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068: Legacy Of The Knight     069: Legacy Of The Clown
070: Legacy Of The Witch     071: Devil's Kiss     072: Surrounded : Together


Post: 03.21.2002
Date: 01.02.2196
Time: Midday

Legacy Of The Knight

I flip the switch.

Plasma wire slithers like a glowing snake.

It hums.  No, just my mind, translating the vibrations that must be emanating from the thin wire dangling from the cylinder in my hand.  The plasma wire is burning with a cold radiance, spewing out tendrils of plasma, scorching the neo-plastic deck surface.  Subtle hand movements send the wire side-winding across the deck--countless control surfaces reading my hand position and finger movements, telegraphing my intentions directly to the weapon.

I've got Death by the tail.

"You, uh, do know what you're doing, right?" Phoenix asks from somewhere behind me.

The sever-whip lashes off to one side, sparking against the railing.  Tiny globules of metal explode upward and outward, steaming as they plunge into the ocean.

"And you, uh, meant to do that...right?" Phoenix asks.

"Right."  The wire coils at my feet.  Glitch, this trench coat is too big for me.  Still awkward to move around in, but I rolled up the sleeves, so I can practice with the sever-whip.  Phoenix cut off the trench coat at my knees this morning; we needed the material to fix something on my boat.  I'm not tripping over it anymore, but new clothing is going to be a priority when we hit the mainland.

A glance over my shoulder tells me that he's moved closer to the front of the boat.  There's less room up there for him to practice with his sais, but it's farther away from me.

"Good.  I'm just gonna be over here, so I don't...distract you."

"Fine."  I'm being short with him.  Why?  Just because he's pissed at Aran.  Can't think that's it.  I'm not Aran's blind devotee, glitch him, that'd be childish and cheap.  Anyway, outside of my own feelings for him, maybe I should be a little angry...

(he's glitched, remember?  you don't know that.  no, but how could he survive that.  how could anybody survive that?  i did.  phoenix did.  that's enough for there to still be hope.)

     (i hope)

...at Aran myself.  Angry at Aran for having me put on the Lady Luck.  Angry at him for separating me from JACK.  Angry at him for not keeping me with him.  For possibly being dead.  Glitch!

There's too much left unresolved between all of us.  I needed more time!

I should've put up more of a fight back on the Rusted Whale.  I should've insisted I stay with him, but he...and then his friend...she put me...I should've put up more of a fight!

I want to believe he's alive, but a tumor of fear is hindering those thoughts.  I can't get past it.  Can't extract it.  It's in deep, and won't let go, eating away at my hope.

Maybe that's why I'm being short with Phoenix.  He's angry at Aran, and at some level, so am I.  I'm afraid and furious at these emotions Aran's stirred up in me, and since he's not here, there isn't a glitched thing I can do about them.  Can't work them out.  I've been denied any closure.  So, my frustration and anger build.  And now I'm taking it out on Phoenix.  He doesn't deserve that.

At least we got my boat working.  Partially.  I'm not completely sure how we did it--mostly seemed like we jiggled wires and reconnected tubes that were disconnected--but we're actually moving across the ocean now.  Not as fast as I'd like though.  We tried to push the throttle up, but the sounds that came from inside my boat made me think it was going to explode.  We backed off the throttle and the noise subsided.  Now, we're headed (too slowly) toward a hypercurrent Phoenix located.  It should take us to the mainland.  Progress is progress, and at least we're not drifting aimlessly any--

"Uh, syl?" Phoenix's voice queries, breaking me out of my thoughts.  "How are you doing that?"

"Wha--?" I begin, but then realize what he's gaping at.  My arm is extended outward, fingers gnarled around the sever-whip's handle.  The plasma wire is pulsating and...shaped--the gentle curve of a helix, motionless in midair.  I can't even bring myself to blink, much less breathe.

"I didn't know that level of control was possible!" Phoenix exclaims, almost dropping a sai.

