Verity: Chapter One, part three


The terrain sensor. The term flickered in her head and she suddenly knew what to do. Keeping her eyes on the sensor to the right of the windshield, she throttled her ship out into the storm and curved into a sharp roll. The simulation pod rolled with her, fooling her into thinking she really was flying. After doing a few serpentine maneuvers, she stopped playing and focused on the assigned task- hunting down the enemy.

Her sensors picked up unfamiliar movement at 60 degrees southwest and she pulled her ship in that direction, eyes glued to her terrain sensor. The fierce wind pushed her off course again and again. Her muscles were growing sore from the constant pull on the throttle.

There! The enemy ship appeared from behind a large smoking mountain. She was about to shoot when the mountain in front of her exploded with blinding force. Her ship was sent spinning out of control.

Ah, the volcano, thought Verity. She hadn’t been keeping a close enough watch on her miasma sensor.

Pulling against the throttle with all of her strength, she finally managed to bring her ship out of the spin. It was amazing how much of this piloting came to Verity with no effort at all. Here in this world, she had been learning this stuff since she was five years old. And she loved it!

Spying the enemy ship out of the corner of her eye, she whipped her ship around and fired without thinking. The enemy ship exploded with a satisfying rattle and Verity let out an involuntary whoop of joy. Instantly, the simulator stopped it’s vibrating and the cockpit lights came on. The screen wiped blank and her score appeared:

83: 100

Pointed deducted for:

playful maneuvers

volcanic disturbance

damage to star fighter

Briefly recalling that she had scored a 90 in her last simulation, Verity let out a sigh. Her arms were shaking from the effort of holding the wind-battered throttle for so long.

As she exited her pod, the door opposite opened at the same moment and Jaret walked out. His eyes tightened as they met hers and he quickly turned away. Verity couldn’t help herself.

“Jaret, how’d you do?” she asked, her stomach quaking. She would have never instigated a conversation with him back at home, but she was irritated by that dirty look he had given her.

He turned back, face still unfriendly. “97,” he said briefly and turned away once more.

“Nice! That’s a great score,” Verity called after him. He didn’t turn around again. She sighed in frustration. It was weird seeing such an unfriendly version of Jaret.

Ferryn came stomping out of her pod, her face dark with annoyance.

“That stupid, ridiculous volcano blasted my ship into a thousand pieces!” she hissed and kicked the wall of the hallway. The metal reverberated harshly and a young man exiting the pod next to her looked over warily.

“Yeah, I got volcanoed, too, but didn’t quite get blown up,” said Verity with some sympathy. She recalled that Ferryn was not quite the pilot that she was.

Ferryn held up a hand in protest. “Do not, do not, tell me your score. Just don’t. Let’s get lunch, k?” Ferryn turned and headed toward the exit, her small strong shoulders hunched in aggravation. Fervently wishing she had Biron here to cheer Ferryn up, Verity followed her out of the door.

As they walked through the labyrinth of metal hallways toward the mess hall, Verity thought once again about her father. His death had come as such a shock; seeing him alive again and cheerfully going about his business was overwhelming. Without thinking too hard, she realized that her mother, here in this place, was dead. It seemed she was only allowed to have one parent alive, no matter which world she was in. It made her sad, especially when the memories of her mother’s death swirled in like the unwelcome blast from the volcano. But she knew she would see her mother again when this bizarre adventure ended. She couldn’t be stuck here forever, could she?

Even as she had these thoughts, Verity felt her hands grow icy-cold. She glanced down at them, only to see the blinding lights rush up in front of her eyes. She closed her eyes as the chaos took her.

* * *

After the nausea faded, she opened her eyes once more to find a concerned Ferryn and Biron watching her.

“Ver, you coming? We don’t want to be late for math,” Ferryn said, looking at her in confusion.

Verity took a deep breath and sighed in relief. She was home! She was still standing on the dirt path that led to Hewitt High School. Apparently no time had passed at all. Verity though that was extremely strange; it felt like her hallucination had lasted for hours.

I’m good. I’m fine,” she said fervently.

The three of them slipped through the door of their math class mere seconds before their instructor. This was Verity’s favorite class for one reason: Jaret sat next to her. She usually managed to work with him when a partner was required, though she was never able to make any sort of conversation with him that wasn’t math-related.

Feeling apprehensive after her encounter with Angry-Jaret on the quantum ship, she chanced a brief glance in his direction. He had his head down and was writing, but when he felt Verity’s eyes on him, he looked up and gave her a charming smile.

