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Sci-fi Writers

Sci-fi short story

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    ScoutFinch190
    @scoutfinch190

    @this-is-not-an-alien @obrian-of-the-surface-world @Gracie-J, @lissie-w, @fitz, @jbstanhope @rose-colored-fancy

    Here’s part two!

    (I block quoted the beginning because I’m considering removing it)

    A brief FYI: a character does say ” if I’m to go to h—, I’ll take some with me”, I know some people are sensitive to the use of the word ‘Hell’ in this regard, no offense intended. I was only trying to convey a character’s personality, and I’ve crossed out the last three letters.

    If you feel like it, would you mind letting me know about the following:

    1. Do any parts seem to drag?
    2. Does anything sound a little too cliche?
    3. I am considering adding a scene showing some protesters to shoe the social climate better, or should there be some overheard conversation?
    4. Does Zina feel like she fits in?
    5. Is Felix an enjoyable character?
    6. What are your thoughts on Leo?
    7. Opinion of Marco?
    8. Do i under or over write anywhere?
    9. Do i need to portray more of Jake’s internal struggles?
    10. Anything else you noticed?
    11. Does the story leave you wanting to read more?
    12. Any better title ideas?
    13. Does anything seem unrealistic?

    I know that this is a rougher draft, but I hope you all like it!

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>Silence</p>
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>by A.D. Kidwell</p>
     

    Jake sat up. He was in the middle of a circular room covered in mirrors. And before him stood his father. Jake gasped and shrank back. His father’s deep green eyes looked at him with such a depth of sadness he hardly needed to ask, “Why did you kill him?”

    Jake shouted, “I didn’t know it was Fabian!”

    “You should’ve known.” Jake’s father shook his head. “You’ve never been as bright as your brother. Why do you have to be such a… disappointment.”

    The floor began to give way beneath their feet, and Jake cried, “Dad!” before he was sucked down into the void.

    Jake’s eyes snapped open to the sound of footsteps echoing in an empty hall and his shoes scraping on concrete. He blinked, looking up at the guard dragging him as his eyes came into focus. He twisted against their arms, trying to writhe out of their grip as one of the guards punched him in the mouth. As Jake tried to gain his feet, he was tossed into a cell, dimly hearing, “You’ve got a new roommate!” before he hit the ground.

    He grunted as his side smacked against the floor, and the door clanged behind him. A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he was rolled onto his back. A boy with dark skin stared down at him. Jake tried to sit up and the kid helped him, saying, “I’m Felix.”

    Jake raised an eyebrow; his cellmate was a lithe youth who was a little too young for the harsh realities of prison. I didn’t know they locked up kids. “Nice to meet you?”

    Felix smiled, his bright dark eyes twinkling from under his mop of unkempt curls, “What’s your name?”

    “Jake.” He looked around. It was a decent-sized cell, with two beds devoid of pillows and blankets and a toilet and sink in the far back.

    Felix sat on the edge of a bed, “Want some water? I can fill the cup.”

    Jake shrugged, curling up against the far wall, watching his cellmate. “You’re pretty trusting.”

    “I’m not.” Felix handed him the cup, “I just like being nice to people.”

    “You should be careful.”

    Felix shrugged, “I try.”

    Jake glanced at the kid as he eased himself onto the bed. He looked as if he had recently gone through a growth spurt, but he was too thin. Not like how some boys had a fast metabolism, but skeletal.

    “Lights out!” a guard yelled, and the pallid overheads turned off.

    “Goodnight.” said Felix.

    After returning the greeting, Jake laid down and tried to sleep. But he kept on seeing Fabian’s face vanishing into the blizzard when he closed his eyes.

     

    The next day, Jake woke to an alarm-like sound and clanging doors. Over the noise of the speaker, he heard a voice say, “All prisoners move to the food court.”

    Jake stepped into the hall, looking around as he saw others shuffling towards a set of double-doors. The other prisoners seemed so… resigned. Jake felt his stomach clench. He remembered again how much he’d hated boarding school. This place was just the same: rigid, unforgiving, and lonely. But at least then I had Fabian with me. Jake felt his eyes burn and blinked rapidly. Well, now I’m paying the price – it’s best I deal with it.

    He brushed shoulders with a burly man and the fellow grunted, Jake stepped away, keeping his head down, muttering, “Sorry.” It was best to lay low, be unoffensive… then he could act undetected. Jake stepped through a wide entry to the mess hall. But what was there to do? He would be here until he died. Jake gulped. What was there to do to fight it? he wasn’t even a casualty; he was a pest.

    “Wanna sit by me?”

    Jake snapped to reality as the other prisoners lined up to receive their trays of unappetizing mush. Felix stepped in front of him, saying, “We’re cellmates, we should try to get along.”

    Jake nodded, “Whatever.”

    They sat in a far corner of the court, where the prisoners were sparser. Jake hurried to eat the tasteless food.

    “So, why’re you here?”

    Jake choked, hacking and beating his chest as he forced it down, “Theft.” Sort of true… I guess… ­

    “You’re not as bad as some of the guys in here.” Felix swallowed, “Most are guilty of worse than just trying to get by.”

    Just trying to get by. It was a little more than that. Jake raised an eyebrow. “What are you in here for?” Just trying to get by is no excuse.

    Felix glared at his food, “I picked a fight with an enforcer trying to hurt my mom.” His hands balled into fists, “I didn’t even have a trial.”

    Jake shrugged, “Lemme guess, you and your mother are poor, and that enforcer was rich.”

    Felix glanced up at him, “How’d you know?”

    “I… knew an enforcer, she would sometimes talk about her work with me.” Jake rubbed the back of his neck, “the surveillance systems are so good nowadays that it’s easy for them to find out if someone should, in the leader’s eyes, go to jail. Then they just send the forces over, and you’ll never see the light of day again. But the problem is that the rich are so busy with their own affairs and greed that the poor are overlooked.”

    Felix crossed his arms, “I don’t like this lady.”

    Jake smirked, “Why not?”

    “Because she’s not thinking for herself.”

    Jake said, “No, she was. she wanted to change things and thought that being an enforcer was the best option.”

    Felix drummed his fingers on the metal table, “Oh ok. She’s not so bad then.”

    Jake frowned, “How old are you?”

    He said, “Twelve, or thirteen, I don’t know.”

    Jake’s grip on his fork tightened and it bent in his hand. “Do you tell people your age normally?”

    Felix shook his head, “Most don’t care.”

    “You’re very open with me, you realize that?”

    Felix shrugged, “We have to share a toilet… not at the same time – just that it’s in the same room and all.”

    A voice commanded over the speakers: “Inmates go to the courtyard.”

    Jake got up with his plate before Felix said: “leave it here: workers’ll clean it up.”

    Jake set his plate down and they maneuvered outside.

     

     

    The brakes hissed as the transport stopped. Marian embarked, keeping her head low and her hood pulled firmly over her ears. She held onto a rail mechanically as the tram leapt to life and sped across Olympia to one of the many housing districts.

    Olympia was one of the two pole-cities that dominated the planet Labyrinth. It was the primary and origin-planet of life on the galaxy. It was roughly average sized, but Labyrinth stood out for its various eco systems through the many tunnels that pierced it. There were so many tunnels under the thrid-infested and wasteland-like surface that many parts of it remained undiscovered, and most people lived either in Olympia in the south pole, or in Phakia, the north pole.

    Others lived in small villages below the surface, predominately Enteks in their own ‘bubble towns’ made to have the different atmosphere of Marian’s home, who would work on the massive gravity train that connected the two cities. Life was different for the Enteks here, than on Marian’s home-planet (which in reality was more of a moon than a planet) but without a respirator she couldn’t hope to find any acceptance in their societies. It was obvious, she was an outcast.

    A man shouldered past her, and she stumbled. Her hood fell back, and her pointed ears were exposed. Even as she put her hood back on, the damage was done. Humans narrowed their eyes, and she could hear their murmurs of confusion, disapproval, and hatred. one woman turned to her daughter and said, “You see that woman with the pointy ears? She wants to kill us, don’t touch her.”

    She gritted her teeth and staggered out of the car as soon as the doors opened, even though it wasn’t her stop. She’d walk home. Walk off the hate, the bitterness that had reached an all-time high in the past few months. She huffed and rammed her fists into her cargo pants, scurrying along the bright streets of the outlet district.

    Two fashionable ladies – one with skin dyed blue – strode past her, balancing perfectly on their stiletto heels. Marian snorted, those two would be worthless in a fight. Their first kick would rip their metallic leggings, and while they had good balance, if they tripped, they’d get a sprain. She smirked, she may not be stylish, but practicality trumped fashion… and… she was too bony to reveal so much of herself. Jake thought I was pretty… but he was probably lying.

    As the women noticed her and began talking among themselves, Marian ducked into the space between two shops, hoping to cut through some back alleys to avoid more unpleasant interactions and to just be alone with her thoughts.

    A slight rasp sounded behind her and she whirled to face a pair of ultraviolet eyes staring out at her from the green lens of a respirator mask. She gulped and her lungs constricted, backing away.

    “What are you doing here sinner?”

    Marian snorted, “I could say the same as you.” She felt her heart fluttering, remembering the agony of the first time she ever breathed oxygen. “You could get punished just for talking to me. Go away.”

    The Entek sneered, “You have no authority to order” –

    Marian and the Entek flinched, both simultaneously sensing a sinister presence in the alley besides mutual animosity. Marian looked over her shoulder and saw someone fill the end of the alley that opened onto the luxurious street. She noticed a metallic gleam reflecting the orange lights filling the alley, she went pale… a military-class cyborg? Here? Why? As he began to approach them, she spun on her heel, grabbed her male counterpart’s hand, and dragged him after her as she dashed down the alley.

    Marian didn’t know how long they were running, but soon Marian saw the friendly glow of the shopping street coming from an alcove. They slowed, and entered, the far end from which the light streamed was blocked by a high fence. Marian and the man sagged against the wall, Marian said “I think we lost him…” then she heard the faint sigh of a hydraulic system often used on cyborgs.

    The light went out, and the shadows around them started to move. Marian’s mouth went dry as cyborgs appeared out of the shadows, completely surrounding them. Marian drew her gun and opened fire on the strange, obsidian cyborgs. Several fell, but they quickly regained their feet and tackled her and the man. before she knew it, she was pinned down and saw the entek gasping like a fish out of water, his respirator yanked from his head. She cringed as a syringe was inserted into his neck and he went limp. One of the cyborgs flung him over its shoulder and turned to Marian, saying in its raspy voice, “Knock her out, we have no orders concerning her.”

    Marian tried to wriggle free as a syringe approached her, she screamed as she felt the sharp pain of a needle pricking her and then she fell, unconscious.

     

    When Marian opened her eyes, she was still laying in the alley. She groaned and sat up, looking at the sky, It’s already dark? How? She rubbed her face and got to her feet, unsure of everything that had happened, but she was fairly sure that she had nearly been a victim of another of the Evanbrook Disappearances. It was called Evanbrook because of the last high-profile victim – the son of an actress. She leaned against the wall, she had to tell the chief about this. Maybe then he’d take some notice? This wasn’t the only kidnapping that she desired to investigate, there had already been over a hundred in recent years. But most were either Enteks or the poorest human members of society – even criminals. She shook her head, Evanbrook aside, there were still criminals at night and she was a young woman highly disoriented.

    When she finally got home, the lights automatically flared on and she removed her hoodie, she glanced at herself in the mirror, her bones looked sharp beneath her black camisole even though she was covered in muscle. She fingered a bruise on her shoulder and winced at the raw skin where she’d scraped her cheek on the concrete when she’d been pinned down.

    She sagged onto her couch, feeling like a schoolteacher’s discarded skeleton model. Her robotic cat mewed and climbed on her lap. Marian smiled wanly, “Hello Lux.” She stroked the faux fur, she wished she could own a real cat, but that wasn’t possible with how much she was absent. She pulled the robot to her chest, feeling its cheek rub against hers, she said, “At least you can’t hurt me.”

    The cat purred and curled in her lap as she reached for the remote. Nothing was available that she’d really want to watch, but it controlled the house. She pressed a red button in the center and said, “Get me a dose of my sleep meds.”

     

     

    Marian’s coffee went flying as Brutus tripped her next morning. Her arms flung forward, and she turned it into a handspring. She landed on her feet and straightened her grey uniform, “Waste of coffee…” she muttered before striding down the hall. Brutus never took into account that she was faster than most.

    Brutus tossed his yellow dreadlocks, “Aren’t you gonna fight back sharpy?”

    “Not worth my time.” Marian called as she rounded a corner. It really wasn’t worth her time. She had to go to Chief’s office, and he always gave her precious little time to do anything, no matter what she’d been assigned to do. And, having barely gotten her current position, she made sure no one had any reason to fire her. And she had no time to waste when there was more important things – like a kidnapping. Someone grabbed her wrist, and she was spun around sharply, forced to stare into Brutus’s acne-scarred face and featureless grey eyes. She wrinkled her nose, restraining the urge to disable him for life.

    “Oh is it?” Brutus smiled viciously. “With Evanbrook it’s only a matter of time before the Enteks start an uprising, and when they do, I’m certain you’ll be joining them.”

    A pathetic rat like yourself is definitely not worth the little effort it would take me to hospitalize you, and for the record, they do not even consider me one of their own, I wouldn’t fight on their side in a war. Is what Marian wanted to say, but instead she said, “I have to go.” And twisted free of Brutus’s grip, storming down the hall in a rage. If Enteks and humans were considered equals, then she would’ve told someone about the way he was trying to bully her. But as that wasn’t the case, she silently avoided him and daydreamed of ways to watch the creep suffer.

    She paused in front of Chief’s door, hesitating before knocking.

    “Come in.” came his hard voice.

    Marian gently opened the door and stepped in.

