Moral Compasses

The fight was over, the corpses looted, the captives restrained and sat around the campfire. The party fell to their usual post-fight habits — fighting amongst themselves. All could agree on searching the captives, that much was common sense. Various weapons and loose pocket change were removed and set aside.  But then the arguments continued about the captives and the information they surely had.

The youngest captive, a not so bright fellow lured into his fellow brigands' company through promises of regular meals (which had turned out to be a mite thinner in reality than the recruiter's speech), blanched at the lanky fellow tossing around all the knives' casual mention of torturing them.

The next captive, a survivor of two previous encounters in this forest and not yet beyond thinking himself immortal, smirked at the obvious ploy to frighten them into talking. He would not fall for so transparent a ruse.

The eldest captive, a full forty years above ground and veteran of an actual army before the war ended and discharged him with no other skills than wielding a sword, winced and swallowed hard. No ruse this or else they had all missed their calling as actors. Too much vitriol and spite for acting.

The eldest's eye was drawn to the priest kneeling at the edge of the camp, facing the woods. One of the fighters saw him and followed his sight to the priest.

"Damn it Jacob, quit yer mumbling to some demented forest god and help us out over here!"

The priest paused, brought his hands down, and shouted back, never turning around, "We all need a moral compass here! And if it's shaped like a rabbit, so be it!"

Grandfather Clocks

"Cathy?" John's querulous voice floated in from the front foyer. "You have some super-people."

Cathy put her pen down (the school forms would just have to wait a bit) and poked her head out of her office. Three teens, no two teens and preteen, were standing in her foyer. The oldest one, probably fifteen or so, was glaring at John with the horrified gawp of a teenager who couldn't believe some adult had just said what they'd said, so embarrassing. Their clothes and backpack were sturdy, well-cared for, and a year out of fashion — Cathy would bet they had been bought last year, a little big on the girl, and worn since. The middle one, male, had the lanky build of a sprinter and the rumpled clothing of a speedster who'd forgotten to slowdown to normal human walking speeds recently. The youngest, the preteen girl, was obviously related to the boy, what with those cheekbones and nose. She was looking around the foyer with a look of awe on her face; Cathy regretted letting John and his ostentation rule the foyer decorations yet again. Her eyes widened a bit when the girl trailed a hand along the grandfather clock ticking away next to the door before pulling back with a wince. Cathy knew the clock's history — she had a psychohistorian on her hands. 

The poor girl.

Interesting, the older girl was wincing now with a look of concern at the younger. Delayed reaction. Probably an empath then.

"Well, don't just stand there," Cathy said, gesturing into her office. "Come in and tell the nice witch why an empath, a speedster, and a psychohistorian want her help."

Closure

“Hold up a second guys,” Yew said softly, stopping by the side of the path.

“Damn it man,” Oak snapped, “I told you it was too early to be hiking on your ankle.”

Yew glared at Oak and silently pointed at the brush by the path. Sarge doubled back and took a closer look. “Pix, how far from the coordinates are we?”

Pixie slide her specs down from her forehead, over her eyes. “Mile, mile and a half east of here. East-ish.” She fiddled with the lens opacity, set it to clear, and left them on.

“There's a path that direction, or what's left of one.” Sarge shrugged. “Bet it was a dirt road before the Crash. Good catch, Yew.”

Oak took point, cutting off branches and brambles where they’d completely overgrown the path but otherwise the group moved silently. Pixie grabbed some of the wood Oak cut off for tinder later. The air was cooler under the trees, a slight relief against the oppressive humidity. They crossed a small creek  still bound by its banks, refilling their second water skins to boil at the campsite in the evening.

An hour later, the trees thinned out. Oak held up a hand and everyone slowly joined him. The peak of a house was visible just past a small hill through a gap in the tree line. Yew brought out his bow and nocked an arrow. Oak resettled his shield; Pixie and Sarge drew their guns, and everyone slowly advanced.

