Thursday, 31 May 2007
The ambassadors filled the room, and the Archon suppressed a shudder. Animals dressed as men, he thought with a sneer as they slithered and padded their ways to their chairs or perches, or splashed in their tanks, thrusting their mouths into translation tubes. They disgusted him. He plastered a smile onto his face.
“Ambassadors,” he said, his voice oily. “Welcome! I trust you are all in good health?”
There was a general murmur from the translative speakers mounted about the table. The Archon felt his skin crawl.
“Excellent,” he lied. “Well then: to business, shall we? Although, I’m afraid the subject of this meeting perplexes me somewhat.”
There was an angry chirrup from a drofor to his right, and the Archon just stopped himself from rolling his eyes.
“It perplexes you?” the drofor spat, the cold computerised voice from the speaker betraying no hint of the creature’s obvious emotion. The Archon was rather proud of that; he’d installed that voice himself. “With respect, how can it possibly perplex you? It’s been five years, Archon! Five years, and only three successful Symbiotes! Why haven’t you been the one to call this meeting?”
“Because I feel that this is not a cause for such alarm,” the Archon answered calmly.
There was a general uproar at that, and he waited for a few moments before continuing.
“Ambassadors!” he said. “Please! I understand the worry, but I do feel you’re all over-reacting. The Forum is aware of the situation. We share your concerns. But, two of those three Symbiotes were produced last year. We may have more this year, who knows? We think it’s simply a matter of tragic incompatibility, nothing more. It will most likely sort itself out.”
“But you have know way of knowing that,” a fennar chimed in further down the table. Its fins moved lazily in the water, and the Archon looked pointedly away from them, at its lidless eyes. He felt sick. “For all you know there’s a deeper problem here, and it’s one that needs sorting.”
“I’m afraid I disagree,” the Archon answered simply, and felt a smug thrill of satisfaction as the slight mutter of animal noise increased with irritation at his attitude.
“Well, we don’t,” the fennar answered back. “And apparently, neither do the other races represented here, or we wouldn’t be having this meeting. Now, it’s obvious that we all rely on the Symbioses more than you humans, Archon, but you aren’t entirely needless of them. Frankly, I can’t understand your attitude at all.”
“Have you even started conducting an investigation into this?” the drofor asked, wings vibrating slightly in its anger. The Archon almost snarled at their impudence, but controlled himself.
“Of course,” he said. “But so far the data is inconclusive. Now, really, Ambassadors, I can’t offer you anything more than this. Surely you can all see this?”
The animalistic sounds continued, but no one spoke out. The Archon risked a glance at the terahl representative, crouched over the table at the far end like some sort of overgrown mantis, its four-jointed fingers steepled beneath its pointed chin. Could they read minds? He’d never really been sure; they were said to only feel psionic energies, but did that mean they could tell what people were thinking? Or when someone was lying? The creature showed no sign of suspicion. The Archon looked away.
Eventually, the meeting broke up, and they left in a flurry of wings, fur and bubbles. The Archon sat in the empty room, shuddering in repulsion before standing and stretching out his limbs. Aliens! Animals feigning intelligence! They simply leeched off humanity, parasites of human advancement and values. Why had the Forum ever seen fit to continue any allegiance with them? The Symbiotes weren’t bad, of course; quite useful in fact. And if humanity only ever had to deal with Symbiotes there would probably be no problem, but the wretched creatures insisted on having ‘pure’ representatives in the Forum, as long as the Archon himself was Chair…
The illumination changed in the room, and the Archon smiled. A cloud of light hovered in front of his desk a foot off the floor, golden and twinkling. It seethed in place, roiling until it formed the rough image of a face in the air, and it wore a smile.
“The final nitrovium has been diverted to you,” the Archon said quietly. “And I have the final results of the fennar experiments for particle selection. Not long now, hopefully.”
The face seemed to nod, and two beams of light shot out and hit the Archon’s forehead. He felt the usual odd prickling sensation inside his skull, and smiled. Such an effective way to communicate, all meaning instantly conveyed. This was true advancement.
What information is left now?
“Very little. Only three stages remain, then it’s just for me to combine all the data and actually make the weapon.”
“With luck and harder work, three weeks for the last of the data. More likely a month and a half, EST of course.”
Of course. The Archon winced slightly at the almost imperceptible sneer. Very well. You have done well, Archon. What is this glitch?
“Ah.” The Archon paused. “We’re not sure yet. But I’m looking into it. These things never last more than a few weeks after they’re noticed, though. I’ll find it.”
Is there any way our designs could be known?
“No. I’ve taken the utmost care,” the Archon said firmly. “We’re safe.”
Excellent. Then I shall take my leave of you. Is the new data ready for me now?
“Yes,” the Archon answered, smiling. He turned to a palm screen on the desk and depressed it, and a quirky little mechanism rose up. He switched it on, and a thin beam of light hit the ceiling from it. The cloud shifted and placed itself over the beam, which bent, and was absorbed into the cloud. The light pulsed brighter, and then faded back to its original glow. The Archon sighed. True advancement.
It is done. I shall return next ‘week’.
The cloud dispersed at blinding speed, and seeped out of the windows. The illumination returned to its usual neutral glow, and the Archon turned back to his holo-screen. Time to find this glitch…
Tuesday, 29 May 2007
“See? It’s gone.” Locus patted him on the shoulder and adjusted her glasses on her nose. The greasepaint made him look like a ghost. It was an eery effect, and to be frank he was looking forward to having a growth spurt, then he’d have to think up a costume that didn’t emphasize how young he looked.
Locus was faster at getting ready than the three boys put together and was in full Cartographer get up long before the others. Omen watched in the mirror as Swarm rubbed dirt into his pin-stripe suit and trilby – he was meant to look like a trendy tramp; Spout was walking around the place in a pair of hideous sea-weed swimming trunks and was attaching multi-coloured stick-on fins to his blue, scaly flesh.
Omen had been practising for a few days a routine that included falling ladders, black cats and a plethora of triple-sixes. The clowns, apart from their make-up, were dressed up as normal people in suits and dresses. Omen would walk past and he’d use his powers to knock over the ladder or make the cat bristle up and scream before tripping someone up and so on, and so on. Swarm’s act was well-oiled and down to a fine art; he and his hordes of cockroaches, flies and spiders would create patterns in the air and write messages in webs. Spout performed like a human dolphin from a round pool that was wheeled into the circle. They’d have given Omen more time to practise, but the lion-tamer had to pull out because of a torn ligament. Routines were shuffled, rotas changed and Omen was brought in because his performance would be relatively straightforward.
Briefly, before he walked on he saw a flash of the future. The people were clapping and, ironically, there weren’t any disasters. The moment passed in a haze and before he knew it he was back-stage taking off the greasepaint with a sponge. Soon after, a lump of soaking seaweed shot across the room and landed on the edge of the mirror and began to drip. Omen watched in the mirror as Spout strutted off towards his chill-out tank in the corner. Locus appeared behind Omen. She was smiling, just about to go on and dressed in a long coat. Compasses, telescopes, measuring tapes hung from her neck, under arm was a theodolite and stuffed in every pocket were maps. With her short hair and round glasses she looked every bit the tomboy wizard. “How was it?”
Omen smiled, the ability to string a sentence together was still alluding him. She returned his grin and walked off to take her place. He was fully changed into his rag tag get-up when Swarm appeared to a tumultuous round of applause. Swarm and Locus exchanged a high five and she disappeared into the main tent at the call of her name.
“Mission accomplished,” he muttered as he released the insect kingdom from its telepathic hold. There was an audible scuttling sound as they all escaped into the woodwork. He wandered over to a fridge and brought out three bottles. One was sea-water, another was pond water and the last was a bottle of beer. Spout appeared and hopped up onto the make-up table and gulped down the sea-water. Omen looked at the beer and wondered what to do with it, Swarm opened it for him and set it down in front of him. Omen nodded his thanks as if drinking beer was the most natural thing in the world to do. There was another flash and he realised he wasn’t going to like it – but that meant he at least had to drink it. Grimly he braved the fizzy, dry concoction and clinked glasses with the other two. It would take some getting used to.
Later, they were sitting on the roof of their trailer watching the sun go down. It disappeared over the sea wall but still cast a significant red glow across the sky.
“Do you wish you were doing something normal? Like school or something.” Locus wondered aloud.
“Nah,” Omen replied, staring up at Venus as it glowed low in the diminishing light. “One person’s normal is another person’s weird.” He added sagely. The others chuckled.
Omen thought back to his dreams and wondered what he’d been consistently returning to over the last few days. The kids trapped underground. The other day they’d seen the whole area closed off while there was a minor earthquake. The caravans had all shook and Omen’s worries seemed to lift, but the prophetic dreams were becoming a burden. He wanted people to know.
“Hey, guys,” he began, “I have something to tell you - ”
Locus put her hand on his arm, “It’s okay, you don’t have to say.” She smiled at him with a benign look of knowing that just confused him. He carried on, with the heat spreading across his scar in uncomfortable waves. “I have these dreams – about the future. It comes with the territory, I suppose, but in them I see real things, real places. Or at least I think they are.” He said, sitting up. The others were lying back, quiet.