Neither did I, but it wouldn't be the first time I could do something that I didn't know I could.  Life is one big brand new day for me.  "You watch, Phoenix, I'll surprise you on a continual basis."  Not to mention myself.

"No argument here, but do you know how you're doing that?"

A wave of nausea swirls at me.  For a second, I think I'm going to repeat this morning's wake-up performance, but I manage to ride the feeling out, letting it ebb through me.  My knees weaken for a second.  Captured by the nausea, my arm wavers and my fingers relax.  The plasma wire falls limp.  I flip the switch, and the wire retracts without a sound.

Phoenix is twirling a sai, waiting for my answer.  Faint bile taste in my mouth.  I shake my head to clear it.  Vines of blue fan across my vision.  The handle of the sever-whip rests horizontal in the flat of my palm.  So simple.  So inert.  So deadly.

"You've misjudged Aran," I say, changing the subject back to things we discussed earlier.  "He saved my life."

Phoenix is now twirling both sais--blurs of motion and reflected sunlight.  "I can understand what you must feel toward him then, but Aran is the reason we're both here.  I'm not forgetting that, and neither should you.  His Technomancers stole vital parts from the Lady Luck, and that's why we couldn't reach minimum safe distance when the island detonated.  He put you on my boat, and...and you know all this already!  You should be as mad as I am!"

"I am.  If not more.  But he's not who you think he is."

"At this point, I don't really care who he is," Phoenix says, gesturing to the ocean.  "I just hope he's alive, so I can discuss a few things with him."  The sais are dancing between his hands, spinning.  "Not that it's a priority of mine.  If we happen to meet again, then I'll take the opportunity.  If not, so be it.  I don't wish him dead or anything, but I rather not deal with Technomancers--especially those who mess up my plans."

"I hope for the same thing--that he's alive"

"How did he save you?"

"He killed an eoa that was about to kill JACK and I."

"Jack," Phoenix repeats.  "Explain him to me later, but let's not get distracted from Aran.  An eoa attacked you and Aran killed it?  Not an simple accomplishment, even for a Technomancer, but the brave-but-suicidal type doesn't come out ahead in my mind.  Still, this is pretty irrelevant to the questions at hand.  Why did he save you?  Did you know him from somewhere?"

Why did he save me?  Why would he even bother?  Cyberspace was newly offline.  There was confusion...he was in no shape to be...  He said he was just "taking a morning stroll."  Didn't want to go into any details.  Why has he helped me?  Why did I let him protect me?  Why did I trust him then, and then later.  And then now.

So I give the only answer I can: "I don't know why he saved me.  I didn't know him before that time."  Except in the alley, when I was naked on top of him, and I touched his face.  You don't need to know about that, Phoenix.

The sais pause for a second, frozen, his fingers weaving.  "That's not a good answer.  You're not worried about that?"

Haven't had the time to question everything.  It's a valid point though.  "No," I say, griping the sever-whip handle tighter, thumb resting against the switch.

"Something has caused your paths to cross," Phoenix says.  He's moving through a series of poses.  With each pose, he hesitates, holding each for no more than a second or two.  The sais change orientations in his hands with each new form.

"You're absolutely right," I say.  "And I have no idea what that is.  When we get back to the mainland, and when we find Aran, I'll be sure to ask him."

"That's the spirit!" Phoenix says.  Then there's a sai arcing through the air.  Phoenix leaps toward me, over the control console, catching the sai behind his back.  Then he shrugs, and the sais are back in his belt, as if they had always been there.

"Hey, you didn't answer my question," Phoenix says.  "About the sever-whip, and what you were doing with it."

"Phoenix," I say.  "There's only one good explanation for why I can do that with a sever-whip."

"Which is?"

"I've used one before."

  Post: 03.21.2002
Date: 01.02.2196
Time: Midday

Legacy Of The Clown

The sais are whirlwinds, dancing to the notes of a deadly song.

"You ever seen a rivot bot?" I ask.  Do I really want to talk about this with him?  Do I?

