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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.
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Hidden Sunlight - 17. Bitter Fortune

Ripples of laughter were coming from the other end of the house as I made my way back through. Though my mind was filled with the daunting prospect of travelling to Aspira and all the risks that would surely involve, I couldn't help but wonder what the others were up to that was causing all the mirth. Entering the lounge, Sergeant Morgan was in the middle of what seemed to be a rather elaborate and probably quite dirty joke, if his hand gestures were any indication. Lily and Carlos were sitting in the two adjoining armchairs, listening; she was hiding her giggles behind her hand, while he wore a wide grin.

Must be a good story, whatever it is. "What's the joke?"

"Oh Shay, honey," Lily interrupted Morgan for a moment, nodding towards the empty seat on the couch next to Mira, "sit down and join us. Danny was just telling us some tales."

Danny? So that's the sergeant's first name. Did wonder about that.

I could feel Mira's eyes on me before I sat, without needing to look directly at him. Settling onto the couch, something else occurred to me. The three across from us were holding tumblers and there was a bottle on the end table between Lily and Carlos; all held varying amounts of a pale amber liquid.

Alcohol? So Konstantin isn't the only one who brews his own. I glanced past Mira and immediately saw the empty glass sitting on the couch's far armrest. He ... had some?! The concept of combining alcohol with Mira was strangely intriguing, especially knowing how hard to predict he was under normal circumstances. This had the potential to send events in absolutely any direction. With that knowledge and the pull of his eyes practically demanding my attention, I could do nothing other than give it to him. Though the others were still engrossed in Morgan's anecdote, Mira was paying them no regard any more either, his gaze painting my neck, my jaw, my lips, with an intense concentration; an unspoken wish to worship every square millimetre of my skin by sight alone.

Will this ever get old for me? Involuntarily, my heartrate suddenly soared and there I was, the rabbit caught in the headlights, bathed in the power of his fixation. Next second, his hands were on me and then, as if I were weightless, he pulled me onto him, depositing me skillfully into his lap. I was sitting sideways, my legs off to his left, his right arm around me, supporting my back. Our faces were just a couple of inches apart, and right then, he burst into a wide happy smile, his face lighting up in joyous excitement.

Stunned. The fingers of his left hand were tracing my chin, brushing my cheek, but all I could think about was the tenderness in his look, the way it made my nerves go crazy and how my stomach was turning over and over. Not only that, but he was smiling. Actually smiling, openly and unguarded.

Smiling, in front of everyone else.

If someone had smacked me in the face with a brick, I doubt it would have matched how astonished I felt right then. Yet, before I could gather my thoughts, the supporting arm was gone from behind and I was sliding backwards onto the couch, slipping off Mira's lap. Deftly and with his typical dextrous speed, he twisted under me, moving forward in synch as gravity dragged me the opposite way. His left arm planted by my right hip to hold his weight at the couch's edge; the right slipped again under my back to catch me just before I struck the armrest.

Leaning, Mira's breath tickled my face; rich, warm and drenched in the scent of sweet apples. Boxed in, his body and the couch afforded me no room to move. I was pinned, staring at him as he held me close in that confined space. A possessive heat bloomed in his eyes while I lay captive, a powerless but willing prisoner to his graceful entrapment, his very presence. His lips pressed into mine, beginning a deep full kiss and I could feel in it the sentiment that I would have seen in his eyes; 'you are mine, all mine, and I want everyone to know it.'

I only became aware that we were being watched when we broke apart, the world expanding once more to include everybody else and the silence in the room as their talk had stopped. My heart was drumming so quickly, the sharp delicious tang of fermented fruit lingering on my tongue as I heard a soft 'aww' from Lily and then Morgan's voice right after that. "Well, that's something ya don't see every day."

Simultaneously embarrassed beyond words and filled with a weird sense of pride and excitement at his unprecedented display of affection, I hid my face in his neck, sitting back in his lap as I was beforehand. Lily giggled. "Don't be ashamed, sweetheart. If I had known a little drink would let us see him like this, I'd have offered it sooner."

Swallowing my fear, I turned to look at them and was relieved to see that neither Carlos nor Morgan were bothered by what they'd seen. "What is it?" I mumbled. "The drink I mean."

"Cider," she grinned. "The apples around here are plentiful and more than we could use for eating. The Andropovs love their vodka, but the Parkers have their own traditions too."

I started to reply, but Mira's lips brushing my neck killed the words on the tip of my tongue. He began placing gentle kisses while my attention was still on the other three, the sensation leaving me open-mouthed and speechless. Carlos was taking a sip and he immediately put the tumbler down, spluttering and snorting with laughter, the other two joining him. My face was burning but at the same time, Mira didn't stop, oblivious and uncaring, totally locked into Shay-is-the-centre-of-my-attention mode.

"You know lad, both of ya are very different," Morgan chuckled. "I don't just mean because of, y'know, this," he said, gesturing to the two of us, "but because I think, just maybe, that by being yourself, you're giving some inspiration to others."

Carlos gave him a very questioning look at this statement, so he continued, explaining himself. "Believing the best in people, that there's another way or some chance to do good in a place like this. If the universe has any sense of justice to it, I can't think what terrible things our ancestors must have done for this world to become what it is today."

He paused thoughtfully, the rest of us listening, except for Mira, who was very much engaged in what he was doing, and stealing nearly all my will power to resist in the process. "People have stood up to Hartley before, and every time he's destroyed them. Every time he'd force the belief that he was the only hope, the only way to bring order to this chaos. Then I found all of you. At first I thought you were just another bunch who were getting in the CO's way and that you'd meet the same end as the others, but ... you're not another lost cause. You two in particular." He tipped his head towards me and my still-occupied miracle. "I've never met anyone like you. You are exactly what you told me you were. I'll not lie, you fuckin' scared the bejesus outta me with that eyedropper but all of your actions are true and honest. There's no doubt there, no despair."

Trying to concentrate on Morgan's speech was hard, but thankfully Mira eased off, slowing his kisses and instead lightly nuzzling my skin. I feel kinda guilty now. I guess I shouldn't be because I didn't know him then, but ...

"Morgan, I'm sorry, I-"

"No, lad," he cut me off. "Don't be sorry. I'm not done yet, either. I want to say: I do hope there is some type o' fairness to Lucere, because you deserve to live and see it renewed. For all of what I've just said and because, well, you love him. He loves you, plain as day. That's something you just don't see any more. It's something the Liberators don't have and the only people I've ever seen show any kind of human connection like that are never the ones that survive."

"Danny," Lily's voice was quiet, restrained. "Thank you for being so open with us."

"Ma'am," he nodded his head to her. "I may have left them behind and I feel glad to have done so, but ... I don't feel worthy of your thanks. I've done some terrible things in that man's name." He looked down at his hands then back up, at me. "All of us did terrible things. By rights, I have earned what you nearly gave me. Yet there were men who've done worse and been happy about it. Murder. Torture. Rape. Men and women. Boys and girls. There was one from Epsilon who had lost count of his victims, and another from Lambda who was notorious for forcing himself on children."

"Was that Riley?" Mira shifted against my neck, his fingers rubbing my back where they rested, comforting me. "He was the one I stabbed."

Morgan's expression lightened. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

"Could we talk about something less depressing?"

Leave it to Carlos to steer the conversation to safer ground.

"Actually, I think I'm going to turn in." Lily came to her feet, plucking the cider bottle from the side table and then ambled off into the next room. It took only a split second for me to decide that was a good idea too, and before Mira could protest, I broke free from his grip and got up, following her into the kitchen. She had stowed the cider and was rinsing her glass in the sink when I entered. Looking up, she turned off the faucet, then came straight round the counter and without missing a beat, hugged me.

