahead of the guards until she appeared outside the ‘ZP’ once more.

Here, there was no place to avoid being seen. The guards spotted her, and charged, intending on overpowering her before she could teleport away. Yellowjakket triggered the charges. The bottom ones blew first, followed upwards by the interior charges, setting a resonance in the structure. The rumbling increased as each charge detonated, setting the walls to shaking. The guards slowed the advance, staring at the rumbling building behind the girl. The young woman smiled, then teleported as the walls cracked, then slid down with a roar of shattering stone and steel. Screams issued from inside the building as children from eight to eighteen scrambled for freedom through the breach.

The girl reappeared back at her original spot, taking a moment to watch the prisoners scramble free. There was a faint crunch behind her. She spun, ready for an attack. “You are always where you’re not wanted, girl. Time for you to die.” She tried to teleport, and failed. The man chuckled at her surprise. “Please, I’ve seen that trick before. I came prepared.” He stepped forward, his hand like a striking snake. She tried to dodge, stepping aside and closing, Her hand crackling with power. The man smirked as he mouthed a quick spell, snuffing the building power. His huge paw of a hand engulfed her arm.

She screamed as a hard yank popped the shoulder out of joint. The man smiled, twisting the arm, and tearing another scream from her throat. “You should have never come, Yellowjakket”, he growled over the blaring sirens. He looked up from the struggling woman to the flood of prisoners escaping. “Looks like I’ll be getting a bonus for recapturing this lot, don’t you think?” He jerked on her arm once more, then grabbed her throat, lifting her off the ground. The muscles on his arm bulged as he squeezed. The girl beat at his arm for a moment, then a wet snap caused her to jerk, and hang limp. The man threw the corpse to the side, and started after the escaped prisoners. He plucked at small device off his belt, and held it up.

“This is Montrose, She’s take-”, he started to speak, then a detonation blew him face down as shards of bone pierced his back, and gobs of flesh and blood rained down. He awoke moments later, confused by the blast. It too a moment to orient himself. A squawking noise resolved itself to a voice emanating from the mic on the ground near him. “Montrose! Montrose! Dammit you git, Report! Montrose!” Hamish Montrose pushed his bulk slowly off the ground. A mumbled spell thrust the chips of bone from his body, allowing healing to begin. He looked down at the blood-spattered mic, then bent to pick it up. He shook the blood off, then clicked it.

“Shut it, this is Montrose. Someone dropped a bomb here. Girl’s gone.” “Bloody hell! How she get away? Your incompetence has caused this debacle! When Control hears of this..” “They’ll what!”, he snarled at the mic. “Save your bum from the Processors? Don’t make me laugh.” She didn’t get away. She’s dead. As for the prisoners, we can catch them. They’re all chipped. Get the list and set the Finders loose. The game’s just starting.” He clicked the mic off, then shook himself, and strode towards the blasted wall to cut off any more escaping children.

Dark Renaissance – Prolog

Here it is.  The prolog for the story.  It’s short and I hope you enjoy the buildup .  Please comment and critique to your heart’s content.  I only get better when I learn where my weaknesses and strengths are.

 

Thirty years ago, humanity opened its full potential. Quantum physics had delved deep into the why and where of things, finding in truth that all things are connected in one way or another at the sub-atomic level. Spooky action at a distance indeed, as man found that fiction and science, myth and magic, all had a similar origin in the lowest levels of creation. When it was discovered that with practice, or proper manipulation of genetics, abilities and powers stepped from fantasy to reality. Future, past, all of time, became another tool to manipulate. This kind of ability and power was first jealously guarded by those in power, hoping to hoard it for themselves.

For the first years of advancement, this was true, and a shadow war of sorts developed between those who had the power, and those who discovered that power, and wanted it for themselves. This war created a new world by destroying the base of the old. History looped and twisted, changing with every experiment in time, until all realized that the loops simply fed into one another and created the amalgam that had loosed the power on the world entire. What no one had thought to realize was, that each time someone with power shifted time, they also shifted potential by exposing others in the past to the theories and abilities of the future. This exposure created that opportunity for the power, and abilities to grow outside the controls those in power had hoped to strengthen. In essence, they chased the horse out of the barn before they closed it.

This created the new world. One that constantly shifted with each trip back in time, until time itself provided the final answer by a feedback loop that stopped any rearward development. The world shifted back beyond humanity to find it’s balance, only to find man had been there already. The genie was truly out of the bottle, and what had been a world of man, became a world of powers, aspects, and man.

The heroic age had been born anew. Heroes in capes wielding mysterious and terrible powers. Puissant mages, vile demons, gods, aliens, and men who stepped beyond humanity. In this new world, evil still resided, in more grandiose, and more subtle forms. Tyrannies grew from the ashes. The world had been changed, continents shifted, countries destroyed and rebuilt anew.

North America was split by a body of water where the Great Plains previously existed. The south was drowned. Central America ceased to exist excepting numerous small islands dotting the space between North and South America. The United States was reduced to a shadow of itself. What remained of it was situated east of the Ohio-Mississippi river basin. Canada was split in thrice. The West the South, and the Northeast. Europe was split by the growth of the Mediterranean Sea, cutting Africa by drowning the Arabian peninsula. Despite every change, man still remembered what had been, and wanted to return.