    He was examining the holo-screen in front of him. moving with swift decisiveness as he flipped through various files. “I need you to bring this man to the station.” he pulled up a profile photo of a man in his fifties with an eyepatch.

    Marian narrowed her eyes, “Sir, forgive my curiosity, but why didn’t you contact me virtually for this like you normally would’ve?”

    “Because…” he stood, “this man is more than what the database says. And I know I can trust you with this because you treat any failure as if it risked the loss of your job because it does. So don’t fail me.”

    Marian nodded, “Yes sir…” she squared her shoulders, “But I also have something to tell you.”

    “Lemme guess, it was about that ‘kidnapping you told me about?”

    Summoning her courage, Marian took in a breath and said, “Forgive my questioning, but is there any action I can take to—”

    “No.”

    “Sir, please.” Marian stepped closer, “Last night I was nearly kidnapped. I saw a group of cyborgs unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think” –

    “That I am unaware of what we’re dealing with?”

    “Well, no I—”

    “You are not in on the Evanbrook case.”

    “But it’s been two years and you– we’ve done nothing.” Marian pleaded, “The kidnappings are increasing in frequency every day, with a new disappearance almost three times a week—”

    “Pointy, you know nothing of what’s going on,” he sneered, “Or do you not trust your superior?”

    Marian swallowed and bowed her head, “Well…”

    “Do you trust that I am handling it?”

    “Yes… sir.” She muttered.

    “Good. Now, if you don’t mind, I have important business to attend to. Don’t give me a reason to fire you.” He sighed and swiped a file towards her watch, saying, “Bring this guy in, then take the day off to get your thinking straight.”
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
    Marian pulled her hood low, ramming her hands into her trench coat’s pockets. She didn’t know what would be worse – having no self-respect, or having it and being treated like trash. She huffed as she wove her way through the crowd. Eyes scanning the various people. Most of their hair was dyed a vibrant color or dark, and their outfits ranged from conservative to abstract works of holographic vinyl and neon spandex. She sighed and leaned beside the doorway of a convenience store.

    The doors sighed and her head shot up. An android garbled, “No loitering.” Before ducking back into the shop.

    Marian settled on a nearby park-bench, rubbing her temples. This was getting too far. She couldn’t just stand by and watch as people were disappearing. It was a disgrace to her profession to let this happen.

    “Get off.”

    Marian glanced at the group of teenagers frowning at her. Following the direction of the speaker’s finger, she saw the sign on the back of the bench, which said, ‘Humans only’. She sighed and got to her feet as a boy in the group shoved her to a dilapidated park bench near a maintenance building. She heard their snickers and clenched her fists. She whirled around to face the boy that had pushed her, saying, “It’s rude to push a woman.”

    The boy sneered, “What’re you gonna do about it?”

    Marian narrowed her eyes, “One day you may push one and she’ll push back.” she strode to the bench before she could be taunted anymore.

    A man stepped out of the grocery store. A wave of energy impacted her as he passed her bench. Marian’s spine stiffened and she followed him with her eyes.

    He paused, glanced at her, rolled his shoulders, and continued on his way.

    Marian didn’t need a second glance to remember his appearance; a weathered face, an eyepatch, and grey hair.  She pretended to be flipping through files on her watch until he was a safe distance away. then she pulled up her hood and began to follow him.

    He walked swiftly, his eye roving the surroundings. He turned his head and Marian slipped behind a lamppost. As he turned away, she frowned, had his eye been purple? That eye color was distinctive to Enteks, but he was classified as a human in the database.

    She shook her head and followed him onto a tramway, crossed town, and disembarked in a dingy living complex that reeked of poverty. The apartments seemed to hunch over the narrow street, their crumbling dark surfaces making the place look bleak and sad.

    The man turned into an alleyway, glancing over his shoulder. Marian hid behind the corner; she fingered the tranquilizer in her pocket. The energy emanating from him was almost like interacting with one of her own kind back on Atlantis… but much stronger.

    She stepped into the alley, saying, “Leo?”

    The man paused, his key poised. “Are you sent to kill me?”

    Marian frowned, “I’m an enforcer.”

    “Lemme guess, that old chief of yours wants me to not investigate another kidnapping case?”

    Marian tensed, “I was told to bring you in for questioning, and that’s what I’m here for.” Is this guy investigating Evanbrook?

    Leo smiled and shook his head, “If I refuse what are you gonna do? tranquilize me?”

    “I hope you come willingly.”

    Leo sighed, “If you want to banter, you may as well come in. Your hyperactive brain’s giving me a headache and I need a pain-killer.” He opened the door, looking over his shoulder, “Why not come in?”

    Marian froze, this had to be a trap? “What are you doing?”

    “Inviting you to come in and share some food with me… unless you feel uncomfortable sharing such a rite of camaraderie with not only a human, but someone you were told to arrest.”

    Marian gulped. “But I was simply told to bring you in.”

    Leo said, “Well, I don’t see much difference.” he changed the subject, “It’s easy to see you’re an entek, worked with several myself. Really underestimated people. How d’you get hired?”

    Marian flushed, “Hard work.”

    “I’m not holding this door open forever.”

    Marian gulped and stepped in.

    Marian wasn’t expecting to be surprised by a well-decorated and immaculate apartment. Her gaze scanned the hangings that skillfully hid cracks on the walls and a mantelpiece decorated with three books and a picture frame facedown. She stared at them. When had she last seen a book? When she still lived in Atlantis?

    “Are you even hungry, or did you grab something to eat when you were following me?”

    Marian turned to Leo. He stood in his kitchen, putting some brown slabs in a white hydrator. Leo set out a couple plates on his dining table. Four chairs encircled the table. Marian chose to sit in the least-worn of the chairs, “Your apartment has a woman’s touch. Do you have a family?”

    “OW!” Leo dropped a metal ladle that had been in the hydrator pot, rubbing his palms together. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “No… I had a gal I know help me.”

    Marian raised an eyebrow, “Do you need any help?”

    “Nope. Got it.” Leo recovered and scooped out the pieces of plant-matter, serving them onto a couple chipped plates. “Want bread?” as he glanced up at Marian, she noticed that his eye was indeed purple.

    Marian nodded. “Why are you feeding me?”

    Leo shrugged, “I prefer to be hospitable.” He put a plate in front of her, “Anyway, you seem lost.”

    Marian clenched her fists, “I…”

    Leo took a bite out of the imitation meat on bread. “Don’t try guessing, you’ll only make a fool of yourself.”

    Marian tensed.

    Leo smirked and crossed his arms, “You came here to bring me in?”

    Marian nodded, “It’s only for questioning, chief would’ve said if it was more than that.”

    Leo leaned forward, “When has enforcement ever brought someone in ‘only for questioning’? And why would they send you after me? I’m afraid you aren’t much of a match for me, but you’re still a gifted fighter.”

    Marian crossed her arms, “I’m only an agent of the law.”

    Leo rolled his eyes, “Did you get that quote out of a textbook?”

    “Sir, I just want to get this job over and done with.”

    “But you haven’t touched your food.”

    Marian huffed, “I don’t think it’s wise of me to eat with you.”

    Leo chuckled low. “I’d do the same in your shoes.”

    A knock on the door alerted Leo. He leaned forward before slumping back, and at a wave of his hand the door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman with dark skin. She stepped in and put her hands on her hips.

    He stood up, “Hi Zina. Hungry?”

    Staring at Marian, she demanded. “Is this another one of those assassins that tried to kill you?”

    “The correct response is ‘Yes’ or ‘no.’”

    Zina rolled her eyes.

    Leo chuckled, “but to answer your question: she looked lost. Came here to bring me in for questioning.” He stood by Zina, waiting for her to wrestle free of her coat.

    Zina rubbed her forehead, “Oh great…”

    Leo patted her shoulder, “Don’t worry, I think she’s pretty tame.”

    Zina gave Marian a long, hard look before ushering Leo into another room. Before the door closed, Leo poked out his head, saying, “Feel free to read something while you wait.” Before vanishing behind the door.

    Marian had watched the previous exchange like a sleeper beholding a dream. As Leo opening the door from twenty feet away replayed in her mind.

    “Opening the door like that in front of her? You’re nuts!” chided Zina, her voice muffled behind the door.

    “Well, if I turned my back on her, then she might’ve harmed me.”

    “But now she knows.”

    Leo shrugged, “Oh well. She should know who she’s trying to arrest. Anyway, the fact that she’s both an entek – without a respirator – and an enforcer – clearly a higher ranking one – both have me curious.”

    “Curiosity killed the serpent, Leo…” Zina sighed.

    Leo chuckled, “She’s not too dangerous.”

    Zina huffed, “You should stop letting your gift get to your head. You could be in real danger someday.”

    “That’s why I’m always alert. Anyway. I could sense the confusion she was feeling.”

    “Last I checked, you don’t have telepathy, nor are you a psychiatrist.”

    “Just because I’m terrible at it doesn’t mean I don’t have it. You know she can probably hear us through the door, right?”

    As their voices lowered, Marian gulped and bit her lower lip. Should she run away? get reinforcements? Try to tranquilize the two and bring them both in? but what had they done? Why was Leo letting her learn all this?

    She got up and meandered to the books, seeing that they must be all the same copy, she opened the newest one. On the first page the name Paul was scrawled in a child’s hand – in real ink! – curious, she turned the page and began to read, “There are many rumors surrounding the creation of the universe, one of the chief stemming from the complexity of the world around—” Marian slammed the book and shoved it back onto the mantel, her heart racing. She squeezed her eyes shut and forced her breaths to even out as she returned to her seat. It was just a dumb book, nothing more.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Jake paused, gasping in a deep breath. How long had he been digging? He looked around the tunnel, they were told to do nothing but dig. He leaned against the muddy wall, closing his eyes momentarily.

    “Hey, you!” a rough voice hollered at the entrance to the tunnel.

    Jake leaned against his shovel, “Me?” His eyes drifted to the whip then back to the man. “What is it?”

    The guard grabbed the collar of Jake’s shirt and snarled, “Get back to work!”

    Jake wrinkled his nose, stealing a glance over his shoulder at Felix, his skin shining with sweat as he pushed his mop of hair out of his eyes as he paused to watch. He locked eyes with the guard, “You really should brush your teeth. Your breath smells like rancid onions.”

    The Guard shook jake, “You apologize for your lip!”

    “Whoa, I was just telling the truth.”

    The guard punched Jake in the jaw, “Say you’re sorry and get back to work you louse!”

    Jake put his hands up, “Ok, I’m sorry and get back to work you louse!”

    The guard yelled and threw Jake down, kicking him in the side, “Anymore lip outta you,” he gave Jake a lash with his whip, “And I’ll have you working without your bionics!”

    Jake panted as he sat, rubbing his thigh, “Ok, I’m sorry I insulted you and I’ll get back at it. Happy now?”

    The guard grumbled and stomped away as Jake resumed digging… there was a guilty pleasure in annoying stupid people, but it got to his head a little too quickly. Like just now.

    Felix hissed, “You idiot!”

    Jake shrugged, “He was looking at you too. I simply made him angrier at me.”

    Felix huffed and threw a shovelful of dirt into their cart. “You gotta be careful around here, these thugs are hired for their cruelty.”

    “So I can trust that guy to make good on his threats?”

    “If he remembers.”

    Jake nodded. “Thanks for the tip… by the way, you look pretty sweaty, are you ok?”

    Felix jerked his chin in a nod.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Long after the sun set, they were ushered directly from the labor fields to bed.

    Jake laid down, groaning slightly as his back cramped, “Thought they’d at least serve us two meals.”

    Felix ran a hand through his hair. “Nope. They say that it’s supposed to be loaded with extra nutrients, but I don’t buy it.” Felix rolled onto his other side so he face the wall, “Also, next breakfast, be sure to stuff your face. You didn’t eat enough this morning. I thought you’d faint.”

    Jake smirked, “I’m a little more durable than that.” as he rubbed his back, Man, for someone who can beat up a man twice my size digging all day is killing my back.

    Felix rolled over to face Jake, “What did you even do before getting here?”

    Jake shrugged, “Odd jobs.” He hoped the half-truth would suffice.

    Felix wrinkled his nose, “Oh… well, good night Jake.”

    Jake smirked, “Good night Felix.”

     

    He was surprised at how well he’d slept. And the cycle of waking early, eating a disgusting breakfast, and working long hours continued day by day. Jake found his body getting stronger and less sore. But he was always hungry, which he knew how to handle… it helped him focus on the situation at hand, and not on… past situations. However, he still couldn’t stop thinking about his brother, and would’ve become like the other prisoners, mechanical slaves… if it wasn’t for Felix.

    Jake couldn’t help liking Felix and enjoying his company, he appeared to have gone through great suffering, but the child was happy and lively, a stark contrast to his surroundings and the darkness the boy had to deal with every day. It made Jake smile to see a child who was so strong.

    One morning, as Jake and Felix were finishing their meals, a tall man with broad shoulders and narrow hips strode into the mess hall, saying, “Prisoners 189 and 225.”

    Two men stood up. The prison was so big it was hard to befriend anyone besides whoever you shared a cell with. But Jake noticed these two had fully sunk into their slavery.

    The big-shouldered man beckoned them, “You have been selected.”

    The two shuffled slowly, as if a faint shred of will kept them hesitant. Two cyborg guards appeared and escorted the men out.

    The broad-shouldered man scanned the mess hall, then spun on his heel and marched back the way he’d came.

    As soon as they were gone, Felix’s shoulders relaxed. He said, “That was the Warden. Every so often, a few prisoners get selected, and they’re never seen again.”

    Jake scraped the remainder of his food off the tray, “What happens to them?”

    “There’s rumors,” Felix crossed his arms. “Some say they’re put to death and their bodies are taken apart and used in surgeries, others that they’re released, or that they’re donated for experimentation.” Felix narrowed his eyes, “But it’s always when they’re completely broken like those two.”

