Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Lark spent more than two months in a prison transport ship before being ushered into a smaller transport carrier. That carrier would take her the rest of the way to Prison Colony Beta. All of the prisoners had been kept in very small rooms — rooms that were the length of a small bed. Lark had thought that under the circumstances this was the only advantage to being small. Even so, the tight space began to wear on Lark. Still, when the prison officials came to deliver Lark to the vehicle that would deliver her to her final destination Lark felt as though she’d have been happy to remain in that coffin forever. But that wasn’t an option. The only options were to either stand up and walk out or be hauled away by force. Given that Lark wanted to avoid being noticed, she chose to comply. What good would the other option do anyway?

The seating on the transport carrier consisted of long metal benches. Every prisoner was chained to a spot on the bench. It was sort of unreal the way Lark was being treated the same way any other prisoner would be. One would have thought she was as imposing as the roughest of the men. Oh well, Lark concluded, this was the reality.

Lark noticed that the carrier was going through a sort of landing tunnel. The lights pulsated over her head. There was a strange reddish haze, sort of like a fine clay dust, surrounding the lights. It not only created an ominous haze — it also gave Lark a bad impression of the environmental quality of the prison planet.

Lark was tempted to look around to see how the other prisoners were reacting but then thought better of it and looked down. Suddenly, and without warning, the prison transport carrier stopped. The abruptness of the stop almost caused Lark to slide into the man next to her. Fortunately, she was able to brace herself before that happened. The chains were then unhooked from the bench yet remained on the prisoners’ wrists.

“Everyone stand.” a female prison guard stated.

Lark had her shoebox on her lap; she managed to hold it between her elbows as she stood. Still, Lark stood before the others. She then reddened. “Too eager,” she thought, “too eager and too visible.” She felt better when the others started to stand one by one as well. Eventually, even the most reluctant prisoner stood, and they were filed out of the transport carrier and into the hot barrenness of the prison planet outside. The prisoners were left, still bound, next to a large rock. Boxes, presumably of supplies, were left nearby. Then, the guards, weapons drawn, backed up toward the prison transport carrier. The hatch was finally closed.

Dust swirled around as the transport carrier lifted. The carrier then turned around, headed into the free-standing tunnel, and was gone. Lark was disturbed by the abandonment but didn’t dare ask anyone else what was happening. No one else bothered to speak either. Still, eventually someone would have to … then again, maybe not.

Then suddenly, the wind picked up, and the dust swirled again. Only, as it turned out, it wasn’t the wind. It was a gang of men on hover vehicles heading for the group. The one in the lead was a pale, rough, tall yet stocky teenager with a purple mohawk and various piercings on his face. His nose was wide, and his eyes were somewhat puffy. He was the first to dismount his vehicle and seemed to have a leader’s air of authority. He laughed as he approached the handcuffed group and proceeded to look over the lineup.

“Oh, poor things, still cuffed.” He laughed like a hyena.

Lark looked down and wrung her hands as the man approached. This wasn’t good.

“And look they’re thirsty. Two, give them some water.”

A lackey began spraying the crowd with a high-powered hose, which was attached to one of the hovercrafts. The gang laughed. Suddenly, the leader stopped right in front of Lark.

“What’s this? You’ve got to be kidding me!” the teen said in reference to Lark.

The others laughed again.

“I’d be doing this one a favor putting her out of her misery!” the leader joked to the others. “But the question is how to do it.”

“Go ahead and kill me.” Lark growled at him.

“What’s that?” The leader focused his attention back on Lark.

“Go ahead and kill me. You’re going to anyway.”

“Yeah right. Sure.” the leader scoffed.

Suddenly, the man put his hands on Lark’s throat and lifted her in the air. Lark looked down at him with intense anger and defiance. He stopped smirking and stared back at her with a cold yet curious expression. The man then dropped Lark, and she fell forcefully to the ground. Lark’s shoebox fell to the ground with her. Lark gasped as the newly-created mud flowed over the precious contents. She picked up her treasures as best as she could with her still shackled hands. But as she did, her emotions seemed to drift away.

“Leave her alone.” the leader finally muttered. “This girl, number twelve, as well as numbers eight, ten, thirteen and eighteen will come back with us. The rest we’ll drop off at the mines.”

The leader then stared at Lark until she looked up at him.

“By the way, little girl, you may call me Leader Monrage.” After saying those words to Lark, he quickly turned his attention back to the others. “All right, recruits. You are the lucky ones. This prison colony may be your home for now, but don’t get used to it. None of us are going to be here forever.”

What did that mean? Under the circumstances, it didn’t sound good.

“It’ll take hard work. People who don’t pull their own weight will be sent to the mines with the rest. We’re not just going to escape. There’s more to it than that. We will succeed. We will triumph. If you can’t help with that, you’re of no use to me.”

Lark let her eyes lose their focus; she stared straight ahead with a blank expression. Somehow, it gave Lark just the slightest bit of comfort to know she could go numb like this. It seemed to have a positive effect on those around her, too. This man Leader Monrage, in particular, seemed to leave her alone when she suppressed her emotions. His former fascination with committing violence against her was seemingly gone … at least for now. Apparently, Lark was to be almost an appendage, a tool to be used by him. At least there was something of value to being viewed as useful. Lark refocused back on the leader. Leader Monrage, meanwhile, was skimming the crowd. Eventually, his eyes fell upon Lark again.

“You are no longer who you were. Now, you are a member of our syndicate. You will be called the numbers that you were assigned from now on. Fortunately for you, the number twelve was available.” He smirked. “Anyway, you will no longer use your former names. You will not be a part of the rest of them anymore. Your past is dead.”

Lark didn’t react to that, though her eyes did shift. If he thought Lark was going to give up the mementos from her parents, he had another thing coming.

“I mean it, girl. You’ll now be known as Twelve.” Leader Monrage called out.

Lark looked down again. There was nothing left to say.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 13

 

Lark had thought that the small hovel in the middle of the desert would be her new home. Instead, it was just a shelter from the periodic sandstorms that plagued the planet.

Lark should have known. After all, those destined for the mines were still in the back of the conveyance truck. She found it strange how they went with this unknown group of men without even a word of protest. Then again, maybe they also didn’t know what was worse — the mines or Leader Monrage. Certainly, if Lark still had the choice to remain silent and blend into the background she would have, especially after the way Leader Monrage had manhandled her before.

Still, there seemed to be no way out. Trying to get out of it now would just make things worse. “Either way, it isn’t good,” Lark concluded.

The conveyance van, built much like a tank, rolled to a stop in front of a large complex. When the main hatch was opened, Lark noticed there was little light outside. Did this planet’s sun set so early? That’s when the smell of sulfur hit Lark’s nose. She began to cough, though she tried hard to stifle it.

“Where is the shipment?” a man’s voice demanded.

Lark assumed the man who had just entered the hatch asked Leader Monrage that question. It probably wasn’t a good sign that he was wearing a gas mask. Certainly, if the sounds from the back of the van were any indication, the others weren’t very happy about it either.

“Bring the group forward and three-fourths of the supplies.” the man added.

The group that hadn’t been selected by Leader Monrage moved forward. This time they had to be prodded by taser sticks. Lark watched them stumble and lurch out of the conveyance van. Lark couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Suddenly, Lark became aware that Leader Monrage was standing next to her. He lingered just long enough to get eye contact with her. He smiled then moved on. Lark figured he could tell she didn’t want to go to the mines. Perhaps, he thought he had this advantage over her now. Not only could he threaten to send Lark there, but there was also probably nowhere else to go on this barren planet.

“It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” the man with the mask called forward.

“Of course.” Leader Monrage called back. “I’m a big believer in situations that are beneficial for all those involved.”

“Yeah, it’s better than having to travel a long way for pickups. There are so many these days. I’m surprised we still have room for everyone. Besides, it’s not as though you’re going anywhere.” the man with the mask laughed.

“Yeah … right.” Monrage said to himself, a tone of bitterness in his voice.

It seemed as though the man from the mines was aware of Leader Monrage’s dream for escape. Leader Monrage certainly didn’t keep it a secret. Lark guessed there was probably no reason to keep it a secret since no one took Leader Monrage seriously anyway. They probably also thought that since Leader Monrage was that open with them that he was trustworthy or at least predictable. Lark doubted either was the case.

After the other prisoners were completely loaded out, Lark noted the conveyance van was almost empty. She looked about her at the empty spots where most of the prisoners had been. Even though Lark had seen them leave, it felt as though they had just disappeared off the face of the planet.

As Lark was looking about her, she became aware that she herself was being looked at. The handful of formidable-looking prisoners who had also been selected were looking at her with annoyance and distrust. Lark turned her face forward and pondered the situation she found herself in. Suddenly, it occurred to Lark how odd it was that she was selected. There was no good reason she could think of as to why she should be here instead of at the mines. Lark clutched at the items she’d been able to retrieve without drawing too much attention to herself. The thought occurred to her that she would have to make herself invaluable in some way and be seen as an asset.

But how could a child be an asset? Lark was smart and a quick learner. Maybe she could excel at something mental — at some sort of strategy. Maybe there was some sort of mechanical expertise she could learn. Leader Monrage had mentioned wanting to escape. He had been disturbed when the man from the mines had suggested Leader Monrage wouldn’t be capable of doing it. If Lark could think of a way, a way to escape this place and the people here … Lark felt herself growing anxious. This was no good. If Leader Monrage saw her stress, it would weaken her position and possibly put her in danger. Lark decided to pray for a while; by the time she was done praying she seemed to have regained her composure.

Time continued to pass, and the van traveled on. Apparently, it was quite a distance from the pickup point to Leader Monrage’s base. There must be a reason he chose to be that far away, but Lark couldn’t think of what it could be. Lark tried her best to stay awake as they moved forward slowly, but her body wouldn’t cooperate. It was probably for the best. After all, she couldn’t stay awake and on guard forever. Fortunately, when Lark did wake up again it was because the conveyance vehicle had lurched forward as it rolled to a stop.

Lark blinked a few times. She needed more sleep – a lot more. It was painful to wake up after such little sleep. Her mind was still a bit fuzzy. That was the moment she saw Leader Monrage approaching her. That jolted her awake.

It scared Lark that Leader Monrage had had all this time to think. If he even knew why he took her with him, he might have changed his mind. The way he smirked when he eyed her didn’t ease her fears. She decided to meet his gaze unflinchingly.

“Everyone, welcome to your new home.” Leader Monrage finally announced. “Go ahead and release them.” Leader Monrage said to the other men. Then, he looked back at the new recruits. “You won’t survive out here alone, so you’d be wise to fall into line. Causing trouble will just get you killed.”

“So, that’s the reason for the isolation.” Lark thought. “It made it easier to control them.” While some of his men released the new recruits, Leader Monrage came to release Lark. Lark realized that someone must have given Monrage the keys to the prisoners’ cuffs. Still, Lark was soon distracted away from how he managed to get the keys; the interest in his eyes when he looked at her was disturbing.

“What I said before was for your benefit. I think of all of them you’re the one most likely to panic and try to run.”

This was Lark’s opportunity.

“I do want to escape.” Lark stated coolly. “Just like you do.”

Leader Monrage stopped smiling. He eyed her with curiosity.

“Maybe someday I’ll be useful in making that happen.” Lark stated.

“Hmmm …” He laughed. “Well … we’ll see, we’ll see.”

He then grew a bit dark and glared at her.

“Don’t make me regret taking you on.” he said. “I’ll take it as a personal insult if you don’t get yourself together. You can’t do anything for me as you are now.”

 

***

 

It had been wise for Lark to buy into Leader Monrage’s vision. It seemed he had felt no one really believed in it. Now, Lark was his confidante in this small way. And he had some investment now in not completely losing her favor. Yet, even so, he would have moments of violence. And the training that he would inflict on everyone to prepare for the escape sometimes tipped to the extreme.

Even without Monrage’s regimen, the conditions on the prison colony would have been harsh. For one, it hardly ever rained there. When it did, it was mostly a welcome relief. The precipitation removed a lot of the dust from the air. It even seemed to lower the temperature of the air a couple of degrees. But more than anything, Lark enjoyed how much the precipitation reminded her of her home colony where it rained quite often. Looking back, she decided she would no longer have minded those stormy nights when she had been left alone. How much better off she had been then and hadn’t realized it. She could curl up on that sofa in the darkened house and hide there. There was nowhere to hide on the prison colony.

Still, it could have been worse. The training all the recruits had to endure was hard, but Lark was determined to keep up. She felt that if she slipped out of the acceptable range of performance that bad things would happen. So, Lark stayed awake when she was told to; ran through obstacle courses in the heat; and hiked miles in the deep sand after being left in the middle of nowhere. She also ate bugs when that’s all there was available and tried to hold her own in bouts the best she could.

And when it would rain and form mud on the ground, she’d crawl through it. Sometimes she would even be forced to sleep in it. Still, she never complained, and she never talked back. So, she was considered less of a nuisance to Leader Monrage than some of the others. There was always a new recruit that would annoy him more by questioning his methods.

When Leader Monrage was busy, everyone would get a break. But when he was bored, he would invent new training methods or just revisit some of his favorites. Time passed slowly, but fortunately it did pass. And one day, Leader Monrage managed to come up with a new strategy with his free time. It was the miracle Lark had been praying for. Leader Monrage wanted to start training the recruits how to fly a transport carrier. Learning would have to be academic at first. He had paid off with supplies one of the prison transport carrier workers, who Monrage had met when the man had stayed on the prison colony long enough to inspect the mines, to hide flight manuals in the boxes. Eventually, they’d have to commandeer one of those carriers for the escape to become a reality.

“Remember how you said you wanted to help me escape?” Leader Monrage asked Lark after he pulled her aside. “Now is your chance to be useful to me. You’re the only one of my recruits that I think is clever enough to pull it off. I probably should have picked smarter recruits. But I guess I only need one. Who would have thought that picking you would be such luck to me?” He stopped, probably feeling he’d been too complimentary. “Then again, I could probably find someone else if I had more time. But who would want to wait when one doesn’t have to? Anyway, it won’t be easy to learn mainly from manuals, but if you want something badly enough you’ll find a way. That’s what I do.”

He smirked.

“Oh, and we’re going to build you a makeshift model of the control panel, so you can practice. But in the meantime …” He handed Lark the manual. “Here. Start reading.”

Lark took to the books with a fervent dedication. Contained in all the technical jargon and diagrams was her only known chance for escape. Yet, this wasn’t a risk-free proposition. It could all backfire on Lark. She would be expected to know what she was doing from the instant she sat down at the controls of the transport carrier. If she didn’t — if she couldn’t pull it off … well, Lark figured she’d be as good as dead. Leader Monrage would have missed his opportunity — possibly his only opportunity. If that were the case, Leader Monrage would unleash his full wrath on her.

So, the only thing Lark could think to do was succeed. The model that Leader Monrage had promised Lark was a bit slow in coming. When it was finally completed, it turned out to be very primitive. Still, all the buttons and such were where they were supposed to be. As long as the transport carrier didn’t have a complicated onboard computer system, one that wasn’t more advanced than the manual described, Lark figured she had a chance. Not a very good chance but a chance.

Lark had a lot of nightmares in those days. Before that time, she hadn’t had a chance to sleep deeply enough to dream. Now that she was trying to learn how to pilot a transport carrier, she was exempted from having to train. So, the dreams came, and there were many. From nightmares about her cousin to ones about Leader Monrage, her dreams were rarely pleasant. A particularly disturbing nightmare involved Leader Monrage.

In the dream, he would come to her room. She would tell him about the progress she’d been making with the manuals. He would listen to her intently as she ran through each step of the process in finite detail. Leader Monrage would then start to laugh violently.

