The Day of Reminding, Part 1

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“. . . And so in those Times of Trouble, we learned that–”

“Momma, what does the Reverend mean by Times of Trouble?”

“Shush, Cynthia. I’ll explain later.”

Alice brushes her daughter’s hair back over her head to let her know she’s not angry as the Reverend’s sonorous voice echoes through the church. She tries her best to not let the frustration and dread in her mind make its way to her voice when she speaks to Cynthia but she knows some of it must come through. She always knew a time would come when she would have to explain certain things and in her heart she knows the luck that made it wait for this day.

“. . . And so is written in the fifteenth Verse of the second Chapter of the Book of William in the Third Testament,

 They that had caused the upheaval have been punished, but those that might cause it again must be punished again so that the innocent may not suffer. This is the way and the light for us at the end of that dark tunnel and it shall serve as reminder to all that the world is no long the wondrous place that the Lord had given us, but instead is a test before salvation, and by our own hand.

So that we remember, and we save those young from Salvation, we must then prevent them from finding the evil within their hearts and bringing it down to live in ours.”

“But, momma!”

“Stop it, Cynthia. Quiet!”

Her voice slices from the side her lips in a violent whisper as her hand slips over the five year old’s mouth. When she speaks this time she hopes that the girl can forgive her later but now is not the time, not on her first Day of Reminding.

“. . . That we may be gracious in this day and bear the suffering it brings knowing that it is a price we have brought upon ourselves. A price which we pay in our hearts every day and with our bodies only rarely. . .”

Cynthia begins to shake a little under her hands as the Reverend goes on and Alice can nearly recite every word by rote, she’s heard this sermon so many times over the years. Thinking back her first Day of Reminding she remembers the terror and feels it again now as she sees that the Reverend’s eyes are locked on Cynthia. Benign eyes, but determined none the less, they are same ones that were locked on her twenty years ago.

“. . . On this day the child Cynthia McCormick has been brought for her first Day of Reminding before you all. Alice McCormick, if you might bring the child forward.”

The pews of the church are full of expecting eyes, all trained on her and Cynthia as she pulls her up and wills her to be silent, her hand slipping from her mouth. What seems a million women’s faces looking towards them, some maliciously, some sympathetic, some excited. They all stare though and those that she knows well try to make eye contact with her, try to show their camaraderie, their sympathy, but it makes the walk no less difficult.

And then, seemingly in an instant she is at the pulpit with Cynthia and the Reverend is talking again, and the knife is out. Alice remembers this day and she can feel herself shaking and the tears running down her neck. She knows that Cynthia will be fine after the screaming and it will heal but she knows too what this can do to her, to a child. She knows as well that tonight she will be expected to explain those questions Cynthia asked earlier, with the Reverend looking on. She knows that Cynthia’s childhood is over.

“Beautiful child, she is.” The Reverend’s voice is soft and caring, not strong with authority like a moment before as she whispers now to Alice, above the head of her daughter. “This will be over shortly and she will be none the worse. You have been lucky.” The Reverend smiles then, and the words he speaks tear Alice apart more than the day’s events. They remind her the real reason she’s been so scared for this day, or for another like it.

“Let us only pray that the child you carry now is a daughter as well.”

Give Me A Lever Long Enough, Part 3

raboiconsThe door to the warehouse stands open when the warforged approaches and the massive metal locks which held it shut lie in pieces on the floor. Though not a large warehouse it is obvious that someone, somewhere was determined to keep it under lock and key. Also obvious is that someone else was determined to go inside and likely the two are not the same.

Pushing past the door into the nondiscript building where the lead said he could find the warforged called Finesse, Fulcrum looks about for signs of human tracks. He knows Finesse well enough from the Project that she would not be so blunt as to smash the door’s locks. She would have found a much more subtle way.

Inside the building is mostly empty of the crates and cargo one would expect and seemingly in a state of disrepair. Fulcrum though, knows that this is where he will find his target. Humans usually do not lie when you have broken three of their fingers. They never lie when you have removed three. This is what Fulcrum thinks as he sees the footprints in the dust leading away from the door and toward what might be an office at the back of the building.

“Fuck! They said this place was it. Goddamn fucking Thuranni, you just can’t trust ’em.”

A human steps out from the office then and looks up to see the construct standing there, eyes aglow in the low light and with little attempt to hide. Hiding is not a strong suit of most warforged and this one is no exception.

“Oh, fuck . . . Hey, so you’re a body guard or something, right? I’m sorry man, I just broke into the wrong place. I’ll like pay for the lock though, aight?”

Staring at the human with what he imagines might be a bemused glace, Fulcrum remember that there is at least one warforged who specializes in striking from the shadows and he remembers her well. Each of the project had a specialty and hers, while leaving him nervous more often than not, was always the most beautiful.

