Stoker

That’s Stoker. He’s my liaison, my handler. Remember I told you we ended up with social services? That’s when Federal Security Agency found out who we were and considered us assets,” Luna spat, derisively, laughing bitterly.

Assets. Not just, informants on secrets the government felt it should have. We spent so much time in therapy, but we’d always been cloistered within Tempenka and the communal secretless environment that the concept was lost on us. They could only attempt manipulation based on their own cultural heritage. My own experience was so far beyond them as too be alien. They were trying to break us, damage as to gain absolute compliance. We’d no basis for comparison for what FSA wanted, only a hunger for being able to be free, make our own decisions. We were watched, interviewed. I think at some point even when we were legally ‘out’ of their abuse, FSA felt we could still be spies for them and they never gave up,” Luna breathed, jittery, until it evened out.

We were forced to participate with some aspects, taught them Tranqi, liaised with linguistic professors. FSA never changed their blunt stupidity, always wanted to keep us under control, attempted to assert their authority by legally obtaining court ordered control. We were lucky to escape from Tempenka, luckier still to escape from them. For us, we were risking our souls escaping Tempenka to only be thrown back into the fire, a circle of punishment for survival. FSA thought to tap foster carers to keep us under control,” Luna laughed, bitterly.

It didn’t work out the way they planned, though. Gretchen is the one who hired Mitsuko and Kai’s foster parents were adamant we were capable of being functional members of society. They diversified our private tutors with an education to include all social, financial and legal responsibilities, and we both maintained employment. We were responsible and participated in charity. Our therapists concurred. The outcome was a year of supervised independence, continued therapy and handlers as we determined to leave our foster parents to create a home of our own. After that year we were officially released on our own recognise. FSA kept the observational handlers, though, waiting for anything that could, that would, prove us incapable just once.”

Chloe gleaned some of this history, but to hear the full extent appalled her. Luna stopped, twisting her fingers around each other, looking hassled and angry, before continuing.

I made it clear when therapy cleared me, I would not communicate with them or participate in whatever their schemes. I didn’t want to associate with FSA, but I fought so hard to not be controlled. I didn’t want to be a puppet. I guess they held out hope, but we’d such excellent foster placements they failed themselves. I haven’t seen that particular Stoker since that first year,” Luna rubbed swollen, red eyes.

I’m sorry I didn’t say,” her ragged breath still hitching, her throat swelled and sore at the memory of their constant presence in her life, “I’d only hope they’d leave us alone. I knew they were watching, following, hoping we’d return to Tempenka so they’d have an excuse to raid as we weren’t willing to spy for them. The agents, the Stoker’s used to came to Pacer often until Ivie banned them. I’m sorry I never told you.”

Tempenka?” Chloe realising she didn’t know the extent wrapped up inside this woman she loved. She relaxed into Luna’s pain, waiting for her voice.

Tempenka is the enclosed community I’m from that FSA has held a file on for over one hundred years, since the delirium caused by jazz aged bootleg alcohol fuelled a dangerous underground economy. Two suspected bootleggers involved in the accidental burning of a valley, six villages and the death of eighty people, fled into Tempenka. Seventy five years later, two eco-terrorists who blew up a military facility, the eighteen injured simply collateral damage against the destruction. It took FSA three years to track them to Tempenka, but also left them unable to definitively prove if the pair joined or just used the closed village as a way station. Without proof, they were unable justify entering the compound,” Luna swallowed thickly, drawing herself further together.

Her voice is jagged, “I remember how bloated the file was, but full of incomplete information, transcripts in a language no one understood, open cases on people who may as well be dead. Tempenka was classified a potential domestic threat, even with nothing recorded against them in the eighty-five years before the bootleggers joined, nor in the seventy-five years until the newest theoretical converts. There’s nothing, again, until Kai and I escaped and presented FSA with their first real chance to gain significant insight into the inner working except that we escaped the team watching the community, crossed multiple state lines and disappeared here, lost from them for over a year.”

Stoker?”

Tears continuing to fall as she felt the burden pressing, enclosing her, “Stoker is what we call our observer, a code name. That person behind it probably has a name, but we don’t care. They know we call them Stoker and never correct or offer their real name. When we met Galla, she introduced us to one of her favourite gene’s, vampire’s, and her favourite conspiracy theory that novelist Bram Stoker exposed the secret that they actually existed in real life. The constant presence, even at a distance, of the secretive federal agents stalking us became the revelation of a conspiracy no one believed.”

Chloe held her and waited until she stopped. Chloe stood and pulled Luna up, looked her in the eyes, and firmly said, “I love you. Let us see what he wants.”

