Patterson shifted in their sleep, the cot in the back of the van creaking as they sought a comfortable position. Shia looked back in concern as they gave a whimper. And then another.
With a sharp intake of breath, Patterson woke, one arm flailing to escape the blanket. They looked around, their soft brown eyes wide, taking deep breaths as they brought themselves back to the here and now.
In the apartment. Across from a large, empty, rundown building. Another stakeout, a long one this time, information gathering rather than taking action. It meant downtime, time to think, time to dream. Time to remember.
Losing the witch again had triggered a flood that Patterson had long been holding back. There had been no sign of her since, and the captive they’d taken was unable to tell them anything about her whereabouts, as he had only ever seen her as a projection. As far as Patterson was concerned, the other information he was spouting in hopes of making a deal could be dealt with by someone else. And yet, here they were, following up a lead from the guy.
Patterson stretched in the back of the black van, their eyes never leaving the monitors showing feeds of the front and back of the house.
Shia yawned and slumped further down in her chair, I. Am. So. Bored!”
Patterson shrugged, “Sometimes that’s the job. You want be a Lawkeeper, you have to take the fun with the…less fun.”
“Sitting in a van, drinking coffee-laced blood, staring at screens where nothing is happening. Definitely the less fun.”
Patterson leaned back in their chair, “My first long stakeout was watching the entrance to a cave lair – there were more of those back then, houses were still the place where humans lived, only the fanciest of extranaturals dared join the natural world. We’d been tipped off that this was where a particularly nasty creature was taking young men from nearby towns. We didn’t know what creature it was, so we had to watch and find out. Anyway, me and my mentor, Xulien, sat for three days, in a hastily constructed tree blind, waiting for something to happen. Eventually, it came out to get its next meal. Turned out to be a rather large and especially ugly Manticore.”
Pattinson straightened their suit jacket as they got out of their car. Sniffing the air, they sighed as the scent of blood permeated the miscellaneous smells of a quiet neighbourhood. She never waited for them. Always eager, always running in ahead.
Opening the front door of the house they had spent most of the last 3 days watching, they stared at the bodies on the ground, at the girl covered in blood.
Her eyes narrowed as she stood up, “You’re late.”
She snorted, licking blood from her fingers, tongue darting quickly between her extended fangs.
“Took a minute longer than expected to persuade the Council of our findings. Fortunately for you, they agreed to the execution order.”
“Of course they die, these ghouls were killing people for their parts. They knew the laws, they broke them, they paid. Drink up while it’s still warm, then you can take me somewhere nice before you do the boring paperwork.”
Pru frowned into her rearview as the banging from the trunk became louder. No way that was just stuff rolling around, and besides she never left things free in the trunk, everything was always secured.
She pulled into a layby, drawing the zipper up her jacket as she climbed out, looking around at the deserted road. Shivering slightly, the night eerily silent even with the soft hum of her idling engine, she made her way around to the back.
The banging had stopped, replaced instead by a muffled…cry? There was a person in her trunk?!
Pru ran back around to the front and fumbled her keys, dropping them to the ground in her panic. She rescued them and hit the trunk release as she ran back again.
She lifted the hood of the trunk, bracing herself for the horror that would come. Her face turned white as the hoarse voice whispered, “Just let me explain”.
“Jimmy?!” Pru glared at her ex as he sat up, bringing his legs over the edge and rubbing feeling back into them. His face was bloody, like someone had laid a few punches into him, and Pru suppressed the urge to ask who he’d borrowed money from this time.
Pru continued to glare at him until he looked up, wearing that sheepish “I done wrong but ain’t I cute enough to forgive’ expression she once loved, then came to loathe. Now, a year or so down the line from the day she’d finally walked out, all it brought her was indifference, and mild annoyance.
“What the fuck are you doing in my trunk?”
.”Uh… Thanks for letting me out. There’s a super good explanation, maybe we could grab a coffee and talk?”
