Saving Ourselves: Ch. 2: Journey


Loren Howard

Noyo held the reins and a steady scowl as the horse clopped along behind Dira’s carriage up ahead, guiding them to the crystal site for them to harvest for energy and bring home. At least they weren’t returning empty-handed that way and Loren could be less ashamed of her fumble. Once in a while, a piece of whatever Dira was whistling reached them but not enough to recognize. He was calm for someone obviously being watched after just escaping Union capture. Until they reached their destination, Loren was under strict orders to watch him closely and tell Noyo if she found anything suspicious or even curious. According to them, there was nothing too small to notice.

Loren would never tell them this, but no one who made it out the collapse of Garres City was ever quite right again. All the survivors had this intangible sort of haze that separated them from others. As if the world they lived in now was no more real to them than children’s tales and might dissolve at any moment. Some were jumpy and others resigned themselves. Noyo was prepared. They did not fear the world falling apart, only not being ready for it. They focused on the path ahead of the horse, waiting for Loren or maybe fate to reveal some key flaw in Dira that exposed him as an awful omen.

And maybe he was. But Loren didn’t believe that was so simple. This disaster brought out the best or worst in people, and how that fell depended on how they were received. If you treated someone like a threat, it only made sense that they would feel threatened. The right way forward was somewhere between Noyo and Loren, as her fathers told her countless times. Why else would the two of them do so well as a team? At least when Loren listened and didn’t get captured, standing around uselessly while a stranger pulled more weight than she did.

Frowning, she offered up her first discovery. “His aura’s too small.”

If Dira was a runner too, his protective aura against the smog should have been about half the size of their own. But she could barely make it out in the smoke that only thickened as they went towards the harvest site and beyond that, Brook Mills. With how dense the fog was, maybe it was better that they ended up doubling back after all. That felt less like an excuse for her messing up than it probably should have.

“It is,” Noyo agreed. “He must have just the mask.”

“You think he doesn’t have sigil tattoos?” She turned, her voice rising in disbelief. Leaving the barriers surrounding a city-state with only a mask and no back-up if anything happened wasn’t brave, it was crazy.

“Reckless,” they agreed again, resting back as the horses climbed a hill turning out of the woods and into the open plains characteristic of the area surrounding their home. Loren looked back ahead at the translucent glowing sphere surrounding where Dira sat on his own carriage. She squinted and tried to come up with any reason at all not to have both defenses in place, thinking of just one.

“Maybe he thought it was too painful.”

“And the leader of his city-state agreed to that?” Noyo shook their head once and with conviction. With the old government sealed on the safe side of the barrier, the people here made do with whoever took charge in all the chaos four years ago. For Brook Mills, that was Fekhi, and she’d never agree to a runner going on an energy harvest without sigils inked into their skin and charged up. It was unlikely anyone else would feel differently. Even the most annoyingly unfazed person had a use, after all. “He can’t just walk up and get charged tattoos from the Union when he’s an unsanctioned mage, but he can send someone else to restore the mask sigils.”

Loren twisted her expression one more time, confused from start to finish. What did the Union care if someone practiced magic outside of their ranks? His casting wasn’t orderly, but it was effective. Was it really worth denying someone warding sigils or else… What could they do? Looking back at the attempted kidnapping, or maybe worse if they didn’t get away, how far were the people in the Union willing to go? Stephen was a mage, but he’d never mentioned what happened if he left the Union. And Loren never asked.

“Why do that? Wouldn’t it be safer not to go out?”

“Excellent questions,” Noyo praised her honestly, offering a small one-sided smirk. A short-lived one as the topic went back to the stranger up ahead. “If he’s not an official runner for any city-state, there’s no reason to risk travel unless it’s personal, or he’s a liar.”


