The Girl with a Bird for a Heart - Chapter IV

Enin did not have much time. He had work to do and a world to end.

Enin came from a small village in Etarika. As a boy, long ago he ran away and lived most of his life in the streets of Kudra Kai. As a man Enin travelled to Airomon, Hybourne, and even the Dark Expanse of Kuros. He had walked the world in search of answers. He discovered the magic of the Crystal Men and the craft of the Hidden People of the Red Valley. Enin had unlocked secrets he’d never expected and been laden with curses he’d never imagined. The worst curse of them all was his life.

 He opened the lid of the barrel which had allowed him into the hall and got immediately to work. He passed the beautifully carved columns of kordwood and did not pause to admire the ornate reliefs of Maj, the Shaper forming the world with sacred fire out of the raw material of the void. Enin glanced briefly at a depiction of Mur, the Destroyer inhaling the sacred breath from all living things and moved on.

 Enin held a hammer and a wedge and with them began prying apart the floorboards.  It took several attempts before he found what he wanted- an opening. Once he had the correct spot Enin swiftly made a hole in the floor deep enough to climb down. Cool dank air rose into the hall.

 The estate had been built on a very old parcel of land. Long before the worshippers of Maj and Mur ruled Vatrus the world had been a much different place. The land had been tamed over the ages but in some places could still be found the breaches- openings between this world and the other. Most were hidden deep underground. A few were closer to the surface.

 Enin sucked in a lungful of the cavern air then hopped down into the hole. It was only a few feet deep, but a subtle breeze blowing into the dry air of the cave informed him that the tunnel extended far and led to where he needed to be. Ducking on all fours, Enin entered the dark passage and crept along in blackness.

 The further he went the narrower the tunnel became. After several minutes of crawling Enin could barely move. After several more his hands felt the lip of a ledge. Reaching down, he could not feel the bottom. Enin had brought no light with him because he knew the caverns were not entirely empty. He knew that a light in such a place was like a bloody chunk of meat in a lion’s den. He climbed down leg first and hung to the bottom of the ledge. Still the bottom of the cave eluded him. Clinging to the ledge only with his fingertips, Enin kicked his legs below himself in search of a cave floor and found none.

 Worrying that he had come to the wrong place but having no other choice Enin released his grip and slid down the rock wall.

 He fell longer than he had expected, but the wall sloped slightly and he reached the bottom with minimal injury. Scratched and slightly bruised, Enin groped around in the black pit. He looked for The Door.  

 Several times he scanned the pit with his fingertips. Several times he found nothing.

 Enin stood and fumbled in the dark. He determined the hole was roughly twenty feet in diameter. For at least an hour he ran his fingers along the walls and floors of the cave to no avail. This was surely the place. The scroll he had taken from the Temple of Aina had lead him here. The opening, the cavern, the pit- all were as predicted. This must have been the place, but The Door was nowhere to be seen.

 An infinite amount of time seemed to pass. Enin’s thirst and hunger gnawed at him. He had brought no tools except the hammer and wedge, no provisions save one. That was the rule. The darkness does not offer its secrets to those who come cautiously. He knew that. He knew that he needed to eschew the needs of the mortal world if he were to enter the breach. He had fasted for three days before coming. He had become as clean and pure as a human could be. The only impure part of Enin was his heart, but he had prepared for that.

 Enin reached into his pack and procured a small sack. He opened it and removed an object the size of a pear wrapped in leaves. Through the wrapping he felt it pulsing and warm.

 Enin had committed many sins. He had wronged many people, but always, he told himself, for good reason. He unwrapped the object and felt the wet and beating heart of Tula Petek in his black hands. He felt her pain when he stole it from her. He carried her cries of pain in his ears every day since. Enin did not wish to harm her or anyone, but he knew it was the only way. Without a pure heart he could not open The Door.   
 Many more hours passed. Soon the preparers of the wedding would discover the hole in the floor. Enin doubted any would dare investigate the tunnel. He would never be found. The legends regarding the dark things beneath the estate were still fresh in the minds of the people. They would probably cover the hole and act as if nothing had been seen. Or perhaps they would burn the hall and lay heavy stones over the spot where it had stood. Perhaps they would salt the ground and place wards and totems around it to prevent any from ever suffering the fate of the fool who ventured into the darkness.

 But Enin would not die. Enin could not die. That was his greatest gift. His greatest curse. He could suffer and starve and wail and scream until the end of the world, but before that time he would be doomed to sit in darkness in a hole clutching the heart of Tula Petek.