"I've already said this to you Shay, but seeing you and Mira like that? It makes me so happy." She wiped a tear out of her eye as she gripped my shoulder. "You have no idea. After all that's happened, I am just- ... just so glad." Then she tweaked my ear, giving a teasing frown. "Also, why didn't you tell me he could smile?! Honey, he's absolutely gorgeous. You're a very lucky boy."

There was that weird tight feeling again, that pressure inside me as I was reminded once more just what I had. I am lucky. So fucking lucky it defies belief. He's special. Beyond special. Priceless. I swallowed, my voice coming out in a bare whisper.

"I know. Sometimes it doesn't seem real, but ... it is."

Her voice dropped in tone to match mine, and her next comment was almost conspiratorial. "I bet he's a good kisser too."

Did she just ... ? I, uh- ... what do I say? Suddenly I couldn't look her in the eye, but the expression on my face betrayed me straight away, as memories of just how incredibly fucking awesome Mira made me feel when he kissed me flooded through my head. Flushing, I couldn't stop myself from confirming it. "Yeah," I breathed, admitting it, "he's an amazing kisser."

"Mhmm. Well, I'll leave you two to enjoy it then." Lily squeezed my shoulder again, a final jesting look before she let go of me and made her way out of the kitchen.

You two? Then I felt Mira's hand slip into mine, having silently arrived in the kitchen after already growing bored with the conversation in the lounge. Of course, no Shay means no interest for him. Then he was pulling us towards the hallway, almost hurriedly weaving past the counter. Soon as the door was closed and we were alone, out of view, he turned, pushing me against the wall. His arms came down and then he was picking me up by my butt, one hand on each cheek, fingertips meeting as they pressed snugly into the cleft. I let out a muted yelp of shock, my arms shooting around his neck, legs wrapping around his waist, for balance.

"Miraaaa," I squeaked, clinging to him. "It's t-time for us to g-go to b- ... mmmmmphh."

My stuttering response certainly wasn't fooling him. It wasn't fooling me either as my arms and legs tightened their hold, his hands doing the same to me, the kiss brimming with urgency and desire. Pulling away from the wall, he began to walk down the hall towards the bedroom, still carrying me. All I could feel was the hot wet glossy friction of his tongue playing with mine, lips sliding and moving in a ballet of touch. All I could hear was the scuff of his feet on carpet, the insistent rushed snorts of air through the nose and the very soft, yet very sexual slurping of our prolonged making-out.

Somehow, he managed to open -- and close -- the door to our bedroom without using his hands. Next thing we were on the bed and he was rolling me on top of him and then finally, at least a full minute later, we were apart, panting and grinning at each other like idiots. My chest rose and fell as I lay on him, my hands tangled through the gloriously soft feathery mass of his hair; his own hands where they'd been all along, unwilling to shift from and completely infatuated with my rear. His nose rubbed mine, our breath mingling as he too was regaining his. At last came some kind of message, the directness and boldness of Mira's personality magnified by the magic of apples and ethanol; 'now I have you all to myself. We are going to bed, but no sleep. Not for a while.'

Yeah, I did kinda figure that one out.

Then he was grasping the waistband of my pants, gently tugging them down, while I pulled his shirt up his torso. The shirt came off first and right after I felt the coolness of open air on my naked backside as he slid the material down my legs. I ran my hands over the pristine expanse of his stomach muscles, shivering with nervous anticipation at the same time as his fingers travelled up the insides of my thighs. Higher and higher, my touch crossed the perfect flat of his chest; further and further his caress rose, slipping in between the narrowing cusp of my legs until the wanting, the stroking of skin was too much. I could stand it no longer and neither could he, our mouths seeking and finding one another. We indulged, throwing hesitation away and embracing as our bodies longed to do.

In the end, Mira was right.

We didn't get to sleep for a couple of hours.


Needless to say, that night I slept extremely well, feeling refreshed and unusually chipper when Mira woke me up. He delighted in the alone-time we had in the mornings and evenings, knowing just the right way to draw me into another episode of bliss. Though, this morning, we were content, needing nothing more than simple closeness. Still satisfied from the previous night, nonetheless I caught him stealing glances as we dressed, rekindling the deep warmth of our bond.

Nothing can break that.

Breakfast was upbeat, everyone in a good mood, though Konstantin was the exception, seeming quieter than usual. I guessed it was because of what we needed to do, the knowledge of Aspira already weighing on him.

It wasn't long before that knowledge was shared.

Once breakfast was done, we were given a chance to wash up before Konstantin summoned us to the lounge. The others no doubt knew this was about yesterday's information from Mersenne, but I bit my tongue, not wanting to broach the uncomfortable news before Konstantin had a chance to say what he was going to say. The Russian had something else in mind however, as he touched a button on the wall near the kitchen door and a section of the wall adjacent to the garden slid back revealing a large display screen embedded into it.

A television? Or just an output for one of the house's computers maybe.

The screen flicked on and the image that popped up was a full size political map of Aurum, including all the provincial boundaries and capitals.

((Map of Aurum))


"Right," he began, "this is something I am sure you three," gesturing to Morgan, Carlos and Mira, "do not know about. I am unsure how familiar you are with this map, Shay, but you have probably at least seen it, yes?"

I nodded. "Yeah, but I don't know it well."

"Mmm," the big man murmured. "We will have a fast geography lesson then. You know the name. Aurum, the land of gold, once the political and cultural centre of Lucere. It is smaller than Lucere's other two major continents, Pyropus and Argentum, but it also has the better part of the planet's most important natural resources. It had a lower total population compared with the others, but was more densely settled and had more numerous urban areas."

Carlos was the first to interject a question, looking quizzically at the foreign mess of artificial boundaries in front of him. "I see where land and water is, but what are all those little lines across the land?"

"The borders between provinces." Konstantin inclined his head to the boy. "There are 27 in total. They mark how Lucere's government divided up the land so it could be administered. The provinces themselves were part of their own larger regions too, splitting Aurum up into four rough areas. I'm not sure how or why these regions were developed, but they passed into colloquial speech during the early days of colonisation and the divisions became names that stuck in the language of the people."

He indicated the top of the continent, an extensive sprawling section covering maybe a third of the total area. "These were known as the Top Five and were low population but very large area. Mostly wilderness. These," he traced a horizontal strip of seven provinces that bisected Aurum, running from the west to east coasts and touching the southern sea, "are the Crossway. They were more settled than the north, but very rural compared to the rest of it."

So far, so good.

"Then there is the Aurora Coast." Konstantin touched the southwestern side, a grouping of six smaller provinces. "This had the majority of Aurum's big population centres and was an economically vital region." I grimaced, noticing the dot representing Straalfidjar, which was very nearly on the westernmost point of the entire landmass. No wonder Konstantin wasn't sure whether to believe me in the start. It has to be a lot more than a thousand kilometres from there to Palatus.

"Lastly, there is the Capital Arm." Touching the screen again, it zoomed in so that the remaining portion of Aurum filled the screen. The name was a decent description, as it did extend to the south and east in the shape of something like an arm and hand. "This is the part of Lucere that we know best, because it is where we are. Like the Aurora Coast, it was once heavily populated, more so the further one would travel towards the east and south sides of the peninsula." Konstantin pointed to the individual provinces, naming them as he did so. "Tesla, Helmholtz, Alcubierre, Aspira, Leeuwenhoek, Rutherford, Lorentz, Mersenne and, of course, Palatus."

