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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. 

Veil of Shadow - 5. Wherever You Go ...

Though I was by now quite accustomed to waking up in strange places, the room that I regained consciousness in was not what I expected to see. The modest comforts of the Yakutian apartment, the frosty metal railing of the balcony adjoining Dzerzhinskogo Ulitsa and the hum of Russian commuters moving on the street?

All were gone.

In their place was a single square room, maybe six metres a side. Plush velvety carpet was on the floor, a rusty red-brown mahogany paneling on the lower wall, topped by patternless solid dark green wallpaper. Paneled wooden doors were in the middle of three of the four sides of the room, each sporting a polished brass lever-handle. The fourth side had double French doors instead, large panes of clear glass letting in light from beyond.

What the ... ?

I sat up, the thin mattress of the Roman couch I had been sleeping on moving under me. It was in the dead centre of the room directly beneath the light, a five-branched candelabrum with narrow conical bulbs. As I stood, I looked around once more and then down at myself. I was wearing the same things from Yakutsk, though I didn't remember having left the city or even the apartment itself. The floor, walls and ceiling were bare of any further decoration, and there was nothing else in the room worth noticing. Certainly not any of the very small number of things I had kept as my worldly possessions.

Okay, what in the hell is going on?

"Hello?" I called out as I looked the room over again, then walked across to one of the paneled wood doors. I gripped the handle and tried to open it, but it was locked, the brass not even budging. Knocking on a panel, I called out again, an attempt to elicit any kind of response. "Anyone there? Hello?!"

Not a sound.

The other two single doors were exactly the same. Soundly locked. Nothing visible through the keyhole. Their frames didn't give when I pushed against them with all my weight. Clearly, there was no leaving through these three. That just leaves the French doors as an exit to ... whatever's outside. I hope there's a good explanation for all this, because I really have no idea what has happened.

Unfortunately, the French doors were locked too. I rapped my knuckles against the glass, thinking maybe I could break out of here by smashing the windows and was unpleasantly surprised to find it unyielding. It was as hard as perspex or the sort of glass that was in reinforced bulletproof windows. Swearing, I pounded on it twice with my fist and it vibrated slightly under each blow but remained undamaged.

Fuck! What is this place? Why am I here? I kicked at the bottom of the French doors in frustrated confusion, my foot just bouncing harmlessly off the pane it struck. What's even out there? Pressing my face close to the glass, I got a good look at what was in the adjacent room. It seemed like a solarium, rectangular and slightly smaller in area than where I was. Its walls were windowed with bubbled glass from the ceiling almost to the floor, and those windows wrapped around all three sides. Another set of identical French doors were opposite the ones I was looking through, and in between, in the middle of the solarium, was a round glass-topped table. The surface was smokey, but still see-through, with a central cast-iron leg supporting it, and three curved baroque feet.

Sunlight streamed in through the windows, but it was only through the opposing doors that I could see clearly. All I could tell of the outside was that there were trees and grass and the beginning of a garden path sloping away, and also, faintly in the distance the sound of people talking.

Someone's out there?!

"Hey!" I shouted it, hammering my fist against the doors. "Can you hear me?! Anyone!"

Waiting a minute to see if anyone heard, I bashed against the impenetrable surface of the doors once more. There wasn't even a glimpse of a person nor any sign that the noise I was making was heard. Fantastic. So I've been kidnapped and locked up by some wealthy lunatic with a fetish for tasteful antique European décor. Not sure whether to be worried or impressed.

Walking back to the couch, I sat down on it and sighed to myself. I don't remember anything since Yakutsk. Definitely not how I got wherever I am now, nor anything about who might have taken me here. Idly, I wondered if Konstantin was in a similar predicament, and immediately my mind extended that thought, jumping to ... him.

Mira.

I hope he's okay. I stared thoughtfully down at my hands as they rested on my thighs. A tremour went down my arms and before I knew it, my hands were shaking from concentrated nerves. Don't think like that. He will be okay. You're going to get out of here and you're going to find him. "Yeah," I whispered to myself, "I'm going to find you and we're going to figure this out together, like we always do."

No fear.

For what seemed like the next hour, I went over everything in that room. All three of the single doors I tried multiple times. I didn't know whether they were braced or had an inner layer made of a heavier tougher material or what, but even my most fierce kick to the paneling didn't leave a dent. The handles wouldn't turn or break with my full weight hanging off them, as if they were titanium and not brass. For a while I was tempted to try ramming the couch into the French doors too, though I knew that this was more desperation than practicality.

Fuck. There's got to be something. Leaning against the wall, my forehead on my arm, eyes closed, I tried to think. As I stood there, reaching for some kind of explanation for this bizarre little prison, there was the faintest sound, almost like a whisper in my mind.

Shay.

What? What was that? My eyes flicked open. Turning, back to the wall, I looked my prison over for the fiftieth time. It was unchanged. I thought I heard something. I did hear something ... didn't I? Walking to the French doors, I stared at the tantalising closeness of the outside. There was nobody there. Who could have said anything to me? Did I hallucinate that?

As I stared, light glinted off the polished surface of the table. Something caught my eye, and with amazement I realised there was an object on the table. It was nearly the same colour as the metal of the table's support and had blended in well with the surface glass. Perhaps a couple of inches long, the key sat inconspicuously near the far edge of the table's rim.

My eyes went wide. How did I miss that? A glance down to the keyhole on the French doors was all the confirmation I needed. It seemed to be the correct size for the key on the table. I looked again to the key and back down to the keyhole. That's my ticket out of here, but ... how to get my hands on it?

Shay!

I started in surprise and whirled to look at the room. Okay, I know I heard my name. That was louder than last time.

"What do you want?" I demanded to the empty air. "Just tell me what you want!"

Nothing.

