Bertie Wells - WIP - Science Fiction/Drama
updated 9/21/16

When Loraine brought the drinks, I asked her about the table of white robes.  She smiled a habitual smile and glanced their way.  After letting out a small sigh, she looked back at me.  Her green eyes sharpened with worry.
“Those would be the Naked,” she started quietly.  “They have conferences here from time to time.  This is the second time this week, though.  There must be something going on with the politics of the land somewhere nearby.”  She slowed for a moment, her gaze scanning the crowd around us.  “Don’t pay them any mind.  They don’t notice anyone other than themselves.  I bet if you went and danced on their table, they’d never give you a hint of their attention.”  She giggled and wagged her head.  “The guards, on the other hand, would pull you outside quicker than you could blink.  Then I guess I would down a customer.”  She smirked and stood up.  “Now enjoy your drinks, young man.  I hope your guest arrives soon.”
I had heard of such persons before, but I had never seen one with my own eyes.  How strange.  The group was known for their power.  It wasn’t a spiritual power, nor political, nor economical.  It was a power they developed on their own.  The masses looked to them for reasons and explanations.  Whatever the Naked said was deemed truth.  Their opinions were taken as facts.  The Naked were never wrong.  The Naked were never questioned.  Yes, the regions and nations and tribes were all run by an individual person of authority or by type of government, and these heads would come and go as the drying leaves in autumn.  But the Naked were always there.  Their presence was always accepted.  It seemed wanted, even needed.  An up and coming politician would do well to have the backing of a Naked or two.  Even to associate with them would give a person the reputation of a demigod.
Why were they so unnerving?
My attention shifted from the table of the Naked to a movement in the crowd across the room.  Two Governors stopped at a table of dining guests.  There were a few words exchanged, I would guess your usual pleasantries and greetings.  They were not with the group.  The Governors were there on their own.  They were there on business.  The people around the table began presenting their papers and documentations one by one.  The Governors were checking citizenships, vouchers, even party cards. 
That was what I needed; a couple of Governors nosing around in my business.  I took a deep breath and reminded myself to be passive of the situation.  My papers would arrive in time.  I did what was asked of me.  The remaining balance was in my pocket.  As soon as servant of the rotund man would come and close the deal, I would be clear of the Governors’ radar.  Present some sort of legal documentation that gave you a right to be in their city and they’d move along.  If said papers failed to be produced, an individual had a good chance of meeting up with a troop of slavers.  They paid Governors well for each illegal handed over.  It was common knowledge.  Have papers or get shipped off.  That was the deal.  That’s how it worked.
I had time.  They were still a ways away.  Dozens of tables separated us.  I could wait for the servant a bit longer.  There was nothing to worry about.
Someone’s stare shattered my concentration.  I followed the feeling and meet a set of piercing silver eyes.  The ominous woman stood about midway between myself and the table of Nakeds.  I blinked, trying to see her more clearly.  She wasn’t as tall as I thought at first.  She seemed to be towering over the crowd, but she was maybe a little taller than Nina.  She was slender, but not a malnourished slender.  Her body and posture told of her lean build.  Her sharp eyes were made brighter by her silver hair that darkened to black as it reached down the length of her back.  The tone of her skin was nearly porcelain, except for the peach coloring in her cheeks and lips.  She wore a long coat that was dirty and tattered as if she had just emerged from a monstrous forest.  She didn’t belong.  She was unlike anyone I’d ever seen, much less like any person in the bustling room.
The young woman released me from her stare.  She turned her head toward the group of Naked.  It wasn’t long before a woman on the far side of the table looked up.  She raised her eyes slowly as if it took too much energy to spy the young woman.  The two held the others’ gaze for some time.  Neither moved.  The room and business around them went on as if they were never even there to begin with.  Finally, the silver eyed woman turned her eyes away.  I couldn’t tell what might have caught her attention.  The Naked that was watching her leaned against the tall back of her chair.  A hooded figure in blue came to her side.  The Naked shifted ever so slightly toward them, her mouth forming quick words with tight lips.  The person in blue gave their attention to the crowd.  Their gaze found the silver eyed woman and they gave a nod to the Naked speaking.  With a tiny wave of her fingers, she dismissed the person in blue.  They stepped back with their head lowered until they came to the guardians standing nearby.  One of the guardians, a tall, burly man with two jagged swords strapped across his back, looked up and scanned the crowded restaurant.  His search appeared to be in vain.  With his eyes narrowed, he peered closer.  The hooded figure moved nearer and raised their hand to point at the silver eyed woman.  The guardian shook his head.  The hooded person pointed again, their out stretched arm shaking with frustration.  The silver eyed woman turned her back to them and walked away, moving though the crowd with no effort until stepping outside and disappearing into the bazaar.
“My apologies for keeping you waiting,” said a wiry man as he took the seat across from me.  He grabbed the salted mug of bitter wood with two hands, both thumbs missing, and hefted it up for a long drink.  Once he set the mug back on the table, it was nearly empty.  He shuffled closer and tapped his eight fingers on the table.  “I am supposed to bring you some papers and stubs, but I don’t work well with Governors around.  That means you’re gonna hafta wait another day.”  He was on his feet before he finished talking.
I shook my head, “Wait?  Another day?”  He moved as if he was leaving and I grabbed his arm.  “You can’t make me wait.  You’re here now.  Just finish the deal!”  I was trying to keep my voice down, but panic seemed to be winning out.
The man glared back at me and flexed his fingers.  The stub where a thumb was once attached tightened against his palm.  His tone came softly, but with a hint of anger.  “I said I don’t work well with Governors around.  And I’m not going to repeat myself again, boy.”
I loosed my hold and he pulled his arm away.  He calmed and reclaimed the mug, finishing the drink with one swallow.  “I appreciate your kindness, but I should be going.  I’ll let you make it up to me tomorrow.  Same place.  Same time.”  The wiry man placed the mug on the table top, his eyes daring me to counter him.  I could only blink in confusion.
The man took a step back and tilted his head, sunlight glistened on his sweaty, unshaven face.  A scar reached from the outer corner of his left eye to his ear where it hid in his hairline.  He gave a small bow, then went on his way.

Pilot - WIP - Science Fiction
updated 9/21/16

All ships are merely ships.  If you can pilot one, you can pilot them all.  Interstellar ships are no different.  Tell me the coordinates, she and I will sail you there. 

With his fist still locked in armor, he rammed it high into my gut, forcing the air from my lungs.  Pinned between the wall and his punch, I gasped in vain for breath.  As if to prove his victory, he hiked me up to eye level and stared, awaiting my answer. I could only hold tight to his arm and ride out the air-starved tremors wracking my body.
“A question, huh?”  He tilted his head, his voice soft and his eyes kind.  “There might have been a place and time I would permit someone like you to speak with me, but, as you can see, I’m a busy person.”
Personnel continued to make their way down the hall behind him.  This must have been a normal occurrence around here.  Not one spared a glance in our direction.
“Perhaps if I didn’t have to single-handedly recover a lost ship and hunt down its scab of a pilot.  Yes.  There probably would have been a chance to hear out your useless questioning.”

Oneiros - WiP - Fantasy 
updated 7/21/15

Warwick leaned back against a rough-looking tree.  “There is only one place to go,” he puffed and raised a brow.  “If we were all in our right minds, we could have gotten there already.  Instead, we’re chasing dust and hiding from shadows.  Can we at least try to be a little productive?”
“One place, huh?” Vetch mumbled.  He scratched at his moppy hair and shrugged.  “I get what you’re saying’, sir, but you can’t say we’ve accomplished nothing.”
Warwick narrowed his eyes.  Alkanet’s face tightened with confusion.  Not even Garland would come to the boy’s rescue.  “Name one thing that we have accomplished,” the archer said, waving his arms wide as if urging the younger man to take the stage.  “If you can name one single thing,” he paused for a few breaths, then smiled a proud smile, “I’ll be the cook for the remaining duration of this trip.”
Christina and Alkanet exchanged surprised glances.  It was almost as if Garland was being playful.  Was that possible?
The blue haired boy straightened his back and raised his head high.  “Deal!” he barked in answer.  “But you can’t put onions in anything.  I hate onions.”
A snicker made its way through the group.  They all looked to Vetch in anticipation.
“Unproductive.  I think not.”  He went on with his display.  “On the contrary.  Not only have we gotten the old team together again, but we’ve also learned to work well as a unit.  It’s like our thoughts are all out in the big-blue-open and we move as one.”
Garland was the first to burst out in laughter.  His four companions startled at his reaction.  He doubled over and choked to catch his breath, only to continue with a boisterous howl.
“Well!” Vetch sneered.  He glared at the archer and shook his head, “I am right.“
Warwick let himself chuckle for a moment.  He soon collected himself and stepped forward.  “I stand corrected.”
A gasp came from Garland.  All except Vetch turned in surprise.  “You cannot be serious,” he said to Warwick.  “Come on, old man.  We are not a unit.  The kid has a wild imagination.”
Christina and Alkanet both shuffled closer.  They nodded to one another, then to Warwick.  “I do not mean to disagree with you, Mr. Garland, but I do believe my brother made a good point.  You did ask for only one after all.”
“And what point was that?  Do you feel we are operating as a unit?”
Alkanet blinked and twitched her finger toward the silent Vetch.  Her dainty voice never strained, “We have our old team together again.”
Warwick was the next to roar in laughter.  He wheezed and patted his chest as his eyes began to water, then he eventually turned to Garland.  “That makes you the cook!”
The archer employed his meanest scowl.  He looked from Warwick, to Vetch, and back to Warwick.  He wasn’t ready to admit defeat.  He never turned the glare on Alkanet, but Christina thought she could feel his want to snap at her.

