snippet 15

Like a knife being slid slowly down her throat, right down her chest. Straight into her heart.
That was the grief she felt.
Like slivers of razors running through her veins. Throbbing with her pulse.

His blue eyes. So pale they looked like clouded sky. No glow now. No sparkle.

His hands, covered in blood and bits of flesh, growing cold in hers.

“Why did you leave my side? Why did you not hold the line?” she rasped. The icy rain began to pummel her helmetless head relentlessly.
“I couldn’t get there in time…”

The bucketing rain began to wash the mess of gore from his hands and body. His sword hand was twisted and broken. The fingers bent at angles and the bones sticking through the skin. These were the minor injuries. The killing blow was evident in his crushed side.
The troll that had caused the damage lay dead behind her, her great axe stuck fast in its skull.

Astur stood panting an arms length from her. His beautiful white face scraped and bloodied, his armour torn from him. His black mane matted with gore. He bled from many wounds, but would not leave her side. A true warhorse. A true friend.

But even that brave horse could not get her to his side fast enough. And here he lay, his head on her knees, his hands in hers.

“Oh my darling, my darling…” she sobbed. Some of her warriors stood and watched in sympathy. These two were the stuff of legend. There would be songs. But songs could not bring him back to her. Songs would not heal the hurt.

There were no words to speak to her, so none were spoken. They waited silently for her command. Their horses regaining their breath. Their wounded being cared for by Halas, as he made his way amongst them. His red robes glistened with rivulets of blood. His blind eyes glowed.

There they all stood. On this battlefield, victorious, but at such a cost it could not be fathomed until the dead had been counted. And there were so many.

“This war was not ours, my beloved, like many other wars. Our luck ran out.” she said softly. She took a shuddering breath and gently laid his arms across his body. She softly closed his eyes with her fingertips. His sword she took, and then she stood, looking down at him one last time.

Astur stepped closer to her and put his nose against her chest. His sister, Melur, had been the mount that carried her beloved into battle. She too was lost.

snippet 14

PFC Jacqui Winston was by no means a _smart_ woman. She followed orders, to the letter, because she trusted that her CO knew what he was talking about. Her loyalty and unquestioning obedience was already legend. Her squad knew it, the platoon knew it. You told “Jumping Jac” to get something done, she did it exactly as she was told to. No questions asked.

What was also quietly becoming legend, was her uncanny ability to smell trouble and her nearly supernatural skill for getting her squad out of it.

Sometimes she reacted so fast her buddies would swear that she could slow time. A common thing heard when asked about a mission would be “one minute she was there next to me, the next she was up the stairs and she’d be giving the all clear…” or “…I swear I was running into the building, but I found myself running back to the humvee and then the whole building went up like the 4th of july!”

PFC Winston talked slow, like a southern girl should, and walked (even in her battle-rattle) like a southern girl should. She was blonde and blue-eyed and tanned and toned. She once had a nickname “The Cheerleader”, but it was smacked out of the mouth of anyone who said it, by her squad. It didn’t last long, and she never found out about it. Nobody made fun of “Jumping Jac”. She’d saved too many of their asses, too many times.

She was oblivious to the awed looks and under-the-breath comments of turtle-heads and lifers alike, around base. She never left base, unless she was deployed. She didn’t seem to have any friends who came to visit. She never made any phonecalls off base. She wore jeans and tshirts when at home and her gear at all other times. Even her squad didn’t know much about her except that she was from a tiny village, not even on the map, in southern Alabama.

snippet 13

She awoke with a jerk of all her muscles. The back of her head banged against metal and her right leg cramped so hard she groaned in pain.

“What the hell?” she whispered. It was so dark that she felt her face to see if she had a blindfold on, because she knew her eyes were definitely open. As she lay on her back in the pitch blackness, she became aware of sounds and smells. The first thing she noticed was the tang of fish in the air, and the cold metal underneath her body. This led to another realisation: She was naked. Her buttocks were numb from the icy metal and her back ached. She could feel little studs in the floor in a line heading off into the distance.
A low thrum could be heard and felt under her hands.
A ship then. Some sort of fishing ship? By the aching cold biting into her body, it was most probably a deep sea vessel.