The hiss of rope swinging from the high ceilings of the warehouse is barely enough to make the human thief look up before the lithe construct on its end slices across him with her blade. By the time his surprised head falls to the floor, she is gone as quickly as she came and by the time his body also falls, Fulcrum is ready.

Running towards the office, his legs silently pumping underneath him even as his large feet slam against the floor, there is a shift above and he looks up again, knowing that she is too smart to attempt the same attack on him.

No, not the same attack, but one better as a tower of crates fall down on him, knocking him to his back and leaving him burried beneath a pile of broken wood and steel. But there is no time for this and as the wood begins to splinter and creek above him, he waves his hands as best he can while speaking and the debris is blown upward and away from him in a breath of force and he is free.

“Finesse, I have come for you.”

The whispers of movement above barely ping on his aural receptors and he knows that she is there, watching him, waiting for her next attack.

“You have come to kill me, but we are better than that!” He looks to toward the door, trying to trace the voices origin, but then it seems to come from behind him, “Or at least we can be. You though, you have shown your true colors and they will not be tolerated any longer.”

The voice echoes from around the room and as the masculine warforge casts about there is a crash and it is the sound of steel on iron as the skeletal body of his target crashes into his back at the base of his spine. Weapons flailing, she slashes at him and kicks as he falls to the ground, their arms a tangle.

Each blow though he parries with his newly augmented arms and in moments she is pinned beneath him, her eyes ablaze. A warforge lacks most signs of emotion, in fact lacks most emotion at all, but when their eyes glow bright there is a certain sign there. A sign of anger.

“How can you. . . I have bested you before. This is different.”

“Yes.”

The solid tones of their voices belie the tension and as the one holds the other down, his own weapon ready to end her, there is a subtle beauty to their embrace. A certain callous and unemotional sense of wonderment.

“Then end it. I know they have sent you to end me and if that is how it must end, at least it be by another of my kind.”

“They have sent me, yes.”

“Then end it!”

Her voice, ever the same tone, raises as high as she is able as her eyes glow ever brighter but the one called Fulcrum looks down on for a long time after and then, with a quick movement, his weapon is sheathed.

“I am not here to kill you though.”

“Then what, to torture me? Dismantle me one piece at a time as a lesson?”

“No.” And standing, the warforged looks down at her, prone upon the ground and magnificent in her unique adamantium body. “I am here to join your resistance.”

Tara and the Bitsies – Part III

tjiconTara could see the dust waft through the scattered rays of light like snowflakes. She flipped a light switch as her husband, Carl, closed the door behind them.

“Smells like old person,” said a little boy, pinching his nose.

“Shut up, C.J.,” hissed Carl.

“Did Grandma ever dust this place,” whispered C.J., now waving his hand to clear the dust from in front of him.

His father smacked him in the back of the head, “What did I tell you, son.”

“Ow,” whined the boy, rubbing his head.

Tara sighed and dropped her purse on the counter. Nothing had looked like it changed very much. And C.J. was right, there was way too much dust for it all to have gathered since in the past week. Tara’s mother must have stopped dusting long before. Nothing was dirty though, just dusty. The trash in the kitchen was full of TV dinner containers and Coke Zero cans. After her parent’s divorce, her mother had mostly stopped cooking. There was a lot of pizza and Chinese take-out. Then Tara got a job at that Mexican place and brought home food most nights. Then she left for college and her mom was left to fend for herself. The dishes in the cabinets hadn’t been moved for years.

Carl put a hand on Tara’s shoulder, “You want some time to… um, you know…”

“No,” said Tara, “no, I’m fine. Just, um…” She looked around at the house that used to be her home. Through a slivers in the blinds of the patio doors, Tara could see outside to the yard and the fence and the field behind it and finally the woods behind that. “Can you just take C.J. and just see what we need to pack up and take with us.”

“Okay, honey. No problem.” Carl walked into the living room to grab C.J. who was hitting the sofa to see how much dust he could make fly out of it. “Come on, champ,” said the man, taking the boy by the arm and leading him through the hall.

Tara stepped out into the backyard. The air was cool and the sky was a dull blue. Tara wondered if it would rain. Despite it not being very tall, Tara had a bit of a time getting over the fence. A combination of having not done it in a really long time and being in a dress. She should listened to the guys and gone back to the hotel to change, but she had wanted to keep C.J. in a suit for as long as she could.

The dirt path wasn’t muddy, but her heels still seemed to sink a bit as she walked. Things seemed different in the woods now. The trees hadn’t grown very much and there seemed to be just as much moss everywhere. It looked the same, but there was something that had changed. Maybe it had nothing to do with the woods.

“Hey, look who’s here,” came a voice from the treetops.

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” said Rhonda as she leapt from the cover of the leaves to a nearby branch. The other Bitsies hoped into sight soon after.

“I think her sight is making my eyes sore,” said J.T., “look at all those wrinkles.”

“How old are you, Tara,” asked Caleb, leaning in to get a closer look at the woman’s face, “like sixty.”

