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Chapter Two: The Ultimatum

Nalya entered the front doors of City Hall and gave a curt nod to Maureen Ritz, the old fire-haired receptionist.

“Oh, hi Nalya!” Maureen exclaimed, her face growing wider into a deep smile. One thing Nalya had come to understand in the past week of residing within Dunsmith was that Maureen loved to talk. “How ya doing today, hon? How’s Bayne?”

“I’m well, Maureen,” Nalya said with a smile. “And Bayne is fine. He sends his regards.”

“Oh, he’s a sweetie, that one. A girl could do worse than him. Why, I remember this time…”

Nalya couldn’t really grasp much of what Maureen said, even as she said it. Nalya let Maureen’s voice trail off as she thought over the events of the past week since they’d returned from Halen and stayed. General Liass had agreed to lend his men to assist in the construction of Fort Johnson up the mountain not far from the spot she had first met Ryan and Terra. The project was being overseen by General Boone, formerly the head of Dunsmith’s police force, now the head of the newly-formed military. Nalya found it comforting to see them working together. She knew it would be difficult in future circumstances. She only hoped the King would not be swayed in his decision to lend aid.

Living with Bayne and Keltz in a vacant Dunsmith home provided by the Emergency Committee, which was now officially dissolved and reformed into the First Congress of the New Canadian Territories, was an interesting experience. She had been introduced to so many devices and machines, a luxurious display of their technology.

Dishwashers and microwave ovens.Toasters, refrigerators. Freezers! Televisions, DVD players, video game systems and two-way radios. Already Nalya was starting to grow tired of Bayne’s love for the stereo present in his room. Of the music she’d heard since she got to Dunsmith, she was drawn more toward the folk rock genre. Genres.These people and their categorizations. Nalya saw much of it in Ryan. Ryan loved to talk about music. He loved to show music to Nalya. He was so passionate about it. So excited.

Nalya felt herself blush a little. Her thoughts often went to Ryan, in many ways. But only over the past few days had she discovered in herself a growing impatience with Ryan. It was a feeling Nalya had before in her academy days. Every time it surfaced, however, she buried it. There was no time for such things. Nalya had responsibilities. Still, she knew she’d be spending a good deal of time with Ryan soon. The idea filled her with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

“…and she just ended up buying the chicken, still alive!” Maureen finished.

“That’s very amusing, Maureen,” Nalya said. “I shall have to hear more next time, but I am here to meet with Goose.”

“Sure thing, darling. He’s waiting for you in his office with that Murphy girl. Go on in,” Maureen said with an even wider smile. Nalya thanked her and continued on her way toward Goose’s office. She felt a small amount of apprehension as she drew closer. Terra was bound to be unhappy. While it was true that Nalya and Terra were from completely different worlds in the most literal sense of the term, Nalya had grown not only fond, but close with Terra. After the journey they’d shared, and the talks, Nalya felt like they were friends. Real friends. Regardless of what Terra’s power represented to the Pactlands, Nalya would die in her defense.

And that’s what made what she was about to do so hard.

Goose looked up from his desk as Nalya approached the window on the other side of his door. He looked up and beckoned her in.

“Nalya, good to see you,” Goose said. “Terra and I were just discussing your time in Arronay. Let me get this straight. You people have nightclubs up there?”

Nalya blinked. “Nightclubs? I’m sorry?”

“No, it’s more like an open mic night at a restaurant,” Terra said. “Ryan brought down the house.”

Goose laughed and slapped his knee. “I’d have loved to see that.”

Nalya smiled. At first, she thought the Canadian’s need for useless conversation was overwrought and unnecessary. Now, she found it a rather endearing quality. No matter how bad things got for them, they kept up their humor.

“Anyway,” Goose said. “Now that you’re here, we should get going on this.”

Nalya took a seat next to Terra as the red-haired girl shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“I hate this part. It always gets tense,” Terra admitted.

“Would you like a laxative?” Goose asked. He smirked.

Terra laughed, even though she tried not to. Leave it to Goose to break the ice.

“Terra,” Nalya began. “As you know, your abilities are an extreme rarity in our world.”

“And an impossibility back in ours,” Goose said. Nalya gave him a stare. “Right. Sorry.”

