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Archive for the ‘Nocturne’s Reaping®: Prelude Chapters’ Category

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 7

 

Nora lay down as soon as she got back to the room. She didn’t even care whether the others were going to stay awake or not. She put a napkin over her eyes to blot out any light, which may result from the other two coming in and out of the bathroom. Finally, Nora started to drift off. Unfortunately, Nora awoke a mere couple of hours later. And what was more, she found she was remarkably alert. Unable to shake her skittishness, she went to the tiny bathroom in the corner of the room. There she threw water on her face. On the one hand, she felt it was great that they had a bathroom attached to the room — it was that added touch that made it seem as though the Administration cared about them. Now, though, given Nora’s interaction with the people here, she could see less positive motives for including it in the room design. It did keep people from the halls and from one another’s rooms. Isolating members of the group from one another might limit talking, which could limit any action they might take to free themselves. As it stood now, there was seemingly no legitimate reason to be wandering around. Still, it was nice — nice to have that bathroom.

Nora was careful to turn off the light before she exited the bathroom, so that the brightness wouldn’t disturb her two roommates. Then, she opened the door carefully to avoid making unnecessary noise. It occurred to her, however, that maybe there wasn’t any need. Maybe they weren’t really there at all. Maybe the two girls had disappeared just as Tina had that morning. Nora waited by the doorway in the darkness. She held her breath and listened. She was relieved when she could hear them breathing. It was silly but to her it meant things hadn’t changed for the worse again.

Nora made her way by memory to where she thought her bed was. When she got close to the spot she remembered it being, she reached out her hand and felt for it. Eventually, her fingertips felt the softness of the fabric. Nora followed along the edge of the bed to her end table. She was planning on recovering the food she had left there; she found she was hungry now. At first, it seemed as though it would be a little difficult to feel which item was which. However, one item was fairly easy to recognize, and she pulled the bag of crackers from the bag. She sat on the bed, opened the package, and began eating them as quietly as possible. After she ate the crackers, she lay down again. Unfortunately, this round of sleep did not go so well as the last one had. Nora began to have nightmares almost instantly. They were the kind of nightmares that were so all-consuming that they seemed to be actually occurring.

The bad dreams were about the nebula reapers. They consisted of scenes taken from what Nora had actually experienced that night as well as parts from the video she had been shown the day before. Nora awoke in a fog. There was fear in Nora — yes. But mainly there was this overwhelming loneliness. Nora wanted her mother desperately. The panic, which had been held fast just beneath the surface, began to leak out. Nora clenched her hands and fought hard to keep it from being released. Eventually, there was no stopping it, and it gushed out. Nora began to sob violently. Yet, she still held out hope that her roommates were asleep. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that that a light came on from next to Tina’s bedside.

Nora bit her lip as she stared up at the ceiling. She wanted to stop crying, so she’d be left alone — but it wasn’t meant to be. Tina came first then Elsie. They stood on either side of the bed. They loomed over Nora with curious expressions on their faces. Nora looked at the foot of her bed to avoid making eye contact with them.

“What’s wrong?” Elsie asked Nora in an incredulous tone.

It felt like insult to injury to have Elsie standing there judging her. Nora pulled herself up.

“I’m fine.” Nora returned defiantly. Unfortunately, her voice choked at the end. “I just had a nightmare.”

“About what?” Elsie pondered.

Nora shot a glare at her. Was she serious? Nora was then surprised when she noticed Tina pulling a chair over towards Nora’s bed. Tina then sat down and just looked at Nora.

“What?” Nora asked.

“You were screaming. It must have been something.” Tina pointed out.

Nora’s brow furrowed. It felt as though they were annoyed by her interfering in their sleep. This condemnation after all of the stress they managed to put her through! Nora looked down and bit her lip. She was hoping they would take the hint and leave her alone. When she realized their leaving wasn’t happening, she looked between them.

“You mean besides all of this?!” Nora returned in a sarcastic tone.

Elsie shifted uncomfortably; she then headed toward her bed. Good, Nora thought. Elsie’s presence was annoying to her. Yet, she did feel a pang of guilt about it.

“Yes, besides all of this.” Tina said softly.

Nora looked at Tina quizzically. Did Tina think she was being too harsh? Then again, why should Nora care what Tina thought about it? They were all struggling with this reality. Why pretend it was all great?

“I miss my parents, all right?” Nora remarked defensively.

“They weren’t taken, too?” Tina asked. She seemed confused.

“No, were yours?”

“No, I don’t have parents anymore.” she responded.

Nora looked down. She had mixed feelings about being told that. Was she not allowed to be upset because someone else had it worse?

“I’m sorry to hear that. I must seem heartless.” Nora decided to say.

“No.” Tina countered. “I miss mine, too. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Nora looked back at Tina. Nora breathed as she hesitated. Her eyes drifted towards Elsie. After all, she had learned the other day that Elsie could hear most of what was being said. For some reason, Nora didn’t want Elsie to know. Maybe it was the fact that Elsie didn’t seem to get the seriousness of the situation anymore — if she ever really did. As it turned out, it appeared as though Elsie was sleeping.

“I just … I went there that day on my own, and they don’t even know where I went or where I am now.” Nora began to cry again. “This is all my fault. But then, no one deserves to be here — I’m not saying that. But you and the others did nothing wrong. I, on the other hand, brought this situation on myself.”

Suddenly, an odd look crossed Tina’s face.

“You’re not from the underground.” she realized.

So much for Nora’s avoiding the topic of where she came from; it seemed her nightmare had made that impossible.

“No.” Nora replied.

“The old district, then?”

“Well, I lived there when I was a child … but no. We moved years ago. That day was ironically my first time back. I remembered it fondly. So, when I saw the nebula reapers the night before … Well, I thought going there would calm my fears.”

Tina looked surprised.

“But don’t tell anyone.” Nora was quick to say. “I’m worried for my parents. I don’t want them to get involved in this situation.”

“It seems to me that you should be worried about yourself.” Tina pointed out.

Nora had thought about that possibility but was surprised to hear someone else say it. It made it more real. Nora couldn’t figure out whether the heightening of that feeling was a good or a bad thing.

“Well, I’m afraid my parents would get into trouble if they looked for me.”

Tina looked dumbfounded.

“You know, most people probably don’t know about this place and what’s going on here.” Nora thought to add. “They might hurt my parents to keep it a secret.”

“You really think that’s so?” Tina asked. “About them not knowing, I mean.”

Nora’s brow furrowed.

“Don’t you think they’d want to know what the government’s doing about the nebula-reaper problem?” Tina wondered.

Nora considered.

“I won’t say anything.” Tina concluded.

Both Nora and Tina looked over at Elsie, who still seemed to be asleep.

“So, you’re all right now?” Tina asked.

“Yes … I mean, I’m better anyway. Thank you.”

“All right.” Tina decided.

Tina stood and headed back to her bed. Soon the light was turned off once more. Nora lay back down in the darkness. Slowly, she drifted back into an uneasy but less dramatic sleep.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 6

 

By the time the trio got back to their room, it was clear that something heavy was weighing on Tina. She sat down on the edge of her bed, her hands clasped in front of her and her face downcast. While Elsie was busy looking through her bag of new belongings with renewed vigor, Nora walked over to Tina. It took awhile before Tina raised her eyes toward Nora’s face. It was clear Tina didn’t want to talk about whatever it was. Unfortunately for Tina, Nora didn’t really care at that moment.

“Did you leave the room on your own?” Nora asked in a barely audible voice.

Tina stared at Nora for a moment. A tense silence ensued. Nora thought of telling Tina that she wouldn’t ask anything more about it; but just as she came to that conclusion, Tina shook her head.

“They said I should ask the two of you for details about the meeting I missed.” Tina spoke in a low tone; her eyes were seemingly staring at something below Nora’s face.

“Oh, I took notes!” Elsie chirped. She suddenly sprang up.

