Kimichee is fiction, poetry, artwork, and creativity in the raw. Story genres are science fiction, fantasy, horror, ultraviolence, slash, mm, magical realism, spec fic, and more; sometimes all rolled into one. Look up “Harper Kingsley” if you want to find me.
Paradigm Shift part 2: This picks up right where Paradigm Shift left off. Starts with an Interlude, continues with Chapter 21 in micro-chunks.
Posting schedule: Monday-Friday, basically any time of the day or night.
The easiest way to catch up with the story so-far is to read “Paradigm Shift” as either an ebook or paperback from: Amazon. Smashwords. Scribd.
You can find the posts for ParaShift 2 in this masterlist.
Wanna support Paradigm Shift? Darkstar/Heroes & Villains? From Diamond to Coal? Simon Peters? There’s super easy ways–
Bastian kept her chin tilted down, but her eyes couldn’t help straying to Orsino where he sprawled in the window seat. The handsome duke was a surly sort, melancholy wrapped around a poet’s soul so tight that sometimes he lost his words. And then he had her play and play and play.
I would play him a thousand sonnets and a million lullabies, if only he would think of me as he does HER. And that was a hateful thought perhaps, to wish misfortune on the mysterious Olivia she had never met.
In her guise of man, the duke did not look upon her. Would not.
But this was the way she was. The way she’d always been. The way she’d always wanted to be.
Feminine wiles and fripperies were as foreign as the soil of the moon would be beneath her feet. It was not her fault that she had to pretend to be a man to dress the way she FELT inside.
Neither woman nor man. Simply herself.
Born Viola, twin to Sebastian. Now Bastian in memory of her lost other half, torn from her by the grasping white caps of the sea.
She’d been so alone without him. But dressing in his clothes made her feel close to him somehow, as though it were his face gazing back at her from the mirror. Smiling gently. Promising that he would make everything all right, even after their father died so tragic and ruinous a death.
He’d promised her he’d never leave.
But where was Sebastian now? Swallowed by the sea.
Her fingers had been continuing their journey over the keyboard, music pouring out of the heart of the piano, yearning toward a man that dreamed of someone else.
He rose from the window seat with startling abruptness and strode across the room to slam the fallboard down. She flinched, barely pulling her fingers out of the way in time.
“I don’t like this song anymore,” he said.
“I… I could play something else,” she offered.
“No. I’m tired of music. My soul hungers for more than song. It calls to her. Olivia.”
She wasn’t sure what to do. What to say. Her shoulders felt tight and her skin hot and stiff. She glanced around and saw the other retainers studiously busy at their various tasks, none wanting to draw the duke’s attention when he was in such a manic state.
She licked her lips and opened her mouth to say–she didn’t know what–but he didn’t give her a chance to speak.
“You have a way about you, young Bastian.” Orsino’s face was suddenly close to hers, examining her closer than they ever had before. Dancing over her face until she ducked her chin away in the hopes that he would grant her mercy. “No sign of a single mustache hair, but a way with words is what you have. More than these, hollow-headed jackanapes. She sent Sergino scuttling, but you… You are young and still so boyish yet. She might allow you into her parlor and give you a chance to speak my favor into her delicate shell of an ear.”
Orsino’s eyes–gray with specks of maybe blue–gazed into the soul of her. Bastian swallowed a shuddering breath and felt her heartbeat fluttering at the side of her neck.
“You would do this for me, will you not?” he entreated. “Go to her, Bastian. Speak for me. Spin sweet words of wonder and beauty. Bring into her my heart, Bastian, and you will never live in want again. I will make you a wealthy and most fortuitous of men. Bring my love into her heart. Warm her by my fire.”
Bastian swallowed. There was only one answer that she could give: “Of course, my lord.”
His beaming exuberance had her up off the piano bench, his hands grasping her upper arms as he led her in a riotous dance around the room. His chest brushing against hers, his arms encircling her; it was glorious hell.
It was inevitable that she would find herself making the journey to Olivia’s house on Orsino’s behalf. The letter he’d written and sealed with wax was a fat weight in her breast pocket. She allowed a merry tune to escape her lips and told herself that she was happy.