Leaning over, he whispered, “The battle isn’t over. You won’t be able to knock me down so easily next time, Verity.”

His eyes had a mischievous sparkle in them, so she knew he was joking. She felt her heart lighten- this was a Jaret she knew. Relief gave her courage; today she would speak to him.

“I have other tricks- don’t get cocky,” she whispered back with a small grin. She had done it! Even though she knew her face was pink and she had only whispered one sentence, she felt like she had in the simulator, when she had blown up the enemy ship. She felt brave.

A thick math exam dropped onto her desk and Verity let out an involuntary groan; she hadn’t studied at all.

“Chin up, soldier,” Jaret whispered. “We’re in this together.”

He winked at her before turning back to his own exam. She sighed a little inside as she stared at his strong shoulders. His dark brown hair that was falling forward over his eyes a little as he concentrated on his test. Yes, Verity definitely preferred this friendly and charming version of Jaret.

Though her test sat on the desk in front of her, Verity felt her mind wander back to the baffling events of the morning. Had she hallucinated? Was something wrong with her brain? It had all seemed so completely real but there was no way it could be. After all, she had never actually physically gone anywhere; she had just paused for a moment on the path to her high school. There had to be some psychological reason that she had thought up all of that: her dad alive, Jaret angry and cold, Biron completely absent. Making a mental note to worry more about that later, Verity turned to the exam on her desk.



Verity: Chapter One, part two


Verity turned away and pressed her head against the wall, closing her eyes. What had just happened? She pressed her shaking hands flat to the wall next to her head. Without warning, memories began to trickle into her head like water through a crack in a dam. She was on a quantum ship. She was part of a force fighting an enemy of Earth. Earth was destroyed. Earth was destroyed.

With a gasp of shock, she spun back to Ferryn.

“The… but there was… Earth?” she gaped

Ferryn shook her head and grasped Verity’s arm, dragging her along as she hurried down the hallway.

“I don’t know what your deal is but pull yourself together, k? We cannot be late to flight simulation again,” Ferryn hissed. Ferryn made a quick left and an even quicker right. The place was a maze; every hallway looked the same- dirty metal walls and pale blue light. As they raced along, Verity felt more memories creeping back in and she suddenly remembered the directions to the flight simulation room. And the mess hall. And her dorm room.

It was a strange sensation- the feeling that she had lived on this ship her entire life and knew these halls inside and out while at the same time feeling like she was in a strange and confusing place, where nothing was familiar at all.

They had arrived at the door and took their paces in line, both breathing heavily.

Ferryn looked at her apprehensively. “You OK now?” she asked.

Verity nodded, trying to calm the butterflies in her stomach. “I’m good. I’m fine,” she said and offered a weak smile.

A group of smartly-dressed officers came down the hall, heads bent in discussion. The students automatically pressed themselves back against the wall to make way. One of the officers glanced up at Verity as he walked by and gave her a friendly grin.

“Hey sweetheart!” he said.

It was her father. Her father who had died when she was fourteen. Her dead father.

Verity felt the blood drain out of her face and her mouth drop open. She couldn’t utter a word. She wanted to run at him and hug him; she wanted to burst into tears of joy. But he was already at the corner, turning with the group of officers and heading out of sight. He had looked amazing- healthy and full of life, no sign of the heart disease that had killed him. Verity took in her breath with a loud gasp.

Ferryn hadn’t noticed her brief lapse; the door to the classroom had opened and students were filing in noisily. Verity took one last wistful glance back down the hall and then followed her friend.


Ferryn had found a seat on the aisle and waved Verity over.

“God, I hope we’re done with the foggy planet simulation. How can you shoot at something you can’t see?” Ferryn said under her breath.

The instructor was up at the front, rapidly typing on a large and complicated computer system. CB4500 Flight Simulator- released last year, Verity’s memory helpfully reminded her.


“Alright people, today we are moving on to harsh weather conditions,” said the instructor, with an authoritative voice. The class immediately quieted and focused on the large screen behind the him.

“In each simulation pod, you will encounter storms, lightning, winds, and possible volcanic eruptions- weather as you might encounter on a variety of planets in the system we are currently docked in. Now, I know some of you think you don’t need all this training, that you are already perfectly amazing pilots,” he glanced down at a group of young men who were sitting in the front row; they all shifted uncomfortably, “but listen closely- just because you know how to fly, doesn’t mean you know how to survive. Keep your complaints to yourself and show me what you are made of in the simulation pods,” he finished sharply.