“What is it? What’s wrong with you?” Lark would ask.

“You fell for it. I was just toying with you. There is no escape plan. You’re here for good.”

“But why – why would you lie?”

“It’s more fun for me that way.”

“What … is fun?”

Leader Monrage would then reach out his hands toward her. His hands would wrap around her throat. At that moment, she would wake up.

On the last day she would awaken on the prison colony, Lark had that same dream. She awoke slightly confused, yet she had a chill shoot through her almost instantly. It was a sense that someone else was in the room … lurking. Lark turned her head sharply. She caught herself before she gasped aloud as her eyes fell upon Leader Monrage. He cocked his head to the side. Lark waited while keeping her eyes locked fixedly on his.

“It’s time.” Leader Monrage stated.

“Time for what?” Lark uncharacteristically demanded.

“Time to leave.” Leader Monrage jeered. Suddenly, he grew serious. “Get up! We’ve got to leave now!!”

Lark stood quickly. It was lucky that she had slept in her regular clothes; that way all she had to do was scramble to grab the charts she had made from the manuals. Still, after Lark walked over to him, Leader Monrage grabbed Lark by the arm anyway.

“Boy, you’re slow. What’s up with you? You’d better not let me down. You’d better not have been slacking all this time, or you’ll be sorry.”

Lark cast a look at him.

“Are you sure now’s the right time?” she questioned him.

“It better be.” he returned. “It better be.”

Leader Monrage had been tipped off as to when the prison transport would arrive. Normally, he would learn about a shipment just far enough ahead that by the time he arrived at the rendezvous spot the transport carrier would have just left. Given that the transport carrier had no pattern to its arrival, this had proven problematic for his escape plans. That day would prove to be the one that was different.

Of course, when Leader Monrage’s group arrived at the designated spot to nothing but a patch of emptiness there was a sense of tension in the air. Fortunately, not long after their arrival the lights from the transport carrier cut through the darkness. Leader Monrage sneered. “Ready yourselves, men. This is it.”

Lark was kept away from the ship; she was to hole up near a boulder until the ship was seized. Leader Monrage would then come for her himself. She was too important to be risked at the moment. Certainly, the guards would attack her, the weakest one, if they could. Still, Lark hoped the wait wouldn’t be too long. The impending performance that would either spell her life or her death was weighing heavily on her mind.

Lark could see the lights flicker in the distant darkness. It was the only light she could see. She wasn’t given a light of her own; it would draw too much attention to her, Leader Monrage had said. Lark couldn’t be trusted not to panic and turn on the light.

Panic, yes panic; Lark was beginning to feel that. In fact, it occurred to Lark that this was the first time she had been completely alone since coming here years ago. As her eyes adjusted, the glow from the lights dimly illuminated what was around her. She could see the barren wasteland that seemed to stretch out forever in front of her.

She had never before questioned the belief that there were only dust and heat out there. After all, why would Leader Monrage choose to be in the middle of nothing if there was something more? Then again, what if there was something else? What if there was somewhere to go now? What if the test Lark was about to undergo was destined to end in failure? Maybe it would be better to go out into the desert and take her chances there. Maybe she could find an oasis. That possibility at that moment seemed better than the possibility of dying at Monrage’s hands. Or, she could turn herself in at the mines. No, that wouldn’t work; Leader Monrage knew people over there. They’d just turn her over to Monrage if he failed to escape, and it would end the same way. And if he did escape, they might punish her and try to get information she didn’t have out of her. That only left the desert as an alternative to the ship. But what if instead of trying to escape without her he went hunting for her instead? Maybe no one else was capable of handling the spacecraft. Lark bit her lip and considered. There wasn’t time to think. If she waited any longer …

“Twelve.” Leader Monrage’s voice stated. Lark whirled around towards him. “What you’re looking for is over here.”

“Is it done?” Lark asked, trying not to show how unnerved she was by his sudden appearance.

“That’s why I turned the light on.” he replied. “You’d better be ready for this. You’d better not have been playing me all these weeks.”

Lark had never guaranteed him anything. In fact, they never even discussed it. But then again, perhaps he could read her well enough to know she was doubting herself and her ability to pull it off. Why wouldn’t she? Lark had never piloted anything before; she didn’t know that she could. But doubting his plan was dangerous. He chose her for this, so it had to work.

“All right.” Lark stated. “Let’s go.”

Lark began to walk past him. He grabbed her arm stiffly and wrenched it slightly. She looked at him. After a moment of his staring at her in anger, he released her.

“Let’s go.” he finally agreed. He smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”

Leader Monrage kept Lark less than a foot in front of him as they walked toward the transport carrier. Every time Lark would walk a bit faster, she would feel Leader Monrage’s presence behind her threatening to grasp her shoulder. It didn’t take long for Lark to catch on that walking too fast wasn’t in her best interest.

When they got to the control room of the ship, Lark was relieved to see that the crew from the transport carrier was alive. They were chained to a bench similar to the one Lark had been chained to when she arrived there. She had mixed feelings about it. The guards from her flight had shown her no pity, and yet she couldn’t help but see herself in the guards sitting before her at that moment. Then, after looking at the guards for a few seconds longer, Lark turned to Leader Monrage.

“Why can’t the pilot fly the ship out?” Lark suggested with enthusiasm.

Almost instantly, Lark wished she hadn’t mentioned it. Leader Monrage’s look turned dire.

“Why do you keep second-guessing me?” he demanded.

She just looked up at him with surprise on her face.

“They learn ways to alert their headquarters if there’s trouble. That’s one of their safety protocols. That’s why they think no one will ever escape; the escapees usually don’t have a pilot of their own. These pilots can’t be trusted.” Leader Monrage explained. “The question is can you be trusted?” Leader Monrage concluded ominously.

He then shoved Lark forcibly.

“Get to the controls. Quit stalling.”

He shoved her again. It occurred to Lark that Leader Monrage wanted to kill her at that moment. Maybe he would have if he didn’t still need her. The only way to save her life now was to succeed. So, Lark turned off her emotions and set to work. She went to the control panel and arranged her charts on a side table.

She followed the instructions she had set up for herself. This was the easy part. It was actually maneuvering the carrier that would be difficult. All the learning of how to drive a land-based vehicle wouldn’t be enough. In fact, in a lot of ways this whole plan was insane. The only way Lark could pull off flying let alone safely landing this carrier was if a miracle occurred. Could Lark just be a natural at it? When the moment came to actually take off, Lark prayed. Then, it was time — the moment of truth: life or death.

The transport carrier jerked upward under Lark’s control. A little more finesse, Lark thought. The controls were more sensitive than she expected. She then maneuvered the large, floating boat toward the guide tunnel. Lark was careful to stay in the middle and avoid scraping the sides of the tunnel. Yet, she knew she had to accelerate soon. Once the ship was lined up within the tunnel, Lark rapidly increased the carrier’s speed just as the instructions had suggested. Lark held her breath while trying to hold the ship steady. The old structure quaked a bit for a moment, but it powered on. And then like a shot, it burst through.

Suddenly, all around them was the dark blanket of space. Lark released the throttle then sat back in her chair. She stared forward in shock for a moment.

“All right.” She could hear Leader Monrage breathe behind her. “Now, I’ll just input our course, and we’ll be off.”

Space was cold and impersonal; she had forgotten. It was quite the shock when compared to the pulsating heat. The air was easier to breathe but sterile somehow. The artificial smell of ozone filled the air. Lark just kept watching the monitor, kept watching as the prison colony got smaller and smaller. Would she really never be there again? Her prison sentence was only supposed to be a few years, but no one seemed to think she would survive it. True, her being with Leader Monrage rather than at the mines meant they may have lost track of her, but Lark doubted they ever looked for her in order to release her on the final day of her sentence.

That prison colony was a life sentence for most. For her, being a young girl in that environment, it should have been a death sentence. Lark had lived day to day all these years trying not to think about it. The fact was she thought she would never view that prison planet from a distance but instead be engulfed by it forever.

Lark breathed out.

“My brother is on Colony 38. That’s where we’re going. My brother and I aren’t close, but he owes me one, and he always repays his debts. I can’t wait to start the next phase of my plan …”

Lark turned her head and looked up at him slowly. He was looming over her left shoulder. The next phase of his plan? Leader Monrage had never mentioned anything specific about another phase of his plan. She could only vaguely remember him alluding to something more years ago. All he ever talked about since then was escaping. Lark looked forward again. She gripped the arms of the chair with her hands. Lark had been so focused on the escape plot; she hadn’t thought about what would happen afterward. Lark was never sure the plan would work, so she didn’t allow herself to consider what having freedom again would be like. Suddenly, she was experiencing how it felt to have it wrenched away moments after recapturing it once more. A weight had instantly sunk upon her. She had escaped the prison colony but not the prison. Lark was still under Leader Monrage’s control. And by the sound of it, he wasn’t planning on letting her go.

“We’ll have to get a better ship. We’ll ditch this one and maybe sell it for parts.”

“What about the guards?” Lark wondered.

“The guards. We’ll drop them off somewhere. Anyway …” Leader Monrage leaned forward, placing his hand onto the console.

“I want to have uniforms and a whole hierarchy for our group. We’ll be feared and admired everywhere we go. I have plans to increase our power throughout the universe. So tell me, do you feel lucky to have met me, Twelve?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Your new life starts now. And so does mine … so does mine.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 3

It was going to be a busy day, but Celeste felt ready for it. First thing was first — get Lark ready and out the door. It wasn’t part of the plan for Lark to stay home again; Celeste couldn’t deal with that. The possibility of having to call Mrs. Baker was not something Celeste even wanted to consider. Fortunately, Lark seemed more cooperative than she did the day before, and Celeste managed to get her onto the bus on time.

Next, was school. After what happened yesterday, Celeste had to make it clear to the other members of the club that she was up for the responsibility of being the club president. Celeste had to admit there was a risk to her showing up at school at all the day after the news of her parents’ deaths broke; people might think she was cold. But let them even suggest she wasn’t grieving enough, and they’d regret it. Celeste would just burst into tears in front of everyone. Not to mention, if Celeste didn’t show up at school who would excuse her absence? The last thing Celeste needed was people thinking she couldn’t handle herself.

As it turned out, the day was uneventful — if not a bit awkward. Most people didn’t even talk to Celeste; they just looked at her blankly. The ones who did talk to her gushed sympathy; this got to be annoying quickly. Yet, because most of these were the ones who supported Celeste’s bid for the club presidency she had to play along. But what made the situation truly intolerable was the fact there was no news about the club presidency or when the meeting was to be rescheduled. In fact, when Celeste tried to press the members for details there was a distinct feeling that the topic should not be breached. Celeste decided there was always tomorrow. Celeste would figure out what was going on and fix it. In the meantime, there were other matters to attend to.

Celeste was grateful that her father’s lawyer fit her into his schedule that day. Celeste figured that if anyone could help her return her life to normal it would be he. Just the idea of that was a relief. People like Mrs. Baker just wanted to change everything, to ruin the good things in Celeste’s life. Celeste was determined that Mrs. Baker’s vision of the future would not come to pass.

Right after school, Celeste headed to the lawyer’s office. Regrettably, there wasn’t even time to go home and change out of her school uniform. As Celeste approached the large, marble steps of the lawyer’s building, she reflected on the fact that Lark was getting out of school right then. Celeste had given Lark instructions on how to get off the bus, let herself into the house, then lock up behind her. Celeste hoped that Lark could handle this one thing. Celeste didn’t need any more complications.

After tracking down the lawyer’s office number from a registry on the wall, Celeste headed for his office. The waiting room was large. It had well-groomed plants and a waterfall sliding down the opposing wall. Right in front of Celeste was a huge cherry-wood desk with a well-dressed woman sitting behind it. Celeste went straight toward her.

“Hello. My name is Celeste Tampy. I have an appointment with Mr. Robert Davis.”

The receptionist lifted her eyes slowly. Then, she began to rifle through a day planner.

“Ah, yes.” she started. “I see he’s going to squeeze you in.” The receptionist made a directive gesture with her hand. “Please, have a seat.”

Celeste turned around. This was unexpected. Celeste needed to get this done and return home before anyone realized Lark was home alone. Maybe if Celeste mentioned her cousin … Celeste turned back toward the receptionist. Only this time, Nancy Springfield was turned away from Celeste and had her phone to her ear.

Celeste looked back toward the chairs; she grudgingly headed toward them. She remarked to herself that the chairs’ cushions were made with expensive-looking blue velvet. Celeste daintily sat on a chair with a direct view of the receptionist. Several times, Celeste lifted her eyes in irritation toward the woman, but the woman didn’t return her gaze. As time passed, Celeste began knocking her Mary Janes against the wooden legs of her chair. If the receptionist noticed Celeste’s actions, she never showed it. Then, all of a sudden, the entrance door to the office swung open powerfully.

A tall, well-dressed blonde teenage boy walked briskly into the room. He went directly toward the receptionist. Nancy Springfield turned, a surprised look in her eyes. She said good-bye slowly then hung up the phone. The teen looked about the room briefly, his eyes scanning above Celeste’s head. He then turned his attention back to Ms. Springfield.

“Where’s my father?”

“In with Mr. Davis.”

“Why was I summoned here if my father doesn’t have the decency to wait for me?”

Ms. Springfield just stared at him. Finally, after a few moments of the two of them staring at each other, the teen turned on his heels and headed over to a chair. He sat next to Celeste without actually looking at her. Eventually, he did look over and at Celeste directly. He noted how pretty she was with her long blonde hair and delicate features. He thought she looked a lot like a female version of him.

“So, have you been waiting long?” the boy then asked Celeste.

Celeste turned her head fully toward him and looked him in the eye.

“Do I know you?” she returned.

The boy laughed.

“Ha! Most girls want to be nice to me.” the boy responded.

“I’m sure.” Celeste replied. “But you see, most boys want to be nice to me as well. There are so many who talk to me; I lose track.”

“Wow, really?”

Celeste smiled.

“Yes and no.” she said. “I don’t remember you.”

“Frederick Applegate.”

Frederick offered his hand. Celeste waited a moment then decided to shake his hand.

“Celeste Tampy.”

“That’s a pretty name.” Frederick admitted.

“And yours is impressive.”

Frederick’s face fell.

“What?” Celeste wondered.

“You recognize my name?”

Celeste looked at him doubtfully.

“No, should I?”

Frederick analyzed her for a moment. Suddenly, the door from the inner office opened. Two men emerged, both meticulously dressed. They shook hands. At that moment, Frederick stood, his attention directed solely at the men.

“Frederick.” the older of the two men stated. “It’s good of you to show up.”

“I got here when I could.” Frederick mumbled.

“I’m sure. I’ll fill you in on what was discussed when we get home.”

Frederick looked on his father with irritation.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Davis.” Mr. Applegate concluded.

“Sure. Thank you for your patronage.”

Mr. Applegate came up to his son and placed his hands on Frederick’s shoulders. As Frederick turned back around, he looked at Celeste. He maintained eye contact with her as he left. She returned a look of sympathy. After all, she now knew how it felt when adults tried to run your life. Celeste then turned her attention back to the receptionist. Mr. Davis and Ms. Springfield were discussing something.

Ms. Springfield looked up.

“Miss Tampy, Mr. Davis is ready for you now.”

Celeste stood up then followed Mr. Davis into his inner office. Mr. Davis pointed to a chair in front of his desk. Celeste sat down.

“So, what can I do for you?” Mr. Davis asked as he walked behind his desk.

Celeste’s forehead crinkled.

“Well, don’t you know that my parents are dead?”

Mr. Davis was briefly taken aback by Celeste’s affect.

“Yes, I was informed.”

