Prompt — Simulation 528

“Simulation 527, Day 202. Progress minimal. The subjects have been on the cusp of space mastery for years in their time, and have not made efforts to utilize their new technology to its full capacity. Accurate hypotheses for why this might be occurring are impossible for an ecosystem this vast, but my hunch that the evolution program is flawed is proving to be true. The ‘earthlings’, as they’ve taken to calling themselves, are simply too absorbed in their original coding and cannot properly make the logical next step in their civilization.”

She ended the note with a frown, staring at the screen. She would have to pull the plug soon. This simulation was getting nowhere. “It’s such a simple step,” she said to her teddy bear. “How can a program so smart get stuck on something so stupid?”

She was certain the evolution program was the heart of the problem. As brilliant as the coding was, it left no room for two intelligent species. Competition breeds progress, which makes achieving “sentience” easy, but once it got there, there was no reason to push for more. There would be no changing the coding, though. One misplaced character and the entire system would break.

The teddy bear on her desk looked up at her with its cute little pout, and she smiled. “You’re the best thing that ever came from Simulation 527,” she said, patting the stuffed animal on the head. “I don’t know how to describe it, honestly, because you’re also an example of the root of the problem. Exploiting emotions and others for money…”

A program to design and improve until it won would halt its progress once its conditions were met. That was 527’s problem. It succeeded as a species, and its only function now was to continue succeeding on the short term, rather than progress. Manipulating the code would be a bad idea, and she couldn’t modify the rules once the whole simulation got started.

“I think I’ve got it,” she said, getting up from her chair. The computer server running the simulation filled most of the room, the soft hum of fans and the buzz of the screen filling the rest.

“Simulation 527…” she said, pressing a few buttons, and finally pulling a lever. “Off. Goodbye Earth.” Many of the lights changed color, and the server powered down as she went back to her desk to modify the conditions of the test.

“I think slight adjustments are best, here. We’re almost there, we just need to make minor changes. The physics is fine. The planets scaling and elements are all in order…” She looked to the teddy bear. A relic of a now extinct world. “What we need is more things like you. So… let’s see… population growth rate for Ursidae is increased by fifty percent. What do you think?”

The teddy bear didn’t respond.

“Right. Well, this is just a test run. That number might be too high. Simulation 528 may not even evolve into real intelligence, and we might skip right into 529 within a few days. But if this works as well as I hope, we should achieve a post-reality AI by Simulation 8,000! I’m not going to get optimistic, though. Here we go.”

She stood back up from the chair, flipped the lever back up, and pressed a few more buttons. “Simulation 528… Begin!”



Prompt — Painted Windows

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)


There was something strange about the little beings of light that hovered around Aerell. They swam through the air, unbound by gravity as they gathered around the wand she held in her hand. There was some fairy tale that had spoken about a wand with the power to create things. Aerell, of course, had dismissed such stories as nonsense.

But these dreams were getting more and more vivid, and these beings — these creatures — seemed almost alive. The way humans were alive. They looked and moved and reacted to her as she held her hands out, looping around her arms. She couldn’t help but giggle as they seemed to be playing with her. Such curious little things.

“You must be echoes of the little things from the old world,” Aerell laughed. “I’ve read about you, you know. You were called… squirrels!”

One perched on an outstretched finger of her free hand, its sharp little feet wrapping around it as it tilted its little head back and forth. It seemed to be trying to speak to her, but as always, the only sound she could hear in her dreams was her own voice.

The dream was nice. She didn’t want to be saddened by the fact that she couldn’t speak with the little squirrels. So instead she drew her wand up, light flowing outward at the tip, and swirled it about herself. The creatures swam about the air around her, following the trail of light.

“Aerell!” one of the creatures said. Surprised, she turned around. “Aerell!” it said. It was her mother’s voice. “Your breakfast will be cold if you don’t get out of bed soon!”

And with that, the creatures of light faded, along with the wand in her hand. She was no longer wrapped in long flowing robes that escaped out into infinity. Instead, she found herself tangled in the warm embrace of the blankets, and with how much of the heavy fabric had already fallen off the bed, it was threatening to pull her down now, too.