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Saving Ourselves: Ch. 1: Together


Loren Howard

25th of Rebirth in Year 4: Shrouded Era

She was a forest elf, even if she had only lived in mountains before Brook Mills. The smell of rich soil and heavy fog through her mask was a comfort. An inherited instinct, maybe. Through the haze of her grogginess, that came as a touching thought. A light chill draped on Loren like a blanket and the prickling urge to get up and movewere smothered under it. The small square of light from the barred window in the cart hadn’t moved, she thought. Only an echoing ache in the back of her head kept Loren awake.

The door at the back creaked open, the sound and light cutting into her space. A healing spell came right behind it and pushed out the pain in her head.

“Loren,” Noyo said and knelt over her while the glow of the restorative magic still faded from their hand. With their dark grey skin, they looked as if they were carved out of the light from outside. Explaining their fluid identity to others in Brook Mills had been difficult, but Noyo always commanded respect effortlessly. It wouldn’t have been hard to believe they’d cut through the sun itself to get to Loren. “Stand up.”

They held their hand out and Loren took it, steadying herself as she got to her feet. Truth was, Loren saw Noyo fighting so often with close-quarters lightning or flames that it was easy to forget those hands could heal too. Blood stained the front of their cloak even then. The sigils glowed on their mask, standing out from the late afternoon sunlight behind them.

“What—where—”

“There isn’t time.” Noyo insisted over their shoulder, leaving the cart through the open back gate and jumping down.

“Fresh out, as it stands,” said a man past where she could see, casting a spell from the sound of it. A sharp crackle that made her hair stand on end gave it away as an ice spell. The scream that followed said it hit its mark.

The fight for their freedom from whoever these people were had started without her already, not that she had a weapon anymore. Loren dropped down from the end of the cart, landing behind Noyo. Almost inaudibly, they snapped a flame to the tip of their pointer finger and flicked it towards the people coming for them. The forest was shrouded in the rolling smog, nowhere near as thick as it’d been back in Brook Mills, but more than on the beaten path. How people survived out here to attack others, she didn’t know. There wouldn’t be a chance to ask, either, knowing Noyo. They weren’t vicious, but they never left a job unfinished.

And right now, there was one person trying to pull themselves free of the ice jutting out from the forest floor and through their calf while the other fended off fireballs with a singed wooden shield. It didn’t look good for them.

“Sword,” Loren asked, hoping to get a weapon of her own before anyone reached them. If anyone reached them, between the two mages with her.

“Stay with us,” Noyo answered indirectly, holding out the sword and calling on another fire spell in the other hand. “No shield.”

“I can make do.” Settling the sword in her hand and still feeling a little off-balance without her shield, Loren readied herself for anyone that might come.

“Ah, no need.” The man, whoever he was, didn’t have spellcasting as crisp and neat as Noyo’s. Not many did. The spells did what they had to, though. Rumors about chiali mages were that they were naturally stronger than any others, and not because they had four arms to cast more. That didn’t hurt his odds. But the chiali people were supposedly the original discoverers of magic who only taught it to those they deemed deserving back then. Maybe that history was enough that he didn’t have to worry about form.

Wrapping his long tail loosely around one of his legs, he pointed to the sky with all four of his hands. Her hair raised this time from the energy itself. His own untamed black curls were unaffected, probably a magical trait her brother would’ve understood. Noyo kept up her barrage to hold the shield-bearing fighter back, sparing a quick glance to the stranger.

All Loren could do was wait like she was told. That was the sound thing to do.

And when his hands came down, four bolts arced to strike the two people. The shield shattered at last, petrified before it hit the ground, and both of them shook from the magic lightning running through them. The one on the ice went still first, then their ally. Loren finally noticed the third person motionless on the ground by another wooden cart, an empty sheath hanging from their belt. It was all finished.

She lowered her sword, letting out a breath. It was done.

“Good luck on your travels,” Noyo said flatly, nodding for Loren to go to the front of the cart she was just in. There, a horse would wait for her.

But Loren wouldn’t be dismissed from the action again. She stood right where she was, and the man with them just shrugged.