Shattered Remnants - Book I: The Veiled Heiress - WiP - Fantasy
I was about to put my plackart on when I made the mistake of looking at my bedroll.  The cozy pallet of blankets called my name.  I could reach the trance in a matter of minutes.  A rest of any brevity was more of a temptation than I cared to battle.
I hung my plackart and fresh coat from the washstand and gave in to the inviting bedroll.  The absolute calm and contentment of the surrounding quiet only added to the desire for sleep.  It did not take long before I could feel myself relax and drift off into the trance.
 But it did not last.  It could not have been a half hour before a surge of warmth and vitality displaced the cool darkness.  Returning from the trance normally felt more like stepping out of a toasty room and into the air of a spring morning.  This was closer to the hot summer sun burning through the clouds and chasing away crisp dewdrops.  I welcomed the transfer.
Zeke was knelling beside me when I eased from the trance and opened my eyes.  His warm hands held my head as if I was trying to run away.  His gleaming green eyes were narrowed and worry creased his brow.
"What happened?" he asked in a rushed whisper.  "Are you all right?"
I tried to nod and he released me.  "Yes, sir," I started as I sat up.  His anxiousness was uncommon.  "I am fine, sir.  What is wrong?"
He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes even more.  "I tried to wake you.  I could not get so much as a stir from you.  Your trance was deep."
I answered with another nod.  "Yes, sir.  I wanted a little rest before the captain called for me.  It might be awhile before I get another chance."
"Alton sent for you.  That is why I am here.  He said you were hurt."
Waving away his concern, I tried to gather my thoughts.  The thick fog of the trance mixed the brightness of the transfer and made me feel clumsy.  "No sir, yes sir.  It was not serious."  I noticed my bloodied coat beside him.  "I apologize for the scare, sir."
Zeke gave a glare only a father could master.  Worry, relief, and frustration seeped from his eyes.  There was nothing I could say to temper the lecture that would come as soon as he unclenched his jaw.
"I let you out of my sight for one assignment and this is what you do?  You return with a lazy mend to your shoulder, the redolence of Star Tears, and under the inspection of your captain?  You have until we reach Alton's station to explain yourself."
I moved to get up, but Zeke's hand came to my shoulder with enough force to keep me in place.  His continued glare discouraged me from questioning him.  I was wrong to assume the lesson was complete.
"I will give you a moment to think on your defense.  I need to finish the mend to your shoulder that was left uncompleted."
Zeke positioned himself in front of me for the transfer.  His gaze hadn't softened; so I closed my eyes and let his energy take over.  He was too powerful of a Healer for me to endeavor to resist him.
The movement of his energy was something I had grown accustomed to.  During my training, he had shown me how to manipulate the power within my source and send it to the area in need with ease.  He insisted I concentrate on the mending and not rush it.  It would not impede the process, but it made the experience less intense.
This transfer was not at all like his usual practice.  It might have been his irritation with me, or the stress of not knowing what had happened, or maybe even a little bit of spite in there just so I would not forget, but he pushed the transfer and hurried the mend.  The warmth from the energy continued to grow until it felt as if I had a burning candlewick embedded in my shoulder.  My own power began to react and drift toward the area to calm it.  I held it back, not wanting to give him another reason to be annoyed with me.
 "I know I taught you better than this," he grumbled.  "Are you wanting to stunt your source?"
"You have, sir," I answered.  "It was my mistake."
"I did not say otherwise."
His power started to withdraw from me.  I felt him reach out to my source before releasing me.  He was trying to measure how much I had used.
"He was dying," I said before he could go on.  I did not know what he knew of my situation or the one I put Corbin in, and I did not believe either of those to be a mistake.
"I am going to assume you are referring to Corbin of Nowhere."
"Bellfield."  He could chastise me all he wanted, but the villager was innocent.  There was no need to place any blame on him.
"Excuse me?"
I was not going to retreat from his glare on the subject.  "He is from Bellfield.  He is Corbin of Bellfield, and I did what needed to be done."
He did not flinch at my hint of dominance.  "I am not the one you have to convince.  Your captain is expecting a complete report."
"Should I recite it first to you?"
"The Star Tears were for you and you alone, Dea.  He knows that you gave them to the boy.  I cannot help you with this one."
"Yes, I gave them to him.  There was no way around it."
"In what amount?"
I reached for my pack.  "He only took a swallow.  He would not take anything more."
The elixir was buried beneath all the other contents in my pack.  I had to fish it out from under the remaining roll of bandages.  When I passed it to Zeke, surprise flashed in his eyes.
"I had one swallow.  He had the other."
"That is not very much."
I shook my head.
"It takes more than this to mend the wound he was reported to have had."
"Yes, sir."
"Are the reports wrong?"
"No, sir."
Zeke studied the bottle in his hand.  Patience softened his expression.  He was ready to listen.  "What exactly happened?"
I lowered my voice, but it still felt odd to say the words.  "I mended him."
My mentor raised a brow and blinked at me.
"I had to, sir.  He would not have been able to wait for the Healers.  I mended him enough to preserve him.  I gave him the Star Tears to help where I could not."
"And to cover the transfer."
"Yes, sir."
Zeke shifted and set the bottle in my pack.  His blank gaze went to the tent panel beside me.  "Who knows of this?"
"Corbin is the only one who would know anything," I started slowly.  "He was well aware of the Star Tears, but I don't think he was conscious of the mending.  He mentioned neither when questioned."
My mentor acknowledged my words with a hesitant nod.  His lack of any other kind of response made me believe he was not yet following my reasoning.  I was not the only one to be misunderstood.
"Varondites conquered Herondale.  You know Bellfield never stood a chance.  We did not protect them.  We should have done more.  This young man suffered both of those attacks.  I was not going to fail him a third time.  That would have been unforgivable."
There was plenty more I could have said on the matter, such as my formed conclusion that the Officials shared just as much blame as the Fortis for letting those cities fall.  There should have been a response before Bellfield was within the Varondites' reach.
I was still without Zeke's favor.  I could see the doubt darken his eyes.  He would not understand.  I could not fathom what part of the scenario he missed.  I would make the same choice over again.  The young man's life was of more value than my position within the Fortis.  If being found out as a Healer resulted in my expulsion, so be it.
His eyes finally met mine and Zeke let out a sigh.  "Speak only of the Star Tears."  There was an uncertainty in his voice.  He cleared his throat as if it would help.  "The Star Tears are known, they are obvious, but the mend is not.  There will be a penalty for the elixir, which is unavoidable.  That said, it would be easier to weather compared to your being discovered.  For now, My Lady, tell of the Star Tears.  I will stand with you if Alton allows."
Rarely did the discipline for unapproved use of Star Tears go as far as dismissal from the Fortis.  I had no doubt that the punishment would be less than pleasurable, but the long-term effect should not leave a blemish on my service record.  I gave a nod of understanding.
Zeke kept his place when I stood and retrieved my coat.  I knew he was forming a plan.  He might not have agreed with my decision concerning the villager, but I had more than his acceptance in joining the Fortis.  He was one of the few who stood with me when I requested consent to leave Alistad.
"Is this what you want?" he asked as he got to his feet.
A smile of reminiscence tugged at my lips.  The only answer I knew was the one Father always used in reference to the difference between wants and need.  "What authority does want have?"
He puffed out a weary chuckle as he straightened his cambric tunic.  "Then you are ready?"  Amusement brought the color back to his cheeks.
I nodded.  "Yes, sir."  The comfort of having Zeke's backing calmed a few of the knots in my stomach.

Oneiros - WIP - Fantasy/YA

A low chuckle came from Garland.  "Science is infallible."
"Yes."  Christina ignored his gloating.  "It has rules.  It is reliable."
"That makes it infallible?"
He turned to her with a smirk.  "Rules and reliability are all that you are looking for?"
She studied him.  He was definitely up to something.  But what?  "For starters."
Garland outstretched his arms.  "We have rules.  We are reliable."
"This is a dream.  That's different."
"Is it?"
His dark eyes twinkled.  He was enjoying himself.  Christina dared him to continue with his challenge.  She was not about to let him question her beliefs.
"Rule of thumb: nothing is impossible.  Everything is real."  Garland stared Christina down as he closed the distance between them.  "Everything."
"But it's a dream."
He upheld a finger in front of her nose.  "Do you recall a certain dream you once had?  I believe you called it a nightmare."
Shoulders squared, she narrowed her eyes and waited.
Vetch shrunk back.  "Garland, there are other ways to prove your point."
"You do not have to stay," Garland replied.
Alkanet took her brother's hand.  "But we are here."
The archer went on with his demonstration.  "In this dream, you were in an old farm house.  It was a familiar house.  A friend once lived there."
His telling stirred memories.  A picture blossomed in Christina's mind.  Her best friend's home, a two-storied farmhouse with large rooms and flowered wallpaper.
Garland's smirk grew.  He knew she remembered.  "The cellar.  You never did like the cellar.  The stone floor and low ceiling.  Even the smell made you cringe."
It stunk of rotting wood and stale air.  It was dark and creepy.  Her imagination ran rampant with all the vile and viscous creatures that might have hidden there.
"We disagree with this," Vetch warned.  He and Alkanet were backed well away.  They both looked unsettled.  They were afraid of something.
Christina glared at Garland.  "What is your point?  I remember the house.  So what?"
"And the dream.  Do you remember the dream you had?  You could not find anyone in the house.  Not even your best friend.  You checked everywhere."
Fragments of the dream came to mind.  She thought back, searching her memory for the details.  As they were pieced together, Christina began to smell the rank of the foul air.
The odor triggered something.  She could recall the dream more vividly.  "I thought she might be playing hide-and-seek.  I thought she was in the cellar."
Garland's voice was just above a whisper.  "But she was not."
Christina shook her head.  "Everyone was gone."
"And what was there?"
The night filled forest went as quiet as death.  Not even a breeze attempted to stir.  Vetch and Alkanet were nowhere in sight.
The nightmare filled Christina's thoughts.  She saw with her mind's eye the terrifying image.  "A monster," she answered with what little breath was in her.
The archer stood tall in front of her.  He said nothing as she struggled to form the words.
"It was gruesome.  Huge.  I thought it was a monstrous bear, but its legs, they were too long.  Fangs like a …"
A howl shattered the silence.  Christina gasped, nearly choking on the stench that stung her nose and throat.  Rotted wood and stale air.
"It's only a dream," she muttered to herself.
The cloaked shoulder of the archer took up most of her vision.  She could see only a fraction of the timberland behind him.  Her eyes locked on the origin of the howl.  Darkness taunted.
"It is a dream," Garland said with reverence.  "But at the same time, it is real."
Breathing became easier.  "Impossible," she replied.  She craned her neck to stare into the night.
Flicking his cloak back, Garland unveiled the sword at his hip and moved to Christina's side.  "Is it?  How sure are you?"
Another noise echoed through the forest.  A growl.  It was getting closer.
"It's just a dream."
"Then you have nothing to be afraid of."
She glanced at him.  What did he mean?  His posture and demeanor gave her nothing.  He looked just as he always did.  Confident.  Calm.  Yet, readied.
The forest moaned.  Something large moved through it unhindered.  Small trees snapped.  Grown trees shuddered.  The sound of branches splitting under force grew louder.
Christina gazed into the darkness.  She told herself nothing was there.  It was all a figment of her imagination.  A dream.  Even still, with each crunch of timber and thump of oversized footsteps, she knew what was coming.  Her nightmare was real.
A low growl rumbled.  Then everything went quiet.  The creature was not far off.
"It's just a dream."
She strained her eyes to see far into the night.  The group of trees ahead of them rustled and swayed.  Thick branches flexed and broke.  A massive form trampled into sight.
The monster from her nightmare stood a short distance away.  Christina froze.  It was just as she remembered.  Its long, muscular legs supported the bulky, wooly body.  Curved claws glistened in the moonlight.  Slicked teeth jutted out of its bear-like muzzle.
"It's just a dream."
Though she could not see the monster's beady eyes, she felt them find her.  A wave of heat struck her, followed by a chilling cold that sent a shiver through her body.
The creature let out a roar and charged towards the two.  Christina didn't move.  Her mind told her to run, just as it did in her dream.  But just like in her dream, she could not move.
She could feel Garland beside her.  He mirrored her stillness, but she could tell that his was not out of fear.  He was waiting for her.  There was something he expected her to do.
The nightmare barreled closer.  Its talon-like claws clicked against the forest floor.  Ribbons of drool fell from its jaws and streaked its dark fur.
"Chris," Garland broke through her terror.  "You can take control of this."
His words meant nothing.  What chance did she have against this beast?  She couldn't think even if she wanted to.  "It's a dream!"
"Chris," he sounded more urgent.
Her eyes were locked on the monster closing in on them.  "A dream!"
It filled her vision.  "Nothing's real!"
The archer pulled his sword.  "Run," he said and took off towards the nightmare.  "Chris, run!"