The Diary of Wartha Gormley -Day of Rest

Diary, It is getting harder and harder to keep you up to date on all my happenings. I am so lost right now I don’t even know where to begin. I found another Updweller cave that seems to be abandoned and I’m hiding out in it while I get some rest. It’s been a wild time of late.

Last time I wrote I had gotten away from the pig master. I meant to tell you how I did that, but I got all caught up in another heap of trouble before I could finish much. So, let me get back to that tale before I tell you about my various other scrapes.

I won’t lie to you when I say that man had me right scared. I mean, sure, I killed a shadewolf once, but between you and me that was half on accident. Killing an Updweller is a whole other thing. I mean, he ain’t exactly a person like goblins are, but it’s right close I suspect. Hunting is something you gotta do if you want to eat. Shooting a fellow that walks on two legs is downright murder.

There I was up a tree with his wolves ( l later learned that kind of wolf is called a “dog”) snarling at me from down below. Mister Updweller didn’t even stand. He stayed all crouched down like and grabbed that tube thing. He pointed it right in my direction like he was aiming a bow, except he held it all wrong.

“Good work, boys!” he said to his pack followed by a roar louder than a Tunnel Brute protecting its brood. I never heard anything like it. My ears were deaf from the sound and beside me half the tree got blown away. That’s when I realized what a terrible weapon that tube was.

In the silence after the roar the Updweller peered up through the trees at me. I reeled from the shock but I saw him stand as he pointed his weapon at me again. I don’t think he would have missed that time if what happened next hadn’t happened.

Time froze up like the whole world was covered in Husk Bee treacle. I tried to reach for my bow. Maybe I could place an arrow down that tube and stop it from blowing me to bits. Maybe I could place it between the Updweller’s eyes. I don’t know for sure what I would have done to tell the truth. I didn’t get the chance to find out.

The pig master seemed to move in slow motion as he aimed right at me. I got ready to kiss oblivion in the face when a black shadow wrapped around him in a hot second. His weapon roared again as it dropped from his hands. This time my deaf ears muffled the sound. The dogs turned tail and ran as the shadow pounced and tore at the Updweller.

 He would have been done for if I hadn’t realized what was happening.

“Dru!”, I yelled. My own voice silent to me. There she stood, my spider mount. Darn girl must have been following my scent all along.

When I called her name Drucilla turned all eight of her eyes on me. How I missed her venom-dripped face. She scuttled up the tree and nuzzled me with her fuzzy ol’ head. I was right joyful.

It was a few seconds before I remembered the Updweller, but when I looked he had run off. He left a trail of blood and his roaring tube behind.

Once  I was sure he wasn’t coming back Drucilla and I got reacquainted. She still had the saddle on her back even though it was hanging loose. I adjusted her straps and checked the saddle bags. Gashwhisker be praised I found a pack of jerky and a bottle of Gurk’s soup. It was only a few days old. Still good to eat, so I did that right away. I didn’t even bother to heat it up. It was the best dang soup I ever swallowed.

I felt powerfully certain that Updweller would be back and probably with his kin. I took his weapon and strapped it to Dru. I doubt I’d ever figure out how to use the thing, but I knew at least that he wouldn’t have it to use against me. Besides, a good hunter always takes trophies.

It was dead night and i figured to put some distance between myself and the pig master. Drucilla and I moved on out of there right quick.

We bustled through the trees for hours. It felt so right to have a companion again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Diary. You’re fun to talk to, but Drucilla is warm and can cuddle me back.

Before sunrise we found a good enough spot to make camp. After a full night’s travel between me and the Updwellers I felt pretty secure. Little did I know that you ain’t never safe in the Upworld.

