Where the twins came from, nobody knew.
They conspired together in languages no human or computer could identify. They persisted in odd rituals, like never walking through a door frame painted black, or crying inconsolably at the sight of a dog, or descending into terrible rage and destroying all the furniture if anybody in the room had eaten curry in the last hour.
The twins’ ethnicity was unidentifiable. Their DNA was a puzzle, producing skin so light it had blue undertones, slanted green eyes and inky-black hair that grew in thick spikes, and the delicate bone-structure of the far-east. It also produced a difference in height of more than a foot between brother and sister, who could otherwise be mirror-images. They moved like lizards and cuddled like wolves. Also, they both drank blood.
It had to be human blood from a living donor. Policy prescribed prisoners, already condemned, with no one to miss them. Not that the twins killed anybody; these two loved their meals, talking nonsensically at them and petting their heads, until they finally compressed this frightened and confused person between them like the whispered prayer between clasped hands.
Sister always chose the front; brother always held from behind. Lovingly and finally, they pressed their mouths to their new friend’s throat, one on each side.
When finished, the twins would retreat to their nest (they did not sleep in beds, but preferred to pull blankets, pillows, and sometimes the insides of mattresses to the floor to make their own), leaving their meal in a happy daze. The prisoners would sit there until someone came to take them away.
Sometimes they fought when rescued. Prisoners wanted to stay.
The twins were unique. They were powerful. They were clearly not human. And now, they were mine.
The day-to-day duties of this facility were my main priority, of course, being the reason for my promotion. However, I had a reason of my own: I wanted to see them.
“They’re not contained,” my superior said, and put his paperweight into the cardboard box, knocking over the mug of pens inside.
I looked up slowly, my new badge pinned to my coat. “What?”
My predecessor waved his clipboard at me. “They’re not contained. They get out whenever they like, but they always come back. Keep that in mind when they disappear, and be calm. The situation rights itself.”
My mouth opened and shut again, involuntary expressions of a sinking, chilling, plummeting numbness I could not control. “What do you mean, they ‘get out?’”
“Hm?” He dropped his books on top of his pencil sharpener and hotpot.
“You said they get out,” I said through gritted teeth.
He looked up at me, and pity wrinkled his brow. “Weren’t you…? Oh! You read the Bartlett Report, didn’t you?”
Had he the audacity to doubt the thoroughness of my education? “Of course I did.”
My predecessor shook his head as if I were a lazy teenager who had failed to study. “That explains it.” He pulled a manila folder out of his box. “The Corsair Report. You need to read this. Honestly, I don’t know why you weren’t given it already.”
What was this? The Corsair Report? I had heard nothing of this, nothing! This was an inexcusable oversight. Displeasure tightened my own features, which was not the impression I wished to give my departing superior.
Disturbingly, he didn’t seem to care. He patted my shoulder in a terribly familiar manner. “Doctor Iskinder, listen. I understand how we do things at the Association. I’ve been part of it all my life, too. But here is a word of advice: don’t.”
“Don’t what?” I snapped.
“Don’t do it like the Association. Not with them. If you try, you’ll fail. We don’t control the twins. We don’t contain them, we don’t own them, and we never will. I’m telling you this now, though I know you won’t listen. Not at first. Nobody does.” He sighed, and suddenly this man looked far older than his sixty-three years. “Goodbye, Doctor Iskinder. Good luck.”
“Wait a minute!”
He looked at me. “Read the report,” he said, and then marched out the door and never looked back.
I’d never been so insulted in my life. Was he mad? What was this report?
All my efforts to earn this promotion had been rewarded, at least, with this: with his exodus from this office, Barton Smith was no longer director of Project Opals. I was. This ship would be run differently, make no mistake. I was in charge.
I didn’t want to read the damn Corsair Report.
It undoubtedly held the ravings of a madman, unbalanced by weak will and too many years of watching green eyes through thick glass. My predecessor held this post without hiatus for nearly twenty years; yet, could I safely assume the report held nothing of value? No. We at the Association learned to be experts in the art of dredging diamonds from the rough.