Tara rolled her eyes, “I’m thirty-four, guys.”

“Oh,” said J.T., “well, you look older.”

“Yeah,” Caleb chimed in, “like sixty.”

“Have you been moisturizing,” asked Rhonda, “would’ve solved your face problems a long time ago if you started moisturizing.”

“You guys disappeared on me,” said Tara.

“Uh-uh, you disappeared on us,” shouted Caleb.

“Yeah,” said J.T., “you left for college and got all your cool friends and you didn’t need us anymore.”

“I don’t need you,” said Tara, “I never needed you.”

“Well then, old woman,” said Rhonda, “what are you doing here?”

“My mom died.”

“Oh, so all it took for you to come see her was for her to die?”

“Fuck you!”

The Bitsies just laughed, “Look at there. Tara’s learned some more college words.”

The woman wiped her eyes. “You guys are some great friends, you know that?”

“Well, we learned from the best,” said J.T.

“Yeah, you only wanted to see us when you were running away from someone or something else,” said Caleb.

“When you needed a distraction,” added Rhonda.

“I used to hang out with you guys every day,” said Tara.

“Yeah, and what does that tell you?”

Tara leaned down to grab some mud to throw, but the dirt beneath her was too solid. Her hand wrapped around the first thing it could and she picked it up and tossed it at them. The stone flew right threw the space where the Bitsies were standing only a second before.

“Mom,” called a voice in the distance. Tara rubbed her hands together to get the dirt off. As she made her way back to the field to see C.J.’s head bobbing up and down behind the fence. Tara climbed back over. “Mom, what were you doing back there? I heard voices. Where you talking to someone? Who where you talking to?”

“No one, C.J.,” said Tara, rubbing the boys head, “just some old friends.”

“Really,” said the boy, “can I meet ’em sometime?”

Tara gave him a little smile, ” Hopefully, you won’t need to.”

Atlas, Part 3

 

bernicons            Ragni, with three of her arms holding a tiny Fahri baby and caressing the babe’s back, reached out with her free hand to touch Lin’s shoulder. “Is something up, Lin? You really seem off today.”

 

“Hm?”

 

Ragni’s eyes were a light yellow.”Well, you’re hunched over at the kiddy table, sitting in a tiny orange chair.” She was right. Lin sipped her large coffee. “And you never let your hair look that shaggy at work.”

 

Lin rubbed her head. “It’s not that bad.”

 

“Yeah, it is.” Ragni maneuvered to keep the Fahri baby from wrapping her tail into a knot around her arms. “Look, I know it’s early but I need you to get up and running before the morning rush.” Lin glanced at the clock. Parents would be dropping off a horde of their young’uns within the hour.

 

Ragni vigorously rubbed Lin’s hair. “Hey! Watch it!” protested Lin.

 

The Krit’s eyes were now an emerald green. “Cheer up, you’re favorite customer is coming in today.” And she walked off.

 

Lin sighed. “Taru…” Lin’s bracelet lit up. She almost didn’t want to check it but she swiped her forearm.

 

We will be in position at 1000 hours. See you there.

 

Lin clapped her hands together. The holographic screen disappeared.

 

The Fahri baby cried in the other room. “Hey, no sudden noises, Lin!!”

 

“Sorry!” Lin grimaced. She couldn’t help it. She took a swig from her coffee mug. She couldn’t go through with this. She wouldn’t go through with this. She had told the goddamn Krit that yesterday at the coffee shop but he just smiled smugly and bumped his bracelet up against Lin’s too quickly for her to pull away.

 

“There. You’ll know where to find me tomorrow,” he had paid for both their drinks and walked away. Lin had quickly swiped to go and delete the uploaded file, but couldn’t. Rather she could have if she had the time, but the heavy encryption would take an hour to skim through and she only had a fifteen minutes left on her break.

 

Lin stared at the kiddy table. It’s pieces of shit like that Krit that give the Concord all the fucking ammo it needs to keep the public in line; feeding tem propaganda saying that any freedom-fighter doesn’t really care about the population and will stoop to any level to get there way. The people should be afraid of the hackers and trust their government.

 

Never mind that their telephone conversations were tapped. Never mind that more money was being poured into government officials pockets than welfare. Never mind that stepping out of line could get you thrown into prison without trail. But hey, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?

 

Lin could taste the coffee coming back up into her mouth. Bastards made her sick. Every last one of them.

 

“Hey!! Look who’s here!!” Ragni came into the playroom with a baby in each pair of arms. Taru’s tiny green shines shined like stars. He reached out with all four of his limbs. Lin stood up. “Yeah! It’s Miss Lin!” Taru nearly leaped the three inches from Ragni’s arms into Lin’s. Lin smiled as the Krit baby clung to her. “Ha! There! I knew a visit from your little man would brighten up your day!”

