Ryland: Origins 1.4

Child of the Meteor, part 4

It took the better part of a day to reach the Portland area all the way from Sacramento by bus. It felt like forever to me. The only thing that kept me from dying of boredom was that Gabriel wouldn’t leave me alone, sending me messages, memes and anything that crossed his mind through the way.

Despite how long it took to get there, I couldn’t sleep, the movement of the bus keeping me awake, making my clothes and the seat scrape against me. When we finally reached the bus terminal I was about to collapse.

As promised, Gabriel was there in the terminal. He looked tired; he hadn’t slept just so he could keep my company by text.

“Ryland!” He shouted all the way across. He ran toward me, opening his arm for a spontaneous hug. I flinched, readying myself for the contact, but he stopped himself at the last second.

“Wait.” He said to himself, putting his hands up. “You don’t like to be touched. Sorry, I’m just so excited to—” He cut himself off and laughed nervously.

I wrapped my arms around his torso and gave him a quick squeeze. My cheeks flushed when I realized what I’d done. My arms however already felt a little chafed from that…

“I’m really happy to see you too.”

I had the biggest grin on my face. We hadn’t seen each other since May and now we’d spend most of July together before I had to go back home. I’d miss mom, but this was going to be the best summer ever.

“Good evening Ry.” Grandma said, coming to my side. “It’s so good to see you.”

“You too Gran.”

“You look exhausted, dear. Why don’t we go home and get you some rest.”

“Aww shucks, I was hoping we could hang.” Gabriel said.

“You can come by in the morning, I’m sure Ryland would like that.”

“I would.”

“Guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Gabriel and I went our separate ways, me to Grandma and Grandpa’s house while he went back home. After a quick dinner, I went to bed and quickly fell asleep.

***

The second I woke up the next morning, I sent a text to Gabriel telling him I was up. He was at Gran’s within twenty minutes, I hadn’t even finished my morning routine by then.

“You were fast.”

“Sorry, I was just excited, jumped on my bike and came here. Didn’t even eat breakfast.”

“Now that won’t do.” Grandma said. She put her hands on his shoulder and guided him to a chair. “How’s scrambled eggs?”

“That’d be great.”

After a really quick breakfast, Gabriel and I were about to scamper off when Grandma spoke.

“Wait a minute, Ry, you’re due for your medicine.” Grandma said. Just like mom, my grandma was a nurse.

“Does it have to be now?” I mumbled back, shooting a glance at Gabriel.

“It was supposed to be yesterday.” She said sternly. “Come on, it’ll only take a minute.”

“Fine…”

I sat on a stool and hiked up the leg of my shorts. Grandma got blockers from my bag where it was all still in its box, putting gloves on and getting an alcoholic wipe. I had to take a shot once a month so it’d stop me from going through girl puberty.

“Ready?” Grandma said once she had the syringe in hand.

I put the flesh of my index in my mouth and bit down, closing my eyes before nodding. She disinfected the area with the wipe, waited for a moment and then jabbed me with the needle.  It hurt like hell, not because of the injection but because of my own messed up sense of touch, it felt like she’d ran sandpaper over my skin.

“You’re all done.” Grandma said, removing her gloves and disposing of the needle.

I got up and went toward Gabriel who’s just waited at my side all this time. I guided him to my room and closed the door.

“So, what’s the medicine for?” He asked in a low tone.

I bit my lip. Should I tell him? What if he reacted badly? He was my old real friend… If he was really my friend, he’d be okay, wouldn’t he?

“Ry? I get if you don’t want to talk about it.”

“It’s a puberty blocker.” I said. He just blinked. “I’m transgender.”

“So you were like born a girl?”

I flinched, I didn’t like it when people said that. “I was always a boy.” I said, a little harshly. “Its other people who decided I wasn’t supposed to be one.” I instinctively raised my knees to my chin.

“I guess that makes sense.” Gabriel nodded. “So does the blockers mean you don’t get a period and grow boobs?”

“They stopped.”

“Doesn’t stop mean they had to start to begin with?”

“I started late… My dad insisted that I had to be a girl…”

“Oh… Where’s he?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to.”

“Right.” There was a moment of awkward silence. “Want to work on our Ravenhold app?”

“That sounds good.”

I took out my laptop from my bag and booted it up.

“Aww man, that’s such a dinosaur! How can you even use that?” He said with a snicker.

“I don’t use it for anything but talking to you and homework.” I said with a self-conscious shrug. I knew I definitely shouldn’t show him my phone either… He’d have thought I was a luddite.

***

A few days later, we were hanging out at Gabriel’s place. We’d spent the morning in the pool to cool down from the scorching summer heat. As we were eating lunch, still dripping wet, Gabriel spoke up.

“I have something for you.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Stay there, I’ll be right back.”

He ran inside and came back a minute later with his arms behind his back. “You know how it was my birthday last month?”

“Yeah.”

“Well my parents got me an upgrade so I guess you can have my old one.” He said with a grin. He took his arms out and revealed a laptop, it wasn’t new but it was much better than mine. “I asked them and they said it was okay to give it to you.”

“Oh, thanks!”

“With that we can even play some games together.”

“I’m not big on games, but I’ll definitely play some with you.” I smiled back.

He sat down on the deck and put the laptop down. The grin on his face just wouldn’t disappear. After a moment, I noticed he was kind of staring at me.

“Is there something on my face?”

“No, no.” He said with a nervous chuckle.

“What is it then?”

“There’s something I want to tell you…”

“Yeah?”

“I… like you Ry.” The moment my brain made sense of the words that had just been said, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest.

“For real?”

“For real.” He said. There was a smile on his lips and some redness on his cheek which were quickly hidden as he shrunk down a little in his hoodie. “Can’t believe I just told you that…”

“I like you too.”

“Really?”

I nodded, looking away as I felt my own cheeks redden. When I dared look back we were both smiling stupidly.

“I want to kiss you.” He said timidly.

“I want you to.” I said after a moment.

