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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Hidden Sunlight - 16. Crucible Of War

That felt really good.

The blunt end of the Tokarev impacting near Hartley's temple, cutting across his cheekbone, was hugely satisfying and my hand on the pistol longed to repeat it, to strike again and again until he lay dead on the floor of Bainbridge's mansion. Yet, I knew that he was a full grown adult and letting my desire win, to stay so close and personal, was immensely dangerous. It could easily backfire and end up with me paying the price instead.

No stupidity, no unnecessary risks.

I stepped back from him, out of reach as he steadied himself, one hand on the desk edge for support, the other rising to the gash on his face. As he righted himself, his eyes were on me, the half-light of the later afternoon and the building's interior colouring his handsome profile in muted shades. The shadows made Hartley look especially sinister, and that was intensified as he smiled, an eager pleased smile, the blood dripping over his fingers as he brought his hand away from his face.

"Well well well, look at you." His voice was quiet and less grand, less commanding than at Volkov, but then again this was a very different situation. Just me and him, all alone.

My grip tightened on the Tokarev and I ignored the speed my pulse was moving at, the fear I felt as I kept the pistol aimed at his head. "Move a fucking inch and I swear to god it will be the last thing you do."

Hartley straightened, leaning against the desk as he turned fully towards me. He was not even slightly disturbed by my sudden appearance and if anything he seemed almost happy that I was there. Does anything faze him at all? "Such fire! Such hate! Anyone would think I had harmed someone very dear to you." His smile softened, becoming unimportant, a devil-may-care pettiness crossed with that same inbuilt superiority.

I was holding the pistol so tightly it felt like lines of the grip would be permanently marked into my hand. He's in your head, in your mind, pulling at those strings. Ignore him. The trigger felt so good, so easy under my finger. I wanted to pull it. So very badly I wanted to pull it, but I had to resist. He wants you to make a mistake. Shay, restraint! Show him all the anger he needs to see, but remember, always remember -- he failed.

Your miracle is out there.

Alive.

I said nothing.

"Ah, you cannot shoot me. You want to, but you will not risk it." His fingers rubbed at the gashed cheek, though he didn't even flinch as they brushed the wound, that unbreakable sense of control smoothing it over as if it had never occurred. "You cannot make sound or your own demise is a certainty. Every soldier in my service would be here in seconds." He paused, studying me briefly before continuing. "No, you are not here for me, are you? Why else would you come to Mersenne but for the same grand cause?"

"Where is it?" There was no way I could completely purge the anger from my voice and it still came through anyhow as I snapped at him. "Whatever you've found, show it to me."

Hartley grinned. "Where it is ... ? Now, that is the very question that drives me, that haunts my thoughts." His stare fixed upon me as he spoke, that perfect face, the serenity and savagery behind his eyes. "In the same way a bereaved mother mourns her broken child; a steadfast warrior laments his fallen comrade, or," he maintained his gaze to me, delivering every breath of his soliloquy with the same cruel finality, the same hard deliberation;"as a young lover yearning for his mate, eternally parted through steel and blood." The grin became keen, wolfish and hungry. "Separated through the crucible of Lucere's field of war -- and death."

Psychopath.

My finger pressed the trigger in that tiny amount. It took every bit of will power I had not to pull it back all the way, to end him then and there.

"You are sick!"

"No." His reply was swift and merciless. "Until you partake in the cycle of pain and rebirth that is this place, this glorious symphony of evolution and strife, you cannot hope to survive. This world is not your beloved Earth, safe and clean. This world will crush you. It will devour you whole." He stopped and when he began speaking again, he had slowed down. The tone was calm and it scared me just how much his voice evoked changes in my emotions, even against my will and what I believed. His manipulation of words and cadence was masterful and it was like constantly fighting off a beguiling argument, a persuasion that was almost hypnotic. If I'm not careful, I'll just slip straight into thinking exactly what he wants me to think.

Have to stay aware. I can't let that happen. I can't.

"Yet, you are here, Shay." Hartley's eyes narrowed. "Your innocence died but you came through it and thus you stand before me, empowered by the hurt, made tall. Made strong."

"What did you find?" My voice was a growl, sick of the endless evasion, the diabolical cunning that was his, through and through. "Tell me what the fuck you found."

"Oh, I will tell you."

What?

Hartley smirked ever so slightly at my confused expression. "You've earned it. The right to know. Here it is. The answer we both seek." His eyes glinted, and his right hand reached next to him onto the desk he was leaning against. Without looking, he picked something up and tossed it to me. I surprised myself by easily catching it with my left hand, not taking my eye off him. Since when did I become so coordinated? I'm normally a klutz.

"Look at the picture. Remind you of anyone you know?" Hartley nodded at the piece of paper and the photograph in my hand. "Perhaps I am Satan himself in your imagination, but I will not interrupt the deliciously unique meeting of past and present. You are a living piece of history, Shay. Take a moment to savour what you see. I will not stop you. An accord is still an accord."

Though Hartley's word held questionable value, the last time he had offered me such an agreement at Volkov, he had kept it. Raising it up so I could see both the photograph and the man leaning on the desk behind it at the same time, I looked.

The picture showed two men and a boy standing on a sandy riverside. The man on the right had pale skin and light brown hair. His arm was around the man on the left, who was darkly tanned with nearly black hair. His other arm was around the shoulder of the boy, who bore a strong resemblance to him and was leaning into the man's side, holding up a fish that was at least a foot long for the camera. All three had the biggest smiles on their face; the men were fit looking and probably in their mid 30s; the boy could not have been more than nine or ten years old.

I flipped the photo over and there was writing on the back. It said: 'Charlie, good memories. Me, you and Benji, spring of '03, Somerworth River, Mersenne. Love you always. Chris.'

The boy must be Ben, John Albans' son, and the man next to him could only be Chris, his uncle. That means the other is Charles Bainbridge. From the words on the photo and the way they were touching one another, there was something else obvious about the picture.

They were ... lovers?

"Their world is lost." Hartley's voice and statement was an extreme contrast to the image of days gone by, a better time. "Now, the Sharpe virus is reality. Have you seen anyone here who is older than fifty? How many make it to their forties? The real enemy is all around us, Shay. It is everywhere, in everything and everyone, and the solution to it all, to freeing the power that resides within your flesh, is right there on that paper. An ode to salvation."

I glanced at the piece of paper. There was poetry there, exactly as Hartley said, several neat lines of handwriting flowing elegantly across. I did not get a chance to read it though, as he spoke again, my attention immediately drawn back to him. "Did you know that aqumi was never meant to bond with human physiology? The best theories believed the original host species must have had a strong internal biology, that they used aqumi as a tool to strengthen and adapt their own bodies to the environment. There is a greater use for it, however; a fantastic possibility."