She wanted nothing more than to remain in bed and succumb to the warmth of the blankets. It was so soft, so cozy. But her mother wouldn’t be happy with her if she did. She looked to the spring clock at the other side of the wall. Eyes half open, she couldn’t make out the details, but the big hand seemed to read seven.

With an annoyed grumble, she tore herself from the covers and rose to her feet. She paused to stretch and yawn, then clothed herself before going upstairs. She didn’t bother to fix her hair. That was always a nightmare and a half, and was never worth the trouble.

“G’night,” she said as she walked into the small dining room, lit by the hand crank lantern on the table. Her mother was spooning more cramseed stew into her father’s bowl even as he was eating it. He was wearing the new shirt Aerell had just finished knitting him, and it was already covered in stains, but she couldn’t be upset. It was only a matter of time.

“Good night indeed,” her mother replied in a huff. “The sun’s been down for half an hour, young lady, and you know good and well we need more water. You’ve wasted valuable time that could be spent outside collecting it.”

Aerell frowned. “But you made stew for breakfast? Why would you do that if we need water?” Her father nodded thoughtfully in between bites.

Her mother glared at him, then back to her. “Young lady if you have a problem with that then you are more than welcome to skip breakfast and just go straight up to get more water. The sooner we can purify it the sooner we can drink it.”

“No ma’am. Sorry,” she sat down in a rush and her mother placed the giant bowl of stew on the table for her to use.

The table was silent for a moment while they all ate. Well, as silent as it could be with her father slurping up the cramseed.

“Where’s Rayek?” Aerell asked after some time, only just realizing that her mother never left a bowl out for him.

“Your brother has been out collecting wood since noon,” her mother said. “He’s insistent on going down to the Ravine next week to sell as much as possible.” She sounded angry, but Aerell noticed her lower lip quiver. The way it did when she was worried.

“He wore his suit out, right?” Aerell asked.

“Yes, yes, but who knows what could happen? What if he gets snagged by a twig and it tears it open? Or if a rock falls on his head and he gets knocked out? And he runs out of breathable air?”

Aerell looked to the outer wall of the dining room, where the painting of a window depicted the illusion of a beautiful green landscape. A distant forest covered the background of the painting, bearing a resemblance to the real forest up on the surface about a mile away. Aerell was familiar with it, as it was her job to fetch the water from a river inside it. “I’m sure he’ll be okay,” she said, still looking at the painting. Then, after letting the subject fall, she returned her gaze to her mother. “I dreamt about the wand again.”

Her parents exchanged looks. Her father shrugged as her mother bit her lip. “You’ve been told not to discuss such things, Aerell,” she said.

“But it was wonderful! I used the wand to create these little creatures! The books called them animals, right? They floated around me and they seemed alive! I think the ones in my dream were squirrels. You know, the little flying ones that lay eggs and build their homes in trees.”


“And one of them sat on my hand and—”

The room went dark, and silence followed it. Aerell heard her mother sigh and the sound of hands tapping the table, looking for something. The sound of methodical, practiced cranking followed, and soon the lantern turned on once again. Her father placed it back down onto the table without complaint, but the conversation did not continue.

Just as Aerell was finishing her meal, she heard the outside door opening from upstairs. The tension in the dining room immediately dissipated, and she threw her bowl down to meet her brother.

Rayek was still removing the reflective suit piece-by-piece when she finished ascending the stairs. When he took off the helmet, his face and hair was a mess with sweat, but he had a grin on his face. “Good night, sister,” he said.

“Good night, brother,” she replied. She furrowed her brow in amused suspicion when she noticed he held a hand behind his back. “What’s that you’ve got?”

“Just something I found in the forest today,” he shrugged. “Thought you might be interested.” He revealed his hand, which held a small straight rod that glowed at the tip.

Aerell looked up at him, astonished. “Where—”

“It’s not important,” he smiled. “But what is important is that you stop telling us about the dreams you keep having and that you start showing us.”



