Mother of Crow – Chapter 2 – The choices of butterflies (Draft)

Mother of Crow

By jenny K Brennan

This Sundered World, book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don’t know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K Brennan – All rights reserved.

Chapter 2

The choices of butterflies

A voice like velvet, like chill wind over frozen forest floor, of sand over water. It was all of those sounds in one gentle plea. Perhaps the tender tone was a trick of the acoustics in the bare stone room with its unforgiving surfaces and odd architecture throwing the sound in strange ways. It could easily be explained that way if one wished. And perhaps not. Maybe these sweet whispers were honest enough, halting and insecure as they were. The truth was somewhere in between. Deception was the work of the room; the honesty was real. ,And the force of will could not be denied. The man speaking urged and encouraged with soft gestures and careful movements of face and hands. “Come now, Little one. Don’t be shy with me. Come on, Sweets. You only need to do this once. A little bit closer now. Oh, that’s right. Just a little bit. ” Frederico’s Urging whispers spread out in the room and as the sound hit the stone it seemed to grow rather than fade. Gentle words of encouragements turned into a harsh echo of hissing that lingered. Frederico stood leaning forward in a painful posture that left his back constantly aching. His natural hand poked through the aluminum mesh and he held it palm up as close to the newly formed insect he dared to. The butterfly quivered a little as it stretched its newly formed wings in the warm air. Brand new wings spread out proudly, exposing their marvel of colour and form. A still damp pattern in luminous yellow and black somewhere between hot charcoal and pitch quickly dried as it slowly moved the wings against its new world.

Beautiful. Yes, you are.” Frederico breathed almost soundlessly with that familiar feeling of awe. It was an amazement that never got old. But this time however, it came adorned with an aching sense of dread.; A feeling long expected and not really a surprise. He moved the hand slowly, and with practiced smoothness in his approach to his ward, He moved it a barely measurable closer to the being beyond the barrier. A single drop of Frederico’s carefully concocted phantomgenic mixture sat ready on the very tip of his middle finger. A clear drop of liquid that would be the first, and last meal the butterfly would get. On the butterflies wings yellow and black appeared to move within their individual shades until one became the other, without a visible change. This was the critical phase. Where the insect was still in flux and could decide to be one of three things. It could finish the process of becoming what it really was meant to be. By letting the colours and shape settle into a normal creature in the world. A butterfly destined to live out its life in a futile hunt for sustenance until it starved and died . A quick and natural death in this unnatural world where butterflies could not survive .

“We don’t want that do we, darling. No we certainly do not.” Among the nonsense words had crept in a dissonance of desperation that the Butterfly tending monk didn’t like. Barely breathing, he let his mind stray no more. The butterfly was still but for the slow movement of wings where the colours were not quite solid, not quite there. Frederico’s mind stilled but not without effort as the butterfly started moving toward the glittering drop on the human’s finger. Slowly, hesitatingly, curiously turning toward it. The monk held his breath. Would this be the one? Would this time be different? Yes, this time they would finally be able to deliver on their promise to their benefactors. The butterfly trembled but calmed just as quickly and moved closer. Frederico’s equilibrium, threatened by his sudden hope, held for another moment where he kept his thoughts strictly on the image of the creature coming to him. He needed to hope, then believe, then be in utter and complete knowing that the insect would come to him. He needed more than endless patience. Patience alone couldn’t bring the creature to him. the butterfly had to decide to come. He was almost depleted of patience. He had the hope. He also had a sliver of belief in his craft. But it was the lack of knowing that had on previous attempts failed him. He had rarely been able to see reality as something different than what was in front of him. But this time he felt it. That rare alignment of wanting and being came over him as the butterfly crept even closer . It would take the plunge and become what he needed it to be. What they all needed this one to make the right decision. Finally. Frederic’s vision shifted and he saw it. Saw the transformation take place. layered with what his eyes saw, he saw what he believed and the future was clear and decided.
Just another moment. Just a single second, a held breath. This time it would come to him. What felt like a lifetime of responsability, of threats, fear, and doubt lifted and he could breathe. Frederico exhale into the endless still moment. The butterfly came for its meal. It flexed, reached. And that was when someone decided it was a nice time to visit. The silent butterfly sanctuary held in a silent reverie rarely broken, shattered with a bang. dissonant shriek of uncoiled hinges and the sudden crash of a door slamming the wall shattered the fragile image and Frederico reeled, suddenly dizzy and disoriented. His perfectly placed fingers shook and his heart jumped into a jolting ra-ta-ta against the insides of his ribs. A loud clamber followed, the unmistakeable sound of a fully suited metal monk making his way across the stone floor but Frederico didn’t hear. He struggled to remain still, to keep calm. He desperately fought to pull back the image and the belief. ”No. don’t listen. That didn’t just happen.” He keened and begged the butterfly. It took him a split second to make his hand go still again even if his racing heart couldn’t be slowed that easily and his mind would not be eased. He stared at the insect in dismay. He knew what was happening and he couldn’t stop it.

What did stop was the moving butterfly. Its world changed immediately and it went from being curious, to puzzled, to frightened at the sudden change around it. It instantly had the knowledge it needed to make its choice. For the briefest of moments, thanks to the phantomgenic infusion during development, it knew too much of the future it was expected to enter. It was in that briefest of seconds that most butterflies made their choice. To live the one day, to evolve and scatter through the world as communicator, or simply to choose not to. This butterfly saw enough of its own destiny and its place in the world to decide on the not. The insect froze and stilled. Frederico swore and he knew it was too late. Still, hoping against the horror filling his body with numbing cold that it wasn’t so. In a last frantic action, he thrust his finger toward it. It could be forced. If he could just get the transforming liquid close enough. If he could just…

The butterfly had finally dried completely which made what happened next so much easier. It decided to break and so it broke. Minuscule cracks spread from the body throughout the velvety colourful expanse of its wings to the fragile edge, breaking the glorious coloured surfaces into pieces. One by one the divided sections of wing turned to dust. The body imploded and all the pieces of the once magnificent beast slowly and soundlessly fell through the air in a rain of soft dust to settle on the worn granite floor below.

Frederico stared in disbelief at the empty branch, then at the finger with it’s uneaten drop of magic brew. Its glittering seemed to mock him. His failure. His weakness of faith. He pulled his hand out and turned from the now empty breeding cage. He shook his hand but the stubborn drop still clung to the skin. He brought it up close to his face and glared at it. To his horror, his eyes burned and he fought against the choking sensation at the top of his throat. He ground his teeth against the emotion he didn’t quite know what to call. He had been so close. So close. He closed his eyes and took a moment to consider the consequences. But only a second.
“Oh, sorry, Brother. Didn’t realize you were in here.” Said a not too concerned voice followed by more metallic noises.
the familiar voice ripped Frederico out of his thoughts and he turned around. Where else would I be? What else would I be doing? The words stuck in Frederico’s throat and the choked gurgle he emitted fell on nothing but an empty doorway and a dim corridor.