Duskworld - Chapter Four The Delivery, Chapter Five Eavesdropping

Chapter Four
The Delivery

  Meiki picked an apple as she walked her bike past the orchard. The apples of Naya were bred to do well in minimal sunlight. They were dark and mushy, but sweet. Meiki knew that on Earth the apples were often described as “crisp” and “crunchy”. She longed to someday taste one of those bright red gems.
  Phel strolled up behind her and snatched a lackluster apple of his own from a low hanging branch. Meiki took a bite of hers and quickly spit it out.
 “What’s wrong with it?” asked Phel.
 “Nothing.” said Meiki. “It’s perfectly ordinary. That’s what I hate about it.”
 “You going to the market?” he asked, ignoring her criticism of the fruit.
 “I’m going for a ride. I don’t have any place in mind. Just biking.”
 “’s this way, ya know. On the other side of the grove...may as well head down with me. That’s where I’m going.”
  “You don’t say?”
  “Why are you such a dill? Seriously?  I’m tryin’ to be friendly here. Come into market with me. I’m going to try out a new schematic on the maker. I have enough cred saved up to get a new banjo. It’s gonna be pretty sweet.”
  “Let me is Ker’s day on maker duty, right?”
  “Oh...I think you’re right about that...we should holler at ‘er,” said Phel. He was not good at being coy.
  “Fine. I’ll go and watch you make moon eyes at her. Maybe you’ll even talk to her for a change.”
  “I talk to Ker plenty," said Phel, “Just last night she asked me the time of day and I told her.” Meiki flashed one of her rare smiles.
  The two passed through the orchard and onto the road. It was about a kilometer to their destination and they crossed most of the distance without any talk until Meiki finally spoke.
  “It doesn’t make sense that Charlie would lie to us.” she said.
  “Oh no. Not this again," said Phel.
  “I’m just sayin’ is all. Why would he not want us to think it was a meteor?”
  “Maybe he thinks we’d be scared that a meteor storm could hurt the colony...I dunno.”
  “So you agree with me that he was lying?” Meiki asked with eyebrows raised.
  “Hey! That ain’t what I said.”
  A truck came down the road from behind. The kids stepped aside to let it pass. It had a gray-white trailer with no markings except for a set of serial numbers on either side- the delivery from Sagan.
  Meiki’s jaw dropped and she blinked three times before saying, “That...the truck isn’t supposed to be here until tomorrow!”
  “Well,” said Phel, “looks like it’s early.”
  “But I’m not read- it’s not supposed to be here!”
  “You already said that.”
  They were getting close to the market when the truck stopped outside Charlie’s quarters. Deliveries usually went to the market square. This seemed quite odd.
  Meiki slowed as they approached the truck to get a better look. She wanted to see what was being delivered on the wrong day and to the wrong place.
  The door opened and out popped the wrong driver. Instead of Dav she saw a near twin of Charlie...except with no hair, brown skin, and no eyepatch.
  “Tyson!” she shouted and waved her hands in the air.
  “Meikaya!” said Tyson, “So good to see you!”
  “Why are- I mean what brings you to Gates?”
  Tyson paused and said, “I have some free time and decided to visit Professor Darwin, Charlie to you. I gave Davino the day off.”
  “Are you disappointed to see me?”
  “No,” Meiki started, “I was just expecting Dav. I like Dav because I help him unload the truck and he tells me stories. About all the places he’s been to.”
  “Well, I’m sorry that I won’t be able to regale you like Davino does,  As a matter of fact, though, I could use some help unloading the truck. Perhaps you and your friend...”
  “Phel-Phelliam,” he managed to utter.
  “Perhaps you kids could give an old gentleman a hand?  I’d be most grateful.”
  They showed Tyson to the market square and spent the better part of two hours dropping off cartons of supplies to various vendors.
  “This was not how my day was s’posed to go, Meiki," said Phel through his teeth.
  “Well, you could have said no.”
  “To him? He looks like the spit of Charlie. That makes him boss or something.”
  “If you say so. Anyway, we’re almost done.”
  They hefted the last two boxes off the truck while Tyson was chatting with the shopkeepers.
  “If he don’t mind,  I’m gonna cut out after we drop these two. I might still have time to see Ker.”
  “So she IS the reason you’re at the market?  I knew it!” Meiki teased.

