Wunderkinder: Strategic




Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan leaned back from her desk, stretching her wrists and cracking her knuckles. Her role as General, Recruitment Management Officer, Logistics Manager, Public Relations Officer (depending on the day and the duties at hand) and, of course, a mother was a challenging one. But sometimes, on days like this… She knew she was doing some good in the world.

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Wunderkinder: Top Minds (epilogue)




The Flying Fortress is a marvel of modern tech. It’s the sort of thing that Legionnaires bring up in every debate against a Freelancer, and that Freelancers have no real answer to. It shouldn’t be in the air, somewhere above Iceland – but it is. The thing is made up of steel and magic and no one really knows what else, and it houses the bulk of the Legion’s forces and administrative staff, and a good deal of tech and vehicles and workshops and a couple of secrets that still haven’t been wrestled out of McGowan or Müller.


The outer rims of the Fortress are all decorated for civilian eyes – mahogany floors, small monuments and statues and portraits of Heroes past, present, and future, plush carpets. The farther in you get, the more barebones it becomes.

Until you reach the Core.

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Jupiter Strike and Oathkeeper IN: Rallying the Troops

The great meeting hall could easily sit a hundred Legionnaires, from the hulking Blast Zone to the meek Nix. Today, there were only two Legionnaires on Earth and on duty.

One of them was Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan, one of the highest ranking Legionnaires on Earth and a legend. She sat, wearing a black and white spotted blouse above narrow white slacks. Her mane of golden hair was brushed back.


Next to her sat a girl, about twelve, with dense curly hair and disinterested hazel eyes, reading a book. This was not a Legionnaire – this was Ruth McGowan, daughter of Oathkeeper and Blue Streak.

There was a sizzle and a crackle outside the building, followed by a roll of thunder that reverberated through the building. It was maybe two, three heartbeats away. A minute later, a slim figure flew in, slow and gently for anyone who knew her.

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Evolution: Covert Ops




The Flying Fortress’s lower levels were carefully maintained by nanotechnology and robots more than humans. It was quiet down here, the air so still that every step that Nat took towards Emi Surikabe’s office seemed nearly deafening, or so Nat imagined they would if ey walked on the ground. Perhaps in the Legion’s prime, these parts of the Fortress would be bustling. Still, though, Nat knew that ey was never alone—Scanner’s eyes were everywhere, watching everything.

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Evolution: Training Montage



Nat floated into the the training room slowly, eyes darting around. The room seemed to contain almost nothing, save for a padded floor and bare, lined walls. Sthenographer had referred to this area jokingly as ‘The Danger Room’, so where was the danger? Behind the walls? Under the floor? Above? Already here, but invisible?


Suddenly, the grueling hold-breaking exercises in Emi’s private gym seemed really appealing.

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Evolution: Something Stirring (epilogue)




Scanner was too preoccupied to notice the door to the core open, someone coming in. She swivelled her torso to peer at one screen, and then another, myriad cables trailing behind her as she pivoted. Something had the cyborg’s interest.


The Sthenographer walked into the core the same way she always did: chrome locs walking along the ceiling, and holding food. This time, it was a bag of kettle corn. She did little to announce her presence, lost in thought herself.


It took Scanner a another minute to notice her guest. She turned her head and swung down to make eye contact with Stheno, although she kept a respectable distance. “You brought food again.” The tone was slightly accusative.


Stheno faked being taken aback. “Whaa? Oh hey, so I did. Neat.”

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Hanging in the Hangars


Wherein Jupiter Meets Nat and introduces eir to Markus Cross and Red. They then meet up again the the Faerie Glen.


The hangers of the Flying Fortress held a variety of craft, but Jupiter Strike was at the far end. She had a stack of large backpacks nearby and she had one un-packed and laid out. They were parachutes, and she seemed to be checking them for safety. She’s a tall woman with her dark hair in a ponytail and she’s in obvious civvies, jeans and a tee. There’s a bomber jacket thrown carelessly onto a nearby crate with a pair of aviators tossed on. She waves.


“Hey! You must be Nat. I’m Jessica.”