((Map of the Capital Arm))

Konstantin pointed out a spot just above the square in the middle of Palatus, the westernmost province of the nine he had just named in the Capital Arm. "This is us, the Andropov estate, right here." Glancing back at me, he took a deep breath, his hand shifting across to the opposite side of the Arm. "This is where we need to go; where the control node is."


There was dead silence.

Lily spoke first. "Dimi, it's- ... it's in the capital?"


"You're completely sure of this?"

"I am, dearest." He breathed out slowly. "The information Shay retrieved was specific. It alluded to a monument constructed at a plaza in the central city. I checked your map of aqumi nodes, and it told me there is one located in the plaza itself, not far below street level. There is no question. This is it."

"Well, fuck." Morgan shook his head. "Just when I was startin' to feel hopeful. You mean to tell me we have to make a mission to ... there? Who's going on this suicide march then, if you don't mind me asking?"

"That's the other thing." The big man paused, leaving an extended silence; looking at each of us in turn, not knowing quite how to begin. "All of us have to go. Hartley promised Shay he would destroy this place and kill all of us. We cannot stay. We're out of time."

Lily stood up promptly. "Konstantin." Her voice was sharp and I almost never heard her address him by his full name, always preferring the endearment, but she was determined, stepping forward, hands in fists. "Are you really going to? I mean, it's our home, for heaven's sake!"

"I know, dearest, I know!" His response was equally sharp, but as he stepped forward to meet her, his voice softened. "Do you think I like this idea? This has been my family home for decades, centuries! Generations of Andropovs have lived and died in this house. I do not want to leave, but ... if we stay, we are finished. If we stay or we wait, Hartley will reach Aspira unopposed; he will claim aqumi for himself and then what will happen, Lily? What then?"

"Then ... he will possess a power that can shape reality." Her shoulders sagged, the resistance dissolving to the unkind truth. "I'm sorry Dimi, I just hate the idea of running away."

"I know. So do I, but ... we cannot stay."

While she was sitting back down, Morgan took the chance to add his thoughts. "Well, if we're going to do this, then we should plan it right. What sort of distance are we lookin' at to reach the capital from here?"

Konstantin shrugged. "Around 700 kilometres as the bird flies, though by land, add a few extra."

"Right." Morgan pointed to a spot in Lorentz, quite close to the city itself. "The Liberators' primary staging point is around here, so that's where Hartley would be moving from. More 'n likely he's going to cut directly southeast through Leeuwenhoek, then straight down through coastal Aspira to the city itself."

In retrospect, it doesn't seem surprising that the Liberators detected and caught us when we went to the LPHC, since it was practically in Hartley's back yard.

"Makes sense. Where would you suggest we go?"

"Through Mersenne, then across the north side of Alcubierre. Leeuwenhoek would be a safer route, but we're less likely to run into Hartley if we keep further south."

"Does it matter?" Carlos looked at Konstantin. "We got that armoured car now. Why not just load everything into it we can and make for the city."

"The only problem is the APC is not so nimble." Konstantin sighed. "How I wish we had not lost my bikes yesterday. You are right though. It has the protection to get us through those dangerous areas, and energy reserves enough to travel to Aspira, though I'm not so sure about any return journey."

With that thought, the room fell again into silence, the sobering reminder of what we were up against brought once more to the front of our minds. Lily was the first to break it, drawing herself up, refusing to fall into any kind of funk. "Well, we've got a lot to arrange before we can leave, so let's get to it. There are plenty of things we can all be doing. Danny, I think you would be best suited to help Konstantin with some of the heavier lifting. You boys can come with me, I have a number of tasks to finish inside before anything can be tied up permanently in the garden." She motioned to us to move. "Come, let's get going. Aspira is a long way and the earlier in the day we leave, the more daylight we have to travel by."

Konstantin was giving her an odd look, admiring but tinged with sadness. She caught it, and returned it back, along with a comment. "What is it?"

"Nothing, my dear," he shook his head slowly and instead smiled gently at her. "Nothing at all. Indeed, let us pack our things."

So, that's what we did.


It took about an hour and a half to get everything loaded and finish all the loose ends that needed to be dealt with before we departed. There was plenty of room in the APC with six of us total, even after packing in enough food, clothing and supplies for the journey. Morgan showed Konstantin how to unlock the vehicle's controls, and the Russian was the one driving, having picked up the nuances of the machine quickly. Morgan chose the passenger side seat, while the rest of us were basically cargo, sitting in the troop compartment with everything else.

Carlos entertained himself disassembling and reassembling the assortment of assault rifles we'd gathered from the slain Liberators. There were eight of them in total along with five pistols, as well as the sniper rifle. When he saw me watching him, he simply commented that it was good practice, shrugged, and kept right on.

By contrast, Lily was completely disengaged. She was sitting next to Carlos and I knew the decision to leave must have felt both abrupt and unnerving for her, having spent most of her life in and around the house. Yet, even after departing she was very quiet and detached. There was no effort to talk to anyone and I had the strange feeling she was upset about something more than what had just occurred, but I didn't have any idea what it was and I didn't want to bother her.

Of course, Mira sat right next to me, and if he had been any closer he would have been sitting on me. Part of me wished he was doing that, a momentary fantasy flaring where I was his human chair, his butt smooshing into my lap and his back rubbing against my chest as he got comfortable. Regardless, I was happy to be just touching him, though that didn't stop me from continuing that fantasy as our journey began, spending the next few minutes staring at the ceiling with a dopey grin as the alluring daydream played out in my head. No one else was paying attention, all lost in their own mentalities, my thoughts and emotions unnoticed as I became silently immersed in my guilty pleasure.

With nothing to look at or do and with no human interaction going on around him, Mira quickly fell asleep. Completely content to switch himself off, his head was on my shoulder and his hand lightly gripped my thigh. Occasionally he would squeeze me reflexively, his mind seeking the unconscious reassurance of touch as it wandered through whatever dreamland Mira knew. If I hadn't begun a conversation with Morgan and got myself so involved in it, I would have been more than happy to join him.

He was telling me about the sorties he had done as a field officer for Hartley's regiment. He couldn't give an exact number for how many troops were under the lieutenant-colonel's command, as the main Lorentz compound wasn't the only base Hartley controlled. Though he did say that most of the missions were 'bare-bones' and were logistics runs through Lorentz province. More seldom they went into Mersenne, Palatus and Leeuwenhoek, and very rarely into the Crossway; usually only for specific targets as opposed to supply and scouting.

I suggested that the Liberators must have kept a very low profile and generally gone unnoticed, despite being rather well provisioned and having a singularly large amount of manpower, noting that Hartley had been completely alone when he had originally encountered Konstantin. Morgan agreed, stating that to encounter vehicles and any number of soldiers as we had the previous day was extremely unusual, not only because it tended to attract the attention of sharpelings and cause casualties, but also because, by extension, it put an unnecessary drain on what were already scarce resources. Big missions were not cost effective and were only undertaken for things that were of vital strategic value. His conclusion was that it only proved how important our current struggle was to Hartley.

Naturally, this line of talk meant the conversation came unavoidably back to the question I was expecting from Morgan: just how did I get involved with Hartley to begin with and how was I immune to the Sharpe virus anyhow? He had gathered some very basic detail, but most of it was still unexplained to him. At this point though, I knew there was no longer any point in keeping the information secret.

So, I told him.