Fuck this. I need that key. Turning back once more, I glared at the little piece of metal. How can I get it closer? Not like I can bring it to me without ... telekinesis.

Oh.

I began to smile as I realised that I was the solution to this problem. All I had to do was reach out with aqumi and then ... then I could see about getting free. Didn't realise it was quite that simple. I'll be out of here in no ti-

Shay! The disembodied mental whisper was louder again, and it sounded gravelly and deep, but this time it continued speaking. Do not!

Don't what? Try to escape?

"Who are you?" I spoke again, beginning to feel angry at this whole thing. "Why shouldn't I escape? The key is right there. I can pull it here and unlock this door without touching it! What's th-"

Do not! It interrupted my speech, sounding more urgent. They want the light! Do not!

The light? Aqumi! I was fixated still upon the shape of the key, but suddenly I wasn't quite so sure. Who are 'they'? What the hell is all this about?! Is it some kind of .. trap?

It is a lie. Do not! Even as it spoke again, all my focus wanted to wrap the golden power of aqumi around that little thing and bring it to me, but the voice kept speaking, even as it faded away to nothing, seeming to be finished. Shay, forget the lie! Wake up. You must wake up ...

A lie.

The key ... or the voice?

What did it mean by 'wake up'? I was already awake ... or am I? All these locked doors, with no exits and then, conveniently, a key. Right there, just out of reach. Perfect for anyone who possessed telekinesis to free themselves, easy as anything. How very lucky for me that I had such an ability.

Too lucky. Far too simple, far too easy. Someone wants me to do this. It's definitely a trap. Only one way out and I have to use aqumi to do it ... but how am I meant to wake up? That part I didn't understand. Unless that was just figure of speech to make me pay attention, I am already awake. It's not like I'm in a dream world or anything ...

Then it struck me. The clean, inexplicable, slightly-surreal feel of this place was off. It was too tidy and all along there had been the nagging suggestion that something about it felt somehow inorganic and made-up. It wasn't full of the very small imperfections it should have had, the blots and blemishes of reality.

It felt ... contrived.

Shit. I think ... I think this room doesn't exist.

I do need to wake up.

None of this is genuine. It's all a trick to fool me into using aqumi because 'they' are watching. This has to be going on in my head. This room, with the impossibly solid doors and glass, could only be a psychological box with a specific exit. I was being encouraged to seek it like a rat in a maze, but in actuality it had to be some kind of loop in my brain, an unconscious trick to open up access to aqumi. If this was the truth, my body was probably drugged or ... worse. The words of the voice were completely literal. I had to ignore the bait and physically wake up.

This place is a lie.

I need to snap myself out of it. I know aqumi will clean toxins like sedatives from the body. However, I had seen Mira stay conscious for minutes through sheer strength of will after being sedated by León. If he can do that by choice, so can I. I need to purge whatever is inside me doing this, whatever's in my head fucking with my mind.

I need it gone.

The exit to this place was not by opening doors, it was through the walls, the roof and floor. I closed my eyes, concentrating, ignoring the deceptively real facade of the paned glass under my fingers. Repeating in a mantra that it was all just a pantomime, a fool's caper that I needed out of, I tried to dislodge the part of things that kept it embedded in my perception. I looked inside, deep down, and tried to push away the metaphorical anchor that held this illusion together.

There was a flicker of ... something, and then a ripple, a wave, shot through the glass under my fingers as if it were water. I stayed eyes closed, then with no warning, the door dissolved beneath my hands, and the floor was gone also. Gravity was pulling me backwards and then ... then I was on my back. Barely conscious, there was sensation in my neck and shoulders that in contrast felt more real than anything in that little room. It was mildly painful, like needles were stuck into me. A voice was speaking nearby and although I was lucid, my eyes refused to open, the lids too heavy to lift.

"-has reasoned that it will affect quantum mass control."

A second person responded. "It will, but he thinks the attachment is either dendritic or axonal. On compulsion, it should be somatic. Neural mitochondria would work well as integration points."

"By autonomously monitoring protein synthesis?" The first voice sounded sceptical. "Look, it's DNA inspired, but that doesn't mean ribosomal activity is how it interfaces. We're talking something that is aware of every synapse in the brain. If anything, it will be paired with synaptic vesicles or some part of the neurofibre that directly transmits and receives."

There was a rustle and then the second voice was closer. "Don't know. We'll be able to resolve this when the simulated conditioning succeeds."

"Uh, Dreiberg," the first voice spoke, closer as well and it now sounded worried also. "You are looking at this, right? He's waking up."

"What?! Oh, damn." There was the sound of rapid movement and the two were further away again.

"How? We're regulating his action potential. It's not possible!"

"Doesn't matter, he's still waking," snapped the second voice. "Forget this. Just disengage and get to observation. Let's move."

The noise of their movement died away as they departed, and there was the disagreeable feeling of metal withdrawing from my body, needles sliding out of flesh. The surface I was lying on vibrated softly and then stilled a couple dozen seconds later.

Then, silence.

-o-0-O-0-o-

It was several minutes before I was able to force my eyes open properly. This time, it was no artificial dreamland I was experiencing, handily confirmed by how sore my back felt from lying flat. I was definitely back in the real world, and my neck ached from where the needles had been.

Getting really tired of people sticking me with pointy pieces of metal. Rubbing the skin as I sat up, I frowned, my eyes adjusting to the light. The reality that had replaced the illusion was almost exactly the same dimensions, though maybe slightly less. My latest housing was essentially the interior of a cube, and every surface was sterile white. The roof, the floor, the walls; all of it. A light was shining from an indent in the ceiling, but that was the only feature the room had. There was no indication of what I was lying on when I first awoke nor a device with needles in it, nor was there any kind of visible exit.