"Why are you telling me this?"

Why reveal any of this at all?

"That's easy." His look to me was odd, almost as if he were sorry he had to say it to me, but that he was also at peace with what he was doing. "It is because you and your little band of rebels are going to die. Every one of you, 'til the very last. Yet, it is also because you do deserve the truth before the end, to see how mistaken you were. Henceforth what you know is immaterial, since it will not save you."

So twisted.

"Too much time was wasted with half-measures. I will not allow you nor anyone to endanger humanity's future by standing in my way." Alarmingly tranquil, he delivered his words coldly, a statement of fact. "You may even walk away from this house alive, but beyond that? All of you will be shot, gutted, and strung up. Your refuge will be raided and burned to the ground. Nothing will remain and history will forget you as if you never were. Pray to the greater power of your choosing, because you will need a miracle to escape this fate."

His words were chilling but, deep down, I was unafraid. Unafraid because the people I had with me were more than what Hartley believed they were. One in particular was worth a company of soldiers on his own.

I have a miracle on my side and he will stop you.

However, before I could utter any response to the lieutenant-colonel's words, there was a sound. From far away outside, it rang clear; a high-pitched piercing resonating cry that disregarded all barriers and walls, that seemed to connect directly between the source of it and my auditory senses.

It was a sound I had heard once before.

The same mysterious cry that cut through the forest near Palatus, drawing away four sharpelings seconds before they would have killed me.

Only, this time, it seemed closer.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Mira could not stay motionless. His fists clenched and unclenched, standing with the other three as they waited, safe in the cover of foliage and distance, next to the stashed repulsor bikes. There was no threat of harm where they were and the soldiers of the enemy remained as stationed, in blissful ignorance.

It had been an uncomfortable decision to let Shay go first, to enter that place. The demurral sat badly with him and although the scene, as his senses understood it, was quiet, he could not let go of his unease. The house itself held that same uncertainty, a warning tinge that promised real trouble.

It was not just the house though.

There was something else nearby. Something in the surrounds, lurking in the land about the house, that was both familiar and achingly elusive. The human aggressors could not comprehend it; they were blind and deaf to the scent.

Mira was not. It danced around the periphery of knowledge; playing on the corners of his consciousness. Hints of it brushed the air, flicked across the remote edges of The Self as a teasing brush stroke, a feathering thrill in the mind.

He became still, heedless of the others and their concentration on the manor, the human guards. Nothing gave way; the fading light of the sky was enigmatic, the trees and grass refusing to validate his perception. The unpleasant signs of this myth, this bewitching phantom of his past, were so fleeting that he barely believed it true.

Yet, the clues, whilst transitory, were real and again, he felt the tiniest pin-prick, the merest suggestion.

Could it be?

Then, more definite; a snatching rush of sensation.

Yes, there wasn't any mistaking it.

At once, Mira knew it was beyond doubt. This realisation presented a problem, for confronting such a fearsome thing would bring risks with it, but also, there was an opportunity. It represented a powerful chance. He could use that, to alter the tactical map and distribution of effort, but he could not bring these others with him, these three. Their individual strengths were a synergy of teamwork, but little would they adjust to the foreign situation. Their instincts would find it repulsive and strange.

So it was that he took off, no warning given, no suggestion of his intent. The other boy, the one named Carlos, noticed the quickest and gave a hushed shout, making chase. Mira dashed across the grass, the veil of trees standing as protection between them and the open field in front of the house, that wide scope of vision plain to the guards. Carlos maintained his bearing, but Mira was effortlessly elusive and keeping up was a trial.

The boy forged on, darting across the small stretches of open, keeping low, his pursuer just matching pace. Then, after several hundred metres, out of sight of all others, Mira slowed and stopped. Carlos reached him, puffing, and immediately spoke, a query that expected no verbal reply but was begun as dialogue, a natural impulse of communication.

"Where are you going? There's nothing h-"

The hand on his chest startled Carlos, cut him off. Mira's eyes danced over the background, the clumps of trees continuing on into the middle distance, interspersing the grasslands. He was searching, scanning the Vendhall woods for what he knew was out there.

It was close.

So close.

"Mira, we need to stick together," Carlos began again, softer. "I don't care if you can't talk to me but you must understand. Please, will you j-"

Again, the hand tapped his chest, interrupting. The boy turned to him, index finger touching his lips, a plea for silence. Then, back again to the surrounds. Stands of red and green maple rose in tight copses, fountains of bushy growth that intermixed with birch outliers and solitary hornbeams. The air moved haltingly, the wind stopping and starting, a murmuring restless melody of nature. Everything else was still, just the austere gentility of the trees, an unchanged ancient stoicism that would outlive and outlast.

He turned his head. Listening intently, feeling for it. Each grove in turn, he treated the same. None of them yielded anything; all were as the signals dictated. The flora here were in synchronisation with the planet's rhythm, and nothing was at fault, except-

Except ... there.

Focusing, he adjusted his angle of approach, forward at a cautious walk. Beside and slightly behind, Carlos followed; Mira could sense the unknowing cluelessness rolling off him, his gait hesitant and unsure. It would not matter, so long as the boy followed his lead.

His skin prickled with the pull of it before he saw, and they entered the edge of cover. The shaded boughs gave mercy from the solar energy and what Mira sought hove into view less than a dozen yards away. Standing upon the roots at the base of a particularly tall crimson maple, it was preening itself, secure in the liberty of reclusion. It took only a split second for the intellect to acquire him, to recognise him and strike an awareness. The head snapped up and it became statuesque, suddenly catapulted into a moment of unexpected insanity.

Human eyes were upon it; eyes that were forbidden this sight. The solitude was gone; the crystal perfection of invisibility shattered. Mira could feel the aloofness within the creature pulse, wanting to burst and devolve into a berserk crazed fearful rage, but it was left in check by the extremity of what it beheld. A fallow thrall had broken the genesis, had ruined the symmetrical beauty of the covenant; the imperishable continuity of order. This invasion was impossible.

Nonetheless, Mira was not cowed by this thing.

Never again would he be a slave.

"Dios ... what the fuck is THAT?" Carlos' voice was a whisper, but the complete terror in it was unmistakable. "It can't be ... real."

One step forward, eyes locked on it. It glared back, so unnaturally still. No consideration was given to the other boy, just a consuming complete focus upon Mira. The maddening paradox of his very existence was a plague upon the creature's mind; an inconceivable blight that promised to dissolve reality. It was locked inside that sphere of indecision, until Mira spoke to it.

A falsity. An anomaly. A singularity that warped asunder the divine laws. Humans did not have this capacity. They could not hear the artful Melody. They could not see the shifting patterns that brought the Hallowed Dawn.

Still, Mira's words came to it.