Nora was surprised Elsie had been listening in. She watched as Elsie abandoned her bag for her notebook. Then, Elsie took the notebook straight to Tina. Nora could tell by the look on Elsie’s face that she was looking for praise. Instead, Tina just stared at the pages filled with notes unblinkingly.

“I know it’s probably not the same as seeing the video.” Elsie admitted.

There was still no response.

“But honestly, I kind of wish I hadn’t seen the video at all.” Elsie added.

Tina remained silent and withdrawn.

“There is a lecture in a little more than an hour.” Elsie informed Tina.

There was still nothing from Tina.

“You probably didn’t miss anything that isn’t in those notes.” Nora reassured Tina. “There really isn’t much there that is necessary to know either — aside from the daily instructions. I’m not exactly sure what the point of all of it was.”

Finally, Tina looked up at Nora and managed to smile.

“Thank you.” she said softly.

Nora heard Elsie gasp; Nora then looked over at Elsie. A look of confusion seemed to cross Elsie’s face. Nora figured Elsie was confused as to why Nora was the one being thanked. Tina seemed to sense this wounding of Elsie’s pride as well and added, “Thank you, too.”

Elsie nodded, but she still seemed put out by the experience. She left the notebook with Tina and headed back to her bed. She sat at the end of the bed looking sullen; her eyes were cast off to the side.

“We got a lot of food from the cafeteria.” Nora brought up.

Just as Nora said the words, she heard a groan coming from Elsie’s direction. She turned and saw a disgruntled look cross Elsie’s face. To think, Elsie had been the one to guilt Nora about the fact Nora hadn’t wanted to share before. Now, apparently, Elsie was no longer that thrilled with Tina.

“Are you hungry?” Nora continued. “I have some food.”

“Yes. Like crackers or something. I’m not that hungry.” Tina returned.

“Yeah. I think I have those.” Nora concluded.

Nora went to her supplies and found some peanut butter crackers near the bottom of her bag. She crossed the room again and handed them to Tina, who thanked her once more.

“I have a slice of apple pie …” Elsie grudgingly admitted, possibly wanting to be included in the expressions of gratitude. “Apple’s not my favorite anyway.” she added.

“Yeah. That would be nice.” Tina responded.

A frown creased Elsie’s face briefly, but she quickly cast it aside and proceeded to retrieve the promised pie from her bag.

Nora took this moment to contemplate what she had just found out. To think they had taken Tina from the room, and now she was shaken up about it. And why had they done it in secret? Why not make an example of her? Then again, handling the issue in secret was what they had done with Lisa. Maybe they were concerned that the group as a whole hadn’t been made to submit yet. Better to pick them off individually. As it turned out, it was actually creepier this way.

Nora began to stare into space as Elsie watched Tina slowly eat. Nora felt as though she was sinking into herself. Emotionally she wanted distance. Images from the video flashed through her mind. How could Elsie, who seemed so weak, have been capable of watching it all the way through while Nora couldn’t? Nora realized that all three girls were on the verge of falling apart in their own way. All three were struggling. Nora didn’t know them well enough to depend on them for emotional support. She needed her parents desperately. She bit her lip.

First Tina then Elsie turned to look at Nora. Nora purposefully shook off her anxiety.

“So, Elsie …” Nora began, her voice hoarse. “After the lecture, will we have some time off?”

Elsie went over and picked up her notes from where they lay at Tina’s side.

“Yes, but the lecture is set to last until dinner.” Elsie announced.

Nora moaned. She was in no mood for this development. With sleep no longer a possibility — Nora was too filled with adrenaline for rest — it suddenly felt as though there was a long time left to wait for the lecture. And it didn’t help that the room was so stark … so devoid of anything to do. Yet, a lack of entertainment wouldn’t be a problem after the lecture, for there was no doubt in Nora’s mind that she would be able to sleep then — despite the stress she was under. She would be too exhausted to stay awake forever.

Unfortunately, as time passed, Nora became less and less convinced she could actually stay awake until after the lecture. She even wondered whether Elsie and Tina would cover for her if she fell asleep during it. No, somehow she would have to get through it. She couldn’t risk being caught nodding off. Eventually, the intercom emitted its signal, and all of the recruits made their way to the auditorium like a herd of cattle to the corral. It was rather demoralizing to see the passive looks in the eyes of the others. They were resigned it seemed. Nora wasn’t resigned, but she was helpless nonetheless.

All three girls sat together in their designated area after signing in. During the sign-in, Tina seemed particularly concerned that they record her name correctly. Once Tina sat down next to Nora, Tina seemed much more relaxed. Nora wasn’t sure she would ever get Tina to disclose what had happened that morning when she stayed behind in the room. Yet, it seemed clear that skipping meetings had turned out not to be a viable option. The net was tightening around them, and it seemed unclear how bad it would get before they were released … if they were released. No, Nora couldn’t think like that. She had to keep calm; she just had to. If she lost it now, she would probably never again regain her composure.

When the lecture began, Elsie quickly started to take notes. During Mrs. Grafton’s pauses, Nora could hear Elsie’s pen scratching away feverishly at the paper. Nora sighed, leaned back, and closed her eyes. Moments later, she could feel Elsie nudge her. Nora looked over. She was about to protest that she really wasn’t sleeping when she noticed that Elsie was handing her something. Apparently, they were handing out books. Instead of being professionally made, they seem to have just been printed out and bound together in-house. Nora was relieved. At least they didn’t plan for their abduction way in advance; that would have scared her more. For, it would mean that the world Nora knew was always a lie and that there was no hope.

Nora opened the booklet and flipped through it. There was mostly information about piloting planes in there. Nora furrowed her brow. Planes? They were supposed to pilot planes? Were they going to pursue the rogue reapers through the streets of the city? At first the thought was disturbing. But then, the thought occurred to her that if she were let out into the world in some sort of way then this nightmare wouldn’t be so heinous. And possibly, she could even see her parents again. Nora sat up in her chair. She began listening closely to the lecture. There must be something in the lecture — something that would tell Nora she could go home. She wanted to hear there was an end to it; she wanted to hear that they would be released. But Mrs. Grafton didn’t say that. She made no such promises — alluded to no such hope. And then, it was over. Even though time had passed and the rest of the group seemed antsy, Nora was disappointed the lecture was over. She could feel her heart pounding. That couldn’t have been it — it couldn’t be. And yet, people were filing out of the room with those same empty expressions on their faces they had had when they first came in.

Nora could feel her roommates staring at her. The rows were such that there was very little leg room given for people to pass by one another. Elsie could have left, for this time she was seated closest to the aisle. However, she seemed reluctant to leave on her own. So, both Tina and Elsie waited for Nora to stand and walk away. Yet, Nora didn’t want to go — not until they told her what she wanted to hear.

“Nora.” Tina started softly. “Don’t you want to get some sleep?”

Nora looked over into Tina’s eyes. There was some understanding there. Perhaps, Tina could tell that Nora was about to break down. Or, perhaps, Tina could understand what Nora was feeling — a sense of panic — given whatever Tina went through that morning. Either way, Nora couldn’t trap Tina in her seat for the rest of the evening. The room was practically cleared out, and Nora had a feeling that none of them wanted to loiter in the room and draw the wrath of whoever was in charge of closing up. Nora stood. At least, the lecture was over, she thought. But then, the disappointment that she was still trapped by the Administration and was given no hope to cling to about leaving someday crept up on her. Nora almost didn’t catch the despair before it made its way up her throat, but she managed to gulp it down again. It lingered there, buried in her stomach. She could fight the tears. So what that she almost cried? Almost isn’t crying.

Nora didn’t see Jack in the cafeteria. Then, it occurred to Nora that she hadn’t looked for Jack at all that day. She had been so preoccupied with everything going on that she hadn’t thought about Jack at all. She began to grow angry with herself; her face flushed. Maybe he had been trying to get her attention and thought she blew him off. Then, she heard some people nearby discussing how empty the cafeteria was in comparison to the previous night. Apparently, those from the other dorms had just been given the opportunity to partake in the buffet. At first, Nora managed to breathe a sigh of relief that Jack likely hadn’t been there. But then, moments later, she found she was bitterly disappointed. After all, the past was not so important as the present. Would she never see him again?