“Well, I don’t know what to do.” Celeste admitted. “I’ve never buried anyone. I’ve never paid bills in my life. I was hoping you could help me.”

Mr. Davis sat down.

“Your father wasn’t just my client; I considered him a friend. I would be glad to help you in any way I can. I can make Ms. Springfield available to help you with the funeral arrangements.”

“And the estate? What about that?”

“From what I understood from talking with your father, there should be enough money in your father’s and your uncle’s estates to take care of both you and your cousin until the two of you reach your majority.”

Celeste beamed.

“As long as the two of you can adhere to a budget …” Mr. Davis quickly added.

“Budget?” Celeste repeated.

“Yes, there should be plenty of money for all of your living expenses. As I’ve said, you can live quite comfortably until Lark reaches her majority.”

Celeste bowed her head in thought.

“Of course, there’s the matter of guardianship. I’ll have to review your aunt and uncle’s will to see whether they recommended anyone for Lark.”

“I’m almost eighteen.” Celeste said.

“Yes, that is something to consider. But I realize you must be busy …”

“Part of the estate would go to Lark or at least to her guardian, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What if I became her guardian?”

Mr. Davis looked perplexed.

“You’d have to prove you were mature enough for that.” Mr. Davis informed her.

“How?”

“For one thing, you should find some employment.”

“Employment? Why should I have to do that? You said we’d have enough money.”

“It doesn’t need to be a full-time job, but it would help to show you can be responsible with money.”

“I see.” Celeste uttered.

“When is your birthday?”

“Next month.”

“Assuming that is what you both really want, we could delay filing for guardianship until then. But in the meantime …”

“What if I hired a nanny until then?”

“That could be a possibility.”

“Well, how long before the estate is dealt with?”

“I can’t give you that information just now. I will have to see whether there’s an executor named.”

“And if there is, he or she will be in control of the money?” Celeste continued.

“As you know, I’ll have to review your parents’ paperwork. There may be stipulations about age, trust funds, and other such things. I’ll try to free up some liquid assets for you and your cousin right away. In the meantime, talk to my assistant about arranging for the funeral. Once again, I considered your father a friend, so I will pay for the funeral expenses.”

“Thank you!” Celeste was quick to say.

The thought occurred to Mr. Davis that he couldn’t tell whether Celeste was happy for her relatives’ sakes or because she wouldn’t have to pay the expenses. Perhaps it was both.

“Why don’t you make an appointment for tomorrow afternoon? That should give me the time to look over at least some of your parents’ documentation. Will you and your cousin be all right overnight?”

“Yes. We have enough food.”

“Good. Then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mr. Davis picked up his phone.

“Ms. Springfield, I’m going to send Miss Tampy out to you. I want you to make her an appointment for tomorrow afternoon. I also need you to please help Miss Tampy make arrangements for a funeral for four individuals.”

“All right, sir. By the way, your 4:30 appointment is here.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Mr. Davis hung up the phone. “Thank you for coming in, Celeste.” Mr. Davis stood and offered his hand to Celeste. “Ms. Springfield will take care of you outside.”

“Thank … you.”

Celeste headed out the door. As she stepped into the waiting room, a man rushed past her and into the room. The door was shut soon after.

“Miss Tampy. If you’d take a seat in the chair by my desk, we’ll get started.” Ms. Springfield offered.

Celeste sat down. Things were happening quickly now.

“That’s good,” Celeste thought.

The only problem was it felt as though she had just lost control of her life.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Seventeen-year-old Lark Tampy was falsely accused of a crime and sent to an adult prison colony as a child. She soon comes under the thumb of the ruthless leader of a syndicate of outlaws. This man is known by the name Leader Monrage. Still, as bad as being Leader Monrage's pawn can be, it pales in comparison to the secret plan he has in store. It is a plan that could take countless lives throughout the universe.

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

PART II

“The Life After”

Chapter 7

 

“Something on your mind?” the leader asked.

The girl looked at him.

“This place.” she stated.

“Oh, yes. This was the place you came from.”

“As if you didn’t know …”

“Yeah, well, that has nothing to do with why we’re here.”

“That’s good.” the girl replied. “I don’t want it to be the reason.”

The girl looked down.

“I do think it’s important for you to meet with this new captain right away.” the leader added.

The girl was silent.

“I consider you my best commander, Officer Twelve. That’s why I’ve given you the best: the best ship and the best pilot.”

The girl looked at him fixedly from the side, yet still said nothing. She knew he was exaggerating. Leader Monrage always kept the best for himself. Not that it mattered to her. Still, his desire for her to be grateful was annoying.

“By the way, I already met the pilot, remember?” Officer Twelve pointed out.

“Have you spoken to him?”

“No, what difference does that make?”

“Well, you’re going to have to talk to him eventually.”

“Yes, I would imagine.” the girl stated coolly.

The man and the teenager entered the control room of the star cruiser. It was a small, comfortable cruiser, but Officer Twelve had requested it because of its speed. It was important for her not to feel trapped. Officer Twelve had handpicked all of her crew members save one — the new pilot. She did wonder why her last pilot was transferred. He was dependable, though admittedly not overly skilled. Obviously, Leader Monrage had plans that required a pilot with swifter reflexes.

Officer Twelve looked at the man, this new pilot. He was leaning over the navigator’s shoulder, looking at the monitor. He looked up then, and he and Officer Twelve locked eyes. Officer Twelve then allowed her eyes to drift slowly downward. For some reason, she felt something when she looked at him. This emotion was a bit problematic for Officer Twelve, especially in front of Leader Monrage. Officer Twelve was careful not to show her feelings in front of him.

The pilot named Owen Smithson walked over to them then. Officer Twelve could feel his eyes upon her, but by the time she looked up again he was looking at Leader Monrage. Still, it gave her a chance to really look at him. He was tall, with fine-chiseled features and dark blonde hair.

“I’ll leave you in Officer Twelve’s capable hands.” Leader Monrage said. Then, to Officer Twelve he said, “I’ll be taking the shuttle back over to my cruiser now. After that, I’ll be in my cabin if needed. Give me fifteen minutes to disembark.”

Officer Twelve nodded.

“Jensen, has the shuttle pod left yet?” Officer Twelve asked after the fifteen minutes had expired.

“Yes, Officer.”

“Then, prepare to land on Colony 9.” she directed.

“Yes, Officer.”

“I guess that’s my cue.” Captain Smithson noted.

He headed back to the pilot’s chair. Officer Twelve took the large chair behind him. Her chair was elevated on a platform, and it was designated for the one in charge.

“Put the approach up on the monitor.” Officer Twelve stated.

“Yes, Officer.”

Officer Twelve kept her eyes on the monitor as the small planet became larger and larger. She had seen this scene briefly — only in reverse. That time, the planet had become smaller and dimmer. It was funny that in some ways the planet looked smaller as she was returning to it.

“Officer?”

“Let’s have Captain Smithson take us in.”

“Sure.” Captain Smithson acknowledged. “Prepare to fire the thrusters. Hold it steady. There is a small asteroid belt coming up.”

“It’s amazing that from space you have no idea what’s happening on the surface of a planet.” Officer Twelve muttered.

Captain Smithson turned his head slightly toward Officer Twelve for a moment then diverted his gaze back toward the monitor. As it turned out, the entry and landing were smooth and without incident.

“Good job.” Officer Twelve allowed. “All right, everyone is officially on furlough. But keep your radios on since you’re always on call.”

“Yes, Officer Twelve!” the crew chimed in.

Officer Twelve climbed out of her chair and headed into the hall. She was surprised when Captain Smithson caught up with her.

“What should I call you?” Captain Smithson asked.

“Officer Twelve would be fine.” she answered.

“I’ve always wondered about that — why that’s done in your organization. You must have had a name before you joined the leadership.”

Officer Twelve looked at him. Suddenly, she stopped.

“Did I offend you?” he wondered aloud.

“No, this is my room.”

“You’re not going to disembark?”

“No, I’ll be here if you need me.” Officer Twelve responded.

Officer Twelve headed into her room. The navigator, the man called Jensen, then came upon Captain Smithson as he lingered by Officer Twelve’s door.

“Heading out?” the navigator asked Captain Smithson.

“Yes.”

The two men headed for the hatch.

“It’ll be great being on firm ground again.” Jensen mentioned.

The hatch opened slowly.

“Yeah, but I prefer the processed air to this smog.” Captain Smithson put forth.

“Yeah, I guess there’s been more industrialization here in recent years.”

“The air from the atmospheric regulators always smells funny to me.” Captain Smithson admitted.

Captain Smithson leaned against the hatch door and watched the drizzle fall around him. Jensen, a short and stocky man, looked up at him.

“Catch you later.” Jensen offered. He pulled up his collar and headed into the drear.

Captain Smithson sighed then headed out as well.

 

***

 

Part of Officer Twelve’s uniform was a cape. She removed it. Next, there were the contact lenses; they made Officer Twelve’s large blue-green eyes look like slits — not unlike a snake’s eyes. She removed them. Finally, makeup that resembled a lightning bolt crisscrossed her face. She wiped it clean. Usually, Officer Twelve would then go straight to bed. But this time Officer Twelve looked at her reflection — at a face she hadn’t really looked at for years. On this occasion, though, it seemed appropriate. It was at that moment that Officer Twelve’s small brown cat came up to her.

“Cinnamon.”

Officer Twelve rubbed her cat behind her ears.

“I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time with you in the room. Yet, for some reason, it feels a little stifling today. It’s as though I’m trapped. I don’t know — maybe we can wander the halls together since no one else is here. I probably do have to get you some supplies in town. I don’t want to have to ask someone else to do it. There’d be too many questions. I don’t know.”

Officer Twelve pressed a button to open the window that was facing the street. She could see out, but no one could see in.

“I don’t even know how long we’re going to be here. I may never be back here again. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d want to come back, Cinnamon. I’m not exactly the same person I was. It’s better to let things stay the way they are, right?”

Officer Twelve looked down. She fought back the tears she felt welling.

“Tomorrow.” Officer Twelve said. “Tomorrow I’ll just go in for some supplies.”

 

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 16

Lark could remember the first time she saw the uniform. She remembered thinking how bizarre it looked. The dress and the cape were odd enough — but it was the face paint and contact lenses that made it bizarre. While looking in the mirror, Lark thought her eyes looked sort of like a cat’s or maybe a snake’s eyes.

“Why?” she exhaled.

Though her voice was barely audible, Leader Monrage pounced on her words as though she shouted them.

“We need to strike fear into our enemies. I can’t have some cute kid running around.”

Lark picked up the outfit in her hands.

“Oh, and I want you to introduce yourself as Officer Twelve from now on. No more Lark.”

Lark looked up at him with a disturbed expression.

“What do you mean?”

“Weren’t you listening?! You’re a new person. Officer Twelve is your identity now.”

Lark had thought the need for her moniker would be over once they left the prison colony. She looked at the uniform once more. What could she say to that? She needed time to think.

“Why don’t you get dressed? My brother got us these things. It will please him if you wear them. It will please me. I’ll leave you to it then …”

After Leader Monrage left, Lark just stared at the uniform for a moment. She was completely numb. But really what choice did she have? She couldn’t leave the room without having the uniform on. So, she put it on slowly. The last things she put on were the contact lenses. They weren’t a prescription; they were just tinted plastic. They were meant to create an effect. Since they were so darkly tinted, they would be hard to get used to, Lark thought. How could she wear them every day for the rest of her life? There was no mirror in this room, so she could only imagine what she looked like. Lark breathed. There was no point in waiting around here until Leader Monrage came to get her. Lark finally made her way to the door.

Instantly, when she stepped across the threshold she could sense a presence to her left. She turned a glare onto the figure. It was Leader Monrage standing just to the side of the door; he was leaning against the wall. He was clearly lurking there waiting for her. Yet, when he saw her glare at him, his reaction surprised Lark — he actually seemed excited. He smiled broadly.

“Well then, that will be effective.” Leader Monrage admitted. “Come on, my brother is waiting. This is just the beginning. He’s impressed by my plans; I can tell. So, he’s going to set us up in his smuggling business.”

Lark raised an eyebrow.

“We’re even getting our own ship. Face it, Twelve, we’re on our way up. They’ll be no stopping our little group now.”

Things had been going pretty well with Leader Monrage’s brother. It was a surprise to Lark how well. Still, Oliver Bertrand, Leader Monrage’s brother, was pretty stoical. It was hard to know what he was thinking let alone feeling. Outwardly, however, he always seemed pleased whenever Leader Monrage entered the room. Secretly, Lark wondered whether he wasn’t afraid of Leader Monrage. Maybe she was merely projecting her own feelings onto Oliver Bertrand, but it occurred to Lark that his brother was just humoring Leader Monrage until he left. Then again, maybe Leader Monrage knew that. Maybe that’s why he was so giddy. He knew that, for some reason, he could get what he wanted from his brother, and he was enjoying himself because of it. It was clear to Lark that Leader Monrage had no intention of leaving until he was ready to go.

In the meantime, it was clear that Leader Monrage’s group hadn’t had it this good in years — if ever. The food, the amenities, and the accommodations were all top-notch. It certainly worked to keep the former convicts entertained and everything relatively calm. But there was always this tension around, and it felt as though Leader Monrage could light the fuse anytime he wanted to. Perhaps it was the smirk Leader Monrage always seemed to wear as he stalked the halls. Oliver Bertrand did have security staff members, but they didn’t seem as formidable as Leader Monrage’s crew.

As Lark and Leader Monrage entered his brother’s office, Oliver Bertrand looked a bit surprised to see Lark. Still, there seemed to be a little relief in his eyes when he recognized her.

“Bro, may I present Officer Twelve.”

“It seems as though you got what you wanted.” his brother started.

“Yes, well. It’s a start.” Monrage acknowledged.

“So, why don’t you two have a seat?”

“Don’t mind if I do.” Leader Monrage stated. “Twelve, you may sit down, too.”

Lark just looked at Leader Monrage a moment. Then, she sat down in the chair next to him and across from his brother.

“So, should we talk about that plan we discussed before?” Leader Monrage pursued.

“Ah, yes, the ship. What exactly is it you think you need?”

“I want something fast, but that has enough room in it. You know, for the smuggling.”

Leader Monrage said this last part in a whisper — sort of a mock confidential tone. Oliver Bertrand rapped his fingers upon his desk.

“I see, of course, the smuggling. You know, we call it transport …”

“I don’t like the word transport — you know given everything.” Leader Monrage countered, his expression feigning offense. Leader Monrage sat back in his chair.

“Yes. Well, I can order you a craft such as the one you specified, but it will take at least a week. Still, I can have it made to your specifications.”

“That’s great. I’m in no hurry … unless of course you know something I don’t.”

“No, I haven’t heard of anyone coming here to look for you. Though, I suppose anything is possible.”

“And those guards from the transport carrier — you’re sure they don’t know where we are? I mean, if they talk it will be on you. You’re the one who insisted we deposit them safely somewhere else.”

“If they’ve figured out where you landed, it wasn’t from me.” Oliver Bertrand insisted. “I don’t think you should worry about it.”

“But they may know we’re brothers.”

“If they know that, then they’d probably know that this planet doesn’t cooperate with the Security Force, especially now.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m counting on …” Leader Monrage stated. “By the way, what does ‘especially now’ mean?”

Oliver Bertrand’s eyes turned to the side.

“You know, the politics has always been strained here. The king is old and has taken ill; he is without an heir. And as you know, there are so many families that have claims to the throne. We don’t need complications from outsiders.”

“Yes, and if I remember correctly our family has one of those claims. Don’t tell me you have aspirations to be a figurehead, Oliver.”

“I will do what’s best for the colony.” Oliver Bertrand responded.