“I know what you mean.” Swarm said, passing him another beer. He was feeling light-headed and flushed already and accepted the bottle without thinking twice. “Sometimes I see things that feel out of place. Like they were put there, you know?” The others mumbled their agreement. Omen looked to each of them, “Really?” They all nodded. A weight seemed to lift off his shoulders. Spout was looking off into the middle-distance, the light glistened on the soft blue scales on his arm, “I dream of the sea,” he muttered, “More than normal.” He blushed. Omen looked down and considered what to say next. “I dream of people. Real people; people I’ve met doing things that scare me. A couple of nights ago I saw them trapped underground. The thing is, I think it actually happened.” The others looked at him, they weren’t surprised or curious, they just seemed to understand, and that scared Omen more than anything else.
Monday, 28 May 2007
“Why won’t you talk to me, Arla?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
The answer was short, and left Baroth feeling distinctly Told. It disturbed him deeply. Overnight, Arla seemed to have been transformed from the innocent child she had been into something old and bitter; and worse, she was trying to block off her emotions again. She seemed to be succeeding, too.
“Will you listen to me, then? Just for a minute?” Baroth pleaded. “Then, if you’re utterly not interested I can go again.”
Arla glanced at him briefly, her eyes unreadable. She shrugged, hunched into the corner, her legs drawn up to her chest. Baroth nodded heavily, and lowered his massive frame to the floor.
“Right,” he said, ordering his thoughts. “Something has happened to you that is hurting you deeply, inside your mind. Do you agree?”
She remained motionless and silent, staring at her feet. He took it as a ‘yes’.
“And now you’re trying to avoid it,” Baroth continued. “Because you’re understandably afraid of ‘reliving’ it, and by talking about it you’ll have to think about it.”
Arla buried her head between her knees, hiding her face.
“The problem with emotional pain, Arla, is that it’s like a poison,” Baroth said gently. “It gets in, and it hurts. But getting it out would hurt slightly more – so people try to ignore it, and push it further inside where it hurts less. But although they don’t feel it as strongly anymore, it still hurts them. It carries on doing damage, deep inside. Do you understand?”
He knew she did, but he needed her to admit it herself. There was a silence, as neither of them moved. Finally, Arla pulled her head back up and looked at Baroth, her cheeks stained with tears. She crawled towards him and curled up by his side, child-like and vulnerable, and he threw an arm around her and drew her close. They stayed like that for a while, whilst Arla cried into his chest.
Eventually she shivered, and looked up at him.
“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered, her eyes red. Baroth hugged her tightly.
“Please, just talk to me,” he said quietly. “Tell me about it. You only have to relive this once, in this way.”
“But I don’t want to,” Arla choked, her voice breaking. He could feel her trembling in his arms. “I don’t want to think about it.”
“Let’s start there,” Baroth said. “Tell me exactly why. What are you afraid of?”
“It…” Arla trailed off, but Baroth recognised the cogs turning in her head, and stayed quiet. “It felt so real, when I saw it,” she managed. “Or not… not entirely real, but I was as scared, and it hurt as much. And I thought it was real, at the time. It was only when I woke up that it wasn’t anymore.”
She paused, thinking again. Baroth wiped a strand of dark hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear.
“I think that – I’m scared that if I think about it now, I’ll see it again tonight,” Arla said, her voice slightly stronger with the new application of logic. “If I tell you about it now… you’re right: it’ll hurt, but I know it’s just a memory. But when I dream I think it’s real.”
Baroth squeezed her close. “I see,” he murmured. “Well… unfortunately, you’ll dream about it whether you talk about it or not. But if you do talk to me, you’ll stop dreaming it. You see?”
“Okay,” Baroth said. “First of all, I want you to imagine that the whole thing has happened to someone else who you can see. Imagine the first image in your mind, okay?”
“Okay,” Arla said.
“Don’t see it as you. See it happening to another girl.”
“Good,” said Baroth gently. “Now: tell me what happened to that girl.”
Sunday, 27 May 2007
ARROZALE CELEBRATES ROYAL WEDDING
The Kingdom of Arrozale has begun celebrations today to mark the marriage of King Falos and Queen Vinthia. Festivities continue for a full month, including many restrictions on work and trading laws in the region. There are now hopes that the country can look forward to a time of peace and prosperity, following the series of tragedies in recent times…
… King Falos announced that to mark the occasion he would be lifting the ban on the possession of white livestock. White animals have long been considered a symbol of bad luck in the region and were banned nearly ten years ago. The news has been greeted by relief from many members of the agricultural community around the world…
King Penry threw the paper onto the table with the rest of the documents scattered there. Sitting back in his chair he allowed himself a small, self-satisfied smile. Raising his hand, he gave a casual click of the fingers. A powerfully built man stepped out of the shadows and stood by the Kings right shoulder.
“Highness?” he barked, his voice deep and clipped.
“Fetch the council.”
“M’Lord,” he said, bowing out of the room.
Penry sat up in his chair, steepled his fingers and closing his eyes, he assumed an expression of deep contemplation. He did not break this pose until the sound of hurrying footsteps died down and fell silent. Opening his eyes, he coldly surveyed the assembled Councillors, many of whom were breathless, but trying with a great deal of effort to breath as quietly as possible. He held the silence until some of them began to shift on their feet in discomfort.
“So,” he said at last. Another silence, this time even worse than before. He eventually continued, “So. I see our plans to unite my sister Vinthia and that simpleton Falos have come to fruition.” With an irritable gesture of his hand, he beckoned for the assembled Councillors to sit. Waiting for the sound of scraping chairs to quieten down, Penry clipped out the word they had all learnt to fear; “Report.”
“Have you heard the news?” Deleha excitedly asked Willan, who had just stepped into the living room.
“No, what is it?” he replied, his curiosity raised by her obvious enthusiasm.
“Arrozale has lifted the ban on white livestock! And the papers don’t say as much, but this means its likely that the King is going to lift further trading restrictions through the region over the coming months.” She beamed at him and handed him her copy of the national newspaper. He grabbed the paper off her, scanned over the headlines and turning, smiled broadly back at her.
“Well, it had to be seen to be believed!” he said and laughing, pulled her into a one-armed hug.
“So,” Penry said quietly, “I think it is clear what we have to do.” He surveyed the Councillors, most of whom felt uncomfortably certain that they did not see it clearly at all. An elderly Councillor stood up and cleared her throat.
“If Your Highness would be so generous as to clarify your exact orders for us,” she inclined her head as she spoke, her tones overwritten by cautious supplication. The other councillors gave an internal sigh of relief that someone had spoken and, what’s more, that it was someone other than themselves. Quietly surveying her, Penry pursed his lips.
“I would have thought it was obvious,” he replied in a dangerous tone. “Invite the new King and Queen here. We must have a diplomatic meeting. Invite them on some pretext,” he made a dismissive gesture, “something like a celebration of their wedding. You work out the details, but I want to see it done.” He looked around at the Councillors, who were all frozen in their places. “Well? What are you waiting for?” There was a sudden scramble as the assembled mass all stood and bowed their exit from the room as hastily as they could.
Deleha and Willan walked out of their house together and across the freshly re-laid yard. They passed through the gate on the far side and onto the construction site for their new stable block. Suddenly, an orang-utan swung across their path and landed in front of them with a soft flump. Quickly blurring his outline, the ape stretched up and out through his arms, eventually taking on the form of a man.
“How’re things going down here, Kale?” Deleha asked the man. He had short, coppery brown hair and a relaxed, if somewhat sleepy, expression.
“Things are getting on now, my Lady.” Deleha interrupted him with an embarrassed gesture.
“How many times have I told you Kale, I don’t like being called a Lady. Please call me Del.” She smiled at him and he smiled back sheepishly.
“Sorry Del, I do keep forgetting.”
“So do you think we’ll be able to finish the final quad before summer?” Willan asked the still slightly embarrassed man.
“I’d have thought so, Wil,” Kale replied, somewhat relieved to be changing the conversation.
“With all these extra labourers we should be able to fix things for late Naeon, at the very latest
“So you think we are likely to have everything up and running before the competition in late Detu?” Willan asked eagerly.
“Well, certainly everything in this section is well on target for completion. I’m not sure how work on the Hunter Course is coming on. I spoke to Ginco earlier and she sounded a bit less optimistic. Apparently the water complex is causing some problems.”
“I’d better go and see her,” he replied, his brow furrowing in concern.
“Ok, Wil. I’ll update you on our progress later.” With that, Kale begun to Shift, his image blurring and shrinking back into the form of an orang-utan. Stretching up a long arm, he hooked his hand around a piece of construction scaffolding and easily swung up and away.
“Ok, well, I’d better go and see Ginco, are you coming?” Willan turned to ask Deleha.
“No, actually. I think I’d rather go down to East field and check on the horses.”
“Alright, well I’ll see you later.” With that he Shifted into a wolf and loped away through the construction site and out into the fields beyond.
Deleha turned and headed back the way she had come and cut across the yard towards a different field. Hopping over the style next to the gate, she paused and concentrated. Focusing on the outline of a horse, she gradually began to blur and expand her physical form. Her hands and feet stretching longer as her arms and legs contracted, her back straightening and stretching, following through into an arching neck and elongated face.
Shaking off the residual traces of human tingling along her veins, she stretched out and revelled in her new and marvellously physical form. The power within her body, the tremendous athleticism and the one burning desire to express it in the most natural way possible. To run. To run and run and run. Leaping into a half-rear she threw herself into a full out gallop, flying across the ground, absorbing the distance with ease. The still-human part of Deleha’s mind laughed joyfully at her total feeling of freedom.
On this most special occasion of your wedding to the most honourable King of Arrozale, I wish to extend to both of you an invitation to visit me in your former home of Silvetera and to stay with me in the Imperial Palace. I wish this not only out of a sense of deepest affection for you, my most beloved sister, but also in the hope that this may strengthen the mutual friendship between our two Kingdoms.