I know how to fly a ship? Verity thought in amazement. Memory rushed in- the feel of her hands on the throttle, the years of pilot training aboard this very ship, the thrill of pulling a 360 in a tiny-but-powerful star fighter. I know how to fly! Verity’s thoughts concluded, a smile growing on her face. She suddenly wondered where Biron was, if he was hereon this ship, and if he was somewhere doing advanced science. She tried to search her memories for him but nothing popped up.

Ferryn nudged her and Verity realized that the students were all rising and moving toward a door set in the side of the room. This led to a hallway with endless doors lining each side: the simulation rooms. The students were shuffling around, each trying to find an empty pod. Suddenly, Verity was jostled hard from behind.

“Hey, be careful,” she said. She glanced back and froze- Jaret. He was here! He shot her an extremely dirty look and pushed past her without a word. She watched him go in bewilderment; what was wrong with him? He had acted like he hated her! Searching her memory, she saw that he had always disliked her, from the first moment they met in their very first training class. She felt her heart sink as she watched him duck into an empty simulation room.

Verity found an empty pod across from his and slipped in to the cockpit chair, buckling her straps tightly with ease. She found this room to be very familiar, mixed up again with that disconcerting feeling of total unfamiliarity. The screen came alive before her and the cockpit lights dimmed.

The simulated world in front of her was sharp and detailed, though the landscape was sporadically dimmed by clouds of flying dust; it was hard to believe it wasn’t real. Storms raged around her; her ship was pushed and shaken by the powerful winds. How on earth was she supposed to fly in this?


Verity: Chapter One, part one


Verity looked at the boy she loved and imagined all the different ways she could punch him in the face. As they were in Combat Training class, it was nothing personal. Also, he had no idea she loved him; to Jaret, she was just another classmate.

She narrowed her eyes and watched his shoulders as they circled one another on the mat. His deep brown eyes were focused on her face, waiting for the first hint of movement. She was glad she had tied her hair back; that had been her downfall the last time they had sparred. The long red strands had covered her eyes as she turned, temporarily blinding her, and that was all the opportunity Jaret had needed. Verity was determined to redeem herself this week.

Jaret made a few feinting movements and attempted a quick punch. Verity saw her opening and slipped under his arm, locking her arm across his strong chest and sweeping his legs with one of her own at the same time. Gravity lent a hand and he hit the mat with slap. Jaret looked up at her in surprise and then burst out laughing. Verity offered him a hand up, her face red from more than just exertion.

“Nice, Verity! That was so fast; I didn’t even see you coming,” Jaret said appreciatively.

Verity looked up, met his eye, and dropped her gaze to the floor. “Thanks,” she muttered.

He turned and walked off the mat. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she just look him in the eye and say something witty? Verity watched him packing up his bag, easily chatting with some of the other students. Until she could come out of her shell, this was going to be their sole method of communicating- sparring on the mat.

Well, that’s one way to get his hands on me, Verity thought practically. Sighing at that absurd but tempting line of thought, she grabbed her duffel and headed to the Shooting Gallery.


Remembering her last dismal failure in this room, she glanced up and across the room at the small paper target hanging from the metal rack. The weapons sat on the table in front of Verity, silently taunting her. Wiping her damp hands on her track pants, she finally selected a (xx). It was small and fitted her hand nicely, but she knew better; this gun was no friend of hers. Taking a deep breath, she readied herself, wrapped both hands tightly around the gun, and fired. And fired again. After the chamber had been emptied, she put the gun down and stared at her target in resignation.

“Jeez,Ver- what was that? Six shots? You’d think one of them would have hit the target,” snickered Ferryn from behind her.

Verity gave her best friend a droll look and stuck out her tongue. “I was aiming for the wall,” she said as her friend laughed.

Ferryn’s target, as usual, had six neat holes, all perfectly located in the center of the target. Verity and Ferryn headed towards the exit, dropping their earplugs in the trash and their goggles in the disinfecting box by the door.

“I hate this part of training,” sighed Verity. “I like the fighting part and the running part and I even like the logistics stuff. But the shooting? Ug.”

