Cold War Story–Needs Name–Introduction

The door opened and a young woman entered. She was well tailored, and her bag was a luxury brand that I knew from before the war. The guard murmured something to her as he pulled the door closed, and she nodded.

“Miss Constanza, I am Lillian Vernon, and I’d like to ask you a few questions about your wartime activities, for the morning Messenger,” she said, speaking rapidly, pulling several items out of her bag. A notepad was set on the table, followed by a pen, an audio recorder, and  a bottle of water.

“Of course,” I said duly. That was why this meeting had been arranged. I had been told by the warden, who oversaw my communication with the outside world, that this bright young reporter had thought it would be entertaining to take my story to the general public. I don’t know how she’d managed it, when I was labeled a national traitor, and was biding my time until the end, the day when the government finished what it had started. My execution day.

“First, let’s see if this is working,” she chirped, not deterred by my lack of enthusiasm. Her fingers danced over the recorded, fixing the tape and setting it into the on position. “Thirtieth of March, 1954, St. Helena’s Penitentiary for Women, beginning at 8 in the morning.” She set the receiver on the table between us. “Lillian Vernon, interviewing Ms. Victoire Constanza.”

Apparently satisfied with the results, she flipped her notebook open, and removed the cap from her pen. Looking at me fully for the first time, she seemed to grow- reinforced with professionalism, perhaps.

“First, tell me what your role was in the events of September twenty-first, 1950?” she asked, her hand ready to write.

“I was the one who burned the flag,” I said, memories flooding back. “That was our signal, you know.”

“So you were involved from the beginning?”

“No, no, I wasn’t,” I said, meeting her gaze squarely. “The beginning was longer ago than you might imagine.”

“When was the beginning, then?”

“Do you want to know about my role in the movement, or the history of the movement?” I asked abruptly. She studied me for a minute, then answered.

“I want to know your story, though clarification may be necessary.”

“The government won’t like it,” I warned.

“The government can’t stop the public from knowing the truth.”

“Then I’ll tell you my story.”

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Nameless Story III Chapter 3

His card stayed where he had left it until several days after Julie’s funeral, when I helped Lizzy clean the library. She picked it up and looked curiously at it, reading the name several time through.

“What’s this doing here?” she asked me, offering the card to me. I took it and glanced down at it.

“Andre Bourbon? I don’t think that Papa associates with journalists,” I said, turning it over.

“You could ask your father, perhaps?” Lizzy suggested.

“No,” I said. Papa had shut himself up in his room, rarely emerging. Lizzy and I had taken turns bringing him trays, but even he hardly at what we brought him. It was then that I remembered. “It’s the motorist’s card.”

“Why’d he leave it?” Lizzy asked, turning away to finish her dusting.

“He offered his assistance, should we need it,” I said, sliding the card into my apron pocket. Later I would put it with my father’s other cards.

~~~

Thomas Letter~~~

“Samantha,” Henry said after we had finished our supper one evening. “Father received a letter concerning you earlier this evening.”

“What about me?” I asked, clearing the table. After the expenses of Julie’s funeral, we had to let go of our evening maid, which meant that Lizzy and I were trying to fill her place.

“Thomas Cook wanted to maintain correspondence with you while he’s working abroad,” Henry said. “Because he intends to pay you court when mourning ends.”

“And what does father think of this?” I asked calmly, pausing.

“Papa hasn’t seen the letter yet. Nor will he,” Henry said. “I’ve been handling his personal correspondence.”

“What?” I asked, surprised. “But, Henry-”

“Samantha, he wasn’t responding to them,” Henry said. “Good lord, have you seen the man, Sammy? He sits catatonic on the edge of his bed. His guilt is eating him alive from the inside out.”

“So you’re reading and answering his mail? It’s not as if he’s dead, Henry!”

“But it’s also not as if he’s in his right mind, Sam,” he retorted. “Now, back to Thomas. Should I give him permission to write you?”

“Do what you like, Henry,” I said, gathering my load and heading out to the kitchen with our empty dishes. I had just set them down on the counter when I heard a Lizzy shriek and a crash from upstairs.

“Lizzy, is everything alright?” Henry called, and I heard him thunder up the stairs. Terrified, I raced to follow him upstairs.

“Mr. Hancock!” Lizzy was blubbering uncontrollably. She stood outside the door to father’s room, sobbing hysterically. “I went in to bring him his supper and I found him like that!” Henry burst into the bedroom and I moved to follow him as Lizzy grabbed onto my arm, holding me in place.

“Miss, you can’t go in there!” she exclaimed. “It’s too horrible. No one should ever see that.”

“Oh God,” Henry said. “Papa! Papa! No, no, no!” He reappeared in the doorway, a sickened look on his face. “Lizzy, take Sam downstairs. Now!”

“What happened, Henry?” I asked, a sick feeling forming in my gut. “What’s happened?”

“Come this way, Miss Samantha,” Lizzy said, pulling on my sleeve. “You don’t want to see.”

“See what?” I asked, trying to jerk away from Lizzy, who only held me tighter. “What happened?” I asked again, desperately.

“Don’t struggle now, Miss,” Lizzy said, wrapping me in a hug, holding me back.

“Just go downstairs, Samantha!” Henry shouted at me as he returned to our father’s room. “Go now!”

I struggled with Lizzy for a few moments before I finally broke free, and I vaulted to the doorway, where I froze. A cord hung from the ceiling, and from it my father was dangling.

“No! Daddy!” I screamed, stumbling back. I tripped on the hemline of my skirts and landed at Lizzy’s feet. “Papa! No! Why? Why?”

The tears came unbidden, and I started to cry. My world felt like it was slipping away, one person at a time.

“Oh, Sammy, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have seen this,” Henry said gently, kneeling beside me. “I didn’t want you to see that.” He wrapped his arms around me, and I cuddled into him.

“Why’d he have to-?” I asked quietly. “Why couldn’t he have stayed?”

“I’m sorry, Sammy,” he replied. “But I don’t know. Now will you go downstairs with Lizzy, and she can make you a nice cup of tea? I’ll clean this up, and then we can discuss father’s wishes.”

“Come along, Miss Samantha,” Lizzy said gently, lifting me to my feet. “Come on downstairs, miss.”