I feared this report, and I did not know why.
My briefcase and spare personal items perched in the dark like watching cats. For this first moment, this first look, I did not turn on the lights. The bulbs from the observation room were enough.
The wall on my west was a slope of glass, several feet thick, which might seem excessive for anyone who did not know the twins’ recorded strength. They’re capable of jumping to startling heights, and have on more than one occasion left handprints on the glass’ underside.
My reports on the twins’ psychology were more limited than I liked, but there was no help for it. The twins were talkative when prompted, but made so little sense that a proper profile could not be drawn.
My shadow reached high on the wall, cast upwards by 120,000 lumen from the observation room. It had taken me six years to reach this position, and all that while, I’d dreamed looking down into that observation room. For the first time, I would see the twins in the flesh. I approached the glass.
Far below on a twisted ball of bedclothes and pillows, oroboros-like, the twins lay twined. Faces touching, hands interlocked between them, their bodies curved outward as if to defend each other against the world, they formed a circle within the circle of their bed, their faces stark against their spiky hair and clothing.
I had seen them in this position in many photos, wearing different clothes, lying on different materials for their handmade resting place. While fashions changed through the decades, the twins remained the same, unaging. Their DNA was ancient, matching only those peoples whom time has long erased.
They seemed too frail to have survived the bombing of Germany, and again of Vietnam. Yet they did, and resurfaced without harm in Italy at the time of the Great Calamity. Even now, when half the world gave off too much radiation for humans to survive, the twins showed no sign of ever having been near it. They’d healed.
High-speed cameras caught the bomb-sequence twice: skin and flesh boiled, burning away, but then — too fast for the naked eye to catch — skin formed, hair regrew, until in a second’s breath, they were whole. Their cells retained neither the radiation nor its effects. To study their bodies was to see people who had never been injured — and yet, they had.
That was what made them so valuable. They had survived. We needed to survive. We needed to learn how they did it.
I knew what all in the Association knew: humanity was the pinnacle of evolution. We must not go extinct, no matter the dire state of the planet and its atmosphere. We must, without question, survive, thrive, and if the price included the freedom of these two unaging children, so be it.
It was then I realized the twins were staring at me.
I froze, riveted by their eyes. Green — so very green — piercing and penetrating, even from that distance, irises rings of emerald ‘round pupils wide in spite of the light below. Those eyes drew me; I felt seen, though that was impossible through that one-way glass. I felt probed, exposed. Owned.
I pulled away from the glass. They were unnerving, no doubt, but I’d expected as much. The answers to our survival were down in that room. The twins could survive without air. They could survive without solid food. They could heal from anything, including exposure to stellar radiation.
Our salvation lay in the bodies of those two strange beings. We only had to figure out how.
The Corsair Report was short, its folder-wrapped girth the result of many, many photos. The twins stared back at me from quite a few, in positions I’d not seen before, and I gratified myself with them before moving on. Then came a set of photos I had never seen, labelled with thick black marker.
These people. Why did they matter?
Elise: 700? above a striking woman with red hair and green eyes.
Roderick: 1000? scrawled above a severe-looking man with a neatly trimmed beard and a look in his green eyes as if he’d seen too much death.
Terrance: 300? Another redhead, but this was clearly of different stock; narrow where she was round, long and skinny where she was full, and covered in freckles. His eyes, though — that same green.
Adeola: 1500? This woman; striking. The bone-structure of elegance that only comes from Ethiopia. I found myself falling into her features before I noticed the oddness of one detail: her eyes, too, were green. The same green.
I stared at them a long moment before moving on.
Sipho: 1700? This… a man or a woman? I could not tell, but I guessed he came from further south in the continent, beyond my own distant Ethiopian roots. Perhaps Kenya? His skin (her skin?) was dark as pitch, smooth, perfect, but her eyes…. They were the same green.
Photo after photo. Profile after profile, each with a name and apparently random number, and each with impossibly green eyes. The same eyes.
A movement caught my attention, and I looked toward the observation glass to find the male, Kai, pressing his face against the glass in a grotesque smile as if waiting for me to spot him.