His reaction was predictably incredulous. The measure of denial and disbelief was followed by grudging amazed acceptance as I listed the facts that we had discovered. I had no problem admitting that my story would sound quite far-fetched and nigh to impossible without the concrete proof that Morgan had already witnessed. His first comment about Mira was that it made much more sense why the boy was extremely agile and moved like a 'bat out of hell' because of his sharpeling origins, a turn of phrase that I couldn't help but find amusing.

The conversation continued steadily, the first few hours of the journey passing quickly in Morgan's company. We chatted quite aimlessly about all kinds of things, and before I realised it we had completed the Mersenne leg of our journey. It was around the border of Alcubierre, just inside the province, that we ran into our first problem.

Our east-bound back-road route ran directly through a tiny hamlet of a town, boasting only a couple of streets of its own. From quite some distance back, a fallen oak was visible lying directly across the central intersection, inconveniently blocking the road in all four directions. Whilst alive and standing, the tree must have been a goliath and even some time after whatever event had caused it to fall, the trunk still occupied too much space to squeeze a vehicle past. Konstantin was not eager to reverse and find another road, nor was he intending to force our way through. The potential to get stuck and wake up any resident sharpelings was very unappealing, so the new plan became reconnaissance; to scout a safe way around on foot first.

The APC was parked on the verge a good hundred metres or so from the first building, on the left side of the road. We piled out and Konstantin handed a rifle each to Morgan and Carlos, also taking one for himself. "I will flank left, Morgan will go right. Carlos, you can scale one of the buildings in front and see if you can spot a way through from above. Between us, we should be able to plot it. The rest will stay here and keep lookout. Everyone got it?"

No one argued. Without wasting time, the three took off on their prescribed courses. Lily climbed up into the gunner's nest and sat there, the best vantage point, while I wandered round to lean against the vehicle's front, taking in a full view of this one-horse village. Mira followed and sat down beside, though before he returned his attention fully back to me, his gaze skipped up to Lily, lingering for a moment. There was a shadow of doubt there and although I wasn't quite sure why he was watching her, it concerned me that he had noticed something too.

What does he see that I don't? I caught a glimpse of his perception when we locked eyes. The sentiment was very strange and whatever it meant wasn't elaborated upon; a simple 'she's not okay and I don't like it' which left me wondering more than ever what was going on.

Morgan was the first to disappear out of sight, then Konstantin as they rounded the buildings on either side, diverging from the road. Alcubierre was dry and hot, the land here open, flat, and mostly deforested, the grass withered from the constant seasonal sunshine and pitiful rainfall. The sky was clear and the day almost unbearably warm, saved only by the southerly wind, a relentless dragging zephyr that pushed towards the distant ridge of mountains barely visible in Leeuwenhoek. It was fantastic weather and if it wasn't for the twists of cumulus lit up by midday aemfid, I could easily have mistaken this place for somewhere on America's Great Plains.

Feeling a bit bored, I idly watched Carlos scale the side of the single-story building, the second one along from the intersection itself. He sure is good at getting around. He's fast and seems to have a knack for survival, running and climbing, that kind of thing. Guess that comes from living in the Palatus wilds for so long. He isn't close to my miracle though. I couldn't stop the smile and the feeling of satisfaction that crept in with it.

No-one is close.

Carlos pulled himself onto the roof, rifle slung over his back, and walked across to the corner closest to the intersection. Stepping up onto the ledge, he stood, surveying the intersection for a minute. Turning back to us, he waved.

I waved back.

He did an exaggerated shrug of the shoulders, palms up.

Can't have seen anything useful, I guess. Must be down to Konstantin and Morgan.

Turning, he walked along the building's ledge, approaching the corner closest to us so he could begin the return journey, comfortably balanced on the narrow space. About halfway along, he wobbled, unexpectedly, and I blinked. Huh? I thought he looked well balanced. Wonder what's wrong?

Before he could take another step, there was an echoing thud and a clattering rumble of masonry. Carlos was suddenly fighting to stay steady and then to back up, but the surface was falling away. The apparently stable edge was treacherously infirm under his weight and he half-slipped, half-tumbled off the side of the building, the wall collapsing beneath him.


I was instantly standing. In the quiet of the deserted town and country stillness, the sound was like a mini avalanche. Through the cloud of dust that had sprung up around the caved in wall, I could see Carlos, lying on the ground.

Knocked out cold.

I don't like this one bit.

"Lily?" I called, panic rising, a discomforting sense of urgency coming from nowhere. "Should we go-"

"No." She was also standing up, fully alert in the nest, staring at what had just happened. "Just wait a sec. Don't rush in."

"He could be hurt!"

"Shay. No risks. You're staying here." There was steel in her voice. "Go inside and get another rifle and a magazine. Quickly."

I didn't argue. Mira was ahead of me and as I climbed back into the vehicle, picking up the gun, he was already retrieving the magazine, pressing it into my hand as we exited back out, rounding the side of the APC. I heard Lily swear and there wasn't any way to miss the alarm in her voice. "Shay. The gun. Now!"

Unnerved I handed the gun up by the stock, tossing the ammo. She pulled it up by the barrel, catching the magazine, and began to hurriedly insert it. I glanced back at Carlos and suddenly, I felt cold.

Two sharpelings had climbed out from somewhere under the tree trunk, disturbed from their sleep in the sunny warmth, now awakened by the clamour of the structural failure. Carlos was perfectly still, lying in the rubble at the edge of the building. They had sighted him and were approaching cautiously but steadily, heads low in predatory suspicion, claws poised all the same, ready to pounce once in range. The gap was a couple dozen metres but it was getting smaller and smaller by the second. A chilling distress was building as I heard her slam the magazine into place, chamber the initial round and then lift the rifle.

Come on, come on! Faster. Shoot them!

For a second, nothing, then the rifle cracked once, twice, three, four times. The lead sharpeling swayed as it was hit in the skull, slipping sideways, but it didn't stop moving. Then two more shots, both of them nailing the same spot in the side of the head. The damage hit home, and it flipped over immediately onto the ground, jerking and twisting in death throes.

One down.

To my surprise and horror, this didn't cause the other sharpeling to change direction towards the sound, nor to stop and seek it out.

Instead, it simply refocused itself on the target. Darting on, aggression initiated, it began to dash forward, bounding towards Carlos with stupefying speed.

It was charging.

Oh fuck. Oh fuck!


She was flicking the firing tab back, then sweeping her aim across to the creature's rapidly moving form. The arms were wide, raised, preparing to slash down into the helpless body as the remaining metres between them dwindled. The individual shots of the first kill gave way to a staccato of gunfire. The sharpeling skewed across the ground, swerving as it was hit, the shots ripping through the armour on the neck and head.

Yet, not enough.

I heard Lily grunt in pain as she struggled to keep up, continually pushing her aim across, leading the target. Finally, just a bodylength away from Carlos, the sharpeling was tensing to leap as it ran, the thick facial protection now battered, worn down by the metal harassment. Armour ablated away, the final three shots smashed unimpeded through the creature's upper jaw, splintering the bone and piercing into the lower cranial cavity. Contorting in the air just as it launched into the leap, it flew off course, slamming into the crumbling remains of the wall next to where Carlos lay, then flopping onto the ground with a heavy smack, a piece of airborne meat.

Dead on arrival.

Unable to believe what I had just seen, I looked up to Lily. Her chest was heaving from the stress, her finger still pulling the trigger, the gun clicking noisily but futilely, the chamber empty. Dropping the rifle, she bent forward in severe pain, the shoulder of the broken right arm having received all of the rifle's recoil. Her left was shaking too, the fingers not even able to properly clench. As she tried to climb out of the nest, she lost her balance, falling and landing awkwardly next to the APC.