~~~

Henry’s Journal

Wednesday 18 November, 1893

I’m getting concerned about Sammy. We had Father’s funeral three nights ago, and cremated him out beyond city limits, like we do for all suicides. But Sam- she just sits and stares into space. Rarely does she respond to anyone speaking to her, and Lizzy is doing all she can to make her eat. It’s like a part of Sam died with our father.

On another note, I have finally begun to going through the recent records of the shop. Father didn’t tell us, but his manager has revealed that we are greatly in debt. I believe this is due to poor management of the shop while Father was in mourning- Mr. Williamson is fond of taking risks with the finances entrusted him, which Father would have never approved of.

I don’t know what I can do for Sammy. I need to provide for her, but I’m afraid the monies Papa had set aside for her dowry were lost in the poor investments made. I can only hope that I can earn it back, and it won’t hurt her prospects. Maybe Thomas will take her even with a small dowry because of our friendship. At least I have a year to find a way to fix this.

~~~

Andres Letter 1

 

Story Without a Name III Chapter 2

The days turned into weeks, and then months, and my mother’s absence was felt acutely. I left school in order to take better care of my father and my siblings both.

I did my best to oversee the running of the house, and Lizzy tried to help me as best she could. Even so, it was as if the heart had gone out of our home.

Eleven months passed, and although we never did fully forget the hole in our family, we settled into new routines, new patterns. Life continued, even beyond the death that touched us. That’s where we found ourselves when the second tragedy struck our family. Settling into a new life without my mother.

The day started like any other spring day. The snow had melted into an ashy slush that coated our cobblestone streets, the sun was shining, and the birds were busy building their nests in the trees that lined the neighborhood streets.

Henry had gone back to college after mother’s funeral, and Julie returned to her finishing school. Papa began traveling to find new goods for his shop, and wen he was home he’d shut himself in his office for hours at a time.

Papa had just come home from one of his trips, and he and I were waiting for Julie to come home, so we could eat our dinner. When she finally came dancing in, Papa stared at her, disgust on his face. It didn’t take long to see what the problem was.

A bright pink bow held her hair back, the only color in her outfit. Forbidden color.

Julie took her seat, oblivious to our father’s anger. He stood and tersely crossed the room, and pulled the ribbon from her hair.

“Papa!” Julie cried out, partially from pain as several stray hairs came out with the ribbon and partially out of shock and confusion.

“What’s this?” he demanded of her, holding the ribbon up. “Do you have no respect for your mother?”

“Papa, I do, but-” she began helplessly. I froze in my seat, , watching them, terrified of my father’s wrath.

“You are in mourning, Julia Maria Hancock!” he roared.

“I’m sorry!” she whimpered, tears forming in her eyes. “I lost my own ribbon this morning, and Lily lent me one of hers.”

“You are not supposed to be wearing color!” he yelled, causing Julie to shrink back.

“It was an accident! Mine slipped out on the way to school, and Ms. Carter will use the ruler on us if our hair is let down!”

“That is no excuse!”

“I tried to do what is right!” Julie exclaimed, and ran out of the room. A few minutes later we heard the front door open and slam shut again.

“Julie, wait,” I called after her as I moved to follow her, knowing full well that she couldn’t hear me. Papa turned away as I left the room. “Julie, come back!”

She was in the street by the time I had reached the door, the late afternoon sunlight blindingly shining down on our street. She was obviously crying as she ran. It was no surprise that she didn’t see the automobile.

“Julie, look out!” I screamed, darting down the front steps. She was only halfway across the street, still moving, when a motor car sped around the corner and down the block.

Julie paused for a moment, a moment too long. I froze as the car connected with her body and she went flying over the roof of it. A wordless shriek broke from my lips as the brakes screeched.

She hit the ground with a sick sounding crunch, and blood stained her dark colored gown and white underthings, which were peaking out from under the skirt’s hem.

I ran out to her with no regard for my own safety as the driver got out of the cursed contraption and made his way to her side. She was dead. Anyone with eyes could see that much. Nonetheless, I frantically searched for a pulse as people poured out of the houses around, summoned by my horrid shriek.

