Sketch: Mick

I don’t remember if I’ve ever put this anywhere.

Mick walked in the office. He’d gotten away from the engineer’s uniform of white shirt, khakis, and tie for the sedate manager’s uniform, polo-shirt, khakis, and ID badge in a lanyard. We shared a lab, eight of us, and it was too many people in too little space. Benches were stuck every-old where, with the huge silicon oven making a closet between it and a wall. The low EMI room was ringed by scopes and sig-gens. There’s an old saw spaghetti is done when you throw it at the wall and it sticks. An EMI-shielded room is used when the wires stick to it like black pasta, and something is always tweeting or blinking. Mick sat down, looked at his computer, and didn’t log on. He spun in place to stare at us like he was seeing the lab for the first time.

“Hey, Mick. What’s up?” I asked.

It was Monday morning, and I wasn’t working. I technically was. The email client was syncing. I was staring at a bar moving. Monday had come too early.

He opened his mouth to say something. It sounded like a revelation. He was discovering his words as he said them, but the intensity didn’t match the statement.

“Nothing. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

There was a meaning to that statement that was true, and the obvious one was physical. Mick didn’t look like he had believed it thirty seconds ago.

“Do anything fun this weekend?” asked Alexa.

Alexa was the project lead. She was a better engineer than manager, and people kept trying to make that about her sex. It wasn’t. She was bored out of her mind, reading spreadsheets, filing budget statements. She avoided her paperwork like a monster. I couldn’t blame her emotionally, because I’d done her job when she was out for a few weeks. It was purge-your-brain-boring. I could blame her for not filling out my purchase request authorizations, because that was on my personal credit card and I needed the money. Good person. I wish I didn’t work for her.

“I got shot at,” said Mick.

Ives, Pietr, and Mohammed turned in their chairs in odd unison, spinning away from their computers. No one was doing any real work yet. The scopes drew flat lines save the ambient, which chirped its usual 2.4 GHz bump. No one cared. Ives put his feet up and looked at Mick, while Mohammed leaned back in his chair. Sooner or later it was going to fall under him. Mohammed was no little man. Pietr wanted blood.

“Who shot at you?” I asked.

“A boyfriend. I didn’t know he was a boyfriend. Not true. I knew he was a boyfriend, but I didn’t know the girl- do you know some women don’t like being called women? It’s like missus. They think it means they’re old. They don’t like missus or ma’am. Same with woman. She told me to call her girl. It was a thing. That’s not odd, right? Should I have noticed that? I did, but I didn’t think about it.”

Mick spoke in a rush of flat water. His words were quick, and his expression abstracted. He might have been reciting a speech he forgot the meaning of.

“Ma’am does make you sound old. Some people think Missus does too,” said Alexa with a carefully neutral, supportive expression. “Girl doesn’t surprise me. How old was she?”

“Twenty eight.”

Alexa nodded slowly. “Yeah,” she said to herself. “Who was it?”

“I didn’t notice,” said Mick, and I had to reach back to figure out he was answering his own question. “I thought I was getting catfished.”

“By who?” asked Pietr.

“I met a girl online. Odd girl. I had a feeling things were off, so I made her send me a picture of her with a potato. I thought I was getting catfished. The chemistry had inconsistent levels. Ever notice that? She responded quickly, but she was willing to put more work into the conversation than her interest level supported.

“Text conversations with people you’ve never met take work, you know? People don’t notice it. Girls don’t. Girls honestly aren’t that good at it. They don’t ask leading questions, and they don’t say things you can respond to. I think they’re used to texting people they know, so there’s a lot of common ground to fall back on. Online dating doesn’t have that. They don’t know, but they text so much they think they know. Blindness of practice. It was my second match. The first was a bot.

“You can tell bots. She asked me how I was doing, I said fine. I had a funny story about the grocery store, so I said I’d just bought some fruit, and she told me to plow her like a field. I’m a reasonably good-looking guy, but I don’t think my grocery shopping drives the ladies wild. Bots have no chill. This one was a bit different, but I didn’t know what was going on. Text conversations are a little weird. You don’t get feedback. You can’t read body language.

“She didn’t sound interested. She send a lot of short texts: So? Really? Nice. But if I didn’t reply, she sent another. I couldn’t figure out if my senses were off or not. Bots don’t do context well. I mentioned I had seen a movie, and we could talk about it. I talked. I usually don’t talk that much with girls. They talk more. It’s fine. She asked, I answered, but she asked with context, which bots don’t do well. I thought it was a human, but I figured it was a catfish. I asked her for a picture of her with a potato. I compared it closely to her profile. She’s cute. It was the same girl. She was in a kitchen. I figured she was human. She asked me if we wanted to meet up. I couldn’t get a read on her, but like, if I’m not exactly great at reading people, maybe she wasn’t great at giving the right signals. Some people just aren’t great at talking to new people. It was Webbie, a dating site for technical professionals. It turns out girls are people too, and a lot of them are kinda awkward too. Where would such people be? Webbie, dating for nerds. It seemed reasonable, right? She didn’t want me to call her woman. She was a girl. Webbie said she’s twenty eight. There’s no chance she was below eighteen.”

Everything flooded out of Mick in a rush, and then he stopped. The undercurrents of sarcasm never peaked, but they cut the flow of words and broke his speech into ripples and currents. Pietr had repeated the ‘girls are people too’ bit, but Alexa shushed him. Pietr didn’t have a read on Mick. Alexa did. We waited.

Mick looked up. “She had a boyfriend. He had a gun. I ran.”

There was a long silence before Alexa said, “Good!” with peculiarly defeated intensity.

What else would you say to that?”

“You got shot at?” I asked.

“Yeah. He was pissed. We’d gone out a few times. It wasn’t- they weren’t real dates. Two weren’t. We had coffee. Very public. Lot of other people. She didn’t immediately respond after that. Not much spark, but some interest. We had another coffee date. It was weird. I asked her if she wanted to go someplace else and suggested a time. She was busy. I suggested a different time. She was still busy. Okay. I said I looked forward to seeing her again sometime, and figured that was that. People do get busy, you know? I’ll try twice. But a day later she started texting me again, and we went out for coffee again. Different place. I got the feeling she couldn’t get a read on me either, but now I don’t think that was it. I did then. I tried to be myself. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Third time, third time we made a connection at a roller derby. It had come up in conversation. Apparently she liked roller derby, and I always thought it was weird, but maybe exciting. I’d go if she wanted to. She did. Her boyfriend showed up in the parking lot out back, and he started shooting. I ran. I spent the night at the police station. There is a lot of paperwork in getting shot at.”

Again Alexa broke the leaden silence that followed.

“I wouldn’t have expected an armed boyfriend from her asking you to call her girl, not woman,” said Alexa.

Scifi Intro

Regula was a small main sequence star, barely two thirds the mass of the Sun. She had three planets from birth and captured two more.

The innermost, Andar, orbitted Regulus at a period of three days. Andar was a gas giant captured millions of years ago and orbitted almost perpendicular to the solar plane. From Aschites, it seemed to go up and down, and so massive was it that Regula oscillated against it. Their dance was called the Divine Waltz.

Morian, the Dawn Star, orbitted far inside Regulus’s habitable zone. Tidally locked to the Regulus, Andar gave it a bit of a wobble so the small rockball continuously juttered around like the eyeball of a frightened giant.

Theo, the Wanderer, was the outermost of Regula’s true-born children. An icy giant of methane and water, it orbitted at the edge of space, and outside it, great Holon, the captured brown dwarf, ranged in what could be considered space. Holon glowed with its own light, a faint brown and blue, and lit up with flashes when comets fell into its clouds. It was one tenth the size of Regula, larger than everything else in the system combined, and hid in the solar halo with the ice clouds and dust.

Aschites, middle son of Regula, orbitted across the habitable zone. It was an old world in an old, cold system. Soon after forming it had eaten its moon, and their collision threw it into a wide, eccentric orbit. Full of heavy metals and radioactive elements, Aschites took nearly a billion years to form a crust. It took another billion to collect an atmostphere. Life had already appeared by then.

Six billion years after Anschites’s impact with its forgotten moon and four billion years before Regula would catch Andar from his wandering, the first two-celled organism arose. One hundred million years passed. Two-celled life exploded in all directions, formed shells and tails, scilia, spines, ridges, and spores. Within three million years, Regula’s eyes appeared: billion-celled organisms that floated like jellyfish across the deep seas. A geological eye-blink later, something like a worm appeared. Another blink, and something bigger ate the worms. Soon fish swam. The seas turned green with plants.

Aschites’s hot and raging core formed terrain wildly unlike Earth. With fewer planets to clear the system of comets and no moon to shelter it, Aschites took asteroid impacts constantly. The crust was less firm, and the mantle more fluid. The seas formed pits fifty miles deep and made mountains that rose above the atmosphere. The deeper parts of the sea were full of geysers, and even in the black, lightness abysses, things crawled, climbed, and swam.

Life did not so much venture out of the water as it was pushed. So many things were swimming, hunting, chasing, and living in the oceans that creatures infested the beaches just to get away. From there they crawled upwards. The air was hot and thick, and seven ice comets struck Aschites in less than a year, each more than 1% of the planet’s mass. The air turned to water vapor and fog. Their impacts pushed Aschites close to the Regula. Fog turned to steam and boiled the land clean. The ocean surface cooked, but life endured and grew old in the dark, cool places far beneath the waves.

Finally, Regula caught Andar, and his coming perturbed Aschites to a new, further orbit. The atmosphere cooled. Life climbed out of the depths again and found the soil impregnated with nitrogen fixing microbes. They had gone down to escape the heat. The gentle cooling acted like releasing a brake, and Aschites turned green. Within a thousand years, its surface was covered in trees. The forest grew old. Mushrooms came to take the dead, small creatures lived around the roots, and mammals appeared high on the slopes of the giant mountains.