“Fourteen oh-one! Fourteen oh-one!” I shouted the security code and leaped up too fast, knocking my chair, my mind exploding with the impossible fact that he stood on empty air some hundred feet above the floor.
Security pounded into the room, soldiers armed and well-trained, and they caught a glimpse of Kai before he vanished as if playing a dramatic joke on all of us.
They marched to the glass, speaking code into their shoulder units, but not at all as disturbed as they should be.
“What was that?” I shouted. “What happened?”
“Sir. Please, if you’ll just come over here.” They coaxed me patiently, leaking the same hideous pity my former superior had shown, and down below Kai lay in the exact same position he’d been, not a single hair out of place.
That little freakish son of a bitch.
There was a form for this incident report, an actual form, because his jokes (and his sister’s) were so common. And I had not been told. No one had been told outside this facility.
After security left, I sat behind the desk I’d coveted for six years and put my head in my hands.
The twins were categorized as ultra quod rerum natura patitur — “beyond what the nature of things allows” — which, as a phrase, angers me. Nothing is beyond what nature allows. Simply because we do not understand it yet does not make it inconceivable, or impossible, or magical, or anything else. I was no naïve fool, even if everyone around me was.
I returned to the file. A few more names and faces, all of them striking in some way, if not conventionally beautiful, and all with those same green too-knowing eyes.
The last photo, though, was of a man I knew. Knew of.
Notte: 15,000? He looked young, perhaps twenty at the most, with a sculptor’s sharp, lush features and a poet’s soulful green eyes. Loose brown curls added to the absurd romanticism of his entire image, and he was, without question, the most dangerous being in this world.
Notte. This finally clued me in to the purpose of those numbers. It was well understood that this creature, Notte, was over 15,000 years old.
I’d never seen an image of him in color before. He had the same green eyes. The same. Why?
I needed more information.
“Congratulations, George. You’ve reached a new level,” said General Blue, and disconnected the call.
I stared at the gadget in my hand. This man owed me favors, and he’d hung up on me? Really?
It chimed: he’d hung up to send me secure email.
Seven Peoples: Unknown (posited: Darkness)
Assessed degree of risk: Emergency
That last was enough to make me sit down.
I flipped through the pages, ignoring the bright light from the observation chamber, refusing to look lest someone else’s face be pressed against the glass. They wouldn’t startle me again. It was a stupid hazing rite, I could see that now, but that was the end of it.
All these were distractions. I focused on the file.
- Bodily disintegration (see: Particle Acceleration)
- Undetermined capacity for internal storage (see: Blood Ingestion)
- Conditional invulnerability (See: Wood)
- Rapid healing (See: Regeneration; Wood; Fire; Metal; Electricity; Water; Poison)
- Immortal cells (See: Regeneration; Sunlight)
- Intellectual Persuasion (See: “Hypnosis”)
- Human-transformative blood (See: Family; “Children”)
- Reproduction: Human-transformative (See: Family; “Children;” Blood-sharing)
This report kept freezing as I scrolled through. Of course it did; it was seven hundred pages long. The freezing was fine by me. Those words in bold were… everything.
Human-transformative properties. I knew of Notte by reputation — dangerous, magical, uncontrollable, frustratingly unafraid of us, which he should be. Humans were the dominant species on this earth.
Except now, it seemed he wielded a more terrifying power than I’d ever known. Notte was the progenitor of a heinous race, of creatures who had committed the ultimate treason: once they were human, and now, they were not.
“Are you telling me the twins were human?” I paced in front of the thick glass, glancing down only once every pass.
“We have no record of — ”
“No. Honesty, Blue. First, this Corsair Report. Then your email, with some unnamed seven-hundred-page tome with all kinds of bizarre information, all of it pointing to the conclusion that Notte is making more of his kind by converting human beings? What is he, a Typhoid Mary?”
The answering silence gave me enough time to realize I’d been shouting, but the General clearly chose not to take it personally. “This is highly classified, George. Yes, Notte builds his species by taking human beings and changing them, somehow. Look: the populous thinks they’re vampires.”
