Lewis Carroll’s “Ye Falltale Cheyse”

Ytte wes a mirke an dreiry cave,

Weet scroggis owr ytte creepe.

Grugles withyn ye flowan wave

Throw channel draid an deep

 

Never withyn that dreir recesse

Wes sene ye lyghte of daye,

Quhat bode azont yts mirkinesse

Nane kend an nane mote saye.

 

Ye monarche rade owr brake an brae

An drave ye yellynge packe,

Hiz meany au’ richte cadgily

Are wendynge yn hiz tracke.

 

Wi’ eager iye, wi’ yalpe an cry

Ye hondes yode down ye rocks,

Ahead of au’ their companye

Renneth ye panky foxe.

 

Ye foxe hes soughte that cave of awe

Forewearied wi’ hiz rin.

Quha nou ys he sae bauld an braw

To dare to enter yn?

 

Wi’ eager bounde hes ilka honde

Gane till that caverne dreir,

Fou many a yowl ys hearde arounde,

Fou many a screech of feir.

 

Like ane wi’ thirstie appetite

Quha swalloweth orange pulp,

Wes hearde a huggle an a bite,

A swallow an a gulp.

 

Ye kynge hes lap frae aff hiz steid,

Outbrayde hiz trenchant brande;

“Quha on my packe of hondes doth feed,

Maun deye benead thilke hande.”

 

Sae sed, sae dune: ye stonderes hearde

Fou many a mickle stroke,

Sowns lyke ye flappynge of a birde,

A struggle an a choke.

 

Owte of ye cave scarce fette they ytte,

Wi pow an push an hau’–

Whereof Y’ve drawne a littel bytte,

Bot durst not draw ytte au.

 

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Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Rose Elf”

IN the midst of a garden grew a rose-tree, in full blossom, and in the prettiest of all the roses lived an elf. He was such a little wee thing, that no human eye could see him. Behind each leaf of the rose he had a sleeping chamber. He was as well formed and as beautiful as a little child could be, and had wings that reached from his shoulders to his feet. Oh, what sweet fragrance there was in his chambers! and how clean and beautiful were the walls! for they were the blushing leaves of the rose.

During the whole day he enjoyed himself in the warm sunshine, flew from flower to flower, and danced on the wings of the flying butterflies. Then he took it into his head to measure how many steps he would have to go through the roads and cross-roads that are on the leaf of a linden-tree. What we call the veins on a leaf, he took for roads; ay, and very long roads they were for him; for before he had half finished his task, the sun went down: he had commenced his work too late. It became very cold, the dew fell, and the wind blew; so he thought the best thing he could do would be to return home. He hurried himself as much as he could; but he found the roses all closed up, and he could not get in; not a single rose stood open. The poor little elf was very much frightened. He had never before been out at night, but had always slumbered secretly behind the warm rose-leaves. Oh, this would certainly be his death. At the other end of the garden, he knew there was an arbor, overgrown with beautiful honey-suckles. The blossoms looked like large painted horns; and he thought to himself, he would go and sleep in one of these till the morning. He flew thither; but “hush!” two people were in the arbor,—a handsome young man and a beautiful lady. They sat side by side, and wished that they might never be obliged to part. They loved each other much more than the best child can love its father and mother.

“But we must part,” said the young man; “your brother does not like our engagement, and therefore he sends me so far away on business, over mountains and seas. Farewell, my sweet bride; for so you are to me.”

And then they kissed each other, and the girl wept, and gave him a rose; but before she did so, she pressed a kiss upon it so fervently that the flower opened. Then the little elf flew in, and leaned his head on the delicate, fragrant walls. Here he could plainly hear them say, “Farewell, farewell;” and he felt that the rose had been placed on the young man’s breast. Oh, how his heart did beat! The little elf could not go to sleep, it thumped so loudly. The young man took it out as he walked through the dark wood alone, and kissed the flower so often and so violently, that the little elf was almost crushed. He could feel through the leaf how hot the lips of the young man were, and the rose had opened, as if from the heat of the noonday sun.

There came another man, who looked gloomy and wicked. He was the wicked brother of the beautiful maiden. He drew out a sharp knife, and while the other was kissing the rose, the wicked man stabbed him to death; then he cut off his head, and buried it with the body in the soft earth under the linden-tree.

“Now he is gone, and will soon be forgotten,” thought the wicked brother; “he will never come back again. He was going on a long journey over mountains and seas; it is easy for a man to lose his life in such a journey. My sister will suppose he is dead; for he cannot come back, and she will not dare to question me about him.”

Then he scattered the dry leaves over the light earth with his foot, and went home through the darkness; but he went not alone, as he thought,—the little elf accompanied him. He sat in a dry rolled-up linden-leaf, which had fallen from the tree on to the wicked man’s head, as he was digging the grave. The hat was on the head now, which made it very dark, and the little elf shuddered with fright and indignation at the wicked deed.

It was the dawn of morning before the wicked man reached home; he took off his hat, and went into his sister’s room. There lay the beautiful, blooming girl, dreaming of him whom she loved so, and who was now, she supposed, travelling far away over mountain and sea. Her wicked brother stopped over her, and laughed hideously, as fiends only can laugh. The dry leaf fell out of his hair upon the counterpane; but he did not notice it, and went to get a little sleep during the early morning hours. But the elf slipped out of the withered leaf, placed himself by the ear of the sleeping girl, and told her, as in a dream, of the horrid murder; described the place where her brother had slain her lover, and buried his body; and told her of the linden-tree, in full blossom, that stood close by.

“That you may not think this is only a dream that I have told you,” he said, “you will find on your bed a withered leaf.”

Then she awoke, and found it there. Oh, what bitter tears she shed! and she could not open her heart to any one for relief.

The window stood open the whole day, and the little elf could easily have reached the roses, or any of the flowers; but he could not find it in his heart to leave one so afflicted. In the window stood a bush bearing monthly roses. He seated himself in one of the flowers, and gazed on the poor girl. Her brother often came into the room, and would be quite cheerful, in spite of his base conduct; so she dare not say a word to him of her heart’s grief.

As soon as night came on, she slipped out of the house, and went into the wood, to the spot where the linden-tree stood; and after removing the leaves from the earth, she turned it up, and there found him who had been murdered. Oh, how she wept and prayed that she also might die! Gladly would she have taken the body home with her; but that was impossible; so she took up the poor head with the closed eyes, kissed the cold lips, and shook the mould out of the beautiful hair.

“I will keep this,” said she; and as soon as she had covered the body again with the earth and leaves, she took the head and a little sprig of jasmine that bloomed in the wood, near the spot where he was buried, and carried them home with her. As soon as she was in her room, she took the largest flower-pot she could find, and in this she placed the head of the dead man, covered it up with earth, and planted the twig of jasmine in it.

“Farewell, farewell,” whispered the little elf. He could not any longer endure to witness all this agony of grief, he therefore flew away to his own rose in the garden. But the rose was faded; only a few dry leaves still clung to the green hedge behind it.

“Alas! how soon all that is good and beautiful passes away,” sighed the elf.

After a while he found another rose, which became his home, for among its delicate fragrant leaves he could dwell in safety. Every morning he flew to the window of the poor girl, and always found her weeping by the flower pot. The bitter tears fell upon the jasmine twig, and each day, as she became paler and paler, the sprig appeared to grow greener and fresher. One shoot after another sprouted forth, and little white buds blossomed, which the poor girl fondly kissed. But her wicked brother scolded her, and asked her if she was going mad. He could not imagine why she was weeping over that flower-pot, and it annoyed him. He did not know whose closed eyes were there, nor what red lips were fading beneath the earth. And one day she sat and leaned her head against the flower-pot, and the little elf of the rose found her asleep. Then he seated himself by her ear, talked to her of that evening in the arbor, of the sweet perfume of the rose, and the loves of the elves. Sweetly she dreamed, and while she dreamt, her life passed away calmly and gently, and her spirit was with him whom she loved, in heaven. And the jasmine opened its large white bells, and spread forth its sweet fragrance; it had no other way of showing its grief for the dead. But the wicked brother considered the beautiful blooming plant as his own property, left to him by his sister, and he placed it in his sleeping room, close by his bed, for it was very lovely in appearance, and the fragrance sweet and delightful. The little elf of the rose followed it, and flew from flower to flower, telling each little spirit that dwelt in them the story of the murdered young man, whose head now formed part of the earth beneath them, and of the wicked brother and the poor sister. “We know it,” said each little spirit in the flowers, “we know it, for have we not sprung from the eyes and lips of the murdered one. We know it, we know it,” and the flowers nodded with their heads in a peculiar manner. The elf of the rose could not understand how they could rest so quietly in the matter, so he flew to the bees, who were gathering honey, and told them of the wicked brother. And the bees told it to their queen, who commanded that the next morning they should go and kill the murderer. But during the night, the first after the sister’s death, while the brother was sleeping in his bed, close to where he had placed the fragrant jasmine, every flower cup opened, and invisibly the little spirits stole out, armed with poisonous spears. They placed themselves by the ear of the sleeper, told him dreadful dreams and then flew across his lips, and pricked his tongue with their poisoned spears. “Now have we revenged the dead,” said they, and flew back into the white bells of the jasmine flowers. When the morning came, and as soon as the window was opened, the rose elf, with the queen bee, and the whole swarm of bees, rushed in to kill him. But he was already dead. People were standing round the bed, and saying that the scent of the jasmine had killed him. Then the elf of the rose understood the revenge of the flowers, and explained it to the queen bee, and she, with the whole swarm, buzzed about the flower-pot. The bees could not be driven away. Then a man took it up to remove it, and one of the bees stung him in the hand, so that he let the flower-pot fall, and it was broken to pieces. Then every one saw the whitened skull, and they knew the dead man in the bed was a murderer. And the queen bee hummed in the air, and sang of the revenge of the flowers, and of the elf of the rose and said that behind the smallest leaf dwells One, who can discover evil deeds, and punish them also.

 

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Happy Birthday Wilhelm Grimm!!!

GrimBrosDesigb

For this post I decided to do something special! Instead of posting one of Grimm’s fairy tales or some facts about Wilhelm Grimm, I’m going to post my sister’s favorite scene of Wilhelm from my third book in The Prince of Prophecy series, Changing Tides. The significance you ask? Well, as luck would have it, my sister’s birthday is also on the 24th of February (and my Mother’s is on the 4th of January which is Jacob’s birthday)! So this is sort of a birthday present to my sister as well as my homage to the late, great, Wilhelm Grimm.

The Grimm Brother’s design above (Jacob’s on the left and Wilhelm is on the right) was illustrated by my amazing illustrator, Enrica “Eren” Angiolini and these t-shirts are available at my Nautilus Press Store!

Now, without further ado, I present to you a section that I’ve named Spring Memories.

Excerpt from The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides

Spring Memories

“Well, despite you hitting him, I think you did a very good thing for Hansel,” Wilhelm said after Destan had finished explaining what happened earlier that day.

Jacob momentarily lifted his eyes from his book. “He’s fancied Dame Rosamond for quite some time, hasn’t he? It’s about time he made his feelings known to her.”

“That’s what I thought,” Destan said, leaning back in his chair. “I was hoping that by the time I return to our cabin tonight, Hansel will have had a chance to talk to Evie alone like he wanted to.”

“Do you think Genevieve feels the same for him?” Wilhelm asked. “I have a feeling the boy might be crushed if she doesn’t.”

Destan sighed, tilting his head back. “Either way, this will be a valuable learning experience for him. I know how badly he wants to lead, but at times he has trouble taking action. It’ll hurt him if she rejects him, but it won’t kill him—and I know from experience that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Hansel has to learn that as well.”

“You’d think almost being eaten by a witch would be experience enough for him,” Jacob said with the smallest of smiles.

“We all learn at different speeds, Jacob,” Wilhelm said. “Perhaps this is exactly the push he needs towards becoming a bit bolder!”

Or it could send him spiraling in the opposite direction if she does reject him,” Jacob noted passively. “He may not ever be inclined to take the initiative again, but that would be the worst case scenario.”

Wilhelm frowned resting his cheek against the palm of his hand. “You’re always so pessimistic—”

“I’m realistic, not pessimistic,” the elder Grimm said quickly.

“What’s the difference?” Wilhelm asked. Jacob only exhaled loudly and returned his attention to his book.

“I’m sure the outcome will be favourable for Hansel,” Destan said. “After all, he and Evie have known each other for quite some time. It seems only natural that they should become an item. Besides that they’ve been through a lot together especially over the past few years.”

“One could say the same for you and Dame Rosamond,” Jacob said.

The prince rolled his eyes. “One could also say the same for Gretel and I, but like Evie, I have no interest in courting either of them. There is another woman to whom my heart belongs and I shall never be untrue to her.”