Luna nodded numbly, understanding Chloe, without hesitation, assisted with a burden she could not understand. They showered and dried quickly, dressing solemnly and waited for the knock on the door. Chloe walked the few steps over and let Stoker in. He sat on the chair next to the small, rounded table. Luna and Chloe sat on the foot of the bed, unsmiling.

I am sorry to startle you. This is important. Semira has disappeared.”

When,” Luna asked sharply.

A moment of confusion passed Chloe’s face before she realised it was Kai’s last name. They were twins. She quickly filtered the information out.

The night before last. He went out clubbing. He got into the taxi with another male, approximately six foot, three inches and of a similar age at zero-four-three-zero. The taxi never dropped them off at their apartment. He has not attended his shifts at Marlene’s nor contacted them. We have been monitoring the community, however he has not arrived at that destination. Has he been in contact with you? When did you last see or speak to Semira?”

He observed quietly, as the pairs case was intriguing. Initially, child protection services did not flag them as anything unusual. The FSA only been notified when certain hot words were entered pertaining to the runaways were hit upon, including the vital clue of language spoken, Tranqi.

Luna became furious, outraged, her voice escalated to shouting, “How could you lose him? You stalk us relentlessly and you LOST him?”

Chloe rested her hand on Luna’s tense, agitated shoulder as she continued, “How dare you insinuate he returned to Tempenka. You know how we feel. You need to stop assuming…we would NEVER go back,” she spat the last words out at Stoker.

Luna breathing began to tremble as she began twisted her hands together and said, “We had dinner the night before we flew out. I texted him after we checked in, and everyday. We Iviedioed last Sunday and the first Friday we were here. He was not clubbing, he attended the Esther Ball.”

Luna looked at Chloe, receiving reassurance in her realising that he hadn’t been in contact today before continuing, “his boyfriend Gerome is the other boy?”

We have been unable to confirm the identity of the companion as yet, however it is most likely Gerome, who has not returned to work or the apartment.”

Luna stood and started to pace, a feverish expression on her face. Stoker waited. Chloe watched.

Luna turned, frustrated, “Why?” again, in anger, “How can you not know?”

We keep very little tabs on either of you. You made you decisions remarkably clear,” Stoker paused, stood, only to sit again, before stating, “we have been intercepting letters from Semira to Sashenka.”

Tempenka,” Luna automatically corrected, shuddering at his gravelly voice’s use of the divine name, “since when?”

About a month after you moved out and Gerome moved in.”

Intercepted? This is a little intervention is it? Were they sent on at all? Or is that too much intervention?”

Stoker shrugged, “They were copied to Semira’s file and sent on. Would Tempenka accept you back? Semira?”

NO. We’ve been over this,” fury entering Luna’s voice and adjusting her demeanour, “they couldn’t. It’d rupture the tranquillity of the place. We’re tainted. We’re shunned. We, who were destined, fled perfection for sin. You know all of this. Your reports state exactly what Sashenka said when she was informed of our capture by the state. We had to translate the message,” Luna frowned, “you’re still monitoring them?”

Stoker nodded. The linguistics professor who had worked with Luna during those years she had been with Gretchen and built a comprehensive vocabulary of Tranqi to translate transcripts of conversations recorded from the community still worked for the FSA.

Did they get the letters?”

Stoker shrugged.

I know, they never open or check the mail at the gate.”

Yes. We know,” Stoker replied with a tone bordering on recrimination. Chloe looked at him scathingly.

Luna nodded, “Yes, I remember mail only ever being taken directly to Sashenka. Which means you know that. You just want to know my reaction,” she grimaced, “what was he writing for?”

For his parents to be in contact.”

Luna smiled maliciously, “It would’ve been Gerome, Stoker. You know this. If you were any good, you would know exactly who sent it. You’re intentionally baiting me, torturing me. What exactly is going on?”

No. I am not baiting you,” knowing he was, “our analysis concluded the same. Semira did not know what Gerome was doing.”

Stoker is frustrated at her reticence. The FSA simply wanted information, and these two were perfectly placed to re-infiltrate and establish an accurate level threat level from the community. Yet since taking them into custody, they remained taciturn and non-communicative. In spite of the experts brought in, this pair was, still is, unbreakable. No amount of separation, threats or coercion were able to infiltrate their bond.

Of course not. Kai is generational Tempenka. We were raised without parents. What is going on? Outside of your Tempenka parameters?”

That Semira and Gerome have disappeared.”

Oh. So Gerome’s the other, then? I’ve told you all I know,” Luna held outright dismissal in her voice.

Stoker nodded curtly, “I know you are meant to fly out tomorrow, can you stay here until we find Semira? Just in case it is something we should be concerned about?”