I laughed hard and sat down.
“That doesn’t matter,” he pressed. “You’re missing the point. The reason the twins matter is they aren’t normal for Notte’s Children.”
I was still stuck on vampires. “Explain. And please tell me you have another name for them.”
“Officially, they’re Night’s Children. Look, you need to hear me out. They have an incredibly tight-knit family, except for these two. Something is wrong with the twins, even by Notte’s standards. Like they’re… birth defects, or something. You’ve been there long enough to see their antics. You have to know we’d never be able to keep them for any length of time unless they were here by choice.”
My whole face scrunched, twisted, teeth bared though no one could see. “So it’s a joke. This facility. The research. Everything, a joke.”
He paused. “It’s a twisted imprisonment, I’ll grant you that. However, they are here. They return here. The very thought of staying away fills them both with terror.”
Really. I could use that. “I need more information, Blue.”
“You’ll have it. At this point, you might as well have everything. Take your equipment to Systems and get it upgraded. I’ll have the security protocols there waiting for you.” Always brief, he hung up.
I turned around to find the female twin, Elsa, lounging in my office chair and chewing on a paperclip.
I stiffened, but Kai’s juvenile prank from before had prepared me, so I neither panicked nor screamed. “Miss. I believe your home is on the other side of this glass.”
She bit the paperclip, vivid green eyes unblinking and far too steady, focused on some imagined thing far, far behind me. “He was right. You are interesting.”
Interesting? “Not nearly as interesting as you.” I sounded calm and in control. What a laugh! “You’re the reason I’m here, you know.”
“You want to extract our long-livingness,” she said.
Quite a bit more than that, but it was a start. “Yes.”
“And put it in humans,” she added, bending the paperclip so it resembled a spiral boomerang.
Was this progress? Mockery? How was I to respond? “Yes.”
“You’ll never get it,” she said. “It doesn’t work from us.”
My jaw clenched. Mockery, then, or defiance; though it was difficult to juxtapose her words with her expression. She barely seemed here. “We must. In your blood is the key to survival for my entire species.”
“No.” She bent the paperclip further. “It isn’t.” And now she wasn’t looking in my direction at all.
I took a step closer. This was insane, but if I could convince them to trust me…. “It is. Do you know what is happening, out there? In the world? Why we need what is in your blood?”
She didn’t answer. Between her teeth and fingers, the paperclip now resembled booby-trapped stairs, tiered but hollow.
I was crazy to take another step. She’d attack me, or something. I did it anyway. “We’re dying, Elsa. The planet is dying, and we humans are dying with it.”
“One, two, three, four; five-six-se’en Peoples and no more,” she half-sang, half-chanted at me. “Five, six, seven, eight; they’ll be gone and you’ll be late. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve….” Her brow knit. “I don’t remember the rest.” And her eyes filled. Her lower lip trembled.
Really? Really? “I can’t say I’m familiar with that rhyme.”
“You wouldn’t be.” Kai walked past me, brushing shoulders, and ignoring (I hope) the way I jumped nearly out of my skin.
My heart threatened to pound through my throat and escape. “You need to go back to your nest. This is — ” I dare not say unacceptable. “ — going to hurt you.”
Kai somehow folded into the chair with her, impossibly making it look comfortable. “I don’t know if I like you. Edmonds was hotter.”
And this just crossed every surreal boundary I knew. “Edmonds is gone. What does it mean to you, if your director is ‘hot?’”
The paperclip’s edge slipped out from under Elsa’s front teeth, and it sliced through the air so quickly I almost missed it stabbing into the wall beside my face.
I jumped again.
“It means we like you,” she said, almost present, then her gaze slipped again. “Nine, ten, eleven, twelve….”
Perhaps it meant some level of safety if I were not… ahem. ‘Hot’ to them. Yet the fact that they could leave so easily frightened me. I had to endear myself. “He is gone by choice. I wanted to be here, far more than he does.”
This elicited nothing. They both looked bored, distant, as if I were not even there.
This was too much. All of it, too much. I’d had enough. “Get back in the room.”