“Ah yes, your ‘lady fair’,” Wilhelm said with a contented sigh. “I was in love once…”

Jacob shut his book, immediately rubbing at his eyes. “Oh, here we go.”

“I remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was spring and the flowers were all in bloom. She looked absolutely beautiful in her delicate silk dress,” Wilhelm said, smiling absently as he glanced up towards the ceiling. “A gave her a blue flower that I thought matched her eyes and she pushed me into the mud—and that was when I knew that I loved her.”

Jacob groaned. “He was eight and she was our neighbor’s daughter—a vile little ten-year-old who frequently roughed him up.”

“I didn’t mind,” Wilhelm said, his smiling unwavering. “She had such soft knuckles.”

Jacob scoffed now. “Not soft enough. Our parents told him not to bother her, but he was just as stubborn then as he is now.”

“Love beckoned and I answered!” Wilhelm cried passionately.

Jacob slowly shook his head. “You call it love, I call it stupidity.”

“That sounds painful,” Destan said through a chuckle. “You must have felt very strongly for her to endure all that.”

“Mere words cannot describe how much I cared for her. But then one day I saw her pushing another boy into the mud and I knew then that our romance had reached its end.” Wilhelm suddenly frowned, bowing his head. “She had found someone new, and, though it broke my heart, I knew that had to let her go.”

“Needless to say, our mother and father were both relieved when Will told them that she’d found someone else to bully,” Jacob said.

The prince could openly admit that he didn’t know everything about love, but he was certain that it did not entail pushing the object of one’s affection into mud. But it seemed that nothing anyone said would be convincing Wilhelm of this anytime soon.

Destan stood from his seat, brushing the wrinkles out of his clothing. “Well, I do believe I’ve given Hansel an ample amount of time to speak with Evie.”

“Love will prevail! I know it!” Wilhelm cried, placing his hand over his heart. “Ah… The sweet, innocent hearts of the young.”

Jacob crossed his arms over his chest. “Do stop that, Will. You sound like mother. It’s disturbing.”

The prince gave them a final nod before strolling to the door. “I’ll tell you how it went tomorrow, but until then I bid you good night.” He then left the brothers’ cabin heading back to his own.

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Chapter 3 of the novel I haven’t named! Hurray!!!

Here is chapter three of the sci-fi novel that I don’t know what to call yet! Yay! Click on the following links to read the prologue, chapter 1, and chapter 2. As a general disclaimer I just want to say that this book contains, strong language, violence, and scary situations. Also this book is a work-in-progress so there’s bound to be a few typos–bear with me guys. 🙂

 

Chapter 3

Alpha

 “My father’s reign is over, and I want the people of this great empire to know that they can finally breathe easy,” said the striking man on the hologram projection in front of Kira’s work station.

That man was the new emperor of the Northwestern Empire, Demetrius Amartia—well, not exactly new. He had been the Emperor for two years, having taken over the position after his father, Braith Amartia—the former emperor—died. Demetrius was a young man—only twenty eight, in fact—but he was a passionate speaker, and had a sort of shrewdness in his icy-blue eyes that could only come from worldly experience. Every time Demetrius’s attractive face appeared in the holoprojection, Kira couldn’t help but stop what she was doing to watch him. It wasn’t just his face that she liked, it was the way he spoke about change. If he really did all that he said he would, the empire would be a much better place to live—though, Noire and Artemis vehemently disagreed. I guess some people just need a villain, she thought, her eyes darting between the projection and Archimedes’ control panel.

Archimedes was the bunker’s AI, which she had built herself out of spare parts. Noire and Artemis weren’t exactly found of bots, droids, or any sort of AI that had a mind of its own. Because of their complaints, she had held off on giving Archimedes a voice. But she had waited long enough. Demetrius was right, it was time for change—whether Noire and Artemis wanted it or not.

Demetrius elegantly brushed some of his, wavy, honey-brown hair out of his handsome face. “Unemployment is at an all-time low, I’ve had the ozone completely repaired—not just a quick fix as my predecessors have done—and crime is practically nonexistent in our empire,” he said in the same velvety accent that Noire had. Demetrius’s voice was deep and smooth—Kira could listen to that man’s voice all day long and never get sick of it. “Yes, it’s taken a lot of money and a lot of convincing from the other empires, but I feel as if progress is finally being made.”

The blonde newswoman he was speaking to, smiled broadly, leaning forward—probably to better expose her ample cleavage to him. “You must be very proud of all you’ve accomplished, Emperor Amartia.”

“Very much so,” he said, his eyes flickering down to her chest only for a moment before leaning back in his seat. He flashed a dazzling smile, paying the newswoman’s bountiful assets no more mind. “However, I couldn’t have done any of this without the help and support of my younger brother, Leonardo. When our father passed away, I was left with the task of healing our empire after my father’s, dare I say it, tyrannical reign. Leonardo has been at my side every step of the way.” He took a sip from his water glass before going on. “I am not my father. Although I will always love him, I know the errors of his ways and I don’t plan on making the same mistakes as he. I want to assure each and every citizen of my empire that great change is on the horizon. All I ask is that my subjects be patient with me for just a little longer.”

“Pfft! What a load of crap,” Artemis said, breaking Kira from her trance. “That guy is gonna be just like his dear old dad—imposing taxes at every turn and limiting the new tech that’s shared with us ‘common folk’.”

Kira glanced back to see Artemis standing behind her with his arms crossed over his chest, and his eyes narrowed at the projection. Kira returned her attention to her work before saying, “Are you finished sulking already? I thought you had at least another day in you.”

“What’s the point in pouting if no one can see how adorable I am when I do it?” he said, hopping up to sit on the table she was working at. “Yo, bot, turn that crap off already.”

Kira groaned. “For the last time, its name is Archimedes. It won’t respond to ‘bot’, or ‘droid’, or ‘sparky’, or any other name that isn’t Archimedes,” she said, refraining from rolling her eyes. “Archimedes, terminate projection.” The holoprojection disappeared in that instant.

Artemis kicked his feet, much like a child would. “You really shouldn’t name those things. They’ll start to think they’re people and kill us all. It’s only a matter of time, you know.”

“Intelligent droids have been around for over 600 years and we’re all still alive,” she said pointedly. “You choose the weirdest things to worry about.”

Artemis’s top lip twitched upward in disgust as he eyed Archimedes’s control panel warily. “It’s not weird! It’s a legit concern, man! Me and Addy may not see eye to eye on everything, but we at least we can agree that bots shouldn’t have personalities and minds of their own. I’m telling ya, K, they’re gonna revolt one day, take over the world, and kill all of us fleshies. That’s what they call us, you know.”

Kira groaned, hanging her head over her work. “I think I liked it better when you were all pouty and unsociable. If you’re going to be angry with me and Noire, the least you can do is commit to it for a while so I can get some work done.”

He laughed. “You know I’m no good at holding grudges—that’s your department. Why waste the energy on being angry when I could be using it to plan how I’m gonna sneak onto that space station.”

Kira put the cover back on the control panel and made a few adjustments to her holowatch with her omnilaser tool. “You’re still planning on that, huh? I’m glad the time you spent alone in your room helped you to see reason,” she said sarcastically, lowering her magnification glasses over her eyes to better see what she was doing. “I hate to break this to you but there’s no way you’re getting up to that station without a class five hovercraft, a teleporter with the station’s exact coordinates and up-to-date passcodes, or—”

“Security passes, yeah I know, dreamzapper 4.0,” Artemis said, gently bumping his shoulder into her. “I swear, you’re about as compassionate as one of your precious bots. You should update your programing with some humanity when you get the chance.”

Kira’s cool expression remained unchanged as she set her omnilaser aside and tapped the touchscreen on her watch a few times. “Ha. Ha. Funny. I guess this is why you’re so popular with the girls. That was more sarcasm by the way.”

“Sarcastic girls aren’t really in demand, K. Do you have a ‘cute’ setting, or did you forget to add that one too?” Artemis said, grinning widely and kicked his legs a bit more—amused by his own ‘cleverness’.

“Will you two ever learn to get along?” Noire asked as he strolled up to Kira’s work station.

“Probably not, but it’d be weird if we did,” Artemis said. His smile faded and he hopped down from the counter. Kira always thought Artemis looked so grown up without a smile—it was unsettling. “Come to kick me out?” he asked, his voice void of any of its former playfulness.

Noire approached Kira’s table and carefully set the control panel aside. After a moment, he exhaled softly through his nose—he only did that when something was troubling him. “No. I came to … apologize.”

Artemis folded his arms loosely over his chest, turning his head away. “Took you long enough.”

“The two of you are adults,” Noire went on as if he hadn’t even heard him, “and I have no right to keep you from pursing your own ventures—no matter how ill-thought out I think they are.”

Artemis smirked. “Is there some good news beneath that insult?”

Noire shut his eyes—Kira could tell that he was struggling with whatever he was about to say next. Noire reached inside his breast pocket and removed Tora Corp ID cards. He tapped each of the cards lightly with his finger and Kira and Artemis’s three dimensional faces formed above them. “I had these made by one of my contacts—he’s discreet and didn’t ask any questions so you don’t have to worry about that at least. These are official Tora Corp ID cards with level three security clearances—my contact didn’t have the tech to program these cards with anything above that. I’ve already begun compiling program files for your new identities.”

Kira raised a brow, hardly believing what she was hearing. “Wait… Program files? We’re not chipped—how will you upload the files?”

Noire took her hand and gently tapped her holowatch. “With this. Do you think you can fashion one for Artemis within the next week?”

Kira shrugged. “I can try. But why within the next week?”

“Because Tora Corp is shipping new officers to the N.E.S. Bengal next Thursday. After that, they don’t plan on sending anyone new for at least two years,” Noire explained.

“Hold on,” Artemis said, waving his hands. “What’s this about ‘new officers’?”

“Tora Corp has recently recruited their own private military,” Noire said, hanging Archimedes’ control panel back up on the wall. “They have their soldiers and officers test the weapons they invent on their research and development space station. Kira and Artemis, you will both be posing as CMSs—the highest ranking soldiers below the officer ranks.”

Artemis nodded slowly. “Right… So, what’s a CMS again?”

“Chief Master Sargent,” Kira replied.

Artemis’s eyes lit up with excitement. “I’m gonna be a chief and a master? Sweet!”

Noire handed them the ID cards before going on, “Kira, I’ve coded ‘engineering’ and ‘marksmanship’ into your program files, and Artemis, I’ve coded ‘martial arts’ into your files. This will make it seem as if you’ve installed top of the line profession chips, and no one should question either of your abilities or qualifications.”

“What about communication?” Kira asked. “Everyone’s got universal translation mandatorily programmed into their data chips. We’re going to be figured us out as soon as we run into anyone who doesn’t speak English. And, as I recall, Tora Corp is a quad-imperial company—there’ll be people from all over the world up there.”

“I believe I’ve still got a couple of language translating microbugs from my exploits in the Northeastern Empire a few years ago,” Noire said, leaning against the metal workstation and crossing his arms over his chest. “And as long as you have your watches containing your cover-identity information, you should be able to pass all the chip scanners you encounter with no trouble whatsoever. Just be sure to carry those watches on you at all times.”

Artemis sighed in an overdramatic fashion. “Do I have to? It’s gonna make my wrist look fat, and they’re so last season.”

Kira smirked and shook her head. “Just for that, I’m going to make your watch especially ugly—maybe I’ll even add some female repelling programming…”

“Oh, come on, K! Don’t be mean.”

“Alright, alright,” Kira said with an airy wave of her hand. “Your smell alone is repellent enough I suppose. It would be cruel to lower your chances any further.”

Artemis slung an arm around her neck and held her tightly so he could grind his knuckles into her skull. “Aww! Aren’t you just the sweetest little thing!”

Noire chuckled, though he tried to disguise his amusement in coughs. “That’s enough, Artemis. When you’re up on that space station, you’re going to have to act like you belong there. Don’t draw attention to yourselves. You must keep your heads down and act like soldiers.”

Kira wriggled out of Artemis’s grasp and punched him in the gut. She hated when he did that. She straightened out her hair and narrowed her eyes at Artemis. “And how does one act like a solider?”

“Honestly, I’ve never been one, so I couldn’t tell you,” Noire said. “That’s why I’ve contacted someone who’s more familiar with military practices to teach you how to blend in. He’ll be arriving bright and early tomorrow morning to begin your training.”

Artemis rubbed his stomach, cringing slightly. “Whoa… You’re actually gonna let someone else down here?”

“He’s been here before. I trust him,” Noire said, turning on his heel and strolling away. “I suggest you rest up for tomorrow—you’re going to need as much sleep as you can get before your training starts.”

Artemis raised a brow as he and Kira watched Noire go. “Sounds intense. Do you think he’s just trying to scare us out of going?”