“Right. So here I am. On a ship. A fishing ship. Buck naked in the dark. Way to go, Libby.” The sound of her voice calmed her slightly, even though the sound was swallowed up by the huge dark room she was in.

snippet 12

It occurred to her suddenly, out of the blue, that she really was in deep trouble.
She hadn’t really worried before. Now, she was feeling something she had been avoiding since she was a youngster.
Fear.
Panic.
Oh, and rage of course. But she knew rage very well, as it was a pretty constant emotion when dealing with smugglers.

Kicking at the red sand with her foot, she swore quietly in ‘garsh.
She looked around. Smiling wryly at the desolate desert stretching off in all directions, she swore again loudly. Repeatedly.
She felt better.
A sigh escaped her and she turned to look at the little PlasBeam shack that stood, slightly tilted, in a small flattened area.

One day, she would find Greel and kill him. Then she would get a Voodun to bring him back, so she could kill him again.
She could still taste the drug in her mouth and her eyes were itchy and red. Her body felt like she’d been flung from a hanger – and she probably had been, knowing Greel and his cronies! She shook her head and growled softly.

But first, before thoughts of torture and revenge, she must sort out this shelter and see what she could use to communicate with any Habitats in the area. She at least knew what planet she was on. Knowing Greel, however, she was most certainly in the centre of the largest desert homeland. With any luck, she could find a way of attracting some of the nomadic tribes, and hitch a ride to a village or town or Habitat that was passing by.

With one more look at the suns setting over the far dunes and the red and gold sandstorm heading her way, she shook her head again and went inside.

snippet 10

“This is Georgina. She will be be joining you on the tactical training today. Make her welcome.”

Sarge stood next to a young woman in civvies. He had an unreadable expression on his face. All business today. He left the room.

Stepman of course leapt up from his chair and shoved his hand out at the woman. She looked at his hand for a beat and then took it and shook it.
She didn’t smile, but you could see the tension go out of her shoulders.

“What you here for, Georgina?” asked Stepman, settling himself on the corner of one of the briefing room desks.
The rest of the squad were watching now, and the woman took a deep breath.

“I am, apparently, your new tactical advantage.” she said quietly. She had a wry smile on her face as she said it, and you could just see she was repeating something she’d been told all too often.

There was a bit of laughter, and Chase was about to ask for clarification (because that’s what he always did) but the door swung open and Sarge stepped in again, this time with two bigshots. One in a suit, the other in DGUs.

“Gentleman,” said the suit, trying to look important,”Georgina is very special and must be treated as such. She will rely on you for protection as she is not a trained soldier. You will rely on her for information. Very special information. You will discover her incredible talents during this next training mission. Your squad was selected, after careful research, because you seem to be an open-minded and intelligent lot. Your sarge is vouching for you here, so don’t let him down.”

Sarge winced a little at the last comment, but didn’t meet any eyes. He was a stoic, steady man who only said what was needed, but he always had your back.
The suit and the uniform left and Sarge stood at the blackboard. You could see him gathering his thoughts before he spoke.
Georgina stood to one side of the room, clearly still very anxious.

“Boys and girls.” said Sarge,”I’ve been briefed on Georgina’s capabilities. I consider myself pretty open-minded and well-read, but even so, it took me a little while to  accept things. You are free to say what you feel, but only _after_ this training exercise. Clear?”
We all yessir’d.
“If even half of these things are true, we’re a lucky squad. If this works out.”

We were pondering this when Beacon raised his hand.
“Sir”

“A question, Beacon?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Continue.”

“What exactly can she do, Sir?” he asked.

“Basically, boys, Georgina can see ’round corners.” said Sarge.

snippet 9

Kerry leant against the wall next to the mirrored glass. His eyes on the man in the room on the other side.
Wick was picking his teeth with a long dirty fingernail.
“We can call in Lear, Mike.” said Muller. In this little dark room, Mullers pale red hair seemed to glow in light from the interrigation room.
Kerry frowned.
“She’s all rested up now. It’s been a month or more since the last time.” said Muller. He watched Kerry carefully. He saw the twitch of his jaw muscle.
‘Last Time’ had not been pretty. Muller still had nightmares.
But Lear was incredible. Before the trouble started, it was amazing to watch her work. Other people called her a freak, but Muller knew that Lear was exceptional and rare. Possibly even unique – although from rumours he’d heard, Muller knew that the People Upstairs had found themselves some interesting people. Nobody was “in use” like Agent Lear, however.
“Alright.” Kerry said.