Ferryn laughed at the look on Verity’s face and nudged her with her shoulder. “Well, you can’t punch the bad guys if they’re flying around, now can you? Just keep trying- one day, it’ll just click and you’ll be good to go,” she said. “Hey, there’s Biron!”

Ferryn broke in to a jog and crossed the wide dirt patch in front of the Preventative Action Center, heading toward a familiar boy sitting in the shade under a prickly jacaranda tree. The air outside was thick and stifling.

When she finally reached her friends and had dropped on the hard ground beside them, Biron gave her a wink through his thick glasses. “How’d it go?” he asked, with some sympathy. He marked a page in his book and set it on top of his backpack.

“Great, as always,” answered Verity.

Biron nodded at her with understanding. “I don’t get why we have to do all this stupid training anyways. It’s not like we’re on the brink of war here. I mean, when was the last time we even had an encounter with something…you know- alien?”

Ferryn rolled her eyes at the topic, one that was frequently discussed by all teenagers enrolled in the Preventative Action Training Program, or PATP as it was called. Most of them were enticed into the program by the promise of class credits and early graduation, though some of them were conscripted from reform schools. Verity had learned quickly to avoid those recruits, as they were prone to swinging guns and punching instructors.

“Have you conveniently forgotten that huge crater in Russia? The one with a space ship at the bottom of it? Or what about that star-thing that flew over Uganda at Christmas last year?” Ferryn asked sarcastically. “If something’s coming, we gotta be ready, right?” She pulled her red bandana off of her head and attempted to wipe her hands clean. Her short brown hair was damp with sweat.

Biron looked at her patiently. “All that stuff was, like, four years ago. You know, in Star Trek humans manage to explore the stars and not interfere. It doesn’t have to be a fight.” His glasses slid down his nose a little and he pushed them back up.

“Biron! Star Trek isn’t real,” said Ferryn. “It’s not going to happen that way.”

“I know it isn’t real,” said Biron with some dignity. “I’m just saying, it would be nice if we could learn to use diplomacy first and not always use guns and fighting as our first option.”

Verity nodded. “He’s right, Fer. The next visitor that comes might just be a friendly one. They wouldn’t have let Space Station Two go up if there was a real threat, right?” She looked at Biron for back up.

“Definitely right,” he agreed. “I think it is so cool that we have a new space settlement! I want to go so bad.” He glanced over at his thick book; Verity saw it was titled Quantum Space Travel; The Road to the Stars.

The doors to the PA Center opened and kids started streaming out, some heading for the silver buses that went back to the reform schools and others walking across the dirt toward the gates of Hewitt City High School. Verity saw Jaret walking with a few of his friends. He glanced over, saw Verity watching him, and waved. She flushed but willed herself not to look at the ground as she waved back.

Biron, Ferryn, and Verity stood up, grabbed their duffels, and joined the mass heading toward the high school. The sun beat down on their heads relentlessly; under her duffel, Verity’s back was already damp with sweat.

Walking along with the crowd, Verity noticed that her hands were suddenly very cold- almost icy. She held up a hand as she walked, examining it with bewilderment. It looked normal enough but felt as though she had just plunged it into a bowl full of ice water. Her vision began to blur around the edges and a bright light swam up in front of her like a wave. Verity abruptly stopped walking and closed her eyes, her stomach nauseous.

* * *

When her stomach had stopped turning, Verity opened her eyes and looked around in shock. She was no longer on the dirt path leading to Hewitt City High School.. She was nowhere near where she had been. She was in some sort of hallway. The walls were made of curved metal; they were dirty and worn. The recessed overhead lights showered the hall in a cold blue light. People of all ages were rushing past her, all of them dressed in the same type of black jumpsuit; it looked remarkably like a flight suit, all covered in zippers and pockets. How on earth did she get here?

A familiar voice pulled her out of her reverie. “Ver, you coming? We don’t want to be late for the flight simulation.” Verity turned and, to her relief, saw Ferryn standing next to her. She was looking at Verity with concern.

“Ferryn, what’s going on? How did we…” Verity’s voice trailed off as she took in what Ferryn had said and saw that she, too, was wearing one of the black flight suits.

Verity backed up slowly until she was pressed against the cool curved metal wall. Something was very wrong- had she passed out on the walk to the high school? Was she dreaming? She stared at her friend-she had the same short messy brown hair and sarcastic voice, but apparently hadn’t noticed that their entire surroundings had just morphed into something completely different.