Ironically, that realization became another blow she couldn’t take at that moment. It became just one of many reasons why Nora would find she wasn’t hungry again. Even so, Nora knew her lack of appetite wouldn’t last. She certainly didn’t want to go hungry or need to ask for food. So, she once more chose food she could take with her. Afterward, she had thought about not waiting for the others to eat and going back to the room on her own. She thought she might want some time alone. And yet, no matter how many good reasons there turned out to be for her leaving, she just sat in that chair in the cafeteria. She felt rooted there somehow. It occurred to her after awhile that what kept her there was fear. She didn’t want to be alone in that room.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 5

The two girls finally made it back to their room. The scene seemed exactly as it had when they left that morning. The pile of blankets, which constituted Tina, was as high as it had been before. Nora felt a pang of envy seeing that lump. After all, Nora did what she was supposed to do and was robbed of sleep because of it. Not that she wanted to see Tina get punished for sleeping in. No, it was more as though Nora just wished she had had the same amount of courage, so that she could have refused to go. Maybe refusing really was a way for the “recruits” to take back the power over their lives. Maybe the only thing to do was to face down the fear she felt. It was even possible Lisa was around here somewhere. Heck, they could have released her and made the rest of them fear what had become of her in a bid to control those foolish enough to remain.

Nora sat on the edge of her bed with her sack of food, facing the pile of cloth that was Tina. Nora just sat there frozen, staring at the monotonous design of Tina’s blanket.

Elsie, on the other hand, was pulling food readily from her bag and eating it. Nora suspected Elsie had slept better than Nora had the night before as she didn’t show the same telltale signs of fatigue. Given how nervous and fragile Elsie had seemed, her newly found composure surprised Nora. How did Elsie manage to suddenly appear so calm? Perhaps, Elsie’s life had been difficult at times in the past, so she learned to be as happy as possible whenever possible. Maybe Elsie did have some strength — some buried emotional reserve — she could draw upon and was fortunately drawing upon it now.

Suddenly, Elsie looked up. Nora then realized that she had been staring at Elsie in disbelief.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Elsie asked Nora sheepishly.

“In a minute.” Nora replied.

Elsie shrugged and continued to consume her sandwich.

“It’s good.” Elsie told Nora. “You might want to go ahead and eat.”

The tone of Elsie’s voice … it was unbelievable. Once again, Nora could sense that Elsie was letting her guard down. This trust came despite the video they saw and the explanation that came afterward. Then again, it wasn’t as though Nora really wanted to think about that nebula-reaper footage either.

“Maybe we should have gotten some food for Tina. Then again, we do have quite a bit.” Elsie put forth.

“I’m going to save mine.” Nora said. “Tina can get her own.”

Elsie appeared to be shocked by Nora’s apparent selfishness. Nora reconsidered.

“I guess if they close down the cafeteria we can share with her.” Nora acknowledged.

Nora was surprised by just how bitter she was about Tina’s opportunity to sleep. It was true that Nora could probably try to sleep again, but the stress she felt would make it difficult. And if she did manage to sleep, would she merely be awoken a short time afterward? Just then, another announcement rang over the loud speaker.

“Good morning, recruits. This announcement is to inform you that you can now begin to obtain personal items at the commissary. When you hear your room number, please make your way to the commissary room at the west end of the lobby. Thank you.”

“You hear that?!” Elsie exclaimed. She quickly placed her remaining food to her side. “Finally! I just hope we don’t have to wait too long to be called up. You don’t suppose they’ll run out of supplies, do you?”

“They’ll probably ration the stuff.” Nora yawned.

Far from being relieved by Nora’s response, Elsie frowned. Apparently, she’d have rather heard there were far too many supplies.

“I hope we get enough.” Elsie muttered.

When it became clear that the room numbers were being called out in random order, Nora decided to go ahead and eat. It didn’t look as though sleep would be forthcoming. And yet, if they were called to get their supplies soon, eating at that moment gave Nora the greatest chance of having time enough to sleep between appointments. Thankfully, it wasn’t long after she finished eating that her room number was called. Since Tina had been sleeping all this time, Nora and Elsie decided to call out to her. After all, she would be in quite the mood if she didn’t get any supplies. Not to mention, that neither girl wanted to share hers with Tina. When there was no answer from Tina, Nora and Elsie looked at each other.

Elsie then stood and headed for the bed with determination.

“Tina, we have to get our stuff!” she exclaimed to the unmoving lump.

Finally, Elsie pulled the blanket off the bed revealing nothing but pillows. Elsie gasped aloud. Her hands began to shake.

“What?!” she cried out.

Nora stood and moved toward the bed to make sure she was seeing things right.

“She—she’s gone!” Elsie gasped. “What do we do?! I mean, where could she have gone?”

Nora had no idea. Everything just looked hazy and unreal to her. What could this discovery mean?

“Nora?!” Elsie’s squeaky call managed to rouse Nora’s attention.

Nora quickly moved toward the bathroom, but she could tell before she reached the half-open door that it was empty.

“Let’s go to the commissary.” Nora announced once she realized she had no better plan.

As the two girls quickly walked the halls, their eyes darted to and fro scanning for any sign of Tina. Of course, Nora felt guilty now for being angry with Tina. As much as she tried, she couldn’t convince herself that everything was fine. There was this nagging feeling Nora couldn’t shake. It just didn’t seem likely given Tina’s mood this morning that she got up on her own. Certainly, there were no latecomers at the presentation, and she never took her assigned seat either. Could Nora and Elsie have missed her at the cafeteria? Nora decided they would check there after she and Elsie got their supplies. One thing felt certain: when you’re told to do something around here — even if they say please — it wasn’t optional. As it was, Nora didn’t want to miss her scheduled time at the commissary and apparently neither did Elsie. Then, as Nora and Elsie approached their destination, they could see a figure in the crowd staring at them.

There was Tina standing next to the commissary door — a ghastly shade of gray.

“There you are. I’ve been wondering whether you’d show up.” Tina uttered. She was trying to sound casual, but the shakiness in her voice betrayed her anxiety.

Elsie and Nora kept sending each other questioning looks. Tina seemed to be avoiding direct eye contact. She stared straight ahead, her face flushed. Nora tried to stockpile enough nerve to ask Tina what had happened. Though, every time Nora began to speak Tina would talk over her; she would rattle on and on about the supplies they were getting. Tina seemed surprisingly interested in the commissary. It was true that Nora knew little about Tina. And yet, even with what little she did know about her it seemed odd. However, Nora and Elsie were in too much of a hurry to question her then. All three girls headed inside the commissary instead.

As far as Nora was concerned, she was underwhelmed with the amenities. Though she was happy to be getting personal items, they were clearly generic and bought in bulk. Yet, even though they were cheap, they were still being rationed. Stone-faced employees reached into unmarked cardboard boxes and grudgingly handed over as little as possible to those waiting in line. It seemed strange given that they had to know how many recruits there were by then. Why did they seem so unsure how much to give them? And if they couldn’t afford to provide enough for them, why had they captured so many people? The commissary experience caused the recruits as much stress as the meals had caused relief. It felt as though they were imprisoned for some unknown crime. They weren’t given the option to pay for anything or to take more of one item and less of another. They were treated as nuisances — nuisances who would take more than they needed if given any slack.

And really, why spend so much money on the food but not enough on other things? Maybe it all came down to the fact that food was more of a mood enhancer than a bar of soap. Even so, this whole process was degrading, and for Nora it completely undermined any gain the Administration had made with the food.

“You know, I got to thinking. What if someone used our names to get more?” Elsie worried. “We have no way to prove who we are.”