The house came into view over the crest of the hill. The front door gapped open. The remains of glass windows were visible on the second floor; the two windows on the first didn’t even have shards. Portions of the roof and peaked turret on the side showed sky behind the house. There was a soft shworsh of leaves behind them and stillness in front.

Oak and his shield took point, Sarge and his gun (plus spear across his back) behind his right shoulder. They entered the front door, Pixie and Yew bringing up the rear. The front room was empty, lengths of cloth on a series of hooks marking where the coat rack had hung. Leaves crunched under foot as the moved to the side room. A decaying couch faced a pile of dirt, brick dust, and leaves spilling out of a blocked fireplace. Nothing here either. A dull thunk carried from the next room to the back. Sarge kept his gun trained on the doorway; everyone slowly inched towards the open doorway. Another thunk sounded.

Looking over Oak’s shield, Sarge aimed at the decaying figure standing at the kitchen counter. Roughly five feet, three inches tall, their clothes had rotted away enough to show the mummifying skin over their ribs. Black veins crawled down the ribs and arms, covering the fingers completely. Another thunk as its wrist knocked the counter and rose again. A rusted knife stuck up out of their foot, pinning the foot to the floor when the knife had slipped out of the corpse’s hand.

Slowly, carefully, Sarge silently put the gun away and pulled out the spear. He and Oak advanced towards the counter and Casualty blankly staring at a rotted wooden cutting board. Oak’s foot caught the edge of the counter with a knock. Everyone froze.

The Casualty never looked over.

Sarge lined up the tip at the base of the skull and slid the spear through, clean out the jaw on the other side. Oak caught the Casualty on his shield; Sarge slid the spear out and Oak lowered the permanent corpse to the floor without a sound. Pixie walked over and got thirty seconds of the face from a couple angles recorded on her 'specs.

Another twenty minutes of careful searching confirmed there were no other Casualties in the house. In the upstairs office, they found the family birth certificates and social security cards. Everything else of value had already rotted away.

One night in the house on the second floor, three hour shifts at the doorway in case anything was smart enough to take the stairs, and they’d be on their way back home in the morning. No fire tonight. Trail rations for dinner, and maybe an hour with a fire in the morning to have clean water for the walk home.

Pixie hopped online as Sarge took first watch and the other two set up bedrolls. She sent the video proof to the Sisters of Silent Mercy; their payment sat in the enclave’s cryptoserver shortly thereafter.

Pixie kissed Sarge goodnight and slid into her bedroll. A simple job, but well done. She was looking forward to going home tomorrow.

Sisters of Quiet Mercy

Part of the Pixie & Sarge Red Markets stories


Yew collapsed into the seat across from Pixie and leaned his crutches against the bench. Pixie logged off the LifeLines forum and pulled her Ubiq ‘specs up and off.

“Hey man. Where's Oak?”

Yew waved vaguely at the line on the opposite wall, in front of the food bar. “Cutting in line to stand with Sarge. Told me he'd grab enough for both of us.”

“How's the ankle?”

“Mostly good; Oak and the doc are being worry-warts. It'll be fine in a couple days.”

Spike dropped into the seat Pixie’d been saving for Sarge; Pixie shied away from the sudden intrusion and Yew growled. “When you and Sarge gonna ditch these outside losers and–”

Yew whacked Spike on his crown with a crutch; Pixie involuntarily snorted.

“No wonder they don't want you watching their backs in the field,” Yew sneered at Spike. “Don't even notice a crutch coming at you from three feet away.”

Sarge slid two tray in front of Pixie from her left, then grabbed Spike by the back of his shirt and lifted him out of the seat. The entire cafeteria looked over at Spike’s yelp. Sarge simply dropped Spike in the aisle way behind their benches and sat down next to Pixie. Oak joined their quartet as Pixie slid a tray over to Sarge.

“You alright?” Sarge murmured to Pixie as Spike scuttled off and conversation around them resumed.

Pixie rocked a hand back and forth in a ‘so-so’ gesture. “He's getting pissier. And more aggressive.”