National Novel Writing Month – Brandished Destiny – part 6

Here the heroes begin to try and figure out how best to dispose of the new acquisition.

These are reports and notes of your case with the Nephilim. In truth, this was also a large part of why I desired employment with you. To survive such a creature is amazing by itself. To actually defeat one is nearly unprecedented. It is part of why most Elves know of you, and why some such as …” she thought for a moment “… Cobb tried to use and destroy you. You are a threat to their hopes of isolating humanity from the fae.”

Why do these Elves want to isolate humanity?” I had an idea why, we’re crazy violent. That’d probably be enough to give any group second thoughts about contacting the insane bald apes. “Your philosophy. We have a consistent philosophy that gives us stability. Humans have many philosophies. So many that to Elves, it seems that they are made for convenience sake instead of as a process of thought that leads to society structure. Humans are frightening and incomprehensible. Each human is flexible in terms of social structure and philosophy. To many in Elvish culture you as a race are insane.”

I had to think that through for a bit before I understood it. It hurt to hear things put bluntly, but blunt makes certain there is no misunderstanding. I was definitely more interested in talking about that than I was about the bottle. Sinera didn’t move the overturned coffee cup on top of it. I think she had the same gut-level revulsion of the thing I did. Another thought occurred to me.

Sinera, what is the Elvish attitude towards something like a Nephilim?” Yeah, ask questions and that way I don’t have to start looking into finding the bloody soul-sucking bottles.

A Nephilim is a fearsome entity. It always hungers and hates. A Nephilim is a danger to existence.” She grimaced like something bitter was caught in her throat. “Such a thing is best avoided if at all possible. You humans tend to rush toward an enemy rather than wisely fleeing. Dying does not always save the person whom was sacrificed for. It only results in more deaths than the one.”

I suppose. What would your suggestion be for locating the bottles?” I hoped she didn’t have any so I would get more time behind the desk rather than looking for trouble.

I would not use Magick. Not unless you wish to lose part of yourself to a bottle. In truth, we must wait until there is more evidence to collate with the Nephilim case.I hated my reaction to her statement. I was all for staying in and away from Nephilim and bottles. But I kept seeing friends and co-workers dead because of those things. I’m not sure when my attitude went from ‘case’ to ‘personal vendetta’, but somewhere along the way it did. And like an idiot swashbukling noir-style gumshoe, I was going to go attempt to brace a lion in its den, just because it had to be done.

I hate ‘it had to be done’. It’s way too altruistic and nothing good comes from a selfless act. There are too many people that see selfless as self-serving. People perform selfless acts all the time, diving into the water to rescue a child or a pet, jumping a robber in a store, volunteering to help get food to homeless or shut-ins. In a lot of rescue cases someone gets hurt or killed because they’re not good enough to finish what they started. Sinera had the right of it there. If you’re going to do something dangerous and chancy, you need to be able to finish successfully.

I rubbed the nub of my finger again. It ached, whether from proximity to that bottle or my own tension I don’t know. I took a breath, then a second and reached over to pick the cup up. The bottle was still there, stopper in place. Sinera had taken a step back toward the door to the outer office.

I forced my hand to the bottle and picked it up, then opened the bottom drawer of the desk. I pulled out the empty whiskey bottle (I kept it there to remind me how easy it is to be self-destructive and not be so) opened it and dropped the bottle inside. It barely fit through the mouth. I capped the bottle and placed it back into the bottom drawer and slid it closed. Sinera tapped her cheek with a perfectly manicured nail.

Glass is a good choice. It can accept Magick and obscure the thing from any searchers.”

Freaking elves. I pulled the drawer back open then picked the bottle up. I focused, imagining layers of Magick coating the whiskey bottle and trapping the Magickal traces that seeped through the glass. A second layer to do the same again, and a third to hide the traces of the first two. Dragon Magick is so convenient.

It is disconcerting when you do that, Fern. Your Magick smells like a Dragon when cast. Anything sensitive knows a powerful caster is nearby. If you were being searched for your Magick would be a beacon of light in the dark night of the new moon.” Sinera had a rather intricate way of saying ‘Your Magick stinks and anyone can find you when you use it.’ I wondered if the smell as she called it was affected by wind and/or weather.

At least whoever’s looking for the bottle won’t be able to find it.”

Not Magickally, however, you are the one who defeated a Nephilim. Nearly all fae know of you by reputation. Where else would a Judge go to leave a dangerous item?” She made it sound so logical. I knew there were gaps in the process of ‘bottle’ to ‘Fern’, but she was right. If I did have a reputation as wide-ranging as she hinted at, I would be the logical place to look first. Which meant there had to be a better place to hide the bottle. Fawn. They had an evidence locker that it could be hidden away in. But Fawn is my sister, and who would I go to if I wanted to hide something like a soul-sucking bottle? KISS…keep it simple, stupid.