 

Ragni left and Lin was left with Taru. He looked around, his eyes blue, his eyes curious. Lin’s smile faded. “Let’s get this over with.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

A short Krit entered into the small white room. Lin sat at an adult sized table now, hands cuffed. “Miss Abigail Lin?”

 

Lin’s face was stiff as stone. “Senator Ugra.”

 

“Or should I call you Linda Atlas?”

 

“Either.” Lin knew where she was headed. This meeting was just a formality. She was only sad that there weren’t any windows in this room. She knew she wouldn’t be seeing the outside for a very long time, if ever again.

 

“Since Atlas is your calling card, I’ll proceed with that.” Senator Ugra swiped her forearm and her hologram screen was up. She flipped through the file while her other pair of arms rested on her hip. “You’re good at what you do, Atlas. We’ve had a hard time catching you. But I have to say I’m not sure what I’m more confused about.” She snapped her hands together, the hologram disappeared. “Why would you turn yourself in like this… or why you would bring my son to me like this.”

 

“Taru’s safety was in danger. If I had just refused the threat a rouge hacker would have just turned me in himself. I felt it best to see that Taru was safely brought to you myself and then just hand myself over.”

 

Senator Ugra’s eyes flashed red before returning to a placid brown. “Rouge hackers? Are you not referring to your own profession?”

 

“I wouldn’t threaten a kid.”

 

“So you say, but it is the actions of people like you that threaten the safety of every man, woman and child within the Concord.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

Lin straightened up. “You heard me. Bullshit. And pardon me if this seems harsh, Mrs. Senator but I figure this is the last time I’m gonna be talking so openly to a government official so I’m going to be frank.” Lin held up her shackled wrists. “This might be the first time I’ve ever had cuffs physically on me but I have felt the weight of these cuffs ever since I could remember. Ever since my father was carted off to prison for exposing the Concord’s involvement with the Hannabalian War. Don’t give me a look because I know the truth. You can lock me up but I know the truth and I have worked my entire life to make sure everyone else knows the truth because people deserve that much. Your son deserves that much. He deserves to be happy and healthy and to grow up and my his own choices. I brought your son in because a Krit came to me and threatened me if I didn’t comply and Taru if I did. You can say whatever you goddamn want to but that’s the truth.” Lin relaxed, comforted by the fact that even though she’d never see anything but a jail cell ever again, she had at least told this bitch off.

 

Senator Ugra smirked. “Good. Then you’re ready.”

 

“Yeah, well, fu- wait what?”

 

The Krit woman’s eyes were green. “Welcome, Miss Lin,” She swiped her forearm and hit a few keys. The wall behind Senator Ugra slid away to reveal a long room filled with humans, Fahri and Krit swiping through computer files and organizing data. “Welcome, to the Collective. A select group of talented hackers such as yourself, who seek to bring the people and the Concord onto a level playing field.”

 

Taru was carried into the white room by the Krit from the coffee shop. The adult was smiling almost as brightly as Taru. “Hello, Atlas, my name is Dhiren and I’m the Director of Resources. I trust you know this little guy.” Taru waved happily.

 

Lin’s mouth fell open. “You’ve got the be kidding me.”

 

Her Father’s Daughter, Part 3

kellyiconRain water leaks from the stone ceiling, weaving with the sound of her footsteps to form a steady tap-tap-tap that  follows Jayn as she follows the steps further and further up. The air in the tower is damp and cold, and Jayn briefly wonders how cold the prison-tower becomes in winter, when the freezing wind whips through even the best-made castles and manors. She wonders…No, Jayn. She tells herself. He is a traitor, a murderer many times over. He murdered Mother. It’s no concern of yours if he falls sick and dies. That’s not true, of course, and she knows it, but reciting his crimes, remembering the blue, bloated face of her mother’s corpse, keeps her back straight and her face unfeeling. It keeps her from forgetting that she is queen.

The guard bows as soon as she sees her approach. The light and shadows caused by the torches lining the hall flicker across his face, making it seem infernal. “Your Majesty,” he says. “Will you be seeing the prisoner now?”

She nods. The guard unhooks the key from his belt, forces up the ancient wooden door – there are more legends about this tower than there are facts, it’s so old – and shouts for the prison to rise, the queen is here. When the guard appears at the door again, he tells her to come in. He steps out of the room as she steps in.

“I’ll be here if you need anything, Your Majesty,” he says.

“Thank you,” she says, and the heavy oak door creaks to a shut behind her.

“Traitor. Traitors, the lot of you.”

Jayn keeps her face blank as she turns to face her father. He stands at his bed, which is little more than a plank of wood with a blanket thrown over it. He himself looks worse than she has ever seen him, including the time he fled from her at Gowdin, blood flowing from a blow to the head. His shaved head reveals the wound has scarred over, a jagged gash stretching from his eyebrow to the crown of his head. His face is worn and thin, and the man standing before her looks twenty years older than the man she fought a year ago. Deep shadows pool under his eyes, and his skin is stretched so thin against his skin his cheeks look hollow. His prison clothes are little more than burlap roughly cut into the shape of a shirt and trousers. Her strong, kingly father is no more.