“We should talk to his boss after lunch,” Oak said.

“I did last week, before we headed out,” Pixie shot back. “He did nothing.”

“All of us, I meant. We're the only Takers in the enclave, we've got some political power,” Oak said.

Yew turned to Sarge. “He racist as well as sexist?”

“Yep,” Sarge mumbled around a bite of sandwich.

“Probably not to fond of foreigners either then.” Yew leaned into the traces of his Yorkshire accent. “Congrats Oak, you're playing spokesperson today.”

“Hurray… We actually going to talk about finding our next job today or not?”

“I've got two leads.” Pixie swallowed her bite of sandwich. “The council’s looking for escorts for the first batch of folks heading over to that prison we cleared out, although I think that one’ll keep. Rumor is they’re still pulling together some materiel and figuring out personnel.”

“And we’d probably end up playing Fencemen for a while,” Sarge added.

Everyone turned to look at him.

Sarge shrugged. “I’d add it to the contract. Keeping us on the new fence for a while frees up folks for carpentry duty. Or setting up the agriculture.”

“Sounds like a good job for the winter,” Yew said. “Escort them over at the end of fall, after all the harvests are in. Winter’ll be cold, but the casualties’ll be slower. Plus how else would everything be ready for crops in the spring.”

“I’ll try to sell the council on those points if they argue now or never. The second possibility is something Janice dug up–”

Oak looked up from his congealing pasta. “Janice the freaky proto-Black Math kid?”

“Yep, her. We’d owe her two bounty for throwing the lead our way, but it looks like our kind of job. A recession group, the Sisters of Quiet Mercy–”

“Does that sound like an assassin cult to anyone else,” Yew yelped. “Because that sounds like an assassins’ cult to me!”

“Reviews on LifeLines and their website–”

“Because we can trust that…”

“They at least match, Yew. Will you let me finish for Christ’s sake?”

Yew dropped his eyes and poked at his tray of food.

Another moment and Pixie continued “Their website claims they’re an order of nuns who’ve devoted themselves to laying to rest quote unfortunate souls end quote. The only jobs other Takers have mentioned doing for them are closure jobs for not great, but not terrible pay, with a side order of tragedy data trading. My best guess from digging around is that this is a form of ‘administering to the poor’ for them; they fundraise across the economic spectrum and do data brokerage to stay afloat.”

“What’s Janice say,” Sarge mumble around his food, then swallowed and continued “the job is?”

“Closure outside of Lyon. No further info.”

“That’s the opposite direction of the new place, so no doubling up, even if we wanted to,” Oak said.

“What was the population density like out there?” Yew asked.

Pixie pulled down her ‘specs and fiddle with the interface for a couple minutes. “About a thousand, thousand and a half inside Lyon per square mile, less than a hundred in the suburbs out.”

“Sounds worth risking,” Sarge said, catching Oak and Yew’s eye. Oak nodded; Yew looked rebellious, then shrugged and nodded.

“Alright, I’ll tell Janice,” Pixie said. “Sarge, talk to Jinks on the forums, their crew are the last folks to leave the Sisters a review. See if they won’t give you some tips. Oak, Johnson over in the council office should have some local maps of Lyon.”

“Borrow your ‘specs to take photos?”

“Sure. Yew, poke around, see if anyone else is looking to take this one.”

“You’re the boss.” Yew wiped his mouth, grabbed his crutches. “Everyone done?”

“Yep.” Sarge grabbed Pixie’s tray and stood up. “Time to track down Ezra.”

“Why don’t we go right over his head to…” Yew leaned forward on his crutches and followed Oak towards the cafeteria entrance. “What’s the pit crew boss’s name?”

“Low Key, but he’s not in charge of the gate Fencemen,” Sarge said. “It’s got to be Ezra.”

“Hurray, arguing with bureaucracy,” Oak whined. “Remind me why it’s gotta be me again?”