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Recovery: Debrief



Nat was awake again. Still badly injured from eir encounter with the Villain known as Sin, ey was slowly recovering. Ey was still strapped to the bed, but no longer bled through eir bandages. Surgery had removed the communication implant attached to eir lower jaw, and ey was waiting on a replacement to be installed.


In the meantime, ey played around on eir phone.


There’s a gentle rap on the door. “Bug? You up for some company?”

“Oh god, yes,” Nat’s head lolls back. “I’m so fucking bored.


“Good. I brought dumplings from home, home cooked, and I purchased some drinks and a hand held entertainment unit for you. The Nintendo something or other. I know, I know, you want to be out now, you want to  go home. I’m not authorized to clear that.” She busied herself serving food onto paper plates.


“Oh wow you’re still the best boss ever though,” Nat’s face lit up, “for real, you brought me—these are homemade? Damn, these are the tidiest gyoza I’ve ever seen. Look at that crimping!”


“I’m trained in many things.” Emi winked. “Benefits of my upbringing. Eat up. You need your strength. And I could use a meal too, I’ve spent the morning yelling at people. Very taxing.”

“Ooh, dish.”


“Let’s just say Estelle is lucky that she’s an old, sick woman, or else I wouldn’t have gone easy on her.” Emi says grimly. “And I purchased both Alice and Sawbones floral arrangements for their part in saving you and getting you back in good health, of course.”

“I appreciate what they both did,” Nat rubbed eir jaw at remembered pain, “but I’m really glad that a different doctor is doing the comm replacement. Doc Sawbones is… not gentle.”


“No,” Emi agreed. “She believes that being the best does not necessarily require a gentle touch, nor a bedside manner. But she is the best at what she does, even if she infuriates everyone in a two mile radius. And your health is the most important.”

“Yeah,” Nat murmured, eyes going a little distant. “They tell me I almost died of blood loss. It was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, like I was on fire and my life was siphoning away from me. I guess it was.”


“Which is why you will NOT be working with Estelle ever again, no matter what she says about prophecies and the future. I will NOT allow it.”

“You’re the boss, Boss,” Nat agrees, nodding. “I thought it was just gonna be a party, going in.”


“That’s the problem with this world of ours. You never really know what you’re getting into. One time we had a party at the McGowan Mansion – this was before Scott and Alice were together, and Scott’s date was, ah…” Emi pops a dumpling into her mouth and chews thoughtfully. “A Villain of sorts, incognito. I think that might have been what pushed him out of his phase of dating random women for a night or two.”

Nat eats eir first dumpling. “Wow. Good. Really good, boss, I could take lessons from you and that’s saying something. Anyway, that’s interesting. I still haven’t met the guy.” Ey uses eir chopsticks to poke a hole in the side of the next dumpling, dunks it into the dipping sauce, and holds it there until it’s good and dead before eating it.


“You should. He’s a brilliant man, crucial to the war effort, a war hero… And a good friend. A very good friend. I think you would like him.”

“And I probably shouldn’t hit on him, huh.”


Emi shrugs. “He’d find it funny. Alice wouldn’t.”

“Alice doesn’t find anything funny. It’s what makes her so funny,” Nat smirked. “Did you need me to debrief, or do you already know everything that there is to know?”


“Let me hear your take on what happened.”

Nat sighs. “Okay, so. To be honest, everything went… mostly okay right up until the end. Eternium was too fast for me, but that was our tactical error, and it was bound to happen someday. I was the bait, he came at me, grabbed me by the face, hit me against somethin’. I passed out. Came out of it beat up, but mostly all right.


“It wasn’t until… the rewards. That things got real bad. Estelle,” Nat frowns, then lowers eir voice, “…cheated Sin. She cheated him. I’m sure he’s the scum of the earth but she made a deal and she tried to monkey paw it and to be honest, I can’t blame him for being mad.


“But he decided that the only thing to do was kill her, and we were in the way of that.”


Emi’s lips thin into a line of barely suppressed rage. “Estelle left that little detail out.” She says, voice tight. “We’ll have to have another talk, she and I.”

“She told us that she’d reward us. Give us jewels or whatever. At the end, most of us got something we wanted. But with Sin… she showed him photos of a ring. Said he’d get it when he’d made up for his crimes.” Nat frowned. “That was shitty, I feel. Anyway, Sin walked away and then turned the whole bar into shrapnel, threw it at her with his telekinesis. I tackled him and started spinning, but he hit me with that spiky chain, then threw me through the debris. People, um. People tell me that I bounced off the banister and got stuck in the chandelier.”