“I think a man who would poison his lawful wife is in no place to charge others with treason,” Jayn says. Her voice stays steady.

“Hmph.” He sits heavily down on his bed. “You are a traitor. You led an army of traitors. You only triumphed against me because the church turned traitor as well. Using the churchmen to set a fire in the stores to drive out my army…you took the coward’s way out.”

“I suppose you would find a fruitless battle and the deaths of thousands of soldiers to be preferable?”

He laughs, a harsh cackle that bursts from his parched throat. “At the very least, I would’ve had the opportunity to throw myself on a sword instead of having to listen to one more minute of your drivel.”

His words sting, but they do not wound. When the war first started, her memories haunted her. They tormented her with memories of days of her father teaching her to ride, or the pride he took when she sang or recited poetry from memory. There were days when she would spend sunup to sundown with her tutors, studying as much law and history as she could, to prove to her father that she would make a good queen. If she worked hard enough, she had once believed, her father would no longer have to be disappointed that his only child was a daughter.

How she had looked up to him then. It was as if he had been wearing a disguise before, that of a good king and father, and now he had shed it to reveal the cruel, awful monster that had lived within. Her lip curls in disgust.

It is time to put an to end this.

“I am here to tell you of your fate,” she says.

“Oh? What has the traitor queen decided? A quick death? Or will you make an example of me?”

“Neither. You will have your life, though it is more than you deserve. The Church has offered to take you prisoner. You will spend the rest of your days under the watchful eyes of the Patriarch. It will be many years of prayer, repetence, and fasting for you. And should you ever truly feel remorse for your crimes, perhaps the Heavenly Father will take pity on you and offer you salvation.”

“A pretty speech. Is that what you told the people?” He laughs again, mirthless and terrible. “A pretty speech for a terrible situation. And what of my wife and the babe?”

“Your mistress will be placed with one of the nunneries. Her fate is yours. As for the babe…” Jayn hesitates. Her lords are not pleased with her decision, and would no doubt be even less pleased if they knew she told her father. “The child will be raised in my court, as my sister. She is innocent, and of my blood.”

“You will be a terrible queen if you insist on such mercy, girl. I’ll get some amusement watching you stumble around, playing at being queen.”

A flare of fury knots her brow. “You were merciless. Where did it get you?”

She wrestles control of herself and chastises herself for her outburst, but she must admit finally rendering her father speechless is immensely satisfying.

She “Your escort will be here for you first thing in the morning. This is the last I’ll see of you, and God be praised for that.”

She knocks on the door. The guard dutifully opens it, and she turns her back on her father. She walks out, his ranting and raving echoing down the stone hall.

Her Father’s Daughter, Part 2

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“But Lord Beauregard, to attack the castle head on would be suicide! We’ve discussed that.”

Even as she shouts she knows that she is out of place. Before her people she must seem a holy leader, unflappable and resolute, and especially so in front of her Lords, those who must make her rule into law. But as the time as worn on and war has worn her down it’s become more difficult for, and for them.

“But Queen! You know that we,” Buereguarde catches himself and coughs slightly, his head growing crimson. He knows full well that the Queen will not discipline him but that she could, and frightfully. It is that knowing that makes him pause. “Ahem, Dear Majesty, please forgive me.”

She pauses and merely nods to him, trying her best to hide any sign of weakness from these loyal but power hungry men.

“My Queen, we have our ladders and our Trebuchet. We also have the new cannon which we have purchased from the Southern Lands. We might have a–”

“Yes, and how much of our dwindling treasury was spent on them, Lord Beauregard? That was your idea I believe, to buy them, and how much good have they done?”

His face is all the more crimson and every other man in the room looks to the two of them and remembers the folly of the cannon. “Well, they’ve worked quite well when we’ve had occasion to use them, dear Queen.”

“You mean when they’ve worked at all.”

“Dear Queen, and all of my fellow Lords,” Of course it’s then that Brannon steps up, always the mediator. Always the one closest to her side and doing the most to keep the other buffoons and power mongers at bad, giving her just enough time to breathe. “There may be a new development.”

“And what is that, dear Lord Brannon?”

It’s then she notices the page beside him and she remembers pages from the court. She always thought of them as young men but this one seems haggard and aged. This war has had a toll on everyone, it seems.

“Dear Queen, the boy has a letter from a Priest Benedictine. I think we should speak of it alone, if I may be so bold.”

“Very well, if you think it of such import,” and thank God for the break, she thinks to herself. “Follow me to my quarters.”

Of course, her quarters are a portion of the tents which is blocked off and mostly private. In wartime even a Queen must make sacrifices. “What is this letter then?”

