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First pages


The smile was wrong. He twisted his head, trying to see through bleary eyes and blearier skies while one hand traced along brick. Grime clung to his fingers from the sagging wall, not that it much mattered. After a quarter of his life lost living on the streets, worrying about a little dirt was the furthest from his problems.

His heart should be pounding in fear, the blood rushing in his ears to drown out a jet engine, but he couldn't feel it. There was no adrenaline rush, no burst of energy to let him escape. And he couldn't shake the stupid ass grin off his cheeks. Scraping his fingers over his forehead, he tried to blink through the alcohol sloshing around in his system. Focus. Think. There was a thing. Something you needed to do.

A trio of lights blared awake down the end of the empty alley. The police! Even if they tossed him into a cell for vagrancy at least it'd get him away from his pursuer.

Someone was chasing him?

Was that why he was running?

A caw erupted from the throat of a crow flapping between the two tight buildings. Its wings beat apart the sky thick with dust, the moon's light blood red. He should be indoors during this, they all should. When the dust turned red, people wound up dead. Everyone at the shelter heard the stupid baby rhyme as if they couldn't figure out 'bloody sky, get the fuck out of it.'

There were two doors receded into the brick, both metal with those flat handles that meant no one was getting in to rob the place from the back. He'd scout out the dingier restaurants, waiting for a chance to slip in with a guy taking a Gold break. The fancy ones always had a guard out back ready to crack skulls rather than bring in the Collars.

That's what he was doing. Going after the police, getting help. They helped people. Not people like him, but there had to be others. That woman in the bed. She needed help.

Why was his mind so fuzzy?

Cinching the tattered coat tighter, with one hand trailing along the bricks to keep himself upright, he hobbled towards the lights. Green, red, and soft white whirled through the bloodied sky calling for him. He took a step when the ground pitched under his legs. Tumbling like someone cold cocked him in the back of the head, his chest smashed against a pile of ripped off scaffolding.

"Oh, fuck," he cried, the metal bar digging sharply into his chest. There'd been a crack, he heard it. A rib? How many did people have again? Could he live with less than the normal amount? Groaning, he rolled around to try and catch the bastard who laid him out but there was only emptiness behind.

"It's your brain, it's never been right," he muttered to himself while struggling to get back to his feet. There was somewhere he needed to be. Somewhere important. Pain erupted down the side of his body where he fell. He moved to touch his ransacked body under the coat then thought better of it. Touching the pain, thinking of the pain only brought more.

Hissing, he began to slide towards the lights. That was what he wanted. The lights. They were special for...the collars. Keep away from the collars or else.

No, go towards them. For shit's sake, why are you smiling?

He tugged his fingers away from his tugged up lips and down the mound of beard to find something wet stuck in it. Tugging his fingers away, the no doubt rain water looked like blood by the crimson light of the moon. Funny. He couldn't remember when it last rained.

Nearly there, nearly at the end of the alley, he lifted his hand to wave for the Collars. To beg for them to cuff him, to toss him into a cage, to keep him safe from whatever was haunting him. "Hey," he shouted, the green light beaming into his eyes. "Hey Collars, I need..."

The light rolled on revealing it wasn't a police car, or even a watch station, but the trio of colors were advertising for a new deli. Red light highlighted a pile of cold cuts that he'd probably fished out of dumpsters before. The white lanced upon an array of cheeses that weren't so bad even with mold on 'em.

Yellow, they use yellow light. Why did he think they were...?

A hand landed upon his shoulder and a voice whispered sweet poison in his ear, "Are you alright? You had me worried."

He couldn't offer up any resistance even if he wanted to. The voice was anesthesia, wiping away the agony twisting up his lungs, bones, and mind. Barely turning around, the man limply followed onto bliss. He smiled, happy to give in, when he heard the sound.

The reason he ran.

The final noise they all heard.

Like tiny feet, or little shoes scrabbling quick over a cement floor. Then a single giggle.

After that, eternal silence.


She should have bought a bigger coffee.