Regula burned slowly. She was less than ten billion years old when the first man climbed to his feet and watched a crystal space-ship fly away. That memory was lost like Aschites’s moon, and the man turned to surviving. The sky was blue, the sun was green, and the seas were dark.

Now Ashites had hot, wet summers and cold, dry winters. Its air was thick, and the atmosphere was tall. Nitrogen rich comets had seeded the atmosphere far above its stability level, and within thirty million years, a short nap in Regula’s life, Aschites’s atmosphere would boil away, down to the level gravity could hold it. But life could do much in thirty million years, and on the banks of a river, older than names, a man and a woman played with sticks until they discovered fire.

Two million years later, Gerard Aswego got his ass beat for stealing bread.

Sketches: Maria

Old sketch.

1st person POV, Maria.

The boyfriend barked at dogs.

When we met, I was in a vulnerable place coming from a bad one, and I wasn’t willing to go out with him anyplace that made me feel indebted. I refused dinner and an evening. But the boyfriend was really annoying, and he pestered me in an odd, extroverted way. He liked to call me Emily Dickinson. I liked Dickinson. so that didn’t bother me, but he kept bugging me to bake him cookies and I wouldn’t do it.

The problem was he really thought he was hilarious. He kept hiding giggles while he bothered me. There was something very innocent and sweet in him that combined with the fact that he really was not funny that got to me. I started smirking at him. He thought I liked his terrible jokes, and I didn’t. But I started laughing at how hard he laughed at his own jokes, and it’s really hard to scowl at someone when you’re snickering too.

“Come on. Go for a walk with me. Around the block. Two blocks if you’re into it. Our second date can be the park.” He wiggled his furry eyebrows.

“Fine!” I yelled. I’d said no so many times before that this sudden admission of defeat in the face of annoyance startled him, but he pounced, smirking as he took my hand. “But you have to stop being annoying!”

He looked me dead in the eye.


“I’m serious! Stop it!”

The boyfriend put his hands on my shoulders and looked deeper into my eyes.

“No. Not even close. We’re only going on this walk so I can annoy you more. Just wait. I got jokes.” He nodded emphatically, eyes-wide, and looked like he was about to break into snickers.

I started to whine and fake-cry.

“That’s the spirit!” He took my hand and pulled off, walking fast, and I had to run a few steps to catch up with him.

It was calm and relaxing. Once half a block from work he slowed down and made conversation. He did most of the talking, which was fine because he kept trying to get me to talk and I didn’t want to. He’d ask a leading question, and I would redirect it back to him where he’d take the hint.

The boyfriend, Ryan Clark, worked in the manufacture and quality control of high explosives. He’d been a demolitions expert in the Army and now monitored Quality Assurance. His degree was in Chemical Engineering. Ryan didn’t do much engineering at all.

“The quality checks are honestly pretty simple,” he said as we walked along. He still had my hand. I think he thought I might run off if he let go, which… but I couldn’t because he kept pulling me close so he could giggle at his own jokes at me.

“The thing about them is I absolutely have to do them for every batch, and every batch has to be documented perfectly. That perfection is the hard part. The tests aren’t hard. They’re time consuming but simple. Every piece of paper work must be perfect. Every batch must have a clear chain of custody.”

“You have high explosives next to a bakery?” I asked, a little befuddled. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was a joke or not, and had been playing along. I was starting to believe it wasn’t.

“Mm hmm.” He nodded. “Right now we have almost sixty grains.”

I looked at him. He wasn’t giggling. He had a terrible poker face.

“How much is that?”

He thought. “If it went off you might hear it. It would sound like a heavy book being dropped from waist high.”

“Would it kill you?”

“No. If all the samples were put together in on pile and you held it in a closed hand, it would probably blow your fingers off. Maybe not off-off, but you’d need surgery. If you did it in an open hand, you’d be okay if you didn’t get burned. Actually, the real problem would be the blasting cap. AnFo is so hard to set off you’d need a serious cap and accelerant to make it go, and that could hurt you. Obviously we don’t have any of those.”

“Oh. So when you say grains-” I paused and looked at him.

“I mean grains. An imaginary grain of barley is one grain, the unit, so we have about sixty grains of barley worth of explosives. About four grams.”

“Oh,” I said again.

“For comparison, a typical can of spray paint is about a hundred to a thousand times as explosive. Depending on how you measure it, of course. Spray paint is also more sensitive. You can set spray paint off in the oven.”

“Oh,” I said a third time.

He made it sound so reasonable. I didn’t entirely believe him because the boyfriend was an idiot, but I believed he believed it.

“Don’t you need permits for that?”

“We have them. I’m a permitting officer. The permitting board-” and he paused to bark at a dog.

This is when I learned about the barking.

Ryan and I both worked in an industrial park that abutted a residential subdevelopment. I was an accountant at a Green Mountain Bakery. We have nine storefronts throughout Denver and Boulder, and made pastries, sweets, and cakes in front of the customers. Bulk bread, rolls, and all storefront baking sauces are made here. We come as close to farm to table baking as is possible, to the inclusion of specialized grain milling.

Grain milling presents explosive hazards. Some pastry flours are ground so fine they effectively atomize in air. They’re flammable and suspended in oxygen, can blow up. Thus we had some clean-room style facilities.

On the other end of bakeshop we have the business office. The owner works in a storefront in Lakewood, but most of us company wide mucky-mucks work here. I’m the Vice President of Finance; ie Accountant Number 2. I’ve got a little sign and a desk placard. I started at GMB as a store baker, went to to UC Denver on a GMB scholarship, and came back as an accountant. Ryan really wanted me to make him cookies. No.

I might’ve been willing to make him cookies if he wasn’t obviously asking just to be annoying. And if he could stop snickering. I wanted to grab his face.

Ryan met me during a meeting with the safety inspector. He works next door at HEM. Their signage doesn’t explain the acronym, and none of the address books do either. They never have big trucks go in or out, just a procession of old Hondas and the occasional Subaru. They have one Hazmat truck, and people I work with had seen it move. I hadn’t.

Across the parking lot are residential areas where we went for our walk, little houses with brown yards, some nice, some overgrown, and one with a big, bored dog. It barked. Ryan barked back. I looked at Ryan like he was an idiot.

He got down and roof-ed, three low, deep barks. The big dog barked back. Ryan replied. They had their little conversation, and the dog licked his crotch. Ryan got up and grinned at me.

“Okay, sweetie,” I said dryly.

Ryan reached out slowly and caught my hand again, then pulling me towards him. I didn’t help or fight. His other hand slipped around my back and squeezed. I felt his belt buckle against my stomach. I felt him let go of my hand and cup my hip. While I was deciding to play hard to get he kissed me anyway, and he had rough, hot lips.

“You taste like flour.” He giggled, breathing on my face.

“I work in a bakery.”

“I know.”

He kissed me again, very slowly, no tongue. Just the pressure of his lips on mine, his arms around me, and the body of him against me. Sometime along the way I’d closed my eyes and put my hands on his waist. He kissed me again.

I opened my eyes when he had pulled back, and he was stroking my face with the back of his index finger. He had soft blue eyes and a scratchy chin. His hair hung wild. It needed to be cut. I liked his face.

“Make me cookies,” he whispered.


He kissed me again. I closed my eyes to enjoy it.

“Cookies,” he whispered.


He kissed me again. I hadn’t opened my eyes in between, but this time I did.

“You can keep kissing me all you want, but I’m not making you cookies!” I said in a normal voice, and he pounced.

“Thanks! I think I will!”

“What? That is not what I- Hmpf.”

That hmpf was not a word. It was just a sound. I didn’t really mind. I repeated it later when we could talk.

“Go out with me tonight.”

I squinted at him. “Will you be annoying?”

“Yes.” He nodded enthusiastically. “Extremely.”

I tried to glower at him, but you really can’t do that while you’re being kissed by a pretty boy. They way he kept giggling to himself in smug little giggles was both innocent and hilarious, and I wound up smirking back. He took that as an invitation, and he wasn’t wrong.

We went out that night.


My girl downstairs decided no one was coming in for a while. I told Ryan that a few days to see how he would react. He had asked about movies, and I said I hadn’t seen any of the first Star Wars. There was the usual yelling about living under a rock. I rolled my eyes at him.

“Hold on. Before I make fun of you more, do you pointedly not watch them or just haven’t?”

“Just haven’t,” I replied.

“Do you want to? I have them. They are an essential part of Americana at this point.”

“You mean at your place?” I asked.

Ryan thought about that. “I mean, that’s where they are.”

It was time. “Ryan, I’m not going to your place for a long time. I am not even close to ready for that right now.”

“That’s fine. You don’t have to. But you know what you should do?” He wiggled his eyebrows at me.

I put my hand on his arm before he could say anything about baking. “Ryan, I’m serious. I’m not ready, and I’m not going anywhere that makes me feel like I should do anything before I’m ready. We’re not going to your place.”

“Are you ready for baking?”

“Ryan, stop.”

“Fine! Look, Maria, that really isn’t a problem. If I know what’s going on, I can set my expectations accordingly. I want to see where this goes, so I’m not on a schedule.” He was trying not to smirk, but his face just did that. He looked serious for a moment. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” I replied, which was an interesting statement.

“Are you okay with the baking jokes?” he continued.

“They’re really annoying.”

He looked at me like I was the idiot. “Yeah. That’s why I make them.”

I sighed and put my hand over my face. “If I just bake you the damn cookies, will you shut up?”

“I’ll have too. I’ll be eating cookies.”

“Fine. You’re not coming to my place and I’m not going to yours, but I will make you cookies. Amazing ones. Ones that you will have to shut your big mouth to eat.”