Gravas's Rules for Newbie FBI Mages

  1. Do not transform into your badass were-self in the elevators
    1. There's cameras in there
      1. Not all the security folks know about magic
      2. You're totally naked for bits during a transformation. Don't do that to the security guys and gals
    2. Some of y'all are bigger than the car!
  2. Yes, yes it's very cool you can conduct electricity under your skin but tasing your computer in frustration is counter productive
  3. That's not electricity that's magic
    1. You're having magical growing pains
    2. Go to the mage gym and work that off, RIGHT NOW
  4. Special Agent Delacroix, the female one, is God and chief scientist.
    1. Don't tell Supervisory Special Agent Jones. It'll just make him sad.
    2. Do not earn her angry face.
    3. Tell her about the cool new magic thing you did
      1. She'll tell you how to do it better and for less energy.
      2. She’ll teach everyone how to do it.
    4. Learn the new tricks she teaches. They’ll save your life.
  5. Special Agent Delacroix, the male one, is God’s right hand man, Team Mom, and confessor.
    1. Do not earn his I’m disappointed in you face.
      1. It's like kicking a puppy.
      2. The tech support staff will make your life miserable.
      3. When tech support is unhappy, we all suffer.
    2. That dumb thing you did in the field? Tell him right now.
      1. He can't fix it if he doesn't know about it.
      2. He can't teach you how to do better if he doesn't know about it.
  6. The kids we're in the field for are more important than our pride
    1. You will do dumb, stupid, humiliating things in order to convince them to let you help
    2. No one will give you shit about it
      1. They've done worse
      2. If they do, SA Delacroix, the male one, will give them the disappointed face.
      3. No one wants the disappointed face.
  7. This is not a pissing contest
    1. The Delacroix's win all Agency pissing contests from now until the end of time, amen.
    2. Weres are not allowed to mark territory on the premises.
      1. Why the fuck do I have to make a rule about this people?! Professionalism, God damn it.
    3. Mages from puberty aren't better.
    4. Mages by ritual aren't better.
    5. I swear to God if I hear one more ‘my life sucked more in order to get my magic’ contest, I'm getting both Delacroix's drunk and getting both of them to fucking END this contest. They WIN people, shut up!
      1. The last time I had to enact this rule, the agents were in therapy for 5 months coping with the DELACROIX’S shit.
  8. Do not threaten civilians with magic. They might believe you.
    1. Do not threaten anyone outside the department with magic. They might believe you.
    2. Be prepared to spend five hours signing paperwork if anyone believes you.
    3. Either use it and deal with the paperwork and board review or don't. No threatening.
  9. Your title is Agent or Special Agent. HR is never going to sign off on Mage, Wizard, or any variant thereof.
    1. HR is not in on the magic thing.
    2. We'd have to spend too long reading them in.
    3. You thought five hours was bad? Federal employees require a security clearance.
  10. No one is allowed to add “In accordance with the prophesy” to the end of any answers given to a supervisor
    1. Or fellow agent
    2. I see you, you little shits, Skippy’s list stopped being funny back in the early aughts, damn it
  11. The HR office worker signing off on your travel expenses is Ms. Rodriguez, not Sugar Daddy.
  12. Having magic does not mean you have superpowers
    1. Bullets still hurt
    2. Bullets can still kill you
    3. YOU'RE STILL FLAMMABLE
    4. Falls can kill you
    5. You aren't immune to drowning
    6. Oh my God, it's like you all regressed to being toddlers
  13. No singing Bohemian Rhapsody during firefights
    1. Not even as psychological warfare
  14. Magic bullets do exist
    1. SA Delacroix the female is the only authorized teacher
    2. Only on the rifle range people! I have to sit in on the paperwork meeting too! Next time I'm sending Delacroix the male
      1. He will wonder why you're interrupting him getting therapy resources to the kids for this shit
  15. Past lives have no effect on seniority
    1. They don't exist
    2. Prove it in the lab Agent
  16. SA Delacroix, the male, has the forms for “wall-to-wall” counseling
  17. Shooting is not too good for people threatening our rescues, but you still have to fill out the paperwork and go through the review.
    1. This also applies to knives
    2. Also chairs, pool cues, and broken bottles
    3. It especially applies to government vehicles
    4. And civilian vehicles.
    5. We're still a law enforcement agency people!
  18. You have to fill out the warrant and paperwork before eating someone else's magic. Otherwise that's assault. Possibly attempted murder.
  19. Love potions
    1. Don't exist
    2. Would be rape if they did
  20. Mind control is rape
  21. Werebugs and weresnakes of any variety are not allowed to transform around Agent Harmon. Phobias are not funny people. We don't want to end up in extra sensitivity training classes again. The yearly ones on sexuality and unconscious bias are enough already, okay?