Please find enclosed those diplomatic documents that would be necessary for such a visit, even when on the most friendly of terms between families. I hope to hear a reply from you both as soon as may be, so that I may properly prepare the Palace for the reception of such esteemed guests.
King of Silvetera.
“You call that checking on the horses, do you?” Willan smiled ruefully at his wife, who had just walked into the house, panting and sweating.
“I need a shower desperately,” she replied, pretending not to hear her husbands question. She ran her hands over her face, pulling them back, with a slightly disgusted expression. “Really desperately,” she added, wrinkling her nose.
“So how are the working herd doing?” Willan asked, rephrasing his question in the hope of eliciting a response.
“Fine form,” she replied with a smile, “I didn’t pick up on any injuries and they seem to generally be in a pretty content mood. They’re not that happy with the amount of noise coming from the construction site, so they’ve got a couple of extra scouts than usual to keep an eye open while the others graze.”
“Did you manage to check on the mares field while you were out there?” he smiled at his wife’s slight look of discomfort, “or where you spending too much time playing with the working horses?”
“Well, no, not really,” she replied slightly more subdued, “I had a quick glance over though. I’ll have another check after I’ve washed up and had that shower.”
“I think we stand a really good chance with the horses we’ve put together for this year,” Willan said thoughtfully.
“Yes,” Deleha replied, “I think we’ll perform very respectably at the competitions this year, which’ll only improve once we start getting more horses in.”
“I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been with the lifting of this ban,” Willan added, shaking his head bemusedly.
“I know, its very fortuitous timing,” Deleha added, “I think the prices for grey horses is going to rise dramatically now that they can be safely moved across Arrozale.”
“Yes, but probably not straight away. People will still be cautious at first, just in case King Falos changes his mind. I think we’ll have to act fast if we want to buy in some Gentraran lines or if we are very lucky, a Tygeriqan. It is going to be an interesting time to keep our eyes on the market.”
“True enough. Anyway, I really need that shower,” she said, walking out of the room. Willan raised his hand in a wave and sat back in his chair, picked up the newspaper and began to read.
We would be delighted to accept your invitation to stay with you in Silvetera. Falos and I will be available to travel from the start of Eylth, but until that time we will be engaged in the festivities here in Arrozale. I confess myself delighted to have heard from you so soon and it would be a most joyful reunion to see you again.
I hope this letter finds you well and that I shall hear a reply confirming the receipt of this post and setting a date for our arrival. Enclosed also is a note from my husband, who wished to write you an official note of acceptance.
My fondest affections,
Queen of Arrozale.
Penry paced the room, his brows furrowed and his arms linked behind his back. Pausing by the window, he surveyed the wide stone courtyard below that lead on to the vast metropolis of Silvetera. He turned, sat down at the head of the large wooden table and waited. The sound of brusque footsteps announced the arrival of his Personal Guard, who strode into the room and stood rigidly in front of the King.
“Report,” the King’s voice snapped out the word.
“King Falos and Queen Vinthia have just returned from walking the Palace Gardens. They will be here in less than one turn of the glass,” Klint growled in his deep harsh voice.
“Very good,” the King replied, a cruel smile playing about his lips. “Wait here. But stay out of sight.” Klint walked around the back of the King and melted into the shadows. Penry sat in this pose and silently waited.
After a while, voices were heard coming closer until they stopped just outside the chamber. A herald strode into the room and puffing out his chest importantly, proclaimed, “The Honourable King Falos of Arrozale and the Righteous Queen Vinthia.” Penry stood up and with a broad smile on his face, held out his arms as the royal guests entered the room.
“My dearest Vinthia, how well you are looking!” he exclaimed.
“It feels so good to be back,” she replied with a generous smile on her face, as she stepped around the table to hug her brother.
“And how are you, King Falos of Arrozale?” Penry added, turning with an almost imperceptible touch of irony in his tone.
“Very well indeed, brother! No need for formal titles among families, surely?” Falos replied jovially, apparently unaware of the change in Penry.
“No indeed,” Penry replied evenly. “On the matter of families, there was an idea that occurred to me, which I would be most desirous of discussing with you.”
“Fire away!” Falos replied, pulling back a chair energetically and sitting down. Vinthia moved back around the table to sit next to her husband, whilst Penry resumed his seat.
“Excellent,” Penry replied, a slight gleam in his eye, “It concerns a matter of tradition that had always existed between our two houses. This is a tradition that unfortunately was discontinued during that most unpleasant period in the history of our Kingdoms.” Falos rubbed his chin thoughtfully, a slightly more uncomfortable expression on his face.
“All water under the bridge now, surely?” he replied slightly agitated. “Let bygones, be bygones and all that?”
“My point exactly,” Penry continued smoothly. “The tradition to which I am referring concerns the children of the two families.” Vinthia narrowed her eyes and sat up in her chair. “It has long been the case that when the eldest children of the two families reach seven years of age, they will travel to live with the family of the other. In this way, the family relationship is reaffirmed and the child benefits from the experience of living in a new environment.”
Penry paused slightly in his flowing postulation, noting the changing expressions on the faces of the other two. Whilst Falos continued to look curious, Vinthia had a suspicious and anxious expression playing about her face. “My wife has already given birth to our first child, my precious daughter Elile, and if I am not mistaken, my dear sister here is already expecting a child of her own.”
Falos laughed heartily, “My Vinthia told me that you were good, but I never imagined you were that good! How could you possibly know that when we haven’t yet told anyone?” Penry looked across at Falos, barely suppressing an edge of disdain.
“I think that after more than twenty years I would know my sister well enough to be able to tell.”
“So,” Vinthia broke in, a slight edge to her voice, “We should exchange our first born child, an even swap, one for the other, at the age of seven?” She repeated the conditions evenly and carefully, watching her brother very cautiously.
“That is the tradition that I am proposing to revive.” Penry replied simply, returning his sister’s careful watch.
“But your daughter will be seven at least two years before my child, assuming that we are blessed by Lontea, and that no misfortune befalls us. Will you be willing to let us raise Elile, when we cannot yet be certain when or whom my first child shall be?”
“Of course,” Penry replied quickly, sensing that Falos was about to interject something. There was a pause, whilst all three were looking at the other, waiting for one of them to break the silence.
“We will have to discuss it officially,” Falos said eventually. “I’m intrigued by your proposal and I will certainly return a verdict to you as swiftly as one can be agreed.” Penry nodded curtly and Vinthia shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
“Certainly,” Penry replied with a smile.
“I’m sorry, my child,” the man said, his voice cold and icy. He wasn’t even the remotest bit sorry. “But you’ve seen too much. The balance needs to be reset.” (From The Core of the Problem)
When Nia awoke she was lying on a cold enamel floor. Her arms and legs were bound in suppression cuffs and she was still wearing the stinking remains of her costume which hung from her in limp folds. Lying near her was Elixir and sitting in opposite corners were Beacon and Swelter. The events of the past twenty-four hours came back to her in sickening waves. Her limbs felt hollow with fatigue. “Where are we?” She croaked.
“Cefn Coed,” Beacon whispered, his voice husky and deeper than she remembered. Nia sat up and stretched her limbs, feeling every joint creak and snap with satisfaction. Beacon was staring at his feet, the Union Jack on his chest torn and scorched and hanging from him in rags. Swelter was staring at her, his face a mask of anger and contempt. She looked away and touched Elixir on the shoulder, she groaned and rolled over. Her face was streaked with tears and all of her composure seemed to have melted.
“They’re going to kill us,” she whispered, “They’ll replace us and dump our bodies in the Tawe.” Nia hushed her quickly and stroked her hair. She didn’t know what they were going to do with them but she felt grimly certain they weren’t going to kill them. They’d be dead by now if that were the case.
“They’re toying with us. Seeing when we’re going to snap.” Swelter muttered, his eyes locked on the door. The only concession to detail in the small white room was the outline of the door. The walls, floor and ceiling were bright white.
“Shut up,” Beacon snapped, his voice breaking.
“Shut up,” Swelter squeaked in contempt, “What right have you to be throwing orders around now? It’s your fault we’re here.”
“Stop,” Elixir moaned, crawling over to Swelter, who held her in his arms in an approximation of tenderness. Nia sat in the middle of the floor between the two camps, her loyalty bellonging to neither. She made a feeble attempt to wrap her cloak around her but it was in too much of a mess to be constructive. Awkwardly she looked at Beacon who seemed to have taken Swelter’s comment as proof of his own suspicions.
A new feeling crept in and cast Beacon in a new light. He didn’t have any friends; Swelter and Elixir had each other, but Beacon had no one. They were a team, but that was all that held them together. It was an uncomfortable feeling that base school politics still seemed to be applied to him; he was too good-looking, too strong, too obviously ‘popular’ and desirable. Nia had never been part of his crowd and the twins had only ever been interested in each other. The galling truth was that she couldn’t bring herself to comfort him, he was an arrogant pretty-boy whose bigotry offended her but she felt ashamed that her capacity to forgive didn’t extend far enough.
“We’ve seen too much,” Nia muttered aloud, “What did he mean?”
“The bunker,” Beacon replied, “We saw what was inside.”
There wasn’t much she could remember from the the bunker, the whole episode seemed to have become one large mess in her head. There was Vue, the computers, the map, barrels and the water.
“It must have been built by them for something.” Elixir mused clearly uncomfortable with what she was saying. It felt like being sent to the naughty step – they’d all done something inherently wrong but they didn’t know why or even what exactly they’d done.