That thought had never occurred to Nora. Honestly, it didn’t seem they cared who they were all that much unless it was to punish … Nora suddenly looked over at Tina, whose face was still a mask. It sent a chill up Nora’s spine that Tina seemed rather giddy; it just had to be a facade. First off, this behavior didn’t seem to reflect Tina’s personality. Secondly, the contrast between the reality of the situation and Tina’s reaction to it caused confusion for both Nora and Elsie. Elsie particularly looked dazed. Even during those rare instances when Nora got eye contact with Tina, Tina managed to keep up her act. Thankfully, the three girls eventually made it through the line. Nora was glad to be out of there. The crowd inside the commissary was so large compared to the room’s size that it had quickly became stifling. Nora determined that she would conserve her supplies the best she could. Not only did she not want to go back to the commissary, but she also had no idea when or even if she’d be given leave to do so. She certainly didn’t want to have to ask for more.

“Do you think they have a laundry room?” Elsie pondered.

Nora looked down into her bag and realized someone had put clothing in it. Nora stopped suddenly.

“How do they know my size?” Nora questioned.

“I thought about that.” Tina admitted in a drained tone. “All of our clothing seems to have different color collars, so I figure the color given to us was based on the size we requested that first time. That way, they don’t have to ask again.”

“Oh.” Nora remarked. “I guess that is pretty efficient.”

“Too bad they didn’t ask what we like.” Elsie spoke up suddenly. “I really don’t like lavender soap. I got a free sample at a store once. It made my skin itch for days. What am I going to do? I have to have soap.”

“You can have mine. I got aloe.” Tina told her, her voice still surprisingly hollow.

“Oh, good!” Elsie cheered.

Nora was surprised that Elsie wasn’t being sarcastic and actually seemed happy. She could understand Elsie being relieved, but how could anyone be happy here? Just when Tina seemed to come back to reality, Elsie started to act dizzy again. Maybe, Nora concluded, she should just be glad that so far one of them was capable of being related to at any given moment. All she could do now was hope that they wouldn’t both lose it at the same time; Nora was barely holding herself together as it was.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 4

“What are we supposed to sleep in?” Nora could hear Elsie ask as they entered their room.

“If it isn’t one issue, it is another with this girl,” Nora thought. Nora didn’t care; she just crashed upon the bed. Even so, she could hear Elsie opening the dresser drawers.

“There’s nothing. There’s nothing here!” Elsie exclaimed.

“Give it time.” Nora grumbled with her face wedged into her pillow.

Nora was surprised to hear the sound of a drawer slam. Her eyes opened briefly then slowly drifted shut again.

“Oh well,” Nora thought. “I guess Elsie has a temper after all.”

Eventually, Nora could feel herself drifting off to sleep. Unfortunately, it was a shallow sleep, and it didn’t last long. She awoke repeatedly. Thoughts came crashing into her mind over and over again. Still, Nora continued to grow more and more tired as the night passed. At one point, it seemed as though Nora might actually be able to get some deep sleep. Then, just as Nora was finally able to sleep well, it seemed as though just a few moments had passed when she heard a loud noise coming from the hall.

Nora shot up; the other two girls did as well. They looked among one another in a daze; their eyes were puffy and red. After a beeping noise, an announcer started to speak. Though this voice came from a woman instead of a man, the tone of the voice reminded Nora of the announcement after the nebula reapers appeared on the street. Nora looked off to the side. Certainly, it was just a coincidence; all government agencies must use the same type of announcement for some reason.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Tina groaned “It’s only 6:00 a.m.!”

Nora looked at one of the clocks. Sure enough, it was 6:00 a.m.

“What are we supposed to do?” Elsie asked. “They said we are supposed to wake up, but they didn’t say why.”

“I don’t care!” Tina exclaimed.

Tina crashed back down upon the bed. Every time Elsie spoke again, Tina would audibly groan. Eventually, Elsie stopped asking questions. Nora felt a bit guilty about it, but she found she was relieved Elsie stopped talking. And yet, the question Elsie had asked was actually a good one. What should they do? Nora didn’t really want to go; her lack of sleep was getting to her.

There was a stirring in the hall. Nora looked to her left, even though the door was closed. She could hear people begin to move into the hallway. Voices began to build on one another. Another message began to play over the intercom. The voice directed them all to go to an auditorium, which was apparently next to the cafeteria. The message promised breakfast. Elsie grew excited.

“I wonder what they’ll have for us today!” she mentioned with enthusiasm in her voice.

Nora wondered how many times the people in charge of this place were going to use food in order to lure their captives to where they wanted them to go. They had established a certain trust the night before with the buffet. It certainly seemed to be working on Elsie; it was less effective on Nora. Instead, it was the memory of the threat of force the day before that began to rouse Nora. Nora began to consider the consequences of not doing what they asked. Even though her body craved sleep, she thought that maybe the easiest thing to do would be to go to the meeting. After all, it might be short. Then, she could return and finish sleeping. Besides, was there even much chance that they would allow her to sleep now? Even if people just beat on the door or kept blaring that message, Nora wouldn’t be able to sleep. And what would happen if they did come for her? What punishment would she receive? Then, suddenly, it was the moment of truth. The message ended, and the hallway cleared. An eerie silence ensued.

Nora and Elsie looked between each other in the dim light. Both seemed to get how serious this moment was. Nora knew if she didn’t act now, it might be too late. A rush of adrenaline shot through her. It was enough to wake her up and give her the energy to move. So, Nora went ahead and made the decision to go to the meeting. She pulled back her blanket. Not surprisingly, Elsie followed Nora’s lead right away. They put on their shoes. While she was lacing up her new shoes, Nora looked up in the direction of Tina’s bed. All Nora could see of Tina was a pile of blankets. Nora straightened. She looked over at Elsie briefly then back toward the pile. Almost as though Tina could see the two of them staring in her direction, she grumbled, “I’m not getting up.”

Elsie and Nora looked at each other again. Then, they headed for the door. They instinctively began walking at a pretty fast clip.

“Do you think …? I mean, can she really do that?” Elsie wondered.

“I don’t know.” Nora stated. Then, she sighed. “Let’s just get there.”

Elsie withdrew emotionally, and they walked the rest of the way in silence. When they finally got to the auditorium, Nora and Elsie were dismayed to see a man about to shut the door. Nora wondered whether she should say something. She decided not to. She and Elsie just looked at him with desperation. He, in turn, looked at them disapprovingly, but he fortunately allowed them to enter.

“Thank you.” Nora decided to say. But, as expected, there was no response.

After Elsie and Nora were ushered into the room, they were surprised to find a woman at a nearby table. She asked the two girls for their names and their room number. Elsie and Nora looked between each other once more. Since the girls had been grouped together by number the night before, they hadn’t yet given their names to the people here. Nora had wondered after the fact whether telling her roommates her real name had been the right thing to do. Now, the dilemma was much worse. Nora didn’t know what to do. Should she give them her real name? Was there a way they could find out who she was even if she didn’t? If her parents were looking for her, the people here might find out her real identity. And if they did figure it out from another source, Nora figured she would undoubtedly face punishment of some kind. But it was really the hope that her parents would be able to find her if she did give her real name that caused her to give it.

“Nora Montgomery.” she said.

She could feel her heart race as the woman wrote her name down. Elsie then did the same thing Nora had. After the woman was done writing, she motioned to another woman to direct them to their seats. A speaker in the front of the room was just approaching the podium as Elsie and Nora arrived at a grouping of three seats. The seats were designated by room number. These people had thought of pretty much everything, Nora thought. Nora couldn’t help but cast a look towards Tina’s empty chair.

Nora then noticed a person coming around looking at the empty seats and taking notes.

“Is that …? Is Tina going to get into trouble?” Elsie whispered.

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Elsie hesitated.

“What do you think they’ll do?” Elsie wondered.

“I don’t know.” Nora repeated.

Nora found herself to be almost relieved when the lights went out and the presentation started. Nora was hoping that would be the end of Elsie’s questions.

“Attention. Attention.” The man behind the speaker tapped the microphone. A screeching noise emanated from the front. He reminded Nora of her elementary school principal. Her principal was a very nice man, though; this one, it would soon become clear, wasn’t.

