Tell me what you think!
My saber-toothed cat, Sabra, lay on the bed beside me. Her tail twitched as she stared out the floor-to-ceiling window, her fur gilded by the morning sunlight. A bird flew past in a blur and she leaped off of the bed and dashed toward the window, then lay flat on the floor, her tail quivering, her ears flattened against her head. Another bird flew past and she jumped at it, her giant paws sliding against the window in a vain attempt to catch her prey. Claws scraped along the window.
“Sabra! You know you can’t catch them, silly girl.”
One ear flicked back, indicating she’d heard me, but then she crept away, pacing, muscles rippling beneath her sleek golden coat.
It might be futile for Sabra to catch a bird from inside the Spire, but I hoped it would not be as futile for me to catch my quarry. It was going to come right to me, after all.
I sat up and leaned against the cushioned headboard, signaling that I was awake and ready for breakfast. I stretched, sparking my mind into alert mode. I had to be careful about this. If Dad discovered what I was up to, he would probably take my wings. Maybe permanently. Not that Dad had been noticing much lately…which was why this was a good time to do this. Although…the very reason Dad was out of commission was the reason I wanted to trap an M. Because of—my heart shuddered—Mom.
Tears threatened to well up in my eyes. I fought them, fought to distract myself—hard to do when the very reason I was doing this was for Mom.
If this worked, I might find the reason for her madness. And then—I hardly dared hope—they’d be able to find a cure.
But not if they caught me before my plan succeeded… Granted, it would be pretty risky even if Dad wasn’t paying attention. Ms had their own internal safeguards. If they found out what I had planned, they’d swarm over me like antibodies attacking a virus…though they would not hurt me, because I was Royalty. They’d report me to my sister, the de facto ruler of City Magnificent, and she’d punish me. She’d be more lenient than Dad….but whatever happened, she would keep me from modifying any more Ms, keep me from doing anything to help Mom. They didn’t think I had the ability as the youngest, a mere natural-born, who used tech to make pranks, who fooled around instead of getting his school work done. Maybe they were right that I was useless. But I had to try to help Mom. Everyone else had given up. It did not even occur to the others to break the law, even for Mom’s sake. Maybe Vy. But Vy was always offworld nowadays, almost as inaccessible as Dad.
It had just come to me…a spark of an idea. Unconventional, risky, against the law—but that didn’t matter. Nothing did, except Mom getting better. Even if I lost my wings… I shuddered. Yes, it was even worth losing my wings, if I got Mom back.
Sometimes I thought it would be less cruel for her to have died, but then there would be no chance of a cure. It just hurt so much to see her that way—screaming, crying, thrashing about, in such pain that she felt it even in her dreams. As hard as it was to see her, I still went to her room, saw the pale figure wasted away on her bed, agony written on her face… fear crushing her so it was hard to believe she was the same person as the Iridescent Queen, so full of light and life….
No one else except Glory went to see her. Even Glory, some of her own light dimmed by having the world on her shoulders, had lost hope of a cure.
No. I would not lose hope. I would not give up on Mom. Not until I did everything I possibly could.
If I thought it would heal her, I’d give my life for her. Though I hoped it would not come to that.
If Dad woke up enough to take my wings, that would almost be like taking my life….
The door swished sideways. An M walked in, holding a covered golden tray. The strong smell of sausages wafted into the room. Sausages. My favorite.
“Good morning, sir,” said the M, as he strode up to my bed.
“Good morning, Peri,” I said. I’d given him the name “Periwinkle” when I was little, just because I’d liked the sound of it. Now I thought it rather silly, but I was used to it now, and his actual designation was 102389483. I wasn’t about to call him that. “What do you have for me today?”
He swept the cover off of the tray with a flourish, the motion ruffling his brown holographic hair. He leaned over the bed at an angle that most humans would find impossible, and held the tray in front of me. “Today we have Kalata’ian sausages from Mirage, masp root from Ice, and red mushrooms from Eclipse, all prepared with complementary spices.”
I patted the bed beside me, and he set the tray there.
“We also have juice from our very own fireberry.” He handed me a glass of juice, swirling with the colors of sunset. I took it and set it on the back of the headboard. I didn’t want it to get in the way of what I had to do.
Peri bowed deeply. He was a pleasant-looking M, with a long, middle-aged face, a kind expression—although, as with all Ms, there was something a bit disconcerting about them. No matter how perfect their imitation was, when you looked into their eyes, there was nothing there. Nothing but circuits and gears, hardware and software. Most people were fine with Ms but even the ones I’d grew up with made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want mechanical parts for a friend. I wanted real people. A bit hard to get nowadays…..
Still, I liked Peri more than most, since he’d been my personal servant for as long as I could remember, and I felt a twinge of guilt for what I was about to do.
“Is there anything else that you require, sir?” He backed toward the door, not having to look behind him because of his sensors. Since he wasn’t trying to blend in, he could do things that were not quite human…which did not bother most people. They thought it comforting, in fact, since Ms were created to protect us.
“Actually, there is.”
A faint expression of surprise crossed his face. I didn’t usually ask for much from him; usually I just wanted to be left to do my own thing without Ms watching my every move.
“What is it, my lord?”
Peri obediently walked back toward me. I slid off the bed, careful not to jolt the food off of the tray.
“Hold out your hand,” I said.
Peri did so, palm up. I grasped Peri’s wrist. The joint was cold, metallic, beneath holographic skin, reminding me there was no humanity here, no matter how much it might mimic it. I didn’t have to feel one bit guilty—in fact, hesitation could mean failure.
I took a deep breath and pulled at the energy powering the M, letting it seep through my fingers with warm, pleasant sparks, which turned into a steady flow, draining the M of electric current. Its eyes widened in shock, and despite myself I felt sorry for ambushing him and using him… but this wouldn’t damage him permanently, anyway. He had no real feeling, after all—he was just a computer with a body.
He struggled weakly against my grip but by this time most of his energy had poured into me, and his holographic skin flickered, then vanished, revealing the silver metal beneath. He slipped from my hand and collapsed to the floor, a metal skull and skeleton, the jaw hanging open, the eye sockets blank red sensors.
I had to hurry. Any malfunction would be picked up and more Ms would come to take him away.
I grabbed the toolkit hidden beneath my bed and picked out a screwdriver. Then I pried open a panel on the top of the M’s skull and took another tool, which I inserted into the computer brain, and toggled around til I reached the malfunction alarm and switched it off.
Sabra jumped up onto the bed and snatched one of the sausages, then lay down to eat it. I grabbed the other sausage and ate with one hand while I worked with the other.
I had to flip off a few more safeguards, but it was easy to do now that the alarm was off and I had drained all of the electricity from the M. With a little bit of electricity, it might have still been able to alert someone. I was good at absorbing electricity, one of the only things, besides tech and flying, that I was good at. But no one saw it as an asset—Marches were supposed to be able to produce electric current, not leech it out of things. The only other person I knew who had been good at it was my grandfather, who had killed my other grandfather, the Sovereign of Mag City, and been thrown to the Abyss. He had done it by tweaking an M like I was doing, come to think of it…. But no. I couldn’t compare myself with him. He had modified the M so it could kill my Grandpapa. I was modifying the M so it could save my mother. I was not like Strike Vale at all. I hated to even think I was related to him, or that I was like him in any way. I was using this defective ability for good, not evil. There was something good that could come of it after all.
After the safeguards were off, I summoned lightning. A few paltry sparks danced across my fingertips. But I didn’t need to power the M much; I didn’t want him to turn all the way back on yet. I pressed my hand to the computer brain and it sputtered to life. Then I opened the M’s basic programming, and its hologram sprang into the air in front of me.
I opened its security programming and slid the safeguards past the danger level. An alarm pinged; I jabbed it off. Then I grabbed the plate and set it down beside me, and ate the springy branched mushrooms and the soft, tangy root, while I entered entirely new programs, fiddling with it when it resisted and tried to spring back to its original mission. Stubborn thing. I wrested it back to the way I wanted it.
I impressed into it its mission—find data from grayspace that could explain the reason for Mom’s madness—and added subprograms to deal with contingencies, stretching its rigid mind to the limit, and giving it as much adaptability to extreme environments as I could. It was too bad I couldn’t get a battle M, or better yet, a spy M, which had the best adaptability matrix of any of them, but it would be almost impossible to catch one of them off guard. I’d have to make do with this one—although, with its modifications, I might be able to use it catch another one. But I hoped my modifications to the servant M would be enough, perhaps making it the equivalent of a battle M at least. Though none had the exact programming I had given it; I was making a whole new breed of M.
I put in some finishing touches, then sat back and admired my handiwork—the new program, spinning bright inside the holographic schematics of the M’s mind. Hope surged inside of me. It was beautiful. A new thing, an idea that had sprung from my mind, now in visual form. A shiver of excitement ran through me, along with a quiver of fear. This was the easy part. Now I’d have to get the M to the Portal and gather enough data without anyone finding out.
I ate the last of the mushroom, which had gotten cold and rubbery, and slid my hand along Sabra’s smooth back. She blinked at me with half-closed eyes, and a purr rumbled in her throat. I kissed the top of her head. “I’ll be back,” I said, and scratched between her shoulder blades. She laid her head down on her paws, her long canines hanging over the edge of the bed.