Father barreled out of our house, appearing by my side suddenly. He quickly scooped Julie up and carried her out of the road like a rag doll, up our stairs, leaving me kneeling beside the small puddle of blood staining our cobblestone street.

“Miss, I’m sorry, I didn’t see her. I’m so sorry,” the driver said helplessly to me. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I rose, hurrying blindly back into the house.

I couldn’t help but remember the day mother had taken ill, and how Julie and I had come back to the empty house. Lizzy jerked me out of my memories as she descended on my like a bird of prey, gripping my upper arm.

“Miss Samantha, what happened? What happened to Miss Julie?”

“She was hit,” I said, the voice not sounding like mine. “She’s gone.”

“Are you alright, Miss?” she asked me, the concern evident in both her face and her voice, as a tap sounded on the door.

“I’ll be fine,” I lied, straightening my skirts. “Answer the door and show them into the parlor.”

“Your father took Miss Julie into the parlor,” Lizzy said gently.

“Why did he do that?” I moaned, frustration tinging the horror and the rage I felt. “There’ll be blood all over the furnishings!” It was the least of my concerns, and I allowed myself to be distracted by it. I didn’t want to face this horror, but I knew I’d have to. I took a deep breath, trying to steady and calm myself. “Show whoever it is into the library. I will be with them shortly.”

“Of course, Miss,” Lizzy said, making her way to the door.

Dread carried me to the door of the parlor, and I let myself in to see my father kneeling beside the horsehair settee, where Julie was laying, motionless. As I approached, I could see that Papa had closed her eyes, and that she looked like she was sleeping.

The curtains hadn’t been drawn that morning in the parlor, and dark shadows fell across the floor. Darkness enveloped the entire room, and death hovered in the shadows.

“Papa,” I said quietly. He gave no response, as he merely sat beside Julie silently. Reluctantly, I crossed the room to his side, and placed a hand on his shoulders, which were trembling slightly. He seemed broken, almost completely leveled by this blow.

“It’s my fault,” he whispered hoarsely. “She’s with your mother, and it’s my fault.” Tears escaped from his eyes, and I rose, not wanting to witness this breaking of my proud, strong father.

I left the parlor, feeling as though I was suffocating. First mother, and now Julie… The blackness seemed to be trying to drown me.

My next stop was the library, where our visitor was waiting. Reluctance clung to me, and with a heavy heart I opened the door.

A young man sat in the armchair in front of the fire, his legs crossed nonchalantly. Apparently he hadn’t heard me open the door, and I shut it carefully behind myself.

“Hello,” I said, coming around the armchair. He leaped to his feet, startled by my entrance. As I saw his face, I gasped, realizing that this was the driver of the car. The man who had killed my sister.

“Miss, I’m so sorry,” he said, speaking rapidly and with the hint of an accent as he extended his hand. “I didn’t mean to hit her. Please tell me she’s alright?” he begged, genuine sorrow and remorse on his face.

“She’s dead,” I said coldly, trying to hold the wave of tears back. He flinched back, anguish shooting across his face. “You killed her.”

“Mon Deiu,” he murmured, recoiling. He dropped his hand. “Please, tell me, is there anything I can do for your family, to ease this crime I have inflicted on you?”

“No,” I snapped, my hurt coming out as wrath. “Do you think my sister’s life is so cheep that money might buy back what you took?”

He flinched away, and I knew that I should feel remorse for hurting him, but I didn’t. Instead, I turned away from him, trying to keep my exterior from betraying the turmoil inside.

“Nothing I can do for your family will ever replace what I have taken from you, or bring back your sister,” he said gently. “I am aware you are hurting, and in mourning over another loss. I, however, would like to make amends for this horror that I have wreaked on your household, if you will allow me.”

I turned to look at him as he drew a small card holder from his pocket. From it he took a calling card and offered it to me.

“So you can find me, if you change your mind,” he said. When I made no move to take it, he set it on the side table and made his way to the door. “What was her name?”

“Julie,” I said. “Julie Hancock.”

“And you?” he asked, lingering in the doorway.

“Samantha,” I said, a steely tone entering my voice.

“I am sorry, Miss Samantha Hancock,” he said before taking his leave.