“I saw nothing.” Swelter muttered. “If we’d all stayed together no one would have ended up underground and we wouldn’t be here.”
“Of course, if we’d followed your orders we’d all be safe and sound. Sure.” Nia sat up, sensing where the argument was going. It was the same old issue with Swelter and Beacon; since she’d met them both they’d been fighting and sniping at each other.
“Leave it.” Elixir spat, her venom despiting her fatigue.
“You can talk,” Swelter said, ignoring his sister, “You were busy touching base with your old boyfriend, that ASBO scum we took down in Singleton park.”
“What?” Nia asked, her blood running cold. That night in the helicopter coming back to her like a bad dream. That couldn’t have been Mike, surely…
“Oh – didn’t you know?” Swelter mock-gasped, his voice dripping with spite and jealousy. Not even his anger could hide it, Elixir and Beacon looked away and Nia nodded her head as if she should have been expecting this all along.
“Stop talking about him,” Nia said, her voice cold and Spartan. Beacon and Elixir seemed to shrink further into the background.
“Why?” He returned, evidently not getting the warning, “He’s a criminal. People like him are the reason we have walls dividing up the city. Without scum like him we wouldn’t have to save people’s lives.”
“Says he, Mr Civic Justice, the man who uses torture to get what he wants.”
The temperature, defying probability, dropped several degrees. Swelter looked stunned, but Nia was impotent with fury. She watched him melt and back instantly onto the defensive.
“No...,” He stammered, his own rage and shame catching him out, “I explained – I wasn’t –”
“You explained what? That your actions were somehow justified? That torture is okay – so long as you’re the good-guy and someone else is the bad-guy? Could you be any more stupid?”
“But I’m not –”
“There is nothing you can say that can justify to me what you did. You may as well save yourself the breath. You are wholly the worst kind of person. You use violence to get what you want and then you have the audacity to claim the moral high ground.”
“That scum was caught in the act. He got what was coming to him.” Swelter replied, feeling his anger and justification come back to him. “He’s a criminal -”
“As opposed to you?” Nia spat back. The temerity of his pride stunned her, it was probably the only thing that he and Mike had in common. “How dare you.” Her voice pounded against the walls like claps of thunder. Somehow she’d found herself on her feet. “All three of you. You think you’re saviours, lording it over the little people who live in their slums – you’re nothing! You’re empty little puppets without a shred of decency between you.”
She sat down in the vacant corner and locked her arms around her knees in defiance. The others didn’t look at her and she was glad.
“What does that make you?” Beacon asked, his voice devoid of feeling. She didn’t answer him, she just sat back and contemplated their fate. Death, captivity or something else, a third path perhaps; either of the first two would have been preferable to the shame she felt at Beacon’s uncomfortable truth. She’d never felt like one of them, but she had once bought into what they represented. Slowly she slipped into sleep, the rant having drained the last of her will to stay awake.
“You see? They are still children. Exactly as we expected. Too young to be promoted.” Doctor Euryale spoke to the assembled blank-faced scientists. Below them the chamber that held the Elementals glowed through the one-way glass. “We’ll have to keep a closer eye on them when they are done. I hope you have leanred something from this observation. They cannot be trusted, they are too young to fully comprehend their feelings and their actions.”
He guided them towards the door that led into the facilty’s observation hub. From here they could see into all of the rooms. “We will re-arrange their minds and keep a closer hold on them. They wont be truly useful to us until they are adults and by then we’ll have unlocked the key to replicating their powers, at which point they will become, as they fear, expendable. For now, the children are sleeping. Soon it will be time for their medicine.”
Friday, 25 May 2007
HELIX: I miss him.
DOCTOR: Helix. Can you tell me any more about your dreams?”
HELIX: There’s only the sound of the sea, lapping against the walls, eating away at them. They’ve seen it, they’ll all start to see it soon. You can’t keep us all locked up, we’ll find the secrets – the things they don’t want us to see. 715, she speaks to me in my dreams. She speaks to us all.
“Found anything you like?” Gwen muttered, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Squeeze jumped sheepishly and dropped the papers.
“Sorry.” He replied feebly.
“Don’t worry. It’s a fascinating read, I know.” She rubbed her neck and stretched.
“I was wondering whether I could have a word.”
“Of course, why shouldn’t you?”
Squeeze didn’t answer. To say that she hadn’t been honest or forthcoming with them was an understatement. Added to that, they’d have been captured had it not been for Vue and Core.
“Point taken,” she muttered grimly, stroking Flicker’s hand.
“I think we deserve some answers. I also think we should take steps to repair our image.” He blurted.
“You sound like a PR consultant.”
“We have to fight them at their own game. We have to change the way the public think of us and we can’t do that brooding in a basement.” Squeeze paused to see if he was getting through to her, she just sat there stroking Flicker’s hand, “With Core on the loose and the Elementals in disarray we have an opportunity to do something positive.”
Gwen sat up and looked at him. She was as exhausted as they all were. Months of living in a basement had done something to her. Squeeze felt stronger – she was listening.
“Despite their promises, the streets aren’t safe. The Wards have just made everybody more desperate. The people at the top who live in the nice safe Wards are exploiting the people at the bottom forcing them to commit crimes they wouldn’t normally do. Bark is a thief and he’s proud of that fact because it provides for his family. The only people who still think petty crime is a vice are the victims, people like my parents, who have everything but aren’t willing to give anything back.” Squeeze was standing up now, pacing the floor and gesturing with his hands. “If you stop the exploitation, the forced labour and restore hope, then the crime and suffering will slow down and the people will be happy. The authorities can’t give them happiness, it undermines them. We can.”
“You want to spread happiness?” Gwen asked with a weary smile. For a second Squeeze barrelled his chest to rebuff her cynicism, but she just laughed and stood up. “How do you intend spreading your happiness?”
“By doing what the Elementals do – we’ll help people, we can use our abilities to set an example and do everything in our power to stop the corruption.” Squeeze replied.
“And where did you learn all this? Not school, surely.”
“I listen to people; people my parents wouldn’t give a second thought to, people to whom crime isn’t a matter of choice or lifestyle, it’s just a simple necessity.”
“We’re talking about two very different types of crime here. Are you saying one is excusable while the other isn’t.” Gwen said, beginning to pace too.
“No, but if you stop the corruption then people like Bark wont have to steal to eat.”
She paused, beaming to herself, the fire seemed to be returning to her eyes. She looked over his shoulder. “Did you hear all that?” Squeeze turned around and heard footsteps on the stairs. Arc-Light, Bark and Malady appeared at the foot of the stairs. Squeeze blushed and turned away from them.
“We heard.” Arc-Light muttered, her voice unreadable.
“I owe you all some answers,” Gwen said, taking a deep breath. She began to gather her notes and papers together. “I want you to read my notes on Helix and the Others at Cefn Coed. I want you all to know as much as I do.”
Bark nodded, looking down at the file he was handed. “What are we going to do about Vue and Core?”
“They’ll leave them alone for a while, I think.” Gwen replied, handing more files to the others, “They have bigger problems.”
“Like what?” Arc-Light asked.
“They saw everything you did down in the bunker. What were your impressions?”
“It was obviously a facility for distributing something throughout the city. It had all of the Wards on a big screen. There were rooms filled with sealed cans and access to the water supply.” Arc-Light replied.
Squeeze nodded, “They all saw it. Beacon in particular, he was the one piecing it together.”
“The Elementals will be taken to see in-mate 715. When I first heard of her she was just a number – it meant nothing. Then as I got to interview the Others at Cefn Coed I began to understand what they’re doing.” She sat down next to Flicker and patted her leg. Malady was sitting next to her, stroking her hair. “They keep the most powerful Others; mercifully, there aren’t that many. 715 is just a random number, in reality she is number 5 of 5. Her power is the ability to exist in dreams, once there she can change things at a subconscious level. They’ll use her to manipulate the minds of the Elementals and change what they saw.”
Squeeze felt sick, Malady was the one who managed to voice his fear. “Siren.” Gwen nodded, “She wont remember a thing and I daresay she'll be more aggressive and pro-Elemental than ever.”
“How can they use these kids though, surely they wouldn’t help them?” Arc-Light spat, translating everyone’s disgust into words.
“Practice.” Gwen replied, as if it were that simple. “Then there are the breeding programmes.”
“The infant in the lamp?” Arc-Light whispered. “You’ve seen one?” Gwen was stunned. They all nodded. “That says a lot. They wouldn’t have risked the public seeing one of those six months ago. They must be stepping things up.”
“We have to get Vue back – we have to ask him what he was doing there,” Squeeze continued, “He risked everything to get Core out – what on earth happened to her?”
Gwen looked up, “I don’t know. She was the only girl in the old Elementals. She was a bit of a tomboy. I think deep down most people had given up on her. Vue must have known she was still alive.” She shook her head sadly, “He always did have a bit of a thing for her. She could control stone – maybe she got trapped and that changed her. I can only guess.” Gwen shrugged and stood up. “Squeeze is right, we need to make a move. The Elementals will soon be back in force and the authorities will flush us all out. Before then we need to make an impact.” Gwen continued, wringing her hands until they went white. “We’ll start with the Sandfields.” Bark clapped his hands excitedly and leaves fell from his back. Unconsciously they all looked to Malady. She hadn’t spoken and they all felt that they needed her consent to continue. Something had hardened in her and they could all sense it.
“She held my hand.” Malady said, not looking up but sensing them watching her while she stroked Flicker’s hand. “She looked after us both. We should get her back.”