I felt like I couldn’t quite breathe. We both leaned in, eyes closed and butt foreheads together. We both said ‘ouch’ at the the same time, then laughed nervously. Our second try was better. Our lips met, his breath tickled my skin, the contact was intense, electrifying, lighting up my whole body.

When we broke away, just a moment later, we were both out of breath.

“Do you want to be my boyfriend?”

I smirked at the word. “Yes.”

***

July came to an end and with a heavy heart I had to go back down to California. Gabriel and I were definitely dating, and ready to be long distance. If we were lucky, we’d be together at Ravenhold just a few weeks from then.

He was the best I could hope for, he was kind, patient and understanding. He didn’t mind how I couldn’t stand being touched, he was happy with the little ways I was comfortable being intimate.

I was reading a book in my room when the distinct dial of video chat came from my computer. I jumped out of bed and hit open. Gabriel’s face immediately showed up on my new laptop’s screen.

“Ry!” He practically screamed in excitement.

“Hey.”

“I got it!”

“Got what?”

“My Ravenhold response letter! Did you get yours yet?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t check today. I’m not even out of my pajamas yet.”

“It’s one in the afternoon, man.”

“Yeah and I didn’t have anywhere to go. Let me check.”

I went outside, ran down the stairs and checked the mailbox for our apartment. Just like Gabriel, there was a letter from Ravenhold in there for me. I sprinted back up to my room. When I made it, I was a little out of breath.

“Lets see what they say?” He asked.

I nodded and ripped the envelope open. My eyes ran across the letter until they reached the fateful line.

Mr Cook, we would like to inform you that your application has been carefully considered and that we regretfully inform you that you were not selected for our class of two-thousand and fifteen. We hope that you will apply again in the future.

My heart sunk.

“I didn’t get in…” I muttered.

“Me neither…” Gabriel answered a moment later.

There was an empty silence for a moment.

“But you know what?” Gabriel began, his tone getting more confident. “Next year we’ll definitely get in. By then we’ll be way more badass, we can learn kung-fu and stuff man!”

“You bet.” I answered with a smile. “We’ll have even better essays, better costumes, maybe I’ll even find a better name than Zeitgeist!”

“But I like that name.”

“Of course you do, you picked it.”

***

The next year was the greatest of my life, sure I had all the old problems I had, but I also had Gabriel, at the end of the day we’d be there for one another, even if many miles were between us, we had the internet.

I had a boyfriend who loved me as I was and through winter and spring break we got to see each other again. As summer came closer, I was excited to see him again. We’d work on that year’s Ravenhold application and hopefully by September we’d be there.

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Lionheart: Part V

Vanessa Marino, Leonine

One year ago — October 2015

The clinic was not too far from the administration building that Lucie had shown me the way to. We walked into the reception and Katrin showed me how to sign up to see the doctor, apparently there was also someone who took care of those metal arms and legs some people had.

I took a seat only for Katrin to speak up.

“Well, I’ve got to go to classes and refresh my doubles, but I’ll have one of them waiting here for you when you get out, okay? I’ll show you the way to your first class.”

“Thank you.”

I waited for a little while until the a door opened.

“Vanessa Marino?”

“That’s me. I came as soon as you asked.”

I got up only to see who or rather what had called me. Standing in front of me was a huge blue lizard in a white coat, it’s triangular head had four eyes and little dangling bits at the crown and jaw. I blinked. What was that thing? I’d never seen anything like it… It wasn’t a chimera, that I could tell, it was too well formed, its body was something you couldn’t just manufacture on the spot.

“Hello Vanessa, I’m Doctor Sij.” It said.

“What are you? You’re not a chimera are you?”

“No, I am a venusian.”

“A venusian?”

“My species come from another world, an alternate version of the second planet away from Earth’s sun called Venus in English, but we call it Sjarikt. I came to earth when I was younger and decided to become a doctor for humans.”

“Why for humans?”

“I always found your species fascinating and wanted to help.” She said, showing me her teeth in an odd smile. “Would you please follow me inside my office?”

I followed her inside and she had me sit down in a chair. She fiddled around a clipboard with strange letters I didn’t recognize.

“I’ve gotten results from your fellow chimeras from the Atlantic city pit, you all seem to have received the same cocktail of drugs; anabolic steroids, testosterone, mixed with excelsior and erythropoietin.” She said.

“I don’t know what any of those are.”

She went over each of the drugs, several times she had to stop and explain again because there were so many words I didn’t understand.

“— and so we will slowly get you off the drugs, if we stop at once it could be very dangerous to your health. One thing we need to discuss is testosterone, I was told you are a girl, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Testosterone is the primary male sex hormones in humans, since it was added to your drug regiment it caused you to develop much like an adolescent boy would have; increased body hair, deeper voice, facial hair. If we stop that, your body will slowly begin to feminize itself; you’ll grow breasts, your body hair will lighten—” for a moment she kept describing what would happen, making sure to explain it’d take a few years for it to take full effect. “—Is that what you would like?”

“Yes.”

“Alright then.”

“I would normally never recommend the use of Excelsior or administer it to someone who request it, but as you are already addicted and seeing your circumstances, there is minimal harm in maintaining the treatment, but serious risks in stopping it.”

“Harm?”

“There is preliminary evidence Excelsior can cause neurological damage later in life such as dementia or alzheimer’s disease. However I’m afraid that as a human chimera, your natural lifespan is likely to be rather short, very few chimeras live to see their fiftieth birthday.”

I wasn’t sure how much fifty really was, I knew how to count a little but it just seemed so big…

“The gene therapy and mutagens used to create chimeras typically lead to some significant damage to DNA which in turn leads to an increase in the risk of cancers, the only preventive measure would be ablation of the affected tissues.”

“Ablation?”

“We would need to remove the parts affected by the chimerization process. I’m afraid that include your hands, significant amount of skin as well as many areas of your face.”

“No!” I jumped away when I realized what she wanted to do to me. “Don’t cut me…”

“Vanessa, I’m only discussing all the options.” She came closer and then sat on the ground next to me. “We are not the Syndicate, here you choose what happen to you and I will fight tooth and nail anyone who’d attempt to force you to go through medical procedures you don’t want, even if it would be for your own good.”