“I accept your terms,” he said profoundly and shook my hand.

I was aware at the time that the baking-joke question was him trying to establish ground rules. I also wasn’t really annoyed. I was a little annoyed, but Ryan’s an annoying guy. I also knew that by submitting here, he was just going to keep going. I was okay with that.

I wasn’t okay with the other thing, and I wanted to see how he would take it.

I really didn’t mind baking either. I had been a baker. I worked at a bakery. But bakers make $12.75 an hour, and accountants make $30.


Upon obtaining boyfriendtonium, I promptly lost him for a week to Wyoming.

Ryan had to watch a series of deliveries to a job site, some form of mine. He explained one evening on the phone. Shipments went out in the morning around 0400 because they had to go by special roads.

“It’s hazmat,” he said on Monday evening. His voice sounded thin and grainy. I didn’t even have a good contact picture for him on my phone, so he was just a name, a green handset icon, and a voice. “We’re not allowed to drive HE through Denver, so we have to take allowed side roads. But the locals complain if they see an HE-hazmat truck on their roads, and then the zoning boards ban us from their roads, and we have to find a new route. Routes are a pain. Google doesn’t make HE-hazmat filters yet. So we go really early before anyone’s awake.”

“Is it dangerous?” I asked.

“No.” He sounded sleepy. “It’s AnFo. We have a little TNT this time, but not enough to matter. AnFo is the Snorlax of high explosives. TNT is not.”

“Oh.” I took my phone away from my ear and looked at the clock. It was eight thirty. He should go to sleep. “Do you need to go to bed?” I asked.

“I’m in bed. I’ll go to sleep when I hang up.”

He didn’t. He fell asleep on the phone, and I listened to him snore.

There is nothing less threatening than hearing someone snore. Ryan whistled when he snored, and when he inhaled, he tooted. Sometimes his heavy breathing broke up into burbles before stabilizing. I sat on my couch with the TV on mute and listened to him snore. Ryan wasn’t a frightening guy. He did all these things that sounded frightening, but I listened to him whistle in his sleep.

He didn’t call the next day. He texted but just a note. He called on Wednesday and fell asleep again. He said the job would be done by Friday.


On Saturday we went out again. He called me up in the morning. I hadn’t been waiting by the phone but I plugged it in by a window so I couldn’t keep taking it out of my pocket to check it. Then I found things do in that room. My apartment needed cleaning anyway, and I folded the laundry on the laundry-chair. That chair-laundry had been there before Ryan, and I laughed at myself when I noticed myself getting rid of it to waste time in case he called.

Still, it’s a pile of laundry on a chair. I wasn’t exactly dying for love yet.

He called around noon. “Hey, you. You busy?”

“No,” I replied. The chair laundry was mostly gone. I had taken it to the edge of defeat, but I was a merciful queen. I would let it live for now. “How do you feel?”

“Tired. Slept late. I was going to call you yesterday but fell asleep.”

“I sort of expected that.”


We had a silence.

“Want to shoot some pool?” he asked.

“Pool?” I repeated.

“Yeah. You said you don’t want to do anything that makes you feel like you owe me something, which is fine. There’s a pool hall by my apartment that has fifty cent games until five. The food’s not bad. It’s bar food, but this is Hippy central, so they’ve got a eight-lettuce salad and vegan options. God bless Denver, but I understand why my friends make fun of me for living here. Anyway, if you bring some quarters we can alternate games, so the most you’d ever owe me is a fifty cent game of pool.”

That was really not what I meant when I talked about owing him anything, but him remembering was nice. I asked the name of the place and looked it up. Alister’s Billiards. Fifty cent pool until five. Vegan and lo-carb options. Micro-brew draft.

“Are you going to stay awake?” I asked.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll get some coffee. I also slept like ten hours last night.”

If he’d gone to bed at eight, ten hours would have ended around six AM. Why was he calling me at noon?


I put on two sweaters and met him there. Alister’s Billiards was in a strip mall west of the city. It was outside Lakewood, almost in Golden. Before the mountains rose a line of shield hills, great brown slopes that rose to the west without any rounding. At the top they just stopped and fell. They were the little cousins of the Flatirons outside Boulder. I didn’t go that far. The mall was a concrete L with a parking lot in the center, more brown concrete impregnated with pea-gravel, and the mall itself was fake slatted with brown boards. Colorado had a lot of brown. The sky was thinking about raining, so I waited two minutes and walked towards the bottom end of the L where Ryan was glowering in some trees.

I stopped. He stood in a little end cap of a line of parking spaces where several scrub pins alerted drivers to the curbs. The curbs themselves differentiated driving lanes from parking lanes. Ryan frowned at nothing and made little faces. When I looked at him, he made little faces at me too.

“Ryan?” I asked.

“I’m waiting here because the woman ahead of me thinks I’m a serial killer.”

I stayed where I was. “What?”

“That one. See her?” he pointed at a woman walking quickly out of the parking area to the sidewalk. “She parked right next to me, and jumped out of her car when I was getting out. My key fob is dead, so I had to lock the door manually, which let her get ahead of me, but she’s a slow walker. I tried to cut left so I wasn’t walking right behind her, but you see the way the parking lot is designed to funnel people toward the Safeway? I wound up right behind her anyway, and she started doing that little power-walk half-running thing, so I said the hell with it and stopped in the tree. I’m getting rained on because she has little legs!”


Ryan scrunched his face up and pursed his lips. He was hamming it up for a laugh.

“Well, that was nice of you,” I told him. I looked at the woman entering the grocery store. “But she’s probably taller than I am, so her legs aren’t that little.”

“Yeah, they are.” Ryan snorted. He took my hand, and his fingers were warm and calloused. He had tons of tiny little scrapes over the pads on his hands.

“But her legs are longer than mine!”

“And your legs are tiny!” Ryan launched himself into speech. I could hear him get going, and there was just no stopping him. “They’re miniscule! You take two steps for every one of mine. I can’t wait for your birthday or Christmas when I can get you roller skates because I’ve got places to be!”

I looked levelly at him. Was he done? Nope.

“You know what I’m going to get you? One of those triangle ropes they use to tow water skiers on boats,” he answered his own question. “It’s gonna be great. I’ll be walking normally, and you can be following along behind on your roller skates, and you’ll say, ‘Ryan! Slow down!’ and I’ll say, ‘I’m walking!’ and you’ll say, ‘But you’re walking too fast!’ and I’ll say, ‘We’re being passed by a duck! A duck!’ That’s how it will go.”

We stepped out of the parking lot onto the sidewalk, and Ryan stopped. He leaned right up close to me and nodded emphatically. He had my hand so I couldn’t get away.

“A duck, Maria. Not even a goose. A duck.”

Ladies and Gentlemen: the Boyfriend. I was in love with this man.

He added his other hand to the one holding mine already, I think to make absolutely sure I couldn’t get away. Ryan had things to say. He pulled me along the sidewalk and in the middle of his stream of babble pointed out that the entry to Alister’s was around the corner. The strip mall was actually two buildings, and between them was a narrow alley. The upright part was a little smaller than the cross part, but it was all Safeway, while the cross part had the pool hall, a barber shop, marijuana store, and a coffee shop. We walked along the front of the Safeway to the narrow alley and turned right, into a small concrete walkway. It was, of course, brown. There was a sign in Alister’s window, though, so I didn’t feel like I was about to be mugged.

The thing about Ryan was that I felt safe with him. He got really excited when he pulled me along, but he was careful not to yank my arm. He glanced back, pulling himself out of whatever stream of thought consumed him, to see how I was and caught a shopping cart that rolled towards me. Beyond that, Ryan would never hurt me. He never forced me to wear certain clothes or told me how to do my makeup. He wasn’t going to make me feel worthless or like less of a person.

Well, not figuratively like less of a person. Ryan thought short-girl jokes were really funny. REALLY funny.

Ryan was going to insult me eventually. I have a few deep insecurities I’m nowhere near ready to tell him about, and I knew Ryan was going to blunder into one chasing a joke like a dog chasing a rabbit. I just knew he wasn’t trying to be mean. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t looking forward to him starting to joke about sex.

Alister’s front door was not just down the dark hallway between the two buildings but actually around the corner, sort of in the back. They had a disability-access ramp as well as a walkway to three small stairs. Just before Ryan put his hand on the door, someone stuck his head out a tiny window high on the wall and yelled, “Wait, wait, wait!”

Ryan froze, hand inches from the doorknob. “What?”

“Can you wait for a bit?” replied the bald head out the tiny window.

“Ah.” Ryan uncertainly glanced at me, and I shrugged. I could wait. He stepped away from the door and down a stair so he could face the head at a better angle. “Yeah. Why? Are you closed or something?”

“No, they painted the inside of the door this morning, but the manager forgot to put the screws back in the door, so the handle was just held on with dried paint. Guess what?”

“Someone ripped the handle off?”

“Yeah. They’re screwing it back on now, and then they got to paint and tape again. It will only take a minute.”

“Take your time.” Having said this, he looked at me again, but I still didn’t mind. The head disappeared.

I stood where I was, and Ryan walked into me. He put his arms around my waist. Since I was up a stair, I was actually a little taller, so I said, “Hah!” and stretched my neck. I could see over his head. Ryan laughed and put his chin on my shoulder. He slumped, and the weight of him pressed me, even though he barely leaned.

“You smell nice,” he whispered into my ear.

“Thank you.” I probably smelled like laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Maybe a little like pine-scented Pledge. And cinnamon. “Is that a baking joke?”

“Hmm? Oh, no. You’re just warm. Smell nice. I was enjoying not being in Wyoming. Nice place. I’d rather be here.”

“This is nice,” I agreed.