Shattered Remnants - Book I: The Veiled Heiress - WiP - Fantasy

One thing a Validius learns within their first days with the Fortis is how to recognize severity of wounds.  They were expected to ease the load of the limited Healers who traveled with the companies.  The less serious injuries could be treated with the supplies in one's pack.  Once the critical patients were seen and stabilized, then the Healers would move on to the others.  Zacairus knew as well as I did that the wound Corbin suffered was hardly shy of fatal.
"He needs help," I answered in a whisper.  "I could only do so much, but he is strong.  I think he will recover."
"Is he giving you a hard time?"
I shook my head.  "No.  He is leery of the Healers.  I am not sure why, but he refuses to go to them."
The stillness in my friend's eyes told me of his doubts.  Zacairus was not one whose suspicions I wished to provoke.
"What happened?" I asked with a nod to the north.
Zacairus shuffled before turning to me.  "We had them surrounded.  There was a group of maybe a dozen men within their force who moved to surrender.  The others turned on them.  We tried to break them up, but they were determined to cut one another down.  By the time it was finished, only four of those who wanted to surrender were left standing.  We pulled them out and had to drive the rest back.  Our troops did not suffer any losses in the spat, but I cannot say the same for Darien's.  They would not stand down."  He concluded with a shrug and did a poor job of hiding his remorse for the situation.
Lowering my gaze, I pet his arm.  The blue fabric of his sleeve was tainted with the familiar texture of dirt, dust, and blood.  "They are all mad," I said as I tried to hold back a frown.  "There was not much we could have done."
"I suppose not," he sighed.
I looked up to him and he met my pathetic smile with one of his own.  "Now what?"
"We get to clean up another village," he answered with false excitement.
I puffed out a tired chuckle and gave a nod.  "We should get going."
Zacairus caught my arm when I turned away.  "What about him?" he asked as he gestured at Corbin.
"Bring him along.  I don't believe there is much that disturbs him."
Zacairus gave a wondering expression.  I found an authentic smile and shook my head.
With that, he walked with me to our horses.  "Alton will have a better idea as to what needs to happen."
As I neared Marus, I looked to Corbin and was met by his unblinking gaze.  I swung up into the saddle and peeked over at him.  "We have you.  There is nothing to worry about now."
He again kept quiet.  I was becoming accustomed to his silence and was no longer perturbed by his refusal to converse.
Corbin's eyes left mine and followed Zacairus as he led his horse to where he found us.  My comrade leaned down and picked up the sword and dark dagger that the young man had dropped.
Taking them in hand, Zacairus stood and turned to him.  "Are these yours?"
His lips parted as if he were about to answer, but he only hung his head.
I nudge Marus closer to Corbin's side and answered for him.   "Those are his."
He cleared his throat and shook his head before looking to Zacairus.  His brows creased with distrust when he finally spoke up.  "Only the dagger, sir."
Zacairus gave a nod as he turned to his horse.  He strapped both the simple sword and jeweled hilt dagger to his own saddle.  "I will hold on to them until you are back on your feet, if you don't mind."
The only answer from the young man was a single nod.  His blue eyes shifted to the resting place of the dark blade, then to the reins in his trembling hand.  There would be no argument from him.
Once in his saddle, Zacairus rode up next to me opposite Corbin.  "How is your shoulder?" he asked as Marus stepped up the pace.
I ignored his dubious grin.  "Perfect.  Why do you ask?"
"Ah," he said as he gave his attention to our heading.  "Only because you just found yourself more work, Mother Dea."
I swallowed a chuckle.  "Good thing you have my back then, isn't it?"
"Always," he returned with a growing smile.  He then leaned forward and looked around me to Corbin.  "You are in good hands.  Overzealous, but good," he offered in a serious tone.
I nudged Marus into a canter to block Zacairus' musing.  "Don't listen to him."
He kept pace.  "Are you calling me a liar?"
"Zacairus, you are going to scare him."
"Me?" he laughed.  "I am simply saying he had better be prepared."
"Oh, and what for?"
Zacairus gave a quick tug to his reins and turned behind me to Corbin.  "She may not look it, but she is unbelievably persistent."
I shot a glare in my comrade's direction, then shook my head.  "Ignore him."
Corbin shifted and looked to Zacairus, who was laughing at my attempt to deter him.  "So I've noticed."
"And you said I would scare him, Dea," Zacairus continued his teasing.  "Sounds like you have beaten me to it."
"Whose side are you on?" I asked Corbin over my shoulder, hiding the smile I could no longer hold in.
His chuckle sounded relaxed.  It was refreshing and comforting to hear.
I glanced to Zacairus to thank him for helping.  His smirk told that he was well aware of his accomplishment.  He peered over at the young man before returning his attention to our heading.  I caught the shadow of knowing in his eye.  Corbin was not doing as well as he was letting on.

Where to Belong - General Fic

The elevator doors were beginning to close when she turned the corner.  She put on an extra burst of speed and lunged for them, just barely catching them before they could meet.  She went to the buttons and repeatedly mashed the one that would shut out her pursuer.  The doors finally started to respond.  She pressed against the far wall of the elevator and held her breath as the sluggish doors began to merge.  Her escape was within reach.  But then a hand caught the doors and they slid open once again.
She regretted dropping the scissors when she had left his apartment.  Not that she would use them on him, but maybe they would have deterred him.  Skyler rushed into the elevator and stared at her.  His expression was hard to read, possibly anger or fear.  Either way she didn't hesitate to fight against him.
The doors started to close again, and she let out a scream.  Skyler grabbed hold of her and covered her mouth, pulling her to him in an unyielding grasp.  He was shushing her and hit the stop button on the elevator panel.  The enclosure came to an abrupt halt.
"Be still," he growled.  "I'm trying to help you."
Madison bit the hand he held over her mouth and jabbed her elbow into his hard stomach.  "I was doing just fine without you!"
He wrestled with her and pinned her arms.  "I know," he puffed as she continued to fight against him. "I'm sorry."
She only slowed when the pain in her belly caused her focus to blur.  Her breath escaped her, and she lost her footing.  Skyler's hold lessened at her hesitation and she pushed away from him.  She didn't get far.  She had nowhere to turn.  He dragged her back to him and pulled something from his pocket, sticking her in the arm.
Madison knew what it was without seeing it.  He had dosed her again.  She let out a frustrated cry and fought against him as long as her wilting energy would allow.  He muttered apologies and slowly sank to the floor with her.

Where to Belong - General Fic

The front door eased open, and Chase slipped into the room with near silence carrying a white box and paper bag.  He tiptoed across the front room and joined Madison in the kitchen.
"I was hoping to be back with breakfast before you got up," he whispered as he slid the box onto the counter.
"Good timing," she said and took the bag from him.  It held three coffees meticulously balanced in a carrier within.
Chase gestured at the couch, "Has he been up yet?"
She shook her head.  "How long as he been there?"
"Not long," he said as he sorted through the box of donuts.  "I found him sleeping in his truck when I went out and convinced him to come inside.  He said he didn't want to wake anyone, that's why he didn't come in.  I don't know how long he was out there, though."
Madison cringed and set her coffee down, "I've been in his room!  Where's he been staying?"
"On the couch," he answered as he shook his head.  "No inconvenience.  We sometimes fight over who gets to sleep on that thing.  It's super comfy."
"Poor guy!" she muttered.
"Hey, you're the one who got shot.  I think you've earned the bed."
She looked to him with a questioning expression.  His words hadn't offended her, but she found his candidness surprising.
"I'm sorry," he reformed.  "I'll shut up now.  How's the coffee?"  Chase stuffed the rest of his donut in his mouth as if to refrain from saying anymore.
"Just fine," she chuckled.  He took her reply and surveyed the assortment of donuts for his next victim.  "These are great.  Where are they from?"
"A bakery in Gold Coast."
"You drove to Gold Coast for donuts?"
Chase turned to her with a wide smile.  "Of course.  You said it yourself, these are great.  An artist has to have his staple goods in order to operate at his full potential."
"He must not sleep much either," she said with a shrug.
"Usually I do, but not lately.  I've got this story in my head and I can't get it out, not in the way that it deserves.  I'm so stuck right now, I think I'm going to go crazy!"
"What's it about?" Madison asked as he tugged at his messy hair.
He paused in his self beating and studied her.  "Are you just asking to be nice or do you really want to know?'
She nodded, "I want to know."
"Well," he started, his expression turning serious, "that's sort of the problem.  In my head, it's beautiful and organized.  As soon as I start to sketch it out, it gets ugly and jumbled."
"Alien? Animal? Human? Superhuman?"
Chase tilted his head as if she were speaking in a foreign language.  "Human," he answered slowly, sounding uncertain.
"Past? Present? Future? Post apocalyptic?"
"You rock!"
Madison flinched and matched his wondering gaze.  "What'd I do?"
"I'll explain later," he declared as he stumbled off the tall stool and backed away from the counter.  "Thanks!"
She watched him in amusement as he scampered off to his room and shut the door behind him.  Whatever struck him completely took over his thought process.  He had abandoned his half eaten donut and still steaming coffee.

Where to Belong - General Fic

Madison gasped and waved for Chase to go.  He didn't hesitate or question her and shoved his car into the shrinking opening that the SUV had occupied.  Levi threw his large truck in reverse and tried to return to the lane.  Chase was already flowing with the other cars, leaving the dark and bulky vehicle behind in the chaos.  Madison turned around and watched out the back window in time to see another SUV like the first swerve around the gridlocked Levi and speed after them.
"I've got this," Chase cheered as he charged onto a red light.  He didn't slow.  Madison braced herself when she caught onto his intent.  With a hoot, he ran the light and narrowly missed the crossing traffic.  Reminding herself to breathe, she turned to look back.  The SUV cleared the maze of vehicles as well.  "Where's a cop when you want one?" he barked when he noticed their pursuer in his mirror.
The crazed pace continued through the busy lanes of city traffic.  Chase was quick thinking, and his car was quick to respond as he barreled along.  The little car was definitely more nimble than their oversized shadow, but the SUV didn't let them gain much ground along the way.
The lights started to work with them.  There was a string of greens for several blocks before Chase slipped through a few yellows.  "We can't lose them," Madison muttered as the black SUV never left the mirror.
"If I can reach the expressway, we'll be fine."
"This isn't your fight, Chase."
He didn't respond and zipped through a light just as it turned red.  The sound of blaring horns told of their pursuers continuing after them.  Madison shook her head and tried to think.  There had to be a way to stop the madness.
The cars ahead of them came to a standstill.  Chase dove into the turn lane and pressed on until that one cluttered up as well.  He slammed on the brakes.  The little car slid to a screeching halt just shy of the bumper in front of them.  They were trapped.
Chase mumbled something that missed Madison's ears.  She was too busy watching the dark SUV pull up behind them.  Its grill filled the rear-view mirror.
"They aren't after you," she said in a whisper.
"It doesn't matter," Chase growled and locked the doors.