Brother John had moved and stood at the table, peering down at the bottle of useless butterfly food, scratching his chin thoughtfully. Frederico glared at the man and absently put his finger in his mouth and sucked off the sticky drop and grimaced at the bitter taste. He turned away from Brother John and sighed. His mind returned to the situation at hand. It was what it was. And what was didn’t look good at all. Oh dear Mother of Crow, Save me.” He groaned at the empty cage with its layer of failed attempts to breed another communicator. The fresh sprinkling of dead insect clearly visible on top of all the others that had crumpled, shattered, or just fallen down deaden silent protest against their destiny.
John creaked, groaned, and clanked to stand at Frederico’s side. “Fred?” He pointed into the empty; cage.

“Yes, John?”

“Am I seeing things or is that thing empty?” Frederico’s fellow monk spoke with a surprisingly high pitched voice as his eyes roamed the remnants of dead insects.

Frederico sighed. “If you were finally starting to see things, my dear idiot, what would you be seeing, pray tell?”

“Um.” John nlinked.

Frederico turned toward the door, attempting to leave John in his usual puzzlement. He could stay that way for hours if no one came along to poke him out of his revery of some random thing he had found. This seemed like a good time to leave the man undisturbed.
Frederico paused and let his gaze roamed the rest of the room in a second of indecision. The breeding cage covered one full wall of Frederic’s breeding lab. The rest of the cramped space was taken up by two large tables hosting the phantomgenic still, an incomprehensible compilation of burners and pipes, coloured glass bottles and all the tools. At the very edge of the largest table, on a spot hastily wiped clean merely hours ago, stood a single carefully sealed vial; the result of months of preparation for the last living specimen. Useless now. Frederico tore his eyes from the bottle and hurried over to the tall cupboard standing alone against the opposite wall. He pulled open the double doors and stared at the contents for a long moment before closing it again. He drew a calming breath that left him ready to throw up and started toward the door. He would admit his latest defeat. He would speak to the abbot and explain. He would understand. Surely. He cringed at the memory of his own words, his promise.

“Fred, wait.”

John’s squeek jolted Frederico and he stopped with a hand on the open door, and waited. “Yes, john?”

“Um, I was supposed to tell you something.”

“Yes?”

Brother John had turned to Frederico and the normal puzzlement was gone, replaced with a look of fear. John was fighting to say something, damp lips flapping soundlessly. No words came. The sudden intensity in the monks eyes gave Frederico pause and he stepped to John and put a hand on the metal clad shoulder. John spat the words he had been struggling with. “Don’t go. Fred. They’re coming.” He faltered and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as if the rest of his words were up there. He Finding them at last, he sputtered. “To look at butterfly.” John smiled, happy. He nodded as to confirm his message and then he frowned. “They’re coming for inspection. But Fred. He glanced anxiously at the cage. “Fred? where are the butterflies?”

next up: Chapter 3 – To panic or not to panic

Author note:

Wordy, again. 🙂 Thoughts?

Mother of Crow – Chapter 1 – Build me pretty, break me prettier (Draft)

Mother of Crow

By jenny K Brennan

This Sundered World, book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don’t know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K Brennan – All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Build me pretty, break me prettier

“Isn’t she a beauty? Such a marvel. Just see those lines and how it all fits together.” He interrupted himself “jenks?” Lord Lee Reginald Maddow, outfitted in his finest, already well on his way to flat out drunk, looked around the crowd in search for the man in question. He frowned and waved his brandy glass in irritation at no one in particular, splashing licker on his white starched sleeve “Oh there you are.” Maddow’s face split into a grin as his chief surgeon, or scientist, or body magician, or whatever the hell they called themselves these days, hurried through the crowd toward him , mumbling apologies to whoever would listen. Lord Maddow slapped him on the back. “Jenner! So pleased. so, so , pleased. Good man, now show our dear friends this miracle. go on now.” he said pointing his glass at the unmoving woman at the front of the room.

Peter Jenning, thirty going on seventy, not so much a scientist or doctor as a hack with a knack for understanding the human construction and how to modify it, stared blankly at maddow. he straightened his newly acquired ill fitting waistcoat and offered the man a clumsy bow. “It’s Jenning, Sir.”

Maddow sputtered. “Jenkings, right. didn’t I say that?”

Jenning sighed inwardly, conjuring a smile of sorts. He glanced at the gathered nobility while still speaking to maddow. “Yes, of course, Sir. Jenkings it is.” Jenning groped in a pocket for his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. The damn thing wasn’t there. In his other coat, of course. He had forgotten it In his hurry to make himself presentable to the Lords and ladies. Well, damn it to hell. And they were all staring, waiting for something. He drew his sleeve across his face in a moment of defiance. The glory faded quickly when he caught a disapproving glance from Lord Maddow. never too drunk to have a stick up his ass, that one. But regardless of his dislike for the man, or maybe thanks to it, Jennings was firmly placed back on uncertain ground where the thoughts refused to come. He was there to do something. But what was it? What the hell was he supposed to do? Seconds of panic turned into eternity. . Someone coughed wetly and fancy dresses rustled beneath all those decorated faces. Ladies. Women. What were they doing here? Looking at him. What did they want?

“Jenks!” His employer hissed.

Jenning jumped at the sound and instantly the thoughts were back. Ah, right. Money. Those hags had husbands with money. And they needed that money to wake the dead. Thus this ridiculous spectacle. Waking the dead. That’s what it was. Not that she was really dead. Not quite dead.
Just… Just not quite alive.
not yet. He swallowed and managed a nod and another awkward bow that no one noticed.”yes, Sir.” He croaked. “Certainly, Sir.” ” He coughed and turned to the item he had been working on for weeks now. Or was it months?

Maddow waved him to continue. “Kennings here will show us something…”

Jennings tuned out the voice and thought about the work left to do. Making the sell. and once Jenning focused on his latest creation he found his confidence. Even having to deal with Sir Maddow and his ludicrous ambitions, this was his doing. The clueless lord couldn’t fit two pieces of clothing together to make them fit, and Jennings had built a brand new creature from bones and trash and metal. His Mother would have whipped the pride right out of him. But that bitch was long gone from the influenza and she couldn’t poke and prod at his inner thoughts anymore. This was his, and only his. he finally moved, stepping up to start the prepared presentation, and took up his place next to the silent subject. Did she even breathe? Jenning knew she did but for someone other than him, she would appear long gone. A beautiful corpse, but a gonner nonetheless. Despite himself, the unmoving form unnerved jennings. He wouldn’t have chosen to keep her in stasis for so long. There was no telling what went on in the mind of a body kept somewhere between life and death for a prolonged period of time. but again, maddow wanted a show. and if the mighty Lord Maddog’s new pet monster woke up a drooling idiot, it was apparently worth the gamble.

Maddow spread his arms wide and his customary self-satisfied smile dazzled the audience. “Ladies, and gentlemen. Let me present to you the future. ” he paused to allow Jenning to prepare the subject for the awakening.