“Yes,” he murmured and went still.

All boys, ALL boys, ever, are at their cutest when they’re silent and cuddly. That’s why they’re so adorable when they’re asleep. I was a little cold, but Ryan didn’t feel like he was about to move. I made fists inside my sleeves and wrapped my arms around him, and we stayed like that for a while.

We’d been dating for less than two weeks. A week of that he’d been in Wyoming. It was entirely too early to miss Ryan. I didn’t need him, he was only sometimes nice to be around, and I entirely had not missed him last week when he had been gone. I hadn’t missed him at all.

I squeezed him. Ryan squeezed me back. We stayed still, and a wind blew off the mountains, over Denver’s hills. It wasn’t cold, but it was coming.

Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 39


Chapter 39

I thought for a while, sipping my drink. Priam waited. When I finally spoke, I had a half-dozen thoughts jumbled together.

“That’s what you care about,” I said, pointing at him. “You care about the investigation and someone in Fate stopping you. But there’s a lot of stuff you’re not telling me. And first of all—” I watched myself jump from one big thought to another. It was the strangest in-body, out-of-body conjunction. “—you’re going stop giving me this patronizing, you’re-so-clever excrescence. I will not ask every question five times so you can admire how far ahead of me you are. I don’t care about your problems and Fate, and I won’t do that.”

And instead of arguing, Priam waited. When I didn’t say anything else after two seconds, he said, “Okay.”

“Why is Koru so powerful? Who cares about rats? It’s not like people, gods, are falling over themselves to make friends with him and the rats. What do the rats give him?”

Priam blinked slowly, thought, and suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, you have that backwards. He’s not powerful because of the rats. Because there are a lot of rats, we know Koru’s powerful. If he wasn’t powerful, all the critters that eat rats would eat them. Aepoch hates rats, and his hawks pursue them. Aepoch would exterminate Koru if he could, and he’d exterminate all rats if he could as a sign of power. He hasn’t. That means Koru is powerful enough to at least protect his creatures.”

At my further incomprehension, Priam explained, “We don’t know who’s more powerful, Koru or Aepoch. They’re not fighting each other in the halls. You’re a fighter. If you want to know if you’re a better fighter than someone else, you fight them. Gods don’t do that. But Aepoch does want to exterminate all rats, and Aepoch is powerful. Aepoch hasn’t exterminated all rats, which means Koru must be powerful.”

“Oh.” I said myself. A moment later I added, “Then back to my question. Why is Koru so powerful?”

I’d actually always wondered that.

How powerful was Koru? No one liked him. He hadn’t demonstrated the ability to shake the world or tear thunder from rocks. Yet he had palaces. Celestials like Hoarfast worked for him, and Hoarfast wasn’t in it for something other than the money. Koru had enough money to orchestrate a hit on Mallens. You don’t just casually put together a hit on the Lord of Creation. We’d failed, but we’d had a good run. Koru had something.

He paused again. “You will find out.”

“No,” I said instantly, before even thinking about it. I surprised myself as much as him.

“Mr Kog,” said Priam. He tapped my folder. “This is not a request.”

“Mr. Priam,” I answered. “There is nothing in front of me but death. You compiled the folder. You’ve got the iron.” It had reapealed in his lap. He’d never drawn it that I’d seen. “If I go for you now and win, I burn the folder. If I die, I die. But if I leave, I die. If I go back to Shang Du, I die. You’ve got nothing on me. Worst, you turn me in, I tell everything about Koru, and then he dies too. I have nothing left.”

And I looked between the folder and Priam.

The desk between us was large and glass. It had two sandstone supports like saw-horses, each resting on two feet. The stone rose from the feet, joined, and arched away from the center. The table was big and broad. I’d have to break the desk and go through, before he shot me, or go over.

Breaking the desk would create a lot of broken glass. I might not need to go at him. I could shatter the desk, dive behind the stone table-legs while he fired his first shot, and take him with the glass while he was compensating for the recoil. It was a huge gun.

“Curiosity?” asked Priam.

“No, I think I can take you.”

Priam sighed. “No, you idiot. Are you curious about why Koru is so powerful?”

“That is not a good way of talking me out of violence.”

“Mr Kog–” He rubbed his temples. “Mr Kog, I’m offering you a way out. If you attack me, even if you win, you’ll have attacked a judicial director. In Fate! Clearly that will not end well.”

“But my folder will be gone, and–”

“And you’ll have attacked a Judicial Director, me, in Fate! If I live, I’ll still know everything in your folder. If I die, they’ll catch you. Have you met our security service?”

I thought of the boulders. “Yes.”

“How do you think that’s going to go?” Priam demanded.

“But I don’t want to work for Fate!” I yelled back.

Priam had been pinching his nose, looking at me around his cracked hand, and now moved the hand aside. “Why?”

“Because I hate paperwork!”

Long silences tend to end in gunshots or screaming, and this one ended with, “Yes, there will be a lot of it.”

I looked at him expectantly.

“It’s a fair complaint,” he said.

“And the intern cubicles are awful.”

“I would arrange for you to have an office.”

“With a window?”

“No, probably not. However an office with a desk and a door. Walls.”

“No! I don’t want to work in an office. I don’t want an office job. I don’t want to be an office-man. I don’t want to do paperwork and nothing but paperwork all day long while–”

“I’ll have you taught Hesio’s Gift of Breathing.”

I paused. “What is that?”

“Power, Mr. Kog. Pure power. Are you familiar with ground fighting?”

“Yes,” I said uncertainly. I knew ground fighting, but I had no idea where he was going. Priam didn’t look like he rolled much.

“Breathing is power, isn’t it? When your oppoent has you and you can’t breathe, not only do you fight worse, but you think worse. What is it? Exhaustion makes cowards of us all? You know how it feels when you can’t breathe.”
“Yeah,” I said again.

“How would you like to move in the other way. How would you like to be better? Fight better? Train harder, recover faster, and the next time you meet whomever did that–” he waved a finger at my side. I thought I’d been hiding it well. “—things will be different.”

“How would that even work?”

“Breathing is power. Manna is the game of heaven.”

I felt confused. “The free bread in the morning?”

“Yes and no. The free bread is an act of Horochron.”

“The Sun?” I asked.

“Yes. Spirits have a store of power. You mortals–” he paused. “Horochron, the Sun, had a lot of power, and even after Mallens threw him into the sky, Horochron’s power remains. He’s bound to the Web of Fate, and every morning, his power manifests in bread on an appropriate plate. The power that every spirit has is called manna, but the bread is called the same thing because you’re eating the Sun’s manna.

“That’s why Mallens threw him up there,” Priam said. “Horochron was trying to pull the spirits of the world to support him, not Mallens, and Mallens did not approve.”

“But mortals don’t have that power,” I said. I didn’t have any power.

“Well,” said Priam, and he hesitated again. “Spirits have great storehouses of power. Horochon’s dead, and his manna will last for eons. But spirits can spend it down. There are very few ways of getting it back. Spirits can pass it around among themselves but can only gain more by taking it from others. Aph gets it by drowning rats.”

“Oh.” And then I understood. “He sells it. That lets other spirits spend their power as they will.”


“And Mallens gets this power by murdering mortals,” I leaped ahead.

“No,” said Priam.

“Yes,” I argued. “That’s why it’s forbidden knowledge. He kills people like Aph kills rats. We speak, we have power. We breed on our own. Mallens destroys us to feed his plans.”

“You’ve got a good train of logic. It’s just wrong,” said Priam. “You’re missing something again. The treason.”

“Dash the Seven Pointed Crown, everything is treason! I’m not overthrowing him! It can’t all be treason!”

Priam shot his head toward the door. We went silent. Nothing happened.

When he did speak, he stabbed at me with his finger. “You should never swear like that. Not here, not ever.”


“The Rebellion of the Forgotten was treason. It was true treason. The Forgotten tried to throw down Mallens, and before that, Mallens had been a bit domineering but that was his right. After the Forgotten tried to cast him down from Mt Attarkus, he changed. He saw traitors and plots in every shadow. Any crime became treason. Before the Forgotten Rebellion, things were different. Many say they were better.”

Discussing this was definitely treason now-a-days. I leaned forward in my chair.

“The Rebellion failed. The Forgotten were slain, but Diadred had not the power to take them after they died. Like Horochron, they had bound their final acts to the Web of Fate. There were seven of them, and from their power, they created the seven breeds of mankind. If you trace your lineage far enough back, you will come to the Lesser Silence, before which no mortal bloodline is recorded. The Lesser Silence is the Forgotten Rebellion. When the rebels died, they became men, and you are their progeny.

“Mallens doesn’t forbid this knowledge because he uses it. He forbids it because the Forgotten Rebellion very nearly won, and centuries later he is still scared of them.”

Now Priam leaned close to me and whispered across his desk. “The Seven Forgotten Names are the mortal words of power. If you master them as you mastered the Northshore words of power, you can unleash the power of your bloodline. Then you can store your own manna. It’s illegal because Mallens wants the Rebellion forgotten, but before rebelling, the Forgotten wrote their names into the Web of Fate. To unmake that, Mallens would have to end and rebuild the world, and I assure you, that has been considered.”

“Will you teach me those words?” I asked.

“Mr Kog, you’re in Fate,” Priam said, almost reverently. “Would you like to know where the Web is?”

“But you won’t teach me.”

“Goodness, no. That would be illegal.”

“And burning this folder?” I asked, pointing at the mundane folder that indexed my treachery.

“I certainly won’t burn that either. That’s also illegal. Do you know anyone with criminal tendencies?”

“But, you have it and–”

“Mr Kog, if you’re an employee of Fate, there is nothing illegal about me giving you the folder. There is nothing illegal about me giving you the folder if I suspect or have reason that I should suspect you have improper designs upon it. That’s case law. You think Fate is going to allow any of us to be prosecuted for a routine folder handover?”