    “Is that what happened to your old cellmate?”

    Felix’s fist clenched, “Yup. But they still had to drag him.”

    Jake glanced at Felix, “What will you do if you’re selected?”

    Felix shook his head, “I won’t. I’m never going to break like them. and if I’m to go to h—, I’ll take some with me.” after a bit of silence he turned to Jake, “What about you?”

    Jake shrugged, “I don’t know.”

    “Please try not to break like them… I’ve been…” Felix shrugged, “It’s easier to break when you’re alone.”

    Jake smiled and put a hand on Felix’s shoulder, after a long silence, he slowly said, “I will do my best.” And it was one of the most truthful things he’d ever said.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Zina and Leo stepped out of the room. Leo looked slightly triumphant, and Zina pouty, but by then Marian was too nervous to say anything. Leo smiled, “may I ask you a question?”

    Marian crossed her arms, “If I can ask one in turn.”

    Leo sat and began eating again, “How did you get to your current position? Most people hate your kind.”

    Marian crossed her arms, “I fought every step of the way.”

    Leo smiled, “Do you mind if I ask you more?”

    Marian sighed, “Okay.”

    Leo leaned back, “Why are you an enforcer? You don’t have to answer me this right away. I’d prefer it if an honest girl like you thought it out first.”

    Marian bit her lower lip, then quickly asked, “How could you open the door from across the room?”

    Leo smiled, “You know how you can say things with your mind?”

    Marian leaned back, “More like show, really.”

    Leo shrugged, “Well, I got the ability to move things with my mind. And I can sense what people think, but I’m not eloquent with telepathy.”

    Marian said, “But since you’re clearly a human, how the stars did you have this power, and why are you asking me so many questions?”

    “First.” Leo crossed his arms, his ears coloring slightly, “It was manufactured.” He leaned back, “I’m asking you all these questions because you look lost and I’m hoping they’ll point you in the right direction. Also,” he glanced at the clock, “do they have a specific time they wanted us to arrive at the station?”

     

     

    Leo went with Marian so quietly that she didn’t even need to handcuff him. He showed her a shortcut to get to the station faster, and when brought in, was pretty tame. As he was escorted back, he looked over his shoulder and bade Marian a good night. But when she was finally alone, his requests churned with her already turbid thoughts. Why was Leo so nice to me? Will I regret arresting him? He mentioned Evanbrook. I wonder if I could help him investigate.

     

     

     

    SMACK!

    Jake tried to duck the blow, but he wasn’t fast enough. He staggered sideways, rubbing his ear.

    The guard laughed, “Work harder!”

    Jake growled a curse to himself and honed his attention on digging. His arms burned, but he pushed himself onward. They’d been working much longer lately, and with the lack of food, it was beginning to wear on him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Felix glaring, he shook his head. Breathing heavily, he had little time and energy to think about much more than digging.

    “You ok?” Felix rested his small hand on Jake’s arm.

    Jake nodded, “You?”

    Felix sighed, “Yep. But you’re wearing out.”

    Jake grimaced as he forced another pile onto the cart, “I’m 29.”

    Felix’s brows knit together, “I didn’t realize you were that old.”

    Jake smirked and continued working. “I guess you’d think I’m pretty old, but it’s mostly an act.”

    “It’s not.”

    Jake didn’t dare pause, but he sighed, “I shouldn’t lie to you… just don’t worry about me, ok?”

    Felix paused for a moment, then nodded and continued digging.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Marian nearly dropped her backpack, she blinked and made sure she was seeing the right person. The eyepatch and stiff posture were unmistakable however, and she rushed across the bustling sidewalk to the park bench. “They let you go?”

    Leo turned to her, unsurprised. “They can’t just throw me in prison on a whim.” He gestured to the empty space beside him, “If you have a minute, would you like to sit?”

    Marian obliged, “What’s up with you?”

    Leo raised an eyebrow, “I could say the same.” His eyes scanned the park, “Have you thought about my question?”

    Marian sighed, “Yes.”

    “And?”

    She huffed, “It’s the closest thing to a life I have.”

    Leo raised an eyebrow, “Really? A woman like yourself?”

    Marian snorted. It’s not like I have any friends.

    Leo turned to her, “You seem a decent person to me. You’re not like the other enforcers they train nowadays.” He smiled, “I’d like for you to consider me a friend. If you ever need help with anything, just give me a call.” He pushed a piece of paper into her hand, “If you come back same time tomorrow, I’ll bring you a sandwich.” And stood to leave.

    “Wait…” Marian blurted.

    He paused midstride, “Hmm?”

    “Could you… um… could you bring a croissant instead? If it’s not too much trouble?”

    He laughed, “See you tomorrow… pardon me, but what’s your name?”

    “Marian.” She pushed through the lump in her throat.

    Leo was still for a few seconds, then he hurried on.

     

    Back at her apartment. Marian flopped onto her couch and heaved a sigh. She hugged herself as she felt her throat tightening again, Lux hopped up beside her, meowing curiously. She turned to him. “Well, I think I made friends today.”

    Sure, he was old enough to be her father, but he was nice to her, and had treated her with respect. If he pitied her, it only came across as kindness. And pity didn’t really offend her… when was the last time someone had pitied her? He had even offered her help! As she took off her jacket, she felt the piece of paper in her pocket. She pulled it out and saw that it was a business card… she looked inside, the print reading a call number and address, but what was most interesting was his occupation – private investigator.

    Marian stared at the card. Leo was immune to the law from all she’d gathered, maybe he could look into Evanbrook.

     

    Jake handed Felix a shovel, “This one’s a little lighter than the others.”

    Felix smiled, “Thanks, but you should have it.”

    “Hey,” Jake smiled, “I told you not to worry about me.”

    They were escorted to a new digging site, the guards doing round patrols to make sure the prisoners were doing their jobs. They had a certain amount of dirt they were supposed to dig each day, and if they didn’t reach it, there’d be hell to pay. It was especially difficult with how many prisoners were being selected. It used to be about two every few weeks, now ten would be picked at a time.

    The Warden was here to watch them, tapping a long switch against the stony ground. A light flashed on his watch, and he held it up, a hologram of a woman appearing. Beginning a conversation with her near Jake and Felix.

    “Look, if I give you anymore, then I will be out of workers!”

    “Then we will make more arrests.”

    Jake motioned for Felix to be quiet. They kept digging but moved gingerly so as to make the minimal amount of noise.

    “But I need the most compliant prisoners to stay, at least until the end of the month. You want me to dig up the entire mountain, and I can’t with half my workforce!”

    “Then give us some of your troublemakers… we can break them.”

    Jake nearly dropped his shovel, he turned to Felix who had gone still, his eyes widening. Jake inwardly cursed, who was the woman? Who would they be given to? It was clearly not releasing that was happening.

     

    The next day, Leo and Zina were already there when Marian arrived. She had actually dressed both out of uniform and somewhat nicely that day – sporting a beanie, her trench coat, and a pair of cargo pants. Leo waved at her, and she went to sit by them.

    As she approached, Leo handed her a croissant and a coffee in a to-go cup.

    Zina leaned back, “I didn’t know what to get you when I got the coffees, so I had them put a bit of sugar in it, is that alright with you?”

    Marian smiled. “I like it this way. And… thank you both.”

    Leo nodded, “It’s not easy being an Entek. My mom was one.”

    Marian’s eyes widened.

    Leo chuckled, “I know, it’s weird. Half Entek, and half human. Most don’t know that.”

    Zina gave Leo a strange look before shrugging and taking a bite of her sandwich.

    Marian looked around, “Why do you trust me so quickly?”

    “First, because I was once a lot like you,” Leo leaned back, “and, I have a hunch that you’re honest, and if my hunch about you proves itself wrong, then no harm, no foul. I can take you in a fight easily.”

    Marian shrugged, eyeing Leo’s muscular arms. “I guess so.”

    “Anyway,” Leo stretched, “I’ll bless the”—

    “Don’t… please.” Marian flushed.

    Leo frowned. “You want to do it?”

    “I-I’d rather not at all.” Marian’s gaze fixed on the ground.

    Leo shrugged and muttered the blessing to himself before eating, trying to dispel the awkwardness, he said, “So, how did you come to Olympia? Were you from the area or –”

    “By ship.” Marian quickly took a bite out of her croissant.

    After a moment of painful silence, Zina changed the subject, “I’ve always wondered how telepathy works with the Enteks, but I’ve never met one who’s been willing to talk about it. What’s it like?”

    Marian drew herself out of her thoughts, saying, “One common misconception is that we think in words. It’s not the case at all. Saying something telepathically is more like showing an experience that tells you what the other is trying to say. It can be a little difficult to understand at first.”

    “How would that work?”

    Marian shrugged, “Imagine that I had to tell you something via telepathy, like what I’d want in my coffee. I could tell you by having a picture of sugar and cream being poured into a cup. Or I could show you a taste or the sound of something. It tends to get confusing though when you have to explain more abstract things like love, hate, or loneliness.” Or telling someone when someone is still alive. “It can be challenging to say something to someone who isn’t familiar with it.”

    Zina nodded, “That’s very interesting.” She smiled, “Maybe I’ll teach you how to cook sometime, if you’d be interested? I make stuff a lot better than whatever Leo finds on sale.”

    Marian had to swallow another lump in her throat, “Uh… I’d really love to.”

    Leo and Zina both looked at her. Zina smiled gently, “What’s wrong?”

    Marian’s chin quivered but she hid it by taking a sip out of her mug, “I’m fine…”

    Leo put a hand on her shoulder, “Do you have time to come with Zina and I to my place? It’s getting cold.”

    Marian paused, then she nodded.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Back at Leo’s apartment, Marian was seated on the couch while Leo was in the kitchen. Zina spoke softly, “Do you want to talk about whatever’s upsetting you?”

    Marian shook her head, “Not now… by the way, I know you’re Leo’s friend, but he’s half-Entek, I have no humans in my lineage. Why do you treat me like this?”

    Zina said, “I guess it’d be confusing… but to be honest, I just never really cared that much. I was working from a young age and found that even Enteks need interior designers.”

    Leo returned to the living room, flopping into a worn armchair and resting his ankle on his knee.

    Marian nodded, “So… why did they bring you in?”

    Leo paused, “They question me every so often, making sure I’m keeping in line.” He smirked, “But to be honest, they can’t really do much.”

    Zina crossed her arms, “You can’t be so cocky all the time, one day they’ll catch you.”

    Leo smirked, “How? By convincing me?”

    Zina rolled her eyes.

    Marian swallowed, “So… you’re immune to the law?”

    Leo shrugged, “as long as I don’t go against the powers that be, I can pretty much do whatever and no one can stop me… but that doesn’t mean I will.”

    Marian’s jaw clenched. Must’ve gotten the superstition from his mother. “Why are you two so cautious, then?”

    Leo and Zina exchanged a look. Zina turned to her and said, “How do you feel about Evanbrook?”

    Marian frowned.

    “You know… right?”

    Marian leaned forward, “I got in the way of a kidnapping just the other day.”

    Leo and Zina’s eyes went wide. Leo stared at Marian, saying, “What happened?”

    Marian shrugged, “I don’t remember much, but I and another Entek were chased down an alley by what looked like a militia cyborg with no logos on it. we were cornered by some… I think ‘borgs? I don’t remember what happened after that, but I woke up hours later and all evidence of the skirmish was gone. I reported it immediately, but it was brushed off.”

    Leo nodded, “That makes sense from the reception I’ve received. Zina has a grandnephew who vanished too. Some say he was arrested for petty theft… but she hired me on behalf of her niece to find the boy.”

    “But he was too young to just disappear in a prison like that.” Zina spat. “And Claudia is too poor to pay for any form of help.”

    Leo rubbed his chin, staring at a picture frame face down on his mantelpiece. “I find it strange that after the boy was arrested, he just vanished.”

    Marian narrowed her eyes, then she shrugged. these people would obviously understand. “I’ve looked into similar disappearances as much as I can, but I’ve been forbidden from investigating Evanbrook. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an Entek or there’s something to hide.”

    Leo frowned, “Have you considered quitting your job?”

    “Why would I do that?”

    “They can’t stop you as easily if you’re a civilian.”

    “I-I can’t.”

    Leo began to pick at the veneer on the nearest side table, “Why?”

    Marian’s posture went rigid, “Almost everything I own comes with my job. If I quit, not only would I be homeless, but I’d lose a lot of things – my watch, my animatronic…”

    Leo held up a hand, “I get it, it was only a suggestion.”

    Marian sighed, “But… have you made any progress on Evanbrook?

    “To be honest, the trail dried up pretty quickly. I’m certain there’s more evidence… but as to who’s behind it, I have no clue.”

     

     

     

    When the lights were off, Jake whispered, “Hey,”

    Felix looked up, “What?” he said groggily.

    “We need to talk.”

    “We need to sleep.”

    Jake nodded, “Yeah, I know, but this is more important.”

    Felix sighed, “What?”

    “Escape.”

    Felix was silent for a moment, then said, “I’m listening.”

    Jake sat beside Felix’s bed, whispering still more quietly, “We can escape through the sewers when we’re at the mines.”

    “How about we pretend to be sick? Or play dead?”

    Jake shook his head, “They wouldn’t care if we were sick, and if we died, we’d just be donated or incinerated.”

    Felix nodded, “We could ‘die’ in the sewer, they’d be too lazy to find our bodies.”

    “Great idea.”

    Encouraged, Felix continued, “You know that new pipe with all the poo-water in it? they’d hate to search for us in that.”

    “But it’s closely guarded.” Jake thought for a moment, “unless we distracted them.”

    “How?”

    Jake smiled, “We just need to keep them busy.”

    “With what?”

    Jake grinned, “A riot.”