The sais don't even slow, but rush, like water over a cliff, frantic and fluid all jumbled up.  Courses set in motion, unwavering and unstoppable.  Phoenix isn't even breathing hard.  Without his trench coat, his figure presents itself as lean and fit.  His clothing flows naturally against him, accommodating his quick movements.  His belt holds his pistols and a few other devices I don't recognize, but he moves without hindrance.

"What's a rivot bot?" Phoenix asks.

"Who taught you to fight like that?" I ask, amazed at the violent beauty of it all.  How many times have the tips of those sais been discolored with blood?  How many people have died at their edges?

"Life," Phoenix says.  "Now answer my question."

"I really don't know what a rivot bot is, but I met one back on the island.  Just wanted to see if you knew anything about them.  The one I met had some sort of body armor--or maybe his body was armor.  His entire body was covered with blades and spikes--jagged pieces of metal, and he wore a crown of spikes.  The spikes were long--too long--extending a few feet over his head."

"Where did you meet this rivot bot?"

"The Universally Cosmic Circus of Amazing Wonder."

"Heh, you sure it wasn't one of the attractions?  It sounds like something they would put on display at that freak show."

"If he was, then he escaped.  I met him two times after that.  Still, I'm pretty sure he wasn't part of the circus--other people seemed to know what a rivot bot was."  JACK and Kiiziiziixii knew.  How did they know?  "He said his name was Calamity Carl."

Phoenix's hands jerk inward--sais collapsed, at home back on his belt--then outward--sais become pistols.  He's so fast!  Movements practiced thousands of times and re-practiced thousands more till they aren't just second nature, but nature itself.  "Calamity Carl," he repeats.  "So it's a he.  I guess he did belong in that place after all--with a name like that.  You saw him two other times?  What happened?"

"He just showed up where I was.  I guess you could say he was following me, but I don't think that's as accurate as it could be--more like he knew where I was and simply appeared.  I have this feeling that he didn't need to follow me in order to find me.  I think he knows where I am when he wants to say something."

"That's just a feeling?" Phoenix asks.  The guns migrated back to his belt somewhere in there, but I blinked and missed it.

I lean against the ruined control console, sliding to a sitting position on the deck, undoing the top two fasteners of the trench coat and pulling the lapels wide--Phoenix better keep his eyes to himself--the sun's hurling volcano heat at me, and I'm sweating.  Air flows into the trench coat, cooling skin.  Wonder what he would do if I cut the sleeves off of this thing?

"Yeah," I say, "that's all it is.  I have no proof.  Each time I encountered him, it was only for a few minutes, and he never explained himself.  He just found me, told me things, then vanished.  JACK said he had photon redirectors.  You know what those are?"

"Yeah."  Phoenix grabs one of the few remaining water containers, sipping at its mouth.  "No good way of getting my hands on any of those.  Too expensive, too valuable, and too well-protected.  They could be useful in my profession, but in the end...I don't need them."

"Being able to become invisible would definitely be an advantage.  You'd use them if you had them."

"Use them...or sell them, depending."

"Well, Calamity Carl put them to good use."  I shiver in spite of the heat, remembering his hands on my back, ripping my shirt to ribbons of useless material.  "The map is you," he told me just after he opened up my shirt, revealing the mark on my back for all to see, then disappearing.  What the glitch do you want with me, Calamity?

Phoenix reclines against the railing, fingering a food substitute package, but not opening it.  "Why is this rivot bot so concerned with you?"

"I have no idea," I say.  But he told me secrets, oh so many secrets, and I don't think he's done with me yet.  He'll tell me more secrets someday.  Soon?  Glitch, probably.

"Do you think he's dangerous?"  Phoenix rips open the food substitute package and winces as he takes a bite of the fluorescent goo inside.  I can't tell if his facial expression is one of disgust for the semi-toxic substance he's eating or one of concern for me when he asks, "Did he...hurt you?"

