Chapter 13 – Salt Water

Davey pushed herself out of the chair and walked out of the room. Her fingers grasped the lock on the front door and deftly flipped it open. The tiny bells jingled their happy tinkle as she rushed out onto the busy street. Davey inhaled the clean, clear air and rushed down the sidewalk. Ignoring angry stares she pushed by people. When she reached the door of the hotel, she burst through before the doorman could open it for her.

“Ms. Nesbitt,” He nodded at her, “Is everything alright?”

“I’m fine.” She nodded and hurried forward, “Oh, I’ve lost my bag. Could you send someone up to open my room?” She called back over her shoulder.

“Of course, right away.” He nodded.

When Davey finally made it into her room, she threw herself onto the bed and felt hot tears build behind her eyelids. She didn’t cry. Ever. Unless it was a tool to accomplish a goal. Veils never got emotionally involved in engagements. In fact, Veils didn’t feel strong emotions at all. Davey couldn’t figure out what she was supposed to do. What she should say. Who she was even supposed to talk to. She tried to regain her composure, but couldn’t. She couldn’t pull herself together. The tears spilled down onto her cheeks. A sob caught in her throat before it hiccupped out. Pain spread through her chest as it began to heave.

A knock sounded at the door followed by a quiet, “Damhnait…? Davey, please answer the door.” Ajay’s voice filtered through the wood. “Please. We didn’t mean to upset you.”

Davey pushed herself off the end of the bed. She dragged her feet along the carpet, stopping when she reached the ornate door. She rested her head against the wood, not sure she wanted to answer. Not entirely sure she didn’t.

“Please, Damhnait.” His voice was quieter now. If she hadn’t been leaning against the door, she wouldn’t have heard it.

Her fingers found the knob and twisted. The latch clicked as she released the door from its jamb. She didn’t open it any further. She simply released it and walked away, unsure if she was ready to see him. The tears were still flowing from her eyes as she settled into the big armchair in the sitting room. She avoided the bedroom. Not wanting to confront that betrayal along with everything else that was being pushed on her. She stopped in front of one of the windows, staring out at the square. Pictures of the two very different versions of the town she’d been shown flashed across her vision.

“Damhnait,” Ajay stepped into the room behind her, no longer in his uniform, and dropped the bags she’d left in the bakery onto the table in the corner. “I don’t know how to do this.”

“You seemed to know exactly what you were doing earlier.” Davey crossed her arms over her chest and continued to stare out the window. She couldn’t seem to stop the tears, but no longer wanted to try. “Distracting me just like I was warned you would. And I fell for it. Believed you were interested in me. But you were just doing your job and pumping me for information. Keeping me from achieving my objective.”

“That’s not what it was.” His voice was close now. “It was how it started. My job was to get close enough to you to find out how much you knew about us. Then I met you. I met you and realized that you were different from than any other Veil I’ve encountered.”

“You’ve met other Veils? Did they know what you were?” Davey turned away from the window, curiosity getting the better of her.

“No, never. We’ve never revealed ourselves before. To any Veil. This situation is completely unprecedented, Damhnait.” Ajay stared down at her.

“Then why now? Why to me?”

“You’re not like other Veils. You have depth. You feel like a real person, not just an empty shell filled with a two dimensional persona read from a sheet of paper.”

“I am a real person, Ajay.” Davey squeezed passed him and settled into one of the armchairs, “Whether I’m D, or Davey, or Delores or whoever, I am a person.”

“Are you telling me that this posting doesn’t feel different? That every job you work feels like this?” Ajay settled into a chair across from her.

Davey was silent for a moment. She should hate this guy. She should be running as fast as possible to contact the Masters, telling them that she’d been compromised. But that didn’t feel right either. “No, it’s not the same. Nothing here feels like it’s supposed to. Nothing at all.”

“Why?” Ajay leaned forward, elbows on his knees.

“I feel like… like I’m settling into this persona. Not just as a job, but as a life. This feels like me.” Davey rubbed her eyebrows. “It feels right. Like I don’t want to go back to the Commune when this is done. I don’t want to give up who I am in this body.”

“And you’re attached to Carly. More than as a means to an end.”

“Yes. She feels like my friend. She’s feels important. And that makes what you showed me earlier… it just makes everything so much harder. How am I supposed to let her kill herself, Ajay?”

“There’s more going on here than you realize. The future depends on more than just Carly’s actions. It depends on yours.”

“I realize that, Ajay. If I do my job the future changes.”

“Not just that, Damhnait. You don’t see it yet, but you have a role to play in saving this planet. Being placed here, in this place at this time, is part of your fate.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Davey ran her fingers through her hair. She’d never been as confused as she was at this very moment. “Travelers don’t have fates. That’s what makes us perfect for our jobs.”

“What do you remember from before you were a Veil?” Ajay’s asked curiously.

“Nothing.” Davey wrinkled her forehead, “I’ve always been a Veil. It’s not like it’s something we’re hired into. There isn’t a job posting and an interview.”

“It’s not something you’re born into either.” Ajay pushed himself out of his chair. “You’re at a sort of crossroads.”

“I don’t know what you mean!” Davey replied louder than she meant to, feeling frustrated and desperate. “Why can’t you just lay it all out for me? Explain what you damn well mean, Ajay!” She threw herself at him, pounding her fists against his chest.

“I’m not allowed,” Ajay did nothing to stop her fists from slamming into him. “If I could, I would tell you everything, but this has to be your choice. We’ve given you the information you need, but all decisions are yours to make.”

Davey let her fists drop to her sides and rested her head against his chest. Ajay wrapped his arms around her and let her cry. Davey felt her shoulders shaking as she tried to process. She didn’t want to think about anything right now. Nothing at all. On the table across the room, Davey noticed a faint white pulsing coming from the purse on the table. She knew it was the Masters trying to recall her. Things were so out of control, she knew they were going to pull her from the assignment. And she knew she couldn’t, wouldn’t, leave.

“They’re trying to pull me back.” Davey looked up into those deep hazel eyes. “I don’t know why they don’t just do it.”

“It’s me.” Ajay shrugged.

“The all powerful Ajay?” Davie raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“No. The Provenance. We have the ability to cloak our presence. It’s how we’re able to do our jobs. We can also extend that protection to others, if we choose.”

“Why don’t you just cloak the towns you’re in to keep us away entirely?”

“That would draw attention to places your masters might not otherwise notice. Someone has to be incredibly important for us to cloak them.”

“And you’re cloaking me?” Davie looked surprised.

“Of course I am.”

“Cause I’m important to your mission.”

Ajay’s thumb brushed along her cheek, wiping tears away. A gentle smile touched his lips and he nodded.

“And they can’t see anything we’re doing?” Davey whispered.

“Nope.”

She wrapped her arms around Ajay’s neck and pulled herself to him. Her lips crushed his in desperation. This wasn’t about romance. This was about need. The need to distract herself from everything. To not have to think for a little while. Ajay’s hands found her waist and pulled her close. Damhnait toed off her boots as her fingers worked their way under his sweater. She pushed up until he had to step back and allow her to pull it over his head. The light brown skin of his chest gleamed in the light filtering in from the window. The defined muscles rippled under her fingers.

Tears continued to fall from her eyes in a slow, steady stream. She couldn’t get control of these emotions. This body wanted to crumple. She wanted to let herself fall apart. As Ajay gripped her hips, Davey forced her emotions to follow the sensations created by the feel of his fingers digging into her skin. She adjusted her hands around his shoulders and vaulted herself up so her legs wrapped around his hips.

“I want you so badly.” His voice was hot against her ear, his teeth grazing the lobe. “But I remember what you said.”

Davey allowed him to hold her in place as she pulled her sweater over her head and let it fall to the floor. She leaned back as his lips trailed across her collarbone. Her breath caught as heat and moisture explored new territory. Her eyes drifted back to her pulsating purse. “Forget what I said and just make me forget that I have to make this decision, okay?”

“If you insist.” His voice was so low, she almost didn’t hear him. Ajay carried her to the bedroom. When he crossed the threshold, Davey pushed the door closed gently behind them, blocking out the pulsing beacon calling her home. Taking her first real step away from the Commune.