“You’re not going to do those things?”

“I would never do anything you don’t want me to do.”

She got up and offered me a hand. I hesitated but then took it, she helped me up and then sat back down.

“I’d like to run a few tests and establish a personal baseline for your health. Would that be okay with you?”

I nodded and she took me to another room.

“Now, if you feel any discomfort or anxiety, you can tell me. We’ll stop and try to make the tests more comfortable for you and reschedule if necessary.”

We went through some test, first drawing blood, I had to close my eyes and remind myself over and over that it wasn’t the same thing as back then, she was there to help me. Then there were most test, one of which had me lying down in a tiny metal tube, it was noisy and scary, I felt trapped.

“Vanessa, are you okay? Your heartbeat is speeding up.” The doctor’s voice came from a speaker.

“It’s very small in here.”

“It’ll be over in just a minute. Why don’t you close your eyes and tell me about your friends?”

I was surprised by her request but did as she said.

“There’s Isabelle, I really liked her, she was really nice but she often has these nightmares so we’d sleep together at night, that way I’d be there whenever she woke up. Then there’s Mark, he’s big but so nice, he taught me how to read a little, he loved to make stories too.” In the moment, remembering my friends, I forgot about the machine, I forgot about feeling trapped. I continued telling her about those who’d been with me all this time, choosing to remember the good moments that had kept us going.

“Vanessa?” the doctor interrupted me.

“Yes?”

“We’re done here, you can come out.”

She took me out of the machine and I never felt so relieved in my life.

“This will be everything for today, you did really well and I’m proud of you. Let me show you out unless you have any questions?”

In the moment, I couldn’t think of anything, I shook my head vigorously. She lead me outside and just as promised I saw Katrin was waiting for me out there. I didn’t have the time to take a step toward her that Lucie was now there, right in front of me.

“V!” She said. “Zwantedmetogiveyouthis.”

She then practically pushed an envelope in my hand. It took me a moment to realized she’d even done that. I opened it and saw money. If it was a lot I didn’t know, I’d seen it before and knew what it was for but what a dollar, ten or a hundred meant in term of what you could buy was beyond me. All I knew was that a chimera was worth three thousand dollar, five thousand for the pretty ones…

“What is that for?” I asked.

She took a moment to breathe.

“Zainab said you might want stuff.” Lucie shrugged. “Like clothes and… things…”

She then took another thing out, it took me a moment to realize what it was, one of those old pictures, the one you can hold in your hand. It had everyone in it, in a big house, you could see the sun through the window and they were around a table filled with food.

There were four words clumsily written on it with a marker. It took me a moment to decipher them; Wish you were here.

My chest felt so heavy all of a sudden… Had I made the right choice leaving them? Zainab had said I could go and be with them if I wanted… I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you alright?” It was Katrin.

“I don’t know.”

“Wellimoutnowseeya.” Lulie said after looking at Katrin weirdly. With that said she disappeared.

“Is there something wrong between you and Lucie?” I asked.

“Ugh… It’s complicated.”

“Complicated?”

“We… Used to date.”

“Date?”

“Um… You know, be together? And do adult things.”

I looked away, my cheeks and chest getting really hot. “Oh…”

“Didn’t work out too well, because personal reasons I kind of don’t want to get into… Now come on, let’s get you to your first class of the year; gym.”

Lionheart: Part IV

Vanessa Marino, Leonine

One year ago — October 2015

One of the Katrin guided me outside of the house and into a little park that was further. There were people about, just enjoying their afternoon without a care in the world. There were even some dogs too.

“Do you like spicy food or mild?” Katrin asked as we walked.

“I don’t know, I haven’t eaten normal food often.”

“Normal food?”

“My owners and handlers feed us a special diet, to make sure we were in perfect condition.” The only time I’d eat other foods where when one of the VIP guests had me spend time in their lodge.”

“Wait, back up… Your owners?”

“I was in a chimera fighting ring or lab for almost as long as I can remember.”

“Oh my god…” She put her arms around me and I had to resist the urge to claw her away, instead just tensing up until she let go, which she did almost immediately. “Sorry, I’m the touchy-feely type.”

I just nodded in answer. That done, Katrin and I headed for a little wheeled stand were a man was standing, the smell of meat cooking on a grill tickled my nostrils.

“Hello Steven.” Katrin said.

“Kat. What can I get you?”

“One chorizo dog and one Italian sausage dog.” She said before handing the man a bill of money.

The man took two different sausages and put them inside bread, adding some vegetables and then drizzling some sauces on top of the meat before wrapping it in paper and giving it to her. She walked a little further and sat on a stone bench and so did I.

“You try this one first.” She said giving me one. “It’s mild Italian sausage with grilled onions, red peppers and a tomato sauce.”

I took it and then I took a bite, it was amazing; sweet, spicy, salty, hot, and fatty. Everything mixed so well.

“That’s so good.”

Katrin smiled. “Well try this one now. Whichever you prefer is yours.”

We exchanged hotdogs and I tried the second one. It had cheese, grilled red pepper and some leafy green I didn’t recognize. As I chewed a piece my mouth started burning.

“It burns.” I said, panting.

“You get used to it. Guess that one’ll be mine?”

I gave it back to her and took a moment to recover. I wanted to scratch my tongue clean of the spiciness. The Italian one was a much better and I ate it so quickly I wished I had more.

“How was it?”

“Much better. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. C’mon, I’m sure the others are dying to meet you. It’s not everyday someone new joins the house.”

As we walked back she told me the story of how Steven had opened his stall in front of the gate and to avoid all the traffic going in and out the school had allowed him to install himself in the park.

When we came home, I got to meet everyone and it was very overwhelming. The only people I’d ever really known, I’d known since we were little kids, so being expected to just bond with these new people was kind of terrifying. What if I messed up? We were so different, how could we ever really mesh together?