“Verity, are you going to barf or something? You don’t look so hot,” Ferryn said, her forehead creasing as she looked closer at Verity.


The Night at the Warehouse III

Lydia felt light-headed, partially due to the stifling air in the warehouse but mostly because of Ash’s insistent hands and lips. It was hard to form a coherent thought; all she knew was she needed some air right away.

It was too loud to try to explain this to Ash. Lydia tugged at his hand and motioned toward a side door that was propped open near the makeshift bar. The lights flashed on his face in a pulsing mix of reds and blues, making his eyes glowing and predatory. He nodded at her and pushed his way through the mass of bodies, Lydia following in his wake.

As they neared the bar, Lydia could see a crowd of young men around it. Empty shot glasses littered the particle-board counter; clearly these guys were in deep. Her eyes went to one particular guy, whose flushed face and wild eyes suggested a deep state of drunkenness. Like a sudden wind, Lydia’s dream came back to her in full force. The young man, driving. The family! How could she have forgotten a dream like that?

She pulled her hand from Ash’s and walked over to the young man. He was curled over on his bar stool, his wobbling head perched on his hand, and he was giggling like a school girl. Lydia shook her head in disgust and leaned close to him. “Give me your keys,” she said loudly, right in his ear.

He look up blearily, saw her glaring at him, and burst into giggles again. Lydia made an indignant huffing noise. How was she supposed to do this?

Ash touched her back. “Come on, Lydia- let’s get some air,” he yelled over the music.

“Hang on,” she said, waving her hand at him. “I need to do this.”

Leaning closer to her quarry, she said with more volume, “Give me your keys NOW!” The young man looked up at her from his bar stool, his eye crossing slightly, and promptly threw up all over her feet.

“Augggg!” Lydia yelped and immediately leaped back. It was too late- both her feet and the hem of her jeans were completely covered. The young man was still leaning over, his hand gripping the bar, as he contemplated finishing the job.

Ash pushed past her and went for the guy’s throat.  The bar, already precariously constructed, collapsed as the two men struggled. Bottles, glasses, and ice fell in a shattering mess that was hardly noticed by the swirling crowd on the dance floor. Ash jerked the man to his feet and slammed him up against the wall next to the bar, his other hand pressing against the guy’s sternum.The drunk guy’s eyes bugged out and he gagged, unable to get much breath past the iron grip of Ash’s hand.

Grimacing and trying to ignore the warm feeling on her feet, Lydia rushed over. The look in Ash’s eyes stopped her in her tracks. She expected him to be furious- after all, his date had just been barfed on- but instead of angry, Ash looked positively gleeful, as though he had just been given a much-desired gift. His nose was almost pressed against the young man’s and he was hissing what appeared to be a string of violent obscenities, all while grinning like a demented kid on Christmas. Lydia felt her stomach clench in fear; she had no idea what Ash was going to do next. Her head swam with a vision of Rafe magically appearing to save the day and she closed her eyes, wishing she were anywhere but in this warehouse. 

The Night at the Warehouse, II

Ash led Lydia along, pushing people aside as they moved through the crowd, until they reached the middle of the sweaty, pulsating mass. The music was so loud that Lydia had to yell in Ash’s ear to be heard.

“Now what?” she shouted, looking around. Arms, legs, and bodies jostled her from every side, leaving damp spots on her clothes. Her hair, already a wild tangle, was beginning to frizz from the dense humidity.

Ash leaned close and put his lips on her ear, his arms encircling her. She could feel his hips pressed against hers. “Now… we move,” he said.

A few months ago-  god was it really that recent?- Lydia had gone swing dancing with Oscar; learned to dance that night had felt awkward and confusing.

But now, here in this place, with Ash’s body crushed against her, Lydia finally understood what it meant to move without thinking. When Ash moved, her body responded and before she knew it, they were a part of the mass of movement that surrounded them.

When Ash’s lips found hers, Lydia didn’t pause or think; she let her body to the guiding and responded to him with reckless fervor.

The Night at the Warehouse

“Where exactly are we going?” Lydia asked Ash from the passenger seat of his car.

Though he didn’t look at her, the corners of his mouth lifted mischievously. “We are having an adventure, angel,” he answered. “No more questions- just enjoy the mystery.”

Lydia watched him as he concentrated on driving to… wherever they were going. Ash had driven out past the university and up into the sparsely-populated foothills that surrounded the valley of San Luis Obispo. There was nothing out here except the reservoir.