Chapter Five

  Meiki kept up with Tyson on his way to Charlie’s office. Soosa was sitting at a desk outside the door, typing into her book. She did not look surprised to see Tyson.
  “Good day, Soosana.” He said to her. Silently she rose to open the door to Charlie’s office.
  As the two of them went in he turned his eye toward Meiki and said, “Run along now, dear.” The door closed behind them.
  Meiki was sure that something was up. First the harvester and now a surprise visit from Tyson?  Were they connected?  She pondered it as she walked to her bike. When she got there she saw her book poking out of her backpack. She had a thought. It would be nothing to spy on the conversation in Charlie’s office. Well, it would be no trouble technologically. It would still require her to betray the trust of someone whom she held in the highest regard possible.
  Meiki had always done well in tech classes. Poking around the network was her favorite hobby. It started with accessing Charlie’s library. Before long she realized she could connect her book to all the other books in Gates. Most of them weren’t even protected and the ones that were usually offered little resistance.
  She wasn’t a snoop. Meiki just liked the challenge of figuring out how to open another’s book. She never used it to spy or get any information she wasn’t supposed to have. It was just like peering over someone’s shoulder as they are reading in the park and taking a quick glance. Nothing wrong with that.
  Of course, books didn’t just display information. They gathered it too. Each book had a unique code that allowed it to be found by any other person with a book. This was useful for forgetful students. Each book also contained a camera and microphone and a clever girl who paid a lot of attention in tech class and who practiced a bit on her own time could figure out how to activate those things. Such a person could listen in on conversations. She had never done so, of course, but she knew she could.
  She tucked the book back into her pack and zipped it up. There would be nothing simple about it, no matter how easy it was. But still, if Charlie was up to something, wasn’t he the one betraying her trust?  Wouldn’t it be her right to be informed?  Maybe Tyson figured out her plan somehow. Maybe they were discussing how to stop her from running away. Meiki couldn’t risk not knowing what was going on in there. She pulled the book out again.
  Meiki sat on a park bench in the courtyard outside Charlie’s office. She used her earbuds so that to any observer she would look like a young girl listening to music or watching a video.
  Soosa probably wasn’t expecting Tyson and must have forgotten to switch her book to protected mode. Bypassing the firewall was child’s play for Meiki. In seconds the voices in the locked room were flooding her ears.
  “...I knew this would happen. This is why I fought her. This is what I struggled against.” she heard Charlie say.
  “But what if you’re wrong?” said Tyson, “You treat all of the people here like children. They’re cut off from the world. Cut off from history. The calamity of Prathama was over a century ago. No one here even knows it happened.”
  “It’s for the best, Tyson. They are children. Most of them literally. Even the adults rarely live to be one hundred. We came to Naya to sustain the human race. To keep them alive and to prevent them from making the same kind of mistakes that humans have always made.”
  “They are in charge here, Charles, not us. Our goal is to nurture them and help them grow and expand. If you just speak to Marie...listen to her and you can see...”
  “That will never happen. She has never listened to reason. Life is good here in Gates. The people are happy and healthy. I can only imagine what kind of hell Newbright has become.”
  “Newbright is a beautiful city, Charles. They’ve built something wonderful there. Marie was wrong about some things. She admits that now. Her initial...experiment...was misguided. She’s learned from that. Newbright and her people are thriving. She wants you to come and see for yourself.”
  “But I...” Charlie began then trailed off. “Soosana. Can you please leave the room? I apologize but I wish for the remainder of my chat with Professor Tyson to remain off the record.”
  Without a word Soosa exited and Meiki’s link to the conversation was broken.

The Girl with a Bird for a Heart- Chapter III

 The girl approached the hut as if it were a slumbering beast that may awaken at any moment. The conical structure almost seemed to grow out of the ground itself. It stood just before the place where the dry land gave way to bog. The sun shone but the dense tree cover ensured that the domicile remained in eternal twilight. Beside it stood a small pen that housed a few blue swamp hens. The doorway stood open. To be more precise there didn’t seem to be a door at all, just an opening.

 Silently she padded up to the building. The great toothless mouth of a door gave way to solid darkness. She peered into the black, expecting a wrinkled crone to stare back at her, cackling and covered in warts.

 When her eyes adjusted to the dark she saw no one. Just a straw bed, an iron pot and a collection of bottles and trinkets. The girl walked around the hut and found no sign of the Muck Witch. Perhaps she had the wrong hut or maybe The Witch was out doing whatever it is that witches do. The hens looked well cared for, so the girl assumed the latter.

 She found a dry stump in the clearing before the hut and decided it would be a good enough place to rest while waiting for The Witch. It was not long before someone approached.

 A young man and woman walked cautiously toward the girl. They're rough clothing and lack of shoes marked them as peasants. Each had the brown skin and hair that was typical of the common people throughout Vatrus. The woman was with child.

 “Muck Witch!” called the man, “My wife is not well. She carries our child. Please aid us!”

 The girl stood up but did not speak. The couple drew closer and she could see that the woman leaned heavily on her husband, unable to support herself.

 “You’re just a girl!” spat the man. “Where is The Witch?”

 The girl said nothing.
 “Who are you? Where is the Muck Witch? Can’t you see my wife needs help.”

 Even if she could have spoken the girl would not have known what to say. She had no knowledge of healing and no idea where The Witch had gotten to.

