Davey flopped onto her bed, stomach delightfully full. A wave of warmth washed over her as she crawled further onto the bed, her eyes closing before she could make it to the pillow. She knew that she should probably be making a plan to deal with what was happening with Carly, but there was still so much she didn’t know, and this body was so tired. She didn’t even bother getting undressed before she let herself drift off into a surprisingly peaceful sleep.
When she woke, the room was still lit by the glow of the chandelier. The numbers on the clock indicated it was not nearly time to wake up. Her first couple trips into a human body, she’d just allowed herself to get up if she woke during the night, not understanding the toll it would take on her body later in the day. Now, she allowed her bodies to sleep as long as they would allow. Sleep and hunger were the two sensations that made her feel the most human. She stumbled over to the wall, eyes barely open, and jammed down the switch to turn off the lights. She slipped down the zipper of her dress and let it fall to the floor. Her boots were too much trouble so she kept them on as she climbed back onto the bed. Sleep was just about to overtake her, when a bright white light broke through the fog.
She pulled the covers up around her eyes, blocking it out. She was sure that she’d turned off the light, but maybe that had been a dream. A really boring, mundane dream. She curled herself into a ball and pulled the blankets tighter. The skin of her arm brushed against the skin of her stomach. The fabric of her dress was gone, so that part hadn’t been a dream. As much as she wanted to just keep sleeping, a niggling at the back of her mind told her to the source of the light. She kept her eyes closed and tried to just drift away, but that no longer appeared to be an option. Davey slowly opened her eyes; the room was dark except for a glow coming from the end of the bed. Not overly bright, but in the darkness, it shone like a beacon.
“What the hell?” She muttered, crawling over to pull her purse from the bench at the end of the bed. When she pulled the top open, the light brightened noticeably. She blinked as she scrounged around inside the bag. There it was. The source of her sleep disruption. Her totem. The white cube glowed a steady, even white. It had never done this before. She quickly opened the case and pulled out the pulsing crystal. Settling it into her palm, she stared at the centre, where the light was brightest. This had never happened on an engagement before. She had no idea what to do. What she was supposed to be trying to access.
The longer she stared, the more the room around her began to fade. She felt the pull of the transport cocoon beginning to form around her. Her instincts were to pull away; she wasn’t ready to return yet. The job wasn’t done. She wasn’t even sure when or how Carly was supposed to die. She’d never been pulled from an assignment before. But in the end, she did the only thing she knew how to do and allowed herself to be drawn back to The Commune.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself seated in an assignment chair, but instead of her real body, she was still in Davey’s form. It felt foreign and wrong to be in this place in this body. She reached up a hand to brush back her hair, but her fingers dissolved into mist.
“You’re here only in projection.” A voice spoke from across the room. D looked up to see two people standing across the room from her. Their gold uniforms and eyes signaled the rank of Master Veil. D’s breath caught, or at least it would have if her body had been substantial. She’d never seen the Masters before. As they moved towards her, their gender neutral bodies seemed to slink across the room, rhythmic and purposeful, almost predatory.
“Why am I…? What is happening?” D’s voice was shaky. No one went before the Masters. No one.
“We need to speak to you regarding your engagement.” Their mouths didn’t move when they spoke, it felt more telepathic, but the one on the left crossed its arms over its chest, so D assumed that was who was speaking.
“Your interference has been detected.” The other chimed in as it paced slowly from one corner to the other.
“What do you mean, detected? There’s no way Carly could have figured this out. She would never jump to magical time traveling being.” D had no idea what they were trying to tell her.
“The Provenance have found you. Your assignment is more important than originally anticipated.” Neither Master looked at her when they spoke
“This world is no longer the same world to which you previously traveled. Your previous presence caused a ripple in the fabric of the future.” Its voice drifted.
“What are the Provenance?” D tried to catch up with their floaty musings. “And you’re damned right this world is different. What the hell are the Fenton and what are they doing to this planet?”
“The Fenton are not your concern. Your assignment does not include their involvement with the planet.”