~~~

Andre's Calling Card

Nameless story, Chap 7

My heart attempted to make an escape through my mouth as I jumped, turned and slammed down the laptop lid simultaneously. Autumn stood directly behind me, arms crossed, a very confused look on her face.

“Holy crap, don’t do that to me!” I gasped, pressing a hand against my chest.

“I thought you knew I was in here,” she said dryly. “I made enough noise coming in.”

“I didn’t hear you,” I snapped, very irritable.

“I could tell by your reaction,” she said sharply. “I might be a rookie, and I might be younger than you, but I’m not stupid.”

I gave her a filthy look and tried to slow my heart rate. You act suspicious, people will treat you like you’re suspicious, I told myself, slumping into my seat. Guilt stabbed me in the heart as I looked back up at her.

“Look, I didn’t mean it,” I started, my voice shaky. “I’m sorry. I’m not saying that you’re stupid, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“No, I get it, you’re under a lot of pressure. Can’t be easy, training a rookie to take the place of your best friend,” she said, seeming irked. Something close to compassion, or maybe it was pity, flitted across her face for a moment before her expression settled into on of curiosity. “So who were you promising what to?”

“Sarah,” I said heavily, running a hand through my hair, feeling as though I’d just run a marathon.

“But she’s-” Autumn began. I looked at her tiredly and she changed track pretty quickly. “Why? What were you promising her?”

“Why? Because she asked me to do something if I could,” I said, running my fingers through my hair again.

“Well, what did she ask you to do?” Autumn asked, sitting down on the foot of my bed.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your concern,” I said, trying to stay calm.

“I guess it’s not,” she said, wilting. I could hear Sarah reprimanding me in the back of my mind.

Come on, treat the poor girl better. She doesn’t deserve this!

“Does it have anything to do with that thing you were reading?” Autumn asked hesitantly. I forced myself to not flinch, to not tense up.

That “poor girl” is too smart for her own good, I told Sarah defiantly.

“Yes, it is,” I said, turning away. I was sure my guilt was written all over my face.

“Well, this whole thing must have you torn up pretty bad,” Autumn said carefully. “but it sounds like your friend knew that it was coming.”

I couldn’t restrain myself as my hands curled into fists on my desk. Slowly I turned my chair back to face her.

“Why do you say that? Who told you anything about Sarah’s death?” I demanded harshly.

“Well, you for one,” Autumn said, watching me. “And the other squad members. The placement officer. Not to mention that thing you were reading.”

The world fell away as I heard and comprehended what she was saying. My heart attempted to escape through my mouth again, and I must have jumped to my feet, because I was suddenly standing.

“How much did you see?” I asked, my voice deadly quiet. Autumn’s eyes had grown to the size of golf balls, as she continued to stare at me.

“Just the bit about, um, her being in big trouble and, um, the files on the SD card,” she said, sounding slightly concerned. My breath escaped from my lungs like a balloon, and she took the opportunity to roll off the bed and move to the other side of the room, still watching me warily.

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” she said hesitantly. “If your friend got killed for it, then there’s no way I’m going to go running my mouth about all of this.”

I stared back at her blankly, my brain struggling to process everything that I was hearing.

Told you you needed to be nicer to her, Sarah’s voice echoed in my head. Numbly I shot her a mental dirty look.

“Oh goodness, this is too much,” I muttered, dropping back into my desk chair. “What did I do to deserve this?”

“I don’t know, but it must have been really fun,” Autumn said wryly. I studied her serious face for a moment before smiling.

My emotions felt like a roller coaster, and I was drained from the breakneck speed they were changing with. Numbly I wondered if I was going insane, and then I dismissed the thought.

“I’m stuck with you, aren’t I?” I asked her.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” she countered.

“That’s not how I meant it-“I began as a wicked smile, much like the ones that Sarah used to give me, spread over her face.

“I’m just messing with you,” she said, with an overly patient tone of voice. I considered throwing something at her, and then dismissed the thought.

“It might not be that bad,” I said. “Of course, it could also be horrible. You’ll never know until it happens, Autumn.” Surprise flitted across her face, only to be replaced y a teary eyed smile.

“That’s the first time you’ve used my name,” she whispered, grinning more genuinely that I had ever seen her grin.

“Don’t get used to it,” I said gruffly, turning back to my computer to hide my awkwardness.

“Can I ask exactly what’s going on?” Autumn asked, crossing the room. “If I’m getting in trouble, I like to know why.”

“I wish I knew,” I answered, opening my laptop back up. “Whatever it is, it sounds illegal.”

“Is it illegal if a branch of the military and a government funded research group are both doing it?” she asked. “Whatever ‘it’ is, that is.”

“Yes, it is,” I said. “Assuming it breaks the laws, that is.”

“Well, it must,” she reasoned. “Why else would Agent Castello be killed?”