Thursday, 24 May 2007
At the door she turned and glanced at Helix for one last time. He was rolled up in the foetal position, soundly asleep.
“Hypnotic, isn’t he?”
Gwen gasped at the cold voice behind her. It was Dr Euryale – one of the less savoury denizens of the lower levels. They said he never left the facility, that his life’s work had become the study of Helix’s mind. His skin was so pale she almost believed it, although why he wore round sunglasses indoors was anyone’s guess.
“Yes. He is,” She replied when she’d composed herself. The door slid closed behind her, leaving her alone in the passage with Euryale. The draft licked her legs and made her shiver.
“We are making good progress. I’m happy with what we’ve achieved over the past two years with Helix.” He began as they walked back towards the elevator together. “Is your research into his personalities progressing?”
“Yes. Slowly – he has no control, nor any idea the other personalities exist. Asking him certain questions prompt him to change, but as yet I’ve not been able to link together a specific question and a specific response.”
“Oh? Such questions include…”
“Well, asking him about his dreams always shakes things up.”
“Dreams? Ah, yes… it’s how he detects the Others we haven’t found yet. Did he give you a name today?”
“Only an Other name – Omen. It seems to fit the profile of a Daniel Fisher.”
“I’ll get the police on it.”
Gwen nodded. Not if I get to him first, she thought, looking down at her list of all the Others, their names and addresses. She was privy to one of the most comprehensive recordings of their abilities and whereabouts in Swansea.
“We think we may have found a new member for the Elementals. She’s very promising. She spends a lot of time at the youth clubs and was recently awarded a PROBO for her services to the public.”
“Excellent. What’s her name?”
“Nia, I believe.”
Gwen skimmed through the lists. Nia – yes, a Catalyst of significant power. With her the New Elementals would be stronger than ever. It was a worrying thought.
“I want you to take her psychological profile.” Euryale said. Gwen nodded and the wraith-like man smiled in return.
They’d reached the elevator and the door swished open with its cheery ping and she stepped in, holding the door for him to follow her. He didn’t – he merely stood in the frame of the door and bowed.
“I regret I cannot accompany you, I still have business with Helix. Like you, I too have questions.”
Gwen nodded, a finger of ice running down her spine. What could he possibly want with the boy? She wondered.
“Do you believe him,” Gwen began, “When he says that he’ll escape. Do you believe he can predict the future?”
Dr Euryale seemed to glaze for a moment and sway on the spot before answering, “I believe he has untapped abilities. His mind is confused and broken and he cannot control his thoughts or abilities. I fear the day he ever regains his sanity because I believe there is no cage that we could build that could hold him. For now, we are safe.”
Gwen nodded. On the journey up into the real world Gwen pulled out her bun and leaned against the wall of the elevator and gazed at her reflection. It was in these moments she felt the most real. The rest of the time she was forcing a smile, carrying on the pretence of being a dedicated scientist and not the traitor she was swiftly becoming. Even then she was protecting her scientist persona so she had to be someone so totally different – forged identity papers, Ident card, the list went on. After twenty minutes of relative peace and quiet the elevator door opened and she was in the old Cefn Coed Hospital with its bleached walls and lino floors. There was an excited buzz in the air as she left the reception area, no doubt a ‘remarkable break through’ with one of the patients. Gwen stepped out into the cold and began walking to her car. It was time to put her plans into action.
In the next age will come an Age of Light and it shall be an Age of Revelation. It shall be ushered in by the golden words of the winged messenger, illuminating the true path…
… These are the words of the prophetess and they are true.
Luithes Dahabe Tygeriqes XVI
* * *
The dawn broke cold over the clammy marshes, in a grey, reluctant light. The disappointed songs of the birds and the rustling of creatures amongst the grasses, seemed at first to be the only sounds against the stillness of the quiet waters. The scuffling of hurried footsteps and the occasional splash of the disturbed mere raised the spirits of the marsh birds, who flew up suddenly out of the grasses, shrieking their warnings. A woman staggered through their midst, her breath short and sobbing, pushing her way through the undergrowth, regardless of the protesting cries. The cacophony of disturbed creatures crescendoed in her wake, the disturbance so loud that at first they did not register the moving absence that was approaching them.
There was a sudden and absolute silence.
* * *
4th Auldary 4356
Woke late today. Light very low still. Grey and overcast, but no rain. Me and Bennet went to check on the Far field today and saw human tracks running along the border. Possible trespassers. Will up the security on the fenced border on North Wall.
The Journal of Danth Reeves: Entry 4; Month 2; Year 33.
* * *
As soon as she walked into the kitchen, Deleha knew that something was wrong. She looked around the room; nothing seemed out of place and everything was still and quiet.
She wondered if she could risk Shifting. She had heard such horror stories about Shifter accidents in late stage pregnancy. She needed to find Willan, but at this time of day he would be out on early morning field checks. She picked up some boots and sat down to put them on, when she heard footsteps approaching the door. Tensing up in fright, it took a great effort of will not to Shift, but she just managed to hold on to her calm. The door opened and Willan stepped over the threshold.
“Thank heavens its you!” Deleha exclaimed, struggling to pull herself to her feet.
“No, don’t get up!” Willan replied in concern, his face drawn in worry. “I’ve been telling you to take it easy, now that your so nearly due.”
Deleha relaxed back into the chair and let out the breath she’d been holding. Willan hurried over and crouched down by her side, gently putting his hand on her arm. He looked over her in concern.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked, “Is it the baby?”
“No, nothing like that.” she replied hastily, “There’s something else. Can you feel it? There’s something else out there.”
His brows contracted in concern and he stood back up, turning to look out of the window, across the fields. She looked up at him, trying to work out what he was thinking.
“It’s possible you can sense it, even from here.” He turned back around and put a hand on her shoulder. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to worry you about this, but there‘s been a problem with the stallion.”
“Solael? Why? What’s wrong with him?” she half rose from her chair, gasped in discomfort and sat back down.
“I’m sorry, Del, but he’s been getting thinner and weaker as the weeks have gone by. I couldn‘t find anything physically wrong with him, he just didn‘t seem to be able to eat.” He broke off and looked away from her accusing eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she asked in a tight, restricted voice. “We should have been putting money aside. We’ll never get by without the income he brings.”
“We’ll think of something. I just kept on hoping that it would work out, but its too late for that now," he paused and then said as gently as he could, "I'm sorry, but he died in the night.”
Deleha drew her hands over her face, feeling both sick and overwhelmed. Willan reached out to hug her, but she pushed him away.
“I’m so sorry…”
“No,” she cut him off. “No, its not that. It’s something else. There’s something else out there.”
* * *
This is to certify that: (name) Srynia Ruanthi
Was born on the 21st day of the month of Auldary in the year 4356 to the father Willan Ruanthi and the mother Deleha Ruanthi, in the province of Brithia under the government of the Kingdom of Calania.
See also Riarna Ruanthi.
* * *
Willan edged out of the door cautiously and quickly shut and locked it behind him. He scanned the yard carefully once, before beginning to Shift. Concentrating firmly on the feeling of the shape, his form began to blur and dissolve, melting into the outline of a wolf. Shaking off the residual tingling feeling, he scanned the yard again and then set off south the way he had come that morning. His own scent was strong on the ground, but there was also something else coming up on the breeze. He broke into a lope, flowing along the ground with ease, eating up the distance between him and the foreign scent. Suddenly, a new and fresh smell washed over him and he broke into a flat out gallop. From his wolf’s nose there was no disguising the scent of blood.
Willan came to a stop when he came across the first piece of the body of Solael. The stallion was where he had found him that morning, but his hindquarters had been pulled off and dragged apart from his torso, his belly and innards drawn out and partly devoured. Part of Willan was disgusted by the sight, but the wolfish part of him began to salivate. He quickly realised how vulnerable his position here was. His sense of smell was overwhelmed by the pungent clouds of odour rising from the corpse and there was no cover in the open field. Turning his head from side to side, he listened for any other sounds, but could hear nothing. In fact, there seemed instead to be an absence of sound, as all the usual background noises of the birds and rodents had fallen silent. Distinctly uncomfortable, he turned and started trotting back to the farmhouse, breaking into a lope as he hurried beyond the veil of scent. Coming back into the yard he could smell nothing new and so quickly Shifted back into a man. Unlocking the door, he slipped back into the kitchen.
“What is it? Did you see anything?” Delehan asked hastily from where she sat bolt upright in her chair. Willan gave her a concerned look.
“There is some kind of carnivore out there, but I couldn’t scent it near the house.”
They were interrupted by a loud knock. There was someone at the door.
* * *
This is to certify that: (name) Riarna Ruanthi
Was born on the 21st day of the month of Auldary in the year 4356 to the father Willan Ruanthi and the mother Deleha Ruanthi, in the province of Brithia under the government of the Kingdom of Calania.
See also Srynia Ruanthi.
* * *
“Who’s there?” Willan demanded, a threatening growl entering his tone.
“I’m a traveller,” an exhausted voice called through the wood, tinged with something akin to hysteria. “I’ve been travelling for days without rest or food and I was hoping you might offer me a place to stop for a while.” There was no denying the desperation in the voice, but Willan narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“I’m sorry, but we can’t help you. You’ll have to find somewhere else,” he called back sternly.
“Please! Please, you have to help us. I have a newborn baby with me. Look, come and see, I promise… ” the voice trailed off in emotion and there was no mistaking the sound of sobbing. Delehan touched Willan’s arm and looked up into his face.
“Do you think she’s telling the truth?”