 

Davey stared at the ceiling, her head cushioned by the fluffy pillow. She crossed her fingers over her stomach and thought about how drastically her life was changing. She glanced towards the closed door, thinking about how frantically the light from the Commune must be flashing now.

“How are you feeling?” Ajay’s voice was soft, trying not to be intrusive.

“Confused.” Davey felt less frantic than she had before. She turned and smiled at him. “More relaxed though.”

“I’m glad. I wasn’t sure you were ever going to stop crying.” Ajay reached over and brushed her hair back from her face.

“You have some useful skills.” Davey nestled into her pillow. “But now I need you to go.” She said gently.

He nodded. “I’m more than a distraction, Damhnait. I’m a resource. If you need any help making this decision, or understanding what’s going on, just give me a call, okay?”

“You can take calls inside the soldier factory?” Davey raised an eyebrow, surprised how much freedom Ajay appeared to have for a Fenton soldier.

“Oh no. Not at all. There aren’t even phones inside the facility.”

“Then I’m just going to call your name into the wind and you’ll hear me?” She grinned and swung her legs over the edge of the bed.

“I keep a phone at Sinder’s.” He chuckled and grabbed his pant. “Although, I wouldn’t mind seeing you running down the street, yelling my name.”

“That wouldn’t draw any undue attention at all.” Davey laughed and pulled one of her dresses from the closet. If she couldn’t wear it outside, at least she could wear it while she was holed up in her room.

“I’ll leave my number on the table.” Ajay called as he wandered into the sitting room to find his discarded sweater.

“Ajay,” Davey called as she slid the zipper on her dress into place and followed him into the other room.

“Yes, Damhnait.” His voice was muffled by his shirt as he pulled it over his head.

“Thank you.” She followed him into the room,

“You’re welcome.” He shifted his gaze back to the bedroom.

“Not for that!” She swatted his arm. “I mean, thank you for showing me what’s going on. It makes me feel a little less crazy.”

“Less crazy?”

“I was starting to think that there was something wrong with me. That I was seeing things in this assignment that weren’t actually true, but then you and Sinder showed me that stuff, and now I know. I’m good at my job. I couldn’t figure out why this one was messing me up so much.”

He smiled and headed towards the door. “Remember, when you need…”

“I will.” She stepped up to him, resting her hand on his arm and rising up on her toes. She placed her lips gently against his cheek and inhaled his musky smell. She pulled away and smiled. “Now go away.” She shooed him towards the door. Ajay grinned as he turned the knob to let himself out of the room and swung the door open. Standing on the other side, fist raised in the air, was a tall girl with short, bleached blond hair and big, dark brown eyes.

“Hello,” Ajay started, “Can I help you?”

“Um, yes, I think I have the right room. I’m looking for an old friend of mine.”

“And who’s that?” Ajay had positioned himself in front of Davey, blocking her from the girl at the door.

“Davey Nesbitt.”

“I’m right here.” Davey placed her hand on Ajay’s shoulder. The girl tilted her head to the side and smiled. Davey knew instantly that it was M. “Hey there!” She grinned and playfully shoved Ajay aside. “Come on in. I’m just going to say goodbye and I’ll be right back.” She hugged M and stepped into the hallway with Ajay.

“What’s going on, Damhnait?” Ajay glanced towards the closed door as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close so they could talk quietly.

“That’s M.” Davey kept her voice low, “She’s my closest friend in the Commune.”

“What’s she doing here?” He brushed his lips against her ear to continue the illusion of romance.

“I ignored a summons. I think they’ve sent her to figure out what I’m up to.” Davey ran her fingers through his hair, “And to take me home.”

“Do you need me to stay? Or to ask Sinder to come? She’s more powerful than I am.”

“No. I’ll take care of it.” She looked into his concerned eyes. “Don’t worry about me, Ajay. I’m older than I look. And regardless of what you saw earlier, I’m usually pretty collected.” She kissed him, took a deep breath, and let herself back in her room. There was no time like the present to make things even more complicated.

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Chapter 12 – Visions

Davey startled at the use of her Commune moniker. How could these two possibly know? Even contemplate the truth? Davey couldn’t pull her thoughts together. “By the Holy Mother Eternia, what is going on?” D slipped back into the language of the Commune. No one on this planet should even know who Eternia was, but neither Ajay or Sinder looked surprised.

“I may not have been entirely forthcoming last time we talked.” Ajay shifted nervously.

“I guess not.” Davey crossed her arms defensively over her chest. “How do you know each other? Why did you call me D? What were you arguing about?” She stepped towards Ajay, forcing him to step back against the display case. The delicious cookie crushed in her fingers as she formed an involuntary fist.

“We can’t talk here. There’s too much to explain.” Sinder started towards the back room.

“I want answers.” Davey stood her ground. Hiding how off balance she felt. “And I want them now.”

“Davey, this is important.” Sinder’s face was still soft and gentle, but completely resolved.

“I’ve noticed, but since it’s entirely possible that you’re going to take me back there and hand me over to the Fenton, can I at least have something to drink first?” Even as she said it, Davey knew she didn’t believe it. In her gut, she trusted Sinder and Ajay. But she wasn’t about to let them know that right away.

Sinder chuckled and stepped behind the counter. “I suppose I can make that happen.” While she filled the cups and loaded a tray with goodies, Ajay pulled the blinds on the window and lit up the closed sign. They led Davey to a small staff area set behind the back wall. They settled into their seats and waited, staring at each other over the rims of their drinks.

“Who are you guys?” Davey finally asked, breaking the silence.

“A baker and a soldier.” Sinder answered, watching her closely.

“And I’m a seventeen year old high school student.” Davey nodded “You know that’s not what I mean”

“Then, what do you mean?” The blonde’s sunny disposition did nothing to hide her intensity.

“Stop testing her, Sinder.” Ajay sighed. “She’s smart enough to know that something here isn’t normal. She is an Interloper after all.”

“A what?” Davey crinkled her forehead, unsure if she’d just been insulted or if she was wrong about them knowing what she was.

“I guess you guys call yourselves Travelers, don’t you?” Ajay nodded, “Our name for you isn’t as pleasant.”

“How the hell do you know that?” Davey stopped trying to be evasive. “Who are you?” She asked again. When neither of them answered, she crossed arms and stared at them. “Drat! Are you guys part of the Provenance?” The look they shot each other told her she was right.

“How do you know about us?” Sinder asked, her soft voice carrying an authority no one could ignore. “Do they teach you about us?”

“No.” Davey hesitated. She didn’t know enough about what was going on to know what she should be sharing. “I was just told about you for this assignment. I was warned you would try to distract me from my assignment. In fact, that warning came the same night I met both of you.” She glanced towards Ajay and thought about their morning in bed. “I guess I should have listened. God, I’m stupid!” She shook her head and reached for a chocolate danish. “You are very good at your job, Ajay.”

“Last night wasn’t supposed to be a distraction.” Ajay muttered into his cup. “It was supposed to be a way to test your… accessibility, I guess.”

“It was a test? You were testing me?” Davey was furious.

“Not testing you. More like checking to see if you might be different from the other Veils. If we could maybe approach you.” Ajay brushed his hand along his beard.

“We were unaware that you knew about us.” Sinder tapped her fingers against the ceramic mug.

“You guys clearly know about us.” Davey picked at the pastry in her hand, suddenly seeing it as part of the distraction that was being created to stop her. “Why would it be so odd for us to know about you?”

“Our job is to stop you, so yes, we know about you. At least our division does.” Sinder explained. “That’s why we’re revealing ourselves to you now.”

“You’re revealing yourselves because I caught you together.”

“We could have come up with an excuse, but we need you to know that what you’re doing is wrong.”

“You’re going to try to convince me that the wrong thing to do is to help my amazing friend feel better. To make her life better. And the right thing to do is let her end her own life? To just sit back and let her die? That’s the right thing to do?” Davey shook her head.

“It is, Davey. It really is.” Sinder leaned forward emphatically. “How much information are you given when you go on your assignments? Information about the future you’re changing. Not information about what you’re supposed to do, but why you’re doing it.”

“None. We’re just told what to do. It must be important if the Masters are willing to step in and go to the effort of changing the future.”

“Can I show you something?” Sinder asked, leaning across the table.

“What kind of something?” Davey asked skeptically.