“I have no idea about that either,” I muttered, exiting out of the folders and ejecting the SD card. “But I have a feeling I’m going to need more help than I have now, and it looks like Sarah intended for a couple of other people to be in on this.”

“The more the merrier,” she chirped, sounding possitively excited by the prospect, blissfully unaware of the knot that was forming in my stomach.

“Right,” I said, hiding the card in my desk. “Merrier indeed.”

Story Without a Name III Chapter 1

The rain fell outside, hitting the windows of the small townhouse. I sat by the bed in the center of the room, numb, despite the warmth of the fire crackling merrily behind the grate. Mother was sleeping now, peaceful at long last.

As I sat there, watching her, I couldn’t help but remember the day the illness had struck. She had gone to the opera with Father the previous night, and hadn’t gotten back until late. Even so, Mother had gotten up early, as usual, to oversee the servants as they went about their morning chores.

She had looked pale, but assured Father that she was fine. He had then left for work, as usual. Mother had then sent my sister and I off to school, and the day had passed just as many others had.

Julie, my sister, and I had not known that anything was wrong until we had seen the collection of vehicles parked outside our humble townhouse. At the sight of them we had broken into a run, dashing headlong across the street, panic driving us.

We saw no one until we entered the small hall, where the maid, Lizzy- or as she was fondly called by us children ‘Liza-Bet’- took our hats and coats, hushing us and half-heartedly scolding us for tracking mud onto the Gallian rug. She hustled us up the steps, sending us into the old nursery.

“I’ll let your papa know you’re back home,” she said, leaving the room. “And I’ll bring you your supper.”

“Liza-Bet, who do those carriages belong to?” Julie asked before the door had closed completely. Lizzy paused in the doorway, uncertainty flickering across her face.

“I’ll tell you when I bring your supper, Miss Julie,” she said, finally. As the door clicked shut, Julie turned to me.

“Sammy, I’m scared. Why is she bringing our supper here? Why are we not eating with Mother and Papa, like we always do?”

“I don’t know,” I said, feeling helpless as I held Julie close to me. Gently I stroked her hair, like Mother used to do when we had nightmares. “Liza-Bet will explain it all to us. It will be alright, Julie.”

I held her for several minutes as we waited, not knowing what was happening. Finally the door opened, but it was not Lizzy bringing the food.

Our brother Henry walked in, a serious look on his face. Julie pulled away from me and ran to him, happy to see him once more, as he had been away at University for the previous five months.

“Has anyone told you what’s happening?” he asked, hugging Julie but looking at me.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “We came home from school, but nothing-“ I didn’t know how to express the scene we had come home to.

“Mother took ill this afternoon, so Lizzy sent for Father, who called for Uncle Charlie and the physician,” Henry explained, his face twisting. “The physician says that it’s gone on too long, that he can do nothing more for Mother.”

“But Mother was quite well this morning,” I protested.

“Oh, Samantha, if only,” Henry said, shaking his head. “Mother’s admitted to having pains in her side for quite some time now, but she never complained. If only she had, maybe she’d have more time now.”

“No,” Julie whimpered, searching Henry’s face for some sign he was joking. “She can’t be dying. Surely there’s something that can be done?”

I had frozen, a numbness beginning to spread through me. Henry wouldn’t lie about something so important. Surely not. Horror filled me, choked me.  I couldn’t make a sound, though I wanted to scream. My eyes were dry, though I wanted to cry a river. I wanted to flee, to run and never stop running, but my legs wouldn’t move.

“There’s nothing,” Henry murmured. “She has maybe two months, at best.”

“No!” Julie shrieked, tears coming to her eyes. “Stop it, Henry! Tell me this is all a joke? A prank you’re playing!”

“I wish it was a prank,” Henry said bitterly. “If it is a joke, someone has duped us all.”

That had been two months ago, and with every day that came and went, it felt as though our household had fallen apart. Without Mother overseeing the day to day comings and goings, the house seemed darker and dirtier.

I had tried to fill the empty spot, making sure that the house and its inhabitants were clean and presentable, but it still didn’t contain the same comfort, the same warmth that Mother had given everything she touched.

“Samantha, could you come with me to the library for a few minutes, please?” my father stood in the doorway. I didn’t know how long he had been there, but I was so tired from my vigil at my mother’s bedside that I didn’t care to find out.

Reluctantly I rose from my seat, glancing down at her as I moved. She was sleeping peacefully still, though sweat was beginning to give her forehead a shine.

“I’ll be right back,” I promised her quietly. I followed Father out of the room, closing the bedroom door behind me. He didn’t speak again until he had firmly closed the door to the library behind me.

“Samantha, I know these are trying times for our family, but it has not escaped my notice that you have become a beautiful young lady, nor has it escaped the notice of Thomas Cook.”

“Thomas Cook?” I said, confused.

“He has asked me for permission to pay you court.”