Brannon’s voice lowers and he takes an envelope from the boy before shushing him away. “It seems Majesty, that there is a wayward priest in the castle who would like to help us. I took the liberty of reading the letter before you’d gotten it. The boy was tired and said he had set out under cover of darkness to bring it last night. I think it is worth a read.”

“Very well then,” She takes it from him and puts on her spectacles, something she would never do in front of the other Lords. Then, she would just have it read to her to avoid showing that single flaw.

Her eyes skim swiftly over the letter and as they do her eyes grow wide and she smiles for the first time since the battle of Godwin Field. “Brannon. . . Do you know what this means?”

“Yes Majesty, I do.”

“Then go, go and send the signal! At once!”

As she shouts the last words she lets the letter fall to the ground, it’s parchment fluttering in the drafts of the tent.

. . . And in his righteousness and piousness the dear King has given control of most important offices to those of the Priesthood. He believes that they are the most loyal is likely correct as after his splitting of the true church and the creation of our current travesty he had beheaded all those who did not come to his aid.

But dear lady, daughter of our King and to be our future Queen, I am of the old Church. The true Church. And I have been placed in charge of the armies stores for their long trek from the castle.

All that I ask of you is that you reinstall the old Church and with it I become its Arch-Cardinal. I assure you I am capable and pious, as you may see.

If you choose to accept this offer so blessed by god, please signal me as . . .

Atlas, Part 2

I think it’s time we meet, don’t you?

kellyiconNo, Lin decided as she took a sip from her coffee. No, she shouldn’t be doing anything but bunker down in her room and rework the security system on her computer. Anyone who could hack into her system were either well-funded and dedicated, or they were as good as she was when it came to hacking into systems meant to remain secret. She wasn’t sure which option she preferred. She took some comfort from the fact that at least it wasn’t the Concord. If they were coming after her, she’d already be in the deepest hole they had on hand.

Where do you want to meet?
We have much to talk about, Atlas. How about we start with a cup of coffee?

Lin finished off her cup and glanced around. The small cafe was full with college kids and office workers wandering in for an afternoon pick-me-up. The ubiquitous security camera scanned the room, but in this cacophony of laughter, whizzing espresso machines, and a million conversations, no one would notice one more group engaged in conversation. It was a good place to avoid being overheard.

“Lin! How nice it is to see you!”

Lin turned to find a Krit she had never seen before in her life standing behind her. He sat down without asking permission, his lower two arms folded neatly in front of him and his upper pair resting over the back of the chair.

“It’s great to see you!” Lin said, keeping the charade. She forced her lips into a weak smile. She kept it up as a waitress came over and took the Krit’s order. When she finally shuffled away, she dropped the act.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“A friend,” the Krit replied. His eyes, instead of bright, jewel-like, and every-changing, were a dull green. Contacts, she surmised. Krit wore them in order to hide their emotions.

“Friends don’t usually threaten to send my legal name, address, and ID number to the Concord Department of Justice,” she countered. The waitress came back, sending them both into silence until she left.

“Then an ally,” the Krit said. He leaned forward. “We share the same cause.”

“Oh?” Lin said, keeping her distance. For every revolutionary and anti-government activist out there, there were ten groups made up of college kids good with computers, or worse, speciest groups who demanded a separate region of space for each race.

“You posted the names of all political prisoners jailed for running afoul of the Concord on the public forums,” the Krit said. “And better yet, you got away with it. Everyone’s talking about you.”

“And that’s what this is about? Getting your name in the papers? An odd reason to risk your head.”

“No, this is about justice.” Even through his contacts, the Krit’s eyes shined with passion. “The Concord’s official live the high life while the rest of us are tossed into the camps for so much as stepping a toe out of line. It has to change.”

“And you want me to hack something for you, then?”

“No, we something else in mind.” The Krit leaned back in his chair, suddenly at ease. He grinned, leaving Lin uncomfortable. “We know where you work.”

“Where I work has nothing to do with the Concord,” Lin said.

“On the contrary, Atlas. I understand the senator’s son is going to be attending your nursery.”

“No,” Lin said. No, no, no. She refused.

“Posting names and exposing crimes will only do so much if the ones committing the crimes are never punished. We have to take judgment into our own hands.”

“I won’t harm a child.”

“You won’t have a choice, Atlas.” The friendly tone, the pretense of a shared caused was gone and was replaced by a cold apathy. “Give us the child, or we’ll give you to the Concord.”

Give Me a Lever Long Enough – Part II

tjiconNeither offers further words of greeting. The warforged takes off his back pack and from inside, retrieves a notebook. “Here,” he says offering it to Randy, “your fabricators will need this to begin their assignment.”

With a sigh, Randy takes the notebook. He flips through it lazily. The more pages turn, the more serious the man grows. His eyes narrow, his brows tense, and his jaw clenches. “Those notes will be sufficient,” asks Fulcrum, returning his pack to his shoulders.