“Something about Carly.” Ajay leaned forward reassuringly. “We’re not here to hurt you, Damhnait. I think you’re just doing your job. Just doing what you’re told is right. But, you don’t have all the information. You need to know everything. This is very important.”

Davey paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “Okay,” she sighed, “Go ahead.”

Sinder pulled the long gold chain from around her neck and removed the golden ball that was held in the delicate claws. From the pocket of her apron, she pulled out a short green rod. The interior was filled with a thick, silvery liquid barely visible through the darkened glass. Sinder slid it into the now vacant pendant and held it out to Davey. “Put this around your neck and concentrate.”

Davey took the delicate chain and glanced between the beautiful girl who made perfect food and the boy who had awakened senses she wasn’t aware she had. Her hands slowly rose until she was able to slip the golden thread around her neck. As the pendant settled against the skin of her chest, she felt a wave of heat rush through her body. It was a pulling feeling, not unlike the experience of accepting a new persona at the Commune. The sensation was strong. It pulled her along, regardless of her own desires.

“Fate is created for a reason, Davey. The chain of events sets the future in motion.” She heard Sinder’s musical voice fade away as the room around her changed. “You need to know what you’re changing.”

No longer was she sitting in the break room of the bakery. Now, Davey was standing in a room she’d never seen, standing over Carly’s lifeless body. Not as a participant but an observer. She tried calling out to her friend, but no sound escaped her lips. Then Davey saw herself burst through the closed bedroom door. Her familiar red hair flying behind her as she dropped to the floor, skidding in the puddle of blood on the floor. She grabbed Carly’s wrists, gripping them tight. Her lips formed a soundless scream. Carly’s parents burst into the room as Davey wrapped fabric around the cuts. Carly’s father grabbed his daughter and ran from the room.

The scene dissolved, swirled and settled into a hospital room, Carly sitting up in bed, smiling her wan smile. The depression still sitting behind her eyes. The room was empty. Davey knew that her assignment was complete by this point and she would have returned to the Commune, once again abandoning her friend in the hospital. Alone, waiting for her best friend to appear in the doorway. When no one appeared, she was once more reassured that she was worthless. Carly glanced towards the door, hearing something in the audio Davey wasn’t privy to. A figure walked through the door. A tall figure the burgundy and black uniform, with long gloved fingers and deep black eyes set behind the facemask of the Hoejiim.

Carly’s eyes widened as the leader of the Fenton began to speak. To offer her something. Davey couldn’t hear the words, but she knew what was being said. The offer to become a soldier. To remove the pain and anguish and accept a better life for her and her family. Watching, Davey knew Carly would refuse. She was stronger than anyone knew. She’d lived through this; she could get through anything. But Carly shut her eyes for a few moments while she thought. Shut her eyes and fingered the bandages on her wrist. She glanced towards the door and back at the Hoejiim. She asked a question. Davey watched her name form on her friend’s lips. When the leader shook its head, Carly swallowed and nodded. They shook hands, sealing the deal.

Once again the scene changed, flashed quickly through images of Carly being given her uniform, receiving her assignment, falling comfortably into the role of a soldier. When it settled again, it was on the image of a Wave. The burgundy uniform blocking out the always blank expressions. Except this soldier had a smile that spread across the exposed mouth. A smile of pure joy. The lips stretched out below the facemask were distinctly female. On the ground below her was a girl. A broken, beaten girl in her mid-twenties. Even through the matted hair and the bruised and battered skin, Davey recognized Joy. No longer the girl who ran everything. Now she was simply another fuel source for the Fenton.

The Wave lowered the Shockwave. Held it there as Joy’s body bucked and twisted. Held it there long after the body had stopped fighting. The Wave reached down and grabbed the unconscious girl’s arm. Dragging her unceremoniously across the floor, she pushed through a door into a room containing one of the large glass cases Davey had seen in the parade. She couldn’t remember what Ajay had told her it was called. That bothered her for a moment as she watched the Wave strap Joy’s lifeless body into the mechanism and turn it on. As the particles began to pull from under the skin, the Wave’s smile grew. Carly peeled off her mask and watched as her former tormentor finally got what she deserved.

Now Wave-Carly was walking down the street of Faulery Valley, stepping up to take her place in line for the Dedication Day parade. She stood in the front line, taking her spot in the centre. The town had changed. Instead of happy spectators and colourful lights and banners that used to fill the town on parade day, the streets were dull and grey. Everyone stood along the streets, waiting. Waiting for their lives to be taken from them by these people. Her expression was joyful as she pulled her facemask down and let the smile fall from her face. She stomped her foot and glanced at the people around her. The others fell in line quickly. Eyes darting to her. Nervous and expectant. Some looked almost scared. The soldiers began to march in silent unison as the scene dissolved.

Now Carly stood in a room. A room filled with darkness and an overwhelming weight of power. It felt almost crushing. In the dark black chair, the Hoejiim sat, staring at the girl. Gone was the scared, timid girl that had tried to take her own life so many years ago. Now, now she stood ramrod straight, defying anyone who challenged her. Her eyes were glazed with the knowledge that she would never have to be scared again. Now she was the one that inflicted that pain, brought retribution to those that disobeyed.

The Hoejiim peeled back the fitted faceplate, revealing a wizened white face, wrinkled with time. The black eyes peered into Carly’s. A silent discussion was taking place. Carly nodded and reached forward to take the leader’s hand. Carly bowed her head and stepped behind a small screen. When she came back, she was no longer in the uniform of the Wave. Now she wore the uniform of the Hoejiim. She accepted the faceplate and took her seat in the throne. She closed her eyes, twisted her neck to release tension and pulled the mask into place. She opened her eyes when it fell into place and the delicate green that Davey had known was gone, replaced by the dark black pits of the Hoejiim.

Davey yanked the necklace from her skin. Pulled it away, dragging herself out of the throne room and back into the break room of the bakery. She threw the pendant to the table like it burned. Her soul screamed as she replayed the images in her head. The horrible image of her friend becoming the leader of the evil on this planet. The image of her torturing that girl. Knowing all the things that must have happened in between those events.

“What the hell was that?” Davey hugged herself.

“That is the future you are trying to guarantee. The path of things to come if you continue to insist on saving Carly’s life.

“That’s not true. It can’t be.” Davey insisted, “My dear, sweet, broken friend could never become that… that horrible… thing. She could never treat people that way. She wouldn’t…”

“She wouldn’t? She wouldn’t accept an outlet for her pain when her very best friend abandoned her for the second time? She wouldn’t want to get back at the girls who ruined her life?”

“What’s to say her life would be better if I didn’t step in? How would the world be better if that poor girl died?”

Sinder removed the glass rod from the pendant and handed the empty case over to Ajay. He reached into the pocket of his uniform and pulled out an identical glass rod, but this time it was yellow instead of green. He slid it into the vacated claws and stepped towards Davey. She stiffened as he reached forward to slide it over her head. He paused for a moment and looked her straight in the eyes.

“We’re not trying to hurt you, Damhnait. We’re trying to show you the consequences of your actions. This one event in this seemingly insignificant girl’s life changes the entire future of this planet.”

As the yellow pendant touched her skin, a wave of calm, soothing heat washed over her. Delicate and inviting. She wanted to follow it. Once again the room around her dissolved. This time, the image that appeared was of a funeral. Carly’s family gathered around her casket. The ceremony small and insignificant. The only people there were her parents and her sister. Only seven years old, the girl stood beside the plain wood box. Her fingers settled against the rough top. The officiant was from the Dry Zone, skin as ashen and pale as the rest of the rest if the community. The ceremony was short. Started and finished in the span of the vision. As the adults walked away, Bridgette’s fingers gripped the side of her sister’s coffin. Her eyes filled with tears she couldn’t cry. Her soul as empty and void as Carly’s had been towards the end of her life.

Bridgette sat in the back of her closet in her room. On the floor, knees hugged to her chest in a posture Davey’s persona knew only too well. She’d done it so many times hiding from her parents. The girl was now in her early teens. In her hand was a crumpled sheet of paper. Dirty with time and use. Bridgette listened to the silence in the house around her and pulled a sweater to her face. She inhaled and wrapped it in her arms. As she pulled it close, Davey saw the familiar yellow canary stitched into the front. Bridgette flattened the paper and stared at the tight, tiny script across the page. A suicide note from Carly. A letter to her sister explaining that the action of the Fenton had driven her to her death. Bridgette’s face set into a hard, angry mask as she re-read the letter and the scene faded out.