Kira considered the possibility before shaking her head. “No. That’s not really Noire’s style. If he didn’t want us to go, we’d know about it.”

“Huh. I guess you’re right,” Artemis murmured, stroking his prickly chin.

Kira tapped the screen of her holowatch and said, “Archimedes, set my alarm for 5:30 a.m.”

“Alarm set, Ms. Chevalier,” replied a soft, male voice from the watch.

“What the hell was that?” Artemis asked.

That was what I’ve been working on all day,” Kira said, smiling broadly—a rare sight, to be sure. “You and Noire may not want your AI’s to have voices, but I do. I like Archimedes’s new voice and I’m not disabling it no matter how much you whine and complain.”

Artemis groaned and shuffled off down an aisle of machines. “I’m telling you, it’s creepy! Ugh… whatever. I’m going to sleep.”

Kira smirked and spoke to her holowatch again. “Say ‘goodnight’ to Artemis, Archimedes.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Flynn. Don’t forget to set an alarm for your training tomorrow,” Archimedes said.

Artemis grumbled something that Kira couldn’t hear and continued on, not even bothering to look back. She chuckled. “Yeah, you and he are going to be the best of friends, Archimedes.”

“Judging by his demeanor, I would have to disagree,” Archimedes said.

She sighed, tapping her watch once more to turn her watch AI off. “I guess I’ll have to adjust your programming to recognize sarcasm, huh?”

 

*************************

 

Kira awoke to the annoying beeping sound of her alarm. She vaguely wondered if the people who lived up on the surface could program their data chips to wake them with something less irritating—maybe chipped people even had an ‘automatic’ wake-up setting. She stretched widely and got out of bed, taking a fresh pair of exercise attire from her brushed-metal clothing receptacles, and put them on.

Kira tidied her room—it didn’t take long as she had nowhere near as much stuff as Artemis had. She had one book shelf packed full of ancient texts, a bed, and a few clothes bins that she made sure to always keep neat. She had no posters or statuary or anything that really personalized her room—she didn’t even keep her tech tools, inventions, or guns in her room. Kira had always considered herself a practical person, and—practically speaking—her room was for sleeping in, it wasn’t for decorating or doing things in. Besides, she didn’t intend to stay there forever, so she didn’t feel the need to make her room ornate.

She left her room after she’d finished getting dressed and strode through the dark bunker, lighted only by the soft blues and reds of the machines. When she finally reached the kitchen—at least that’s what they called the area where they stored their boxed food tablets—she was surprised to see that it wasn’t empty. Noire was seated at their circular metal table with a man that Kira didn’t recognize.

The man was older than Noire—probably by fifteen years or so—and he had probing, black eyes that studied Kira’s with subdued fascination. His dark hair was streaked with gray and slicked back out of his face. He looked stern and serious, as if he had never cracked a smile in his entire life. The man wore a neatly pressed, gray suit, but there were scars on his hands—strange for someone wearing such fine attire.

Noire motioned to the seat beside him. “Ah, there you are, Kira. Please, sit down.”

Kira took a seat and swiped her finger across her place setting, choosing caffeine, protein tablets, and water infused with minerals and electrolytes from the table’s drop-down menu. A moment later, her items appeared inside the glass containment sphere at the center of the table.

“Breakfast of champions,” the older man said, his lips turning downward. “We strictly eat fresh food at the Timber Organization.”

Kira placed her food tablets and water in front of her. “You’re a part of that rebel militia group, then?”

Noire nodded. “This is Lucas Cain. Mr. Cain is the leader of the Timber Organization. Mr. Cain, this is Kira Chevalier.”

Her eyes widened and she dropped the caffeine tablet she was about to put in her mouth. The name Lucas Cain was infamous all over the world. The media couldn’t stop talking about him and the Timber Organization’s exploits to bring down the Northwestern Empire. However, ever since Demetrius became Emperor two years prior, Timber’s sabotage attempts had become few and far between.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Cain,” Kira said, quickly straightening up. “Forgive me for not recognizing you.”

“I’m hardly offended—I try to remain as anonymous as a man in my position can. The fact that you didn’t recognize me means I’m doing something right,” Cain replied, his gaze flickering to Noire for just a second before giving Kira his full attention once more. “In any case, I’m glad to finally meet you Ms. Chevalier. Mr. Noire has told me much about you and your extraordinary gift with all things tech related.”

Kira shook her head, lowering her eyes the table. “I’m as good as any unchipped human can be, I guess.”

“There’s no need to be modest, Kira. You’re more skilled than all the chipped engineer’s I’ve ever met,” Noire said as he leaned back in his seat. “They lack imagination—that’s what makes you the best in your field. You’re not afraid to think outside the box because you’re not confined by programming. You’re not limited to prewritten coding like those chipped drones that try to pass themselves off as people.”

Cain hummed thoughtfully as he looked around Noire’s many archaic machines, gadgets, and devices. “She is, however, limited in terms of the technology at her disposal. Your hologram watch is clever, but it’s old tech. Laser projection is the development of the century—you should utilize it Ms. Chevalier.”

“Believe me, Mr. Cain, I would if I could,” Kira said, shooting Noire a knowing look.

Noire sighed softly, airily waving his hand. “I refuse to use empire tech in my bunker. You know they put tracking bugs in all of their equipment.” He scowled and clenched his jaw. “I hope Braith Amartia is burning in hell right now for all the harm he’s caused this empire…”

“For all the horrid things he’s done, I have no doubt that if such a place exists that is exactly where he is,” Cain said, lacing his fingers on the table. “But you haven’t called me here to discuss politics. Where is your other charge, Mr. Noire? I’ve only got a week to turn them into convincing Tora Corp soldiers so we must start right away.”

“Knowing that boy, he probably just went to sleep,” Noire muttered, narrowing his yellow eyes.

“I’ll get him,” Kira said, tapping her watch twice. “Archimedes, please wake up Artemis.”

“Right away, Ms. Chevalier,” Archimedes replied. “What method should I use? One, two, or three?”

“Time is of the essence, so I think method three would be best,” Kira said.

A moment later, loud twentieth century rock music filled the bunker. The sound of crashing and cussing soon accompanied the music. Kira grinned and said. “Alright, that’s enough, Archimedes.” The music stopped but the Artemis’s boisterous cussing continued.

WHAT THE HELL, YOU GUYS! PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP HERE!” Artemis’s furious voice echoed throughout the bunker.

“Morning, Artemis,” Kira called with mock sweetness. “Hey, since you’re already up, why don’t you put on some clothes and meet Mr. Cain. He’s going to be our teacher this week.”

Kira heard Artemis groan lowly. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be right out…” There was a long silence before he spoke again. “Uh, K?”

“Yes?”

“How did you know I wasn’t wearing any clothes?”

Kira rolled her eyes and popped a caffeine tablet in her mouth. “Because you’re disgusting and predictable. Now, hurry up.”

Cain chuckled softly, though his smile was tight. “He’s going to be a challenge.”

Noire lowered his head and shook it slowly. “He always is.”

 

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Writer’s Corner: The Teachings of Musashi Miyamoto

Musashi1

I was just introduced to an extraordinary piece of literature entitled The Book of Five Rings by Musashi Miyamoto–a 16th century samurai warrior. In the book, Miyamoto discusses the way of the warrior and how to live one’s life as a samurai would–with distinction, control, and thirst for knowledge in all things. Despite the fact that many of Miyamoto’s teachings are intended to prepare one to become a fierce samurai warrior, many of his principles can be applied to our own lives.

He emphasizes the concept of trying to become knowledgeable in all things, not just “the way of the sword”, for we can apply all things to that which we strive most towards. Miyamoto says that if a person wants to become proficient swordsman, he must not only practice swordsmanship, but also guitar and commerce. Why? Because playing the guitar teaches rhythm, and commerce teaches aggression and tactics–traits which are necessary tools for a samurai. This is also why a scientist should study art, and an artist should study science. The scientist will learn how to see the beauty in life and its processes, and an artist will learn to appreciate the order and logic of science. Although Miyamoto says that attaining all knowledge is impossible–and I’m sure we all know this as well–we should never stop striving for that perfection. We should never stop our search for knowledge.

A quote that really stood out to me in the first part of The Book of Five RingsThe Book of Earth, was the following: “By keeping at a particular form of study a man can attain perfection either in this life or the next (if a next life is believed in). The warrior, however, understands that the end result of any study is a kind of death (sublime, not necessarily physical) before the attainment of perfection.” What does this mean? It can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, but to me this means that true perfection is unattainable because it is, in itself, is a sort of death. You can never know every little detail of that which you seek to gain knowledge of. Strive for it, yes, but don’t expect to ever get it–that’s not cynicism, that’s truth. Be content that the world is too big for you to ever know in its entirety and hope that the next generation will discover the secrets you couldn’t. Although we’d like to, we can’t be all-knowing, and with this acceptance comes a sort of serenity. There’s no more rush to know everything and beat everyone. You’re out of the rat race watching everyone else scuttle about for what you now know to be an impossibility.

We are not higher or lower than anyone else, we just are. Knowing this, we should make the best of our lives and learn as much as we can–not being boastful or condescending due to our acquired knowledge. Miyamoto’s writings teach us to be both a participant and observer of life–the latter of which I think some of us, myself included, forget to do sometimes.

Below is Musashi Miyamoto’s The Way of Walking Alone–a piece written one week prior to Musashi’s death.

1. Accept everything just the way it is.
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.
21. Never stray from the Way.

Although I did not initially agree with each and every tenet listed above, I can now say I understand why one should follow these “rules” in their own lives. These are very much Buddhist notions and it all boils down to this simple concept: desire is the source of all pain. Want for nothing and “accept everything just the way it is” and you will never be disappointed–that’s the idea at least. That’s easier said than done, but it’s this concept that’s important for us to take away from Musashi’s Way. I don’t think I can follow the Way as it was intended to be followed, because my desires are too strong to be stopped at this point. Pain is inevitable for me, as it is for many others, but I will not regret the things I’ve done and I won’t say I’m sorry for the past. The past is gone, now all I can do is live in the present and look to the future. That, in its simplest form, is the way of the warrior.

 

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Here’s chapter 2 of that book I haven’t named yet!

I’ve gotten pretty good reception for this new series so I decided to post chapter 2! Click the following links if you haven’t read the prologue and chapter 1. I think I’m going to post up to chapter 5, but we’ll see how things go. This book moves pretty quickly, so if you’re into fast paced sci-fi novels with plot twists, this book’s for you! This is just a lightly edited rough draft so there probably will be typos, and I apologize for that. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new chapter!

 

Chapter 2

Shut Down

 

“You disobeyed me, again,” Noire said, pacing in front of Kira and Artemis. Kira could tell that he was doing his best to keep his voice even, but his anger was apparent in his rigid body, knitted brows and clenched jaw. “I told you specifically not to steal from Tora Corp again.”

Artemis sheepishly raised his hand. “Uh, ‘scuse me, but you said that we ‘shouldn’t’ try to steal from them, not that we ‘couldn’t’. I thought it was just, you know, a suggestion—which I considered long and hard, I really did! But, ultimately, we decided—”

He decided,” Kira grumbled, glaring daggers at Artemis.

Artemis raised his palms defensively. “I decided that we should go for it. I mean, that photon gun could have made us a lot of money, Noire!”

“That photon gun nearly got you two killed!” Noire roared, his voice echoing throughout the machine filled bunker.

Kira lifted her chin up, but kept her gaze lowered to the ground. “Noire, sir, I just want to say that, Artemis told me that you weren’t comfortable with the idea, but you weren’t against it. He lured me into this scheme of his under false pretense.”

Artemis scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Way to throw me under the hovercraft, K…”

Kira ignored him and continued on. “Had I known that you forbade the heist, I would have never gone.”

Noire paused in his pacing, his yellowish eyes zeroing in on Kira. “And you. You may not have been responsible for this scheme gone awry, but you still went along without consulting me first. You knew that I told you Tora Corp and its subsidiaries were off limits—I’d spoken to you both on the matter on many occasions.” He took a few slow, intimidating steps towards her. “You need to start taking responsibility for your own actions and stop blaming Artemis every time the two of you get into trouble. You’re an adult, you can think for yourself—that’s more than I can say for those chipped imbeciles living up on the surface.” Kira bowed her head and Noire returned to pacing. “I took you in so you could have a better life—a free life. Now, instead of playing things safe and attempting jobs that suit your skill levels, you’re throwing yourselves into dangerous situations and putting that freedom that I envision for you in jeopardy.”

When Artemis and Kira said nothing in response, Noire sighed and shut his eyes. “What’s rule number five of the code?”

Kira raised her head, clasping her hands behind her back. “The media is a thief’s worst enemy and should be avoided at all costs.”

Noire nodded. “Very good, Kira.”