“Pay me court?” I repeated slowly, confused. Like a sunrise, his meaning dawned on me, and with it came the anger. “You mean to say that while my mother, your wife, has been sick and dying this last month and a half, you’ve been planning my marriage?”

“Er, not exactly,” he said, looking confused by my reaction. “I mean, I only told Thomas that he could court you. I’m aware that now is not the most opportune of times-“

“Not the most opportune of times? Your wife will be lucky if she lives through the night. She is going to die, and then we will all go into mourning! Don’t you care at all about your wife?” I was hysterical, crying and screaming.

“Samantha!” he said sharply, standing up, angrier than I had seen him in a long time. “I am only trying to do what is best for you!”

“But-“

“I am your father, and you will do as I say. I have granted Thomas permission to court you. If his courtship of you is interrupted by mourning, then so be it. This is what your mother would have wanted for you. Thomas can provide you with a secure future, a home and a solid income,” his expression softened slightly. “I am just as concerned for my wife as you are, and I had hoped to bring you some happiness in these dark days.”

Guilt for yelling at my father filled my chest and as tears filled my eyes. I was exhausted and all of my emotions were closer to the surface than they should have been. Father walked around his desk and wrapped his arms around me.

I could smell the spices from his shop on his shirt and the clean scent of the soap Mama made for our use mingling with the stale scent of his tobacco. This was my father’s scent, and it soothed me with memories of him comforting me after nightmares had woken me.

“Samantha, all will be well,” he murmured. “I’ll sit with your mother this evening. Go, get some sleep. You’ve carried more than your share of this burden, and I am proud of you.”

“Papa, I am sorry,” I said quietly, feeling like a little girl again. “I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

“Don’t think of it,” he said, smiling as he let go of me. “Now go get some sleep.”

~                                          ~                                          ~

After I had washed and rested, I prepared Papa a breakfast tray, with Lizzy’s help. When I let myself into my mother’s room, I paused, surprised by what I saw.

Father sat in the chair by her bedside, asleep, her hand in his. The fire still burned in the fireplace, and I stepped in, setting the tray on mama’s bedside table.

“Papa,” I said quietly, so as to not wake mother. “Papa, I brought you breakfast.”

He stirred, and blinked blearily up at me. He looked so old in that moment, as the fire cast shadows across his face.

“What time is it?” he asked, reaching for the mug of coffee that was still steaming.

“It’s just after seven,” I answered, keeping my voice low. He looked up in alarm.

“I need to go,” he said, taking a hasty gulp of the coffee as he bolted from the chair. He set the mug back down and he leaned over my mother to kiss her.

I knew something was wrong when he pulled away, mumbling a mixture of prayers and curses. He fumbled with her linp hand for a couple of moments before his fingers settled on her wrist.

“No,” he murmured. “Meredith, no.”

“Papa?”

“Meri, you can’t leave me,” he whispered, ignoring me. I blushed at my father’s nickname for my mother, but I felt the blood drain out of my face as he lifted her to his chest, kissing her chest.

I knew then that she was gone. My mother had died.

I backed out of the room, feeling panic building inside of me as I turned and ran out of the room. Down the stairs I flew, through the halls and the kitchen, into the pantry. I slammed the door behind me and sank down into a sitting position on the floor.

It was then that the tears came with great choking sobs. Alone in the dark room I allowed myself to lose control for the first time in weeks.

It was Lizzy who found me, who convinced me to leave my hiding place. Lizzy who urged me on in my duties. Lizzy who helped me fill my mother’s shoes.

~                                               ~                                          ~

I stood, staring down into the coffin, looking at my mother’s body. She was just an empty shell, the hollow skin of my mother.

It was there that I saw Thomas for the first time since Papa had given him permission to pay me court. For all the good that had done. I was now in mourning. He couldn’t do anything for another year now.

“Samantha,” he said quietly, approaching me. “I’m so sorry, for your loss.”

“Thank you, Thomas,” I said quietly, looking up at him.

His hair was a sandy blond color, neatly combed into place as always. Everything about him was tidy, well kept. In the back of my mind I wondered how many maids his mother hired to keep him as he was.

“Has your father told you-?” he began awkwardly.

“Yes, he did,” I cut him off. “Mr. Cook, I don’t believe this is entirely appropriate.” Tears filled my eyes as I thought about where I was. Why we were here.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, searching my face anxiously. “I didn’t mean to be insensitive-”

“Thomas!” my brother appeared at my side, as if summoned by magic. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here today.”

“I heard about your loss,” he said. “It would be wrong of me to not come and offer your family my sympathies.”

“We’re grateful for it,” Henry said.

“Miss Samantha,” Thomas said, turning back to me. “Before I go, I want you to know, I will wait for you until your mourning period is over.” With that he turned and walked away, leaving me feeling more vulnerable than I had been before.

Working title- Jen’s Story: Chapter 6

I followed the instructions on the note, and I didn’t view the contents of the SD card until I was completely alone, an event which happened several weeks later. During that time, however, I didn’t just sit around.