“That’s it, is it?” The smirk behind his mask made its way into his voice. Freckles that were a lighter blue than his skin peeked around the worn fabric, making his face look almost like dappled water.

“It is.” She knew Noyo was talking to her. That harsh edge to it was directed at Loren staying there, the second time she brushed off instructions from her teacher that day alone.

Neither of them paid any attention to that tone. The more Loren looked at him, the more she realized was different. His tail and arms were obvious, but the black tufts from the tips of his ears and along his tail were easy to miss during a fight. His eyes were hazel at a glance, only noticeable as more golden than she expected with more time. The upturned almond shape to them was unusual to her, even if some humans had similar eyes. Loren did guess right thinking that chiali would be taller. As the tallest person she knew, Noyo still only stood just a bit over him.

“Never seen a chiali before, I take it?”

He smiled anyway, or it looked like he did because of his eyes, and he walked off to the nearest body to check the pockets. Searching bodies wasn’t anything like Loren pictured doing as a runner for her city-state, but she couldn’t ignore that it was a waste to leave supplies with the fallen.

“I—No.” She looked down to her scuffed leather boots first, cursing herself for staring at him. Between growing up in the far-off mountain city-state and then living in the farming town of Brook Mills… She didn’t see many kinds of people. Loren never went to the capital like her brother. Stephen saw all sorts of people in those streets, worked with them in the Union to make new equipment like the mask she wore, and he was there when the smog first showed up in Garres City. That was why he was gone and Loren was here. Everything had good with the bad.

Everything.

Looking back up to Noyo, she changed the subject. No reason to dwell on things she couldn’t change. “Aren’t we all going back to the road?”

“We never should have left it.” Noyo reminded her, those yellow eyes giving a final warning to Loren in their narrowed stare.

“But since you did,” the man offered, pulling some parchment from the chest pocket of one of the fallen people as his tail swished over the flattened grass, “maybe we should stick together. These folks are Union mages, so they’ll be looking into what happened here.”

Noyo held their hand out for the parchment, taking two measured steps towards where he stood up. “Show me.”

“I’m Dira, by the way.” He held it out, and they took it without answering. Dira didn’t show it if that bothered him at all.

While Noyo unfolded the paper, Loren caught a short glimpse of the symbol from the Union outpost’s flag back home and in the mountains of Crescent Ridge too. Their attackers had Union orders, then, but it didn’t mean this was part of those orders. Stephen told her the Union hired spare hands from time to time. Even people without much magical ability like Loren. When it came to identifying mages operating outside the Union, harvesting known magical herbs, or hunting down creatures to get mystical ingredients, anyone could be useful.

But not this.

Pretending to need help in order to lure in runners to kidnap, what could they get from that? It’s not as if they couldn’t just ask for volunteers to help clear this smog and reconnect them to outside regions. No one wanted to be sealed off here until the smoke wiped out everyone living inside the barrier that sealed them and the infectious fog in.

“What does it say?” Leaning over Noyo’s shoulder, Loren saw for herself the page was empty.

“It’s blank.”

“Hm?” Dira raised his eyebrows, his two lower arms crossed and the other hands barely clasped. “Enchanted, I guess.” Looking down at the body he took it from, he continued. “I bet they knew the magic words to show what it says.”

“Not as though they gave us a chance,” Loren thought aloud, frowning. She knew that killing was necessary in life as it was, but she never wanted it to be the first on the list. The smog rolled through the trees, indifferent to people wherever it went. Her mask filtered it out, glowing with magic sigils that protected her with its charged wards. Even that wasn’t forever. Not like the fog.

“They’d never have told us.” Tucking the note into the inner pocket of their cloak, Noyo took the time to reassure her those lives had to be sacrificed. It was the three of them or their enemies, and it could be just that simple. They told Loren that often enough that she probably should have known it in her dreams.

“Well?” He implied asking his suggestion again.

“Good luck,” Noyo repeated.

“Noyo, can’t we—”

“I told you not to chase these people,” they brought up her first warning, ignored and forgotten, and pointed to the bodies. “You didn’t listen, and now we’re separated from the others.”