Where to Belong - General Fic

"I have to ask if you're certain you are with me," Skyler said with a quick look as he wove around slower cars.
"I'm right here, Skyler.  Where else would I go?"
He gave a short nod and kept his eyes on the road.  The skyline of the city was out his window.  The lights glowed brightly against the cold winter sky.  They were heading south with the sunset out the passenger side of the G-Wagon.  "I haven't tested this yet.  I don't know how well it is going to work.  What I do know is that once I set it in motion, you can't easily back out.  If you're with me, we're doing this.  If you're not ready, I need to know now."  The tone in his voice told that he wasn't exactly ready himself.
"Tell me what to do.  I'm with you."
His eyes flashed to the mirror and then to her.  "I'm going to take care of us.  Stay with me, follow my lead, and we'll be fine."
"Anything else I need to know?" she asked nervously.
"Buckle up tight."  Skyler reached over and gave her seat-belt a tug.  When he released it, he glanced to her again.  "We're going to be fine."
She acknowledged him with a smile though she was completely without understanding as to what to expect.  He seemed to have things under control, so she convinced herself to put her full trust in him.  He wouldn't do anything to endanger them more so, would he?
His eyes never left the road except for quick glances to the mirror.  He navigated the busy highway with one hand on the wheel as he felt at his coat pockets until pulling out his phone.  The number he called must have been on speed-dial because he only pressed one or two buttons.  Madison watched out the corner of her eye unsure if she was supposed to overhear his conversation.
"Yes.  Detective Payne."  She found his voice surprisingly calm.  "Skyler Andrews speaking.  I know I said it would be a little while before I could contact you again but something's come up.  Morgan Bristow is moving forward with the Lake View plan tonight.  He's caught onto me and I am off the job."
He paused for a moment, and she assumed whomever was on the line was taking their turn.  She stared at him.  She didn't know he had been speaking with a detective.  Why would he have kept that to himself?
"I understand what we agreed on.  That's not going to work anymore.  If you can get to me before he does, we still might could make it happen.  I'm on 171 heading south for Stevenson.  They're right behind me."  He waited again and shook his head.  "Then I suggest you get your team ready for Lake View and concentrate on that.  I've done all I can.  And by the way, I have Madison Addley with me.  I probably should have told you earlier, I know."
Skyler held the phone away from his ear and peeked over at her with an apologetic wince.  He then turned back to the road and continued the call.  "Yes, sir.  I'll take the expressway.  You might want to hurry.  I don't know how much longer I can hold them off."
His confession was not encouraging, and she looked back to their pursuers.  No one had gained any ground on the other.  She turned to Skyler in time to see him flip a switch, roll the window down, and toss out the phone.  He didn't notice her puzzlement as he put the window up, cutting off the frosty wind that blasted through the cabin, and gave his attention to the road ahead of them.
Always & Forever (Where to Belong II) - (First Draft) General Fic
"I'm done," Chase shrugged.  "Do you want the boring brown or the lively green?"
"That's my only choice?"
"Nope."  He walked up to her, took the brown coat away, and headed to the front of the store.  Chase hung it on its original rack and looked over his shoulder.  "That's your only choice."
Madison laughed at him.  She did like the green one better.  If he were not there, she would have stuck with the brown one.  It was more reasonable in her opinion.  Bland, yes.  But a coat was a coat.  She just wanted something warm, not particularly fancy.
She went to the front of the store and joined Chase at the counter.  A young man stopped sorting sweaters from a box and came to meet them.  "Found what you were looking for?"
"Yep," Chase answered.  He held up his hoodie.  "All I wanted was my hoodie back."
"I see," said Madison.  "That's how it is."
"Hey," he said as he hugged it to his chest.  "Not even Tabatha gets to wear this thing.  This isn't just any hoodie, you know."
Madison nodded.  "Gotcha.  Thanks for letting me borrow it."  She matched his smirk and reached in her purse.  "I'll be sure to let Tabatha know the next time I see her."
Chase had his wallet out before she finished speaking, and handed a card to the cashier.  "It's 'The' hoodie, Madison.  It's sacred."
"Don't take that card," she said to the young man behind the counter.  She pulled out her own and passed it to him.  "Thanks anyway."
Chase leaned over and peeked at the card she handed to the cashier.  "Sure, use a stolen card.  That always works."
The young man behind the counter looked up at them both.  His brown eyes widened as he paused in swiping the card.  He held one in each hand.
Madison let out a sigh and turned to Chase with a glare.  He simply shrugged and nodded to the cashier.  "The first one would be safest."
"It's not stolen," she growled at Chase.  She looked to the cashier.  "It's not stolen.  Do you want my ID?"
The young man ran Chase's card through the machine.  He passed both cards back to their carriers.  "I believe you, ma'am."
Tucking her card back into her purse, she shook her head at Chase.  "That wasn't necessary.  But thank you."
Chase grinned.  The cashier handed him a receipt and pen.  Chase signed and passed it back.  "Don't mention it.  I'm just looking out for Chase Junior."
She couldn't help but smile at him.  He finished at the counter and looked to her.  Madison held up the scarf, and then tossed it over his shoulder.  With another smirk, he wrapped it around his neck once and gave the ends a flick over his shoulders.
Chase took a bow and waved for her to go ahead of him.  Madison thanked the cashier, and headed for the door, but before she could reach it, Chase dashed in front of her to hold it open.
She made a point to stop and zip up her new coat.  He nodded in approval.  "You don't have to push the cart if you don't want to," he said as she passed by.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, she waited for him to come beside her.  She knew he only went to the grocery store when it entailed the use of a cart.  He was as fascinated with them as he was with snow.  "As long as you promise not to run over my toes."
Chase started down the sidewalk with the bounce returned to his step.  "Maybe we should have set you up with boots, too."
He led the way to a store only a few doors down.  List in hand; Chase claimed the first cart inside the door.  He made noises as if the wheels squealed with each turn and throttled take off.
Madison was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they tackled the shopping list.  She held their place in line as Chase took the cart for a few victory laps around the store.  She exchanged smiles with women her age that had their children standing quietly at their sides.  Their eyes would wander at times to the grown man racing around with a well-stocked grocery cart when he would zoom by.  While they looked on with faint disapproval, their children squirmed with envy.

Always & Forever - (First Draft) - General Fic

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"He had someone inside, didn't he?"
"Yes."  His tone told of his disappointment.  "He did.  We have them and several others who were cooperating with Mr. Bristow.  We should have them all brought in by morning."
"Skyler's okay?"
Detective Payne nodded with a tired smile.  "He's a little fired up, but he isn't hurt.  He will be in protective custody from now until his hearing."
Relief.  She had forgotten what it felt like.  It was beautiful.  Skyler was safe.  His trial was almost over.  Even thought they were still scrambling to bring in a witness to testify on his behalf, the truth was beginning to emerge on its own.
"Uh," Chase spoke up.  "So, what happens now?"
"Mrs. Andrew, you need to come with us."
The officer stepped forward at Payne's answer.  She reached behind her and pulled out a set of handcuffs.  Madison looked at the shining device with defeat.  There was nothing more she could do.
"Now, wait a minute!" Chase protested.  He put himself between the officer and Madison in one step.  "Is this necessary?  Really?  Give me a little more time.  I'll have her on a plane within the hour."
Madison didn't dare to hope for a positive response.  Payne couldn't walk away anymore than she could.  It wasn't worth fighting.
The officer looked to Payne.  The detective nodded.  "This is for your own protection.  We have to do this."
"You've gotta be kidding!"  Chase glared at the officer as she went around him.  "Payne, come on!"
"Chase," Madison softly called to him.  "It's fine.  We knew this could happen."
He didn't spare her even a glance.  "You think Skyler will cooperate after this?  You think he's fired up now, what till he knows what you're doing to his wife."
Detective Payne narrowed his eyes at the threat.  "I suggest you get back to what you were doing and let us do our job, Mr. Davenport.  This doesn't have to be difficult."
Madison followed the officer's prompts.  She had never been arrested before, but she was unexpectedly calm about it.  She turned around and held her place as the chilled metal closed around her wrists.  They were not at all tight.  She appreciated that small bit of mercy on the officer's part.
"Cuffs?  Really?"  Chase strode up to Payne and planted himself in front of him.  "You're right.  Those are necessary.  I bet pregnant women run from the cops on a regular basis.  Slippery little she-devils."
"Mr. Davenport," Payne said in a warning tone.  "Step aside.  I'd rather not have to bring you in as well."
Chase's laughter sounded dangerous.  Madison couldn't see his face, but she knew of his cocky smirk.  Chase was not one to be easily deterred.
Neither was Payne.
He reached in his coat.  The sound of cuffs coming free of their holster rattled in answer.
"Sir."  The officer looked shy as she tried for Payne's attention.  "You said he would cooperate."
The detective never took his darkened glare off Chase.  He looked as if he were about to throw the shorter man to the floor.  Madison wondered how Chase could challenge such a figure.
"I'll leave this up to you," Payne said in a controlled tone to Chase.  "I'll be leaving here with Mrs. Andrew in my custody.  She doesn't seem to mind.  But if you want, I would be more than happy to cram you in the squad car and take you downtown as well.  Everyone likes those kinds of rides."
Payne puffed out a sigh.  He raised his eyes to the officer who held to Madison's arm.  He blinked slowly, and then looked to Chase.  "Protective custody."  His tone was heavy with irritation.  "She is not under arrest.  Yet.  I have a judge's order.  Mrs. Andrew is to be taken into protective custody until we know that everyone who is involved has been brought in."
Chase's head bobbed.  His shoulders tensed in surprise.  "Really?"
Payne nodded with another deep breath.  Relief returned to Madison.
"Oh."  Chase turned around.  He gave an embarrassed shrug when he met her worried gaze.  "Then what's with the cuffs?"
The officer spoke up at Payne's continued delay.  "An arrest warrant is being delayed.  Mrs. Andrew is considered a flight risk.  If she comes willingly, we'll take her to a safe house.  But we need to make it look like an arrest until everyone is discovered.  We don't know exactly who is working with Bristow."
Chase snorted.  He turned back to Payne.  "Now, that wasn't so hard."
The detective's glare didn't soften.  "So do you want a ride or are you going to let me do my job?"
"Job!  Who am I to keep a man from his job?  Do whatcha gotta do.  As long as Madison is good with it, I am too."
Payne didn't react to Chase's answer.  He raised his bored gaze to the officer and Madison.  "Shall we?"
The officer's grip on Madison's arm was relaxed.  "Is there anything you need to bring with you?"
She shook her head.  "No, ma'am.  Thank you."
"I can follow you guys, right?"
Madison almost chuckled at Chase's persistence.  She was again glad he was on her side.  Nothing would go unnoticed by his wondering ways.
"I'll call you," Payne answered.  "Right now, we need to see that Mrs. Andrew is taken care of.  I'll let you know as soon as we have her settled in."
He gave a doubtful pout.  "Promise?"
Payne's frustration with Chase reddened his face.  He didn't even pretend to give him an answer.  It was clear that he was finished with the conversation.
He looked to Madison and his demeanor calmed.  "We need to get going, Mrs. Andrew."
"Yes, sir," she said.  Her smile was nervous as she met the officer's eyes.
"I'm Officer Tucker.  You're going to be just fine."
She nodded in understanding.  Payne cocked his head toward the door.  Tucker and Madison started after him.
"One more thing," Chase said as he held up a finger.  "For this to be believable, you know, in case someone is watching, should I keep harassing you guys?"
"That was harassment?"
He stuck his hands in his pockets and gave a one sided smile.  "I can do better than that."
"I would rather you didn't."
"It's not like I'm an expert of this, Payne.  I only write stories for a living."
"Don't get in our way, Chase.  I will arrest you.  Keep your distance and watch yourself.  This isn't a game."
He bobbed his head.  Chase ran his fingers through his messy, brown hair and straightened his shirt.  Mischief lit up his blue eyes.
Payne showed no sign of amusement.  He gave Chase one last warning look, and then turned for the door.