“Ha! You couldn’t keep me tied down to this rock. I would rather make myself king of wherever I place my feet. Other people’s needs aren’t my thing. Of course, that would work for you — less competition.”

“Yes.” Oliver Bertrand nodded. “You’re probably right about that.”

“Well, I guess that’s all for now. Oh yes, I do have a list of supplies I will need from you.”

Oliver Bertrand reached for the list.

“I will work on this.” he assured Leader Monrage.

“Good. I’m glad to hear it. You know, this visit has been better than I expected, Oliver. Much better.”

Oliver Bertrand nodded again.

“Now, who do we have here?” Leader Monrage began.

He had caught sight of something of interest to him near the doorway. It was around then that I first came into the picture. I was only six at the time, nearly seven. My long blonde hair was kept in a loose ponytail. My green eyes were filled with curiosity. I wore a typical school uniform for my colony, even though I was being homeschooled at the time. The outfit was navy blue with bright red cuffs on the sleeves. The buttons were also red. I had only come to see my father but wound up stumbling upon his brother, Leader Monrage, and a strange-looking young woman, who was sitting next to him.

“Hmmm … that’s right. Your wife, Margaret, was pregnant before I left.” Leader Monrage acknowledged. Lark could tell Oliver Bertrand seemed unnerved to be discussing his daughter with Leader Monrage.

“Aurore.” my father stated. “Her name is Aurore, and she is supposed to be with her tutor.”

“She let me go early. I got my work done.” I told my father.

“All right.” my father smiled. “Come shake hands with Uncle Leader Monrage and his friend.”

I headed over to the two visitors to do that which my father requested.

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Lark told me as I grabbed her hand.

She looked even younger up close. “She can’t be a grown-up,” I remember thinking.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss …” I responded. I have to admit I was staring at her eyes.

“Lark.” the girl said. Then suddenly, Lark threw a concerned look toward Leader Monrage.

“Officer Twelve!” Leader Monrage exclaimed through his gritted teeth.

“Officer Twelve.” Lark corrected herself.

I tried to smile at Lark reassuringly. Next, I shook Leader Monrage’s hand, too. Though by then, he seemed to have lost interest in me.

“You know, I think I might have another list in me.” Leader Monrage said, releasing my hand.

“Aurore, go find your mother. We have more business to discuss.” my father informed me.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 11

 

The night air was cool and damp, but the dark, hooded cloak that Lark was wearing cut into the sting of it.

“So, what are we doing here?” Lark queried as she and Leader Monrage stood in front of a large mansion.

“I used to respect you.” Leader Monrage stated. “What happened? One trip to this pathetic little wasteland and you forget who you are now? We created something from you, something strong and self-sufficient. And you embrace sentimentality instead? That little crying child. I mean, seriously. They have control over you if you go back to that. Now you’ve at least chosen to be what you are — at least I thought you had.”

Leader Monrage rang the doorbell.

“I guess we’ll see whether I was right about you. I guess we’ll see whether you can live up to my expectations of you after all.”

The door was opened by a butler. Leader Monrage placed his left foot upon the step and leaned forward toward the butler. The butler seemed very disturbed by this.

“Hello?” the butler uttered with an edge to his voice.

“Get Marlock.” Leader Monrage demanded.

The butler backed away slightly.

“I’ll be right back.” he responded softly.

The door was shut. Before Lark had the chance to react to the absurdity of the situation, the door was reopened. A tall, thin man dressed completely in black opened the door.

“Come in, Mr. Monrage.” he offered.

“Yeah well, next time make sure you’re the one to open the door. Unless, of course, you want questions.”

“Speaking of questions … who’s the girl?”

“She? Who knows. No really, she’s with me. She’ll be of interest to the people inside.”

Leader Monrage turned a smirk onto Lark.

“Ready?” he asked her.

Lark felt a little unnerved. People that would be interested in her? It had been a long time since Leader Monrage had turned his more sadistic attention onto her. Really, it had ended that first day when Lark had been capable of burying her emotions so far down inside herself that even Monrage couldn’t see them. Now, unfortunately, her feelings were visible to him again, and things were escalating. Still, it was important not to react to him. The more she reacted, the worse it would be.

“Fine.” Lark stated coolly. “Let’s get this over with. I have things to do.”

It was harder without the uniform to hide; it was a cover and a shield. But Lark managed.

There was a main area to the mansion, and then there was a series of darkened corridors to the left. Left was the direction Lark and Leader Monrage headed. Then, at the end of a really long hallway there was a massive door.

Marlock took out a card key and swiped it. Just as the door was unlocked, Leader Monrage pushed through the opening into what appeared to be a large room with stairs leading to a podium in the back. That’s all Lark was able to make out before the door slid shut seconds later. Lark was confused by this move of Leader Monrage’s. Marlock looked back at Lark.

“Coming?” Marlock asked in a deep voice.

Lark pulled back the hood of her cloak as she slowly stepped forward. Inside, she could hear voices.

“Yeah, I really am pleased to see that your lovely lady is here tonight. Very pleased.” Lark could hear Leader Monrage proclaim. “I have a surprise for you — a girl of my own. Not as beautiful as yours, but she’s been trying lately.”

Lark slowly pushed the heavy door forward. It squeaked open.

“Oh, here she is. I call her Twelve … Officer Twelve. But you probably know her as …”

“Lark!” a ghastly cry rang out.

Lark’s eyes lifted to the podium. A man sat on a huge throne; standing by his side was a familiar figure. Lark’s eyes met those of her delicately beautiful cousin. Lark watched as her cousin began to shake under Lark’s stare. Sympathy and concern immediately went to Celeste from the man by her side. Apparently, Lark thought, Celeste’s ability to make people feel sorry for her was still as strong as ever. But given everything that had happened, Lark was unmoved by the display.

“What? What are you doing here?” Celeste stammered.

The man next to Celeste grabbed her hand in a reassuring way.

“What is the meaning of this, Leader Monrage?” the man Lark knew to be Frederick Applegate demanded.

Leader Monrage turned and looked at Lark. Lark, in turn, stared at Celeste.

“I’m not dead, obviously. There’s no point in overreacting.” Lark said in a low voice. “Unless you’re worried about there not being a statute of limitations on theft here.”

Celeste turned a shade paler and began to shake more.

“Now, that seems more genuine.” Lark sniped.

Leader Monrage raised an eyebrow. Apparently, even with all of his intelligence, Leader Monrage hadn’t guessed at Lark’s reaction. In fact, he seemed a bit disturbed by it. Perhaps, he was suddenly worried that bringing Lark to the mansion may have actually ruined whatever plans he had with Celeste and her accomplice.

“Why should I worry about that?” Celeste called out bitterly, regaining Lark’s attention. “That case is closed now. You may have heard that someone confessed.”

Lark’s face began to flush. So, this was the truth? It was hard for Lark to believe, but Celeste actually seemed to view herself as the victim and Lark as the perpetrator. Now that there was no need for Lark, apparently there was no need for the pretense of love either. Leader Monrage cleared his throat.

“Twelve is one of my best officers and commands my fastest ship …”

“I’m not sure this is such a good idea.” Frederick informed him.

A thought seemed to occur to Leader Monrage. His eyes glistened as he detected vulnerability.

“And what choice do you have exactly?” Leader Monrage chided. “I am interested in your offer. But let’s face it — you need me I don’t need you. Whom else are you going to get that is willing and able to do this thing for you?”

Leader Monrage was getting into stride again. One of the things Lark knew about Leader Monrage was that he didn’t like to be taken off guard. Lark’s statement had done that, had almost ruined his plans. But now, he was back in control again.

“You’d think it would be a sign of good faith my bringing her to your attention. Not to mention, it’s proof she does what I tell her. It’s clear she doesn’t want to be here. Still, I don’t like to waste time.”

Leader Monrage turned as if to leave.

“Wait.” Frederick called out. “Come back tomorrow … alone. We’ll solidify the details.”

“Fair enough.” Leader Monrage remarked without turning back.

He then motioned to Lark with his eyes to follow him. She cast one more look at Celeste, who was being comforted by Frederick, before heading for the door. Leader Monrage smirked to himself with satisfaction. It was again going as he expected. Then suddenly, Leader Monrage stopped short right before the door. He turned his face toward Lark.

“By the way, you almost blew it.” Leader Monrage whispered to her.
 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 2

“It was always a nice house,” Celeste thought as she came upon it. It was large, and it looked so nice from the outside. Then again, the inside was just as nice. Still, it was amazing how many people let the outside go. One of the things Celeste’s mother had done really well was take care of the garden. Now, either Celeste or Lark would have to take care of it or hire a professional. Celeste opened the small gate to the white fence that surrounded the house. She noted how silently it glided open. Celeste’s father had maintained everything so nicely. That’s another job that would have to be done now. Oh well, Celeste thought, I have enough to do today.

Just before the school day was over — that was the moment a cloud began to descend on Celeste. People had been busy crafting a new reality for Celeste while she had been busy trying to maintain the old one. Of particular concern to Celeste was her cousin, Lark. She’d always been a sensitive sort; chances were she’d blown it out of proportion. Things wouldn’t have to change completely. In fact, Celeste decided, most things should have the capacity to remain the same. The trick was to imagine that her parents were simply in the next room. Celeste had always been rather independent, so it wouldn’t be that hard for her.

Celeste used her key on the front door. She was surprised to find the house so dimly lit. Wasn’t Lark home? It would seem odd that Mrs. Baker wouldn’t have mentioned if Lark were with her. After all, wasn’t that the real reason Mrs. Baker pulled Celeste from school, so that Celeste could once again take charge of her cousin?

“Celeste?” a weak, scratchy voice uttered from the shadows.

“Lark? Is that you?” Celeste called out.

The small girl entered from the adjoining room, which was barely lit by the light of the waning day. Her long brown hair was a mess of tangles; her face was stained with tears.

“What are you doing?” Celeste asked, while placing her keys on the key ring.

Lark looked off to the side, her lip quivering.

“You’ve just been sitting around here all day? I can’t see how that’s very helpful.”

Lark looked at Celeste questioningly.

“Are you mad at me, Celeste?”

Celeste considered briefly.

“Kind of. I mean, if it weren’t for your staying home today Mrs. Baker wouldn’t have come to my school to retrieve me. Honestly though, what could that woman have needed to do that was so important? I guess it was really her fault after all.”

Suddenly, Lark ran toward her cousin and hugged her. Celeste was taken aback by the sobbing girl. Perhaps she had been a bit too generous letting Lark off the hook, she thought. But there was no point in watching Lark sulk all day. Eventually, Celeste placed her hands on Lark’s shoulders.

“There. There. It’ll be all right. Circumstances have changed, but they don’t have to change that much.”

Lark looked up at Celeste in disbelief.

“How?” Lark stammered.

“By being strong. You don’t have to allow your emotions to rule you.” Celeste advised.

Celeste next placed her hand on Lark’s chin.

“I suppose you haven’t eaten yet either.” Celeste remarked.

Lark shook her head.

“All right. Well, let’s see whether there are any leftovers in the fridge. Huh, that reminds me that people usually bring over food after a funeral. Then again, someone has to plan the funeral, I suppose. I don’t know.”

Lark and Celeste entered the kitchen.

“You know, everyone assumes that I’m just going to become an adult all of a sudden.” Celeste remarked. “You, I guess, get a free pass since you’re younger. The fact is it’s not going to work out that way.”

Celeste turned and looked at Lark intently.

“I figure you’re old enough to carry your own weight. You can’t be treated like a baby forever. You’re almost out of elementary school. It’s about time you started taking care of yourself.”

Celeste went to the refrigerator and opened it.

“Good. There’s still some stuff to warm up. Here.” Celeste handed Lark a container. “You can handle this. I’m going to call Dad’s attorney. I’m sure he can handle things for us.”

Celeste left the room. Lark sat down at the kitchen table; she placed the container down in front of her softly. Then, she just stared at it — unable to muster any hunger. Celeste returned soon after.

“What are you doing, Lark? You can’t just let the food rot.” Celeste barked. “That’s wasteful. Here, I’ll take care of it just this once.”

Lark watched as Celeste carefully grabbed the container and took it to the microwave.

“What are we going to do, Celeste?” Lark finally managed.

“It’s not that complicated.” Celeste responded. “I know how to reheat food.”

“I mean …” Lark interrupted. Celeste turned and stared. “… without them.” Lark added softly.

“Well, I have an appointment tomorrow with the estate lawyer. He’s willing to help me with the details.”

“Yeah, but …” Lark broke down into tears. “I miss them.”

Celeste turned her back and stared straight ahead watching the dish of food turning slowly in the microwave.

“It doesn’t help me to have you say things like that.” Celeste added coolly. “I can’t handle your problems as well as my own. Listen, you’ll be going to school tomorrow. I will be at school, so I can’t stay home and watch you. I’m sure that they have a counselor there, even if it is only a public school. Why don’t you go talk with him or her? That person should know what to say better than I would.”

The microwave beeped. Celeste removed the food with two pot holders and took it over to Lark.

“There now.” Celeste stated. “You’re welcome.” she added.

“Thank you.” Lark stammered.

“You know …” Celeste started. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a housekeeper, especially if he or she could cook well? Tammy’s family has one that went to culinary school. She knows how to make practically anything. Too bad she’s already taken. Tammy would never forgive me if I took her away. Still, if we had the money …”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Chapters 1-16 below. Chapters 17-18 press button.

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 5

It was just after Celeste’s eighteenth birthday when Mr. Davis’s office called. He hadn’t been kidding when he told Celeste that the Tampy estate had become less of a priority once the money from the safe had been found. Still, Celeste was grateful that the call finally came through. With the food, the mortgage, the utilities, the housekeeper’s salary, and of course the tuition, it became clear that the money from the safe wouldn’t last forever.

When Celeste came into the waiting room that day, she was surprised to see that boy Frederick standing next to Ms. Springfield’s desk. He turned as though waiting for someone. When he caught sight of Celeste, he smiled. Celeste gave him a half-smile then sat in one of the chairs. There didn’t seem to be a reason to check in at the desk this time. Certainly, Celeste figured, Ms. Springfield had enough information to figure out who she was, and why she was there. Why wait around just to be told to sit down moments later?

As Ms. Springfield picked up her phone and began talking into it, Frederick came and sat next to Celeste. He exhaled as he plopped down into the chair next to her.

“So, you have another meeting with Davis, huh? Lucky you.”

“You, too, it would seem.” Celeste replied coolly.

Frederick noted that the pretty girl seemed more down than she had before. It intrigued him as to why. Certainly, she was no ordinary girl this Celeste. Most girls were giddy to have his attention. And why did she always come alone? She couldn’t be much older than he was, if at all. Perhaps she figured out that Frederick had been hoping to run into her — had been running errands for his father, so that he’d be at the lawyer’s office in the afternoons. Maybe Celeste really wasn’t interested, and, in fact, was annoyed by his efforts. Frederick rubbed the top of his legs with his hands nervously.

“I’m going to get something to drink. Do you want anything?” he asked her.

Celeste looked over at him quizzically.

“Miss Tampy, Mr. Davis will see you now.” Ms. Springfield announced.

Celeste managed a weak smile at Frederick. He smiled back. Then, Celeste stood and headed into Mr. Davis’s office. Darn, Frederick thought. Well, he’d wait for her return. At least he got a smile out of her.

“Miss Tampy, I have that information for you. First off, I have filed the paperwork necessary to have you declared your cousin’s guardian. I have also processed your parents’ remaining assets. Here, I’ve made an inventory. The monetary amount is listed at the bottom. Please have a seat.”

Celeste took the paper and read it.

“Are you kidding?” Celeste stammered. “Where’s the rest of it?!”

Mr. Davis was taken aback.

“Most of it was in the safe.” he responded.