Images flashed forward, ideas Davey couldn’t quite follow or place. Soldiers, secret meetings, back alley hand offs. Bridgette building an army of rebels.

Bridgette appeared as a woman now, dressed in the dark uniform of the soldiers. She typed a code into a panel and let herself in the backdoor of the facility. She made her way unnoticed through the corridors. The images flashed quickly now as Bridgette allowed other people into the hallways. They scurried through the corridors disarming soldiers and machinery. The last room they entered was the most important room. Bridgette led the charge, taking the first swing at the glass. They destroyed the machine quickly, pulling apart the animal that fed the Fenton. The final swing was taken at the Hoejiim, still seated in the throne of power, braced there earlier by rebels placed inside the system. Bridgette swung the axe she’d brought along with her. The sharpened blade slicing through the skin of its neck quickly and easily. Bridgette stared down at the head as it lolled on the floor, the face still covered by the faceplate. She unzipped the stolen soldier’s uniform and pulled the fabric from her body. The canary sweater wrapped around her like a second skin. Retribution for her sister finally achieved.

The image changed again. The picture of Faulery Valley emerged, changed. It was once again the town that Davey remembered from her childhood. Colourful and bright without the division or technicolour of the Parks Zone version of the Valley. A feeling of contentment blanketed the community.

Davey felt the image dissolve as the necklace was lifted back over her head, returning her to the smells of the bakery. She remained in her chair, not saying anything. Not sure what to say. Not sure how to resolve the two diametrically opposed images she’d just seen. “Carly’s death is the only thing that saves this town, isn’t it?” She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.

“It is.” Sinder’s voice was smooth and calm as she slid a cup of steaming liquid towards Davey. “And her life is its destruction.”

Chapter 11 – Masterful

Davey stood on the front stoop of Carly’s house, staring at the empty street. Her bags hung limply from slightly curled fingers. The purchases seemed to weigh down her soul as much as they did her hands. What had started as a day of exploration and laughter had turned to pain and weight. She had no idea what she was supposed to do. She just wanted to go sit in the bakery and stuff her face with delicious pastries until she was so full she was no longer able to think. But with Carly sitting just behind those thin walls, Davey didn’t dare leave.

The longer she stood there, on that flat slab of cement that passed for an entryway, the more she realized how quiet the neighborhood was. No one walked the streets. The few people on their lawns weren’t laughing and jovial with their neighbours. Instead, they stood, watering their dull lawns or sweeping their vacant cement patches. No one so much as glanced into the yards around them. No one tried to engage anyone. The girl standing stone-still in front of a house that wasn’t hers attracted no attention at all.

Davey wandered around the side of the house. She couldn’t walk away from the building. She would wait here for Carly. Wait until she could come up with some kind of plan of action.

A water tank ran along the back of the building, ending where it met the stairs leading down from the back door. The yard was surrounded by a tall fence that blocked it from the large empty field behind the row of houses. Davey sank down into the small space between the tank and the steps and set her purse on the ground. It took her a few minutes to find the white case. She held it in her hands for a moment, staring at it, wondering if she could figure out how to get it to do what she wanted. She’d never called for help before. She’d never needed to. Never felt so close to failure. Davey knew there was a way to contact other Veils using the totem. They taught it in training sessions, but that had been over forty years ago and she barely remembered the instructions.

She cupped her hands together and rested the talisman in the bowl they formed. She stared at the veins in snowflake, her eyes exploring the lines from one end to the other. The dull light of the sun reflected off the multiple points, highlighting the grooves. Drawing her further and further into its heart. As she felt herself beginning to pull towards the power of the Commune, she began to think of M. To concentrate on the traits that made her different from other Veils. To picture the glass tree that was M’s totem. She hoped that she was between assignments. That she might hit that little window between jobs. At the very least, that she was working a job where she could pop out for a few minutes. The pull became stronger and Davey felt the mist building and overflowing from her hands. Spilling out in soft tendrils, chilling her skin as it formed its familiar coating. She closed her eyes and waited for the Commune to finish the transport.

When D felt her muscles shift back into her familiar body, she rolled her shoulders to allow the tension to release. Opening her eyes, she saw the white room similar to the normal arrival rooms, but instead of the ring of chairs and the orb, this room contained two chairs facing each other. D released a sigh of relief when she found herself looking into M’s pale, inquisitive eyes.

“What’s going on?” M stared at her friend, he head tilted in curiosity. Being called in by a fellow Veil, especially an experienced one, was extremely rare.

D glanced around the room, her eyes adjusting to the sterility of the Commune. Something seemed off. She stared at M, who almost seemed to be floating. It took her a minute to realize that there were no shadows mingling with the white light from the ceiling. Everything here was simply white. Shadow and light worked differently here. She’d always known that, but it had never affected her before. A few days as Davey and she no longer felt like she belonged in the community of Travelers.

“D, what’s wrong?” M leaned forward, touching her hands against D’s knees.

“I’m failing, M.” D ran her hands along her smooth scalp. Her fingers longed for the feel of the hair she’d grown to think of as her own. She wondered if this was why they never interfered in the same life twice. Never took on the same persona more than once. She was beginning to think of herself as Damhnait, not as D. She was failing at more than her directive. She was failing as a Veil.

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t figure out how to change this future. I can’t seem to get through to her.” She attacked the simplest of her problems.

“What’s the scenario? The one you were confused about? You’re back in that engagement again?”

“I’m back in Faulery Valley, yeah. Same persona. Different period on the timeline. I’m supposed to make sure Carly doesn’t kill herself. It’s easy to interfere with accidents. I just have to be there. But how do you stop someone who’s determined to end their own life? How do you keep someone who’s completely miserable from taking that step?”

“Can you do something to make her happy? This isn’t usually my area, but just make her not depressed?” M continued to watch her inquisitively.

“I’ve tried. Every time I think I’m making headway, something happens and things get worse. And there’s this, I don’t know… there’s something on the planet that’s taking over the lives of the people.” D tapped her fingers against her legs. “But the Masters have forbidden me to get involved. But it’s that group that’s driving my charge to kill herself.”

“The Masters forbid you? When? Was it in your write up?”

“They pulled me back in the middle of my assignment and spoke to me.”

“You were recalled?” M’s eyes widened. If she’d had eyebrows, D imagined that they would be halfway up her forehead. “But, they never recall. I’ve only ever heard of two in the past. Did you see the Masters? Speak to them directly? What are they like?”

“Don’t get sidetracked, M. I need to know how to fix my engagement.”

“But D, you know what it means if you get called before the Masters, don’t you?”

“That I’m in heaps of trouble and failing my assignment?” D pinched the bridge of her nose.

“No! How do you of all people not know this? If you’re called before the Masters, it’s because you’re tapped to become a Master. You’re fast tracked. This is huge deal.”

“I don’t want to be a Master right now.” D rubbed her eyes in exasperation. “Right now, all I want to do is save Carly’s life.”

“You have to complete this engagement, D. It’s obvious that they’ve given you a huge challenge to make sure you’re ready to move up in the ranks.” M stood and pulled D into a hug, overshadowing the issue at hand, “They’re making the right choice. You’re the best Veil I’ve ever met. You’ve never once failed at an assignment.”

“I know. That’s why I’m so frustrated.”

“Maybe you could take her out of the town for a little while. A vacation might be just what she needs to forget her worries. If these people aren’t around to interfere, maybe she’ll get the space she needs to really feel better.”

“That’s a great idea. Thanks, M. That’s just what I needed.”

“Now hurry up and finish this so that you can get back here and become a Master.” M grinned and got up to leave the room. “I’m on break until tomorrow; try to get back here before I leave.”

“Should be done in a day or two.” Davey smiled a wan smile and watched the other girl leave. Becoming a Master was something she’d never seriously considered. She really didn’t think about them much at all. Sure, everyone was curious about the Masters, but nothing like M. Right now, she just wanted to go home. Davey cupped the totem and began to reverse the process she’d completed to get here. She felt the familiar tugging sensation and soon opened her eyes to see the empty, depressing yard behind Carly’s house.