Tarny - (First Draft) - Fantasy/Scifi/YA

Gazing out the porthole beside her, Tamiko tried to decipher buildings from crafts across the horizon.  Everything in Rachis seemed to glow.  There wasn't a shadowed place to be found in the night scene.  The limitless lights painted the low hanging clouds wildly, making them look as if they too were a part of the vast city.  Mosley's ship added to the mix, its red and green markers danced when they blinked on and off, sparkling with the moisture collected from the degraded atmosphere they had passed through.
Mosley set the ship to glide nearly noiselessly as they awaited their clearance to land.  His voice sounded mechanical as he repeated his call sign and authorization code sent by Prince Warren Langsyne's assistant.  It was supposed to get them into the city unhindered.  This was the fourth time the tower asked for it.
"Is anyone there from Langsyne's staff?  They're expecting us," Mosley grumbled when the tower read back the alphanumeric code for confirmation.  He looked over his shoulder to Tamiko and shook his head.
"They'll get it straightened out," she shrugged.  "I'm sure they get lots of people claiming that the prince personally invited them."  She got him to smile at that.  It was his own joke, one he had been running with since the first day she received the summoning.
Mosley turned back to the control panel before him and drummed his long fingers on the frame.  Tamiko strolled across the floor and stepped up on a crate to peek out another window.  Two more shuttles had landed since she last looked that way.  One other ship was circling with them still, and it had been there longer than they had.
Her eyes shifted to the inside of their ship.  The gleaming floors brightly reflected the few lights lining the ceiling, giving the control room a warm feeling that contrasted the rest of the ship.  The walls here were lined, the counters and panels polished.  Elsewhere on the craft, the floors and walls were left uncovered, leaving the harsh metal structure and bold seams of the ship visible.  Only Mosley and Tamiko would be venturing to those areas, knowing where to duck under beams or to step over hoses and cables that crisscrossed the pathways.  But this ship wasn't about looks.  Its main purpose was to demonstrate its power source, the recycled, self-renewing, self-energizing engines.
A new voice came over the radio, his words short and clipped, "Tower to Tarny crafts, your requests to land have been denied.  You are ordered to leave Rachis airspace immediately."
"Tarny crafts," Mosley growled.  "Rachis Grapplers haven't changed a bit."
Tamiko stood beside him and watched as he made adjustments to the controls.  "You've been here before?"
He didn't take his eyes off the gauges.  "Long ago."
The tone in his voice told that it wasn't a subject he was willing to go into.  It made her a little more nervous about coming to the colossal city.  This was her first time leaving the small village they called home, and she was humbled by the sheer size of their destination.  Mosley hinting at an unpleasant experience here only added to her unease.
Looking to the window once again, Tamiko noticed the other ship that had been circling with them change coarse.  It was leaving.  She didn't think too much of the craft earlier, but now that the man in the tower mentioned it, it was a Tarny ship.
"This is Mosley Tesla speaking, copy that last transmission.  Unfortunately, I'm going to have to pass.  We already have authorization to land and I will not be turning around.  So, whosever in charge down there needs to put away their prejudices and get in touch with Prince Warren Langsyne's people.  Or you can wait until I land and I will personally show you my confirmations."
"Mosley," Tamiko leaned closer, "it's okay, we can go back.  I still have two more days before the games.  I'm sure Langsyne will make his own arrangements to get us in."
He looked over his glasses at her and raised a brow.  "No, they're not running us off that easily.  There's no reason we can't land tonight.  And your Langsyne is down there right now waiting for you.  Let's not disappoint him."
She gave a small nod in understanding though she doubted the prince himself would actually be waiting.  He has people that do the waiting for him.
"Go make sure all your stuff is ready.  I'll have us docked before you know it," Mosley offered with a smile.  He didn't wait for an answer, turning back to the controls with the radio in his hand.  Leaving him to his doings, and probably to argue more so with the tower's radio operator, Tamiko headed to the front of the ship.
The narrow hallway took her to the triangle shaped room where she left her bags.  She pushed the door open easily; the latch still hadn't been repaired.  There was nothing to be readied, so she pulled out a dinted, yellow toolbox from beneath the counter and saw to the broken latch.
When she was finished, she sat in the doorway and studied the battered old toolbox.  It was one of many on the ship, but it was also one with a history.  Mosley had given it to her when she was small.  She readily stuck close to him when he worked on his projects, trying her best to help out.  Looking back, she knew she couldn't have done much to aid him, not being strong enough to hold up most of the tools in the box, but he played along as if she made all the difference.  He gave her the little yellow box with a pink ribbon tied on the handle.  There were even a few tools inside.  He would add tools when she learned their names and what they were for.  She'd held onto it through the years and still remembered the first time she was able to carry it around on her own.  Reaching over, she picked it up with one hand, smiling to herself with the reminiscing.
The lights flickered and brought her back to the present.  She slowly rose to her feet and looked around, wondering if there was a problem with the wiring somewhere on the ship.  They flickered again, and then went off, leaving only the emergency lights along the pathway.
Tamiko carefully made her way to the control room to see what was happening.  There were only two reasons for the emergency lighting to come on.  One, the main system was acting up.  Or two, the defense systems had been triggered.
"What's going on?"
Mosley didn't look away from the controls, the glow from the blue gauges casting eerie shadows across his tired face.  "They're out of their minds," he shook his head.  "They have a lock on us."
"What? Why would they do that?"
"They won't answer me."  He had the radio in his hand, the sound of the switch clicking as he pressed his thumb to it.
"Let's go," she tugged at the sleeve of his shirt.  "We can try another way."
He flipped a few toggles and pulled the throttle, "Already on it."  The rumble of the engines coming to life sounded through the ship, rattling crates and boxes that weren't strapped down.  "I'm sorry, hon.  I'll have you here first thing in the morning."
"It's all right."  She held onto his shoulder as he set the craft to a sharp turn.  The view out the window told of their steep banking.  There was nothing to be seen except the fiery clouds to be seen on one side, and the luminescent cityscape out the other.
They soon leveled back out.  Mosley gave the craft more momentum, then pet Tamiko's hand on his shoulder.  "Does that mean we're having dinner on the ship again?"
She let out a laugh and squeezed his hand.  "I'll see what I can find."
"Good thing I packed extra."
Taking his hints, she turned to head to the galley, then paused.  The lights hadn't come back on yet.  "Mosley?" she started quietly.  There was a blinking red light on the control panel when she looked to him.
"No," he breathed.  A quick buzzing sounded in rhythm with the flashing light.  They had been fired on.
Mosley jerked the controls and sent the ship into a nauseating turn.  "The plasma!" he barked, "Release the plasma, Tamiko, now!"
She was already on her way.  She ran as fast as she could despite the pull of the diving ship.  The cluttered passageway was an obstacle course she had conquered before.  But this time was different.  It wasn't a game.  If they were hit with the plasma still aboard, it would ignite.  There would be nothing left of them or the ship to fill a bottle cap.
The first button was found by memory, the hall too dark to find it otherwise.  She didn't wait to hear the gate open.  As soon as the fist-sized button sunk into its base, she sprinted around the corner and for the second engine controls.
She didn't try to answer.  There was a note in his voice that she couldn't answer to.  They were out of time.
Throwing herself onto the controls, she smashed the second red button with all her might.  The gauge next to it pulsed yellow, then went off.  She could hear the gate opening on the other side of the sealed door.  She held her breath and waited.
A rumble like thunder came from behind the ship, loud enough to be heard over the howling engines.  Tamiko took a cautious step away from the shining door, ready to run back to Mosley.  The door flexed, the reflection of the emergency lights stretched along its length.  The entire ship shook violently, knocking her off her feet.
She got up quickly and started to stagger towards the control room.  There was a boom and a flash of white out the window beside her.  It felt as if the ship turned on its side and she was slammed against the wall.  Her yelp cut off when her head struck a support beam.  She crumpled to the floor, the sound of Mosley's panicked voice calling her name the last thing to register before darkness took her.

Oneiros - (First Draft) - Fantasy/YA

She watched him carefully as she weighed her options.  If she stayed, how long would it be before the woodsman and the others found her?  If she went with him, was he really there to help, or was he just another threat?
He shifted to look behind her when the howling of the dogs grew louder.  His countenance returned and he offered her his gloved hand.  "We are sorely outnumbered.  Let me get you somewhere safe.  We can discuss this further."  Christina bit her lip in hesitation.  "Quickly," he said with intensity in his brown eyes.
She put her hand in his and tried to keep up.  He seemed to know where he was going as he sped through the forest, winding a trail that she could never even begin to memorize.
When they broke off from a group of their stalkers it wasn't long until another came out of nowhere.  Christina began to wonder if they would ever be able to lose them.  There were so many it was as if they were surrounded.
They started up a steep hill using saplings and low branches to climb.  About midway up, the man ushered her behind a vine-wrapped tree.  He stayed in the open crouched down beside the tree.  Taking an arrow in his hand, he pulled up the hood of his cloak, and then wrapped the length of its cape around himself.  The green and brown fabric blended with the fallen leaves that blanketed the ground.  He was nearly invisible as he trained the drawn bow in the direction they had just come.
Three dogs came trotting from the woods and stopped at the foot of the hill.  Five men with swords followed after them.  They didn't have armor like the first woodsman, but their dark cloaks looked much like his.
The men spread out as the dogs tracked in circles.  Christina held her breath and hoped they wouldn't see the man perched on the hillside.  When she glanced to where he waited it was difficult to find him among the leaves and bramble.  Even his curved bow looked as if it was a part of the backdrop.
Neither she nor the man beside the tree moved.  The dogs picked up another scent and bounded off in different direction.  The men hurried after them and were soon out of sight.
Sounds of the night filled the area once again.  A cool breeze stirred the branches overhead and tossed untethered leaves across the forest floor.  Christina let out a ragged sigh and relaxed against the tree.  The cloaked man beside her remained dangerously still.
She was about to question him when she heard the crunch of dried leaves and twigs.  She peeked around the tree at its source.  The woodsman edged out of the thick woods and into the clearing at the bottom of the hill.  He scrutinized the hillside inch by inch.  Christina tensed up knowing he would discover them.
The woodsman held his place for a time before stepping back and moving on.  He was not as quick to leave as the five with the dogs.  He lingered in the area as if waiting for Christina and her statue to reveal themselves.
When the woodsman finally did disappear, she was not so ready to relax.  Since the man beside her continued with his station, she did the same.  She got the feeling that he was familiar with the woodman's tactics.
He eventually eased his draw on the bow and stood.  "Do not move," he whispered without looking at her.  With that, he climbed to the crest of the hill and slipped into the darkness of the other side.
Christina's heart was in her throat as she stood frozen against the tree.  Her fingers dug into the rough bark as her mind raced in attempts to grasp what was going on.  Only moments ago she was eager to get away from this cloaked figure, and now she hated that he left.  Maybe it was just that she didn't want to be alone while demented men with swords roamed the woods.
Every noise she heard made her want to race after her archer.  She closed her eyes tight and told herself everything was okay, no one would find her here.  It didn't help, but she kept it up anyway.
"There you are."
She startled at the deep voice and leapt back.  The woodsman stood next to the tree grinning at her.  He didn't flinch as he watched her stumble in a weak attempt to escape him.
"Forgetting something?" asked a voice from behind him.
The woodsman whipped around with his sword but wasn't fast enough.  The archer was already moving.  Before Christina could yelp a warning, he struck the woodsman across the head.  The larger man fell with a grunt and tumbled down the hillside.
"Let's go."  The archer took her by the arm and guided her up the hill.  She noticed him turn something in his other hand.  It was a dagger, and from the way he was holding it she realized he used its hilt to knock out the woodsman.
She glanced over her shoulder to see if the man stayed down.  He did.  Then she wondered if he would have shown such mercy to her or the archer.