Straight from a mental prison to a physical one.

Surprisingly, my backpack was propped against a wall. I had hardly expected to be left with anything more than what I was wearing. Though, I guessed my captors, whomever they were, decided that a backpack with a few items of clothes in it wasn't a threat.

Well, it could be worse. Unzipping the backpack's top, I reached in to check if everything was still inside. Before I managed to touch clothes, there was a shockingly loud meow that echoed faintly in my cuboid prison, and then claws gripped my hand. I winced but began to giggle, the feeling of the kitten climbing my arm as ticklish as it was stinging. It reached my shoulder then butted my neck and ear. An affable purr started, a healthy volume for such a small animal, and I raised my free hand to pet it, while it rubbed vigorously against me.

"Hey kitty," I whispered, "I'm really glad you're here."

The suddenness of change between now and Yakutsk, the starkness of how my situation had altered; it must have hit me harder than I thought. From nowhere, I wanted to cry. Dropping my head, I bit my lip, drawing in a shaky breath. The unquestioning simple affection of this tiny creature brought up a whole raft of emotions. Bewildered, sad, a bit scared but most of all ... lonely.

There's always something trying to take away the people I care about. There were only two that mattered to me. One was like a father and the other? I don't know the word that says what Mira is to me, but he's ... everything else. If anyone has hurt either of them, I ... I don't know what I'll do. The kitten pushed insistently at me, doing its best to garner my attention and then it meowed, louder than earlier, the sound bouncing off the walls. I sniffed, blinking back the tears that were trying to form, and broke into giggles again at the comically powerful sound.

"Auditioning to be a lion, huh?" I stood, expecting it to seek a way down off my shoulder, but instead it stayed where it was, unbothered by the added distance to the floor. "Alright, let's go for a tour of the new place."

Placing my left hand on the wall, I began to walk very slowly around the perimeter of the cube, my fingers trailing along the surface as I moved. I wasn't hoping to find a way out, but doing anything was better than sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself. It also gave me time to think about my current situation and to try build a mental picture of what was going on.

So, someone kidnapped me from that building in Yakutsk. They probably took Mira too, maybe Konstantin as well, but what I do know for sure is that they did this because of aqumi. I hadn't understood much of what the two people were talking about when I woke, but I picked up they were discussing neurology, the science of the human brain. I'm pretty sure they were talking about my brain specifically, and how aqumi might 'interface' with it. It did make me wonder though; aqumi was working all the time inside me, so why did they need to 'trick' me this way into using it?

All I could think was that the aqumi inside was the quantum field doing its thing, but only passively. It didn't require me telling it to act, it was just fulfilling the 'autonomous' part of the acronym, functioning along the guidelines it was programmed with. Okay, so that means they want me to actively use it, for me to shape the quantum field outside my own body, so they can ... what exactly? Measure how it happens? Maybe find out what links it to the neurons in my brain and allows me to project it? Whatever they're trying to learn about, they need me to make it happen.

That meant there was no way to use my power to escape without showing them exactly what they wanted to see.

Fuck.

Completing the circuit back to my backpack, I sat down again, lifting the kitten off my shoulder so I could hold it in front of me. "You may have to nap in the backpack, kitty," I murmured, "because if I put you down in this room, there's no guarantee I'll find you again." It squirmed a little as I held it up, but the gorgeous sea-blue of its eyes gazed at me without pause, intent on winning if I was going to give it a staring match. Before I could do anything more though, the kitten abruptly stopped wriggling, becoming unnaturally still, and its pupils constricted, narrowing to a slitted line.

What? I froze in shock from the strange change in behaviour, and then blinking once, without my prompting, the aqumi vision switched itself on. My hands as they held the kitten were lit by the glow of it, the invisible radiance as powerful as ever, but more than that there was a tiny grain between my fingers. Like a little shining dot, a speck of sunlight was inside the kitten's head.

Woah.

Shay.

The voice again. I was incredibly glad that I sounded less stuttery mentally than I did when speaking aloud, or at that moment anyone would have thought I had a permanent speech impediment.

Who are you?

I am a friend. For a time, I have known you from afar. I have seen your struggle, through your eyes. The mote of aqumi inside the kitten seemed to pulse as the voice talked into my mind, relaying a mental signal. It felt something like when the arbiter had communicated with me, though this wasn't nearly so hatefully distasteful and foreign. I cannot speak directly, for the distance is truly great. Yet this little spirit is different, as it touches the place between worlds.

Through my eyes?

We are linked. Your inner light binds us.

You aren't ... human, are you?

There was a momentary pause but then the answer came.

I am not of your kind. Quickly, it went on. Shay, there is much to tell you but I have no time. Those who confine you have placed a sapping power on your prison. If you attempt to flee, this power will quench the light when it leaves your body. You will not escape and they will steal your secrets.

So, not only would using aqumi give them what they wanted, but it would also backfire because this room had some kind of suppression technology acting on it? It was at this point that I really began to wish I knew who was behind my kidnapping. Whatever their agenda, outside of pilfering the knowledge to recreate aqumi, they were clearly well resourced.

Then how can I escape?

You will find a way, when the time is right ...

I could not query that statement further before the kitten's eyes dilated again, back to regular size, and it mewed at me curiously, asking why I was still holding it in the air. That was a fair question, and stupefied, I placed it into the backpack and sat back against the wall, feeling very dumbstruck.

It was probably five minutes later that I managed to pull my fractured thoughts together well enough to start thinking coherently again.

I just had a psychic conversation with a kitten whose mind was hijacked by an alien who can see through my eyes and is linked to me via quantum unity. What. The. Fuck. I slapped my cheek, to see if I was still actually asleep. There were a couple of times on Lucere I definitely thought I was crazy. This is another step up. Totally surreal.