Not bothering to double check the paperwork, Detective Foster stepped up the ramshackle steps of a porch that looked as if someone once stashed dead bodies under it. She knew she was in the right residence judging by the stench of impropriety in the air. Or perhaps it was the rendering plant a few blocks away; its foul, chicken-burnt stench clinging to her flesh like rotten grease. This entire scrap of town was crumbling wood and rusted metal, some of it so ancient it might have been left over from PtC. Though the gutted chassis of a car molding on the dead lawn that was now home to a gaggle of critters had to be fairly recent. She recognized the fin shape on the solar collectors from when she was a girl.

Steel slotting into her spine, she lifted her fist and banged on the door. More than likely the man in question was passed out on a stained mattress if he was lucky. When no answer came, she knocked again, loud enough to cause the stripped screws to rattle out of rotted hinges. Even with dawn having broken a few hours ago, the morning chill refused to lift. Sweet Guld, when was summer supposed to get here?

Jaya weighed taking a deep drink of the hot coffee in her thermos to stave off the cold, when the door began to open. The screen door heaved closer to her from the pressure change, as if it was trying to flee from this squalor. She slid a finger in between the gap and waited as a man stepped into view.

He was, more or less, what she expected. Dressed in a cotton t-shirt without sleeves or a stomach, stains turned the once white fabric into a questionable wallpaper pattern. With a sloped forehead, the eyes extended far from the nose almost like a lizard's, and the man somehow thought the unfortunate combination of sideburns and a mustache connected together by a strip of facial hair would solve his problems. His jewel was about as dingy as his shirt, a grey-yellow, and shaped like someone jabbed their thumbprint at the top of the bridge of his nose. All in all, a fully repugnant man.

"Eh, whatcha want?" his voice rumbled lower as he realized it was a woman at his door. Having to adjust for her smaller stature, he stared downward, a bit of a laugh rising at the plucky thing willing to walk into this den of thieves.

"Good morning, sir," she began with the usual spiel wishing she could be anywhere else. This job was so far beneath her skills it was somehow more of an insult for her to not do it. "I would like to ask you a few questions."

"Oh?" he risked a smile, showing off a set of gums turning haphazardly green. She should have known there'd be Marigold here. Wonderful, more paperwork. Jaya tried to shake off the dour thoughts as she honed in on her job. Not your problem, focus on the Blue instead.

"Are you aware of the whereabouts of one Arnt Arisian?" she asked, pretending to check her file, not that she need to have bothered. Over the years her cases dwindled from a good hundred people to keep track of to maybe a dozen willing to cross the Scar. Though, given the crack down on security, Jaya couldn't blame them.

The man blinked a moment, his pupils barely dilating as both the sun and a glimmer of realization struck him. "Who...who'd you say you are?"

"Didn't," she admitted, "Mr. Odell, I am Detective Foster with the..."

She couldn't get much beyond her name out when the man slammed the door in her face. For shit's sake. Jaya reached into her overcoat pocket and extended the battering ram. Digging it deep into the locking mechanism, she gave the button a good three second push then released. The force of a charging rhinoceros reverberated through the doorframe, cracking it up through the rotted wood. With barely a flicker of her wrist, she knocked open the door and moved to step inward.

"Mr. Odell, I am here on behalf of..."

Branches ripped and twisted in front of her face, sprouting freely from the floorboards and forming a blockade right across the door. Vines as thick as her wrist dug tight into the wood, the plant life seeming to sprout from the house itself. Jaya glanced in to watch Rayner Odell stuff something into his back pocket while he gripped onto a pale, blonde man. A glimmer of sky blue light cast off the blonde man's forehead, sealing up Jaya's assumptions that this was her target.

"If we could simply..." she continued, standing in place, but Rayner wasn't listening.

"Fuck off, collars," he shouted, dragging Mr. Arisian into what looked like the garage.

Jaya stared around the mess of vines still gaining in strength despite what she knew of Arnt. It'd take a good sized hatchet to hack them apart. With a groan, she tipped back on her heels and tried to line up a good shot. Placing her industrial thermos down upon the excised welcome mat, Jaya lifted her fingers.