Celeste reddened.

“Is there a problem?” Mr. Davis pursued.

“I just got the impression there was a lot more.” Celeste managed.

“I’m not exactly sure how you got that impression.”

Celeste glared at him.

“You said the guardianship papers had been filed. Is that really necessary anymore?” Celeste proposed.

“I don’t understand.” Mr. Davis returned.

“I don’t have a job yet. You said I needed one. Maybe she’d be better off elsewhere.”

“I could pull the petition. It is possible Lark could end up in foster care …”

No reaction.

Mr. Davis leaned back into his chair. He was really regretting taking Celeste Tampy on as a client. “And I would have to re-evaluate the assets.” Mr. Davis added.

“Why?” Celeste asked immediately.

“Lark is entitled to her parents’ assets.”

“What assets? Obviously my uncle squandered his money.”

“No, Celeste. The fact is most of the money in the safe belongs to Lark. Your father prepared a ledger with the division of assets. Your father and your uncle just decided to store the money in the same safe. Given that you expressed a desire to become Lark’s caregiver … maybe I shouldn’t have assumed. Anyway, the executor, which would have been you as Lark’s guardian, will manage that money now.”

“Well, there’s very little money left.”

“How so? You spent it all?”

“I paid my school tuition.”

Mr. Davis was flustered.

“I’m sure under the circumstances they may be willing to refund the unused portion.” he suggested.

“Then I’d be kicked out …” Celeste started softly. Mr. Davis just stared at her blankly. “Well, I’m not asking for the tuition back.” she concluded.

“You don’t think they’d give it back to you? I can write a letter of explanation …”

“I don’t know. I don’t think you understand me. I’m not even going to try. I intend to go to that school. I may not be getting that scholarship, but I’m going to graduate all the same.”

“You’re the one who doesn’t seem to understand. Most of that money doesn’t belong to you. Now that you aren’t going to take care of Lark …”

“Fine. I’ll take her.” Celeste returned.

Mr. Davis raised an eyebrow. His look was one of disdain.

“Then, I suggest you get that job we discussed. It sounds like you’re going to need it.”

 

***

 

Frederick was getting antsy. The meeting between Celeste and that lawyer was taking awhile. The longer it took for Celeste to emerge from Mr. Davis’s office, the more obvious it would be that Frederick was waiting around for her. In fact, Ms. Springfield was already giving him strange looks. Finally, the door opened. Frederick looked up with anticipation. Unfortunately, instead of a smile Frederick was greeted with a frenzied look. The girl Frederick had been waiting for was storming out of the office — never to return.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 15

 

“You seem deep in thought.” Owen began as he and Lark walked down the street and away from the restaurant. Lark looked up at him.

“I am.”

“Have you thought much about what we talked about?”

“No, refresh my memory. What did we talk about?”

“What Leader Monrage is up to here …” Owen responded.

“You should be careful.” Lark replied coolly. “If he finds out that you’re asking about him, he’ll turn on you. You don’t want that.”

“And who’s going to tell him?” Owen eyed her.

Lark looked at him intently.

“Not me. I don’t talk to him unless I have to.”

“Hmmm …”

“It can’t be a surprise that we don’t really get along.” Lark said.

“Then, why do you stay?”

Lark could feel herself ringing her hands. Suddenly, she stopped in the middle of the street. Owen stopped as well and turned around.

“Say I wanted to escape …” Lark started. “Where would I go?”

“I don’t know, but you have a star cruiser — a fast one.”

It was amazing to Lark that this man was so candid. True, he wasn’t speaking loudly, but he was speaking in the open air. Anyone could be listening. Lark looked around her. The only people she could see were far enough down the street that they were out of earshot. Chances were that Owen had noticed the same thing. Still, had Lark become paranoid and overly fearful living with Leader Monrage all this time? No, there was reason to fear him. There were plenty of instances to provide reason.

“You know, the thing of it is that Leader Monrage could get you and the rest of us into a lot of trouble. You should know better than anyone how strict some of the laws are here.” Owen mentioned.

Lark looked at him with curiosity.

“It would seem to me pretty reckless for a man to choose to start a scheme here of all places, especially given his stint at the prison colony. Not to mention that he must be aware of what happened to you. What could possibly be worth that kind of risk? Unless, like I said, the man is reckless.” Owen added.

Lark’s eyes shifted to the side.

“Lark, I can tell you’re afraid of him. But is he really worse than possibly being executed?”

Lark cocked her head slightly to the side.

“You really think that what he’s up to is as bad as all that?” Lark pondered. “I mean, the only reasons to be executed here are murder and treason.”

Owen looked down.

“You’d know better than I would. You went with him to his meeting.”

Suddenly, Lark wondered whether she could trust Owen. Why was he so curious about Leader Monrage?

“So, that’s the reason you came looking for me?”

“Part of it.” Owen replied.

“Well …” Lark began, looking down. “I’m not privy to what he’s doing. I just know it involves my cousin and the man she betrayed me for.”

Owen looked surprised.

“It’s getting to be that time.” Lark said with a chill to her voice. “If we don’t return to the ship soon, we’ll be sleeping on the street tonight.”

When she got back to her room, Lark thought a lot about what Owen had said. Part of Owen’s motivation for asking so many questions may have been fear. The laws on Colony 9 were notoriously strict. Risking that kind of punishment really didn’t make sense for him or the rest of the crew. But mainly, Lark began to actively think about what Leader Monrage could be up to. One thing was for sure, Lark had no intention of being convicted of another criminal offense because of her cousin.

“So, what could Leader Monrage be doing here?” Lark pondered aloud. Just after they escaped the prison colony, he would rattle on about ideas he had. He’d have off the wall schemes — most of which made no sense. Lark would force herself to listen. After all, if she didn’t listen and he quizzed her on what he had said then she would be punished. Still, none of what he ever said had anything to do with Colony 9; she would have remembered that. Lark had assumed later, once she knew they were coming here, that he’d been scant with the details because of Lark’s history with this place. Now, it occurred to Lark that he was not even close to being that sensitive. In fact, Leader Monrage’s taking Lark to see her cousin was more of a true reflection of where he was coming from. Lark could tell that he enjoyed watching her reaction — that was up to the point where Lark went too far and jeopardized his plan.

Maybe the real question was what Frederick Applegate had to offer Leader Monrage. Lark had found out that Frederick Applegate was wealthy and related to powerful people. Lark had been given the equivalent of a death sentence for stealing his aunt’s diamond broach. But why did Frederick steal from his own family? The thrill of it? He didn’t want to ask for the money? Perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten anything if he did ask? But if he were on the outs with the powerful people on Colony 9, then what could he offer Leader Monrage?

Perhaps he wasn’t on the outs with his family later on but was back then? Certainly, if Frederick’s family had found out about what either he or Celeste had done, he would have risked losing any power he did have. In a way, even being related to the thief wouldn’t help Celeste’s position with Frederick’s family. Then again, maybe Celeste could persuade them to feel sorry for her. Celeste had a delicate beauty like a china doll. The sad tale of how her bad seed cousin went astray could endear her to people already inclined to be fooled. Still, it would probably be better for Celeste if Lark had never reappeared again — not that Lark cared about that at this point.

In the end, Lark concluded that Celeste really did have no cause for concern. After all, look what Lark was up to now and whom she was hanging out with. It just reinforced the idea that she, Lark, had been the problem all along. How strange it was. Lark had tried to save her cousin. No, she had, in fact, saved her cousin, and now she was the problem.

Either way, Lark was sure Celeste and Frederick must have something to offer Leader Monrage, or he wouldn’t be here. Leader Monrage, likewise, must be bringing something to the table. Even by what little he said, it would seem Lark was a part of that something. Lark shook her head. There was anger in the pit of her stomach. Help her cousin with another scheme? Lark wrung her hands. Leader Monrage would get his jollies forcing Lark to do that. Still, even he didn’t seem to know all the details of Lark’s past. Now, he would have to worry that Lark wouldn’t go through with it.

There was a hard knock on her bedroom door. Lark could tell who it was instantly. She went over to the door and opened it reluctantly.

“You’re still dressed like that?” Leader Monrage demanded bitterly.

Lark kept her left hand clasped securely on the door. She just stared at him.

“I remember when you weren’t this defiant towards me.” Leader Monrage started. “Were you faking who you were before?”

Lark forced herself not to roll her eyes. How could he even be serious? Leader Monrage had never accepted reality. Every time he sensed criticism of himself, he would punish the critic. There had been a time when Lark had been isolated and kept squarely under his thumb. So, she hid herself from him lest he find fault with her. Now, he had the nerve to act as though she betrayed him about it?

“Perhaps I’ve given you too much slack these days.” Leader Monrage added.

So, that was what it was — a threat to control her again. While part of Lark wanted to withdraw, she chose to stand stiffly in front of him instead. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of backing down.

“There will be a party tomorrow night. You will be going. Our customers need to know that you’re over your past. Since you will be there under official capacity, you will wear your uniform then as you will every time I see you from now on. That’s an order not a request.” Leader Monrage spat.

Leader Monrage wrenched Lark’s arm.

“Then again, maybe you’d like me to tattoo the pattern on your face.”

Lark shook her head.

“Good. Then, there won’t be a problem.”

Leader Monrage released her. He then turned and walked down the hall towards the control room.

Lark looked over at her hand, which was now shaking. She shut the door and locked it. She had to wear the uniform. It would probably make Celeste feel better. After all, Celeste could pretend Lark really did steal that broach and brought this whole thing on herself. Celeste did nothing wrong; she was the victim. How many times Lark wished her parents were alive! This time was no different. Lark was desperate to have someone to talk to, to hold her, to make it right. She cried that night upon her bed with Cinnamon by her side. By the time morning came, she resolved to change things somehow. She would pray for a way out of the situation with Leader Monrage. She knew one thing; she wouldn’t be the person he and her cousin wanted her to be anymore.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 14

 

 

According to Leader Monrage, it was fortunate that his brother’s planet wasn’t far. After all, the transport carrier wasn’t very fast — and that was by design. It was part of the Security Force’s strategy to prevent an escape; they only allowed for a certain amount of time to pass before a member of their crew was required to check in. After that, faster ships would be dispatched to track the rogue vessel down. Leader Monrage figured out that he and the other members of his group would have plenty of time to make it to his brother’s planet before those ships caught up to them.

“Oh, but before we start up again there is one more thing …” Leader Monrage stated. “Ten, bring the tools.”

Leader Monrage squeezed himself underneath the console. After a few minutes, he re-emerged with a black metallic box in his hands. Leader Monrage smirked.

“A homing device.” he advised. “Clever, but not clever enough for me.”

Leader Monrage smirked again.

“All right, now I’ll input the coordinates into the stellar map, and we’ll be on our way. Oh, and, Twelve, no need to take it slowly. We’ll have plenty of fuel.”

Lark turned back toward the console.

“Oh yeah, hold on a second before we start off.” Leader Monrage suddenly added.

Lark froze once more. These repeated interruptions were getting hard to take.

“Ten, have the prisoners taken to the prisoner compartments. We don’t want them to know where we’re going. They can probably see the monitor from there.”

Lark had wondered why Leader Monrage had been talking in a softer voice instead of his usual brazen tone. Now, it seemed obvious.

“Why don’t we just dispose of them?” Ten asked.

“Because that’s not where my head is at right now.” Leader Monrage stated. “I just want them out of my way. Is that too much to ask?”

Lark could tell Leader Monrage was getting agitated.

“No, sir.” Ten replied.

“Good. Then, see that it’s done — now. I don’t have the time or the patience for this.”

Ten headed off to complete his task.

“It’s as though people can’t think for themselves on the one hand but question my decisions on the other. And I’m the one who was right … obviously. Even you, Twelve, had doubts.”

“Only about myself.” Lark heard herself say. Why did she say that? It couldn’t have been true. At least the ‘only’ part wasn’t true. Still, her words seemed to please Leader Monrage — a lot. Unfortunately, it seemed to please him too much, for he placed his large hand on her shoulder then. Lark wanted to cringe but froze instead.

“But you see, I trained you. You’re Twelve now. There’s no need for you to doubt yourself.” Leader Monrage insisted. “You will succeed because I will succeed.”

Lark managed to nod.

“Good.” He released his hand. “Then, let’s get going. We don’t have all day.”

Leader Monrage finally inputted the coordinates into the computer. An arrow appeared on the screen. As long as the arrow lined up with the center of the monitor, the transport carrier should move in the given direction. Lark was mostly happy that guiding the transport carrier was so simple. The only problem was that it soon became pretty boring keeping the spacecraft steady. It gave Lark time to think — too much time. What would happen if the Security Force did track them down? Lark’s sentence had expired, but would they send her back anyway? Probably so. They wouldn’t care that they had never released her. The fact that she escaped would be seen as enough cause to send her back. This time she and the others would probably all be sent to the mines. Still, if Leader Monrage blamed Lark somehow, she wouldn’t have to worry about living there long. Either way, here or there, Lark wouldn’t be free.

Still, every time there was a twinkling of light on the monitor, Lark’s eyes would move toward it. Was that a pursuing craft come to overtake them? Perhaps their pursuers had been in the area rather than at a base station farther away. No, it was a star. Lark breathed. She returned her gaze to the center of the screen. Then, she tensed. “How long was this trip going to be?” she wondered. Leader Monrage hadn’t said, and there didn’t even seem to be a way to confirm the existence of Colony 38 on the screen. Was it hours, days away? Would Lark just have to hope for the best? She couldn’t think about that right now. At least she was making progress; Lark would just focus on that. Many hours passed — or what seemed like many hours. Leader Monrage then reappeared behind Lark.

“There it is.” Leader Monrage stated.

There was a small, dark, gloomy, round speck in the center of the screen. Lark’s reaction was mixed. There was relief that they were almost there; Lark would at last be able to get up from this chair. Also, there was no sign of pursuit from the Security Force. On the other hand, the gloominess of the planet coupled with the uncertainty of what would happen next caused her stress. Then, there was the impending landing of the craft; that thought sent adrenaline rushing through her. Another life and death moment was approaching. Lark would be glad when this was over.

As the transport carrier got closer, Lark saw another guide tunnel. Suddenly, a voice came over the intercom asking for information about the identity of the transport carrier and its crew. Lark jumped back slightly. Leader Monrage picked up the receiver; he didn’t seem fazed.

“Yes, we’d like permission to land on Colony 38.” Leader Monrage advised them.

Lark looked up at Leader Monrage. If there was a security checkpoint, how would they be able to land on this planet — or any other planet for that matter?

“By whose authority do you wish to land?” the voice on the other end of the intercom asked.

“By Col. Oliver Bertrand’s authority. He’ll know me; I’m his brother.” Leader Monrage informed him.

“Just a moment. Hold your pattern.”

Lark pulled back on the accelerator. Then, she and Leader Monrage waited. After awhile the man on the other side of the radio said, “All right. You may approach.”

Leader Monrage looked pleased but not particularly surprised. Lark guessed he was right about his brother being willing to help. Lark had wondered about Leader Monrage’s comment that his brother didn’t like him. If true, would it affect whether or not he’d be willing to offer help? It would seem it wouldn’t. It would seem that whatever favor Leader Monrage’s brother owed to Leader Monrage, Oliver Bertrand was willing to pay. Lark hoped for all of their sakes that this wasn’t just some sort of a setup.

Either way, they had to land. This whole exchange had convinced Lark there was nowhere else to go. They couldn’t keep traveling until they ran out of fuel or were discovered by the Security Force. Lark bit her lip; it was time to land.

Lark didn’t seem to have any breath to release as the transport carrier eventually touched down. She realized that she forgot to inhale. Landing wasn’t as difficult as Lark had feared. The hovering capability of the transport carrier was designed to land on a variety of surfaces. She looked up and to the side at Leader Monrage; he seemed pleased.