“Shut up now!” the man suddenly shrieked.

The room fell into silence in front of the quivering man. Nora could hear the man breathing heavily, seemingly overwhelmed by his rage. Slowly, he seemed to get a hold of himself.

“All right. You are all here for a very important reason.” the man started.

Suddenly, the man was speaking so softly that his voice became almost impossible to hear. Nora wondered how and why this man was so difficult to hear given the microphone and his formerly loud voice. Nevertheless, his prior display of anger induced Nora, and seemingly those around her, to strain to hear what he had to say.

“Welcome to the Administration of Public Defense. You are the recruits of the Administration. You may be asking yourselves — recruits to what? Well, we have a video.”

The man turned toward another man, who was apparently then given the signal to start the video. The second man leapt from his seat and walked to the middle of the stage. Nora could hear his distinct footsteps strike upon the floor; it was that quiet. Though that frightful night had occurred only days earlier, the video showed the incident involving the nebula reapers. It wasn’t just the actual footage that bothered Nora but also the fact that the video was so expertly made. How had they found the time or possessed the desire to make such a professional theatrical presentation? It was almost as though they had been waiting for something to happen. Then again, there was apparently always video footage being taken of the nebula reaper’s captivity bin. So, at least that part of it made sense.

The video started by showing the captivity bin as it had been for years. Then, suddenly, there was a massive explosion. A screeching noise shook the air. The reapers at first smashed together toward the center of their group. Then, they untangled themselves and spread out. Next, the video showed scenes from the streets of Colony 52. You could see what Nora caught only a glimpse of that night. The nebula reapers had “consumed” many victims under the cover of darkness. Sometimes there were remains left behind and sometimes there weren’t. Nora was conflicted as to whether or not to remove her eyes from the screen. Maybe something important was about to happen. Then again, maybe it was all just for shock value.

A couple of times Nora did look away. When she did, she noticed that the reactions of those around her were a mixture of disgust and revulsion. She could hear someone close by heaving in the near darkness. As the video ended, Nora could see an ashen Elsie shaking so hard that Nora was surprised she didn’t disintegrate on the spot. The lights came back on without warning. The man resumed speaking at the podium.

“As you can see, this situation is of the utmost importance.” he advised them. “This affects all of us. Even if you weren’t at the Institute now, you’d be called upon later. You will be fighting for your lives, and we’ll be giving you the tools to survive. This way, your lives will be in your own hands. Other people will be forced to count on you during this critical time, but you will have the control to count on yourselves. I, for one, am glad to be a party to my own survival. I’m glad that I don’t have to wait around like the others: wondering … worrying … helpless. You don’t have to live with that uncertainty. You have the power. I will now present to you Mrs. Grafton. She will explain to you what you can expect during your stay here.”

The woman, whom Nora had seen when she first arrived, glided slowly to the podium. She nodded slightly as the man stepped to the side to allow her to take his place.

Nora’s eyes began to lose focus as Mrs. Grafton talked about the rooms, the food, the lectures, and the training. Nora couldn’t concentrate anymore. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but she had had enough. All she could hope for now was that Elsie was paying attention. Nora looked over and was surprised to find Elsie dutifully taking notes. That observation was a relief. It was all too much … too much.

“Also, in the future be aware that you will be expected to use the alarm clocks by your bedsides. We will expect you to arrive at the auditorium promptly at 6:30 every morning. You will be given an opportunity to eat breakfast between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.”

The meeting was finally over, and they were released. Nora swiftly rose to depart from her chair. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. The aisles were quickly filled, and Nora and Elsie were trapped in their seats. Nora decided to just sit back down again.

“You’re upset.” Elsie stated.

“Yes. Aren’t you?” Nora responded coolly.

“Of course.” she replied.

Elsie clutched the notebook in her hands.

“Thank you for taking notes.” Nora mentioned to her.

“No problem.” Elsie replied, a large smile on her face. “I just wanted to help out. I’m not very good at very many things.”

“I didn’t see you grab that notebook from the room.” Nora admitted.

“I got it from the table when we signed in. I hope they don’t want it back. I don’t have anything of my own, especially now that they’ve taken my old clothes. Did they have to take what we had before?”

“I don’t know. I’m hoping today they will give us some supplies, which we need.” Nora proposed.

“Well, it seems we’ll be busy with the lecture they have scheduled for today, but I hope that they will make the time to give us some stuff, too. I hate sleeping in this outfit.”

Nora turned and watched the people pass by on their way out of the room. It was still slow going. She was hoping to make a quick break for it before Elsie started talking again. Even though Elsie had been helpful by taking notes, Nora found she was too tired to talk anymore. Eventually, the room was cleared enough that they could get in line, and Nora’s facing the other direction seemed to keep Elsie at bay.

Once the two girls managed to get out of the auditorium, they headed for the cafeteria. There they picked up some food to take to their room. Nora couldn’t have cared less at that moment whether they were supposed to take any food back with them — let alone the large pile she had accumulated. Elsie informed Nora there were three hours left before the lecture, and Nora intended to get some sleep right after she finished eating. Actually, eating wasn’t on the top of her list of priorities. However, if she didn’t take something with her now, who knew when she’d be given the opportunity to acquire food again.

The majority of the items Nora had taken were non-perishable. She selected those items purposefully due to the fact they did not have a refrigerator in their room. Though they didn’t discuss it ahead of time, Elsie silently followed suit. They then made their way back to their room.

“I guess Tina didn’t have to go after all.” Elsie sounded mostly relieved as she relayed this conclusion to Nora.

Nora could guess what she was thinking: things were not so bad as they had seemed.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 28

Lark and her crew lay low on Colony 12 for about a week. It took that long for word to get back to Lark about the fallout from the installation’s destruction. That news would come from Waterburg’s brother, Kenneth Waterburg, who managed to escape from one of Monrage’s crews before Leader Monrage found out he was Waterburg’s sibling. Kenneth had communicated with his brother shortly after Lark and her crew left Colony 9.

Waterburg then planned for a rendezvous with his brother. It was Waterburg’s idea to meet Kenneth elsewhere lest the meeting end up being a trap of some kind. It turned out all right, and Kenneth and his cooking talents joined Lark’s crew. Kenneth, as it turned out, was a bit peeved that his brother hadn’t given him a heads-up about the destruction of the installation. Waterburg then protested that he barely knew anything about the situation before it happened, and that his brother pretty much cut off their conversation that day anyway. Plus, did Kenneth really want Monrage to find out that he had gotten the information beforehand? That was that, and Kenneth didn’t bring it up again. Still, Lark could tell that Waterburg, despite his comically antagonistic relationship with his brother, was relieved he was safe.

Of course, having two Waterburgs on board caused a bit of confusion at first since the crew members were used to calling each other by their last names. Also, Waterburg had refused to give Lark his first name. Lark never did figure out why. Still, given her lack of desire to ask questions and to have them asked of her she decided to remain silent. So, it was determined that Waterburg’s brother would just be called Kenneth — with no last name — from then on. Lark, for her part, decided not to confound the crew too much and permitted them to call her either Officer Twelve or Lark — her last name really didn’t feel like an option for her somehow. Strangely enough, the crew took to just calling her Lark rather quickly. Maybe without Monrage’s costume, the name Lark fit her better. Or, maybe they were just afraid that they could all be linked to Leader Monrage if they used the other moniker. It turned out for the best, especially given that Owen had already taken to calling her Lark. It would have been awkward if Owen were the only one who did that.

As for the story of the incident, most of what Kenneth knew was also known by Lark. However, one piece of information was new, and it concerned Lark’s cousin, Celeste.

Lark found out that Celeste had been in the area of the explosion when it occurred. Lark, for some reason, couldn’t handle not knowing what had happened to Celeste. She, therefore, decided to return to Colony 9 to find out what became of her cousin. In order not to risk her crew, she contracted for a small ship to take her there. Days later, she arrived back on Colony 9 dressed as Lark to see what she could find out. Part of her was relieved when she saw a very much alive Celeste standing amid the ashes and rubble of the installation site.