Wood splintered from the garage, shrapnel whipping down the driveway as a piece of shit tan and grey car reversed out at lightning speed. Jaya caught a quick glimpse of Arnt stuffed in the backseat and the wild eyes of Rayner trying to flip her off. He was in such a state, he reversed all the way back onto the neighbor's lawn. The old mailbox shaped like a windmill fell to its kitschy doom before Rayner bothered to put his car into drive and begin to speed off.

Jaya's eye cooly followed the path, not that she needed to bother. Sighing, she waved her hands at the doorframe, the air thickening as a chill dug into her skin. With another flick of her fingers, the chill increased to goosebumps. She wasn't paid enough for this.


Tucking her knees down, Jaya stepped through the door and walked right into the front seat of Mr. Odell's car. Her ass fell a moment as she failed to adjust for the give in the pitted out seats. "Fuck!" Rayner shrieked, the car weaving towards the line of cars as he no doubt realized he had an extra passenger.

Calmly, Jaya tugged down the locking mechanism over her shoulders and sat staring ahead at the traffic. "Mr. Odell..." she began, barely bothering to look over at the man.

"Get the fuck out of my car!" he screamed, one hand twisting the wheel back and forth as if he was playing a driving game. Horns blared, more than a few lights flashing to try to warn the moron that he was about to crash.

"I would love nothing more than to exit your...vehicle," she tried to not stare at the stains, "once we have discussed the matter of Mr. Arisian's paperwork."

"Yeah?" Rayer snarled, "How about you discuss this!" Reaching into the pocket of his grey sweatpants he unearthed a common handgun and pointed it towards the woman right beside him. The muzzle bobbed along with his erratic driving, the idiot using his left hand to aim while the right clung to the wheel.

"Sir..." she tried, when the man's thumb shoved in the safety.

The idiot clearly zonked out of his mind squeezed the trigger. Barely lifting her hand, she drew up a set of two portals, one right beside the other. The bullet struck her portal and tried to travel back to the second, but the distance was too short for it to reform and the metal fused together. Physics gave a little whimper as the velocity spun itself in a horizontal free fall until finally the bullet lost all its kinetic energy and clanged into the bottom of the car.


"Now!" she shouted, trying to compensate for the ringing in her ear. What kind of idiot fires a 9 ml inside a closed vehicle? Even as she spoke to him, Jaya slipped a set of plugs into her ears. They wouldn't cut off all of a gunshot, but at least she wouldn't have to worry about going deaf. Worry as much.

Rayner stared over at her, his bloodshot eyes opening wider in terror at the undead woman who seemed to be bulletproof. Anyone with a proper SK level could feel her portals warping space, but this man was barely even a 2. What concerned her more was the Blue behind her, who was registered officially as a 1. What he appeared to do in that house at his pathetic level was impossible as far as she knew. "Will you deign talking with me for a moment?" Jaya said, calmly folding a hand along her forearm and tapping a nail against the bone.

"No!" Rayner shouted, unleashing nearly the full clip into her portals. He didn't even try shooting higher or lower, not that she hadn't stretched them through the height of the car. The reverberations caused a handful of change in the console to bounce back and forth through the disturbance in space, each metal circle warping as if a train rolled over it.

"Very well," Jaya sighed as he kept tugging on the trigger to only receive an impotent click in response. Collapsing her bullet portals, she turned to the road ahead of her while envisioning the squalid house she left behind. "I'd suggest you put your restraints on." Jaya glanced over her shoulder to add, "Both of you."

Arnt's blonde head bobbed and he sidled into the child sized locks behind -- a rather humorous sight as the 6' double muscled barge of a man could barely slide his head into the gap. Rayner spat, "I don't need no fucking..."

Raising her hands, Jaya launched a portal before the car which sped through it right back into the garage from which it emerged. She collapsed both quickly to keep another vehicle from following. Rayner's eyes bugged out as he was fast approaching his house and about to obliterate it.