But fortunately, Leader Monrage didn’t have time to waste on Lark. He was quick to head to the hatch to meet with the traffic control team … and maybe even his brother. By the way Leader Monrage motioned to his men to file in behind him, Lark could tell that his ego had dramatically inflated. It was almost as though Leader Monrage thought his great feat should entitle him to success. These people should just give him power and anything else he wanted. On the other hand, Lark could see how vulnerable their situation was. Leader Monrage could easily rub people the wrong way. Then, what was to stop someone from reporting them to the Security Force? What did they really have? There were only a few tasers taken from the guards, a slow-moving transport carrier with little fuel left, and no money. But Leader Monrage didn’t seem to get it — you’d think he was the one with the upper hand.

Still, maybe it would work for him. Maybe bravado was better than self-doubt. After all, it was doubtful someone such as Lark could have gotten these people to even allow her to land the carrier there.

Lark started to stretch out. She was surprised by how stiff she was. When she attempted to stand, she realized her legs were asleep. Lark tried to rub the numbness away. After a little while, she realized she would have to walk it off. Lark headed toward the back of the ship slowly. None of the other recruits were around. Lark looked at the benches that were of the type she’d once been tied to. Then, she saw the doors of the prisoner compartments in the back. The rooms reminded her of the one she’d been held in on the transport ship, the vessel she had first left her home planet in. As it turned out, there were fewer prisoner compartments on this ship, and surprisingly they seemed even smaller. It occurred to Lark that they were probably designed for prisoners who were too uncontrollable for the benches — sort of a solitary confinement. “It was lucky Leader Monrage and the rest of his group made it this far,” Lark thought. This particular ship was obviously not meant to travel a long distance.

Lark stood in front of one of the rooms for a moment. She stepped toward it slowly. She felt herself reliving what it was like to be on the other side of the glass. She couldn’t resist the urge to peer into one of the windows and get a better look. There she saw one of the guards looking back at her. It was sort of eerie. Her first thought was that she should do something for him, release him somehow. Lark stepped back from the window. She knew she couldn’t do that. Though she wasn’t locked in a room or chained to a bench, she was a prisoner nonetheless — Leader Monrage’s prisoner.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 6

Things had changed a lot. It was sort of a blur for Lark. After her parents died, her life became a mixture of sadness and numbness. At first, things were made to seem almost normal. Celeste kept telling Lark to pretend that her parents were always just in the other room. Unfortunately, that didn’t work so well for Lark. Yet, she didn’t want to let on to Celeste that it wasn’t working; she didn’t want to disappoint Celeste and give her more stress. Celeste was the only family Lark had left. Because this new pretend life didn’t seem real to Lark, it was almost a relief when things changed again a couple of month later … almost.

The hardest part was losing the house. Lark and her parents had lived in an apartment before her parents’ deaths. She expected to lose that place when she moved in with Celeste. This was different — this was sudden. The house was also the last remaining place that she shared precious, tangible memories with her parents while they were alive. But apparently it couldn’t be helped. Lark was told there just wasn’t enough money to keep the house. There was nothing that could be done to change things.

Lark carefully packed up the items she kept from her parents into a small shoebox. She hoped that the items would allow Lark to feel that she was taking her parents with her in some small way rather than just leaving them with the house.

The house Lark and Celeste moved into was closer to Lark’s school but farther away from Celeste’s. It was a rental house — very small and in disrepair. Celeste didn’t let anyone come over, and she told Lark that she couldn’t let anyone come over either.

It was a little difficult in the evening. Celeste had a job in the kitchen of a restaurant at night. There wasn’t money for a babysitter, so Lark had to spend these hours alone. It could be scary at times. There was a lot of noise coming in from beyond the walls, but Lark told herself that nothing actually came of it. Besides, spending this time alone without complaint was the least Lark could do. Celeste had to work, so they could eat. Therefore, if Lark had to be a little scared from time to time when a storm moved through or angry voices called out, so be it. At least they were together — her and her cousin — some of the time.

The best part of the day for Lark was the after-school program at the church. It was nice to have people to talk to for those few hours after school. It also cut down on the number of hours Lark had to spend alone.

School was pretty good, too. However, Lark sometimes worried that her friends would ask to come over, and she’d have to admit that she moved. Celeste had made it clear that no one could know that they moved. It sounded as though Lark might be taken away somewhere if they found out. So, Lark withdrew and was alone a lot at school.

At the church, no one thought to ask about the move since they didn’t know much about Lark’s past life. Plus, some of the students were from the same neighborhood. Therefore, Lark figured if they weren’t taken away from their families then neither would she be. Lark learned a lot at the program. Plus, she did crafts, had snacks and played games. It also comforted her to hear about heaven and visualize her parents there.

Overall though, life was difficult. Still, Lark made the best of it. After all, as Lark would often remind herself, at least this way Lark’s surroundings matched the reality she felt inside. Lark wasn’t great at acting as though everything was okay.

It would be about a month after Lark and Celeste moved into the hovel that things would change once more. Lark had just returned to the house from the Bible school. It was darker than it usually was, for the sky was overcast. It had been drizzling steadily all day, and the air was damp and cool. The weather had caused the streets to be more deserted than usual, casting an additional gloom.

When Lark entered the shack, she left the door open, so that the dim light could flow in. Still, as she stood in the foyer of the one-bedroom abode, she shivered slightly. She walked a few steps into the house. She reached out a shaky hand and turned on the light of a nearby lamp. Celeste didn’t like to have the lights on most of the time, especially when she wasn’t in the house. Lark’s homework was supposed to be done during the day or at the after-school program. Yet, Lark couldn’t help, especially today, making sure that the darkness hadn’t entered the house while she was away. After checking around the sparsely furnished rooms, she was satisfied she was alone. She quickly headed to the front door then locked it behind her.

Lark then set out to make herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She took the sandwich over to the old chair next to the lamp and sat down. Finally, Lark shut the light off and ate in the darkness.

It was about an hour later when Lark heard a persistent knocking at the front door. It actually woke Lark from an uneasy sleep. At first, she didn’t know what to make of the noise and froze.

Then, she heard Celeste’s voice.

“Lark! Hurry! Open the door!”

Lark reached over and turned on the light. She then jumped up and out of the chair; she quickly went to unlock the door. It was an odd experience. Celeste had a key. Something must be wrong, Lark thought. Upon Lark’s opening of the door, Celeste rushed inside.

“Quick! Lock the door!” Celeste exclaimed.

“What — what’s wrong?” Lark managed.

“They’re after me.”

“Who?”

“I messed up. I shouldn’t have trusted him. He left with it. Now, they’re after me. But I did it for us. For you.”

Lark just stared at her. A strange numbness had fallen upon Lark. Suddenly, she was listening like a stranger would. Lark pondered the meaning of the sudden detachment. She waited for Celeste to draw to a point, knowing the words would eventually come.

“He stole his aunt’s diamond broach. Well, actually he had me do it. It was going to be bequeathed to him someday for his future wife. Anyway, he was supposed to split the money with me, but he didn’t. He took it.” Celeste sobbed. “And what’s worse, I think they saw me.”

“Who is he?” Lark queried.

Celeste hesitated.

“Does it matter? He’s gone now.” Celeste returned.

“Then, should we leave?”

Again hesitation.

Suddenly, there was another knock at the door.

“Open up!” a male voice demanded.

“Oh no! They’ve come for me!” Celeste screamed. “They’ll send me to one of the prison colonies. I’ll die!” she wailed. “If our parents only hadn’t died! I’m just not cut out to take care of you. But I tried! I’m sorry!!”

All of a sudden, the door was kicked in, and two men entered the house.

One man said to the other, “Search for the diamond.” He turned toward the girls. “We got a tip the thief came this way, yet the description of the thief was vague somehow. Which one of you took it? It’ll be easier on you if you fess up now. Otherwise, we’ll take both of you in as collaborators.”

Lark looked over at Celeste. Celeste’s eyes were downcast for a moment. When she eventually did look at Lark, her eyes were evasive yet pleading.

“All right. I’ll take you both in.”

“I did it.” Lark said. “It’s my fault.”

The man seemed surprised by this turn of events. He had been expecting a confession — but from the other one.

“You?”

“Yes.”

“Then, where is it?”

“I don’t know.”

Lark looked to Celeste for help, for Lark didn’t know the name of the man who took the stone. But Lark would get no help there. Perhaps it was best that Celeste not implicate herself, Lark concluded. Otherwise, Lark’s efforts to save Celeste would be in vain. Celeste, for her part, seemed grateful, but it was still too soon to know whether Lark could pull it off.

“Nothing.” the other man, who had been searching and just returned, said, “Then, take her.”

“Which one?”

“The smaller one confessed.”

Suddenly, Lark’s eyes fell upon her shoebox, which she kept on an end table. Lark rushed forward and grabbed the box of mementos before the two men could grab her. The man who’d done the most talking took the box from her and rifled through it. Then fortunately, he shoved it back into her hands.

“Nothing but junk.” he said. “Let’s get this over with.”

They each grabbed Lark from underneath her arms and dragged her from the house. Lark managed to keep a hold of her box of memories by clutching it to her chest with her bent hands.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 12

 

Lark was dropped off in front of the docking port of the star cruiser. Leader Monrage never stayed the night on Lark’s ship. He had his own ship, but he rarely stayed there either. He always liked to skulk around the planets, especially at night. He once said that was how he got most of his information, most of his contacts.

In fact, it was at a local tavern on a different colony that he first heard about the new pilot, Captain Smithson. Lark had to admit that she’d been a little skeptical of Captain Smithson the first time she heard about him because of this. But somehow when she saw Captain Smithson in his environment, her opinion of him began to change. The planet he was from had been quite troubled. This meant that a large portion of the population had been forced to live in underground tunnels. The atmospheric regulator malfunctioned in parts of the planet. The areas where those with power lived were regularly maintained; the other areas were not.

Leader Monrage had insisted Lark accompany him on his cruiser to meet with Captain Smithson. She spent most of the journey in a windowless room and away from everyone else. This living situation began to feel quite confining. Occasionally, she was allowed to get food from the commissary. Finally, they landed. She first saw Captain Smithson standing in front of an underground gateway. He was leaning back against a wall, his hands in his pockets. He was staring straight ahead. Then suddenly, as Lark and Leader Monrage approached, he causally pushed himself off from the wall. Captain Smithson turned and looked at them. He waited for a moment watching them then started walking toward them. Lark was surprised to find he didn’t look much older than she did. Yet, his piloting skills were apparently much better than Lark’s.

“You’re Owen Smithson.” Leader Monrage stated.

“That would be correct.” he replied.

Captain Smithson looked at Lark, who was dressed as Officer Twelve, and she looked at him. It had been the first time in a long time that she felt a twinge of feeling deep inside. Something about him reminded Lark of her own life. There was a solemnity in his eyes — almost a wistfulness.

“You’ve talked to Thomas Ingot?” Monrage demanded.

“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I’m assuming she is the reason you had to leave before meeting with me?” Captain Smithson asked in a low tone, referring to Officer Twelve.

“Never mind that.” Monrage advised. “Is Keller okay with you leaving?”

“I don’t know, but if I decide to leave I guess he’ll have to be okay with it.” Captain Smithson stated. “Is that a problem?”

“No.”

“You wonder about my loyalty?” Smithson pondered.

“I don’t think about things in terms of loyalty. But I do expect people to fulfill their obligations to me.” Leader Monrage informed him.

“Fair enough.”

“Good.” Leader Monrage shook Captain Smithson’s hand. “I will, of course, need a preview of your skills before the deal is done.”

“Of course.”

Leader Monrage smirked.

“Very good. Very good indeed.”

 

***

 

Lark waited for the car to pull completely away. Then, she headed on foot away from the star cruiser. Lark didn’t feel like spending the entire evening trapped on the ship with the rest of the crew. She also didn’t want to speak to Leader Monrage any time soon, and there was always a chance he’d come looking for her.

Instead, she decided to spend the time before the nightly curfew at the church. She needed a place to think in peace about everything that had happened. She didn’t want to just stuff it inside like everything else. She thought the church was the only place she could go for that.

Fortunately, the door to the church was unlocked. Still, the lights were dim, and there didn’t appear to be anyone around.

“That’s fine with me,” Lark thought.

She didn’t really want to talk about the past — not when she was so unsure what to think of it herself. Lark slipped inside, carefully shutting the massive wooden doors. She could almost hear her sigh echo through the rafters. Lark went up a few pews toward the altar then sat down. She folded her hands, fell forward then leaned her forehead against the tips of her fingers.

Lark worked to steady her breathing, to let the anxiety release. Still, it was hard. Lark knew she didn’t have all the time in the world. She knew time was ticking by — pulling her back to the ship — to Leader Monrage and all her problems with Celeste. She didn’t have the luxury of waiting at the church until she was ready to face her reality. If only Lark could pretend that she had the time she needed. Maybe then, she could relax and deal with things.

Suddenly, there was a creaking emanating from the door behind her. She sat back slowly then turned around.

There standing in the entranceway was Captain Smithson, slowly closing the door again. Lark stood.

“Is there something wrong?” Lark asked.

“Not with me.” Captain Smithson replied.

“But it’s not a coincidence that you’re here.” Lark started. “Did you follow me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I saw you head into the city. I thought it would be a good time for us to talk.” he mentioned.

“About what?”

Captain Smithson looked concerned. Apparently, he wasn’t expecting such resistance. Lark looked off to the side.

“So, how did you get out anyway?” Lark wondered softly.

The change of subject seemed to suit Captain Smithson just fine.

“They released us from captivity shortly after you came back.” Captain Smithson said.

“Captain …”

“Owen. Just Owen is fine.” He paused. “Do you have a name?” he queried.

She looked at him a moment.

“Lark.”

“Lark … all right, thank you.”

“I wouldn’t call me that in front of him.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Lark looked away again; his gaze was intense.

“Have you eaten?” Owen wondered.

Lark looked up in surprise then shook her head.

“There’s a restaurant down the way. It’ll be nice to eat food that hasn’t been vacuum-packed.” he added.

Lark looked at him searchingly.

“All right.” Lark agreed after a minute had passed.

Lark walked past him and toward the door. He filed in beside her as she passed. At some point, Lark became aware that Owen was looking down at her. Lark looked up at him inquisitively.

“I’m sorry. I can’t get over the difference in how you look.” Owen said. “Is this going to be permanent?”

Lark sighed and stared at the street in front of her.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet.” Lark stated lowly. “Maybe when I’m on duty, I’ll go back. Then again, I always seem to be on duty when I’m not in my room. And I did that before —being the way I am now only when I was alone in my room. Still, it might cause unnecessary stress with Leader Monrage if I stay like this.”

“I really don’t see why he should care.” Owen said with irritation in his voice.

“I don’t know.” Lark said. “Other than he likes who I am when I’m wearing the uniform.”

As they walked along, Lark glanced at Owen briefly.

“You know, for some reason your life growing up reminds me of my own.” Lark mentioned softly, her eyes cast downward again.

A pit grew in her stomach as she said the last words. Lark wasn’t used to bringing up topics of conversation; she especially wasn’t all that comfortable talking about herself. After a period of silence, Lark started to wish she hadn’t. She looked at him then, fearful she had said too much.

“How so?” Owen asked smoothly. He was looking straight ahead.

“I guess … the feeling of being trapped somewhere. Dreaming of getting out — assuming there is a way out or anything better.”

Owen looked over at her.

“You got all that from our first meeting? We didn’t even talk.”