As carefully instructed by Maddow ahead of time, Jennning made a show of drawing the phantomgenic liquid into a syringe, displaying it to the crowd before tapping it several times. As planned, the fluid caught the light perfectly. The resulting sprinkling of coloured light drew a gasp from the crowd. People leaned forward to see better. Hushed mumbling, excited tittering. He had their full attention. It had to be perfect. A perfect show. That was all it was. The tip of the sparkling glass syringe with its too long needle barely touched the smooth pale skin at the base of her throat, Between her collarbones. The syringe hovered above the silk gown, made just for this occasion. it draped her naked skin but revealed beautifully the parts that were no longer her, while hiding the raw ragged edges between flesh and metal. No surgeon, however skilled, could make the transition smooth and pretty. Jenning had thought the outfit unnecessary and had privately thought it too expensive and extravagant for a simple whore. it was a body, not a lady. but Maddow had insisted.

The presentation droned on. Lee Maddow told the story of the poor damaged young lady who had come to him after such a horrific accident. Practiced sympathy, executed with perfection. “ Her name is Mary. And she had tears in her eyes when I refused to assist her. I refused this beautiful young woman. Yes, I am shamed to tell you, ladies and gentlemen. I refused to mend her injuries with steel and clumsy machinery. I refused to Marr her beauty such. Can you indeed find fault in my reasoning? ”

From sympathy to regret to pleading. . He lowered his head and folded his hands in front of him momentarily silent. He waited for the gathered to take a good long look. “This unfortunate girl… Such sweet perfection, ruined.” He let the words fade and allowed the silent young girl on display speak silently for him.

and indeed, she was astonishingly beautiful. There was no denying the perfection. Smooth clear skin, a face to take your breath away, Long silky blond hair had been washed and trimmed and combed so it fell in smooth silvery cascades over her shoulders and down her back. A perfectly shaped, manicured hand showed beneath the single long sleeve of her gown. And showing beneath the hem of a long specially tailored dress they could all see an equally perfect naked foot. the parts of her still exposed by the awkwardly shaped dress shone and sparkled in the sunlight streaming through newly cleaned windows. .
“Until!”
Maddow raised a hand and smiled. He turned toward jenning who stood ready. at a small table next to the carefully propped up woman. On the table, a polished wooden box sprouted cables. No attempts had been made to hide the wiring. They were all part of the show. They connected to the woman with clamps that gripped selected parts of her body. One metal wrist, her one metal ankle, and to a small copper knob protruding where a navel had once been.

That was the one procedure Jenning had nearly refused to perform. When the woman had survived the severing of limbs and the massive blood loss, he had thought that had been it. It had after all been his biggest achievement yet. but Maddow hadn’t been satisfied. Lee Maddow was never satisfied. When Mary had been brought to him, her navel, stomach, and all internal organs had been undamaged. Her flat soft belly had been perfect. It had been so perfect, so beautiful. so…. But who was he to say? Jenning banished the thought. He was ready. The button at the top of the box was ready.

In front of filthy riches and their fleeting attention, Maddow became the salesman, the snake oil pusher, and he continued. “Until today! What I will show you today is simple. It’s a miracle. But a miracle of medicine, not of our great Mother of creation. “Mother of Crow, bless us.” He mumbled quickly. . A few in the audience lowered their heads and mumbled their own quick reverie of the Mother.. some of them even repeated the gesture of infinite sky. Not bad, not bad at all. Less than half were believers. and chances were that more than half of those did it only for show. good. Good.
“this is a miracle of reason and modern science. Because, This woman needs no engine.” He paused for the meaning to sink in. It was unheard of. She was obviously re made. with metals. “That’s right. No motors, no hot steam. As you can see. No permanent wiring. or leaky valves. None of that, my friends. And best of all: There is no need for fuel. No dirty, foul smelling coal or wood or even oil. None of that!” Maddow reached the height of his spiel. he pulled in a deep breath and held it, letting it out slowly. Every eye was on him. and he knew he had them. Simply mentioning the possibility of savings had done it. Fuel , which was a sore point for any machine owner and Every master of metal fused servants, was pricy. And that’s where he got them. Presenting the potential of considerable savings to those cheap bastards would give him all the funds he would ever need. From this point, it was all gravy. The crowd exploded in a cascade of questions and objections. but they were easily answered with non-statements and promises of explanations to come. “This is the future. We no longer need those clumsy contraptions. With this brand new system.” He pointed at the syringe in jenning’s hand and then at the contraption standing at the ready.

Jenning nodded and tried to smile. he was ready. If only the pompous drunkard could get on with it. If it weren’t for the allure of fine compensation, and funds to continue his experimenting, this charade wouldn’t be needed at all. But he would play along. As always. But the beauty of this meeting was that he only needed to pull this crap off this one time. Hook them, and they were home free. once the machinery had started, the humming and electrical sparkling was only for show. The phantomgenic substance was all that was needed. and in fact, the whole thing with the syringe was redundant too. The spirit capturing substance could be ingested, or rubbed directly on the skin. It would work either way.

Maddow continued. “Phantomgenics. Remember you heard it here first. This miraculous mixture Professor Jenkers invented will make fuel simply obsolete. old news. a thing of the past. Ladies and gentlemen. With just a single administration of the phantomgenics, and then” there was a slight pause, maddow realized that his glass was empty so he glared at it. He found his smile and waited for the spectators to quiet down. “And then… an electrogenic pulse will do what steam and oil has done for centuries. This machine,” he swept his arm over the metal grid that hung suspended over Mary’s head, And all the unneeded wiring. “is the future. And this is the moment we have all been waiting for. Dr. Kemper, if you please, do proceed.”

All eyes turned to Jennings. He suppressed a grimace at his new name but turned toward the woman.

“Lord Maddow? If I may?” A thin voice from the back of the room piped up.

Jennings froze. Maddow gritted his teeth and waited for the voice to either go away or continue. it would not go away. The nobility quieted and turned to the speaker. who blinked in surprise at the sudden attention. But he quickly gathered his thoughts and continued. “Apologies dear friends. I would like to ask a question.” He cleared his throat and wiped his brow before blinking nearsightedly at Maddow. “Before you proceed with your excellent and certainly very…”
Blink.
“informative demonstration. But I seem to be missing something.”
Blink.
“I would like to be clear on what exactly it is that I…”

Maddow nodded before the man could finish the sentence. “Certainly,” he said, “I’ll be happy to clarify. Please go on.” Okay, Maddow thought, let’s get it over with. His smile never faded. If it stiffened for just a second, few would notice.

“Phantom… genics you say.” The thin man spoke and then moved his lips silently as if searching for his question. “If I’m not misremembering, and I do sincerely apologize if I am incorrect in my assumption here. But Is phantomgenics not simply another name for, how can I say this without causing …. well, I do think that we can all agree that the very name of this process implies a strong association , if not direct relation, to spirit gathering?” his thin eyebrows rose along with his voice. All attention shifted from their host to the little man. A few glances drifted uncertainly to the inert woman, some returned to Maddow, but most remained watching the young Lord Ralph, who they all knew to be something of a trouble maker. Ralph continued. “Of course, this may not at all be what is happening here.”