Concerned about what?”

In case it is targeted.”

Targeted? From whom exactly? We’re only ever targets of your department? I think you should concentrate in finding Kai. Tempenka has nothing to do with this. They do not leave that farm,” Luna started to clench her fist in anger.

You come here, bringing your stupid, arrogant prejudice. NO ONES ever left that community beyond sunlight hours. NO ONE. That place,” she spat, “is at least a thirty-two hour drive, or seven hours of connecting flights to the city.”

Luna was infuriated, “Which you’d know from your own reports. You job is to find Kai. Not make unfounded accusations. We battled and fought not to go back to that place from idiots like you, who only ever wanted to place us back and sought to discredit us when you failed.”

Stoker went to placate Luna, however was denied.

You’ve absolutely nothing to say on when we return. I’m not your asset. Get out,” Luna pointed furiously at the door.

Stoker stood and walked out the door. Stoker remembered clearly, the betrayal of this entire fiasco. The FSA brought in a perceived easily coercible civilian consultant who became increasingly difficult to manage before she exited the case and employed a civil rights attorney. Mitsuko and Gretchen effectively broke the deadlock, manipulating the situation to effectively and efficiently outmanoeuvre them.

The pair understood first how the components of Tempenka had formed the children beyond conventional control and conspired against the FSA to gain control of the situation. After that, the teams management of the children was corrupted by public backlash of the perceived abuse of minors.

This lead the pairs legal team to be able to leverage their fundamental need to understand Tranqi, against the pairs access to real lives. Gretchen fostered Luna, always the strongest twin. Trying to exploit the weakness in Kai, he held beyond what they thought he could, as traditional interrogation techniques did not work on either of them.

As the door clicked closed, Luna burst into tears. If Stoker had come to her, she should be terrified. Chloe stood quickly and wrapped her arms around Luna, who withdrew to draw all of her unravelling back into herself. She shifted from Chloe’s hug, wilting to sit on the bed.

Love is never free. I wanted it to be, but it always costs me greater than I could give. Leaving the community cost me my own divinity, language and home to become merely human. Loving you has cost me Kai. The balance is unjust and hateful, I’m loosing more than I can ever gain. Love is never equal, it can never be,” Luna shame and guilt pervaded her, controlled her, lived within her, weighing her down.

I ran from my responsibilities as the future leader out of fear and lead Kai out of a world he loved. Kai wanted the life offered within the community, held no curiosity of the outside world. I couldn’t contain my infinite desire to know, to seek, to understand. I just wanted and wanted, enough to flee. I understood Kai’s disorientation of this world, felt guilt for where I led him, yet without him, I’m only half a soul, a fractured shell,” shuffled in time, she remembered perfectly, yet forgot sporadically, truth an envy of memory and heart, a whisper of the selfless to the protection and detriment of her own self.

I’m overwhelmingly responsible for him, and I’m to blame for what our life tore irrevocably inside of him,” Luna learnt there was nothing else for problems but to run and stay in the darkness, and when unable to run, she stood to take it all for the both of them, took all the brutal lessons.

She learnt, though, and found Jamere and Abraxas, Galla and Archer, while Kai desperately clung to her alone. She drew together a shadow of herself and Kai sheltered beneath it, all her energy in surviving their existence.

Luna whispered as her voice hitched, “If FSA have lost him, he must be dead. How could they loose him? I don’t understand. Its never happened before.”

Luna looked through blurry eyes at Chloe, whose compassion seeped out of her and coursed through Luna’s veins. Her voice hitched as she rebelled against this look, whispering, “I’m too broken to be loved.”

I love you,” Chloe pulled Luna in, wrapping her arms around her, “and I will love you like I loved you since I met you — infinitely.”

All I feel is cracked…” Luna, sobbing, curled within Chloe, felt the love ebbing through their skin.

…and I’ll continue to pour love into all of them…” Chloe held her, this unbelievable creature, “…I’ll not let you fall. I’ll catch you and bring you home. I desire all of your broken things. You’re so very worthy of being loved.”

Luna cried, loosing herself as she free fell further into oblivion, hearing what she felt; home. Chloe raised Luna’s hand to her lips and kissed each finger individually, before moving to her wrist, slowly and delicately moving up the soft skin beneath her arm.

I love every single part of you,” between kisses, Chloe murmuring her devotion to Luna, “Your wounds are you. I love them. I love you.”