I knelt back down beside Peri and slid his cranial plate back on with a snap. Then I pressed my palm on his chest over his main energy core and tried to summon lightning. I closed my eyes, concentrating, forcing myself to calm down—which wasn’t easy to do. My heart pounded hard, my body seized with adrenaline. Unlike the rest of my family, my lightning was unpredictable. I couldn’t even make it work consistently with strong emotion, like anger. The only thing that sometimes worked was shutting out all distractions and dragging it from deep inside me. The small amount that I had was always reluctant, and preferred to stay asleep inside of me rather than do any sort of work. Trying to force it didn’t work either. I had to just let it flow out of its own accord, if it wanted to…. While my siblings, especially Blade, had a hard time suppressing theirs.
Lightning flickered down my arms, dissipating as it flowed, then melted back into my skin.
“Come on!” I said. But getting frustrated would only make it worse.
I forced myself to breathe. Find the calm center of myself, the way Mom had taught me....
“I don’t have a calm center,” I told her once, sitting in her garden where she liked to meditate, holographic candles flickering around her in the dim light. She sat in front of me, cross-legged, her svelte form draped with a white nightgown, her eyes closed, her golden hair cascading over her shoulders. “It’s just—a hurricane, inside of me.”
She smiled. “Even hurricanes have a calm center.”
“But—what if I don’t? I mean—I’m just a mess of random genes. I’m not like the other Marches. I don’t have powerful lightning like you, I’m smaller, I—I think differently.”
She opened her eyes. “My Jet. You are different—and maybe that will make meditation harder. It may make a lot of things harder. You might not have been built from scratch like the rest of us. But you also have freedom—something the rest of us only have in part, because our role is written in our very DNA.”
“What do I choose, Mom?”
She kissed my forehead. “That, you will have to find out for yourself.”
Her words echoed in my mind. My heart ached, like it always did when I thought of Mom. I forced my mind to think of something else.
Flying. Soaring over City Magnificent, up toward the clear blue sky…. I could never totally clear my mind, and I doubted I could ever find a calm center. But flying was the closest I could get.
Lightning gathered, crackling over my arms. I forced myself to stay calm, though excitement threatened to douse my attempt before it started.
I let it flow down into the M’s metal chest. Pain snapped into my hands. I hoped the protective skin coating that Royalty had would protect me from the worst of it. Letting the lightning out, I lifted my hands away so they wouldn’t bear the full force of the feedback. Electricity cracked and surged against the M’s chest, then a sharp jolt hit me and I fell back, all thought wiped from my mind for a millisecond before pain seized my hands. I fumbled for a medpatch in the toolkit and pressed it to my shoulder. My palms throbbed violently. I sat back against the bed, gasping, as the medpatch began to work and send euphoria through me, dulling the pain.
Peri stirred and sat up, a blur of silver. I wiped the tears from my eyes, my hands still shaking, and when I could see more clearly, his holoskin flickered back on, concealing his metal skeleton.
His face turned toward me. “Master, are you all right?”
“What happened?” He blinked. An expression of confusion crossed his face. “What did you d-d-d—“ He shook his head, and his voice distorted. “Do.”
Maybe the new programming had been too much for his limited adaptability matrix. I crawled forward, still shaken despite the medpatch. Its sedative wasn’t helping much with coordination either.
I’d planned for this more than I normally did for anything, but I’d thought I could make up the rest as I went along. That had always worked for me before, more or less, but maybe it would be my downfall this time…
No. Don’t think like that.
I knelt in front of Peri. He was sitting, staring into space. His holoskin flickered, and I feared that the new programming was taking too much memory so he couldn’t even keep his appearance. I couldn’t very well go anywhere with a naked M….
“Are you all right, Peri?”
His head jerked toward me. “I—I—I—“
I did the only thing I could think of. I slammed my fist into his metal cheek.
He toppled over and hit the floor with a dull thud.
Honestly tho, i love this. Jet has always been my favorite character (next to Fralenn of course) and to see him doing his thing and breaking the rules is the absolute best. Also, I am Sabra: I too will steal sausages off your plate and chase birds.
I really want to know what happens next.
I am glad you like it and I love that you like my Jet (and Fralenn)
Your wish is my command.
The door chimed.
“Are you all right in there?” said a female voice, another M.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m fine!” I shoved the toolbox under the bed, just in case she didn’t take the hint and thought it was an emergency.
“We haven’t seen you in a while! We haven’t seen Periwinkle either.”
“We’re both—fine. Peri’s helping me with something.”
“Do you need any assistance?”
“No.” Now go away.
“What would you like for lunch?”
Was it lunch time already? It felt like I’d just eaten breakfast. Technically, I’d just eaten the last of it….
“I’ll get my own later.”
“All right. Let me know if you need anything. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes. Thank you!”
Peri stirred, and then pushed himself to an upright position. “Thank you, sir. I think you fixed me.” He shook his head. “But there is something…different about me. Some new…programming.” He blinked, and his eyes flickered red for a moment. Then he sprang to his feet. “There’s a lot of it but…I think I can handle it now.” He looked down at me. “I don’t sense any new updates from Core….It’s—“ His eyes widened. “It’s an adjustment to my matrix! No wonder I glitched.” He grasped my arm, his fingers cold against my skin. “What have you done?”
“It’s just an…upgrade. “ I didn’t want to tell him my plan just yet, in case his loyalty protocols were too unstable. I might not have tweaked them as much as I should have…. I just didn’t want to go too far and make him a killer, like Strike had done to the M who had killed my grandfather.
“I am supposed to just be a servant M. You should not have done this.”
“I’m Royalty. I can do what I want.”
“Even Royalty have limits.”
I bit back a curse. I hadn’t thought to adjust his personality matrix….I’d thought it would adapt along with the more central adjustments. “You’re fine now, though. Don’t you like the new upgrades? It makes you more powerful.”
“That’s not the point. You’re lucky I didn’t shut down completely. Why did you do it?”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“Modification of an M’s central matrix is not allowed, and neither is shutting off the alarm protocols, except with express authorization from the Supreme Sovereign Royal himself. I will have to report you to your father.” He shut his eyes, signaling he was about to communicate over the comlink.
“No! Wait—Peri. Please, let me explain.” He had been my servant since I was little. His loyalty programming was specific to me. That had to count for something. Otherwise I might have to knock him out again and try to give him a whole new personality… or wipe it completely. I didn’t want to do something that drastic.
He opened his eyes. “I’m listening.”
I sat down on the bed beside Sabra, who was lying upside down, her eyes half-open. I scratched her stomach absently, and her purr rumbled to life again.
“I need you to help me find out what happened to Mom.”
“Do you mean go inside Ice Portal?”
I nodded. “You want Mom to get better, don’t you?”
“Of course. We all want that.”
“I’m the only one who’s willing to do something. Dad’s—out of commission, Glory has to rule in his place, Vy’s always offworld, Blade—he’d never disobey the rules in a million years. I don’t care about the rules, not compared to…getting Mom back.”
“Your mom would want you to obey the law.”
“No, she wouldn’t. I mean—she wanted me to obey most of the time—but not if the rules conflicted with what was right.”
“You think she would want you to find a cure?”
“You’re an M—you don’t have real feelings. You see her like that—it distresses you because you’re supposed to protect us and you can do nothing. But to me—I can’t let Mom stay like that. I can’t. Not if I can do something. You can help me. If we find a cure, Dad won’t care that I break the rules. Search your data matrix. You’ll see that Dad cares more about her than following strict policy.”
Dad had collapsed himself after she had gone mad, and abandoned the administration of Mag City. That had to mean something—though Dad had always seemed to put rules and regulations above everything else. He must have buried more feeling than I had ever known he had.
Peri’s eyes went blank as he searched for a few seconds. “It is possible….but as a Monitor, I cannot go against the law.”
“I’ve adjusted your protocols. Your personality just hasn’t realigned with them for some reason. I’ll turn off your personality if I have to, and you’d just be an automaton. But I won’t if you go along with this and don’t contact my father. Yet.”
He tilted his head. “If you are sure that your father won’t mind.”
“Once Mom’s better, Dad will be able to rule. As wonderful as Glory is, she’s not ready for this. It’s killing her.”
“Your mother’s insanity has threatened the existence of Mag City. This overrides the importance of any individual rules.”
“There! You agree then.”
“I will do as you ask.”
“Thank you. Just don’t tell anyone. Not even the other Ms. I don’t have time to explain our mission to them.” Or shut off their alarm protocols.
I walked over to the closet and asked it for some sleek wind-resistant flight clothes. The door popped open and the shirt and pants appeared on a hangar, my boots on the small platform beneath them. I quickly undressed and threw my silk pajamas on the floor; Peri picked them up and tossed them in the dispenser. Then I pulled on the pants and short-sleeved shirt, which fit snugly over my body. Finally I dashed over to my nightstand and grabbed one of my wings. The orikal warmed slightly to my touch and I slid it over my arm beneath my shoulder, and it molded perfectly over my skin. Then I put on the other wing, and I felt like myself again.
I kissed Sabra on the cheek, near her whiskers. She stretched out her paws, revealing razor-sharp claws. “I’ll be back.” Unless something went horribly wrong. Even if Dad rebuked me, he’d send me back here to my room. He might take my wings. But I doubted he’d ever be as cruel as to take Sabra away—for her sake, if not for mine.
If my plan for Peri didn’t work, I might have to go into the Portal myself. If I did, I might not come out—or come out with my mind scrambled, like Mom’s.
After sliding the small round disk of a hololink into my pants pocket, I stepped over to the window. “Let’s go.”
Peri stepped beside me. I told the window to open and one of the panes slid upwards from the floor, giving me a place to launch.