T00:01:02.053

Continuation of T00:00:03.308


Esme ducked; a metal rope whipped by over her head with a hiss of air and sickeningly liquid sound of metal flexing. She crouched behind a greenhouse bench.

T00:01:02.053

The rope retracted into the impossibly round ball hovering over the central bench in the greenhouse module Multiple benches had been torn out of the deck plating, their water systems spilling onto the grating, bare roots systems drooping in the half-gravity out of their frames.

Another metal rope (smooth to mathematically precise flatness, more nimble than a neo-octopus’s arm) punched out of the ball hovering over the central bench and slammed Burn onto the grating, punching through their exosuit and out the back to disappear between the grating. Esme was the last one still mobile. Burn’s life-signs on the tactical network flickered; the metal had torn through them just below the sternum and their suit was frantically trying to patch the hole.

T00:01:03.131

Esme fired her rail-pistol at the rope, hands trembling as she leaned across the bench. What didn't hit the arm slammed into the ball behind it. Esme heard Burn grunt over their tactical network as he hauled his plasma rifle up off the deck and blasted the arm near where her bullets were slamming into the metal. On the second burst of scorching liquid fire, the arm was cut through and dropped onto the deck plating. Esme followed Burn into switching targets to the hovering ball. Another arm was forming, pushing out of the ball, stretching against the metal surface like it would split open shortly. Esme’s pistol clicked on empty as Burn forcibly dropped off the network.

Plasma burst the ball open, the interior dripping onto the deck in pools.

T00:01:04.547

Esme’s hand were shaking badly; she almost dropped her last clip as she reloaded her pistol. Burn motioned weakly for Esme to come over to where he was still pinned by the metal arm. Esme kneeled behind his head, as far from the twitching metal as she could, and touched her suit faceplate to his.

“You ever collected stacks, Specs?”

“Five hours in simulspace, twice in meatspace.”

Burn took a deep breath and nodded. “You've got three minutes to grab as many as you can.” His pupils blew open as the adrenaline and second dose of combat drugs flooded his system. “Grab Digits, they're least likely to be compromised. Then five minutes to get the hell back to Wings.”

T00:00:07.438

“What are you doing Burn?”

“The nice thing–” Burn gulped. “The nice thing about using a plasma rifle, kid, is you always have a nuclear bomb if you need it.”

“Fucking hell–” Esme bit off. She made an abortive motion towards Digits’ corpse, then touched her faceplate to Burn’s again. “Burn, my name's Esme.”

Burn gave her a pained, lopsided grin. “Nice to meet you, Esme. Now move it kid.”

Esme launched herself towards Digits as fast as she could in .5g, pulling the melon baller out of her suit belt pockets.

T00:00:07.212

Digits’ corpse was leaning back against the bulkhead where they'd been thrown; Esme yanked it forward to expose the back of the neck, pressed the baller against the suit where spine turned into skull, and pressed the button. Fabric, plastic, and polymers went flying as the baller burrowed through the suit. Esme swallowed and turned slightly towards Burn when it started kicking out blood and bone.

The metal arm was slowly slumping, spreading out into Burn’s suit. Esme caught a glimpse of silver streaking through Burn’s body where the arm had originally punched through them.