"Shit shit shit!" he screamed, both feet stomping down on the brakes. Smoke squealed out of the undercarriage as Jaya tucked tighter into the restraints. Closing her eyes, the back wall of the garage raced towards them while Rayner fought to stop his car. Physics had enough of her messing with it that morning and the car's bumper smashed through a table covered in bags of dirt and pots. As the front end crumpled like a used tissue, Rayner slammed forward, his head smashing into the steering wheel.

Incoherent screams of pain erupted from the man as he tried to wipe away the blood smeared down his forehead. Some of it pooled upon his jewel, heating in his anger as he tried to turn the rage back upon the Collar that got him into this situation.

Jaya unhooked her restraints and finally unearthed her pad. The white plastic hummed warmth through her bones that were begging for a hot bath. "Mr. Odell, I assume you will no longer be attempting to flee. As I was attempting to explain earlier, I am with the Department of Intragation. You have taken one Mr. Arisian under your care, but for the past three weeks have failed to fill out the required paperwork for an extension of his stay."

"Wha...?" Rayner blinked like mad, his eyes darting back first to his partner in crime, then almost in shock at the accoutrements splattered over the hood of his car. As if Jaya cared one whit that he was growing Gold in his basement. There was another matter that caught her interest far better.

"That's it?" he blinked, "A bit of paperwork?"

"We take the movement of Blues very seriously. Even those with limited capabilities," she tipped her head back at Arnt who remained silent. "All you need do is place your thumb upon this pad to acknowledge you have received a visit from one of our agents." She all but guided his bloodied hand towards her pad, grateful to have this finished as the screen zoomed away in recognition of the saved print.

"If you do not update Mr. Arisian's paperwork within ten days, you shall receive another visit from an agent with a much sterner warning." Jaya paused and for a moment her professional sheen shattered as she turned to the man bloodied and facing a totaled car because of his own foolish choices. "I imagine you'd rather wish to avoid that."

Nodding his head wildly, Rayner gulped, "Uh, yup, yeah. I'll get all that stuff written up lickety split."

"Thank you for your time and eventual cooperation," she sighed, cracking open the door and freeing herself from the car. It'd be so easy for her to walk away, but Jaya paused at the trunk already dented before the mad cap chase through the underside of the city began. Barely slapping it with her hand, she smiled internally as the lid lifted to reveal a pile of tech Jaya was expecting to find. She snapped a quick picture and sent it off to the agency. Red and blue wires circled around the inside guts someone was real quick to rip the tracking panel off of. No doubt that was drowning somewhere off the river bank.

Wandering out to the front of the house, she hauled up her industrial grade thermos glad no one got it in their heads to swipe it. Taking a long pull, a hint of warmth slid down her throat, striking her gut and ballooning out through her body. It wouldn't be enough, but nothing ever was.

Her finger wandered up to her jewel, the skin around it pulsing from use, when a portal opened upon Mr. Odell's lawn. A good ten uniformed officers all dashed through, holding hands like school children on a field trip in order to keep it open. Once they scattered onto the lawn, the Lieutenant stepped from the headquarters where he set the portal and right into a giant dog turd. His nose curled up in disgust, an accurate representation of the entire area when he waved a hand at her.

"Foster," the Lieutenant twisted around to reveal a second coffee in his arms. The steam was so strong it all but enveloped him like a fog off the fire river.

"Bless you, Fish," she gasped, sucking back a longer draw of the nearly boiling hot brew.

"What's the situation?" Fish folded his arms. He was what one expected when being visited by the collars. Stern features but not unkind, with a thin and elongated nose, deep set eyes of that steel blue, and his peppery hair buzzed down but not off. He was the only gater on the force at a 4, which they were quick to take advantage of to save on car fuel and traffic jams.

"I assume you got the pic," Jaya wrapped her hands tighter around the coffee, urging the warmth to pass through to the tips of her fingers. "Amplifier in the trunk of the car. Don't worry about the perp, he's only a 2."