That sounded like flies buzzing over the rankest of cow turds. I believed it completely.

“And what exactly are you suggesting?” I asked.

“We’ll make you a new identity, anchor it, and you’ll investigate Koru. Don’t tell anyone.”

At that moment, a sharp knock echoed at the door and before waiting for an answer, someone burst in.

“We’re missing someone that Histography wants!” blurted an out-of-breath young woman. “He’s related to the dragon thing!”

Priam stared at her, me, and asked, “Do you know any such individual?”

She noticed me as if I hadn’t been there before and startled.

“I’m right here,” I said. “Vincent Rashak, right? That’s who you’re looking for?” I took off my stolen ID badge before she could read it and handed it to Priam.

“Yeah,” said the woman. She looked baffled.

Priam looked at my ID badge, the one that said Hroth Urmain, and handed it back to me. Now it said Vincent Rashak and that today was my first day on the job.

“I’ve been here the whole time,” I told the woman. “Judicial Director Priam has been giving me some pointers career advancement.”

“Show up on time,” said Priam. “And maybe a little more initiative.”

“Understood, sir. Mind if I take this?” I tapped my folder on the desk.

“Go right ahead, Vincent.” Priam smiled. “Welcome to Fate. Aufura, Vincent has a minor errand to attend to. He will meet you in lobby in ten minutes. Vincent, here are the keys you’ll need for that errand. Drop them off with the lobby receptionist and do not be late.”

“Uh, okay,” she said.

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

I took the keys and folder and held it against my chest so Aufura couldn’t read anything. She looked my age, which meant little if she was divine, but even if she was, I don’t think she was a old god. Dark hair, dark eyes, she wore semi-formal clothing people do when they haven’t quite figured out their own personal office-style. She had a white shirt and blazer, skirt that was snug without being tight, and shoes with only a bit of heel. She held the door for me because she seemed bewildered at what was going on, so I passed her and moved a step away into the hallway.

She shut the door to Priam’s office and looked at me.

I tapped the back of my treason addendum folder. It had everything. “I’ve just got to go take care of this real fast. Meet you in the lobby in ten minutes?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you there,” she said.

“Thanks.” I smiled and walked off. I was moderately covered in blood, bruises, and dust, and walked quickly through the executive hallway with a broad grin. The keys Priam had given me were the roof-access keys, and I returned to the star without breaking a single rule.

With a sense of immense pride and imminent dread, I burned the file in the bonfire of fates that never happened.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 38

Rewritten 8/9/2023
Rewritten again 8/19/2023


Chapter 38

I sat down.

Having drawn one of several chairs to the desk, I eased myself into. The chair itself was a big thing with a high back and fixed arm rests. It cradled my back.

Priam poured me a drink of a black, acidic fluid that tasted vaguely earthy. It soothed. He also spoke to the pattern spiders about the hole in the wall. Several small ones appeared and when he asked them to fix the hole, they went to work. We didn’t talk while they did. I read my folder.

When the spiders had fixed the wall and we could talk, Priam did.

“You’re associated with and for a while used to work for Koru, Lord of Rats. What do you know of him?”

“You tell me,” I said.

Priam shrugged. “The Lord of Rats is an unpopular, nasty old god who thinks he should be very popular. He believes he deserves to be loved and respected. He isn’t, and he’s been ruminating over this for decades. Perhaps obsessing is a better word.

“Aepoch, the Thunder Eagle, is the highest of the flight gods. He is great in the halls of the Titans, and Mallens speaks with him at length. Aepoch is not just a flight god, though. He’s also the highest god of song. You weren’t alive then, but in the old days, rats could sing like birds. When Aepoch told Koru that his children weren’t allowed to fly because they couldn’t sing, he was wrong. Which is why Koru challenged him.

“But Aepoch is a great god. He stole the voices of the rats and bound their songs in an old basket kept in his mansion. Only little squeaks escaped, and that’s all rats can say. So all the gods laughed at Koru, and they threw him out of Attarkus. They literally threw him out. He fell down the mountain, beat and battered himself against rocks, and fled to caves in the mountains. That’s also why rats are scared of birds.

“How much of that did you know?”

Trying to be cagey while truthful, I said, “Koru tells it somewhat differently.”

The cracked man nodded. “He would. That’s a reasonably objective if abbreviated version of the story. For the sake of argument, let’s treat it as what happened.

“Koru did not take it well. He’d long had some agreement with Aph, the Drowning River–”

The Drowning River?” I interrupted.

“Yes. That’s what he was called long ago. There’s some form of dark magic, sorcery, I don’t know, where Aph takes the power of anything that drowns in his waters. He is much stronger than he should be.”

The old man repeated for emphasis, “Much stronger than he should be.”

When the silence stretched out and my rockblood glass ran empty, I admitted, “I feel like I’m missing a key piece.”

“Oh, you’ve got the pieces. You just haven’t quite put them together. What did you shout during the fight?”

“Raln?” I said calmly. I didn’t shout it now; I said it quietly so my fingers didn’t cut through the chair’s armrests. Words of power need power. They need to be yelled with enthusiasm.

“Exactly. One of Northshore’s words of power,” said Priam.

I made a get-rolling gesture.

He sighed. “Speech is the first part of power. Koru gave rats the gift of speech many years ago, when the Clockwork Gods had just made the world. But he is not a kind or benevolent god. He made a deal with Aph, where he fed his children to Aph’s waters. There are many, many rats, and Aph got great power by drowning them.”

“That’s…horrible,” I said quietly.

“Yes. And if we could prove it, we would Sanction them both.”

Good, I thought. I didn’t say anything, but I had a hard time keeping my face blank.

“But Aepoch took the gift of speech from Koru’s children. Aph’s power began to fade. He’s still strong. Very strong. But he spent himself extravagantly. His star moved from ascendance in House of Ajaxos to descent in the House of the Wastrel.”

Ajaxos was a great king of old. He had conquered the Worms of Meru, leashed them, and made them build Mount Attarkus for which Mallens had given him great riches.

I nodded slowly, waiting.

Priam said, “Aph’s star has moved back into ascendance in Axajos, and now another star is with him. The new star is red and glitters. Our greatest astrologamages do not know what it is or where it came from, but they worry it may be many stars all standing close together. We sent good agents across the Firmament to explore it, but the mountains around Axajos are tall and the Worms of Meru live there, piling up the cliffs and peaks. I pulled my agents back. Koru himself has a dog star. He has no fixed place in the heavens and defies astrology. We don’t know what he’s up to.”

Coming to a decision, he took the gun out of his lap and hid it in a jacket pocket. Priam wasn’t a big guy and that .43 was a hammer, yet he hid it without a trace. I couldn’t see an outline. He had poured himself a drink at the start of our conversation and noticing my glass was empty, his half full, topped us both up.

He moved well. With the white in his hair and cracked features, I expected him to move gingerly, but he surprised me. He handled the iron with one hand and moved the decanter of rockblood around smoothly. It was a big jar. He didn’t slosh or spill.

Since he seemed to be getting his own thoughts in order, I looked around the office. The room was amber and sandstone. The carpet was maroon and tan, and the ceiling and walls were a subdued desert pattern. Priam’s desk was a huge glass thing without drawers, but behind him stood filing cabinets as tall as a man. One wall was windows that faced mountains and the dark sky. It was daytime, not yet lunch. There were other furnishings like small chairs, a simple table, bookshelves, and a drinks cabinet that did little but enhance the feeling of space. My apartment was significantly smaller than his office.

Who was the judicial director? I didn’t see any power totems, no signs of worship, but I doubted he was a mortal. Glancing around, I did see pictures and awards from centuries back. He’d gotten an award for ‘Best Junior Investigator’ two hundred and forty years ago. Several floor-to-ceiling bookshelves held legal books, but they seemed more practical than theoretical. Keeping Abreast of Criminal Justice Theory and The Search for Evidence seemed worn.

“What’s your domain?” I asked. “What are you god of?”

“I’m not a god. I’m just a spirit.”

“How did a mere spirit become a Judicial Director?”

“Oh, I was born high,” he said and seeing my frown, explained, “I don’t claim divinity. I’m a monotheist.”

I squinted at him. “Really?”

“Yes. There’s a fair number of us in Fate. Maybe more here than elsewhere.”

I kept squinting.

Looking defensive, he said, “The reason you don’t notice us is that it doesn’t come up in conversation that much. When it does come up in conversation, it’s with someone you knew was a monotheist already. So you think there’re only a few of us, all like that.”

Suddenly realizing he was justifying himself, he changed topics.

“I’ve been investigating Koru for some time, since long before he and Aepoch had their confrontation. Mass murder of anything, even rats, is something I take a very dim view on. The great mysteries of Fate are mostly why it takes us so long to get anything done, and the only thing I’ll say in our defense is we know it takes too long and we’re working on it.

“This was a little different. Things that should have gone through didn’t. Paperwork that should have been filed wasn’t. Investigations get bogged down in permissions and fiefdoms. They don’t usually break up because an evidenciary writ gets filed incorrectly five times. We’re Fate. We can do paperwork fairly well. I still don’t have investigatory authority to look into Koru’s dealings.”

He drummed his fingers on the desk. I waited.

Priam said, “Koru is a nasty, vile, selfish spirit. He’s powerful; there are many rats. No one likes him, but someone in Fate is protecting him.”


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 37

Rewritten 8/9/2023


Chapter 37

Death on Osret too. I grabbed a sheaf papers from one of the files Hoarfast had been reading, spoke Raln, and threw the papers. They cut through flesh like butter, nearly amputating Osret’s arm. The folders in his hand dropped, his arm fell limp, and it dangled from the shoulder on rope of flesh.