If Duke Orsino found love, she would rejoice for him. Because her love was a pure love, in as much as her envy allowed. She would not deny him happiness simply because her lips were not the ones he wanted to kiss.
She walked the meandering path over hill and pasture to reach the sprawling estate that belonged to Olivia. It was such a lovely day that she didn’t mind the walk for the joy of the journey.
The tune she whistled became a jaunty sounding thing of extra trills accompanied by the occasional jig of her feet. It was good to walk. The sun was warming against her face and she liked the solid tromp beneath her booted feet.
And the land she walked through… Olivia’s family had left her a beautiful and well-maintained estate. She could see men and women in the distance performing their various tasks and duties, and they all appeared clean and well-fed. The group of children playing outside a crofter’s house were in good health and bright spirit, their singing and laughter carried to Bastian’s ears by the cheery breeze.
She smiled and tipped her face back to the sun. It was a lovely day for a walk. There was no room for heartbreak and might-have-beens but never-will-bes. It was too good a day for feeling sad.
Her feet met a stone walkway that wound a cutting path direct to the stately manor house. She curled her toes in her boots as she walked, experiencing every bit of the journey. She felt connected to everyone and everything in this moment. The air and the sky and the trees, sun-warmed and beckoning, carried her feet around the house to the side door waiting for those daring to come to call on the fair Olivia.
She tugged the elegant chain next to the door and heard the ringing of bells inside.
The door was answered promptly enough by a young woman in a maid’s cap and dress. “Who is calling?”
Bastian bobbed a quick nod. “I have been sent by my lord, Balthus Orsino, Duke of Illyria. He has charged me to deliver a letter on his behalf to the lady of the house.”
“I suppose if you give it to me I could pass it along,” the maid said.
“Nay, fair lady. I have been instructed to deliver his words directly into your lady’s hands. He would be most wroth if he found me slacking.”
“I see,” she said. “Come with me.”
Bastian allowed himself to be ushered inside where he was led to a parlor room and instructed to “Stay here. Touch nothing.”
She wondered if she should feel outraged, but just laughed. She was a nobleman’s page. There was a good chance the household had seen many a glitter fingerprinted or perhaps even outright destroyed by curious hands left to wait too long.
She resolutely put her hands behind her back and began walking the diamter of the room, counting the steps one two three before closely examing the artwork on the walls and the decorations left on low tables and tall baseboards.
Bastian was duly impressed. The place was lovely. At the very least, the Duke had fallen for a woman of taste as well as means.
There was the brisk clatter of footsteps and she hurriedly propelled herself to the middle of the room, standing in a close approximation of attention. The butler that entered was who she had to impress if she wanted to be let in to see the lady.
“I have been told that you wish to see Lady Olivia?” the butler’s accent was crisp and ringing. He had a way of projecting his voice that made Bastian feel smaller than she was. She noted the effect and promised to practice until she carried as much presence.
“Yes, good sir, I have been instructed by my lord, Duke Balthus Orsino, Duke of Illyria, to call upon your good lady. I am to present a letter from his hand direct into her own.” She attempted a charming smile, but could tell by his expression that she didn’t much succeed.
“I see.” He looked her up and down, his still expression perhaps hiding a sneer at the presumption. Olivia had refused the Duke’s suit on half a dozen occasions by this point. Most suitors would have already moved on to sweeter dispositioned fruit, yet here he was sending yet another letter to remain unread. “Come with me.”
In her time as a page, Bastian had grown accustomed to being told to go here and there, to stand in place for long stretches of time, and to entertain her melancholic lord as needed to keep his dark moods at bay. She followed the butler without complaint, choosing to spend the walk glancing to-and-fro with her eyes while her head remained appropriately positioned, chin tipped up as she was careful not to clatter on the marble floors.
She was led to the closed double doors of a larger parlor. She caught a slight glimpse inside when the butler tapped on the dark grained wood and went in, the door closing firmly behind him.
Bastian figured she’d be left to cool her heels for another long while. Olivia would be in no hurry to see her as the Duke had no favor here. She wished for a chair, but the hallway was large and bare of furniture, though there were nooks for decorative vases and art pieces were strewn here and there. The wallpaper was a lovely oddity of rose and gold, and she had just reached out her hand to touch when the doorknob turned.