Fuck! She is hurt.

"Oh my god ... your arm!"

She slumped back against the side of the vehicle, winded and still obviously in pain. "I'm fine. You should see after Carlos."

I looked back to him. Morgan had just appeared back round our end of the building, drawn by the gunshots, and was approaching where the accident had occurred, rifle raised. "Morgan's there now, he will take care of Carlos. Lily, you're hurt!"

"Shay!" She snapped at me, angry, resentful. "I don't need help! Okay?"

Wow. Okay ...

I didn't move to her, confused by her sudden unexplained reaction, but Mira wasn't quite so easily put off. This whole time, he had been staring at her, that same unsettled searching look on his face. Then, he crouched down, ignoring her protests, stalling her attempts to stop him, and very gently pulled the sleeve of her blouse up her right arm.

At that moment I understood why, and that understanding brought with it an horrific sickening clarity.

It can't be.

The red of her palm had blurred, extending upwards, growing and expanding along her wrist. It fused with the skin, darkening and hardening into a network of brown-grey lesions that reached halfway to her elbow, groping towards the clear skin of her upper arm as the mutation began to claim her flesh.

Beside her, Mira simply sat down in the dirt. He put his arm around her, his head on her shoulder. His right hand found her left where it had fallen, slack, still shaking, in her lap. He clasped it as she sat downcast, robbed of the will to even look up and face us, knowing at last that we now knew the extent of her plight.

I was lost for words.


In truth, I couldn't remember how many minutes later it was that the others arrived back at the APC. I was in shock, although I did not recognise it at the time. I did recall the sound of a rifle firing again, further away, and interpreted that to mean Konstantin had run into trouble. Morgan reached us first, helping a very dazed but conscious Carlos to walk. The Russian was next to arrive and as he reached us, he began to query about what had taken place, having heard our gunshots first, but the words died on his lips and he froze in place.

The expression on Konstantin's face when he saw Lily remained in my memory as one of the most emotional moments of my life. His hands dropped to his sides, the rifle striking the ground with a soft thud. He seemed bewildered, lost almost, uncomprehending, but also ... broken, suddenly bereft of all the abundant strength and vitality that fuelled him. Divorced from what gave his larger-than-life soul all the animation and joy that made him who he was.

The first thing he said was soft, almost toneless and very slowly spoken. "I would like ... for some privacy."

Wordlessly, Morgan began to help Carlos away from where they were and I turned to follow them, but Konstantin's voice held me in place. "Shay, stay. Please." Mira made to get up also but Lily's hand tightened, the fingers failing to fully close around his, but the message was received all the same. He gently squeezed her hand, then relaxed down, remaining where he was.

The big man came to his knees, sitting in front of her. He shook his head back and forth, fruitlessly grasping for what to say, before finally settling on the words.

"Lily, my dearest Lily," Konstantin spoke, sounding so very weak. "Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you tell me?"

She didn't look up. "Dimi, I'm sorry. I didn't know if- ... I wasn't sure until ... until this morning, when we left. I felt sick last night but I thought it was nothing. A stomach bug maybe, or the flu."

His breath shuddered as he exhaled and when he spoke again there was a strange bizarre hopefulness, a sort of impossible yearning to it. "We still have time then. You are strong, you can hold on 'til Aspira." A pained look crossed his face. "We can fix it. We will fix everyone, Lily."

She raised her head, just a little, looking at him. "Dimi, it's been more than twelve hours, and you know- ... you know time doesn't matter anyway. Not now, not this far in. You know it."

He refused, shaking his head with slow vehemence. "It's never so simple. Maybe it is delayed onset. Sometimes people are lucky, remember? Sometimes it is weeks ... or months!" He swallowed, a forced smile appearing. "It could just drag out, you know? The virus is unpredictable. It can be sluggish."

Lily's head dropped again and suddenly, she began to cry. "Konstantin," her voice quiet and laden with so much sadness, "please, I want you to listen to me. Please ... listen. It's not delayed. It's not hibernating anymore. It's happening. Happening to me. I will be one of those things before tomorrow. I'm not going to make it to Aspira."

"No. My dear sweet Liliana, doushenka. No. No, no, no!" He moaned softly, his voice breaking, "I don't know how to fix this. Tell me what you want me to do."

Her voice was low. "You don't have to do anything."

"You cannot mean-"

"I mean it. I've never been more sure of anything. I ... want to die, Dimi." He tried to speak, but she hushed him. "I've had four hours alone with my thoughts. I know what I want. It's not to become one of them. It's not to- ... to slowly slip away, piece by piece," she looked up at him, sniffing, the tears rolling down, "until there is nothing left of me. Most of all, it's not to have you see it. To put all of you at risk for some fool's hope that you can save me."


"No, Dimi." So delicate, but with a defiance that was impossible to answer. "I want you to remember me as I am. As you remember Vasili, Arkady, Marisa. Forever young, forever perfect in your memory. Unhurt by the fucking monsters of this place."

His eyes left her, coming to me in agonised desperation. Before he spoke, I could already feel it, the delusional inspiration, the begging chance that wanted to believe I could solve this, that God would suddenly and undeniably speak through me. It frightened me and broke my heart at the same time, because it was such an act of dejection, a gamble with no hope.

"Shay, I would not ask unless there was nothing else. Please, if there is any chance, any way you can help ... "

I knew what he was thinking of. The power of aqumi, the key to it all that lay right here, within me. A power I could not control and had no conscious ability to influence.

"I don't know how. I- ... I want to help, you know I would. I just- ... I don't know. I can't control it."

His shoulders sunk. "I know. In my heart, I know. I am sorry, I have no right to ask such an unfair thing." Then, a spark was in his voice and suddenly, he was angry. "Why now?! Why when we are SO close!"

Feebly, her voice broke in again. "The Tokarev. I want it to be the Tokarev."

He was aghast. "What? I ... cannot. I cannot raise it against you."

It was then, stuck in the despicable insanity of that alien world, so far from the Earth of my childhood, that I came to a moment of very bitter realisation. In my mind rang the words of my father, as clear as if he were standing before me himself in the dry dirt on that roadside at Alcubierre. I remembered the nine-year-old me asking why we were moving to California when my parents didn't want to leave, having overheard a conversation between them to that effect.

Dad had sat me down on my bed, his hand on my shoulder. He looked me in the eye and calmly spoke to me. 'Buddy, sometimes in life we need to take the hard path so people we care about don't have to. Sometimes that path will hurt a lot, but it will save them a lot more pain. It's a part of becoming a man. You won't understand this until you're older, but one day, you will understand.'

It wasn't until I was thirteen that I found out dad had quit his dream job in Seattle, accepting a position he didn't want for a lower wage in California, all so we could be in easy commuting distance of the medical specialists I needed for the ongoing consultations. He had stuck with that thankless job with the crappy hours, day in, day out, for three years, until our eventual move back to Washington State. Even then, I never quite appreciated the sort of sacrifice he meant.

Today, I understood those words perfectly.

Morgan was still much too new. Carlos had become more of an asset than any of us thought, but he still was not as close as I was; and Mira? This was not the sort of complex human morality that he deserved to find himself in. He wasn't a being of that world. None of them could be that person, all for differing reasons. Lily could not do it herself, she was barely able to hold a gun now, depleted of energy and will, and Konstantin? There was no way he would bring himself to do what she asked.

No way that she would want him to be the one, to force that upon him.

But me?

I could do it.