T00:00:05.539

The melon baller jerked back in her hand, diamond-coated grape-sized cortical stack firmly caught in its clutches.

Esme surged to her feet and bolted for the greenhouse doorway as fast as she could in half gravity, tucking the baller back in a pocket. Microgravity and the increase in speed she’d get in her native gravity was two modules and a couple hundred meters away.

T00:00:05.021

Bester, her muse, laid the most efficient route from here to the airlock Wings was last at over the map in Esme’s visuals. Esme turned on her T-Ray emitter and pulled the map into the center of her vision as she ran, tweaking a few spots to take advantage of handholds and furniture not noted on the map. The emitter would paint her as a target to anything looking the same way, but it was worth it for the heads up on any real-time deviations from the map.

She banished the map to her peripheral vision at the transition point to microgravity and launched herself forward.

T00:00:04.137

Halfway point to the next spot she could kick off, Esme tucked, flipped over, and turned her magnetic boots on. Bester updated his estimate of how fast Esme could make this run. Now she’d have a full fifteen seconds to get in the airlock. Right before before hitting the wall, Esme cut the boots, touched down, and then kicked off hard. She wished she’d taken Mav up on his offer of a combat drug, any combat drug.

T00:00:01.524

Bester had kept his estimates worst case conservative again. Wings was 50 meters straight through the bulkheads, 78 meters of freefall to get to them. Thank Hawkins, they had their T-Ray up as well. Esme blinked her emitter on and off. ‘open airlock. detach. open airlock. detach.’ She couldn’t remember if Wings or their muse knew Morse Code. Bester sent a coded burst to the station to open its airlock.

T00:00:01.304

Careening into the airlock, Esme grabbed a hold bar just inside the lock. Breath rasping in the back of her throat, she paused as the interior hatch closed to line up with the airlock in Wings’ ship, slowly drifting away from the station. Lined up, Bester sent an emergency override to the station — the exterior hatch opened as Esme pushed off the interior, following the escaping air. She careened across the gap between space station and ship. An inelegant tumble into the ship’s airlock included clipping the hatch into the ship.

T00:00:00:551

‘go. go. go.’

Esme braced herself in a corner of the airlock, as far from the opening as she could, back against one wall, boots locked against the other. The airlock slowly closed as the ship turned from the station and began acceleration.

Wings came on over the speaker, sound strangely attenuated in the partial vacuum of a refilling airlock. “What am I running from?”

Esme stuck with Morse code; there was no way she was getting on anyone’s network before the Firewall specialists cleared her.

‘overloaded plasma gun.’

“Specs, blink twice if that’s fucking Morse code.”

She blinked the T-Ray twice.

T00:00:00:358

Swearing in a mix of Cantonese, Russian, and Cherokee came over the speaker; Wings must have loaded up the translator for Morse. The ship acceleration increased, hard; Esme gritted her teeth and pushed harder against the walls.

T00:00:00:000

Esme let out a slow breath and started deep breathing, trying to counteract the acceleration squashing her rib cage.

T -00:00:00:303

Thuds and reverberations pinged against the metal hull. It sounded like recordings of rain she’d listened to last week. Except, deeper. And hurled by exploding plasma bombs, not gravity.

T -00:00:00:458

The sounds against the hull let up and died away.

“Well alright then, we’re not dead.” Esme would have felt better if Wings hadn’t sounded so surprised. “Let’s get you into the—”

‘no. quarantine.’

“It’s three days to the rendezvous point.”

‘yes.’

Wings chuckled ruefully. “Alright, it’s your suit. Congratulations on saving the solar system and killing the monster.”

‘another day. another monster.’

The Greatest Accolade

Collins looked over the edge of his ‘reader at the train car from under the brim of his hat. It was late; another long day at the office. His fellow late commuters on the subway were out numbered by the folks calling it a night early and heading home from revelries, but neither were numerous enough to crowd the train car. Collins had a seat against a wall; no possibility of a surprise attack from that quarter.