***

I woke up very early. I never slept much usually. Katrin was still asleep, well one of her was, the others weren’t there. I got up and careful not to make any noise walked to the door, opening it and taking a peek outside. There were already two people outside, one of whom was Katrin, the other was a boy I hadn’t met yet.

I glanced around. Was I allowed to leave? I had to be, the others didn’t seem to ask permission to go around. Who was even in charge here? I really needed to find out. I hesitantly walked out and joined the two.

“Halló.” The boy said. His accent wasn’t American. “I’m Ragnar. You’re Vanessa, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good morning.” Katrin said with a yawn.

“You look tired.”

“This me has been up all night.” She took a sip of coffee. “Soon as other me wakes up, I’ll dismiss this me and pop two fresh new me for the day. The third’s in the library cramming for our history test later.”

I didn’t really understand anything she’d said, but I didn’t ask for details, I wasn’t sure if that was wise to.

“Are you hungry?” Ragnar answered. “I made banana pancakes.”

“I never had that, but okay.”

He raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask, just getting some flat little things onto a plate and putting some melting butter on it. He put the plate in front of me with a fork and knife.

“Enjoy.”

I nodded.

“So, who is in charge here?”

“The headmistress, I guess.”

“This is her house?”

“No, she runs the school.”

“But who is in charge of the house?”

“Nobody.” Ragnar said. “Every now and then our teacher Sam check in on us and make sure we’re keeping the house clean and intact but other than that we do what we want.”

“You’re saying there’s no rules?”

“Well, as a group we’ve agreed on a few rules; after ten it’s sounds off, we split the cleaning chores evenly.”

“And no peanuts anywhere in the kitchen, my sister and I are allergic.” Ragnar added.

They continued explaining how the school worked, the classes, going out, missions and everything until a phone rang. Katrin picked it up and answered.

“It’s for you Vanesa.”

I came up and picked the phone. “Hello?”

“Good morning.” Someone said on the other hand. Their voice was odd. “I’m doctor Sij from the school’s clinic. I’d like to meet you this morning, would that be alright with you?”

I froze, doctors never meant anything good. “Yes…” I said, my voice shaking.

“I’m looking forward to meeting you. I’m sure one of your classmates can guide you here. See you later Vanessa.”

“See you later.”

The doctor hung up and so did I.

“I need to see the doctor. Can you show me where the clinic is?”

“Sure, but don’t you want to change clothes first?” Katrin asked, a frown on her face.

“Am I supposed to change clothes?”

“Well, you wore them all day yesterday and slept in them, they ought to be dirty.”

I’d only worn them for a single day, they weren’t really dirty by my standard, but here things were probably different…

“I guess I’ll get something else.”

I went upstairs and found the other Katrin was now awake, but barely. She was rubbing her face and yawning.

I opened the bag Zainab had given and spread the things out on the bed, I looked at everything one by one. There were two t-shirts, one with what I think was writing but it was weird, the other had some symbol on it, I’d seen it on people before but didn’t know what it was. There was also a long sleeved plaid shirt, one of those sweaters that go up to your neck, a black hoodie with a zipper. Then there were pants on top of it; two pair of jeans, one ripped and the other not, slim black pants with an elastic band, beige cargo shorts…

I’d never had so many options… There were some many things, what was I supposed to wear? What if I was dressed wrong?

I could feel my heart racing and my breathing get stronger. I felt a hand on my arm and jerked away, claws out and turning to face the threat, but it was just Katrin.

“It’s just me.” She said, raising her hands. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s so much stuff, I don’t know what’s right to wear.” It took me a second to realized I’d shouted at her. “Sorry…”

“It’s fine.” She said before looking at the clothes. “If you think this is a lot, then don’t ever look in my closet.” She laughed. “It’s kind of cold today so what about this top,” she picked the turtleneck “with those nice jeans?” she picked the one without holes in them. “I think that’d look nice, don’t you?”

“I guess.”

I removed the clothes I’d been wearing, they weren’t really dirty, but I guess you’re not supposed to wear the same clothes twice in the outside world.

“There you go, you look perfect Nessa.”

“Nessa?” I paused, the nickname brought bag old foggy memories… Memories of before all this…

“Is it okay if I call you that? It’s shorter and I think it’s kind of cute.”

I nodded. “You can.”

“Well, I’ll add your dirty clothes to my laundry and I’ll wash them later, okay?”

I nodded and she put it in a basket by her bed.

“Now, let me show you the way.”

Together we left the house and toward the center of the academy ground where the clinic was.

The Starborn Knight: Part VI

Shekaree, Chevalier

One month ago — August 2016

After three earth years of trying to get me to come to the village with her, I finally agreed to follow Sikara into town. Everything in the human’s settlement was different from ours; the roads went as they pleased with no logical organization, the buildings were also haphazard with service establishment mixed among the housing, there was no central square or clear delimitation of districts. How humans could live in such chaos, I didn’t know.

Come on, we’re almost there.” Sikara declared as we walked through the town. Somehow she’d made sense of the chaos.

I was keenly aware of the stares of the humans as we moved around, Sikara and I’s hands laced together. One of the thing I’d learned about them was that they did not tolerate mates of the same gender.

Here we are!” She declared as we stopped in front of a building. The sign above said ‘La republicana tapas.’

At Sikara’s insistence, I had learned some of the humans’ languages, it had helped delay having to go out as I learned, but now that I spoke Spanish well, she had not taken no for an answer anymore.

A mess hall?

“Un restaurante.” She corrected me in Spanish. “Mi favorito en el pueblo.” Her favorite restaurant in the village.

I thought we were meeting some humans.

“Si, pero más tarde.”

Later, fine. Now you can drop the spanish, I don’t need more practice.”

If you say so.

We went inside and a human female servant guided us to a table before taking our order. I let Sikara pick the food, not being familiar with human dishes or ingredients. I couldn’t stop myself staring at the human’s chest and the way its breast poked from under its clothes.

Shekaree?” Sikara asked once the servant turned away.

How do humans babies even drink milk?” I asked in a whisper. “Their teats are so big…

She burst out laughing at my comment. “They don’t have massive teats, Shekaree, they’re just like ours. They just have fatty tissue underneath.