I left the bottle in the bottle at the bottom of the desk. Out of sight out of mind and at least for now out of my hair. I really like the idea of destroying it, but I would need something like Rynun’s blade to do it. That’s what I needed last time. And Rynun was at the lake Mom and Dad’s cabin was…I could give it to Rynun! That was simple. All thoughts of leaving it in the desk flew away and I grabbed the bottle then checked my pockets for keys. Sinera concentrated and was suddenly in camo pants with a blue and black checked shirt with a longbow and a large knife. On her back was a quiver with about twenty arrows. She then broke the bow down and stuffed it in the quiver and zipped up the cover, hiding both bow and arrows inside the camouflaged tube. The knife was in the open with a thread tied around it, a ‘peace tie’ Elves used when visiting the human world. It kept potentially lethal mistakes to a minimum.

Where are we driving?”

We’re going to see an old friend who might be able to break this thing.”

You mean the native spirit. Rynun, correct?”

Yes, him. His knife shattered the original bottle. He might be able to destroy this one also.”

It is a welcome idea. I would prefer it destroyed.” We agreed on that completely. I never wanted another one this close to me again, ever. My skin crawled slightly as the bottle in the whiskey bottle clinked brightly against the glass surrounding it. I grabbed my trench coat that I hardly ever used and put the bottle in an inside pocket. I had Sinera drive us out there, and it was only mildly adventurous. She never drove off the road, and she had a valid license though I wondered if the officer just gave her the license so he didn’t have to sit next to her while she drove. The car moved constantly, at time rocking on the suspension as she put it through a particularly quick shift of direction. I was happy when the turnoff to the cabin appeared ahead of us.

The trees and the land here had been blasted by the Nephilim. Somehow it had killed the forest by drining the life out of the wood, and the animals in the area. Now, most of the dead trees had fallen and a rich moss grew prolifically on them. Small pines, about three meters tall, were rapidly growing to fill in for the dead wood. Insects buzzed and butterflies floated on the breeze. The gravel road widened as it emptied into a clearing. To our left was the cabin. Fawn and I had started coming out here again just after Zhira was born.

The wooden walls had been cleaned and re-painted. The old car that sat next to the cabin didn’t pulse with spiritual malevolence, but was just a normal vehicle. It didn’t run. Dad had pulled the engine long ago and had used the shell of the car to hide the emergency generator from thieves. It must have worked because it was still hidden in the cut out trunk. Mom had made the hood into an impromptu flower garden and Fawn and I had replaced the missing wood she used. The small box garden was in place and this year Fawn was making plans to turn it into a butterfly lure for Zhira. It had been a lot of work, but the results were well worth it. Ahiah was gone, as was nearly all of the damage that the Nephilim had caused.

The only reminders were three bare spots on the ground in the small clearing behind the house and down the hill by the lake. No grass grew on them. Two of the spots were where our parents had spent years trapped by a spell gone wrong, and the third was where the bottle had shattered and Ahiah was drawn into the ground. The spots soured my mood, but that changed when Rynun walked out of the woods to us. Sinera bowed deeply to the little brown man, and I kneeled and gave him a heartfelt hug. He returned it and smiled broadly.

Fern, you’re the picture of health. But you didn’t come here for me to tell you how healthy you are. What reason do you visit an old brown man?” He looked like what he said. Old, brown wrinkled skin that was almost bark-like in its appearance with deep furrows and folds. His eyes were a crystalline grey with a shoulder-length shock of pale hair with a slight brownish tint. In height he barely came to mid-thigh, making him an average six to eight year old in height. His features were a little bulbous like a caricature of a human face. His smile though was pure joy and peace. Kind of like a favorite grandfather, getting along in years but still very spry. It made me feel guilty for not coming by sooner or more often.

I have something bad I want to destroy. You’re the one person I could think of with experience.” His eyebrows raised, then shot up like they were trying to fly off his head.

Spirits no! Fern, you’ve found another!?” He looked stricken, and badly in want of a drink.

There was no help for it. I pulled the whiskey bottle out with the little blue metallic glass bottle inside. He slid backwards, legs sinking into the soft earth to his knees.

An Elf left it on my desk. He said there were three others most likely in Halifax. I haven’t heard of any demons, and you’re still out here rather than in town, so nothing’s come to get, um, you know, Ahi..” I shut up when he started waving his hands wildly. He turned to gaze at Sinera, who responded with a deep bow from the waist arms outspread as if to welcome all to her. The two finished their extremely formal bow, then Rynun turned back to me again.

You’ve come up in the eyes of many, Fernie. An Elf actually working with you. Interesting times indeed.” I rolled my eyes.

Did that just come to you or have you been saving that cliché for just the right moment?”

His laugh was the hearty donkey-like bray I remembered. “Too true Fernie! I can’t put ont over on you, can I? The world changes every day, sometimes more than others.” He gave me another bright smile and started to sink into the ground. I stepped quickly forward before he could disappear and lay my left hand on his shoulder.

Wait, Rynun. Can you destroy this bottle?” I still had it in my right hand. He looked back at the bottle-in-bottle, and shrugged.