The rookie arrived the very next day, and I discovered that she was assigned to take Sarah’s bed in our hall. I helped her move in, though I really just wanted to protest her presence.

She was a tiny little thing, and blonder than almost anyone else that I’d seen. Privately I wondered how she had gotten into the MRA in the first place, but I didn’t ask. She might have been Sarah’s replacement, but that didn’t mean she was going to replace Sarah as my friend.

Her name was Autumn, and she was way too loud, in my opinion. And that was just the first impression. When I took her to training with the team for the first time I saw exactly how viscous she was.

Because of her, it felt like I was never alone. Autumn showed up everywhere, and there was no way I could get rid of her. She picked up on my dislike and tried to ask me about it.

“I can understand why you might not like me,” she began the conversation. I had been filling out some paperwork and I paused, startled and confused by this. We had been sitting in silence for about a half hour, and I had almost forgotten that she was there. Which was how I liked it.

“Oh?” I asked, setting down my pen but refusing to look at her. I could feel her stare, burning the back of my neck, and I fought the urge to squirm.

“I’m new,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. I couldn’t stand showing someone like me around, if I was you.”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” I said sharply.

“Obviously,” she said. “You also lost one of your team-mates. Squad members. You wish that I was her.”

She said this so bluntly that I all could do was stare. She had pegged a large portion of why I didn’t like her, but not all of it. My fingers itched to pull out the SD card, to find out what was on it. And I couldn’t do that if she was there.

“That’s part of it,” I conceded. “You’re a rookie. You haven’t lost you best friend to a mutey. You live, work and train with these people. You trust them with your life.” With each word I had become far more emotional. Autumn shifted uncomfortably, and I stared at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice.

“No, you’re not,” I said coldly. “You don’t know yet what it’s like to lose your best friend.” I turned away, not wanting to talk anymore.

A couple of minutes later she left the room. After the door closed behind her I rested my head in my hands, giving in to the weakness I felt inside.

I just wanted to cry, again, but I knew that it wouldn’t do me any good. Besides, my eyes were beginning to burn from the constant tears.

I wonder how much time I have before she comes back, I thought by way of distracting myself from my misery, sliding a hand into my pocket, my fingers curling around the micro SD card. I slid it out and looked at it.

Suddenly I felt like precious time was slipping away. I pulled my laptop into the center of my desk and turned it on while I rummaged around for my adapter for the card.

With trembling fingers I inserted the card into my laptop. The seconds stretched out, each one feeling like an eternity as my laptop slowly read the card.

Twenty-five folders met my expectant stare. Each one had a series of numbers as its name, Dates, from the look of it.

I selected the first folder, which was dated two years ago. Inside it were three documents, each titled with a name.

“Alex,” “Jack,” and “Jen.” Adrenaline and confusion rushed through my body, and I opened my document. I was terrified I’d get caught, and yet eager to know at the exact same time.

Dear Jen, the document read. If you’re reading this, it means that something happened to me. It also means that I can’t explain to you in person what’s going on here.

The MRA is more than just a tagging and registration program, like they told us when we were recruited. They’ve been working on a way to “cure” the mutants. In other words, to neutralize the powers.

I know what you’re thinking, but let me tell you, it’s not as great as it sounds. The MRA has a team of scientists that specifically work with cloning and genetics. They also have unlimited lab rats. 

Some of the muteys (take that, spell-check!) we bring in have no records of family or a permanent address. Sometimes they refuse to tell us their names, and they’re entered into the system as “John” or “Jane Doe.”

Who cares if these unknowns go missing for the sake of science? But even with the people who have families, sometimes the family gives the MRA permission to experiment on the mutey.

I don’t know exactly what happens in those labs, but I do know one thing- when the mutants come out, they’re either powerless (and test clean of the drugs, too) or dead. I saw them removing the bodies while I was on watch one evening, and I went to Iron Silk about it.

He told me that he’d look into it, but he hasn’t gotten back to me and he’s been treating me differently since then. I think I might be in trouble here, Jen, BIG TROUBLE.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with the rest of the SD card. They’re profiles organized by the date we collected the mutey on.

When you open the larger folders, that’s by month and year. I went back two years and copied every John or Jane Doe, every mutey whose family turned in a form saying they could be used in experiments, and every mutey we’ve lost, or who’s gone missing.

I don’t know exactly what they’re doing to them, but this is not what I signed up for. Look into it for me. Promise me, Jen?

Lots of love,

Sarah

I stared at the screen for a moment, tears welling. On one level, this explained so much. On another, it opened a whole new world of questions.

I knew in that moment that I had been thrown into a whole new world of problems, and I didn’t like it. If what Sarah had told me was true, then I didn’t want any part in it. If what Sarah had told me was true, that explained why she had been killed.