You know what frustrates me the most is Tempenka, while defiantly exclusionary to the outside, is decisively non–violent. Holds no weapons. They’re a simple farming community rejecting the callings of sin, delineating the evils of society from themselves. They’re not secretive, simply selective. They don’t want what the world offers. You either reject it all or embrace it all. They stay at the farm as it’s the only place they control, the only place they feel safe. One hundred and fifty years of non-violence, yet they’re viewed as a threat. They don’t believe in a mythological doomsday, or in culling yourself. They glorify life. Why FSA insist Tempenka is anything else is beyond me. Its not like anyone has left before and condemned them. We were…young and ran as an act of rebellion against growing up. If it wasn’t for where we came from we would’ve meant nothing. I don’t understand why they fear without provocation.”

Chloe said nothing, let Luna drift with her emotional Landscape. Far too much had been interfered with and inferred. Chloe resolved to distract Luna the only way she knew how, and gently kissed her. Luna, for lack of anything else that would make her feel less like she was alone, pulled open Chloe’s shirt, and kissed down her body. The mind works with it’s own brokenness, suffering in the quietness, initiating raids on others, Luna is lost and furious and vicious and sacrifices her own sanity to unleash her savage lunatic to ravish Chloe.

She let her mouth fall into Chloe’s taunt glistening, grasping her nails against muscles tightening along a spine-arched. Her teeth ran a curved length before her tongue fled from her mouth and into the sultriness too fuck the pain away. That night and into the following day, Luna locked herself into a spiral of sex and sleep.

The monsters in her past are real and heavy and twisted beyond measure and Chloe packed and pulled Luna out of their room and back through airports and planes to their home. Caro, Quin and Arlo picked them up from the airport and stayed with them, hovering around attempting to assuage the tension. Galla, Archer, Jamere and Abraxas all were waiting at the apartment, their voices hushed and sympathetic. Luna couldn’t look at any of them, and went past to the room she shared with Chloe and closed herself off.

Luna,” Chloe said, following her into the bedroom.

Luna rolled away from her, not wanting the conversation, remaining silent and inanimate until Chloe retreated back out. In the silence, Luna became restless and unleavened and took a sneaky way to escape the apartment, hearing low murmured voices drifting from the living room. This is one of the first things she did when she moved in, learn all the escape routes. She is gentle with her freedom, uncomfortable with the rush of noisy people continuing with their lives.

Luna reached the dark, lopsided unit block, and stomped up to the apartment. It was unchanged since she left, just smelt more of boys. She walked to their room, with a scattered mess of clothing on top of a mattress much like the one she had left here. Luna crawled on top of the pile and pulled up a shirt smelling of Kai. Luna lay their, intimately drowning in the familiarity of his scent. She did not notice the sway of the day, nor the noisy silence of the cities heartbeat bleeding out.

Chloe noticed her gone just over two hours after she left, and asked the others to stay when she told them of Luna’s absence. Chloe knew where she had gone, felt the link between them flicker as she weaved her way to her lover. Chloe found her, lost in the darkness and called Galla when she is unable to gain any effective response. Luna, loose from even her own voice, floated I a place where even she could not reach. Galla’s frown knitted her scars from her forehead to her chin in parallel lines, branded as she was by fire and metal, when she picked up Chloe’s call.

Galla answered, “You found her.”

Yes,” Chloe said, “exactly as we expected. That’s why I called.”

Okay. Give her the phone.” Chloe walked over to Luna and placed the phone against her ear.

Luna,” Galla said.

G?” Luna hadn’t moved, her voice crackling with pressure.

I know. There’s nothing you can do there. Nothing at all but unbalance yourself, alienate Chloe and hamper what Archer and I have in place.”

G…”

I don’t care, L. I understand. You love so hard it breaks you a little every single time anything goes remotely wrong, but I don’t care. Kai’s the priority. Ivie’s infiltrated the cities CCTV and police systems. We’re retro-tracking his phone. Talk to Chloe. I’m doing what is needed to find Kai.”

G…”

No, Luna. You can’t tear anyone apart. Not me. Not Chloe. Not Abraxas or Jamere or Archer. We’re here and we’re helping. You’re absolutely not allowed to be irrational, vicious or mean right now. Fall apart all you want, but that’s it. Come home. I’ll speak to you soon,” Galla hung up.

Galla had spoken to Archer immediately after the police and had interviewed her. Ivie’s security software unrivalled and Archer unleashed it, subverted, into the cities law enforcement. Luna looked at the phone, focused on Chloe, waiting, then sat up.

Galla said to go to home.”

Okay.”

She said there was nothing I could do but wait.”

Okay.”

Archer and Ivie are doing what they can.”

What do you want to do?”

I don’t know. Its waiting either way. Circles are pointless,” Luna shrugged, “I’ll be haunted until he is found. I’m sorry I’ve been cruel to you, Chloe. I’m really sorry.”