"2 what?" Fish eyed her up, his arms folded as he clung to regs. It was why despite looking the part and often showing kindness to the little people, he had few friends on the force.

"Odell's a tele," Jaya announced, the gathered men starting to laugh under their breath. The worst they had to worry about was a stapler rattling off the shelf and falling to the ground. "Oh, and there's a Blue," she added haphazardly.

As if they were all on the same string, the various uniforms froze and twisted their heads towards the woman who didn't bat an eye. The sun glinted light off all their jewels, making them appear even more yellow than normal. "He's a 1, on leave, technically overstayed but I rather suspect that's the least of his concern."

"A Blue?" a woman's voice gasped. She was buried under enough padding it was hard to make out who it was, but Jaya'd guess Cathy from the wheeze at the end.

"It's a planter," she explained to the people who only ever saw a Blue in scandalous films that were trying to be edgy. "That means he can talk to plants. Which was what he had the amplifier for." She gestured back to Fish who looked spooked at the concept but nodded his head.

"You can handle a 1, even if it's a Blue. Get in there and get the amp before they try to use it," the Lieutenant ordered scattering his men inside.

A few "Yes, Sir's" rang out as they all approached the busted up garage with weapons and deflectors at the ready. Jaya cooly watched from the sidelines while Fish stayed beside her. "How'd you know they had an amp?"

"Easy, this two bit Marigold dealer's been paying the upkeep and travel expenses for a level 1 planter. Unless they were in love, or he was planning on stealing the guy's kidneys, got to be for one reason."

Fish snickered, "Amp up the man's powers and you've got orange dust to scatter over half the city."

A smile rose in her gut, Jaya's skin tingling as she managed to wrap her fingers around a real problem for once. It was so simple to see the solution before her when she double checked Odell's paperwork, but no one in Illegal Tech cared. Most waved away the machinations of a 2 on the level of a dog crapping on the rug. The Drug Enforcement cared even less, Marigold being of the 'Well, we'll worry if we're trying to add a few years to a sentence.'

Scuffling broke from the garage and then a voice shouted, "You're under arrest!"

"For what?" Mr. Odell tried. He was nothing if not persistent in his assumption of not being guilty.

"Owning illegal tech that you used to amplify your powers beyond your restricted level," Cathy called back. "And harboring this Blue."

"You son of a..." Whatever comeback Mr. Odell had planned ended as his body collapsed to the ground, his face planted into the cement.

"How'd you know it was in the trunk?" Fish continued.

"Pretty simple. If you knew you had the kind of tech that could land you in prison for twenty five or more, wouldn't you keep it in the one thing that's easiest to ditch?" Her cockiness began to fade, Jaya accepting that she hadn't really saved much. All Odell was doing was taking advantage of a barely above base level Blue and using their product to get high. Shit, it'd been so long since she'd been in charge of anything beyond checking people's i's and t's this single score felt like winning the war. It was nice to stretch her brain for even a second.

Turning away, Jaya sighed, "Thanks for the coffee, Fish."

"Anytime," he smiled, then glanced at his men. "Ready for the prisoner?" Fish moved to raise a portal using the field of depth of the garage to make it easier, but he paused to turn to look at Jaya. "You want a hop back to the office?"

"Nah," she shook her head, "I think I'll walk."

Fish snickered, "Fucked up your miles again, huh?"

Tugging the lavender scarf around her neck tighter, Jaya stepped out into the streets filling with gawkers. "Something like that."


It was a filthy city. Wasn't that how all the brooding detectives were supposed to think of their home? Covered in grime and sleaze that no great flood could rinse free. Ounzo didn't have marshmallow clouds or wine running through the gutters, but it had its charms. Not as old as some of the first cities to crop up in the middle of the land mass that over time fractured into varying countries and then merge back into only two, but Ounzo had the bones in it. Bones of an older civilization below the surface. Dig deep enough for a garden and you struck gold or steel, to the point archeologists were still raving on about what could be discovered in the ruins of whatever was pre-Ounzo. Kids could make a bundle digging into old landfills and dumping ancient bottle caps and coins into greedy historian hands.