“Yeah!” Artemis grinned tentatively. “That’s what I was just gonna say!”

Noire cast Artemis a stern look which wiped the smile right off his face. The master thief smoothed back his jet black hair before saying, “Archimedes, show me the news.” A moment later, a fuzzy hologram projection of the same busty newswoman from earlier was projected beside him along with a clip from their botched heist from earlier. The anchorwoman’s lips were moving, but there was no sound emitting from the projection. Kira didn’t need to hear what she was saying to know what Noire’s point was.

“Look, Noire, I know you’re angry, but no one saw our faces—they didn’t even bother to take off our masks! We’re fine,” Artemis insisted. “Who cares if we’re in the media! They don’t know who we are.”

Yet,” Noire bit back. “You’re reckless, Artemis—you always have been. If you keep ‘winging it’ as you say, you’re going to find yourself in a more dire situation than just behind some hackable plasma bars. The police may tolerate your antics now, but they’ll tire of your nonsense soon enough. The next time you’re caught maybe they’ll just send you straight to the prison ship orbiting mars. Is that what you want?”

Artemis cringed. “Not really, no…”

Noire stared at Artemis long and hard before speaking again. “That’s enough for now, Archimedes. End projection.” The news scene disappeared and Noire approached the two. “We’re thieves. We are meant to be invisible.”

Artemis pursed his lips in a childish fashion. “But did you see how good I looked up there? This body wasn’t made to be invisible.”

Kira groaned. “Shut up.”

“I think I should have our tailor droid make me a tighter suit to show off my abs and glutes a little more…” Artemis murmured, thoughtfully tapping his finger on his chin.

“Oh, yeah! I’m sure the ladies are going to be really impressed watching Figment drag your ‘glutes and abs’ back to jail,” Kira said with a roll of her light brown eyes. “Spare us your narcissism, Artemis. You don’t need a tighter suit—what you need is some self-control. You’re too impulsive and that’s almost gotten us killed more than a few times.”

Oh, really?” Artemis said, his grin sickeningly sweet. “And your ‘shoot first ask questions later’ attitude hasn’t? I can’t even count how many times that you’ve pulled the trigger and ruined our cover because of your damn paranoia!”

“At least I know how to restore my cover after I’ve blown it,” Kira snarled, her hands settling on the guns at her hips. “You just prance out into the open and expect me clean up the messes you make.”

“If you could disable a friggin’ alarm properly, I wouldn’t need to ‘prance out’ anywhere,” Artemis said, his hands balling into fists.

That was it—the last straw. No one insulted her hacking skills. She snatched her ray guns out of their holsters and shot at Artemis. He dodged the stun charges and launched a spinning kick at her. She ducked beneath his leg, rolled behind him, shoving the barrels of her guns into his lower back. He spun around and grabbed her wrists before she could get a shot off. She elbowed him in the face, and punched his wounded shoulder.

However, before their fight could progress any further, Noire grabbed both of their arms and twisted them behind their backs. “That’s enough,” he hissed. “You want to be treated like adults, yet you act like petulant children. You both need to learn self-control. Your tempers will only get you into trouble. Artemis, what’s rule number twenty-one of the code?”

Artemis grimaced, his wounded shoulder bleeding profusely now. “I-It’s something about not letting our emotions rule us or some junk like that—I dunno! Would you let me go, already? You’re killing my arm!”

Noire held them there for a moment longer before finally releasing them. “That’s close enough. You mustn’t let your emotions overrule your mind. Everything you do, do with a cool head and a calm heart or you will fail—like now. If you’re going to kill each other, perhaps you shouldn’t do it in the presence of someone who will try to stop you.”

Kira took a deep breath and reluctantly holstered her guns, while Artemis groaned and grabbed his bleeding shoulder. Noire’s feature’s softened as his gaze settled upon Artemis. “Go lay down. I’ll scrounge up some micro bots to stitch up your arm.”

Artemis nodded, casting one last glare at Kira before shuffling down a large aisle of machines toward his room—if one could even call it that. Noire had fashioned walls out of old boxy machines that no longer worked. Two of these make-shift rooms Kira and Artemis inhabited. They were cramped and drafty, but they granted them enough privacy not to complain about it.

Kira felt Noire’s eyes burning a hole into the side of her head and she reluctantly turned to face him. “He deserved it,” she said lowly.

“He was already hurt,” Noire said, his voice softer now. “We don’t kick people while they’re already down.”

You don’t kick people while they’re already down,” Kira said. “Sometimes, playing dirty is the only way people like me can win. I’m not the martial artist he is.”

“You have other talents. If you would just stop and think for a moment instead of letting your temper get the best of you, you could easily outwit your opponents,” Noire said, clasping his hands behind his back. “For someone as boundlessly intelligent as you are, you can’t figure out how to use that mind of yours to your advantage. Until you do, you’re going to keep losing. No, you’re not a martial artist, but you are an expert markswoman and an excellent strategist when you actually put your mind to it. Don’t dwell on the abilities you don’t possess—focus on the things that make you unique and hone those skills.” He lowered his head and slowly shook it, shutting his eyes. “Please, Kira, stay out of trouble and see to it that Artemis does as well.”

Without waiting for a reply from her, Noire turned on his heel and left her to stand alone amidst the machines.

 

Later that night, after she had time to cool down, Kira left her room to see Artemis. She had changed out of her beaten up adaptation suit—a jumpsuit of her own creation which enhanced one’s skills and abilities when worn—and brushed her short, boyish, dark brown hair. She liked her hair short. She didn’t have to worry about it falling in her face, or getting caught on things, or getting in the way when she was working on her tech projects, Artemis often teased her for it, but she didn’t really care—it was not as if she was trying to impress anyone, anyway.

It always felt good to get out of those tight adaptation suits. It was not that they were restricting—on the contrary, Kira designed them to have a wide range of motion—she just liked lose fitting, comfy clothes much better. Although Kira could admit that her microfiber pants, baggy shirts, and tank tops were not the most practical attire for a thief, they were one of the few impracticalities she allowed herself to indulge in.

Her bare feet made soft padding sounds upon the cold, stone ground of the bunker, and her baggy pants dragged along the floor. It was a bit chilly for the tank top she was wearing, but she’d rather be ‘a little cold’ than ‘too warm’. It was for that reason, Artemis would sometimes jokingly refer to her as a reptile—an extinct species of cold-blooded animals that Noire had taught them about when they were younger. Maybe she was cold-blooded. Maybe Artemis had a little more humanity than she did. Maybe he was a better person than she was…

Kira paused outside of Artemis’s room, biting the inside of her cheek as she hesitated there for a moment. Despite her pride, she knocked upon his door. She waited but was met with no reply. She knew she should have waited until he answered, but she pressed a button on the touch pad beside the door and it opened for her.

Artemis was relaxing on his bed with a pair of earbuds in his ears and tapping his feet as he read a comic book. There was a bandage wrapped across his bare chest and most of his torso was covered in black and blue—he had gotten really hurt today. A bit of red leaked through the white bandages on his shoulder but he didn’t seem to mind. Kira glanced around his room, frowning in disapproval. It was messy, as always. Dirty clothes were strewn across the room, and smashed pieces of bots—some that she had built—were pushed into a disorganized pile in the corner. Metal bins of balled up clean clothes sat at the foot of the bed and beside the door there was a huge book case filled with thousands upon thousands of comic books that Noire had given him.

Overhead, Artemis had attached a large piece of canvas—usually used to cover the larger tech—to the top of the old machines that made up the walls of his room to create a sort of ceiling. On the canvas he’d hung old sheets of glossy paper with graphics on them—she recalled Noire saying they were ‘posters’. She recognized some of the names on the posters as rock bands from over a thousand years ago. Rock was all Artemis listened to. She couldn’t stand it.

Even though Artemis had his earbuds in today, listening to a thousand year old piece of music-tech—which she had restored—he had the volume up so loud that Kira could hear the lyrics to song he was listening to. She sighed softly and made her way of to his bed, taking a seat on the edge of it.

Artemis raised his comic book to look at her. He groaned, set aside the comic book, yanked out his earbuds, and sat up. “Come here to finish the job you started earlier?”

Kira shook her head. “I … I just came to make sure you’re not dead. Noire would be upset at me if anything happened to you.”

Artemis ran a hand through his hair and smiled wryly. “Well, as you can see, I’m not dead yet, so you can go if you want.”

She shut her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. This was much more difficult than she anticipated it would be. “Are you okay?”

“Despite my bruises having bruises, yeah, I’m fantastic,” Artemis said, sarcasm dripping from his every word. “You dislocated my shoulder. Noire had to pop it back into place—it was super fun. Tickled a little.”

Kira’s fingers curled into the material of her pants. “I’m … I’m sorry…” she murmured.

“What was that? I couldn’t quite hear you?” Artemis said, leaning in towards her, his moss–green eyes twinkling with amusement.

She gritted her teeth. “Maybe if you’d turn down that crap you always listen to, you’d be able to hear me.”

He chuckled and clawed over to her, laying his head on her leg. “Come on, K. Don’t be mean. I just want you to say it a little louder.” He rubbed the back of his head against her thigh. “You’re getting kind of squishy, K! I like it—you keep eating those dessert tablets and you’re gonna make a great pillow for me!”

Get. Off. Me,” she snarled, jerking her leg up.

He grimaced at the sudden action and sat up. “Jeez… Ya think you’d be a bit gentler with a guy who was just shot.”

Kira straightened up, exhaled, and tried again. “I’m going to say it again, so listen up—I’m not repeating myself a third time. I’m sorry. I knew you were hurt and I took advantage of that, so I’m sorry, Artemis.”

He grinned. “That was really hard for you, wasn’t it? I bet your wittle pride is hurting more than my shoulder.”

Kira punched him in the injured arm, and he yelped out in pain. She couldn’t help but smirk. “Now it’s not.”

Ow.” Artemis said, pouting his lips. “This is why you’re never gonna have a boyfriend.”

“I don’t want a boyfriend.”

“This is why you’re never gonna have a girlfriend, then.”

Instead of retorting, Kira punched him in the arm again. “Keep it up. This is a great stress reliever for me.”

“Damn that smarts,” Artemis said through gritted teeth, grasping his wounded shoulder. All was silent between them for a long moment until he said, “I’m sorry too, Kira. I screwed things up today—it’s my fault, I know that. Noire’s right, I gotta start thinking before I act. It’s just, when I’m in the moment, I kind of get lost in the excitement, you know?”

“I guess we both have things we need to work on,” Kira said quietly. She finally lifted her head, looking up at Artemis. “Are you still going to ask Noire about the Tora Space Station heist?”

“You bet your ass I am,” Artemis said, his grin becoming mischievous. “It’s gonna be a little harder to get him to agree after the verbal bashing we got from him today, I think we can still convince him to let us go.”

“Let you go where?” said the Noire’s smooth voice of from behind them.

Kira and Artemis swiveled their heads around to see Noire—still dressed in his neatly pressed black suit—leaning casually up against the doorway. Artemis’s grin faded into a grimace. “How does he always sneak up on us like that?”

“He’s a master thief, idiot. Sneaking is kind of his thing,” Kira said with a roll of her eyes. “Well, Artemis, now is as good a time as any to ask him.”

“Ask me what?” Noire asked, his eyes flickering between the two.

Artemis pasted on a broad smile, but Kira could tell by the way the corners of his lips quivered that it was all for show. “So, you know how you said we should start acting like adults because, well, we are?”

Noire squinted his eyes and slightly turned his head away. “Yes…”

“Well, K and I were thinking—”

Artemis was thinking,” Kira said quickly.

“Alright, I was thinking that the two of us can help fix this place up by going after bigger scores,” Artemis said, crossing his legs beneath him and leaning back on his hands. “I mean, what’s life without the bare necessities, right? There’s tons of stuff out there just waiting for us to steal! It wouldn’t hurt to do a few upgrades around here and make our lives a bit easier, would it? Those bulky machines out there are gonna die sooner or later—I mean they’re all over a hundred years old—so let me and Kira work some bigger jobs. Give us your permission to let us work some bigger jobs.”

Noire crossed lifted his hand up to his chin, looking a tad reluctant before saying, “What exactly did you have in mind?”

Kira eyes widened. She’d expected a little more fight from Noire.

Artemis’s smile brightened into something more genuine, his moss-green eyes full of renewed hope. “I was thinking about snatching some of that MCTA stuff. You heard of it?”

Noire’s face hardened once more, all openness dissipating in that instant. “Yes, I have. It’s on Tora Corp’s Research and Development Station up in space.”

“Yep! That’s the stuff!” Artemis said cheerfully. “So what do ya say?”

“I say ‘no’,” Noire replied without hesitance.

“Come on, Addy! You can’t just shut us down like that!”