Are you sure?

Very sure. You could say I’ve verified it myself with the help of a friend.

My ears folded back at the thought of her having been with a human… The food we’d ordered came only a moment later, composed of many small plates which the human servant placed down on our table along with utensils.

Although the other patrons tried to be quiet, I could hear them talking about us. I let out a growl at one of their word. “Damn space pigs shouldn’t be allowed here.” it said in Spanish.

Ignore them.” Sikara ordered, putting a hand on mine. “They’re not worth our time.

I did my best to do it, focusing on the food. Some preparations were akin to our foods, such as sausages, fritters or stuffed pastries, but the tastes weren’t what I expected, being different ingredients. Once our meal was done, I thanked the servant who’d brought it to us and began walking for the door only for Sikara to take my hand and stop me.

Shekaree, wait.” She said.

What is it?

We haven’t paid yet.

Paid?

Compensated them for the meal.

We have to do that?” I blinked.

“Lo siento señora, mi amiga es nuevo.” She said, apologizing to the human. She opened her bag and took out some thin but long polymer strips, counting a few and giving them to the human. “Gracias.”

She came back to me and took my hand, leaving the establishment.

In the human world, you need to compensate establishments for their service. Humans receive money in exchange for their work and they trade it for services.

That seems very complicated for nothing.” I frowned. In our culture, we didn’t use money, services like mess halls or clothing were provided for free with the understanding that people contributed to society in exchange. “Where did you get that money?

I traded for it.” Was all she said.

We walked out of the restaurant and she guided us out of town, but in a different direction from our camp. Instead we found our way into a small valley in the hills where a few humans were waiting for us. They got up and greeted Sikara who introduced me, I stayed back, only listening to their conversation.

One of them, Migel, was late and supposed to bring the equipment, whatever that meant…

A few minutes later an old beaten truck  drove down the path and stopped a few feet from us. A few more humans got out of it.

“Hola Kara!” One of them shouted. I turned around and saw it was in full armor, a weapon in its hand. It raised the weapon, aiming for Sikara.

My heart stopped, it was as I’d feared. I didn’t think and rushing in. Before he could fire, I was on top of it savaging with my fists.

“Karee!” Sikara screamed.

“Migel!” The other screamed.

Someone tried to pull me off and I roared at them, ready to fight until I saw who it was; Sikara herself.

Stop it!” She begged and I did. “Why…

It had a weapon.

She leaned down and grabbed the human’s weapon, levelling it at me and firing. The projectile that had hit my belly lightly pinched but that was it. A few splotches of blue paint now stained my outfit.

It’s a toy! He was going to show me how to play with them.

I…” I muttered frozen. “I didn’t know…

Her lips parted about to say something but I didn’t listen, instead running away. She called out for me but I kept running. I didn’t stop until I reached our camp and was back in our room. I crumbled down on the ground, shaking…

What had I done? My claws were still stained red with the alien’s blood.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, but eventually the door opened, Sikara coming through.

Miguel will be okay.” She said. “He will need surgery and will have scars but he’ll be well.

I’m sorry.” I answered, tears dripping down my face.

She offered me a hand and I took it. The dried blood caked on my claws contrasting with the pristine ivory tone of hers. The moment I was back on my feet, she wrapped her arms tightly around my torso.

I’ve told master Kiorga what happened and we both agree you need help.”

It—

She put a claw on my mouth.

Shekaree, you’re afraid of them. You constantly think the worst will happen, but humans aren’t our enemies anymore, the war is long over and this is our world now… I can’t count the number of times I knew you snuck out at night to stand watch on the wall, you think I don’t know, but I’ve known about the knife you keep hidden in our bed… I’ve heard you speaking in your nightmares.

I didn’t answer her.

I’ve been trying to help you, but it’s not working.” She said her ears folding in shame.

There was a knock at the door and I looked up. Master Kiorga stood in the doorway. I got up and she came toward me, giving me a tight hug.

I’m sorry, I did wrong and as your apprentice, I stained your honor.” I removed her emblem pin from my collar and handed  it to her. She however closed my hand tightly around it with her own.

Shekaree, stop. What you did was wrong, but it’s because you’re still hurt.” There was a pause and I stared at the ground. “I talked with the head chaplain and we both agree you need help we can’t provide.” The chaplains were responsible for the mental and spiritual well being of the empire’s citizen.

What does that mean?

You’ll be leaving, there is a place I believe could help you. You’ll be among powered humans, you’ll live with them, study with them and train with them.

She was getting rid of me, I knew it… Sending me away like those who had contested her rule and challenged the order of the camp.

I—” I began but the interrupted me.

It’s for the best. This is not an exile, we are not abandoning you, you will still be my apprentice. You will be free to come back when you can.

When do I leave?

At the start of the next human month.

Very well.

Kelfire: Part III

Kellen Gustke, Present Day

“Wolfrick Heppenheimer,” Magnus echoed, tailing me as I walked to the teleportation room. “He’s a chimera scientist who works for the European branch?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied, not really having the patience for Magnus at the moment.

“How do you know him?” he asked, frowning.

“I used to live with him and his son,” I explained. I didn’t talk much about my past, mostly because I had been determined when I came across to America that I would build my own success without relying on my surname. People in America were so distracted by their own worlds that very few people actually knew Gustke was the name of the man leading the Europe branch of the Syndicate.

“Oh, so you were involved in the chimera rings?” he asked, sounding surprised.

“Something like that,” I lied. I was relieved to see the security staff hadn’t done anything insulting like cuffing him. Heppenheim stood up from the seat he had been given as I walked in. He looked tired, his wrinkles deeper than the last time I had seen him. Admittedly it had been at least three years.

“Didn’t expect you to turn up on my doorstep,” I said, giving him a warm smile.

“Kellen,” he said, sounding equally surprised and relieved. I pulled him into a hug.

“It’s nice to see you again,” I said. “Right,” I said, pulling away from him, “Why are you here?”

“The Legion found us.” I felt my skin pale as something dawned on me.