Her fathers among them. This was an assignment to transport one group of the Brook Mills residents out to Tolston, a larger city-state that could support them. The rules were simple: everyone had to stay together, and Loren went off at the first cry for help from the woods. She winced, clenching her fists and biting back the mean words ready to force their way out. Noyo was only looking out for her. They always did. More often than not, they talked about how you’re on your own out in the wild, but they never turned their back on Loren. No matter how often she didn’t listen and stuck with her gut instinct instead. They deserved some respect from her for all of that.

“We can’t join them. We have to go back to Brook Mills and re-charge. Please, listen this time.”

In a quieter voice, Loren gave it one last try. She knew she was right about this. Being wrong before didn’t change how it was now. “We have a better chance with three of us.”

Closing their eyes, Noyo held two fingers to their temple and waited.

“Look, I don’t want to cause a fight,” Dira stepped in, almost literally as he walked closer to the two of them. He held his upper hands out, rolling into a gesture to explain. “But going to Brook Mills leads into the thicker smog. I’ve seen that pass by in a few days, but it’s not likely to leave much behind.”

“You have a plan,” they observed more than anything else. They didn’t do much besides open their eyes to look his way. Noyo always made their stance clear, almost making demands even when asking questions.

Dira nodded. “There’s a crystal site not too far from here. You come home with capsules of power for the Union’s ward generators, and it could save some lives.”

Loren turned to Noyo immediately, watching for their approval.

“How do you know about it?”

“Oh, I saw it with our companions here,” Dira gestured to the Union members using his lower set of arms, and Loren had the impression he was too used to the dead. He seemed closer to Noyo’s age than Loren’s—he must have been a runner in the smog since it all began.

“Out those windows?” Noyo nodded to the barred square opening in the side of the cart, only just big enough to see out of for someone who was tall enough to reach.

“Heard it might be more accurate. You know that faint hum it has? That.” Dira nodded again, referencing a noise Loren had heard much less often than the other two had. She knew it anyway: a ringing echo like the few seconds after the bell called people in from the farms of Brook Mills. Everyone had to be inside the barriers before the dark settled in with the smog. The creatures of the fog were drawn to crystals, not the blackness of night, but there was still the risk of having trouble seeing clearly in both.

“You remember where it is?”

“Perfectly, thank you for asking.” Dira held his arms out to no applause or even praise. He was beyond discouragement, and it brought on a mix of pity and being impressed at how little anything bothered him.

“Then let’s go,” Loren inserted herself. Just because the people with her had more experience didn’t mean her opinion should be left out. “You said it,” she spoke to Noyo, “We don’t have time.”

Noyo glanced from Loren to Dira, exhaling curtly. “Fine.”

Dira walked backwards to the other horse in front of the farther cart. Lucky for them, these were warhorses unafraid of combat. An odd choice for carriages, maybe, but very lucky for them. Few city-states could boast about having trained warhorses.

“Who’s going with me?”

“No one,” Noyo insisted, a hand on Loren’s back to guide her to the mottled grey horse hooked up to the carriage where she was rescued. “Keep the cart attached.”


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Your Memories

OC: Balder Holt
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He had his mark. Randa Boulos. 37 years old, deceptively muscular despite a curvy frame, and well connected. A scientist in Leader’s employ for five years, Randa dropped off the radar at the same time as certain secure files. She had a safe house in Boston, where she could conceal herself in a crowd. His studio, rented under a false name, was in the building across from hers and one level higher. He smiled, however slight. Nothing was safe from Leader. Not for long.

“Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran played on the radio and a YouTube video of vacuuming played over that. He had an alarm to remind him to change the audio to a shower in 15 minutes. Balder was to maintain the illusion of a regular resident until the mole had revealed her employers, a task he’d been familiar with for years but remained easier with T class units present. Despite their militant attributes, the T class had a childlike nature that allowed them to more easily mimic standard living. Singing along, ordering out, and talking to neighbors. Being that this was a covert operation, those practices were unacceptable and Balder was assigned on his own.