“I can and I have,” Noire said sharply, reaching up to massage his temple. “And how many times have I asked you not to call me that?”

Artemis shrugged. “Fine. If you won’t give us your permission, we’ll—”

You’ll,” Kira murmured.

He stared at her as if she had just slapped him in the face, before crestfallenly lowering his eyes. “I’ll go by myself without your permission. You want me to act like an adult, Noire? You’ve gotta start letting me make my own decisions and nix this ‘permission’ crap. I’m not a kid anymore and neither is Kira. We can decide what’s too dangerous for us.”

Can you?” Noire snapped. “What you attempted today was ‘too dangerous’, but you went anyway and nearly got yourselves thrown in prison—or worse.”

Artemis stood from his bed and marched up to Noire, having to look down at him slightly—he was a few inches taller. “Look, Adair, you’re not my boss—you’re not even my legal adoptive guardian. I appreciate all you’ve done for me, I really do, but you’ve got no authority over me. I’m gonna get some of that MCTA and I’m gonna bring it back here to you so the Panther can be as awesome as he used to be—so the three of us can be a force to be reckoned with. I’m tired of hiding down here in the sewers—”

“It’s a pipeline…” Noire said, his words lacking conviction.

“No, it’s a sewer,” Artemis said through a sigh. “Give me your blessing or don’t—I’m still gonna get that MCTA stuff and I’m gonna prove to you that I can pull off a successful heist. I know I’m not as smart as Kira, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I mean, I am pretty dumb, yeah, but I think I can manage to steal a couple pieces of metal from some science geeks.”

“You’re not dumb, Artemis,” Noire said, the hard edge in his voice faded. “You just—you don’t think things through.”

“I will this time,” he replied, standing up a bit straighter, soon grimacing from his wounds. “I need this chance, and if you’re not gonna give it to me then I’m taking it.”

Noire shut his eyes and bowed his head, crossing his arms over his chest. “If you go … don’t come back and don’t contact me again. At least then I can pretend that you’re alive and safe somewhere.” With those harsh words left to hang in the air, Noire brusquely left Artemis’s room.

Kira stood from the bed, standing there awkwardly, unsure of what she should do. She was terrible at comforting people, and this was serious. Artemis stood there in front of the door, unmoving. Noire’s words had hurt him. Artemis never said it, but she knew that he was constantly seeking Noire’s approval. To be told to never come back by someone who he held in the highest esteem must have been unbearably painful. Perhaps it hurt more than all of Artemis’s physical wounds combined.

She slipped her hands into her pockets and cautiously approached him. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, Kira. I’m friggin’ fantastic,” he said in a voice that was somewhere between a murmur and a growl.

“Do you … want to talk about it?”

Artemis spun around to face her, his eyes livid. “Oh! Now you wanna talk, huh? You weren’t so chatty when I was getting chewed out by Noire. Why didn’t you back me up?”

Kira considered lying to him, but ultimately she decided to go with the truth. “I didn’t say anything because … you needed to hear that from him—well, most of it anyway.”

“And why do you think that?”

Kira ran a hand through her short, brown hair, exhaling softly. “Because, Artemis, you’re idea—it’s…”

Stupid?” Artemis growled. “You think it’s stupid. You think we’re gonna get caught again. Well, don’t you worry, K, you don’t have to be involved in anymore of my dumb plans. You’re out. I’ll do this by myself and I’ll prove to you and Noire that I’m not the screw up you think I am.”

“I never said—”

“You should go now,” he mumbled, brushing past her in a way that made her feel as if she’d just been punched in the gut. “I’ve got a lot of planning to do.”

Kira’s lips pressed into a thin white line. He doesn’t want my help? Fine. I didn’t want to do this anyway, she thought before storming out of his room.

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!!!!

Nicholas Valentines day cardDestan valentinesScarlet valentines

Christof valentinesKlara valentines

Here are some Prince of Prophecy Valentine’s Day cards that I made for the fun of it.

From Left to Right we have Nicholas, Destan, Scarlet, Christof, and Klara!

I hope you all have a happy Valentine’s Day no matter your relationship status! ❤

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

Happy Birthday Jules Verne!

Félix_Nadar_1820-1910_portraits_Jules_Verne_(restoration)

Three days ago (February 8th) was Jules Verne’s 187th birthday! For those of you who don’t know, Verne is the author of Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and (my personal favorite) 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, just to name a few. In honor of this famous author’s birthday, I’m posting the first chapter of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Hurray! I hope you guys enjoy it, and if you want more, you can read the whole book for free by clicking on THIS LINK.

 

CHAPTER I

A SHIFTING REEF

The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumours which agitated the maritime population and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited. Merchants, common sailors, captains of vessels, skippers, both of Europe and America, naval officers of all countries, and the Governments of several States on the two continents, were deeply interested in the matter.

For some time past vessels had been met by “an enormous thing,” a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.

The facts relating to this apparition (entered in various log-books) agreed in most respects as to the shape of the object or creature in question, the untiring rapidity of its movements, its surprising power of locomotion, and the peculiar life with which it seemed endowed. If it was a whale, it surpassed in size all those hitherto classified in science. Taking into consideration the mean of observations made at divers times—rejecting the timid estimate of those who assigned to this object a length of two hundred feet, equally with the exaggerated opinions which set it down as a mile in width and three in length—we might fairly conclude that this mysterious being surpassed greatly all dimensions admitted by the learned ones of the day, if it existed at all. And that it DID exist was an undeniable fact; and, with that tendency which disposes the human mind in favour of the marvellous, we can understand the excitement produced in the entire world by this supernatural apparition. As to classing it in the list of fables, the idea was out of the question.

On the 20th of July, 1866, the steamer Governor Higginson, of the Calcutta and Burnach Steam Navigation Company, had met this moving mass five miles off the east coast of Australia. Captain Baker thought at first that he was in the presence of an unknown sandbank; he even prepared to determine its exact position when two columns of water, projected by the mysterious object, shot with a hissing noise a hundred and fifty feet up into the air. Now, unless the sandbank had been submitted to the intermittent eruption of a geyser, the Governor Higginson had to do neither more nor less than with an aquatic mammal, unknown till then, which threw up from its blow-holes columns of water mixed with air and vapour.

Similar facts were observed on the 23rd of July in the same year, in the Pacific Ocean, by the Columbus, of the West India and Pacific Steam Navigation Company. But this extraordinary creature could transport itself from one place to another with surprising velocity; as, in an interval of three days, the Governor Higginson and the Columbus had observed it at two different points of the chart, separated by a distance of more than seven hundred nautical leagues.

Fifteen days later, two thousand miles farther off, the Helvetia, of the Compagnie-Nationale, and the Shannon, of the Royal Mail Steamship Company, sailing to windward in that portion of the Atlantic lying between the United States and Europe, respectively signalled the monster to each other in 42° 15′ N. lat. and 60° 35′ W. long. In these simultaneous observations they thought themselves justified in estimating the minimum length of the mammal at more than three hundred and fifty feet, as the Shannon and Helvetia were of smaller dimensions than it, though they measured three hundred feet over all.

Now the largest whales, those which frequent those parts of the sea round the Aleutian, Kulammak, and Umgullich islands, have never exceeded the length of sixty yards, if they attain that.

In every place of great resort the monster was the fashion. They sang of it in the cafes, ridiculed it in the papers, and represented it on the stage. All kinds of stories were circulated regarding it. There appeared in the papers caricatures of every gigantic and imaginary creature, from the white whale, the terrible “Moby Dick” of sub-arctic regions, to the immense kraken, whose tentacles could entangle a ship of five hundred tons and hurry it into the abyss of the ocean. The legends of ancient times were even revived.

Then burst forth the unending argument between the believers and the unbelievers in the societies of the wise and the scientific journals. “The question of the monster” inflamed all minds. Editors of scientific journals, quarrelling with believers in the supernatural, spilled seas of ink during this memorable campaign, some even drawing blood; for from the sea-serpent they came to direct personalities.

During the first months of the year 1867 the question seemed buried, never to revive, when new facts were brought before the public. It was then no longer a scientific problem to be solved, but a real danger seriously to be avoided. The question took quite another shape. The monster became a small island, a rock, a reef, but a reef of indefinite and shifting proportions.

On the 5th of March, 1867, the Moravian, of the Montreal Ocean Company, finding herself during the night in 27° 30′ lat. and 72° 15′ long., struck on her starboard quarter a rock, marked in no chart for that part of the sea. Under the combined efforts of the wind and its four hundred horse power, it was going at the rate of thirteen knots. Had it not been for the superior strength of the hull of the Moravian, she would have been broken by the shock and gone down with the 237 passengers she was bringing home from Canada.

The accident happened about five o’clock in the morning, as the day was breaking. The officers of the quarter-deck hurried to the after-part of the vessel. They examined the sea with the most careful attention. They saw nothing but a strong eddy about three cables’ length distant, as if the surface had been violently agitated. The bearings of the place were taken exactly, and the Moravian continued its route without apparent damage. Had it struck on a submerged rock, or on an enormous wreck? They could not tell; but, on examination of the ship’s bottom when undergoing repairs, it was found that part of her keel was broken.

This fact, so grave in itself, might perhaps have been forgotten like many others if, three weeks after, it had not been re-enacted under similar circumstances. But, thanks to the nationality of the victim of the shock, thanks to the reputation of the company to which the vessel belonged, the circumstance became extensively circulated.

The 13th of April, 1867, the sea being beautiful, the breeze favourable, the Scotia, of the Cunard Company’s line, found herself in 15° 12′ long. and 45° 37′ lat. She was going at the speed of thirteen knots and a half.

At seventeen minutes past four in the afternoon, whilst the passengers were assembled at lunch in the great saloon, a slight shock was felt on the hull of the Scotia, on her quarter, a little aft of the port-paddle.

The Scotia had not struck, but she had been struck, and seemingly by something rather sharp and penetrating than blunt. The shock had been so slight that no one had been alarmed, had it not been for the shouts of the carpenter’s watch, who rushed on to the bridge, exclaiming, “We are sinking! we are sinking!” At first the passengers were much frightened, but Captain Anderson hastened to reassure them. The danger could not be imminent. The Scotia, divided into seven compartments by strong partitions, could brave with impunity any leak. Captain Anderson went down immediately into the hold. He found that the sea was pouring into the fifth compartment; and the rapidity of the influx proved that the force of the water was considerable. Fortunately this compartment did not hold the boilers, or the fires would have been immediately extinguished. Captain Anderson ordered the engines to be stopped at once, and one of the men went down to ascertain the extent of the injury. Some minutes afterwards they discovered the existence of a large hole, two yards in diameter, in the ship’s bottom. Such a leak could not be stopped; and the Scotia, her paddles half submerged, was obliged to continue her course. She was then three hundred miles from Cape Clear, and, after three days’ delay, which caused great uneasiness in Liverpool, she entered the basin of the company.

The engineers visited the Scotia, which was put in dry dock. They could scarcely believe it possible; at two yards and a half below water-mark was a regular rent, in the form of an isosceles triangle. The broken place in the iron plates was so perfectly defined that it could not have been more neatly done by a punch. It was clear, then, that the instrument producing the perforation was not of a common stamp and, after having been driven with prodigious strength, and piercing an iron plate 1 3/8 inches thick, had withdrawn itself by a backward motion.

Such was the last fact, which resulted in exciting once more the torrent of public opinion. From this moment all unlucky casualties which could not be otherwise accounted for were put down to the monster.

Upon this imaginary creature rested the responsibility of all these shipwrecks, which unfortunately were considerable; for of three thousand ships whose loss was annually recorded at Lloyd’s, the number of sailing and steam-ships supposed to be totally lost, from the absence of all news, amounted to not less than two hundred!

Now, it was the “monster” who, justly or unjustly, was accused of their disappearance, and, thanks to it, communication between the different continents became more and more dangerous. The public demanded sharply that the seas should at any price be relieved from this formidable cetacean.

 

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “The Glass Coffin”

Let no one ever say that a poor tailor cannot do great things and win high honors; all that is needed is that he should go to the right smithy, and what is of most consequence, that he should have good luck. A civil, adroit tailor’s apprentice once went out travelling, and came into a great forest, and, as he did not know the way, he lost himself. Night fell, and nothing was left for him to do, but to seek a bed in this painful solitude. He might certainly have found a good bed on the soft moss, but the fear of wild beasts let him have no rest there, and at last he was forced to make up his mind to spend the night in a tree. He sought out a high oak, climbed up to the top of it, and thanked God that he had his goose with him, for otherwise the wind which blew over the top of the tree would have carried him away.