Fernie, you and your sister don’t need me. I’m an old man with a few tricks. Wars are for the young to fight.” He disappeared into the earth which closed up behind him like nothing had happened. I got two things from that discussion. One, maybe Fawn and I together could wreck the bottle. Two, something big was coming, and we were going to be in the middle of it. Yeah, they were pretty unsubtle hints. But then, I’m an unsubtle girl and not always very swift on the uptake, and I’d had enough of cryptic meanings to last me a lifetime without more being added to the list. Sinera walked to stand beside me.

So, I take it we’re going to have to find our own way to dispose of it.” That summed things up nicely. I just wish I knew more about what Rynun was talking about. Too much hidden meaning and I didn’t really think I had time to figure out who, what, where, how, and why. Actually, I had part of who; me and Fawn. And I had a big what; war. I don’t know what kind of war, or who is going to be involved on both sides. And I still had the gods cursed bottle.

I shoved it back in my inside pocket with more force than I probably needed. The faint ripping sound as the pocket tore seemed to be just the icing on the cake for the day. I took the keys from Sinera and drove back to my office, and spent the time yelling at the other drivers. It wasn’t proper but it was cathartic.

National Novel Month – Brandished Destiny – part 5

WE get deeper into the situation.

 

CHAPTER 3

After Judge Caddus left, and thoughtfully left the bottle under my coffee cup, I called Sinera in to ask her take on the conversation.

He is truly disturbed by finding the item. It is not his only concern however. I do not have a notion of what his other concern might be. He is very careful with speech and mannerisms.”

So asking him directly is not going to be an option.”

Sinera shrugged, then sat down in the guest chair. “I do not believe so. If he would have given an indication of concern, I am certain that it would have been obvious enough for a human to recognize.” Ouch, burn. She was correct though. Elves are raised on politics, which means being able to read small tells better than a professional gambler. Humans are just not as in tune with each other as Elves are.

Okay, then let’s find out if there is anyone who has collapsed recently and acting like a vegetable.” It’s what the bottle does to people. I hate the idea of looking for victims, but right now it’s the only idea I had.

Are there any patterns that the previous perpetrator used? If those using the bottles are after similar things, what the original was targeting, these new users may target also.”

I went over to the files and made of show of looking through them, but I had intimate knowledge of Hervald’s habits. He wanted attractive women, and had frequented singles bars for them. I don’t think that someone would do the same thing. But it didn’t hurt to check out. Singles bars are good places to make contacts. Hervald went for the high-end places. Not the best place to hunt targets. Missing debutantes tend to stand out. Homeless don’t.

Sinera, can you check with the police if there’s a sudden rash of disappearances of homeless people in any one area? They seem like a natural target if someone wants to hide what they’re doing.”

Sinera nodded. “I can do the search. Would you prefer immediately, or Monday morning?”

Immediately. We’re on the clock. We can charge…” I smacked my head. He left before I could bring up price. Note again, listen for what Elves DON”T say. Not only had he hooked me with the bottle, he’s getting my efforts for free. I wanted to pull my hair for falling for such a trick. Sinera looked at me with an enigmatic smile that perhaps I was actually learning something. Freaking Elves.

I pulled out the old file on Hervald Thensome and walked with it in hand back to my desk and read the notes I made. The first one “This sucks!” was how I felt right now. Score one for old notes. I’d ran into Hervald the third bar I had spent an hour at. He invited me up to an apartment, then tried suck my sould out with the bottle. He ended up getting himself when I tripped him trying to escape. The question now would be Fawn. She deserved to know. As a cop, she had resources I couldn’t touch, and I had contacts that she could never talk to. It was a good balance when we weren’t on opposite sides of the law.

I sat down and grabbed the old candlestick phone and dialed her number. Each rotation of the dial was pure enjoyment. How many people do you know that can still use a rotary phone? It’s fun compared to the push button or touchscreen. Slower definitely, but fun. The desk sergeant, Richie Pomeroy, picked up on the third ring.

Hauser House, Pomeroy speaking, how may I help you?”

Hi Richie. Fawn in?”

The line was quiet for a few moments then Richie said with exaggerated politeness, “She’s still out at the scene. I’ll pass on the request.”

Richie didn’t like me much, and the feeling was mutual. I didn’t like him in high school when his idea of paying attention to me was as a way to hang with Fawn. We both ran him off when we got wise to what he was doing. After that things happened to my locker and any stuff I didn’t keep an eye on. The culmination was the self-defense classes. His dad ran the class and he and I were called up to demonstrate a few self-defense moves against a surprise attacker. I threw Richie down harder than I needed to once. He retaliated with a full football tackle which knocked the wind out of me. When I got my wind back, I went after him. His dad and Fawn had to break us apart.

He mellowed and turned into a good cop, but he still held a grudge, and I wouldn’t let go of mine either. We were unfailingly polite, but that was it. Strange how that works. Maybe the Elves weren’t so different after all. And maybe I’m a six foot Amazon.

After the call, I doodled random notes to see if any inspiration would hit and I’d have a way to start this investigation. Sinera would take likely most of the day remaining talking to the various Houses to see what, if anything unusual had happened in their territory. I started to get up and check on Sinera and get a few numbers to call and give me something to do instead of brooding.