 “Well, if you cannot help me and The Witch is not present then I shall have to do it myself!” said the man as he strode to the opening of the hut.

 “Husband, no.” said the woman weakly, but he did not seem to hear her and dashed inside The Witch’s home. The girl looked at the woman. Torrents of sweat washed down her brow and she breathed heavy and pained.

 In seconds the man returned with an arm full of bottles.

“Maybe one of these is the medicine you need, dearest.” He held one of them out to her. It was small and opaque with a cork stopper. He put his hand over it to open the bottle before a voice from the bog interrupted him.

 “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” said the voice. “Cacobeasts are frightfully difficult to bottle up again once they are released.”

 The man turned toward the bog and said, “Is it you? Witch? Show yourself! I come only requesting your aid!”

 A white skinned woman stepped out into the clearing. Her red hair was long and braided. She was younger than expected, no more than thirty years. She wore an outfit of green and brown cloth and fine leather boots. Her face and clothing were perfectly clean although she had been coming from the direction of the bog.

 She ignored the couple and approached the girl. “You,” she said, “have travelled a long way to come here.”

 The girl did not reply.

 “Ignore her.” said the man, “She is just a dumb child. My wife is ill. We need-” The Witch raised her hand to silence the man without taking her eyes off the girl.

 “Let me see it.” said the Muck Witch, poking her finger toward the girl’s chest.

 “Witch, I beg of you...” at this The Witch turned around. She looked at the pregnant woman for a moment and then to the collection of bottles in the man’s arm.

 “The blue glass one. It is filled with dried leaves. Make a tea from them and have your wife drink every last drop. Then she should rest.”

 “That’s it?” asked the man, “And that will save her and save my child?”

 “No.” said The Witch,  “The baby is already dead.”


  “There is nothing that can be done about that, man. Do as I say and your wife should live. Perhaps she will even be able to bear another child.”

 “M-my child...” stuttered the man.

 “Do as I say and leave me, man. And be thankful. If you had come here any later you would have lost both child and wife.”

 “Thank you.” said the woman, through exhales.

 The man dropped all of the bottles save the blue one and the couple left The Witch alone with the girl.

 “As I was saying, girl. Show me what you have there.”

 The girl lowered her blouse enough for the witch to see the tiny iron cage. Inside it was an even tinier bird- some sort of finch. Its foreparts were a sooty grey with flecks of yellow. Its wings were darker but similarly unremarkable. The bird would have been quite plain if not for a brilliant tuft of vermillion feathers on its forehead.

 “Dear creature, be not afraid.” said The Witch. “Sing for me your song.”

 The bird chirped. Timidly at first but then stronger and with what sounded like joy.

 “Titihihihihihi!” chirped the little creature.

 The Witch clasped her hand over a delighted smile. “Yes! Dear friend! All will be well, I am certain.”

 She picked a bottle from the pile the man had discarded. She unstopped it and placed the tip of her small finger inside the neck. When it came out there a dark yellow pigment coated her finger. She touched it over the girl’s throat, making a tiny amber mark.

 “Now your turn, child. You may finally speak.”

 “My name is Tula Petek! I was cursed by a horrible man! He stole my heart and replaced it with a bird. He took my voice!”

 “Who? What man? Why did he do this thing?” asked The Muck Witch. She did not seem to doubt Tula’s fantastic story one bit.

 “I do not know his name.” Tula Petek told The Witch. “He was a stranger. He said he needed my heart for a ritual. He said it was perfect for his needs. He told me that I would remain alive until the end of the world, but I would not be able to speak to warn anyone of his plan.”

 “The end of the world?” asked The Witch. “Did the man mention when that was to come.”

 “In eight days time.”

Diary of Wartha Gormley - Day ? Wolves and Pigs

Dear Diary,

 Sorry that I haven’t written in so long. Much has happened. I’ve travelled for days and days and that stupid ball of fire in the sky stays the same size. There is only one explanation. It must be getting farther away as I move toward it. It’s hard to tell how big the sky is or where the exact edge of it lies. But the Sun can only fly so far before it is pushed up against that enormous dome. It may take me several days more, but I will reach the edge of the world and I will put an arrow through that thing.

 I noticed that a lot of the Updwellers ain’t hunters at all. I spied a few. Just before the Sun shows up they appear in the woods. I bet they think they’re being silent, but Updwellers are big and clumsy. Them fellows make more noise than a rutting cavern boar.