She hurriedly straightened her shoulders and pushed out her uniformed chest. She schooled her expression to hopeful attention.
The butler held the door open. “The lady will see you.”
Bastian gave him a nod as she passed, acknowledging the warning in his hooded glance if she tried anything inappropriate with his employer. He didn’t look like much of a fighter, but since beginning her martial training Bastian had been surprised a good few times by men turning out more dangerous than her eyes had presumed.
The parlor was large and airy, with velvet covered furniture and lovely oak wood. It was cast in a pall of somber darkness by the heavy curtains drawn closed and the decorative black grate spread before the fire, the etching of leaves and lions taking nothing away from the sense of misery in the room.
The lady herself was shrouded in black silk and lace, her much vaunted beauty hid behind a fine mesh veil that turned her features to outline and shadow. She was seated on a low divan, a lady’s maid to either side, and a large embroiderers hoop spread on the table before them. Bastian spared the fine needlework an admiring glance. The lady had a great skill.
“My lady.” Bastian gave the bow she’d been forced to learn by the strict Master Gereson and pulled the letter from her pocket with as much grace and elegance as she could muster. She held the envelope toward the lady on the palms of her gloved hands, waiting until the lady deigned to reach out and snatch it away.
“I told your lord that I have no interest in love at this time,” the lady said. She tore the envelope open with barely suppressed impatience. “My brother is barely cold in the ground. The fires of my passion have burnt out, and I don’t think it appropriate that they be rekindled so soon. I wish merely to be left alone.”
Bastian nodded. “I hear you, my lady. I apologize for intruding upon your grief. But my lord, he wishes you to know that he holds you in his heart. I think that he would gladly wait the lifting of your grief, if he but knew that at the end his patience would be rewarded by even a chance at your heart. He loves you so.”
“I see, I see.” Olivia held the letter up to the light of the candleabra on the table, straining through her veil to read the strong looping strokes of Orsino’s pen. “Ah, my face is a picture, my form a poetry, and every bit of me a delight to be savored and worshipped. He sounds like any other, promising the sun, the moon, the stars above, if only to kiss my hand, my feet, my lips, and my… well. He at least has not chosen to write of such indecorous things. Perhaps he truly wishes to win my heart and not simply access to my nethers.”
Bastian sputtered a shocked laugh. If she’d been the boy she appeared, she would have perhaps been lost in the imagery presented. “My lady!”
“Oh, I do apologize.” Olivia seemed to peer over the letter, the brightness of her eyes peeking at Bastian. “You’re quite young, aren’t you? Still callow in your youth. Untouched by such things as lust and avarice.”
Olivia waved a lace gloved hand. “With the death of my brother the family fortune’s have fallen to my shoulders. There is many a man that has taken one glance at my situation and decided that I would make a perfect wife.” She snorted. “They all want to take it away from me. To relegate me to the bower or the birthing bed. It’s quite sad and pathetic really. That they think me such a fool.”
“I don’t think you’re a fool,” Bastian said truthfully. “I think that you’re wise. Tis better that you wait and find someone that will love and cherish you than to settle on the first face to come to call. But the duke… He is a good man. He has true feeling for you. I do not think that he would ever treat you wrong.”
“But that doesn’t mean I won’t be ill-treated.” Olivia sighed, tossing the letter to the table and settling her back against the couch. “Even the best of intentions means nothing to the truth that all men see my sex as inferior to their baser needs. They are more set to impressing their fellows than to treating the womenfolk in their lives as more than chattel. I refuse to lose all that I have so that my husband can feel himself a greater man. I refuse your duke. Tell him no. He will not have my love or my hand.”
From the way Olivia looked at her, Bastian felt that she was waiting for some form of explosion. “Very well,” she said. “I will tell my lord that you have refused his troth. His sadness will be great. He will have me play plenty a weeping lullaby, but I suppose his heart will move on.”