Oneiros - (First Draft) - Fantasy/YA

The depth of lingering night astounded Christina as they trekked through the dense woods.  After being in a big city for so long she forgot how dark the nights could get.  It was as if the world swallowed up everything kind and familiar.  It was intimidating.
Her guide didn't seem to notice her uneasiness.  He was just another piece of the nocturnal realm.  The darkness they sunk into didn’t seem to matter.  He never slowed.
In her fascination of the scene around her, she stumbled over a well-rooted vine.  She caught herself, but the commotion earned Garland's attention.  He didn't say much since they left the cave except for several warnings of where to and not to step.  Now he turned as if he was about to question her.  She avoided his eyes and pretended to have a solid footing.
"Are you all right?"
"Great," she answered with false cheer.  She regretted the tone as soon as the reply left her mouth.
The archer lowered his head and went back to watching ahead of them.  He slipped the bow onto his shoulder without another word.  She noted him ready it multiple times as they walked.  She never knew what triggered his defenses each time.  And just like all the times before, he settled without firing a single arrow.
"Any sign of the woodsman?"  She wondered if that was what set him on edge.  "The hunters?"
He peeked over his shoulder.  "No Hunters.  Not yet."
"Is that what you call them?  Are there many?"
Garland slowed his pace and let her catch up with him.  They continued side by side.  "I do not know their exact numbers.  But, yes, there is a good bit of them."
"Why do you call them that?"
He looked to her with an amused smile.  "The Hunters?  Because that is what they do.  They hunt."
She was glad to get him talking.  His enigmatic presence was easier to take.  "What do they hunt?"
His stall in answering told her he was simply entertaining her questions.  "Whatever they want.  If it moves, it is sport."
"So what do they call you?"
"Same as they call you."  Garland glanced in time to catch her suspicious expression.  "Prey."
She cringed at the thought.  "That's not what I meant."  She waved her hand as if to clear away the uncomfortable conversation.  "You call them Hunters.  What is their name for you?  The Archer?"
A trace of a grin tugged at his lips.  "No."  He adjusted the bow at his shoulder.  "They have a few names for me."
More than his usual delay passed and she was still without an answer from him.  "Do you know what they are?"
"But you won't tell me?"
"Why not?"
"Because they are not who I am."
That was a good reason.  She nodded.  "Who are you then?"
His chuckle surprised her.  "I know your games, Chris.  You are not going to fool me that easily."
"No games," she said with a shake of her head.  "I'm just trying to get a feel of things.  Pure curiosity.  Like why you keep calling me that after I already told you my name."
"Because you told me I could not use your full name since it was what your parents called you when you were in trouble.  You forbid its use here."
Did she just find a way to get answers out of him?  She smiled at his openness.  "I haven't used that name since I was nine.  That means if I know you like you claim, we haven't seen each other since then."  He didn't acknowledge her.  "Am I wrong?"
His fingers ran along the string of his bow.  "It has been a while."
"A while since …” She leaned closer and hinted at him filling in the blank.  "Since what?"
He grew quiet.  She knew he slipped up and feared that was all she was going to get from him.
Until his voice came in a low whisper.  "It has been a while since you have been here."  He acted nervous about telling her that much.  She felt as if he just shared a secret with her.
"And where is here?"
"That is all I can give you.  I cannot say anymore."  He returned to his reticent ways.
"Why not?  Do you have any idea how infuriating you are?"
Garland stopped in his tracks, his concentration solely on her.  He looked wide-eyed at her challenge.  "It is not my place.  It is not up to me.  If you cannot recall these things on your own, you should not be here.  I cannot help you."  He clinched his jaw tight and strode on.  "I am infuriating?"
She stood in her place and refused to let it go so easily.  "But I am here.  That completely destroys your argument.  If I'm not supposed to be here, then why am?"
He shuffled to a stop and half turned to her.  The night concealed the look on his face, but his slumped shoulders said plenty.  "I do not know."
It was her hope that he would give her more to go by.  She waited.  He offered nothing more.  With a bow of his head, he turned and continued on his way though his pace was hesitant.
Christina didn't follow after the archer.  She watched as he blended into the sleeping forest.  Not even a hint of his movement survived the shadows.
With the stillness as company, she let her mind wander as she scanned the scene around her.  She wanted to forget all the strange happenings.  Nothing was normal.  It all was quite surreal.
Even the night air was odd.  She hadn't realized it until that moment.  While it felt and smelled and breathed like any other night air, it had a different element to it.  She couldn't place it, but neither could she dismiss it.
She turned her attention to the rest of the world.  The trees, bushes, and rocks were the same.  So were the fireflies that flashed out of sync with one another.  Each facet filling the space around her looked as if they belonged.  But the longer she stared at them, the more misplaced they became.
Her eyes rose to the fragmented heavens that could be seen through the forest canopy.  Stars speckled the black expanse.  She tried to believe it was real.  Something deep down told her it was not.  It was only a veil.
She sensed Garland come to her side.  He tarried until she finally looked to him.  He didn't rush her, or censure her reluctance to follow him.  Everything about him exuded comfort.
"None of this is real, is it?"  She studied him, as he remained mute.  The world mirrored him.  A hush settled around them after she posed the question.  He didn't need to answer it.  She already knew.  "I'm dreaming.  This is all a dream."
He didn't move until she nodded at her own understanding.  She took one more glance about the wooded scene, and then looked to him.  Garland gave a small gesture, and she followed closely as he got them back on their way.

Oneiros - (First Draft) - Fantasy/YA

Christina awoke to the continued night.  The sky above grew darker as she stared tirelessly.  She listened to the sounds of the surrounding world.  A breeze whispered through the forest.  The voices of night birds challenged the wind.  Chirping of crickets answered one another.
So the crazy dream remained.
She drew a deep breath let it out as a sigh.  "Morning," she said to herself.
"Evening," Garland said from behind her.
Christina sat up with a start.  "I'm going to put a bell on you next time you're in my dreams."
The archer stepped over the log as if he didn't hear her.  He handed a bundle of something to Vetch.  "Eat if you are hungry.  I will be back shortly."  With that, he went off into the woods.
Vetch opened the package.  It was bread.  He passed some to Christina and Alkanet before taking some for himself.
Christina looked at the two who sat across the unused fire pit.  They were oblivious of her spying as they ate.  "Who is he?"
Vetch and Alkanet exchanged confused glances.  "Who?" Vetch asked.
Christina nodded in the direction Garland disappeared to.  "Him.  The archer.  Who is he?"
"Garland?" Alkanet asked with her voice low.
Christina nodded.
"He is Garland," Vetch answered.
"Yes.  I know his name.  But who is he.  Why are we following him and taking orders from him?"
"Because he is Garland," the girl giggled.
Christina clasped her hands and tried to think of a better way to ask.  These two were clearly under his spell.  "What does he do?  Who is he to me?"
The two looked to each other.  Their expressions were sad this time.  Vetch set his bread down and moved to answer.  "He is your knight."
"My knight?"
Alkanet flashed a nervous smile.  "Yes.  Your Knight in Shining Armor."
The conversation was only getting more confusing.  Christina leaned forward, "Come again."
Vetch shrugged, "But without the armor."
"And his horse," Alkanet said with a frown.
"Okay," Christina shook her head.  "Garland is a knight?"
"Well," Vetch winced.  "He was a knight."
She regretted starting the discussion.  Their answers made no sense.  "So you're saying that Garland was a knight.  He was my Knight in Shining Armor.  But now he isn't.  What's that mean?"
"He is your knight," Vetch said.  "But he was stripped of the title of Knight in Shining Armor.  So now he is just your knight."
Alkanet waved a dainty finger.  "He is only a knight since you are here.  But he is only your knight.  No title."
That made a little more sense.  "He lost the title.  Why?  When?"
Vetch took a turn.  He was slow to form the reply.  "He lost his armor when you disappeared.  He was not able to bring you back."
"Back?"  Christina felt a pang of remorse.  She didn't understand why he would have lost his title because of her.  She wished she could remember what it was the three wanted her to remember.  Maybe that would clear things up for her.  Maybe that would help her to understand what they were saying about Garland.  Whatever she was forgetting was big.
"He was given a set time period to find you again," Vetch went on.  "When he did not, he lost his title."
"How long ago was this?"
Alkanet shook her head.  "Time is different here.  I do not know how to explain it.  But you were a little girl.  We were all very young."
If this was something from her childhood, why would it come up now?  Christina thought back hoping for anything that might seem familiar.  Garland.  Vetch.  Alkanet.  Tristdale.  She willed herself to recall.  It was fruitless.
"But I'm here now.  Does that help him get his title back?"
"If he takes you to Tristdale," Vetch answered.  "Everyone has to see that he has found you."
"Then why aren't we going there?"
The two looked to one another with a shrug.  They were just as lost as she was on that point.
Christina settled back with the piece of bread.  She gazed about the surrounding night-scape.  Was she the only one discomforted by the eternal darkness around them?  "Is it always this dark?" she asked in a hushed tone.
Vetch drew in a deep breath.  He looked around as if he had just noticed the night.  "It has been this way for some time now."
Christina studied the false sky.  That was all the answer the two offered.  She didn't understand it, but a part of her felt the world whimper at his given telling.