“Maybe. But if she’s not and we let her in, then we’re all at risk,” he replied firmly.
“But if we’re wrong, then we’re denying a guest our hospitality. And what’s more, a newborn child, the most sacred of the guests protected by Lontea.” Willan frowned and scratched his chin in contemplation. She was right and the sound of weeping filtering through the door was beginning to weaken his resolve.
“Alright,” he said quietly to Delehan. He walked over to the door and opened it. Sitting on the step was a bedraggled woman, who had clearly been travelling rough for more than just a couple of days. She was a young woman, probably about Delehan’s age, with dark tangled hair that covered most of her face. Her clothes were well-made and probably very respectable once, but they were torn and stained almost beyond any recognition of this. In her lap she held a bundle of clothes swathed around the tiny form of a pale pink face, just protruding from the blankets. He smiled warmly at the beautiful little child, who looked up at him with wide, bright blue eyes.
“You can come in and take some rest and food,” Willan told the woman in a more gentle tone.
She looked up at him and Willan was taken aback. She would have once been a most striking woman, although her expression was marred by a pale, pinched expression. However, it was not this that shocked him, but rather her pale, silvery blue eyes, that fixed him to the spot and seemed to see right through him. He tried to tear his face away from this burning hold, but he felt as if every muscle was frozen in place.
“Take the child and look after her,” the woman’s voice was now much clearer and firmer. “You’re wife will have her child in fifteen days from now. Raise this child with the other as its twin and never let her learn that she is not your own. Do this for me,” she finished in a tone of firm command.
“Yes, yes I will,” Willan stammered, pleased to give any answer that might give him the chance to break this disturbing stare.
“You must promise to protect her like your own. Do you swear?” the voice now seemed disembodied from the woman, rising up from around and beyond her.
“Yes I swear,” he replied, his voice a barely audible whisper. The woman seemed to collapse from within, her energy spent. She got unsteadily to her feet and handed the child to the man.
“Do take good care of her,” she said in a voice now subdued and tinged with a deep sadness, which was somehow more unsettling than before. She leant over the child and whispered something in its ear, before turning and reaching for something beneath her ragged clothing.
“Take this,” she said, proffering a heavy leather pouch that jingled slightly as she held it up. “I will have no more use for it and I think it should help you to recover from your recent loss.” Placing it on the step beside the man, she turned and began to walk away.
As if waking from a daze, Willan suddenly called out to her, “Wait a moment! What’s her name?” but the woman had begun to Shift and in the form of a deer, she leapt away without a further glance behind her. Willan picked up the pouch and went back in to the kitchen.
“Is she coming in as well?” Delehan asked, noting the baby Willan held in his arms. Willan walked over and placing the child in her arms, putting the pouch on the table and sat down in front of it.
“No. She ran off. But she has left this child in our care,” he said this almost casually, as he pulled open the leather pouch in front of him.
“What?” Delehan exclaimed angrily, “How can we support two children, when we are barely able to support ourselves?”
Willan looked up at her, his face holding a barely suppressed calm. “I think we are supposed to use this, “ he said, indicating the leather pouch on the table. “At a rough estimate, I would say there must be at least five hundred Gold Mura in here.” He broke into a grin that he could no longer contain.
“Five hundred Gold Mura!” Delehan cried, with one hand still cradled around the infant, and the other raised to her mouth in utter shock. She was overwhelmed and once again, felt rather sick, although with excitement this time, rather than grief. Willan laughed and jumped to his feet.
“Five Hundred!” He shouted, flinging his arms out in a wildly expansive gesture. He picked the pouch up and held it in his palm. “In my hand I now hold the entire value of my farm ten times over.” He put it back on the table almost reverentially. Delehan looked from him and down to the little bundle in her lap. The little girl looked up, blinking at all this commotion, but remained quiet and still. Delehan hugged her to her side and feeling the toll of all these emotional upheavals welling up inside of her, she suddenly burst into tears. Willan rushed over to comfort her, putting his arms round her shoulders.
“Its alright,” she said. “I think now everything is going to be alright.”
* * *
Outside, in the midst of the deadly quiet, the presence silently stalked to threshold of the door. Picking up the trail again, it turned and followed the path that the woman had taken.
Where on Earth had it come from? Or maybe it wasn’t from Earth at all, and had arrived with the aliens.
It was reptilian, but as large as an elephant.
This was going to take some doing.
Greg rushed into the house, finding Jeremy in the living room.
“What is it?” he said. “I just got your text, or I’d have been here sooner.” He looked around. “Where’s Laoren?”
“She’s gone,” said Jeremy. “We’ve got a big problem on our hands.”
The creature’s tail swung down, destroying a bench.
Sunset looked upwards.
“Headline news, I suppose.”
She looked around. No film crew, no journalists. They must all be preoccupied with the alien arrival. Nobody left to capture her epic battle with the Lizard of Doom.
“Alright,” she said. “It’s super-powers time!”
“And she had this alien hidden in the house all along?” said Greg.
“For the last four days,” said Jeremy.
“And she didn’t tell me?”
“I don’t think she wanted to tell me either, but they had to because I was in the house so much.”
“Does Mel know?” Greg was pacing by now.
“No idea. I texted her too, but you know what she’s like.”
“Any idea where she went?”
Jeremy passed him the evening’s paper.
“The school, I’d imagine.”
“Good lord. Any news on what happened there?”
“No idea,” said Jeremy. “Sounds like the journalists were more focused on the spaceship and the chaos than a single alien with a human girl.”
“Some people really need to sort out their priorities.”
Sunset reached for her phone. She unlocked it, and scrolled down to the Address Book icon.
The monster’s head swooped down, and she narrowly missed it. Another swoop, and the phone was knocked from her hands.
“You asked for it,” said Sunset. And as she spoke, her head began to fade away. Tiny particles floated from her. Her hands started to melt into particles as well. Eventually, she was a cloud, floating on the wind. She reformed on the creature’s head. She punched it firmly.
The creature roared, and swung her away. Seconds before she hit the ground, she crumbled again, and reformed, fully standing, on the ground.
Not waiting to catch her breath, she picked up the phone again. She found the entry she wanted – “Lunar Mist” – and dialled.
“Right, get Mel back here,” said Greg.
“I told you, she didn’t answer,” insisted Jeremy.
“Then we’ll go and get her,” said Greg. “What’s she got on today? Riding? Hockey?”
“She didn’t say.”
“Then find out! Who’s in her riding class?”
“I don’t know, do I?” Jeremy was becoming agitated. “I’m going to try phoning Laoren. At the very least, we should find out if she’s alright.”
“Alright, you do that.”
“Pick up, pick up,” said Sunset, tapping her foot impatiently. An enormous tail swung through the air, knocking the wind from her stomach, and tearing her suit along her chest. “Handy that I wear clothes underneath,” she said, and turned to the creature. “But still, budget or not, I LIKE this costume.”
She disintegrated again, and reformed on some scaffolding above. She grabbed a rope, crumbled, and appeared on the creature’s lower back.
Ignoring the roars, she set about attaching the rope to one of it’s finger-sized scales. It wouldn’t hold for long, but it’d do.
She threw the rope to the creature’s right, and crumbled. She reformed underneath the monster, and grabbed the rope before she hit the ground. She ran back, throwing the rope up around the other side. She scattered once more, gathering on the creature’s back just in time to grab the rope again.
She recovered the end of the rope she’d left on the scale, and tied it to the other side. She then set about wrapping the rope around its scaly neck. Having tied the other end of the rope to the knot, she realised she needed more rope. She crumbled again, reforming on the scaffolding.
She needed a moment to breathe.
“No answer,” said Jeremy.
“Think she’s in trouble?” asked Greg. “Or just avoiding you?”
“Could be either, really.” He rubbed his eyes. He was tiring quickly. “We may have to contact her parents.”
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“She’s taken off with an alien, to a potentially dangerous situation that contains, lest we forget, a million journalists,” said Jeremy. “They’ll find out sooner or later, and if they find out sooner, they can help us.”
“You’re right,” said Greg. “Tell you what, let me e-mail my lecturers to let them know I won’t be in tomorrow …”
“Greg,” said Jeremy quietly. “There won’t BE any lectures tomorrow. Didn’t you hear what happened to the University?”
The creature had not taken kindly to being tied up. By the time Sunset had found another length of rope, it had started running through the streets. The rope kept its head facing upwards, and it was running into more obstacles than usual.
“Oh, God,” said Sunset, seeing where it was headed. It was running down a road that led directly towards the local University.
Sunset scattered immediately, and raced towards the creature, trying to overtake it.
She reformed in front of it, and tried grabbing one of its legs. But Sunset’s strength was not super-human, and the creature, feeling her underfoot, stamped down hard. It stopped, turned around – its tail swinging through the University walls, smashing windows and knocking down bricks – and started scratching away at Sunset, trying to get a grip on her.
Sunset tried to crumble, but she was too tired. She could feel her hand melting away, but the creature’s claws tore at her suit, and then her face and legs.
She could vaguely hear a voice, so, so distant.
“Leave her alone!”
She saw a streak of green above her, and finally, she was able to crumble.
She allowed herself to slowly drift home.
“Couldn’t find any contact details …” Jeremy trailed off. “Greg?”
“I’m upstairs,” replied Greg. “We’ve got another issue.”
Jeremy ran upstairs, following Greg’s voice. He was standing in the door to Mel’s room.
“What is it?” asked Jeremy, but then he saw the carnage on the bed.
“That solves that mystery, then,” said Greg, barely able to speak. “Melinda is Sunset.”