Nalya turned back to Terra. “These abilities make you extraordinarily valuable to some dangerous people. You know this as well as I do, and it is for this reason that Goose and I have been discussing you at length,” she said. She looked over to Goose for a moment. She was beginning to understand the man a lot better. He was an eccentric man, but there was a brilliance to him that reminded her much of her father. Since she had returned from Halen, she had taken part in several meetings. Yesterday, Goose had announced the formation of the New Canadian Territories, and now it was time to implement what they’d discussed.

Discussing me?” Terra asked.”I don’t like where this is going.”

“Terra, we’d like to put you under observation,” Goose said.

“Observation?” Terra asked. Her brows furrowed. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist just yet,” Goose said, showing his hands. “Let me finish. You’re not going to be under house arrest or anything, and we honestly don’t have the manpower at the moment to keep an eye on you. That being said, if your abilities are even a fraction as important as she says they are, then we need to make sure you’re protected.”

“But I’m fine,” Terra complained. She was growing frustrated, and Nalya could see it in her.

“Terra, Goose and I both acknowledge and respect your freedom. I am envious of it, really. We in no way wish to impede upon it, but you know what happened in Halen can just as well happen here. Someone attempted to take you in Cilasia, as a guest of my House.  Cilasia has guards posted everywhere solely for the public safety. Dunsmith has no such protection. Your constabulary’s patrols are wide, and often only appear when called. It would be easier, in a way, for them to take you from here,” Nalya explained.

“Oh my God!” Terra exclaimed. She put her head into her hands. “I never asked for this. I never wanted it,” she said softly.

Nalya rested her hand on Terra’s back. “We only wish for your safety, Terra. Will you allow us to do that?”

Terra leaned back in her seat and stared at the ceiling. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, first off, a new job,” Goose said, smiling. “And I hope you can type, because you’re my new secretary.”

Terra blinked. “I… I what?”

“It’s the perfect cover. We need you close, protected, right?” He gestured to the office behind him. “Armed guards, paid lunch breaks and a staff room with a pinball machine. Are those perks, or what?”

“I agree. Terra, I think you should accept.”

“I’ve never worked in an office before,” Terra exclaimed.

“What’s to know? You photocopy things. Answer phones. Play Solitaire. Flirt with the delivery boys. You may have to deal with a whoopi-cushion here and there, but other than that, it’s a fine job. Competitive wages, too,” Goose said with a wiggle of his brow. “More than you made at the press, at the very least.”

Terra gave him a blank stare. She turned to Nalya. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll take the job, but I don’t need a babysitter.”

“That’s fine. Lily and Tam have agreed to do their part in ensuring your safety, as have your parents. You’re going to be checked on every four hours outside of work.”

Terra now gave Nalya a deadpan stare. “That’s not exactly what I had in mind, Nalya.” She threw her arms out. “What if I want to go out some night? Go to a party, or get drunk? Spend the night at some stranger’s place?”

“As long as we know who the stranger is, I don’t see a problem with that,” Goose said.

Terra scowled at him.

“Terra, you must understand. There is a viable threat against you. We know this from when you were taken in Cilasia, and again from last week’s battle right here in Dunsmith. If it happens again, we may not be able to help you. That’s why these precautions are needed.”

“Can’t we just, for a minute, pretend we’re still on Earth?” Terra yelled out. Her head fell into her hands. She remained silent.

For a few moments, silence reigned in Goose’s office.

“You’re not on Earth anymore, though, Terra. And I wish that you were, that you didn’t have such a burden to bear,” Nalya said. “You are dear to me, Terra. Not because of your abilities, but because of who you are. You have a bravery to you that is rare among all peoples, and a spark of life that cannot be snuffed. You are strong, and to see you lose your humor, it pains me.” She looked up to Goose. “I have to leave in a week with Ryan and some others. We’re going to Vector. There is an idea that we may be able to do some good down there, but when I return, we’ll make other arrangements. One that doesn’t pain you so. Will you agree to this? For just a little while?”

Terra sniffled, and rubbed her forehead. “How long?”

“A month,” Goose explained. “Two at most. Put up with it for that long, and we’ll work something else out. Something that works for all of us.”

 

====

“I must admit this is all very new to me,” Arynn Shima said as he slid his hands along the walls of the Davies Road Elementary school. “Two weeks ago, I had thought my future was as grim as my present. And now this.”