“No. I want to hear your explanation, and then I want you to get back out of my life. Or, I’m calling the police. You still have a restraining order, or did you forget about that?” Pru grabbed her phone from the pocket of her jacket and raised her eyebrows at him.
Jimmy sighed and hung his head, his typical pose for when he was called out on his shit, but he seemed to realise his tricks weren’t going to work, and shrugged instead, “I miss you. I thought maybe if something bad happened to me, you’d realise you missed me too and come back to me. So I paid some guys to pretend to beat me up and leave me near your car, so you’d find me, but it’d look like a coincidence. Only, they took my money, beat me up, and decided to stuff me in your trunk instead…”
Pru rolled her eyes, “That is the most ridiculous fucking thing I have ever heard, and that’s saying something given the shit you used to try and tell me. Get off my car, Jimmy.”
Jimmy slid off, wincing as his cramped legs complained about carrying him,”Can I at least get a ride? They stole my phone and my wallet.”
Pru snorted laughter, “Fuck off, Jimmy. It’s only a few miles back to civilisation, enjoy the walk. If you pull any shit again, I’m calling the police first, and you’re on your last warning with them. I don’t particularly want to see you go to prison, but I also don’t particularly care if you do. Stay the fuck away from me.”
Jimmy glared at her, his dark eyes glinting in the moonlight, “Fucking bitch.”
Pru laughed, getting back into her car, “And don’t you forget it!”
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It started off so simple. A kid’s imagination begins younger than you might expect, I discovered, but it’s small things. I’d feel the urge to go cuddle her, and wouldn’t be able to resist, but that’s just normal parent stuff, right? Well how about more pudding appearing out of nowhere? More block toys? An extra stuffed toy shaped like no creature on this earth?
I mean, I denied it, of course. The human mind has an almost infinite ability to explain away the inexplicable, and what can’t be explained, it just works around. Rebecca was a normal child, so what if abnormal things sometimes happened around her? That was my mantra, followed by denial.
But eventually something happened that no amount of excuses could ignore. That was the day Jenika appeared.
It started off simple. Rebecca was 2, and she would do something she shouldn’t, or she’d be chatting to thin air while she played. And when I asked, she’d tell us Jenika suggested it, or Jenika was playing with her.
She told me Jenika was an invisible alien, and after a chat to her paediatrician who said it was in line with her development, and should fade as she got older, but in the meantime it was fine to play along, I did just that.
“It’s ridiculous! But we’re not allowed to say that aloud! They program us, before birth, with that ‘soulsong’. Then they tell us over and over and over that it shows us our soulmate. They tell us until we forget that it’s they who programmed it in the first place. They who chose for us. Their breeding programmes create us, and their scientists decide who we will be with, and then they drop us into the world at adulthood with a pretense of free will! Well not here! Not in this place! This community rejects their programming!”
Zeke spoke powerfully. He always did. Swaying those who questioned, making those who still believed into questioners. Sanaya clung to his words, daily reciting them as she learned his lectures by heart from her recordings, overlaying the programming that she no longer believed in.
He was right to ridicule the soulsong system. How could they know, before birth, what personalities people would forge? They didn’t, that was the problem, according to Zeke. It wasn’t about who made a good fit, it was about their eugenics system, always breeding towards their ideal of a ‘better’ human. Instead of letting people choose, they created the myth of the soulsong to control who woul be with whom, then controlled who could get pregnant and when, then submitted everyone to programming in the womb, to insert the song of their chosen mate. And the job of each adult was to find that mate, and wait for their turns to breed.
Standing on the terrace, they thought about the first time it changed. All they remembered now was a rainy day, a moment of terror, the feeling of something solid hitting their chest and stomach, and a second of excruciating pain. Then there was darkness, and waking up, focusing on the first thing they could see. Their right wrist, with their birthmark in the shape of the number 9. Only now it was shaped like the number 8.