After he had spent some hours in the darkness, not without fear and trembling, he saw at a very short distance the glimmer of a light, and as he thought that a human habitation might be there, where he would be better off than on the branches of a tree, he got carefully down and went towards the light. It guided him to a small hut that was woven together of reeds and rushes. He knocked boldly, the door opened, and by the light which came forth he saw a little hoary old man who wore a coat made of bits of colored stuff sewn together. “Who are you, and what do you want?” asked the man in a grumbling voice. “I am a poor tailor,” he answered, “whom night has surprised here in the wilderness, and I earnestly beg you to take me into your hut until morning.” “Go your way,” replied the old man in a surly voice, “I will have nothing to do with rascals; seek for yourself a shelter elsewhere.” After these words he was about to slip into his hut again, but the tailor held him so tightly by the corner of his coat, and pleaded so piteously, that the old man, who was not so ill-natured as he wished to appear, was at last softened, and took him into the hut with him where he gave him something to eat, and then pointed out to him a very good bed in a corner.

The weary tailor needed no rocking; but slept sweetly till morning, but even then would not have thought of getting up, if he had not been aroused by a great noise. A violent sound of screaming and roaring forced its way through the thin walls of the hut. The tailor, full of unwonted courage, jumped up, put his clothes on in haste, and hurried out. Then close by the hut, he saw a great black bull and a beautiful stag, which were just preparing for a violent struggle. They rushed at each other with such extreme rage that the ground shook with their trampling, and the air resounded with their cries. For a long time it was uncertain which of the two would gain the victory; at length the stag thrust his horns into his adversary’s body, whereupon the bull fell to the earth with a terrific roar, and was thoroughly despatched by a few strokes from the stag.

The tailor, who had watched the fight with astonishment, was still standing there motionless, when the stag in full career bounded up to him, and before he could escape, caught him up on his great horns. He had not much time to collect his thoughts, for it went in a swift race over stock and stone, mountain and valley, wood and meadow. He held with both hands to the tops of the horns, and resigned himself to his fate. It seemed, however, to him just as if he were flying away. At length the stag stopped in front of a wall of rock, and gently let the tailor down. The tailor, more dead than alive, required a longer time than that to come to himself. When he had in some degree recovered, the stag, which had remained standing by him, pushed its horns with such force against a door which was in the rock, that it sprang open. Flames of fire shot forth, after which followed a great smoke, which hid the stag from his sight. The tailor did not know what to do, or whither to turn, in order to get out of this desert and back to human beings again. Whilst he was standing thus undecided, a voice sounded out of the rock, which cried to him, “Enter without fear, no evil shall befall you thee.” He hesitated, but driven by a mysterious force, he obeyed the voice and went through the iron-door into a large spacious hall, whose ceiling, walls and floor were made of shining polished square stones, on each of which were cut letters which were unknown to him. He looked at everything full of admiration, and was on the point of going out again, when he once more heard the voice which said to him, “Step on the stone which lies in the middle of the hall, and great good fortune awaits thee.”

His courage had already grown so great that he obeyed the order. The stone began to give way under his feet, and sank slowly down into the depths. When it was once more firm, and the tailor looked round, he found himself in a hall which in size resembled the former. Here, however, there was more to look at and to admire. Hollow places were cut in the walls, in which stood vases of transparent glass which were filled with colored spirit or with a bluish vapour. On the floor of the hall two great glass chests stood opposite to each other, which at once excited his curiosity. When he went to one of them he saw inside it a handsome structure like a castle surrounded by farm-buildings, stables and barns, and a quantity of other good things. Everything was small, but exceedingly carefully and delicately made, and seemed to be cut out by a dexterous hand with the greatest exactitude.

He might not have turned away his eyes from the consideration of this rarity for some time, if the voice had not once more made itself heard. It ordered him to turn round and look at the glass chest which was standing opposite. How his admiration increased when he saw therein a maiden of the greatest beauty! She lay as if asleep, and was wrapped in her long fair hair as in a precious mantle. Her eyes were closely shut, but the brightness of her complexion and a ribbon which her breathing moved to and fro, left no doubt that she was alive. The tailor was looking at the beauty with beating heart, when she suddenly opened her eyes, and started up at the sight of him in joyful terror. “Just Heaven!” cried she, “my deliverance is at hand! Quick, quick, help me out of my prison; if thou pushest back the bolt of this glass coffin, then I shall be free.” The tailor obeyed without delay, and she immediately raised up the glass lid, came out and hastened into the corner of the hall, where she covered herself with a large cloak. Then she seated herself on a stone, ordered the young man to come to her, and after she had imprinted a friendly kiss on his lips, she said, “My long-desired deliverer, kind Heaven has guided thee to me, and put an end to my sorrows. On the self- same day when they end, shall thy happiness begin. Thou art the husband chosen for me by Heaven, and shalt pass thy life in unbroken joy, loved by me, and rich to overflowing in every earthly possession. Seat thyself, and listen to the story of my life:

“I am the daughter of a rich count. My parents died when I was still in my tender youth, and recommended me in their last will to my elder brother, by whom I was brought up. We loved each other so tenderly, and were so alike in our way of thinking and our inclinations, that we both embraced the resolution never to marry, but to stay together to the end of our lives. In our house there was no lack of company; neighbors and friends visited us often, and we showed the greatest hospitality to every one. So it came to pass one evening that a stranger came riding to our castle, and, under pretext of not being able to get on to the next place, begged for shelter for the night. We granted his request with ready courtesy, and he entertained us in the most agreeable manner during supper by conversation intermingled with stories. My brother liked the stranger so much that he begged him to spend a couple of days with us, to which, after some hesitation, he consented. We did not rise from table until late in the night, the stranger was shown to room, and I hastened, as I was tired, to lay my limbs in my soft bed. Hardly had I slept for a short time, when the sound of faint and delightful music awoke me. As I could not conceive from whence it came, I wanted to summon my waiting-maid who slept in the next room, but to my astonishment I found that speech was taken away from me by an unknown force. I felt as if a mountain were weighing down my breast, and was unable to make the very slightest sound. In the meantime, by the light of my night-lamp, I saw the stranger enter my room through two doors which were fast bolted. He came to me and said, that by magic arts which were at his command, he had caused the lovely music to sound in order to awaken me, and that he now forced his way through all fastenings with the intention of offering me his hand and heart. My repugnance to his magic arts was, however, so great, that I vouchsafed him no answer. He remained for a time standing without moving, apparently with the idea of waiting for a favorable decision, but as I continued to keep silence, he angrily declared he would revenge himself and find means to punish my pride, and left the room. I passed the night in the greatest disquietude, and only fell asleep towards morning. When I awoke, I hurried to my brother, but did not find him in his room, and the attendants told me that he had ridden forth with the stranger to the chase by daybreak.

“I at once suspected nothing good. I dressed myself quickly, ordered my palfrey to be saddled, and accompanied only by one servant, rode full gallop to the forest. The servant fell with his horse, and could not follow me, for the horse had broken its foot. I pursued my way without halting, and in a few minutes I saw the stranger coming towards me with a beautiful stag which he led by a cord. I asked him where he had left my brother, and how he had come by this stag, out of whose great eyes I saw tears flowing. Instead of answering me, he began to laugh loudly. I fell into a great rage at this, pulled out a pistol and discharged it at the monster; but the ball rebounded from his breast and went into my horse’s head. I fell to the ground, and the stranger muttered some words which deprived me of consciousness.

“When I came to my senses again I found myself in this underground cave in a glass coffin. The magician appeared once again, and said he had changed my brother into a stag, my castle with all that belonged to it, diminished in size by his arts, he had shut up in the other glass chest, and my people, who were all turned into smoke, he had confined in glass bottles. He told me that if I would now comply with his wish, it was an easy thing for him to put everything back in its former state, as he had nothing to do but open the vessels, and everything would return once more to its natural form. I answered him as little as I had done the first time. He vanished and left me in my prison, in which a deep sleep came on me. Amongst the visions which passed before my eyes, that was the most comforting in which a young man came and set me free, and when I opened my eyes to-day I saw thee, and beheld my dream fulfilled. Help me to accomplish the other things which happened in those visions. The first is that we lift the glass chest in which my castle is enclosed, on to that broad stone.”

As soon as the stone was laden, it began to rise up on high with the maiden and the young man, and mounted through the opening of the ceiling into the upper hall, from whence they then could easily reach the open air. Here the maiden opened the lid, and it was marvellous to behold how the castle, the houses, and the farm buildings which were enclosed, stretched themselves out and grew to their natural size with the greatest rapidity. After this, the maiden and the tailor returned to the cave beneath the earth, and had the vessels which were filled with smoke carried up by the stone. The maiden had scarcely opened the bottles when the blue smoke rushed out and changed itself into living men, in whom she recognized her servants and her people. Her joy was still more increased when her brother, who had killed the magician in the form of the bull, came out of the forest towards them in his human form, and on the self-same day the maiden, in accordance with her promise, gave her hand at the altar to the lucky tailor.

 

Sorry there’s no picture today, guys! I couldn’t find anything that didn’t involve Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which this story definitely is not. I hope you enjoyed today’s story! For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

Remember that thing I didn’t have a name for? Well, here’s chapter 1!

The following is the first chapter of that new book I mentioned I was writing a couple weeks back (if you haven’t read the prologue yet, CLICK HERE). So, after a lot of thinking about it … I still have no idea what I’m going to name this book or even the series. It’s really hard naming books! Besides that, I’ve only written four and a half chapters (I’m working on chapter 5 right now, actually). I’ve been dragging my feet a little with this project because I’ve never attempted science fiction before and it require a lot of research and ingenuity.

Also, I’ve started up a YouTube channel which I’ll be using for a couple different things. The first reason is to showcase my books on a different platform. I’ll be making videos about my books, doing interviews with authors and illustrators, and also posting video book reviews! The secondary uses for the new channel include ASMR videos (click here if you don’t know what asmr is), hopefully some video game play-throughs (but that’s probably going to have to wait until I get a more powerful computer), and just regular video blogs. I’ve already got one ASMR video posted and I plan to upload a video about my books in the near future. If any of this sounds interesting to you, visit my YouTube channel and subscribe! I’d really appreciate your support!

Okay, now that my little update’s over here is the first chapter of that book I haven’t named yet! Yaaaay!

 

NOTE: This ‘first-draft’ chapter contains some strong language and violence

 

Chapter 1

Super Problems

 

“Yo, K, you got those alarms disabled yet?” Artemis asked, pulling his mask over his unruly, chestnut-brown hair. He looked down into the large prototype room directly beneath the ten by ten crawlspace they were perched inside. “We’ve only got ten minutes before the guards make their rounds again.”

Kira could not help but scowl, continuing to type in numbers on her hologram watch keyboard—a clever invention of her own design. “I know how long we’ve got, Artemis. I was the one who did the reconnaissance, remember?” She paused her work and looked back at him, giving him a dull look. “Why are we here? Noire didn’t even want to bother with this, so why are we? Tora Corp has done a lot of upgrades to their security system since the last time we were here, and even then we couldn’t make a clean escape. Once I disable the alarms, laser grids, heat sensors, motion detectors, and chip scanners you’ll have five minutes at the most. Five minutes. I could have given you more time if I had better equipment, but—”

“I’ll be fine!” Artemis said, flashing her a toothy grin before pulling his mask down over the rest of his face so that only his moss-green eyes were visible. “Five minutes is plenty of time. You worry way too much, K. Just relax, will you? You’re gonna give yourself an ulcer.”

“You know that’s impossible,” Kira said, returning her attention to her work. “Most of the human race is impervious to those sort of ailments now.”

Artemis sighed and reached down to touch his toes, doing a few warm up stretches. “You know what I mean, smartass.”

Kira shrugged. “You don’t worry at all, so I have to worry for the both of us,” she replied simply, having to squint her eyes—they had not yet adjusted to the darkness of the ventilation shafts. “Given that, I blame my anxiety entirely on you. You’re the one who dragged me into this after all.”

Artemis paused in securing his tether to his belt. “Hey—”

“Done,” Kira said, smirking to herself. “Security systems are down—that is, all the systems my holowatch was able to detect. So be careful, alright? It’s possible that Tora installed some undetectable security measures. Just get the photon gun and get out—don’t dawdle.”

Dawdle?” Artemis asked, tilting his head to the side. “You just made that word up, didn’t you?”

Kira’s face became cold and stern as it usually did when she was working. “Four minutes fifty seconds and counting. Move it.”

Artemis chuckled and tugged on the black rope attacked to his belt harness. “You’re so adorable when you’re all bossy. I just wanna pinch your wittle cheeks!”

Kira gritted her teeth, tempted to kick him down into the room below. “Move. It.

“Yes, sir!” He saluted to her in a cocky manner before lithely diving down into the room, making absolutely no sound in the process—much to Kira’s relief. As she watched him repel down into the domed, sterile-white room, she couldn’t help but wonder what Artemis was trying to prove? Noire already respected his talents—and hers for that matter. In her opinion it had been a foolish idea to pursue a piece of technology that not even the master thief himself—Adair Noire, otherwise known as The Panther by the global media—had attempted to steal.