Maddow struggled for a moment with his face but managed to keep the smile, barely. He cleared his throat, calling for attention. The mystified audience turned to him as one, expecting an explanation. In some cases the aged expression was unfamiliar In some cases they actually wanted to know. The group was divided. In his favour he was sure. Maddow waved his hand and topped up his smile, he nodded as if actually thinking about it. “Certainly, the confusion is understandable. Lord Ralph does have a point. It is reasonable to compare the two and to make that very simple mistake. Especially for someone not inclined toward serious academic studies.”

The thin little man actually seemed to bristle and started to reply but Maddow cut him off with an assuring smile. He nodded. He directed one index finger toward the ceiling, waited. He had hoped to avoid this, but now that it had been brought up, he couldn’t be seen to try to avoid it. “As I’m sure you are all aware of, in this enlightened society, the science of energy and life homo-teneki-thesis, is the basics of the newly developed motor as well as biblioneuric formulaic thinking and it is as you all understand quite basic and perfectly technological in nature.” And since everyone thought that everyone else understood. So they all agreed. Such basic science. Practically more common sense than anything. Naturally. Relieved, the audience resumed their observation of the remade woman and her attending scientist. Wasn’t he the surgeon too? Doctors, professors, they were all the same. What was interesting now was the sparkling needle and how the woman did look very much dead. But if Maddow said otherwise. Who were they to say? Lord Ralph stood helpless at the fringe of the excitement. He glanced around, but no one paid him any mind. He sighed, blinked, and resigned himself to watch. But his intoxicated host wasn’t quite done. Maddow set the final nail in the coffin of Lord Ralph’s reputation. With a tight smile, he finished his impromptu presentation. Never mind that the only one listening, barely, was a minor nobility, who didn’t know his place. “I can assure you that it is not the case. This process is completely different from spirit gathering. “What you, my good man, is referring to is an old theory about the collection and imprisonment of spiritual knowledge. Naturally, that barbaric practice was condemned by the church and banned. Phantomgenics cannot be mistaken for such outdated satanic beliefs. I assure you. What we create here has nothing to do with ghosts and,” he paused to chuckle at the entertaining thought and shook his head. “spiritual adventuring. Such a ludicrous notion. One might wonder where such a distinguished gentlemen could have even heard of such nonsense. Superstition. Surely not, My good Sir.” He raised an eyebrow and waited. Ralph said nothing. With a final cold stare at Lord Ralph, Maddow scanned the room for further questions, knowing there would be none. he turned and waved at Jenning. “If you would, kennings? is she ready? ”

Jenning quickly raised the syringe into position and at a final nod from Lord Maddow he slowly pressed the needle into pale skin, broke it, and slid it into her body. He proceeded to employ the drug, depressing the plunger slowly. At the same moment, he pressed the button on the box on the table. Gasps and and a quikly suppressed yelp from the audience proved the perfection of his timing. The thin metal rods crisscrossing each other over their heads hummed and flashes of bright light swam around the metal, illuminating the woman, bathing the polished metal and shiny silk, creating a better spectacle than Maddow could have ever imagined. A hush fell over the people. A low crackle from the metal grid was the only sound heard for several seconds. the people with the funds to sponsor a bright new future, seemed pale and lifeless in front of the glowing apparition. “Silence please, dear friends,” Maddow said needlessly. All eyes were on the remade woman. No one seemed to breathe as Jenning removed the empty syringe and stepped out of the way. This would be it. A completely new way of fusing man and machine had been born. There was a limitless supply of energy in the emptiness around them all and they had found a way to tap it. Not only to fuel the new types of humans sure to fill the market, but to drive those machines that now demanded fossil fuels and endless maintenance. “Behold, Ladies and gentlemen. See again. There is no engine and no heavy machinery to drag around. Mary?” Maddow stepped forward,. “Mary, my dear, it is time to come back to us now. he raised a hand and placed to fingers under her chin. He turne her face up slightly and leaned closer. As breathless as the watching crowd, he talked to her. “Be alive.”

And in an instant she was.

Jenning’s heart shot up into his throat and started galloping. Mary’s face twitched. then her mouth tightened in sudden awareness. No matter how confident he had been, Jennings hadn’t been sure. he still wasn’t sure she would be fine. Mary’s remade right arm jerked to life and rose with a few uncertain jerks and twitches. But it steadied quickly and she held it in front of her. Not until then did she open her eyes. Her expression was unreadable when she folded one finger and then another. Her body shuddered and she blinked The shudder subsided as the electrogenic sparkling faded and finally stopped completely.