Muller went to call Lear.

Kerry sighed and stood in front of the glass. Wick was beginning to get restless and was tapping his fingers on the glass of water on the table. But he wouldn’t speak. He just made crass comments and laughed at anything Kerry asked. They couldn’t lay a hand on him. They’d learned from experience that he was quick to call his lawyer and complain about brutality. It was a small miracle that he had not asked for his council yet. He felt safe.
So they were being very careful.

Muller opened the door and nodded at Kerry. Lear was outside. She didn’t like the dark. With what she’d been through, Kerry was not surprised. He’d been given access to her file when she’d joined his team. Some of what he’d read had made him sick to his stomach.

He watched through the glass as Lear and Muller entered the interrigation room. Wick looked up and smirked when he saw Lear. She was tiny, like a young child. Her eyes were huge and violet and her lips were small, pouty, and red. She wore no makeup. She had little blonde curls which exploded everywhere, even though her hair was cut short. She was about 5’2″ and was as delicate looking as a porcelain doll. She never smiled.

Wick had no idea what she could do.

“Mister Wick, meet Agent Lear.” said Muller, trying not smile.
“Lear, like that king, right?” said Wick, leaning back in his chair and the look on his face made Kerry want to walk in there and punch him right in the mouth.

Lear glided in and sat quietly in the chair facing Wick. She put both hands palm down on the metal table and closed her beautiful violet eyes. Wick was amused and sat forward, sliding his elbows onto the table and his hands under his chin in mock interest.

“Don’t cry, Mister Wick, it only hurts at first.” said Lear, in her soft little girl voice.
“I’m not crying! Why the hell would I cry? Nothing hurts!” said Wick. He began to lean back, losing interest.
Lear opened her eyes and looked straight into Wicks.
He jerked up straight and his mouth opened wide in a silent scream. His eyes started to bulge and he began to shake violently.
“Because I know what you’ve done, Mister Wick.” whispered Lear. “Tell them, and I’ll take it all away. I’ll take all your pain away, Mister Wick.”

Wick screamed.

From behind, Kerry saw Lear hunch her shoulders slightly and he swore. That’s what had started the trouble last time. They couldn’t lose this one.
He bashed the intercom button and was greeted with a static squeal. He swore some more.
As he turned to leave the room, he heard the mirrored glass begin to vibrate. He swore again, with far more vigour.
He crashed open the dark room door and ran the few steps down the corridor to the interrigation room and grabbed the handle of the door to open it. A shock from the metal handle made his muscles clench and he flew backwards and slammed into the wall. He was out cold.

Muller, meanwhile, was watching with strange glee as Wick moaned quietly and sobbed like a little boy. He told them everything he’d done. Absolutely everything, in great detail. He offered up sins that the Agency was not even aware of. Muller was writing furiously. Then he started to smell something burning. He looked up from his notes and gaped as he saw Wick’s hair standing on end, smoking slightly as if a great heat was under the surface of his scalp.
He looked at Lear and saw blood running from her nose.
Time to get her out of there. She’d done enough.
He heard a thump from the corridor, like something heavy hitting the door, but he forgot that as he dropped his notebook and reached desperately across to break the link between Lear and Wick, as he’d been trained to do.
The glass of water on the table exploded and tiny flecks of glass blasted into Wicks right side. The glass did not touch Lear. Muller got a face full, but managed to knock into Lear enough to make her turn her head towards him.

Everything went silent.

Wick collapsed in his chair with a little sigh and slid down under the table, unconcious. Muller wiped blood from his face and thanked his lucky stars that the glass missiles had missed his eyes. Lear was still looking at him, but with none of the intensity of her gaze on Wick.

“Are you alright, Bianca?” asked Muller.

Lear blinked her enormous violet eyes at him. A strange look on her face.
She smiled. The tiniest twitch of her lips, but Muller saw it.

snippet 8

He doesn’t talk with his hands. I notice that. His lips hardly move. He stands there with that look on his face with his hands at his sides and tells me that I am no longer needed. It looks like he is mumbling, but his words are crystal clear. His meaning is clear.
I’ve seen that look before, but never aimed my way. I’ve been standing next to him or behind him.