Thank you,” Chloe said, “however you weren’t until you disappeared.”

She also said we should talk.”

I’d like that.”

Can I ask you something?”

Of Course.”

Can you tell me about you?”

Yes,” Chloe lent over the bed, taking Luna’s hands in her own, entwining their fingers, and pulled her up, “when we return home and we’re ready.”

Chloe walked out to the living room, leaving Luna asleep in their room, moving to sit on the sofa.

Tea? Coffee? Whiskey?” Abraxas asked.

Thank you, no,” Chloe sighed, leaning back and sinking down like a dead weight.

How’re you holding up?” Abraxas voice is honey warm, trickling around Chloe.

Chloe shrugged, closing her eyes, “Better then how Luna is.”

This is not a comparison deal. How are you?”

Exhausted.”

Whiskey in the coffee, then.”

No. Its okay. I think if I start on whiskey, I may not stop and as exhausted as I am, I’m still too wired for coffee,” Chloe swallowed around the lump of emotion hurting her throat, “Where is everybody?”

Archer and Galla are at Circe, something about Ivie and something else, they may be installing her here. Quin and Arlo are lying down, Caro and Jamere are in the kitchen. I’m concerned that with the amount of food they’re cooking. It looks as if they’re planning on feeding the city.”

Chloe chuckled softly, “Sounds like Caro.”

Mmmm, and Jamere. I think they may be feeding each others crazy.”

If that’s how they’re coping, let them be.”

Isabeau and Mitsuko are getting along remarkably well.”

Mother is here?” Chloe frowned, “She handles emotion by fighting. Both of them do, and they’re less attached to us then to their careers. Is Bree still here?”

Roped into helping Archer and Galla, I believe.”

Gretchen?”

With Mitsuko and Isabeau.”

How did you survive?” Chloe asked so lightly Abraxas read her lips more than hearing her.

Jamere. Always.”

What happened?”

Do you really want to know?”

Yes,” Chloe closed her hand over Abraxas’, “you understand Luna. You carry damage, as much as we all do and she chose you to be her mothers. She listens to you beyond all others.”

Okay. I think. You would rather know the cost of the damage, over the rewards of love?”

I see the consequences of love is this extraordinarily family you have,” Chloe squeezed her hand, “I feel the love.”

Yes. Our stories are each others at his point,” Abraxas looked at their hands, “Cressida and I may’ve been physically identical, but were extremely different. Cressida joined a band, toured the world, slept on beaches, revelled in alternative living, always the one living with a reality outside of the main discourse. I studied, researched and built, manipulating and controlling reality. Yet, there was always a definitive bond snaked between us, we didn’t need to speak with each other, implicitly understanding the truth between us.”

Like Kai and Luna?”

I suppose. They were trained to be close. Cressida broke multiple parts of her hand and arm whilst on tour and returned to the city, pregnant, with Saber in tow, buying the basement record shop to occupy her time. I was hibernating at university, twisted within the confines of medical robotic engineering, building intricate robotic equipment, experimenting with miniatures. Saber was a quiet delight, winding magic at home and where he worked, at Mathilde Research Hospital, as an equipment engineer, fixing the softly beating machines. Cressida had Archer, a perfect infant born without sight and raised her like anything sacrosanct, with devotion and love.”

Archer said she has robot eyes?”

Yes. Saber and I made them for her. When Cressida found Ash’s Smash Repairs, a café tucked within the folds of the city, much as her basement was, a life long history wove itself into the future. Cressida had an unwavering connection to the music and rhythm of song and humanity, felt for the destitute starving off the bones of the city. Jamere, seeing the problem of survivors becoming scavengers along with the sallow, waxy skin of the starving, fed them. Cressida assisted in this new venture, and tumbled us along with her. Jamere and I spent so much time together, we became entwined, realising with the help of Cressida and Archer, our love mutual and unstitched our loneliness to knit ourselves together,” Abraxas smiled before dropping her voice.

Over twenty years ago now, when Jamere’s mother Charlotte was sick. Asher gave up their business to care for Charlotte six months in, after she become unable to leave home. Saber was the medical technician who helped them set up at home, worked the night shift for them. Charlotte took five years to fade and finally relinquish to her illness. Asher, while not alone in her grief when Charlotte passed, fell into a darkness she could not escape from, and came apart at this deeply personal loss. She lasted only eighteen months, until heartbroken, died. Jamere watched Charlotte and Asher fade,” Abraxas quieted for a moment and leaned into the couch.

Loving her changed everything. My apartment had been as monochromatic as my life. Once she…once I let her in, I evolved, becoming golden and full of autumn colour and spring sensations. She is my favourite scent, changing and softening everything, surrounding our lives. She improved everything, linking our lives and infecting others with music, food and almost the worst of all — hope. My life filled with Jamere and Cressida and Archer,” Abraxas stiffened again.