The train pulled into platform 28; Collins dropped his ‘reader in his bag and walked out onto the platform. The lighting here was harsh, creating sharp edged shadows and isolated pools of light. This station was rumored to be the next up for repairs. He would have to find a different route home while that happened.

Collins found his usual spot against the wall. He leaned back as the train pulled out of the station. His suit would need dry cleaning after tonight. He'd toss in the red tie. The platform was empty now, the few other passengers exiting with him heading up the stairs, train gone from the platform, not even a homeless fellow bedding down here tonight. Collins crouched down, pulling a small, felt-covered box out of his bag. Another glance around to confirm he was unobserved; he shoved the box behind the loose tile in the wall and straightened up.

Smoothing down the lines of his jacket and picking up his bag, Collins stepped forward to enter newly arriving train. He found a seat and settled in on the new line for the rest of his ride home.

Tomorrow, he’d drop off his dry cleaning and by the end of the day, his message would be on its way. If his handler was still alive, they’d understand a box of the enemy’s highest military medal.

His cover was still intact. His information was still good.

If.

Ascension

On Thursday, Raphael accidentally Ascends. Again.

With a huff of massive annoyance, They turn their attention to the local area of space-time and note the second extinction level asteroid on a collision course with Their planet in as many months. Tracing the orbital mathematics backwards, They find a battleship hiding at the edges of the system, tucked into Charon’s shadow. Several more asteroids, probably from the Oort cloud, are lined up for firing in the next month or two, when the math was right again.

Raphael smashes the ship between the first two asteroids.

With a note of the local coordinates the wreckage sits at, They turn their attention back to where They were before Ascending (reAscending?) and form Their body anew.

Raphael slumps against the commissary table his rebuilt body (self?) sits in front of, exhausted. Mike, on his right, shoves a glass of water in front of him. Cassie, on his left, slides paper under his hand and slips a pencil into his hand, already twitching in writing motions. Gabe, across the table, is on the horn with the brass, the sounds of clipped military information exchange soothing to Raphael’s ears. He grabs the water and downs it, his psychography dumping information They knew but slips from Raphael mind, like water draining from his hands.

Raphael has downed three more glasses, gulped two brownies Mike handed him, and eaten both an apple and banana Gabe shoved in his hands before the fifth and final page is written out. Raphael slumps onto Mike’s shoulder. Mike takes the last glass away; Gabe gently removes the pencil from Raphael's hand. Cassie is carefully reading over the first page, notating her best guesses at language or symbol sets Raphael has written.

“Did I get the coordinates down?” Raphael slurs. “There was a spaceship.”

“Not on page one,” Cassie says absently. “Got the same opening about stars and the music of the spheres, though.”

“What's it in this time?” Gabe rumbles. Mike starts massaging the back of Raphael's neck; his muscles are spasming in cramps. They never can put Raphael back together in perfect order it seems. Last time he'd had hand spasms for four days.

“A mix of proto-Indo-European and hieroglyphics, I think.” Cassie squints at the page before turning it over and moving onto the second one. “It's like the hieroglyphics were abbreviations.”

Gabe is looking over page five, tracing from bottom to top. “English… Middle English…” He grabs page four. “Old Norman… Latin… Hebrew? Skipped a couple centuries there buddy.”

“Don't do it on purpose,” Raphael whines, the sound muffled by Mike’s shoulder. Mike leaves off working on Raphael's neck to pat his shoulder. Cassie hands the first two pages to Gabe; she and Mike stand up, hauling Raphael's arms over their shoulders and march him towards the base infirmary.

Raphael's dreams are going to be painted on the inky blackness of space tonight.

School Response


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard.

There were children's angry shouts in the background. “Oh Darcy, thank Hera. Listen, it's Jane over at the Campbell Academy in Nebraska,” Jane blurt. An explosion sounded in the background, and Darcy heard Jane taking cover behind something. “We need a rapid-healer and a Powered riot squad.”

“Estimates on children injured?”