What species is this voice? Does it know anything about the grid on Lucere?

Where is it from and how can we be 'linked' without having met?

How long have we been connected this way anyhow?

Was Mira aware of the aqumi inside the kitten when we found it in Aspira? Did he know about this?

In turn, this led to a particular realisation. In the plaza, when I had struggled with the arbiter, I had been lucky to survive. Afterwards, at the control node, my wounds might have healed quickly from the concentrated aqumi, but in the square itself I could easily have stayed unconscious, bleeding away until my body was unable to keep up. I would have done, were it not for this kitten. Only it was never just a kitten.

It was something more.

It's not only humans looking out for me. If this voice who 'knows me from afar' was responsible for helping on Lucere when I didn't know it was there, then I can trust what it says.

So, I would have to find a way when the time was right. I wasn't going to use aqumi carelessly, certainly not now that I understood the situation better. If they wanted answers, then they'd have to try something else. Glaring at the featureless nothing of my prison, I folded my arms and got comfortable against the wall, daring my faceless jailers to try something.

Your move.

-o-0-O-0-o-

It was probably several hours before anything happened. This was my best estimate, though truthfully I wasn't all that sure. Being locked in a place where there was no view of the sun, no way to tell night or day, meant that the passage of time became very indistinct. It was doubly worse because this cell in particular had absolutely no markings at all. It was clean and unchanging, an eternal little chunk of nothing.

Then, they made their move.

There was a solid click and then a hum. I started in surprise, blinking as my mind refocused from the watchful trance I had been in while I waited. In the middle of the room, a circle of floor rose up about three inches above the rest. There was another click when it stopped moving, and after that, silence.

Nothing else happened.

Standing, I approached the raised platform, more than a little apprehensive as to what sort of mind-fuck this was leading to. The circle was about my bodylength in diameter, and I walked around it without stepping onto it, seeing if this would trigger anything else to happen. Inert, and seemingly not about to change any time soon, I decided that I would have to be game and follow where this was going.

Gingerly, I poked at the edge of the circle with my left foot. When the tip of my shoe touched it, there was the spark of an electrical field and instantly, as though suctioned, the sole was pulled flat onto the surface. A burst of panic shot through me and I tried to wrench myself free, but the force acting on my foot began to slide it toward the centre, like a magnet dragging me. As my feet moved apart, I made the decision to step fully onto the circle, seeing as I was already glued to it anyhow. Either that or fall over from imbalance of my legs moving apart, and on contact, my right foot did the same thing and began to follow the left to the middle.

Okay, so you're forcing me to stand on this circle. Why? My heart was thumping at a steady pace, and the anxiety I felt grew as I reached the centre. A hum started again and the circle began to rotate until I was squarely facing one of the walls, feeling like a mannequin in a shop window. What's going to be next?

Feet pinned to the floor and statuesque, I waited. A dozen seconds later the wall in front of me segued to black, as if the side of the cube had been cut away to reveal space. There was a fuzz of digital static for a millisecond and the wall flickered into an image. Though the image appeared at first glance to be another sterile cube, extending from mine like they were neighbours and seamlessly connected, I knew this was wrong for two reasons.

Firstly, because it was undoubtedly a video link transmitted from somewhere else, probably quite a long way from where I was. The telltale scramble of colour and shape before the image appeared had been momentary, but it was a giveaway.

Secondly, because of what was occupying the same space in that cube as I was in mine.

Sitting in the exact centre facing me was a chair. On the floor around that chair was blood spatter and staining from a number of repeat injuries. On the back and sides of the chair were mechanised fixtures extending away; each had a variety of tortuous implements attached, all angled inwards. Strapped into the seat, his head was lolling, the darkened halo of his sunlit hair crowned with dabs of russet. His shirt front was soaked, the original blue drowned to a purple-crimson. He did not look up, either not knowing I was there or not having the energy to do so.

Mira.

In that moment, my resolve and caution vanished. The hideous and psychotic emotional manipulation from Hartley's bitter lesson had resurfaced here. My logical, reasonable conscience knew why this was happening and recognised it, but that voice was silenced. In its place was a consuming fury born out of the hatred I had for anyone that would hurt him to get to me. It stripped away all the subtle cunning and subversive misdirection that was working to ensnare me, and my situation became at once utterly simple. It no longer mattered the consequences, because a line had been crossed and they had pushed me much too far.

I was going to fucking DESTROY everyone who had a hand in this.

They want power?

I will give them more power than they can deal with.

Focused like never before, inspired by some terrible intuition, my intentions and will became razor sharp. My gaze snapped to the backpack on the floor. The kernel of aqumi inside the kitten glowed, and I commanded the alien 'voice' to help me, a righteous dictum that shot through the link.

Aid me! Give me your light!

Hearing my call, it immediately answered. The kernel seemed to swell and then a vast river of light exploded from where the kitten hid in the pack. Like it had been lying in wait, an overriding crushing stillness leaped into the cube from all directions, countering. The suppression field hammered on the outpour of aqumi from every side, forcing it down, cutting it away. At the same time, I reached out with my own light, punching through the stricture that surrounded the stream, that surrounded me. Bridging the gap, I latched onto the river, knowing I could not maintain this for long, but that I did not have to. I pulled the current so it fed right to me, and then ... then I was bolstered. My strength felt like it doubled, my body filling with the power I desired.

Your walls cannot contain me.

The suppression field's pressure was immense, like an ocean's worth of water squashing inward. My muscles tensed from the mental concentration, the strain of the attack, but I pushed against it. I expanded my sphere of aqumi, beating it away from the deluge that sustained me from the backpack. Tiny visible balls of light broke out of my skin and flew all around, orbiting my body, and I shoved the anti-aqumi even further back. It was throttled into the walls and floor by my offensive, until ... until I could feel the pulse and thrum of electronic pathways all around. A brilliant tide filled the room, now coming to me completely unimpeded from my distant ally, and my body tensed even more as I drew a massive portion of that outpour inward, becoming a virtual lightning rod.