The small light mounted on his scope blinked, indicating detected motion in her apartment. He leaned forward, seeing her enter with a paper bag in one arm and a bag strap over her shoulder. She was missing the laptop bag she left with, the one he’d planted a tracker in. Sitting back, he took out his phone and messaged Leader’s aide, Ms. Temple, through an encrypted connection.

‘The bait was taken.’

Seen immediately. A few seconds reading that notice that she was typing before he got his orders.

‘Get a new supplier.’

Having seen it was all he needed. Balder ended the YouTube video, and the radio had an auto shut-off feature. This place would remain in Leader’s possession for some time before his connections could be sure it wouldn’t trace back to him. They were thorough in their fields, and so was he. Nothing would remain of her.

(Skipping the fight scene for gore reasons.)

Breathing steadily and deeply, he stood from what remained of Randa. Her clothes and sunglasses sat heaped beside the messenger bag she entered with. Balder knelt to retrieve the bag, but instead found himself searching her pockets. A rumpled ticket to the train, discarded; two pennies and a dime, discarded; her wallet… And he stopped, dropping the khakis to the floor. He opened the wallet, noticing an image inside a clear pocket immediately.

“Who carries pictures, Randa?” His voice seemed distant, foreign, and raspy from disuse. A boy and a preteen girl smiled out, trophies in hand. He wore a dress shirt, vest, and bowtie, and the test tube trophy had a plaque reading Science Fair – 2nd Place. In her uniform with a sparring weapon and a badge rather than trophy, he assumed she fell in third place at her competition. “A niece and nephew?”

Randa was unmarried and single, but that meant nothing. Leader was those as well, and he had hundreds of descendents as well as two direct clones. Both dormant, but the fact remained. He removed the picture to review it again, turning it over once he was done. The back revealed nothing. Balder didn’t know her well enough to determine anything from the image other than the two in it were siblings. They loved her, and she treasured them.

“I-” He’d seen this said in the movies they were permitted to watch in their free community time. “I am sorry. May you rest in peace.” Balder stood for a final time, the bag on his shoulder and the picture in the inner chest pocket of his jacket. He walked out to the city’s nighttime streets where an unassuming taxi waited for him. It would carry him to the first stop of many on an intricate trail home. To Leader, Ms. Temple, the other class units, Yua, and the memoir box beneath his bed. The lid closed snugly after the memento from his previous assignment – a locket with a single black and white image inside.

He would need a new box before his next mark.

– – –

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© Jam Blute, 2017

School Starts Challenge: New Beginnings

This was made for the School Starts challenge on the OC Amino, and I hope you enjoy it! The OC is Balder Holt.

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– – –

“Welcome to the Eastern Institute of Technology, Balder,” the assistant said, her smile warming in the afternoon sun filtering through arched windows. The central hallway of his dorm building, he assumed.

Rich, redwood doorframes set in regal patterned wallpaper, a stately grandfather clock, and ample seating at regular intervals. Large French doors at either end of the hallway and four rooms leading off the hallway as well. Try as he might to form an opinion on the place, he could only think of how many exits there were, and how accessible they would be.

“I understand this must all feel very new to you, but I’m always here if you have any questions.” He turned to face her instead of the doors at the other end of the hall. Her graying amber-blonde braid hung over her shoulder as she tilted her head to meet his gaze behind the sunglasses.

“A map of the building,” he said, intending to ask for one.

“Oh, it’s…” She pointed to the folder in his arms, a deep green like the school flag hanging outside. “Left pocket, first page, I believe.”

“I see.” So he would make note of the ideal escape routes and combat tactics later. Better to be prepared than caught off guard. Balder adjusted his tie for the third time that hour but felt no less stifled by it. But it was the uniform, and those were the rules of the Lead– Headmistress. Headmistress. “Let’s continue.”