“No!” Something extremely heavy smacked into one of the Academy's metal walls. “Captain Firefly came to pick up Eliza for break, Tyrone started yelling at him that he was an abusive bastard, the Captain screamed something about lies at Eliza, backhanded her across the face, and the kids piled on! It started with just the seniors, but everyone who hadn't left for break has piled on at this point. We need the riot squad before they kill him!”

“What happened to school security?” Darcy asked, pulling up the Western States center and sending out a rapid-teleporter call across the country.

“They’re busy pulling kids out of the line of Firefly’s powers. Literal fucking line of fire!”

Darcy resent the call to the Canadian Western Provinces system. “Rapid-teleporter squad enroute. They'll be followed shortly by a team for Firefly.”

“Thanks Darcy.”

Faith

The man at the tent flap handed his customer another tissue. The customer blindly accepted, angrily wiped at red-rimmed eyes, then blew his nose.

The man placed both hands on his customer's shoulders, looked him straight in the eyes, and murmured, “Be around family or friends tonight, alright?" 

The customer shakily nodded and plunged out of the tent, back into the joyful noise of the revival. The man closed the tent flap, cutting off the noise more than the cloth barrier should.

"Did you enjoy shattering his faith?" the wisp of a demon asked from the corner of the tent.

The angel in the shape of a man sighed. "That wasn't faith."

A hissing laugh filled the angel’s mind. “Oh?”

“That was the infinite expanse compressed and cut down to the shape he needed to justify his biases and life. Cramped and made as small as himself. Faith… Faith is belief in spite of, and in addition, to evidence. That… that was not faith, or I could not have shattered with such a simple demonstration of historical fact.”

“Is this what God's Messengers do these days, weed the poor of faith from the flock?” the demon asked sardonically. “When did you usurp our roles?”

The angel snorted. “I weed so that my sisters may lead them to a bountiful harvest. You know where we have found the most enduring faith these days? The humanists and the secularists.”

“Faith? Not in God surely.”

“No, in their fellow man usually. Wouldn't it be nice if mankind rebuilt their faith in something?”

It was the demon's turn to sigh. “I would like to interact with them again.”

Breaking Up

How DO you break up with a demon? I'm not talking about that ex you hate so much you think of them as a demon and wonder what the hell you ever saw in them. Nope, literal fire-and-brimstone, incantation to summon from the depths of hell, contract to exchange a portion of yourself for a particular type of power demon.

So yes, technically I'm a witch. No, I never did the dancing naked in the moonlight thing — come on, we live in a city, I’m not giving the pervs on the 20th floor a show. No, the devil orgy thing is a lie too. Dude, what the fuck? Seriously, you taking the European medieval church’s word on this? Aren't you a freaking atheist? And gay? What the hell man.

Well I don't know, the ones I've talked to refuse to answer the question. Closest I've gotten was absolute disgust at the idea and buggering off before I could ask the rest of my questions. Got my sister to stop pushing me to ask though. Yeah, the born-again evangelical one. I don't know, I guess she's not feeling the faith part of it all right now. Look, are you going to help me talk through this or not?

Right, so I've got to break up with this demon. Just the one. Yeah, I'm still talking with the others. What? ‘Cause they're getting pushy and their answers have gone to shit. Like, they're turning into encrypted clues to a freaking metaphor that gets me a reference citation. Yeah, I guess you could call it a customer service issue.

What? No, sorry, my mind just skipped out on me for a second at the thought. Elevate the call? Are you crazy? Do you know who their boss is? … Actually no, I don't know either. Sorry, now I'm making bad assumptions.

Yeah, I guess the slow fade would work. Or, well, I mean, it's a one way calling service, I guess I'm just cutting it off. Bleh. No, no you're right, I just hate getting ghosted in the dating scene and now I'm doing it myself. On the plus side, it'd mean no more buying saffron packets for summoning circles. That shits expensive.

Hey, thank man, really appreciate this. Next round on me, ‘kay?