    “You’ve got this all planned out, haven’t you?” Felix smirked.

    Jake furrowed his brows, then shrugged, “I guess I’m always thinking of escape…”

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    The next morning, Jake and Felix maneuvered to find seats separate from each other among some of the more… lively… prisoners. Not that that was saying much.

    Jake paused behind a burly Entek. “Hey, can I sit by you guys?”

    The Entek looked up at him, and wordlessly made him room.

    As Jake sat down and scarfed his food, he whispered, “Have you heard what the Warden’s planning to do?”

    The prisoners slowed in their eating and looked at him. the Entek grumbled, “What?”

    Jake leaned forward, whispering so they had to bend in to hear, “He’s going to send us all to some facility, rumor is that the HSI’s wanting to try out a new virus they’re coming up with and need hundreds of test subjects. We’re sitting ducks if we don’t find a way to escape. Pass it on.”

    The prisoners nodded and muttered to themselves, one of them saying, “What are you thinking?”

    Jake whispered, “If we start a riot on the work field, we can make a run for the big sewage pipe.”

    The prisoners crossed their arms, the Entek said, “You’ve got a point.”

    The other prisoners muttered their assent.

    “But the guards are armed.” One prisoner added, “With blasters.”

    Time to play the educational card… Jake smiled softly, “You know how bees kill an intruder?”

    The prisoners shook their heads, but the Entek nodded, a fierce light going into his eyes.

    “Hundreds of them will cling to an intruder, covering them. then they will vibrate and generate enough heat to kill the enemy. If we team up, then we have a chance at actually escaping.”

    The prisoners nodded, and Jake noticed a spark of life going into their eyes. Jake smiled. “Now I’ve really got to go and talk to others, but pass it on, make sure everyone knows and is in on it. Do whatever you can. We are fighting for our lives.” It was tragic that he had to give them hope, when this wouldn’t end well for them. The sad part about the bee analogy is that cooking the enemy requires sacrifice.

    The prisoners nodded, the Entek patted Jake on the back, saying, “When do you want this riot to happen?”

    Jake got to his feet, saying, “The day after tomorrow, when we’re all arriving on the field, start attacking guards. Steal blasters and have fun getting payback. Then run.”

    The Entek nodded, “We have shared food, it is only fitting you know my name – I am Marco.”

    “Pleasure, name’s Jake.” And he hurried to another table, whispering the ‘news’ everywhere.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    The morning the plan would take place, Felix and he sat in their usual spot, trying to eat as much as they could. Felix whispered, “do you think it’ll work?”

    Jake smiled, “Yes.”

    Felix smiled, “Will we be able to find my mom?”

    Jake rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah…”

    Felix grinned and nodded. “She’ll be so happy to meet you. She’s pretty, single, and about as old as you. Maybe you could marry her, and we could be a family.”

    Jake blushed, “I don’t know her.”

    “But she’s a nice lady. At least I love her.”

    Jake smiled, “We’ll see…” he didn’t know how to say that Felix should not try to get in touch with his mother if he hoped to not drag her into a life on the run.

    They were escorted to the work fields as usual, being marched in a line. As soon as the last man stepped out into the open, Jake paused. He’d calculated his plan and put hundreds of lives at risk. What if they couldn’t reach the blasters in time? What if Felix was shot? There was no way to get any medical attention besides Jake’s own knowledge… which wasn’t much.

    Jake looked down at Felix, who stood cool and determined. “Stay close, and we’ll get outta here.” He was too young to understand how some actions and tactics could have devastating repercussions… too young to be imprisoned. Jake clenched his fists, how could this be the right thing? he shook his head, he had to go through with this… Jake broke from the crowd and charged the nearest guard, before the man could resist, smoke was issuing form the blast hole in his chest and several other guards were on their knees. Jake whirled to the prisoners, “Charge!”

    So many men yelled and ran to the guards. But the element of surprise wore off, and enough guards remained armed. They fired at the prisoners, beams of light slicing through the crowd, they were obviously trained in blaster warfare as they quickly stood at irregular intervals, making sure it was nearly impossible to shoot more than one with a single blast. Jake swallowed, screaming, “Thin out!”

    The prisoners responded, but there were too many, and it was so condensed the guards had the upper hand. Jake groaned, there would be few survivors. He turned to Felix, whispering, “Run!”

    Felix frowned, “What about you?”

    “Grab some others and open the grate over that pipe.”

    “But”—

    “I’ll be fine! I’ll catch up.”

    Felix frowned, “Are you lying?”

    Jake shook his head rapidly, “Go!” and pushed Felix away before rushing into the melee. He shot down a guard that was aiming at Marco. The Entek finished choking a guard and took their blasters, turning to Jake, “Where’s your friend?” he winced and clutched a burn that scarred his shoulder.

    Jake kicked another guard in the groin and punched his head with his bionic arm. “I sent him to the escape point. We have to begin retreat to the pipe opening in the center of the pits.”

    Marco nodded, “Let’s bust some more heads.”

    Jake kicked another guard. “Agreed.”

    Marco aimed his blaster, hollering, “Try to shoot down more than one! These blasters’ll go through anything!”

    As Jake rushed another guard, he tripped and faceplanted. He pushed himself up, looking into the dead face of a guard. Fabian’s scorched face flashed in his mind, and he yelped, scrambling backward and falling over another body. He forced himself to his feet, shaking the death from his mind. He felt his hands trembling so fiercely the tremors traveled up his arms. he could only see the bodies strewn across the dirt, the number of prisoners reduced to half, and one obscure guard taking aim at him.

    He was jerked to the side as he felt the heat of the beam burn his neck. Felix looked down at him, “We have to go!”

    Jake nodded, “Stop supporting me. I’m slowing you down.”

    At that moment Felix cried out and clutched his leg, tears rolling down his cheeks. Jake turned to the guards, seeing the nearest one beginning to take aim again. He shot the man down and turned to Felix, “I have to fight.” He’d been panicked, true, but now, seeing Felix in so much pain caused his tremors to leave… he’d make all of them regret this.

    Jake aimed at the approaching guards, but they were mingled among the prisoners, and he didn’t have a clear shot. He huffed and charged the guards, they were the killers, and they needed to be destroyed. These were murderers. These were the kind of people who killed people like Fabian, they showed no mercy, and he would show them none.

    Jake leapt and kicked a guard in midair, knocking him back and crushing his head with his metal foot. Jake ignored the gore and punched the next guard in the stomach, the man groaned and bent forward, Jake punched him in the diaphragm as he heard the whine of a blaster. He shifted to the left, and a beam of light grazed his side. Jake was punched in the chest and retaliated with a kick in the liver, sending him flying backward. He eventually got lost in the fighting, the movement and concentration of killing and surviving taking his whole attention.

    “Jake! We’ve got to go!” Yelled Marco.

    Jake turned to him, “Take Felix to shelter,” Jake crushed a guard’s windpipe, “I’m not done yet!” another hit him in the back of the head, and he saw stars momentarily before grabbing the man’s arm and throwing him at another. Before the two men could rise, Jake killed them both with a blaster. he heard a noise behind him and ducked just as a blaster shot over him.

    But before Jake could attack, Marco came from behind and stabbed the man. “You’ve held them off, we’ve got to run now… reinforcements will be here any time now!”

    Jake nodded, and they made a dash for the rendezvous.

    Jake kept firing as Marco leapt into the hole. Jake made an offensive gesture at the remaining guards before jumping down himself.

    The water was deeper than expected, but after a few yards of swimming the water became shallow and jake rose to the surface.

    Other prisoners were standing around, most of them bandaging blaster wounds with shreds of clothing. Jake’s heart sank, most of them did die. Another stain on my conscience. Yay.

    “Jake?”

    He waded across to Felix and sat beside him, “Let me see your leg.”

    Felix unwrapped his hands from the wound. It was a large swathe of burned skin on his calf, Jake winced as he saw a glimmer of white. He took off his jacket and ripped off the sleeves, tearing them into strips. “They’re not clean, but this is what I can do for now until we reach clean water.”

    Felix relaxed as Jake bound the wound. “Thanks.”

    Jake nodded, “Can you walk?”

    Felix nodded.

    “We can’t stay here. the guards are bound to catch up.” Marco said, “Felix and the wounded should take the middle, you and I are the best fighters, we should be in front and behind.”

    Jake nodded briefly, “take the front.”

     

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Jake and Felix crouched in the shelter of a half-built pipe. Rain poured in sheets over Marco as he stood outside, breathing deeply. After several minutes, he turned to Jake, “We won’t be safe here for long, if we take the tunnels to the lower stories, we’re less likely to be caught.”

    Jake crossed his arms, “But I actually have a place I need to be.”

    Marco crossed his arms, “But what about these people you’ve helped escape? Where will they go? Without help, they won’t have long to survive.”

    Felix looked up at Jake, “Yeah, what are we gonna do about them?”

    Jake flushed, grumbling to himself. Hope I can bail myself out of this one. “You all have to go in hiding for now and try to make new lives for yourselves in the underground. It’s an intricate network below the surface, you should be able to make a living there.”

    Marco leaned toward Jake, “And live the rest of our lives as prey?”

    Jake swallowed, trying to avoid Marco’s piercing gaze.

    “Do you have a plan for these people?” Marco clenched Jake’s wrist before he could prepare his mind. His first thoughts were guilt for leaving these people behind, but then shifted to Fabian, Felix, and Marian. And being some place safe where they could be happy.

    After a moment of staring into Jake’s panicked eyes, he let go, saying, “I see.” and nodded, whispering bitterly, “At least you have a soul. You should go to… wherever you’re heading. I and these men will find our own way.” He turned to Felix, “You don’t have to go with this man, he is not that good.”

    Felix crossed his arms, “Jake’s not bad, he helped all these people escape.”

    Jake blinked rapidly and looked at the featureless sky.

    Marco said, “Be careful.”

    “Yeah,” Felix shrugged, “but he did risk his life for me.”

    Marco looked into Felix’s eyes, “Are you sure?”

    Felix was quiet for a moment, then he bobbed his head.

    Marco looked at the two of them, “I’ll take these men to the underground… for a time.”

    Jake said, “I’ve gotta go down as well, but we should probably take our separate ways. Safe travels.” and shook Marco’s hand.

    Marco looked into Jake’s eyes, and said, “You have an odd power around you, a sort of… charisma.”

    “Tell me something I don’t know.”

    Marco chuckled, shaking his head, “Seriously, you remind me of an Entek.”

    “Well, I did date one for a while.” Jake shrugged.

    Marco raised an eyebrow, “I wonder what she saw in you.”

     

    We crazy people are the normal ones.

    #147502
    ScoutFinch190
    @scoutfinch190

    Here’s part two!


    @this-is-not-an-alien
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world @Gracie-J, @lissie-w, @fitz, @jbstanhope @rose-colored-fancy

     

    (I block quoted the beginning because I’m considering removing it)

    A brief FYI: a character does say ” if I’m to go to h—, I’ll take some with me”, I know some people are sensitive to the use of the word ‘Hell’ in this regard, no offense intended. I was only trying to convey a character’s personality, and I’ve crossed out the last three letters.

    If you feel like it, would you mind letting me know about the following:

    1. Do any parts seem to drag?
    2. Does anything sound a little too cliche?
    3. I am considering adding a scene showing some protesters to shoe the social climate better, or should there be some overheard conversation?
    4. Does Zina feel like she fits in?
    5. Is Felix an enjoyable character?
    6. What are your thoughts on Leo?
    7. Opinion of Marco?
    8. Do i under or over write anywhere?
    9. Do i need to portray more of Jake’s internal struggles?
    10. Anything else you noticed?
    11. Does the story leave you wanting to read more?
    12. Any better title ideas?
    13. Does anything seem unrealistic?

    I know that this is a rougher draft, but I hope you all like it!

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>Silence</p>
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>by A.D. Kidwell</p>
     

    Jake sat up. He was in the middle of a circular room covered in mirrors. And before him stood his father. Jake gasped and shrank back. His father’s deep green eyes looked at him with such a depth of sadness he hardly needed to ask, “Why did you kill him?”

    Jake shouted, “I didn’t know it was Fabian!”

    “You should’ve known.” Jake’s father shook his head. “You’ve never been as bright as your brother. Why do you have to be such a… disappointment.”

    The floor began to give way beneath their feet, and Jake cried, “Dad!” before he was sucked down into the void.

    Jake’s eyes snapped open to the sound of footsteps echoing in an empty hall and his shoes scraping on concrete. He blinked, looking up at the guard dragging him as his eyes came into focus. He twisted against their arms, trying to writhe out of their grip as one of the guards punched him in the mouth. As Jake tried to gain his feet, he was tossed into a cell, dimly hearing, “You’ve got a new roommate!” before he hit the ground.

    He grunted as his side smacked against the floor, and the door clanged behind him. A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he was rolled onto his back. A boy with dark skin stared down at him. Jake tried to sit up and the kid helped him, saying, “I’m Felix.”

    Jake raised an eyebrow; his cellmate was a lithe youth who was a little too young for the harsh realities of prison. I didn’t know they locked up kids. “Nice to meet you?”

    Felix smiled, his bright dark eyes twinkling from under his mop of unkempt curls, “What’s your name?”

    “Jake.” He looked around. It was a decent-sized cell, with two beds devoid of pillows and blankets and a toilet and sink in the far back.

    Felix sat on the edge of a bed, “Want some water? I can fill the cup.”

    Jake shrugged, curling up against the far wall, watching his cellmate. “You’re pretty trusting.”

    “I’m not.” Felix handed him the cup, “I just like being nice to people.”

    “You should be careful.”

    Felix shrugged, “I try.”

    Jake glanced at the kid as he eased himself onto the bed. He looked as if he had recently gone through a growth spurt, but he was too thin. Not like how some boys had a fast metabolism, but skeletal.