A light dusting of snow had started to fall. The flakes looked like ash slowly falling from the sky and settling against the earth. Like a natural disaster coming to an end. It made the middle of the day feel more like early evening. Davey pushed herself from the ground beside the water tank and let herself in through the back door. She hurried down the hall and knocked on the door to Carly’s room. The sweater she’d left in the hall was gone.

“Yes?” Carly’s voice sounded softly through the door.

“I just want to make sure you’re really okay before I leave.”

“I’m fine. Thank you for the sweater, Davey.”

“You’re welcome. Call me at the hotel when you’re ready for company.” Davey turned and let herself out of the house. She made her way towards the Parks. The grey snow came to rest gently on her knit sweater. The warm boots hugged her feet against the sudden chill in the air. She silently thanked Joy for the dress code change. Her bags of clothing hung from her fingers, swinging gently.

When she passed into the Parks zone, the falling snow changed. Instead of turning the area into a barren fallout zone, it suddenly felt like she was inside a snow globe. The flakes were a bright, crisp white. She could almost see the different facets cut into each individual flake as they swirled playfully around her. The light reflected off the snow, making everything brighter and more vibrant. She couldn’t help but think of her talisman. Her fingers wrapped reassuringly around the box in her purse.

Davey began to consider the ways she could try to get Carly out of town. With school tomorrow, there was no time to leave now and she didn’t know if Carly would last another week. She didn’t even know where they could go. She made a mental note to ask Ajay if there was anywhere nearby that wasn’t Fenton occupied.

Davey felt her stomach twist and release a hungry growl as she rounded the corner and walked into a wave of scent from the bakery. It had been hours since breakfast. She felt like she could eat everything on the room service menu right now. Davey hurried towards what had quickly become her favourite smell. Just as she reached the bakery, she heard a squeal followed by a loud shout from down the street. She turned quickly to see the friendly caramel apple seller shaking his fist at a group of boys making a hasty retreat. Smiling, she turned back to the bakery and placed her hand on the door.

She was about to push it open when she saw Sinder at the back of the store, hands waving emphatically as she argued with a navy clad soldier. The guard reached forward and placed a hand on the blonde’s shoulder. Davey’s breath caught as she saw the tan skin. Sinder took a deep breath, hung her head and nodded as her face settled into a look of grim resignation. As she turned back towards the counter, the guard turned with her, his hood pushed back off his head. His dark blonde beard and sparkling eyes were exactly what Davey expected to see, but it still made her cringe.

“What the hell are you doing here, Ajay?” She muttered, not sure if she should go in or if she should turn and walk away, pretending she’d never been there. Ajay looked up and caught her standing at the door and the decision was made for her. He and Sinder froze when they saw her standing there. Both looked like they’d been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

Davey pushed the door open and stepped inside, so distracted by the scene she’d just witnessed that for a moment she forgot about her crushing hunger. Sinder moved behind the counter and pulled a cookie from the display case. None of them said anything. Ajay and Davey simply stared at each other while Sinder walked around the counter and placed the cookie into Davey’s hand. She stepped around the red-head and walked to the door, where she flipped the open sign and slid the lock into place.

Davey looked back and forth between them. Unsure what she’d just walked in on, but knowing that something huge was about to happen.

“We need to talk…”Sinder crossed her arms awkwardly over her chest, “D.”

Chapter 10 – Telling Tales

For the second time in as many days, Davey woke up fully dressed with the lights still on.

“At least I didn’t have shoes on this time,” She mumbled, wiping a string of drool from her cheek. Ajay’s breathing was smooth and steady, his head still leaning against the headboard. Davey slipped carefully out from under his arm and off the bed. She flipped off the lights, slid out of her dress and into a long t-shirt. As she was crawling back onto the bed, Ajay mumbled himself awake.

“What are you doing?” He muttered.

“Getting comfy. Do the same and go back to sleep.” She burrowed under the covers, resting her head on the pillow.

“Mind if I crawl under there, too?” Ajay yawn and pulled off his sweater.

“As long as you let me sleep, you can do whatever you want.” Davey snuggled further into her pillow. As she drifted back into sleep, she felt the bed shift as Ajay crawled in beside her. The heat of his body was comforting and she let herself relax into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.

“Davey. Davey.” She heard the whispers in her ear a few minutes later.

“Go away.” She rolled over and pulled her blanket up to her ears.

“You should wake up.” She felt his hand brush against her arm.

“Ajay, I want to sleep. That was part of the deal.”

“How much sleep do you need?” He chuckled but pulled his arm away from her.

“It’s been like five minutes.” She mumbled, eyes still closed. “We can fool around in the morning. I promise.” She lied.

“Then prep yourself for some fooling around, cause it’s well into the morning.” His chuckle was deep this time, closer to her ear than before.

“What are you talking about?” She rolled over and peeked through her eyelids. The light was much brighter than she expected. She found herself looking into Ajay’s eyes. “Oh, it is morning isn’t it?”

“It sure is.” He smiled.

“Why does it never feel like it’s time to get out of bed? Stupid body.”

“I kind of like your body. Stupid or not.”

“You’re awfully forward for a boy that’s sleeping in his clothes.”

“Who’s in clothes?” He raised an eyebrow.

“What!” Davey lifted the blanket and looked carefully underneath. Ajay was in a block undershirt and a pair of black boxer briefs. “When, I said get comfy that’s not exactly what I was thinking.”

“No one sleeps comfortably in dress pants and a sweater. Why bother trying.” Ajay peaked under the blanket, “Besides, I see you did it, too.”

“My room. My bed. My clothing.” She laughed and tucked into the pillow. “After all that stuff you told me last night, a good sleep seemed like the only answer.”

“Did it work?”

“Not really. It’s all still bumping around in there.”

“I’m a good distraction.” Ajay shimmied closer. “If you’re interested.”

Davey inched closer to him. She knew she wasn’t supposed to get involved with anyone unless it was in the engagement directive, but everything here was so much heavier than she’d expected.

She let her thumb trail along his jaw until she was cupping the back of his neck in her hand. He showed no resistance when she pulled him close and brought his lips to hers. They were softer than they looked. The beard was pleasantly scratchy. Ajay slid an arm around her, placed a hand on the small of her back and pulled her against him. Davey felt herself slide across the bed until they were touching. Every sensation was new to this body. The programmers hadn’t prepped her for the experience. This body was pure.

When Ajay’s fingers wound into her hair and pulled her deeper into the kiss, she felt her breath catch. Her head began to swim with emotions she’d never felt before. Her skin started to tingle, everywhere. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, rolling onto her back so she could feel his weight. He moved along with her easily, following her every move. Davey ran her hands along his back and slid them under the fabric of his shirt. Her fingers explored dips and curves she’d never felt before. The body of a soldier, tuned to perfect condition.

“Unless you want this to be more than a distraction, watch your hands.” Ajay mumbled into her ear.

“Oops,” Davey giggled and returned her hands to the back. She shifted as he brought his lips to her throat and an uncontrolled moan escaped her lips. “Ajay…” she paused.

“Yes, Damhnait?” He lifted himself up to look at her.

“I’m not… well, I’m not experienced, so this is going to end soon, okay?” Her skin felt unfamiliar, more so than normal, and it wasn’t even a little unpleasant. She didn’t want to incur the wrath of the Masters by going too far off book. She’d done this in a few other bodies, but it had been long ago and in much older, more experienced personas.

“You control the speed.” He kissed her gently and settled back onto his side of the bed.

Davey smiled and stared up at the ceiling. Maybe Ajay had a friend she could use to bring a little joy back into Carly’s poor, depressing life. A light tap at the door followed by a soft swishing sound drew their attention. Ajay glanced towards the door before pushing himself off the bed and returning with a stapled packet of papers.

“What’s that?” Davey pushed herself up against the headboard and reached for the phone, room service menu in her lap.

“This,” He answered when she hung up the phone, “is the official change of wardrobe notification. Apparently, Joy is no longer in love with the Loli fashion sense.”

“But I love it. I want to keep wearing those dresses.” Davey pouted, “And it’s all I own.” She tossed a hand in the direction of her closet.

“My guess is that your appearance in town, and you’re appearance in those clothes, has something to do with our sudden change in attire.”

“What do you mean?” Davey wrapped her hair into a messy knot on top of her head and reached for the reading glasses sitting on the side table.

“Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror? You’re gorgeous, my dear.”

“Ah, thanks.” Davey grinned and pulled the papers from his fingers. “I still don’t know what that has to do with anything.”

“I’m not the only one who’s noticed how pretty you are. You stand out in a crowd. There’s no way Joy hasn’t noticed. She likes to be the centre of attention, and you were taking it away from her in those adorable dresses.”

“So instead, I have to wear skinny cords and these ugly, fuzzy boots? And, oh my god, I have to wear Nordic sweaters? Like those knit things with animals and snowflakes and trees on them.”

“If that’s what Joy has deemed fashionable, then yes, you’ll be wearing that until you hear otherwise.”

“Great.” Davey pushed herself out of bed to answer the knock at the door. The woman who had brought up their desserts the night before now stood in the hallway with her tray of breakfast foods. “Bring them in.” Davey nodded, stepping out of the way. The woman’s eyebrows rose as she looked at Davey’s t-shirt and Ajay lolling on the bed in his underwear before she left the tray and took away the ones from the night before.

“Well that worked out better than planned.” Ajay scooted towards the end of the bed.

“How’s that?” Davey pulled her plate of food towards her.

“Remember how I told you last night that she’s a Wave and it was good that she saw us ‘fooling around’ together? Well, now what we wanted people to think happened is exactly what she’ll report. We’re in your room half-dressed, still in bed midway through the morning.”

“So our pretend tryst is keeping you out of trouble.”

“Exactly.” He grinned and jammed a forkful of egg into his mouth. “And not just me.”

“What do you mean?”

“If they think I was telling you stuff about the Fenton, you’d be thrown in the Cage so fast.”

“If anyone asks, we had all the sex.” Davie nodded.

“This is a good time to lie.”

“I guess I have some shopping to do today.” Davey sighed as she settled down to eat, staring at the rows of dresses in her closet. “Wanna keep me company?”

“Darn, I have to work in a couple hours. That’s really too bad.” He replied sarcastically.

“You sound totally broken up about it.” She rolled her eyes.

“Completely.” He grinned.

“Well, hurry up and eat. If I must shop alone and for ugly clothing, I’d like to get it done as soon as possible.” She smiled back and tucked into her omelet.

A few hours later, Davey stood in front of a rack at a clothing store, flipping through row after row of knitted sweaters. She wrinkled her nose at the pictures of reindeers and snowflakes and bears and moose.

“Seriously,” She mumbled to herself, “These are hideous. No one looks good in these.”

“That’s entirely the point.” A voice sounded quietly from the other side of the rack. Davey looked up to see Marisa flipping through another row of sweaters. “Joy really, really dislikes you.” They continued their conversation without looking directly at one another.

“Why?” Davey sighed, “I hardly even know her. I have nothing to do with her. I just want to be left alone so I can finish school and hang out with my friend.”

“That’s not how it works, Davey. You need to figure out the new world order. You don’t fit, but you could.”

“How can I fit if I’m already pissing off the Holy Joy and I haven’t even tried?”

“Jett’s interested in you. And we all know you spent the night with that new hotty that’s been hanging around town.”

“You what? How!?”

“Marco was in the restaurant last night. He saw the two of you leave looking all cozylike.”

“What does any of this have to do with Joy? Or with these ridiculous new clothing options?” Davie finally found a sweater she didn’t entirely hate.

“There are rules, Davey. You’re new and stuff, but you have to know them by now. You obey the rules, and you get to pass. You piss off Joy or Jett or me and Marco, and you pay the consequences. Taking all the boys from Joy is going to get you landed somewhere very uncomfortable. All she has to do is say the word. Watch yourself, Davey.”

“I’ve had enough of this shit.” Davey pulled a couple more sweaters off the rack, one she knew Carly would love, and began to walk away.

“You’re not the only one who would have to pay.” Davey stopped dead in her tracks. Listening even though she kept her back turned to Marisaand pretended to look at a pair of boots. “If Carly’s really that important to you, you’ll distance yourself from her. We can screw with her just to hurt you. And Joy will.” Marisa pulled a pair of pants from a rack and walked away without another word.

Davey hurried through her purchase and out of the store. If she spent even one minute longer in there, she would punch that girl, and that wouldn’t be useful for Carly. Not at all. Once she was outside the store, Davey hoisted her shopping bags over her shoulder and headed in the direction of Carly’s house.

It didn’t take long to get through the Parks area and into the dull neighborhood of the Dry Zone. There were more people out today. Children in yards, playing quiet, solitary games. A small girl about six years old sat on a swing attached to a tree in front of her house. Her dark brown curls hung limply from her head, pooling around her shoulders as she moved slowly back and forth. Her scuffed brown shoes dragged in the sand beneath her seat. She watched Davey walk down the street with those vacant eyes that seemed to possess all the Dry Zone occupants.

If Carly was suffering this much after only a couple years of Fenton influence, how would a girl that young handle continual torture for another decade. Davey smiled at the girl, but got no response. She wasn’t entirely certain the girl was really seeing her. She quickened her step and hurried to Carly’s house. Even the sunlight seemed duller here, less inviting. As she rounded the corner to Carly’s street, Davey saw a large burgundy vehicle pull up in front of the house. The side of the vehicle rolled open and two grey clad guards hopped out. They reached back into the interior and pulled Carly out onto the sidewalk. With a little prod, and a double check that she could hold herself up, they turned to enter the vehicle. The blank faced guard on the right caught sight of Davey and faltered for a second before jumping inside and closing the side of the van.

Part of her knew it was Ajay, knew that he had just dumped her best friend on the front lawn only hours after he’d sat in Davey’s bedroom eating breakfast and kissing. She’d known this was his life, the life he’d chosen in order to save his sister, but it was still pretty hard to stomach seeing him doing the work. As soon as van was out of sight, Davey ran down the sidewalk.

“Carly!” She rushed up to her friend, dropping the bags at the end of the sidewalk. “Carly! Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.” Carly leaned against the small fence that ran along the sidewalk. “I just need…” She took a deep breath “I need some water.”

“Let’s get you inside and I’ll get you something to drink.” She wrapped her arm around her friend’s waist and helped her towards the door. “Are your parents home?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Do you have your keys?”

“Dry Zone residents aren’t allowed to lock their doors.” Carly inhaled a deep shaky breath. “Just get me inside, please.”

Davey clenched her teeth to keep from venting about the invasion of not allowing locks. She helped Carly into the sparsely decorated living room and lowered her into the cushioned chair near the entrance. She quickly grabbed a glass of water before she hurried outside to grab the bags she’d left on the sidewalk. When she returned, Carly’s colour had begun to settle into its familiar, dull grey. The surface of the water in the glass clutched in her hand vibrated rapidly.

“What the hell happened, Carly? Where have you been? Why did the guards drop you off?”

“I was… I was in the Cage.”

“Why? What happened?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. Normally, when you’re taken in, they tell you why you’re there. You go to the frog lady and she reads you your sentence, and you go for your punishment. But this time was different. They ambushed me not long after you dropped me off. The Waves burst into the house and took me away. They said something about causing a disruption at the parade, but they didn’t explain anything. I’ve been in there ever since.”

“They used the Shockwave on you? That seems a little extreme!” Davey picked at the fabric ridges on her pants.

“They didn’t. I went willingly, but the fact that they sent Waves at all is serious. I don’t understand what I did. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard, Davey.” Carly’s eyes flooded with tears. She showed emotion for the first time in three days. “I do my best to make sure that I don’t break any of the big rules. I keep myself in line. I’ve always known, always understood, why they punish me when I break the rules. But I didn’t do anything this time. I didn’t do anything! I feel like I’m being punished for something I didn’t do.” Her body shook as she tried to control the tears but sobs took. “Why are they doing this to me? I don’t know how much longer I can take it.” Carly got out of her chair and started down the hallway.

Davey pushed herself out of her chair and started after her. “Carly…?”

“I need to sleep. I’ll see you later, Davey. Just go, okay? I need to be alone for a little while.” Carly continued toward her room.