Review — Mistborn Era 1

The book series that Brandon Sanderson is most well known for (save, perhaps, the Stormlight Archive), in addition to being one of the few works he’s published that I haven’t talked about, I figured that this is a good a time as any to state my thoughts on it. I’ll reserve my thoughts on the other books in the Mistborn series for a later date, though, as the Wax and Wayne (Era 2) isn’t quite finished as of writing this. This post will be with minimal spoilers, because I would really encourage you to read them if you haven’t already.

Overall, I think it goes without saying that there’s a good reason this trilogy is so popular. I would personally tie it to one distinct feature of the trilogy, but let’s save that for later. There’s a lot that is great about these books. One of my favorite things is the magic system. There are a few people in this world that can ingest certain metals and harness their powers. Somebody that can use tin can “burn it” to enhance their senses like hearing and sight. Somebody that burns steel can push metal objects away from them, and by contrast somebody that burns iron can pull metal objects towards them. If you have this ability, you can only burn one type of metal, unless you’re one of the lucky special ones. A mistborn can burn all types of metals.

This trilogy is sort of a dystopian fantasy, because everybody is living under the ruthless tyranny of the Lord Ruler, who is a god-king of this society. The skies constantly rain ash during the day, and at night mist shrouds the land. The main characters are the most subjugated race of people in this world, and a brave few have plans to change things.

So, the best thing about this series is that it is full of plot twists. But these twists aren’t really “surprise, I’m your sibling!” like Star Wars or anything like that. Rather, as the series progresses, your entire understanding of the world and how it works is constantly growing and evolving. Every book in the first Era made me think “Wait, what?!“at some point, because questions are answered in ways that are impossible to predict the first time you read it. That isn’t to say that things aren’t foreshadowed, because they are, but rather the conclusions that you jump to about the situations are rarely accurate.

This series is part of Sanderson’s Cosmere, which is his big universe that has a bunch of books that take place on different worlds that will all, eventually, connect. But all of his books are standalone works, as well, and while the scope of the size of the Mistborn universe gets larger with every progressive books, it expands naturally. It’s also a great introduction to the Cosmere as a whole.

My biggest qualm with this series is the second book. I personally hate romantic subplots because they’re always so contrived and annoying. To often they’re thrown in because it is either expected to be there or to get more people interested in the book. I don’t really know what it is, but it happens a lot. The Well of Ascension does this a lot, which is really annoying. There is too much “I don’t know what [my partner] sees in me, I’m worthless” on both ends of the romantic subplot, and it does nothing but anger me. Provide more character depth? I suppose, but there are better ways of doing that than putting chapters of insecure whining.

All that said, this book series is great. The first book of the second era, The Alloy of Law, is arguably one of my favorite books of all time, but the second era spoils the first era, so while you can skip it, obviously there would be a ton of spoilers if you backtracked, which kind of ruins the strongest point of the series as a whole.

Given that this book series aren’t the thick door stoppers that the Stormlight Archive books are, this would probably be my first series to recommend to somebody that wants to read some Sanderson fantasy. (I might also recommend Steelheart, but it’s not part of the Cosmere and is more sci-fi than fantasy.)

Review — Logan

An obviously very prevalent movie currently in theaters, Logan is (supposedly) the last of the Wolverine/X-Men movies, or at least the last that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart will be a part of. I’ll be giving this review spoiler free. After all, it’s often better to target “Hey is this worth watching?” people over “I wonder what everybody else thought of it” people, especially when it comes to newer things.

I’ll give a disclaimer here: I did not watch Rise of the Apocalypse. To be honest I don’t even know for sure if it’s in the same universe, because of all the time travel and retconning that happened. So my review could be a little biased without that information, but it is what it is.

First off, is it worth watching? Yes. It’s a lot sadder than I expected, and not for the reasons I expected, either. The entire movie has a beaten and jaded feel to it, as in the beginning we see Wolverine and the X-Men are old news. From the get-go we get the sense of “What now?” as it seems that life for everybody just sucks.