Fatelli Investigations.”

Shortstuff, we need to talk. I have something creepy as hell and want your take on it.”

Some victim a vegetable and glassy eyed like three years ago?”

She sputtered on the other end of the phone and I would have grinned at surprising her but the upside down cup on my desk with one of the four missing Glass Bottles under it sobered me up real quick.

I got a visit from Judge Caddus from the Elven enclave. He convinced me that we have a real problem. So yeah, I wanted to talk to you. Richie Pomeroy has a message from me to call since you weren’t at your desk.” I took the next few minutes describing our chat and what the Judge had left on my desk. Fawn remained quiet through the whole talk, but I could feel her anger building. Some deranged THING brought those back to Dayning. She did not want to wait for the body count to rise.

Do you think that demon’s back too?” Fawn. Direct and to the point. Forget the bottles and focus on the bottle user. That’s the best way to shut trouble down.

No idea right now. I’m hoping he’s gone and not coming back. Once was more than painful enough for me.” I rubbed the nub of my little finger again. It had started throbbing when I saw that bottle again. Fawn gave me a complete run-down on the victim. Young, blonde, pretty, and missing from work after not calling in sick yesterday. This was almost identical to Hervald’s victims. I really REALLY didn’t want it to be Hervald again.

She’s gone, isn’t she?”

Fawn sounded sad and angry at the same time. “Yes, she’s gone, if it really is that bottle again.” She paused for a moment. “Come by the station, you’re going to be a professional consultant to our house. You’ll get full pay and full access to our database and whatever we get from overseas or the ‘states.”

Do you think it’s world-wide? We’re just Halifax, not the capital.” I hadn’t even thought of the possibility beyond our little city on the island. Halifax wasn’t always little. Over one hundred fifty years ago it was the largest staging area for ships bound to Europe that existed. World War 2 as it was called demanded equipment, food, and troops to fight off a merciless regime. Halifax had hundreds of ships if not thousands, pass through her port back then. Now, we were still a shipping port, but just one of many. The real large ones were south and west, where the majority of Canada’s population still resided. Montreal and Quebec City were the real shipping magnets. Boston and New York are the largest ports near by in the USA.

No, it’s here with us. Part of me wants to know why us, why here, why now. Just, why. It may be we’re just seeing a tree and missing the forest. But there’s not been anything from the USA or Europe that says there were any weirdness like here.”

Did what we ran into get all that much publicity?” I should have thought of that question ages ago. I remember being written up and what had occurred did reach the papers and the ‘net. It died fast though, more lurid stories pushed The bottle story out of the news in a few days. That’s what I remembered at least.

I don’t remember too much. I know the station was up in arms with the same guy disappearing from cells without any understanding why. And when we got him, he was clinically dead. The coroner nearly blew a gasket when he got ready to autopsy Hervald. He disappeared right out of the cooler, and no one was in the place except the coroner and he never left it. There are still stories floating around about it at the house.”

So maybe not so much publicity, but enough weird to make those around the case remember very well according to Fawn.

Getting back to the offer, I think it’s a good idea. I can watch your back and vice-versa. It was our folks that made the trouble, and what do you want to bet it’ll come looking for us because of that?”

“Shortstuff, that is paranoia talking, and yes I just happen to agree. I’ve seen plenty of weirdness and more than a few times it came back around to its origins. We can’t rule out a link. I hate thinking about it, but we, and especially you, have seen what happens. There’s no such thing as coincidence, it’s all Magick and weirdness.”

I couldn’t argue. I’m sure Sinera was listening to the conversation. She told me once that her hearing could hear a fly’s buzz on the far window in my office from the hallway. That’s way beyond what a human could ever hope to do. Magick could augment hearing so humans could, but Magick is always of the ‘direct’ approach if no detail is added. So, hearing would be boosted to hear the fly, and every other sound would be too. I wouldn’t want to experience having everything dialed to twenty on a ten point scale. That’d be a good way to liquefy your brains. How Sinera handles it is beyond me. I put the receiver back on its hook and set the telephone back on the desk. Sinera came in with some papers in hand. She placed them on my desk next to the candlestick telephone.

What is this?” I was hoping she’d give me a clue what the papers were about. I was certain it had to do with our conversation as Sinera tends to listen and anticipate what I might ask for. She’s not perfect at it, but she is a lot better than I ever could be.

National Novel Writing Month – Brandished Destiny – part 4

Here’s part 4, and Fern’s involvement becomes much more personal.

In truth, I never had a job I wanted to turn down so badly as this one. But one thing had changed my mind. The Troll. I saw Zhirk, who Zhira was named after in my head. His face dissolving in the shotgun blast. I shut my eyes again and went through my office again mentally, remembering where each item of my office was. It helped divert my mind from the horror of those vivid memories and let me release them instead of replaying each one again and again in my head.