His eyes really are cold. Does he turn it on and off? Can he?

There’s a speck of blood on his cheek. My blood? It could be. I’ve lost enough.
All I can think of doing is trying to wipe it off. But if I make a move he will kill me. I’m drifting though, and I can feel my sanity sliding, like sweaty buttocks off a leather seat.
Why am I thinking about buttocks? At a time like this?

I try to open my mouth to say something witty and brave, but I just cough blood.
Was that a look of pity? From him?
We’ve been partners for so long, could this actually be difficult for him?
I’ve seen him kill children! I’ve seen him kill an elderly blind man! It must be disgust, not pity.
I manage to form words in the mangled mess that is my mouth. I ask him who he will find to watch his back when I am gone.

There! That was witty! That was brave! He looks down at me and I swear his eyes are getting teary.
He says my name. My real name. A tear slides down his cheek and the blood speck follows it down to his jaw. He is so beautiful.
I tell him this.
A sob makes his body shudder. I can’t believe it. He is actually crying. Over me. All these years and I thought it was all business. All the job. Nothing more.
I smile at him. As much as I can.

He sniffs loudly and raises the gun in his left hand. It is now pointing at my forehead.
He crinkles his eyes up and I know what’s coming.

I refuse to beg.

I’ve done some terrible things, but I refuse to beg.

“Forgive me.” he says and pulls the trigger.
“Forgive me.” I say.

snippet 7

Her breath was coming in high pitched rasps between cracked bloody lips. She’d lost a heel at some point. A stitch of massive proportions was tearing its way up her side. She had to keep running, she could still hear them behind her. She kicked off both shoes and held the little straps in her left hand as she ran. Her right hand was charcoal black and it felt cold as ice. That was something to ponder when she was safe. Right now she had to keep running.
Where the hell could she go? She stopped for a moment to gasp a few breaths and to have a look at her surroundings. Pretty little townhouses and white picket fences. A dog started barking at her from behind a high wooden fence. She heaved violently as the stitch stuck its way into her stomach. She drew in a long whistling breath and carried on running. Her feet were stinging now from the pretty paved streets. She grimaced in pain as she stumbled and felt her right ankle click. She carried on running. She had no choice. If they caught up, she was deadmeat.
How dare they? She became angry. Furious. Her right hand clenched hard and her once fine nails dug into her palm. She squeaked in pain. She got her second wind. Her lungs heaved as she sucked in huge gasps of air and a burst of speed spread to her feet and she surged forward.
What have I done? What can I do to change this?
Nothing! Keep running! Find somewhere to hide!
She kept running, scanning the homes around her for a shed or a partially open garage. This was subburbia, people trusted each other. There had to be somewhere she could huddle until the mob passed her by.
She stumbled again, this time falling hands first into a hedge. The sharp sticks cut and tore and she had to muffle her shrieks. She extracted herself and saw she was in a small garden. Next to the large white double story house was a little wooden wendy house.
She stopped to listen for the pack behind her. There. In the far distance. At least they didn’t have dogs this time.
She slunk across the freshly mowed lawn towards the wendy house, listening carefully for any noise from the house.
It wasn’t locked. Thank heavens.
Her legs buckled as she closed the little wooden door behind her and she collapsed on a stack of compost bags. She was safe. For now.
Finally, the tears came.

snippet 6

It was on a Wednesday that Jeff first noticed. His back began to ache as if he’d done a days hard labour. Terrible spasms began that night, as he lay in bed. On Thursday morning, he could hardly move. His eyes were gummed shut and they burned. Jeff thought perhaps he had the ‘flu.
He called in sick on Thursday and curled up in a miserable ball in bed, after dosing himself up with Corenza C and chewable vitamin C tablets.

Thursday passed in a blur. But the pain he felt on Thursday was nothing compared to the pain he felt on Friday morning.
His shoulderblades felt like they were grating against each other. His spine would twinge and sieze up. His entire body ached and his skin began to tingle and then became so dry it itched with maddening thoroughness.