That’s exactly how Luna makes me feel,” Chloe quietly said, “how everything was dull and she is an explosion of colour.”

It must be a family thing, these women of ours. Six years ago we shifted our schedule’s to be with one another — an extremely rare occasion for both of us, but we forged the anxious rush of the world for each other and stayed inside our circle binding our love. Mid-morning, we began gently shifting into the day, shifting around each other, implicitly harmonic when the internal phone rang. The desk clerk told me the police were here. I still remember their sharp knock echoing through the apartment,” Abraxas shuddered.

Two officers delivered terrible and horrendous news, violating the core of our lives, silencing our world. We went to find Archer in the Pacer basement, the electrical hum vibrating through us, making all the fine hairs on my body stand on end. I didn’t want to tell her, but Archer felt the distortion emanating from my soul and I felt her crack, split across tension, I instinctively leaned forward to catch her as she fell, and failed, followed her into an entangled mess together on the floor. They’d been driving,” Abraxas wiped a tear out of her eye.

Archer stayed here for a while, her bedroom a refuge. Archer, hibernating in her room with Luna and Galla, encircled within the darkness, began to renovate the basements of Pacer, changing the lowest level to one that could contain herself and Ivie, refusing to leave the Circe Tower apartment in the meantime. I had Jamere with me and very slowly, life began to repair itself. We shelter each other. All of us.”

That is the truth right there,” Chloe gently said, “circled by love, we heal. Its quite a history.”

Yes, it is. All families have one. Every single one. I love ours. We love ours.” Abraxas said, “I’m sorry I’ve been weird with you.”

You possibly understand her more than most.”

We all understand, doesn’t make it okay,” Abraxas countered, “and I’ve gone about it the wrong way, finding out if you love her. I would’ve seen it if I hadn’t been so belligerent.”

I mean you loosing Cressida and Luna loosing Kai. She is so frightened she can no longer feel him.”

We’ve all lost more then we ever thought we could possibly bare. We endure because we want to, because we need to, we choose each other so we don’t have to endure any of this alone, tangling our lives and mazing our love. But we did and we do and we will together.”

She is…its horrible to see her in this much pain when I love her…she is dissolving before me and I don’t know how to help,” Chloe brushed tears away from her cheek.

You know that’s not true. She seeks your comfort, takes relief from your presence, loves you even in her darkness. I know. I felt Jamere when I could no longer see any other. I saw her when the world was grey. Luna sees you in colour.”

She sees all of you, too.”

Yes. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t see you. You need to stop feeling inadequate, otherwise it will filter down to her and you’ll just infect her with it,” Abraxas freed her hand from inside of Chloe’s and wrapped her arms around to hug.

They’re always patterns to our behaviours. We’re all puzzles, fitting together, shifting our lives until we find our places,” Chloe’s voice is muffled, drifted as she forgot the rest of it.

We draw lines in the sand, thinking they’re drawn in cement. When we’re left alone, it solidifies us into these worlds of immovable marble, beautiful but freezing. Other times, important times, storms come and thrash this sand that we think is marble with water and waves, scour us clean, wash away all that dirties us. We wake into a new, spectacular dawn and simply glow. Some things are broken, some torn away, but the gift is that which is torn away can be rebuilt on again, added to. We can choose to be broken or to be loved, and even more perfectly, we can choose to be both. We’re our own revolutions, battling our demons until we find our own compromises, our own rebellion. We owe ourselves our own consciousness,” Abraxas continued the quote, as she felt the shifting in Chloe’s face, “When did you last sleep?”

No idea. I’m asleep and I’m awake.”

Luna stood at the threshold, looking to the living room, feeling a tiny bit better at the sight. Chloe and Abraxas are outright asleep on the sofa, their heads tented together over their slumped bodies. Jamere’s feet are tucked up underneath her, head leaned over a book. She could hear muttering from the guest room, pretty sure Ivie is one of them.

Caro, Quin and Arlo sat together at the table, armed with the vicious nonchalance of experienced gamblers competitively playing, as Luna walked to Jamere, “Hey.”

Jamere jumped and dropped the book at her feet, “Shit, sorry.”

Luna, inflecting her voice down while scooping up the book, “Its okay.”

Jamere moved over for Luna to curl up next to her, dropping her arms around her, “Baby girl.”

Mmmm,” Luna dipped her head into Jamere’s neck, a rare event she had not done in years, since the night she sliced her leg open and needed to hide her pain from Kai.

Anything you need?”

Just this,” Luna whispered.