I hated the idea. It was disgusting, it was deplorable. It was wrong.

Yet, leaving her to the fate I had threatened Morgan with?

That was irredeemable.

It was why I found myself speaking, my voice sounding as if it was someone else, so detached and removed, but I was speaking the words, making the offer aloud.

"I ... will," I said. I'm not sure how I managed those words, but I said it. "I'll do it. Konstantin, you shouldn't have to go through this."

"Shay." He looked so tired as he held her hand. "Shay ... how can anyone do this?"

"I can't leave her to that fate and I can't let you go through that either." My chest felt so tight, my body numb as I repeated the words. "I will do it. For her. For you."

"Shay," he whispered, soft and slow, "why is it happening now? Why has providence left us?"

I could not reply. All that was left was the bitter fortune we had, the indifferent truth of Lucere's reality.

Today, there was no comfort to be found.


She didn't want to wait.

She didn't want to drag it out.

Konstantin gave her a shot of painkiller, the strongest we had, to make her more comfortable, though she insisted she remain lucid. She sat with both Carlos and Morgan, talking to them for a couple of minutes. Carlos could not stand it for long. He could only hug her, swiftly, fiercely, then he stood, disappearing wordlessly into the back of the APC, his face a stormcloud of emotion.

She sat with Konstantin after that, just the two of them alone.

Just the two of them, for about half an hour. Then, they stood, together. His arms came around her, pulling her into his loving embrace, her head against his chest. He laid his cheek in her hair, their eyes closed. Unlinked from time, for just a minute rid of the endless burdens of the world, safe and at peace.

They drew apart and Konstantin turned away. He came across to me, without looking back at her. Stopping for just a moment, he pressed the TT-33 into my hand, stooped to pick up an assault rifle propped against the side of the vehicle and walked away, across the road.

Lily looked at us. Moving from next to me, Mira padded across to her. Extending his hand, there was a wildflower there, little thin white petals, the faintest dusting of pollen upon the leaves. She took it from his hand and unprovoked, unasked for, he smiled, a kind, friendly display of compassion that stole my breath.

She gazed at the little offering upon the scarlet of her palm. "Thank you. It's beautiful." Looking up at him, misty eyed, she leaned forward and gave him a hug too, brief, but very close. "You're a sweetheart. Take good care of him."

Then, turning to me. "Come on Shay, let's go for a walk. Just us."

So we did.

We wandered down the verge, continuing until we were just out of sight of the APC. Coming to the side of a withered copse of oaks, Lily sat down on the tree roots, leaning against the trunks, letting out a sigh as she did. She hadn't been very steady on her feet, a combination of the drugs in her system and the virus itself chipping away at her.

"You know," she said, "I always wondered how it would be, for me. I daresay I never imagined anything like this."

"Lily." My stomach felt so tense, my throat so constricted I was surprised I could speak. The Tokarev was a lead weight in my hand and my whole body had felt so sluggish, so heavy, never wanting to finish this walk, never wanting to come to the point where we now were. "I don't know h-how I'm m-meant to do this." My voice was raspy, uneven.

"Shay, don't be afraid." She smiled up at me from where she sat, her eyes a little glazed, but still bright, still with the same warmth and biting intelligence. "I'm not. It was going to happen one day. It does to everyone on Lucere. Well, except you. You've been a rulebreaker since I met you." Her smile widened, the eyes crinkling at the edges. "Death isn't so bad. If I get to look it in the face and smile, I would choose that any time over becoming a beast. It's no ending to be poisoned slowly in front of your family."

I wanted to speak, but my throat closed up and nothing came.

"Shay," she said again. "Tell him you love him, every day. Kiss him, every day. Do good things, live your life the best you can and be happy. Oh, and please tell Dimi ... when I see Vasili, I will give him all our love." Laying her head back against the tree, she let out a soft sigh, closing her eyes as the breeze brushed her hair, tickling her face. "That feels good," she whispered. "Shay, I think ... I'm ready."

She's ready.

Can I really do this?

Isn't there anything that can save her?

I wanted there to be something, a bolt from the blue, an unexpected twist of fate that would break all this pain apart. So far we had dodged the worst things Lucere had thrown at us. Whether by skill or by another means, every time we had gotten away, sometimes unscarred, sometimes hurt but able to heal. Never dealt a blow that was fatal.

Never losing anyone.

I want another miracle. I need another miracle.

Yet, I knew, deep down, that this time ... nothing was coming.

I looked down at the Tokarev, that little bundle of metal, lying in my palm. Gripping the handle, I raised it up until I was holding it in a direct line, my hand shaking but my aim true.

"Lily," I breathed, my whisper cracking, tears soaking my face. "Thank you. For everything. I'll never forget you."

I'll never forget you.

Then, I pulled the trigger.


Konstantin didn't return back to the APC for nearly an hour. We heard the rifle twice, in the distance, and then about a quarter of an hour later, he appeared back across the parched grass. Dirt was spattered on his boots and pants and he appeared haggard, exhausted. I was sitting on the open rear end of the APC, Mira's arms wrapped around my stomach, the Tokarev in my lap. My mind was a strange vacuum of emotions, just a few wisps of feeling darting around. I felt his weight next to me as he sat down. I handed the TT-33 to him and he took it without comment, holstering it back at his side.

His first words to me were simple: "Thank you."

That has to be the hardest thing I have ever done.

"You gave her what I could not. You gave her dignity." His words were thick with sadness, with loss. "This means more to me than you will ever know."

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I wanted so badly to do for her what I did for Mira."

He was silent for a good few seconds, but then he spoke again. "Sometimes, it is simply not meant to be." Konstantin's breath hissed as he blew it through his teeth. "Shay ... I have buried my entire family. My mother and father, my brother and my uncle. Lily's parents, her aunt and cousin. Now, my little soul, my Lily, will join them, returned again to the earth. I am forty-two years old and I have seen more death than a man twice my years should."

"That's why we must stop Hartley," I told him. There's no other way. "It's never going to end if he gets what he wants. There must be a point where the chaos and slaughter comes to a halt, for good."

The big man nodded, then looked out across the openness of Alcubierre. "I questioned God when I was out there today. I questioned many things. She had made it so far and for so long, and now, when we are within sight of a real chance at salvation, it strikes. So close, but not close enough to save her." He paused. "I have told you before, this ruined world gives little cause for faith, but I have always held onto mine. Today? It is harder than ever to imagine a merciful divine being so ... fickle, so capricious."

Despite everything, I still don't believe that this is without cause. I don't think this is about God or the devil messing with mankind, if such things are even real, but I do think ... there is another reason.

There's something bigger than what we know behind all of it.

I didn't reply.

Konstantin stood, his hand landing on my shoulder. "Mr Andersen, please join me. The others too. We must lay my sister to rest in Lucere's soil. Then, our travel must continue. It is what she would tell us to do."

She surely would.

"Konstantin. The last thing she told me ... she said, um- ... she said that when she saw Vasili, she'd give him your love." I swallowed. "I didn't know she had that kind of belief."

He gave a choked laugh, his brows furrowing, tears slipping out, the emotion uncontrolled and unexpected. Dipping his head, he wiped both eyes with his hand, and when he looked back up to me, despite the grief, he was smiling.

"She didn't." He uttered, his eyes reflecting a strange sense of comfort from the words. "But my brother did, and so do I."


We buried her in the stand of oaks, marking the site with a small cairn in her honour. Konstantin said a brief homily for her, noting that she would not want something elaborate or extended. Each of the rest of us, except for Mira, said a few words. It was honest and so evocative. I could not hold back my tears, again, and neither could Carlos. Morgan expressed his sympathy too, barely having known her at all, but feeling the shock all the same.