“Alright then,” she chimed, straightening her posture and walking up the stairs with familiar ease. Her hand slid over the railing, fair skin over dark wood and a modest gold band on her left ring finger. He wondered what her home life was like, imagining a calm, loving family. Having picnics. Planning movie nights.

And with a short, sharp breath, he re-centered on the present.

“This is your dorm building, all boys of course, and you’ll be off to the left here,” she chirped, turning on a heel toward the left hallway. “Room 214 A. Now I know you requested first floor, but this was all quite sudden, and I’m afraid this was the best we could do.” She took out the key, bronze with a circular handle and hanging from a thin metal ring, and opened the door.

“But see, it’s right next to the stairs! This is the next best thing, and we do appreciate you being so understanding.” If anything, this was better. Not so close to the door that he could be surprised by an intruder, but close enough that he could access most main areas of the building with ease.

He stood beside her and the doorway, looking into the small room. A single twin bed, another accommodation made for him. The bed was bare save for his luggage, pre-delivered as arranged with the school, and the desk sat empty. Dark blue curtains hung over the window, parted as the sun set on the campus. A piece of broad green expanse in the midst of a bustling city on the ocean.

“And you simply must love this view, don’t you? Quite lucky! Oh, here,” she offered, holding out the key. He took it gingerly, turning it over in his hand. So small, even for a key. He’d never had a locking room before.

“Now,” she began, tapping the key in his hand, “Campus Security does have a spare for emergencies, but they’ll never use it otherwise. And if you lose your key, they’ll make you a copy for $20. You can charge that to your school account, of course.”

“Confirmed,” he replied. Her eyes widened for a moment. She was afraid? …No, surprised. Her expression softened to compassion, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes smoothing out as her smile fell. He put the key into his pocket, trying to avoid her eyes. Balder cleared his throat. “Understood, ma’am.”

“Oh, just Ellen, please.” She shook her head, her smile returning. “I’ll be your case manager, so you can call me if you need anything. You do have my number, don’t you?” He nodded once, sharply, and she let out a contented breath. “Ah, there is just one more thing I need from you, Balder.”

He drew himself up, taken aback. One more thing? He wore their uniform, held their documentation in hand, and it was his understanding that assignments would be distributed after the first day of train– classes. What could he have missed?

She held out her hand, the compassion returning to her large, hazel eyes. “Your sunglasses, please.”

“My–” His breath caught, brows furrowing. He took a step back and set the folder down on the desk. “Is this an order?”

“No, Balder.” Firm, but a tenderness to her words that stuck to him like barbs. Why did her concern hurt? “But those… They are from your time as a child soldier, are they not?” His heartbeat picked up in his chest, resonating through his limbs. “Do you think it wise to keep them, knowing what they represent to you?”

He was being asked his opinion. This was his choice. Sweat lined his palms already, but a cool stillness lodged in his chest. What was this feeling? Balder reached up for the arm of the glasses, leaving his eyes closed as he slipped the sunglasses off his face.

When he did open his eyes, he stared at the glasses in his hand. “I was not designed for this, Ellen.”

She rested her hands beneath his, cupping his fingers gently. Her skin was soft, more practiced with books than with brutality. Not like his. “No one was truly designed for anything, Balder. Every step in life is a choice, a new beginning. Should you be ready to take it.”

He felt his eyes turning to her, resting on her face for what seemed like the first time. The golden sunlight catching the silvery streaks in her hair, bronzing the brown flecks in her eyes, and adding a radiance to her. The chill left his body, and the stillness remained in its place. Perhaps this was comfort.

“And there is no shame in not being ready. Take your time,” she advised, closing his hand around the glasses. “And know you always have someone to turn to, Balder.” She moved towards the hallway, pausing before she closed the door. “Your first class is in the Franklin building at 9:00 am tomorrow, don’t forget!” She gave a light, graceful wave as she left, the door clicking shut behind her.