 Most of the big folk grow food in pens around their wooden caves. Some of them have plants of all kinds and some keep animals for slaughter like those big hunks of meat on legs I mentioned before. I saw some critters that looked like short-haired boars. They were the color of rotworm larva. The pen they were being kept in sat about two hundred bow-lengths away from the dwellings. Those pink critters were just rolling around in the mud. Now, I ain’t no thief, but I had a hankering for something other than long-ear meat. I waited until the lights in the Updweller cave went out and crept up to those defenseless things. I reckoned a well placed arrow would take one down right quick. After a deep breath I nocked, aimed, and let fly. The beast dropped.

 The others didn’t even snort. That was a might shocking. You’d think they’d be scared but it was almost like they were used to it. I pulled the dead critter out of the enclosure and dragged it toward the trees to carve it up. The thing spread out on its back when I pulled my knife. Just as I went to skin it the fat little animal kicked me right in the chest. Darn did that hurt! I think a rib bone got cracked. The varmint was still moving. I jumped on his belly to hold those hind legs still and brought my knife down swift on his chest. Hot blood flew out of the beastie and it squealed high and loud. Then it stopped moving. I could finally get to butchering it.

 A noise coming from the Updweller’s cave interrupted me. I looked up and saw a lantern had been lit. The folk who owned the pen coming to investigate the noise no doubt. I sheathed my knife and dragged the critter way off into the darkness where no Updweller would follow me. Boy was I wrong. The Updwellers sure do love to get animals to do unnatural things. Penning critters up for food is one thing, but what happened next...

 I made it nearly a thousand bow-lengths into the trees when I heard them. It was like a pack of tiny shadewolves tearing through the woods. Snarling and gnashing their teeth, the things raced straight at me. They had little chains hanging from their necks that rattled as they ran. They were the Updweller’s beasts I reckoned and they were trained to catch thieves like me.

 I would have paid for the beastie,  I swear. Once I finished butchering and filling my pack with meat I would leave some feathers and a sparklestone. I think that’s a fair trade, right? But there was no reasoning with those wolves. They looked dead set on doing me in.

 I scampered up the nearest tree and the pack stood still at the bottom, barking and growling at me. The critter I killed lay right beside them. They sniffed it once and paid it no mind. Fresh meat free for the taking and those things didn’t care. All they wanted was me.

 I managed to leap to another tree and then another, but those things followed me. They were keeping an eye on me while they waited for the master to come.

 I never got a real good look at him, the Updweller. The branches blocked my sight from his face, but I could tell he was huge. Almost the size of a cave bear. He knelt down by the slaughtered critter and inspected it. He set a metal tube he’d been holding onto the ground. About half a bow long, it looked like a weapon of some sort, but I’d never seen anything like it.

 “Pig thief.” he said to himself.

 A pig. That must be what the Updwellers call those critters. But I ain’t no thief. I’m a hunter.

 “Lead me to, him, boys.” the Updweller said and his wolves ran to the tree where I hid.

Duskworld - Chapter Two, The Storm and Chapter Three, Charlie

Chapter Two
The Storm

  Through her window Meiki still heard the party on the rooftop. The sky drizzled a little but that didn’t seem to dull their spirits or the noise. Gates hosted a population of nothing but seeds who were content to hang out on a roof and listen to terrible music.
  It wasn’t that Meiki didn’t like music. She could hear all she wanted through her book. Every song ever recorded on old Earth stored there, every movie, every story. Everything a person could want was at her fingers. Still, she wanted more. Soon she would have it. This wasn’t some pipe dream. Meiki had been planning. In two days the delivery from Sagan was coming. She had been watching the delivery every month for close to a year. Dav, the driver was clueless and predictable. She would wait until he had finished unloading the truck. He always left it wide open and would stop at the cafe for a sandwich before heading back to Sagan. When he wasn’t looking she would slip in between the crates with her invisibility cloak. When he reached Sagan she would sneak out and make her way to Newbright.
 The drizzling rains evolved into a steady hissing patter.
 She decided to watch an old Earth movie about a kid her age who had magic powers and went on adventures. It was her favorite movie and where she got the idea for the cloak and her plan to run away in the first place. Then she would sleep. Her opportunity to get away from this tedious life was only two days away.