That was what one person was blathering on about at the screen over her head. Jaya barely glanced at it while she sat on the bus. She was too enthralled people watching, her eyes skirting across the typical bus traveling fare. Various heights, weights, genders, skin tone, ages -- it was an amalgam of the human spirit but they all had one thing in common: no one wanted to be here, and they resented everyone else for having to share the same air. An older gentleman, perhaps in his 70s or greater kept rapt attention upon the commercial masquerading as a news program. That celebrity historian, the one who always wore a bowtie and straw hat sat perched in the middle of a plush couch while two people debated. A younger woman kept pointing towards evidence of records and dig sites, as well as ancient statues unearthed from the scar. The man arguing with her had little to go on beyond 'what everyone knew.'

Of course 'what everyone knew' was winning.

"Do you think it's true?" a soft spoken young man leaned closer. He sat down beside Jaya at 45th street and, after sticking a node in his ear, hadn't said anything. She assumed he was off in his own world instead of wondering about shit that belonged in the past.

"What's true?"

"That we, that humans used to be...we were all 1s. No, less than 1s. We were 0s. Can you imagine?"

She was about to answer, when the older gentleman had to intercede, "That's a load of hogshit. Ain't no way one day all of us suddenly up and gains the powers of speed, and gravity, and what not. It's preposterous. More science lies."

"Oh yeah," the quieter man sat up higher, "then...what about the rock heads out at the edge? How come none of them have jewels?"

There it was. The second anyone brought up the debate between scientists of when powers developed versus the assumption they were always entwined with the human genome, someone always pointed to the giant heads. No one knew who they were supposed to represent, the names or significance being long lost in the great change. But even a small child who hadn't yet discovered their inborn SK would know something was off. They had no jewels. No yellow. No blue. Nothing in the forehead but more forehead.

"Ha," the old man scoffed, "they were all pried off by treasure hunters. Everyone with brains knows that!" He tapped his head as if the younger man was too addled to comprehend it.

"Then why aren't there any gaps where the real jewels were kept?"

"Gaps? Erosion, you moron. All that wind and sand polished them away. Anyone who's got sense knows we always could do this and always will." To show off, the old man tipped his hand towards the young man's bag and the entire satchel flew across the gap in the aisle to land in his lap.

"Hey!" the younger man cried, struggling up to his legs.

Sighing, Jaya twisted her head and gave a quick buzz of her scanner to find the older man was a surprising 3. "Sir," she stood up and carefully revealed the scrap of tin hanging on her pocket. The cackling old coot froze, his wrinkles drooping as he realized who he just stole in front of. Worse than that, he could be fined by the SK-agency for using his skills in such a manner.

"Return the bag to him and this will be considered an accident," she said, wanting to get him off the hook as much to keep from having to do paperwork.

"Fine," he snarled and with his ropey arms hurled the bag back at the young adult. "But we always had that. It's a fact," he ended in a huff, twisting back around to glare at the screen where bowtie awarded the points to the other male historian in the room.

Absently, Jaya reached under the cuff of her sweater to fiddle with the notch on her wrist. It was foolish to think she could trick it, but maybe if the numbers rounded out close enough this week she'd be okay. Guld save her from having to do another round of 'Bookkeeping training: how to count past ten.' That was a Saturday fully lost to mind numbing boredom. As she turned, she spotted the young man's eyes sizing her up. Most when learning she was a collar would shrink or look through her as if she was glass, but she could spot the hunger in his eyes.

She had a good four or five years on the kid. He was probably off to university while she was nearing the dreaded thirty people like him considered ancient. What he saw was a woman with skin that couldn't be easily classified. Most wrote her off as rather tan, failing to take into account her skin was rarely in the sun, until she drifted into shadow. That led to people asking where she came from or what she was, both of which received the answer of a sigh and walking away.