“Yes, well you should be glad we’re giving you this chance, Shima,” Ashe Devin said, Minister Ashe Devin. “After hearing of your mucking about in Halen, you’re lucky I agreed to this.”

Lily laughed. Devin didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Sure, he might be able to wear the title of Minister after having come from being the resident alchemist in Stone’s Mouth. While it was true the man was extremely knowledgeable about magick and lore, he wasn’t modest about it. At least not since he’d grown somewhat used to the technology Dunsmith offered.

Still, Shima had proved himself to Lily simply by having been there to save Ryan’s life. Terra had told the whole story, and Lily had given her seal of approval upon meeting him. He was a mousy man, nervous about a lot of things, and shameful about his past. But his knowledge of alchemy rivaled that of Devin.

Which was part of the reason, Lily assumed, Ashe Devin was tearing a strip off of Shima at any given opportunity.

“It might not be much now,” Lily said. “But we can make this work. It’d be perfect. We teach the basics outside. There are covered areas all around the school, so we can do it rain or shine. Once the students master basic control, we move them into the gymnasium.”

“No risk of fire?” asked Carla Meriweather. She used to be Lily’s old boss at the coffee shop, but Carla was a driving force of the Dunsmith economy since it started up again. It was she that pushed for business to reopen. It was she that organized the currency exchange commission that had been settled upon, and it was she who purchased the school from the City to start up the new Dunsmith College of Magick and Lore.

Not that Carla knew much about running a school—nor did Lily, really, but Carla’s money found the right people to handle the running of things. It was going to be an experiment, really. The standard teaching model obviously didn’t apply to magick.

But that’s why this was a pilot project. A project Lily loved.

The College was to have three main teaching areas. The largest of the three would be the Magick department. It was where students would learn theory of magick, use of their abilities, and alternate applications. Then there was the Lore department. That was going to be the school’s cash cow. While a deal had been reached to pay for the education of magii through taxes, learning herbalism, alchemy and magick history was a completely elective matter. The Lore department was still forming, but already Shima and Devin each taught a class of their own.

Lily didn’t see the personal war between the two of them letting up anytime soon.

Additionally, and this is what fascinated Lily, Carla had brought up the idea of a Department of Magickal Research and Development. Lily thought it was a great idea. The applications that magick could have in ways that the people of the Pactlands had never even considered could make or break the New Canadian Territories.

If they were going to make a go of it against the big players of the Pactlands, they weren’t going to be able to do anything small. And bringing the understanding of modern science to the application of magick could potentially cement Dunsmith’s place in the Pactlands.

As if anything they’d done so far had been small. Since arriving in the Pactlands, they’d definitely made some enemies. Even among their own people.

Kayla Winder’s Anti-Magick Society was already a particular thorn in Lily’s side. She’d been organizing protests against magick ever since they’d vandalized the Journeyman Building. After the battle, Lily took no small amount of pride in watching the very same group clean the graffiti off of the brick façade by order of General Boone.

But that didn’t stop Kayla. She just changed her tactics. Since then, her group had been peacefully protesting all over town. Lily had known Kayla for a long time. Her voice was anything but peaceful.

Still, the attitude amongst her group was starting to become hateful, and that was a bad combination. All they needed to do was attack one magi with limited control of their abilities and it would become a full-blown war. A lot of budding magii still couldn’t control their powers properly. Even Lily was known to fritz out around water.  What would happen if a magi had inadvertently maimed or even killed one of their group? There were too many fence-sitters on the subject of magick at the moment to say what would happen, and that bothered Lily.

Still, they had to make a go of it. Magick was now a part of their reality, and Lily was determined to make sure everyone understood that.

At some point while Lily lay deep in thought, the tour of the school had led them into the library. Tam sat silently at one of the desks and flipped through a book he’d found on fashion design.

“Most of these books are going over to the library downtown,” Carla explained. “There’s an initiative to collect as many books as they can for a preservation project, but to be honest, with a lack of books, we’re going to have a big empty room here.”

“I have several books of alchemy back in Stone’s Mouth,” Ashe explained. “I shall gladly donate them.”

“I may have a way to get us books on magick,” Shima said. “But it may be difficult. The Printer’s Guild ultimately controls the flow of books.”