“So, you’re a fugitive.”
“Yes, technically …” started Trenavass.
“So you are, in all senses of the word, an illegal alien.”
“I’ll leave you think-“
“Oh, I think you’d better,” spat Jeremy.
“Leave it,” said Laoren softly.
“Look at yourself, girl!” Jeremy shouted. This scared Laoren – he was normally so passive, so diplomatic. “You’re being taken in by this scum’s lies. Everyone knows about these aliens. World leaders are talking about it. And they’re looking for an alien we’ve known about for half a week.”
“Don’t worry,” said Trenavass. “By the time they find-“
“But that’s not the worst thing,” said Jeremy. “Fact is, if we’d known you wanted assylum, we’d have given it. You didn’t need to lie to us.”
“I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t-“
“So you treated us like cattle. Mocked us with your knowledge. We were completely open with you about our culture, from Doctor Who to purple Starburst, from sports to drawing. And you even lied about the way your spaceship works.”
“Actually, it DOES work like I described, it just didn’t happen to need charging when-“
“Just shut up,” sneered Jeremy. “And get out.”
“You can’t,” said Laoren quietly. “Give him a bit more time.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, Laoren, I pay rent on this house too,” said Jeremy. “So that means it’s a fifty-fifty vote. You want to keep him here? Fine. Go and ask Greg and Mel for their votes. See how long it is before the whole world knows we’ve got him.”
“I’ll go,” said Trenavass, and headed for the door.
“Wait,” called Laoren, but he kept going, so she followed him.
Trenavass cloaked himself outside, and Laoren tried her best to appear as though she wasn’t speaking to thin air.
“Where will you go?”
“I need my spaceship,” said Trenavass. “I’m going to the school.”
Ffion, Karen, Liz and Dylan were being led around a school by a platoon of alien police and their interpretor.
“You must us to broad, open order take,” said the interpretor. “The spacecraft is too large most of be appropriate the doors, but your double doors it are able be able adapt.”
“Right,” said Ffion, clearly and slowly. “We will start outside. We will check fields and playgrounds. Then we will take you to our large buildings.”
“No,” said the interpretor. “We these will separate places tezelfdertijd and check. The intelligent little girl and the boy will come with me. The other little girls will go with the police force.”
Karen and Liz were nudged forwards by the police. The interpretor spoke to them directly.
“Take them to areas and speelplaatsen,” he told them. Seeing their bemusement, he clarified, “Stay outside.”
The girls led the policemen away, and the interpretor turned his attentions to Ffion and Dylan.
“We will check within,” he said. “You will lead me.”
As they walked, Ffion talked to Dylan.
“You don’t speak Dutch at all, do you?”
“No,” said Dylan. “Why?”
“It sounds like they’ve confused English with Dutch,” she said. “Zoeken, tezelfdertijd, speelplaatsen … Like how when we start to learn German, some French words can creep in if we’ve already been learning that.”
“He wants us to go inside,” said Dylan. “If we start in the Modern Languages department, we might be able to find a dictionary.”
“Good thinking,” said Ffion encouragingly.
“This is such an amazing experience,” said Liz. “We’re guiding the first alien platoon to ever land on Earth.”
“Aren’t you scared?” asked Karen.
”Nervous,” Liz admitted. “But they’re not aggressive.”
“They shot Stacey and Stephanie, though …” said Karen thoughtfully.
“They seemed no worse for wear,” said Liz. “And the interpretor seemed panicked when they did. I think we’re safe as long as we help them.”
Karen nodded fervently.
“You must be right,” she said firmly. “Definitely.”
They reached the tennis courts. They were run down and hadn’t been used in years. Karen suspected that it’d be a good place to hide a spaceship, but she could see from here that they were as barren as ever.
Strangely, though, the guards stepped forwards, and marched around the courts, reaching out with their arms, and occasionally consulting some handheld devices.
“Thought so,” said Liz. “The ship must be invisible. Had to be, really, or we’d have noticed.”
“That’s amazing,” said Karen. “They’ve mastered invisibility.”
“They’ve mastered significant space travel too,” Liz reminded her. “And that’s far more impressive. Remember, it’d take four years for LIGHT to reach us from the nearest solar system to us. It shouldn’t be possible for a ship to travel that distance in a lifetime.”
The guards returned, looking expectantly at the girls.
“Let’s try the rugby pitch next,” said Liz. “Probably won’t be there, since they’re used quite often, but if it’s invisible, it might be parked overhead or something.”
Dylan and Ffion had been left alone while the interpretor went to search for the spaceship.
“You’re doing well,” said Dylan bashfully. “I’d have been a wreck if you weren’t here.”
“Just think of them as policemen,” said Ffion. “Policemen can be scary, but they just want to get their jobs done. If you help them, they’ll like you, and they stop being scary.”
“Brilliant,” said Dylan, attempting something approaching a smile. “I, um …”
The interpretor entered the room.
“The spacecraft is not here,” he said. “We must try elsewhere.”
Dylan nabbed a Dutch dictionary from a nearby shelf – a pocket Collins one, unfortunately, rather than anything more comprehensive – and they moved on.
“I understand your concern, Miss Lucas,” said the headmaster. “But we’ve got plenty of worried parents going insane out there, and there’s very little we can actually do for her.”
“Understandable,” said Zoe reasonably. “But she’s currently being led around the school by aliens, with no adult supervision. Human adult, at least.”
“And what do you think we can do about it?” he asked.
“Become the adult supervision, man!” she said. “It’s your school. They’re trespassing on your property. Allow them to continue their search, by all means, but they shouldn’t be doing all this purely on their own terms.”
“All my staff are busy enough dealing with the remaining children,” said the headmaster. “And I’m being swamped with phone calls from television networks and newspapers …”
But Zoe had grown impatient, so she walked out.
“[It seems we have run out of places to search,]” said one of the guards.
“[We must meet up with Garnoff,]” said another. “[He will be able to decipher the language.]”
Liz and Karen had been trying to mime their message for some time – that they were unable to get to the area behind the canteen without a key. Nothing had worked, especially since the guards seemed unwilling to pay much heed to their gestures.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long before the interpretor returned with Dylan and Ffion, ready to check the canteen themselves.
“[We believe there are no more exteriors to check,]” a guard told the interpretor. “[Would you ask the girls to confirm this, Garnoff?]”
Garnoff turned to the girls.
“Is this where?” he asked. “Is there outside no longer places?”
“There is one more,” said Liz clearly, taking her cue from Ffion. “It is behind this building.”
“We will check.”
Garnoff retrieved a key from a pocket in his suit. Dylan and Ffion had already seen this key in use – it was like a master key, fitting most locks in the school. He opened the canteen, and they headed inside. Garnoff stayed indoors, checking the canteen itself, while the police guards headed through the kitchens, eagre to search outside.
At that moment, Zoe arrived.
Ffion turned and saw her sister.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, but she sounded grateful to see her.
“Thought some adult supervision would be handy,” said Zoe.
“Where were you thinking of getting that, then?” asked Ffion with a grin.
“Quiet, you,” said Zoe.
Suddenly, they heard a commotion from outside. Garnoff dashed towards the sound, and the others followed.
Ffion was surprised at the size of the back of the canteen. Particularly because, with so many people present, there was a large empty area in the middle.
“This must be the spaceship,” said Liz.
“And there is the traitor,” said Garnoff.
And there, on the other side of the empty space, was another alien. This one was more finely dressed, and accompanied by a girl a few years younger than Zoe.
Dylan shuffled his feet.
“Ffion, remind me to tell you something afterwards.”
Alright, so that was the official biography. But what I mostly wanted to remember was what the stranger in the costume – Ten Thousand And One, he’d called himself – had told me.
So, here goes again.
When I became a lecturer, I’d already possessed telekinetic and empathic abilities for a year or so. Had I known this already? Hard to tell. At some point – a year later, in fact – I became a superhero called Grey Matter. I’d have been twenty-seven. A year and a half later – twenty-eight? Twenty-nine? – I gave up being a superhero, and wrote a lot of books. The most findings of the most recent book encouraged me to get a new costume, and become a supercounsellor called Therapy.
And the only one who knew of all this was this Ten Thousand And One fellow. Also costumed, but it seems that I never actually knew his identity, even before the accident.
I was ready for him when he arrived. I’d now decided on all the questions I wanted to ask.
“How do you know who I am?” I asked.
“I knew you as Felicity Goodman,” he said, not wasting words. “I didn’t realise you were Therapy until the accident. Realising that Therapy wouldn’t want her identity publicly known, I came to the scene immediately with a set of civilian clothes.”
I blushed. “You changed my clothes?”
Ten Thousand And One chuckled. “You were wearing plain skin-tight clothes under your outfit anyway,” he said. “Standard practice for superheroes, because if their costumes get torn, they hardly want to be standing around in their underwear.”
“I see,” I said, bemused.
He chuckled again. “So strange, telling you these things that you once knew so well – knew better than I do, in fact.”
“Alright,” I said, ready to move on. “So I – Felicity, not Therapy – know you.”
“Do I know your identity?”
“No. Even as Felicitiy, you knew me as Ten Thousand And One.”
“And why are you called Ten Thousand And One?”
“It’s what everyone else called me,” he said. “I just wanted to stay out of the limelight, but it seems that that’s a good recipe to becoming an enigma. It’s easier now to introduce myself by that number.”
“And why that number?”