She shook her head. “Tis a sadness though.” She laughed. “He so handsome, you so lovely, the world is made lesser for the lack of matrimony. Your babes would have been most beautiful.”
There was a startled silence. Olivia tilted her head. “You are very free with your tongue.”
“I am my duke’s man,” Bastian said, showing her teeth in a smile, “which curbs the worst of my humor. But at the best of times, I have been called ‘sharper of tongue than wit.’ For if I were a smarter man, I would not be so free around a lady of your great quality. Forgive me, my lady, and please do not tell my lord. His punishments are most severe, and my hands cannot stand the digging of another hole in the ground.”
“I… I will not tell your lord.”
“Oh thank you, thank you, most gracious of women.” Bastian executed a florid bow to Olivia’s begrudging amusement. “Though I admit, I feel sadness for my duke. You are all that he has said and more. His poetry when he speaks of you makes quite a wit of sense. I can tell why he would be disappointed that you refuse to be his wife.”
She had begun wandering the room as she spoke. Olivia’s head turned to follow her, as did the suspicious gaze of the older lady’s maid. “Is there something in the room that has caught your attention?” Olivia asked.
Bastian shrugged. “Nothing in particular. I find your decorative senses charming, though… It is quite dark in here.” With a smooth jerk, she pulled aside the curtain of the largest window. Light flooded into the room, and she could see the flowers in the garden below. “There. It’s so much lovelier with the light coming through,” she turned and blinked, “and so are you, dear lady. A great beauty indeed.”
“You’re not going to win me over with your charms,” Olivia warned.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t dare try.” Bastian wandered the edges of the room until her eyes were caught by a piano that had been hidden in the shadows. “Well, hello there,” she murmured, heading straight to it, her eyes drinking in the complete perfection. “Is that what I think it is?”
“And what do you think it is?” Olivia asked.
“It’s beautiful,” Bastian crooned, running her hand across the top of the Blüthner. She carefully opened the fallboard, letting her fingers hover over the keys. “Do you mind?”
At Olivia’s nod of permission, Bastian sat at the piano bench and ran a quick set of scales. Then she began to play, a lilting tune meant to get the toes tapping.
On the first day of Xmas, Harper Kingsley wrote for me of Darkstar transformed into a tree
Title: The Carrion Tree
Author: Harper Kingsley
Character: Kanon-Darkstar, post-Battle for Terra
The setup: After ruling a city of sycophants, a tired-of-all-the-bs Darkstar approaches Dr. Zee for the technology to jump universes. He activates the device and travels to a new Earth… And in that moment, there are an infinite number of worlds he could have gone to. And if branch-theory is a thing, a version of him has gone to a version of every world. This Darkstar has come to this world.
Darkstar ends up on an Earth with some very different plant life. Including the carrion plant that all smart humans avoid unless they want their every orifice entered.
The pleasure is great, but most people avoid carrion plants unless they want to die.
CW: consent issues due to it being an inhuman plant using aphrodisiacs as a prey attractant.
The birds circled overhead, their screeching caws more than anything else telling him he was far from home. Their red feathers were a bright slash against the blue-blue sky. The air smelled of some foreign spice, near overpowering in its intensity.
"Well shit," Darkstar said, and sneezed. He could feel his nose beginning to run and it was such a foreign sensation that he allowed himself to enjoy it. From his reading, he figured he wouldn’t be marveling at the feeling for long.
Reaching down, he picked up a rock and crushed it between his fingers. Superstrength intact? Check.
It looked like the air-quality of this alternate universe could affect him. At least until his body adapted to it. (He hoped his body adapted to it. He was already growing annoyed with the sensation.)
He looked around at the alien scenery and wondered if even half these plants existed on his own Earth. Some of the grass and trees appeared familiar. The rest… were exotic to say the least.
He thought about flying, but felt an instinctive aversion. He wanted to experience this new Earth from the ground floor. Wanted to get a closer look at the plant life. Wanted to trudge the dirt with his own booted feet and follow that strange elusive scent that was fluttering his nose hairs and making his nerves hum.
A flush of heat went over him, but he ignored it. If the sun rose and set the same as on his Earth, then he was walking east with the breeze in his face. He could see the leaves folding and bending under its invisible force.