Come to see what you left of me?” a shrill voice called out to Lark, after all the other bystanders had departed the vicinity.

Lark considered briefly.

You may not believe me, but I’m glad you’re not dead.” Lark answered.

Oh, I believe you, all right. That I believe. How can I suffer unless I’m alive, right?” Celeste returned.

You might not want to stay around here.” Lark advised. “The police are bound to be looking for you and Frederick.”

Oh, so that’s your game. You want me on that prison colony. And what about you? You can be returned there, too. In fact, under the circumstances it may be worth it to me.”

Celeste started looking around for someone. Perhaps in her frantic state she was actually looking for a police officer.

I don’t exist. You saw to that.” Lark reminded her.

Celeste stared back at Lark with confusion.

How do you mean?” she asked with an eerie softness.

I’ve done my time … or should I say your time. Then, there’s Officer Twelve. Leader Monrage took her with him. He’s probably killed her by now.” Lark finished.

Too bad I couldn’t watch that.” Celeste stated.

I’m done.” Lark concluded in disgust. “I’ve done enough for you. If you want to blame me for everything, go ahead.”

I do blame you. You destroyed everything, and what was it to you?!” Celeste screeched. “That was my future you were ruining back then — you and your neediness! You wouldn’t have been much better off if I had been taken to the prison colony instead. Only one of us could have lived, so what that it was I who survived?!”

Lark was dumbfounded; Celeste was serious.

I had to do it. Leader Monrage couldn’t be allowed to keep those weapons. There was no way to know what he would do with them. Not to mention what he would have done with me.” Lark informed her.

Then, why not just turn him in?” Celeste countered.

To whom? And with what proof?”

So, this is your solution?” Celeste gestured with her arms. “This rubble? You could have killed someone — murderer!”

Lark just stared at her. It was pointless to mention how many lives would have been lost because of Celeste, Frederick, and Monrage’s actions.

You know, I’ve lost Frederick. I have no money and no house. I have nothing. What am I supposed to do now?” Celeste stammered. “Of course, you don’t know. You don’t think anything through. Nothing is your responsibility.”

Good-bye, Celeste.”

Lark was about to leave when Celeste shouted her name. Lark turned partially back toward her.

Good-bye?! I’m the one who says that. This time I’m the one who’s going to leave you!” Celeste spat. “From this day forward I no longer have a cousin, and you have another enemy.”

Celeste turned abruptly and stormed off. Lark found she was glad to see her go. Yet, she still felt that most of the conversation had been disturbing. Could Celeste really do worse to her than she had already done?

Lark.” a familiar voice called from behind her.

Lark turned to see Owen standing there.

Are you ready to go back to the ship, Commander?” Owen asked.

Lark smiled.

Owen.”

You didn’t think I’d let you come here alone, did you?” he offered. “Are you all right?”

Lark looked at him a moment.

It’s possible to go so far deep into yourself that you become lost there.” she whispered.

A moment passed, and then Owen asked, “Is that what happened to you?”

Almost …” she admitted. “Almost.”

Suddenly, Lark smiled.

Let’s go. I have one more stop to make, and then I’m through here.”

Lark went to visit her parents’ graves and to say good-bye to the people from the church. She and Owen then headed toward the cargo ship for their departure. She noticed that Owen breathed a sigh of relief when they successfully took off.

It will be nice to get home.” Lark mentioned to him.

Home?”

Our ship.” Lark said smiling. “The crew is there. And Cinnamon is there, of course. Oh, and you.” Lark beamed.

I’m glad I made the list.” he joked.

We will all have a lot of planning to do, and I want every member of the crew to be involved. I think we’ll be quite the success. Still, it’s too bad I couldn’t have paid Leader Monrage for the ship. I have this thing about stealing — particularly now.”

I think the years of forced, barely paid servitude should be compensated for somehow.”

But does it even out?”

Well, maybe someday you’ll be able to ‘pay him back’.”

Lark laughed at the way he said that.

Maybe.” she replied. “Maybe.”

Plus, you talked him out of destroying that ship … and wasting his weapon. Oh, that’s right, the weapons were destroyed.”

Weapon …” Lark repeated.

What is it?”

Just thinking that Leader Monrage never did anything until he was paid.” Lark started. “Maybe he was just grandstanding, but I remember he also mentioned something about a weapon. I wonder whether it really is one of the ones from the installation.”

***

Celeste scrounged the streets for days hiding in the alleys and trash receptacles. Life for her was misery. And what was more, she lived in fear. It had occurred to Celeste that Frederick could easily lie and blame her for the whole incident. After all, it would be easy to link her to Leader Monrage through Lark. Maybe that’s why Lark had been involved all along, so that Celeste could take the blame if the scheme fell through. Then, one day she saw a familiar figure and followed him. She couldn’t seem to help herself. She even overheard a conversation he was having. He was looking for someone they both knew.

Out of desperation, she made herself known. What could be worse than how she was living?

Leader Monrage.”

He turned, and a repulsed look crossed her face.

Well, well … you’re still alive. Sort of. I’m surprised you would lower yourself to live like this.”

Celeste flinched. She didn’t like the feeling of being pitied — when it wasn’t part of her plan at least.

Tell me.” she started, her voice barely recognizable. “Did Frederick set me up? Were you in on it with him? Was that why Lark was here?”

An odd look crossed Leader Monrage’s face when she mentioned Lark — it contorted in a grotesque way as though Officer Twelve’s former name had stabbed him.

What of her?” he stammered. Then, he remembered Celeste’s question. “No, why would I care?”

Did he know about Lark before?” she pursued softly.

Leader Monrage began to get antsy. He didn’t care about this woman.

No, not from me. Is that all?”

Celeste considered. She had been so sure. Still, did it really change anything? Frederick had felt no qualms about sending Lark to prison to save them both. Surely he would send Celeste there or have her executed to save himself. Leader Monrage turned to leave before she could respond.

Wait!” she pleaded.

What now?!” He spun around. “Don’t you dare follow me!”

I won’t … unless you want me to.”

Want you to?” he questioned her in disbelief.

You know. I was reminded the other day of where I come from.” Celeste paused. “I’m thinking now that you and I have more in common than I ever had with Frederick.”

Is that so?” Leader Monrage’s eyes flashed. “So, what exactly is it you want from me?”

I’ll do anything. Just get me out of here.” Celeste begged.

Leader Monrage took a moment to think that through.

Fortunately, I remember when you were beautiful.” he finally said while touching her face with his hand. “Maybe you can be of use to me. Well, come on. You’ll have to keep up if you want to be with me.”

Of course. You say jump …” Celeste started. “I say how high.”

Months passed … and Leader Monrage journeyed with Celeste to a place he hadn’t been for years but couldn’t get out of his head.

There you are.” Leader Monrage stated as he stared at the monitor.

I don’t know why you need me here.” Celeste answered.

Leader Monrage turned. It almost seemed as though he was startled by her. But how could that be, given that he had just spoken to her? There was no way to tell his mood. Since most of the lights in the room were turned down, his eyes remained in shadow. And he had summoned Celeste to this dark room without letting her know his purpose.

I don’t need you here, but I do want you here. I thought you’d be interested.”

Interested in what? A barely visible planet?”

I made a mistake. I see that now.” Leader Monrage stated. “She was under my control until I brought her to that planet of yours — to you.”

You’re still moping over Lark.”

Yeah, well. She was mine.” Leader Monrage turned back toward the monitor. “I trained her well. See how well she did that last day. I didn’t have the heart to destroy her — not when she did it so well — just as I would have done.”

Yeah, whatever.”

Celeste was about to turn to leave.

You did well, too. Incredibly well, in fact. I wanted to show you just how well. You see, Twelve tried to stop me. But I’m going to show her it was pointless. True, the scale is going to be smaller, but she doesn’t need to know that. She also doesn’t need to know that this was the plan — or at least part of it — from before I even knew of her existence. Then again, knowing her she’ll probably blame herself for talking me out of destroying her with the one weapon I managed to obtain. Regardless, what she does know of is this place. I don’t think she will ever forget it. And now, you won’t forget it either.”