Eventually, Randy closes the notebook and sets it carefully on his desk. “Some of these materials are kinda’ hard to come by.”

“He has faith that you can complete the assignment.”

Randy looks up at the large being before him, inspecting it’s blank expression and stiff posture for any information it might glean. He get’s nothing. Fulcrum, on the other hand, has had quite some time to learn the secret language of man, what can be learned from the movements of the face and the body and the tone and delivery of their speech. What the warforged reads on Randy is suspicion.

“You wouldn’t happen to know what he plans to do with this, do ya’,” asks the man.

“If he needed you to know, you would.”

The man’s brows furrowed even more, his nostrils flared, and he the muscles in his hands tensed. Anger, Fulcrum assumed. Perhaps Randy didn’t like being kept in the dark. Curiosity can be healthy but also dangerous. Fulcrum wondered if Randy’s was the dangerous kind, the kind that would interfere with him following orders. Randy begins to tap his fingers on the desk. He sighs. “I’ll get a team started on it, we’ll let ya’ know when we got somethin’ to show.”

The warforged nods and turns to leave. “Hey, Fulcrum.” It stops and turns back to the man behind the desk. “How’s that upgrade the twins gave ya’?”

The warforged lifts his arms and observes them. His forearms are proportionally irregular, unassuming, just larger than they should be. “I do not know,” says Fulcrum, returning his arms to his sides, “I have not had the opportunity to use them yet.

With that, the warforged exits. Back into the sea of people it goes. A bell chimes in the distance, from the clock tower near the center of the city. The sounds signal the time, midday. As Fulcrum reaches the city market, the throngs of people grow more even more dense. There are also more warforged here. Some can be seen carrying new shipments into shops or new purchases out of shops for those unable or simply uninterested lugging their own things. A few shops employ them as security and even fewer individuals employ them as personal bodyguards.

Since the war ended, this has been the fate of the living constructs. Most fall into some form of work or another, as long as a there is a task or assignment for them to fulfill. Guard this person or that place. Move these things from here to there. Hammer this, saw that. Break these, destroy those. Find her, kill him. Build. Destroy. Do.  A warforged needs orders.

Fulcrum continues through the market district, turning into the alleyways. The warforged turns several corners, the quality of his surroundings descending the more he walked: the bricks grew more crumbled and discolored, the amount of trash and waste that riddled the ground increased, and each person observed seem to posses fewer scruples than the one before.

The warforged eventually arrives at an nondescript, metal door. Nondescript with the exception of it not having any sort of knob or handle. The warforged gives the door three solid wraps. A panel slides in the door, revealing a small window which a pair of eyes peer through. They seem to consider the warforged on the other side of the door before the panel slides back into place and the door is apparently solid once more. A moment later, a envelope slides out from under the door.

Fulcrum picks it up and checks the papers inside. There’s a picture of the target along with information on its recent whereabouts. Fulcrum knows this target well. It is a thin warforged, almost skeletal. Just as agile in mind as in body, nearly invisible in combat, and as deadly as they come. It considered itself a she, and she called herself Finesse.

The orders were to exterminate.

Tara and the Bitsies, Part 2

bernicons            “Yeah, Daddy,” Tara held her cell phone to her ear with her shoulder as she tried to fold her shirt. “Mm-hm. I leave on Saturday.” And into the suitcase the shirt went.

Tara looked around her room. She sat on her bed with a freshly washed basket of laundry at her feet and around her were several open plastic tubs. One had ‘Bathroom’ Sharpie-ed onto its side while others read ‘Bedding’ or ‘Books.’ “Thursday? I’ll hafta run that by Mom-”

The phone shouted back at her and Tara pulled away. The phone landed safely on the bed. When it got a little quieter, Tara picked it up again. “I know. I’m sure Mom will be fine with you coming to pick me up on Thursday… I know, Daddy… I know you work every other day this week … Yeah, I know you want to be there … It’s ok … Yeah, I love you too. Bye.”

Tara fell back on her bed, letting the phone fall to her side. Posters she and her mother had pinned onto the ceiling gazed back at her. Tara’s entire ceiling was full of galaxies and planets, moons and stars.

Turquoise, cerulean and fuchsia bundles of shapes came into view.

“Whatcha doing?” asked Rhonda.

“Star gazing,” replied Tara.

“Those aren’t actually stars you know,” said J.T.

“Closest thing I got right now.”

“Still kinda lame,” noted Caleb.

Tara rolled onto her side, causing the Bitsies to roll backwards and fall behind her back. “Hey!” “Wha!?” “Hold up!” They shouted.

Tara sighed and looked at her telescope. The sun was beginning to set and she could look out into the sky before packing it up.

Caleb leapt onto Tara’s shoulder. “You know that wasn’t very nice. You can’t hang up on us like your Dad.”

“I didn’t hang up on him.”