The audience surged forward for a closer look and excited conversations broke out all around Maddow and he grinned in satisfaction. Mary turned to them, suddenly aware of the presence of people. But But they weren’t important. She turned her head slowly to the tastelessly dressed man who stood too close. He wasn’t important either. She ignored him. Instead, she returned to look at the thing in front of her. , waved it and the polished metal threw cold light at her face, intensifying the pale features. Maddow stood in front of her now, preparing to deal with any problems that may arise from an involuntary body modification. But it would be easy enough. Jenning had things at hand to ease the poor girls difficulties to adapt. He smiled and gently took her biological hand in his, squeezing it. Mary didn’t see the man standing in front of her. Not at first as her blurred vision cleared and the thing, that finely crafted abomination that was and was not a part of her transfixed her. What she saw was a hand, perfect in every detailed mechanism, polished and glimmering in the light from the window. A masterpiece of body-modification. A hand that obeyed her with perfect accuracy. It was hers but it was other. she felt the smooth movements when she curled it into a fist. She felt the pressure. she even felt the warmth of the sunlight on the glimmering surface. She saw the thing and she hated it. She knew what had happened. She knew what it was. Mary’s face twisted, turned ugly. The initial moments of horror showed for only that; a rare few short moments where Mary allowed her feelings to show. The pit of grief and disgust, bottomless as it was, flashed in a second of weakness before she clamped down on it. Mary hardened back to her previous self, hard as the steel that now made up a large portion of her body. Cold as the anticipating gleam in her makers eyes. Mary calmed her breathing and returned Madow assessing stare with one of her own. The man who had promised her that this very thing would never happen. The man that had held her as she lay between the rails. Where greedy gravel drank her blood and vision finally began to fade. It hadn’t gone as easy as she would have wanted, but there was no doubt that injuries would kill her quickly. A little bit of planning would have been better perhaps. Placing her neck directly on the rail instead of impulsively walking in front of the oncoming shrieking train would have done the job quicker. But that didn’t matter now. The man who had peered beneath the train, held her one remaining hand in his, and told her that everything would be alright, had betrayed her. Instead of transportation for remaking in one of the prison surgeries, she had taken her destiny into her own hands. But rather than letting her escape, this man had remade her according to his own agenda. She didn’t know how she knew this. she had never met the man before trying to kill herself. but she knew what had been done with her, and why. She looked into his eyes and the Mary that had survived the streets since offering herself for the first time to a man not unlike the man before her, had finally failed. She had failed to die. This man had taken even that away from her. Mary smiled. But it was a smile that Count Maddow had never seen. A smile devoid of life, lacking any emotion other than pure hatred. Mary didn’t dwell on troubles. she dealt with things and never gave in to regret. She had long since lost the ability to love. But the seething hatred for the man who had thwarted her plan to rid herself of people just like him, finally made Maddow look away. His self-satisfied smile faltered and finally died. But before he turned his back to her, he exchanged a quick glance with Jenning who nodded. The meaning was all too clear. “Take good care of our young lady now. We will chat more later. There is much to speak of, you and I. When you have settled in, of course. ” Maddow mumbled, looking at her but directing his words to Jenning. “My Lady. ” He nodded to Mary and kept her gaze longer than was comfortable for any of them. But in the end he yielded, and looked away. His confidence rushed back with another radiant smile and he turned back to his noble guests. Mary stirred uncomfortably in her restraints. But nothing could be done now. She relaxed and it took less than a minute to survey what had been done to her. It was bad. But it could have been worse. she let go of all thoughts of what had perhaps once been. It was easy to let it fade into the nothing that was before. Finally looking away from the lord she turned her thoughts to the now. She had been given a new lease on existence, no matter that it had been against her will, she had gotten another chance. and with that, she had found a brand new purpose. But she would have to bide her time. She would wait and see. and learn. The man who had awakened her with his invention stood watching her, unsure of where to look, really. She was his masterpiece. she was the thing that shouldn’t be. And he had made her. Remade her. A dead whore that he had made into something new. She was his by right. But never had he felt so taken. The breath caught and he quickly pulled a second syringe out of a pocket. The power over her continued existence was no comfort. It was a meaningless power and he knew it. this woman was never his. He may have moved every part of her body, touched every inch of skin, violated her form to the core of her. But she would never be owned by anyone. Not even Maddow. Mary’s cold smile lingered as she looked Jenning over. pointedly ignoring the second needle. Just a man. Men, she could deal with. Jenning stepped closer but she shook her head and spoke softly, so quietly that the excited spectators wouldn’t hear her. “Jenning. I am correct? ” rough from disuse, her voice scraped uncomfortably. Jenning hesitated but nodded. He stepped nervously from foot to foot and couldn’t quite meet her unblinking eyes. Mary sighed, suddenly tired. Her face softened. The icy smile turned warm and almost genuine for the briefest of moments as she focused on the sweating scientists. “I will cause no trouble, Jenning. That concoction of yours will not be needed. ” She glanced at the syringe in his hand. A sedative? A poison? It didn’t matter. and closed her eyes. So tired. so very tired. Her defences fell away and it was suddenly so hard to remain standing. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked at Jenning beneath charcoaled lashes and innocence. “Jenning. ” She mumbled, tasting the name, finding it appealing. “You saved me. ” She quickly looked down, shuddering in her bonds. Blinked away a sudden tear. She closed her eyes with a deep sigh. She turned her face away from the man and left it at that. It would be a start. A second later any thought of Jenning, The Saviour, left her mind to make room for more immediate matters. She needed to rest and learn about her new body. If her life had been hard and unforgiving before, it was nothing compared to what would come. Rest, bide her time, and then.

next up: Chapter 2 – The choices of butterflies

Mother of Crow – The prologue (Draft)

Mother of Crow

By jenny K Brennan

This Sundered World, book 2

A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don’t know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.

Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K Brennan – All rights reserved.

Prologue

A scout flittered down in front of Owl and tweeted brokenly through a scrap of paper held in its mouth. It spat out the paper and flittered off. Owl looked at the note. Paper? Paper was an unusual commodity among the guardians. There was only one machine capable of producing paper in the nest capital. And the transcription of that information had proven to be increasingly unreliable. But if Butterfly had talked to its counterpart, or parts, or fractions of self scattered throughout the lands, this could not be ignored.

But it could wait for a little while longer. Owl’s awareness of the worlds constantly shifting states of being didn’t quite prepare him for the idea of manifested thought being able to be everywhere and every time at the same time. Owl was too solipsistic to appreciate an existence that wasn’t focused in one body working within one set of instructions for a set number of tasks organized by priority. Butterfly was a concept. And how could concepts without blood or bones or duty be real.
The communications between butterfly and the rest of Butterfly unnerved Owl. But they were real. There was no denying the value of ever present and all encompassing knowledge. When it worked. Unfortunately most of what Butterfly knew was illogical and inaccurate at best. Deceptively logical and misleading at worst. But still, this butterfly could not be disregarded and until it could be replaced with a fresh specimen it would have to do. Owl had no interest in the dying butterfly and its faulty prophecies. But if the new formula worked as the monks had assured him that it would, the next generation communicators would be useful indeed. They would not guess at the state of the world. They would know. And they would obey. And it would mean obedience without all the softhearted diplomacy Owl dispised. They would have power. Real power. Owl liked power. Power to take knowledge and shape it, not just observe and report.
Owls bloodstaine feathers bristled softly with a delighted shiver. He checked himself and managed to contain his excitement. He needed to be calm. It would be soon enough. There was work to do, never hurry, all in good time. The big white owls scattered thoughts found their proper positions and his eyes twitched to his still grimy coat and snatched up the scrap of paper. He tucked it into a slot in his chest. He gave the human a nod to proceed. Not even thoughts of Butterfly or the sure to be disgustingly diplomatic visit with a hive of humans could keep him from enjoying his cleaning and polish.

The old woman trembled when folding her cloth and continued her work; slowly and meticulously rubbing each of Owl’s metal parts to a mirror like shine. This part was easy. It was the feather cleaning that gave her the nightmares. Blood, most of the time still fresh and sticky tended to creep into every crevice and every intricately carved copper plate and grafted blade base. That was nothing compared to the blood-soaked and now drying coat. This Owl in particular did none of the cleaning himself. It encouraged extra care and unbreakable loyalty, he told his entourage of tinkerers and communicators and yes, the cleaners, at every opportunity.

And so it was. The woman never failed in her duties. Until the day of her death she would never fail, never falter, and never submit. She was too old to fight but never too frail to hate. Unbreakable loyalty, timeless grief, bottomless hatred. Those were the things she knew and nothing else. And the cleaner who was still human who had never forgotten that she had a name once, polished another convoluted silver talon engraving.

Coming next: Chapter 1 — Build me pretty, break me prettier

Authors note: I will be doing edits every now and then right on this page and sync that to my scrivener project. That’s just one way I like to work. It’s motivating somehow to have a piece of work on a page, already published. This specific text needs to be edited down somewhat. Its a bit wordy and it feels a bit awkward in parts. The balance between telling what needs to be told in a prologue to make it interesting and cramming exposition down the readers throat can be hard. In a second book in a series, that also feels a bit weird. To understand who Owl is, it may be absolutely necessary to read the first book. On the other hand, I should be able to make this character and the events here clear enough to get a drift of what’s going on. Am I doing that? Do let me know if you have a minute. And thanks for any feedback.
jenny

This Sundered World – More than music! Get the whole story

`This Sundered World - A Mother's Heart - Book cover

This Sundered World – Get the whole story.