You are revealed, arbiter. See my infinite freedom. Hear my boundless truth. Know it and fear.

It was bravery itself, a silent echo that struck the creature, an intangible message received with frantic motionless hysteria. This thing, this human remade, was impure, was infested. Defiled. The mind-sound that came back from it, the mental shockwave, was a roiling rumbling harmonic snarl of contempt; strange xenomorphic tones that were all knives and edges and cutting lines. The communication was fragmented and distorted and horrifically inhuman but Mira understood. It was a language he had once known all too well.

Abominable child. Perversion and disgrace. Betrayer and destroyer.

Carlos was clutching his head in pain, grunting audibly, the force impacting him. With some effort he looked up, directly at it, forcing himself to memorise this being, this existence-defying conundrum. His eyes tried to unfocus, but he pushed the burning sensation away and stared. In shape, it was scarcely different from the average sharpeling but for an errancy in form. Sleeker, taller, the armouring was more streamlined and elegant, a seamless sinuous undulating mesh of platelets, flexible and ready. It possessed a more pronounced exoskeleton, elongated claws, slender limbs that seemed deceptively fragile beneath the diamond solidity of the carapace exterior. From head to foot it was black as night, the plating a glossy ebony from which rose a constant netherworldly smoking haze, as if the surface were perpetually burning. All the features on the head were indistinct, the inky darkness refuting any chance to inspect how it truly appeared.

It was the stuff of fevered dreams; the ilk of hallucinations and nightmares.

Yet Mira was untouched, spared the effect. His shoulders were squared, his back straight. He took another step toward the arbiter, leaving only a half dozen metres between them. Speaking again, throwing his emotion at it, for the first time the creature moved. The claws flexed, the head twitching as the message struck home.

The darkness is unmade. An angel sends me. I am his champion, the agent of hidden sunlight. It is all around us. You are powerless, arbiter.

The creature's jaw opened and it breathed sibilantly, an exhalation of revulsion, hatred, and menace. The sound vibrated through multiple frequencies at once and Carlos shook his head in discomfort, the wholesale weirdness of the experience comparable to the shrieking oddity of nails upon the blackboard. It touched something primal in him, that evoked a jarring sense of basic incompatibility with his sentience and identity.

This creature was so wrong. It was an aberration of all he knew.

Mira did not flinch.

He moved another step closer.

Where is your strength? Summon your warriors. Call for aid. Challenge me, arbiter.

That was enough.

The claws shuddered, the shoulders arched, the head went back. From deep within the creature's chest came a sound, a high-pitched stentorian keening that expanded outwards with phenomenal vibrancy. Bypassing all matter, it carved through earth and flesh, granite and ivory. The wailing outpour gained pitch, holding steady for a dozen seconds before dying away. Carlos had his hands clapped ineffectually to his ears, but he felt Mira grabbing his arm, pulling him. Before the cry had ended, they were moving, running back the way they came.

There was no lingering here. It was not the time to fight

The call to arms was sounded.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Konstantin Andropov was not one to suffer braggarts nor bluster. Nor was he tolerant of fools and bullies. It took all types to survive in this stretch of Aurum's heartland and on Lucere in general. Life was no picnic but that certainly did not excuse the corrupt and contemptuous. It was odd, then, that he had found himself not hating their captive but rather intrigued by who this man was.

Certainly, he was not simply another of Miles Hartley's lackeys. There was more to him than that.

Shay had beckoned Konstantin aside, drawing him away from his angry excoriation of Sergeant Morgan when it became clear that something different was needed to get results. The boy's frequently displayed habit for over-analysing was, of course, still present despite the necessary cruelty of what they were doing. Konstantin had seen the almost painful degree of self-awareness in him through and through. It was a sort of politely-inoffensive-schoolboy veneer that coated the combination of social backwardness and intellectual maturity.

All the same, he could not deny this seemingly naive shy young man was full of surprises and possessed an uncommon strength that Konstantin found both admirable and incredibly endearing. The flashes of deep emotional poignancy he had witnessed had only cemented Shay's image, reinforcing the growing fondness for this boy and a belief in the providence exemplified.

There was little doubt that the Almighty indeed moved in very mysterious ways.

Right then, Konstantin had been dubious where his principle stood on what Shay was suggesting. He was prepared to sacrifice for their common good, but committing acts of decidedly immoral consequence was a slippery slope to being no better than the deceiver they faced. Hartley would do anything to achieve his goals and had performed his part with massive guile and given no apology for it.

Yet, that brand of ungirded ego and ambition had no conscience, no guiding centre to it. The focus was on the acquisition of power, and nothing more. His own interest was not, and his desire reinforced by a better way. This was his bedrock for weathering this storm of events.

Konstantin knew it would have to serve.

Returning from his laboratory storage to the garage, he handed Shay the items the boy had requested. The viral tissue was nearly transparent in the prepared saline solution, but he had added a couple drops of ink. It was a twisted nod towards the mysticism that surrounded the disease, the superstition that came with uneducated views. It certainly looked the part, swirling fingers of grey-black clutching along the inside of the vial; more ominous than what otherwise would have looked like a glass tube with water in it.

Morgan was watching both of them with suspicion as the boy moved to stand right in front of him; Mira was still standing innocuously behind the bound man, quietly avoiding notice. Shay made sure he had the sergeant's full attention, then he cleared his throat and spoke.

"You won't cooperate with us, so we're going to do things this way instead. You have two choices." He held his left hand out, opening his fingers to reveal the vial. "One option is freedom, with the Sharpe virus as your only friend. It will need just one drop, then we will take you out into the Palatus forest and leave you, miles from anywhere. No weapons, no food, no nothing. You won't need it. All that will matter is you, Lucere, and the knowledge that in a few hours, maybe a day or two, your soul will slowly drain away as you become one of them ... and there won't be a damn thing you can do about it."

Morgan was utterly still as he listened. Not a muscle twitched in his face nor his body.

"Your other choice is service, to a better cause." He opened his right hand and it was empty. Konstantin knew though, that it was in truth anything but emptiness. It was cleanliness. The unstained normality of Shay's palm was a sight that stirred hope in the Russian; an unarguable visible sign of the disease's impotence. "I am immune to the virus. The boy behind you is even more than that. He is cured of it."

The sergeant's attention was unchanging now, irreversibly trained in front of him. He could not dispute what was being shown, because there was nothing that could disprove it. Everyone was a carrier -- everyone. Yet, not here. Not this boy. Shay had a rapt audience; Konstantin believed it was both fear and incredulity ruling the man's thoughts, together a powerful combination. He did not let it surface, though.

"We were persecuted by your CO from the moment he knew about us. Every chance he has had, he has tried to control us, then to hurt and kill us when that failed."