“How dare she? How dare she? She thinks that she can work outside of the Legion, her dalliances with Nova are one thing, but this… You could have died. You could have died.”

“Boss,” Nat blinked, a little surprised at the outburst. Ey reached toward Emi’s arm, but the restraint held em back. “It’s okay. I’m alive. The doctor said I’d be field ready within the week. It’s… it’s okay.”


“I am glad you are okay, Nat, but – you’re okay because of Alice and luck and Sawbones. You could have very easily not been okay.”

“Well, who’s to say one of my lures won’t end up being a Sin someday?” Nat says, softly. “I’m gonna die someday, and it’s probably gonna be on a mission. Right?”


“Bug, no. I’ve served for decades, now, and so will you. We will make you someone who can stop a Sin, stay alive. Understand?”

“O-okay.” Nat’s face still seemed a little surprised, like ey couldn’t quite wrap eir mind around the idea of not being disposable.


“You matter, Bug. Alright? And I will never fail you like this again. I am going to have another talk with our Ms. Prestwich… but for now, eat up, rest up. Do you like the game system?”

“Oh, uh, it looks fun!” Nat smiles. “I don’t know much about video games, but while I’m stuck here seems a good time to learn ’em!”


“You might like this one. Animal Crossing?” Emi looks to the side. “I had Scott pull some strings. There, ah, should be a custom avatar in the game. No ‘are you a boy or a girl’ choices. I know that’s important to you.”

Nat stared at Emi, wide-eyed, for several seconds. Ey looked down at the game system, then back up, then burst into tears.


“You – you don’t like it? I’m… I’m sure we can find a game you do like!”

“I—I—” Nat sobs, “n-no one’s ever done anything like this for m-me before! N-no one!”


“Ah -” Emi said, still looking uncomfortable. “You’re family, Nat, I… I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I th-thought the club would be the closest thing I ever had to family.” Ey snuffled, trying in vain to raise a wrist to wipe eir face, but the restraints weren’t long enough. “Fuckin’—boss, can you loosen these so I can wipe my face and hug you.”


“Absolutely.” Emi leans over and adjusts the restraints. “I would love a bug hug.”

Nat drifted forward and wrapped eir arms around Emi, crying into her shoulder.

Recovery: Trial By Hire




Alice’s office is surprisingly small and cramped and cozy for such a high ranking officer of the Legion. Small desk, cross on the wall, and desk piled high with papers. Things look organized at a glance, but a keen eye can spot the chaos hidden beneath the surface – papers shoved into drawers, important forms under a keyboard. Alice herself glances up in surprise – it’s rare Tabitha comes to see her instead of the other way around.

“Estelle Prestwich,” Tab said, flatly. It was sort of like ‘hello’. Sort of.


“The witch, yeah? She seems kind of nice. We don’t talk much.” Alice shrugged. “Is she okay?”

“She’ll live,” Tab strode into the room, “but she insists that if everyone doesn’t do exactly as she say, no one will. She wants to reactivate… and she wants Core access. And all of her keycodes. In short, she wants authority.”


Alice looks briefly panicked before she manages to reign that original reaction in. “Gosh,” she finally says. “What was her rank before she retired?”


“Just below Legion-General,” Scanner pipes in from the walls, and Alice makes the same face she always does when she realizes Scanner’s been listening in.


“You know me, Alice. I am well aware that even the Legion needs to break a few eggs to make a… a justice omelette,” she barreled forward, committing to the analogy, “but Estelle is willing to break eggs whether or not they end up in the pan. She knew that this might happen to Nat. She gambled with eir life.”


Alice spun in her chair, an irritatingly childish nervous tic of hers. “Is she willing to work with a team?” She finally asks.


“Apologies, Legion-General, but I didn’t think to ask,” Tab’s tone and face were both flinty. “I imagine she’d be issuing commands to teams, if she were hired. I’d have little say.”


“And you’re talking to me because it’s my say?” Alice grimaces. “That’s a lot of responsibility, isn’t it?”