“And I’m sure we’ll write new ones,” Lily said. “We’ll just have to go on with what we have.”

Ashe walked over and picked up a book sitting on a table. It was a child’s book simply entitled How Engines Work. He flipped it open and looked through it.

Since arriving, Ashe had been hard at work trying to help Dunsmith adapt to the magickal reality of the Pactlands. He’d written out a bestiary, complete with drawings of the animals and races one would expect to come across in the Disputed Lands. He’d been Goose’s advisor on magick almost from the start.

But Lily had overheard him complaining about not yet being able to truly study Dunsmith technology. She walked up to him. “You want to learn about engines?” she asked.

Ashe looked over to her. “Well, yes. But this book won’t tell me anything,” he said. He put it back down on the table. “I understand how it works, but it’s simply a matter of the fuel. Gasoline, as well as I understand, cannot be produced without the refinery, which, unfortunately, was left behind on your world.”

Lily nodded in understanding. She understood a small amount of Alchemical Theory. Basically that the force known as the Veil was strong in certain elements, in certain substances, both living and dead. And, with the right mixture and preparation, almost anything could be made.

Except gasoline.

Lily was going to miss driving. Her Celica had been sitting in the parking lot of her apartment since the day after the Blacklight Event.

“What about finding something else?” Lily asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you may not be able to make gasoline, but there might be other substances that have the same combustible effect as gasoline. I mean, a lot of vehicles can be converted to run on natural gas, right? Instead of recreating the fuel, we can make a new fuel, and convert the engines to run on it, right?”

“Combustible…” Ashe began, trailing off. “Yes… Yes, I wonder! Several years ago I was attempting to make a healing salve, but it turned out to be a little too acidic. It ate through the glass and pooled around a mug of Roston’s Grundwine.”

“I don’t understand,” Lily said.

“Well, when it mixed with the wine, it lost its acidity. It also exploded when the candle fell into it.” He looked up to Lily. “You understand the engines, then? Yes?”

Lily shrugged. “I know a bit. I get how they work.”

“Then if we can only get our hands on a vehicle,” Ashe said. “We may be able to look into this.”

Lily thought about it for a moment. “You know,” Lily said. “That might be easier than you think.”

====

Justin walked up the front steps of the Dunsmith RCMP detachment just as the painters were finishing their work. Since the inception of the New Canadian Territories earlier in the week, government organizations all over town had been scrambling to have signs changed, painted and set up to reflect their new nationality. Justin half-suspected it was Brad Renfrew’s doing. Brad was obsessed with appearance, and rushing the change of all the municipal structures to reflect their new federal status. In this particular case, the sign with the official logo of the RCMP had been removed and replaced.

Now, the sign read: New Canadian Mounted Police. It was ironic, really. Police had graduated from horses and rode in cars. And now, they were headed back to square one. The logo had been replaced by a red maple leaf with a laced crown on top. Surrounding it was an outline of the continents of Earth, and the phrase, “To Protect and Serve.”

It was only one small piece in a larger transformation that was happening all over town. An entirely new national identity was beginning to take hold, and the craziest part was that it wasn’t just the native Earthlings. Freemen were starting to flow in, seduced by Dunsmith’s allure. Justin wasn’t sure if it was because they wanted to, or they feared Vector’s return. Perhaps they only felt Dunsmith and the New Canadian Territories were the lesser of two evils.

The evidence of Freeman involvement in Dunsmith was plain to see, though. Traders flocked to the city. Spokespeople from far away villages had come seeking an audience swearing allegiance to Dunsmith. Young men and women were coming in to sign up for military service, find mates, find jobs. And jobs were plentiful in Dunsmith. It was hard to not be employed. Even useless items were selling at a premium. Giant Tupperware containers that usually ran twenty bucks were selling for hundreds. If you had a garden gnome in your yard, it was best to bring inside. For some reason the demand for garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments had been so high that people were stealing them right off of lawns.

It hadn’t taken long, but already Dunsmith was already on the path to becoming an economic powerhouse. At the rate they were going, they’d have no problems keeping the townspeople fed over winter.

Provided they made it to winter. And that was exactly the reason Justin found himself walking into the police station.