On the roof Phel strummed his banjo and tried to sing a love ballad. Leggy was mindlessly whipping up a beat in the wrong tempo. They had practiced this, but Leggy was spontaneous and preferred to make the music up as he went along. It forced Phel to sing faster than appropriate and skip half of the the words. Not that it mattered, because the girl he was singing for had already disappeared down the stairs.
 After the song he addressed the audience of disinterested teens who mostly milled about nowhere near the stage.
 “Uh, that song was called ‘Princess of the Mist’. one is a little more upbeat number called, ‘Tofu Hoedown’. We hope you like it.”
 Phel plucked up a lively tune full of twang and Leggy’s bongo playing was less noticeable. The lyrics he sang were silly and all about dancing in the soy fields under the rain. A few of the kids actually got into it and edged up toward the stage. Some of them were even dancing.
 Oh wow, this is actually happening! Thought Phel. They’re digging it! He played with more energy and his singing became clear and confident.

  Sleep didn’t come easily to Meiki. The rain ramped up to a constant tap-a-tap and eventually became a hail of watery bullets against her windows. A mutter of thunder rolled through the sky.
  Meiki tried to ignore it, but as she drifted off the mutter became a rumble. It seemed like she was in for one of Naya’s rare thunderstorms.
  At least the party will be cut short, she thought as she pulled her pillows over her head to shut out the crackling storm. The image of that rude girl and her friends running inside cold and soaked made her smile a little inwardly.

 The music reached a crescendo and Phel’s heart rate soared with it. Stray droplets of rain fell from the sky. The wetness of the night air of Naya added vitality to the moment. The dance song finished strongly and over a dozen kids had gathered around the small stage cheering and chanting for more.
 Then he saw her. Ker popped out of the stairwell door onto the roof. She glided toward the stage and sat down atop an old barrel.
 “Um,” said Phel, “So, uh, we only got two songs...want to hear ‘Princess of the Mist’ again?”
 Phel had the audience in the palm of his hand. They were eager for more. Ker was looking up at him and he began to strum the opening notes to the ballad he had written for her.
 Thunder crashed through the sky. The droplets of rain were replaced by a sudden torrent. As if the water would destroy them the kids raced to the door into the shelter of the dorms. Before Phel had realized what was happening Ker had disappeared as well. For several seconds he stood in the pouring rain unable to move.
 The sky flashed brighter than daylight for a tenth of a second and the loudest thunder Phel had ever heard came right after. If he’d had the strength to look up he may have seen a bright object flaring through the night before it disappeared past the orchards. Instead he stomped down from the stage and made his way back to the dorm. His moment of stardom had come and gone.

  The wind began to whip and hoot and the regular flickers of lightning transformed into brilliant startling flashes. The windows of the dorm were strong, but they rattled against the bluster as the wind frenzied and crashed against the tempered glass.
  A night-shattering streak of lightning filled the sky followed immediately by a terrible peal of thunder.
  Meiki ran to her window and could have sworn she saw a shooting star dart below the clouds before the coming of a horrid thunderblast and a flash past the tree line near the soy fields. The rain fell frantically for another ten minutes or so, but eventually settled back to a polite drip-drop.
  After that came only silence.