“You really might as well have,” chimed Rhonda “You really don’t spend enough time with him these days.”

“He lives five hours away, there’s not much I can do, guys.”

“You could have moved out with him, you know,” noted J.T.

Tara rolled around toward the Bitsies. “But then I’d be away from Mom and my friends,” -the Bitsies giggled at the word ‘friends’- “And school. No. I couldn’t have moved out with Dad. Plus he’s always working.”

“Whatever you say.” J.T. was looking at his reflection in the black service of Tara’s cell phone. “Do you think my hair looks weird?”

“No,” said Tara.

“Kinda,” said Rhonda.

“Yeah, yeah it does,” agreed Caleb.

“Tara why would you lie to me like that?!” demanded J.T.

“I wasn’t lying! I just thought your hair looked fine. It’s my opinion.” Tara sat up and reached for a pair of socks.

Caleb handed Tara another shirt. “So… Tara?”

“Yes, Caleb?”

“Why are you leaving us?”

“What? I’m not leaving you.”

“I’d hate to disagree,” Rhonda pointed at all the boxes, “But you are.”

Tara picked up her pair of jeans, revealing a fluffy pink blanket at the bottom of the basket. “I’m not leaving forever. It’s only college and to be honest it’s two hours away. Mom plans to bring me home on every three day weekend anyway.”

“There you go again,” said J.T.

“Doing what, again?”

“You’re putting the blame on someone else!” Rhonda stamped her foot on the bed. “Mom makes you want to stay! Mom makes you come home! Make up your own mind for once! You either want us, your friends, here or you don’t!”

Tara threw down her jeans. “Well then maybe I don’t!” She turned around to face the Bitsies, but they weren’t there. “Guys?” Tara peeked under her pillow and through her suitcase. Nothing. “Guys?” She listened; there were no giggles or sounds of shifting feet. Tara glazed down and saw the pink blanket and wrapped it around herself.

Her Father’s Daughter, Part 1

kellyicon“My Queen!” Lord Brannon burst through the entrance of the tent, breaking the peace and quiet. Through the open tent-flaps comes a damp, cold wind, the whine of horses and the shouts of men, and the smell of dung accompanying all those men and horse. Jayn does her best to keep her face straight. Her advisers tell her it’s demoralizing to show any disgust or discomfort in front of her troops. It was far and away from her life in her father’s palace, with its strong stone walls and roaring fire places.

“Yes, my Lord?” She looks away from her maps and books and toward her general. His face is flustered and red from the cold, and his once-shining armor is encrusted with old mud from battles past and splattered with new from the day’s rain.

He bends down on one knee with the swiftness granted by much practice and rises just as quickly. In the court, her father might have punished him for impudence, but she has found that courtly rules and customs hold little stock during war.

“We have new intelligence, Your Grace.”

“My father’s forces are moving?”

“Yes, my Queen. We believe he is trying to move the bulk of his forces out of the castle before we attack. His capital may be lost, but his army will survive to fight another day.”

“Or another year.” Jayn sighed. Her war had gone on for almost three years now. She and her father had fought and struggled and bled the land dry for every piece of land they could lay their hands on, and every battle only ever seemed to be a temporary victory or a temporary setback.

“Yes, my Queen.” Brannon was not even forty, but the war had etched deep lines in his face that hurt her to see. “Your father could hide his army in the mountains to the north for the rest of the fall and hide there through the winter. The north supports his rule, your majesty. He could return with a bolstered, well-rested army at his side by spring.”

“And another three years of war will follow.” Jayn stands, keeping her hands at her sides to stop herself from wringing them. “Do you recommend a course of action?”

“Yes, Your Grace. We stop them now. Trap them in their city, burn it to the ground, and end this war.”

“You make it sound so simple.” She paused to consider her next words carefully. It had been three years since her father had divorced, arrested, and then finally poisoned her mother in his desperate bid to marry a new woman and produce a son. He and his mistress, and their infant daughter, hid behind the walls of Lindisgarn Castle. She had defeated his army at Gowdin Field, but she had failed to rout him completely. Now all that stood between her and what remained of her father’s army was the strongest defensive position in the country. Tall, thick walls surrounded three of the castle’s sides; the northern mountains formed the fourth. If only she could defeat him now, she could take her place as Queen and spare her country years of war. If she failed, then her father would return, stronger than ever.

“How much time do you believe we have?”

“I believe we have very little time, my Queen. He will begin moving his troops in the night. We have until sundown to put our troops in position and cut off their escape.”

“Thank you, Lord Brannon. Anything else?”

“No, my Queen.”

“I will want to speak with the other lords. Have them come here in a half-hour. Let them know I want to hear their best ideas for trapping my father within the castle.”

“Yes, my Queen.” He bowed again, then backed out into the rain and crush of soldiers and horses, leaving her alone in the tent with nothing but the patter of rain to break the silence.