Tabitha put fingers to her temples, closing her eyes. “You are literally one of the three highest-ranking Legionnaires on Earth. Yes, it is a lot of responsibility.”


“But they didn’t make me a General because I’m good at making big picture plans like these,” Alice says with a hint of desperation in her voice. “Do you want me to decline her offer? I mean, her Vision has helped. I do want to use it a little. And she could go to the Freelancers, and we’d lose that…”

Tabitha looked at the floor for several seconds. When she spoke, her tone was quiet, almost defeated. “You’re right that her Vision would be very useful in our hands. And likely put to nobler use than with the Freelancers. If she’s right that there’s a war coming, some threat that we cannot see, she might be able to make a difference. Maybe that means letting her spend our agents, friends, family like gambling tokens. I don’t know.”


“Alice…” Tabitha shook her head. “I’m lost too. All right?”


Alice spins in her chair again for a few cycles, shaking her heavy mane of golden hair, and then straightens her back. Tabitha knew Alice; the administrator know how she will waffle on a choice until she makes up her mind. The sudden determination in her spine and eyes reveal that she’s made her choice.


“She starts at the bottom. She can get promoted back up. And she can have supervised Core access. And if she goes to the Freelancers, we’ll take her to court. We’re the good guys. We don’t do what the Freelancers to do get ahead.”

Tabitha nodded slowly. “The other Legion-Generals will need to weigh in too.”


Alice sets her jaw. “I’ll make them see reason. We are the good guys.”

“All right. Thank you for listening, Alice. I…” Tabitha frowned. “I think she is right that something is coming. Scanner and Stheno have reported a surge in Emergences and strange activity. We may… we may need to think about building bridges with the Freelancers, Alice.”


The Oathkeeper grinds her jaw. “They’re jerks.”

“Yes they—well. Cheney is an unbelievable jerk. Nova is a jerk. Many of their executive-level agents are absolutely jerks, yes. But… many of their field agents aren’t. They’re reaching out to Legionnaires. Helping us, with no gain for themselves. And if the Earth ends up in trouble from some kind of world-ending threat? We’ll need their numbers, their infrastructure. Their power. They’re competition, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be allies.”


“…I’ll talk to the other Generals.” Alice finally concedes. “The ones on Earth, anyways.”

“Thanks,” Tabitha sighs. “I should… probably sleep. It’s been days.”


“I worry about you, Tabs.”

Tabitha looked Alice in the eyes, frowned, and nodded. “Yes, that seems reasonable,” she conceded.


“…I’m making you take a week off.”

She looked at Tabitha’s face.


“Three days.”

“Hon. Alice. Sunshine. No. If I take more than one day off this place will collapse in on itself like a kinder egg with a black hole as its special prize.”


“I can take over for a day or two! I can do paperwork.”

“Alice do you remember that time that you tried to expense thirty six hundred dollars’ worth of candles?”


“…We needed candles. I’m wild about candles. And thirty six hundred dollars isn’t a lot, is it?”

“Listen, hon, I could go on about how many times you’ve forgotten what a gross is, but the point is that we are still understaffed and I am not nonessential staff. I haven’t been for a decade. I… I promise that once things die down a little, I’ll try to take a vacation.”


“One day?” Alice pleaded.


Tabitha looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well. Nat is having eir implant reinstalled tomorrow, and is recovering well. Adam Nova… left reasonably quickly after his impromptu visit. Estelle will be discharged as quickly as possible, and you’re taking responsibility for that mess and I won’t have to clean up for a few days. Um, yes. Yes, I think I can take a day off the day after tomorrow.” She didn’t sound sure.


“It’s an order. As a Legion-General, you HAVE to take the day after tomorrow off.” Alice folds her arms. “Go to a spa. Get some sleep.”

“Sleep,” Tabitha said wistfully. “Yes, all right. Okay. Actually, maybe I could actually get a little sleep now. After all, talking to you was the last thing I had t—”


Her wristwatch buzzed. Tab blinked and looked at it. “I thought I asked…” She tapped just behind her ear, activating her own comm implant.