Chapter Three

  Meiki awoke to see the world had not drowned in spite of the ferocity of the storm. There were no classes that day and Meiki’s only duty was to go to the soy farm and run maintenance on the machinery. After a sonic shower she threw on her overalls and buzzed Phel with her linker. He messaged back saying he had already arrived at the farm and needed her to get there immediately.
  Phel was usually the first to show up at a work site, but he didn’t normally give her any grief about it. Something must have happened, thought Meiki. It’s probably just some damage from the storm,  but something must be wrong on the field.
  Breakfast would have to wait. The fields were a twenty minute ride from the dorms, just past the orchards. She stuffed the book into her backpack before running down to the garage and hopping on her bike. Meiki rode a sleek model she had assembled herself from parts forged in the local maker machine. It had been painted sky blue- a fact Meiki found ironic considering that the sky over her home never looked blue.
  Meiki glided past fruit-heavy apple and pear trees. Their sweet smell hung in the air. As she rode closer to the fields the odor shifted from flowers to smoke. There must be a fire, thought Meiki. She pedaled harder.
 Phel stood next to an enormous automated harvester. It almost never broke down and required minimal maintenance. This behemoth had been knocked on its side and looked like a mess of bent metal and smoke. The machine lay twisted and nearly severed in half. Four centimeter thick strips of hull curled inward and black exhaust poured out from a massive hole in the side. Spanning fifty meters behind it stretched a trail of scorched soil. It marred several perfect rows of bean plants. Phel was talking into his linker.
  “...won’t touch anything until you get here. Don’t worry. We’re just gonna do our routine on the other machines. Yeah, they don’t seem to have been touched. yessir. We’ll be here.”
  He hung up and looked at Meiki while gesturing to the demolished harvester.
  “What happened?” she asked.
  “I dunno. Figure it was the storm.”
  “You can’t be serious, Phel. Look at that thing. Five tons of synthetic tungsten but it’s shredded up like confetti. And what about that trail of ash?  It looks like something fell from the sky and burned a path through the entire field.”
  Meiki pulled her book and switched to camera mode. She took a few shots of the wreckage and the scorch marks.
  “I thought I saw a meteor last night.”  she said as she put the book away.
  “A big ol’ rock from space?” he said, squinting up at the sky, “You think that’s what hit the harvester?”  Meteors were rare on Naya, but not unheard of.
  “Well, something hit it.”
  “Probably just lighting," said Phel.
  “Whatever," said Meiki, rolling her eyes.
  A low hum came from around the tree line. Both kids recognized the sound of Charlie’s car. Charlie seemed like the sole citizen in gates who didn’t ride a bike everywhere.
  He was old even if one couldn’t tell by looking at him and his legs were no longer as strong as they had once been. No one around really had the knowledge needed to repair androids other than the androids themselves and most of the parts required were unavailable. Because of this Charlie took precautions with his mechanical body.
  The car was a bright yellow egg-shaped two-seater. The kids all called it “the lemon”. Its battery powered engine propelled the lemon just a tiny bit faster than a bike and it couldn’t cover rough terrain well, but it remained the single luxury Charlie allowed himself.
  The lemon stopped beside the field and the doors opened with a woosh. Charlie and his assistant, Soosa stepped out. Charlie stood precisely one point eighty-three meters tall. He weighed exactly eighty-two kilograms. Nearly everything about Charlie was exact and precise. He looked like a man of thirty-five with immaculate sandy blond hair. The only detail about Charlie that did not seem perfect was his left eye. He never discussed how he lost it, but a black eyepatch had covered it for as long as anyone could remember. When they were younger the students swore he was a pirate.
  Soosa came out on the driver’s side. She rose a half a head shorter than Charlie and appeared to be half a life older. Soosa seemed to be almost always beside Charlie, book in hand. None of the students quite understood what her job was, but she could be seen tapping furiously away at her device whenever Charlie spoke or listened to anyone.
  “Phelliam, Meikaya, good morning children," said Charlie in a voice that was mechanically clear and yet somehow still warm and amiable. Soosa nodded to the children but said nothing.
  Phel nodded at the grownups nervously and said, “Good morning sir. I suppose you wanna look at the wreckage.”
 Charlie ambled over to the harvester. His eye narrowed, then whirred and clicked a few times like a camera. He glanced at the scorched ground.
  “Lightning.” was all he said.
  “See?” said Phel to Meiki. “Heh...meteors you thought it was.”
  Charlie’s head tilted ever so slightly, “We still have the other two harvesters. Most of the soy crop is undamaged. I’ll send a crew in to remove the debris. Finish your maintenance review and try your best to work around the wreckage until it is cleared away.”
  He paused and added, “Luckily no one is hurt.”
  “Charlie...”, said Meiki.
  “Yes, Meikaya?”
  “Um...I’m real excited for class tomorrow. I just wanted to say that.”
  “I’m glad to hear that. Teaching chemistry is one of my favorite duties. I am interested to see this new explosive formula you have been working on. It may prove useful to the miners in the Atwood colony.”
  Soosa silently returned to the driver’s seat of the lemon as Charlie stepped over to the passenger’s side.
  “Good day, children.” he said before pulling down the door. The lemon hummed off into town.
  Meiki looked at Phel and said, “Why do you think he lied to us?”
  “What are you talking about?”
  “Charlie lied. He knew it wasn’t lightning. No way it could be lightning. He didn’t even examine the wreckage to be sure. How would he know just looking at it what caused this mess?”
  “He’s real smart,” said Phel, “knows everything. You said so yourself.”
   “Yeah, but I also said he doesn’t tell us everything.”

  Phel watched the lemon disappear past the trees. He sucked his teeth for a long while, put his hands on his hips and said, “Well, whatever. Don’t matter to me what made this mess. We don’t gotta get it fixed so we just gotta finish up here and then we have the rest of the day off.”