Calamity, razing the rioting crowds...decapitating with razors...skewering with his spikes...dangerous?...glitch, yeah.  "He's extremely dangerous--I've seen him use those blades and spikes...but he hasn't physically hurt me.  I don't think that's his intent.  I don't think he'll ever hurt me."

"He's the one who told you about the island--what was going to happen.  It was Calamity Carl, wasn't it?"

"Yes," I say.  Glitch your perceptive mind, Phoenix, but I was going to tell you anyway...eventually...maybe.  Not sure why I'm rambling about all this to you though.  What do you really care?  Me, I just don't want to be the only one who knows--didn't have time to talk to anybody else about this.  Now you're here and listening, or pretending to at least.  What do you care?  "Calamity called that piece of data a 'secret.'  As it turns out, not the only one he had for me."

Phoenix doesn't say anything.  He appears to be adjusting a device on his belt, waiting for me to continue.

I tell him the other secrets.  But not about the blue spark inside me.  Not ready for anybody to know about that yet.

Vomit a few more times in the morning and you won't have to tell him, my mind informs me.  He'll draw his own conclusions.

Phoenix closes his eyes and tilts his head back after I'm done.  "You lead a unique life, syl.  You have no memories from before a month ago.  You have Technomancers and wirewitches for friends.  You're being stalked by a rivot bot who tells you secrets.  You've survived encounters with eoas, Dokks, the Bleed and even gnaw.  And then the island you're on detonates."

"It's a horror story, Phoenix, I know.  I...I have no explanation.  I'm just trying to survive."

"That's all any of us can do," Phoenix says, smiling from behind closed eyes.  "But, about this Calamity Carl...all these secrets he's telling you--they can only mean one thing.  They each imply knowledge about you that you don't have--thanks to a convenient deficiency in your memories department.  That leads me to a conclusion--one I think you may have already come to, but haven't expressed--even to yourself."

"And that is?" I ask.  He's analyzing me?  Is this part of a con?  What the glitch makes him so perceptive?

"He seems to be referring to future events with his secrets, but you can't really know the future without knowing the past.  You and Calamity Carl have a history together.  You knew each other before your memory loss.  Guaranteed."

  Post: 03.29.2002
Date: 01.02.2196
Time: Midday

Legacy Of The Witch

The sun is falling toward the sea.

And I'm about to talk with Phoenix about wirewitches.  He just asked about them.  I told him that JACK was one of them.  Now he knows it's JACK and not Jack.  Wirewitches complicate everything.

Phoenix has one of his pistols in pieces on the deck, presumably cleaning it, but I haven't seen him do anything which could be construed as that exactly.  "Most people are scared of wirewitches," he says.

Behind my closed eyelids I see JACK and Q'and'q locked in the witchkiss.  "They should be.  Wirewitches kill humans, simple and cold."

"The witchkiss, yes, I've heard how they make other wirewitches.  You know what they can do--what they are--yet you were among them.  Why?"

"Friendship is a complex construct for me," I say, fingering the ragged edge of the trench coat.  Wirewitches...  Technomancers...  "It just happens.  Friendship may not be the right word for what JACK and I have between us, but...but I want it to be.  We've experienced things together that can only bring two people closer to each other--regardless of what she is.  I can't control that part, and I can't control my feelings for her."

Phoenix shakes his head.  "I can't believe you have a wirewitch for a friend!"

"I can't believe it either."  But she's all I have, Phoenix, you have to understand that.  "The first beings I can remember seeing are a coven of wirewitches; JACK was one of them.  Her coven was killed by eoas, but she survived, and so did I--thanks to Aran.  That...experience had its effect on both of us.  We were in each others arms when it was over, clinging to each other as if that alone could protect us from a world which wanted us dead.  She was much younger then...than she is now..."  I can only turn my head away from Phoenix as I say this, tears leaking at the edges of my eyes--without my permission, glitch it.

Phoenix is silent.  I can hear the soft clanking of pistol parts against the neo-plastic deck.