It was time to add his own weight to this; to push this soldier towards destiny. "Ask yourself," Konstantin intoned, "what sort of man claims to be working to free the world when he will destroy this? The greatest chance we have. All because it will not align with his quest for personal glory."

The boy nodded. "That is the second option. Aid us willingly and choose to be a better man than Hartley." He paused for a moment and then gave a shrug. The cherubic innocence was so very much at odds with the indiscriminate black-and-white psychological extortion that Shay was carrying out. It was astounding to the Russian how often people underestimated the innovation of intelligent youth. Just a boy? Never underrate this one. "That is unless you want to go back to him, bound and gagged, but it's safe to guess that no-one is interested in that."

Morgan did not reply. He remained stiffly tense and inexpressive.

There was silence for several seconds.

Nothing changed.

After that, Shay did not hesitate. With ceremonial demonstration, he unstoppered the vial right in front of Morgan's face, dipped the eyedropper into the viral solution and drew a little into the stem. With his left thumb, he flicked the stopper back closed and pressed it down, then handed it to Konstantin. He had not imagined it was in Shay's script of how he intended to proceed, but given their inscrutable ability to naturally anticipate one another, he was not that surprised when Mira's grip was suddenly on the man's neck. The head was pulled backward, the face firmly held upright.

"Do you prefer the mouth or the eye?" The dropper was lifted over Morgan's face, the devil's choice about to be made. The sergeant's jaw tensed, clenching tight but he did not struggle. His eyes flicked to Konstantin again, but finding no traction, no grace, returned to Shay. "Think I'm bluffing? You know what I think? I think ... we'll use the eye, since this is an eyedropper after all."

The boy squeezed it and the smallest bead of solution gathered at the tip. Moving it above Morgan's right eye, the droplet clung to the tip. The liquid began to separate from the glass, elongating as it hung by an ever thinning connection. The precarious alarm of the situation began to increase on the man's face, as did the detestable realisation that there was the entirely real possibility that Shay was not bluffing at all.

"Wait!" He called through clenched teeth. "Just wait."

The eyedropper tilted away, the pressure easing as the liquid reformed, retreating back. It stayed hovering there.

Waiting.

"You're really clean, aren't you?" Low, under his breath so as not to disturb the air around the dropper. "You brought someone ... back?"

"I did." Shay's reply was soft, but he did not move the hand holding the dropper. "We've been scratched, bitten and cut. That's all sharpelings can do to us now. I want to give everyone else what we have, that freedom. It won't be easy, but if you're going to let Hartley get away with everything and beat us ... "

He did not have to say it.

It took only a few seconds to come to a decision. Konstantin knew the moment the man spoke that they had won the battle. He had felt that Morgan was a good man, a person who had integrity but was bound by both loyalty and self-preservation to serve an idol who did not deserve obedience, but demanded it in lieu of a heavy price. The sergeant's candor and forthright declaration were unexpected however, and a little amusing given the gravity.

"Well if I am going to die, it may as well be for something worthwhile." He swallowed, looking uncomfortably at the dropper. The accent showed as he spoke, the inflection hinting that this was how Morgan truly felt. "Y'know, I'm not a turncoat nor a coward, but ... fuck turning into one o' them buggers. Fuck Hartley too, for that matter."

Shay lifted the eyedropper away and Morgan looked to Konstantin. "My question for you is: how do you know I won't set you up? How could you trust me not to screw you over after all of this?"

"Because we're going to use a leash that you cannot break," the Russian replied. "Also, you will be coming with us to Mersenne. There is always a cost."

Now, observing the Liberators through the trees near Vendhall, it did not appear that the leash was necessary, although there had not been any test of that so far that Konstantin could trust. It was a sound concept, though he was not intending to stress it too thoroughly.

Temptation was best avoided altogether.

"Where d'you think they went?" Morgan's question was a good one and something he had been wondering himself for the last couple minutes. He trusted, however, that Mira would not run off for absolutely no purpose. Like Shay, the boy's motives did not require verifying and the Russian understood well now that his mind picked up much that theirs did not. Certain things were leftover from his life as a sharpeling and there was a tacit wisdom there Konstantin left unquestioned.

The reasoning would be sound.

He was about to reply to the man when they heard the noise. It was like a banshee wail, a strange witching cry that rippled through everything. In front of the house, there was a flurry of movement. Several soldiers were climbing onto the vehicles and others on foot. Orders were being shouted and the men moved out into the field, already tracking towards the source.

The manor was a vanilla design, rectangle shaped, with the short end of the building facing towards them, the grating where Shay had entered visible along the wall. The main front entrance was on the longer side to the right, and was not directly visible from where they stood. As the bulk of the soldiers streamed away into the open field, leaving a scant few behind, it was abundantly clear to Konstantin what had just occurred.

A diversion.

The rear side of the house had been unguarded but now there was minimal chance of being disrupted by the Liberators, as they were otherwise occupied. A smile broke out. Of course it was Mira's doing. He had seen the need for space. Now, here it was.

Clever boy.

"Come." Nodding to Morgan, he motioned the man forward and together they moved out of the trees, running across the grass towards the rear side of the building. Slipping along the wall, they inspected the windows as they moved. Each was boarded up and it didn't look like it would be easy to get inside without making an excessive amount of commotion. After the first three windows, he was about to move on, to look for a better point of entry, when Morgan stopped him.

"Voices," he whispered, pointing to the one they were next to. "Can't you hear 'em? Right inside."

He listened, sidling up next to the sealed aperture and sure enough, faintly he could hear the sound of someone speaking. The voice sounded youthful, though it was too muffled to hear actual words.

"It's Shay, I think," Morgan continued, copying his action, leaning in to hear the dialogue, "and it seems like he's speaking to ... "

Pause, to ascertain it. Another voice.

An English accent.

"Oh no. It's him."

He hadn't expected the man to personally supervise this mission. It didn't matter though. He would not let that bastard hurt the boy again. He would stop it, however he could.

Silently, he prayed for Shay to keep a clear head. Help was on the way.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Whatever produced the cry stirred up a lot of attention from the soldiers outside. I could hear shouting and the brr of engines starting. Looking at Hartley, he stared straight back. For at least thirty seconds neither of us said anything. He wasn't about to push me into using the TT-33 and I wasn't about to commit suicide by firing. Mexican standoff, again. He's still not giving anything away. Does he know what made that sound?

"You don't know what that was," I accused. "If you did, you'd already be trying to fool me with it."

He snorted, lips curling into a smirk. "Maybe I do, maybe I don't. What are you going to do about it?"

I know what I want to do. A reply was on the tip of my tongue, but then I heard through the house the sound of footsteps. Rushed, they moved briskly through more distant rooms, then along the passage adjacent to us. I backed up a little to beside the door instead of standing in the doorway, turning so I had a good view of the approach. My eyes darted between his face and the spot right next to me.