The trilogy, watching, turned back to their card games, leaving Luna nestled with Jamere. This is how all of their tangled collective love divides into the universe; imperfectly perfect.

Mapped it,” Ivie shimmered, haphazard in the light.

Can we do it here?” Galla asked, sitting in an alcove in Chloe’s apartment, the only space not invaded.

Archer sat in her corner chair, uncomfortable and hard, tapping out commands, “Video and 2D imagery, yes. To get full 3D imagery, we’ll need to go to the Aunts or the basement.”

Will it be better in full imagery?”

I don’t know. We’ve gathered as much as there is to find. From CCTV, GPS and satellite. From the club to Ianthe are clear. The internal camera on the cab is broken. I can track some movements from cell phone coverage, mostly texts and calls from Kai and Gerome to event participants as both of their location data was disabled, and blocked.”

How much is actual useful information?” Galla looked up from her position on the floor.

Nothing substantial enough. FSA have assisted RCPD, and most of this information they either have or deduced,” Archer shrugged.

You’ll see more in 3D,” Ivie stated.

Yes,” Archer stood up and packed her laptop, “lets go. We’ll walk.”

Of course,” Galla pushed herself up.

As they walked out, Bree was loitering in the shade, sipping from a coffee cup, “Hi guys.”

Bree,” Galla nodded but they didn’t break their step.

Bree fell in line, “Please let me help.”

Fine, but either be helpful or quiet,” Archer had no tolerance for babble.

Okay.”

Ivie?”

I’ve cleaned up as much as I can of the CCTV from Kahtya and Violet Pier. Its terrible, but the best I can do. The times here are approximated.”

I thought you were installed at Chloe’s,” Galla asked.

Preliminary instillation. I’ve been waiting for upgrades to the building systems before more will be done. Chloe was a little apprehensive, however can see the security integrity I can maintain.”

It was for Luna,” Archer said, “the FSA are concerning when it comes to Luna.”

You look so hurt she didn’t just want Ivie. She is such an anomaly for anyone outside of the Pacer bubble,” Galla nodded at the door man as they entered Circe, and crossed the lobby.

Yeah, but she’s mapped practically the entire route of Kai’s disappearance. She’d contributed the most.”

Stop grumbling,” Galla soothed, “they can’t get to her, okay, really, they can’t take Ivie away. You’ve made sure of that, and they don’t have anyone smart enough to steal her. Renegade hackers never work for the feds. And they lost track of Kai.”

I know, but we’ve the most info, and we still have nothing.”

The aunts apartment was silent, and echoed the noise as they dumped their bags on the ground and moved around the living area.

Ivie?” Galla called as the room brightened with artificial light splattering out of Ivie’s camera’s, creating a cityscape, contours of the city, the club, the taxi, as Ivie starts the progression.

Bree stood in the middle, frozen at the vertigo she experiences being inside this living video. Footage shows Kai and Gerome leaving the club, entering the taxi and heading west on Despine Avenue.

Ivie includes annotated text appearing in the air above black spots and reconstructed parts before she starts narrating, “the CCTV ends here, and mobile reception places them here, here and here,” pulsing dots appear on the map, the last one near the industrial embankment adjacent to Violet Pier.

Violet Pier usually had awesome CCTV?” Bree asked.

Yes, its substantial, but is internally maintained by the companies, so generally covers their own building and car parks. I’ve checked all of that that I can and only have what I’ve shown you. Police have been focusing on this section,” Ivie highlighted the three block section against the river and focused on it.

How’s the investigation?” Galla asked.

Archer snorted, “PD aren’t doing much, standard missing person procedure. The Bingo Preacher is actually pressuring he investigation. FSA is taking is seriously, and have the Stoker team suspended and under investigation.”

I’ve looked for patterns, attempted to correlate data, but there is nothing,” Ivie stated, “nothing to indicate where Kai is. The CCTV gives us the route, but nothing at the end, where it counts. All of this only indicated our own illegal behaviour.”

How long were you gone?” Chloe asked as Jamere pushed her thick black coffee over the bench, “I mean between leaving Eloise and coming back?”

Twenty years. I built a reputation and was always offered another job, an enticing new experience in a new country. Until Charlotte became sick, I had never returned home. Asher and Charlotte always came to me,” sadness seeped into Jamere’s cadence, “When Charlotte was brought home, Saber helped Asher with the burden of watching love die. I didn’t realise Saber was Cressida’s husband, or Archer’s father until much later. It was always Abraxas – Archer – Cressida.”