Then I let it go, discharging the lot.

An orb of expanding aqumi slammed into the subduing framework hidden in the walls. It fried it all, rendering the technology useless, the curbing force itself eliminated. Unchecked, my energised senses expanded, unfurling outward. On one side of the cube, I had quite an audience. There were many people behind that wall and I could feel beyond them, some kind of generator device. There was a powerful warping of reality happening. Artificially focused gravity was producing a miniature singularity, a scaled-down version of what was used in the Lucere gate, and through that distorted point of space-time, I could feel ... Mira.

They were trying to close it, their pathetic suppression destroyed, but I reached out, shielded it, 'grabbing' it as if it were a pebble of precious stone cradled in my fist, a gem to be cherished.

"No, you don't. It's mine now."

I held it, not letting them do anything to close that connection. My voice sounded as it had in Aspira's plaza, but amplified inside the confined space to a nearly deafening degree. I reached through the singularity, the river of aqumi still flowing into me and I directed it onwards to him, adding more of my own as I did so. In front of me through the video transmission, I could not see the aqumi coursing into him, but I could feel it, and the three of us were temporarily joined into an axis of unbreakable strength.

Mira.

I stepped forward off the platform and walked to the screen. Filling him as full of light as I was, I transformed Mira into a blazing torch, and finally his head raised and he sat straight in the chair. Our eyes met and I spoke to him directly, with the full power of unrestrained quantum telepathy.

Leave none alive.

Burn it to the ground.

All who stand between us, kill them.

Find me.

In his eyes I saw the unyielding promise, the very same that I knew would move heaven and earth, that would do anything for me, because it was his purpose and because ... he loved me. Then I let go of the gravitational singularity, allowing it to die as the human transgressors wished it would, and it terminated, dwindling to nothing. The wall blackened, the video transmission cutting off and my head flicked around to stare through the wall at my captors, trying frantically to activate their security contingencies to deal with me. My anger was far from satisfied, however, and summoning a bludgeon of kinetic force, I slammed it through the wall of the cube.

The shriek of tearing metal and the crackle of shorting electricals filled the air. The hole I had punched had gone through several rooms; rooms that had been until a few seconds ago filled with all the apparatus to study, monitor and control an aqumi-powered teenager. Plastic and ruined electronics were scattered everywhere, sparking wires and stuttering power relays spitting arcs of lightning at whatever was close. Little fires were springing up where the wayward fingers of electricity touched anything that was remotely flammable. The emergency fire system was spraying flame retardent gas, trying to cope with the damage, but it was severely overwhelmed and barely effective.

Exactly a dozen people were in those rooms, and they were staring at me, all with expressions halfway between fear and disbelief as I stepped impassively through the smashed wall out of the cube. Scientists, technicians, administrators, security guards. One attempted to pull a gun, and without bothering to look at him, I picked him up and flung him into a thick cluster of torn wires, letting the electricity do the rest. Out of the others, the nearest were backing away from me, but none tried to run, the futility of doing so illustrated in what they had already seen. Devoid of pity, I looked over the assembled. Wisps of light danced about me and my voice vibrated with an inhuman harmony when I addressed them.

"You are all guilty," I told them, the words in a normal tone but also unnaturally deep and high at the same time. I was unburdened by empathy and forgiveness, and I told the light to wrap around each person, lifting them into the air. Simultaneously, eleven pairs of terrified eyes stared at me as they levitated, powerless to move, powerless to do anything other than fitfully pray. "Now you face the consequences of your guilt."

Aqumi pressed closer around their bodies, tightening at my whim.

"Your punishment is death."

With no hesitation, I tightened the force around all of them, squeezing, and with a deliberate audible crunch, I extinguished their miserable lives.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Walking through the smashed interior of the complex surrounding my prison, I was consumed by irreproachable superiority. I walked calmly, unconcerned, the backpack securely shut and on my shoulders. Nothing was left here that interested me and my only intention now was to find a way out, and to continue what I started, if I had to. I did not know where on Earth they had moved me, but I was prepared to do anything to find Mira and Konstantin.

Nobody will do that to him again.

Ever.

There was nothing to tell me who the people here owed their allegiance to and who had built this place. No logos, no insignia, no words anywhere that proclaimed an organisation or cause. It didn't much matter to me right then, for I would find that in time. I would find everyone behind this and I would punish them too. I would keep doing so until there was no-one left to punish.

I found the exit easily, the complex being smaller than I anticipated. The door looked somewhat like an airlock, though I could not feel a vacuum or any other indication of inhospitable conditions on the other side of it. Summoning another giant fist of power, I smashed it through the inner door, collecting it, the outer door and part of the wall also. They shot forward dozens of metres, tumbling away end over end. The air howled around me as the interior decompressed and mingled with the atmosphere. Walking to the edge, I stood in the doorway and laid my eyes upon the outside.

Above, a small blue-white star blazed. The sky was a dark blue, nearly indigo and shot with high thin trails of streaky cloud. Where I stood was on a flat rocky shelf, not far above a desert landscape that stretched to the horizons and was strewn with jagged lithic hilly spines and sporadic mesas.

I'm not on Earth.

The air whipped across my face, stinging like it was granulated, and each inhale and exhale felt sandpaper coarse, my lungs hurting slightly from the experience. It was breathable, but the oxygen was thin and just standing still, I found myself putting in as much effort as I normally would moving at brisk walking speed.

Shay, leave! There was no time to register my dismay and shock at this sight, for the voice was speaking again into my mind. The aqumi was dying away, the energy sent through the kitten temporarily spent, but the voice continued. The true enemy from your ruined world is here. They come for you. Run!