    “Lights out!” a guard yelled, and the pallid overheads turned off.

    “Goodnight.” said Felix.

    After returning the greeting, Jake laid down and tried to sleep. But he kept on seeing Fabian’s face vanishing into the blizzard when he closed his eyes.

     

    The next day, Jake woke to an alarm-like sound and clanging doors. Over the noise of the speaker, he heard a voice say, “All prisoners move to the food court.”

    Jake stepped into the hall, looking around as he saw others shuffling towards a set of double-doors. The other prisoners seemed so… resigned. Jake felt his stomach clench. He remembered again how much he’d hated boarding school. This place was just the same: rigid, unforgiving, and lonely. But at least then I had Fabian with me. Jake felt his eyes burn and blinked rapidly. Well, now I’m paying the price – it’s best I deal with it.

    He brushed shoulders with a burly man and the fellow grunted, Jake stepped away, keeping his head down, muttering, “Sorry.” It was best to lay low, be unoffensive… then he could act undetected. Jake stepped through a wide entry to the mess hall. But what was there to do? He would be here until he died. Jake gulped. What was there to do to fight it? he wasn’t even a casualty; he was a pest.

    “Wanna sit by me?”

    Jake snapped to reality as the other prisoners lined up to receive their trays of unappetizing mush. Felix stepped in front of him, saying, “We’re cellmates, we should try to get along.”

    Jake nodded, “Whatever.”

    They sat in a far corner of the court, where the prisoners were sparser. Jake hurried to eat the tasteless food.

    “So, why’re you here?”

    Jake choked, hacking and beating his chest as he forced it down, “Theft.” Sort of true… I guess… ­

    “You’re not as bad as some of the guys in here.” Felix swallowed, “Most are guilty of worse than just trying to get by.”

    Just trying to get by. It was a little more than that. Jake raised an eyebrow. “What are you in here for?” Just trying to get by is no excuse.

    Felix glared at his food, “I picked a fight with an enforcer trying to hurt my mom.” His hands balled into fists, “I didn’t even have a trial.”

    Jake shrugged, “Lemme guess, you and your mother are poor, and that enforcer was rich.”

    Felix glanced up at him, “How’d you know?”

    “I… knew an enforcer, she would sometimes talk about her work with me.” Jake rubbed the back of his neck, “the surveillance systems are so good nowadays that it’s easy for them to find out if someone should, in the leader’s eyes, go to jail. Then they just send the forces over, and you’ll never see the light of day again. But the problem is that the rich are so busy with their own affairs and greed that the poor are overlooked.”

    Felix crossed his arms, “I don’t like this lady.”

    Jake smirked, “Why not?”

    “Because she’s not thinking for herself.”

    Jake said, “No, she was. she wanted to change things and thought that being an enforcer was the best option.”

    Felix drummed his fingers on the metal table, “Oh ok. She’s not so bad then.”

    Jake frowned, “How old are you?”

    He said, “Twelve, or thirteen, I don’t know.”

    Jake’s grip on his fork tightened and it bent in his hand. “Do you tell people your age normally?”

    Felix shook his head, “Most don’t care.”

    “You’re very open with me, you realize that?”

    Felix shrugged, “We have to share a toilet… not at the same time – just that it’s in the same room and all.”

    A voice commanded over the speakers: “Inmates go to the courtyard.”

    Jake got up with his plate before Felix said: “leave it here: workers’ll clean it up.”

    Jake set his plate down and they maneuvered outside.

     

     

    The brakes hissed as the transport stopped. Marian embarked, keeping her head low and her hood pulled firmly over her ears. She held onto a rail mechanically as the tram leapt to life and sped across Olympia to one of the many housing districts.

    Olympia was one of the two pole-cities that dominated the planet Labyrinth. It was the primary and origin-planet of life on the galaxy. It was roughly average sized, but Labyrinth stood out for its various eco systems through the many tunnels that pierced it. There were so many tunnels under the thrid-infested and wasteland-like surface that many parts of it remained undiscovered, and most people lived either in Olympia in the south pole, or in Phakia, the north pole.

    Others lived in small villages below the surface, predominately Enteks in their own ‘bubble towns’ made to have the different atmosphere of Marian’s home, who would work on the massive gravity train that connected the two cities. Life was different for the Enteks here, than on Marian’s home-planet (which in reality was more of a moon than a planet) but without a respirator she couldn’t hope to find any acceptance in their societies. It was obvious, she was an outcast.

    A man shouldered past her, and she stumbled. Her hood fell back, and her pointed ears were exposed. Even as she put her hood back on, the damage was done. Humans narrowed their eyes, and she could hear their murmurs of confusion, disapproval, and hatred. one woman turned to her daughter and said, “You see that woman with the pointy ears? She wants to kill us, don’t touch her.”

    She gritted her teeth and staggered out of the car as soon as the doors opened, even though it wasn’t her stop. She’d walk home. Walk off the hate, the bitterness that had reached an all-time high in the past few months. She huffed and rammed her fists into her cargo pants, scurrying along the bright streets of the outlet district.

    Two fashionable ladies – one with skin dyed blue – strode past her, balancing perfectly on their stiletto heels. Marian snorted, those two would be worthless in a fight. Their first kick would rip their metallic leggings, and while they had good balance, if they tripped, they’d get a sprain. She smirked, she may not be stylish, but practicality trumped fashion… and… she was too bony to reveal so much of herself. Jake thought I was pretty… but he was probably lying.

    As the women noticed her and began talking among themselves, Marian ducked into the space between two shops, hoping to cut through some back alleys to avoid more unpleasant interactions and to just be alone with her thoughts.

    A slight rasp sounded behind her and she whirled to face a pair of ultraviolet eyes staring out at her from the green lens of a respirator mask. She gulped and her lungs constricted, backing away.

    “What are you doing here sinner?”

    Marian snorted, “I could say the same as you.” She felt her heart fluttering, remembering the agony of the first time she ever breathed oxygen. “You could get punished just for talking to me. Go away.”

    The Entek sneered, “You have no authority to order” –

    Marian and the Entek flinched, both simultaneously sensing a sinister presence in the alley besides mutual animosity. Marian looked over her shoulder and saw someone fill the end of the alley that opened onto the luxurious street. She noticed a metallic gleam reflecting the orange lights filling the alley, she went pale… a military-class cyborg? Here? Why? As he began to approach them, she spun on her heel, grabbed her male counterpart’s hand, and dragged him after her as she dashed down the alley.

    Marian didn’t know how long they were running, but soon Marian saw the friendly glow of the shopping street coming from an alcove. They slowed, and entered, the far end from which the light streamed was blocked by a high fence. Marian and the man sagged against the wall, Marian said “I think we lost him…” then she heard the faint sigh of a hydraulic system often used on cyborgs.

    The light went out, and the shadows around them started to move. Marian’s mouth went dry as cyborgs appeared out of the shadows, completely surrounding them. Marian drew her gun and opened fire on the strange, obsidian cyborgs. Several fell, but they quickly regained their feet and tackled her and the man. before she knew it, she was pinned down and saw the entek gasping like a fish out of water, his respirator yanked from his head. She cringed as a syringe was inserted into his neck and he went limp. One of the cyborgs flung him over its shoulder and turned to Marian, saying in its raspy voice, “Knock her out, we have no orders concerning her.”

    Marian tried to wriggle free as a syringe approached her, she screamed as she felt the sharp pain of a needle pricking her and then she fell, unconscious.

     

    When Marian opened her eyes, she was still laying in the alley. She groaned and sat up, looking at the sky, It’s already dark? How? She rubbed her face and got to her feet, unsure of everything that had happened, but she was fairly sure that she had nearly been a victim of another of the Evanbrook Disappearances. It was called Evanbrook because of the last high-profile victim – the son of an actress. She leaned against the wall, she had to tell the chief about this. Maybe then he’d take some notice? This wasn’t the only kidnapping that she desired to investigate, there had already been over a hundred in recent years. But most were either Enteks or the poorest human members of society – even criminals. She shook her head, Evanbrook aside, there were still criminals at night and she was a young woman highly disoriented.

    When she finally got home, the lights automatically flared on and she removed her hoodie, she glanced at herself in the mirror, her bones looked sharp beneath her black camisole even though she was covered in muscle. She fingered a bruise on her shoulder and winced at the raw skin where she’d scraped her cheek on the concrete when she’d been pinned down.

    She sagged onto her couch, feeling like a schoolteacher’s discarded skeleton model. Her robotic cat mewed and climbed on her lap. Marian smiled wanly, “Hello Lux.” She stroked the faux fur, she wished she could own a real cat, but that wasn’t possible with how much she was absent. She pulled the robot to her chest, feeling its cheek rub against hers, she said, “At least you can’t hurt me.”

    The cat purred and curled in her lap as she reached for the remote. Nothing was available that she’d really want to watch, but it controlled the house. She pressed a red button in the center and said, “Get me a dose of my sleep meds.”

     

     

    Marian’s coffee went flying as Brutus tripped her next morning. Her arms flung forward, and she turned it into a handspring. She landed on her feet and straightened her grey uniform, “Waste of coffee…” she muttered before striding down the hall. Brutus never took into account that she was faster than most.

    Brutus tossed his yellow dreadlocks, “Aren’t you gonna fight back sharpy?”

    “Not worth my time.” Marian called as she rounded a corner. It really wasn’t worth her time. She had to go to Chief’s office, and he always gave her precious little time to do anything, no matter what she’d been assigned to do. And, having barely gotten her current position, she made sure no one had any reason to fire her. And she had no time to waste when there was more important things – like a kidnapping. Someone grabbed her wrist, and she was spun around sharply, forced to stare into Brutus’s acne-scarred face and featureless grey eyes. She wrinkled her nose, restraining the urge to disable him for life.

    “Oh is it?” Brutus smiled viciously. “With Evanbrook it’s only a matter of time before the Enteks start an uprising, and when they do, I’m certain you’ll be joining them.”

    A pathetic rat like yourself is definitely not worth the little effort it would take me to hospitalize you, and for the record, they do not even consider me one of their own, I wouldn’t fight on their side in a war. Is what Marian wanted to say, but instead she said, “I have to go.” And twisted free of Brutus’s grip, storming down the hall in a rage. If Enteks and humans were considered equals, then she would’ve told someone about the way he was trying to bully her. But as that wasn’t the case, she silently avoided him and daydreamed of ways to watch the creep suffer.

    She paused in front of Chief’s door, hesitating before knocking.

    “Come in.” came his hard voice.

    Marian gently opened the door and stepped in.

    He was examining the holo-screen in front of him. moving with swift decisiveness as he flipped through various files. “I need you to bring this man to the station.” he pulled up a profile photo of a man in his fifties with an eyepatch.

    Marian narrowed her eyes, “Sir, forgive my curiosity, but why didn’t you contact me virtually for this like you normally would’ve?”

    “Because…” he stood, “this man is more than what the database says. And I know I can trust you with this because you treat any failure as if it risked the loss of your job because it does. So don’t fail me.”

    Marian nodded, “Yes sir…” she squared her shoulders, “But I also have something to tell you.”

    “Lemme guess, it was about that ‘kidnapping you told me about?”

    Summoning her courage, Marian took in a breath and said, “Forgive my questioning, but is there any action I can take to—”

    “No.”

    “Sir, please.” Marian stepped closer, “Last night I was nearly kidnapped. I saw a group of cyborgs unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think” –

    “That I am unaware of what we’re dealing with?”

    “Well, no I—”

    “You are not in on the Evanbrook case.”

    “But it’s been two years and you– we’ve done nothing.” Marian pleaded, “The kidnappings are increasing in frequency every day, with a new disappearance almost three times a week—”

    “Pointy, you know nothing of what’s going on,” he sneered, “Or do you not trust your superior?”

    Marian swallowed and bowed her head, “Well…”

    “Do you trust that I am handling it?”

    “Yes… sir.” She muttered.

    “Good. Now, if you don’t mind, I have important business to attend to. Don’t give me a reason to fire you.” He sighed and swiped a file towards her watch, saying, “Bring this guy in, then take the day off to get your thinking straight.”
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
    Marian pulled her hood low, ramming her hands into her trench coat’s pockets. She didn’t know what would be worse – having no self-respect, or having it and being treated like trash. She huffed as she wove her way through the crowd. Eyes scanning the various people. Most of their hair was dyed a vibrant color or dark, and their outfits ranged from conservative to abstract works of holographic vinyl and neon spandex. She sighed and leaned beside the doorway of a convenience store.

    The doors sighed and her head shot up. An android garbled, “No loitering.” Before ducking back into the shop.

    Marian settled on a nearby park-bench, rubbing her temples. This was getting too far. She couldn’t just stand by and watch as people were disappearing. It was a disgrace to her profession to let this happen.

    “Get off.”

    Marian glanced at the group of teenagers frowning at her. Following the direction of the speaker’s finger, she saw the sign on the back of the bench, which said, ‘Humans only’. She sighed and got to her feet as a boy in the group shoved her to a dilapidated park bench near a maintenance building. She heard their snickers and clenched her fists. She whirled around to face the boy that had pushed her, saying, “It’s rude to push a woman.”

    The boy sneered, “What’re you gonna do about it?”

    Marian narrowed her eyes, “One day you may push one and she’ll push back.” she strode to the bench before she could be taunted anymore.

    A man stepped out of the grocery store. A wave of energy impacted her as he passed her bench. Marian’s spine stiffened and she followed him with her eyes.

    He paused, glanced at her, rolled his shoulders, and continued on his way.

    Marian didn’t need a second glance to remember his appearance; a weathered face, an eyepatch, and grey hair.  She pretended to be flipping through files on her watch until he was a safe distance away. then she pulled up her hood and began to follow him.

    He walked swiftly, his eye roving the surroundings. He turned his head and Marian slipped behind a lamppost. As he turned away, she frowned, had his eye been purple? That eye color was distinctive to Enteks, but he was classified as a human in the database.