He screamed.

I grabbed a stapler, spoke Raln again, and prepared to spike Hoarfast’s head to the floor.

In the moment I paused, he took an opening and threw a short hook into my side, hitting the cold bane with unerring precision. That felt like explosions, freezing cold explosions, that reached up to send icicles through my eyes, chills through my brain, and frost through my veins. I crumpled, rolled over and gasped.

He tried to get up and couldn’t. He barely flailed over sideways to put his back toward me, and wiggled and squirmed the other way. His arms and legs spasmed.

I stood, fell, hit a chair, and pulled off the cushion. Priam had fully upholstered chairs, and this one had patterns of thick yarn. I could cut someone in half with something like that. Hoarfast got up again and fell sideways against a wall.

Osret grabbed him. The Celestial assassin tried to get his wits back, to clear his head enough to fight, but Osret hadn’t been rattled like he had. Osret shoved Hoarfast toward the dumbwaiter hatch.

“You do not fight crazy-guy!”

Hoarfast looked like he wanted to argue, but he wasn’t steady enough on his feet. Instead he grabbed the folders and let the Hemlin push him through the forgotten door.

I tried to get up, fell, and my legs didn’t work. That didn’t make any sense. I slapped them, grabbed Priam’s glass desk for balance, but my fingers didn’t close. I stood up, but my upper body didn’t stay over my feet. I slumped to the side, more upright than not, but leaning. When I tried to counterbalance torso and legs, I couldn’t get things going in the same direction, and my body made a wobbly S.

Osret looked back at me and dove through the dumbwaiter hatch.

I fell over.

It had only been one punch! And it wasn’t even a head shot. He’d gotten one body shot on me, and I felt like this.

The door slammed open. Someone put their shoulder behind it as they shoved, but with no one on the other side, the door banged against the doorstop.

In the doorway stood a suited man with salt-and-pepper hair and skin of cracked porcelain. He was a little taller than me, a little thinner, with a beard still black under the ears and nose but white around the chin. Long fine cracks ran over his face, hiding under his hair, and branching like the veins in marble. His hands had those same cracks, but they were pitted with tiny pieces missing. He wore a crisp gray suit with a emerald tie, and around the collar and cuffs, his suit had started cracking as well.

I grabbed the desk, heaved myself up, and stood there for a few breaths. I was going to have to fight this old guy. I could take him.

He stepped through the door and called over his shoulder, “Nevermind! It’s nothing.” He shut the door behind him.

I could still take him. I was standing up now. Admittedly, I needed a desk to do it, but I was standing up at least.

“Hroth Urmain.” Judicial Director Priam read my name tag as he moved to his chair. Keeping the desk between us, he sat down. “You do not look Tarsant.”

“I take after my father.”

“Over the summer we had a mentorship program, and I was assigned Hroth Urmain. I get about a third of the summer interns. Hroth was having problems because he didn’t show up to work on time, so I talked about motivation, discipline, and the importance of consistency for thirty minutes every other week, trying to find new and exciting ways to say, ‘Show up to work on time.’ He never did.”

“I grew a lot over the winter.”

“Let’s see. There’s blood by the door, but you’re not bleeding. Someone in here yelled Raln, so that must have been you.” He leaned sideways in his chair, looking around the desk. “I see my reading table has been destroyed, and there’s a hole in the wall. Splinters and rubble inside, but the boards are bent outward. People have gone through in both directions. There are no folders over there, but–” He looked down.

Just aside the doorway was a pile of papers, mildly blood splattered. I’d thrown them at Osret and nearly cut off his arm. Now they remained.

Priam picked them up, glanced at the title page, and looked up at me.

“So you must be Kog,” he said, and turned around the folder to show me my file.

It was the treason addendum.

Did I want to initiate on him and take the file right now?

Priam put the folder on the desk and put his hands on the arm rests of his office chair. A .43 Testament lay in his lap now, and that was a serious gun. He didn’t move toward it. He didn’t move toward the folder. He watched me.

Reading the room had been a cop thing to do. Guessing my identity had been a cop thing. Putting the file between us, showing me a gun, but sitting back and waiting was not a cop thing to do. I didn’t know what to make of this.

“I want that folder,” I said.

“I will let you have it. I’ll even give you a glass of rockblood. It soothes injuries.”

“If?” I asked.

“If you sit down and listen to me for a little bit.”

“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“Because, Mr. Kog, of the many unwise things I think you’ve done and the many poor decisions I think you make, I don’t think breeding dragons is one of them.”

I stammered. “I didn’t know breeding dragons was an option.”

“It isn’t. It’s treason.”

“I didn’t know that was a treason you could commit.”

“You are scheduled for an administrative hearing for it,” said Priam. He leaned back in the chair. The gun lay in his lap. It was a black steel thing that looked like a sledgehammer on a pistol grip. “I am scheduling the hearing. I was out trying to arrange one this morning.”


“We didn’t have a quorum. The chairman had a dentist’s appointment.”

“So… the meeting was delayed?”

“Maybe. Next time I might have a dentist’s appointment.”

And there it was.

I hate thinking in slow motion.

I could just take the folder and run, and I’d no sooner considered it than Priam said, “No one went out this door. There’s blood on the floor, so the fight was no mere distraction. None of the windows are broken. That means whomever you fought probably escaped through that little hatch. Now you can go chasing them in the dark with your injury.” He pointed at my side. “But Mr. Kog, does that sound like a good idea to you?”

“And you’ve already read the folder anyway.”


“Then I don’t see what you can do for me. If you’ve read the file, other people have. There’s a whole committee that went over it. And–”

Priam interjected, “Because, Mr. Kog, they didn’t read your file. We didn’t have quorum. No one reads unnecessarily around here. And this is your file. This specific one. If you were to take this to the roof and burn it with all the other strands of destiny that never happened, it would be gone. Your main file can be sealed.”

“But who compiled the file?”

“I did. Now, Mr. Kog, why don’t you take a seat and let me pour you a drink.”



Way back, I was on a mailing list devoted to fanfiction. On Saturdays a bunch of the writers would get together and share fics. Everyone would put in about a thousand words of whatever they’re working on, and after reading everything (took about an hour), people would discuss and provide C&C.

The C&C was often surprisingly straight forward. “Please describe this room better.” “These characters have good chemistry.” I don’t think I was ever surprised. It was nice to get a little feedback as a writer, and as a reader, it was nice to see something develop. Made you feel part of the group, and it was reassuring to see someone else fall into the same traps you fell into and would fall into again.

I want to set something like that up on Discord.

Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 36


Chapter 36

Amber Melis was the only tower with a star on top of it.

When I had worked here, the argument over moving the stars of the Mask from the mountain tops around to the spires of the seven towers had more or less ended. I remember first hearing about the issue and obviously supporting moving the stars to the towers. It seemed a brilliant idea, full of verve and light. This was before I’d spent a few months in a moldly, dark cubicle farm that smelled of feet. I then understood the issue, and the issue was that whatever Fate did, it did poorly, ineffectually, and in the dumbest possible way.

I’d none the less been drawn to the star of Amber Melis by the compulsion of a bonfire of unused destinies atop a seven-sided tower on the firmaments of the sky. It was bonkers neat. I’d spent a lot of time wandering around the maintenance corridors, back rooms, and unused stairways, and since I hadn’t gotten in anyone’s way, no one had objected. I headed there now.

The tower itself had a lovely foyer. Made of sandstone with quartz veins, the foyer had vaulted ceilings and internal windows from the atrium to second, third, and fourth floor offices. Those quartz veins ran throughout the building, carrying light from the star above to every room. The floor glittered underfoot. Speckles of sand caught in the quartz caught light from all sides, and they twinkled as one walked over.

Head down, eyes on the floor, posture slouched, I walked, glanced around, and made for the stairway. I wanted to stop and look around, but some helpful docent might try to give me directions. My badge name, Hroth Urmain, was probably the best fit of the stack, but I didn’t look like a nord. It was better than Sslass Sssa. Then someone might ask where my other arms were.

In the stairwell a couple of young women passed me doing laps for exercise, so I gave them an office smile and kept going. They looked annoyed they had to go around, and I made sure to walk extra slowly so they put some distance between us. By the time I came to the top floor, I hadn’t seen anyone in minutes and the echoes of clicky-heels had faded.

The top floor door required a hand-pass. The doorknob was true amber polished to shine, and the silhouette of a hand was carved into the stone. Someone authorized to be here was supposed to open it by holding it just right, and the spells on the knob would recognize the hand. I was no so authorized.

Up a floor a door was locked and barred with mundane bolts and locks. Someone had painted ‘Roof Access’ on the door with a stencil. I glanced around again, still saw no one, and went to work on the bolts and locks. They were doable.

The door lead to a pathway beneath an inferno.

Overhead the star burned. A mesh ceiling separated me from the flames, but fires roared. Hearing was impossible. Light-pipes for the entire building made up the floor, each one feeding a vein of quartz that would illuminate the halls. Huge rolls of fate’s threads as big as shipping hawsers stood in piles. Their upper ends fed the flames, and as the tips burned, they stretched. The coils slowly unwrapped, feeding themselves into the blaze above.

The wind was a hurricane. Channels ran through the floor, channels bigger than the Hemlin cousins’s house, that brought air from outside the tower to the roots of the fire atop it. The wind pulled my clothing and hair, made my cuffs and collar rise, and my shirt flap. I had to tuck everything in tightly to avoid inflating like a blimp. Everything up here tried to go higher, from the slithering cables that moved like snakes feeding themselves to the burning star to the rushing air. Some sparks ran in loops after being shot wide out the top, caught in the air intakes, and lifted into the blaze again.