Even if it wasn’t true, Sarah had died believing it, and I wasn’t going to just ignore her last request. The letters on the screen blurred as I stared at it. I knew in my heart what my response was.

“I promise,” I whispered.

“Promise who what?”

Working Title- Jen’s Story: Chapter Five

Oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous as I made my way to Iron Silk’s office. It didn’t feel like a death march or anything that dramatic.

When I tapped on the door, there was a slight pause before the door opened. During that pause, I smoothed my sweat pants and ratty old t-shirt, and ran a hand through my hair. There was no sense in looking as bad as I felt, now when I was already in enough trouble as it was.

Iron Silk opened the door himself, and ushered me in. There was a closed look on his face, and I hovered in front of his desk nervously. I could only be in his office for one reason, and that reason was punishment. I had known that I’d had it coming, from the moment I’d gotten out of the van.

“Take a seat ,” he said, motioning to the one chair on my side of the desk.

I dropped into the chair, still very nervous. He seemed to be aware of my state of being, and he shifted awkwardly in his seat.

“Miller, I know that it is never easy to lose a friend in the line of duty,” he began. “But it happens, unfortunately. It’s a tragic fact in our line of work, and while I wouldn’t say that you need to get used to it, I would advise you learn how to remain professional. Castello knew what she was getting into.”

I lowered my gaze to my hands. I couldn’t say anything, not without getting into even deeper trouble. He apparently didn’t expect a response, because he kept talking.

“Sarah Castello’s death was an unfortunate and unforeseeable accident, and we will miss her membership in the squad. She was a good woman and a good soldier,” he continued. “But she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I’m not trying to minimize her or to make her death sound like a trivial matter, but soldiers die. A good soldier knows how to follow orders, regardless.”

I looked up at him, my anger not able to be contained any longer. Just as I opened my mouth to protest, he cut me off.

“You’re a soldier, Miller, regardless of what your relationship with Castello was. You chose to disobey orders, did you not?”

“I did, but-“

“You know the rules, Miller. Didn’t they teach you in boot camp?”

“They did, but-“

“You have no excuse for what you did,” he cut me off again. “You’re not a rookie. You knowingly disobeyed orders. You know the punishment for that. That’s not the only reason I called you here today, though.”

I looked up, startled. A thousand thoughts flitted through my mind, but I knew that not a single one would be a good response to that, so I kept my mouth shut. Apparently he wasn’t expecting any reply.

“There will be an empty spot on the squad. A new member will be chosen. You’ve been on the squad the longest of any of our current members. I want you to show the new kid the ropes. And Miller?”

“Yes, sir?” I asked, fear coursing through my body. He was looking at me oddly. I didn’t like that look. It was almost like he knew that Sarah had tipped me off.

“Stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed,” he said, lowering his gaze as my paranoia kicked into full gear.

What does he know? Does he know I know? What am I talking about? I don’t know anything except that I’m not supposed to trust him. And that someone’s a traitor. Damn it all, Sarah! Why couldn’t you have left better notes? Or, I don’t know, not died? Or not left me any notes. God, Sarah, what were you thinking? Why? What’s going on?

I made my way back up to the dormitories and began unpacking my overnight bag. As I put my clothes in the wardrobe that was supposed to be mine and Sarah’s I was hit once more with the empty feelings of loneliness.

Within seconds, I went from feeling fine to severely claustrophobic, and I pulled my jacket out and on. I needed to move, to get away. The room was too small, and all five people currently in the room were five too many.

I walked around the compound briskly, trying to keep from crying, again. A cool wind blew steadily, stinging my cheeks and clearing my aching head slightly.

Iron Silk can’t possibly know that I know anything. I don’t know anything. I’m being totally unreasonable. Besides, Iron Silk must trust me. He’s having me show the rookie the ropes, I thought pausing beside a trash can. I started to clean out my pockets when my fingers closed around a neatly folded piece of notebook paper.

Curiously I pulled it out and unfolded it. Something small fell out of it, and hit the concrete. I bent to pick it up, confused as to where it had come from.

Turning it over in my hand, I realized that it was a micro SD card. I didn’t remember getting one, and I stared at it dumbly for a moment, before looking at the note it had been wrapped in.

Sarah’s handwriting stared back at me again. Top secret. Seriously- don’t view this info in front of ANYONE!

I studied the message for a moment before glancing around. There were people loitering around the yard, but no one seemed to be interested in what I was doing. The SD card felt like incriminating evidence, and it felt uncomfortably warm in my hand. I slipped it back into my pocket, trying to act innocent.

You don’t know what’s on the card, I thought, feeling like I was overreacting. For all I know this is some joke Sarah was playing on me. I don’t know anything. It doesn’t have to be something suspicious. I’m not doing anything wrong.

All the same, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something much bigger than I knew had found me. Sarah’s death hadn’t been an accident. She had known something, something important. I just knew it.