Noire’s technology was outdated despite the fact that Kira had tried modernize his old gadgets to the best of her abilities. Noire was still the best thief in the world, having stolen countless precious items from greedy men who were undeserving of their riches. These items ranged from banned artifacts, to marvels of modern science. Many of the banned artifacts that Noire stole, he kept and archived so that the people he took in—people like Kira and Artemis—would know how the world used to be before the age of the four empires. Kira had taken an interest in the history books and old technologies that her adopted father had collected, while Artemis gravitated more towards the comic books and music—that sounded like noise to Kira—from nearly one thousand years prior. The items that Noire collected from the past were priceless and precious—more so now that they had been banned by the four emperors of the world.

The three struggled to get by and to keep Noire’s archaic machines and gadgets running smoothly. But now, even with Kira’s gift with all things mechanical, modern technology had advanced too far. Kira couldn’t keep up with the world’s advances despite her cleverness—she needed new parts, new holodrives … new technology. She knew that Noire would never purchase anything from the empire—he didn’t even use the things he stole from them. He was prideful and obstinate, and Kira was afraid that would be his downfall. Noire was a wanted man, and with technology progressing so rapidly, it would not be long before the empire discover the elusive ‘Panther’s’ base of operations.

The photon gun they were attempting to acquire now would not help them much in the way of updating their century old machinery, but if they found the right buyer for the weapon, they could make a hefty sum. With that money, they could buy many of the parts they needed from black market tech-dealers to upgrade their security.

In short, Kira, Artemis, and Noire—though the latter would never admit it aloud—needed this score. The Panther’s base was the only home Kira had ever known, and she would do anything to make sure that it wasn’t compromised—even agree to this stupid plan of Artemis’s design.

She felt her heart quicken in pace as she checked her holowatch—only two minutes and thirteen seconds remained before the building AI would break through her firewall and reboot the prototype room security features that she’d disabled. Despite her internal panic, she smiled. It’s a good thing Tora hasn’t updated their building’s AI yet—I know the empire owned buildings’ new AIs can detect intruder firewalls within five seconds of initiation—not much time to pull off a heist like this, she thought as she watched Artemis pull a dimension ray—a slender metal tool with a few black buttons and a touch screen on the handle—from his belt.

With the ray he outlined a circle in the glass case he was hanging above and selected a dimension preference from the touch screen, just as she had instructed him. The circle of glass he’d outlined with the ray vanished into thin air, and Artemis pressed a button on his belt, lowering him down into the glass case where the Photon Gun was.

Kira was a little sad they would have to sell a masterpiece like that. There were plenty of photon weapons available on the market, but this one put them all to shame. Tora Corp had managed to harness the power of a full-sized photon cannon—which was very large and required someone much bigger than she to operate—in a weapon the size of plasma handgun. That little weapon could really pack a big punch, and, being a gun enthusiast, she couldn’t say she wasn’t tempted to keep it for herself. But, as much as she wanted that gun, she wanted much more to keep her home and her family safe from the empire’s crushing grip. She would sell it. She had to sell it.

Artemis snatched the photon gun from its stand and held it up for Kira to see. Before she had any time to celebrate, her holowatch’s projection screen popped up, flashing red. One of the silent alarms had been tripped. Her expression hardened as she tapped on the communicator in her ear. “Damn it, Artemis, I told you to be careful! One of the alarms tripped. Get back up here now. The guards are coming.”

“What’d I do?” Artemis’s voice sounded in her ear. “You said the security systems were down!”

“I said all the security features that my holowatch could detect were down,” Kira hissed. “Now get out of th—”

“Shit. They’re here,” Artemis grumbled.

Artemis laid down on her stomach and removed her ray guns from their holsters pointing them down into the prototype room where the guards had just entered. There were at least ten of them dressed in white and black Tora Corp uniforms. These weren’t just regular security guards either—they were as well trained and as well armed as military soldiers. They already had their guns out as they crept through the aisles of glass cases containing Tora Corp’s more pricey inventions. If Artemis were to repel back up to the ceiling now, he would surely be spotted.

“Get out of the case and hide,” Kira said, training her guns on the guards, but unable to get a clear shot yet.

“Are you gonna shoot them?” Artemis asked.

“That was the plan, yes,” Kira said lowly, placing her fingers on the triggers as Artemis climbed out of the case and rolled behind another. “If you’ve got a better idea, I’m open to suggestions.”

“I think I’ve got something,” he whispered into his com, she could hear the grin in his voice—that was never a good sign.

“Artemis, whatever you’re thinking, don’t do it until we’ve talked—”

Artemis ran out from his hiding spot, punched one of the guards in his throat and disarmed him in two swift movements. He flipped out of the path of a ray gun blast and swept his leg beneath another one of the guards, knocking him out with a punch to the face for good measure.

“Use the gun!” Kira said.

“I don’t know how!” Artemis replied, flipping over a guard only to jab his fingers into the small of the guard’s back. The guard fell to his knees unable to move, and Artemis continued on to the next guard. “Besides, I don’t like guns.”

“All you have to do is pull the damn trigger, it’s not that difficult,” Kira said, closing an eye to better zero in on the guards below.

Artemis punched a guard in the gut, and, when he was doubled over, kneed him in the face. “It looks like I’m doing alright without a gun so far,” he said, pausing briefly to look up at her with what was no doubt a smug look beneath his mask.

In that split second that Artemis wasn’t paying attention, one of the guards pulled the trigger of their gun. The ray shot through Artemis’s arm and he cried out in pain, gripping his bleeding wound.

As the guards advanced on him, Kira clenched her jaw. She couldn’t get a clear shot from above, thanks to all the glass cases. She sighed, pulled her mask down over her face and grabbed onto the rope. “I guess it can’t be helped…” she murmured before repelling down the rope, gunning down guards as she descended.

By the time she reached the ground, all the guards were lying unconscious on the floor of the prototype room, bleeding from the minor wounds she’d gifted them with. “I guess those knock-out charges worked after all,” she mused to herself, twirling her guns back into their holsters.

Artemis grasped his arm, his eyes—the only features not covered by his mask—squinted in an odd combination of both pain and amusement. “Nice shootin’, Tex.”

Kira refrained from rolling her eyes and helped him to his feet. “You’ve got to be more careful. You’re going to get yourself killed if you keep acting so impulsively.”

“But that’s what I’ve got you for, right? To save my ass when I do stupid things,” Artemis said, nudging her playfully.

Kira pushed him away from her. “I’m not going to be around forever. You can’t rely on me to help you out every time you make an idiotic call. Now, come on. We’ve got the photon gun, so let’s get out of here before more guards—”

The shrill sound of an alarm cut Kira off mid sentence. Artemis scratched the back of his head. “Sounds like our five minutes are up, ‘ey, K?”

Section P-1: intruder alert. Threats unidentified—missing data chips. Section P-1: intruder alert. Threats unidentified—missing data chips,” the smooth female voice of Tora Corp’s building AI echoed throughout the room. Plated steel slammed down over the windows and doors, and were soon sealed with laser barriers.

“Can’t we use the dimension ray to blow this joint?” Artemis asked.

“No. The dimension ray only works on inorganic matter,” Kira said, suddenly very sorry she had given it that limitation.

“Can’t we use it to cut through the walls or something?”

“The ray can’t cut through anything thicker than two feet—the floor, walls, and ceiling in all the prototype rooms are eight feet thick.”

“What about the ventilation shafts?”

“We can give it a try, but the AI has already locked onto our heat signatures,” She murmured typing a few things into her holowatch. “I can cool us down to make it a bit harder for the AI to find us, but, even still, getting out of here won’t be easy.”

Artemis groaned, his shoulders slumping forward. “When is it ever easy? Man do I hate AI tech…”

Kira grabbed the rope that hung from the vent and handed it to Artemis. “Are you going to be alright to climb?”

“Oh, yeah!” he said, taking hold of the rope despite his wounded arm. “I’ve scaled skyscrapers in worse condition than this.”

As he began his ascent, Kira’s dark blue eyes darted anxiously around the room. The AI had gone quiet and no guards had come to apprehend them yet. Something wasn’t right. Not only that, but the ventilation shaft they’d come through wasn’t blocked off like the other exits. Tora’s AI system might have been a year or two outdated, but it still should have known to block off every avenue of escape—the vents included. That was basic programming for every building AI system for over three hundred years.

Just then, the tempered glass ceiling of the prototype room shattered, thick glass shards raining down upon them. Kira shielded her eyes and dove out of the path of a piece of metal framing before it could crush her. A muscular man in a dark blue and black armored suit fell through the ceiling, grabbing Artemis on the way down and slamming him into the ground with such force, Kira was sure that her partner had broken a few bones.

The man in the suit stood up straight, brushing his dark blonde hair out of his masked face. “How many times must I catch you two-bit thieves before you learn your lesson?” he asked, his accent was silky, but his tone was condescending—not that she expected any less from him.

“Not this Douchebag again…” Artemis groaned, trying—unsuccessfully—to get to his feet. “Don’t you have some tights to try on or something?”

“I have an appointment after I’m finished here with you, actually,” the man said, flashing a charming smile.

Kira pulled out her guns aiming them at the masked man. “No way. You’re not going to bring us in this time, Figment.”

Figment chuckled, striding over to her and kicking the photon gun out of Artemis’s reach in the process. “As if your guns have ever stopped me before.”

“I’ve got brand new charges, freak,” Kira said through gritted teeth. “I’ve been dying to test them on you so, by all means, keep coming towards me.” Her eyes flickered to Artemis then to the photon gun.  Artemis, seemingly taking the hint, nodded and crept toward the weapon while Figment’s back was turned.

Figment sighed, crossing his bulky arms over his muscular chest. “We both know how this scenario is going play out. You’re going to shoot me, I’m going to dodge it, then I’ll apprehend both of you, and drop you off at the police station. Come now, you two! We’ve done this dance enough by now for you to know the steps.”

Artemis grabbed the photon gun and aimed it at Figment. He pulled the trigger, but the beam missed him by a good five feet. Artemis laughed nervously as Kira and Figment stared at him, both looking completely disenchanted. “Oops?”

Kira breathed in deeply through her nose. “How could you miss him? He’s literally two feet away from you!”

Artemis shrugged. “I must have forgot to take wind resistance into account…”

“We’re inside a building—there is no ‘wind resistance’!” Kira shouted. Her shrewd gaze returned to Figment, her grip tightening on the handles of her plasma guns. “Screw this. I’m taking you down, freakshow.”

She fired off several rounds in succession, her aim deadly accurate—if only her charges were meant to kill. Unfortunately, Figment dodged each and every beam fired at him with inhuman speed. He charged her, grabbed the guns from her hands—though she fought vigorously with him for a couple seconds—and threw her into a nearby casing, shattering the glass upon contact.

Dizzy and disoriented, Kira felt herself being picked up and carelessly thrown over Figment’s shoulder like she was a rag doll. She heard the laser cuffs buzz to life as Figment restrained Artemis and stuck him beneath his other arm. She looked down at her companion, her expression tightening. Kira could tell that Artemis was trying to smile at her from beneath his mask.

“Come on, K, don’t give me that look,” he said weakly. “It could be worse.”

“He’s right, you know,” Figment said. “I could have easily killed you. It’s lucky for you I have a ‘no killing’ policy, isn’t it?”

Kira refused to say anything more, as Figment carried them out of the prototype room, whistling an annoyingly upbeat tune as he strode to deliver them to their jail cells.

 

***************

 

The Imperial City police precinct wasn’t as bustling as it used to be. Ever since The Figment showed up two years ago, there weren’t many stupid enough to attempt to commit crimes in Imperial City—the capital of the Northwestern Empire’s America division. Artemis and Kira were stripped of most of their weapons and gadgets and thrown into a drunk tank upon their arrival at the police building. Thankfully, no one bothered with their masks or Kira’s holowatch.

Now she and Artemis sat on a cold metal bench between an old man murmuring about the price of food tablets, and scruffy looking man who appeared as if he was trying very hard to keep himself from vomiting.

Kira leaned forward, hanging her head. “We can’t keep doing this, Artemis.”

“It’s kind of all we know how to do, K,” Artemis replied, gingerly dabbing at his wounded arm with an antibacterial pad one of the policewomen had given him.

“Well, maybe we should learn how to do something else,” she said bitterly. “Maybe we should get real jobs.”

“Then we’d have to get data chips, and somehow get our birth files, and follow the empires rules—”

“Things are changing,” she said, looking back at him. “The empire isn’t what is used to be. Ever since Emperor Braith died, things have gotten better for everyone. People aren’t afraid any more—we don’t need to be afraid either. Look, we’re not devoted to any sort of cause rebel cause like the Timber Organization—we can go straight without damaging ties with anyone.”