I shut the stairway door behind me but did not lock it.

I hopped off the catwalk to the ground and climbed onto a cable pile. If I got stuck in this thing, I could get carried with it as heat pulled it into the blaze, so I was flat out paranoid. Yet for all the risk of imminent death, and the roar of starfire overhead and the beating heat reminded me that death didn’t so much lurk nearby as scream its presence, this part of the entrance excited me. I climbed through the ropes until I found a long, cast-iron pipe that lead down through the roof below. The lips of the pipe had been worn smooth by millenia of cables, and the opening was wide enough that the cable never got kinked. I climbed down like a ladder.

And then I was through, into the hidden world of Amber Melis’s secret pathways and out of the normal world of Fate’s routine operations.

A vertical shaft rose from darkness below to a number of openings above. Through each of them ran one of Fate’s cables, a thousand unmade choices and events that never happened, wrapped together into a thick cord as big around as a tree trunk. Climbing those cords gave me hints of visions, illusions of movement in the corners of my eyes, and scraps of music underneath the hum in my ears. I almost heard words never said. I almost saw things that didn’t exist. People who work in the Loom itself learn to read the threads by fingertip-pressure, but those are well constructed fates feeding Destiny. Those things happened. These threads didn’t, and I didn’t have the practice to read them anyway.

I’d always wondered what would have happened if I had. Could I figure out who wouldn’t win the Great Games next year and bet against them? I don’t think that was possible because these threads had already not happened. But could I figure out who hadn’t won their games by cheating and bet against them? I could drop an anonymous tip to the Triumph Commission. I think that would work.

But I could listen for clockwork spiders, so I did. They crawled around down here. Not often, but a few times I’d met them. The spiders weren’t that scary if they didn’t surprise you. They’re weird, mechanical beasts of gears and springs, their footsteps click, and they seem to pay no attention to up or down. Most of them are about the size of large mice. The Loom spiders are the size of houses, and they’re the ones that scare people. The ones around here aren’t that bad.

They’re not bad if you know they’re there. If I got startled by a moderately big one, maybe the size of a house cat, I’d probably just die on the spot. I’d do it deliberately, maybe via exploding, just to be sure.

But I saw none, neither big nor small. I bowed my head and said, “Pattern Spiders, I, Kog, come among the back passages of Amber Melis. Please do not startle me. I will do no harm and intend only to pass by. Thank you.”

They didn’t reply, but they didn’t pop out of hidden spaces either. They’ll generally leave you alone if you leave them alone.

I climbed off the cable onto a steel girder that ringed the shaft. It had a little door on one side that lead to a long, narrow hallway with speckled stardust in the ceiling. I tapped a few times to let anything inside know I was coming before hurrying through.

With all the unused fate moving through Amber Mellis, things had a tendency to get lost. Things like rooms and stairs and doors. No one goes through them, and the fate of a door to let someone through might get burned up in the star above. Yet the original purpose of Destiny had been to tie all things together, and Fate handled Destiny. Little fate was the stuff of Destiny. (Little destiny is the way everything in your life is going to get tied together eventually, but there’s no guarantee, assurance, or intent to make it comprehensible to you. Even if you did get an explanation, it would be written by an intern, so it would be badly mispelled, incomplete, and possibly illegible with coffee stains.) So at Fate things got lost in the way no one knew where they were, but they didn’t get lost in that they went away. They were still right there.

I moseyed down a forgotten hallway with old carpets, slightly yellowed white walls, and drop ceilings full of missing tiles where cables of unused destiny wound slowly across the floor. Piles of clutter lay here and there, eventually getting caught in the cables to be taken up to the star and incinerated. I checked old stationery and business cards. Judicial Director Priam’s office had to be around here somewhere, and eveyone loses a sheet of paper with their name on it eventually.

Priam had.

His office was on the second-highest floor in the middle of a side. He didn’t have a corner office, but he did have a great window. His forgotten door was a dumbwaiter from the often lamented before-time when Fate served drinks in-office. A weathered slip of paper that looked like a laundry tag was stuck in the dumbwaiter hatch.

I checked the door. It looked clean. I put my ear to it and heard voices.

Hoarfast was speaking softly to someone on just the other side. He said, “Just stand in the doorway and watch. If anyone comes in, just act dumb. I’m almost done.”

“But what if-” said a voice I couldn’t place.

“No what-ifs. Just wait outside with those papers like you’re ready to deliver something. Go.”

“But what if-”

“Go! Go now,” he said, quietly and authoritatively.

The other voice whispered something but retreated. Another door opened and closed.

I craned my head around the dumbwaiter hatch, looking through the little cracks.

A desk have been moved directly in front of this area, and a figure was leaned over it, reading something. The figure was a big man who cast a long shadow. He was close enough that if I reached through the doorway, I could touch him.

I did. I braced one hand on the doorframe, set my hips, and threw a huge, wide swing like I was showing off on a heavybag. My fist shattered forgotten wood, knocked papers sideways, and caught Hoarfast dead in the sternum with my whole weight in the swing.

I shattered the little door the rest of the way as I dove through, caught Hoarfast as he crumpled, and pinned his head against the floor with my left hand as I dropped overhead punches with my right. Each hit rattled his brain in his skull.

Osret of Hemlin shoved the door open, a folder in his arms, and demanded, “What are you doing–” before he and I saw each other.

Osret whispered, “Death on you.”


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 35


Chapter 35

I wasn’t really upset. I was a little hungry, but after thinking about it for a bit, I was fine. I’d had two breakfasts, but yesterday had been rough and I’d skipped meals. I felt fine.

Calmly I paged through the next few parts of my file. Since Intercepting Fist’s use of Terminal Sanction had been deemed unwarranted, Fate had covered everything up. They told everyone my father killed my mother, tried to kill me, and had ultimately killed himself. Nivale had taken me in but put me up for adoption. She’d been seventeen.

I didn’t really remember her. Maybe. Kinda? When I strained, I got a few images, but those might be imagined.

Intercepting Fist’s appeal went nowhere. It didn’t get rejected; it didn’t happen. The paperwork had been put in, but no hearing occurred, no appellate court convened, no judgment was passed down. The statute of limitations had passed.

I flipped to the index. No further mention of Hyrthon or Aethionema appeared. Of course. That was fine.

Life in foster care had been utterly miserable. It had prepared me for crime. I broke into my first house at age seven, was hustling on streets before ten, and bounced in and out of homes that had no place for me. No one loved me, no one missed me, no one cared until age twelve, at which point I’d been placed with my last parents, Hau and Mariam.

They had time. They paid attention. We got into fights about things like table manners, and Hau made me help him in the garden because he liked having me around. I wished things had been different.

But they weren’t, and twelve is old to get real parents. Their home was been small, and they had other kids, fosters and biologics. A few years later I’d left to go to Northshore, but I was always welcome. Mariam was even a little annoyed I didn’t visit more. She fussed. Hau wished I did, but he understood. Not me, not foster kids, not how I felt about him, just that kids grow up, they don’t visit their parents enough, and they go see things.

Hau and Mariam were the only truly good people I’d ever known, and that thought made me tear up.

I’d always tried not to think about any of this stuff much, and I’m usually pretty good at it.

I sat in my old office that smelled of mildew and damp carpet, and stared at a wall. Nothing moved through my head. I heard old creaks in the walls. I think the building had mice. I picked up an ink-stick and twilled it in my fingers. This was a good one. It had some heft to it.

Oh right. I was here about the treason.

I went through my file again. A great deal of it covered the legal precipitate of my parents’ murder, Fate’s cover-up, and so forth. Most of the rest had been excised from about the time I met Seraphine, and that made sense.

I realized I hadn’t thought of Seraphine in quite some time, which was a bit odd considering I’d been madly in love with her. I still was.

I’d been busy, and I was good at not thinking of stuff.

How did I feel about all that?

Still fine.



I had to do something about the treason.

They did kill people over that.

Out of curiosity, I flipped to one of the addenda and skimmed through my future. I had a fate. The office would make sure I was destined for something. It should be in my file, at least a summary. I hoped I warranted a disclosure.

“Kog has not warranted specific fate within Destiny. However, he seems like an idiot, so this omission need not be corrected.”

“Really?” I yelled at my file. I flipped to the author’s notes. “Oum of Typhon, you couldn’t have written that a little more professionally? ‘Kog’s fate isn’t written by Fate because he’s a mortal’ would have been fine! You had to throw I’m an idiot in there too?” I flipped back to the narrative and started muttering about who would rue the day.

Seeking to distract myself, I went to my biographical addenda and looked myself up. Best case, how much time did I have? Realistically, probably less than a week and most of that filled with torment, but from an organ perspective, how many years did I have until….I was scheduled to die when I turned thirty six.


This sheet was double-sided with ink on both sides. Some small hand had written my fate in spidery script, a mere few years left if everything went well. I was scheduled for organ failure at age thirty six. It was my kidneys. They’d go first, my blood would turn toxic, and my end would take less than a week. I’d be unconscious for most of it. A honey-dew addendum had been added and excised from my file.

Individual people don’t have a ‘thread’ in the Loom of Fate; it’s more like a cord. I’ve never seen the Loom itself, but people who work in Fate have. Stories get told. A person’s cord is a whole bunch of threads bound together, and they’re highly, perhaps, infinitely, subdividable, worked by the great Pattern Spiders. Originally made of clockwork, the Spiders have long since become something else, though no one knows quite what. These files are a first approximation of the cords.

The honey-dew addendum had been attached and removed from my internal threads, the fiber of each organ. Those fibers had burned out. Divine fibers got replaced. Mortals don’t.

I wanted to swear again, but this time the irony stopped me.

The ink-stick twirled in my hand.

