In which everyone is tired and Collin drops a shoe on Varrett’s head.

After he had ditched the aether with Olof and given the whole Runner’s station a beat-by-beat retelling of his Too Close Encounter Of The Choking-Kink Kind, Varrett finally dragged his aching bones back into the unit. Barely in and he pulled to a halt, with the sliding doors snapping shut maybe half an inch from his ass, and then he kind of just stood there. Motionless. His pack hung awkwardly from his left shoulder. His headband had ridden down onto his forehead at a lopsided angle. And his right sock had slipped down and was all bunched up under his heel.

. . .

Varrett sighed.

The empty unit responded with resounding silence.

Which was nice. Really nice. The hush felt like a goopy, cool balm on his nerves; not unlike that moment when you stepped out of a party where they’d been blasting music at ungodly volumes all night, giving your thoughts a chance to hear each other again.

Or when you killed your Hawk’s engines. Let it drift. Gave yourself up to its trajectory, with the void of space stretching on around you, reaching for that elusive concept of infinity.

But then there was the ever-present full-body pinch on his insides, that reminder of his haunting. Had it dulled? Yeah. A bit. The closer he’d gotten to CA5TLE, the less in his face it’d been. But it was still there. Still itched.

Varrett absent-mindedly scratched at his chest. That did nothing to help, naturally.

Anyway. Shower.

He kicked off his shoes. Threw his pack aside. Shed his clothes and gear, and then he endured yet another cold shower with the dignity of a two-year-old whose favourite cartoon had just been turned off mid-episode.

Once a squeaky, shivering clean, Varrett wandered his naked ass into his room, where he threw on whatever clothes he could find without having to go hunt for them, and flopped down on the bed. A bed that came with the unfamiliar scent of dusty feathers stuck to the pillow and blanket. Because, yeah, he’d had a girl in here and— tragically —it’d been the first one since he’d moved in.

Something about thin walls.

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Dying Light: Without

a Paper Crane

Harran fits him like a well-measured suit.

Kyle Crane admits to that readily. On his best days, he’s a man with an unquenchable thirst to do the right thing. On his worst, one with a defective sense of self-preservation.

I’m here to make a difference, he tells himself when he rises morning after morning, sometimes to his body aching since he’s slept on naked concrete and with a draft antagonising his joints; others—when he’s real lucky—to the reasonable comfort of that dusty room the Tower let him have.

He’s confident that, if he gets this right, he’ll save lives. And he will get it right.

He has to.

Rahim dies.

Kyle’s knuckles bleed, torn open in a fit of frustrated agony. He heaves in air and clenches his fists. The rain washes his blood off a metal wall. Blood he’s left there after he’s traded it blow after blow.

That kid had been too young to die.

He’ll get it right next time.

When Zere dies and Rais throws the GRE’s crooked lies at Kyle’s feet, Kyle wonders who he pissed off and just when his life had spiralled so far out of control. When he’d been bitten? When he’d accepted the contract? Or when he’d been born upside down, doomed right from the start?

He won’t give up. He can’t. There’s too much at stake. Harran will burn if he doesn’t get it right.

Day and night turn to a blur. Kyle wakes up screaming one night. His heart is in his throat and the vivid memory of a weeping—wailing—child he’d choked to death because it hadn’t been a child anymore is so real then, that he stumbles from his makeshift shelter and vomits off the edge of a roof.

Jade dies.

For him.

He’d been the one who’d come to save her. Not the other way around.

But Kyle knows death, and so he wraps the memory of her in a quilt stitched together from red-hot fury and vengeance-yet-had. He’ll cut Rais’s heart out, he vows.

Tahir dies. Kyle feels a little better.

Rais is next.

It’s not enough.

I’m here to make a difference, he reminds himself as he drags himself back to the dusty room they let him have, night after night. Day after day. It’s home now. It’s his. It’s where he hangs his clothes. It’s where he collects the quirky bits and pieces he picks up as Harran runs him ragged. A hotel room sign here. An odd rock there. A wizard’s hat given to him by a pack of smiling children. And all he had to do for that hat was kill a troll (and kill a man’s already-late-wife).

In the mornings, when he’s ready to leave, he pauses at his door. His fingers tremble. His throat bobs. It takes a while, but he stills the shakes. Then he summons a smile and shoves the door open.

Rinse and repeat.

One night, Kyle slumps into the chair belonging to the rickety desk in his room. He ditched his shoes at the door. His clothes stick to him, glued on by sweat and blood. There’s a persistent ache in his back where a muscle won’t heal after he’s pulled it one too many times. His left knee feels like it’s filled with hornets. Kyle shoves his tongue between his teeth and works his sidearm free from its shoulder holster. He slams it on the table. Got to tend to it. Clean it. Make sure it won’t give out on him; like he fears his body might. Soon. His fingers shake. He hasn’t even worked the gun’s slide off yet when his head hits the desk and the world turns comfortably dark.

Continue reading “Dying Light: Without”

APHELION: CHAPTER 13, Mall-evolent

In which Varrett’s shopping trip turns abys-mall.

Varrett sat his haunted ass down on one of Olof’s hard plastic chairs, folded one leg out over the other, and fell into fidget-hell, his foot bouncing and his fingers tapping out a rhythm against the knee he’d stuck out to the side.

Two Runners shared the station with him. One up at the desk, arguing with Olof about how it wasn’t his fault verge coils looked like fuel injectors (they didn’t), and one sitting a chair off on the left, a WreadSheet in his lap. Varrett’s eyes slid from one to the other. The first dude was Buzz (not his actual name, but, like, his Runner’s nick). The second one was plain old Dave, who’d been a nine-to-five accountant with a love for extreme sports at the side. Buzz had started out as a street racer.

Varrett’s fingers kept drumming.

Oh, he was fine.

Absolutely fine.

Peachy, really.

Wasn’t like he hated waiting and wasn’t like he had only one singular thought running itself ragged in his head.

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Aphelion: Chapter 12

We begin Episode 3: Any Other Way.

“We’re creatures of habit,” Ellen said, her tone a bit wry. “God forbid we don’t get lied to by a politician for too long or don’t have to pay rent. We’d go feral.” She motioned to the sofa. “Go on. Sit.”

Sophya manoeuvred through the miniature city, and when she sat, a cheese grater shaped tower had itself toppled by a large, stomping reptile kind of thing.

Dinosaurs, the Earthers called them. They were fascinating, in a way, what with how some looked eerily similar to Reaper Devils; a mystery about as thick as the one about how Earthers had known dragons as nothing but figments of their collective imagination.

“We even have bars.” Ellen leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. She was studying Sophya and Sophya, predictable, disliked that. “Restaurants, too, though you’re hard-pressed finding a big selection, a bit like our markets.”

What was she trying to do? Comfort her? Reassure her? Get to the point of everything is going to be alright, even though that’d be a horrible lie and she really had no one but herself to blame?

“There’s even theatre, if that’s your kind of thing, with nightly shows over in the first tower. They perform old Earther plays on even days and Aestling ones on odd days.”

・・・“Oh! Can we go? We must go.” SIN had stretched herself over the back of the sofa, her whiskers twitching and her paws kneading at the air. “There’s absolutely no way we are not going.”

Sophya winced.

“See,” Ellen continued, unaware of Sophya having herself peer-pressured, “Horizon’s Crown isn’t the end of the world. I like to think of it as end of world adjacent, if you will.”

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