Jamere’s voice shattered as if glass, swimming in the clatter of the kitchen, and the house moving around them, “I was here two years before I converted Ash’s to the café. Cressida, Archer and Abraxas came opening day. I’ve seen Abraxas ever day since, through watching one mother die and then the other. The progression of Charlotte’s illness is what started my odd, random hours and why I always ended up Ash’s in the phantom hours of the morning. In all of this, I saw Abraxas’ face beyond all others. I wouldn’t have survived without her, her love, she held me together when I fell apart, loved me when I couldn’t. Abraxas gave me myself when no other noticed, never failed in her capacity to love. Every morning during those desperately dark hours, I woke in her arms. Every day we’re unable to be apart. Life is dull without her.”

That’s what she said about you, that you held her together when Cressida died.”

That’s what love is, holding all the parts together when she cannot, like you for Luna. Like she did for Kai. Like she will for you. We all get each other in death. Its this, the trauma and hope, death and love twisted together,” Jamere’s voice drifted with the weight of the conversation.

Sounds tragic, death bringing us together.”

Abraxas and I began within the noise of death, yet death did not diminish us. We don’t survive the dead, we visit within them in the space between guilt and memory. Archer, this ball of love between us, stretched and burgeoned our love, expanding around the girls and Kai, expands with you and the trilogy. Now, go. I have to start breakfast for real.”

I see what Luna loves about being here,” Galla is sitting in the greenhouse, staring at the colour surrounding them.

It is beautiful,” Chloe replied, “I’ve relearnt its beauty again because of Luna.”

You got used to this?”

I guess so.”

Chloe noticed the small cylinder sitting in front of Galla, saying “Ivie, you can come out. The others will be okay too, you’re not gonna scare them.”

Probably will.”

Not really,” Chloe looked over to Galla, “Luna said your scars have a story.”

She didn’t tell you?”

No. She said its your story to tell.”

True enough, I guess.”

It’s from when you were a child?”

Memory is a funny thing. I was abandoned at the racetrack. They thought I was only a couple of hours old, no more then twenty-four, yet the first memory I have is of a giant fluffy teddy next to a bright pink pillow. It makes me sneeze, all of those fine little stray hairs in my fist, snuggles at night, giggles at movies. I don’t remember their faces, my first parents.”

You’re the racing baby?” Chloe remembered the news story, the splash of the infant and maintenance over the news.

Yes,” Galla didn’t blink at the epithet, “adopted by Ceara and Ernest Zenobia. They died when I was five. I was placed in the home of a sitar player, Qadir and his cellist wife, Nilaruna. I was with them almost five years. We were driving. I don’t remember the car accident, only waking up in hospital, unable to see, my head covered in bandages. I remember the hospital distinctly, as I was the centre of everything and I got a new teddy bear. When the bandages came off, my face was like this. They never made it out.”

He taught you the sitar?”

Yes,” she shrugged, shivering even in the warmth, “family is an odd, odd thing. I initially didn’t get placed because of these scars, they scare people. They want perfect children, not monsters. I only had a single placement, I was sixteen, just after I met Luna and Kai. I was there for only eleven weeks. They’d several other female teenage children, useful to their very specific business interests. They picked us especially for our brokenness and kept us locked up, selling us over and over again. I kept fighting, resisting, falling into their cycle of drinking, screaming, violence, beatings. They allowed a customer to break my arm and wrist before dumping me at the hospital, left me unconscious in a car park…”

Silent tears ran down Chloe’s face, not turning her face fast enough before Galla saw them, “…no, no don’t. Look at what I got, Luna and Archer, Abraxas and Jamere. I’ve my family, they got jail time. I emancipated myself and received a trust from my first parents, enough to get my apartment. Its the first time I understood self-inflicted unemployment could be incendiary and beautiful. They create monsters, we create flowers, etching monuments out of rubble. I won.”

Chloe still looked mortified, “That’s still truly terrible. How have you all survived?”

It is as it is. What else is their to be? I’ve more than most in my situation. I’m gifted with my family, such as we are. Not everything is entirely broken. Before Jamere and Abraxas, I didn’t think I deserved family, before Luna and Archer, I didn’t think I deserved sisters. Musicians don’t see this,” she waved her hand over her face, “and I can play, and I’m good, too. Music saved all of us. What lies within is the sound you send out, beyond the music, outside the space between what I give and what you take.”

Galla paused, momentarily, to gather the unloved child inside of herself attempting to make her small again, even to herself, especially to herself. She knew death surrounded her to collect a debt she was given at birth, one that marked her soul and left her unforgiving, “Childhood is a disease, adulthood the cure, yet one is the mirror of the other, a cowrie shell echoing the sea inside of eternity, throwing the wreckage of ones own life, the complexity of being both broken and fixed all at once. These scars are simply an echo.”

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