Very calmly, I was very calm about everything right now, I added a zero to my life expectancy. There was a little space left. I could fit another zero in there. I did.

I initialed the modification in my finest handwriting and pressed a ‘SEALED’ sticker over it, holding the sticker firmly to the paper with my sweaty hands for several minutes. The numbers were clearly visible. The authorizing signature was not. Would it work?

Worth a shot.

Back at the File Request room, I clipped my file to the string and sent it out to be lost among the paperwork. It might get filed again. Probably by an intern. I had better than even odds on getting that document back in the system.

But nothing mattered, because the treason addendum of my file was with Judicial Director Priam. That was the interesting bit. That’s the bit I wanted. And I couldn’t go walking up there, because they had guards by the official people.

I leaned against a wall, thinking. The wall was sticky. Moisture had gotten into the paint, and it was vaguely adhesive. I leaned away from the wall, had to pull my skin free, and wiped my arm down. Little bits of gray and white paint stuck to my arm hair. This place was disgusting. No one cleaned it.

The silence got very loud, my thoughts turned slow, and I made words in my head without the casual ease of normal thought but deliberately. It felt like breathing when you’re thinking about breathing.

No one had been down here since the end of summer, when the interns left.

And not ‘no one but really the cleaning staff and security.’ No, no one had been down here since the interns left. And when we’d left, we dropped our IDs in a drop box. The drop box was down here in the basement.

I walked thirty yards, found the drop-box, and went to work on the cheap lock with ingenuity, a paperclip, and a misspent youth. It took me ten minutes to get access to two dozen IDs, more than half of which weren’t expired. Security often puts expiration dates years into the future so they don’t have to keep reissuing them. I took Hroth Urmain’s badge from the stack, clipped it to my shirt, and put the unexpired ones in a brown lunch bag I found under a desk. Judicial Director Priam worked in Amber Melis Tower.

This was actually a dumber plan than I thought it was, and I knew that while I did it.

I didn’t care. I wanted to die.

But I felt fine.


Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 34

Chapter 34

By the time I got to the southern edge of the forest by White Hoof, the spirits of fire ring Mt Ararad. It stands the furthest east of the Ribbed Mountains, a slanted horn with three faces gouged out by worms of Meru. All three bowls are white, but the ridges that climb to the peak between them are brown and black. Overhead the sky is dark. Midnight is here or just past, and dawn will not come for hours.

Flames that have escaped their candle wicks circle the summit. They are hounding something, flying quickly through the air in a wide loping circle. At one point they dive as they pass and fall like shooting stars toward a ridge. There are sparks there that die sizzling on the snow. The flames rise again. I am down the mountain but climbing very quickly. I wish I had a sword.

Up close the flames are horsemen with long glaives. They dive at Laeth, who stands over a crack in a ridge, parrying their weapons with a sword in his left hand. Every time their weapons of fire meet his blade of metal, they notch the metal. Yet he strikes back and when the horsemen have passed, plunges the sword into pockets of snow. I can see the cold of it hurts his hand, for he stuffs the sword in, watches for the next rider, and yanks the blade out to fight with it. He cuts them, and their flames turn cold and dead where his blade slashes. But there are many of them.

Merryweather and their little boy are in the crack underneath, and she is heaving stones aside, making it bigger. She throws boulders, but the horsemen are too swift in the open air.

I get closer, moving up the stone arete.

Laeth gets one of the flaming horsemen through the chest, and horse goes dark and black. It’s like a splotch of ink that spreads, ruining the brilliance of fire and light, until the whole horsemen is black as old ashes but smoldering around the edges. It falls, hits the snow, and breaks apart. Laeth yells something to Merryweather, and she stops throwing rocks.

I want to do something, but I have no idea what. Death take me, I’m going to help. Fate, let Intercepting Fist find these notes. I am tucking them among the rocks, and they should stay dry. I know I’m supposed to stay out. I can hide, but I won’t anymore.

Goodbye. I’m going.


My name is Intercepting Fist. I am an operator of Fate.

On 3rd Brumaire, the Olnedes were observed at White Hoof Massif. A source operates at White Hoof, one Nivale, Daughter of Aethionema, of the line of Lumina. Our next contact was not scheduled for some months, however the appearance of the Children of Olnedi away from any known volcanic eruption is a Class 5a suspicious event. My primary mission objectives were determine the reasons for and threats presented by the appearance of the Olnedes. In accordance with SOP, I also attempted a health and welfare check for the source. At the time of the incident, I was source’s handler.

The high-probability cause for an unexpected appearance of volcano spirits is unexpected volcanic activity. My initial premise was an unscheduled eruption, from which the Olnedes had escaped their bonds early. I took a complete vulcanology kit and notified the Bureau of Natural Disasters and Cataclysms via forms 10-992e and 10-992j. Forms had been accepted and signed. BNDC POC is Asst. Sec. Rock Thunder, see Receipt of Notice, 3-14.

A low-probability cause for the unexpected appearance of the Olnedes is madness. I sought and received Authorization for Terminal Sanction in defense of the source. BS POC is Divine Saturn.

Upon arriving on scene, I performed an initial recon. Time was between midnight and dawn. Weather was overcast. Terrain was mountainous/rocky with glaciers. Footing would be deeply suboptimal. I rode my personal transport, a lightning-dragon Lucky 8 who is certified for combat operations. The airborne Olnedes had formed a ‘doom loop,’ a harassing tactic used by cavalry against dismounted infantry. No signs of volcanic activity were identified.

I DID perform a ET 411 test for volcanic activity and confirmed no warning signs. It’s in the appendix. Allegations I failed to perform the test and violated EOF/ROE are a damned lie.

Negatively confirming the high-probability case, I closed on the engagement.

Cinders lay distributed across snow and ice. Not less than eight Olnedes had been slain. As I watched, one of the lava children dove on their adversaries. A primary aggressor executed a forward mounted attack with a mounted weapon and was parried by a swordsman. A female defender attacked with a chunk of ice of medium-log size. The ice spar struck the rider in the mount, and since the Olnedes are one entity, the cold attack on the apparent ‘horse’ caused damage to the rider. The aggressor went down and spread his ashes across the mountainside.

However both defenders went down as well. Upon closing, I observed innumerable burns to both combatants. The nature of the injuries prevented significant blood loss, but their skins had begun to turn. Black wounds like charred wood marred their flesh.

Further, the female combatant expressed the features of the line of Aethionema. Wielding several thousand pounds of ice as a melee weapon was in agreement with a dryad of Lumina’s line in their place of power, as was hair color and build. The Luminesque dryads tend toward tall but resilient entities.

Seeing both defenders fall but keep struggling, the Olnedes abandoned their harassing tactics and gathered for a cavalry charge.

Within the limits of battlefield intelligence, I used training and best judgment in accordance with Battles Guidance 0-1. I declared positive ID that the female combatant was the source, and therefore Terminal Sanction was authorized. The Olnedes numbered less than two dozen. I attacked.

The Olnedes formation had achieved maximum velocity, following an attack vector along the arete when I came up the same arete with Lucky 8 skimming the rocks. The Olnedes did not see me until I engaged. I executed a frontal assault almost on top of the defenders. Two volcano spirits I slew with my fists, off balanced another, and dragged him along the saw-tooth edge of the arete until rock tore him apart. The other riders diverged into two formations. Before they could rally, I assaulted the eastern formation from behind and got among them. They lost situational awareness, failed to evade in time, and I engaged and destroyed the enemy formation.

Emerging, I discovered the opposing enemy formation had rallied and assaulted their targets on the rocks. Such bloody-mindedness is atypical in capricious volcano spirits. Upon assaulting the enemy, I discovered another Lumanesque dryad operating in defense. She had taken the sword from the fallen male defender, but approximately ten Olnedes attacked her. I engaged them from the side, dismounted into their formation, and released Lucky 8 to operate as close air support. Landing on a fire-rider, I tore him limb from limb and beat his comrades with his remains.

The engagement ended shortly.

Having terminated their attack, I observed the defending combatants.

The remaining female defender was the source. I initiated passcode confirmation and received the correct challenge response. The initial female defender was the source’s sister, and the swordsman the source’s sister’s spouse. I performed triage. The source had not suffered life threatening wounds. The spouse was beyond care. The sister might survive. In accordance with Serenity Final Principles 0-8, I gathered sister and spouse together to ease his final passing. He died in her arms.

The sister asked for one ‘Kog,’ and the source retrieved a child from a hidden spot among the rocks. The child had succumbed to exposure and ceased responding to stimuli.

The dryad, while powerful in her home, was still limited by the nature of her home. To wit, the line of Aethionema is powerful among the Simhalls, yet the Simhalls are perilous to their kind. The end effect is one of heightened mutual lethality not mutual survivability. I judged the child beyond care, but considered some possibility of getting the source and source’s immediately family off the mountain before death. When I summoned Lucky 8 for exfiltration, the source’s sister blessed the child, cried for her husband, and died as well.

I exfiltrated source and child, retrieving the source’s reports, which are filed as an addendum.

Terminal Sanction was clearly used as authorized. While initial positive ID may have been flawed, the source was present for the engagement. Therefore executing Terminal Sanction was in accordance with terms authorized by Divine Saturn herself. Legalese nonsense to the contrary is blister popping. The Prosecuting Officer’s remarks are comprehensively garbage, lacking legal standing, understanding of the limitations of real-time conflict, and ignorant of SOP. The PO is obviously operating under a delusion of omniscience given by reading too many reports and not being in enough fights. He is an idiot, a fool, and a disgrace to the service.

With a peculiarly blank mind I flipped the page. The following few pages were collected forms. Operator Intercepting Fist had been charged with failure to follow procedure while executing Terminal Sanction and found guilty. He had been demoted from operator status and assigned to border control operations in the Ticonae North.