“But they’re involved with what is supposed to happen to Carly. I don’t know exactly how, but they are.” D felt emotions beginning to overwhelm her. She wasn’t used to expressing herself like this in The Commune. Normally, her assignments were in and out, emotionless, without question. She did what she was assigned to do. When she returned home, all the human emotions were stripped away. That was how it worked, but right now, she was so confused she couldn’t seem to pull her emotions together.
“You will not interfere with the Fenton. You will complete your mission as quickly as possible, and extract yourself before the Provenance finds you.”
“What are you talking about!?” D’s astral figure stood. She wound her hands over her almost naked body, suddenly realizing that she was in the bra and panties and boots she crawled into bed in. “What the hell is the Provenance?”
“The Provenance is the opponent of The Commune. They ensure the path of Fate stays true. If they figure out who you are, they will try to inject themselves into your assignment. They will try to destroy you.”
“Why haven’t we encountered them before? Our job is to derail theirs.”
“Your assignments have short timelines to avoid detection. You need to be in and out before the Provenance realize what we are doing.” One of the gold suits responded.
“We have been at odds for centuries.” The other mused.
“Why don’t the Veils know about them?” D could not wrap her head around the idea of an entire collective of people meant to do exactly the opposite of what she was doing. “Why aren’t we taught about them from the beginning so we can look out for them?”
“Your role is to complete your engagement. You are not meant to contradict the Masters. We ensure that you have the tools you need to complete your assignments as quickly as possible.” The pacing Master continued to move back and forth across the room.
“Your previous involvement with the Perkins girl was completed with efficiency. We believed you could perform an extended stay for this task without drawing their attention.” The other’s voice continued the thought as if they were the same person.
“But it is not to be. You have already raised alarm bells.”
“You must accelerate your current pace.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Carly is supposed to die, and I’m supposed to save her. How can I do that before her life is in danger?”
“Your old friend is sad and lonely and devoid of emotion. Her life is at risk not from external factors, but internal.”
“She’s going to kill herself?” D felt her chest tighten.
“You must deflect her from her current path. Convince her that taking her own life is not a viable solution. That she will only cause more suffering if she chooses that path.”
“You must do this before the Provenance ensures her death.”
“Can they cause her death through other means? Can they make it accidental?”
“Accidental death changes the future as distinctly as living.”
“Her death must proceed by her own hands for the Provenance to achieve their goals.”
“When you return, use your skills to change her mind about her future.”
“And if you cannot,” The Master rubbed a gold finger along the expanse of its arm, “You will ensure that she dies by accidental means. She must not be allowed to take her own life.”
D attempted to speak, but the room was fading as the blanket of transport settled over her again. The Masters were done with her. She was no longer welcome in their presence. When she roused herself from the return to her body, she found herself standing beside her bed, hand held out in front of her, holding the now clear snowflake.
She slipped it back into its box. Fully awake, she unlaced the tall boots and pulled them from her feet. The release from the binding leather was like a wave of relief. She took the moment to savour the simple feeling and wandered across the room to hang her purse from the hook on the wall. The information about Carly and the Provenance battled for control, weaving and overlapping and creating havoc where normally she felt only complete calm and rationality.
She stepped to the window and pulled back the curtain. Nighttime had fallen over the Parks. The streetlights dimmed to a mere flicker. Ropes of twinkling lights wound through trees and bushes. Not a soul walked the streets, but Davey had no doubt that there were more soldiers like the guard at the gate hidden in the shadows in case anyone stepped out of line. Just beyond the lights of the Parks was the dull grey light of the Dry Zone. Dim and uninviting. Even the colour of the sky seemed to change at the borderline. Davey leaned against the window, her forehead resting on the glass. She had no idea how to begin to convince Carly not to kill herself. She felt unsettled like she’d never experienced before.
Her eyes flickered as she began to lose the fight with the sleep her body so desperately needed. She crawled back into the bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. She’d deal with the specifics in the morning. It was pointless to panic until she had more time to think about the details.
***** ***** *****
Davey stood before the plain, grey door, her hand poised in the air. She took a deep breath and let her knuckles fall against the metal in rapid succession. Her vibrant blue dress with its white petticoats and smock looked so out of place in this neighbourhood. She waited a few seconds before knocking again.