The secretary behind the bulletproof glass nodded to Justin as he came in, and pressed the buzzer allowing him into the office.

The office was lit by fluorescent light, the kind that hurt Justin’s eyes. Justin had been there once before, in the days just after the battle when he’d been practically disemboweled. If it hadn’t been for the Featherclaw, Justin would have died. As it stood, he heard tell that one of them had died in the act of ensuring Justin’s safety. That was not something that was going to go unforgotten.

Cale Shephard, the man who had gone to Halen with Ryan and Terra was sitting on the edge of a desk, talking to Shelly Littleton as she filled out paperwork. Justin gave him a nod. He’d never met Cale prior to the Blacklight Event, but the two had seen each other around.

“Boone’s not here yet,” Cale said. “He’s taking care of something with the Fleet kid.”

Justin had known Gabriel Fleet for years. Ever since his parents had died and he was forced to live with his aunt and uncle, Gabriel had been a fixture in Dunsmith. In the time following the Blacklight Event, Gabriel had taken his sense of adventure and a few friends and started Fleet Express, his own delivery company. Justin hadn’t seen much of Gabe recently. He was always on the go. Lately he’d been delivering parcels and messages all over the Disputed Lands. He’d apparently just hired several new messengers, which meant the business was doing well.

“You’re early, anyway,” Shelly said, looking up at him briefly. “Want some tea?”

“Thanks,” Justin said. “I’m more of a cold drink kind of guy.”

Cale smirked. “I have the last can of Coca-Cola in town,” he said. “I had a case sitting in my fridge the entire time I was in Halen. Now I’m down to one last can.”

Justin raised an eyebrow. “You selling it?”

“Don’t waste your money,” Shelly interjected. “By the time it’s worth anything, we’ll have a regular supply of soda pop again. It’s not worth it.”

She had a point.

“I hear you made Sergeant,” Justin said to Cale.

“Technically, Lord Sergeant,” Cale replied.

“Oh not that again,” Shelly exclaimed, exasperated. “Ever since he came back with a title, the bastard’s been shoving in all of our faces.”

“What can I say?” Cale replied with a smirk. “I’m living the high life now.”

“Too bad you’re still a moron,” came another voice from behind Justin. He turned to face Boone as he walked up to the group of them, then clapped Cale on the shoulder. “But you’re our moron, so it’s good. You check in with Stone’s Mouth?”

Cale nodded. “We’ve got the Elder on board. His son is adamant about becoming an officer. He’s got some friends that escaped from Anastae who want to do their part as well. The land’s been set aside and we’re allowed to put anything we want in there.”

“Excellent,” Boone said.

“What’s going on?” Justin asked.

“We’re opening an NCMP Training facility in Stone’s Mouth,” Boone explained. “We don’t have the space or the land for it here, really. We needed an infrastructure already in place, and Stone’s Mouth was perfect for it. After Fort Johnson is finished, we’d planned on setting up Stone’s Mouth with telephones and electricity next.  Not to mention the radio tower we’ve been talking about.”

Justin still hadn’t seen Stone’s Mouth in person, and he didn’t know if he would any time soon, but he’d have loved to see it before it became more… modern.If that was even the right word for it.

“Anyway,” Boone said. “Let’s not waste any more time, shall we? I still have a meeting down at the wharf later on. I need to sign off on Ansel’s patrol routes.” He shook his head. “I tell you, I’m not going to be able to do this forever. I wish we never lost Andy. He was the one that made most of this run smoothly.”

Justin nodded. He missed Andy Johnson. After Justin had heard he’d been killed by a summoner in Anastae, he shed a tear for the old fart.

Boone led Justin deeper into the office and slid a key card through a door, allowing him access into the rooms beyond. It was the holding cell area of the police station, and it was packed full.

They’d let most of the captured Vectorans go. Honestly, they had no place to keep them. There were six holding cells, and they needed to keep at least one empty for local issues, but as it stood, they’d only kept four prisoners from Vector.

Boone had mentioned making a habit of checking in on each of them every time he visited the cells. Now Justin was seeing it first hand.

“Arman Giger, I’m sure you know,” Boone said, pointing to an open cell door. A constable stood at the open doorway and nodded to Boone. He went in, beckoning Justin to follow.