The Tokarev was still trained firmly on Miles. He could hear the footsteps too and he lifted a finger, wagging it in a tut-tut motion and shaking his head, a mocking smile on his face. Things were about to get very dangerous for me -- and he knew it.

Fuck!

The person entered the next room, barging straight through it. He began speaking before I saw him, seeing the lieutenant-colonel through the doorway, in a hurry to deliver the news. "Sir! I've ordered Sigma and Tau to sweep th-"

BOOM!

The shot caught the officer on his temple, felling him instantly, and he bounced sideways off the frame and onto the floor. I was already flicking my aim back to Hartley but he was moving so fast, and suddenly he was on me; one arm slapped my gun hand away, his weight slamming me into the wall. Pain jolted through me as my head struck the hard surface and Hartley's momentum slid me along into the corner. I shoved at him with my free left hand but it wasn't enough. Up close, he was much stronger than I was and although my grip on the pistol was very tight, he had my right wrist pinned to the wall.

Literally cornered, Hartley forced the free arm out of the way with his own. Pressing in against me, his hand grabbed my neck and began to choke. Struggling I pushed against him again, but he just tightened his grip, the chokehold intensifying. Unable to keep it, the gun dropped from my hand.

"Foolish child." The air was cut off and my vision blurred as I desperately fought for it. Adrenalin roared and my muscles screamed with the effort as I tried to break free.

"Time to die."

Fuck ... THAT.

Flailing, my right leg came loose from his oppressive body weight and with all my strength I kicked up and out, the unbearable squeezing on my neck not relenting. My foot met unexpectedly with something soft and Hartley grunted audibly, his suffocating grasp weakening for just a second. YES! Again, I kicked upwards not once but twice, smashing my leg into his groin. An agonised groan escaped him and I shoved him away, breaking the hold.

Crippled, he was staggering back a few feet, out of action, but I knew that was momentary. I didn't hesitate, dropping to the floor, gasping for breath as I reached for the Tokarev. Hartley's own breath was wheezing too as his foot shot out, nudging the gun, pushing it away before I could get my hands on it.

No!

He was coming for me again, moving forward, when there was a sound. In a splintering cracking explosion of glass and wood, a familiar ursine figure smashed through the window next to us. Konstantin entered boot first and his trajectory continued onwards, ramming into the lieutenant-colonel without mercy. Hartley flew a couple of metres, hitting the shelving on the other side of the doorway, for a second stunned. As Konstantin steadied from his landing, Hartley reached for his sidearm, the first chance he had to do so, gripping the doorway and swinging smartly around into the next room. The Russian was doing the same, one of the looted Liberators' pistols acting as a stand-in for the Tokarev while it was in my possession.

"AHH! Die, you cowardly pig!" Konstantin's voice boomed as he fired through the wall, our adversary weaving and scrambling while he beat a hasty retreat through the house. I scooped up the TT-33, and Konstantin finished emptying his clip and then was lifting me bodily to plunge out the window to where Morgan was waiting below.

"Are you okay, lad?" The sergeant looked me over. "Nothin' serious?"

"I'm fine," I huffed, still out of breath. "I have the info we need. We gotta leave now. If we wait, we'll be dead."

Konstantin nodded, reloading the gun as he responded to me. "Back to the bikes. Let's go." He slotted the clip into place and right at that moment, before any of us could move, around the far end of the house, the opposite direction from where we'd approached, two soldiers appeared at the corner.

Hartley had already sent men.

We were in trouble.

The Russian reacted instantly. His arm flew upwards, and Morgan drew as well, impressively fast. They fired almost in the same instant, three shots in total, the soldiers not getting an opportunity to fully raise their weapons.

"Sergeant?"

The voice came from behind us. Four more soldiers were rounding the closer corner, from back the way we had originally come. All of them had their rifles trained on us, the leader evidently having recognised Morgan. The unexpected confusion at seeing an officer he recognised in the company of two strangers just complicated the situation, but then he was yelling at us, caution thrown to the wind.

"Drop your weapons! Do it now! Hands on your heads!"

They began to advance as a unit and from the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of movement and then suddenly it seemed like a miniature tornado of energy discharged right in the centre of the group. A strange excited feeling, a pride, blazed in me; fiercely nervous and overjoyed at once, when I realised what was happening.

Mira arrived before any of them could see him, knocking the group apart. The first guy was sent flying backwards by a spinning kick, landing him several metres away in the grass, while the second and third received limbs to the face, separating them and pushing them apart. He was moving so quickly I could barely keep up, and turning gracefully, he tripped the fourth. Grabbing him by his scruff, Mira rammed him face first into the wall of the manor.

The second recoiled, trying to centre his scrambled reactions on whomever had just struck from nowhere, but Mira was already behind him, ripping the man’s rifle from his grasp. Then it was flipped around to the small of his back, the gun being used as a fulcrum, and Mira’s hand on his neck. Pressure was sharply applied, the torso and spine bending unnaturally in opposite directions, and the man went limp, sliding to the ground.

He didn't even bother with the third, because a gunshot rang out from a distance, the soldier capped before he could recover from the initial hit. The fourth, and last, was standing from where the kick had sprawled him, his barrel coming level, ready for action. Not missing a beat, Mira was turning from the second, drawing the dagger, and he spun it deftly so it upended, his fingers pinching the blade. Then, a flick of the hand and a blur of steel, and there was a wet squelch as it embedded itself into the man's throat. Slobbering blood, he dropped right back onto the grass, dead.

I just- ... he's so- ... wow! He's better than all of them. While I knew what he was capable of, I'd never seen it on full display. The attack happened so quickly that the enemy hadn't really a chance to figure out what was happening before they were all dealt with. Although Konstantin was unsurprised over what we'd just seen, it was new to Morgan, who was gaping at the spectacle.

"That was unreal. Remind me never to get on his bad side."

The shot had come from Carlos, who was running across to us. Breathing hard, he gestured to Mira, who was retrieving the blade from the soldier's neck, wiping it down as he did so. "You won't believe what just happened," he managed, between gulps of air, "but we gotta go. I mean now!"

"We know!" The Russian's reply was emphasised, very well aware of the urgency. "Hartley is here. I don't know where you were, but whatever that was, it created a timely diversion."

"Hartley?" Carlos' expression was incredulous. "Man, who gives a fuck about him. Haven't you seen what's coming? We need to find a way out."

"We have a way out of here! We just need-"

"Konstantin!" His voice was a plea. "Look at the bikes. Look what's there and then tell me we have a way."