    She shook her head and followed him onto a tramway, crossed town, and disembarked in a dingy living complex that reeked of poverty. The apartments seemed to hunch over the narrow street, their crumbling dark surfaces making the place look bleak and sad.

    The man turned into an alleyway, glancing over his shoulder. Marian hid behind the corner; she fingered the tranquilizer in her pocket. The energy emanating from him was almost like interacting with one of her own kind back on Atlantis… but much stronger.

    She stepped into the alley, saying, “Leo?”

    The man paused, his key poised. “Are you sent to kill me?”

    Marian frowned, “I’m an enforcer.”

    “Lemme guess, that old chief of yours wants me to not investigate another kidnapping case?”

    Marian tensed, “I was told to bring you in for questioning, and that’s what I’m here for.” Is this guy investigating Evanbrook?

    Leo smiled and shook his head, “If I refuse what are you gonna do? tranquilize me?”

    “I hope you come willingly.”

    Leo sighed, “If you want to banter, you may as well come in. Your hyperactive brain’s giving me a headache and I need a pain-killer.” He opened the door, looking over his shoulder, “Why not come in?”

    Marian froze, this had to be a trap? “What are you doing?”

    “Inviting you to come in and share some food with me… unless you feel uncomfortable sharing such a rite of camaraderie with not only a human, but someone you were told to arrest.”

    Marian gulped. “But I was simply told to bring you in.”

    Leo said, “Well, I don’t see much difference.” he changed the subject, “It’s easy to see you’re an entek, worked with several myself. Really underestimated people. How d’you get hired?”

    Marian flushed, “Hard work.”

    “I’m not holding this door open forever.”

    Marian gulped and stepped in.

    Marian wasn’t expecting to be surprised by a well-decorated and immaculate apartment. Her gaze scanned the hangings that skillfully hid cracks on the walls and a mantelpiece decorated with three books and a picture frame facedown. She stared at them. When had she last seen a book? When she still lived in Atlantis?

    “Are you even hungry, or did you grab something to eat when you were following me?”

    Marian turned to Leo. He stood in his kitchen, putting some brown slabs in a white hydrator. Leo set out a couple plates on his dining table. Four chairs encircled the table. Marian chose to sit in the least-worn of the chairs, “Your apartment has a woman’s touch. Do you have a family?”

    “OW!” Leo dropped a metal ladle that had been in the hydrator pot, rubbing his palms together. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “No… I had a gal I know help me.”

    Marian raised an eyebrow, “Do you need any help?”

    “Nope. Got it.” Leo recovered and scooped out the pieces of plant-matter, serving them onto a couple chipped plates. “Want bread?” as he glanced up at Marian, she noticed that his eye was indeed purple.

    Marian nodded. “Why are you feeding me?”

    Leo shrugged, “I prefer to be hospitable.” He put a plate in front of her, “Anyway, you seem lost.”

    Marian clenched her fists, “I…”

    Leo took a bite out of the imitation meat on bread. “Don’t try guessing, you’ll only make a fool of yourself.”

    Marian tensed.

    Leo smirked and crossed his arms, “You came here to bring me in?”

    Marian nodded, “It’s only for questioning, chief would’ve said if it was more than that.”

    Leo leaned forward, “When has enforcement ever brought someone in ‘only for questioning’? And why would they send you after me? I’m afraid you aren’t much of a match for me, but you’re still a gifted fighter.”

    Marian crossed her arms, “I’m only an agent of the law.”

    Leo rolled his eyes, “Did you get that quote out of a textbook?”

    “Sir, I just want to get this job over and done with.”

    “But you haven’t touched your food.”

    Marian huffed, “I don’t think it’s wise of me to eat with you.”

    Leo chuckled low. “I’d do the same in your shoes.”

    A knock on the door alerted Leo. He leaned forward before slumping back, and at a wave of his hand the door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman with dark skin. She stepped in and put her hands on her hips.

    He stood up, “Hi Zina. Hungry?”

    Staring at Marian, she demanded. “Is this another one of those assassins that tried to kill you?”

    “The correct response is ‘Yes’ or ‘no.’”

    Zina rolled her eyes.

    Leo chuckled, “but to answer your question: she looked lost. Came here to bring me in for questioning.” He stood by Zina, waiting for her to wrestle free of her coat.

    Zina rubbed her forehead, “Oh great…”

    Leo patted her shoulder, “Don’t worry, I think she’s pretty tame.”

    Zina gave Marian a long, hard look before ushering Leo into another room. Before the door closed, Leo poked out his head, saying, “Feel free to read something while you wait.” Before vanishing behind the door.

    Marian had watched the previous exchange like a sleeper beholding a dream. As Leo opening the door from twenty feet away replayed in her mind.

    “Opening the door like that in front of her? You’re nuts!” chided Zina, her voice muffled behind the door.

    “Well, if I turned my back on her, then she might’ve harmed me.”

    “But now she knows.”

    Leo shrugged, “Oh well. She should know who she’s trying to arrest. Anyway, the fact that she’s both an entek – without a respirator – and an enforcer – clearly a higher ranking one – both have me curious.”

    “Curiosity killed the serpent, Leo…” Zina sighed.

    Leo chuckled, “She’s not too dangerous.”

    Zina huffed, “You should stop letting your gift get to your head. You could be in real danger someday.”

    “That’s why I’m always alert. Anyway. I could sense the confusion she was feeling.”

    “Last I checked, you don’t have telepathy, nor are you a psychiatrist.”

    “Just because I’m terrible at it doesn’t mean I don’t have it. You know she can probably hear us through the door, right?”

    As their voices lowered, Marian gulped and bit her lower lip. Should she run away? get reinforcements? Try to tranquilize the two and bring them both in? but what had they done? Why was Leo letting her learn all this?

    She got up and meandered to the books, seeing that they must be all the same copy, she opened the newest one. On the first page the name Paul was scrawled in a child’s hand – in real ink! – curious, she turned the page and began to read, “There are many rumors surrounding the creation of the universe, one of the chief stemming from the complexity of the world around—” Marian slammed the book and shoved it back onto the mantel, her heart racing. She squeezed her eyes shut and forced her breaths to even out as she returned to her seat. It was just a dumb book, nothing more.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Jake paused, gasping in a deep breath. How long had he been digging? He looked around the tunnel, they were told to do nothing but dig. He leaned against the muddy wall, closing his eyes momentarily.

    “Hey, you!” a rough voice hollered at the entrance to the tunnel.

    Jake leaned against his shovel, “Me?” His eyes drifted to the whip then back to the man. “What is it?”

    The guard grabbed the collar of Jake’s shirt and snarled, “Get back to work!”

    Jake wrinkled his nose, stealing a glance over his shoulder at Felix, his skin shining with sweat as he pushed his mop of hair out of his eyes as he paused to watch. He locked eyes with the guard, “You really should brush your teeth. Your breath smells like rancid onions.”

    The Guard shook jake, “You apologize for your lip!”

    “Whoa, I was just telling the truth.”

    The guard punched Jake in the jaw, “Say you’re sorry and get back to work you louse!”

    Jake put his hands up, “Ok, I’m sorry and get back to work you louse!”

    The guard yelled and threw Jake down, kicking him in the side, “Anymore lip outta you,” he gave Jake a lash with his whip, “And I’ll have you working without your bionics!”

    Jake panted as he sat, rubbing his thigh, “Ok, I’m sorry I insulted you and I’ll get back at it. Happy now?”

    The guard grumbled and stomped away as Jake resumed digging… there was a guilty pleasure in annoying stupid people, but it got to his head a little too quickly. Like just now.

    Felix hissed, “You idiot!”

    Jake shrugged, “He was looking at you too. I simply made him angrier at me.”

    Felix huffed and threw a shovelful of dirt into their cart. “You gotta be careful around here, these thugs are hired for their cruelty.”

    “So I can trust that guy to make good on his threats?”

    “If he remembers.”

    Jake nodded. “Thanks for the tip… by the way, you look pretty sweaty, are you ok?”

    Felix jerked his chin in a nod.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Long after the sun set, they were ushered directly from the labor fields to bed.

    Jake laid down, groaning slightly as his back cramped, “Thought they’d at least serve us two meals.”

    Felix ran a hand through his hair. “Nope. They say that it’s supposed to be loaded with extra nutrients, but I don’t buy it.” Felix rolled onto his other side so he face the wall, “Also, next breakfast, be sure to stuff your face. You didn’t eat enough this morning. I thought you’d faint.”

    Jake smirked, “I’m a little more durable than that.” as he rubbed his back, Man, for someone who can beat up a man twice my size digging all day is killing my back.

    Felix rolled over to face Jake, “What did you even do before getting here?”

    Jake shrugged, “Odd jobs.” He hoped the half-truth would suffice.

    Felix wrinkled his nose, “Oh… well, good night Jake.”

    Jake smirked, “Good night Felix.”

     

    He was surprised at how well he’d slept. And the cycle of waking early, eating a disgusting breakfast, and working long hours continued day by day. Jake found his body getting stronger and less sore. But he was always hungry, which he knew how to handle… it helped him focus on the situation at hand, and not on… past situations. However, he still couldn’t stop thinking about his brother, and would’ve become like the other prisoners, mechanical slaves… if it wasn’t for Felix.

    Jake couldn’t help liking Felix and enjoying his company, he appeared to have gone through great suffering, but the child was happy and lively, a stark contrast to his surroundings and the darkness the boy had to deal with every day. It made Jake smile to see a child who was so strong.

    One morning, as Jake and Felix were finishing their meals, a tall man with broad shoulders and narrow hips strode into the mess hall, saying, “Prisoners 189 and 225.”

    Two men stood up. The prison was so big it was hard to befriend anyone besides whoever you shared a cell with. But Jake noticed these two had fully sunk into their slavery.

    The big-shouldered man beckoned them, “You have been selected.”

    The two shuffled slowly, as if a faint shred of will kept them hesitant. Two cyborg guards appeared and escorted the men out.

    The broad-shouldered man scanned the mess hall, then spun on his heel and marched back the way he’d came.

    As soon as they were gone, Felix’s shoulders relaxed. He said, “That was the Warden. Every so often, a few prisoners get selected, and they’re never seen again.”

    Jake scraped the remainder of his food off the tray, “What happens to them?”

    “There’s rumors,” Felix crossed his arms. “Some say they’re put to death and their bodies are taken apart and used in surgeries, others that they’re released, or that they’re donated for experimentation.” Felix narrowed his eyes, “But it’s always when they’re completely broken like those two.”

    “Is that what happened to your old cellmate?”

    Felix’s fist clenched, “Yup. But they still had to drag him.”

    Jake glanced at Felix, “What will you do if you’re selected?”

    Felix shook his head, “I won’t. I’m never going to break like them. and if I’m to go to h—, I’ll take some with me.” after a bit of silence he turned to Jake, “What about you?”

    Jake shrugged, “I don’t know.”

    “Please try not to break like them… I’ve been…” Felix shrugged, “It’s easier to break when you’re alone.”

    Jake smiled and put a hand on Felix’s shoulder, after a long silence, he slowly said, “I will do my best.” And it was one of the most truthful things he’d ever said.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Zina and Leo stepped out of the room. Leo looked slightly triumphant, and Zina pouty, but by then Marian was too nervous to say anything. Leo smiled, “may I ask you a question?”

    Marian crossed her arms, “If I can ask one in turn.”

    Leo sat and began eating again, “How did you get to your current position? Most people hate your kind.”

    Marian crossed her arms, “I fought every step of the way.”

    Leo smiled, “Do you mind if I ask you more?”

    Marian sighed, “Okay.”

    Leo leaned back, “Why are you an enforcer? You don’t have to answer me this right away. I’d prefer it if an honest girl like you thought it out first.”

    Marian bit her lower lip, then quickly asked, “How could you open the door from across the room?”

    Leo smiled, “You know how you can say things with your mind?”

    Marian leaned back, “More like show, really.”

    Leo shrugged, “Well, I got the ability to move things with my mind. And I can sense what people think, but I’m not eloquent with telepathy.”

    Marian said, “But since you’re clearly a human, how the stars did you have this power, and why are you asking me so many questions?”

    “First.” Leo crossed his arms, his ears coloring slightly, “It was manufactured.” He leaned back, “I’m asking you all these questions because you look lost and I’m hoping they’ll point you in the right direction. Also,” he glanced at the clock, “do they have a specific time they wanted us to arrive at the station?”

     

     

    Leo went with Marian so quietly that she didn’t even need to handcuff him. He showed her a shortcut to get to the station faster, and when brought in, was pretty tame. As he was escorted back, he looked over his shoulder and bade Marian a good night. But when she was finally alone, his requests churned with her already turbid thoughts. Why was Leo so nice to me? Will I regret arresting him? He mentioned Evanbrook. I wonder if I could help him investigate.

     

     

     

    SMACK!

    Jake tried to duck the blow, but he wasn’t fast enough. He staggered sideways, rubbing his ear.

    The guard laughed, “Work harder!”

    Jake growled a curse to himself and honed his attention on digging. His arms burned, but he pushed himself onward. They’d been working much longer lately, and with the lack of food, it was beginning to wear on him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Felix glaring, he shook his head. Breathing heavily, he had little time and energy to think about much more than digging.

    “You ok?” Felix rested his small hand on Jake’s arm.

    Jake nodded, “You?”

    Felix sighed, “Yep. But you’re wearing out.”

    Jake grimaced as he forced another pile onto the cart, “I’m 29.”

    Felix’s brows knit together, “I didn’t realize you were that old.”

    Jake smirked and continued working. “I guess you’d think I’m pretty old, but it’s mostly an act.”

    “It’s not.”

    Jake didn’t dare pause, but he sighed, “I shouldn’t lie to you… just don’t worry about me, ok?”