He chuckled. “I should have given you more credit. I thought it’d be days before you just asked outright.” He became momentarily serious. “But I’m afraid I’m not going to tell you. And not to be cool and enigmatic either – it’s just a number, and barely means a thing, so don’t get it into your head that there’s an exciting revelation behind it. But this is part of a test – I need you to remember this without being told, and when you do, we’ll hopefully be a step closer to learning more.”
“More about what?”
“Ah,” he said. “That’s the thing. Your accident, you see – we don’t know what it was.”
“You don’t know?”
“I assume someone attacked you, but since you were disguised as Therapy at the time, the police won’t be able to do much. So this is my own private project.” He chuckled. “And I’m a busy man. It’s unprecedented for me to spend so much time working on a single problem.”
“Are you a detective?”
“Not your badge number or anything, then?”
I found it difficult to talk. I wanted to know more. It felt as though great swathes of my personality were missing. How had I become a lecturer? The last thing I remembered about my academic life was copying my friend’s homework because I hadn’t done my own. How had little Felicity Goodman become an esteemed lecturer of psychology?
And there was another paradox. I felt like a thirty-two-year-old woman, but my most recent memories – apart from the hospital – belonged to a teenager. How could it feel so recent and so distant at the same time?
I realised that I hadn’t asked a number of questions I’d wanted answering.
“Why did I give up superheroism?” I asked.
“It was getting in the way of your work,” said Ten Thousand And One. “You realised that your dream had been to get your work published, and to make a real difference to your field.”
Presumably, I thought, being Therapy didn’t get in the way of that.
“Hang on, though,” I said. “I thought you didn’t realise that Therapy was even me. How do you know so much about my superhero career?”
“Piecing together different things you’ve told me over the years,” he said. “A lot of things slotted into place when I took off your mask. But for the purpose of finding whoever did this to you, I’ve called in a lot of favours.” He smiled. “I’m owed a LOT of favours.”
The words sound creepy by themselves, but the way he said it was so warm. After how much he’d done to help me – to the extent of calling in favours of his own to help me remember – I could easily imagine that a lot of people were in his debt.
“So, how does this Therapy thing work?” I asked. “Support groups?”
“Partly,” said Ten Thousand And One. “But you also visited schools and even borstals. You have a private phone to accept calls on Therapy’s behalf. I’ve taken the liberty of announcing that you’re on extended leave at the moment.”
“And you said that nobody knows that I’m Therapy. Did anyone know I was Grey Matter?”
“Not as far as I know,” he said. “But naturally, they’d have kept this a secret. A fair few people know that Grey Matter and Therapy are one in the same, however.”
I paused as I tried to remember if I had any more questions lined up.
“Where do I live?” I sounded like a little girl.
“A flat in the Leavesden area,” he said gently. “You’ve been saving up for a house.”
“Am I getting close?” I asked.
“You’re getting there.”
“Is it a nice flat?”
“It’s a lovely flat.”
“Tell me about it.”
And in his soft, gentle tones, Ten Thousand And One described my flat. I listened intently, basking in every detail. I closed my eyes. Eventually, I heard him leave, and I fell asleep.
Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Today, when I was tidying my room, I discovered a door previously unexplored. I opened it, and entered a most interesting place.
I was greeted by a man employed, I presume, to counteract the effects of confusion that the place must have on casual visitors such as myself.
"Hello," he said. "Welcome to the Ideal Universe."
I looked around. The Ideal Universe was sparse, monochrome, and composed mainly of line drawings.
"It looks lovely," I said, because I was always encouraged to be polite.
"Feel free to have a look around," said the man whose name I later learned to be A.
I walked towards an interesting slope, and found myself sliding at a constant speed towards it. This struck me as odd, not least of which because I was wearing my new Converse boots.
"I don't understand," I said to A. "The floor seems to be slippery. Indeed, it seems to be infinitely slippery, as I still haven't stopped moving."
"There is no friction in this part of the Ideal Universe," said A. "Neither is there air resistance, nor time."
"How can there be an absence of time?" I inquired. "After all, it must take time to speak, and I'm quite certain we've both spoken to some extent in the last few minutes."
"We've spoken, certainly," said A. "But that is not to say that it took time. Rather, the speaking merely happened, without reference to the duration."
"I find all of this most confusing," I said, for I found all of this most confusing.
"Watch this," said A. He retrieved a rubber ball from his pocket. It was a line drawing again, but I must assume it was a rubber ball, because when he dropped it, it bounced.
"When it bounces back," said A, "The ball reaches two-thirds of the height from which it was dropped."
And so it did.
"It then drops again, and upon returning, it reaches two-thirds of the new drop."
This made sense to me.
I watched, and the ball continued to drop and bounce, over and over. And what was unusual about this was that it didn't stop. It didn't bounce away in a strange directions as rubber balls so often do. It didn't settle on the floor before rolling away. Indeed, by now, despite appearing to be largely stationary, I could still hear the bouncing of the ball, and it seemed to be vibrating.
"Surely it ought to stop eventually," I said.
"But this is the Ideal Universe," said A. "It will continue until it is disrupted."
And with this, he placed his foot upon the ball, and it finally settled. But still it did not roll away.
"May I ask," I said finally. "What is the purpose of this Ideal Universe? Why does it exist?"
"This is the universe in which maths homework exists," said A. "Factors such as friction, gravity and dimensions may be stripped away, leaving purely logical factors only. For instance ..."
But the rest of A's speech would fall on deaf ears, because I'd gone to play with the scalene triangles.
The second Vue jumped them all into the garden of Malady’s house Squeeze shouted himself hoarse demanding to be taken back. They’d left Nia with the Elementals, this was unacceptable. He was forced to watch the others reunited with their families while he pleaded with Vue to take him back. Nobody listened, they were too busy hugging and kissing and promising each other that they’d never let each other out of their sight. He knew it was useless, but the person he most wanted to be sharing these sentiments with was in the hands of the authorities. Bark had his brother; Malady had her parents; Vue had the Other known as Core – once a girl, now a mountain of stone. They could hear her quaking footfalls in the distance. Vue hung around for as long as he needed to recover from the last enormous jump, then he was gone. He just sat without a word on top of the garden shed watching the police helicopters as they circled her head uselessly and then vanished.
That night Squeeze went to bed early, foregoing the celebrations. After the ordeal in the bunker he was spent. That night he dreamed of the sea, and for the first time the feeling of having a blanket of water around him was a comfort. The following morning should have been filled with dread and anger but all of his frustration seemed to have gone. Things were different now. He was going to get Nia back and he was going to put his abilities to practical use.
He swung his feet off the bed and stood up. Around him the others were spread happily across their bunks, all apart from one curtained corner of the room around Flicker’s bed. Squeeze drifted over and pulled back the curtain. Within he found Flicker asleep. It was the first time he’d seen her totally still. Lying next to her, torso on the bed with the rest in a chair was Gwen.
In the garden he found Bark, who, while looking more like a man than ever before was also looking more like a tree. Small branches were poking out of his skin-suit and were beginning to sprout leaves. Squeeze tested himself by stretching his arm out as far as it would go. It touched the far end of the garden. Was it Nia? Malady? The radiation or a combination of the three, he couldn’t know, but they had all changed, one way or the other. They were more powerful, it was as if something within them had been turned on, like a tap twisted all the way.
“Good morning,” Bark muttered, his voice like a rasp against wood. He sounded surprisingly chipper, all things considered.
“Isn’t it?” Squeeze replied with a cheeriness he hadn’t realised he was capable of.
“Someone’s changed his tune. You feeling alright?” Bark said with a forced chuckle.
Squeeze smiled. “Yeah, I’ve just come to a conclusion about things. I know what I want now and it took seeing her again for me to figure that out.”
“The girl in the purple? Is she, like, ‘The One’?”
“She’s a friend. The first girl I kissed. And only, in fact.”
“I’d rather forget the first girl I kissed. Blue light disco at Cinders. Grim stuff mate.”
They laughed together. It felt bright and clear. “Well. Flicker’s still asleep, Malady didn’t stop crying, Arc-Light has stopped talking and Gwen has gone all maternal. Quite a turbulent twenty-hours all in all.”
Bark nodded. “And yeah – Vue and The Colossus of Pati have swanned off somewhere. I think he said he was going to keep her in Singleton Park until he figures out what to do with her. What do you do with a girl who’s ‘filled out’ and turned to stone, eh? Imagine that conversation; ‘Do I look fat in this?’, ‘Er, well, um – look over there! A squirrel!’.” He paused and they both laughed. “I was thinking of going back to the Sandfields and working stuff out there. I could help people. My brother needs an extra pair of hands to get things done.”
“Looking like that?”
“What? Black? What are you trying to say?” They laughed again.
“Nah – I’m thinking you should stick around, that’s all, with people who accept you for who you are.” Squeeze smiled. “You know, a tree.”
Bark nodded. “And do what?”
“Well, the way I see it, there’s a balance that needs addressing. Everyone thinks we’re the bad guys. That’s wrong. If the Elementals can help people, then so can we.”
“We’ll be like a modern-day gang of outlaws. Robbing from the rich and all that.”
“I’m sure you’d love that but we can’t just start stealing things. We want to build a reputation.”
“Sounds good. Only one problem – we’re wanted criminals.”
“You’re really going to let that stop you?”
“No – but it might put off the others, bearing in mind the palava that went on at Dyfatty. Malady’s just a kid, we’re living in someone’s basement, Flicker’s out for the count. It’s a bit too soon.”
“It’s never too soon to do the right thing.” There was a pause before they both burst into peals of laughter. “You know what I mean.” Bark nodded, he did know what Squeeze meant and as cheesy as it sounded, he was right.