My anger and singlemindedness faltered, the light ebbing back to its normality within me as I realised with terror how isolated and vulnerable I was in this place. The 'true enemy' from Lucere had come here, to this desert planet, and I had lit myself up like a dazzling lightbrand.

Fuck. The Sharpe aliens know I'm here.

I was left with no choice.

I stepped onto the rock of this dry inhospitable climate, and began to jog away from the gutted quantum research complex.

-o-0-O-0-o-

In low geostationary orbit over the desiccated world, the small dark shape hung. An observation was fixed on a certain area of the surface, for the human prey that periodically came to this planet was a sneaking sort. They would always arrive and secret themselves away before a response could appear to catch them, and for their absolute location to be found. Quick enough to avoid the rapture of the Song and the consequent cleansing. This latest arrival had been the same, fitting into the repeating pattern of events.

Then came the sign of the defiler.

Breaking from orbit, the shape picked up speed and descended through the atmosphere. It homed upon the site of unrest, alighting close on the stone abutment. Emerging from the scout-destroyer, an arbiter regarded the desert landscape, probing with its extrasensory ability. The human base was destroyed, the inhabitants dead. It felt a hint of the defiler, a whiff of scent, but now reduced in potency. With a rough direction acquired, the arbiter summoned the hunter-killers from within the vessel. The three came before it, eager and hungry for the command. Their judge and master indicated to them, and they received the bearing and then were released with a single impulse.

Seek.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The desert here was nothing like the storybook image I had from growing up on Earth. There were no waving hillocks, no soft dunes of yellow sand. Between any of the rocky elevations, all of which seemed to be kilometres separate, it was dead flat and hard. Crustal plates of whitened silicate and bronzed sandstone were the intermediary and a constant skimming wind grazed it. Tiny sharp particles mixed with the air, worse down here than from above, and every single breath hurt. I knew it was damaging my lungs, labouring as they were to keep me running with the thinness of the air. If it wasn't for the aqumi in me working overtime to repair the damage as it occurred, the abrasiveness would have killed me several times over already.

Heat wavered on the surface where I was focused, the dust crunching and skittering as I trod it. The hoodie in my backpack had been put to good use, the hood pulled up to lessen the effect of the sun. It seemed very harsh, and while aqumi probably would be able to counteract the effect of it burning my skin, I needed to conserve myself as much as I could if I was to survive this.

My chest burned, my muscles straining, and I felt like I had already sweated buckets. A destination was fixed in my mind, another small rocky mesa in the middle distance, not unlike the shelf on which the research complex was. I did not know what I would do after I reached it, but I figured it was at least somewhere high and safe where I might be able to find shelter and rest.

I was living in the moment, and this was the best I had.

Though most of my concentration was taken up with simply not letting my body collapse from exhaustion, I had noticed dotted about the flats these unusual clusters of rocky spires. They were scattered like waypoints across the vast open, each probably hundreds of metres or more distant from the next nearest. One of these clusters was very close to my route and I decided to deviate a little so I could take a moment or two out of the sun, in their shadows.

I slowed to a walk just before I reached the cluster. The spires all seemed to be two to three times my height and about as thick as my torso. They were arranged in the rough circumference of a circle, and when I came closer, the hard-baked skin of the desert crumbled somewhat. Near the spires, there was actual sand, coarse still but powdered and not solid. Getting within range to take a better look, my heartrate trying to calm, I noticed that these spires had a chunky rocky coating; there was pitting and lining to it that looked very much like the bark of a tree.

Wait a minute, are these things alive? I looked closer at the curious splitting branching shapes of what I'd assumed was rock formation, rising into the air. They do look a lot like ... cactii. An alien breed of rock-cactus? Where there was plant life, there had to be a means for it to survive. I stared at the ground between the spires, the inside of the circle seeming to be the same softer sand also. If that's true, then maybe they are growing here because the ground allows it and because ... there's water down there! This could be like an oasis. I navigated round the outside of the circle, giving my body a bit longer before I took off again. My hand was touching the husk of one, the shadow of it feeling marvellously cool, and then came the sound.

A bloodcurdling howl floated into the air. A pang of horror shot through me, my nerves standing on end. I was immediately aware of the arbiter's scent, only this was different. It wasn't quite the arbiter itself, it was more primal, simple, focused on a single target, with a single goal in mind.

Me.

I looked up across the circle of spires to see a creature, a thing, charging in my direction about a hundred metres away across the silica flats. The features of its body grew clearer as it got closer, and it was galloping much faster than I could run. About my height on all fours, the beast had powerful forelegs and smaller hindquarters. Like the arbiters, it was black but a duller shade, ropes of corded boney ligaments visible and serving as muscular power beneath the formidable armouring of the carapace. The head was even more monstrous, the eye sockets set back along the elongated snout, a flared nasal cavity in place of the muzzle's end. The mouth slavered as it ran, opening and closing, filled with rows of teeth like carving knives. The lower jaw was bifurcated, though the two sides seemed to move in symmetry as it worked up and down. Unlike the arbiters, there was no fire upon it, but in lieu of that, it wore an organic neckband of spines, like blades. More frilled out along its shoulders and back, a down made out of the sharpest material.

If sharpelings bore some resemblance to cats, this beast moved and looked like a giant rabid mutant dog. It was a canine mockery, crossed with the same essence that made the arbiters what they were.

A blade-hound.

My terror at this 'animal' was as intense as it had been facing the arbiters' champion on Lucere. It slid to a halt opposite me on the circle of cactii, furrows carving in the ground, dust flying. It gave a roaring growl of aggression, the head pushing between two spires as the gap between was too narrow to fully admit it. Then clawing, the forelimbs forced the rocky plants apart, the neck-spikes gouging lines as it broke through them to the interior.