Oneiros - (First Draft) - Fantasy/YA

A calm forest surrounded them as they trod along.  Christina followed behind Garland.  He walked along without a word.  She didn't question his heading.  He never wavered.
They had gone a ways before the archer slowed his pace.  He looked over his shoulder for a moment, then went on.  Vetch and Alkanet reappeared and fell in with Christina.
"Are you all right?" Vetch asked in a hushed voice.
Christina eyed him and Alkanet in turn.  "Yes.  I'm fine."  She had wondered where they sneaked off to.  They knew what was about to happen.  She was a little sore that they abandoned her like that.
Vetch let out a sigh.  "Good.  That was a close one."
"Yep," she answered.  She kept her eyes on Garland's dark cloak.  The last thing she wanted was to lose track of him.
"Thank goodness you remembered how to control it," he went on.
"You mean thank goodness Garland was there.  I didn't do anything.  He's the one who got us out of it."
Vetch snickered.  Alkanet gave him a look.  He shrugged, "What?"'
"You are training to be a knight," his sister said.
He exchanged glances with her.  "Your point?"
"I think what she is getting at," Christina volunteered, "is that you bailed.  I don't think a knight is supposed to bail."
"A knight is supposed to know when he can make a difference," Vetch explained.  "He is also supposed to know when he is out matched.  Garland has far more experience than I.  And I suspect he can handle anything he can summon."
Christina slowed.  She studied Vetch when he paused at her hesitation.  "What do you mean 'he can summon'?"
"Well, I guess you summoned, but my point still stands."
"He summoned that monster?"
Vetch tilted his head.  "You did.  He just gave you what you needed to do it."
"He reminded you of the nightmare," Alkanet offered quietly.  "That is how you called the monster."
Christina's eyes flashed to the figure of the archer as he blended into the night.  "You mean he knew that thing would come if he reminded me of it?"
"I believe he was proving a point."
She looked to Vetch and waited for him to continue.
"You said something is infallible if it has rules and reliability.  The rule here is that when a specific being is summoned, it must come.  Nightmares are very reliable."
The earlier irritation she felt towards Vetch and Alkanet for leaving her behind paled in comparison to the ire now focused on the back of Garland's head.  "He's lucky I don't maim his other arm."
Alkanet flinched, "What?"
"He is wounded?"  Vetch grew worried.  "The nightmare hurt him?"
Their surprise caught her off guard.  "Yes.  It got a hold of his arm."
Vetch turned to his sister.  "Stay here.  I will see to him."
Alkanet nodded and hooked her arm around Christina's.  Vetch took off at a jog to catch up with Garland.
Christina watched as the archer ignored the boy who moved from side to side in attempt to gain his attention.  She couldn't hear what was being said, but she knew Vetch was doing all the talking.
"Is it serious?"
She looked to Alkanet at her whispered asking.  "I don't know.  It could be if he doesn't get it treated."
Alkanet tugged her arm.  The two picked up their pace.  They neared Vetch and Garland as the archer finally slowed to acknowledge the boy.
"There is no need for concern," Garland said.  He paid little attention to the two coming closer other than raising his eyes to them briefly.
Vetch stood his ground.  "Are you planning to ignore it?"
Garland shook his head.  "Only until I can find a place to rest."
"Will that be enough?"  Alkanet peered at him.
He nodded once.
Christina stared at him.  She knew he needed more than rest.  The wound had potential to become dangerous if left untreated.  Neglect would only encourage infection.  She wondered if dreams responded to antibiotics.
"We are not far from Warwick's," Vetch said.  "He would let us stay there."
Alkanet stepped forward.  "I saw him just the other day.  He would not mind."
"It is too much of a risk," Garland replied.  "We cannot take that chance."
"It is too much of a risk not to," Alkanet countered.  "Garland, you need your rest."
The archer shifted in his place.  He managed to avoid meeting eyes with everyone as he glanced around.  He eventually bowed his head.  "We cannot stay long."
"Of course," Vetch said.  "Only as long as you need."
Garland adjusted the bow at his shoulder.  He gave a nod and turned away.  The three followed him.
Christina assumed he was leading the way to this Warwick's place.  She shuffled closer to Alkanet.  "Who is Warwick?"
Alkanet looked confused at first.  She then smiled.  "He is a Storyteller.  I think you will remember him once you see him again.  He has not changed at all."
"He owns the inn of a village nearby," Vetch said.  "You will like him.  Promise."
She nodded as if she understood.  They were going to see another person who would be disappointed by her forgetting them.
She pushed the thought out of her head and concentrated on keeping an eye on Garland.  He must have needed the rest more than he was letting on.  She got the feeling he would avoid a village all cost.  She hoped his reclusive behavior was nothing more than a personal problem.

Quisling - (First Draft) - Distopian

Marcus knew this history from his years of education.  As an aspiring Commander, he had full faith in his chancellor.  He treasured his title of First Officer.  His father was a retired Commander, and he followed in his footsteps closely.  As the Commander's only son, it was his destiny.
He reminded himself of this as he began to doubt the worth of his current assignment.  He was surround by a frozen landscape that was once a sprawling business complex.  The howling wind threw stinging snow and ice against his bare face as he squinted is eyes in search of shelter.
The rebels should have found him by now.  He spent the past two hours in their territory.  He traveled alone far before he reached their borders.  They must not have been as hungry for recruits as his Commander believed.
With his hands wedged into the folds of his arms, he pressed on in hopes of his numb feet finding solid ground.  His unprotected ears burned and he wondered how much longer he would be able to hear.  He had grown accustomed the rawness of his throat.  Yes, he had experience in surviving the harsh winter from his training, but he expected to be in a rebel base by now.
If he could get the band of freedom fighters to take him in, he was to earn their trust.  Time would be on his side once they accepted him into their base.  He was to search out the leaders, work with them, support their plans to overthrow the Chancellor, and then take them down from within.
It would not be easy.  That much he knew.  But it was necessary.  As he first set foot outside of his unit's post, he knew he was on his own to carry out the assignment.  No one could contact him.  He was to keep his transmissions to a minimum.  He had to eat and breathe rebel propaganda in order to secure an opening.
His back-story was memorized and he went as Marcus Hawkeye.  The name was carefully chosen to support his story.  Hawkeye was the name of one of the eight families who stood against Chancellor at the beginning of his reign.  They were arrested.  Those who did not renounce the rebel movement were tortured and eventually executed.  Those who swore allegiance to the Chancellor were sent to reconditioning camps.  The name has gone unheard of since.
Marcus' unit was stationed as guards for one of those camps.  He knew the family's history.  He was selected to take the assignment because of his resemblance to the Hawkeye family.  His raven hair and green eyes fooled even the eldest surviving Hawkeye.
The clatter of an oil-starved engine caught his attention.  Marcus staggered to a stop.  The setting sun blurred in the onslaught of snow and sleet and hid the vehicle from his sight.
A single headlight stood out against the white and gray canvas.  It drew closer and the clatter grew louder.  Black smoke puffed out in clouds from behind the beat down truck and were promptly scattered and swept away by the raging wind.
The vehicle pulled up next to him.  It was multicolored with panels replaced from different versions of the same model.  Only the red of the hood and passenger side door matched.  All the other panels looked as if they tried to emulate a Rubik’s cube.
The window squeaked and moaned as the person inside rolled it down.  "You lost, boy?" a deep voice barked.
Marcus coughed to regain his voice.  It was gruff, but it was the best he could do.  "Yes, sir.  But I will manage."  He stumbled as he tried to get back on his way.
"Get in back," the man said.  "You'll freeze out here."
He slowly turned to the open window.  "I appreciate your concern, sir, but I can take care of myself."
The truck lurched and the gears clacked and rattled as the driver took it out of gear.  The passenger opened his door and stepped out.  The snow crunched under his black leather boots.  He was a tall man wearing a heavy coat.  The buttons pulled and made it look too small for him.
"Climb in back.  We know a place you can stay for the night.  You'll be free to go in the morning if you wish."
The smell of old coffee and cigarettes wafted from the cab of the truck.  A man with a thick mustache peered out at him from behind he wheel.  The buzz of a radio sounded and the driver reached up and turned it down.
"Is it far from here?" Marcus asked.
The men exchanged glances.  "Are you on a schedule?" the mustached man grunted.
"It's a little ways," the passenger said.  "But it's warm, and there should be a meal ready by the time we arrive."
Marcus nodded.  He shifted toward the bed of the truck and paused.  "Did I smell coffee?"
The passenger chuckled.  "Yeah, we've got coffee."  He jabbed his thumb at the back of the truck.  "Hop in.  I'll get you some."
There was not a tailgate, so Marcus sat on the end of the bed and scooted in until his back rested against the cab.  Even though it was still dreadfully cold, it at least blocked some of the wind.  He ducked his head to shield his face behind the popped collar of his coat.
The tall man reached over the side of the truck.  "It isn't much, but it's hot," he said as he passed Marcus a thermos.  "What's your name?"
"Thanks," he said as his icy fingers held to the scarred enamel.  "Marcus, sir."
"Marcus," the man repeated.  "You got a surname?"
He took a sip from the thermos and choked on the bitter coffee.  It was hot, but it had to have been as old as him.
After forcing the coffee down, he looked up at the man.  "Hawkeye, sir.  Marcus Hawkeye."
"I'm Jones," the tall man said.  He nodded toward the cab, "That's Frank."
"Thank you for the coffee, Jones," Marcus said.  "And thanks for the ride."
Jones gave another nod.  He then walked back the cab and climbed in.
The truck jerked and rocked as it moved forward.  Smoked billowed behind it until Frank shifted into third.  The smoke lessened, but still marked where they had been.
Marcus clutched to the warm thermos as if his life depended on it.  In order to make his story more believable, he was sent out with only a winter coat and boots.  His bare hands ached as heat began to return to them.  His face tingled as it too found some warmth.