Icarus Machine – the band
This Sundered World – The Album – iTunes
The book.

The Icarus Machine vision is based on the interaction between fiction and music. And as a lyricist and author as well as vocalist, this is such a fascinating concept for me. This album was written alongside the story that is now the companion novel with the same name. Each song on the album has its origin in some part of the story of Gabriel and his companions making their way through “The Sundered World”. The story is available at Amazon. This doesn’t mean that the album can’t be enjoyed without knowing what is inside the head of Bird (As the crow flies), who the fat lady really is (Indestructible), or who the spirit is that haunts Gabriel (Salt From Tears). And it doesn’t mean that the story can’t be enjoyed without the hard driving guitars in Clockwork Guardians, or the crazy bass and angst of Majesty of Waste, or the amazing drum work in Failing Son. But if you are a reader and you found yourself on the Icarus Machine pages, I can recommend experiencing both.
If you are a member of Kindle Unlimited you can already read this book as part of your subscription. For the rest of you, “This Sundered World – A Mother’s Heart” can be yours for less than a semi-fancy cup of coffee. And even if you’re not a reader, get it for a friend and support Icarus Machine while you’re at it.
As Lady Morette once said:

“”I’ll expect a gentleman such as your good self dear Gabriel, could deal with the matter as soon as may be appropriate?” She raised her one eyebrow and waited for Gabriel to nod his agreement.

“Ah. Um. Certainly my Lady.” He said without having a single idea regarding how he would accommodate the lady’s wishes anymore than he knew how to bring a dismembered rock-spindel to life.

“Oh, don’t be daft Boy. I’m no Lady. Mistress Morette will do.” She waved a hand and stepped past Gabriel and Jesse. Without looking back she crossed the little rail with its resilient little automaton guardian and reached the road before Gabriel had even collected his thoughts. Jesse grinned at him and followed the lady who stopped at the side of the road, looking both directions before, without hesitation, turning left and south. Jesse whistled as she passed the drones and Bird came from nowhere and walked beside her as they followed the lady south. Gabriel had sighed and scratched his head. Muttering. “Bath? Okay. Certainly there will be a bath around here somewhere.”

Jenny K Brennan
Jenny Brennan’s Amazon author page.

Icarus Machine – Sundered Records 2016

Bitchfight Part 1 of 3

Bitchfight

By Jenny K Brennan
Part 1 of 3

Includes violence and a shitload of bad words. Be warned.

Part 1

Denny waited and kept her head down. She listened and shrank in the sudden unease that made her skin crawl, thoughts roil, and fingers flutter uselessly when attempting to turn a page in the book she tried to read. There was nowhere she could go. She was trapped, caught in the open, unprepared. The only protection she knew was within. Feigning superiority, pulling that blanket of numbing arrogance over her and cower below its brittle protection.

Maybe she would go away, the woman approaching. Hope flared, faded. Because Denny couldn’t lie to herself. But she wouldn’t show weakness, because no one could ever be allowed to se the trembling echo of the her that could have been. Never.

Maybe she could run. Maybe she could avoid the confrontation. It would mean revealing her fear. By standing up, closing the book, and walk to the stairs that would take her out of the sub way platform, through the upper level, out into the night. She could catch another train. But she would have to use the stairs to go that route, and that’s where she was, on her way down.

Footsteps, a metallic hollow echo. Denny knew. She shouldn’t have known. They were just steps coming closer. But the vague recollection instantly turned to knowledge. She shouldn’t be surprised. It had always been that way. She should after all know herself.

Even after dying, the sound of boots on stone whispered of fear of its own echo. Kris stood at the bottom of the stairs, lingered for a moment, then stepped on to the tiles. A thin squeak as damp rubber scuffed glazed ceramics cut through the air, intrusive, sharp. There was something about those strides, and then the pause. Something Denny had always hated. A deliberate slowness, the way they seemed to have a goal, yet never hurried.

The lower level of the Stockholm central station kept its peace, chilly, reeking of indifferent infrastructure, rushed humanity in uneasy rest. Stairs descended and dipped down between two parallel train tracks which framed a mosaic tiled floor in grays browns and misty blues. They continued into darkness and destinations determined, scheduled, and mapped. Straight ahead, in the centre of the big floor, a square cube of painted concrete, a utility shack of today, took pride of place. A metal door, dotted with subway art halfheartedly scrubbed and scraped at by unenthusiastic cleaning crews, faced the stairs. A single bench, bolted to shack and floor, faced the south tracks.

A solitary woman and a homeless man, each in their own destitute universe, shared the bench in silence. Denny waited for the next ride home and the old man, seeking a moments haven away from the world above, would be escorted out soon enough, along with his bottle of forgetfulness. Further along the man made cave, a triad of teens stood mumbling, smoking, waiting for their own coach to come and bring them to wherever.

Denny kept her eyes on the tale of horror opened in her lap; but words became Senseless scribbles. What was fiction when existence was fear, gloom, and riddled with “what if”?

She listened, inwardly recoiling from the stride she knew so well.
A low rumble became audible, matured into racket as it approached. Denny trained her eyes on darkness turning bright, watched as the tunnel spewed out its metallic traveler. It wasn’t hers; the next ride to Haninge was still twenty minutes away. It never crossed her mind to get on the train and go somewhere other than there, anywhere. Maybe that was her train. She would get on it and…
The train slowed, stopped, opened all doors with a release of pressure and tension of springs and coughed up its load.

An old woman stepped out and stood still for a moment, adjusting a purse strap. A pinched face permanently etched with apprehension, tightened further in disdain when she noticed the old man, turned to fearful when the triad of young men broke out in laughter.

Denny assessed the gathering of kids for a moment and deemed them harmless. Loud didn’t mean dangerous. If you come across a silent person where thoughts are hidden, intent impossible to extract, then by all means beware. Those kids had a mouth, no brain, no harm. She dismissed them.

She turned to the plump old lady making her way along the platform as the train pulled away.

Annette Larsson glanced at the young woman and the sleeping bum as she passed, meeting Denny’s eyes for a split second before looking away, hurrying past. Click clock, scurrying heels sang, click clock, square hard surfaces replied.

Denny watched her as she approached the bottom of the stairs, the only way out, besides endless dark tunnels of rail, rats and who knows what else. Denny didn’t like it. Kris wouldn’t bother an old woman would she? Oh yeah, she would. Click clock, click clock. As Denny turned to observe, she saw Kris. How long had it been? Not long enough.

Kris couldn’t give a shit. No matter what the subject was, she just simply didn’t give a fuck. A generous portion of skin and a metal studded navel showed between camouflage pant lining and sleeveless top. From one belt loop dangled an I-Pod, one front pocket bulged. Either a cell phone or a huge chunk of pot. No, Denny thought, thinking of all the times Kris had been picked up, questioned by frustrated police, and been set free. They never got her, because she never carried.