Several minutes passed after her short heels thumped down the stairs, and Balder remained as he was when she left. “A choice,” he breathed to himself. “I have a choice.”

He opened the shallow middle drawer of the desk, leaving the sunglasses inside. He was Balder Holt, freshman at the Eastern Institute of Technology. This was his new beginning.

– – –

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– – –

© Jam Blute, 2017

They Are Children

She often wondered… What had crossed her mind, saving these children she’d helped to create. Rather, to destroy. Tenenbaum’s life had led her many places, through many trials. Never would she have believed that she might protect these children.

Collect beds and toys, defend their sanctuary from Splicers, and build them a home. Their home to share together.

“Miss Tenenbaum,” one of the girls pleaded, reaching for her from beyond the window of her secluded office. All that she’d done to them, and what little she could manage for them in this corpse of a city… She was all they had, as they were all she had. Still, Tenenbaum struggled to handle their affection.

“Yes, child?” She had developed a softer tone for them over time. Almost maternal. Long ago, or what seemed so long ago, this change might have scared or disgusted her. Just as these girls once had.

“Will you please tell us a story?” Her sisters echoed this request in a chorus of chatter, nearly indistinguishable for their number. So many to watch and care for, and yet so few.

Little Sisters.gif

Fontaine and madness held this city, and it was all she could do to protect these girls. Perhaps, someday, when Fontaine made his next move… The man was ambitious and brilliant, but proud. Too proud. The boy may not act as he anticipated. She knew his progress under Suchong, and he did not want to be the monster they were making.

…But that was not a story these girls needed to know. Tenenbaum twisted her cigarette into the ash tray on her desk, setting her papers to the side.

“Very well.” And she stood, the girls giggling and forming a half circle around the wheelchair she stole for them. “One story for you girls, but then I must work.” For her own intellectual stimulation, yes, but also for the boy.

Whether he was a man or a monster, he would be needed to truly free these girls. She helped them all become what they were, and she would save however many she could of them. But alone, she would not be enough.

She sat in the chair, rusted and creaking beneath her as the children’s eyes glowed with delight rather than genetic manipulation. Freedom would be their story next. All of these children. The dawning of their lives must come before the light dims from her own.

They Are Children.jpg

“They are children, Little Sisters, and yes, they will forget. But you and I won’t… The memories of what we have done fade only with the dimming of all lights.”

– Brigid Tenenbaum


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Thank you for reading!

Flash Friday

Time was a figment in a lab. Talia stood between an office chair and the stainless steel table, files stacked in neat piles and samples in vertical racks. The clock on the wall read 23:09, but the lights above held a steady morning glow.
She ran a hand through her cropped hair and set back to work. Dr. Folante had done thorough research in expansive studies. Years passed with subjects entering, sometimes fading, all before Talia could catch up.

————–
[Copyrighted © February 5, 2016, Jam Blute]

Flash Friday

It’s kind of a sad story, but there’s a pet bird in it. Silver lining.
————–
This stretch of city, tight and dark, was home to people like Runt. He blended in with a worn sack over one shoulder and a carrier’s “uniform”. None of them were ever truly the same, but there were enough common elements to make it close enough. Dirt stains spotted his clothing, which was padded in places for a fight-or-flight situation, and Runt never went without a hidden knife or two.

Or three.

He traversed knotted alleyways with native familiarity, winding up in the peddler’s stretch. Some good wares, some hot, and it was a task to tell the difference. Mess up, and you’d disappear with the real thief.

But he knew a guy, as Runt always did, and he wove through the crowd to a covered cluster of tables and barrels. Suo had done well for herself, scraping by to finally settle in peddler’s stretch. The fog of incense floated around her stand, and Runt crossed through it on his way in.

“Suo,” he greeted as he reached the back, and a gaunt man locked his sunken eyes on him immediately. He was tall, lankly, and his shirt hung loose from his scratched up neck. He sat where Suo normally perched on her table, chittering to her bird.