    Felix paused for a moment, then nodded and continued digging.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Marian nearly dropped her backpack, she blinked and made sure she was seeing the right person. The eyepatch and stiff posture were unmistakable however, and she rushed across the bustling sidewalk to the park bench. “They let you go?”

    Leo turned to her, unsurprised. “They can’t just throw me in prison on a whim.” He gestured to the empty space beside him, “If you have a minute, would you like to sit?”

    Marian obliged, “What’s up with you?”

    Leo raised an eyebrow, “I could say the same.” His eyes scanned the park, “Have you thought about my question?”

    Marian sighed, “Yes.”

    “And?”

    She huffed, “It’s the closest thing to a life I have.”

    Leo raised an eyebrow, “Really? A woman like yourself?”

    Marian snorted. It’s not like I have any friends.

    Leo turned to her, “You seem a decent person to me. You’re not like the other enforcers they train nowadays.” He smiled, “I’d like for you to consider me a friend. If you ever need help with anything, just give me a call.” He pushed a piece of paper into her hand, “If you come back same time tomorrow, I’ll bring you a sandwich.” And stood to leave.

    “Wait…” Marian blurted.

    He paused midstride, “Hmm?”

    “Could you… um… could you bring a croissant instead? If it’s not too much trouble?”

    He laughed, “See you tomorrow… pardon me, but what’s your name?”

    “Marian.” She pushed through the lump in her throat.

    Leo was still for a few seconds, then he hurried on.

     

    Back at her apartment. Marian flopped onto her couch and heaved a sigh. She hugged herself as she felt her throat tightening again, Lux hopped up beside her, meowing curiously. She turned to him. “Well, I think I made friends today.”

    Sure, he was old enough to be her father, but he was nice to her, and had treated her with respect. If he pitied her, it only came across as kindness. And pity didn’t really offend her… when was the last time someone had pitied her? He had even offered her help! As she took off her jacket, she felt the piece of paper in her pocket. She pulled it out and saw that it was a business card… she looked inside, the print reading a call number and address, but what was most interesting was his occupation – private investigator.

    Marian stared at the card. Leo was immune to the law from all she’d gathered, maybe he could look into Evanbrook.

     

    Jake handed Felix a shovel, “This one’s a little lighter than the others.”

    Felix smiled, “Thanks, but you should have it.”

    “Hey,” Jake smiled, “I told you not to worry about me.”

    They were escorted to a new digging site, the guards doing round patrols to make sure the prisoners were doing their jobs. They had a certain amount of dirt they were supposed to dig each day, and if they didn’t reach it, there’d be hell to pay. It was especially difficult with how many prisoners were being selected. It used to be about two every few weeks, now ten would be picked at a time.

    The Warden was here to watch them, tapping a long switch against the stony ground. A light flashed on his watch, and he held it up, a hologram of a woman appearing. Beginning a conversation with her near Jake and Felix.

    “Look, if I give you anymore, then I will be out of workers!”

    “Then we will make more arrests.”

    Jake motioned for Felix to be quiet. They kept digging but moved gingerly so as to make the minimal amount of noise.

    “But I need the most compliant prisoners to stay, at least until the end of the month. You want me to dig up the entire mountain, and I can’t with half my workforce!”

    “Then give us some of your troublemakers… we can break them.”

    Jake nearly dropped his shovel, he turned to Felix who had gone still, his eyes widening. Jake inwardly cursed, who was the woman? Who would they be given to? It was clearly not releasing that was happening.

     

    The next day, Leo and Zina were already there when Marian arrived. She had actually dressed both out of uniform and somewhat nicely that day – sporting a beanie, her trench coat, and a pair of cargo pants. Leo waved at her, and she went to sit by them.

    As she approached, Leo handed her a croissant and a coffee in a to-go cup.

    Zina leaned back, “I didn’t know what to get you when I got the coffees, so I had them put a bit of sugar in it, is that alright with you?”

    Marian smiled. “I like it this way. And… thank you both.”

    Leo nodded, “It’s not easy being an Entek. My mom was one.”

    Marian’s eyes widened.

    Leo chuckled, “I know, it’s weird. Half Entek, and half human. Most don’t know that.”

    Zina gave Leo a strange look before shrugging and taking a bite of her sandwich.

    Marian looked around, “Why do you trust me so quickly?”

    “First, because I was once a lot like you,” Leo leaned back, “and, I have a hunch that you’re honest, and if my hunch about you proves itself wrong, then no harm, no foul. I can take you in a fight easily.”

    Marian shrugged, eyeing Leo’s muscular arms. “I guess so.”

    “Anyway,” Leo stretched, “I’ll bless the”—

    “Don’t… please.” Marian flushed.

    Leo frowned. “You want to do it?”

    “I-I’d rather not at all.” Marian’s gaze fixed on the ground.

    Leo shrugged and muttered the blessing to himself before eating, trying to dispel the awkwardness, he said, “So, how did you come to Olympia? Were you from the area or –”

    “By ship.” Marian quickly took a bite out of her croissant.

    After a moment of painful silence, Zina changed the subject, “I’ve always wondered how telepathy works with the Enteks, but I’ve never met one who’s been willing to talk about it. What’s it like?”

    Marian drew herself out of her thoughts, saying, “One common misconception is that we think in words. It’s not the case at all. Saying something telepathically is more like showing an experience that tells you what the other is trying to say. It can be a little difficult to understand at first.”

    “How would that work?”

    Marian shrugged, “Imagine that I had to tell you something via telepathy, like what I’d want in my coffee. I could tell you by having a picture of sugar and cream being poured into a cup. Or I could show you a taste or the sound of something. It tends to get confusing though when you have to explain more abstract things like love, hate, or loneliness.” Or telling someone when someone is still alive. “It can be challenging to say something to someone who isn’t familiar with it.”

    Zina nodded, “That’s very interesting.” She smiled, “Maybe I’ll teach you how to cook sometime, if you’d be interested? I make stuff a lot better than whatever Leo finds on sale.”

    Marian had to swallow another lump in her throat, “Uh… I’d really love to.”

    Leo and Zina both looked at her. Zina smiled gently, “What’s wrong?”

    Marian’s chin quivered but she hid it by taking a sip out of her mug, “I’m fine…”

    Leo put a hand on her shoulder, “Do you have time to come with Zina and I to my place? It’s getting cold.”

    Marian paused, then she nodded.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Back at Leo’s apartment, Marian was seated on the couch while Leo was in the kitchen. Zina spoke softly, “Do you want to talk about whatever’s upsetting you?”

    Marian shook her head, “Not now… by the way, I know you’re Leo’s friend, but he’s half-Entek, I have no humans in my lineage. Why do you treat me like this?”

    Zina said, “I guess it’d be confusing… but to be honest, I just never really cared that much. I was working from a young age and found that even Enteks need interior designers.”

    Leo returned to the living room, flopping into a worn armchair and resting his ankle on his knee.

    Marian nodded, “So… why did they bring you in?”

    Leo paused, “They question me every so often, making sure I’m keeping in line.” He smirked, “But to be honest, they can’t really do much.”

    Zina crossed her arms, “You can’t be so cocky all the time, one day they’ll catch you.”

    Leo smirked, “How? By convincing me?”

    Zina rolled her eyes.

    Marian swallowed, “So… you’re immune to the law?”

    Leo shrugged, “as long as I don’t go against the powers that be, I can pretty much do whatever and no one can stop me… but that doesn’t mean I will.”

    Marian’s jaw clenched. Must’ve gotten the superstition from his mother. “Why are you two so cautious, then?”

    Leo and Zina exchanged a look. Zina turned to her and said, “How do you feel about Evanbrook?”

    Marian frowned.

    “You know… right?”

    Marian leaned forward, “I got in the way of a kidnapping just the other day.”

    Leo and Zina’s eyes went wide. Leo stared at Marian, saying, “What happened?”

    Marian shrugged, “I don’t remember much, but I and another Entek were chased down an alley by what looked like a militia cyborg with no logos on it. we were cornered by some… I think ‘borgs? I don’t remember what happened after that, but I woke up hours later and all evidence of the skirmish was gone. I reported it immediately, but it was brushed off.”

    Leo nodded, “That makes sense from the reception I’ve received. Zina has a grandnephew who vanished too. Some say he was arrested for petty theft… but she hired me on behalf of her niece to find the boy.”

    “But he was too young to just disappear in a prison like that.” Zina spat. “And Claudia is too poor to pay for any form of help.”

    Leo rubbed his chin, staring at a picture frame face down on his mantelpiece. “I find it strange that after the boy was arrested, he just vanished.”

    Marian narrowed her eyes, then she shrugged. these people would obviously understand. “I’ve looked into similar disappearances as much as I can, but I’ve been forbidden from investigating Evanbrook. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an Entek or there’s something to hide.”

    Leo frowned, “Have you considered quitting your job?”

    “Why would I do that?”

    “They can’t stop you as easily if you’re a civilian.”

    “I-I can’t.”

    Leo began to pick at the veneer on the nearest side table, “Why?”

    Marian’s posture went rigid, “Almost everything I own comes with my job. If I quit, not only would I be homeless, but I’d lose a lot of things – my watch, my animatronic…”

    Leo held up a hand, “I get it, it was only a suggestion.”

    Marian sighed, “But… have you made any progress on Evanbrook?

    “To be honest, the trail dried up pretty quickly. I’m certain there’s more evidence… but as to who’s behind it, I have no clue.”

     

     

     

    When the lights were off, Jake whispered, “Hey,”

    Felix looked up, “What?” he said groggily.

    “We need to talk.”

    “We need to sleep.”

    Jake nodded, “Yeah, I know, but this is more important.”

    Felix sighed, “What?”

    “Escape.”

    Felix was silent for a moment, then said, “I’m listening.”

    Jake sat beside Felix’s bed, whispering still more quietly, “We can escape through the sewers when we’re at the mines.”

    “How about we pretend to be sick? Or play dead?”

    Jake shook his head, “They wouldn’t care if we were sick, and if we died, we’d just be donated or incinerated.”

    Felix nodded, “We could ‘die’ in the sewer, they’d be too lazy to find our bodies.”

    “Great idea.”

    Encouraged, Felix continued, “You know that new pipe with all the poo-water in it? they’d hate to search for us in that.”

    “But it’s closely guarded.” Jake thought for a moment, “unless we distracted them.”

    “How?”

    Jake smiled, “We just need to keep them busy.”

    “With what?”

    Jake grinned, “A riot.”

    “You’ve got this all planned out, haven’t you?” Felix smirked.

    Jake furrowed his brows, then shrugged, “I guess I’m always thinking of escape…”

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    The next morning, Jake and Felix maneuvered to find seats separate from each other among some of the more… lively… prisoners. Not that that was saying much.

    Jake paused behind a burly Entek. “Hey, can I sit by you guys?”

    The Entek looked up at him, and wordlessly made him room.

    As Jake sat down and scarfed his food, he whispered, “Have you heard what the Warden’s planning to do?”

    The prisoners slowed in their eating and looked at him. the Entek grumbled, “What?”

    Jake leaned forward, whispering so they had to bend in to hear, “He’s going to send us all to some facility, rumor is that the HSI’s wanting to try out a new virus they’re coming up with and need hundreds of test subjects. We’re sitting ducks if we don’t find a way to escape. Pass it on.”

    The prisoners nodded and muttered to themselves, one of them saying, “What are you thinking?”

    Jake whispered, “If we start a riot on the work field, we can make a run for the big sewage pipe.”

    The prisoners crossed their arms, the Entek said, “You’ve got a point.”

    The other prisoners muttered their assent.

    “But the guards are armed.” One prisoner added, “With blasters.”

    Time to play the educational card… Jake smiled softly, “You know how bees kill an intruder?”

    The prisoners shook their heads, but the Entek nodded, a fierce light going into his eyes.

    “Hundreds of them will cling to an intruder, covering them. then they will vibrate and generate enough heat to kill the enemy. If we team up, then we have a chance at actually escaping.”

    The prisoners nodded, and Jake noticed a spark of life going into their eyes. Jake smiled. “Now I’ve really got to go and talk to others, but pass it on, make sure everyone knows and is in on it. Do whatever you can. We are fighting for our lives.” It was tragic that he had to give them hope, when this wouldn’t end well for them. The sad part about the bee analogy is that cooking the enemy requires sacrifice.

    The prisoners nodded, the Entek patted Jake on the back, saying, “When do you want this riot to happen?”

    Jake got to his feet, saying, “The day after tomorrow, when we’re all arriving on the field, start attacking guards. Steal blasters and have fun getting payback. Then run.”

    The Entek nodded, “We have shared food, it is only fitting you know my name – I am Marco.”

    “Pleasure, name’s Jake.” And he hurried to another table, whispering the ‘news’ everywhere.

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    The morning the plan would take place, Felix and he sat in their usual spot, trying to eat as much as they could. Felix whispered, “do you think it’ll work?”

    Jake smiled, “Yes.”

    Felix smiled, “Will we be able to find my mom?”

    Jake rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah…”

    Felix grinned and nodded. “She’ll be so happy to meet you. She’s pretty, single, and about as old as you. Maybe you could marry her, and we could be a family.”

    Jake blushed, “I don’t know her.”

    “But she’s a nice lady. At least I love her.”

    Jake smiled, “We’ll see…” he didn’t know how to say that Felix should not try to get in touch with his mother if he hoped to not drag her into a life on the run.

    They were escorted to the work fields as usual, being marched in a line. As soon as the last man stepped out into the open, Jake paused. He’d calculated his plan and put hundreds of lives at risk. What if they couldn’t reach the blasters in time? What if Felix was shot? There was no way to get any medical attention besides Jake’s own knowledge… which wasn’t much.