Why don’t we go back to our room? I’m tired, but I can stay up for a while.”

That won’t be necessary. I have all I need right here.”

Well, I’m going back to the room.” She turned away from him.

Stop!” Leader Monrage yelled.

Celeste stopped.

I want you to see what you’ve contributed to.”

Me? I haven’t done anything. It was Frederick.”

Celeste’s eyes had adjusted enough to the light that when she turned back she saw an intense Monrage staring back at her.

We’ll see whether you still believe that after …” He paused. “We’re almost in range. You set all this in motion for me. True, I lost Twelve and a ship, but I did get this weapon because of you …”

So, you’re going to destroy that dinky planet?”

No … not directly anyway. Though, they’ll probably wish I had.”

Celeste looked at him skeptically as he started a countdown. He then grabbed Celeste by the arms, so she couldn’t turn away.

Remember this is all because of you.” Leader Monrage insisted. “And just in case you try to blame Twelve for this, you can’t. It’s all you and me. That’s what this little demonstration is meant to show you, and I won’t let you change that.”

You should be blaming that guy she was kissing instead of me.”

What guy?” Monrage demanded in a dark tone.

Celeste was taken aback for a moment.

I don’t know. How should I know? The point is she betrayed you!” Celeste screamed.

Leader Monrage sighed.

But only because you betrayed her first.” He glared at her with ferocity. “But don’t worry. I won’t destroy you for it, but you may destroy yourself before this is all over.”

What is that?” Celeste demanded in a disturbed tone of voice.

Leader Monrage released Celeste then turned from her. Now that he had gotten her interest, there was no need to detain her further.

They took most of my weapons and think they’ve won. I’m about to unleash the ultimate weapon.” Leader Monrage explained. “There are more of these scattered throughout the galaxy, but I can’t free them all now. My down payment is only enough to destroy one of the force fields. I chose this one because it’s weak and because it means something to me.”

Celeste blinked. The reality of what she was viewing had just started to sink in. Leader Monrage turned back briefly to grin at her as he reached his hand out to press a button on the console.

Wait, no!” Celeste cried out in horror.

Leader Monrage pushed the button without hesitation. He then zoomed in the camera toward where the weapon had gone. There was an explosion. Celeste squinted at the image. Then, as it became clear in her sight, she screamed again.

Relax. It’s much too far from us. We’ll be able to escape long before they even realize we’re here. Too bad the same can’t be said of that planet.”

He then walked behind where Celeste was standing and began massaging her shoulders.

I just wanted to see the nebula reapers freed.” He hissed in her ear. “I can relate more to them than people, you know. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Beautiful.”

And hence it began.

End of Book One.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 27

The target is within view.” Jensen stated. “ETA … two minutes.”

And our pursuer?” Lark asked. “When will he be within firing range of us?”

At our current speed … one minute.”

Can we increase speed?” Lark questioned.

Yes, but not without compromising our ability to hit the target. It could stray into another district.” Jensen brought up.

Lark stared at the screen for a moment.

Officer Twelve?”

Power us down.”

Down?” Owen confirmed.

Yes, Smythe’s ship doesn’t have our maneuverability. Right, Captain?” Lark mentioned.

Right.”

You can handle it then.”

Yes. I can handle it.” Owen assured her.

Then, use evasive maneuvers between the buildings. It may take us a little longer to get to the installation, but at least we’ll get there. Ready the counter weapons for any confrontation that occurs after the installation is destroyed.”

Lark braced herself as the ship flew through the comparatively narrow spaces. Each turn seemed to be too tight to make. Somehow, Owen managed to stay clear of the obstacles; though, the cruiser did skirt along the structures’ edges more than once. For most of the crew, it was too stressful to watch. But Lark couldn’t seem to remove her eyes from the screen. Strangely, it was almost as though she were watching her own life moving along. So many times it seemed she had been heading for total disaster. Yet, at that moment, she felt a sort of assurance that somehow they were going to make it through all this and come out of it okay.

The installation is coming within range.” Owen mentioned after several minutes had passed.

Scan the building for signs of life.”

None detected.” Jensen responded.

Set the coordinates for the radiation containment shield and deploy it.”

Right … it’s done.” Jensen returned. “Officer, we’re now upon the target. I’m locking on.”

All right then. Take out the installation.” Lark ordered.

“… It’s done.”

The pretty, speckled lights of the streetlamps were soon replaced by a hot, piercing light. Finally, the light was gone, and the crew of Lark’s ship was left with the darkness.

I hope no one was down there.” Lark mentioned softly.

It didn’t take long for the scanner to pick up on the presence of another ship. Though it was still out of range in terms of its weapons, it was coming fast upon them. Jensen zoomed in on the image, which he projected onto the monitor. It was Leader Monrage’s ship.

We’re being hailed.” Jensen stated.

I’m not surprised.” Lark said. “He couldn’t destroy us without letting us know about it first.”

Will he destroy us?” somebody questioned.

If he can … unless it isn’t worth it to him …” She paused briefly. “Put Leader Monrage up on the monitor.” Lark commanded.

Jensen did, and a rage-filled Monrage appeared on the screen. He started spitting venom towards Lark.

Leader Monrage, you may want to reconsider wasting your time pursuing me.” Lark stated coolly. “I know you have sent Smythe after me, but under the circumstances you may want to make plans for your escape instead. The explosion has no doubt alerted the Security Force. And now that you have no incentive to complete the mission …” Lark trailed off. “Unless, of course, you think I’m worth going back to the prison colony for. Bear in mind, this time you might never leave that place.”

Leader, should we use the weapon on Officer Twelve’s ship? We can’t let them get away with this, can we?” someone off-screen asked.

Leader Monrage’s lip quivered. Then suddenly, he got a hold of himself. He considered for a moment.

No, they’re not worth it. I have other plans for this weapon. Believe me, if I had the entire cache of weapons I would.”

The monitor went dead. Lark sat back in her chair and breathed. Then suddenly, Lark removed her contact lenses and crushed them under her feet.

Incoming, Officer Twelve. Smythe has managed to lock onto us.” Jensen spoke up.

Disperse the counter weapons.”

All right …”

Lark, once again, held her breath for a moment.

The oppositional weapons have been neutralized.” Jensen sighed in relief.

Good. We’re going to ascend now. We need to get into space and away from here.” Lark informed the crew.

What about Leader Monrage? He’s still out there.” Jensen wondered.

We don’t have a choice. We can’t stay around here; we’ll be sent to prison.”

We’re criminals?” Jensen asked.

Not really.” Lark said. “But people don’t always know the truth.” Lark paused. “Get us out of here, Captain Smithson, as fast as you can.”

What about fuel?” Jensen worried.

We’ll get it at the nearest refueling station. I’m fairly certain it isn’t that far away.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 26

The instructions had directed them to wait for a call before heading to their destination. The actual attack order would be given sometime after they were in the air. Lark had already plotted to be as close to her real target as she could be when the attack order was given — while still being in the prescribed airspace. Still, it might be obvious she was a bit off-center of her course. Lark figured this was the most dangerous time. If Leader Monrage noticed this peculiarity, he might grow suspicious. He might try to communicate with her, or he might just assume the worst and sick another ship on her. That could make things difficult.

Lark decided to get to the location where Monrage’s prearranged course was the closest to her own course as slowly as possible. Then, she would hope that the attack order would come soon after, for that was the moment she and her crew would break away and head for the real target. Once the attack order was given, Lark hoped the other ships would be too caught up in their own missions to worry about her right away. It was a hard balance to maintain. Lark didn’t want the other cruisers to attack her immediately, but she also didn’t want them to ignore her completely either. Lark desired to stop the coup, and yet she was hoping to be enough of a distraction to minimize the damage the other ships could do to the colony. Still, if all the other ships came after her right away she and her crew would surely be destroyed before they could destroy the weapons. In the end, no matter how it went down, it would be up to Owen to get them where they needed to go and away afterward. Then, at 1730 it came: the call. Lark sat up in her chair.