Quisling - (First Draft) - Distopian

Marcus looked to each of the men at the table.  He noticed the man with the tattoo down towards the end.  "Did that gentleman say they needed help in the pipes?"
"Pipes?" Philip grunted.  "I'm not sending you to the pipes."
"They could really use the help down there," Jones countered.
Philip shrugged and leaned back.  Keira was sitting beside him.  Marcus didn't notice her earlier.  The bulky man by her side dwarfed her form.  She kept her gaze on the tabletop in front of her.
"Are you hungry?" Philip asked Marcus.
He nodded and shifted back to get up.
Philip waved him back down.  "Don't get up, Keira will get your breakfast for you."
Her head popped up at the sound of her name.  She looked to Philip as if she missed what he said.
"Why don't you go get him something to eat?" Philip smiled to Keira.
Frustration painted her face.  She held Philip's stare until he dismissed her and turned back to the group.
She looked to Marcus next.  He didn't hide his confusion soon enough.  Her eyes narrowed as she stepped away from the table.  "Can I get something for anyone else?" she asked with a cock of her head.
"Coffee," the tattooed man spoke up.  "I'd love some coffee, Keira."
"I'm not a bar maid," she answered.
The tattooed man shrunk back in surprise.  The surrounding group chuckled to themselves and lowered their eyes.  A few whistles accompanied the snickering as Keira walked away.
"Ignore her," Philip said with a smile.
"I thought she was asking?" Tattoos winced.
Jones shook his head.  "You know better than that."
"I do know," he said in defense.  "Looks like someone got up on the wrong side of the bed."
"I don't think she ever went to bed," Jones said.
Philip let out a sigh.  "I told her to let it go."
"You know better than that," Jones said with a chuckle.
Philip nodded.
The tattooed man leaned forward.  "Can't you just lock her in her room for a day?  That will knock her down a few pegs."
A cunning smile crossed Philip's face.  "You obviously don't know Keira that well."
The men snickered and exchanged glances.  Marcus kept his eyes on the woman as she fussed with something in the kitchen.  She was the polar opposite of what he had witnessed just the night before.
He could see the dark circles under her fiery eyes.  She had on a different sweater, but the same ragged old jeans.  Her movements were not nearly as cautious as earlier.  She was not slamming things around, but her quick motions made her look hurried, almost panicked.
Keira came back to the table with a bowl in hand.  She set it in front of Marcus and looked to Philip.  "Eat up.  That's all we're going to have for awhile."
Philip turned to her as if she had just slapped him.  "They still haven't gotten back?"
"That is what I told you this morning.  They should have been back by now."
He jumped to his feet.  "That is not what you said.  You asked if I sent a crew out to find them.  You did not say they still haven't reported."
"I figured you had tabs on the situation, Philip.  You kept telling me not to worry about it.  I didn't want to nag you."
"Keira!" Philip bellowed.
The entire dining hall went silent.  All eyes were locked on Philip and Keira.  She might have been half his size, but she was not about to back down.
"I'm sorry I didn't draw a picture for you.  No, they are not back yet.  No, they have not reported yet.  Yes, you better get on it and find out what happened."
The towering man didn't give a reply.  His reddened face spoke volumes.  Marcus held his breath and hoped Philip was not a violent man for Keira's sake.  He didn't think he could lunge across the table before the man had her laid out.
Philip drew a deep breath and looked to Jones.  "Are you up for another run today?"
Jones downed what was left of his coffee.  He then nodded and stepped back from the table.  "I'll have to find Frank, but I think we can be out of here in ten minutes."
"I'll drive," Marcus spoke up.
The collection of stares shifted to him.  Philip eyed him as if in doubt.  "You just got here."
"Then I wouldn't be missed," Marcus said.  "Just point me in the right direction, we'll be back before you know it."
Philip and Jones exchanged unsure looks.  Marcus stood to hurry them along.  He didn't know who he was looking for or where to look, but it was evidently a big deal to them.  It would be the quickest way to earn their good graces.

Quisling - (First Draft) - Distopian

He regarded her lost expression.  Her eyes searched the kitchen as if she just awoke.  She eventually looked to him.
"Can I ask why you're doing this?" he questioned.
She blinked and rubbed at her brow.  "I don't know.  The same reason you are."
"And what is that?"
Keira leaned back against the counter.  Her fingers found a puddle of suds.  She stared at it and stirred the bubbles with her fingertips.  "I'm not going to pretend to know what you went through at those camps, but I'm sure it wasn't pleasant.  We've both lost loved ones.  I know this won't bring them back, but I think …  I don't know."
"You're right," he said.  She looked to him nervously.  "This won't bring them back.  So, what are you looking to gain?"
She bit her lip and thought.  "They took Donovan from me.  I miss him so much.  I just feel like I need to do something to remind them of what they did."
"Are you prepared to shoulder the burden of knowing you are no different from them?"
Keira's eyes flashed to his.  "How?  They tortured us.  They killed Donovan.  They singled us out."
Marcus shook his head.  "I don't think what happened was aimed at you, Keira.  I think they saw your husband as a threat, and you were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"But they killed him."
"No," he shook his head again.  "Donovan took his own life.  He did this."
A look of disgust crossed her face.  "That is what they want you to believe.  My husband did not kill himself.  He was better than that.  He was a hero.  He would not have left me with this.  They murdered my husband."
"I don't know …"
"No," she broke in, "you don't.  You weren't there."
She was close to shutting down with the subject.  He moved to try another approach.  "What happened was wrong.  But that is the kind of people they are.  You are not.  I don't think you need this kind of weight to carry."
Keira leaned against the counter again.  Her fingers wandered back to the dying bubbles.  "Donovan always said that the people didn't challenge Chancellor because they were afraid.  He said that people in general are not bad, and that I should not blame them for submitting to Chancellor.  They are lost, confused, and frightened.  They need someone to show them they can choose their own path."
"And is that what you are doing?  Are you choosing your own path?  Or are you letting your anger push you into something you are going to regret?"
"He never would have hurt anyone.  Donovan went out of his way to keep people safe.  They are the ones who chose this route.  I know Donovan would not have wanted me to do it," she raised her eyes to his, "but he isn't here.  He's gone.  And I want to do this."
Marcus nodded in understanding.  "I just needed to make sure you knew what you were doing.  And I want you to know that if you change your mind, I will not hold it against you."
"I won't change my mind."
"All right," he said.  "I don't want you to think too much on it.  I'm going to make sure you get back here in time to feed the locals."
A smile came to her face.  It was authentic.  "Thanks."
"And I'm sorry for your loss."
She bowed her head.  "I'm sorry for yours."
Marcus swallowed a frown when she turned to the sink.  He didn't know what it was like to lose someone to the war.  He had lost loved ones, but to famine and sickness, not the violence.  If he were a Hawkeye, that would be different.  He probably wouldn't even be alive.
She was lost in thought once again.  Keira scrubbed at the mugs one by one.  The dishrag squeaked against the cleaned ceramic, but she continued to work at it.  Marcus knew she was wrestling with bigger problems than coffee stains.
There was one good side to her turmoil.  He could easily dissuade her once they entered the Chancellor's headquarters.  If her conscience was troubling her this much so early in the mission, it could cripple her more so as the deadline approached.
Knowing who he would have to deal with during the mission made him much more confident about spoiling the entire scheme.  He knew if one of the men at the table volunteered to join, he would have a harder time calling it off.  Most of the rebels who listened in were dedicated to their campaign.  They were hardened and ready to take the life of any who interfered with that campaign.
Keira still had a soft side.  She still felt for those around her.  She would not carry out the attack.

Quisling - (First Draft) - Distopian

Keira hobbled along.  Hoping to gain a little more speed, Marcus put his arm around her to support more of her weight.  She cringed under his touch.
The van rumbled to life.  "Finally," Marcus said under his breath.  He ushered Keira to the side of the lane.
Liam slowly pulled around and stopped next to them.  His eyes were apologetic as he watched them make their way to the back of the van.
Marcus helped her climb into the vehicle.  He was careful not to brush against her side.  Keira didn't seem to pay as much attention to her foot once inside.  She shuffled to the empty space left by the box, leaned against the side panel, and eased down to the floor.
As soon as she was seated, Liam threw the van in gear and took off.  Marcus snagged a crate that was sent tumbling and latched the back doors.  He braced himself with a hand on the ceiling and the side panel to keep an eye out for a tail.
A handful of armed guards rushed about the compound grounds.  Two studied the van as it made its way to the street.  Marcus watched them as they faded from sight.  One turned his attention elsewhere.  The other guard stared for as long as Marcus could see of him.
"Oh, Liam," Keira called out.
She shifted to look towards him.  "Don't forget to stop by that family."
"Are you crazy? Keira, you look like crap, and we don't have time for this."
She turned to Marcus more slowly.  "Is anyone following us?"
He was hesitant to answer.  "Too early to say just yet."
"Where's the crate?"
Marcus left off watching out the window.  "I'll make a deal with you," he started.  "We will slow down long enough to push it out the back as long as you let me take a look at your side."
Indecision battled across her face.  She glared at the crate propped against the door.  "They're hungry."
"And you're hurt.  I just want to make sure you're good for the trip home."
Her narrowed eyes rose to his.  "It isn't that bad."
Liam snorted.  "You're bleeding on my van.  Do you think I let just anyone bleed on my van?"
A smile threatened to soften her face.  "I can clean up after myself, Liam."
"And he can dump that crate out the back and you can let him take a look at your side.  Your choice."
The driver's persuasion surprised Marcus.  He painted Liam to be an uncaring person.  But the man knew Keira well.  His concern for her was apparent and well received.
Keira closed her eyes with a small nod.  "All right," she answered.  "Thank you, Liam."
The driver smirked in the mirror.  He was satisfied with his triumph.  He looked to Marcus and gestured at the crate.  Marcus acknowledged him with a nod.
It was not much longer before they neared the family Keira was so intent on caring for.  Liam slowed the van as they came along side the cargo trailer.  Marcus opened one of the back doors, whistled to the family members around the fire barrel, and gave the crate a push.  It landed with a crack of the wood on the broken pavement.
Marcus pulled the door closed and latched it.  He peeked out the window.  The mother walked to the fallen crate.  She lifted the lid and looked inside.  A smile came to her face and she waved to the van as it sped away.  The kids hurried to help her take it into the trailer.
"Did they get it?" Keira asked.
He nodded.  "They said, 'Thank you.'"
She smiled with a sigh.  Keira then let her head back against a crate.  It was as if the good deed healed her wounds.  She appeared peaceful.
One last look out the window told Marcus they were still not followed.  He found it hard to believe.  It went too smoothly.
He pulled himself away from the window.  "Now," he said as he headed toward Keira.  "Let's have a look at what you've done."
"I twisted my ankle and maybe bruised a rib or two," she said without moving.  "I'll be fine."
"Probably.  But we had a deal."
"Keira," Liam called in a warning tone.  "Be good."
"I am," she answered with a wince.  "You two just worry too much."
Liam grumbled something under his breath.  He then looked to Marcus in the mirror.  "What exactly happened?"
"I almost fell off the roof," Keira answered.
"I wasn't asking you," he chastised her.  "Marcus, how bad is it?  Do we need to find someplace before we get home?"
Marcus put a hand on her shoulder and turned to Liam.  "I don't know yet.  I bet it isn't that bad."
He ignored the glare he got from the driver.  Marcus knelt beside Keira.  "Let's at least wrap that ankle and clean up this mess," he said with a point at her bloodied side.
A groan of irritation was all he received in answer.  "Fine," he said.  "Have it your way."
He rummaged through the boxes and crates until he found what he was after.  A well-stocked first-aid kit held enough bandages to wrap her up like a mummy.  There was even a cold-compress.  Those were hard to come by.
Taking the bandages and cold pack, Marcus sat himself by Keira's ankle.  "What are you doing?" she asked when he gingerly untied her bootlaces.
"Making Liam happy."
She peered at him.  Her brows knitted when he pulled off the boot.  He waited for her to say something more, but she did not.  Instead, she laid her head back against the crate and let him work in silence.
The ankle was already swollen.  Bruising was beginning to discolor the area.  "Is this from the roof or the landing?" he asked as he started to wrap it.
"The roof."
"So the landing was the good part?"
Keira chuckled, then cringed.  "Yeah.  I guess so."
"Good," he said with a smile.  "I was blaming myself for this.  But if you did it all on your own, I don't feel so bad."
She cringed again and glared at him.  "I liked it better when you didn't talk much."
Marcus nodded and smiled.  "Yes, ma'am."

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