I continue.  "A few days after that, she changed herself--physically; made herself look older.  When I first saw her, she said she had been a wirewitch for thirteen years, and at the time she looked around that age.  Maybe she was born a wirewitch.  After she--"  Made Q'and'q a wirewitch!  "--she changed herself, she looked older than me.  She was a mature wirewitch at that point.  Fully mature and fully dangerous."

"Hold on," Phoenix says.  "She was dangerous.  To you.  Why did you stay with her?"

"Danger comes along for the ride when you're dealing with wirewitches, and JACK is extremely dangerous, but not necessarily to me.  She hasn't tried to infect me, and she never will.  I know her."  But 2-85 sure tried to do the job didn't he? my mind reminds me.  Remember what they are.  The wirewitches aren't going to change just for you, angel.

"You sound confident about that, syl," Phoenix says.  "I hope, for your sake, you're right, because being wrong about this means you're going to insert yourself right back into a deadly situation as soon as you find her."

"I know, but I can handle myself around wirewitches."

A memory: 3-43's lips pressed against mine--my first witchkiss--the sudden realization that I was about to die, my humanity being removed, peeling away like a lacerated skinsuit.

A memory: 2-85's lips pressed against mine--second witchkiss and counting--but I went on the offensive, witchkiss made realkiss, glitch 2-85, distracting me with flitterwasp feelings deep in my gut.

Stop.

Phoenix is searching through the pile of pistol pieces on the deck as if he's lost something.  He curses to himself.  "You know how unsafe you will be with JACK and her coven, yet you're still willing to go to her.  I don't understand that at all.  You don't seem like the suicidal type--not like that glitch-o-mancer Aran."

A memory: My lips pressed against Ar--

Stop.  Glitch it, stop.

"I don't desire death, or danger to myself," I say after I have my memory under control.  "It's just that...I don't know...it's not easy having a friend who is everything I despise--who does things I hate, and who will continue to do things to upset me, even endanger me most likely--all reasons to get as far away from JACK as I possibly can, and pray I never meet her or any other wirewitch ever again.  But I..."

"Can't do that," Phoenix finishes.

"Don't know about can't.  I won't.  There's a strand that connects us; we have too much unfinished between us.  After we work out that out, I'll...I'll--I don't know what, but something."

Phoenix is putting his pistol back together.  Guess he found what he'd been missing.  "You're a mind-razer, syl.  You lay waste to normal thinking.  Your thought processes do not compute."

"Why, Phoenix," I say, leaning my head, and looking at him from the bare corner of my eye, "that sounds precariously like a compliment.  You have to be careful with that mouth.  It'll get you into trouble."

"Hey!  That wasn't--"

"I know what you said, Phoenix."

"I'll bet you did.  You and your female mind can twist reality till the sun explodes.  Makes no difference to me."  Click-click-clack.  Pistol's back together.  Snug on his belt.  He pulls the other pistol, holding it up for examination.

"You would be the one to understand interpreting the truth--you lie for a living."

"Remind me to give you your quick-wit prize when we hit solid ground," Phoenix says, trying that smile on me again.  "One day you'll be able to keep up with me."

I'm at complete calm, but static bursts for a moment in my mind, then disappears.  I shake my head.  What the glitch was that?  What's wrong?  Gone now.  I look at the ocean, scanning for any danger.  Calm.  Maybe I need to eat something.  At the thought of food substitute, my stomach goes weak.  Well, maybe I'll just wait...

"You know," Phoenix says, turning toward me, "you said JACK hadn't tried to make you a wirewitch, but what about the others?  I might accept why JACK wouldn't attempt that with you, but the other wirewitches probably don't have the emotional ties to you like she does.  What stops them from converting you?"

Glitch, Phoenix, you weren't supposed to ask that question.

  Post: 04.08.2002
Date: 01.02.2196
Time: Midday

Devil's Kiss

"The truth, Phoenix," I say, "is that nothing stops them from converting me, except for the fact that they've tried several times, and it didn't work."