“What about Noire?” Artemis asked. “If we get ‘real jobs’ we’ll just be leaving him by himself. You know he’d never agree to get chipped or get a job monitored by the empire. We’d just be … abandoning him. Sure, he’s a bit uptight, but we can’t just leave him after everything he’s done for us. He took me in and raised you from a freaking toddler, for Christ’s sake!”

“I’m twenty-one and you’re twenty-four now—we’re adults,” Kira said, hanging her head once more. “Adults go off on their own and try to make decent livings for themselves. We can’t stay with Noire forever.”

Artemis frowned. “What the hell crawled up your ass and died?”

Kira scowled, shutting her eyes tightly. “I’m just sick of getting caught. I’m sick of being afraid. I’m sick of living in a sewer.”

“Hey! It’s not a sewer, it’s a pipeline!”

“It’s a sewer, Artemis.”

“Alright, fine. It’s a sewer,” Artemis mumbled before perking up again. “But don’t you think it’s kind of cool we live down there? We’re like the teenage mutant ninja turtles, except we’re not teenagers, or giant anthropomorphic turtles, and we steal stuff instead of saving people!” he said, lifting his cuffed hands triumphantly. As Kira glowered at him, His shoulders slumped forward in defeat. “Okay, okay. So the only thing we really share with them is that we live in a sewer…”

Kira shook her head. “Are you rambling about your comic books again? This isn’t a comic book—this our lives, and we’re wasting them! We’re never going to get ahead like this.”

They both went silent as Kira discreetly flicked up her holowatch screen and began to infiltrate her laser cuff’s programing. While she was busy doing that, Artemis stood up and went to the glowing blue beams of light that contained them. He touched a bar and yelped, instantly pulling his hands away. “Feels like they amped up the juice on these containment beams. Maybe we’re finally gaining some infamy around here, ey?”

“If we were, they’d have put us in separate cells and taken my holowatch,” Kira grumbled.

“Oh. Good point,” Artemis replied, scratching his masked cheek.

Between the jail cells and the vacant police desks there was a full sized three-dimensional laser projection of the news. After a commercial about an intergalactic cruise liner, a voluptuous blonde anchorwoman was projected. “In breaking news, the mysterious hero of Imperial City known only as The Figment has once again apprehended whom this city has come to know as The Terrible Two.”

Artemis scoffed. “What a lame name—at least give us cool supervillain titles, lady!”

“We’re not villains,” Kira murmured, knowing that Artemis wouldn’t hear her.

“The unidentified duo were caught trying to steal Tora Corporation’s new photon gun prototype—an invention that, once completed, will revolutionize modern warfare,” the anchorwoman went on. “In the wrong hands, the photon gun could have devastating effects. Thankfully, our city’s defender, The Figment, was there to stop these vandals before any harm could be done. In response to the recent string of attempted robberies that Tora Corp has endured, CEO Reid Zarlok, has announced that all Tora building AI’s will be updated with The Empire’s new software within the next few days. Zarlok had a few minutes to speak with our very own Robert Esperanza, about today’s event.”

The projection flickered and the blonde anchorwoman disappeared. In her place, two men filled the projection. The first man—the reporter, Kira assumed—was stout with a full head of what anyone with half a brain could tell was synthetic implants. Across from the reporter was a tall, slender man, with a mildly-attractive face that looked to be in need of a good shave. He had shaggy, dark hair, and strange, orange-colored eyes—Kira guessed that he must have had them surgically altered. She had seen Tora Corp’s CEO many times when she passed media projections on the street, and each time she saw him he was dressed to the nines. However, his hair never looked brushed and his face was never clean shaven. He looked like a bum someone plucked off the street and stuck in fancy clothes.

“So,” the reporter began, “Mr. Zarlok—”

“We’re all friends here, Mikey. Call me Reid,” Zarlok said, taking a large bite out of a candy bar.

Esperanza laughed. “Alright, Reid, what did you think about today’s excitement?”

“I think Figment owes me a new tempered glass ceiling in my prototype room.” Reid smirked, taking another bite of his candy before going on. “Nah, I’m just messing around. In all seriousness, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“But your photon gun was almost stolen—that thought has to worry you a little.”

Reid waved his candy bar airily. “Not really. I mean, sure, the photon gun is a big deal and all, but the real important stuff we keep up in our research and development space station. There’s no way those small-time thieves can get to that stuff.”

Esperanza nodded. “I see. Would you care elaborating on some of the things your company is working on up there?”

Reid scratched his scruffy chin and shrugged. “Eh. What the hell—why not? We’ve been keeping these two inventions under wraps for a while, but now’s a good a time as any to share.” He stuffed the rest of his candy bar in his mouth, and pulled another one from his pocket. “So, first big thing we’re working on is a cure for that Tarlonia disease that’s going around—ya know, the one that killing everyone by eating up their insides.”

The reporter’s eyes widened. “That’s extraordinary news! Tarlonia has been the world’s leading cause of death for over five hundred years! How close is Tora Corp to a cure, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I don’t mind at all, Mikey,” Reid replied with a cheery smile. “Last I heard from my scientists up there, we’re only a few months away from human testing. It’s going to take another year after that to start distributing, but rest assured we’re working real hard to get this cure out ASAP.”

“We’re certainly glad to hear it, Mr. Zar—uh, Reid,” Esperanza said before clearing his throat. “Now what’s this second invention you’re working on—you mentioned there were two.”

Reid chuckled good-humoredly and took a big bite out of his candy. “You don’t miss a beat, do you, Mikey? I throw you a bone and ya want ten more! Alright, alright, ya twisted my arm. This other huge project we’re working on, isn’t as earth shattering as the cure to Tarlonia, but I think it’s pretty awesome all the same,” he said, smoothing out his fine suit coat. “With all the space travel we’ve been doing and all the new inhabited planets we’ve been finding, intergalactic war is becoming a very real possibility, wouldn’t ya say?”

“I’d say so, yes.”

“Well, us at the Tora Corporation think Earth should be ready for anything—hence all the cool new weapons we’ve been inventing,” Reid said as a bit of his candy fell onto his crisp white suit—he didn’t seem to mind. “Anyway, the scientists up at our space station were messing around with metals a couple months back and managed to create what we’re calling ‘mass compressing titanium alloy’.”

The reporter placed his hands on his hips. “That sounds pretty interesting. What’s it do?”

“That’s the cool part, Mikey,” Reid said, finishing his second candy bar and immediately pulling some biscuits out of his pocket. “With some simple programing, one square foot of our MCTA can compress down to the size of a single molecule, and, when it decompresses, it’ll hold the shape of whatever you formed it into before the compression. We’re testing it on portable shelters right now, but our big plan is to make a shield out of MCTA to surround the entire world in case of an attack. The alloy is super lightweight, so we don’t have to worry about it disrupting the flow of things down here, and it’s nearly indestructible—nothing short of a couple dozen atomic bombs is going to put a dent in it.”

“Impressive,” Esperanza praised. “But how exactly does something like that function. The concept is a little farfetched even by modern technology’s standards.”

Reid bit into his biscuit and pointed the remainder of it at the reporter. “Look, it just works, alright? I don’t know the sciencey lingo to explain it to ya—hell, I’m not really sure how it works myself. I’m damn sure not a brainiac—I hire smart people to know about this stuff so I don’t have to. The point is, we’ve got some pretty cool tech headed our way, and we should all be looking forward to it.”

“Indeed we should, and I’m sure we’re all very excited to see Tora Corps new inventions for ourselves,” Esperanza said before turning to face the audience. “Well, there you have it! Reid Zarlock: unruffled and as optimistic as ever in the face of today’s shocking events. Diana, back to you in the studio.”

Artemis tilted his head to the side as the image shifted back to the busty anchorwoman. “Is it just me or is that Zarlok guy always eating?”

“It’s not just you,” Kira said. She typed a few more things into her holowatch’s projected keyboard and her red laser cuffed turned white and fell from around her wrists. “Stop ogling that reporter and come over here.”

Artemis wandered back over to her and held out his wrists without her even having to ask him too—they had done this so many times it had become routine by now. “Hey … that MCTA stuff sounds kinda cool, right?” he asked in a strangely cautious tone.

Kira pointed the white beam from her watch at Artemis’s cuffs. “I guess.”

“It might be nice to have something like that on our side,” he said, as his cuffs turned white too and fell to the ground.

Kira’s gaze flicked up to the ceiling. “Maybe, but it’s not like we can steal it. You heard what Zarlok said—it’s up on Tora Corp’s space station.” She got to her feet and passed through the light bars that were keeping them in. Artemis hurried after her.

“Think of all the things you could make out of that stuff, K!” Artemis cried, throwing his arms out wide.

“Yeah. The possibilities are endless,” she mumbled monotonously.

As they rounded a corner a couple of startled policemen tried to stop them, but Artemis easily knocked them out with a couple swift punches to the throat. “Listen to what I’m saying, Kira. We could stand a chance against Figment if we had some of that MCTA crap to mold into new gadgets—heck, we could probably even win! Think of all the tech we could steal without having to worry about that douche!”

They entered the evidence room and Kira knocked out one of the cops with one solid punch to the temple, while Artemis took down the other two—dodging a couple laser charges while he did so. Kira disabled the plasma shield into front of the counter and hopped over it. She grabbed a well-worn plastic bin labeled ‘The Terrible Two’ and set it on the counter in front of Artemis.

“Look. As long as Figment’s working in this city, we can’t,” Artemis said, grabbing his tools out of the bin and sticking them in his utility belt.

Kira stuck her com back in her ear and handed Artemis his. “So we’ll move somewhere else.”

“Yeah, sure. Like Noire’s gonna agree to that. He’s had that base for years—he’s not just going to up and leave.”

“He doesn’t have to leave,” Kira growled, growing more frustrated by the moment. She holstered her guns, hopped back over the counter, and left the evidence room. “We can leave by ourselves. We can find another city—a city without a superhero.”

Artemis laughed sarcastically. “So you’re gonna pull an ‘Elliot’, huh? You’re just going to split after everything Noire’s done for you?”

“Don’t talk to me about Elliot,” she grumbled. “I feel like I’ve heard this before…”

“Yeah? Well this ‘going off on your own’ shit is news to me,” Artemis said, jumping up onto the wall, grabbing the bar above Kira and thrusting his feet into the policeman who just rounded the corner with his gun drawn. He swung himself down from the bar, landing lightly on his feet. “I know that if you get an idea in your head there’s nothing that’s gonna stop you from trying to see it through, but just hear me out. Let’s try to get some of that MCTA. Figment’s not up there so we might actually be able to steal it. After we get it, I’ll bring some of it back to Noire so we can start fixing up the base, and you can go off on your own—sound fair?”

“No, because I didn’t want it to begin with,” Kira replied, pulling out one of her guns and blasting a hole through the window at the end of the hall.

Artemis groaned, running his hand over the top of his masked head. “I can’t do it without you, K. Come on, what’ve we got to lose?”

Our lives if they catch us,” she said as she hopped out of the window and onto the ledge, beginning to scale up the side of the slick, glass plated building. “It’s not that easy to escape a giant floating building in space, Artemis.”

With a few more expertly executed martial arts kicks and jabs, he took out a couple more cops who tried to pull them back into the building, and climbed up after her. “We won’t get caught. We’ll be careful.”

“I’m always careful,” Kira snapped, pausing briefly in her ascent to look down at him. “You’re the one who’s always screwing up my plans with your impulsiveness.”

“What if I promised to do exactly what you said this time? Come on, K! Whether you like it or not, all three of us need a score like this,” Artemis said. “That photon gun is peanuts compared to that MCTA stuff! If we bring just one piece of it back with us we could sell it, then we could finally help Noire update his base with the huge payday we’ll get—that’s what you want, isn’t it?”

Kira clenched her jaw, trying to ignore the hover cars that zoomed past them on the airway next to the police building. After a long moment of silent contemplation, Kira sighed. “Fine, I’ll do it, but only under one condition.”

Artemis’s moss green eyes lit up with hope. “Yeah?”

Kira smirked smugly, glad that he couldn’t see it. “Noire has to agree to it.”

His eyes narrowed, all optimism disappearing from them. “You know he’d never say yes to one of my ‘harebrained schemes’!”

Kira merely shrugged and continued up the side of the building, pressing the button for her cloaking device, making the two of them invisible to everyone else. “Those are my terms. If he ‘okays’ the heist then we’ll go, if he doesn’t, then we stay and try to convince him to move out of Imperial City.”

Although Artemis griped and moaned about how unfair it all was, Kira said no more on the subject the entire way back to Noire’s underground base.

 

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