She stood with her head bent to the IPod, adjusted a set of ear buds, nodding in sync with what she heard. A wide silver band on the thumb scraped against the plastic. Her lips moved in silent sing along. She let go of the player, straightened up, and noticed the old woman coming toward her. She grinned. Denny froze, wished she could fade back into the pretend world that lay open in her lap.
Kris was the same, just worse. Black T, frayed edges, black cap turned backwards over a short tangle of purple hair. She used to be beautiful. Like Denny, actually exactly like Denny, but Kris had hated the constant comparisons. And now she had done it again. Found something else that would make Kris Kris, and not just Denny’s twin sister.

Her face was clean, from make-up if not from embellishment, Denny noticed, surprised. Kris never appeared in public without layers of protective paint, until now. Denny found it impossible to look away. No makeup could enhance, or restore, Kris’s face. Permanently etched in skin, a blue dragon stretched out lazily on one cheek with its tail trailing down and across her neck in a possessive strangle-hold. The resting dragons head lay high up on the brow while the only visible limb, the front left leg and paw, dug its sharp claws into the edge of Kris’s left eyebrow.

Kris stood still, blue eyes assessing, calculating. Watched the approaching figure. She stood where the old lady needed to pass. She waited, baring her teeth in a predatory grin.

Annette kept walking, deliberately not looking anywhere but at the stairs. She was almost there, almost home free, almost… Hurrying, passing.

Kris liked what she saw. White knuckles on a chubby hand gripping a floral embroidered purse. As if Kris would bother with that crone’s petty cash.
She moved, pushed head and shoulders forward, and shoved her face up close to Annette’s.
“What sup girlfriend?” Loud and mocking it achieved just the reaction she wanted. The little old lady jerked back and gasped, stumbled, nearly crumbling to the floor.
Laughter erupted from the idling teenagers.

Annette released a pitiful shriek as she absorbed the girls beautiful, horrible, face in a split second. She had never seen anything like it. Why would anyone paint something so terrible on one’s face? She stumbled on, cared not for dignity, and hurried up the steps. Up and out, home. Oh dear, oh dear, A hand flew to her chest; calm little heart, Oh dear, calm yourself. It’s only a girl.
Kris chuckled and shook her head, watching the old fraidy-cat disappear from sight. She liked the look of fear, the scent of power, and some bitches were easier than others. Granny was no challenge, but still a quick fix for boredom. Oh, Granny, hope you sleep well tonight.

She sighed and looked around the station, grew still. Just sitting there with her sticky fingers in a book. Why read words on fucking paper when there was music? Movies? Parties? Well, that one did. She went to college to prove she was smart.
Kris stood still for a long moment, frowning. She tilted her head and reclaimed her mislaid grin as she watched Denny pretend she didn’t see her. The bitch sat as far away from the sleeping old drunk as she could. Kris let her eyes glide over the closer figure, ignoring the old man. Denny, fashionable and proper as always, leaned back. Leather pants covered legs that stretched out, crossing at the ankles. Dark brown boots in brushed leather with modestly high heels. Oh, isn’t’ that precious. Little sister learned to dress finally. Kris raised her eyebrows in reluctant admiration that she would never admit to, a feeling shredded and disbursed almost immediately by disgust and a hot flash of contempt. Denny wore a black v-necked sweater, and long mahogany hair fell over her shoulders, placing half her face in shadow.

Denny, you bitch. Surprise at seeing her sister after years of chosen distance, sputtered and disappeared among old feelings. That face, so like hers it was atrocious. It stirred up Sparks from sores of inflamed memories buried deep, but forever smoldering. She checked the blaze with a pinpoint of control beneath a rockslide of resentment. She exhaled, hissed through her teeth, reshaped her features into cold diffidence, and started toward the unavoidable.

Denny heard her approach but refused to look up. She stubbornly kept her eyes on the words in a story she failed to remember. Deliberate steps slowed and stopped. Ear buds produced a tinny beat that Denny recognized as Kris’s own; from an early album. She dug through memories and found the title— Bitch fight —among the cacophony of Kris’s music. Fast, hard and violent. What else was there? It was not only dark and violent; it was a message, a promise. She sighed as she remembered the lyrics, “I heard you’re playing tonight, let’s have some fun, I’ll bring my gun.”

A song about hatred, a song about Denny. She pushed the disturbing thought away.

The tinny beat faded and for a moment, breathing played solo. She tensed. She wished it wouldn’t bother her. Kris stood over her, polluting the air between them with all things untold. She couldn’t pretend to read so she lowered the book and raised her head, focused on the middle distance, avoiding her sister’s eyes, and waited. Denny could wait, Kris didn’t have that ability.

The wall beyond the track, on billboards impossible to avoid, products delivered their sales pitches with beautiful faces, well thought out camera angles, and calculated sticky phrases. Only colors, shapes and useless information.

Kris stared down at the stubborn head. Up close, she noticed a thin gold chain hanging from Denny’s neck, holding a pendant “S”. She stared at the gothic script for a long moment. She put a finger on the gold letter. Denny didn’t twitch. Kris smiled; the tension in Denny was palpable, fake cool nothing but fear. She pinched the little pendant between thumb and index finger, turning and twisting it, felt an urge to dull the mocking shine, scrape polish into ugliness, and break that disgusting glare of perfection. She licked her lips.
“So you’re fucking the word-fag are you?” Denny said nothing. Kris started grinning.

Denny sighed and looked up at her other self. Their eyes locked in communication that needed no words; it was all there, sharp as a knife, but distorted and muddled by time, newer edges, different shapes impossible to unravel. History twisted and disjointed, but after so many years established as fact.

Denny jerked her head up and smiled. “At least I’m getting something real. Not like you.” She let a slow gaze travel along Kris’s appearance and crinkled her face in distaste. Then she closed the book, shrugged and displayed her palms, spreading fingers in exasperation, as if it was self evident and she couldn’t believe it had to be explained, “You know, like someone with a real job? Someone that won’t fuck you just to get that shit you sell.”

Kris sighed. She had heard it all before. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re trying to piss me off.” Shrugging. “My shit is the best.”

“I wouldn’t know.” Denny said, straightening up. “I’m not a junkie.” Nice face-paint. Who did you have to blow to get that done?” Kris nodded and grinned, dropped the necklace and pulled on Denny’s bra strap, let it snap back. Denny grimaced. “Is that the best you can do?” She clenched her teeth and forced a smile, keeping her eyes leveled on Kris.
“Maybe…” she said in a low even voice.”Maybe you shouldn’t touch girl’s bras. It might give people the wrong impression.” Kris face darkened. A weak point in that façade had collapsed, an exposed nerve ignited. She rocked back on her heels, scraped the back of her neck with ragged nails, considering. Her eyes fell on the old drunk. “Is that your new daddy?” she asked with quiet menace.