“You’re not going to… you’re not going to do anything dangerous are you? Please, Carly. I just need to know that you’re not going to…”

“I’m just going to take a nap, Davey. Come over later and we’ll talk.” Carly turned and stepped back towards her friend. She took Davey’s hands in her own and squeezed the fingers lightly. “I just need to sleep. And put some ointment on these friction burns.” She gingerly touched her fingers to her chest, wincing. “I need a couple hours. I promise.” Carly turned, walked down the hall and disappeared behind a door near the end.

Davey stared at the closed door for a few minutes before she staggered back to the living room. She pulled the dark blue sweater from the bag and folded it so the yellow canary was visible. She slipped down the hall and placed it on the floor in front of the closed door to Carly’s room. She touched her fingers to her lips and then to the door. “Please, Carly. Please keep your promise.” She whispered before she made her way out of the house and back to her temporary home. The pit in her stomach telling her that she might be about to fail her first engagement.

Chapter 9 – Reservations

Davey stared into the long mirror, adjusting her pink dress with its black lace trim and scalloped collar. From a drawer, she pulled accessories to match and scanned the boots lining her closet. She didn’t know why she was so concerned about looking good. She knew nothing about this guy she was meeting. Nothing except that he had a beard.

She grabbed the pile of blankets sitting on the bed, distractedly, snapping the blue one and folding it. She’d helped Carly home about an hour ago but still wasn’t really sure what had happened. She couldn’t get the image of Morrison hanging in that tube out of her head. She had no idea what it meant, but she was starting to have her suspicions. Carly had insisted she was okay when Davey left her at the front door to her home, but she hadn’t sounded that convincing.

Davey had little choice but to leave her there and return to the hotel. What had started as mild curiosity was turning into a quest for information. The Masters’ directive that she ignore the Fenton was only making things worse, but she was trying not to raise any flags. She’d never considered the specifics of her placement before. Could the Master Veils access her mission at any time and see what she was doing? Was everything fed back to them? Were they already on to her suspicions? She didn’t know much, but she knew enough to be careful.

It was easy for her to pretend she was keeping them satisfied. They had told her to make sure that Carly didn’t kill herself. She couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do more. Of course, she didn’t want her friend to kill herself. Carly didn’t deserve to die. Of that, Davey was completely sure.

Twenty minutes later, Davey walked into the swank dining room on the main floor of the hotel. Large copper chandeliers hung from the ceiling, with flickering lights giving off the illusion of candlelight. She scanned the tables, but didn’t see anyone with a beard.

“Hello, Ms. Nesbitt.” The hostess greeted her. Davey was still a little surprised when people she’d never seen before knew her by name. “Can I get you a table?”

“Yes, please. Table for two.”

“Excellent. Can I have the name of your other party and we’ll seat them when they arrive.”

Davey tried to come up with a plausible reason why she wouldn’t know her guest’s name. And why she wouldn’t even know what he looked like. Her mind was drawing a complete blank.

“Sorry I’m late.” A voice sounded from behind her. She turned to see a tall man jogging towards her. His dark blonde hair perfectly matching the hair of his beard, contrasting pleasantly with his light brown skin. .

“Not late.” Davey smiled at him, grateful that she hadn’t made herself look foolish. “I just arrived myself.”

The hostess led them to a table cast in the comfortable glow of candlelight. Davey settled into her chair and reached forward to touch the deep red blooms of the flowers set in the low vase. The pedals were velvety smooth against the tips of her fingers. The Parks residents of Faulery Valley were treated to the most luxurious of amenities. The disparity was becoming more obvious the longer she stayed in town.

“You look lovely, Damhnait.” The man smiled from behind his water glass.

“Thank you.” Davey smiled at the use of her full name “I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know your name.”

“It’s Ajay.” He reached across the table to shake her hand.

“Nice to meet you, Ajay.”

“Have you eaten here before?” Ajay glanced around the room.

“Not here specifically, but I had room service this morning. It was delicious.” Davey opened her menu and perused the list of delicacies. “Everything looks delicious.”

“You should try the pork belly. I hear it’s the local specialty.” They scanned their menus for a few more minutes before Davey waved over their server.

“What brings you to Faulery Valley, Damhnait?” Ajay sipped from the glass of chilled white wine after the waitress had taken their order.

“School.” Davey brushed her hair back and watched people rushing up and down the street outside the tinted windows. She delved into the background story that had been created for her on this planet. “My parents were disasters. Constantly fighting. Eventually, I decided I’d had it. I still had a year of school left, so it made sense to come back to the last place I had any good memories.”

“And Faulery Valley was your good memory place?” Ajay raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“I lived here when I was eleven. My parents didn’t fight then. We were happy. I had a best friend. The only one I’ve ever had. It was a different town then.” Davey shrugged, not sure how much she was willing to say about Carly to a man who worked for the people responsible for her current condition. “What brought you here? You said you grew up in the Flatlands right?”

“I did.” He nodded, his hair glinting in the light, “It was a pretty generic childhood if I’m perfectly honest. Happy home. Happy school. Good grades. Blah, blah, blah.”

“All that happiness and you end up a soldier in this place?” She leaned forward, elbows on the table. This was the part of the night she’d been looking forward to.

“We all have to pay the bills, right?” He grinned as Davey raised an eyebrow. “Well, maybe not you. How does someone your age afford a place like this without the assistance of your parents?”

“I made sure that wouldn’t be an issue before I decided to come back here.” Davey danced around the issue. “Does your gig pay well?

“Enough that I can take a pretty girl out for supper.” He smiled evasively.

“Aren’t you a little old for me, soldier boy?” Davey leaned forward, smiling a genuine smile. Whatever else Ajay was, he was very charming.

“I’m only twenty.” He smiled. The waitress appeared with their food and set the plates down in front of them. Davey inhaled the smell of crispy pork, honey, and garlic. The dark brown sauce layered over the meat smelled sweet and spicy.

“Wow, that’s a lot younger than I thought. How does someone your age have your job?” Davey placed a piece of meat on her tongue and let the tender, succulent juices flow down her throat. “Just when I think the food in this place can’t get any better, this happens.”

Ajay smiled and sliced off a piece of his own steak. “How about we save the work talk until later?”

For the next hour, they made small talk. Telling stories about their misadventures of youth. A thick, warm laugh bubbled passed Ajay’s lips as he listened to Davey describe how at the age of seven, she’d been so certain that if she tried hard enough she could find the end of the rainbow and obtain heaps of gold that she’d grabbed a bunch of empty suitcases and set off on an adventure.

“You sure are set on finding your own way through the world aren’t you?”

“I think that you should become the best version of the person you’re supposed to be. Whoever that is.” Davey pushed away her empty plate. “Should we order dessert? I love dessert.”

“I love a girl who likes her food.” He grinned. “How about we go up to your room and have dessert delivered?” He leaned towards her, lowering his voice. His fingers touching her gently.

“Ajay, we just met. What kind of girl do you think I am?” She leaned back, but he held her hand just firmly enough that she couldn’t pull away.

“A girl who wants answers that I can’t give in a public place.” He kept the look on his face casual and light. Anyone looking on would think the conversation was taking a turn for the romantic.

“So you are as smart as you look,” Davey leaned forward, playing into the image. “But what will people think?”

“That we’re two people on a date and we’ve decided we’re not ready for it to be over.” He reached forward to brush her hair behind her ear, the long red strands trailing through his fingertips. Romantic engagements were something D rarely participated in. Her specialties were life and death, but she had to admit that his fingers against her skin were inviting.

“As long as we can have the lemon soufflé, we can go where ever you want.” Davey smiled. She placed the order with the Hostess as they were leaving. Ajay slipped an arm around her waist as they made their way across the lobby. Davey leaned into his warmth, feeling the defined muscles under his black ribbed sweater. The shirt was a little too much like his uniform for her liking. Davey was unlocking her room when the service elevator dinged and a woman walked out pushing a cart covered in silver domed trays. Ajay wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and buried his nose into her neck. She giggled as his breath tickled her skin. His teeth brushed against her ear lobe.

“Perfect timing. Stop it, Ajay. It’s time for dessert.” Davey pulled his arms apart and handing him one of the trays. Inside the room, she pulled off her boots, crawled onto the bed, tucked her legs under her, and removed the lid from the soufflé. She jutted her chin at a spot on the bed. “Have a seat, and bring that raspberry torte with you.”

Ajay climbed up onto the bed and crossed his legs. He forked a bite of the rich dessert into his mouth, and turned to her. “Ask your questions, Damhnait.”