“Yeah, well …”

“Then again, you said you could relate.” Owen paused. “I’m surprised you didn’t think I was disloyal. I left the syndicate I was in without permission.”

Lark looked at him intently for a moment.

“Why should I care?” she put forth. “I’m assuming you had cause.”

“I doubt they saw it that way.”

“Will they come after you?” Lark asked.

“They’re not going to bother with that. They don’t have the reach to chase me around space. I was in the most danger that first night. Fortunately, I was already packed, and I was able to do my test for Leader Monrage right away.”

Leader Monrage — why did it bother Lark to hear Owen use his name? Perhaps she wanted to keep the two of them separate. She knew she didn’t necessarily want Owen to be a part of the world she belonged to — not the way it really was. The question was did he even want to be? And if he didn’t, would he be leaving again soon? Then again, what difference could it make? Lark had been alone before. Surely, she could handle it again.

Lark and Owen came upon the restaurant then. There was a line of people waiting to be seated. The wait really wasn’t so long as it had first appeared. Then again, most of the others in line were in larger groups. Lark and Owen only needed a table for two.

After being seated, Lark started to peruse the menu.

“This is nice.” Lark stated. “This reminds me of when I was a child. We went out to dinner for Mother’s Day. It was the first time they let me select something from the adult menu.”

Lark lifted her face to see Owen looking at her.

“So, you’re from here?” he asked.

“A long time ago.”

Owen scanned the environment with his eyes, a look of confusion on his face.

“But I left here. I was taken away when I was still a child.” Lark added. “I wasn’t implying this place is like yours.”

“And that’s when you met Leader Monrage?”

Lark’s eyes glazed over.

“Yes.”

“I heard he was from a prison colony, and that he escaped not all that long ago.”

Lark lifted her eyes to his.

“You … were there? A maximum security prison colony?” Owen was incredulous.

Lark sensed someone coming and looked over at the approaching waiter.

“Hello, may I get you anything to drink?”

“I’ll just have water, no ice.” Lark said.

“Same here.” Owen stated.

“And to eat?”

“I’ll have the chicken sandwich with a side of mushroom soup and french fries.” Lark ordered.

“I’ll take the steak with the baked potato and the mushroom soup.”

“Very good.” The waiter took the menus.

Lark could tell that the waiter was relieved that they ordered something more substantive than water.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think he heard anything.” Owen mentioned.

“I don’t care.” Lark said. “I was convicted of stealing a diamond broach.” She hesitated. “I didn’t do it, but I confessed.”

Owen looked as though he wanted to ask why, but he didn’t. His eyes drifted to the side. Though Lark appreciated that Owen respected her privacy in this matter, Lark decided to tell him anyway.

“I was covering for my cousin and, it turns out, her boyfriend.” Lark admitted.

Owen nodded; he seemed to understand her.

“That must have been hard …” Owen offered, after a few moments had passed in silence.

Lark looked at him from the side. She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant.

“… Having to be on the prison colony — you being just a child and all.” he added.

Lark looked down. She barely managed to fight back the tears all of a sudden.

“I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Lark told him. “I haven’t felt like a child in a long time.”

She inched her eyes back up to his again.

“I’ve just felt responsible for everything for so long.” Lark whispered.

Owen nodded and seemed moved by her words.

“So, how did you survive?” he asked in a deep voice.

Lark’s eyes darted.

“That’s how, huh? Joining a syndicate.” he concluded.

Lark gave him eye contact once more.

“I guess we do have that in common.” Owen acknowledged. “That’s how I did it, too. So, that means there is one good thing about a syndicate after all.”

Lark actually managed to smile. Then, Owen did, too.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 9

Lark sat down in one of the pews while one of her former teachers from the Bible school class comforted her. Eventually, they moved into the church library. Once there, the woman prepared Lark some tea. By the time the tea was ready, Lark’s eyes had dried up.

“I don’t want to pry, but is there a concern about your being here … with your conviction, I mean?”

Lark looked off to the side.

“My sentence expired a long time ago. I just wasn’t expected to live that long.”

The woman clutched her cup. It was so strange to her that Lark was there. In some ways, the girl looked exactly the same. In other ways, it was almost as though the woman were looking at a complete stranger.

“I never understood why they would send a child there. We didn’t hear about it until after.” she said. She reached out her hand and placed it on top of Lark’s. “We would have been there if we had known. Still, I’m glad you’re all right.” she added.

Lark looked up at her. She took up the woman’s hand briefly and squeezed it gently. Then, she let it go.

“I didn’t do it.” Lark mentioned softly. “But I did lie … I did lie.”

The woman nodded slowly.

“Are you going to be here awhile?” she asked suddenly. “On Colony 9, I mean.”

“I don’t know.” Lark answered, growing uncomfortable.

Lark’s pulse began to race. She didn’t want to talk about her job — the reason she survived. Maybe it was silly, but she didn’t want anyone to think less of her. But then, her lying for her cousin had probably made them think differently about her. Why should their opinion bother her now? Then again, maybe it always had.

“Well, you’re welcome here anytime. I’m sure the pastor would love to see you.”

Lark nodded.

“Thank you.” Lark looked down. “I’ll keep that in mind, but I should go. They’ll be locking up soon.”

Lark stood.

“Thank you … for being here.” Lark told her.

“Yes, of course.” the woman returned.

Lark smiled. Then, she turned and headed out of the church and back onto the street. She walked swiftly back toward the docking port. Fortunately, she made it to the cruiser before curfew. On one hand, it was silly; the officer of the ship shouldn’t be locked out for being late. On the other hand, those were Leader Monrage’s orders. So, head cast downward, she headed past the guard and toward her room as fast as she could. She quickly opened the door to her room then locked it behind her. Once safely inside, she leaned her back against the door and breathed out heavily. Cinnamon stretched out and began heading toward her owner.

“I’m glad to see you, Cinnamon.” Lark offered. “I need you.”

Though it surprised Lark there was still water left in her eyes to cry with, tears were set to fall from them nonetheless. Then suddenly, there was a knock at the door of Lark’s room. Lark blinked the tears away then turned toward the door. She hesitated at the knob.

“Yes?” she uttered with some reservation.

“It’s me Captain Smithson.”

Lark opened the door slowly. She found that Captain Smithson was taken aback for some reason.

“What is it?” she questioned him.

“I just saw you rush in. I was concerned something was wrong.”

Lark looked down for a moment. Her left hand, which held the door open, began to shake slightly.

“It has nothing to do with the ship.” she responded.

“You then?”

Lark looked up at him.

“We all have issues.” Lark acknowledged.

“Yes, that’s true enough. I did hear there may be a meeting between Leader Monrage and someone soon. Maybe it has something to do with why we’re here on Colony 9.”

Lark just looked at him.

“I thought you may be as curious as I am about why we’re here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that too often if I were you.” Lark warned.

“Just to you.” he said.

“Well, that’s good. Still, I wouldn’t think much of it. Leader Monrage’s plans are never easy to understand.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ll just have to get used to it then … for now.”

Captain Smithson looked as though he was about to turn away. Suddenly, he stopped.

“Oh, and by the way, you looked good like that.”

Captain Smithson smiled and walked away. Lark touched her face. In her rush to catch up with Celeste, she had forgotten to put her uniform on.

 

***

 

The next day, a message was waiting for Lark on her in-room computer. There was to be a mandatory meeting held by Leader Monrage in the control room. Perhaps this was what Captain Smithson was alluding to: the mysterious meeting between Leader Monrage and a contact on Colony 9. Still, if everyone was going to be there it seemed unlikely too many secrets were going to be revealed. It seemed more likely Leader Monrage wanted to make sure that none of the crew members were out and about today, so they wouldn’t see something they shouldn’t.

“Hmm … what are you up to here, Leader Monrage?” Lark asked herself. “Not that you confide your secret agendas to me.”

Lark looked over at her uniform, which she had laid upon a chair, with a certain sense of dread.

“What is the point?” she wondered. “It’s just a check-in, after all. No point in putting that stuff on just to take it off a little while later, right, Cinnamon?”

Cinnamon seemed to mew assent, so Lark dressed in her normal clothes and headed for the control room.

“Officer Twelve on deck!” one of the crew members called out when she arrived.

All turned. Of course there were a lot of surprised looks, but Lark pretty much expected that. Also, Captain Smithson had that same wide-eyed look from the previous night.

“About your business.” Lark announced.

Just then, Leader Monrage’s voice boomed out from behind Lark.

“What is this, business casual day?” Leader Monrage demanded.

Lark turned around towards him. Leader Monrage was glaring at her with intensity.

“What? You don’t appreciate who you are now?” he put forth. “You want to go back to that? Remember what happened the last time you were that person?”

Lark just stared at him unflinchingly.

“Then again, I’ve forgotten how much you resemble … sort of. Maybe you’d like to accompany me to my meeting. It might make things interesting. You know how I like to keep people on their toes. So, be sure to stay just like this.” Leader Monrage hissed bitterly. “By the way, that’s an order not a suggestion.”

Leader Monrage then turned to another man, who had accompanied him.

“Take the roll call.” Leader Monrage stated. “And the rest of you — you’re to stay on the ship today. No excuses. I won’t be pleased if I find out anyone has disobeyed me — anyone. That is all.”

With that, Leader Monrage stormed out of the control room.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Jennifer Alice Chandler

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 8

 

The questions were pointless; Lark didn’t know the answers. Yet, for some reason they were inclined to believe in her guilt anyway.

“This is good,” Lark thought. There was no point in both she and Celeste ending up in prison. It was the fault of that guy Celeste talked about and Lark’s fault for being a burden. Besides, Lark was just a child, and Celeste was an adult. Surely Lark’s punishment would be less severe than Celeste’s.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well with the judge. Since Lark was not forthcoming with the location of the diamond broach, she was deemed unrepentant. Apparently, throughout Lark’s life she hadn’t been told how seriously theft, especially of high cost items, was considered by the government of this colony. Why would she have been made aware? Her parents had been capable of providing for her needs, and she was told stealing was wrong. Then, there was the fact that Lark had never even had access to anything as valuable as the diamond broach.

Panic began to set in as the judge pronounced the sentence. Lark would, in fact, be sent to Prison Colony Beta — an adult prison colony. There were audible gasps in the gallery, but an example was to be made. Lark’s generation had to be sent a message; she was going to pay.

Prison Colony Beta was another thing Lark wasn’t familiar with. Yet, the bright girl was quick enough to put it together based upon the reaction of those around her; Lark’s life was over. She would never leave Prison Colony Beta alive. As Lark was led away in cuffs, she looked around the gallery. Though there were many sympathetic faces, there was no one there for Lark. No one would intervene on her behalf.

Lark’s public defender had managed to obtain permission for Lark to take a few of her shoebox treasures with her — the ones deemed harmless.

 

***

 

Officer Twelve had left the blinds open, so the sun streamed into her room as it rose. She noted how much she missed the sunlight when she was in space.

“The light is truly beautiful,” she thought.

“Well, Cinnamon, I may as well get ready.” she spoke aloud. “I have to get those supplies before we leave here. Who knows when that will be.”

Officer Twelve climbed out of bed and proceeded to change out of her white nightshirt and into her uniform. After she locked up her room, she mixed in with the other crew members, who had come back on board the night before but were departing again.

One of the things Officer Twelve appreciated about the members of her crew was that they were used to her uniform. The same couldn’t be said about other people. Much to her dismay, every time she went somewhere new there would be stares. Still, somehow it didn’t seem as though they were staring at her.

Officer Twelve decided to put in the order for the supplies at a local store. They could assemble the order, and she could pick it up later. She figured it would be less awkward than maneuvering through a crowd of shoppers in her uniform.

“Now what?” Officer Twelve wondered as she stepped out of the store and into the sun.

Perhaps a walk would take up some of the time. Officer Twelve walked a familiar path down some streets, in front of some houses, and by a church. Unfortunately, any feelings Officer Twelve had about these places were buried so deep that she couldn’t feel them — or at least wouldn’t allow herself to feel them. It probably didn’t help that life had moved on without her. Officer Twelve sighed. It was about time to pick up the supplies. That is, after all, what she set out to do when she woke up that morning. Then, she’d head back to her ship.

When Officer Twelve had time off, she usually spent it reading reports and star maps. The research had proven quite useful over the years. She also liked to learn about places she might see one day. After the atmospheric regulators had been deemed reliable, new colonies were constantly being set up. It amazed Officer Twelve how every colony always had a distinctive feel. Even if the buildings and layout were the same, the people were different. Things always go a different way from the way you’d expect when people are involved. Such was the way with Colony 9. If a place got in your blood, then it became more important than it would be otherwise. Maybe there was somewhere else that Officer Twelve could attach to, somewhere without the memories. Well, at least she had her ship.

Officer Twelve boarded the ship about an hour later. As the night began to descend, Officer Twelve was surprised by how bright the streetlights had become. Not long afterward, crowds began to mill around. Officer Twelve went to the window and sat in the chair next to it. It occurred to her then that some kind of street festival was going on. They had strung multicolored party lights between the streetlamps. Cinnamon came up and jumped in Officer Twelve’s lap. Officer Twelve petted her as she watched the people go by.

It was then that she saw her. A flash of recognition caused a jolt of emotion in Officer Twelve. This emotion created an impulse to stand. She carefully set Cinnamon down upon the ground. She then ran from the room and out of the star cruiser. When Officer Twelve got out into the festival, the woman she had seen seemed to be gone. Officer Twelve looked around her for a moment. Then, she decided to head off in the direction that she last saw the figure going.

It wasn’t easy making it through the crowd, but eventually she caught sight of the tall, well-dressed blonde woman. Could it be she? But how? Had she been capable of turning her life around this well? Many a night Officer Twelve had feared what had become of her. She convinced herself that the woman would be all right somehow. Still, Officer Twelve never expected this much of a turnaround in the woman’s circumstances. Maybe things could work out. Certainly, she’d never seen the woman in such beautiful clothes before. Yet, Officer Twelve reminded herself that she had always hoped the woman’s life would turn out well. And Officer Twelve had purposefully stayed away, so that it would. She hadn’t wanted to mar the woman’s potential happiness with the realization of what had become of the girl. Why remind the woman if she had put it from her mind? Still, as she stood there, Officer Twelve couldn’t help but want to talk to the woman again. So, despite her intentions not to approach the woman, Officer Twelve began to mouth the woman’s name with the excitement of a child.

But then, Officer Twelve froze before the words could come out. The woman had turned to her left and smiled. A man came up to the woman, and she latched on to his arm. The woman then tipped her head against the man’s arm and walked with him that way. Officer Twelve had thought a lot about this man — the one who had been to blame for it all. If it hadn’t been for him, none of it would have happened. That’s why Officer Twelve had worked to piece together information on his identity. She knew there was a blood relationship between the theft victim and this man. It wasn’t hard to find his name and eventually his picture.

But she was with him — seemingly in love with him. How could she? Officer Twelve’s eyes began to water. How could she reconcile with him after what he did to her? Of course, there was the possibility that he didn’t do anything against the woman at all. The woman stopped and looked back just as Officer Twelve placed her hands upon her eyes and crashed upon her knees.

Officer Twelve sobbed there among the many strangers for what seemed like a long time. Eventually, she could hear those around her pondering whether or not they should ask her what was wrong. Officer Twelve stifled a sob then pulled herself up slowly. She couldn’t go back to the ship — not like this. There was only one place she could think to go — the church from her youth. Officer Twelve stumbled along the streets. The wind began to pick up by the time she reached the door to the church. Tiny drops of water — like daggers — plowed into her face. She just couldn’t breathe. She struggled with the knob.

“Help.” she mumbled.

Suddenly, the door opened.

“What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

Officer Twelve looked up pleadingly at the woman who answered the door.