Heads turned to look to the trees, where the bikes were stashed. In the late afternoon light, slowly turning to early-evening dusk, there were sharpelings. Numerous sharpelings, loping right through the area. None of them were focused on us, their heading was towards the field in front of the house, travelling at a slow run. I had no idea how we had avoided being noticed, but presumably the large number of soldiers was much more visible and their sortie was attracting all the attention. Without needing to be told, we all moved in close towards the house's rear wall, minimising our group's profile.

"Lord save us," breathed Konstantin. He shook his head.

"Yeah." Carlos nodded. "The Liberators are about to run into that."

Right then, a gunshot boomed out and suddenly the air was filled with shots. With it came the heavier thump of a mounted gun, punctuating through the rifle-fire.

"They just did."

Mira looked directly at me, sending a silent burst of protective empathy, a concern that was laden with hope; 'these lands are unsafe, I want you out of here. There's a way.' What way? What does he know that we don't? He was forward, turning first to beckon the group, then he was off towards the far end of the building, peering around the corner, ignoring the two corpses as he did so. We caught up with him quickly enough and then we made our way along the other short end to the front corner.

The field was in plain view. Some distance away across it, two of the vehicles were engaged in combat, the soldiers surrounding them as support. Sharpelings were moving in not just from the direction of our abandoned repulsor bikes, but also from other directions, through the trees. They were converging on the Liberators and I could see Hartley sitting in one of the gunner mounts, the turret swivelling as it turned to open up on individual targets.

If only we could have brought the sniper rifle with us. That fucker would be a dead man right now and this would be over. It wasn't the time for might-have-beens though, as Mira was pointing to something a lot closer to us. The squad Hartley sent to kill us must have been in control of the third vehicle as it sat, unmanned and unguarded, by the entrance to the manor.

Hartley definitely didn't expect us to survive this encounter or he wouldn't have left this thing sitting here like that. It's fair game.

"It's a military vehicle, won't it be code-locked? I'm not the expert here but if what I know about Lucere's military hardware has any truth to it, we won't be able to steal it."

Oh ...

"You're right. We can't steal it." Morgan's reply to Konstantin was equally matter-of-fact. "Though I have to say, you'll be glad to have me along. It's too early for my old CO to have revoked access. As a field officer of the 3rd Aurum Tactical, I have requisition rights for the Drexler ATT41 APC at any time." He gave a sheepish shrug. "So we could just fuckin' drive away in it, y'know ... 'legally.'"

Konstantin's jaw dropped and a second later, his face broke into a grin and he began to laugh. Lifting a paw, he thumped Morgan heavily on the back. "I think, sergeant, you may be earning your worth today."

"I hope so," he replied. "Now, unless you all want to have a formal committee meeting about this, how about we get in that thing and get the hell outta here?"

Best idea I've heard all day.

So, that was exactly what we did.

-o-0-O-0-o-

It wasn't till we got back to the villa that I got a chance to talk to Konstantin on my own. As everyone began to wind down from the chaotic events of the day, I told him details of what Hartley had said to me; how he had promised to burn down the estate and kill everyone there. Moreso, I had no doubt that the next time we saw anything from the Liberators, it would be a lot more than a six man squad.

"This is troubling," he told me, as we sat in his study. The others were out with Lily in the kitchen, eating. Though it was too early to say Morgan was completely trustworthy, he had embraced his departure from Hartley's graces with sufficient relish to convince me he had no interest in going back. None of us were 100% on him yet, but the events of the day were a definite start.

The big man was relaxing, the vodka bottle having already come out and two shots consumed. It sat on the desk next to us, done with for the moment, but always with the potential for a little more. Konstantin had insisted on me taking a shot as well, and although I knew I was a little young to be getting really into the harder liquor, especially so in the case of this fire-water, the blazing spreading warmth it brought to me both lifted my spirits somewhat and eased my state of mind.

"Yes," he went on, "of course it is troubling. What are we meant to do against this threat, Shay? It will only let up when he is dead. We came close to achieving that today, but it was pure luck that none of us died either."

"I don't know what we should do," I admitted. "He said something weird about aqumi too, how it was never meant to bond with humans and was just a tool the original hosts used for adapting their bodies, or something like that."

"Curious idea." He leaned back in his chair. "Oh! I didn't ask yet. The whole point of this. You have the information, so what did it say about the control node?"

Oh! Completely forgot about that. "I haven't read it yet." Digging around in my pocket, I pulled out the paper. "It's a poem. I don't know what it means, but I guess it's a clue to find out where."

"Let me see. Wherever it is, we need to find it before Hartley does."

I handed him the slip of paper with the neat lines of handwriting on it. He looked at it carefully, then read it aloud.

Leagues of Night and Years of Toil,
Between Man and this Bright Frontier,
Now we Founders stand in Perfect Awe,
Raised upon the Shoulders of Giants,
In their Honour, we give our Dedication,
To build a Brave New World.

"I don't think I know what this is from. However, I do have a reference book for Lucere's literature and well-known quotations." He stood, wandered across to his bookcase and retrieved a thick book from it. Sitting back down in his chair, he opened it on his desk and turned to the index at the end. "Let me see. Ah! This looks likely." Konstantin flipped over the pages until he came to the relevant entry.

"What does it say?"

"It says the poem is a six-line verse, attributed to Giovanni Alberto Trovatelli. He was the first man to set foot on Lucere in the 21st century and it was on his recommendation that the planet was given the name it now has. The text is actually a quote that Giovanni spoke when he made landfall on the coast of eastern Aurum. A monument was later constructed on the site of the landing, and inscribed with his words. This edifice is located ... "

He trailed off, not finishing his sentence. Simply looking at the page, stopped mid sentence.

"Konstantin?" I asked. "Where is it?"

"Shay," he said, voice slow as he broke his stare and looked up at me. "It says ... it is located at one of Aurum's most well known civic constructions, the famous Accession Memorial Plaza, on the coastal side of the central business district of Aspira City."

What?!

The truth was not something I was prepared to hear. We had risked our lives to find this information and now we knew the thankless reality that we truly faced. The aqumi control node lay at Lucere's desolate heart, a thing that had long since ceased beating.

It was in Aspira, the capital city.

In honesty, faithful readers, the response to 15 seemed tepid at best. I hope you have been looking forward to 16, so I promise something that will hopefully fill your expectations. The discussion thread is right here.
If you feel Hidden Sunlight or Mira deserve your vote, then make your voices heard in the Reader's Choice awards here; you can vote by messaging your picks to Talonrider. Well even if I don't win your choosing, you should vote anyway! Make the competition worth it. The more participants, the better.
Oh, and as for the arbiter: Beware things that go bump in the night.
EDIT: also, it you enjoyed what you read, hit the like button to let me know. Authors need ❤️ too you know!
Copyright © 2013 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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I really enjoy your story - the action in this one, but also the exquisite writing in general. Normally I reread each chapter a lot of times, because everytime they reveal some new detail to me that I had overlooked previously.