The air was sweet perfume. He absently swept his hand under his dripping nose and wiped it off on his pant leg.
Walking became an automatic function. It felt as though his legs were working without him, carrying him toward something amazing.
There’s something funny happening here, he thought, but it seemed distant and unimportant.
He was on another Earth, one that was somehow completely different from his own while at the same time being kind of the same. Plant-life was different, but gravity still existed and the ground was solid beneath his feet.
Dylan felt a bit of pity for the foolish boy but it was overshadowed by his anger. There was a reason he was having no real part of Micah’s case. Others would be assigned to unknot the mess that had been made.
He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He pitied Micah Figworth, but there was nothing he could do for him. The boy had committed the sin the Inquisition would seek answers for. The case was out of his hands.
There was the insistent 5-note beep of a timer alarm. He tapped his ear, finger unerringly finding the implanted mic button. “Magister Park,” he said. “End timer sequence. Order the aircar be brought around.”
There was the familiar acknowledgement sequence of notes. He could feel the sound vibrating along his jawbone and up into his skull. It had taken him time to become used to the shivery feel of it. Now the implant’s use had become a familiar kind of strange.
It helped that the personal AI within the implant was tuned enough to know when to use voice function or not–he preferred not.
Dylan shrugged on his coat, gathered up his briefcase, and left the office. There was a lot he needed to get done before he could return to Gregor’s side.
And how hard had it been, to leave not only the warm comfort of the bed but a gently breathing Gregor?
After writing Gregor a note explaining where he was going, Dylan had reluctantly left him behind.
If he could have, he would have stayed in the bed, but his extended time off was over.
The Project was essential to the safety and protection of the planet. There was an invisible timer counting down to the next incursion, the next attack of the Outsiders.
Dylan longed to be back in that bed with Gregor. He would love to enjoy a lazy day. Yet duty had been drilled into him from birth and he knew he had an important job to perform.
The start date of his new posting had been pushed back a few days to allow him time to bond with Gregor, but there was a lot to be done. He was scheduled for half-duty to start, then he was to take over command of The Project.
Even with the events of the night before, there really wasn’t time to rest.
They could very well be facing the end of the human race in two years time. And it was up to Dylan to stop it.
Even if he still wished he were back in bed wrapped around a warm, slumbering Gregor.
There were times when he could do nothing but envy the still ignorant masses. They didn’t know it hadn’t been random nature. They didn’t know the Earth had been attacked three times.
They were able to sleep easy with the hope that tomorrows could be better days. They slumbered unaware of the sword hanging over their heads.
But Dylan knew.
And that’s why he’d reluctantly left a sleeping Gregor alone in bed. Because even though he’d wanted nothing more than to rest beneath those sheets, he had a job to do.
And how terrifying was it to know that he would be a father. It hadn’t been part of the plan–Gregor had been expected to Bond with Zero–yet here he was: a father-to-be.
A revelation and a terror rolled into one. All he knew was that he felt a spark for Gregor Tierney. He thought it might be love, though what did he know? He’d never felt romantic love before. Yet when he looked at Gregor, he thought he was seeing his future happiness. As though everything he wanted and needed had been distilled and encapsulated in one distrusting but charming person.
He’d thought he was bringing home a Bondmate for his younger brother. He’d been blessed instead.
“Blessed Gregor Tierney,” he whispered to himself simply to hear the sound of the words. The name of the life-changer that had entered his sphere and decided to make a place for himself.
Whatever the future held, Dylan’s life was forever tied to Blessed Gregor Tierney. There were invisible strings bound between them pulling them into each other’s gravity.
Even without the child-to-be, there was a connection that could never be severed.
Because Gregor Tierney chose him.
And that was an amazing thing. To be chosen first and most favored.
He pitied Zero–Jaisuyen Park–who had never been told “No” to something he wanted and wasn’t taking it well.
Baby brother is most distraught, he thought. And there was a bit of disgust there, overshadowing the love he felt. Zero was behaving like a child throwing a tantrum and it was winning him no favors.