Judge Caddus, I must admit I would rather never to have anything to do with that object you brought.” I held up a hand as his face screwed up in stricken despair, which was a shock to see on his normally serene and stoic features. “I will help you. One thing I am sure we both have learned is that if you do nothing, evil like that flourishes.” There was a faint ‘snap’ like a static shock. I, for better AND worse now, had a binding fae contract with the Judge. Gods and powers, I sounded like a freaking superhero or something. How much more pompous could I sound? I guess it was the right bit of bombast, because the Judge’s features smoothed out and I think I detected relief emanating from him.

I thank you for your reminder that no one being need stand alone. We have to trust, and reach out to confront imbalance and chaos.” That was one way to put it. I’m certain I don’t mind imbalance and chaos, we humans live with that all the time. Perhaps they look at Imbalance as Injustice. I don’t know for certain. What I was absolutely sure of however, was that bottle was made to make misery and death. Ahiah had drunk from it and become immensely powerful. That was burned into my memories. What I wasn’t sure of was the ‘why’. Why did it show up? Why did and Elf have it? I could somewhat understand his coming here. I was mixed up in that horror before. Both I and Fawn.

I’m certain he came to me because of our prior meeting, rather than go to Fawn. She represents human law, and Elvish law is not close at all to it. What we judge by is intent and morals of our society. What Elves judgment are certainly not on those qualities. I’m not certain what they are based upon, but one thing we are certain of is Elves despise Magick used for ill. They rightly hate and fear those powers that have free will to meddle in the physical world, especially those of malevolent nature.

What we would be facing was the nightmare that created that bottle. Be it human, fae, or other, it was a monster that needed be caught and put away. I’d prefer it gone and buried and the bottles broken and tossed in the ocean. The problem would be to hunt it down. Which meant locating the source of the one the Judge had brought.

I looked over at the cup resting over the cursed bottle. “Judge Caddus, where did you acquire that particular item?” Diplomacy. Yep. No vicious names for things. No strong emotions. Nope, not a thing to unbalance the calm, or whatever passed for it currently.

The bottle was procured from the remains of a burned oak on what you name Prince Edward Island.”

I went cold with memories. Cobb. The tree. Kent and Kevin. Anolyn. Being possessed by him, and his rage at Cobb for making those abominations. I’d thought the dragon fire would have burnt them all. I looked up at the Judge, who seemed anything but calm now that we were discussing the main reason for our meeting. He appeared suddenly careworn. Deep lines were etched on his face that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Fae magic or just normal human inattention. Neither he or I reached for the cup to expose the bottle underneath.

In the reopening of the way to PEI, we found the devastation that had been wrought upon the tree, and the abominations that were warped into its heart. We found the remains, and the tools to create.” He paused, as if to add a more colorful term, but refrained and continued. “We found a crate made of bespelled wood which had been destoryed by dragon fire. The Bottles inside broken and rendered inert.” He paused for a moment, like he was a movie actor about to dispense an ominous statement to make the audience gasp.

There were four empty locations in the crate. We procured this one from an Elf that had used it on his own.”

My stomach churned at the thought of three of those things loose. But why Halifax? Wouldn’t Europe be a more fertile hunting ground for the users? Why here?

I have found myself wondering why we are the recipient of such a menace. It would meuch simpler to go where the population is greatest. There one could hunt and use the bottle to their heart’s content. Disappearances would be lost in the myriad of other disappearances that occur daily in large populations. Your Nova Scotia is far from being a huge metropolis such as London. What would bring something so dangerous here?”

We were on the same wavelength, which made me wonder at the apparent coincidence. With Elves, never expect coincidence. I learned that already. Never ever trust in coincidence. That trust will trip you up at the worst possible time. So using the ‘there are no coincidences’ rule, the Judge was reading my mind or following my intent and using that to reinforce the idea in hopes of something breaking loose. I suppose it’s his method of helping, but, so not helpful.

If you’re observing my thoughts, I recommend against it. Agreements of that nature do not help discovering new paths. Right now I’d love to talk to the person who had this bottle in their possession. Asking the right questions could get us answers where the others are.”

He bowed contritely. “I do apologize. This is a very dangerous investigation. I had hoped to assist in creating active thoughts that would find a method of advancing along this perilous conundrum. Please forgive my earnest error. I meant no insult nor harm.” Take note. He did apologize for his enthusiasm, not for trying to manipulate my thoughts. Always pay attention to what Elves say, and more to what they DON’T. I decided to let it go. IN his own way, the Judge was doing his best to be helpful. My job, as I saw it, was to track down the rest of the bottles. Just how was the real question.

Brandished Destiny – part 3

This is going to be longer as I’ve missed some days adding in here.  I have been surprised by all the recapping going on and wonder why in this book I have so much compared to the others.  Perhaps it’s because I saw this as the last, but now am not sure if it will be.  Regardless, here’s part 3.

 

CHAPTER 2

Larry waved us over to their pine picnic table. He had thoughtfully set out corn on the cob, American style french fries, water, and a salad bowl for a snack. He and Fawn had learned how much work went into marriage, and that no one family ever had it like the fairy tales. They had more good days than bad now, and Zhira was one reason why. I’d just sat down to grab an ear of corn, when my cellphone buzzed. An instant later, a shrill ringing came from an open window in their house.