“What you on about? Shop or leave.” The man’s watery eyes fixed on Runt, waiting. To his right, Suo’s bird squawked inside a cage, pecking at the bars. People came and went in this city, here more than ever. Happened dozens of times to friends and strangers alike.

He wondered what this man framed her for, or what bribe he accepted. Might be just this shop she fought so hard for, a gathering of tables and everything Suo made herself. Not anymore, obviously.

Runt nodded to the bird. “How much?”
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[Copyrighted © January 29, 2016, Jam Blute]

Surprise Saturday

Yikes, it’s been forever.
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“Mr. Barnett,” she spoke, breaking the padded silence of the waiting room.

He continued filling in the sudoku puzzle book he got years ago and only just now started. Pace had a lot on his plate at any given moment, but some of them were sweet. And these easy puzzles reminded him that he was a genius. How could that be anything but sweet?

“Mr. Barnett,” the woman patiently repeated. “The doctor will see you now.”

“Hm,” he answered, looking up. It finally clicked – that was him. No one used his legal name, and Mr. Barnett was his father anyway. “Right, I’m coming.”

He grabbed the pen and book, standing to meet the nurse for his psychiatrist’s office. ‘His’ used loosely – he saw a new one often enough, cycling through just in case. But Dr. Gertler was a staple. She knew what he wanted, what he needed, and he trusted her.

That made him want to throw up a little, but trust was trust.
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[Copyrighted © January 16, 2016, Jam Blute]

Surprise Saturday

This weekend snuck up on me, I swear.
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He was the last to leave the shuttle. The bags bumped off every seat and clattered through the doorway to the port. Wind crossed over the bridge, cold, and clouds swirled like mist underneath. In the open patches, Ashton saw clustered cities from there even smaller than the sidewalk life from his parents’ offices. At least back home, he could go down to the sidewalk if he wanted to. Even though he never did.

Ashton hunched deeper into his expensive brown windbreaker, hauling the bags up the stairs to an almost empty hall. Two students, a girl and a boy, it seemed, stood at the far end of it. The air shifting outside prevented him from smelling anything in this hall aside from the sharp scent of high altitude and the occasional hint of birds’ feathers. Only if he paid close attention, and he tried not to because the smell of most birds was dreadful.

When he was close enough, Ashton called out to them. “Hey, do you mind helping?”  So they likely weren’t waiting for him. And he wasn’t really asking, since he held out the two lighter bags in his right hand. To pass them the shoulder bags, heavier as they were, was just too inconvenient. But he couldn’t be expected to do this alone, he was Ashton Victors. He was meant for greater things than ferrying his own luggage to the dorms.

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[Copyrighted © October 15 2015, J.M. Blute]

Stop It Sunday

I pay my internet provider too much for all this broken internet.
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This facility wasn’t that different from his homeland. The place was isolated and cold and mostly barren. People here had a tendency to regard him with a mix of respect and distance that rang of home. Korbin sat at the oak desk, finishing an initial report of the weeks leading up to opening day. He would send it tomorrow when the first day of operations was complete. Setting it aside in the top right hand drawer, he stood and gathered his black coat from a hook on the wall. He considered it entirely suitable to the weather, but the rare staff member asked if he was cold and offered a spare puffy jacket. Korbin politely declined over the first few days and eventually, they stopped asking.

The hall was softly lit and soundless except for small shuffling from the floors above. He locked the door behind him and headed for the staircase. Passing another official’s room as he went, Korbin was greeted with a closed door as he passed. That same official arrived late yesterday and still didn’t seem adjusted. His plan was to find her before dinner and offer his friendship as means to that end. As head of the project here, he took responsibility for making sure his people were reliable and objective.

She had already taken leave to a nearby town earlier that day. If she continued on this path, there wasn’t much he could do. The group had been carefully selected. Not many were eagerly awaiting a position at a mountaintop military base, so replacements would be scarce. He would have to make this work just the way it was.
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[Copyrighted © September 6 2015, J.M. Blute]