“Where’s Jaeg?” Heppenheim’s face broke before me, the closest I’d ever seen it come to tears.

“They caught him,” he whispered, sounding mournful.

“Fuck,” I sighed. “Okay, follow me. Yvanna is a tech genius, she’ll be able to work out where they’re keeping him.” Heppenheim nodded and followed, then Magnus intercepted us.

“Look, I’m all for helping the old man, but we have a mission,” Magnus said.

“Your team can take it,” I replied, making him double take.

“But Ethan said-”

“You guys can take the prize. This is more important,” I said, brushing him aside and leading Magnus to the main hub room. Yvanna looked up from her screen, cocking an eyebrow.

“Yvanna, will you please work with Heppenheim? We need to track down a European agent,” I explained.

“My eye has access to all the cameras in my lab building in England, maybe some of it will help?” he suggested.

“It’s a start,” Yvanna nodded. I left them to it and went into the corridor, pulling out my phone and calling Ethan. He picked up on the fifth ring, by which point I was tapping my heels impatiently on the metal grated floor.

“Magnus informed me you’re directly ignoring my orders,” Ethan said, his tone calm. Shit, of course he beat me to it. I knew that tone as well, he only used it when he was keeping his temper in check.

“Heppenheim came to the base. Something has happened in England, I’m helping them-”

“That’s a problem for the Europe branch. Let them handle it,” Ethan cut me off. I bit my lower lip, letting out a measured breath.

“I know the protocol, but the Legion have an old friend of mine Ethan,” I said. Silence reigned on the other line and I began to pace.

“Kellen, we were very clear when we began relations that you would not use it for more favourably treatment,” Ethan finally replied.

“That’s not what I’m trying to do Ethan. You wanna dock my pay while I’m doing this search, go for it,” I threw back, annoyed he saw through my ruse.

“Who is this old friend?” Ethan asked.

“His name is Jaeger Heppenheimer.” Ethan let out a short laugh.

“You’re asking me to let you use work hours to help your ex?”

“It’s not like that Ethan,” I sighed.

“Kellen, you’ve always followed the rules precisely. Suddenly your ex has been caught by the Legion and you’re recklessly abandoning all of them – so I believe there is a connection.” I rolled my eyes at his lecturing tone.

“Right, well enjoy the hotel alone next week since I’ll be doing the search off-duty,” I said, shrugging with a grimace on my face. I felt his hesitation before he eventually sighed.

“You have 48 hours to find him. If he’s in a cell or somewhere in Europe, we let the european branch handle it.” he hung up and I glared at the phone, just about resisting the urge to throw it at the wall. Ethan had basically given me the go ahead to do absolutely nothing. I could find him and he could be bleeding out in a  ditch somewhere in England, and I couldn’t help. Fuck. I took a moment to get back my composure before heading back to where Yvanna and Heppeneheim were working.

“Any luck?” I asked.

“He’s being transported to Mingulay prison,” Yvanna sighed. “However it looks like one of Legion heroes has already scheduled to visit him.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It could mean nothing, or something,” she shrugged. Another screen beeped and she opened the window, smirking. “On the plus side I have some locations for you and Magnus’ team to check out.”

“What’s the nearest place?” I asked.

“Washington,” Yvanna said. “The other location that’s probably worth checking out is Ravenhold Academy.”

“Wait, you mean the superhero school in Maine?” I asked. Maine was on the other side of the country to us so was a fair old trek.

“The one and only,” Yvanna replied. She went back to hacking something without speaking and in a few moments we saw grainy black and white footage of a plain grey room with simple table and chair. And sitting in one chair with his hands cuffed together was Jaeg. I felt a lump form in my throat at the sight of him. Heppenheim moved closer to the screen and Yvanna wheeled aside for him.

“Who is that?” I asked, the hero was clad in a full body suit and mask, no way to guess their alter ego.

“Sentinel,” Ace said. I jumped and spun to look at him. “Ethan called, said you’d need some back up,” he shrugged. “So little Julie,” he murmured looking at the screen.

“He’s called Jaeger,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Right, sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about him,” Ace murmured.

“I bet,” I muttered.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing.”

“Is there any audio?” Heppenheim asked, oblivious to our conversation. Yvanna did some more typing and we could hear conversation.

“Well?” the hero said, leaning forward.

“You,” Jaeger murmured.

His voice sounded so much deeper than I remembered. Then again he had only just started hormones back then.

“Want me to become a-” he cut himself off, unable to complete the sentence and instead bursting out laughing.

“What does the news say about human chimera’s Jaeger?” she asked him, making his laughter die down quickly. “It’s never good, right? A lot of villains. I’m not going to make assumptions about your past but I can tell you that whatever it’s made of, it doesn’t have to be your future. You have the powers to be a great hero. The power to change public perception.”

“Is she asking him what I think she’s asking him?” Ace asked.

“What, your mind reading voodoo don’t walk across an ocean?” I muttered.

“You’re very moody today,” he sighed.

“A lot’s happen-” I was cut off by Heppenheim shushing me. After deliberating a long time she was leaving, but Jaeger had stood up.

“Sentinel,” he called. A moments hesitation. “Sign me up.”

Everyone watching the screen was quiet for a moment until Yvanna killed the live feed and began analysing the footage. Zooming into the image, focusing on the leaflet Sentinel had given him.

“He’s just avoiding prison,” I said.

“Are you sure?” Ace asked.

“It’s Jaeger. We practically grew up mocking heros. If someone can reach out to him wherever they send him then he’ll leave in a heartbeat and come back to the Syndicate,” I shrugged.

“Well, you’ll have to do the reaching out,” Yvanna said, drawing my attention to the screen. “He’s going to Ravenhold.”

Kelfire: Part II

Kellen Gustke, present day

The portal dispensed us to Central Base, although ironically it was situated deep under the sea off the coast of California. I’m sure there was some parahuman involvement in it’s construction. Nyesha and Ace followed me down corridors and to the central hub where I could see other members of the parahuman unit and senior human officials were waiting. They waited patiently as we all took the seats left around the table. I slide the small external drive across the table to Yvanna, a short woman with blond hair and blue eyes. She looked more suited to a Miss Serbia contest than The Syndicate but she was much smarter than her looks suggested. She quickly stood and took the drive out the room to upload to our own secure servers here for analysis.