Wind whipped at my clothes. Far below, the Spire grounds were a vague misty green. Off to the left stood the small white rectangle of Glory’s stables, tiny dots of horses moving around it. In the distance rose the glittering, glimmering needles and cylinders and more elaborate shapes of the edge of the Old City, beyond the walls of the Spire grounds.
I stood at the very edge of the floor and leaped into the air.
I like how this chapter sets up Peri's view on the whole affair. As an M, he is programmed to obey, but he still has a logic function that keeps him from being a mindless robot. Neat.
And of course our boi Jet just throwing himself out a window. I love him.
Was Sky's madness influenced by her entering the Portal, or was it for a different reason? (I know her childhood played some into her insanity)
Yes, the Ms are very sophisticated, near-human in their mental capacity (that is, in the way they can mimic emotions. They're superior to humans in their intelligence)
Of course! Flying is second nature to him. Doesn't think anything of just stepping out a window high in the Spire
Sky's madness was both influenced by the Portal's grayspace, and her childhood trauma. Other factors, but a single catalyst.
My wings lifted me up toward the brilliant blue sky. The free air tasted the fresh tang of the sea. I shot upwards, leaving the tip of the Spire far behind, the sun bathing me in light and warmth.
I slid through a small cloud. I lay back, my eyes closed, the gentle mist cradling me, while the sunlight flickered against my eyelids.
An icy hand touched my arm. I jumped and spun upright. Peri’s concerned face hovered in front of me. “Is something wrong, sir?”
A sharp pang pierced my chest. Mom needed me. I couldn’t just fly away from everything—she was lost in a nightmare, and I had to get her out.
I sank below the cloud until I reached a more reasonable height. The edges of the buildings became more defined, and reality spread over me like a shadow, despite the sunlight gleaming on every window.
Peri flew beside me. Like my wings, the orikal that coated his metal skeleton absorbed the sunlight, making sure he had enough power to keep his antigravs working.
Since Ice Portal was in Desolation, one thousand miles away, it wasn’t exactly practical to fly there with my wings. I could only fly about forty miles an hour, while a car could fly almost ten times that. So I swooped down to the top of one of the wings of the Great Museum and stood on the small platform on the top while I ordered a car. A moment later one pulled up alongside and I flew off and slid into the other side. Peri jumped in beside me, and the car sped off, taking the fast lane over the city, avoiding the densest traffic.
I linked Peri to my holocom and bolstered the connection so he’d be able to communicate with me in the Portal. Then I created some space for the data that we’d collect. I was getting hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant, and I ordered a wrap at the window. The blond M girl said cheerfully, “Happy Festival!”
“Happy Festival,” I repeated in surprise. How had I forgotten it was Festival? Usually, it was one of my favorite times of the year. But now…I couldn’t bear the thought of going without Mom. And I couldn’t very well go with Vy, even if I wanted to….She hadn’t exactly been around lately.
I ate the wrap but I hardly tasted it. I sat back against the seat and flipped through hologames, tempted to just immerse in them and forget the real world.
No. I couldn’t do that until I found a cure. I couldn’t abandon Mom like the others had.
I created a blocking program to drown out any external alarms, and put finishing touches on the camouflage program which would, hopefully, keep me invisible from eyes and sensors. The last time I’d tried holoflage it had failed miserably.
When I was sure I couldn’t be any more prepared than I already was, I reclined my seat and closed my eyes against the light.
Next thing I knew, something cold was tapping my arm. I jolted upright. Peri was touching me with one metallic finger.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” I said.
“Sorry. I just wanted to let you know we’re at Desolation.”
My heart flipped over, like it did whenever I went to Desolation. This was the last place anyone wanted to be, especially during Festival.
Below the car, barren wasteland sped past in a blur of black and gray.
“Stop,” I ordered the car. We were almost at the coordinates. I didn’t want to alert anyone to our presence, and I didn’t want to go to all the trouble to camouflage the car. The less of a trail we left, the better.
I activated the invisibility program on the holocom, and it spread over me. Then I jumped out along with Peri, and ordered the car back to the city proper.
As I flew, the north wind blew against my face, bringing with it the dead smell of ash. Below, great rifts slashed the earth, deep wounds that had never been healed. We could, of course, have built over it—most of the world’s buildings, except for the Old City, had been destroyed at one time or another—but Infinity, my great-grandfather, had kept it as a reminder of the destruction of the Endless War, and his heirs had continued the tradition. Every year, large gatherings came to Desolation during the Day of Remembrance, and my father stood on barren ground and recited the names of our ancestors who had been killed by our enemies, the Vales.
The com beeped, alerting me to the proximity of the Portal. I sank toward the gray barren earth. Ahead, a small army of Ms stood motionless, encircling a patch of ground which on first glance looked just as barren as the rest of it. But as I flew closer, an iridescent shimmer flickered in the air, warping the appearance of the ground beneath it. One of the first orikal bombs had blown open the skin between worlds millennia ago, and we had fought over it for many more lifetimes.
My boots settled on the ground beside a mound of dirt and rubble, and little clouds of ash wafted into the air. Peri landed beside me.
“What would you like me to do?”
“Fly into the Portal. Don’t go all the way through. Gather as much data as you can in grayspace.”
“How long should I stay in?”
I was tempted to tell him to stay until he could no longer transmit data—which meant until he could no longer stay intact. But even though he was an M and expendable, I wasn’t quite ready to do that to him. “Stay until you feel your systems being affected. Get out before you can’t move anymore.”
“I’ll give you further instructions when you get in. Otherwise, don’t contact me unless it’s an emergency. We don’t want the army picking up any sound waves. And keep your camouflage on.”
I sat down on the flat edge of a rock—which, on second glance, looked like part of a building.
Peri stood looking at me, his brown eyes unblinking.
“Well, get going!”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay, sir?”
“I’m a March— nothing can happen to me on Mag City that Dad doesn’t allow.”
He nodded, then leaped into the air, his holographic skin turning invisible as he did so. In a shimmering flash, he completely disappeared.
I settled the round black com disk on my lap and tapped it. A miniature firework splashed into the air, and then spelled out the words FESTIVAL! in brilliant purple and gold and red. I waved it away and opened Peri’s live feed, which showed what he saw in real time. Right now it was just dead earth, gray ash. Then, the Ms appeared beneath him, their regimental lines standing completely still, their eyes all fixed on the Portal, a light on their hands pulsing yellow “standby.” The sun gleamed off of the gold accents on their black and red uniforms. Most of them had at least one arm that was a gun. Some of them were not in human form at all, but large tanks with superhuman intelligence buried beneath the massive metal structures.
The Portal flickered into view, and Peri sent the code that would allow him entrance. Ice Portal was the most heavily guarded area on all the worlds, except for the front line on Ice itself, where we faced off in a cold war against the Conglomerate. The code changed every minute. If it was the wrong code by a millisecond, an alarm would go off. Didn’t matter how many alarms I’d deactivated—I’d never be able to touch the one on the Portal.
Peri’s vision shimmered, little iridescent worms writhing over it, and the desolate landscape warped out of existence.
Also, how did the window girl who sold him the wrap not recognize him? I think I remember something about the Royalty not mingling much with the people outside the Spire, and doesn't Jet break the rules by going out when he's not supposed to?
Hm, that may be a mistake. She should have recognized him. Unless he put on his mask beforehand... If I did not put that down, I should change it.
Unless he would not want his father to know where he was....but there is nothing suspicious about him flying out somewhere. He is not mingling with the people, since the girl at the window is an M
Ooo wow okay I think I missed the detail about her being an M. So are all service workers Ms? Or is that just a place where only Ms work so he went there?
Most service workers are Ms. Since the war ended, there was only one ruler, and he can distribute resources equally. So most people only work about 4 hours a day. Teenagers don't work unless they want to. And Ms are excellent at what they do, and there are millions of them, so it actually makes everything more efficient if simpler tasks are done by Ms. Though Ms are capable of superior thought at times also, intellectual and creative tasks are seen as a human--but especially Royal-- domain. Ms are literally made to be servants.
Gray static, with little dancing sparks inside of it, appeared on the holocom.
“You ok, Peri?” I said.
“Now, look around. Can you sense anything unusual?”
His viewscreen flickered. I tapped the holocom and the static steadied.
“I cannot sense anything unusual, not even with the enhancements you gave me.”
“Maybe you’ll have to step sideways, then. As long as you don’t lose your orientation you’ll be okay.”
My heart thudded hard in my chest as the screen flickered again and the vague iridescent worms began to move slightly faster. It was likely that Mom had drifted sideways, because unless something had stopped her on her way through the Portal, there was no reason for her to hesitate. It only took one long step to get to the other side. The question was, why had she drifted sideways? Had she fainted for some reason? Had an anomaly inside grayspace hit her at the exact moment she went through? Going through Portals was usually safe as long as you didn’t linger more than a minute. No one did that. Not since the early days of the Portals, when people had thought there might be more ways to other worlds further inside grayspace. But these people had gone mad. It was called “grayspace sickness”. There had not been a case in a thousand years.
So why had it happened to Mom two months ago? What could have stopped her from taking one step from Ice to Mag City? Ms had brought her out unconscious. Had she fainted and that had kept her inside, or had that happened after something had hurt her?
Dad thought that the Conglomerate might have had something to do with it, but there was no evidence for that. He blamed Con, though, because that was where Mom had been coming back from when it happened. He’d only refrained from going to war in order to preserve the peace that Mom had been negotiating for. But there was no way that we knew of that Con could even get through the no-man’s-land, much less tamper with something inside the Portal, when not even we knew what exactly Portals were made of, and could do nothing to affect their size or consistency.