Inside, a medical technician was administering an injection. Justin looked at the man as he lay on the cell bed. His eyes were open, but just barely. The look on his face was entirely vacant. He stared off into space, making no indication that anyone was home.

“We have to keep him like this,” Boone explained. “If we don’t keep him hopped up on Morphine, he gets pretty hot-headed. He’d have melted his way out of this room and probably burned down half the station during the escape if we hadn’t tranqed him.”

“Which is in short supply, I assure you,” the medical technician said. He stood up after removing the elastic from Giger’s arm after the injection and turned to Boone. Justin recognized him. He’d been a customer at the Gas ‘n Dash for years, and even before that he had graduated the year before Justin.

His name was Lance Parisse. After high school he had gone straight on to school and later became a paramedic.

“We’re starting to run low on Morphine,” he explained to Boone. “We can’t keep this up forever.”

“And that’s one of the things we’re working on. We’ve got a contact with a village up in the Crested Plains. They’re agricultural, but one of the things they grow in abundance is poppies,” Boone explained. “They’re having trouble with a local bandit group. Tomorrow morning I’m sending a group to be stationed up there and help them out. In return, they promise to join the Territories and voila, we’ve got access to a poppy supply.”

“Well, let’s hope so,” Lance said. “Because at least then there’s only a few hundred other things to worry about.”

Justin remembered how cynical Lance was.

Boone led Justin out of the room and walked across the hall. “This guy you’ll probably remember, too,” he said. He walked up to the cell door and opened the window. “Hey, how doing in there, Burzy? You comfy?”

Justin watched from behind Boone. Sure enough, Burz Ynnia didn’t even acknowledge Boone. He merely sat there, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, reading a book.

“Yeah, Burz doesn’t talk much anymore,” Boone explained. “He’s too much into Harry Potter. Aren’t you, Burzy? What book are you on?”

“Five,” was all he said.

Boone chuckled. “We’ve got a deal going with him. We keep him bored, then give him a book to read. He co-operates, he gets the next book. He doesn’t, we let him stew there until his boredom kicks in.”

“What about Ryde?” Justin asked.

“He tends to sit there and stew. Still can’t come to terms with the fact he’s a prisoner. He’s more than happy to eat whatever we put in front of him, but he refuses to leave his cell, even for exercise.”

“You let him exercise?” Justin asked. “You know, the Geneva Convention was another planet ago.”

“Like it or not, I’m a stickler for human rights until it interferes with people’s safety. If I feel he’s a threat, I’ll hang the bastard out to dry,” Boone explained as he walked across the hall yet again, to the cell adjacent to Giger’s. He peered through the window. Ryde was sitting on the floor cross-legged, his nose buried in a book.

“They like to read, eh?”

Boone nodded. “Ryde more than the others. The difference is while the others are more into fiction, Ryde’s reading about law, science and politics. Normally we only let them have one book at a time, but Ryde wouldn’t stop yelling until we agreed to let him keep two at a time, for referencing.”

“And you’re cool with that?” Justin asked. “The guy was going to kill every last one of us without a second thought. He led an army up the highway. He’s a war criminal.”

“Maybe that’s so. But we’re still Canada, and if nothing else, we’re going to hold on to her spirit,” Boone explained. “He asked for his phone call yesterday.”

“Phone call?” Justin asked. “Who’s he going to call?”

“Tammil Cuerian,” Boone explained. “We agreed to send a letter down with Ryan and Nalya.”

“You’re not afraid he’s going to pass a message on that we don’t want him sharing?”

“Oh, I know for a fact he’s going to. We’re kind of counting on it. We’re going to be going over the letter he sends with a fine-toothed comb. If there’s a code in there somewhere, we’ll find it.”

Justin was skeptical. Ryde wasn’t stupid. He’d do whatever he could to pass a message down to Cuerian revealing possible weaknesses. One of Dunsmith’s biggest weaknesses was the fact that they were still the new kids on the block scrambling to make sense of a completely different neighborhood. Ryde knew that, and Justin believed he’d use it against them.

Still, Justin had recently begun to understand that Boone was a lot smarter than he let on. If he said he’d find it, Justin wouldn’t question it.