I took a moment to take in the other sitting across from us. Marcus was the oldest one here, with greying brown hair. He’d removed his holy cross mask although he was still wearing his ridiculous templar type outfit, although his arms were bare to show off his tattoos. Azra was of mixed American and Turkish descent and a transwoman – part of why she had joined the Syndicate was because her local hero group had been anti-trans. She had a natural dark tan with curly black hair and amber eyes. She had various hennas on her skin at any one time – usually with Magnus’ help. She kept her get up simple – black and white with the occasional purple garnish, cape included.

And finally, Magnus. Who looked as though he was king of the world right now. He wasn’t anything impressive to look at, tall, well-built and looking like your typical all-american boy wonder. Except he was definitely not a good guy. His costume was black with the silver lighting up as he moved, displaying the star constellation of Gemini. Continuing the theme his mask was black with silver adornment, and between his eyes was the simple gemini star sign symbol. Three guesses what his supervillain name was.

“We were short of gathering 100% of the data stored but-” I began looking at the head of the table. Ethan Campbell. He was charged with the organisation of the syndicate in America. His head was also on the chopping block if his specialised parahuman unit failed to deliver appropriately.

“But you screwed up and got caught,” Magnus interrupted me. I felt my jaw clench as I maintained my eye contact with Ethan. His only acknowledgment of any of us as he stared at a handheld device was a strangled bark of laughter.

“We’ve already ascertained that the Legion were alerted by another group. As I said, we gathered just short of 100%. It is still possible we have the information we desire.”

“We better. People will pay handsome sums of money for an effective defense from parahumans. If the government has synthesized anything they’re in no rush to share it with the general public.”

“You almost make it sound like we’re being the good guys,” Ace murmured.

“We are the good guys, giving protection and peace of mind,” Ethan countered, letting the charisma that would win him the local election shine through.

“For the right price,” Nyesha added with her typical rebellious streak. “Is there any point in this meeting? Until we know what’s on the drive we’re just having a pissing contest.” she sent Magnus a pointed look with her last comment.

“Can’t handle the heat of consequences?” Magnus asked.

“I don’t suffer fools,” she replied without missing a beat. “I need to get back and secure cargo.” Ethan gave a nod of dismissal and she left, heels clicking and long ponytail whipping behind her as she walked.

“Ace, was there anything else of use the Legion were thinking?” Ethan asked.

“Mostly just the usual good guy thinking. We knocked one of them down pretty well but I imagine Tachyon will recover in a few days,” Ace said. “And Magnus, at least try to hide your thoughts.” Magnus merely huffed at Ace’s comment. I thought I saw a proud smile cross his features for a moment but Yovanna returned at that moment.

“Unfortunately a lot of the data was still partially encrypted or incomplete. It’ll take me a few hours to get it but I believe it has the locations we require.” Ethan thanked her for her report and she left, returning to her computer no doubt. Ethan made a thoughtful sound as he looked around the table.

“Let’s see how many places Yvanna isolates. Then since, as Nyesha said, this is a pissing contest, I’ll give both teams different locations. First one to get a sample gets a bonus.” Immediately the other two with Magnus grinned, looking far too self-assured for my liking.

“With that out of the way I have a speech to go draft. You’re all dismissed.” Ace didn’t linger, immediately leaving. Magnus took a moment to smirk at me before he and his team left. I stood up and walked over to Ethan who was looking at his handheld.

“Yes?” he finally said, acknowledging my existence.

“Pitting us against each other, really?” I asked.

“You like competition,” he replied dryly.

“Not when it’s clearly just a cover for punishing us. Menagerie tripped them off. I was the one breaking into that building. I tripped no alarms,” I insisted. Ethan lifted his gaze to look at me, a half smile on his face.

“If I thought for one moment you had tripped the alarm you wouldn’t be here Kellen,” he said, the threat in his voice. “As it is you consistently do a good job. It’s just something to motivate people,” he shrugged. He glanced around but it was only the general staff outside the room now.

“Are you busy tonight?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I replied. “I was planning to take a time out to relax before the next mission starts,” I shrugged.

“Hmm…How about a secluded hotel and spa getaway? My treat,” he said, closing the gap between us. I felt a smile quirking on my face and slight blush.

“Tell me where and when,” I replied, leaning closer. He immediately pulled back, the controlled smile he uses at his speeches in place.

“I’ll send you the details,” he promised, walking past me and out the room. I chewed my lower lip and released a tired breath.

I headed back to the teleporter room when my phone beeped with the details. I’d have a few hours to kill so I headed to the training room to beat some dummies. However before I got there the alarm sounded. I immediately raced back to the central hub where I saw armed units heading towards the portal room.

“What is it?” I asked, kneeling next to Yvanne’s desk. Without speaking she brought the cameras up on the screen and I did a double-take. I grabbed her mic and sent a message to all units.

“Stand down. I repeat, stand down.”

“What are you doing?” Magnus asked, appearing behind me.

“He’s not an enemy. He’s Heppenheim.”

Skins: Part IV

Sasha Vasiliev, Vucari

September 2016

The next morning, I woke up feeling Karee’s gentle breath on my neck, her powerful armored arms wrapped around my torso. It didn’t take long for my heart to start beating out of my chest.

“Karee?” I whispered.

She didn’t answer and I whispered her name again.

She stirred a little a moment later and I saw her eyes open. She yawned, giving me a close up view of Tzari denture. In addition to the tusks protruding from their mouth, they had twice the amount canines humans had and looked like she could tear flesh straight from a carcass. Having studied Tzaries I knew their ancestors and closest living relative species were a mix between a boar and an armadillo.

“Karee?”

“Gar?” She mumbled and she shook her head. “English…” She then muttered to herself. “Yes?”

“You can let me go now.”

She removed her arms from around my body and I quickly got up.