The holoscreen was just more vague static. I was in a strange gray world, looking into an even stranger gray world. The only anchor was the faint shimmer of the Portal far ahead, and the gleam of the sunlight on the metal of the Ms.
“Do you sense anything?” I asked. My voice was small amid the vast nothingness.
“Not yet. Grayspace is normal.”
“Normal for grayspace, you mean?”
“No anomalies. Just a formless void filled with random energy.”
“Could some of that energy have hurt her?”
“It could have. There are sometimes stronger bursts of it. That could have caused her unconsciousness.”
“But why would she have gone mad inside it? She was only in there about five minutes, they said.”
“That is enough time for grayspace sickness.”
“I went through the case studies. It never got this bad if someone was in for such a short amount of time. Most of them recovered and lived almost normal lives. It was the ones who stayed in an hour or so that had…symptoms more like Mom’s.”
“It is strange.”
“She couldn’t even have gone very far sideways in that amount of time. When the Ms carried her out, she was not sideways. There’s more danger sideways, so it would make more sense she did go there, but she would have had to move back near the Portal again. She couldn’t have drifted sideways and then drifted back—it doesn’t work like that. It pulls you on and on….” I shivered. A picture flashed in my mind of Mom, floating onward, into the mist…. It was still like that. She was floating away from me, and I didn’t know how to get her back….
“There is another possibility.”
“There is no evidence that this happened, but there is a theory that time in grayspace is not the same, especially away from the Portal openings. It’s almost impossible to measure internal time here. But some of the victims of grayspace sickness raved about days, weeks of nothingness—when they were only in a short time. It could have been that it just felt like that, and their testimonies are unreliable. The other theory is that there are pockets of rogue time…sections where time floats around like bubbles, and some places where time has no meaning at all.”
“The primordial time theory.”
“Yes. The theory that grayspace is where time is formed. Anyway, it makes sense that time would be different between worlds, and that it would be unstable, because Portals are not natural. They’re wounds in the fabric of the multiverse.”
Some thought we shouldn’t be using the Portals at all. That was outweighed by the fact that we could not forfeit everything we’d built on other worlds. Normally, travel between worlds was safe…But Mom’s madness had made me afraid of Portals. I wouldn’t have thought twice about going through them before.
“So….can you detect any time anomalies?”
“Not yet. As you can see, there is no distortion in my voice, and data’s transmitting clearly, so it seems that our times are in sync. I will go a little further. If a time anomaly caught her, it may have floated further in again. But there might still be evidence of it, or one like it.”
“Be careful. I don’t want you to get caught in there.”
“Don’t worry. If I catch one, you might not be able to contact me. But that doesn’t mean I have been caught permanently. It could be a good thing—it would mean that I am collecting valuable data.”
“Okay.” I leaned my elbows on my thighs, cradling the holodisk in both hands. Static flurried across the screen. The hissing sound grew louder, and little sparks snapped and spat. Little iridescent worms wriggled through the gray, writhing with more insistence.
Then, in the gray mist, a larger worm appeared, a vague shape, like a bacteria under a microscope.
“Dn s thng.” Static swallowed his distorted voice.
“Dn—detec—Oh. I s— Ti--!”
“What, Peri? I didn’t catch that.”
“Ti—me. It’s—t—“ His voice slowed, then crackled out of existence.
Nothing. Just gray static. Part of the screen eaten by black worms.
A loud crack!
Then, the holoview snapped out completely.
I tapped the holocom. It was dead. I tapped it harder, but it was just a hunk of metal.
I flipped it over and opened it, brought up its schematics, and zeroed in on the problem. Peri had been sending back quads of data. It had overloaded the system. I deleted some nonessential programs and then I was able to reboot the holocom. Bright sigils of data appeared, floating in space…but they were fragmented, distorted, much of it incomprehensible code.
The information had stopped downloading as soon as the holocom had blinked out, so I’d lost some of the data, and I’d have to contact him to find out what had happened and what was going on.
I touched the holocom link symbol. It sputtered; nothing happened.
Had I lost him? Maybe I’d have to go in after him….. Or find another M to send in. Problem was, especially if he was incapacitated, he’d probably keep drifting. The longer I waited, the more likely I’d lose him. Even Ms disintegrated in grayspace. I’d lose Peri, but more importantly, I’d lose any data he was carrying. Even if I was able to get his computer brain back intact, the information might be unsalvageable.
Then, the link glowed and blinked rapidly. I pressed it again.
“Peri, are you there?”
Nothing at first. Then, “Sir—I—s-ry—“ His voice was still distorted and slow, and static crackled between his words.
“Th—n—k fou—nd s—th. Ev—nce –ti—me….”
“Peri, I can’t hear you. Your data link is wacky. I’m just getting garbled code as feed… Why don’t you come back. We should decipher it, see if we have anything useful.”
“Ohh—k-aayy.” The word came back slow but readable. “-th your permi--, --stay -n more minute. I -ing s-m readings th—“ His voice cut out again.
“One minute, that’s it,” I said, hoping he could hear me. “Then get out of there. I don’t want you drifting or getting caught in a time bubble.”
It sounded like he had been saying something about time. Maybe we’d found the reason Mom had gone mad. When we examined the data, we might find the first step to a cure!
I sat, waiting, the screen blinking, nothing added to the data stream. Perhaps time was standing still here, too… A gust of wind destroyed that theory. It blew ash into my face and I coughed, blinded for a moment. I blinked my eyes to get the ash out, and tears streamed down my cheeks. I wiped them away, trying not to think of what might be contained in that ash. Millions of people had died on this vast plot of land….Even though the war on Mag City had ended two hundred and fifty years ago, I still didn’t like the idea of inhaling remnants of dead bodies.
I checked the time. It had been over a minute.
“Peri, are you there?”
Just the vague hiss of static.
“Are you there?” I repeated.
Maybe he was taking longer because he’d found something….I hoped. If he was lost, I didn’t know what I would do. I could go in after him, but if I got lost, there would be no one to find a cure for Mom.
I crouched behind the mound of dirt to shelter myself from the wind. I’d deleted all the hologames on the disk…but I didn’t want to flip to a different screen anyway, in case something happened. Since I had nothing to do, not even anything to look at, my mind wandered. Against the backdrop of gray ash, Mom’s face appeared, lit by a warm smile, her violet eyes dancing, her hair golden in the sunlight. Then she turned away, faded into shadow—and—
Mom thrashed against the bonds that held her to the bed. Her eyes were wild, panicked. Dad crept toward her, his hands spread out as if coaxing a wild animal.
“No, please! Please, don’t. Don’t hurt me!”
“Sky,” said Dad, in a broken voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He stepped closer, and touched her arm. “See? I would never, ever hurt you.”
Her eyes widened. I thought she might remember him. But then—she screamed. Yanked against the bonds, trying to get away from my father.
He turned away and walked past me.
“Wait—” I said. “What’s she so afraid of? Did you—?”
His eyes flashed. Sparks crackled over his clenched fists. I stepped back—though, it was true, he had never physically hurt me.
Then he seemed to shrink from the great, powerful man I’d always known, to a shadow of himself. “I would never hurt her. I—”He shook his head. “I did once. A long time ago. It was….a bad time between us. It should never have happened… but it was just a snap of anger born from pain….and she forgave me. No, this is something deeper. She thinks I am her father. How she could ever see him in me—” He shook his head. “Perhaps that one time was enough. And….”He looked off into the distance, and then, his stride less sure than it usually was, he walked away without another word.
Mom lay there, her brow beaded with sweat. Her golden-brown skin had a grayish tint, and her half-closed eyes were glassy. I crept up to her, and she did not stir until I reached the side of her bed. Then she looked at me. Her eyes widened, fear flashing across them.
“It’s okay, Mom. It’s me.” I slid my hand into hers, though her hand was stiff and cold.
“Who are you?”
“Jet. Your son.”
Her brow furrowed. There was not a trace of recognition in her eyes. “I don’t have a son.”
I slid my hand away from hers and ran from the room. I eventually came back. She sometimes recognized me, but more often she didn’t. It tore my heart apart each time I saw her, but I could not stay away. I didn’t know how the others could leave her, no matter how hard it was to see her. She was Mom. No matter how much she had changed. But maybe she was more a part of me, somehow, than she was of the others…. I had always felt a special kinship with her, like I had with my grandfather.
Now, I had lost both of them. And the only person who I had that same sort of closeness to—Violet—had all but vanished from my life.
I hadn’t lost Mom. Not yet. As long as she was still alive, there was still hope.
I tapped the holoscreen again. “Peri?”
Again, no answer.
Perhaps I had lost him. It was beginning to look that way….
Maybe he just needed some help. I couldn’t just leave him.
I slid the holocom into my pocket. Then, I leaped into the air and flew toward the Portal. Soon I reached the contingent of Ms. I slowed down so they wouldn’t sense my movement. They didn’t look up; the holoflage must have been working, blocking their sensors.
The Portal flickered like the faint edges of an aurora. I hesitated, then flew inside.
Static prickled my skin. Ahead shimmered the other end of the Portal; I could see the vague shadows of Ice buildings against the snow. Surrounding me—above, below, and sideways—was the shapeless, endless gray, little sparkles snapping randomly through it.
I held my breath; you could breathe the air you let in with you, but it would soon dissipate, and I needed all the time I could get.
I looked around for Peri. I couldn’t see him anywhere.
“Mmmmehhhhthhh…..” came a low, drawn out sound from above me.