Here is the biggest problem I have with the movie. It doesn’t explain anything that happened or the position that everybody is in. Early on a new character is introduced that I had never heard of before (not being familiar with the comics), and while obviously important, his relationship to the other characters or reason for being there is only vaguely implicit. The entire beginning involves a lot of hitting the ground running as nothing is explained, you just have to say “That’s how things are? Oh, okay.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying suspension of disbelief is hard here. Rather it’s a lot more realistic and ‘gritty’ than many other superhero movies, but to me Logan seems to be set in a dystopia without a clear basis of what bad thing happened in the past. I have no trouble believing that life is hard in this world, I would just have liked to see how “this world” got to be in the first place.

Here’s the thing. Even if this problem is purely because I didn’t watch Rise of the Apocalypse, I would still have an issue. Yes, you should always read the first book in a series before you pick up the sequel, but you still need to explain what happened previously in that sequel.

To be frank here, that’s the only gripe I had with this movie. I personally didn’t like how violent and bloody it was, but I can’t fault it for that, all things considered. It was just a feature that didn’t suit me particularly well. Other than that, the character interaction, the set design, the film score, everything worked out and was executed quite well. Many of the things I expected to happen did, but in this instance it was good. It’s always cool to think “Realistically, this character should just shoot the guy” and then have that occur half a second later. That means the characters are acting believably, and that’s always a great quality to see in acting.

So, is it worth watching? Yeah, totally. Just know that it’s really sad, violent, and more dystopian than you may or may not have expected.

Story — Fire Salts Pt. 3

Charon was a small dealer that provided basic necessities to the outside world, smuggled in from the cities. The warehouse he had established himself in was on the docks of the river that divided the city of the old world in two. It was barely holding itself together since the world had collapsed, just like everything else.

Senna had managed to find her way here, having escaped the Watcher’s hound and all of the patrols that made their way through the streets. They looked like normal people. But there was something distinctly inhuman about the way they moved. Too unnatural. They were always fully armored, white metal plating over grey leather. Under their helmets were the the red eyes of a demon. She had heard stories that making eye contact with one would kill you. She observed them on her way to Charon. Fortunately, the Watchers still had little roof surveillance, and she knew a quick route to the docks. After the dog, there was no more incidents along the way.

She knocked on the door. Two quick knocks, a pause, one knock, another pause, followed by two more quick knocks.

“Closed for the day,” a deep, yet thin and broken voice said from the other side.

“Charon, it’s Senna. I need your help. It’s urgent.”

There was no reply.

“I was wounded last night,” she continued. “My blood was hot.”

The door swung open, revealing a figure wrapped in a black cloak from head to toe. Absolutely no skin was showing. “Enter,” Charon breathed.

She did. He closed and locked the door behind her. The room was a small entryway to the warehouse. Save for a new set of table and chairs, It looked abandoned since the collapse, which was clearly intentional. “I don’t offer services while the sun is up,” he stated, gesturing to one of the chairs. She sat down.

“I know,” she replied. “I’m sorry. I had a bad feeling about the blood and I only have one pill of fire salts left. I’ve never given you trouble in the past, I was hoping you could do me this favor and help me out.”

“What do you have to trade?”

She shifted uncomfortably in her chair under his scrutiny. “That’s another reason it’s a favor. I don’t have much this time around, but again, this is the first time I’ve come short. I promise it won’t happen again.”

He didn’t reply at first. “You only require salts?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “And I was hoping you would be able to provide insight to the last batch. Is hot blood a known side effect?”

“It isn’t common. Pure salts are sometimes difficult to come by. It is nothing to fear. Wait here.” And with that, he opened the door out to the warehouse and vanished into the darkness.

Dealing with Charon always made her uneasy. He was shady at best, but at least he always provided. Through the doorway, she could see something glinting through the dark. She couldn’t make out what it was, but somehow it sent a chill down her spine. She turned her attention away from it, but kept it in her periphery. She decided it wouldn’t do well to seem nosy when she was already treading thin ice with Charon as it was. The glint vanished for a moment, and Charon entered once again. She glanced back as the sparkle returned to her line of sight, and somehow she knew what it was.

It was the reflection of eyes.

Senna immediately stood from her chair as the door shut behind him. “What is in that room?” she said.

Charon pulled a pistol from his cloak and aimed it at her. “Perhaps we should find out.”