They both looked at me, green eyes as focused as the first second I’d seen them. And neither moved otherwise.
Anger shook my voice and heated my face as I pointed at the glass. “Get back in the room!”
Kai’s eyes lidded, while Elsa inhaled with shuddering intensity, and her irises glowed. “Do it again!”
What? What? “You will obey me! In the room! Now!”
The absence of their presence was like the rush of air after a bomb, and I staggered, then stumbled over to the observation glass and its blindingly bright lights, clutching my chest.
They lay on their nest, entwined, like nothing had happened, except for one thing: they whispered fervently to one another, and I already knew as I turned on the mics that it would be nonsense.
It was. Complete gibberish. I’m a trained linguist, and that was not only an unknown language, it wasn’t a language at all. There was no pattern.
Nonsense, this was all nonsense, and more importantly, it was out of control. Completely, irreparably, out of control. I sat back down at my desk and stared at the embedded, bent paperclip. They’d need pliers to pull it out.
I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Than anyone could chew. I wondered if it were already too late to transfer. If so, then I was the only one in this room who was truly trapped.
I slept so poorly. Were I a different kind of person, I’d call in sick, but I had a son to raise, and I’d be damned if he’d learn laziness and selfishness from me. I accepted his hot cocoa (made with love and too little sugar) and went in to work.
The twins were not there.
They’d come back. Everybody said they’d come back, so I occupied myself with paperwork.
Hours passed. Time ticked on; they didn’t return. Everyone said the twins would come back, but I lacked the patience of my mad forebears. At noon sharply, I called security and activated the alarm.
A thorough search of the compound revealed nothing. Security combed every inch, every room, and only around three PM began to show some fear. The twins, evidently, did not have the habit of staying out this long. By five, there was no help for it: I had to call my superiors.
I chose to go through last night’s security footage myself.
“No, I did not ‘lose’ them,” I muttered into the phone, squinting at the scrolling footage — I’d slowed it so much that I could see it frame by frame. “No, I don’t know why they left. Of course I didn’t let them go. If you’re going to waste time with stupid accusations, this conversation is over.” I hung up — the only satisfying action I’d taken all day.
Heavy boot steps pounded past my door, as they had for the last many hours. No one had found anything. Recognition software was useless; there’d been a faint blur on the recording when the twins disappeared just after midnight last night, but it could just as easily have been electrical interference. Nuclear fallout tended to mess it up.
Frame after frame flew by, only paused when I needed to rub my dry eyes. There had to be something. Had to be. I’d nearly run out of footage of the crucial few minutes when it happened: one single frame had caught a blur of color.
There was no discernable form. No features, no indication this was a person or a poltergeist or who knew what the hell else. But that blue was familiar. Our cameras may not have been able to capture the shape, but their color rendering was perfect.
I opened the Corsair Report and flipped through the pictures. And there it was: Notte wore a suit of velvet in that precise sapphire shade of blue.
My son would have to stay with my ex-wife for the foreseeable future, because I didn’t know if I’d be coming back. This was insane behavior, and (fortunately, perhaps) unpredictable when it came to me. I’d never stepped out of line or over any boundary, never done anything crazy or over-bold, and this was both. But what else could I do? They were set to pin the twins’ disappearance on me, on me, ending my career and everything else. Everything else. If I failed at this, I failed. I simply failed. I couldn’t do that to my son. He was inheriting enough of a mess with this world as it was.
I had to show him that no stone could be left unturned, that no boundary was too high to cross. I’d lived too carefully in front of him, and only now saw what that led to: blame for the follies of the men who came before.
Notte’s home was not what I expected.
For the so-called progenitor of “vampires,” his tastes ran to the cheerfully stucco. The mansion rose three stories, earth-toned and topped with reddish clay tiles, all of them curved like the tops of happy flower petals. Speaking of: tiny round gardens spotted the drive up and framed the mansion, and though all were dry and dead, they must have once been a riot of color. Behind the mansion stretched an expanse of pure blue — blue sky, and beyond that, blue ocean, for this mansion sat at the edge of a cliff in Tuscany.