I backed away, not knowing what I was going to do, what I could do against this nightmare. Pulling free from the barrier it had just cleared, the blade-hound loped forward across the centre. Beneath it the sand shifted, and in a flash, before it could reach my side, its legs were sinking in.

I gasped aloud. Quicksand?! The foreclaws pawed at the sand, the back legs thrashing. I lashed out with what aqumi I could muster, and though the hound seemed to have inherited the arbiters' inborn resistance to telekinetic manipulation, I pushed fitfully down on it. The head lunged forward, the claws ripping down the spire right in front of me. Bashing repeatedly on its rear quarters, the legs slipped fully under the sand and it slid backwards. Drown, goddammit, drown! Go UNDER!

Again, it tried to haul itself forward out of the pit, but I pushed right into its jaws, ramming the head backwards. Faster now, the sand seemed to rise around its torso as its own weight began to really work against it, then it was being dragged in without my help. I did not stop though, and even as it snarled and snapped at me, the rippling pool filled its mouth and eyes. After it disappeared entirely, I waited until the sand stopped moving before I let the horror at what had just happened subside.

What the fuck was THAT? Is this the kind of creature they're sending for me now?

As if in a mocking rejoinder, from away somewhere across the desert came another earsplitting call, a searching hunter's note. Turning to face my destination, I began to run once more.

It wasn't over yet.

-o-0-O-0-o-

I don't know exactly when the other blade-hounds spotted me, but I had reached the mesa's side and begun to climb it. The sides were basically vertical, but the rock was weather worn and ridged, so I was scaling it when they arrived below. My aqumi-sense could feel them approach, though I had not reached out to detect them, fearing that this would prematurely indicate to them my exact position.

They prowled back and forth beneath me, pacing along the mesa's base. One tried to climb the rock, but it was too big, the indentations and solidity not nearly enough to support its weight. It fell back down and the other leaped, trying to get close enough to land a hit on me. The jump made it to an impressive height and I shivered at the heavy scratching sound of its claws and blades scraping just a couple of metres beneath me.

Halfway up, I found a niche big enough to squeeze into. The crevice was barely larger than I was, but I was able to lie down in it, pulling the backpack in on top of me. It was sheltered from the sun's light too, and the blade-hounds couldn't reach me here. I badly needed recuperation, feeling like I could sleep for a week. My eyes burned, my lungs felt as if they were ripped to shreds, my muscles ached and my throat was scratchy and very dry. There was a pounding headache too from the severe dehydration, and without wanting to expose the kitten to this environment, I carefully fished out the water bottle and took a mouthful.

It tasted like heaven.

Then, utterly exhausted, temporarily safe, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

When I woke, it was still daylight. A quick glance down out of my safespot revealed that the two hounds were gone from the bottom of the mesa. I made the snap decision that I needed to reach the top, then I'd at least be able to see wherever those things were. Even if I was trapped up here, they were still down there, but visibility would help and give me a chance to formulate a plan to deal with .. all of this.

The upper half of the climb was fairly easy, and I pulled myself over the final stretch, my fingers complaining from the stress of holding onto so little for so long. Lying on that edge, panting from the exertion, I came into a sitting position and looked out at the landscape below me.

This really is a pitiful place. I wonder if anything other than plants is alive here.

I was about to set the backpack down and hydrate my weakened condition with what was left of the single bottle of water, when there was a familiar grinding sound behind me. The same sound I heard earlier, that of long sharp claws digging into the surface of sandstone.

Whirling, I turned in time to see the head of a blade-hound appear over the far edge of the mesa, the forelimbs anchoring it to the surface as it finished the treacherous climb to the top.

em>Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
Well, here it is -- Shay is back! Everyone wants a piece of him too! None of you expected this was going to be easy ... did you?!
Fear not, dear readers, for the complementary half of this will follow in Chapter 6. Mira has the means to break free ... and he is NOT HAPPY about this situation. Not at all.
Lastly, while I'm not huge on self-promotion, if you enjoyed Hidden Sunlight and think it worthy of the honour, send me your love in the Reader's Choice!
Also, please leave a review, a comment or a like. I'd love to hear from you.
Copyright © 2017 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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Okay, so Shay is on some other planet and Mira is there too. And those evil aliens are there, too. Which means the evil aliens can't be far from earth, considering that whatever planet Mira and Shay are on they had to get there and that means that it seems to be not cut off from earth.

 

Shay seems to be really powerful now... I think I will miss this small, scared boy :S Though I guess he still is a small, scared boy, just that he now has the ability to kill whoever dares to stand in his way... <.< I am kind of worried about what he did back there... Basically executing a bunch of people? I mean, I get that he's angry and stuff, but that was a little cold and extreme... it makes me worry about him and his sanity...

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On 02/18/2014 09:28 AM, Sammy Blue said:
Okay, so Shay is on some other planet and Mira is there too. And those evil aliens are there, too. Which means the evil aliens can't be far from earth, considering that whatever planet Mira and Shay are on they had to get there and that means that it seems to be not cut off from earth.

 

Shay seems to be really powerful now... I think I will miss this small, scared boy :S Though I guess he still is a small, scared boy, just that he now has the ability to kill whoever dares to stand in his way... <.< I am kind of worried about what he did back there... Basically executing a bunch of people? I mean, I get that he's angry and stuff, but that was a little cold and extreme... it makes me worry about him and his sanity...