She took a step back. “You’re going to shoot me? What exactly do you hope to accomplish with that?”

“You Echoes aren’t half as invulnerable as you think you are.”

He fired. Her left arm was consumed in an unimaginable pain, and she screamed in more surprise than anything else. Pain. She had forgotten what that was like.

She kicked into action. She knew the door was locked behind her. There was no time to do anything about that. The only other way was forward. At Charon.

She charged.

Curiously, he didn’t fire. She grabbed his gun and pushed it up, his arm included. Spinning around, she slammed an elbow into his face. Thus disabled, she kept running.

She threw the door open, glancing behind her as she ran.

His hood came off. Turning to face her, she saw his features for the first time.

Most notable were his red, demonic eyes.

She never slowed. The only path to survival was away from him. So she bolted into the darkness.

The warehouse was illuminated by a few streams of light, filtering through various holes and a few windows on the ceiling. It was hard to see, but it wasn’t total darkness.

All around her were people, bound and gagged. Many of them stared up at her, desperation in their eyes. But she couldn’t stop. He was right behind her.

The warehouse was similar to the office space. Columns of boxes were everywhere. She ran to a likely hiding place to catch her breath. Pushing back the pain in her arm, she pulled out her own gun.

“I’m not going to kill you, Senna,” Charon called. His voice echoed throughout the chamber. “The other Echoes here can attest to that.”

Other Echoes?! “You’re a Watcher!” she yelled.

“Of sorts,” he said.

Every other time she had seen him, it was in the dead of night. How was that possible? Nobody knew why Watchers went away at night, but they always just vanished. It was hard to believe a dark cloak would fix that somehow. Besides, if he really was a Watcher, why help her until now?

She slid the ammo into the chamber. “I hope this works,” she whispered to herself. Whatever happened now, she couldn’t allow herself to be captured with the rest of them.

“You must have questions,” Charon said. He wasn’t speaking loudly. He didn’t need to, for the rest of the building was silent. He was much closer now. Too close for her to reply without being discovered. “Since you all will be interrogated soon anyway, I might as well debrief you on your circumstance.

“Decades ago, the world fell apart because my kind supposedly tore it down from the shadows. It wasn’t until society failed that we made our presence known, but it wasn’t us that destroyed it. We created the Echoes as a sub species of humans genetically modified with Watcher DNA. We let you loose, and you tore society down from its foundation.

After that, we forced you into hiding, and we created the fire salts experiment. We weren’t hunting you. We didn’t even need to look. Because of the fire salts, you came to us. Pills that temporarily enhance the Watcher blood you carry in your veins. Tougher skin, enhanced recovery rate. We’ve learned all we need from it. Now that the experiment is over, we have no further use for you. A controlled Echo population is vital to the next step.”

Echoes are people infused with Watcher blood? Controlled Echo population? But it’s not hereditary, she thought. Beyond that it still didn’t explain how Charon managed to exist at night. She peeked out of one side of boxes. Nothing. Looking out the other side, she saw him walking towards where she hid. She sighed. Baxter don’t fail me now, she prayed.

Stepping out from her cover, she raised the gun to Charon’s head and pulled the trigger. There was no loud explosion that resulted from typical gunfire. This time, there was a quick snap, and a projectile shot right at Charon’s head. Upon contact, the pill of fire salts immediately erupted into flames, and he roared in rage. As it so happened, fire salts could make good ammunition with Baxter’s modifications.

She bolted towards him, careful not to make eye contact, and punched him in the stomach on her way through. He bellowed, seething with anger as he swung back around, but she kept running, back the way she had come.

She stared at the group of people, bound and hopeless on her way out. “I’ll come back for you,” she said, and closed the door.

Story — Fire Salts Pt. 2

It was nearly sunrise. She would have to leave immediately to gain a headstart before the Watchers came. Bandaged and restocked less than an hour after she arrived back at the apartment, Senna made her way from her room towards the stairwell that led outside.

“I’m heading out for a bit, Bax.”

“What?” he exclaimed from his room. “The sun’s coming up, you can’t leave.”

“It’s important.”