“Lark? Lark Tampy, is that you?”

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 4

The funeral was held the day after Celeste returned to the lawyer’s office. It took place at Prince of Peace Christian Church. It was well attended, despite the fact that it was held early in the morning. Celeste had insisted that it be early. After all, the club meeting had been rescheduled for that afternoon. And while she was at school, she planned to take care of another matter as well.

Mr. Davis had found documentation that pointed to the existence of a wall safe in her parents’ house. The documentation also listed the combination for that safe. The money was put there, so that her parents’ assets wouldn’t be tied up in litigation. Celeste was ecstatic there was more than enough money to pay for the rest of her yearly school tuition. In addition, there would be enough left for her and Lark to live off of for a while. In the meantime, Mr. Davis would be working on liquefying other assets and checking into any life insurance policies. Though, he advised, it may take awhile because of his busy schedule. Celeste was a bit dismayed to hear that her struggles weren’t a priority for her father’s supposed friend. Perhaps, she should take Lark with her next time; Lark was sure to evoke some sympathy. Yet, at the end of the day, Celeste concluded that it was more important for Mr. Davis to do a thorough job. She, therefore, couldn’t afford to call him out on his lack of enthusiasm. Instead, she decided to focus on the fact there would be plenty of money once everything was settled. After all, if her parents had that much in a safe imagine the size of both estates! And there was more good news; it seemed there was no stipulation about age or trust funds in the will. That meant that Celeste could control the entirety of both estates! At last, control seemed to be returning to Celeste. So much for Mrs. Baker’s proclamation of doom!

“Celeste … Celeste.”

Celeste turned towards Mrs. Baker.

“Would you like to say a few words?” Mrs. Baker offered in a solemn tone.

Celeste’s eyes flashed as the people around her turned and stared. Celeste’s face flushed.

“No.” Celeste snapped.

Celeste could tell by the reaction of the people around her that they thought less of her. Celeste turned to her left and looked at Lark. Lark was silent. Her head was bowed down; tears streamed continuously down her face.

Celeste remarked to herself that no one asked Lark to speak. No one ever expected anything from her. Why was that? Why didn’t anyone cut Celeste slack? Her parents died, too. Celeste turned from her cousin and stared straight ahead. Suddenly, tears began to form in Celeste’s eyes as well. Lark looked up at Celeste then placed her hand on Celeste’s. Celeste looked down at the hand for a moment. The weight and heat of it became almost unbearable somehow. But Celeste couldn’t exactly move her hand away. What would everyone else think?

After the funeral, there was a delay. Mrs. Baker was going to drive Celeste and Lark to the cemetery, but she was taking her time leaving the church. In order to avoid having to talk to too many people, Celeste placed herself away from the door and next to a bulletin board. One after another, the other mourners filed outside slowly. Celeste began watching them leave out of the corner of her eye; that is until she realized that one of them was coming towards her. To avoid having to deal with the person — whoever it was — Celeste turned completely away and stared at the bulletin board. As it turned out, this incident was fortunate, for one notice quickly caught her eye. Without hesitation, Celeste grabbed an information pamphlet from the board. Celeste then turned to Lark, who had come up silently to stand next to her.

“Look.” Celeste directed. “This may work for you. There’s an after-school church program for kids. Since this church isn’t far from your school, you could walk here. I wonder how much it costs. Remind me to call and ask later.”

***

There was a lot of food at the luncheon after the funeral. The good news was Celeste wouldn’t need to cook for a while; though, she did wonder whether there was enough freezer space for all of it. Still, the problem with having all these people come over to the house was how to get them to leave promptly. They seemed almost dazed and unsure of what to do with themselves. Celeste tried dropping hints about how she had somewhere else to be soon, but the guests just looked at her as though she wasn’t speaking their language.

Fortunately, they eventually started to say their good-byes and excuse themselves. Then, it was just she and Lark left.

“All right. It’s time to get ready for school.”

Lark was perplexed.

“School?”

“Yes. I have to go, so you have to go.”

Lark looked off to the side for a moment and considered. Then, she headed for her room to change. Celeste got ready in record time. It wasn’t that hard, for her hair and makeup were already perfect. Then again, that wouldn’t do. Celeste swiftly grabbed a handkerchief from her father’s desk drawer and began taking off some of the makeup — that way no one could accuse her of not grieving enough. Too bad she hadn’t thought of that during the funeral. Perhaps, she might have been treated better if she had looked less pretty — like Lark. Suddenly, Celeste sighed. All that was left for her to do was wait for Lark to show up. Once Lark finally did appear, Celeste promptly ushered her out the front door. Lark’s school was a little out of Celeste’s way, but it couldn’t be helped. It would be just like Mrs. Baker to show up to check on them later and find Lark home alone. That could potentially ruin Celeste’s chances of becoming Lark’s guardian. Fortunately, it didn’t matter. If Celeste hurried, she could still make it to her own school early enough to complete a half-day. And that would make her eligible to attend the after-school meeting. Thankfully, Celeste now had access to her mother’s car. Celeste knew she couldn’t make it on time if she had to walk.

“Remember to go to the church after school.” Celeste mentioned when they arrived in front of Lark’s school. “I talked to them. They’ll be expecting you. It turns out it’s free.”

Lark nodded; then, she stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Seconds later, Lark could hear the car retreat behind her.

Of course, people looked at Celeste funny when she arrived at school. Something about death seemed to bring on this reaction, Celeste thought. Oh well. There was one thing she could do to cheer herself up. Celeste headed directly to the main office of the school. There, she proudly took out most of the money from the safe and presented it to the bursar.

“I’d like to pay my tuition for the rest of the year.” Celeste announced.

The bursar didn’t seem to react. Of course, they were used to this kind of thing, and Celeste’s account had always been kept current. Why should anything change now? Feeling confident in having secured part of her future, Celeste now just needed to secure the presidency and the scholarship. Since it was almost time for the lunchtime passing period, Celeste decided to wait around in the hall for Deidre. Celeste had become friends with Deidre over the course of the last few months. She was a perfect friend to have at the club. Deidre’s parents were rich, so Deidre certainly didn’t need the scholarship. Deidre was also very busy in the show horse circuit and had no desire to take on more responsibilities. If Deidre had wanted the presidency, she would have had it with ease. She was very influential and well liked. Fortunately, instead of being a rival she became Celeste’s asset.

Of course, there was one problem: Deidre’s best friend, Melissa. Deidre had thrown her support behind Melissa up until about a month ago. But now, Deidre’s support was firmly behind Celeste. Well, as firm as these things could be. The bell rang.

By the time Celeste caught sight of Deidre in the milling crowd, Deidre already seemed to have caught sight of Celeste. Celeste was a bit surprised that Deidre appeared to be dragging her heels heading over to her. What was even stranger was the fact that Celeste was standing in front of Deidre’s locker. Could Deidre be avoiding Celeste because of her personal tragedy?

“Celeste. I didn’t think you’d be here.” Deidre stated when she eventually found herself standing in front of Celeste.

“What do you mean? Certainly, you’re not saying you purposefully scheduled the meeting for a time when you thought I couldn’t be here?”

“No, of course not.” Deidre replied. “But once I heard about the funeral, I just assumed. I mean, as it turns out, you really don’t have to be here.”

“What? Of course I do.” Celeste was incredulous.

Deidre raised an eyebrow then looked off to the side.

“What?” Celeste demanded.

“I talked it over with the other girls. Seeing that you now have a little cousin to take care of — how can you expect to fulfill the club responsibilities?”

“She’s old enough to stay at home by herself a little while. Plus, I’m getting her into an after-school program.”

“Then, there’s the little matter of the scholarship.”

“What about it?”

“You can’t use it.”

“How so?”

Deidre rolled her eyes.

“They’re not going to let you take your little cousin to Highland. You won’t be able to attend there until she’s grown. So really, why waste this opportunity for the rest of us? It doesn’t make any sense. Plus, it was close anyway. The fact is any one of us … well, any one of the rest of us could do just as good of a job as you could.”

Celeste glared at Deidre with intensity.

“Listen, the thing with Lark hasn’t even been settled yet …” Celeste pointed out.

Deidre sighed.

“Before you go on, you should know that I know.”

“Know what?”

“Well, it seems you were mistaken about Melissa.” Deidre added. “She never went out with my ex-boyfriend. It’s a good thing we got to talking. Now I can vote for her instead without reservation. It’ll be enough to change the outcome.”

Deidre turned — a satisfied grin on her face. Celeste just stared; hers was a look of shock mixed with impotent rage.

“Please, Deidre, can’t the vote wait?!” Celeste suddenly cried out. “I just buried my parents today!”

Deidre turned and looked at Celeste with disbelief and disgust etched on her face.

“I really don’t see how that would be fair to Melissa, do you?” she countered.

Deidre turned around again; this time she kept walking.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

PART I

“The Life Before”

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude


Chapter 1

It’s hard to know the instant when the beginning starts; it can start so simply, so unremarkably. Pieces to a puzzle can lie there forever — seemingly meaningless — then come together and change everything. The pieces themselves started long before my time. However, their being pieced together — that occurred a mere handful of years ago.

It began before I became involved in it all — back when the sky was clear and my dreams carefree. Yet, after everything that has happened since I had to know how it began. I had to seek out the truth. I found out it all started on the colony planet known simply as 9. On that planet lived two cousins. The younger one was known as Lark. The elder cousin was named Celeste. Celeste was known for her beauty and elegance; Lark was known to be both cute and friendly.

“Did you hear me, Celeste?” Mrs. Baker asked.

Mrs. Baker, a tall, hulky woman with a wholesome face, grabbed Celeste’s arm.

“Celeste?”

“I heard you. The truth is I overheard you talking with the police officer before. It’s not exactly surprising given that my parents didn’t come home last night. Frankly, I was more surprised that you let yourself into my house with a key.” Celeste lifted her blue eyes toward the woman defiantly. “But you see I have a club meeting today that I can’t miss. My parents didn’t pay all of this money for a private school, so that I could sit at home crying.”

Mrs. Baker stared back at her in disbelief.

“And what about Lark, Celeste? She’s at your home now.”

Celeste looked at Mrs. Baker blankly.

“Well, you’re the grownup.” Celeste countered. “You deal with her.”

The shock of Celeste’s tone was enough to cause Mrs. Baker to loosen her grip on Celeste’s arm. The wily girl then used the opportunity to wiggle free. Afterward, she continued on down the dreary street toward her destination. Perhaps it should have been a sign of what was to come that despite her parents’ deaths Celeste could be heard telling others that this was the last normal day she could remember having.

Then again, since no one seemed to know about her tragedy Celeste found it wasn’t hard to pretend it didn’t happen at all. Still, every time someone came to the classroom Celeste’s eyes would dart up. Maybe it would be in that moment that her world would come crashing in. Maybe it was then that everyone else would know the truth.

“Celeste. Hey, what’s with you?” Tammy, Celeste’s best friend, asked her. Tammy had turned around in her desk and was facing Celeste.

Celeste braced herself. This was an important moment. If Celeste acted too normally, what would Tammy think of her once she did learn the truth about Celeste’s parents? Perhaps if Celeste showed just a hint of sadness, Tammy would later think that Celeste was just putting on a brave face. So, carefully Celeste moistened her eyes with sad thoughts then lifted them to meet Tammy’s. She waited until a look of concern crossed Tammy’s face. Next, with a flutter of her lashes Celeste was back to normal, back to facing the day and her club meeting. After all, things were bound to work out, and Celeste’s parents wanted this life for her. She was going to give them their last wish. Tammy looked down briefly and considered.

“Oh, wait! I know what will cheer you up. The club meeting is today. Now, this is just between us …” Tammy began to whisper. “I’ve heard you’re a lock to be nominated for club president.”

Celeste’s eyes widened

“Really?!” Celeste exclaimed with enthusiasm.

“Not so loud!” Tammy advised gleefully.

Celeste looked around the room then back at Tammy. This wouldn’t do, Celeste thought. She couldn’t afford to be happy about this. And yet, if she didn’t seem happy then she’d be asked why she wasn’t.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to see what happens.” Celeste decided to say.

“Now, don’t pretend to be modest.” Tammy pointed out. “You have to think it’s a sure thing.”

Celeste smiled wryly.

“Maybe.” Celeste replied. “But maybe I’ve changed, too.”

Tammy lifted an eyebrow.

“Really? How so?”

Celeste froze. The answer was right there on the tip of her tongue. My parents are dead, she thought.

“All right, class.” the teacher began. “Let’s all turn around. It’s time to begin the day.”

Tammy made a face then grudgingly turned around.

It was surreal the way the day proceeded on as usual. Then when last period began without a summons to the principal’s office, Celeste considered herself lucky. To think it was actually fortunate that Celeste had had that encounter with Mrs. Baker. After all, if Mrs. Baker hadn’t caught up to Celeste before school she probably would have called the school. Then, Celeste wouldn’t have had this day — this day of normalcy that she hoped she could make last somehow. And then, there was the presidency of the girl’s booster club. That position came with a scholarship. And everyone knew that the girl who received it got into the prestigious Highland University if she wanted. Celeste had been working for that for two years — finding out which students had the power to give her the position and making sure that they knew she was the best person for the job.

“Celeste.” It wasn’t Tammy’s voice that Celeste heard, even though Tammy’s lips were mouthing her name. Celeste turned to face the door. A horrified look crossed her face as an ashen Mrs. Baker entered the room. Principal Tanner was by her side. That expected look of pity was chiseled on his face. And then, just like that, the last normal day of Celeste’s life was over.

Mrs. Baker and Celeste left the school together. Celeste lifted her eyes toward Mrs. Baker angrily.

“Why?” Celeste demanded.

“Why what? Why did your parents have to die?”

“Why did you have to come to my school?” Celeste lashed out. “You already told me about my parents. Why’d you have to bother me there? They were just about to announce the nomination for club president. Now, who knows when they’ll reschedule the meeting. The competition is fierce; the situation could change by then. It would have been official today. This is my future we’re talking about.”

Mrs. Baker’s eyes narrowed.

“You know, Lark lost her parents in that accident, too.”

“Of course. I was babysitting her at the time. That is why she was at my house last night. And I also know they would all be alive now if my uncle hadn’t suggested they go out to celebrate that business deal.”

Mrs. Baker was stunned silent for a moment.

“Is there anything else you need to say?” Celeste persisted.

“I have responsibilities to my family,” Mrs. Baker started. “I can help you and your cousin as much as I can. You know we don’t have a lot, but your mother was my best friend since kindergarten. And I’d do anything for her, but you need to do your part.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” Celeste returned.

“Not necessary?”

“I’m sure my parents provided quite nicely for me.” Celeste paused. “By the way, just out of curiosity, what did you mean by my part?”

“I meant you’re old enough to help with your cousin.”

“Help with my cousin — are you kidding me? I have too many responsibilities at school.”

“About that …” Mrs. Baker began. “First, I want you to know things will be all right. As I’ve said, I will help you.” Mrs. Baker paused. “You know, Celeste, I’m not aware of all of your parents’ finances, but I’ve talked with your mother …”

“What? What’s your point?” Celeste demanded.

Mrs. Baker hesitated. She placed her hands on Celeste’s shoulders.

“I think you need to be prepared. Your parents were having trouble paying for your school when they were alive. I doubt their estate has the money to send you to that school of yours. Whatever your parents have left you, it will most likely have to go to pay for your living expenses.”

“Oh, I see. My living expenses — which will be paid to you, I suppose?” Celeste countered in an enraged tone.

“Things have changed, Celeste.”

“Why? I’m almost of age. I don’t need your help. You just worry about your own family.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll just extend my offer of help to Lark in case she needs anything.”

“Do whatever you want. That’s not my problem.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015