Finally, we began to move on. Following a path Konstantin had scouted around the buildings much earlier, we rejoined the road on the other side of the tree's carcass and continued on our way. Feeling emotionally drained and completely at a loss, much as I had days before when I believed Mira had died at Volkov, I fell asleep with him holding me, as Morgan drove us on into the early evening.

According to both men, we were just across into Aspira province when the decision was made to pull over and camp for the evening. Though the mood was extremely subdued, the events of the day having thrown everyone completely, Morgan could not help but contemplate that we had experienced very good luck with sharpelings, having avoided all the bigger towns and cities so far and basically not seen more than a small number at any one time, which didn't equate to any danger for the APC. Konstantin agreed, reminding him however, that what awaited us at our destination was a dozen times worse than the journey.

This was the thought in my mind as we finished our evening meal, safe in the metal cocoon, before we all caught some more fitful but much needed recuperative sleep.

I must have needed the rest more than I thought or perhaps I had been doing the typical teenage thing, my body demanding more sleep than adults required. I drifted into consciousness to find we were driving again, the journey having resumed before I could fully awaken. I had barely registered this fact and then it was gone again, the engine shutting off. As I shrugged off the fuzz inhabiting my brain, I heard Konstantin and Carlos both climb out, apparently urgently needing to answer the call of nature.

Mira and I slipped out of the APC to see that we were parked in a small cluster of deserted buildings, what looked like an amalgam of country-club style condominiums, with some overgrown walking paths winding through it. Surrounded by small rolling hills which were blanketed with parkland-esque leafy green foliage, a low canopy of trees that looked like it belonged on a golf course, the place was probably quite idyllic back when people lived here, though now it just looked like any other ruins.

Morgan had climbed up the stairs on the side of one of the condos on the opposite side of the complex, all of them having direct access onto the roof. "Shay! Mira!" He was calling across to us. "Lads, get up onto one of these. The view is- ... well, just take a look!"

Mira flitted effortlessly across to the nearest one, me right behind him. Running up the stairs, wondering what on earth he was so excited about, I came to a skidding standstill as soon as the view was revealed.


There, looming so large I felt I could reach out and touch it was a majestic skyline of buildings; massive constructs worshipping the industrial power of this planet's long defeated human civilisation. The skyscrapers of Aspira City lived up to their name, reaching towards the heavens, a gathering of metal giants that stood, tombstones and relics of that golden age.

We had made it to the capital.

Well, dear readers, I imagine this chapter will be received similarly to chapter 11 -- except this time, there is no possibility of escape. Sometimes, the endings really are endings and there is no second chance.
Like 11, it was exceptionally difficult to commit into writing, but that is a necessary consequence of loving your creation. An artist devoid of emotional connection is no artist at all.
Farewell my dear girl. I will miss you very much.
If you'd like to express your thoughts and opinions, you are welcome to review or comment here. Also, if you thought this chapter lived up to the standard I strive for, please hit the little blue 'Like This' button located at the bottom right.
Copyright © 2013 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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That was, there is no better word, difficult. Science is extending our life spans but not improving their quality. I have lost dear ones to Alzheimers, lost for years in dementia, none of us able to know what they know or feel. We should all be able to make the final decision as Lily did. Thank you for letting her die within her little commune.

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Sad, terribly, ironically sad. Death often is so. I'll miss her.

This story never lacks emotion.

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This chapter was sad and difficult to read. Definitely emotional.

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The tragedy and hopelessness once the virus strikes was very realistically described and bitterness left a sour mood. While the sight of the city was inspiring, the expected increase in the beasts and having to tangle with them to get there is daunting. Our heroes have a hard road to travel yet.

The writing is very good. :joe:

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I agree with stanolie that it was great that you let her die with respect and as she was. It made the story more believable because in real life miracles like Mira are rare indeed. Great chapter to a great story. Can't wait for more :)

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On 03/16/2013 06:08 AM, stanollie said:
That was, there is no better word, difficult. Science is extending our life spans but not improving their quality. I have lost dear ones to Alzheimers, lost for years in dementia, none of us able to know what they know or feel. We should all be able to make the final decision as Lily did. Thank you for letting her die within her little commune.
There could be an argument made for euthanasia in there, though by no means was that a direct allegory; at least not intentionally.


I certainly do not believe that any considered "preservation of life" must override the comfort and sanity of an individual simply because a moral standard deems it so. A truly compassionate morality would allow, in the right circumstances, a solution that was merciful and final - if it was so desired.

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On 03/16/2013 06:24 AM, Stephen said:
Sad, terribly, ironically sad. Death often is so. I'll miss her.

This story never lacks emotion.

The ironic side of it was unintended and only became 'real' after Morgan's coercion was plotted out. Retrospectively, Shay could feel very guilty about how Morgan was treated.
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On 03/16/2013 11:07 AM, Myr said:
This chapter was sad and difficult to read. Definitely emotional.
It was meant to be difficult, and doubly so to be emotional (my assistant readers probably won't mind me saying this, but I made all three cry during the process of preparing the chapter, which probably makes me guilty of cruelty to betas.)


I felt very guilty writing this, but at the same time, I knew quite some time ago (and still know) that *some* of the main cast would not make it to the finish. Realistically in a world like this, survival is against the odds more often than not and so the narrative *has* to reflect that.

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On 03/17/2013 02:03 AM, Daddydavek said:
The tragedy and hopelessness once the virus strikes was very realistically described and bitterness left a sour mood. While the sight of the city was inspiring, the expected increase in the beasts and having to tangle with them to get there is daunting. Our heroes have a hard road to travel yet.

The writing is very good. :joe:

Thank you.


Aspira is certainly no place to forget your head, for even a second. Humans haven't been there in a long time and there's a good reason for that. Danger is everywhere in the capital ruins, around every corner.

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On 03/17/2013 03:43 PM, clarbret said:
I agree with stanolie that it was great that you let her die with respect and as she was. It made the story more believable because in real life miracles like Mira are rare indeed. Great chapter to a great story. Can't wait for more :)
Thank you. :) I must reiterate: I care about all my major characters (except for Hartley, he's just a big jerkbag) and so I wouldn't choose an ending for any of them lightly. Lily was no exception to that and I wanted it to be right. Deeply saddening to experience, but with a fairness that befitted her.
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Stellar another emotive chapter. To be given the decision to take a life is hard, but that of one we care for.....

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Wow!! What an emotional ride. I just found this story two days ago and just caught up with you. Ohmygawd!! Lily oh Lily. That was such an emotional situation. And then you had Shay do the deed. His maturity and moral code is just amazing. But I guess that's what you were going for. Not only did you make your beta's cry, I ended up sniffling too!!

This story is so intricate and layered that I'm having fun trying to guess where you're headed. Your five remaining characters are great. Would like a little more on Morgan. Just one request, can you not kill off anybody else? I mean the Five. LOL.

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On 05/18/2013 11:56 AM, LadyDe said:
Wow!! What an emotional ride. I just found this story two days ago and just caught up with you. Ohmygawd!! Lily oh Lily. That was such an emotional situation. And then you had Shay do the deed. His maturity and moral code is just amazing. But I guess that's what you were going for. Not only did you make your beta's cry, I ended up sniffling too!!

This story is so intricate and layered that I'm having fun trying to guess where you're headed. Your five remaining characters are great. Would like a little more on Morgan. Just one request, can you not kill off anybody else? I mean the Five. LOL.