"What the glitch?" Phoenix says, fumbling with the pistol in his hands.  "That's impossible!"

"Very impossible.  But it's what happened.  I resisted the witchkiss.  NAAQ, the leader of JACK's coven told me I wasn't human.  She claimed that there was something wrong with me.  She should be correct--no human can resist the witchkiss, and technosites can infect most organic beings.  I should be a wirewitch right now, but I'm not.  The witchkiss had no effect on me."

Now, that's not the whole truth, angel.  Why are you lying to him?

"Who witchkissed you?" Phoenix asks, intent on disassembling the pistol.

"3-43, the coven's warlock."

"So, he just attacked you?"

"Cyberspace was newly offline," I say.  Like it was yesterday, I can feel my naked body sliding through the deactivated pulse shielding, finding myself on that carpeted floor and surrounded by the coven, their hairstalks twitching.  "The wirewitches were disoriented and disconnected from each other.  There was no reason to infect me--the coven was already complete, but still, 3-43 witchkissed me.  He was acting on his own, without the command of NAAQ.  They all were confused and with that confusion came panic.  Then, I stumbled right into them and further complicated things.  I think 3-43 was acting on pure instinct when he backed me up against a wall and tried to force a few millions technosites down my throat."

"You're lucky they didn't harm you in some other way once they found out you couldn't be converted."

I shake my head.  "As it turns out, the danger to me was never from the wirewitches.  The eoas came not long after that and killed all of them except for JACK."  Severed limbs washed in blood.  Eoa browns and wirewitch blues coating me in a mysterious goo.  I've never really been clean since...  "But the witchkiss was bad enough.  Glitch that warlock for trying to take my humanity from me."

And glitch 2-85 for what he did too.  And glitch him for what he does to me.  What he stirs in me has no place being there.

"I'm with you on that, syl," Phoenix says.  He's holding a pistol part up, examining it closer.

"Being a living wirewitch means you're a dead human, but I'd rather be dead altogether than forced to live out my life as one of them."

"And you still want her for a friend...  You're a contradiction in the flesh, syl."

"You have no idea," I say, then I tell him about 2-85 and what he tried to do to me in that Haven (but not about what I did back).  At the end, Phoenix looks like he's having a hard time keeping his jaw from dropping open.  He's giving me a look I can't quite read.  What are you thinking, Phoenix?  What are you thinking about me?

"What does it feel like?" Phoenix asks after a second, already reassembling the pistol he just took apart.

"What?  Oh, you mean--"

"The witchkiss," Phoenix says.  "And hey, are you--?  You are.  Why are you blushing?"

"No!" I say, jerking my head so now I have masses of hair in my face.  Words came out a little strong.  Gave away something about myself.  Why is he asking me that?  I push some hair back behind my ear.

"It's a simple question, not an accusation.  You'll might be able to convince me to take it back if you--"

"No need," I say, willing the color to fade from my cheeks.  How do I describe this to him?  "Have you ever been kissed?"

That got him.  "What?!?  I asked you...!  Now listen, syl--"

"It's not a hard question to answer, Phoenix.  Either you have or you haven't.  Affirmative or negative.  Pick one."

"But--"

"If you're going to ask me what the witchkiss is like, then I'm hoping you've had some sort of experience to compare it to.  Otherwise, why even ask--"

"Yes.  The answer is yes"  Phoenix looks away after that, but I can see that it's not because he's embarrassed--it's something else, hidden behind those eyelids he let fall shut for a second there.

"You prefer men or women?" I ask, because now's as good a time as any.

"Oh, glitch!  Women!  Glitch, and I thought you were paying attention!  We're supposed to be talking about you, and you're supposed to be answering my question!"