The only problem with this idea is the foundation (that Mira is on the same planet as Shay) is wrong. He isn't. The reason for the micro-singularity was to allow transmission of video in real-time between Earth and the world Shay found himself on. If you recall the first scene of chapter one: Darcy Andrews and Zhou used the same method - a mini-singularity - to transmit their recorded data from Barnard's Star directly back to the probe orbiting Earth's moon. These smaller holes in space-time are big enough to admit a particle stream such as aqumi or digital video data, but not physical objects like a full-sized orbital gate. I could add more to this information, but there is future plot significance surrounding it, so I'll leave it at that for now.

 

Part of Shay's continuing journey will surround the consequences of such terrifying power and how it can change a person - and how someone of that age, no matter their maturity, deals with this. What he did was very cold, but then again: the dark side of this is his power is coveted by *everyone* who knows about it, and he will be persecuted because of this simple fact. Is anything off limits when you have that kind of soulless pressure being put on you?

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I have the same concerns as Sammy. I did not expect Shay to murder those people, even though they might have done terrible things. In my opinion that's what differentiates good people from bad people, good people kill only if it is really necessary - which it wasn't back there. So yeah, I am actually disappointed in this chapter as Shay's act does take a huge amount of sympathy points away from him. :/

You might want to excuse Shay's behavior, but really, his power has corrupted him, he is lost. ;(

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On 11/19/2014 08:35 AM, Scary said:
I have the same concerns as Sammy. I did not expect Shay to murder those people, even though they might have done terrible things. In my opinion that's what differentiates good people from bad people, good people kill only if it is really necessary - which it wasn't back there. So yeah, I am actually disappointed in this chapter as Shay's act does take a huge amount of sympathy points away from him. :/

You might want to excuse Shay's behavior, but really, his power has corrupted him, he is lost. ;(

It is quite reasonable and straight-forward to condemn him for killing in this manner. Yet, this crime, insofar as one considers it a crime, is centred around the fact that he killed people who were employed to experiment on both of them without regard for their status as human beings. They were complicit in this and would have also been complicit in the deaths of both boys at the end of it had Shay not acted. Shay condemns them, considering their complicity as guilt enough to act on his hatred and he is totally correct in doing so -- NO-ONE there had his well-being at heart, and he knew that.

 

So, while he was in one way acting as judge jury and executioner, in another sense he was repaying with his own form of vigilante justice for the unarguably criminal things done to him.

 

So, what is good and evil here? I would certainly be cautionary about describing anyone as lost or corrupt.

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yay! finally shay. :D

counter to my counterparts, i don't find the killing of all those scientists and so on as saying much about shay considering what he has been through and what he get's like when his boyfriend is hurt, it wasn't that surprising.

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On 04/15/2015 11:59 AM, Celethiel said:
yay! finally shay. :D

counter to my counterparts, i don't find the killing of all those scientists and so on as saying much about shay considering what he has been through and what he get's like when his boyfriend is hurt, it wasn't that surprising.

Thank you! I'm glad you think that way. It was a very sudden reaction; not like a premeditated murder in cold blood.
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You have done such a good job with this chapter and  written with powerful and clear description. I loved that wick meant there untimely end so good! And Aqumi is very boy's best friend. Just loving this so much thanks!

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I would have hoped that Shay would interview his tormentors, confront them and try to turn them around making them understand their devastating moves and repent what they had done to him. He should start building alliances instead of killing. Actually he was dealing with scientists who probably hadn't meant to hurt him. I am afraid hatred will grow in his mind replacing the pure attitude of this sensitive boy.

Aside of that I love the scene with the blade-hound being swallowed by quick sand. Now comes the so much loved cliffhanger. How did this blade-hound manage to climb the mesa? Did he bite his way through the stone?

Never the less, I guess aqumi will take care of that. Poor blade-hound...

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1 hour ago, BarkingFrog said:

I would have hoped that Shay would interview his tormentors, confront them and try to turn them around making them understand their devastating moves and repent what they had done to him. He should start building alliances instead of killing. Actually he was dealing with scientists who probably hadn't meant to hurt him. I am afraid hatred will grow in his mind replacing the pure attitude of this sensitive boy.

Aside of that I love the scene with the blade-hound being swallowed by quick sand. Now comes the so much loved cliffhanger. How did this blade-hound manage to climb the mesa? Did he bite his way through the stone?

Never the less, I guess aqumi will take care of that. Poor blade-hound...

To be fair to Shay, he was in a high-pressure emotional situation where his priority was escape and survival ahead of any kind of negotiation. Given his experiences so far with people trying to control him -- especially when it involves Mira -- his reaction is quite understandable.

Regarding his captors: they were RDA scientists hiding on a secret offworld base precisely in order to avoid Earth's federal law. Their employers are MFM, the monolithic corporation who kidnapped Shay and Mira. These people are free from ethical concerns in this pursuit and even explicitly encouraged by the corporate overlords to get results before anything else. The goal was, as this chapter should demonstrate, to reverse engineer aqumi. If they had been successful in doing so without Shay's disruption, once everything of value was learned, both boys would have been eliminated and disposed of.

You will see this experience leave a mark on Shay's conscience though.

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A wonderful way to introduce quantum entanglement, among the other particle physics!

On 11/18/2014 at 2:35 PM, Scary said:

I have the same concerns as Sammy. I did not expect Shay to murder those people, even though they might have done terrible things. In my opinion that's what differentiates good people from bad people, good people kill only if it is really necessary - which it wasn't back there. So yeah, I am actually disappointed in this chapter as Shay's act does take a huge amount of sympathy points away from him. :/

You might want to excuse Shay's behavior, but really, his power has corrupted him, he is lost. ;(

Is it murder when you eliminate those who would use you and then eliminate you? Read up on the human experiments performed by the Nazis. You are a prisoner. Escape is your only concession. That people stood in your way is of no consequence.

Having seen this type of thing, close-up and personal, I have no qualms with what Shay did. Vietnam was a nightmare, but it also taught me base human nature.

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