“Yeah, he doesn’t fuck little kids as far as I know.” Denny pushed on, “Speaking of kiddy fuckers, seen daddy lately?” Kris said nothing, but had turned a shade more flammable. Denny moved the thriller from her lap, dropped it on the bench, stood up and faced her identical twin. She knew what not to say and What she said next ranked high on the top ten list of No-no’s.

Don’t miss Bitchfight Part 2.

[subscribe2]

Doggy snatchers. A NaNoWriMo winner (Unfinished). Chapter 1 – The unmentionables

Doggy snatchers

By Jenny K Brennan

Chapter 1 – The unmentionables

Kent street West – Early Saturday

Out of impenetrable dark came a sound, a chitter chatter, as from a thousand rats. It rose and intensified. One chattering voice said. “How’s that? Can you move?” Several seconds of expectant silence passed where not a single rat even dared breathe. An intake of breath, a clearing of a clogged up throat, then a hoarse male voice answered. “Yeah, I can move eh, but I can’t see. These beings need light you know.” A moment of silence was quickly replaced by agitated chatter.

“Oh.” Rustling, tippy tap of small things moving around in haste.

Click.

“Aaaahhh, shit, cut it out. It hurts, the light, it burns!”

Click.

Darkness returned. Titter tatter, hushed chatter. Heavy breathing, and the Canadian voice muttered. “I have to be careful with that. Ok, my lids are shut now. Turn that light on again.”

Click.

He sat in a chair, naked but for a single sock; semitransparent beige crumpled and twisted around the ankle, its mate nowhere in sight. F3212 shivered in the raw, musty air. He was muscular, tattooed from neck to wrists, topped with a head of blond tangles, and proudly displayed innumerable scars on every limb but his penis. It dangled loose over the edge of the chair where he sat slumped. The man, who in the deepest crevices of his mind knew his name was Calvin Roberts, and not F3212, carefully opened his eyes, and squinted at the light, slowly adapted to it.

The big man blinked grit out of his eyes, and found himself looking at the soft wrinkle of flesh between his legs. “What is that?” And then he knew. The body knew, so F3212 knew. He didn’t quite understand it though. It seemed to serve several different purposes, of which one was to reproduce.

Reproduction F3212 understood. In this specific specimen’s patterns of thoughts though, the relationship with the opposite sex, what apparently was called females, or bitches, or babes, or skanks, or any of the names in this body’s library of vocabulary, was more complex than seemed strictly necessary.

And so F3212 probed and found many hidden places in Calvin’s mind. Places that F3212 did not want to go again. Places that not even Calvin wanted to go.

There were so many conflicting emotions, so many strange preferences. Although F3212 suddenly understood Calvin’s need and also shame over his cross dressing, those ideas and images would take long to ponder. Odd, but intriguing.

A slightly fuzzy ball of multicolored light, with fragmented swirls and streaks of black dancing across its diffuse surface, waited for F3212 to acknowledge successful transfer. The little creature, twenty-seventh of his kind, one of only forty-two qualified for human insertion, stood unsteadily on an undeterminable number of pointy stick-like limbs that moved independently to each other. They propelled the creature in little hops and jumps, skips and spins. But it stayed where it was, on the armrest, next to F3212’s left digit… hand. It paused in its pulsating and spoke, tap, tap, tapping its many feet that were not feet. Titter tatter.
“Something amiss? Your… face changes in a way I believe is agitation. Or something called horror. Is it horror this body makes you… feel?”

Calvin, who wasn’t quite Calvin, screwed up his face, opened his mouth wide, probed parts of his body with strange but familiar digits. He closed his lips, pursed them, and drew them back, working the fleshy muscle inside the mouth in experimental flops and contractions. He gurgled, wheezed, ground the teeth, and moaned. He pinched a red protrusion on his front. Nipple, the body advised, and analysis could be considered complete, if not totally satisfactory. “No, it is confusing. This body is so very… so strange.” He stood up, tried his weight on one foot, then the other. He bent his knees, stretched his arms, felt the rough growth on his face. “Functional, if not optimal. It will do.”

He turned to the little flickering light, which if flickering lights could look apprehensive, looked apprehensive as it tic, tic, ticked away with the many feet and leaned a little ways away from the human that was not a human. Calvin’s face changed, became rubbery with shifting sensations and contradicting impulses. A spastic move seemed to shift everything out of true and a shiver traveled through the body. Then it stopped, leaving the human perfectly still.

F3212 saw through the human’s eyes, could speak using the human’s tongue, but the connection to anything beyond Calvin’s natural perception faded. Stunned by a sensation never experienced before, F3212 watched the lights dim a little bit, felt all other senses dull, and lost control of the body. Not for long, just a short slip that shouldn’t have been possible. But long enough to change everything.

Calvin offered a thumbs up and a splitting of the teeth and lips in something that should represent joy. In this particular body however, the sensation that provoked the grimace had a strong leaning toward malice. Wicked happy. That’s what this body was feeling. Rage mixed with satisfaction. So strange.

He spread the fingers of his right hand, fisted them, spread them again but this time he bent the first finger, placed the thumb on the first finger’s nail, moved it to the small maintenance worker that had arranged this particular snatching, and flicked it off the armrest.

The ball of light exploded in a quick white flash and a series of agitated beeps and squeals. Calvin laughed. When B27 landed on the bare concrete floor, it sprang up and tittered off to the open ventilation shaft and turned, stomping its sharpened limbs in fury. “We do not appreciate such attitude, F3212, we will not accept another failure. You know what to do. Just don’t forget. Humans wear clothes. The runaway must be returned. Report here when successful.”

B27 could have saved itself some trouble, because F3212 didn’t hear. The awareness of many had vanished. The thing that couldn’t happen, had just happened. F3212 was alone.

With a final huffing squeal, B27 turned and rapidly disappeared into the dark shaft. It would lead out. A group of lower level operators, flickering in green instead of white, quickly followed the boss and vanished.

Calvin was alone in his basement, where the unmentionables had found him, passed out on a soiled futon mattress. Why he had gone down there to drink himself stupid, not even Calvin the way he was before, and sober, could have answered.

But Calvin was no longer alone in his head, nor was he even remotely sole master of his flesh, bones, or thoughts. He was strong though.
He stood silent for a long while. Fascinated by a wonderfully complicated view of life, new knowledge, novel sensations. He knew what had happened, and he also knew he should curl up and shriek in terror. Most would. Calvin was strong though, and no little brain sucking alien would take him down without a fight. Nothing would suppress Calvin Robert’s urges.

He relaxed back in the chair, letting his curiosity lessen his resistance. Just for the time being. Because really, what the hell did they want?

The thing inside him suddenly knew with painful clarity that they had made yet another mistake. Yet one more bad judgment. Even as The alien regained control over Calvin the human, it realized that these creatures could not be controlled, not for long. The little parasite was revolted and at the same time, intrigued by all the possibilities the new body could offer, and wary of its power.

For now, F3212 was in control. F3212 would find the runaway and bring him home, away from this terrible place.

But F3212 felt something that his borrowed body wasn’t capable of.

F3212 was afraid.