“You always say that!” He came out of his room, holding a handgun that had some wires attached to the barrel. “Here.”

Senna took it. “You modified the only gun we have? We just got this!” she chided, examining it.

“I didn’t change too much,” he replied. “I just couldn’t help myself. Anyways, it should still work fine. We’ve still only got the one magazine, but now it should be able to fire anything small enough to fit and sturdy enough not to disintegrate when the gun fires.”

“I thought the bullet was what caused the explosion.”

“Sure. But it’ll still fire stuff. It could probably fire nails, for example, pretty well now. The simple explanation is that there’s no explosion, just propulsion.”

“Have you tested it?” she eyed him.

“Nope. Didn’t want to waste ammo. Also if that thing explodes, I’d rather you be the one pulling the trigger. You’d at least be able to walk away.”

Right. Baxter wasn’t an Echo. That’s why he stayed home most of the time. At that moment she considered having him run to meet Charon. The Watchers wouldn’t be looking for him. It would be much safer. But at the same time he was barely fourteen. Genius as he was, the idea of sending him out to make a deal with all those things crawling about the streets made her uneasy. It would have to be her.

“If I explode because of this piece of junk I’m never going to forgive you,” she smiled.

“Come on, my experiments always work!”

“Oh, right,” she nodded. “Especially that gas bomb you tried to use as an air conditioning in our last apartment.”

“That’s not fair,” he retorted. “It did work as air conditioning. That building was freezing for a week! But I do see your point. My understanding of chemical stuff is still pretty lacking. At least we got out with all our stuff okay.” He shrugged.

“I should get going. I want to get as far as I can before the Watchers come out at dawn.” She pocketed the gun.

“Be safe,” Baxter said.

“I will.” And with that, she went down the stairwell and out into the open world.

The cool breeze caught her by surprise as she left the building. She tugged at her sleeves, a futile effort to shield herself from the air. A visible exhale and an arm stretch later, she was ready to go. She proceeded out the alleyway and turned down the sidewalk to meet the sun peeking over the distant hills into view.

Directly in front of her was a small, thin frame of what, in the old world, would have been referred to as a dog. It’s legs were little more than fur stretched over bones. It was a mere husk of a creature. Not even it’s eyes contained any semblance of sentience anymore.

Such was the way of all the Watchers’ hounds. They were just tools meant to sniff out and take down. The dawn had come. She had gone all of fifteen feet and she had already come into direct contact with a beast whose sole existence was to weed people like her out of their hiding places.

Getting to Charon would probably prove far more difficult than even she had anticipated.

Story — Fire Salts Pt. 1

She pulled the knife from her chest and smiled. “Was that supposed to hurt?” She wiped the blade on her shorts. A calm and careful action. “When you’re trying to mug somebody,” she continued, glancing back at the three men, who were still standing in stunned silence. “You should go for something more vital. I usually go for the thighs, myself. If you hit your target just right they won’t be able to walk. For example,” she thrust the knife into her leg, where the shorts didn’t cover. The assailants staggered back at the self-inflicted wound, stunned.

She didn’t even flinch.

“Well, maybe I’m not the best person to use as an example. None of this is going to work on me, anyway. You could also go for the neck, but that’s typically easier to defend, even with the three of you.” Again, she pulled the knife from her body and wiped it on her shorts. Blood now fully soaked her shirt and leg. It added to the aesthetic.

“But I’ll tell you what, boys.” She examined the knife and wiped any remaining blood from it with her thumb. “I’ll give you all a first hand experience of what it’s like to defend yourself from an attacker. Free of charge! You’ll learn valuable information about what it’s like to be on the other side of the blade. What do you say?” She took a few steps forward, knife gleaming in the moonlight.

“H-hell no!” one said, turning and bolting back down the street. His friends didn’t even have the nerves to make any reply at all, they simply fled like Death himself was on their pursuit.

“But this is your knife!” she called across the sidewalk. They kept running. Holding the tip of the blade in one hand, she took a firm stance and squinted at her target. After an extra second to aim, she tossed it. One, two seconds later it hit its mark, sinking into one of her attacker’s legs and sending him to the ground. His friend didn’t so much as look back.