I’d never seen such a frightening place in all my life.
Lies, it was all lies, indwelled by a creature of pure evil who robbed my already dying species to propagate his own. Yet I had to find out what happened to the twins. At least Tuscany was far enough from the major bomb-drops that I could go without my suit and mask.
Nothing moved as I approached and used the heavy gargoyle-style door knocker.
What was I doing here? This was crazy. So what if the twins were gone and it cost me my job, my status, everything? I’d still have my life! I should go home, forget this, leave.
“Good morning,” came from behind me in a smooth, soft voice.
I spun. Yes. Yes, there he stood: Notte.
And I froze. All my training, all my expertise were nothing in this very second. Humankind was superior, there was no doubt, but not on an individual level. Like the ant, we only conquered when congregated. And here… this was a true predator. A monster, hidden in human guise.
A monster who could make me like him.
“May I help you?” he finally said after I’d let the silence stretch too long.
“The twins.” My voice was hoarse and strained, and I coughed to clear it. “The twins. I need them back, and I know you’ve taken them. Give them back. The future of the human race depends upon them.”
And this creature, this being who was thousands of years old and utterly cryptic, sighed. “Will you come inside?”
He looked sad. Maybe he couldn’t eat me in the light of day? “I apologize, Mr. Iskinder. I cannot give you my children.”
“You’ve had no interest in them before.” I was pushing it now, pushing so hard, but this was all I had left.
“That is not precisely true.” He tilted his head, and for one fatal second, I looked directly into his eyes instead of between them. The world swam, lost all edges as its colors blurred together. For a moment, I forgot fear, forgot urgency; forgot that the fate of an entire species rested on me.
Somehow, I tore myself away. I panted, staring at his inane cherub-fountain, which was dry now, and had probably been since the last round of war, no matter how far he was from the blast-zone.
“I apologize,” he said, and bowed deeply. “Some are more susceptible than others.”
As if he’d done it by accident! Next he’d claim power just… leaked out of him like some kind of broken reactor. “The twins.”
“Please walk with me.” He walked away. If I were going to get my answers, I’d have to keep up.
Around the side of his mansion was a dead garden. Brown and crunchy leaves decorated neat rows and tall poles, and at the very edge — near the lip of the cliff — sat a simple wooden chair, dried and splintering in the sun. He stood for a long moment looking out over the ocean — still blue even though it was dead, all its inhabitants killed in the course of war. “Kai and Elsa have mentioned you to me.”
“Excuse me?” I wanted to blurt that they didn’t know me. As if I needed any defense.
“I do not know what you did to gain their attention, but they wish for me to offer you… a chance.” He looked at me.
I was not ready for this. How did one refuse the chance to lose one’s humanity without insulting the one who offered it? I braced myself, held my breath.
“They wish to invite you to come with us.”
Was that code for human transformatation? “Come with you where?”
“Initially, of course, we will go to the land of the Fey, called the Silver Dawning, but I do not intend to stay there. We are not of the Seven Peoples, so technically, we have no home; however, enough among their numbers know me well, and we shall make a place.”
How long had my head hurt? Was this pounding new? “I don’t understand.”
His eyes held worlds, centuries, millennia of sorrow. “This earth is done; this, you know. Even now, you scramble to find a way to survive, but it will be impossible if you stay here. Your only option is to leave.”
I turned away from him, breathing hard. “You’re not offering me… transformation.”
“No. That occurs only with my permission, and — if you will forgive my candor — you are not one who would do well in my family. However, my twins have suffered unduly over the course of their short lives; I am wont to give them what they desire. They wish for you.”
No, no, no, what was happening? I put my face in my hands, keeping my back to him. “I’m not leaving this world.”
“You must. There is no other way to survive.”
No! “That’s a lie! We can fix it! We just need time!”
“The core is dead.” Those words settled in my gut like lead. “There is no fixing. You would merely be painting a corpse.”
So help me, I believed him. He was right. I knew he was right, but to accept this truth was to lose all hope. I turned slowly to face him, focusing on the spot between his eyes, standing tall. “I won’t go with you. I have a family, too.”