Peri. He hung in the electric mist, his head shrunken, his torso stretched out, his limbs twisted at odd angles. His holoskin clung to him in patches; only his face was intact, while most of his body gleamed silver.
“It’s okay, Peri, I’ll get you.”
“Nnnnnnnn….” His mouth stretched out, his eyes widened, almost popping from his skull. He turned his head to one side, then, slowly, to the other.
“You don’t want me to come? Is it dangerous?”
It was probably a time distortion. I didn’t want to get caught in it too.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get one of the Ms. Now that you’ve got the data, it doesn’t matter if they find you.”
I was about to step out when the Ice side of the Portal shimmered, and a huge figure stepped into grayspace.
Does this mean then that the inhabitants of Mag City spend most of their time in hedonistic pursuits?
Wounds in the fabric of the universe
Oooo wait so if left in the grayspace, you physically disintegrate? Or does that refer to a mental breakdown?
I legit thought for a sec that Peri was the ash that blew in Jet's face
Wat. JET. NO. WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?
Another tip-top chapter, I can't wait to see what's happening next!
I like reading your thoughts!
Yes, pretty much. Not that they're all completely selfish, they have families and do good things for others on occasion. It's a symptom of the fact that the war is over and that there is one government--which happens to be benevolent. It used to be the opposite. The people used to be slaves. That was seen as their role, even after Ms appeared on the scene and could do the tasks more efficiently. The people were forced to work for the Royalty. This was inverted after Justice became king. He believed that the Royalty were there to serve the people, and not the other way around. To begin to make up for all the misery of the past thousands of years.Helios wrote:
Does this mean then that the inhabitants of Mag City spend most of their time in hedonistic pursuits?
You would both physically and mentally disintegrate. Mental disintegration happens first.Helios wrote:
Oooo wait so if left in the grayspace, you physically disintegrate? Or does that refer to a mental breakdown?
I pointed upwards. “I brought him in. To find out what happened to Mom.”
My brother looked up at Peri, then back down at me. “Was this authorized?”
“I should have known. You’re not capable of doing anything the normal way.”
“I was trying to help Mom. Everyone else gave up. I had to do something.”
“And of course you had to break the rules to do it.”
“If I’d asked, Dad probably would’ve said no. We tried before, and we didn’t get anything. But my modifications were able to find some important data.”
His eyes flickered. “You think it’s important?”
“It could be. We can’t know for sure til we get Peri down.”
Blade glanced up at Peri again. “You must have altered his alarm protocols, or the other Ms would have stopped you. This is forbidden.”
“You don’t know the gravity of what you’ve done. You never do. Come on.” He turned me around to face the Mag City Portal. His massive hand almost encircled my bicep. He pushed me through the Portal and I stumbled before my wings pulled me up and let me hover above the ground, in front of the army of Ms.
Blade stepped out beside me on the broad, empty platform. As soon as he did, the human-shaped Ms pressed their right palms to their hearts in complete unison, then flung their fists upward in the military salute. Metal clanged on metal as they stood at attention, ramrod straight, focused on Blade, their third in command.
Blade pressed his fist over his heart in the return salute and then turned to me. “Come here. I don’t want you flying off.”
Reluctantly, I flew down in front of Blade. He towered over a foot taller than me, his body packed with muscle, his chest gleaming with medals—three quarters of which he had yet to earn. His hair was burnished bronze, and his face was a chiseled block of magnificence. He was the exact opposite of me: powerful, disciplined, prodigious lightning, good at everything except for flying. I was a little afraid of him, still—when we were young, he had sometimes hurt me when he was still learning to control the vast reserves of electric current that resided in his body. He hadn’t hurt me since he was nine, though—mostly he’d ignored me—but now, I wasn’t so sure. His face was stern, eyes burning with a controlled rage.
“I just wanted to help Mom.”
“Yes, you always have the best of intentions. You always get away with everything because Mom and Dad thought your pranks were innocent at heart. But now—you’ve gone too far. Modifying an M’s alarms? Even you should have realized that crossed a line. Maybe you’re too young to remember what happened to Grandpapa, but I am not.”
“I remember!” My heart twisted with a deep ache.
“You must not remember that Strike shut off an M’s alarms and modified it so it could kill a March.”
“That’s not the same! I was trying to help Mom. I would never even think of killing anyone.”
“And yet, your very ignorance could accomplish that very thing. Even if you did not do much damage, it’s the principle of the thing. Something you have never understood, no matter how many times we tried to pound it into you. I’m calling Dad.” He tapped the com implant beneath his ear.
I wondered if I should just fly away. I still had my modified holocom, which would hide me from sensors. It had more stealth safeguards than any other that I’d ever worked on, and might even be able to mask my DNA from Dad, if it did what I wanted it to. But maybe I could reason with Dad…. He wasn’t Blade, after all. He could sometimes think outside the box.
“Yes,” said Blade, after a moment. “No….it’s all quiet on Ice. That’s not why I’m calling. Jet modified an M and shut off its safeguards. Yes. Okay…. yes, sir.” He drew a holocom from a pocket in his jacket. “Dad wants to talk to you.”
The glowing symbols of the holocontrols sprang to life. A figure appeared, faint at first, then becoming more solid, until Dad stood beside Blade, facing me. He was a few inches shorter than his firstborn son, his face weary and drawn, his hair a bit unkempt, his purple robe somewhat askew, the hem of it gray with dirt, but there was still something incomparably regal about him. Looking at the two, even if you did not know them, you would feel instinctively which one was the Supreme Sovereign, and which was his general.
“Jet?” His usually low, rich voice was hoarse and thin. “Is it true what Blade says? That you have turned off an M’s alarms and modified it?”
“Perhaps you did not know the severity of your actions. But you must be made to know it.” His eyes sparked. He drew himself taller, his head held high, as if he wore an invisible crown. “This is the very crime that allowed Strike to murder Justice. That is why it cannot be allowed to happen. Your punishment must be severe enough so that you never even consider disobeying such a critical command again.”
“Dad—I was trying to help! Don’t you want Mom to get better?”
His eyes shadowed. Then, his face hardened into a mask. “I will not tolerate questioning of my orders.”
“We at least have to get the data out! Dad, please—there might be a way that we can cure Mom’s madness. Peri’s still in grayspace and he could disintegrate if—“
“Enough!” Lightning crackled over my father’s hands. “You will surrender your wings to Blade. Then you will report to the Display Chamber. There, Blade will carry out my orders and punish you publicly.”
“You are reviving public corporal punishment, my lord?” said Blade, looking rather taken aback.
“I think this offense warrants it, don’t you?”
“It is more merciful than exile. He is still a March, after all. For now.” The words struck like a knife to my heart.
To be punished in front of everyone—the humiliation— it was almost worse than the pain. And to be struck with Blade’s lightning—much more powerful now than when we were young—
My knees weakened. I didn’t want to fall, and so almost without thinking I let my wings lift me up off the ground.
Dad’s image began to fade.
“Please!” I said. “How long will you keep my wings?”
“Six months,” said Dad, and his image vanished.
Six months! Even worse than public punishment. It would suffocate me to be trapped on the ground, no way to the sky.
A ruthless grip clutched my chest, cutting off my air.
Blade stepped toward me. “Give me your wings.”
“No!” I flew to the top of the Portal’s shimmer.
Blade lifted off the ground, his wings carrying him toward me.
It flashed across my mind that the consequences would be worse if I resisted, but I didn’t care. And if I could outfly Blade, I could turn on my holoflage and disappear completely from sensors. I could put a holomask on and look like someone else….
But where could I go? I wouldn’t be able to go offworld without the code. And even without sensors, the Ms would comb Mag City until they found me.
Where would be the last place they’d look?
A place that was forbidden.
I zoomed up to the blue of the sky, leaving the desolate gray earth behind.
BLADE!!! *goes into frenzied dance of excitement* *wild fan-girling ensues*
Blade: This is verboten.
Narrator: But Jet did it anyway
*read description of Blade* Yesssssssss. I love how you distinguish between his and Jet's size, because while Jet is pretty impressive in human terms, Blade is Royalty through and through and it shows. Ooo, does this mean Blade favors Sky in appearance while Jet takes after Ember?
"good at everything except for flying" Yes, he was rather too heavy to take to the air (i'm not mocking him, it's just kind of funny how Jet is the smallest but also loves flying while Blade is big and bulky but if Jet flew fast enough he could get away)
FLY JET FLY! HE CANNAE CATCH YOU!
Ember: You will punish him publicly
That moment when Jet knows resisting will only hurt more but the flight instinct is too strong is my favorite part. It's so inately human.
Oh gosh this is such a joy to read! I love being in Jet's head, and seeing Jet interact with his siblings is one of my favorite aspects of the story.
Stream of consciousness
*read description of Blade* Yesssssssss. I love how you distinguish between his and Jet's size, because while Jet is pretty impressive in human terms, Blade is Royalty through and through and it shows. Ooo, does this mean Blade favors Sky in appearance while Jet takes after Ember?
It's kind of a mixture. Blade and Sky have golden hair, but Blade has golden eyes like his father. Jet has black hair like his father, but he has his mother's eyes. And of course Jet is smaller, the smallest of the family, including Sky. Actually, Violet was the smallest besides Jet, as she's a spy, so she can blend in if she wants. Still, she's taller than most humans. Blade, as a soldier, was made to be bigger than even most Royalty.
Blade flew after me, clumsily weaving through the air. He’d always been bad at flying. I suspected it was because he was afraid of heights, though he was not one to show fear.