“Ray? Is everything—no, I—I’m sorry Ray I’m very tired, could you say who it is again? No. No say again, it—” she laughed, an exhausted edge to the sound. “—it sounds like you’re saying ‘Helen Havelock’. That. What?”


Tab looked faint. “Oh. She… yes, no. Okay. I’ll be right there?”


“Helen Havelock’s very nice,” Alice says with a smile, and you realize it’s the first time that she seems more capable than you in a situation. “Have fun. You’ll like her, I think!”

“Why did she have to show up now?” Tab whined, but ran both hands down her dress to smooth it out and took a deep breath. “Yes. This is Fine. Okay. Alice, please let me know what the results of your meetings with the others are. Oh, and go say hello to Nat before ey gets discharged, please; ey really does like you in spite of the baiting.”


“Of course, I always listen to you, don’t I?” Alice teases. “Go, go, go meet her. She’s just a person. And remember – day after tomorrow! Take off!”

“Yes good sure right okay, ugh she’s never going to let me forget this moment,” Tab mutters to herself as she clicks away on her sensible mid heels.

Recovery: Minimally Invasive




Nat was, for the moment, alone. Fiona had finally fallen asleep, and was promptly spirited to a proper bed by Jess and Chad in the hopes that she could get some kind of quality rest. The Damselfly emself, though, had slept enough to last a month, by eir reckoning, and instead played with eir brand new XDS system.


“Such a nice house,” Nat affected a low character voice, like a cartoon mobster, “it would be a shame if something should happen to it.”


“Mistah Nook no!” This voice was squeakier. “Ah’ll have th’mortgage paid by friday! Ah promise!”


“We had an arrangement, Mitzi,” back to the low voice, “and you failed to deliver. Get me the bells by midnight tonight. Or else.”


The shuttle ride had been a rough one. They did at least try to time it so that Moon Base 1 and the Flying Fortress were not so distant, but his heart was still thudding, the slightest tremble to his knees. He paused outside the hospital room door, holding his hands out for a moment. They were as steady as ever. Good. With that, he stepped in.


Dr. Simon Lydes was not an imposing man. At about 5’7”, and lean, he did not, at first glance, look like he belonged in a military organization such as PHALANX. He wore a suit, white doctor’s jacket over it, and walked with his hands clasped, always remaining above waist level– a habit from being scrubbed in.


To be honest, he had no idea what to expect when he walked in, but the strange mix of neurotransmitters and pheromones certainly was not it.


Dr. Lydes cleared his throat quietly, then turned to pull a pair of exam gloves from the wall compartment.


Nat’s head snapped up and ey snapped the XDS closed in a fluid motion, all at once. Surprised eyes turned to appraising ones as ey took in Dr. Lydes’s garb, appearance, and bearing, and then Nat nodded.


“Oh, you must be Dr. Lydes,” ey smiled brightly. It was not a smile to be trifled with; in addition to whatever pheromonal or etheric psychological powers the Damselfly had, ey was also just… very pretty, and knew how to wield that.


“That is correct.” The response has no real inflection. His accent might be mid western US, not giving any indication of origin. He blinks once, twice, blue eyes too bright, or was that just the light?


“You exude chemical stimulants. Is this normal?” He pulls his gloves on, approaching the bed as though nothing was out of the ordinary.


“Yeah, probably,” Nat shrugged a little. “They analyzed my lure powers and said that it was ‘a combination of pheromonal, energetic, memetic, and probabilistic influences on those who observe you’… so yeah those are probably the stimulants you’re noticing.”


Lydes hummed to himself in thought. He had tried reading the file somewhat on the flight, but that had most definitely made his motion sickness more pronounced. He would have time while the technicians were setting up the OR.


“Do you mind?” He gestured toward eir jaw, as though to take a closer look at it. Faintly, like a subtle perfume, was a neurostimulant of his own, meant to draw out oxytocin, that wonderful chemical that made people feel pleasant, warm, fuzzy, more amiable.


Nat blinked a few times, then eir smile distinctly changed quality and Lydes noticed a spike in eir pheromone production. “Dang, doc,” Nat said, voice a bit quieter, “what are you wearing? It smells really nice.”


Simon frowned slightly. Too much oxytocin. He dialed it back slightly, mixing in serotonin so that it would still be favorable, he hoped. Thankfully he had been practicing. A lot.