Guess away, you are welcome to many considerations about where it may head!


Shay is meant to be underestimated and people do make this mistake. His intelligence and his sense of self and will-power are advanced somewhat from where others expect him to be in terms of maturity; these are all tools to survive Lucere as much as the more visible skills of those around him.


The five remaining? Well, I'd suggest you read Ch. 18 and then think again. ;)

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Wow what a sad chapter. By the end of this story I think Shay will feel everyone of his 214 years. The maturity it took for him to be the one to pull the trigger to save Konstantin some heartache. This chapter more than any other shows just how strong that Shay is..which is almost as sad as Lily dying. I guess it just goes to show that Shay might have fell asleep a mature 14 year old but woke up and has grown into a strong young man.

Goodnight sweet Lily.

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Stellar: your writing is so analytical and yet the emotion you evoke is even more extraordinary. I just re-read chapter 17 in preparation for 18. I knew I was going to be a mess from it, and yet I pushed myself into the re-reading only to find that it struck me even more deeply than before. The parallels to the early days of AIDS were never more poignantly present than in this chapter. Remembering people in those early days who chose Lily's path for many of the same reasons made the authenticity of the discovery of her spreading infection and the choices made by each of the characters glisten with the tears of remembrance. Yet, there was hope. Lily's final words to Shay for Konstantin were the one thing that would resurrect his hope and his faith in their mission. Those few words balanced a great deal of the pain. Thank you.

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On 05/21/2013 09:39 PM, hillj69 said:
Stellar: your writing is so analytical and yet the emotion you evoke is even more extraordinary. I just re-read chapter 17 in preparation for 18. I knew I was going to be a mess from it, and yet I pushed myself into the re-reading only to find that it struck me even more deeply than before. The parallels to the early days of AIDS were never more poignantly present than in this chapter. Remembering people in those early days who chose Lily's path for many of the same reasons made the authenticity of the discovery of her spreading infection and the choices made by each of the characters glisten with the tears of remembrance. Yet, there was hope. Lily's final words to Shay for Konstantin were the one thing that would resurrect his hope and his faith in their mission. Those few words balanced a great deal of the pain. Thank you.
You are most welcome.


In honesty, there was never a direct intentional allegory being made to any real disease, though I completely understand that any such crippling malaise where death is preferable would invite comparison.


Lily's final message to Konstantin epitomises to me the sort of person she was. Like Konstantin, her whole life had been devoted to helping others - the sort of sacrifice that can only be measured and seen in the myriad of small things done to that end. She may not have held any true spiritual belief of her own, perhaps unsurprising given she was an ardent student of empirical evidence and the scientifically observable, but she knew how critically important it was to the Andropov brothers to have the simple emotional connection of their faith reinforced. She believed that in such a time, more than ever, Konstantin would need that reinforcement.


She was right.

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Very emotional chapter for me. There is a great deal to be said about QUALITY of life versus QUANTITY of life. I'm glad Lily got to choose when to end her life and with her companions. Very touching.

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On 05/23/2013 10:16 PM, Gene63 said:
Very emotional chapter for me. There is a great deal to be said about QUALITY of life versus QUANTITY of life. I'm glad Lily got to choose when to end her life and with her companions. Very touching.
As mentioned in the end notes, it was a difficult one to write, on par with Chapter 11. It is quite extraordinary to feel so guilty over my treatment of a wholly fictional character, even knowing well in advance that it was to happen.
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This was quite possibly the hardest chapter to read. Your ability to emote a passage of text is wonderful to see, but not so wonderful to experience as a reader.

As a creator of all these wonderful characters, to have to choose such a sweet, kind, wonderful soul to kill in such a devastating way must have been difficult to write, and hard to deal with. But the fact that you did it with such sensibility and dedication to the content and plot of this story is credit to your dedication to the vivid realism you create in almost every circumstance of this tale.

Unlike 11, when I was shocked and horrified that Mira might have been killed, on this occasion, it is the sad realisation that disease is random, it is not on any persons side, it does not give you a chance. It strikes at will, taking those we see and being the least deserving of such a fate. This is a perfect example of this. Lily did not deserve such an end. To have fought this thing, and come so close, is like losing at the final hurdle.

Very sad indeed. Well written and a credit to this story, even if it was a chapter that I really did not enjoy at all.

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I was touched on a number of levels by this chapter, both by the events in the scope of the story and the issues in real life that it touched on. Some things were mentioned above already. I couldn't help but reflect on the real life issue of euthanasia as you mentioned in a response to a review. I feel we give out pets the right to die with dignity and save suffering in cases where there is no chance for recovery or improvement. I think it would only be fair to allow people to have that choice too. Lily was able to choose how she'd go out of her life. She was left some control over her ending. It was heartbreaking to see her character end. In addition to the extreme kindness and source of love she was for the group, she had a brilliant mind and it was hard knowing how much knowledge that might have helped them save this world, would die with her.

How hard for Konstantine to have to let go of her. It made me reflect on what it would be like to know everyone you love would meet this end and have it be completely up to whatever God or force rules our lives. We experience it when someone we love comes down with some terminal illness. The feeling of being unable to do a thing no matter how badly you want to fight whatever they're facing. It is a reminder, just like when it happens with someone we know, to enjoy each day and to value those around you. I think Dimi loved Lily as more than a friend/sister. As his creator, was he in love with her?

I think that it was a source of comfort for her to know that her Dimi wasn't left alone. He has Shay now, who he cares about and even Carlos and Mira too. I think she must have found some solace in not leaving him to fight in this world alone. I think it helped her in the time she had with them seeing the love between Mira and Shay. Just like it affected Morgan to see it. It was something that was hard to find in this world they were in and it made her happy to see that. She was a soul who was happy for other people and their joys.

It was a hard chapter, but I think it also drove the point home, about what they are fighting for. This is the risk and possible fate for anyone who dares to love or care for others on Lucere. We know what the disease does, but it touching a character we came to love drove home the need for an ending to this horrible fate everyone on the planet shares. It would have been wonderful to have her hold on and see if being in that powerful place let Shay 'cure' her. But, as much as we all want happy endings and last minute saves, it can't always be. I hope Konstantine can keep strong with this loss. It would knock the wind out of anyone and to have such a huge fight ahead while your soul is suffering the loss of your loved one can't be easy.

Sad but well-done chapter.

One thing I am curious about is what their plan is for the control node. I am not sure I understand what they plan to do once they are there. Are they hoping for it to affect Shay's abilities or are they just stopping Hartley from using it? What will they do when they get there. This is a force that can't be moved or disabled right?

Hope what I wrote makes sense since it's 6 a.m and I've not slept lol. guess I'll go try to do that now :)


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no matter who you are, you always have to bury your parents.

I kind of hoped it wasn't going to be Lily.

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On 04/15/2015 01:19 AM, Celethiel said:
no matter who you are, you always have to bury your parents.

I kind of hoped it wasn't going to be Lily.

life is predictable in all the worst ways when we would prefer it not be
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The loss of Lily really got to me, I had not expected that.
I am sure that Konstantin will take time to recover mentally.
SHay and Mira will be his support and I am looking forward to some payback.
Ashley D

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On 11/28/2015 01:28 PM, Ashdaw said:

The loss of Lily really got to me, I had not expected that.

I am sure that Konstantin will take time to recover mentally.

SHay and Mira will be his support and I am looking forward to some payback.

Ashley D

What happened to Lily was always intended as a kind of sucker-punch. Though, in some ways kinder than the fate that may have happened in the ruins of Aspira.

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