Dylan had already advised that he get hold of himself, but Zero had merely scoffed. The jealousy blazing from his gray eyes had resulted in Dylan cutting the visit short and ordering Cousin Deland to keep Zero company and prevent him from doing anything foolish.
Zero had always been impetuous. There had been times when he’d been willing to cut his nose to spite his face and only regretted things much too late afterward.
Dylan loved his brother. But he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his happiness for him.
Gregor had made the choice. Zero would have to accept it.
Just as Dr. Figworth would have to deal with the decisions Micah had made.
The fool boy had betrayed the Family. A few secrets here and there to keep his friend alive, then he’d used his father’s identicard to print the invitations that had allowed Virgil Hanson and his Acolytes into the rehearsal party. He’d even gone so far as to give them his access code to pass through Security.
It should have surprised no one that the friend was already dead. But Micah was young for his age and far too trusting. He hadn’t even realized that the Acolytes were anything more than common thugs.
Now he was missing several toes and half his left ear along with all the physical damage that would heal itself. The mental damage… that might never go away.
Some dark part of Dylan whispered “Good” because Micah should never forget or be completely forgiven for what he’d done. The rest of him could only be sad for wasted potential
The Inquisition would unmake Micah and either remake him or decide how he should be discarded. Either way, his old life was over. He could never go back to being the trusted Family member he’d been yesterday.
He’d enjoyed flirting with danger. Hanson had wanted to make it a life sentence.
And here Gregor was: Alone in a big bed after a night of stress and pleasure. The relief itself made him bone weary.
He had no plans to get out of bed. Not until he was good and ready.
The world can deal with itself, he thought. Today is for me alone.
Gregor thought of the things that made him peaceful or happy. He pushed away anything dreary or dark.
And with the relief of having found a comfortable position for his achy body, he fell back asleep. Someone would surely let him know if he was needed.
* * *
Dylan steepled his fingers under his chin and fought off a frown. “How did this happen?”
Second Prime Donella Miri shrugged, her armor creaking. “He was a very foolish boy. I don’t think he’ll ever be so young again.”
“What could he have been thinking?” Dylan wondered.
“Young, dumb, and far too trusting of someone outside the Family. The friend–Tiedo Rasmussen–was dragged out of the Longmarch River early this morning. He must have been killed right after the Acolytes got hold of him. The Figworth boy betrayed everything for nothing.”
Dylan sighed. “Micah Figworth is looking at some dark days ahead. There’s going to be an Inquisition. There has to be.”
Miri’s gaze dipped in momentary sympathy for the teenager.
There was no question that he’d betrayed the Duadenora Family. Even if he might not have realized the level of his betrayal when he gave confidential information, he’d still committed the act.
Lives had been lost. A rare Third had been risked along with the precious new life within.
Micah Figworth had threatened the future of the Duadenora Family. First for the life of an outsider, then for his own life, and never once did he seek out help.
“Kid’s screwed,” Miri observed.
“He most certainly is.” Dylan pushed away from the desk and stood up. “Thank you for handling this incident for me. I’ll find someone kind to break the news to Dr. Figworth that his son is facing serious legal troubles.”
“Aiding and abetting an S-class criminal and his terrorist organization isn’t the level of trouble you expect your child to get into.” Miri gathered her ePad and hardcover notebook into her shoulder bag and stood. She slung her pulse rifle across her other shoulder. “I feel sorry for the doctor. He’s a good person.”
“Yeah,” Dylan said quietly. He shook himself after a moment. “You should get back to your vacation. I’m sorry I interrupted.”
“Nah, it’s fine.” She waved a hand. “I know you’re good for the reciprocity. Plus we weren’t doing anything anyway. Noah wasn’t able to get the time off.”
“Still, thanks for the help. I’ll see you in two weeks,” he said.
“Unless you need me sooner.” She gave a goodbye nod and left the office, the door clicking shut behind her.
Dylan crossed to the window overlooking the lush green and flowered herb garden. It was an inviting view; paradise bathed in the morning light. The glass blocked the jarring mixture of scents where pleasant met astringent to become near overpowering.
