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No, this simply won’t do, Micron reasoned, limping along behind the others. Walking even slower than his leg forced, he thought hard. No information, that was his motto. Let them think what they will, let them underestimate me. The mind talker was a problem, granted, but he knew how to guard his thoughts well.

“Wait, I have to rest…” he said, groaning and reaching down toward his left leg.

“Again?” Brenzel asked, scowling at him. “It’s the fourth time today.”

“Some of us are not human,” he retorted. He sat down, his turbaned, craggy face looking up at her through spectacles.

He made sure the knife edge of his tone, obscured as it was, cut just enough to make his point. The tall blond frowned a bit too much for his liking. She was not merely annoyed…it was more, he felt it.

Brenzel shouted for all to stop, which they did.

Micron heard Derek come up from behind him. He crouched down beside him. “We’s makin’ no time likes this. Wishin’ we had somes horses.”

“You could take turns carrying me,” Micron said with a slight smile.

The big black man stood up and looked directly at him with cold eyes, “Where I’s comes from, we’s puts down the lame. . . animals. You walks faster, mister. Iffin’ your nots doin your bests,” he said with raised eyebrows, “I’s ties a rope around your scrawny neck and drags you along.”

Micron looked at the set of his jaw, then got up and began moving again.


A small lake rippled in the breeze as the last sun set somewhere in the trees. Komae, Fallon, and Meha had gone into the forest looking for free edibles. They had great fun adding to dinner whenever they could, telling everyone about what they’d found. Damian and Derek gathered wood to make a fire.

Brenzel had Micron duty.

She thought about her trunk and the drawer that she hoped would have a letter. No privacy, she thought. There could be an envelope waiting for me.

Hmmm, she looked out over the lake water. One thing that was strange about Hala, and for that matter, Elysia, was that she never saw any flying insects. Normally, standing water had flying bugs if it was good weather.

Other than those awful Hellions, people didn’t worry about animals here, either. She hadn’t seen or heard mention of any big predators. She’d seen birds, of course, but nothing like hawks or other birds of prey. The difference unsettled her in a way that she couldn’t describe. Hala wasn’t “home.”

Why do I have to watch him all the time? Brenzel thought as she looked at the miserable lump of man sitting over against a tree. I don’t like you, she projected her thoughts to Micron, but they seemed to bounce off. The small man had even tried to make conversation a few times, but she always felt his glances to her head were. . . .unsettling…yes, that was the right word. She caught him staring at her head just like some men looked at her chest. It made her uneasy and offended.

Giving a slow, heavy sigh, Brenzel wondered about Iris. That was a crazy, mixed-up world in which she was barely two years older than her own daughter. She shook her head, If I tell her I’m her mother, she’ll laugh at me. Using a stick, she made lines in the dirt as she sat.

What’s the problem with Iris knowing? So she knows, why not? Brenzel imagined taking off her mask at the ball, telling her baby how sorry she was for leaving her at the abbey. Iris’s big blue eyes would tear up as she reached for her, saying in surprise, “Mama?” They’d embrace, cry, look at each other, cry some more, everything would be right – for once in her life.

I’m jealous, Brenzel admitted. Wichapi could be around Iris openly, as much as she wanted. You get to help her, talk to her, while I have to sit in the shadows.

In her mind’s eye, she saw Joshua as she told him the truth. Brenzel imagined the hurt in his eyes, barely perceptible, as he listened to her confession. She had almost betrayed him – her promise. Of course, he would tell her it was okay, nothing happened really, but that innocence between them, like lovers who had never fought, would be tarnished forever.

Looking up, she sighed and tossed the stick into the water.


The first sun climbed into the mist. Brenzel opened her eyes after an uneasy night’s sleep. She’d dreamt, yet the dreams were as opaque as the orb silhouetted above her. Rolling over, she looked at Fallon sleeping peacefully in her blanket next to Derek, his strong arm around her. They looked like a married couple, yet Fallon continued to confess frustration about his lack of intimacy. Brenzel admitted to herself she didn’t see why, Derek’s young friend was willing and had filled out nicely. He obviously loved her – never was a man more kind and attentive to any woman, yet…

Seeing his arm around her, on top of the blanket, Brenzel longed to feel close to someone. Her choice would be Joshua. He was gentle, understood her, was patient when she was…well…herself. Who was she kidding, though? She wasn’t even taking the advice she gave to Fallon. She knew how to encourage a man, lean a bit too close, smile, bat her eyelashes.

She tossed those notions away, knowing that in her heart of hearts what she wanted, needed, was higher than that, and much deeper. Though her body ached to be held, she wanted their relationship to be something more than physical desire. It felt like he would let her know when and how to kiss him and it would be…perfect.

Brenzel heard talking and sat up, letting her blanket fall off her clothes. Damian and Komae looked at something at their feet. Brenzel got up and walked over. The item looked like a doll with iron features. About two and a half feet long, it lay on the ground, obviously not in good repair, or at least dirty. Brown in color, it’s head too big for its metal body, it had two round sockets that looked to be eyes, small metal fingers, legs and flat feet. Surely one of the strangest things Brenzel had ever seen.

Micron, in her side vision, limped over, slowly getting down on his knees, his face lighting up with excitement. “Where did you find it?” he asked, with none of his usual surely tone.

“Just beyond the lake,” Komae said.

“What is it?” Brenzel asked, looking at how he held the small machine like a person.

“An automaton. One of the workers from the Tech Wizard’s lair. I used to maintain them.” Turning the small form over on its face, Micron’s hands pressed and opened a small window to it’s body. Fiddling around, he mumbled, “It’s auxiliary power may still be working. Ah, yes…”

Brenzel jumped back in surprise as the small doll whirred and shook, then it stood up, looking at it’s savior. It was the queerest thing, it seemed alive as it helped Micron stand.

The turbaned man smiled. “We’re in luck, I can instruct it to take us to the Tech Wizard!”

Brenzel stood and looked on, not knowing whether to be more shocked at the little machine person or at Micron smiling.

“Everyone, get you things together,” Damian said, his voice hopeful.

Yeah, I’m ready for a change, Brenzel thought. All Alethea wanted was for us to find him, then I can go home.

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