They smiled, looking out from their house, across the beach and to the ocean beyond, almost as if they could see all the way over to the opposite continent where that moment had happened. The moment that changed their…lives.
They adjusted their robe slightly, draping the material more comfortably down across their shoulders, flowing with the breeze around their ankles, and turned back inside.
Introspective, they turned more shadowy memories over. Crippling pain in their stomach, rushing through their body, being raced under flourescent lights and put to sleep. A laser shot to the head, the violent seizures that came before blessed darkness. Lying on a bed, surrounded by machines breathing for them, nodding for the breathing machine to be unplugged and hearing their own death rattle as the world shifted out of focus, and went black.
Ariana yawned, stretched, and mentally checked off a list of the tasks, chores, and homework she had to do so far that week, before weekend fun could begin. Starting this in a boring Monday afternoon class and continuing it through the week, as she added to and checked things off the list, made things feel less overwhelming. It was easy to get overwhelmed. For her, anyway. She supposed it was the same for others, but then, who talked about that stuff? Not teenagers. And certainly not to each other.
Except to Marcos. They didn’t talk about much, she barely knew anything about them, but somehow she always wound up telling them everything. And they’d give her that easy smile and tell her she could do it, tell her how smart and special she was, and how she’d do great things. And suddenly everything would seem alright for a while. Til her drunken mother would break her restraining order and try to ‘visit’ her at 3am. Til she’d miss a chore or drop to a 7 on some test or other piece of schoolwork and get that disappointed look from her da. Til she’d visit her grams, and look at that shrunken face, staring out in terror at a world she knew she should recognise, hearing how she’d misbehave, and hearing her da huff as he misunderstood her reasons. Ariana understood them. So did Marcos.
Jenkin twirled the bottle in her flesh hand, the magnetised slide that ran out from the wrist of the other simultaneously spinning the cocktail shaker. As she slid the bottle across the barback to its home position, she upended the shaker into the iced glass, pouring with a flourish before sliding it down the bar, to stop exactly in front of the customer who had ordered the drink.
The next few drinks were mundane, and the magnetic slide returned to its home position just inside her left wrist, ready for its next use – be that the next cocktail, ensuring her safety knife couldn’t be taken from her as she walked home, or, really, anything else that she might need not to drop. Like cooking tools. That was the main reason she’d looked at the implant to begin with – hard to cook when you’re so clumsy everything winds up on the floor.
The monofibre that ran through it could be adjusted to ensure a variety of items stuck, as required. She didn’t really get how it worked, but the settings were adjustable from the eyeware that took instruction from her brain synapses, somehow. It worked, was the main point, and she had gone from scrabbling for jobs to pay rent on a oneroom where everything – kitchen, bed, toilet and stand-up shower – were in one tiny space without any doors, and which was about 8 paces wall to wall, to this job which, between pay and tips for the fancy moves, paid for a proper threeroom, meaning a bedroom, bathroom, and living room/kitchenette, all separated with doors. It was no palace, but it was hers as long as the rent was paid on time.
“Wait. What?” David stood and pointed the – surprisingly heavy – pen at Jonathan’s chest.
Jonathan shrugged, “I did tell you. Look, you know I changed my first name because, well, it was…” Jonathan sighed, “Dreamwave. Because they named me after some ‘vision’ they had when they were tripping. Like. Thanks for all the bullying, parents. But I didn’t want to dishonor them completely, so I kept the middle name.”
“Which was ‘Danger’.”
“Right. And I did tell you that.”
The registrar shifted in their chair, sipping a coffee while they waited for this to play out. They’d seen worse arguments while signing the marriage documents, but this might do a good job of being the weirdest.
“How was I supposed to know you were telling the truth when you said that Danger was your middle name? It sounded like a bad attempt at a Bond pickup line and I thought it was super cute. We had sex for the first time that night, if you recall! In part because of how damned cute I thought that was!”