Now I'm left wondering if this misterious creature was a regular Sharpling or something else altogether.

In any case, keep up the great writing, and I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter - which again will let me drop anything I'm doing to read it :-) .

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Sorry to hear the reception to the last chapter was tepid. I have been with you since the release of chapter one, and I'm still reading! Perhaps you are getting different reactions because you are now in the thick of the story, a story of such depth that we didn't realise what we were getting into when we began reading. Now the end of each chapter is a painful experience as we know we must wait for the next one! I love your writing, and I hope you continue to craft this story with the love you have shown for it thus far.

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The arbiter? I'm fascinated by this new creature. I've thought of about 20 different

things it could be, and they're probably all wrong. We'll see it again, and I'm more

sure of that, and not likely over for a social shot of vodka either! (Picture him coming

over for a polite snort in his shimmering carbon finery and giving a recital,...

and mind the crystal!)

 

Hartly seems to be hopelessly mad, and more than focused. He won't be invited

to the party! And who is 'She'? More myateries...

 

Seriously, I enjoyed every bit of this chapter, a always.

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I liked that chapter a lot. I'm also happy that i'm not stuck at the edge of my seat for the next few weeks wondering where the next chapter is. Which is not to say I'm not looking forward to it, of course.

good job!

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On 02/13/2013 07:37 PM, MMind said:
I really enjoy your story - the action in this one, but also the exquisite writing in general. Normally I reread each chapter a lot of times, because everytime they reveal some new detail to me that I had overlooked previously.

Now I'm left wondering if this misterious creature was a regular Sharpling or something else altogether.

In any case, keep up the great writing, and I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter - which again will let me drop anything I'm doing to read it :-) .

The detail is where the story is revealed, if you are a quick study and good at extrapolating. :) I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far.
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On 02/13/2013 08:00 PM, nero said:
Sorry to hear the reception to the last chapter was tepid. I have been with you since the release of chapter one, and I'm still reading! Perhaps you are getting different reactions because you are now in the thick of the story, a story of such depth that we didn't realise what we were getting into when we began reading. Now the end of each chapter is a painful experience as we know we must wait for the next one! I love your writing, and I hope you continue to craft this story with the love you have shown for it thus far.
Thank you. Your comments are appreciated.
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I just found this story over the weekend. What a read. I must say that I generally have kept my "gay reading" separate from my "sci fi" reading because I read them for different reasons, but this story has gotten me to rethink that separation, because it hasn't read like a "gay story" - it's just a great story, period. My only complaint (not your fault) is that it's not done, and I can't wait for the next chapter! So please, keep going. I can't wait to find out who the arbiter is, what the true nature of this planet is, and how Shay and Mira's life together evolve...

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On 02/13/2013 10:39 PM, Stephen said:
The arbiter? I'm fascinated by this new creature. I've thought of about 20 different

things it could be, and they're probably all wrong. We'll see it again, and I'm more

sure of that, and not likely over for a social shot of vodka either! (Picture him coming

over for a polite snort in his shimmering carbon finery and giving a recital,...

and mind the crystal!)

 

Hartly seems to be hopelessly mad, and more than focused. He won't be invited

to the party! And who is 'She'? More myateries...

 

Seriously, I enjoyed every bit of this chapter, a always.

Ah yes, exactly what *everyone* is wondering right now: what is that .. 'thing'? :D He is surely not a sociable house guest and no friend of Lucere's human population.

 

Hartley is what he is, and that's a very cunning powerful man with a fake-hero complex. Just what does he plan to do with the control node? That is anyone's guess ;)

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On 02/14/2013 12:01 PM, Myr said:
I liked that chapter a lot. I'm also happy that i'm not stuck at the edge of my seat for the next few weeks wondering where the next chapter is. Which is not to say I'm not looking forward to it, of course.

good job!

Thank you :) Well this ending can fit into the category that doesn't contain cliffhangers, for once.
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On 02/20/2013 05:52 AM, xleroc said:
I just found this story over the weekend. What a read. I must say that I generally have kept my "gay reading" separate from my "sci fi" reading because I read them for different reasons, but this story has gotten me to rethink that separation, because it hasn't read like a "gay story" - it's just a great story, period. My only complaint (not your fault) is that it's not done, and I can't wait for the next chapter! So please, keep going. I can't wait to find out who the arbiter is, what the true nature of this planet is, and how Shay and Mira's life together evolve...
Thank you very much for your comments. It was an important issue to me that there was a balance in my writing for Hidden Sunlight and that it wasn't just a 'gay story.' I didn't want it to become formulaic or clichéd; I simply wanted it to be a story made up of action, adventure, mystery and .. romance. The romance was not to be overwhelmingly sexual and it also wasn't to dominate the other themes.

 

So, it pleases me to find opinions like yours! Rest assured there is plenty left to come and I sincerely hope I will not disappoint!

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Really enjoying the story. I love all the action and the growing relationship between Shay and Mira!!!

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On 05/23/2013 09:44 PM, Gene63 said:
Really enjoying the story. I love all the action and the growing relationship between Shay and Mira!!!
Thank you!
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I make it a habit to read each of your chapters twice. nowhere else do I do this. Great story, more please.

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this story is definitely one of those gems you find once in a while. it is exceptional! I almost feel badly that you are having us read it for free bc it really does deserve to be published. your grasp of different subjects like science and writing and some literature, etc. are very enviable too. i'm enjoying the story so much and only wish I had read it when it came out so I could discuss it with others, though not having to wait for new chapters is definitely awesome!

So much came out in the last few chapters. A small detail is the surprise that Charles and Chris were together, yet he didn't tell his brother John that? Were they facing homophobia on this world too?

The whole scene with the arbiter was very strange. Part of me thought Mira had been the one to scream when Shay had been surrounded by those sharpelings right after he made Mira. I am wondering if this arbiter is a human with the sharpe virus or not? It seems like it is clearly different than the rest as well as being some super alpha able to call the rest. It is super cool that Mira can still talk to these things. Though he doesn't seem to be able to talk to the average sharpling. It seems he is able to see and talk to this one. Will we ever learn more about who Mira was before he became a sharpling? Do the sharplings procreate or are they only increased in numbers when more humans turn? I'd assume they have to procreate or eventually there may not be more humans to change. That said, is Mira a human turned sharpling or not? It would be interesting to know.

I was a lot surprised at the idea that they would send Shay into the house alone. That was crazy risky! He is too important to risk that way. Mira would have been a better choice with his ability to be so stealthy and strong as a fighter, since the goal was for someone to open a door for the rest. I wonder how Hartley will get away this time? He seems to have too many lives. He's too cocky though and hopefully will learn not to underestimate Shay and the others.