Fawn grumbled and stalked toward the back screen door while I stayed outside with my cellphone so I could have a bit more peace and quiet since Larry and Zhira had followed her inside. Sinera, my secretary, didn’t waste any time with greetings.

Fern, you have a potential client waiting for you here. What time shall I tell them you’ll be into the office?” I blinked.

Umm, today’s Sunday. I’ll be in the office tomorrow morning.” I held the cellphone in front of me and checked the date. It agreed with me that it indeed was Sunday, and that at twenty-one Celsius, with clear skies, a hint of a north wind, and no threat of rain, it was a good day to be outside.

I was contacted directly, and informed I must call you. I do not believe this is one client who will appreciate sitting in your office until tomorrow morning.”

The identity of the client was not my first thought. My first thought was how did she contact Sinera directly? Sinera’s an elf. She doesn’t have an official number. All of my calls get routed to an answering service when no one’s in the office, which is how weekends are, or are supposed to be. The immediate thought was that she’d been contacted magickally. If that was the case, it was someone we already knew because they knew of Sinera. Thinking about it, beyond my previous clients, who mostly preferred Magick stay away from them, had no idea how to get hold of Sinera. All I remember them using was the advertised phone number. That this person knew about Sinera well enough to contact her directly meant it was someone who knew her. That meant Elves. My client had to be an Elf. I have an aversion bordering on an allergy to Elves. Sinera is the notable exception. Elves live in Underhill. They do come to our world and trade goods, a number of them Magickal, that they sell, or trade for something they consider of value. Your guess is as good as mine what each one wants.

Elves are scrupulously truthful, but that does not mean they’re honest. An Elf will always look for the best way to present the truth and in such a manner so you want to believe it. They tell you what you want to hear using the truth as the lever and it’s a bit like the old joke about ‘proper diplomacy’ which is telling someone to go to hell in such a manner they look forward to the trip.

The most classic example of Elves I can think of is trading something for a service. That the service could span generations of humans doesn’t make the service any less legitimate, and it’s not slavery. It’s payment for a good or a service. Yes, it’s indentured servitude, but not slavery. Slavery is forcing servitude on another, indenturment is someone agreeing to it.

Should I be concerned that we might be dealing with a fae?”

I would say yes to the might.”

I stayed quiet for a few moments, thinking. Sinera politely gave me time to gather my thoughts.

Is it someone that you and I are familiar with?”

Yes, you have had some unfortunate dealings in a legal decision some time ago.”

Legal decision. Only one person fit that description. Judge Caddus. He was forced to declare me beholden to the Elf Lord Cobb when I falsely accused him of deliberately bespelling me. His daughter did it, but the hard fact was he wasn’t the caster. No one except Cobb was happy with that, especially the Judge.

Has he indicated what the reason for this emergency?”

He has said he will only speak with you face to face, in your office.”

So not helpful.

I’ll be there within the hour. If he offers anything in the way of a hint or explanation, give me a call. I’d like not to go in cold.”

Understood. I will inform you if more information is revealed before you arrive.”

I ended the call and grabbed a second ear of corn. The Judge could wait a few more minutes. After nibbling my lunch, I stepped on inside to tell Fawn and Larry that I had to go over to my office. As I pulled the screen door open I spotted Fawn rummaging in the closet by the front door. She pulled out her police jacket she’d gotten as a new officer. She still wore it in preference to anything else. She settled it on her shoulders and flipped her blonde hair back, then bent down to give Zhira a hug.

I have to go to work sweetie. I’ll be home soon.” She straightened up and shared a hug with Larry. They held onto each other for a moment more, looking into each others eyes then they noticed me watching.

He shortstuff. I have to go in. There’s a crime that doesn’t appear standard. So the special unit will be covering it.”

I nodded. “It’s a day for it. I just got a call from Sinera that there’s a client who wants to see me now of all times. I have to go too.”

Larry reached down and picked up Zhira. She giggled and leaned over to Fawn to give her a kiss on the cheek. She then wiggled in Larry’s arm to give me one on the cheek and a pat of her hand.

We keep corn” she said smiling.

Yeah you will ‘cause it’s your favorite. I know you” I said laughing. There’s something about laughing innocence that lightens any mood. Here I was going to talk with a Elven Judge, and all I could think of was how nice a day it was. Children are magic.

The good mood stayed with me on my drive over to the office. I pulled into the near empty parking lot and parked the shiny black PT cruiser under the lone light post in the lot. It was still missing the rear seats, but I hardly used them. The large back without the seats allowed me to carry a whole lot of things. I felt a stab of melancholy as I got out, closed and locked the door. There not so many around now which made it stand out more. TO do my job I was likely going to have to get a newer old car so it would fit in more when I had to stake out an area. The bright blue sky gave the red brick a more vivid color as I walked to the front door. Reality intruded on my happy mood as I began considering more the reasons an Elf Judge would need to see me so desperately.