“Thank you…” I answered, still feeling a little flustered.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, I’m just surprised you didn’t wake me.”

“You were very tired. I do not know earth culture, but for Tzari it is normal for friends to share bed.”

“You think of me as your friend?”

“Why would I not?” She said, with a frown.

“No reason, I guess I’m just a little surprised. You were the first alien I’ve ever met, I never really thought I’d be friend with one.”

“You are my first human friend.” She confessed. “I have met many humans. But many not be good, call me Cerdo espacio or Cara ósea.” She let out a low growl at the memory. “Even not bad ones, not good. Fear Tzari, see us different from humans; as interesting thing but not person. But you are different from them.”

“I guess I just try to judge people for who they are rather than what they are.” I said with a shrug. “And I know what it’s like to be different…” I bit my lip at the memories.

“You look sad.” She said, putting an armored finger on my chin and raising my head ever so slightly. “Is that my fault?”

“No, just bad memories.” I sighed. “Many people on earth don’t like Rashkru like me, think we are sick and wrong.”

She let out a snarl in answer, exposing her rather sharp teeth. “That is why I stay away from humans; I do not mean to hurt you, but they are primitive.”

“It’s alright, I kind of agree with you. We have a long way to go.”

She put her arms around me and hugged me. Evidently that was a gesture both our species shared. Once she let go of me we prepared ourselves for our second day of school, which thankfully went smoothly, even if I had to help Karee understand some of the more complicated ideas of ethics class. As soon as we all arrived back at the house, Abigail called a meeting in the living room.

“Alright, I thought we should organize tasks around here.” She proposed.

We all agreed and she got a white board and placed it so we could view it. She quickly outlined all the things that needed done in terms of cleaning and people started negotiation what they were okay to do and what they preferred not to.  I took a few dishes chore, trading away vacuum and lawn mower duties. I couldn’t stand the noise.

“As much as I like cooking, I think we should do a rotation because cooking for so many people is way too much.” Abigail then said, people once more agreeing. “Since there’s fourteen of us and seven days a week, we should pair up and claim a day. How does that sound?”

“Uh… There’s sixteen of us.” Harley pointed out.

“Fredrika and Ruth don’t eat our food. It wouldn’t be fair to make them cook for us.”

I looked at the two of them. Ruth’s large lizard like form was apparently vegetarian, eating mostly raw greens, fruits and roots, while Fredrika with her more humanoid but very catlike body was the opposite; being an obligate carnivore that could only stand minimally cooked meat.

“What about Kylie?”

My eyes turned to her. Unlike Ruth and Fredrika who were mutant paramorphs, Kylie wasn’t human to begin with, being Avian. Avians had been the result of a less than ethical american experiment to create chimeric bodies and transplant the consciousness of humans.

“She’s Avian, they can eat just about anything.” I explained, drawing all eyes on me. “I studied them before…” I sheepishly added.

Explanations over, we all got into teams. Karee immediately found me.

“Do you want to be cooking mates?” She asked.

“Sure, although I’m not too great, I’m warning you.”

“And I am from other world.”

“Another world.” I corrected her, making her smile.

By the luck of the draw, it was our turn to cook the next day. After class we made a quick detour to the library, Karee wanting to get Tzari books to help me learn her language, having become dedicated for the task. As I looked around for a specific book, she browsed the next aisles for stuff. After a solid ten minutes and a half dozen search in the section, I didn’t find it. Someone had checked it out or misplaced it. So I went back to Karee’s side.

“The book isn’t here Karee, someone else must have gotten it out already. I’ll need to ask the librarian if there’s an electronic copy so—” I began speaking but as I turned the corner I found Karee with a black guy, looking at her a little weirdly. “Hi, are you new here too?”

“Yeah, my name’s Allen.”

“I’m Sasha.” I said with a smile and they looked me a little weirdly, I could imagine the gears in his head wondering if I was a lesbian or something. “First time meeting a Tzari?”

“Y-yeah.” He answered sheepishly.

“That’s the beauty of Ravenhold. Everyone’s welcome regardless of species, sex, gender and everything so long as they want to help people.” I checked my phone and saw the time. “We better go back if we don’t want Harley to be all melodramatic about dinner being late like last night.”

“I hope you settle well.” Karee declared as we left the library, bookless.

We went back to the house and into the kitchen where I checked the state of the pantry. Cooking wasn’t exactly my forte. My mum and dad were both restaurant owners and operated a Mongolian-Russian fusion kitchen but their passion hadn’t passed down to me. But I could handle myself if I had to.

“So I was wondering about something.” I began, drawing Karee’s attention as she looked through the fridge, seeming as if she was lost. “What do Tzaries eat? I mean, I’ve seen you eat our food, but what is your food like at home?”

“It is different, but not very so… Different part, but similar foods. Does that explain?”

“We have similar dishes but different ingredients?”

“Yes. But Tzari ingredients. But not eggs, eggs not common on Resh.” She said with a smile. “Breakfast is heavy meal, often stew cooked in evening and through the night for strength for the day. The middle of day meal is light and cold, Resh is very warm then; bread, fruits and…” She picked a piece of bread made a spreading motion.

“Spreads.”

“And spreads.” She confirmed. “Late day meal is also light, very quick before work continue. Evening meal is largest and longest, many dishes so family can spend time together. Resh has long days, thirty earth hours.”

I nodded and kept asking her about Tzari meals, thinking about how we could adapt them in the future. In the meantime, I opted to prepare Budaatai Khuurga, a mongolian rice dish my father would often make and taught Karee how to slice earth vegetables. Although she wasn’t familiar with the produce, she seemed to know the cooking technique well. About forty minutes later, we found ourself with a completed dish to serve.

So, are you hungry Karee? I feel like I could eat a buffalo.” I said once everyone else had taken their bowl. I filled two bowls for us and was about to join the others at the table when she spoke.

“No, wait.” She put down her bowl.

“Okay?” I blinked but put mine down too.

“Shekaree.” She said putting a hand on her chest. “You call me Shekaree now.”