Friday night was sheer misery. Saturday morning was pain beyond anything he had ever experienced in his entire 32 years of life. He sweated and shook and cried and moaned. Then he discovered that his hair was falling out in huge tufts. His tongue was swollen in his mouth and he could not swallow any water. His hands and feet were swollen and felt like they were being stretched on a rack. His knuckles felt like they were going to pop right off. But all this was nothing compared to the horrific pain in his back. His shoulders.
He begged for mercy in unintelligable grunts.
His skin flaked off in large snakelike pieces. What was revealed to Jeff was terror in itself. He was blue. Not a pale blue of being cold or of not being in the sun. No, this was real blue. Eggshell blue. Sky blue. Perhaps his eyes were playing tricks on him. At least his eyes no longer hurt.

Jeff could not move from his nest in the blankets on his bed and had thus been unable to pick up the telephone. He was sure someone had knocked on his door, but he couldn’t be sure. His eardrums thrummed constantly, like there was a breeze blowing permanently next to his ear. His jaw ached from clenching against the pain. At least he still had his teeth.

Saturday night he fell into oblivion. His mind floated above as his body writhed in agony. In a detached way he watched as the space between his shoulderblades ripped and tore and blood sprayed everywhere. He felt no pain at all. In fact, he felt awe as he watched two enormous pieces of bone wrench out of his back. Jeff was not good with blood, so he was not lucid for the rest of the experience.
If he had been, he could have watched as sinew and muscle spun onto these protruding bones like cloth being woven on a loom. Long strands of tissue and bloody veins coiled around the muscles. Nerves flittered across the surface and dug their way in. Then the skin began to form, wet and sticky at first, then drying like paint. Shimmering blue skin. Jeff missed the incredible sight of these bony limbs stretching out behind his blue body, bones cracking in his shoulders, muscles tearing on his back and sides. Then the soft lightening of the blue limbs, soft downy white. And then the feathering. Long white strong feathers, like an eagle. His muscles and skin healed while this happened.

On Sunday morning, Jeff woke up feeling like he was going to be alright. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Everything was crystal clear around him. His lungs filled with a huge breath. He glanced down at his stomach and saw rippling muscle. Rippling blue muscle. Blue skin. His mind spun and he rolled over to the side of his bed and dry vomited. The heaves nearly took him off the bed and as he flinched to avoid falling he felt the great weight on his back. Jeff looked over his shoulder and saw the gigantic white feathered wings.
Jeff curled up in a fetal ball and cried.
He heard music. Song. Heartbreakingly beautiful.
He heard someone saying his name and he opened his eyes.
There stood a woman. A blue woman. With wings slightly raised behind her. She said his name and he heard music when she spoke.
He sat on the edge of his bed as this winged blue woman told him what had happened to him and why.
She asked him if he understood and he just looked her.

“A great battle, you say?” said Jeff, eventually.
He heard music when he spoke.

snippet 5

Grief.

The wind has calmed some. The tree outside my window is more at rest. The rain is coming down now, light and fresh.
Cozy is sprawled out in front of the fire. I don’t think one little cat could take up much more space than she is.
Badger and Doc are curled around to either side of her, their wet paws letting off a little steam as they dry. I might sleep here, in my chair. I am content.
Of course if I move, Badger and Doc will leap up and rush to the door barking. They’ve been doing that for a few days now. I don’t know why.
We’ve had no visitors for weeks. Not since.
Maybe they think you are coming back?
Oh wait, we have had one visitor. Alice came by. Two days ago I think. Maybe more. I can’t quite recall.
This is of course part of the problem. She looked at me like she was waiting for me to say something important. I really didn’t know what she wanted.
She brought me supplies. She told me that she was going away for a little bit. She said I must conserve my wood, unless I wanted to go out and cut my own.
I’m shaking again. Only Doc notices this time.
His little shaggy head lifts from the carpet and he eyes me for a moment, then he drops it back down and sighs gently.
What was I waiting for?
The kettle?
No. I can hear nothing from the kitchen.
I was waiting for something. I’m sure I was.
I’ve spilled ink on the blanket over my knees. Ink? When was I using ink? My right hand has ink stains as well. Was I writing?
Waiting for you. I am waiting for you. You said you would be back in an hour.
Was that today? No. That was a long time ago. Months.
The chair creaks as I change position. The fire snaps.
I’m still waiting.