It was weird- when Lydia had first met Ash a few weeks ago, he had seemed kind of quiet and maybe even a bit shy. But every time Lydia was with Ash, it was like parts of that boy were slowly chipping away, revealing a fascinating and slightly wicked edge. He seemed to know more about the seedy underworld of her small town than any newcomer likely should. Lydia wondered how that could possibly be so.

Not that any of this worried her. No, she was enjoying every minute in Ash’s company. With her life falling to pieces around her, Ash felt very much like a ticket out.

When Lydia’s treacherous mind tried to turn to Oscar or Rebecca or… Rafe, she quickly shut it down. Better to focus on the compelling young man beside her.

Noticing her silence, Ash reached over and laced his fingers tightly through hers. His hand was warm, almost hot, and his touch went through Lydia like a stream of liquid lightning.

“You’re quiet,” Ash remarked lightly. “Nervous?”

“Not at all. Ready for all manner of things,” Lydia said carelessly.

“That’s good because we have arrived. Check it out,” Ash said with an air of expectation.

Lydia looked out into the obscurity of evening. Tucked into a nook in the rolling foothills was an old warehouse. Though it appeared unkempt, there was an abundance of light spilling out of the cracks that lined the windows and sliding loader doors. Cars were parked without order all over the dry earth that surrounded the building.

Lydia slowly exited Ash’s car and tugged her shirt into place. Tonight she had traded in her usual uniform of soft-but-boring T-shirts for a fitted black top with a low neck, something her mother had bought for her but that she had never worn before this night.

Ash’s eyes gleamed in the light as he eyed her appreciatively. He slid an arm tightly around her waist and they headed toward the doors. Lydia felt the deep throbbing of music in her stomach and wondered briefly if this was such a good idea. She didn’t really know Ash at all…

His hand lifted the edge of her shirt and his hand touched the skin of her waist, feather-light but full of promise. Lydia’s doubts dissolved almost as quick as they had formed, so thoroughly that a moment later she didn’t even recall what she had been nervous about. The warmth of his hand suffused her entire being with a heady sort of disregard.

Letting go of her for a moment, Ash leaned hard and  pulled the rusty sliding door open with a grunt of effort. Glaring, pulsing light and mind-numbing electronica music washed over them in a sensory avalanche.  Silhouetted against the lights were bodies dancing, sensuously and frantically grinding. The air was thick and steamy with sweat and energy.

“Come on- let’s play,” Ash said, tugging Lydia in with a grin. Pushing down her nerves, she allowed herself to be pulled into the abyss.


Prologue: Book One

The man walked up the trail, his feet shuffling in the dust. Though the hill was steep and the path rough, he hurried on as quickly as he could; his Master was waiting for him.

At this time of night- midnight- the trail was deserted. The moon was full, however, sharing its bright light with the lone man.

As he crested the top of the path, he looked around anxiously. Off to his right, sitting with his back to the man, was the Master. The figure on the rock was one of a slender young man, the outline of his hair tousled. As the man approached, the Master turned around slowly and gazed upon the man with a face devoid of expression. With a gasp, the man slunk to his knees with his head bowed and crawled the rest of the way, never daring to glance up.

“Master,” the man said breathlessly. “I’ve found them. They are near, about three hours from here.” Immediately he regretted his own stupidity. His Master did not think in hours.

He could hear his Master walking in slow circles around him. Dust from the movement swirled around his nose, making it tickle, and he held his breath; the Master would not like it if he sneezed.

“Have you found a way in?” the Master asked silkily, his voice just above a whisper. He continued to circle the prostate man as he spoke.

“Yes, yes, I think so,” the man said quickly, trying to sound confident. “I am conducting some experiments but I believe there are one or two ways.”

“Fine. Go to them. Use the tools I gave you. I will find you when the end is near,” the Master said. The power in his voice cause the man to curl into a tighter ball. He squeezed his eyes closed, hoping that this was not the time when the Master tired of him.

The footsteps abruptly ceased and silence settled over the area. Yet the man did not uncurl or even relax for a full five minutes. At last, the man opened one eye slightly and peered around. He let out his breath in a huff and sat up, trembling.

He was alone.Tasting iron in his mouth, he probed around with his tongue- his back top molar was loose and blood was leaking out of it, filling his mouth. He spat red onto the dirt at his feet, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

The man stood up quickly. He had a job to do and the Master would expect results.

It was time to begin.