“Are there other soldiers like you? Like just wandering around town at night, pretending like they don’t enforce punishments on people?” Davey asked around a mouthful of soufflé.

“There are a couple different ranks of soldiers. Level ones are not allowed to leave the training facility, except for specific events – like today’s parade. They eat, sleep, live, serve, breath everything Fenton. The level one program lasts a minimum of five years but the majority of the L1s never move above that rank. Secondary levels, like me, do our jobs but are allowed to have our own lives. There are fewer of us, only about fifty or so. Most of L2s choose to remain in the facilities, but about a dozen of us regularly spend time in the community. The Waves are completely different. They are plain-clothed at all times, except for two one hour periods each day when they are suited up in the case of an emergency. Those times rotate on a daily basis. Waves fit in with the community easily. You would never know you were talking to one. Ever. Even if you later encountered them in their uniform. Like the woman that brought up our desserts. She’s a Wave.”

“No way. She looked so normal.” Davey leaned forward and snagged a bite of the torte. “But, that’s explains why you were suddenly all handsy.”

“That was part of it,” He smiled. “I’d be lying if I said that was the only reason.”

“How does someone become a soldier? I can’t exactly see them having a recruitment booth on career day.”

“What I’m about to tell you is very, very important.” Ajay moved the plate from his lap to the side table. He leaned forward and took the near empty plate from Davey. “I want your full attention.”

“If you’re taking away my food, this better be the most important thing I’ve heard all day.” Davey grinned and leaned forward, elbows on her knees.

“Remember how I told you that my childhood was all sunshine and roses?” Davey nodded, “I may have exaggerated a little. My childhood was good, like really good, until I was fourteen years old. That’s when the Fenton moved in. Ceilidh Flatlands was a very different town from Faulery. We celebrated music, art, dancing. Basically, anything creative. Sure, we played sports and did a lot of active stuff, but I mostly kept to myself. I was a creative kid more than I was anything else. I was more interested in being a sculptor than making lots of friends, and I had my family. I didn’t need anyone else. A lot of the families in the flatlands were like that. But everything changed when the Fenton came in. Art was looked down on. Celebration and music were shunned unless they were sanctioned. What used to be a town of harmony and merriment turned into a town of depression and sadness.”

“But most of the people here are happy and powerful. The negative effects of the Fenton seem to be confined to a very small section of town. What you’re saying sounds like the majority of town was Dry.”

“There are more people in Faulery Valley that long for power. That thrive in a society that rewards the greedy. Those people created a different type of city for the Fenton. The perfect city. The Fenton feed on avarice. They find it and enhance it in people. The people from home didn’t respond the same way. We just didn’t have that seed of greed they dig out, so there were more people that suffered.” Ajay brushed his fingers through his hair, “When I refused to participate in the town directives, when I kept making my sculptures, I was placed in the detention area for a period. That just pissed me off even more. I started sneaking my artwork into public areas. My family did it with me. My sister, my beautiful, charming sister, would paint flash murals at night. Pictures of all the things we’d loved before the Fenton arrived. People dancing. Birds. Animals. Lovers. Everything that made Ceilidh the town it had been.”

“We’d been acting out for about six months when it happened. Out on a regular mission. We were going to flash town hall that night. I had created this bird. A great shining bird out of pressed aluminum and coloured glass. Katie was going to paint a rainbow of fire around the entrance and I was going to set the bird in front of it. She was about half done the painting when I finished positioning the statue, securing it in quick drying cement so it couldn’t be moved, when we heard the boots.” His voice caught in his throat before he forced himself to continue.

“We ran. Ran as fast as we could. It was The Waves. We’d pissed off the Fenton too many times. They weren’t playing around anymore. We didn’t make it far. They’d surrounded us. I didn’t see them until it was too late. I ran around a corner too quickly and rammed right into the tip of a Shockwave.” Ajay stopped and pushed himself off the end of the bed. He walked towards the sink silently, his shoulders tight. Davey watched as he poured a glass of water and swallowed half of it before returning to sit on the end of the bed. His confident expression was gone. His eyes were full of the pain she’d seen in Carly’s. “I was out for four days. And when I came to, I was in the Cage. I’d been there before, but never for this long. Do you know what the Cage is?”

“Not really. Carly explained that it’s worse than the detention rooms.”

“It is literally a cage. A small metal box about six and a half feet high and two feet wide. They strap you in almost naked and close the door. The straps ensure that you can’t move. Your arms are pinned to your sides. Your head is strapped to the back of the box. Then they leave you there. Every half hour, they shift the position of the box, so it’s upside down then right side up. And back and forth and back and forth until you think you’re going to die. It feels like forever between shifts. At first, it’s a relief, but after a while, you begin to dread it. They jam tubes in your veins to ensure that you can’t pass out from hunger or thirst. And then there’s the heat. The heat is unbearable. You’re sweating so badly. It builds up under the straps and shifts every time they turn you. Eventually, it starts to chafe and rubs against the straps. You can’t scratch, or move, or adjust. There was this one time, they put me in the Cage while I was passed out. I have no idea how long I’d been in there before I woke up but I was there for about twelve hours afterwards. When they finally released me, I couldn’t walk. They left me in that hallway until I could get myself to the door.

“I thought… I thought that it was like every other time I’d been in the Cage. I’d served my sentence and I was free to go. This was by far the worst experience I’d had in there, but that wasn’t the end of it.” Ajay stopped, took a deep breath and pressed his fingers against his eyes. “When I opened the door, it didn’t lead to the hallway like I expected, instead I went into another room. This one contained a large glass case, like the one you saw in the parade today. Except this time, there was no mist in the tube. There was just Katie, hanging there. Broken. They’d done something to her while I was away. They’d broken her spirit. She just hung there, Damhnait. Hung there like a piece of meat at the butchers. Then they turned on that damned machine. It was like watching someone coming apart at the seams. Little by little they were sucking her dry. I begged them to stop. Begged them. And they offered me a deal. Me for her. If I stayed and became a dutiful soldier, they would release her. Let her go home and never touch her again. That’s all I had to do. Give my life for hers. Service to the Fenton is forever.”

“Of course you said yes.” Davey nodded. She’d covered enough engagements to know that family would do anything.

“I said yes, as long as they agreed to leave my entire family alone. I knew I’d never see them again, but if it saved their lives, there was no question. I made them release Katie and let me say goodbye. I needed her to know that I was making a choice. That she should not try to come save me. The Fenton moved me here to Faulery Valley the next day. I’ve been working for them ever since. And I guess, that gets us into this room at this time.”

Davey tilted her head in thought, munching away at a piece of taffy she’d pulled from the side table. “Are all the soldiers so… cavalier with information? I figured you would be all service the greater good, honour thy leader, and whatnot.”

“Most of us are. The recruitment of other soldiers is different. They’re so broken by the time they’re put in the Prim that they accept their position willingly. They credit the Fenton with saving their lives. For putting a stop to their pain. If they’re ever released from the training facility and level one classification, the brainwashing has set in and they are single minded followers of the Fenton. Specifically the Hoejiim. I pretend to be exactly the same. As far as anyone else is concerned, we’re in here getting it on.” He scooted up the bed until he was leaning against the headboard beside Davey.

“The Hoejiim?”

“Remember the person you saw sitting on the back of the Prim today, in the throne?”

“Yeah. Creepy.”

“That’s the Hoejiim . It’s like the King of the Fenton. The current Hoejiim is Ivar. We’re not supposed to know the exact identify, but if you know the right people, you can find out information. The Hoejiim is responsible for taking the power that the Fenton extract during their punishments and spreading it across the community. It makes the weak weaker and the greedy frenzied. That feeds back to into the power and they feed it back to the community. It’s a vicious circle.” Ajay leaned back against the bed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Because of the way I was brought in… it’s just not the same for me. I’ve been looking for a way to destroy them since I started. And then you showed up, and it suddenly all seems so clear.”

“This is a lot of information to digest. So, could we just turn on the television and be mindless for a little while?” Davey had no idea what to think. She grabbed the remote and flicked on the screen across the room. The sound of canned laughter floated from the speakers, interrupting their heavy thoughts. Davey snuggled up against Ajay and felt her eyes flutter shut.