The knob turned and Carly pulled open the door. She wore essentially the same outfit she’d had on the day before, except this sweater was white and less raggedy, and her skirt skimmed her knees instead of the floor. The legs that stuck out from the bottom of the fabric were so thin they didn’t look like they could hold her up for long.
“Davey? What are you doing here?” Carly sighed, her lips twitching into something resembling a smile.
“When are you allowed back in the Parks? You’re allowed in at certain times of day, right? You were there with me yesterday, so it must work somehow.”
“From noon to sunset when accompanied by a Parks’ resident. Or working. Dries are allows to work in the Parks. Someone has to clean up their crap.”
“Good!” Davey grabbed her friend’s hand and pulled her through the door. “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Carly reached behind her to grab her satchel before allowing Davey to drag her down the walkway.
“We’re going to go experience something good. You’re far too sad for my liking, my friend.”
The two girls headed down the thoroughfare. Davey skipping. Carly meandering. She looked like the saddest girl on the planet. Her steps were short and dragging. Her hair hung just as lank and heavy as it had the previous day. But, her head was lifted just a little bit higher. Just a tiny smidge. They reached the same entrance into the downtown area that Davey had entered through the night before. She glanced to the side and immediately noticed the booth hidden amongst the trees, so well camouflaged that only those looking for it would notice it. If there was someone inside, they didn’t make themselves known.
“What are we doing, Davey?” Carly followed along, one hand picking at the other.
“You’ll see. It’s going to be delicious.” She took her friend’s hand in her own, forcing her to stop the nervous habit. They walked until they reached the big windows looking into the bakery. Inside, she could see Sinder’s fluffy white head bent over as she filled the display case. “Have you ever been here?” Davey glanced at Carly, who simply shot back a skeptical glance. “Okay, stupid question, but you never know.”
“This place hasn’t been here long. I think it opened like a week or two ago. I briefly thought about getting a job here.”
“You should totally work here. Wait until you taste this stuff. And the girl that works here is really nice.”
“How do you know all of this? You’ve been here one day.” Cary raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms to hug herself.
“I had a lot of hours last night with no one to hang out with and other people to avoid.” Davey pushed open the door and the wave of scent rushed out to meet them. “You have to promise me you’ll eat something while we’re in here.”
“I don’t know, Davey. Maybe. It does smell good.” Carly smiled a tiny grin and followed her friend into the bakery. “But I can’t afford anything in this place.” She said quietly.
“Don’t be ridiculous. This is my treat.”
Sinder looked up from behind the counter and smiled at Davey. Her grin faltered when she saw the girl standing in the doorway. But she quickly wiped the expression from her face and replaced it with a happy grin. Today, her dress was a beautiful deep green. It made the yellow apron look like the flowers dotting the gardens across the Parks.
“Didn’t get enough of this yesterday?” Sinder placed two mugs on the machine behind the counter and filled them with the thick black liquid. Davey pulled Carly over to the glass so they could inspect the delicious goodies inside.
“What would you ladies like?” Sinder clicked her tongs together expectantly.
“I’d just like something small, please.” Carly glanced towards the case. “Maybe one of those squares on the top shelf.” Sinder picked up the delicate pastry, making sure not to knock off any of the pulled sugar vines curling around the outside. She placed it on a delicate yellow plate and handed it and the mug to Carly.
“There’s a free table over there.” Sinder smiled and nodded towards the far wall. There were other tables, but Carly made no objection.
“Give me one of those, one of those and two of those amazing cookies, Sinder.” Davey pointed out the items she wanted. “I’d also like to sit closer to the windows.”
“And I’d love to let you,” Sinder began stacking plates with Davey’s food, “But there are rules, and while I’m allowed to let Dries in, I’m not allowed to let them near the windows. It drives away business.”
“And that’s the big concern? The other customers?” Davey picked up her tray.
“If they implement a punishment, it’s not just you and I that will have to endure it, Davey.” She tilted her head towards where Carly was sitting in the corner. “And that girl doesn’t look like she can take much more.”
Davey sighed with resignation and headed to the table at the back. She couldn’t afford to put Carly in any more danger. To make her feel any worse. She settled into the chair across from her friend and took a bite out of a large fluffy dough ball dripping with chocolate sauce.