Okay, Captain Smithson, take us up. And remember — try not to make it too obvious.”

Will do.”

Owen took his chair and began to pilot. As much as Lark had learned, she couldn’t touch the skill that Owen possessed. Lark was grateful; she wasn’t sure she could pull off his part.

After several minutes, Owen announced, “We’re getting close to the time we need to veer off.”

Is there any way to delay?”

If I go any slower, Leader Monrage will probably hail us.”

Lark bit her lip slightly. She started counting in her mind as though she were sure the attack order would be given by the time she counted to ten – only it wasn’t.

I …” Lark began.

Green light!” Jensen shouted.

Captain Smithson, correct our course.” Lark advised immediately. “Head us toward the installation at the second set of coordinates.”

All right. We’re out of the designated zone, and we’re headed toward the installation.” Owen informed her.

ETA?” Lark asked.

Ten minutes.”

A beeping noise came from the console.

Incoming call from … Leader Monrage.” Jensen stated with dread in his voice.

Play the static recording.” Lark announced.

Will do.” Jensen agreed.

We’ll use it for two more communication attempts. Then, I’ll have to answer.” Lark declared. “Can you listen in on his other transmissions? I want to know who is coming after us and where they’re coming from.”

Yes, I’ll get on it … there’s no activity … wait. He’s hailing us again.” Jensen acknowledged.

Two down — one to go. Where are we?” Lark asked.

Six minutes away.” Owen informed her.

He’s probably not going to let us get there without a challenge. Where is he?” Lark queried.

Out of range.” Jensen remarked.

Who’s in range?”

Thomas and Smythe …” Jensen replied. “Wait. Monrage is hailing Smythe.”

And he’s where?”

Three minutes off, south by southwest.”

Prepare for evasive maneuvers.”

Yes.” Owen stated.

This is it.” Lark announced.

***

Celeste waited for what seemed like forever. The dampness of the night seemed to settle in her lungs and ache there. She wrung her hands but then thought better of it. After all, she had recently had them manicured.

Suddenly, a strange man began to approach her. He was big with large tattoos all over his face. Celeste shrank back against the wall. She had forgotten to ask Frederick what she was supposed to do if someone did show up. Should she call out to Frederick? She looked briefly toward the entrance of the installation. The man seemed to be coming right toward Celeste. She hadn’t signed up for this — to be assaulted by some thug. She had the urge to run but didn’t seem capable of moving her legs. She gritted her teeth instead. The man stopped a few feet away and looked at her in disbelief.

Do you have Monrage’s payment?” the man demanded.

Wha — what?” Celeste stammered.

The man looked at Celeste as though she was dense.

The payment. I’ve come for the payment.” he repeated slowly.

Oh, yes. The payment. I …” Celeste looked toward the entrance again. Thankfully, this time she saw Frederick coming out of the door with a large, seemingly heavy package weighing down his arms.

Oh, it’s here! It’s here!!” She pointed at Frederick. The man looked at Celeste skeptically.

Yeah, I see that. Thanks.”

The man walked around her and stepped towards Frederick.

This is it?”

Yes.” Frederick returned.

Great. Then we’ll have our engineer look over the item.”

Wait. You take the weapon, and what do we get in assurance?” Celeste demanded.

The man seemed to be angered by that. Even Frederick looked disapprovingly upon her.

Leader Monrage always repays his debts.” the man mentioned.

Of course he does.” Frederick consoled. “And I understand this is just a down payment.”

The man still looked annoyed. He reached for the weapon and took it from Frederick.

We’ll get back to you soon.” the man announced. He turned and left.

Frederick looked back at Celeste.

What?” Celeste snapped. “He could only need the one. Then where would we be?”

I just hope that man doesn’t tell Monrage.” Frederick returned.

Can we leave now?” Celeste pushed.

Let’s get in the car.” Frederick said while rolling his eyes.

Celeste and Frederick climbed into his car. Moments later, a light rain began to fall upon the windshield.

Well, aren’t we going back to the house?” Celeste wondered.

No.”

And why not?”

One can’t be in the middle of a coup and hang out at the first place they’d look for you. We have to lie low until this thing is over.”

If it’s over …” Celeste offered.

And what is that supposed to mean?” Frederick countered.

It means I’m not sure Leader Monrage is going to come through.”

That again. You’d rather everything fall apart than be wrong, is that it?”

Who’s to say I’m wrong?” Celeste glared at him.

Listen, you talk to me if you have concerns. You don’t question a man like Leader Monrage — let alone behind his back to one of his men.”

You’re afraid of him, aren’t you?” Celeste accused. “I’m not.”

Then you’re a fool.” Frederick blasted.

Minutes passed in silence.

So, why am I even here?” Celeste queried. “What was the point of me standing in front of that installation anyway? There was nothing I could have …”

Because you’ve been sitting around doing nothing, letting me take all the risks.” Frederick spat.

Celeste looked over at him.

I can’t believe you. You …” Celeste stammered.

Be careful what you say. I’m the one with the power here, not you.”

Celeste turned forward and stared at the window as it fogged under her breath. She wondered how she’d be capable of staying in a one-sided relationship like this. She couldn’t imagine letting Frederick call all the shots. What was more, if he wasn’t enamored with her anymore it couldn’t possibly last.

Just then, the phone rang. Apparently, the man who took the weapon from them was confirming that everything checked out, and that the mission was already underway. Frederick thanked him.

After a few more minutes of silence, Celeste asked, “Could we at least drive somewhere else? I don’t want to be here anymore.”

This is the safest place to be.” Frederick stated.

Certainly, you know somewhere else we could go?”

Frederick was silent for a moment. Then, he said, “Why yes I do, and it’s not far from here.”

Frederick started up the car then drove a little ways away. Celeste started to stiffen as she recognized the neighborhood. Finally, he stopped in front of the small hovel that she had once lived in with Lark. For a second, she was stunned silent, but then her rage grew.

What is this supposed to mean?!” Celeste snapped. She turned on Frederick. “Is this what you really think of me?!”

I just wish you’d show some appreciation for what I’ve given you. You act as though you’re entitled to everything.”

Celeste could feel herself redden as she became flustered.

And you don’t? Now that you’re getting what you want, you’ve forgotten that?!” Celeste returned.

You know what … I almost think you’re sabotaging everything, so I’ll have nothing left but you.” Frederick rasped.

Celeste was so angry at that point she couldn’t bring herself to speak anymore; words were not forming into coherent sentences in her mind. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. For at that moment, a large explosion ripped through the space behind them where the installation had been. Celeste gasped as Frederick leapt from the car. Then, he frantically began dialing a number on his phone.

Let me speak to Leader Monrage. What do you mean he’s busy?” There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. “Leader Monrage? Are you aware you just blew up the installation! Well?!” There was silence once more. Still, Frederick was sure he had heard breathing again after the man who had answered his call left. “Just tell me you’re going to finish our deal. Leader Monrage?”

Yes?” a hollow voice answered.

Frederick was a bit unnerved.

Are you going to do your part?”

No, I think this concludes our dealings.”

What about your word? It’s your fault the installation was probably destroyed.”

There’s no probably about it. As for my word … I normally would work something out with you. However, by the sound of it, it seems you don’t trust my word anyway, so why should I honor it? Good-bye.”

There was a dial tone that rang through the air. It was around that time that people began to come out of their homes and into the street to see what had happened. A family even came out of the hovel that Lark and Celeste had inhabited years earlier. Frederick dropped his phone and let it smash upon the ground. He then turned and walked in the opposite direction, away from the installation.

Frederick! Where are you going?!” Celeste called after him. She slammed her car door. “Is he not going to honor his commitment after all?”

Frederick spun around and glared at Celeste for a moment. Then, he uttered, “I can’t believe I ever thought you were worth it. You’re on your own.”

Frederick turned and walked away again. This time he didn’t look back.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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