Her soft black hair was once long enough to reach towards the small of her back, but with age and lack of funds to afford the shampoo to clean it, she cut it to her shoulders. Swept up in a low ponytail was the extent of her doing her hair up right. There was a dash of makeup here and there, mascara, sometimes lip gloss. Jaya liked to play up the naturally darker hue on the top of her eyelids with a dab of gold. Her face was sharp with a nose that got into the room before she did. What little there was to see of her short body was hidden below a sweater, often two, a coat, fingerless gloves, and thick, wool trousers. And still, the kid wouldn't stop staring.

Growing more aware, and feeling a blush lighting up the sprinkling of dark brown freckles upon her cheeks, Jaya absently tapped a finger against her jewel. It was a darker of the yellows, sometimes humorously referred to as piss colored, and shaped like the end of a shooting star. They weren't really gemstones, hence why it was so warm and flexible. Something about skin, and sinew, and other sciency things they tried to drill into her head when she was younger came together to form them. But everyone called them jewels because it was more romantic than glowing skinflap. People said they controlled the skills. Other people said they didn't. Some claimed that you could tell what level a person was by the clarity of the jewel.

Jaya glanced over at the young man with one so soft it was nearly ivory. Then her eyes trailed down to the reading off her scanner revealing the kid to be a 2. Twisting back towards the window, she sighed to herself. Some people lied.

As the morning slid closer to afternoon the city streets livened. Buildings crowded tighter to each other deeper into the heart, their always increasing shadows eclipsing the sun. It'd be a pain to deal with, but the lampers drifted to and fro amongst the crowds working the sidewalk. A few were buskers, putting on little light shows for entertainment, but most were same as everyone else -- business people on their way to work or out of work.

The bus came to stop, letting the grumpy old man off while he continued to insist in the theories he'd overheard as if they were his own. Jaya's wandering eye focused in on a small group of children, perhaps six or seven years old. They were all dressed in the same tan button up shirt and dark blue trousers. Those out of the loop would probably assume private school, but she knew that for some the shirts smothered too small bodies or the pants hems were so short entire shins were exposed. It wasn't a loving parent who dressed them that day.

Two girls were holding hands, skipping back and forth a few feet above the sidewalk. When they hovered above a puddle, a young boy below them smashed hard into the water. Squealing, they spun about mid-air and attempted to kick at him, but he was quick to dash back from their attacks. So quick it left the eye blinded.

"Hey," the voice was high pitched enough to overcome the sound of traffic and the thick, SK proof windows on the bus. A much smaller girl was racing up to try and catch the older children. She could be a sibling, but it was doubtful. They didn't tend to keep families together. Waving her hand, she cried more, the words intelligible, but her mouth wide.

The small girl grabbed onto both of her pigtails and scrunched her shoulders up higher. For a brief nanosecond her form twitched, but she barely moved closer to the older kids wandering past. A speeder, too young to have really come into her power, but she was giving it her all to catch up. Jaya watched silently, the girl waving her hands like mad as she grew more upset. Obvious tears were welling up as she gripped harder onto her pigtails and tried again.

Barely lifting her fingers, Jaya cast a portal right before the girl. As she stepped forward, she was deposited a few feet ahead of her fellow children. The girl blinked in surprise, then turned back to the older kids who couldn't believe how far she moved. Sticking out her tongue, she tugged the pack on her chest tighter and dashed off laughing.

Four. Leaning back in the seat, she watched as the program switched to a nature show. Fields of soft grass undulated as a herd of rhinos galloped free from their stables. The picturesque meadowlands that existed at the gap between both societies kept her company for the rest of the trip.


About me

SE Zbasnik's background is in molecular genetics, so she brings a strong scientific and biologic background to her work. She's won a few writing contests including Lulu's Lets Go Wrimo and the Top Ten for Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale short story contest. At the moment she's a contributing writer for a website that reviews video games, movies, and all things geeky called Nerdy But Flirty. When not writing, her other passion is making her own halloween props at home.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
That hate can come from anywhere and fearing the other will only divide us further.

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