I couldn’t think of a reason why and that bothered me more the closer I got to my office. When I pushed the door open of my classic nineteen thirties noir style office, enjoying the gritty ambiance with the four drawer file cabinets bolted to the Murphy bed. The four-blade fan turned silently and its refurbished bearings over my large Oak desk with candlestick phone and new Rolodex that sat in gleaming black on the polished wood. The new bricks stood out against the older faded ones, with the only thing missing was the neon glow of the building’s sign because it was too light outside for it’s orange color to be seen. This was home, moreso than any other place I’d lived.

Judge Caddus was in the guest chair next to my desk, in full formal dress. His dark blue robe covered him from shoulder to ankle and his boots were of bright blue laquered leather with some silver highlights. His pale hair was in a long tail between his shoulders. He stood up and bowed politely as I moved to my desk and sat down. He sat after me, telling me that he was requesting my help rather than standing and demanding it. Sinera had schooled me on some of the Elvish eitquette.

Whoever bows lower is the one requesting the meeting, and who stands last is the one who is petitioning the other for assistance. If they remain standing, they will be negotiating from a position of power and making demands. If they sit, then it will be as a potential ally or looking for assistance. When both the standing last and sitting with the other party, it is one coming with a request of the person they’re meeting with.

That he sat with me and stood until I began sitting meant he was not trying to pull rank. He was genuinely concerned about something, and that something was extremely upsetting, if I understood Sinera’s lessons properly. I smiled and did what I always did, start with small talk. It gets people, most of them, to be more at ease.

Hello, Judge. It’s been a while since the last time we saw each other. I’m hoping you have been doing well for yourself.” He looked at me like I’d grown horns and hissed at him. Too late. Whatever gaffe I’d done I did accidentally. Judge Caddus calmed himself and realized the mistake. He actually smiled, if the faint raising of the lips was an Elvish smile.

I am also unfamiliar with proper human reaction and form. Let us both understand our differences and allow each the room for unintentional error.”

I smiled. He’d spotted the problem and offered a complete solution that blamed neither and focused on understanding. I am nowhere near so diplomatic. I much preferred not fighting, but I had little tolerance for errors that could be avoided with a little effort such as study or practice.

I nodded to indicate I noticed his layered solution.

Yes, let’s not get in a fight because of a misinterpretation of someone’s intent.” I paused a moment to let him consider the words. “If I am not being overbearing, may I ask what had you contact my partner Sinera directly and request this meeting on a day that is almost never an office work day?”

He stared at me for a long moment. His eyes locked on mine and I don’t think he ever blinked. He sat and stared, as if trying to find a way to broach a subject. Finally he sighed, then reached up a sleeve on his robe. He took a few moments to locate something by touch, then removed his closed hand and placed on my desk in front of me. He opened his hand and withdrew it, leaving behind a small metallic-like blue glass bottle. The same kind of bottle that cost my friend Zhirk his life and Hervald Thensome his soul.

I’m not sure if I shrieked and scrambled back or just teleported to where I was, mashed back against the wall next to the window that had been replaced during that first hellish case. The Judge, thoroughly alarmed at my reaction quickly grabbe my coffee mug and placed it over the bottle, covering it and hiding it from sight. I struggled for breath for a few moments before the adrenalin shakes hit. I was wired, and scared to death. I had smashed that thing! At PEI Anolyn had deliberately targeted the box with glass bottles and burned it to ash, along with the huge oak tree that Cobb had used as a torture chamber to make them from the agony and despair of his victims.

I could hear Kent Nix and Kevin Love scream their lives out all over again. More than anything at that moment, I wanted to grab the bottle of scotch and drown my fear in the bitter alcohol and forget that cursed thing under my upended coffee cup. It’d take the better part of a year of twice-weekly therapy to finally get a control on all the trauma that went with the previous jobs. My head was more or less back on straight, and I didn’t wake up screaming or paralyzed by nightmares.

Now, that thing shows up on my desk out of the blue. Well, blue robes anyway. Snark and sarcasm has always been a way I handle stress. It just isn’t the best choice because giving someone attitude when they’ve got the upper hand is just begging for bat things to happen. It had more than once and somehow I managed to avoid most of the bad intentions sent my way. I rubbed the nub of my little finger while Judge Caddus attempted to apologize by bowing his head almost to the desk top in contrition. Now was the time to use that diplomatic moment.

Judge Ca-ddus. I apologize for alarming you.” I took a shaky breath and walked back to my chair, turned it deliberately slowly back to the desk and sat down. “That item you thoughtfully brought me has many bad memories and experiences tied to it. I, uh, did not realize that any still existed.” Another shaky but calmer breath helped focus me. I closed my eyes and pictured my room mentally, using its familiarity as a calming influence for my body. I could feel the wire-tight tension ease as I mentally pictured each item in the room.

I humbly accept your generosity and would have you know I meant no disrespect nor harmful intent. You are one of the few that know the nature of that creation and I am very desirous of temporarily procuring your abilities and expertise to determine the reason for its reappearance.” He gestured at my cup. “This was found in the hands of an Elf that had used it to overwhelm a Troll. The Elf has been judged and executed in accordance and balance to the crime committed. I have brought this to you to request your expert assistance.”