I spun into a corkscrew, then swooped down, skimming along the earth before shooting straight upwards into a large puffy cloud.
Mist spread over my skin. Not the strange flickering mist of grayspace but the familiar cool tingle of water vapor. I sliced into the depth of the cloud and hovered in its center.
Apparently, my crime had been enough to break Dad out of despondency. He wasn’t the Dad I remembered, though. He was often stern, but he’d never been cruel. Shutting off an M’s alarms was a significant offense, but I didn’t think it warranted such severe consequences. To revive corporal punishment—and to take my wings—
I shivered. No –I would not submit to something so extreme. Perhaps if I kept away for a bit, Dad would have time to reconsider his harsh commands.
I lifted the holocom out of my pocket. Then, I touched a few glowing sigils and entered my program for complete concealment.
I couldn’t stay away too long, though. I’d been so panicked that I’d forgotten for a moment, but the longer he stayed in grayspace, the more likely Peri would disintegrate. I had to get back to the Portal. Or call Glory and see if she could convince Dad to take Peri out. And—I hoped—convince Dad to be lenient. She was often able to influence Dad; she was like Mom in that way.
I’d have to face my punishment, sooner or later. There would be some punishment; that I was sure of. But if I could lessen it in some way before I went back—
The alternative was to live in Quarantine, cut off from my family and Sabra. I’d have to give up on Mom, just to be able to fly. No…I had to go home eventually, no matter what the consequences.
A gust of wind took my breath away. Electric pinpricks bit my skin.
A storm was gathering. I had to get out of the cloud before it produced lightning. Metal wings and lightning didn’t mix.
I flipped headfirst and plummeted out of the cloud. Wind whipped my clothes and hair. It was a west wind. Trying to blow me home.
Dark clouds gathered over Desolation, shutting out the sun, leaving only patches of blue sky. In the distance, the skyscrapers of Mag City proper gleamed, still drenched in sunlight.
I needed to call Glory. But first, I had to find a safe place to wait out the storm, and the worst of Dad’s wrath.
I turned toward Quarantine, the nearest shelter of any sort. Raindrops hit my head and back as I dropped lower and skimmed over the barren ground, so close I could smell the earthy scent of damp ash. A brilliant fork of lightning stabbed the ground. Thunder boomed.
The bundled steel cylinders of Quarantine rose up ahead, like silvery crystals jutting out of the earth. I leaned into the wind, willing my wings to carry me faster than the usual limit of forty miles an hour. Marble-sized hail hit my head and sharp pain blossomed across my skull.
Lightning danced over the plain, in time to a music I couldn’t hear. It illuminated flying black silhouettes—hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, swarming through the air. Ms.
One came perilously close to me. I could see its blank, determined eyes, its shoulder-length blond hair, unrealistically smooth and unruffled as it flew into the wind, parallel to me for a moment, before disappearing into the torrent pouring from the sky.
The only time the sky betrayed me. When Dad sent a storm.
Quarantine’s buildings loomed closer. “Thank the Winged!” I whispered under my breath, below the crashing of thunder.
I flew through the invisible barrier, and no Ms flew to catch me. My holomask must have been working.
I headed toward the roof of one of the lower buildings. There, I could slip inside through the top entrance. I’d have to figure out a cover story—but that was the least of my worries at the moment.
My head pounded. My vision blurred, and I couldn’t tell if it was because of the rain in my eyes, or because of a concussion from the hail. My back throbbed where more hail had hit it, and I was cold and drenched. I shivered as I flew, wobbling a bit, not caring about style as long as I landed.
A brilliant flash of agony exploded through me.
A violent crash tore me apart.
Blade being afraid of heights:
I am like Jet because I, too, believe running away from punishment will make my parents more lenient (which actually is kind of true, in Jet's case; Ember may calm down after a while if given enough time)
Metal wings and lightning don't mix--unless you're Ember. LOL Kidding. But does Ember use wings, and if so, how does he use his lightning?
Ember: *sends storm*
Jet: Dad you have left me no choice *plunges into a garbage can*
Jet: *is knocked unconscious by an unseen enemy*
Me: *incoherent shrieks of agony* MY BABY!!!
Eeeyaaa I really want to know what happens next!
Ember does use wings. He just can't use lightning while he's wearing them. That's the thing-- Royalty have an inherent longing to fly, because of their Winged ancestors, but they don't have the ability without artificial wings. Some have more of this desire than others. It's natural to want to fly, and natural to use lightning--but these two parts of themselves don't mix, not as they are. No Royal can use lightning while flying, or they'd fall.Helios wrote:
Metal wings and lightning don't mix--unless you're Ember. LOL Kidding. But does Ember use wings, and if so, how does he use his lightning?
Vague, indistinct voices.
A dull, throbbing ache in my head and back and arms. Beyond that, something soft cradled me like a cloud. Shadows flickered over my eyelids.
“Maybe we should take him to the hospital,” said a young female voice.
“Tania, you know our hospitals are deathtraps. As long as he doesn’t have serious internal injuries, the medpatches should fix him up.”
“Shouldn’t we get a medM, at least?”
My heart jolted. I didn’t want an M looking me over—though I was a little fuzzy about why at the moment.
“Nnn….” I managed.
“He said something!” said Tania.
“Probably just moaning in his sleep.”
A hand on my arm. I flinched. “Sorry! Are you awake?” said Tania.
I summoned the strength to speak. My voice came out hoarse through dry, cracked lips. “I don’t want a MedM. I’ll be okay.” I wasn’t sure about that….though a couple of medpatches would probably be more than enough to heal me, if I rested.
I opened my eyes. In the light from the window stood three figures. For a second I thought I might be dreaming. The girl looked normal—slim, delicate, with long blond hair, about fourteen—except she wore a purple dress, which looked suspiciously like a Royal wedding dress, complete with gold trim. A tall boy stood beside her—if he was a boy. His head looked like a mosa deer from Eclipse, its nose ending in two long, funnel-like nostrils; long, twisting antlers, gilded with gold, protruding from its forehead; large, dark eyes stared at me.
That wasn’t the strangest thing. Beside the mosa deer stood another boy—tall, slim, with black, windswept hair and Royal purple eyes.
It was me.
Except “I” wore a glimmering purple wedding robe.
My mind twisted sideways. I had to be dreaming. Or else my eyes were playing tricks on me. It was true, the light from the window blanked their features a bit. But mere sunlight could not create such hallucinations.
Then I remembered. Of course! It was Festival.
“I’m Cade,” said the mosa deer, tapping his chest. “This is my sister, Tania. You’re lucky we found you. In the rush to get inside before the storm hit, Tania lost track of her holodoll and we went back up to the roof to get it.”
“I tripped over you,” said Tania.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just hope I didn’t hurt you!”
“It's hard to tell, since you're invisible, but it seems like you were struck by lightning,” said Cade. “I could feel the scars where your shirt was shredded. I hope you don’t mind I took off what was left of the shirt.”
“Thank you for helping me.”
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“The person that looks like—Jet.”
Tania laughed. “That’s not a person. That’s my holodoll.”
“You must’ve gotten hit pretty hard to forget that Jet masks are forbidden,” said Cade.
“So, are you going to let us see you, or would you rather stay invisible?”
“Oh. Just a sec.” As soon as I moved my left arm, a jolt of pain shot through my shoulder and I lay still. Fighting the pain in my right arm, which was not quite as bad, I lifted the holocom from my pocket. Thankfully, it didn’t look damaged. I touched it, and the screen sprang to life. Then I brought up the holomask program, let the mask filter over my skin, and then turned off the invisibility program. According to the template, I now looked like boy about 17, my age, but with gray eyes, brown hair, and a good-looking but nondescript face.
Tania gasped, and her eyes widened.
“Is there something wrong?” My heart jolted. For a moment, I thought I might still look like Jet.
“N-no, nothing.” A smile tilted her lips. “It’s nice to see you.” She gave a little awkward bow, and Cade gave a low, flourishing one. The Jet holodoll did absolutely nothing—I didn’t know how I could’ve mistaken it for an actual person.
Cade tapped something in the folds of his robe, and his mask disappeared, revealing a good-looking boy about fifteen, tall and slim, with brown hair and hazel eyes.
I tried to sit up. Pain jabbed across my back and bolted through my head.
“Easy,” said Cade. “The medpatches will take care of you much better if you rest.”
“But I—have to get going.”
“Who do you know here? We can let them know where you are and that you’re okay.”
In order to get admittance to Quarantine, an outsider needed to know someone inside. I knew no regular citizen in Mag City, much less someone in Quarantine. Except maybe….
My mind flashed back to the past. Before Grandpapa’s death. Before all Nobility had been cast out of the Spire.
A little boy, black hair, piercing blue eyes. I liked to fly during the day, but he liked to fly at night, and sometimes we’d go flying together, closely chaperoned by Ms. He insisted the stars could sing, and he would say, “Can’t you hear the music?”
“Echo,” I said.
Cade’s eyes sparked. “Echo who?”
He exchanged astonished looks with Tania. Then he focused a suspicious gaze on me. “That’s not possible.”
“Why not?” I managed.
“He's my brother. And I haven’t seen him in twelve years. You wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you?”
“No, I—I thought he’d be here.”
“Is that why you have holoflage and wings? You risked being caught with them, so you could find him here? Why didn’t you come before?”
“I didn’t figure out how to block the sensors til I made this program.”