“Please turn your head.” Lydes gingerly touched her jaw, leaning in to look at the outward trauma.


Valiantly ignoring the small intake of breath that this elicited from Nat, Simon turned a critical eye toward the spot where the comm implant had been dislodged and then removed. They’d done all right. He would have done better, but the scarring would likely only be visible at very close range, and easily explained through a fabricated accident. There was bruising, and there’d certainly be more, but a neat reimplantation was certainly feasible.


Simon nodded to himself, tilting his head to get a better look at her jaw, a pen light pulled from the pocket of his white doctor’s jacket and clicked on, dispelling the shadows the angle caused.  It was definitely workable. He had no doubt about that.


“While I will not be able to diminish previous scar tissue, I should be able to work the new scarring– as little as possible, I promise– into the curve of the jaw bone so it can be hidden easily by shadows. Only deft fingers running along your jaw should even find it detectable.” His voice was quiet, hushed from the distance. He was not the type to expend more energy on speech than absolutely necessary, if he even bothered speaking at all.


However, he had been called in especially for this, and the opportunity to work with the Legion in the future was too good to pass up.  It was an opportunity to do something other than patch up wounded soldiers, at the very least, and challenge himself in other ways.


“That’s great,” Nat murmured, trying not to move eir jaw too much, “my job kinda relies on my face staying pretty. Both of my jobs, honestly.”


Lydes paused for a moment, still shining the bright little white light on her jaw, thinking back.  No, he had no idea what she really did. He could not recall it on Twitter, either. He tended not to pay much attention to social media, other than doing his required interactions now and then.


“If you do not mind me asking, what exactly do you do? If, of course, you are at leisure to say.” Lydes took another look at the jaw, and then clicked the light off, straightening up slightly, but remaining at the bedside.


“I am a creature of leisure, and I’m happy to say it,” Nat joked, then explained, “so my day job is that I’m an exotic dancer. Since I’m here in a Legion infirmary, I don’t mind telling you that I work for them too. My job is basically strategic placement of my lure powers, to draw out wanted villains who’ve gone to ground.”


That did draw a chuckle from Lydes. “The leisure of others, perhaps, but that is hard work.” And then, a bit quieter, studying the wall, “It’s impossible to make everyone happy.”


“Well,” Nat said, “yeah. What made you think of that?”


“Hmm?” Lydes glances back from the wall, like he was lost in thought for a moment there. He was.  Of course, now is hardly the time, and he quickly reins everything back in, voice returning to that same, cool, level tone.


“It was merely an observation.” He pauses for a moment, long enough to put his pen light away entirely. “We can either use a generalized anesthetic, which would require you to be NPO for twelve hours prior to the surgery, or a localized anesthetic, which means you would be awake during the procedure.”  While it was a statement, the way he stopped talking suddenly made it seem as though that was more of a question.


Nat was quiet for a few moments, staring into the middle distance. When ey spoke, eir voice seemed a little distant. “I need to get out of here,” ey said. “Local is fine.”


“Do not worry, there will be chemical restraints in place. Post-operation observation should be no more than an hour, though I recommend a liquid diet for the next few days, so you do not use your jaw too much and accidentally pull out stitches.”


Lydes lists these things off as though they are no more complicated and just as mundane as a grocery list.


Nat sighed. “Corey would be proud,” ey muttered, then said, “that sounds fine. I really just… I want to go home. I want to hold Fi.”


“That is my intention. To get you back to it as soon as possible.” Lydes glanced at his watch, the face of it turned to the inside of his wrist, on the right side. “When I leave the room, your serotonin and oxytocin levels are going to drop suddenly. Please don’t panic.”


“So that’s your delightful perfume,” Nat murmured, smiling.


There, the slightest smile, a twitch at the corner of his lips. “Yes, well, we all have our particular… talents.” Lydes did not wait for any response to that, or for a goodbye. He did not give one either. He took of his gloves with the ease of one who practically lives in them, tossed them in the trash bin, and left without another glance.


Nat watched Lydes go, head cocked, and then shuddered at the sudden chemical drop. Ey put eir face in eir hands and wept silently at being alone again, shackled to a bed and with partners far away.