His eyes widened slightly. “I would offer them the same. Never would I separate members of a family.”
“You separated them!” I pointed randomly, though the twins were not here; we both knew whom I meant.
He looked so… ashamed? No, that wasn’t it. Chagrined? “There is no harm in explaining, when so little time remains. As you may be aware, my blood is only effective on humans.” He shrugged, nearly imperceptibly. “Among all the Peoples of the world — Fey, Darkness, the Sun — only humans can be changed. Yet there has been one exception. Or perhaps I should say, two.”
“The twins?” Wait. Then what were they?
“They were actually Kin,” he said, though none of the disgust I associated with that word colored his. “Distantly Kin, part human and part something else, but only Kai and Elsa of all the Kin I have known changed. Were the other Seven Peoples to know of this, the twins would be in grave danger — as would the rest of my family.”
Because then those other magical bastards would know the fear I know: that this monster could take us to make more of him. And then, for me, two horrible realizations came to light. “You used us. You used us to hide them.”
“That is true.” Another hideously gracious bow. “I apologize for the inconvenience, though I did personally provide the funding.”
I knew nothing about that, and I did not care. The second fact pounded between my ears, a hammer’s-blow. “Then the twins were never human at all.”
“Then what they have is something we could never have used to preserve our own lives.” We’d been played. Had. Used. Manipulated.
The corners of his lips tilted ever so slightly.
“You… you shit!”
His poet’s eyes grew wide, but this time, not in compassion, and in that moment I became prey. I froze like a bird before a snake, terrified, my heart pumping too loudly (surely it would call him) but unable to obey my command to be silent.
“Have you not taken many of the Mythos for your own ends?” he said too softly. “Dissected them? Tortured them? Extracted abilities in an attempt to learn and steal their secrets? Have. You. Not?”
The sound I uttered was not a word.
His eyes gentled again, but I could not forget what I had seen. There was a beast in him, hidden, crouched, coiled and waiting. “I will offer this one more time, for you and your family: salvation. Come with us.”
“And be those creatures’ toys?” I choked.
He glanced down, as though saddened. “Very well. I will give you this: for two hundred years, your Association has worked on a project which may help you. Ask them about The Hope.”
He sounded so final. “Don’t you… don’t you say that.” I pointed a shaking finger at him. “Don’t you say it like that!”
He looked at me. “Farewell, George Iskinder. I wish to have known you better.” He turned, then paused. “If Kai and Elsa are insistent, I will offer again. Perhaps your family does not wish to die here.”
“You stay away from my family!” I hissed.
“You ask me to condemn them to death,” he said simply, as if that was reason enough to disobey my command, and then he was gone. Poof. Vanished. I thought I saw… particles, or dust, or something swirling away, but I might have been wrong.
I’d been wrong about everything else.
“The earth is dead, Jason.”
He sat with me on our porch, looking at the stars and holding a mug of steaming cider between his hands. He swallowed hard, refusing to look at me.
We lived such an idyllic lie here; one of the few properties protected by the shields, safe from fallout, safe from pollution. Our town’s walls reached high enough into the atmosphere that our air was still relatively clean. And as I said, we could see the stars.
A lie. All a lie. “I met one of the monsters today. One of the magic users.”
Now, he looked at me, his brown eyes wide and afraid.
“Jason.” I shook my head. “This planet is done. You have to leave.”
“Leave?” His voice cracked. He was at that age.
“Leave. Don’t make any plans for this planet anymore. Okay? Do you understand? I want you to focus on leaving so you can survive.”
Cider sloshed onto his hands, and he winced, sucking on the burned skin. “So then you’d come with me. Right?”
“I…” Might be some monster’s pet by then. “Doubt I’ll be around when it’s your turn to lead the way. Just… promise me, Jason. Don’t listen to anybody but me on this. You have to leave. The planet’s dead. Promise me you won’t stay here so our family dies with it.”
He gripped my hand with his unburned one, and a moment passed between us full of unspoken fear, anger, and importance. “I promise,” he said, and under the pale starlight, his eyes looked so very dark.