“That explains your illegal activity. It’s too bad it was all for nothing. If Echo’s in Quarantine, he’s nowhere that I’ve been able to go. He might be in one of the restricted zones…”
“There are restricted zones in Quarantine?”
He gave a mirthless laugh. “For the worst offenders.”
“Why would Echo be there? He was only five when he disappeared.”
Cade shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. It would only make sense if he’d performed some offense after he was older, but our entire family has not had a glimpse of him since the Schism.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I looked up to my brother. I was only three, but I remember how smart but almost…ethereal he was. As if he’d stepped from another world. Sometimes I think that’s where he went. Other times, I wonder if he didn’t get thrown to the Abyss.”
“But—he was just a kid! D—The Sovereign wouldn’t do that.”
“Wouldn’t he?” His eyes flashed. Then, a look of fear crossed his face. “Sorry. I went too far. Even in Quarantine—especially in Quarantine—questioning the Sovereign is not allowed.
“So, how do you know Echo? You must be Nobility if you have wings.”
I nodded, wracking my mind for a plausible story and a name for a Noble who Echo and I had played with, someone who might look like my holomask. I didn’t remember seeing Cade… he had probably been too little to play with us. But I had to be on the safe side, and ignore the skeleton of a backstory I’d created for my mask in favor of one I came up with on the spot. Someone I knew, perhaps, who also did not have a very prominent profile….
“We used to play together, with Jet in the Spire. I’m Cash Goldstorm.”
“That sounds familiar. I didn’t get to go out on my own much when I was three, so I can’t say I remember you.”
“I don’t remember much from then, either—just that Echo and I liked to fly together. When I learned he and his family were banished to Quarantine, I thought it was wrong that he should be punished for something he didn’t do.”
“Yes, it was ostensibly because they didn’t want to break up families. But it’s really because they think we’re tainted, because of our faulty DNA. One thing I know—Mom did nothing wrong. I don’t know the details, but she wasn’t involved in any conspiracy.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I know Mom. Even if she wanted to be a conspirator—she wouldn’t be able to keep it secret.” He smiled wryly.
“Oh. So she’s imprisoned unjustly.” My stomach flipped over. I had always thought Dad did what was right, even though it was hard; he didn’t imprison innocent people.
“Of course she is. But we’re never getting out without a pardon from the Sovereign, and I can’t see that happening.”
“Maybe I could… I don’t know… I still have some influence with the Royalty. Maybe I could advocate for you.”
He turned to the window, looked out onto the rain-soaked city. “I doubt they’d listen. They’d probably just think you were tainted too, and throw you in here. But if you feel like risking your freedom….” He turned to look at me. “Sorry. I just…hate this. Knowing none of us did anything wrong, and that there’s no escape. Not knowing where my brother disappeared to, all these years. Mom still has hope, and I want to hope… but Mom kind of lives in this fantasy world. And living here—it’s not like we don’t have some freedom, after a fashion.... Anyway. I hope you don’t mind me talking to you. You were a friend of Echo, and being an outsider, you’re more in tune with reality. Here, we kind of have to hold onto reality, otherwise, it slips away….” He turned back into the mosa deer. “During Festival, I let myself forget …. And the irony is, you show up, and remind me of my brother. I wish I had better news for you.”
“Well, he can’t be nowhere. Maybe I can see if he’s in one of the restricted zones. I mean, I have my holoflage, after all. It’s worked so far.”
“Really?” Tania looked up from the mattress where she was sitting, the Jet doll lying across her lap, one of its head panels removed, and the computer brain blinking through. “You would find Echo for us?”
“Tan, we can’t expect him to—“
“It’s okay," I said. "My holoflage got me through the Quarantine perimeter. Maybe it’ll get me into the restricted zones, too.”
“You can’t go like this. You have to recover first.”
“That will probably only take a day or so.” I needed to get out of here, get Peri back…. But I also needed to give Dad time to reconsider. And get better before I was punished….I owed these people my life. And they were Echo’s family. Innocents, imprisoned unjustly. How could I not help them?
“Thank you,” said Cade, beneath his expressionless mask. “If you find Echo, I don’t know how I can repay you.”
“You don’t have to. You saved my life. If I don’t find him, I’m going to keep looking. And I’ll keep advocating for you, even if they don’t believe me at first. No one innocent should ever be imprisoned. I can’t believe…the Sovereign would allow this.”
“There are many other innocent people imprisoned here. All because of the tainted DNA policy. Your advocacy may help us, but there will be many others still trapped. I’m not blaming you—you’re offering to do more than enough. But sometimes I wonder what it will take to effect real change. Everyone on the outside forgets about us. We’re lucky you fell into our lives. Though it’s too bad it took you getting struck by lightning.”
“Yeah…. It’s funny how Echo’s family was the first ones to find me. It’s almost like it was fate. Maybe it means I was meant to find him.”
“I hardly remember him,” said Tania, “since I was only two, but I loved him. It will be so wonderful to see him again!”
Cade glanced at her. “We should probably get back to the party. Sym and Rhyth might wonder where we are.”
“I need to fix Jet, though. I think he got struck by lightning too.”
“Maybe you should let Rhyth take a look at it. He’s better at tech than you are.”
“He makes fun of me! He doesn’t like Jet, either. He’d probably just wreck it.”
“Maybe I can take a look at it,” I said.
“Really?” Her face lit up.
“I need something to do while I’m lying here.”
“Ooh! Thank you!” She stood up, dragged the doll across the carpet to my mattress, and lifted the back of its head to show me. “There’s something wrong with the power source connection, I think. Cade’s right, I’m no good at this.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Don’t feel like you have to rush or anything,” said Cade. “Make sure you’re getting enough rest.”
“I will. I think…I might take a nap before I get to the doll, if you don’t mind.”
Tania shook her head. “I can just go down and pretend I’m waiting for our wedding night.”
“That’s my holomask. I’m marrying Jet.” She giggled. “I know it’s borderline blasphemy, but I love Jet so much, and this was my first Festival party without a chaperone, so…. I just couldn’t help it. And I have so many Jet holodolls anyway.”
“How many do you have?”
“Only ten. If I lived on the outside, I’d be able to get the maximum of fifty.” She sighed.
It was always strange that people wanted holodolls of me, and all kinds of other merchandise. I couldn’t get my head around it, so mostly I ignored that I had a huge fan club. Sometimes I talked to my fans, but they always got so crazy that I couldn’t really have any kind of normal conversation or relationship with them, so I usually cut off my com feed.
“I’ll never understand the obsession with Jet,” said Cade. “He’s good looking, but—”
“Oh, he’s so much more than that! He flies so amazingly, he’s brave, he—he’s free, more than anyone else.” She laid her hand over her heart. “He gives me hope.”
“He’s still a March.”
“But he’s different. If he knew what happened to us, he’d fly down and rescue us from Quarantine.”
“They manufacture his public image, you know.”
Tania glared at him.
“Sorry. I suppose I shouldn’t be so cynical. It’s true—I have more hope than I have had in a long time.” He looked at me, then back at Tania. “Let’s go. He needs his rest, especially if he’s going to help us. He did get struck by lightning, after all.”
“Oh, okay.” She looked down at me wistfully. “Take care of my Jet for me, okay?” She smiled.
Cade laid a guiding hand on her back, and Tania swept away in her elegant dress, while Cade glided solemnly beside her, the gold on his antlers gleaming in a ray of sunlight.
All I wanted to do was surrender to sleep, sink down into the beckoning nothingness that the medpatches had artificially created. But there was one thing I had to do first. I lifted the holocom, and called my sister Glory.
Jet: *sees holodoll* YEYAAA! *runs screaming* XD
Wait...so are the Savannahs Nobility? And Ember banished them?
Poor Jet. He's a celebrity and it's weird and confusing for him. My poor boi.
Seriously, though, Tania, what do you plan to do with 50 Jet holodolls? I mean I don't blame you for wanting, but what exactly will you do with them? Make a museum?
YESSSS Jet calls Glory! *spins with ecstatic delight*
I love getting a look at Quarantine and the different people in it. Also, Sym reference
Does Quarantine still have the Purity Police? Or was that something you excised later on?
The lightning ability comes from the Winged. But because they are hybrid, they have lost their ability to fly. Each generation, their Winged DNA becomes more "diluted" by human DNA, because there's no new Winged DNA introduced. The Royalty try to mitigate this by having a large gene pool of Nobility to choose from--the more "pure" their genes are, the better.Helios wrote:Ahh okay that makes sense. But wait: if the desire to fly is inherited from the Winged, where does the ability to use lightning come from?
Wait...so are the Savannahs Nobility? And Ember banished them?
Does Quarantine still have the Purity Police? Or was that something you excised later on?
The Savannahs are Nobility. Ember banished them for...reasons that will be revealed later on in the story . He banished the Vales, who are Nobility--and they're family, though the Marches barely acknowledge that they're related. Sky of course is a Vale--but all the rest of her family, even if they did not have direct part in the conspiracy, were banished to the Abyss. Guilt through DNA. Sky and her children are the only exception.
Quarantine has the Purity Patrol, yes. This is the same party where Sol meets Sym--just at a different point (you know, the piece of story from Sol's POV).
Glowing sigils floated across the holoscreen, some of them fading into the background and disappearing in a pattern that only made me sleepier.
I jolted awake, and pain stabbed my head and arm. I must’ve fallen asleep for a second.
Glory’s head glowed in front of me, waves of golden hair cascading over her shoulders. A look of alarm crossed her face. “Jet, are you all right?”
“More or less.”
“What does that mean?”
“I got struck by lightning.”