    Jake looked down at Felix, who stood cool and determined. “Stay close, and we’ll get outta here.” He was too young to understand how some actions and tactics could have devastating repercussions… too young to be imprisoned. Jake clenched his fists, how could this be the right thing? he shook his head, he had to go through with this… Jake broke from the crowd and charged the nearest guard, before the man could resist, smoke was issuing form the blast hole in his chest and several other guards were on their knees. Jake whirled to the prisoners, “Charge!”

    So many men yelled and ran to the guards. But the element of surprise wore off, and enough guards remained armed. They fired at the prisoners, beams of light slicing through the crowd, they were obviously trained in blaster warfare as they quickly stood at irregular intervals, making sure it was nearly impossible to shoot more than one with a single blast. Jake swallowed, screaming, “Thin out!”

    The prisoners responded, but there were too many, and it was so condensed the guards had the upper hand. Jake groaned, there would be few survivors. He turned to Felix, whispering, “Run!”

    Felix frowned, “What about you?”

    “Grab some others and open the grate over that pipe.”

    “But”—

    “I’ll be fine! I’ll catch up.”

    Felix frowned, “Are you lying?”

    Jake shook his head rapidly, “Go!” and pushed Felix away before rushing into the melee. He shot down a guard that was aiming at Marco. The Entek finished choking a guard and took their blasters, turning to Jake, “Where’s your friend?” he winced and clutched a burn that scarred his shoulder.

    Jake kicked another guard in the groin and punched his head with his bionic arm. “I sent him to the escape point. We have to begin retreat to the pipe opening in the center of the pits.”

    Marco nodded, “Let’s bust some more heads.”

    Jake kicked another guard. “Agreed.”

    Marco aimed his blaster, hollering, “Try to shoot down more than one! These blasters’ll go through anything!”

    As Jake rushed another guard, he tripped and faceplanted. He pushed himself up, looking into the dead face of a guard. Fabian’s scorched face flashed in his mind, and he yelped, scrambling backward and falling over another body. He forced himself to his feet, shaking the death from his mind. He felt his hands trembling so fiercely the tremors traveled up his arms. he could only see the bodies strewn across the dirt, the number of prisoners reduced to half, and one obscure guard taking aim at him.

    He was jerked to the side as he felt the heat of the beam burn his neck. Felix looked down at him, “We have to go!”

    Jake nodded, “Stop supporting me. I’m slowing you down.”

    At that moment Felix cried out and clutched his leg, tears rolling down his cheeks. Jake turned to the guards, seeing the nearest one beginning to take aim again. He shot the man down and turned to Felix, “I have to fight.” He’d been panicked, true, but now, seeing Felix in so much pain caused his tremors to leave… he’d make all of them regret this.

    Jake aimed at the approaching guards, but they were mingled among the prisoners, and he didn’t have a clear shot. He huffed and charged the guards, they were the killers, and they needed to be destroyed. These were murderers. These were the kind of people who killed people like Fabian, they showed no mercy, and he would show them none.

    Jake leapt and kicked a guard in midair, knocking him back and crushing his head with his metal foot. Jake ignored the gore and punched the next guard in the stomach, the man groaned and bent forward, Jake punched him in the diaphragm as he heard the whine of a blaster. He shifted to the left, and a beam of light grazed his side. Jake was punched in the chest and retaliated with a kick in the liver, sending him flying backward. He eventually got lost in the fighting, the movement and concentration of killing and surviving taking his whole attention.

    “Jake! We’ve got to go!” Yelled Marco.

    Jake turned to him, “Take Felix to shelter,” Jake crushed a guard’s windpipe, “I’m not done yet!” another hit him in the back of the head, and he saw stars momentarily before grabbing the man’s arm and throwing him at another. Before the two men could rise, Jake killed them both with a blaster. he heard a noise behind him and ducked just as a blaster shot over him.

    But before Jake could attack, Marco came from behind and stabbed the man. “You’ve held them off, we’ve got to run now… reinforcements will be here any time now!”

    Jake nodded, and they made a dash for the rendezvous.

    Jake kept firing as Marco leapt into the hole. Jake made an offensive gesture at the remaining guards before jumping down himself.

    The water was deeper than expected, but after a few yards of swimming the water became shallow and jake rose to the surface.

    Other prisoners were standing around, most of them bandaging blaster wounds with shreds of clothing. Jake’s heart sank, most of them did die. Another stain on my conscience. Yay.

    “Jake?”

    He waded across to Felix and sat beside him, “Let me see your leg.”

    Felix unwrapped his hands from the wound. It was a large swathe of burned skin on his calf, Jake winced as he saw a glimmer of white. He took off his jacket and ripped off the sleeves, tearing them into strips. “They’re not clean, but this is what I can do for now until we reach clean water.”

    Felix relaxed as Jake bound the wound. “Thanks.”

    Jake nodded, “Can you walk?”

    Felix nodded.

    “We can’t stay here. the guards are bound to catch up.” Marco said, “Felix and the wounded should take the middle, you and I are the best fighters, we should be in front and behind.”

    Jake nodded briefly, “take the front.”

     

     
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
     

    Jake and Felix crouched in the shelter of a half-built pipe. Rain poured in sheets over Marco as he stood outside, breathing deeply. After several minutes, he turned to Jake, “We won’t be safe here for long, if we take the tunnels to the lower stories, we’re less likely to be caught.”

    Jake crossed his arms, “But I actually have a place I need to be.”

    Marco crossed his arms, “But what about these people you’ve helped escape? Where will they go? Without help, they won’t have long to survive.”

    Felix looked up at Jake, “Yeah, what are we gonna do about them?”

    Jake flushed, grumbling to himself. Hope I can bail myself out of this one. “You all have to go in hiding for now and try to make new lives for yourselves in the underground. It’s an intricate network below the surface, you should be able to make a living there.”

    Marco leaned toward Jake, “And live the rest of our lives as prey?”

    Jake swallowed, trying to avoid Marco’s piercing gaze.

    “Do you have a plan for these people?” Marco clenched Jake’s wrist before he could prepare his mind. His first thoughts were guilt for leaving these people behind, but then shifted to Fabian, Felix, and Marian. And being some place safe where they could be happy.

    After a moment of staring into Jake’s panicked eyes, he let go, saying, “I see.” and nodded, whispering bitterly, “At least you have a soul. You should go to… wherever you’re heading. I and these men will find our own way.” He turned to Felix, “You don’t have to go with this man, he is not that good.”

    Felix crossed his arms, “Jake’s not bad, he helped all these people escape.”

    Jake blinked rapidly and looked at the featureless sky.

    Marco said, “Be careful.”

    “Yeah,” Felix shrugged, “but he did risk his life for me.”

    Marco looked into Felix’s eyes, “Are you sure?”

    Felix was quiet for a moment, then he bobbed his head.

    Marco looked at the two of them, “I’ll take these men to the underground… for a time.”

    Jake said, “I’ve gotta go down as well, but we should probably take our separate ways. Safe travels.” and shook Marco’s hand.

    Marco looked into Jake’s eyes, and said, “You have an odd power around you, a sort of… charisma.”

    “Tell me something I don’t know.”

    Marco chuckled, shaking his head, “Seriously, you remind me of an Entek.”

    “Well, I did date one for a while.” Jake shrugged.

    Marco raised an eyebrow, “I wonder what she saw in you.”

     

    We crazy people are the normal ones.

    #147503
    ScoutFinch190
    @scoutfinch190

    @joy-caroline

    (I remembered telling you about this so I wanted to tag you as well 😁)

    We crazy people are the normal ones.

    #147504
    ScoutFinch190
    @scoutfinch190

    (I’m gonna add this into part two) The reason the prisoners are working manually is because the dirt holds a flammable material that may ignite if they used heavy machinery.

    We crazy people are the normal ones.

    #147505
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Hi @scoutfinch190

    I noticed something here…

    He twisted against their arms, trying to writhe out of their grip as one of the guards punched him in the mouth.

    Think about the physical proximity of the two guards that would be on either side of him.  Punching their captive in the mouth would make more sense if he was upright and facing them, or pinned to the wall.  At best, a guard might give him a grazing blow down the side of his jaw, but that would be difficult to do with trying to hold him at the same time.  A blow to the back of the head might work, since he would be lower then the two standing guards, but again it would be a cross-body hit, with their free, less dominant arm.  It might be helpful to picture the shot or have two friends help you block it out to see what might work to subdue him.

    It is not clear how many guards have Jake, but there would seem to be at least two.  A mouth punch usually clips the nose which would bleed, unless it only impacts the lower jaw, but consider that Jake is just awakening, hanging slack between the two guards with his feet dragging the floor.  To struggle, he would first need to gain his feet and thrust upward, before he could twist and writhe.

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #147520
    ScoutFinch190
    @scoutfinch190

    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Thank you for the tip! I was thinking something was off with that scene! If one of the guards hit Jake in the stomach with his knee, would that work?

    I just love how Story Embers has writers and authors of various age groups!

    We crazy people are the normal ones.

    #147526
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    So, if two guards have Jake between them, and at the beginning of the scene, Jake is unconscious, his body would be hanging slack between them, lower than their waistline.  Any striking to be done would be below the guard’s waistline with Jake’s body angled down to a slant to the floor.  A knee to the stomach would require one of the guards to release his hold, pivot towards Jake’s body, face him, which would cause Jake to slump even lower. To strike him with a knee, the guard would have to use his non-weight bearing leg.  The hit would more than likely strike him in the solar plexus bone or ribs, rather than the stomach.  It would be an awkward move.

    Think about it.  The guards would be dragging him by his arms, probably with their forearms under his armpits, if they are not just dragging him by his arms alone.  I would think the guards would not want the bulk of his body dragging the ground, because that would make him harder to pull forward, so he would be lifted enough so that only his feet are dragging, as you described.  My sense is, the guards just want to pitch him into a locked cell and have done with him, as soon as possible with the least amount of trouble.

    In a two person carry scenario, as you’ve described, the victim is either held up between the two carriers with his arms around their necks and shoulders or he is dragged under his armpits with his hands bound behind his back.  The latter is the more probable because this is the posture of a prisoner. Why wouldn’t they bind him unless they are overconfident?  Doesn’t Jake have a known history of duplicity and eluding capture?  I would think so.  They would already expect him to struggle when he came to.  To hold his dead weight, each of the guard’s inner arms would be occupied, and they would only be able to strike him with their outer arms.  For each guard, this would be a cross body strike, lacking force or momentum, unless they struck him with a gat, baton, or Billy club.  Those would be downward strikes, hitting the top of his head or shoulders, but the guards would have to drop him and pivot to face him to do it.

    What would make more sense and have cruelty about it is merely to drop him and let him hit the ground and faceplant.  With his arms bound behind him, he could not catch himself and stop his face and chin from striking the floor.  It would be a stunning blow and quite possibly break his nose, making him much more “cooperative” in the process.

    If Jake is smart, he would most likely feign that he is still unconscious with surreptitious glances to try to make sense of where he is being taken, so he could calculate an escape route.

    Punching someone is either an uppercut motion or a horizontal motion, requiring the head to be above or on the same plane as the swinging or cocked fist.  A knee to the stomach requires the striking knee to be lower than the gut area, but not angled away from it.  It is a low arc moving slightly forward but forcibly upward, with the victim falling forward and downward into the strike.

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #147564
    Cathy
    @this-is-not-an-alien

    Hi! sorry that part two’s been taking so long, I didn’t eralize how much i needed to change for the benefit of the storyline…🤦‍♀️ And… it’s not easy being a professional procrastinator.

    oh I know it lol!! Professional procrastinating and constant redrafting.

    Ooh, what tragic symbolism did you set up for?

    Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh a lot…? (nix almost cried, I did cry, a lot…😭😭😭)

    Lol, I figured out that my MC’s scar symbolizes choice, and I learned the story behind that aaaaaaaand the story behind why he compulsively tells the truth in every situation even though he’s very very good at acting and *sobs hysterically* I can’t tell any more or I’ll give a lot of spoilers but I’m dying!!!

    Yeah, the over-analysis of symbolism in books i can understand, but it’s still frustrating. *looking back on my Midsummer Night’s dream essay on the nature of reality that garnered one of the lowest grades it ever got and I hated writing*. Part 2 is a lot longer than Ice because I haven’t tightened up the prose and dialogue very much, and I was trying to convey a lot of info.

    Haha…nobody needs to figure out what Shakespeare is actually saying in Old English WOW like NEVER!!! Ever. like never. *pats on the shoulder* I’m so sorry you had to write an essay on that, bro…

    I loved Part 2!!! I can’t wait to learn more about these characters and what’s going on!

    *Should probably go back and read critically and give better feedback but I have so many emails I haven’t even replied to yet, not to mention several topics, projects and *gazes dramatically at the ginormous pile of duties and projects I recklessly took upon myself with abandon…**

    I liked it!!

    To be a light to the world you must shine in the darkness.

    #147574
    ScoutFinch190
    @scoutfinch190

    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Thank you for the tip!  That would work a lot better than what i currently wrote. I know Jake is technically waking up in a strange scenario, but it would probably be better if he didn’t struggle and waited to see what would happen.

    Again, thank you for the fighting tips! They are certainly one of my many weak spots and it’s helpful to be shown what needs correction.


    @this-is-not-an-alien

    It’s alright! it won’t hurt me anymore lol. I was part of a homeschool co-op’s English class (I later learned that it was more intense than a public school’s AP class). The teacher was really sweet and truly doing her best to prepare us for college, but it was still a lot… especially since I had no plans to go to college.

    If you want to share spoilers, that’s ok by me. I know it’s also handy if you’re not sure something would work etc. And for some reason tragic backstories can be a little… fun?

    I’m so glad you liked it! (I totally understand the plethora of emails etc. by the way, it’s no fun. take as much time as you need to respond 😊)

    We crazy people are the normal ones.

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