I do wonder though, why haven't they addressed the faultiness of the perimeter fence at the compound? I can't believe they are willing to leave Lily alone knowing how more assassins are being sent as the previous ones fail. You'd think they'd be keeping watch after a group of assassins were sent. It's clear that they weren't just there to kill Shay anymore. I really like this Morgan! He'll be a great addition to the group. I hope he and Carlos have a chance to hook up maybe lol I feel so badly for Carlos. I don't know why shay wanted him to admit he has feelings for him that time. it was kinda mean!

i'm supposed to be sleeping now, but I love this too much to stop reading lol

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On 11/18/2013 07:38 PM, Cannd said:
this story is definitely one of those gems you find once in a while. it is exceptional! I almost feel badly that you are having us read it for free bc it really does deserve to be published. your grasp of different subjects like science and writing and some literature, etc. are very enviable too. i'm enjoying the story so much and only wish I had read it when it came out so I could discuss it with others, though not having to wait for new chapters is definitely awesome!

So much came out in the last few chapters. A small detail is the surprise that Charles and Chris were together, yet he didn't tell his brother John that? Were they facing homophobia on this world too?

The whole scene with the arbiter was very strange. Part of me thought Mira had been the one to scream when Shay had been surrounded by those sharpelings right after he made Mira. I am wondering if this arbiter is a human with the sharpe virus or not? It seems like it is clearly different than the rest as well as being some super alpha able to call the rest. It is super cool that Mira can still talk to these things. Though he doesn't seem to be able to talk to the average sharpling. It seems he is able to see and talk to this one. Will we ever learn more about who Mira was before he became a sharpling? Do the sharplings procreate or are they only increased in numbers when more humans turn? I'd assume they have to procreate or eventually there may not be more humans to change. That said, is Mira a human turned sharpling or not? It would be interesting to know.

I was a lot surprised at the idea that they would send Shay into the house alone. That was crazy risky! He is too important to risk that way. Mira would have been a better choice with his ability to be so stealthy and strong as a fighter, since the goal was for someone to open a door for the rest. I wonder how Hartley will get away this time? He seems to have too many lives. He's too cocky though and hopefully will learn not to underestimate Shay and the others.

I do wonder though, why haven't they addressed the faultiness of the perimeter fence at the compound? I can't believe they are willing to leave Lily alone knowing how more assassins are being sent as the previous ones fail. You'd think they'd be keeping watch after a group of assassins were sent. It's clear that they weren't just there to kill Shay anymore. I really like this Morgan! He'll be a great addition to the group. I hope he and Carlos have a chance to hook up maybe lol I feel so badly for Carlos. I don't know why shay wanted him to admit he has feelings for him that time. it was kinda mean!

i'm supposed to be sleeping now, but I love this too much to stop reading lol

Thank you for your positive comments :) I wish to add that you can still discuss the story in the appropriate thread, which is viewable on my forum and linked from the bottom of most chapters. The sequel is probably more open to this, however, as it is currently being written and will have fresher dialogue going on. Please feel free to stop on by and add your voice.

 

Once again, a long detailed review! No problem for me, I enjoy seeing how much thought my fiction has provoked. Let me see what I can add to your thoughts ;)

 

- how do you know that Chris had *not* told John about his relationship with Charles? Though it isn't mentioned in the correspondence to one another, that doesn't mean John did not know, as the emails were mostly business oriented. Lucere was a model world in many senses, including civil rights. That's not to say there was no homophobia - it's one of those things that is hard to stamp out completely - but more along the lines that discrimination was not part of the cultural and legal structure of the day.

 

- oh, the arbiter :) quite a mysterious creature, isn't it? Most of what you suggest here about Mira and sharpelings (including procreation) was covered in my response to your review of Chapter 9. With regard to the arbiter, the direct communication can occur because of *what* the arbiter is, unlike the more basic kill-or-be-killed interaction with the average sharpeling. Considering that same response mentioned above, the assumption that Mira was once a human before he was a sharpeling is a flawed one. That sharpelings could breed (and yes, they do reproduce) necessitates some proportion of their population never having experienced 'humanity'; HOWEVER ... *all* sharpelings are by definition mutated humans, so they possess latent human DNA -- they are still essentially people underneath all that twisted armour and claws and savagery. Just not people that are in control of their own perceptions or actions; not any more.

 

- the reasoning behind Shay being the one to enter the house was given during the chapter itself. He and Mira were the only ones small enough to fit into the ventilation. They were after information, not busting open the mansion in some kind of raid. While Mira has picked up on speech quickly enough, he definitely cannot read and would not be so much use on a fact-finding mission, despite his ability in combat. So that role had to fall to Shay.

 

- the security fence thing. Once again, the fence isn't faulty. It just isn't a barrier to the likes of Hartley's forces. Konstantin knows this, Lily knows this -- they all know it. There's simply nothing they can do about it. Regardless of how vulnerable the house may be to the Liberators, it is still safer than much of the rest of Aurum. The urgency of the mission to Mersenne is predicated not just on beating Hartley to the information but also because the protagonists do not know when Hartley will learn that his lone assassin and assault squad failed -- and consequently send even more men to finish the job. They want to reach the endgame first and this requires risk-taking. The alternative is complacency, which is worse in the longer term because it would certainly end up with them defeated or dead.

 

- uh ... yeah ... Morgan and Carlos? Uh .. what? Hahahaha. That is so not gonna happen. I mean, really!

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on devil meets another...

and really, did we really think Aspira with that sudden blankness would be not on the list... lol

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On 04/15/2015 12:46 AM, Celethiel said:
on devil meets another...

and really, did we really think Aspira with that sudden blankness would be not on the list... lol

Aspira is where things will reallllly happen.
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I do so love your articulation. The story causes me to be rapt in the plot and the way it is worded.
Thank you for making this tale available. I am looking forward to the next and next etc etc etc... :)

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On 11/28/2015 12:43 PM, Ashdaw said:

I do so love your articulation. The story causes me to be rapt in the plot and the way it is worded.

Thank you for making this tale available. I am looking forward to the next and next etc etc etc... :)

Thank you. Mira's scenes allowed for the greatest creativity with language, though there are some parts I retrospectively dislike. When I can go back and clean up those areas, I will be happier with the overall feel of it.

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On 2/19/2013 at 5:33 PM, Stellar said:

Ah yes, exactly what *everyone* is wondering right now: what is that .. 'thing'? :D He is surely not a sociable house guest and no friend of Lucere's human population.

That 'thing' is a fully mutated alien. The Sharplings are humans that have been partially mutated... Well, as much as the nodes were programmed to do.

All the clues have been out there. Fruition came with the alien showing up. And now we know where it all started!

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