Justin followed as Boone walked away from Ryde’s cell door to another door at the end of the hallway. He barely took a moment to unlock the door and walk right in. The telltale sounds of a television escaped the room and Justin entered to see a man sitting intently in front of it. He looked up at Boone and Justin as they entered, and he quickly reached for the power button, turning the television off.

He stood, and looked wide-eyed from Boone to Justin.

“Farrin Hatsch,” Boone began. “I’d like you to meet Justin Alverra.”

Hatsch regarded Justin for a moment with a sense of enigmatic innocence. He smiled, then extended his hand. “I’m pleased to finally meet you, Justin. I had heard of your ordeal during the battle. I am sorry for my people, and I am glad to know you are okay.” He shook Justin’s hand.

Justin was taken aback on how polite Hatsch was. He’d expected something far different. Apparently, Boone noticed.

“Yeah, that’s a far cry from suffering the wrath of Ack-ackag,” Boone joked. Hatsch gave him a querying look. “Sorry,” Boone said. “I thought it was funny.”

“I have to admit, Justin. When I came here, I was a different person. I was nothing more than a dog of the military, but I had not known. I hadn’t seen the wonders, nor had I seen the beauty. I realized I could never take part in destroying this. I realized that this is where I strive to be. And for my family to be with me here.”

“That’s how the deal came to be,” Boone said. “But I wasn’t lying. It wasn’t until I saw him watching an episode of Seinfeld and laughing his fool ass off that I decided he was telling the truth. We had a few chats, and we realized we could help each other mutually.”

Hatsch nodded. “And I agreed. As I understand things, I am to escort you to Nostra and assist you in whatever you require of me. In exchange, I can bring my family back here with me.”

“And he’ll be granted a full pardon and citizenship,” Boone explained.

“And I am grateful for the forgiveness,” Hatsch replied.

Justin considered this for a moment. From what he’d understood, Hatsch had killed Billy Jessup, one of the old residents of Kamper’s Korner, a trailer park now being converted into a garrison at the southern edge of town. The soldiers there had taken to referring to it as the enchanted forest, which was its original name when it was a hippy commune back in the sixties.

“Hatsch was the one providing most of the intel we had on the Vectoran Army. You could say his information was instrumental in getting you and Boomer safely into the camp. And it worked. It was a gamble at the time, but it worked.” He walked up to the door and closed it, then looked up at the surveillance camera at the top corner of the room and slid his finger across his throat, informing whoever was watching to cut the feed. The red light faded and went dead.

“Okay,” Boone said. “Justin, you’ve read your orders, I assume?”

Justin nodded. They’d been very clear, and very organized. He was to travel with Hatsch down through Vector, aiming for Nostra. Once in Nostra, he was to seek work under Hatsch’s uncle, who owned a tavern in the city. He would seek to make contact with Ryan and Nalya and then wait for his contact to turn up to deliver the intel back to Dunsmith, who would show up with further orders. He talked it over with Boone and Hatsch, finalizing some details and asking some questions about the mission.

“Your contact’s going to be Gabriel Fleet,” Boone explained. “Goose has him heading up to Cilasia to get a message to the group we have up there, but after that we’ve got him heading down to see you. I take it you know each other?”

Justin nodded.

“Good. Because until we know what’s going on, we don’t know how long we’re going to be keeping you down there for.”

“As long as when it’s over, I can return,” Hatsch said. “With my family.”

Boone nodded. “I’ll bring the papers in tomorrow, you can sign them, and then you’re free to go.”

“I thought we weren’t leaving until next week,” Justin said.

“You aren’t,” Boone explained. “But I want to make sure Hatsch here knows what he’ll be gaining. So until then, your mission is to show him a good time. After all, he’ll be staying with you.”

Justin froze up for a moment. Hatsch was going to be staying with him for five days?

“I can’t wait,” Hatsch said, smiling. “Tell me, Justin. Do you like penguins?

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Published inThe Liar's Law
  • Doug Morrison-Cleary

    Justin had already seen Stone’s Mouth (unless you have changed booked one quite a bit). He and the Halen ‘bandits’ with Boomer had stopped in Stone’s Mouth as they headed west to come towards the Vector scouts from the other direction. They stopped there and talked to Brad, who gave Boomer the date and time of the rescue.

    • EJ Spurrell

      Noted.

      I think you may know Children of the Halo better than I. 😉

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