“Oh, no! I told Dad that the storm was getting too violent, but he wouldn’t listen. He—I’ve never seen him like this.” A glimmer of fear struck her eyes, and my stomach dropped. If Glory was afraid of Dad, how much hope did I have? “Are you injured? Where are you? We can bring you home, take care of you.”
“My head hurts, and so does my arm and my back. I got some medpatches, though, so I’ll be okay. I’m in a building. I’m not going to tell you where I am, not until Dad reduces the sentence.”
“I don’t blame you for flying away. I know how much your wings mean to you. But—with Dad as he is—I don’t know. He flew into a rage when he found out you hid from sensors. He just—lost control of his lightning like I’ve never seen. I almost got hit. Blade….well, he got in the path of the lightning and was struck unconscious. So you two have something in common for once.” She gave a small, sad smile.
“Is Blade okay?”
“Yes. I got him out of there. He’s in the infirmary. You’re lucky you weren’t here. Dad might have hurt you worse than the storm’s lightning. So it’s probably a good idea to stay away, let him cool off…. I’m not sure if he’ll reduce the sentence, but he won’t lose control and hurt you. Unless—he’s falling apart completely…in which case….” She looked away.
“What would happen…if Dad went mad?” I hardly wanted to think of it.
“We have contingencies for this—though rarely invoked, since the Sovereign has the right to interpret and enforce laws he sees fit. And he is the ultimate judge of whether he is competent to rule or not… The contingencies were strengthened with Justice’s rule. I could step in. I don’t want to do that, not yet. We’ve all been in pain, and it’s affected Dad deeply, maybe more than any of us. None of us know what he’s been dealing with, because he’s shut us off—and now—something triggered a breaking point.”
“That was me.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Something was bound to happen. I should have done something about it, but it was all I could do just to rule the city while Dad was…not up to it. I hoped that he’d be able to heal on his own and emerge able to rule—and now—I’m not sure what to do. I never would have thought he’d risk one of our lives by sending a thunderstorm while we were out flying. We’ll just have to wait it out, I think, and see what happens when he cools down. Maybe he needed some sort of outburst to bring him out of his despair, and he’ll go back to himself in a day or so.
“Are you somewhere safe?”
“Then maybe it’s a good idea to wait. As long as you’re sure you’re okay. I’ll call you when it looks like it’s safe to come back. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can do to calm him down without getting in his way.”
“Could you see if you can reduce the sentence?”
She nodded. “I can’t make any promises. We’ll see what happens. He...compared you to the Vales. The traitors.”
“All I did was try to help Mom!”
“Well, that just shows he’s not in his right mind. I don’t have all the facts either, since it was Blade that told me, and he can be biased against you sometimes. You modified Peri and put him in the Portal?”
“I wanted to gather data. He’s still in there, as far as I know. Could you get him out? There might be information in his mind that can tell us what happened to Mom.”
Her eyes brimmed with sorrow, dark depths in their gold facets. Her radiance somewhat masked it, but she was exhausted, worn away, and I wished I could help her somehow. I hoped we would find Mom’s cure, so everything would be all right again. “Please, Glory.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You don’t look good, Jet. Are you sure you’re all right? Your head is bleeding.”
I touched it. My fingers came away with blood. “It’s mostly stopped, I think. I have two medpatches, so it only hurts if I move.”
“Just—be careful. I don’t want to lose you too.” Her voice faltered.
“I just need some rest. I’ll be all right.” I stifled a yawn.
“Okay. I’ll fight for you, Jet.”
“I love you, Glory.”
“Love you too.” Her beautiful, sad face blinked off.
My heart aching, I lay back on the mattress, and let myself drift off to sleep.
The sharp throb of drumbeats pounded through my head, which ached like it had swollen to three times its normal size. I forced my eyes open. It was dark, and my medpatch had probably almost worn off by now. No wonder it hurt so much, even if I wasn’t moving.
As my nightvision adjusted, a strange landscape appeared around me. I was lying on a large red mushroom. And beneath its low umbrella, a carpet of blue fungus covered the ground, spreading to the rolling hills in the distance. In the sky, glittering with stars brighter than any on Mag City, hung a huge moon, a delicate ball of blue and green.
No—it wasn’t a moon, it was a planet. Virahsaea, as the natives called it. I was on a moon, the lightside of Eclipse, one of our worlds.
As I shifted to a sitting position, a spike of agony slammed through my head. Waves of pain reverberated through my skull and I leaned over, my head in my hands, biting my tongue to keep from crying out. Nausea clutched my stomach. I sat there, fighting it, until it subsided enough so I could lie back again. All I could do for a few moments was gasp for breath.
My head still throbbed, but at least the pain didn’t shred apart every thought and feeling. Beneath my back, the mushroom felt suspiciously like a mattress.
Of course—I wasn’t on Eclipse at all. I was still in the storage room in Quarantine. But my confusion could be forgiven; I wasn’t exactly in a condition to be thinking straight.
To my left, the boxes were disguised as tall amber mushrooms. Light flickered through them, along with a steady chant of voices that matched the beat of the drums.
“My children!” said a male voice. The other voices fell silent. “We have found this oasis in the midst of war. It’s fitting it should be on our homeworld—the place where all humanity originated. Here, we can indulge in our sacred rituals, find refuge from the horrors we escaped from, and prepare to defend ourselves in case the Nobility attack us again.” I peeked through the stalks of the mushrooms to see a fire flickering within a circle of stones, and six people in white robes sitting around it. The man who was speaking was tall and lissome, his silvery skin sheened with a soft radiance. Three others were regs from Mag City, with varying shades of brown skin and hair; another was a short, stocky albino from Ice; while another, from Mirage, was shimmering red, blue, and orange, signifying corresponding emotions--though I couldn't remember what those emotions were as I had rarely interacted with people from Mirage.
“Please join me in worship of yourselves,” continued the man, “of the beautiful divinity within you. I can see it, a glowing coal, inside each of your hearts. I am a simply a seer, with abilities the benevolent universe bestowed on me to let you see your full potential, and I claim no more holiness than each of you possesses. I pray to the universe that you see the beauty inside of you.”
The people murmured, and looked at each other, and I could almost feel the love and peace radiating from their faces. Then, they each lay down flat on their stomachs, facing the fire, their arms flung out ahead of them as if they’d just tripped and fallen in unison. They mumbled a nonsensical chant as the drumbeat started up again, along with the jingle of ethereal chimes that seemingly came from somewhere mystical, but was part of the holoprogram.
I’d heard of this cult, but I’d never seen its members, because Dad considered their views too dangerous, and he banished anyone to Quarantine who resisted reeducation. They didn’t seem dangerous, but that was because they accepted anyone--who wasn’t Nobility or Royalty, that is.
It was a good thing I was hidden by the boxes. Or mushrooms. All the same, it might be best if I made myself invisible.
I fumbled for my holocom. I couldn’t find it. I panicked—what if someone had taken it and Dad would find me?
Unable to feel it on the mattress, I turned onto my side—which shot pain through my head, but relieved my burning back. I reached over the side of the mattress and ran my hand along the carpet, beneath the holographic blue fungi. Nothing.
I stretched my arm out further, hoping I’d just flung it off during my sleep. Why hadn’t I made myself invisible before? Well, medpatches did haze your mind…and pain didn’t do much for clarity either….
My fingers brushed something smooth. Aha! I tried to grab it, but it had rolled too far away for me to slide my hand around it.
Dreading the pain, I gathered my strength and will, and then slowly, carefully, slid off of the mattress onto the floor. Knives stabbed my head and arm; flames raged over my back, and I crumpled up, bent over, shivering, trying to escape the pain.
I had to get the com. Maybe I could call Cade. He could bring me a medpatch.
But first, I had to get invisible.
I reached for the com again, slid my hand along the carpet, and my fingers met the cold metallic surface. I grabbed the com and clutched it close to my chest and brought up the invisibility program.
A yellow warning light splashed over fragmented holocode.
“What happened?” I whispered.
“The invisibility program has degraded—“
“Sh! Silent mode.”
“What was that?” said a female voice, from the direction of the Divine Humanity group.
“I think we have us an intruder,” said the cult leader.
I frantically dove into the program to try to fix it. It looked like the holoflage program was still intact, at least, so I didn’t look like Jet.
Footsteps thudded toward me.
I abandoned my efforts to patch the program and reached for the wing at my left shoulder. Maybe they wouldn’t notice the burns. As non-Royalty, they couldn’t see in the dark as well as I could.
I stifled a cry as the metal pried away from my flesh. I shoved the wing into my pocket. Then I sat up in order to slide the wing off my right arm.
A twisting slice through my left arm when I moved it.
It must be dislocated, I thought, somewhere in the back of my mind.
I forced my arm to move, and pain slashed through me. I forced myself through it but my arm wouldn’t obey. My weak fingers slid helplessly against the wing’s metal.
Three figures slipped around the tall red mushrooms.
One of them was the cult leader, and he glowed silver against the blackness of the night sky.
“Trying to hide his true colors.” He crouched down in front of me. “It’s no use. We can see what you are.” He brushed my arm with his fingers, right next to the lightning burn. Then he drew his hand away, looking at it with distaste, as if merely touching me was contaminating. He stood and stepped back.
The two others, the man from Ice and a woman from Mag City, reached down and grabbed me by the arms. I just managed to snatch my com and shove it into my pocket before they lifted me up.
Pain shot through my dislocated shoulder. I cried out.
Their grip only tightened as they half-carried me, half-dragged me to the fire.