This office had been his father’s once. He remembered playing on the thick rug that used to be where the second couch was now. There’d been a low decorative wall that he’d removed years ago. Curled up on the rug, he would be invisible to his father’s guests and could listen quietly to the business of the Family being conducted around him. He would fall asleep to the sound of his father’s voice, comforted and safe, his last view of the drawings he’d taped to the wall near his head.
Renalto Park had been a wonderful father. Dylan had loved him dearly and still ached with the memory of him. He had died much too young. Murdered at 32 years old.
I’m older than my father will ever be, he thought. And it was an exquisite sadness that bloomed in his chest and made his throat feel tight.
With every passing year he drew further away from the memory of his father. Someday he might forget him altogether, or remember him as someone he’d never been.
Dylan had never gotten to know his father as one adult to another. He only had the romanticized image of a man whose murder had become an international spectactle. He had his childhood memories and the loving reminiscences of his grandfather. But that was it.
Renalto Park was cast in the gold of memory. He would never grow older or be anything else.
Dylan clasped his hands behind his back. This was the same place where his father had once stood. The same sort of view. It made him wonder what his own child would think of him.
Of the secrets he protected the people from.
Of the acts he’d committed in the name of Law and Order.
Burying his face in his pillow, Gregor breathed deep and let his body go limp and loose. He could feel himself drifting into lazy reverie.
Life had been moving too quick for him to handle–to the point where he’d felt the edges of him scrabble away–but suddenly everything was so much easier. The lurking darkness that had been Virgil Hanson was gone forever.
It was a darker satisfaction to know that he was gone by Gregor’s very own hand.
I killed the boogieman, Gregor thought. And it was strange, yet right.
Virgil Hanson had haunted Gregor’s every step for nearly eleven years. He’d been the first and most lasting mistake Gregor had ever made.
And now he was gone.
Gregor’s lips stretched in a fierce grin and he ground his pelvis into the mattress for the simple pleasure of it.
His changing body had needs he’d found impossible to ignore. It wasn’t just shifting biology; it was surging hormones, some of a kind he’d never experienced before. His very bones were becoming different. Shifting to relieve the ache was becoming a pleasure unto itself.
Being a Third meant having a body that was sensitive to hormones. A little testosterone, and a Third began laddering muscle. A little estrogen, and mammary tissue gathered on even the flattest of chests. And either one would push a Third into sexual maturity, where the visible changes happened.
The cocktail of drugs Gregor had used to block his puberty as a Third would have killed a Two, and damaged the bones and organs of a First.
He’d been told to eat and sleep a lot.
He was fine.
Fertile at the time. Gravid at the moment.
“Fecund is the Third, near mindless in the need to mate. It’s a wild thing, riding any dick it comes across. Keep the creepy cocklet away from you, and it don’t matter what kind of Third you get. They’ll wring your dick dry. Best lay you’ll ever have, boys. You won’t be sorry.”
Those words had reverberated through his memory from the moment he’d heard them at thirteen years old. He’d stayed away from Coach after that, and kept a wary eye on all the boys that had laughed.
Before the Sterility Plague, Thirds had been a fascinating oddity, by turns worshiped and reviled. Nobody’d cared what they’d done to themselves then. Suppressants were nobody’s business but the person using them and their family.
Gregor’s mother had been a Third. She’d known not to trust Desmond with Gregor’s biology (there’d been a lucrative market for young Thirds) and Gregor had always been grateful for her paranoia. She’d saved him from Hell.
Desmond Tierney had never met a temptation he’d bother to deny. Fatherly loyalty would only go as far as his greed would allow it.
And it was fear of that greed that had allowed Gregor the extra years of freedom he’d enjoyed. So he couldn’t really hate it, could he?
In another life, he would already have had three or four kids for the State. Or maybe a dozen for the lifestyle his father would have forced him into.
Or maybe you would have been a trusting fool and let Hanson know about you. He winced away from the thought, refusing to let himself go down that idea path. He couldn’t imagine any version of himself being that kind of trusting.
Virgil Hanson had been sexy and exciting and had made a young Gregor feel special and in some way important. He’d also been the kind of blood freezing terrifying that couldn’t be overlooked for long. Gregor had run away rather than gift him any truths.