I laugh out loud.  "Some people copulate with machines, so it was a valid query.  I got my answer, so you can have yours.  The witchkiss is like any other kiss--"

     (no it's not it's like no other kiss ever it's one of a kind)

"--except for the fact that you know you're going to die on the other side of it.  It's a devil's kiss, Phoenix.  Any emotion that might run through a person during a kiss of passion is tainted with the presence of microscopic organisms flowing into your body.  Somehow, that part didn't happen to me, but it felt like it was.  I could imagine the technosites invading my flesh--doing things to my body.  Killing me.  It was horrible."  I'm unable to hold back a shiver at the memory.  Maybe Phoenix didn't notice.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that."  Phoenix's pistol is back together, back on his belt.  "I can't imagine the actuality of your experience, but you did a decent job of explaining it to me."

Phoenix stands and turns away, going after a food substitute package.  He opens it, sitting back down, his legs over the side of the boat, head bowed toward the water.  He closed himself down suddenly, switching our conversation off.  Now, he's still, not even eating the food substitute that's melting in his hand.  There something churning in that mind of his, and glitch if I know what it is.  I tell him all that, and he's not going to give me something in return?  Ah, glitch.

Not sure I'd be sitting there, Phoenix.  The Seven Dangers of the High Seas are out there, and you don't want to be bait.  After what I told you, what do you think of me now?  I think I told you too much.  Let you know too many details.  Am I going to regret that later?

Well, am I?

  Post: 04.15.2002
Date: 01.02.2196
Time: Night

Surrounded : Together

All around me the night ascends, as Phoenix surrounds me with his arms.  Here, underneath the blanket, warmth is a hallowed word, spoken in a whisper, a prayer against the night's cold.  Quiet supplication sounds resting on our lips.

Can't tell if he's asleep or not.  Waiting for my own unconsciousness to take me, tainted smells afflict my nostrils. Those food substitute packages are supposed to contain alternate, less offensive odors to handle this, but they can only do so much.  My breath isn't breathable--been inhaling enough that I'm either blocking the stench out or getting used to it.  And then there's the smell my body's giving off.  Somehow, I manage to take my next breath and not gag.

It's called survival, angel, and it's your only chance to live.  You're completely surrounded by opportunities to survive.  Throw down your weapons and surrender.

Phoenix's arm tightens around my stomach suddenly.  "Cinnamon!" he says, his whole body jerking behind me.

He's dreaming.  Wish I had some too, Phoenix.  We're in this together now, just you and me against this ocean and the Six Other Dangers of the High Seas that I pray we'll avoid on our journey back to land.  Should hit that hypercurrent sometime tomorrow if Phoenix's guess it correct.  If we can successfully tap into the hypercurrent, it should take us straight back to the mainland, and to...whatever's waiting for us there.  Like the island, the Free States can be a dangerous place, it's just that my memory's a little vague regarding why exactly.  Maybe some things will come back to me once I can feel solid ground underneath my feet again.  That'll be nice.  It's only been two days since the island, and I miss a surface that doesn't sway beneath me, teasing me, holding my balance in a trembling grasp, ready to toss me back into the water.

Everything returns to the sea, my angel, my mind informs me.  The sea will be your graveyard.

"Don't count on it," I whisper to myself.  I told JACK that I'm glitching the future.  For me.  And the life inside me, growing.

A memory from earlier suddenly manifests in my mind:

     ("Wait just a second here.  What's this?  You're not in love with him, are you?")

Oh, just who the glitch does Phoenix think he is asking me that?  He shouldn't have asked that question.  He doesn't know me well enough.  Aran's my Chrome Knight, and he saved my life, but...that's where the story ends right now.  I'm grateful that he kept me alive, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to take off my clothes for him.  No, you only do that for wirewitches and Dokks.  And Phoenix.  Ha ha, glitch, I need to take steps to prevent that from happening again.  Either that, or just give up, wear nothing all the time.  It's what the universe seems to want from me.

Just one more opportunity to survive.  That's all it is.  One out of a million more to experience before I eventually stop surviving.

At least this time, I'm not quite alone.

I'm completely surrounded.

Weapons down.  Surrendered to the drift.

In Phoenix's arms, I sleep.

 

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