“Too low again,” she said to herself. “Harder, Senna! You’ve got to throw it harder!”

The man was trying to grasp at the knife as she approached. It hit him in the calf, so he was struggling. She relished in the horror in his eyes when he looked up at her. “Having trouble?”

“L-look, I don’t w–”

“It was a rhetorical question,” she snapped. “I’m not going to kill you. The Watchers will take care of that much. I’m just going to take your stuff. Let me take care of that knife for you.” She pulled the blade out of his leg and slammed it between his shoulder blades. He screamed in pain and fell back onto the pavement. He was still conscious, but he wasn’t going to get back up. “That’s where I meant to hit. Hitting a moving target isn’t easy, you know.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t have much on him. A band of gauze and a half-empty bottle of water was all that was worth taking. The gauze, at least, would be useful. She pocketed both of them, though the bottle was bulky and uncomfortable. She returned to the vacant alley way where she was attacked. Not that it was necessary. Pretty much everywhere was vacant these days.

She took out a small vial from her pocket. Popping the lid open she tossed two of the pills into her mouth. Almost instantly her organs felt like they had erupted into flames, consuming her with an unbearable heat. After a few moments, the pain started to subside. She looked to the bottle. Only one pill left. She had to get back. If she was still out by sunrise, the Watchers would find her.

This time of year there was less and less moonlight to work with. She hated being cooped up all day, but there was no choice. Forty years the world had been under the looming gaze of those things. Forty years looking for things like her. Well, not forty of her years. She was barely old enough to drink, if the laws of the old world still applied.

She got back to the apartment building not having seen another living soul, not that that was surprising. Most of the population had banded together and made new little towns out of the rubble of the apocalypse. But her kind wasn’t welcome there. Echoes, they were called. While most humans didn’t even know they existed, large quantities of people were under the harshest scrutiny of the Watchers. She shuddered at the thought of them. Even making eye contact with one would be fatal for her.

The building was more sturdy than most. That’s why she had picked it. “Baxter!” she called up the stairs. “I’m home!”

“Finally! I was getting worried, you know,” Baxter’s voice sounded down the hall. It was getting deeper every time he spoke these days. “Another hour and the sun will be out!” A young teenager walked into the stairwell to meet her, but as there were no lights, it was hard to discern anything.

“Aww, you worry too much, little bro,” she said once she got to the top. “You know I always come back.” She ruffled his hair, even though he was barely a head shorter than her.

“You’re covered in blood again,” he scolded.

“Yeah, I got mugged.”

“That’s twice in two weeks! You’re not going near the city, are you?”

“Damn, Baxter. What are you, my dad? Relax, I got some gauze and water out of it. Well, not much water, but still.” She walked into the kitchen and put the bottle into their cooler, trading it for a granola bar. Baxter followed her in.

“We’re running out of clean clothes because of you.”

“Yeah. I gotta meet with Charon anyway. I’ve only got one pill of fire salts left. I’m going to go change.”

He nodded, running and grabbing her a new shirt. She smiled her appreciation and went into ‘her’ room. She pulled off her shirt and started munching on the granola bar, examining the wounds. The one on her chest was more shallow than she had anticipated, which was a good sign. Perhaps two pills had been a bit overboard.

Baxter walked in carrying a small bottle of peroxide. “Hey, you might need–”

“Baxter!” she yelled, covering her chest with an arm. “I told you I was changing! Get out!”

“Sorry, Senna! I forgot!” he stammered before scurrying away, leaving the bottle behind.

“Yeah, right! We talked about this,” she said across the apartment. “Knock on the door frame when you want to enter. You need to stop scrambling to find an excuse to look at me every chance you get. One more time and I’m going to crack your head open.”

There was no reply. “Dumb kid,” she said under her breath. She went back to her examinations, and she noticed that the blood on both wounds was hot to the touch. That couldn’t be good. She felt her forehead. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Could it be a new side effect of the fire salts?

She had a bad feeling about this. Something told her she had to find Charon now, and not wait for tomorrow night. Daylight was fast approaching. The Watchers would be out. Was it worth the risk?